RESEARCH: Defining and Countering Global Terrorism

January 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

It can be argued that the primary issue in the world today is terrorism. The most recent and relevant dealing with terrorism is “The War on Terror” (also known as the Global War on Terror and War on Terrorism), which is a term commonly applied to the international military campaign that began in 2001 by the United States and the United Kingdom, with support from other countries. The campaign’s official stated purpose was to eliminate al-Qaeda and other militant organizations.

More than a decade after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians – according to a new report by the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. The report also estimated that the war will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, and that if the wars continue; they would be on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.

According to official releases, the George W. Bush administration defined the following objectives in the War on Terror:

  1. Defeat terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and destroy their organizations
  2. Identify, locate and destroy terrorists along with their organizations
  3. Deny sponsorship, support and sanctuary to terrorists
    1. End the state sponsorship of terrorism
    2. Establish and maintain an international standard of accountability with regard to combating terrorism
    3. Strengthen and sustain the international effort to fight terrorism
    4. Work with willing and able states
    5. Enable weak states
    6. Persuade reluctant states
    7. Compel unwilling states
    8. Interdict and disrupt material support for terrorists
    9. Eliminate terrorist sanctuaries and havens
  4. Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit
    1. Partner with the international community to strengthen weak states and prevent (re)emergence of terrorism
    2. Win the war of ideals
  5. Defend US citizens and interests at home and abroad
    1. Implement the National Strategy for Homeland Security
    2. Attain domain awareness
    3. Enhance measures to ensure the integrity, reliability, and availability of critical physical and information-based infrastructures at home and abroad
    4. Integrate measures to protect US citizens abroad
    5. Ensure an integrated incident management capability

The war initiated by the Bush Administration was in response to the September 11th attacks in which nearly 3000 people were killed. It can be seen above that the objectives of the war were to end terrorism and extremism, but 11 years later evidence suggests that the contrary was achieved. A New York Times article in 2006 titled ‘Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat’ reported:

 

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks. The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

 

This intelligence estimate was completed in April 2006 and was the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began. It represented a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government.  It was Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ and asserted that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, had metastasized and spread across the globe.

An important April 2005 Washington Post article, ‘U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise in Terrorism’ also reiterated the counter-productivity of the War on Terror:

 

The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year (2004), according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week.

Overall, the number of what the U.S. government considers “significant” attacks grew to about 655 last year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides who were briefed on statistics covering incidents including the bloody school seizure in Russia and violence related to the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir.

Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year’s total — a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration’s assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.

The two articles, portions of which have been quoted above are among many over the last decade that attribute rising extremism to the very war that was meant to end it. The counter-productivity of the war on terror must mean that there is a flaw in the strategy. Critics of the War on Terror have often pointed out the prime reason for the failing of the war was a failure to tackle the root causes of terrorism. Renowned American sociologist Philip Slater discussed this in his op-ed in the Huffington Post on October 25th, 2006. “Everyone talks about ‘fighting terrorism’ at the roots”, says Slater, “But no one does anything about it”. He explains his point of view:

It’s much easier–and relieves more anxiety and frustration–to go bomb somebody. Making “war” on terrorism is a lot like taking a couple of drinks to cure a hangover–an enjoyable short-term solution and a disastrous long-term one. But long-term solutions have never played well in Washington, the land of the quick fix. Nor with the American public for that matter–our instant-gratification consumer society has a bevy of corporations competing to make that instant even shorter.

So what exactly are these root causes that Washington is so reluctant to tackle? Philip Slater links terrorism to hopelessness and inequality. He writes:

 

For of all capitalist enterprises, the extractive industries are probably the most deserving of the abuse heaped on them over the years. The possessors of the earth’s treasures believe, apparently, that the luck, wealth, or political corruption that allowed them to own land containing such riches is a sign of divine favor, while the poverty of those around them indicates celestial disgust.

Terrorists are people who have lost hope–hope for the possibility of peacefully creating a better world. They may be middle-class and educated, as many terrorist leaders are, but their despair is one of empathy for the plight of their people as a whole.

The root causes of terrorism are pathological inequalities in wealth–not just in Saudi Arabia but all over the Third World. Even in our own country Republican policies have in recent decades created inequalities so extreme that while a few have literally more money than they can possibly use, the vast majority are struggling to get by. A society that impoverishes most of its population in order to enrich a few neurotically greedy individuals is a sick society. As Jared Diamond has shown, societies in which a few plunder the environment at the expense of the many are headed for collapse. Fundamentalist religions and radical ideologies are the common refuge of people without hope. Christianity has played this role for centuries.

