Explaining Pakistan’s Drift to the Right

By Anjum Altaf

I wish to explain Pakistan’s long drift to the religious right while going beyond the argument that Islamism is at the root of all the country’s problems, a formulation that begs many questions: Why was Pakistan amenable to Islamism? Why this particular form of Islamism? Why with seemingly so little resistance?

My focus will be on the structural factors that opened the political space first for Islam and then for Islamism while remaining cognizant of the fact that an explanation is not intended to be an excuse. Nor is it an attempt to shift blame, distinctions many are too impatient to make. The blame rests squarely on Pakistanis but that does not obviate the need for an alternative but coherent explanation of the events of the past sixty years.

Pakistan was born drenched in a religious ethos. How religion acquired a salience in the electoral politics of British India and how various players came to occupy the positions they did over time is a story that has been retold many times. The fact remains though that the midwives of Pakistan’s birth were not the representatives of religion but secularists who employed religion as an instrument of strategy, one they tried to reverse unsuccessfully after the birth of the country.

This sets up the central question. The founders of the country were secularists with a declared intent to provide a secular foundation for the country and at its birth there were many forces in contention that were not at all religious in orientation – communist parties, parties representing workers and peasants, regional parties, the labor movement, and radical academics. At the same time the religious parties were on the defensive for having opposed, or at least not enthusiastically supported, the demand for Pakistan. Why, given this constellation of forces, did the effort fail?

I will argue that two factors had a key influence on the initial trajectory of events. The first was Pakistan’s imbalanced federal structure in terms of the peculiarities of its constituent units. There were only five units at the second tier of government separated into two unconnected wings. Electoral power was concentrated in Bengal, the eastern wing, with more people than the other four units combined; in the western wing, Punjab had more people than the other three units put together. Economic power was concentrated in the Punjab and military power in the Punjab and NWFP with virtually no representation of Bengal, Sindh and Balochistan. The second factor was the circumstance that much of the new country’s bureaucratic elite was comprised of migrants from India with no roots in any of the provinces of the new country.

The conjunction of these two factors had a number of implications. First, the imbalances meant that unlike in India there were no political deadlocks that could only be resolved by means of bargaining and give and take, the essence of a democratic mode of governance. In Pakistan, if the arbiter of decision-making were the vote, Bengal alone could trump the others; if the arbiter were force of arms, the Punjab could call the shots. Second, the concentration of military power meant, again quite unlike the situation in India, that a very small number of individuals could conspire and successfully seize power to nullify the weight of votes. Third, the imbalance of economic resources meant there was extreme reluctance to share power equitably with the constituent units. Fourth, over-representation of the migrant elite without local roots generated the incentive to perpetuate the centralization of power. And fifth, as eventually happened, the separation of Bengal would do nothing to correct the imbalances in the western wing; Punjab was left in an even more dominant position among the four remaining units.

The resolution of these imbalances led to a path diametrically opposite to that observed in India. Whereas India had no real alternative to seeking unity in diversity, the Pakistani elites could preserve their privileges by making diversity disappear under the mythic unity of Islam and Urdu. The amalgamation of all the constituent units of the west into One Unit and declaring its parity with the east were all machinations aimed at undoing the unyielding power of votes.

One consequence of this rhetoric of Islam and Urdu, once again the use of emotive issues for purely political ends, was the crackdown on the forces of the left in general and on the parties representing regional demands with their vilification as anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan. The first decade of Pakistan’s existence saw the progressive strangulation of these forces.

Despite all these maneuvers, it was not possible to deny the power of the vote, now polarized by unhappiness in the marginalized units, indefinitely. The only way out of the impasse was to discredit the politicians and replace them with an authoritarian arrogation of power. This duly occurred with first coup in 1958 and once the junta allied itself firmly with the Americans to shore up its own position, the crackdown on the secular democratic opposition was a foregone conclusion. Democratic politics itself was deemed contrary to the interests of the nation. Either Pakistan was not ready for democracy or needed one that was guided and controlled by the men in uniform. The pattern was a repeat of the experience of American client regimes across Latin America and the Middle East.

The left-wing and secular elements having been thus vilified, discredited and sidelined, the field was left open for the right to expand its presence and authoritarian governments both encouraged and relied increasingly on religious forces to create a constituency for themselves; hence the conflation of the champions of Pakistan with the champions of Islam. Even someone like the great pretender who declared himself a devotee of Ataturk and styled himself a CEO and an enlightened moderate was hand in glove with the religious right in order to keep at bay the secular political forces whose leadership he exiled and promised never to let back in.

This process of eliminating the non-right from the political space got its big counterpoint boost in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the US put together the great Islamic Jihad against godless communism. It was a coincidence that another military dictator was in power in Pakistan at that time himself trying to secure his legitimacy through religion. This positive injection of jihadi Islamist rhetoric along with the paraphernalia of training camps foreshadowed the high noon when Pakistan assumed the role of the defender of Islam and the two started to become very much indistinguishable from each other.

But it is by no means certain that this conflation would have been sustained after the Soviet withdrawal and the sobering reality of the bitter inter-Islamic conflicts in Afghanistan without another major triggering event, the revolution in Iran in 1979. It was then that the Saudi offensive to shore up its ideological defenses in the Middle East went into overdrive with strategic interventions in all neighboring countries with significant Shia populations.

The Saudis were smart enough to see the fallacy in treating a country as a person or a unitary actor. They identified clearly the groups within Pakistan that were open to buying into their version of Islam and funded them with enough money to propagate their views and purchase the loyalties needed to advance their agenda. It was a long-term vision to infiltrate all the key sectors of society – education, the bureaucracy, mosques, media, and the armed forces being the key amongst them. The jihad against atheism provided the perfect cover under which such a major infiltration could proceed while eluding effective resistance by segments within Pakistani society; the anti-Islamic label was powerful in suppressing dissent. From the perspective of the Saudis and their partners in Pakistan the effort succeeded brilliantly in changing the mindset and the orientation of Pakistani society.

The jihadi rhetoric also made it easier to extend its scope from godless atheists to all self-declared enemies of Islam, a gambit that came in handy to fan the easily inflamed anti-India sentiment whenever the need arose for such a diversionary tactic. But even in the midst of all this, there remained constituencies within Pakistan desirous of promoting cultural and trade relations with India. It is only in such a scenario that one can make sense of an intervention like Kargil. It was a successful attempt by one set of forces to derail the plans of another that wished to reorient the relationship between the two countries to benefit the mass of the people rather than narrow elites that thrived on the perpetuation of hostilities.

It is worth pondering that all through this period that Pakistan was being jerked to the right there were no obvious countervailing moves by India. Unlike the Saudis, who had a differentiated strategy, the stance of the Indian political elite continued to conceptualize Pakistan in anthropomorphic terms – Pakistan was a rogue state, a belligerent state, an unreasonable state, a treacherous state, a stab-in-the-back state – without going into the details of who in Pakistan was doing what or encouraging the forces that desired a normalization of relations. It seemed it was just assumed that there were none. The compulsions that caused the Indian political elite to assume this stance deserve analysis in their own right.

It is a moot point whether the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated to the extent that countervailing political measures would be insufficient to arrest its collapse. Pakistanis are paying and will continue to pay the price of an infection imported into the country which they were insufficiently vigilant or insufficiently powerful to challenge. Any collapse does not promise to be neat, nor is Pakistan likely to fade away quietly. It is still in the self-interest of all who are likely to be affected by the fallout, including first and foremost the citizens of Pakistan, to see through the rhetoric of religious indignation and imagined enmities and to grasp the reality of the politics that has brought the country to this pass. At the same time it is a sobering thought that there are things for which some people claim they are willing to pay any price.

 

208 Comments
  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 19:23h, 23 July Reply

    Anjum,

    I didn’t say I knew how to test View A. I only said the method would be the same. For that matter, I really don’t know how historians test any of their hypotheses.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 19:26h, 23 July

      Arun: But what would be that same method since you insist on a hypothesis being tested?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 19:32h, 23 July Reply

    Anjum,

    I have not been insisting that various hypotheses be tested though I believe that is very desirable. I have been urging that all initially plausible hypotheses be explored rather than just one’s own view. I don’t know how to explore View A or View B because I lack the knowledge. View A has been amply explored by you. View B is perhaps the most widely held view in the world at large. So I think it is worth exploring if one knows how to.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:13h, 24 July

      Arun: Since one doesn’t know how to, what does one do?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 20:00h, 23 July Reply

    This is a bit of a digression but it illustrates a point.

    The following passage is from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekalavya

    “In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Eklavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a young prince of the Nishadha tribes, and a member of a low caste, who nevertheless aspires to study archery in the gurukul of Dronacharya. After being rejected by Drona, Eklavya embarks upon a program of self-study in the presence of a clay image of Drona. He achieves a level of skill far superior to that of Arjuna, Drona’s favorite and most accomplished pupil. Drona eventually comes to know this and demands that Eklavya turn over his right thumb as a teacher’s fee. The loyal Ekalavya cripples himself, thereby ruining his prospects as an archer.”

    A contemporary playwright in India rewrote this episode in the following way: when Drona makes his demand, Eklavya makes a clay thumb and gives it to him, saying he studied with a clay image so here is a clay thumb.

