Philosophy


Written by John Pickard Wednesday, 23 December 2009

with thanks: International Marxist website

Many of us know that the origins of Christianity have nothing to do with silent nights or wise men. So what are its true origins? John Pickard looks at the reality of how this religion came about – from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Foundations of ChristianityMy late father had a very wry sense of humour. At Christmas, whenever there was a reference to church services on the television, he would tut and shake his head. “Look at that”, he would say, “They try to bring religion into everything!”

I imagine much the same complaint may have been made by ancient celts, annoyed that the Christian priests were taking over their traditional Yule festival, celebrating the winter solstice. Or perhaps by Roman citizens, peeved at the Christians taking over their annual ‘Saturnalia’ festival in the last weeks of December.

Those complaining would have been right, because in the absence of an identifying date anywhere in the canonical gospels, Christians grafted their celebration of the birth of Jesus onto the existing pagan festivals. In one stroke they absorbed the pagan rites into the Christian tradition and softened opposition to the new creed.

Many practising Christians today are completely unaware of the pagan and sometimes arbitrary origins of important elements of their religious beliefs and practices. Many seriously believe the origin of Christianity lies in a ‘silent night’ in a barn visited by quiet shepherds and several awe-struck ‘wise’ men. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Materialism

For Marxists, who base themselves on the real, material world, there was a completely different reality. Last year marked the centenary of the publication of ‘The Foundations of Christianity’ by the German Marxist theoritician, Karl Kautsky. This was the first attempt to describe the rise of that major western religion from the standpoint of class forces and the material developments of society, rather than by the pious fictions fed from church pulpits.

Karl Kautsky’s book was deficient in many respects, but the main lines of his argument still stand the test today. What was especially significant about Kautsky’s book was that it was the first comprehensive attempt to describe the foundation and rise of Christianity using the method of historical materialism.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels used the method of historical materialism and applied it to social and historical developments. In his book ‘Anti-Duhring’, Engels summarised what this meant:

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.”

Karl Kautsky, therefore, rejected the metaphysical myths behind Christianity – the miracles, supernatural events, and so on – and attempted to describe its origins and rise through the social conditions that existed in the Roman Empire.

The classical description of the origins of Christianity is as outlined in the New Testament. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are taken as historical accounts of real events in the first thirty five years of the first millennium: how Jesus was born miraculously, how he performed miracles and preached alongside his twelve disciples, how he was crucified for his preaching and how he arose from the dead. The gospels are taken to be eye-witness accounts by four of the disciples.

Karl KautskyKarl KautskyDespite harassment, persecution and innumerable martyrs, the superior ideas of the Christians – and particularly the offer of life after death and the redemption of human sins by the crucifixion of Jesus – led to an increase of support for Christianity until it became an unstoppable force eventually recognised by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is the ‘official’ history of the Church…and most of it is a fairy-tale. For Marxists the question has to be asked, what were the conditions in Palestine in the first century? Karl Kautsky alludes to the fact that the Roman Empire was a slave-based system in which the vast majority of the population were impoverished and lived from hand to mouth for most of their lives.

And it is true that Palestine was a society riven with bitter class conflicts and contradictions. The characteristics of the entire period were turmoil, upheaval and revolt. Overlying the class struggle was the additional factor of the national oppression of the majority Semitic population by the Romans. Within Jewish society, the priestly caste and the nobility were propped up by the Roman regime for the greater exploitation of the mass of the population.

“The fundamental conflict was between Roman, Herodian, and high priestly rulers, on the one hand, and the Judean and Galilean villagers, whose produce supplied tribute for Caesar, taxes for King Herod, and tithes and offerings for the priests and temple apparatus on the other.” (Horsley, ‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’ )

The Temple priests who were paid tithes (church taxes) by the local peasantry were not a small group – some scholars number them in the thousands. The Jewish King Herod ‘the Great’, who died in 4 BCE [Before the Common Era], left a country economically exhausted from the earlier Roman conquest and subsequent taxation.

“The Jewish agricultural producers were now subject to a double taxation, probably amounting to well over 40 per cent of their production. There were other Roman taxes as well, which further added to the burden of the people, but the tribute was the major drain.

“Coming, as it did, immediately after a period of ostensible national independence under the Hasmonians (Jewish kings), Roman domination was regarded as wholly illegitimate. The tribute was seen as robbery. Indeed it was called outright slavery by militant teachers such as Judas of Galilee, who organised active resistance to the census (record of people for tax purposes) when the Romans took over direct administration of Judea in 6 CE.” [in the Common Era] (‘Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs’)

Revolts

The only contemporary account there is of this history is that of Josephus, a Jewish general who fought against the Romans during the revolt of 66 CE and who subsequently changed sides. It is clear from his histories that this whole period was one of great upheaval. There were many occasions when revolts of peasants were led by popular anointed kings (or ‘messiahs’), all of which were viciously repressed. It was not uncommon for whole towns to be razed and their inhabitants sold into slavery.

These revolts reflected the material conditions and class conflicts of the time, but they were invariably dressed up in terms of messianic revivalism and religious aspirations. Given the tradition and scripture of the Jews, these movements inevitably adopted the mantles of scriptural leaders, including, notably, Joshua. There were, in fact, many ‘Joshua’ sects at the time. (‘Jesus’ is a Romanised name which wouldn’t have been recognised in Palestine at the time). Many of these cults had a ‘communist’ outlook with property shared in common within the community.

The writings of Josephus are the only genuine surviving works written by a participant of the events. He describes what he sees as the evil influence of seers and prophets on more than one occasion, such as: “…Imposters and demagogues, under the disguise of divine inspiration, provoked revolutionary actions and impelled the masses to act like madmen. They led them out into the wilderness…” Josephus (‘Jewish Wars’) mentions by name several of the seers, ‘prophets’ and revolutionaries who stirred up the Jews, but the Joshua described in the New Testament does not appear at any point in the voluminous work of his supposed contemporary, Josephus.

The revolutionary-minded force in this period was the peasantry, which strove time and again to throw off the national and class oppression under which they laboured.

A small selection of commentaries from Josephus illustrates the turmoil of the period:

“Many [Jewish peasants] turned to banditry out of recklessness, and throughout the whole country there were raids, and among the more daring, revolts…”

“…the whole of Judea was infested with brigands…” (‘Jewish Wars’)

“Felix [Roman governor, 52-58 CE] captured [revolutionary leader] Eleazar, who for twenty years had plundered the country, as well as many of his associates, and sent them to Rome for trial. The number of brigands that he crucified…was enormous.” (Josephus , ‘Antiquities’)

Nothing could be further removed from ‘silent night’! The revolutionary upheaval spilled over into a generalised uprising in 66 CE, against the Romans and their collaborators, the Jewish ruling class the high priests of the Temple. “…hostility and violent factionalism flared between the high priests on the one side and the priests and leaders of the Jerusalem masses on the other.” (‘Antiquities’)

Siege of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem, 70 CEFor the next four years there was a bloody and protracted guerrilla war followed by a prolonged siege of Jerusalem, during which the masses, fearing betrayal by the Jewish aristocracy and high priests effectively took power into their own hands in Jerusalem. One of their first acts in the revolt was the storming of the Temple and the burning of the deeds and documents relating to the debts and taxes of the peasantry. It was not surprising that the aristocracy and the high priests fled the city to the safety of the Roman lines – including Josephus himself.

Even before this revolution, Palestine had been a whirlpool of different cults and religious sects, most based loosely on traditional Jewish scripture, but often coloured by the widespread discontent with the collaboration of the priesthood and the parasitism of the Temple culture. Among these would have been the ‘Joshua’ and other messianic sects organised by a variety of charismatic leaders.

Following the bloody suppression of the revolution and the capture of Jerusalem (during which the Temple was destroyed) in 70 CE, tens of thousands of Jews fled the region and many thousands more were enslaved. Such an enormous disaster could not fail to affect the huge Jewish Diaspora, who fled from their homeland, spread round every major city in the whole Roman Empire, including the larger cities like Rome, Alexandria and the big cities in the East.

Long before the revolutionary events, all manner of sects had taken root in the Jewish Diaspora communities in parallel to those in Palestine itself. Within this lively sectarian milieu was a Joshua cult developed by Paul, with a policy of converting non-Jews as well as Jews. This sect, in effect, became the mainspring of modern Christianity by, among other things, simplifying Jewish ‘Law’ to remove the need for circumcision and strict dietary taboos.

All of the early Christian works, which were circulating from the middle towards the end of the first century – including the letters of Paul – were significantly missing any historical narrative connecting Joshua to a real-life biography. It was only later that the gospel of Mark (on which Matthew and Luke were based) was written as an allegorical description of a life, composed to match the Joshua doctrine that was becoming established. It was an expression of the growing confidence and numerical strength of this particular sect. But it was also an expression of the growing class division within the Christian community itself as it accommodated to Roman society. Of the original communistic ideas of the Joshua cults, there remain only a few hints and suggestions in the New Testament today.

It was largely in polemics with their former co-religionists, the Jews, and against the plethora of rival proto-Christian sects that the early Church elaborated its doctrine in the first decades of the second century. In parallel with the elaboration of doctrine, the Church established an apparatus to maintain itself. The evidence of the existence of a huge variety of early Christian sects has only come to light recently precisely because this apparatus, once having established itself, did its best to eliminate all others as ‘heresies,’ in the process removing most of the evidence that other strands of the Joshua cult even existed.

The question has to be asked as to why Christianity grew over the next two centuries. It was not an anti-slavery movement: slavery was ubiquitous throughout the Roman Empire and Christians possessed slaves like anyone else. There is evidence that even bishops just like well-to-do Romans owned slaves throughout this whole period.

Theological considerations were secondary. The rigid and self-perpetuating bureaucracy which had grown within the Church reflected the class divisions in society and had become an important bulwark of the class system.

“In time the discourse and sermons of the Christian leaders came to incorporate not only the formal aspects of aristocratic status concerns but also the values and ideology of the late Roman upper class.” (Salzman, ‘The Making of a Christian Aristocracy’)

Conversion

This comment refers to the period following the so-called conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century, but long before this the Church was playing a key social and economic role on behalf of the ruling class. Many officials of state were Christian bishops or leaders. More importantly, they play a key role in the management and organisation of local government.

In so far as it meant anything in a Roman Empire facing terminal decline, they were the local government. Bishops and Church officials collected tax, distributed alms (church-based charity) and supervised local legal and land disputes. They were an unofficial ‘civil service’ on behalf of the Roman bureaucracy long before Emperor Constantine gave them imperial sanction. The Church fulfilled a social and economic function, in managing and containing an increasing proportion of the poor and dispossessed and for that reason, not because of a ‘spiritual awakening’ within the ruling class, it was allowed to grow and develop.

