Osama: What the ISI Knew?

By Anjum Altaf

Opinion is divided between those who assert the ISI knew where Osama was hiding and those who believe it didn’t. This way of framing the situation obscures what might be the reality.

Some months back, before the discovery of Osama, I was reading a book in which the author narrates a discussion with a Pakistani, now an ambassador, that took place towards the end of the Musharraf period when the interviewee was out of favor. A remark attributed to the Pakistani left such an impression that I repeated it to as many people as I had occasion to between then  and the discovery of Osama next to the military academy at Kakul.

I don’t have the book with me now but the following was the gist of the exchange:

The Pakistani was asked if Osama was in Pakistan. I have quite forgotten whether he answered yes or no, but what he followed up his answer with was seared on my mind. Referring to the time when the military ruler Musharraf had exiled both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif vowing never to allow them back to contest elections, he said something along the following lines:

If Benazir or Nawaz Sharif were hiding somewhere in Pakistan, how long do you believe it would have taken the ISI to ferret them out?

It is the logic of this statement that goes to the heart of the issue. Even if I were making up this dialogue, which I am not, it is the line of thinking that provides much the more plausible explanation of the situation that unfolded.

It is not whether the ISI knew or did not know if Osama was in Pakistan. It is more likely that those who mattered inside the ISI and outside did not wish to know if Osama was in Pakistan. Had they wanted to know, it would have taken them just as long to find out as it would have taken them to locate Benazir or Nawaz Sharif if either of them had attempted to ‘go underground’ in the country.

And this highlights the real issue in Pakistan that won’t go away with the discovery and death of Osama bin Laden. It is that at the level of the citizens, including the lower functionaries of all state institutions, there was and remains sympathy for some of what Osama bin Laden claimed he stood for. And at the level of the rulers, there was and remains duplicity in the attitude towards terrorism and violence. Osama benefited from the underlying ‘protection’ of both.

The combination of these two tendencies is lethal for the future of Pakistan. In both cases, it is an acceptance of dubious means to achieve dubious and not-so-dubious ends. In the case of citizens, Osama was in the vanguard of the fight against the oppression and humiliation of Muslims. In the case of the rulers, terrorism is an instrument of foreign policy to inflict pain on imagined enemies and a golden goose that opened the doors to otherwise unmerited importance and largesse. To both, an undiscovered Osama offered imagined and real benefits.

The death of Osama does not affect these tendencies in any meaningful way. Citizens continue to nurse their grievances against arrogant outsiders even as they balance their primal urges against the costs and the inconveniences of supporting their choice of means. Their anger is directed less against Osama and Al-Qaeda and more against their government and the institutions of state for adding to their humiliations. The rulers continue to trim their game-playing strategies having gone past the point where they could turn back with honor and indeed bereft of the intellectual ability to envision any other path for the future.

This leaves Pakistan in a deep hole that continues to be dug further because of the need to find or offer rationalizations for the means that have been endorsed. Indoctrination in schools, frenzied outpourings in the media, invocations of divine will, exhortation for the return to the purities of the past, emphasis on piety and morality, and plain dissimulation remain the order of the day. All these contribute to a refusal to face up to where the country finds itself, to understand how it got there, and to an inability to chart a new way forward.

Pakistan remains adrift in a fatal disengagement between rulers unwilling and unable to change their ways and citizens unwilling and unable to press for a new way forward. For a while at least, Pakistan without Osama would be much like Pakistan with Osama. What will make the pain unbearable for either side, who will fold, and when, remain questions without obvious answers at this time.

What does seem clear is that there are no non-violent internal drivers to force a decisive change of direction by either the citizens or the rulers. More punishment for either is unlikely to provide the right motivation. The only game-changer capable of snapping the stasis peacefully seems to be an external initiative that combines a face-saving way out for the rulers with the prospect of a future that is too good to spurn for the citizens. Something needs to be on the table that makes citizens ask why the state is mortgaging their future and a mechanism needs to be devised that can enable the state to embrace that future and survive. It is a tall order.

 

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21 Responses to “Osama: What the ISI Knew?”

