Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Root cause is political Islam
The banality of TV news analysis!
Those who abhor instant coffee, even if it’s a designer brand with a fancy prize tag marketed by Nescafe, would also have a distaste for instant news analysis. As with instant coffee — you take a spoonful, stir it into a cup of hot water, add some sugar and milk, and voila, your coffee is ready — so also with instant news analysis dished out by 24x7 television news channels: Get a self-proclaimed ‘expert’, make him sit in the studio with a couple of smug journalists who obviously have too little to do and a lot of time to kill, ask the most banal questions, get some bovine replies, and presto, you have news analysis!
The day after FBI agents and New York Police detectives grabbed Faisal Shahzad as he tried to board an Emirates flight to Dubai at JFK Airport and the Pakistani American admitted to having planted the car bomb at Times Square, which was spotted by a vendor and defused before it could cause death and destruction, television channels here in Delhi were tripping over each other for a piece of the ‘breaking news’. One channel had a former senior diplomat along with a Pakistani journalist on its prime time show, analysing what the anchor described as a “shocking” and “astonishing” disclosure — by the FBI agents and the would be Pakistani bomber with an American passport.
What’s so ‘shocking’ or ‘astonishing’ about the entire episode? Why should we in India be at all surprised or amazed or taken aback that a Pakistani (or an American of Pakistani origin, if you prefer) got caught trying to bomb Times Square? After all, Islamist jihadis of Pakistani origin have bombed other places and targets in other countries in the past and have not been particularly merciful (which is quite contrary to what the religion of peace and mercy is believed to teach its followers) towards fellow Pakistanis either. Nor should we forget that Faisal Shahzad is not the first Pakistani American jihadi; that distinction must go to David Coleman Headley alias Daood Gilani, shared with Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani Canadian who ran the Chicago cell of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.
Much as Pakistanis living in denial would love to believe, it would be absurd to suggest that extra-terrestrials are to blame for the daily bloodshed in that benighted country. The suicide bombers on the prowl in Pakistan, looking for places crowded with women and children to blow themselves up, are not from Mars (or Venus, for that matter). Of course, like Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who we are now told fled with Benazir Bhutto’s stand-by car and security personnel minutes before she was assassinated, they would insist that Pakistanis who kill Pakistanis are not Pakistanis but Indians in disguise. But then, as an exasperated Pakistani journalist once told me, Mr Malik would have no compunctions about blaming India for his wife begetting children.
Recall the London Underground bombing of July 7, 2005 which was masterminded by Pakistanis based in Pakistan and executed with the help of British citizens of Pakistani origin living in Britain. Three of the Underground bombers were of Pakistani origin who had spent time at terrorist camps in Pakistan, seeking and securing guidance for becoming true soldiers of god, before they embarked on their deadly mission to further the cause of jihad. The fourth was a Muslim of Jamaican origin.
Recall also the repeated terrorist strikes in India, including the 26/11 slaughter in Mumbai (for which a Pakistani has just been sentenced to death), which were plotted in Pakistan and executed by Pakistanis, admittedly with the help of those Muslims in India who believe loyalty to the ummah and fidelity to faith necessitate treachery; our desi rage boys are known to justify their traitorous deeds by citing manufactured grievance. It would also be instructive to remember that in countries across the world Pakistanis have been either arrested for links with terrorist organisations or are under surveillance.
Ironically, most Islamic and Muslim majority countries either despise or are suspicious of Pakistanis. The ikhwan is reluctant to extend membership to the exclusive club to the legatees of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. While the ‘bad’ Taliban may find the ‘good’ Taliban useful allies in their war on innocents, it is doubtful whether they would relish the idea of breaking bread together. Variants of ‘Paki’, a term of abuse in Britain of the 1960s and 1970s popular among White racists who nursed a visceral hatred towards immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, have been adopted by Arabs in the Maghreb and Mashreq.
There is nothing to feel happy about this, not least because despite the overwhelming evidence of Pakistanis and the Pakistani political-military establishment being involved in global terrorism, there are a vast number of Pakistanis who are appalled by jihadi violence and have been forthright in disowning and denouncing those of their own who have blood on their hands. The mullah is not exactly an object of reverence in polite, decent, educated Pakistani society. To get an idea of what Pakistanis think of those who continue to fetch infamy for their country one just needs to read the editorial and opeditorial pages of the Dawn and the Nation.
An example should suffice: While media in India went into throes of ecstasy over a bogus Deobandi ‘fatwa’ against terrorism, in which everything but Islamist terrorism had been criticised and declared un-Islamic, Dawn had the gumption to call the bluff of Deobandis in Pakistan when they recently tried a similar sleight of hand. Based on my interaction with young Pakistani journalists, I would vouch for their opposition to savagery in the name of Islam. Stereotyping all Pakistanis, therefore, would be wrong and grossly unfair.
Which brings me to what the former senior diplomat had to say during the television programme hosted by the anchor who found it “shocking” and “astonishing” that a Pakistani should have been found planting a bomb in Times Square. According to him, the world should ask, and the Pakistanis should contemplate on, why all terrorists and potential bombers are from that country. Apart from being factually incorrect, his assertion also suggests that the root cause of jihad is the Pakistani identity, which is way off the mark.
Mohammed Atta, who flew a passenger jetliner into the World Trade Center, was not a Pakistani but an Egyptian. His fellow terrorists were of Saudi origin. In recent times, the underpants bomber who panicked when he saw smoke emanating from his crotch after he pulled the string, did not carry a Pakistani passport; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab alias Omar Farooq al-Nigeri is a Nigerian.
If we must look for a reason, then we should go beyond nationality and delve into theology. A lazier option would be to stick labels and be done with it. Just that this won’t help deal with the menace of Islamist terrorism.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on May 9, 2010.)