Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Radicalisation abroad

FOR decades Pakistan has re lied on remittances from its workers abroad to finance eco nomic and social development at home. In 2009, one of the most difficult years for the Pakistani economy, the only thing that showed some improvement was the level of remittances.
While exports declined by six per cent and imports by 10 per cent, remittances increased by 22 per cent. Without an in crease of this magnitude Pakistan’s ex ternal situation would have been even more difficult today. The fact that the State Bank of Pakistan was able to re build its external balances to a comfort able level owed a great deal to this steady increase in the then level of re mittances. Any disturbance in this trend will have grim economic consequences.
For years the US had become the largest source of remittances from abroad, as the people who traced their origin to Pakistan became more involved with the development of what was once their homeland. However, much to the concern of many, the Pakistan-US link seems to be providing another type of flow: there are some among the Muslim community in the United States who seem to have decided that they should join what they view as the Muslim world’s fight against the Christian West. Some of these misguided people are heading towards Pakistan.
The arrest in Pakistan some time ago of five young men from the suburbs of Washington on suspicions that they were planning to fight against the Pakistani state and the US has raised a number of disturbing issues. They need to be addressed seriously by the people of Pakistan, by the Pakistanis in the United States, by Washington and by Islamabad. If what we are witnessing is a trend it will have worrying economic, political and social consequences for Pakistan. It will, most certainly, isolate the country even more from the world at a time when it needs external support for dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis.
A comforting conclusion was reached by many analysts and possibly also by Washington that there were good reasons why the United States was spared another terrorist attack following 9/11. It appeared that the focus on homeland security kept potential troublemakers out of the country. And there was the belief that the Muslims in the United States were not vulnerable to radicalisation.
Was the latter conclusion incorrect? Are the American Muslims susceptible to the kind of influences and pressures that have driven so many of their co-religionists in Europe to take desperate action against the countries in which they reside? According to one analyst, “the notion that the United States has some immunity against terrorists is coming under new scrutiny”.
The conclusion that the American Muslim community has not been radicalised seems not to be entirely correct although by and large it is better integrated in the US economy and society than is the case with the one in Europe. This is in part because a large number of Muslims in the United States have different socio-economic backgrounds than those who went to Europe.
Are the Pakistanis in America more inclined towards radicalisation than Muslims from other communities? There have been disturbing incidents of terrorism in America lately, as well as apparent intentions of committing them. Many have either involved young men from Pakistan or visits to Pakistan for training to commit violence. The fact that Pakistan has become the hub of global terrorism inspired by various Islamic causes should be of considerable concern to Islamabad.
What are the various choices available to the makers of public policy to stop this situation from deteriorating? First, Washington needs to ensure that in its zeal to protect itself, it should not further limit access to the country to Pakistani youth. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Pakistanis to get visas to attend colleges and universities in the US.
This is unfortunate since Pakistan’s educational system is extremely weak and one way of compensating is to send the youth to institutions in America. Restricting this will alienate the Pakistani youth even more. Washington should also encourage non-radical imams teaching and giving sermons at the various mosques in the country to stop the young from drifting towards extremism.
While the US has a role to play, much of the action needs to be taken by Islamabad and the country’s provincial governments. There are two obvious areas of policy intervention. The first, of course, is improving the educational system. This needs to be done at all levels.
Not only has Pakistan neglected primary education, it has also paid relatively little attention to higher education. Without improving the skill base of the vast army of the young in the country — Pakistan with a me dian age of 18.2 years has one of the youngest populations in the world — the youth will continue to be attracted to radical causes.
Of equal importance is the action by the state against organisations in the private sector that have openly recruited the young for pursuing extremist causes. There is no point in denying that this was being done by the state to compensate for India’s growing military strength. The jihadi groups were being prepared to do battle in case the two countries went to war again.
This strategy has massively backfired. These groups have turned on the Pakistani state and the Pakistani people. The state policy has taken a 180-degree turn. These groups have to be eliminated by the use of all means, including force, available to the state. Keeping them in reserve as insurance against India will not work. This is now the time for Pakistan — the government and the people — to move against extremism. Not pursuing this objective with the full might of the state and citizenry will do the country even more harm.
