The wrong side of right —Mahmud Sipra

That is the good thing about being a proud, principled sovereign country, being able to find diplomatic and politically agreeable ways of diffusing such adversarial tensions. Brinkmanship is not an option

Today’s piece has nothing to do with the Bon Jovi song, but it does deal with one’s perception of right and wrong.

Most of the civilised world would agree that that the 9/11 attacks on the United States of America were wrong — as were the blasts in Bali, Mumbai, Baghdad, Delhi and throughout Pakistan.

Most people would agree that to seek out the perpetrators of such dastardly and heinous attacks and bring them to justice is right.

Most of the civilised world would also agree that profiling every Muslim as a terrorist is patently wrong.

Britain probably has the largest population of post-1975 British-born citizens of Pakistani origin. They have been nurtured, educated and cared for by one of the best and most tolerant educational, medical and social systems in the world. And yet Britain is facing one of its worst indigenous forms of terrorism. The tentacles of Islamist groups have found fertile ground for recruitment among the misguided youth of these communities. The conversion method is no longer just the mosques but the internet.

I receive reams of unsolicited emails — which show a remarkable increase during the holy month of Ramazan — from individuals and groups that spew such incomprehensible logic full of hatred and intolerance that one wonders if the person or persons composing such emails do so during or after their Ramazan fast.

I have also often wondered if these offensive emails are sent out to just about everyone or are they specifically directed at fellow Muslims or anyone with a name that even remotely sounds Muslim. If it is the latter, then this too is ethnic profiling.

Here is an example: “Do not break your fast during the holy month of Ramazan with dates from Palestine. These dates have been grown by Israelis on lands taken from the Palestinians!”

Or, calling upon the Pakistan Air Force to “send a squadron of F-16s to shoot down anything that moves with US markings.” Never mind that tucked away on the same page of the newspaper or featuring in the ‘Breaking News’ segment is: “Pakistan seeks Congressional approval for upgrading its aging F-16s.”

Not many will disagree with Pakistan’s declared stance of “protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty”, but the question being asked by some is: “from whom?” It is not just the Americans who have recently taken to visiting us in the dead of night but also that polyglot of armed and dangerous thugs that occupy and control large swaths of sovereign Pakistani land. Friends and partners one can still talk to and make them come around to seeing one’s point of view, but with sworn enemies one can’t and shouldn’t.

That is the good thing about being a proud, principled sovereign country, being able to find diplomatic and politically agreeable ways of diffusing such adversarial tensions. Brinkmanship is not an option.

Then there is this Elmer Gantry who anchors a religious programme on one of the Pakistani TV channels. This man has gone from being a federal minister to anchoring a religious programme to devotional singer to now the spiritual and moral voice of the airwaves. Some of his pronouncements have reportedly led to the death of innocent people. The political party of which till recently he was a card-carrying member has wisely dismissed him from its ranks.

The Red Mosque in Islamabad was also a place of worship before it was allowed to become a fortress and the launchpad for something far more sinister, just as his televised programme was originally meant to stay faithful to the sanctity of the holy month of Ramazan, a platform for extolling the fundamental tenets of Islam: humility, tolerance and spirituality. At the moment, it is becoming more and more a pulpit for self-aggrandisement.

The other day he took up the case of the unfortunate Dr Aafia Siddiqui. An admirable cause, but spare us the histrionics of calling upon “every daughter or sister of Islam” with an inflammatory speech about her predicament. It doesn’t help her cause. It would help her cause if he were to call upon his flock to start a fund that would help her pay for the best legal defence team money can buy. This said, he might also consider taking up the cause of the countless defenceless women and the innocent girls in his own country who are being battered, abused, burnt and buried alive.

The road to celebrity that he has chosen is short and fickle and smacks of opportunism and self-indulgence. Narcissism and hubris are poor substitutes for spirituality and selfless devotion to one’s faith. Ask those who have tasted the heady wine of success and fame, only to give it all up in a priceless moment of reflection.

There are other theologians on air who command universal appeal, and have their subject matter down chapter and verse. They are never offensive, never exhort their audience to sit in judgement or attempt to pit one sect against another. Nor do they come across as messianic in their broadcasts.

I am going to leave you on a much lighter note. There is this tale about a group of elders sitting around — jirga-style — to decide what to do about America. A hot-blooded brave gets up and delivers a fiery speech exhorting his people to attack them, labelling the Americans “aggressors, expansionists, enemies of Islam, masters of double speak.” He ends his tirade by suggesting that we “let our F-16s shoot down their F-16s, let our RPGs bring down their cowardly pilot-less drones…let us choke off their supplies that run through Pakistan into Afghanistan.” And so on.

His speech is greeted with chants of ‘Zindabad!’ and ‘Jihad!’

One fiery speech is followed by another until the crowd has been whipped into a frenzy.

After some time, the hand of an elder goes up. Silence descends. He glowers at them and in a troubled but measured tone, poses a question: “I know how all of you feel, but tell me this: What if we win?”

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 18/9/2008

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