The Church was able to fulfil this role because it offered a safety valve for the aspirations of the masses. It gave the peasantry their only opportunity to sit in the same building with landlords and bishops (if not the same pews) and even if there was limited hope in this world, they were at least offered the promise of equality with the rich in the next. The Christians offered a messiah and ‘life after death’, in contrast to the aloof and indifferent gods of Greece and Rome.

The Church bureaucracy consciously developed policy (and theology) in its own interests, increasingly identified with the interests of the ruling class. But in its structure and outlook, it also anticipated the development of feudal society better than the decaying slave-owning state. The Church didn’t campaign for emancipation, but offered a new arrangement for exploitation.

As for the peasantry and city poor: as long as they knew and accepted ‘their place’ in the rigid class structure, for the poorest it offered a structure of alms, and support which provided respite to the worst of their poverty and insecurity. Even if watered down, it offered a sense of community. Almost uniquely in the Roman Empire, it had a limited welfare structure, moreover one that offered belonging to a national and even international church. For these reasons it had disproportionate appeal to the poor and the oppressed; indeed it was ridiculed for being a movement “of slaves and women.”

Persecution

Once it was backed by the power of the state the Church destroyed its opponents. Roman persecution of the Church in the first three centuries is greatly exaggerated, but it pales against the terrible persecution that the Church visited on all the unorthodox sects once it was backed by imperial power. Books and heretics were burnt. Theological history was re-written. Myths were piled upon myths, century after century. So much so that today even so-called ‘scholars’ treat the New Testament like a true historical narrative and not as they should as a story, no more true than ‘The Iliad’ or ‘Beowulf’.

Within a few hundred years any evidence of the existence of other Christian sects, including their pre-history in Palestine, was all but eliminated. The Church became – and remains to this day – a powerful conservative force, politically, financially and diplomatically (and at one time, militarily).

In his introduction to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, Marx referred to religion as “the sigh of the oppressed”. He explained that it is not spirituality, or the lack of it, which breeds support for religion. It is the alienation of the mass of the population from the class society in which they find themselves.

The crisis of capitalism is at root the crisis of a rotten economic system, but it manifests itself also as a crisis of ideas. For millions of people their hopes and aspirations are so stunted by the limits of the capitalist world that they project their hopes on to a life after death. And just as in the first decades of the first millennium, so also in the age of capitalism, new religious and messianic movements reflect the intellectual and moral impasse of a failed and failing society. Marx continued:

“…To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Thus he made it clear that it is not a question of religion being “abolished”. The idea is absurd. To combat superstition and ignorance, the task for socialists is to struggle against the material conditions upon which these things grow – and that means above all, a struggle against capitalism.

Shaheryar Ali

It’s a very sorry state of affairs. For more than 2 years now I have been writing about the dangers of “intellectual hegemony”, “selective radicalism” and “double discourse on Rights” being prevalent in Pakistani corporate media as well in Pakistani blogging community.  The Pakistani blogging community though is generally better than the media corporations but unfortunately is plagued by the same myopic intolerance when it comes to any dissenting views regarding the myths about Pakistan, its origin, its democracy and its national interests as defined by Right-of center media guru or a section of ex-Stalinists now turned liberals or centrists intellectuals.

 

The freedom of expression always is the freedom to express views which are deemed controversial. The demand for freedom of expression always arises for the marginalized opinion, one which is not acceptable to the state, rulers, moral vanguard of the society etc. It’s precisely this very right to differ, to challenge the dominant views that creates the issue of freedom of expression in the first place. Its so because, any other opinion one which operates within the realms of what is “acceptable” to the society or state in never in danger of suppression. Noam Chomsky for example points out that if we conceive freedom of expression as something for opinions which are acceptable than even Hitler was in favor of such freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is explicitly the freedom to be able to differ; to express opinions deems offensive, those which challenge the “fashionable conformities” weather political, nation or social in origins.

 

hamid-mir-media-bullyFew days back we saw one of the most heinous witch hunts in intellectual history of Pakistan. It started with attacks on the section of Pakistani columnist who have a Left wing background and who took a stand in support of democratic transition in Pakistan and tried to put forward a different perspective on Judicial Movement, war on terror and media activism. These people are a very tiny minority within Pakistan’s booming media business. Their view by no stretching of imagination can be called a dominant view in Pakistani media. The friction between these intellectuals and their opponents on the right side of political spectrum are ideological tracing its roots in the right-left polarization in Pakistan during 60s and 70s. The few left wing intellectuals who have survived the McCarthyist witch hunts by state and owners of media houses are now being put on media show trials by Pro-Taliban and Pro-Army TV anchors and columnists. Every abuse and every allegation from being an alcoholic to being a traitor have been put on them.

 

What these people themselves have been doing in media is nothing but shameless propaganda in name of news coverage. Mr Haroon Rashid who is on the forefront of this witch hunt against the tiny progressive element in Pakistani media , has been distorting facts and history in his columns but with a shameless face gives lectures about “modesty” and “tolerance’ to the victims of these witch hunts. I can go on and on about his academic honesty but I find it waste of my time. Simple two things can expose his dishonesty. In one of his Mccathry inspired columns against the socialist/ex-socialists intellectuals he shamelessly wrote that “Reds opposed Pakistan, once it came into being they never get out of shock”. It’s a shameless blatant lie. Communist Party of India and the Progressive Writers Association supported the demand of Pakistan. They even collaborated with Jinnah, the election manifesto of ALIML in 1946 elections was written by a communist Danial Latifi and many communists joined Muslim League as policy. Ironically it was the mother party of Mr Haroon Rashid Jamate Islami opposed Pakistan and Maudaudi compared it to “cooking of Pork” but Pakistani right forgets these historical details. After that I remember reading one of his columns against the great Urdu poets Ahmad Faraz. Every abuse and every label that Mr Rashid could think on was put on the great poet who recently died. In order declare Faraz infidel and traitor Mr Rashid quoted a verse which questioned the validity of divine revelation. Taking on the verse Mr Rashid went on and on to condemn Ahmad Faraz to great extant. What was ironic was the simple fact that the verse was not of Ahmad Faraz but of another progressive poet Mr Zaheer Kashmiri. Mr Aser Chohan wrote a column to clear the facts but Mr Haroon Rashid never had the decency to either apologies or retract the defamatory remarks.

 

Hamid Mir, who sadly has become a stain on the name of his great father, Prof. Warris Mir who was himself a victim of Jamate islami sponsored witch hunt in the 80s has taken this witch hunt to new heights. On his popular programme The Capital Talk he and Mr Ansar Abbasi , the pope of pro-Taliban media establishment  took on the blog “Let US Build Pakistan” and put baseless allegation on it without any evidence. The language they used rings bells of alarm to anyone who is familiar with these crooks and their methods. It was said that the “blog is trying to create misunderstandings between Army and Media”. This is an open threat. It was said the blog is being run from presidential palace .etc etc. This is the most absurd thing which I have ever heard. Who has given these people the right to put baseless allegations without giving any proof? Let US Build Pakistan for the whole period of Lawyers Movement kept supporting the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, even when the PPP government was using delaying tactics. The photograph of his lordship the most honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Chuadhry was prominently and permanently on display on side bar of the web site with explicit declaration: “This blog supports the restoration of deposed judges”. I bet this also came from the presidential palace?

 

Will Mr Chief Justice take any interest in the law of Press council and rules of engagement by the media barons? Or every ones name, reputation and character is at the will of this anchrocracy? The Pakistani blogging community had previously suffered the attack by state during the 3rd November emergency rule by General Pervez Musharaf . No one knows better about “right to dissent” than the lordship who himself exercised it in front of General Pervez Musharraf. Let Us Build Pakistan is a blog which openly supports Pakistan Peoples Party; it has never claimed to be an “independent news source”. They have explicitly mentioned their ideological ties with the largest and the only federal party of Pakistan. Last time I checked right to support Pakistan Peoples Party was not declared a crime in Pakistan. Anyone has the right to disagree with “Let US Build Pakistan” and “Pakistan Peoples Party” but no one has the right to spread disinformation. What was done on Geo TV was libelous defamation. People of Pakistan have a constitutional right to support and join any political party and to express views in its support. I would appeal to all people of conscience to support right of Let US Build Pakistan blog to express their opinion in a threat free environment

 

What was most insensitive was the reaction of the Pakistani blogging community. Nothing of solidarity was observed. Pakistan Peoples Party and its support many be “out of fashion” in the class which blogs but let me tell my community that if right to have an opinion became focus of media witch-hunting none will be spared, not even the self proclaimed secular nationalists of Pakistan who are rabidly anti PPP and anti Left. The right may be busy focusing on PPP and a wider anti-PPP ideological alliance appears to be in place but as PPP govt goes many of you will be the target as well. Let US Build Pakistan is remarkable blog in many respects. It has shown remarkable strength on issues on which many of us shy away

1)      This blog has took a early and bold stand against Talibanization and sectarianism

2)      This Blog has took a conscientious stand on rights of Pakistani Miniorities

3)      This blog showed a remarkable strength of conviction and conscience when it supported the restoration of judiciary against wishes of many in the Party whom they support. [I for example who is writing this article to support Let Us Build Pakistan was and is critical of lawyers movement and judiciary but this never came in way of either me or Let Us Build Pakistan]

4)      This blog is pioneer in “Media Criticism” and has frequently demonstrated the “ideological biases” of Pakistani media hence upheld the fundamental right of people of Pakistan to un biased and/or alternative news and opinions

5)      This blog has taken a democratic stand in support of marginalized groups and nationalities of Pakistan

6)      This blog has covered the silent anti-Shia genocide taking place in Pakistan which finds no coverage any where,

I want to tell that I am proud of Abdul Nishapuri and the team of Let Us Build Pakistan, for being brave and for writing what they believe in. I also congratulate them for openly declaring them to be supporters of Pakistan Peoples Party unlike their detractors the Hamid Mirs, Shahid Masoods and Ansar Abasais who don’t have the moral courage to openly declare their political allegiance and wear the masks of being “independent” analysts and doing overtly political propaganda. I will only say to them what has been declared “greatest punch line in history of America”, it was in one of the “anti-communist hearings during McCarthy’s witch hunt. “Have you no decency Sir—-”

I would like to salute the bloggers who raised their voice in support of Let Us Build Pakistan,  Rabia Shakoor, Umair Wasi and Pakistan Media Watch.

