DAWN - Opinion; January 30, 2008

January 30, 2008


On preaching to the converted

By Aneela Babar

IN recent weeks madressahs — rather their reform — have once again been making news. It has been announced that the process of ‘mainstreaming’ madressahs has been deferred until a new government is sworn in in Islamabad.

While the task of bringing Pakistani madressahs on board is commendable, what our policymakers fail to acknowledge is the silent revolution that has already swept across the seminaries of late.

The process started with Pakistani families sending their children to seminaries for brief periods of time in pursuit of the 20 marks awarded to a hafiz-i-Quran. What should have been a task pursued mainly for gaining religious merit became a means of social mobility and a conduit to professional and bureaucratic organisations in Pakistan.

Madressah administrators advised parents that hifz could be only undertaken in the formative years. Once their child had enrolled they ensured that he was thoroughly indoctrinated in those initial years and was influenced by the madressah environment. This shaped his outlook in later years. On the completion of the course (when their child was assured the advantage of an additional 20 marks), parents would discontinue seminary education and send their child to what is seen as a ‘secular’ school of their choice.

The madressahs were quick to understand this pattern of dropping out and realised that they had to revamp themselves to retain this fluid population. So the past five years have seen the growing phenomenon of what one can label as ‘hybrid madressahs’ that are registered with the Wafaqul Madaris and the different boards of education in Pakistan.

None of us can escape the plethora of billboards publicising such institutions with the image of a set of scales with a globe in one pan and the Quran in the other — a clichéd theme I dare venture, but emphasising the balance between the secular and religious world they aim to deliver. That such institutes now boast excellent school results (and these are advertised quite prominently in their publicity material) is an added incentive for the Pakistani parent.

The teachers and parents explain such good results as their child becoming more ‘focused’ post-hifz. Here, one must be more pragmatic and question whether the same memorisation skills are now directed at their textbooks. So families who as a rule chose private English-medium education for their children now explored these hybrid institutions to facilitate their child’s entry into a professional college of their choice.

In these hybrid madressahs, five-year-olds are initially placed in groups that emulate the montessori education and play group centres in other private schools in Pakistan. They are taught the Urdu and English alphabet, basic conversation and some numerical skills — albeit with an Islamic character.

Students older than five are placed in a senior group where they are introduced to the Noorani Qaeda (Arabic primer) and a special primer produced by the said institutes. On completion of hifz and nazera the students are prepared to appear for Matric exams in an accelerated six years programme. Though these seminaries follow the curriculum set by the particular Board of Education they are affiliated with, students can take extra classes in Arabic, commentary of the Quran (the commentary is the individual seminary’s) and fiqh (logic). The students, if they wish, can also prepare for and appear in examinations conducted by the federation of madressahs.

The administration and faculty of seminaries interviewed were quite candid in declaring that it is not important that all their students go on to live the life of a religious scholar or a cleric. They see them as majoring in medicine, the liberal arts and engineering. They are investing in a philosophy that once the graduate steps into professional life he/she will have shared religious values and a ready set of all-important ‘connections/linkages’ across society. It is significant to acknowledge the importance of this network of contacts as particular madressah alumni are emerging as parallel ‘old boys clubs’ in Pakistan.

The faculty interviewed was quite adamant in juxtaposing the post 9/11 environment with the aftermath of the War of Independence in 1857 — with Muslims torn between either being with the westerners or ‘without’ them. They explained that seminaries continue to be confused between personalities like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (an advocate of learning English and ‘modern’ sciences) and those that refuse assimilation (as the Darul Uloom Hind). They felt that the Aligarh model continues to be too westernised and the Darul Uloom style divorced from real life; and their compromise is the ideal ‘middle path’ that Islam asks of its followers.

They criticised the madressahs of the past where they had once studied for failing to support women’s pursuit of a religious education. By consciously investing in female enrolments, such seminaries have been rewarded by having fervent advocates in their female alumni as they enter professional colleges and the work sector in Pakistan. The faculty is aware that they stand to gain through their female graduates’ ‘private influence’ in the Pakistani family and in moulding the young woman they can control the middle class Pakistani home.

