Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: Over the Tightrope

PS: the book is free to download on kindle on Monday and Tuesday 11-23 and 11-24

Asif Ismaeel's debut novel mixes dystopian science fiction, sufism, politics, humor and Salafist Islam to create a stunning and unexpected joy-ride through post-apocalyptic (or is it pre-apocalypse?) Pakistan in 2050. Of course it is now called Al-Bakistan, since the blessed Arabic language does not have the letter P, and it is ruled by a Khalifa who established law and order after the proletariat rose in revolt and decapitated the ruling elite in a paroxysm of rioting and holy war a few years earlier.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why do Muslims Blow Stuff Up?

Indian secular commentator Harbir Singh Nain has a nice piece in the Nation (a Lahore newspaper that has shifted from jingoistic Islamism to hosting the most "free-thinking" blog posts of any major Pakistani paper; there is probably a story in there somewhere). The entire piece is here, but a few excerpts give you the flavor:

Again I hear talk everywhere that Islamist terrorism is a reaction to Western imperialism.  It’s supposedly got nothing to do with radical Islamists.  I have to wonder if why Korea and Vietnam didn't start pumping terrorists into the world as an aftermath of the horrendous wars there, why oil producers in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa didn't start pumping terrorists into the world in reaction to western meddling there.

The cause is Saudi Arabia, which has used its oil revenues to drive fundamentalist radicalization of Muslim societies all over the world, infesting them with mosques and seminaries that disseminate Saudi scripted fundamentalist, hateful perspectives. Every major Muslim terrorist organization in the world is connected to a web in the center of which sits Saudi Arabia..

The West is not without fault. But it is dishonest to assert that the Islamist terrorism is merely a backlash to Western foreign policy.  The other party at the table is radical, oil fed fundamentalist Islamism.

In the West, after every instance of slaughter by a crazed Islamist, liberals run to call for tolerance towards ordinary Muslims innocent of the crime. It is the West that welcomes immigrants from Muslim countries and guarantees their freedom to practice their faith and to live their lives without persecution. It is the West that makes peace with its former enemies at the first opportunity. See the relations of Germany, Japan, Italy, Vietnam, and South Korea with the US. The West welcomes immigrants en mass from enemies, both former (Russians flooded into the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and present (so many Iranian students in the US). It is the West that takes in Muslim refugees escaping from slaughter by Muslims as has been seen by the flow of Syrians into Europe.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have not opened their own borders to the faithful fleeing the slaughter.  There is no call in the Middle East for understanding and tolerance towards the West and non-Muslims. There is no voice allowed to call for moderation of Islamist hatemongering, to curtail the raging hatred that constantly spews out against the West...

These are actually fairly common sentiments among liberal Muslims and Hindus (and presumably, many others). I don't have time for a full post, but a few comments came to mind:

South Americans, as colonial settler nations with a history of conquering Native Americans and owning more slaves than the United States, are not exactly in line for the honor of being oppressed subjects of the West. (though good branding and anti-Yankee propaganda has pretty much cleared their elites of their colonial/slave-owning past, especially amongst distant observers).

Korea was not colonized by the US. South Korea was saved from Stalinist North Korean invasion by the US and its allies. They are not exactly grateful (more anti-American than the Vietnamese, for complicated reasons) but still they are hardly expected to be in the "lets bomb America now" section.

Vietnamese holds pride of place in Desi Leftist minds as victims of America (with some justification), but the Vietnamese themselves include (and always included) significant pro-American factions, and since the Americans left, their priorities are very different from the kind of unrelenting anti-Americanism that Desis sometimes feel they should have... Details complicated, I know.

But here is the point I really wanted to make:
I heard (more than 10 years ago) from an Islamist historian (PhD U Chicago) that the correct way of looking at lack of Hindu or African Pagan blowback is to regard them as weaker civilizations, unable/unwilling to contend for world-beater status (Hindutvadis are trying, with limited success, to alter this perception btw). His point was that Islamists sending terrorists and throwing bombs maybe wrong (in his opinion, it was wrong) because it may be tactically harmful to their cause or it may be morally unsound (he was not in favor of indiscriminate slaughter), but on the general point of fighting against the West, he thought the crucial difference is that the Islamic world represents real civiliazational competition; challengers who think they can and SHOULD fight in the big leagues...while Hindus and Africans are just waiting to be converted to more successful ideologies and are "not even invited to the party".
In short, that Muslims are different, but not in the way you think: they are not different in being more bloodthirsty (he believed, as a historian, that ALL great powers and dominant civilizations have been blood thirsty) but in thinking of themselves as a potential world power, not just "subalterns". 

I think he was wrong (i.e. the world is not best described by the kind of clash of civilizations he subscribed to, and the Muslim world is in no position to challenge as some sort of outsider civilization, distinct from what Naipaul famously dubbed "our universal civilization").

