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Friday, October 18, 2013

My article on Child Sexual Abuse in Viewpoint Online. I explore the social construction of sexual behavior and how it creates room for violence.



Cases which would have been lost as cries in an empty classroom, a mosque, or a relative’s house are now being heard
Pakistan is scared, yet again. There have been bombs, there have been killings and there have been frequent interruptions of governance. But nothing has appalled, frightened and shocked the Pakistanis more than the recent outpour of sexual attacks on children; their own children.
They don’t get it! How can this happen? How can someone stoop so low that an ‘’object of innocence’’ be their impetus for aggression? How can a ‘’powerless’’ child be the cause for lust? And in their mental disarray a barrage of accusation, justifications and rationales spreads out. Media, the West, the USA, deviance from Islam, absence of Sharia, deteriorating law and order situation, mental disorder; In short, every villain (or lack of a heroic) known to the Pakistani mindset is brought out, questioned and held responsible for ‘’somehow’’ causing this sudden rise in attacks on children.
But they still don’t get it. And they won’t either. This is because sex is a subject never publicly or openly broached in Pakistan while rape continues to be a taboo topic. The TV channels are hurriedly changed when news of child victims of sexual violence is aired. However, despite the bid to avoid the topic, we it seems have reluctantly come a long way in any case. Are we not finally exploring the taboo subject?
To comprehend the problem better, we need to go beyond the questions such as pedophilia or child sexual abuse as an individual act. We need to focus more on the social construction of sex. I will examine three perspectives in this piece and show how these three perspectives in an interlocking way explain our understanding of sexuality, sexual behavior, and sex. This will in turn explain how room is created for rampant sexual violence.
For the first, our understandings is that ‘’sex is genital’’. It can be linked back to our ‘informal history’, describing sex as an act of reproduction, hence a ‘’genital act’’. Through this focus on the genitals, male desire became associated with erections and ‘’active sex’’, and was expressed in terms of penetration. Female sexuality as a result was seen as ‘’hidden’’, ‘’passive’’ and ‘’receptive’’. This social understanding creates a gendered expression of human sexuality where masculinity is seen as active and penetrative, while passivity is seen as non-masculine or worse, emasculated.
Secondly, as in social sciences, the ‘’issues of power’’ have traditionally been addressed through ‘’structuralist’’ perspectives. Structuralism sees how social institutions and social orders generate social phenomena instead of creative human activity. Hence, our culture moulds human sexuality through various social institutions: religion, family, media, the criminal justice system and schools. There is enough research to prove that sexual beliefs, practices and identities are ‘’learnt’’ through social institutions.
The final perspective that we’ll examine is a very recent foray into understanding sexuality. The ‘’interactionist’’ perspective looks at how categorization and labels are ascribed to sexual behaviors. For example, where structuralists would ask ‘’What makes people homosexual?” interactionists would question ‘’What makes people respond as they do to homosexuality?’’.
So keeping this in mind, what causes certain forms of sexual behaviors is not what we will assess. Rather we’ll look at why some sexual behaviors are given particular meanings, and what effects these meanings have on people in terms of how they organize their sexual lives. This makes us realize that a person engaging in a certain sexual activity may indeed be a ‘’role’’ that he is acting out; a role generated by attaching a label with a certain form of sexual activity.
Schools and colleges have long been associated with harboring same-sex activity. It has often been documented and recorded. In a previous article I have examined how same-sex behaviors are commonly present and understood in all-boys colleges. Boys associated with passivity are often bullied, or else labeled as effeminate. Simultaneously, they are also looked at as sexually available and as objects of lust and desire. Should we assume that in this context it is a ‘’role’’ deigned upon them as a result of their activity being labeled? And boys or men in a position of power can use or abuse others as this a part of them playing their manly, assertive role? Yes.
Of the many cases of child abuse reported, family acquaintances or trust-worthy people at different levels of social institutions (religious leaders, teachers, principals) are found guilty.
