Dominance Without Toleration III: Guns & Roses

The Assassin in Roses
The killer has been garlanded. Facebook fan pages, twitter clouds of praises. For his victim, Salmaan Taseer there are small candle-light vigils and columns bemoaning him for “going too far”. How far did he go? He visited a woman who is “accused” of blasphemy and he called the law which enables such prosecutions a “kala qanoon” (black law), meaning it was an oppressive law (implemented via coercion).

For days on end, before Taseer’s assassination, TV talk shows and dailies had heightened the stakes – it wasn’t one case of blasphemy, it wasn’t just a law on the books, it was Namoos-i Risalat (the Sanctity of the Prophethood). In everyday parlance, this – and its corollary Tauheen-i Risalat (Blaspheming the Prophet) – have emerged as transgressions so extreme that even the accusation is enough to justify dis-mantling the edifice of a juridical or civil society. In practice, Tauheen-i Risalat has been a touch-stone of Islamist parties since the 1950s and, over the years, has entered the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of Muslims as an unpardonable, unmentionable offense. The Friday sermon will invoke it and it will insist that there is only the penalty of death and it will intone that there is only the possibility of self-annihilation to “protect” the Prophet.

Blasphemy is, and has been since Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, a reliable apprentice to the Islamist parties. It is non-sectarian (when it comes to the Prophet), it is ahistorical, it is anti-authoritarian and anti-statist.

By non-sectarian, I mean that a Blasphemy demonstration or a Blasphemy accusation allows the Islamist party to mobilize universally. Whether by buying busloads for the demonstration or imposing arbitrary shut-downs on merchants, the Islamist party can cast the widest possible net.

By ahistorical, I mean that Blasphemy operates strictly within the purview of the modern nation-state. There is very little, and I mean that, invocation of historical precedent or understanding of either the law or the accusation. Most Islamists will be shocked perhaps to learn that at one point or another such stalwarts of the Islamist canon such as Abu Hanifa, Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Taymiyyah or al-Ghazzali were all accused of apostasy and blasphemy in their lifetimes. The ignorance of such history is an advantage, since it allows the Islamist discourse to keep the issue posited as a strict binary and outside the scope of any “discussion”. There is also the lack of religious historical precedent – wherein the penalty of death is considered sacrosanct but it does not exist at all in the Qur’an and is only randomly asserted in the Hadi’th corpus.

Anti-State Islamism
By anti-authoritarian and anti-statist, I mean that these public demonstrations, shut-downs, and vigilante acts of violence are meant specifically for the local state – insofar as it is capable of communication – or the local market. That these Islamist parties have an agenda against the state – though they be nurtured by the same state is incidental – ought not be a surprise. Even when coddled, as the Jama’at-i Islami was during the Zia regime, the Islamist parties maintain a strict anti-authoritarian and anti-state rhetoric – because authority ought only to come from the power invested in them (as religious and political elite) by devout believers and the state ought only be “Islamic” (the definition being up for debate). Blasphemy is a perfect storm because it seemingly handicaps the capacity of the civil regime to intervene (are you against the Prophet!?) while loosening restraints on civil violence through absolution (to kill in the name of the Prophet is divine).

Ironies abound. The Prophetic tradition steeped in “I am not divine” speaks against any credulous case of Blasphemy. Yet, here we have the promoters of divinity squaring themselves in defense of someone who specifically denied himself such a status.

Many, including myself, are disheartened by the assassination of Salmaan Taseer. He had emerged, specifically through Twitter, as somewhat of a laissez-faire secularist. I want to stress this “Twitter” angle. Given the lack of a civil society where dialogue and discourse can transcend class boundaries, Taseer found a way to circumvent “drawing room politics” where men and women gathered on uncomfortable and ostentatious furniture to discuss “the people”. I am quite willing to bet that his strident defense of secularist, pluralist policies emerged because of the feedback loop that Twitter provided. As a subscriber to his feed for a while, I witnessed numerous exchanges with reporters, authors, business-owners, students where he asserted, and was pushed back on, not only government policy but a liberal world-view which needed defense or it needed affirmation. He was abandoned by his own party and largely by the provincial government after his defense of Asiya Bibi. The Zardari regime found it best to not challenge the Islamist parties and their reticence only exacerbated the loneliness of the Taseer and Sherry Rahman position – that the Blasphemy Laws were targeting religious minorities.

