Friday, December 08, 2017

Growing power of Islamist fanaticism on Pakistani politics

  Nasir Khan, December 8, 2017

Islam, in Pakistan, has transformed from a multidimensional universal religion into an ossified and stilted cult of Islamism. How this happened has a historical context, beginning in 1947 when Pakistan emerged as a new state. The division of India at the end of the British Raj was only possible when the British decided to give their blessings to the so-called Two-Nation theory; this theory recognized demands for a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims.

The question of creating Pakistan as a nation-state was only possible when a shrewd and articulate politician like Mr. Jinnah, leader of the All India Muslim League, applied his considerable political faculties to use Islam as the major building material for creating Pakistan’s national identity; apart from religion, the nation consisted of divergent ethnic, provincial, cultural and linguistic identities. Jinnah’s death in 1948 left a vast chasm in the life of the new country. Since then, the civilian and military leaders have routinely used Islam for their political ends and to justify state policies.

By 1950, the state and religion had merged into one odd entity. But thereafter the official political slogan that the State of Pakistan served Islam in the two wings of the country, East and West Pakistan, self-destructed when the people of East Pakistan fought and broke away from the domination of West Pakistan, to create Bangladesh. Many West Pakistanis were surprised to find out that a common religion, Islam, was not capable of stemming popular demands for a separate homeland.

Despite the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, religious parties in Pakistan continued to impact both the state policies and the people at large. Islam had become a major power factor in the country for the mainstream bourgeois politicians and the leaders of the religious parties. Now, Islam was called upon by the fundamentalist parties to promote belief in the supremacy of divine laws over man-made laws. Whatever the Pakistani parliamentary system was to undertake had to be in conformity with the laws of God as enshrined in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Pakistani democracy was theocracy in disguise, where the ultimate sovereignty belonged to God, not to the elected representatives of the people.

Thus, a crude form of religiosity in the guise of Islamism had entered the political arena; people accepted this political Islam as their true Islam. This false consciousness, wherein the political ideology of Islamism was embraced as true Islam, has poisoned the body politic of the country.

The introduction of the blasphemy laws in the Pakistan Penal Code in the 1970s and 1980s gave a big boost to the sectarian religious parties, most of which adhered to the Sunni branch of Islam, and to the militant extremists who have been hell-bent on imposing political Islam as a way of life over the country. As a result of the blasphemy laws, they were free to assert their power and influence over the state and the civil society in a way and to a degree that had not been seen before in the shaky history of this country.

Thus, a coercive brand of Islamism replaced an old, tolerant, and all-inclusive brand of Sufi Islam that was the traditional faith of the people of this vast region of the Indian Subcontinent before 1947. This traditional faith gradually came under increased pressure from the politicizing activities of an anti-egalitarian, anti-socialist and anti-democratic Islam led by the Jamaat-e-Islami and its founder, Maulana Maududi, who was a renowned and influential ideologue of a totalitarian 'Islamic ideology', or Islamism.

In Maududi's hidebound, conservative version of political Islam, there was no room for any western democratic and humanist traditions that are basic to a modern democratic state. There were to be no basic democratic freedoms of civil society (read all Muslim sects, and all religious minorities), and no space for an open and free educational system; such freedoms were subordinated to the Maududi’s Islamic indoctrination.

It is also important to keep in mind that the role of Maududi was not confined to Pakistan; his influence had reached many parts of the conservative Muslim countries of the Middle East and South Asia. The seeds Maududi sowed became the plants that sapped this noble religion of all progressive ideas and pushed people into a rigid conformity with his brand of 'Islamic ideology'. The introduction of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan was a natural result of the process of Islamization that Maududi and other right-wing religious parties had set in motion. They had found fertile ground for their agenda in the social conditions of Pakistan.

There had also been many other puritan and revivalist groups within Islamic movements, some having very large followers. However, what Maududi introduced was something qualitatively distinct; he brought the whole spectrum of political Islam under his Islamic ideological programme and laid down the foundations of Islamism in the form of strict party discipline and indoctrination, where the aim was to gain power to establish a theocratic system that no-one could challenge.

While the state became more and more associated with the Sunni versions of Islam as propounded by sectarian and intolerant clerics and preachers, violence and recriminations against other groups and religious minorities increased. A person’s religion was no longer a personal matter, but a matter of concern for the state authorities, legislature, and the judiciary to determine whether or not a person was a Muslim. In this way, people’s right and liberty to choose their belief on the basis of conscience no longer existed. An arbitrary and coercive religious policy became the norm.

