ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Tulloch is a British university lecturer who is best known as a survivor of the July 7, 2005 London Bombings. Continue reading “7/7 Survivor: Why we should not bomb Syria”
John Tulloch is a British university lecturer who is best known as a survivor of the July 7, 2005 London Bombings. Continue reading “7/7 Survivor: Why we should not bomb Syria”
The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism. Continue reading “Why the rise of fascism is again the issue”
It was a few yards away from where Dr. Milon had been killed. Then it had been suspected the police were involved. This time, the police were a silent witness. Blogger and human rights activist Dr. Avijit Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed Banna were returning home after visiting the Amar Ekushey Book Fair. Their ricksha was stopped, they were dragged out and Avijit was hacked to death. Banya was severely injured and lost a finger.
Continue reading “How many more Avijit's must we mourn?”
Remember the Information Age? That was such an interesting period, when digital technology and the thirst for understanding converged to give the human race unprecedented access to heaps of revealing data, contemporaneous and historical. All you had to do was analyze the information without prejudice and the secrets of the world unfolded before you – from the human genome to weekend crime in your town, from the value of the two-out stolen base to the origin of the universe.
But nothing lasts forever. Objective analysis is just so 2013. Facts are over, replaced by feelings and free-floating certainty. Sure, so-called Big Data will get bigger still, but only in service of targeted diaper advertising and spying on citizens. For everything that matters, as of now, we are smack in the Post-Information Age.
According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 33% of Americans believe that evolution is a vicious rumor, opining that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”. Genesis is their story and they’re sticking to it.
Not insignificantly, rejection of science over religious mythology is distinctly partisan: 48% of Republicans, versus 27% of Democrats, “just say no” to Darwin. This explains a lot. The GOP failed four dozen times to undo Obamacare, but they’re that close to repealing the Age of Enlightenment.
Evidence? Ha. That’s for humanists, scientists and who knows what other dangerous–ists. Governance has become a faith-based initiative. When it comes to the most critical issues of our society – the economy, climate change, gun violence – it matters only what you believe in.
As the mid-term elections approach, watch as the square pegs of reality are pounded into the round holes of ideology. We saw a sneak preview last week after a 7,000-word investigative piece in The New York Times revisited the 11 September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the administration ascribed the violence to anger over an anti-Islam YouTube video titled “The Innocence of Muslims”. House Republicans smelled a rat, accusing to White House of covering-up an al-Qaida connection to the attack, one which might have neutralized the political benefit of Osama bin Laden’s scalp in President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Like the official State Department investigation before it (pdf), David Kirkpatrick’s exhaustive reporting – sourcing diplomats, eyewitnesses and many Islamic militants with zero interest in protecting the White House – found plenty of intelligence and security failures, but no evidence of al-Qaida participation.
The immediate reaction of the conservative press? Attack. They offered no counter evidence, merely summary dismissal. Since Kirkpatrick’s analysis did not comport with the GOP’s narrative as propounded by Congressmen Darryl Issa (R-California) and Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), there could be but one explanation, per the Fox News website headline: New York Times’ Benghazi article a shameless bid to send Hillary to White House in 2016.
The Washington Times, having done no reporting on the ground, went back to House Republicans to reiterate their suppositions. No evidence has surfaced putting foreign elements at the scene 11 September, but undisclosed classified intelligence, in the words of House intelligence subcommittee Chairman Lynn A Westmoreland (R-Georgia) “just leads you to believe, or to know that [the attackers] were al-Qaida-related”.
Believe. Know. Same difference.
What makes this all so dangerous is that it not only corrupts policy debates, it undermines serious journalism – and science and history and all other rational disciplines – by rendering their output mere arguments, no more or less credible than someone’s dogma, superstition or gut hunch. We snigger at conspiracy theories abounding in the Muslim world, blaming Israel for September 11 and sharks in the Red Sea, but how they differ from, say, climate-change denial, is lost on me.
