January 19, 2018

Fair Play

Fair play was as important in the ancient world as in the modern. That’s one reason why the discovery of a new inscription in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) it is so exciting – and in some ways so unsurprising.
A rock carving found in the summer of 2016 near Beyşehir near Konya in central Anatolia, features a depiction of a horse and a jockey – and outlines the rules of horse racing. The inscription sets out the guidelines to make racing fair and therefore enjoyable. No one wants to watch a race where the outcome has been rigged. One of the most interesting elements is the instruction that once a horse has won one race, it is ineligible to enter another. Likewise, an owner who had one winner, could not enter another race – to give others a chance to have fun too. Nice that more than one person should have something to celebrate.
This wasn’t about pushing mediocrity, but a way of making sure that the rich didn’t monopolise the entertainment, by buying the best horses, hiring the best trainers and paying the best jockeys. The Jockey Club of the time, at least at Beyşehir, saw it had a useful role in civic society.

An informative history of NDA courtesy

Wg Cdr Adarsh Bal.       HISTORY OF NDA


In 1941 the Government of Sudan gifted a sum of £100,000 (then a very large sum of about Rs 14 Lks) to the Viceroy to build a suitable War Memorial as a token of appreciation of the services and sacrifices made by the Indian troops for the defence of Sudan. Due to WW-II, and the character of the private armies from Rajputana, Hyderabad and Punjab who went to fight in Sudan, their peculiar mercenary status with a disconnect from the British officered Indian army, Hindus who were burnt and not buried, nothing was done to build a War Memorial. In 1943, then C-in-C Gen Auckinleck, directed that the unused fund is put to good use to build a new ‘Inter Service Academy (ISA), instead of wasting it on a National War Memorial. During the travel of the files up and down the corridors of power in South block in Delhi, ‘Inter Service Academy (ISA) morphed into a ‘National War Academy’ (NWA).

Based on recommendations of the C-in-C (then 2nd only to the Viceroy in GoI), on 22 Sep 1945 the Viceroy sanctioned construction of a new NWA to offer combined training to potential officers of three Services. The sanction envisaged setting up of an interim  ‘ Junior Experimental Wing’ (JEW) of the Indian Military Academy in Clement town (Dehradun), while the new NWA was to be built at the disused 28.4 Sq Km combined-forces training centre and mock landing ship, HMS Angostura, on the north bank of the Khadakwasla lake which had been used to train British and American troops for amphibious landings during early part of WW-II (Malaya campaign for which an amphibious attack had been planned). When NWA was ready, JEW was to shift to Khadakwasla. Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, popularly known as ‘Le Corbusier’ was appointed as consultant to develop the architecture and design of NWA. After 3 yrs training, final commissioning of the Cdts was to be after specialist service training at existing IMA (Dehra Dun)/ equivalent academies for Navy and AF in UK.

In keeping with his ‘Paanch Sheel’ foreign policy, Nehru did not approve of the name NWA due to its aggressive overtones and hence the name was changed to National Defence Academy (NDA) while laying the foundation stone on 6 Oct 1949.India's share of £70,000 Sudanese gift (remaining £30,000 was given to Pak) was used to construct the administrative block of ‘NDA’ (Sudan Block). Twelve Indian states were asked to donate Rs 5 lks each for the construction of 12 Sqn residential blocks & the Cdt’s Mess. The donor states for the Sqn residential buildings were - 'A Sqn'  Madras & Andhra; 'B Sqn' - Madhya Pradesh; 'C Sqn' - Maharashtra; 'D Sqn' - Bihar; 'E Sqn' - Uttar Pradesh; 'F Sqn' - Orissa; 'G Sqn' - Gujarat; 'H Sqn' - Karnataka; 'I Sqn' - Punjab; 'J Sqn' - West Bengal; 'K Sqn' – Assam and 'L Sqn' - Bombay.  The first four residential blocks to be constructed along with Cdts mess was the one between Cdt’s mess and Gole market, slated for occupation by No 1 Bn, with Able, Baker, Charlie, and Dog Sqns, then at ISW in Dehradun. 


While construction of NWA was being planned and executed, the interim plan for  ‘ Junior Experimental Wing’ (JEW)  was put into action, but under a new name ‘Inter Services Wing’ (ISW) to appease Baldev Singh who was then Def Minister. ISW started functioning on 17 Feb 1948, from the abandoned Italian Prisoner of War Camp barracks in Clement Town in Dehradun.  190 cadets (141 for the Army, 25 Navy and 24 for the Air Force) reported at Clement Town between 6- 9 Jan 1949, to form ‘Able’ and ‘Baker’ Sqns, with 4 Divisions subdivided into 8 ‘Sections’.  Though DK Ghosh, a naval cadet had the privilege of being Able -1, the first Cdt to report to ISW was A-188, DS Sabhiki (later Air Marshal) who reported at 0630 hrs on 6 Jan 1949.  The first batch had about 40 cadets from RIMC and KGRIM. Their training started from 11 Jan 1949.  In July 1949 when the second batch  joined, 'C' (Charlie) and 'D' (Dog) Sqns came in to being. It is not known when ISW changed to Joint Services Wing (JSW) or whether there was an official JSW. ISW (or later JSW) continued in Clement town and moved to Khadakwasla in small batches starting 7 Dec 1954.

