Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Secular 'Ism'


Maryam Sakeenah

The façade of 'freedom of expression' does little to hide the real motives behind the republication of the Danish caricatures. It is a blatant provocation, a mischief_ and any fool can see that.

No sir, not the same bait each time. This time round, you only proved that with all your noise about freedom and liberal values, you're so badly and pathetically mired up in your self-created prejudices.

This time, it is you who took the bait_ and we're having our last laugh.

All the same, some important lessons emerge from it. For one, it helps one see deeper into the West's much-touted secular creed. Europe chose to wear proud the secular label for the tolerance, pluralism and freedom that being secular entails. And yet, it is ironic that so many years down the line, Western secular society continues to be trapped in fanatical prejudices and intolerance against an increasingly ghettoized Muslim community.

Prejudice and misinformed bigotry against Islam in the West's secular polity have reached manic proportions. Fear and hatred of the Muslim stereotype to an excessive and obsessive degree pumped up by the media is palpable in Western society. Michael Savage, a popular talk-show host in America remarked on his show: "When I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi. That's what I see. How do you like that? A hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children. When a woman wears a burqa, she's doing it to spit in your face. She's saying, 'you white moron, you, I'm gonna kill you if I can."

In France, the headscarf is banned; in UK teachers wearing the veil have to seek recourse to courts to win the right to dress like they want. All over Europe and America, Muslim populations face all kinds of discrimination and even victimization, which has put Muslims everywhere on the defensive, increasingly insecure in trying to practise their faith. Secular Western society grows more exclusivist and supremacist by the day.

The West's secular creed has assumed a totalitarian character. The values of freedom and tolerance it claims to champion are applied only selectively, as secular societies refuse to integrate or even accommodate religion. It has become an aggressively fanatical creed, wearing proud its irreligion with a militant religiosity. According to Phillip Bond and Adrian Pabst writing for the International Herald Tribune, "European societies enshrine the primacy of secular law over and against religious principles. Far from ensuring neutrality and tolerance, the secular European state arrogates to itself the right to control and legislate all spheres of life; state constraints apply especially to religion and its civic influence. Legally, secularism outlaws any rival source of sovereignty or legitimacy. Politically, secularism denies religion any import in public debate and decision-making. Culturally, secularism enforces its own norms and standards upon all other belief systems."

The secular commitment to freedom of expression has become a justification for intellectual abuse, slander and propaganda directed against a community_ very frequently, 'immoderate' Muslims. A whole array of Western pseudo-intellectuals, journalists and leaders participate in the verbal onslaught, seeking cover under the shield of freedom of expression. According to Karen Armstrong, "With freedom of speech comes a lot of responsibility. Anything that tramples on sensitivities is not freedom of expression. And whatever comes from the heart can never offend like this." The secular intellectual reserve of the West has failed to define what freedom of expression really means; that it is not the right to hurt, abuse, blatantly malign and provoke in calculated moves.

Ironically, however, State legislation in many secular countries effectively checks what is defined as 'anti-Semitic' expression_which also includes the intellectual crime of doubting the statistics of the Jewish Holocaust. There goes freedom of expression.

Secularism comes packaged nice and appealing, wrapped in humane vocabulary. It is all about democracy, individual liberty, freedom, tolerance, pluralism and moderation. States in the West loyally commit themselves to it, living under a grandiose fantasy of superior humanity and a higher civilization. With this narcissistic perception comes the license to play the global Big Brother, dictating the order of things arbitrarily. Dennis Rahkonen writes in 'Ugly American needs a Makeover', "Our insufferable arrogance and foreign policy excesses are garnering us record levels of international opprobrium…Washington tries to thrust its wayward will on understandably resistant mankind." Secularism is nurturing an ultraconservatist extremism in Western state machinery, screeching madly onward towards what Huntington called the 'Clash of Civilizations.'

Ideology-lessness or poverty of vision are the gifts of secularism. Wrapped up in promises of liberation and democracy, the secular vision is depraved, devoid of an ethical orientation. As a result, we see secularism's 'missionary soldiers' committing heinous crimes against humanity while in a drunken stupor of arrogant self-righteousness. The West's apathetic insensitivity to Israel's blatant human rights violations of the hapless Palestinians reflects just that, as does their support and their sordid deals with the highly corrupt and unpopular Fatah.