  1. Arun Pillai Says:

    It is puzzling why, in an international context, Muslim communities choose to identify with their religion rather than with secular identifications like their country or profession. It appears that it is only Muslims who do this. Most Christians prefer their secular identities as do most others. With Muslims, the majority seem to identify with their religion.

  2. Foqia Khan Says:

    Hit the nail at its head.

  3. Vinod Says:

    I won’t be surprised if research in social psychology shows that the effect of Friday prayers where men stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder and bow together to a (real or imagined) higher being creates a sense of belonging that contributes to a sense of community. There are many social identity markers such as the ‘salam’ between two muslims that reinforces this sense in a muslim. These are further emphasized explicitly in mosques through the idea of the ummah and the reiteration of the fundamental doctrines that defines the membership of the ummah. Simply put, Islam, by virtue of its social rituals and accompanying narrative still provides a sense of community identity that is much stronger than non-spiritual, largely intellectual, class-limited and historically shallow forms of social rituals provided by secularism and nationalism. Secular ideas don’t get divine approbation via mosque sermons.
    The muslim world did not suffer a mosque-state conflict like the way Europe did. Europe had a unique course of history that led to the adoption of ideas like nationalism and secularism. These ideas are clearly connected with a breaking away from religion, quite unlike the muslim world. Medieval Islam was far more tolerant of heterodoxy than medieval christianity. There were no decade-long violent sectarian wars. The muslim world never felt a need to break away from religion and find alternate identities.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: There are strands of this argument that don’t hang well together. Suppose the kind of social study you propose had been conducted in Christian Europe before 1700 focused on Sunday service and other rituals of the faith. It would have come to exactly the same conclusions that you now proffer for Islam. But then some historical events intervened and changed the entire complexion of Christianity. What is to prevent similar events occurring in the world of Islam? I don’t think these kinds of attributes can be made unchanging intrinsic characteristics of religion. Even otherwise the conclusion can be questioned. Do Bengalis and Punjabis believe themselves to have the same identities? Do Iranis and Saudis believe themselves to have the same identities?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: I am going to archive here an exchange that is interesting. It is from an interview on the Website 3:AM with one of the leading philosophers of the day, AC Grayling:

      3:AM: Though perhaps not in this country, or northern or central Europe, but certainly in America, Africa and the Middle East, there has been a resurgence in religious extremism and fundamentalism. Why do you think this has happened? Are the reasons cultural or political, or economic?

      ACG: In my view religion is diminishing not resurgent; what looks like resurgence is a turning up of volume, an amplification, the noise of protest and anxiety resulting from the pressure that religious groups feel from the secularising tendency of history. The historical precedent is the sixteenth-seventeeth century loss of hegemony by the Roman Catholic Church: as the Reformation broke its control over the mind and life of Europe, it fought back hard, causing nearly two centuries of extremely bloody and cruel religious wars and turmoil. At the time it would have looked like the Church militant and rampant, but it was more the rearguard action of a diminished power, like a cornered animal. I think something like this is happening today, not least with Islam, whose way of life and values are under severe pressure from a globalising world with the sometimes rapacious secular values of the powerful West.

      http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/being-human-an-interview-with-ac-grayling/

    • Vinod Says:

      I haven’t read the above responses. I have been preparing another response to your initial response to my comment. I’ll post it anyway. Here goes

