KARACHI: In a post-9/11 world a question about Muslims that is often asked by Americans or people in the west is, “Why do they hate us?”
The answer to this question, and whether it is hate or something deeper and more nuanced, is what Irfan Husain seeks out in his book Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.
Ultra-nationalists and conspiracy theorists may not like what the veteran columnist and ex-civil servant has to say. “We need to be more objective and critical of our own people,” said Husain and took a jab at politicians and the public who blame Pakistan’s problems on foreign forces. “It’s much easier to be in a state of denial than to accept reality.”
The author spoke with Zohra Yusuf, who is the chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at the launch of his book at the Beach Luxury Hotel on Monday. The event was well attended by writers, intellectuals and journalists.
Yusuf pointed out that Husain has been writing for decades, sometimes under pseudonyms to avoid persecution, especially during General Zia’s rule. She said many people had wondered when Husain would finally publish.
Husain said he always found the idea of an unlimited blank canvas, as opposed to the restrictions of newspaper columns, to be daunting but he always had a book in the back of his mind.
“I have always been procrastinating and throwing book ideas around in my head but an American publisher who had been reading my columns contacted me with this idea because they thought I was the right person to do it.”
Husain said that while America’s foreign policy has resulted in considerable damage in the Muslim world and triggers rage and protests throughout Pakistan, there is not enough rage or protest against brutalities meted out by fellow Muslims and terrorists who do so in the name of Islam.
“There is not enough repulsion against these attacks by Muslims on other Muslims,” said Husain, adding that, “We should not try and make a moral equivalent. There is fault on the US side but we should focus on what is happening here.”
The book attempts to explain, as Husain put it, critical questions that many Americans don’t ask of their own government and its foreign policy, and tries to explain how that creates hatred in Muslims in Pakistan and around the world. Husain said that Pakistanis rightly question America’s foreign policy but that they should apply the same criticism to their own state.
While Husain’s book deals with a subject that many Pakistanis may already be familiar with, the conversation at the launch took a more local turn as he spoke about secularism in the Pakistani state.
“The word secularism has been wrongly translated into Urdu, giving it a meaning which says ‘lacking religion’. It doesn’t mean that. You can be religious and be secular at the same time,” he said. He is a staunch secularist but also feels that the future of secularism is quite bleak. He added that until the media and politicians try and clear up the misperception that secularism is not associated with atheism, nothing will change.
The war in Afghanistan, according to Husain, will not end well. There will be a huge fallout from the American withdrawal from the region. He imagines a civil war will ensue, taking Afghanistan back to square one, from before the Americans pushed out the Taliban, and the Taliban will again vie for power. Pakistan needs to alter its strategy in Afghanistan to reflect a more equal relationship instead of trying to push for a government there that bows to the army in Pakistan. Husain doesn’t accept that the thesis of a “Clash of Civilisations” as proposed by Samuel S. Huntington because people on both sides of the divide are much more diverse and there is no single monolith on either side.
Expecting that he would be writing a bleaker ending to the book, Husain said he was pleasantly surprised as the “Arab Spring” got underway and that gave him hope for Muslim countries in the years to come. Responding to a question on why more people don’t speak out about atrocities committed at home out of fear, Husain warned, “If we allow fear to dictate our reactions, we will never change anything.”