One main group targetted by sectarian violence and victimization was the Ahmadi population, whose views as to whether or not Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet of Allah have been profoundly opposed by orthodox Muslims. Following a sustained anti-American movement by Islamic religious parties that started in the early 1950s, the Ahmadis were finally declared non-Muslims by a constitutional amendment in 1974.

If any unfortunate Pakistani, whether an official or a layman, is accused by any Pakistani ‘Muslim’ of having transgressed the limits of the hegemonic Sunni beliefs, he or she is in big trouble. Any such allegation, even without any substantive proof before the judicial bodies, is used as suspicion of a breach of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, which both the hard-line Islamist parties and also the major liberal and populist parties support for their own political motives.
How can a falsely accused person show that he has not committed any offence when, from the outset, the allegations by a ‘Muslim’ accuser are accepted as ipso facto true by the police and the courts of law?

This is the state of affairs in Pakistan, a country being traumatized under the burden of religious fanaticism, obscurantism and infantile world-views. People living in democratic countries, where the rule of law and basic human freedoms are taken for granted, cannot understand that such violations of basic rights are taking place in Pakistan at the present moment.

Anyone charged with violating the blasphemy laws is considered sufficiently guilty as to set in motion the prosecution process. Many people have fallen victim to this vicious trap, which even the tormentors in the medieval ages would not have believed possible.

What is even more mind-boggling is the fact that any alleged offenders of blasphemy laws should show that they did not do what they are charged with! In fact, this happens in cases where such allegations, in themselves, are seen as substantial proof of guilt. Here the accused is not regarded innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. In the eyes of the law, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, anyone accused of, or charged with blasphemy is guilty of the offence until proven otherwise.

Contrary to the universal conventions and legal norms pertaining to the presumption of innocence according to the rules of criminal justice in civilized countries, a Pakistani citizen accused of blasphemy has to prove his or her innocence, or remain guilty. Such victims are doomed, either they will be sentenced to life in prison, or the hangman’s noose. But that is not all. Then, there is also the danger of mob violence and retributions. At the instigation of their Mullahs and preachers, ordinary Muslims, mostly Sunnis, take the law in their hands and target anyone suspected of blasphemy.

In 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Sal man Taseer, a Sunni Muslim, and Pakistan’s Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, were brutally murdered because they wanted an end to the grave injustices inflicted upon innocent people under the blasphemy laws. The murderer of Taseer was hailed as the defender of the honour of the Prophet by huge sections of the population throughout Pakistan. Strangely enough, many university teachers, preachers, lawyers and columnists zealously defend these pathetic laws in the belief that they are defending God, the Prophet and Islam! In fact, these laws are a true representation of the uncivilised activity, social and spiritual ignorance and false indoctrination that prevail in that country, even today in the twenty-first century.

Those who are accused of blasphemy are subject to harassment, threats and physical molestation. Any police officials, judges or lawyers who dare show concern for innocent victims are also subject to threats and intimidation. In this way, the public authorities and judges are constrained; in effect they are not allowed to function freely, independent of the pressures which extremists exert over them.

The major disruptions of civic and public life which started a few weeks ago brought Islamabad, the metropolis of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to its knees—a situation showing a new low ebb in the affairs of the state and society. The Law Minster of Pakistan, Mr. Zahid Hamid, became the latest target of the religious militant parties, which have gained enormous political leverage within the country. They demanded the resignation of Mr. Hamid. Faced with such a massive physical confrontation in the form of a huge show of force by the fundamentalists, the government gave in to the unreasonable demands on 27 November 2017, and thereafter the siege of the city also came to an end.

However, this backing down by the government is also seen by the extremists as their major victory. Thus, the road to Islamization continues to broaden its parameters while the mandate of the government and public authorities shrinks.

It is obvious that religious extremist parties and groups have become emboldened enough to defy the law and order authorities with impunity. They have gained enormous street power; they can always appeal to ordinary citizens. They can attract huge crowds to disrupt the civic life of this hapless country and its people. All this is carried out in the name of defending the honour and the final status of the Prophet; embracing their actions as honouring Allah and the dignity of Islam!

Moreover, a series of weak Pakistani governments remain for the most part deeply mired in their shabby deals and economic exploitation of the people. They also play the Islam card whenever they want to prolong their survival by making new compromises with the Islamist extremist parties and groups. The Pakistani ruling elite know how the Panama investment schemes function, how Swiss banks can hide their ill-gotten millions of dollars and pounds, how European countries can provide them safety and thus save them from any real and rigorous investigations into their economic or political affairs.