 

Slater claims that Islamic fundamentalism is the latest drug that is being offered to the poor and desperate and that it has the added appeal that you can not only get into heaven but also take vengeance at the same time. This incentive is an easier line to sell when a foreign power is bombing you. Militant organizations recruit people whose families have been killed as a result of collateral damage. These people are mentally traumatized and angry at the United States and its allies and turning towards the terrorists is a source of respite for them and an opportunity for revenge and martyrdom. This past September a very important and thorough report was released by the NYU and Stanford law schools Entitled “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan”. The report detailed the terrorizing effects of the Obama Administration’s drone assaults as well as the numerous, highly misleading statements from administration officials about the campaign. The study’s purpose was to conduct “independent investigations into whether, and to what extent, drone strikes in Pakistan conformed to international law and caused harm and/or injury to civilians”. According to The Guardian, the report was “based on over 130 detailed interviews with victims and witnesses of drone activity, their family members, current and former Pakistani government officials, representatives from five major Pakistani political parties, subject matter experts, lawyers, medical professionals, development and humanitarian workers, members of civil society, academics, and journalists.” The newspaper reports that witnesses “provided first-hand accounts of drone strikes, and provided testimony about a range of issues, including the missile strikes themselves, the strike sites, the victims’ bodies, or a family member or members killed or injured in the strike”.

Here are the powerful first three paragraphs of the report, summarizing its main findings:

1

 

 

2

From everything that has been presented so far it is undeniable that the efforts of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have only succeeded in creating more terrorists and new extremism and radicalization. Something very important to ponder upon is how acts of terror are justified and what the reasons behind them are. After the 9/11 attacks Osama bin Laden cited American involvement in the Middle East and its support for Israel as the main motives for the attacks. Another example is the Pakistani American, Faisal Shahzad who was attempting to plant a car bomb in Manhattan a couple of years ago. At his sentencing hearing when the federal judge presiding over his case, asked him how he could possibly use violence that he knew would result in the deaths even of innocent children, Shahzad said, “well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.”

We must now ask ourselves what terrorism really is. Most simply and commonly, terrorism is defined as the use of violent acts to incite fear within, or deliberately target non-combatants for ideological or political goals. Faisal Shahzad and Osama bin Laden do fit this definition, but then perhaps so does the United States of America as a nation. The combatant to civilian death ratio in the Iraq war was dismal, with death estimates between 100,000 to 1,000,000. The US drone strikes in Pakistan bomb villages, towns and other areas in attempts to eliminate ‘suspects’. The body of the target is often so devastated after the attack that he/she is impossible to identify. Drone strikes result in massive collateral damage and destruction of property, they traumatize the people who live in the surrounding area and give rise to more extremism. The United States went into the war on terror in retaliation of the September 11th attacks, Osama bin Laden ordered the September 11th attacks in retaliation for U.S involvement in the Middle East and oppression in Palestine.

Violence against innocents is wrong and should be severely condemned, but answering violence with more violence should not be the answer. The United States has responded to terrorism on its soil by attempting to eliminate militancy with pure force. Terrorism is an idea, and ideas are fought with ideas, not bombs. Instead of rushing into a war that has lasted more than 10 years with no meaningful accomplishment, the United States should have looked into why 9/11 happened, studied the root causes and tried to address them. George Bush called the War on Terror a war against radical Islam. This is a huge disservice to over 1.6 billion people, and perhaps a misunderstanding on the part of the Bush administration. The motives for 9/11 were political, not religious and were a result of American foreign policy. The way to deal with terrorism is to win the hearts and minds of people. By using the word ‘Islam’ and tying it with the war, the United States made it easier for the militants to recruit undereducated conservatives who see it as a war against their religion, and are willing to die for their faith.

Perhaps the United States needs to look back and see what might have caused an attack like 9/11. Perhaps it needs to change it foreign policy in a way that it does not anger a large portion of the Asian and Arab world. While the United States consider Osama bin Laden a terrorist, and groups like Hamas a terrorist organization, most of the Arab world today considers the United States and Israel as terrorist states. While obviously not justifiable, it may be safe to say that the 9/11 attacks were a result of U.S oppression and injustice in the Middle East. If so, then the only realistic way of eradicating terrorism is to establish a foreign policy that connects with the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East. This would mean a looser relationship with Israel, less involvement in the internal matters of sovereign countries and an end to the war on terror.

How finally would an end to terrorism and radicalization be achieved? The answer is to isolate the hard core ideologists. Groups like Al-Qaeda need to recruit more people to their cause to sustain themselves. By changing foreign policy and how it interacts with other nations internationally, the United States can win the hearts and minds of the general population. By not calling it a War against some sort of radical ‘Islam’, the United States can end the ‘Jihad’ narrative that is used by groups like Al Qaeda to attract the religious but uneducated to fight for their faith. And finally, by disengaging from its war, the United States will cease to cause collateral damage and radicalize people who turn to the militant organizations for solace. Groups get radicalized when they are marginalized, so all outfits need to be brought to the mainstream and there needs to be political dialog. At the end of this the hard core violent ideological terrorists will be isolated who could easily be eliminated. What can’t continue though is more of the current strategy. The United States plan in the war has not changed, but rather become more violent since the election of Barack Obama and as discussed in this paper, this kind of policy will only further exasperate the problem. Indeed it does not seem wise to fight terrorism, with perhaps one’s own version of it.

