Monday, November 26, 2007

The Pretense of Democracy


Maryam Sakeenah

'No timeframe for elections', the headlines blared as the latest from the President. The next day, a stunning somersault after the storm the statement had kicked up: 'Elections to be held in January.'

This might be great news, but it doesn't make a lot of us any less despairing of the state of affairs. The stroke was played with ingenuity for it will buy the General more time to let the raids, crackdowns, arrests, operations, police-boot-kicks-in-faces and baton-charging of lawyers, professors and students go on. After all, the ends justify the means. The great end in sight is the Restoration of True Democracy, as defined by the Father of True Democracy. To this end, the forthright soldier is committed. The announcement will help quieten down the endless stream of criticism directed at the unscrupulous regime from the outside world. The fragile 'progressive image', so painstakingly put up with all the marathons, Sufism conferences, obscenity galore and crackdowns on madrassahs and masjids is at stake.

The General is intelligent. He knows showing a simple readiness to hold elections can be a great whitewash for all the crimes, the high-handedness, the atrocities. He knows Democracy is the Elusive Beloved, the be-all and end-all of our political endeavour, the one thing to be lived and died for. And, all said and done, he knows we don't know a jack about what democracy means.

He is right. For this is why democracy here is little more than a magic word you use and abuse as a justification, an excuse and a vindication for a regime's dirty methods. All dictators have used the rhetoric of democracy to keep the nation dumbed down. It is all being done to strengthen 'true democracy', you know. we all serve that one great end, and have been serving it these past 60 years.

And yet, I repeat: we don't know a jack about what democracy means or what it truly involves. To us, democracy is a periodic balloting exercise. Full Stop. We know little more than that, and this is why holding a vote becomes the one criterion for any regime to get its legitimacy or to win approval for its methods. And this is exactly why Musharraf had to announce elections: the disquiet around the world needs a hushing up. The magic wand of the declaration to allow a vote has done the job remarkably. However, a vote held under a regime with credentials such as these has no credibility and is a very flimsy cover for its illegitimate methods. But then, who wants to dig in that deep?

The celebrated declaration doesn't brighten up the faces around me. It doesn't bring a promise of deliverance. It means little as life goes on with its vicious monotony, sun up to sun down, leaving the common man to bear his ordained lot.

Notwithstanding the frequency of election dramatics, our socio-political setup is a messed up morass of feudal hierarchies, a patriarchal setup where clout and political weight, pressure groups, lobbies, rhetoric and demagoguery count. The system breeds poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, misery and helps to maintain the status quo for its self-perpetuation.

Because the ignorant, illiterate man can never acquire the political consciousness to discriminate. He can never question why or stand up for his right. The hungry man will be so completely trapped in his hand-to-mouth existence, he wouldn't ever think beyond the next meal. The human being trapped in a minimal existence is the politician's strength. His stunted mind, his minimal self can never threaten. Like the sheep who are taught to keep up the chorus, 'Four legs good, two legs bad,' and overnight, are taught to unlearn and relearn the expediently modified version: 'Four legs good, two legs better.' The rhetoric does the trick: for the glorification of he State. For welfare, progress, development, freedom, democracy. The sheep keep bleating in chorus reassuringly, and the leader keeps up the chest-thumping, his rhetoric heavily laden with the glamorous word, 'democracy.'

Despite the electoral exercises, the voting and the ballot box, such a system cannot but throw up leaders of the same crop. The system is designed to create more of the same, to give security and perpetuation to the status-quo and to bring into power people who do not threaten the system with promise of change but in fact are products of it and dependent on it for political survival. So long as feudalism, social inequality and injustice thrive, the system will never bring to the fore any freshness. Making a graduate degree a necessary condition for an assembly seat will only bring in more fake degrees. Increasing women seats in the assembly will only bring in wives, daughters and sisters of the same crop. Implanting an election exercise on top of a rotten system can never truly democratize. It keeps bringing in, by turn, the same sequence of faces. The change has to be from the grassroots.

Plato believed that democracy of the vote was a self-destructive system because, as Will Durant interprets him, "the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best people and the wisest courses to take. To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play. The crowd so loves rhetoric and flattery, that at last the wiliest, calling himself the 'protector of the people', rises to power. In democracy we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. The people blindly elect the lesser of two evils presented to them as candidates by the nominating cliques. To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office and selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good_ that is the problem of political philosophy."

To create such a system, there needs to be done an overhauling of the status quo from the grassroots, and without the hypocrisy of voting. Durant, commenting on Platonic thought further writes, "True democracy means perfect equality of opportunity, especially in education, not the rotation of every Tom, Dick and Harry in public office. Public officials shall be chosen not by votes nor by secret cliques pulling the unseen wires of democratic pretence, but by their own ability as demonstrated in the fundamental democracy of an equal race."

A truly democratic system, therefore, is not merely one in which people go to the vote, but one in which the fundamental, core values are social justice, economic and social equality, liberty and respect of the individual human being. A genuine system is one in which the social and political machinery is geared towards reinstating and protecting the respect, dignity and basic human rights of the individual; in which, as the Prophet (S) of Islam said, "the honour, life and property" of an individual is safe.

A true political democracy rests on social and economic democracy as its basis. Such a system naturally engenders from within itself, a genuine political hierarchy which acts in service of the system, to maintain the core values of justice, fundamental rights, freedom and equality.

Every crisis, they say, comes with an opportunity. The crisis we are living through presents such an opportunity too. In the current scenario, we are witnessing the collective resentment of literally all departments and shades of life against the autocratic system_ the front against this government consists of lawyers, journalists, professors, students, religious leaders and members of the civil society. For the first time in history has Pakistan's civil society assumed this role to fill up the vacuum created by the opportunist, self-serving politicians who failed to deliver. Any genuine change has to come from the civil society. When the rot of parliamentary democracy fails, it is the civil society that must rise to the fore as the guardians of the values that got trodden on in the melee_ justice, equality, fundamental human rights. It is the civil society that is qualified and imbued with the potential to turn the tide and become the ground-layers of a genuinely egalitarian order we have been dreaming of since long. It is an immense opportunity. If the civil society fails to rise up to the occasion, the rotten, exploitative order might win over once again for another, prolonged hypocrisy. It probably is, as that pioneer of our freedom had said all those years back, 'Now or Never.'

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Amplitude of Silence


Maryam Sakeenah

The painting-up in white of the indelibly Red Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is a powerful symbol. An attempt to whitewash the redness of the act, to erase the disturbing memory of blood, gore and decapitated dead bodies; to placate, to impose an Oblivion. Just like the naming of the ‘Operation Silence.’ An imposition of silence, an imposition of amnesia. Per force.

The Silence is audible, the absence almost palpable. The vacuum eternally gaping. Not to be talked about: the Unmentionable. Come July 12, the disturbing images were taken off screens, restive hearts fed again with all the usual rounds of jazz and glitz. The message: All’s well. The tragedy became the Unmentionable and the Forbidden as the media docilely complied with the orders. I only understand now that our heroic media men believe in freedom only conditionally. Images and memories vapourized like the many tiny corpses that were whisked away, vanishing into thin air. The right to know the truth and the right to mourn was withheld.

