What causes violence in South Asia? It's all about identity, says Dr Vali Nasr

Published: November 23, 2014
"This is about power; this is about

"This is about power; this is about hegemony," Vali Nasr. PHOTO: HABIB UNIVERSITY FACEBOOK

KARACHI: Dr Vali Nasr knows what causes violence in South Asia. “It’s about identity. It’s always about identity,” he says.

A leading academic on Middle East and the Islamic World, Dr Nasr spoke to The Express Tribune shortly before his talk on ‘The Growing Role of Sectarianism in Muslim Politics, Globally and in Pakistan’ at Habib University on Saturday.

Nasr has a strong connection with Pakistan, where he worked as part of his PhD research. “Coming to Pakistan is like a home coming,” he said. He is calm, yet candid, when he talks about the schism between Shias and Sunnis. “Sectarianism is the oldest conflict,” he said, adding that the desire of one community to exert power and dominance over another is in no way restricted to the Sunni-Shia conflict. “This is about power; this is about hegemony.”

Drawing a backdrop to understanding the present-day global politics, the rise of militancy, the difference between Islam and Islamism and the issues Pakistan is facing, Nasr explained to a packed auditorium the problems and the possible solutions. “Unfortunately, the dominant discourse in the Muslim world does not promote pluralism,” he said, talking about why religion becomes puritanical, and is seen as black and white with the belief that only one interpretation is correct.

Therein, according to Nasr, lies the root of sectarianism. “Modernity and reformation in the Muslim world today is much less tolerant than tradition was,” he said. “Those who talk of modernity today want to jump from tradition to liberal secularism. Where is the historical process for this?”

When asked a question about the rise of extremism in Pakistan, he said: “When the rich become disconnected with the poor, the poor turn to the clerics.”

In Nasr’s opinion, the strain between Pakistan and India is not just Kashmir. “Pakistan is still toying with various ideas of identity, whereas India has still not reconciled to the idea of Pakistan,” he said. He also spoke about Lahore and Karachi in the 1940s as places with pluralistic societies in this region. In his opinion, the solution to sectarianism in the region will have to be through strong will and determination at all levels of society.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Babloo
    Nov 23, 2014 - 7:32AM

    I read with interest. But as soon as I read he said “India has still not reconciled to the idea of Pakistan,”
    I stopped. The guy does not know what he is talking about.


  • BlackHat
    Nov 23, 2014 - 11:10AM

    Albanians, Bosnians, Iranians, Indonesians, Uighurs, Hui, Nigerians, Bangladeshis and many others are all Muslims. But they are aware they are not Arabs. Similarly, Filipinos, Koreans, Europeans, many Africans and South Americans may be Christian, but they know they are not a Semitic people. In Pakistan, on account of political necessity, there is an unpleasant divorce with their past, their ancestors and their history. Everybody claims foreign descent, be it Arab, Persian or Turkic. Yet the reality on the ground doesn’t tally with imagined identities. If everybody was Arab, then how come people still speak Indic languages, eat subcontinental food or wear clothes after regional fashion? Either way, if one claims middle-eastern origin or acknowledges conversion, it should be remembered that land that Pakistan comprises of belong to the present day minorities as well as those who were driven out. Imagine you are a member of a joint family. Your brother converts to a different religion and kicks you out of the house!


  • vinsin
    Nov 23, 2014 - 11:21AM

    Pakistani themselves don’t call themselves as homeland of subcontinent muslims and long refused to take indian muslims. If india has to recognize pakistan what India should tell to indian muslims. Biggest mystery is that india muslims fought, killed and voted for pakistan but didn’t move.


  • Babu
    Nov 23, 2014 - 3:26PM

    Don’t worry, Indians always are anathemic whenever Kashmir is brought up. And don’t worry babloo, your baboon brain won’t comprehend English anyways. Please ask a monkey to guide you.


  • Syed Naqvi
    Nov 23, 2014 - 3:41PM

    Dr. Nasr has a great idea of what he is talking about. There is anti-Pakistan sentiment within the Indians, even in the United States, Indian Americans are very critical of Pakistan. It was a pleasant surprise to see him visiting Pakistan. The country has great potential under the right leadership, just needs new political leadership, perhaps, Imran Khan.


  • Akbar Mohamadzai
    Nov 24, 2014 - 4:20AM

    The simple truth is that Punjabi muslims of Pakistan are ruining security in the whole region. For money available from Arabs these people guided by ISI will kill their own mothers and sisters what to talk of attacking Afghanistan or India. Pakistan is ruled by a crime syndicate and it is very sad that the West is too intimidated by Pakistan to do anything about this. The situation is heading for a major catharsis. Most probably Pakistan will break up amidst a lot of violence and chaos.


  • Sadaf
    Nov 24, 2014 - 3:10PM

    Or maybe the newspaper misinterpreted what he said!


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