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Commentaries Politics Religion

Hamza Tzortzis – Pervez Hoodbhoy debate on Reason and Rationality in Islam

English: Pervez Hoodbhoy
Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background:

Tzortzis (Greek, lives in London) converted to Islam and is now hugely popular among young Muslims.

Pervez Hoodbhoy received a doctorate in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently teaches physics and political science

at LUMS (Lahore). He previously taught at Quaid-i-Azam University for 36 years and was head of the physics department.
Unfortunately, the debate ended badly. The whole thing is pretty entertaining…this was the only challenge Tzortzis received at a Pakistani university.

The Debate

The Facts after their Debate
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu0njkYqgFQ&feature=related

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Editorials Politics

PPP+PML (Q) = A Coalition of Shame

PIX
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Today fourteen members of the PML (Q), all allies of former dictator Pervez Musharraf, joined the Pakistan People’s Party’s cabinet. This is a moment of shame for the PPP: Mr. Zardari has, true to his own shameful history, betrayed the trust of PPP workers and the general public of Pakistan by aligning himself with those who had sold their loyalties to a dictator in return for power.

Yes, this will probably keep Mr. Zardari and his cohorts in power, but let us not forget that these are the very people under whose watch–Musharraf included–Benazir Bhutto was murdered. And some of those who should have ensured BB’s safety and did not, will now be in the cabinet of her husband’s political coalition: shame. Out of all the PPP top brass, only Senator Raza Rabbani has shown the honor and courage to object to this by resigning his cabinet post: we salute senator Rabbani for his principled stand. As for Mr. Zardari, this goes on to prove yet again that his sole interest lies in staying in power and principled politics is  something that he and his ilk are completely unfamiliar with.

So, let us just call it what it is: a shameless, self-serving, opportunistic politics.

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Pakistani Blasphemy Laws: Resources

The coat of arms of Pakistan displays the nati...
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(From Citizens for Democracy)

Religion or Politics?: Tracing the history and origin of 295-B and C, the most misused sections in the chapter on Offences Related to Religion – by Farieha Aziz, Newsline, Feb 27, 2011

No punishment for blasphemy in Quran – detailed study by the eminent scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, downloadable pdf file

Blind Faith: A short documentary film about the blasphemy law in Pakistan by Sara N. Haq

How Should We Deal With Blasphemy? By Dr Khalid Zaheer (from his blog)

Release Aasiya Bibi, Repeal Blasphemy Laws, Abolish Shariat Court | Baaghi

The non-reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws tells a wider story about Zardari’s failure to foster true democracy – By Ali Dayan Hasan in OpenDemocracy, Dec 30, 2010

Overcoming ‘blasphemy law’ hype – Beena Sarwar « Journeys to democracy, Dec 30, 2010

The blasphemy law by I.A. Rehman, Dawn Nov 25, 2010

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Commentaries Politics

The Attack on Unions in Wisconsin

We had all expected that the conservatives will use this economic downturn to restructure the state and local economies to suit the interests of the powerful: the attack on the Unions, spearheaded by the Wisconsin Republicans, is the beginning salvo of this onslaught on the last remaining defenses workers have against corporations.

The Republican argument is that the Union-bargained wages are unaffordable and tax the public treasury too much. Hence, the best strategy, in the bizarre world of voodoo economics, is to deny the the workers the right to come together to fight for a contract. in other words, they want us to take on our employers alone if we want better wages. And as another one of their mantras is laissezfaire economics, we as individuals cannot even look to the government if we somehow feel exploited, as the government, they assert, should have nothing to do with business.

This attempt to change the Union laws, let us be clear, is not about balancing budgets or affirming fiscal responsibility: this is an attack on labor rights, and an offering to the corporations who, let us not forget, have been lobbying hard to weaken the Unions. Surprisingly, the Republicans in Wisconsin and some other states have singled out teachers unions as the main culprits. So, while our no-unionized administrators have guaranteed big salaries, the teachers, somehow, need to be made more vulnerable, and the best way of doing so is to  deny them the right to draw on the collective strength of their laboring brothers and sisters.

