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(Through strength for utility, but also under fear and anxiety)
by Sain Sucha
There appears to be a general agreement among the socialanthropologists that women are subjugated by men all over the world; although its degree, the means, causes and their justification (or repudiation) remain the topics of discord.
In this paper it is intended to present some recenttheories which attempt to clarify the means and nature of this subjugation, and the criticism of these theories by the opposing researchers.
The major question asked here is that although the theories discuss and explain the subjugation of women as a class (category) by men as a class*, they fail to specify satisfactorily why this class of suppressed women was further divided into individuals and put into a one—one relationship in most cultures as the dominated females.
An explanation based upon the feelings of inadequacy felt by most men in their sexual performance and its subsequent effect, which probably resulted in the isolation of women from other men and women, is put forward for further discussion.
* Throughout this article the word 'class' is used in its logical (mathematical) context, and without any Marxist economical connotations, except when used with the Marxist views.
We can judge the existing patterns of economical, societal and sexual relationships between contemporary men and women under two dissimilar values systems; and the structure as well as the acceptance of these relationships according to these systems would be quite different. For such an analysis we could either assert that:
1. The human relationships are prescribed and ordained by some very able entity (entities) that has universal comprehension. Such entity (entities) created us in our present physical and mental form, and our mutual human relationships are based upon our belief and trust in this entity. The structure of our relationship is traceable in the myths, sagas and edicts that are related to such entity, and are given to us in written or oral form by our ancestors. The annulment of such edicts in not within human power.
2. The human relationships are the outcome of the results and inferences drawn by our ancestors during the course of their evolution, and the circumstances they have gone through, and passed on to us as in our biological and psychological inheritance. The structure of our relationship is traceable in the organisation of various cultures and societies and their past and present history, myths and sagas. It is through their analysis we can see how our ancestors in various periods of human life laid rules and regulations for male and female relationships that we received biologically and socially.
Bearing in mind that in this article I am looking at the human relationships at a scientific level, obviously there is no point in discussing such relationships which human beings can neither ordain nor nullify; thus, I would confine myself to discuss thoughts endorsed in the second section.
Recent commentators intending to explain the so called imbalance between the male and female relationships (Ortner 1974, Fox & Steinmann 1974, Leibowitz1975, Rubin1975, Jordanova 1980) may, roughly, be divided into biological determinists, evolutionists, cultural anthropologists, structuralists and Marxists.
Each of this group has projected their picture of thedevelopment of the human relations where men, for one suggested reason or another, subjugated women, mainly, for the purpose of her utility within the domestic and reproductive sphere; and if, and when, women were employed in the 'productive' work outside the domestic sphere the value of their labour measured in terms of material repayment was, and is, generally lower than that of the male's, even when assigned to identical tasks.
The biological determinists rely primarily upon themuscle strength, anatomical differences and female's vulnerability during menstruation, pregnancy and post-delivery; period:
"Originally it was hard to question theallocation of roles based on the obvious differences between the sexes. The men were larger, stronger, and had more endurance. The women were smaller, weaker, and were subjected to mysterious periodic attacks of bleeding. The women also bore children and had to nurse them. There were long months when they were semi-restricted, both in the kind of work they could perform and in their mobility"
(Steinmann & Fox 1974/17)
While the later representatives of this group go a stepfurther in ethology and draw heavily from the new research in genetics and declare:
"that the human organism is 'wired' in a certain way so that it can process and emit information about certain facts of social life such as language and rules about sex, and that,furthermore, it can process this information only at certain times and only in certain ways. The wiring is geared to the life cycle so that at any one moment in a population of Homo sapiens there will be individuals with a certain 'store' of behaviour giving out information at another stage to others who are wired to tract this information in a particular way"
(Tiger & Fox1974/30)
"In the same way the rest of human culture lies in the biology of the Species."
(Tiger & Fox 1974/30)
" In sum we behave culturally because it isour nature to behave culturally, because natural selection has producedan animal that has to behave culturally, that has to invent rules, make myths, speak languages, and form men's clubs, in the same way that thehamadryas baboon has to form harems, adopt infants, and bite the wives on the neck."
(Tiger & Fox 1974/38)
In other words the notion which human beings may have about having a mind and its personal use in the choice of action, conscious planning, judgement of a specific situation at a specific timeunder specific conditions is merely an illusion for that mind. In reality all that we do and think is genetically wired (and determined) for generations and for each person.
There is of course active voicing against any such determinism:
"The evidence from primate studies and theexamination of human infants, adult hormones, and the behaviour of hermaphrodites and others who have been called 'sexual anomalies* (Hutt, 1972: Money & Ehrharnett, 1972) all point to the conclusion that biology constrains but does not determine the behaviour of sexes, and the differences between human males and females reflect an interaction between our physical constitutions and pattern of social life."
(Rosaldo & Lemphere, 1974/5)
"The sexual division of labour is established by rules stipulated within each social group. Such rules are sex related (and age related), although not necessarily determined by either sex or age. Instead social rules and tasks become associated with sex andage by an educational process of some kind, whether formal or informal. In preliterate societies the recitation of myth and the performance of ritual serve as educational processes."
Thus, on one hand there are advocates who insist thatwhatever we do or think is predetermined over millions of years through a process of natural selection and has become a genetic part of human animal, making him a kind of robot which might have misconceptions about personal knowledge or of conscious development through a process of mutual learning and understanding during human discourses. Their opposites contend, just as solidly, that human action is a result of educationand cultural activity within each social sphere, and a specific personwould behave differently if exposed to different programmes during his life time.
According to the biological determinists and evolutionists the unbalance in the relationships between human males and females is a consequence of partly the bodily determined functions — male's physical strength, higher speed and stamina; female's weaker constitution , disability during menstruation and longer periods of time given to care taking during and after pregnancy — and partly the result of the extension of the dominant role which males achieve during these periods when women need care-taking:
"Enough specific experience would lead to the conclusion that the pregnant women, the menstruating woman, andnursing woman should stay home. Perhaps even the most primitive mindfinally came to the general conclusion that all women should stay at home."
(Steinmann & Fox, 1974/18)
A rather simplistic view about the domestication of thewomen! It appears that the authors of these lines never thought that besides menstruating and nursing women, in those societies there must be a host of wounded and disabled men too — after all the men we are talking about were hunters, warriors and braves: men in a constant state of combative action against wild animals or other equally strong but unfriendly men. If the recent history is any guide then the numberof wounded and disabled persons is empirically always a multiple of the dead in war-like activities at the local or larger scale. And such men need as much nursing and care, if not more, than any menstruation or pregnant women.
Nevertheless, there is a general consent that the male's muscle power, along with his mastery of weapon, while female's confinement to the domestic sphere and child-caring did play a definite rolein the domination of women by men, at least in the early stages of human societies when our forefathers are said to be mainly hunters and gatherers.
Kathleen Gough puts this case as:
..to the extent that men have power over women in hunting societies, this seems to spring from the male’s monopoly of heavy weapons, from the particular division of labour between the sexes, or from both. Although men seldom use weapon against women, theypossess them(or possess superior weapons) in addition to the physical strength.
Once women were domesticated and put under the men's control not only did their mode of physical existence change, but their status as a thinking being also seem to have been relegated and its range was confined to the realm of home — this is a view which is propagated by most of the male anthropologists and some female anthropologists too who have declared the woman as the second sex (de Beauvoir.S. 1953, Ortner1974). Sherry Ortner, who caused quite a stir among female anthropologists, declared that woman is a universal victim of male dominance:
"The universality of female subordination, the fact that it exists within every type of social and economic arrangement and in societies of every degree of complexity, indicate to me that we are up against something very profound, very stubborn, something we cannot..."
What, on the other hand, Ortner dose not discuss in detail is that this alleged inferiority of women is recognised by which group – by men alone, by women or by men and women.
”Ortner states that "everywhere, in every culture women are considered in some degree inferior to men". But she does not say by whom they are considered to be so. By men? By women? By how many? In field work I have talked with women chiefs, women heads of descent-groups, heads of women secret societies, and women house-hold heads who would not agree with the sweeping thesis as it stands. They would say that women are inferior to men in some ways and men are inferior to women in some ways, giving productive talks in the division of labour as examples."
Actually we have two concepts here which are easy to get mixed with each other – Subordination and Inferiority. That women are subordinated in most culture is a historically verifiable fact, that they are also always considered inferior within the same cultures is often a conjecture which may or may not be true. Not all subordinated beings are considered inferior by the dominants. And not all subordinated beings consider themselves inferior to those who dominate. The classical examples would be the old and current civilizations of China and India which despite their repeated subordination by the foreign'savages considered themselves as culturally superior to their suppressors, and regarded the conditions of domination as merely circumstantial.
Similarly, women may have been dominated by men in most cultures but this does not mean that they consider themselves as inferior to men. Not even all men who dominate women consider these women as inferior in all cultures — instead in many cultures men are actually afraid of women and have gone to extra-ordinary lengths to constructmyths and legends to nullify two natural superiorities which each normal woman has against a normal man:
(1) Her ability to procreate.
(2)Her natural privilege, when she has a free choice, to decide the real line of descent, and consequently the distribution of property by inheritance.
“In other words the identity of a newborn’s mother is always certain, but that of the father is only expected. In the modern world the observance of the patrilineal system is merely a tranquiliser for the male’s vanity. In the natural world the only reliably traceable ancestry is matrilineal. It is either through mutual consent or sheer coercion that the male may decide the fatherhood; and not always successfully.”
Woman's natural gift to reproduce the human race seems to have had a double negative effect — physical handicap and dependency on men on one hand, and on the other the exertion of a compulsion upon men to create things outside their bodies to give them also the status of 'birth-givers'; if not human beings then at least human ideas and their visible manifestation in the form of material creations accomplished by male hands.
This ability toproduce from 'within' the body and 'outside'the body is evaluated differently by opposing schools of thought. According to Ortner:
”In other words, woman's body seems to doom her to mere reproduction of life; the male, in contrast, lacking naturalcreative function, must (or has the opportunity to) assert his creativity externally, "artificially" through the medium of symbols and technology. In so doing, he creates relatively lasting, eternal, transcendent objects, while the woman creates only perishables — human beings."
While Weiner says:
"In the Trobiands, recognition is given to the perishability of human beings, but, rather than diminish the inherent value of human beings as a means of achieving immortality, this recognition, especially enacted in death rituals, stresses the value placed on the continuity of life. In this way, the perpetuation of life or human survival is given far more transcendental significance than is the kind of immortality found in objects or in "cultural" survival. Therefore women, innately tied to the continuity of life,remain the locus of the means by which human survival transcends itself".
Thus, in the Trobiands, male power over others is limited and the male search for immortality can only befully achieved through women's control of dala identity. Men's attempt to achieve individual immortality must always remain an imitation ofwomen's control over the re-genesis of human life. Men seek to imitate regeneration through control over property, which allows them to construct power hierarchies composed of women and men."