    This is excellent social criticism. And it is internal. This is the kind of thing the Pakistani filmmaker Mansoor is trying to do:

    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?277655

  • mazHur
    Posted at 20:17h, 23 July Reply

    @ Arun Pillai

    maybe you are right. By nature I am an authoritarian and a proponent of autocracy. Democracy in its present form is poison for countries where there is no criteria to assess the ‘qualities or value’ of a voting person and where all the stress is on numbers!!
    In a country with less than 60 % literacy rate democracy is a curse!!
    Previously, in some countries only tax payers were allowed to vote or those who possessed property. Okay, this may not hold today but literacy rate stands paramount in matter of democracy if, at all, it has to be encouraged in poor countries. Unless that is done neither good leaders would show up neither the hegemony of the ruling dynasty come to an end. People will keep suffering as they are. Filling old bottles with new wines doesn’t give the solution to democracy’s problems. For building a nicer society one ought to get rid of the old dynasty of leaders who clutch to power generation after generation….

    As for Islam, it doesn’t believe in democracy neither does it give all and sundry the right to vote. The voters must have a ”standard’ whatever it may be but race horses cannot be dealt same as cart horses or mules. As this is done mostly in poor countries democracy is bound to fail. Better still is that some way between democracy and autocracy must be found by political philosophers so that affairs of the poor countries, regardless of their religion, are run without stepping heavily on human rights.

    Yes, Islam is ‘problem’ in Pakistan because 1. it was founded in the name of Islam and for Muslims 2. About 97% of its population is Muslim and wants Islamic laws in their country. Wonder why the proponent of democracy shout at a majority which wants what it wants( unless it falls against their vested interest)??

    As to question whether I am agnostic, I may say that being such is not an issue: the problem lies when somebody professes a faith yet maligns it! My philosophy is that if I have to be agnostic I must firs denounce my own faith then criticize it or comment on other faiths. To me all faiths are good….atleast in essence if not ritualistically.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 20:32h, 23 July Reply

    @ Kabir

    Caste system, in one form or another, is found everywhere!
    I think it is fair enough to keep certain people at arm’s length and if the Hindu’s are doing it they are doing nothing abnormal or wrong.
    Muslims are divided into Syeds, Afghans, Khans, Sheiks, Chowdhries, Sardars, Raja’s, Malik’s, etc etc, and often they refuse to intermarry or ‘own’ other ”castes”. What would you call it then?? It’s the same as the Hindu ‘caste system’ but in a different perspective. Who doesn’t know what the civilians were held as by the Military?? Bloody Civilians the brass called it, with instructions to keep away from these ‘untouchables’!!! Needless to repeat that Islam teaches universal brotherhood but where in world such brotherhood appears in its perfect shape and spirit?? Only in mosques perhaps. No Muslim country accepts Muslims from other countries as its ‘brethren’ and for the rich Islamic countries the poor Muslim brethren are mere Misakeens who deserve not more than Bakshish (alms). How disgraceful but it is a fact and not only restricted to Hinduism. Humanity still lingers at the feet of most religions but it is socio-economic condition of a people which is the working force behind the ills so conveniently allocated to religion, any religion.

    Look at the administrative law, the grade system for civil servants, and you will note the same spirit of caste system working even there…there in democratic realms, in ordinary life!!

  • mazHur
    Posted at 01:04h, 24 July Reply

    Q. Which are the most dangerous countries in the world???

    A. Muslim and Secular democratic countries both!

    Here is more detail about these countries as regards to brutality towards women. If the brutality was limited to Muslim countries only I would be the last person to blame secular or democratic countries for the heinous crime. But the truth is here laughing at both the systems….India is right after Pakistan!!
    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/07/worlds_most_dangerous_countrie.html
    Jeeay Pakistan, Jeeay Hind!!

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 03:58h, 24 July Reply

    Mazhur,

    You ask which are the most dangerous countries in the world for women. I agree there is grave danger in many countries. But in my view that is not the best way to think about the problem.

    Here is an analogy. Elsewhere on this blog, Anjum and I and others had an extended discussion about the tribal population of India and their plight. As you know, the Indian state has done little for them and they are being economically exploited. But during the discussion, no one was defensive and no one said, oh, this sort of thing happens everywhere. The point is that we are discussing Pakistan’s problems and it is simply being defensive if you say, oh, there are problems for women everywhere.

    It is the same with the caste system. It has been correctly criticized on this blog. At the time of the criticism no one says, oh, there are similar problems everywhere. Except for you.

    Such tactics betray a certain defensiveness and unwillingness to look at uncomfortable facts about things that one may be close to. It is intellectually dishonest in my opinion and also does not help one in understanding the problem one is trying to tackle.

    If A commits a murder and then says, oh, B and C also committed murders, that does not absolve A of the crime.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 04:00h, 24 July Reply

    Mazhur,

    I agree with you that secular democracy is a bad system. It is full of all kinds of flaws and seldom throws up the best leaders. But it is the best system we have. There is absolutely nothing else that is remotely close to it.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 04:06h, 24 July Reply

    Kabir,

    I have no comment to make if you really think all terrorists are the same. I do feel a certain amount of surprise.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 08:06h, 24 July

      All terrorists are the same because they all use violence against innocents to achieve a particular goal. I am against terrorism, whether it is committed by Muslims, Christians, or atheists.

      It is worth thinking about why when Muslims commit terrorist acts, there is a lot of discussion about how there must be something inherently wrong with Islam or Muslim societies that causes them to do so. Yet when non-Muslims (particularly whites) commit similar sorts of acts people focus on the individual and say that they are psychologically sick. Is this not a double standard?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 04:22h, 24 July Reply

    Anjum,

    I thought you and possibly some others would know how to explore view B because you knew how to explore View A. But if no one knows how to do it, we obviously have to drop the exploration. But it should be acknowledged as an unexplored hypothesis. If one can additionally give a reason why it remains unexplored that is even better. Maybe it is dangerous to go too far publicly. When anon4cec posted the Taseer article you chose not to criticize it yourself and wanted to ask others to opine. Why? Likewise, no one has commented on the Mansoor movie. Has anyone seen it? What do they think? I had never heard of him before but he sounds like an honest and courageous man.

    There is so much social criticism of culture and religion in India. As in the West. I find nothing like it on the blog. Everything is reduced to the play of large impersonal historical forces. And if by chance someone does offer some criticism, then it is deflected by saying, oh, this happens everywhere or it happens due to external manipulation. I found it absurd that Kabir was driven by his logic to say that caste is not inherently bad, only its interpretation is bad. I find that disappointing.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:00h, 24 July

      Arun: You have answered the question yourself. Could it remain unexplored because no one knows how to explore it? Why insinuate that there are other reasons? If you can find someone to explore it, go ahead by all means.

      I gave my opinion on the Aatish Taseer article and chose not to elaborate because I became party to a disagreement. A third-party view carries more credibility in such a situation. Why is that attributed to deflection or evasion or denial or fear? This is an open forum. You are free to discuss what you want on it but you have to carry some of the load. If you are interested in the Mansoor movie, watch it and submit a review. Or else, read the reviews that have appeared in other places and comment on them.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 13:36h, 24 July Reply

    @ Arun Pillai

    ”’The point is that we are discussing Pakistan’s problems and it is simply being defensive if you say, oh, there are problems for women everywhere.”

    We are NOT talking about ‘everywhere” but South Asia, right?
    …………………….
    I would have been ”defensive” IF I had been guilty of defending barbarism towards women, in South Asia, or anywhere else. Women play a very substantial role in the building on ‘minds’ which decides the shift to the ‘left’ or ‘right”. Ask any woman and she will tell you!

    …………..
    ”It is the same with the caste system. It has been correctly criticized on this blog. At the time of the criticism no one says, oh, there are similar problems everywhere. Except for you.”

    Criticism for the sake of criticism is not correct. Maybe those who belong to the lower rung of the caste system criticize it more strongly than anyone else?? Not a bad thing at all because every one aspires to get higher on the societal ladder, even those without hands or feet. This is the reason that Hindu religion (mainly the theory of Reincarnation and the doctrine of Hindu motherland ) prescribes caste system for its adherents. I have least to criticize the caste system as I would democracy because caste and class discrimination can be seen everywhere. For example, Islam discriminates Muslims into two classes: One who possess knowledge and are ‘pious’ (which means true followers of Quranic tenets) and the other the masses. Islam places the former above the latter and it is only the former who have the right to run the affairs of the government or take the helm of affairs in their hands!

    ”It is intellectually dishonest in my opinion and also does not help one in understanding the problem one is trying to tackle.”

    Intellectual dishonest??? Not at all. No one is supposed to agree with any one else unless they are on the same page. Being not so doesn’t tantamount to intellectual dishonesty moreso because everyone has the right of free expression and disagreement is the charm of any discussion!!

    ”If A commits a murder and then says, oh, B and C also committed murders, that does not absolve A of the crime.”

    This example is out of place. What does it have to do with Pakistan or cruelty to women?? Conversely, you can also say: ”If A eats cake and then says, oh, B and C also eat cake , that does not mean A gets the right to eat a cake!! .”

    Unfortunately, proponents of Secular democracy mostly talk about Rights without paying much attention to the Duties involved. If Pakistan couldn’t come up to the mark in this regard, how about the secular democratic republic of India?? Many countries are just toeing the line of Greek democracy to secularize the religious element at their cores.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 15:27h, 24 July Reply

    Kabir,

    You write: “All terrorists are the same because they all use violence against innocents to achieve a particular goal.”

