A Few Words On Christopher Hitchens’ Fondness for Noam Chomsky

Christopher Hitchens’ obsession with Noam Chomsky will fascinate anyone with even a remote interest in psychology. The fixation almost has the quality of a jealous admirer racked by childhood insecurities. Amidst all the horror and bloodshed that envelopes the world, one wonders why Hitchens devotes his energies to denouncing a man whose syllogisms Hitchens once described as “train-wrecked.” After all, if Chomsky’s stupidities are as self-evident as Hitchens suggests, it would appear that Hitchens is insulting his readers by undertaking the task of refuting them in the first instance. Does not idiocy speak for itself? Perhaps Mr. Hitchens is riddled with guilt in his most private moments; how could the man who served as the most obnoxious propagandist for the moral catastrophe in Iraq not be consumed by self-hatred? Does Chomsky’s repeated insistence that the United States carried out an indefensible crime that erased hundred of thousands of Iraqi lives and permanently disfiguring millions more, constitute a painful reminder of Hitchens own moral failures? Does Hitchens worry that he will largely be remembered for the slew sophistries he spoke in defense of this century’s most grotesque and illegal war, and little else?

It appears that in an effort to cope with his own demons, Hitchens delights in heaping scorn upon those who refuse to submit to his imbecilities. Because Chomsky’s political influence is profound, and his credentials unimpeachable, Hitchens cannot ignore the MIT scholar, no matter how much he insists that Chomsky’s writings appeal only to the most naive among the human race. I suspect I am not alone in my belief that it requires considerable eye strain to go through Hitchens’ political writings and, with a machete, hack away at all of the irrelevancies that make an ugly mess of whatever issue he appears to be commenting on. It is no exaggeration to say that often as much 60 or 70 percent of his essays are filled with digressions of the most bizarre sort. Hitches knows that rhetorical chaos is highly effective means by which to avoid a disciplined discussion. His recent piece on Noam Chomsky in Slate Magazine constitutes a paradigmatic example of a writer so preoccupied with offering “eloquent” theater to his audience that basic standards of intellectual integrity are treated with contempt. It will be useful to say a few words (Chomsky’s article may be found here).

True to form, Hitchens’ piece is tastefully titled, “Chomsky’s Follies: The Professor’s pronouncements about Osama Bin Laden are stupid and ignorant.” He leads his essay by noting that “anybody” who has visited the Middle East has surely met an unruly Arab who exults in the September 11th massacre while simultaneously laying blame on the “Jews.” The comment, of course, is inserted for the express purpose of caricaturing Chomsky’s argument and confusing readers into believing that Chomsky subscribes to the fantastical lie that 9-11 was “justified.” Later, the irrelevancies begin to pile on with astonishing frequency as he discusses David Shayler (who the hell is that?), Michael Moore, Gore Vidal’s “croaking” insinuations, and again, yet another entire paragraph devoted to a lunatic fringe that believes 9-11 was a self-inflicted wound carried out by the Pentagon. Hitchens’ bouts with attention deficit disorder could not be more obvious. After all, doesn’t Hitchens’ title suggest that his task is to expose Chomsky’s follies? There is nothing offered by way of organized argument and or a desire to seriously engage the Professor, but rather the kind of cheep innuendo that has become Hitchens’ signature trait. What is incredible is that after pursuing these red herrings with great earnestness, Hitchens, from time-to-time, includes a caveat that Chomsky doesn’t really subscribe to these absurdities. He notes, for instance: “It’s no criticism of Chomsky to say that his analysis is inconsistent with that of other individuals and factions who essentially think that 9/11 was a hoax.” Hitchens has literally said nothing in the essay, so far as one can tell.

In the face of all this wreckage, however, a disciplined reader can perhaps extract at least one argument on behalf of Hitchens (even here the term “argument” is being employed in its most charitable sense). Hitchens appears to be horrified by Chomsky’s belief that due process, the rule of law, and elementary fairness should guide one’s moral principles rather than ugly appeals to nationalism. Notably, Hitchens ignores the bulk of Chomsky’s commentary and chooses, instead, to center his analysis on the one comment that was sure to arouse the most hysterical response, namely Chomsky’s claim that Bin Laden should have been brought before an international tribunal (a right afforded to the worst criminals in Nazi Germany), particularly if an armed commando of some 80 Navy Seals could have likely apprehended the suspect without incident, as many credible reports suggest.

Hitchens notes that the evidence against Bin Laden is built upon such incontrovertible foundations that, to even suggest that the US’ public pronouncements regarding OBL’s role in 9-11 should have been aired in court, with the criminal present, is sheer lunacy. He poses a string of rhetorical questions, asking whether the Professor has bothered reading the 9-11 Commission’s findings, the journalistic reporting of Peter Bergen, Lawrence Wright and others, and taken the time to watch videos in which Bin Laden purportedly appears with some of the 9-11 hijackers, all of which convincingly demonstrate OBL’s exact role in 9-11. Hitchens fails to comprehend that it is perfectly unnecessary to speculate about these matters (although I suspect that Chomsky intimately familiar with all of these evidences), as none of them lead to the conclusion he hopes for: namely that vigilante-style execution is justified.

Let us review the record in the present hour and then return to Hitchens main “thesis” to assess whether one can speak with any degree of confidence on matters at issue. Perhaps the only thing that can be said with certainty is that there now exists a slew of narratives that offer a remarkably inconsistent picture of the entire Bin Laden affair. Restricting oneself only to the events of the past week, consider the following: how does one credibly reconcile the highly contradictory portraits painted by the US and Pakistani governments a mere 24 hours after the assassination, which are inconsistent both internally as well as vis-à-vis one another? Did US and Pakistani intelligence agencies have joint knowledge of OBL’s whereabouts months before the operation, as many reports suggest? If so, did the United States pre-empt Pakistan’s role in the assassination merely to monopolize on the political capital and international prestige that was guaranteed to inure? Was the notorious criminal armed, or shot in “cold blood,” as Alan Dershowitz suggested? Did OBL reside in Pakistan for years, or was his arrival far more recent, and on what basis can either claim be maintained beyond mere assertion? Did Pakistan provide the United States with permission to enter its inviolable territory in accord with a “hot pursuit” clause, or is this a figment of US imagination, as many Pakistan officials insist? If the United States had the opportunity to seize Bin Laden, and if he indeed remained the most formidable threat to US national security, why didn’t the United States interrogate him for months to extract what surely would have yielded excellent intelligence? Why was the suspect’s body dumped into the sea before being subjected to forensic testing, which would have resolved disputes regarding the circumstances under which he was shot? Was OBL still involved in orchestrating high-profile massacres, or had he been rendered operationally defunct and hence merely in survival mode? If it is the latter, did the Obama administration act in the “national security interests” of the United States by entering into the sovereign territory of a state equipped with the world’s fifth largest army and nuclear warheads to carry out an extra-judicial murder in the dead of night?