Now, turning back to the question of the blasphemy law, we may ask: Has the honour or the name of the Prophet ever been under any real threat or abuse at the hands of any people in Pakistan? Pakistan is a traditional, conservative Islamic country, where around 97% people are Muslims. Why would anyone use vulgar abuse against the Prophet, who is so profoundly venerated, both here and in other Islamic countries? In my view, there is no rationale for doing any such thing.

The main aim of the religious parties and the religious lobby was and still is to fight against the world’s democratic system and neutralize any educational process that opens up the avenues for rational thinking and openness, as we witness in democratic societies in the world. In Pakistan, theocratic rule and Sharia laws have become the most beloved notions around which hopes and expectations are woven, for the birth of a new world. The Islamists also believe their services to protect the Prophet are bringing the new world closer to the doors of Pakistanis. This is not only misleading but also a grand deception practised on ordinary Muslim believers.

To any reasonable person in Pakistan, it is no secret to that the favourite political tools in the hands of Pakistani politicians and leaders is to play the Islam card. A conservative and indoctrinated population was an easy target, and the elite took full advantage of such a 'concrete' state of the affairs for their selfish ends, as did the religious parties, according to their own agendas. The results are before our eyes. In this way, a monster has been created by the opportunistic rulers, political leaders, political and Islamist parties; in the end it has become a fully grown Hydra with nine-heads as in Greek mythology. It was said about this serpent-like monster that if you cut off one hydra head, two more grow back! Now, Pakistan and its people have the Hydra hovering over their heads. But due to the prevalence of religious fanaticism, they have not been able to see it or fear it.

In fact, the whole scenario of religious fanaticism is deeply preposterous and primitive; it is an expression of total mental and spiritual paralysis—a state of mayhem that has gripped the people for the last seven decades. In the beginning, to play the Islamic card, such as ‘Islam in danger,’ was used to strengthen the hands of the anti-democratic and religious reactionary forces. The opportunistic and manipulating political leaders and political elites had discovered early on that the Islamic card worked like magic on the people, whose belief includes being enthralled by the rich rewards of Paradise and its abundant delights, rewards reserved only for male Muslim 'believers'. The clerics have embedded such images in the minds of vast congregations.

To sum up, what the ruling elite and exploiters of Pakistanis did not realise or understand they were creating a big monster, a social and religious force that none would be able to control. That is exactly what happened. The recent show of force in Islamabad by disruptive and rowdy fanatics are not incidental, but are part of political agenda which have strong backing by the power centres in the country. Perhaps, such a situation may also scare those who patronised and unleashed fanatic fundamentalists for their short-term objectives. That was not a prudent course to follow. In any case, one thing is certain: The monster is not going to disappear. It is there, and it will continue to play havoc with the helpless, ordinary people of this country. They have no escape route, nowhere to turn to seek help.

The author

Dr Nasir Khan is a historian of ideas and a political analyst. He is the author of Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings (Oslo,1995) and Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms. A Historical Survey (Oslo, 2006). He has written numerous articles on international politics, socialism, religion and human rights.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A pensive thought on the fall of the Soviet Union

 —  Nasir Khan, Nov. 26, 2017

My aim to post this article is not to fall in the easy trap of Stalin bashing, all too common and all too pervasive in the factional perspectives and political leanings that emerged with the success of the October Revolution in 1917 under Lenin and his comrades, but soon became a problem after his death in 1924. My aim is rather to ask our left-wing friends and other readers to look critically at the history of the Bolshevik Revolution after the death of Vladimir Lenin and assess dispassionately the course it took due to internal power struggles that played havoc with the international working class movement in many ways and finally led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The whole world witnessed that it was the Soviet Union that played the major part in defeating the Nazi Germany; however, in 1991, it finally fell due to the inherent contradictions and the conservative bureaucratic structure of the system that no longer was able to keep pace with the advances made in the capitalist countries both in technology and management of the demands of industrial production and expansion in the economies.

In a direct way, Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost were his general admissions that the system needed a drastic overhauling, something with which many of us agreed. But he had no means at his disposal or power to effect such transformations without unleashing those very forces which eventually got the upper hand and gave a death blow to the tottering system.

The stultified party structure that controlled the State and the conservative bureaucratic system that prevailed were no longer able to cope with the new situation. Gorbachev and his project fell, and as a result the Soviet Union breathed its last gasp.

Clearly, the dormant anti-Socialist reactionary forces got their chance, and they did what they wanted to do to put an end to the Soviet Union, which, despite its weaknesses was still a major source of inspiration for the revolutionary and anti-capitalist forces globally. The end of the Soviet Union was certainly not the end of history, as in 1992 one jubilant philosopher of American capitalism, Francis Fukuyama, asserted, but it certainly was the end an era.