By Shahid Javed Burki
Source DAWN
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Permissibility of music

THE other day I read an article in the Friday edition of an Urdu newspaper which quoted a few traditions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to argue that music is strictly prohibited in Islam, and that Allah will send those who burn musical instruments to paradise. Many non-Muslims also ask this question frequently as to why Islam is opposed to music. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is also said to have strictly prohibited music. But is music really prohibited in Islam? My study into the matter shows it is not prohibited per se. The Quran denounces what it calls lahw wa la’b (i.e. fun and play), and there was a background to it. Arabs in pre-Islamic times had no serious religious faith and used to indulge in drinking, singing and dancing as we often witness in our societies also. Islam wanted to engage people in serious activities of containing social evils and make them obedient to Allah thereby becoming good, just and compassionate human beings, undertaking fight against all prevailing social evils. For such way of life naturally lahw wa la’b was a serious obstacle; hence the Quran warned people against it.However, many Muslims could not distinguish between the two and declared music prohibited, whatever its form or context. While traditional ulema denounced music, Sufi saints generally approved of it, and distinguishing between lahw wa la’b and harmless fun, they allowed music as a tool to God-realisation. Music could induce a sort of ecstasy which in turn helped in being closer to God. Thus sama’ which literally means listening to music was practised by Sufis.It was for sama’ that qawwali was invented, as far as my knowledge goes, by Khusro, the celebrated disciple of Nizamuddin Awliya who used to have sama’ (i.e. congregation for devotional music). Those traditional ulema who were jealous of Nizamuddin Awliya’s popularity issued a fatwa against him for attending sama’ and the sultan asked him to come to his court to defend himself. He went to the sultan’s court (otherwise he never paid a visit to any sultan) and defended himself by reciting certain ahadith and came away. Maulana Rumi had gone a step further and even resorted to dancing to induce such divine ecstasy. His followers regularly resort to dancing, and are known as the whirling dervishes.It was because of such controversies created by a section of the traditional ulema that an eminent scholar like Ghazali wrote an epistle on Status of Music in Islam — Discipline and Rules of Music and Ecstasy. It is worth reading for all those who want to understand whether Islam prohibits music or not; or if prohibits, what kind of music it prohibits.Al-Ghazali begins his Risala on music with these words, “Know this my dear about the fact and situation of man that there is a secret of God which is hidden in the human heart; which is similar to the one that is between iron and stone. Just as fire emits when iron strikes stone and sets forest on fire, a movement occurs in the human heart when it hears good and rhythmical sounds. And unconsciously a new situation comes into existence in the heart.”He further says, “The upper world of beauty and grace and the fundamental of beauty and grace is due proportion. And, whatever is proportionate is the manifestation of the beauty of that upper world. The beauty and proportion that we see in this world is the product of the beauty and grace of the upper world. Therefore, good, rhythmical and proportionate sound has a similarity with some of the wonders of the upper world. And it provides new informations in the heart in the form of a movement and eagerness.”Further, Ghazali says, “Whoever’s heart is filled with the fire of the eagerness of God, music becomes necessary for him, so that the fire may be brighter. The same music becomes haram (prohibited) and poisonous for a man whose heart is full of the love of wrongful matters.”What is this wrongful matter that Ghazali refers to? It is lust, frolic and music meant for worldly pleasure like the ones youngsters indulge in after drinking in clubs and such other institutions. Of course Indian classical music does not fall in this category; it is great art and a discipline in itself. Even qawwali and ghazal singing are based on Indian classical music. For that matter, western classical symphonies are also well cultivated art representing the best in human beauty and grace.Of course, Ghazali does not base his epistle only on such arguments but also on ahadith which tell us how the Prophet himself listened to music on occasion along with Hazrat Ayesha, his beloved wife. This can be discussed further in another article.
By Asghar Ali Engineer
The writer is an Islamic scholar who heads the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.
Source: DAWN
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Source of Terrorism

ALTHOUGH there are still a couple of weeks to go before the new year, 2009 will go down in Pakistan’s exceptionally turbulent history as the country’s bloodiest year — bloodier than the time of ‘Operation Cleanup’ in the early 1990s in Karachi.
The security forces then dealt with a situation that was confined to one city, albeit the largest in the country and that was the result of warring groups seeking to establish their political and economic writ. It was not aimed at destroying the Pakistani state or establishing a new political, economic and social order. It was about control of the city. This time the state is the target. Pakistan is dealing with an insurgency that poses an exis tential threat.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the germs of this insurgency were planted by operators both within and outside Pakistan. According to popular belief the main reason for the development of extremism in the country was the involvement of the US in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the decision by Washington to pull out of the area that, in policy terms, it now refers to as AfPak.
