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« A Caged Bird is Free (Sujatha) | Main | Killer garlanded and showered with rose petals....(omar) »

January 04, 2011


Your post, Omar, reads well juxtaposed with Stanley Fish's latest column. Yes, he once taught at Berkeley. Yes, his areas of expertise are acutely Westoxicated (Milton, hermeneutics). Yes, he is associated with postmodern western academia. But so what? Berkeley is not all its reputation claims for it. Milton and arcane literary theories are among the few ways we can escape the abysmally tedious West. (YouTube sure won't do it for us.) And there is no such thing as postmodernism. We remain, and we always will be, thoroughly modern.

Re. internet and youtube, one of the most eloquent defenses of speech against blasphemy and other medievalisms that I've encountered.

Eloquent, yes. Hitchens when he's good can be thrillingly so. Do I detect a healthy, say, postmodern skepticism in his invitation to check one's certainties as to evolution or the Holocaust?

Probably, lol. If I knew (or cared enough to spend a few hours finding out) more about what Irving's up to maybe I'd understand it better, but as it is I think it's more than skepticism. I'm pretty sure he isn't just defending David Irving - there seems to be a certain almost-defending-but-I'll-walk-away-from-it defense of Irving's work in Hitchens's speech.

Dean, I did not mean to demean Berkeley and Columbia in toto. I don't think postmodernism is itself a problem (there is no such thing, as you say). The problem (in this case, every case is specific) is the lazy application of high-sounding ideas to situations the writer does not really have a stake in and which he or she has actually NOT bothered to understand using the same skepticism and complex analysis that he applies closer to his academic home. What I am saying is that Professor X may be very very subtle about his area of expertise (his academic field, its academic concerns, maybe US politics, campus racism, whatever) and still be guilty of lazily imposing western (in this case, very modern, very liberal, Western) categories on some faraway country. Its not the distance that does it, its the laziness...the unwillingness to recognize that issues of power, privilege, imposition, freedom and oppression that he or she sees and understands in complex detail in modern society also apply in some ways to other societies. We are all humans. Power was not invented in 20th century White America. Other people have their agendas too. They have their own complex power struggles and their own shitty calculations and compromises....

Omar, Perhaps you didn't mean to demean Berkeley, but I did. No offense taken here. I only want to call out the blunt stereotype of Berkeley and other famously "radical" research universities. I understand the accusation of laziness you level. I think paternalism, good and bad, is also at work. On the other hand, even if a principled distaste for, say, sexism, is a "very modern, very liberal, Western" attribute, I don't see why modern, liberal Westerners can't impose all they want in that regard on remote bigots. But, pace Fish, they're not doing it as academics, because academics merely study; they don't impose. See this tweet from Greenwald.

I agree with your entire paragraph!

And yes, impose away. By all means. Why not?
When I was talking about professors imposing their liberal ideas on faraway places, I meant liberal ideas like the liberal idea that in every clash the side supported by the US state department must be the evil side, or the liberal idea that left to themselves and minus technology, all those little brown people will live in harmony with nature, or the liberal idea that the modern world is so much more evil than any world that preceded it, and so on...I exaggerate and distort, of course, but you get what I mean.

Omar, what's your take on these lines about Salman Taseer, penned by his son Aatish Taseer in a recent memoir (from It doesn't seem to quite match up with his reputation as a moderate.

"I had begun my journey asking why my father was Muslim, and this was why: none of Islam’s once powerful moral imperatives existed within him, but he was Muslim because he doubted the Holocaust, hated America and Israel, thought Hindus were weak and cowardly, and because the glories of the Islamic past excited him.

“The faith decayed within him, ceased to be dynamic, ceased to provide moral guidance, became nothing but a deep, unreachable historical and political identity. This was all that still had the force of faith. It was significant because in the end, this was the moderate Muslim, and it was too little moderation and in the wrong areas. It didn’t matter how someone prayed, how much they prayed, what dress they wore, whether they chose to drink or not, but it did matter that someone harboured feelings of hatred, for Jews, Americans or Hindus, that were founded in faith and only masked in political arguments.”

“I rose to leave the room. It was if a bank had burst. My father and I, for the first time, were beyond embarrassment. I returned a few moments later to say goodbye to him, but he had left for the day without a word. The now empty room produced a corresponding vacancy in me that was like despair. I wanted somehow to feel whole again; not reconciliation, that would be asking too much, just not this feeling of waste: my journey to find my father ending in an empty room in Lahore, the clear light of a bright morning breaking in to land on the criss-crossing arcs of a freshly swabbed floor.

The more I read of the discussion that I linked to, the more I start to feel that the 'Taseer was killed because of his opposition to the blasphemy law' is no more than a convenient peg and proximate reason for the assassination. He seems to have been largely regarded as an apostate well before the event, due to his infringing the rules of piety for a long time.
Now they are already trying to position his widow as a replacement- will Aamna Taseer take the bait and take the chance of trying to build up a following similar to Benazir's after her father's death, or risk becoming another sacrificial goat at the altar of Pakistani politics?

I think (and of course, I am only guessing):
1. Salman Taseer did consider himself a moderate Muslim or even a secret atheist.
2. But even moderate Muslims in Pakistan have grown up with the same vague notions about identity, enemies and so on. The difference is that in the hardcore ones, these beliefs are explicit, and backed up with arguments based on clear theological principles. In the "moderate" ones, these are mostly unconscious prejudices and half-formed ignorant notions. That is bad, but that does mean that they are amenable to gradual change.
I suspect you will find some (but not the same) ignorant notions about Pakistanis among many "moderate" indians, notions that are not always true and that can lead to unfair prejudices (though I hasten to add that in my experience the situation is NOT a mirror-image situation; Indian indoctrination and propaganda may be oversimplified, occasionally false, frequently at odds with reality, but it frequently idiealizes secular, modern, liberal, multicultural and progressive notions and has historically deeper roots.. deeper is not necessarily always correct, but still, deeper...pakistani propaganda is more superficial, easier to identify as stupid; in short, all stupidities are not equal).
3. Family dynamics and particular family arguments are not necessarily the best guide to someone's actions and beliefs in life. Human beings are complicated, they can lose their temper, they can say intemprate things they don't really mean or that are not firmly held beliefs...and so on.

I haven't had time to read the latest on the story although I saw the NYT news item late last night. I have been running around all day. Will get back to the post and the links a bit later.

This is almost like a prophecy, considering what Omar had been saying in several of his recent posts. But of course, it is not a prophecy but only the logical outcome of how religious politics have been playing out in Pakistan for quite some time.

Only noting here quickly that I wholeheartedly agree with Dean @ 1:49pm and Omar @2:53pm, if that is possible. Actually these are not contradictory positions, just "facts on the ground," from different geographical vantage points. What Sujatha quotes about Taseer Sr.'s position, if true, is exactly what Omar has been warning us about political Islam and the "Deep State" of Pakistan, for some time now.

sort of related: a friend had posted a comment on facebook and I replied. Both are pasted below:
(Friend): I agree that politicians also share the blame yet what I observe in Pakistani media and Pakistani society that politicians are openly criticized but the real culprit, the army, remains a holy cow. Zardari told Biden that Kayani might take him out. This is a clear indication of who is running the country, it is not the politicians despite having a political government. Army runs the country when they are directly in power and even when they are not directly in power. Bangladesh is developing after getting rid of Na Pak army and Pakistan will also develop only if it rids itself of Na Pak army.See More
45 minutes ago ·

Omar Ali: Unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan is worse than that. Without the army, anarchy will be followed by Taliban restoring order. I am not a supporter of the army. Everyone knows that. But I am also trying to be realistic. A vaccum cannot exist. Someone has to fill the vaccum. Someone has to either reform this army or raise a force that can replace this army. At this time, no other social force is organized enough to do so, except that gangs like MQM can perhaps organize their own Jinnahpur under Indian army protection...but in any case, Pak army will have to be replaced by some army. If the Indian army is acceptable then they can perform this duty. And given the situation, maybe the Indian army can be acceptable for some sections of Pakistan (the country will hve to be split first in that case), e.g., it may be so for Jinnahpur or for Sindhis (but not for both; the Indians too will have to pick one side or the other), maybe for Balochis...but harder to imagine for Punjabis at this point, maybe that time will come? who knows. the future is hard to predict....
and the army itself has created and nurtured this disease. Its a mess.
See More
35 minutes ago · LikeUnlike · 1 person likes this.

Omar Ali: Again, I would add that my comment is meant to be an exercise in thinking ahead. Its not an exact prediction. But when anyone says "the army is the problem", I agree. but then, how will this problem be solved? It can be solved within the parameters of Pakistan by reforming the army (difficult, but not impossible, but it will have to be done stealthily and very cleverly..the deviousness and ruthlessness required are not easy to find in history though) or it will be solved by breaking up Pakistan and using some outside force to maintain order in cooperation with local entities. If neither is possible, and the army is dissolved, then what remains is lawless Pakistan with an armed and ruthless force (the jihadis/taliban) providing the only source of security.
The other alternative is to gradually defang the army WHILE building up organizations that can enforce the writ of the state (the regular police, political parties, revolutionary cadres, whatever) but that is hard to do while the army is systematically undermining all other forces except the mullahs. its a mess.

