DAWN - Editorial; July 14, 2006

Published July 14, 2006

Israel widens conflict

WHAT began as a small military engagement on the borders of Gaza and Israel last month is now in danger of turning into a full-blown war. First Israel invaded Gaza - a “rescue operation”, as the western media calls it - to recover an Israeli soldier taken prisoner by Palestinian guerillas following an engagement on June 25. This invasion has so far left 23 people killed, including a family of nine, when Israeli jets attacked a three-storey building on Wednesday. Attacking a residential building, with men, women and children in it, is Israel’s normal practice and draws no condemnation from western governments. This has been its standard practice for a long time. On Wednesday, its air force bombed the building because a meeting of Hamas leaders was supposed to be going on. The strike killed not only a local Hamas leader but also his wife and their seven children. The same day Israel unleashed its fury on its northern neighbour by launching a land, air and naval attack that reminds one of its 1982 invasion led by that Zionist mass murderer, Ariel Sharon. It is also for the first time since 1982 Israel has attacked the Beirut airport. Given Arab military powerlessness, it is obvious that Israel will get away with the killing so far of 47 Lebanese civilians. The Israeli action followed a Hezbollah attack on a patrol that left eight Israeli soldiers dead, with two taken prisoner. Statements from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli leaders indicate Tel Aviv will not give up its bid to recover the two Israelis captured by Hezbollah and the one taken prisoner by Hamas last month, but it is also obvious that the three will not be released by Hezbollah and Hamas unless Israel frees some of the Palestinians in Israeli jails. Tel Aviv has indicated that it has no intention of agreeing to a prisoner swap, which means Israeli action in Gaza and Lebanon will continue for a long time, with more civilian blood likely to be shed.

There is no ray hope now for a revival of the peace process. The US and the European Union have made every attempt to destroy the elected Hamas government and made western banks violate professional ethics by asking them to stop the transfer of money from Arab states, and Iran and Russia to the Palestinian Authority. They themselves had cut off all non-humanitarian assistance to the PA, the idea behind choking funds from other sources being to cause a collapse of the Hamas government for its failure to pay salaries to its employees numbering over 150,000. The Hamas government has not only not collapsed, it has implicitly recognized the existence of Israel by accepting the two-state solution. This removed the major objection that Israel had to talks with the Hamas-led PA.

That Tel Aviv should still refuse to open a dialogue with Hamas and instead pursue the military option is a commentary as much on its Zionist mentality as on its backers in America and Europe. The clashes across Israel’s borders with Gaza and Lebanon will continue unless there is an honourable peace. The fundamentals of this peace are that Israel should withdraw from the occupied territories so that a sovereign Palestinian state could come into being. The US and the EU are committed to a two-state solution. Their failure to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the occupied territories constitutes a shameless surrender to historical prejudices.

Azad Kashmir poll results

TO no one’s surprise, the ruling Muslim Conference (MC) has emerged as the largest party in Tuesday’s elections in Azad Kashmir. Given the widespread charges of poll rigging and the fact that the party is known to enjoy the favours of the establishment in Islamabad, the results would have been easily predicted. With the MC leader, Sardar Atiq who is expected to be the new prime minister, being granted an audience, along with his father Sardar Abdul Qayyum, by President Musharraf, and three members of the MC being appointed advisers on the Kashmir Council in Islamabad just a few days before the polls, people knew which way the wind was blowing. Even more questionable was Islamabad’s long established practice of disqualifying parties -two of them this time — which do not uphold Kashmir’s “accession” to Pakistan. This approach has been challenged by international human rights groups.

Despite these negative aspects, people and political parties in the state appear to have fully participated in the electoral exercise. This has been held without fail every five years since the seventies. Seventeen political parties fielded 197 candidates while 172 independents were also in the run. However, indications are that the voters’ turnout was not very high which could be explained by the fact that normality has yet to return to people’s lives after the devastation caused by last October’s earthquake. Whatever might be said about Azad Kashmir’s politics, it is no secret that it is closely intertwined with the political ups and downs in Islamabad. It is no coincidence that the party in power in Muzaffarabad enjoys the blessings of the rulers in Islamabad. Of the 41 seats in Azad Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly, 12 are occupied by members elected from the widely dispersed Kashmiri community in Pakistan. Two of these have been won by the MQM which contested 26 seats. In the present situation, the challenge for Islamabad is to ensure an effective and stable coalition government in Azad Kashmir — while enacting the charade of an “independent” political process there. How much it helps the intra-Kashmir peace process is not very clear.

