Monday, July 23, 2007

Dalrymple & Hamid - Understanding the Rage

As of late, Pakistan has been a hot topic in the Western press. Most of the coverage is the usual unenlightening blather about nukes and extremism but there have been a few good, thoughful pieces. Of course, given the tumultuous nature of current Pakistani politics, events on the ground soon overtake even the most up to date writings on the country.

I have always enjoyed reading William Dalrymple ('City of Djinns' about Delhi is my personal favorite) so I was happy to see his piece called "Days of Rage" in the July 23rd issue of The New Yorker. Even when I disagree with some of his interpretation of facts he is a consistently objective and unfailingly intelligent observer of the South Asian scene. The article is partly a profile of Asma Jahangir, the tireless campaigner for the cause of human rights in Pakistan. Dalrymple's admiration for Asma Jahangir's lifelong struggle on behalf of the vulnerable clearly comes through.

Mohsin Hamid recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" In a way only a novelist can, Mohsin Hamid has intelligently explored this question which, since 9/11, is mindlessly asked in the West with a certain "wounded innocence" (Hamid's evocatively apt phrase). In his recent non-fiction, Mohsin Hamid has demonstrated increasing political maturity and seems to have finally moved on from his long lasting infatuation with Musharraf. I think the low point was his "too clever by half" review of Musharraf's atrocious autobiography. The literary device of schoolyard types that is supposed to help us understand Musharraf's psyche is merely attention-grabbing without being illuminating not to mention the inconvenient truth that no such rigid classifications exist in a typical Pakistani school where a 'cheetah' one day can just as easily be a 'chutiya' the next. As a respected Pakistani novelist writing in English, Mohsin Hamid has earned a rare bully pulpit from which he can contribute toward greater cross-cultural understanding and advance sensible ideas. Thankfully, he seems to be moving in that direction.

The Triumph of Justice but What's Next

July 20th, 2007 will be long remembered as a historic day in Pakistan when the honorable judges of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Ramday, reinstated the suspended Chief Justice and struck a vital blow for an independent Judiciary in the country. This unequivocal reversal of Musharraf's political folly has breathed life into Pakistan's moribund political landscape.

However, this event is only the beginning of an arduous political season in which the Supreme Court's independence and good judgment will be repeatedly tested. On every critical issue from dual office retention and return of exiled leaders to the enforcement of a level playing field for free and fair elections, the Court will be in a central position to restore some faith in Pakistan's political institutions and begin the process to extract the nation from Musharraf's destabilizing chokehold. Pakistanis can only hope that the Court's newly earned prestige and independence will be consistently leveraged to further the cause of a political system based on a constitutional rule of law. After the July 20th decision there is some real cause for optimism.