Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ideology Behind the Extremist Violence in Pakistan

The following article I published on 31 March 2016 after an Islamist bomber targeted innocent people in Lahore. I am posing it again because the mainstay of violence in Pakistan has roots in an ideology which gets all the nourishment and patronage for its abominable crimes.

--- Nasir Khan

A suicide bomber belonging to extremist group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, associated with the Pakistani Taliban, attacked a large park in Lahore where people were celebrating Easter Sunday. His powerful bomb caused the deaths of at least 70 people, mostly women and children, and injured more than 350 people. The bomber seemed to have targeted the Christians but the people taking part in the celebration were of all faiths, including Christians and Muslims. Most of the victims were Muslims. This bomber blowing himself up in a crowed public place was following the commands of his extremist mentors. In fact, such brainwashed suicide bombers are also victims of their own right-wing organizations that send them to commit such acts.

Yet, the events of Easter Sunday in Lahore did not come as a surprise to the people who know about the politicization of Islam in Pakistan that produced Islamist militants, willing to attack religious minorities as part of their religious mission.

It is important to keep in mind that such religious fanatics did not emerge in a political vacuum. They are a natural growth of the exploitation of Islam that Pakistan’s political elites had assiduously cultivated right after the death of Mr. Jinnah in 1948. A milestone in the regressive political scenario was reached in 1956 when the new country was baptized as the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. Thus Islam and Pakistani State had become one; this union was the beginning of the theocratic state where religious establishment and Islamist parties were free to propagate their versions of Islamic State and its political direction.

From now on, religious parties and clerics became even more vocal champions of an Islamist state in which only the Islamic law, the Sharia, was to prevail, thus excluding any man-made laws based upon modern western legal principles and codes. The full introduction of the Sharia was to be the firm foundation upon which a paradise on earth was to be built, where peace and justice would prevail.

As many ignorant clerics and their supporters had scant knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, they visualized the model of the Islamic state strictly according to the Sharia as they wished. Apparently, many people have heard that under the Sharia laws, a thief’s hands are chopped off and a woman accused of adultery is stoned to death. As a result, millions of indoctrinated people are jubilant about the bright prospects of a truly Islamic order and its quick dispensation of justice. The women charged with adultery or some other sexual transgression would be readily sent to the next world; thieves with chopped off hands would prove a warning to any prospective offenders of the consequences of stealing. Such things would kindle the light of righteousness on the heavenly structure set up in Pakistan. No more worries. Worries would become a thing of the unholy past.

What the Pakistani Islamists and extremists have set their sights on are not confined to the borders of their country. Theirs is a universal call for all the ‘true believers’, everywhere. They have a sacred task ahead of them. They should move forward and do what their Islamist leaders tell them to do. In fact, most Pakistani Muslims, who are otherwise quite gentle and kind people in their dealings in their daily lives, support the idea of a such a truly Islamic state that is on the model of the caliphate of the seventh-century Arabia. The call for sharia laws has become the rallying cry and the heartbeat of these people.

How has religious orthodoxy and extremism affected the people of Pakistan can be illustrated from the case of Mumtaz Qadri. By all accounts, he was an ordinary man, certainly an indoctrinated poor soul, who was in the squad of the personal bodyguards of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab. He killed Mr Taseer in the most gruesome manner by shooting him with 28 bullets at close range. He committed this ghastly crime because Mr Taseer had opposed the notorious blasphemy laws and tried to speak on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who was languishing in prison after her trial and conviction under the blasphemy laws on concocted charges.

On Qadri’s arrest and subsequent trial, large crowds held public demonstrations in the country in his favour. He was the hero of Islam. The role of thousands of lawyers in this sad story was equally alarming. They were over-zealous and were in the forefront of such demonstrations. These ‘educated’ people like uneducated or poorly educated people also saw and see the blasphemy laws vital to protect the name and honour of Almighty God, the Holy Prophet and the Qur’an. Therefore, when we discuss widespread indoctrination, a person with common sense or ordinary intelligence will soon realise the havoc caused by uncritical thinking and morbid indoctrination.

