After so many years of mismanaging the national resources and squandering the country’s wealth, did British politicians really not see this coming? What began as a community protest against a man being shot to death by the police has turned into a full-blown riot. And now London’s rioters and noise-makers are facing the full force of English class hierarchy bearing down upon them.
Sadly, as the looting and indiscriminate violence spirals, as yet no one has risen to voice specific demands of the state.
Everywhere in London, through a shameless bombardment of corporate-controlled images, at every moment one is reminded of everything a normal person lacks in life: the myriad paraphernalia of an uber-chic lifestyle.
If you are a British citizen, there is a _ in _ chance you are part of the losing crowd. Yet, the state has attempted no such actions to make a better life more accessible.
… Sort of like a humiliating tease.
Instead, as head of a working class household, the more children you bear, the greater will be your claim to a handful of state benefits. Sounds more like a recipe for class entrapment.
Caught in an era dominated by ultra-utilitarian ideals, the looters and rioters are running amok, free-riding the void in public order for personal gains.
Today, a friend returned from a short vacation in that now-naked island fortress, where luckily she has managed to remain out of harm’s way ever since the first police bullet was shot.
She remarked that in a single day, it cost her £180 to travel around London for leisure. Furthermore, public spaces have shrunken in size; and that they too are in danger of becoming as begrudged slivers of a meagre “handout” from the state for the so-called thankless multitude.
Of the many stories and experiences that Alice Albinia relates from her travels through Pakistan, in Empires of the Indus, I find myself constantly drawn to the one which tells the evolution of the Sikh faith, beginning with Guru Nanak (p111), for it reads like a love affair gone terribly wrong, and offers, I think, one historical strand of the bloody division that was to occurr a few centuries on. The story, presented by Albinia as one provided her at a Hindu library, situated on the island of Sadhubela, in Sukkur, is most curious because it shows how one community, whose ideational system was originally meant to bestow harmony between the Hindu and Muslim communities of India, slowly evolves towards a martial path of its own and, ironically, becomes as orthodox as the ones it had originally set out to harmonize. The turning point, in Albinia’s conveyed narrative, is when the Sikh community faces discriminatory policies and mounting repression under Mughal rule.
According to the young Hindu librarian in Sadbhelu, Sukkur, “Guru Nanak did not mean for a new religion to be created – just like he did not believe that Hindus and Muslims should be separate.” (p.111)
Born into a Brahmin family in 1469, Guru Nanak set out on a quest of spiritual harmony at the age of 30. In his travels, he visited all of the holy Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist sites and, in doing so, lost caste by crossing the ‘kalapani’ – the black water which Hindus were not to cross. Nanak was a Hindu reformer, says the librarian. Yet it appears there was more to him than just reform. He rejected the orthodox traditions of all religious paths – for in them he saw the seeds of human discord – and sought to challenge these traditions right at the doorsteps of power – be it of the Pashtun kings (the Lodhis, whom he described as ‘decadent rulers’) the Mughal rulers (particularly Babur, whose ‘hordes’ he regarded as ‘perpetrators of sin’ and in front of whom ‘propriety and laws have gone into hiding’), or the caste-bound Brahmins (whom he referred to as ‘butchers’). At the same time, the rituals that he endorsed revolved around that free-flowing, universal source of life: water.
Therefore, the spiritual space which Nanak appeared to be establishing was one that was all-inclusive, for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists alike. Yet, at the same time — perhaps unwittingly — Guru Nanak fostered a strong Punjabi identity among his followers, for he wrote all his poetry in Punjabi and, presumably, communicated his message in this mother tongue. Albinia writes that “while this has inhibited the spread of Sikhism outside of the Punjab, it also defined the community and fostered its sense of nationalism.” In effect, his universal message of love and harmony (which he first pronounced thusly – that “there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim…”) from its beginning, too, had its bounds: namely, those of language and ethnicity. Today, many Indian Sikhs and Pakistani Sikhs (living in Pakistan’s tribal areas) refuse to embrace one another as their coreligionists, separated as they are by language. The latter are Pashto speakers and have adapted some of the traditions of their immediate social environment (their women do ‘purdah’, for instance), and thus are not deemed by the former as fully Sikh.