ISW was officially notified as of 15 Dec 1948, when Col Kamta Prasad, Dy Cmdt designate and his team arrived in Clement Town, placed under command of Cmdt IMA  Brig Thakur Mahadeo Singh.  On 31 Dec 1948, Brig Singh issued routine orders splitting IMA into  Armed Forces Academy (AFA) wef 1 January 1949 with two Wings,  Military Wing  and an Inter-Services Wing (ISW). AFA was notified as the interim National War Academy, foibles of the political-military relations which existed right from day one after independence.

8 more residential blocks were commissioned in 1955, and NDA became a full-fledged establishment with around 1500 Cdts, under an independent  Maj Gen, distributed amongst 12 Sqns, ‘A to L’. During the naming of Sqns, phonetic names were adopted  and Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog became Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Fox. The reason why Dog was not made Delta and why they were named Fox is also not known. Fox was shifted to 2nd Bn along with newly raised E, G & H Sqns (with Fox occupying the block facing the Cdt’s mess, southern group  of blocks) .  No 1 Bn (A/B/C/D) moved to the new set of Northern blocks with C facing the Dhobi Ghat (infamous well into which stolen cycles were dumped). The older blocks vacated by 1 Bn was allotted to 3rd Bn (how Kilo came to occupy the block, facing Gol Market vacated by Dog Sqn). 3rd  Bn was now on the western side, in line with the Cdt’s mess. The MH was to come up later. Rest of NDA was constructed using internal resources of the army, army engineers and pioneers, and extraordinary resourcefulness of the Commandants, with no help from GoI or Ministry of Defence, both of which deemed Army superfluous till 1959 Chinese incursions at Longju (NEFA) and Kongka La (Ladakh). Afterwards, India headed for a war (1962) necessitating officer cadre, products of NDA !! Brig Hoshiar Singh was  Dy Cmdt at NDA and was moved into NEFA during 62 war, go and offer his head on arrival.  

For a while, starting 1978, while augmenting the strength of cadets to 1800, there was a separate NDA wing at Ghorpuri (in Poona) with 1st term Cdts, all clubbed together with a sobriquet ‘Ghorpuri lot’. Ghorpuri was later vacated and all Cdts transferred to NDA.  It is understood that during Adm Pareira’s time, around 71/72, there was a clockwise rotation of Sqns in each Bn block. The reason for this is not known. Now NDA has grown to 5 Bns, with 18 Sqns , Alpha to Romeo under a Lt Gen (or equivalent). It is understood that  there is likely to be further increase in the size of NDA, perhaps in porta cabins.

Cheers to NDA,

January 17, 2018

Tales from the dungeon: Dr Yousuf Murad Baloch


Tales from the dungeon: Dr Yousuf Murad Baloch (Part I)

January 18, 2018 1:34 am · 0 comments

Yousuf Murad Baloch

This is first part of Balochistan Time’s Tales from the dungeon series in which former victims of enforced disappearances tell their ordeal. Dr Yousuf Murad Baloch was among the first victims. He was taken away from Karachi in March 2005 along with other members of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO). He now lives in Germany.

 If you are an educated Baloch and you do not plan to appear in the competitive exams, or you have failed to mould your voice into a specific obedient tone always beginning your sentences with “sir”, or you do not believe in the divinity of the Pakistan army, then you are most likely to end up in a secret services-operated torture cell. Also, if in any way, you happened to have read the wrong books, you can be taken to a tour to dungeons for re-education.

The pain you are inflicted upon in these torture cells is of another level. Torture is an institutionalized science in Pakistan and your torturers follow a certain protocol to inflict maximum pain, break down your spirit and influence your thinking to fit into the official narrative.

Before I start telling my ordeal in military-operated dungeons, let me explain why I happened to be present at the place which the security forces raided and took us away.

I was the elected Press Secretary of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), responsible for the group’s press releases, press articles and publications. I directly reported to the Chairman of the organization.

The BSO, as the name suggests, is a leftist nationalist student organization in Balochistan. The literature its members are encouraged to read mostly preach anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and independence struggles. Although the BSO perceives Pakistan as a model of Islamofascism, it has to walk a thin line when it comes to dealing with the sensitive subject of religion.

In 2005, we anticipated that the ongoing negotiations between Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti and the Pakistan government were going to fail and that the army would eventually attack the outspoken leader of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP).

There was always a sense of readiness and preparation among the BSO leadership for mass protests in case any move was made by the army. We were preparing to mobilise the non-tribal Baloch people to stand for their rights.

In the governance system of Pakistan and the colonial mind-set, any and all voices for rights or justice are considered as a cover for insurrectionists.

The BSO was not only challenging the lies of the state narrative but also educating the masses to dismantle the dehumanizing collaboration of tribal sardars and the state forces in Balochistan.

It was the first time after a long interval of relative calm in Balochistan that the state narrative was being questioned, and the legitimacy, authority and supremacy of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) and the regular army was being publically challenged in Balochistan.

It was during such a press conference in Quetta that the police made a move to arrest Dr Imdad Baloch, the then Chairman of the BSO. We had to smuggle him out of Quetta to Karachi.