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Works Cited

“Brown University.” Estimated Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: 225,000 Lives, up to $4            Trillion. N.p., 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

Glasser, Susan B. “U.S. Figures Show Sharp Global Rise In Terrorism.” Washington     Post. The Washington Post, 27 Apr. 2005. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

Slater, Philip. “The Root Causes of Terrorism and Why No One Wants to End     Them.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Oct. 2006. Web. 10                                     Dec. 2012.

Greenwald, Glenn. “New Stanford/NYU Study Documents the Civilian Terror from      Obama’s Drones.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Sept. 2012.                                     Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

Moving Beyond Bhuttoism: Reconfiguring Politics in Sindh‏ – Abdul Samad

November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever since the hanging of Bhutto, the political fortunes of Sindh have been confined solely to the party he founded, the PPPP, which came to power twice under the leadership of his daughter, the late Benazir Bhutto, and now under her husband, the infamous Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has now ironically become a brand, one that can be packaged and repackaged and sold to party loyalists or an affluent feudal or simply, to the highest bidder. Consider how Bilalwal, the son of Zardari, changed his name to include the remnants of his grandfather’s legacy, a move that has secured his political future for the foreseeable future. It is colossally ironic to witness how the PPP has withered into a family heirloom.

Cyril Almedia, writing in the Dawn, captures the gist of the problem:

Bhuttoism may have given the people, the ordinary people of interior Sindh, a sense of self-worth, but did it also brainwash them into supporting a party that no longer has — or may never have had — an interest in their material and social progress?

But it’s also true that Sindh is Bhutto and Bhutto is Sindh. The PPP dominates the political narrative here in a way that no party has or will in the foreseeable future.

So, travelling through Sindh, seeing a society held back, a people still suffering, a ruling class that is distant and aloof, you can’t help but wonder: could the people’s love for Bhuttoism be part of what’s holding them back?

The crucial question emerges: Is Bhuttoism part of the problem, a component of the feudal structure that holds Sindh back, binds it to traditionalism and backwardness, or is the legacy of Bhutto, one of empowerment and consciousness of the masses, of political awareness to hitherto benign and subjugated people. Some contend that Bhutto rules from his grave in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh, that his sacrifice, one of blood and life, has immortalized him in the Sindhi political sphere, in the imagination of the impoverished peasants and laborers. It took me some time to understand the complex and mulch-faceted(at times, contradictory) personality that Bhutto undoubtedly was, from his fiery speeches in the Security Council to his sycophancy and fawning of then dictator Ayub Khan, from his role in the breakup and eventful separation of East Pakistan(Idhar Hum, Idhar Tum) to his crucial role of uplifting a de-moralized West Pakistan after 1971 and bringing back the POWs, from his Oxford and Berkeley education and feudal background to his ease of interaction with the ordinary masses. While it is true that Bhutto became progressively authoritarian in his ways (consider the rigged election of 1977), the false murder charges leveled against him and his subsequent hanging remains a blot in the history of Pakistan, in that a democratically elected popular leader was unconstitutionally removed from office. The tragedy of his hanging remains afresh even today.

Bhutto was undoubtedly a complicated individual and so is the legacy he has bequeathed to the nation, and to his native province of Sindh, where politics, even today, revolves around him, his very name. The people still love him, after all these years; the man who promised them Roti, Kapra and Makan, the one who electrified a crowd of millions with his speeches and eloquence, who told the peasants and laborers that they too had dignity and rights. And yet if Sindh has to progress, it would have to detach itself from the memory of Bhutto, from his promises, his eloquence, his brilliance, as painful and difficult as that might be. The present generation of leaders are merely exploiting the name of Bhutto for their own bigoted political interests, to finance their exotic lifestyles, to plunder the exchequer. Politics in Sindh remains mired in an advanced state of stagnation and degeneration, owing to the emotionalism that is tied to Bhuttoism, as has been witnessed over the past three decades, with the PPP emerging victorious in spite of its dysfunctional and corrupt character. The complete absence of an alternative political voice for the Sindhi people accounts for the near monopoly enjoyed by the PPP in the political arena. Sindh would have to forget arguably it most favorite son and the populace would have to bury him finally in their collective imagination and do away with the slogan-Zinda Hai Bhutto Zinda Hai. Let him, for once, rest in peace.

Separating ‘Muslim’ and ‘Pakistani’

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

In freshman year of college I wanted to set up a Pakistani students association to network and interact with other Pakistani students in the area and also to promote and share our rich culture with the diverse student body in the United States.

As I finished writing the constitution and prepared to launch the organisation, I was approached by another Pakistani student who was thinking of relaunching the Muslim Students Association. She met with me and suggested that we merge our organisations and simply call it the ‘Muslim Students Association’. I asked her why and how that made any sense. Very puzzled, she looked at me and said,

“What would be the difference between the name ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Muslim’?”

