Posts Tagged ‘State’

Pakistan’s Problems: Letter from Berlin

July 3, 2011

By Bettina Robotka

Dear Anjum,

First, a word about that unspeakable article of Hitchens. He obviously has never lived in Pakistan and doesn’t know anything about its people in reality. Part of his argument is emotional – an emotion that is negative, an emotion of ridiculing and contempt. Whosoever has lived in Pakistan knows that the people on the ground in their majority are neither humorless nor eager to take offense, but warm, hardworking, hospitable and very much tolerant. Actually I always thought that they are too tolerant, they should take offense much earlier. I think they are not very brave in the sense that they go and risk in order to fight injustice, but that is also related to the fact that they are not individuals who think and care only about themselves and that their right and welfare was most important but they are family people who feel responsible for those depending on them and would not want to endanger the welfare of the family for some abstract or concrete injustice. They have accepted me without much asking; have taken me into their custody though I was nobody to them. One should never analyze a society without knowing the sounds and smells of it. (more…)

On Secularism in South Asia

January 17, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

I made the argument in an earlier post (The Peculiar Nature of the Pakistani Liberal) that the political debate in South Asia is confused because we have borrowed labels – “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “reactionary” – from the discourse of the European Enlightenment without adapting them to the local context. My intent was to follow up and attempt a more nuanced portrait of an individual who would be loosely identified as a liberal in Pakistan today.

I realize now that in doing so I would have to negotiate through the tricky terrain of secularism, which, like the others, is a concept that has suffered much distortion in South Asia. Therefore, I need first to state clearly how I understand secularism before I move ahead to discuss how South Asian ‘liberals’ or ‘conservatives’ relate to it. (more…)

What’s Happening in Karachi?

November 16, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

What’s happening in Karachi is obvious for all to see. Why it’s happening is less obvious and, for that reason, the cause of much speculation.

Karachi’s ills are complex in nature and beyond the stage of simple prescriptions. This article looks at only one dimension of the problem: Why and how have conflicts in the city taken an increasingly religious form? For that, it is necessary to look at events that took place many years ago outside the city itself. It is often the case that the present cannot be explained fully without recourse to seemingly unrelated events that occurred in other places in the past. (more…)

An Exercise in Analysis

September 17, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I received the following announcement from the Pakistan Solidarity Network in connection with a teach-in planned in New York on Friday, September 17, 2010.

The Urgent Need for Solidarity With Pakistan’s Flood Victims


Even as Americans revisit the lingering destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, half a world away Pakistan is experiencing one of the most calamitous disasters in recent memory.


Are Some State and Non-State Actions Evil?

June 5, 2010

In a number of preceding posts we have discussed how best to characterize the repressive actions of the Indian state in its dealings with the tribal population. The ensuing discussion has fanned out to include the violent actions of Naxalites and Islamic groups. What motivates these state and non-state actors and how do they themselves understand and rationalize their actions?

In one of the posts we had presented a hypothesis about the Indian state: that it saw itself as a ‘modernizing’ state that felt it necessary to propel the ‘backward’ elements of society into the ‘modern’ age, against their will if necessary, if such action would advance ‘national’ progress. It was a ‘utilitarian’ state that viewed human lives in the calculus of gains and losses and was not averse to imposing costs if, in its view, the net benefits would be positive. (more…)

Tony Judt on the State, Democracy and Religion

May 1, 2010

A recent interview with Tony Judt is of great relevance to the extended debate triggered by Vijay Vikram’s post on Arundhati Roy. It touches on our conceptions of the state, democracy, religion and politics. It also reiterates the importance of conversations across ideological divides as a means to improving our understanding of the issues that are critical in our times. In this post we reproduce key excerpts and provide a link to the complete interview at the end.

You still have faith that the liberal state can be restored to health. But is there a reason that there has to be a liberal state? The “liberal state” itself is a historically specific creation, isn’t it? (more…)

Ghalib Says – 11

October 3, 2008

Justice delayed is justice denied:

ham ne maanaa kih taghaaful nah karoge lekin
khaak ho jaaeNge ham tum ko khabar hote tak

we accept that you will not show negligence, but
we will become dust by the time of the news reaching you

In the conventional reading, the lover (ham) is addressing the beloved (tum) and a number of ways of interpreting the text are possible as described by Frances Pritchett in A Desertful of Roses.