On March 17, 2005, the army tried to knock out Nawab Akbar Bugti in an aerial assault on his house in Dera Bugti, killing more than 70 people. We saw this as the beginning of military operations in Balochistan.

I contacted Dr Imdad and went to Karachi to discuss the BSO’s protest campaign against the looming threat of violence against Baloch civilians. With some twist of fate I, Dr Imdad, Dr Naseem, Ali Nawaz, Akhter Nadeem, Gulam Rasool and Dr Allah Nizar — all of them either current or former BSO leaders — ended up being crammed into an apartment in Karachi owned by a relative of Dr Naseem.

On the night of March 24, I cooked biryani, not knowing this might be our last biryani for a long time. After dinner I remember trying to start a discussion with Dr Allah Nizar about the recent stock market crash as I believed it was the result of investor fear from the foreseen military operations in Balochistan. He took some time out from reading a magazine to explain that the crash was more about investor greed rather than Balochistan and how politicians used stock market crashes to rob the small investors of their money.

Being on a full stomach from the oil-rich biryani coupled with tiredness, I dozed off rather quickly.

I felt heavy boots on my neck. Both my hands were forcefully pulled behind, twisted and tied, and my eyes blindfolded with a piece of cloth, all in no time, even before I could wake up properly.

I used to be a heavy sleeper but that changed after this incidence.

By the time I woke up, I had already received plenty of kicks and punches on every part of my body. “Do you have a gun on you,” asked one of my captors. “No,” I replied faintly. He shouted something to his colleagues from whom one joined him to drag me down the stairs.

The speed of the operation augmented by the terrible fear seizing me had rendered me paralyzed. I could not apprehend the noises and screams around me nor could I understand the betrayal of my body.

It was on the stairs when my bare feet-falls felt the paan juice someone had spitted on the stairway. By now I had gained my senses. I felt my heart sinking in my stomach. That dull ache in my belly persisted for days.

The person handling me checked my side pockets and took everything away. I had a mini phone book, my identification card and some money on me. I could see his disappointment when he berated me for not carrying more money. I was not certain but this behaviour confirmed my immediate presumption that our captors were from the notoriously corrupt Karachi police.

From our study circles and stories told by my grandfather I had some knowledge of enforced disappearances of Baloch activists in the 1970s. At one moment, I thought of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the dreaded premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, but I conveniently dismissed the thought, as the fear of the ISI was too great. But you can’t choose your tormentors. Not in Pakistan.

As we were dragged out of the Block H of the Nouman Avenue Apartments, the characteristic knocking noise of the pickup diesel engines could now be heard among the human noises. I was blindfolded but I could hear others being dragged along, beaten and abused all the way. One of the captors guided me to a seat in the back of a pick-up truck where I felt that someone else was sitting beforehand. When my body touched his I felt that his hands were also tied on the back. I had an instinctive sense that he was one of my friends. I did not have the strength to ask him who he was nor did I think it necessary. I also realised that my head was in a sack which had strings loosely tied to my neck.

Approximately 20 minutes in our detour to the unknown, the vehicle stopped for a short interval. I heard the opening of gates as if we were passing through a military check post. Within another minute or two, the vehicles came to a complete halt. One of the captors took hold of my hand and walked me through what I judged a gate. Then he guided me through what seemed to be four downward stairs and then through some corridors. We were in some kind of a basement.

I was made to sit on the ground. After a few minutes which I believe was when they had brought all the others, a person with an authoritative voice asked us our names. About five minutes later another person asked our names again.

Two guards grabbed me by my both arms and guided me through a corridor. I heard the opening of a lock and a metal door. My hands were still tied with a cloth on the back. They pushed me into the cell and locked it on my back. I heard one of them yelling at me to sit down.

After sitting for some time I assumed that no one was attending me. Having lost the strength to sit any longer I slowly laid myself on the ground, which had a stinky and moist smell. There was an odour of urine in the air as though we were near some toilet. I lied down motionless for hours on the stinky floor. At some point I stealthily rubbed my face against the ground to loosen the blindfolds. The cloth slipped a little and I could see that the colour of the bag on my head was black.

It is difficult to accurately judge time in a dungeon. I heard a very distant and feeble call for prayer, certainly coming from a nearby mosque. Although not being an adherent Muslim I recognized the morning azaan (prayer call) as it is different from other azaans.

I was awake but thoughts were not in my control, in an inexplicable state. A feeling of defeat and cynicism ran through my head like a dream.

I remembered my grandmother. I was twelve years old when she died from malaria. She passed away at the Panjgur Civil Hospital awaiting treatment. I was young but I knew that the lack of doctors was the reason for her loss. It was the trauma of her helpless demise that had convinced me to become a doctor. And look, I thought, how I got myself into this messInstead of attending my medical classes I am here, tied and blindfolded.

I was with these incoherent thoughts that I suddenly heard the door of my cell open once again. It broke the sequence of thoughts which in fact were not in any sequence. One of the guards came in. My blindfolds were removed, hands untied from the back and were instead handcuffed on the front with a Made-in-USA-inscribed handcuff. This was the first time I was seeing the faces of my captors. The feet were chained with locally-made fetters and a large Chinese lock above my ankles. The weight of the lock caused me constant pain in the ankle.

