The Absurdity of Ideological Radicalism

Source: youthlinemedia,org – EPA/NOAH BERGER

As I continue to age, I have learned something very important about politics. A lot of our ridiculous, unwavering, uncompromising political positions come out of ignorance and being completely out of touch.

This is something that has made me appreciate people evolving politically over the years and that is why changing parties is not such a cardinal sin in my eyes.

I cannot possibly even come close to talking down to anyone reading these lines as I have held many of these extreme positions in the past myself, and possibly I am also holding quite a few at this point in time. It is easy to dismiss your rival political position as ignorant and condemn your opponents as unintelligent and immoral, but as we go closer, the many shades of gray reveal themselves out of the black and white.

My absolute ignorance of the legalized trophy hunting economics helped me realize how a distant observer fails to see its contribution. Even though I still morally oppose hunting wildlife. However, a trip to Gilgit-Baltistan and speaking to the WWF officials who facilitate legal trophy hunting in the area would shed light on how the local communities benefit from it. And how the activity helps preserve certain species, contrary to the impression of the knee-jerk activist. You just can’t ignore the facts.

I have only recently become more appreciative of military interventionism of the United States, despite obvious disasters such as the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. And even bypassing the United Nations Security Council in some cases because in humanitarian disasters such as Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, and Mosul, when engaging with bureaucracy and particularly the Chinese and Russian votes at the Security Council could cost lives. At the same time, I can tell what a disaster being a blind hawk with neighbors such as India and Afghanistan can prove to be in an underdeveloped region constantly under the threat of a nuclear accident and in desperate need of free trade. And this by no means implies that cutting defense budgets would be any wiser.

I have learned over the years through the wisdom of my friends and by trying to stand in the shoes of struggling families, despite having a similar background, that safety nets matter. I have learned that you don’t exactly run a government like a business and oftentimes debt and stimulus are a necessity for economic sustenance. It cannot be emphasized how vital quality public education with critical reasoning is and how necessary an effective healthcare system is to the people. However, it is also important to recognize how the private sector can add value to both these spheres of social economy, especially medical research.

Flying routes that nobody else would fly has offered me an insight that perhaps having a national flag carrier is not a bad idea after all. But I do not have any doubts about private professionals managing it in a much more efficient manner. And that it is important to raise the alarm when far right partisans make efforts to either privatize or liquidate necessary government services such as public libraries and prisons. At the same time realizing that privatization of certain corporations unrelated to the government would be a better idea, as in the case of power supply companies and other for-profit corporations. I have also come to appreciate how arts and media education require close financial and promotional patronage from the government to thrive. Believe me, artists earn it.

It is important to weigh the facts of the world before becoming a Marxist revolutionary or a Libertarian anarcho-capitalist troll supporting the gold standard. Before completely condemning capitalism and the current global financial system as pure evil, we must consider the global prosperity and the technological advancement this economic model has brought about. It has made the rich richer alright but has significantly improved freedom of access and quality of life for more people than ever before. At the same time, we must never drop our watch of the shady practices in the business and industrial world and make all the strict measures and regulations to protect the environment, the consumer and the workforce rights.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a world that is far more complex than any ideology could possibly encompass. There is little use in investing ourselves in radical ideas and extremes so much that our idealism and passion turn into venomous cynicism and defeatism. College students are particularly prone to nonsense in their earlier years of high passion and idealism. While time corrects your course over the years, a consideration of more pragmatic options over what makes you feel good could always lead to a balanced and more productive worldview. And above all, cements your faith in democracy.

We need to see through ideological radicalism for its absurdity. This might help us build more bridges between people while getting things done.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

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We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why We Badly Need to See a Therapist As a Nation

Source: geo.tv

In a saner world, or let me rephrase that even before I begin…

In the real world, such behavior is easily considered to be mentally unstable. A serious problem. Yes, even in Pakistan.

On an evidently non-violent trigger, anger fits so severe that you end up possibly and at times actually killing a human being. Even doing the same to a non-human animal would warrant serious investigation but of course what really matters is how good you feel at the end of the deed. Nobody wants to burn in the agony of repressed anger about God knows what.

Let the rage out. It’s good to let the poison out. But also focus on the positive things in life. You know, surround yourself with positive people. But still does that make this problem go away?

And what is the solution to this sort of behavior? What would you suggest for an individual displaying such dangerous, out-of-control behavior? Or even worse, a large group of individuals displaying shockingly identical symptoms. Now it is easy to condemn and dismiss a large group of people just like that, but what about offering a real solution.

The latest episode of rage is an undeniable symptom and evidence of such a condition among our nation.

I don’t know about you but when I experienced not-so-similar and far less dangerous anxiety and compulsive symptoms, I went to a psychiatrist. I was prescribed some medicine and now I feel much better, or I am trying at least. Now I know while there is no way you can make the problem disappear completely, you can at least manage it and become socially acceptable.

There really is no taboo in mental illness, especially when you acknowledge that you are going to act to treat it. Of course, no one chooses their mental disease but they can sometimes choose to keep people around them from suffering the consequences.

It is more difficult to diagnose and treat mass hysteria though. Especially when it is mixed with a strange mix of illusions, delusions, and paranoia of an extreme nature. They have an altered version of reality.

However, it is just a thought that we may go on with this sort of inappropriate behavior or start facing the reality of our condition and to start treating it. While I know that it is hard for an entire nation to see a therapist or be prescribed an SNRI or an antipsychotic for curbing the violence in our heavily indoctrinated nerves, we could start doing so in an individual capacity.