For the international communist movement, communist parties and radical trade unions, it was a traumatic experience and many became the victims of disappointment and depression. But history did not stop, it never stops. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the powerful rulers of capitalism have been busy cementing their power by more wars and depredations world-wide for maximizing their profits of the industrial-military complex, and subjugating the weaker countries to their diktat.

The story continues. The war dogs are busy, very busy.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

How the facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict get distorted

— Nasir Khan, November 25, 2017

In a comment on a short article of mine, entitled, ‘The House of Saud’, which was published in International Finance, Economic Affairs, International Affairs, on 22nd November 2017, one Mr. Kenn Stepman wrote a comment. I thought what he wrote needed a cordial reply. I am reproducing his comment, followed by my reply for all my readers to see:
Kenn Stepman wrote:

 When any group, religious or not, seeks to destroy another using the claim that they alone can exist, it is wrong.

What is tragically happening to the Palestinian Muslim people is what the larger Muslim Middle-East world once would tragically have happen to Palestinian Jews, and others in 1948 to 1967.
When it is declared that no other state but a Muslim state may exist on Muslim land, it lays open the counter claim that god gave these lands to the Jews.

Least we forget, Palestine was a name given to this land by British General Allenby, copying the name from Ancient Rome. When he did, this land was occupied by 25%-40% Christian, 30%-40% Muslim, and 15%-25% Jewish. Israel is still 19% Muslim, and 3% Christian. While Gaza and the West Bank are 3% Christian, 97% Muslim. When you can answer honestly what happened to all of the Jews and nearly all the Christians that lived in these territories? You may have discovered an inconvenient Truth.

Nasir Khan’s reply:

Mr Kenn Stepman, I have read your comment. I admit you have a few good points, but much of the rest is bathed in foggy concoctions. However, my way of looking at the political problems of the people of the Middle East, or more specifically the people of Israel and Palestine (thus called by Allenby, or some others, as you mention is a superfluous digression on your part, which in any case is not so important in my sight) face, should be addressed on the basis of imperial links and liaison that patronized the Zionist cause and resulted in the Balfour Declaration (1917); and thereafter came the colonial charade of Mandatory system, a new word imperialist used to divide the areas of the Middle East that were part of the Ottoman Empire before its collapse in the First World War. Now the fallen provinces of the huge empire became possessions of Britain and France as the ‘Mandatory powers’. Britain took the Mandate of Palestine from which it was kicked out by the Zionist terrorists in 1948.

In my life and my humble work as a writer and political activist, I have never judged people because of their religious dogmas or identities. That is for me, a bit too naive for any serious historian and political analyst to indulge in. Assailing any religion and its followers goes against my basic political stance and my humanist outlook. Neither, am I going to comment on the whole history of the Middle East and the relations between its different religious communities, as you tried to do. That is not history; that is, playing poker with history and the facts. Many have done that, and in the process of doing so have put themselves into those mental ghettos and iron shackles from which they are not able to extricate themselves. Luckily, I am not one of them. At least, that is how I see myself!

I am fully aware how the Zionists have been able to blur the distinction between Jews and Zionists – one a religious community and the other a supremacist political ideology. If you have not read, then, perhaps you may find the following two books by two Israeli historians of some use in understanding the issues in the conflict:

1. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

2. Avi Shlaim, Israel and Palestine

I hope you will find much useful material in these two books.

Once you have done that then you may write your comments, which I will be happy to discuss with you or anyone else. I do not discuss fables and hearsay in my texts.

As far as I am concerned, I have endorsed the views expressed by those Israelis and Palestinians who think the question of the two-state solution has become almost irrelevant because of the Israeli expansion since 1967. There is much food for thought in such propositions. There is nothing much left for the Palestinians any more, despite all the empty rhetoric thrown out by some people.
However, I agree with the late Palestinian writer and political activist, Edward Said, that the only solution was a one-democratic-state in the area where both Jews and Arabs could live in a free and truly democratic state. To do so, first steps will be to create one democratic state; thus ending the Zionist entity called Israel in its present form, and its eschewing of any claims to be a Jewish state. It is common knowledge that in a democratic state, the citizens can follow their religions; but a democratic state has not religion. A democracy can never be a theocracy!

In a truly democratic, secular state, Jews, Arabs and other believers or non-believers will have equal rights and obligations. We have the Nordic countries, for instance, where people from all parts of the world have come to live over the last few decades and all religions and followers of religions are not under any social or political restraints. There is freedom in the real sense. There is every possibility that such a state for Jews and Palestinians may become a catalyst of a new dawn for the whole of the Middle East and bring some much-needed fundamental changes in the political structures and mouldy world-views that have no relevance to this age.