I was asked if I wanted to drink tea and bread. I declined. I had forgotten what hunger was. They hooded my face with the black cloth bag and left, locking the cell behind.

After what it felt like hours, I heard the opening of the door once again. Two people grabbed me by my hands and guided me to another room through what I believe was a corridor. Just before entering the room they told me that I had stairs ahead to climb. My fourth step fell on flat ground and I felt being inside a room. Here they removed the black bag from my head, unlocked the handcuffs and made me sit on a seat.

In front of me was a table and on the other side of the table sat four people in civilian clothes. A guard stood behind me. Our mobile phones, books, magazines, telephone diaries, ID cards etc were scattered on the table. I was asked to identify my things. I did identify my ID card and the Nokia mobile phone.

I was pleasantly surprised that my telephone directory was not there. I supposed it had been kept along with the money by the soldier who searched my pockets at the time of my apprehension, and like the money he had not handed it over to his seniors. I was in a way relieved that the poor army soldier had taken my phone book as the “spoils of war”, for I did not have to answer questions about my contacts. In another stroke of luck, someone had stepped on my mobile phone and broke it at the time of our arrest. They tried to switch it on in front of me thinking I might have broken it myself. In any case, the damaged mobile phone spared me extra questions.

One of them had thick eyebrows and an elongated nose dropping to cover the middle of his thick moustache. He was tall with a stretched-down face and seemed to be in his mid-fifties. Even in his silence he appeared to be overshadowing others.

The one who was half bald and slightly fat introduced himself as Jameel and that he was a Pashtun from Quetta and had come especially for us. He had a fairer skin than the other three and asked me for tea and biscuit which I declined.

Noticing my dry mouth, he said, “You are thirsty. Drink this glass of water.” I realized he was right. The kicks and punches had left me dehydrated. I took a few sips from the glass on the table.

The other three kept silence and let Jameel do the interrogation. While the thick moustached man observed me, the other two wrote something on the notebooks they were carrying.

“Do you know where you are?” Jameel asked.

“In Karachi police custody, sir,” I replied as naively as I could.

Giving me a mocking look, he said, “Don’t fool yourself. Your asshole would be filled with petrol by now if we were the police.”

I could not say a word.

He continued. “Look, boy. We are the ISI. That is the difference between the police and the ISI. They fill your asshole with spices because they do not know anything about you and we stuff your shithole because we know everything about you.”

Then, suddenly changing to a more stern tone, he asked why I had lied to them the other day when they asked me about my name.

I had not given them any pseudonym. Believing they had gotten it wrong, I told them my name again.

“And what is your father’s name?”

“Murad.” I replied.

He shouted at me to stand up. As soon as I stood up, I received a forceful beating at my buttocks. The guard standing behind had used his studded wide leather belt which they call Chetter in Urdu. The pain was excruciating. It was far superior than the beatstick of our schoolteachers.

“I am telling the truth, sir,” I cried out like an obedient student being punished for no reason.

He asked me my father’s name again. I was completely clueless. That was the name by which everybody knew my father.

Before I could answer, Mr Jameel said, “Your father’s name is Mohammed Murad.”

I remembered he was correct. It was me who had forgotten that my father’s official name is Mohammed Murad. But what difference did it make if you do not add Mohammed. For Jameel it made a difference and he explained why.

“Look, boy. You know what your problem is? You people take Islamic names and then feel embarrassed to use them. Do you consider yourself a Muslim when you do not know your father’s Islamic name but remember his un-Islamic name?

He waited for my reply.

“Yes, sir. I am a Muslim,” that was all I could say.

As if he had anticipated my answer, he asked promptly, “If you are a Muslim recite dua e qonoot.”

I could only recall a word or two of dua e qonoot as I had never memorized it.

I was hit again with the Chetter on my upper back and bums. I wished I had memorized dua e qonoot.

“What is your position in the BSO?” He continued his interrogation.

“I am just a member,” I lied unwittingly, hoping that I would escape some torture and questions by presenting myself as an ordinary member of the BSO.

Jameel ordered me back to my cell. In the cell, I was provided with a diaphanous white shirt and a similar pyjama. The shirt had a yellow luminous X stitched on the back. The pyjama hanged by a thin rubber band on my waist. My Made-in-USA handcuffs were replaced with Pakistani handcuffs and the hands were tied on the front. The black hood on my head was also taken away. The fetters remained with a constant heaviness on my legs.

The cell was around four feet wide and six feet long. The door was of black metal with bar openings about approximately at a height from which anyone standing outside the cell could easily look into. The light from a bulb hanging from the ceiling of the corridor illuminated my cell round the clock. Just inches above the foot of the door there was an additional horizontal opening, approximately four inches in width and one foot long. An oscillating fan with its ever humming noise was mounted on the wall just opposite the door opening.

There was no way one could tell what time it was. When they slipped flat bread and some daal in a plate from the lower hole of the door that I could tell its purpose and also the time. I still could not convince myself to eat. I knew by now that there were other prisoners in the nearby cells but I could not hear any of my friends’ voice.

