They

in imperial watch

When the late-night comedians of 2021 reach for a Bush joke [and forward then, there will only be one Bush president in memory], the punchline must be the us/them, here/there world that Bush has created. After all, to that future post-identity world, speaking SinHinglish and typing with their hyper-muscled eyelids, such crass ethnic and ideological generalizations should sound deliciously subversive. I think of that future utopia because the present dystopia makes my head hurt.

Take for example, the steely-eyed Rep. Jean Schmidt of the Second District of Ohio. She is the one who defeated our Paul Hackett by a narrow margin. Here she is, speaking against John Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, as transcribed in the NYT:

And I walked away from there seeing the glorious graves of the people that have fought for our freedom more resolved than ever to make sure we keep the enemy on their shore and not ours. You know, you all are not getting the big picture. The big picture is that these Islamic insurgents want to destroy us. They don’t like us. They don’t like us because we’re black, we’re white, we’re Christian, we’re Jew, we’re educated, we’re free, we’re not Islamic. We can never be Islamic because we were not born Islamic. Now, this isn’t the Islamic citizens. These are the insurgents. And it is their desire for us to leave so they can take over the whole Middle East and then take over the world.

Rep. Schmidt is wrong about both the ‘us’ and the ‘they’ in her perverse worldview. On the ‘us’ side, lies the weirdly childish “We are the best nation in the world”. On the other end: Does she know 3 + million ‘Islamics’ who live in the US? Has she ever visited the Cincinnati Mosque? Or that one can, gasp, ‘convert’ to Islam? Or even that followers of Islam are M.u.s.l.i.m. not Islamic or Mohammedans or Moors or Turks. But, what matters? They are all the same. As Rep. Hayworth [annoying voice on link] of Arizona states with his immaculate grasp of world politics: “And, if there’s a doubt, take a look at the people of Old Europe. Take a look at the French. Take a look at what is transpiring in the streets of France.” Yes. Let’s go ask the rioting youths of any Paris banlieue how much they know about wahabi Islam. And how much they care.

I point these Republicans to two recent writings about ‘They’ in Pakistan: William Dalrymple’s Madrasas in Pakistan which appeared in NY Review of Books and Steve Coll’s Letter from Kashmir: Fault Lines which appeared in NYer.

I really appreciated Dalrymple’s piece [even moreso that he strangely namechecks Alam Sahib] because he is quite clear in showing the history and diversity of madrasa experience in Pakistan and the complicity of the State of Pakistan – through the late 70s into the 90s in fostering a Saudi-funded jihadist program. He singles out such institutions [Banuri Town being the central one] but makes the obvious point that neither UBL nor any of his main followers are themselves products of madrasas. In fact, they are at odds with the ‘ulema class on matters both religious and political.

In this case, as in so many others, the link between madrasas and international terrorism is far from clear-cut, and new research has been published that has challenged the much-repeated but intellectually shaky theory of madrasas being little more than al-Qaeda training schools. It is certainly true that many madrasas are fundamentalist and literalist in their approach to the scriptures and that many subscribe to the most hard-line strains of Islamic thought. Few make any effort to prepare their students to function in a modern, plural society. It is also true that some madrasas can be directly linked to Islamic radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence. Just as there are some yeshivas in settlements on the West Bank that have a reputation for violence against Palestinians, and Serbian monasteries that sheltered war criminals following the truce in Bosnia, so it is estimated that as many as 15 percent of Pakistan’s madrasas preach violent jihad, while a few have been said to provide covert military training. Madrasa students took part in the Afghan and Kashmir jihads, and have been repeatedly implicated in acts of sectarian violence, especially against the Shia minority in Karachi.

It is now becoming very clear, however, that producing cannon fodder for the Taliban and educating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaeda terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the USS Cole, the US embassies in East Africa, the World Trade Center, and the London Underground. Indeed, a number of recent studies have emphasized that there is a fundamental distinction to be made between ma-drasa graduates—who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication—and the sort of middle-class, politically literate global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaeda operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular and technical backgrounds. Neither bin Laden nor any of the men who carried out the Islamist assaults on America or Britain were trained in a madrasa or was a qualified alim, or cleric.

[…]

Their focus, in other words, is not on opposing non-Muslims or the West— the central concern of the global jihadis—so much as fostering what they see as proper Islamic behavior at home, the personal law governing which is a central subject of madrasa teachings. In contrast, few al-Qaeda agents seem to have more than the most perfunctory grasp of Islamic law or learning. Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence that bin Laden himself actually despises what he sees as the nit-picking juridical approach of the madrasa-educated ulema (clerics), regarding his own brand of violent Islamism as a wholly more appropriate answer to the problems of the Muslim world.

Dalyrmple is successful not only in drawing our attention to the fact that all madrasas are not created equal but also that they are often the only source of education available to the poor masses who have had their welfare put at the bottom of whatever list the military-autocratic state had in hand.