Mashaal Khan – Source: wire.in

Doing so might limit incidents such as the lynching and public humiliation of Mardan journalism student Mashaal Khan at the hands of his fellow campus mates in Abdul Wali Khan University for committing a blasphemy, allegedly or not.

This is not normal if you think it is. It is just a socially acceptable mental disease. And estimating very carefully, we badly need some help. Which means seeing a well reputed, qualified psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressants and anti-psychotics, whatever is needed in each deteriorated case.

However, you could choose to make matters worse if you think that the local cleric in your mosque is a good substitute to a psychiatrist. Or especially if you think he is more qualified. That is why we have this role in our society and economy.

But of course, all the rational prescriptions to this condition would sound not only ridiculous but outrageous and offensive when religion comes into the picture.

In that case, even the most savage behavior somehow becomes the most enviable sign of high piety.

In that case, diagnosing, prescribing and helping become acts of blasphemy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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What Is It Going to Take to See Assad for the Butcher He Is?

Source: abc news

I often ask myself this question and hardly get any reasonable answers.

Sometimes I wonder how people are still defending Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and any conspiracy theory that finds him innocent. But then again, in a world in which Nazism is alive and well, and in which you ironically and stupidly have “brown Islamist Nazis,” pretty much any political opinion is not a shocker.

But you do feel disappointed and low when you see a lack of inclination to face facts among otherwise liberal and reasonable folks.

Sadly, sometimes the guilt of our liberals living in a fundamentalist society, regardless of Shia or Sunni background, and their contempt of Saudi Arabia can make them rather root for Iran or turn a blind eye to its sinister influence in the world. But it goes well beyond reasonable politics to keep on apologizing for and insisting on supporting a despot whose record speaks volumes of his atrocities.

I know that some of my liberal friends see the expansion of the influence of Iran as a solution for the Saudis, of course not giving a second’s thought to what it might hold in the future for Israel. But I see that as much of a problem as the unchecked Saudi influence. Or perhaps the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

This is why the decline of the American influence on international affairs has been devastating. We have seen two very contrasting versions of American liberalism with both President George W. Bush and President Obama. An invasion of Iraq and then complete withdrawal. If one action made matters worse, the other certainly did not help. And that is a pretty objective observation unless you are a Democrat.

Bashar Al-Assad is the latest of the many brutal butchers and psychopaths who has taken up the mantle of torturing and murdering their own people. Not a democratic leader by any means and someone who is extremely cynical in his perception of reality, if you ever hear him speak. After carrying out several chemical weapons attacks on his people before, his regime is thought to have struck again with his latest sarin gas attack. With accounts of eye witnesses and activists, as well as evidence from the US military, clearly disputing the narrative of Assad’s military denying involvement like always. Now being skeptical is fair but Assad sympathizers such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) thinks she would take Assad as a war criminal if proved to be responsible for this attack, clearly unaware of his history of earlier actions. It is really convenient how Democrats accept and condemn their Russian propaganda.

The strongman argument is often given to justify his regime. That Assad keeps the extremists at bay and is a secular but distant dictator. However, with the irreversible damage caused by the Syrian Civil War, this argument has lapsed for Assad and is not true anymore. He is not the great stabilizer anymore. You could instead argue that Putin is instead. And since with President Obama’s half-hearted intervention, Syria has almost been completely destroyed. So, what are we keeping Assad in for now, knowing that he carries out chemical attacks on his own people? But to acknowledge this argument, during the early years of the Syrian civil war, I used to believe Assad should stay too.

Of course, it has been explained to me that American intervention has only made matters worse in the Middle East. But with Islamists and humanitarian crises around in the region, the argument of nonintervention is absolutely nonsensical. That is why the long-term military occupation of Syria remains to be the only viable solution. And of course, it is very unreasonable to expect of Americans to give that sacrifice for the world. The key is to make other nations pay their due share, including Pakistan of course, whether as a part of the Saudi or the American coalition. But preferably the latter.

Policy and tactics for the future aside, I think at least it is time for the deniers of Assad’s atrocities to simply face facts. How many chemical attacks has the Assad regime carried out on its people? And how many more would it take to finally say that enough is enough?

I commend President Trump for at least recognizing the great moral problem at hand and acting at least in some capacity with his limited missile attack to make his intentions clear to the Assad regime. But unfortunately, this action is nearly not close to what is needed. While I support it, if I were to disagree with it, it would be for that reason. The faux liberal outrage you are seeing at the attack is more from isolationists defending their favorite dictator than bleeding heart anti-war activists.

The world must not stop short of anything less than comprehensive military action to depose Assad and end his illegitimate reign. And if it does indeed risk starting the third world war, it only speaks volumes of the evil of Russia and Iran as states for protecting a despot like Assad in this day and age. Sadly, many among our ranks stand for their insistence to be on the wrong side of history despite their commitment to democracy and liberty.

I wonder how many more chemical attacks would it take.

Sadly, given the apathy of the majority in the world toward the atrocities of both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, it helps us understand what happened during the reign of the Third Reich. While I am aware that the world was horrified to learn the troubling reality of the concentration camps after the Second World War, I doubt it would have changed anything. I doubt if they would have done anything substantial to prevent the atrocity had they learned about it earlier. At least, the world we live in today would not have bothered to take any action.

We are clearly not bothered about what the Syrian people are going through.

Even if that is untrue, we clearly do not seem bothered about what Assad is up to.

And it is so bad that we would manufacture things out of our behinds to apologize for his despotic rule.