When the guards had apparently left the corridor and I heard some prisoners speaking among themselves I gathered some strength and yelled out in Balochi to check if any of my friends were there. Akhter and Ghulam Rasool replied back confirming that they were in the nearby cells. Before we could initiate a conversation, a guard gave me a hard truncheon blow on the face through the upper bar opening of the door. Either the guards walked with great caution or they wore shoes which muffled sound. Either way it was difficult to know beforehand that they were coming until they tapped on the metal door with their truncheon.

The other prisoners were hardened al Qaeda members. Due to their devotion to Islam they enjoyed respect in the eyes of the guards and apparently had the privilege to exchange a few words among themselves during the day. I felt all prisoners should be treated equal; discrimination hurts, even if you are already in a cruel place like a dungeon.

The sudden realization that I had not urinated since I had been held gave rise to an urgent urge to urinate. When I timidly asked the guard, he pointed to an empty two-litre Pepsi bottle at the corner of the cell and said, “Urinate there”.

The beatings from the guards did not look so frequent, just occasional slaps on the neck, or a sporadic pulling of hair, a light kick on the legs, or, on some occasions, a twisting of ear. The guards did those things to me more out of a habit than necessity. It was their way, as I believed, to relieve themselves of their daily pressure.

Somehow, in an unexplainable way, the victim acquires these habits from their tormentors. I know this because, after being released, I used to have this urge of occasional abusive outbursts, pulling someone’s hair, or slapping them. Such is the complexity of the relation between the tormentor and the tormented.

I was in complete solitude; always in a dream like state. Facts, time and dates were all blurry with a distorted mood of helplessness and compliance. Most of the day passed in a trance like state, daydreaming.

I had learnt that to visit the toilet more frequently one should start praying. This allowed five or four visits to the toilet every day. You might get a glimpse of one of your friends peeping from the bar openings while walking through the corridor, though you are not allowed to turn and look.

By now I had confirmed that Akhter Nadeem, Ghulam Rasool and Naseem were in the same dungeon. I had not seen Imdad, Allah Nizar and Ali Nawaz Gohar. The cells were painted grey black. There were every type of graffiti on the walls. Previous victims had also carved out their names on the walls. After every three meals and the isha prayers I would carve a vertical line on the wall to keep track of the days.

At nights a guard would come once or twice and tapped the door with his truncheon. He was accompanied by an officer. We were obliged to wake up from the sleep, stand up facing the wall and raise our hands. If you took time to execute this task, the guards would open the door and start hitting you with the truncheon. I learnt this the hard way when one night I had thoughtlessly decided not to heed and kept sleeping.

It was also required that I do not look back and see the accompanying officer. The guards would always warn that a glimpse of the officer would block all our chances of getting out of there alive. I believe the job of the officer was to ensure no prisoner died of torture. He would occasionally ask questions about my health. There was complete silence otherwise.

For days I would not be spoken to. At times, despite the fear of torture, I longed to be interrogated. I longed to be spoken to by the guards despite knowing that the Punjabi language could not be spoken without verbal slurs. And these slurs were coarser in the dungeon.

Holding ones urge to defecate until the guards had the courtesy to take you to the toilet was gruelling. Going to the toilet was similarly punishing too. It was a squat toilet. The door was only two feet high so that the guards could pull the chain when required; one end of the chain was locked into the handcuffs and the other was in the guard’s hands. The guards would count to forty five and pull the chain.

One had to defecate and wash himself while the guard was looking, all in 45 counts. Most of the guards were cooperative though. They would count slowly if there was no officer around. But, again, an occasional pull before washing was always expected. In normal life this would be maddening, but in a torture cell one is even robbed of his anger. One would look with pleading eyes to the guard to count a bit slower.

One day, probably the evening of the fifth day of my detention, two guards entered my cell. They ordered me to stand and face the wall. My hands were handcuffed on the back and the black cloth bag was put on my head. The bag alone would freeze my entrails.

After being blindfolded, I was walked to the interrogation room, staggering all the while. Inside the interrogation room, a new voice sarcastically welcomed me. I could also hear Jameel say, “Sir, this guest is from my province. I hope you entertain him well”.

In a coercing tone, the interrogator started his pre-torture lecture. There was always a lecture at the beginning and one at the end of the interrogation.

“Look boy,” said he, “it has been days that you are rotting here. It does not bother us at all if you linger here for another few years. It all depends on you. If you cooperate and tell us the truth, you might suffer less and might not rot here.”

Then he read out a list of things that I had done in the last previous years, mostly about BSO lectures, seminars and protests, including the one in which I had worn a black armband. These details were enough to convince me that they had been watching me and they knew details of my political activities.

He continued his condemning lecture. “Since you have already diminished your chances by lying to us about your role in the BSO, you are a good candidate to be eliminated. You should know we know everything. You know how we eliminated Hameed Baloch*? He was hanged and he became a hero but that was a mistake. Things have changed now. We will not hang you. We will let you rot here.”

The talks were meant to inflict maximum degradation and submission before being flooded with questions ranging from politics to prostitution. I was made to step on a stool and stand on it. Being blindfolded, it was difficult to maintain my balance. There was a time frame to answer each question. The answers were always required to be instantaneous. If the interrogator felt that you are taking too much time or you are thinking, you would be either pricked with a needle on any part of your body or hit with a single blow of chetter or a slap on the face. You could never guess what sort of hitting you will get on the next question. If you fell from the stool you would be laid on the floor, feet raised, and beaten until your feet tore with pain. After being hit ruthlessly at the soles, it wold be more difficult to keep the balance on the stool with swollen feet.

