Monday, July 09, 2007

The Islam Factor in Pakistan. OK. I will first make the necessary disclaimers: I only visited Islamabad which sets the tone of identity for the whole country, and my talks were mostly at the colleges of the International Islamic University, which is more conservative, and I have only spent 9 days or so, which is 6 days more than the times that Friedman or Kristoff spend in a county on which they make the wildest generalizations, and offer instructions to their people. But I was not fully open during my stay on this question in particular. Prior to my departure to Islamabad, my kind host called me from Pakistan and strongly urged me (for my own safety) to refrain from ever using the words "atheist" or "secular" or "communist." Just to make sure I get the point, he always wrote to me making the same point. The political climate there was more liberalized than I expected: it is not that I met people who were critical of Musharraf. I did not meet any one who was NOT critical of Musharraf. But the liberalized political climate did not extend to the Islam question. I strongly felt that there was excessive obsession with Islam in a country that is overwhelmingly Islamic in religious affiliation. The term of reference was so Islamic in conversations and media that I was ready to embrace the secularism of the Turkish generals. It was always assumed that everybody was Islamic. After one talk, which coincided with the prayer time, my host quickly whisked me away because he did want the audience to notice that I don't pray. I was quite bothered with the too many headlines and news items in Urdu newspapers about Salman Rushdie. Is this really the urgent matter of the day with the country suffering from extreme poverty and a military government? And in my Arabic talk at the Usul Ad-Din College, I made a side mocking remark against Ayman Adh-Dhawahiri, and I noticed in people's faces that they were not pleased with that one remark, although they were quite pleased with my talk about the study of Islam. And I once was pissed. I am VERY bothered when somebody--anybody--tries to suggest that Palestine is an Islamic cause or question. One member of the audience in one talk said just that. I had to tell him: Islamic matter? You think that Palestinian Christians care less about Palestine than Palestine Muslims? I had to tell him that I knew Palestinian Christians who gave their lives for Palestine. George Habash cares less about Palestine that Mr. Muhammad Dahlan? That angers me when I hear it. I did not understand why a majority Muslim country can't relax a bit about the Islam factor. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad `Ali Jinnah famously advised: "You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state... in due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to Muslims- not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of one state." That is how it should be, I think. Religion in Pakistan has a sense of mission, I felt. I know that the conflict with India has only strengthened the Muslim identity, and that some governments, like that of Zia ul-Haq also exploited religion for political ends, and that Saudi Arabia brought its fanatical ideology with some money in this land. I am not talking about everybody in Pakistan of course, but am commenting on the general political and popular cultures. What is the answer: more secularism of course. Here and there and everywhere. Not colonial secularism, but secularism. And everybody prefaced remarks by "In the name of God..."
PS A good example of the problem this obsession with and persecution of Ahmadiyyah sect, among others.
At one point, this professor asked my host: Is he (about me) not the Angry Arab? My host said: oh, no. That is another person. (He was concerned that they will get to read my views of Danish cartoons).