Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World


How the Media and the Experts

Determine How

We See the Rest of the World





This is the third and last in a series of books in which I have attempted to treat the modern relationship between the world of Islam, the Arabs, and the Orient on the one hand, and on the other the West, France, Britain, and in particular the United States. Orientalism is the most general; it traces the various phases of the relationship from the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, through the main colonial period and the rise of modern Orientalist scholarship in Europe during the nineteenth century up to the end of British and French imperial hegemony in the Orient after World War-II and the emergence then and there of American dominance. The underlying theme of Orientalism is the affiliation of knowledge with power. The second book, The Question of Palestine, provides a case history of the struggle between the native Arab, largely Muslim inhabitants of Palestine and the Zionist movement (later Israel), whose provenance and method of coming to grips with the ‘Oriental” realities of Palestine are largely Western. More explicitly than in Orientalism, my study of Palestine attempts also to describe what has been hidden beneath the surface of Western views of the Orient—in this case, the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination.

In Covering Islam my subject is immediately contemporary: ‘Western and specifically American responses to an Islamic world perceived, since the early seventies, as being immensely relevant and yet antipathetically troubled, and problematic. Among the causes of this perception has been the acutely fell- shortage of energy supply, with its focus on Arab and Persian Gulf oil, OPEC, and the dislocating effects on Western societies of inflation and dramatically expensive fuel bills. In addition, the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis have furnished alarming evidence of what has come to be called “the return of Islam.” Finally, there has been the resurgence of radical nationalism in the Islamic world and, as a peculiarly unfortunate adjunct to it, the return of intense superpower rivalry there. An example of the former is the Iran Iraq war; the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and American preparations for Rapid Deployment Forces in the Gulf region make up an example of the latter.

Even though the pun in “covering Islam” will be obvious to any reader proceeding through this book, a simple explanation is worth having at the outset. One of the points I make here and in Orientalism is that the term “Islam” as it is used today seems to mean one simple thing but in fact is part fiction, part ideological label, part minimal designation of a religion called Islam. In no really significant way is there a direct correspondence between the “Islam” in common Western usage and the enormously varied life that goes on within the world of Islam, with its more than 8oo,ooo,ooo people, its millions of square miles of territory principally in Africa and Asia, its dozens of societies, states, histories, geographies, cultures. On the other hand, “Islam” is peculiarly traumatic news today in the West, for reasons that I discuss in the course of this book. During the past few years, especially since events in Iran caught European and American attention so strongly, the media have therefore covered Islam: they have portrayed it, characterized it, analyzed it, giving instant courses on it, and consequently they have made it “known.”

But, as I have implied, this coverage—and with it the work of academic experts on Islam, geopolitical strategists who speak of “the crescent of crisis,” cultural thinkers who deplore “the decline of the West”—is misleadingly full. It has given consumers of news the sense that they have understood Islam without at the same time intimating to them that a great deal in this energetic coverage is based on far from objective material. In many instances “Islam” has licensed not only patent inaccuracy but also expressions of unrestrained ethno centrism cultural and even racial hatred, deep yet paradoxically free-floating hostility. All this has taken place as part of what is presumed to be fair, balanced, responsible coverage of Islam. Aside from the fact that neither Christianity nor Judaism both of them going through quite remarkable revivals (or “returns”), is treated in so emotional a way, there is an unquestioned assumption that Islam can be characterized limitlessly by means of a handful of recklessly general and repeatedly deployed clichés. And always it is supposed that the “Islam” being talked about is some real and stable object out there where “our” oil supplies happen to be found.

With this sort of coverage has gone a great deal of covering up. When the New York Times explains a surprisingly strong Iranian resistance to Iraq’s incursion, it resorts to a formula about the “Shi’a penchant for martyrdom.” Superficially, phrases like that have a certain plausibility, but in fact I think they are used to cover a great deal of what the reporter knows nothing about. Not knowing the language is only part of a much greater ignorance, for often enough the reporter is sent to a strange country with no preparation or experience, just because he or she is canny at picking up things quickly or happens already to be in the general vicinity of where front page news is happening. So instead of trying to find out more about the country, the reporter takes hold of what is nearest at hand usually a cliché or some bit of 1ournalistic wisdom that readers at home are unlikely to challenge. ‘With approximately three hundred reporters in Teheran during the first days of the hostage crisis, and without a Persian-speaker among them, it was no wonder that all the media reports coming out of Iran repeated essentially the same threadbare accounts of what was taking place; in the meantime, of course, other events and political processes in Iran that could not easily be characterized as instances of “the Islamic mentality’ or of “anti-Americanism” went unnoticed.

Between them, the activities of covering and covering up Islam have almost eliminated consideration of the predicament of which they are symptoms: the general problem of knowing and living in a world that has become far too complex and various for easy and instant generalizations. Islam is both a typical case and, because its history in the West is so old and well defined, a special one. By this I mean that like so much of the postcolonial world, Islam belongs neither to Europe nor, like Japan, to the advanced industrial group of nations. It has been regarded as falling within the purview of “development perspectives,” which is another mode of saying that Islamic societies were considered for at least three decades to be in need of rnodernization.” The ideology of modernization produced a way of seeing Islam whose apex and culmination was the image of the shah of Iran, both at his zenith, as a “modern” ruler, and when his regime collapsed, as a casualty to what was looked upon as medieval fanaticism and religiosity.

On the other hand. “Islam” has always represented a particular menace to the West, for reasons I discussed in Orientalism and re-examine in this book. Of no other religion or cultural grouping can it be said so assertively as it is now said of Islam that it represents a threat to ‘Western civilization. It is no accident that the turbulence and the upheavals which are now taking place in the Muslim world (and which have more to do with social, economic, and historical factors than they do unilaterally with Islam) have exposed the limitation of simple-minded Orientalist clichés about “fatalistic” Muslims without at the same time generating anything to put in their place except nostalgia for the old days, when European armies ruled almost the entire Muslim world, from the Indian subcontinent right across to North Africa. The recent success of books, journals, and public figures that argue for a reoccupation of the Gulf region and justify the argument by referring to Islamic barbarism is part of this phenomenon. It is no less remarkable that the times have seen the emergence into American fame of “experts” like New Zealand’s J. B. Kelly, former professor of imperial history at Wisconsin, one-time adviser to Sheikh Zayid of Abu Dhabi, now critical of Muslims and soft Westerners who, unlike Kelly, have sold out to the oil Arabs. Not a single one of the occasionally critical reviews of his book had anything to say about the astonishingly frank atavism of his concluding paragraph, which for its slicer desire of imperial conquest and its barely concealed racial attitudes deserves quotation here:

How much time may be left to Western Europe in which to preserve or recover its strategic inheritance east of Suez it is impossible to foretell. While the pax Britannica endured, that is to say, from the fourth or fifth decade of the nineteenth century to the middle years of this century, tranquility reigned in the Eastern Seas and around the shores of the Western Indian Ocean. An ephemeral calm still lingers there, the vestigial shadow of the old imperial order. If the history of the past four or five hundred years indicates anything, however, it is that this fragile peace cannot last much longer. Most of Asia is fast lapsing back into despotism, most of Africa into barbarism—into the condition, in short, they were in when Vasco da Gama first doubled the Cape to lay the foundations of Portuguese dominion in the East. … Oman is still the key to command of the Gulf and its seaward approaches, just as Aden remains the key to the passage of the Red Sea. The Western powers have already thrown away one of these keys; the other, however, is still within their reach. ‘Whether, like the captains-general of Portugal long ago, they have the boldness to grasp it has yet to be seen.

Although Kelly’s suggestion that fifteenth- and sixteenth- century Portuguese colonialism is the most appropriate guide for contemporary Western politicians may strike some readers as a little quaint, it is his simplifications of history that are most representative of the current mood. Colonialism brought tranquility, he says, as if the subjugation of millions of people amounted to no more than an idyll and as if those were their best days; their abused feelings, their distorted history, their unhappy destiny do slot matter, so long as “we” can continue to get what is useful to “us”—valuable resources, geographically and politically strategic regions, a vast pool of cheap native labor. The independence of countries in Africa and Asia after centuries of colonial dominion is dismissed as lapsing into barbarism or despotism. The only course left open, after what he characterizes as the craven demise of the old imperial order, is a new invasion according to Kelly. And underlying this invitation to the ‘West to take what is rightfully “ours” is a profound contempt for the native Islamic culture of the Asia Kelly wishes “us” to rule.