Is the death of Salmaan Taseer, the death of liberal thought in Pakistan? There is no denying that the rosy days of the Lawyers Movement are long gone – buried by repeated suicide bombings, minority killings, assassinations, and a revitalized Right in Pakistan. The Af-Pak theater with its un-ending political and military debacle has created a quick-sand in Pakistan where both the materials of war and the rhetoric of war dominate civic life. Everyone is in danger, at all times.

They have guns and they have the roses. We have nothing except the hope that civil state will find a reason to defend its own citizenry, if only out of self-preservation instincts.

12 Replies to “Dominance Without Toleration III: Guns & Roses”

  1. Manan and readers,

    I wrote down some of my thoughts on this topic, especially in reference to the Aatish Taseer article quoted above:

    http://justspeculations.blogspot.com/2011/01/after-salman-taseer-follow-up-on.html

    Summary: there is a point where you just want to throw your hands up and forget about explaining away the “jihadis” and just wish to fight them to the end. But what does that mean? I don’t think science/rationality/modernity (Taseer’s answer) or a strong state can do enough. There has to be some ethical program, or a reorientation of values. Someone above mentioned using religious texts themselves against fundamentalism. I’m not sure about that, but it has to be a similarly deep commitment. As in, figure out what makes an ordinary person want to shower Malik Mumtaz Qadir with flowers and turn that instinct off. I’m not a Muslim so I don’t know how this might be done using Islamic arguments themselves, but it has to be.

  2. The following story was written by a friend (may be published soon). I dont take it as a prediction, but as an exercise in imagining what the logical consequences of certain trends could be…it wont actually happen because no trend continues in a straight line. Countervailing forces develop, the dialectic kicks in and the synthesis rarely looks like the thesis…in any case, if we project a different set of trends forward in time, then in the actual 2020 we may see Chinese businessmen protected by security guards pushing their way into a special “Chinese first” line at Lahore airport, while Imran Khan complains about the way Chinese interference is ruining our previously sane society (by then, Chinese drones will be bombing the tribal areas, so the Chinese will not be as well-loved as they are today)..

    http://www.brownpundits.com/2011/01/12/a-trip-to-pakistan-2022/

  3. Pakistan has come to a point where thousands believe they are righteous and have divine authority to carry out God’s acts on this earth. The repugnant response by the supporters of Salman Taseer’s alleged killer has truly been mesmerizing. Qadri’s fan base has distorted Islam to such an extent that it has become laughable to comprehend how they perceive themselves to be protecting the sanctity of Islam. To read this article: http://bit.ly/i6eiYK

  4. laissez-faire secularist – please explain that , because of feedback you say , but still he must be a secular to start with , right ?

  5. Liberals are just crybabies. They make speeches but have
    no strategy unlike the other side. Al Qieda attacked the minorities
    just to show how hollow things are in pakistan.
    Yet the Intellectuals had no answer. Politician aren’t going to bring about change.
    If you want to defeat the religious, you have to use the religious text, religious
    dogma and their language to attack them. If you can’t over turn the blasphemy
    law then you have challenge in the courts not in newspapers. Create new laws
    which will hollow out the blasphemy law.
    As far as China is concerned. Why don’t you go talk to them see your
    faith in them is misplaced just as the Americans.
    If you want the military to change then you have to join them and
    change from the inside. No one is just going to hand you power.
    The example of Ataturk often cited is just big joke remember the Armenian problem.
    or that Britain wanted clean up of Ottoman Empire so their legitimacy had to
    be attacked.
    Can you do that. I don’t think so.

  6. Omar, yes.
    And it may be too late to turn around.
    It’s doubtful the political class have the bravery to truly face the extremist presence in the armed forces, police and secret service; neither do they have the bravery to make the necessary political decisions, such as getting rid of the blasphemy law for example.
    Not being at physical risk myself, i’m not sure that i should criticize those politicians, but if they will not take the risks, is not all lost for any sort of modern Pakistan ?
    Taseer stands as a beacon; a truly brave person of intelligence, energy and kindness.