Seven years on, the secular missionary zeal with which Afghanistan was 'liberated' has quite dissipated. The spokesperson of a women's NGO in Afghanistan lays bare the West's bid on her country: "The US militarily occupied Afghanistan to 'bring freedom and democracy' to the Afghan people… but it has empowered and equipped the criminal bands of the Northern Alliance, making a game of the values of human rights. The destitution and suffering of our people doubles every day. Our children fall victim to NATO's non-stop bombardments. The Northern Alliance bloodsuckers have key government posts… human rights violations, corruption, crime and violence have reached their peak, and women in prisons are raped as a common practice. If these foreign troops leave Afghanistan, we will feel no vacuum, but rather more free… Neither the US nor any other power wants to actually release the Afghan people from these fetters…"

The megalomania of the Secular 'ism' is not just wreaking havoc in the foreign policy misadventures of the Western world. Greater crises are brewing up in Western societies. This great demographic crisis has its seeds in Enlightenment Europe's celebrated dissociation from religion. It was a shortsighted triumph, ignoring the reality that human societies cannot survive in a secularized milieu. The natural corollary is the amoral relativized morass we observe at the heart of Western civilizaion.Today, religious morality and universal ethics are absent from the Western consciousness. And the absence makes its presence felt. According to Mitt Romney, "Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality..." On the social level, Secularism generates a culture of degeneracy, a society of minimal selves, ephemeral lives. Socially, secular societies have abandoned the cultural cohesion based on transcendental human values religion creates. This is what makes secular society fragmented, excluding those it defines as the 'other.'

Secularism is fundamentally flawed, as it overlooks the undeniable reality that man by nature cannot create a society with multilaterally co-existent beliefs and systems. By nature, man propagates his belief, fights for it and aspires for the pre-eminence of his own ideology. A state of absolute equality and pluralist co existence of multiple opposed beliefs is a Utopian dream. Secularism aspires to create this Utopian state, but fails to achieve it, given the inalterability of human nature. It eventually evolves into an authoritarian creed, weeding out remnants of archaic religious belief. Because of its inherent amorality and absence of a universal ethical idealism religion could give, Secularism eventually degenerates into a ruthless imposition of irreligion, often discriminatory, intensely intolerant, divisive and exclusivist. This is exactly what is plaguing Western societies today.

A reactionary response to the secular onslaught has been the growing rise of Evangelicism. Evangelicism, however, is more of another fanatical creed than a comprehensive system built around universal religious morality. It is an imposition of the 'love of God', having done 'untold damage to non-Christian societies in the name of Jesus'(Z. Sardar, The New Statesman), including the printing and distribution of counterfeit 'Korans', propagation of anti-Islamic blasphemous literature and incitement of apostasies among despondent Muslim communities. Like Secularism, the Evangelist is deluded into believing that all is fair as a 'benevolent act in the name of Jesus.'

It is Islam alone, with its stringent moral basis, that stands as a veritable alternative and an effective bulwark. For, it knits into a comprehensive whole, both the secular and the religious aspects of life, and imbues them with a pristine, absolute morality that is all-embracing in its universality. Unlike Secularism and other fanatical creeds, Islam does not blindly cling to a hidden ideological agenda under cover of a civilizing mission. It energetically denounces the violation of human rights both in the name of religious fanaticism, and in the name of secular liberalism and democracy. It is not selective, and upholds what secular and narrow creeds cannot_ an objective universal Truth transcending the limits of human fallibility and endeavour. It towers above the morass of 'isms' the world is riddled with. The Prophet (SAW) said in his Last Sermon:
"O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so
regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the
goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no
one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that
He will indeed reckon your deeds.
O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your
women, but they also have right over you. If they abide by your right then
to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your
women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed
You know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are all equal. You are all sons and daughters of Adam, and Adam was made from dust. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non Arab, or of a white over a black. Nobody has superiority over another except by piety and good action.
Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people".

