Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging from Pakistan: Hoodbhoy counterpunches Alam

If you are looking for a thorough dressing down of an academic, is a good example (tip Uwe Vagelpohl). The issue of how Pakistan should see American presence in Afghanistan is, justifiably, complex and divisive. A favorite strategy to dismiss arguments these days is to accuse the other side (those arguing for US presence) to be on the American payroll. This way one doesn't have to waste time actually engaging with any of the arguments. So a Northeastern economist, M. Shahid Alam, took some cheap shots at those who are arguing for the presence of US troops in Afghanistan: Native Orientalists at the Daily Times. Amongst those he lined up, included Pervez Hoodbhoy. Now Pervez has written a fitting and entertaining response to Alam, also in CounterPunch. For full disclosure, I'm firmly in Pervez's camp not only because I have tremendous respect for his work in physics, his science popularization, his anti-nuclear efforts and for his human rights work in Pakistan, but also because I happen to agree with his position on the current need for American troops to stabilize Afghanistan (a problem partly created by the US when they recklessly abandoned the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union). Not to spoil your pleasure, here is an uninterrupted full response: The Confessions of a Groveling Pakistani Native Orientalist
Hear ye, Counterpunch readers! The victory of Native Orientalists - the ones which the late Edward Said had warned us about - is nearly complete in Pakistan. It has been led by "the minions of Western embassies and Western-financed NGOs and includes the likes of "Ahmad Rashid, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Najam Sethi, Khaled Ahmad, Irfan Hussain, Husain Haqqani, and P.J.Mir". Thus declares Mohammad Shahid Alam, a professor of Pakistani origin who teaches at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachussetts. [Counterpunch, 2 Dec 2009]

I ought to be thrilled. Now that I am a certified foreign-funded agent/orientalist/NGO-operator who "manages US-Zionist interests", a nice fat cheque must surely be in the mail. Thirty six years of teaching and social activism at a public university in Pakistan - where salaries are less than spectacular - means that additions to one's bank balance are always welcome.

But what did I do to deserve this kindness? My sole interaction with the good professor was in mid-2008, when we shared the speaker's podium at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Sadly, it was not terribly pleasant.

But then these are not pleasant times. There is carnage in the streets. Blood flows down the gutters and body parts are strewn in bazaars and markets. Suicide bombers have also targeted mosques, funerals, and hospitals. The internet is filled with videos of Pakistan army soldiers being decapitated, pictures of separated heaps of limbs and heads of Shiites, and women writhing under the blows of heavy whips and chains.

The Taliban, mostly from the mountains of Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan, are not particularly shy to broadcast such achievements. For example, their decapitation movies - culminating in heads being stuck upon poles and paraded around town - are watched for free by kids. On 15 February 2009, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan announced a ban on all female education and, at last count, 362 schools have been blown up in Pakistan's tribal areas.

Curiously, these very people also happen to be the heroes of Professor Alam. This self-described "anti-imperialist" and "anti-Zionist" migrant to the heart of imperialism tends to become breathless in his celebration of the brave Taliban "resistance fighters". At the meeting I mentioned above, he received ecstatic approbation from a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Khurshid Ahmad, who chaired the meeting. This praise is also apparent in what the professor writes:

"Yet, in one corner of Pakistan, resistance comes from the sons and daughters of the mountains, yet uncontaminated by western civilisation, firm in their faith, clear in their conviction, proud of their heritage, and ready to fight for their dignity. They stood up against the Soviet marauders: and defeated them. Today, they are standing up again, now against the American marauders and their allies." [Pakistan's Mercenary Elites, by M. Shahid Alam]

Unless the professor is physically infirm, may I suggest that he head for the mountains of Waziristan to help the Pakistani Taliban movement? Or give a helping hand to Al-Qaida, an organization also known for its benevolence? To be sure, he may miss the free lunches the American taxpayer provides to him, but surely there must be satisfaction to be had in strapping a madrassa lad with explosives aimed at a Pakistani bazaar - especially one frequented by unveiled women and brides-to-be.

Politeness aside, I do take serious personal offence on just one matter in his outbursts against the opponents of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. This is when the good professor invokes the name and authority of Edward Said, author of "Orientalism", in condemning me and my colleagues in Pakistan.

Edward was my mentor and hero, the man who wrote a highly positive blurb displayed prominently on the backside of my book on Islam and science. He was also the closest friend of Eqbal Ahmad - my guru and dearest friend. With Eqbal, many were the pleasant evenings that we spent at Edward's apartment on Riverside Drive, New York. When Eqbal died, Edward and I were both lost in grief. When Edward died in 2003, I defended him against a poisonous article published the next day in the Wall Street Journal by a notorious Islamophobe, Ibn Warraq.

So cut it out, professor! Edward Said does not belong to the jihadists and their declared supporters - like you. He and Eqbal loathed their primitivism and utter ruthlessness, as well as their desecration of Islam. Please do not press him into your service.

On the contrary, Edward belongs to those of us on the Left who have worked for the Palestinians and their right to the lands on which they once lived, who keep fighting for justice and democracy in Pakistan, and who fervently opposed America's immoral invasion of Iraq in the streets of Islamabad and elsewhere. Edward was a supreme secular humanist who would have no truck with fanatics of any faith.

I do not know all the "native orientalists" and "brown sahibs" that the professor lists. Perhaps he secretly hopes that they shall receive appropriate attention from jihadist groups. But I do know some of these "traitors" - and they are among the finest people around. A couple, in their youth, had fought against the Pakistan Army in the mountains of Baluchistan. Others have stoutly defended religious minorities and worked to protect civil rights, democracy, and human values.

Professor Alam: be assured that once the expected cheque arrives, I shall be happy to send you a one-way ticket from Boston to Peshawar, from where you will easily find your way to Waziristan with help from your friends there. It shall be no less than business class, in appreciation of the services you render to your cause.

Pervez Hoodbhoy is chairman and professor at the department of physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.


bayl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

"...but also because I happen to agree with his position on the current need for American troops to stabilize Afghanistan."

Oh...OK! (Give me a break)
SO America is here to stabilize Afghanistan.
Good shot ya! :-)

Dr. Muhammad Akbar Hussain said...

So long as Hoodbhoy would keep on supporting war and bloodshed by USA, I have no respect for this man, regardless of any of his scientific achievements.
This man is a hypocrite, a warmonger, and utterly biased person. He is no different from a Jamaati Mullah who advocate terrorism by Taliban, and try to give reasons and explanations for it.
I apologize to be harsh but I could not be more precise.

Salman Hameed said...

"SO America is here to stabilize Afghanistan."

Well...yes, and this is in their own interest and ours. I did say that this is the least bad option. Many of today's problems were crated by the US and exacerbated when they recklessly abandoned Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union. And I agree with you that the argument for US troops in Afghanistan also has many problems and I have serious issues with the drone attacks in Pakistan. And yet, at this time, I believe that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would be worse for the long-term survival of Pakistan. We disagree - but that's okay. This is a complex issue and everyone has some good points.

PK said...

Hello Pervez Sir,
I came to know about you after reading your article "India through Pakistani Eyes" on internet .I searched all of your articles and read all of them in single day.
I must say that i was pleasantly shock after reading your article.This is hard to believe that people like you really exist in today's Pakistan.You are a man having very clear vision and thoughts and unlike other people you see things as they are instead of watching them through Islamic prison.
I wish you best luck for your efforts for democracy and spread of science in Pakistan.
Its sad that i wasnt able to meet you when you were in Pune.I hope you will get another chance to cross border in near future.


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