Let us charitably leave aside the retrograde logic of Kelly’s writing, which has brought him the respectful accolades of the American intellectual right wing William F. Buckley to the New Republic. What is more interesting about the outlook he presents is how blanket solutions to messy, detailed problems are immediately preferred to anything else, especially when they recommend forceful action against “Islam.” No one says what might be taking place inside Yemen, for example, or in Turkey, or across the Red Sea in Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco, or even Egypt. Silence in the press, which is busy covering the hostage crisis; silence in the academy, which is busy advising the oil industry and the government on how to forecast trends in the Gulf; silence in the government, which looks for information only where “our” friends (such as the shah or Anwar Sadat) direct us to look for it. “Islam” is only what holds the West’s oil reserves; little else counts, little else deserves attention.

Given the current state of academic studies of Islam, there is not too much to be found there by way of rectification. In some ways the field as a whole is marginal to the general culture, while in others it is easily co-opted by the government and the corporations. Generally, this has disqualified it to cover Islam in ways that might tell us more than we arc other-wise aware of beneath the surface of Islamic societies. Then too, there are numerous methodological and intellectual problems that still need settling: Is there such a thing as Islamic behavior? What connects Islam at the level of everyday life to Islam at the level of doctrine in the various Islamic societies? How really useful is “Islam” as a concept for understanding Morocco and Saudi Arabia and Syria and Indonesia? If we come to realize that, as many scholars have recently noted, Islamic doctrine can be seen as justifying capitalism as well as socialism, militancy as well as fatalism, ecumenism as well as exclusivism, we begin to sense the tremendous lag between academic descriptions of Islam (that are inevitably caricature in the media) and the particular realities to be found within the Islamic world.

Yet there is a consensus on “Islam” as a kind of scapegoat for everything we do not happen to like about the world’s new political, social, and economic patterns. For the right, Islam represents barbarism; for the left, medieval theocracy; for the center, a kind of distasteful exoticism. In all camps, however, there is agreement that even though little enough is known about the Islamic world there is not much to be approved of there. What there is of value in Islam is principally its anticommunism, with the additional irony that almost invariably anticommunism in the Islamic world has been synonymous with repressive pro-American regimes. Pakistan’s Zia al-Haq is a perfect case in point.

Far from being a defense of Islam—a project as unlikely as it is futile for my purposes—this book describes the uses of “Islam” for the West and, though I spend less time doing it, for many Islamic societies. Thus to criticize the abuses of Islam in the West does not by any means entail condoning them within Islamic societies. The fact is that in many—too many—Islamic societies repression, the abrogation of personal freedoms, unrepresentative and often minority regimes, arc either falsely legitimated or casuistically explained with reference to Islam, which is doctrinally as blameless in this regard as any other of the great universal religions. The abuses of Islam also happen to correspond in many instances with the inordinate power and authority of the central state.

Nevertheless I believe that even if we do not blame everything that is unhealthy about the Islamic world on the West, we must be able to see the connection between what the West has been saying about Islam and what, reactively, various Muslim societies have done. The dialectic between the two—given that for many parts of the Islamic world the West, whether as former colonizing power or as present trading partner, is a very important interlocutor—has produced a species of what Thomas Franck and Edward Weisband have called “word politics,”5 which it is the purpose of this book to analyze and explain. The back-and-forth between the Vilest and Islam, the challenging and the answering, the opening of certain rhetorical spaces and the closing of others: all this makes up the “word politics” by which each side sets up situations, justifies actions, forecloses options, and presses alternatives on the other. Thus when Iranians seized the United States Embassy in Teheran they were responding, not just to the former shah’s entry into the United States, but to what they perceived as a long history of humiliation inflicted on them by superior American power: past American actions “spoke” to them of constant intervention in their lives, and therefore as Muslims who, they felt, had been held prisoner in their own country, they took American prisoners and held them as hostages on United States territory, the Teheran embassy. Although the actions themselves made the point, it was the words, and the movements of power they adumbrated, that prepared the way and, to a very great extent, made the actions possible.

This pattern is, I think, of very great importance because it underscores the close affiliation between language and political reality, at least so far as discussions of Islam are concerned. The hardest thing to get most academic experts on Islam to admit is that what they say and do as scholars is set in a profoundly and in some ways an offensively political con-text. Everything about the study of Islam in the contemporary West is saturated with political importance, but hardly any writers on Islam, whether expert or general, admit the fact in what they say. Objectivity is assumed to inhere in learned discourse about other societies, despite the long history of political, moral, and religious concern felt in all societies, Western or Islamic, about the alien, the strange and different. In Europe, for example, the Orientalist has traditionally been affiliated directly with colonial offices: what we have just begun to learn about the extent of close cooperation between scholarship and direct military colonial conquest (as in the case of the revered Dutch Orientalist C. Snouck Hurgronje, who used the confidence he had won from Muslims to plan and execute the brutal Dutch war against the Atjehnese people of Sumatra°) is both edifying and depressing. Yet books and articles continue to pour forth extolling the nonpolitical nature of Western scholarship, the fruits of Orientalist learning, and the value of “objective” expertise. At the very same time there is scarcely an expert on “Islam” who has not been a consultant or even an employee of the government, the various corporations, the media. My point is that the cooperation must be admitted and taken into account, not just for moral reasons, but for intellectual reasons as well.

Let us say that discourse on Islam is, if not absolutely vitiated, then certainly colored by the political, economic, and intellectual situation in which it arises: this is as true of East as it is of West. For many evident reasons, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that all discourse on Islam has an interest in some authority or power. On the other hand, I do not mean to say that all scholarship or writing about Islam is therefore useless. Quite the contrary; I think it is more useful than not, and very revealing as an index of what interest is being served. I cannot say for sure whether in matters having to do with human society there is such a thing as absolute truth or perfectly true knowledge; perhaps such things exist in the abstract—a proposition I do not find hard to accept—but in present reality truth about such matters as “Islam” is relative to who produces it. It will be noted that such a position does not rule out gradations of knowledge (good, bad, indifferent), nor the possibility of saying things accurately. It simply asks that anyone speaking about “Islam” remember what any beginning student of literature knows: that the writing or reading of texts about human reality brings into play many more factors than can be accounted for (or protected) by labels like “objective.”

This is why I take pains to identify the situation out of which statements arise, and why it seems important to note the various groups in society that have an interest in “Islam.” For the West generally and the United States in particular, the confluence of power bearing upon “Islam” is notable, as much for its component groups (the academy, the corporations, the media, the government) as for the relative absence of dissent from the orthodoxy it has created. The result has been a gross simplification of “Islam,” so that numerous manipulative aims can be realized, from the stirring up of a new cold war, to the instigation of racial antipathy, to mobilization for a possible invasion, to the continued denigration of Muslims and Arabs. Little of this is, I believe, in the interest of truth; certainly the truth of these manipulative aims is always denied. Instead we have the statements made and the aims served with a shroud of scholarly, even scientific expertise draped over them. An amusing consequence is that when Muslim countries donate money to American universities for Arab or Islamic studies, a great liberal outcry arises about foreign interference in the American university, but when Japan or Germany donates money no such complaint can be heard. As for the impact of corporate pressures on the university, that too is generally regarded as being in the salutary nature of things.

Lest I seem to conform too closely to Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic—that he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing—I should say finally that I recognize the need for informed expert opinion; that the United States as a great power is likely to have attitudes to and therefore policies for the outside world that smaller powers do not; that there is great hope for improvement in the dismal situation now prevailing. Nevertheless I do not believe as strongly and as firmly in the notion of “Islam” as many experts, policy- makers, and general intellectuals do; on the contrary, I often think it has been more of a hindrance than a help in understanding what moves people and societies. But what I really believe in is the existence of a critical sense and of citizens able and willing to use it to get beyond the special interests of experts and their ides reçues. By using the skills of a good critical reader to disentangle sense from nonsense, by asking the right questions and expecting pertinent answers, anyone can learn about either “Islam” or the world of Islam and about the men, women, and cultures that live within it, speak its languages, breathe its air, produce its histories and societies. At that point, humanistic knowledge begins and communal responsibility for that knowledge begins to be shouldered. I wrote this book to advance that goal.