Three years ago, at that time, I flared up about this and argued for weeks over it. I eventually did start an independent Pakistani Students Association, but of late, her question has been haunting me.

If Pakistan was a ‘Pakistani Students Association’, then slowly it is turning into a ‘Muslim Students Association’. Our country is being separated from any ideology that is even remotely of minority, and is losing any philosophical or religious diversity that may still exist.

But why? Why is it happening?

I think there are two reasons for this.

The first is the student I met with.

In other words it is the utter inability of educated Pakistanis to distinguish between ‘Muslims’ and ‘Pakistanis’.

‘Your club is going to be about Muslims from one country only?’

‘Shouldn’t you combine all the Muslims from all over the world?’

Why should I? Pakistan is country with its own history and its own culture. We’re not Arabs, neither is our food, our attire, our music or our style of living. Pakistanis are people of the subcontinent; our culture is that of India which was one and the same as Pakistan 65 years ago.

Pakistanis and Indians are Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians and more, with different majorities splitting differently. The subcontinent was a place of different religions with its own different cultures blending together. I recently visited the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore which was constructed in 1673 and learned in order to preserve religious harmony the mosque included elements of various faiths.

The domes of the mosque were made to resemble the domes of Sikhgurdwaras; the arches inside were inspired by Cathedrals; there are drawings of the lotus flower which represents Buddhism and there are Hinduism-related elements too all present in a mosque. There is not a single crescent on any of the minarets of the mosque as per usual for Muslim places of worship. My tour guide said that was also done intentionally to make the mosque seem like a landmark for people of all faiths.

The second reason is apathy.

For those of us blessed with a sound enough mind to tolerate different ideas, and desire a multicultural Pakistan with people of a variety of faiths, especially public office holders and political leaders, watching all this transpire is a crime. The problem is not a mystery. The mystery is our reluctance to do something about it. There can be no denying the polarisation of thought in Pakistan, nor can there be denying the tendency for extremist ideas in people.

 

 

Education standards are miserable, especially for the poor. The rise of sectarian groups has been documented and studied and the violent things taught in some religious madrassas have been well reported. Despite all this, no meaningful action seems to have been taken to tackle these issues by government officials, law enforcement, or civilians.

If we let things progress the way they are, then we should fear the worst. The portion of society affected most by lack of and substandard education, lawlessness and deprivation of justice is the lower class and those in poverty. Unfortunately this makes up the vast majority of Pakistan and these are the people we are poisoning. The bad thing about poison is that it spreads. If someone from this segment of society actually manages to afford solid quality education for their child, there is still a good chance that his or her parents have brought him up with an intolerant or narrow mindset. An example is the student I was referring to earlier who didn’t just think, but actually believed that all Pakistanis were Muslims.

This poison then goes into our media from where it spreads like wildfire, and then one fine day a governor is shot 22 times in broad daylight for protecting a Christian woman and his murderer becomes a national hero.

In this situation, the ideology prevalent in the majority will work to slowly wipe off all others. Our population is one that heavily dictates their life through religion, and religion thrown upon an ill-informed, substandard schooled mind can do things to it that begs the imagination. From a country for the minorities of India, Pakistan could slowly become a country strictly for Muslims, then strictly for Sunni Muslims and then strictly for Sunni Muslim men and who knows what else after.

One thing must be understood though, that it is not too late. The problems are clear, the solutions are not simple, but are still obtainable.

I do not want to live in a country that forces Hindu families to migrate away. I do not want to live in a country that has police raiding restaurants for serving lunch indoors in Ramazan. I do not want to live in a country that forces religious conversions and even televises them, and I do not want to live in a country that decides for itself who is, or isn’t a Muslim.

To fix Pakistan, we must fix the society. The mindset must be changed. We need to control our school syllabus, we need to eliminate sectarian groups, we need to monitor religious scholars and we need to monitor who is allowed to appear on the media.

There is a reason why people like Aamir Liaqat continue to appear on television and get great ratings. There is a reason why Zaid Hamid has a growing fan base. There is a reason why minorities are being persecuted, why sectarian groups are operating and why people are killing in the name of religion.

It is because most people actually approve of the aforementioned things , and the rest of them, if put simply in three words,

let it happen.

Columnists, Burger Babies, Tsunamis

May 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

Imran Khan and the PTI’s ‘Tsunami’ are ever present in today’s online, print and social media in Pakistan. Views however, vary greatly between groups but its two groups in particular I want to speak about. On one hand you have Pakistan’s regular columnists who heavily criticize the Tehreek-e-Insaf, and on the other hand you have the PTI Facebook fans and Twitterati; the newly politicized Urban Youth or famously titled ‘Burger-Baby Revolutionaries’ that support and defend the party.

I don’t want to generalize too much so to be clear when I say columnists it includes a newspaper regular who has criticized the PTI in some capacity, and when I say Burger-Baby, it includes the young, well-educated upper-class PTI supporter who isn’t a ‘troll’.