When Qadri was eventually executed for his premeditated murder, hundreds of thousands Pakistanis in many cities in Pakistan demonstrated in his favour, naming him the ‘hero of Islam’ and a ‘martyr’. Moreover, he received the same passionate support from the Pakistani communities living in Europe and elsewhere. Many ordinary people of European origin were simply amazed at what these people were saying and doing in free democratic countries.

In addition, the objective of Islamic parties and their indoctrinating clerics was to fight against what they regarded as western values, such as democratic forms of government, gender equality, freedom of expression and belief. Under this system, religious minorities have only a secondary status in Islamic Pakistan. A change of religion from Islam to any other faith is out of question. Those abandoning Islam run great risks; they become apostates and their punishment is death. However, there is a lot of goodwill towards any non-Muslim who converts to Islam. By such an act, a convert to Islam becomes the member of Islamic community and can have unlimited divine favours here and hereafter.

To sum up, the phenomenon of Islamist terror, whose recent example was in Lahore, is not some incidental aberration but rather a result of a politically and religiously motivated world-view that has an ideological background. It is safe to say that most Pakistanis favour an Islamic order and the introduction of the sharia laws in their country because that will lead to a prosperous present and a virtuous future. However, they do not necessarily support the terrorist methods and bomb blasts of the extremists. They would love to see a peaceful transformation to the Islamic order without the terror of the Taliban and other militant groups they have seen for many years. The support for such an outlook is not limited to ordinary, uneducated and indoctrinated people either. Many well-educated people also stand with the upholders of Islamist ideology and the champions of the sharia laws. The call to turn to ‘real Islam’ echoes the feelings of a country of 200 million people. Where things are heading in Pakistan gives no room for complacency.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Maintaining Institutionalized Ignorance

-- Nasir Khan

Renowned American writer Saul Bellow (1915-2005) says: "A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance." This pithy saying speaks volumes if we analyze it at greater length. But I will offer only a few fleeting remarks here.

It may surprise some if I say that ignorance is not a simple matter. In fact, a complex phenomenon serves various social, political and religious interests. It is directly related to influence common people and their consciousness of the social reality that surrounds them. However, the task of the brainy purveyors of ignorance is not to inform, but to raise the barriers that would not let any truth slip into the masses! That means if the particular interests are to be protected and masses duped then ignorance has to be institutionalized, fortified and perpetuated by the powerful and the influential people who are at the helm of affairs.

Who can buttress the citadel of ignorance better than the people who are dubbed as intelligentsia, intellectuals and the ‘educated’ ones that separates them from the ordinary people? There is no doubt, they do an excellent job when they have rich and resourceful people to patronize them and institutions to hire their services. They are closely attached to upholding the interests of the ruling elite and justify their actions and policies. I call them modern-day gladiators!

On Proletarian Internationalism

--- Nasir Khan

When the workers of all countries unite for the common cause of a creating a society where the capitalists and owners of the means of production do not control the lives and destinies of the 99% of human beings in the world, any such unity in Marxist thought is known as proletarian internationalism.

The goal of the struggle of the working masses including the peasants and landless serfs is primarily to defend themselves against the power and domination of the owners of means of production that they mostly use for augmenting their own wealth and upholding their privileges. The ideas about the unity of working classes to create a humane world has been the focus of theoretical and practical activities of generations of socialists since the founders of Scientific Socialism formulated their economic and political theories in the 19th century.

The first major step in creating a socialist society took place in Czarist Russia where the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin overthrew the old dynastic rule and introduced the Soviet system.

The success of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was a catalyst for revolutionary activities of the working masses in many countries and also a clarion call to the colonized people to overthrow their colonial masters. As a result, anti-colonial struggles became a powerful force in many Afro-Asian countries. Many countries, big and small, succeeded in throwing off the yoke of European masters.