Yes, the unions can sometimes be an impediment to fast-paced demands of the global economy, but that does not necessarily mean that they need to be defanged and destroyed, especially if the general trend in legislation is already antigovernment and pro-corporation.

We should not only object to this attack on our right to fight together for our rights, but also point out that the Republicans, by attacking the rights of the working Americans, are clearly fighting for the corporations that fund their campaigns and their think tanks.

So, it is not just about the unionized workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, or New Jersey, but the right of people to fight exploitation and job insecurity, both of which, it is certain, are likely to increase if the right to collective bargaining is rescinded.

We can sum up the Republican argument about economy in simple words: the global economy needs cheap labor; unions make labor expensive; let us eliminate the unions so that we can have the cheap labor needed for the economy.

I have two simple questions: if this often lauded economic system goes into a tailspin if we can’t find cheap labor, then what good is it? And, pray do tell us, what good is an economy if it cannot succeed without exploiting labor?

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Commentaries Culture Politics

Auctoritas, Potestas, and the Talibanistic Imaginary (Part 1-6)*

(This is a provisional summary of what I have written on this topic so far)

In discussing the complex concept of the “State of Exception” Georgio Agamben traces the origin of current normative and central role of the State of Exception through a discussion of the two competing Roman concepts of Auctoritas and Potestas.

Auctoritas, in the sphere of private law, Agamben explains, “is the property of the auctor, that is, the person sui iuris (the pater familias) who intervenes . . . in order to confer legal validity on the act of a subject who cannot independently bring a legally valid act into being” (76).  The term, Agamben further suggests, “derives from the verb augeo: the auctor is is qui auget, the person who augments, increases, or perfects the act–or legal situation–of someone else” (76).

Having discussed the term itself, Agamben asks the following important questions: “But where does the ‘force’ of the auctor come from? And what is this power to augere? His answer provides the most important explanation of auctocritas as a signifier of a specific juridical power. He suggests that auctocritas has “nothing to do with representation” (77) nor is the “auctor’s act” “founded upon some sort of legal power vested in him to act as a representative” (77). This power to augere, Agamben suggests, “springs directly from his condition as pater” (77). Important also to note is that Agamben argues that “auctoritas is not sufficient in itself” (76), its very existence also depends on an “extraneous activity that it validates” (76). Thus the act of the auctor reaches fruition only when it, in concert with an other, completes a perfect act by validating the act itself. That is why Agamben goes on to define the perfect act as follows:

It is, then, as if for something to exist in law there must be a relationship between two elements (or two subjects): one endowed with auctoritas and one that takes the initiative in the act in the strict sense. If the two elements or two subjects coincide, then the act is perfect. However, if there is a gap or incongruity between them, the act must be completed with auctoritas in order to be valid. (76)

Thus the role of the auctor is to fill the gap between the two parties, or elements, by adding his legal weight in order to erase the inequality that might make the transaction imperfect.  The auctor, whose power is inherent to his person, thus erases the deficit in a contractual act simply by inserting his will into the act itself: like the father giving consent to marry or the teacher providing an answer. This discussion is still only pertinent to the function of auctoritas in the sphere of private law. The next part of Agamben’s discussion touches upon the role of auctoritas in public law. But before I discuss that it is important to dwell on potestas. Generally speaking, while auctocritas deals with the anomic aspects of the law, potestas deals with the laws normative functions and in Roman law both are supposed to function in a sort of dialogic embrace.

Generally speaking, while auctocritas deals with the anomic aspects of the law, potestas deals with the law’s normative functions and in Roman law both are supposed to function in a sort of dialogic embrace. Traditionally in the Roman sphere of public law, potestas was the legal power vested in the magistrates who exercised it within  the law. Imperium, military power, was the highest form of potestas. Thus, while auctoritas (the anomic aspect of the law) performed the private function of the law and was associated with all those who could claim the status of pater, potestas (the normative aspect of the law) was always related to the magistracy and could not be claimed by virtue of one’s social status. A healthy and dialogic tension between the two was necessary to maintain the social order.

Agamben further complicates the discussion of these two concepts by re-reading the interpretations of yet another Roman practice: Iustitium. Agamben explains: “The term iustitium. . . literally means ‘standstill’ or ‘suspension of the law’.” (41). In most modern assessments of the term, the term is interpreted as an act of public mourning, but Agamben explains the term against this much traversed terrain of explication. First, he explains the material circumstances within the Roman history when an iustitium was proclaimed:

Upon learning of a situation that endangered the Republic, the Senate would issue a senatus consultum ultimatum [final decree of the Senate] by which it called upon the counsels . . . and even, in extreme cases, all citizens, to take whatever measures they considered necessary for the salvation of the state. (41)

Agamben also suggests that such a decree was contingent upon a real situation that could qualify as tumultus: like an invasion or internal resurrection. So how does this practice, Agamben asks, come to be understood as public mourning? Here is what he writes about the usual readings of the term:

Indeed, with the end of the Republic, iustitium ceased to mean the suspension of law in order to cope with a tumult and the new meaning replaced the old one so perfectly that even the memory of this austere institution seems to have entirely vanished.  . . . But how did this term that was used in public law to designate the suspension of law in situations of the most extreme political necessity come to assume the more anodyne meaning of a funeral for a death in the family? (65)

While discussing several misreading and explanations of the concept as mourning, Agamben finally suggests a particular explanation of this transformation of meaning of the term from a concept related to tumult to a concept signifying a public mourning. Agamben explains this subtle meaning by discussing Augustus’s conflation of auctoritas and potestas into one person, the figure of Caesar Augustus.  By having combined the private function of auctoritas and by absorbing the public aspects of potestas unto himself, Augustus had become the very body of the law. As Augustus had made auctoritas public by ascribing to himself the role of the pater of the nation and had arrogated to himself the powers of the magistracy, in him then, the anomic and normative functions of the law are made to reside in one person and the state of exception becomes the law. His, death, therefore, is also the death of law, the death of the state of exception, as the law resides in him. Agamben describes this, while discussing Agustus’s death, as follows:

The correspondence between anomie and mourning becomes comprehensible only in the light of the correspondence between the death of the sovereign and the state of exception. The original nexus between tumultus and iustitium is still present, but the tumult now coincides with the death of the sovereign, while the suspension of the law is integrated into the funeral ceremony. (68)

In a way, then, Agamben explains, by appropriating all powers and by making exception the norm the sovereign becomes “living law”, “nomos empushkos” (69) and thus can assert himself to be above law (69). Thus, the reason isutitium is read as public mourning is because literally the death of the sovereign itself becomes a tumult as law has died.

For Agamben this conflation of the normative and anomic aspects of the law and the creation of a permanent state of exception is a dangerous combination, and he asserts:

But when they [auctoritas and potestas] tend to reside in a single person, when the state of exception, in which they are bound and blurred together, becomes the rule, then the juridico-political system transforms itself into a killing machine. (86)

With this discussion of the state of exception, auctoritas, and potestas, I will now move on to discuss the sort of juridico-political world created by what I call the Talibanistic imaginary.

First, a brief explanation of what I mean by Talibanistic imaginary. Talibanistic imaginary is a worldview constructed within modernity, is shaped by the material, cultural, and political conditions, and relies on a literalist, reductive, and exclusionary definition of tradition. A Talib, the subject of this particular imaginary, views modernity itself as a threat to the body and soul and attempts to alter modernity by attempting to overwrite it with a premodern explanation of the real.

Though I use the term Talib and Taliban, I do not use it in its reductive usage from the US media as a signifier specific for the Afghan/Pakistani Taliban movement. In my theorization, the term signifies the Talibanistic trends on both sides of the global division of labor. With this brief explanation of the term, I will now discuss the Talibanistic imaginary as it develops on two opposite ends of the global division of labor: Afghanistan/Pakistan and the United States.

