Mark Durie has a must-read article today -- "Aslim Taslam, Three Cups of Tea and Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws" -- which flags the phenomenon of Pakistani Christians converting to Islam to protect themselves and their children from the nation's blasphemy laws. "Blasphemy" -- crossing or critiquing Islam in any way -- is a capital offense in fabulous "ally" Pakistan, as many Americans are now finally learning. So, in paying out billion$ a year to Pakistan, mostly Christian Americans are also in effect subsidizing such blasphemy laws.
Many incidents have been reported from Pakistan where Muslims have threatened their Christian neighbours with a blasphemy charge out of vindictiveness, or to extort something from them. ... It is not only Christians who are targeted with the blasphemy law. The Star article also describe a recent case of a Shi'ite doctor who was charged with blasphemy after he threw a travelling salesman's business card in the trash.
The salesman, whose name was Muhammad complained to religious authorities that throwing his business card aaway was blasphemy, because Muhammad is also the name of Islam's founder.
Stop right there and mull, silently, no additional words necessary. Breaking such non-sense down any further defies all notions of Western logic -- which is exactly the point. What requires much more analysis, however, is why the United States of America believes a strategic alliance with such a country, with such a people -- a hugely costly alliance with a sharia-schooled people -- is in the best national interest of the USA. And we're not talking about scattershot events. As Durie points out, the killer of the Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor who opposed blasphemy laws, has been lauded as a national hero, drawing massive support from Pakistanis.
When Taseer's self-confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, was being taken to court, he was showered with rose petals by 400 lawyers, who clambered over each other to offer him their services, and a rally held in Karachi to demonstrate support for the killing attracted 40,000 people.
Zafar Hilali, a former Pakistani ambassador and foreign secretary, has insisted that Pakistan's tensions over the blasphemy law are more to do with class divisions than religion.
Certainly the blasphemy law is working as a tool to encourage conversions, but is the idea of people becoming Muslims to be safe supported in Islam?
There is a basis in Islam's core texts for using fear to encourage conversions. Converting to be safe goes all the way back to Muhammad. The concept is summed up in the well known Arabic phrase aslim taslam 'Convert to Islam and you will be safe'. ...
Durie goes on to quote the relevant texts.
More dangerous than Islam, however, is the conventional Western reaction to it, which Durie hits as well with a pass at the ubiquitous Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. The state of Islam in Pakistan, Durie writes
makes a mockery of the naivety of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, a book which proposed that the solutions to Pakistan's problems will be found in alleviating poverty and improving access to education, especially for girls.
Mortenson's compelling and best-selling narrative has been enthusiastically welcomed by countless Western readers (consider the 2,500 reader reviews on Amazon).
I must interupt here with a public service announcement:
THREE CUPS OF TEA IS REQUIRED READING FOR US MILITARY IN AFGHANISTAN.
Or, as MSNBC more calmly reported: "Mortenson is someone the military's top brass listens to — and has often consulted with. "Three Cups of Tea" has become required reading for U.S. commanders and troops deploying to Afghanistan, making Mortenson a valued but unofficial adviser to the Pentagon."
That was in 2009. More recently, in July 2010, the New York Times reported:
In the frantic last hours of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's command in Afghanistan, when the world wondered what was racing through the general's mind, he reached out to an unlikely corner of his life: the author of the book "Three Cups of Tea," Greg Mortenson.
"Will move through this and if I'm not involved in the years ahead, will take tremendous comfort in knowing people like you are helping Afghans build a future," McChrystal wrote to Mortenson in an e-mail message, as he traveled from Kabul to Washington, D.C.
Wow. I missed that the first time around. The Times story continues:
The e-mail message was in response to a note of support from Mortenson. It reflected his broad and deepening relationship with the U.S. military, whose leaders have increasingly turned to Mortenson, once a shaggy mountaineer, to help translate the theory of counterinsurgency into tribal realities on the ground.
Why am I not surprised? The book, which initially generated little interest, the Times notes:
appealed so much to one military spouse that in the fall of 2007 she sent the book to her husband, Christopher Kolenda, at that time a lieutenant colonel commanding 700 U.S. soldiers on the Pakistan border.
Kolenda knew well the instructions about building relationships with elders that were in the Army and Marine Corps' new counterinsurgency manual, which had been released in late 2006. But "Three Cups of Tea" brought the lessons to life.
"It was practical, and it told real stories of real people," said Kolenda, now a top adviser at the Kabul headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force, in an interview at the Pentagon last week.
Kolenda was among the first in the military to reach out to Mortenson, and by June 2008 the Central Asia Institute had built a school near Kolenda's base. By the summer of 2009, Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with Kolenda, village elders and at times Obama's new commander, McChrystal. (By then at least two more military wives — Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus — had told their husbands to read "Three Cups of Tea.")
As Kolenda tells it, Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, were the U.S. high command's primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the "Kabul bubble."
As Mortenson tells it, the Afghan elders were often blunt with McChrystal, as in a meeting last October when one of them said that he had traveled all the way from his province because he needed weapons, not conversation.
Weapons not conversation? That doesn't sound very tea-like.
"He said, 'Are you going to give them to me or am I going to sit here and listen to you talk,' " Mortenson recalled. The high command replied, Mortenson said, that they were making an assessment of what he needed. "And he said, 'Well, you've already been here eight years,' " Mortenson recalled.
Despite the rough edges, Kolenda said, the meetings helped the U.S. high command settle on central parts of its strategy — the imperative to avoid civilian casualties, in particular, which the elders consistently and angrily denounced during the sessions — and also smoothed relations between the elders and commanders.
For Mortenson's part, his growing relationship with the military convinced him that it had learned the importance of understanding Afghan culture and of developing ties with elders across the country, and was willing to admit past mistakes.
And the damage is done.
Back to Durie's two cents on Three Cups:
However in pandering to the failing worldview of western readers, Three Cups of Tea has merely worked as an anaesthetic to dull their minds and wills.
Cf. the COIN-choo-choo strategy.
Mortenson has declared that:
"The only way we can defeat terrorism is if people in this country (Pakistan) where terrorists exist learn to respect and love Americans, and if we can respect and love these people here." (p.268)
Call it Pentagon policy.