Rights of non-Muslim subjects are clearly outlined in Islamic Law, and their honour, freedom and safety is guaranteed in the Islamic society. Muslim communities in history have maintained exemplary levels of tolerance towards minorities. The first Islamic community was essentially pluralist, deeply integrated and egalitarian_ in so much more meaningful ways than what any modern-day secular society can boast of.

Since the nature of human society is that a single belief or system is bound to gain ascendancy over others, it is important for the triumphant system to have a strong basis in absolute universal morality so as to include all in a single human bonding. A truly universal and inclusive system can only be one that upholds justice as its highest value, and guarantees the protection of basic human rights without discrimination and narrow delineations. Distinctions are unavoidable, as humanity is not a monolithic entity but a diverse, multi-layered multiplicity. However, distinctions based on ethnicity, race, social status and nationalism eventually dwindle into narrow fanatical creeds. A system that allows for no distinction but that of a humanizing faith offers a promising, egalitarian vision. The ideal human community is one held together by the bonding of ideas and faith. Not just because this faith is the highest human trait, but also because it is essentially liberating; its commitment to universal morality means it includes and respects all; its merit is that it does not divide humanity into those of a 'lesser' and those of a 'higher' God. It is a guarantee of true, veritable and meaningful human liberation. A system according supremacy to none but those of 'righteous conduct' (which is solely judged by God), is truly egalitarian, progressive, promising and visionary.

Thinking minds both in the West and non-Western societies are gradually feeling a disaffection with the avowed Secular worldview. Sped up by the ongoing War on Terror, the distinctions between fanaticism in the guise of religion and pristine Islam are becoming clearer to see. Muslims are feeling the urge to find out and inquire for themselves the Whole Truth_ and it is leading many Homewards. That explains the growing numbers of converts to Islam in the West and the ever-increasing numbers of young, educated 'born again' practising Muslims the world over. And that is why, what with all the hypocrisy and the insanity around, we have grounds for hope. That is why the puerile tricks by publishers of blasphemous caricatures and Dutch documentary-makers are merely a puny, ridiculous, self-defeating endeavour.

Whose War?


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?'

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 in India where Muslims are the minority community or hate-filled anti-Muslim wall-chalking is never an issue anywhere.

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 in Peshawar also points 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.'

Whose agenda does this truly serve? There is plenty of method in the madness of the mayhem. It is noteworthy that of late the spate of attacks have acquired a malevolent and malicious character hitherto untried. Attack on a funeral in Swat, attacks on congregations, the attack on the peace jirga in Darra Adamkhel and the Rawalpindi attack targeting a senior eye surgeon associated with the Army Medical wing are all notably atypical; an anomaly quite uncharacteristic of militant operations in Pakistan which, it must be confessed, show at least some discrimination between combatant and non-combatant, civilian and non civilian. The attacks launched by the restive pro Taliban fighters in the north clearly differ fundamentally, and do not become dastardly and indiscriminate as opposed to NATO sponsored operations bombing schoolchildren and wedding processions. It is commendable that the Taliban spokesperson vociferously condemned the brutal killing and mutilation of the kidnapped American soldier in Afghanistan. Yvonne Ridley would tell you of her firsthand experience as an espionage suspect and prisoner in the hands of the evil Talibanist mullahs_ an experience that helped her transform from Yvonne Ridley to Maryam.

What is also noticeable is the cover-up of crystal clear evidence proving the involvement of intelligence agencies in the ongoing mayhem. The sheepish stance of the government in keeping mum and not showing the world the clues which, put together, complete a pattern that unveils the hidden hands is disgraceful.

There's an audible silence, a hush that gives away a great deal. We're tight-lipped, being pawns in the game_ sans sovereignty. 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?

