Tacitus in Karachi

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid writes in Pakistan Today that it’s stupid to blame the Taliban while defending the ideology behind the Taliban.

Let’s stop carving out quasi religions, or defending ideologies that we’ve all grown up blindly following as the truth. Let’s call a spade a spade instead and realize that at the end of the day as much as you might have a cardiac arrest admitting it, the root cause of religious extremism is: religion – especially in its raw crude form, which again is the only ‘authentic’ form.

Every single religion has a violent streak. Every single one of them orders violence and killing in one form or the other for the ‘non-believers’. One can quote verses from every holy scripture depicting loathe and despise for anyone who doesn’t believe in the said scripture and its propagator. Sure, those scriptures would have the occasional fit of peace as well, but that only springs into the open when it is recognized as the only supreme authority. Every religion is a ‘religion of peace’ as long as it formulates the status quo; there is no concept of ideological symbiosis in any religion. When a tyrannical regime or dictator calls for peace with the condition that they would reign supreme we label them as oppressors, but when this is done in the name of religion we tout it as maneuvers of ‘harmony’.

Tacitus. It always makes me think of Tacitus. Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant – where they make a wilderness, and call it peace.

The Taliban have defended the attack on Malala Yousafzai through scriptures and historic precedents. You can clamor all you want about how there is a lack of understanding on the part of the Taliban, but how on earth can you refute clear messages of violence and historical evidence – scribed by historians of your faith – depicting brutality on the part of some of the most illustrious people in the history of the religion? It is easy to launch vitriol against the Taliban for attacking a 14-year-old girl, but it is also equally hypocritical and pathetic when you eulogize people from your history who did the same in the past, who massacred masses, destroyed lands, pulverized places of worship, raped women, just because they ostensibly did it in the name of your religion. Don’t blame the Taliban for following their lead, don’t blame the Taliban for using violence as a means to cement religious superiority – something that has been done for centuries – don’t blame the Taliban for the fact that you don’t have the guts to call a spade a spade even though it has been spanking your backside for centuries now.

Yes. Watch your back, Mr Shahid.


  1. says

    I don’t disagree with the content of Shahid’s piece. Not at all. I slightly disagree upon the form of his presentation. Shahid goes on to say:

    It is easy to launch vitriol against the Taliban for attacking a 14-year-old girl, but it is also equally hypocritical and pathetic when you eulogize people from your history who did the same in the past, who massacred masses, destroyed lands, pulverized places of worship, raped women, just because they ostensibly did it in the name of your religion.

    To my mind, the main reason it is easy to launch vitriol against the Taliban is because they perpetrated a really despicable and heinous crime, justly deserving of all the scorn and indignation and outrage being heaped upon them by everyone – including the moderate religionists.

    It is important to criticize the role of the religion behind, as Shahid has done, but it is also important to emphasize not only the moderates’ apparent hypocrisy, but also the danger inherent in engaging in the No True Scotsman fallacy, as the moderate religionists often do. It is important to point out that the main problem with the moderates’ stance is that no one knows for sure which version of the religion – the moderates’ or Taliban’s – is the correct one, and that their scriptures are certainly inadequate in addressing this key issue.

  2. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    ‘it is … hypocritical and pathetic when you eulogize people from your history who did the same in the past, who massacred masses, destroyed lands, pulverized places of worship, raped women, just because they ostensibly did it in the name of your religion.’

    Nothing ostensible about it, unfortunately. Religion and similar ways of thinking allow people with a taste for evil to think they are doing good and make people who want to do good things do bad things.

  3. A Hermit says

    Wow…the comments following that article are fascinating; they sound like the exchanges between secularists and fundamentalists in America…

    Gives me hope.

  4. emily isalwaysright says

    “…don’t blame the Taliban for the fact that you don’t have the guts to call a spade a spade even though it has been spanking your backside for centuries now.”


  5. says

    Gives me hope.

    The article itself looks, like some of the best of writing on this, like the sun bursting forth from behind cloud. Seeing people, evidently Pakistani, saying what they are, here, too, it’s beyond heartening.

    There were always secularists, everywhere, even in the scariest of the theocracies, and the places where theocratic militants regularly kill people. They’ve been frightened, on and off, intimidated by the brutality of their surroundings, but they’re there.