Personally I support Weiner. One need to ask Ortner one simple question: If it is men who construct 'lasting, eternal and transcendentobjects, then for whom these objects are constructed? For men only? For other human beings'? As long as women constructmen and other 'human beings' then the primary honours must go to women because without their 'construction' there would be no one to appreciate these 'lasting, eternal and transcendent objects'.
Women's natural ability to reproduce ought not to haveany negative connotations to it, and it is only through envy and fearthat men have succeeded in producing such an inverse construction of reality.
Enormously fastidious explanations, throughout documented human history, by men in power have been put forward to show that it is the male who is the injector, the seed planter, the initiator of human life and the social creator, while women were merely a receptor of the male grace. Mary Warner adduces:
"In the Hellenistic world, the Stoics maintained that men's seed, divided into body and soul, joined with a part of the woman's pneuma, or soul, to form the embryo. In their view,the whole child entered the woman's womb, and she provided none of the matter, only a little bit of the soul."
And not only did this view of the male as the active and woman beingthe passive has influenced their relationship in the sexual field but it is argued that its extension in the long run also determined woman's secondary status as a social being:
"The physiological fact of women being the sexual receptor became confounded with the social or psychological qualities of passivity and submissiveness. Similarly, the physiological fact of the male being the injector, became associated with activity and aggressiveness. It is not a very big step from passivity to dependence, and from dependence to inferiority. Thus women became to be seen as inferior, or at least secondary, while men, in contrast, were seen as primarily in their sexual and social role."
(Steinmann & Fox 1974/18)
There are many other examples which signify male's discriminations and fears directed against the female, and the attempted desecration of her on grounds of menstruation ( MacCormack 1980/9), aesthetically repulsive associations of smell and form with her genitals (Gillison 1980/149) or legal proclamations describing her as legallyonly half reliable as the male (Quran). Through these channels men have availed themselves with outlets which allow them escape in the nature (Gillison 1980/146), practice sodomy, under a multitude of symbolic and/or explicit excuses for their own sexual release (Rubin 1975) or else have degraded her to a level of sub-cultural, almost sub-human, servile being whose main function in life is to attend when service is demanded (Paul.L 1974/ 290).
But why impose all this degradation, domination, subordination and misuse of a being which constitutes one half of Homo sapiens?
To some it is a genetic code which makes us behave the way we do (Tiger & Fox 1974), to others it is the exchange of women in marriage alliances which propagated men to subdue and utilize women (Levi-Strauss 1969), other structuralists say that it is woman'scloseness to nature and that of men's to culture which resulted in that those who developed culture could control those who were non- or semi-participants in the development of culture, societal rules and jural regulations (Ortner 1974), while the Marxists or neo-Marxists contend that although the most primitive societies were sexually egalitarians , it was the growth of class society which, along with the concept of private property, gave rise to the subjugation of women for the purpose of domestic and reproductive labour, while men were used for the productive (economic and cultural ) work (Engels 1891, Sacks 1975). While discussing 'The Origin of the Family' Kathleen Gough depends basically upon the Marxist theory and the new evidence which has become handy by the detailed study of the primates — our closest relativesin the animal kingdom. According to her, when the human societies changed from gathering and hunting bands, to semi-permanent agrarian groups, on to settled agriculturists with the appearance of villages and small towns, leading to the rise of state, and now through the industry the concentration of huge masses in crowded residential areas, there has been a gradual alteration in the male/female relations at all levels.
The band societies involved periodic intensive co-operative ventures, which were followed by the dispersal of the band into smallerunits. This involved sexual intimacy at two levels concurrently: husband/ wife pairing as separate units, as well as male/female group relations if and when the occasion called for such mating. Probably no rigid code of behaviour existed between the two modes, and the members of the band societies could change from one mode to the other without much fuss (Gough 1975/68). The semi-permanent agrarian groups required more stable relations between particular males and females, both in the societal discharge of rights and obligations and that of sexual avail-ability. The appearance of the settled agriculturists was followed by primarily with the personal rights to the use of the land and secondarily with the private ownership of the specific pieces of land; along with the establishment of the patriarchy and the formulation of the rules of inheritance, in most societies.
"A distinct change occurred with the growth of individual and family property in herds, in durable craft objects and trade objects, and in stable, irrigated farm sites or other forms of heritable wealth. This crystallized in the rise of the state, about 4000 B.0 with the growth of class society and of male dominance in the ruling class of the state, women's subordination increased, and eventually reached its depth in the patriarchal families of the great agrarian states."
Suddenly the men needed the women not only as the co-workersand the reproducers of the future co-workers, but also as the reproducers of the children of particular genitors to enable the children to qualify as the inheritors of those particular property owners.
In different cultures the rules of inheritance vary butthe biological bond within the family between the members of the same gender is often a strong one, even in those societies where the sons do not inherit the biological fathers (Weiner 1976/ 141).
These above given argumentations, if correct, give a reasonably consistent chain of events which depict that how and why men subordinated women; but there is one important link missing — Why mensubordinated and subjugated women as individuals in almost all cultures, rather than as groups? Women could have been used for the performance of all services - sexual, reproductive and domestic - as a class in groups of moderate sizes, as she is used in some isolated cases. Why men confined women into separate homes and restricted their physical and mental movement when, in fact, had they utilised them collectively it wouldhave been easier to use them; just the same way dominant men have used other men as slaves and labourers for the productive work?
One explanation is the sound proposition forwarded by theMarxist analysts that it was the concept of private property inheritable to particular children fathered by certain individuals only.
But I believe that there is another reason too, which is little discussed in this context: it is the sexual inadequacy of the most men in giving sexual and sensual satisfaction to his female (Hite1976), which causes deep anxiety among most men, every-where and In every culture, and which resulted in the restrictions imposed upon the female availability to other men.
The female body, because of its anatomy and physiology,requires a completely different handling, to put it mildly, than that of the male. Male's physical satisfaction is the moment of orgasm (Masters & Johnson 1966).An easily observable empirical event, which is followed by immediate obvious changes in male's body and mood! Awoman knows when a man is relieved. For most men the female orgasm is a mystery, and not an easily achievable end by straight forward copulatory intercourse (Hite 1976). In most case it requires the stimulation of the clitoris and other erogenous parts of the female before and during the sexual intercourse. Very few men know the techniqueto bring forth the apex of sexual satisfaction for most women. And thisinadequacy causes an anxiety which runs deep in the psyche of the human male.
Discussing the sexual relationships among American men and women in 'The Male Dilemma' Steinmann & Fox write:
"But today women consider themselves as something more than sexual objects, and rightly so. They have learnt that their bodies are more sensitive to a variety of erogenous stimulations than a man’s, and that they are capable of profound and prolonged orgasms the same and even different from men's. Thus the meaning of femininity has taken a different dimension, and a woman feels she is lessthan women if she is unable or is denied the opportunity to experience her total sexuality."
(Steinmann & Fox 1971/129)
"Thus the male finds himself in a double bind. He is not a man' in his own eyes if he does not assume the dominant sexual role and gratify his own desires, but in his wife's eyes he is not a man if he can not satisfy her as well."
(Steinmann & Fox 1971/128)
This book is written in1974 and considers human relation-ships in the late sixties in the USA. To me it appears that the same conclusion and understanding was reached by men and women elsewhere in the world thousands, if not millions, of years ago. They ought to have released Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden, Japanese Bridal Roll and Art of Love in USA much earlier.
It is only in the Western World (where most 'dominant' social anthropologists happen to be), just breaking out of the bondagesset by the Christianview of sexuality and those Muslim countries where she is considered only semi-human, the female sensuality is considered as a new discovery.
One, of course, must differentiate between that which is naturally true of males and females from that which has become a part ofthe men and women's contemporary existent nature, or that which is assumed to be their nature but in reality is a behavioural pattern after years of coercive compliance. The practical possibilities for the physical and mental activities believed to be true within a specific society for its male and female members may not be true at all in their unadulterated form; yet, the members of that specific society may behave and practise theirbeliefs as if they were universally true — women in many Muslim countries may almost behave and function like half-intelligent beings because they have been conditioned to behave so, or women in many cultures may, initially, act sexually passive because they have been taught to appear so, and this passivity may consequently become a part of their external attitude.
It is difficult to pin-point that at what level of socialevolution the incest taboo was introduced upon most of the human society; because initially all small groups must have been incestuous and, or, consanguineal. The non-availability of the sexually mature females to a certain-kind and number of males because of the incest taboo was counter‑balanced with the rules of exogamy, which ascertained a formal mode ofpeaceful exchange of nubile women between different groups, and which was, when needed, supplemented with the coercive recruitment of the females from other sources by abduction.
Whereas exogamy facilitated various societal groups tosecure women, and men, for the purpose of biological intimacy it has one big drawback — it ensures no emotional intimacy between the intended husbands and wives. People put together by the common needs of the societymay, as individuals, turn out to have quite uncommon likes and dislikes in their day to day intercourse; which also applies to the sexual satisfaction extended, and expected, by each gender to the other.
It is generally accepted that the incest taboo was imposed by the males for the protection and isolation of the female, so that she could be used for exchange during kinship alliances.
While discussing incest in 'Male Dominance and FemalAutonomy' Alice Schlegel puts forward two alternative, and interesting, hypothesis about male/female relations, proposing that it was not the female but the male who was the principal object of protection. The two hypotheses are:
"1) A man who dominates a woman in other spheresof her domestic life is likely to dominate her sexually as well.
2) The 'subordinated female is not only more accessibleto the dominant male but is more attracted to him as well. Besides she finds him the attractive object and is potentially seductive towards him.
“Thus, the relative strength of the incest taboo serves to protect the susceptible man, not the helpless woman."
The female sexuality — generally referred to as 'wild; 'natural', 'unrestrained' but according to my judgement ought to be called as 'unsatisfied' or rather 'dissatisfied' — makes the male feel insecure, not only in psychological terms but also in physical context. Although the subordinating male has the sexual power over the subjugated female, the subjugated female has the sensual power over the dominant male – Sexuality : Sensuality :: Body : Mind.
In order to fight off this strong attraction between thefew dominant males and the many dominated females in all societies the other men were forced to erect barriers, both material and legal, between the two attracted parties if they were also to get their own women and children.
After a man has copulated withhiswoman couple of times,she can feel calm becauseher man is discharged; at least for the same occasion; often longer, the duration of this discharged state growing longer with the advancement of her man’s age. After converting her mans stiffness to softness she knows that no further constrain is called for to curtailhis movements. Thereverse is not true. The professional, and some historical, ladies (Messalina, wife of Claudius), have been documented to accommodate 20+ men the same evening, in a succession of evenings, quite regularly.