The term Taliban entered the metropolitan vocabulary in the mid nineteen-eighties, and it is only apt to first dwell on this term itself with a reference to its place of origin, Afghanistan. Taliban as a linguistic unit is plural of “Talib,” which literally means a seeker or a student in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. The pluralization, Taliban, however, is in Pashto. Thus as a signifier, the term Taliban is overloaded with its semantic origins but also with the traces of the Pashtun culture and politics. The term Taliban used in the popular vocabulary specifically tends to signify the kind of politics and worldview practiced by the followers of the Taliban movement, but I intend to stretch its usage to cover a particular countermodern imaginary and praxis that defies any regional locus and explanation.

The Afghan Taliban movement, I suggest, is an apt example of the conflation of auctoritas and potestas under a perpetual iustitium, and I will now elaborate on this claim by dwelling a little on the rise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan in the mid nineteen-eighties. There is an important passage in Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban where the author touches upon the popular myths about the rise of Taliban, and that particular passage is the starting point of my argument. Rashid writes:

There is now an entire factory of myths and stories to explain how Omar mobilized a small group of Taliban against the rapacious Kandhar warlords. The most credible story, told repeatedly, is that in the spring of 1994 Singesar neighbours came to tell him that a commander had abducted two teenage girls, their heads had been shaved and they had been taken to a military camp and repeatedly raped. Omar enlisted some thirty Talibs . . . and attacked the base, freeing the girls and hanging the commander from the barrel of a tank. (Rashid 25)

This is the moment when Mullah Omar, a teacher and a pater to his students, is approached by the community simply because he possesses a form of auctoritas in the private sphere. His help is sought in the face of a permanent state of iustititum caused by the post-Soviet-Afghan war internal strife. His act to enter the political arena can also be read as his assumption of the regulatory responsibilities by instituting a state of exception in which auctoritas and potestas are conflated in one person, and, by extension in his followers. The purpose of their actions: to seek justice at a time when law is at a “stand still.”

The rise of the Taliban cannot just be attributed to the Qur’an and the Islamic texts, for after all these texts had been there for centuries without spawning something such as the Taliban. The rise of the Taliban is inherently connected to the material conditions and the perpetual state of tumult that existed in Afghanistan in the mid-eighties.

When the Taliban finally oust their opponents and capture Kabul, the final phase of the conflation of auctoritas and potestas is completed. The way in which Mullah Omar defines his official position is analogous to that of  Octavian declaring himself “Augustus.” Mullah Omar takes on the title of Ameer-ul-Mominin, the leader of the faithful. Traditionally, this title was designated for the early caliphs of Islam. By declaring himself the leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar can conflate his private role as an auctor with that of the “law-giver”, thus creating a perfect and perpetual state of exception in which his person becomes the law. This title also makes him into a supranational figure, for by declaring himself the leader of the faithful he becomes the leader of all those Muslims willing to join his cause regardless of their national or cultural origin.

But the situation is further aggravated also by a perpetual state of tumult in which each of his followers is given imperium to regulate life. This imperium is granted to them under the rules of behavior governed by the tradition of “Am’r bil ma’roof wa nahi anil munkar–to encourage the correct actions and to stop the wrong actions.” In the streets of Kabul, this guiding formula gives the Taliban foot soldiers the power to regulate and punish all actions that may not fit their particular definition of “right” and “wrong.” Thus, just when the law is at a stand still, a permanent state of exception is established in the shape of a power to regulate life through a popular imperium granted by the authority of the “Ameer” in whom the law has become embodied in one person. The result of this conflation of auctoritas and potestas, amidst a perpetual tumult, of course, is the creation of a “death world.”

It is no wonder, then, that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan is inextricably linked with a permanent state of iustitium as the country, for so many reasons, was and is in a perpetual tumult. Furthermore, since the Taliban had mobilized a purist past in order to cope with the present, their entire political philosophy is linked with this perpetual tumult of modernity that, in their view, threatens their world view. The result:  a system of law in which the state of exception is the norm. Thus, the anomic aspects of law are conflated with the normative functions of the law to create a stable but anomic legal order, an order in which even the foot-soldiers have, in some ways, an absolute imperium over their fellow citizens.

