Explaining Pakistan’s Drift to the Right

By Anjum Altaf

I wish to explain Pakistan’s long drift to the religious right while going beyond the argument that Islamism is at the root of all the country’s problems, a formulation that begs many questions: Why was Pakistan amenable to Islamism? Why this particular form of Islamism? Why with seemingly so little resistance?

My focus will be on the structural factors that opened the political space first for Islam and then for Islamism while remaining cognizant of the fact that an explanation is not intended to be an excuse. Nor is it an attempt to shift blame, distinctions many are too impatient to make. The blame rests squarely on Pakistanis but that does not obviate the need for an alternative but coherent explanation of the events of the past sixty years.

Pakistan was born drenched in a religious ethos. How religion acquired a salience in the electoral politics of British India and how various players came to occupy the positions they did over time is a story that has been retold many times. The fact remains though that the midwives of Pakistan’s birth were not the representatives of religion but secularists who employed religion as an instrument of strategy, one they tried to reverse unsuccessfully after the birth of the country.

This sets up the central question. The founders of the country were secularists with a declared intent to provide a secular foundation for the country and at its birth there were many forces in contention that were not at all religious in orientation – communist parties, parties representing workers and peasants, regional parties, the labor movement, and radical academics. At the same time the religious parties were on the defensive for having opposed, or at least not enthusiastically supported, the demand for Pakistan. Why, given this constellation of forces, did the effort fail?

I will argue that two factors had a key influence on the initial trajectory of events. The first was Pakistan’s imbalanced federal structure in terms of the peculiarities of its constituent units. There were only five units at the second tier of government separated into two unconnected wings. Electoral power was concentrated in Bengal, the eastern wing, with more people than the other four units combined; in the western wing, Punjab had more people than the other three units put together. Economic power was concentrated in the Punjab and military power in the Punjab and NWFP with virtually no representation of Bengal, Sindh and Balochistan. The second factor was the circumstance that much of the new country’s bureaucratic elite was comprised of migrants from India with no roots in any of the provinces of the new country.

The conjunction of these two factors had a number of implications. First, the imbalances meant that unlike in India there were no political deadlocks that could only be resolved by means of bargaining and give and take, the essence of a democratic mode of governance. In Pakistan, if the arbiter of decision-making were the vote, Bengal alone could trump the others; if the arbiter were force of arms, the Punjab could call the shots. Second, the concentration of military power meant, again quite unlike the situation in India, that a very small number of individuals could conspire and successfully seize power to nullify the weight of votes. Third, the imbalance of economic resources meant there was extreme reluctance to share power equitably with the constituent units. Fourth, over-representation of the migrant elite without local roots generated the incentive to perpetuate the centralization of power. And fifth, as eventually happened, the separation of Bengal would do nothing to correct the imbalances in the western wing; Punjab was left in an even more dominant position among the four remaining units.

The resolution of these imbalances led to a path diametrically opposite to that observed in India. Whereas India had no real alternative to seeking unity in diversity, the Pakistani elites could preserve their privileges by making diversity disappear under the mythic unity of Islam and Urdu. The amalgamation of all the constituent units of the west into One Unit and declaring its parity with the east were all machinations aimed at undoing the unyielding power of votes.

One consequence of this rhetoric of Islam and Urdu, once again the use of emotive issues for purely political ends, was the crackdown on the forces of the left in general and on the parties representing regional demands with their vilification as anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan. The first decade of Pakistan’s existence saw the progressive strangulation of these forces.

Despite all these maneuvers, it was not possible to deny the power of the vote, now polarized by unhappiness in the marginalized units, indefinitely. The only way out of the impasse was to discredit the politicians and replace them with an authoritarian arrogation of power. This duly occurred with first coup in 1958 and once the junta allied itself firmly with the Americans to shore up its own position, the crackdown on the secular democratic opposition was a foregone conclusion. Democratic politics itself was deemed contrary to the interests of the nation. Either Pakistan was not ready for democracy or needed one that was guided and controlled by the men in uniform. The pattern was a repeat of the experience of American client regimes across Latin America and the Middle East.

The left-wing and secular elements having been thus vilified, discredited and sidelined, the field was left open for the right to expand its presence and authoritarian governments both encouraged and relied increasingly on religious forces to create a constituency for themselves; hence the conflation of the champions of Pakistan with the champions of Islam. Even someone like the great pretender who declared himself a devotee of Ataturk and styled himself a CEO and an enlightened moderate was hand in glove with the religious right in order to keep at bay the secular political forces whose leadership he exiled and promised never to let back in.

This process of eliminating the non-right from the political space got its big counterpoint boost in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the US put together the great Islamic Jihad against godless communism. It was a coincidence that another military dictator was in power in Pakistan at that time himself trying to secure his legitimacy through religion. This positive injection of jihadi Islamist rhetoric along with the paraphernalia of training camps foreshadowed the high noon when Pakistan assumed the role of the defender of Islam and the two started to become very much indistinguishable from each other.

But it is by no means certain that this conflation would have been sustained after the Soviet withdrawal and the sobering reality of the bitter inter-Islamic conflicts in Afghanistan without another major triggering event, the revolution in Iran in 1979. It was then that the Saudi offensive to shore up its ideological defenses in the Middle East went into overdrive with strategic interventions in all neighboring countries with significant Shia populations.

The Saudis were smart enough to see the fallacy in treating a country as a person or a unitary actor. They identified clearly the groups within Pakistan that were open to buying into their version of Islam and funded them with enough money to propagate their views and purchase the loyalties needed to advance their agenda. It was a long-term vision to infiltrate all the key sectors of society – education, the bureaucracy, mosques, media, and the armed forces being the key amongst them. The jihad against atheism provided the perfect cover under which such a major infiltration could proceed while eluding effective resistance by segments within Pakistani society; the anti-Islamic label was powerful in suppressing dissent. From the perspective of the Saudis and their partners in Pakistan the effort succeeded brilliantly in changing the mindset and the orientation of Pakistani society.

The jihadi rhetoric also made it easier to extend its scope from godless atheists to all self-declared enemies of Islam, a gambit that came in handy to fan the easily inflamed anti-India sentiment whenever the need arose for such a diversionary tactic. But even in the midst of all this, there remained constituencies within Pakistan desirous of promoting cultural and trade relations with India. It is only in such a scenario that one can make sense of an intervention like Kargil. It was a successful attempt by one set of forces to derail the plans of another that wished to reorient the relationship between the two countries to benefit the mass of the people rather than narrow elites that thrived on the perpetuation of hostilities.

It is worth pondering that all through this period that Pakistan was being jerked to the right there were no obvious countervailing moves by India. Unlike the Saudis, who had a differentiated strategy, the stance of the Indian political elite continued to conceptualize Pakistan in anthropomorphic terms – Pakistan was a rogue state, a belligerent state, an unreasonable state, a treacherous state, a stab-in-the-back state – without going into the details of who in Pakistan was doing what or encouraging the forces that desired a normalization of relations. It seemed it was just assumed that there were none. The compulsions that caused the Indian political elite to assume this stance deserve analysis in their own right.

It is a moot point whether the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated to the extent that countervailing political measures would be insufficient to arrest its collapse. Pakistanis are paying and will continue to pay the price of an infection imported into the country which they were insufficiently vigilant or insufficiently powerful to challenge. Any collapse does not promise to be neat, nor is Pakistan likely to fade away quietly. It is still in the self-interest of all who are likely to be affected by the fallout, including first and foremost the citizens of Pakistan, to see through the rhetoric of religious indignation and imagined enmities and to grasp the reality of the politics that has brought the country to this pass. At the same time it is a sobering thought that there are things for which some people claim they are willing to pay any price.


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212 Responses to “Explaining Pakistan’s Drift to the Right”

  1. mazhur Says:

    this all sounds like crying over the spilt milk!
    There is not only religious element to be blamed but also the political system which has brought Pakistan to its present state.
    Bashing religion as a cause of all evils is simply unfair and uncalled for. Democracy of the type under which Pakistan is ruled is mere drama…and in my view NO Muslim state can be ruled successfully through some kind of democracy which is devoid of some dictatorial dictates and this holds very true for Pakistan.

  2. C Maloney Says:

    Good article, which I also forwarded. The comment above is also interesting but not quite right as regarding Indonesia and to a lesser extent Malaysia. I think he situation in Pakistan has as much to with the family/tribal/patrilineal social structure in Pakistan as well as in most of the Near East, and Islam feeds a lot on that. Child socialization leading to gender relations, importance of feeling of slight or ridicule, absence of questioning of ideology, etc, is as important as religion itself in the socio-politics of Pakistan. Read some of the village anthropology and sociology studies of Pakistan.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      C Maloney: Thanks for adding the dimension pertaining to the social structure. We have been discussing this aspect on a different thread and concluding, more or less, that the social values are still pre-capitalist in many ways quite irrespective of the surface appearances of the economy. The same external influences are likely to have quite different consequences depending on whether the prevailing social values are pre-capitalist or capitalist. You are quite right that it is the combination of the social structure, politics and religion that drives outcomes.

      This is also the reason why there are variations in different societies and why categorical statements miss the point as you have noted.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      C Maloney: One aspect I overlooked that could be considered relevant was the mass migration of Pakistanis to the Middle East. Once again, there was a difference with India because the Indian population base was much larger so the social impact was not as concentrated as in Pakistan. I had addressed some dimensions of this in a speculative note a long time back. The note has also been reproduced on this blog to provide a forum for comments:


      Quite a few years later I wrote a very data-intensive paper using out- and return-migration data at the district level between Pakistan and the Middle East. Although rural poverty in Sindh and NWFP was comparable, outmigration from the latter was much higher than from the former. In trying to understand this phenomenon, I came across the work of Guy Standing who made a seemingly simple point that had been missed by most researchers. Almost everyone focuses on the reasons for migration in a choice framework; nobody looks at reasons for not migrating. When one looks at the social structures and the land tenure arrangements in the two provinces the reasons for the difference, despite comparable poverty, become obvious.

      The other finding that we documented was that out-migration was heavy from the poorest districts, controlling for land tenure, but return migration was heaviest to the already developed districts which makes economic sense at the individual level but has fairly negative regional development implications. The paper is here: http://www.pide.org.pk/pdf/PDR/1992/Volume2/145-164.pdf

  3. neel123 Says:

    1. ” The Saudis were smart enough to see the fallacy in treating a country as a person or a unitary actor. They identified clearly the groups within Pakistan that were open to buying into their version of Islam and funded them with enough money to propagate their views and purchase the loyalties needed to advance their agenda.”

    – this is what I had alluded to in another post. I also mentioned that the Saudi move was masterminded, not by the smart Saudis, but by the super smart Anglo-American powers. Like all evil policies, you might never find any white paper on this to substantiate the claim … !

    The carrots for Pakistan are many :
    1) Constant flow of diplomatic, economic and military aid from the Anglo-Americans.
    2) Free Saudi oil, 50,000 barrels per day as of date.
    3) nuclear weapons
    4) the most important of all is the assurance of legitimizing Pakistani leadership over the Sunni world. The recent Pakistani military intervention in Bahrain to preserve American interests is a glaring example of this unspoken big deal.

    The above is precisely the reason why India never had a clear Pakistan policy, because it is not only Pakistan, it is an uphill task against Anglo-American-Saudi-Pakistani alliance that had to be addressed.

    2. And finally, I totally agree with Mazhur, it is simply crying over spilt milk, witch hunt to figure out what went wrong in Pakistan.

    It is absolutely mind boggling that even after 63 years of Pakistan’s formation, the so called intellectuals are still arguing and wasting time on Pakistan’s identity crisis and subsequent slide into the slippery slope, while the nation is being consumed in its own fire.

    Pakistan’s founding fathers were secularists at heart, but used religion as a strategy, sounds like oxymoron ….. ! Again, religion (Islam) and language (Urdu) was used to unite the diverse population, in other words unity against India and the Hindus, no wonder it fell apart as you can not fool population for a long time.

    Mixing religion with politics is a lethal mix, Pakistan will pay the price for this sin for a long long time to come.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:


      1. Since there is no white paper, it has to remain an open question. I believe groups often act in their self-interest even without or in contradiction to external advice. Take for example this hypothesis about Saudi Arabia in a new book on 9/11, The Eleventh Day: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2011/08/9-11-2011-201108. As for Indian policy, one only needs a policy when the task is uphill and complicated.

      2. You are within your rights to say that something is simply crying over split milk but you cannot universalize it to be an opinion that everyone should hold. People are still writing about the decline of the Roman Empire. If there is no diagnosis, the prescription can be wrong and make the disease worse. I understand you believe strongly that your diagnosis is correct but people can differ with that opinion.

      3. It sounds like an oxymoron but it is not. You can call it a contradiction perhaps. People have private and public opinions about most things including religion and often the two are in conflict. The use of religion for political purposes by people who do not believe in religion is not something that can be ruled out by definition.

      4. Mixing politics with religion is indeed a lethal mix but people are doing it all the time. Gandhiji did it with the Khilafat Movement. Baba Ramdev is mixing spirituality with politics. This too should not come as a surprise.

  4. Aakar Says:

    Was Pakistan formed for negative reasons (Hindus won’t accommodate us politically)? Or was it formed for positive reasons (Khilafat Rashida)?

    If the former, our answer is complex.
    If the latter, then the Pakistani state’s trajectory can be explained fairly easily.
    The Objectives Resolution came six months after Jinnah’s death. The debate that led to the vote (Hamid Khan, Constitutional and political history of Pakistan) reveals something about the enthusiasm in all the Muslim members — from Shabbir Usmani to Zafarullah Khan — for a utopian state. Both sides of the debate leaned on Jinnah.

    Popular Islam (low church) is tolerant and secular but has no laws to offer, only practices. So the state was compelled to rely on the high church. The great jurists were specific and, by 20th century standards, extreme. The state drifts right.

    There was appetite for the idea of Khilafat Rashida but not much for its details. And so Hadd came on the books but is not popular enough to be activated. We can safely rule out rajm/riba ever being applied on the suncontinent. So the drift has ended, I would say.

    I think the enthusiasm for Pakistan in the 40s was not from a dislike of Hindus or subscription to two-nations, but a warmer ideal.

    • Aakar Says:

      Correction, I should say “all the Muslim members except one”. Apparently Mian Iftikharuddin abstained from the Objectives Resolution vote.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Aakar: I am going to disagree with you on this. It is rightly observed that history is made living forwards but written looking backwards. When we write looking backwards from specific events there arises a great need to infer a coherent narrative that explains the event. This never makes for good scholarly work but it can generate hypotheses that scholars can verify. My article is also one that is looking backwards to throw up hypotheses. If some are of interest someone might think of making a thesis out of it.

      Such hypotheses can only be verified with contemporaneous accounts, work of the type Romila Thapar did for Somanatha. It is very tedious work that you and I cannot do. Good professional historians do it or PhD students do it. On Indian politics among the best I have seen is the PhD dissertation of the Australian scholar Ian Bryant Wells later published in 2005 as Jinnah’s Early Politics. It covers the period 1910-1934 and simply records what was said in the Indian Legislative Council and published in the newspapers day by day. There is no looking back from what happened to read interpretations into the statements. I have read a lot of histories of the period and I have yet to see one that can support the claim that the driving motivation for Pakistan was the idea of Khilafat Rashida. Almost everything points to a political failure to agree on a formula to accommodate minority rights. A Khilafat driver would leave many aspects inexplicable, e.g., why were religious parties not on board, why was the League agreeable to the Cabinet Mission plan in 1946, etc. I remain open to changing my mind if you can point me to the relevant literature.

      I do agree with you on post-Partition events. The country was founded in the name of religion and there was a felt need to consecrate that in some ways. The same phenomenon was seen in many Muslim countries that became independent after WW2. What were thought of as symbolic or token gestures (e.g., a seemingly slight change in nomenclature, Sharia Courts) were made and later assumed a seriousness that the proponents did not fully envisage. You are also quite right that in this search for an Islamic identity, the only formal codes that were found were centuries old because there had been no new work on which there was a consensus. Hence the high church crept in. Politics played a role – Bhutto’s concessions to religion were completely cynical but opened the door to their consolidation. I don’t believe one can root the entire trajectory in one clear founding vision.

      A recent example might help focus this line of thought. Would you say Manmohan Singh’s and Sonia Gandhi’s attendance at Sai Baba’s funeral was evidence of genuine belief or a gesture that was considered necessary but harmless?

      • Aakar Says:

        I would say that attendance at Sai Baba’s funeral was expedient. Would Manmohan Singh have attended had he been out of power? No.
        I bow to your wisdom on the larger point. I was applying Occam’s razor, and I’m happy to accept that there is little evidence to support what I say.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Aakar: It is just a coincidence that this op-ed on the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church appeared today but reading it makes me think it could almost be the perfect rewind of what might have taken place in Pakistan. All it takes is one untruth, let’s say an unrepresentative regime wishing to pass itself off as representative, and the process gets triggered. It seeks its legitimacy elsewhere and where better than religion. You can see both sides begin to use each other and which way the balance tips is often a function of random accidents and events. What is going on in Russia has a starting point where religion was dead and there are no external interventions. Now think of Pakistan where religion was the handmaiden at birth. Then add the American Jihad, the Iranian revolution, the Saudi money, the extent of deprivation, the mass migration to the Middle East – it is a miracle the place is still around.

          All in all, a piece well worth thinking about: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2211593.ece?homepage=true

          • Aakar Says:

            Terrifying piece.
            One thing at occurs to me is this: in this case it appears as if there is an imposition from the state of faith on a population that isn’t particularly receptive to the message.
            What explains the success of Pakistan’s top-down Islamisation?

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Aakar: This is a complex question but for the moment I can venture two answers. First, if something like this can succeed in a population that is not particularly receptive to the message, imagine how much easier it would be in a population that was receptive to start with. That, of course, is not a complete answer. If you recall, the op-ed noted the observation of sociologists that although Russians were not overtly religious “the vast majority confuse their ethnic identity with religious belief.” This fits in with a theory I have that comes from my interest in music and one I hope to elaborate. I see human nature being comprised of traits, positive and negative, that can be reinforced by external stimuli. This is much like the sympathetic strings of musical instruments – which one would resonate depends on the main string that is plucked. People who understand this phenomenon can pretty much make any string resonate. The fact that the vast majority of people are not given to reflection or live in circumstances where reflection is discouraged is a big factor in amplifying the resonance. It is very easy to make a population jingoistic if the right chords are struck – think of Rush Limbaugh. It is the function of education to ensure that some traits come to define our life and character while others are suppressed or controlled but education, I am afraid, is not doing a very good job.

          • Aakar Says:

            Sympathetic strings… Very nice.

  5. Aakar Says:

    “Whereas India had no real alternative to seeking unity in diversity…”
    I think you are quite right.
    “Hindu Rashtra” does not mean anything. A Hindu state following smritic law will discriminate against a majority of Hindus, leave alone minorities.
    And so it has never been discussed, even by the Sangh.
    The world’s sole Hindu state, Nepal, applied only one smritic principle — that executive power flow from a Kshatriya/Chhetri king.
    And so unlike Pakistan, which had an ideology that might be explained practically, there was never any danger of Hindu Rashtra.
    This is another reason why I think Jinnah followed the Muslims into Pakistan rather than the other way around.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Aakar: I did not have the impact of religious codes in mind although that might also be a relevant factor. I was referring to everyday politics where I am arguing that the many divisions in India that appeared to be a handicap actually turned out to be an advantage in the consolidation of democratic governance. There were just no dominant coalitions that could coercively override the interests of the others. Political accommodation was the only alternative. If one reads the writings of Sunil Khilnani or Pratap Mehta, for example, one repeatedly comes across situations where there was no way out of political deadlocks except negotiation and concessions. It is never the central theme of the writings but if you are looking for it, you will not miss it. My point was that this was a major structural difference compared to Pakistan.

  6. mazhur Says:

    Leaving whatever happened in the past which led to the creation of Pakistan, may I say that the apparent reason for the creation seems to be as of today…regrettably
    1. Divide Muslims of India and then get themselves sub-divided into sectarian blocks with their own peculiar demands on the same lines.
    2. To create a state where the Affluent and powerful Wadera’s, Khan’s , Chowdhries, Nabobs, etc could rule the poorer masses and exploit country’s wealth to their sole advantage.
    3. To frustrate and deny law and justice to citizens in equal terms.
    4. To run the country and rule the people under sham democracy
    5. To never aspire or act to become One Nation!!

  7. Arun Pillai Says:

    Thanks, Anjum, for a fine and insightful analysis. I learned much from it.

    I am still left feeling, though, that much remains to be said about Islamism. As Aakar has perceptively asked, “What explains the success of Pakistan’s top-down Islamisation?” He finds your twofold answer convincing, especially the analogy with sympathetic strings, but I do not.