The interrogation went on for hours, sometimes repeating the exact questions numerous times. Every time a question was repeated my previous answer would be presented to me in a twisted form to prove me a liar. If I tried to argue that I had not said such a thing I would be beaten with the chetter, or the truncheon until I accepted I had indeed said that.

This combined procedure of twisting my answers and torture rendered me so confused and terrified that at the end I did not know what I had actually said. At some point into the interrogation I felt that it did not matter what I said; I would always be proven, with reason, to have lied and then beaten. My calves felt like bursting out with blood after being swollen due to the hours-long stand.

At times I was told that my friends had already confessed to several acts of crime and they had also testified against me. Then they would ask me to speak about my friends’ crimes. I could have reasoned why I was being asked to testify about their crimes if they had already confessed, but I knew better than this. I had learnt that reasoning would lead to further beatings. The best bet was to avoid reasoning and give them an impression that you were in complete compliance and submission. Submission and compliance gratified their latent “army superiority complex”.

At the end of the day’s interrogation, my handcuffed hands were tied to the fetters of my feet at the back and I was laid face down so that my shoulders and knees both were raised. Two people took turns to hit my feet soles with a stick, and my knees, legs and arms with the chetter until I lost consciousness.

During the interrogation sessions, the most frequent questions were:

From where does the BSO get its money?

What plans do you have for protests against the Pakistan military?

Why are you against the military?

What is the relation between the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) BLA and the BSO?

What is the relation between the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the BLA?

Have you ever met Nawab Akbar Bugti or Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri?

How are the BSO members trained?

Do you extort money from businessmen, or others? Why do people donate to you?

Who are leading the BLA and the BLF?

Have you ever visited any foreign country?

Do you know anyone who has carried out bomb blasts or is a guerrilla?

What does the BSO want and how are you going to get it?

Who are the BSO leaders in Karachi? They also asked about certain BSO members from Karachi.

Why does the BLF use Balochistan in its name and not Baloch like the BLA? To this, I obviously did not have any answer.

I had regained consciousness by the time I was brought back to my cell. Every part of my body was in writhing pain. I had bruises all over my body and I had started passing blood-red urine. The bottle filled with this urine was a reminder of the torture. Whenever I tried to stand a searing pain ran from the soles to the backbone. Time and dates were once again blurred as I had stopped praying and eating. I was drained, exhausted and in a vague state of mind until I fell asleep.

They had arrested some new Islamic militants and Akhter Nadeem was shifted to my cell because of shortage of space. I had not known Akhter Nadeem well before being arrested. I only knew that he was a former BSO member and a contractor in Gwadar. Yet, it was delightful to talk to someone after such a long period of complete silence and solitude.

My bruises were getting better.

(To be continued.)

*Hameed Baloch was a member of the BSO who was sentenced to death by a military court. He was executed in 1981

Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations

Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations By Daryl Copeland

by wpengine | Jul 20, 2011 | FeaturesPast IssuesSummer 2010: Pursuing Human Rights Through Public Diplomacy

Given the often-stodgy perception of “the diplomat,” author Daryl Copeland sets out to modernize and reinvigorate the field of diplomacy and the role of the diplomat in his engaging book, Guerilla Diplomacy.  A career diplomat in the Canadian Foreign Service, Copeland draws from personal experience to question the role of diplomacy within the international system, as he believes that role is ill-adapted for the age of globalization. He calls for a restructuring of the traditional “diplomatic ecosystem”—comprised of the foreign ministry, foreign service, and diplomatic corps—through a convincing four-part framework.  His solutions are not simply tailored for the traditional diplomat or government official but are relevant for an audience comprised of NGOs, business people, and trade commissioners.

Copeland begins by examining how elements of the Cold War, which carried over into the globalization era, have created conditions for instability in today’s world. In addition to a lingering “us vs. them” mentality in which terrorists have replaced communists, he describes how a scarcity of resources during the Cold War gave way to the desire of populations for goods, services, and technology in the post-Cold War environment.  Businesses recognized this opportunity and took advantage of conditions by raising capital in finance centers, assembling products in cheap labor markets, and marketing in areas of product demand.  Economic centers were created through a diffusion of business responsibilities interconnected with mass communication ability.  All of this, Copeland believes, played a role in building a hierarchy of dependent nations and resulted in present day poverty found throughout many parts of the world. He calls development a double-edged sword, where prosperity is increased in one location while poverty and dependency are, in turn, elevated in another.  The relationship between development and security is a major introductory theme, where he argues, contrary to the military theory of establishing security before development, such development is a precursor for security; concurrently, however, development may also ultimately lead to insecurity.