    By analogy: “All triangles are the same because they are all three-sided planar figures.”

    • Vinod
      Posted at 16:23h, 24 July

      Let’s also realize that there are no “true” triangles (the geometrical triangle is an idealized hypothetical concept) as there are no “true” Scotsmen and there are no “true” Muslims and there is no “true” Islam. There are just people trying to make sense of the world and trying to make the best of their lives. .

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 17:33h, 24 July Reply

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/world/europe/24europe.html?_r=1&hp

    The last paragraph: “This may be the act of a lone, mad, paranoid individual,” said Hajo Funke, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin who studies rightist extremism, referring to the right-wing fundamentalist Christian charged in connection with the killings, “but the far-right milieu creates an atmosphere that can lead such people down that path of violence.”

    What is this far-right milieu? It is a milieu consisting of ideas, some half-baked and hate-filled, others based on ideas from Christianity and also the secular Western tradition. As another article in the NYT says, Breivik mentions Machiavelli and quotes John Stuart Mill. It is well-known that Hitler drew upon Wagner and Nietzsche, and Heidegger also contributed to the same “folk philosophy.” Does this mean all these thinkers are all-bad? No. Does this mean all these thinkers are all-good? No. Does this mean that rightwing terrorists and movements simply manipulate their pure ideas? No. Does this mean that there are parts and elements of their thought that lend themselves to extremism? Yes. That is why when Nazism happened, there was widespread criticism in the Western world of these elements. Does this mean these elements disappear completely? No. But their weight and influence gets reduced. Does this mean that the ideas are the sole cause of this Western extremism? No. Many factors of a structural nature + the ideas from the Western tradition jointly cause this terrorism. If we leave out the structural factors we get just a partial explanation; likewise, if we leave out the ideas we also get just a partial explanation. Only both together provide the complete explanation. Does this mean we are singling out the Western tradition? No. But we are analyzing rightwing Western terrorism so it is correct to focus on the relevant structural factors there and the relevant Western ideas. If we are analyzing rightwing Western extremism, should we say, oh, this happens everywhere? No. It is right to focus on the problem we are trying to solve. Otherwise we are just being defensive.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 17:58h, 24 July

      Arun:

      I am glad that this latest incident has caused Europeans to begin to examine their own far-right milieu. Too often, when such crimes are committed by Westerners, there is a tendency to focus on the individual’s psychology. When similar actions are committed by “Muslims”, than the religion or ideology is to blame. This double standard is completely unfair.

      I agree with you that both the structural factors and the ideas need to be discussed. I simply think that there is too much emphasis in the media on “problems with Islam”. There are extremely violent passages in the Old Testament, yet no one would seriously make the claim that “Christianity is a violent religion”. The analogous claim about Islam is made all the time.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:08h, 25 July

      Kabir: Don’t you feel it is missing the point where the violent ideas are coming from? For me, what is of interest are the structural factors that are giving rise to a reaction and a sense of rage in Europe – opposition to Muslim migrants, globalization, the European Union, multiculturalism to pick a few out of the headlines. A right-wing extremism is emerging around these. If there had been no Bible, wouldn’t it would have found its rationalization in some other set of ideas? A Ghalib couplet comes to mind:

      Qasid ki apne hath se gardan na mariye
      us ki khata nahiN ye mera qusur tha

    • Kabir
      Posted at 16:19h, 25 July

      You are right that if there had been no Bible, than right-wing extremists would have found inspiration in some other text. Hitler was inspired by a (mis)reading of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Anything can be used for any purpose.

      However, it is interesting that religious texts are often used to justify extremist positions.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:30h, 25 July

      Kabir: That should not come as a surprise. They come readily to hand, are the most familiar, can rally the greatest numbers, and provide the most historical grievances and inspirations to draw upon. But are they necessary to violence? How much violence has been inspired in Europe by left-wing and anarchist ideologies – the Bader-Meinhoff Gang, the Red Brigade, etc.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 18:05h, 24 July Reply

    Kabir,

    The question for you is this: we have been discussing the problems of Pakistan over the last several articles. Have you and others focused on the milieu of ideas in Pakistan? It is better to focus on the problem being discussed than be happy about others having the courage to examine their own traditions. Why should it matter what is discussed in the media? Is the blog a counterweight to the media?

    • Kabir
      Posted at 18:40h, 24 July

      I have not been shy about saying that the results of General Zia’s changes to the public school education curriculum, particularly in the study of Islamiat, have contributed the growth of increasingly conservative interpretations of Islam. Pakistan has serious problems with religious radicalization, as evidenced by Salmaan Taseer’s murder for simply arguing that the blasphemy laws should be amended and the subsequent lauding of his killer. I am not going to make the simplistic statement that “Islam” is the problem, but rather I will continue to make the more nuanced argument that certain conservative interpretations of Islam are the problem.

      Here is a link to a piece I wrote immediately after Governor Taseer’s murder.

      http://www.americanhumanist.org/HNN/issue/details/2011-01-the-assassination-of-salman-taseer-and-the-pakistani

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 18:41h, 24 July

      Arun: If you read the article again on which this commentary is taking place you will find that I have discussed the structural factors and how religion has interacted with them. I have discussed what type of religious ideas came into Pakistan, when, why, with whose funding, to which groups, what mechanisms were used to promote them, and whose interests they served. I have concluded that this interplay has resulted in very destructive outcomes for the country. From here, whatever personal views I might hold about Islam, I cannot jump to the conclusion that the problem is Islam. Perhaps it is and I can’t see it. If you can bridge that gap and convince me, I and a whole lot of others would be extremely grateful.

      Regarding the far right in Europe, you are talking about the interplay of structural factors and ideas as one should. You are not positing a View A being structural factors and a View B being structural factors + Christianity. If you pose your hypothesis so broadly you are unlikely to get very far. So by all means discuss the ideas in Islam that you see as playing the critical role. Once you frame the proposition in a manageable way, the discussion would follow. As long as you only accuse others of being defensive without elaborating anything yourself we will remain stuck in this unproductive exchange.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 18:38h, 24 July Reply

    @ Vinod

    ”there are no “true” Muslims and there is no “true” Islam”….
    Nothing more than a mindless sweeping statement clear as mud!

    Islam is Quran and Quran is Islam. Can you cite any other Living Book like the Quran which has saved the calamities of human hands and stays as Pure it was more than 1400 years ago??? If no, there is least reason for you to make that irrational statement about it or Islam.
    However, you are partly correct in that Muslims of today are not as brilliant as the Muslims of the past. But you are terribly wrong to assert that Muslims as a whole do not exist in the real meaning of the word. Saying that would be an insult not only to Muslims but also adherent of other religions alike if finger is irrationally pointed at them too.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 18:54h, 24 July

      mazhur: Based on this claim how would you explain rival mosques and shrines being bombed? Surely some Muslims do not consider other Muslims “true” enough.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 09:19h, 25 July

      Islam is Quran and Quran is Islam
      If only the Quran could speak…

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 19:29h, 24 July Reply

    Anjum and Kabir,

    Neither of you seem to read my arguments carefully. Here is what I wrote near the beginning of my posts above:

    “4. “I am arguing that it is not Islam per se but the uses to which Islam is being put.” What is it that allows Islam to be used in this way? If you want to be intellectually honest, there are two possible hypotheses:

    a. Islam is a perfect religion. But politicians have distorted it for their own ends.

    b. Islam has in it tendencies that allow it to be distorted.

    A priori, both are respectable hypotheses and both should be investigated in an honest inquiry. Islamic scholars around the world are doing precisely that. You seem to be assuming somehow that only (a) can be true. Why? You keep using the word “Islamization.” That word is ambiguous. Its two meanings correspond to the two hypotheses above.”

    Later, I used simply the word “Islam” as a shorthand for “elements and tendencies in Islam.” Surely I have written enough above for what I am saying to be clear? Why accuse me of things I have never said and attribute simplistic views to me?

    The reason I have been able to mention particular things like Heidegger’s folk philosophy is that I know something about the Western tradition. I have no knowledge of Pakistan so I have been urging you and Kabir and others who know more to do the analysis. But you have consistently avoided this by asking me (and anon4cec) to do it. How absurd!

    At least Kabir has finally admitted that ideas also play a role in historical explanation. But you are both still using the word “interpretation” as if that makes it external. Yet you find my criticizing Heidegger’s writings acceptable. Indeed, much of the Western academic world has criticized Heidegger and his writings directly not just other people’s interpretations.

    By the way, I did read Kabir’s article at the link he provided and found it exemplary and courageous. Congratulations on a fine piece!

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:03h, 25 July

      Arun: Keeping up with you is a tough task. The invitation remains open. If you can write what you have in mind or get someone to write it go ahead by all means. Urging someone who is not up to the task is obviously not the way forward.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 13:46h, 25 July

      Arun: Thanks for the appreciation.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 14:49h, 25 July

      Arun:

      I don’t believe that it is an author’s fault if others distort his or her message for their own ends (or simply misinterpret it). For example, Nietzsche came up with the concept of “the will to power” and “superman”. These concepts were later used by Hitler to justify genocide. Was Nietzsche responsible for Hitler’s distortion of his ideas?