We will transpose the domain of the verse and let ham represent the citizen and tum the state. What does that yield us?

Well, for one, we can explore the entire gamut of the relationship between the citizen and the state in South Asia in modern times.

Does the citizen (really) believe that the state acts in his or her interest?

Does the citizen believe that the state knows what his or her interests really are?

Does the citizen believe that if the state knew what his or her interests were, it would not neglect them?

If the citizen believes that the state is negligent of his or her interests, what are his or her options?

How long ought the citizen to wait for the state to respond to his or her needs?

Is it the fate of the citizen to turn to dust unrequited?

At what point does enough become enough?

Now replace the citizen with the minority citizen and the entire picture of South Asian governance would be crystal clear before your eyes.

Call it the magic of Ghalib.

The question is: How do you look upon the state now and what can you do about it? Remember that, unlike the lover, the citizen does not need to suffer alone and in silence.

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As always, there is another take on this verse at Mehr-e-Niimroz, our partner in the Ghalib Project.

Individual or State: Who is Behind Violence?

September 21, 2008

In an earlier post (Do Devotion and Brutality Go Together?) we wondered how some people could be convinced that it was acceptable to commit acts of appalling brutality in the name of religious devotion. We will pursue this thought further in this post.

The example we had used to motivate the argument was the launching of the First Crusade in 1095 by Pope Urban II rousing Christians to avenge oppression by Muslims in far away Jerusalem. Pope Urban’s exhortation was based on false propaganda but it succeeded in its objective.

A reader commented that the First Crusade was about grabbing land and wealth and the Crusaders were misled because they were illiterate and had no way to verify the truth. It must have been natural to take the word of the Pope for truth.

This is a valid observation. The author of the book we used as a reference himself remarked that the “fevered spontaneity” of Bohemond (one of the leaders of the First Crusade) “was almost certainly a façade masking calculated ambition.”

Nevertheless, the fact that Pope Urban II exploited religious sentiment to achieve his objectives suggests he must have felt it the most potent feeling to exploit in the situation.

The reader also correctly pointed out that the motivations behind the First Crusade were different from those that drive today’s Islamic jihad. What is in common is the appeal to religious sentiment that has the power to convince a sizable number of people to commit acts of immense violence and also to sacrifice their own lives in the process.

We still don’t understand why religion has this power. One of our readers has suggested that amongst our many beliefs and opinions, religion is the one we are most sensitive about and when it is questioned we tend to react violently.

This seems correct as an observation but in the case of the Crusades and jihad we are not talking about situations where individuals were or are questioning each other’s faith. Rather we are dealing with situations where groups are incited to violence against others. These groups could well have been co-existing peacefully for years participating in each other’s religious festivals and rituals (see the earlier post Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu?). However, when incited, the groups end up massacring each other in defense of their respective religions.

Does this have anything to with religion or is it a function of the context? Is it imaginable, for example, that someone could incite Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs to begin killing each other in Southall, London, where many of them are neighbors?

It seems unlikely and not because the religious sentiments are any weaker in Southall than they were in India. On the contrary, all evidence seems to suggest that religious identity is strengthened amongst migrants, at least first generation migrants.

The explanation must be the knowledge that such kind of incitement would not be tolerated in the same way in Southall as it was in India. This brings us to the comment by a reader of the earlier column that perhaps the solution to containing violence lies in good governance with a mix of liberal and tough laws.

There is little doubt that recent ethnic violence in South Asia has often been condoned, if not supported, by the state. The very recent violence in Pakistan is a blowback of earlier support of jihadists for political purposes.

The one conclusion of our discussion seems to be that we need to shift the focus from the reform of the individual to an examination of the state. What kind of state promotes violence and why? And how does the world control such a state?

Of course, we are still left with the question of why religion provides such an easy handle for manipulation. But this may not turn out to be the most important question if we succeed in controlling the state that is instrumental in the exploitation of the sentiment.

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