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Kashmir and the Afghan withdrawal

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By Abdul Majid Zargar
TACSTRAT

In-spite of a massive force build-up and despite adoption of ” Shock & awe” theory and thousands of Drone attacks backed up by latest technology, a defeat stares in the face of America in Afghanistan. Its troop withdrawal plan by the end of 2014 is an organized retreat, if not a total surrender.

And this defeat has not made appearance out of thin air. Washington has known for years that it had no hope of destroying the Taliban, and that it would have to settle for compromise and a political solution with an indigenous insurgency that remains sufficiently popular to have survived the longest U.S. military occupation in history. It was also predicted by think tanks & defense experts alike long ago. A 2010 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), report on Afghanistan predicted:”We have not yet achieved any meaningful form of positive strategic result from over nine years of war in Afghanistan and the conflict may end in a major grand strategic defeat.” Before dying, Richard Holbrooke admitted it, saying “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” His signal was clear & unambiguous .It is another thing that Washington Post reinterpreted it, saying:”Holbrooke’s death is the latest complication in an effort plagued by unreliable partners, reluctant allies and an increasingly skeptical American public.”In 2012, a New York Times editorial wrote that the U.S. military has had to give up on hopes of inflicting enough pain on the Taliban to set favorable terms for a political settlement. Instead, it will be left up to the Afghan combatants to find their own political solution once the U.S. and its allies take themselves out of the fight.

War has its own vocabulary & dictionary. While its start heralds a destruction, its ends sprouts a hope. Hope not only for people who have been direct victims of war but also for region as a whole. It also emits signals which are taken as precedents for adoption by parties- to- conflict in a near or distant land. And America’s imminent defeat in Afghanistan is already emitting powerful signals that only a Gun can be answer to enforce a decision or solution, how-so-ever powerful the other party might be. It has rekindled a new hope among those propagating armed struggle in Kashmir as the only viable way to solve the long festering problem of Kashmir.

Kashmir is a geopolitical Gordian knot, interwoven by Indian and Pakistani intransigence .The real reason for the Indian State’s obsession with Kashmir is that ‘losing Kashmir’ (whatever that means) will make the Indian state look ‘weak’. For Pakistan the misconception is that Kashmir is its jugular vein ( again whatever that means). Both these narratives are devoid of genuine aspirations of people of J&K. Even after acquiring huge stockpile of nuclear arms both countries are distrustful & fearful of each other.

Kashmir is the longest standing dispute recognized by United Nations & International community. It is the highest militarized zone on earth and according to a fresh entry in the Guinness book of world records, nearly a million of soldiers are continuously staring at each other in a territory which is flanked by three nuclear armed countries. And supposedly the professional armies of both the countries have ceded space to communal & extremist elements within their ranks.

It is a drain on the hopes for prosperity, peace and freedom for people throughout the subcontinent, and the world. There is no moving toward peaceful coexistence between the two countries, no stabilization of the region, no possibility for global nuclear disarmament. This conflict has made a vast majority of population hostages in their own land and a tiny minority refugees in their own State. This conflict of last sixty years has brought so much of death & destruction to countless families that another sixty six years will be insufficient to heal their wounds. One fails to understand What exactly is their fault? Is it that they were born on the wrong side of the globe?

Let India & Pakistan start negotiations not out of fear but let they also not fear to negotiate. And before the signals emanating out of Afghanistan are translated into action by extreme elements, which only means further death & destruction, let those be pre-empted by both Countries finding a lasting solution to the problem by taking genuine representatives of Jammu &Kashmir on board and sooner this happens, the better it is.

Author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Email: abdulmajidzargar@gmail.com

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Base Building in Afghanistan?

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The National Interest

When President Barack Obama addresses the nation tonight, the expansion of America’s Afghan military bases will be notably absent from his remarks. Given the administration’s commitment to job creation and economic recovery, it may want to disclose that much of those activities over the next several years will be taking place in Central Asia, rather than America.

Nick Turse, associate editor of TomDispatch.com and author of the The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan, has done a fantastic job collating which of America’s forward operating bases (FOBs) are being expanded, improved, and hardened:

FOB Shindand in western Afghanistan will receive “new security fencing, new guard towers, and new underground electrical lines.”

