Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Salman Ahmad, the founder of the Pakistani band Junoon, has written a piece for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” site calling for more to be done to defend Pakistani arts, music and culture against attacks by what he sees as an alien form of Islam being grafted onto Pakistan by the Taliban.
“In its 60-plus turbulent years as an independent country, Pakistan has been held together by its music, poetry, films, literature and sports. Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but culture — not religion — is the glue that binds people…” he writes. He calls the killing off of arts and culture by Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan — notably in the Swat valley where the government has just concluded a peace deal — as an ominous sign. ”It is the first step in the potential Talibanization of more of the country.”
He urges President Barack Obama to speak up for artists, poets and musicians in South Asia, and calls on India to lift restrictions on visas preventing Pakistanis from performing there. ”Nothing is more frightening to a terrorist than to see Indian and Pakistani artists collaborating in films and music and performing freely in each others’ countries,” he says.
This plea for the defence of culture and music is not just coming from inside Pakistan. In an article in Dawn, writer Ali Eteraz says the fragile state of Pakistan is leaving many in the Pakistani diaspora struggling for an identity. This, he writes, is forcing them to redefine themselves by their religion and enhancing the appeal of “romanticist readings of the past – the sort extremist religious teachers are more than happy to offer up”.
It's hard to write about the Taliban on a religion blog without giving the impression that this militant movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is basically religious. It's certainly Islamist, i.e. it uses Islam for political ends. But it's hard to find much religion in what they're doing, while there's a lot of power politics, Pashtun nationalism and insurrection against the Kabul and Islamabad governments there. (Photo: Pakistani pro-Taliban militants in Swat Valley, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)
It's often difficult to separate religion and politics in groups like this, but President Barack Obama gave a basic rule of thumb in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week:
Haroon Bacha, a Pashtun singer, has fled his home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar after a year of phone calls, text messages and even personal visits warning him to stop playing, the New York Times reported this week.
Bacha, who has left his wife and children and an extended family behind, has found a safe haven in New York where he is playing at benefit concerts and even weddings, the newspaper said. (more…)
Junoon, or madness in Arabic, will play in a heavily fortified auditorium on the banks of the Dal lake, but its Sufi music and soaring guitar riffs should resonate far beyond, given that this is where Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism, struck roots in the subcontinent.