The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sympathy for the Devil: Comment on the Milo-Maher Episode

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

There is a reason I am a bigger fan of Bill Maher than any other liberal comedian/political activist out there. Actually, his show is the only one where almost everyone gets a platform and where you can find some substance in the middle of the usual political insults.

I personally find his show very interesting for always evenly distributing the panelists among liberals and conservatives, and particularly for his much needed unfiltered criticism of religion. Seriously, without the likes of him, the Western left would have no remote clue what Islam and Sharia could really look like. Not that they would care anyway.

I know a lot of people don’t find him funny because his jokes are perceivably too rude, crude and offensive for them. But somehow I do, even when I find his jokes offensive. And that is probably because I know that Bill Maher, who has been called “nominally liberal,” hears the other side out. Even though, only to insult them to their faces. All in good humor.

I wanted to avoid commenting on this primarily because of some of the terrible opinions held by Milo, but thought it would be inappropriate to skip this considering what it means in terms of free speech. It would also be a tremendous disservice to the readers of this blog.

I consider myself somewhat a free speech libertarian, not a liberal. What that means is that I would be willing to give a platform to a lot of ideas and speech that would be off-limits to most decent circles of the society. Even though, in real life, I would avoid engaging those ideas in conversation, especially if I personally do not believe in them.

For example, I would listen to a meninist, as opposed to a feminist, but I would know that they are full of shit. Because women are simply at a tremendous disadvantage both socially and economically, and to my mind even physically, in what is still a man’s world. But nothing wrong in challenging third wave feminism and it should not be off-limits because at least its criticism of art certainly has a flaw or too.

But when I hear about the gender wage gap from a feminist, I would listen to the arguments with a healthy economic skepticism. Which is a polite way of saying that I need to learn more about this burning issue and that perhaps, some day, I would be able to form a strong opinion on this issue.

But I must say, I find Milo Yiannapoulous intriguing. And I don’t even have to agree with his politics or views on things. I know, it is about that for most people. But I seldom see people that way, unless sometimes they force me not to. Though Milo does come close, but it is still important to hear out before dismissing. And I am sure the same is true for Bill Maher.

His views on transgenders are absolutely disgusting, terming transgenderism a mental disease. But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

Bill Maher, of course, was rebuked viciously by progressive liberals for inviting him on his show, some of who are announcing their boycotts, as usual.  Frequent panelist journalist Jeremy Scahill was supposed to appear on that show but pulled out. How could he give the poster child of Alt-Right a platform on his show? Well, he also happened to be the Editor of Breitbart News at the time. The founder of the platform, Andrew Breitbart, a very outspoken provocateur himself, often appeared on the show. Milo looks somewhat of a resurrection of the late outspoken libertarian blogger.

Now, here are two ways to look at this. Either you are giving a troll a mainstream platform and audience, or you are simply exposing him to further scrutiny.

I had heard his name alright, but I had no idea what his deal was about until I saw him on Bill Maher’s show. And realized that Bill Maher indeed had given him a bigger platform for many. Though not for the first time, as he has appeared on Sky and BBC several times in the UK.

Milo Yiannapoulous has been insightful, particularly in his explanation of the Trump Presidency phenomenon. Not even the biggest of pundits ever realized that the Presidency of his “daddy” was won on a cultural platform. Which explains a candidate that is so bullet-proof that the release of his “grab them by the pussy” video failed to destroy his candidacy. How can historians explain this? Other than the Republican voter base completely lacking morals, which they often accuse the liberals of

Though here is the other side of the picture. It was because of Bill Maher’s show that both Milo and he were bombarded with hate blogs and reports on the liberal and mainstream media such as CNN. In other words, Bill Maher took Milo to CNN.

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And the intense attention that it brought led to the re-emergence, or rather emergence, of a long lost tape of an internet show in which he seems to be justifying homosexual men engaging in sexual contact with minors. Following it up with a joke about having sex with his priest.

Well, well. You thought that Milo would actually be with his signature bravado, but not to be. He held a press conference regretting his “poor choice of words,” something he had never done before I assume. He resigned his position as Breitbart Senior Editor, possibly being forced to, which he made look like a voluntary one. Before that, the deal for his book “Dangerous” was canceled.

But ideologically worst of all, he lost his speaking spot in the CPAC. That must have been a huge blow to his fans.

Later, Bill Maher was taking credit, saying “you’re welcome.” If that sounds douchey, well, only Bill Maher can attain those levels. But he may have a point there. Sunlight, indeed, is the best disinfectant.

So Bill Maher’s delusions aside, what happened? Why was this comment the last straw that broke the camel’s back? Despite everything and everything Milo had said and done, including reportedly donning Nazi paraphernalia, Islamophobia and making antisemitic remarks,. An article by Nathan J. Robinson asked this question too. And I tell you what, his comments appearing on the video regarding the age of consent are nothing new and not nearly as shocking as you would believe. Even though I believe the age of consent is a legitimate debate and varies in different regions, I guess the conservatives draw a line when it comes to pedophilia, especially when a gay man is involved. And I am not even sure if these cases even qualify for the wildly thrown around term pedophilia, which is supposed to be classified as a mental disorder. Underage sex or statutory rape, yes.