But in many instances the local ruling classes that emerged had their roots in privileged classes or groups. The struggle for political and economic exploitation became their sole interest. While such leaders plundered their own people and used the political system as a camouflage for furthering their interests, the plight of the poor people remained a non-issue for them. In any case, it is little consolation to the working class, poor or starving people that their “glorious” saviors and leaders have hundreds of millions of dollars stacked in secret banks accounts in Switzerland, France, Britain and America!

However, such exploitation and downright plunder is not incidental. It is endemic, and closely related to how the capitalist political and economic system works. As long as capitalism lives, such exploitation will have its sway. In the third world countries, the problem of institutionalized brainwashing coupled with the exploitation of religion and cheap deceptive slogans at the hands of the ruling elites will continue to play havoc with the people of many Afro-Asian countries.

No doubt, capitalism is wonderful for a few but a disaster for many. To address such issues, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels advocated socialist democracy and a socialist system in place of capitalism. To achieve that goal, political education of working class people is the first step and that education is part of the political activity that is expressed by the unity of the workers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Are Socialists Non-Believers?

--- Nasir Khan

Socialists are not non-believers. The people who believe in social justice, social equality of men and women, believe in a just and non-oppressive social, political and economic organization of society in the interest of all, believe in the advancement of knowledge free from the power of the ignorant people who keep society back, and who stand for humanity and human values for all without showing favour to any one religion, one special colour or race are believers on a higher level than the followers of dogmas and superstitions beliefs, worshipping stones and all sorts of natural or man-made objects.
A former Facebook friend of mine (she is no longer on my friends' list) and some other readers have come up with some strong criticism of Communists and their crimes under Communist leaders. In fact, her views are quite common in many parts of the world. I am adding my reply to her for other readers to see as well:

Dear XY: My piece is not about Stalin or Hitler and their actions. In it, I clarified in a summary form that socialists are also believers, and not non-believers as some people falsely assert. How are they believers that I’ve discussed. It is about the principles on which socialism is based and the principles which are the core of socialist thinking.

If a socialist or a communist has committed such crimes as you mention, then the fault does not lie with the principles of socialism but with any person who misuses the principles of socialism. In the same way, as Hitler, Franco, Pinochet, George W. Bush killed millions of innocent people; these leaders were Christians. The principles or dogmas of Christianity or even Jesus Christ did not stop them from killing millions of people for their political objectives.

The conquistadors in the New World (America) wiped out millions of the native Americans. All these killers were Christians from Europe. The same thing happened in Australia. The people who wiped out the native populations were Christians. But as a socialist, I do not blame Christianity for what these killers did. I can add to the list a lot more. But I wanted to give you only a short reply.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Religion and Politics

-- Nasir Khan

"In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”

― American author Mark Twain (1835-1910)

In Norway, people say if you discuss religion and politics then your social contacts with your friends will have a short life. I am acutely aware of this dilemma because I often discuss religion and politics in my articles and comments that I share with many. No wonder if I can count the number of my close friends on the fingers of only one hand!

Both religions and politics have their long lives that outlive us as individuals. In fact, both religions and politics share some common concerns that make them appealing to their followers. We follow religions because our ancestors have done so. In our childhood, we may ask some odd question but soon we find that the social pressure to conform prevails and we fall in line with the common traditional practices in our inherited religion. Western societies may have found some middle way, but the vast majorities of Afro-Asian societies follow the traditional pattern in matters of religion.

Some people may be modest not to proclaim the superiority of their religion, their religious beliefs or ‘their’ God/gods. But they are limited in numbers. Most followers of a religion take a different course. They may say something that amounts to this: ‘Other religions are false and based on wrong beliefs, but my religion is real and the best’, ‘our God is the only true God because he is not man-made as some others have’, and so on.