Getting back to the point then who seems to be winning the argument? Who seems to understand the PTI better? As a person who has been supporting the party for a good 6 years I feel like the columnists are a little off the mark.

In 2011 Mosharraf Zaidi criticized Imran Khan for not having a team and termed his political influence in Pakistan as barely anything. Later in the same year George Fulton criticized Imran Khan for not being able to attract any political talent and being an egoistic one man show. Yet before the very same year ended a headline in this newspaper read, “Imran’s Dream Team wows Karachi”.

In June last year Fasi Zaka complained that Khan was riding on anti-Americanism and was the only person that ‘treats the Taliban as a legitimate entity that has tangible demands that can be accommodated with negotiations.’ Imran Khan’s view is to talk to all groups to separate retaliating Pashtuns from real militants who would be then eliminated. He has repeatedly said that no militant group or any group that wants to impose a theocracy on the tip of sword will be allowed to operate in Pakistan under any condition. The tangible demands he says are of the tribal locals reacting against violence done to them initially by America and its allies. In the later All Party’s Conference regarding the war in the tribal areas all parties agreed to start negotiations with the tribal people and ‘give peace a chance’. The view is also somewhat shared by elements in Washington, many of whom have come out and said that they would not be against Imran becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Before the 30th October rally in Lahore a major criticism of the PTI was that the majority of its support was on facebook and from sit-on-the-couch ‘burger-babies’. Feisal Naqvi called Zohair Toru ignorant and said that any revolution depending on people of the likes of him would be a long time coming. Knowing Toru personally from our time in school together I can say he is far from ignorant, and most would agree that the ‘inqalaab’ he was talking about a has come a long way from the infamous ‘garmi mein kharaab’ video to now. He obviously had more faith in the party than the critics and columnists and they’ve had to eat their words.

I’ve been called a Burger-Baby many times myself. Before this year, in arguments I’ve been called a supporter of a ‘tanga party’, a supporter of an Imran fan club and even a religious fundamentalist – all for standing by the PTI.  But what people don’t realize is that in their sweeping, over generalized judgments, they had closed their eyes. When the PTI woke the youth of the elite class up and politicized it, it wasn’t the party’s only step; it was the party’s last step. For the elite youngsters in Pakistan, the state of the country barely affects their living. To invoke a sense of responsibility, patriotism and revolutionary passion in this part of society was the real sign of victory. It is easier to reach out at the poor, and weak, who have been deep at the receiving end of the declining state of the country. Not easy – just easier. But if you have gone as far as to reach to the affluent Urban Youth, it can only mean the message you are carrying has something unique that strikes a chord.

Since 2007 I have been witnessing a movement of epic proportions. I have literally seen Pakistan change underneath my eyes. My driver in whose village the elders would hurt the youth that would not vote for the PPP today says the entire community is with the PTI. Rikshaw drivers, tailors, gardeners, laborers, lawyers, engineers, students, doctors, artists, overseas Pakistanis – I have interacted and spoken to people of all kinds because of the luxury I have to travel easily and the vast majority I have spoken to is in support of the PTI today.

In an article a couple of months ago something I had never witnessed before happened. Saroop Ijaz called Imran Khan a liar and questioned whether he was even genuine in his cause. This is where the critics lose. There was no argument to back up the premise, just realism. That it cannot be done, because it just can’t. And that’s where the difference is. Imran Khan through his life and his message taught us to be idealists and that’s why he is who he is today, and that’s why so many years of supporting the PTI is coming off today. The Tehreek-e-Insaf in the latest IRI survey was the most popular party in Pakistan.

I got to spend 30mins at the 13th August 2011 Tehreek-e-Insaf rally in Islamabad which was a few hours before my flight to Chicago and during those moments I was convinced for good that change was inevitable. That rally was not on television. Maybe if it was the columnists would not have been shocked on October the 30th, because the burger babies certainly, were not.

Published in the Express Tribune Blogs on May 31st, 2012

‘Accepting’ and ‘Allowing’ Sectarian Discrimination

February 25, 2012 § 3 Comments

In recent times extremely saddening news was reported that involved what were clearly sectarian acts of violence, hatred and discrimination. On January 26th three lawyers; a father, his son and nephew, were gunned down who were Muslims of the Shia sect. On the same day three other professionals from the Shia community were killed in Quetta. This all follows the year of 2011 where hundreds of Shias were murdered and it seems as if nothing has, or will change.

 The Shia community is not the only minority Muslim sect that is being targeted. For a couple of weeks, a mosque that belonged to the Ahmadiyya community is being attempted to get shut down, and incredibly a few days ago the food and beverage brand ‘Shezan’ was banned from all court premises by the Lahore Bar Association for being owned by people from the Ahmadiyya movement.

