New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 February 2018
Germany Shows the Way
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Failure on All Fronts
By Hussain H Zaidi
Where the Fake Flourish
By Asha’ar Rehman
Learn The CLF Way
By Zubeida Mustafa
Michael Wolff’s Fiction about Donald Trump
By M D Nalapat
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
February 2, 2018
All European cities somehow look familiar and identical to me. Berlin is no exception. Like any other great old European metropolis, the German capital is a heady blend of the old and new, with tradition and modernity living in harmony with each other.
It is incredibly instructive and fascinating to see the lengths to which the Europeans go to take care of their cities. They know that their cities are not merely urban habitats but remnants and living symbols of their nation’s history and heritage. The past is cherished and protected with a passion that is quite alien to us.
Unlike South Asia and the Middle East, where history is taken for granted and forever abused, no landmarks and monuments are abandoned or allowed to go to seed in Europe. Every slice of history is preserved for posterity with great care.
This may explain why European cities like Berlin and London proudly live and breathe the past whereas in a country like India, which is steeped in 5,000 years of history, old Delhi are falling apart and cheap, partisan politics is rampant over globally celebrated icons like the Taj Mahal.
Travelling through the German capital today, it is hard to believe that this is the same city which had been at the heart of action during World War II. Being at the head of Hitler’s unstoppable juggernaut that ravaged the whole of the continent, Berlin witnessed the most catastrophic war in human history.
Nearly 70 million people – about the size of Iran’s population – were killed, not to mention the economic and other incalculable costs of the war. The Nazi monster was eventually defanged, but not before it had wreaked havoc all across Europe and beyond. It took the collective might and firepower of the US, the Soviet Union, Britain and the rest of Europe to bring the Fuhrer to his knees.
The endless Allied bombing during the Great War totally decimated Germany, with the victors partitioning the country and even dividing Berlin right down the middle. Indeed, the wall that separated the two parts of Berlin came to define not just the division of one country but also epitomised the split of the world into two erpetually bickering blocs and a nuclear holocaust that the cold war threatened.
Not surprisingly, when the Berlin Wall came crashing down, under the weight of its own historical contradictions and a changing world, it was not just the Germans who cheered; the world celebrated with them.
The ground had truly shifted. It was the end of an era – literally. So it all began and ended here in Berlin. For decades, Germany had been humiliated and made to pay for Hitler’s appalling crimes against humanity and delusions of grandeur – just as it had happened after the First Great War.
Today, the scars of that destruction and all the evil that took place in this land are hardly visible. What is truly remarkable is the incredible pace at which Germany has managed to spring back to its feet. Like the mythical phoenix, it has risen from its ashes – just as it had risen after World War I – emerging even more powerful and clearly more mature and wiser in its new avatar.
It has not just managed to survive the last great war and the years of humiliation and punishment that followed, but has emerged as the continent’s largest economy – and not just as the leader of post-war Europe but a global power once again. Although thanks to its past, its military wings still remain clipped and, like Japan, it is still largely dependent on the US for its protection and defence, Germany has begun to come into its own slowly but surely.
With the continuing economic meltdown claiming one formidable EU economy after another, the impregnable economic fortress that Europe used to be has suddenly started wobbling slowly but unmistakably. The only port that looks safe in this economic storm is Germany. Even more so after a Britain full of hubris decided to walk out of the EU.
Barring some awfully polite protests demanding higher wages and curbs over immigration, Germany did not witness the chaos that ruled the streets of Europe after the 2008-9 market crash. Its economy remains robust. Indeed, the country has been helping others.
Germany has invested a great deal of hard work and famous German dedication over the decades to reach where it finds itself today. The Germans put in the longest working hours in Europe. The country has moved towards other fronts too. It appears to have learned from its past and is remorseful over what happened to minority groups under the Nazis. There are no attempts to gloss over the past or brush it under the carpet.