FOB Salerno near the city of Khost will be undergoing expansion of its fuel facilities. “Estimated to cost $10 million to $25 million, these upgrades will increase fuel storage capacity to one million gallons to enhance land and air operations, and may not be completed for a year and a half; that is, until well into 2012.”

FOB Shank in Logar Province has a new $12 million, 1.4-mile-long airstrip that can accommodate Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

According to Turse, government documents released in August show that in addition, FOB Shank “will be adding a new two-story barracks, constructed of containerized housing units known as ‘relocatable buildings’ or RLBs, to accommodate 1,100 more troops. Support facilities, access roads, parking areas, new utilities, and other infrastructure required to sustain the housing complex will also be installed for an estimated $5 million to $10 million….New aircraft maintenance facilities and 80,000 square feet more of taxiways will also be built at the cost of another $10 million to $25 million.”

FOBs Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province, Dwyer in Helmand Province, and Sharana in Paktika Province will undergo “major expansions of infrastructure to support helicopter operations, including increased apron space, taxiways, and tarmac for parking, servicing, loading, and unloading are planned for facilities.”

The mega-base at Bagram will get a “24,000 square-foot, $10-million command-and-control facility as well as a ‘Joint Defense Operations Center’ with supporting amenities-from water storage tanks to outdoor landscaping.”

The mega-base in Kandahar will undergo numerous upgrades, including “a $28.5 million deal for the construction of an outdoor shelter for fighter aircraft, as well as new operations and maintenance facilities and more apron space, among a host of other improvements.”

At the Special Operations headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, according to Noah Shachtman of Wired.com’s Danger Room, the Army’s plans to build a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility… dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs” worth $30 million.

I assume that some of these bases might in the future allow the United States to keep a watchful eye on developments in Iran and Pakistan, have transit control over air and ground space in the “cockpit” of Asia, and retain a permanent outpost in the backyard of Russia and China. But as a critic of primacy, it seems like I’m fighting a losing battle. After all, despite an increasing perception that the war is being lost-and Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011-the majority of Americans could care little about the conflict, and probably much less about the expansion, improvement, and hardening of America’s Afghanistan bases.

MQM slams US for Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence

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KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain deemed the United States responsible for the unrest in the world, demanding the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.


Pakistan said it would leave “no stone unturned” in trying to bring home Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced to 86 years in jail by a US court.

Hussain addressed the scores of people, estimated to be 300,000 by the MQM, who gathered on his call at MA Jinnah road, near Tibet centre, on Tuesday to condemn an American court’s verdict of Siddiqui’s case.

On September 23, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison on seven charges, including the attempt to murder US military personnel.

The rally was declared successful as members of MQM-opposing groups including the Sunni Tehreek and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam also participated in the rally. Representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Karachi Bar Association, trade unions also joined to condemn the verdict of Dr Siddiqui’s case.

Claiming that Siddiqui is innocent, Hussain demanded her release. “The Americans are responsible for what they have done to the world. America has killed innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he decried.

“The allegations against Dr Siddiqui are false as they could not prove them. America is answerable [not Dr Siddiqui],” he said, slamming the US. Hussain claimed that ninety percent of the world’s population is against the US and its policies.

The MQM showed solidarity with Dr Siddiqui’s cause in more than one way – representatives of MQM’s Rabita Committee were sitting with Dr Siddiqui’s sister, Fauzia Siddiqui. Altaf Hussain called for a united stand on Dr Siddiqui’s case, urging all civil society groups to join in the “struggle”. “Dr Aafia is the daughter of the nation and a symbol of pride [as she] stood courageously and faced the trial. It was exemplary to see a Muslim woman not give up and fight,” Hussain claimed.

Security arrangements

A few hours before the rally, men in yellow caps guarded the entry and exit points of the venue, while a heavy contingent of police and other law enforcing agencies were also deployed. MQM’s security personnel searched each and every participant of the rally at the entrance. The police was seen on the roofs of buildings around MA Jinnah road while the paramilitary Rangers took their resistant positions after the rally ended.