They are of the view that it is an unfounded fear that if their students master English they will “leave the path of religion to escape to the world of the market”. Their quarrel lies with what ‘doing English’ means in Pakistan and this opens the floodgates of the conflict and struggle over class, ‘old money’, power, politics and having access to the civil and military bureaucracy in Pakistan.

On a number of occasions, madressah administrators were proud to tell me that their particular institute offered ‘secular’ subjects as English, mathematics and Pakistan Studies even before the introduction of the Madressah Reform Project and the setting up of model madressahs by the Pakistani government; therefore, making claims of madressah reform in Pakistan were redundant.

Such institutions also challenge the statistics that the Pakistan government gives out regarding the enrolment rates in seminaries. President Musharraf’s statement on this issue “that only two per cent of Pakistani children go to seminaries” can be challenged as his statistics fail to acknowledge those institutes which are not perceived as conventional madressahs.

The emergence of such hybrid spaces have escaped any earlier research on seminary education in Pakistan that has concentrated on traditional religious seminaries, allegations of terrorism, and at the most the ‘urbanised’ Jamaat ud Dawa associate. It is essential to study such institutes as they signify the changed mindset of civil society in Pakistan and the social and religious revolution that has gripped Pakistan.

The mother of all feminists

By Zafar Masud

DECADES prior to the age of bra-burners and chairpersons, a French intellectual had knocked the received concept of womanhood off its pedestal with the publication of a single book of essays.

The Second Sex that came out in 1949 was ignored by the feminist tidal wave of the 1970s in the United States because it sat ill at ease with the image of the victimised woman that the militants were touting. Audacity and action, its author had maintained in her revolutionary thesis, are deemed exclusively masculine traits only because history and tradition wish it so. That position was discursively stated in the book, leaving the door wide open to women who wished to change the world, but only as determined individuals.

Clamorous victim worship was not the stuff Simone de Beauvoir was made off, nor did she advocate for that matter the belief that women should transform themselves into men in order to be liberated. Beauvoir was many steps ahead of the pre-war suffragettes in the sense that she advocated a second look at the concept of womanhood rather than fighting for the same rights as men.

“You are not born a woman, you become one” was a much reviled, and much misunderstood, message in The Second Sex as it raised questions over the concept of tenderness, affection, even maternity so inherent to femaleness. Beauvoir’s ideas were never espoused for this reason not only by men but women also.

The women in Ayn Rand’s three novels come close to the Beauvoir ideal but two of these books, We the Living (1936) and Fountainhead (1943) were written before The Second Sex, though Atlas Shrugged came out in 1957. However this model was never pursued and feminist literature, especially in the United States, skidded off, especially from the 1970s onwards, to a provocative, bestselling, moneymaking but intellectually barren nose-dive, as in Fear of Flying and an avalanche of other books that missed Beauvoir’s point by the widest possible margin.

In her personal life Simone de Beauvoir would keep true to the promise she had made in her Diary of Youth (Cahiers de jeunesse): “I will set into motion a force, but I’ll myself never take refuge in it.” Throughout her life she would be bitterly criticised by her detractors for what was perceived as her anfractuous writing and would even be ridiculed for her helmet-like hairdo and her hoarse voice, but she would live a passionate life to the end.

Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was born in Paris on Jan 9, 1908. This year her home country paid her an apt tribute on what would have been her 100th birthday were she still alive, through lectures, symposia, readings, discussions, radio and TV programmes, articles in newspapers and magazines and a number of books on her life and works.

A great deal of this was devoted to how she changed the way society, and, most of all, women themselves, looked at womanhood. In the words of Juliette Rennes who teaches political science at the University of Lyon, “Simone de Beauvoir’s founding gesture consists of explaining female nature by the situation of women and not explaining the situation of women by their nature.”

Inevitably as it were, and true to today’s media-oriented context, a great deal of hype was also devoted to Beauvoir’s personal life and her emotional attachments, especially to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, whom she met at Sorbonne in 1929, and to the American writer Nelson Algren. A collection of her 300 letters to Algren was also published in book form. Algren who painted the lower depths of the American society died a broken and unacknowledged man in 1981 and no one seems to remember his work today. But two of his novels were turned into memorable Hollywood movies: ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ with Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ with Laurence Harvey and a very debutante Jane Fonda.

Some of the newspapers and magazines vied with each other in the outsmarting game by bringing forth unknown or little-known details of Beauvoir’s life. One of these merits mention here.