The silence becomes criminal. For, as Brecht said, ‘it implies silence about so many horrors.’ ‘Operation Silence’: I admire the honesty of the guy who came up with that name. But why the silence? My mother taught me it was bad manners to talk about gory details to people, to bring up a sombre topic or to talk death at the dining table. We are being made to revise our lessons at table manners. A reality too shocking, too overwhelmingly cruel to be faced squarely. Hence, the Unmentionable. The reality of our ugly national character, the reality of the vile bestiality we are capable of, our unholy fanaticism for the goddess they call ‘Enlightened Moderation.’ The goddess with fair tresses and cleavage who comes flashing on TV all the time. Like the picture of Dorian Gray mirroring the ugliness, obscured from view to keep the visage attractive and pleasing: Enlightened and Moderate. A visage beneath which hulks a terror_ that if the picture mirroring the reality is brought out, the thin covering will wear off and give way. The Picture of Dorian Gray, locked up carefully, grows uglier by the day, its rotting teeth gaping horribly, the eye sockets darkly caving in, the sickly skin wearing off. Yet still it wears that wicked smile that speaks of is triumph. Eventually. Mirroring our ugliness all the time, growing more horrible_ doling out to us days to make merry living up to the ‘progressive image.’

The greatest support this regime claims it enjoys is of that magical, mythical, fantastical entity: the Silent Majority. Then what to make of my neighbour next door, my colleague at work, the bystander there, the patient in the doctor’s waiting room and the client at the barber’s_both cleanshaven and bearded_ who, that fateful day, confided in me the pain, the disapproval, the outrage over the incident. What to make of the numerous nameless callers on private TV channels whose voices choked with tears as they spoke? What about the numerous messages I, and so many of my friends received soaked in blood and tears? I think: The ‘silent majority’ is the repressed and gagged silenced majority in the grip of the empowered, favoured and heavily petted elitist U.S-educated minority.

How about that majority all the way back in 1947 that chanted on the streets that battle cry ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La ilaha ill allah’. How about the majority that was gathered that day in February 1948, intently listening to the sound of their Great Leader who declared, “ It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, the Prophet (S) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of truly Islamic ideals and principles.”

And again, at Karachi the same year, he said to the tens of thousands before him: “I do not understand a section of the people who deliberately want to make propaganda that the constitution of Pakistan would not be made on the basis of the Shariah (Islamic Law). Islamic principles are as applicable today as they were 1300 years ago… Islam has taught equality, justice and fairplay to everybody… Let us make it (the Shariah) the future constitution of Pakistan. We shall make it and we shall show it to the world.”

That same leader, while addressing a gathering at Waziristan outlining the Frontier policy had said on April 17, 1948: “Pakistan has no desire to unduly interfere with your freedom. On the contrary, Pakistan wants to help you and make you, as far as it lies in our power, self-reliant and self-sufficient and help in your educational, social and economic uplift… We Musalmans believe in One God, one Book and one Prophet (S). So we must stand united as one nation. In unity lies strength; united we stand, divided we fall.”

It becomes poignant here. Fast forward to 2007. The idealism, the aspirations,, the dreams, the promises, the Cause lived and died for all dashed to the ground in one fell sweep. The Original Sin of the cannon-fodder at the Lal Masjid was the demand that the country live up to its original ethos. After a long wait in vain of over sixty years. So is the Original Sin of the militants at Swat held at point-blank range by the armed patriots. The vision betrayed, the dream gone sour_ who then are the patriots and who the traitors? Answers, anyone?

The voices of resentment at the great betrayal find no representation, no comforting echo in the corridors of power. They are leaderless, alientated, ostracized, disowned and even demonized. They are curtly told they do not belong. Just as the president had explained to us that the girls at the Jamia Hafsa shouldn’t get our sympathies as they didn’t belong to Islamabad, but had come from the ‘frontier.’ (Is the ‘frontier’ to be acknowledges as a part of the state? Does it still belong then?)

I remember the cartoon I saw in a history book dating back to Mussolini’s fascist Italy of the 1930s. It showed Mussolini with his hand held tight over the crater of a smouldering volcano, at the bottom of which could be read, “this is going to hurt you much more than it hurts me now.”

Every time I see the newsflash with headlines of suicide attacks and killer bombs going off in the northern areas, I remember the volcano. The volcano spewing out and unleashing its hurt, fire, tears and blood. I feel sorry for the victims and the lives lost. And I feel sorry about our inability to learn the rules of thumb: when you do not let the other be, when you do not let him live his way in his own home but impose an alien agenda with blind brute-force, you forget that it is going to hurt you too. You forget the grind of God’s mills.

I feel sorry also for those who discriminate dead bodies into definitive labels of the denigrating ‘killed’ and the respectful ‘martyred’_ definitions coined abroad. I laugh at the folly of him who raises himself on the pedestal of the judge, issuing the moral verdict of who to ennoble with ‘martyrdom’ and who to demean and sneer at with ‘killed’_ the pygmy looking ridiculous in his clumsy giant’s robe, forgetting that death does not discriminate but levels all; Forgetting the Ultimate Judgement that laughs to scorn the cleverly manipulated Machiavellian definitions; Forgetting that the universal criterion lives on still, deep inside men’s hearts_ cornered, muffled… yet resisting, surviving and unsettling.

The echoes of the bloodbath in Lal Masjid resound audibly in the Silence as our ears are deafened by the noise of bombs, gunfire and bullets like hail. What with all of the State’s intelligent designs to wipe out the memories, to obliterate the past in the way Orwell had predicted, the national tragedy resonates. Quietly, yet hugely it hulks in the background. Like the ethereal fragrance emanating from the much-frequented grave in Rojhan Mazari_ gently, quietly, subtly suffusing into the soul, touching a deep-buried cord somewhere in the recesses of the heart. In our desperate attempts to make light of the crime committed, to demonize and caricaturize the Immortalized by churning out State-approved versions of the tale, we forget that History’s Judgement is stringent and unrelenting. History refuses to paint up and whitewash. It refuses to leave the pages blank. And it is History’s Verdict that will outlast us all.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The War Within Islam


Years ago, a U.S diplomat was quoted as saying, "We do not want a war with Islam but we want a war within Islam." It seemed at that time a maniacal pronouncement of a fanatic neocon whom one could conveniently make an exception for.

Today, I understand the matter-of-fact honesty of the maniac. And I acknowledge the truth about the world_ that it is perhaps the maniac who has the last word, after all. It is the maniac whose 'Word Goes,' as Bush Sr. had said so long ago. And it sends chills down my spine.

There is method in the madness. It happened piece by piece in a well-orchestrated sequence. Sadly, though, as we get sucked into the black hole, we forget to understand the method till it makes us pieces in the jigsaw, in the grip of an intelligent madness.