    One thing Edward Said has been criticized for is that he implicitly assumed that Orientalist schemata could simply be imposed on the Orient. Many scholars have argued that there was resistance from the colonized rather than passive acceptance and this is partly what explains how and why decolonization came about.

    Unfortunately, you assume a similarly passive public. I understand that you do not wish to fault ordinary people or to fault the inner workings of Islam itself, but then this leaves out a large part of the full story. Rush Limbaugh may be able to foment fundamentalist practices and beliefs among Christians in the US but it is unlikely he will be able to drive them to violence and terrorism. Even the stirrings of Hindu fundamentalism in India have been contained to small pockets and there are many more people strongly against demonizing Muslims and Christians than there are for it.

    This further fact, seen in the context of human beings who are *agents* – that is, entities that choose actions in constrained environments – rather than lumps of clay who can simply be molded at the whim of external forces, needs to be explained. Then one would have come full circle as it were and understood Pakistan’s problems today and its drift to the right over the last half-century.

    I like C Maloney’s contribution that points to sociological factors like kinship structures and socialization processes. I think these, too, are very important in explaining why this top-down Islamization has succeeded and, perhaps, it may also explain the relative lack of capitalist development in Pakistan better than the absence of mercantile castes as such.

  8. Foqia Khan Says:

    Excellent analysis. Pakistanis need to be socially re-engineered. It is a monumental task. Unless majority of people can’t see the reality and feed themselves off mind-boggling conspiracy theories-laden worldview, there is little that can change here. Someone needs to start with imparting critical thinking to TV anchors.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Foqia: I don’t believe the solution is to impart critical thinking to TV anchors. For one, they don’t for a moment believe they lack critical thinking. For another, they are immensely popular and networks are falling over each other for them; so what do they need critical thinking for? There are two possible solutions. One, Pakistani’s get ‘socially re-engineered’ and reject what they see on TV. This seems an impossibility given that most Pakistanis are getting their education from either the TV or the mosque, neither being a fount of enlightenment, and schools and colleges have withdrawn from the battle. The second is for there to be a sort of ‘truth-in-broadcasting’ legislation. If it can be shown that an untrue claim or a statement that endangers the security of individuals or groups is made in the public domain, the author should be liable for prosecution. That would curb the most egregious abuses in the media, for example declaring someone vajib-ul qatl.

  9. mazHur Says:

    The religious parties did not support the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India seemingly because they 1. were loyalists/nationalists and considered India as their homeland 2. they knew secular elements were ‘playing’ with the sentiments of the Muslims in achieving their motives which got exposed no sooner Pakistan came into existence and the deplorable fate its founder suffered an year after..

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: Here you are doing what I highlighted in an earlier comment – looking for a coherent explanation after the fact. Religious parties did not support the demand for Pakistan – that is a fact. To explain this fact, you offer two explanations: (1) That they were loyalists/nationalists, and/or (2) that they knew secular elements were playing with the sentiments of Muslims. The test of these explanations would be to look in the records of that time period to verify if the religious parties actually articulated these reasons for not supporting the demand for Pakistan.

      These two reasons do not exhaust the set of possible explanations. It could well be that the religious parties were irrelevant; they had no popular following that could have affected the politics of that time either way (it might be relevant to remember that the franchise was limited at the time). Recall that when Jinnah quit the scene in 1931 no credible alternate leadership, secular or non-secular, emerged to represent the demands of the Muslim community. Ultimately, Jinnah had to be begged to return to take over the leadership again.

      This interpretation is given support by the fact that even after the creation of Pakistan religious parties never had more than five percent electoral support ( with universal franchise) even though the majority of the citizens were quite religious in their personal lives. Even Zia could not confer popularity on the religious parties. It was only when Musharraf barred the secular parties, created a political vacuum, and engineered how it would be filled that religious parties increased their vote share. And after his departure the MMA promptly lost its position to a secular party in its home base, the NWFP, where the fires of jihad had been fanned the most.

      The bottom line is that is that we don’t know for sure what the exact reason was for the religious parties not supporting the demand for Pakistan. I am sure the research has been done but not adequately disseminated, especially in Pakistan where not everything can be taught in schools and colleges.

  10. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum:

    The majority of Muslims in Pakistan are are still quite religious in their personal lives as they were before partition. Historically religious parties topped the electorate share until Musharaf took over. It were the religious parties who overthrew Ayub Khan and even Bhutto became subservient to their wishes later on.
    In a state like Pakistan which was created in the name of Islam it is quite irrational that the majority of its citizens would switch over to secularism supported by a tiny chunk of people only. Whether or not the Muslim citizens of pre-partition times trusted the religious leaders is not a criteria for the basis of masses supporting secular leaders or creation of Pakistan. The Muslims were duped by secular leaders and shown such green gardens that the majority of Muslims was dodged to believe them. The outcome of this stratagem of the secular elements was analogous to ”wolves in sheep’s garb’ or ”running with the deer and hunting with the hounds!””………

    All this and more reflects upon the character of the secular leaders and their snares to which masses fall or have fallen. IF the popularity of a leader has to be judged by the electoral vote or popularism then you can witness many such tragic secular entities back in history or even now in your own country (Pakistan). This is the reason I say democracy in its today’s form and style is a curse for Muslim states…Malaysia and Indonesia and even Bangla Desh are quoted by some posters as exception but this may be a temporary transition from bad to worse??

    • Anjum Altaf Says:


      1. You are mixing up electoral power and street power. The electoral shares in all the past national elections are a matter of public record. When you look at them you will see that religious parties did not top the electoral share. Indeed they were quite marginal.

      2. There is no necessity that if people are religious they would support religious parties. Religion and politics are separate domains and people make that distinction. Bulleh Shah, for example, reflects popular sentiment and you would see this wisdom reflected in it.

      3. If Pakistani Muslims have been duped repeatedly by handfuls of shady secularists instead of listening to their religious leaders for over 60 years, clearly you do not have a very high opinion of their intelligence nor of their religious leaders. Perhaps, they deserve their fate and you are right, democracy is not for them. How should they be governed instead? By the religious leaders whom they desert for the secularists? Or by military dictators?

      4. No argument can be refuted if you take the position that every stage is a temporary transition from bad to worse. When do you expect the worse to arrive?

  11. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    1/1—I think you should recheck electoral record as far back as Ayub Khan’s fall and later until Bhutto suffered his fate and then Zia took over. The entire record shows predominance of religious element in the role of governments. Although secular parties such as PPP and Awami league swept the elections both the parties enchanted people for their economic manifesto alongwith religious element left softly embedded.For this reasons alone the secular parties and their leaders, notwithstanding their electoral overwhelming, finally succumbed to religious pressure and framed out certain constitutional laws which still pinch the tiny secular faction in the shoes!

    2/2—I am amused!! Bulleh Shah wasn’t an authority on Islam!!
    I have read bits of his poetry and must say that he was kinda ‘spasmodic’, sometime condemning non-worshipping Muslims and comparing them to dogs ! At other times he mutters in his ecstasy that he doesn’t know who he was? He also goes on to say that he belongs to No religion and thus fails to distinguish one from the other. His utterance are like the once-popular street slogan ”Hindu Muslim Bhai Bhai!!” Bulleh Shah was just a Sufi like many others…
    he used such style of exemplification to influence the mass Hindu and other mass around him in his times! Surely Bullah is not a good example to quote or base your argument upon.

    Who says Religion and Politics are separate?? Are you referring to the separation of the Church ??? The Church and the Muslim equal have different reasons in functional approach, the Church mainly charged for fleecing its adherents and stashing away wealth…..etc, . Man, forget the Western political philosophy because it does not find its application, at least, to Pakistan and its Muslim citizens. Poet Iqbal’s thoughts, which were NOT refuted by any secular founding secular dignity of his time or even the Quaid-e-Azam, on this topic are self-explanatory and needn’t be narrated here for reasons of brevity and to avoid repetition.

    3/3–Your statement equally holds against the handful secular elements. If religious majority couldn’t follow their religious leaders neither did the handful minority of secularists learn to follow the tenets of their own faith and instead of learning and acting their own faith on their own are condemning it in the wake of western political thought. Are the secularists trying to change Pakistan or change the Quran???? Let them if they can but religious element is very strongly embedded in the hearts of the citizens and unless something more lucrative than religion is baited to them as succor
    any practical change in the people cannot be seen!! That is once again someone will have to play the role of the hunter-secularist leader…….to bring a change, no matter how crude in nature it may be.

    4/4—What? If the past changes made in the Pakistani Constitution aren’t being termed as ‘from bad to worse’ by the handful secular themselves then why can’t the same be said in relation to Bangla Desh?????

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: The answers to all the questions will follow if we can explain one fact. The fact is that people do not vote for religious parties in elections. Can we explain why people do not give enough votes to religious parties to enable them to form a national government?

      • Anil Kala Says:

        One reason could be saturation of religion in Pakistan. There is no point voting for religious parties as their agenda is already (mostly) implemented. Try dismantling religion from the statute, you may see a surge in voting for religious parties. Why else there was celebration on the streets for gunning down of Salman Taseer?

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Anil: One weak link in this hypothesis would be that the vote for religious parties has been very low from the very beginning. It is not that it has dropped after saturation. And, as discussed in previous comments, even before 1947 there was virtually no support for religious parties. It is not quite clear what voters are saying with this behavior – becoming increasingly religious but not voting for religious parties. Also, I doubt that the deeply religious really feel that their agenda has been fulfilled. If it has, why are they killing each other? Why not be happy and satisfied? And why this agenda has to be fulfilled in this strange way by fighting against non-religious parties that they themselves vote into power. There are puzzles here that are not simple to figure out.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          Here is a purely speculative explanation. Prior to independence there were two more actors, Hindus and the Angrej. Hindus didn’t steal their kingdoms, Angrej did; therefore Hindus become their natural allies. Being two different communities as allies it was natural for them not to be xenophobic with each other. As the signs of independence arose antagonism between Hindus and Muslims was natural for the sharing of booty.

          Past independence there was sudden relief; with overwhelming Muslim majority there was no need to withdraw into survival mode. But past Arab-Israel showdown, West became the enemy for siding with Israel in blatant partisan way. In addition West’s undue influence with Mid-East countries sent the Muslims in Pakistan in survival mode. They saw safety in religion.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            This explanation by Anil is open for being critiqued or supported. I invite readers to comment whether they agree or disagree giving reasons for their opinions.

  12. Anwar Says:

    Interesting discussion – I agree with all of you. Now that the mess is at hand, what is the way out?
    On a different note, regardless of the religious orientation or motives of early leaders, it was lack of statesmanship that doomed the country.. and it still is the problem.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Anwar: In my article I had suggested that a principal cause of the problem was structural. If you accept that fact, what steps would be implied to move towards a solution?

  13. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    Apparently the answer to your question

    [[[[Can we explain why people do not give enough votes to religious parties to enable them to form a national government?]]]]

    could be that people are split into various sects and sub sects and they believe that if some particular religious leader or party is voted for it will interfere with the ”sectarian beliefs” of others or even themselves.

    On the contrary, such possibility is alleviated in case of secular parties who are apparently secular in name but within core are exploiters of religious sentiment as well as subordinate to religious forces.

    Consequently both the systems, viz, secular and religious, are in their extremes a curse to Muslim Ummah! This is why I say democracy is not feasible for the people of Pakistan…. most of whom are illiterate ‘and ignorant and the tiny bit which is not is ”functionally illiterate’ not even knowing what it is talking about with least thought to the Book they are meant to take guidance from !!

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: If both secular and religious systems of governance are unsuitable, what is the alternative?

  14. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    Dear me, you pose me a patently ”’political philosophy” question to which I have not yet found any definite answer!!
    So, let us join heads and think, think and think and base our ‘propositions’ on facts rather than ‘criticism’ on any one of the stake holders in our country!

  15. mazHur Says:

    @ Anil Kala

    That is One view but who is going to bell the cat???
    Where the writ of the government is substantially weak , where the country continues economic disaster, where corruption (even among the secular segment) is rampant, where justice is a wishful thinking, where you cannot even open your mouth against some ‘holy cows” beefed up by massive public votes or ‘mureeds’ or ‘hidden powers”, how could you imagine to implement your proposed ‘easy said than done’ solution?? No way, man!!

  16. mazHur Says:

    @ Anil Kala

    ”two more actors,”—-why did only the Hindus side with the British masters???? Does this mean the Muslims were aggrieved at the hands of both the Hindus and the British and which feeling perpetuated the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims??

    Religious leadership was against the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims..true. They thought Muslims did not have to fear the non-Muslims as there was least chance of their being ousted from the country or its affairs by the Hindu majority in the long run.

    It is just a hypothesis that the Muslims sought safety in religion after Independence. Were it so ALL Muslims of the world would be ONE. But in practice the Muslims are bitter enemies of each other (sectariansim and economic superiority). Pakistan, thus is NOT a separate state for Muslims..who are ubiquitiously found everywhere on the globe…but rather a division in the Muslim population of India of that time!!

    • Anil Kala Says:

      mazHur: I did not say only Hindus sided with the British masters.

      Prior to arrival of British Hindus were deeply fractured people. There was no sense of pan Hindu identity. Since they did not present themselves as an overwhelming monolithic adversary therefore the Muslim invaders never felt the political need to convert them entirely as they did in other countries. They felt quite secure in a fractured system where they themselves felt to be the most powerful group among many diverse groups. In addition Hindus were used to an unequal world on the basis of their caste system therefore victorious Muslims would have been accommodated suitably in an appropriate slot. The skirmishes prior to arrival of East India Company were for local control, fought by a mixture of people with a mixture of people, no one exhibited pan India ambition therefore it had no communal color. British conquests were different as they systematically began to annex parts of India, the message was clear. They were there to dismantle existing arrangement which was largely Muslim controlled. Likewise Hindus, who were by now used to Muslim rule, also looked at the British conquests apprehensively therefore an easy equilibrium settled between Hindus and Muslims. They had a common enemy; this was the early part …..

      It was only after the British census in which anybody who was not Muslim or Christian was counted as Hindu the defining schism began to emerge. When the overwhelming numbers in favor of Hindus came out they must have felt a sense of deep insecurity. When the fight for Independence began to look possible, the common enemy disappeared instead scramble for the control began in earnest. In absence of common enemy it was inevitable that Hindus and Muslims will be up against each other. This was second phase….

      Post independence Hindu enemy also disappeared therefore religion lost rallying focus so receded into the background. This was the third phase…..

      When Israel thrashed a combination of Arabs, the weakness of Muslim world must have led to an utter sense of helplessness. On top of this powerful West unabashedly siding with Israel must have sent them into an overwhelming sense of hopelessness as well. Now they needed something to clutch at, religion came handy………..

  17. mazHur Says:

    @ Anil Kala

    Simply stated in Aesop’s words, the dog took away the bone while the two cats were fighting over it!!

  18. Aakar Patel Says:

    Columbia’s Prof Philip Oldenburg spoke in Mumbai last evening on the subject: “Why Pakistan is not (yet?) a democracy”.
    While the think tank’s rule prevent me from revealing what he said, much of it was from his book.
    A review of it was written by Christophe Jaffrelot and may be found through this link which readers of this thread might find interesting.


    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Aakar: Thanks for the link. From my perspective, the opening paragraph of Jaffrelot’s review sets it out very well. One has to get beyond the easy explanation to come up with interesting hypotheses. The Oldenburg story makes a lot of sense. As he suggests, what one should be looking for is how religion, or ideology in general, is used to support or strengthen the underlying trends. I am reproducing the opening paragraph here as an inducement for participants to read the entire review:

      Since 1995, when the historian Ayesha Jalal’s pathbreaking and controversial book Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia was published, there has been no serious study comparing the political trajectories of India and Pakistan. Those who have tried to fill this gap have succumbed to the temptation of attributing India’s democracy to Hinduism and Pakistan’s autocracy to Islam — a reductionist and not particularly productive approach, since religion is usually only secondary in explaining political trajectories, whether it is Indonesia’s democratization or Sri Lanka’s march to dictatorship. In the remarkable India, Pakistan, and Democracy, Philip Oldenburg, a research scholar at Columbia University, is wise enough not to resort to such sociocultural explanations. Instead, he examines historical, political, sociological, cultural, and external factors to explain the reasons why India and Pakistan diverged.

  19. Arun Pillai Says:

    I find the discussion around the last several articles too biased and tendentious. For reasons that are hard to fathom, no one is willing to say on this blog that there are any problems with religion in Pakistan. Yes, it has apparently caused the prospects for classical music to be destroyed but it has left the social and political life untouched! Ask any person on the street almost anywhere in the world what the problem is and the majority will point to religion. Yes, one can give all kinds of top-down political and sociological reasoning that appears superficially sophisticated and give structural arguments that circumvent the need to acknowledge the ideological soil in which people act, but sooner or later one has to face the facts. As I said earlier, it is the elephant in the room no one is willing to acknowledge.

    I thought the goal of the blog was the search for honest answers through discussion and argument. Since that does not appear to be the case, I have to say this is my last post.

    • Kabir Says:


      I don’t think that Anjum has ignored the elephant in the room. He has acknowledged that the fact that Pakistan was formed on the basis of religion has led to the rise of religious fundamentalism, despite the fact that the original founders of the state were secular and were only using religion for political reasons. He has also noted the importance of Zia’s Islamization in the 1980s and its connection to the anti-Soviet jihad. I, however, would disagree with you in placing the blame for Pakistan’s problems on Islam. There are many Islamic countries in the world, and many of them are doing quite well while others are in worse shape than Pakistan. The religion itself is not the problem, it is the way that politicians and mullahs distort it for their own narrow interests that is the problem.

      The goal of the blog is to search for honest answers. To me, it seems that you are disappointed because the discussion doesn’t reflect the pre-conceived idea that you have in your mind. This idea seems to reflect a kind of Islamophobia. It is not helpful to generalize about any one religion, whatever that religion happens to be.

  20. mazHur Says:

    @ Arun Pillai

    BTW where religion (or NO religion) isn’t a problem??
    Were it not you wouldn’t have said ”this was your last post!”

  21. Arun Pillai Says:


    Anjum is a dear friend and so I will respond. Intellectual honesty and transparency are among the most important values in the modern world and especially in forums like this one.

    1. If you read all my posts over the last several articles starting with the one on what the ISI knew about Osama’s whereabouts, you will see that I do not have any pre-conceived notion that Islam is the cause of Pakistan’s problems. You could look even just at my earlier post to this article if you scroll up where I compliment Anjum on an insightful analysis. Why would I do that if I believed that Islam was the cause of Pakistan’s problems?

    2. Elsewhere on this blog, there was a novel “A Gash in the World” written by someone with a Hindu name. This was presumably a Hindu who wrote an entire novel about Hindu fundamentalism. I think of such actions as exemplifying intellectual integrity. This is the kind of integrity one expects from a blog of this type.

    3. Two small pieces of logic: there are many types of explanations. Here are two logical forms:

    a. A + B + C causes D. Such an explanation is a holistic explanation where all three factors are responsible for D. No factor alone is a cause but the three together cause D. I have throughout said that Islam is just one factor but an important factor in the explanation of Pakistan’s problems. But this factor has largely been ignored or evaded by pointing to top-down structural explanations. In the initial articles, Anjum simply pointed to foreign causes, blaming the US. Then I insisted that both external and internal factors should be identified. Later articles addressed internal factors but only top-down political factors of a macro sort. It was C Maloney who pointed to sociocultural factors like kinship and socialization processes. And I tried to say that Islamization was one of these. But this was never addressed because I meant not just the way politicians manipulate Islam but also factors internal to Islam.

    b. A causes B causes C. When we give explanations, we can keep going further and further back. We might start with C and then give B as a cause. Later, we might give a deeper cause A for B. But that does not mean that B ceases to be important. Here is an example: there are many ills in the organization of Indian society, especially in less urbanized areas. We could cite the caste system as one factor in addition to others that cause these ills. This has been done several times on this blog by me and others. But one can also dig further back and ask how the caste system emerged in the first place, going back several thousand years, and try to speculate about the organization of society in those times. But even if we do this, that does not mean the caste system ceases to be an important factor in today’s ills. We may understand the caste system’s origins better but the government of India has banned the caste system itself, not its origins. LIkewise, identifying the origins of Islamization in Pakistan helps us to understand it better but that does not diminish the role of Islam in Pakistan’s problems.

    In the current discussion, I have been urging both these logical forms and in fact their combination. That is or ought to be the structure of the argument.

