Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea try to speak about Pakistan, but get it entirely wrong. Their blinkered history, their a-historical depiction of the genuine problem that they identify is sad and embarrassing to read. And nothing was more embarrassing to read than their conclusion that states:
The United States should make an unapologetic defense of free speech in every appropriate forum and work to roll back this subversive secular law. We should lend moral support to the majority of Pakistanis who are struggling to retain a semblance of a democratic and pluralist society and peace in the region. To the world’s detriment, the administration underestimated the Islamic State. The damage will be all the greater if we continue to ignore the danger from Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Instead of tearing this gibberish, hypocritical, ahistorical and frankly completely nonsensical suggestion that somehow the USA is a voice for free speech, or worst, not implicated in the religious madness that has infected Pakistan through its repeated and decades long support for every fanatical dictator that ever spit on the country, let me quote Eqbal Ahmed instead to reveal the true nature of America’s hand in Pakistan:
There is an increasingly perceptible gap between our need for social transformation and America’s insistence on stability, between our impatience for change and American’s obsession with order, our move towards revolution and America’s belief in the plausibility of achieving reforms under the robber barons of the ‘third world’, our longing for absolute national sovereignty and America’s preference for pliable allies, our desires to see our national soil free of foreign occupation and America’s alleged need for military bases.
(Eqbal Ahmed in a dialogue with Samuel Huntington, from No More Vietnams: War and the Future of American Policy)
We are in the morass that we are – including the hideous foisting of these insane blasphemy laws, the Hudood Ordinances thanks to one of America’s great allies in the war against communism: Zia Ul-Haq, and then later, in the war against ‘terror’ as in General Musharraf. The rise of religious fundamental madness is a consequence of the sickening and continuing collusion between Saudi Arabia and the USA, and Pakistan’s tragedy of being caught in the middle of these well-endowed goons. The laws we are now suffering under emerge in a historical and political context that has everything to do with America’s wars in the region. They were forced upon the country by goons and madmen that the Americans funded to the order of tens of billions of dollars. Just as today in Egypt the Americans are breaking bread with mass murderers from the army, the Americans have repeatedly given solace and succor to Pakistani military megalomaniacs and religio-fundamentalist madmen. As Saudi Arabia remains one of America’s closest allies in the region, and one of the most influential cultural and financial influences in Pakistan, is it sheer idiocy to never once mention any of this at all!
For Shea and Ispahani to write a huge article and never once mention the political-economic realities of imperialism and American exceptionalism that have stained the culture, society and future of Pakistan, is truly an act of intellectual cowardice or ignorance. They chose it, or they are simply too ignorant to know it.
And I will not even say anything about the fact that it was at the behest of the Americans that a massive pogrom was carried out against progressive and left voices in Pakistan as the country was pulled into America’s determination to eradicate ‘communism’ and make the world safe for ‘democracy’ which in the USA is spelt ‘c-a-p-i-t-a-l-i-s-m’
Its pathetic to see that these women – one from an American think tank, and another a so-called parliamentarian, have absolutely no grasp of history or facts but are determined culturalists and top-of-the-orientalist-class type intellectuals who spend most of their time erasing inter-connections and complexities and creating simplistic comic books realities. Perhaps that is the key to career and financial success in the USA – never speak out, never speak the truth, never point back, never challenge the West about its realities but instead simply repeat its own myths. These Pakistanis seem to be waiting for the American knight in liberal armor.
Pakistan cannot extricate itself from the morass of social backwardness – including a growing social and cultural acceptance of violence, whether state sanctioned or private, unless it extricates itself from its role as the hand-maiden of American imperial interests in the region. The country and its paranoid elite minority have conflated their interests with the interests of the United States, and economically, politically and culturally sodomized the Pakistani citizen every chance they have been given. To write a piece that reveals the many ways in which Pakistani laws – particularly Hudood ordinance laws, have been put to deviant use by politicians, and bureaucrats and never to speak about how religion, religious differences, and minorities are fodder in the political ambitions of venal leaders, is to not only be anti-intellectual, but to be dishonest. Sectarianism is always about politics, never about religion. Or rarely if ever about religion.
The question these writers fail to ask is very simple: who allows these acts to continue, and who is given protection and impunity. It isn’t that these laws exist on paper, for there are many laws on the books that are ignored and / or simply considered unimportant. But certain actions, and certain laws are used and exploited. In Pakistan, blasphemy laws are more often than not used to win political or land-grab battles in local communities. They are often as much about real-estate, or vote-gathering, than about religion or belief. And the degree to which they are used by political groups when faced with political challenges and a restless citizenry – as the situation exists now, and as it did under a number of American- supported military dictators, they are a means to distract and to seduce the popular into mindless and useless acts and sense of belongs. The two writers need to go back to the drawing board. Or at least to school.