the land of others
By Zofeen T.
A week since the
deadly protests sparked across the Muslim world over the movie trailer
‘Innocence of Muslims’ insulting Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), followed by
the publication of cartoons of the prophet by a French satire magazine
Charlie Hebdo, tension remains high and emotions inflamed.
“It’s not over yet,”
warned Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, spokesperson of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, talking to
His words echoed those
uttered by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah, Lebanese political and
paramilitary organisation, far off, in Ramallah. “The world should know
our anger will not be a passing outburst but the start of a serious movement
that will continue on the level of the Muslim nation to defend the Prophet
of God,” he said to thousands of cheering protesters.
“If our government can
take serious note of the Salala incident and block the Nato supply routes,
they can very well take a firmer stance over this issue,” Mujahid said.
Saying it is a signal for
“open war” from the US, he further went on to say it was not simply not
free speech overstep. “It’s hard to believe that the US administration
had no hand in the making of the film. If they are really not involved they
should hold the film-makers accountable for hurting the sentiments of the
entire Muslim Ummah in this manner,” said Mujahid.
However, Ian Black,
Guardian’s Middle East editor, has a slightly different view. Tracing how
speedily the insult travelled from one combustible Islamic country to the
next, he pointed to some political movements there stoking and exploiting
the situation — “In the Arab world you have had mostly Salafi types
exploiting what was clearly intended to be a provocative anti-Muslim film
made by extremists who presumably were happy to stir up anti-American
“That certainly seems to
have been the case in Egypt, which was crucial in starting this chain of
events — the situation there [was made] complicated by the Muslim
Brotherhood now being in power,” Black explained to TNS in an email
exchange. He further added that in Libya, the protests were used as “cover
by Ansar al-Sharia to kill the US ambassador”.
He added, “And look at
Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, delighted to be able to blame
America, protector of Israel, and usefully distract attention from the
slaughter in Syria! An-Nahda in Tunisia, it is worth noting, did not
encourage protests — though they have problems with Salafis.”
So is this about prejudice
If you ask Lahore-based
defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, he’d say both as did Black.
“Anti-Americanism is a part of the ideology and discourse of Islamic
hardliners and militant groups. How could they miss this opportunity that
gives them a chance to criticise and condemn the US?” asked Rizvi
According to him, these
Islamic groups and militants pursue a two-pronged agenda — opposition to
the US and sever its relations with the Muslim world. “They want to assume
power in their home country to implement the Islam of their choice,” he
The film, he said,
provided a “godsend” opportunity to pursue both the objectives. The
protests and rioting across the Muslim world, he said, shows the power of
these hardliners and at the same time forces others to adopt their political
Black termed the motives
on both sides to be entirely “opportunistic”.
[Secretary of State] emphasized that the US government deplored the film but
also made clear that it cannot act against perceived blasphemy. All in all
it’s an unpleasant reminder that it is very hard to separate religion from
the real world,” Black concluded.
“As nasty as it is, it
doesn’t directly call for murder, arson and so on. The clip does not
directly incite violence against anyone and thus is likely protected under
the First Amendment,” Dr Mohammad Taqi told TNS. He pointed out that it
did not veer towards hate speech.
Taqi, a Pakistani doctor
settled in Florida, who saw the 14-minute trailer, is a practicing Chishti
Muslim. He not only found it “abhorrent and hateful expression” but also
crass production-wise. “It’s a cross between ainak wala jinn and some
third-rate porn flick!” he expressed.
Further, Taqi may or may
not agree with Mujahid’s stance that the US administration was involved in
the making of the film, he is definite “bigotry and malicious intent”
But, says Dr Pervez
Hoodbhoy, a peace activist, a blasphemous remark or a film has become ideal
means for any ill-wisher of Muslims to inflict damage and destruction upon
them. “Toss a lighted match, and then step aside to watch the fun as they
kill, burn, and destroy their own kind,” said the professor who teaches at
the Lahore University of Management Sciences and the Quaid-e-Azam Univerity
Hoodbhoy said collective
derangement takes place when “reason is banished and raw emotion is
allowed to rule”. He blamed the “hysterical reaction” to the “venom
of the mullahs, overflowing madrassas, and a dysfunctional education system
that have created a tinderbox that catches fire from time-to-time,” he
To that, said Mujahid:
“All this wouldn’t have happened if our leaders, like President Zardari,
had led the protest in the first place.” And then added: “But those
holding the begging bowls are in no position to hold their head held high
and seek repentance from powers that dole out money and mischief.”