    I could easily do thousands of words on this. I’ll try to behave. But that’s one thing I want to shine that little bit more of light on, here: they’re there. And beside them, there are any number of people who still generally do think they want a government based on Islam–to the point they think about it all–but whose minds can still open. They can be reasoned with. They can be talked to. It will be difficult. It will take time. No one who doesn’t already lean that way is just going to say, the first time you broach the subject, ‘oh, good point, secularism is the way, then’. You’ll need to keep at it.

    But minds do change. And things really do get solved this way. Talking. It’s sad it takes a bullet in the skull of a little girl to give people the courage or the determination, but they still can be.

  6. says

    Gives me hope.

    I’ve had a hunch that Pakistan is a bit of a “mixed bag.” I have a former coworker who is from Islamabad and is an atheist. She’s not outspoken, but it is my understanding that her family at least knows she is. And her attitude about it? No big deal. I got the impression her relationship with her family can be much like relationships here — parents aren’t exactly pleased, but they’re not even going to go so far as to disown her. The assumption I’ve made is that there must be parts in that big city where people are reasonable. After all, it always seems to be the more rural areas from which the horror stories emerge (though that could well be confirmation bias).

  7. Sastra says

    Today I was in a coffee house and got involved in a discussion. We were lamenting over what had been done to Malala. What was the solution here? Everybody but me agreed that one of the most useful ways to fix the problem was for different religious groups and organizations (Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Bah Hai, pagans, etc.) to get together and affirm that all religion is based on compassion and love. Thus, this act could not be considered truly “religious.” Firm up the value and importance of faith — and draw the focus onto living the love of God together.

    I disagreed. Years ago, when hanging out in IRC chatrooms, I got a chance to chat several times with ‘fundamentalist’ Muslims — Muslims who thought that the attack on the World Trade Center was completely justified on many fronts, including that of religion. They explained to me that Islam was a religion of compassion and love: that is why the martyrs had to do what they did. Allah is compassion and love — and won’t suffer the evil to thrive. True compassion, true love, knows how to discipline the devil.

    So it doesn’t work. ALL religions lay claim to the same virtues. Nothing is resolved by just repeating these glittering generalities. “Compassion and love” as interpreted from INSIDE a religion can look like anything. Since all the other participants in this conversation agreed upfront that every religion ought to be allowed its own world view, its own interpretation, and its own facts, they really couldn’t respond to this by doing anything other than looking uncomfortable and shrugging.

  8. says

    Indeed. That’s similar to the point that Irshad Manji makes about the much-touted line “to kill one man [or woman? I don’t know] is to kill the whole world.” The trouble is, that’s not the line. It omits the clause “except to punish villainy in the land.” Well that neatly justifies any killing at all. Just say “villainy in the land” and Bob’s your uncle.

  9. karanmakhija says

    @ Ophelia Benson

    Agreed. So what do you do when there is REAL villainy in the land. Do you let it go because to kill one man is to kill the whole world? What do we do with the man who wants to kill the whole world. Wouldn’t letting him go scot free amount to killing the whole world? Philosophy is fine, but how do you draw the line on the ground? I’m sure you obviously did not mean this, but I’d like to extend the argument.

  10. Sheesh says

    What do we do with the man who wants to kill the whole world. Wouldn’t letting him go scot free amount to killing the whole world?

    Wait, what? If you don’t want to talk about philosophy then you are asking: “how do you implement humane law enforcement and justice systems?”

    That’s not an unstudied problem. Google it.

  11. karanmakhija says

    @ Ophelia Benson and @ Sheesh

    I surely do want to talk about the philosophy behind this, but I really want to know people’s ideas on these philosophies are to be implemented.

    Its not as simple as
    “how do you implement humane law enforcement and justice systems?”

    Its about how to agree on whats ‘humane’ as well as what is ‘law enforcement’. These can only be implemented when they have been agreed upon by human beings. In older times we would be able to decide the boundaries of our societies , and therefore count the people involved, arrive at as near a consensus as possible, draw a line, and thus implement.