So, is the mindset that created the Nazi Frankenstein and sent millions of innocent people to their deaths dead and buried now? The answer is in the negative. It is still seen in the occasional targeting of mosques and Jewish and Muslim cemeteries. Despite the growth of far-right anti-immigrant parties like the AfD (Alternative for Germany), the Right remains in check thanks to the charismatic and powerful leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Perhaps to compensate for the Nazi crimes against humanity and religious minorities, Merkel’s Germany generously welcomed refugees from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa, especially the victims of Syrian conflict. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany accepted at least a million refugees. People opened their homes and churches to accommodate the guests, winning hearts and minds around the world – especially in the Muslim world.
When it comes to safety and a general sense of security for religious and cultural minorities, Germany is perhaps far ahead of many European nations that trumpet themselves as champions of human rights and tolerance.
While the vilification of immigrants, especially Muslims, has acquired dangerous proportions in France, Austria and the Netherlands, Germany has managed to buck this growing trend of demonising the other. The country is home to nearly five million Muslims, a majority of them from Turkey (almost two-thirds); the Balkans; and the North African Arab countries, forming five percent of the 82 million-strong population. For their part, Muslims are at peace with themselves and their adopted nation even as they remain loyal to their tradition and faith. You see Middle Eastern or halal eateries all over Berlin and elsewhere with Germans queuing up for their regulation doner kebab with their characteristic discipline.
A 2009 survey by the German government together with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) found that Muslims are far more integrated into German society than other European nations. Second-generation German Muslims, especially women, are better educated and more upwardly mobile than their parents as compared with second-generation Muslims in France and Britain. Clearly, when it comes to tolerance and cultural diversity, today’s Germany can teach a lesson or two to the rest of Europe. Adolf must be turning in his grave.
February 2, 2018
The US will not engage the Taliban in peace talks; instead, it will finish what it has to finish. That’s how Donald Trump reacted to the series of bomb blasts that rocked Kabul last month. Will the unpredictable American president turn out to be as good as his word? This is anybody’s guess.
In Afghanistan, the US has fallen between two stools. This has led many to believe that the country has no coherent Afghan strategy. Trump inherited the Afghan problem from his predecessor Barack Obama – who, in turn, had inherited it from the man whom he succeeded in the White House, George Bush.
An exponent of the doctrine of pre-emption, Bush had invaded Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban regime for supporting and sheltering the masterminds of the 9/11 attack. It was on that score that Senator Obama, who opposed the Iraq war, had supported the Afghan invasion. A few years later, while running for the White House, Obama pledged to turn things around in Afghanistan.
When Obama assumed office in January 2009, around 50,000 American troops were stationed in Afghanistan. He readily deployed another 17,000. A few months later, the strength of the troops climbed to 100,000. The Obama administration’s Afghan strategy then had two components: a strong US military presence in Afghanistan to counter militancy and the reconstruction of the war-torn country – or nation-building as they would call it. The strategy implied full faith in American capabilities to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.
“To disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates” was described by Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy as a key strategic objective of the US. Afghanistan and Pakistan were collectively termed as the epicentres of terrorism for the strong presence of Al-Qaeda. If the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan, the country might be run over by the cataclysmic organisation.
It is important to note that Washington’s principal adversary in Afghanistan was Al-Qaeda and not the Taliban. Although they had much in common, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not one and the same. Whereas the Taliban were a local outfit, Al-Qaeda was an international organisation. The 9/11 attack was masterminded by Al-Qaeda, not by the Taliban. If the Taliban regime had handed over Osama bin Laden to the US, Afghanistan might not have been invaded.
The Taliban never posed a direct threat to US security and, therefore, were not a thorn on Washington’s side, the way Al-Qaeda was. While the Taliban did attack US military personnel, they did it because these personnel were stationed in Afghanistan. In fact, Washington made a distinction between the ‘bad’ Taliban (who were not prepared to part ways with Al-Qaeda) and the ‘good’ Taliban (who could be persuaded to do so). It was with a view to segregate the two assumed categories of the Taliban or, to put it diplomatically, to promote peace and reconciliation among Afghan factions that the quadrilateral peace process, which involved Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US, was launched. As the subsequent events bear out, this distinction was a madcap, which has proved enormously costly.