I do not speak for or on behalf of any community. I am an independent writer and a Socialist. I speak in the interest of all, not some chosen few.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Another hate-monger against the Ahmadi religious minority in Pakistan

 Nasir Khan, October 15, 2017

Muhammad Safdar Awan is a politician and a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. He has made an extremely venomous hate speech against the Ahmadis, who are an oppressed and victimized religious minority in the 'Islamic Republic' of Pakistan.

What this legislator said would be horrifying in the sight of every civilized person in this age and in these times. But ironically, such people have power and influence in Pakistan, a country where Islam has routinely been used as an easy weapon for inciting hatred against other religious minorities and thus provoke ordinary Sunni Muslims, who are a dominant majority in Pakistan, to commit all sorts of crimes against them.

I condemn the obnoxious and toxic nonsense of this hatemonger in the clearest possible words and ask my international friends and comrades to do the same. This person should be stripped of his immunity for using the National Assembly for his criminal utterances and be tried for his hate speech and criminal incitement.

Safdar gave references of appointment of and promotion of military officers who he said were members of the Ahmadi community and said that they

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Forcible conversion of Hindu girls to Islam in Pakistan and then marrying them

Nasir Khan, October 5, 2017

One gruesome aspect of the Islamic fanaticism in Pakistan that started right after the partition of India in 1947 was the vulnerability of the religious minorities of Pakistan. We know what happened in the communal frenzy and violence when large scale migration of some 15 million people took place; Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India and Indian Muslims came to Pakistan.

The communal killings of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were over one million. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people became victim of the hatred caused by the partition of India, and countless women from all religious communities - Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs - were raped, sexually abused, humiliated and in some cases were also 'converted' to the religions of their new owners. When a female victim has no options left, the owners can do whatever they want to do with her, including forcing their own own religion on her. Such violence perpetrated upon women cannot be termed as conversion; it is criminal coercion and a cowardly act.

The Hindu minority of Pakistan has been a special soft target of Islamic preachers, missionaries and Islamic fanatics. This has been going on for the last 7 decades. The cases of Hindu girls being abducted from their homes and then made brides for some Muslim men after 'converting' them to Islam have been going on unhindered. The following video shows the utter bestiality committed by so-called Muslim men against a Hindu girl.

This writer in the clearest possible language condemns this barbarity and appeals to all Pakistani politically active democratic people, human rights activists and organizations to oppose these criminal actions of some misguided Muslims and do their best to speak out on behalf of the Pakistani Hindus and their girls. The Hindu girls of Pakistan are our daughters and sisters; we should not let them be the prey of such misguided predators who call themselves Muslims.

Conversion of Hindu Girls in Sindh, Pakistan - BBC URDU

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Islamic laws and modern legal systems

–Nasir Khan

Those who are well-acquainted with the Sharia laws and modern legal systems should be in a position to show what the Sharia laws of Islam are and how they are inadequate to protect and safeguard people and their rights in these times.

No doubt, during the early period of Islamic rule, the system of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqah) that developed had its basis in the Qur’anic legislation and they were progressive and innovative according to the standards of those times. Prominent Muslim jurists (fuqhah) used various devices, such as ijtihad, analogy, istihsan, ijma, istidlal, to extend the laws and their application.

But around the 13th century things changed and Islamic jurisprudence came to a standstill. It was no more able to move with the changing times. And that condition still prevails. In addition, the Sharia law has become more regressive and inequitable in places where it has been enforced, especially in matters of women’s rights, male domination, criminal offences, etc. etc.

Many ordinary people who have their traditional Islamic identity and customs don’t have the slightest clue about the Sharia laws. Their way of thinking is shaped not by any independent thinking or observations, but by what they hear in the sermons of their clergy and religious preachers. Their thinking in such matters is very simple: The Sharia laws are made by God; therefore they are always the best for all! Once they become the laws in our countries, justice and truth will prevail; injustice and violations of human rights will disappear. The true rule of God on earth will appear. The lion and the goat will drink water from the same pond!

In sum, this is all what they think and nothing more. But unfortunately all this is illusory and has no basis in reality. Now the big question is: How to remove such daydreaming and misunderstandings? The answer lies in giving the correct information. That involves a gradual and systematic educational process. This can be performed by those who know the inadequacy of the Sharia laws that don’t and can’t meet the needs of people in this age. To do so is not an easy task for many reasons. However, it is essential to impart such information in a polite and humane way without resorting to abusive or aggressive language or making any attacks on traditional religious beliefs and customs.