Parts of Chapter One and Chapter Two have appeared in The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review I am particularly grateful to Robert Manoff, who during his all-too- brief tenure as editor of the Columbia Journalism Review made it an exciting publication.

In the course of gathering material for sections of this book I was ably assisted by Douglas Baldwin and Philip Shehadé. Paul Lipari prepared the manuscript in its final form with his usual literate skill and efficiency. To Albert Said I am grateful for assistance given generously.

For intellectual criticism and wise observation I am indebted to many people, some of whom I never met, but who sent me ideas, studies, and commentary, all of which I have put to some use: Fred Halliday, Miriam Rosen, William Greider, Ervand Abrahamian, William Dorman, Mansour Farhang, Nikki Keddie, Melody Kirnmel, Charles Kimball, and Stuart Schaar.

I owe a special debt to my dear comrade Eqbal Ahmad, whose encyclopedic knowledge and constant solicitude have sustained so many of us during confusing and trying times. James Peck read the manuscript in one of its earlier versions and gave me brilliantly detailed suggestions for revision, although of course he is in no way responsible for its still remaining faults. I am pleased to acknowledge his indispensable help. Jeanne Morton of Pintheon Books copy-edited the manuscript with tact and vigilance, and to her I am most grateful. I should also like to thank André Schiffrin for his sagacity and his intellectual keenness: a courageous friend, editor, and publisher.

Mariam Said, to whom this book is dedicated, virtually kept its author alive during its writing. For her love, her companionship, and her are animating presence, my heartfelt thanks.


New York

October 1980


On January 20, 1981, the fifty-two Americans held prisoner in the United States Embassy for 444 days finally left Iran. A few days later they arrived in the United States to be greeted by the country’s genuine happiness in seeing them back. The “hostage return,” as it came to be called, became a week-long media event. There were many frequently intrusive and maudlin hours of live television coverage as the “returnees” were transported to Algeria, then to Germany, then to West Point, to Washington, and at last to their various home towns.

Most newspapers and national weeklies ran supplements on the return, ranging horn learned analyses of how the final agreement between Iran and the United States was arrived at, and what it involved, to celebrations of American heroism and Iranian barbarism. Interspersed were personal stories of the hostage ordeal, often embroidered by enterprising journalists and what seemed an alarmingly available number of psychiatrists eager to explain what the hostages were really going through. Insofar as there was serious discussion of the past and of the future that went beyond the level of the yellow ribbons designated as symbolic of Iranian captivity, the new administration set the tone and determined the limits. Analysis of the past was focused on whether the United States should have made (and whether it ought to honor) the agreement with Iran. On January 31, 1981, the New Republic predictably attacked “the ransom,” and the Carter administration for giving in to terrorists; then it condemned the whole “legally controvertible proposition” of dealing with Iranian demands as well as the use as intermediary of Algeria, a country “well practiced at giving refuge to terrorists and laundering the ransoms they bring.” Discussion of the future was constrained by the Reagan administration’s declared- war on terrorism this, not human rights, was to be the new priority of United States policy, even to the extent of supporting “moderately repressive regimes” if they happen to be allies.

Accordingly, Peter C. Stuart reported in the Christian Science Monitor of January 29, 1981, that congressional hearings were likely to be scheduled on “the terms of the hostage release agreement . . . treatment of the hostages embassy security . . [and as a kind of afterthought] future U.S.-Iran relations.” Very much in keeping with the narrowly focused range of problems explored by the media during the crisis (with few exceptions), there was no careful scrutiny of what the Iranian trauma has meant, what it suggests about the future, what might be learned from it. The London Sunday Times reported on January 26 that before he left office President

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rehabilitation Planning Data - Comments & Views

From: hisamullah7@msn.com
To: sultan@allana.ca
CC: ihunzai@gmail.com; rupani@lowcostleader.com
Subject: Ferry Company in Hunza Ataabad Lake
Date: Sat, 28 Aug 2010 23:22:07 +0600

My dear Sultan,

I am sending this communication after a very long silence. You are aware that in Jan of this year a massive landslide in Hunza had devastated the life of a number of households. At one stage it dominated the news channels in Pakistan. 70 percent of the affected have been accommodated by friends and relatives while 30% are still living in tented camps established by agencies such as FOCUS. A lot of real help and also promises have come forth from lot of quarters but I have yet to see a definite plan for rehabilitation and reconstructing their lives. In this situation I had conceived and shared a proposal for progressive rehabilitation of the affected. I have appended the copy of this proposal. You would notice that the immediate feasible step in this proposal talks of ferry Service Company. This option, I perceive, provides following attractive possibilities:

Ø First and foremost it starts giving an immediate income to the affected and thereby turning 'despondency' to "HOPE" in their future.

Ø Second: It has an eminent growth possibility towards introducing even hovercraft as the income grows; this further eliminating the need to build alternate KKH (an intergovernmental Project with enormous costs)

Now coming to the purpose of this communication: I have been able to elicit a pledge of 10,000 US $ towards jumpstarting such a project through the LSO that I hope AKRSP will form. The inquiries for suitable boats from China indicate that this money is not sufficient to buy and transport even a single 20-seater boat. I am therefore seeking your intervention in looking at the possibility of a loan (or preferably joint Investment either by HBL or AKFED to this LSO on the basis of profit sharing - 51% for disaster affected and 49 % for investors)

Apart from the summary on rehabilitation proposal, I have also attached copies of various documents shared with government of GB and NDMA so that you can see the total picture.

With best wishes

Hisamullah Beg SI(M)

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2010 14:47:34 +0500
Subject: Re: Ferry Company in Hunza Ataabad Lake
From: sultan@allana.ca
To: hisamullah7@msn.com

Dear brig sahib

Trust you and your family are well. It is refreshing to see that you are actively working on trying to find solutions to the grim situation and I welcome your proactive approach.

I am travelling at the moment and expect to be back in a week. Meanwhile If you allow me I will share your proposal with akrsp and solicit their interest. As a bank, we are willing to review a proposal, if it's viable, especially if the aim of the proposal is to develop and or contribute towards development. However, we cannot take the lead in the sense that we cannot be a sponsor - but as a bank we are certainly willing to look at it .
While I send this email to akrsp, may I suggest that you also contact > them to see if they will be willing to sponsor such a proposal or > perhaps see if there is a business group or a group of individuals in the northern area who are willing to form a company which undertakes this project - the funds you have been able to put together may be used as seed capital - this way, a commercial bank can be approached for funding support.
Please give my regards to your family,
With best wishes

Sultan Allana
On Saturday, August 28, 2010, Hisamullah Beg hisamullah7@msn.com wrote:

Thank you for a prompt reply. I have already shared this proposal with AKRSP. I am sure they will respond soon. The ultimate point is the energy potential. Government of GB has referred this proposal to the DC in HUNZA IN THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET A GRASS ROOT FEED BACK.

From: Hisamullah Beg [mailto:hisamullah7@msn.com]
Sent: Thursday, September 09, 2010 2:18 PM
To: Huzur Mukhi Iqbal Sadru-Dean, Walji; Ali Rattansey
Cc: Izhar Ali Hunzai; coakesp@hotmail.com; mutabiat@yahoo.co.uk; melad@akrsp.org.pk; Jalal; Sulan Allana; Muzaffarudin

Subject: Ferry Company for the Rehabilitation of Disaster Affected People

My Dear Huzur Mukhi Iqbal Walji President ICP/Aitimadi Ali Ratansy Chairman AKRSP,

I have appended the email exchanges with Huzur Mukhi Sultan Ali Allana (SI) with the hope that you will take a timely policy decision and advise GM AKRSP and other concerned.

I will eagerly be waiting for your response,

With Regards,

Brig Hisamullah Beg (SI)
Karimabad, Hunza,
Gilgit Baltistan

From: izhar.hunzai@akrsp.org.pk
To: hisamullah7@msn.com
Subject: RE: Ferry Company for the Rehabilitation of Disaster Affected People
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2010 14:40:36 +0500

Thank you Brigadier sb,

What is the progress on Gazette notification?

Warm regards


To: izhar.hunzai@akrsp.org.pk

The last I checked, CM had sent it to DC Hunza. I have requested Mr. Wazir Beg (Speaker and acting Governor) to follow up.

Ali Gohar Says:

Dear Brig Sb.

Thank you very much for sharing the proposal. It seems more or less the lake is permanent now. I will not talk, who will invest, how the business would be done but my focus is only ferry service.