Unhealthy, cruel and unsafe, yes. But masked by our judgments we forget to realize the hard-truth that sexual activity with children lies at the heart of our social structure. Its presence in the core social institution, ‘’the family’’, is tantamount to it being a form of sexual behavior that we ‘’learn’’ along the way. No wonder many child molesters have themselves been abused as children. Many children, especially the ones on streets, have often been abused by people, mostly police-men, on the pretext that the child is mischievous. This justification isn’t given to the parents of the child, or the society. It is the child who is told that as he/she is being mischievous, ‘’he/she has it coming’’. So are we ‘’learning’’ that forced-sex is a form of corrective punishment? And when the child grows up will he have learnt that even he can perform an act of forced-sex on children who are being unruly? If the answer is no, then why is ‘’I will fuck you!” such a common abuse meted out when we are frustrated with how someone is acting? And why are unattractive and manly prisoners subjected to sexual and penetrative abuse at police stations?
The act of penetration is a role, a role of power. And our everyday language, wearing words and sexual slang are testament enough to the fact. Sex is seen as an act of the man, and penetration his weapon. A man penetrating a ‘’powerless, object of innocence’’ isn’t actually that big a surprise when you look at it this way. And I believe this the reason why so many cases are surfacing now that parents and media are on the alert. Cases which would have been lost as cries in an empty classroom, a mosque, or a relative’s house are now being heard. As we stand ready to legislate (which might again be a long way in coming given the speed at which our Islamic Ideology Council acts on matters pertaining to sex), the way we look at sex also needs to be questioned. Consent and its importance needs to be stressed upon; as well as an understanding that a child’s consent is no consent at all! And that forced sex without consent or with a child is not a sign of manliness but cowardice. Parents need to be told that all is not gold within the family. Schools and colleges need to adopt measures to understand how power dynamics translate in sexual behaviors. And at some point we might even have to stand and look into the mirror to see the molester within; created at the hands of social institutions, power dynamics and role-playing.
End note: Pedophiles and child molesters will celebrate if the Islamic Republic of Pakistan goes to the Taliban. They will have a lot in common to celebrate.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


There are moments when a sunset sets into the perfect blends of pink and brown; and there are moments when a dull blue and grey is all that one gets to see. There are moments when a cool gust of wind brings with it memories of a time cherished; and there are moments of cold breezes that make one shiver and shake. There are moments when your heart stops beating and your breath goes into a frenzy at the sight of that someone; and there are moments when that someone becomes so distant that the good seems like a mirage.
We often face a question; what was the exact moment i fell in love? Or perhaps what was the exact moment i thought i had fallen in love? We never know the answer, maybe because love is a feeling that builds, it doesnt just start. We are scared, and we are ecstatic. The lines between logic, caution, pleasure and desire hold no meaning anymore; and rightly so. Such human notions like love, care, passion and unbridled emotions dont have any room for defensive behaviors like being careful and meticulous. Love is a tide, and the tide needs to flow. It will never dam itself up nor will it be contained, or controlled. It needs trust, and faith. The slightest inclination to doubt, or refusal to believe in the truth, is able to crush the budding feelings being evoked. For love needs care and compassion, not doubt, refusal and inability to trust. Insecurities are fruits of the mean and bad world. Love is the emotion solely pure and devoid of all these. Maybe I've penned it down in a very unachievable manner, but I've achieved it, and its possible for all to do so. It requires just that one step, without remorse, without guilt and without fears.
So when is the exact moment we fall in love? We'll never know. Ironically though, we always know when we fall out of it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nip the bud in the evil...

The frequently televised appearances of verbose politicians and angry people pointing towards the errors and discrepancies that have caused the break-down of our countries engine on one channel, and the totally contrasting blonde babes carrying “Change!” placards in democratic conventions in USA on another channel (read: CNN), have left a new toy for us to toy with; we have all been given a voice. And we all have suddenly become opinionated. We raise our heads high and we rattle our throats, and out comes the cacophony that can very well be expected from a massively illiterate and horrifyingly diseased society, the meshwork of whose problems has went on to envelope and then castrate every sector of our nation. The united voice is not pointing at a solution, it isn’t even pointing at the basic problem. But it is for sure giving an indication to where does the Pakistani predicaments start from; the society! The voice hasn’t been deciphered and hence has been misinterpreted. It doesn’t yell for economic reforms, better health care systems and proper legislations when it yells for them. It calls out for someone to medicate it; like when a mad-man starts calling out for his elephant with a golden crown it means it’s time for his medicine!