Furthermore, since the Talibanistic imaginay is connected to this permanent tumult, even in absence of a material danger to their rule, an ideological tumult–modernity, corrupting influences, deviations, must be constantly invoked to create a state of ideological siege in which the state of exception can no longer  be erased but becomes a permanent system of law. In fact, under such a scenario, maintaining a permanent state of tumult is a perfect strategy to continue the Taliban rule. The actions of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan these days are a perfect example of this strategy: they do not have a viable long-term plan but their immediate goal is to alter the ground realities in a way that both Pakistan and Afghanistan  either stay in or transition into a permanent tumult. And it is here that the policies grounded in the American Talibanistic imaginary come to play the most crucial role in, probably unintentionally, maintaining the material conditions ideally suited for the Taliban movement. [More later]

* (All citations are from Georgio Agamben’s State of Exception. Chicago, U of Chicago P, 2005).

 

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GoodReads: Engaging the Muslim World, Juan Cole

Engaging the Muslim World

By Juan Cole

Publication Details:
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Rev Upd edition (September 14, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0230102751
ISBN-13: 978-0230102750

Details (From Amazon.com)

From Publishers Weekly

University of Michigan history professor and blogger Cole (Sacred Space and Holy War) takes aim at the Bush administration’s Islamophobic discourse, highlighting that some of the very people who promulgated the phobia (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) once sang a different tune. He calls instead for evenhanded and pragmatic policy changes, not least a reckoning with the heterogeneity of the Muslim world. Yet for all his expertise, Cole fails to source some of his harshest accusations; moreover, for a scholar championing greater subtlety of thought, he too often discards nuance himself. To the extent that Cole argues against painting the Middle East with overly broad strokes, he brings a constructive addition to public discourse; his failure to be consistent is a lost opportunity. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Reviews

“Cole has delivered an important book that members of the administration would be wise to read en route to the Middle East.”–The American Prospect
“[A] balanced and effective antidote to oversimplified Western views of Islam. . . . manages to prick western misconceptions without taking extremist movements entirely at their own estimation.” —The Economist
“[Cole] brings a constructive addition to public discourse.” —Publishers Weekly
“Intelligent, clear and erudite. This is a timely and incisive retrospective of the Bush administration’s calamitous encounter with the Muslim World by one of the most noted scholars of the subject. Cole looks deep into what went wrong to show the way forward to a new engagement of the Muslim World.”–Vali Nasr, bestselling author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future

“Juan Cole, distinguished specialist on the Muslim world, delivers his most comprehensive and erudite commentary to date — covering imperialism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, American oil politics, radical Islam and Middle Eastern terrorism. Engaging the Muslim World is the book every educated American should read.”–Chalmers Johnson, bestselling author of Nemesis and The Blowback Trilogy

“Engaging the Muslim World is a MUST read, the right book at the right time for anyone who wants to understand ‘What went wrong, why, and where do we go from here.’ Juan Cole is uniquely qualified to provide a critical, incisive, provocative analysis and commentary that will be welcomed by experts, policymakers and concerned citizens.”–John L. Esposito, Professor of religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and bestselling author of Who Speaks for Islam? and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

“Cole provides a comprehensive alternative analysis of the current situation in the Muslim world and reveals how new U.S. policies might succeed in bringing peace where wars now rage. He proves the key role of oil interests in American foreign policy and demonstrates how incorrect or exaggerated ideas now prevalent in the U.S. are about the intrinsic militancy of Islam, and the aggressiveness of Iran. Everyone should read and ponder the facts he presents and the solutions he proposes.”–Nikki Keddie, Professor Emerita of History, UCLA and author of Modern Iran and Women in the Middle East

“Juan Cole’s depth and breath of knowledge on the Middle East has made him the most prescient analyst of the region’s politics. It might infuriate the neocons who are proven wrong again and again, but Cole’s insight is invaluable to anyone interested in the truth.”– Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos

“A well-reasoned, useful vision for Western-Muslim relations.”–Kirkus

“A leading American expert on the Islamic world, seeks to dispel many of the persistent myths about Islam and the Middle East. Cole convincingly demonstrates why one should not confuse Muslim activism with hidebound fundamentalism. The chapter dealing with Iran is particularly informative and evenhanded, and the analysis of myriad issues in U.S.-Iran relations is a welcome antidote to the barrage of alarmist commentaries on Iran in much of the U.S. press. This readable and intelligent book is a must read for policymakers and the informed public.–Library Journal, starred review
“Juan Cole’s ‘Engaging the Muslim World’ maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began.  Like Lawrence Wright’s remarkable ‘Looming Tower’, published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms.” —New York Times Book Review
“The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole’s, because he’s smart, well-informed and sensible — in other words, I often agree with his take.” — Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
“The Obama administration, as it seeks to correct a decade of self-fulfilling phobias, will find no better guide than this nuanced, clear-headed, visionary book.“ –The Huffington Post
“I cannot improve on Juan Cole’s thorough and excellent debunking of the results [of the Iranian Presidential Election].”– Laura Secor, The New Yorker
“Provocative and sweeping . . . Of the three books, Cole’s is the most critically rigorous and empirically informed. Agree or disagree, one cannot ignore cole’s historically and sociologically driven analysis and moral courage.” — Fawaz Gerges, National Interest
“Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book.  One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes.  The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read.” –Ziad Fahmy, H-Levant
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Announcements Commentaries Culture Politics

The Floods in Pakistan: Short Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center

The Floods in Pakistan
Short Interview with Fayyaz Baqir, Director
Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center
Islamabad, August 20, 2010

Maggie Ronkin
ronkinm@georgetown.edu

Donor link: http://www.rspn.org/news/flood.html

1. What regions of Pakistan and sectors of the population are affected most by the tragic flooding?

Vast swaths of land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously the Northwest Frontier Province), Southern Punjab (the Siraiki region of the Punjab), Sindh, and Balochistan have been devastated by the recent floods. These floods are considered to be the worst in the entire world during the past hundred years. It is not an exaggeration that fifteen million families have been rendered homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. Hundreds of villages are no more. Standing crops over thousands of acres, cattle, infrastructure, and productive assets of millions of families have been lost due to flooding. A woman from a very well off and respected family of a rural district contacted by phone said “Everything is gone. We are beggars”. Scores of women from small farm and landless families burst into tears when asked about their plight. “There is no food, no water, no medicine, no help” most of them narrated. If they do not receive assistance soon, they may reach the point where they think that there is “no hope”. Such a situation will add another dimension to the crisis because desperate minds are fertile ground for militants. This is a great humanitarian crisis to which the world’s conscience needs to respond. The scale of this tragedy is so enormous that the country’s entire population is reeling in shock.

2. What does the devastation in Pakistan look like to you on the ground?

Thousands of human settlements are under ten or fifteen-foot deep water. Dead cattle can be found everywhere. Innumerable people are stranded in areas surrounded by water. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, and elderly people who managed to move out of their houses leaving behind their assets accumulated over a life time have squatted along the roads. Tents are in extremely short supply, so the homeless sit under the burning sun without any shade to cover their heads. They often seem overwhelmed and unable to decide what to do. There are shortages of food, safe drinking water, and medicine. Whenever food arrives, scrambling for it leads to scuffles, and inevitably, the poor, weak, and households headed by women are hurt the most. There is no organized, visible, and dependable government assistance available.

3. What can be done to counter “donor fatigue” and the perception that indigenous aid organizations are untrustworthy?

Please be assured that the media are underestimating the resilience, resourcefulness, and capacity of the people to cope with the disaster due to the presence of hundreds of formal and informal institutions and mechanisms that help people on a day-to-day basis. Credible, effective, and trustworthy actors certainly abound. They include philanthropists, NGOs, custodians of shrines, voluntary associations, government agencies, and, yes, the army. Some politicians also have played very active and constructive roles in reaching out to people. All tiers of the government cannot be trusted and government cannot reach out everywhere given the enormous scale of this tragedy.

Two factors are key here. One is that DCOs, those in charge of districts, enjoy much less power, respect, and authority than did their predecessors, the Deputy Commissioners (DCs). Therefore, they are much less effective. Another is that elected local government officials were released from their jobs a few months ago. New local elections were not held because the ruling parties in each province wanted elections when they could achieve “favourable” results. Establishing links among doers, donors, and communities in need is the most important step. It is not transparency of government and relief assistance alone but sharing of information in general that is most critical. We need information gathering, analysis, packaging, and dissemination through electronic, print, and verbal means in a big way. Mainstream and alternative media have to play active roles to build links and trust. Once trust and links are established, donor fatigue will go away.

4. In what areas is need greatest this week (e.g., shelter, food, medicine, etc.)? In what areas will need be greatest a month and three months from now?

As images circulated across the globe show, affected people and communities have lost everything. The greatest need this week is for tents, food, water, and medicine. One to three months from now the need will be greatest for productive assets like seed, cattle, ploughing instruments, water pumps to drain out trapped water, building materials, and credit.

A package to meet the basic food requirements of a family of 5-7 people includes 20 kg flour, 5 kg sugar, 5 kg oil, 1 kg tea, 5 kg pulses and lentils, 3 kg dry milk, and a few boxes of matches. It meets a family’s food needs for one week and costs Rs. 3200 (US $38). This is the cost of 5 lunches on the go in the USA. Millions of families need help. However, even making a donation to help a single family is like lighting a candle.

5. What can US-based educators do to best represent and encourage interest in the tremendous challenges now faced by ordinary Pakistanis?

Please link up with credible charities, NGOs, and autonomous government departments. Disseminate information on effective local actors to donors, volunteers, and technical experts who can help the affected communities, and raise and disburse funds. One way to identify effective local organizations is through the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP). The PCP accredits NGOs in a thorough and rigorous process, and a list of accredited NGOs is displayed on their website. Another way to identify credible organizations is through the UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. It has a district and function-wise list of credible NGOs in the field.) The World Bank-supported multi-million dollar Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is another source for finding credible partners. Their partners are well scrutinized and selected after a careful appraisal process. Last and not least is the National Centre for Human Development (NCHD), which is headed by a former civil society activist and media professional who is highly respected for her competence, integrity, and commitment to the downtrodden.

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Commentaries Politics

Rawalpindi Bombing–Close to Home

Policemen_secure_the_site_7941
Image borrowed from The Nation, Pakistan

Yesterday’s bombing of the National Bank was so close to my home that had I been there I would have felt the tremor and heard the blast from my room. What the newspapers have failed to mention is that this particular bank branch primarily dealt with the pension accounts of army retirees. So, most of the people killed were probably those who had served their country honorably and were there to collect their monthly pension: my own pension account is (was) also in this  branch. So, in a way the bombs hit home in more than one way for me.

We should also know that quite a few people go to this bank branch to collect the pensions for widows and spouses of retired/fallen army soldiers. Thus, the bomb killed those whose personal lives, in one way or the other, were linked to serving their country. This is the true face of Taliban: the killers of women, children, and defenseless retirees. If this is how they deal with their so-called enemies, what can we construe from this? What kind of an ‘Islamic’ system will they implement if they were given this chance? Would their justice system be based on the same principle of dearth, torture, and total disregard of human life?

A bigger question that we must now ask of these bearded cowards is simply this: What kind of a Jihad is this? And which book are they reading to understand it? For as for as I am concerned there is nothing Islamic about this kind of cowardly war. And if all these idiots are so interested in fighting, why aren’t they in in the mountains? it should not be hard to find thirty thousand Pakistan soldiers to match their own jihadist  vigor with. Or maybe, for these cowards, unsuspecting, defenseless civilians are a better target.

While this is a tragedy for us and for the city of Rawalpindi, this incident should also be added to the Taliban and Alqaeda “Roll of Shame.”