A brief period of Muslim-Sikh harmony thrived under the Emperor Akbar. He was pleased with the message of their prayers, viewing it as consonant with the Islamic message — i.e. that there is only one God, etc — and so, under his rule, the Sikhs were extended royal patronage in the form of land. On it a temple was eventually constructed; and, interestingly, the foundation stone was laid by a Muslim saint from Lahore. That harmony lasted only as long as the ruler, however; for under the subsequent rule of his son, Jahangir, who held a deep distrust towards all sects non-Muslim, relations quickly disintegrated.
From Emperor Jahangir onward, Mughal policy to the Sikh community nurtured hostile relations. Two events in particular served as catalysts for the social disintegration. First, there was the death of Guru Arjun, who was severely tortured for having given refuge to Jahangir’s son, Khusrau, after he had rebelled from his father. (Arjun eventually succumbed to his wounds while bathing in a river.) After this, “over the next hundred years,” writes Albinia, “state repression under the Mughals gave Sikhism its final and definitive form.” The Mughals continuously dispatched armies from Delhi to the Punjab to keep the Sikhs under tight control. In turn, “the Sikhs perfected the art of guerrilla warfare,” Alicia notes, further describing that “at first, they lived in soldier communities, singing heroic ballads,” markedly, in place of the peaceful hymns which had originated with Guru Nanak. Later, they began to engage in banditry and the pillaging of Afghan and Mughal baggage trains. The escalation of hostilities between the Sikhs in the Punjab and the Mughal center culminated in the second defining incident: alarmed at the growing trend of Sikh separatism, Jahangir’s predecessor, Emperor Aurangzeb, had the ninth Guru executed.
The death of two successive Gurus at the hands of Muslim rulers compelled the tenth Guru — Guru Arjun — to recognize two “prosaic truths”, as Albinia calls them: first, that violence should be met with violence; and second, the Sikh people need to feel that they are a people apart. This unimaginative bending of the rules brought forth a structured end to the Sikh community’s quest for social harmony through tolerance and endurance, and offered a stark reversal to the example set forth by the first Guru – Guru Nanak – who spoke unswervingly against the unethical rule of the Mughals, while enduring their punishment, so much so that Emperor Babur even admited the Guru’s upright wisdom.
If after many years of fighting to preserve itself in the face of state repression, the Sikh community were straying from Guru Nanak’s message, under Guru Gobind’s guidance, the community experienced a transformation that set the militant trajectory of its path in stone, defined as it was by a sudden centralization, both in space and time, through the imposition of orthodoxy. Albinia describes this to have happened in the following manner:
First, during the spring festival of Baisakhi, in 1699, Gobind announced the formation of a militant new group – the Khalsa. In place of the kirtan, or the peaceful hymns introduced by Nanak, Sikhs marked themselves with five visible symbols of power – kesh, kanga, kach, kara and kirpan (uncut hair, comb, shorts, steel bracelet and sword). Hence, the focus on social cohesion and harmony was turned on its head, substituted now by a concern with outward appearances, self-preservation and power over – what had become by now – its sectarian rivals.
Second, Gobind announced that Adi Granth would be the eleventh and final Guru. From here on, Alicia writes, “Sikhs were to be led… by the rule of the collective, by their communally scripted holy book, and by the social cohesion of the Khalsa,” rather than by the rule of a few, who might have otherwise served the purpose of reminding the community of Nanak’s founding message, allowing for its continuity — that as there are neither Hindus, nor Muslims, how can there be Sikhs? Indeed, as his message implied, all is One.