For its part, Mujahid
said, the JuD itself carried out huge rallies in Lahore and ensured nothing
untoward happened despite emotions running awry.
However, the government
gave in to people’s pressure and announcing Friday Sept 21 a public
holiday, called it an official day of “expression of love for the
Naeem Sadiq, a
Karachi-based businessmen, looks with distaste at the way Pakistani cities
have been rampaged in the last few days.
“Religion is an
excellent tool for exploitation and capturing space,” he said, wryly.
“It is the mullah, who decides what is ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the many
buckets of Islam, which they have manufactured to suit their own viewpoint.
The sane ones are too scared to plead sanity,” he added.
He further said:
“Muslims do not honour the Holy Prophet; they do not enhance his respect;
they do not add to his glory and they do not benefit themselves by violent
protests when any of the six billion or so persons going around the globe
acts in a disrespectful manner towards him.”
At the same time Sadiq
holds their rulers responsible. “At another level, this has also something
to do with the frustration of Muslims with their own countries and rulers,
who are corrupt and incompetent. You will not see these kinds of protests
amongst Muslims in western countries.”
To ensure respect for all
religions, Imran Khan has suggested a comprehensive global legislation.
Finding Imran Khan, “too
naive” to understand the dynamics of international politics, Rizvi said:
“The United Nations or any other international organisation cannot create
totally binding laws. The UN General Assembly can pass a resolution asking
the member state to control religious extremism and the activities of the
people and groups that offend the followers of any religion.”
Moreover, he said:
“There is a problem in all this. Will Imran and other Islamists in
Pakistan be willing to review the laws concerning blasphemy and stop
engaging in verbal campaign against the Ahmedis?”
And even if the UN does
something to that effect, Hoodbhoy pointed out, it would be impossible to
regulate the internet. Clinton, in 2010, in one of her speeches on internet
freedom said: “Viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of
Protesters outside the US
consulate in Lahore. — Photos by Rahat Dar
By Sarwat Ali
Salamat Ali Khan was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Amir Khusro
Sangeet Academy in a ceremony held recently, the citation read that the
award was an acknowledgement of his staying true to the classical form of
vocal music and introducing it to a large number of countries around the
world. The grandson of Mahatama Gandhi, Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Vijantimala
in Chennai presented the award to him.
As discussed in this very
space, since the beginning of ‘Surkshetra’ and the threat of Bal
Thackeray, some cold ashes from the amber of the debate about the artistic
relationship between the two countries has been blown off to re-smoulder.
The classical musicians of Pakistan, too, have been very well-received in
Indeed the true genius of
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, the father of Shafqat Salamat Ali, was acknowledged
in India by the connoisseurs and it was said that he
made genuine contribution to kheyal gaiki. His stature back home in
Pakistan was elevated by the felicitations that he received across the
It has been the ardent
desire of the Indian artistes to perform in Lahore as well, and some who
have played or sung have said so without mincing their words. It has been a
treat to listen to Ustads Bismillah Khan, Amjad Ali Khan, Pandits Jasraj and
Hari Prasad Chaurasia. All of them called the concert as a fulfilment of an
ardent desire. Lahore was one of the centres of learning and the arts in
undivided India and its music lovers were considered to be well-initiated
into the intricacies of classical music. Axiomatically, it was considered to
be the most difficult place to perform for it was assumed that the artiste
who could perform successfully in Lahore could perform anywhere in the
Like all city dwellers,
the citizens of Lahore too have a bloated image of themselves and their
city. They still like to believe that they comprise the most informed and
initiated audience. Lahore did undergo a sea change with the transfer of
population in 1947 when nearly half the city population migrated to be
replaced by many more who came from across the Radcliff divide. But the old
Lahoris have insisted, despite reservations in private, about themselves
being the most sophisticated and cultured audience of the higher arts in the
country or indeed the entire world.
It is the same old Lahore
that the artistes in India remember and the comparatively younger ones who
either have grown up in India or were born there have been told so by their
nostalgia-driven elders. It is the old Lahore that they come in search of
and just one performance or a couple of days stay in not enough for them to
gauge the changes that might have taken place in the last 65 years.
