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Art of Ignorance

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By Amir Suhail Wani

There were times when people travelled for months together just to learn a single fact, a single sentence, a single poem or a single verse. Those journeys were much arduous than our imaginations can reveal. They were pilgrims to the temple of understanding. Each step they moved in the path of learning amounted to ascent to the divine. These men of learning and seekers of wisdom weren’t specific to a particular religion, but were found in all the cultures in all parts of the world. Thus we have Plato, Socrates and others from Greek tradition, Confucius, Chuang Tzu and others from Chinese civilization and Rumi, Ghazali and others from Islamic traditions just to name few representatives from each tradition.

With unforeseen advancements in science and the invasion of technology in all dimensions of life, the topography of human civilization has changed in a manner that our minds can’t comprehend. It is said that the developments of last three centuries have outpaced and outnumbered the sum total of all human achievements made during past thousands of years. While as last two, out of these three centuries revolved around inventions of electrical and mechanical nature, but the last century, due to the birth of Quantum mechanics, has been the century of electronics, communication, computers and related gadgets. With the arrival of these innovations in our lives, the human effort has been considerably reduced. World has been reduced to a palm and all the information one needs is almost a click away. A single click unfolds a universe of knowledge and one is often confused not by the scarcity of information, rather by its excess. The reign of scholarship is dwindling, for Internet has often given us an impression that each of us is scholar in the making. To revile this easy access to knowledge will sound trivial and primitive, but one can’t deny the fact that we have been bombarded with the information, data, statistics and facts we are unable to manage. It’s not just piling knowledge that is of interest, but the management of acquired knowledge shall be of equal importance to all of us. What all this simply amounts to is that we have picked up the habit of quoting facts that we don’t properly understand in the first place. This random and superficial quoting owes its origin to the information explosion that has occurred in the shape of digital knowledge banks like Google, Wikipedia and others. Earlier, scholar used to be initiated into a specific discipline and before they could read that subject they were taught a yearlong course on the principles or Asool of that subject. These principles guided them to quote things in proper context and avoid misquotations. Thus while quoting verses from the Quran due care was paid to their cause of revelation (shaani nazool). While quoting other religious texts a due procedure was in place to check any misappropriations. But these find can’t be expected from the students who have mistakenly adopted Google and other e sources as the supreme fountains of knowledge.

 

This readymade and baked information has not only done a considerable damage to our religious understanding but we have inadvertently started picking up even the scientific facts in an inappropriate manner. While quoting scientific facts we again tend to override the broad spectrum of issues associated to a specific theory or law and simply quote its defining statement. Thus emerges a spectrum of scholars who, in the bid of defeating their rivals quote facts out of broader context of which they possess little or no understanding. The reason why such an approach is dangerous is that for the sake of our ignorance we turn enemies of each other. While defending our ignorance we often mend the facts or quote them in a manner that’s not approved by the specialists of that field. Uninitiated people are often seen debating scholarly issues on social networking sites and in doing so they often quote fiction in the guise of facts. The people around are often deeply moved by these quotations and without any further investigation on their part they tend to take these statements as authentic and pass it on to others. What all this leads to is an unending spiral of ignorance and with ignorance comes hatred, rivalry and sometimes violence. Men aren’t rivals or enemies unto one another, but a misunderstanding of each other in terms of the ideologies that define us often leads us into personal clashes. This approach, besides other things leads to the loss of sanctity of knowledge. When the knowledge that we acquire as our saviour is used as a sword against others, it kills the very essence of learning. At this point it is important to mention that he who is one the path of learning shall be flexible enough so that one may bring necessary changes to his /her ideology as and when demanded by new revelations of understanding. Most of the times problems arise that we are so irrationally attached to an irrational ideology that despite the opening of new horizons of mind we refuse to change our stand, lest we crumble under the burden of our stubbornness. Alvin Tofler, a futurist said that the illiterates of twenty first century will be those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn. This forewarns us that in our pilgrimage to learning we shall be ready not only to learn but to unlearn and relearn as well.

All standard texts of Islam start with the chapters concerning knowledge, its importance, its purpose and its categories. Al Ghazali has dedicated a full length chapter to knowledge, its categories and its relevance and importance in his magnum opus ihya ul Uloom. The masterwork on Islamic mysticism kashaful mehjoob by Ali Hujweri too starts on the same note. Numerous verses of Quran and numerous authentic traditions of Prophet (PBUH) place high emphasis on acquisition of knowledge. But in all these sources, a difference has been made between the useful knowledge (ilm un naf’e) and the useless knowledge (ilm un zaar) and Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said “O Lord, I seek refuge from useless knowledge”. These incentives and guidelines form a basis of inspiration as well as models of learning for us. The acquisition of knowledge shall be deemed as a sacred journey and shall be perused in the same spirit. Any knowledge or arbitrary set of facts that are acquired to beat people and win over debates is not a wisdom but a set of redundant terms.

Perversion of learned is the perversion of worst order. Prophet of Islam forewarned us of this perversion not once or twice but on a dozen of occasions. A portion of the hadith from “Mishkat Ul Masabih” reports that the Prophet said “Surely the worst of evils is the evil of the learned and surely the best of good is the good of the learned”. Scholarship, when it sets on wrong path doesn’t only endanger the future of an individual or a community, but puts the future of entire globe into jeopardy. The role of scholars in setting narratives correct is paramount. The option before us is not of scholarship or ignorance, but it is one of positive scholarship and a negative scholarship. The word positive shall be understood as an approach that leaves open the possibilities of future and further discoveries. As against this negative scholarship sees itself as termination of research thereby leaving no scope for further revelations that are still lying asleep in the womb of possible future.

It is always a healthy element to engage in a debate, but while doing so one has to constantly question his own understanding of one’s own ideology and the ideology of other person/s. An improper or half-baked understanding in this age which is already fraught with intolerance not only generates an atmosphere of discord but legalises the state of intellectual savagery and that’s what we are reeling from.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: amirkas2016@gmail.com)


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Opinion

War or peace?

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By Dr Akmal Hussain

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi on Sunday, April 7, in a press briefing in Multan, announced that the government had “reliable” information that India was planning another attack on Pakistan. He revealed that during a meeting of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security, the three service chiefs had indicated that they were ready with plans of multiple strikes against Pakistan across a wide front and were awaiting a “political nod”, which was duly given by PM Modi during the meeting.
After the political boomerang of the failed Balakot strike, simple statistical theory would suggest to the military mind that the larger the number of strikes next time the higher the probability of at least one succeeding. The chances of partial success would increase if the air attack is across a wide front: the defending air force would have to spread itself thin and so the number of intercepting aircraft that could be fielded against any one group of attackers would be reduced.
Such a military adventure by India would not simply be a repeat strike after Balakot. It would be a precipitous escalation, fraught with the risk of full-scale conventional war that could quickly lead to a catastrophic nuclear exchange. When India suffered a setback in the Balakot engagement, they reportedly readied themselves for a missile strike against three Pakistani cities on the night of February 27.
There is no technology in existence that can determine whether or not incoming missiles have a nuclear payload. So Pakistan’s declaration that they would launch triple the number of missiles in retaliation, as soon as Indian missiles left their launch pads, carried the grim possibility of a nuclear war in the Subcontinent. If we had come so close to Armageddon soon after even a single abortive strike, imagine how much greater would be the risk of escalation to the nuclear level during a full-scale conventional war.
At present, and in the foreseeable future, two aspects of the structure of the India-Pakistan relationship create a hair trigger that can quickly and repeatedly bring the two countries to flashpoint. First, a popular freedom movement in Kashmir that, despite their protracted coercion, Indian security forces have been unable to suppress. It has instead produced a pantheon of martyrs and a new generation of militant youths willing to sacrifice themselves for freedom. Under these circumstances the internal dynamics of the Kashmiri movement can generate acts of violent rebellion against Indian troops at any time.
Second, on the other side of the border for many years non-state groups of militant extremists who have off and on received patronage continue to exist. The toxic mix of these two elements creates an environment in which spectacular acts of violence by Kashmiri youth could be blamed on “Pakistan-based terrorists” by India. This could intensify tensions, precipitating another military conflict. The past cannot be taken as a guide to say how it will end, whether in peace or nuclear war.
Given the firepower of modern conventional weaponry, significant loss of territory can occur during the initial onslaught that could escalate to the use of battlefield nuclear weapons. Once nuclear weapons are used on enemy troops, all-out nuclear war would follow. The recent history of India-Pakistan military conflict however has shown that even before a full-scale conventional war, a limited, localised battle can bring the two sides to the nuclear precipice.
For example, during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington to ask the then US president Clinton to help end the conflict, he was shown satellite pictures of nuclear weapons being loaded onto F16s as evidence for a shocked PM of how close the two countries were to a nuclear war. Then again during the first two days of the February 2019 conflict involving limited Air Force engagements, nuclear missiles were reportedly readied on the night of February 27 for use by both sides.
So far these confrontations have induced timely intercession by the international community and peoples of the Subcontinent have survived by the skin of their teeth. But what a future confrontation will bring, whether we live or die in a nuclear war is inherently uncertain. Its probability cannot be estimated.
Some take comfort in the fact that seven confrontations in the past did not result in full-scale war as international pressure to defuse tensions worked. However, this 100 percent success in preventing war in the past cannot be used as a basis for saying it will not occur the next time around. This is because in society as much as in the relationship between states the averages of the past do not necessarily hold into the future. This is unlike natural phenomena where averages of the past as expressed in natural laws do hold into the future.
For example, take the law of gravity: if you had dropped an object and it fell to the ground yesterday, there is a high probability that it would fall again if you dropped it tomorrow. But in society, probability estimates which are essentially based on projecting the past into the future are not possible in principle. The pattern of social phenomena and human behaviour observed in the past can in the future be shattered by unique events or a combination of unique events.
As the preceding discussion argues, even a limited conventional conflict following a terrorist incident can quickly escalate to the nuclear threshold. It is vital, therefore, for the two countries supported by the world community to address the explosive structure of a situation that leads to repeated military confrontation.
Millions of citizens in both countries are mired in poverty, illiteracy and disease. Thousands of children are dying at birth every day; of those who survive birth, thousands die before they are five years old. Of the children who live beyond five years, millions are suffering from malnutrition, their bodies stunted, their brains dulled. Millions of children roam the streets and alleys, deprived of quality education, abandoned by society and state and living without hope. Instead of halting this massacre of innocents together, the two states are marching in lockstep to a nuclear catastrophe.
It is time for the leaderships of both India and Pakistan to reflect on the irrationality and inhumanity of using proxy wars or ‘surgical strikes’ as a means of achieving national security. The power of a nation lies not in following the course of mutual annihilation but pursuing the path of peace for the welfare of its citizens. The leaderships of the two countries should dip their cupped hands into their shared civilisational well-springs. Imbibe the sense of compassion and human solidarity to care for our children rather than killing them.

 
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Rubbing salt on the wounds:

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Aleem Faizee

Another assault on the people of Malegaon – this is how a shopkeeper in Malegaon reacted to the news of the BJP fielding Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from Bhopal against Congress’ Digvijaya Singh in this Lok Sabha election.
It’s like rubbing salt on our wounds, another Malegaon resident said.
For the people in Malegaon, the announcement of Pragya Thakur’s candidature has brought back the ghastly memories of 29 September 2008, when the city was rocked by a bomb blast. Thakur is facing trial in the case.
On the night of the blast, it was about 9.40 pm and people were about to finish Salaat-ut-Taraweeh – special night prayers offered during the month of Ramadan – when they heard a loud sound of explosion. At first, they thought it could be a cylinder blast accident. But it soon emerged that it was a bomb blast.
The blast spot was just metres away from the Ladies Fashion Market at Anjuman Chowk where a huge crowd of women and children were busy shopping for Eid al Fitr. There was chaos near Bhikku Chowk – the site of the blast. People carried the bleeding victims, more than a hundred, to hospitals using whatever means they could find.
The blast claimed six lives. One of them was 5-year-old Farheen Shaikh who was out to buy some snacks and was on her way back home to have Ramadan dinner with her grandmother.
Among the injured was Abdullah Jamaluddin Ansari of Shakeel Transport. The 75-year-old man, during initial investigation, had said he had noticed the LML Freedom motorcycle, which was later traced to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and led to her arrest, parked in front of his office since afternoon that day. He had also informed the police chowki, a stone’s throw away from the blast site, but claimed that no action was taken.
Javed Ansari, owner of a photocopier shop, was also injured in the Malegaon blast. It took him over three years to recover and resume work.
But for these blast victims, life has never been the same since that September night.
While Javed Ansari and the family of Farheen Shaikh left the locality after the blast, Shakeel Transport’s Abdullah Ansari died last year. Following the blast, Ansari often looked at the wall clock in his shop, which had stopped working at 9.37 pm – the time of the blast – and waited for justice.
One doesn’t know how he would have reacted to the news of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and contesting the Lok Sabha election.
By fielding Sadhvi Pragya, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants people to believe that she and other accused arrested in various blast cases were ‘framed in fabricated cases’ and that ‘saffron terror’ is a myth.
But while doing so the, BJP has undermined the fact that Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur still remains a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. As per court papers, the first evidence that led to her arrest was the LML Freedom motorcycle that was registered in her name and was used to plant the bomb. There are also some audio tapes and visuals too. Based on these evidences, the Bombay trial court judge had observed that there was enough ground to establish Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur’s role in the blast.
Ironically, while nominating Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the party candidate, the BJP did not think about the kind of message this would send to all the world leaders with whom Narendra Modi has often taken up the issue of terrorism.
The people of Malegaon, who had been hearing about the pressure on some officers and public prosecutor Rohini Salian ‘to go soft’ in the case, have almost lost all hope of getting justice. Wife of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare – the officer who initially investigated the case – had turned down then-Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s monetary compensation after 26/11 attacks.
Therefore, the BJP’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in this election is neither shocking nor surprising for most people in Malegaon. But it is painful, especially for the blast victims and their families.

 
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Majboot Sarkars Overrated?

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By Amir

Prior to the 1990s, coalition governments in Indian politics were considered to be an aberration and not particularly desirable. The lack of coalitions in India was clearly tied to the one-party preponderance of the Congress. So, when the party sensed defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha election, it tried to remind voters of how shambolic the 1977 Janata government had been.
The VP Singh-led National Front government formed in 1989 was perhaps the strangest political entity that people had witnessed in Indian politics. Propped up by the Left parties on one side, and the right-wing BJP that provided support with its 86 seats on the other – the government proved to be short lived.
The grand old party then supported the Chandrashekhar Singh government for four months, after which it decided to withdraw support and elections in 1991 brought back a Congress-led coalition government in the country. With that, the era of coalition politics was well and truly upon us.
Coalition governments were the new normal in Indian politics and would continue to be so until 2014, when the Narendra Modi-led government became the first in three decades since 1984, to win a clear majority.
In 1996, there was a short-lived Vajpayee-led BJP government for 13 days, followed by the rather soporific one led by HD Deve Gowda that lasted until 1997. After that, IK Gujral led the United Front coalition government that lasted from April 1997 to March 1998.
By then, the political scenario of the country was beginning to look a bit like a game of musical chairs. However, things stabilised with Atal Bihari Vajpayee returning in 1998, hanging on for a year and then getting re-elected in 1999 to finally last a whole term.
After that, with a full decade of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance leading the way, Indian politics developed a version of the two party system, rather, a two coalition system. Numerous political parties have coalesced around BJP and the Congress in the form of the National Democratic Alliance and the United Progressive Alliance, respectively.
Congress governments in coalition have brought about some of the most momentous and far-reaching changes. It was the Narasimha Rao-led government that introduced the economic reforms, which for better or worse, changed the country tremendously.
One simple indicator of the worth of coalitions is the fact that many thought that the UPA-I government was too hobbled by the presence of the Left, as it was a hindrance to the economic reforms associated with Congress governments since 1991.
The withdrawal of Left support, followed by the more emphatic victory that led to UPA-II in 2009, was supposed to bring in a more decisive and unfettered government. Yet, it is the UPA-I government that is remembered for the succession of rights-based legislation it introduced, while UPA II has come to be associated with crony capitalism.
Similarly, the NDA-I government of Vajpayee, with all of its coalition pulls and pressures ensured two things. First, the core and often contentious BJP issues, which are Article 370, Babri Masjid and Uniform Civil Code, were relegated to the back-burner.
Second, the Vajpayee-led BJP government could well and truly be said to have a fringe and a centre, with the fringe remaining where any fringe should belong.
However, the ruling BJP government of the day has once again brought the core contentious issues to the forefront. It has also ensured that the fringe encompasses the party uniformly, leaving no hint of nuance or differentiation.
What this suggests is that weaker coalitions may actually perform better. More importantly, coalitions are able to more naturally weave in the vital regional parties that act as breakwaters in the path of potentially elective despotism.
Are majority governments over-rated?
What have supposedly strong and stable majority governments been able to do? Have they taken decisive measures or brought about ‘big-ticket economic reforms’, untroubled by the petty pulls of coalition partners?
Take the 1984 Rajiv Gandhi government with its mammoth majority of above 400 hundred seats. In less than two years, it started playing communally divisive politics around the Babri Masjid and Shah Bano issues.
The Congress thought it was being cleverly even handed by dealing out both majority and minority communal cards. The drift in the Rajiv Gandhi government could be sensed right in the middle of its term when it lost badly in the Haryana assembly elections of 1987. It lost the hugely symbolic Allahabad by-election in 1988 to V.P. Singh, and the rest we are prone to saying, is history.
The question then is this: Could the supposed strength and stability provided by majority governments be overrated? What has the Modi government achieved on the back of its huge mandate? Has it squandered that majority much like the Rajiv Gandhi led government of 1984-89? Can Modi return to power? This has been a bit of a see-saw question.
When Modi’s government came to power with a huge landslide, or ‘tsunami’ if you will, conventional wisdom was that he was here to stay for at least two terms. The UP assembly elections in 2017 seemed to confirm this. After that, it has been more of a will he/won’t he guessing game. The jury is well and truly out on this one.

 
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