Rallies across Sindh

Several rallies were organised in various parts of the province to protest against Dr Siddiqui’s sentence. Activists of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Muslim Students Federation held a demonstration outside the Hyderabad Press Club to condemn the sentence. Protesters shouted slogans against the verdict and claimed that the government has not taken the issue seriously.

Meanwhile, in Sukkur, a rally was led by Qutubud Din, the MQM Sukkur Zone incharge, during which protesters marched from Jinnah Chowk to the press club. Activists of the Sunni Tehreek and the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz also participated in the rally.

Alert: Russia Orders Troops To Prepare For War With US

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PAKALERT PRESS

Reports circulating in the Kremlin today state that Prime Minister Putin [photo top left] has ordered Russian military forces to prepare to confront American military forces in Afghanistan over what Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warns is the”greatest threat to International peace and security”, Afghanistan’s thriving drug trade supported by the US and NATO.

Not being reported to the American people about the Afghanistan war is that it has nothing to do with their being protected from terrorists, but rather it involves the billions of dollars gained for many of the West’s top intelligence agencies (mainly the CIA) from the heroin produced in this region (90% of World’s total) that by 2001 the Taliban had virtually eliminated.

Immediately after the US invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) installed one of their main Afghan operatives, Hamid Karzai, as President, who then put into power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who since then has increased heroin production to levels unseen in modern times and resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian citizens

Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, Russia’s National drug enforcement agency, told parliament in May that it was reasonable to “call the flow of Afghan opiates the second edition of opium wars.” Ivanov was referring to the 19th-century warbetween Britain and China sparked by exports of opium from British India to China.

Ivanov isn’t alone.

“I can name you a lot of politicians in Russia who said that the Americans specially arranged the situation in Afghanistan so that we would receive a lot of drugs, and this is the real aim of their occupation,” said Andrei Klimov, the deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament. “I’m not sure this is true, but who knows.”

One person who definitely knew it was true was German President Horst Koehler, who after returning from Afghanistan last month linked the war with the defense of German economic interests because it was securing free trade routes for the West and had nothing to do whatsoever with terrorism. For his “outspokenness” President Koehler was forced to resign plunging an already battered Chancellor Merkel into even greater political turmoil.

Most shocking to understand about the CIA’s being the World’s largest drug trafficker is that it isn’t even kept secret anymore and has been embraced by their new President, Barack Obama, who has used billions of dollars earned through Afghan heroin deals to fund his sending US Special Forces teams to over 75 different Nations as well as building for them a new $100 million headquarters base in Afghanistan while his own citizens plunge deeper into poverty.

Important to note though is that Obama is far from being the first American President to embrace the drug trade as nearly all of his predecessors were likewise involved in starting and maintaining wars to keep the billions earned from this most despicable of crimes preying on the weakest people in their society, mainly the poor and people of colour.

For those few reporters seeking to inform the American people about this crime the hard and brutal lesson learned from the late Gary Webb’s blacklisting and suiciding by US intelligence agents after his revealing the CIA’s involvement in the drug trade presents a chilling example of what these monsters will do to protect themselves and their right to poison anyone they so choose.

Interesting to note too is that according to the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organized crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352 Billion of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

Though the American people still ignore the crimes being perpetrated by their so called leaders, the lessons of their own history should not be lost upon them, especially when viewed in the light of the use of drug and alcohol laws used for mass imprisonment while at the same time instituting around them a draconian tyrannical society where all their freedoms will be stripped from them.

And for those American’s thinking that their life couldn’t get any worse? They couldn’t be more mistaken! For just this past week Obama’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released what they call a “staff discussion draft” of “potential policy recommendations to support the reinvention of journalism” wherein they called for doctrine of “proprietary facts” that would outlaw anyone writing or reporting on anything that happens unless they use the “facts” provided to them by the government.

But than again, and as the history of these American’s seems to show, with their massive government debt about to eclipse their Gross National Product (GDP) for the first time in history, their once vital Gulf of Mexico region succumbing to the World’s worst oil spill catastrophe, and their NASA scientists now warning that the “awakening” Sun may destroy everything anyway, maybe they truly can’t be told the truth and must be treated like the children they act like.

