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The Meaning of Ghairatmand….

The Meaning of Honor

In a recent piece in the Express Tribune Dr. Hoodbhoy took aim at the concept of ghaira­tmand (honor) and in so doing ignited a firestorm of protest as evidenced by the appearance of at least two articles, and numerous comments, designed to rebut his thesis. In a nation where the notion of honor may be all that is left, the backlash cannot have been unexpected.  Regardless of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s true feelings, or intent, one can hardly deny that his article, at the very least, resulted in the concept of honor becoming a subject of public discussion, rather than being accepted as an unmitigated good.  Although I believe I understand why Dr. Hoodbhoy may have presented his thesis in a way designed to provide sharply contrasting choices, I also believe he missed the chance to address a related topic in a way that would have provided additional support to his thesis.

My original title for the article was to have been, “What good is honor without a set of corresponding values?”, and I mention it here because it encapsulates not only the theme of what I am about to present, but also what I see as the underlying issue which Dr. Hoodbhoy was attempting to address.  Obviously Dr. Hoodbhoy speaks for himself and I make no claim to having access to his inner thoughts, but I wished to make it clear that I see this article as one which supports, and builds, on the foundation provided by his original article.  In essence, what I took from his article is that honor, without reason, is not honorable at all.

If my assumption is correct than we must first address why a discussion regarding values must preceed the discussion regarding honor.  Values represent the destination, while honor can sometimes be the appropriate vehicle of transportation.  “Honor” in the service of inappropriate values simply dishonors the concept itself.  From the Western, if not universal, point of view, both Japan and Germany, countries referenced in the original article, were brought to the brink of disaster as a result of their almost pathological focus on honor to the exclusion of anything else.  When honor becomes the sole criteria for determining one’s behavior all else is bound to suffer.  Where I may differ from Dr. Hoodbhoy is in my belief that honor can be an ennobling concept, but only if one has first fully examined the values which honor is designed to protect.

It is at this point where I may be jumping into the murkiest of waters without the equipment necessary to determine what lays beneath the surface.  I make this proverbial leap of faith based primarily on the fact that I have seen others, such as Dr. Hoodbhoy, make it before me, and in the hope that others might follow as a result of seeing more people, such as myself, make the jump before them.  It is the only way.  The problem is, of course, that conversations in Pakistan which propose to examine values can be fraught with danger.  The choice thus becomes a question of whether one retreats and hopes for the best, or leads the way and hopes that enough likeminded people will speak up and, in doing so, create enough momentum to ensure that the movement eventually reaches some kind of critical mass.

In any event, when discussing the Pakistani concept of ghaira­tmand, it seems that perhaps the more fundamental questions related to such concepts as which values are being defended, should they be defended, and are they being defended in an appropriate way, are often simply ignored.  Essentially, in this context, the concept of ghaira­tmand seems to be defined as nothing more than the notion that any hint on the part of others suggesting that the individual concerned should reexamine his world view and, perhaps, make appropriate changes, is seen as the highest of insults.  I would suggest that it is this inability to separate who one is (one’s individual worth), from how one thinks.  From an Islamic perspective, this might be summed up in the oft repeated phrase, “Hate the sin, love the sinner”.  In other words, if we are to accept that honor is defined by one never changing, never considering any other view than one’s own, and never taking the consequences of one’s actions into consideration, than we can only assume that no one, at any time, can ever be expected to change in any way.  The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that Islam supports chaos and that eternal conflict is inevitable.  I choose to reject such intent on the part of Islam, and thus suggest that there is no dishonor in considering another’s point of view.  Honor in the defense of truth is admirable, honor used simply as a crutch to avoid responsibility for what may follow is not worthy of the term.

In conclusion I ask you to consider the following questions, as I cannot provide the answers.  Can stoning a girl to death for being raped really be justified as something that a just God would support?  Is bombing a mosque really more favored than refusing to give, or take, baksheesh?  Is cutting off the hand of a thief really going to do anything other than leave many Pakistanis short one appendage? All of us have the capability of changing ourselves, and in so doing, making the world a better place. What Pakistan needs, not that Pakistan is alone, is an open, honest, and peaceful discussion on values, after which honor, in its truest sense, will not be a problem.

Thank you.

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Thoughts On The NRO-Musharraf-Treason

I may be late to the party, but I do have some thoughts on the subject of the NRO and would like to share them.

