Thursday, February 23, 2017

William Dalrymple on Bomb Blasts in Pakistan

Last week, only three days after a suicide bomb went off in Lahore, an Islamic State supporter struck a crowd of Sufi dancers celebrating in the great Pakistani shrine of Sehwan Sharif. The attack, which killed almost 90, showed the ability of radical Islamists to silence moderate and tolerant voices in the Islamic world.
The attack also alarmingly demonstrated the ever-wider reach of Isis and the ease with which it can now strike within Pakistan. Isis now appears to equal the Taliban as a serious threat to this nuclear-armed country.
The suicide bombing of the Sehwan shrine is an ominous development for the world, in a region that badly needs stability. It is an Islamic shrine where outsiders, religious minorities and women are all welcomed. Here, 70 years after partition and the violent expulsion of most of the Hindus of Pakistan into India (and vice versa with Muslims into Pakistan), one of the hereditary tomb guardians is still a Hindu, and it is he who performs the opening ritual at the annual festival. Hindu holy men, pilgrims and officials still tend the shrine.
But the wild and ecstatic night-long celebrations marking the Sufi saint’s anniversary were almost a compendium of everything Islamic puritans most disapprove of: loud Sufi music and love poetry sung in every courtyard; men dancing with women; hashish being smoked. Hindus and Christians were all welcome to join in the celebrations.
A radical anti-Sufi movement is growing throughout the Islamic world. Until the 20th century, ultra-orthodox strains of Islam tended to be regarded as heretical by most Muslims. But since the 1970s, Saudi oil wealth has been used to spread such intolerant beliefs across the globe. As a result, many contemporary Muslims have been taught a story of Islamic religious tradition from which the tolerance of Sufism is excluded.
What happens at the Sehwan Sharif shrine matters, as it is an indication as to which of the two ways global Islam will go. Can it continue to follow the path of moderate pluralistic Islam, or – under the pressure of Saudi funding – will it opt for the more puritanical, reformed Islam of the Wahhabis and Salafis, with their innate suspicion (or even overt hostility) towards Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism?
Islam in south Asia is changing. Like 16th-century Europe on the eve of the Reformation, reformers and puritans are on the rise, distrustful of music, images, festivals and the devotional superstitions of saints’ shrines. In Christian Europe, they looked to the text alone for authority, and recruited the bulk of their supporters from the newly literate urban middle class, who looked down on what they saw as the corrupt superstitions of the illiterate peasantry.
Hardline Wahhabi and Salafi fundamentalism has advanced so quickly in Pakistan partly because the Saudis have financed the building of so many madrasas that have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.
Madrasa in Peshawar, Pakistan
‘The Saudis have financed the building of many madrasas that have filled the vacuum left by the collapse of state education.’ Photograph: Mohammad Sajjad/AP
On my last visit to Sehwan a few years ago, the largest madrasa there was located in an old haveli not far from the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander. Saleemullah, who ran the madrasa, was a well-educated young man, but there was no masking the puritanical severity of some of his views. For him, the theology of the dispute between the Sufis and the orthodox was quite simple: “We don’t like tomb worship,” he said. “The Qur’an is quite clear about this ... We must not pray to dead men and ask things from them, even the saints.”
He saw his role as bringing “the idol and grave-worshippers from kufr [infidelity] back to the true path of the sharia”. He said: “Mark my words, a more extreme form of the Taliban is coming to Pakistan.”
Saleemullah claimed most people wanted a return to the caliphate and said Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were on his side. And when the caliphate comes, he said: “It will be our duty to destroy all the mazars [mausoleums] and the dargahs [shrines] – starting with the one here in Sehwan.”
Saleemullah’s organisation alone ran 5,000 madrasas across Pakistan, and was opening a further 1,500 in Sindh. According to one recent study there are now 27 times as many madrasas in Pakistan as there were in 1947 – over 8,000 in total.
The religious tenor has been correspondingly radicalised: many Sufi sites and people have come under attack, including the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore in 2010 and the revered Sufi singer Amjad Sabri, who was assassinated last summer.
With its deep roots in south Asian soil, its gentle message and through the music that carries it, Sufism has become an antidote to Isis-style radicalism, and fundamentalisms of all sorts. One old fakir I talked to in the Sehwan shrine said of the Wahhabi mullahs: “Without love, they distort the true meaning of the teaching of the prophet.”
If only the Pakistani government could finance schools that taught respect for the country’s own indigenous and syncretic religious traditions, rather than buying fleets of American F-16 fighters and leaving education to the Saudis. Instead, Pakistan is increasingly coming to resemble a tragic clone of pre-9/11 Taliban Afghanistan – a place where violent radicals are welcomed with open arms, where groups like Isis are rapidly gaining influence, and where moderate Muslims and religious minorities are subject to persecution and murder.

Source : The Guardian

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Open letter of Nadim Asrar to Shehla Rashid

Nadim Asrar, former AMU Students' Union president has written an open letter to Shehla Rashid, a former JNU Students' Union vice president.

Here I shall quote the original letter in blue and give my response to his perfidy.

 Let me express my deep sense of shock and disgust over an FIR filed against you in Aligarh.

Nadim Asrar

(1) Here is the background. Shehla Rashid wrote a Facebook post about right wing abuses against beloved Prophet of Islam, may peace and blessings of Allah SWT be upon him.

(2) A lower level official, a girl, of AMU Students' Union filed an FIR against Shehla Rashid.

(3) Then the social media took over. 