Hence, after Adi Granth’s passing, it appears that, logically, the community would become vulnerable to political manipulations and – contrary to Nanak’s intention – another force to contend with in an intensely sectarian milieu. Albinia’s account portrays how Sikhism, which initially denied the separation between ‘self’ and ‘other’, renounced religious orthodoxy and stressed the oneness of spirituality, had in time, particularly under Mughal repression, become bounded by its own identity and an acquired attachment to militant ways — thus straying far from its original intention: to bring about a social revolution of spiritual liberation, via the unity of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist ideals.
As long as the worries of another are separate from yours, even after a hundred years he will not be your friend.
— Rehman Baba (Pakhtun poet and singer, 1650-1715)
I’m through with staring at ‘upright’ cartoons of the man, and need a serious breather!
Now if only he wasn’t smokin’ what he was smokin’…………………
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder and Governor General of Pakistan, with his dogs.
Three weeks before his retirement as head of the Pentagon, US Defense Sec Robert Gates gave a warning speech in Brussels to an audience of European allies, that in the very near future NATO risks falling by the wayside if the Europeans don’t get serious on their collective security spending. Gates’ spiceless ire was hard to miss.
The present trans-Atlantic beef was inevitable. Rifts from the early post-World War II years are turning into serious fissures now, because of the fact that the lessons learned in the aftermath of World War II as well as post-Cold War, for the Europeans were quite divergent from those learned by Americans. The threat of a Soviet westward invasion served as the glue that bound the two regions in unity, best articulated in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (1949):
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in the exercise of individual or collective self-defense recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
But as the world drifts further away from the era of the Cold War, and into a more unfamiliar environment with new centers of power emerging and strange new threats, that bond has weakened. Oddly enough, Gates uses the Libya operation as a case in point, saying that that in March, all 28 NATO member states voted for intervention, but
“Less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission… Many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”
There is some irony in this example. The original intention of NATO was the preservation of international peace and security of the north Atlantic region, which translates as security of its economic system and way of life. Security, stability and collective self-preservation lay at the heart of the NATO doctrine; and while the Soviet Union was perceived as the biggest threat to all of this, on the other hand Libya stands as no such equivalent challenge. And the threats that do challenge (like economic instability and transnational terrorism) challenge the Cold War trans-Atlantic institution.
Gates cried for the lack of political will of European leaders to step up to the proverbial plate and deliver on defense capabilities. In one sense, he is right. Sadly, the US share of NATO spending has risen to 75% — a figure that is much more than what it was at the height of the Cold War, when American troops were stationed across the European landscape. Congress may choose to opt out, he cautioned, if it sees that European security is constantly shored up by American taxpayers.
Nonetheless, the rift is also rooted in the fact that Americans fail to understand the collective psyches of peoples who have experienced war and its accompanying starvation and mass deaths, up close, on their own territories — rather than through a world that is, to use Susan Sontag’s term, “media-saturated” — and contributing toward, on the international stage, in what Gates terms as NATO’s “two-tiered alliance, between members,” like the Europeans, “who specialize in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks, and those” like the U.S., “conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions.” Europeans simply don’t trust the building of defences, and see no such need to in the absence of an existential threat. (I’m sorry, but terrorism doesn’t really count — as say the majority of Europeans.)
And those collective psyches within Europe, by the way, concerning the question of exactly who all have the right to claim victimhood in the aftermath of World War II, are still evolving. Indeed, this may have an impact on the European project, which Germany has reluctantly taken over, via bailouts of fellow European economies.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad said: “We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred will last only as long as that hatred lasts.” 1946
But may a country’s destiny be liable to change? May the hopefuls among the Pakistanis live to see a new day — i.e. a day of peace and security and unqualified democratic freedoms? Sadly, I believe, the answer will remain in the negative. What individuals on the street speak of as “change” bears a heavy dose of ephemerality. Notions of change may find their expression in literature, art and in hidden romance. But will sex and the sublime ever attain a momentum powerful enough for shared ideas to transcend that one realm of culture at a scale that may evoke comparisons to scenes of Paris, in 1968? Such was a cultural revolution inspired by dreams of sexual liberation — NOT an insurrection of the peasant masses who know not a concept of a concept, yet are the first to bear the brunt of soil and sun and of the mullahs in the mountains and on the street by the skin of their backs. By this very chasm, culture alone will sputter nothing substantial for overturning the debased norms in Pakistan’s conduct at home and in international relations. For above the spiral in corruption and opportunism in political life is the kingpin establishment of defense, which wields its weight in ways that counter the independence of the civilian institutions, as much as to thwart the archenemy beyond the peaks of Siachin — via the tacit support of a system that eats its own children:
Pakistan’s military-proxy-industrial complex.