With this in mind, Copeland proposes a new world order as an overarching concept that he touches upon throughout the book.  The three-tiered world order of development, created by way of the Cold War Eastern and Western Blocs, he believes, is outdated and, instead, should be modernized by adapting a system based on globalization’s level of impact on development. This new categorization system avoids adherence to national boundaries and instead encompasses areas such as the nation-state, regional specific populations, and even specific career fields.  Copeland considers Science and Technology (S&T) as the new currency for development and characterizes globalization’s footprint in a particular region by its level of S&T present in the “global political economy of knowledge”. The author uses the term “digital divide” to explain the difference between groups advancing in globalization and those who are largely excluded.

After laying out the historical context and establishing a framework for a new world order, Copeland moves forward with his argument that the skill sets of traditional diplomats are outdated and not equipped to address the complex challenges of today.  The state of diplomacy is best described by Copeland when he writes, “[D]iplomats don’t know what they need to know, do not know where to get what they need to know, and would not know what to do with it if they got it”. He calls for a more effective approach to diplomacy that moves away from direct government-to-government relations and toward one where partnerships are formed between governments and foreign publics through a dialogue facilitated by civil society.

Copeland applauds public diplomacy as an advance on the diplomatic spectrum, especially when it is grounded in local cultures and demonstrates shared political values abroad.  While public diplomacy is admired, however, he believes this practice can be taken one step further to create the diplomat of the future.

On the diplomatic spectrum, “guerrilla diplomacy” falls farthest away from traditional diplomacy but incorporates all elements of public diplomacy including listening and seeing.  Copeland believes in experimenting with the role of the diplomat.  He proposes that diplomatic “posts” should include internet cafes, virtual desks, and Fortune 500 companies in order to take advantage of 21st century venues of influence and regional knowledge.  He also proposes a diplomatic reserve force as well as diplomatic SWAT teams with roving ambassadors in post-conflict zones to assist with reconstruction instead of generals and tanks.  In defining the role of the guerrilla diplomat, Copeland develops a comparison between counterinsurgency operations and the new world order where guerrilla diplomacy should characterize future diplomatic relations.  Just as the military has rules of engagement, guerrilla diplomacy has the rogue tools of engagement borrowed from warfare.  In today’s counterinsurgency operations, the soldier must keep his ears to the ground and eyes on the horizon using every sense to interpret his environment.  The guerrilla diplomat, in turn, will have to employ a high level of situational awareness, agility, and self-sufficiency, while also utilizing abstract thinking.

The unique themes and revolutionary proposals in Guerrilla Diplomacy are exactly what the diplomatic community needs today as a guide to entering the 21stcentury.  Copeland thoroughly explains how the world has evolved since the Cold War and why new methodologies are necessary and relevant. Guerilla Diplomacy provides the much-needed innovative tools of diplomatic engagement to navigate the dimly lit path ahead

Hasan Nasir Ki Shahadat

Umer A. Chaudhry reviews a book containing graphic details about the Communist leader Hassan Nasir’s killing.


Hasan Nasir Ki Shahadat
Major Ishaq Mohammad
Xavier Publications, Multan
Rs. 500

The letters of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg moved the lyrical pen of Faiz Ahmed Faiz to write his monumental poem ‘hum jo tareek rahon mein mare gaye.’ The Rosenbergs were Marxists and victims of McCarthyism. A few hours before they were sent to the electric chair in 1953, they left an everlasting message of hope for their children: “Be comforted then that we were serene and understood with the deepest kind of understanding, that civilization had not as yet progressed to the point where life did not have to be lost for the sake of life; and that we were comforted in the sure knowledge that others would carry on after us.”

McCarthyism is widely documented as a dark chapter in the history of the U.S.A. It is considered synonymous with Communist witch-hunts, state-sponsored red bashing, illegal detentions of left-wing activists and the arbitrary use of state power to censor progressive political expression. McCarthyism was not merely an American experience. During the heyday of the Cold War, systematic repressive measures against Communism were introduced by almost all allies of the U.S.A. Pakistan was no exception, although there has been very little written on this subject, and there is no accessible documentation in this regard. Who were the victims of anti-Communist repression in Pakistan? How were these radical Socialists persecuted? What is their history? These unconventional questions are usually sidelined or silenced.

Major Ishaq Mohammad’s book ‘Hassan Nasir ki Shahadat’ lays bare to some extent the murky historical chapter of state repression of Communism in Pakistan. Major Ishaq Mohammad needs no introduction. He was imprisoned for four years along with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer in the hitherto unresolved 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Ishaq Mohammad gained massive popularity during the 60’s and 70’s as the leader of the Mazdoor Kissan Party. He led the peasant revolts of Hashtnager and was well-known for his militant stand against capitalism and landlordism. Arrested after the military coup of General Zia-ul-Haq, he suffered from paralysis during his imprisonment. Despite his ill-health, he refused the military government’s offer for medical help provided he tendered an apology. Defiant till his last breath, he bade farewell to this world in 1982.

‘Hassan Nasir ki Shahadat’ is woven around a tale that has never been told. The story is set in the winter of 1960 when Ishaq Mohammad, a young lawyer well into the second year of his legal practice, met Faiz Ahmed Faiz on Lahore’s Mall Road and found him unusually depressed and perturbed. Faiz told Ishaq Mohammad that ‘ a Communist from Karachi’ had been brought to the Lahore Fort. He was subjected to heavy torture – so much so that his cries of pain terrified other prisoners in the Fort. It was the wife of one such prisoner who had told Faiz about the horrifying torture.

