Life is Precious

Source: Alamy/The Guardian

Source: Alamy

It may be a painful experience overall, and it maybe overrated, but there are certain things about life which make it so precious.

One of the reasons life is precious is precisely because of that painful experience.

What makes life so precious is your time with your loved ones. And there is not a second of which I would want to trade with anything, especially death.

But just when you start taking it for granted, and especially come close to taking it away, you realize how precious life is.

 

Yes, indeed, I want to live.

For every single second that I can be with those I love.

 

The Stain on the Peacemaker’s Legacy

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images, Politico

Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Every one of us can recall the larger than life election campaign of President Obama in the 2008 Presidential elections. The campaign stirred so much hope for change, that it inspired the entire world. Apart from the fact that the first African American was about to be elected for President in American history, the world saw this refreshing liberal leader as a new beginning for world peace, progress, and prosperity.

To a great extent, he has delivered on many of his promises. To many others, he has been a terrible disappointment, which of course is going to be the case if you try reconciling his too-good-to-be-true campaign with the reality. He got rid of Osama Bin Laden in a heroic operation in Pakistan and eliminated several Islamist terrorist through targeted drone strikes. He had a major healthcare reform act passed, albeit highly partisan, and just recently designated new national reserve areas in three states.

But his role as an international peacemaker was sealed with the conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on his election in 2009. He truly broke the ice with his historic decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, probably his greatest foreign policy legacy, and is trying his level best to conclude a civilized agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program at the cost of Israel’s satisfaction. If we ignore his aggressive drone warfare throughout Middle East and Southwest Asia, he certainly looks like an American President who has actually been a force for peace for a change.

But I wonder if many historians would count the rise of ISIS, or ISIL as he calls it, among his lasting legacies as well.

Despite the fact that many of his supporters and the Democratic leaders would dismiss the very mention of this notion and quickly transfer the blame to the policies of his predecessor, the explanation is far from enough.

Obviously, you cannot expect a President in the last year of his Presidency, when he is busy building his legacy, to start a war. That’s something for the next President to worry about. But it is a fair question to ask if he has done enough.

In my humble opinion, the answer is certainly no.

There is no doubt that America is war weary, and they certainly do not want to have anything to do with a war that does not concern them directly. They are right. They should not have been in Iraq in the first place. The sacrifice of thousands of US and allied veterans for their service must not be forgotten and must be appreciated. But at the same time, it should be kept in mind that the problem of ISIS would not have surfaced without the vacuum of power created by Western intervention in the region.

The arming of the Syrian opposition to intensify the Syrian civil war probably contributed as much to this development than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, if not more, though the Shia-leaning central government of Iraq and lack of political understanding in this regard by the Bush administrations are also cited as factors. But what if President Obama would have refrained from fulfilling his campaign promise of withdrawing troops from Iraq? It only would have been the right thing to do in this context.

But what is the use in bickering over the past, as well as the cause? Because either way, it’s the Western intervention that caused the problem, whether due to the actions of a Democratic President or a Republican.

The point to concentrate on is if we want to do something about this problem today, as most Republican leaders are urging, and rightly so.

If you really want some insight into President Obama’s mind and how he has approached the ISIS crisis, hear or read his statement at the Department of Defense press conference on the issue.

His comment about the ISIS problem conceded that “ideologies are not defeated with guns, but better ideas.” It is hard to disagree with his statement, but President Obama must realize that ISIS is not just an ideology. The ideology we are confronting here is militant Islamism. ISIS is a very real political group which is gaining ground every day, and which can only be defeated with military power, not just better ideas.

Nobody wants to look like President Jimmy Carter, who struggled with the Iran hostage crisis in the very last days of his Presidential term. Therefore, ISIS is at just about the safe distance to accord neglect of any remedial action, something to be taken on by the “next generation” in this long battle. The hints toward that direction are not hard to find in the statement, apart from a complete lack of sense of urgency to tackle the issue.

Besides, actively taking on ISIS would be against the Obama doctrine of no boots on ground and relying heavily on drone warfare and other airstrikes. This makes perfectly good sense, but if only it had been good enough to deal with the severity of the threat of ISIS. It calls for forming a global coalition as rallied by President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, hopefully under the United Nations, and with a permanent troop deployment. If US troops can still be stationed in Korea, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, why not in Iraq where they are needed the most?