In politics, we have more or less the same. For instance, in the United States, there are only Democratic and Republican parties that have monopoly over power. You are either a Dem or a Rep by birth! Only a few may cross the party lines but the vast majorities of the two parties remain loyal to the party they inherited from their parents. Therefore, I find the traditional attitudes towards religion and politics Mark Twain referred to be empirically accurate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The threat of Hindutva fascism in India and Indian Muslims

-- Nasir Khan, December 18, 2018

Badri Raina is well-versed in India's political and social issues. Over the years he has been busy pouring forth his ideas and suggestions in his articles and columns with great vigour and in earnest. As a result, we find much food for thought in what he says or focuses on in his analyses or reflections. One may even look upon this retired professor of English as a political guru for well-educated Indians!

There are many glaring contradictions that an outsider like myself comes face to face when looking inside the Indian political system and judging its main political actors. On one hand, the fundamental principles enshrined in the secular, democratic constitution of the Indian Union are praiseworthy, but, on the other hand, the forces operating against the fundamental values of a secular democracy have been and are a constant threat.

The Hindutva fascism has taken firm roots within the Hindus, thus posing an existential threat to Indian Muslims, who are the main target of the right-wing Hindu militant organizations and their political parties. The expansion and influence of the Hindutva ideology and political brainwashing of the Hindu masses to regard Muslims as enemies and unwanted people has been phenomenal. The enmity and hatred towards Indian Muslims and Pakistan among the Hindu population, including ‘liberal’ Hindus, is bewildering.

Will Rahul Gandhi as the leader of Indian National Congress be able to stem the tide of Hindutva fascism? To succeed, even to a moderate degree, he will need all the active help of democratic people in India. Let’s hope the optimism Raina shows in this column is not misplaced.

In any case, I stand with all those who work for secular democracy, non-discrimination against any religious community and safeguard the human rights of all for a peaceful co-existence under the rule of law.


Why Rahul Gandhi Is Right to Pit Hinduism Against Hindutva

Gandhi underscores that Hindutva is a neo-fascist theory which is far removed from Hinduism. 

It is never a good thing for politics to go just one way in a democracy as pluralist as India’s.
The defeat of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the three Hindi heartland states, therefore, must be seen as a salutary course correction.

A hitherto supine Indian National Congress is clearly up and about, and a feisty revival of its self-confidence is visible everywhere. It will be graceless pusillanimity to deny that Rahul Gandhi as the new Congress president had anything to do with this. Gandhi has battled self-doubt and derision with a steady and humble self-application to the complexities both of his own party and the national zeitgeist, and he emerged triumphant.

Gandhi’s sifting of the campaign agenda and his denomination of personnel at all levels has, for the most part, been impeccable and untainted by small-minded considerations. As has been his refusal to answer the politics of hate and chicanery by similar means. He has earned his spurs the hard way and decisively put to rest speculations about his leadership. It may be said that his career graph defines a heroism of sincerity.

Most electoral campaigns in democracies tend to follow largely predictable axes of propagation, but three aspects of Gandhi’s campaign invite particular attention.

Also read: Here’s What Congress Needs to Do to Continue Its Winning Streak in 2019

Throughout the Congress’s campaign, Gandhi has sought to take the party more to the Left than could have been expected. He has relentlessly attacked the crony-corporate friendliness of the Modi dispensation and countered it by highlighting  agrarian distress and joblessness – issues that have yielded considerable traction among the populace – both in the rural and urban sectors.  The severity of these mass predicaments  has been far too real to be fobbed off by the regressively emotive shenanigans sought to be unleashed by the Hindu rightwing.

More controversially – and for most liberal commentators, problematically – Gandhi, after listening to the findings of the A.K. Antony report, has sought to boldly embrace his Hindu identity.