In the face of these and many other unanswered questions, and despite the United States’ established record of fabricating heroic military incidents out of whole cloth (i.e. the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch affair, to name only the most recent), Hitchens thinks we can be confident about the US’s public pronouncements on Bin Laden. Is Hitchens serious, or has he taken comedy to another level? That is, simply on the narrow issue of the facts surrounding Bin Laden’s assassination, there is a shocking degree of confusion and contradiction at every turn; yet Hitchens insists that the public can speak with unwavering confidence about Bin Laden’s precise role in perpetrating the greatest massacre on American soil. Can he explain, in rational and organized way, why he believes this? Does Hitchens maintain that the American public should swallow, without a hint of suspicion, every press release that issues from the very government that lead the nation into the most embarrassing war in modern history? Even if one imputes the best of intentions to the US government, did not example of Iraq show that government “intelligence” is susceptible to error of the worst sort? How does he explain the Pentagon’s massive cover-up of the recent pre-mediated murders of unarmed civilians  in Afghanistan, as reported by Rolling Stones Magazine? Should this incident inspire heightened confidence in the military apparatus? What about the scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, even more confidence? Furthermore, would the investigative reporting and video footage Hitchens cites to cure any and all potential deficiencies in government intelligence? How would he deal with “mass of evidence” that undercuts the findings of the journalists he regards as authoritative?

In short, it is precisely because government intelligence is notoriously unreliable, and information in the public record so inconsistent, that a criminal trial should have been held to give the American people a full picture of Bin Laden’s culpability in the 9-11 horror. To raise these questions is not to nurture conspiracy theories, but merely to defend the rule of law and afford Americans and, indeed the world’s citizens, a complete unveiling of Bin Laden’s machinations. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that American citizens should maintain a healthy balance between denial and conspiracy theory on the one hand, and servile acceptance of the any government’s public pronouncements, be it Pakistan or the United States.  I wonder if Mr. Hitchens would be willing to furnish his personal analysis of the evidence he knows so intimately so that it may be subjected to public scrutiny. His clumsiness is apparent when he writes, “However, it is remarkable that [Chomsky] should write as if the mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented or could not have been brought before a court.” Can Hitchens corroborate the incredible claim that Chomsky believes the evidence “could not have been brought before court?” Why would the Professor argue in favor of an international criminal trial, if not for the express purpose of allowing evidence to be brought before a competent court?

Consider also the following: only hours after news of OBL’s death surfaced, Hitchens’ close friend, Salman Rushdie, called on the nations of the world to declare Pakistan and its 170 million inhabits a “terrorist state.” Note that Rushdie based his entire plea on the hollowest conjecture and a foundation of “facts” that, as noted above, are mired in inconsistency. It is only if one uncritically accepts every statement from the White House, and denies anything to the contrary, that Rushdie’s outrageous speculations can be sustained. Moreover, the implications of Rushdie’s public statement would surely have tragic consequences for the civilian population of Pakistan, as the example of Cuba and Iraq amply demonstrate. Upon declaring a Pakistan terrorist entity, the US would likely proceed in the usual manner: a sustained boycott and economic strangulation designed to punish, famish, and terrorize the people of Pakistan. Why did Hitchens allow Rushdie’s reckless stupidity to go uncontradicted and instead choose to focus on Chomsky’s rather banal comment about bringing Bin Laden before an international tribunal, much like his Nazi predecessors? Again, why the obsession with Noam Chomsky?

What I have presented here is only a sample of Hitchens silliness. At one point he states, without a hint of irony, that Chomsky still enjoys “some” reputation as a public scholar and intellectual. This, he says, about an international icon who was conferred MIT’s highest professorial honor, holds honorary degrees from every one of the world’s best universities, and has received numerous prestigious scientific prizes from every quarter of the world. I wonder if Hitchens can point to equivalent credentials—his scholarly contributions to Vanity Fair Magazine, perhaps?

A final word, if only for my own amusement: in the signature pose of a narcissist, Hitchens appears on the cover of his book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, in ruffled trench coat with a cigarette dangling from his hand. Whether one should respond to such imagery with pity or laughter is not altogether clear. But what is beyond argument is that few public “intellectuals” today exhibit a self-absorption as profound and unjustified as Christopher Hitchens. Having read Hitchens for ten years, I have made many heroic attempts to give him the benefit of the doubt—perhaps there really is some hidden political genius that lies beyond the verbosity and hysterical ranting, I thought. But I’m afraid the poor fellow has again-and-again shown himself to be a model charlatan. His recent diatribe on Chomsky is but one example of the kind of excitability, hotheadedness, and utter lack of self-control that has earned Hitchens such impressive notoriety.

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Bin Laden, Willful Destruction of Evidence, and the Rule of Law

In what marks a departure from usual form, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz raises several excellent points in the following piece in which he writes, “burying [OBL's] body at sea constituted the willful destruction of relevant evidence.” As an experienced criminal defense attorney, Dershowitz acknowledges the profound usefulness in subjecting the human body to forensic testing to reconstruct the facts in a homicide case. Nevertheless, that Dershowitz “believes the President acted properly” in violating Pakistan’s national sovereignty to carry out a political assassination in the dead of night is not a surprise, as it is the routine practice of his main client, Israel, as well as the world’s most powerful state actors–Russia and the United States. As always, to so much as raise questions about the legality of an operation that has conferred apotheotic status on President Obama will only invite ridicule and insult. That power and privilege are above the rule of law, both at the state and individual level, is a fact that has held true since time immemorial. In accordance with convention, it is exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible, for an American to take a principled stance on this issue, without being branded an “apologist” for Bin Laden (who uncontroversially was an international criminal), or some equivalent libel. But what is remarkable and indeed promising is that more and more Western intellectuals have taken a conscientious stance in raising serious legal and moral questions about the entire affair, particularly Glenn Greenwald who, since the new’s inception, has addressed this sensitive issue with great tact, poise, and courage.

