Exams are upon me, and thus the paucity of posts of late. I am posting an attempt at an op-ed, which I have circulated to a few papers, but without success so far:
Pakistan, a Pluralist Democracy?
Pakistan's descent into civil chaos and yet another crisis of leadership has forced many American officials to reconsider their unwavering support of a country that has allowed Islamist violence to flourish even as it reassures its Western allies that it remains a central bulwark in the fight against terrorism. It is easy to forget, however, that once upon a time Pakistan was a secular democracy that sought to protect minority rights, even as it maintained a Muslim majority – a reality at odds with the repression of judges, lawyers, and opposition parties that defines the nation today.
What's more, it wasn't the presence of Christians or Jews that encouraged Pakistan's eventual slide into sectarian strife and intolerance. It was a campaign of legalized exclusion directed against a pacifist strain of Islam. That conflict formed part of these religious extremists' ultimate goal of controlling Pakistan and, from there, launching a global Islamic revolution. It is crucial to understand the history of Pakistan over the past several decades, for it illustrates how intolerance toward a single Muslim community eventually formed the ideological underpinnings of a worldwide jihadist movement that threatens the livelihood and stability of people of all religions.
While Pakistan is often regarded as having been founded as an "Islamic state," the nation's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, articulated a strikingly different vision: "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State." This secular credo reflected a vision of Pakistan as a Muslim democracy, a country where Muslims would form a majority but all citizens would have equal rights and the laws would reflect the sovereign will of the people, not the dictates of any particular faith. This was anathema to the radical Islamists, whose most prominent leader, Maulana Mawdudi, formed the Jamat-e-Islami, an organization with the stated aim of establishing the "sovereignty of Allah" in Pakistan by imposing sharia law and subordinating non-Muslims to Muslims. The ultimate goal was to take over not only Pakistan, but to destroy all non-Islamic states by means of a violent revolution.
The successful implementation of an Islamic state requires the silencing of dissenting voices. By this reasoning, anyone who disagrees with the use of political violence to establish an Islamic state does not belong in the fold of Islam. Thus, the Jamat-e-Islami launched a bloody campaign of violence against Ahmadi Muslims, a group that renounces all forms of religious violence and espouses a secular form of government. Never before had a group been legally excluded from the Muslim community. My father, an Ahmadi who was a medical student in Pakistan at the time, vividly recalls the climate of fear whipped up by the Jamat-e-Islami's activists. Fleeing for his life, he narrowly escaped the fates of thousands of others who have been brutally murdered by the radical Islamists. The ultimate result of this campaign was a constitutional amendment that declares Ahmadis non-Muslims. This new development had an effect far beyond the Ahmadi community, as it legitimated intra-Muslim strife, leading directly to the vicious sectarian carnage that is still ongoing. Today, Pakistan is not so much a country of Muslims but a hodgepodge of up to 72 sects, each convinced of their exclusive claim to Muslim identity. Confessional affiliation has become the centerpiece of personal identity, leading to the balkinization of Pakistani politics and society along religious lines.
The zenith of the Jamat-e-Islami's influence came during the years of Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator who brought about the Islamization of Pakistan. Under his rule, the Jamat-e-Islami was able to impose a medieval form of sharia law that is still in effect today. As a result, women's and minority rights were severely curtailed. Rape became almost impossible to prove, and Christians and others faced capital punishment for suspicions of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Those who stood up for minority rights were killed or imprisoned, a practice that continues today under the rule of General Musharraf.
Having enjoyed such success in implementing its domestic agenda, the Jamat-e-Islami was emboldened to infiltrate the army and the intelligence services in order to achieve its larger global goals. It was instrumental in creating the Mujahideen, a group of fighters originally formed to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan but who later evolved as the precursors to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Indeed, Mawdudi's message of a global Islamic revolution forms much of the ideological bedrock of al-Qaeda today.