The Shia-Sunni divide threatens to gape wider everyday in Iraq as casualties on both sides mount. Lebanon, a year after the Hezbollah's stunning resistance to the Israeli attack, is at war with 'extremists' in its own ranks. Pakistan grows restive in its self-defeating ordeal of warring on its own frontlines. The Afghan regime pleads help to keep its homegrown group of 'extremists', the Taliban, at bay. A cracked up Palestine drifts further apart, its bloodlines severed. To many the spectacle of a Muslim world at war against itself proves a pathological predisposition of Muslims for conflict and violence, and that the 'problem' is with Islam. The deeper diggers wonder, in this madness of Muslim pitted against Muslim, who really is the enemy? Whose agenda, really?

The echoes of the prophecy of engineering a war within Islam are loud. But Muslims, ironically, have heads stuck firmly in the sand in their refusal to see the pattern, the unhidden hand. Neo-colonialism unveils its new façade, its latest tactic_ the war within. We play to the tune as we busy ourselves defining and tagging each other in labels tailor-made to create rifts keeping us apart, making those of our own, 'the other'. We have moderates, fanatics, fundamentalists, traditionalists, conservatives, liberals, extremists, Islamists, enlightened ones, moderates and secularists. Words invented to pit one against the 'other', to fragment, alienize. Words invented to give a name, a type, a brand, a separation and perpetuation to one's approach to Islam. Yet Islam bears no shades of grey. Truth stands clear, gleaming boldly. Its essence is Unity, Oneness_ not just as an aspect of belief in God but as a trait irradiated through all its facets.

The brand-names and labels are a phenomenon extrinsic and even odious to very fabric of Islam. It wreaks havoc on its essential unity of idea and geography as Muslims find themselves forced to choose an 'ism' for themselves to define their interpretation of Islam.

The many faces on T.V talk shows professing a 'moderate' affiliation to Islam reflect a total ignorance of the very nature of Islam as a holistic, comprehensive way of life and not a theory, a dogma, a means to procure a narrow agenda. It is not and cannot be broken up into an 'ism': "Enter into Islam completely," Says the Quran.

The 'isms' proliferate as the West plays its moves. "The war is between our values and theirs", said Bush. Musharraf echoed the idea in local context, "The fight is between the forces of extremism and the forces of moderation." It smells divisive, cutting across the body-politic, erecting thick walls and barriers. A war within Islam.

As Olmert and Blair take turns shaking hands with Abbas smiling into the camera triumphantly, Hamas-ruled Gaza struggles in the fetters of blockades, embargoes, sanctions, air-strikes and raids. "The terrorists must be isolated," the Fatah-Israel representatives announced. "We can have no links with those who support extremism," they righteously upheld. And so, the hordes of impoverished refugees in Gaza have their fates written down in alien hands.

Ask the man on the street. A Palestinian blogger writes, " Hamas has a lot of support among the Palestinian people. They're genuine, of the people and for the people. And Abbas has a gang of traitors and corrupt criminals with him who have no support among us. In fact, if any one's a terrorist, it's those many in Abbas's gang." Wasn't it democracy and freedom the West proudly believed in? Lo and behold, an American analyst defines his select brand of democracy and the punishment for choosing the 'wrong kind' of it: "This is the punishment for Palestinians for having chosen extremists as their representatives."

So far so good. Before the Palestinians can even begin asking for a state of their own, they have a fixing up of their incorrigibly divided state to undertake. A long, long haul. Self-determination, freedom, independence, peace and all that jazz can wait… While behind the camera-smiles and handshakes, Israel opportunely busies itself building up its arsenal with dollars and weapons flowing in from its greatest ally.

In Pakistan the Lal Masjid crackdown has, among other things, helped sharpen and deepen the cracks. The enlightened moderates smoked out the bearded, capped, veiled, Quran-carrying innocents and justified the 'moral crusade' as a noble mission of the liberal-moderate forces against the 'extremists.' The label did it all. Many felt shy of sympathizing with the butchered inmates for fear of the detested 'extremist' or 'pro-extremist' tag. Those who wear the label proud, however, seethe in resentment_ raw, wounded, restive, desperate… In a hadith of the Prophet (S), one of the signs of the Day of Judgement is that 'the killer would not know why he kills, nor would the victim know why he is killed.'

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, highly regarded by the public, has struggled for years to stem the tide of secularism imposed on the country through their formidable intellectual struggle and a peacefully conducted social movement. It suffers extra-judicial kidnappings, deportations, arrests and crackdowns. Moderates versus Extremist, again.

In Somalia, after decades of anarchy, the Islamic Courts Union moved in and won over the public by its scrupulous rule and its swift progress to return the country to stability and peace. Alleged to be 'supporting Al Qaeda', Ethiopian troops backed and financed by the U.S moved in . The Somali 'moderates' allied with the advancing army against the 'orthodox' Islamists of the Union of Islamic Courts fighters. The death toll and atrocities mounted sharply. The fighters and the fought, the falling corpses were largely Muslim.

Who made the labels? Who tagged them on? Who gives the definitions? Who thrives on the divisions? From Baghdad to Palestine to Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is the U.S-backed undemocratic regimes, the string puppets doing the dirty jobs for self-perpetuation. The puppeteers pronounce 'A War Within Islam', and sit back to watch the spectacle_ Muslim against Muslim, moderate versus extremist, liberal versus fundamentalist_ and congratulate themselves. Finally, they can take a back seat and let the Great Game go on. 'Muslims are pathologically conflict-prone, you know…'

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mission: Neutralization


Maryam Sakeenah

Daniel Pipes, in his article ‘Fixing Islam’ in ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ writes: “The global War on Terror cannot be won through counter terrorism alone; it also requires convincing the terrorists and their sympathizers that their goals and methods are faulty and bound to fail… the immediate war-goal must be to destroy militant Islam, and the ultimate war goal the modernization of Islam.”

That was shortly after the Crusade received its name in 2001. Pipes, an undisguised Zionist, works hard for the establishment of the ‘Islamic Progress Institute’ (IPI) in order to ‘articulate a moderate, modern and pro-American view’. This he hopes to achieve with the help of unnamed ‘anti-Islamist Muslims.’

He need not have taken the pains. All over the Muslim world, the media as well as the leaders (in most cases implanted and perpetuated by the West) have taken up Pipes’ mission with self-righteous zeal.

The mission to neutralize the Muslim mind, to create in it a battleground of conflict and confusion between the traditions he has held on to and the modernity he must submit his ancient convictions to. A war within Islam. The dictator on his cushioned seat and the anchor on the T.V show have assumed the all-important roles of preacher and jurist on the unholy mission to decapitate Islam.

And in winning ways. The mission is heavily financed, designed and overseen by the approving glance of Western think-tanks. The Muslim is being told to redefine his belief and its parameters in the context of the New World Order. Islam, they say, must succumb to a more malleable, adaptable, pluralist, impotent version approved of by Western standards, posing no moral threat to its Great Game, no promise of strength to revivify the great tradition that engendered it. An Enlightened, Moderated Islam. The Islam of ‘Khuda Kay Liye’, preached with missionary zeal: a secularized, humanitarian doctrine, a spiritual theology that makes no onerous demands, that asks for no sacrifice, no blood; that tolerates, includes, allows, lets things be. Merely. The Islam that wins words of approbation by the Father of Enlightened Moderation. We are being taught how to understand Islam and how much to understand it by all the Toms, Dicks and Harrys you can think of_ especially those that do not sport an unseemly beard; those that show the skin a little more and talk Islam with a toss of their salon-styled tresses.