Ustad Salamat Ali Khan
also went to Sham Chaurasi for he wanted to see the house that he was born
and grew up in. He was recognised by the people of the town and, by the time
he reached his former abode, he was led by a procession. When he knocked at
the door, the person who lived there came out and told him that the former
residents of the house had come to visit he felt very uneasy. His welcome
was subdued for he feared that perhaps Salamat Ali Khan had come back to
claim his property. He was repeatedly assured that it was no more than a
trip down the nostalgia lane but far from being appeased or satisfied he
must have heaved a sight of relief once Khan Sahib left.
It is the crux of this
relationship — at times warm and expansive yet shrouded in doubt and
misgiving. There is both love and hatred locked in an intricate embrace. It
breeds the contempt of familiarity.
The audiences in India
also praised Ustad Sharif Khan very lavishly when he went there on his only
visit and Tari Khan too is quite well-received. Tufail Niazi was treated as
a demigod when, in Amritsar and Jalandhar, he reminded the Sikhs of the true
musical worth of their shabds, kirtans and shaloks. He won many awards
including an Amir Khusro Award.
It appears in India there
are many Amir Khusro Awards exclusively for literature and quite a few
bodies designate the awards under the same generic label, a reflection of
the stature of the man who lived so many centuries ago but is still
remembered due to his multifaceted contributions. Same is true for Pakistan.
Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan
has matured over the years that he has been performing. Though he was not
the oldest of the progeny but when, as a youngster, he started to team up
with Ustad Salamat Ali Khan the latter felt more assured. It has been an
uphill struggle and Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan had to play to the gallery to
stay in business but when singing to himself or to a very select gathering
his true talent has always flowered.
In this age of rapid
technological development and change in taste, the purer forms of art
including that of music are under great amount of pressure to constantly
adapt. It is often feared that the rapid change somehow damages the purity
of a form. The classical forms by nature are more conservative in character
and something essential is lost when change under compulsion takes place. It
can be handled better if it is slow and properly digested.
It appears that across the
border the same concerns must have been raised and those who have stuck to
the guns of their intonation need to be acknowledged. Within the Pakistani
context the struggle of Shafqat Salamat Ali Khan appears to be more heroic
because here even the very worth of the classical forms are questioned.
(currently part of MA Applied Imagination course at Central Saint Martins,
London) organised an art event P.S. ART at the Drawing Room Gallery in
Lahore recently. It included a show comprising works of five artists and a
discussion with the participants, art critics, educationists and art
It was a coincidence the
show took place on Sept 6, a date that reminds of Pakistan’s war with
India; the exhibition comprised works by artists who belong to areas that
are fighting a war of another kind with invisible forces. Besides, these
‘warzones’ have a link with another September event, known as 9/11.
The display revealed how
the artists from the tribal areas or Balochistan deal with the theme of
violence. There were miniatures with details of bloodshed, weapons and views
of explosions. Shadows and silhouettes of drone planes were drawn against
cloudy skies. Nests made of barbed wire were installed in the gallery; hence
the artists expressed their experience of turbulent areas and terrible
times. Two of these artists belong to the Hazara community, people facing
ethnic/sectarian cleansing of the worst kind in the country’s history.
Other artists had witnessed acts of violence and at least one was a survivor
of a bomb blast.
More engaging than the
artworks, which were refined in terms of execution and creative solutions,
was the discussion. Like all such discussions, it soon drifted from its main
course — art — into politics. It was expected because the premise of the
exhibition was its political content. So the conversation invoked many
points which, like art, were not resolved or answered satisfactorily.
An important aspect of
this discourse that engaged the artists, organisers, art critics and
audience was the general reluctance to name the enemy. Everyone talked about
the awful nature of war, brutal killings on sectarian ground, senseless
targeting of public places like markets, bus stops and girls schools and
even mosques of other faiths, but the perpetrators were referred to as they
—some unknown individuals who could not be defined or described. This
reminds one of terms we use like agencies or establishment which conceal the
This habit of avoiding the
enemy’s name in public is the first measure of the enemy’s success. One
is so frightened that one starts deceiving oneself by not proclaiming the
protagonists. Umber to Eco in his essay ‘Inventing the Enemy’ recounts
his ride in a New York cab when a Pakistani taxi driver asked him about his
nationality and, upon knowing that he is Italian, inquired about Italians’
enemies. Eco was speechless because he couldn’t think of a country which
could be called an enemy of Italy. He told the driver Italy does not have
any, an answer which not only perplexed the driver but the author who
pondered upon the fact that Italy does not have external enemies because
Italian themselves are the enemies of each other.
