Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

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OVER A COFFEE: Nawaz finally finds the missing E?, The Daily Times, December 27, 2014

In 2014, it is a futile discussion to say that western powers in the 1980s helped in creating jihadi monsters. The principle is simple: even when the fondest pet goes wild one has to put it to rest

Dr Haider Shah

My hometown is red again. As 2014 slowly steps towards the exit gate it takes happy and cheerful children along without asking the shattered parents even once. Numerous tragedies in the past have failed to make terrorism an important frontline national priority. The brutal carnage in the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, seems to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly terrorism has become an imminent existential threat that has caught the attention of our public policymakers.

Before the national elections I had reviewed the new manifesto of the PML-N. As Nawaz Sharif had then declared in a public meeting that his government’s programme would be based on “three Es” — energy, economy and education — I raised my concern that the most important E — extremism — was conspicuously missing from the agenda. Not only that, security of life and property is the basis of the social contract between the state and its citizens, but one may ask if a thriving economy can ever coexist with the menace of extremism?

Once sworn in as the Prime Minister (PM), Nawaz Sharif embarked upon plans to resolve the energy crisis. Announcements for physical infrastructure projects of transportation were also loudly made. As anti-terrorism sounded very feeble in the official discourse, I wrote in this paper even then whether Nawaz could find the missing E. I had hoped that the new government would lift the ban on YouTube. Instead of doing that, when the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) instead banned progressive websites, I had to share my frustration by writing a piece titled, ‘Al Qaeda seizes Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’ (Daily Times, June 7, 2014). We have long been pleading for a paradigm shift in our national thinking on both foreign and internal policies. We were largely ignored. Imran Khan went to the extent of calling us scum and a liberal elite who were just indulging in propaganda to please the US. The new national discourse after the APS attack, however, suggests that what we were consistently arguing, in Faiz’s words, “Ab wohi harf-e-junun sab ki zuban thahri hai” (What was our crazy discourse has now become the popular narrative).

Chronic ailments are seldom remedied by treating the symptoms alone. We have to deal with the root cause of the spread of extremism. We have to humbly acknowledge that our obsession with controlling the affairs of Afghanistan and imposing a solution on the Kashmir issue is a major factor in giving rise to various forms of extremism in the country. We promoted a jihadi discourse in schools’ syllabi and the media and provided training facilities so that militants become an arm of our foreign policy. In 2014, it is a futile discussion to say that western powers in the 1980s helped in creating jihadi monsters. The principle is simple: even when the fondest pet goes wild one has to put it to rest. It, however, amounts to adding insult to injury to discover that Maulana Abdul Aziz, who is using a mosque right in the centre of the federal capital to openly challenge our national sentiment by supporting Taliban militants, is a government employee. What we now need is a comprehensive anti-extremism strategy that does not rest on any ideological beliefs or preconceived notions.

Religion-inspired insurgency is complex as it has the ingredients of anti-US jihadi warriors, sectarian killers and idealist obscurantists who wish to first destroy the existing state along anarchist lines and then establish their imagined idealist society. There should be one cardinal principle that should inform the anti-extremism strategy: nothing is holier than the life of any Pakistani citizen. Only the state has the authority to deprive any citizen of life under due process of law or inflict any other injury. No one, under any pretext, can assume this authority. And anyone, whether a Talib, a Sipah-e-Sahaba follower or Mumtaz Qadri, who exercises this authority to kill others for their faith, is a terrorist and the law should not differentiate between any of these. The Pakistani Taliban and sectarian hatemongers have been offered many chances to return to mainstream civil society but the offer was never availed.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah promised in his maiden speech in the Constituent Assembly that Pakistanis would enjoy religious freedom in a progressive and thriving Pakistan. Can Nawaz Sharif prove himself a genuine successor of Jinnah? We want to be an emerging economic tiger like India and Brazil. In order to attain that desired ideal we need to have an anti-extremism policy that encompasses all spheres of our socio-economic life. The syllabi of mainstream and religious institutions will have to be purged of any extremist content. Media and educational institutions need to discourage the unbridled discourse of hate and should instead promote critical, rationalist thinking. Those who challenge the writ of the state should be summarily taken out of business. Like energy, extremism can also not be defeated with a business-as-usual approach. One hopes that Nawaz has finally found the missing ‘E’ and that the national war will be waged not just against FATA-based militants but also against all those who promote the Taliban way of thinking in society.

