Turbulence over cartoons
SIXTEEN persons die in cartoon protests in Nigeria. At least nine killed in Libya in clashes over cartoons; 12 killed in Afghan protests and five in Pakistan this week.
* A minister in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Haji Yaqub, announces an $11 million reward for anyone who beheads the cartoonist who drew the images. Peshawar cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi offers Rs 7.5 million and a car to anyone who kills the cartoonist
* The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) last Monday vowed to continue protesting against cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) until the European newspapers that published the caricatures apologise and pledge not to print such material in future. The religious parties’ alliance will organize nationwide protests on February 24, and in Lahore on February 26. The MMA has also called a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike on March 3, when rallies are planned in several other Muslim countries. The alliance will hold a “million march” in Karachi on March 5 and the MMA Supreme Council will meet in Quetta on March 7 to plan future protests.
* Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller says “All extremists will exploit the situation. Al-Qaeda, too, will use it and fan the fire.”
In the view of foreign observers, this has been one of the worst weeks of street violence Pakistan has seen in years, with rallies resorting to major acts of civil disorder. How did things come to this pass? How did the initial muted outrage over the publication of inflammatory cartoons in a minor, limited circulation Danish newspaper reach the stage where the masses in almost all the countries of the Muslim world and Muslim communities in other countries appear intent on destroying their own properties killing their own people or, at the very least, disrupting economic activity and bringing to the verge of starvation the daily wage earners that abound in each of these countries and communities?
Initially, after the cartoons first appeared on September 30, nothing of this nature appeared to be on the cards. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, popular online newspaper the Rakyat Merdeka published the cartoons on October 13 on its website and evoked no reaction. They republished them on October 22 and again elicited no reaction. On Feb 2 however, when one of the cartoons was put up on the website, there was such an immediate and angry reaction that the publisher pulled it off the website twelve hours later.
The key development between the initial appearance of the cartoons and the current turbulence across the Muslim world was not the refusal of the Danish government to offer an apology, the Danish cartoonist’s assertion that he was unapologetic, the tour of the Middle Eastern countries by Muslim clerics from Denmark and other Nordic countries triggered anger and fury.
The adoption of a resolution at the OIC summit in Makkah in December which expressed “concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Mohammad in the media of certain countries” as well as over “using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions”, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s publication on its website, later that month, of a statement condemning “the aggressive campaign waged against Islam and its Prophet” by Jyllands-Posten sent the ball rolling.
Calling for the member nations to impose a boycott on Denmark, the decision by Saudi Arabia on Jan. 26 to recall its ambassador to Denmark, the call by Saudi clerics for a boycott of Danish products which led to most being pulled off supermarket shelves — all were important manifestations of the outrage felt in the Islamic world and demands for corrective action to be taken. They were not provocative and they involved no threat to life or property.
The Danes are keen to defuse the crisis. Even while representing a right wing political party, the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen told Danish television, “I personally have such respect for people’s religious feelings that I personally would not have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or other religious figures in such a manner that would offend other people.” Carsten Juste, editor in chief of Jyllands-Posten, issued a similar statement. “In our opinion, the 12 drawings were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims, for which we apologise.” Many in the Muslim world felt that this was not enough but matters may well have rested there and the controversy would have continued only in terms of extracting some more concrete expression of regret on behalf of the Danish government.
The red rag was provided by the decision of the Die Welt in Berlin to consider the half apology by the “Jyllands Posten”, as an affront and an alarming defeat for Europe’s tradition of free speech. He decided to publish a story on the subject and to reproduce the offending cartoons. At least six other major European newspapers followed Die Welt’s example.
The editor justified his action even while deeming the cartoons “ridiculous” on the ground that “you don’t deliberately stir up religious hatred, but, sorry, we live in a secular country in the West. It’s part of our culture. It’s just not possible that our culture gets somehow penalized by threats.” When asked how he squared this with the fact that in Germany it is a crime to deny or question or minimize the Holocaust and why the Muslims were not right in suggesting that this showed the existence of a double standard, he maintained that “It’s not a double standard because it’s the right of every culture to have its own taboos.”
He went on to explain that given Germany’s painful history with the Nazis and the Holocaust, German society had chosen to establish certain limits on free speech. He said people in Germany must abide by those laws, just as people in Muslim countries must abide by the laws and traditions of lands.
While many newspapers and others in Europe balked at accepting this facile explanation, some of the most prominent newspapers did so and that is when the world exploded. In the Muslim countries this took the unfortunate form illustrated by the headlines quoted at the beginning of this article. In Europe and partly in America it took the more peaceful but equally ominous form of vociferous comment that reveal the degree to which there is the perception of a total incompatibility between the West and the world of Islam and on a political plane a condemnation of the use of this issue to foment further violence. But this too is not the full story.