Actually, a lot of websites are accusing Maher himself of justifying an older woman having sexual relations with a minor and not rejecting the idea that women could possibly rape men. But I guess for someone who has a problem with Prophet Muhammad marrying a minor, raise this issue all you want. Well, send me a memo please but I don’t think it destroyed Maher’s career. HBO must be aware of it. I guess the only shit he faced was because of his 9/11 comments.

Before this episode, Milo Yiannapoulos was invited by the College Republicans in the UC Berkeley campus in California. This led to some of the most vicious violent riots the United States has seen in the recent years. One of such riots in Seattle saw a person shot. On Van Jones’ show, the one who had invited him said he was worried for his life during the episode. It was this incident that prompted Bill Maher to invite Milo to his show because he happens to have a problem with left’s hypocrisy, hate of free speech and love of safe spaces too.

Like Bill, I sided with Milo on that and had absolutely zero problems with him appearing on his show. The left media went berserk, of course.

According to the hysteric Jezebel, Bill Maher was a monster now. The others shredded him for basically enabling Milo and not calling him out on the more offensive parts of his comments. Even though Maher himself is barely as progressive socially as many would like to believe. He grew up with old school comedians and perhaps could be considered as the heir to George Carlin for his caustic humor.

Though I do admit that he was clearly doing it for the most part. But still, I would not divorce Bill Maher from the ranks of my political allies. Be glad that a comedian and political activist like that is on your side. Though eventually, you would feel, the left-leaning Democratic Party would eventually drive out anyone. If only the Republicans were not so horrible.

In the end, I like Milo’s style but I can have no sympathy at all for the terrible political opinions he stands for. But I am not bothered much about his moral unorthodoxy. Actually, I am attracted to it, because I can relate to the boundaries that he is trying to push and it is fun to see him getting under the skin of so many whose righteousness we take for granted.

I must say I am intrigued by Milo because I am interested in people who question moral conventions. And more often than not, it requires being offensive and some courage as well. But pushing the limits of moral boundaries is something that could really start some new debates. Though I am not sure how well he qualifies for this great mission.

But while social justice wars are all good, it is important not to forget the essential right of free speech, which is the most important human right of all. And most of all, he reminds us of how much self-censorship is prevalent in the age of information, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is dishonest.

This is one of the primary reasons I have never identified as a “progressive” as yet, though being an ally on most issues including feminism, and most probably never would.

 

One Good Reason to Celebrate the Valentine’s Day

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Many of us are cynical when it comes to the Valentine’s Day. And for a good reason too. The Western and probably overly commercialized holiday makes you cringe. And of course, you don’t even need to focus on the harassment that ensues.

But we have forgotten in our sharp criticism that somewhere people with sincere expressions of love are celebrating this holiday too.

I know many people respond that they don’t need a specific day to express their love, because they do so every day. But perhaps we do since we are so lost in our materialistic pursuits in a gesellschaft.

How many times do you speak to a particular friend in a year? Let alone a love interest. At least I don’t nearly as many times as someone would expect, if at all. But I should speak for myself only.

But if none of these arguments make any sense to you, which is perfectly fine, there is one good reason that would help you celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or at least realize that it should not be taken for granted.

Don’t forget that Sabeen fought for the freedom to celebrate the holiday. I don’t know about most of you, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a good occasion to respect the memory of Sabeen, a true Pakistani free speech hero.

Well, now you would hardly find a trace of photographic evidence of this episode online because our overly concerned media publications worried about the sensitivities of their audience too much. However, like the photographs from the campaign, the courage of Sabeen Mahmud in the face of religious authoritarianism must not be erased from our memory.

We know for a fact that the campaign at least jeopardized her life thanks to the instant fatwa machines in the Karachi madrassahs. However, you could speculate if that was the only motive of her killer, if any at all. But that’s what they tell us.

With every forgiven attack and every neglected bit of hate speech and death threats, we are condemned to desensitize ourselves from this moral abomination. However, we are also condemned to put up with it, until we are not. Because in a land where morality is enforced by threatening the life of its citizens, the only law is that of the sword, not of some high moral divinity.

In a society, such as this, celebrating the Valentine’s Day is an act of defiance in itself. Especially when our courts issue verdicts such as banning the holiday in public spaces that defy the standards of civil rights. In some cases, it is even an act of sheer mad bravery. Not very different to what Sabeen did during her campaign challenging religious authoritarianism.

I am not a fan of mingling political statements with holiday celebrations at all. But this is one exception that I would not mind. So, when you celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pakistan, do keep in mind that in such a society, the holiday is more than just vain indulgence.

Isn’t it a good reason to celebrate?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Building a PSL Economy

Source: cricketall.com

Source: cricketall.com

Considering how Pakistanis are supposed to be fanatics for cricket, we certainly lack a well developed sports league in this country. And when I say a league, I mean something on the lines of IPL and at least BPL, if not the English Premier League or NFL.