Not to say faith-based politics is the exclusive province of the political right. Such organizations as Project Censored exist to call attention to, for instance, the “Top Censored Stories Corporate Media Won’t Dare Touch” – pretty much all of which, of course, have been plucked from the corporate media. Yet the idea of Big Media protecting and shilling for The Man is as much a commonplace of progressive ideology as “liberal bias” trope is on Fox.
Why? Because it is comforting to construct a personal reality when actual reality will not do. That is where astrology came from, and voodoo. Also Area 51 and supply-side economics. That’s why we’ve slid into the Post-Information Age. It’s going to be a rough patch for Darwin.
And even worse for Voltaire.
How the CIA Bungled the War on Terror?
By Pratap Chatterjee
Call it the Jason Bourne strategy.
Think of it as the CIA’s plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd. As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real. In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.
The first group of undercover agents were recruited by private companies from the Army Special Forces and the Navy SEALs and then repurposed to the CIA at handsome salaries averaging around $140,000 a year; the second crew was recruited from the prison cells at Guantanamo Bay and paid out of a secret multimillion dollar slush fund called “the Pledge.”
Last month, the Associated Press revealed that the CIA had selected a few dozen men from among the hundreds of terror suspects being held at Guantanamo and trained them to be double agents at a cluster of eight cottages in a program dubbed “Penny Lane.” (Yes, indeed, the name was taken from the Beatles song, as was “Strawberry Fields,” a Guantanamo program that involved torturing “high-value” detainees.) These men were then returned to what the Bush administration liked to call the “global battlefield,” where their mission was to befriend members of al-Qaeda and supply targeting information for the Agency’s drone assassination program.
Such a secret double-agent program, while colorful and remarkably unsuccessful, should have surprised no one. After all, plea bargaining or persuading criminals to snitch on their associates — a tactic frowned upon by international legal experts — is widely used in the U.S. police and legal system. Over the last year or so, however, a trickle of information about the other secret program has come to light and it opens an astonishing new window into the privatization of U.S. intelligence.
Hollywood in Langley
In July 2010, at his confirmation hearings for the post of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper explained the use of private contractors in the intelligence community: “In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War… we were under a congressional mandate to reduce the community by on the order of 20%… Then 9/11 occurred… With the gusher… of funding that has accrued particularly from supplemental or overseas contingency operations funding, which, of course, is one year at a time, it is very difficult to hire government employees one year at a time. So the obvious outlet for that has been the growth of contractors.”
Thousands of “Green Badges” were hired via companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and Qinetiq to work at CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) offices around the world, among the regular staff who wore blue badges. Many of them — like Edward Snowden — performed specialist tasks in information technology meant to augment the effectiveness of government employees.
Then the CIA decided that there was no aspect of secret war which couldn’t be corporatized. So they set up a unit of private contractors as covert agents, green-lighting them to carry guns and be sent into U.S. war zones at a moment’s notice. This elite James Bond-like unit of armed bodyguards and super-fixers was given the anodyne name Global Response Staff (GRS).
Among the 125 employees of this unit, from the Army Special Forces via private contractors came Raymond Davis and Dane Paresi; from the Navy SEALs Glen Doherty, Jeremy Wise, and Tyrone Woods. All five would soon be in the anything-but-covert headlines of newspapers across the world. These men — no women have yet been named — were deployed on three- to four-month missions accompanying CIA analysts into the field.
Davis was assigned to Lahore, Pakistan; Doherty and Woods to Benghazi, Libya; Paresi and Wise to Khost, Afghanistan. As GRS expanded, other contractors went to Djibouti, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries, according to a Washington Post profile of the unit.
From early on, its work wasn’t exactly a paragon of secrecy. By 2005, for instance, former Special Forces personnel had already begun openly discussing jobs in the unit at online forums. Their descriptions sounded like something directly out of a Hollywood thriller. The Post portrayed the focus of GRS personnel more mundanely as “designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.”
“They don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals, and they’re not writing up intelligence reports,” a former U.S. intelligence official told that paper. “Their main tasks are to map escape routes from meeting places, pat down informants, and provide an ‘envelope’ of security… if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to shoot.”
In the ensuing years, GRS embedded itself in the Agency, becoming essential to its work. Today, new CIA agents and analysts going into danger zones are trained to work with such bodyguards. In addition, GRS teams are now loaned out to other outfits like the NSA for tasks like installing spy equipment in war zones.
The CIA’s Private Contractors (Don’t) Save the Day
Recently these men, the spearhead of the CIA’s post-9/11 contractor war, have been making it into the news with startling regularity. Unlike their Hollywood cousins, however, the news they have made has all been bad. Those weapons they’re packing and the derring-do that is supposed to go with them have repeatedly led not to breathtaking getaways and shootouts, but to disaster. Jason Bourne, of course, wins the day; they don’t.
Take Dane Paresi and Jeremy Wise. In 2009, not long after Paresi left the Army Special Forces and Wise the Navy SEALs, they were hired by Xe Services (the former Blackwater) to work for GRS and assigned to Camp Chapman, a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan. On December 30, 2009, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who had been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate al-Qaeda, was invited to a meeting at the base after spending several months in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. Invited as well were several senior CIA staff members from Kabul who hoped Balawi might help them target Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaeda’s number two man.
Details of what happened are still sketchy, but the GRS men clearly failed to fulfill their security mission. Somehow Balawi, who turned out to be not a double but a triple agent, made it onto the closed base with a bomb and blew himself up, killing not just Paresi and Wise but also seven CIA staff officers, including Jennifer Matthews, the base chief.
Thirteen months later, in January 2011, another GRS contractor, Raymond Davis, decided to shoot his way out of what he considered a difficult situation in Lahore, Pakistan. The Army Special Forces veteran had also worked for Blackwater, although at the time of the shootings he was employed by Hyperion Protective Services, LLC.
Assigned to work at a CIA safe house in Lahore to support agents tracking al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Davis had apparently spent days photographing local military installations like the headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. On January 27th, his car was stopped and he claims that he was confronted by two young men, Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad. Davis proceeded to shoot both of them dead, and then take pictures of their bodies, before radioing back to the safe house for help. When a backup vehicle arrived, it compounded the disaster by driving at high speed the wrong way down a street and killing a passing motorcyclist.
Davis was later caught by two traffic wardens, taken to a police station, and jailed. A furor ensued, involving both countries and an indignant Pakistani media. The U.S. embassy, which initially claimed he was a consular official before the Guardian broke the news that he was a CIA contractor, finally pressured the Pakistani government into releasing him, but only after agreeing to pay out $2.34 million in compensation to the families of those he killed.
A year and a half later, two more GRS contractors made front-page news under the worst of circumstances. Former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods had been assigned to a CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, where the Agency was attempting to track a developing North African al-Qaeda movement and recover heavy weapons, including Stinger missiles, that had been looted from state arsenals in the wake of an U.S.-NATO intervention which led to the fall of the autocrat Muammar Qaddafi.
On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was staying at a nearby diplomatic compound when it came under attack. Militants entered the buildings and set them on fire. A CIA team, including Doherty, rushed to the rescue, although ultimately, unlike Hollywood’s action teams, they did not save Stevens or the day. In fact, several hours later, the militants raided the CIA base, killing both Doherty and Woods.
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight
The disastrous denouements to these three incidents, as well as the deaths of four GRS contractors – more than a quarter of CIA casualties since the War on Terror was launched — raise a series of questions: Is this yet another example of the way the privatization of war and intelligence doesn’t work? And is the answer to bring such jobs back in-house? Or does the Hollywood-style skullduggery (gone repeatedly wrong) hint at a larger problem? Is the present intelligence system, in fact, out of control and, despite a combined budget of $52.6 billion a year, simply incapable of delivering anything like the “security” promised, leaving the various spy agencies, including the CIA, increasingly desperate to prove that they can “defeat” terrorism?