To my fellow bloggers who are indifferent and silent at plight of a blog which they don’t like because it supports PPP and Zardari and is critical of Army and agencies etc I will just say dear friends, today it is Nazir Naji and Lets Us Build Pakistan, who will be next think about it——–

Ode to Pakistani Bloggers, the poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller the poem which has become the greatest indictment of inactivity of German Intellectuals during Nazi regime

 

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me”

The links to various articles on this issue can be reached here, here and here. here

Geo TV and Selective Freedom of Expression.

To what extant these Media Jihadis can Go and scale of abuse read this article in Saudi Gazette.

Muslim creationist, cult leader, Dawkins’ nemesis, messiah. Halil Arda tracks down the real Harun Yahya

With thanks: JZ [a friend, reader and contributor]

Inspired by the high profile of its Christian American counterpart, Muslim creationism is becoming increasingly visible and confident. On scores of websites and in dozens of books with titles like The Evolution Deceit and The Dark Face of Darwinism, a new and well-funded version of evolution-denialism, carefully calibrated to exploit the current fashion for religiously inspired attacks on scientific orthodoxy and “militant” atheism, seems to have found its voice. In a recent interview with The Times Richard Dawkins himself recognises the impact of this new phenomenon: “There has been a sharp upturn in hostility to teaching evolution in the classroom and it’s mostly coming from Islamic students.”
The patron saint of this new movement, the ubiquitous “expert” cited and referenced by those eager to demonstrate the superiority of “Koranic science” over “the evolution lie”, is the larger-than-life figure of Harun Yahya.
0909-ATLAS2
Operating from Istanbul, Yahya is the founder of the Science Research Foundation, an impressive publishing empire that boasts more than 60 websites dedicated to his writings. It provides documentary films and audio recordings in fifteen languages, including Turkish, English, Russian, Amharic and Arabic, and claims to sell more than half a million books a year, including the infamous 850-page, fully illustrated Atlas of Creation, which was sent free in two volumes to dozens of universities, libraries and prominent scientists (including Richard Dawkins) across the world. In painstaking detail, with a mass of photos, graphs and statistics interspersed with verses from the Koran, the Atlas purports to prove that Darwin was utterly mistaken, that each plant and animal was created intact, and that no modification through natural selection ever took place.
Yahya has publicly offered a lucrative prize for anyone who can produce a “transitional fossil” – the lack of which he claims proves evolution to be false. When Dawkins publicly lampooned the research in the Atlas of Creation (he pointed out that one of the photos of a Caddis Fly was in fact a fishing fly, complete with metal hook, stolen from the internet, pictured)Fishing Fly used by Okatr in Atlas of Creation, and labelled Yahya a charlatan on his website, Yahya used his considerable influence and battalion of lawyers to sue for libel and have Dawkins’s website banned in Turkey. This is just one of thousands of cases he has brought before the Turkish courts.
Despite the shoddiness of his science Yahya has found a ready audience among those looking for scientific justification for their rejection of the West. Over the past decades he has served as an adviser to several Turkish politicians, and received endorsements from across the Arab world including Saudi Arabia and Dubai, where his stalls feature prominently at book fairs. He has also proved a fascinating subject for the Western media, offering all-expenses-paid flights to Istanbul to any journalist wishing to interview him, and making himself available for radio interview whenever required. In recent years he has been interviewed by the Irish Times, by American National Public Radio, by Gordon Liddy on Radio America, by the American science magazine Seed and even by The Skeptic magazine.
While coverage in the West tends to treat Yahya’s scientific claims with derision (though all are still posted on his website as evidence of his growing influence), he is treated far more seriously across the Muslim world. From daily newspapers in Egypt and Bosnia to influential satellite TV stations like al-Jazeera and (the Iran-funded) Press TV, to small Muslim broadcasters in the West like Radio Ummah and Radio Ramadan, Harun Yahya’s argument, with its appearance of scientific credibility, its crowd-pleasing critique of Western materialism and its promise of the imminent collapse of the “Darwinist Dictatorship”, is enthusiastically welcomed by a new audience hungry for compensatory narratives of Islamic superiority. As the American journalist Nathan Schneider argued, to judge Yahya’s message on its scientific content alone misses the point: “its power, for those who are not scientifically literate, lies in its vision of redemption.”
As well as being confidante to Islamist radicals, Yahya has received endorsements from conservative congressmen in the US for his strong stance against Islamic terrorism, is feted by extreme orthodox Sanhedrin Rabbis in Israel for his anti-atheism, and has ambitions to create a Turkish-Islamic union, a new Ottoman Empire girdling the world from Eastern Russia to Western Nigeria, which would unify the Islamic world under Turkish leadership.
But how many of those who enthusiastically swallow Yahya’s message are aware that he is a diagnosed schizophrenic who, in 2008, was convicted of running a criminal organisation? If his final appeal before Turkey’s Supreme Court fails, he faces up to three years in prison.
Martin Rowson's illustration of Adnan Oktar and his gang
How did such a man acquire the standing, and the financial resources, to be a player in global debates about the origins of life and the future of relations between Islam and the West? To answer this I have travelled repeatedly to Istanbul over the last few months (at my own expense), contacting sources and speaking to former members of his group, to journalists and political commentators who have followed his bizarre career and to legal experts who have defended individuals targeted by Yahya’s organisations. Many of my interviewees spoke on condition of anonymity, out of fear of the barrage of court cases his defectors and critics have been facing in recent years, described by one of his former acolytes as a campaign of “legal terror”.
As I arrive in Istanbul in July 2009 I am told that while he awaits the outcome of his final appeal Yahya can be spotted visiting Istanbul’s high-end shopping malls Kanyon and Istinye Park, accompanied by an entourage of men and women dressed in expensive, identical, designer clothes, their eyes concealed behind sunglasses. In his trademark garb – well-groomed beard, white linen suit and designer shades – he cuts the figure of a man of authority and influence, a man confident in his own importance. But is anything about him what it seems?
Certainly not the name Harun Yahya, which is a pseudonym used mainly for his operations in the English-speaking world. His real name is Adnan Oktar though in Turkey he is also known as Adnan Hodja (Preacher Adnan) and, to his followers, he is Adnan Agabey (Big Brother Adnan). Born in Ankara in 1956, by the late 1970s he was a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, where he studied interior design. During this time he fell under the influence of the ideas of a charismatic Islamist preacher and moderniser, Said-i Nursi, in particular Nursi’s marrying of Islamic mysticism with scientific rhetoric.
It was in the years of violence and repression following the coup of September 1980, which installed a military junta, that Adnan Oktar began to emerge as a public figure in Turkey. In an environment of political and cultural instability, with Turkey threatened by Cold War politics from without and the clash between Kemalist secular modernisers and a rising tide of Islamic militancy within, the stage was set for a new character, a modern Turkish-Muslim man. On to this stage walked Oktar, clutching the first of his books, Judaism and Freemasons, a derivative retread of anti-Semitic clichés in the manner of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which identified Jews and the masons as the devious obstacles to the emergence of a new, powerful Turkish-Muslim nation. “The principal mission of Jews and Freemasons in Turkey,” Oktar wrote, “was to erode the spiritual, religious, and moral values of the Turkish people and make them like animals.”
Following publication Oktar was arrested, charged with promoting a theocratic revolution, a crime against the secular code. He eventually served 19 months, though he was never formally charged. During this period he was confined to a prison clinic, and then Bakirkoy Mental Hospital, where he was diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and schizophrenia. Though I have seen the formal diagnosis myself, it is still not clear whether the symptoms were genuine. Some, like his former colleague Islamist author Edip Yuksel, who was imprisoned in 1986 at the same time, believe Oktar was faking to avoid compulsory military service and criminal charges. (“Which is ironic,” wrote Yuksel, “since he was indeed mentally ill; he was a delusional maniac.”) Already by this point, Yuksel reports, Oktar believed himself to be the Mehdi, the messiah foretold in Sunni theology.
While Oktar was building a public profile through his books, the real work was taking place backstage, as he began to assemble a group of followers dedicated to his twisted vision. Combining his undoubted charisma (something even his most ardent opponents concede) with a gift for manipulation, Oktar set out to build a cult around himself, drawing extensively on the techniques pioneered by messianic gurus like Charles Manson and Jim Jones, and in particular employing the strategies of the Moonies, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Scientology in targeting disaffected but affluent and educated young people, insisting they turn their worldly goods over to the cult, and vigorously enforcing rigid hierarchies and punitive rules.
Though, as with all cults, it is extremely hard to understand what draws young, rich and educated people in, Dilek, a former follower of Oktar, gives something of the flavour. Now a suave businesswoman in her late 30s, Dilek remembers how she first met Oktar, visiting him while he was still in mental hospital, after her then boyfriend had turned out to be a follower. “I was expecting someone who frightens you off, someone terrible,” she told me. “He was the opposite. He was tall, with rosy cheeks and blue eyes. He was laughing a lot, he was full of love.” She was seduced.
On his release Oktar began to hold meetings in cafés and private residences in Istanbul’s posh suburbs, where a growing number of rich and beautiful young people gathered for debate and prayer. Soon Dilek donned a headscarf, but only outside her parents’ house, so as not to alert them to her new-found religious commitment. All her friends in the group were graduates of expensive public schools, educated in foreign languages, and most were the children of rich families and many of well-known personalities. In the early days the discussions invariably led to Oktar’s particular interest in Jewish conspiracies. “There was a chilling hatred against Jews and Freemasons,” Dilek recalls. “The Jews were the people who ruin the world, and we were the good Muslims to fight against them.”
Such “awareness-raising” meetings and discussion groups are part and parcel of Islamist group mobilisation. Yet Oktar’s group soon took a different turn. “Suddenly Adnan Hodja repudiated all oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of Muhammad (hadith) and decided that the Koran would be the only point of reference,” says Dilek. “Henceforth, he reduced the five daily prayers to three, and he dropped the veiling of women. He told us the Mehdi would emerge from Turkey, and he would come with an army of youth. He never said that he was the Mehdi himself, but we all believed that he was.”
Throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, Oktar built up his community. Followers were especially active in the swanky summer resorts along the shore of the Sea of Marmara. A friend of mine, who spent most of her holidays in the late 1980s at her parents’ summer flat in the area, recalls how the followers’ targeting worked: “They bought flats there and singled out attractive girls and boys. The boys were very good-looking, boys who can easily charm you. I guess this is why they started with the boys. Once the girls entered the cult, they had to give up sexy fashion, so they wouldn’t be able to attract new members. But for the boys, the rules were more relaxed, so that they could continue recruitment.”
The social organisation within the group was becoming rigidly hierarchical and, as is common in messianic cults, sexual relations were tightly controlled, with the putative messiah given access denied to others. Oktar considered all female members his legitimate possession. Berk, a recent defector after seven years, describes the groups: “There were sisters (bacilar), concubines (cariyeler) and brothers (kardesler), the male members. The brothers were allowed to marry the concubines, while the sisters were all married to Adnan Hodja.” Of course these marriages were not legal, but they were treated as such within the group. As with Scientology, discipline was maintained through humiliation, the threat of expulsion and physical violence. “I know personally,” Berk told me, “that Oktar beats the sisters.”
Okatr also insisted on uniformity in dress, behaviour and even home furnishings. “Everyone had to be the same,” says Berk. “The hairstyle, the shoes, the jackets. It had to be the most expensive brands, like Versace and Gucci, and it had to be exactly how he wanted it to be. Even our communal flats had to be furnished according to his taste. It had to be heavy antiques, all with gold leaf and dark wood.” Video cameras were installed in the communal apartments, which allowed Oktar to exercise control over his followers and outsiders. As the criminal indictment vividly illustrates, young girls were lured into sex parties with the promise of being admitted to the group, but ended up having to perform sexual acts with men of influence, whom the group needed for its economic and political success. The encounters were filmed and used to coerce the men in question to act in the group’s interest. In witness statements, the models Tugce Doras and Seckin Piriler give detailed accounts of how members of the group treated them as “sex slaves” and how Oktar and his followers compelled them to perform oral sex and other sexual favours.
No matter how bizarre the rules, Oktar was able to provide them with apparent legitimacy through his reading of the Koran and Islamic history. Concubinage was justified by reference to the Ottoman harems, while passages of the Koran were recited to justify the practice of severing the ties of the young followers to their families. As a leading legal scholar involved in some of the court cases against Oktar puts it: “In [Oktar’s] reading, the love for mother and father is an offence to God. Parents are seen as the executors of God’s will to raise the child. Once the child reaches adulthood, their role is fulfilled. If the parents happen to join, they are considered pious and may become fellow comrades. If they remain ‘infidels’, they are considered enemies.” It was with this justification that the followers cut off relations with their parents, on whose financial and social resources, however, the group ultimately depended. The indictment details the way in which followers were encouraged to plunder their parents’ bank accounts and sell their assets.
With the local elections in 1994 came an unforeseen opportunity for Oktar. The hardline Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), the predecessor of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), won control of the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara. But the new Islamist mayors (in Istanbul this was Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now Turkey’s Prime Minister) lacked the expertise and the social and economic networks to govern effectively. They needed allies who were both sufficiently Islamic and well resourced. With his eye for exploiting the main chance, Oktar stepped forward. The journalist and editor Fatih Altayli, who has taken on Oktar repeatedly and had to fight off dozens of libel cases as a result, sees this as a crucial moment of consolidation: “In 1995 and ’96, companies from Oktar’s sphere of influence made big business deals with municipalities under the control of the Welfare party, especially in Istanbul and Ankara. During a raid at a meeting of the group, for instance, the police arrested Oguzhan Asilturk, an acting minister in the Welfare government, and one of the leading ideologues of political Islam in Turkey. It was really during these years, that they gained a lot of economic clout. Followers even established companies in Dubai.” Some followers joined the trail of Turkish investors to Central Asia and set up businesses with the money they had extracted from their parents, with profits routed back to Oktar.
Another military intervention, the “bloodless coup” of 1997, saw the government of Erbakan forced to step down and the Welfare party disbanded. Oktar lost his political influence (something he has never regained with the current Islamist AKP government, who are eager to steer clear of him). Nothing if not bold, Oktar rebranded again.
In 1998 the Science and Research Foundation, the group Oktar had formed in 1990, launched its campaign against Darwinism, distributing tens of thousands of free copies of his book The Evolution Deceit in Turkey, paving the way for the Atlas of Creation and Oktar’s new role as the spokesman for Muslim creationism.
It is highly doubtful whether any of these books – or indeed any of the 150 books he claims to have written – were actually written by Oktar. Berk, who was part of the inner circle at the time, confirms this: “There is a group of followers who are commissioned to write the books. For every book, they will take a few key sources written by Christian creationist authors, mostly from the US. They plagiarise the chapters and paragraphs that agree with their creationist approach. Then they add the photos, a few ayat from the Koran, and sometimes a bit of a commentary. None of the ideas belong to Oktar.”
Sensing another opportunity immediately after 9/11, Oktar instantly shed his formerly virulent anti-Semitism and published a piece called “Islam condemns terror”, designed, apparently, to curry favour with America.
Oktar’s group already had established good relations with US congressmen in 2000, when his Science Research Foundation received the endorsement of seven members of Congress and retired Senator Steve Symms, who described it as “a major influence for good among the younger population of Turkey” and praised its “commitment to democracy, preservation of national and moral values, and respect for law”.
Adana Oktar's plan for a Turkish-Islamic Union
Since then Oktar has become an ardent proponent of interfaith dialogue, attempting to unify believers of all stripes against the corrupting influence of Darwinism, which he now holds responsible for Fascism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Most recently, he has been talking about the “Turkish-Islamic Union”, which would bring peace to the entire Muslim world under the leadership of Turkey.
Oktar’s ideological and political promiscuity seem to support the claim that he has no genuine beliefs at all, and merely opportunistically jumps on issues which will further his notoriety, following the lead of smarter followers. As one former follower told me, “We had something to please everybody: Ataturk, namaz (prayer), creationism and, if need be, cocaine.”
But with so many ideas taken up and discarded, and their leader facing jail, might the group be nearing exhaustion? True, the Science Research Foundation and the followers have initiated thousands of court cases. Three hundred alone were brought against the model and one-time sympathiser Ebru Simsek, who spoke out against Oktar after she refused his advances, and a barrage of faked naked photos of her were made public. Oktar’s followers have shot thousands of compromising videos of everyone who has come into intimate contact with the group. They have intimidated prosecutors, judges and lawyers with endless streams of complaints and faxed denunciations and printed libellous advertisements in the Islamist media, defaming their critics. They been especially effective on the internet, setting up numerous websites to denounce their enemies, while using the Turkish courts to silence them – the Dawkins site is just one of dozens they have had banned. “They may be only a few hundred people,” one lawyer told me, “but the damage they have inflicted is considerable. Damage to the families, to the judicial system, and to Turkish politics.”
However, and despite the serious shortcomings of Turkey’s legal system, they have eventually lost every single one of the cases they have brought, thanks in large measure to the courage of solicitor Rezzan Aydinoglu, who works virtually full-time on behalf of Oktar’s victims. According to investigators most of the business ventures in Central Asia have failed. Both factors will have eaten into Oktar’s resources.
And there may be deeper, structural reasons for the group’s decline. In the late 1980s, after several babies were born to group members (whether Oktar’s or not is unclear), Oktar forbade sexual practices that would lead to pregnancy (his followers were limited to anal or oral intercourse). Since then there have been no more births in the group. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Oktar’s formerly aggressive recruitment has abated, too.
What remains is a closed community of broken individuals. Berk, who has had to endure his fair share of slander and court cases, nevertheless feels compassion for his former comrades: “You have to understand that these are people who have sold everything they had; they sold what their parents had. They possess nothing. Many are now in their late 30s and 40s. They have lost their families and their social networks, and they have lost the ability to socialise. The only thing they know is to talk about Adnan’s distorted version of Islam.” Dilek, who broke with the a few group years ago, left two sisters behind. Her family sees them once or twice a year, when they visit guarded by a group of brothers. “They are like zombies,” she told me. “As if there is nobody inside.”
Oktar continues to be a public figure in Turkey, where a two-part, five-hour interview with him was screened on national television in August. The final ruling on his appeal is due in October, and Razzan Aydinoglu told me it is very likely he will lose. But this may be just the kind of thing he would enjoy, turning it into evidence of his martyrdom.
Clearly Oktar is a master of manipulation, a “cunning charlatan” as Erip Yuksel calls him, but it is not this alone that has allowed this deluded, empty man to achieve the prominence he has. He is a symptom of our own sickness. Thanks to the “War on Terror”, Oktar could paint himself as a credible alternative to radical Islam; thanks to our timidity and incompetence around issues of faith he can gain credibility as a representative of Muslim sentiment and a champion of “inter-faith dialogue”. And, most of all, for many disoriented Muslims, he provides a compelling vision of a superior Islamic science.
He is a deluded megalomaniac who has artfully exploited the global resurgence of religious sentiment to cheat us all. A ludicrous man for ludicrous times.