But one should not think that sophisticated Islamists themselves have no such ambition.

Finally, the oil-kingdom and wahabiism are indeed proximate causes of the Jihadi upsurge, but they succeeded not just because they paid people (the US has paid billions for "counter-jihadist" propaganda, with little noticeable impact) but because their ideology could be presented as the logical culmination of classical Islamic themes. Which is why educated (therefore more susceptible to "logic" and rational argument) believing Muslims in Pakistan so frequently gravitate to Maudoodi-like figures, even if their own families were Barelvi/Sufi/grave-worshipping/Indian-inflected "moderate Muslims" just one generation ago.

I hope to write more later to expand on this point.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris, Islam, ISIS and Sykes-Picot. Random Thoughts

The latest Islamist-terrorist atrocity hit the news on Friday with a Mumbai-style attack on the city of Paris. The same group (ISIS) has recently bombed Ankara, a Russian aircraft and a civilian neighborhood in Beirut. But as expected, the strike in Paris got the most attention (not inappropriately so, in my opinion). It was a typically brutal operation. Ordinary civilians going about their pleasure in one of the world's great cities were targeted in Restaurants, outside a football stadium (when the suicide bombers could not get in), on the streets and, most cruelly, while watching a death-metal concert. Most of the casualties occurred in the concert hall, where the terrorists managed to get into a location with a large number of innocents gathered in a confined space. They shot and killed calmly and ruthlessly and without any hint of pity or common humanity. When the police burst in, the killers blew up their suicide belts to shower those around them with ball bearings in one last atrocity before they departed to what they no doubt expect will be a land of milk and honey, suitably supplied with virgins so fair and delicate that their bone marrow will be visible. It takes all kinds.

Several interactions on twitter (@omarali50) revealed a few common themes and I thought I would expand on some of those brief comments and get some feedback. It's one way to learn.

Is the Islamic State Islamic? by Charles Cameron

[ by Charles Cameron , original at zenpundit— both answers are true in different contexts — IMO a significant point that previous discussion has tended to overlook ]

Were (are) the Khawarij Muslim? That’s the question I keep thinking of when discussion of whether IS (or AQ) is Islamic comes up. From a Muslim perspective, they were heretics. Joas Wagemakers identified the central distinctive opinion of the Khawarij thus:

The first of these is the Khawarij’s belief that revolt against Muslim rulers was allowed if they were deemed insufficiently pious. When ‘Ali accepted arbitration with Mu‘awiya, the people later known as Khawarij reportedly shouted ‘judgement is God’s alone’ (la hukm illa li-llah). In the context of that event, this referred to their belief that only God had the authority to arbitrate, not human beings, and that ‘Ali should not have accepted Mu‘awiya’s offer. The slogan later came to represent their broader view that all judgements and rulings should be left to God, thus applying Qur’anic rulings so strictly that they expelled Muslims guilty of major sins from their community and fought them. Because they believed sinful Muslims to be unbelievers (kuffar, singular: kafir), they directly applied passages from the Qur’an pertaining to jihad against non-Muslims to those of their co-religionists who were less than perfectly pious.

From the perspective of what I’m going to call “ongoing Islam” they were heretics — the very name Khawarij indicates those who have gone out, ie left the religion of Islam — and yet their heresy was that of “fundamentalizing” Islam, being, if you like, excessively Islamic.

Consider: according to a hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

As a student of religions might say, their use of the Qur’an marks them as clearly Islamic, and as a Muslim theologian might say, they have clearly departed the religion, in truth “they have nothing to do with it.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hamid Hussain: Remembering Colonel Shuja Khanzada

Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada (28 August 1943 – 16 August 2015)
Hamid Hussain


Shuja Khanzada as a young cavalry officer.

On August 16, 2015, Punjab Home Minister Colonel ® Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide attack in his hometown of Shadi Khan in Attock.  He belonged to a military family and several family members served in British Indian army and junior civil service.  His grandfather Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Ajaib Khan had served in British Indian army.  Ajaib Khan was Subedar Major of 76th Punjabis (later 3rd Battalion of Ist Punjab Regiment and now 3rd Punjab Regiment of Pakistan army).  He was with his battalion during First World War in Mesopotemia and won Indian Order of Merit (IOM) in an action.  On May 15, 1915, Ajab stormed a fort in Khafajiyah with six other soldiers.  In this action, his orderly Sepoy Burhan Ali was killed in action and awarded posthumous IOM.  Ajaib retired after a long service and was awarded OBE and OBI.