One spring afternoon way back in 1952, in the small apartment that Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir shared in a run-down Chicago neighbourhood, as she was busy arranging her hair in front of the tiny mirror over the washbasin, her feet daintily cambered over white, high-heeled sandals, her only accoutrement at that moment, a gust of wind swung the door open. Art Shay, Algren’s photographer friend who happened to be present, instinctively clicked at the shutter of his Leica. “She saw the flash in the mirror but didn’t turn around,” Shay who is 85 today still remembers; “Naughty boy!” is all she said.

Though Shay has lost the negative since, Parisian weekly le Nouvel Observateur used the black-and-white print to adorn its cover for the issue of Jan 3-9, 2008. Understandably, the spate of feminist hate-mail to the magazine hasn’t stopped yet.

An intensely academic person, Simone de Beauvoir who had degrees in French literature, Greek, Latin, mathematics and philosophy, went on writing essays, novels, plays and autobiographical works practically until her dying day and, it is safe to assume, there would have been neither a Betty Friedan, nor a Kate Millet, Germaine Greer nor a Gloria Steinem without her.

With Sartre she was an ubiquitous presence in the Latin Quarter streets during the 1968 students’ unrest, and throughout the 1960s and 1970s she took active part in the French intellectuals’ movement against the Algerian and Vietnam wars.

The death of Jean-Paul Sartre in 1980 proved to be the last turning point in the life of this great intellectual icon of the 20th century. She would recount in moving details the final days of their half-century-long relationship in The Ceremony of Adieu and Dialogues with Jean-Paul Sartre both books published in 1981. Her own time would come five years later, at age 78, on April 14, 1986. Though her love affair with Nelson Algren had been over for many decades, his gold ring was still on her finger, according to her wish, as she was buried beside Sartre in the Montparnasse cemetery in the heart of Paris.

The writer is a journalist based in Paris.

A recipe for disaster

By Rubina Saigol

AS a post-colonial state that came into being through the amalgamation of ethnically and linguistically diverse regions, Pakistan was conceptualised as a federal state that would accord maximum provincial autonomy to the federating units and ensure the fair distribution of resources among them.

In an ideal federation, only a few subjects like defence, currency, foreign relations and communications belong to the centre while all others are considered provincial subjects. A bicameral legislature ensures that the federating units have parity in the Upper House while representation in the Lower House of parliament is based on the population.

However, in the case of Pakistan, independence from colonial rule became a mere transfer of power from the foreign rulers to the local ruling classes. For the great majority of the people, independence did not bring the promised liberty, justice and equality. Pakistan remained essentially a colonial state where local colonisers replaced the foreign ones. The local ruling classes consolidated their grip on Pakistan’s economic and political resources and developed inter-linkages with the army and bureaucracy to protect their hold on power.

In return, these two non-elected and unrepresentative institutions increasingly strengthened their hold with the army extending its control over land and ultimately the corporate economy.Together the civilian and military rulers created an immensely centralised state that in essence contradicted the notions of provincial autonomy and devolved power. Centralisation of power (reflected in a long list of concurrent subjects in the Constitution) was further enabled through the introduction of authoritarian structures and the state’s version of religious nationalism.

Repeated military interventions gradually changed the structure of the state to such an extent that the roots of both federalism and democracy were weakened. A non-representative body in the form of the National Security Council was empowered to dismiss elected parliaments, and Article 58(2)b was inserted into the Constitution to enable an indirectly elected president to dismiss elected governments. Recent amendments to the Constitution go even further in diminishing citizens’ rights and provincial rights.

In Pakistan’s case, the excessive centralisation of power, coupled with a religion-based nationalism and the dominance of the military, had another important dimension — the association of the state and state power with one ethnic group to the exclusion of others. Owing to the preponderance of Punjabis and, to a lesser extent, Pashtuns, in the army the state came to be viewed as primarily a Punjabi one dominated by a particular version of Sunni Hanafi Islam.

The resulting exclusion was felt not only by other ethnic groups but also by religious and sectarian minorities. As the late scholar Hamza Alavi pointed out, the other groups — the Bengalis, Baloch, Sindhis and Pathans — came to define themselves primarily in ethnic terms.

