Archive for March 12th, 2011

Sindh Saves the Day

By Nadeem F Paracha for Dawn

Plans are afoot to build the world’s first ever international Sufi university near Bhit Shah in Sindh. The main purpose of the institution would be to promote interfaith and intercultural education to tackle extremism in the country.

Such a thought and project could only have come about in Sindh. Especially in the context of what Pakistan has beengoing through in the last many years.

Not only have the country’s other provinces – especially the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – become central targets of horrid terrorist attacks by extremist organisations, the Punjab in particular has also been witnessing a steady growth of faith-based conservatism within its urban middle and lower middle-classes.

When extremists (calling themselves ‘Punjabi Taliban’) attacked the famous Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in Lahore late last year, economist and political analyst, Asad Sayeed, made a rather insightful observation.

He said that had such an attack on the Darbar taken place twenty years ago, thousands of Lahorites would have poured out to protest.

But not anymore. The attack on one of Punjab’s most popular Sufi shrines was simply treated as just another terrorist attack.

Though it is now clear that the Wahabi/Deobandi extremists have been going around blowing up Sufi shrines frequented by the majority Barelvi Muslims, the Barelvi leadership has looked elsewhere, putting the blame on the ever-elusive ‘foreign hands.’

Journalist and intellectual Khaled Ahmed once wrote a telling tongue-in-cheek article about the annual gathering of the Dawat-i-Islami in Multan.

The Dawat is the Barelvi equivalent of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamat. Both these outfits are considered to be non-political organisations who are more interested in evangelizing their respective versions of Islam and its rituals. One should also mention that both these (sub-continental) strains of Islam accuse one another of being ‘flawed Muslims.’

Ahmed wrote how after Dawat’s huge congregation in Multan, when police found some bullet-riddled bodies of Dawat members, the outfit’s main leadership simply refused to acknowledge the glaring evidence that pointed towards the involvement of an opposing Sunni sect’s organisation in the murders.

Ahmed adds that Dawat leaders began babbling about ‘outside forces (RAW, CIA, Mossad)’ who wanted to create disharmony between Pakistan’s Barelvi majority and the Deobandi and Wahabi sects.

Barelvis: From moderate to militant

One can understand the above-mentioned episode as an example of the confusion Barelvi spiritual leadership has gone through since the 1980s.

From its inception in the 18th century and until about the mid-1980s, the Barelvi sect was largely apolitical in orientation, non-Jihadist and followers of some of the most relaxed dictates of the Hanafi madhab – the first of the four main Islamic schools of law that is also considered to be the most moderate.

‘Barelvi Islam’ (as it is sometimes called) is purely a sub-continental phenomenon that fuses elements of Indian Sufism with the folk and populist strains of various cultures that exist in the sub-continent.

It is also called the ‘folk Islam’ of the region in which a high degree of tolerance exists between various faiths, sects, classes and ethnicities and in which the puritanical aspects of other Islamic sects are eschewed and even rejected.

The Sufi shrine and an intense reverence of the Prophet (PBUH) play a central role in Barelvi Islam. Its populist and moderate make-up helped it become the majority Sunni sect amongst the Muslims of the sub-continent.

Two of its leading opponents have been the Sunni Deobandi sect (also a product of the subcontinent) and the Saudi-inspired Wahabism.

Both have accused Barelvis of ‘adopting Hindu rituals and practices’ and assorted ‘heresies.’

In spite of being the majority sect amongst Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, ‘Barelvi Islam’ hardly ever had a coherent political expression in shape of a mass-based political party or organisation.

Its spiritual leadership remained pro-Jinnah (unlike Deobandi organizations of undivided India), and various Pakistani political leaders have continued to appeal to the symbolism and lingo associated with various populist aspects of Barelvi-ism.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was the most successful in this respect.

Bhutto was also one of the first leading Pakistani political figures to undertake the act of regularly visiting various famous Sufi shrines in Sindh and Punjab.

Barelvis are in the majority in Sindh and the Punjab, whereas Deobandis are largely centred in Khyber Pakthunkhwa and in the Pushtun-dominated areas of Balochistan.

Until the 1970s Barelvi-ism also prevailed among many of Sindh and Punjab’s urban middle-classes, especially those who considered themselves to be progressive and likely supporters of secular politics.

However, the arrangement in this context was suddenly disturbed with the arrival of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in 1977.

Dipped in the political Islam of scholar and Jamat-i-Islami (JI) chief Abul Ala Mauddudi, Zia soon moved towards infiltrating the spiritual and political nerve centres of Barelvi-ism in an attempt to ‘reform’ them.

Barelvi dominance across the country’s religious landscape reminded him of Z A. Bhutto’s populism (which he, like JI, considered to be ‘vulgar’ and ‘un-Islamic’), and from 1979 onwards Pakistan under Zia also became one of the leading client states of Saudi-generated Wahabi propaganda and aid.