It is very understandable. The US suffered huge setbacks in its mired Iraq and Afghanistan policies. The fiction of 'a war for peace, liberation, freedom, democracy' has become quite a mockery. It is for the world to see the morass the US invasion left in its travails, the debris that was once Falluja or Jalalabad. Noam Chomsky describes the ruins of Falluja after US airstrikes: "It looked like a city of ghosts. People bled to their death in the city… it was a desolate world of skeletal buildings, tank-blasted homes, weeping power lines and severed palm trees, devoid of running water, electricity, commerce or schools, with lakes f sewage in the streets, the smell of corpses inside charred buildings…" Furthermore, "The US invasion was a truly horrible and brutal one for hapless Iraq. Hatred of the US is now rampant in the country subjected to years of sanctions that had already led to the destruction of the Iraqi middles class, the collapse of the education system and the growth of illiteracy and despair. Basic services deteriorated, hospitals running out of the most basic medicines. There is a countrywide food shortage, and over 400,000 Iraqi children suffer from wasting_ a severe form of malnutrition. Facilities are in horrid shape and specialists are fleeing the country… no figures were provided on the death toll in Iraq, but it is estimated to be much higher than a 100,000. According to a university professor in Iraq who remembers the sacking of Baghdad hundreds of years ago by Halagu Khan, the difference between Halagu and the American invaders is that Halagu was far more humane."

As a result, the US policies the world over have received a severe setback, and are beginning to be seen as unjust and myopic. People are beginning to question, to disagree and to understand why a victim would refuse to be a victim and strap bombs around his body. As Edward Said explained, "Take a young man from Gaza living in the most horrendous conditions_ most of it imposed by US backed Israel_ who straps dynamite around himself and then throws himself into a crowd of Israelites. I've never condoned or agreed with it, but at least it is understandable as the desperate wish of a human being crowded out of life and all of his surroundings; who feels his fellow citizens, other Palestinians , his parents, sisters and brothers, suffering, being injured or killed. He wants to do something, to strike back."

The anti-US sentiment has been on the rise, particularly so in frontline states that have felt the outfall of the insane wars. Pakistan, Newsweek's 'Most Dangerous Place' has the highest anti-US sentiment the world over, and sympathy for the militant cause. This can also explain the overwhelming anti-Musharraf vote in the recent elections: a public refusal to play poodle. This certainly undermines the US agenda in its 'major non NATO ally', and the CIA gurus are at pains to engineer a psychological overhaul of the disruptive anti-US public opinion in the Wild, Wild Pakistan.

And so, the bombs serve_ especially those readily labeled by the media as suicide hits sponsored by bloodthirsty Islamist fanatics. Each time a bombshell goes off killing our very own, victimizing innocents_ people like you and me, the fiction permeates deeper, the righteousness of the US's crusade against potential suicide bombers receives understanding and justification. And each time, simple minds tuned to the media matrix switch sides, converting to the creed of the crusader. For, the God-made softness in the human heart can never condone the killing of innocents. When maniacal, brain-controlled madrassah-goers hankering for Paradise are shown to be perpetrators, it is the madrassah and its student who suffer the ire, the disdain. The message: "It is these beasts we are out to kill. For they would kill you if we don't them". It is the simple logic of demonizing the enemy. Showing you that the bearded one there disguises a beastly heart, and deserves to be dealt with the way the US believes it ought to be done. Show how bad and ugly and dangerous the enemy is. Next time they smoke out militants from a cave dwelling, they'll be sure there will be fewer sympathizers. There are few who would dig deeper and wonder about the missing links to the conclusion jumped at.

The mission before the US and its military-intelligence arsenal is to convert the War on Terror from 'America's war' to 'Our war.' It is a transition from theirs to ours that is vital to US interests in Pakistan. The Muslim citizen would never support a War he knows serves American interests. So the psychological strategy is to show it to be not so much America's war as a war we need to fight for our own great good_ a war the great West fights for us out of its great sense of compassion. So the sympathy has to be directed away from the desperate militant-rebel, and has to be channellized to serve the American cause. And well, if the strategy demands a few bombs and corpses here and there, a consistently rising death toll of innocents, well, so be it. As Madeleine Albright would say, "it's a number we're not terribly interested in."

That's the Way of the Brave New World. You lump it if you do not like it. For they're gonna have fun on this planet. They're gonna play the Great Game. You're with Us or against Us. Choose_ for the life of you.