On the face of it, this aspect of his campaign must seem dismaying to those who hold on dearly to the secular principles of constitutional  politics. There is no doubt that this new turn within the campaign has caused deep apprehension among minority communities, especially  Muslims, who, regardless of their misgivings, see in the Indian National Congress some guarantee of secular safety.
Upon deeper reflection, however, a more constructive and long-term interpretation of this turn seems warranted.

An overdue agenda of India’s cultural politics has been to intelligently deny the Hindutva camp proprietorship of Hindu cultural identity. More acutely, Gandhi’s articulation here underscores that Hindutva, far from being a religious construct, is essentially a neo-fascist political theory of state and polity. Therefore, it’s far removed from Hinduism as practiced by India’s majority population. Where quotidian Hindus – like quotidian Muslims – have always practiced their faith in non-sectarian ways, Hindutva has viciously stoked sectarian and hate-filled cultural proclivities.

It cannot be detrimental for this contrast to have been flagged during the campaign. Gandhi, then, did not so much as succumb to Hindutva as he sought to dethrone its pernicious content with the virtues of personally-held faith. I make bold to say that if the Congress party works this agenda with intelligent discrimination and in tandem with demonstrated pluralism in government and on the ground, such praxis may rid us of a menace against which Indian politics seems helpless.

This must now involve re-owning India’s minority populations with conviction and without fear of the hitherto accusations of ‘minority appeasement’. Given that, however subtly, Gandhi has shown Hindutva to be the larger and more detrimental appeasement politics, Indian Muslims need not suffer any longer on account of an opprobrium that the Congress party has caved into off and on.
The Indian masses have seen enough of the depredation wrought by Hindutva as a political-cultural posturing now to know that it is anything but Hinduism. Gandhi has courageously taken on the onus to exorcise Hindutva jinn from India’s statecraft and body-politic. However, should the Congress be seen jittery again in embracing India’s minorities, especially Muslims, it would only end in paying a fatal compliment to the adversary it seeks to vanquish.

Also read: Assembly Elections 2018: What Does This Loss Mean for the BJP?

The third aspect of Gandhi’s tenure as party president concerns his style of leadership. By all accounts, his democratic humility is no mere posture. The stunning revival of the party structures from top to bottom seem intimately connected with his determination to respect opinions on as wide a scale as party functioning permits. He seems truly to have encouraged First Amendment rights, so to speak, to workers, satraps, regional leaders and party spokespersons to a point where they now seem both unafraid and all the more committed to the party’s ideology rather just to his person. This is a fine prospect for India’s multi-party democracy and for the Indian National Congress particularly.
But, having ousted the BJP from its heartland bastions by appraising the electorate of the hollow nature of political jumlas, the Congress must now ensure that its own manifesto does not similarly remain a fake gesture. It will be crucial for the party that its governance remains rooted in delivering upon its promises. Where if fails to do so for objective reasons, it must be able to forthrightly communicate to the people the constraints which prevented it from performing in those areas.
Much of the party’s credentials to play a leading role in unifying political opposition against the BJP in the upcoming general elections will depend on its people-oriented governance.

Badri Raina taught English literature at Delhi University for four decades. He is the author of Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth, The Underside of Things: India and the World, Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters and other books.

Christmas, Palestine & Kashmir

Nasir Khan, December 18, 2018

Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas and Happy Yule to all who live in peaceful, democratic countries where human rights are respected and the rule of law is followed. 

But the occupied people of Palestine live under a brutal colonial power, Israel, which is busy killing and uprooting the Palestinians. 

The same story is repeated in Kashmir, where Kashmiris demand freedom and the right to self-determination. In response, the Indian army kills, maims, blinds and terrorizes the Kashmiri people ruthlessly. The Indian rulers think that by their military force, they will prevail over the demands of the people of Kashmir, as they have done for the last seven decades. But the people of Kashmir continue to resist the Indian rule.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Wars and Profits

--- Nasir Khan. 

"War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it."