“There is no evidence that action is being taken against them [pro-Pakistan Kashmir extremist groups, such as Jaysh-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyab], because the military considers these militants as assets. Not just in Kashmir. See, as long as Pakistani establishment’s perception of India remains as it has… which is that ‘India is an enemy, it is about to eat us up. We have to challenge it. Like a good, Muslim state we have to stand up to the Hindus and show the non-Muslims we are strong here.’ As long as we live with this mentality we will not have peace. I say this out of my concern for Pakistan…”
— Ayesha Siddiqa, 2008
[Jazzman and his mic in Karachi, Pakistan in the 1960s. By the late 1970s, Islamization took hold of Pakistani society, under a brutal military regime that was backed by the United States to counter the Soviet Union. Widespread religious persecution and mass violence ensued. Meanwhile, major headway was made in the country’s secret nuclear program. Pakistan never fully recovered from that dark period in its history; and today the world is where it is. Source of screenshot: Dawn News documentary, “All that Jazz.”]
“Muslims will not hear anything against Pakistan unless they experience it. Today they can call white black, but they will not give up Pakistan…”
— Maulana Azad, 1946
[Public poster from the French insurrection of May 1968. The shadow appears to be of French President Charles de Gaulle silencing a youth. The caption reads: “Stay young and shut up.” Source: Wikipedia]
“The greatest danger will come from international powers who will seek to control the new country, and with the passage of time this control will become tight…”
- Maulana Azad, 1946
It has recently come to my attention through an Elder within the Mormon community of Los Angeles, California, that in the past, the Pakistani government had denied the Mormon Church of Latter-day Saints access to its territory and people. The scenario has changed in recent years, however — access, though it remains strictly limited, has been granted. But as a Pakistani-American intimate with both the South Asian and Mormon worlds, I found the otherwise little-known news to be particularly painful; and I would like to provide an explanation for the government’s decisions.
Within the overarching geopolitical struggle in the Islamic world — a struggle that spans the Middle East and Central Asia, is defined along sectarian Islamic lines, and is one in which Pakistan is embroiled — a well-established institution, such as the Mormon Church, which has a very powerful communications arm, and thus over time capable of bearing great influence within a political culture and civil society in its own empowering manner, will be perceived by the military establishment as a ‘national security’ challenge to Pakistan and a destabilizing agent to its status as a Sunni power center in the region. This threat perception is shaped by a narrowly defined national identity and historical experience.
Pakistan, as you may know, recently reached its sixtieth year of existance. It appeared on the world map by post-World War II British blessing, and was viewed domestically as a means for the Muslims of India to escape both India’s severe power imbalances shaped by British colonial policy, and an alarming rise of right-wing religious animosity. By creating a new country, however, the embattled Muslims unwittingly turned their backs on an identity that was, potentially, a political choice of empowerment within a greater Indian national identity, and instead chose another path, one both obligatorily separate and under siege.
So what might have remained an focus on Hindu-Muslim political competition and a Muslim struggle for institutional guarantees of their civil and political rights within a multi-religious, multiethnic India, after 1947 had descended into a frenzied militarizing, catapulted by the bloodbath of partition, and sustained by Cold War politics.