The change we all so yearn for deeply is brazenly laid on the shoulders of a leader, preferably religious, while ignoring the responsibilities we face as the elementary constituents of this society. Economists in collaboration with social scientists believe society and economics belong to the same fabric; bringing change in one leads to a concurrent change in the other. As economic reforms are ostensibly invisible in the near-future, shouldn’t we step up and shoulder the task of bringing a social change? Out of the million corrections possible the following might help improve our society and nation at large and equip us with the muscle to take a fresh, and better, step forward.
Cry o nation cry! Bleed o people bleed! Help o lord help! Burqas have been banned in France. Construction of minarets has been forbidden in Switzerland. Caricatures of our Prophet are drawn with utter disrespect in Norway (and a hundred other countries). People call us terrorists. They make fun of our beards and caps. Our laws are called barbaric. Oh all and sundry! Come mourn! Our religion is under fire, Islam is under attack!
Wait please. Re-wind. And time for a little reality check I guess. Are “liberal” western women allowed to wear their choice of dresses anywhere in the Muslim Middle East?  Don’t we laugh our guts out whenever we hear about Kaali Maata or that monkey god with his tongue out? Our religious school-books, certified by the Government authorities, leave no stone unturned in mocking other faiths and teaching hatred. What is done to minorities in our country under the Blasphemy law is very well known. Churches and homes of non-Muslims are torched without any check because we, being the religious despots, have the license to loot and plunder whatever we want under the false pretext of religion. The question is, when we disrespect other religions with a blatant disregard, make fun of their Gods and rituals, don’t let them practice their ideology no matter how absurd; does the Oh-so-Holy talk of them being disrespectful to us remain even valid? Where does the concept of give respect get respect vanish in this scenario?
 If we want our religion to be respected, we better start showing tolerance towards other faiths too. That doesn’t mean celebrating Holi or Easter day at our homes, it just requires a bit of acceptance from our parts and letting them live their way. If we, as widely & proudly said, are so correct and right then their lifestyles shouldn’t be affecting us. Religion is a personal (or social) choice, nothing to be mocked at or made fun of. During the course of molding our identities on the lines of religious boundaries, we have somehow forgotten that before being Jews, Muslims, Atheists or Christians; we are, for one, all human beings and totally worthy of equal respect and justice.
Of the countless clich├ęs of the 20th-21st century, none can be as prolific and widely used than the struggle for women rights. Just as our generation set off on the modern-day “quest to be cool” and pulled with them into the furnace anything under the sun that seemed “cool” enough to them, women rights also was made to join the club. And hence thereafter talking about the plight of women-folk and concepts of gender equality wasn’t an indication of morality or justice, it was just another signal of the speaker being “cool”. In our country, the struggle doesn’t seem to be a struggle anymore; it’s an obnoxiously crafted and contemptuously run business that means building up meaningless institutions, hiring women who are self-proclaimed rebels of the society, and publishing statistics in their weekly, monthly or annual newsletters. In short, doing nothing to actually alleviate the poorer than miserable state of women in our country. We are all so proudly told that there are 76 women in the parliament. And 4 in the direct combat roles of PAF. And how (??) rape victims (read: Mukhtaran Mai) were led to the doors of justice. Does that mean that the remaining 86.7 million women are living in the same luxuries and enjoying the same respect from the society?
We need to understand that passing legislations and citing statistical improvements doesn’t improve the status of the “everyday” woman in the eyes of the “everyday” man. A lady walking by the road will still be scanned from head-to-toe. A random female ID on Facebook will still receive 32 friend requests daily. 80% of our households will still endorse the physical abuse of wives on the notions of maintaining “social-order”. Refrain from reporting harassment at workspace will continue prevailing to preserve a woman’s “honor”. Putting aside the television phenomenon, we should be taught from the grass-root level how women have their distinct identities and attributes, totally different from men and yes, very good attributes indeed, and they need and deserve to be respected for that. Women need not be gauged by a meter that’s made on the lines of masculinity. And before being egoistic men and stressing on them the need and use of purdaah, the realization should be made that the same religion Islam also makes purdaah mandatory for men; the purdaah of eyes that is not photo scanning women like we all do so unashamedly. A pretty woman, working alongside you at your workplace, is a pretty woman later; she is a professional woman first. Iran is always there as an example where women play football at Olympics, win medals in Taekwondo and go on to scale Mount Everest, all with their heads and bodies covered totally on lines of their cultural conventions. That’s called following religion and being practical at the same time. That’s called having a vision and progressing ahead without making culture an inhibition. That’s called, change!
“Mubarik ho yaar teray bhai ki nokri lag gai! Kesi chal rahi ha?” “Zabardast! Fit nokri hai yaar, saara din AC k neechay betha rehta ha, aik do sign maarta ha aur araam se 1 lac pesay b kama leta ha! Aur to aur us k neechay 50 log kaam kartay hain!”
Whether it’s a consequential inferiority complex injected in our race thanks to the British rule or an unsatisfied desire to somehow achieve any sort of control over any number of individuals, it is hard to tell. But the undisputed hallmarks of an excellent job remain being highly inactive at work and vexingly authoritative over a particular number of people. The concepts of Iqbal that are narrated to us as being the prerequisites of a bonafide Pakistani (read: Muslim) are flushed away as the paradigm of “sleeping in the work chair” emerges over the horizon of our petty fore-sights. Sociologists believe people of a deprived group, that includes the majority of our public, follow a quest for the resource that is least available and the most desirable; which undoubtedly for our society is “authority/status”.
When the need of being superlative supersedes the need of being honest and hardworking, the results are very well reaped in the form of professional and ethical incompetency leading to a state of mass disarray. Our professional vistas are blatant examples of the above fact; us being the instrumentalists and audience both in this appalling theatre of putrescence and recession.
We need to contemplate the reality that our countries coming into being on the 27th of Ramadan is not reason enough to help us progress in the modern world. Industrial, economic and social growths require more than just religious fervor. Out attitude towards work and workmanship has to be completely overhauled and reconstructed on the notions of loyalty-to-work and refusal-to-quit. Only when each and every Pakistani starts sweating for the progress of this country, the “change” we all yearn for will start unfurling its wings. Blaming it all on the complacency of “leaders” and their ineptness won’t serve the right purpose. The truth goes just like Napoleon Hill said “Do not wait; the time will never be "just right'. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along”.
The time has come for us to identify the cancer within our individual selves, the plaque that has imbibed itself within the unbending maxims of our social order. Only when we emerge as a healthy and progressive society, which is prepared to push itself into the practical realms of the world, can we see the beacons of growth in egression. Will Durant’s observation can very well explicate our current situation: “No great civilization is lost, until it has been eaten away from the inside”.

Friday, February 11, 2011


When Race comes off as the most grossing film in Pakistan; when 3 idiots translates into a cult phenomenon and inspires our modern college life; when Katrina Kaif becomes the overt guilty pleasure of straight Pakistani men; when popular text-message jokes give detailed analyses of Sheila and Munni; when examples from My Name Is Khan are cited in discussions on terrorism; when Baghban and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham are heralded as the honest custodians of our “Eastern” values; you woefully start questioning, has the Pakistani taste & intellect level hit an all-time low?
Lest I be endowed with hurtful and bemoaning glances, I’ll admit that, yes, Bollywood does come up with one decent movie per annum that actually makes sense and is not, as Shoaib Mansoor puts it, “a more expensive version of what we produce in Lollywood”. But otherwise I’ll rather take to this fact; major international movie critics and academies have time and again refused to consider Bollywood productions as good cinema.  Big box-office earnings and Madam Tussaud’s wax-statues are, sorry to say, not judges of substantial cinema.
So how justified are “vulgarity” & “not being thought-conducive” the main causes behind our staying away from Lollywood? If I'm forgetting did not Race, one of the highest grossers in Pakistan, have a proper semi-nude romance scene (Indian ishtyle ofcourse)? And how thought-conducive Race was and what morals it preached to our masses is a big black question mark over my ever inquisitive brain. Kurbaan, another highly anticipated Indian flick in Pakistan, had the lead female in a completely nude back in its poster and a good dose of nudity in the actual movie too. Dostana enticed our female (and gay) populace into frenzy with its wondrous half-naked shots of one of the male leads. Every single Bollywood picture has its moments of rank obscenity, be it present in actual cinematography or coming out in the song lyrics and dialogues. Moreover apart from a few handful flicks that churn out their morally sound concoctions for the-well-being-of-Mother-India, none has the ability to somehow augment the dwindling intellectual and aesthetic levels of the people of this Sub-Continent.