Take, for example, the slew of documents Edward Snowden – another private contractor who at one point worked for the CIA — released about secret NSA programs attempting to suck up global communications at previously unimaginable rates. There have been howls of outrage across the planet, including from spied-upon heads of state. Those denouncing such blatant invasions of privacy have regularly raised the fear that we might be witnessing the rise of a secret-police-like urge to clamp down on dissent everywhere.
But as with the CIA, there may be another explanation: desperation. Top intelligence officials, fearing that they will be seen as having done a poor job, are possessed by an ever greater urge to prove their self-worth by driving the intelligence community to ever more (rather than less) of the same.
As Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary, told MSNBC: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.” It’s true that, while the various intelligence agencies and the CIA may not succeed when it comes to the needles, they have proven effective indeed when it comes to creating haystacks.
In the case of the NSA, the Obama administration’s efforts to prove that its humongous data haul had any effect on foiling terrorist plots — at one point, they claimed 54 such plots foiled — has had a quality of genuine pathos to it. The claims have proven so thin that administration and intelligence officials have struggled to convince even those in Congress who support the programs, let alone the rest of the world, that it has done much more than gather and store staggering reams of information on almost everyone to no particular purpose whatsoever. Similarly, the FBI has made a point of trumpeting every “terrorist” arrest it has made, most of which, on closer scrutiny, turn out to be of gullible Muslims, framed by planted evidence in plots often essentially engineered by FBI informants.
Despite stunning investments of funds and the copious hiring of private contractors, when it comes to ineptitude the CIA is giving the FBI and NSA a run for their money. In fact, both of its recently revealed high-profile programs — GRS and the Guantanamo double agents — have proven dismal failures, yielding little if anything of value. The Associated Press account of Penny Lane, the only description of that program thus far, notes, for instance, that al-Qaeda never trusted the former Guantanamo Bay detainees released into their midst and that, after millions of dollars were fruitlessly spent, the program was canceled as a failure in 2006.
If you could find a phrase that was the polar opposite of “more bang for your buck,” all of these efforts would qualify. In the case of the CIA, keep in mind as well that you’re talking about an agency which has for years conducted drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Hundreds of innocent men, women, and children have been killed along with numerous al-Qaeda types and “suspected militants,” and yet — many experts believe — these campaigns have functioned not as an air war on, but for, terror. In Yemen, as an example, the tiny al-Qaeda outfit that existed when the drone campaign began in 2002 has grown exponentially.
So what about the Jason Bourne-like contractors working for GRS who turned out to be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? How successful have they been in helping the CIA sniff out al-Qaeda globally? It’s a good guess, based on what we already know, that their record would be no better than that of the rest of the CIA.
One hint, when it comes to GRS-assisted operations, may be found in documents revealed in 2010 by WikiLeaks about joint CIA-Special Operations hunter-killer programs in Afghanistan like Task Force 373. We don’t actually know if any GRS employees were involved with those operations, but it’s notable that one of Task Force 373′s principal bases was in Khost, where Paresi and Wise were assisting the CIA in drone-targeting operations. The evidence from the WikiLeaks documents suggests that, as with GRS missions, those hunter-killer teams regularly botched their jobs by killing civilians and stoking local unrest.
At the time, Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Operations Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, told me: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”
As details of programs like Penny Lane and GRS tumble out into the open, shedding light on how the CIA has fought its secret war, it is becoming clearer that the full story of the Agency’s failures, and the larger failures of U.S. intelligence and its paramilitarized, privatized sidekicks has yet to be told.
Copyright 2013 Pratap Chatterjee
Yesterday I had the privilege to watch Dirty Wars, an upcoming film directed by Richard Rowley that chronicles the investigations of journalist Jeremy Scahill into America’s global covert war under President Obama and specifically his ever-growing kill lists. I will write comprehensively about this film closer to the date when it and the book by the same namewill be released. For now, it will suffice to say that the film is one of the most important I’ve seen in years: gripping and emotionally affecting in the extreme, with remarkable, news-breaking revelations even for those of us who have intensely followed these issues. The film won awards at Sundance and rave reviews in unlikely places such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. But for now, I want to focus on just one small aspect of what makes the film so crucial.