      Your thoughts forces me to change the focus of my earlier comment. It is possible that there are sufficient rituals and social markers among Christians to create a sense of identity and belonging. In these aspects they might therefore be similar to muslims. Where Christians differ from muslims, sociologically speaking, is in their relationship to religion. That relationship changed because of the historical tensions with religion. Christianity, to most born-Christians who may have a modicum of awareness of history, does not bring back fond ideas of shaping a society and civilization. The cause of this historical blackmark of Christianity can be traced to the centralization of its doctrinal power house. Such centralized doctrine-churning inevitably loses touch with lived reality. Islam escaped the same fate primarily because of the decentralized nature of its doctrinal power house throughout history. There is no pope figure in Islamic doctrines, atleast for the majority (Shi-ite Islam may have some ideas about Imams holding special positions with God). Even when there was a caliphate, for the most part, influential religious scholars distanced themselves from the government and worked among the community directly. The rulers were content with getting the blessings of the majority non-influential scholars. They didn’t feel the need to get down and control the Islamic practices of the commoners. They were more concerned with getting the support of the elite religious scholars for their military expeditions of personal glory. That allowed various culture-specific Islams to develop in the muslim world. As an aside, even in present times, I believe the well-being of muslims and their relationship to Islam, lies not in pursuing the ummah-wide caliphate-idea or the single Arabian Hanbali-centred salafi Islam coming from Saudi. The strength of Islam actually lies in its decentralized, culture-sensitive adaptability and its unifying informal social force. Back to topic, muslims have a clear recorded history of being under a political setup that was derived from religion, even if only nominally, and having benefited from it. Even Islam, in theory, has plenty of lofty ideals about governance. I think many of us will testify in our personal experiences that muslims wear their religious symbols more prominently than other communities do. Their religiosity stands out distinctly. I don’t think this can be attributed to only a bias in us. This combination of theory, present prominence of symbolic adherence and past lived history makes for an inspirational source of identity. Not just that, in the dismantling of the Ottomon empire and what followed, there is a common fate, a fate of humiliation, experienced by muslims in the middle east. This dismantling was not by a way of political life that proved itself against what existed prior to it. It was through deceit, deception and looting. Nationalism, democracy and secularism did not prove itself better than what existed prior to it. In fact, these sounded as misleading deceitful jargon in the way they were used in the muslim world, even in the heart of it – Saudi Arabia, where the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah are. This sense of defeat, deceit, abuse and humiliation is easily transmited to muslims in other parts of the world through the informal unifying processes mentioned earlier and it is acerbated by the fact that it applies to the place where Islam began and flourished. It The gross and evident injustice in the Israeli Palestinian conflict continues to be a modern day reminder of what transpired after the dismantling of the Ottoman empire. The ill-feelings that comes through through a reading of history are thus kept fresh and indelible even as a muslim looks up from the books and surveys the political landscape of conflicts today. It is no wonder that turmoil in one part of the muslim world raises protests in a completely unrelated part of the world and tends to transmit the same narrative to other conflicts experienced by muslims that may have a very different nature to it. In such cases, the ummah-hood of muslims actually does not help their cause but that is the way the story flows and develops. Any retelling of the story in different terms will be viewed as an attempt to create disunity in the ummah. Unity starts to demand a shared narrative and complicates or worsens matters for muslims.

      I also want to emphasize that my response should be read in relation with the question that Anil raised. The question was why muslims tend to choose religion as the pillar of their identity in an international context. The key words are ‘international context’. That means, in opposition to non-muslims. I was not trying to argue that muslims have no other identity. They indeed do.

      I do not want to say that Islam is the be-all and end-all for muslims when interacting with non-muslims socially and politically. That is not correct. Muslims have and can live with non-muslims in non-caliphatic political setups. Islam, in theory, does indeed accomodate that. Muslims have no theoretical problems with it either. But when marginalized and aggrieved to an extent that all hope in the modern secular-democratic setup is lost one should expect muslims to lean back on religion as a salvaging force.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Vinod: Your middle paragraph is so involved that I got lost in it. Nevertheless, this is a response to what I understood. You can clarify if I went astray:

        1. The argument about centralized/decentralized structures should cut the other way. Whatever is centralized should evince more unity of belief and identity; whatever is decentralized should be more diffuse.

        2. There is a different aspect that Olivier Roy has described well in his book Secularism Confronts Islam which has been discussed at length earlier. His point is about the relation of religion and culture. When religion is embedded in unique cultures (what you term decentralized), there are many distinct markers of identity. When a process of ‘deculturation’ occurs (as for example because of migration and globalization after WW2), the separate cultural markers are weakened and the common attribute is emphasized. Olivier is emphatic to point out that though the decultured set is vocal it is a very tiny proportion of the mass of Muslims – to project something intrinsic to the religion from its worldview is not warranted.

        3. I think many of us will testify in our personal experiences that muslims wear their religious symbols more prominently than other communities do. Do you have any Sikh friends?