      I would not argue that “Islam is a perfect religion”. Like any religion, it has aspects that can be used to justify violence, etc. But why is it that violent acts based on certain readings of the Bible are not used to indict Christianity as a whole, while violent readings of “Jihad” for example are used to indict Islam (I am not saying you have done that, but it is a frequent meme in the media).

      Anyway, discussing and explicating these tendencies within Islam is a matter for Islamic scholars, not for a layperson such as myself.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 20:43h, 24 July Reply

    @ Anjum Altaf

    Does it not happen that brothers fight brothers over misunderstandings or ego?? Does this fighting change their lineage??
    No.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:13h, 25 July

      mazhur: First, when brothers fight they do not generally kill each other and their entire families. Second, they do not claim that the other is not the son of the same father. Third, they do not propagate vicious propaganda about the beliefs of the other. Fourth, they do use the state to cast the other out of the family. This example does not hold up.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 08:54h, 25 July Reply

    @ Anjum Altaf

    You are not correct. You are merely observing this relationship superficially or you do not seem to have practically met with this experience, personally or in the wider worldly circle. Brother is a blessing as long as he behaves and remains a brother; he becomes worse than a butcher or a brute when he turns into his brother’s enemy; Bhai bhai hay dushman ho toe qasai hay!! The story of Cane an Abel should primarily give you some insight into the nature of this filial relationship. If not read more about it in the newspapers and ofcourse you may further may turn to the adaptation of a Tale from Arabian Nights, The Tale of Four Brothers (Qissa Chahaar Darvesh perhaps written by Mir Amman Dehlvi). To quote another example of ‘brotherly love’ you can refer to the relationship which prevailed amongst Aurangzeb and his real brothers and which ultimately, inter alia, led to the downfall of the Moghul Empire in India.

    Let us not indulge in generalities.When in absolute wrath,hatred and fury, Muslim sects have specifically been at each other’s throats all the time. (for more read Muslim History) Brothers DO kill each other and their entire families. It is also incorrect that ”they do not claim that the other is not the son of the same father”. Greed and lust for money, power or supremacy, etc, has ever been at its back. It is also your naiveness to assert ”that they do not propagate vicious propaganda about the beliefs of the other.” Most frequently, brothers have been noted not to see each other’s face if anyone of them has changed his faith or creed….they treat him as an ”outcast” and shun his deviations from the norm. Finally, the whole village (allegorically the state) will stand up against a ‘violator’ and throw him out! (HUQQA PANI BAND!!)

    I think you need more time to add to your practical experience in life by allocating more time to socially interacting personally before attempting to ”philosophize” and make tall claims in air. In Voltaire’s words (not exact): First live then philosophize.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 10:02h, 25 July

      mazhur: And this is your model of the relationship of Muslims to each other? Claiming to be all Muslims believing in the same text is then just an academic exercise merely to increasing the number count. And in the words of Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We can always find an appropriate quote for everything.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 14:25h, 25 July Reply

    @ Anjum Altaf

    I have just stated the facts as they are now. Nowhere I have said it is the ‘role model’ to make anyone jump off his chair, especially a Muslim like you who thinks that way.

    Quran is not just a text. Were it so the Quran in your house would have been different than mine. But since this is factually and historically impossible it is just HOW you think about the Quranic teachings. Being a Muslim in name is not the trait of a ‘true Muslim’.
    God has given us all common sense to judge for ourselves what the Quran, the Bible or the Bhagvat Gita says. If someone deduces
    wrong or dishonest meaning out of it for its own vested interest it is not the fault of the ‘text’ but of the ‘human mind”.

    How naively you presume that the Quran or for that sake any scripture is ”an academic exercise merely to increasing the number count.” If that was so religions found before the advent of Islam would have been in vogue all over the world. But it is not so. On the contrary most of the Muslims are converts from Christianity, Zoroastrianism or Hinduism, Modern world leaves you the choice to adopt any religion of your choice but once you have done it, as in Islam, you have no right to bad-mouth it or its adherents just because you cannot bear the brunt of ”variety’ or are opposed to ideas that differ from yours, without first denouncing your accepted faith.

    Unlike science, it is not as simple to reach conclusions as most westernised minds like to do or expect. The science of mind and material is not the same. You can change you lifestyle with material facilities but religion is purely meant to strengthen the strings of soul.
    This is the reason you will find people reciting hymns and poems and slogans enriching the soul during tough times such as wars or when patriotic spirit has to be elevated against your enemies.

    What is there to examine??? Socrates is right in matters of physical sciences but his statements fails in case of spirituality or faith. Why do people weep over their dead?? Why do you love your parents, children and friends?? Why do you suffer hardships in upbringing your family?? All this and more goes to proving that religion serves as a ‘guiding premise’ for your behavorial acts. Were it for science or materialistic thinking no one would have loved anyone for any reason whatsoever…there is huge difference between the world of logic (mind) and feelings (heart). Without a heart you cannot imagine to accomplish your goal in science….Heart is the ‘engine’ that drives you through scientific pursuits and unfolding of Nature’s secrets. I bet you will stop writing if for some reason you lost heart. So, have heart and keep writing until you find a solution to the tremendous variety among things, including Islam.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 17:07h, 25 July

      mazhur: I am sorry I am not clear about some of the arguments. I am particularly confused about the following:

      1. Who decides whether someone is a Muslim or just a so-called Muslim? Who has authorized such a decision-maker? If there is more than one such decision-maker, what happens if there is a conflict of opinion?
      2. If there is a choice to adopt any religion why is that choice not extended to a Muslim?
      3. Do people who don’t believe in religion don’t weep over their dead?
      4. If I lose heart and stop writing what does that have to do with religion? Do people who don’t believe in religion not have hearts?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 17:24h, 25 July Reply

    Anjum and Kabir,

    1. The matter of interpretation is a profound one and there is no theoretical solution to it yet. So it remains a matter of judgment.

    Consider the following three hypothetical scenarios:

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me a fool?

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me a waiter?

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me an idiot?

    In the first the interpretation is correct, in the second it is incorrect, in the third it is in between. How do we determine if something is a misreading or a distortion or a conservative interpretation? How correct is an interpretation?

    2. Here is a business story:

    A shoe company sent two salesmen to an island to determine the prospects there.

    The first wrote back: “No prospects here. No one wears shoes.”

    The second wrote back: “Fantastic prospects here. No one wears shoes.”

    When Anjum writes that it is the structural facts that cause rage and any text would do, this is not true. The rage is also caused by our interpretation of the structural facts. And this interpretation depends on our beliefs and attitudes, as illustrated by the two salesmen.

    There are no naked events or structural facts. Everything is interpretation and this depends on our beliefs. Where do these beliefs come from?

  • Vinod
    Posted at 00:59h, 26 July Reply

    Arun

    Very well said. I think the conversation may be going in the direction of the philosophical question – what is a fact? and what is a belief? This is especially true in matters of large scale societal phenomena. If you are trying to posit that muslims first imbibe the beliefs of the Quran and then without any alteration of those beliefs as they go through life’s ups and downs keep interpreting “naked facts” of their life through the lens of those beliefs then I’m afraid that is not true at all. Many muslims lose faith in God when they go through something like divorce. Many muslims gain faith in God when they go through a divorce. Many muslims lose faith in God when they lose a dear one. All these vascillations in belief are exactly like the beliefs of non-muslims as they go through life and its agonies.

    In general I do not think man first makes a belief framework and then interprets the world. It is seldom such a conscious effort at viewing the world. Neither is it a fully outward-to-inward process. The inner world of beliefs and the outer world of naked facts are inter-penetrative realms.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 03:12h, 26 July Reply

    Vinod,

    I have never said things are so linear and mechanical. The whole thing is sort of circular and holistic with everything interacting with everything else. That is why history is so hard and that is why I have been saying the ideas (the beliefs) form a PART of the explanation along with various structural forces.

    Anjum has been focusing exclusively on structural forces and ignoring the role of beliefs and ideas in history. It is very clear from the 1500 page manifesto Breivik left that he was strongly influenced by many ideas. But no one is saying that the process is linear.

    Life is complex and so is history. And change happens all the time. One problem for purely structural explanations is that they cannot explain why everyone does not behave the same way. Why doesn’t every Christian in Norway become a terrorist since they are all facing the same situation?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 04:34h, 26 July

      Arun: This is your interpretation of what I have been saying. Now that it has been established that air is important to life, we should move forward to addressing the issues that we want to address.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 22:01h, 26 July Reply

    Pakistan’s Drift to the Right, if any, must be for some reason. Just compare the grievances of Norwegians with the Pakistanis in this eye-opener!

    Right-wingers blame multiculturalism, abortion for Norway massacre
    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/07/25/norway_righties
    and……..
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2011/07/25/breivik_norway_terrorism

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:29h, 27 July

      mazhur: To me there seems to be a difference between an entire country of 180 million million drifting to the right and the existence of fringe right-wing movements in other countries. That does not seem like a sufficient explanation. Fringe movements, both on the right and on the left, have existed almost everywhere almost across time.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 22:48h, 26 July Reply

    @ Anjum Altaf

    mazhur: I am sorry I am not clear about some of the arguments. I am particularly confused about the following:

    1. Who decides whether someone is a Muslim or just a so-called Muslim? Who has authorized such a decision-maker? If there is more than one such decision-maker, what happens if there is a conflict of opinion?
    ………………………………………….
    Me:. A Muslim is judged by his word and deeds. A person who lies has his falsehood easily caught by others. Similarly if a Muslim behaves contrary to the teachings of Quran he is an apostate, a murted or a kafir. He can be judged so by any other Muslim with reference to the Quranic context. (this is an authorization as well) It is just like screening good students or teachers from the bad ones as is done in a class of students or even teachers. You need only use your common sense and attention to your Book!!

    Conflict of opinion is everywhere. Even between you and me. But if, for example, you find me eating pork, drinking wine, gambling, listening to frivolous music, or dancing obnoxiously or behaving improperly against the tenets of Islam you have the right to say: ‘Hey Mr, you are not one of us” …and if you happen to live in a Muslim country you can as well say ”Get lost from here”!! Pretty reasonable, isn’t it?? Don’t you get expelled from school or service for misconduct?? But gross misconduct of Islamic tenets is least tolerable in a Muslim society. And that’s pretty natural because the feelings of the majority Muslims are hurt, same as Hindu sentiments would be hurt if a cow is killed by another Hindu in Banaras!!

    Anyone who is not aware of the basics of the Quran or Islam as contained in the Quran (am leaving Hadiths for the time for belated compilations by men) and cannot use his horse sense has no right to condemn other Muslims.

    PS: sorry i couldn’t post the reply to your other questions here because the answers i wrote were not saved and got lost in air!
    Soon I will be reverting with those ….as it is quite late in the night now and i have to hit the sack too!

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 06:36h, 27 July

      mazhur: I will let others comment on this but to me the analogy with a classroom is seriously flawed.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 15:07h, 27 July Reply

    Anjum,

    Well, if you admit that “air is important to life” or that ideas play an important role in explaining Pakistan’s drift to the right, then it follows that you should be examining what these ideas are and where they come from just as you have examined other structural factors in detail. Just as Kabir identified the role of Nietzsche’s ideas in the rise of Nazism, there should be a similar examination of the source and content of ideas in Pakistan’s drift to the right.

    Would this be moving forward and addressing the issues we want to address?

    As anon4cec and I have been saying for some time, we are not knowledgeable to take this forward. Only you and possibly others can.

  • mazHur
    Posted at 20:46h, 27 July Reply

    @ Anjum Altaf :

    ”mazhur: I will let others comment on this but to me the analogy with a classroom is seriously flawed.”
    ……….

    Until someone shows up better analogy please read ‘institution’ instead.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 21:20h, 27 July Reply

    Anjum,

    I had shared this article from the NYT Magazine with you when it appeared:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/magazine/19Religion-t.html?ref=magazine

    It is by Mark Lilla of Columbia University. It is a bit long but well worth reading.

    This is is the kind of intellectual history I have been wondering about. Does it make sense to you? To others?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 13:46h, 28 July Reply

    Anjum,

    These responses to Mark Lilla are good though they do not specifically address the problem of explaining Pakistan’s drift to the right. It would be nice if this gap were filled in the way I have been suggesting. What is required is a sketch of an intellectual history of Pakistan just as Lilla offers a sketch of an intellectual history of the West.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 17:14h, 28 July

      Arun: I agree, that would be very nice. Can you think of someone who could do it?

      I went back to look in the Best From Elsewhere section of the blog to see what work of scholars/experts might be archived there that could be close to what you are looking for. I didn’t re-read the articles but from the descriptions it seems that Nos. 36, 44, 48, 74 and 75 might have something to offer.

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/from-elsewhere/

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 17:18h, 28 July Reply

    I have been thinking over Kabir’s comment about hypocrisy of non Muslims in not associating acts of terrorism of non Muslims with their religion while a Muslim’s act of terrorism is immediately marked as Islamic terrorism. I think this response has not come about in an abrupt way but the association has built over a period of time. Initially no one called PLO’s terrorism as Islamic terrorism. There is similarity though while Muslim terrorist have victimhood syndrome and non Muslim terrorists suffer from phobia of Muslims overwhelming them. I think with repeated acts of terrorism the association with Hindu terrorism/ Christian terrorism will also come about.

    It is not correct to call this hypocrisy of non Muslims.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 01:30h, 30 July

      Anil,

      It is interesting though that the word “terrorism” has not been used in conjunction with the Oslo bombings. The US State Department has classed the bombing as an “act of violence” rather than an “act of terrorism”. Had the perpetrator been Muslim, there is no doubt that the incident would have been called “terrorism”. To me, it does seem that there is a double standard about who is or is not a terrorist.

    • sree
      Posted at 04:55h, 30 July

      The perpetrator is a racist right-wing extremist. The objective of the violence seems to be to get attention for his views. I suppose if he had attacked immigrants or other objects of his hatred with the stated intention of terrorizing the group as a whole, it would have been classified as an act of terrorism.

      Not all incidence of violence involving muslims are classified as terrorism. There are sectarian violence, ethnic violence, extremist violence etc in Pakistan and they are not called terrorist acts.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 13:54h, 30 July

      Sree:

      I agree with you that not all violence is terrorism. However, if this exact same incident that occurred in Oslo had been committed by a Muslim, there is no doubt in my mind that the perpetrator would have been called a “terrorist” instead of an “extremist”. This begs the question of why?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 21:49h, 28 July Reply

    This article appeared in the New York Times today:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/world/asia/28lahore.html?ref=world

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 07:57h, 29 July

      Arun: It would help to add some text to the link so those who wish to respond focus on the specifics of what interested you and your interpretation of it. What is the argument the link is intended to support? That would keep the discussion from being at cross purposes.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 14:10h, 29 July Reply

    There are many things that interested me but in the context that is of relevance here I would say it was the role and influence of different sets of ideas. As I have been saying, structural explanations of the sort offered are partial and incomplete by themselves unless one adds why people choose to act the way they do.

  • Kabir
    Posted at 15:18h, 29 July Reply

    Arun,

    We have discussed on this blog several times the impact of General Zia’s changes to the Pakistani education system, particularly the introduction of the new required subjects of Islamiat (Islamic Studies) and Pakistan Studies, which all students are required to take at all levels, from high school through the bachelors degree (I do believe that non-Muslim students don’t have to take Islamic Studies). If one examines what is actually being taught in these courses, one finds that it is the most conservative versions of Islam and revisionist history (the social scientist Rubina Saigol has written a piece examining Pakistan Studies textbooks called “Enemies within and enemies without: The besieged self in Pakistani textbooks”). Three generations of students have now been indoctrinated with these ideas. So that goes some way to answer your question of where these ideas are coming from. They have deliberately been inserted into the society through the education system.

    The IJT (student wing of Jamaat-Islami) has been very powerful on the campuses of public universities for a long time. Also, with the continuing drone attacks and the Abbotabad raid which many Pakistanis see as a violation of national sovereignty, there is a lot of anti-American feeling in the country. This could be where some of the glorification of OBL is coming from. It’s not so much pro-Osama as it is anti-America.

  • Kabir
    Posted at 15:37h, 29 July Reply

    Arun:

    You may find this article interesting. Dr. Rubina Saigol discusses the state of social science in Pakistan. One relevant excerpt is:

    “Third, there was very little focus on the collusion of social scientists with state power in the pursuit of aims that are less than ethical. There were a couple of good papers highlighting the collaboration of social scientists with the military and secret agencies; this aspect was not highlighted in the context of Pakistan. Increasingly, social scientists are selling their services to the state and some of this can be used to enhance the power of the rulers rather than serve the ends of a more equal society.”

    The whole article can be viewed here:

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/165688/the-state-of-social-science/

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 16:53h, 29 July Reply

    Kabir,

    I appreciate what you are saying but that is a point you have already made several times. My point is a little different and would be clear if you reflected on how Mark Lilla approaches his task. He does not simply talk about how feudal society or the Church or Rousseau encouraged this or that “version” of Christianity as if the version did not reflect “true” Christianity. Those factors are external to the system of ideas represented by Christianity. They are of course part of the explanation of what happened but only a part. He also looks at the factors internal to Christianity itself. Here is one passage from his article:

    “The history of political theology in the West is an instructive story, and it did not end with the birth of modern science, or the Enlightenment, or the American and French Revolutions, or any other definitive historical moment. Political theology was a presence in Western intellectual life well into the 20th century, by which time it had shed the mind-set of the Middle Ages and found modern reasons for seeking political inspiration in the Bible.”

    Here is another:

    “One powerful attraction of political theology, in any form, is its comprehensiveness. It offers a way of thinking about the conduct of human affairs and connects those thoughts to loftier ones about the existence of God, the structure of the cosmos, the nature of the soul, the origin of all things and the end of time. For more than a millennium, the West took inspiration from the Christian image of a triune God ruling over a created cosmos and guiding men by means of revelation, inner conviction and the natural order. It was a magnificent picture that allowed a magnificent and powerful civilization to flower. But the picture was always difficult to translate theologically into political form: God the Father had given commandments; a Redeemer arrived, reinterpreting them, then departed; and now the Holy Spirit remained as a ghostly divine presence. It was not at all clear what political lessons were to be drawn from all this. Were Christians supposed to withdraw from a corrupted world that was abandoned by the Redeemer? Were they called upon to rule the earthly city with both church and state, inspired by the Holy Spirit? Or were they expected to build a New Jerusalem that would hasten the Messiah’s return?

    Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians argued over these questions. The City of Man was set against the City of God, public citizenship against private piety, the divine right of kings against the right of resistance, church authority against radical antinomianism, canon law against mystical insight, inquisitor against martyr, secular sword against ecclesiastical miter, prince against emperor, emperor against pope, pope against church councils. In the late Middle Ages, the sense of crisis was palpable, and even the Roman Church recognized that reforms were in order. But by the 16th century, thanks to Martin Luther and John Calvin, there was no unified Christendom to reform, just a variety of churches and sects, most allied with absolute secular rulers eager to assert their independence. In the Wars of Religion that followed, doctrinal differences fueled political ambitions and vice versa, in a deadly, vicious cycle that lasted a century and a half. Christians addled by apocalyptic dreams hunted and killed Christians with a maniacal fury they had once reserved for Muslims, Jews and heretics. It was madness.”

    And another:

    “And the debilitating dynamics of belief don’t end there. For once we imagine an all-powerful God to protect us, chances are we’ll begin to fear him too. What if he gets angry? How can we appease him? Hobbes reasoned that these new religious fears were what created a market for priests and prophets claiming to understand God’s obscure demands. It was a raucous market in Hobbes’s time, with stalls for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchy Men and countless others, each with his own path to salvation and blueprint for Christian society. They disagreed with one another, and because their very souls were at stake, they fought. Which led to wars; which led to more fear; which made people more religious; which. . . .”

    And so on. This is intellectual history as opposed to political history. Both are important but only the latter has been attempted on the blog. The difference is that in the former one examines the logic of beliefs and ideas and sees where it leads. The question you need to think about is why Zia’s attempts succeeded to the extent they did and also what it was that succeeded.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 17:06h, 29 July Reply

    Kabir,

    Dr. Saigol’s article is interesting and clear but also a very conventional way of looking at social science from a critical standpoint. This criticism is important of course but it also looks at logical positivism somewhat narrowly and reductively.

    Logical positivism can be separated into two strands: an emphasis on scientific method and an emphasis on a narrow interpretation of that method that was prevalent at the time. Even Einstein was a positivist in both senses. In my view, many strands of social science throw the baby out with the bathwater: they throw out science itself along with its narrow interpretation (on quantitative methods). The Frankfurt School, for example, as an instance of critical sociology offered many wonderful insights but also remained hampered by its reliance on Hegel and dialectics that tended towards obscurantism. (Incidentally, the Frankfurt’s School’s writings might be of interest to you because they, too, offer critiques of cultural factors relating to beliefs and ideologies. So does Gramsci.)

    Maybe the conference she was critiquing represented the narrower logical positivism. But a separation of its two strands would have been useful.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 18:02h, 29 July Reply

    I think Anil Kala made an important point about the (non)-hypocrisy of non-Muslims that deserves discussion. Only the most conservative Christians have tried to deny that Breivik had something to do with Christianity. Most liberals have accepted the connection without trying to say that he was responding to a conservative version of Christianity.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 22:41h, 29 July Reply

    Anil, I’ll make a statement which is at best speculation on my part that comes close to the kind of statement you want made. The reason that Zia’s ideas worked in Pakistan was because orthodoxy were seen as the the final arbiters of Islam by South Asian muslims. The Bulleh Shah kind of muslims had to couch their words in vagueness lest they were declared to be outside the fold of Islam. Actually I wonder whether he was declared outside the fold of Islam. Many tolerant sufishad to submit to the authority of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy itself had crystallized after centuries of in-fighting. That story is quite interesting and unfortunately I don’t have a hold on that. So orthodoxy had already formed a narrow interpretive framework with strange and elaborate ideas on who a ‘kafir’ was and what an ‘intention’ was. It obsessed itself on matters like the length of the beard and where the hands had to be placed during prayers. It was no wonder that muslims drifted towards Sufism. But sufis seldom dared to usurp the authority of orthodoxy. And so were the classical musicians like Jhandey Shah. They did not know how music could be ‘haram’ as taught by orthodoxy. It was probably because orthodoxy knew how to weild power by curry favouring with the power holders. Furthermore, orthodoxy, unfortunately could never come out of the kafir-muslim worldview.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 21:52h, 03 August

      Vinod: This is a complex argument. A number of thoughts come to mind. First, the mutual support of religious and secular elites has been the norm in history at least till the beginning of the democratic era. This was because secular legitimacy rested on a presumed divine right and this could only be validated by a religious authority. Even after, it continues in some places. Earlier, I had provided a link to developments in Russia where the process can be seen in a very explicit form. In pre-democratic India, one might also find the interaction in which the two worked with each other to maintain a social order that was contrary to the interests of the majority but was accepted because of the peoples relationship to orthodoxy. Replace kafir-Muslim worldview with the caste worldview and the parallel might become clearer. During the democratic period, this relationship is no longer of the same nature as secular government has an independent source of legitimacy. Here, one can point to the difference between India and Pakistan where undemocratic rulers like Zia and Musharraf still needed the clergy to lend legitimacy to their rule and hence the old relationship was revived. If the demands of the people had genuinely been represented by the orthodoxy, there would have been little need to impose them from the top as Zia did. Note by contrast, that the Pakistan movement itself was conducted against the wishes of the orthodoxy and the population did not side with the orthodoxy.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 17:15h, 30 July Reply

    Kabir,

    Sree is pointing out that the goals and intentions of the perpetrator are relevant to whether some act is classified as terrorism or not. When you say “this exact same incident” you are referring to the overt act but leaving out the intentions. Sree is saying the motives make all the difference.

    • Kabir
      Posted at 19:12h, 30 July

      Arun,

      I don’t believe that the motives make any difference. Murder is murder no matter what justifications are offered for it.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 19:40h, 30 July

      Arun: That’s a fair point but aren’t motivations almost always imputed, interpreted or attributed which is where the stereotyping begins. The first classification of a person is as a loner or madman or terrorist depending on what one expects the intentions to be quite independent of what they might be given that they are intangible.

  • Kabir
    Posted at 19:40h, 30 July Reply

    Arun,

    Here is an article in the Huffington Post which discusses Muslim “terrorism” versus White “lone wolves” in the context of the Oslo attack.

    A relevant excerpt is:
    “Salon’s Glenn Greenwald dissected the media’s conflation of religion, politics and terror in the coverage of Norway on corporate outlets:
    [This] is what we’ve seen repeatedly: that Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target. Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn’t Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn’t).”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-chen/norway-shooter-breivik_b_912846.htm

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 05:18h, 31 July

      Kabir: I don’t understand this. If you want to post a link to some article that reflects your point of view then you can find scores of them. This guy is talking non sense. If a Muslim had carried out Oslo killings then he would be killing non Muslims and people will jump to conclusion that it was Islamic Terrorism. If eventually it was found out that this Muslim fellow was a mad man coming straight out of an asylum then they will modify there stance accordingly.So what is strange in this?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:28h, 02 August

      Anil: I haven’t read the article and can’t comment on it but some general observations can advance the discussion. In the end everything turns on the definition of terrorism and terrorist. One can plausibly define a terrorist to be one who employs terror to advocate a specific policy or course of action. According to this definition, terrorism would not require the victims to have an identity different from that of the perpetrator. There would also be no such thing as Islamic terrorism. Rather, there would be a terrorist who belonged to a specific religion acting alone or as part of a group. This group would not extend beyond itself to covering an entire nation, ethnicity or religion. The latter is not an impossibility but at this time not many would make the claim. Similarly there would be no distinction between a terrorist and a madman. Rather, there would be terrorist who was sane or insane which would have a bearing on the sentencing under the law.

      Employment of the means of terror is usually considered sufficient under the law to define a terrorist. In the case of Breivik, he used means of terror to protest against the immigration policy of the Labor Party. For this reason, he has been charged under the criminal law for acts of terrorism. The charges include the destabilisation of vital functions of society, including government, and causing serious fear in the population.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 16:39h, 02 August

      Anjum: I haven’t read the article either. The point is not about defining terrorist but about Kabir’s grouse that a terror act committed by a Muslim is immediately associated with his religion but not in of the case of a non Muslim. This he assumed to be monumental hypocrisy non Muslims.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 20:19h, 02 August

      Anil: Hypocrisy is not the right word here because it refers to the gap between what is said and what is done. For example, many people use the term to describe American foreign policy which proclaims support for democracy but supports dictators. Stereotyping is also not really the issue because few would assert that all Muslims are terrorists. I suppose the question is whether the term ‘Islamic Terrorism’ is a useful one or not. It was coined at some point and has found wide acceptance but what exactly does it signify? In some cases the qualifier ‘Islamic’ is indeed useful as in ‘Islamic Finance’ because it accurately describes a mode of financing that uses principles particular to Islam. In this sense, there is nothing about terrorism that is particular to Islam. All terrorisms use the same means.

      I suppose it can refer to terrorism that is justified in the name of Islam. If that is the case then should terrorism that justifies itself in the name of Christianity be called Christian Terrorism? An example would be the bombings of birth control clinics and the attacks on abortionists in the US which are justified explicitly with reference to Biblical injunctions. However, this is not labeled Christian Terrorism (rightly in my opinion). So, the question to be asked is whether a double standard exists in labeling terrorism that is justified in the name of Islam as Islamic Terrorism while not labeling terrorism that is justified in the name of Christianity as Christian Terrorism?