Conflict has been the inevitable result of the centralisation of power and resources, and the exclusion of large swathes of citizens from the exercise of fundamental rights. Pakistan became a colonial and extractive state fairly early on in its history. East Pakistani jute, Pakistan’s golden fibre, was exported and the foreign exchange earned was spent on developing West Pakistan.

Balochistan’s vast mineral and gas reserves were exploited for development in Punjab while Balochistan remained underdeveloped. Uneven development and colonial policies of extraction, exploitation and the treatment of the smaller provinces as raw-material producing hinterlands, led to the rise of ethnic sentiments occasionally building up to outright secessionist movements as in former East Pakistan.

Resistance to the state manifested itself sometimes in the form of language riots, and at other times in the form of guerilla movements as in Balochistan in the 1950s, the 1970s and more recently since the making of cantonments and the murder of Akbar Bugti in 2006. Occasionally, disaffection with Punjab and the military-dominated state expressed itself through movements for the restoration of democracy in which Sindh was at the forefront in the 1980s.

Far from being a binding force across the provinces, religious nationalism gave rise to ethnic sub-nationalisms in the form of Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun nationalisms. Inter-provincial conflicts over the distribution of water by the Indus River System Authority as well as over the National Finance Commission Award, the building of the Kalabagh dam, cantonments and Gwadar port, and the payment of royalties have intensified over time and the state is widely perceived by the smaller provinces as benefiting Punjab at the expense of Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan.

On the other hand, religious nationalism also generated sectarian conflict as the definition of the state as an ‘Islamic state’ necessarily meant that the state was up for grabs by the sect whose definition of ‘true Islam’ prevailed. Centralisation, authoritarianism and exclusivist nationalism thus engendered a number of conflicts that now threaten to rip apart a federation formed for the pursuit of rights, liberty and justice.

The meticulously planned and executed murder of Benazir Bhutto is the continuation of such conflicts by a short-sighted state focused on the perpetuation of the power of the ruling nexus between a discredited Punjab-based party and the army.

Benazir Bhutto had become an icon of the federation with a following in all the four provinces as well as the harbinger of change because of being associated with moderate, tolerant and liberal values. She was widely seen as the only remaining hope for a true federal parliamentary democracy marked by religious tolerance and respect for diversity. Her ruthless killing which has no resemblance to the Al Qaeda or Taliban modus operandi has brought the state into confrontation with the Sindhis who feel deeply wounded by another leader’s body coming home from Punjab in a coffin — her body riddled with cruel bullets.

The state is similarly engaged in a prolonged civil war in South Waziristan, a conflict which has travelled to the settled areas of the NWFP. And since the killing of Nawab Bugti and the exploitation of the rich deposits of copper and other minerals in Balochistan, the Baloch are also up in arms. Sindhi, Pashtun and Baloch nationalisms are gaining momentum, the more so as the centre is seen in deep alignment with Punjab — a president, who is supposed to represent the federation and be politically neutral, in cahoots with a Punjab-dominated political party and widely seen as planning the rigged return of his party into power.

The state is not even refraining from using the old colonial method of divide and rule — one ethnic group is being pitted against another in public advertisements. Sindhis are being told that a Pashtun killed their leader and Punjabis are being told that the Sindhis destroyed their properties and businesses. Such games are of course designed to strengthen the absolute powers of the military rulers and their civilian collaborators while simultaneously weakening the federating units and their people.

As our history amply testifies, this is a recipe for disaster. Our rulers have a strange proclivity to never learn from history. The lessons of 1971 seem to be forgotten. We deliberately obliterate from memory what we refuse to remember. Will we remember and learn only when another traumatic rupture wakes us up from the deep historical slumber and callous obliviousness?

Removing distortions

By Hafizur Rahman

IN any nation that wilfully decides to commit the crime of genocide and so-called ethnic cleansing through wholesale murder of a disliked community, there is also a strong and vocal section opposed to this barbaric practice.

For instance, we accuse India of employing inhuman methods to deal with the Kashmiris living in its part of the disputed state. But, at the same time, there are human rights activists in that country, as well as a dispassionate press, openly denouncing such actions.

