Hermann Goering would be proud

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

“There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

“Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

– Hermann Goering, 1946

Borzou Daragahi, Middle East correspondent for the Financial Times, posted on Twitter on Friday that “Anti-film protests part of organized effort by power hungry extremists to promote local Islamist agendas and undermine moderates”. In other words, craven opportunists are exploiting the religious sentiments of the people to create a ‘siege mentality’ in which global forces led by the familiar bogeys – America and Jews.

As if on cue, Amir Jamaat-e-Islami Munawar Hasan began Tweeting himself:

Syed Munawar Hasan Tweets

What is extraordinary about Munawar Hasan’s claims is not only that he is clearly repeating disinformation, but that he did so just after being given the updated information:

Not only did the JI chief not correct his previous Tweet, he continued repeating information that he knew was not true. One can forgive someone for being misinformed, but to willfully misinform others is simply lying. So why would a supposedly pious man like Munawar Hasan knowingly misinform people about something as sensitive as who was behind a blasphemous and offensive film? The answer might be found on the streets of Karachi.

JI protest Karachi

It is, after all, much easier to rally unwavering support for your political agenda if you can point to a Zionist-American conspiracy against Islam than it is if the culprit is a convicted Egyptian drug cooker.

Munawar Hasan, however, was really just following in the footsteps of another Islamist totalitarian, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who issued an address on Thursday blaming “the antagonistic policies of the Zionists and the US and other heads of the global arrogance”. And, just as with Munawar Hasan, Ayatollah Khamenei gives himself away at the end:

Muslim brothers and sisters must know that this desperate move by the enemies in the wake of the Islamic Awakening is a sign of the grandeur and importance of this uprising and heralds its increasing growth.

These are just two examples, of course, and each of them must be sending cases of sweetmeats to Khaled Abdallah and the hardline Egyptian clerics who brought the unknown film to the attention of the world. That’s the saddest part of this who tragedy. At its core, it was never about love for the Prophet (PBUH), it was about the lust for power and control. Hermann Goering would be proud.

How the New York Times Keeps Getting Pakistan Wrong

Syed Yahya HussainyThe New York Times is an institution in journalism. Published continuously for over 160 years, the Times has won 104 Pulitzer Prizes – more than any other news organization. In 2009, one of those Pulitzer Prizes went to a team that included Pakistan correspondent Jane Perlez for their coverage of America’s deepening military and political challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With this background, how is it that The New York Times keeps getting Pakistan so wrong?

In her latest article, Many in Pakistan Fear Unrest at Home, Jane Perlez suggests that Pakistan is on the brink of takeover by Islamists, comparing the political climate today to Iran in 1979. But is this really an accurate description of Pakistan, a nation that only recently held massive pro-democracy street demonstrations, overthrew a military dictator, and elected a democratic government that for the first time includes all ethnic groups and major political factions at either the state or federal level? Tunisia and Egypt may be shedding the yoke of autocracy, but Pakistan achieved this years ago.

Since 2008, of course, Pakistan has been hit hard by the global economic downturn, been ravaged by devastating floods of historic proportion, and lost thousands of citizens to attacks by terrorist groups. Despite these challenges, the democratic government has remained resilient, implementing political reforms to strengthen the democratic process and the rule of law. So why is The New York Times comparing 2011 Pakistan to 1979 Iran? It turns out the answer may lie in Ms Perlez’s sources.

Jane Perlez has quoted Mr Farrukh Saleem quite regularly over the past few years, though she introduces with different titles in different articles. In her latest article about the possibility of an Islamist putsch, Farrukh Saleem is “a risk analyst”. Last November, Ms Perlez cited him as “a political analyst” in an article about political violence in Karachi. A month earlier, Mr Saleem was “executive director for the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad”. The one constant in Mr Saleem’s CV is his affiliation with The News, an English-language newspaper that has received international attention for its virulent anti-government propaganda.

In fact, Mr Farrukh Saleem appears in a 2009 article by Jane Perlez praising opposition leader Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party. Here Saleem is referred to only as a newspaper columnist. Earlier, Farrukh Saleem is quoted by Jane Perlez saying that President Asif Zardari “has an unending desire to control all of Pakistan.”

Later that year, of course, President Zardari transferred power over the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the Prime Minister, and a few months after that signed the 18th Amendment further devolving power that had been consolidated under military dictators. For someone with an unending desire to control all of Pakistan, the president appears to be giving a surprising amount of his power away. Despite this record, Jane Perlez continues to present Farrukh Saleem as an objective “analyst”.

Then there is Ms Perlez’s other go-to source for analysis of Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen. According to Ms Perlez, Mr Tareen is “a reformist politician”. But what claim to the title of “reformist” does Mr Jahangir Tareen actually have? After all, this is the same Jahangir Tareen that served as Minister of Industries and Special Projects under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf – a fact certainly known to Jane Perlez as she has been quoting him in her articles as such since at least 2008.

