DAWN - Editorial; October 03, 2006

October 03, 2006

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Fighting terrorism together

FOR years charges have been levelled against Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, that it has been involved in the terrorism that has destabilised South Asia. But the Pakistan government has always denied these allegations, insisting that the ISI was never involved in any act of terrorism — be it in Afghanistan or in India. Now we have President Pervez Musharraf admitting for the first time in a television interview that some retired ISI officials may be involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan. True, he has not implicated any serving personnel or the agency collectively, but the fact that any Pakistani who has had links with the establishment should be playing a clandestine role in neighbouring countries and using Pakistan’s territory for the purpose should be cause for serious concern.

Seen against this background, the recent British intelligence report claiming that the ISI was indirectly helping the Taliban in Afghanistan acquires a measure of credibility. One will also have to pay more attention to the Afghan president’s charge that ‘outsiders’ are fuelling the war in Afghanistan. Similarly, the Mumbai police chief’s allegation that he has evidence of the ISI masterminding the serial blasts in that city in July cannot be dismissed out of hand. The fact is that the ISI, which was set up in 1948 as the intelligence wing of the army and for years used to spy on the government’s political opponents, expanded into a “state within a state” under General Zia to run the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. From Afghanistan it is known to have moved on to greener pastures as its pan-Islamist, pro-jihad and hardline directors-general virtually ran the country’s foreign policy. It does not seem to have abandoned that role altogether. In any case, now that the president has admitted a degree of involvement by ex-ISI men in terrorism, it is important that this aspect of the matter be investigated. If any Pakistani with ISI connections — old or new — is found to be waging a jihad in Afghanistan, Kashmir or India, he should be punished for acting against state policy.

The revelation comes at an important juncture in our external relations. President Musharraf has only recently taken initiatives to lower the level of violence in Afghanistan and to improve relations with India. Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to work together to fight terrorism by holding two loya jirgas in the border regions on either side of the Durand Line and involving the tribal elders in their effort to root out terrorism. Pakistan has also entered into an agreement with India at the Havana NAM summit to devise a mechanism to curb terrorism in their countries. These moves will succeed only if all countries investigate charges such as the ones given above rather than dismiss them out of hand. Pakistan has made similar charges against RAW, the latest being about its role in Balochistan. If India is involved — officially or unofficially — it should cooperate by looking honestly into the matter rather than having a knee-jerk response of denial. It is time the three countries realised that terrorism is an evil that could undermine the political stability, strategic integrity and social cohesion of each of them. They have a common interest in putting an end to violence in South Asia irrespective of which government’s jurisdiction the war-torn area falls in. It would be the height of folly for any of them to believe that one can prosper by weakening the other. Their fortunes are linked together and they will either swim or sink together.

Fratricide in Gaza

ANY pretext is good enough for Israel to send its troops into Gaza. This time the excuse was provided by the Palestinians as Hamas forces clashed with civil servants demanding wages. On Monday, Hamas announced that work in all government offices would cease following the death of eight people in the clashes, the kidnapping of some ministers a day earlier and the storming of its headquarters in Ramallah by protesters. Israel then moved 50 tanks into northern Gaza, and the Israeli army chief said he was considering an offensive because he feared rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. Sunday’s clashes are a direct result of the failure by Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government. One can understand unrest among the Palestinian Authority’s 165,000 civil servants because they have not received their salaries. Worse still, the PA’s democratic experiment could fail if the fighting turns into a civil war.

The situation would not have taken such a turn if Israel had not withheld the PA’s share of revenues and the US and the European Union had not followed suit by cutting off all non-humanitarian assistance to the Hamas government. The US and the EU also pressured western banks not to undertake the transaction of money given to the PA by some Arab states, Iran and Russia. The idea was to ignite popular discontent against the Hamas government so as to bring it down. One can understand the Israeli action and the support which it was bound to get from the US and the EU, but Hamas and Fatah have not helped matters by not only failing to form a unity government but by resorting to fighting. Gaza and the West Bank are still under occupation, and just the other day an Israeli minister warned that another war could break out in south Lebanon in a few months’ time. This time, the Israeli offensive will be of a much bigger dimension aiming at Hezbollah’s destruction and inflicting greater miseries on the Lebanese people. This demands unity among Arabs and Palestinians rather than fratricide.

