Intolerance All Around
By Shireen M Mazari

Intolerance seems to have become the hallmark of societies and people all across the globe. Here in Pakistan, we have been seeing the continuing negative fallout of intolerance, with some political representatives giving full vent to their abusive and violent nature. Only recently, abuse was heaped on the journalist community by a cabinet member within the hallowed halls of the Parliament itself, reflecting the scant regard we have for this institution.
A more dangerous intolerance is reflected in the blasphemy law which continues to be used to harass and abuse the minorities. Presently, we in Islamabad are witnessing the horrible case of the victimization of the Christian nursing community of PIMS. Already an underpaid and mistreated profession, they now have to face the wrath of the law breakers of the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine. Shame on all of us who claim to be enlightened and moderate Muslims for our inability to support the beleaguered nursing community. Should we not be more vocal and visible in defense of all our citizens?
Of course, more often than not, intolerance rears its ugly head in a clumsy fashion that tends to have an impact contrary to the one being sought. This was clearly demonstrated in the bizarre attempt to sabotage Ayesha Siddiqa's book launch. The result was to make everyone aware of the publication and the book sold out! Additionally, it allowed the author to gain a certain political credibility by declaring that she had to leave the country because of threats even though her departure was pre-planned in connection with her book launch in England.
However, it would appear that it is not just Pakistan and its Establishment that is overcome with intolerance. The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) of Britain, which also gets partial funding from the British government, seems to have acquired a rather intolerant approach in terms of accommodating journalists whom Dr Siddiqa regards as hostile! That is why the correspondent of The News, who had the nerve to publish a story disliked by the doctor, found his invitation to the IISS book launch revoked.
As Dr Siddiqa is prone to conspiracy theories and has recently written about "co-opted intellectuals”, the manner in which the IISS has been behaving towards Pakistan makes it abundantly clear that it has a strong anti-Pakistan agenda -- clearly reflected in the recent nuclear proliferation dossier which has already been critiqued for its bias and non-academic approach in an earlier column. This would lead one to believe that while there are the "co-opted intellectuals” of the state, there are equally a large number of self-termed liberal "co-opted scholars” linked to the state's detractors, especially external, who provide funds and access to this group.
While many aspects of this notion of "co-opted intellectuals” can form the basis of an interesting and relevant debate both at the national and international levels, as a former university academic who spent over 16 years teaching at post-graduate level in Pakistan, I take issue with the claim that most of our universities have never stopped free debate -- and certainly at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) where I spent most of my university career, debate was most heated during the oppressive regime of dictator Zia. Ironically, when I challenged in the High Court an ordinance promulgated by the general as chancellor of QAU, it was the anti-Establishment co-opted intellectuals who were heading the Teachers' Association at the time and who chickened out of officially taking up this issue legally -- leaving it to "opportunists” to bear the burden of the legal option just as we were left to defend and post bail for the QAU teachers arrested or targeted in the so-called "Pamphlet case”.
That is why the good doctor should have used her time as a visiting teacher at QAU to continue and expand the tradition of free debate instead of walking away from her teaching commitments, sometimes midway through a course (DSS, Spring 1998). But then, teaching in itself is of little interest to Pakistan's external detractors and hence to their "co-opted intellectuals”.
Which brings me to the fascinating issue of linkages. Linkages amongst people and between people, institutions and events allow one to discover patterns emerging in what initially seem like random events. If one understands the linkages, one will begin to understand why, if Dr Siddiqa's data is being challenged by the Establishment, it is members of the Establishment that have to accept the responsibility. While I am still in the process of reading the book, Dr Siddiqa has cited sources for most of her data -- as opposed to her assertions which are simply assumed (which has led to General Hameed Gul's legal action) -- and if one looks at the footnotes, the sources are primarily from the Pakistan military. So if retired officers, who held sensitive positions of power, are giving her "erroneous” data, should Dr Siddiqa be faulted or does the fault lie with her sources that would be taken as reliable by any academic? At the end of the day, given that foreign and Pakistani intellectuals/academics are co-opted by one source or another -- be it the home Establishment, anti-Establishment forces, foreign detractors and so on, if one is to accept Dr Siddiqa's notion of co-option -- can there ever be any genuine scholarship distinguishable from agenda-driven works in the realm of the highly value-laden field of political science, beyond mere theorizing?
Consider the following interesting facts: The naval establishment, under its Chief Fasih Bokhari, inducted her into the navy on deputation as Director Naval Research in 1998. After our nuclear tests, Fasih Bokhari called many of us writing in support of these tests to his office and told us the nuclear tests by Pakistan were a mistake. It was the same Fasih Bokhari, who went to an IISS seminar -- yes, the IISS again -- in the Gulf and critiqued Jinnah while declaring that the creation of Pakistan was a mistake. While Javed Hashmi has been incarcerated for much less, Fasih Bokhari has suffered no such penalty for what he said.
Dr Siddiqa, as she herself had informed me at the time, also acquired foreign funding for bringing together Pakistani and Indian naval officers in what I thought was a rather clandestine interaction before the dialogue process had been initiated. But she found support from within the Pakistan Navy for this venture. Therefore, why was there a complete silence and acceptance of all these happenings by those who are now pointing a critical finger to Dr Siddiqa's external linkages? And why should Dr Siddiqa feel the need to accuse other intellectuals and academics in order to establish her credibility?
Intolerance works both ways -- and is present both in Pakistan and in the so-called secular US and Europe -- and in all its forms it should be unacceptable because it undermines acceptance and respect of "the other”. The difference is our intolerance is condemned while their intolerance has become kosher, because it targets Muslim states and polities. Yet everyone is co-opted in one way or another: only the choice of co-option is the individual's -- with domestic forces (of one type or another) or with external forces.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.