Pakistan, Islam and the West: Get mad, says Irfan Husain, but at the atrocities at home first

Published: March 27, 2012
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Irfan Husain has long been a newspaper columnist. He is seen here signing a copy of his new book Fatal Faultlines (HarperCollins). PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

Irfan Husain has long been a newspaper columnist. He is seen here signing a copy of his new book Fatal Faultlines (HarperCollins). PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

Irfan Husain has long been a newspaper columnist. He is seen here signing a copy of his new book Fatal Faultlines (HarperCollins). PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS
Irfan Husain has long been a newspaper columnist. He is seen here signing a copy of his new book Fatal Faultlines (HarperCollins). PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

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.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Well Wisher
    Mar 27, 2012 - 3:53PM

    I love Irfan Hussain writings! One sensible writer who believes in truth not lies like others.

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  • zalim singh
    Mar 27, 2012 - 4:19PM

    brave man.

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  • Mar 27, 2012 - 4:33PM

    Who is responsible for the bad Image of Islam, Muslims or the West?
    http://707monty.blogspot.com/2011/10/who-is-responsible-for-bad-image-of.html

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  • SH
    Mar 27, 2012 - 4:44PM

    Poor story…

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  • Uza Syed
    Mar 27, 2012 - 5:08PM

    Irfan Husain is a great and courageous public intellectual here; he belongs to that very small number of people that Pakistan needs by hundreds and thousands to correct the prevalent skewed thinking. However, as long as people like Irfan Husain are still around, we can have hopes that their courage and wisdom might provoke more people into such public service of educating the misinformed and the ignorant here among us.

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  • Abdul majid
    Mar 27, 2012 - 5:33PM

    Irfan is havig a realistic approach towards resolving issues of Muslim verses USA foreign policy.

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  • Maliha Khan
    Mar 27, 2012 - 5:40PM

    Thank you Imran Hussain! We must look in the mirror before we begin pointing fingers.

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  • Feroz
    Mar 27, 2012 - 6:58PM

    Irfan Hussain is a fine writer and I hope his book presents some solutions for the problems plaguing the country. Lets wish him luck.

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  • OG
    Mar 27, 2012 - 9:11PM

    finally i hear an educated person talking some sense! unlike those corrupt jahil who are in charge. I look forward to read Mr Hussain’s bookRecommend

  • Humanity
    Mar 27, 2012 - 9:12PM

    Here is something for the “Muslim Ummah” !! With all our “Alhamdolillah, Jazakallah, Mashallah, Subhanallah etc. it still doesn’t cut it !! This is the hard truth ! Watch !

    http://www.youtube.com/v/gSLWSizwZG8
    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Mar 27, 2012 - 11:34PM

    Irfan Hussain can be counted amongst the few good men left speaking for this country.

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  • Cynical
    Mar 28, 2012 - 12:37AM

    I follow his columns in Dawn newspaper.A great mind.Proud of you Irfan sahib.
    Best regards.

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  • Haroon Bux
    Mar 28, 2012 - 3:27AM

    Quote:
    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.”

    My Reply:
    What about the brutal oppression committed by the Governments of the Muslim lands??? talk about living in denial…

    =============================================

    Quote:
    “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.

    My Reply:
    This is why the “American publisher” found Mr Hussain a suitable person to work with because this is exactly what they wish to implement in Pakistan; “separation of religion from the state”.

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  • Mar 28, 2012 - 5:14AM

    The crux of the issue is that Pakistani politicians pay little or no taxes and loot from the national treasury to enrich themselves and their friends in a system of widespread political patronage. It is this venality of the political elite that makes Pakistan dependent on foreign aid with all of its strings attached. Pakistanis who elect such leaders have themselves to blame for the current mess they find themselves in.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/05/pakistans-tax-evasion-fosters-foreign.html

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  • Uza Syed
    Mar 29, 2012 - 4:05PM

    @Haroon Bux: You might be pleased to know that “separation of religion from the state”. is not what just Irfan Husain or the “American publisher” find “suitable” and wish to “implement” here in Pakistan——this is the only option that guarantees our survival. Failing this, be prepared to start cutting eachother’s throat in figuring out whose religion, whose version of Islam, is good enough to run our state.

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  • h w
    Mar 29, 2012 - 4:49PM

    Why is there no terrorism i.e. bloodshed, death and destructions in Vietnam today as we see happening in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
    The terrorists who came to Vietnam to cause bloodshed, death and destructions are not in Vietnam anymore.
    Those terrorists can be seen active today in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So much for the Islamic terrorism.

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