On my recent trip to Turkey we crossed Marmara Sea along with our bus. This ferry had the capacity of around 20 cars and 05 buses which is so huge in case of Attaabad Lake. An option of few ferries with a capacity of 05 to 06 cars/wagons would be good option for the local passengers as well as national/international tourists. Since, it will give an opportunity of uninterrupted travel as well as feeling and experience of something unique. This option will equally be helpful from business point of view giving the local transport the option of running shuttle service from Sost Dry Port to Point B all thorough the lake. Of course the affect’s LSO and local community should be holding the right of this business.

Apart from it there could be many options of water sport activities, like kayaking, sailing, fishing, boating etc. All these activities could be helpful generating income for the affectees/local community even could be helpful promoting tourism in the entire region.

With best regards,

Ali Gohar Hunzai
System Program Manager
Beaconhouse Outdoor Education Programme
Regional Office North, Banigala,
Islamabad-PakistanDate: Thu, 5 Aug 2010 15:55:52 +0000


Dear Brig Hissam,

I had the pleasure of going through your correspondence with different personalities and appreciate the pains that you have taken in the attempts to ameliorate the sufferings of our people.

I can only pray that the powers that be will give a serious thought to your proposals in the greater public interest. Unfortunately, I am not too optimistic about the response. Needless to add here that we stand fragmented and the new generation of Karachi returned pseudo intellectuals consider us history. I look forward to sharing my impressions once I reach Hunza after the road blocks are cleared. Meanwhile, I also hear that they plan to reduce the lakes height considerably in the range of 100 ft plus.

With Regards,

Ali Gohar says:

Dear Brig sb, 
 Let us thank you for pulling the ship of turmoil towards the safe bay. The valuable input of the youth, professionals, politicians, activists shows that we are able to handle our issues amicably. The only thing, which I suggest is; we need to achieve something swiftly and locally first. We should try to avoid playing on a large canvas. Do something phenomenal that puts us on the map not forgetting our local knowledge, wisdom, the good practices of caring for each other which steered Hunza harmoniously over centuries. The scientific approach, facilities,knowledge should work as tools to present our issues within our community and other forums. 

Fayyaz Dewan said:

Dear Brig. Sahib,

It seems that our intellectuals or seniors know all the problems that our people are facing, they can write nicely drafted articles and communicate through emails, but they do not have time to do something practical, they have commitment with their jobs or business etc. I have gone through some of the emails in replied to you. there are suggestions but no one has been volunteered to come forward to do something for the disaster affected people of Ataabad and upper Hunza (Gojal).

The disaster convention which was held in Gulmit on July 13, 2010 organized by the Rabita Committee for the affected people of the disaster, this convention was attended by leaders and a large number of people from upper Hunza. I was there in Gulmit and invited by the organizers. I was one of the speakers of the Convention; it looks like the Government of GB is not cooperating with the affected people to solve their problems. The compensations announced are still a dream for the people to receive. I suggested the following points and shared it with the participants. These suggestions were made part of the agenda for submission to the Government of GB and to other concerned departments
1. immediate release of the water of the lake
2. regular services of Helicopters and boats to facilitate the affected population of upper Hunza
3. operate large rafts to transport loaded trucks from the spillway to upper Hunza
4. efforts to construct a road to connect Central Hunza with Upper Hunza
5. immediate settlement of the IDPI’S with honor and dignity
6. Proper compensation of the Houses, Shops, Land and trees. The compensation announced by the government is RS 400,000.00 for the houses and RS 200,000.00 for the land is peanut, the amount of the compensation may be increased accordingly (Houses RS 1,000,000.00, Land RS 100,000.00 Per Kanal, Trees RS. 5000.00 Per Tree and RS 200,000.00 Per Shop)
7. immediate construction of link road to connect Gulmit with Hussaini via Kamaris and Ghulkin
8. waiver of the fees of the students of upper Hunza and Ataabad study in public and private institutions all over the country for three years
9. regular supply of fuel for house hold use and vehicles on subsidized rate to reduce the transportation cost which is very high
10. provision of relief to the people till the construction of the road between Central and Upper Hunza
11. restart work on the Misgar Electric Power Plant and other possible projects to reduce regular load shading of Electricity in the area
12. waiver of all type of utility bills for three years
13. establish utility stores in the main towns of the area and provide all the essentials on a subsidized rate
14. the government should work on tourism promotion to provide business opportunity to the people of GB, because the business in GB is badly affected due to the Ataabad Disaster
15. provision of Jobs to the educated people (Male and Female) in the Pak Army, Police and other departments of the Government as a special case
16. Permission for Custom Free Trade on the Pak – China route for the local traders
17. withdrawal of the FIR registered against the peaceful demonstrators declaring them as anti Pakistan elements (Note: our people are the most peaceful and loyal citizens of Pakistan, our Jawans proved to be the real defenders of the country being serving in the Pak Army)
18. the Government should allow UN, National and International NGO’S to help the affected people

I would suggest a conference may be arranged in Islamabad, a committee may be formed of committed people to coordinate with the Government, NDMA in Islamabad and with our people in GB, my services are available if it is required

With best regards
Fayyaz Ahmed Dewan
0321-5757887, 0345-5116488

My Comments:

I am grateful for your feedback. I am now in Gilgit attempting to get the signature of the CM on a draft Gazette notification (copy attached for your information) as the most essential step towards rehabilitation. I have already shared the subsequent steps with local council Gulmit and all concerned. I HAD REQUESTED AMIN BEG TO SHARE IT WITH THE PARTICIPANTS OF THIS CONVENTION as potent proposals. You must have noticed the flotilla of boats owned and operated by all except Hunzukutz. We need to think rationally. A big 50-ton tug capable of carrying two loaded trucks at a time will soon be in place as promised by Chief of Army Staff during his visit to upper Hunza. At a later date I am attempting to get it transferred to LSO.

Dr Salman Ali says:

We need to think with a cool mind to formulate a reasonably rational response to this disaster.Emotional outbursts won't work!!

My request:

Kindly share the rational outline plan. I have already shared this one with the CM GB which can be modified in the light of your inputs.

Ikram baig Says:

You Admire each other without being practical thats very good' I give you hundred number put of hundred Mamoo.


My request to Ikram:

I am in the process of consolidating all attempts (both theoretical and also practical) taken by a Hunzukutz. I will appreciate if you can apprise of the attempts that you have undertaken? POSSIBLY YOU MAY HAVE MONITORED AND KEPT A RECORD OF THE RESOURCES COMMITTED BY DIFFERENT ENTITIES FOR THE REHABILITATION?

Ahmed Jami Sakhi says:

Respectable Brig. Hisamullah!

I hope this message finds you in good health and a happy mood. I have been reading the interesting comments and discussions among the stakeholders and your Blog readers on the IDP issues in Hunza-Gojal valleys! We appreciate your individual efforts and thoughts for those souls who have been displaced due to the natural disaster of unprecedented land sliding at Attaabad. All physical losses resulting from this huge disaster will take some time to heal up the wounds of the directly or indirectly affected citizens. But the moral, Psychological and material support provided by different government, and non-governmental agencies like FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, Pakistan; Red crescent Society GB; NDMA (GB & Islamabad); Pak Army; Local administration and scores of other NGOs is exemplary in many ways. We pay our gratitude and solute to all those who contributed in any way to minimizing the troubles of the affected population. 

However, keeping the people in camps forever is not the long-term solution sir! All these agencies should now start prepare their plans for the rehabilitation of the IDPs. The people from Ayeenabad up to Gulmit might like being rehabilitated somewhere within the boundaries of Tehsil Gojal, whereas, the affectees of Attaabad might like re-settlement somewhere around Gilgit town, because of the already existing huge number of Hunzukutz in sub-division Gilgit.

As a retired Army personnel, Retired Jamati Leader and the past family traditions of rendering great services to the Ismaili community and as an active Civil Society leader, the people of Gojal and Hunza are looking towards your benign leadership to guide and help the community and the institutions ( professional as well as communal) in the rehabilitation process of the directly affected people of Attaabad, Ayeenabad, Shishkat, & Goz Gulmit.

I hope, the institutions will welcome your views and will take you on board while preparing their policies and plans for the rehabilitation and other issues related to the affected population of Hunza-Gojal valleys.

May Almighty Allah and MHI give you the courage and wisdom to make right decisions and right actions at the right time! Amien! 