This is the talk-of-the-town Islam. ‘Islam is peace, tolerance, moderation. Jihad is the purification of the inner self. Jeo aur Jeenay do.’

On the other side of the divide is the cornered, muffled group all our Operations Silence cannot silence. Irritable, unsettling, unnerving… it makes an echo in the heart…

Abu Huraira (R.A) relates that the Prophet (S) said, “The best life is of the man who undertakes Jihad sitting on his steed, holding its stirrup and hastening in the land; when he hears from some direction clamour or anxious news, he runs in its direction to be killed and seeks death its haunts. Out of all the people, there is no other on a better path.” (Muslim)

The Prophet (S) said, “When you leave Fighting in Allah’s Cause, Allah will impose on you disgrace and shall not remove it till you take up Fighting in Allah’s Way again.” (Abu Daud)

The Prophet (S) said to the Companions (RA), “ ‘Soon, non-Muslim nations will pounce on you like the hunger-stricken on a food-laden tablecloth.’ The Companions asked, ‘Will we be few in number then?’ The Prophet (S) answered, ‘No! You will be great in your numbers, but you will be like foam in the water. Allah will remove your awe and fear from the hearts of your enemies and will afflict your hearts with love of the world and the fear of dying.”

The guns at G6 have fallen silent, the cries muffled. But we are faced with an overwhelming question that demands an honest confrontation with the concocted, manipulated, self-styled Islam that we made submit to ourselves.

Prattlers on peace, we feign shock and horror at the terrifying prospect of a worshipper / student being trained to use a gun while in the seminary. We forget that the holistic vision of Islam equips its upholders with necessary strength to defend its name. That in the many battles fought by the Prophet (S)’s army, prayers and swords went together and the masjid housed the Muslim arsenal. The Prophet (S) advised arrow-shooting and the martial arts be learnt and taught as a part of a Muslim upbringing. That a Muslim is not trained to be a secluded, retreated hermit but an active agent for social reform through the establishment of Islam.

While we love to tell of how the purification of the self is the greatest jihad, we shrink from quoting the myriad verses of the Quran that unequivocally talk of the use of physical strength to eradicate injustice. Ever wondered why it was thought necessary to exclude Surah Taubah from the syllabi? It takes honesty and courage to call a spade a spade:

“Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; And indeed Allah is able to give them victory. Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: ‘Our Lord is Allah.’ For had it not been Allah’s repelling one group by means of another, monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft-mentioned would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily, Allah helps those who help Him. Allah is Strong, Almighty.” (Surah Hajj, 40-41)

The Islam we profess is a convenient compromise, selective, sifted-out in the mesh of secularism. In the battleground of ideas, we are the ignoble side-switchers, not deserving of the nobility of holding out in the struggle.

President Bush said this was a war between ‘our values and theirs.’ At home, Musharraf has reiterated many times that the real battle is between ‘moderation and extremism.’ Years ago, the U.S think-tank RAND in its report classified Muslims into four broad categories: the ‘Fundamentalists’ who ‘reject democratic values and Western culture’, the ‘Traditionalists’ who are ‘suspicious of modernity, innovation and change’, the ‘Modernists’ who ‘want the Islamic world to become part of the global modernity’ and the ‘Secularists’ who ‘want the Islamic world to accept the separation of religion and state.’ While the latter two support the West and ought to be considered allies in the Mission, the first two classes ‘are the real enemy and deserve to be killed,’ said the report. The first two groups subscribe usually to an orthodox version of Islam. As an effective antidote to their beliefs, ‘Sufism’ must be propagated among Muslim societies as it is ‘ideal for the Western cause.’ Ideal because of its Perennialist approach, its belief in the oneness of all religions, its emphasis on the spirit alone and not the letter of the Law; on the inner self alone and not the outer milieu in the midst of which ‘Deen’ achieves its fruition, its flowering. Encage Islam within the rosary bead-string, the prayer mat, the dhikr-chanting circles, the ‘qawwalis’, the whirling dervishes in the air heavy and thick with poppy-scent. And sit easy.

But the Believer, the eternal dreamer, the coarse-clothed, dusty-haired, hardy loner still holds out, formidable, unassailable. His simple mind, his straight but firmly-rooted convictions do not cave in. His unlettered, madrassa-educated intellect isn’t seduced; his upstanding being not colonized, what with all the think-tanks, the bombs, the propaganda, the intelligence, alliances, policies, discourses_ the wiles and guiles of neo-conservatism. In the battlefield of ideas, he is the Unvanquished:

In the shadow of this monstrous monument of your power

I am buried.

Trampled in the dust, trodden on,

Bathed in sacred blood.

Alive! I herald your doom,

For I am not the dust clinging on feet

Swept off at will,

Nor the flickering candle you can blow out with your icy breath,

But an Indelible Image,

The Truth

Inscribed in the Immortal Heart of the Earth

That sleeps beneath your feet…

Waiting for the Resurrection

From beneath your very foothold

Unveiling the Hidden Hand


Maryam Sakeenah

Ear splitting blasts, gored flesh, charred limbs, corpses falling left right and centre in a steadily mounting death toll. A matter of course. Nothing to be shouting about from the rooftops.

The Quran says: “Whosoever killeth a human being, except by way of punishment for murder or spreading fitnah in the land, it shall be as if he killeth the whole of mankind, and whosoever saveth a human being it shall be as if he saveth the whole of mankind.” (5:32)

The judgement is easy to make, in fact simplistic. It’s that ‘Islamist’ again. Full stop. When a suicide bomb went off the other day, the news flash reporting it took care to specify in its 4-word content, ‘Bearded terrorist kills 9’. In this age of information influx, news flashes and alerts, there’s hardly another version to choose from. It’s the Islamists bombing the hell out of everywhere. They’re at it again. It is too obvious for any digging-in-deeper.

But a closer look is unsettling for the simplistic assumptions. In the final analysis, who is the loser? Who gains? Who suffers the ire, the renewed vigour for ‘crushing extremism’? It is the state that wins understanding and approval for its dirty methods, the powerful boost of the ‘silent majority.’ It wins solider grounds for justifying the alliance with the U.S in the War on Terror and for the militarization of our northern buffer zone of yore. It wins sympathies, concern and millions of dollars from overseas in ‘combatting the common threat.’ The crusade is powered with every bomb going off, and each time someone can say, ‘We told you so. See?’ That someone is not the Islamist.

Even when it gains him not a shred of anything at all but reasons and excuses for his enemies to use; even when it gains nothing but gusto for the War on Terror; even when it gains only disappearances and deportations to Cuba; even when it merely adds to the terror of the Terrorist apparition and no more, the Islamist goes on killing himself. An insanity we seriously believe_ the whole lot of us.