Then why did no one in Serbia raise their voice against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in its dirty deeds reminiscent of the Holocaust in which more than a hundred thousand Muslims lost their lives? Is it that the entire nation was devoid of human feelings? Or was it antipathy towards the victims simply because they were Muslims?

In modern times there have been many characters afflicted by an almost pathological dislike of Muslims and Islam. There are the extremists in India who say that the Indian Muslims should either convert or leave the country and go back to Central Asia. There are similarly obsessed individuals too in many parts of the world, the most prominent among them in recent times was Milosevic who prided himself on killing thousands of Muslims in Bosnia and later had to answer for his crimes before an international tribunal in The Hague.

An answer to these tragic events lies in the teaching of history. The Serbs (and Croats) were taught from the cradle that the Turks had once conquered their country and ruled it for 400 years; they used to take away young boys to Istanbul and bring them up as Muslim Janissaris and then use them against their own people.

All this was hundreds of years ago but sordid details of the Turkish rule are even now ingrained in youthful minds in the Balkans, and purposely so. The result is that the Serbs and Croats and other racial types of the region (including Greek youths) grow up with an imperishable hatred for Muslims. It’s something like the Hindu revenge syndrome against a thousand years of Muslim rule in India.

Intellectuals throughout the world ask the question: cannot history be re-written in a way so as to expunge it of bitterness and animosity – relics of events many centuries old – without distorting the truth? Just as the Muslims of India are helpless against the powerful Hindu community today, the Muslims of the Balkans are equally incapable of inflicting any harm on the local Christians.

I can’t take the liberty of advising my Hindu brothers and sisters across the border, but I can certainly expect sane elements in Pakistani society to think seriously about revising school and college textbooks so that they should reflect history somewhat rationally, and without describing Hindus as double-faced crooks and hypocrites who are out to shed Muslim blood.

Let us not forget that it were always the Muslims who invaded India, and that too not for the glory of Islam. Only Mohammad bin Qasim came for a valid reason but he too couldn’t resist conquering territories north of Sindh, perhaps, because in those times conquest was considered a legitimate activity.

There is this thing about calling names. I read a letter in a newspaper the other day about an Indian diplomat in Islamabad paying a social visit to a friendly Muslim family. It said that a small boy of five or six, coming to know that the guests were from India, began to shout “Hindu kutta! Hindu kutta!” Who had taught him that? His elders or a biased book on social studies digested by his senior brothers and sisters? In any case it can hardly be his fault for he was too young to know what he was doing. But his family should have been ashamed of his uncivil behaviour.

Recently I received an e-mail letter from one Aditya Satsangi in India which is the provocation for this piece. After referring to Pakistan as a failed state, and threatening us with the might of the Indian army and calling us killers of goats and one another, he asked, “Why is it that wherever there are Muslims there is strife and violence? I’ll tell you why. Because you Muslims are all …” What was the need for him to be so bitter and violent?

Some years ago there was a cultural gathering in New Delhi as a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi which was also attended by our historian Dr Mubarak Ali. At this gathering he called for re-writing history of the subcontinent and correcting “historical aberrations,” and putting historical events in their proper perspective, as did the Indian actor-politician Sunil Dutt who too was there. The purpose was to abate the prevailing hatred and misunderstanding between the peoples of India and Pakistan. Both said that textbooks in the two countries had been systematically distorted and that the time had come to reverse the trend.

Actually the history of the subcontinent where it deals with interaction between the Muslims who came from the Middle East or Central Asia and the Hindu communities of India is a complex matter. This interaction should cover religious differences, military overlordship, economic impact, conversions and societal changes, and that it would not lead to new distortions in the process of correcting old ones.

If such an exercise is ever undertaken the aim should be to write a history that is true and realistic, citing the various versions of observers and historians from both the communities in cases where conflict of opinion has always existed, as in cases of Shivaji and Mahmud Ghaznavi. I name them because I cannot think of two better examples of sharp cleavage between perceptions of Hindus and Muslims about hero worship of historical figures.

And if some good is attained, and, in course of time the minds of the two peoples are rid of prejudices that create bitterness and animosity, it would be a great achievement. Then, in another fifty years we would be living like peaceful neighbours, never fighting and never reviling one another for what had happened in the past. The only thing is that cricket matches between India and Pakistan may lose the sting and madness of the Battle of Panipat they evoke now.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2008