Unjust & discriminatory

IN REJECTING an amendment to the Citizenship Act which would allow a Pakistani woman to seek citizenship for her foreign husband, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on the Interior has reinforced the belief that women in this country are second class citizens. Not only is the current law discriminatory against women, but it goes against the Constitution which guarantees men and women equal rights. If a Pakistani man’s foreign wife is entitled to citizenship, why is the same not available for a Pakistani woman’s foreign husband? The reasons cited by this committee as well as by another NA standing committee on government assurances which had rejected the same bill in May this year border on the bizarre and ludicrous. It is laughable that the amendment can be perceived as being against national interest as it would pave the way for spies to arrive in the country in droves to marry Pakistani women. Why that is not applicable to foreign women marrying Pakistani men shows how warped the government’s mindset really is on the issue. There are also fears that illegal immigrants will misuse marriage as a ploy to legalise their status, a serious concern no doubt but one that cannot be used as a pretext to deny genuine cases the right to obtain citizenship. It is equally baffling for the committee to argue that granting citizenship to a Pakistani woman’s foreign husband, the country’s social fabric would be at risk.

One hopes this rejection will not dissuade the parliamentarians who tabled the bill from pressing on for its passage. No law can be contrary to the Constitution. On June 28, the Federal Shariat Court exercised its authority and asked the ministries of law and interior to explain in three weeks why this anomaly existed. One hopes that it will justly determine whether this provision of law is discriminatory against women and recommend its amendment.

Friday feature: Nature and knowledge

By Prof Mohammad Rafi

THE Holy Quran stresses that only those activities have intrinsic worth which are beneficial to mankind (13:17). This is the only reliable criterion for judging man’s activities. Throughout the ages, the evolutionary process has resulted in environmental friendly conditions for survival of the different species and heavenly bodies.

The physical world, too, through the same process has become a place fit for man to live in. Had the earth grown hotter, man would have long ago made his exit. Man’s efforts to understand and control nature have been richly rewarded. It is incumbent upon every human to strive (Jihad) and contribute positively towards human development.

Man’s first crude attempt to control physical nature took the form of magic and witchcraft. Later, man relied on his intellect to understand and control nature. However, the ancient belief that nature was unfriendly and alien to man lingered on and influenced great thinkers like Plato who considered the physical world with utter contempt as a mere shadow of Reality.

Even the mystics regard the physical world as essentially evil and seek salvation by avoiding contact with it. They prefer meditation and contemplation in seclusion. Absorbed in himself, he is indifferent to social problems as he is to nature. It never occurs to him that by understanding nature and learning to control its forces, he could make for better progress in self-realisation and self-development.

The Quran puts man in a meaningful relationship with nature. Unlike Hardy and Schopenhauer, who gave a gloomy and pessimistic view of nature, the Quran presents nature as friendly to man, responsive to his intellect and sympathetic to his endeavours. Both man and nature have been created by God and there is no conflict between them. Man can develop only with the help of nature provided he acquires knowledge of nature and utilises it for the achievement of his moral ends in the light of the Divine Guidance.

The knowledge he acquires can help him bend nature to his service. This truth the Quran has expressed in a metaphorical language that the Malaika (forces of nature) prostrated themselves before Adam (Man) (2:34). It further says that “God has pressed into the service of man the Sun and the Moon to perform their courses and He has pressed the night and day into His service.” (14:33). “And He had of service unto you (humans) whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth; it is all from Him. Herein are signs for people who reflect” (45:13).

The physical world or nature is governed by unalterable laws. The destiny of man lies not in turning away from nature, but in making it obey his will. The world, according to the Quran, is not a Maya or shadow. “And we created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain “(38:27). “Allah created the heavens and the earth with Haqq (Truth) (29:44).

To subjugate nature, knowledge is essential. The Quran exhorts man to use his senses and observe nature wisely. Those who do not make proper use of their senses and intelligence sink to the animal level. “Many of the people live a life dooms them to hell” (7:179). The reason for this is that “they have hearts wherewith they understand not and have ears wherewith they hear not and have eyes wherewith they see not “(7:179). In sharp contrast to such people are those who ponder over God’s creation, for they know that “in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day are surely signs for men of understanding” (3:189).