Even in the midst of such a grave crisis, there is opportunity for Pakistan's politicians to roll back the Islamization of their society. If they fail to do so, however, the poison of sectarianism will consume the country, and it will almost certainly slide into the abyss of radical Islamic revolution. To avoid that fate, the state must extricate itself from the business of defining religious identity, sharia law must be repealed, and Pakistan's civil and military services must serve a secular political order, not the Jamat-e-Islami's vision of a global Islamic state. These reforms are not only desirable, but frankly necessary if freedom is to prevail in Pakistan.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Exams are upon me, and thus the paucity of posts of late. I am posting an attempt at an op-ed, which I have circulated to a few papers, but without success so far:
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
The past few days in Pakistan have brought a mix of hope and sadness to all who have been following closely. I realized, however, as I was watching the online stream of GEO, the UAE-based private news network which has been taken off the air in Pakistan (along with most other private news outlets), that the courage of the news media stands in such stark contrast with the response from the White House these past few days. Why are we not taking a stand against the choking of the free press, the arbitrary arrest and detention of opposition activists and lawyers, the dismantling of an independent judiciary? The answer: Fear. Our government is paralyzed with fear as to what would happen if Pakistan's dictatorship ended, terrified that less pro-American forces would take over. Is this really the best we can do? Hold on to an oppressive tin-pot dictator who is clearly unpopular among his population? Lest there be any doubt, the only reason the Pakistani population is not on the streets is because they are afraid of losing their life and liberty. Thus, by supporting Musharraf both politically and financially, we are preventing Pakistan from reaching that tipping point where the people rise up and take back their rights, their liberties. This is what the war on terror has become. Shame on us! Never before has history seen such cowardice on the part of those who ought to be leading the world!
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 8:35 AM
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The events of the past few days in Pakistan have generated an enormous amount of commentary, most of it deeply critical of General Musharraf's decision to impose what amounts to martial law. Not enough attention has been brought, however, to what is surely the most significant underlying problem, the influence of an extremist brand of Islam on the country's legal, political and social order. In particular, Pakistan's current woes can be traced to a long tradition of repressing minority rights. I happen to belong to one of the groups whose rights have been trampled upon in the name of Islam, and therefore probably enjoy a fairly unique perspective on the situation.
In 1974, the Jamat-e-Islami, which is now a prominent opposition group and has figured in the protests against Musharraf since March, began a systematic campaign of violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Because Ahmadis (as the adherents of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are called) believed in the coming of a latter-day Messiah, the Jamat-e-Islami felt that they had violated a basic tenet of Islamic theology, the doctrine of the "finality of prophethood," under which no prophets can come after the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Without entering into an extensive theological discussion, the Jamat-e-Islami's ultimate conclusion can be summarized as holding that because Ahmadis believed in a prophet after the Holy Prophet, they should not call themselves Muslims. Having formed this belief, they began what was perhaps the first successful campaign of violent political Islam, precisely the phenomenon that culminated in the attacks on September 11th. The basic idea was precisely the same- if an "Islamic belief" cannot be implemented using peaceful means, then political violence will be undertaken until the objective is achieved. In this particular instance, the Jamat-e-Islami's intimidation and murder of Ahmadi Muslims led to a debate in the legislature on the issue, and ended in the most remarkable and bizarre constitutional reform the world may ever have seen.
Thus, the Second Amendment to the Pakistani Constitution of 1973 states, in pertinent part: "A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of The Prophethood of MUHAMMAD (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after MUHAMMAD (Peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or law." This use of the Constitution to prescribe who is and who is not legally considered a member of the Muslim community not only defies notions of religious freedom widely accepted by the international community and codified in various international law documents to which Pakistan is a signatory, but is also simply logically absurd and extremely dangerous.
It is noteworthy that Pakistan had not been this way from the beginning. Indeed, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, referred to as "Quaid-e-Azam" (the Great Leader), told the Pakistani legislative body that ""You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State." (Aug. 11, 1948). That one day Pakistan would use the constitutional apparatus to specifically prohibit a group of people from belonging to the religion of their choice would have been preposterous to Jinnah. In any event, Pakistan's downward spiral continued in 1977, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was prime minister in 1974 at the time of the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims, was deposed by Zia-ul-Haq, an army general. Having hung Bhutto, Zia ruled for 11 repressive years, his tenure ending only after a fatal airplane crash. During Zia's regime, the noose was further tightened on the Ahmadis by means of Ordinance XX, passed in 1984. Under this ordinance, any Ahmadi who used Islamic terminology in a mannner deemed inappropriate by law could face three years in prison - this included calling Ahmadi houses of worship by the name "masjid" (mosque in Urdu) and referring to the call of prayer as the Azan. Furthermore, the ordinance provided that " [u]se of derogatory remarks, etc. in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine." Notice that this blasphemy provision, later the subject of much criticism in the Western media after Christians were prosecuted under it, was inserted as part of the Anti-Ahmadiyya Ordinance.