Dealing with rabies

ONE hopes that the city government will adopt a sensible approach when dealing with an alarming increase in dog bite cases in Karachi. The National Institute of Child Health said on Thursday that it received as many as 40 dog bite cases a week. If figures from other hospitals were added to it, it is clear that the numbers would be pretty high. The matter is made worse by the fact that many hospitals are lacking in anti-rabies vaccines which, if administered in time, can prevent many health complications. People have been known to die after being bitten by a stray dog because they were unable to get the proper treatment. The situation is indeed a cause for concern and calls for well thought-out strategies to deal with the problems of rabies without endangering the lives of dogs.

First and foremost, hospitals should be adequately equipped with anti-rabies vaccines. This is especially true for hospitals in localities where reports of dog bite cases are high. As for stray dogs themselves, shooting them on sight or poisoning them have never worked. Earlier this year, the naib nazim suggested exporting stray dogs to Korea, ostensibly for culinary purposes, but without realising that dog meat is banned in that country. Clearly, the situation calls for a saner approach. Local animal rights groups have been pleading for employing an animal birth control programme which has been successfully tried in various countries in dealing with rabies. It is cost-effective and humane. These animal rights groups have held meetings with the city administration and the time has come for their points of view to be heeded.

Attacks on religion: a one-sided affair

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi


MUSLIMS and European Christians have interacted now for more than 1,400 years in both war and peace, and it goes without saying that both sides have committed what we today call war crimes.

Yet, there is one set of complaints that has always been and will continue to be one-sided: western Christians regularly hurt Muslim religious feelings; Muslims have never — and are not inherently in a position to — hurt the Christians’ religious feelings for the simple reason that “Christian” prophets and the Bible are part of a Muslim’s fundamental beliefs. If a Muslim does not believe Abraham, Moses and Jesus to be true prophets and their books to be revealed, he will be guilty of blasphemy.

The word “Christians” above has been preceded by “European” or “western” to highlight one fact: the Arab Christians do not at all share their white co-religionists’ hostility towards Islam and the personality of the Holy Prophet. In fact, Arab Christians consider themselves an integral part of the Arab-Islamic civilization, and that is the reason why some of the leading defenders of Arab and Islamic causes in the West happen to be Arab Christians — Edward Said, Yvonne Haddad, Philip K. Hitti, Albert Hourani, etc. Today Arab Christians are as much part of the Palestinian struggle as Muslim Arabs — but this is a subject unto itself.

Why do European Christians (“European” in the broadest possible sense) specialize in defaming Islam? Is there something more to it than 9/11? At least two European scholars use the word “formative” in reference to Europe’s collective psyche as it developed and matured during the Crusades.

One of them is Leopold Weiss, a Hungarian Jew, who later became Muslim and is known to us as Allama Assad. His works include, besides the celebrated book Road to Mecca, an English translation of the Quran. Assad gives historical reasons for the western attitude towards Islam and says “the pronounced contempt” which the Europeans have for other religions is not enough to explain Europe’s “deep-rooted and fanatical aversion” for Islam.

Crusades, he says, occurred in “Europe’s childhood”. As in individuals so also in nations, he says, “the violent impressions of an early childhood persevere, consciously or subconsciously, throughout the later life.” In a chapter entitled “The Shadow of Crusades”, in another of his books, Islam at the Crossroads, Assad says these impressions are “so deeply embossed that they can be only with difficulty, and seldom entirely, removed by the intellectual experiences of the later, more reflective and less emotional age. So it was with the Crusades”.

The West may or may not accept Hindu or Buddhist philosophy, he says, but “it will always preserve a balanced, reflective attitude of mind.” However, as soon as Islam is mentioned, “the balance is disturbed and an emotional bias creeps in.” So it was with the Crusades. They produced “most permanent impressions on the mass psychology of Europe...A wave of intoxication swept over the continent, an elation which overstepped, for some time at least, the barriers between states and nations and classes.

“It was then for the first time in history that Europe conceived itself as a unity — and it was a unity against the world of Islam. We can say...that modern Europe was born out of the spirit of the Crusades. Before that time, there existed Anglo-Saxons and Germans, French and Normans, Italians and Danes: but during the Crusades the new conception of the ‘Western civilization’, a cause common to all European nations, was created: and it was the antagonism against Islam that stood as godfather behind this new creation....

“The evil which the Crusades caused was not restricted to the clang of weapons; it was, first and foremost, an intellectual evil. It consisted in poisoning the European mind against Islam, in the misrepresentation of its teachings and ideals to the ignorant masses of the West.”

Assad’s views, especially those relating to the European psyche, find support from what Karen Armstrong, a British scholar on Islam and comparative religion, has to say, though both lived in different times. Assad lived in times when more or less the entire Muslim world was under European rule; Karen, relatively speaking, lives in modern times when there are over 50 sovereign Muslim states and when the inter-action between Muslims and Christians at non-political, non-military levels — street interaction — has never been more ubiquitous. But, unlike Assad, Karen is not a Muslim.

Author of several books on Islam and other religions, Karen says Crusades destabilised the Middle East but made little impression on the Islamic world. But for Europe, the Crusades were “crucial and formative” because Christendom had just begun “to recover from the long period of barbarism known as the Dark Age, and the Crusades were the first cooperative act of the new Europe...” In a newspaper article (Dawn-Guardian Service, June 21, 2002), Karen says one of the Crusades’ “most enduring legacies is a profound hatred of Islam”.

Karen also links the European bias against Muslims to Islam’s liberal attitude towards women and slaves and the rights it gave to women in terms of property ownership. “At a time when Europe was riddled with hierarchy”, she says, “Islam was presented as an anarchic religion that gave too much respect and freedom to menials, such as slaves and women.” The Quran, for instance, gave women “legal rights of inheritance and divorce, which western women would not receive until the 19th century”. To Europe, thus, Islam became its “shadow-self”, the opposite of everything that the Europeans “thought they were or hoped they were not”.

These views appear again in Karen’s article written in the wake of the Pope’s speech at the Regensburg University (Dawn, Sept 19). Europe’s “mediaeval cast of mind is still alive and well”, she says. As for the fear of Islam in Europe’s subconscious, Karen seems to be echoing Assad when she says, “The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time (Crusades) endured for centuries and revealed a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour”.

As for the charge of “sensualism” against Islam, Karen says that at a time when the popes were encouraging celibacy “on the reluctant clergy, the scholar monks ...condemned Islam — with ill-concealed envy — as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts...” To quote Assad again, “It was then that the ridiculous notion of Islam as a religion of sensualism and brutal violence ... entered the mind of Europe and remained there.”

As for purdah and segregation, Karen says this practice emerged three generations after the birth of Islam and was actually borrowed from Greeks and Christian Byzantium which had long veiled their women.

Group memory also finds a mention in British author William Rushbrooke’s book Pakistan, in which he refers to the European peoples’ “dim memories” of early Islamic conquests and of “fierce non-Christian hordes, Turkish ones now, sweeping across the plains of Hungary to the gates of Vienna”.

While an average European may remember “tales of the conquest by Moors of Spain”, he forgets, “if he knew, about the Moorish civilisation’s superiority to its contemporary Christian rivals further north; its splendid arts, the grace and richness of its architecture,...or the crucial role played by Islamic scholarship...as guardian of the heritage of Greece in fostering European renaissance”. But what the average European remembers, says Rushbrooke, is “the tragic collapse, 500 years ago, before Islamic onslaught, of the Byzantine empire” or “delving deep into European group-memorythe disillusioned, ignominious end of the Crusades”. This group memory, he says, “distorts the Westerner’s attitude towards Islam...”

The Muslims’ inherent inability to hurt Christian and Jewish feelings is an asset for the world. In Jerusalem, Christians do not regard Muslim shrines as holy, while Jews do not hold Muslim and Christian shrines in reverence.

It is Muslims alone who venerate the shrines belonging to all the three faiths. For that reason, Muslims alone are entitled to Jerusalem’s guardianship.

Citizenship classes

IT’S always salutary to ponder what fragments of all the myriad information so painfully acquired at school are actually going to be useful afterwards.

Grappling with rhomboids, trapeziums and parallelograms, or the composition of the earth’s inner core — while occasionally useful for solving crossword puzzles and appearances on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” — never seemed quite as useful as knowing, for example, how to staunch the flow of arterial blood, or indeed being able to remember how to do percentages.

Learning how to be a good citizen, on the other hand, is so obviously necessary that it almost comes as a surprise to learn that citizenship classes have been compulsory for only four years. The introduction of what should amount to a kind of diagram of the pressure points of public life to be downloaded on to the hard drive of every school leaver in Britain is an unmitigated good, an inspired response to the anxieties about alienation and a lack of engagement among young people that are now a preoccupation at every political party conference.

—The Guardian, London