    4. It is merely being politically correct to assert that one should not single out or generalize about any one religion. All phenomena are not the same and nor are all religions. If the discussion was about Japan, I would point out that there are variants of Zen Buddhism – one of the most pacifist religions – that lend themselves to extreme violence and some of this is evident from the novels of Yukio Mishima as well as from countless other sociocultural facts there. Likewise, neither Hinduism nor Islam facilitated the formation of joint stock companies as Judaism and Christianity did in the seventeenth century which gave a big boost to capitalism in the West. Many great thinkers of the modern world were Christians – Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and Newton. Even Marx’s eschatology is Christian in its structure. While this does not mean that Christianity *caused* the emergence of great thinkers, it is arguable that its internal belief structure had some role to play. So it is unwise to think that all religions are equal because the empirical facts contradict this. The Mughals did many wonderful things in South Asia but they failed miserably in producing really great philosophy and science and technology and industrialization. There was no Enlightenment equivalent flowering there. In this regard, in my view, it so happens that the particular variants of Islam that have gained prominence recently in the Muslim world and in Pakistan have some role to play – in conjunction with other factors (A + B + C) – in Pakistan’s problems, partly because of the internal facts about this religion. That is why many Islamic scholars all over the world are trying to think in fresh ways about how to reform the religion. I think such efforts are very important, but if you follow the A causes B causes C structure and go back from C to B to A (i.e. from Pakistan’s problems to (Islam + other factors) to its top-down causes, then you might be tempted to ignore the importance of B (i.e. among other factors, Islam itself). This is the kind of stuff that Ayesha Jalal and Oldenburg are recommending. Earlier, people like Huntington on the right demonized Islam, so – in a completely knee-jerk fashion – people on the left now try to completely drop it out of the equation. To repeat, B = Islam + other factors and A = top-down cause of Islamization, and A causes B causes C = Pakistan’s problems; but just because you have gone back to A does not mean you can ignore B which includes the belief structure of Islam.

    5. In all these articles, there has been a kind of evasion of this issue. First, instead of simply accepting the plain fact that the ISI knew Osama’s whereabouts, Anjum tried to deflect this question. Then, he reacted in exactly the same over-sensitive manner that Hitchens caricatured in his rant. Many persons including me tried to say to Anjum that he was over-reacting to a minor part of Hitchens’s main point, but he persisted. Next, he wrote an article about Pakistan, if I recall correctly, that simply talked about US interference in Pakistan and blamed the US for many of its ills. After that, when I pointed to the importance of considering internal factors, he wrote another article (this one) about top-down internal factors, again completely ignoring socio-cultural factors and the social psychology of religious factors. And that is why I have been saying that the elephant in the room has not been acknowledged.

    6. A diversion occurred when someone brought up the importance of the absence of mercantile castes in Pakistan as an explanation of Pakistan’s ills. This was a pointer to a psychological factor because it is the particular social psychology of mercantile castes that exposes its members to capitalistic thinking and makes it easier for them to be successful capitalists. But this psychological factor which needed to be made explicit was omitted, as if simply belonging to a mercantile caste by itself magically brings about capitalism. But if this psychological factor were acknowledged, then one would have to acknowledge how the psychology and behavioral strictures (e.g. inheritance patterns) of certain variants of Islam may also inhibit capitalism. And all the socialization that occurs in madrasas etc. was likewise omitted.

    7. Lastly, historical and political explanation is extraordinarily difficult for at least three reasons. The first is that there are always many factors that together cause things. A single factor is seldom responsible for anything. This is where it is different from natural science. It is hard to recognize and acknowledge all factors and understand how they interact. The second difficulty is that it is often hard to test hypotheses the way one does in natural science. So it is difficult to falsify most interesting hypotheses. Only the most simplistic hypotheses (e.g. Islam is the cause of Pakistan’s problems) can be easily refuted but no one is so simple-minded. And lastly, very few people are able to shed their biases and be scientists in their search for historical and political truth. It is true that complete neutrality is impossible in history but this is very different from the kinds of biases I am referring to. Unfortunately, a great number of professional academics who are in these disciplines themselves suffer from overt biases so this field is particularly fraught.

    I hope I have made my points clear and transparent. Above all, I am proposing hypotheses for discussion rather than simply presenting preconceived ideas without argument. But, apart from Anjum’s own apparent evasions, many of the others responding to his articles have also stayed away from these hypotheses. There was only one person who, if I remember correctly, described Pakistan as Islam on steroids. That, too, is a hypothesis worthy of discussion though it is not exactly my view. My hypotheses come from a desire to understand, not from a desire to peddle biases. But this is an area I am not expert in as I do not know Pakistan and I do not know Islam. So I expect others more knowledgeable than me to take the lead. But if they systematically look only at part of the story rather than the whole story, it will lead to obfuscation and distortion. And that is not what this blog is about.

    • Kabir Says:


      I don’t think it’s merely “politically correct” to say that one cannot generalize or single out any particular religion. You seem to want to say that Islam is a horrible religion and is inherently bad, and that to me reeks of Islamophobia. Anjum has not ignored the impact of Islam on Pakistan. In fact, he has repeatedly mentioned on this blog the immense damage that Zia’s Islamization has done to Pakistan. I don’t think any sensible scholar would advocate taking Islam out of the equation, however demonizing Islam is not the solution either. Turkey is a Muslim-majority country and yet it is doing quite well. What makes Pakistan different from Turkey? Clearly two countries can share the same religion (Sunni Islam) and still be in very different places. Thus an argument that overemphasizes religion is not a good argument.

      The characterization of Pakistan as “Islam on steroids” is also biased and false. There is a lot more to Pakistan than Islam. I’m not saying that Islam and Islamization are not worth discussing in relation to Pakistan but trying to demonize Muslims or Islam is not helpful to the argument.

    • anon4cec Says:


      You have brilliantly articulated something that I have observed as well but could not have expressed so well. There is a strong reluctance to scrutinizing Islam’s role in Pakistan’s problems on this blog. There are a lot or peripheral and politically correct allusions around the topic but no real intellectual honesty or courage to really examine it. Framing Islam as a potential part of problems seems taboo. This then raises questions about the sincerity of pursuing this blog’s stated purpose.

      Aatish Taseer wrote a brilliant article in WSJ recently that illustrates some of these issues:


      When I shared this link on another thread on this blog, Anjum dismissed it as “anthropomorphic” and wondered “I can’t quite understand why American papers give so much space to novelists to write about history and politics.” (https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/pakistan%E2%80%99s-problems-more-hypotheses/#comment-8232)

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        anon4cec: What criterion are you employing to label Atish Taseer’s piece brilliant?

        You can propose any hypothesis about religion on the blog but simply a bald statement that religion is a problem or religion is a problem in Pakistan or religion is one of the factors in Pakistan is not of great interest analytically. Whatever specific hypothesis you have in mind can be discussed.

        Starting from the 1960s when religion was proclaimed dead there has been a strong religious revival all over the world stretching from the US, Europe, Russia, the Islamic countries, and India. This has been followed by religious militancy in a lot of places. There is hardly a place where religion is not a factor in some shape or form. This is not a Pakistan-only phenomenon. So any hypotheses have to be framed in that context. Why did this religious revival occur, how and when did it spread to different locations, how did politics and religion interact in different places, what were the outcomes, etc.

        Religion is undoubtedly a factor in Pakistan but what is to be made of a statement like that? How does one move beyond it to put more flesh on the statement?

        • anon4cec Says:

          Well, if you are wiling to push that line of inquiry, I am sure you can find ways to put more flesh on the statement. You are way more qualified, knowledgeable, and literate in these areas than I am. What seems clear to me is that there’s a great likelihood of some insight out there waiting to be discovered if you try to look for it. A number of potential avenues have already discussed on this blog. In fact, you yourself have alluded to many strands of inquiry around this topic. It is clear to me that you yourself are a liberal and I respect your analysis. However, where you stop is describing the parts of the elephant like the four blind monks. Mixing my metaphors, what I am not seeing is the willingness to take on the elephant in the room. What really needs to be discovered is an integrated, holistic theory that covers everything from mythologizing of the two-nation theory to its embrace as the core of the Pakistani identity to Pakistan’s conscious distancing of itself from its Hindu-Indic roots to Arabization of its identity to becoming the foot soldiers and second-class citizens of the ummah to the glorification of Gaznis and Ghoris and Aurangzebs etc – and Islam’s critical role in all of this.

          Is this going to find the Truth, the only Truth and nothing but the Truth? Of course not. Like everything else, univariate explanations rarely, if ever, work for any complex phenomena. But it is equally true that Islam will be a highly significant variable in any multi-variate postulation that may be ultimately discovered as a reasonable theory.

          The key here is to understand exactly that : Islam is likely to be one of the most significant factors, but not The One, nor the only nor even may be the most significant factor. This is why criticisms like “well, many other Islamic countries are doing fine” or “you are just bigoted about Islam” can be easily dismissed. Any process of hypothesis formation must consider the unique history of the subcontinent, the circumstances of Pakistan’s birth, and the events that happened and choices made by the ruling elites since 1947. Will there be many wrong hypotheses that flow out of this inquiry that stand up to rigorous analysis? May be, may be not. Then again, no research starts with certainties about what the inquirer may find at the end. May be there will be nothing. But at the very least, if anyone is really sincere about understanding Pakistan and cares about hopefully making it better than what is at this time, not rigorously scrutinizing the role of Islam in an integrated narrative of Pakistan’s history is pretty well a non-starter.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            anon4cec: I can only articulate hypotheses that seem plausible to me. You can articulate those that are plausible to you and I would be happy to discuss them and agree or disagree with reasons to support my conclusions. That is the normal process of inquiry. But all of us have to start from the position that our judgments, perceptions and analyses could be wrong, no matter how certain we might feel about them and irrespective of the fact that everyone in the street might subscribe to them. We cannot start from the position that if I don’t see things someone else’s way, I am either insincere or evasive or in denial or superficial. That is an unwarranted conclusion that implies that the someone else is already in possession of the truth.

            I can’t do the job for the two of us. Since you are seeing the elephant so clearly and I am not, you should begin to describe what you see and we might be able to build the integrated holistic theory that you are seeking. There are close to 400 posts on this blog and a large number of them discuss various aspects of the impact of religion on the politics of Pakistan. I have not been able to put them in any integrated theory. That is a tall order. The point of a blog is for people to build things together, to agree or disagree with respect for intellectual integrity, and not just submit to each other’s views.

      • Kabir Says:


        Here is a response to Aatish Taseer’s op-ed from Ejaz Haider in The Express Tribune. You may find it interesting. I personally agree with some of what Aatish said (i.e. that Pakistan’s national identity is in large part based on being “anti-India”) but find many of his arguments rather simplistic.


        • anon4cec Says:

          Thanks for sharing, Kabir. IMHO, Haider didn’t address any of the substantial issues raised by Taseer. I thought the article was pretentious and incoherent, and completely missed the points Taseer makes.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            anon4cec: How do we resolve this question of whether Aatish Taseer’s article is brilliant and hits the nail on the head or whether it is an analytically weak piece that cannot even explain why his father hated India, if he did, let alone explain the nature of the India-Pakistan relationship? I have a suggestion: Why don’t we resort to the normal recourse in such situations – an independent arbitration.

            I propose the following:

            1. You pick ten individuals with a global reputation and previous writings on India-Pakistan issues. These can include the kinds of individuals you had mentioned earlier – Naipaul, Roy, Ghosh, etc.
            2. We offer an honorarium (say $1000) to each to offer their opinion on the quality of the Aatish Taseer piece.
            3. If the majority votes it brilliant, I pay the $10,000. If it votes it weak, you pay the $10,000. In case the jury votes it average or there is a tie, we split the cost.

            Is that an acceptable proposition? Regarding how we can organize this since I will certainly have no access to a jury of this caliber, I suggest we turn to 3 Quarks Daily for intermediation. Both the Aatish piece and the Ejaz Haider rejoinder have been cross-posted on 3QD and we know from the judges 3QD picks for its contests that it has access to personalities with global reputations. So we can suggest your panel to 3QD and request it to organize this arbitration on our behalf.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            Is there a reason at all to go for a show down? Why can’t one politely agree to disagree, case closed.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I think there is a legitimate reason. This blog is designed for students and aims to promote critical thinking. In order for students to write well, it is useful for them to know the strengths and weaknesses of other pieces of writing. I feel it would be a great learning experience for students to see how experts analyze, dissect and critique a piece of writing on which there is a difference of opinion. We can of course disagree on whether this is a good enough reason.

  22. mazHur Says:

    @ Kabir

    This is something of a generalization that ”The religion itself is not the problem, it is the way that politicians and mullahs distort it for their own narrow interests that is the problem.” —religion is. For example India is a secular democratic state yet the slaughter of cows and perhaps polygamy is not allowed there. Similarly, in Pakistan wine and gambling are banned for Muslims; Qadianis are declared non-Muslim; etc etc.The Americans, regardless of being a secular state, has ”In God we Trust” printed on the dollar bill as well as the Star of David. On the international scene influence and effect of many religious tenets, Islamic or non-Islamic, can be observed in various cultures. What is all this?? Surely it is religion which is playing its toll in every day life of people, here in Pakistan, India, America or elsewhere. As long as religions exist there is no chance of ”absolute secularism” or freedom in the world!!
    Man is free yet in chains….goes the saying!

  23. Arun Pillai Says:


    You seem to have completely misunderstood what I have labored to say.

    Please tell me where I have said or implied that “Islam is a horrible religion and is inherently bad.” I have tried to say that there are individual elements in various religions that can be bad (e.g. the caste system or an aesthetic of violence in Zen Buddhism). Please tell me if you think the caste system is good or bad. If you say it is bad, does that mean you are saying Hinduism is a horrible religion and is inherently bad?

    You have also not understood the argument structures I tried to describe. Why do you assume that I am *overemphasizing* religion? All I said was that it was one factor among many. The form was A + B + C causes D. Is there any overemphasis of A or B or C? There is no implication at all about the weight of the three factors.

    Yes, Anjum has mentioned Islamization but that is still a top-down and external approach to religion. The fault is Zia’s. I was advocating what many Islamic scholars around the world are attempting which is an internal assessment of its ideas and practices. This is a good practice to follow in general with everything: self-criticism. That is how things improve.

    Finally, I never said I agreed with the description “Islam on steroids.” It was someone else’s term; I merely said that it needed to be discussed like every other hypothesis. That is how scientific inquiry proceeds.

    Either you need to read what I have written above more carefully so as not to put words in my mouth or you are feeling upset by my criticisms. If it is the latter, I am genuinely sorry. My goal is not to upset you or Anjum or anyone else, just to pursue the truth wherever it leads. Sometimes intellectual inquiry can be disturbing because it forces us to criticize things that are close to us.

    As I have said many times on this blog, the caste system was and is a terrible thing. Though I am not religious, I am still culturally a Hindu, and I feel a twinge of shame in admitting that this terrible thing was and to an extent still is a part of Hinduism. But because of the suffering it has caused to millions, I need to be able to overcome that shame and call a spade a spade. It is as simple as that. When I criticize – or someone else criticizes – the caste system, the criticism is partly about me. But that is what life is about, to take such criticism and ensure to the best of one’s capacity that things get better. Many Hindus I know give all sorts of excuses: that originally the caste system wasn’t so inflexible, that it allowed mobility etc. but all those are mere ways of avoiding the truth. The point is to have the moral courage to call a spade a spade.

    Since you are relatively young, I will take the liberty of saying one more thing that many adults forget: human beings are much more than the sum of their beliefs and their knowledge. So it is a mistake to identify with what we believe or know. It is possible to detach oneself from all one’s associations and see things with balance and compassion. And if one can do this, then criticism from oneself or from others becomes quite easy to accept.

    • Kabir Says:


      I am sorry if I have misunderstood what you were trying to say.

      I do not think that criticizing the caste system means that one is saying that Hinduism is bad. One can criticize a particular aspect of the religion without generalizing about the whole religion.

      I simply think that you seem to be singling out Islam for criticism. There is a very strong tendency in the West these days for people to blame Islam for all the problems in Muslim societies. For example with the claim that “Islam is inherently anti-democratic” or “Islam is anti-women.” These are false arguments and examples of what is called Islamophobia. Some Muslims are anti-democratic, some are anti-women but I don’t think its fair to apply that to the religion as a whole.

      What is it that you want to see on the blog? Anjum has criticized Islamization, the use of conservative interpretations of Islam for political ends. You seem to be arguing that the intellectually honest thing to do is to admit that Islam is the root cause of all evil in Pakistan. I am arguing that it is not Islam per se but the uses to which Islam is being put. There is nothing inherently wrong with a country defining itself as Muslim (or Christian or Hindu or whatever) if that is what the majority of its citizens want. The Islam practiced by most Pakistanis is not the Islam of Zia or the Taliban. Of course Zia’s policy of Islamization has led to pernicious effects on Pakistani society over the past 30 years; I don’t think anyone is denying that. But I think it is wrong and unproductive to blame the religion itself rather than focus on the political uses to which it has been put. I don’t believe this blog has shied away from doing that while realizing that religion is but one aspect of the issue.

      I don’t think that the people you speak of that seem to be making excuses for the caste system are really doing so. To me, it seems they are simply trying to place it in some sort of historical context. The same way that many Islamic scholars try to place the notion of jihad in some historical context. I disagree with you that they are refusing to call a spade a spade.

  24. mazHur Says:

    @ Arun

    I take your point in not blaming any religion for its own but the following remarks are are debatable..

    ”Anjum has criticized Islamization, the use of conservative interpretations of Islam for political ends”.

    The use of conservative interpretation of Islam for political ends cannot be called Islam or Islamization by any definition. At the most one can call it ”hypocrisy’ and it’s ‘hypocrisy’ and hypocrites which the holy Quran condemns in wholesale. Nowhere you will find the Quran rioting against any religion or people. This is why Islam is known as the only religion of brotherhood!!

    ”that many Islamic scholars try to place the notion of jihad in some historical context.”’

    That may be Mullah’s Islam, not the Islam as narrated in the holy Quran. To understand Quran is to understand Islam..
    Cherry picking certain tenets for political ends is, as I have stated hereinabove,mere Hypocrisy which has nothing to do with Islam or Islamization. Either you take a religion as a whole or leave it. Unfortunately the problem with most secular elements (who also claim to be Muslims) is that they don’t talk with reference to Quranic context and lay the blame on clergy or dictators as lame excuse for self-satisfaction and to malign Muslims.

    It is absolutely wrong to assume that Jihad is something of a ”historical kind’..Nay, read the Quran, there are express injunctions for Quran and most of the affairs relating to every day life and society.

    Unfortunately, unlike Hinduism, there is NO Islamic state in substance yet. It’s an irony of fate that how deviations from Quranic tenets have led most of the hypocrite Muslims (those in power) to use hand-picked verses from the Quran to prolong and retain dirty power!! The holy Quran declares them as rogues and the accursed ones and nobody will disagree that they are the hypocrites.

    Islam is not against any religion, including Hinduism. But this is a fact that the caste system led to huge conversion of Hindu’s to Islam and Christianity for reasons embedded therein.

    When talking about the so-called secularism the proponents of it should try to keep a balance between religion and secularism as it commands at a given place and just not try to make lame excuses to bash it resting their arguments on Mullahs, Pundits or the clergy or hypocrite rulers.

  25. Anjum Altaf Says:

    This interview describes the interesting parallel experience of Bangladesh:


  26. Arun Pillai Says:


    For some reason, you don’t seem to be following what I have said. Please go by what I have written rather than by imputations of meaning.

    1. “I simply think that you seem to be singling out Islam for criticism.” The discussion is about Pakistan so naturally one would talk about Islam as a possible factor. As I said earlier, if we had been discussing Japan, I would have mentioned Zen Buddhism. It appears that you are sensitive to any mention of Islam where other religions are also not simultaneously criticized. I have in fact kept mentioning Hinduism deliberately in a bad light to diminish your sensitivity but you don’t seem to be getting the point. In a discussion about Pakistan, there is nothing wrong with singling out Islam in my view. I think you should ask yourself honestly where this sensitivity is coming from.

    2. “There is a very strong tendency in the West these days for people to blame Islam for all the problems in Muslim societies.” This is exactly what I said when I referred to Huntington. And I also said the knee-jerk reaction to this has been to assume that Islam itself has no role to play in Pakistan’s problems. Both extreme views are incorrect.

    3. “You seem to be arguing that the intellectually honest thing to do is to admit that Islam is the root cause of all evil in Pakistan.” Again, you are putting words in my mouth. I have been repeating ad nauseum that Islam is ONE factor in Pakistan’s problems. Could you tell me how you go from that to saying it is the ROOT cause? Is this again your over-sensitivity to the issue that is clouding your judgment?

    4. “I am arguing that it is not Islam per se but the uses to which Islam is being put.” What is it that allows Islam to be used in this way? If you want to be intellectually honest, there are two possible hypotheses:

    a. Islam is a perfect religion. But politicians have distorted it for their own ends.

    b. Islam has in it tendencies that allow it to be distorted.

    A priori, both are respectable hypotheses and both should be investigated in an honest inquiry. Islamic scholars around the world are doing precisely that. You seem to be assuming somehow that only (a) can be true. Why? You keep using the word “Islamization.” That word is ambiguous. Its two meanings correspond to the two hypotheses above.