Let’s get back to the Obama years. The former US president gradually began to realise that the road to Afghan reconstruction was strewn with insurmountable difficulties. So, he decided to set it aside as a policy goal. Preventing Al-Qaeda from ruling the roost in Afghanistan was the only goal worth pursuing. The May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden dampened US interest in Afghanistan. During the following year, while on a visit to Afghanistan, Obama stated: “The goal I set, to defeat Al-Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild, is now within our reach”. Ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban’s influence was not Washington’s priority. The American combat troops were to be pulled out from the country by the end of 2014. After this point, Afghanistan’s security would become an internal concern.
By the time American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, close to the end of Obama’s second and last term, Al-Qaeda might have been dismantled. But this did not mean that peace was in sight in the troubled country. The Taliban were on the ascendency and the IS, another cataclysmic international organisation that was on the retreat in Iraq and Syria, was spreading its wings.
And then came Donald Trump. While running for the presidential office, he had made no bones about his opposition to America’s costly involvement in foreign wars. Afghanistan presented the spectacle of America’s longest, and arguably the costliest, foreign war. So, by his logic, the new US president should have ensured that his country pulls out of Afghanistan. However, in his Afghan strategy unveiled in August 2017, Trump made a flip-flop on Afghanistan and announced his plans to shore up his country’s military presence in the country.
Trump’s about-face hardly came as a surprise. The Afghan Army has proved to be unequal to the task of holding itself against the growing militant onslaught. The last two years have seen more blood-spitting in the country than the preceding years. The three deadly bomb blasts carried out in the high-security zones of Kabul in January this year should leave no one in doubt about what’s in store for the country in the coming months.
Trump’s Afghan strategy implies a shift from the ex ante or time-based approach of the Obama administration toward an ex post or result-based approach. The intended result has been to force the Taliban to agree to a political settlement. Americans have been confident that the new strategy will bear fruit. Before the recent carnage in Afghanistan, a US envoy to the UN had claimed that their strategy was pushing the militants closer towards holding talks. Is this the case?
What is Washington’s desired outcome in Afghanistan? Does it want to eliminate militancy so that the country doesn’t become a safe haven for another international Islamic militant organisation? Or is it content with creating a semblance of peace and order in Afghanistan so that it can leave the country with its head held high.
The two goals are markedly different. Achieving the former entails a far more long-term commitment on the part of the US in terms of both men and money than the latter. Is the US willing to undertake such a commitment? Afghanistan had a semblance of peace and order when the Taliban called the shots in Kabul (1996-2001). Is Washington prepared for peace at this cost?
The Taliban are bent upon re-imposing their brand of Islamic rule – as they had done earlier – which precludes any dissent or opposition. Even if they are interested in peace, they want to negotiate from a position of strength. Meanwhile, Washington and Kabul are keen on making the militants negotiate from a position of weakness. Not surprisingly, the Afghan peace process is heading nowhere.
Pakistan had also extended an olive branch to the militants on its territory. But every peace overture from the government served as a stimulant to increased militancy until it was decided that the militants will be tackled head-on. Of course, the militants have a far more intrusive presence in Afghanistan than they have ever had in Pakistan. This has made it more difficult to quell militancy on that side of the border. But it is doubtful whether the Afghan Taliban are ready to strike a peace deal that is not on their terms.
After its security concerns, Afghanistan’s two perennial problems have been rampant corruption and an extremely feeble economy. The US has not effectively addressed these challenges. On the economic front, Washington’s major concern has been to ensure that Indian exports get overland access to Afghanistan through Pakistan – a move that will benefit Indians rather than Afghans and ratchet-up New Delhi’s influence on Kabul. With the economy in disarray, Afghanistan remains totally dependent on foreign aid.
February 02, 2018
ON July 23, 2017, the Kasur correspondent for Dawn reported in a story carried as the lead in the paper’s Lahore Metropolitan section: Six months and 10 murders — all the deceased minors from ages five to 10, all of them raped and killed. And their bodies found in under-construction houses.