The US left once the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan. But that is only a quarter of the explanation. There were several others. Among these was the social and political engineering of Gen Ziaul Haq who decided on his own and without the aid of public support that Pakistan needed to adopt Islam as the basis of its economic, political and social systems.
Under him, the country went through a wrenching change which was aided and abetted by the several Arab states with which his government had become closely associated. Saudi Arabia was particularly important in pushing Pakistan in that direction. It had helped finance Mujahideen efforts in Afghanistan and also financed the founding and development of a number of madressahs in large cities.
These madressahs taught a version of Islam that was mostly foreign to Pakistan. This is how Wahabi Islam struck roots in Pakistani soil. It flourished in particular in those areas whose people had been exposed to it because of their sojourn in Saudi Arabia.
One relatively less understood reason for the rapid growth of this more orthodox interpretation of Islam is the channel it found through the temporary migration to the Gulf states from Pakistan’s northern areas. This lasted for a decade and a half, from the mid1970s to the early 1990s, and involved several million people from northern Punjab and the NWFP. These workers were hired on fixed contracts, stayed in camps near the construction sites, and spent a good deal of their spare time in the mosques. They thus came under the influence of the local imams steeped in the Wahabi tradition. They brought this interpretation with them when they returned to Pakistan.
Also contributing to the problem is the fact that Pakistan’s political development was arrested because of the repeated involvement of the military in politics. The state’s priorities kept on changing as the leadership provided by the military in politics changed. But there was one thing common in the way all four military dictators governed. They had little confidence in the political will of the people they governed; all knowing, they ruled the country according to their particular whims.
Ayub Khan believed in limited democracy. He called it basic democracy. Ziaul Haq believed in what he thought was the Islamic way — the people should be governed by a pious leader who should not be constrained by the expressed wishes of the people. His only obligation was to consult a group of wise people chosen by the pious leader and assembled in a forum he called the shura.
Pervez Musharraf went back to the Ayubian formula by limiting democracy to a system of local government and a king’s party controlling a largely inconsequential national legislature. Being military men, these leaders believed in strong command and control systems in politics and economics .Since they were distant from the people they could not build popular support for their policies.
By far the most important contributor to the rise of extremism was the way a series of administrations managed the Pakistani economy. For many decades Pakistan experienced one of the sharpest increases in the rate of population growth. The country’s population at the time of independence was only 32 million of which 10 per cent lived in urban areas. It has increased almost five and a half times to 170 million on the eve of 2010.
This implies an average rate of growth of over three per cent sustained over a period of 60 years. Although the country has not held a population census for many years, I believe that nearly a half of this large and growing population is now urban. The urban population has increased at the rate of 4.5 per cent a year, again one of the highest in the world.
Unfortunately these demographic developments were not factored into the making of economic policy. Islamabad should have focused not only in getting the economy to grow rapidly — which it did on occasions and during the periods when the military was in charge – but also on ensuring that the rewards of rapid growth were widely distributed. The result is that the country now has millions of alienated youth with little faith in their future. They have been successfully recruited to jihadist causes. The latest of these is the destruction of the Pakistani state.
In developing an approach towards growing extremism and terrorism it is breeding, policymakers as well as the citizenry must first understand its complex causes. By focusing on just one aspect — the American pressure to go after the perpetrators of terrorist activities — the country will not be able to evolve a cogent response.
by Shahid Javed Barki
Source: Dawn
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Consensus reached on NFC Award

LAHORE: The 7th National Finance Commission Award has been announced. The provinces are all set to get 12.5 per cent more from the federal divisible pool in the next five years. They will get 56 per cent in 2010 and 57.5 percent for the following four years.
All provinces had already agreed on a vertical distribution. But for the first time they have agreed on a horizontal distribution based on a multiple-criteria formula.
The criteria include population which consitutes 82 per cent of the share, poverty which will get 12 per cent and area and revenue generation that are to get three per cent each.
Announcing the award, Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin said that in accordance with population density, Punjab will get 51 per cent of the share, Sindh will get 24 per cent, NWFP, 14 per cent and Balochistan 9 per cent.
NWFP will get one per cent from all provinces for fighting the war on terror.
Balochistan will get 83 billion rupees which is 10 billion more than the 6th NFC award.
Hailing the decision as the second achievement of democracy following the restoration of the judiciary, Punjab Chief Minsiter Shahbaz Sharif thanked all provinces for reaching a consensus on the issue.
Balochistan CM, Aslam Raisani, Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah, Balochistan CM, Ameer Haider Hoti also hailed the mutual agreement on formulae for division under the NFC as a great acheivement. -DawnNews
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