Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dressing In Drag...In Pakistan!

This is required reading (and watching I assume - I'll be sure to check it out the next time I'm in Karachi). Also if the neocon drumbeat ever comes around to Pakistan (think! nuclear weapons, taleban type government in some provinces, bin laden sympathisers, state sponsor of terrorism, millitary dictatorship - oh how easy it is to make a seemingly rational claim for war), then Begum Nawazish should serve as conclusive proof that Pakistan does not need invading.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Civil Society In Musharraf's Pakistan

The military is so secure in its rule and the official politicians so useless that 'civil society' is booming. Private TV channels, like NGOs, have mushroomed and most views are permissible (I was interviewed for an hour by one of these on the "fate of the world communist movement") except a frontal assault on religion or the military and its networks that govern the country. If civil society posed any real threat to the elite, the plaudits it receives would rapidly turn to menace.

This is from a very interesting column by Tariq Ali on the World Social Forum's stop in Karachi. Particularly biting is his critique of NGO's operating in Pakistan. However in this post I would like to focus on his comments on Pakistani civil society.

In my opinion, liberal democracies are successful when there is a diverse and resilient civil society which resists authoritarianism. All governments have authoritarian tendencies, but whether or not they succeed in establishing and maintaining total control is dependent on if those concerned with society are significant enough a presence to prevent it from happening.

I believe this is one of the reasons why Fareed Zakaria's analysis of liberalism before democracy works. A period of liberal authoratarianism allows civil society to develop in a way which is not possible in countries which rush towards democracy before the basic elements of a stable and tolerant society are in place.

It is in this context, that I'm not as skeptical of the current role of Pakistani civil society as Tariq Ali. It is true that today that the TV media in particular are relatively reluctant to openly criticise the government and it's policies.

However in the past year, we have witnessed at least two events where an internal conflict amongst the elite has opened up. Firstly and tragically was the Earthquake, when the TV media in particular could not help but report on the hopeless inadequacy of the government in leading the response effort. Secondly, we saw the lampooning of Musharraf after the seeming failure of President Bush's visit to Pakistan to achieve anything other than some funny pictures and a meaningless speech.

Of course there are problems in Baluchistan, parliamentary politics is a farce and a catastrophic event would in all likelihood set civil society back another ten to twenty years. However for now, the fact that the WSF is in Pakistan at all, gives me reason to hope for what in many ways is still a very flawed country.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Is Democracy Western?

The belief in the allegedly "Western" nature of democracy is often linked to the early practice of voting and elections in Greece, especially in Athens. Democracy involves more than balloting, but even in the history of voting there would be a classificatory arbitrariness in defining civilizations in largely racial terms. ...[T]there is reluctance in taking note of the Greek intellectual links with other civilizations to the east or south of Greece, despite the greater interest that the Greeks themselves showed in talking to Iranians, or Indians, or Egyptians (rather than in chatting up the Ostrogoths).

The above quote is taken from this article by Amartya Sen (via 3QuarksDaily). He makes important arguments, addressing both non-Westerners and the West. For me the two key themes are,

a) Democracy isn't Western and
b) The West doesn't own democracy.

These overlap nicely to create a coherent critique of the false west/non-west dichotomy. That democracy isn’t just a western concept is an important argument for those who aren’t western.
Sen provides interesting examples, and these need to be emphasised, of leaders such as Mandela and Gandhi who combined modern notions of democracy with their own 'native' traditions which, which while not containing voting, were similar to a democratic system in many ways.

This is not to say all desi's should rely upon such a fusion (although I feel that those who don't are missing out). If some would like to become 100% westernised, that is their choice. However for those who want to continue some of their cultural heritage, adopting concepts such as public reason should not make them feel as if they are 'selling out', or being brainwashed to think in a certain way.

This is where the second point comes in. As Sen points out, seeing Iranian dissidents as 'ambassadors for Western values', is both incorrect and counter-productive. To take an example, why should the Afghan convert to Christianity not be executed for apostasy? I would suggest because as Muslims, we should not consider it either a humane or rational thing to do. This is not to say that the West has nothing to contribute to this discourse - they should make their voices heard. However this should preferably be done in the spirit of reflection rather than conversion.

Cross posted on Pickled Politics.

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