Oriental Magick

The ads were in the magazine section of Pakistan News – an Urdu weekly for diaspora desis in NY, Chicago etc. In breathless prose they invited broken hearts and spirits to have their problem solved within “two and half minutes”. One promised a reward if not successful, another lauded his experience of 55 years. In tone, or in content, these ads were apace with any psychic, Dionne Warwick-style salespitch that you may encounter elsewhere. Except for one garish detail – all three ads were explicitly selling services of Kala Jadoo, black magic.

Lost in the noise of “wahhabisation” of the Pakistani publics, are some really interesting changes which accompanied the seasonal migration of Pakistan’s labor force to the Gulf since the 1970s. Broadly understood, “wahhabisation” denotes the growth of parties/philosophies in Pakistan who share the stringently narrow-minded Sunni sectarianism from Saudi Arabia, along with some attendant thoughts on anti-imperialism of a local or global kind. Often, the calls for a resurgent Caliphate, or destruction of Israel become à la carte additions.

But one particularly pernicious long term side-effect of this seasonal migration has been the disruption of the varied local traditions of charismatic and spiritual leadership in Pakistan – specifically the heterogenous sufic traditions. The explicitly “local” site – whether a shrine, a seat or a house of a Sufi – where the community would go for counsel, help, adjudication and spiritual growth was rapidly overwhelmed by a new generation of preachers. This new breed was freely entrepreneurial – tying the remittances to moral panics in the domestic sphere. How do you know if your wife was faithful to you?. The cash-for-salvation business has many, many facets. Clerics like Hafiz Saeed, etc., have done wonders within this ’emerging market’.

The “Black Magic” industry is another, less-frequently mentioned, outpost of this wild capitalism. It operates through a network of intermediaries in the foreign city (be that Doha, Qatar or New York, USA) who identify the marks and get them hooked through a nominal fee. A local payment, in dinars or dollars, gets the troubled soul a special phone number to call. On the other end, is another intermediary who will solicit all your sordid details. The client is usually strung along for months, doing mind-numbing spells and sacrifices and paying small amounts. Eventually, desire and despair forces the client to ask for the ultimate – a direct audience with the ‘Amil (Knowledge Bearer). It is perhaps needless to point out that this ultimate round of communications has its own price bracket.

The practitioners use specialized constructions to lure in their clients. They situate themselves, explicitly within the Islamic cosmology, as “outsiders” and mimic a parallel genealogy of filth, as sufis have a genealogy of pure. Alistar Crowley would easily understand. Note that the ads above name the practitioners as either “Massih” or “Bengali” – that is, Christian or Bengal (it has a long history of being associated w/ the darker arts in certain traditions). Additionally, they explicitly name “demonic” beings – some are standard (Kali, Churail, Nag,جیسے ہنومان ،کھیترپال ،بھیرو، ناگ دیوتا ، لوناچماڑی، چڑیل، لکشمی دیوی ، کالا کلوا ، پاروتی دیوی ، کلوسادھن، پیچھل پیری ،ڈائن ،ہر بھنگ آکھپا etc.), and some rather inexplicable (Hanuman!). Graveyards, become the counterpoint to the sufi shrine. Lest we think that this is merely defrauding money from suckers, there are constant reports in the media of child abductions and mutilated corpses being used in such rituals.

What to make, then, of these ads which tout their particular other-ness with such aplomb? How do we fit this utilitarian embrace of the Christian and the Hindoo within the same fold as the shrine-hating “wahhabisation”? Theoretically speaking, we have to conceive of a landscapes that accommodates spirituality post modernity. Second, we have to discard the notion of a uniform process of “wahabbisation” (I am tired of putting in the quotes).

Things are way more, um, diabolical.

Below the fold, the actual ads.
Continue reading “Oriental Magick”

Action for a Progressive Pakistan Vigil

Friends in NYC, please attend. Friends elsewhere, please link/spread the word of this.

Contact: progpak@gmail.com / 917.922.9836

Pakistanis Hold Vigil for Mumbai Victims
Call Upon India and Pakistan to Work Towards Peace

When: Saturday, December 13th, 4:00 pm
Where: Union Square NORTH (16th Street) – across the street from Barnes and Noble

(New York, December 8, 2008) – Action for a Progressive Pakistan (APP) condemns the violence of Nov 26th which claimed the lives of over 180 people in Mumbai, and expresses solidarity with the people of India. The group calls upon the democratically elected governments of India and Pakistan to work together in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice.

APP will hold a vigil this Saturday, December 13th at 4pm in Union Square to express sorrow at the loss of innocent life and call for peace and stability in the region. It demands that measured and deliberate steps be taken to ensure the safety and security of all the citizens of India and Pakistan, who remain the true targets of these extreme agendas. The group also calls upon the governments of India and Pakistan to work for a peaceful resolution of the current crisis, and asks that the world community support the two countries in this endeavor.