It is not that Pakistani people do not have a sense of sports or the necessary enthusiasm.  Hell, they have fought many a tear gas attack just to get into the stadium for a pathetic but rare one dayer. Particularly the younger generation, who are well versed with all sorts of sports activity around the world, and who passionately and even religiously follow foreign sports franchises.

All of this makes sense. Even if sports bore the hell out of you, you can partake in the PSL Economy by placing a wager or two. After all, what good are sports unless you have something personal at stake? The reason I am raising this point is that the PSL economy must, and absolutely must, go beyond the die hard sports fan for its potential impact. Just like it’s hard to avoid the Super Bowl if you are living in America. It must affect far more people who are not able to avoid it. People like me, who are bored out of hell watching an entire cricket game, but yet would not mind poking their noses in a good competition. It’s all about pretending not to be bored.

Now the official website of the Pakistan Super League has introduced its own fantasy league. But if you take a deeper look at it, it is just filling a contract clause. The league has very low functionality and you cannot even create your private leagues. This means that you cannot invite your friends and coworkers to be a part of the experience, which means a poor experience. Let’s hope this can change. As opposed to that, a more poorly designed and cheaper but more functional private fantasy PSL website could offer greater value.

Hate the neo-liberal in me for saying this, but I commend all the sponsors who are putting in their money for this great cause. And I feel bad for using the word cause here because it is not supposed to be fucking charity. But I say so because the domestic fans deserve a structure like this. In any case, perhaps the investors were always happy to put their money in a venture that people could respond positively to. This is probably the first one put into place by the PCB that has put up the structure for a serious league, albeit very small in size. But the size may change in the future if all goes well and the consumer trends so far are not disastrous.

I have written earlier about the need of addressing the growing market of skilled gaming. This, in all fairness, should be extended to a channel for legalized gambling, though that is a step too far at this stage. There is clearly an appetite for skilled gaming in the market, which would enhance the enthusiasm and engagement for the PSL to a much greater extent by involving stakes for the public.

Meanwhile, the advertising would also become far more aggressive and tribal in the coming days. At least from one of the franchises. Tribalism would and should become a necessary tool for honing the public engagement and to build manufactured rivalries around the franchises, which only came into being a couple of years ago. A better idea would be to capitalize on the sense of mutual urban resentment already present among the natives of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

All of this would initiate giving these franchises a cult following and a vicious fan base, which they don’t enjoy currently. You know, this is how religions work too. When it comes to building the PSL economy, more commercialism is always less. Even though the moralists among our ranks would then later be writing about it mourning the degeneration that is waiting to manifest itself in this fashion. Ah, the little moral sacrifices you have to make in order to build a viable sport economy.

A solidified fan base would then cement the presence of franchises as institutions, creating thousands of jobs which are not going anywhere in an uncertain next year. These organizations would, in turn, become clients of hundreds of businesses, and that is how the PSL economy would roll out its effect. None of this would be possible, however, without increased spending from the fans. And this is eventually not going to be sustainable enough unless cricket is brought to home. Unless the Qaddafi Stadium becomes a real home to the franchise. So unless Lahore Qalanders have to become something more than “Jazz” Lahore Qalanders, before their eventual death.

The eventual goal of the PSL must be the creation of a self-sustaining domestic league within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Ideally speaking, it should suffice to nourish the appetite of the Pakistani cricket fan, which has to rely on the mundane international cricket in Dubai or the emotionally distant foreign leagues. Without this, the PSL model would not last very long. Deep down inside, Najam Sethi knows this, but of course, there is not much he can do about the security situation. But still, you need to draw a line somewhere and soon. Pakistani fans are sick of Dubai.

So if the international cricket boards are not sending out teams to Pakistan for security concerns, you could always buy players to come in. Even if that means a very few A-listers. At least it would be a start. I think Pakistan Cricket Board and the franchises should also make it a point to import players from India, even if that means B or C category players.

Another rarely talked about factor in Pakistan and an important part of the PSL economy is the quality of the television. And I am not going to mince my words here. The quality of television in Pakistan, especially when compared to India or anywhere, is shit. In other words, there is no real use of putting up the best show in the country if the eventual optics are going to be pathetic.

An overwhelming majority in Pakistan do not have access to digital television broadcasts, a technology not even used for the coverage of the PSL. So people are stuck with a quarter of a century old technology to watch what is supposed to be the most important sporting event in Pakistan. While the federal government made an attempt to make progress in this regard, albeit in a very wrong way, the local DTH service could have filled the much needed gap in this regard. But let’s hope the consumers become more aware of their own interests in Pakistan one day and stop listening to the political narrative on the “mainstream media” too much.

PSL Chairman Najam Sethi, a noticeable difference, has done a great job in introducing this first serious franchise based model for a sustainable domestic league. Now the key is to constantly up the game when it comes to bringing more money to the PSL economy.

Leave building the PSL economy to the thriving private sector, just bring cricket back home.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.