Why you should think twice before embracing Zaid Hamid

Pakistan’s current conditions are far from encouraging, as the government struggles to combat extremism and continues to fall short of addressing the needs of the common man. Citizens can even be forgiven for embracing revolutionary doctrine in hopes of changing the fortunes of the nation. However, when hyper-nationalism aligns itself with ignorance of history, we are led to an ideology that is flawed, distorted but most importantly tried and tested.  Zaid Hamid has persistently advocated for the dissolution of the elected government in favor of a caretaker government selected by the Supreme Court with the military’s backing.

A brief analysis of our nation’s history shows Zaid Hamid’s philosophy to be far from revolutionary. General Ayub Khan held the same values when he (along with Iskander Mirza in 1958) dismissed the elected government, dissolved the constitution (with the blessing of the corrupt judiciary) and established the infamous “basic democracies” system. This political structure’s shining moments included a vicious election campaign against Fatimah Jinnah and the eventual disintegration of East Pakistan.  Zaid Hamid’s caretaker government in all likelihood would only prolong military rule, reduce political participation amongst the people and corrupt a judiciary that is currently redeeming itself from its past sins.

Zaid Hamid also wants the Supreme Court to handpick “Good Muslims” that would satisfy Article 62/63 of the Constitution. The judicial system did address this proposal in the Punjab Disturbances Report of 1954:

“The sublime faith called Islam will live even if our leaders are not there to enforce it. It lives in the individual, in his soul and outlook, in all his relations with God and men, from the cradle to the grave, and our politicians should understand that if Divine commands cannot make or keep a man a Musalman, their statutes will not.”- Justice Munir

The judiciary refrained from endorsing a theory of a Nation-State that catered around subjective Islamic morals and standards. It is no coincidence that a military ruler was responsible for invoking such subjective morals into the constitution. The judiciary and the military cannot work synonymously over stretched periods of time, as General Musharraf’s demise in 2008 showed. The military has been unable to select a lawmaking branch that has satisfied the people’s needs over a stretched period of time (Basic Democracies and the Majlis-e-Shoora).

Zaid Hamid desperately seeks the creation of a political structure that established itself long before any organic political order developed in Pakistan. Allowing such an order to establish itself yet again would eliminate any lingering hope of sustained democracy in Pakistan.

Secularism and Sectarianism

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this debate about secularism that is going on in our country. Mostly, it’s left me a little bewildered. Someone will tell me that secularism is not right for Pakistan, and they say the reason is we will descend into anarchy without our religion. I wonder, do they ever go outside? On Saturday, some Hizb-ut-Tahrir guy spammed everyone he could think of on Twitter by linking to a couple of articles in the British press about the London riots and claiming that “opinion makers condemn secularism”. I literally laughed out loud when I saw this. If secularism is responsible for London’s riots, what is responsible for Karachi’s?

Of course, just as religion has almost nothing to do with the riots in London, it has very little to do with the violence in Karachi also. But it has everything to do with the death and destruction sown by groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat AKA Sipah-e-Sahaba. It’s sectarianism, not secularism that is fueling violence and killing Pakistanis.

Actually, the articles the HuT wala linked didn’t even support his point. In fact, in a way they actually defended secularism. Take the piece by A N Wilson for Daily Mail.

All of us — Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, Christians — have a rich religious inheritance.

At the core of this inheritance is a sense of right and wrong. And in all these religions, the school where we learn of right and wrong is the family. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus have all, very noticeably, retained this twin strand of family structure and ethical teaching.

Is this the message that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is trying to spread? That each of these major religions should be respected for teaching important lessons about right and wrong? Obviously not. Hizb-ut-Tahrir doesn’t even respect Muslims, unless you’re they’re kind of Muslim. This piece in the Daily Mail is about a British guy worried that his culture turning away from religion and morality – he’s talking about atheism and amorality, not secularism.

And this is the what is at the center of the debate about secularism in Pakistan, an issue of definitions. This is also why I refused to waste my time debating with one of Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s internet commandos. They will tell you that secularism means a complete absence of religion when nobody is arguing for such a thing.

The truth is that what people are arguing for when they’re promoting secularism is actually closer to Sunnah, certainly closer than any mythical re-imagining of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Pakistan today is beset with religious and sectarian anarchy. Mainstream religious forces want the state to become partial towards their sects and have pushed the country to the edge – all in a mad desire to enforce their version of Islam. Bhutto’s and Zia’s ‘Islamizing’ of Pakistan has yielded bitter fruits and a dark legacy. Ironically, before such attempts of Islamization, history suggests that Pakistani society was more peaceful, had less crime and citizens generally felt secure in the practice of their faiths.

Judging by the facts on ground the country has moved away from Islamic ideals in the name of Islam. It would be appropriate to interpret a few instances from Holy Prophet’s rule (pbuh) and contrast his Sunnah to the ideas of modern day Islamists.

The Charter of Madina known popularly as Misaq-i-Madina was a landmark agreement in the history of Islam between the Prophet (as representative of Muslims), pagans and Jews that granted equal rights to all communities of the city. Interestingly, the notion of citizenship of individuals is defined in the Charter as part of specific communities; Jews and Muslims are two distinct yet equal communities. Specifically, that ‘Jews and Muslims are one nation’ as mentioned in the Charter would sound blasphemy to Muslims today yet the Prophet did not see any fault in this wording.

When Pakistan was founded as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, it was done in reaction to the prospect of being persecuted under a reactionary Hindu majority in India. This is why Jinnah’s often quoted declaration of secularism made perfect sense when they were spoken on 11 August 1947. What doesn’t make sense is the argument by those opposed to secularism today who insist that Hindus and Zionists are intolerant and oppressive to religious minorities…and we should act just like that.

Nobody is arguing that people should not practice their religion. Secularists are only arguing that people should be able to choose their religion as they see fit, not have the state choose it for them, and should not be forced to practice any religion at gun point. It is Lahore’s growing Talibanisation that threatens to erase our culture, not Western secularism. Pakistan is not threatened by secularism, we are threatened by sectarianism. Jinnah foresaw this possibility, which is why he argued so forcefully for the rights of all Pakistanis to be able to practice their religion without interference by the state. And that’s called…secularism.

Tolerance Matters

In my last article I asked the readers if it is justified to have Anti-American sentiments after I had come across an article talking about Farah Ahmed, A Pakistani American woman standing for city council elections and how the US state of Texas had denounced all personal propaganda created against her for being of Pakistani origins. I came across another piece yesterday of similar nature and I find myself asking readers the same question once again.

As mentioned in this post, at a Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, local republican blogger John Hugh Gilmore was harassing Muslim women before he got arrested for disorderly conduct.

According to witnesses, Gilmore saw the women wearing hijabs, or headscarves, traditional to more conservative Muslim women and started asking them questions, confronting them and taking their pictures without their consent. Fortunately dozens of other Americans saw what was happening and jumped in to defend and protect the two women. Here is a what one eye witness had to say about the whole incident.

I also want to mention here that in last weeks Sunday Washington Post there was an article on front page that talked about how Muslims are adapting to US after the terror attacks of 9-11 and also gives a great insight on how an average American is so tolerant of Muslims living in US.

Of course, one will find all kinds of people globally as bigotry isn’t confined to geographical boundaries but I find it extremely interesting to see that people in America still stand up and defend our culture and religion, yet we fail to defend non-Muslims in our own country. A prime example is this article where a prominent media celebrity lashed out at an American USAID (ironically an organization that provides aid to our social sector) employee for accidentally brushing his chair against hers at an Islamabad restaurant.

It should come as a no surprise to anyone that we have high levels of intolerance in Pakistan, religious or otherwise. Our religion teaches us the value of Haqooq-ul-Ibad and yet we fail to see. In order to prove that our religion is superior, we deprive religious minorities of equal justice and alienate them. Extremists and Islamic fundamentalists vandalize churches and loot and burn small Christian villages. We manipulate the law in any way possible to give us the upper edge, the exact same thing our religion teaches us not to.

Not just Christians, but other religious groups face cruel and inhumane treatment in Pakistan as well. We treat all of the religious minorities as second-class citizens and use the Blasphemy laws as a tool for oppressing the small and weak. As far as intolerance goes, women have particularly suffered as well, under the controversial Hudood Ordinances and with recent case of Aasia Bibi, the Christian women accused of blasphemy under the blasphemy law.

In his address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam rooted for a state in which every citizen would be free to follow his own religion and that the State shall make no distinction between the citizens on the grounds of faith. Here is an excerpt from the speech

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”.

Our religion also teaches us the same virtues of patience and tolerance and justice. I understand that a common Pakistani has become so frustrated with social problems, energy crisis, rising inflation, crime, terrorism and uncertainty that we do not care about coping with these issue while at the same time keeping in consideration the convenience of others. The everyday grind is tiresome no doubt, but venting frustrations at someone without reason is no answer. If the local Americans can stand up for foreigners amongst them and stop injustice wherever they see it taking place, I’m sure we can do the same too.