      In my view, the label Christian Terrorism would be unhelpful because abortion is legal in many countries in Christian Europe without there being any terrorism unleashed against it. So, the roots of the terrorism are not intrinsic to the religion; there is something specific to the US that is needed to explain its existence there. A similar argument can be made for the term Islamic Terrorism. To take an extreme example: If terrorism were intrinsic to Islam should one not expect to find it in the Maldives, say, in attacks on non-Muslim tourists?

      Do you find the term Islamic Terrorism to be a useful one? If so, why?

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 04:39h, 03 August

      Anjum: While I agree with you generally but we are talking two different things. People don’t check the rule books to see if their labeling of an act of terrorism is right or wrong. If some one makes a suggestion in media which comes close to their vague perception they would lap it up. Islamic Terrorism is this perception of people due to strong association of religion and the act of terror. The closest we come to is Sikh terrorism of Eighties when they would selectively kill non Sikhs and whether it was articulated or not it was perceived by the people as Sikh Terrorism. Then there is the case of IRA and LTTE which no one thought was related to religion but was political terrorism.

      The point is, nobody is doing it intentionally.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:11h, 03 August

      Anil: I agree that no one is making the association intentionally. The real question for us is whether the association is helpful or unhelpful, right or wrong. The objective of a blog like this is to examine the premises of our beliefs. Sikh Terrorism provides a good case in point. It has disappeared which should suggest that there was nothing intrinsic in Sikhism that led to terrorism. Rather, that terrorism was the outcome of the confluence of specific factors at a specific time and place which caused certain ideas in the religious texts to be given primacy over others. Those who unintentionally made the simple association of terrorism with the Sikh religion were wrong. Fifty years later, might not that be the verdict for those who associate terrorism with Islam now? Simple answers almost always turn out to be deceptive.

      There is a very relevant quote from Locke that was included in a post on this blog over two years ago:

      Most men are simply too lazy or ill trained to apply themselves to the dull work of sifting through evidence and reasoning properly. They prefer pseudo-certainties, even if those are inherited from tradition and untested by experience; and once they are committed to dogmas, they enjoy imposing them on others. This is how religious superstitions are born and perpetuated. But that also means that they can be combated if human beings are given enough leisure and training to let their natural faculties develop.

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/governance-in-pakistan-–-7-which-islam/

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 10:00h, 04 August

      Anjum: I don’t think Sikh terrorism has disappeared. It is just lying dormant. Sikhism is a martial religion, it will find reason for violence now and then.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:47h, 04 August

      Anil: Let us accept the characterization of the Sikh religion for the sake of argument. What then has to be explained is why it finds reason for violence now and then. The ideas contained in the religion have been the same since its birth to this day. Why do they lie dormant at times and come alive at others? But one can go beyond this. Is there any religion, martial or non-martial, that has not found reason for violence now and then? What should one conclude from that?

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 20:02h, 30 July Reply

    Kabir and Anjum,

    In much of law, the intention of a perpetrator is key to determining what kind of act it is. For example, if A kills B in self-defense, that is not called a murder. And if a murder is committed in a certain way, it may not be an act of terrorism.

    In any case, these descriptions are not black and white. There is no hard and fast rule that tells a writer when to call something terrorism. In the latest issue of the Economist, the act is called a terrorist act:

    http://www.economist.com/search/apachesolr_search/norway%20after%20terrorism

    So, it is quite possible that different people call it different things. Are they being prejudiced in some way? Maybe some are and some aren’t. The New York Times identified Breivik as a Christian in the top front page headline without mincing words, as in fact Kabir has been doing all along in resorting to what one might call “explanation by Zia.”

    I personally think both Anil Kala and Sree made valid observations. Could it be an understandable sense of victimhood – as even Hitchens mentioned – as a result of the sheer number of such acts perpetrated by certain extremist groups that have led to their being labeled as terrorist? I think the Western media are far less biased on the whole than the media anywhere in the world.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 20:09h, 30 July

      Arun: The point is fair but the intention has to be established not assumed. Often widely-held assumptions can generate an atmosphere that can prejudice a fair trial. Many innocent people of color suffered in the US because of such prejudice.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 20:28h, 30 July Reply

    While it is true that in a legal trial each person is innocent until proven guilty, this is not the case in ordinary life. This is because in many cases, one cannot assume that the relevant events are independent – in the sense dictated by probability theory. If you have seen hundreds of bombings by one group of perpetrators, it is completely rational to infer that the conditional probability of a new bombing by the same group is quite high. This is exactly what happened in Norway: when the bombings first occurred, it was quite rational to jump to the conclusion that the bombing was by the same group rather than by a Christian until further evidence was available.

    I think you are holding people – that is, the West – to unreasonably high standards without abiding by those same standards yourselves. Could there be double standards in how you have approached Pakistan’s problems, attributing them entirely to impersonal and “intentionless” structural forces, and yet attributing motives and prejudices to the actions of Western journalists?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 20:39h, 30 July

      Arun: Could there be prejudice in how you continuously misread the intentions of others while having no doubts as to your own?

  • mazHur
    Posted at 20:39h, 30 July Reply

    ”. As a general rule, criminal liability does not attach to a person who acted with the absence of mental fault”
    ”In the traditional common law approach, the definition includes:

    actus reus: unlawful killing of a human being;
    mens rea: malice aforethought.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mens_rea

    ”Occasionally mens rea is used synonymously with the words general intent, although general intent is more commonly used to describe criminal liability when a defendant does not intend to bring about a particular result. Specific Intent, another term related to mens rea, describes a particular state of mind above and beyond what is generally required.”
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/mens+rea

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 21:02h, 30 July Reply

    Anjum,

    Sorry, my apologies for my expressing my frustration with the way this discussion has gone. I had earlier opted out of it because I felt all the issues were not being addressed in a fully scientific manner. Then, Kabir wrote something, and I tried to explain my viewpoint in more detail. Since then, you and he seem to have agreed with the abstract point I have been making about the incompleteness of structural explanations but there is no movement to actually implement it. As anon4cec and I have said – he has wisely opted out of the discussion – we lack the knowledge to do it. Presumably some of the readers or you have the knowledge though no one is forthcoming. When one tries to speculate about the possible reasons for such inaction, one is told one should not impute motives. When I write that an intellectual history of Pakistan would be nice, you echo the sentiment without doing anything about it. So what is one to think? Am I jumping to conclusions? Possibly.

    My intentions can be made very open: they are to pursue the truth in a scientific manner unless there is a risk involved. That is why I have throughout criticized a number of intellectual traditions where criticism was due. I expect the same of everyone else.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 12:31h, 02 August

      Arun: Let us set this disagreement aside for a while. That would allow others to suggest alternative directions to move the discussion forward.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 16:58h, 04 August Reply

    Anil Kala said “I don’t think Sikh terrorism has disappeared. It is just lying dormant. Sikhism is a martial religion, it will find reason for violence now and then.”

    I can think of a few reasons why this wont happen.

    1) There are other outlets for the martial spirit, that have the sanction of both state and society. The army, police and sports for example.

    2) The martial spirit of the Sikhs was celebrated in a certain context, specifically their conflict with the Muslims and then Hindus. Something similar holds true for the warrior castes of Hindus. But the modern Indian society celebrates wealth and intellect a lot more. This article provides some evidence for this regarding Jats (a similar martial people), http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=hub160411MUTATION.asp

    3) State pressure on Indian society to reform, although less than perhaps it should be is real and is resulting in change. For example, caste hierarchy *is* built into Hinduism, but has eroded significantly in the last 60 years.

    In the specific case of Sikhism, I dont see how it can resist the pressures on its martial aspect from the state and the modern economy.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:08h, 05 August

      Vikram: I agree with the spirit of what you are saying but the premise that Sikhism is a martial religion is still being maintained and I want to probe that further. There was a period in history, especially in Europe, where there were many conflicts of religion. In our times most conflicts have been of nationalisms. In the Indian northeast there are a number of such conflicts but no one associates them with religion. This is presumably because both sides profess the same faith. The last conflict involving the Sikhs that Anil alluded to was also a conflict of nationalism. Why, in this case, should we find the roots of the conflict in the Sikh religion and think that if it had been less martial the conflict might not have happened?

      Conflicts of nationalism still exist despite the evolution of the state and the economy – take the case of the Basque in Spain. So, it is possible that under some circumstances a Sikh nationalism might arise again. Would we automatically ascribe it to some aspect of the Sikh religion?

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 04:38h, 05 August Reply

    Vikram, Anjum: I must confess that statement happened out of blue but for a while I will go with it……….

    I have a theory why Gulf War 1 happened. Losing face is a powerful driver to do extreme things one would not even think of. In Gulf War 1 Saddam was not given slightest bit of face saving option, always the strict deadline pull out of Kuwait, no talk not the least leeway. Clear intention was to humiliate the guy; war was inevitable. Quite obviously Rambo was itching for a show down. If there was a least bit of desire to avoid mega- bloodshed, some semblance of a face saving option would have been offered. The world was informed repeatedly, how norms of civilized behavior were trampled by Saddam blah blah ….. Why was US itching to go to war?