Ahmed Jami Sakhi
Academic Admin Officer
PDCN, University Road
Konodass, Gilgit Pakistan.
Phone: +92-05811-454132-4
Fax: +92-05811-54135
Cell No: +92 3425195771
Email: jami@pdcn.edu.pk

Jalal-ud-Din said:

Major Sahabs thorough inside of the ground realities and suggestions are really thought provoking. Why our political leadership is not taking our notables and intellectuals on board to address this issue?????

Cell# +92-346-5208004

My Comments

Thanks to Darjat, I had the chance to participate in a workshop (Jul 12 Jul 13) on “Gilgit –Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order Challenges and opportunities”; Arranged jointly by Gilgit-Baltistan Policy Institute Gilgit, Centre for civic education Pakistan and Forum of Federation Canada for the training of our elected representatives, with following topics for discussion:

· Understanding Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and self Governance order 2009
· How to be an effective legislator
· Realizing democratic governance: challenges and opportunitities.

Apart from the representatives from Hunza, most of the present and former legislators as well as the CM GB were also participating. It was amply made clear that the views of civil society need to be integrated in the functioning of the new system. There I had the occasion to exchange the views where the CM acknowledged having received my view point and as such I am optimistic that this training workshop has an apparent impact thus in future the civil society views may be taken on board. 

Maj Zafar Jhang says:

My Dear Brig Sahib,

Hunzukuz must appreciate your timely action with regards to helping the IDPs. Traditionally your family always remain in front for rehabilitation of effecties of Shimshal and Barang catastrophes (1837to1960). Hunzukus were considered resilient communities and they never stayed in camps and asked for piece of bread. They helped each other and developed new lands , villages ,settlements with dedication and hard work. When there was no barren land left in Hunza they moved towards south, developed Rahimabad, Sultanabad, Oshikhandass, Aminabad, Sadrudinabad, eleven settlements surrounding Gilgit city and lands in Ghizer.

As you always advise that we should refrain to lease out our land to outsiders, who will grab your landed properties and subsequently your grand children will become their tenets.

When TKN volunteers visited IDP camps and meet the leadership, our humble submission was that they must pressurize the Government for barren lands and under the GB Nurtud, rules the Government may acquire the land for any purpose, and subsequently AKDN may jointly given task for rehabilitation on MERP footings. We indicated barren lands "Khalsa Sarkar" Maqpoondass on Sakardu Road, Hossi Dass, Jutal Dass. But we were surprise to know the attitude of leadership and IDPS, they were infavour of a piece of bread and money. Whenever we visited IDP camps we saw children asking for money, encouraging Jahdi Groups and even band organizations visiting IDP camps to manipulate their agenda. We were astonished to know that some of the IDPs were even ready to hand over their children to different NGOs for their education. Political parties also took the advantage of internal differences of Hunzuks. Punjab Government announced millions for rehabilitation of Attaabad effecties, when Punjabies were poisoning their families due to hunger.

My humble submission are :-
Strenght our efforts to get the barren land for rehabilitation.(Our inquiry reveals that more then sixty IDP families are having their landed property in Danyore, Muhammad Abad (Diding) sultanabad and in Gilgit). 
Sincere efforts by AKDN for conversion of Disaster into Development.
First Hunzukus then our party manifesto.
Segregation of non-effecties from IDP camps, relinquish IDP camps.
Requirement of NC full efforts and dedication not Hali and lip service.



Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rehabilitation Planning Data
Amin Beg said:
Brig sb, thank u for sharing this. Isn't it a pity that Hunza is going through the worst disaster of its history in 200 hundred years, and we have just started talking after 6 months. Some called a labour pain, which hunzukutz will undergo for another 3 months, before they give birth to new wonders.... opportunity for the opportunists!
 let me take the last point first:
 Regarding the hydro potential, while we should always look for such opportunities, it is important to note that such projects should NOT be at the COST of the local people. Already the government has refused to provide 'compensation' for the full losses/damages, and they have announced, 'a relief package', which still needs to be delivered, and the affected people termed it 'peanut'.
 If any such project is looked into, then Hunza Electric Supply Company should be formed the affected villages should have 50% share in the profit, 20% to be provided to Hunza as profit, and the rest may be shared between GB government and federal government.
 Alternatively, all the affected people should then to given full (100%) compensation for the losses, and resettled in new place.
 Data descripancies:
 There will always be discrepancies in such cases, as you know how the data is collected through revenue department (tehsil and patwari), PWD by the government at local levels. Sometimes figures are not accurate for many reasons;
 Then politicians and local political activists have a say in giving numbers, as happens everywhere in the country for reasons u know better.
 The FOCUS data also comes from the community volunteers and their field staff plus may be cross checked with local councils.
 On the technical side, there are issues with definitions, like households, houses, families etc. For example the community in Gulmit would say, thus far 65 houses were submerged, and over 85 families are IDPs (given that in one house there were 2-3 families; brothers, married sons, etc.) living together. Now that they live in camps, or with host families or if they need, pre-fab shelters etc. the need is not for 65 but 85, just to give an example, because of the size of these temporary shelters, but also, that the joint family has lost the family home and land surrounding it, which normally would cater for extension of new rooms or a new house attached.
Secondly, in many instance, old houses which were not occupied at the time of disaster, were not counted by some, and counted by others.
For these reasons, the numbers normally fluctuate. but for planning purposes and resource allocation, we have to go for a figure that too on the higher side. As the current figure is 381, and the dismantling of houses continues in shishkat and Gulmit, we may say 500 houses/families for planning purposes.
Amin Beg
July 5, 2010, 12:27 AM
MY views:
Thanks for the feed back. Very thoughtful of you. Please reconsider your views in the light of following:
Disaster and response:
It is perhaps just my self in entire Hunza who has given his land to some of the affected families in Gharayat (ATAABAD) as an immediate response, for their help till the time they are rehabilitated (You may like to contact Local council Baltit and Altit to get the details) Click: AGREEMENT WITH COUNCIL.
For attempts since the disaster, please see following also:
(Shared in the month of March with all concerned)
(read para-d)
For the attitude in communicating feeling see:
Darjat only: Please recall my mail towards street action and intellectual approach.
For energy and analysis of Energy needs see:
With best wishes
FI and possible contribution from all readers.
Amin Beg says:
Brig sb, my reference was to the 'thinking people' of Hunza, some of them copied in your mail. It was not individual or group efforts, which you and others are doing from day one, which is well appreciated.
Moving forward, why can't we all copied in your mail, and other professionals, researchers, academic, and politicians of Hunza meet, in a kind of an All Parties Conference, whether in Islamabad or Gilgit or Hunza, and come up with a joint resolution on the future. At least all parties (civil society, private sector, elected reps, political parties, academia) need to agree on a minimum agenda vis-a-vis:
 1. Rehabilitation of the affected people
2. Revival of the economy of Hunza (energy, trade, tourism and agriculture)
3. New Hunza-Nagar district and issues of meritocracy, transparency and accountability in appointments, postings, transfers, contracts and resource allocation.
What is stopping the people?
Why we only look towards the government or elected people to do the thinking, set the agenda and implement it?
As an educated society, the people should be setting the agenda, and your this email group and others like the HDF should serve as think tanks and advocacy group, doing practical activisim on ground.
Count on the resourcefulness of the youth. Remember the demographic transition in Hunza and GB. Over 70% of the population is below 25 years of age, over 50% are women.
We need to be concerned for them and their current and future needs.


My Views on discrepancies in the data:
I am more impressed with the terms that my guide uses i.e. 'honest mathematics' in evaluating an issue towards the solutions that you are seeking.

Commodore Ishaq PN says:

Dear and respected Sir,

First of all my sincere regards and respects as i have been off the waves for a long time!!!!!I hope all on your end is healthy, prosperous and well...Though unintentional but my absence mainly remained prevailing due extreme commitments in office and otherwise.....Nevertheless, i did have other means open, to keep myself abreast with ongoing issues related to Hunza and its proud people.

Fortunately, i got an opportunity to visit Hunza late May 2010 and see for myself as first hand, what all has happend in and around Attaabad.....My heart goes out for our people who lost life, property and livelihood; our kith and kin suffering at such a large magnitude.