Stunned by the ‘Islamic revolution’ in the Shia-dominated Iran in 1979, Saudi Arabian monarchy and its Wahabi Sunni religious elite began seeing Pakistan’s Barelvi-dominated make-up as venerable to Shia-ism’s revolutionary symbolism and also of socialist propaganda, especially with the arrival of Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

At least that was one of the reasons used by Zia and his Saudi allies to draw the United States into giving Pakistan billions of dollars worth of aid and arms.

With the aid also came Wahabi propaganda literature and preachers who along with Pakistani Deobandi and Wahabi spiritual and political groups began setting up madressas and mosques.

These madressas operated as institutions that would indoctrinate young Pakistanis – most of whom were immersed in the non-Jihadi traditions of Barelvi-ism – and prepare them for Jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Bralevi tradition had also not been very kind to the ulema and the clergy.

To address this, Zia also began describing famous Sufi saints as ulema and banned (in the media) all criticism and humour aimed at the clergy.

The Afghan war, Saudi propaganda, the mushrooming of Deobandi and Wahabi madressas and televangelists, and a concentrated campaign by the Zia regime to equate the dictatorship’s capitalist-Islamist makeup as something in accordance with the Shariah and with ‘Jinnah and Iqbal’s vision,’ had a telling impact on Pakistan’s religious sociology.

In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa many moderate and progressive Deobandi strains that had prevailed in the province began sliding into the sect’s more radical dictates, coming closer to the puritanical Wahabi and Salafi ideas about faith.

This slide was celebrated by the Punjab-dominated military as a successful blow to the secular and ‘treacherous’ Pukhtun separatist tendencies.

In the Punjab, the province benefited the most from Zia’s Punjab-centric capitalist maneuvers. This coupled with unprecedented remittances coming from Pakistanis who had begun going to Arab Gulf states to work from the 1970s onwards, gave birth to new moneyed classes.

Many from the petty-bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie sections began moving away from their Barelvi heritage and towards more puritanical strains of faith.

Their Barelvi past now reminded them of their lower status and economic modesty, whereas they began relating their enhanced economic standing with the adoption of the more puritanical strains of Islam.

That’s why the growth of puritanical Islamist and sectarian organizations that Punjab saw under Zia, a lot of their local funding came from Punjab’s nouveau-riche and petty-bourgeois trader classes.

Interestingly, it was also the same classes that also pushed the Barelvi leadership to become more conservative and radical. Those sections of the Punjabi petty-bourgeoisie that stuck to Barelvi-ism encouraged their spiritual leadership to compete with the Puritanism and radicalism of the growing number of Deobandi and Wahabi groups.

This trend saw the first ever emergence of radical Barelvi groups. In the early 1980s, the Dawat-i-Islami was formed to counterbalance the growth of the Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat that had begun making deep inroads into Punjab’s bourgeoisie and the military.

The Dawat discouraged the Barelvis from indulging in antics associated with the region’s folk Islam, emphasising an increased reverence of holy personalities and encouraging holding of recitals of naats and milads instead of quwalis and dhamals. The last two became associated with the practices of the lower-class Barelvis.

In 1992, emerged the Sunni Thereek (ST). A Barelvi outfit that emerged from the splintering of the oldest Barelvi Islamic political party, the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP).

Such occurrences did not really help the Barelvi sect defend its traditions in the face of the state-sponsored Deobandi and Wahabi onslaught –  rather, these organisations began turning Barelvi-ism into an equally anti-pluralistic and militant political phenomenon.

Sindh saves the day?

By the 1990s, Zia’s manoeuvres and Saudi involvement in reshaping Pakistan’s religious tradition had seen Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab become hostage to various violent Deobandi/Wahabi outfits and new-born Barelvi reactionary-ism.

The Punjab also saw a rise in the use of reactionary political and religious narratives within its lower-middle and middle-classes, whereas in Balochistan attempts were being made (by intelligence agencies) to neutralize secular Baloch nationalist militancy with the help of puritanical evangelical outfits. The agencies had already done this successfullyin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the 1980s.

But what happened in Sindh? Barelvi-ism in Sindh (outside Karachi) has always been a lot more secular and pluralistic than the Bareilvi-ism in the Punjab.

Its  sociology  in Sindh heavily revolves around the staunchly secular historicity that the province’s famous scholar, GM Syed’s literary work generated.

He described a highly pluralistic and secular reading of Sufism as being the cultural and religious make-up of the Sindhis and it is this narrative that still rules the roost in the province’s social and religious psyche.

This is one of the reasons why Zia completely failed to impose his version of Islam here. Also, just like the majority of the Baloch who equate puritanical Islam with the ‘Punjabi civil-military elite,’ so does the socio-political discourse in Sindh.