 This is just recent news. Sectarian violence and discrimination in Pakistan sadly sparks up from time to time. Some argue that perhaps Pandora’s Box was opened in 1974 when extremist Sunnis clashed with Ahmadis until they were declared non-Muslim by Pakistan’s constitution, though sectarian violence was reported in as early as the 60s. But I believe the reason for rising sectarianism is the increasing subconscious acceptance of it by the majority of society.

Discrimination amongst sects is openly publicized in Pakistani today. I can confirm that the Islamiat textbook I was taught with in high school preached religious inequality and even anti-Semitism. Because of lack of quality education and teachers, irresponsible textbooks in our schools, things religious scholars say, things some of our elders say and a combination of these things that have carried on for years, society in Pakistan has made assumptions based on people’s religious views. For many people being Jewish is a crime and an act of infidelity. Being Christian is only slightly better, and then the fact that you are a Muslim makes you superior and a better Pakistani. Amongst Muslims people belonging to each sect feel they are ‘better’ than the others. I once sat in a majlis at a Shia mosque only to hear a long, loud speech explaining all that was wrong with the Sunnis, and heard similar sermons about Shia Muslims at Sunni mosques.

 Keeping in mind the stories shared above and other incidents from the past, I find it safe to say the Ahmadiyya community receives the most hatred and discrimination. Some clerics have gone so far to announce the justification and permission for their murder. In fact in 2008 the leader of the anti Ahmadi movement was invited to the infamous Dr. Aamir Liaqat’s TV show on which he repeated exactly that. The next day two Pakistani citizen’s from the community were killed.

 The problem we face in Pakistan is this extreme holier than thou attitude; A strong feeling of self-righteousness and moral superiority. People hold that their personal beliefs are of greater virtue than of those with others, and through a biased study with an ill-informed, poorly educated mind have curbed words of Holy Scriptures to justify violence against those with differing religious views. This is completely against what religion actually teaches. Because of the Express Tribune’s policies I can’t quote the Quran directly but I can say that verse 64 in chapter 3 (Family of Imran) asks to approach people with different beliefs by starting on the points of agreement or equitable words. The Quran further in chapter 109 (The Disbelievers) says to accept that the believers and non-believers both have their own religion and worship their own Lord(s) and in chapter 2 (The Cow) verse 256 forbids any compulsion in religion.

 Extremist groups that I believe we all know about are behind these attacks on the minority Muslim sects. It seems like they may be targeting the Shia and Ahmedi community to incite fear within the sects and hence reduce, and eventually finish their ability to practice openly. Keeping in mind the targeted killings in broad daylight last month, it is understandable that many people from the communities have fled the country as a result, meaning the tactics are working.

 It should also be brought to light that the rise of these sectarian extremist groups is well-documented since their inception in the 1980s but since that time they have split up and regrouped under different titles and movements. The worrying thing is that they have spread all over the country from their starting point of Southern Punjab taking their radical ideas to all parts of the state. Much needs to be done to stop this. The country’s intelligence agencies need to find out how these groups operate, where they operate and observe and keep a check on local madrassas and the content of what is taught there.  A strategy must be devised of how to isolate and tackle them. Why we have waited so long is a mystery and something we should all be worried about, but in my opinion these groups are only half the problem.

 The other problem is our radicalized society. This polarization in my view is due to a combination of the spread of these sectarian groups, and the lack of impartial quality education. With more than half the country today under the line of poverty the vast majority cannot afford decent quality education which is only available in Pakistan’s private schools that only the elite can afford. This leaves a colossal portion of the population exposed to sub standard schooling, if any at all, and hence vulnerable to the acceptance of extremist ideas and versions of religion bestowed upon them. These are the people the sectarian groups feed on and this is where their support comes from, without which they would not be able to sustain themselves.

 It may seem absurd, but I have personally witnessed many educated people agree with the fatwa that allows the murder of Ahmedis. After everything he has done and said, countless people have undying unconditional support for Dr. Amir Liaqat and after the celebrations for the murder of the former Governor of Punjab and the hero status given to the murderer, it would not be naive to think portions of society are also okay with the targeted killings of Shias.

 And that is essentially the problem. People accept it. But I don’t think you can entirely blame the people. It is our governance that is educating these people. Pakistan is the only state to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim. When the state has numerous discriminating laws and education against entire sects, how could you expect people to be any different?

 How many of our text books proudly mention Dr. Abdus Salam was from the Ahmadiyya community who put Pakistan on the map by becoming the county’s only Nobel Prize winner but then left the nation in protest when his sect was declared non-Muslim? His gravestone was also modified after his death so that it would not read ‘Muslim’. How many of our textbooks tell us that our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a khoji Shia which was a minority community in an already Muslim minority in India? How many of our textbooks tell us that our first ever foreign minister Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan who Jinnah referred to as his ‘son’, was a scholar of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, drafted the Pakistan resolution, represented the country at the United Nations and served as a judge at the International Court of Justice? The answer is not many.