Hello comrade,
I insist on addressing you like that - not only because you and many amazing young minds before you in JNU have been my comrades for more than two decades now - but also because the word comes from the root "camaraderie", the idea that defines student politics in general, and the strong bonds that JNU and AMU students have built for a progressive polity in particular.
Despite what has happened, those bonds must endure.
(1) It is true that there is mostly good communication between AMUSU and JNUSU.
(2) In spite of that it should not be and can not be forgotten that the character of JNUSU is mostly leftist and that of AMUSU is Muslim.
(3) Nadim Asrar himself was of leftist disposition.

Let me, therefore, at the outset, express my deep sense of shock and disgust over a first information report (FIR) filed against you in Aligarh by the AMU Students Union, which claims you insulted Prophet Mohammad in a Facebook post - a 1000-word statement that those students, in the age of 140-word tweets and emoticonned Whatsapp conversations, were too ignorant to understand. The other possibility is they are deliberately misreading the post and claiming being hurt to "fix" you for speaking your mind.
(1) The accusation is two fold here. AMU students are seriously hampered by emoticonned texts of Whatsapp and 140 character messages to understand a 1000 word Facebook message. The impression is that AMU students are technically incompetent.

(2) Or AMUSU is deliberately misreading Shehla Rashid to fix her for speaking her mind. The impression is two fold again: AMUSU and hence AMU students and hence Muslims do not like women to have their own opinion and secondly they have ill motivation to fix a girl who dared to speak her mind.
 The men in Aligarh are not used to women speaking their minds, let alone having one. With you, it becomes worse. It's not only your gender that they despise, it's your left-liberal political persuasion too. Aligarh in general has never been comfortable with liberal and progressive forces, despite being one of the major centres of progressive writers and academics in the country.
(1) The FIR against Shehla Rashid was filed by a girl student. To hurl an accusation against all AMU men is clearly a false premise. The least Mr Asrar is erring on is the inherent assumption that the FIR filing girl is incompetent to make her own opinion. In this case it is Mr Asrar who simply can not take a Muslim woman taking a stand that does not go well with his favourite ideology.

(2) Another accusation in first sentence of the above quoted paragraph is that Aligarh men are not used to women having minds of their own. Clearly by Aligarh men he meant Muslims for Professor Irfan Habib, in spite of being an Aligarh man, will certainly be a paragon of all virtue for Mr Asrar. To be good, right, virtuous and proper you have to be a Marxist. Being a Muslim is a total and complete disqualification if you want to be

That the police complaint against you came only two days after you and other comrades from JNU, Delhi University, and Allahabad University were invited by the same AMU Students Union for a symposium on the role of student leaders in "building contemporary society" is one of the many unfortunate ironies that AMU has long been used to revel in.

In the horribly misinterpreted January 9 post on Facebook, you had attempted a more nuanced understanding of hate speech by asserting a rational mind’s democratic right to ask questions and raise doubts, even if they involve religious figures like Ram or Mohammad. There is difference between inquiry and incitement, you argued in that post, with considerable sensibility and success.

Zia Nomani in was right. “The post quoted some controversial phrases like "Ram was an asshole" and "Mohammad was a paedophile" to distinguish between hate speech and "hateful" speech. It’s a paradox that the ex-JNUSU vice-president Shehla was accused of hate speech in her Facebook post, which was meant to condemn it in the first place,” he wrote.

However, allow me to put this controversy in some context. Far from being an isolated hounding
Hello comrade,
I insist on addressing you like that - not only because you and many amazing young minds before you in JNU have been my comrades for more than two decades now - but also because the word comes from the root "camaraderie", the idea that defines student politics in general, and the strong bonds that JNU and AMU students have built for a progressive polity in particular.

Despite what has happened, those bonds must endure.
of a Muslim woman studying in another university, it actually fits into a long trope of myopia, misogyny and mindset that defines not only AMU, but even the average Muslim man.

Student politics in Aligarh, unlike your university or most others, is ad-hoc and devoid of affiliations from the mainstream political parties. That emptying of politics from politics per se ends up creating student leaders, whose only claim to electoral positions is the most banal slogan you can ever hear in a university: "tempo high hai".

Please don't ask me what it means. I don't know either and have remained intrigued for long. But it is this singular slogan that has set the agenda and decided student elections in Aligarh for nearly a century now. It is "tempo high hai" that has created leaders from Aligarh, whatever little it has produced.

It is this political and intellectual bankruptcy that has marked student politics in AMU. In the absence of political education and atmosphere that an institution of higher education is supposed to provide, more so in a campus like Aligarh, student leaders are left to fend for themselves. Teachers either don't mentor or are too scared to do it. The administration run by former Army generals or senior bureaucrats does all it can to ensure the campus remains depoliticised.

I don't know if you have noticed, but AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia are the only two central universities in India often run by non-academics. While that trend is set to hopefully stop soon, it's appalling why nobody within the community or outside questioned and resisted it for decades.

Such administrators despise progressive politics, victimise teachers or students who dare to do it, and end up undermining the legitimate and democratic right of students to call elections or form political alliances.

What happens in such a depoliticised campus is that student leaders end up pandering to populist notions of religion, tradition or victimhood. Easy and regressive slogans take over more pressing issues like the recent University Grants Commission gazette notification you also questioned AMU about. Politics of emotion takes over politics of consequence. The FIR against you over alleged disrespect to the Prophet explains that.

"I doubt if AMUSU has any sentiments left, let alone religious!" you said in another angry Facebook post after the police case was filed. I have to agree with you on that. Moreover, religious sentiments have no place in an academic insitution.

If AMU or its student leaders claim a religious right over their campus and dictate who gets to enter it, they are failing the very idea of Aligarh and its long history of liberal and alternate politics.

As you so aptly put it in the same Facebook post: "Pehle insaan baniye, phir musalman banne ka dawa kariye." For me, as long as you are a student, insaaniyat (humanism) is all that matters.

(The author is a former president of AMU Students Union.)

Source : Daily-Something