Now with every domestic bomb blast and act of terrorism within Pakistan, we are witnessing from afar a militarization that fluctuates predominantly along sectarian divisions within the Pakistani community, but that has percolated, since the US invasion of Afghanistan (2001), into adjacent power struggles — notably, between states and their adversarial, non-state counterparts. As a result, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and such transnational terror networks as Al Qaeda are all particularly on edge.
Each seeks to advance its power and control over the other; but combined their actions accelerate the deadly spread of arms and ideologies. And if left unchecked, the unleashing of a regional event of collective destruction edges closer to fruition. (This, for instance, is why the recent, unprecedented $60 billion arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia has left some analysts cautious about embracing its wisdom.)
Pre-9/11, the handful of terror organizations within Pakistan operated mostly unconnected and unscathed. Of course, they functioned with the tacit approval of the country’s intelligence services since their causes were separate, predominantly regional, and mostly serving the country’s Indian threat considerations. But with the current, and increasingly visible, US military footprint in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, those networks have responded by increasing in number, furthering their reach well beyond the control of the government, and coalescing into a malevolent system of alliances. It is a scenario that continues to tie the hands of the government and cost multitudinous lives of those children, whose families know no better — wallowing, as they are, in the cesspool of poverty and illiteracy and a lack of opportunities, and taken in by the guise of God-sent work: free, religious instruction, with food and clothing provided. In a few years, they hope to see their sons return as educated and fine, young men.
But “free” this education is not. Once admitted, these impressionable adolescents are slowly secluded from their home communities, inculcated with quirky, “foreordained” promises about “the Hereafter,” and finally injected into the bloody maelstrom of militant jihad. And having been brought up in a less-than-open environment, even the children of the more well-to-do may be prone to joining in the ranks, their conservatism already shaped by state ideology, and its anti-Indian attachment to Islam. Thus the young, including the likes of the would-be New York Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, might seem willing to shun their families and pay with their lives, while their successes are propagandized as acts of God.
Long before this affair, at a time when India had yet to be reborn and partitioned, one figure in particular stood at the helm in his commitment to the cause of secularism and national unity. He warned his fellow Muslims of a dire denouement down the road of secession. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a leading Islamic scholar of his time (and independent India’s first Minister of Education), publicly questioned: How was a land that was to break away from a newly independent India — a country itself facing deep communal divisions and multi-tiered racism across the board — achieve true freedom in a decolonized environment? Given the emerging legacy of colonial rule, he concluded that pursuing freedom by such a means would have ripple effects through succeeding generations.
In essence, freedom by division was a farce. Muslims in the newly created Pakistan would suffer from exorbitant defense spendings, obsessed over countering India’s, while the political station of Indian Muslims would be riven by their dwindled numbers in population. On both sides development would take a back seat, opportunism would spiral, and the quality of life of Muslims on either side would languish through the years. Such, he warned, would be the costs of each side’s drive to maintain the security of its homeland against its principle adversary’s instruments of defense. Therefore, the prospects for lasting peace and prosperity in the region would remain undermined in perpetuity by the impending arrangement, and the vision of a United Indian Commonwealth condemned to the ash heap of history.
And so Azad’s forewarning to the migrating Muslims continued till the day of partition — on August 14, 1947 — which now resonate most eerily in our post-9/11 age:
“Muslims, my brothers! What drives you from your homes, and steals you from our land? Do you understand the consequences? … A time may come when the people of Pakistan will be so self-interested that they will be willing to betray their own before taking their mid-day naps … At anytime in Pakistan, you may face amongst yourselves those who will stab you in the back. Then you will be utterly helpless … [wherever] your journey may end [in Pakistan], you will still be treading in Hindustan — on soil that has always been yours… How can you leave this, our Chandni Chowk?”
He pleaded the Muslims to stay. On hearing his words, many fell in tears. Yet on they traveled by foot and train to the new land. It is estimated that between half a million and a million would never make it.
A sage of India, Hazrat Inayat Khan, who migrated to the United States before the Great Depression in the service of divine love and Truth, brought forth the harmonizing music of his native raags, and a message that transcended even Azad’s vision of a pluralistic multinational state — that “he who tries to prove his belief as superior to the faith of another, does not know the meaning of religion.” In true reality, “All is One.”
