| Review by Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed |
Visiting Professor, LUMS, Pakistan; Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, *(Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012), won the Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at the 2013 Karachi Literature Festival and the 2013 UBL-Jang Groups Best Non-Fiction Book Prize at Lahore. His latest book is, Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Daily Times, Tuesday, November 11, 2014
From Holy War to Global Peace
Author: Dr Khalid Sohail
Publisher: Multi Line Publications, 2014
Dr Khalid Sohail is a prominent opinion builder in the South Asian community of Canada. A psychiatrist by profession, he actively debates issues of peace and shared humanity. In his latest book he captures the ultimate irony of religious extremism and terrorism. He writes: “To kill human beings in the name of a merciful God is the ultimate contradiction human beings experience individually and collectively.” The question is: do they experience the ultimate contradiction individually and collectively as human beings? I have my doubts. I think the sentence needs to be worded differently, something like: “To kill human beings in the name of a merciful God is the ultimate contradiction human beings commit individually and collectively, but they are oblivious of such a contradiction.”
The author tells us he grew up hating India and wanting to join the Pakistan armed forces with a view to taking part in jihad or holy war. However, he is now a champion for peace. How did he transform from one to the other? He tells us that we all carry many identities and which one will prevail is always open to chance and choice. He attributes his opposition to war, killing in the name of religion and to all forms of extremism to the influence of progressive literature, especially the writings of Saadat Hasan Manto. He then read Buddha and Kabir Das or Bhagat Kabir as he is generally known. He discovered that spirituality needed to be distinguished from religiosity and in this connection quotes Kabir:
“O Brahman! I say only what I have seen with my eyes
And you keep quoting the scriptures
I speak to unravel the mystery
But you insist on keeping it tangled.”
I suppose if Sohail wanted to quote someone from the Muslim tradition he would find a lot in the poetry of Bulleh Shah and many others.
As a psychotherapist he informs us that people become suicide bombers because of a number of factors. The first is one’s identity, which then leads to identification with groups, creating webs of loyalty. Thus, if one’s identity is strongly Muslim one would identify with Muslim causes. The third element explaining the proclivity towards suicide bombing is anger against perceived exploiters. The fourth is disillusionment with those who rule and claim to represent the good but are hypocritical and manipulative. The fifth is personal tragedies and sixth is desperation, both of which drive people towards suicide bombing.
He then reviews in very short sketch form the psyche of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Syed Qutb, the radical Egyptian ideologue, and relates them to how Muslim societies have degenerated from relatively secular to fundamentalist positions. The impact of 9/11 on the Muslim psyche was that two fundamentalist leaders, George W Bush and Osama bin Laden gave birth to the cycle of violence that has engulfed the whole world and polarised the west and the Muslim east.
Another section of the book deals with guerilla warriors. The author wonders if they should be called freedom fighters or terrorists. Here he sketches the ideas and lives of Mao Zedong, Che Guervara, Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela. The underlying psychology informing guerilla warfare is to bleed the enemy and includes four stages: organisation, expansion, destruction and reconstruction. The last stage follows their victory (those who are defeated are not included). These sections are interesting shorthand sketches that the author has put together from their biographies and autobiographies. The classic case of whether a guerilla leader is a freedom fighter or a terrorist is of course Nelson Mandela, who was categorised as a terrorist by the west, including Amnesty International, but who went on to become the most celebrated freedom fighter in history when he abandoned violence and was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. With regards to the psychology of guerilla leaders, Sohail mentions that they develop political consciousness quite early, they identify with an oppressed group, they have charming and magnetic personalities, they join some political party and they resort to violence after peaceful means have failed. Finally, they are willing to fight it out over a long period of time.
The book also contains a section called “Peace makers”. Two persons are taken up: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a peace-loving Pathan or Sarhadi Gandhi as he was popularly known, and the former secretary general of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan. It is good that Abdul Ghaffar Khan has been selected because the Pathans (who are now known as Pashtuns or Pakhtuns and belong to the former North West Frontier Province, now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) are stereotyped as violent and wild men. Ghaffar Khan joined ranks with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in their protracted, peaceful struggle for the freedom of India. Despite the Pathans being a very conservative people in which women are conspicuous by their absence, Ghaffar Khan wanted to liberate women too. He once famously said, “O Pathan, when you demand your freedom, why do you deny it to women?” He was opposed to the partition of India. Successive Pakistani governments mistreated him.
Kofi Annan’s leadership is appreciated for having declared the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as illegal, something that ensured that he was not elected as secretary general again after his term ended. He was critical of both Hezbollah and Israel, and criticised the US and UK for their pro-Israel leanings.
In his final remarks, the author reviews the ideas of economic peace, social peace, human rights and political peace. Each has a role to play in the maintenance of global peace.
The reviewer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org