Hence staying away from our local movie productions and vindicating it by screaming out “vulgar” and having “no message” is not just illogical, it is a blatant lie! Our public needs to find a better explanation; they might just have to admit one of the many truths. Do they prefer watching expensive obscenity, hence Bollywood or is it just another ramification of our lack of confidence in every Pakistani industry? Have our minds been attuned to cheap humor and plotlines or are we just downright tacky and garish? Rest assured, our reasons for preferring a competing film industry as opposed to ours, which has the capacity to deliver marvels under proper guidance, education and funding, are highly uncalled for. It all goes just like C. S. Lewis said “An explanation of cause is not a justification by reason”.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Miseducation Of Pakistan

The Miseducation of Pakistan

Fits of the state have ill served our schools.

By Sabiha Mansoor | From the Nov. 22 & 29, 2010, issue  

Marwan Naamani / AFP
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani agrees that the state seizure of schools by his party's government in 1972 was wrong. "We cannot move forward without [first] admitting our mistake," he said of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's nationalization drive. This is a welcome acknowledgement, but is there finally going to be any moving forward?
In the early days of Pakistan, most schools were either run privately or by local governments. But the state has always controlled the national curriculum. Every state tries to mold public opinion and attitudes to suit its agenda. Pakistan is no different. With varying degrees of devotion, the dissemination of ideology has been part of every national education policy since the first policy conference was held in 1947. It is this aspect of Pakistani education that has become the real challenge to our state and society.
In 1962, Pakistan's first military ruler, Gen. Ayub Khan, began centralization of control making it easier for the state under successive regimes to indoctrinate the unsuspecting. When he came to power, the populist Bhutto nationalized schools, colleges, and universities in keeping with the radical, socialist spirit of his Pakistan Peoples Party.
Bhutto had an ambitious education reforms plan. Quick nationalization would show he meant business. Between 1972 and 1974, some 3,000 schools and 175 colleges, including those run by Christian missionaries, were taken over by the state. His avowed intentions were noble: nationalization was supposed to improve access to quality education at subsidized fees or for free. But this was also a political project: staffing decisions and administrative mechanisms turned on constituency considerations; and powerful students' and teachers' unions could be co-opted and deployed to great effect in the streets, if the need ever arose. Fresh from losing East Pakistan to independence, Bhutto also introduced war studies as a high school subject.
Large bureaucracies resist change and are difficult to reform. Bhutto's nationalization of schools created a bureaucratic behemoth. The lumbering giant grew larger and presented more opportunities for corruption in the decades that followed. Today, Pakistan has one of the highest public sector nonteaching-to-teaching staff ratios in the world. State control also meant that the character of schools would change with the character of the regime in power.
After Bhutto was overthrown and hanged on trumped up charges by his Army chief, these institutions went into overdrive spewing out hate material and outrageously revisionist accounts of history. The pro-Islamist Gen. Zia-ul-Haq wanted students to know that India was the enemy. He also wanted to make better Muslims of all of Pakistan's students. Briefly during the Haq years, Arabic was introduced as a compulsory language in schools in a bid to rewrite our South Asian heritage as a purely Middle Eastern one.
But strongman Haq also allowed the private sector back into education, and encouraged investment in the sector. He was probably less concerned about state-run educational institutions having been transformed into fortresses of mediocrity, and seats of hatred, intolerance, and fanaticism than with sharing the burden. In 1968, the private sector enrolled 42 percent and 55 percent of secondary and intermediate students, respectively. With a much heavier post-nationalization burden, the state struggled to prevent schooling standards from plummeting.
All governments since Haq's have promoted private sector participation in education. In 2003, the last military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, even denationalized institutions like Lahore's Kinnaird College for Women and the Forman Christian College. Private sector enrollment is back up to over a third of the total. The World Bank's 2009 study on Pakistani education found that students in the private sector were doing better on tests, and that the schools were enrolling more students because competition had driven down tuition fees.