And the professional and non-professional sisters of those professional ladies all over the world are gifted by nature that whenever instead of a clash between body and will there is wish for the union of body and mind then they have a greater capacity for it than their contending men.
According to natural system almost every healthy male can be sexually satisfied by a healthy female. But its reverse, as I have said earlier, often results in female’s sexual dissatisfaction. Thus, if men and women lived in groups then only a few men would have been popular among women, whereas most men would have been deprived of female sexuality.
We see the same system among other animals which live in groups, where only few attractive males impregnate all the females; while most of the males spend their time quarrelling and fighting with each other.
Among human beings we have evolved systems according to which most men’s personal needs are satisfied, but these men can not get rid of the feeling of female sexual dissatisfaction from their minds!
In various societies men have tried to find a remedy for their complex by curtailing the female sexuality by different means – in certain parts of Africa her clitoris is surgically removed; for a long time Christianity considered the sexual act as dirty, and women were told that their function was to procreate only; and according to the Muslim tradition the recommended position of sexual union is such that not only women get the minimum of clitoral stimulation during intercourse but the men also avoid looking into her eyes; lest!
A solid proof of men’s fear of the female heat is the jokes and advertisements that we find all over the world in books, magazines and TV, where men are continuously reminded that they are victim of some sexual deficiency and the cure for their deficiency is available. Unfortunately the punishment for the so called sexual deficiency of men is inflicted upon those poor animals whose horns, tusks and other bones are said to be the cure of these ailments, and as its result these animals are becoming almost extinct.
Thus, if good moral societal rule, as defined, prescribed and enforced by men, are to be practised then unnatural, often called as cultural, boundaries must be drawn to restrain the dissatisfied women; the men are restrained by the nature.
And women were and are, thus, not only subjugated by the dominant men for utility as a class, but that class was further broken into individuals by the less-dominant, and generally insecure, men to ascertain the availability of the women for their sexual and domestic needs, as well as for the reproduction of the future helping hands and inheritors.
There is mush to be explored in the field of 'sex role', but I restrict this paper to the projection of three thoughts:
1)Notonly elements of superiority but acute feelings of inferiority can also produce conditions of dominance, through desperation, with extremely adverse results for the dominated.
2)The male's obsession with the control of the female, both as a class and as an individual, is partly a product of male's superiority in strength and weaponry, coupled with laws associated with patriarchy and division of property, and partly the outcome of a deep anxiety which has its seat in the emotional insecurity of the male.
3)So long as women all over the world do not break the social chains that men have entangled them into, using devious concepts like feminine honour, shame and disgrace, and struggle to achieve the human equality and liberation from such stigmas they would remain subjugated.
An honourable and dignified human being must be able to look eyes to eye at another person, say candidly whatever is there on his or her mind and listen to the other party just as attentively. A creature coerced to follow all kind of right or wrong commands with averting eyes and a bowed head is not a librated person.
The basic identity of a conscientious human being is that as a person he, free from all prejudices associated with race, nationality, complexion, sex and gender, should be able to reflect and decide individually and collectively upon the steps for the progress of current and coming generations at various societal levels. Such person feels responsible for the suggestions and decisions that he has participated into and justly claims the benefits and fruit of his labour; and also according to the rules of the society that he lives in participates actively in the life of other members of that society.
Every human being who is wholly dependent upon the decision of another person for his own development is a subjugated person!
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Urdu – its survival and constancy
(This essay was read at Jashan´ Urdu, Bimingham, 13 February 2004)
by Sain Sucha
Do the speakers of a language that is said to be understood and spoken by almost 700 millions[iii] people in the world need worry about its survival, and prosperity?
This question has arisen in my mind as often as I have picked up one of these periodicals or talked to one of its defenders. Related to this basic question the other questions are:
1. Are the claims about the number of Urdu-speakers inflated?
2. Are the fears of Urdu-speakers ungrounded?
3. Does Urdu have any intrinsic flaw that makes it frailer than other major languages?
4. Which conditions, besides its linguistic characteristics, makes a language durable and dominant in a certain area as compared to other existing languages within the same area?
I would deal with each of these questions to some length separately, and then summarise the whole discussion.
1. Two major current habitat of Urdu are India and Pakistan. India is its natal home and Pakistan it’s naturalized one. Besides, along with Punjabi and Hindi, today it is widely spoken by the emigrants from South Asia in Britain; Central and Northern Europe; Parts of Canada and USA; Middle East, Eastern Africa and, oddly enough, certain countries in South America[iv]. How many people may claim Urdu as their mother-tongue varies enormously depending upon who is putting up the claim, but the official estimate puts it to be about 25 millions in India[v] and 10 millions in Pakistan[vi]. However, if we remove the condition mother-tongue and just count the number of people who can easily converse in Urdu/Hindi and understand them then the figures leaps into great numbers i.e. 350 -700 millions. The basic difference between everyday Urdu and Hindi is the script[vii], but that difference can be further exploited by the staunch supports of the disparity between them by the addition of Arabic and Persian words to Urdu, and Sanskrit to Hindi. In their main vocabulary, grammar, syntax and mood the two are fully compatible. Although the major homes of Urdu are reputed to be the area around Lukhnow-Dehli-Agra belt and Hyderabad in India; and Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan, none of them compete with Mumbai as the greatest propagator of Urdu. It is the film industry in Bollywood in India and, to some extent, Lollywood in Pakistan that has put Urdu/Hindi in millions of home within South Asia and far away from there in Asia, Africa, Europe and Americas. Whenever we mention the names like Anis, Mir, Ghalib, Hali, Iqbal, Majrooh, Faiz, Sahir, Faraz, Gulzar, Javeed Akhter, Fahmida Riaz, Parveen Shakir and[viii] Kishwer Naheed as the elites who gave lifeblood to Urdu poetry we must not forget to pay tribute to Sehgal, Farida Khanum, Lata Mangeshker, Rafi, Talat, Makesh, Geeta Dutt, Asha, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali and Jagjeet Singh for taking the Urdu lyrics out from books and putting them in the ears and mouths of hundred of millions of people all over the word. Just as when we endorse Hali, Nazir Ahmad, Preem Chund, Sajjad Zaheer, Krishan Chunder; Munto, Bedi, Qurratul Ain Hyder, Ismat Chugtai, Meerza Adeeb, and Qasmi Sahib as mentors of Urdu prose, we must acknowledge with gatitude the pronunciation, enunciation and delivery of Urdu dialogues by Pirthvi Raj, Sehrab Modi, Daleep Kumar, Raj and Shashi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Amitab Bachan, Nasir Ud Din Shah, Nargis, Nautan, Meena Kumari, Mudho Bala, Waheeda Rehman, Rekha, Shaban Azmi, in India and Santoosh Kumar, Muhammed Ali, Waheed Murad, Nadeem, Sabeha, Shammem Ara and Nayyer Sultana in Pakistan. In both cases it is not the first batch who taught people to speak and pronounce the Urdu language, but the members of the second group who enhanced the accuracy in speech and its articulation. It is through their diction, songs and ghazals that Urdu has its greatest exposure for the people who do not have Urdu as their mother-tongue. And it is these people who form the bulk of Urdu speakers in the today’s world.
Thus, we have a rather odd situation before us: only 35 million persons claim Urdu as their mother tongue, but it is used, loved and cherished by over 350 millions people all over the world. As a spoken language it is probably the third or forth largest language in the world, but when it comes to reading and writing it the numbers fall rapidly into a few million. With literacy rate of about 18% for India and Pakistan[ix] the number of people who have Urdu as their mother tongue and may read and write is down to 6 millions[x]. And that puts it just above Finnish, Danish and Norwegian – each has about 5 million speakers.
2. The above section shows that the fears of Urdu custodians are not unfounded; although, at times, they are overdriven. Presently the onslaught of English all over the world, as the commanding medium of Anglo-American dominance in financial, military and IT fields, is a disturbing factor for the speakers of many small languages. If I were to use Scandinavia as an example then we have the following situation:
Language Country Mother-tongue Population Literacy Literacy
% in millions in millions
Swedish Sweden 90 9 100% 8,1
Danish Denmark 100 5,4 100% 5,4
Finnish Finland 100 5,1 100% 5,1
Norwegian Norway 100 4,5 100% 4,5
Icelandic Iceland 100 0,28 100% 0,28
Urdu India 2,4 1001 18% 4,3
Urdu Pakistan 7,6 145 17% 1,7
How the Scandinavians have tackled this problem? By being multi-linguists! Nearly all children in Scandinavia now learn English from the very beginning in their schools; but, at the same time the Scandinavian educationist have made it certain that all kind of knowledge that is available in other major languages of the world is also available to their children in their own languages. Thus, a Scandinavian child has a multiple choice to satisfy his hunger and curiosity in his pursuit for knowledge. The attitude of the Scandinavian scholars is to ascertain that the information given to the children, and other laymen, is in simple, straightforward and accurate language.
In other words their approach is not defensive but progressive and evolutionary.
If programmers in Microsoft and other computer companies can convert their programs in tiny languages like Swedish, Danish and Finnish then there is no reason to believe that they would be hesitant to offer their programs in Urdu once they know that there is a need and market for their products.
Currently In-page is the most widely used software in Urdu, and it is beneficial for all of us to help its producers standardise it by giving them financial as well as informative assistance.
3. One major tragedy that I may associate with Urdu is that it lacks a home, where it could dwell and develop in its local surrounding free from all external pressure. In India, it is treated as a step-child because Pakistan adopted it as its national language. In Pakistan, despite its status as the national language, it is consider as an instrument of oppression used by the immigrants from India against the indigenous people. I have discussed this issue elsewhere[xi] in detail and would not take it up here.
In both cases injustice is done to Urdu. Urdu is a language meant to facilitate communication between people who comprehend it. Like any language it is a collection of words, with a grammar and syntax. As such it belongs to no religion or political system. If there are people who have deliberately taken steps to give Urdu religious or political colouring then the fault lies with these people not with the language which has no will or intention of its own but is merely a set of symbols in vocal or written form which, when appropriately used, brings people together.
As a matter of fact I would like to contend that as a language it is one of the most competent system to boost communication between people. It has benefited by the fusion of three great languages of the world: primarily Hindi, Arabic and Persian, and that merger was further augmented by the inclusion of several local languages and English. This provides an Urdu speaker, along with normal sounds that are produced by the use of mouth, lips and tongue, en enormous range of guttural, pharyngeal, aspirated and diphthongal sounds. Then, as a composite language its vocabulary freely borrowed words from the languages mentioned above, which means that it abounds with synonyms and has a very flexible syntax.
To elucidate my contention I would like to make certain comparisons by taking vaious linguistic groups:
The Latin languages – French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese – despite their popularity and mass as literary languages lack the hard palatal sound for D, R and T, along with the palatal and aspirated sounds (Bh , Ph, Th, Gh, Ch, Dh, Kh etc) of the Hindi group.
The Germanic group – English, Dutch, German – lacks the softer dental sounds for D and T, hard palatal R, along with the palatal and aspirated sounds (Bh , Ph, Th, Gh, Ch, Dh, Kh etc) of the Hindi group. Its speakers have further difficulty with the guttural and pharyngeal sounds of other languages.
The Semitic languages – Arabic, Hebrew etc – though they use many guttural and pharyngeal sounds, do not have the Hard D, R and T, soft P and other aspirated sounds of the Hindi group.
The Hindi group – Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati etc – lack the sounds for Arabic Z ( zal, zeer, zuay, zuad) Q, Gh (Ghain), Kh (khey), as well as the aspirated Th of Germanic languages.
Strangely enough an Urdu speaker learns to reproduce all these sounds because of the inclusion of words from most of the language groups; and, therefore, has it quite easy to learn any of these languages later on in life.
Urdu script, although it is based upon the nastaleeq style of the Persian, has also developed letters as well as additional signs to facilitate correct pronunciation of the written language.
I reiterate that when we look at the material written in Urdu there is no shortage of the so called elitist literature. It abounds with poetry and prose of high standard, but there is almost nothing in the non-fiction field. Somehow the promoters of Urdu ignored the normal everyday needs of the ordinary people and concentrated upon producing and composing for the educated. If we are talking about propagating Urdu, then propagation is done best through the coming generation. It is not a gathering of some old souls reciting Ghalib or Iqbal that would promulgate Urdu. If Urdu provides information to children who wish to repair their toys or instructions to use the computer; tells ordinary people how to fix a broken items at home, guides craftsmen who wishes to further their knowledge in their professional fields then Urdu would prosper, flourish and proliferate. Else these people would learn and use the language that fulfils their need.
4. For any language to prosper it requires the love and effort of its ordinary speakers as well the protection and patronage of the ruling/dominant class within a certain area. The preference of any language among the elite has always play been important in its role at various courts: French was once spoken as a leading language among the elite of Britain, just as Persian was the official language in the Mughal court. Urdu, as compared to other imported languages, was actually a local product that evolved in Old India by the mixing of people of various origins and their languages. Unfortunately, because of traditional low literacy in India[xii] it primarily remained a spoken language. The gentry that could read and write Urdu did no menial jobs and, therefore, concentrated upon literary aspects of the language; while those who worked with handicrafts, agriculture or other menial jobs were illiterates. Then, the absence of copyright and patent rights resulted in the dearth of written material in subjects like medicine, chemistry and other technical fields. Extremely learned and capable persons did not write down their formulas and data; and knowledge was passed on, if and when it was passed on, at person to person basis. Therefore, while Urdu is a great literary language it is extremely poor in the technical and other non-literary aspects. The artisans in various areas where Urdu was spoken used words from other local languages for different implements and tools, just as they used English word when the British took over India. When, subsequently, Urdu literacy was spread among street people dictionaries were composed to fill this huge gap. Even here the composers, instead of using or developing words ordinary Urdu or other local languages, chose to import words from Arabic and Persian making it even more difficult for the semi-educated working class to grasp the meaning of a given text. It appears as if the edifice of Urdu has a magnificent roof in which the brilliant names of Mir, Ghalib, Zoaq, Dagh, Iqbal, Faiz, Sahir, Minto and Qasmi are embedded, but its walls are left bare and its floor is still unpaved. For the survival of such a linguistic structure it is vital to immediately reinforce it with such knowledge that is not only supportive but also easily grasped.
The basic purpose of using a language is to facilitate communication between individuals. But a language can also be implemented to selectively retard communication between individuals of different groups. That is when a language, instead of bringing people together, becomes an instrument that divides people. This knowledge is not new and has been used in the past many time: Romans, in the conquered areas, deployed soldiers from various nations who could not communicate with the local people to suppress them. The Spaniards used Spanish as the official language in South America to hinder the Indians from freely communicating with each other and also competing with emigrants of European origin. Before the partition of India Urdu played a prominent linguistic role in the offices of Northern British India. After 1947, when India was divided into Bharat and Pakistan, Urdu received an extremely odd treatment: it was declared secondary to Hindi in its home grounds in Bharat; while it was imposed as the primary language in Pakistan. Overnight millions of Bengalis, Punjabi, Sindhis, Pathans and Balochis were left speechless and told to learn and master Urdu if they were to receive official jobs in the future. The man who supposedly declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan did not speak Urdu himself! Obviously the reasons for this double treatment for Urdu were political and not linguistic. Bharat, with a Hindu majority, filtered out the Urdu speakers and writers from the competition; whereas, in Pakistan, the immigrant Urdu speakers ensured their hegemony by filtering out the local languages. It did not go well for Urdu in both places – In Bharat it lost its strength and charm where Hindi became the necessary medium for the job seeker; while in Pakistan the domination of the Urdu speaker lead to the contempt for Urdu by the indigenous people, eventually leading to the break away of Bangla Desh and later on to the turmoil and communal riots in Karachi in the nineties.
Thus, as said above, the crucial reasons for the fall of Urdu in Bharat and resistance to it in Pakistan are social and political. The added religious dimension to Urdu, where it is at times claimed to be the language of Muslims, made things only worse in Bharat where the non-Muslim advocators of it were put into a very difficult position by the opponents of Urdu[xiii].
Still, the fact remains that despite all the faults and follies of its supporters it continues to be the most widely spoken and understood language in South Asia[xiv]. It is a wonderful language that has benefited by the knowledge and skill of eastern as well as western scholars[xv]. Today Urdu speakers are spread all over the world and its supporters have laboured hard to make it one of the languages that has adapted well to the computers technology – today a must for a language if it were to survive in tomorrow's world! Only time will tell if Persian script is vital for Urdu; or, like Turkish, it could move on to the Roman script. Much has been written against such transformation; but unfortunately such opponents of the Roman script have mainly English as the comparative script. English, despite its popularity in the world, is not a very good written language when it comes to accuracy in articulation and enunciation. Other languages have developed better methods for the precision in pronunciation of various letters of the alphabet[xvi].
Living in Sweden I do not believe that there is any danger for Urdu’s demise. It is one of the major languages in today’s world, and with adaptation to the computer language there is little chance that it would fall into disgrace. What is needed is that more attention should be paid to accommodate the needs of children and ordinary human being to make it a necessary source in their pursuit of knowledge and information. Obviously it would be a great leap forward if in areas where the interests clash its speakers learn to co-exist by teaching their language to other people and in return learning their languages. Multi-lingualism would be a vital asset in the future world, and it is never too late to start now!
[i] Insha, Calcutta; Shair, Mumbai and several other.
[ii] Urdu is fast losing in its homeland, Ikram Ali (Times News Network, December 14, 2003)
[iii] According to The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, David Crystal.
[iv] I have intentionally omitted Bangladesh, where quite a number of people command Urdu but refrain from its use because of political reasons.
[v] According to the census held in 1991. States with the highest % of Urdu Speakers were: Bihar 9,91%; Utter Perdesh 9,74%;Karnatka 9,54%, Andhra Perdesh 7,84%; Maharashtra 6,94% and Dehli 5,88%..
[vi] Although only 10 million people claim Urdu as their mother tongue (1982 census), being the national languages it is spoken, by most middle aged and young people today.
[vii] Urdu is written in a modified Persian script; whereas Hindi uses Devanagri, a script based upon Sanskrit. For further elucidation see The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, David Crystal.
[viii] And of course many many more. I always feel extremely miser when it comes down to compiling such lists!
[ix] This literacy rate includes people who can just sign their name and read some elementary text.
[x] See the chart below. To these 6 millions we must add about 23 millions in Pakistan who do not have Urdu as their mother tongue but can read and write it. Besides, the literacy rate is much higher in the urban Urdu speakers and that would further increase this number. Still, Urdu remains a minor literary language when judged in proportion to the masses who speak it.
[xi] The Roots of Misery. 1985.
[xii] Reading and writing was a privilege meant only for the upper castes in India, and although caste system officially does not exist in Islam it is fully practised in the daily life.
[xiii] This feeling was expressed in personal talks with Ram Lall , Om Parkash Arif Hoshiarpuri Sahib and several other writers from Bharat.
[xiv] South Asia: Bharat, Pakistan Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and, to a certain extent, in Afghanistan.
[xv] Fort Williams played a critical role in the development of Urdu.
[xvi] Like the zer, zaber and pesh in Urdu they use various dot, and strokes for the accuracy in pronunciation.
by Sain Sucha
I saw a “documentary” film today
A true picture of our times –
Where the so called Sons of Satan
Disgraced and defiled the Sons of Man
There self-conceit and personal motives
Triumphed over righteousness and civilised ethics
It was a film about Passion
and messianic visions!
An orgy in sweat, bile and splattering blood
Whips flashed and human body was slashed
Leather belts cracked and flesh was gashed
Executors laughed loudly when the victim moaned
They spat on his face and kicked him as he groaned
First I felt sick, but then was fully engrossed
In such a meticulous documentation of misdeeds!
But why the daring director
After giving us such a true depiction of current affairs
Fallaciously presented all the main characters of the cast?
He misnamed Jesus’ from Abu Gharib
as Jesus from Nazareth
While George, Tony, Donald, Dick and Robert
Were miscalled as
Caiphas, Pontius, Herod, Malchus, and Abenader!
I KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Sain Sucha (Sweden)
I know who you are!
Shiny buttons and stars on your uniforms
Silky ties that match your suits
And the flashy turbans that go with your kaftans
I smell the stench of
Vomit from the terrified soldiers
Sweat and urine of the trapped civilians
And oozing blood from the dead bodies.
I hear the sound of
Moaning from the wounded men
Lament from the widowed women
And sobbing of the orphaned children.
How dare you call yourself a human being?
In pursuit of conceit like
Wealth, fame, eminence or triumph
You annihilate your fellow beings!
I recognised you
When you called yourself
Pharaoh, Herod, Attila, Hitler or Stalin
And I recognise you
When you call yourself
Bush, Blair, Saddam, Sharon or Yassir.
You think that by putting on different masks
And using different names
You could elude me?
No, you are wrong —
I recognise you
Because I know both of your facades:
You pretend to be
Bold, brave, just and righteous
A champion of equality for mankind!
But in reality you are merely
A coward and a cheat
Who, hiding behind bullet-proof shelter,
And with swarms of bodyguards
Coax innocent young men and women to
Offer their lives and die or kill in the name of
God, democracy, justice, and peace.
But tell me:
If honour, victory and glory,
Through sacrifice and martyrdom,
Is what you commend and aspire to,
Then how come You,
In the manner of your previous aliases,
Are still alive;
While so many of your followers,
Misled by you over the centuries,
I know who you are —
A phoney, deceitful Man
Who, using the net of patriarchy,
Spun of devious customs and traditions,
Strives to entrap, subdue or eliminate
All opposition to secure your own rank.
Maybe you believe that
After a life full of follies
YOUR GOD would forgive you
If you were to go and kill
The children of ANOTHER GOD,
Whom YOUR GOD refuses or discards!
I would always oppose you,
I would always disgrace you,
My name is LIFE.
(From Elixir, to be released in March, 2003)
by Sain Sucha(Sweden)
(byFaiz Ahmad Faiz)
there is any trace of blood
Neither on the hands and nails of the slayers,
nor any sign on the sleeve.
No redness on the dagger's edge,
nor any colour on the spear's head.
No stains on the earth’s breast,
nor any smear on the ceiling.
Nowhere, there is any trace of blood
It was Not spent in the service of kings,
to gain some bounty;
Nor offered in a religious rite,
to obtain absolution;
Nor spilled on the battlefield
to attain fame – as inscription on a banner.
It cried for attention –
that unprotected, helpless blood.
Yet, none had the time or the will –
to listen to that blood.
No accuser nor any witness –
just a ´clean sheet`
That blood from the figures of clay –
the Earth consumed it
(Translated from Urdu by Sain Sucha)
( from MEMORY — ISBN 91 86620 22 3 )
IS AFTER ALL BLOOD
is after all cruelty –
when it inflates, it dissipates.
Blood is after all blood –
when it drips, it coagulates.
It may congeal
On the desert’s chest,
or on the murderer’s sleeve;
On the faulty scales of justice,
or on the links of chains;
On the oppressive sword,
or on the slaughtered corpse.
Blood is after all blood –
when it drips, it coagulates.
One may hide in whichever shelter on likes,
blood itself reveals the executioner’s hide-out.
Conspiracies may cast around the veil of darkness,
yet, every drop of blood carries its own burning torch.
The blood which you tried to suppress in the abattoir,
today has rushed out in the streets and squares –
as a flame, or a battle-cry, or as a stone.
Once blood starts flowing,
the bayonets cannot restrain it.
Once blood lifts its head,
the ordinances cannot constrain it.
What is to be said about cruelty!
What is cruelty’s nature?
Cruelty is always cruelty –
from its beginning to its end.
Blood is after all blood,
It can take so many forms:
forms which cannot be destroyed,
flames which cannot be extinguished,
cries which cannot be silenced.
( Translated from Urdu by Sain Sucha )
( from SORCERY – ISBN 91 86620 05 3 )
by Sain Sucha
Still no words came to his lips. As he sank downwards he made a final effort and got his feet into almost a lotus position, and then he passed into the big void.
KILLING IN THE NAME OF GOD
by Dr. K. Sohail
There was a time
…I believed in Holy War
…I believed all non-Muslims were my enemies
…I was willing to give my life for a Holy Cause
…I was willing to kill in the name of God.
Now when I think about those years, a cold chill runs down my spine and I feel ashamed and embarrassed.
How could I think like that?
How could anybody think like that?
How can anybody believe in a merciful God and then be so cruel to take a human life?
How can anybody kill a human being and then consider his cause noble and holy?
When I see the pictures of Kabul, Afghanistan and Peshawar, Pakistan appearing repeatedly on the television screen, my mind fills with the images of my past. That is the part of the world where I spent my childhood, my teenage years, and my young adulthood before I immigrated to the Western World. The day American President George Bush decided to attack and bomb Afghanistan and asked Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharaf to support him, I felt perturbed. I thought back to the days when I wanted to join the Pakistani Army and fight a Holy War against India, against Hindus, against my enemies.
I vividly remember I filling out the enlistment forms and putting them
on the table for my dad to sign. Those forms stayed there for two weeks unsigned. I assumed he was so busy that he did not have time to read them. Finally, with the closing date approaching, I asked my dad,
“ When are you going to sign my papers?”
“I am not going to sign them.” I was shocked at his brief but firm answer.
“Why not?” I was curious.
“I don’t want you to go into the army.”
When he saw my puzzled look, he asked me to sit down and he tried to explain his position.
“ Dear Son!” he said, “ By signing these papers, I will be giving you permission to kill. If you join the army, you will take an oath that if your commander says, “Shoot!” you would shoot. If Pakistan ever had a war with Iran or Afghanistan, then you might be asked to kill your Muslim brothers and sisters. I cannot give you my blessing to do that.”
After listening to my dad’s lecture, I got up without saying a word and left the room. I was disappointed in him. I did not understand his rationale. I was pre-occupied with our Hindu enemies in India. I had never imagined the possibility of going to war with Iran or Afghanistan. After that disappointment, I always considered my dad idealistic, rather than realistic. But when President Bush declared war on Afghanistan and asked for the support of the Pakistani Army, I realized that my dad was more far-sighted than I.
When I ask myself, “Why did I want to join the Pakistani Army and fight a Holy War?” I am reminded of the 1965 war with India. I now believe that that war made lasting impressions on my thirteen-year-old psyche. When I reminisce about that phase of my life, I remember that in 1965, political tensions had started to escalate between India and Pakistan. The dispute with India over Kashmir had surfaced again. The sparks of rivalries and prejudices finally turned into flames and both countries declared war on sixth of September.
The whole nation’s life was turned upside down. Nobody knew how to deal with such a major crisis. The government decreed a complete blackout after sunset. No one was allowed to burn a match, light a candle or turn on a lamp, which could give enemies, the clues where to bomb in the middle of the night. Soon people could see in the dark. Digging trenches was a part of getting ready for the war. People were encouraged to dig trenches close to their houses so that they did not have to travel far and waste time carrying their children to the trenches at odd hours of the night. It was also suggested that the trenches be made in L, V or W shapes so that even if people sitting in one wing were affected, the others would be protected.
The whole nation was in a state of emergency, with everybody scared and unsure about their safety and the security of their families.
It was interesting that people who hardly talked to each other prior to the crisis started making plans to dig trenches together. The men of the families living around us decided to dig them outside our courtyard because they were afraid small children might fall into them. However, digging them outside the wall meant that due to the proximity of the river, water appeared in the trench at a depth of three feet. The whole area seemed to be waterlogged. Finally, they dug trenches that were I-shaped. They were not very satisfactory, but something was better than nothing. At least they had enough room for women and children, while the men used to sit outside. Even people from the neighboring streets came running when the siren sounded.
I will never forget one incident in the middle of the night when the siren had sounded and everybody had come rushing to the trench. The women and children were huddled in the trench and the men were crouching outside on the flat ground. Suddenly one of our neighbors, Mohammad Sharif, started to shake and shiver. He was so afraid, he was grinding his teeth. One of the women felt so sorry for him that she came out and asked him to jump into the trench. He was utterly embarrassed. He was caught between fear of the bombs and shame at wanting to sit with the women. Finally, fear won out, and he crawled into the trench. That day I realized I never wanted to become weak and vulnerable and afraid like Mohammad Sharif. I wanted to be a mojahid, a brave and strong holy warrior, who could sacrifice his life for his faith.
The declaration of war changed the psyche of the whole nation. People became very patriotic and religious. Political leaders made patriotic speeches, maulanas, the religious leaders, preached special sermons and poets wrote stirring patriotic songs sung by popular singers. Many people offered up special prayers for a Pakistani victory. They believed it was a Holy War, a jihad, which they wanted Islam to win. Many nights I saw Indian planes dropping bombs and flames leaping to life in the destroyed targets. The neighborhood was often shaken by the staccato of our anti-craft guns firing at Indian planes, creating havoc in the skies.
One night after seeing an Indian plane, a villager got so overwhelmed with his religious emotions that he tired to shoot down the plane with his rifle and unfortunately the whole village got bombed. We saw the ruins and ashes the next day. It was so sad. The whole village paid the price for one man’s fanaticism and stupidity.
Those days people became so religious that it spilled over into superstition, and there was talk of miracles. One of the stories was that when an Indian plane dropped a bomb near the River Attak, people saw an old man in a green dress and a green cap catch a thousand-pound bomb in his holy hands and quietly drop it into the river. People believed it was one of the miracles of Islam.
People were so emotionally involved that it was not uncommon to see hundreds of men and women lined up in front of shops all over the cities to listen to war news.
That war ended in seventeen days and the public was made to believe that the Pakistani army had won. One of the heroes who received a number of medals and awards for his extraordinary performance in the war was a pilot named M.M. Alam, who shot down six Indian planes in fifty six seconds, less than a minute.
Those were the days when the whole nation was proud of their army and air force. And I was no exception. After the war the intoxication with patriotism and religion remained for a long time like a sinister hangover. To enshrine it in the national psyche, the 6th of September was declared a national holiday.
I was so impressed by the war heroes that I wanted to join the Pakistani Army myself and fight for my religion, and become a hero, like M.M.Alam.
When people ask me, “How did your Holy War consciousness transform into Peace consciousness?” I keep quiet. I find it hard to answer the question in a few sentences. I think it was a gradual process.
Over the years, I discovered that we all have multiple identities and some identities are more significant than others. Like many other Muslims, I considered my religious identity to be primary and my ethnic, linguistic and cultural identities secondary. Eventually I realized that inside Islam there were sub-identities because of different sects in the Muslim World. The strongest sects were Shiites and Sunnis. I was shocked to find out that those identities were so strong that people were ready to kill each other in the name of God. For many years on the Tenth of Moharram, a special day of mourning for Shiites, there were violent confrontations between Shiites and Sunnis in numerous cities in which many people died. I also read about the centuries of Holy Wars between Muslims, Jews and Christians throughout Europe and the East. I gradually realized that religion divided people into believers and non-believers and that many religious people had a tribal mentality. Some of them identified so strongly with the tribe that they were ready to go to war with followers of another religion, another tribe, and call it a Holy War. Now I find it hard to believe that for many years I was one of them.
There was a time I used to wonder what my religious identity would have been, had I been born into a Hindu family in India or a Communist family in China.
In the journey from a religious attitude to a humanistic attitude towards life, a number of writers, philosophers and mystics guided my way. The first writer who challenged my thinking was Saadat Hasan Minto. He had written thought-provoking stories about the 1947 tragedy following Partition, in which thousands of innocent men, women and children were slaughtered on the altar of religion. In one of his stories he wrote,
“Why do you say one hundred Muslims went to heaven and one hundred Hindus went to hell. Why don’t you say we lost two hundred precious human lives.”
Minto was the first intellectual with a humanist attitude, which made me aware that all human beings were equal and that their lives were sacred. He helped me respect other people’s faiths and beliefs and lifestyles. His writings put a dent in my conservative, traditional, religious tribal thinking. After Minto when I read the teachings of Buddha and the writings of Kabir Das, I could not imagine how I could hate the followers of such peace loving philosophers and poets. Buddha helped me discover the spiritual dimension of life. He said, “One’s own experience is the ultimate teacher” and Kabir Das helped me transcend religious traditions and institutions and embrace all of humanity. He wrote,
I say only
What I have seen
With my own eyes
And you keep quoting
To unravel the mystery
But you insist
On keeping it
How can our paths
Cross? (Ref 1)
Buddha and Kabir Das, like many other mystics, helped me discover my own truth and respect other people’s truth. He taught me to accept that there are as many truths as people and as many realities as pairs of eyes in this world.
As I traveled through India and met wonderful writers and intellectuals and common people who welcomed me with open arms and hearts, I discovered that Hindus were my brothers and sisters. When I traveled in the Middle East, I realized that Muslims, Christians and Jews were all children of Abraham, and being followers of the monotheistic tradition, they had more similarities than differences. And when I traveled in Europe, the West Indies, North America, South America and South Africa, I discovered that all human beings share the same moon, the same sun, the same winds, the same mountains and the same oceans. Gradually I realized we are all children of Mother Earth, members of the same tribe, the same family, the Human Family.
Now when I turn on the television and see Afghanistan being bombed, I feel so thankful to my dad for not signing those papers. It was interesting that years later, after I became a doctor, he asked me once,
“Son! Do you still want to join the army?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I would have no objection if you wanted to join army now. As a doctor, you would be a healer, not a murderer. You could even help your suffering enemies.” That day, I realized that my father was a Humanist at heart, as he loved human beings and humanity. Years later, I remembered my dad when I read Walt Whitman’s poem that he had written in the Soldier’s Hospital in Washington while working as a volunteer with the wounded soldiers of the Civil War. He wrote,
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and stiff in the coffin
…I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin. (Ref 2)
That poem helped me see a human being even in my enemy. It helped me see the unity in our diversity, a common bond of humanity we all share as human beings.
To kill other human beings in the name of a merciful God is the ultimate contradiction human beings experience individually and collectively. We, as human beings, have our dark sides and we have a potential to kill. Throughout history, human beings have been killing other human beings for personal, social, national and political reasons. I believe that the most tragic killings are those done for religious reasons. The worst wars are Holy Wars as they are fought in the name of a compassionate and merciful God. Krisnamurti highlighted that contradiction in these words, “The men who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima said God was with them, those who flew from England to destroy Germany said that God was their co-pilot. The dictators, the prime ministers, the generals, the presidents, all talk about God, and they have immense faith in God. Are they doing service, making a better life for man? The people who say they believe in God have destroyed half of the world and the world is in complete misery.”
In the present international tragedy, when we read the speeches of Osama bin Laden and George Bush, we are struck by a number of similarities. Each believes he is fighting for justice and peace. Each believes the other is a terrorist. Each believes he on the right path. Both have declared a Holy War, and are willing to kill innocent people. One calls it a Crusade, and the other a jihad. Both believe God is on their side.
1.Kuman, Sehdev. The Vision of Kabir, Alpha and Omega Books, Ontario Canada, 1984.
2. Henry, Thomas and Lees, Dana. Living Biographies of Great Poets, Garden City Books USA 1984.
3. Krishnamurti. The First and Last Freedom, Krishnamurti Foundation London 1986.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MODERN TERRORISTS
by Dr. K. Sohail
Who are the people who get involved in terrorist attacks?
Why would someone kill thousands of innocent people?
What kind of personalities and philosophies do such people have?
Since the events of September 11th, 2001, terrorist activities have entered a new realm in today’s world, which demands our immediate review in light of new political, economic and religious changes in the world. Most people are still shocked to have found that the nineteen people who destroyed the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon were middle class, educated and well-trained men. They had learned to fly airplanes at flight schools in different parts of the United States. The attack was planned with such secrecy using such unusual domestic “weapons” that all the intelligence agencies of the Superpower could not have prevented the tragedy. Those hijackers were not uneducated, desperate and angry teenagers who tied some bombs to their bodies and entered a shopping mall to kill a handful of “enemies” as elsewhere. Those who knew these men perceived them as “normal” and “ordinary” and “average” and would never have thought them capable of performing such dastardly deeds.
To understand the psychology of these men, we need to emotionally distance ourselves and see their actions using a logical, rational and objective point of view. We need to consider many factors that could have played a role in the present tragedy, to ponder different pieces that link together to complete the puzzle. When I think of these “terrorists” and the puzzle they left behind for us to ponder, the following pieces come to mind.
The first is the psychology of these people who are willing to take the lives of innocent people voluntarily and without a stab of conscience. They include serial killers and mass murderers, people who have developed a personality where, because of past traumatic experiences, they have become so destructive and revengeful that they willingly kill strangers, people they have never met. While writing my book about Javed Iqbal, an accused serial killer of one hundred children in Pakistan, and researching world literature on the topic, I was shocked to discover that the highest numbers of serial killers and mass murderers in the last thirty years were found in the United States of America. Elliot Leyton, in his book, Hunting Humans, notes that “America produces proportionately more of these killers than any other nation on earth.” While these serial killers and mass murderers might have a personal, political and religious ideology, they are not members of any organized political or religious party and their activities are not part of any party’s agenda like today’s terrorists.
While reviewing the personalities of those serial killers and mass murderers, it became apparent to me that they belonged to two separate groups. The first are those men who grew up in very abusive homes and were violently treated by their families. Such people developed psychopathic personalities in their early years and were so angry and bitter at the whole wide world that at some stage of their lives they decided to take their “revenge” of innocent men and women. On the other hand, the second group included those men who were from middle-class, educated families who felt specifically angry with one particular religious, ethnic or gender or sexual orientation group. Their violence was focused on that segment of society.
The second piece of the puzzle is the involvement with a political organization. Such a political organization might have national and/or religious motives. In the last few decades we have read about a number of groups worldwide who train men for “terrorist” attacks. Such groups have a very well organized hierarchy and pick very committed and dedicated teenagers or young adults, almost always males. Many of these young men are uneducated and poor. Many have been incarcerated in prisons of the enemy, or their relatives have been killed or badly hurt during violent confrontations in the past. These teenagers and young men face death for their country or cause. Once ready, they are given a “mission” but in many cases most of the details are kept secret from the recruit. On a particular day, they are transported to the desired place and then ordered to perform their role. There is no turning back. Many become known as “suicide bombers”.
The third piece of the puzzle is the extreme religious belief system that becomes the very reason for their existence. They not only have a faith in a life after death but also believe that by killing their enemies, which in their eyes are “enemies of God”, they will go to heaven and be remembered as martyrs, as shaheeds. In many cases they volunteer their services in the Holy War but in some cases join a small group of religious extremists to become a part of their special mission.
It is important to understand that most religious communities whether Muslims, Jews, Christians or followers of other world religions, do not believe in killing innocent men and women. Some might believe in Crusades or Holy wars or Jihads. It is important to differentiate between those soldiers who believe in fighting with the army of their enemies on the borders of their country to protect the sovereignty of their nation versus the “terrorists” who do not give a second thought to the moral decadence of killing innocent people.
The fourth piece of the puzzle is Guerilla Warfare. Many “soldiers” go through rigorous training to face the most trying circumstances. They have dedicated their lives to the cause and are ready to die any time. By becoming a part of the guerilla organization, they learn to access the artillery and ammunition of the enemy and then use it against them. In the past they had been part of ambush attacks, chiefly at night, and stole guns and even tanks from their enemies. In the modern world they have access to the universities and training camps of their enemies and learn to use military weapons of every description.
In the case of the nineteen hijackers, many of these pieces might fit easily together. Without having access to their personality profiles and family interviews, as one does in a psychiatric practice, one can only theorize about their motivations.
“Why do people resort to terrorist attacks?” is the question that has been preoccupying many minds in the last few days. My opinion is that when people feel weak, vulnerable and helpless while confronting a power far stronger then they, they lash out in anger and zeal and resort to terrorist attacks. A terrorist symbolizes a contradiction, vulnerable yet strong at the same time. He wants to remain anonymous yet also remembered in the history of his community as a hero. He wants to die and yet also live forever. He is the most rational being in planning his attack and yet acts in the most irrational in being destructive to himself and others.
We have to see whether these nineteen men represent a larger group who think like them and have a similar psychology but who are not willing to risk their lives by going “all the way”. If we do not take them seriously, we may see the emergence of another group in the next few years that can plan and execute more terrorist attacks like the September 11th tragedy. The time has come for an international organization such as the United Nations to discover the whereabouts of these groups to protect innocent citizens of all countries.
The nineteen hijackers chose to make a statement. They want all of us to think seriously about the unresolved political conflicts of the modern world. It is quite possible that if those issues are not addressed in a fair and just way, the conflict between the East and the West, Muslim and non-Muslim worlds will continue. There will be ongoing tension and from time to time, outpourings of violence from both sides.
I believe that we need to transcend the psychology of Revenge and Retaliation and find ways of continually extending cooperation. We need to break down the walls of anger and resentment and bitterness through unselfish deeds and build bridges of understanding and compassion.
Humanity is going through an adolescent turmoil. Like teenagers, we are struggling with our identity. We want to know who we are and where we belong. Like troubled teens, we often get suicidal and homicidal. It is only in adolescence that human beings begin to develop the capacity to commit successful suicides. So far in the history of mankind we have not been able to kill the whole species. It is only in the last century since the development of nuclear weapons that we have attained the capacity to wipe out the whole of humanity from planet Earth.
We have reached a stage where we can set our direction on the path of self-destruction and commit collective suicide or accept the challenges of adulthood and acknowledge that we are all children of Mother Earth and part of the Human Family. Our need to mature is crucial, whereby we can transform our violent consciousness, whether expressed in national civil wars, religious holy wars, isolated terrorist attacks or guerilla warfare, to peaceful consciousness. Such a transformation can happen with evolution, not revolution, with education, not preaching, in the social environment of supportive families and schools with positive role models, rather than confining men and women to army barracks. Collectively we have to realize that when two thirds of the world’s people are poor and uneducated and sick, there cannot be much hope for happy and healthy communities worldwide. We also must respond to millions of refugees living in camps around the world, waiting for the promises made by the United Nations and the wealthy, advanced Western World to be fulfilled. We must all be shocked at the quarter of a million refugees in camps in Bangladesh waiting for the last thirty years to find a respectable place to live and work.
The time has come for everyone to do valuable soul-searching. Modern terrorists are the tip of the iceberg reflecting the underlying tensions between different communities and the unresolved conflicts between different parts of the world. We need to make a commitment to create communities where people can live peacefully and equally, irrespective of cultural or religious differences, otherwise we will continue down the path of holy and civil wars. We must insist that our leaders choose the right direction of peace, understanding, human rights and co-operation.