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OVER A COFFEE: From Aasia to Junaid: the monster devours all, The Daily Times, December 13, 2014

Unfortunately, often the first deadly symptom of born again faithfuls is the tendency to consider females inferior to men. This is a great disservice that clerics like Maulana Tariq Jamil are doing to society

Dr Haider Shah

The demon of blasphemy has gone berserk. After targeting the poor, illiterate and deprived sections of our society it has turned its attention towards those who live off the fat of the land. How life suddenly turned topsy-turvy for the stylish morning anchor Shaista Wahidi when a mischief monger from a rival channel actively promoted a blasphemy allegation against her morning show we have already seen in the recent past. So potent is the weapon of the blasphemy charge that the biggest private channel in the country was stabbed and wounded by a handful of hardwired instigators. And now blasphemy has the most interesting victim. The pop singer-turned-cleric-cum-fashion designer Junaid Jamshed is now in the jaws of this demon.

In all honesty, while I feel a bit sorry for the hapless sermoniser on the one hand, I draw some comfort from the fact as well that now the potential destructive power of the blasphemy laws and related rhetoric can be seen in its full, horrific detail. This latest episode again reminds me of the story of two cadaver (corpse for anatomy) supply criminals, which I narrated in a column about two years ago. Burke and Hare, two poor opportunists from a 19th century Edinburgh slum area, accidently found a new moneymaking opportunity by supplying the corpse of an old tenant to Dr Knox of the University of Edinburgh to reclaim the debt the dead tenant owed them. Like vultures, they started spotting old and abandoned persons and would bring them to their lodging to let them die and, realising profit from the corpse supply to Dr Knox, instead of waiting for natural death, they started suffocating their drunk victims to death for a quicker delivery. After some local uproar over the missing persons, the police arrested the criminals when one day a student of the university was murdered by the two and his corpse was supplied to the medical school. As long as blasphemy had its jaws upon the poor like Aasia, Rimsha and Shama Bibi, little did we care about the issue. A little alarm was caused when, more recently, two Karachi University Religious Studies professors were killed in broad daylight over alleged blasphemy charges. However, for the first time, we see the sinister shadow falling upon someone who had iconised faith-coated piety for the rich and fashionable. Using his celebrity status he became a very sought after showbiz cleric, threatening the monopoly of the likes of Aamir Liaqat.

On the Rationalist Society forum we have had frequent discussions over many misogynist statements made by Junaid Jamshed. Unfortunately, often the first deadly symptom of born again faithfuls is the tendency to consider females inferior to men. This is a great disservice that clerics like Maulana Tariq Jamil are doing to society when they turn useful contributors of social services into self-centred male chauvinists. Jamshed’s music was a source of comfort to millions of music lovers who would listen to his songs to neutralise the toxic effect of our stressful lives. Ever since Junaid Jamshed became Tariq Jamil’s disciple, the country lost that singer. Instead was born a highly arrogant male chauvinist who equated piety with the propagation of irrational views about women’s role in society. On one programme he forced a morning show host to wear a hijab and then went on declaring that he had banned his wife’s driving as that was against Islam. His recent outburst against women that has led to him becoming a fugitive is therefore just a manifestation of his newly prejudiced thinking, installed by the Tableeghi programmers in his brain. In that way, Junaid is himself a victim of surgery gone wrong.

In Pakistan, hypocrisy is institutionalised on various levels of society. Junaid Jamshed constantly issued venomous statements against the 100 million living females of Pakistan yet he remained a darling of the media and its viewers. Neither was he ever boycotted nor did his super expensive apparel business suffer. However, hardly had he uttered something that referred to a personality from the distant past, so strong was the reaction that he had to flee alive from his dil dil Pakistan. Day and night Junaid Jamshed taught us that secularism was a synonym for evil. Today he has found refuge in the streets of London, a secular, evil city. The supporters of Junaid Jamshed rightly argue that he should be forgiven after he has apologised for his comments. But if we compare the cases of Aasia and Jamshed, we find Aasia a much more sympathy-deserving case. In Jamshed’s case the evidence of blasphemy is well established and irrefutable. In Aasia’s case the evidence is based on hearsay as no documentary proof is on record. Secondly, Junaid Jamshed made the comments fully knowing the nature of his offence as he has made a living out of religious sermons. Aasia is an illiterate, poor, rural Christian woman who cannot be imagined to fully appreciate the nature of blasphemy and related law.

A Baltistan’s judge’s verdict against Veena Malik, Dr Shaista Wahidi and Mir Shakilur Rehman had already shown that the blasphemy law was like a loaded pistol left unguarded in a house full of children. Now, after Junaid Jamshed’s case, no one should feel safe from the pernicious reach of the tentacles of blasphemy. Pakistani society and its sensible opinion makers should revisit this burning issue as sleeping over grave matters is hardly a strategy at all.