By Profs. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Scott Atran
After he circulated his address to the UN Security Council on extremism (available here), Prof. Scott Atran received the following response from Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy of Pakistan. Prof. Hoodbhoy is a nuclear physicist, essayist, national security advisor, and social activist. A prize-winning scientist with a PhD from MIT, Prof. Hoodbhoy teaches at Forman Christian College University in Lahore and the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.
In addition to has activism around environmental, social and cultural issues, Prof. Hoodbhoy has also been an outspoken advocate against the development of nuclear arms, including in Pakistan. As Prof. Atran writes about Hoodbhoy, ‘We do not always agree on what are the causes or possible solutions to political violence, but he is one of the most courageous people I know.’
My thanks to both Profs. Hoodbhoy and Atran for the opportunity to share this exchange.
Subject: Address to the UN Security Council on Youth and Violent Extremism
I listened to every word you said and disagreed with nothing. You said it well, and before important people. But there was nothing new I learned from it, and nothing you said gave me any hope.
You see that I am very depressed, having lost a friend last night to an assassin’s bullets.
Last night in Karachi, after hosting a meeting, Sabeen Mahmood and her mother were returning home. Two armed men on a motorcycle pulled up next to her car and pumped Sabeen and her mother full of bullets. Sabeen is no more, her mother is in critical condition in hospital. Sabeen was her only child.
I have not heard of Gulalai, who you mentioned in your speech, as a beacon. But Sabeen was widely known in Pakistan, and even more in Karachi. She created The Second Floor (https://www.facebook.com/t2f2.0), a unique meeting ground in Karachi for artists, musicians, activists, and everyone who still cares about a society that is hell-bent upon self-destruction.
As you said the evil of the Islamist narrative needs a counter-narrative. And indeed her goal was to expose young people to a wider set of cultural and political issues, perhaps subtlety and sometimes openly. She enthusiastically helped me set up my little initiative: http://eacpe.org/
The Islamist agenda is propagated wholesale through our textbooks, the media, and in our schools (I found this crucially missing in your speech). So, although Sabeen reached out to a few tens of thousands the other side reaches out to many tens of millions. And they do not tolerate even small challenges and attack us viciously. So what do we do?
A thousand curses on those who stilled this brave young woman. Her funeral is in a few hours, and I have too many tears in my eyes to write more.
Prof. Atran responds:
Of all the reactions to my address, this has been the most important to me. I don’t know how to answer except to say, we must fight their growing power any way, anywhere, we can. With words, with weapons, with sincere efforts at warm embrace for those who might otherwise be pulled or pushed into their dark world that would exterminate all who dare be free and different.
I think that most of us comfort ourselves with the thought that “they can’t win,” at least in the long run, that they must burn themselves out in their frenzy or because they will inevitably fail to sustain a viable society with a minimum standard of life. But this may be dead wrong. Why is it that so many young people are being drawn into this increasingly powerful destroyer of human rights, which despises the very idea of government of and by the people?
Pervez, I don’t have an answer, except to fight it when we see it, in the best way we can as you have been doing for decades now, with no guarantee of success but knowing that the alternative is just not liveable. I have no words of comfort, just tears, too.
A final note:
For anthropologists over many decades, the walls have eroded between our ‘fields’ where we do our research and ‘the academy,’ where we practice our discipline, sometimes gradually, sometimes quite quickly. People have joined our discussion from a host of different cultural backgrounds, their insights improving our understanding, multiplying the analytical tools at our disposal, and sharpening our intellectual edge.
Not only has this changed the types of studies that we do as we turn the anthropological lens on ourselves and people close to home, but also because ‘we’ now include anthropologists, activists, social scientists and even amateur analysts from virtually everywhere in the world.
I’m really happy to include this response from Prof. Hoodbhoy and a further communication from Prof. Atran because they highlight the importance of this growing exchange, no matter how challenging it can become or the ethical issues we must surmount. For a project like Prof. Atran’s, the implications are too important to let it circulate only among card-carrying inductees in the ‘ivory towers’ of Europe and North America. This is a discussion and research project that needs to include prominently intellectuals and analysts from around the world, especially those like Prof. Hoodbhoy who have such a distinctive and important contribution to make.
Image of Prof. Hoodbhoy form an excellent interview by Denis MacEoin in 2009, ‘Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy: “Islam and Science Have Parted Ways”’, at the website Secular Pakistan.