Who should be lecturing who on strategies to de-radicalise youth?

This week an invitation was delivered to Vice Chancellors of every University in Pakistan summoning them to Army Auditorium, GHQ for a seminar on ‘Role of Youth in Rejecting Extremism’ organised by ISPR.

Email to University Vice Chancellors from GHQ

The timing of the announcement was unfortunate because it was delivered the same day that a major newspaper published a blank space in the place where there was supposed to be a piece on the threat of extremism by Mohammad Hanif, once again showing that when it comes to discussing the problem of extremism, certain quarters have their limits.

blank page newspaper

It is commendable that Army leadership recognises the important role of young people in ridding the society of the curse of extremism. However, if the military wants to demonstrate its ‘unprecedented support to Education’, the obvious answer is not to invite Vice Chancellors to be addressed by the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff, but to invite the Hon’ble Chief of Army Staff to be addressed by actual educators who have developed an expertise on education and extremism. People like Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who has been lecturing on roots of extremism and strategies for de-radicalising youth for years.

If Army is serious about eliminating extremism and the role of youth in rejecting extremism, GHQ should be inviting Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Salman Haider and other educators and experts to educate ISPR on what is needed. Then, maybe ISPR will arrange for Dr Hoodbhoy to give a special interview on TV, and not the spokesman for TTP.

Patriotic Realism: An Alternative to Foreign Policy Failure?

The Foreign Office is out of ideas, and the state appears to be unwilling or unable to diverge from a failed foreign policy that has resulted in isolating the country first regionally and now globally. It’s time to look for new ideas somewhere else. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and considering where we find ourselves at this point, maybe it’s time we give a chance to some people who those who have failed us have been telling us are wrong.

A case in point is the former Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Now that we know that the ‘memogate’ fiasco was all an invented drama, we should be willing to at least listen to what he is saying. After all, the rest of the world seems to be listening to him, so shouldn’t we at least hear what he has to say?

I have to say I was surprised by this interview. After being told for so long that he is ‘anti-Pakistan’, I did not expect him to be so critical of India and especially Indian actions in occupied Kashmir. His view is patriotic, but it is also realistic. Is this the alternative we have been needing to the stubborn refusal to face reality that has brought us to this point?

Husain Haqqani is not the only ‘Patriotic Realist’. Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy has also been making similar points, providing an alternative to the status quo of ‘more of the same’ failed strategies. Like Haqqani, Professor Hoodbhoy has also be labeled as anti-Pakistan and his patriotism questioned. However if you actually listen to what he is saying you will quickly see that he has Pakistan’s interests at heart, and that his difference of opinion is only on what is the best way to protect and advance Pakistan’s interests.

We have been listening to the same voices for decades, and despite constant failure they have been unwilling to change or even listen to any new ideas. Instead, they have tried to accuse and discredit anyone who gave any alternatives to their disproven strategies. ‘Patriotic Delusions’ have only brought us disaster and isolation. Let’s at least give the ‘Patriotic Realists’ a chance to be heard.

Traitors: Theirs and Ours

Rising intolerance in India is no secret. Lynchings of Muslims by Hindu extremists have made international headlines, and the world has taken notice of Modi’s unwillingness to show sensitivity to his country’s minorities. So when Amir Khan said that he too felt alarmed by the growing incidents and even his wife had asked if they should move, it should have come as no surprise. However, the reaction – both here and in India – tells a lot.

In India, Amir Khan has been termed a traitor by right-wing hyper-nationalists, with even Shah Rukh Khan thrown in for good measure. In Pakistan, however, Amir Khan is being treated at a martyr who is being persecuted for doing nothing but telling the truth. This is the correct response, and it should also come as no surprise except when we remember how we treat our own Amir Khans.

The list is a long one: Asma Jahangir, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Marvi Sirmed, Hamid Mir, Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Mama Qadeer…the list goes on and one. Anyone who dares to stand up for Ahmadis, question Army’s actions in Balochistan or support for jihadi groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or apologises for treatment of Bengalis before 1971 is branded as a traitor and threatened with their lives. Are we hypocrites? Or can we not see that we are acting exactly like the Hindu extremists we claim to be against?

 

Fake Quotes and the Rise of Idiocracy

Question Everything

Imran Khan is no stranger to controversial statements, but his most recent controversial statement isn’t even his own. In a speech and posting on Twitter, the PTI chief quoted an 1835 address by Lord Macaulay to the British Parliament about Western cultural hegemony and subjugation. Only, Lord Macaulay never gave this quote – it is the invention of Hindu nationalists in India.

Imran wasn’t the only person to fall for a fake quote recently. Following the announcement that Malala Yousafzai had won the Nobel Peace Prize, a quote attributed to her denouncing Islam began circulating all over social media. Like Imran Khan’s Lord Macaulay quote, this quote was also fake.