    Now we are borderless and have fewer boundary markers and discuss global, all encompassing ‘values’ beyond context of geography and culture…

    How does one arrive at consensus? What I’m asking is, in a situation of opposing value systems, which are justified (however badly) by the ‘other’, how do you arrive at consensus without force?

  12. karanmakhija says

    @ Ophelia Benson

    I’m saying I totally agree with you. I see your point. One can justify anything by this logic.

    What you’re saying works at the philosophical level, and you identified the practical problem with it.

    Any society is based on justice. Justice, for that society, is AGREEMENT of how they will behave (in all possible situations) and AGREEMENT of what will be done to those who deviate from this behaviour. The motive being the ‘common good’, the definition of which in turn is also an AGREEMENT, and its interpretation may change or remain the same over time and context. Every change also has to be AGREED upon. Sometimes it takes a few people to go out of the way and behave in a manner thought to be deviant to the AGREED UPON behaviour in a given situation to highlight that they have been left out of the ‘common good’. They want to highlight that what’s happening to them is bad. Some call them revolutionaries, others call them terrorists. I am in no way justifying what happened to Malala Yousafzai. My personal belief is that the people who did that should be executed in public so that an example could be made of them. However, where do we draw the line? Please read on.

    So, are they freedom fighters or terrorists? Are they deviant people or those who bring in the future. This has to be debated upon (hopefully peacefully) and AGREED UPON if there has to be some solution.

    Now refer to #12.

    So far so good.

    Now, what do you do when some people decide that they know what is the ‘common good’ for all people and will use force to try and achieve AGREEMENT by force? Simple, you fight them back with force. Still ok, though debatable perhaps.

    Still further, these people (now read as ‘violent, fundamentalist Islam’ exemplified by the Taliban) want to use force to impose their will on people and use the handle that their God, who is also identified as the very same God for about a quarter of the world’s population, commands all his followers to live by Sharia and further His cause by violent means. This causes emotional distress to all these 1.5 billion people. The Taliban draw their ranks from them as well. All this causes complicated forms of socio-economic upheaval and precipitates a so-called clash of civilizations. And they go on to say that this God has told them that this is the right way and that those who disagree must be put to death. Period.

    My question, therefore, is… Where do you draw the line on what should or should not be tolerated in this world anymore? Even though every disagreement is a case by case situation, whose principles of right and wrong are going to apply? And who is going to apply them?

    The first point I started with was that there has to be AGREEMENT in society. If full AGREEMENT, or even an executable AGREEMENT has to be achieved, that society, within which this AGREEMENT is to be executed, has to be ‘finite’. Otherwise, how do you know you’ve achieved AGREEMENT? I do not mean finite only in number, they also need to be defined in terms of who they are so that all their behaviour becomes accountable under that law. If you identify yourself as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, you’re subject to their current interpretation of the Sharia while you live there. But a Saudi Arabian Muslim in England, may act in ways not permitted by the Sharia, and nothing happens to him, because the English don’t follow Sharia.

    ‘Muslim’, ‘Christian’, ‘Saudi Arabia’, ‘England’, ‘Sharia’, all these words carry ‘limitations’. Some of us in this conversation are outside the ‘limits’ that the writer of the article (Kunwar Khuldune Shahid) that spawned this debate operates in.

    The Taliban want to operate within the limits of their specific interpretation of the Sharia. They have to have a geography within which they can do that, else they cannot build such a society. Therefore the conflict, and the point blank range attempted murder of a 14 year old school going girl.

    So when you say
    Well that neatly justifies any killing at all. Just say “villainy in the land” and Bob’s your uncle.

    … its all fine, and nobody (in their right minds, i presume) will disagree with your point, but what do you do in case of conflict? You have to have some form of law, i.e. AGREEMENT, based on which you will either stop this behaviour from occurring, or be able to punish this ‘deviant’ behaviour.

    But what behaviour? These people are NOT IN AGREEMENT with you. They also say that they will NEVER BE IN AGREEMENT with you. Now what?

    Scenario 1 – you decide that your world is not the same as theirs. The only way to do that is to seal your geography away from theirs. Operate in mutually exclusive universes. Is that practical or possible?