In Lebanon the demonstrations brought to the fore the country’s religious and sectarian divide arousing fears that the Maronite Christians were being made targets for political purposes. In Syria and Iran the attacks on the Danish and other European embassies became a means of strengthening the government’s support among the masses against western pressures. In Palestine the Hamas victory would not, it was believed, lead to “Islamization” because the vote was “anti-Fatah maladministration” rather than “pro-Hamas Islamization” but this issue and the riots it triggered in the occupied territories has probably given fresh impetus to the “Islamization” programme that some Hamas leaders intend pursuing.
Before turning to Pakistan which I believe is the country in which the issue is being used to serve the interests of the religious parties, let us look at Europe and America. In Europe (excluding Russia) there are some 20 million Muslims. It is said to be the fastest growing religions community in the region, the growth being owed largely to higher birth rates among the Muslims and continuing economic immigration. There has been a growing mistrust of the Muslims who are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
The xenophobic attitude of many in Europe has been strengthened particularly after 9/11 by the highlighting in the European press of the actions of extremists. The terrorist attacks in Madrid, the killing of the Dutch artist in Holland, and most recently the subway terrorist attacks in London in July have added to the fears and apprehensions that local Europeans entertained about the Muslim immigrants and will ensure that the Algerians in France or the Turks in Germany will remain for all practical purposes an outcast even when they born and bred in Europe.
The fear that there is an unbridgeable incompatibility between Muslim and western values has more than anything else prompted the “Die Welt” and other European newspapers which followed its lead to fuel the controversy. As it continues, it will only get worse. The Muslims, already in dire straits, will see their situation worsen and will have no choice but to accept because the alternative of returning to their countries of origin will leave them even worse off economically. Every riot in the Islamic world even when it kills or maims its own people and destroys Muslim property only confirms the worst fears of the Europeans and makes them even more suspicious of the Muslims in their midst. If we are concerned about the welfare of the Ummah, we should be restrained if only to ensure the wellbeing of the European Muslims.
In America where the “melting pot” had theoretically kept discrimination against Muslims at a far lower level the situation changed after 9/11. Now xenophobia is gaining ground. The American government started with condemning the publication of the offending cartoons but now the focus appears to be on the violence that it has engendered in the Muslim world strengthening the perception of Islam as a violent religion.
Today, there is sharp criticism in the American Congress of the fact that the Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates has by virtue of its purchase of the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. secured the contract for port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. All indications are that the contract will be cancelled since, as one US Senator put it, “it is ridiculous to say you’re taking secret steps to make sure that it’s okay for a nation that had ties to 9/11, [to] take over part of our port operations in many of our largest ports. This has to stop.”
In Pakistan Qazi Hussain Ahmad made it clear that the programme of demonstrations is intended to achieve a change of regime. What is less clear, however, is why the government appears to be cooperating.
Demonstrations by other parties have been stopped and they will join the MMA demonstrations but with the vital difference that the MMA will be in the vanguard. How this will help the economic climate and how this will attract foreign investment is something the government should consider. It should also consider whether in these circumstances President Bush will be allowed by his security handlers to visit Pakistan even for a comparatively short stay that is apparently being planned.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Is this the infamous clash?
ARE we witnessing today the clash of civilizations predicted by Samuel Huntington after the Cold War ended? One would have liked to believe that this is not the clash. But how else would one interpret the calculated publication of the blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet(PBUH) — they were actually commissioned by the culture editor — by the Danish weekly, Jyllands-Posten and the violent reaction they have provoked in the Muslim world — again incited by a group of extremist Muslims.
What needs to be noted is that the civilizations that are clashing are not those of the Muslims and the Christians. The confrontation is between two cultures, that of the fanatical extremists on either side. There are the demonstrators all over the Muslim world who are going overboard in their protests against those they hate (their government, the Americans and anyone they have a grouse against) and they are using the cartoon episode to mobilize public support. Over 30 people have already lost their lives on account of the violence unleashed. There are others, mainly Europeans, who are concealing in a subtle manner their racism in the name of freedom of expression and secularism.
Unfortunately, in this clash the Muslims appear to be on the losing side. One can understand that the odious nature of the drawings and more so the malicious intent of their creator and publisher would provoke even the most level-headed, calm and composed of Muslims. But then does that merit a continuing wave of protests accompanied with violence? A dignified protest, such as the silent march of the parliamentarians suggested by the PPPP MNA, Aitezaz Ahsan, would have been sufficient to make the point that Muslim sentiments had been hurt.
The unending nature of the protest is shocking because it amounts to giving these dubious pieces of art more importance than they really deserve. And what has been the result? The paroxysm of anger that has been generated has virtually played into the hands of those whose motive in undertaking this project was to test the waters and prove if they could that Muslims are a violent breed.