Now, one may wonder what the attitude of the United States and its western allies was towards the Zia regime. As it turns out, we were supplying him with both aid and arms, allowing him to build up a cadre of fighters in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion of that country. Those fighters became known as the Mujahideen, and later on formed the breeding ground out of which both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were formed. Thus, the very same forces that had a decade earlier begun the transformation of Pakistan from a country where all creeds could co-exist without rancor into a sectarian republic, were now fomenting the seeds of the great terrorist force that ultimate reshaped the world in a definitive sense.
Why does this matter today, one might wonder? To begin with, for all the hoopla about democracy and human rights, you will never hear any of the potential electable political leaders in Pakistan talk about repealing the Second Amendment to the Constitution, nor Ordinance XX, even both are clearly inconsistent with any notion of a Pakistan that respect human rights. Truth be told, these political leaders consider it to be political suicide to take that position, because the Mullahs have successfully convinced the vast majority of the population (which, by the way, is also illiterate) that Ahmadis constitute a grave danger to other Muslims. Thus, this giant travesty continues, and will likely do so regardless of which set of political leaders rule Pakistan.
If Pakistan is to truly extricate itself from the precipitous decline in moral integrity it has suffered in the past few decades, it must begin by affirming a strong commitment to respecting human rights. To do so, it must repeal both the Second Amendment to the Constitution and Ordinance XX, and restore Ahmadis to full and equal citizenship rights with all other Pakistanis. If Pakistan refuses to do this, no secure foundation can be laid for a free society.
Finally, if Americans and other Westerners really want to understand where all this insanity comes from, where its origins lie, I would suggest taking a very close look at the way that political Islam has successfully been mobilized against the Ahmadi community over the past three decades in Pakistan. These people, the Jamat-e-Islami and its cohorts, are the ones who first began the project that ultimately led to the Twin Towers tragedy, and if we don't stop them today, they will carry on toward ever greater michief and evil.
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 2:26 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 1:47 PM
The Florida Supreme Court just upheld the child pornography convictions of a 16-year old and a 17-year old for having taken nude pictures of themselves and e-mailed them to their own e-mail accounts. The rationale appears to be that the pictures could have been sold to a third-party. Let's run with that idea- so, if you are 16 or 17, and you decide to snap photos of yourself nude and then sell them on the internet, you should be criminally liable??? What possible societal good could come of that? If our instincts about criminal responsibility are right, we don't think that people under 18 are as able to make correct choices as adults. If so, how does it make any sense to specifically impose criminal liability on under-age persons, and only under-age persons, for committing an offense that allegedly only harms themselves? This case shows the absurdity of victimless crime, and the unintended consequences of criminalizing such conduct.
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 1:11 PM
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 1:07 PM
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 1:00 PM
Two recent articles, and op-ed (NYT) and a feature piece (WP) explore the complicated attitude toward religion in China. In the op-ed, Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian-born political philosopher, argues that the Chinese approach to religion may in fact be very much in tune with contemporary Western instincts. China treats religion as culture, and is perfectly content to tolerate it so long as it doesn't pose a political threat to the regime. Zizek accurately points out that the Dalai Lama is a threat to the Chinese because he combines secular and religious authority in the same person. Then Zizek challenges us to think about out own attitudes towards religion. We dismiss Fundies as crazies precisely because they take their own religion's dictates and attempt to follow them literally, and shove it down the rest of our throats for good measure. In fact, precisely the same thing is going on in the Muslim world- their Fundies are doing the very thing that Dobson et al. want to do here, except they are doing it in politically unstable societies where violent social change is no longer a thing of the past. If that diagnosis is accurate, then the Chinese model seems alot more appealing. The WP story talks about an increasing trend of immigration to China to "chase the Chinese dream." The Chinese, it turns out, have taken a quite permissive attitude toward Islam, and allow Muslims to practice fairly freely, but under the state's watchful eyes. Most Muslims seem to be ok with this, and are immigrating in ever larger numbers. It is noteworthy that Turkey, the only real success story in teh Islamic world, has taken a very similar approach toward religion, outlawing sectarian mosques and appointing state-salaried imams to lead prayers.
Is the Chinese model the way to contain religious extremism in politically immature societies? My libertarian instincts very much tell me otherwise, and I would never want to live in China for the simple reason that freedom is too precious to me. But it is certainly food for thought.