Gone are the days where men like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward Herman were the virtual lone voice in demanding that the United States abide by international norms and apply to itself the same standard of mortality that it demands from the entire world. In my mind, the emergence of an increasingly “mainstream” discourse that has risen in defense of law and justice represents genuine moral progress and only the beginning of a movement that will perhaps one day supplant hollow nationalism and become the gold standard of our nation. As it stands, the “Golden Rule” practiced by those who possess unquestioned power teaches, “the one with the gold makes the rules,” a vulgarity that bares scarce resemblance to the high-minded principle taught by all the world’s great moral traditions, both secular and religious.

My sense is that it is precisely those Americans who are indifferent to the rule of law, and unaware of the immense human suffering that was wrought on the innocent people of Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve this narrow end, who were most prone to engage in the rather tasteless displays of jubilation that ensued immediately after news broke. In a sense, they cannot be blamed for their ignorance as every effort has been made to present the US effort as a war of necessity that has resulted in inconsequential “collateral damage”; how this fiction of just war, proportionality, and purity of arms can be reconciled with the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who suffered an unnecessary and  premature demise, I cannot say. Indeed, it is terrifying to contemplate how readily truth can be turned on its very head.

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Personal Reflections on Knowledge, Writing and ‘Eloquence’

As much as I would like to claim otherwise, I did not possess any bookish inclinations as a young child. To me, reading was something that required undue mental exertion and served as a bothersome distraction from the kind hooliganism that is the right of every young boy in America. In my 11th grade “Great Books” class I was assigned to read 12 novels, including Crime and Punishment. I read exactly zero, and managed to pass the course with a “D+,” a high mark about which my mother would never let me forget. If my memory serves me well–and I don’t say this on account of a deceitful modesty–on the eve of my high school graduation I had read only one book cover-to-cover: The Twits by Roald Dahl. It is impossible to know for certain what impact such a rich reading experience had on my subsequent intellectual development.

By contrast, although I did not have a particular fondness for writing, I generally managed to receive good marks on my writing assignments, excepting Great Books, of course. I derived a strange pleasure from composing verbose sentences, which I would read back to myself, over and over again, in what surely amounted to an unjustified narcissism. Indeed, I took such a strong liking to eloquent prose that I was often tempted to plagiarize; that someone had expressed in precise language what I felt vaguely and obscurely, and which was lodged somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind but could never quite find its way to my pen, caused me to feel a burning itch of frustration, and envy. But I could never bring myself to appropriate language that wasn’t my own, if only out of fear that I would be exposed. Indeed, had I been certain I could emerge unscathed, I would have appended my name to Dickens and his progeny a thousand times over. Like many others, my lust for eloquence sprang from a desire to be thought brilliant, even if it was objectively untrue.

As painful as it is to acknowledge, save for a few inconsequential departures, my childhood story represented the diametric opposite of the boy-genius described by Bertrand Russell, who is prone to withdrawing into a dark corner and drowning himself in letters: “Adults who achieve anything of value, as a rule, have liked solitude: [as children] they have tried to slink into a corner with a book and been happiest when they could escape the notice of their barbarian contemporaries,” he would write. By every measure, I was the barbarian who the young prodigy would do well to avoid, unless he hoped to become duller.

It was only upon entering university that I experienced a genuine intellectual awakening. Living at home, it was difficult to find moments of repose and quietness, but in college, for the first time in my life, I found myself with ample time to allow my mind to wander into realms that it had hitherto never entered. After a verbal confrontation with my best friend about the merits of our respective religions, Islam and Christianity, I was left feeling that I did not put forth an adequate defense of a faith that I intuitively believed was intellectually sound. I thus developed an earnest desire to learn about Islam and believe that all my subsequent intellectual interests sprang from this initial incursion. Islam was necessarily a sinuous subject in which law, history, philosophy, theology, spirituality, and culture were wrapped into one and thus provided the perfect spark to a mind that had grown stale from 18 years of disuse.

On my college campus I undeservedly earned a reputation for being knowledgeable about the topics on which I pontificated, and would frequently participate in informal on-campus debates. In my private moments, I often felt considerable guilt that I was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to earn praise from my peers and elders. I knew that from a spiritual perspective, seeking knowledge for personal glory was a reprehensible trait, one that the great sages had continually described as an affliction of the human heart. Al-Ghazali would famously say, “knowledge without action is vanity, action without knowledge is insanity.” I was constantly chastised my close friends and family for acquiring “knowledge” for all the wrong reasons. I knew there was truth to their charge, but that it was incomplete, as my love for learning owed to something quite sincere as well, including a love and empathy for those I advocated on behalf of. Years later I came realize that, except for a handful of God’s chosen saints, it is the occupation of every human being to live for a desire to earn the respect of their contemporaries, no matter how much they wish to deny it. It is emphatically true that even the noblest pursuits, among which the acquisition of knowledge is only one, can be employed for congratulatory purpose. George Orwell insisted that the trait that motivates writers foremost is “sheer egoism,” and a “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood.” “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one,” he would say. That narcissism is only the trait of those consumed with their physical beauty is surely not right. In reality, one’s intentions are almost always divided, in which self-aggrandizing motives are in constant war with nobler impulses. It is an on-going struggle, but one that becomes easier to overcome, in my view, as one develops self-assuredness and depends less-and-less on affirmation from others while simultaneously seeking a Higher purpose. It is a strange irony that confidence is often the surest cure for hubris.

In the course of my studies, I decided I wanted to create my own original compositions that were every bit as eloquent as the writings I envied. With little regard for content, eloquence became my alpha and omega. When I first began writing outside a strictly classroom setting, I would endeavor to emulate one of my close friends, a few years my senior, whose style I greatly admired. “Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his preface to Lolita, in which he would explain that his own eloquence was the product of profound pre-mediation and intellectual strain. My friend was the anomaly about which Nabokov wrote, as his eloquence appeared almost effortless. What resulted from my imitations, however, were ghastly compositions which sounded contrived from the first letter to the very last. I found myself writing things I didn’t believe, all in an effort to sound lettered. After repeated failure, I became disillusioned and believed that I could never write anything unless it was prompted by the specter of receiving a poor grade from a professor. Surely one who wrote for that end was destined to fail.