Narendra Modi: Travails Of Travel Abroad

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By Ram Puniyani

While law of the land is trying to catch up with the acts of commission and omission in the Gujarat carnage, another set of laws, the global ones have been very clear about permitting the entry of a person like Narendra Modi into their country.

Recently (April 8, 2010), a group of German MPs justified the denial of visa to Modi. They advocated a ban on his visiting Europe. This parliamentary delegation was on a two day visit to the city of Ahmedabad to study the state of minorities in Gujarat. It concluded that the European Union (EU) decision not to grant visa to him was justified. They went to the extent of banning his trip to Europe in near future. They pointed out that “the Chief Minister of Gujarat has a radical tone to his politics and is described as dictatorial. He has a wrong perception of religious freedom.” This four member team has been closely following developments in the Gujarat riot cases.

One member of delegation pointed out that he was shocked by parallels between Germany under Hitler and Gujarat under Modi. Incidentally in Gujarat school books Hitler has been glorified as a great nationalist. Modi, in response to this has written to Prime Minister to seek apology from the German delegation for tarnishing the image of democratically elected head of state. The Congress Government endorsed Modi’s view and clarified that the EU had put a ban on Modi’s visit in the aftermath of Gujarat carnage but that has been withdrawn. Also that it was not an official delegation. Whatever that be, the opinion of the members of the delegation does reflect a deeper truth of our political phenomenon.

That apart, this is not the first time that such a thing has happened. Modi was earlier denied visa to US. On March 18, 2005 in a severe rebuke to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the United States denied him entry to America. US Consular division had taken a strong stand against Modi, the Hindutva icon. They denied him diplomatic visa apparently holding him responsible for communal carnage of 2002. In addition, his tourist/business visa which was already granted was revoked under a section of US Immigration and Nationality Act since he was not coming for a purpose that qualifies for a diplomatic visa.

In response to the query that he was already holding a tourist-cum-business visa, the Consulate pointed out that the “existing tourist/business visa has been revoked under Section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” According this section any foreign government official who was responsible or “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religions freedom” is denied the visa. The decision of US authorities was based on the observations of India’s National Human Rights Commission findings and other independent Indian sources.

The observation of German delegation raises one additional major point about the state of Gujarat being similar to that of Germany under Hitler. Who will know it better than Germans who have suffered the political tragedy of fascism for bad many years? Modi’s point that he is an elected person again matches so well with Hitler. One recalls, Hitler came to power through democratic means and then he gradually eroded liberal-democratic norms from inside to bring in worst type of fascist state. The parallels are unmistakable. There are some differences from German fascism here but all the same the basic phenomenon is the same. Fascism is a politics where the liberal democratic space is abolished in the name of targeting some section of society for the supposed cause of National interest. In case of Germany the process was accompanied by a cultural paradigm shift and political aggression against communists, then trade unionists and then the Jews. Millions of Jews were subjected to the gas chambers, one of the greatest tragedies of the human history of twentieth century.

The politics of Hitler, and his clone Mussolini was praised by M.S. Golwalkar the ideologue of RSS, the organization where Modi has been indoctrinated and trained. Golwalkar’s formulations of aggressive nationalism and relegating minorities to second-class citizenship are being actualized by Modi and company in different ways.

While the similarities with German case are so glaring, there are some differences as well. The German fascism began to take social roots after the economic crisis generated in the aftermath of First World War. The cultural offensive in the field of arts, music, literature and the ‘glorification of ancient past’ picked up rapidly. In one of the major assaults on democracy, the fire at Reichstag was attributed to having been done by Communists, and physical violence was unleashed against them. Analogies with Godhra train burning are unmistakable.

Here the ascendance of Modi comes on the background of the economic crisis of the decade of 1980s, the adverse effects of globalization picking up, the loss of jobs of the downtrodden due to closure of textile mills, the attacks on the dalits OBCs in the name of anti reservation riots. The cultural manipulation began with Ram Temple movement, and spreading of hate against minorities, Muslims first and then the Christians, who by now have been relegated to second class citizenship in Gujarat and some other states and the trend in other states is going in that direction.