        4. Unity starts to demand a shared narrative and complicates or worsens matters for muslims. What unity you are referring to? Can you give an example of unity amongst Muslims?

        5. The question was why muslims tend to choose religion as the pillar of their identity in an international context. The key words are ‘international context’. That means, in opposition to non-muslims. Apply this to a concrete case from our region. Did Muslims in British India have a common, undistinguished response driven by religion to the colonial ‘non-Muslims’? Or was there an entire spectrum of responses ranging from loyalists to areligious socialists and anarchists with religious pacifism, Indian nationalism, religious militancy in the middle. If you think about the Muslims who represented these factions, would you be able to point to some common factor except that they were Muslims by birth?

        6. This same phenomenon was the case in all Muslim states after WW2. Each has had groups in the population with very different attitudes to the West. There has been a drift to the Right over time but that is a different issue with plausible explanations worth debating; it has little to do with something intrinsic about the interaction of Muslims with non-Muslims. If that had been the case, there would be no need to explain a drift.

        The issue is not facts but explanations and personally I am more sympathetic to arguments that rely on specifics of history and less to those that attempt to find something intrinsic in cultures and religions. It is for this reason that I had quoted AC Grayling in one of the comments you missed. Read the question he is asked about the recent upsurge in religious extremism and then his response. I think he provides a sufficient explanation. To me it doesn’t seem that locating something unique in the makeup of Muslims would make the answer any more convincing:

        3:AM: Though perhaps not in this country, or northern or central Europe, but certainly in America, Africa and the Middle East, there has been a resurgence in religious extremism and fundamentalism. Why do you think this has happened? Are the reasons cultural or political, or economic?

        ACG: In my view religion is diminishing not resurgent; what looks like resurgence is a turning up of volume, an amplification, the noise of protest and anxiety resulting from the pressure that religious groups feel from the secularising tendency of history. The historical precedent is the sixteenth-seventeeth century loss of hegemony by the Roman Catholic Church: as the Reformation broke its control over the mind and life of Europe, it fought back hard, causing nearly two centuries of extremely bloody and cruel religious wars and turmoil. At the time it would have looked like the Church militant and rampant, but it was more the rearguard action of a diminished power, like a cornered animal. I think something like this is happening today, not least with Islam, whose way of life and values are under severe pressure from a globalising world with the sometimes rapacious secular values of the powerful West.

      • Vinod Says:

        1. Centralization of doctrine-dishing works only to an extent to provide a unified identity that to only when there is an efficient way to keep track of the pulse of the various parts of the area over which the doctrine is supposed to be held. With the means of transport and communication available then it would be hard to do.

        Centralization of beliefs is a hard thing to implement in itself. Beliefs are important to people in making sense of their lives. People in different parts of the world have to make sense of different circumstances. One set of beliefs may not work for all parts of the world. Beliefs need adaptability to the regions sharing common traits. Even where people ostensibly display adherence to a centralized doctrine there is likely to be strong undercurrents of discontent.

        2. What Oliver has to say is not inconsistent with what I’ve said. Remember that Anil’s point was about the reaction of muslims in a international context. Clearly then muslims tend to hold onto the decultured social marker – Islam – over all other markers.

        3. Muslims are a community that are far larger in number than Sikhs and they are far more diverse ethnically and culturally than Sikhs. They stand out in wearing their religious symbols because these symbols burst through their other symbols of their non-religious identity. I should have stated this earlier.

        4. I’m referring to the unity, demanded or voluntarily displayed, among muslims in speaking a common story about the state of muslims today. This story is the story of how the ‘kuffar’ are out to divide the muslims and take their lands.

        5. In SOuth Asia, even though there was a spectrum of response of muslims, what ultimately prevailed and gained grassroot support was the religious one – the story of common destiny though Islam combined with the mis-strust of the “polytheistic” hindus. I have explained that before in my long post earlier. Muslims are willng to work with other idealogies, but only to an extent. When cornered, it will be Islam that will finally be held onto. Islam, for muslims, has proven itself for a much longer period than any other ideology.

