In all the havoc — beef bans and ink attacks and the lynch-murders — we see in Pakistan schadenfreude: shameful joy
The news coming out of Canada is more than a little wonderful.
Stephen Harper has tumbled out of Ottawa, along with his crusty Conservatives. In his place stands Justin Trudeau, a gent who looks like a pop idol, calls for pluralist values, and thinks falling down a flight of stairs makes for a mean party trick.
Yes, after a decade lost to Mr Harper’s niqab-banning bigotry, Mr Trudeau is a breath of fresh air. In his victory speech, the to-be PM remembered how a lady in a hijab made her way through the crowd, handed him her baby, and said “something that I will never forget. She said she’s voting for us because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and that her government will protect those rights”.
The signs agree. The Liberal landslide means this parliament is the most female, and the most Muslim, in history. The prospective admin’s already moving for the withdrawal of its fighter jets from Iraq and Syria, pledging more funding for the arts, and repairing the rights of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. The world ought to follow the maple leaf’s lead.
Yet for the rest of the West, positions are hardening. In a time when migrants’ bodies are washing up on Libyan beaches, the Czech president says migrants don’t deserve compassion. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s gone one better, claiming “Islam was never part of Europe. It’s the rulebook of another world.”
While Bosnians and Albanians may disagree, the Hungarian PM needn’t look so far afield. As Juan Cole pointed out, “Viktor Orban’s religious heritage was shaped and made possible by the relatively tolerant Muslim policy in Ottoman Hungary.”
Orban isn’t alone in going against the grain of history: see David Cameron and the Tory Party are back in top hats and tails. Mr Cameron’s previously called for Muslims “to embrace our British values” — seeing as the twain’s so hard to meet. Even when President Obama let out a lukewarm sound bite at the UN last month — that “violent extremism is not unique to any faith” — Mr Cameron was hot and bothered.
“Barack, you said it and you’re right: every religion has its extremists,” Dave said, since both are on a first-name basis. “But we have to be frank that the biggest problem we have today is the Islamist extremist violence that has given birth to ISIS…”
Well, not quite: Paul Bremer’s executive order disbanding the Iraqi Army “gave birth to ISIS”, which then proceeded to wreak the said violence. Best not to confuse the symptom with the cause, as Tony Blair seems to have (partially) realised this week. There are “elements of truth” to the argument that the ISIS is a child of the war, says Mr Blair. Well done sir — a few more truths like those, and your padded cell awaits, via the Hague.
But to return to the Barack-Dave dustup, who’s Mr Obama to set the record straight? The Leader of the Free World is part of the intolerance issue: Mr Obama has bombed twice as many Muslim countries as George W, and done about as little to arrest hate at home.
And come 2016, the Oval Office isn’t set to change on that score. Consider on the one hand the Republican circus: White House candidates range from a black man slamming the idea of a Muslim president, a lady who’s been attacked for suggesting the opposite, and a reality TV star that thinks all Latinos jump the border to rape people. This, without mentioning Brother Jeb.
On the other hand we’ve got Hillary, and it’s her election to lose. Which is doubly distressing considering Ms Clinton is a hawk, and a bad one: she voted for a failed war in Iraq, and was vital to waging another failed war in Libya.
“We came, we saw, he died,” Ms Clinton said of the gruesome Gaddafi. Trouble is, Ms Clinton then proceeded to look on as all Libya died: there is no Libya today — a pack of state-lets jockey for power with their own armies, parliaments, and prime ministers. Civil war rages.
Yet this is in keeping with Hillary Rodham’s track record: Bill Safire records “not a peep” out of Senator Clinton when Bush was shoving detainees into Gitmo. And Lady Clinton’s enthusiasm for invading brown lands is matched only by her love for a certain apartheid state.
Israel remains Ms Clinton’s favourite blind spot; as well as the cherry on this whole intolerance debate. In his plan to make Israel as much a Nazi fantasy as possible — and yes, irony just died laughing — Binyamin Netanyahu has upped the ante: where first there was apartheid, then ethnic slaughter, then sifting the Undesirable from the Israelite, the Likud Party has gone the whole hog: Holocaust denial.
You read that right — barring a swastika and a side-parting, Mr Netanyahu now lords over his very own Fourth Reich. Where once the Jewish state’s motto was “never again”, Binyamin says Hitler was never too fussed about slaying all the Jews — it was some Muslim mufti that got in his ear. Yet liberal Muslims continue to hail this brown-shirted bunch as a democracy in the wider, madder Middle East.
Leaving aside the West’s freezing up, and the Middle East melting down, we arrive at democracies closer to home, and the realisation that South Asia’s very much part of the problem.
India is changing before our eyes. In its defence, the Hindu rashtra boys take proud ownership of what’s happening, ghar wapsi for ghar wapsi. Yet in all the havoc — the beef bans and the ink attacks and the lynch-murders — we see in Pakistan schadenfreude: shameful joy. This from a land that understands too well the fear, the pain, the broken lives that majoritarian states leave in their wake.
And we’ve only begun to stem the wound — surgery still seems years down the road. For all its meaningless motions, parliament can’t even get a basic Hindu Marriage Act past the two houses; the bill’s been languishing for years. Youhanabad has been forgotten about; sectarian killers continue to strike in Sindh and Balochistan (albeit with far less firepower, courtesy the state finally waking up), and there’s just no narrative to be had.
Goes the lead character in a Fincher film, “Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’ I believe in the second part.”
May the second lead to the first.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2015.
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