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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Different strokes

Published on:-25 Apr 2008

We are all prisoners of our fossilised perceptions and often make mistakes in recognising a friend or foe. I have found that most of us do not understand; leave aside appreciate the great love and affection for Indians in general found among most Pakistanis and Chinese. We fail to distinguish between what their governments are doing and what ordinary folk feel about us. I think it's more important for us to build on the great affinity and sincere love that exists in the hearts of the people.

A film - Khuda Kay Liye (For God's sake) - I saw this week and my meeting with two noble souls from that land has made me think there is a stream in Pakistan that has to be appreciated and engaged. The changing colours of Pakistan need not go in waste.

While the truth is that if there was no US and Western pressure on Jihadis turning heat on Muslim in general there may not have been a Pakistani film like Khuda Kay Liye, the film is a commendable effort on part of a Pakistani Muslim which I feel an Indian Muslim film director or actor would find it difficult and inconvenient to show.

The film condemns and rejects the Talibani variety of Islam being propagated by terrorists and depicts Islam as a good, reasonable Muslim sees it, one who has been subjected to worldwide humiliation just for being a Muslim, post 9/11. Now, these re-awakened Muslims are trying to portray Islam in the language, idiom and style that the western audience understands and appreciates. And this is definitely not an Arabic Wahabi Islam, so much in vogue in our region, but an Americanised version of it, ostensibly to safeguard a space in the civil society. Hence their Islam is peace loving, egalitarian, allows music, and human rights and individual freedom too. Amen. I would love it any day and would not hesitate even for a single moment to welcome this trend with my head bowed before such practitioners of faith who can bring people, segregated by the fundamentalists, together. The movie has stirred up all kinds of responses. Having seen it and also being one of its first reviewers, I must say it's an elitist Pakistani response to America. That's it. If this is not followed up by forming a collective resistance to the Islamic terror, all this would remain a mere cheap ticket to enter western comforts of democracy and equal rights while denying these very elements in the Muslim majority countries to non-Muslims.

India, the worst sufferer of Pakistan sponsored Islamic Jihad - much more than what the US suffered - is simply absent from the radar of the Muslim mind shown under stress and in a reflective mood in the movie. Not only that, the film shows a person of Indian origin, a Sikh, drunk and responsible for the peace loving, just-married Pakistani Muslim's arrest. The latter is tortured so badly in the Guantanamo mode that he turns anti-America (That's what you want to hear? He says this has happened because he was severely tortured and his genuine declaration of love for America was not trusted).It also shows why Muslims hate America (really?); the reasons cited are the same that everybody knows - torture of Muslims from Iraq to Chechnya etc.

In spite of this, why should Indians welcome the movie? Because it opens a path of reconciliation and mutual trust based on the frank admission by Muslims that there are some elements in their midst who are practising an Islam which they do not approve of. What more is needed? But it also gives a message that the pains and travails of only the strong are recognised and soothed and not of those who are weak, undecided and compromising. How many Pakistanis would even like to recall Gandhi's great contribution and act of friendship - at the cost of his own image and the interests of his own motherland - in fasting unto death to force India's new rulers - Nehru and Patel - to give a whopping Rs 52 crore to Pakistan in the very first year of Partition? Have you ever heard any Pakistani leader or an academician praising Gandhi for that singular act of brotherly affection?

The film Khuda Kay Liye portrays a post 9/11 American attitude of suspecting every Muslim, but it also shows the good and the nobler side of Americans. Ostensibly the mention of jihadi barbarism on Kashmiri Hindus forcing them to flee from their homes in the valley or the killings of more than 60,000 Indians at the hands of Pakistan-supported jihadis will have to wait to appeal to a sensitive Pakistani's new-found Islamic reasonableness. The point is that even though it has become fashionable to show an ordinary Muslim condemning and disapproving 9/11 a hundred times it is still difficult to hope that "genuinely Islamic peace-loving" Pakistanis today would also want to portray the brutalities and inhuman assaults of the same Talibani elements on Hindus and declare that all that was and is un-Islamic? Till India shows its strength and an uncompromising attitude to deal harshly with terror trainers and their product, none from the Islamic bloc will be willing to look at our wounds sympathetically.