And why? There’s a clear agenda. Dr. Nasir Khan writes, “Everywhere, the media reveals a sort of preconceived image of Islam the writers intend to convey to their readers.” They intend to convey a propaganda-based image of a subhuman, archaic, barbaric creed bred out of the wilderness of the Arabian desert; a patriarchal, misogynistic, narrow cult whose followers are vile, depraved, bloodthirsty, pathologically violent gun-toting terrorists planning a global spine-chilling Hollywood-like terrorist plot. On CNN, the phobia of a grand terror conspiracy against the U.S in the making is almost palpable, systematically pumped into the viewer’s brain. “But”, writes Dr. Khan, “in view of the real power wielded by the West throughout the Middle East and beyond, the so-called ‘threat of Islam’ is really quite groundless. In fact, right-wing political manipulators and Christian fundamentalists can very easily provoke major crises between the Muslim world and the West. In fact, the global expansion of Western colonialism is the story of plunder and destruction across continents.”

The ongoing crusade unleashing terror and hate all across the globe is another feather in the cap of Western civilization. The West’s intelligence agencies and its monopoly over the media combine to form a live warring mechanism firing and pumping up the ongoing War of Ideas. The limelight, however, is not here, for it doesn’t serve The Purpose.

Consider that arsonists desecrating mosques in Bradford, setting fire to Islamic centres in Texas, bombs going off in mosques where Muslims are the minority community or hate-filled anti-Muslim wall-chalking is never an issue anywhere. But when a young protestor spontaneously cries out that British army combatants in Iraq should be killed, he gets sentenced to 27 years following a media hype about the ‘crime’. There goes ‘freedom of speech.’ Yet, it weaves a methodical pattern.

On August 5, following the U.S’s brash threats to Pakistan for real possibilities of strikes on ‘suspected targets’ within its territory, the Washington Post ran a jolting report. It said that the US intelligence estimate submitted to President Bush last month was deliberately changed to prove that Pakistan has Al Qaeda bases operating inside its territory. As a natural, foreseen consequence, the threats to attack Pakistan followed. And the Presidency aspirant Obama cashed heavily on the skewed-up report for his electoral campaign.

So much of what really is a pervasive, global threat is unreported, unexposed. The hidden hands go on pulling the strings behind the iron curtains. Claudia Nelson writes in her article ‘A Terrorist Organization’, “The CIA is a terrorist organization according to both international ands American definitions of terrorism and is guilty of engaging in unconstitutional and illegal behavior.” In her article she quotes numerous instances where the CIA was involved in shady activities. The operation in Vietnam, masterminded by the CIA, claimed 20,000 lives, often at random. In the 80s, the CIA used profits from cocaine smuggling to engineer coups and destabilization movements in Africa in which tens of thousands of civilians died. The coup in Chile bringing in the unscrupulous, violent Pinochet regime was funded and supervised by the CIA. The Cuban airline bombing in 1973 killing 73 unearthed clues pointing again to the CIA. In America itself, the CIA conducted the ‘Operation CHAOS’, which was a ‘vicious , aggressive domestic surveillance operation against anti-war activists.’ More to the CIA’s credit is the failed coup against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002 and distortions of data about Iraq to justify its occupation by the U.S. Nelson concludes, “You cannot claim to fight terrorism, or claim to be the beacon of democracy with an organization like the CIA in your ranks.”

V.K Singh, a high-ranking army officer in India worked as a senior officer in the Research and Analysis Wing_ India’s powerful intelligence agency ‘RAW.’ Singh writes about the organization, “There is a lack of any accountability and misuse of the agency by its political masters… there is absolutely no parliamentary monitoring… the chiefs have unlimited powers and are not accountable to anyone at all.” He further mentions a RAW official Rabinder Singh, who was a CIA mole working in the RAW. After his hidden motives came to light, no investigation was carried out, or was deliberately delayed. The spy conveniently defected to the U.S, alongwith top-secret RAW documents, including ‘sensitive information on neighboring South Asian countries.’ There was no follow-up to this infamous case either.

Shortly after the spate of suicide attacks began in Pakistan, the national press ran an important report regarding ‘proofs of foreign involvement’ in the bombings. The Nation reports, “In the flood of suicide attacks in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid operation, the country’s intelligence has found proofs of Indian involvement in the militancy.” The official revealing the fact called the proofs ‘strong, irrefutable and rock-hard.’ “The investigation into the killing of the Chinese nationals also point a finger at the same country. There is also significant proof of the involvement of the RAW in the Baloch nationalist uprising. The neighbouring country’s intelligence agencies are ‘pouring in huge funding’ for the purpose, the official further stated.”

A fortnight ago in Peshawar, a terrorist gang of three brothers was busted. The convicts confessed to “being involved in a series of blasts in the city and sabotage activities including two bomb blasts in bus terminals. They were planning more of the same on trade centres, banks, important public buildings. There was also evidence of their involvement in the killing of the Chinese on Charsadda road. The netted terrorists had backing by the intelligence agency of a foreign country.” (The Nation)

The news item bore a tiny header eclipsed somewhere in the odd inside pages of the paper. However, this was the only paper carrying the sensitive details. Luckily, the report had caught my eye. The paper failed to add, however, that the terrorists this time were ‘unbearded.’

There’s an audible silence, a hush that gives away a great deal. We’re tight-lipped, being pawns in the game_ sans sovereignty. Just like the corpses trodden underground and the bloodied colour painted up on the walls of the idelibly 'Lal' Masjid, the shocking revelation is cast aside, the lesser said the better. The dead are gone and their mourners hushed up. The blasts don’t hurt, after all_ they help win converts to the wisdom of Enlightened Moderation and the anti-terror crusade. Blasts in the violet air keep the crusade charged for the propaganda to thrive in and the ideas of a ‘pro-West’ Muslimhood to take root. They keep the dollars coming as we shake hands and smile at the camera for another press release, another ‘confidence building measure.’ Who said Pakistan was First?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Such a Little Thing!


Maryam Sakeenah

“On the first night of Ramadan, a breeze (‘Al Museera’)stirs from beneath the Majestic Throne_ it rustles the leaves on the Paradisic trees creating a gentle susurration; it passes through the doorways (of the heavenly abodes), making the door handles jangle, creating a melodious sound so beautiful, the like of which has never been heard before…” (from a hadith of the Prophet SAWW narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas R.A)

I felt the freshness in the air; of the evening merging slowly into those blessed first moments of the first night of Ramadan. I felt the vigour in my step as I walked out the gate just after the pre-Ramadan study circle in my neighbourhood had finished. We had studied a collection of ahadith on Ramadan_ of the springtime of faith and the ethereal blessedness it comes wrapped up in. And it had touched some deep buried cord somewhere in the recesses of the soul.

I have walked the short distance from the neighbourhood weekly Quran study circle back home many times. Meeting on the way many a sidewalk bystander ogling to pass the hours away. I have met many a prying gaze of a passing vendor, a house guard, an urchin. Outside my weekly ‘haven’, another world awaits. From the surreal to the rudely real… the eyesores of a degenerate society. Sigh.

There he comes, yet another… a street vendor perhaps. I braced up for the unnerving stare, catching in the process, a glimpse of a face_ the kind that expunged the tautness, putting me so strangely at ease.