Ajaib’s one brother served in Indian Medical Service while three other brothers served in civil service in Hong Kong.  Hashim Khan spent his whole career in post office department, Sardar Khan was chief clerk of harbor office and Khawas Khan was clerk at Supreme Court.  Shuja’s uncle Captain ® Taj Muhammad Khanzada was one of the most decorated officer of Indian army.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hamid Hussain Reviews Cloughley's Book about the Pakistan Army

A History of the Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley

Dear All,

Some questions came my way about Brian Cloughley’s good book about Pakistan army. I put them in an unconventional book review. Regards, Hamid.

Book Review by Hamid Hussain

A History of Pakistan Army: Wars and Insurrections by Brian Cloughley, Fourth Edition. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 588

Brian Cloughley’s A History of Pakistan Army is the fourth edition of a book, which was originally written in 1999. Fourth edition adds many new chapters especially tenures of General Pervez Mussharraf and General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Author is one of few foreigners with long association with some senior Pakistani officers going back to early 1980s. This gives the author an advantage to draw on his personal associations.

Book is a comprehensive review of history of Pakistan army starting from 1947 when country gained independence. It documents journey of Pakistan army over six decades.

On page 29 author commenting about Ayub’s actions after becoming C-in-C states that “He examined the Military Secretary’s records of every senior officer and, if in doubt about someone’s competence, he sacked them”. This needs clarification and understanding of the context. The issue was not much about competence but about reliability. In March 1951, only about two months after General Muhammad Ayub Khan took over command of Pakistan army, a conspiracy was unearthed by the local police where a group of army officers were planning to overthrow the civilian government. The leader was then Chief of General Staff (CGS) Major General Muhammad Akbar Khan. Many officers involved in the conspiracy were left leaning and avowed leftist and famous poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was also involved peripherally. After the arrest of main culprits, Ayub used this opportunity to ease out all officers with leftist leanings. For Ayub, the issue was reliability of officers and proper orientation rather than competence. Many officers promoted by Ayub to senior ranks will never pass a competency test in any decent army.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No Water from Mosque for Christians

btw, the Sikh Guru invocation is a thing now. Apparently the meme has spread in the Christian community..
I have also noticed that in conversations if you compare Christians in Pakistan to Blacks in the old South, it makes the message clearer to modern liberals. Try it..

Omar Ali

Link to news story here.

Thirsty Christian Accused of Blasphemy for Drinking Water from Mosque

  • Saturday, October 10, 2015
  • by Wilson Chowdhry

Bashiran Bibi forced to live alone since her son Aftab Gill was accused of blasphemy

A Christian family accused of blasphemy narrowly escaped an extra-judicial killing after a Muslim lynch mob assembled to murder them.

Aftab Gill, 40, lived in Railway Colony in Wazirabad, Distt Gujranwala, and worked as a master tailor. He has five children, three sons and two daughters. Their house is near a local mosque and, like many other local people, they regularly drew water from the water tap outside the mosque as no other clean water mechanism is available in the community. The water was paid for as per the Mosque policy.

The Mosque tap where water can be bought.

On 14th August 2015, a young Muslim man named Zain Shah (18 years) from the neighbouring village told Aftab Gill's sons, Akash (12 years) and Adnan (5 years) to convert to Islam, but they refused. On the same day, whilst Aftab was taking water from the water tap at the local mosque, the same man shouted at Aftab and said:

"You Christians are not allowed to take water from the mosque. If you want to drink our water you must embrace Islam and pray regularly inside the mosque. Otherwise evil infidels defile our water taps."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Is Jeremy Corbyn a Tory pawn to annihilate the Labour Party forever?

When I put my part deux (or is it trois) of JC insulting the Queen, it soon turned into his comments about Osama Bin Laden's assassination being a "tragedy."

The reason why Jeremy Corbyn is going to lose, and lose badly, while David Cameron busily plans the coronation his best friend George Osborn for a 20year Tory reign, well.

  1. Winning elections is actually very easy. There are two votes that really matter, middle class middle England and working class urban England. Both are white not very diverse, not racist but don't like immigrants, not classist but don't like posh people. Both are of course very fond of the richest immigrants out there, the Royal Family. 
  2. If you run on an anti-immigrant (light touch no one wants to be a Nazi about it) and anti-rich people (again light touch no one in these two electoral banks support welfare street or heavy taxes, it all about a fair chance) then you've got a chance.
  3. Jeremy Corbyn is the candidate that is almost perfectly designed by the Metropolitan Left. His appeal to Middle England is probably non existent.
Winning an election is easy; pick a 100 marginal seats, find what the swing voters care about and campaign like crazy there. Corbyn has been making so many own goals recently that he's looking control of his initially very well-crafted slogan, "the politics of austerity."

The SNP annihilated Labour because it cleverly disassociated the link between voting for SNP and voting for Independence (a failed cause, much like Catalonia).