OSAMA BIN LADEN
…A TERRORIST, A FREEDOM FIGHTER, A HOLY WARRIOR?
by Dr. K. Sohail
Osama Bin Laden is emerging as the mythological figure of the
twenty- first century. Since the bombing of the Twin Towers of the World
Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11th,
2001, Osama Bin Laden has become a household name all over the world. Almost
immediately, his picture appeared on the front pages of national newspapers
as the American Government’s most wanted man -- Dead or Alive. There is
a reward of twenty-five million dollars on his head because the American
Government is holding him, and his organization al Qaeda, responsible for
the terrorist attacks. America asked the Afghani Taliban Government to
hand him over for trial. President George Bush stated in his speech on
September 20, 2001, “Americans are asking who attacked our country. The
evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated
terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda…This group and its leader … a
person named Osama bin Ladin…are linked to many other organizations in
different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic
movement of Ujbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more
than 60 countries…And tonight, the United States of America makes the following
demands on the Taliban…Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders
of al Qaeda who hide in your land…The Taliban must act, and act immediately.
They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate”.
(Ref 1). In spite of the President’s declaration of war, Taliban representatives
repeatedly asked for convincing proof of the association between the American
tragedy and Osama Bin Laden. Taliban insisted that if the tragedy took
place in New York but the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, how was the
Afghani Government responsible for the attack?
When the American Government failed to convince the Taliban Government in Afghanistan to hand over Osama bin Laden, the Americans widened their accusations to the past terrorist attacks of al Qaeda. They have believed over the years that Osama Bin Laden has been masterminding all terrorist attacks across the world against American Embassies and American diplomats. President Bush in his speech stated, “ They [the members of al Qaeda] are the same murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for bombing the USS Cole.” (Ref 1). Osama Bin Laden has been on the FBI Wanted List for a number of years. In spite of the unusually large reward offered, American Intelligence agencies have not been able to find this very dangerous man.
The FBI, in its campaign against the Most Wanted Fugitive, has stated
“Osama bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people.
Considered armed and extremely dangerous.
The United States Government is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Osama bin Laden.”
When we review Osama bin Laden’s relationship with America we discover to our amazement that he was hired by the American Government and trained by the CIA and the experts of guerilla warfare arranged by America in the 1980s to fight the Holy War against Communism. That was the time when Christians and Muslims were fighting together against the atheists, the non-believing Communists. But after the war with Russia, there was a fall-out and friends became enemies because their friendship was based on common animosity with Russia rather than any shared values. Osama Bin Laden was disappointed that Americans did not fulfill the promises of building the Afghani nation -- no doubt a serious diplomatic mistake, as it will take many times the millions that should have been spent on infrastructure, to fight the current “war” in Afghanistan.
After Laden’s disillusionment with the West and with the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, who invited American troops onto the sacred soil of the Islamic Holy Land, he formed his own organization, al Qaeda. He declared a Holy War against Jews and Christians in general and America in particular and transformed himself into a Holy Warrior in the eyes of many Muslims. . Over the years, he has successfully in recruited and psychologically conditioned thousands of men who are willing to sacrifice their lives for him.
After Laden declared jihad, the Holy War against America, there have been a number of serious attempts to assassinate him but the American Government has not been successful, in spite of their most sophisticated intelligence agencies. Former President Bill Clinton had declared Laden “ America’s Public Enemy Number One” (Ref 3) giving him political and public stature that he had not enjoyed before. Some politicians believe that Laden benefits from the rising anger in the Muslim World against America. Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist stated, “ In many Islamic countries, Osama is a hero by default…he is the main beneficiary of the growing hatred in the Islamic World against America.” (Ref 4)
It is ironic that America has been trying to bomb the camps they had established and kill the groups they had created. They have been trying to destroy the trees they had planted in the 1980s, not knowing they would produce such bitter fruits. Robert Fisk, a journalist with “The Nation” wrote in 1998, “Some of his [Osama bin Laden’s] current Afghan fellow fighters had been trained earlier by the CIA in the very camps that were the target of recent US missiles…but whereas they had been called camps for “ freedom fighters” when US agents set them up in the early eighties, now they had become camps for “terrorists”. (Ref 3)
When we study Laden’s leadership in the Muslim World and his struggles with the Western World, it becomes clear that Osama bin Laden is dedicated to his cause and committed to his fatal mission. He has a dream and his dream has many parts. He would like:
… to topple the governments of Royal Families in the Middle East. He believes that on one hand, they do not represent Islam and on the other hand, they have become puppets in the hands of the Western World.
… the Western World to stop interfering with the domestic affairs of the Muslim World.
… Americans to take their soldiers back from Saudi Arabia, the land of Holy Places
… the Western World to lift sanctions on Iraq which have killed thousands of innocent children, women and men because of lack of food, clothes, shelter and medicines.
… Palestine to be a strong and free state, independent of Western influences.
…all Muslim nations to be united under one flag. He wants to erase all borders between Muslim countries. He wants all Muslims to be part of one umma, one nation, one country, one state. He believes it can happen only through an armed struggle, a jihad, a Holy War.
To make his dream come true, Osama bin Laden has been working hard and
relentlessly for the last two decades. When we try to understand the dynamics
of Laden’s dream, we realize that a number of factors and circumstances have played a significant role in the evolution of his dream.
Laden inherited the vision of a strong Muslim Nation from his father, the late Mohammed bin Laden, who wanted to liberate Jerusalem, the land of Holy Places, from the influence of the Jews. “Osama’s father owned a construction company that took part in the renovation of Medina and Al-Aqsa mosques. He wanted to liberate Al-Aqsa from Jewish control.” (Ref 4) Osama stated in his interview, “ My father decided to produce many sons, as many as he could and to convert them into mujaheds [holy warriors].” (Ref 4) Osama’s father had many wives and 52 children. Osama has been walking in the footsteps of his father not only by preparing himself for a Holy War but also by having sixteen children and bringing them up as dedicated Muslims and Holy Warriors. He stated in his interview, “I have sixteen children. All of my sons are ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of Allah Almighty.” (Ref 4)
When Osama bin Laden was a teenager he spent many hours with religious scholars in Saudi Arabia and had passionate discussions about Islamic faith, traditions and the concept of an ideal Islamic state. He became aware that Islamic states down through the centuries have been taken over by Royal Families and dictators, and their governments have not been faithful to their cultural and religious heritage. They have been corrupted by the wealth, greed and Western secular influences.
After finishing his studies in Riyadh, he decided to join the Holy War against Communist Russia and fight for the cause of Islam. That was the time when he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1979 and met Afghani leaders to organize a strong army to fight the atheistic Communist regime. In the 1980s America supported Osama bin Laden and provided him with most modern guerilla war experts to train his army. Osama bin Laden recruited thousands of Muslim soldiers, Mujahedeens, from nearly sixty Muslim countries and established their camps in different parts of Afghanistan. America had promised Laden that when he won the Holy War against Communism, they would help him to build a strong and independent Muslim Nation and provide it with all the necessary technical and financial support to build schools, roads and hospitals so that the poor and desperate Muslims in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim World could prosper.
After the Communists were defeated and the Russian troops went back home, America did not fulfill her promises. Laden was utterly disappointed in America. He felt cheated, manipulated, exploited and abused by American Government, after “he” had won the war against Russia.
Laden then focused on Saudi Arabia. He was critical of the Royal Family who he considered an oppressive regime. He believed the Saudi Government had harassed and hurt many Muslim scholars. “The regime” he stated, “has strived to keep these scholars in the shadows and then removed them, one way or another, from being effective elements in the lives of the people in the community.” (Ref 5) He was also critical of the Saudi Government as it was heavily influenced by the Western governments. “The external policy of the Saud regime towards Islamic issues is a policy which is tied to the British outlook from the establishment of Saudi Arabia until 1364 ah (1945 A.D.), when it became attached to the American outlook after America gained prominence as a major power in the world after the Second World War.” (Ref 5) Laden wanted Saudi Arabia to be ruled according to the Islamic Laws and traditions. When the Saudi Government felt threatened by his activities, he was put under house arrest.
Laden finally escaped and went to the Sudan to build a seven-hundred-mile highway. He brought equipment and soldiers from Afghanistan to construct the highway. He gradually became a local hero, as the Sudanese saw in him a Savior who wanted to build a strong Muslim nation. When asked by Robert Fisk, a journalist from the Independent [newspaper] why he was building a highway for the Sudanese, he replied, “They like this work and so do I. This is a great plan which we are achieving for the people here, it helps the Muslims and improves their lives.” (Ref 6) In the Sudan, Osama bin Laden created the reputation of a reformer and a nation builder, that continues to grow.
Laden’s criticism of the Saudi Government escalated. He did not want the Saudi Government to be dependent on America. The American and Saudi governments turned against him. Saudi Arabia cancelled his citizenship and threatened to freeze his assets that were worth millions of dollars.
Osama bin Laden’s breaking point came after the Gulf War when he became extremely angry with America heading the attack on Iraq and with Saudi Arabia’s invitation to American troops to enter their Holy land.
Osama bin Laden’s anger became generalized to the entire Western World when he saw thousands of innocent children, women and men dying because of the sanctions against Iraq. He was also furious at Palestinians suffering without an independent state to live peacefully and respectfully. He saw millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the world who could not return to their motherland. He expressed his anger in one of his interviews, “Americans want to implement the UN resolutions against Iraq, Libya and Iran but not against Israel because America is Islam’s enemy”…( Ref 4) “When Iraq attacked Kuwait, my government [Saudi] asked for my help but I left my country because I was not ready to fight against Iraq with the help of the Americans who ditched us in Afghanistan”. (Ref 4)
Finally Osama bin Laden lost his patience and organized his group al Qaeda and in August 1996 declared a Holy War against the Western World in general and America in particular. In his March 1997 interview with Peter Arnett of CNN, he said,“ We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation of the Prophet’s Night Travel Land (Palestine). And we believe the US is directly responsible for those who were killed in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.” (Ref 6)
When Laden moved back to Afghanistan, the Taliban came into power. They wanted to put the philosophy of Mujahedeen, supported and trained by America and Pakistan, into practice. Osama bin Laden also had an opportunity to make Afghanistan the first country to adopt his concept of a true Islamic Government based on many centuries of teachings.
It is ironic that Laden’s dream of an Islamic State was not a modern, liberal, secular and pluralistic State, it was rather a dream of an oppressive, controlling theocratic State. Within a few years Laden’s dream turned into the nation’s nightmare. Millions of Afghanis began fleeing the country and ended up in refugee camps in the neighboring countries. Mulla Omar, the Afghani leader, a close associate of Laden, became so unpopular that only three countries chose to have diplomatic ties with Afghanistan. Laden was introduced by the Saudi and American governments to the rest of the world as a terrorist who was leading the al Qaeda terrorist organization. The oppressive practices in Afghanistan caused President Bush to state that he wanted to liberate the Afghani people from the Taliban and Islam from al Qaeda. His September 20, 2001 speech made that clear. “In Afghanistan, we see al Qaeda’s vision of the world…Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized…many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough…The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” (Ref 1)
It is also interesting to note that the same America who is criticizing the Taliban Government has been benefiting from the multi-million, even multi-billion heroin market of Afghanistan. Indian writer Arundhati Roy highlighted that phenomenon in her letter to The Guardian: “Within two years of the CIA’s arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between $100bn and $200bn, were ploughed back into training and arming militants…Before the CIA arrived, there was a small rural market for opium in Pakistan. Between 1979 and 1985, the number of heroin addicts grew from zero to one-and-a-half million.” (Ref 10) Those numbers have increased in the last decade.
When we review Osama bin Laden’s philosophy and lifestyle, it appears that he has a personality like an iceberg, a personality that conceals more than it reveals. We see only the tip; the rest is hidden under water. It is not surprising, keeping his personality in mind, that he chose the career of leader of one of the most powerful guerilla warrior organizations. He is aware that in guerilla warfare most of the action is in the form of ambushes, performed in the darkness of the night, thus enhancing the mystery he has become throughout the world.
Today, Osama bin Laden has become a mythological character. It is difficult to differentiate fact from fiction, fantasy from reality. It is hard to know the strength of his following. He seems to be a self-appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim World who has declared jihad, a Holy War against the Western World and America in particular. “ If liberating my land is called terrorism, this is a great honour for me.”(Ref 3) When we study Osama bin Laden’s life story, we are amazed to find that in the last two decades he has challenged three great powers of the world: the Soviet Union, the Saudi Royal Family and now the American Empire. With each confrontation, he became stronger, braver and apparently fearless. He has reached a stage in life where he is not afraid of death. He gives part of the credit to his deep faith. His religious beliefs give him peace and tranquility. He shares his profound experience in these words: “ No, I was never afraid of death. As Muslims, we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a battle, God sends us sequina, tranquility. Once I was only 30 meters from the Russians and they were trying to capture me. I was under bombardment but I was so peaceful in my heart that I fell asleep.” (Ref 7).
When we focus on the highlights of Laden’s life, it becomes clear that the turning point came when he abandoned the luxurious lifestyle of Saudi Arabia and joined the Holy War against Russia. That profound experience transformed his life and his philosophy. He stated in his interview with Robert Fisk, “ What I lived in two years there, I could not have lived in a hundred years elsewhere.” (Ref 3)
When people see Laden’s picture on television screen, they see a kind, reserved, serene and tranquil face. Many believe he looks more like a Holy Man than a terrorist. Laden has charm and charisma. Thousands of young men from all over the Muslim world are dying to see him, to touch him, to kiss his hand and give their lives for his cause. He has many characteristics of a Cultish Personality.
People with Cultish Personalities are not only charismatic; they also lead non-traditional lives because of their unconventional philosophies and belief systems. They continually challenge taboos and confront traditions, which causes them to run afoul of legal, religious and social institutions. They are generally creative and many of their activities are seen as unethical, abnormal and even criminal. Because of their charm and charisma they develop a following. It is not difficult for them to attract very dedicated disciples who are willing to make enormous sacrifices for their leader. Over time, the following grows. Unfortunately when the guru is penalized and persecuted, the followers also suffer.
The twentieth century has produced a number of such Cultish Personalities all over the world. The first one that comes to my mind is Gregory Rasputin, the mad monk of Siberia. In the early part of the twentieth century, Rasputin became a mythological figure in Russian politics. He had a number of characteristics that made him extra-ordinary. He was loved and hated by millions of Russians. He started his career as a religious minister in Siberia but gradually he became famous throughout the country because of his hypnotic and healing powers. When Tsar Nicholas and Tsaritsa Alexandra realized that their son suffered from Hemophilia and could not be cured by doctors, one of the maids suggested to the Tsaritsa that she should consult Rasputin. When Rasputin was summoned, the young prince was so sick that the doctors were worried he would die of the continuous bleeding. Rasputin asked all the physicians present to leave and spent half an hour with the child on his own. When the Tsar and Tsarita came into the room, they were amazed to see their son smiling and playing. The Tsarita was so impressed by the healing miracle that she became Rasputin’s disciple. Although Tsar was suspicious of Rasputin’s intentions, the Tsarita continued to invite him to the palace.
Over the years, Rasputin became a major political influence in the Tsar’s family and political life. Rasputin himself led a very dissolute life; he slept with married and single women indiscriminately, drank excessively and at times got violent and abusive. This behaviour made him many enemies who attempted to kill him by various means; ultimately he was poisoned, shot and drowned in a dramatic finale. Historians hold Rasputin partly responsible for the downfall of the Tsar. It has been said that if there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no Lenin.
In the second half of the twentieth century there were a number of men in America who became famous and notorious because of their Cultish Personalities. One of them was David Koresh. He was a follower of a Bulgarian-born immigrant to America, Victor Houtoff, who started his Branch Davidian sect as an offshoot of the mainstream Seventh Day Adventists in 1929. David Koresh took over the cult in 1986.
“He introduced ideas of polygamy, group upbringing of commune children, violent resistance to outside authorities and, most significantly, the idea that he was the bearer of the final message of God and the key to the Seventh Seal of the Book of Revelation by which the faithful would be marked and saved from doom” (Ref 9).
Koresh got into legal trouble because his disciples began collecting arms in their commune. When they refused to surrender to the police, the cult compound was attacked by the FBI and all but two members perished in the ensuing fire of April 19th, 1993.
One other Cultish Personality who became well-known in North America was Guru Rajneesh, who was originally a professor of philosophy in India. Because of his intelligence and mesmerizing personality, he attracted a number of disciples. With his preachings of meditation and free sex, he attracted as members of his ashram thousands of Westerners who were exploring alternate lifestyles. But his philosophy and teachings were criticized by local people, to the point that he had to leave India.
Michael Jordan in his book CULTS wrote, “ He had managed to attract considerable antagonism on the sub-continent for his hostility and derogation of others, including Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. His self-styles title of Bhagwan [which means God and also Master of Vagina] and his overseeing of naked, sexually-charged romps on the seashore brought more local disfavor.” (Ref 9)
Rajneesh was forced to relocate to the United States where he established his own commune. For a while he was so successful that he had accumulated, among other trappings of wealth, a fleet of 99 Rolls Royces. However, he got into legal difficulties with the local community and was asked to leave America. Unfortunately, his motherland refused to take him so for a few years he wandered around the world until his death in 1990, “ allegedly as a result of either poisoning or from full-blown AIDS.” (Ref 9) In the years since his death, millions of people have visited his Ashram in India. Interestingly the leader of the movement is a Canadian by the name of Swami Mike, son of a British Columbia judge. According to one report, the average revenue generated in that Ashram in Poona, India, is nearly 50 million dollars a year.
Like many other Cultish Personalities Osama Bin Laden has also been successful in creating a myth, a myth in which it is very difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction, fantasy and reality.
Is he a terrorist?
Is he a freedom fighter?
Is he a Holy Warrior?
The more we investigate his life story, the more we come to the realization that perceptions are as important as realities. In his own eyes he is a freedom fighter, in the eyes of many Americans a terrorist, and in the eyes of many Muslims a Holy warrior.
When we read the speeches of Osama bin Laden and George Bush, we are struck
by a number of similarities. Each believes he is fighting for justice and peace. Each believes the other is a terrorist. Each believes he is on the right path. Each believes that the other is doing injustice to the cause and message of Islam. Both men are willing to wage war and kill innocent people, believing God is on their side.
Osama Bin Laden will remain a myth until he is captured alive and tried in some International Court. Some believe that if that happens, many political, military and terrorist realities might surface which most of the world may not be ready to accept. As long he is in hiding or finally found dead, the myth will continue. Some already consider him an institution and a legacy and feel that he has forced the American Government, the biggest Superpower since the fall of the USSR, to take the problems of the Muslim world seriously and address some of the unresolved issues between the Muslim and the Non-Muslim worlds and the conflicts between the Western and the Eastern Worlds.
Many believe that Osama bin Laden’s main contribution to world politics is that he has forced politicians, intellectuals and the common people to put pressure on the government of the United States to review their foreign policy. His message has already found some echoes inside and outside America. Many enlightened American intellectuals and progressive politicians and writers from all over the world have asked the American Government and people to do some soul-searching and consider why there has been escalating anger and resentment in the Muslim World against America. Arthur Kent, a Canadian journalist, in his article “Season of Change” wrote, “Shocked out of its sense of splendid isolation, America wants revenge. But is anyone thinking of how to win the battle for global hearts and minds?” He also highlighted a poster held by Pakistani protesters asking the question, “Americans Think! Why you are hated all over the world?” (Ref 8).
American intellectual Noam Chomsky answered the question by stating that the reason for such hatred is that the United States “is the prime backer of the corrupt and brutal Saudi regime and others like it in the region”. Even an enlightened United States Congressman, Ron Paul, made a strong case for restraint and reflection in the House of Representatives on September 25th, 2001, in his speech, “America Needs A Non-interventionist Foreign Policy”.
When Osama bin Laden was asked by a journalist if he had any message for the American President, he said he only had a message for American mothers. He stated, “ To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American Government’s policy and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist, who pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest. We believe that the American army in Saudi Arabia came to separate between the Muslims and the people for not ruling in accordance with Allah’s wish. They came to be in support of the Israeli forces in occupied Palestine, the land of the “ Israa” of our Prophet (PBUH). (Ref 6)
Osama bin Laden strongly believes that if the underlying unresolved problems between Muslim and Non-Muslim worlds are not solved, then there will be violent confrontations and Holy Wars in the future.
“ If you kill one Osama today, there will be a hundred Osamas tomorrow”
Osama bin Laden
1. Bush, George. Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People,
Washington D.C., September 20, 2001.
2. FBI, U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C. June 1999.
3. Fisk, Robert. The Nation Newspaper Talks With Osama Bin Laden, [New York] September 21, 1998.
4. Mir, Hamid. The Friday Times [Pakistan] Sep 21-27, 2001.
5. “Mujahid Usamah Bin Laden Talks Exclusively to Nida ul Islam about The New
Powder Keg in the Middle East”, Nida-ul-Islam, [Sydney], October-November, 1996.
6. Arnett, Peter. CNN Article Interview with Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan, [N.p.]
7. Fisk, Robert. “The Holy Warrior: Interview with Osama Bin Laden” The Independent
[U.K], Dec 6, 1996.
8. Kent, Arthur. “Season of Change”, Macleans Weekly Magazine, [Toronto] October 1,
9. Jordan, Michael. CULTS, Britain, 1996.
10. Roy, Arundhati. “The Algebra of Infinite Justice”, The Guardian, [London]
September 29, 2001.