Ms Perlez quotes Jahangir Tareen blaming rich politicians for failing to address the economic needs of the people without mentioning the irony that he is both rich and a politician himself in the opposition party PML-Q. Jane Perlez also fails to mention that Jahangir Tareen’s CV includes such “reformist” tendencies as serving as a cabinet minister during the corrupt Musharraf regime that squandered foreign aid money while incubating jihadi militias. Today, Mr Tareen warns the Times reporter that Islamist forces “will sweep into power”, but Jane Perlez conveniently ignores her sources background and fails to provide her readers important context that might raise questions about his credibility.

Certainly Pakistanis are frustrated with unemployment, inflation, and ongoing attacks by Islamist militant groups. And there do exist residual effects of an institutionalization of Islamism carried out by the regime of 1980s dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and reinforced by the former boss of Ms Perlez’s friend Jahangir Tareen, Pervez Musharraf. But Pakistan’s democratically elected government has proven resilient, and by-election results since 2008 have not revealed any increased support for Islamist parties.

When the curtain is drawn on the election booth, the people of Pakistan consistently reject Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates and policies. Jane Perlez’s article may represent the prejudices of her rather compromised (and seemingly few) regular sources, but it does not represent the aspirations of the Pakistani people. Let us not forget that fewer than six months ago, Jane Perlez predicted a military coup in Pakistan. That, too, never came to pass.

Jane Perlez’s fearmongering on Pakistan notwithstanding, the democratic system is maturing and growing stronger – a fact evidenced by the unprecedented cooperation between the opposition parties and the coalition government in defense of political stability. It is true that religious parties organize street protests with thousands of participants. But these are demonstrations of frustration, not political support. If Ms Perlez truly believes that the Pakistani people believe in “the failure of representative democracy”, perhaps she should expand her social circle beyond those who have built careers trying to derail it.

The question for The New York Times is whether or not Jane Perlez is actually providing investigative reporting on Pakistan or simply phoning her few friends for juicy quotes to pad sensationalist articles. Following her reporting over the years, Times readers would come away with two things: a close familiarity of Mr Farrukh Saleem and Mr Jahangir Tareen, and very poor understanding of Pakistan.

Raza Rumi: Living in Denialistan

Raza RumiThe following post was written by Raza Rumi for Pak Tea House:

The recent attack on Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine is another reminder of the plain truth that the Pakistani state needs to focus on its domestic crises rather than remain obsessive about external threats. The unholy conglomerate comprising al Qaeda, sectarian outfits and elements within the state has targeted Karachi’s best-known public and cultural space. This is a continuation of Islamist battles against Pakistan.

Yet, apologists remain adamant. Butchering of civilians and annihilation of a plural Sufi culture is a reaction, we are told. First, it was the US occupation of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq and now drone attacks in Pakistan. True, Muslims and Pakistanis are enraged at US policies and its sheer arrogance in dealing with the region. But using anti-Americanism as an excuse to overlook the growing cancer of bigotry at home is disingenuous and dangerous for our future.

Denial is etched in our memory and cultural ethos. Even today we are not willing to admit that the majority of Indian Muslims did not migrate to the Land of the Pure. And that we mistreated the Bengalis. We are also in denial about the ever-growing crop of suicide bombers and how sectarianism has penetrated our society over the last three years.

The truth is that we are a fractured and crumbling society in denial. Even the glorification of our nuclear weapons is an act of denial: such prowess does not provide social services, internal security and economic prosperity. We are paranoid about our nuclear weapons — the common view is that everyone in the world is out to forcibly remove them.

Despite the common perception that it wants to denuclearise us, our military is dependent on the West. American culture is now the standard culture, our students yearn to be in US universities and migration to the Newfoundland remains a desirable ambition. Such schizophrenic realities are also denied and swept under the carpet. Until we confront ourselves and admit some home truths we are not likely to get far.

The reach of Islamism is also palpable. Watch a standard TV show, read the Urdu press (a leading newspaper quotes Taliban links and websites as references and prints their adverts), or participate in a regular drawing room conversation — myths have become real and the penetration of political Islam is capturing the discourse amid confusing globalisation.

Worse, the de-legitimisation project of secular, moderate political parties is ongoing. The wise know that if anything prevents political Islam taking over the state, it is parties such as the PPP, the ANP and the PML-N. Even the JUI is no longer Islamic enough — hence the recent attacks. These forces are a bulwark against the tide of Islamism and its agenda. But the historically naive and complicit middle class of Pakistan refuses to smell the coffee. It beats its proverbial chest over fake degrees, why the ‘corrupt’ are in high places and why the Taliban sympathisers, such as a sportsman-turned-politician, are not in power. It fails to see why reactionary movements are effectively ‘anti-change’. The recent gibberish about revolution and clean politics is familiar but comes at a make or break juncture.

The PPP government, despite its uncertain shelf life, owes it to the people of Pakistan to forge consensus on a new education policy, madrassa reform and developing a national counter-terrorism plan. This is an area where initiative is lacking. Detoxing Pakistan is not a short-term process. It will be a five to 10 year unavoidable battle if Pakistan wishes to remain a viable state and relatively functional society. Reform should start with revisions to curricula and focus on a grassroot campaign against sectarianism. The prerequisites for such reforms are political stability, policy continuity and a growing economy.

Unelected institutions of the state no longer have the luxury of orchestrating games of musical chairs amongst politicos, technocrats and opportunists. ‘Denialistan’ and its masters must wake up.