On Bishop Spong (and the almost total lack of similar spokespersons for Islam)
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"A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures." So wrote Daniel Webster (1782-1852).
Almost 18 centuries earlier, Jesus Christ had already gone a step further, saying "The road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions."
"The worst elections in Pakistan's history", cry the opposition, objecting to a transparently rigged process that has almost ousted them out from the seats of political power into which, they conveniently forget to mention, a similarly rigged process had placed them earlier. The shot-gun wedding between the MMA and the powers that be is over. The signing of divorce papers is now a mere formality, requiring the necessary signatures of gavaahs from among our masters abroad.
But the second marriage of the regime promises to be just as turbulent, although the return to power of the parties that wreaked havoc for years (specially in Karachi) may seem acceptable as a lesser evil. The future of Karachi - the city that still provides the government with more taxes than the entire remaining country - will be bleak, if its 'silent majority' does not speak up soon and alter the direction this metropolis — once known as The City of Lights — has been taking for years.
Sad as it may seem, many Karachiites are convinced that the downhill slide of their city not only does not matter to a large segment of Pakistan, it even provides unexpressed joy to some, for it portends growth elsewhere in the country. The MMA, ushered into power in the last elections through the obvious support of the armed forces, as well as by those who were casting not a pro-MMA vote but an anti-USA vote, had - very quickly - become too big for its boots. It had even garnered, during its last few months, significant genuine support in the wake of the Bush-Blair duo fulfilling Huntingdon's scenario: the idea of a Clash of Civilizations, put forward as much as a feeler as a blueprint for the Neo-Con ideology.
Attacking President Musharraf's policies (including the very few that seemed to be pointing in the right direction), and his person, was not likely to be tolerated for long. Unfortunately, the only real opposition to the MMA could have come from Nawaz and Benazir leading their parties - an option unacceptable to the Government. After all, Nawaz, if he were to take power again, was almost certain to 'try' the current government and the President, in yet another kangaroo-court, for snatching power from him (although more as an act of personal vengeance than in the defence of the constitution). It was also - not surprisingly - much easier for the present regime to 'buy' the loyalties of many of Nawaz's unprincipled party-members, and to embrace the few honest politicians in PML-N who had been, slowly but surely, distancing themseves from Nawaz because of his increasingly dictatorial egoism.
Supporting Benazir's party, it seemed to many, would have been a better choice for the General. After all, she had no personal axe to grind with him and could, very easily, be 'persuaded' by foreign leaders to let Musharraf off the hook, in keeping with a 50-odd year tradition of Pakistan: Ayub had let Iskander Mirza go, despite his continuing claim that Mirza had been corrupt and had robbed the country blind; Bhutto spared both Ayub & Yahya, while blaming them for the mess we were in, including the 1971 'disaster'; and even General Musharraf let Nawaz 'escape' the legal trials he should have faced, if the charges levied against him, of rampant corruption and large financial scams, were correct.
(The only time a deal was not struck was in the case of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who remained defiant until almost the very end. But he was, unfortunately, dealing with Zia-ul-Haq, possibly the most evil man to ever have been at the helm of our affairs and to whom many of our ills of today can be traced!).
President Musharraf's appeals for 'enlightened moderation' — a phrase that sounds suspiciously 'manufactured' by either a Madison Avenue 'spinner' or by Henry Kissinger — rings hollow to many, especially when coupled with his decision to install, as Minister for Religious Affairs, Ejaz-ul-Haq, son of the dictator Zia-ul-Haq, a keen supporter of right-wing ideas and torch-bearer of his father's diabolical agenda.
As the cliché goes, we have now been offered a choice between a rock and a hard place: We must either accept a comparatively honest MMA government that will force us, inch by inch, towards a fundamentalist and theocratic society - or choose to remain a semi-secular and progressive population under a dishonest team, one that extracts the price of the mirage of freedom it offers through rampant lawlessness and blatant corruption.
Whichever party we empower has to be kept in check by the very armed forces that acted as its midwives. And, of course, this would conveniently provide a 'popular' reason for the armed forces to remain in control. Sir Walter Scott hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive."
So, there you have it: A few steps in the wrong direction in a desert and you've lost the way forever. No twists, turns or short-cuts can lead you to the originally intended path. Mirages on the way may prove soothing for a while, but can only worsen your condition. And, pretty soon, you're far too exhausted to continue. As the poet, Iram Lakhnavi said: Bohat door manzil — magar har qadam par / Thakan ka taqaazah keh manzil yahee hae!
Oh ... and here's some advice for the MMA (a party that I am not the slightest bit sorry to see leave): The only recourse for you may lie in exploring Japanese medical websites that prescribe essential excercises to counter unacceptably poor "elections".
I have just returned from an evening of Sama'a, rendered amazingly well by Abdullah Niazi and Party. Although the group goes by this name, it is the presence of 85+ years old Manzoor Niazi Sahab (whose children and shaagirds make up the party) that makes it what it is.
This form of nomenclature seems to be a tradition in the family. Manzoor Niazi Sahab's illustrious and greatly admired cousin, Munshi Raziuddin Sahab, occupied a similar position - performing until his death, at 90+, couple of years ago - in a group named (after his eldest son) Fareed Ayaz Al-Hussaini and Party.
Incidentally, both the groups have received the Presidential Pride of Performance Awards this year, in recognition of their lifelong service to a genre they have kept alive in its most traditional form.
The evening provided excellent food for the ears and the soul - the quality of the listeners and the presence of Manzoor Niazi Sahab imposing a discipline upon the younger performers that kept them from veering into the commercially enforced style that other mahfils demand of them. Their melodious and soulful rendition of Naseemah Jaanibe Bat'ha was, as usual, exquisite and has always been considered their almost exclusive domain.
However, the real reason this evening was special was that it was the first one being held at the house of Haider Karrar since his sudden and early demise stunned many friends and colleagues over a year ago. The death of Haider - a great lover and patron of sufi sama'a and qavvaali, greatly respected and loved by the qavvaals, themselves - affected me intensely, despite my all too brief acquaintance with him. Surprisingly, given the limited number of encounters, Haider had found a place in my heart (and those of my wife and daughter) that seems almost inexplicable. A warm man, with a smile that showed him to be at peace with everything around him, he exuded a gentle quality that - at first glance - seemed strange for his large build. But it took only the briefest of moments for it to shine through.
In my 65 years, I can recall only one other person that elicited similar feelings from people at the first meeting. That man was the poet, Suroor Baarahbankvi. And, strangely, it was a couplet of his that had crossed my mind after my very first encounter with Haider, and one that repeated itself in my thoughts as we buried Haider in the shade of the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Clifton (where his spirit, many felt, would continue to enjoy an eternity of qavvaalis held every Thursday at the mazaar). I know no one who can be better summed up by the first line of Suroor Bhai's couplet: Jin se mil kar zindagi say ishq ho jaae, voh loag … Aap nay shaayad nah daykhay hoñ, magar aésay bhi haeñ!