Wednesday, April 18, 2007

People who are sitting in the US and watching the news about Pakistan (I don't know how many there are, but I'd guess the number has increased substantially in the past six years), must think we're completely crazy. Of course, people sitting in Pakistan, watching the news about the US (and there's a substantially larger percentage of those), also think we're crazy. I, of course, have the dubious privilege of being able to say 'we' when referring to the Pakistani people or the American people.

University violence in Pakistan is usually related to one of two things. Either some professor is getting roughed up for not giving in to a thug's demand that he get away with using unfair means, or it's inter-party political violence. The idea that someone would walk in to a university classroom and randomly start shooting is quite alien, even though we're used to gun-related violence, otherwise. Plus, of course, everyone is now breathing a sigh of relief that the shooter was not Pakistani, or Muslim.

For my part, I've never understood why it's so easy to forget the humanity of those involved in a tragedy like this, just because it happens to be a tragedy at some geographical and cultural distance.

On the side of the globe where I currently reside, we're dealing with crises of a larger magnitude in terms of political significance. We have a government that is probably fomenting anarchy, just to make itself seem more indispensable to its Western allies. With a Democratic Congress, our resident military dictator will be worried. What better than to make it look like the capital is under siege by religious fanatics who look like ninjas? Before you start dismissing this as a conspiracy theory, consider the fact that this seminary and mosque is walking distance from the Pakistani military's intelligence headquarters, and has been illegally constructed on government property.

In fact, the conflict technically started when the government said it wanted its land back. The seminary and mosque have been there for years; convenient time to decide to dismantle mosques in the capital.

If you don't follow the news in Pakistan, then you have no clue what I'm talking about. Briefly, since October, a bunch of burq-clad seminary students have occupied a children's library connected (physically, not institutionally) with the seminary. This was supposed to be in protest of the government's drive to dismantle mosques that have been erected by encroaching illegally on to other people's, or the government's, property.

Such construction is completely illegal, of course, from the perspective of secular as well as religious law. Tearing down mosques is completely unacceptable from a religious point of view, but only if they are 'legitimate' mosques. That the organization or individual building and/or running the mosque should have legal possession of the land on which it is built is a prerequisite to this legitimacy.

So what is actually happening is that a bunch of college-aged students are up in arms over an issue that they don't appear to understand fully. Sound familiar? My Oberlin days were full of situations like that. The difference being that Oberlin students don't tend to violence.

No comments: