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DAWN - Features; August 7, 2002

August 07, 2002

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If religion fails, which is unlikely, try Dexedrine to wage a brutal war

By Jawed Naqvi


THE Election Commission of India routinely bans the vending of alcohol in constituencies that go to the polls two or three days prior to balloting. The idea seems to stem from the vulnerability of the electorate to the mesmerising power of liquor.

The Indian constitution also frowns upon the use of religion to woo voters. Both the rules, regarding alcohol and religion, are as regularly violated as they are sought to be imposed. As a result, we get the government we deserve.

Communist heretics describe religion as the opium of the masses. The validity of their dictum is tested virtually every day these days, not only in India but in the rest of the world led by the United States, without causing much harm to the basic tenet of the Marxist claim. In Gujarat, as sometimes happens with very nearly literal interpretation of rarefied ideas, religion and liquor were actually laced into a lethal brew. But this was not the first time the concoction was tried successfully on a core group of a murderous mob.

I came across a shocking report the other day that strongly hinted that the war in Afghanistan was being fought by American pilots who were routinely forced to take “uplifting” drugs before flying off to their missions.

According to a dispatch in the Toronto Star of Aug 1, US jet fighter pilots, responsible for at least 10 deadly “friendly- fire” accidents in the Afghanistan war, have regularly been given amphetamines to fly longer hours.

Then when they return to base, the pilots are given sedatives by air force doctors to help them sleep, before beginning the whole cycle again on the next mission, often less than 12 hours later.

The exact drugs pilots are given and how they’re taken is outlined in a 24-page document produced by the Top Gun fighter training school and a naval laboratory in Florida.

The US Air Force Surgeon-General’s Office in Washington admits that pilots are given the stimulant Dexedrine, generically known as dextroamphetamine, to stay alert during combat missions in Afghanistan.

Pilots refer to Dexedrine as “go-pills”. The sleeping pills they are given, called Ambien (zolpidem) and Restoril (temazepam), are referred to as “no-go pills”.

It is not known whether Dexedrine was involved in the friendly- fire incident in which an American fighter jet dropped a 500- pound laser-guided bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers early on April 18. But the possibility did come to the mind of one defence analyst.

“Better bombing through chemistry,” remarked John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a Washington-area defence policy think- tank.

“This was certainly one of my first thoughts after the Canadian friendly-fire accident,” he told the Star. “The initial depiction made it seem as if the pilot was behaving in an unusually aggressive fashion.”

Pike said there’s little controversy among politicians or the American public about the use of amphetamines by the air force because “I don’t think anybody even knows about it. The aviation community and the air force community certainly don’t like to talk about so-called ‘performance enhancing’ drugs.”

The 24-page Top Gun document, entitled Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight Operations, reports that in an anonymous survey among pilots who flew in Desert Storm, the 1991 Persian Gulf war, 60 per cent said they used Dexedrine.

In units that saw the most frequent combat missions, usage was as high as 96 per cent.

During that war, Dexedrine was administered in doses of five milligrams each, as opposed to the 10mg pills now offered to pilots in Afghanistan.

Medical literature indicates that amphetamines can have severe side-effects. The worst is called amphetamine psychosis. “It causes hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions.”

Pilots, after being tested for drug tolerance, are also asked to sign a consent form. Entitled “Informed Consent For Operational Use of Dexedrine,” it begins by saying: “It has been explained to me and I understand that the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of Dexedrine to manage fatigue ... (and) I further understand that the decision to take this medication is mine alone.”

Air force insiders say the pilots really do not have a choice in taking the drug. The form states that “should I choose not to take it under circumstances where its use appears indicated ... my commander, upon advice of the flight surgeon, may determine whether or not I should be considered unfit to fly a given mission.”

The kind of widespread damage in civilian casualties caused by a misdirected air raid, for example in Afghanistan, however, reflects a deeper social malaise than the mere use of this drug or that. One of the early definitions of what is today known as collateral damage in war had come from a cynical 13th century Papal Legate called Arnald-Amalric. “Kill them all, God will recognize his own,” he had proclaimed sardonically when asked by the Crusaders what to do with the citizens of Beziers, who were a mixture of Catholics and Cathars.

In more recent times, the exigencies of coalition campaigns, involving governments that represent different faiths against a perceived enemy has weakened the role of God as the key arbiter in most such cases. Typically, therefore, when asked about the extent of Iraqi casualties toward the end of the Gulf war, then military Chief of Staff Colin Powell blandly remarked: “That is really not a matter I am terribly interested in.”

Interestingly though, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who the United States executed recently, used the same logic to justify his outrageous act. The former Gulf war veteran outraged the American public opinion when, in an interview before his execution, he described the 19 dead children among his 168 victims as “collateral damage”.

If President George W. Bush’s initial “crusade” against terrorism was discarded in favour of a more secular “campaign”, it does not detract from the fact the Gulf War too began with the same kind of religious bell ringing as American political leaders today perform in an attempt to rally their citizens against the terrorists of Sept 11.

In 1991 George Bush senior, with Billy Graham by his side, declared the military action against Iraq just and moral.

Conservative religious organizations throughout the United States rallied around the president and spoke about the evils of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Is it a coincidence that Iraq now stands in the same location as Babylon of the Bible? War against Babylon would seem to serve as a biblical mandate. Any military soldier or bomber pilot who harboured misgivings about the morality of war needed only to consult a military minister or priest.

“And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.” -Isaiah 21:9

At least one Western writer by the name of Jim Walker recalls a newsreel segment showing an F-16 fighter/bomber with “Isaiah 21:9” written on one of its bombs.

The potent mix of religion and drugs with purely temporal affairs such as war or carnage has only widened its scope and efficacy today. But the phenomenon on its own is much older. Before the advent of George W. Bush and his father and guru the senior Bush, there was curious spurt of political assassinations in the 13th century Persia, not far from the scene that the father-son duo has chosen for their “target practice” with the lethal firepower at their disposal.

A glimpse of this spurt in assassinations, rooted as it was in the use of drugs, is given in Marco Polo’s Travels in Asia where he describes the character of Hasan bin Sabah, a contemporary of Omar Khayyam, but one who chose a completely different vocation from the wine-guzzling, romancing-in-the-wilderness of a besotted poet.

“The Old Man of the mountain dwelled in a most noble valley,” observes Marco Polo. “It was shut in between two very high mountains where he had made the largest garden and the most beautiful that was ever seen in this world. There were set to dwell ladies and damsels the most beautiful. Their duty was to furnish the young men who were put there with all delights and pleasures. And into this garden entered no man except only those base men of evil life whom he wished to make satellites and Assassins.”

Derived from the Arabic for hashish, the Hashashin, according to one interpretation, were originally an order established by the Old Man of the Mountain, Hasan bin Sabah, a Nizari Ismaili, who chose the fortress of Alamut in 1090 as his base for a revolt against the Turkic Seljuq rulers of Persia.

As Colin Wilson says in his Encyclopedia of Modern Murderers, Sabah’s self-sacrificing devotees carried out suicide missions against prominent figures in mosques and other public places - the first being the powerful vizier Nizam Al-Mulk - while under the influence of hashish.

Marco Polo too claims that Hassan bin Sabah drugged his would-be apprentice hit-men, transported them into a beautiful garden that posed as Paradise and promised them everlasting bliss on completion of their mission.

From Alamut, the Nizari Ismailis extended their scattered territory to Syria, where they preyed on Crusaders. Their most celebrated victim was Conrad of Montferrat, king of Jerusalem, cut down in 1192 by assassins disguised as Christian monks.

Intoxicated or not, the Hashashin sowed terror among their enemies, although modern historians argue Hassan Sabah was a cool-headed strategist and ascetic who believed in enforcement of his interpretation of Islam and amassed a huge library.

Whatever the truth, the reign of the Hashashin came to an abrupt end in 1256 when the Mongols, sweeping through Persia with scorched-earth tactics, erased Alamut for good.

Like the two sides of a coin, the pilots who smashed their planes into the ill-fated skyscrapers in New York last year were high on religion, and those who dropped fancy bombs such as the Daisy Cutters and so on, on unsuspecting civilian targets in Afghanistan, were high on Dexedrine. Is there a difference?