Puritanical it may be, but it is clear that the Dar ul-Uloom, like many Pakistani madrasas, performs an important service—especially in a country 58 percent of whose population, and 72 percent of whose women, are illiterate—indeed half of the population never sees the inside of a school. Madrasas are often backward in their educational philosophy, but they provide the poor with a real hope of advancing themselves. In certain traditional subjects—such as rhetoric, logic, and jurisprudence—the teaching can be excellent. And although they tend to be ultra-conservative, only a small proportion of them are militant.

So, instead of “fighting them over there”, how about a “educating them over there” policy, dear House Repubicans?

Steve Coll’s piece is a much more sobering one. Because we move from the passive world of rhetorical understanding of madrasas to the active world of not helping the Quake victims. In the aftermath of the Earthquake, the Pakistan Army [the only stable institution, as The General puts it] was not there. Who were? The various non-governmental organizations – Edhi Foundation, MQM, al-Khidmat the LeT’s relief wing, Jama’at ud Dawa. The last one being the one banned by US and Pakistan as a jihadist organization. However, as they state on their website, they have distributed aid to 110,000 families; created 9 camp-cities [with 100 camps in each], 21 schools; carried via mules or pickups from far-off ranges into these camp-cities; made 150 new permanent houses; opened 4 new hospitals. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed asks, “Are terrorists those who are helping the Earthquake victims or those who are bombing settlements?”. Attention, United States of America. Coll writes:

In Muzaffarabad, I found the main Jamaat ud-Dawa camp on the west bank of the Neelum River, in a part of the city that had been severely damaged. Mohammed Khalid, the youthful chief of the group’s regional media committee, welcomed me into a tent strewn with carpets and cushions. He had a soft beard that fell far below his chin. Unlike the Army, the group had mobilized quickly after the quake, and I asked how it had done so. “We had a seminary here, with two hundred students, and a hospital,” he said. “The hospital crumbled. We then dug out medicines, and doctors started working within thirty minutes.” The students handed out food and set up a generator. “It was all darkness and dust,” he said. “People saw the light and they started coming, and that was where our work really began.” By now, Khalid said, Jamaat ud-Dawa had about three thousand volunteers throughout the area struck by the earthquake.

The camp in Muzaffarabad covered about ten acres. In one tent, doctors set broken bones, and in a metal shipping container with power delivered by a generator, surgeons from Karachi and Lahore had assembled an operating theatre with an oxygen machine and medical monitoring equipment. Altogether, Khalid said, his group had brought dozens of doctors to Azad Kashmir, and they were seeing between seven hundred and eight hundred patients a day. When I asked if it bothered him that the American government had branded his group, or its predecessor, a terrorist organization, he said, “If you accuse someone, that doesn’t mean it’s true. I would invite the American doctors and medical staff to come and join us. Our doors are open. . . . Any American kid or boy can come work with us. They are most welcome.

Later, we drove to the banks of the Neelum, where, beside an Army camp, Jamaat ud-Dawa had established a ferry service using motorized rubber rafts trucked in from the group’s headquarters, in Lahore. Normally, the boats were used basically for training purposes, one volunteer told me. He did not say whether this training was for guerrilla war or some other mission‚ fishing, perhaps. We stood on a cliff and watched young volunteers playfully race a raft between ferry runs, tossing up wide wakes. I asked if we could ride across. As we climbed on, our captain, a boy who appeared to be in his teens, handed us empty water jugs to use as flotation devices in case we capsized. Also aboard were two Austrian soldiers toting water-purification equipment for isolated villages on the other side. I asked if they knew who was giving them a ride. One answered yes, with a smile, but added that there was no other way across. On the opposite bank, dozens of villagers had gathered in another Jamaat ud-Dawa camp. Mohammed Sharif, an elder of a village several miles away, said that the group’s volunteers had reached them three days after the quake, and that the Pakistani Army had never turned up. “They are very good to us,” he said, “They did everything on their own.”

Herein lies the rub. For the millions who suffer, it matters not who the care-giver is at this moment but when this earthquake passes into memory – they will remember who it was that helped them. The jihadists proclaim an agenda of social welfare and they may even believe it at some point. But, they also never forget that they are in a struggle for the hearts and minds of these same millions with the forces of evil. They do social welfare so that their messages find a receptive audience. Even as they help the needy, they fight to keep their grip on the situation. I know that The General & the US cannot stop others from helping, but they can make such jihadist help redundant. Instead of arriving late and leaving early, US could have proclaimed a broad and generous help and rehabilitation program; put doctors and medicene on the ground; put schools and teachers on the ground; made a grand gesture.

Instead, The General is posturing the old LoC grievances. Our House of Congress, four years after 9/11, has yet to figure out who or what our enemy is – or even what they are called. Democracy and Freedom are still names for pardoned Turkeys. Have a good weekend, gentle readers.

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