It struck. Instantly. The white prayer-cap and the beard removed the ‘otherness’. The gaze that lowered itself, the humble step that gave a freer passage, the innocence, nobility written all over was strangely comforting_ unlocking, decoding, bringing home a message: a beautiful heart. The recognition came in an instant.

It unfurled an identity. I noticed the deep sun-tan with those long days of labour. I noticed the rough white Shalwar Kameez well-worn, having endured many washings, creased up, patched in places. I noticed the loosely hanging empty jute bag slung across the back of his bicycle and the two folded up paper bags of used cement. Clearly, this scrap seller hadn’t made a business today. Yet he persisted as the day receded… still calling out to the many affluent perhaps still dozing away amidst the buzz of the air conditioners behind thick walls and locked doors. ‘Loya raddi waich lau’ (Sell off scrap metal and paper), he called out in the empty, darkening street, perhaps the only listener to his own persistent cry. He pedaled on speedily, not completing his round to the end of the street but turning round half way to make his way back_ perhaps having learnt that there were no listening ears behind the thick walls, no one to hear or make out his locally accented cry; to notice that hole at the border of his Kameez, the empty loose sack or the well-worn, cracked up, mud-stained slipper quickly pedaling on_ perhaps to make it to the masjid in time for maghrib prayer.

It was in seconds. I felt the connecting, the bonding up. I didn’t think it up but surprised myself by suddenly calling out to him as he rode on past me, ‘Bhai!’ ‘My brother’_ effortlessly, in a spontaneous outpouring came the words. ‘Bhai zara rukna. Aap raddi bechtay hain?’ (Brother, please stop. Do you sell and buy scrap?)

He couldn’t perhaps register it as he cycled on, used to the stony, unrelenting, indifferent silence in affluent localities. For an instant I thought I had missed, and I felt the heart sink. Till, having rode a few yards ahead, he turned back to look and finally stopped, getting off the bicycle, dusting off his hands and shirt and, still with that ‘Muslim’ gentility and modest gaze that had held me, waited for me to approach. ‘Ji baji.’ (Yes, sister).

The evening cast darker shadows, the first night of Ramadan waited in the wing to gradually suffuse. Al Museera: the susurrations of the leaves in Paradise, the stirring breeze jangling the door handles… these sacred moments…

And this muddied scrap seller here with his sunburnt face irradiated, ennobled, beautified by the Sunnah… I saw it all in one radiant flash. ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’ I said. ‘Mere paas yeh Ramadan ka chhota sa tuhfa hai aap ke liye,’ I said (I have a small Ramadan gift here for you), handing out whatever I could rummage through my pockets.

Visibly surprised and at a loss for words, he said, ‘Jazakallah khair baji.’ (thanks, sister). Silence. And then, gathering himself, he added, ‘Allah aap ko iss ka bohat ajar dei. Aap ko bhi Ramadan Mubarak.’ (May Allah reward you greatly for this. Ramadan Mubarak to you too.) I noticed the flawless, unaccented Urdu and wondered where he had got it from. The labyrinth of destiny, who can make out?

Realizing perhaps the insufficiency, the inadequacy of my gesture, the unspeakability of that strange link, I added, ‘Bhai duaon mein zaroor yaad rakhye ga.’ (Brother, do remember me in your prayers).

As I made my way on, I felt lighter, unburdened, relieved. And I saw his frail figure, the beard, the cap merging into the twilight’s colours, soon a silhouette against the far end of the road.

And I wondered who he was, what was his name, where he lived… regretting not having asked. ‘Bhai’ (brother) I had called him, not feeling the need to call by a name, not feeling the need for statistics to identify. ‘My brother’, striving on life’s rocky road, striving among the pain and toil to keep to the straight and narrow, a lover of my Prophet (SAWW), a slave of my God…

As I sat on the prayer mat on the night of first Ramadan, I thought of the nameless scrap seller who must also be engaged in prayer somewhere. And I knew that the power of prayer, the faith we share creates the sacred link_ undying. I felt the indissoluble, ever-present link of Muslimhood, that thing called ‘love for Allah’s sake.’

‘What a little thing

To remember for years,

To remember with tears!’

As Flies to the Wanton Boys


Maryam Sakeenah

George Orwell was naïve. The extent of the horror, hypocrisy and double standards he lays bare in his political satire is laughably mild. Welcome to Pakistan, 2007. We are living it all. Orwell, my friends, was a mere chicken.

A day before the ‘Operation Silence’ began, Musharraf said while addressing a high-level meeting lasting four hours that a new strategy to curb ‘Talibanisation’ would be formulated. In the meeting he discussed cracking down on pro-Taliban elements ‘not just in the frontier regions but also in the cities’, specifically mentioning the strategy to deal with the ‘pro-Taliban mosque’ in the heart of Islamabad. The same day, paramilitary deployment and patrolling intensified in the vicinity of Lal Masjid, ‘clearly indicating the government’s decisive inclinations to carry out a comprehensive crackdown on Ghazi brothers… Rangers occupied the CDA flats, built bunkers and laid barbed wires… the whole place exactly looks like an army post.’ (The Nation, Tuesday , July 3, 2007).

And so the tragedy unfurled. The servile henchmen standing guard on the Presidency’s secrets quickly cooked up myths ready to be sold to a gullible public: ‘The terrorists in the mosque provoked the action, which had to be responded to.’ Held hostage by the official propaganda, we had no alternate versions to choose from. Fed on myths about the evil-minded terrorist-mullah in cap and beard with perverse mind and wretched, devious plans, we accepted the state-sponsored stereotype and talked about how well-deserved the mullah-bashing spree really was. Our human consciousness didn’t trouble us with asking questions. The series of lies continually churned out to justify the mayhem unleashed within, kept us conveniently dumbed down and acquiescing. The evil-minded mullahs had planned to make this offensive war and were using innocents as human shields… it was, in fact, a ‘hostage-taking crisis’, and the well-intentioned government was the noble savior of innocents. We kept swallowing as the media was carefully kept at a safe distance. Childishly, the ‘liberal, free media’ played along the tune in the mutually agreed-upon plan to ‘not show the dead bodies’, ensuring the smooth conduct of Operation Silence. And so we feasted on drawing-room chat conspiracy theories of the government-mullah nexus and the ‘dramatics’ staged by the Red Mosque administration.

Victims of Doublespeak. Rhetoric went on about the government’s humane restraint and desperate appeals to save the ‘hostages’ within. Big questions like why the media was kept out didn’t bother anyone much. Behind the smokescreen of shameless lies went on the murder of innocents_ unleashed terror and state-sponsored oppression that has perhaps been pushed back into the shroud of Silence_ a mystery of history. An iron curtain hulks, screening away the unspoken terrors, the unheard cries that will continue to echo long in the deathly Silence of the mosque’s debris.

The Doublespeak continued, making idiots of us all. While Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi showed extreme flexibility in renouncing all he could to save the innocents, there was an obvious lack of reciprocation by the government, a rigid unwillingness to budge and let matters resolve. The efforts made by the Ulema delegation to save the day were imperiously rejected as the state showed a blind egotism implying an unrelenting readiness to go ahead and finish it up the bloody way. For, the Doublespeak experts could do the job of duping the public so the blood doesn’t show much. One of the last things Abdul Rasheed Ghazi said: “Their unwillingness to let negotiations work shows their intent to let blood flow. If they wish to let blood flow, so be it: we are ready to embrace martyrdom.”