    Scenario 2 – If scenario 1 is not possible (and it definitely isn’t), then you have to ENGAGE IN A PROCESS OF AGREEMENT, at least on the issues on which your worlds commingle. For that to happen both sides have to lay down weapons. Is that practical or possible? Yes it is, but it is very unlikely, and therefore Scenario 3.

    Scenario 3 – and this is one of the points that the writer of that article has made. The Taliban interpret Islam as urging violent means to take over the world and turn it into an Islamic state. They claim to be IN AGREEMENT with their God on this. If you don’t believe what they believe then HOW CAN YOU BE IN AGREEMENT with them over these vital issues? Scenario three ends in violent confrontation, which is what some people out there are doing on your behalf with the Taliban (Of course I know its not that simplistic, and the guys who are fighting on ‘your’ side, have their own flaws and you probably have major DISAGREEMENT with them as well, but for the sake of this argument, please indulge me). Now Scenario 4.

    Scenario 4 – Let’s say that you try to avoid violence from your side. So, they use guns (because they have divine mandate!) while you use peaceful means of negotiations, now matter how many of you are killed in the process. Practical? Possible?

    Therefore my question… where do you draw the line?
    If you justify the use of extreme force against the Taliban today, have you implicitly justified the use of extreme force to crush any dissidents against the people who drive AGREEMENT in the world today? Will that justification be misused to ‘go after’ other deviants after the Taliban are finished?

    What about Scenario 5?

    Scenario 5 – The people from whom the Taliban draw their ranks strengthen themselves and punish the Taliban on a case by case basis, eventually rooting them out. This is also a point made by the writer of that article, when he urges a Renaissance in Pakistani society, or in the Muslim World in general. This implies that while they go out to punish the Taliban, they reform their AGREEMENTS within the group and bring in the change, i.e. as outlined in my earlier points on justice. This process can also be promoted by the rest of the world by appealing to the 99% sane Muslims who, like the rest of the world, want peace and fun in their lives (and do not want to learn how to make bomb, except harmless little smokey things in chemistry class). The governments of the world, and most importantly the media of the world, need to address them directly on this and offer support in every possible way to get them out of this quagmire, and get us out of this stupid ‘clash of civilizations’. The obstacles to this solution have been identified clearly by that writer again. i.e. He says that Muslims need to figure out whether Islam is an inherently violent ideology. If yes, reform it, if not, reclaim it from the killers. This requires serious guts and intelligence on the part of a billion people, given the socio-economic complexities of the Islam=c world and the fact that several extremely powerful people and institutions, both inside and outside the Islamic world want this conflict to go on.

    While a billion people find the courage displayed by the writer of that article, we can’t just sit around and soak up the violence – which may even escalate as the reform is initiated. So what do we do?

    The Taliban invoke Islam as their bulwark. Their struggle is spilling out into the world in a violent manner. The world can also only retaliate with force, since there is no basis for their POSITIVE AGREEMENT. While you’re right when you say that any killing can be justified in the name of maintaining order, this logic doesn’t help law enforcement agencies on the ground. You can’t sit around philosophizing when trains are being bombed and oppressed people are becoming terrorists, or spilling out into the rest of the world as refugees, ruining all the hard work that other peaceful people have put in for their stable economic lives, and several other issues like that.

    The guy in law enforcement has been sent to stop this. Should he or should not shoot, dammit? He has been given a gun and sent down there so that your trains are not bombed, because the train bombing guys don’t wanna talk!(Perhaps they feel that AGREEING TO TALK would mean blaspheming against the orders of the religion, or betraying their God’s plan?)

    Well, we could say there’s no need to send in outside troops, we don’t want any part of the violence, and that this is the internal matter of Pakistan and Afghanistan. But what happens if the Taliban wins and gains control of these countries? Aren’t you then going to have a victorious monster on your hands which is able to ‘legitimately’ exploit the humans (210 million people in these two countries) and minerals (vast reserves of various important commodities) of two large countries? Are we to wait for that to happen before we act? So should the guy on the ground shoot or not?

    Help me understand where we can draw the line? Whose morality do we go by? So many stakeholders – Individuals in the war zone being the weakest of all and getting the worst of it too. Goverments, religions, commercial interests, human rights etc etc.

    What is the grand plan that the world has to bring these conflicting parties into AGREEMENT?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *