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BOOK REVIEW: Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West


Published by Daily Times / 5 May 2012

When characters in a modernised version of Sherlock Holmes make a passing reference to Karachi — they only have Daniel Pearl in mind. When the ISI agents are featured on TV shows — it is because they can stand in for the US’s favourite Cold War foes.

Such imagery goes well with the popular narrative doing the global rounds. A widening gulf between Islam and the West, the oscillating nature of the Pak-US relationship, and the alarming levels of toxicity within, is a source of concern and confusion. Now, it is the subject of a book. At the launch of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West, veteran columnist Irfan Husain briefly touched upon these incongruities. In the book, he delves deeper into a cheerless terrain where reason has been cast adrift and paranoia is king.

Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West meticulously sifts through centuries of suspicion and decades of scorched earth left behind by Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan to chisel a narrative capable of piercing through the veil of obfuscation that hangs over Islam, the West and Pakistan.

The writer opines, “For tactical but shortsighted reasons, America has ended up on the wrong side of history.” He takes on the changing dynamics of this relationship in a multi-pronged study. It explores the genesis of a brimming hostility against the US, and the skewed perceptions that rule the West in the backdrop of glaring contradictions, rife in Pakistani society, blinded by its hate for its ally and strangely unwilling to accord the same courtesy to militants that have declared war on its cities. An instance of this poisoned relationship can be seen when a single drone strike from the US can trigger a firestorm of protests in Pakistan; the silence is deafening at the slaughter of Pakistani soldiers or citizens at the hands of local extremists.

To clear up some simple misunderstandings responsible for this worldwide breach, he revisits the reasons that led to the estrangement following a trail of flawed logic now accepted as gospel in the Islamic world, throwing in an analysis of factors that fuel the jihadi fire.

At the launch, Husain revealed how the inhabitants of “drones ground zero” do not condemn drone strikes and the further one goes from the tribal areas, the more outrage they generate. His book wonders why neither government has made any effort to explain to Pakistanis and to the outside world “why drone attacks are necessary and effective”.

Husain traces different strands feeding this narrative of hate, of intolerance, of deep-seated prejudices on both sides of the divide. How the Takfiri ideology that glorifies suicide bombings and can justify wholesale murder continues to be “a rallying cry for global jihad”. How cyberspace has emerged as a battleground where the voices of extremism are amplified to ensnare the Fort Hood Shooters, Faisal Shahzads or Umer Farouks (the failed Chicago airline bomber) of this world. The low intensity battle is going on in a virtual world that he says most are unaware of. Or the sad reality that critics of militancy or extremism often find themselves being “written off as Uncle Toms.”

Those wondering how peace-loving religions end up as recruitment tools for terrorists will find answers in 'License to Kill'. The Takfiri ideology, Husain notes, must be an indispensable justification for terrorists, but then consoles that it is hardly something taught in schools or homes. He further observes, “despite the thousands of websites seeking volunteers and funds for the jihad, only a handful of Muslims have paid much attention.”

According to Husain, “The shift to a greater public display of Islamic schools and dogma that has taken place in Muslim societies in recent years has given extremism greater acceptability among moderates. As a result, there is less public condemnation of Islamic terrorism and threatening speech than there ought to be.” His reading of this denial is that Islamic terrorism poses a greater threat to Muslim countries than the West. He also observes that the US and its allies have made “little effort — in public at least — to drain the extremist swamp of its Wahabi/Salafi/Takfiri content”.

This is Husain’s first book. It does a fair job of cataloguing the reasons that place Muslims at the top of the most hated list of a West, in the crosshairs of a select few. At the same time, it challenges some basic assumptions. That in fact the number of Muslims actually arrested for planning or carrying out acts of terror in the US stood at 21 in 2010. Or that 40 percent of all known terror plots had been thwarted through information provided by Muslims. Yet, Muslims, according to the writer, now find themselves being viewed by the West as “intolerant, violent, humourless people with alien, unattractive values and traditions who refuse to blend in.

Irfan Husain admits that this book would have ended on a pessimistic note, but for the Arab Spring. Despite the ominous sounding title, Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West fashions a palliative for global hysteria while challenging the myths spread at the altars of hatred.

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