But in his urge to be the great global peacemaker, to be the great American President who didn’t go to war, and the great liberal statesman who made the world a better place, not worse, is he leaving us with probably the worst entity imaginable just to undo most if not all of that good work?

Yet the very fact that President Obama is a force for peace in the world is a big question mark itself.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why Support Zaid Hamid Against Saudi Arabia

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

A big test of the values that you believe in lies in defending the rights of someone you don’t agree with.

Zaid Hamid is a commentator with radical views which entwine conspiracy theories with religious traditions, which repulse many liberals, centrists, and conservatives alike. He was recently arrested and sentenced to eight years and a thousand lashes. There is no doubt that every supporter of the Caliphate such as Hamid should be criticized, but that does not take away their right to free speech, even if they are demanding something that would kill the freedom to exercise it.

But in this case, the real opponent is Saudi authoritarianism and the consistent abuse of Pakistani citizens at the hands of their abusive state that is supposedly a part of the “Muslim brethren.” Not only have Saudi Arabians barbarically beheaded dozens of Pakistanis for minor alleged offenses, such as drug trafficking, but this time has arrested a citizen for making an inconvenient speech.

Of course, you cannot really expect to criticize Saudi Arabia on their soil and get away with it. Most of us have not heard what the content of his speech was, and it is easy to assume that it would somewhat comprise of hate speech, or at least call for rebellion. Nevertheless, the harsh punishment would sound strange to many in Pakistan, or would it?

But why go out of our way to defend someone whose views the world is better off without?

Because free speech is a value greater than any partisan differences, and also because it is time to show critics and defenders of authoritarianism that free speech is a far superior ideology than theocracy and fascism.

This is why the arrest of Zaid Hamid in Saudi Arabia is a tremendous opportunity to show the traditional opponents of free speech why they are speaking against their own fundamental rights, and why free speech is such an important value to defend.

While you cannot really expect most Muslim conservatives and Pakistani nationalists to even understand, let alone appreciate and value the idea of free speech, but it is important to show them that this value applies to everyone, no matter what their ideological or philosophical position is.

This is why it is of utmost importance that the proponents of free speech, whether liberal or otherwise, should drop their cynicism for a while and support Zaid Hamid in his hour of trouble. It is also important to be concerned for his personal safety, especially because he is a Pakistani citizen, and to call out Saudi Arabia for its brutal authoritarianism and barbaric, medieval penal code.

Months ago I wrote about Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is still in the custody of the Saudi authorities for speaking his mind about freedom and democracy. Many more Pakistani friends spoke in support of Badawi. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should speak about this case with the same passion. This should remind everyone that people for free speech are the ones consistent in their positions.

It is not hard to see for anyone, whether the proponents of democracy or the Caliphate, that Zaid Hamid committed no crime and does not deserve such punishment.

It is evident that speech is not a crime. And that is why this is the best opportunity to demonstrate this fact to the people opposed to the propagation of free speech, who dismiss it as a Western idea.

This is precisely why blasphemy is not a crime and should not be considered a crime by any entity. People in the Caliphate camp should remember that.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Curse of Messianic Government: Big Claims Mean Big Responsibilities

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Let’s face it.

Pakistani people’s concept about the government is all over the place. Probably the supposedly illiterate rural population is more sensible and realistic in its expectations of the government than the idealistic and educated urban demographic that lives in a fantasy world.

However, there is nothing wrong with expecting that the government should help its citizens and make their lives easier. It is supposed to. After all, what else is the purpose of a government?

But surely there are limits to it. Especially when everyone agrees that the government is controlled by a bunch of incompetent jerks, who also happen to be corrupt and the biggest thieves in the world, by the way.

The government is not really some superhero entity like Flash or Superman that would instantly fly over to prevent a traffic accident from occurring. As a matter of fact, it is also not Batman and would even not be able to prevent your commonplace mugging on the street. It can improve the policing, improve law and order, but not necessarily stop a crime from occurring in real time. It is just not in its power, as much as you would like to think otherwise.

And frankly, for people who make laws, this entity takes way too much responsibility on its shoulders. Certainly more than it can ever come close to carrying. Surely, they should look after policy concerning everything, but what’s their business with running corporations?