I slowly realized that my inability to write had less to do with intellectual ineptness and more with the fact that I had literally nothing to say. Despite outward pretensions, I had not amassed knowledge in any real sense, but only memorized a few facts from many disparate disciplines which, in the aggregate, was perfectly useless. Moreover, my personal life was so lacking in color, and my creative impulse so devoid of powers, that I knew that I would be an even greater failure if I embarked upon the path of fiction writing, which necessarily required a rich and varied life experience. In short, my failure lied in wanting to be “eloquent” but having no words to string together. To write under these conditions was no more possible than drawing a square-circle.

It was during the second semester of my sophomore year that I began to read voraciously and limited myself to a few subjects that I found especially interesting. I knew I could not master anything in a professional sense, at least not immediately, but that if I gained substantive knowledge writing would flow quite naturally. Indeed, I found that once I gained a proper understanding of this or that subject, writing became almost effortless, even if my work was not particularly eloquent. I consciously ignored eloquence and focused, above all, on content, and found that I was capable of producing sensible sentences if only I obeyed the maxim imparted to students of architecture, “form follows function.” Here I was the architect and language my tool, which I sought to put to most economical use. As I read more and more, I found that I could write long essays with relative ease and my writing, despite its many inadequacies, both then and now, greatly improved. 

As I see it today, “good writing” lies not so much in possessing a vast vocabulary but rather, at least in the realm of non-fiction writing, accumulating a body of knowledge on a matter about which one can write confidently. Writer’s block is triggered not by an inscrutable force, but the writer’s lack of comprehensive knowledge about the subject on which he wishes to comment, which necessarily makes composing more than two or three paragraphs a daunting task. When one has acquired sufficient understanding of a subject, all that remains is deploying one’s analytical faculties, organizing an argument and expressing those thoughts in manner that comports with one’s personal taste and style. But as the Ghazali quote above suggests, the antecedent to the “act” of writing is gaining true “knowledge.” Without this, it seems to me even the most gifted intellect cannot write any more coherently than a child scribbling with a crayon. Eloquence, in my mind, should be an after-thought and not made an end in itself. The focus must be centered on the message one wishes to deliver, not the decoration with which it is expressed. It is precisely when I invert these priorities that I know my undertaking is motivated by exuberance and a desire to be thought clever rather anything praiseworthy. And it is also where my hollowness as a “writer” becomes most evident.

Today I have found that non-fiction writers universally praised for their eloquence are often, consciously or unconsciously, so enslaved to what Orwell called “aesthetic enthusiasm,” that their writing lacks the kind of organization, clarity, and intellectual rigor through which meaningful knowledge can be imparted. Unnecessary esotericism in the realm of non-fiction writing speaks more to the writer’s ego than a desire to transmit knowledge, in my mind. In contrast, writers’ whose prose is devoid of embellishment and color, but expressed with unstinting clarity and precision, can often be the most edifying of all. Noam Chomsky represents this school of letters. But life is rarely binary and, for better or worse, my love for eloquence is as fused to my being  as my own limbs. And thus it is those non-fiction writers who are able to unite clarity with beauty of expression that I hold in highest esteem. In my mind, Bertrand Russell and George Orwell possessed this very rare talent in which they could discuss war and politics with the rigor of a medieval scholastic, but with an eloquence that could send shivers down the backbone of even the most jaded reader.

Were I to devote the rest of my days to writing, I am rather certain that I will never cultivate the kind of eloquent and refined pen that my literary heroes wielded. But, as long as my message is clear, my objective is Him, and I have not compromised on truth, I have met my purpose, ins sha Allah.

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Reflections on France’s Ban on the ‘Burqa': An American Muslim’s Perspective

It is rare to find a contemporary Western nation pass legislation that is so lacking in redeeming social and moral value that almost nothing can be said in its defense. In my mind, France’s recent ban on the Muslim burqa represents such a rarity. In my more than 25 years as a Muslim, I have never known a single woman who wears the conservative face veil–not one. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world do not believe the burqa is a mandated Islamic prescription.  Not only is there a remarkable absence of textual evidence in the Qur’an and prophetic traditions for this heightened brand of religious modesty, but many Muslim scholars go so far as to discourage wearing the burqa because of its alienating effect vis-à-vis non-Muslims. Few are aware that the conservative Damascene jurist, Ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1328), discouraged Muslims living in majority non-Muslims lands to dress in a manner that was distinct from their compatriots. In his mind, conspicuously religious garb could prejudice non-Muslims towards a true understanding of Islam’s universal message. Likewise, conservative Muslim scholars today are increasingly found saying that, despite their belief that the more liberal head veil (“hijab”) is an Islamic prescription, even it has been alloted an exaggerated importance in modern Islam. I have written about this elsewhere (“Chasing Muslims Out of Islam“).

Nevertheless, there are Muslim women today who choose to wear the burqa on account of a sincerely held Islamic belief. Whatever my personal opinions, it is a choice that I must honor and respect.

It is no doubt true that in parts of the post-colonial Muslim world, there has emerged an increasingly puritanical interpretation of Islam, the most grotesque of which can found in Afghanistan where women are often forced to wear the face veil under the threat of state molestation. This, of course, represents an illicit form of religious coercion, one that has quite rightly elicited moral condemnation from all quarters of the world. Indeed, it is precisely this kind of backwardness (I’m afraid there is no other word) that must be condemned and actively resisted by Muslim men and women, both within Afghanistan and without. I suspect many Muslims would be far more sympathetic to a democratically-enacted law that–were it to contain a sunset provision—put restrictions on the wearing of a burqa in country like Afghanistan, assuming it was passed with the express intention of countering the deeply-ingrained misogyny that has plagued the nation for more than two decades. That said, France’s ban on the burqa represents something altogether different.

In what amounts to childish posturing, much has been made of the fact that the law does not explicitly single out Muslim women or the burqa itself. However, it is matter of common knowledge that laws that are facially neutral can have a “disparate impact” on a particular racial, religious, ethnic, or gender minority. This was the case with voting laws in the 1960’s in the United States in which, under the pretense of neutrality, legislation was passed to deliberately disenfranchise black Americans, even if the laws made no explicit mention of race. In light of the lengthy debates that preceded the law’s passage within the French Parliament and society, it is beyond argument that this ban was enacted to specifically criminalize the wearing of the burqa by Muslim women.