Though these two quotes seem entirely unrelated, there is an important thread that connects them: A willingness to believe anything without question if it supports one’s political beliefs. I see this every day. If you say something with confidence, no matter how ridiculous, people are ready and willing to accept it and repeat it without the slightest bit of verification.

Think about the utter nonsense that has been passed around as facts lately. From Agha Waqar Ahmad’s infamous ‘water kit‘ to America’s miraculous ability to control the weather, it seems that there is no con too obvious that we won’t swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

Worst, those who dare to point out the obvious reality are forced to live as virtual outcasts (if they are even permitted to live at all). We are a nation that has produced a Nobel Laureate in Physics, but we have all but erased him from the history books because he was the wrong religion. Highly educated people are called ‘jahil‘ on national television by uneducated media men for trying to inject a minimum of reason into a discussion.

This trend has deeper ramifications than merely making us look foolish on social media. It is the reason why Federal Ministers can get away with blaming ‘hidden hands‘ for national problems instead of taking responsibility. It is the reason why jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid are given airtime to spin fanciful tales of ‘hindu-zionist conspiracies’.

We do not enjoy the luxury to wallow in idle fantasies. We are facing existential crises from preventable diseases spinning out of control, jihadi militancy, sectarian extremism, economic decline, and increasing international isolation. To counter these threats, the need of the hour is reason and critical thinking. Sadly, our education system too lies in tatters.

In his political speeches, Imran Khan has promised to not only change the Prime Minister, but to change the system. But what Imran Khan thinks is a wave of populist democracy is better termed as populist idiocracy. And until we change that, there can be no progress under any government.

We don’t need no education

Last night, I got a phone call from a friend who wanted to know if I was watching Capital Talk and told me to turn it on immediately. Why? I asked. What’s happening? I thought it was going to be something shocking. I guess it should have been, but unfortunately it wasn’t. Agha Waqar was back on the air peddling his science fiction water kit, this time facing Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy and Dr Shaukat Hameed Khan. Obviously, the water kit is old news, and why Hamid Mir gave this charlatan guy more publicity, I don’t understand. But it wasn’t just the water kit that sent my friend over the edge, it was the way Agha Waqar arrogantly dismissed the other guests as they questioned the scientific validity of his methods.

At one point in the programme, Waqar says:

“Inko mei aaj ye prove karkay dikhaonga ye nonsensy nahi hai, jo khood keh rahay hain ya tou unki aqal kaam nahi kar rahee, humary pooray muashray ko inhon nay aik circle hole mei band kiya hua hia ye ke hadood hain aur insay bahir apnay nahi jana.” (I will prove to them that this isn’t nonsense. What hes saying he doesnt have knowledge. He has put our entire society in a closed circle and said these are the boundaries you can not cross them.)

The ‘boundaries’ that he’s describing are the principles of science – something he claims is being imposed on our society by people like Dr Hoodbhoy.

The rise of the anti-science mindset such as Agha Waqar’s is often blamed on the poor state of education, particularly in science. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not just uneducated people who have adopted this way of thinking. Consider Imran Khan, who accuses his critics of being ‘Westoxified Pakistanis’ and urges people to read his book to learn his true beliefs. Well, I did read his book, and what I found sounded a lot like Agha Waqar.

Page 51 of Imran Khan’s book says:

Our Western education also laid emphasis on science, which based everything on the premise that what could not be proved, did not exist.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. I was not privileged to attend Aitchison and Oxford, so I can’t speak to the quality of education provided by those institutions, but science does not hold that ‘what could not be proved, does not exist’. To the contrary, while there science includes laws, which have been proven, it also included theories and hypothoses which have not been definitively proven. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is worth noting that Imran Khan rejects Darwin’s theory of evolution, terming it a ‘half-baked’ philosophy. What evidence does the cricketer base his conclusion? Well, none, really. Apparently unable to reconcile both religion and science, Imran Khan rejects science. He explains this on page 111 of his book, where he says:

For someone who believes in reason and logic, it is difficult to blindly believe that the Quran is the word of God.

This is utter nonsense, but it has become more and more mainstream way of thinking. There are even people who claim to believe in both science and religion, but seem to believe that this means they have to twist science to make it fit their religious beliefs instead of looking for how the two actually compliment each other. Anyone who has ever listened to the nonsensical ramblings of Zakir Naik should watch the following clip in which a group of young Muslims who, unlike Imran Khan, do not have a problem believing in both science and religion.

All of this is particularly sad considering that the golden period of Islam is filled with major scientific discoveries – often while Europe was stuck in its own ‘dark ages’. Here is Dr Hoodbhoy explaining for the website Islamopedia Online:

Science, logic, and reason are not a Western conspiracy. They are not even Western. Historically, they are woven into the intricate fabric of our own culture and religion. Abandoning them has opened the door to all types of charlatans and con men. Treating science, logic, and reason as foreign concepts is not strengthening our society, it is tearing it apart.