Frankly, we would be much better off if the government was out of the business of generating power for the most part and left it to the free market. That way, at least we would be getting the product in full that we are paying for. However, let’s go with the argument that it is a public utility, and the government needs to oversee every step of the way from its production to delivery, and that it needs to be subsidized for the lower income groups. Which brings us to our politicians.

Our politicians, even the supposedly more conservative ones of them, absolutely have no intention in explaining this as an ideological point during their campaigns. They would keep on bombarding the people with more Messianic claims, more Messianic promises, and they would simply promise miracles and no less. And that’s what gets them elected in this country, believe it or not. Because people love Messiahs over here, which is ironic because Imran Khan lost. But who knows, he may win next time.

PML-N was also elected for its claims of turning around the power crisis in Pakistan, which it has failed to do so as yet, because let’s face it, the government has no concrete solutions to offer. The best thing about that party is that it is apparently the only major pro-privatization party in the legislature at the moment, but it is throwing the same old public control crap at the people as solutions. In part, you cannot blame them for the audience they have to play to.

But with big claims, come big responsibilities.

The government has made the claim to deliver the goods of the public utilities, and the goods it must deliver. And on a low price too, as promised. So it must produce something with the money it does not have, and then sell it at a loss.

But if it is not possible, then can they please stop making the claims?

So that is why the government is responsible for failing to produce power and supply it to Karachi, worsening the conditions in the middle of the worst heat wave this region has ever seen, leading to over a thousand deaths. Not because it was something that the government was supposed to do, but because they had made that claim.

The Sindh government of the champions of public ownership and Messianic Islamic Socialism, the PPP, failed on the same account. But thankfully, they are in more of a position to conveniently point fingers at the moment, though they could have mobilized the relief work in a better way.

And with every crisis, ensues a circus of blame and claims.

Which brings to us a quote that another champion of Messianic government has been sharing on its social media pages, endorsed by Islamist thought leaders. The quote is said to be attributed to Caliph Umar I, which has destroyed the concept of government in the minds of our youth forever. Paraphrased:

“If a dog died hungry on the bank of River Euphrates, then I (the Caliph) would be responsible for it.”

There is surely more wisdom in Abid Sher Ali’s quote out of the two.

This is just the manifestation of our tendency to escape personal responsibility and to have an entity to point fingers to. If not God, then the government would do.

No, the government is not responsible for every single death that occurs, and it is not responsible for every dying dog for that matter. It is responsible for guaranteeing freedom and security to its citizens, establishing law and order, infrastructure, public services, and ensuring secure borders. It is also responsible for promoting the welfare of the citizens, but the more it allows people to take care of themselves the better. Let’s just say it is also responsible for running the social security.

But it cannot perform miracles. It cannot effectively run corporations in a profit, especially when it has to carry the labor deadweight along with it. It cannot possibly rescue every single person dying from a heat wave, or drowning in a flood, or getting buried under rubble in an earthquake. It cannot bring corpses to life. It cannot turn water into wine. All it can do is offer emergency relief.

It cannot even manage power production, because really, it is not supposed to and qualified to do so. That’s an entire industry we are talking about and there are more qualified people and enough resources in the private sector to do the job. Maybe keeping the government out of our lives for a change would make things a lot better. How about we ever try that, since we hate paying taxes anyway?

But how would that realize our dream of an Islamic welfare state?

This single quote sums up everything that is wrong with politics in Pakistan.  And it also offers the perfect excuse for Messianic Islamist politics, because that is perfectly the Islamist view that the likes of Jamaat-e-Islami is a proponent of.

And that dog that died on the bank of river Ravi last night is not the fault of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

We Are All Guilty of Tribalism

Source: Dawn/AFP

You can’t help suppressing your anger when seeing hypocrisies such as the concern for the Rohingyas abroad but no love for the Hazaras and Shias locally, and outrage at Israel bombing Gaza, but silence on Saudi air strikes on Yemen, but is any of this surprising in the least bit?

As a matter of fact, you can easily see where they are coming from. The fact of the matter is that we are all guilty of tribalism one way or another.

You hardly notice any outcry when Muslims are massacring other Muslims, but our nation becomes totally protective and defensive when a third party is involved, such as India, Israel or the United States. When that happens, the problem immediately becomes an Ummah problem, and Muslims are lamented to be the perpetual victims.