While in Germany whole of the Nation came under the grip of fascism, the saving grace in India is that the electoral face of ‘Indian fascism’, BJP, has not been able to come to absolute majority in the center by itself. That’s not to say that fascism is not marching. In Germany the defeat of Germany in Second World War led to the collapse of the nation along with the edifice of fascism with the fascist-in-chief committing suicide. In India here it has gripped Gujarat in full, while in other states like Karnataka, Orissa, MP its presence is getting strengthened by and by. At national level though BJP might have faced two electoral debacles, the infiltration of fascist ideology through the pores of Indian democracy is going on in various ways. The phenomenon is creeping slowly though section of media, communalization of education, and infiltration of the followers of this ideology in different section of state. The gradual attempt to erode the liberal and plural values is a dangerous portent for democracy. Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit’s alleged involvement in Malegon blast may just be the tip of the iceberg. The judicial pronouncements that ‘Gita should be our national book’ are also reflective of the same phenomenon.

Indian fascism is a slow growing one, capturing different aspects of society one by one. It is not for nothing that Modi is the darling of big capitalists, who stand to gain maximum from the fascist type set ups. One can label Indian phenomenon as a chronic fascism, going in a step ladder pattern. Those of us relived because of electoral debacles of BJP at center need to wake up and realize that fascism is marching, irrespective of BJP’s electoral debacle in last two general elections.

The incidental observation from German delegates report is that since Germany went through such a painful period of history, many Germans realize and can sense the symptoms of fascism so easily. Same applies to many Japanese joining anti-Nuke protests and campaigns against Nuclear weapons. Who knows better than them as to what a nuclear weapon can do to the society?

So while here in India the justice to Modi ilk is elusive, globally there are norms which do recognize the nature of incidents happening here, the politics which abuses religious identity to come to power is in essence a variant of fascism whatever be its other characteristics.

GORDON DUFF: WHY IS AMERICA SUPPORTING THE INDO-TALIBAN?

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ARMED AND FINANCED ALMOST ENTIRELY BY AMERICA AND INDIA

THE TALIBAN “ENEMY” IS OUR OWN CREATION

By Gordon Duff STAFF

Two years ago analysts claimed most of the Taliban were fighting America simply because “they were there.” Though this may be true to some extent still, other factors have made this statement obsolete. Not only is America financing the Taliban, we are arming it and, through our ally India, training it as well. This is the “understory” behind the news that is never reported and the reports handed out to the press.

First we started by blaming the Taliban for the massive increase in narcotics production after the Taliban were forced out of power. Is it a coincidence that America invaded Afghanistan after Al Qaeda and bin Laden, only when opium production was entirely eradicated in Afghanistan? We never found bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan under virtual “house arrest” prior to 9/11, an incident, despite misleading stories to the contrary, he has never been tied to in any way. In fact, we never really found Al Qaeda or any training camps either. We did, however, manage to start a war against the Afghan tribes, a war that stretched into Pakistan, a war that is left America and the Karzai government in control of part of the city of Kabul and nothing else.

The traditional blame for American failures is passed on to President Karzai, accused of being a weak leader or tied to the massive corruption and narcotics dealing that have overwhelmed Afghanistan. Even more blame has been placed on failed American policies of aligning with minority tribes in the north known to be generally hostile to the majority of Afghanistan’s population. These things, though true, are little more than excuses covering larger scandals, much larger and much more insidious.

A couple of weeks ago, it was quietly admitted that the massive new Afghan national police force was a failure, not just because it was feared and hated across the country or that it was untrained, ethnically unbalanced and a black hole of lost money. It was also selling its weapons and ammunition to the Taliban, weapons and ammunition paid for by the United States, the best money could buy, far above the quality available to our enemies from local sources. We did nothing about this other than let the story die on the vine as usual.