    5. “Some Muslims are anti-democratic, some are anti-women but I don’t think its fair to apply that to the religion as a whole.” You have to ask yourself if the religion has internal tendencies that are anti-women and anti-democratic. Personally, I think every religion on the planet is anti-women and anti-democratic. I suppose you will be pleased by that because I have not singled out Islam. Or perhaps you will say that Islam is the only perfect religion. The point is that just because one is focusing on X in a particular argument does not mean that the same thing does not also apply to Y.

    6. “Of course Zia’s policy of Islamization has led to pernicious effects on Pakistani society over the past 30 years; I don’t think anyone is denying that.” Since you are not denying that, can you tell me what these effects are?

    7. “I don’t think that the people you speak of that seem to be making excuses for the caste system are really doing so. To me, it seems they are simply trying to place it in some sort of historical context. The same way that many Islamic scholars try to place the notion of jihad in some historical context. I disagree with you that they are refusing to call a spade a spade.” This comes to the second argument structure I described: A causes B causes C. If someone says that the caste system (or jihad) is the cause of certain ills, and they go back further and explain the caste system (or jihad) by placing it in a historical context, this does not diminish the fact that the caste system (or jihad) are causes of certain ills. Placing something in a historical context allows us to understand it better but that also allows some people to deflect criticism of that thing. That is what I have been laboring to say. If some person murders his child and then one explains this by saying that the person was abused by his own parents, that does not diminish that person’s murder. That is all. Some people try to escape calling a spade a spade by placing things in a historical context.

    I repeat – since you have made this mistake twice: I am NOT saying religion is the only factor in Pakistan. I am NOT saying it is the root cause. I am NOT overemphasizing it. All I am saying is that it is ONE factor among many and it also needs to be addressed. This has not happened on this blog even though many Islamic scholars themselves have had the courage and good sense to address it and are doing so.

    You should get over this over-sensitivity and have the courage to be a scientist. It is as simple as that.

    • Kabir Says:


      I am not oversensitive about Islam. In fact, I’m not even a particularly religious person. I would call myself a “cultural muslim”.

      Since you asked what I think the effects of Islamization are on Pakistani society, I will tell you. Religion has increasingly gained space in the public sphere and liberal and secular Pakistanis are afraid to criticize it or question certain aspects of it out of fear for their lives or safety. Salman Taseer questioned the blasphemy laws, simply making the point that it is a man-made law and thus subject to abuse. Simply for saying this, he was killed by his own security guard. This is just one particularly strong example of the consequences faced by Pakistanis if they speak out against religion. I would argue that this shrinking of the space for dialogue in the public sphere is probably the most pernicious effect of Zia’s policies.

      I grant you that Islam is an important factor in Pakistan and needs to be addressed. Perhaps you have not seen a lot of focus on it on this blog because Anjum is not particularly interested in the issue and religion is not his area of specialty (it is not my specialty or main interest either). If you are interested in studying the religion further, I am sure there are other resources available online. Every blogger has the privilege of deciding what her or she is interested in exploring.

      I fundamentally disagree with you that placing things in historical context is just an evasive technique of avoiding calling a spade a spade. The only good arguments are those that include historical context. That’s all that I’m saying.

  27. Arun Pillai Says:


    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

    In my view, I don’t think Anjum is being insincere but he and others are just oversensitive about this kind of criticism. Perhaps there is too much of it in the general media and this has made them oversensitive. Kabir seems unable to separate what I am saying from what is out there. It is part of the knee-jerk response I have referred to.

    I agree with you that writers play a very important role in our understanding of history. Balzac is almost as important as Marx, for example. However, there is also a difference in how literature looks at history and how historians look at it. The latter are striving for explanation and so have to look at all relevant factors; the former are striving for insight and have the freedom to focus on a single factor. So, one cannot read history like fiction or fiction like history. One is apt to get a distorted picture either way.

    • Vinod Says:

      When I think of whether Islam is a factor to be considered for Pakistan’s fate today, I first struggle with defining what Islam is. I find that there are as many Islams as there are Muslim groups. I can clearly tell that mazhur’s Islam has a very different flavour from Kabir’s and Anjum’s Islam.

      Religion is a human phenomenon. What comes out of religion is partly determined by what the interpreter brings to the religious scripture. What the reader/interpreter brings to it depends on the past pains and anguishes of the person. For example, I have noticed that Muslim converts in the West who come from economically unsuccesful backgrounds tend to become strongly West-hating Muslims in whose Islam the emphasis on hate for the kafir verses find particular interpertation. Those Muslims who have lived peacefully among Hindu neighbours have no problems interpreting the word ‘kafir’ metaphorically and they take the kafir verses in manner that points to weaknesses in human character and integrity rather than any particular religious group.

      If you think along those lines then Anjum’s structural explanations go a long way in explaining why a certain brand of Islam got emphasized and gained popularity in Pakistan.

  28. mazhur Says:

    @ Kabir

    What do you suggest to address Islam??

    ”that Islam is an important factor in Pakistan and needs to be addressed.”

    If you believe in democracy (or any religion) you are supposed to respect it. You are supposed to respect the will of the majority, the Laws and the Constitution. Since Salman Taseer flouted the law and hurt feelings of others, above all the feelings of his killer, so he got his due. How would one expect the Hindu’s in Mathura treat a Muslim who insults their deity in public or slaughters a cow there, India being a so-called secular democratic country??? Man, democracy is all hypocrisy, it’s the exploitation of the majority by the minority, a modified branch of ”aggregate autocracy!!

    • Kabir Says:


      No one deserves to die for an opinion. Free speech is one of the highest values of any democracy. There are other ways to disagree with someone rather than resorting to violence. Salman Taseer did not commit blasphemy, all he said was that Pakistan’s blasphemy law is man-made (This is a fact; the law was introduced into the legal code at a particular point in history, it has not always been there) and that it was subject to certain abuses. He did not advocate repealing the law simply amending it. This position can be debated, but silencing such voices by resorting to violence is unacceptable.

    • anon4cec Says:

      With all due respect, Mazhur, your views illustrate exactly the brainwashed mind that is unable to grasp that there are values that laws in other societies hold religion. Look around you: the evidence is everywhere. If “Hindu’s in Mathura” killed “a Muslim who insults their deity in public or slaughters a cow there”, that murderer would not be eulogized. That murderer will be tried in a court of law and punished because India’s constitution, and society do hold that nobody can be murdered for saying things against a religion. A real-life case would be that of Dara Singh, the man who murdered Aistralian missionary Graham Staines. Regardless of the provocation from Staines, the Supreme Court of India handed him a sentence of life imprisonment:


      Similar cases are all over the world in free democracies. Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Huthins and Stephen Fry regularly speak against Christianity and for atheism in all public fora. Nobody in the US or UK wants them to be murdered. See Stephen Fry excoriating Catholicism in a public debate:

      Hell, even a slim fundamentalist preacher like Zaki Naik speaks freely on TV in India and regularly spouts his hatred of Hinduism. Nobody has killed him yet.

      So, can you get this idea that many of us living in free expression societies – including India – just are not as fanatic about blasphemy as you are?

  29. Arun Pillai Says:

    I said above, “Placing something in a historical context allows us to understand it better but that also allows some people to deflect criticism of that thing. That is what I have been laboring to say.” And I said, “Some people try to escape calling a spade a spade by placing things in a historical context.”

    You have said in response: “I fundamentally disagree with you that placing things in historical context is just an evasive technique of avoiding calling a spade a spade.”

    Do you see any problem with the way you read things other people write? I am sorry to say this but you really need to learn to read more carefully. You have repeatedly distorted what I have said.

    This is bad enough at an interpersonal level, but when it is done in a public forum it is downright unethical.

    Regarding Anjum’s interests, I thought his interest was in understanding Pakistan’s problems. One cannot say I am only interested in factor A or factor B and focus only on that. Anjum is not writing fiction, he is doing historical and political analysis, and it distorts the analysis if he ignores one or more important factors. When we analyze things, we are not free to choose what to focus on. We have to go where the analysis takes us. One cannot say, for example, that one is interested in motion but one is going to ignore gravity because that does not interest one. Also, Anjum has written about Hinduism on this blog. So would you say that he is interested in Hinduism but not in other religions?

    As you point out, it may be dangerous to analyze certain types of things. If that is the case, this should be openly stated. One should admit at the outset that we will be engaged in a partial analysis as there are other factors that are too dangerous to pursue. I am fine with that as long as we do not pretend that we are offering a complete analysis.

    • Kabir Says:

      “when we analyze things we are not free to choose what to focus on”. I disagree with this statement. In any analysis, there has to be prioritizing of factors: What does this particular analyst believe is the most important aspect of the situation? It is perfectly fine to say that Islam is an important factor in understanding Pakistan, but one may not believe it is THE most important factor. I think that is a defensible position.

      I am done with this discussion. I’m not interested in repeatedly making the same point. All I am saying is that there are other places available where you can discuss Islam to your heart’s content. It seems unfair to insist that the author of any particular blog focus on what interests you.

    • Vinod Says:

      I think a more difficult question is to what extent is Islam, if that is definable in a way that explains a group of people and if that is permitted as a consideration in this analysis, responsible for where Pakistan is? One struggle we are going to face is whether Islam is defined thru its books or thru the actions and speech of its adherents? In either case whose interpretation and action becomes an even more vexing question. I think there are methodological difficulties that need to be transcended before Islam can be considered in its substance as a factor for Pakistan’s state. If that is not done then Islam will be used loosely and the analysis will always have holes in it.

  30. Arun Pillai Says:

    When one is analyzing something like motion, it is perfectly fine to say we are going to ignore the effects of friction because it is a minor factor. The same applies to any analysis. But later, after major factors like gravity have been considered, one does go on to study the effects of friction as well, and this is what happens when students move from school to college.

    “It is perfectly fine to say that Islam is an important factor in understanding Pakistan, but one may not believe it is THE most important factor.” But this was never ever said before. I would have been perfectly happy if Anjum had said this and then ignored it. I myself do not believe it is THE most important factor but I do believe it is ONE important factor. So to that extent one has to accept that the analysis will remain incomplete. This should be acknowledged but it has not been.

    I am not insisting that Anjum focus on Islam. That again is a distortion of what I have been saying. I have been saying that if one is interested in analyzing Pakistan’s problems – about which Anjum has written several articles – then it is not correct to simply evade certain factors without any explicit mention that one is doing a partial analysis. When studying motion, physicists explicitly say they are going to ignore friction. That is how inquiry proceeds.

    Let me add: I have no particular interest in any religion. But I am interested in understanding things though rigorous inquiry.

    • Kabir Says:


      I do not feel that Anjum has been “evading” or ignoring Islam. He has discussed the role of Islam in Pakistan. However, he has argued that it is not the religion that is important per se, but rather the political uses to which it has been put.

      Yes, the analysis is incomplete. However, isn’t it unrealistic to expect any one source to provide the complete picture?

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun/Kabir: Could I request you to leave me out of your exchange. When I feel I have something to say, I will do so myself. I don’t have anything to add to what I have written at this point. Feel free to discuss issues on which you are on the same wavelength. If both of you feel the other is not being able to understand what is being communicated, it might be best to break for a while.

  31. Arun Pillai Says:


  32. samina Says:

    Is the present state of our country taking us towards a fall down of pakistan !!!! what could possibly save it !!! religion or millitary !!!

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Samina: You should flip this question. What has brought Pakistan to this state of collapse? Perhaps that might point towards an answer.

  33. mazhur Says:

    @ samina

    I opt for the military………….Pakistan direly needs a harsh dictator now!

  34. anon4cec Says:


    The formatting further up is getting hard to read so I am responding to your proposal of $10k arbitration here. It’s an interesting idea, but I really don’t see any point in it. Here’s a few things to think about:

    1.Throughout history, quest for truth and winning a popularity contest have hardly been compatible pursuits. Winning an arbitration such as the one you propose has no bearing on the relative merit of ideas.

    2.I don’t believe an impartial an unbiased person exists, especially in the public sphere. Everyone is limited by their biases, preconceived notions, political affiliations, reputation considerations, ideology and so on. In a non-free society, there is further risk of personal security. Think about this: let’s say hypothetically speaking I asked you to get Asma Jehangir or Irfan Hussein of Dawn to weigh in on this issue, and further assume that they agreed with Aatish’s views and/or consider Islam to be the root of all evil. Will they be able to freely articulate those views in a public forum? I seriously doubt it.

    3.Therefore any voting by an arbitration panel is likely to be an exercise in regurgitation of their known views. In turn, all we will prove to each other is confirmation bias. I will suggest guys like M J Akbar or Chris Hitchens as adjudicators, you will similarly pick people who are of similar ideological persuasion to yourself. Will anyone end up wiser? Unlikely Everyone will read affirmation of their own views and go on with their lives.

    4.In general, I have healthy skepticism of theories and analyses coming out of social sciences only because the scientific method is just so much harder to apply. There is hardly ever any way to apply double blind testing or controlled variable isolation. Time horizons are too long, results are open to interpretation, analyses are colored by politics and ideologies. Historians cant even agree on post-facto analysis even on ideas that seem as close to scientific experiments as possible. Case in point: in an earlier discussion, I thought it was obvious that the failure of the FSU was an evidence of the ideological and intellectual bankruptcy of communism and you did not agree with it! Hell, we hardly even have a coherent and commonly accepted account of what led to the partition of India. What chances then do we have of successfully applying the scientific method to a society that is currently in flux and coming up with an analysis that we can all agree on?

    5.Furthermore, I also have a healthy disregard for authority and believe in thinking for myself. I believe that appeal to authority is probably the most common logical fallacy I have encountered in my life. So I only believe in what I can derive from first principles based on logic and facts, and do not care if the experts/authorities agree with me or not. The only way I change my mind is if I discover more facts or errors in my logic. Applying this test, I find that far too often the so-called experts are talking through their hats. Case in point is Arundhati Roy – sure, her incoherent, bombastic, shrill and illogical rants make her a darling of the chatterati but I find her writing mostly insufferable and ideas mostly worthless.

    I believe that the best way to explore ideas and search for the truth is by respectful but vigorous debating and application of the Socratic method. So here’s my counter-proposal: why don’t you invite Aatish Taseer for an open debate on this blog? You can have him debate other commentators – preferably those not based in Pakistan to ensure that they can speak freely without fearing for their lives – and readers on this blog. I think that may prove more enlightening than betting on a popularity contest whose result is unlikely to leave us any wiser.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      anon4cec: I had left the nomination of the panel entirely to you so could identify those who would be least subject to the problems you mention. However, since you do not find the idea attractive, we can drop it from further consideration. I am not attracted to the counter-proposal. For my purpose, Aatish Taseer cannot be both judge and jury; I am interested in an independent and non-partisan opinion on his piece, an opinion that only examines it for the logical construction of its arguments. This is something you feel is not possible. Secondly, there are more prestigious forums where the debate of opinions is already taking place. Repeating it on a forum that has a pedagogical objective would not serve our limited purpose. Our interest is not in the opinions, which are well known, but in dissecting the opinions. An example from this blog would be the following: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/dissecting-hoodbhoy%E2%80%99s-logic/

  35. Arun Pillai Says:


    If I may so, in my view, your proposal to anon4cec is a little ungracious and also unscientific.

    This is just my personal view, but you are like the host and we are your guests. In the course of intellectual debate, it is fine to offer arguments and counterarguments. We can call each other’s arguments weak or evasive or superficial because that is part of nature of debate. But what you are proposing is a showdown with serious money. That has no place in argument. If you want students to see how celebrities dissect arguments, you can always find any piece of writing and offer it to them; it is not necessary to find something about which there is disagreement because the disagreement plays no role in the learning. The celebrities are bound to differ among themselves in any case. In India at least there is a sentiment captured by the Sanskrit phrase “atithi devo bhava” which means the guest is like a god. Of course, one need not go so far.

    Your proposal also appears unscientific for various reasons. First, the article in question is not meant as a comprehensive piece of historical analysis offered in a scholarly context but as an opinion piece in a newspaper. Such pieces can be strong or weak relative to their context but cannot be assessed independently. Second, people rate things very differently: someone may be a strict grader, another person may be a lenient grader, so one’s person’s “average” may mean another person’s “strong.” Third, the three persons you mention – Naipaul, Roy, Ghosh – are all authors and authors are notoriously biased evaluators of the writings of others. (In my opinion, the only person from this list whose nonfiction writing on such matters is worthwhile is Naipaul. Roy is doctrinaire and Ghosh, sadly, lacks moral courage except when he writes about safe topics like colonialism.) Fourth, even if you did manage to assemble some people and get their evaluations it would prove little except that anon4cec’s opinion of the article is different from theirs. It would not prove his opinion wrong because that requires further analysis and counterargument which none of these celebrities would provide. It is possible to avoid these problems of course but I was just pointing out some of the difficulties.

    Why don’t you dissect the article yourself and point out what you think is wrong?

  36. Anil Kala Says:

    Arun: I have problem with your assertion. You seem to be bullying Anjum to acknowledge elephant in the room which he genuinely can’t see. His take is different i.e. Islam really isn’t the problem but the manipulation of it is; something like steel can be made in nuts and bolts for construction or into bullets to kill people. Of course you may be right that Islam is the problem and all those cases like Turkey, Indonesia blah blah are aberrations or Islam not getting wild out there is due other factors. The point is, Anjum isn’t avoiding to mention Islam as a problem out of being politically correct; at least in this case although he has become a tad intolerant of counter views.

    My own view on this is unresolved. I find that Islam isn’t like any other religion but a political manifesto or a lifestyle manual in which many of the recommendations appear morbid. But again no religion is practiced according to its scriptures. There are continuous compromises made on the basis of cost-benefit analysis or acquisition of knowledge. Nobody has cast away his religion because of theory of evolution. Therefore whether Islam has that gene in its DNA for disruption or not is inconsequential.

  37. Arun Pillai Says:


    I think the two views are as follows. One view is that the factors responsible for Pakistan’s present situation are largely structural (e.g. the influence of the US, the role of the military, the lack of adequate capitalist development, the top-down politicization of Islam etc.) and the other view is that in addition to these factors, Islam itself is also a factor.

    View A: various structural factors
    View B: various structural factors + Islam itself

    I have never said that Islam is the problem by itself. It is the combination of factors that represents the cause, not any factor alone. That is why pointing to Indonesia or Turkey is not a counterargument because that combination is lacking there.

    What I have been saying is that View B should be developed as a hypothesis and explored. I know too little about Pakistan to do this. So I have requested people more knowledgeable than me like Anjum to do this. I do not know why it is not being done but some reasons could be: political correctness, it is dangerous to pursue it, because of a bias, because it is assumed that all religions must be treated identically, because it is too commonplace a view, etc.

    The way scientific inquiry should proceed is as follows. Suppose we are investigating the phenomenon of heat. One hypothesis may be that heat is a fluid. Another may be that it is molecular motion. As a scientist, I may have a hunch or a bias that it is the latter but that does not mean I should investigate only the hypothesis that seems right to me. I should be neutral and pursue both because both are initially plausible. (Historically, both were pursued though at different times and the first was discarded as false.)

    Historical analysis should also be pursued in the same way: all initially plausible hypotheses should be investigated in the search for truth. As I have pointed out, history is extraordinarily difficult because it is not easy to formulate good hypotheses or to test them or to remain unbiased.

    In particular, I believe that so-called structural explanations of the kind that have been offered (View A) are incomplete as hypotheses because they identify only institutional factors and leave out how and why people act in the ways they do. Often, the psychology or social psychology may be left implicit as there is nothing special about it but that is not always the case.

  38. Anil Kala Says:

    Arun: I get your point only partially, the part about making an effort to study impact of Islam as a contributing factor, is understood but the last paragraph i.e. why structural explanations are insufficient to explain Pakistan’s problems, is lost.

    What you are really suggesting is that some systematic study be carried out to check if Islam as a religion is in some way contributing to mayhem in Pakistan and elsewhere so that this possibility is either eliminated or seriously dealt with. But do you realize what you are asking for? Only someone who is faithfully objective, has deep knowledge of Islam yet completely detached from it emotionally, its history and also the technique to scrutinize scientifically its social impact can do that. I don’t think you can find a person like that easily. Anjum doesn’t appear to have much knowledge of religion.

    In absence of such a possibility we have the other method of ‘neti neti’ ( not this not this) Hindus used to describe God. Ancient Hindus decided that God cannot be described so they used negative method of telling God is not this. Isn’t Anjum doing this in a way?

  39. Kabir Says:

    I think rather than focusing on Islam, it would be more fruitful to examine the factors that make Turkey or Indonesia different from Pakistan. Why are they, though also Muslim-majority (Sunni-Majority) countries, doing much better than Pakistan? Why is terrorism not a problem in Turkey as it is in Pakistan. One argument could be as follows: Turkey was not effected by the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan. Turks were not really emotionally attached to Afghanistan or to the jihad in Kashmir. Perhaps also Ataturk’s aggressive secularization kept the role of religion minimal in Turkey and religious forces are only now starting to rise again (for example, women wanting to wear headscarves in public institutions).

    In Pakistan’s case, the country (like Israel) was founded on an explicitly religious basis. Israel was meant to be a homeland for Jews, just as Pakistan was meant to be a homeland for South Asian Muslims. Although Jinnah himself was secular, his use of religion for political purposes opened the door to the religious right in Pakistan. After all if a country is founded as a Muslim homeland than how can one argue against the implementation of “Islamic” laws such as those regarding blasphemy? (It is a different matter that there is much debate about what Quaranic punishments for blasphemy actually are). Add to this, the Afghan war, the dispute with India over Kashmir, the use of Islam as a part of the national identity, and one can begin to see why the religious right has been able to gain in Pakistan. It is not the religion itself that is the problem, but the combination of factors ( including particular interpretations of Islam).

  40. Arun Pillai Says:


    My understanding of structural explanations (e.g. class-based explanations of social conflict) is that they are partial. A macro-variable (e.g. class) is made explicit but the behavior of micro-factors (e.g. a worker or a capitalist) is left implicit. Sometimes, it is acceptable to leave things implicit if no special factors are involved or if suitable assumptions are made (e.g. people act on the basis of their economic interests and these are determined by their position in the relations of production).

    In the problem we are trying to tackle, Aakar Patel asked a pertinent question: why did the manipulation of religion by the army work? Anjum gave a metaphorical answer in terms of sympathetic strings of musical instruments but this is inadequate.

    The Hindu and Buddhist use of “neti neti” is a little different. There the idea was to say that God is completely abstract and has no qualities. So, one points to each quality and says “not this.” This conception is different from, say, the Christian concept where God is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent and all-good.

    In science, if one does not know something (e.g. how to study if heat is molecular motion), one does not assume that it cannot be a possible explanation. One says that for such and such reason we cannot investigate this hypothesis. Once this is admitted, then one can proceed with the full knowledge that any other explanation we offer is at best partial until a full investigation is carried out. As I have said before, I am not forcing anyone to pursue View B, just to admit that it is a plausible hypothesis that cannot be pursued for such and such reasons.

  41. Arun Pillai Says:


    I should make it clear that while I have been urging Anjum and others to consider View B, I do not believe it is true myself. I have been pushing it because it is the most frequently expressed view and therefore should be considered. Commonsense is important and it is not a good idea to give over-sophisticated explanations.

    I do not even know if View A is correct for that matter. I just feel that the exploration of these issues has not been fully scientific for some reason I do not understand.

  42. Arun Pillai Says:


    Earlier, you wrote: “I do not think that criticizing the caste system means that one is saying that Hinduism is bad. One can criticize a particular aspect of the religion without generalizing about the whole religion.”

    Isn’t it possible to criticize particular aspects of other religions in the same way? Yet, if this is suggested even as a hypothesis, you immediately conclude that Islam is being singled out. But you did not think Hinduism was being singled out when you criticized the caste system. You do not seem to be consistent in your ostensible secularism. This needs some self-reflection if you don’t mind my saying so. Mazhur is openly religious and I admire his openness.

  43. Anil Kala Says:

    Kabir: Your line of thinking on Turkey actually implicates Islam as a disruptive force. What you are really suggesting is a feature of Islam viz. ‘Jehad’ which usually lies dormant, erupts occasionally to cause serious mayhem.

    Arun: I think what you are suggesting i.e. to seriously study impact of Islam as a disruptive force in the manner of taking the problem head on because a majority of non-Muslims regard Islam is the problem. I see no reason to not do it as nothing should be a taboo to impartial study. But I see this as an impossible task. An individual cannot do this and as soon as a team is constituted to study this, all hell will break.

    But alternative method of selection by elimination is not a bad answer although nothing can be ever said with finality in these matters. So, the facts have been presented in impartial way let people to make their own judgment.

    • Kabir Says:

      Anil: It is not “Islam” that is a destructive force, but certain interpretations of it. Take Jihad for example: The word Jihad means struggle. This can be interpreted as being a struggle against the self (against sinning) or as a struggle against external injustice. It’s a vague enough concept that can be manipulated in various ways. During the anti-Soviet “Jihad” in Afghanistan, US was quite happy to encourage the Mujahideen to see the fight against the Soviets as being for “Islam”. So now they have created a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, which sees the fight against the “US occupiers” as being for Islam.

      Arun: Of course particular aspects of all religions can be criticized. The misuse of the concept of “Jihad” can be criticized just as the caste system can be criticized. I have never said that I believe that Islam is beyond criticism. I simply think it is too easy for people to make the simplistic assertion that religion (particularly Islam) is the root cause of all evil. I am willing to argue that Pakistan’s problems are due to various structural factors as well as the manipulation of religion, but I do not think it is fair to blame “Islam”. Which Islam? Whose Islam? The Islam of the Pakistani masses is heavily influenced by Sufism, and is very different from the Islam of the Taliban. This is why TTP often bombs shrines like those to Data Ganj Baksh or Baba Farid Ganjshakar.

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Kabir: You might find this useful. When Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History came out it met with a lot of criticism. Doniger wrote a response of which this is a relevant excerpt:

        I would particularly like to comment on the argument that the cases I cite, of concern for and sympathy with the lower castes, are just a few rare instances, not characteristic of Hinduism as a whole. This is indeed true, and, yes, I did fish them out, the way people who do not just want to say that all the Germans were Nazis fished out people like Schindler and the other “righteous Christians” who were heroes; the fact remains that many Germans, perhaps even most Germans, were Nazis. So too, without apologizing for Hindu attitudes to women and the lower castes, I wanted to lift up a few counter-instances to show that you cannot simply condemn Hinduism outright, as so many Americans want to do, for the cases that always hit the newspapers, of atrocities to Dalits and women. The balance here becomes clearer if you read the whole book, which does set these liberal, hopeful instances against the backdrop of heavy prejudice against women and Dalits. Indeed, what makes the counter cases so heroic is precisely that they are fighting against a powerful culture of oppression.

        There are two points here. First, there can be periods when madness, religious or non-religious, sweeps across a society turning, for example, most Germans into Nazis. And then that madness can disappear as if it never happened. Second, even in such cases to make blanket statements that a religion is good or bad is not warranted. One has to search for what makes it good or bad in particular situations. There is no religion that has not lost its soul in particular circumstances at particular moments in time.


        Even the caste system cannot be treated in simple good/bad framework but invites deeper analysis. One such analysis is provided by Justice Markandey Katju who brings the structural dimension into the anlaysis. Here is a relevant excerpt:

        Many people think that the caste system did a lot of damage to India. This is undoubtedly true of modern times. But it must also be said that in the feudal age the caste system did good to India because it corresponded to the feudal occupational division of labour in society (as pointed out above), which resulted in the great development of the productive forces (at that time).

        It is a myth that the Scheduled Castes of today were always treated with indignity. In fact upto the coming of British rule, these castes were usually in some handicraft vocation and were earning their livelihood from that vocation. It was only when the British mill industry destroyed their handicraft and they became unemployed that they began to be treated with indignity. An unemployed man becomes a poor man, and a poor man is not given respect in society.

        One can agree or disagree with this analysis but it takes us further than a perspective in which one asserts that a religion is good or bad or an aspect of religion is good or bad.


  44. mazHur Says:

    @ Arun

    Hehehehe!! How solemnly you make a fun of me!! Who told you I was ‘religious’?? I am NOT. Muslims call me Kafir and Kafirs call me Muslim, that’s a fact:) I just try to say what I personally observe and feel right and in that I may be oftenly wrong. Let’s move…..on, my friend!!

  45. Arun Pillai Says:


    There is a difference between what you say about the caste system and what you say about, for example, jihad. In the latter, it is a misuse of a concept by external forces but in the former it is something internal to Hinduism. In the case of Islam, it is always an “interpretation” by external elements, never something internal. So, according to you, the religion is flawless and bears no responsibility for anything. It is only evil external elements like the US that distort it.

    • Kabir Says:

      Arun, even the caste system is not inherently bad, but certain interpretations of it have led to great suffering. No religion is perfect. I certainly don’t hold Islam to a special standard.

      The recent Oslo bombing was committed a a white Norwegian Christian fundamentalist? Shall we use this instance to condemn Christianity as a whole just as people use instances of terrorism committed by Muslims to start blaming Islam for everything

      • sree Says:

        The caste system is inherently bad. The division of humans based on their birth into superior people with more rights and inferior people with lesser rights is just not right however way you look at it. It has got nothing to do with the British as some people are stating. It is a part of Hinduism and so it is Hinduism which is to blame for all the misery it has inflicted on the people.

        In India caste system is accepted to be bad, at least publicly, and as one of the reason for impoverishment of many lower caste Hindus. So Hinduism practiced today has thrown out caste system and inflicts less misery on people. Only when you accept the existence of such deplorable features in a religion and criticize it directly can you bring any change in it.

        When there is sufficient opposition among the public, then the stakeholders in the religion will come up with some explanation about how the particular feature was not a part of the religion and was caused by the manipulation of some external forces. They will then reiterate religion as being inherently good. But the disagreeable feature will no longer be an integral part of the religion as it has been uniformly accepted as a contamination. But for this to happen there must be acceptance by a large number of the members of the religion that the particular feature is part of the religion.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          sree: The problem I have with labeling something as ‘inherently bad’ is that it implies an easy moral judgment based on today’s morality. It ignores history. The notion of equality is very recent not more than a few hundred years old. Human beings have been around for much longer. In earlier times, perhaps the conditions did not exist in which equality made sense. Therefore, every settled society was hierarchical with one form of hierarchy or another. Greek, Roman, North American, or feudal European hierarchies were no gentler. One can condemn them and feel good but that suggests a view that all of history was a mistake, that nobody came upon the bright idea that equality would yield so much more just and acceptable systems. The point of interest is in the changes that took place in which these hierarchies lost their legitimacy and gave way to more egalitarian systems. In such a context, it is of interest to study why the caste system in India lasted so much longer and proved so impervious to change, why there were so few revolts against it, etc.? These are complex processes; despite all the progress women still remain unequal in most societies even in the most egalitarian ones and even in the most liberated households. A good/bad verdict doesn’t help us understand any of these complexities. The objective here is not to condemn or congratulate ourselves or launch moral crusades; it is to understand what is happening and why it is happening.

          • sree Says:

            I agree that if you really want to understand, the reasons for and the conditions under which, caste system was able to exist in India for such a long time, one must look objectively without passing moral judgements.

            But I was responding to this comment
            Arun, even the caste system is not inherently bad, but certain interpretations of it have led to great suffering.

            I felt that It implied the caste system was not to fault, but its interpretation. Caste system was always meant to partition people on rigid hierarchies. It by itself was the cause for the suffering and not any incorrect interpretations of it.

        • Anil Kala Says:

          Anjum: You are not giving any reason why the caste system was not inherently bad but providing excuses for its existence.Good and bad verdict is important, they help us decide what we can take and what is to be discarded. True verdict alone is not sufficient to understand complexities involved but we must emphatically say what is wrong and what is right.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I gave a link to an article by Justice Markandey Katju that provided an explanation of the caste system and mentioned that one could agree or disagree with that explanation. As I mentioned, all settled societies were hierarchical to start with and none were very pretty from today’s perspective. In general, social structures come into being and stabilize because the serve some purpose. Over time they become anachronistic and regressive. Opposition arises against them and most of the time they are replaced by new structures. The interesting thing about the caste system is its longevity. It is hard to imagine that something could last this long purely by means of coercion or false consciousness. I do not have enough evidence or knowledge to assert that it was pointless to start with. If you can convince me I will accept it but till that time I will keep thinking of an explanation.

          • Anil Kala Says:

            Anjum: I read Markandey Katju’s article on Caste System


            I must say I am disappointed. The only reason why he called caste system good was because it Industrialized India and made it the most prosperous nation in the world. I don’t see how this can be called good even if it brought prosperity but at the same time reduced three quarter of the population into second class citizens.

            Tell me why despite centuries of head start over West, India never innovated or invented anything substantial apart from Math which was the domain of Brahmins and needed for Astrological purposes? It can’t be that Indians were dumb. The only answer to me is the caste system. The caste system in India killed innovation because the innovation/ inventions could come from users of technology only and who were the users of technology, the lower castes. Who knows how many cracking innovations were simply dumped because of upper caste’s dismissive stance/suspicion/ lack of knowledge of processes. They would simply not let them use new methods, brand it black magic because technology wouldn’t make their lives any easier.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: Let’s suppose the claim is correct that the caste system made India the most prosperous nation in the world or at least very prosperous. You discount this because it “reduced three quarter of the population into second class citizens.” The point I have been trying to make is that at that time there was no society where everyone was a first class citizen. In addition, there could not have been. It is only with the nation-state and defined borders and international treaties that we can think in these terms. When groups expanded by fighting and conquering each other there was no way the defeated could have been made equal and first class citizens. They were usually made slaves and different groups had more or less humane rules about the rights of slaves.

            Even Greek society where the idea of democracy was born did not have all first class citizens. Plato’s ideal state had a hierarchy remarkably similar to the caste system with layers of guardians/rulers, protectors/soldiers and artisans/workers. The realization that specialization was useful for the productivity of society inevitably led to these kinds of hierarchies. There is an interesting section in the Republic where Plato says that if citizens are unhappy with their assigned roles they should be told the “useful falsehood” that humans (analogous to the metals gold, silver, and bronze) possess different natures which make them best suited for particular functions for the harmonious operation of society. You can see where religion and religious mythology begins to come in useful for social control.

            This kind of hierarchy lasted in one variant or another till the end of the feudal age in Europe and only faded out as a result of a number of structural changes that never took place in India. The demise of such an order has lagged behind in India but its origin is not a surprise and fits a universal pattern. Perhaps the only dimension that needs more explaining is the extreme association of concerns about pollution in the Indian caste system.

            This hierarchical system did not prevent inventions in Greece or innovations in China. I don’t think there is evidence to assign the entire burden for lack of innovation to the caste system. There could be other structural factors involved. One I mentioned quite some time back was the rules of inheritance that varied markedly amongst societies: https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/more-on-the-law-of-inheritance/

  46. Arun Pillai Says:


    Maybe I made a mistake but you certainly are happy to let people “have their due” including getting bumped off. I see that as pretty fanatical.

  47. Arun Pillai Says:


    While it is true that everything gets judged relative to some standards, I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion from this. Let me simplify the point so that it is not particular to any religion.

    Most religions have some sort of belief in some sort of God. This belief is internal to the religion. From an atheistic point of view, belief in God is a bad thing because it fundamentally misrepresents a truth about the world. For example, it makes many believers hostile to many aspects of science and views like Darwinism. This is not a matter of historical context but is something that can be debated at the level of ideas. However, it is relative to the standards of modern science and the general desirability of pursuing the truth.

    The idea of sati is another similar case. By earlier standards perhaps it was acceptable that widows immolate themselves but by our standards, it is a barbaric practice. So judgment here is relative to our standards but it is an outright condemnation of a once widely prevalent practice.

    In both these instances, the judgment is relative to certain principles – either science or the rights of women – but that kind of contextualism does not diminish the force of the argument against some element that may be internal to a religion or culture.

    Is rape a good thing in some situations? Perhaps relative to some warped standards it may be, but by most common standards it is a bad thing.

    One *can* say that a particular thing is bad (relative to certain standards). Otherwise no moral discourse would be possible. And if everything is relative to the historical situation then no progress is possible. The German population has learned – through a great degree of shame and soul-searching – how barbaric they were during Nazism. Great artists like Anselm Kiefer still make the devastation of the human spirit this resulted in the subject of their paintings. They do not look for structural explanations for Nazism but accept responsibility for what they did and how they acted.

  48. Arun Pillai Says:

    To widen the point further. Any historical or social phenomenon can be explained from a number of vantage points. One can offer a structural explanation based on various forces. As I argued, this is always partial unless some explanation is also offered – implicitly or explicitly – of how and why people act the way they do. In a limited space, it is not always possible to do this. Another type of explanation is based on ideas, a kind of intellectual history. For example, if one is trying to understand how the Enlightenment came about, one can offer an explanation in terms of the interconnections of ideas, for example, the influence of Bacon’s empiricism or Locke’s political ideas. This is an equally valid way to understand history. And there are many other kinds of history: political history, economic history, social history, military history, intellectual history, even art history, all of which emphasize different aspects of a phenomenon. History is too vast – life is too vast – to be captured fully from a single vantage point.

    Secondly, there is also a question of moral standards. When I am in Bombay or Delhi in an air-conditioned chauffeur-driven car and a beggar taps on the window, I feel ashamed and responsible. I do not at that time think of Marx and Weber and the dynamics of capitalism. I feel I have in part created this situation. I feel powerless to change it except through discussions like this. If one resorts to sophisticated structural explanations for everything, they become a mere excuse for inaction. No social change is possible if one always blames US meddling or British colonialism for creating caste problems.

    The Independence movement occurred because people acted. Tahrir Square happened because people acted. It is when people realize they have a choice – that they are, in a sense, radically free despite their social circumstances – and are not mere puppets being directed by the play of forces beyond their control that the earth shakes and history moves forward.

  49. Arun Pillai Says:


    I personally think the caste system is inherently bad because it stratifies people. In earlier Vedic times, it was flexible and allowed some mobility but even in such circumstances it is bad. This is because I believe social hierarchies are inherently bad. This has nothing to do with how such things are “interpreted.”

    Regarding the Oslo terrorist act, you tell me: do you see any difference between that act and the others you refer to?

    • Kabir Says:

      Arun, I don’t see any difference between the Oslo terrorist and any other terrorist. He is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was raised a Roman Catholic. Just as some Islamic fundamentalists commit terrorist acts, so do fundamentalists from other religions. Terrorism is often not based on religion at all, but rather on politics. Also, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter”.

      There is a kind of hypocrisy in asking the entire Muslim community to apologize for acts like 9/11 while treating terrorists of other religions as “lone wolves”.

  50. Arun Pillai Says:


    I wish I knew how to test it. Perhaps the same way one would test View A.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: Science is the domain of testable hypotheses. If View B is to be tested the same way as View A and you know how to test View A then you should also know how to test View B.

  51. Arun Pillai Says:


    I didn’t say I knew how to test View A. I only said the method would be the same. For that matter, I really don’t know how historians test any of their hypotheses.

  52. Arun Pillai Says:


    I have not been insisting that various hypotheses be tested though I believe that is very desirable. I have been urging that all initially plausible hypotheses be explored rather than just one’s own view. I don’t know how to explore View A or View B because I lack the knowledge. View A has been amply explored by you. View B is perhaps the most widely held view in the world at large. So I think it is worth exploring if one knows how to.

  53. Arun Pillai Says:

    This is a bit of a digression but it illustrates a point.

    The following passage is from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekalavya

    “In the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, Eklavya (Sanskrit: एकलव्य, éklavya) is a young prince of the Nishadha tribes, and a member of a low caste, who nevertheless aspires to study archery in the gurukul of Dronacharya. After being rejected by Drona, Eklavya embarks upon a program of self-study in the presence of a clay image of Drona. He achieves a level of skill far superior to that of Arjuna, Drona’s favorite and most accomplished pupil. Drona eventually comes to know this and demands that Eklavya turn over his right thumb as a teacher’s fee. The loyal Ekalavya cripples himself, thereby ruining his prospects as an archer.”

    A contemporary playwright in India rewrote this episode in the following way: when Drona makes his demand, Eklavya makes a clay thumb and gives it to him, saying he studied with a clay image so here is a clay thumb.

    This is excellent social criticism. And it is internal. This is the kind of thing the Pakistani filmmaker Mansoor is trying to do:


  54. mazHur Says:

    @ Arun Pillai

    maybe you are right. By nature I am an authoritarian and a proponent of autocracy. Democracy in its present form is poison for countries where there is no criteria to assess the ‘qualities or value’ of a voting person and where all the stress is on numbers!!
    In a country with less than 60 % literacy rate democracy is a curse!!
    Previously, in some countries only tax payers were allowed to vote or those who possessed property. Okay, this may not hold today but literacy rate stands paramount in matter of democracy if, at all, it has to be encouraged in poor countries. Unless that is done neither good leaders would show up neither the hegemony of the ruling dynasty come to an end. People will keep suffering as they are. Filling old bottles with new wines doesn’t give the solution to democracy’s problems. For building a nicer society one ought to get rid of the old dynasty of leaders who clutch to power generation after generation….

    As for Islam, it doesn’t believe in democracy neither does it give all and sundry the right to vote. The voters must have a ”standard’ whatever it may be but race horses cannot be dealt same as cart horses or mules. As this is done mostly in poor countries democracy is bound to fail. Better still is that some way between democracy and autocracy must be found by political philosophers so that affairs of the poor countries, regardless of their religion, are run without stepping heavily on human rights.

    Yes, Islam is ‘problem’ in Pakistan because 1. it was founded in the name of Islam and for Muslims 2. About 97% of its population is Muslim and wants Islamic laws in their country. Wonder why the proponent of democracy shout at a majority which wants what it wants( unless it falls against their vested interest)??

    As to question whether I am agnostic, I may say that being such is not an issue: the problem lies when somebody professes a faith yet maligns it! My philosophy is that if I have to be agnostic I must firs denounce my own faith then criticize it or comment on other faiths. To me all faiths are good….atleast in essence if not ritualistically.

  55. mazHur Says:

    @ Kabir

    Caste system, in one form or another, is found everywhere!
    I think it is fair enough to keep certain people at arm’s length and if the Hindu’s are doing it they are doing nothing abnormal or wrong.
    Muslims are divided into Syeds, Afghans, Khans, Sheiks, Chowdhries, Sardars, Raja’s, Malik’s, etc etc, and often they refuse to intermarry or ‘own’ other ”castes”. What would you call it then?? It’s the same as the Hindu ‘caste system’ but in a different perspective. Who doesn’t know what the civilians were held as by the Military?? Bloody Civilians the brass called it, with instructions to keep away from these ‘untouchables’!!! Needless to repeat that Islam teaches universal brotherhood but where in world such brotherhood appears in its perfect shape and spirit?? Only in mosques perhaps. No Muslim country accepts Muslims from other countries as its ‘brethren’ and for the rich Islamic countries the poor Muslim brethren are mere Misakeens who deserve not more than Bakshish (alms). How disgraceful but it is a fact and not only restricted to Hinduism. Humanity still lingers at the feet of most religions but it is socio-economic condition of a people which is the working force behind the ills so conveniently allocated to religion, any religion.

    Look at the administrative law, the grade system for civil servants, and you will note the same spirit of caste system working even there…there in democratic realms, in ordinary life!!

  56. mazHur Says:

    Q. Which are the most dangerous countries in the world???

    A. Muslim and Secular democratic countries both!

    Here is more detail about these countries as regards to brutality towards women. If the brutality was limited to Muslim countries only I would be the last person to blame secular or democratic countries for the heinous crime. But the truth is here laughing at both the systems….India is right after Pakistan!!
    Jeeay Pakistan, Jeeay Hind!!

  57. Arun Pillai Says:


    You ask which are the most dangerous countries in the world for women. I agree there is grave danger in many countries. But in my view that is not the best way to think about the problem.

    Here is an analogy. Elsewhere on this blog, Anjum and I and others had an extended discussion about the tribal population of India and their plight. As you know, the Indian state has done little for them and they are being economically exploited. But during the discussion, no one was defensive and no one said, oh, this sort of thing happens everywhere. The point is that we are discussing Pakistan’s problems and it is simply being defensive if you say, oh, there are problems for women everywhere.

    It is the same with the caste system. It has been correctly criticized on this blog. At the time of the criticism no one says, oh, there are similar problems everywhere. Except for you.

    Such tactics betray a certain defensiveness and unwillingness to look at uncomfortable facts about things that one may be close to. It is intellectually dishonest in my opinion and also does not help one in understanding the problem one is trying to tackle.

    If A commits a murder and then says, oh, B and C also committed murders, that does not absolve A of the crime.

  58. Arun Pillai Says:


    I agree with you that secular democracy is a bad system. It is full of all kinds of flaws and seldom throws up the best leaders. But it is the best system we have. There is absolutely nothing else that is remotely close to it.

  59. Arun Pillai Says:


    I have no comment to make if you really think all terrorists are the same. I do feel a certain amount of surprise.

    • Kabir Says:

      All terrorists are the same because they all use violence against innocents to achieve a particular goal. I am against terrorism, whether it is committed by Muslims, Christians, or atheists.

      It is worth thinking about why when Muslims commit terrorist acts, there is a lot of discussion about how there must be something inherently wrong with Islam or Muslim societies that causes them to do so. Yet when non-Muslims (particularly whites) commit similar sorts of acts people focus on the individual and say that they are psychologically sick. Is this not a double standard?

  60. Arun Pillai Says:


    I thought you and possibly some others would know how to explore view B because you knew how to explore View A. But if no one knows how to do it, we obviously have to drop the exploration. But it should be acknowledged as an unexplored hypothesis. If one can additionally give a reason why it remains unexplored that is even better. Maybe it is dangerous to go too far publicly. When anon4cec posted the Taseer article you chose not to criticize it yourself and wanted to ask others to opine. Why? Likewise, no one has commented on the Mansoor movie. Has anyone seen it? What do they think? I had never heard of him before but he sounds like an honest and courageous man.

    There is so much social criticism of culture and religion in India. As in the West. I find nothing like it on the blog. Everything is reduced to the play of large impersonal historical forces. And if by chance someone does offer some criticism, then it is deflected by saying, oh, this happens everywhere or it happens due to external manipulation. I found it absurd that Kabir was driven by his logic to say that caste is not inherently bad, only its interpretation is bad. I find that disappointing.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: You have answered the question yourself. Could it remain unexplored because no one knows how to explore it? Why insinuate that there are other reasons? If you can find someone to explore it, go ahead by all means.

      I gave my opinion on the Aatish Taseer article and chose not to elaborate because I became party to a disagreement. A third-party view carries more credibility in such a situation. Why is that attributed to deflection or evasion or denial or fear? This is an open forum. You are free to discuss what you want on it but you have to carry some of the load. If you are interested in the Mansoor movie, watch it and submit a review. Or else, read the reviews that have appeared in other places and comment on them.

  61. mazHur Says:

    @ Arun Pillai

    ”’The point is that we are discussing Pakistan’s problems and it is simply being defensive if you say, oh, there are problems for women everywhere.”

    We are NOT talking about ‘everywhere” but South Asia, right?
    I would have been ”defensive” IF I had been guilty of defending barbarism towards women, in South Asia, or anywhere else. Women play a very substantial role in the building on ‘minds’ which decides the shift to the ‘left’ or ‘right”. Ask any woman and she will tell you!

    ”It is the same with the caste system. It has been correctly criticized on this blog. At the time of the criticism no one says, oh, there are similar problems everywhere. Except for you.”

    Criticism for the sake of criticism is not correct. Maybe those who belong to the lower rung of the caste system criticize it more strongly than anyone else?? Not a bad thing at all because every one aspires to get higher on the societal ladder, even those without hands or feet. This is the reason that Hindu religion (mainly the theory of Reincarnation and the doctrine of Hindu motherland ) prescribes caste system for its adherents. I have least to criticize the caste system as I would democracy because caste and class discrimination can be seen everywhere. For example, Islam discriminates Muslims into two classes: One who possess knowledge and are ‘pious’ (which means true followers of Quranic tenets) and the other the masses. Islam places the former above the latter and it is only the former who have the right to run the affairs of the government or take the helm of affairs in their hands!

    ”It is intellectually dishonest in my opinion and also does not help one in understanding the problem one is trying to tackle.”

    Intellectual dishonest??? Not at all. No one is supposed to agree with any one else unless they are on the same page. Being not so doesn’t tantamount to intellectual dishonesty moreso because everyone has the right of free expression and disagreement is the charm of any discussion!!

    ”If A commits a murder and then says, oh, B and C also committed murders, that does not absolve A of the crime.”

    This example is out of place. What does it have to do with Pakistan or cruelty to women?? Conversely, you can also say: ”If A eats cake and then says, oh, B and C also eat cake , that does not mean A gets the right to eat a cake!! .”

    Unfortunately, proponents of Secular democracy mostly talk about Rights without paying much attention to the Duties involved. If Pakistan couldn’t come up to the mark in this regard, how about the secular democratic republic of India?? Many countries are just toeing the line of Greek democracy to secularize the religious element at their cores.

  62. Arun Pillai Says:


    You write: “All terrorists are the same because they all use violence against innocents to achieve a particular goal.”

    By analogy: “All triangles are the same because they are all three-sided planar figures.”

    • Vinod Says:

      Let’s also realize that there are no “true” triangles (the geometrical triangle is an idealized hypothetical concept) as there are no “true” Scotsmen and there are no “true” Muslims and there is no “true” Islam. There are just people trying to make sense of the world and trying to make the best of their lives. .

  63. Arun Pillai Says:


    The last paragraph: “This may be the act of a lone, mad, paranoid individual,” said Hajo Funke, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin who studies rightist extremism, referring to the right-wing fundamentalist Christian charged in connection with the killings, “but the far-right milieu creates an atmosphere that can lead such people down that path of violence.”

    What is this far-right milieu? It is a milieu consisting of ideas, some half-baked and hate-filled, others based on ideas from Christianity and also the secular Western tradition. As another article in the NYT says, Breivik mentions Machiavelli and quotes John Stuart Mill. It is well-known that Hitler drew upon Wagner and Nietzsche, and Heidegger also contributed to the same “folk philosophy.” Does this mean all these thinkers are all-bad? No. Does this mean all these thinkers are all-good? No. Does this mean that rightwing terrorists and movements simply manipulate their pure ideas? No. Does this mean that there are parts and elements of their thought that lend themselves to extremism? Yes. That is why when Nazism happened, there was widespread criticism in the Western world of these elements. Does this mean these elements disappear completely? No. But their weight and influence gets reduced. Does this mean that the ideas are the sole cause of this Western extremism? No. Many factors of a structural nature + the ideas from the Western tradition jointly cause this terrorism. If we leave out the structural factors we get just a partial explanation; likewise, if we leave out the ideas we also get just a partial explanation. Only both together provide the complete explanation. Does this mean we are singling out the Western tradition? No. But we are analyzing rightwing Western terrorism so it is correct to focus on the relevant structural factors there and the relevant Western ideas. If we are analyzing rightwing Western extremism, should we say, oh, this happens everywhere? No. It is right to focus on the problem we are trying to solve. Otherwise we are just being defensive.

    • Kabir Says:


      I am glad that this latest incident has caused Europeans to begin to examine their own far-right milieu. Too often, when such crimes are committed by Westerners, there is a tendency to focus on the individual’s psychology. When similar actions are committed by “Muslims”, than the religion or ideology is to blame. This double standard is completely unfair.

      I agree with you that both the structural factors and the ideas need to be discussed. I simply think that there is too much emphasis in the media on “problems with Islam”. There are extremely violent passages in the Old Testament, yet no one would seriously make the claim that “Christianity is a violent religion”. The analogous claim about Islam is made all the time.

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Kabir: Don’t you feel it is missing the point where the violent ideas are coming from? For me, what is of interest are the structural factors that are giving rise to a reaction and a sense of rage in Europe – opposition to Muslim migrants, globalization, the European Union, multiculturalism to pick a few out of the headlines. A right-wing extremism is emerging around these. If there had been no Bible, wouldn’t it would have found its rationalization in some other set of ideas? A Ghalib couplet comes to mind:

        Qasid ki apne hath se gardan na mariye
        us ki khata nahiN ye mera qusur tha

        • Kabir Says:

          You are right that if there had been no Bible, than right-wing extremists would have found inspiration in some other text. Hitler was inspired by a (mis)reading of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Anything can be used for any purpose.

          However, it is interesting that religious texts are often used to justify extremist positions.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Kabir: That should not come as a surprise. They come readily to hand, are the most familiar, can rally the greatest numbers, and provide the most historical grievances and inspirations to draw upon. But are they necessary to violence? How much violence has been inspired in Europe by left-wing and anarchist ideologies – the Bader-Meinhoff Gang, the Red Brigade, etc.

  64. Arun Pillai Says:


    The question for you is this: we have been discussing the problems of Pakistan over the last several articles. Have you and others focused on the milieu of ideas in Pakistan? It is better to focus on the problem being discussed than be happy about others having the courage to examine their own traditions. Why should it matter what is discussed in the media? Is the blog a counterweight to the media?

    • Kabir Says:

      I have not been shy about saying that the results of General Zia’s changes to the public school education curriculum, particularly in the study of Islamiat, have contributed the growth of increasingly conservative interpretations of Islam. Pakistan has serious problems with religious radicalization, as evidenced by Salmaan Taseer’s murder for simply arguing that the blasphemy laws should be amended and the subsequent lauding of his killer. I am not going to make the simplistic statement that “Islam” is the problem, but rather I will continue to make the more nuanced argument that certain conservative interpretations of Islam are the problem.

      Here is a link to a piece I wrote immediately after Governor Taseer’s murder.


    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: If you read the article again on which this commentary is taking place you will find that I have discussed the structural factors and how religion has interacted with them. I have discussed what type of religious ideas came into Pakistan, when, why, with whose funding, to which groups, what mechanisms were used to promote them, and whose interests they served. I have concluded that this interplay has resulted in very destructive outcomes for the country. From here, whatever personal views I might hold about Islam, I cannot jump to the conclusion that the problem is Islam. Perhaps it is and I can’t see it. If you can bridge that gap and convince me, I and a whole lot of others would be extremely grateful.

      Regarding the far right in Europe, you are talking about the interplay of structural factors and ideas as one should. You are not positing a View A being structural factors and a View B being structural factors + Christianity. If you pose your hypothesis so broadly you are unlikely to get very far. So by all means discuss the ideas in Islam that you see as playing the critical role. Once you frame the proposition in a manageable way, the discussion would follow. As long as you only accuse others of being defensive without elaborating anything yourself we will remain stuck in this unproductive exchange.

  65. mazHur Says:

    @ Vinod

    ”there are no “true” Muslims and there is no “true” Islam”….
    Nothing more than a mindless sweeping statement clear as mud!

    Islam is Quran and Quran is Islam. Can you cite any other Living Book like the Quran which has saved the calamities of human hands and stays as Pure it was more than 1400 years ago??? If no, there is least reason for you to make that irrational statement about it or Islam.
    However, you are partly correct in that Muslims of today are not as brilliant as the Muslims of the past. But you are terribly wrong to assert that Muslims as a whole do not exist in the real meaning of the word. Saying that would be an insult not only to Muslims but also adherent of other religions alike if finger is irrationally pointed at them too.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: Based on this claim how would you explain rival mosques and shrines being bombed? Surely some Muslims do not consider other Muslims “true” enough.

    • Vinod Says:

      Islam is Quran and Quran is Islam
      If only the Quran could speak…

  66. Arun Pillai Says:

    Anjum and Kabir,

    Neither of you seem to read my arguments carefully. Here is what I wrote near the beginning of my posts above:

    “4. “I am arguing that it is not Islam per se but the uses to which Islam is being put.” What is it that allows Islam to be used in this way? If you want to be intellectually honest, there are two possible hypotheses:

    a. Islam is a perfect religion. But politicians have distorted it for their own ends.

    b. Islam has in it tendencies that allow it to be distorted.

    A priori, both are respectable hypotheses and both should be investigated in an honest inquiry. Islamic scholars around the world are doing precisely that. You seem to be assuming somehow that only (a) can be true. Why? You keep using the word “Islamization.” That word is ambiguous. Its two meanings correspond to the two hypotheses above.”

    Later, I used simply the word “Islam” as a shorthand for “elements and tendencies in Islam.” Surely I have written enough above for what I am saying to be clear? Why accuse me of things I have never said and attribute simplistic views to me?

    The reason I have been able to mention particular things like Heidegger’s folk philosophy is that I know something about the Western tradition. I have no knowledge of Pakistan so I have been urging you and Kabir and others who know more to do the analysis. But you have consistently avoided this by asking me (and anon4cec) to do it. How absurd!

    At least Kabir has finally admitted that ideas also play a role in historical explanation. But you are both still using the word “interpretation” as if that makes it external. Yet you find my criticizing Heidegger’s writings acceptable. Indeed, much of the Western academic world has criticized Heidegger and his writings directly not just other people’s interpretations.

    By the way, I did read Kabir’s article at the link he provided and found it exemplary and courageous. Congratulations on a fine piece!

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: Keeping up with you is a tough task. The invitation remains open. If you can write what you have in mind or get someone to write it go ahead by all means. Urging someone who is not up to the task is obviously not the way forward.

    • Kabir Says:

      Arun: Thanks for the appreciation.

    • Kabir Says:


      I don’t believe that it is an author’s fault if others distort his or her message for their own ends (or simply misinterpret it). For example, Nietzsche came up with the concept of “the will to power” and “superman”. These concepts were later used by Hitler to justify genocide. Was Nietzsche responsible for Hitler’s distortion of his ideas?

      I would not argue that “Islam is a perfect religion”. Like any religion, it has aspects that can be used to justify violence, etc. But why is it that violent acts based on certain readings of the Bible are not used to indict Christianity as a whole, while violent readings of “Jihad” for example are used to indict Islam (I am not saying you have done that, but it is a frequent meme in the media).

      Anyway, discussing and explicating these tendencies within Islam is a matter for Islamic scholars, not for a layperson such as myself.

  67. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    Does it not happen that brothers fight brothers over misunderstandings or ego?? Does this fighting change their lineage??

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: First, when brothers fight they do not generally kill each other and their entire families. Second, they do not claim that the other is not the son of the same father. Third, they do not propagate vicious propaganda about the beliefs of the other. Fourth, they do use the state to cast the other out of the family. This example does not hold up.

  68. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    You are not correct. You are merely observing this relationship superficially or you do not seem to have practically met with this experience, personally or in the wider worldly circle. Brother is a blessing as long as he behaves and remains a brother; he becomes worse than a butcher or a brute when he turns into his brother’s enemy; Bhai bhai hay dushman ho toe qasai hay!! The story of Cane an Abel should primarily give you some insight into the nature of this filial relationship. If not read more about it in the newspapers and ofcourse you may further may turn to the adaptation of a Tale from Arabian Nights, The Tale of Four Brothers (Qissa Chahaar Darvesh perhaps written by Mir Amman Dehlvi). To quote another example of ‘brotherly love’ you can refer to the relationship which prevailed amongst Aurangzeb and his real brothers and which ultimately, inter alia, led to the downfall of the Moghul Empire in India.

    Let us not indulge in generalities.When in absolute wrath,hatred and fury, Muslim sects have specifically been at each other’s throats all the time. (for more read Muslim History) Brothers DO kill each other and their entire families. It is also incorrect that ”they do not claim that the other is not the son of the same father”. Greed and lust for money, power or supremacy, etc, has ever been at its back. It is also your naiveness to assert ”that they do not propagate vicious propaganda about the beliefs of the other.” Most frequently, brothers have been noted not to see each other’s face if anyone of them has changed his faith or creed….they treat him as an ”outcast” and shun his deviations from the norm. Finally, the whole village (allegorically the state) will stand up against a ‘violator’ and throw him out! (HUQQA PANI BAND!!)

    I think you need more time to add to your practical experience in life by allocating more time to socially interacting personally before attempting to ”philosophize” and make tall claims in air. In Voltaire’s words (not exact): First live then philosophize.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: And this is your model of the relationship of Muslims to each other? Claiming to be all Muslims believing in the same text is then just an academic exercise merely to increasing the number count. And in the words of Socrates “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We can always find an appropriate quote for everything.

  69. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    I have just stated the facts as they are now. Nowhere I have said it is the ‘role model’ to make anyone jump off his chair, especially a Muslim like you who thinks that way.

    Quran is not just a text. Were it so the Quran in your house would have been different than mine. But since this is factually and historically impossible it is just HOW you think about the Quranic teachings. Being a Muslim in name is not the trait of a ‘true Muslim’.
    God has given us all common sense to judge for ourselves what the Quran, the Bible or the Bhagvat Gita says. If someone deduces
    wrong or dishonest meaning out of it for its own vested interest it is not the fault of the ‘text’ but of the ‘human mind”.

    How naively you presume that the Quran or for that sake any scripture is ”an academic exercise merely to increasing the number count.” If that was so religions found before the advent of Islam would have been in vogue all over the world. But it is not so. On the contrary most of the Muslims are converts from Christianity, Zoroastrianism or Hinduism, Modern world leaves you the choice to adopt any religion of your choice but once you have done it, as in Islam, you have no right to bad-mouth it or its adherents just because you cannot bear the brunt of ”variety’ or are opposed to ideas that differ from yours, without first denouncing your accepted faith.

    Unlike science, it is not as simple to reach conclusions as most westernised minds like to do or expect. The science of mind and material is not the same. You can change you lifestyle with material facilities but religion is purely meant to strengthen the strings of soul.
    This is the reason you will find people reciting hymns and poems and slogans enriching the soul during tough times such as wars or when patriotic spirit has to be elevated against your enemies.