As Pakistan experiments with public-private partnerships and encourages investment, the balance between the public and private sectors seems to be recovering. A recent report by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., confirms that the Pakistani state lacks the capacity to provide universal education, and understood this soon after Bhutto. Nationalization was a mistake. What needs to change now is what we teach.
Mansoor is a dean at the Beaconhouse National University and a former fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contrary Evidence - Pervez Hoodbhoy

A very well-written and eye-opening piece on secularism as an option for Pakistan. The author has mentioned facts that have widely been concealed from the public and hence require a must read. he even mentions how the thocratic regime in Israel is heading towards disaster.

Contrary evidence
Though some Muslim scholars see no contradiction between secularism and Islam, a secular state is possible only if there are enough thoughtful people who can make it happen
By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Decades from now Pakistan will cease to discriminate between citizens of different religious faiths; its public schools will not poison young minds with hatred; Pakistanis will look for human qualities rather than an individuals' religious affiliation; and the life and property of all citizens will be considered equally valuable. The concept of "minorities" shall have become irrelevant.
Today these appear to be impossible dreams. Indeed, most Pakistanis are demanding an ever greater role for religion in public life. Even as faith-based extremist movements disrupt society, the cry gets louder. For example, sharia-seeking Taliban had blown up hundreds of girls and boys schools in 2008. Although many found this distasteful, a survey, conducted at that time by World Public Opinion.org, discovered that 54 percent of Pakistanis still wanted strict application of sharia while 25 percent wanted it in some more dilute form. Totaling 79 percent, this was the largest pro-sharia percentage in the four countries surveyed (Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia).
More recently, a nationwide survey of 2,000 young Pakistanis between 18-27 years of age found similar data. The report says that "three-quarters of all young people identify themselves primarily as Muslims. Just 14 percent chose to define themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan." This young majority feels the nation is adrift. An overwhelming number are deeply disillusioned not just by Pakistan's present rulers, but also by what they see as major failures in governance, justice, education and science. Educated in a system which General Zia-ul-Haq had put in place, religion is a firm anchor for the clueless youth lost in a sea of distress.
But states that take religion too seriously, and which inject their young with too much of it, can be in deep danger. Attempts to make Pakistan a mamlikat-e-khudadad (theocracy) have lighted uncontrollable fires of religious intolerance. Today increasing sections of Pakistan's population are alienated and resentful at being treated as second class citizens. Earlier on, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis were outcasts. Ahmadis followed in 1974. These groups withdrew from public life or migrated overseas, taking with them precious human and non-human resources.
But the list of undesirables expanded further and further as religious belief became more central to the Pakistani state. Many mainstream Muslims now fear other mainstream Muslims. Today, if you are known to be Shia or Barelvi, you could be endangered in many parts of the country. Pakistani Muslims now offer Friday prayers under the shadow of vigilant gun-wielding guards.
Having targeted mosques, frenzied shrine-bombers are now concentrating on holy Muslim sites across Pakistan. Scattered body limbs and pools of blood at Data Darbar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, and the Pakpattan shrine testify to a religiosity gone mad. Although various extremist groups operating under the Taliban umbrella have accepted responsibility for the attacks, many Pakistanis still choose to believe that this is the work of outsiders. Public discussion is non-existent. Television anchors, who raucously challenge the government on trivia, are silent on this tabooed subject.
Even men like Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman and Imran Khan feel unsafe from extremists, although they pretend otherwise. In spite of having declared the Taliban to be fighters for national liberation, none dared to enter Sufi Mohammed's Swat while he was in control. In a televised interview, the Sufi had flatly declared Pakistan's Islamic parties as non-Islamic.
But even as Pakistan's political and religious leaders choose to deceive themselves and the public, history grimly reminds us of times when faith was allowed to run states. Look at the wars of religion in Europe, many of which came from arcane disputes over the "true interpretation" of the Bible. Hangings, murders, and pogroms were caused by disagreements over whether Christ was resurrected in spirit or form, the virgin birth versus the immaculate conception, and a myriad other point-splitting disputes.
In medieval Europe, howling mobs were easily moved into action by fiery preachers -- a phenomenon that Pakistanis hearing Friday khutbas can easily understand. Driven by doctrinal differences, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Baptists freely slaughtered each other for many centuries. In the 16th century, the Thirty-Year War between Catholic Germany and Lutherans (principally in France) left Europe awash in blood. The population of Germany was nearly halved in this period -- and this was in times when weapons of war were relatively primitive!