A greater hidden agenda, the ‘Hidden Hand’ mentioned by Chaudhry Shujaat, which made all settlements break down becomes clear. The storming of the mosque came soon after an increasing trend in the Western media to see Musharraf as 'part of the problem' and not the solution_ a 'half-hearted ally' in the War on Terror. Clearly, it is a drama staged to convince the West that we indeed are 'doing enough' to crush such elements. And the message has been sent, bringing in accolades and pats-on-the-back from Musharraf's Western allies. Because the whole affair was staged to secure an image-boost in the West for this government, the government authorities seemed very keen to go ahead and ferociously crack down on the mosque, regardless of the thousands still inside (with occasional quiet phases to show how 'patient' we are trying to be). It is clear that the government willed the mayhem, as echoed in Musharraf's shockingly brazen announcement: 'Surrender or be killed.'

And this is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nation. The absolute failure of a democratic culture to take root, the complete subjugation to dictatorial hegemony and the perpetual crippling enslavement to vested interests of the West. The greatest tragedy is how weightless, inconsequential is the ordinary, the citizen of this country, deserving little more than rhetoric to keep him dumbed down, so that the reign of tyranny can perpetuate itself.

And this is what brings tears in the eyes_ the hard, bitter truth that human lives never weighed on anyone’s conscience; that innocent lives were, at best, as cheap as rotten scraps cast aside without feeling your jaw twitch, making way for a dirty agenda serving the Self. The bitter truth is that human beings go on being killed like flies and we go about our business. The shocking truth is that man, at best, is the ‘Lord of the Flies’, and the Lord of the Flies in us rules as the earthly overlord. “As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport,”said Shaekespeare. And to the lone seeker, the questioner, the dreamer, He dictates: “What are you doing here out alone? Aren’t you afraid of me? There isn’t anyone to help you. Only Me. And I am the Beast. I’m the reason it’s no go. Why things are what they are. Come now, get back to the others and we’ll forget the whole thing… Aha! This has gone far enough… do you think you know better than I do? I’m going to get waxy. Do you see? You are not wanted. Understand? We’re going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! … Or else. We shall do you.” (From ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding)

But the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi is beginning to be understood by the generality of our masses as the sinned-against in the episode, the principled idealist victimized by a tyrannical, corrupt system. Maulana Ghazi, they feel, was indeed right_ if general killing of the masjid inmates was what the government thirsted for, it was better to die than to give in to a system so unscrupulous, so drunken with blind egotism. And in doing so he secures a moral victory that will far outlast the machinations of this regime in the hearts of men.

However, there are still many_ the conspiracy-theorists, the mullah-bashers, the secular liberals who are utterly confused as to what to make of it all. The array of weapons unveiled that were never used, the statements by ‘released hostages’ of how they wished martyrdom, the delayed, restricted media tour of the mosque, the disappearance (‘vapourization’) of the dead bodies and so many unanswered questions stare us in the face. The whole scenario seems to challenge and completely shatter the perspective of the secularists. Of course there are still those who go on pretending, but they make themselves look more like patchwork clowns in the process. A ‘Human Rights’ activist from an NGO in Islamabad said, “The women and children who died weren’t all that innocent and so deserve no sympathy… they were extremists.”

The ones more honest than that seem to be confused and are quietly wondering what to make of it all. For, the loathed terrorist Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, in his dying, has made his killers look cruel, oppressive, unscrupulous. And if this is indeed so, his dying becomes noble, almost heroic… But this dare not be said, for it sounds ‘extremist’ (whatever that means). In his dying, the hitherto vile terrorist has reinstated boldly his ideal and his unflinching fidelity to it. He has towered above the despicable pygmies. If this isn’t a hero’s embrace of immortality, if this isn’t martyrdom, what is?

A lot of us cannot understand this, and prefer not to face what shines clear as day. Our complete disassociation with the spirit of Islam, our complete estrangement from its values and idealism explains this inability to call a spade a spade. For, the history of the Kaabah is reddened with suffering and blood, as Iqbal had said. Sacrifice and martyrdom, dying for a cause is the crowning glory of Islam. But we understand not the spirit. “Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” (Hadith)

Beelzebub (Iblis) in his Parliament, (In Iqbal’s famous poem), spoke to his subordinates about the strategy to vanquish the faithful thus: “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.” It is this Muslim spirit that makes one give life, one’s very life, to make a bold statement that makes a resounding echo in hearts. In our spiritless selves, our secularized sensibility, this ‘outrageous behaviour’ that looks curiously noble in the heart of our hearts, makes no sense. But all the same, it echoes in the heart…

And the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

In the far flung village of Rojhan Mazari, a tearful young man stands over a dusty grave draped in flower petals. He remembers, his voice choking with tears: “We feel we’ve been orphaned. This man shone like a full moon in the dark sky…” At the numberless anonymous mass graves in Islamabad stand men in sweat-drenched Shalwar Kameez, sobbing and praying, “These innocents are shaheed, (martyrs)” they say, “but we refuse to call them this… but with Allah, their honour is great!” At the Sports Complex, looking expectantly at the list of names and not finding her beloved only child’s, a widow from a distant village stands distraught and tearful: “He used to say, Amma, I’ll come back a learned man and serve you… I have little hope in anyone that they would help me know where he is,” she sobs. “But in Allah, in Him I have all my trust... He is my Caretaker. Allah waris hai…”

Out of the rhetoric, lies, agendas, blood, fire and debris, it is this spirit that emerges in its exquisite grandeur, ennobled with blood, sweat and tears; immortal, radiant and undying. It is this that cannot, with all the Plans of Beelzebub’s Parliament, be extorted from the hearts of men. “And while they plan, Allah also Plans. And the Best of planners is Allah.” (The Quran)

What Would You Call It?


Maryam Sakeenah

One stands the risk of being considered ignorant and unenlightened if one reads more than tectonic-plate dynamics into the quake. And this is where I feel the tragedy lies_ in our stubborn refusal to see this squarely for what it meant; in our unpreparedness to digest the message clear as day.

For, what would you call it when thriving cities are sucked into the earth in the wink of an eye; when a sudden, all-pervasive death seizes one in the act, the earth is rent asunder and mountains fly about in billowy bits? Would you call it tectonic-plate dynamics and go about your business? Would you call it another occurrence in the chaos of Darwin’s godless nature?

Zareen, a teenaged quake survivor relates the experience, remarking with bated breath how strongly she felt it was indeed the Last Hour. “Everything that happened was exactly like what I had heard about the coming of the Judgement Day. I literally saw mountains crumbling like sand, the earth giving way and landmarks disappearing in seconds. I was sure the world had finished.”

“The Great Disaster! What is the Great Disaster? And what do you know what the Great Disaster is? It is the Day when men shall be like scattered moths; And mountains like carded wool…” (Surah Al Qariah)

At 16, Zareen has understood the message, as she confides in me her firm resolve to pursue Quranic studies once she re-settles in life. I admire her.