    What is there to examine??? Socrates is right in matters of physical sciences but his statements fails in case of spirituality or faith. Why do people weep over their dead?? Why do you love your parents, children and friends?? Why do you suffer hardships in upbringing your family?? All this and more goes to proving that religion serves as a ‘guiding premise’ for your behavorial acts. Were it for science or materialistic thinking no one would have loved anyone for any reason whatsoever…there is huge difference between the world of logic (mind) and feelings (heart). Without a heart you cannot imagine to accomplish your goal in science….Heart is the ‘engine’ that drives you through scientific pursuits and unfolding of Nature’s secrets. I bet you will stop writing if for some reason you lost heart. So, have heart and keep writing until you find a solution to the tremendous variety among things, including Islam.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: I am sorry I am not clear about some of the arguments. I am particularly confused about the following:

      1. Who decides whether someone is a Muslim or just a so-called Muslim? Who has authorized such a decision-maker? If there is more than one such decision-maker, what happens if there is a conflict of opinion?
      2. If there is a choice to adopt any religion why is that choice not extended to a Muslim?
      3. Do people who don’t believe in religion don’t weep over their dead?
      4. If I lose heart and stop writing what does that have to do with religion? Do people who don’t believe in religion not have hearts?

  70. Arun Pillai Says:

    Anjum and Kabir,

    1. The matter of interpretation is a profound one and there is no theoretical solution to it yet. So it remains a matter of judgment.

    Consider the following three hypothetical scenarios:

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me a fool?

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me a waiter?

    Wife: You are a fool.
    Husband: Why are you calling me an idiot?

    In the first the interpretation is correct, in the second it is incorrect, in the third it is in between. How do we determine if something is a misreading or a distortion or a conservative interpretation? How correct is an interpretation?

    2. Here is a business story:

    A shoe company sent two salesmen to an island to determine the prospects there.

    The first wrote back: “No prospects here. No one wears shoes.”

    The second wrote back: “Fantastic prospects here. No one wears shoes.”

    When Anjum writes that it is the structural facts that cause rage and any text would do, this is not true. The rage is also caused by our interpretation of the structural facts. And this interpretation depends on our beliefs and attitudes, as illustrated by the two salesmen.

    There are no naked events or structural facts. Everything is interpretation and this depends on our beliefs. Where do these beliefs come from?

  71. Vinod Says:


    Very well said. I think the conversation may be going in the direction of the philosophical question – what is a fact? and what is a belief? This is especially true in matters of large scale societal phenomena. If you are trying to posit that muslims first imbibe the beliefs of the Quran and then without any alteration of those beliefs as they go through life’s ups and downs keep interpreting “naked facts” of their life through the lens of those beliefs then I’m afraid that is not true at all. Many muslims lose faith in God when they go through something like divorce. Many muslims gain faith in God when they go through a divorce. Many muslims lose faith in God when they lose a dear one. All these vascillations in belief are exactly like the beliefs of non-muslims as they go through life and its agonies.

    In general I do not think man first makes a belief framework and then interprets the world. It is seldom such a conscious effort at viewing the world. Neither is it a fully outward-to-inward process. The inner world of beliefs and the outer world of naked facts are inter-penetrative realms.

  72. Arun Pillai Says:


    I have never said things are so linear and mechanical. The whole thing is sort of circular and holistic with everything interacting with everything else. That is why history is so hard and that is why I have been saying the ideas (the beliefs) form a PART of the explanation along with various structural forces.

    Anjum has been focusing exclusively on structural forces and ignoring the role of beliefs and ideas in history. It is very clear from the 1500 page manifesto Breivik left that he was strongly influenced by many ideas. But no one is saying that the process is linear.

    Life is complex and so is history. And change happens all the time. One problem for purely structural explanations is that they cannot explain why everyone does not behave the same way. Why doesn’t every Christian in Norway become a terrorist since they are all facing the same situation?

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: This is your interpretation of what I have been saying. Now that it has been established that air is important to life, we should move forward to addressing the issues that we want to address.

  73. mazHur Says:

    Pakistan’s Drift to the Right, if any, must be for some reason. Just compare the grievances of Norwegians with the Pakistanis in this eye-opener!

    Right-wingers blame multiculturalism, abortion for Norway massacre

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: To me there seems to be a difference between an entire country of 180 million million drifting to the right and the existence of fringe right-wing movements in other countries. That does not seem like a sufficient explanation. Fringe movements, both on the right and on the left, have existed almost everywhere almost across time.

  74. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf

    mazhur: I am sorry I am not clear about some of the arguments. I am particularly confused about the following:

    1. Who decides whether someone is a Muslim or just a so-called Muslim? Who has authorized such a decision-maker? If there is more than one such decision-maker, what happens if there is a conflict of opinion?
    Me:. A Muslim is judged by his word and deeds. A person who lies has his falsehood easily caught by others. Similarly if a Muslim behaves contrary to the teachings of Quran he is an apostate, a murted or a kafir. He can be judged so by any other Muslim with reference to the Quranic context. (this is an authorization as well) It is just like screening good students or teachers from the bad ones as is done in a class of students or even teachers. You need only use your common sense and attention to your Book!!

    Conflict of opinion is everywhere. Even between you and me. But if, for example, you find me eating pork, drinking wine, gambling, listening to frivolous music, or dancing obnoxiously or behaving improperly against the tenets of Islam you have the right to say: ‘Hey Mr, you are not one of us” …and if you happen to live in a Muslim country you can as well say ”Get lost from here”!! Pretty reasonable, isn’t it?? Don’t you get expelled from school or service for misconduct?? But gross misconduct of Islamic tenets is least tolerable in a Muslim society. And that’s pretty natural because the feelings of the majority Muslims are hurt, same as Hindu sentiments would be hurt if a cow is killed by another Hindu in Banaras!!

    Anyone who is not aware of the basics of the Quran or Islam as contained in the Quran (am leaving Hadiths for the time for belated compilations by men) and cannot use his horse sense has no right to condemn other Muslims.

    PS: sorry i couldn’t post the reply to your other questions here because the answers i wrote were not saved and got lost in air!
    Soon I will be reverting with those ….as it is quite late in the night now and i have to hit the sack too!

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      mazhur: I will let others comment on this but to me the analogy with a classroom is seriously flawed.

  75. Arun Pillai Says:


    Well, if you admit that “air is important to life” or that ideas play an important role in explaining Pakistan’s drift to the right, then it follows that you should be examining what these ideas are and where they come from just as you have examined other structural factors in detail. Just as Kabir identified the role of Nietzsche’s ideas in the rise of Nazism, there should be a similar examination of the source and content of ideas in Pakistan’s drift to the right.

    Would this be moving forward and addressing the issues we want to address?

    As anon4cec and I have been saying for some time, we are not knowledgeable to take this forward. Only you and possibly others can.

  76. mazHur Says:

    @ Anjum Altaf :

    ”mazhur: I will let others comment on this but to me the analogy with a classroom is seriously flawed.”

    Until someone shows up better analogy please read ‘institution’ instead.

  77. Arun Pillai Says:


    I had shared this article from the NYT Magazine with you when it appeared:


    It is by Mark Lilla of Columbia University. It is a bit long but well worth reading.

    This is is the kind of intellectual history I have been wondering about. Does it make sense to you? To others?

  78. Arun Pillai Says:


    These responses to Mark Lilla are good though they do not specifically address the problem of explaining Pakistan’s drift to the right. It would be nice if this gap were filled in the way I have been suggesting. What is required is a sketch of an intellectual history of Pakistan just as Lilla offers a sketch of an intellectual history of the West.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: I agree, that would be very nice. Can you think of someone who could do it?

      I went back to look in the Best From Elsewhere section of the blog to see what work of scholars/experts might be archived there that could be close to what you are looking for. I didn’t re-read the articles but from the descriptions it seems that Nos. 36, 44, 48, 74 and 75 might have something to offer.


  79. Anil Kala Says:

    I have been thinking over Kabir’s comment about hypocrisy of non Muslims in not associating acts of terrorism of non Muslims with their religion while a Muslim’s act of terrorism is immediately marked as Islamic terrorism. I think this response has not come about in an abrupt way but the association has built over a period of time. Initially no one called PLO’s terrorism as Islamic terrorism. There is similarity though while Muslim terrorist have victimhood syndrome and non Muslim terrorists suffer from phobia of Muslims overwhelming them. I think with repeated acts of terrorism the association with Hindu terrorism/ Christian terrorism will also come about.

    It is not correct to call this hypocrisy of non Muslims.

    • Kabir Says:


      It is interesting though that the word “terrorism” has not been used in conjunction with the Oslo bombings. The US State Department has classed the bombing as an “act of violence” rather than an “act of terrorism”. Had the perpetrator been Muslim, there is no doubt that the incident would have been called “terrorism”. To me, it does seem that there is a double standard about who is or is not a terrorist.

      • sree Says:

        The perpetrator is a racist right-wing extremist. The objective of the violence seems to be to get attention for his views. I suppose if he had attacked immigrants or other objects of his hatred with the stated intention of terrorizing the group as a whole, it would have been classified as an act of terrorism.

        Not all incidence of violence involving muslims are classified as terrorism. There are sectarian violence, ethnic violence, extremist violence etc in Pakistan and they are not called terrorist acts.

        • Kabir Says:


          I agree with you that not all violence is terrorism. However, if this exact same incident that occurred in Oslo had been committed by a Muslim, there is no doubt in my mind that the perpetrator would have been called a “terrorist” instead of an “extremist”. This begs the question of why?

  80. Arun Pillai Says:

    This article appeared in the New York Times today:


    • Kabir Says:

      The NYT has been publishing a lot of anti-Pakistan articles recently, particularly articles that are anti-ISI and Pakistan military. They are not saying anything new but rather things that have been discussed for a long time. It reminds me of the pre-Iraq war obsession with Saddam developing WMDs. There seems to be a calculated attempt to build up anti-Pakistan feeling in the US.

      I think we have discussed several times on this blog the impact of General Zia’s changes to the education system, particularly to the introduction of required subjects such as Islamiat and Pakistan Studies. The IJT (student wing of the Jamaat Islami) has a strong presence at Punjab University. It also only makes sense that with the drone attacks and the Abbottabad raid there is a lot of anti-American feeling in the country.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: It would help to add some text to the link so those who wish to respond focus on the specifics of what interested you and your interpretation of it. What is the argument the link is intended to support? That would keep the discussion from being at cross purposes.

  81. Arun Pillai Says:

    There are many things that interested me but in the context that is of relevance here I would say it was the role and influence of different sets of ideas. As I have been saying, structural explanations of the sort offered are partial and incomplete by themselves unless one adds why people choose to act the way they do.

  82. Kabir Says:


    We have discussed on this blog several times the impact of General Zia’s changes to the Pakistani education system, particularly the introduction of the new required subjects of Islamiat (Islamic Studies) and Pakistan Studies, which all students are required to take at all levels, from high school through the bachelors degree (I do believe that non-Muslim students don’t have to take Islamic Studies). If one examines what is actually being taught in these courses, one finds that it is the most conservative versions of Islam and revisionist history (the social scientist Rubina Saigol has written a piece examining Pakistan Studies textbooks called “Enemies within and enemies without: The besieged self in Pakistani textbooks”). Three generations of students have now been indoctrinated with these ideas. So that goes some way to answer your question of where these ideas are coming from. They have deliberately been inserted into the society through the education system.

    The IJT (student wing of Jamaat-Islami) has been very powerful on the campuses of public universities for a long time. Also, with the continuing drone attacks and the Abbotabad raid which many Pakistanis see as a violation of national sovereignty, there is a lot of anti-American feeling in the country. This could be where some of the glorification of OBL is coming from. It’s not so much pro-Osama as it is anti-America.

  83. Kabir Says:


    You may find this article interesting. Dr. Rubina Saigol discusses the state of social science in Pakistan. One relevant excerpt is:

    “Third, there was very little focus on the collusion of social scientists with state power in the pursuit of aims that are less than ethical. There were a couple of good papers highlighting the collaboration of social scientists with the military and secret agencies; this aspect was not highlighted in the context of Pakistan. Increasingly, social scientists are selling their services to the state and some of this can be used to enhance the power of the rulers rather than serve the ends of a more equal society.”

    The whole article can be viewed here:


  84. Arun Pillai Says:


    I appreciate what you are saying but that is a point you have already made several times. My point is a little different and would be clear if you reflected on how Mark Lilla approaches his task. He does not simply talk about how feudal society or the Church or Rousseau encouraged this or that “version” of Christianity as if the version did not reflect “true” Christianity. Those factors are external to the system of ideas represented by Christianity. They are of course part of the explanation of what happened but only a part. He also looks at the factors internal to Christianity itself. Here is one passage from his article:

    “The history of political theology in the West is an instructive story, and it did not end with the birth of modern science, or the Enlightenment, or the American and French Revolutions, or any other definitive historical moment. Political theology was a presence in Western intellectual life well into the 20th century, by which time it had shed the mind-set of the Middle Ages and found modern reasons for seeking political inspiration in the Bible.”

    Here is another:

    “One powerful attraction of political theology, in any form, is its comprehensiveness. It offers a way of thinking about the conduct of human affairs and connects those thoughts to loftier ones about the existence of God, the structure of the cosmos, the nature of the soul, the origin of all things and the end of time. For more than a millennium, the West took inspiration from the Christian image of a triune God ruling over a created cosmos and guiding men by means of revelation, inner conviction and the natural order. It was a magnificent picture that allowed a magnificent and powerful civilization to flower. But the picture was always difficult to translate theologically into political form: God the Father had given commandments; a Redeemer arrived, reinterpreting them, then departed; and now the Holy Spirit remained as a ghostly divine presence. It was not at all clear what political lessons were to be drawn from all this. Were Christians supposed to withdraw from a corrupted world that was abandoned by the Redeemer? Were they called upon to rule the earthly city with both church and state, inspired by the Holy Spirit? Or were they expected to build a New Jerusalem that would hasten the Messiah’s return?

    Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians argued over these questions. The City of Man was set against the City of God, public citizenship against private piety, the divine right of kings against the right of resistance, church authority against radical antinomianism, canon law against mystical insight, inquisitor against martyr, secular sword against ecclesiastical miter, prince against emperor, emperor against pope, pope against church councils. In the late Middle Ages, the sense of crisis was palpable, and even the Roman Church recognized that reforms were in order. But by the 16th century, thanks to Martin Luther and John Calvin, there was no unified Christendom to reform, just a variety of churches and sects, most allied with absolute secular rulers eager to assert their independence. In the Wars of Religion that followed, doctrinal differences fueled political ambitions and vice versa, in a deadly, vicious cycle that lasted a century and a half. Christians addled by apocalyptic dreams hunted and killed Christians with a maniacal fury they had once reserved for Muslims, Jews and heretics. It was madness.”

    And another:

    “And the debilitating dynamics of belief don’t end there. For once we imagine an all-powerful God to protect us, chances are we’ll begin to fear him too. What if he gets angry? How can we appease him? Hobbes reasoned that these new religious fears were what created a market for priests and prophets claiming to understand God’s obscure demands. It was a raucous market in Hobbes’s time, with stalls for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchy Men and countless others, each with his own path to salvation and blueprint for Christian society. They disagreed with one another, and because their very souls were at stake, they fought. Which led to wars; which led to more fear; which made people more religious; which. . . .”

    And so on. This is intellectual history as opposed to political history. Both are important but only the latter has been attempted on the blog. The difference is that in the former one examines the logic of beliefs and ideas and sees where it leads. The question you need to think about is why Zia’s attempts succeeded to the extent they did and also what it was that succeeded.

  85. Arun Pillai Says:


    Dr. Saigol’s article is interesting and clear but also a very conventional way of looking at social science from a critical standpoint. This criticism is important of course but it also looks at logical positivism somewhat narrowly and reductively.

    Logical positivism can be separated into two strands: an emphasis on scientific method and an emphasis on a narrow interpretation of that method that was prevalent at the time. Even Einstein was a positivist in both senses. In my view, many strands of social science throw the baby out with the bathwater: they throw out science itself along with its narrow interpretation (on quantitative methods). The Frankfurt School, for example, as an instance of critical sociology offered many wonderful insights but also remained hampered by its reliance on Hegel and dialectics that tended towards obscurantism. (Incidentally, the Frankfurt’s School’s writings might be of interest to you because they, too, offer critiques of cultural factors relating to beliefs and ideologies. So does Gramsci.)

    Maybe the conference she was critiquing represented the narrower logical positivism. But a separation of its two strands would have been useful.

  86. Arun Pillai Says:

    I think Anil Kala made an important point about the (non)-hypocrisy of non-Muslims that deserves discussion. Only the most conservative Christians have tried to deny that Breivik had something to do with Christianity. Most liberals have accepted the connection without trying to say that he was responding to a conservative version of Christianity.

  87. Vinod Says:

    Anil, I’ll make a statement which is at best speculation on my part that comes close to the kind of statement you want made. The reason that Zia’s ideas worked in Pakistan was because orthodoxy were seen as the the final arbiters of Islam by South Asian muslims. The Bulleh Shah kind of muslims had to couch their words in vagueness lest they were declared to be outside the fold of Islam. Actually I wonder whether he was declared outside the fold of Islam. Many tolerant sufishad to submit to the authority of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy itself had crystallized after centuries of in-fighting. That story is quite interesting and unfortunately I don’t have a hold on that. So orthodoxy had already formed a narrow interpretive framework with strange and elaborate ideas on who a ‘kafir’ was and what an ‘intention’ was. It obsessed itself on matters like the length of the beard and where the hands had to be placed during prayers. It was no wonder that muslims drifted towards Sufism. But sufis seldom dared to usurp the authority of orthodoxy. And so were the classical musicians like Jhandey Shah. They did not know how music could be ‘haram’ as taught by orthodoxy. It was probably because orthodoxy knew how to weild power by curry favouring with the power holders. Furthermore, orthodoxy, unfortunately could never come out of the kafir-muslim worldview.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vinod: This is a complex argument. A number of thoughts come to mind. First, the mutual support of religious and secular elites has been the norm in history at least till the beginning of the democratic era. This was because secular legitimacy rested on a presumed divine right and this could only be validated by a religious authority. Even after, it continues in some places. Earlier, I had provided a link to developments in Russia where the process can be seen in a very explicit form. In pre-democratic India, one might also find the interaction in which the two worked with each other to maintain a social order that was contrary to the interests of the majority but was accepted because of the peoples relationship to orthodoxy. Replace kafir-Muslim worldview with the caste worldview and the parallel might become clearer. During the democratic period, this relationship is no longer of the same nature as secular government has an independent source of legitimacy. Here, one can point to the difference between India and Pakistan where undemocratic rulers like Zia and Musharraf still needed the clergy to lend legitimacy to their rule and hence the old relationship was revived. If the demands of the people had genuinely been represented by the orthodoxy, there would have been little need to impose them from the top as Zia did. Note by contrast, that the Pakistan movement itself was conducted against the wishes of the orthodoxy and the population did not side with the orthodoxy.

  88. Arun Pillai Says:


    Sree is pointing out that the goals and intentions of the perpetrator are relevant to whether some act is classified as terrorism or not. When you say “this exact same incident” you are referring to the overt act but leaving out the intentions. Sree is saying the motives make all the difference.

    • Kabir Says:


      I don’t believe that the motives make any difference. Murder is murder no matter what justifications are offered for it.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: That’s a fair point but aren’t motivations almost always imputed, interpreted or attributed which is where the stereotyping begins. The first classification of a person is as a loner or madman or terrorist depending on what one expects the intentions to be quite independent of what they might be given that they are intangible.

  89. Kabir Says:


    Here is an article in the Huffington Post which discusses Muslim “terrorism” versus White “lone wolves” in the context of the Oslo attack.

    A relevant excerpt is:
    “Salon’s Glenn Greenwald dissected the media’s conflation of religion, politics and terror in the coverage of Norway on corporate outlets:
    [This] is what we’ve seen repeatedly: that Terrorism has no objective meaning and, at least in American political discourse, has come functionally to mean: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes, no matter the cause or the target. Indeed, in many (though not all) media circles, discussion of the Oslo attack quickly morphed from this is Terrorism (when it was believed Muslims did it) to no, this isn’t Terrorism, just extremism (once it became likely that Muslims didn’t).”


    • Anil Kala Says:

      Kabir: I don’t understand this. If you want to post a link to some article that reflects your point of view then you can find scores of them. This guy is talking non sense. If a Muslim had carried out Oslo killings then he would be killing non Muslims and people will jump to conclusion that it was Islamic Terrorism. If eventually it was found out that this Muslim fellow was a mad man coming straight out of an asylum then they will modify there stance accordingly.So what is strange in this?

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Anil: I haven’t read the article and can’t comment on it but some general observations can advance the discussion. In the end everything turns on the definition of terrorism and terrorist. One can plausibly define a terrorist to be one who employs terror to advocate a specific policy or course of action. According to this definition, terrorism would not require the victims to have an identity different from that of the perpetrator. There would also be no such thing as Islamic terrorism. Rather, there would be a terrorist who belonged to a specific religion acting alone or as part of a group. This group would not extend beyond itself to covering an entire nation, ethnicity or religion. The latter is not an impossibility but at this time not many would make the claim. Similarly there would be no distinction between a terrorist and a madman. Rather, there would be terrorist who was sane or insane which would have a bearing on the sentencing under the law.