" all stupidities are not equal"


"I suspect you will find some (but not the same) ignorant notions about Pakistanis among many "moderate" indians, notions that are not always true and that can lead to unfair prejudices (though I hasten to add that in my experience the situation is NOT a mirror-image situation; Indian indoctrination and propaganda may be oversimplified, occasionally false, frequently at odds with reality, but it frequently idiealizes secular, modern, liberal, multicultural and progressive notions and has historically deeper roots.. deeper is not necessarily always correct, but still, deeper...pakistani propaganda is more superficial, easier to identify as stupid; in short, all stupidities are not equal)." Omar

My personal unscientific experience with both Indians and Pakistanis reflects a similar take on the Indian-Pakistani mutual suspicions and prejudices. The stupidities are not mirror images and on the Indian side, not state sponsored. Indians generally have a paranoid view of the Pakistani government but not so much of the ordinary Pakistani citizens or their culture. (The anti-Muslim violence of the Hindu right is another matter. But there, we are talking about fundies - equally crazy, no matter what religion fuels their hatred) That may well be due to India's size, diversity and attempt at fostering secularism (at least on paper). Also, India has never defined itself as un-Pakistan. Pakistan's militant attempt at Arabization and denial of its south-Asian identity may have something to do with the wide spread anti-India views of its citizens. Razib and I recently had an e-mail exchange about this.

Now, religious leaders ask Muslims not to attend his burial or funeral..

There's a poll I found, relating to the recent failed UN motion against blasphemy:

The numbers (no/yes on whether the govt has the right to fine/imprison people for defaming a religion) are the same for India and Pakistan: 33/59 and 34/62. I don't know if I buy the India number - I suspect it'd be rather lower in a scenario where the government actually wanted to prosecute and execute someone for such things instead of that being a hypothetical. Or maybe that's the hidden patriot in me. Ack.

Perhaps the two polls refer to two different notions of 'blasphemy'. In India there is already a law that prescribes criminal prosecution for causing "communal disharmony". This is of course, highly subjective and capable of political manipulation. But for whatever reasons, the law has been used equally "against" (or "in favour of" depending on how you look at it) both the major religious groups for saying/writing things hurtful to the 'other side' - and especially if these utterances have the capability of causing civil disturbances. The Indian poll respondents are expressing their opinion of this law.

If the Pakistani law against blasphemy were used equally (or comparably) often against Muslims badmouthing non-Muslim faiths it would be a very different sort of beast than what it is now.

The figures may not be far off. Its not likely that Indians are liberal in the same way liberals on this blog are liberal (Americans are not that liberal either). But vague sentiments at this level are usually little more than background noise, produced by what people hear, and what Indians hear is that insulting religion is not a good thing (and in fact, frequently leads to riots). What is different about Pakistan is not this vague sentiment, it is the very well developed notion of execution of blasphemers and apostates (the only non-muslim Indians who come close to that are Sikhs, but even their tradition is not a consensus within their own religious Islam there is almost total consensus on this issue among the Sunni sects, the only difference is over who has the right to carry out the execution).
Some other differences between the Indian and Pakistani situation:
1. India is a genuinely multi-religious country. Minorities are large enough to make them resistant to easy bullying (not proof against bullying, as the case of Muslims shows, but still, there are practical if not moral limits involved). Pakistan is so predominantly Muslim that no minority can dare to raise its head too far (and none attempt to do so). As atrocities against Shias accelerate, they are increasingly "objectively liberal" but their own attitude towards blasphemy is rather severe, so on this issue they prefer to go with the Sunnis even though the Mumtaz Qadris of tomorrow can and will target them too.
2. India retained an enlightened European constitution AND the liberal ideals behind it (they may be regarded as universal rather than European , but that is not the point here). Pakistan's constitution is not too different, but has always faced a severe ideological problem: how to retain what is basically a British system of government while paying lip service to a very different religious tradition (one that never developed a modern state theory of its own, but which is still regarded as an imaginary ideal by most people in the usual uninformed way these things work in all countries)..
3. Hindus have tried to import Islamic ideas into their religion (half of the RSS project seems to be islamisation of Hinduism, the other half is European fascism, some infinitesimally small part consists of ancient Indian superstitions and rigmarole) but its a forced attempt, not deeply rooted in a well defined unitary religion.
4. and last but not the least, the USA did not select India to defend the world from communism in 1953 (maybe the credit goes to Indians for not volunteering for the job). THat means the Indian army has not spent 50 years undermining democracy and encouraging religious fanaticism (and that too, at a military mental level)

I thought it'd be lower in India given revealed preferences; the number of irreligious Indian politicians is pretty large, and people like Karunanidhi and Mayawati and Jyoti Basu have variously managed to make anti-religion salient in their repertoire (southie/lower caste/communist). I think there's a disconnect to some extent between first and second order beliefs.