Hum Sub Bhutto Hain

Bhutto at courtOn this thirty-second death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, allow me a moment to reflect on the meaning of this occasion without judgment. Bear with me whatever your political affiliation. I come to bury Bhutto, not to praise him.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a man. Like all men, he had his strengths and his failings also. Like very few men, though, he left a lasting impression on his country. When he founded Pakistan People’s Party in 1967, he did so under a revolutionary idea – that all power should reside with the people, not an elite.

Recall that this was a different time than today. There was no pan-Islamic democratic movement, and his rise followed a long line of dictators and martial law administrators. Actually, he too would be followed by one of the most damaging military dictators the country has suffered through. Bhutto had to know always that this idea of democracy would not be so easily put in place, and that the struggle would cost him dearly.

And yet, he willingly made this sacrifice. He went out every day knowing that it could be his last because he knew what was right for his country had to be done. He knew that if he, with all of his privilege, was not willing to sacrifice, how could anyone else be expected to?

I have been thinking about the words of Bilawal on Sunday:

We know our great martyrs lives will not be avenged if any insignificant man alone is held responsible. For us to have our revenge we must insure that the circumstances that allowed for Shaheed Bhutto’s Judicial murder never arise again. For us to take revenge of Shaheed BB’s assassination we must defeat the forces of violent extremism and dictatorship that together assassinated my mother. To do this we must dedicate our lives to the establishment of a fully functioning democracy in Pakistan.

I contend that this sentiment holds true not only for avenging the death of ZAB, but of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto also. And not only for Bhuttos, but for the 50 people who were martyred at the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar; for the 12 year old boy killed by a suicide bomber at Dara Adam Khel; and for the thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women, and children who have been killed by ruthless madmen who use violence as a tool of power. The only revenge is not through violence, but through the continued struggle for justice, equality, democracy, and basic human rights for all Pakistanis.

In the 1990s, militias roamed southern Mexico, slaughtering the peaceful people as a means of control through fear and violence. An Army rose up and defeated these death squads not with bullets, but with something more powerful – the idea of freedom and human rights. The leader of this band of revolutionaries was not a famous athlete, a business tycoon, or a media celebrity. He wore a mask at all times and was known only as ‘Marcos’ or ‘Delegado Cero’ (Delegate Zero). As can be expected from such a mysterious figure, journalists, intelligence agents, and politicians all demanded to know the identity of the rebel leader. Soon, a slogan began to appear painted on the walls in cities and villages across Mexico: “Todos somos Marcos”. “We are all Marcos.”

Bilawal ended his speech to the PPP CEC with the slogan, ‘Jiye Bhutto’. This is meant to invoke the unbending spirit of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who sacrificed their lives for the ideal of social progress and democracy. But these two martyrs of Pakistan are not the only ones who show that strength of purpose. It is that same determination of spirit that makes each of us go out each day to continue working to build a free and prosperous Pakistan for the future of our children. That fire in Bhutto’s heart is the same fire in our own hearts that drives us to sacrifice for our country and to never, never give up on the promise of Jinnah’s vision.

And so, on this 32nd death anniversary of Bhutto I borrow the words of William Shakespeare:

I speak not to disprove what others say,
but here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love Bhutto once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Bhutto,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

As I look out the window onto my country torn by distrust, fear, and the violence of ambitious men who will stop at nothing to stop the rise of democracy, I realize that on this death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it is not one person only that I honour, but many. It is for Hussain Ali Yousufi, Imran Farooq, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti. It is the thousands of brave soldiers and police who willingly risk their lives to defend the freedom of their country and their people. It is the spirit of democracy that lives on in us all.

Hum Sub Bhutto Hain. Pakistan Zindabad.

Happy Birthday to the magnificent idea of Pakistan!

The promise of a better life for themselves and their children led my grandparents to leave behind their home and make the arduous journey to a new nation. The hopes and dreams they must have had continue to inspire me today. As a proud Pakistani, I am consistently awed by our national capacity to be generous, warm and full of joy.
Though Pakistan faces challenging times, our leadership remains defiant and strong. We will never allow the darkness of extremism to cover the bright colors of our culture. We will never accept defeat to terror. We will never compromise any Pakistani’s right to live and worship as he would please. We will honor our children by continuing to improve education, and we will work with the international community to bring more jobs to our youth. This is the promise of Jinnah’s Pakistan, and though in our history we have strayed far from it, we will continue to struggle and we will win, inshallah.

God Bless Pakistan!