They are the men “Who keep in their mind (the Laws of) Allah standing and sitting and reclining and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth” (3:190). When they observe, study and reflect on the grandeur of nature, they are deeply moved and exclaim, “Our Rabb (nourisher) thou hast not created this in vain” (7:190). The understanding of nature is a continuous process. Nature is full of countless facts and realities. Man, through his efforts and knowledge, unfolds these mysteries and discovers realities which benefit him. He does not invent but discovers. At times he feels that many things are out of his reach and incomprehensible at the present level of his knowledge. With the passage of time, he will surely discover more about nature.

In seeking knowledge, the believers are spurred on by their faith and belief. ‘Iman’ in God may not follow from purely logical arguments; it springs from the direct experience of order, harmony, beauty and balance in nature. The Quran says that these are the visible signs of the invisible Being. “Then in what besides Allah and His signs will they believe? “(45:6).

By insisting that nature provides a pathway to God, the Quran concedes the validity of the so-called ‘natural religion’. It adds, however, that faith induced by contemplation of nature should be reinforced by Revelation. The Quran applies the term “knowledge” neither to something which mere intellect produces, nor to the sense-data collectively but to the product of the interaction of the scenes and the intellect.

Regarding the men of knowledge (ulema), it is clear that they are the ones who have acquired knowledge of nature and the natural phenomena, that is why they are the men whom we call scientists. “Have you not seen that Allah causeth water to fall from the sky and produces therewith fruits of diverse hues ... and of men and beasts and cattle in similar diverse hues. It is the men of knowledge (ulema) among his servants who feel awe and are wonder stuck.” (35:27,28)

The Muslim ulema have for long given up the proper object of study. Absorbed in matters relating to ritual and ceremonial, they could not spare time to observe and study nature. We should reflect on “His signs manifested in the Anfus (human selves) and Afaq (the physical world or nature).( (41:53) The more intimate our contact with nature, the deeper will be our insight into the working of the Divine Law that guides the universe and all creations.

People have now started using the term ‘Deen’ for Islam. Deen is a balanced amalgam of worldly and godly affairs. It is a system through which the permanent values are implemented in a society. Religion, on the other hand, is man’s version of the Divine message and consequently gives birth to sects and sub-sects and each sect believes it is right. That is why Islam as a ‘Deen’ is not theocratic in nature and should not be in the hands of the religious obscurantists. The permanent values of Islam are universal and can be adopted for the benefit of humanity at large.

As regards nations who have gained mastery over the forces of nature but do not utilise it in the light of the Divine laws; they too cannot evade the eventual doom that awaits them. “And verily We had empowered them (nations of the past) with that wherewithal We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and hearts; but their ears and eyes and hearts availed them not since they rejected the revelations of God and what they used to mock befell them.’ (46:26)

Those who turn away from nature and make no attempt to understand and conquer it, live a life of hardship and misery in this world and will find the way to progress blocked in the next world for ‘who is blind here will be blind in the hereafter and yet farther away from the truth”. (17:72)

Subjugating the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind in accordance with the Divine laws and thereby developing one’s self is the essence of Islam. Fourteen centuries ago a group of believers proved that neither the Quranic social order was a utopia, nor the programme laid down to establish it was unworkable. They laid great stress on knowledge, justice and social harmony. Their later generation, however, abandoned that course with the result that they met the same fate as did the past nations who had acted similarly.

Hydrogen bikes

ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY transport is many things but it is hardly sexy. Worthy, yes, but not pulse-racing. That will change when Intelligent Energy’s ENV bike hits the roads.

The world’s first production motorcycle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, the ENV (pronounced “envy”, the perfect thing to go green with) has just picked up a gold award at the prestigious Industrial Design Excellence Awards (Ideas) in the US, putting the va-va-voom into green motoring.

Several things make the ENV stand out: its sleek, silver shark-like shape makes it seem straight out of a sci-fi movie, zipping along at up to 50mph (80kph).

Its hydrogen-powered engine is a proton exchange membrane which creates no pollution, is virtually silent, and can run for as long as four hours or 100 miles on a full tank.

But the most pleasant surprise is that the ENV is a British success story throughout, from the design by Seymourpowell to the early project spun off from Loughborough University. Intelligent Energy plans to start selling the ENV next year, targeting commercial fleet buyers at first but eventually making it available to the public for the same price as a conventional scooter, around 5,000 pounds.

There are still a few problems for potential purchasers, such as where to fill up with hydrogen. The fuel is readily available in bottles but there is only one existing filling station (in Barking).

That will change, as it already has in the US where hydrogen bikes have already been joined by cars and boats.

— The Guardian, London



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