On the other hand, in Karachi, though Zia-backed Deobandi and Wahabi radical outfits did manage to find a foothold, two things have always worked against these outfits here.

The first is the fact that the sprawling ethnic, sectarian and religious diversity found in Karachi actually absorbs and neutralizes any attempt by an outfit to impose its version of Islam.

Secondly, MQM, a party that first emerged as a mohajir nationalist group, adopted almost the same populist Barelvi symbolism and lingo as Bhutto did in the 1970s.

Also, the other two big political parties in the city too are secular: the PPP and ANP.

Though the Sunni Thereek (ST) has managed to infiltrate some sections of MQM’s support, ST is Barelvi and anti-Taliban (albeit reactionary).

In spite of the rampant crime and ethnic tensions that are a constant in Karachi, it will not be an overstatement to claim that Karachi along with the rest of Sindh today stands to be perhaps the only (ragged) sanctuaries in present-day Pakistan that are (comparatively-speaking) largely free of the factors that have created opportunities in the Punjab and KP for violent extremist activity as well as for reactionary conservatism to now become a mainstay in Punjab’s bourgeois psyche.

Bangladesh Stun England in Chittagong Thriller

By Azad Majumdar for Reuters News Agency

Two unheralded Bangladeshi tail-enders with ice in their veins played the innings of their lives to subject England to yet another giant-killing act on Friday.

Shafiul Islam (24) and Mahmudullah (21) defied the nerve-jangling pressure to forge an unbeaten 58-run ninth wicket stand to complete a two-wicket Group B victory that even their captain did not think they could pull off.

“I never believed they can win it for us. It’s only after hitting the winning run that I believed they have done this,” said Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan, whose house was stoned by irate fans after the team’s defeat by West Indies last week.

At 169-8, Bangladesh’s chase for a 226-run victory target on a tricky track looked so doomed that even some of their ardent followers exited the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium shaking their heads, not realising the drama that was about to unfold.

Aided by England’s profligate bowlers who conceded 33 extras, including 23 wides, in the see-saw contest, both the tail-enders kept going before Mahmudullah drove Tim Bresnan through covers to seal the match with one over to spare and trigger wild celebrations.

Tamim Iqbal (38), Imrul Kayes (60) and Shakib (32) chipped in with useful cameos but Shafiul and Mahmudullah were the toast of the nation.

Wary of the dew factor, Shakib won a good toss and opted to field and he had reasons to feel vindicated when the English bowlers struggled to grip the wet ball in the evening.

England’s batting was also inconsistent and if it had not been for the knocks by Jonathan Trott (67) and Eoin Morgan (63), they might not have even scored 225 all out.

They looked completely shackled by the home team bowlers, managing just four boundaries in the first 20 overs.

Once again, they could not make the most of their batting powerplay either, managing just 33 runs and losing two wickets.

MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Defending a below-par total, English bowlers seemed to have turned the table on their hosts before being thwarted by Bangladesh’s spectacular rearguard resistance.

“We are very disappointed, it was a missed opportunity for us,” rued England skipper Andrew Strauss, admitting problems both in the batting and bowling departments.

Consistency has been a real problem for the team which narrowly escaped an upset against the Netherlands, tied with India, went down to Ireland before losing to Bangladesh here.

“These defeats hurt, there’s no doubt about it,” said Strauss, whose side could have sealed a place in the last eight if they had won Friday’s match.

“But you’ve got to channel that frustration and make sure you channel it the right way and come out and beat the next side you’re playing against. It’s a big game for us (against the West Indies) and we’re going to have to win it.”

England now need to win their final match against the West Indies on March 17 to be sure of a quarter-final place while Bangladesh next face Netherlands on Monday and then South Africa on March 19. Wins would take them through.

What’s My Dad Doing on Facebook

By Michael Franco for Francopolis.com

When I received a friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. But the inherent distance of online communication somehow allowed us to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person.

My dad and I are Facebook friends. That sounds like a completely ridiculous thing to say. I mean, we’re friends in the real world, so why wouldn’t we be Facebook friends? But that’s not the reason it sounds ridiculous. No, it sounds ridiculous because I see my dad practically every single day of my life, but I’m closer to the virtual him than the actual him. Strange, right? How is that even possible?

My father, you see, comes from a generation of men — perhaps the last — for whom expressing affection towards their children can be awkward, particularly children of the same sex. This, I’m sure, has something to do with evolving gender roles and what it means to “be a man”. For my dad’s generation — the early baby boomers — being a man meant providing a family with essentials, not emoting all over the place. Men were to be sturdy and stoic, not soft and sensitive.

I also get the impression that my dad wasn’t too close with his parents. His mother seemed distant; his father eccentric – neither the personification of affection. When I think back to my father’s interactions with his parents before they passed, words like “cordial” and “businesslike” come to mind. He was kind to them because he’s a kind person, but I never got the impression that he was maintaining fulfilling relationships. In light of that, I’m surprised he even knew how to express affection to my brother and me.

