Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Islamic Oligarchy Sputters in Kashmir

Mehmood puts his finger in the crux of the emerging Islamic agenda in Kashmir

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, mid-30's, lives and works in Srinagar. His commentary is published by the Rising Kashmir.)

Kashmir: Problem Islam Inc.

Immediately after her release from detention, Asiya Andrabi, head of a Kashmiri based women organization Dukhtaran-e-Millat, often atrociously translated as 'Daughters of faith', made an out of the blue statement in her press conference. The old guard of Resistance should stay behind and make way for the new; this was the salvo that Asiya fired in the wilderness of Kashmir's Resistance politics aimed directly at Syed Ali Geelani.

She repeated the same things, albeit with an elaboration that she wants Geelani to lead the movement spiritually and leave the more practical side of it to young blood, in her interview with Rising Kashmir ( 08 Jan, 09). Although, neither this statement nor the kind of mindset that gives birth to such crass and flagrant comments, deserves any serious attention, but it becomes an occasion to get actuated into a discourse that is not only pertinent to the happenings in Kashmir but the factor of timing has made it inevitable for us to get started in this direction. Thematic imbalances and frequent upheavals in public behavior is like a pincer movement, warding off which becomes immensely urgent, if the Socio-Political being of Kashmir has to be saved. Although people like Asiya cannot be suspected of being oblivious to the threats that Kashmir society faces today, but their political behavior has always unwittingly added to the precariousness of Kashmir's society, more particularly its Muslim character. It might sound ironical that those who are identified as radical in their Muslim assertion can contribute to the peril of a Muslim society. It may be provocative to some, off putting to some others and pure pleasure for still some ears; but here the intent to bring Islam Inc. of Kashmir into question is neither to offend any particular section of our society nor to needlessly provide grist to the mill that has always been working for the state power of India in Kashmir. It is an attempt to approach an unease that is getting intense with every turn of events in Kashmir.

First an explanation; what one means by Islam Inc. in Kashmir are all those organizations who came into politics after getting inspired, mobilized (led or misled!) by the runaway marriage of the details of practical politics and an inter-referential system based on religious text. (The relation of politics and religion is an academic and intellectual theme, having political implications. that was hardly attended, let alone improved by the Islamic organizations of Kashmir. Their engagement with political Islam has mostly been to the extent of intense public rhetoric, naïve sentiment and a response to the onslaught and invitation of power.)

The mother of all such organizations is Jamat-e-Islami, whose share of political errors and blunders notwithstanding, has much to its credit in terms of contribution towards making religion and faith approachable, affordable and affable in many ways, for the younger generation. (Since this party did not develop on intellectual lines, it creased to be inviting in its later stage.) Fanning out from this central body are all those groups, who borrowed their expression and stance on welfare works, dissemination of religious teachings, and political protest from the very core teachings and methods of Jamat-e-Islami. These groups went in all directions; some of them becoming soft and benign by turning away from active politics and engaging themselves with welfare works, and others morphing into more radical and militant in their rhetoric and behavior. Among the later kind falls Dukhtaran-e-Millat. This party, although statistically not very substantial, has unmistakable presence in Kashmir, thanks to the generous interest that media always shows in shallow and sensational political behavior. Islam Inc. may also include those groups and parties which connect themselves to Salafi school of thought, who have gravitated towards political Islam under the impact that traveled from exterior lands after 1989. Since we had many militant organizations who traced their origin to Salafi school, and approached Kashmir issue from a particular frame of reference, this school of thought too becomes a part of Islam Inc. in Kashmir. Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith may represent this school of thought for a common man in Kashmir. (Interestingly this party has shown an unusual engagement with public protests that were witnessed in Kashmir in the wake of Amarnath land crisis.)

All these Islamic organizations can be merged into one huge body under the title Islam Inc.

The vanguard of this Islam Inc. represented by the senior leadership of all the Islamic parties gradually started getting uneasy with the over engagement of party cadres in active politics, considering it as deviation of mind and wastage of resources. More active and effervescent lot fell to the temptation of being steadfast and loyal to the themes of Islamic movement and started skidding towards extremes. This way what seemed to others as radical and extreme version of Islam, in the form of Jamate–e-Islami, was within blamed of being soft in its approach towards political Islam. This way Islam Inc. became a layered body with varied degree of hardness in their carapaced exteriors; softer layers blaming the rest as being extremist in their approach and vice versa. Asiaya's remarks about Geelani emanate from that extremist mindset which got formulated within the larger body of Islamic movement. The sense of being superior in understanding, deeper in commitment and purer in sincerity is the hallmark of this mindset. They presume that they alone can understand what is good for others and can better safeguard the interests of a Muslim society and culture. This inward-looking-belief gets strengthened when it is fed from the scripture. To begin with, this whole layered body should willfully suspend the belief that they alone are the solution to all the problems that Kashmir is facing. Up ahead they need to rethink structured religiosity and jettison the rhetoric based on dogmatic assertion that we represent faith and want its applicability ensured in the collective life of a society. Further, they must make a distinction between text and its interpretation. Quran and understanding-of-Quran are two essentially different realms; one is the domain of faith, connecting the spiritual in an individual to Unseen, and another very mundane, connecting body with the world of matter. And this mundane element is a part of the larger territory of human issues that are secular in appearance, profane and uninitiated in purpose, dispensable in relation to space, and changeable in its movement through time.

Once, if at all, this happens Islam Inc. will feel liberated from the bondages of its own creation; they will become more agile, can engage with the outer world more fruitfully, and contribute, in collaboration with others, in winning its people freedom at a lower price and with better prospect.

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