It’s the same kind of tribalism that united the world against aliens in the hypothetical scenario in the movie The Independence Day, and it is more common than you think it is. After all, non-Muslims are sort of aliens to the Ummah.

Whether it is our reaction to the positions of the leaders and political parties we support, or an issue that we conveniently want to ignore, we choose what to speak out about. And also what to be upset about.

And how could we not?

What sort of a person remains perpetually outraged at every damn single thing on this planet?

I know the walls of many of your facebook and twitter friends look like that. I guess to a great extent my wall looks like that. But still that is not actually the case.

The simple fact of the matter is that we just don’t get upset at everything, at least not as much as we do on others. Because most of the time we would conveniently overlook any problems or wrongdoings from a party that shares our political cause.

We may acknowledge it, but it would hardly make us abandon supporting our party or the side of the cause.

For those of us who lean toward Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif completely ignore if there were a serious power outage crisis throughout Pakistan in the recent days that the government was supposed to fix, considering that the party won a landslide for its promise to solve this very problem.  For those who support the PPP may conveniently overlook the responsibility of the government in providing emergency relief during Sindh famine and heat wave. And so on.

There certainly is no surprise if you see Democrats conveniently overlooking the drone warfare of Obama administration, or if you find Republicans ignore how torture could have been used under the Bush administration. Liberals and conservatives would both gladly overlook the problems in the administrations they support as long as their supported policies are being propelled.

You would find politically devout Sunnis failing to acknowledge the brutal Saudi authoritarianism and the politically devout Shias looking the other way when you mention the Iranian regime trampling on their citizen’s rights.

There is no limit or end to this list. It happens every day, and practically everyone is experiencing it in one way or another. Almost human nature. But it is important to take it in a healthy manner, instead of further freaking out in moralist rage and calling for everyone’s heads.

Nobody is perfect, and we cannot possibly agree with each other on everything. So instead of looking for that perfect Messiah, hell even Imran Khan is not that perfect, we have to learn to live with the people we are stuck with in this world.

To be honest, I cannot say that I am equally outraged by every piece of news of oppression and carnage, and I am not ashamed of that. I am not even sure that is something that you should feel guilty about, because it’s hard to say if even Gandhi experienced such universal human pain. Most of the time, you are going to be more upset about people emotionally closest to you. But as long as your political stance is correct, and you are not supporting any such nonsense as ISIS, I guess you can live with it.

So I do think twice before I criticize people’s support for the Rohingyas, because when we do so, we are kind of doing the same thing we accuse them of.

Though this doesn’t mean that you should stop trying changing people’s minds.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why We Need More of Foreign Agenda

Source: APP/Dawn

Source: APP/Dawn

Recently the PML-N led federal government landed itself in yet another mess. The Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the prominent international NGO “Save the Children” and asking its staff to leave the country, but only to reverse the decision sooner than you know. The reason for banning the NGO temporarily was “the anti-state activities” they were allegedly involved in.

Now while the “Save the Children” matter has been taken care of, this just was not enough for the Interior Minister. He said that hundreds of NGOs are violating their charters in Islamabad and under the watch list. Someone else pointed out on TV that hundreds were unregistered.  There is no doubt that every NGO should be registered with the government. Makes perfect sense. But this incident also started a series of morally constipated nationalistic analyses on the national TV about how inherently evil the NGO business is. And how every NGO is absolutely corrupt and conspiring with world powers to destroy Pakistan and implement foreign agenda in the country.

Speaking of which, we should actually be thankful to the foreign NGOs for promoting foreign agenda in Pakistan, because clearly we could use more of it.

If helping children get a decent, rational secular education, better access to clean water and healthcare, and promoting democratic values mean foreign agenda, then certainly we could do with much more of it.

While the political parties and government in Pakistan, including the political party currently in power (since they have regained their monopoly over moral righteousness these days), make high claims about public welfare, they are clearly not touching areas that many of these “anti-state” NGOs are working on. If despite lofty claims, the government is not able to deliver education as a right, then do they blame foreign NGOs to take credit for promoting education in the society?

Why should we worry about the foreign agenda anyway when our own domestic agenda is so lethal.

OK, let me guess.