This story, which reported the killing of seven minor girls and three minor boys in Kasur in quick succession, was a whole five months and few days before the world shook in the aftermath of the Zainab murder in Kasur.
That this was the 10th incident of its nature must have been the reason behind the July 2017 story and its prominent placing in the paper. The double figure, it must have been thought, could perhaps shake those concerned into action and could lead to the capture of the ‘serial killer’.
If an investigation has to be undertaken to know why it took the law enforcers so long to get moving in Kasur, it must begin at the place of the crime’s occurrence.
Yes this is what the story said. It did, out of exuberance for it being by any measure a big news story or due to the emerging pattern of the crime, describe it as serial killing. It said “an eight-year-old girl was the 10th victim of this serial killing in the downtown of Kasur since January this year ”.
In those 600-odd words were yet more clues that were crying out to be picked up by an average, overworked, unimaginative police brain.
The story said: “A-Division police, on July 8, found her body in an under-construction house...” An under construction house, right? This was long before the main suspect, caught after the Zainab murder, was identified as a construction worker. It can be presumed that, if it had registered with the investigator on the job then, the connection could have easily provided direction to the probe.
The construction site and the serial killer profile which were emphasised in the intro to the news story cited here popped up at various points throughout the report... “The serial killing started in January this year,” it was reported, “when a five-year-old girl, of Kot Peeran, was found gagged in an under-construction house. ... In February, the body of a minor girl of Ali Park was found in an under-construction house near her residence.”
Not just that, a journalist based in Kasur recalls that after this 10th incident of minors having been killed, he did actually express his suspicion about there being a possible link between the construction sites and a single perpetrator behind all these murders.
The warnings, the pleas, all went unheard until — according to one version — the picture of young Zainab sent the investigators scurrying around for evidence. The earlier protests couldn’t quite get things moving. (“After every killing, the public would resort to road protests and disperse after police’s assurance that the case would be resolved soon,” said the July 2017 story.)
This wasn’t all. To add more grimness and a sense of urgency to the message, the July 2017 newspaper flash referred to a recent incident that had highlighted the dangers lurking around the vulnerably young in Kasur. Yes, there was this essential mention of the “Husain Khanwala incident in which hundreds of children were abused, filmed and, later, blackmailed by local gangs some two years back”. Yet there was nothing which could assure the people that those in charge of providing justice to them were listening.
This was one instance of a newspaper highlighting the perils that held people in a whole town and beyond hostage. There were others equally important news items in other papers that have not been mentioned here for reasons of brevity. There were so many other newspapers reporting on this and other such cases with as much strength as they could muster in a situation which didn’t quite encourage pointing out dangers and injustices to the system minders hard of hearing.
The system does not listen until sometimes one man at the top with an avowedly kind heart and lots of authority decides to take notice of a wrong somewhere on his own. If an investigation has to be undertaken to know how and why it took the law enforcers so long to get moving in Kasur, all with their fancied gadgets and tired theories and the shoves and pushes of their bosses, it must begin at the place of the crime’s occurrence. It must begin in earnest at the level of what is called the Jay-I-Waqooa.
This is where exists your local journalist — until one day he is discovered by his fancied big-town peers out to use his services to crack a case on great public demand. Often working without salary and every now and then called out for claiming local privilege, there is this negative profile of the local journalist that everyone is so fond of discussing. A more positive, likable and mostly apt image of his is where he is fighting it out on behalf of the underprivileged — and for justice, without any worldly gains other than recognition and fame.
He is routinely frustrated in his quest by the official machinery which is unable to — which cannot — respond to his frequent pointing-out with the same alacrity and purpose. This lack of response in turn creates room for the fake, mythological stories spun to compensate for the real ones that have not been acted upon. This is where the doctored stories come in, where the 35 punctures and the 37 bank accounts enter the collective pool. These imaginative tales only emerge after the pleas that there is prima facie a case to be urgently heard fail to move the administrators of our lives and of justice.
