Tag Archives: nostalgia

The toxin of nostalgia hinders progress and fuels extremism

By Hussein Ibish

Beware nostalgia. It’s unavoidable. It’s bad enough when we sit back and think of the “happy days of childhood” and sigh, oblivious to the fact that they were, at the time, experienced as nothing of the kind. But in the political context, deep nostalgia should set off the loudest alarm bells: in almost all cases, something is going badly wrong or a gigantic con is under way.

The toxin of nostalgia is at the heart of much of the worst political rot in the contemporary Middle East, and, indeed, much of the rest of the world.

As the historian Joseph Ellis explained in the Los Angeles Times, the right wing American Tea Party movement is positively 18th century in its mindset and instinctively dislikes and distrusts the Constitution as too centralising a political structure.

They would, he convincingly argues, prefer a return to the catastrophic Articles of Confederation of the 1780s.

Meanwhile, some Germans are presently experiencing “Ostalgie” – a portmanteau neologism that means nostalgia for communist East Germany, including the infamous Stasi secret police.

Even the worst of times can be reimagined, particularly in the context of present day alienation, as recuperable and, potentially, the loss of a “golden age” or a “time of innocence”.

Certainly many Americans who disparage the 1960s and their cultural impact conveniently forget the racism and sexism of the pre-civil rights era.

So there’s nothing unique about the poisonous nostalgia that is informing a great deal of the worst politics in the Middle East. But in any situation in which everything is in flux, insidious influences such as nostalgia and constructed histories can become particularly powerful and therefore damaging.

The entire Islamist movement is built on various forms of nostalgia and constructed, manufactured histories. The one thing that all Islamists have in common is a rejection of the overwhelming bulk of Islamic religious and political philosophy and traditions in favour of a “return” to some supposedly “pure” form of the faith as practised by the earliest generations of Muslims. There is a tendency to chronologically privilege the periods closest to Revelation as less prone to corruption by misinterpretation or non-Islamic cultural norms.

Islamists of all stripes reject the heterogeneous and pluralistic traditions of most mainstream historical Islam in favour of an assertion of a return to a “pure” past or the re-creation of some sort of fictional seventh century “golden age.”

Nostalgia has also poisoned key aspects of the Arab uprisings. When post-dictatorship Egypt finally went to the polls, voters proved significantly uninterested in individual personalities who might have offered new political approaches, such as former Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, former foreign minister Amr Mousa or former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Instead Egyptians turned to the warm but false familiarity of political nostalgia. They mainly voted for the two most well-established institutions of the country: the heirs of the regime set up by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the long-standing and equally familiar opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. Neither has changed much since the 1950s.

It’s hard to avoid speculating that Egyptians felt a certain comfort in seeing their primary choices in terms of large, recognisable and established groups – neither of which showed any sign of innovation – rather than individuals who might have had some new ideas or approaches.

In other words, the Egyptian election was basically a gigantic exercise in misguided nostalgia that set the stage for the disastrous failed presidency of Mohammed Morsi and the current uneasy period of transition.

Many societies can’t exist without telling themselves elaborate and preposterous lies about their founding, because the truth is always too ugly to be collectively inspiring or induce patriotism. And societies imagine deep and organic roots for their contemporary political identities that are either largely or entirely fictional.

Read more: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/the-toxin-of-nostalgia-hinders-progress-and-fuels-extremism#ixzz2iMxVShHf

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Who says countries are permanent?

Ayaz AmirBy Ayaz Amir

Islamabad diary

We should know this more than others. The Pakistan of 1947 is not the Pakistan which exists today, one half of it having broken away to form another country. I served in Moscow in the seventies and nothing seemed more solid or permanent than the Soviet Union, a mighty power which cast a shadow far and wide. Who could have thought that in a few years’ time it would fracture, leaving a trail of small, independent republics behind?

Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall was two countries. Now it is back to being one. Czechoslovakia was one country then. Now it is two. In the UK, of all places, the Scots, or a goodly part of them, are demanding independence. A referendum is set to decide this question in 2014.