The present day Pakistan
is also like Italy in that respect. Yet we believe that Indians or Hindus
and Israelis or Jews are our enemies. Children are taught this in schools;
newspapers are filled with this rhetoric and so is the electronic media.
Lately, the US has joined the list of our adversaries in an active way; thus
every calamity in Pakistan is considered a conspiracy of some
American-Jewish-Hindu plot. One wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of
people thought the earthquakes, torrential rains, floods and epidemic such
as Dengue are triggered by this trio. Some of them seriously do and
articulate it also.
In the gallery discussion,
too, it was hard to state that our own version of Taliban or their supported
groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are behind the atrocities against the Shiite
community of Hazaras in Quetta. Also, the terrorist attacks in public places
are the outcome of our religious militants active in Northern Areas.
Perhaps the artists’
attitude of not stating the actual cause of our predicament is due to their
conditioning — to always convert the content into something ambiguous so
that it offers more than one meaning or version. Their work in the show also
indicated this approach towards art and politics; the nests made in barbed
wire by Suleman Khan Mengal stemmed from a certain situation but became a
metaphor for many others like it. Similarly, the delicately-drawn miniature
by Sajid Khan of a sky heavy with dark clouds with a hint of red in it could
be read in another context too. Likewise, Shakila Hiader depicted the
interior spaces being destroyed (linked to her father, a political activist,
who committed suicide) in a remote and private narrative.
All these works, focusing
on terror in one way or the other, are made by artists from troubled
territories who have shifted to relatively peaceful places (Lahore or
Karachi) for education or better professional opportunities. But a number of
artists still residing in those areas are not addressing the grave
surroundings. Hence, instead of war-related visuals, most artists from the
‘warzone’ of Pakistan are painting pretty landscapes and beautiful
flowers. It is only when an artist moves away from reality, physically as
well as emotionally, that he sees it differently and decides to depict it.
Or maybe the decision to
pick painful, shameful and shocking subjects — which ‘rightfully’
belong to the artist — is only to meet the expectations of others. So the
artist becomes a respondent to outsiders who assign him the role of voicing
the trouble of others. The exhibition and discourse at P.S.ART was about
five artists who are re-presenting their miserable conditions to a different
audience. But is that not the case with a majority of our artists showing
here and abroad?
The righteous are
revolting; against the insult that a low-budget video has aimed at their
religion. Hurt by the slings and arrows of a shoddy and malicious little
production, the righteous have done their best to give lots and lots of
publicity to the piece of malodorous trash that is the offensive film.
In sustaining these
extended protests against this perceived insult to religion, the righteous
have managed to destroy cars and property in their own cities and kill and
injure their own fellow citizens and co-religionists. They have also managed
to be a complete nuisance to their governments and a headache to their own
police force that has struggled to contain their numbers and their
determination to attack and destroy foreign embassies.
The righteous have
assembled and marched to protect the ‘honour’ of their religion, they
have burnt flags and effigies and breathed words of fire and brimstone and
preached hate and destruction. They have destroyed any notion that they, or
any of their co-religionists, can think in rational and humane terms. The
righteous want everyone to know that they are always, always, always right,
because if you do or say anything they disagree with, well your life is
under threat and anybody who kills you will go straight to heaven... The
righteous are not, of course, bullies even though some people do think they
What would we do without
the righteous leaders who whip mobs into a frenzy and encourage the burning
of flags and effigies? What would happen to us if we channelised our anger
into a process of constructive protest that could actually effect change?
What a strange and
terrible idea! After all, what is protest without violence, threats and
effigy burning? Without attacking and destroying? Without preaching hate and
violence? Such protest is nothing — nothing at all.
If it weren’t for the
righteous among us we would be people misguided by reason and compassion,
beguiled by the idea of progress and civilisation. Perish the thought! Our
righteous brothers always save the day: they so selflessly assemble and form
large and menacing crowds whenever needed. They are our heroes. They are
revolting. Revolting against something or the other, but revolting,
Thank you, oh righteous