 Once a man asked Jinnah if he was Sunni or Shia and Jinnah responded angrily that he was just a Muslim. He was against sectarianism. That’s why Jinnah wanted faith, discipline and unity. Unity is what we lack the most. Sunnis Shias and Ahmedis all truly think that their take on the religion is perfect as do practicing people from any faith in general, and since none of us is God, no one should be allowed to judge personally who is correct.

 The sectarian groups must be eliminated, madrassas monitored and education heavily reformed to make this mindset in people possible. If not, Pakistan will be contaminated with far too many fanatics. The Quran asks to show kindness to people of all faiths and calls Christians and Jews ‘people of the book’. Today Muslims in Pakistan can’t even be civil to sects of their own religion. It further says that when you see any injustice, then fix it. If you can’t fix it, then raise your voice against it. And if you can’t raise your voice against it, then condemn it in your heart. I think and I hope Pakistan could at least start with the latter.

*Written Exclusively for The Express Tribune Blogs and posted February 26th, 2012

Pakistan’s Parallel Cultures

January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

In a foreign country, where you are a minority, perhaps you learn the true value of your origins. I always treasured being from Pakistan, but going to college in the United States gave me the unique opportunity to personally represent my country in various events.

I did not expect the average American to know much about Pakistan, but I was surprised at the image most locals had. If the person I was speaking to was not a political science or geography major, he or she would most commonly assume Pakistan to be a land which was mostly a desert, and inhabited by poor, uneducated people. My ability to speak the English language was a major shock to many, as was the knowledge that parts of Pakistan are covered in snow permanently and that nearly all American fast food chains are present in all the major cities.

The average American did not know about Pakistan and the average Pakistani at all. And why should he? But then it suddenly struck me, that maybe I didn’t know who the average Pakistani was either.

I was right. For some reason the average Pakistani in my mind was like me and my friends. Students, trained to speak English from a very young age, educated in the British system of GCE O and A Levels. We took pride in our culture and arts but our dressing sense was also western, so was our music, TV shows, movies and even our favorite places to eat. What all of us had in common was that our parents could afford, or were willing to pay the large amount of tuition that the schools we went to asked for.

The reality however is that today 50% of over a 170million Pakistanis are in poverty. Given that figure, it is safe to say that the vast majority of Pakistan’s youth cannot afford the school that I went to. Because of his or her family’s financial status, the student would have to go to a public school of much lower standard. The public schools are much cheaper, but for the most part, unfortunately, do not teach the English language well, nor do they give education of an acceptable enough standard to compare at all to the private schools.

Education is a basic human right, and quality of it should not depend on one’s ability to pay. For no fault of their own students depending on their parent’s financial status can turn into completely different people in Pakistan. The public schools and private schools have entirely different syllabi. The expensive private schools follow the British education reform’s General Certificate of Education (GCE), while the rest of education in Pakistan that is overseen by the government is divided into five levels; primary (grades one through five); middle (grades six through eight); high(grades nine and ten, leading to the ‘matric’ or Secondary School Certificate or SSC) ; intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a Higher Secondary (School) Certificate or HSC); and university programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The problem with government schools is that funding for infrastructure and education is so low that the standard has become appalling. The books are outdated, the teachers are underpaid, and the classrooms are falling apart. As a result High school or SSC graduates from public schools have a very different understanding of the world and modern philosophies compared to students from private schools.

Better quality education opens one’s mind, and it can be argued makes one more liberal. This is because you are exposed to various schools of thought and therefore might be more tolerant of certain things. You become more open minded as you are out in the open to different philosophies of morals, ethics, life and religion. I have distant cousins who I meet often who have not had the fortune of going to a good school like me and it’s amazing how different we are. They are understandably more conservative, but some of their views about things like religion are in my opinion very strict and frighteningly at times, violent.

 

The difference quality of education has on the personality of an individual is immense. That’s why such a massive gap in quality of education in Pakistan is producing side by side or parallel cultures. There’s the educated affluent or the urban youth, the lower class, and the completely illiterate. As financial status lowers, so does the quality of education, amount of education and sadly usually the open mindedness of the individual. An example that elucidates this is the murder of Salman Taseer. Shockingly, reaction to the death of the governor was extremely uneven from the Pakistani youth. It was an extremely sad day for me and my friends, but many people expressed happiness and celebrated the horrible event via their twitter and facebook. I talked to a few acquaintances from ‘Urdu-Medium’ schools and was absolutely astonished to hear their views on the matter. Thus following this, the showering of Roses on Mumtaz Qadri and his subsequent hero like status amongst people did not surprise me.

The biggest problem the lack of good education can have on an individual in my opinion is the ability to understand religion. For the vast majority of Pakistani Muslims, Islam is part of culture and a complete way of life, but it is misused and perhaps misinterpreted very often. Our religion focuses heavily on educating oneself which I believe is so Muslims can analyze and view their religion with a well-informed mind. Poor education therefore can lead to a narrow understanding of faith and make one vulnerable to influence which can even turn one’s thoughts violent in extreme cases.