The peace process began with secularism, which made its debut through the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Without it, religious wars would have consumed European societies and states. Yet, one notes that the founders of modern secularism were religious men who did not think that secularism was a threat to religion. As George Jacob Holyoake put it in 1648, "Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
A similar argument is possible from an Islamic point of view. Some Muslim scholars see no contradiction between secularism and Islam. They point out that the Holy Qu'ran does not mention the state (dawlah) anywhere. Although the Holy Prophet (PBUH) created the Medina state, there was no written law, much less a constitution. There was no taxation system, police or army, or mechanisms for providing amenities or education. Each tribe followed its own customs and traditions. Lacking a Qu'ranic basis for the state, Muslim rulers in later centuries would freely invent laws to suit their needs but which they would claim to be immutable truths. The clergy was pressed into service for this end.
Shall we not learn from the past? That theocracy is a dead end? Any serious move in the direction of a sharia state in Pakistan could lead to civil war. This is not a temporary difficulty but a fundamental one. Since there is no Pope in Islam, there is just no way of answering which sharia is the right one. Hanafi, Shafii, Maaliki, Hanbali? Will all, or most, Pakistanis ever accept any amir-ul-momineen (leader of the pious) or a caliph? What of the Shias, who reject the very notion of a caliphate? For those who say unity is possible, here is a simple challenge: get one religious leader from each of Pakistan's Islamic sects. Let them sit around a table and see if they agree on any significant matter related to governance, taxes, penal code, banking, or economy.
Looking ahead: even devoutly religious people can accept that genuine faith flourishes when individuals are free to choose, without having religion imposed upon them by their government. Surely, the church, mosque, synagogue and temple all inform humans in some way. But peace and progress lie in giving Reason the stewardship in matters of science, technology, economics, commerce, trade, industry, finance, public affairs, warfare, education, research, public discourse and debate, arts and literature. Laws (personal, family, civil, corporate, criminal, international) and social ethics (including sexual ethics and morality) must be made by humans for humans. The rightful domain of religion is in personal conduct, beliefs, worship and conscience.
Pakistan's chest thumping ultra-patriots must listen closely. The country has fallen far behind India and is high on the list of the world's failing states. It is futile to search for tiny bits of contrary evidence, such as the increasing number of mobile phone users in the country. Except for atomic bombs -- which even a wretched North Korea has succeeded in making -- Pakistan's achievements are few. This failure owes squarely to a skewed world view and wrong attitudes towards progress, ethics and morality. Even though the clergy are not formally in power, they actually run much of the show and are largely responsible for mis-educating the Pakistani mind. The longer they remain unchallenged, the more protracted our suffering.
While I am optimistic in the long run, the victory of secularism in Pakistan is assured only if there are enough thoughtful people who can make it happen. There is little danger of a religiously fractionated society like Pakistan becoming a hardline theocracy. But the clergy could continue to rule in religiously delineated communities. To the extent that this happens, our people will continue to remain scientifically and culturally backward, wallow in self-pity and drown in conspiracy theories, and have only one message for the outside world: give more.
Reason says we should follow successful states. But history has no example of a successful sovereign religious state, much less one in modern times. While Israel appears to be an exception -- and is secretly envied by many Pakistanis -- this success is likely to be temporary. Israel is deeply dependent upon the largesse of its patron, the United States. It also has fast-breeding, ultra-conservative Sephardic Jews who yearn for a Jewish state and want to forcibly impose their antiquated laws. They could soon overtake modernised and secular Ashkenazi Jews, forcing Israel into primitivism. Surely, it would be unwise to take this racist, religious state as our model.

The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Art Of Being A Loser

I'm exhausted. Not because I have trekked a lofty mountain to have a silent solitary place to write this piece and neither am I a married man with five noisy kids & a fat wife who stinks of fried onion. I'm just tired of a task so common its become a habit for all of us, a common routine, a social phenomenon.
Walking in a newly built, urban and stylish mall you might come across a teenager trying on a pair of jeans and his friend exclaiming “Yo man, that’s cool!” Or you might see a girl tuned to her I-pod listening to a metal-band without the slightest clue what it’s all about. Or the worst case scenario you see someone posing for a photograph with giant shades, one arm neatly folded against the belly with the palm supporting the other arm’s elbow, face held between the thumb and the index finger.