We had long known that the primary source of funds for the Taliban was the protection money paid them to allow supplies to come through their territory to reach American forces. Prices per truck, and the trucks number in the thousands per week, have gone from $300 USD to nearly $1500 USD. Now, it seems, massive transportation contracts have been given to individuals in Afghanistan that own no trucks but rather sub-contract to unknown companies. We are no longer certain that we haven’t actually hired the Taliban itself to do America’s logistical support in Afghanistan. They used to provide security. Now they may even own the trucks themselves.

INDIAN INVOLVEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Despite the fact that our primary ally, Pakistan, has been telling us that India has been arming and training terrorists in Pakistan, we continue to allow this. Thousands of Indian “security forces” hostile to Pakistan man “consulates” along the Pakistan border. It is reported that they are arming Taliban forces, forces that should be called the “Indo-Taliban” to fight inside Pakistan. This, of course, constitutes America allowing an enemy to openly operate against its own allies and even its own forces. What could be the political inducement for this?

Why would the Pakistan government send a high level delegation to Washington to ask our government to end supporting India’s effort to train and arm the Taliban, a group America is currently fighting against? Could India’s close relationship with Israel, a nation over half the members of congress signed a pledge of “undying and unconditional support” for be a factor? The only historical equivalent would have been for America to bring Canada into Vietnam to arm and train the Viet Cong. The only secret that is more poorly kept than this one is our decision to “attack” Marjah, the drug capital of Afghanistan, attack an enemy that had withdrawn or may have never existed and to “protect” the opium crop we used to claim financed the Taliban.

Who would want to interfere with a narco-empire stretching over, not only Afghanistan, but an entire region, governments that loosely support American efforts as long as drug revenue keeps coming.

WHAT WILL JUNE BRING?

With 30,000 new troops coming into Afghanistan while the remaining support for the Karzai government crumbles around us and corruption level reach new highs, can a military solution in support of a totally dysfunctional narco-state really bring about democratic reforms and eliminate the origins of political extremism? Will more tapes of Osama bin Laden surface, perhaps now including mortgage advice or talking about basketball scores? With tape recorders almost impossible to buy anymore and every cheap digital camera having a full video capability now, will we, at least, start getting a look at the short fat black haired bin Laden clone again? Did he die too? Can’t we do more to invent “infamous evildoers” and “enemy strongholds” for us to spend our billions in endless and fruitless pursuit of?

Written by rohitkumarsviews

April 5, 2010 at 10:10 am

Blasphemy in a human world

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By: Sikander Amani

Whether you like it or not, the notion of blasphemy, or of ‘defamation of religion’, creates a hierarchy of beliefs which is simply incompatible with the plurality of the world, and the very right to hold a belief.

The Minister for Minorities,
Shahbaz Bhatti, recently announced the revision of the Blasphemy Law. For anyone remotely familiar with the outrageous abuse of this law, which has more often than not been used to target non-Muslims for persecution, personal scores or political vendettas. This is very welcome – and long overdue – news. For anyone with even a vague concern about the equality of human beings, this might even be cause for celebration. Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) claimed that “no one has the power to touch the Blasphemy Law.” Then, slightly less hilariously, but in keeping with their ever so sophisticated views, they threatened “harsh protests” in case the blasphemy laws were touched. Nothing like intimidation and the threat of violence, especially under the guise of God’s wrath, to ensure people get your point.

The issue of blasphemy has become a wide issue. In March 2009, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution, to be followed up soon, calling for the prosecution of defamation of religion. The resolution was initiated by Pakistan, with Venezuela and Belarus as unlikely co-sponsors, and the US now seems to be following suit. It states: “Defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to a restriction on the freedom of their adherents.” This is a very thought-provoking – and actually, deeply unsettling – move.

It is no wonder that a Muslim would feel offended by, say, the now famous caricatures on Islam published in a Danish paper in 2005, just like a Christian would feel offended by the negative portrayals of Jesus in several advertisements published lately. There is also no doubt that, at least in Europe, there is clearly a double standard about the limits of freedom of expression, even if the specific history of the European continent partly explains it. Double standards are intrinsically unjust, and European states defending freedom of expression and freedom of speech would have a lot more credibility if they did so in a fair and equal manner, especially in light of the increasing signs of intolerance against Islam across the continent, which European governments not only allow, but in some cases openly support. It is also true that public authorities have a responsibility to ensure a climate of mutual confidence, trust and civility in the polity, and the increasingly strident voices against Islam marks a clear erosion of just such a civility in Europe, an erosion which one can only condemn.