Pakistan should shut out option of neutral venue: SWINGING DRIVES

By Omar Kureishi


HOCKEY was once the pride and joy of the subcontinent and teams of Pakistan and India used to beat their opponents, willy nilly, by the same margin as they are being beaten lately. The slump in the hockey fortunes is similar to the slump of the West Indies in cricket, from the top of pedestal to all but the bottom of it.

I watch hockey as a spectator as I do all other games barring, of course cricket. I played hockey at school and college but not with the same passion as I did cricket. Pakistan’s defeat in the semi finals in the Manchester Games by the staggering margin of 7-1 at the hands of New Zealand has sent shock waves in hockey circles in Pakistan and as is customary in sports where instant accountability is demanded, there is much sound and fury and former players want heads to roll.

Yet, it should have been obvious that the Asian style of hockey was seriously threatened with the introduction of astro-turf as the playing surface. Poor countries were doomed because there were no grass-roots from where the game is learned. Yet, despite this, Pakistan continued to be a power-house, winning gold in the Olympics, becoming world champions but winning, each time, was more difficult. Given the present rankings, it is a sad irony that both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy were the brainchild of Air Marshal Nur Khan.

I have absolutely no idea why our hockey fortunes have slumped and there is no more Farooq Mazhar around anymore who could have filled me in, Pakistan, however, is not short of experts and they must put their heads together and see where the problems lie.

Harsh words spoken on the spur of the moment must give way to an agonising reappraisal I remember having lunch with a Dutch hockey coach in Eindhoven, a long time ago. He told me that the Europeans were making a mistake by trying to play hockey, “the Asian way.” The Europeans, he had said, should devise their own style, play it more like football. Hockey, he said ominously, will become more physical and artistry will have no place. Could it be, that he was right? I was in no position to argue with him and quickly changed the subject to cricket, The Dutch did play cricket, of sorts.

Australia’s tour of Pakistan seems to be shuttling from the cricket front to a diplomatic one. It has, in vulgar parlance, become a hot potato. I am not impressed by what Mr. John Howard, the Prime Minister has said: that the Australian team’s tour of Pakistan will be decided by the Australian Cricket Board and not by the Australian government. This would be the logical way.

But Australia cancelled its tour of Zimbabwe and don’t anyone tell me that the Australian government did not influence that decision. India’s refusal to play against Pakistan is a political one and the Board of Control for Cricket in India admits it. The Australians have expressed concerns for the safety of its players. The Australian Cricket Board has been assured that its team will get the best possible safety, that should have been enough.

In this troubled world, no one can guarantee more than that. President Musharraf has spoken to Mr Howard. That should have been enough. After all, Australia and Pakistan are coalition partners in the war against terror. One expected something more from Howard than buck-passing.

My personal view is that we should shut out the option of a neutral venue and if the Australians are not prepared to tour Pakistan, then the tour should be cancelled. It should be as simple as that. The ICC is just a toothless tiger and, in any case, as I have written before, there is a lot of Australian clout in the ICC and we should not expect that it will be supportive of Pakistan when it comes to taking on the Australian Cricket Board.

Even if the Australians don’t tour Pakistan, there is a hectic schedule ahead of Pakistan and this will allow the Pakistan players to be in shape for the World Cup. The team now has a settled look and already there is talk of Pakistan being one of the favourites. This might just be the problem. The expectations will be high and this means pressure on the team and the team that wins the World Cup will be the one that best handles the pressure.

I think Waqar Younis is mentally tough enough to provide the leadership. The team is a perfect blend of experience and youth and it will be upto the seniors to bring all their experience to bear on the younger players so that they can give their best. I know that the PCB is aware that the fielding is the weak link. Fielding is all about working at it. It does not need the same natural talent as batting and bowling. Anyone who is supremely fit can become a good fielder. It means hard work. Even Jonty Rhodes works hours everyday practising. From now to the World Cup, fielding should be the main course on the menu.

The triangular in Tangiers pits Pakistan against Sri Lanka and South Africa, both high class fielding sides and that might just be the difference in who wins the tournament. Pakistan will, of course be without Shoaib Akhtar who seems to get into the news even when he is not playing. One hopes that he will grow out of his tantrums.

I am sure that realisation will soon dawn on him that it is Shoaib, the fast bowler that Pakistan needs and not some temperamental show business character. That he is still playing cricket at the highest level in entirely due to the PCB. The cricket world had ganged up against him. It was the PCB and, more specifically, the Chairman who stood up for him.

A positive decision: SINDHI PRESS DIGEST

By Abbas Jalbani


AWAMI AWAZ has welcomed government’s decision to abolish the national assembly seats for technocrats, restore those for minorities and retain the old method (as provided in the 1973 Constitution) for Senate election. Moreover, President Gen Pervez Musharraf has announced that the term of the senate will continue to remain six years.

The government has given no reason for these measures but sources in Islamabad say that the decisions have been made in the basis of the debate over the proposed package of constitutional amendments.

Commenting on these decisions the nespaper says: “During the presentation of the package, the president said that these proposals were open to debate after which a final decision would be taken to adopt them or not.

The recent orders prove that the attitude of the government on the adopting of the amendments is flexible positive. In the same spirit, the president should also refrain from adopting other constitutional amendments and leave them for their parliament as they are being opposed by all and sundry.”

Why do not our politicians talk about public problems, asks Tameer-e-Sindh and goes on to observe:” they keep on talking about the proposed constitutional amendments and against one another but do not bother to discuss the host of problems faced by their voters.

This shows the gulf between our politics and the people, which is not a good omen for democracy. The politicians should make their politics a rescue force for the people so that they, in turn, provide strength to the political process. In this way the politicians will help eliminate the political alienation fast taking root in our society.

Sindhu deplores the war of words in the Aug 4 meeting of the Indus River System Authority over Punjab’s taking water from the Tarbela Dam. The paper writes that despite the objections raised by Sindh, Punjab has been taking water from the Tarbela reservoir due to which its water level is decreasing and consequently water supply to Sindh is reducing.

When the members from Punjab and Sindh exchanged hot words over the issue in Irsa meeting, the authority chairman, Noor Mohammad Baloch, urged the former to take water from the Mangla Dam instead of the Tarbela but the Punjab member, rejecting his orders, insisted that the province would keep on taking water from the Tarbela dam. This situation should invite the intervention of the government to harness Punjab in the larger interest of the country.

Sach writes that the inefficiency of the Sindh Irrigation Department was once again exposed following the 400-foot breach in the Rohri Canal which inundated more than 30 villages and damaged standing crops over a large area. Since hundreds of affected villagers were informed about the breach after its occurrence, they could only rescue their families and had to leave their belongings, including cattle, behind them.

It means an irreparable loss for them, which should be compensated by the government which should also hold an impartial inquiry into the causes of the breach and take stern action against those found responsible.

Besides, a speedy survey should be conducted to point out other places where breaches could occur and the embankments should be strengthened to avoid any future tragedy.

Kawish says that after the outbreak of lieshmania in Sindh, World Health Organization, had recommended a spray to kill sandfly whose bite causes the skin disease. However, the provincial health department failed to conduct the spray and, as a result, after a brief respite from the disease due to seasonal changes, it has again erupted in some parts of Dadu and Larkana districts.

The health authorities should immedciately provide medical aid to the afflicted people, who being poor residents of remote areas cannot afford the treatment cost. It should also arrange anti-sandfly spray in and the around the affected areas before the disease spreads to other parts of the province.

Meeraji — poet with a difference

MEERAJI — an important man of letters — needs to be sympathetically understood and only then could he be vindicated or disparaged.

Born into a Kashmiri family of Gujranwala and named Mohammed Sanaullah Dar, he passed his childhood days in Kucha Sardar Shah, Mozang, Lahore. His father was a railway engineer, so his family had to move from one place to another. He lived in Kathiawar, Bostan (Balochistan), Sanghar and Jacobabad. Jacobabad didn’t appeal him so much so that he tried to run away to Lahore.

At his school in Sanghar he acted in a play and won a prize. He began composing poetry, under the pseudonym of Sasri, when he was at school. From his teenage days he felt attracted towards Hindu mythology and Hindi. That is why we come across Hindi vocabulary in his poetry and prose and letters.

It was from his chance encounter with a Bengali girl, Mira Sen, daughter of an accounts officer serving in Lahore, that he became Krishna of his Radha, Mira Sen, literally living the life of a devotee in a dense, awe-inspiring jungle where, in his wildest imagination, his Radha, with her friends, would come dancing. He literally lived in the world of imagination, not caring what his friends and relatives would think of him.

It was Meeraji’s fondness for Hindi Ras which developed a unique poetics for him. He weaned all the ingredients of poetic freedoms enroute without losing sight of the fact that poetry had to remain poetic, to say the least. I have had the good fortune of listening about his life from Zia Jullundhary, Altaf Gauhar, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and one of his sweethearts as well and the resultant picture that emerges of him is that he was truly a lovable person. Having all the stories of Hindu mythology at his finger tips, having the French symbolists at his beck and call, he truly converted literature into a religion of non-conformists and the way he interpreted — rather analyzed — poetry used to be a great experience for those around him.

After falling in love with Mira Sen, Sanaullah Dar became Meeraji and went on composing poetry of unrequited love. There is a great deal of frustration and desperation in his poems. He was not writing about what it ought to be; rather was it all about what he had become. To explain it a little further, his poetry was of becoming; not of being. And there is a great deal for a progressive to differ from him. Meeraji was not a believer in socialistic realism. He was a great believer in what W. B. Yeats termed animus mundi and Freud called the unconscious. He would love to feel as if he were one of those early Aryans who trekked along the plains of the Punjab. It came easy to him to live in his imagination; and, thus, when we are dealing with Meeraji this obvious condition of his mind should be given due consideration.

Going through Khan Fazl-ur-Rahman’s novel Meeraji, I thought how lovely Meeraji’s image could be. I am not concerned with the real man or the substance that Meeraji was. I am concerned with Meeraji’s concerns — as to how he should be taken. He wanted to see his generation to live a life of love and compassion and sensitive to beauty.

Meeraji was a lovable bohemian. A Lahore publisher has published a novel on his life which could be published in India in the Devnagri script and many a humanist would like to see the justice Rahman has done to a Muslim writer who could be called — culturally — a renegade.

Meeraji’s Is Nazm Mein lives on to prove his seriousness as a critic. I wonder what the exponents of New Poetry have to say about their denunciation of Meeraji and his poetry. The New Critics are not for him because Meeraji has employed conventional language in his poetry. They dubbed his language too, too traditional, so bad that it deserved to be thrown into the River Ravi. In a recent Karachi TV programme some participants were emphatic about Meeraji’s contribution to modern poetry. I wish Dr Jamil Jalibi could do justice by asking the exponents of the New Poetry to explain why they discarded Meeraji as a poet because he composed his thoughts in obsolete and unauthentic language. I also expected the same stand from Talat Husain (TV and film artiste) who possesses a keen insight into modern poetry. I have no grouse against Hasan Abid because he was stating — rather too stubbornly — a known progressive stand; but it is from those participants who were ably supporting Meeraji’s contribution that I expected a dig at the New School critics and poets who have taken a vicarious pleasure in having discarded Meeraji.

If this is so, then it amounts to saying that the progressives don’t like Meeraji because he was a poet who rejected the contemporary ethos — consciousness — from his scheme of things; but why the moderns forgot that Meeraji has totally been discarded by the New Critics — Iftikhar Jalib and Anis Nagi — alike.

Nagi is excusable because he has kept on modifying himself as and when he has thought his position indefensible. There is a natural streak of a ‘survivor’ in him. No complaints. He is one person who had condescended to preside over the liquidation of conventional Urdu poetry and he could be expected to dump Azad Ghazal into the Ravi the day it occurs to him that it is about time.

But a fact is a fact. Meeraji took a U-turn towards the fag-end of his life in Mumbai (then Bombay). One comes across his appearance at Progressive Writers Association’s (PWA) meetings in Mumbai. Hameed Akhtar, a well- known progressive writer, has recorded Meeraji’s return to the fold of the progressives — at least presence-wise in his remarkable book Rooedad-i-Anjuman (1946-47). It is a well-documented record of Mumbai’s PWA meetings and we find Meeraji contributing to the PWA’s deliberations. But Meeraji was not Meeraji if he couldn’t surprise us.

And Meeraji surprised us when he died writing a Tafsir (exegesis) of the Holy Quran. Meeraji died at Mumbai, in 1949, in JJ Hospital, not very far from Bal Thackeray’s house.