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 12:23 PM
Monday, October 22, 2007
I just got an email through Haaretz asking me to preserve Jerusalem as "Jewish for ourselves." I was also asked, however, to "develop [Jerusalem] as a...pluralistic city." I am confused- how does that work? How do you do both of these things at the same time?
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 11:24 AM
Friday, October 19, 2007
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 11:01 AM
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 10:57 AM
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 12:55 PM
I have been thinking alot lately about the problems of democratically elected governments that don't turn out to be particularly "good" governments. Today, as the media is profiling Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan after a decade-long exile, I find myself quite torn about this situation. There are undeniable facts: Musharraf has improved Pakistan overall during his regime- the economy has grown, the stockmarket has skyrocketed, and it seems like even ordinary Pakistanis are doing somewhat better than previously (not that that is saying much given the extraordinary poverty in the country). Indeed, even freedom of speech has flourished during his years in power, which is in part why he has found himself on the defensive in the past year or so, with media outlets getting quite aggressive and holding his feet to the fire on issues such as judicial independence and his own seemingly endless hold on power. The opposition parties have capitalized on this, becoming increasingly vocal and wrapping themselves in the mantle of democracy.
And yet, if anyone can remember back to the 1990's, when Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif more or less took turns ruling Pakistan, it was an absolute disaster.
• Human rights were a disaster. People were arrested on the whim of the government, frequently under the guise of “corruption” charges. Religious minorities’ rights were trampled on to appease the clerics. Rape was rampant, and seldom prosecuted.
• The economy was an absolute mess, public services deteriorated to the point where people simply gave up on having basic things like power.
• Above all, the so-called “democracy” was in fact nothing more than a façade; in reality, landlords, clerics and other powerbrokers effectively controlled the votes of the largely illiterate masses through a variety of means, some of them quite underhanded, even outright illegal.
It is this last point that deserves a great deal of emphasis. Pakistan is a feudal, yes, feudal society. I don’t mean that in some metaphorical, “oh they are so backward” kind of way, I mean it literally. The majority of the country’s land is owned by a small number of families, who then treat the people who farm their land as serfs. This system has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it means that the serfs are able to count on the landlord helping them out in times of need, e.g. helping with a daughter’s dowry or settling a dispute with a neighbor. The flipside, however, is that the serf has to vow complete loyalty to his landlord, and must do as he says on a number of fronts, including voting in elections. For a lot of poor people, this is not a bad deal: they get a modicum of security in an otherwise very uncertain existence, and in exchange they give up something that is hardly worth anything to someone who does not already enjoy the basic comforts of life.
This, then, is one important aspect of Pakistan’s political life. It is worth mentioning that Benazir Bhutto belongs to the landowning class, and while Nawaz Sharif was an industrialist, he did not do anything to alter this feudal system either.
With all this background, I want to move on to asking a basic question. In this sort of society, one that I would call a failed democracy, what should be done?
Next, I will try to explore this question in more detail.
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 12:07 PM
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 11:54 AM
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Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 11:25 AM
Here is an interesting series of articles from Ali Eteraz, a Muslim-American lawyer, about Islamic Reform . I will try to blog about this later today, but I think this is some of the most significant and fresh stuff I have seen lately with respect to the Islam and Democracy debate.
Posted by Mahmood Ahmad at 10:57 AM
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I got a little flak today in the comments to the first story I wrote for my new job. I described the Minuteman Project as a "radical anti-immigrant group" -- actually, my editor changed the original wording, but I think it's still fair/accurate. I think I initially said something like "armed anti-immigration vigilante network," also perfectly true. They call themselves "a citizens' Vigilance Operation monitoring immigration, business, and government," with an emphasis on the illegal nature of most immigrants coming through the southern border.
Why the pushback? Because I didn't say "anti-illegal immigration." Technically, this would be most in line with the Minutemen's stated objectives. But let's be honest. If they were truly only interested in enforcing existing law, they'd be overjoyed if Congress suddenly made all immigration legal. They could pack up their guns and go home.
That wouldn't happen, though: that's "amnesty." I'm betting they'd love to see immigration laws made stricter, because that would mean less immigrants. They just don't like them, especially those whose names end in "o" or "a."
Incidentally, I also got flak from the left, saying I did not characterize FIRE as the conservative hacks that they supposedly are. For shame! It's always the controversial lightning rods that attract both extremes. Another one coming up tomorrow!
Posted by a. guess at 8:14 PM