In a nation of 65 million people, an astonishingly small number of women wear the burqa in France, with estimates ranging between 350-2000 women. Among this almost invisible subset, no evidence has been furnished that the burqa is being worn out of a sense of compulsion. Indeed, Human Rights Watch, the foremost defender of human rights throughout the world, has consistently opposed the ban in France, Belgium, Turkey, and other nations with a strong secular tradition, despite leading a worldwide campaign against forced-veiling in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Likewise, the Open Society Foundation recently undertook an exhaustive study of 32 Muslim women who wear burqa in France. In addition to finding zero instances of forced-veiling, the Foundation noted that the majority of these women were educated, gainfully employed, lived active social lives, and, depending on the environment, sometimes even chose not to wear the burqa. Due to the dearth of evidence that would sustain a finding of coerced-veiling in France, supporters of the ban have adopted a remarkably condescending attitude toward Muslim women who choose to wear the face veil. No matter how articulate, solemn, and emphatic a Muslim woman is in asserting that her decision to wear the face veil was the product of free-choice, detractors insist that she is prevaricating, too brainwashed to know what she is really thinking, or simply unable to comprehend the disservice she is doing to fellow Muslim women throughout the world. In my mind, it is hard to conceive of a more patronizing attitude towards members of the fairer sex.

Another common justification for the ban is that the burqa would make personal identification for “security purposes” impracticable at airports, banks, courts, etc. Here again, the purported justification is farcical. Several of the most prominent female supporters of the burqa in France, some of whom have appeared in public debates, have been clear in stating that every Muslim woman has a civic duty to abide by the laws of her country and must accommodate security-related concerns, as in the case of removing the face veil upon entering a bank, or providing live testimony in court. Not only is this a common-sense requirement, but also an essential element of Islamic law, which demands that Muslims obey the law of their respective countries. There is simply no reason to believe that a woman in France donning the burqa would refuse to comply with French law enforcement when the occasion demanded–it is an “argument” designed to contrive controversy where none exists.

Supporters of the ban have further pointed to legal precedents that give states’ license to regulate one’s manner of dress, as in this case of banning nudity. However, this argument too rests on sophistic reasoning: nudity is banned on account of it lewd and lascivious character, one that all reasonable adults agree would have an insidious effect on children and the general moral culture of a nation, if left unregulated. In obvious contrast, the burqa in France is worn by Muslim women on account of a sincerely held religious belief, the expression of which does not promote a moral hazard except under the most prejudiced understanding. Commenting on both the issue of security and public welfare, Human Rights Watch states, “There is no evidence that wearing the full veil in public threatens public safety, public order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others – the only legitimate grounds for interference with fundamental rights.” Thus, if a person wishes to express a sincerely held religious belief that produces no discernible harm to others, why should the State be empowered to suppress that natural right?

In short, the arguments put forward in defense of the ban again-and-again do not withstand basic intellectual scrutiny. Commentators appear to be nearly unanimous in their belief that, under the aegis of Nicolas Sarkozy, and despite the incessant moralizing about preserving “French culture,” this burqa law was enacted to placate right-wing elements within France. There is indeed emerging within Europe as well as the United States an increased hostility towards Islam and Muslims, championed by the likes of Peter King, Caroline Fourest, Geert Wilders, and others. One should not exaggerate the plight of Western Muslims but, particularly in the case of Europe, the burqa ban and related anti-Islamic measures speak more to fear of the increased visibility of Islam in the West than a genuine desire to preserve enduring “Western” values. As reported by the New York Times, Switzerland imposed a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques in 2009 under circumstances the bear a remarkable resemblance to the present controversy. In the United States, politicians vied with one another in expressing opposition to the “Ground Zero Mosque,” with even purportedly liberal politicians falling prey to the extreme hysteria perpetuated by the American right. The Pew Research Center found that mainstream news outlets covered the mosque controversy more than any other religious story in 2010, outstripping the Catholic Priest abuse scandal. Why, then, did coverage come to an abrupt halt following the mid-term congressional election? If this was a story of such vital importance to the “national conversation,” why was the controversy abandoned in almost-perfect sync with the completion of the 2010 election cycle? Moderates in both Europe and America must recognize that, with increasing frequency and shamelessness, ideologues in the West are politicizing Islam and treating Muslims like chattel simply to gain short-term political momentum. This very same ruse has been employed with impressive facility against minority groups throughout American and European history. Strangely, while going to great lengths to distance themselves from Sarkozy, some Muslim supporters of the ban such as Mona Eltahawy insist that law represents a first-step towards liberation of Muslim women throughout the world. Among other things, this view reveals a profound inability (or unwillingness) to contextualize the controversy and consider the political environment in which the law was enacted. Any decent citizen of a democratic nation ought to remain deeply suspicious of laws that single out a minority group for discrimination, particularly if that group has faced increasing prejudice and marginalization from within.

In assessing the solemnity of those who continually interject themselves in public controversies that implicate matters of “individual liberty” and “human rights,” I always find it useful to juxtapose their views alongside those organizations that have committed themselves to defending the lives of men, women, and children throughout the world. To date, every mainstream secular human rights group, from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International, has actively opposed the ban on the burqa—are we to really believe that these entities have conspired to tell a lie designed to perpetuate the exploitation and enslavement of Muslim women? Or that these professional organizations are too incompetent to recognize that this law is an vital first-step towards their emancipation? Whatever one may wish to say about this controversy, if there is indeed a valid justification for France’s ban on the burqa, the world’s most competent authorities on human rights seem unable to apprehend it.

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Rolling Stone Special Report: War Crimes in Afghanistan

For several months the Pentagon twisted heaven and earth to conceal the story of the U.S. “Kill Team” in Afghanistan. The reason for the quarantine effort hardly needs explication as the events at issue raise very serious questions about the extreme inhumanity and lawlessness that exists within the ranks of the United States military, even at the highest echelons. But the nightmare proved impossible to contain. I won’t attempt to provide a full summary here, but we learn in a Rolling Stones Special Report by Mark Boal that members of the US military engaged in elaborate and premeditated schemes to murder Afghani civilians for pure sport, including a fifteen year old boy. The descriptions contained in this report bear an uncanny resemblance to the most gruesome scenes in the now-infamous movie “Hostel,” whose characters are found torturing and lynching human beings for personal theater.