This is not just about a small town, not about Kasur alone. It is about our ability to move, to solve cases by accepting evidence and building on it. The myths are natural to those who show similar apathy to solving Kasur as they do to meaningfully pursuing the ‘mysterious’ murder of Benazir Bhutto, or of Liaquat Ali Khan or of those killed by this Hathora group or that Chaqoo group. The ghosts will prevail unless we are ready to listen to the first cry of distress and committed to providing justice before and without high-profile intervention.
Learn the CLF Way
ON a bright sunny winter day of January in Lahore, Pakistan’s renowned poet Amjad Islam Amjad spoke to a huge audience of young people. “Karo Jo Baat Karni Hai. Haan Sunn Lo Dosto/Jo Bhi Dunya Kahay/Uss Ko Parkhay Binaa Maan Lena Nahin (Speak out what you want to … Listen to what the world says/But don’t accept it without weighing it),” he exhorted the listeners. Amjad was speaking at the inaugural session of the Children’s Literature Festival. In a few words he captured the spirit of the CLF.
Launched in 2011 to introduce children to the power of the word — how to think and how to express oneself — the CLF opens for them the fascinating world of books that are the natural kin of words and language. It is appropriate that young readers should also learn to use their mind, which, unfortunately, our education system does not encourage them to do.
Focused on rote learning, schools and teachers resort to a one-way flow of communication in which students are expected to listen and learn. Questions are taboo and, unsurprisingly, children are lulled into a world of conformism where they lap up whatever they are told. Education is not participatory and the students’ contribution to their own learning is minimal.
The festival opens up a fascinating world of books for children.
The CLF, which has had 45 sessions all over Pakistan in big cities and small, is now gradually emerging as a people’s movement offering an alternative narrative to what our education system presents. According to its founder. Baela Raza Jamil, over a million children have been reached in the seven years since its inception. Now schools in remote areas group together to hold such festivals, initially under guidance from Baela’s team. The idea has been taken up in some cities of India and Nepal from where interested people attended some CLF sessions in Pakistan and returned impressed.
The festival held at the Shahi Qila Lahore in partnership with the Walled City Lahore Authority had a different dimension which underlined the importance of such events for the children of this country. Thanks to WCLA’s restoration work at the walled city we have yet another piece of heritage to introduce to our children. The CLF wisely used this opportunity to connect the children with their past, their culture, natural beauty, music, art, et al. Not only would they have returned home on those two January days with serenity in their soul, they would have imbibed love, generosity and tolerance for a lifetime.
According to a widely cited poet, Dorothy Nolte, “Children learn what they live”. A day at the CLF was enough to instil in them all the positive qualities our education system fails to do in 10 years. This holds true especially if the exposure to such an experience is on a regular basis.
The key lesson the CLF offers to our education authorities is that the best form of learning is participatory and interactive. When a child is acting in a play or in a theatre, singing or reciting, experimenting with material related to STEM subjects as she did in Science Fuse and the pottery, sculpture, bookmaking workshops, she is learning many skills much faster than she would have in a classroom reading from a textbook. At the CLF children used all their faculties when they participated in a session.
Take Atif Badar, a passionate actor, director and drama teacher who describes himself as “a children’s person”. He held five interactive theatre workshops and story-singing and dance sessions with hand puppets which were the best learning experience the children could ever have had. Atif not only told his own stories, he also encouraged children to join in with theirs. His stories and puppets were lessons in the universality of love, peace and tolerance.
In a session ‘Socho aur Bolo’ (think and speak) children were invited to share their views and experiences on issues ranging from anxiety, anger and other topics taken from a narrative. Thus they learnt how to analyse and think critically.
With continuous research, the CLF should break new ground. It is important that the organisers do follow-up sessions with schools that have participated in a CLF to assess the impact it had on the students. Thus the CLF can be fine-tuned further. As it is, I found the 45th session that I attended in Lahore was markedly more participatory and interactive from the point of view of the young audience than the first session in 2011.
The Teachers’ Literature Festival was launched in 2013 when its need was felt but only three sessions have been held so far. It is now widely recognised that our education system would improve considerably if teachers were more motivated and committed. What could motivate them better than the CLF? Workshops, discussions, lectures, films and plays for teachers could do wonders.