    If you build a whole lot of smart weapons, the temptation to use them is irresistible. The Sikhs grow up having a real or imagined sword dangling by their waist. There will always be the temptation to use them. It is true that every religion has found reason for violence now and then but some will find it more often.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:21h, 05 August

      Anil: We are now at a point where we can put this claim to an empirical test. If every religion has found reason for violence but some have found it more often, would it be possible to look at the historical record and determine which religion has found more reason for violence over time. What might be a valid indicator of this record?

      I also have a thought about the Gulf War. In the second Iraq war (which was justified entirely on lies) Bush II explicitly referred to his Christian faith and religious injunctions using terms like ‘moral’ war and ‘crusade’. This was preceded by intellectual discourses on the ‘Clash of Civilizations’. Yet, no one considers associating that war with Christianity. Why should that be the case? You attribute these wars to the availability of weapons. Why can’t similar secular reasons suffice for other wars?

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 15:07h, 05 August

      I have no problem with the empirical test.

      About the Gulf War II people did not associate it to a faith simply because Bush’s lies were so naked that everyone thought Christianity was red herring employed by Bush, so no one paid any attention to its reference. I did not attribute the first gulf war to availability of weapons but development of newer weapons and the temptation to use them but availability is no less temptation to teach some fellow a lesson which in a different circumstance would probably be talked over.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 02:33h, 06 August

      Anil: Some comments about Gulf War II. First, Bush’s lies were very naked but not to the majority of Americans who gave him their support. Second, if we can consider Bush’s lies to be naked, why can’t we consider OBLs lies to be just as naked?

      But let’s leave these aspects aside as they will be covered in the broader discussion. I started to think of the empirical test and the first question that arises is what to include and what to exclude from consideration. Most of the literature leans towards the position that religions cause violence, some more and some less, (see this Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence) but ignores this aspect of what kinds of violence should be attributed to religion. The most interesting analysis I found was an essay that explores this premise in more detail. I think it provides a good point of departure for our exploration. Let me know what you think:
      http://www.catholicanarchy.org/cavanaugh/Cavanaugh%20-%20Does%20Religion%20Cause%20Violence.pdf

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 12:47h, 08 August

      I don’t understand where is the problem? OBL’s lies are as naked as Bush Junior’s. If Americans were in denial about Bush then a lot of Muslims were/are in denial about OBL.

      The first chapter is about fuzzy boundary between religions and secular systems. I have no problem identifying religion and I see it completely irrelevant if one can precisely define religion. For me religion is what is practiced by its followers because what affects me is practiced religion. I don’t go by Kabir’s definition of Jehad or what the scriptures say but by the definition of guys who call the shots. Kabir is not going to trouble me but some fanatic may plant a bomb in my car in the name of Jehad. If a miniscule minority has the ability to make noise, put large multitude comatose then they define religion. It is true that nature of practiced religion keeps changing from time to time, place to place. An individual’s focus is his time and his place.

      I find a similarity in the way Hitler hypnotized the German people and some hardcore Mullahs manipulating the Muslims. Suppose a Hitler rises again, how do you think world is going to deal with him? Are we going to argue how innocent people are and avoid a confrontation?

      The second chapter is completely pointless. I don’t think views of Intellectuals who constitute the so called think tank of state, shape policies. These fellows rationalize policies post implementation; politics is the art of expediency, mostly short term. Entire chapter tells how wrong the readings of different fellows are about the clash of civilization. It is really laughable to believe that the West is trying to impose their brand of governing system in some countries. The argument is complete eye wash.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:07h, 08 August

      Anil: Could the problem be in the equivalence or lack of it? If Bush and OBL were both lying and Americans and Muslims were/are both in denial there is an equivalence. In that case why would it be valid to not tag the former as Christian just as the latter is tagged as Islamic? On the other hand, if the former is to be properly tagged as American why shouldn’t the latter be tagged as Arab?

      I have a problem with your next argument. On the one hand you are defining religion by the practice of its followers. On the other hand you are defining it by the actions of its minuscule minority (‘guys who call the shots’). Which one is it? The majority of followers are not extremists in any religion and there are extremists in every religion. Even a non-religious person may plant a bomb in a car. So what is the take-away implication?

      Re Hitler: A war was declared against Hitler not against Christianity. That seems a reasonable precedent.

      Re intellectuals: Could you be under-estimating their influence? I think Keynes was on to something when he said “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” There is a difference between shaping short-term policies and short-term policies taking shape – nothing occurs in an intellectual vacuum. Wasn’t there an overhang of Fabian Socialism on India’s first quarter century?

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 14:03h, 09 August

      You tell me. OBL’s entire visible life takes inspiration from faith, is it the same with Bush?

      I don’t see any contradiction. What is practiced is a matter of perception. To an outsider the minuscule vocal minority projects the picture, if the majority is silent then we do not know if they endorse the view of vocal lot. Sometimes, like in the case of slaying of Salman Taseer, it seemed like they do. The problem is the majority is too terrified or indifferent or uninterested in rectifying to projected picture. Outsiders cannot be blamed for this.

      Yes anybody can plant a bomb, so can accident happen but there will be no pattern in it to draw a picture.

      About Hitler: How can Christians wage war against Christianity? The war was not declared against Hitler but Germany and Fascism.

      I do not agree with Keynes. Political adventures are nearly always for short term interests. Despite a lot of intellectual heat generated, there are scores of countries crying out for intervention, no one bothers. Some token aid programs may be influenced by intellectual discourse. India’s case cannot be sited as an example of Intellectual influence, there weren’t too many options. What do you mean by ‘nothing occurs in intellectual vacuum’. What was intellectual about invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan?

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:02h, 09 August

      Anil: I am proceeding on the presumption that OBL was lying just as Bush was lying. If that is true, then to what should we accord greater credence? To the fact that he was lying or to the fact that the lies were cloaked in faith? What determines our choice?

      It is not clear to me why the minuscule vocal minority projects the picture to the outsider. Surely, the outsider knows that there is a very large majority simply by the fact that he/she is using the term ‘minuscule minority’. Should I form my opinion of a group based on the actions of a minuscule minority? If so, would I have an objective opinion of any group?

      Why can’t Christians wage war against Christianity? How would one classify the conflict in Ireland? And the Iran-Iraq war?

      What I mean by ‘nothing happens in an intellectual vacuum’ is that all actions, even when they are short-term are justified by reference to some set of ideas. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan had an entire neo-conservative philosophy to support it. This included concepts like just and pre-emptive wars and the justification of deception in the service of national interest. The neo-cons derived their inspiration, rightly or wrongly, from Leo Strauss who died as long ago as the 1970s. You are grounding OBLs actions in a set of ideas. Similarly all such actions are grounded in some set of ideas. The mind is never empty when people think of what they ought or ought not to do.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 08:20h, 10 August

      Anjum: This is how I understood your question. Bush is kind of camouflaging his action by invoking tenets of Christianity and his lies are naked so no one blames Christianity for his action but OBL also makes reference to his faith for his actions and his lies too are naked yet Islam is blamed. I guess people see pattern in OBL’s act, they see him as a person deeply influenced by religion and his lies too are a consequence of his faith, Bush is not considered as a deeply religious person but a person using religion to promote his action.

      If the majority is silent then there is no reason to believe that it has a counter view to the one projected by the vocal group. An outsider will draw picture from whatever signals he receives. What else can he do?

      Yes, I suppose one sect of Christians can wage war against another sect but it wasn’t the main point. War was against Germany and Fascism for the act of one individual and his ideology.

      My point was entire different. I said Intellectual discourse is to rationalize action already taken for some immediate objectives. If these intellectual debates had any influence on state policies then some concrete action, in the same way as in Iraq, would have been taken on issues of Sudan/Congo/North Korea etc.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 14:47h, 11 August

      Anil:

      How can lies be a consequence of faith?

      You make the outsider seem so helpless. Surely he/she can can probe further.

      The Hitler analogy holds. By that argument the ‘war’ should be against OBL and Al-Qaeda. Whether it should be a ‘war’ is an important second-order question.

      Yes, I agree, we were talking of different things. Actions are influenced and justified with reference to ideas. But there is no necessity for these ideas to be reasonable or objective or consistent. What drives actions is self-interest. This self-interest is dressed up in self-serving ideas.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 16:27h, 05 August Reply

    This post has generated a lot of commentary on Islam. I am linking two articles that can provide material for further discussion:

    1. A review of a new book on Islam by Amitabh Pal. It makes the point that the same religious texts can produce soft and hard interpretations. Thus, in the case of Hinduism one can cite the interpretations of Gandhi and Savarkar, respectively. In the case of Islam, the equivalents would be Ghaffar Khan and Maudoodi, respectively.

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/4902/nonviolence%2C_muslim_style%3A_from_ghaffar_khan_to_tahrir_square

    2. A long essay by MN Roy that attempts a structural explanation of Islam itself: why it arose, its progressive functions, when it entered a regressive phase, its state when it arrived in India, its impact in India, etc.

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/roy/1939/historical-role-islam/index.htm

    Both hold much of value for the reader interested in pursuing the discussions further.

  • Vinod
    Posted at 16:07h, 08 August Reply

    MN Roy’s essay may be something that Arun has been seeking in this discussion.

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