Shaheryar Ali

Some Theoretical Considerations: Death of Pluralism

“The article is intended to be the theoretical first part of a series of article on the suppressed cultural identities[A Pakistan you never knew] in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, One on the fate of Pakistani Jews has already been published and can be reached here

A couple of years back I was reading a research report by a very intelligent Pakistani academic who works for the International Crisis Group, Dr Samina Ahmed on the rise of sectarianism in Pakistan. Being trained in the progressive tradition myself I was familiar with the theoretical framework in which Dr Ahmed operates, state and its origin, adaptation of an ideological character by the state, cold war and Jihad etc. What strike me and infact fascinated me was a passing remark by her on working ideology of all sectarian groups of Pakistan, she wrote they all operated on the “principle of exclusion

This was a remarkable observation if one wants to understand the ideology of sectarianism and a sectarian state. States are not just material institutions of economy and violence, state has an ideological aspect as well. Structures of the state create a significant influence on super structures of the society on which it is maintaining control. That means through different ideological institutions, states create culture and patterns of thoughts which help the state to keep control [Gramsci and Althusser]. It has been explained as a mental condition in which a slave thinks and takes his slavery to be a state of “freedom”. This intervention into ideology or the “ways of thinking” became the obsession of western Marxists who were trying to understand failure of revolutions in the Western Europe. A series of whole new disciplines emerged like critical theory and cultural studies which focused on the ideological and cultural aspects of state and/or capitalism

As postmodernism became more influential in universities of Europe and North America, the critique was extended to a similar analysis of “reality” [Baudrillard] and alterations in human perceptions by Capitalism and state/super state. The ideological foundations of Pakistan state [not to be confused with official “Pakistan ideology”] lie in the communal/nationalist strife [Saigol,Rubina] which presumed an “absolute difference” between Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah put forward an argument which utilized “cultural difference” as base of civilization, which differentiated Indian Muslim from Indian Hindus with whom he shared same ethnicity and language [Bengali speaking muslim became part of a different civilization and nation than Bengali speaking Hindu from whom he originated in the first place through conversion]. Hindu and Muslim emerged as grand identities which were rhetorical in entity as demonstrated by the work of great Indian historian Romila Thaper, that before British Colonialism term Hindu or Muslim were rather meaningless in the sense that they didn’t constructed a unified socio-political identity. With the professed anti-clericalism and modernism of founding fathers of Pakistan, ideological intervention became all the more important and a unified cultural umbrella needed to be constructed to legitimize the claim of “distinct civilization”. This logically meant to suppress the ethnic, national and indigenous identities to construct the “Muslim identity” only through which survival of Pakistan was envisioned.