The most propagandistic aspect of the US War on Terror has been, and remains, that its victims are rendered invisible and voiceless. They are almost never named by newspapers. They and their surviving family members are virtually never heard from on television. The Bush and Obama DOJs have collaborated with federal judges to ensure that even those who everyone admits are completely innocent have no access to American courts and thus no means of having their stories heard or their rights vindicated. Radical secrecy theories and escalating attacks on whistleblowers push these victims further into the dark.
It is the ultimate tactic of Othering: concealing their humanity, enabling their dehumanization, by simply relegating them to nonexistence. As Ashleigh Banfield put it her 2003 speech denouncing US media coverage of the Iraq war just months before she was demoted and then fired by MSNBC: US media reports systematically exclude both the perspectives of “the other side” and the victims of American violence. Media outlets in predominantly Muslim countries certainly report on their plight, but US media outlets simply do not, which is one major reason for the disparity in worldviews between the two populations. They know what the US does in their part of the world, but Americans are kept deliberately ignorant of it.
What makes Dirty Wars so important is that it viscerally conveys the effects of US militarism on these invisible victims: by letting them speak for themselves. Scahill and his crew travel to the places most US journalists are unwilling or unable to go: to remote and dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, all to give voice to the victims of US aggression. We hear from the Afghans whose family members (including two pregnant women) were slaughtered by US Special Forces in 2010 in the Paktia Province, despite being part of the Afghan Police, only for NATO to outright lie and claim the women were already dead from “honor killings” by the time they arrived (lies uncritically repeated, of course, by leading US media outlets).
Scahill interviews the still-traumatized survivors of the US cruise missile and cluster bomb attack in Southern Yemen that killed 35 women and children just weeks after Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. We see the widespread anger in Yemen over the fact that the Yemeni journalist who first exposed US responsibility for that attack, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was not only arrested by the US puppet regime but, as Scahill first reported, has been kept imprisoned to this very day at the direct insistence of President Obama. We hear from the grandfather of 16-year-old American teenager Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (he is also the father of US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki) – both before and after a CIA drone killed his son and then (two weeks later) his teenaged grandson who everyone acknowledges had nothing to do with terrorism. We hear boastful tales of summary executions from US-funded-and-directed Somali warlords.
There is an unmistakable and singular message sent by these disparate groups and events. It’s one particularly worth thinking about with news reports this morning that two more Afghan children have been killed by aNATO air attack.
The message is that the US is viewed as the greatest threat and that it is US aggression and violence far more than any other cause that motivates support for al-Qaida and anti-American sentiment. The son of the slain Afghan police commander (who is the husband of one of the killed pregnant woman and brother of the other) says that villagers refer to US Special Forces as the “American Taliban” and that he refrained from putting on a suicide belt and attacking US soldiers with it only because of the pleas of his grieving siblings. An influential Southern Yemeni cleric explains that he never heard of al-Qaida sympathizers in his country until that 2009 cruise missile attack and subsequent drone killings, including the one that ended the life of Abdulrahman (a claim supported by all sorts of data). The brutal Somali warlord explains that the Americans are the “masters of war” who taught him everything he knows and who fuel ongoing conflict. Anwar Awlaki’s transformation from moderate and peace-preaching American cleric to angry critic of the US is shown to have begun with the US attack on Iraq and then rapidly intensifying with Obama’s drone attacks and kill lists. Meanwhile, US military officials and officers interviewed by Scahill exhibit a sociopathic indifference to their victims, while Awlaki’s increasingly angry sermons in defense of jihad are juxtaposed with the very similar-sounding justifications of endless war from Obama.
The evidence has long been compelling that the primary fuel of what the US calls terrorism are the very policies of aggression justified in the name of stopping terrorism. The vast bulk of those who have been caught in recent years attempting attacks on the US have emphatically cited US militarism and drone killings in their part of the world as their motive. Evidence is overwhelming that what has radicalized huge numbers of previously peaceful and moderate Muslims is growing rage at seeing a continuous stream of innocent victims, including children, at the hands of the seemingly endless US commitment to violence.
The only way this clear truth is concealed is by preventing Americans from knowing about, let alone hearing from, the victims of US aggression. That concealment is what caused huge numbers of Americans to wander around in a daze after 9/11 innocently and bewilderingly wondering “why do they hate us”? – despite decades of continuous US interference, aggression, and violence-enabling in that part of the world. And it’s this concealment of these victims that causes Americans now to react to endless stories of the killing of innocent Muslims with the excuse that “we have to do something about the Terrorists” or “it’s better than a ground invasion” – without realizing that they’re affirming what Chris Hayes aptly describes as a false choice, and worse, without realizing that the very policies they’re cheering are not stopping the Terrorists at all but doing the opposite: helping the existing Terrorists and creating new ones.
To be fair, it’s not difficult to induce a population to avert its eyes from the victims of the violence they support: we all like to believe that we’re Good and peaceful people, and we particularly like to believe this about the leaders we elect, cheer and admire. Moreover, what the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole recently described as “the empathy gap” – thefailure to imagine how others will react to situations that would cause us (and have caused us) to be driven by rage and violence – means that the US government need not work all that hard to silence its victims: there is a pervasive desire to keep them out of sight.
Nonetheless, if Americans are going to support or even tolerate endless militarism, as they have been doing, then they should at least have to be confronted with their victims – if not on moral grounds then on pragmatic ones, to understand the effects of these policies. Based on the out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality, the US government and media have been incredibly successful in rendering those victims silent and invisible. Dirty Wars is a truly crucial tonic to that propaganda. At the very least, nobody who sees it and hears from the victims of US aggression will ever again wonder why there are so many people in the world who believe in the justifiability or even necessity of violence against the US.
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@ tribune.com.pk
The passing of the first death anniversary of Neil Armstrong last week is an opportunity to reflect on our own connection (admittedly flimsy) with the first man on the moon. Two years before Armstrong landed on the moon, Ghulam Abbas wrote Dhanak, one of the best satirical short stories (The short story has been ably adapted by Shahid Nadeem into a play named Hotel Mohenjodaro) of all times, and unnervingly prescient. Written in 1967, the story begins with the first man landing on moon, not Armstrong, but a Pakistani PAF Captain, Adam Khan. Local and international dignitaries gather on the rooftop garden of the 71-storied Hotel Mohenjodaro in Karachi to listen to Adam Khan’s message from the moon. His brief message is, “I am Captain Adam Khan. I come from the district of Jhang in Punjab … I have landed safely. All praise to Allah … Pakistan Zindabad.”
Pakistan is congratulated all over the world and celebrations begin all around the country. However, like most good things, the triumph is short-lived. In a small town, outside of Karachi, a local imam terms the journey to the moon un-Islamic and satanic. The call of jihadtravels from one mosque to another and in a jiffy, the whole country is engaged in the holy battle, chanting for Adam Khan’s death for trespassing into the forbidden domain. Briefly, the government loses the fight and an Amirul Momineen takes over. Sharia is imposed. Foreigners are driven out. All languages other than Arabic are banned. Beards are mandatory. Women are forbidden to leave the house. All technology and ‘Western’ medicine is declared haram. The construction of any building higher than the Jamia Mosque is unlawful. This descent into piety happens in just one month from the sanctimonious landing on moon.
All is not well, still. The initially overlooked question of which sect’s Sharia would be implemented rather violently rises up. Blood runs in mosques. Muslims kill Muslims, both sides fighting in the name of faith. Medievalism descends into chaos. The story ends with foreign aircraft bombing Karachi to rubble.
The date of writing is worth mentioning again — 1967. There might be very few writings in all of world literature that get the trajectory of the future so spectacularly, accurately right. Hotel Mohenjodaro, despite being on a par with anything that Orwell or Huxley have ever written on the subject, is not taught in curriculum in Pakistan. That is unlikely to change in the near future, very particularly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The K-P government has decided to reintroduce the verses mandating jihad into the syllabus. The K-P government is also firmly against the Muslims fighting Muslims business, even if the other side of the Muslims has no such qualms about blowing up schools and buses filled with schoolchildren, etc. Women were not allowed to vote in many constituencies in K-P and Punjab. Agents of Western medicine, polio workers are still attacked on a regular basis. Adam Khan’s Jhang is not known today for producing top rate astronauts or PAF officers.
Till present, Mian Sahib has not made a serious effort to be appointed Amirul Momineen. However, in Mian Sahib’s Punjab, the Al-Bakistan licence plates are all the jazz. What we lack in the fight against the Taliban is made up by increasing the intensity in the war on technology. The reports on what the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) seeks to ban are contradictory and murky. However, one thing remains clear — that the PTA is extremely concerned about our morality and decency. The Supreme Court has also, in the past, expressed grave apprehension on the issue of late night telephone call packages, no doubt the evil at the centre of all our ills. Websites are blocked to protect us from sin and being led astray. Prime television programmes discuss jinns at length. Economists argue for the virtues and efficiency of ‘bonded labour’. The one point solution that solves our economic problems is to get rid of ‘Riba’, don’t ask how, and just have faith.
The closest thing that we have ever come to landing on the moon is Dr Abdus Salam winning the Nobel Prize. Like, Adam Khan, Dr Salam lost, and the small time, violent Moulvi won. In a country of water kits, the grave of Dr Salam stands vandalised. Ahmadis are being told to leave ‘Muslim’ areas, and the tricky bit here is that all areas are Muslim areas.
Krishn Nagar in Lahore is now renamed Islampura, Dharampura is Mustafabad. Bhagat Singh’s birth and death anniversaries pass unnoticed, while Ghazi Ilm Din is remembered. To use ‘Hindu’ while intending ‘Indian’ is acceptable practice, even in ‘educated and polite’ society. Using condescending terms and tones while referring to ‘minorities’ is not frowned upon. After an attack on ‘minorities’, the educated and liberal feel ‘ashamed’ at not being able to protect ‘them’, noble sentiments, however blatantly exclusionary. Not outraged, like when ‘we’ are attacked.
Dr Aafia Siddiqui is one of ‘us’ never mind the US citizenship and conviction on terror charges. Aasia Bibi is someone that some of us feel sorry about to discharge our civic responsibilities, of course when she is uncomfortably and occasionally brought up. What is happening to Aasia Bibi is at best (or is it worst?) a ‘shame’, whereas Dr Aafia Siddiqui is when our blood really boils, in ‘how dare they’ tones.
We already live in Ghulam Abbas’s, “Hotel Mohenjodaro”, yet worse, the landing on the moon never happened neither the rooftop garden on the 71st floor. We nosedived even before take-off. No high point, not even for false nostalgia.
What is the point of all this, we already know that? Yes, we do. However, the lesson of “Hotel Mohenjodaro” is that not only can it get worse, but it will get worse; inertia. Once the almost twin Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed, it was only a matter of time before other twin structures were hit. What the PTI and Mian Sahib need to wake up to is that appeasement and surrender does not work with those who ask for the entire world, perhaps ponder over Ghulam Abbas’s warning, cities and countries are sometimes reduced to rubble.
P.S.: As August comes to an end and the mighty seek to restrict freedom of expression, while at the same time fumbling with their own speech, WH Auden’s “August 1968” predicting the Prague Spring because of the inability of those in power to speak to the people bears rereading. “The Ogre does what ogres can, Deeds quite impossible for Man, But one Prize is beyond his reach, The Ogre cannot master Speech, About a subjugated plain, Among its desperate and slain, The Ogre stalks with hands on hips, While drivel gushes form his lips.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2013.