These common acts of idiocy, seemingly benign, speak volumes about our behavior as individuals and social animals. Admit it fellows. No matter how educated our race becomes, originality will still remain an illusion.
Our English teachers used to emphasize upon the importance of building up our vocabulary. Why? It will give us a chance to express ourselves more accurately, more precisely, more factually, more appropriately, more spot-on. See, that’s one advantage of having a good vocabulary. But who has time for such unnecessary complications when easy shortcuts are available. And hence kicking aside the old –school grammarians, some new easy-to-use words for all occasions were coined that went across the board and slapped the teachers and the other wannabe sophisticated population across the cheek(read: butt). Every good thing or having attributes please-worthy to the person became “cool”. And from there onwards, just like the Ice-agers had run after fire, the Barbarians after blood, the 1st BC onward-ers after metals and the Medievalists after land; the 21st century people decided to follow a quest for glory like none before had followed. It was the quest to be “cool”! And if you are not cool enough for the 21st century’s superficial standards, you’ll get the worst possible punishment. The punishment being so harsh and socially demeaning that many of its affectees will go jump from the tallest building in the locale (that’s Ayub for Abbottabad) while the rest will take an over-dose of Panadol-Extra or Brufen (for these are the only medicines they know) and get killed by the careless hospital staff. The punishment being: the poor soul will be termed as a “loser”!
Did I just hear someone say “duh”? If yes then you are indeed spot-on my dear. It’s a major wtf-ing moment for us all. Let’s just sit for a while and reflect upon our own selves now and let’s try to bring a more elaborate meaning to the term loser.
Is a carpenter’s son - who lives in a two bedroom house, doesn’t know what a PSP or Avatar is, speaks Hindko, listens to those “sajjan meray sajjan” type songs and recently got into a good university because he did have some brains afterall – a loser or the one with a rich dad – who drives the latest car in town, has a muscular body complete with a six-pack, wears the most stylish shades and t-shirts, has a girlfriend too, doing business from a C-grade private university so that he can sit in a comfy chair at his tycoon-of-a-dad’s one day- a loser?
Yay! The unanimous answer is the carpenter’s son. His name is Shamrez. Ew! What a paindoo name! He wears shalwar kameez. Eww! That’s so uncool. He listens to those Hindko songs. Cheapo! And guess what. His dad is a carpenter. Aww! I feel bad for that loser now.
Driven by the overtly consuming materialism around us and in a constant desire to be one of the glitzy & glamorous, we ignore someone really close to us who constantly screams for freedom and a chance for self-expression. That someone is “our self”. We forget to be ourselves; we are either that guy on the TV who wears black, does his hair in a gel-back style & talks in the “Yo” format i.e. “hey yo. Waddup” or we are the girl from the house next door who listens to Pink Floyd, drives a Civic, shops at Bareeze and sports an I-phone.
From driving while reclining on the seat & only one hand at the steering to mimicking Munna Bhai’s accent at college; from doing hi-fives and punching your friends backs because the coolest gang at your previous school did so to wanting to have a love-affair because that’s what happened in the latest Bollywood flick; from wheeling on bikes with torn jeans and chains dangling from necks to playing Akon’s “I wanna love you” on full volume to show off the car’s new woofer speakers in a busy market. Our lives are loaded with people whom the young and hip part of our society call “cool”.
And that’s why I was tired. I was tired of being cool all day long. My cool muscles need a rest & my cool hair need to be washed with my cool shampoo because my cool gel is all dry and flaky now. If a person has been brought up in an elitist environment then this behavior is understandable. But how do you explain the behavior of a normal middle-class family person who dresses up in those skin-tight bright-red clothes, talks in the “yo” accent, constantly bombards you with the latest news about his favorite actors and finishes it all off by telling you that he has “trapped” a new girlfriend and left the old one for she was boring? Wow! I’m impressed!
And that my ladies and gentlemen is the diary of a true and bonafide loser i.e. the guy who wants to be cool. Let’s hear it for these paradoxical winners because no matter how cool they seem to the eye, they are losers indeed.
Who says being a loser is an easy job?