These foreign NGOs are dangerous because they are promoting education, free speech, and democracy. And that is probably anti-state, so that our children don’t get to learn that having a theocratic and discriminatory constitution is wrong. That could seriously disintegrate the almost perfectly homogeneous ignorance of our almost perfectly homogeneous society.

These foreign NGOs are particularly dangerous because they keep on talking about liberating women and helping them become financially independent. They are also a threat to the society because they keep on talking about legislating to punish violence against women. Because obviously that would shred our family values and honor to pieces.

If our constitution involves excommunicating religious communities, and our law supports provisions for capital punishment on blasphemy, then probably it’s foreign agenda alone that could come to salvage this hopeless mess.

But then again, when our local agenda involves hiding the most wanted terrorist in the world, there is not much to expect, is there?

That’s why we need more foreign NGOs to buy more local people with foreign money.

Let’s admit it as a nation, and there is nothing to be ashamed about it.

We need more of foreign agenda.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Why Secular Liberals Should Be Thankful for PTI

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sounds like a joke, right?

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is often criticized on the stance it has been taking on negotiating with the Islamist militants by more liberal and secular segments in the society. A lot of people have also criticized a lot of their tactics in the way they have been carrying out their campaigns, such as sit-in protests. However, despite all their defects, the secular liberals of Pakistan have a good reason to be thankful for the PTI.

PTI is keeping the urban middle class from turning to Jamaat-e-Islami.

And that’s a good thing, considering how quickly the current voting patterns can change. Also considering that a good part of our religious educated folks badly underestimate the ill effects of the imposition of Shariah. So the next time you call them “good-looking Jamaat-e-Islami,” thank your stars that it is. Don’t forget that the party is secular.

An Imran Khan statement was making rounds on the social media in liberal pages that the ideology of the PTI was the closest to the Jamaat-e-Islami. In many ways, it is true. But the ideology of PTI is also close to that of the founding principles of the Pakistan People’s Party, though the latter has thankfully become a much more liberal party ever since Benazir Bhutto took control of its leadership.

Considering how the PPP has weakened in Punjab recently, PTI has become the perfect alternative for anyone who is sick and tired of PML-N. Self-righteous populists tired of corruption and looking for a Messiah are likely to reject lesser Islamic Socialist options such as the PPP.

Constituencies, where the major parties fail to produce a good candidate, are still dominated by independents all over the country, but that does not offer a solution to the question of who would lead the country eventually. Imagine the horror of people making an educated decision of turning to the likes of religious political parties in case of the absence of other viable options, despite their lifestyle completely contrary to their vision.

Regardless of the party that people are voting for, it is amazing to note how much the core message of parties such as the PTI and the PPP resound with the Pakistani urban middle class. Pakistani people, it is safe to say, are Islamic Socialists by ideological inclination, even though what they are by practice is another matter. Many among them are the sort who would like to skip paying taxes, while hoping for unemployment benefits.

But the insatiable appetite for Islamic Socialism as ignited by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, of the Pakistani urban middle class, the torch bearers of hope and change in the society, must be provided for at all costs. Until and unless the area of “Islamic welfare state” is covered in one way or another, even by more economically liberal parties, they would be perceived to be unfit for politics in general. Failure to do so would easily run them down the slope where Jamaat-e-Islami would be waiting with answers. And they don’t have to use logic to convince them.

While there are some people who are very closely ideologically tied to the Jamaat-e-Islami, though it is safe to say that they do not represent a majority of Pakistanis, many do not turn to the party due to other better alternatives. However, we must not be satisfied seeing this pattern. Jamaat-e-Islami is a party with good potential to win seats in the KP and Karachi, and who knows, maybe some day in Punjab too.

If you are the kind of a Pakistani who is reluctant to admit support for Jamaat-e-Islami, but are fundamentalist enough to support Islamic Socialism and Shariah, then you could end up voting for the party any day. However, with more cosmetic options such as the PTI available, you can get the necessary kick of Islamic Socialism out of their fun, mixed-gender concert-like processions, without looking weird to your peers for supporting a bunch of crazy mullahs. Besides, the narrative is just about the same, so you are not missing much out on virtuousness points.

Anything that can prevent the urban religious middle class population of Pakistan to turn toward the Jamaat-e-Islami is useful. Even good. And in this case, PTI is indeed.

One of the reasons it is working is that it has a Messiah to offer, for now. The message has always been around.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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