Rolling Stone Magazine and Mark Boal should be praised for their remarkable courage and commitment to the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Boal, as many know, was screenwriter to the outstanding Oscar-winning film “Hurt Locker.” Along with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, this will prove to be yet another unmitigated disaster for the US “peace” effort all throughout the Muslim world. No matter what flag one venerates, I personally find it impossible for any decent, principled human being to read this story, and view these photos, without feeling genuine moral outrage. However, it must be emphasized that the leaders of the Muslim world, particularly the religious class, have an Islamic obligation to ensure that Muslims not respond with lawlessness and violence of their own, which would not only constitute a moral abomination, but deplete any sympathy the Western world may otherwise feel for their plight.

No doubt, apologists for state violence are already preparing their rebuttals. Perhaps they will find refuge in the words of Noam Chomsky, here paraphrasing the late conservative senator Sam Ervin, a graduate Harvard Law:

If the law is against you, concentrate on the facts. If the facts are against you, concentrate on the law. And if both the facts and the law are against you, denounce your opposing counsel.”

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Qur’an Burning, Violence and the Political Instrumentalization of Islam

For many Muslims, writing about the recent Qur’an burning incident and ensuing criminality in Afghanistan is a highly problematic exercise. It puts one in the unenviable position of wanting to condemn subhuman behavior that contravenes the most elementary canons of Islamic morality, while simultaneously wanting to explain the political context and circumstances that give rise to the lawlessness that claimed twenty-two lives. A Muslim will find that if he fails to strike an almost-perfect balance between these two considerations he will be either branded as a covert apologist for terrorism or, in the alternative, regarded as a traitor to the world Muslim community. Indeed, Islam’s modern antagonists often accuse Western Muslims of speaking with a forked tongue, tailoring their response to terrorism to the audience they are addressing rather than speaking in a solitary voice. My belief is that this charge of duplicity is largely unfounded, although I suspect that, like all communities, Muslims are not immune from double-speak, particularly given the heated political environment in which they find themselves. Indeed, American politicians are frequently accused of this same cunningness when speaking on the Israel-Palestine conflict–one need only compare President Obama’s June 4, 2008 address to AIPAC, to his “landmark” speech to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009, exactly one year later.

Despite the inherent intellectual and political challenges that moral consistency presents, Muslims, in my view, should do their level best to not allow cynics to derail them from cultivating a moral discourse that is equally unforgiving in its condemnation of vigilante terrorism as it is in its denunciation of state terrorism. Given the current balance of power, the former is often practiced by Muslims, while the latter is most often visited upon them by the world’s major powers, including the United States, Russia, China, India, and Israel. As the highly professional reporting of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has consistently shown, the Iraqi, Afghani, Chechen, Turkestani, Kashmiri, and Palestinian people represent the most tragic victims of state terrorism in the Muslim world today.

In several of my essays, I have argued forcefully that terrorism and vigilante justice find no currency in the classical Islamic tradition and the textual sources upon which this tradition is founded, namely the Qur’an and prophetic traditions. In so doing, I have admittedly adopted an apologetic stance by not discussing the underlying atrocities committed against Muslims by Western powers, which have nurtured a criminal psychology in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world. A reader not familiar with my politics could reasonably infer that I am merely a “secular” American Muslim inclined to adopt a pro-Western position whenever controversy arises and that my stance represents a departure from a traditional Islamic view. However, my decision to focus, first, on violence emanating from my own religious community was a conscious one; I believe that a committed Muslim, in order to possess any moral standing, must make his unflinching opposition to terrorism known openly and unapologetically. In my mind, the world Muslim community must fashion an articulate anti-terrorism discourse that will not only pay homage to the Muhammadan tradition, but also enable it to discuss the many legitimate grievances of Muslims throughout the world without being accused of acting as accomplices to terrorism. It has become obvious that branding as a “terrorist sympathizer” even the most committed Muslim peace activist has been remarkably effective in silencing morally conscientious Muslims who are critical of Western foreign policy.

The recent 600-page legal opinion issued by the internationally renowned Pakistani scholar, Tahir ul-Qadri, condemning terrorism and suicide bombings without qualification, represents the most comprehensive Islamic condemnation of the unlawful useful of political violence to date. I regard this as a highly positive development, one that I hope constitutes only the beginning of a revival of Islam’s great humanistic tradition and renders silent those bent upon portraying Islam as a violent “political ideology.” Nevertheless, it would be an abdication of one’s basic moral responsibility to condemn only the terrorist acts of Muslims while remaining silent in the face of the daily state terrorism that is visited upon Muslims, and non-Muslims, throughout the world. Elementary fairness and justice demand that terrorism in all its manifestations be condemned without caveat, regardless of the perpetrator, or victim.

How, then, does one make sense of the recent violence that claimed the life of 22 people in Afghanistan, including seven UN workers? The surface explanation has been that the madness was carried out in purported opposition to the desecration of the Qur’an by a lunatic church in Florida. While superficially correct, this analysis is impoverished on many accounts, in my view. I prefer to examine vigilante terrorism from the vantage point of psychology and politics, not religion. Tariq Ramadan, one of the world’s foremost Muslim intellectuals and Professor at Oxford University, frequently discusses the “political instrumentalization” of Islam and how religion is often co-opted to justify violence, in much the same way that notions of democracy, human rights, Marxism, socialism, and other secular ideologies have been invoked to justify the greatest crimes of the 20th and 21st century. Did not politicians in the United States, on both sides of the political spectrum, hijack the highest ideals of secular democracy to justify America’s inhumanities against the Iraqi people, which have claimed more than half a million lives? Were we not told that the United States was embarking upon a civilizing mission to bring “democracy” and “liberation” to Iraq, an earthly paradise not unlike one envisioned by Muslim extremists who long to enter gardens of paradise in the Hereafter? Are we to really believe that if Iraq’s primary exports were bananas or coffee that the US would have shown the slightest concern for the people of Iraq, as it did for the Christian-on-Christian violence that blighted nearly one million human lives in Rwanda? In order words, Islam is far from the only intellectual tradition that is frequently co-opted in furtherance of political terrorism. Rather than engaging in facile debates about whether abstractions like “Islam” or “secularism” countenance violence, a more rational approach, one that seeks to truly understand the motivations for political violence, must be permitted to enter mainstream political discussion. To date, every effort has been made to relegate this approach to the sidelines.

To apprehend the rage and animosity that emanates from Afghanistan, a useful thought experiment would be to place oneself in the shoes of the average Afghani. The United States is now entering the eleventh year of its invasion and occupation of Afghanistan which, according to the ABC News and other mainstream outlets, stands as the longest war in American history. That is to say, what was initially presented as a narrow mission to eradicate a fringe extremist group has become a decade-long war, with no obvious end in sight. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, reported by NPR  as well as the conservative National Review, a substantial majority of Americans, 64 percent, “now say the Afghan war has not been worth fighting.” But far more relevant, since the war’s inception, polls of Afghans have consistently shown a remarkable hostility towards the United States, particularly its responsibility for countless civilian deaths, which are caused not merely by direct US bombing and military operations but also the subsequent power vacuums and instability they create, giving life to home-grown insurgencies, of which the Taliban is merely one. Indeed, even in polls in which Afghanis have expressed rare optimism, commonly championed by NATO to show that military operations are going “well,” this constant holds true. It is quite impossible to know for certain how many Afghan civilian lives have been lost but the number, by most estimates, is in the high tens of thousands. Since the first “anti-American” demonstration in Afghanistan on July 4, 2002 following the deposition of the Taliban government, Afghanis have engaged in countless street protests in Kabul, Kandahar, Azizabad, Lashkar Gah, Khost, Armul, Ghazni city, Shindand, and numerous other cities and provinces to express unmitigated outrage towards NATO and US military personnel. “Stop bombing us, please,” has been the repeated plea. The recent mob violence following the Qur’an burning is but one trigger that has prompted religious extremists to engage in criminality. Far more frequently, such violence erupts immediately following a US air raid that kills scores of civilians in which the mob makes no effort to distinguish between civilian and military personnel. (see Afghan public protests over civilian deaths).

Thus, it must be asked, should one be surprised to learn that millions of Afghanis, far from glorifying the US-led invasion as a humanitarian intervention, regard this war as a criminal intrusion upon their sovereign homeland that has left behind tens of thousands of decaying human corpses? On the latter point, in what speaks eloquently about the moral poverty of the American intelligentsia, even liberal publications such as the New York Times have not shown the slightest interest in providing careful and transparent reporting on civilian atrocities in Afghanistan. Without trivializing this debate, it is undeniably the case that Afghani life ranks low on the scale of human importance as it is virtually impossible to find an educated Westerner who has the scantiest knowledge of the human impact this war has had on Afghan civilian society.

Those few politicians who have come out in articulate opposition to the war have focused almost exclusively on its impact on American soldiers and the US Treasury, not the defenseless victims of the invasion who, in my mind, are most deserving of American, indeed human, sympathy. It must be said that Democrats have shown themselves to be as lacking in moral courage and given to nationalistic hysteria than their Republican counterparts—one ought to be very clear about this fact and remind the American people that there has been a criminal silence from the entire American political establishment regarding the human tragedy this war has precipitated. We are told that any discussion about “collateral damage” will undermine US war efforts; however, what of the tens of thousands of human lives that have been “undermined,” indeed extinguished, by this “humanitarian” effort? Do not the lives of Afghanis constitute an equally compelling moral interest that should be permitted to enter the arena of mainstream debate? Why have the anchors of MSNBC or the editorial board of the New York Times not shown the same regard for Afghani civilian life as they have for American military personnel whose casualties and injuries are reported daily, with meticulous and unfailing accuracy?

Moreover, despite the historical amnesia common to Americans whenever US foreign policy is subject to honest scrutiny, Afghanis have not forgotten the US’s deeply insidious role in assembling the most extreme religious elements in the Muslim world to fight the Soviet Union by proxy in the 1980’s. This reality is not the product of conspiracy theory, but universally acknowledged by conservative commentators as part and parcel of the US’s foreign policy in Afghanistan. Ronald Regan, while working in concert with Pakistan’s most oppressive dictator, Zia al Haqq, referred to the mujahideen as the “moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers,” even inviting them to the White House (see photo). In what amounts to an act of unforgivable treachery, the United States flooded Afghanistan with mercenary fighters and tens of millions of dollars in sophisticated armaments, only to abandon the entire nation the moment the Soviets retreated. How many Americans are aware that fully two million Afghanis were killed during this US-Russian gamesmanship and the ensuing power struggle it created? No matter how emphatic apologists in the West are about the America’s benevolent role in Afghanistan, the scale of violence and schism the US has sown in the country is almost incomprehensible and should disturb every patriotic American to his and her very core. Do not Afghanis have every reason to feel extreme moral outrage at the United States for its repeated treacheries and depredations? Why do Westerns expect Afghanis to exhibit almost super-human moral restraint when every facet of their life has been violently intruded upon by the world’s leading superpower?

Add to this tragic history, the lack of access to accurate news reporting, an illiteracy rate than hovers around 65 percent, and the crises in Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, and indeed much of the Muslim world—should one be surprised to see eruptions of mob violence such as the one we witnessed this week? Was this really about the “violent character” of Islam or rather a political resistance that has co-opted “Islam” to give meaning and metaphysical purpose to its struggle? Have not Marx’s godless writings and other secular systems of thought been co-opted to service even greater inhumanities during the past one hundred years? Shall we really spend our time tallying up the number of dead bodies committed in the name of Islam versus secular (or Christian) ideology? Indeed, it is a remarkable irony that right-wing commentators in the West and many purportedly secular elements in the Muslim world have entered into a rather unholy union by insisting upon focusing exclusively on the element of religious extremism as opposed to the political environment in which this criminality has been allowed to be fester. Why were Afghanis lavishing praise, rather than beheading, American diplomats in the 1980’s—were they not reading the same Qu’ran, after all?

The case is Palestine is equally instructive: if violence and political terrorism are inherent to Arab and Muslim culture, why do we find almost no examples of suicide bombers who descend from Israel proper (i.e within the green-line)? Having consulted with Mouin Rabbani, one of the world’s leading experts on Israel, Palestine and political terrorism, I learned that in the last eleven years, since the second intifada first erupted, we find exactly one instance of an Israeli-Arab suicide bomber, and even here the circumstances are shrouded in mystery. In other words, it is those Palestinians living in the midst of occupation, death, and destruction, who have politicized Islam and resorted to vigilante terrorism to resist Israeli brutality. Why have their Arab Muslim brethren, living next door and who profess the same Islam, read the same Qur’an, and claim the same reverence for same Prophet Muhammad, not resorted to terrorism? The answer is obvious: one group finds itself living under a brutal military dictatorship while the other a thriving industrialized nation.

Despite this week’s horrors, the people of Afghanistan should be collectively honored for the remarkable patience and human dignity they have exhibited for more than three decades. I remain firm in my belief that introspective self-criticism must be reciprocal. Muslims must continue to remind not only those within their own ranks, but the world community, of Islam’s uncompromising opposition to terrorism. Their faith demands as much, and no matter how much they suffer, I pray that Muslims will not allow the perpetrators and apologists for state terrorism to push them into a moral sewer. But to ignore the terrorist crimes of state actors, whose combined violence makes vigilante aggression look like child’s play, is itself a gross dereliction of duty. There will be those who insist upon portraying Muslims, no matter how unqualified their opposition to terrorism, as subversive political opportunists. But Muslims must pay no mind to them and remain firm in their moral obligation to condemn violence and injustice wherever it exists in the world, whether from within their own ranks, or without.

But it must be asked of the apologists for state terrorism, “why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” (Matthew 7:3).

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Reflections on Pakistan’s World Cup Loss: A Nation Impervious to Defeat

To ensure that I could watch today’s India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal without interruption, I opted not to go into the office this morning. I must confess that my knowledge of all things cricket is exactly zero, including not knowing the basics of the game. Were it not for the regular YouTube forwards I was receiving from friends, I would have scarcely known the World Cup was in progress. Nevertheless, every fiber of my being wanted to see Pakistan prevail in this contest, and not merely because Pakistan’s perennial adversary was the opponent. Although extreme nationalism, to me, represents a collective sickness that invariably has a poisonous effect on a nation’s political and moral culture, supporting one’s country in athletic competition, seems to me a benign, even healthy, expression of nationalism, assuming it is not allowed to descend into a matter of life and death.

During the match, I found myself flipping back-and-forth between my web browser, trying to teach myself the rules of the game through Wikipedia while using the crowd’s audible reactions to gauge whether I was missing something crucial. The first couple of hours were painful to endure as India was scoring “4’s” with relative ease while Pakistan’s fieldsmen appeared to be underperforming, God bless them all. Without going into the minutia, the end result was emphatically depressing, as India prevailed and Pakistan found itself asking, yet again, what went wrong? Later in the day, I had dinner at a Pakistani restaurant in Tribeca–the consensus among knowledgeable cricketers was that today’s loss was owing more to Pakistan’s clumsiness than India’s superiority. I was very fond of that explanation.

While caring naught about the game of cricket, I wondered why I found myself praying to God Most-High, yes praying, that Pakistan triumph in this match. Understanding one’s intentions is never an easy task but, like many Pakistanis, perhaps more than anything I wanted to see the young children of Pakistan have a rare cause for celebration. To them, a World Cup victory would have meant the world. Like the black youth in inner-city America, sport is one of the few avenues that brings consolation to Pakistan’s young whose lives are often marred by destitution and despair. After enduring an unbroken chain of horrors–US depredations in Northwest Pakistan that have killed scores of civilians and given life to a religious extremism that has severed the nation into two, devastating floods that much of the world turned, and continues to turn, a blind eye to, and a country that remains mired in poverty, illiteracy, and social and economic injustice, perhaps a World Cup victory would have breathed life into the dying children of Pakistan. But it was not meant to be, this time around.

I had the good fortune of visiting a flood-ravaged village in Pakistan last November and was astonished to find that, having endured tragedy on a scale that a privileged American like me could not comprehend, the poor villagers, both young and old, remained hopeful, benevolent, and above all, patient and ever-reliant on their Maker. Several young boys invited me to play cricket, and despite being the worst batsman on the field, I was made to stay in position until I made contact between bat and ball. Fathers who had not a penny to their name refused to accept a token charity of 500 rupees, insisting that the only charity they wished to receive was for us to tell our countrymen back home that they were suffering and had been abandoned by everyone–their government, international relief agencies, and indeed the entire world.

Several months ago, Newsweek ran a cover story on Pakistan that featured a young child standing drenched in the flood waters,  his face wearing a startled and sullen expression. The caption read, “The World’s Bravest Nation: Pakistan.” Despite today’s cricket loss, which is ultimately of no moral consequence to the people of Pakistan, the country will indeed emerge from its present malaise and ins sha Allah set an example of moral excellence that will inspire not merely the Muslim world, but all the nations of the world. I live nearly seven thousand miles from Pakistan, but from what I can observe from afar, there is developing within the country an indigenous movement, lead by the youth, that insists upon breaking away from the tradition of greed, corruption, and obstinacy that so many of Pakistan’s forefathers made the nation’s defining trait. I pray that establishing a permanent peace with India will be part of that break.

Muslims are taught that God tests those he loves most with trial and tribulation and that human suffering facilitates spiritual purification, one that serves to continually remind a believer of the nexus between the earthly and celestial worlds. Indeed, Prophet Jesus and Muhammad, God love them both, reminded their followers that the “meek and poor” would be the first to enter the gates of Heaven. Even Europe’s most merciless opponent of organized religion, Frederich Nietzsche, was quite right to say, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Pakistan would do well to reflect on Nietzsche’s adage and remember that every misery it endures will only make it more-and-more impervious to defeat. Dostoevsky remarked that “even if you do not believe God, live life as though you do,” recognizing that a conscious awareness of the Divine was the most effective way to live a life of patience and moral reserve. Noam Chomsky, a child of the secular enlightenment, has stated that despite not having faith himself, he envies people of faith, considering them “lucky.”

The people of Pakistan are indeed lucky and perhaps they will find that their cause for grief is their greatest blessing of all:

And [God] will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and crops, but give good tidings to those who patiently persevere.”(Qur’an 2:155).

O you who believe, seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for God is with those who are patient.” (Qur’an 2:153).

No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a [believer], even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that God forgives his sins.” – Prophet Muhammad (Sahih Bukhari).

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