This doesn’t mean my dad never showed his love for us when we were growing up. I can recall countless acts he performed to express his affection. When he would take a day off from work, for example, he would spend it ironing our clothes and cooking dinner. My brother and I didn’t even care if our clothes were ironed, but I knew that was my dad’s way of saying that he loved us. Who, after all, takes off from work to iron Nike t-shirts and prepare roast chicken in garlic gravy?

But I could probably count the number of times my father has told me he loves me on my twenty digits, and that’s simply no big deal to me. I’ve never once thought that he doesn’t; I’ve just always known that some things are easy to feel but harder to say. There have been many times, in fact, when I have wanted to tell my dad I love him but have felt that it would be too awkward to do so. Guys can be funny that way.

So when I received a Facebook friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. I’ve been accustomed to keeping my dad close, but not too close. Sunday night dinner? Sure. Friday night pub crawl? No thanks. In accepting his request, I would give my dad insight into my entire life: my interactions with friends, my comings and goings, my random thoughts, my likes, my dislikes, what I “like” and “unlike”, the random compliments I give my girlfriend (who, ironically, doesn’t even have a Facebook account)… This simple request felt more like an invasion.

And yet, I knew I had no option but to “friend” my dad. What conceivable excuse could I have to not? Before I clicked on “Accept”, though, I took the time to review my past posts and photos to “clean up” my profile. I even thought about starting a whole new profile for friends and keeping the one I had for people like my dad and my boss – people for whom I reserve the persona that, otherwise, only gets used when I attend Mass every few years.

In the end, though, I decided to let my dad simply be like any other Facebook friend because, well, he’s my dad. At first, however, I wasn’t sure how to virtually interact with him. I was even scared to look at his profile. Would he post creepy photos of him and my mom drinking martinis and standing too close to one another at creepy parties for creepy people of their age? Would he have bizarre, unacceptable interests, like scrapbooking or watching American Idol? Would he be socially awkward, posting head-scratching comments on others’ posts?

All the worrying was for naught. My dad, turns out, is completely normal. What’s more, accepting his friend request allowed the two of us to communicate more than we ever have before. While I have always talked to my mother on a daily basis, neither my dad nor myself have ever felt comfortable just picking up the phone and diving into conversation. Again, the generational divides.

But on my Facebook page, my dad was suddenly showing interest in my life: complimenting me on accomplishments, posting comments on my posts, taking notice of the things that are my life. Somehow, the inherent distance of online communication allowed him to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person, and that has given us things to talk about in our face-to-face interactions.

One day, for example, he commented about my blog, not realizing that I spend many evenings in front of the computer. “I like your blog,” he said. “I didn’t know you blogged. Is there a way for me to add it to my favorites? I really like your articles.” And just yesterday he complimented me about a piece I wrote for an online magazine, telling me I did a good job. No matter how old you are, hearing your father express interest in your interests is flattering, nice. And if he weren’t my “friend”, he might never know of my writing pursuits.

I’ve also learned a lot about my dad because of our newfound “friendship”. Through his Facebook page, for example, he has revealed an astute humor I never knew he possessed. One night, my girlfriend and I couldn’t keep from cracking up at his profile picture: a shot of him sitting on a toilet in the middle of a driveway, scarf wrapped around his neck and stocking cap on his head, posed like Rodin’s “The Thinker”. Why was a toilet in the middle of a driveway? What was my dad doing sitting on it on an obviously cold day? Most of all, why would my dad make this his profile picture, his way of greeting the online world? It was genius, that’s why, and it turns out my dad has a genius wit.

The best part of having my dad as a Facebook friend, though, is that it keeps the family in constant contact with one another. If I post a picture of my son that’s particularly funny or charming, my parents will comment on it or call to get the full story. If I comment about an exciting happening during my day, my parents will ask me about it when I talk to them later in the day. These moments – relatively small but meaningful nonetheless – would go by without being shared if not for Facebook.

No, I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that the Internet has made the world smaller in every single circumstance, bringing everyone closer together in every conceivable way. In many ways, it has done just the opposite, giving people the means to seclude themselves in their virtual lives rather than participating in their actual lives — as well as draw rigid ideological lines that purposely exclude large portions of the world.

But for all the ridiculous, overblown assertions that the Internet can erase divisions and bring people together, sometimes it actually does. Some people, for instance, join couch surfing groups and travel around the world, staying with complete strangers with a shared love of travel. Others join online communities and talk to people from foreign countries, learning about cultures that, without the Internet, they’d never have the chance to experience.

And then there’s me: I accepted my dad’s friend request and found out that in addition to being a great dad, he’s also pretty damn cool. Maybe that Friday night pub crawl is in our future yet. Perhaps a virtual beer first…

%d bloggers like this: