The Gaza Trap

Source: Flash90/TOI

In 2005, the Government of Israel took a decision that baffled people within and outside the country alike. Strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Lebanon War and a celebrated war hero, decided to withdraw forces, control, and settlements from Gaza Strip. A move of political genius, it would set the course for the security discourse in Israel in the decade to come.

Israelis were dragged out of their homes by the military and construction bulldozers demolished those buildings, right in the manner Israeli bulldozers level the houses of Palestinian militants to the ground. Israeli settlers were shouting slogans against their own government and leader and there was a sense of anger and belligerence among the more conservative Zionist factions within Israel.

Little did anyone knew this single decision will help solidify the political leadership of his conservative and hawkish Likud Party, following years of disappointment and failed efforts for peace between Labour administrations and Arafat, including those of Sharon’s own government. With separating the control in Gaza Strip, the Ariel Sharon administration clearly made the difference clear by the section fully controlled by Palestinians, soon to fall in the hands of the extremist militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in contrast with the PLO administered West Bank where Israeli Defense Forces have control to this day.

From that year onward, Israel and the tiny Gaza Strip has had three major wars with no consequential result in any of them. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become the new normal in the Middle East. Whenever something significant is about to occur in Israel such as the Eurovision contest or if Israel takes a brutal security measure, the Hamas regime in Gaza fires its improvised explosive rockets into the Southern parts of Israel within its range in towns like Beer Sheba, Sderot, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.

Source: Israel Matzav Blog

There is no need to underestimate the threat of the rocket attacks from Gaza just because they are facing a naval blockade. Israel must be facing far worse attacks if this blockade is lifted since Hamas is not able to do a bad job of smuggling them in through tunnels from Egypt and with support from Jordan and West Bank too.

Not taking away anything from the evil of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Gaza controlled territory, in stark contrast to the IDF controlled West Bank, offers a clear and present threat to the Israeli population. You could argue that at the time Sharon was withdrawing from Gaza Strip, he knew such a security predicament would present itself to Israel in the coming years.

Gaza not only keeps Israelis effectively separated from the enemy but also keeps them in close proximity to a lethal threat. This significantly weakens the impact of liberals within Israel who have never won an election convincingly since then. Especially with the horrors of the Intifada fresh in the memory of Israeli citizens, the now disappeared threat of the terrorists and suicide bombers have uplifted the security situation in Israel significantly.

The contribution of right-wing Israeli governments led by Likud to the security of Israel is undisputed. But the rekindling of the conflict with Gaza every now and then not only reminds the Israeli people that a threat in the neighborhood will always loom on their head but will also show the world what Palestinians are capable of if left to their own device. This threat would have been not only worse but easily unacceptable and unsustainable if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank. This is why the idea of annexing the West Bank does not face as much resistance in Israel as it would have a few decades ago.

With Israel aiming to become the regional leader in technology and innovation, a safe, stable, and secure environment are imperative to its growth. The people of Israel do not seem to be in a mood for experimenting with their security and rely on the conservative coalition that has delivered relatively calm years in comparison except for the continual Gaza wars. This also keeps the pressure up on US Congress to increase funding for Iron Dome, which is of late seeing the inclusion of progressives like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alessandria Ocasio-Cortez who openly attack the idea of military aid to Israel.

The Israeli right wing and Hamas feed off each other in this conflict in terms of power and the end result is miserable living conditions for the people of Gaza and the people in Southern Israel. Of course, Israel would ideally not want this conflict to continue for a single more day, but it is simply not possible with an autonomous Gaza Strip under Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad which is continually supported by the likes of Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

Therefore, the Gaza Trap will keep the hardliners in power on both sides of the conflict. And we will continue to see the Gaza wars in the headlines every few months.

Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.