This, however, does not suffice to alleviate the deep unease caused by the UN resolution. It is easy to demagogically surf on the wave of public sentiment and hurt Muslim feelings, as Pakistan, in its virtuous indignation, pretends to do. But the resolution undoubtedly raises the spectre of now providing an officially sanctioned pretext for stifling legitimate dissent. Given the overall dismal record of Muslim countries in protecting religious minorities, or religious dissenters in general, given their equally abysmal use of blasphemy laws (its abuse in Pakistan is more the rule than the exception), one can only be deeply suspicious of such a text. On the contrary, it seems to be the first step towards allowing for the supremacy of one religion – and not just that, but even of one specific interpretation of religion. Sadly, in light of the tendency of extremist groups to impose their views through violence, it is likely that the most reactionary interpretation will prevail, since they are the ones who have a problem with blasphemy in the first place. Another problematic aspect of the text lies in its confusion on the meaning of freedom of religion. Mocking Jesus has never prevented any Christian from going to mass; outrageous statements on Islam or its figures did not impede Muslims from practising Islam. Is not this, after all, what freedom of religion is all about? Freedom is about letting me exercise my belief – not about acknowledging it publicly and officially as true.

And indeed, the text is based on a deliberate confusion: that beliefs, rather than individuals, have a dignity to be protected – which flies in the face of what human rights stand for. In a multi-religious world, where several religions claim to be the only or the best path to salvation (which is their job, after all), freedom of religion is predicated on disagreement, i.e. on the fact that no one religion can be held objectively and publicly as the only valid one, hence the right for everyone to choose their version of the sacred, or none at all. This, in turn, entails the need to acknowledge the legitimacy of religions other than your own, as well as the right not to have any. Now, you will say, “Okay, but we should not defame any form of belief in the sacred.” Aye, there’s the rub. Because in a world where there is no unitary decision on what is holy, I am not bound by your allegiance to your version of the sacred, just as you are not bound by mine: what is sacred to you might not be sacred to me. It might be a matter of good etiquette, or of politeness, that I do not offend you, but it can never become a ‘right’ of yours not to be offended in this subjective matter. It makes a mockery of both law and the intellect to state that there would be a “right not to have one’s feelings and emotions hurt”. Once you acknowledge we live in a human world (human in the sense that we no longer derive authority, political in particular, from the divine), you can no longer impose your views of the holy on anyone, or, more importantly, impose the reality of holiness as such: no one can be forced to be in awe of the same things as you, just as no one can be forced to be in awe at all.

The problem is made all the more acute because of its international dimension: it is very difficult to argue that the fact that the great majority of, say, Pakistanis, or Egyptians, consider Islam to be the truth, and feel hurt by caricatures mocking their religion, entails a correlative obligation on the Danish legislator to ban such expressions. Should Iceland ban any unpleasant statement on, say, Zoroastrianism because someone, somewhere, some time, might feel hurt? But this is a problem even within a state: should Pakistanis stop eating beef because the Hindu community of the land might feel offended by the slaughter of cows? Slippery slope indeed.

Whether you like it or not, the notion of blasphemy, or of ‘defamation of religion’, creates a hierarchy of beliefs which is simply incompatible with the plurality of the world, and the very right to hold a belief. It would become a sad and dangerous world if all of a sudden some beliefs would be immune from discussion. Imagine a world where we would no longer be allowed to make fun of Scientology. Imagine a world where we no longer could criticise Bush’s lunacy, simply because he is the guru of some neo-conservative sect in America. Because, in a human world, religions do not have an inherent superiority to any other set of beliefs.

The decision of having a human, rather than a divinely inspired, world means that we can no longer be killed or imprisoned for not having the ‘right’ beliefs. That is undeniably a progress, since no one agrees on what the right beliefs are.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at sikander.amani@gmail.com

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 17, 2010 at 9:53 am