“The work of the spiritual man is to forget his false self, and so to realize the true self which is God; and this true self is not only in him, but in his neighbor also.”
“One thinks one may develop will power [on the path of brotherhood] by fighting [with others] but that is not so, because by fighting we make very little progress; by fighting with ourselves we progress a hundred times more.”
“Our greatest enemy is our self. Our weakness, our ignorance keeps us from the truth of our being, from all the virtues hidden in us and all perfection hidden in our souls. The first self we realize is the false self. Unless the soul is born again, it will not see the kingdom of heaven.”
“The soul is first born into the false self,” he said, “it is blind.”
“In the true self the soul opens its eyes. Unless the false self is fought with, the true self cannot be realized. Therefore, endurance is necessary, patience is necessary.”
By this, coupled with Maria Rosa Menocal’s historical investigations in “Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain,” we may infer that in the absence of greater diversity, and in the absence of a willingness to embrace the architecture or the poetry of political enemies or religious rivals, or to read sundry works of literature regardless of the libraries from which they have come, the deeper realms of reality existing within one’s being slips further from one’s grasp.
Now imagine entire resources of a state, particularly, in defense and education, being misallocated towards such ends, obstructing the free flow of information and opportunities, and thus also an awareness of Inayat Khan’s described potential exchanges pertaining to matters of the soul — the free flow of baraka, an Islamic term which means ‘divine charisma’, and which may also translate as the ‘Holy Spirit’ as conceptualized within the Christian worldview — and holding spiritually hostage a population that, tragically, has yet to experience an organically matured democracy, affordable public education and access to health care and freedom from the feudal yoke. There still remains to be a nationwide redistribution of land.
According to the 2009 UN Human Development Report, around 40% of the children under the age of 5 in Pakistan are underweight.
I sincerely regret the Pakistani government’s decision to deny its people open access to the Mormon Church and hope that my friends among the Latter-day Saints do not receive this as a slight from the good people of Pakistan.
1. Ahmed Rashid, “Descent into Chaos: the U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia,” Penguin Group, NY, 2008.
2. Ardeshir Cowasjee, “Paths of Terrorism Lead but to Pakistan,” Dawn News, 9 May 2010, <http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/19-ardeshir-cowasjee-paths-of-terrorism-lead-but-to-pakistan-950-hh-08>
3. Iain MacKenzie, “New York Times Square Bomber footage released,” BBC News, 29 September 2010, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11440991>
4. Ian Black, “Arms Deal: Saudi Arabia and US Put 9/11 Behind Them,” The Guardian, 13 September 2010, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/13/arms-deal-saudi-arabia-us?intcmp=239>
5. Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh, “The Partition of India,” Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009.
6. Maria Rosa Menocal, “Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain,” Back Bay Books, NY, 2003.
7. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, “India Wins Freedom,” Sangam Books Ltd., Delhi, 1998.
8. Seyyed Vali Nasr, “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future,” W. W. Norton and Co., NY, 2007.
9. Speech by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on India’s Independence, available on Youtube, Part 1: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRt5G65OAUg&feature=related%EF%BB%BF>; and Part 2: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoe4S-LQqqc&feature=related> (The translations of the extracted segments are mine).
10. The Cumorah Project, International Resources of the Latter-day Saints in Pakistan <http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=missiology_articles&story_id=13>
11. The Spiritual Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Volume VII: In an Eastern Rose Garden, Chapter 5: The Will, Human and Divine, available on Wahiduddin’s Web, <http://wahiduddin.net/mv2/VII/VII_5.htm>
12. The SM of HIK, The Supplementary Papers, Brotherhood II, available on WB, <http://wahiduddin.net/mv2/supp/brotherhood_25.htm>
13. United Nations Human Development Report, 2009.
14. Zahid Hussein, “Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam,” Columbia University Press, NY, 2007.