        Employment of the means of terror is usually considered sufficient under the law to define a terrorist. In the case of Breivik, he used means of terror to protest against the immigration policy of the Labor Party. For this reason, he has been charged under the criminal law for acts of terrorism. The charges include the destabilisation of vital functions of society, including government, and causing serious fear in the population.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Anjum: I haven’t read the article either. The point is not about defining terrorist but about Kabir’s grouse that a terror act committed by a Muslim is immediately associated with his religion but not in of the case of a non Muslim. This he assumed to be monumental hypocrisy non Muslims.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Anil: Hypocrisy is not the right word here because it refers to the gap between what is said and what is done. For example, many people use the term to describe American foreign policy which proclaims support for democracy but supports dictators. Stereotyping is also not really the issue because few would assert that all Muslims are terrorists. I suppose the question is whether the term ‘Islamic Terrorism’ is a useful one or not. It was coined at some point and has found wide acceptance but what exactly does it signify? In some cases the qualifier ‘Islamic’ is indeed useful as in ‘Islamic Finance’ because it accurately describes a mode of financing that uses principles particular to Islam. In this sense, there is nothing about terrorism that is particular to Islam. All terrorisms use the same means.

          I suppose it can refer to terrorism that is justified in the name of Islam. If that is the case then should terrorism that justifies itself in the name of Christianity be called Christian Terrorism? An example would be the bombings of birth control clinics and the attacks on abortionists in the US which are justified explicitly with reference to Biblical injunctions. However, this is not labeled Christian Terrorism (rightly in my opinion). So, the question to be asked is whether a double standard exists in labeling terrorism that is justified in the name of Islam as Islamic Terrorism while not labeling terrorism that is justified in the name of Christianity as Christian Terrorism?

          In my view, the label Christian Terrorism would be unhelpful because abortion is legal in many countries in Christian Europe without there being any terrorism unleashed against it. So, the roots of the terrorism are not intrinsic to the religion; there is something specific to the US that is needed to explain its existence there. A similar argument can be made for the term Islamic Terrorism. To take an extreme example: If terrorism were intrinsic to Islam should one not expect to find it in the Maldives, say, in attacks on non-Muslim tourists?

          Do you find the term Islamic Terrorism to be a useful one? If so, why?

        • Anil Kala Says:

          Anjum: While I agree with you generally but we are talking two different things. People don’t check the rule books to see if their labeling of an act of terrorism is right or wrong. If some one makes a suggestion in media which comes close to their vague perception they would lap it up. Islamic Terrorism is this perception of people due to strong association of religion and the act of terror. The closest we come to is Sikh terrorism of Eighties when they would selectively kill non Sikhs and whether it was articulated or not it was perceived by the people as Sikh Terrorism. Then there is the case of IRA and LTTE which no one thought was related to religion but was political terrorism.

          The point is, nobody is doing it intentionally.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I agree that no one is making the association intentionally. The real question for us is whether the association is helpful or unhelpful, right or wrong. The objective of a blog like this is to examine the premises of our beliefs. Sikh Terrorism provides a good case in point. It has disappeared which should suggest that there was nothing intrinsic in Sikhism that led to terrorism. Rather, that terrorism was the outcome of the confluence of specific factors at a specific time and place which caused certain ideas in the religious texts to be given primacy over others. Those who unintentionally made the simple association of terrorism with the Sikh religion were wrong. Fifty years later, might not that be the verdict for those who associate terrorism with Islam now? Simple answers almost always turn out to be deceptive.

            There is a very relevant quote from Locke that was included in a post on this blog over two years ago:

            Most men are simply too lazy or ill trained to apply themselves to the dull work of sifting through evidence and reasoning properly. They prefer pseudo-certainties, even if those are inherited from tradition and untested by experience; and once they are committed to dogmas, they enjoy imposing them on others. This is how religious superstitions are born and perpetuated. But that also means that they can be combated if human beings are given enough leisure and training to let their natural faculties develop.


          • Anil Kala Says:

            Anjum: I don’t think Sikh terrorism has disappeared. It is just lying dormant. Sikhism is a martial religion, it will find reason for violence now and then.

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: Let us accept the characterization of the Sikh religion for the sake of argument. What then has to be explained is why it finds reason for violence now and then. The ideas contained in the religion have been the same since its birth to this day. Why do they lie dormant at times and come alive at others? But one can go beyond this. Is there any religion, martial or non-martial, that has not found reason for violence now and then? What should one conclude from that?

  90. Arun Pillai Says:

    Kabir and Anjum,

    In much of law, the intention of a perpetrator is key to determining what kind of act it is. For example, if A kills B in self-defense, that is not called a murder. And if a murder is committed in a certain way, it may not be an act of terrorism.

    In any case, these descriptions are not black and white. There is no hard and fast rule that tells a writer when to call something terrorism. In the latest issue of the Economist, the act is called a terrorist act:


    So, it is quite possible that different people call it different things. Are they being prejudiced in some way? Maybe some are and some aren’t. The New York Times identified Breivik as a Christian in the top front page headline without mincing words, as in fact Kabir has been doing all along in resorting to what one might call “explanation by Zia.”

    I personally think both Anil Kala and Sree made valid observations. Could it be an understandable sense of victimhood – as even Hitchens mentioned – as a result of the sheer number of such acts perpetrated by certain extremist groups that have led to their being labeled as terrorist? I think the Western media are far less biased on the whole than the media anywhere in the world.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: The point is fair but the intention has to be established not assumed. Often widely-held assumptions can generate an atmosphere that can prejudice a fair trial. Many innocent people of color suffered in the US because of such prejudice.

  91. Arun Pillai Says:

    While it is true that in a legal trial each person is innocent until proven guilty, this is not the case in ordinary life. This is because in many cases, one cannot assume that the relevant events are independent – in the sense dictated by probability theory. If you have seen hundreds of bombings by one group of perpetrators, it is completely rational to infer that the conditional probability of a new bombing by the same group is quite high. This is exactly what happened in Norway: when the bombings first occurred, it was quite rational to jump to the conclusion that the bombing was by the same group rather than by a Christian until further evidence was available.

    I think you are holding people – that is, the West – to unreasonably high standards without abiding by those same standards yourselves. Could there be double standards in how you have approached Pakistan’s problems, attributing them entirely to impersonal and “intentionless” structural forces, and yet attributing motives and prejudices to the actions of Western journalists?

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: Could there be prejudice in how you continuously misread the intentions of others while having no doubts as to your own?

  92. mazHur Says:

    ”. As a general rule, criminal liability does not attach to a person who acted with the absence of mental fault”
    ”In the traditional common law approach, the definition includes:

    actus reus: unlawful killing of a human being;
    mens rea: malice aforethought.”


    ”Occasionally mens rea is used synonymously with the words general intent, although general intent is more commonly used to describe criminal liability when a defendant does not intend to bring about a particular result. Specific Intent, another term related to mens rea, describes a particular state of mind above and beyond what is generally required.”

  93. Arun Pillai Says:


    Sorry, my apologies for my expressing my frustration with the way this discussion has gone. I had earlier opted out of it because I felt all the issues were not being addressed in a fully scientific manner. Then, Kabir wrote something, and I tried to explain my viewpoint in more detail. Since then, you and he seem to have agreed with the abstract point I have been making about the incompleteness of structural explanations but there is no movement to actually implement it. As anon4cec and I have said – he has wisely opted out of the discussion – we lack the knowledge to do it. Presumably some of the readers or you have the knowledge though no one is forthcoming. When one tries to speculate about the possible reasons for such inaction, one is told one should not impute motives. When I write that an intellectual history of Pakistan would be nice, you echo the sentiment without doing anything about it. So what is one to think? Am I jumping to conclusions? Possibly.

    My intentions can be made very open: they are to pursue the truth in a scientific manner unless there is a risk involved. That is why I have throughout criticized a number of intellectual traditions where criticism was due. I expect the same of everyone else.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Arun: Let us set this disagreement aside for a while. That would allow others to suggest alternative directions to move the discussion forward.

  94. Arun Pillai Says:

    A propos the discussion between Anjum and Anil, I would like to make the following abstract point.

    In explaining social phenomena, a multitude of factors is usually relevant rather than a single factor. These factors operate *jointly*. To explain event E, we may have factors F1 + F2 + F3 + … + Fn. What typically happens is that the majority of these factors are combined to form what may be called the Background. So, the factors F2 + F3 + … + Fn = B where B is the Background. This factor B is usually some combination of economic factors and social factors. So the full explanation of event E is given by F1 + B.

    Suppose we are trying to explain the success of Bill Gates. Then what happens is that this event is explained by F1 = his personal attributes and B = the background factors of the economy, his social situation, and even pure chance. In the overt explanation, what gets suppressed is B because it is partly common to many people and so only the individual factors get emphasized. And so what we see emphasized in the media is factor F1, his personal attributes. If someone wanted to do a full study of Bill Gates, they would have to look at both B and F1, but ordinarily we just say Bill Gates was a brilliant businessman.

    This happens with many social phenomena: the Background B gets suppressed because it is common to many such phenomena and the particular factors get highlighted. So the event gets known by factor F1 rather than by B. That is how events gets named as this or that, by focusing on F1 rather than on B.

    Why did Sikh terrorism get named as such? Because Sikhism was the factor F1 and the rest was the Background B, which is common to many terrorist situations, not in detail but in broad outline. We cannot say simply as Anjum does that Sikh terrorism has ended but Sikhism continues so Sikhism is not a factor in the explanation. That is a logical fallacy because everyone – even the journalists – understand that the full explanation is F1 + B. If something changes in B, then the event could stop even if F1 continues to exist. And yet the event is known by F1 and named after F1.

    This is a little abstract but I hope the logic is clear.

  95. Vikram Says:

    Anil Kala said “I don’t think Sikh terrorism has disappeared. It is just lying dormant. Sikhism is a martial religion, it will find reason for violence now and then.”

    I can think of a few reasons why this wont happen.

    1) There are other outlets for the martial spirit, that have the sanction of both state and society. The army, police and sports for example.

    2) The martial spirit of the Sikhs was celebrated in a certain context, specifically their conflict with the Muslims and then Hindus. Something similar holds true for the warrior castes of Hindus. But the modern Indian society celebrates wealth and intellect a lot more. This article provides some evidence for this regarding Jats (a similar martial people), http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=hub160411MUTATION.asp

    3) State pressure on Indian society to reform, although less than perhaps it should be is real and is resulting in change. For example, caste hierarchy *is* built into Hinduism, but has eroded significantly in the last 60 years.

    In the specific case of Sikhism, I dont see how it can resist the pressures on its martial aspect from the state and the modern economy.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Vikram: I agree with the spirit of what you are saying but the premise that Sikhism is a martial religion is still being maintained and I want to probe that further. There was a period in history, especially in Europe, where there were many conflicts of religion. In our times most conflicts have been of nationalisms. In the Indian northeast there are a number of such conflicts but no one associates them with religion. This is presumably because both sides profess the same faith. The last conflict involving the Sikhs that Anil alluded to was also a conflict of nationalism. Why, in this case, should we find the roots of the conflict in the Sikh religion and think that if it had been less martial the conflict might not have happened?

      Conflicts of nationalism still exist despite the evolution of the state and the economy – take the case of the Basque in Spain. So, it is possible that under some circumstances a Sikh nationalism might arise again. Would we automatically ascribe it to some aspect of the Sikh religion?

  96. Anil Kala Says:

    Vikram, Anjum: I must confess that statement happened out of blue but for a while I will go with it……….

    I have a theory why Gulf War 1 happened. Losing face is a powerful driver to do extreme things one would not even think of. In Gulf War 1 Saddam was not given slightest bit of face saving option, always the strict deadline pull out of Kuwait, no talk not the least leeway. Clear intention was to humiliate the guy; war was inevitable. Quite obviously Rambo was itching for a show down. If there was a least bit of desire to avoid mega- bloodshed, some semblance of a face saving option would have been offered. The world was informed repeatedly, how norms of civilized behavior were trampled by Saddam blah blah ….. Why was US itching to go to war?

    If you build a whole lot of smart weapons, the temptation to use them is irresistible. The Sikhs grow up having a real or imagined sword dangling by their waist. There will always be the temptation to use them. It is true that every religion has found reason for violence now and then but some will find it more often.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Anil: We are now at a point where we can put this claim to an empirical test. If every religion has found reason for violence but some have found it more often, would it be possible to look at the historical record and determine which religion has found more reason for violence over time. What might be a valid indicator of this record?

      I also have a thought about the Gulf War. In the second Iraq war (which was justified entirely on lies) Bush II explicitly referred to his Christian faith and religious injunctions using terms like ‘moral’ war and ‘crusade’. This was preceded by intellectual discourses on the ‘Clash of Civilizations’. Yet, no one considers associating that war with Christianity. Why should that be the case? You attribute these wars to the availability of weapons. Why can’t similar secular reasons suffice for other wars?

    • Anil Kala Says:

      I have no problem with the empirical test.

      About the Gulf War II people did not associate it to a faith simply because Bush’s lies were so naked that everyone thought Christianity was red herring employed by Bush, so no one paid any attention to its reference. I did not attribute the first gulf war to availability of weapons but development of newer weapons and the temptation to use them but availability is no less temptation to teach some fellow a lesson which in a different circumstance would probably be talked over.

      • Anjum Altaf Says:

        Anil: Some comments about Gulf War II. First, Bush’s lies were very naked but not to the majority of Americans who gave him their support. Second, if we can consider Bush’s lies to be naked, why can’t we consider OBLs lies to be just as naked?

        But let’s leave these aspects aside as they will be covered in the broader discussion. I started to think of the empirical test and the first question that arises is what to include and what to exclude from consideration. Most of the literature leans towards the position that religions cause violence, some more and some less, (see this Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence) but ignores this aspect of what kinds of violence should be attributed to religion. The most interesting analysis I found was an essay that explores this premise in more detail. I think it provides a good point of departure for our exploration. Let me know what you think:

        Click to access Cavanaugh%20-%20Does%20Religion%20Cause%20Violence.pdf

      • Anil Kala Says:

        I don’t understand where is the problem? OBL’s lies are as naked as Bush Junior’s. If Americans were in denial about Bush then a lot of Muslims were/are in denial about OBL.

        The first chapter is about fuzzy boundary between religions and secular systems. I have no problem identifying religion and I see it completely irrelevant if one can precisely define religion. For me religion is what is practiced by its followers because what affects me is practiced religion. I don’t go by Kabir’s definition of Jehad or what the scriptures say but by the definition of guys who call the shots. Kabir is not going to trouble me but some fanatic may plant a bomb in my car in the name of Jehad. If a miniscule minority has the ability to make noise, put large multitude comatose then they define religion. It is true that nature of practiced religion keeps changing from time to time, place to place. An individual’s focus is his time and his place.

        I find a similarity in the way Hitler hypnotized the German people and some hardcore Mullahs manipulating the Muslims. Suppose a Hitler rises again, how do you think world is going to deal with him? Are we going to argue how innocent people are and avoid a confrontation?

        The second chapter is completely pointless. I don’t think views of Intellectuals who constitute the so called think tank of state, shape policies. These fellows rationalize policies post implementation; politics is the art of expediency, mostly short term. Entire chapter tells how wrong the readings of different fellows are about the clash of civilization. It is really laughable to believe that the West is trying to impose their brand of governing system in some countries. The argument is complete eye wash.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:

          Anil: Could the problem be in the equivalence or lack of it? If Bush and OBL were both lying and Americans and Muslims were/are both in denial there is an equivalence. In that case why would it be valid to not tag the former as Christian just as the latter is tagged as Islamic? On the other hand, if the former is to be properly tagged as American why shouldn’t the latter be tagged as Arab?

          I have a problem with your next argument. On the one hand you are defining religion by the practice of its followers. On the other hand you are defining it by the actions of its minuscule minority (‘guys who call the shots’). Which one is it? The majority of followers are not extremists in any religion and there are extremists in every religion. Even a non-religious person may plant a bomb in a car. So what is the take-away implication?

          Re Hitler: A war was declared against Hitler not against Christianity. That seems a reasonable precedent.

          Re intellectuals: Could you be under-estimating their influence? I think Keynes was on to something when he said “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” There is a difference between shaping short-term policies and short-term policies taking shape – nothing occurs in an intellectual vacuum. Wasn’t there an overhang of Fabian Socialism on India’s first quarter century?

        • Anil Kala Says:

          You tell me. OBL’s entire visible life takes inspiration from faith, is it the same with Bush?

          I don’t see any contradiction. What is practiced is a matter of perception. To an outsider the minuscule vocal minority projects the picture, if the majority is silent then we do not know if they endorse the view of vocal lot. Sometimes, like in the case of slaying of Salman Taseer, it seemed like they do. The problem is the majority is too terrified or indifferent or uninterested in rectifying to projected picture. Outsiders cannot be blamed for this.

          Yes anybody can plant a bomb, so can accident happen but there will be no pattern in it to draw a picture.

          About Hitler: How can Christians wage war against Christianity? The war was not declared against Hitler but Germany and Fascism.

          I do not agree with Keynes. Political adventures are nearly always for short term interests. Despite a lot of intellectual heat generated, there are scores of countries crying out for intervention, no one bothers. Some token aid programs may be influenced by intellectual discourse. India’s case cannot be sited as an example of Intellectual influence, there weren’t too many options. What do you mean by ‘nothing occurs in intellectual vacuum’. What was intellectual about invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan?

          • Anjum Altaf Says:

            Anil: I am proceeding on the presumption that OBL was lying just as Bush was lying. If that is true, then to what should we accord greater credence? To the fact that he was lying or to the fact that the lies were cloaked in faith? What determines our choice?

            It is not clear to me why the minuscule vocal minority projects the picture to the outsider. Surely, the outsider knows that there is a very large majority simply by the fact that he/she is using the term ‘minuscule minority’. Should I form my opinion of a group based on the actions of a minuscule minority? If so, would I have an objective opinion of any group?

            Why can’t Christians wage war against Christianity? How would one classify the conflict in Ireland? And the Iran-Iraq war?

            What I mean by ‘nothing happens in an intellectual vacuum’ is that all actions, even when they are short-term are justified by reference to some set of ideas. The invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan had an entire neo-conservative philosophy to support it. This included concepts like just and pre-emptive wars and the justification of deception in the service of national interest. The neo-cons derived their inspiration, rightly or wrongly, from Leo Strauss who died as long ago as the 1970s. You are grounding OBLs actions in a set of ideas. Similarly all such actions are grounded in some set of ideas. The mind is never empty when people think of what they ought or ought not to do.

      • Anil Kala Says:

        Anjum: This is how I understood your question. Bush is kind of camouflaging his action by invoking tenets of Christianity and his lies are naked so no one blames Christianity for his action but OBL also makes reference to his faith for his actions and his lies too are naked yet Islam is blamed. I guess people see pattern in OBL’s act, they see him as a person deeply influenced by religion and his lies too are a consequence of his faith, Bush is not considered as a deeply religious person but a person using religion to promote his action.

        If the majority is silent then there is no reason to believe that it has a counter view to the one projected by the vocal group. An outsider will draw picture from whatever signals he receives. What else can he do?

        Yes, I suppose one sect of Christians can wage war against another sect but it wasn’t the main point. War was against Germany and Fascism for the act of one individual and his ideology.

        My point was entire different. I said Intellectual discourse is to rationalize action already taken for some immediate objectives. If these intellectual debates had any influence on state policies then some concrete action, in the same way as in Iraq, would have been taken on issues of Sudan/Congo/North Korea etc.

        • Anjum Altaf Says:


          How can lies be a consequence of faith?

          You make the outsider seem so helpless. Surely he/she can can probe further.

          The Hitler analogy holds. By that argument the ‘war’ should be against OBL and Al-Qaeda. Whether it should be a ‘war’ is an important second-order question.

          Yes, I agree, we were talking of different things. Actions are influenced and justified with reference to ideas. But there is no necessity for these ideas to be reasonable or objective or consistent. What drives actions is self-interest. This self-interest is dressed up in self-serving ideas.

  97. Anjum Altaf Says:

    This post has generated a lot of commentary on Islam. I am linking two articles that can provide material for further discussion:

    1. A review of a new book on Islam by Amitabh Pal. It makes the point that the same religious texts can produce soft and hard interpretations. Thus, in the case of Hinduism one can cite the interpretations of Gandhi and Savarkar, respectively. In the case of Islam, the equivalents would be Ghaffar Khan and Maudoodi, respectively.


    2. A long essay by MN Roy that attempts a structural explanation of Islam itself: why it arose, its progressive functions, when it entered a regressive phase, its state when it arrived in India, its impact in India, etc.


    Both hold much of value for the reader interested in pursuing the discussions further.

  98. Arun Pillai Says:

    Here is an article from the current Economist that appears quite nuanced:


  99. Vinod Says:

    MN Roy’s essay may be something that Arun has been seeking in this discussion.

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