The first demonstration by Muslims in Copenhagen soon after the publication of the cartoons in September was peaceful and logically the matter should have ended there. But it didn’t. As pointed out in a BBC programme by Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, a rare voice of sanity in the Islamic world and a key spokesman for the Muslims in the inter-faith dialogue, some vested interests stoked the fires to agitate the Muslims. This was a risky venture as the Muslim societies are reputed to be volatile and get agitated at the drop of a hat.
When there was not enough of a reaction a delegation of some Danish Muslim hardliners visited Cairo, Damascus and Beirut with a 43-page dossier and the original cartoons to plead their case. The idea was to incite a public reaction which they managed to get in the form of a meeting of leaders from 57 Muslim states who condemned the desecration of the image of the Prophet. That set the ball rolling. More European papers reproduced the offensive pictures in the name of freedom of expression and all hell broke loose.
The West also has its fundamentalists — not necessarily of the religious kind but the so-called champions of cultural freedom, racism and human rights. How else would one describe the Italian minister who had the cartoons emblazoned across his T-shirt or the editors of the newspapers who reprinted the cartoons in support of their professional colleague’s right of freedom of expression? They are no better than the demonstrators in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar who ransacked banks and shops while chanting slogans denouncing the cartoons.
That all this was not spontaneous but planned is plain from the fact that it took three months for the frenzy to build up. Now the moot question is, what has anyone stood to gain from this continuing turmoil? Only the extremist elements and the fanatics on the fringes on both sides have entered the fray and are deriving some sort of pleasure from it.
When the dust ultimately settles, as it must, it is the Muslim world that will emerge the loser for two reasons. First, the kind of reaction we are witnessing has gone beyond all rational limits. Those inciting the protests are using the occasion to give vent to all their animosity against a) the West, b) all other religions and c) against their own political rulers who they oppose. Since the demonstrators feel the more vehement and the more vitriolic they are protesting the greater impact they make. Secondly, if it actually comes to an encounter — even a non-military one — between the Muslims and the non-Muslim world we stand no chance of winning the war against “the infidels” to use the term of the religious bigots.
The fact is that this kind of protest is not bridging the gap between the two sides. In fact the middle ground between them — comprising the moderate, peace loving, tolerant people who abhor racism, religious extremism and show respect for other faiths and culture — is rapidly shrinking. This is the worst repercussion the cartoons and the protests have produced. The extremists on both sides wanted this to happen because they feel their strength is eroded by the huge numbers on both sides who share a common ideal of peace, tolerance and enlightenment. This middle ground acts as a buffer and prevents a confrontation. The extremists who are spoiling for a fight want this middle force to be marginalized and eliminated.
This middle force believes in a dialogue to sort out differences and insists on people showing respect and tolerance for every faith. The people trying to do it might be simple folk or world personalities. Thus people like Bill Clinton, Prince Hassan bin Talal or Kamila Shamsie writing in The New York Times are saying the same thing in different words. There is the Shia orator a friend mentioned in her letter from London. She wrote, “On Saturday I had a new experience of attending a majlis in a church with a Christian priest and Maulana Jan Ali Shah conducting it before a mixed Muslim and Christian congregation sitting together. Both sides talked about the similarity in the Christian’s and Muslim’s idea of loving God and the suffering of Jesus and Imam Husain. I listen to Jan Ali Shah on TV. Here he is trying to unite the Sunnis and the Shias. Then he wants to bring the Christians and the Muslims together. May Allah make his dream come true.” Anything wrong in that?
If the voices of moderation fail and a clash of civilizations were to ensue, the Muslims would be the losers. Whatever we might boast about the strength of our faith, the Muslims are without doubt the weaker side. Numerically, Muslims living in Muslim majority states constitute barely 20 per cent of the total world population.
In terms of education, skill and technology they are the most backward lot with more than a third of them not even being able to read and write. Economically many of them are endowed with a wealth of resources. But what are these used for? Not to strengthen human resources and make them fighting fit to take on any contingency.
The inequitable distribution of incomes and the concentration of wealth in a few hands in Muslim countries show that the bulk of the people are deprived, disadvantaged and with no motivation to struggle for a cause. Does it surprise you to read that in Nigeria (an oil-rich OIC member) the Gini index that is a measure of equality (0 being perfect equality), is 50.6 when it is 25 in the Scandinavian countries? It is the OIC that has the dubious honour of having members where a number of countries have more than 40 per cent of their population living below the poverty line — Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Yemen.
So it is time the leaders organizing these rallies stopped and pondered the consequences of their suicidal acts. They are playing into the hands of the extremists on the other side who want to provoke a confrontation in which the Muslims stand no chance of winning. And if these rallies are designed to serve the organizers’ political aims, it is time they stopped exploiting religion for their political gains.