Keeping this in mind, lack of education in today’s Pakistan might be more dangerous that we imagine. We’re turning into a nation with majorly divided opinions because of the difference in information the youth is being raised with. Debate is always healthy, but in my opinion there should be clear opinions on things like murder, rape and the use of religion to harm innocent people. This is not the case today and one of Pakistan’s biggest problems is religious bigotry and radicalism of the youth. All of the solutions of which I believe lie in education. If we do not drastically increase funding for education this polarization of society will continue and we may get more Maya Khans in the future and more people in our National Assemblies passing bills to ban concerts and more people to support these people.

The average Pakistani, it turns out isn’t the English speaking, well educated person I had in mind a few years back. The average Pakistani has been deprived of this though. Pakistan spends a dreadfully low percent of its GDP on education and the average Pakistani is forced to go to an academic institution that is well below what should be par. The average Pakistani could have many talents which may never be discovered because of lack of exposure to the arts and sport. There may be many Arfa Karims that were never discovered because of a lack of proper infrastructure.  The average Pakistani should not have to receive inferior education compared to the wealthy. There should be one standard, and as things stand in my opinion it is the government run institutions that should reach up to the standard of private schools. The public schools should set the standard and the private schools should have to keep up. What can’t continue is this difference. The syllabi need to be made much similar so that we’re teaching all Pakistani’s the same basic things and this massive divide between the people is eliminated. It is the majority which represents the country, and it is the majority that is being denied the right to learn. Without quality education we will never fix the radicalization of the population and we will never bring together the constantly differing opinions because of the parallel cultures of today’s Pakistan.

*Published in The News International Blog on January 26th, 2012

Deconstructing The PTI Troll

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Pakistan Movement for Justice, or Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is the political talk of the town. Naysayers of the party have several objections and complaints; some which I believe are fair, some not quit. One particular thing however is a unique denigration of the party; the PTI troll.

 Today the PTI Troll is someone we all know and we all despise. Yes I share your misery too. The problem is as follows: On public forums, especially twitter, when one criticizes the PTI, he or she is often subjected to harsh language and offensive speech by an alleged supporter of the party.  The supposed follower, instead of arguing against accusations, subjects the critic to intense text abuse instead. Now I agree this is not in the party’s interests, but to claim that the majority of supporters of the PTI are on the same wavelength and criticize the party for this is misleading.

 To explain the ‘PTI’ troll I think it’s important to understand two things, the stature or Imran Khan, and the quality of education of the masses. Now to elucidate this I will give examples. Almost a year ago I was on a Shahid Afrdi facebook page. There was this discussion on his captaincy where I said I thought he wasn’t cut out for the job and that he should be in the team just as a specialist bowler, citing various reasons such as biting a ball, retiring from tests etc. I had no idea what I was about to become the victim of. By the end of the day, on a single thread I had been compared to a dozen animals, an enemy of the state and also apparently a mixture of a pig and the backside of a type of a primate. Yes, I had been trolled.

 I had a similar experience defending some of Marvi Sirmed’s views on a Zaid Hamid fan page. Here I was an Indian born, Jewish CIA agent because I think that’s the only way I could be all three simultaneously. And lastly because of a minuscule criticism of the great Muhammad Ali Jinnah I was sent incredibly displeasing messages in my facebook inbox which truth be told did scare me at a point.

My point is people here are emotional, especially about people they love. Imran Khan is national hero, and therefore has a different standing compared to his political opponents. A lot of people have an emotional bond to the man, as some do with Zaid Hamid, Afridi, Jinnah and others. It’s difficult for these people to take criticism of their heroes, even if it’s constructive. They get defensive, and then at times offensive. This is not justification; nothing can be, but it’s my logical reasoning of why it happens. A part of the country’s twitter population does not have access to good quality education and have not been trained in critical reasoning enough to put rational thought before emotion. Others do it for fun. Yes that means some of the PTI’s support will be offensive and will troll you, but does that mean every supporter is the same, of course not! Some might not even actually be with the PTI. The party has repeatedly asked people not to get offensive on forums and has disowned any supporter who does so and in my opinion nothing more can be done about this in the social media and information age we live in today. This is why I really do think people should be able to understand.

 If all PTI supporters are trolls then so are all the people who are fond of Jinnah or Afridi. The argument isn’t a strong one in my opinion. The trolls are without doubt offensive and should be condemned, but to claim that the troll is unique to the PTI is a criticism out of desperation. Ask poor Marvi Sirmed what she has to go through to hold an opinion. It’s no secret that I quite like the PTI, but even I get offensive DM’s on my Twitter every time I write about a society issue. There are no PTI trolls. Trolls are just trolls. My advice is to ignore them if you can, or better drown them in a flood of your own troll vocab. Oh wait not a flood, a TSUNAMI.

*Posted on The Express Tribune Blog on December 21st, 2011

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