THOSE who appreciate a good thriller will find Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” an excellent read, not as history but as fiction. Although the initial reaction to his 321 page book on the Trump White House showed an absence of scepticism about the veracity of the many assertions he has made about what went on in the inner councils of the 45th President of the US, over the weeks, inconsistencies in the narrative are becoming clearer. Among the items hinted by Wolff (and later elaborated in an MSNBC interview) was that Trump was romantically involved with Nikki Haley, the personable US Ambassador to UN, and that both had travelled together several times on Air Force One, sometimes for long transcontinental flights.
This story was shown to be false once it came out that the only time Haley and Trump travelled together on the Chief Executive’s aircraft was on a flight from New York to Washington, a trip that would have been covered in less than an hour. Women have for long undergone the pain of being accused of using their charms to get promotions, and the Wolff titbit was presumably planted by someone in the Trump team who was unhappy at news reports suggesting that Nikki Haley may soon replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Wolff has shown himself to be an easy mark for those wishing to load him with false information in the certainly that he would write as though the falsehoods told to him were true. That the book is a work of fiction becomes clear from the first few pages, where the author goes to considerable lengths to convince the reader that Donald Trump not only did not believe he would defeat Hillary Clinton, but that he actually did not want to be President of the US.
Interestingly, channels such as CNN were discussing the sort of news channel Trump would start, certain as they were that he would lose to their favourite, Hillary. As for Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, would they have exchanged jobs in the innermost circle of power within the world’s most powerful country for an extra dash of celebrity? The first chapter of the book itself makes clear to those not blinded in their reasoning by hatred of Trump that Wolff was penning a work of fiction. Any individual with even a smidgen of insight into the personality of Donald Trump knew that the man hated to lose, and abhorred being second best. He played to win, and played only to win. But not if you believe the anonymous sources quoted by Michael Wolff, which were probably White House and other US Govt staff that had fancy titles but little responsibility, and who were inventing stories to convince Wolff that they were more important than they actually were. It must be assumed that Wolff is a journalist of integrity.
However, every scribe is only as good as her or his sources, and it would appear that his anonymous sources were pushing the Washington Beltway narrative of a US President who was out of his depth and even out of control while holding the most consequential job in the world. Someday the book will be made into a movie despite its erroneous statements, for the reason that Trump’s brand of politics creates foes who will believe the worst about him no matter how improbable such reports may be. Interestingly, around the same time as the book, a film has been released about the Pentagon Papers dealing with the Vietnam war, and the role of the Washington Post and the New York Times in publishing this trove of secret documents to fury from the Nixon White House.
The Watergate-era US President is shown as a petty individual who barred reporters from the Washington Post from coming to the White House after the newspaper disobeyed requests by government agencies to desist from releasing information that had been marked secret. The owner of the Washington Post is shown to be a courageous and idealistic publisher, who gave the “go ahead” to Editor Benjamin C Bradlee despite the risk that publication may lead to the closure of the newspaper as a consequence of hostile actions instigated by President Nixon and his combative team of Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Kissinger. The US Supreme Court made history (and in the correct way) by decreeing that newspapers “serve the governed and not the governors”, and hence that the Post and the Times could publish the secret history of the Vietnam War. Since then, the US has been through several leaks of sensitive records, such as by the WikiLeaks expose of US diplomatic files (in which this columnist also figures) and the Titanic-size revelation of secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA) by Edward Snowden.
None of this has adversely affected the interests of the US, thereby proving that secrecy in the name of security is a fetish of governments related to their own desire not to allow errors to come to public attention. It may be recalled that even the “liberal” President Obama went ballistic at both Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. For years Assange has had to imprison himself in the Colombian embassy in London, while Snowden is in Moscow and faces a long jail term should he ever return to the US. It is clear that all those who reach the top of government undergo a mental transformation in which they believe themselves to represent the nation, so that anybody not obeying them becomes condemned as “anti-national”. That the US is still a free society is why Michael Wolff can not only write a salacious and mendacious book about the President of his country, but thrive in the proceeds and publicity of his effort. In few other countries would he have such a luxury.