Anyway, I didn't expect to see high levels of support for religion-critique in India, just thought - and you provide many better and more detailed reasons - it'd be less dire than in Pakistan today. The numbers don't show that even slightly. Bah, who knows what the man on the street really thinks. Maybe say in Gujarat you'd find widespread actual honest-to-goodness support for lynch mobs against blasphemers, it's just institutionally suppressed. Wish there were an Indian Gallup or PEW polling people regularly on matters of general interest.

The most depressing part of this whole mess is that, if you polled people on the street in Pakistan, a lot of them (perhaps even a majority) would say that they support the assasination. The brainwashing of the last three decades (and actually starting long before that) has really worked. Several generations of Pakistanis have bought into radically inhumane ideas such as the blasphemy law and suicide bombings. This is not a poison that can be removed from the body politic in a few years, or by a few laws. I think that Psakistan is heading towards some sort of catastrophe. The irony is that that the inhumane, radical view of Islam that is motivating the crises we see was not a dominant view in any part of Pakistan until quite recently. It was nurtured primarily in areas that are now in India, wile those areas that form Pakistan were traditionally home to a more syncretic, liberal tradition based on Sufism. In a sense, the movement to create Pakistan and then to sustain its founding mythology initially led to the inexorable entrechment of extremism in Pakistan. Then, of course, Zia-ul-Haq took it to a whole new level by promoting it as official national doctrine with Saudi (and American) support, and here we are.

For the record, I despised Salman Taseer because the man was obviously a blowhard and a bully - the Chris Christie of Pakistani politics. But I admired his courage in standing up for Aasia Bibi when all other "leaders" were cowering in their rat-holes. He may have been a villain in many ways, but he died a hero's death.

Hamid Mir hosted a special broadcast on Geo TV yesterday evening. He is the most highly rated TV journalist on the most popular TV channel, in a country where political programs have higher ratings than all other TV programs. This is the same guy whose conversation with the Pakistani Taliban was recorded and can be heard on the YouTube, where he spews vitriol against Ahmedis and seems to encourage execution of a Taliban captive, himself closely linked to Al Qaida, calling him a CIA agent. This man (Khalid Khawaja) was later killed and his body was dumped by the Taliban.

Two of the guests, included Irfan Siddiqi, and Ansar Abbasi, influential journalists associated with the biggest media empire in the country. The more or less said that Salman Taseer brought in on himself.
Even more shocking was the views of Shaikh Waqas, a Shia politician from South Punjab, who said that Taseer's assassin, will be considered a hero and warned the liberal journalists to be careful.
Mohammad Malik, a journalist with moderated views was sandwiched between these crazies. He had to qualify his statements, so that he would not become a victim of the lynch mob.
This is a depressing time. These are no marginal extremists; these are pretty mainstream, powerful people. Those who hold a different view are probably in a majority, but they have been terrorized into silence.

cross posting from facebook: "rising against it" (the blasphemy law) is the wrong frame for this. The issue is not really the blasphemy law. The issue can be framed like this: The ruling elite AND the new middle class live in a globalized and somewhat secularized world (good or bad is another debate) and are objectively unwilling to give up the perks of that world. To retain those perks, they will have to suppress the true-believers-with-nothing-to-lose. Whatever Islamic sounding BS the ruling elite has to invent to fit this square peg in a round hole, they have to do it. Or they will sink. Pakistan is not Iran. Sunni fanaticism is not the sophisticated Ayotollahs of Qum. There is no oil flowing and China is not Santa Claus. How these needs are reconciled, if they are likely to be very ugly indeed.
Its not a problem unique to pakistan. But the way our "deep state" has systematically built up its own killers is unique. For that, we have to thank the military's higher educational system (aka NDU), which prepared morons like Musharraf to buy into the jihadi agenda in the name of the "complex strategic threat from India"....

blasphemy of this sort is totally more

This has been a long time - I am not sure of what happened to this guy back in Pakistan, can anyone tell me what is the status of this case?

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