-- British writer George Orwell (1903-1950)

Well, selling weapons and making enormous profits is quite common for the weapon producers. If there are no wars or no military conflicts, the weapon industries of the major industrialized countries can’t sell their products and can't survive financially. No war, no profit. Therefore, they have to use their political influence to push the ruling elite to start some military conflicts under some flimsy slogans that catches the attention of the ordinary people.

But when a powerful country decides to invade a foreign country, the ruling elite and their henchmen do no say they are going on a military spree to earn large profits! Instead, they have to use other means to carry out their war plans, by hiding the true objectives of foreign wars.

First, they feed the population of their country with false information. They can offer any reasons to justify a war. The whole state-machine and its think tanks can offer all sort of explanations to gain support for a coming war.

Secondly, they appeal to the demons of nationalist jingoism and patriotism to sell their war. This stratagem or trap never fails. In fact, the thin porridge of national pride to win victory over a distant ‘enemy’ is gladly devoured by the vast majority. What comes next is all too familiar!

Monday, December 10, 2018

The break-up of Pakistan in 1971

-- Nasir Khan

In 1971, under the orders of President Yahya Khan Pakistani army unleashed Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan. What the army was asked to do was to crush all opposition after political negotiations between Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to form the national government failed. In fact, it was Sheikh Mujib's Awami League that had won the majority of seats and its leader, Sheikh Mujib, was entitled to become the prime minister of Pakistan. But it did happen this way.

Some prominent politicians in West Pakistani didn't want Sheikh Mujib to gain power or were unwilling to share power with him. This led to public protests in East Pakistan and opposition to West Pakistan's domination. Soon the opposition became a rebellion that became a war of independence for the people of East Pakistan to overthrow the yoke of West Pakistan's political and economic domination. After making enormous sacrifices and receiving military help from India to defeat the beleaguered Pakistani army, the Mukti Bahini, the volunteer liberation army, achieved independence. Bangladesh came into existence as a new sovereign state.

After the tragic destruction and suffering of the people in East Pakistan and the humiliating surrender of Pakistani army there, Mr Bhutto emerged as the most powerful leader in Pakistan (formerly West Pakistan) while Sheikh Mujib became the iconic figure and ruler of Bangladesh.

In 1971, the two-winged Pakistan lost its one wing. Since then it has been flying on only one wing! If the high horizons set by its leaders and its mullahs remain undisturbed, it may soon reach some new universe.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Palestine, Palestinians and Israel

---Nasir Khan, December 6, 2018

Today, Terry Deans in the public group John Pilger - Hidden Agendas, Honest Debates wrote a comment in response to my exchange of views with Stephanie Schwartz that I had posted there as a member. 

I am reproducing Terry Deans's comment, followed by my reply.

Terry Deans wrote: 

Well done so far, Nasir Khan. This matter has been a long and complex time in it's establishment and evolution and, as such, any understanding and/or resolution deserves to be regarded with much more than a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer to a very basic question which on no level takes into account the issues you have raised. And there are more than likely to be many more dynamics to this situation.
Nasir Khan wrote: 

Thank you Terry Deans for a politically realistic comment and seeing the problems involved in finding an acceptable solution to the problem Palestinians face. It is common knowledge that Israel has tried a number of solutions to change the face of Palestine and has spared no effort to present the people of Palestine as remnants of a bygone age, which no one should bother about any longer. But for some reason the Zionist rulers of Israel have not tried the 'final solution' yet, even though they had all the military power and the technical know-how to resort to it.

In such a scenario, the most powerful countries, such as the United States and its allies, that dance to the tunes of Zionist rulers of Israel and their lobbies would have looked the other way, as if nothing was happening. The actions of Israel in Gaza are not hidden from anyone; yet western imperial powers fully support the crimes and incremental ethnic cleansing of the besieged and isolated Palestinians of Gaza. Of course, the western mantra that Israel has a right to defend itself is a handy tool for all events, and it would have been used and thus put the matter to rest. Full stop.