JinnahA study of discourse emerging from ruling elite of Pakistan, the PML and colonial administration which they inherited from Colonial administration suggest an obsession with monism themes as opposed to pluralism. Jinnah’s slogan of “Unity, Faith and Discipline” itself speaks of need to “unify and control”. The slogan relates more to ideologies of totalitarian regimes of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany than to the Liberal tradition of Western Europe to which Jinnah is said to be trained in. Ethnic identities became the “others” of Muslim identity and as a result an existential threat the new state. The question of national rights was diverted by Jinnah’s stern warning against the “evil of provincialism”, the need to construct a “unified culture” so strong that a man as modern as Jinnah who took up the case of muslim socio-cultural rights in India, stood in Dacca and thundered “Urdu Urdu and only Urdu!” a language which was not the language of even 0.2% of Pakistanis at the time Those who demanded an equal status of Bengali along side Urdu were to called traitors and communists. After Jinnah’s death things became worse and PML which lacked any popular base in East and West Pakistan joined hands with Clerics and Islamic Fundamentalists whom Jinnah thoroughly despised. Jinnah’s handpicked Prime Minister Nawabzada Khan Liaqat Ali Khan, a member of feudal aristocracy passed the Objectives Resolution and state acquired an ideological character.

The ideological apparatuses of the state in form of media, mosques,

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Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung

universities and colleges started molding the minds of people. Considering one to be a Bengali or Punjabi was something like treason, same was the case with being Muslim. In British India Muslim was a broader and loose cultural identity which related more to practice of circumcision and burial of dead as opposed to cremation. Different sects of muslims existed and considered their sect to be true version of Islam but due to neutrality of the state didn’t operated on the “principle of exclusion”. The party which took up the issues of muslim socio-political and cultural rights in British India, the All India Muslim League comprised of “muslims” which were distinguishable by their heterodoxy not their orthodoxy. Sir Aga Khan was the president of All India Muslim League who was the Imam of Ismilies which were engaged in a bloody struggle against Sunni and Twelver Shias for more than 1000 years and who were considered “apostates” by clerics of both mainstream sects. Muhammed Ali Jinnah also belong to the Ismaili faith but later converted to more mainstream Twelver Shia faith but was a non practicing muslim by all standards. Many important leaders like Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad were twelver Shias. Sir Zaferullah Khan was Ahmedi or Qadiani. Dr Allama Muhammed Iqbal was a revivalist who was opposed by Sunni orthodoxy and was rumored to be a Ahmedi as well the controversy ended when he denied these claims by writing an article in Statesmen condemning Ahmedi faith. [Controversy still exist weather he was Ahemdi for some part of his life and even after condemning Qadiani faith he considered Lahori group of this faith as part of muslim community]

Nawab Bahaduryar Jang another prominent leader of All India Muslim League belonged to “Mehdivia” sect. a sect similar to Ahmedies which considered pious saint Syed Muhammed Jonpuri as the Mehdi. Due to this heterodoxy and professed modernism of All India Muslim League the muslim clerics were bitterly against it. But this was to be changed when this movement was to end in formation of the “Muslim Homeland” [Not an intention of Jinnah according to some historians, most notably Dr Ayesha Jalal]. With the formation of Muslim homeland the question “Who is Muslim?” acquired a phenomenal character. Before partition as we have said earlier this question was not very relevant because of its oppositional character to the rival identity “The Hindu”. After partition of India on 15th August 1947 all this changed. Muslim identity lost its contrasting “other”, a “moth eaten Pakistan” meant that its founding fathers were already paranoid about its chances of survival; the land which they got was hub of forces which opposed partition of India. Punjab was firmly in grip of feudal, with which Jinnah forged an alliance to make Pakistan, the Unionist Party held power in Punjab. All India Muslim League lacked support and organization in Punjab, the “salariat” class which was motivating the struggle for Pakistan was weakest in Punjab [Alavi,Hamza]. NWFP the province of overwhelming muslim majority despite best efforts of Jinnah stood with Bacha Khan and Indian National Congress. The 1946 elections which were held to decide the issue of muslim representation saw defeat of Muslim League despite support from the British in the NWFP. In Bengal muslim league held popular base but it was due to independent minded progressive leaders whom the central leadership didn’t trusted, Hussein Shaheed Soherwardi, AK Fazel-e-Haq, Molana Bhashani all were to be purged along with all mass base! Jinnah had to lean heavily on “socialism”[He went as far as declaring Islamic Socialism to be guiding ideology of Pakistan in Chittagong] to gain currency in Benagal but his negotiations with the Americans in 1946 had already decided Pakistan’s future alignment with “Anti-socialist block”. Bengali was suppressed, NWFP government dismissed, the party banned and its news paper “Pakhtoon” suppressed [start of press censorship in Pakistan, all this happened in first year of Pakistan]. The party headquarter was bulldozed and police opened fired on unarmed party workers at Barbra killing hundreds of Pushtoons, this despite Bacha Khan’s oath of loyalty to Pakistan. In Sindh , GM Syed had already left Muslim League depriving it of much popularity, the loyal faction of  Sindh League was  also disenfranchised when Jinnah dismissed Sindh government as well when CM opposed  partition of Sindh [separating Karachi from Sindh] This would be the start of never ending Sindhi-Mohajir conflict. Balochistan had to be annexed by force when upper and lower houses of Parliament of State of Qalat explicitly rejected proposals to join Pakistan. Khan of Qalat signed the document of accession but wrote himself that he didn’t have the authority to do so.

All these events which took place in first years or couple of years after birth of Pakistan unfortunately counterpoised “Muslim identity” against the local identities which also represented political opposition to Pakistan’s ruling elite. It became a rule to suppress any expression of cultural identity other than the official “Muslim” one. This was to be what I call “death of Pluralism” in Pakistan. After deciding the fate of national identities, the project of defining “muslim” came on agenda. Death of Jinnah accelerated the process and state’s alliance with fascist theorist Abul ala Maudaudi emerged. He gave a series of lectures on Radio Pakistan on Muslim Nationalism. Objectives resolution was passed, later Anti Ahmedi agitation started, the anti clerical vanguard in state tried to give a final resistance to the clerics. Justice Munir’s report tried to put clerics at their place but it was too late. A unified and oppressive muslim identity emerged which put all heretical muslim sects in a continuous state of fear of being declared “apostates”. The irony of history is that with this most of the founding fathers of this country also joined the ranks of “apostates” All alternative cultural expression vanished from the country, the Hindus, the Jews, Homosexuals, Heretics, Nationalists all had to face “cultural Holocaust” After Ahmedies Shias were targeted and now Bravelies are trying to protect their “islam” from muslims

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Sir Zafrullah Khan

Written byMike Palecek
Wednesday, 12 August 2009

With thanks: International Marxist Website

We are constantly bombarded with the myth that capitalism drives innovation, technology, and scientific advancement. But in fact, the precise opposite is true. Capitalism is holding back every aspect of human development, and science and technology is no exception.

We are constantly bombarded with the myth that capitalism drives innovation, technology, and scientific advancement. We are told that competition, combined with the profit motive, pushes science to new frontiers and gives big corporations incentive to invent new medicines, drugs, and treatments. The free market, we are told, is the greatest motivator for human advance. But in fact, the precise opposite is true. Patents, profits, and private ownership of the means of production are actually the greatest fetters science has known in recent history. Capitalism is holding back every aspect of human development, and science and technology is no exception.

Main slab of the Darwinius masillae holotype fossil. Photo by Jens L. Franzen, Philip D. Gingerich, Jörg Habersetzer1, Jørn H. Hurum, Wighart von Koenigswald, B. Holly Smith.Main slab of the Darwinius masillae holotype fossil. Photo by Jens L. Franzen, Philip D. Gingerich, Jörg Habersetzer1, Jørn H. Hurum, Wighart von Koenigswald, B. Holly Smith.The most recent and blatant example of private ownership serving as a barrier to advancement can be found in the Ida fossil. Darwinius masillae is a 47 million year old lemur that was recently “discovered”. Anyone and everyone interested in evolution cheered at the unveiling of a transitional species, linking upper primates and lower mammals. Ida has forward-facing eyes, short limbs, and even opposable thumbs. What is even more remarkable is the stunning condition she was preserved in. This fossil is 95% complete. The outline of her fur is clearly visible and scientists have even been able to examine the contents of her stomach, determining that her last meal consisted of fruits, seeds, and leaves. Enthusiasts are flocking to New York’s Museum of Natural History to get a glimpse of the landmark fossil.

So what does Ida have to do with capitalism? Well, she was actually unearthed in 1983 and has been held by a private collector ever since. The collector didn’t realize the significance of the fossil (not surprising since he is not a paleontologist) and so it just collected dust for 25 years.

There is a large international market for fossils. Capitalism has reduced these treasures, which rightly belong to all of humanity, to mere commodities. Privately held fossils are regularly leased to museums so that they may be studied or displayed. Private fossil collections tour the world, where they can make money for their owners, instead of undergoing serious study. And countless rare specimens sit in the warehouses of investment companies, or the living rooms of collectors serving as nothing more than a conversation piece. It is impossible to know how many important fossils are sitting, waiting to be discovered in some millionaire’s office.

Medical Research

The pharmaceutical industry is well known for price gouging and refusing to distribute medicines to those who can’t afford it. The lack of drugs to combat the AIDS pandemic, particularly in Africa, is enough to prove capitalism’s inability to distribute medicine to those in need. But what role does the profit motive play in developing new drugs? The big pharmaceuticals have an equally damning record in the research and development side of their industry.

AIDS patients can pay tens of thousands of dollars per year for the medication they need to keep them alive. In 2003, when a new drug called Fuzeon was introduced, there was an outcry over the cost, which would hit patients with a bill of over $20,000 per year. Roche’s chairman and chief executive, Franz Humer tried to justify the price tag, “We need to make a decent rate of return on our innovations. This is a major breakthrough therapy… I can’t imagine a society that doesn’t want that innovation to continue.”