“The people of Pakistan stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in India because we also bear deeply the scars of terrorism,” said Assistant Professor of Sociology Saadia Toor who’s also a founding member of APP. In 2007 alone, 1500 people were killed in terror attacks in Pakistan. This year, forty people were killed and as many as 350 injured including school children when bombs destroyed a federal government building in the heart of Lahore on March 11th. Another fifty were killed by a terror attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel in September. These acts of violence, whether in India or Pakistan, are a backlash to the global War on Terror by non-state forces seeking to destabilize the region and derail long-overdue peace initiatives being pursued by the two countries.

The only defense against terrorism is a prosperous democracy. Pakistan has just elected its first civilian government in over a decade after a protracted struggle against the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. The civilian government has already taken several key steps towards de-militarizing the domestic political sphere, and has made overtures towards trying to solve the issue of Kashmir. The civilian regime has managed to impose some limitations on the military but it must do more. To ensure peace and security in the region, the world community must support Pakistan’s democratic institutions. This support must include development assistance geared towards addressing the needs of Pakistan’s poor. APP calls for an immediate end to US airstrikes inside Pakistan’s borders, as they are contributing greatly to the destabilization of the region and causing hardships for innocent civilians.

Action for a Progressive Pakistan stands with the people of South Asia in their struggle for peace in the region. The group, comprised of concerned Pakistani professionals and academics, is committed to ensuring peace, democracy and development in South Asia.

I am a proud member of the group.

Bombay Attacked VII: Challenges

Dipesh Chakrabarty has a lucid look at some of the key realities facing Indian democracy in the aftermath of the attacks in his Reflections on the future of Indian democracy:

The growth of this politics of identity has made elections into the mainstay of Indian democracy. It has distanced politics from issues of governance, and has gone hand in hand with a deepening degree of corruption, financial and otherwise, on the part of politicians and officials. A large number of the elected members of parliament have criminal cases pending against them, and media reports suggest an elephantine, unaccountable, inefficient bureaucracy mired in the self-indulgent use of resources (corruption and inefficiency often going together). There was, as last week’s events made clear, no effective coast guard force on the Indian seas, in spite of the government having been warned of possible terror attacks on Mumbai from the sea. When the Taj Hotel caught fire, it took the first lot of firefighters three hours to respond. The commando force had to be dispatched from Delhi and it took about nine hours to mobilize them, as they are usually kept busy providing “security” to politicians, many of whom see such security as a matter of status and prestige. It also turns out that the majority a very large grant recently given to the Bombay police for its modernization was spent on buying luxury cars and other expensive items for the use of senior officers and their ministers! Creating a security system that will effectively protect the population from terrorist attacks will not be easy. Corruption follows public money in India, as it does, unfortunately, in many countries, and undermines performance. Additionally, the effective functioning of any institution in India in a non-partisan manner would require that institution to be insulated from political interference. The second condition is not easily met in India. The required reforms thus call for a certain kind of political will that the political class in India has not quite shown in recent times.

Ahmed Rashid, Are Mumbai attacks a chance for peace?:

If India and Pakistan can understand that they are both victims of a strategic diversion by al-Qaeda and if international mediation can help deepen that understanding, then there is perhaps a greater opportunity for the two countries to address the conflicts that have bedevilled their relationship for 60 years – Kashmir and other lesser issues.

It will certainly be difficult for the two countries to walk away from the brink. India has a weak government whose counter-terrorism policies have been a failure and which faces an election in the next six months. The Indian public and media are demanding revenge – not co-operation with Islamabad.

Pakistan also has a weak government that is still trying to set parameters of co-operation with an army which dominates foreign and strategic policy and controls the ISI, the most powerful political entity in the country.

Pakistan’s other problems could well overwhelm the government – a troops mobilisation is the last thing it needs.

To turn the possibility of war into the possibility of peace, the leadership of both countries need to show statesmanship, determination and authority even if they have to defy the public mood in their respective countries to do so.

Bombay Attacked VI: Rant Edition

Aryn Baker, in one of the most egregious example of bad reporting/analysis/pull-it-outta-your-ass-telology, quotes some “mild-mannered scholar” who yearns for the return of the Mughal Empire. What the fuck is Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad? How do you even find these numskulls? More importantly what is this Deobandi v Aligarh match that has been going on for the last 130 years – defying all other histories? Then there was someone named Reena Ninan waxing eloquently about “our 9/11” on FOX News. Which, to the anchor, meant only that India must now act like US did (given the usual suspects, so far):

1. Bomb Pakistan
2. Bomb Dubai
3. Bomb Somalia
4. Bomb England

Here is Dalrymple chiding the Indian government for “continu[ing] to make matters worse by its ill-treatment of the people of Kashmir, which has handed to the jihadis an entire generation of educated, angry middle-class Muslims.” Is that really so? Let’s assume that these perpetrators are angry about Kashmir. Lots are. Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands, even. Maybe, they are all Muslims as well. Maybe, devout, even. And yet, the injustice of Kashmir over the last 60 years seems to have not turned the lot into kamikaze fire-spewing terrorists. Why is that? Are Indian Muslims willing to kill all other citizens of their own land, Muslims included, because of 60 year old grievance? And they chose now why? More consequently, how is the manufacturing of this particular dissent made possible in Pakistan? Dalrymple plays up the ISI but nary a word on the role which the conflict of Kashmir has played in the self-construction of the state of Pakistan? Is that impolitic? Will we be embarrassed to learn of the deeds of Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf? Why is ISI some monolithic mind-controlling entity that has “imposed” Kashmir as an Issue? On Kashmir, he states blithely that “the state should logically have gone to Pakistan”. And what logic would that be? The logic of Partition?

Or you may prefer the Fareed Zakaria model, where Indian Muslims are waiting patiently to be infected by this virus which is the enemy of “modernity and democracy.” Are you kidding me?

Even the more benign defense against profiling Indian Muslims seems to irk me. Is the analogue between state-sponsored terrorism? Or a face-off of atrocities? What exactly is the goal, here? Justification?

Biju Mathew, at the very least, makes sense when he calls into question this well-rehearsed charade that we have been playing since 2001:

The official story that has already begun to emerge is one that may have some facts embedded in it. But we must remember that between every two facts is a lot of conjecture. The conjectures that unite the few facts (16 gunmen, AK47s, grenades, passports of multiple nationalities, boats on which at least some of them arrived, a dead Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare, who was heading the investigation against the Hindu Right wings’ terror campaign, the gunmen trying to identify British and American citizens) makes the story. The story then is as much a product of the conjecture as it is of the facts. And there are certain stories that we are already oriented towards. The conjectures that create that story – the story we are already prepared for – is the one the State will dole out for our consumption. Already the conjectures that will serve the State, are out there in great profusion.

I remember December 2001 and the armies which stationed themselves along borders. In everything I have read, and heard, over the last few days, nothing gives me hope that we are not hurtling towards a repeat. And here we have distinguished commentary that refuses to abandon the script.

I keep seeing Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. [see.]

Bombay Attacked V: The Versace Edition

Rohit points to this absurd “Roots of Indian Muslim Rage” piece (Jets v Sharks!). Suketu Mehta has the “here is why they hate our freedoms” piece.

I am waiting to hear from our enlightened commentators about the Versace connection between Cunanan and the Bombay raiders. What is in that brand that drives young men to madness? Well?

I will put up something more helpful in the next few days – maybe a reading list on the “indian muslim thing”.

Things will be ok. I have to believe that. I have to hope. Now more than ever.

Bombay Attacked IV

The attack is over. And suddenly everything must now be questioned, say the punditry. CNN is trawling with idiotic “experts”. We are awash in insipid commentary, as well. The nearly two hundred dead, though, demand of us harsher questioning of the status quo.

Some more reading:

Saikat Datta in Outlook India:

By the middle of November, as Indian intelligence continued to check out further inputs, the pieces of an intricate jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place. Sources say they learnt that the attack would come from the sea and that the Taj Hotel would be a major target. However, it was not known whether this attack would be carried out by planting bombs in the hotel or by terrorists carrying small arms. Indian intelligence assessments were tilting towards bombs being planted and security at the hotel was beefed up accordingly to prevent terrorists from planting bombs inside the premises.

At AlterNet, Yoichi Shimatsu wonders if Ibrahim Dawood did it:

The eerie silence that accompanied the blasts are the very signature of Ibrahim Dawood, now a multi-millionaire owner of a construction company in Karachi, Pakistan. His is hardly a household name around the world like Osama bin Laden. Across South Asia, however, Dawood is held in awe and, in a twist on morals, admired for his belated conversion from crime boss to self-styled avenger.

Mohsin Hamid:

The alternative is to acknowledge that – like rivers, languages, and history – terrorism ties India and Pakistan together. India cannot prosper while Pakistan festers. Pakistan cannot progress while standing in the way of India’s ascent. Only by cooperating can both countries hope to achieve security and make dreams of prosperity come true for more than a small minority.

Sandip Roy:

Three days after the start of this awful siege, which has killed more than 150 and injured more than 300 people, I remember one of the first faces to emerge out of the horrifying scenes of burning hotels, sprawled bodies and uniformed police in Mumbai. “Is he one of the victims?” asked my roommate as we looked at the fuzzy image of a young man in a dark t-shirt, the word VERSACE written across it in white. My roommate obviously hadn’t noticed the assault rifle he was holding.

Washington Post:

Islamist extremists and their backers inside Pakistan do not want that; the attacks in Mumbai may well have been calculated to set off a new Indo-Pakistani crisis. India’s foreign minister said as much, pointing a finger of blame at Pakistan and telling its foreign minister, who was visiting New Delhi at the time of the attacks, that there could be no “leap” in relations unless Islamabad cracked down on the people responsible for the attacks. Pakistan responded constructively, agreeing to an Indian request that its military intelligence chief go to India to share what Islamabad knows about the origins of the attacks.

And finally, Rohit expresses many of my own misgivings on the response from the Left:

Ali parrots a well-worn Marxist line in his article. Aside from any number of grounds on which the vulgar Marxist reasoning that permeates the article (and any number of such articles on Counterpunch) can be questioned– such as simplistic assumptions about economic base and cultural superstructure— there is one major problem with this argument: it completely fails to explain why other disenfranchised groups or communities in India or elsewhere are not compelled by environmental or structural causes to act in the same way as those who committed the Bombay blasts.