        6. Same as the above.

        7. I re-read the ACG link. I admit that is also a possible explanation. Only time will tell whether there is a genuine resurgence of Islam going on or whether it is the last fight of Islam before it fades away forever. I think ACG is wrong here. Islam has had a different history than Christianity. The muslim empire did not break down because of internal ‘Reformation’ movements. There is no strong secular voice in the muslim world that is challenging the religious voice, atleast nothing equivalent to what happened in Christianity.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod:

          1. I am lost on this part of the argument. Your point was that Christianity was centralized, Islam was decentralized. What is the implication of that?

          2. There are two points here. First, what is unique? Don’t Jews hold on to the marker of Jewishness all over the world? Second, Olivier was careful to stress that Muslims stressing the decultured marker of Islam were a very miniscule proportion of the total number of Muslims in the world. The majority is living with its many identities.

          3. Have you tested this assertion? In a police line-up in India would you be able to tell the Muslim apart because his religious identity was bursting through his non-religious identity? And why does it matter that Muslims are more than Sikhs? If the display of religious identity is not problematic in one case, why should it be in another?

          4. This claim needs to be tested. Ask a diverse set of Muslims about the cause of Muslim decline and see if one gets a single common answer. You are repeating an unverified stereotype.

          5. When a group is ‘cornered’, it will tend to unite to protect itself and the maximum unity would be derived from the attribute that is common to all. This is natural in all tribal identities. When the Sikhs felt cornered, the reverted to their Sikh Identity. Do a thought experiment. Imagine some phenomenon that leads to Hindus feeling cornered. What, in your view, would they unite around? The point to note is that the single dimension is not intrinsic to religions – otherwise it would be the starting point. As you note, the starting point is always many diverse responses. It is a political process that pushes groups to establish solidarity around shared attributes. Even so, your reading about India needs to be qualified by the fact that despite your portrayal more Muslims stayed behind than left and many who left did so against their wishes. All these people could not have been driven by a common feeling.

          7. We can leave this to history.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Vinod:

          1. I am lost on this part of the argument. Your point was that Christianity is centralized, Islam was decentralized. What is the implication of that?

          2. There are two points here. First, what is unique? Don’t Jews hold on to the marker of Jewishness all over the world? Second, Olivier was careful to stress that Muslims stressing the decultured marker of Islam were a very miniscule proportion of the total number of Muslims in the world. The majority is living with its many identities.

          3. Have you tested this assertion? In a police line-up in India would you be able to tell the Muslim apart because his religious identity was bursting through his non-religious identity? And why does it matter that Muslims are more than Sikhs? If the display of religious identity is not problematic in one case, why should it be in another?

          4. This claim needs to be tested. Ask a diverse set of Muslims about the cause of Muslim decline and see if one gets a single common answer. You are repeating an unverified stereotype.

          5. When a group is ‘cornered’, it will tend to unite to protect itself and the maximum unity would be derived from the attribute that is common to all. This is natural in all tribal identities. When the Sikhs felt cornered, the reverted to their Sikh Identity. Do a thought experiment. Imagine some phenomenon that leads to Hindus feeling cornered. What, in your view, would they unite around? The point to note is that the single dimension is not intrinsic to religions – otherwise it would be the starting point. As you note, the starting point is always many diverse responses. It is a political process that pushes groups to establish solidarity around shared attributes. Even so, your reading about India needs to be qualified by the fact that despite your portrayal more Muslims stayed behind than left and many who left did so against their wishes. All these people could not have been driven by a common feeling.

          7. We can leave this to history.

          4.

        • Vinod Says:

          1. Centralized control of people’s beliefs will tend to cause internal anguish to many groups of people who live geographically and demographically distant from the centre for whom the central doctrines may need fine tuning to make sense of their circumstances. Such internal anguish will soon lead to a rebellion against centralized control through the mushrooming of heterodoxy and beliefs completely counter to the center. This is essentially what happened to Christianity. Centralization does not lead to sustainable real unity over a few centuries

          2. Once again, we’re not talking about what identity muslims have in their everyday lives. We’re talking about what part of their identity starts to show in an international context. The dominant voice among muslims about their state of affairs narrates the kafir-muslim story, a story of being ‘cornered’. The implication of this is already understood in a similar manner by both of us.