Pakistan navy, keeping her high traditions of sharing the pain of our countrymen during crisis situations , made a humble gesture by sending a SSG(N) SEALs group and Medical Contingent consisting of highly professional deep sea divers, Commandos and doctors including surgeons to Gilgit and Hunza.....I was given the privilage by CNS to become the Contingent Commander for the entire duration..........We did whatever we could to share the difficulties of the suffering population in 20 days of our stay howevere, this was just like a single drop of hope in an ocean of sufferings....Within 5 days of my return to Karachi, Chief of Naval Staff very kindly again asked me to visit Hunza with 5 trucks of relief goods/items and hand over the same to effectees of Attaabad in particular......Although done under unwarranted circumstances, my these two assignments between 30 May 2010 and 25 June 2010 at Hunza were the proudest, most revered and extremely satisfying undertakings those i have been blessed with in performance of my duties in Pakistan Navy.....Apart from the material help and medical assistance that we were able to offer, our expert analysis of blasting the so called spillway at the blockade probably become the notable contribution as NDMA and FWO even refused to think about using explosives on the site...........However, Chairman NDMA, CS GB, FCNA CDR and UN Expert through our repeated emphasis on blasting the lake blockade, finally got covinced to explode the fringes; a process if undertaken around January 2010 would have hardly effected any populated area upstream except accumulation of water to a maximum depth of 40-50 ft.......I am convinced that lot of wrong has been done by lot of people including GB govt, FWO, NDMA and public representatives, least to say the populace who it appears have lost the resilience their proud forefathers bore as a strength.

Sir, in my humble way, i do try to keep helping the effectees in some ways and other from time to time through friends and acquaintances, however, this all is never the solution...........I think it is high time that our people need to wake up and wake up for the good......The NGOs, greater than absorbable politics, too many as well as contrasting institutions, ill timed and unwarranting modernity, low quality education founded on weak footings etc, cumulatively have stolen the major strength of our people as well as society; the resilience, which made our noble elders so different than all those who lived near and far..........Resilience in their character and actions surely made them so noble and differentiating from others !!!!!!!!!!!May we rediscover this strength of our elders in our actions and character; this to me remains the biggest challenge confronting our people not the crises or disasters like the ongoing one upstream and the looming one downstream!!!!!!!!!!!!

God be with you and May He help you to convince people to forge unity and brotherhood that so commonly prevailed some decades ago in our lands of dreams and peace. aameen!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With sincere regards and prayers


Dear and Respected Sir,


Thank you for a prompt rather a very prompt reply.........As for my understanding of our society, I feel that each elder of ours has contributed in his own humble way in overall grooming of evolving generations and at this juncture of our history, every wise and sane person who lives around us must contribute like the earlier ones. I feel this is more important today because, our values come from sanity and wisdom instead the text books.

With regard to your query about putting my last write up on the blog; sir it would be a pleasure to find such a place.

With sincere regards and salam

Sincerely yours

Commodore Ishaq

Posted by Hisamullah Beg SI(M) at 12:34 PM

Dear Brg. Hisam Saheb,

You have in fact maintained the lovely tradition of your family. We appreciate the historical contribution of your family towards the people of GB in general and to the people of Hunza and Gilgit in particular.

By a copy of this email, I wish all the Ismaili brothers and sisters a Holy Imamat Day Mubarak. Spending my Imamat Day Celebrations with our brothers and sisters in the IDP Camps of Hunza and Nagar on 10 and 11 July 2010 was a heart-touching and a source of comfort to me.

With warmest regards and Salgirah Mubarak,

Mehmood Hunzai

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Lecture by His Highness the Aga Khan: The LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture (Toronto, Canada)
15 October 2010