Even the Deobandi declarations and other Muslim conventions on terrorism remain vague to address the Hindu pains and end their generalised condemnation of terrorism with a rider that in a way "justifies" Muslim "angst" at American "injustices". Even if they show the clarity and transparency of remorse and condemn the Talibani mentality, terming it in no uncertain terms as acts against the very grain of true Islam, a bridge between Hindus and Muslims can be built. For this to happen quickly, such Muslims will have to be taken to see the ruins of the Kashi Vishwanath temple and the mosque built over its remnants in a way that even the blind can feel the unspeakable humiliation heaped on Hindus in the form of an Islamic structure. Would some Indian Muslim stand up and say, taking a cue from Pakistani Muslims who stood against 9/11, that this un-Islamic act doesn't have the approval of the true teachings of the Prophet?

One more commendable aspect of the Khuda Kay Liye shows in Delhi has been its almost universal approval by the Urdu press, which reflects to some extent the Muslim mind in India. In my own experience an ordinary Indian, be it a Hindu or Muslim, is more interested in living his life happily and as patriotically as is possible. It is the handful of religious leaders and poisonous organisations like SIMI (now banned) that foment hate with the help of secular fundamentalists who would never like to see Hindu-Muslim harmony. During the Ayodhya movement, the most vehement opposition to this harmony came from the Macaulayist and Marxist brand of Hindus who created and encouraged Muslim opportunists to defend the indefensible position of protecting the most un-Islamic structures built on Hindu temples and also gave birth to new divisions by offering reservations and loan schemes to Muslims on religious parameters. But the fast-growing nationalist Muslim organization, the Rashtravadi Muslim Manch, is taking the lead when it comes to restoring harmony through various innovative schemes like collecting a million signatures from Muslims for banning cow slaughter, distancing itself from Muslim invaders who were separate from our traditions and common mother land They also oppose slaughtering cows during Eid and Hussain's nudes of Hindu goddesses. Small honest steps make a big impact in removing fossilised suspicions and distrust.

Last week, I met a Pakistani journalist from Multan who takes a small idol of a Hindu god for a temple in his home town each time he visits India, the land of his maternal uncles. Multan is an ancient Hindu religious place celebrating the memories of Prahlad and Holika - and until fairly recently, a grand temple dedicated to their memory stood tall there. This was the place where Holika had sat on fire taking the devoted soul Prahlad in her lap, but the fire didn't touch the boy, giving rise to the festival of Holi. The temple was demolished with bulldozers after the Babri incident on December 6, 1992 and now a renewed effort to rebuild it is on. Khalid was asking if Indian Hindus would come forward to help. Another Pakistani whom I salute with heartfelt thanks is Ansar Burney, the famous genuinely devoted human rights activist, who helped release Kashmir Singh and is doing his best for Sarabjit Singh too. Burney discussed with respect the nobler aspects of Hindu dharma and surprised me with his deep knowledge about it, followed by an hour-long educative session on Islam. I was delighted to hear all that he had to say.

I have always had touching and genuinely affectionate experiences of love and amity in Pakistan among the ordinary people. Mullahs are different but why always talk imprisoned in their framework? To spoil is always the easiest thing to do and to build takes enormous amount of sincerity and time. Then, where do we go from this stand? The middle way of mutual trust and understanding is the right and the way of life. Isolate the Taliban element and build on your own strength to make an atmosphere of congeniality. Never pardon an unrepentant wicked but remember that a good faithful Muslim who realises the fallacy of the terrorist version of his faith and agrees to share the war against it alone can be a true friend of a Hindu.

(The author was the first South Asian editor to have entered a joint effort of inviting essays suggesting peace between two warring countries in collaboration with Pakistan's largest selling Urdu daily Jung)

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