          3. I was talking about muslim symbolism in their everyday lives – the ‘salams’, ‘Khuda Hafiz’, dressing the jummah. An average ordinary muslim is more likely to have some identifiable and visible religious symbol on him.

          4. I think the stereotype needs verification then. The verification is simple. Muslims, as a community, get their interpretive framework for whatever happens in their lives from the mosque sermons, which are invariably coloured through the ‘kafir-muslim’ brushes. The religious side of muslims unfortunately is dominated by orthodoxy (the 4 schools of jurisprudence) that have limited the meanings of many key words and verses in the Quran. Muslims then have to fit the reality around them into this constrained interpretive framework, which leads to a divisive view of human society.

          5. It is a political process that pushes groups to establish solidarity around shared attributes.
          True. But in the case of muslims why do they tend to interpret distinct and unconnected (from the point of view of non-muslims) political processes in different nations as connected with the motive of eradicating Islam, again the kafir-muslim story? I think muslims have tried different interpretations before to explain their downslide. But the political response from those interpretations were ineffective in preventing the backslide and regain of political esteem for various reasons. The political and economic backwardness of muslims, and sense of being manipulated by outsiders continued. That left them feeling cornered for being ‘muslim’ and thus they united under the muslim identity.

          • SouthAsian Says:

            Vinod:

            1. This could be a plausible hypothesis but I see some weaknesses in it. First, you really can’t have the kind of centralized control at the peripheries that causes internal anguish. It is almost always the local culture that dominates and into which some aspects of the central doctrine are incorporated. That is why the same doctrine is manifested in so many different ways in different parts of the periphery. Second, the critical revolt against central control is hardly ever the result of events at the peripheries because there the adaptations to local culture are most extended. The challenge to Christian orthodoxy that finally ended its central role in the lives of people took place in the very heart of Christianity.

            2. Has this always been so throughout history or is it a phenomenon of a particular period in time?

            3. This reminded me of the many discussions with friends in North India a long time back. When talking of things a few hundred miles south, everyone was a South Indian or a Madrasi – all nuances were invisible. Do you see the salams in Afghanistan being the same as in Lucknow – bearhugs in one place, the aversion to physical contact in the other?

            4. Have mosque sermons always been the same throughout history or does their content vary with time, place and circumstance? What about all the Muslims who don’t go to mosques? Do you believe there are any?

            5. For this one needs a closer examination of the political processes. And, of course, to ascertain that all Muslims are offering the same response. There are many Muslims who argue that the political processes have nothing to do with eradicating Islam; they are connected to the control of oil resources which, by an accident of geology, are concentrated below the soil of countries with Muslim majorities. There has never been an attempt to eradicate Islam from Saudi Arabia, has there? I am not saying the argument is right, just suggesting that there is more out there besides the ‘kafir-muslim’ story if you venture beyond the stereotype.

  4. Arun Pillai Says:

    I did not mean to say either that practicing Muslims do not experience any other identities – such as their ethnicity or nationality – or that the identification with religion is unchanging. My remark was prompted by the sentence in the article above:

    “It is that at the level of the citizens, including the lower functionaries of all state institutions, there was and remains sympathy for some of what Osama bin Laden claimed he stood for.”

    My understanding of what bin Laden stood for is that he wanted a resurgence of the ummah and Caliphate as well as the eviction of the US from Saudi Arabia as that presence interfered with the primary goal.

    Why would there be such widespread sympathy for such a primary goal if their main identities were ethnic and secular?

    Hindus offer an interesting counterpoint to both Muslims and Christians: their primary identification is not religious like the Muslims’ and they are not modern and secular like the Christians.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Arun: My response was to Vinod, not to you although there is some overlap between the two comments. I recommend that article by Stanley Fish that appeared in the NYT yesterday (What’s up with the Jews?). One of his observations with regards to Jews applies equally to Muslims: “as many before me have observed, the Jew as a cultural/historical figure is oversaturated, which means that the many meanings that accrue to him (or her, but mostly him) are in excess of any empirical research and accumulate like barnacles without any regard for the law of contradiction.” The word ‘oversaturated’ is so well chosen.

      Your observation with regard to what bin laden stood for is so far removed from what resonated of his message with hundreds of individuals I came across that it was a surprise such a gulf could exist. I am not claiming either is right, just that they are very far apart. No one has been concerned about the Caliphate for over half a century except for a fringe that probably numbers no more than the flat earth society. Even when the Caliphate was alive and foundering it was Gandhi and not Muslims who raised it as an issue in India and when Ataturk put paid to it there was no outcry for its revival.

  5. Osama: What the ISI knew? « Asian Window Says:

    [...] If Benazir or Nawaz Sharif were hiding somewhere in Pakistan, how long do you believe it would have taken the ISI to ferret them out? More: [...]

  6. Arun Pillai Says:

    I would very much like to know what interpretation of OBL’s message resonated with ordinary practicing Muslims.

    Regarding Grayling’s comment, I am in full agreement with it but his time scale is a couple of centuries whereas mine was what is happening today. And today, since the last generation or so, there is clearly a resurgence of Islam and Islamic sentiment and many ordinary Muslims *do* have their primary identification with their religion. It is likely that this is in reaction to the West (an external factor) but also because of internal factors like the lack of opportunities for advancement and a meaningful life in secular terms in their respective countries. Plus the kinds of reasons Vinod has cited on the socialization of many Muslims which Vinod seems to see as a positive thing but I see as retrogressive.

    Regarding Fish’s comment about oversaturation, I broadly agree with it but the comment is neither here nor there. I made a simple observation: that many if not most ordinary Muslims today identify with their religion above other possible identifications. This is either true or false. I believe it is true. Saying that many ways of viewing Jews and Muslims exist is irrelevant at best and obscures simple and obvious truths.

    Finally, regarding the ISI, I think it is not a good idea to avoid another simple and obvious truth: that OBL’s presence and location were well known to the ISI at the highest levels. It is as unthinkable that the ISI did not know this as it is that Bush did not know about the torture of prisoners. Some matters do not benefit from an overly sophisticated view; I believe it would appear to most people like a denial.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Arun: It is not that I do not want to respond to your comment; it is just that I do not know how to. If you take the position that whatever is simple and obvious is true, that you are in possession of the truth because something that appears simple and obvious to you must be true, and that anyone who offers a different perspective is in denial, what is left to be discussed?

  7. Arun Pillai Says:

    Here is an interesting talk by Tariq Ali about recent events:

    http://wearemany.org/v/from-cairo-to-madison

    In the context here, note what he says about the ISI and OBL.

  8. Arun Pillai Says:

    Well, you could respond at least to the query: I would very much like to know what interpretation of OBL’s message resonated with ordinary practicing Muslims.

    Tariq Ali – at the link posted here – says quite clearly that he knows the names of three or four individuals high up in the ISI who knew OBL’s location. That is plain talk.

    My point was this: when there is a complex fact or observation, then a sophisticated analysis helps. If one tries to do the latter for something that is obvious then it appears like an evasion or denial. You could choose to agree or disagree with this point.

  9. Arun Pillai Says:

    Perhaps what resonated is not the call for a return to Muslim glory but just that a felt humiliation had been momentarily lifted. If this is right, then two things puzzle me: there are many secular Muslims – why would they have felt this was the right kind of response? For example, at the time of Indian independence, there were secular groups like the Indian National Congress and religious groups like the RSS. Secular-minded people sided clearly with the Congress. The second puzzle is this: why was this sense of humiliation there in the first place qua being Muslim? That is, the humiliation should have been interpreted not along religious lines but along secular lines even by OBL; after all, monarchies and dictatorships were propped up in order to secure oil not to put down Islam. So why did the reaction come via Islam?

    This has to do with factors internal to these societies not external factors.

  10. SouthAsian Says:

    Vinod: This is a useful article that puts Europe-Turkish/Arab relations in a historical context. At the very least it shows how perceptions change over time:

    http://nplusonemag.com/beyond-orientalism

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