After the fall of the Soviet Union it seemed as if American pre-eminence was an assured thing, lasting for the next hundred years. Bright-eyed scholars announced not just the closing of an era but the end of history. As hubris goes, this had few equals. There were other Americans who said that reality would be what America wanted it to be. Yet American power has declined before our eyes, nothing more contributing to this than the wars President Bush ventured upon in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Clash of civilisations was another phrase current just ten years. Something of the sort has happened but not in a way that the US could have intended. Wouldn’t the Taliban, wouldn’t Al-Qaeda, define their struggle as a clash of civilisations?

Ten years ago in a Jamaat-ud-Dawaah mosque in Chakwal (not far from my house) I heard one of their leaders talking of America’s eventual but sure defeat in Afghanistan. I thought his rhetoric too fanciful then. It sounds much closer to home now.

I have just read a longish review of Norman Davies’ ‘Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations’. This book should be required reading for anyone concerned about the future of Pakistan. For the lesson it emphasises is that history does not promise progress. All it promises is change. Nothing is fixed, all is movement, nations rising and falling, the old disappearing to make way for the new, the new in turn becoming the old and morphing into something else – the philosophy of Heraclitus and Hegel, even of Marx.

Continue reading Who says countries are permanent?

The uniqueness of Sindh

– By Ayaz Amir

Just when the sector commanders had been put on the back-foot, and the MQM was vociferating in a manner not seen since 1995 (Gen Babar’s operation), who should come to their rescue but President Zardari’s personal emissary, Montecello University’s most celebrated doctoral figure, Dr Babar Awan.

He has brilliantly appeased the MQM by restoring Gen Musharraf’s  loaded [undemocratic, black, repressive & discriminatory] local government system – first just to Karachi and Hyderabad and then, when … Sindh rose up with one cry against this hasty move, to the whole of Sindh. The MQM can hardly believe its luck – perhaps it hadn’t counted on so swift a Zardari capitulation – but anger in … Sindh is on the rise.

Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s outbursts had angered the MQM but secured the PPP’s vote bank in rural Sindh. Dr Awan’s gymnastics have pleased the MQM but poured fuel over the burning embers of Sindhi anger. From one extreme the PPP has swung to the other.

The choice of Dr Awan as PPP plenipotentiary was bizarre. How was he qualified to negotiate on behalf of Sindhi interests? The PPP is now on the back-foot. All the certificates of cleverness earned by Zardari for his supposed political sharpness have gone with the wind.

Dr Awan has proved adept at stalling and frustrating the Supreme Court. From the PPP’s point of view, he should have confined himself to that doctrine of necessity instead of floundering in the waters of Sindh.

In an ideal world, the PML-N should have been quick to exploit this opening. Alas, if wishes could be horses. It showed itself eager, a bit too eager, to embrace the MQM when the latter fell out with Zardari. But this proved embarrassing when the MQM’s falling-out proved to be less than definitive. Small wonder, it has yet to get its thoughts in order on the anger on the rise in backwater Sindh.

All of us could do with some clarity on a crucial issue: while the logic of smaller provinces applies to Punjab, because it is too huge and unwieldy, it does not, and cannot, apply to Sindh. Babar Awan and the PPP came perilously close to the idea of Sindh division when they proposed one dispensation for Karachi and Hyderabad – the restoration of Musharraf’s  [undemocratic, black, repressive & discriminatory] local body system – and another for the rural, revival of the commissionerate system. Sindh rural instantly saw red and the PPP had to back down immediately, in the space of a mere 24 hours. But the alarm had been sounded and Sindhi concerns have yet to be addressed or placated.

Carving a southern or Seraiki province out of Punjab will not endanger Punjab identity. Indeed, it will facilitate the task of governance and give a sense of belonging to the people of southern Punjab who feel left out of the orbit of Punjab affairs. But anything even remotely connected to the notion of Sindh division is almost an invitation to dangerous conflict in this most sensitive of provinces.

We should not forget the history of 1947 migration. If we leave Bengal out of the equation, there were two great waves of migration in northern India at the time of Partition: one from East Punjab to West Punjab, and vice versa; the other from Delhi, Lucknow and Bhopal in the north, and Hyderabad Deccan in the south, to Karachi. These migrations were dissimilar in character.

While Punjab suffered the most in terms of looting, plunder, killings and mass rape, when the dust settled and passions had time to cool, the process of assimilation was relatively quick because East and West Punjabis, minor differences of course apart, came from the same cultural stock. With minor variations of dialect, they spoke the same language and shared the same history.

This was not so with the southern migration to Karachi and Hyderabad. Karachi was a cosmopolitan city even then – a mini-Bombay, so to speak – but it was the capital of Sindh, the culture and language of whose native inhabitants was radically different from that of the people who were coming to it from India.

Karachi soon became the centre not of Sindhi culture but of the culture of displaced Dehi, of Delhi as it had been before the tumult of Partition. Delhi today is a Punjabi city. Its old composite, Muslim-dominated culture, the culture from which arose the poetry of Mir and Ghalib, is a thing of the past, lost to the upheavals of time and history. No conqueror, not Taimur and not Nadir Shah, could destroy Delhi, or transform its character, as decisively as Partition did. Those who seek the old Delhi, authors like William Dalrymple, have to come to Karachi to catch a whiff of the past.

Pakistan would be the poorer without this infusion of Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad Deccan culture. True, there was a downside to it as well, …. brought with their culture also their own prejudices. Insecurity and fear were part of their migrational baggage and these were infused into the thinking of the new state. But in cultural terms the arid wastes of Pakistan were enriched by that influx of talent and learning.

Punjabis being Punjabis, no new centre of culture arose in Punjab. But in Karachi we saw the birth of a transplanted culture, its soul carrying the imprint of loss and nostalgia, the usual hallmarks of any migration.

The downside comes from this very circumstance. Sixty four years after Partition we continue to live in the past, beset by old insecurities even though the times have changed and the old certitudes which gave birth to those insecurities no longer survive.

Sindhis are entitled to be a bit upset by all these changes. After all, they too are the inheritors of a great civilisation. Moenjodaro is the oldest pre-historic site discovered anywhere in India. There are other mighty life-giving rivers in the sub-continent: the sacred Ganges, the winding Brahmaputra. But only the Indus, sacred river of Sindh, gives its name to India. Hindus migrating to India from Sindh in 1947 take great pride in their Sindh ancestry.

Sindhi anger, nay Sindhi anguish, is centred on a primal concern. Why must the transposing of cultures be at their expense? And there is a fear lurking in their hearts, the fear of the Red Indian and the aborigine, of becoming strangers in their own homeland. This is a concern which must not be scoffed at. The rest of us, and this includes the successors to the civilisation of Delhi, should avoid words or gestures that smack even remotely of designs against the unity and integrity of Sindh.

From the immortal land of the five rivers, now only three left with us, thanks to the vagaries of history, more provinces can be carved out and no harm will come to it [Punjab]. But let no Punjabi leader or politician say that if Punjab is to be divided the same logic should apply to other provinces. This is wrong thinking. The same logic does not apply to Sindh, it does not apply to Balochistan. It is relevant only to Punjab and Punjab will be doing itself and the nation a service if it takes the lead in this respect, illuminating the path that others can follow.

A word may also be in order about another fixation of the Punjabi mind: Kalabagh dam. If Kalabagh dam is right then there is nothing wrong with the dams India is building on the rivers Chenab and Jhelum. If we are objecting to run-of-the-mill dams in Kashmir, dams whose water is not stored but is allowed to run, how can we support a storage dam on the Indus at Kalabagh? The logic just does not hold.

History cannot be undone. We have to live by its consequences. But Sindh of all regions of Pakistan requires a balance and moderation in the conduct of its affairs. Any hint of an unnatural hegemony of one part over the other is an invitation to anger and despair.

Courtesy: → The News

Afzal Bangash: the Marxist maverick

By Dr Mohammad Taqi
“I count myself in nothing else so happy, As in a soul remembering my good friends” — Shakespeare in Richard II

Reminiscing about some of the stars of the secular galaxy of Pakistan and especially Pakhtunkhwa is needed not just due to a family association or personal, feel-good nostalgia. It is a must because the current generations – being fed a steady diet of Wahabiism – ought to get acquainted with the history of this land.
Where first the state-controlled, and now the state-indoctrinated media persons have systematically relegated both our saints and secularists to oblivion while projecting larger-than-life images of the obscurantist characters from Pakistan Studies and Islamic Studies textbooks, such recollections become an obligation. One such distinguished progressive was the leader of the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), Muhammad Afzal Bangash who died on this day (October 28) in 1986. ….
Read more : Daily Times