But the innovation that Mr. Humer speaks of is only half-hearted. Drug companies are not motivated by compassion; they are motivated by cash. To a drug company, a person with AIDS is not a patient, but a customer. The pharmaceutical industry has a financial incentive to make sure that these people are repeat-customers, consequently there is very little research being done to find a cure. Most research done by the private sector is centered on finding new anti-retroviral drugs – drugs that patients will have to continue taking for a lifetime.

There has been a push to fund research for an AIDS vaccine and, more recently, an effective microbicide. However, the vast majority of this funding comes from government and non-profit groups. The pharmaceutical industry simply isn’t funding the research to tackle this pandemic. And why would they? No company on earth would fund research that is specifically designed to put them out of business.

Similar problems arise in other areas of medical research. In the cancer field an extremely promising drug was discovered in early 2007. Researchers at the University of Alberta discovered that a simple molecule DCA can reactivate mitochondria in cancer cells, allowing them to die like normal cells. DCA was found to be extremely effective against many forms of cancer in the laboratory and shows promise for being an actual cure for cancer. DCA has been used for decades to treat people with mitochondria disorders. Its effects on the human body are therefore well known, making the development process much simpler.

But clinical trials of DCA have been slowed by funding issues. DCA is not patented or patentable. Drug companies will not have the ability to make massive profits off the production of this drug, so they are not interested. Researchers have been forced to raise money themselves to fund their important work. Initial trials, on a small scale, are now under way and the preliminary results are very encouraging. But it has been two years since this breakthrough was made and serious study is only just getting underway. The U of A’s faculty of medicine has been forced to beg for money from government and non-profit organizations. To date, they have not received a single cent from a for-profit medical organization.

The lack of research into potential non-patentable cures does not stop at DCA. There is an entire industry built up around so-called alternative natural remedies. Many people, this author included, are skeptical about the claims made by those that support alternative medicines. Richard Dawkins is quick to point out that “If a healing technique is demonstrated to have curative properties in properly controlled double-blind trials, it ceases to be alternative. It simply…becomes medicine.” But this black and white view does not take into account the limitations placed on science by capitalism. The refusal to fund the testing needed to verify non-patentable alternative medicines has two damaging effects. First, we are kept in the dark about potentially effective medications. And second, the modern-day snake oil salesmen that peddle false cures are given credibility by the few alternative treatments that do work.

Technology and Industry

The manufacturing industry in particular is supposed to be where capitalist innovation is in its element. We are told that competition between companies will lead to better products, lower prices, new technology and new innovation. But again, upon closer inspection we see private interests serving as more of a barrier than an enabler. Patents and trade secrets prevent new technologies from being developed. The oil industry in particular has a long history of purchasing patents, simply to prevent the products from ever coming to market.

Competition can serve as a motivator for the development of new products. But as we have already seen above, it can also serve as a motivator to prevent new products from ever seeing the light of day. Companies will not only refuse to fund research for the development of a product that might hurt their industry, but in some cases they will go to extraordinary lengths to prevent anyone else from doing the same research.

The 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” goes into great detail about the role of big oil companies, auto manufacturers, and the US Federal Government in preventing an alternative vehicle from hitting the road. The filmmaker claims that auto companies would lose out if an electric vehicle was ever produced because of the simplicity of their maintenance. The replacement parts side of the auto industry would be decimated. Oil companies would see a dramatic reduction in the demand for their products as the world switched to electric vehicles. It is claimed that hydrogen fuel cells, which have very little chance of being developed into a useful technology, are used as a distraction from real alternatives. The film maker blasts the American government for directing research away from electric vehicles and towards hydrogen fuel cells.

But the most damning accusations are against major oil companies and auto manufacturers. The film suggests that auto companies have sabotaged their own research into electric cars. What’s worse, is that oil companies have purchased the patents for NiMH batteries to prevent them from being used in electric vehicles. These are the same batteries that are used in laptop computers and large batteries of this type would make the electric vehicle possible. But Chevron maintains veto power over any licensing or use of NiMH battery technology. They continue to refuse to sell these batteries for research purposes. Some hybrid vehicles are now using NiMH batteries, but hybrid vehicles, while improving mileage, still rely on fossil fuels.

While the purchasing of patents is an effective way of shelving new innovations, there are certainly other ways the capitalist system holds back research and development. The very nature of a system based on competition makes collaborative research impossible. Whether it be the pharmaceutical industry, the auto industry or any other, capitalism divides the best engineers and scientists among competing corporations. Anyone involved in research or product development is forced to sign a confidentiality agreement as a condition of employment. Not only are these people prevented from working together, they are not even allowed to compare their notes!

Peer review is supposed to be an important piece of the scientific method. Often, major advancements are made, not by an individual group researchers, but by many groups of researchers. One team develops one piece of the puzzle, someone else discovers another and still another team of scientists puts all of the pieces together. How can a system based on competition foster such collaborative efforts? Simply stated, it can’t.

The governments of the world clearly recognize this as a problem; every time they are met with a serious crisis, they throw their free-market ideals out the window and turn to the public sector. It has been argued many times that World War Two was won by nationalization and planning. Capitalism in Britain was essentially put on hold, so that the war effort could be effectively organized. In the United States, such large scale nationalization did not take place, but when it came to research and development, the private sector was not trusted to handle it on their own.

Fearing that the Nazis were developing the atomic bomb, the US government initiated a massive public program to ensure they were the first to wield a weapon of mass destruction. The Manhattan project succeeded where private industry could not. At one point, over 130,000 people were working on the project. The world’s best and brightest were brought together into a massive collaborative undertaking. They discovered more about nuclear fission in the span of a few years, than they had in the decades since the first atom was split in 1919. Regardless of what one thinks of the atom bomb, this was doubtlessly one of the greatest scientific advancements of the 20th century.

Science, technology and economic planning

Sputnik 1 was the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. It was launched by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. Work by Gregory R Todd.Sputnik 1 was the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite. It was launched by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. Work by Gregory R Todd.The ultimate proof of capitalism’s hindrance of science and technology comes not from capitalism, but from the alternative. While the Soviet Union under Stalin was far from the ideal socialist society (something which we have explained extensively elsewhere), its history gives us valuable insight into the potential of a nationalized planned economy. In 1917 the Bolsheviks took control of a backwards, semi-feudal, third world country that had been ruined by the First World War. In a matter of decades, it was transformed into a leading super-power. The USSR would go on to be the first to put a satellite into orbit, the first to put a man in space, and the first to build a permanently manned outpost in space. Soviet scientists pushed the frontiers of knowledge, particularly in the areas of Mathematics, Astronomy, Nuclear Physics, Space Exploration and Chemistry. Many Soviet era scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes in various fields. These successes are particularly stunning, when one considers the state the country was in when capitalism was overthrown.

How were such advancements possible? How did the Soviet Union go from having a population that was 90% illiterate, to having more scientists, doctors and engineers per capita than any other country on Earth in just a few decades? The superiority of the nationalized planned economy and the break from the madness of capitalism is the only explanation.

The first step in this process was simply the recognition that science was a priority. Under capitalism, the ability of private companies to develop science and technology is limited by a narrow view of what is profitable. Companies do not plan to advance technology, they plan to build a marketable product and will only do what is necessary to bring that product to market. The Soviets immediately recognized the importance of the overall development of science and technology and linked it to the development of the country as a whole. This broad view allowed them to put substantial resources into all areas of study.

Another vital component of their success was the massive expansion of education. By abolishing private schools and providing free education at all levels, individuals in the population were able to meet their potential. A citizen could continue their studies as long as they were capable. By contrast, even many advanced capitalist countries have been unable to eliminate illiteracy today, let alone open up university education to all who are able. Under capitalism, massive financial barriers are placed in front of students, which prevent large portions of the population from reaching their potential. When half of the world’s population is forced to live on less than two dollars a day, we can only conclude that massive reserves of human talent are being wasted.

The soviet government immediately tore down all the barriers on science that strangle innovation within the capitalist system. Patents, trade secrets, and private industry were eliminated. This allowed for more collaborative research across fields and a free flow of information between institutions. Religious prejudices that had long held back rational study were pushed aside. One only has to look at the ban on stem-cell research under the Bush regime to see the negative effects religious bigotry can have on science.

But it wasn’t all good news under Stalinism. Just as the bureaucracy hindered the development of the economy, it also hindered certain areas of study. While the many barriers of capitalism were broken down, in some cases new ones were erected as the direction of scientific study was subjugated to the needs and desires of the bureaucracy. In the most extreme cases, certain fields of study were outlawed entirely and leading scientists were arrested and sent to labour camps in Siberia. One of the most outrageous cases was Stalin’s contempt for chromosomal genetics. The study of genetics was banned and several prominent geneticists, including Agol, Levit and Nadson were executed. Nikolai Vavilov, one of the Soviet Union’s great geneticists was sent to a labour camp, where he died in 1943. This ban wasn’t overturned until the mid 1960s. These crimes were not crimes of socialism, but of Stalinism. Under a democratically planned economy, there would be no reason for such atrocities.

Today, it is the task of those interested in science and socialism to learn the lessons of history. Science is being held back by private interests and industry. A lack of resources for education and research keep doors closed to young aspiring minds. Religious interference locks science in a cage and declares important fields of study off-limits. The chains of the free-market prevent meaningful research from being done. Private companies refuse to let new technologies out of their back rooms. Private collectors hold unique and important specimens for their own personal amusement. Potential cures for deadly diseases are tossed aside to clear the way for research into the latest drug to cure erectile dysfunction. This is madness. Capitalism does not drive innovation, but hinders it at every step.

Humanity today is being held back by an economic system designed to enslave the majority for the benefit of a minority. Every aspect of human development is hindered by the erroneously-named free-market. With the development of computers, the internet and new technologies, humanity stands at the doorstep of a bright future of scientific advancement and prosperity. We are learning more and more about every aspect of our existence. What was once impossible, is now tangible. What was once a mystery, is now understood. What was once veiled, is now in plain sight. The advancement of scientific knowledge will one day put even the farthest reaches of the universe at our fingertips. The only thing that stands in our way is capitalism.

Ziauddin Sardar. With thanks from New Statesman

According to some Muslim scholars, everything from genetics to robotics and space travel is described in the Quran. What nonsense

Science has acquired a new meaning in certain Muslim circles. When classical Muslim scholars declared that “whosoever does not know astronomy or anatomy is deficient in the knowledge of God”, they were emphasising the importance of the scientific spirit in Islam and encouraging the pursuit of empirical science. But today, to a significant section of Muslims, science includes the discovery of “scientific miracles” in the Quran.

The Quran does contain many verses that point towards nature, and constantly asks its readers to reflect on the wonders of the cosmos. “Travel throughout the earth and see how He brings life into being” (29:20) is a piece of advice we frequently find in the Muslim sacred text. “Behold,” we read elsewhere, “in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding . . .” (3:190).

But these verses do not have any specific scientific content – they simply urge believers to study nature and reflect on the awe-inspiring diversity and complexity of the universe. The emphasis in many of these verses, such as “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed; and the stars and the trees both prostrate in adoration; and the heavens He has raised high, and He has set up the balance” (55:5-7), is on the general predictability of physical phenomena.

It requires considerable mental gymnastics and distortions to find scientific facts or theories in these verses. Yet, this height of folly is a global craze in Muslim societies, as is a popular literature known as ijaz, or “scientific miracles of the Quran”. Islamic bookshops are littered with this literature, television preachers talk endlessly about how many different scientific theories can be found in the Quran, and numerous websites are devoted to explaining the phenomenon. It can seem as if ijaz literature has taken total control of the Muslim imagination.

“Almost everything, from relativity, quantum mechanics, Big Bang theory, black holes and pulsars, genetics, embryology, modern geology, thermodynamics, even the laser and hydrogen fuel cells, have been ‘found’ in the Quran,” says Nidhal Guessoum, professor of astrophysics at the American University of Sharjah. Whereas centuries ago, Muslim mathematicians discovered algebra (and led the world in countless fields of knowledge), some of today’s believers look to the Quran for equations to yield the value of the speed of light or the age of the universe, and other bewildering feats.

The tendency to read science in the Quran has a long history. In the 1950s, for example, when the US and the Soviet Union were competing to put a man in space, pamphlets appeared in India and Pakistan in which Quranic verses on the all-powerful nature of God were quoted to “prove” that manned space flight would never happen. However, for the current manifestation of ijaz, we need to thank not writers from the madrasas of the Middle East, but two western professors – neither man a Muslim.

It began in 1976, with the publication of The Bible, the Quran and Science by Maurice Bucaille, a French surgeon who had served the Saudi monarchy and acquired his basic knowledge of the Quran in the kingdom. He set out to examine “the holy scriptures in the light of modern knowledge”, focusing on astronomy, the earth, and the animal and vegetable kingdoms. His conclusion was that “it is impossible not to admit the existence of scientific errors in the Bible”. In contrast: “The Quran most definitely did not contain a single proposition at variance with the most firmly established modern knowledge.” Many Muslims embraced Bucaille’s thesis as proof of the divine origins of the Quran.

Ijaz literature received a further boost almost a decade later with the publication of the paper Highlights of Human Embryology in the Quran and the Hadith by Keith Moore, a Canadian professor of anatomy who was then teaching in Saudi Arabia. Moore illustrated certain verses from the Quran with clinical drawings and textbook descriptions. For example, the verse “We created man from a drop of mingled fluid” (76:2) is explained by Moore as referring to the mixture of a small quantity of sperm with the oocyte and its follicular fluid.

He was quite a performer, and stunned the gathering at the seventh Saudi Medical Meeting, held in 1982 in Dam mam. He read out the Quranic verses: “We have created man from the essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place, then We made that drop into a clinging form, and made the form into a lump of flesh, and We made the lump into bones, and We clothed these bones with flesh, and We made him into other forms . . .” (23:12-14).

Moore then shaped some Plasticine to resemble an embryo at 28 days and dug his teeth into it. The chewed Plasticine, he claimed, was an exact copy of the embryo, with his teeth marks resembling the embryo’s somites (the vertebral column and musculature). He displayed photographs to show that bones begin to form in the embryo at six weeks, and muscles attach to them. By the seventh week, the bones give a human shape to the embryo; ears and eyes begin to form by the fourth week and are visible by the sixth. All these developments, Moore claimed, fit the Quranic description exactly.

Both Bucaille and Moore played on the inferiority complex of influential Saudis, suggesting that the Quran was a scientific treatise and proof that Muslims were modern long before the modern world and modern science. The Saudi government poured millions into ijaz literature. The Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah was established. The first international conference on the subject was held in Islamabad, in 1987. Moore’s paper was included in an illustrated study: Human Development As Described in the Quran and Sunnah. The field has been growing exponentially ever since.

Guessoum, who is about to publish a book on ijaz literature, says that most works on scientific miracles follow a set pattern. They start with a verse of the Quran and look for concordance between scientific results and Quranic statements. For example, one would start from the verse “So verily I swear by the stars that run and hide . . .” (81:15-16) and quickly declare that it refers to black holes, or take the verse “[I swear by] the Moon in her fullness; that ye shall journey on from stage to stage” (84:18-19) and decide it refers to space travel. And so on. “What is meant to be allegorical and poetic is transformed into products of science,” Guessoum says.

These days, the biggest propagator of ijaz literature is Harun Yahya (real name Adnan Oktar), a Turkish creationist. He has published scores of pamphlets and books that are heavily subsidised and sold very cheaply. The latest, Miracles of the Quran, explains the verses of the Quran “in such a way as to leave no room for doubt or question marks”. The author suggests that the verse “We have sent down iron in which there lies great force and which has many uses for mankind” (57:25) is a “significant scientific miracle”, because “modern astronomical findings have disclosed that iron found in our world has come from the giant stars in outer space”. The verse “Glory be to Him Who created all the pair of things that the earth produces” (36:36) is claimed to predict anti-matter.

But these inanities are not limited to crackpots. “Even respected university professors believe this nonsense,” Guessoum says. “In my own university, around 70 per cent of science professors subscribe to the view that the Quran is full of scientific content, facts as well as theories.” Indeed, many respected scientists have contributed to the literature. Prime among these is The Geological Concepts of Mountains in the Quran (1991). Written by the Egyptian scientist Zaghloul el-Naggar, who held the chair of geology at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the book has gone through numerous editions. It was so successful that el-Naggar gave up teaching to become the chair of the Committee of Scientific Notions in the Glorious Quran, established by the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Cairo. Today, he lectures on “geology in the Quran” and CDs of his talks sell out.

The latest tome on the subject is The Computer Universe: a Scientific Rendering of the Holy Quran by P A Wahid, the former dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Kerala Agricultural University. In the book, he develops a model of science in the Quran and purports to explain the existence of angels (“intelligent robots in Allah’s kingdom”), the Divine Master Plan, and how the Quran predicted the advent of chemistry and biology. Ehsan Masood, who writes on science in developing countries for Nature, recounts how he “once met a former chief scientist to a defence ministry who told me excitedly he was refining a research paper that would use mathematics to prove the existence of angels”.

All their own creation

The underlying message of these books is that all the science you need is in the Quran – no need to get your hands dirty in a lab or work within mainstream theories. But there is an overt message, too: works such as those of Wahid and el-Naggar are aggressively anti-evolution. Many more Muslim scientists, says Guessoum, are “scientists by day and creationists by night”.

Creationism is not at all a natural Muslim position. In the early 10th century, Muhammad al-Nakhshabi wrote in The Book of the Yield: “While man has sprung from sentient creatures, these have sprung from plants, and these in turn from combined substances.” In Life of Hai by the 12th-century Andalusian philosopher ibn Tufayl, evolution is strongly emphasised. Hai is “spontaneously generated”, emerges from the slime, evolves through various stages and discovers the power of reason to shape his world and to understand the universe. In contrast, creationism has taken hold over the past decade in Muslim societies – Turkey, for example, came last, just behind the US, in a recent survey of 34 countries on public acceptance of evolution.

Ijaz literature goes hand in hand with creationism, though Masood says that Muslim creationists are strongly influenced by their American Christian counterparts: “The two groups genuinely believe that the destiny of Islam and Christianity is to work together to defeat evolution and that this alliance is the answer to the clash of civilisations.”

Yahya’s lavishly illustrated tome Atlas of Creation is widely distributed. In Turkey, it anonymously turned up in numerous schools and libraries. Last year, it was sent unsolicited to schools across France, prompting the education ministry to proscribe the volume. The Atlas blames everything, from Nazism to terrorism, on evolution. “It contains lie upon lie upon lie,” says Jean Staune, visiting lecturer in philosophy of sciences at the HEC School of Management in Paris, who has made a special study of Harun Yahya’s works. “It denigrates the faith which it purports to support.”

And we can say the same about all literature, popular or academic, that purports to discover “scientific miracles” in the Quran.

The inferno of “Rah-e-Haq” is burning humanity in Swat. Anyone who is not supporting the barbarity is being declared a “Taliban” by the pro-imperialism and pro establishment liberals. Many assumptions of these liberals are based on myths. One such myth is that Pakistan Army is fighting Taliban in Swat. Pakistan Army is just killing ordinary innocent people in Swat. Taliban were provided safe passages by Army through the clumsily conducted exodus. Some will be killed especially those who are no more loyal to Army. The Taliban have been sighted in the refugee camps of Mardan and Peshawar. Taliban phenomenon is rooted in “state” of Pakistan itself. Rubina Saigol is one of the few academics from Pakistan who has raised the fundamental question about Taliban. She has called it “Pakistan  at war with itself”

Shaheryar Ali

Rubina Saigol , [The News, 28 Feb, 2009]

Religious fundamentalist movements of all shades and hues have gripped large parts of the world and have posed a threat to the prevalent political, economic and social systems. While “fundamentalism” is a term that is used in varying contexts to denote differing realities, its origins lie in 1920s America where it was used to refer to puritanical evangelist movements. The term is sometimes used to deny history by suggesting a return to some imagined early purity or “golden period” that supposedly existed in a bygone era. Fundamentalisms have manifested themselves in virtually all kinds of cultures and societies, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jewish. Like anything that is not much explored or understood, fundamentalisms have given rise to certain myths that tend to seduce public imagination. The purpose of this article is to try and dismantle eight of the most common myths about Muslim fundamentalism and extremism in our part of the world by juxtaposing such myths against observable facts.

Myth: Fundamentalism is the result of mental and moral backwardness, attitudes, religion and beliefs.

Fact: Fundamentalism is about geopolitics, involving power, money, and control over territory, people and resources. If we examine the actions and pronouncements of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Swat Taliban – actions that include beheading, rape, murder, public display of dead bodies, public executions, suicide bombings killing scores of innocent people – it is not hard to discern that such actions have little to do with religion or a moral order. Through brutal means and barbaric methods, the Taliban have gained control over territory in Swat and Waziristan. They have forced the government to accept their power over people and resources through the Nizam-e-Adl agreement reached between the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammdi’s Maulana Sufi Muhammad and the provincial government of the ANP. Apart from drug trafficking, the money is raised from donations received from Saudi Arabia and other countries and goes to pay Rs15,000-20,000 per month to about ten thousand militant followers of Maulana Fazlullah.

Myth: Fundamentalism in Pakistan can be traced back to the era of General Zia.

Fact: Fundamentalism can be traced much further back to Imam Hanbal, Al-Ashari, Imam Ghazali (he influenced writers like Ashraf Thanvi who wrote Bahishti Zewar), Abdul Wahhab and the Darul Uloom, Deoband.

Contrary to the common perception that General Zia’s Islamisation laid the foundation of extremist and fundamentalist strands of religion, the seeds were sown much earlier. Reactionary Islamic thought goes back centuries, to the time when rationalism first appeared in Muslim lands. The Asharite revolt against the Mu’tazila rationalist thought located in Greek philosophy, Imam Ghazali’s total repudiation of Reason as a source of truth apart from Revelation, and his denunciation of the great scientists, medicine men, mathematicians and thinkers like Al-Kindi, Al-Razi, Ibn-e-Rushd and Ibn-e-Sina who introduced enlightenment within the Muslim world between the 8th and 11th centuries, are reflections of early fundamentalist reactions. In the heyday of Baghdad, the genius of these thinkers was much admired and they were highly respected during the time of Khalifa Al-Mamun. However, later Muslim rulers like Al-Mutawakkil punished them severely for injecting innovative thought in the Muslim world. It was political power that chose to ally itself with the traditionalist and conservative ulema who crushed innovative and scientific thinking in favour of obscurantism.

The 18th century Arabian thinker Abdul Wahhab, who was also protected by and aligned with the House of Saud and political power, rejected all later accretions in Islamic thought and insisted on returning to purported versions of pure Islam during its early years. The bland Wahhabi version of religion that he propounded was exported to the subcontinent through Saudi Arabian funding of religious movements in Pakistan. The much more syncretic, tolerant and non-violent versions of Sufi Islam were rejected by a highly intolerant version which came though Saudi imperialism. In the context of the subcontinent, fundamentalist thought was furthered by Maulana Maudoodi, who used his influence in the passage of the Objectives Resolution in 1949 which laid the foundation of a potentially “theocratic” state. General Zia made the Objectives Resolution a substantive part of the Constitution in 1985 through the insertion of Article 2-A. General Zia thus merely accelerated a process begun by his predecessors.

Myth: Only religious parties and sectarian outfits support or forge fundamentalism.

Fact: Fundamentalism has been supported or encouraged as much by the so-called secular elite as by religious parties to maintain class power and privilege.

The common assumption that only parties like the JUI-F, JUI-S and Jamaat-e-Islami and sectarian and Jehadi outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan or Harkat-ul-Mujahideen support fundamentalism in Pakistan overlooks the constant capitulation to religious extremism by seemingly secular and liberal parties. Most analysts like to quote Jinnah’s August 11, 1947, speech to argue that he envisioned a secular state, but in several of his other speeches he catered to the religious lobby’s sentiments to justify the two-nation concept. In 1940 he declared: “It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religious in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They neither intermarry nor inter-dine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.”

Even though Ayub Khan was considered modern and enlightened, a large number of his speeches cater to the religious lobby, in particular the ones that were designed to ensure “national integration” and emphasise Pakistani identity over ethnic and regional identities. In 1962 he declared: “Pakistan came into being on the basis of an ideology which does not believe in differences of colour, race or language. It is immaterial whether you are a Bengali or a Sindhi, a Baluchi or a Pathan or a Punjabi – we are all knit together by the bond of Islam.” The Council for Islamic Ideology was established during his rule to scrutinise laws for their conformity to religion. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, often associated with the Left and socialist thought, caved in to the demand to declare the Qadianis non-Muslims in 1974 through the Second Amendment, and later capitulated to the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement by taking certain symbolic measures towards Islamisation. The National Education Policy of 1972 declared that Islam is woven into the warp and woof of Pakistani society and would be reflected centrally in education. It was during Benazir Bhutto’s second tenure that the Taliban gained ascendancy in Afghanistan in 1996 and her government was the first to recognise their rule.

Again, it was the right-of-centre PML-N which, during Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure, instituted the death penalty (295c) for blasphemy, a law much abused by religious zealots against the Ahmadi and Christian communities. In his second tenure he introduced his infamous Shariat Bill (15th amendment) which would have effectively made him Amir-ul-Momineen, for it was designed to gain power by deciding virtue and vice and imposing it upon the country. Most recently, the ANP has entered into a desperate agreement with TNSM for Shariat in return for peace – an expensive peace which may or may not come about! Liberal, centrist and Left-oriented leaders and parties have contributed heavily to the rise of religious fanaticism in order to maintain their hold on power.

Myth: Fundamentalists want a genuine Shariah-based system of quick and affordable justice.

Fact: Fundamentalist and extremist outfits have little or no understanding of Shariah and have devised a highly convoluted version of Shariah that is rejected by a large number of serious religious scholars.

Recent interviews of a cross-section of religious scholars and thinkers in Punjab and the NWFP conducted by a team of researchers reveals the following: There is not a single serious scholar of Shariah and Islamic jurisprudence who believes that bombing and torching girls’ schools, digging out dead bodies and hanging them from trees, murdering with wild abandon and killing innocent people with suicide bombing are Islamic. Similarly, these scholars informed us that there is no known school of Islamic thought that forbids the education of women and disputes their right to work, or their freedom of movement to carry out their daily tasks. Rather, virtually every scholar or religious leader that we interviewed said education is the foremost duty of every Muslim, man or woman. There is no respected religious scholar who supports the beating of women for going out of their houses or starving children to death by disallowing women from earning a livelihood. Virtually, every scholar, belonging to various sects and schools of thought, strongly condemned the actions of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsood and Fazlullah’s actions in Swat as efforts to give religion a bad name.

Myth: Fundamentalism is the antithesis of imperialism and Jehadis/Taliban are fighting against imperial domination.

Fact: Fundamentalism and imperialism are deeply linked and invoke each other for their own aims; fundamentalism is itself a specific form of imperialism.

In his thoroughly researched book Jihad-e-Kashmir o Afghanistan, journalist Muhammad Amir Rana reveals the following: After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Jimmy Carter’s administration created a secret fund of $500 million to create terror outfits to fight the Soviets. Nicknamed “Operation Cyclone,” this fund was kept secret even from Congress and the American public. Subsequently, the Reagan administration and Saudi Arabia provided $3.5 billion to General Zia’s regime for the funding of madrassahs for the Afghan Jihad. Militants were trained in the Brooklyn School in New York and in Virginia by the CIA. In Pakistan they were trained by MI6 and the Inter-Services-Intelligence. Between 1979 and 1990 there was a mushroom growth of madrassahs – Jihad-related organisations grew by 100 percent and sectarian outfits multiplied at the rate of 90 percent. By 1986 the rate of increase of deeni madaris was 136 percent annually, whereas in previous times it had been a mere 3 percent. By 2002, 7,000 religious institutions were offering degrees in higher education. Currently, it is estimated that there are between 18,000 and 22,000 madrassahs operating in Pakistan, teaching over 1.5 million children. Pakistan is in fact located at the nexus of multiple and competing imperialisms representing the US (and the so-called West), Saudi Arabian Wahhabiism and Iranian forms.

Myth: Fundamentalism and related terrorism are problems of the Frontier regions/FATA/Swat.

Fact: The Largest recruitment for Afghan and Kashmir Jehad is from the Punjab followed by the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan.

Amir Rana’s study reveals that Punjab contributes about 50 percent of the Jihadi workforce, followed by the NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan. Punjab has the largest number of deeni madaris (5459 according to a 2002 study). The NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan have 2,483, 1,935 and 769, respectively. Karachi alone accounts for about 2,000 madrassahs. Statistics collected by the ministry of education show that FATA has 135 while Islamabad alone has 77 deeni madaris. According to Rana, the great majority of militants from the Punjab were sent to fight in Kashmir by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, while most of the Pakhtoon and Balochi youth from the NWFP and Balochistan were sent to and killed in Afghanistan. Most belonged to the JUI-F and the TNSM (which has now entered into an agreement with the ANP government of the NWFP). A large number of organisations, such as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jabbar wal Islami, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Badr and Lashkar-e-Islam have participated in the Kashmir and Afghan Jihad getting their poor foot soldiers killed while the leaders enjoy luxurious lifestyles that include Pajeros, expensive mobile phones, large houses and frequent air travel.

Myth: Only non-state actors are involved in religion-based terrorism and fundamentalism.

Fact: State policy, in line with imperial and vested interests, has fully encouraged and supported the growth and rise of fundamentalist and sectarian outfits.

The state is fully implicated in backing, supporting and fanning the growth of extremist outfits. Pakistan’s “strategic depth” theory effectively helped keep the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, even as they killed, murdered and butchered children for playing football, women for going to the bank or school, working or lifting the lower part of the burqa to cross a river. The reign of terror had Pakistan’s official support while the rest of the world remained incredulous. The policy of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” through infiltration in Kashmir also had state sponsorship. One look at the curriculum and teachings by Jamaat-ud-Daawa, an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Taiba, reveals the main purpose of this organisation. Their alphabet revolves around killing, murdering and jihad and their hatred is focused on Hindus. The games children play are war games designed to inspire them to lay down their lives for “holy war.” Going into the Afghan jihad in return for dollars was also a state decision.

Myth: Fundamentalist outfits have the support of local populations.

Fact: People have invariably voted in secular and liberal parties in elections.

A frequent defence in favour of religious hegemony is that the people are essentially religious and want a religious order in Pakistan. An examination of all elections held since 1970 reveals that people invariably voted for secular and liberal parties, while religious parties were promoted only by dictators: the Jamaat-e-Islami by General Zia and the MMA by Musharraf! The major winners of elections in 1970, 1977, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 were the Awami League, the PPP, the PML-N, the ANP and the MQM, along with smaller nationalist parties. The religious parties failed to capture people’s imagination in a significant way in any election.

The myths that one has tried to unpack above need detailed scrutiny. As a nation we need to contemplate our choices: can we afford religious extremism with its negative obsession with controlling women as well as its anti-democracy, anti-development stance and its propensity towards violence because of its love for martyrdom, death and the next world? Or, do we need a plural democracy that can ensure fundamental rights while also accommodating and balancing the concerns of the different provinces, ethnicities, religions and genders into a just system of production and distribution.

(The writer is an independent researcher specialising in social development. Email: rubinasaigol@hotmail.com)

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