  7. Watching the slow train wreck for last twenty years (it has been going on earlier only I wasn’t watching) still gives the horrible feeling after such incidents because I know this is not the first and definitely not the last to come.
    In Indian history (yes the cultural India not the current political one) Muslims (elite as masses usually have very little say) have without doubt botched the modernization unlike their counter-parts. This is not that happened overnight but from Sir Syed’s time every push into modern secular world has been opposed by religious conservatives who have mastered the art of opposition of modern thoughts but will not shy away from using the fruits of those modern/profane knowledge (just see how adept they are in any warfare mechanism). And to compound matters modern leaders have never had any mass base (the most famous instance is Jinnah’s Muslim League lost 1937 elections on secular causes but had to depend on it’s revival in 1946 on a call for a state created on the basis of religious identity. At least that is what mass base understood and uprooted themselves from their roots and went to the promised land, i know the drawing room elite’s reference for Jinnah’s speech in constituent assembly but that only exposes the nature of Muslim modern secular movement that it always tried to define itself first within a confine of religion and then everything else. And that is where the slippery slope starts that once you have religion then you will always have religious interpreter/broker who always speak as if they have PoA from The God.

    Hope whatever anew starts (it will come definitely but somehow the gut feeling is there is a downward spiral before people get ready for fight to finish) it will have learnt it’s history lesson.

  8. Hi,

    I’d be curious to know the caste of the Punjabi Hindu and Christian in Pakistan. The reason why I am curious for this info is that on the Indian side of Punjab (Punjab & Haryana), there has been quite a rise in the tension amongst the peasant (mostly Jat/Jatt, but sometimes Rajput and Gujjar also) and the lower castes in the last decade or so. Recall the Vienna gurudwara incident as one instance. I am under the impression that the set of religious minorities of the Pakistani Punjab (not Sind and Baluchistan) is substantially made of the lower castes.

    I hope someone would disabuse me of my notions if they be wrong.

    Sincerely,
    Vikas

  9. I know the favored liberal propaganda line is that America is responsible for the jihadis, but I know many of the people involved in that wonderful period in the eighties and I can tell you, the Americans would have been equally happy if the Afghan operation was staffed by hobbits..it was our brilliant General Zia who understood the potential for Jihad and made sure it was funded to the max; also, we accelerated recruitment and training AFTER the Americans left in 1991, so its a bit disingenuous to blame them for the growth of the jihadi menace. Finally, Musharraf’s choice did not occur in a vaccum. The international terrorist network that our own intelligence agencies had facilitated had carried out an act of terrorism in the US. Whatever America’s evil reasons for encouraging this menace for many years, it was now time to change course. What was the alternative? Staying the course with the jihadis was not an option. The crisis is not because America has destabilized the region. The violence is due to jihadists refusing to go quietly into that good night. They would never have gone quietly, though one can also say that their departure has not been well handled.

    The elite is in trouble and deserves to be in trouble. American interference has been ham-handed and poorly handled…but better handling would not have prevented violence. There are three sources of violence: one is the element of violence seen in every third world country where a small corrupt elite lords it over the mass of the people. Second is the added layer of violence caused by Islamist fanatics in many different Muslim countries because their ideal society is incompatible with current worldwide trends. The third is absolutely unique to our nation: it is the army’s own arming and training and financing and ideologically supporting the most fanatical and vicious elements in the country in some insane scheme to wrest Kashmir from India and project power into Afghanistan and beyond. They did this with no awareness of the fact that they were arming and training the very people who would drive them out of their plush houses in Islamabad and Defence housing estates. For that we can thank the National Defence University and other islands of unadulterated bull#### where people like Musharraf learned that the “complex strategic threat from India” necessitated arming and training these killers.
    The problem is, the jihadis have no solution. Their “solution” is going to be a bloodbath with no stopping point. If the elite (corrupt, worthless, whatever, they are still our relatives and friends) does fall apart and run away to wherever they have stashed the cash, then we are in for a very violent disaster…one that may only be settled after china sends in those special forces they are training in Inner Mongolia for this eventuality (I hear the Chinese are very far-sighted….though this rumor too may turn out to be a liberal delusion)..

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