The Labour party will soon shrink to it's original base, Tory-Haters.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Letter from Former ISI DG Javed Qazi (and comments from Dr Hussain)

What follows is Dr Hamid Hussain's comments regarding General Javed Ashraf Qazi's long letter about the role of the army in creating the current Jihadi mess. Hamid sahib's comments are in red.
The original is on Major Amin's website.

Dear Sir;

Thanks for forwarding Lt. General Javed Ashraf Qazi’s bird’s eye view of ‘witch’s brew’ that is perfected over three decades of fermentation. My two cent worth in respected officer’s main text in red.  In private conversations, I’m more candid with officers who had/have front row seat to the ‘horror show’ and obviously that limits what I can say in an open forum.  I’m just finishing excellent biography of Auckinleck by John Connell and most quotes are from that book.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Joseph Conrad, the Modern World, Yemen; Random Thoughts

This post was triggered by an an excellent piece about the great Joseph Conrad in Prospect magazine. (Though I do think "anticipating terrorism" is too narrow a title, he was anticipating much more). I am posting a couple of excerpts, a piece about Yemen and my copied and pasted remarks from Facebook. Followed by a few random quotes that just came to mind in connection with this. It is an impressionistic post, please don't connect too many dots :)

Conrad gets bad press in some narcissistic pigmy circles these days (who doesn't?) but he is truly one of the greats. "Under Western Eyes", for example, should be assigned reading for anyone starting their study of the Russian revolution and much that followed.

From the Clive James piece:

"..They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. 

...As the collision between bliss and destruction gets closer, the reader will spend at least a hundred pages praying that Heyst has a gun hidden away somewhere. The first big slaughterhouse battles of the First World War had already been fought while Conrad was publishing the novel, but there is not a hint of pacifism. Conrad knew that unarmed goodwill is useless against armed malice. It was to be a lesson that the coming century would teach over and over, and so on into the present century: peace is not a principle, it is only a desirable state of affairs, and can’t be obtained without a capacity for violence at least equal to the violence of the threat. Conrad didn’t want to reach this conclusion any more than we do, but his artistic instincts were proof against the slightest tinge of mystical spiritual solace, and so should ours be. Our age of massacres has also been an age of the intellectual charlatan, when people claiming to interpret events can barely be relied upon to give a straightforward account of what actually happened. Conrad was the writer who reached political adulthood before any of the other writers of his time, and when they did, they reached only to his knee.

...Conrad should have made his heroes as intelligent as himself, the better to illustrate his thematic concern with how the historic forces that crush the naive will do the same to the wise, if they do not prepare to fight back. Finally, he tends to reinforce our wishful thought that cultivation—gained, for example, from reading the novels of Conrad—might be enough to ward off barbarism. But barbarism doesn’t care if we are cultivated or not.

Then I saw (via Ali Minai)  a tangentially related piece in the daily Beast, about Yemen. Worth a read.

"..And, most tragic, is the loss of life and the irreversible disruption of the lives of Yemeni people who display a deep love of family and extend their warmth and generosity to visitors. I feel diminished that this remarkable country can no longer be discovered by others and that violence is destroying its historic beauty and threatening its extraordinary people."

My comment on this was typically obsessed with my personal obsessions, but I do think there is a point in there somewhere: There is no escaping the modern world. The technology gap means no premodern society can ever hope to survive unmolested unless they are thousands of miles from anything anyone modern may want. So the real trick is find a way to survive in the modern world (of states and armies and schools) without losing everything you hold dear. This seems difficult, but not impossible. But it seems to be specially hard in the Muslim world because we have our own "almost modern" "primitive-culture-destroying" myth and it makes things just the tiniest bit extra-hard. The shsit could have hit a smallish fan in Yemen just because different groups wanted to fight over it...nothing new about that. And not impossible to survive. But the state ideal does not seem to have enough legitimacy to really settle down (and make the necessary compromises and deals with more advanced countries) in the core Muslim world at this time. It will be a long night in Yemen.

“Heaven and earth are not merciful. To them, men are as straw dogs, destined for sacrifice.”– Lao Tzu

Could man be drunk for ever
  With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
  And lief lie down at nights.

But men at whiles are sober
  And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
  Their hands upon their hearts.

(AE Houseman)

It takes the Navy three years to build a ship. It will take three hundred years to build a new tradition. The evacuation will continue.. (Admiral Cunningham ordering the Royal Navy to continue the evacuation of Crete in the face of heavy German air attacks)

"With two thousand years of examples behind us, we have no excuses when fighting for not fighting well." T. E. Lawrence

Once war has been undertaken, no peace is made by pretending there is no war.
---- Duryodhana (and look what happened to him)

He is a fool that practises truth without knowing the difference between truth and falsehood.
-- Krishna to Arjuna

The unique architecture of the Unesco World Heritage City of Sanaa at sunset Yemen

Image result for jordan pilot fire