The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Mr. John Ralston Saul
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Mesdames et Messieurs
Lorsque j’ai été invité à donner la conférence de ce symposium LaFontaine-Baldwin, ce fut pour moi un grand honneur et j’ai éprouvé beaucoup d’émotion. Je dois dire, chère Madame Clarkson que j’ai encore plus d’émotion depuis que vous avez fait tous ces commentaires si flatteurs pour moi. C’est également un grand plaisir de se retrouver parmi de si nombreux amis tant anciens que nouveaux, ici à Toronto et je suis particulièrement heureux d’avoir été présenté, comme je viens de le dire, si chaleureusement ce soir par mes bons amis John Ralston Saul et Adrienne Clarkson. Je me sens profondément reconnaissant de cette très aimable invitation et de votre généreux accueil.
When I first received this invitation, I was deeply honoured. But I was also, perhaps, a little intimidated.
I was impressed by the lecture’s prestigious history, the contributions of nine former lecturers, and the lecture’s focus on Canada’s civic culture.
As you may know, my close ties with Canada go back almost four decades, to the time when many thousands of Asian refugees from Uganda, including many Ismailis, were welcomed so generously in this society. These ties have continued through the cooperation of our Aga Khan Development Network with several Canadian institutions, including the establishment, four years ago, of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa. I had the opportunity last week to chair a highly productive meeting there of the Centre’s Board of Directors.
Earlier this year, we also celebrated here in Toronto the Foundation Ceremony for the Aga Khan Museum and a new Ismaili Centre. So there are powerful chords of memory – from four decades ago, four years ago, and even four months ago, that tie me closely to Canada.
I was also deeply moved by Canada’s extraordinary gift to me of honorary citizenship.
I always have felt at home when I come to Canada – but never more so than in the wake of this honour. And if I ever felt any trepidation about accepting this evening’s invitation, it has been significantly reduced by the fact that I can now claim – however modestly – to be a Canadian!
Many thanks go to all of you who are attending this lecture – or are watching and listening from elsewhere. It is a busy autumn night, I know.
For one thing, I believe the undefeated Maple Leafs are playing on television at this very hour!
My Canadian friends like to tell me about a time when the Stanley Cup playoffs were in full swing, and a gentleman took his seat in the front row of the stadium – leaving a seat open next to him. His neighbour asked why such an excellent seat for such an important event was unclaimed, and the man explained that his wife normally sat there but that she had passed away. The neighbour expressed his sympathies, but asked whether a member of the family, or another relative or friend might have been able to use the ticket. “No”, the man replied, “they’re all at the funeral.”
The subject of tonight’s Lecture, Pluralism, may not have quite the emotional hold of the Stanley Cup, but, for me, it has been a matter of immense importance.
One reason, no doubt, is that the Ismaili people have long shared in the experience of smaller groups everywhere – living in larger societies. In addition, my lifelong interest in development has focused my attention on the challenge of social diversity. My interest in launching the Global Centre for Pluralism reflected my sense that there was yet no institution dedicated to the question of diversity in our world, and that Canada’s national experience made it a natural home for this venture.
The Centre plans, of course, to engage expert researchers to help in its work. Those plans remind me of a “think-tank” executive who found himself floating aimlessly across the sky one day in a hot air balloon. (I suspect he was the chairman!). As he hovered above he called down to a man below, “Can you tell me where I am?” The man shouted back, giving him his longitude, latitude and altitude. “Thanks,” said the chairman, “that’s interesting, but you must be a professor!”
“Why do you say that?” asked the man below.
“Well,” the chairman responded, “you have given me a lot of precise information, which I’m sure is technically correct, but which is not of the faintest use to me.”
The man below replied, “And you must be an executive.”
“How did you know?” asked the balloonist.
“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are – or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are on a lot of hot air. And you expect people beneath you to solve your problems!”
I trust that this story will not characterize the work of the Centre.
I would like to talk with you this evening about three things – first, the long history of pluralism in our world, secondly, the acute intensification of that challenge in our time, and third, the path ahead, how we can best respond to that challenge.
A. Early History
Let us look for a moment at pluralism in history. I would like to begin by observing that the challenge of pluralism is as old as human civilization. History is filled with instructive models of success and failure in coping with human diversity.
In looking at this history, I am going to do an unexpected thing for a graduate of Harvard University – and that is to quote from a professor at that “other” New England school, a place called Yale.
You may remember how President Kennedy, when he received an honorary degree from Yale, observed that he now had the best of both worlds – a Yale degree – and a Harvard education!
Perhaps I am trying to reap something of the same advantage tonight – mentioning my Harvard education, but quoting a Yale Professor. Amy Chua, of the Yale Law School, recently published a persuasive warning about the decline and fall of history’s dominant empires. Their downward spiral, she says, stemmed from their embrace of intolerant and exclusionist attitudes.
The earlier success of these so-called “hyper powers” reflected their pragmatic, inclusive policies, drawing on the talents of a wide array of peoples. She cites seven examples – from ancient Persia to the modern United States, from ancient Rome and the Tang Empire in China, to the Spanish, Dutch and British Empires. In each case, pluralism was a critical variable.
You may know how, in ancient times, the common view was that nature had separated humankind into distinctive peoples. Aristotle was among the first to reject such arbitrary distinctions, and to conceptualize the human race as a single whole. It is interesting to note that his young pupil, on whom he impressed this notion, turned out to be Alexander the Great – whose international empire was animated by this new intellectual outlook. And, similarly, the Roman Empire thrived initially by extending the concept of Roman citizenship to distant, highly disparate peoples.
But even as Europe fragmented after the fall of Rome, another success story emerged in Egypt. I have a special interest in this story; it concerns my ancestors, the Fatimid Caliphs, who founded the city of Cairo 1000 years ago. They were themselves Shia in an overwhelmingly dominant Sunni culture, and for nearly two centuries they led a strong pluralistic society, welcoming a variety of Islamic interpretations as well as people of Christian, Jewish and other backgrounds.
Similarly, on the Iberian Peninsula between the 8th and 16th centuries, Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures interacted creatively in what was known as al-Andalus. Remarkably, it lasted for most of seven centuries – a longer period than the time that has since passed.
The fading of al-Andalus came as a new spirit of nationalism rose in Europe – propelled by what scholars have called a sense of “imagined community.” Where local and tribal loyalties once dominated, national identifications came to flourish.
As we know, these nationalist rivalries eventually exploded into world war. The post-war emergence of the European Union has been a response to that history, much as regional groupings from South East Asia, to Central Asia, from Latin America to Eastern Africa, have been testing the potential for pan-national cooperation.
B. Canada and Pluralism
This brings me to the story of Canada – shaped so fundamentally by two European cultures. This dual inheritance was an apparent weakness at one point, but it was transformed into an enormous strength, thanks to leaders like LaFontaine and Baldwin, as well as those who shaped the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, and so many others who contributed to a long, incremental process.
That process has been extended over time to include a broader array of peoples, the First Peoples, and the Inuit, and a host of new immigrant groups. I am impressed by the fact that some 44 percent of Canadians today are of neither French nor British descent. I am told, in fact, that a typical Canadian citizenship ceremony might now include people from two dozen different countries.
To be sure, the vision I am describing is sometimes questioned and still incomplete, as I know Canadians insist on acknowledging. But it is nonetheless an asset of enormous global value.
C. The Developing World
Let me turn to the less developed world, where the challenge of diversity is often the most difficult problem our Development Network faces.
This legacy was partly shaped by European influences. In the 19th century, for example, European economic competition was sometimes projected onto Middle Eastern divisions, including the Maronite alliance with France and the Druze alliance with Britain. Meanwhile, in Africa and elsewhere, Europe’s colonial policies often worked to accentuate division – both through the use of divide-and-rule-strategies, and through the imposition of arbitrary national boundaries, often ignoring tribal realities.
In my view, the West continues at times to mis-read such complexities – including the immense diversity within the Muslim world. Often, too, the West’s development assistance programs assume that diversity is primarily an urban phenomenon discounting the vast size and complexity of rural areas. Yet, it is in the countryside that ethnic divides can be most conflictual – as Rwanda and Afghanistan have demonstrated – and where effective development could help pre-empt explosion.
I remember a visit I made almost half a century ago – in 1973 – to Mindanao, the one part of the Philippine Islands that was never ruled by Spain. It is home to a significant Islamic minority, and I was struck even then by how religious distinctions were mirrored in economic disparities.
Since that time, in predictable ways, economic injustice and cultural suspicion have fuelled one another in Mindanao. The quandary is how to break the cycle, although the Philippine government is now addressing the situation. But when history allows such situations to fester, they become increasingly difficult to cure.
The co-dependent nature of economic deprivation and ethnic diversity is evident throughout most of Asia and Africa. And most of these countries are ill-prepared for such challenges. The legitimacy of pluralist values, which is part of the social psyche in countries like Canada or Portugal, where so many Ismailis now live, is often absent in the developing world.
I think particularly, now, of Africa. The largest country there, Nigeria, comprises some 250 ethnic groups, often in conflict. In this case, vast oil reserves – once a reason for hope – have become a source of division. One wonders what might happen in other such places, for example in Afghanistan, if its immense subsoil wealth should become an economic driver.
The lesson: economic advantage can sometimes ease social tensions, but social and cultural cleavage can undermine economic promise.
D. Central Asia
Let’s for a moment, look at the situation in Central Asia. Our Network’s activity there includes the University of Central Asia, founded ten years ago, with campuses now in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
You will recall the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan last June – thousands died, hundreds of thousands were made homeless. And yet, this high mountain region had traditionally been a place of lively cultural interchange – going back to the time of the Silk Route, one of history’s first global connecting links.
The violence that raged between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities had tangled roots. The Kyrgyz, traditionally nomads, were forced in the last century to settle on Soviet collective farms – joined by new Russian settlers. Tensions mounted, especially with the more settled Uzbeks, and a harsh economy compounded the distress.
Kyrgyzstan – along with Tajikistan – is one of the two poorest countries to emerge from the Soviet Union. But economics alone do not account for its tragedies. Observers had long noted the absence of cross-cultural contact in Kyrgyzstan, the weakness of institutional life – both at the government level and at the level of civil society – and a failing educational system.
Another element in the equation was international indifference – indeed, almost total international ignorance about Central Asia.
The result was a society ready to explode at the touch of a tiny spark. How that spark was first struck has been much debated. But the fundamental questions concern the perilous preconditions for violence, and whether they might better have been identified – and addressed.
Meanwhile, a spirit of hope persists, even in this troubled setting. Shortly after the violence, a public referendum approved constitutional reforms which could open a new era of progress.
E. Other Developing World Examples
Let us look for a moment at other developing world examples. The referendum in Kyrgyzstan this summer was followed one month later by a similar referendum in Kenya. I spent a part of my childhood in Kenya and our Network is very active there. So we watched with great sadness as Kenya descended into tribal warfare following the disputed election of 2007. In Kenya’s case, the institutions of civil society took a lead role in addressing the crisis. One result was the public endorsement this past August of a new constitution – by a two to one ratio. Like the reforms in Kyrgyzstan, it includes a dramatic dispersion of national and presidential power.
We are reminded in such moments that hope can sometimes grow out of desolation. I think of other places in Africa, like Mozambique, which also found a path to greater stability after a long period of warfare.
I think, too, of Indonesia, which emerged from its colonial experience as a radically fragmented state – both ethnically and geographically. Its response included a nationally oriented educational system – teaching a shared national language. But we must be careful in drawing conclusions. Other attempts to foster a single language as a unifying resource – Urdu, for example, or Swahili, or Bangla, have sometimes worked to separate peoples from the main currents of global progress.
The question of language is very sensitive, as Canadians well know. And one of the central truths about pluralism is that what works in one setting may work differently in others.
Afghanistan is another case in point. In contrast with places where inflexible nationalism can be a problem, Afghanistan suffers from the opposite condition – an inability to imagine, let alone create, a broad sense of nationhood.
One of the prime lessons of history, ancient and recent, is that one size does not fit all.
Let’s for the moment look at the present situation. Let me move to a second major topic, which is the present intensification of the pluralism challenge – and the sense of urgency that comes with it.
Clearly, the challenges posed by diversity are mounting. New technologies mean that people mix and mingle more than ever before. Massive human migrations are part of the story – two-thirds of recent population growth in the 30 largest OECD countries has resulted from highly diverse migrations. Meanwhile, communications technology means that even those who live on the other side of the world are as near to us as those who live on the other side of the street.
The variety of the world is not only more available, it is nearly inescapable. Human difference is more proximate – and more intense. What was once beyond our view is now at our side – and, indeed, to use the popular expression, it is “in our face.”
Almost everything now seems to “flow” globally – people and images, money and credit, goods and services, microbes and viruses, pollution and armaments, crime and terror. But let us remember, too, that constructive impulses can also flow more readily, as they do when international organizations join hands across dividing lines.
The challenge of diversity is now a global challenge – and how we address it will have global consequences.
Economic stress and new environmental fragilities have further intensified the difficulties, and so has the fading of the bi-polar political order. It was once said that the end of the Cold War meant “the end of history.” In fact, just the reverse was true. History resumed in earnest in the 1990’s – as old tribal passions resurfaced.
Meanwhile, the way we communicate with one another has been revolutionized. But more communication has not meant more cooperation. More information has also meant more mis-information – more superficial snapshots, more shards of stray information taken out of context. And it has also meant more willful dis-information – not only differences of opinion, but distortions of fact. A wide-open internet allows divisive information to travel as far and as fast as reliable information. There are virtually no barriers to entry – and anyone, responsible or irresponsible – can play the game.
New digital technologies mean more access, but they also mean less accountability.
The advent of the internet and the omnipresence of mobile telephony seem to promise so much! But so, once, did television and radio – and the telegraph before that – and, even earlier, the invention of the printing press. Yet each of these breakthroughs, while connecting so many, was also used to widen cultural gulfs.
Technologies, after all, are merely instruments – they can be used for good or ill. How we use them will depend – in every age and in every culture – not on what sits on our desktops, but on what is in our heads – and in our hearts.
It has never been easy for people to live together. I am not one who believes in some natural, human disposition to welcome the stranger. Wiping away superficial misunderstandings will not by itself allow a spontaneous spirit of accommodation to blossom.
As Adrienne Clarkson said at this lecture in 2007, we cannot count on the power of “love” to solve our problems – as important as that quality is. A part of our challenge, as she said, is learning to live and work with people we may not particularly like!
To do so will require concerted, deliberate efforts to build social institutions and cultural habits which take account of difference, which see diversity as an opportunity rather than a burden.
I have mentioned both social institutions and cultural habits – each dimension is critical. In a sense, one concerns the hardware and one concerns the software of the pluralism experience.
This brings me to my third and final topic this evening, the path ahead – how we might better predict and prevent breakdowns, and encourage progress.
A. Institutional Concerns
On the institutional level, we can begin by looking at the structures of public governance.
Let me warn, first, against a naïve hope that simply advancing the concept of democracy will achieve our goals. Not so. The high count of failed democracies – including some 40 percent of the member states of the United Nations – should disabuse us of this notion.
Too often, democracy is understood to be only about elections – momentary majorities. But effective governance is much more than that. What happens before and after elections? How are choices framed and explained? How is decision-making shared so that leaders of different backgrounds can interactively govern, rather than small cliques who rule autocratically?
We must go beyond the simple word “democracy” if we are to build a framework for effective pluralism.
This will mean writing more effective constitutions – informed by more sophisticated understandings of comparative political systems. It will mean explaining those arrangements more adequately – and adjusting and amending them. It will mean separating and balancing powers, structuring multi-tiered – and often asymmetrical – systems of federalism, and defining rights and freedoms – as Canada has learned to do. I would also point here to the experience of the largest democracy, India, which defines specific constitutional rights for eight distinctive cultural groups, an approach which has been echoed in Malaysia. And we have seen how Kenya and Kyrgyzstan are moving now to decentralize power.
All of these institutional arrangements can help resolve political deadlock, build social coherence and avoid the dangers of “winner take all.” They can provide multiple levers of social influence, allowing individuals of every background to feel that they have a stake in society – that they can influence the forces that shape their lives.
How we define citizenship is a central factor in this story – but one that is newly in dispute. Even the well-established concept that citizenship belongs to everyone who is born on national soil has been questioned recently in parts of Europe and the United States – as attitudes to immigration intensify.
Independent judicial and educational systems are also essential to effective pluralism, and so are non-governmental agents of influence – the institutions of civil society. As we have seen, Kenya presents a positive case study in this regard, while civil society in Kyrgyzstan was largely marginalized during its crisis.
Independent news media are another key element. This is why our Network has been involved for fifty years in the media of East Africa, and why the Aga Khan University is planning to create there a new Graduate School of Media and Communications.
The value of independent media was summarized recently by a veteran Ghanaian journalist, Kwame Karikari, who wrote of the media’s "… remarkable contributions to peaceful and transparent elections in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia; to post-conflict conditions … in Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone; and to sustaining constitutional rule … in Guinea, Kenya and Nigeria."
Finally, let me emphasize that healthy institutions will tap the widest possible range of energies and insights. They will optimize each society’s meritocratic potential, so that opportunity will reward competence, from whomever and wherever it may come independent of birth or wealth or theology or physical power.
But institutional reforms will have lasting meaning only when there is a social mindset to sustain them.
There is a profound reciprocal relationship between institutional and cultural variables. How we think shapes our institutions. And then our institutions shape us.
How we see the past is an important part of this mindset.
A sense of historic identity can immensely enrich our lives. But we also know how myopic commitments to “identity” can turn poisonous when they are dominated by bad memories, steeped in grievance and resentment.
The marginalization of peoples can then become a malignant process, as people define themselves by what they are against. The question of “who am I?” is quickly transformed into “who is my enemy?”
Some would address this problem through a willful act of historical amnesia – but suppressing animosity can often produce future explosions.
In Kenya, national history is largely missing from the public schools. And, in the absence of shared history, divided communities feed on their own fragmented memories of inter-tribal wrongs.
On the other hand, the value of confronting memory lies in catharsis, an emotional healing process. As we know, the Truth and Reconciliation Process has helped South Africans address deep social divisions, as has Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago.
As societies come to think in pluralistic ways, I believe they can learn another lesson from the Canadian experience, the importance of resisting both assimilation and homogenization – the subordination and dilution of minority cultures on the one hand, or an attempt to create some new, transcendent blend of identities, on the other.
What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that identity itself can be pluralistic. Honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others. One can embrace an ethnic or religious heritage, while also sharing a sense of national or regional pride. To cite a timely example, I believe one can live creatively and purposefully as both a devoted Muslim and a committed European.
To affirm a particular identity is a fundamental human right, what some have called “the right to be heard.” But the right to be heard implies an obligation to listen – and, beyond that, a proactive obligation to observe and to learn.
Surely, one of the most important tests of moral leadership is whether our leaders are working to widen divisions – or to bridge them.
When we talk about diversity, we often use the metaphor of achieving social “harmony.” But perhaps we might also employ an additional musical comparison – a fitting image as we meet tonight in this distinguished musical setting. We might talk not just about the ideal of "harmony" – the sounding of a single chord – but also about “counterpoint.” In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always as part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.
Let me add one further thought. I believe that the challenge of pluralism is never completely met. Pluralism is a process and not a product. It is a mentality, a way of looking at a diverse and changing world. A pluralistic environment is a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.
Responding to pluralism is an exercise in constant re-adaptation. Identities are not fixed in stone. What we imagine our communities to be must also evolve with the tides of history.
As we think about pluralism, we should be open to the fact that there may be a variety of “best practices,” a “diversity of diversities,” and a “pluralism of pluralisms.”
In sum, what we must seek and share is what I have called “a cosmopolitan ethic,” a readiness to accept the complexity of human society. It is an ethic which balances rights and duties. It is an ethic for all peoples.
It will not surprise you to have me say that such an ethic can grow with enormous power out of the spiritual dimensions of our lives. In acknowledging the immensity of The Divine, we will also come to acknowledge our human limitations, the incomplete nature of human understanding.
In that light, the amazing diversity of Creation itself can be seen as a great gift to us – not a cause for anxiety but a source of delight. Even the diversity of our religious interpretations can be greeted as something to share with one another – rather than something to fear.
In this spirit of humility and hospitality – the stranger will be welcomed and respected, rather than subdued – or ignored.
In the Holy Quran we read these words: “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul …[and] joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace ye became brethren.”
As we strive for this ideal, we will recognize that “the other” is both “present” and “different.” And we will be able to appreciate this presence – and this difference – as gifts that can enrich our lives.
Let me conclude by emphasizing once again the urgency of this challenge. We are at a particularly complex moment in human history. The challenges of diversity are frightening for many people, in societies all around the world. But diversity also has the capacity to inspire.
The mission of the Global Centre for Pluralism is to look closely at all these challenges – and to think hard about them. This will be demanding work. But as we go forward, we hope we can discern more predictably and pre-empt more effectively those conditions which lead to conflict among peoples. And we also hope that we can advance those institutions and those mindsets which foster constructive engagement.
The world we seek is not a world where difference is erased, but where difference can be a powerful force for good, helping us to fashion a new sense of cooperation and coherence in our world, and to build together a better life for all.
Thank you very much.
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