My analysis should be taken as an outsider looking in, and I don’t suggest that there may not be more to the situation than meets the eye.  In any event, questions remains as to what President Musharraf’s intentions were and whether determining the NRO to be unconstitutional was in the best interests of Pakistan.

For the most part I am a supporter of the previous President, but I am in no way a blind supporter.  Taking that into account, let’s take a look at what could have been his reasoning at the time of the agreement.  I suggest his motives may have been pure which might also have some bearing on the somewhat disgusting way he is being treated at the present time.

Assume for the moment, that his actions which culminated in his becoming the President of Pakistan were taken for the purest of motives.  What is his legacy, at this point, and should he be allowed to participate in the political process?

There is no doubt that in seizing power he short circuited the political process and ignored the Constitution of Pakistan which was in place at the time.  Speaking from the perspective of an American citizen, it is true that similar activities on the part of a top American military officer would, in virtually any circumstance of which I am aware, be considered treasonous.  On the other hand, it’s not as if Americans have not experienced a loss of Constitutional Rights on certain occasions based on the leadership’s contention that such temporary actions were necessary to “save the country”.

Personally, I find the present situation somewhat ironic if viewed from a certain perspective.  The first thing to remember is that Pakistan is a very different place politically precisely because of Musharraf’s actions. Coups, rightly or wrongly, were not only accepted, but widely supported by large numbers of people from virtually every segment of the society at the time he seized power.  Even today, there are those who wonder about the necessity of some form of internal military action and the subject has been seriously debated not only privately, but in the Pakistani Media. I would thus suggest that, in his case, there is a legitimate argument to be made that his actions did, in fact, reflect the will of the people.

What Pakistan would have become without him is, or course, a question which can never be answered with any degree of certainty.  Certainly it would seem that he always had the interests of Pakistan, and the people of Pakistan, as his top priority in making the decisions he did.  Acknowledging that inner core of patriotism does not suggest that one must agree with every decision he made.  Baluchi’s, and others, may, for example, take issue with his response to the unrest in Baluchistan, but one cannot deny that his aim was to keep Pakistan from losing any more territory as had occurred in the early 70.s with East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

It is unfortunate that many of his more progressive domestic initiatives do seem to get lost due to the very real security issues that continue to face the country.  No one can suggest that he was successful in blunting the influence of the various religious leaders and factions within the country itself, and yet at the same time, he instituted a number of policies which seemingly were designed to do that very thing.  Apparently some felt that they were, considering the number of failed assassination attempts.  My belief is that he fell prey to the very same hubris of so many other Pakistanis, particularly politicians, who believe they can use them as proxies to meet certain policy objectives, while being able to control them when they are no longer of value.  Ironic, considering that it is a very similar type of accusation which is aimed at the Americans, at which time the negative consequences are much more acknowledged.

The point is that I could really make a case either way regarding Musharraf’s security legacy, both from a Pakistani, and an American, point of view.  I will say that I disagree that he was an American “lackey” and would again suggest that it was Pakistan’s, not America’s, interests which were at the heart of his decision making process.

We now come to the real point of the article.  I would suggest that, in large part, Pakistan owes the present political climate, which seems to include a much more solid commitment on the part of its citizens to its democratic institutions and the rule of law, such as it is, to the man who they are effectively barring from returning to the country by issuing a warrant for his arrest.  Here’s why, and I now return to the NRO to make my point.

Regardless of any of his other actions, Musharraf did eventually relinquish the reins of power in a relatively peaceful way.  Certainly he fell prey to the notion that his leadership was indispensable to Pakistan’s future success, but every leader necessarily feels that his way is the best way, and one must admit that he often spoke in favor of the principles of democracy and that the legitimacy of any government is determined by the level of support given to it by the governed.

In terms of the NRO, it would seem to me that for Musharraf not to have made the agreement would have left him open to charges of suppressing the will of the people by barring some of the more popular individuals from offering themselves as candidates.  This is certainly not just an assumption based on the past, but a reality based on the results of the election which was subsequently held.  In other words,   it is the very people that were covered under the NRO that ended up winning the election.  This would seem to vindicate the NRO agreement from a “fair choice” perspective, and argue against it as a good political strategy for Musharraf personally.  This would also suggest that Musharraf should be given the same opportunity to place his hat in the ring and allow the people of Pakistan to either support or reject his quest for higher office.  It seems to me that to do otherwise would now leave the present leadership open to the same charges of attempting to suppress the opposition.