A brand new concept
IN the world of today, new terms and expressions, and new institutions keep cropping up every now and then, especially in the field of trade and finance. They also get introduced in Pakistan, and this has been more noticeable ever since Mr Shaukat Aziz took up the portfolio of financial affairs, which he still holds as prime minister.
The latest is the Competitive Support Fund (CSF) which is still in its infancy. That is why so few people know about it. The CSF is based on the theory that inefficient producers cannot survive in the prevailing trade regime, and is being launched by the federal ministry of finance, along with several initiatives aimed at re-positioning Pakistan globally on a more competitive footing. This is expected to yield higher productivity, increased innovation and an economy that can compete with better quality of services.
The CSF is Pakistan’s flagship initiative, identified and designed as part of the USAID-funded Pakistan Initiative for Strategic Development. It grew out of an exercise that identified a gap in Pakistan’s efforts to become more competitive. These efforts reflect the need for a vehicle to finance and support interventions that drive innovation, promote cluster development and establish linkages between academia and industry. They are also expected to encourage formation of business incubator programmes, promote enterprise development, create better jobs and boost economic growth.
In order to ensure a go-ahead spirit, the CSF will be autonomous and run by professionals on a purely private sector basis without interference in its decision making. Its structure is based on international best practices found in more successful competitive economies like those of India, Thailand, Turkey, Ireland and Finland, and yet tailored to Pakistan’s socio-economic environment. Among other donors, USAID has formally agreed to a financial contribution of about $12 million for the first three years, all donor contributions being matched by Pakistan government funding.
The impact of efficiency achieved through enhanced competitiveness can be judged from the performance of some Asian economies during the last four decades. Thailand’s exports stood at $430 million in 1960 and rose to $68.62 billion by 2002. Malaysia exported goods worth $1.23 billion in 1960 that went up to $95,65 billion in 2002. Korea’s exports expanded from $30 million only in 1960 to a whopping $162.4 billion by 2002. Pakistan’s progress in this regard has been nowhere near these countries.
As readers must no doubt have noted, I do not write on economic and financial subjects, but the CSF has enthused me so much that I have been obliged to pay attention to its phenomenal progress. I found that states with successful economies learnt much earlier that the private sector on its own cannot achieve the kind of efficiency required to compete in world trade. Their governments had to provide an enabling environment through enterprising trade policies. In short, instead of protecting their entrepreneurs they exposed them to international competition.
For example, look at Pakistan’s textile field. The country had the advantage of having its own cotton, a cheap labour force, and most modern state of the art textile machines. Yet China and India, with relatively inferior machines and a higher-paid labour force, stormed the world textile trade last year. Pakistan, on the other hand, could barely manage to maintain its average growth witnessed during the last five years of the quota regime. Even non-cotton producing countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam outpaced Pakistan in textile growth during the same period.
The CSF has been formed primarily in the light of broader economic realities, especially to catch up with the economic march achieved by China, India and Thailand, and its exercise identified the gap in Pakistan’s efforts to become more competitive. It is due to provide a platform for Pakistan’s competitiveness initiatives and economic policy reforms intended to create higher value and increase productivity. Furthermore it will help to improve the legal framework which is vital for economic growth vis-a-vis insolvency, competition law, intellectual property protection, etc.
Indications are that the government has at last realized that the country’s economy lacks the competitive edge that is necessary for it to emerge as a major player in the world economy. That is why it has promised to provide matching funds to achieve the target amount of $50 million. Minister of State for Finance Omar Ayub Khan believes the CSF is a good omen for the economy. As its chairman he is taking personal interest in it and is said to be fully aware of the challenges faced by Pakistan in this regard. He outlined these challenges and initiatives in his keynote address at the 8th Annual Conference of Competitiveness Institute in Hong Kong last year.
I have gone through the relevant literature and would like the authorities to ensure that this initiative is not compromised like similar efforts made in the past. In fact the initiative is not new. Past regimes have undertaken similar exercises under different names. Some of these initiatives paid off well, though subsequent governments either shelved them or nullified them under political influence.
For instance, the Punjab Small Industries Corporation facilitated for small entrepreneurs. It imported state of the art expensive machines in the ‘60s and ‘70s for ceramics, light engineering and sports goods industries. However, by a quirk of bureaucratic management the centres established by it were closed, without stating any reason.
I must stress that mistakes committed in the past should not be allowed to be repeated now. There should be a law this time that ensures the upgradation of these centres at intervals ranging from 3.5 years. I must be borne in mind that the CSF will not be able to deliver if it lacks support from other government institutions. It is a hard road ahead.
A good work done through the CSF might be spoiled by an inefficient and slow bureaucracy that has weakened most government institutions. That is why the donors have decided to take the media on board. Starting from this year, media representatives from Pakistan will fully participate at the Stanford University Innovation & Competitiveness Journalism Fellowship Programme with support from USAID. That is one reason for my enthusiasm for the CSF.