It was a stark reminder, a warning, a wake-up call. This is the nature and reality of our lives. With all our arrogance and megalomania, our Enlightened Moderation, our alliance with the mighty U.S, our technology and development, stripped to nakedness we are weaklings. For, who can guarantee for himself the next moment? The complete failure of civil structure, communication and monitoring systems in the face of natural calamity makes a mockery of all the trappings of power man feels to have acquired with the steady march of time. We are, after all, as human and as mortal as we ever were.

“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high.” (4:78)

Death, and the eventuality of the grave is an absolute, inevitable reality. There is no choice, no escape, no postponement of this eventuality. It is coming for you, for me, for the man there. In the long run, folks, we all end up dead. We don’t have a choice about it. We don’t have a choice about anything, for that matter, except that we can choose to be prepared, or unprepared. The analogy is that of a man being sent to a place on a mission, being told he has a time-bomb fixed to his chest that’s ticking away and you don’t know when it will explode. But you are tied to it, and it can go boom anytime. You can hear the beat in your chest, ticking away… The wise one carries the consciousness of is situation at the back of his head in everything he does. And so, he will work hard to give the world his best, for his life is his last chance. The unwise one forgets, spends his ‘heydays’ and is eventually defeated by the inevitable. Deluded, befooled. Choosing between the two ways is the freedom we have.

Some 'Tabieen (followers of Companions of the Prophet S.A.W) came to the house of A’isha and said, “O mother of the believers, tell us about earthquakes.” A’isha said, “Anytime zina (fornication) becomes widespread, & a lot of wine is drunk (consumed), & musical instruments becomes prevalent (singing girls), the earth rebels against the crimes that are being committed on top of her, so she shakes & causes buildings to tumble down & swallow the people up.” So the ‘Tabieen said, “How are we supposed to interpret this (i.e. natural disasters earthquakes)?” She said, A punishment for the disbelievers and a reminder to the believers.” (From the audio "Natural Disasters" by Shaikh Faisal Abdullah).

As Muslims, the fundamental principle of tauhid central to Islam must colour our vision of life. It means that everything that happens must be seen as a piece in the Divinely-laid scheme of things. Every occurrence fits into the mural of God’s Plan. In the Muslim’s worldview, there are no random accidents, no meaningless chaos or anarchy in nature. For, Nature is Allah’s manifestation, and its processes are by His Design. Justice is knitted into the essence of the panorama of creation and existence. It is written in the heart of the universe. It will be carried out. Nature does not let it be.

"For to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth." (48:7)

This is a pattern of history, and its lesson.

"Did We not destroy the ancients? So shall We make the later generations to follow them. Thus do We deal with the Mujrimoon (criminals, disbelievers, sinners.). Woe that Day to the deniers (of the Day of Resurrection)!" (77:16-19)

In the debris of Islamabad’s Margalla Towers were found in profusion bottles of alcoholic drinks. When the Towers went down in the seismic wave on the morning of 2nd Ramadan, screams and cries mixed with loud music played on cassette players was clearly audible. This is Death’s relentless seizure. This is how that Greater Power we turn so forgetful of, laughs at our frivolity play.

“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?”(23:115)

Almost exactly four years ago on this date, the Government of Pakistan had unequivocally declared its all-out support to the U.S against Afghanistan, mobilizing its troops and establishing American military bases on its northern borders for the unholy crusade. Then came the dirty clandestine games in Waziristan. We strengthened the hand of the oppressor by choosing to remain the sleepwalking zombies that we are. Nature does not sit back and watch.

Interestingly, one major justification for this choice we had readily bought as a nation was that on choosing otherwise, we’d be left alone and our eastern neighbour could attack, threatening Azad Kashmir. Also, that choosing a wise alliance with the mighty West, we’d be led to economic boons. Did you hear that financial loss due to the quake amounted to U.S $ 12.5 billion? Did you hear about the ‘peanuts’ doled out as U.S aid for the quake-ravaged region? Do you remember how we had celebrated the safety for AJK and economic gain our government had so wisely and courageously ensured all those years back?

"Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the Heaven, will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven, will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) was My Warning." (67:16-17)

The lives lost are buried and forgotten, thrown in the ashbin of history. Public memory is very short, and forgetfulness can easily be imposed on nations by creating a State-sponsored valueless, frivolous culture of eat, drink and be merry that eventually becomes lifestyle. But the heart of the earth does not forget even when we do.

“We record that which they send before them, and their traces, and all things We have recorded with numbers (as record) in a Clear Book.” (36:12)

God’s mills grind slowly, but they grind very fine.

One shudders to think of the bestiality of man on coming across grotesque incidents of looting, mutilating corpses for gold, kidnapping and abuse of the vulnerable survivors in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Now that a year is done, the lives of those thousands still hang in the balance and shadows of gloom still lurk on the horizons. Things are far from normalcy. Rehabilitation efforts have fallen off the mark and the public is unaware of the use of the funds collected. Hardly a select few have been the beneficiaries. The rest still languish in the dark, still waiting for the Godot.

The Divine message has been loud and clear. We chose to thrust fingers in our ears. We fell very, very short. The despair and hopelessness in the eyes of the survivors speaks of the apathy shown to them. Corruption, pilferage, dishonesty, greed have dehumanized us. One wonders…what then can stop man? How human are we if a warning that big cannot stay the evil hand? Yet what stands tall above all the morass is that impregnable spirit of heroic stoicism and perseverance of the affectees. May Allah bless them and give them what we withheld, an eternal abode in the gardens of Paradise.

It is important to note that the first ones to rally to the call for help, the ones who tirelessly worked and made a tangible difference to alleviate the pain were those we have officially disowned. It was the Islamist organizations who rose to the occasion most admirably and played the Messiah without making loud claims for the limelight, accolades and acclaim. That is the beauty of faith nothing can ever measure up to. That a government that cannot even produce a transparent report of the use of quake funds slaps bans on these groups and restricts them to serve an alien interest is deeply ironical.

It has been a great test, a tremendous exposition. One still longs, however, to see the learning and maturing. Sadly, the media has not done much on this front to create that vital sense of realization to make the nation do a bit of soul-searching that this calamity necessitated.

Turning away from the clear lessons, or making slight of them is the greater tragedy, for it starkly exposes how deep our descent into slumber is_ that a blitz that great, that jarring cannot rouse us to the Reminder. It makes the tragedy manifold.

“Verily, We sent (Messengers) to many nations before you (O Muhammad) and We seized them with suffering and adversity that they might humble themselves. When Our torment reached them, why then did they not humble themselves (believe with humility)? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made fair seeming to them that which they used to do.

So, when they forgot (the warning) with which they had been reminded, We opened for them the gates of every (pleasant) thing, until in the midst of their enjoyment in that which they were given, all of a sudden, We took them (in punishment), and lo! They were plunged into destruction with deep regrets and sorrows. So of the people who did wrong the last remnant was cut off. All praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.” (Surah al-An'aam verses 41-44)