Ishaq Mohammad had been to the Lahore Fort as a detainee in 1959 and 1960, though only for short periods of time. The Fort was a symbol of terror in Pakistan at that time. This symbol of Mughal majesty had been turned into a draconian detention and investigation centre during the period of British colonialism. The “criminals” of the independence movement were often detained in the Fort for questioning through questionable means. After 1947, the Criminal Investigation Department took over the command of the Lahore Fort. The conditions there, well-documented in the book under review, were already horrific enough to paralyze a sane mind. The law enforcers, trained under the colonial regime,applied their “investigation techniques” on stubborn detainees.

After the ban on the Communist Party along with its sister organizations, and the military coup of 1958,the Lahore Fort was often used to interrogate leftist political activists. Major Ishaq Mohammad knew that the ‘Communist from Karachi’ was none other than Hassan Nasir, the Provincial Secretary of the banned underground Communist Party active in Karachi. He was also a member of the National Awami Party (NAP). Despite being the scion of a landlord family of Hyderabad, Deccan, Hassan Nasir had taken up the cause of the oppressed in Karachi. He was arrested in 1952 and exiled to India for one year. He returned to Pakistan immediately after the completion of the exile period and gave up his comfortable life to continue with his political struggle.

Ishaq Mohammad moved a habeas corpus petition in the High Court at Lahore through the able representation of Mahmood Ali Kasuri on November 22, 1960. It was during the hearing of the petition on the next day that the news of Hassan Nasir’s death surfaced. According to the government version, Hassan Nasir committed suicide by hanging himself from a nail in his detention cell at the Lahore Fort on November 13. Progressive circles around Pakistan were shell- shocked. How could a young man full of hope and commitment take his own life? Ishaq Mohammad also refused to believe the government’s version. In order to protect his comrade’s dignity, he devoted himself to the magisterial inquiry into the cause of death of a detainee in police custody, mandated under section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

Gradually Ishaq Mohammad started to uncover the lacunas in the State’s version: the discrepancy about the position of hanging marks on Hassan Nasir’s neck, the contradictory accounts of marks found on Hassan’s elbow and knee, and the absence of any plausible motive for suicide. A great deal was required before the inquiry could be finalized. The attitude of the state officials and the magistrate towards Ishaq Mohammad was highly hostile. For more than half of the questions asked by Ishaq Mohammad during different cross-examinations, the police officials standing in the witness box took the plea of secrecy in order to frustrate the legal process.

The most sordid episode in the magisterial inquiry emerged when the dead body of Hassan Nasir was exhumed. Ishaq Mohammad considered the dead body to be his primary evidence that could conclusively prove that he had died due to torture and not suicide. Despite his repeated requests before the magistrate and the High Court, the dead body was not permitted to be exhumed. Even the site of the grave was not identified by the police, nor did the Court order the police to do so. Hassan Nasir’s dead body was only allowed to be exhumed when his mother arrived from India to take the body back home with her. On closely inspecting the teeth, hair and feet of the corpse shown to her, his mother, Zehra Alambardar Hussain, refused to accept it as that of her son. The police had decided to conceal Hassan Nasir’s body from even his mother. It was at this point that Ishaq Mohammad decided to withdraw from the magisterial inquiry. The whole apparatus of the state under military rule had united to keep the circumstances of Hassan Nasir’s death a secret. The judicial probe was thwarted.

Ishaq Mohammad’s efforts to document the course of the inquiry have filled a major vacuum in Pakistan’s history. While informing readers about the proceedings in the magisterial inquiry, the book under review touches some very important topics like the colonial character and workings of the Punjab police, state sponsorship of torture, and the cruelties that occurred in the Lahore Fort.

At many points in the book the author has written that history will do justice to the cause of Hassan Nasir. Disappointed by the magisterial enquiry, Ishaq Mohammad left the final verdict to the conscience of the people of Pakistan by writing ‘Hassan Nasir ki Shahadat’. He was sure the records that were buried by the police under the plea of secrecy and “the broad national interest” would one day see the light of day. That day has not yet arrived. The publication of the book under review is a grim reminder of justice denied to a person who sacrificed himself for the betterment of humanity. It is also an indictment against the current rulers of Pakistan who continue to keep the details of this gruesome episode a secret.

The book review was first published in The Friday Times, Lahore July 10-16 issue. The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and can be reached at: umer.ch@gmail.com

Who gave BJP/RSS the right to represent Hindus in India

An excellent retort to a question so called liberals and seculars commonly ask:

Q: Who gave BJP/RSS the right to represent Hindus in India......

Answered by Neil Mezi on quora:

Not that I am any RSS fan,
But who gave you the right to steal and claim all of India’s freedom struggle as gift/charity to Indian masses by the sole family/nepotistic dynasty - The Gandhis? Aren't you erasing, white washing, mocking the sacrifices of millions of freedom fighters, mass heroes like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad, Subash Chandra Bose etc that laid down their lives for the country?

Who gave you right to loot India for 60 years?Who gave you right to name all airports, ports after your nepotistic family? Is India your personal property?

Who gave you right to donate India’s land coco Islands etc to other nations without seeking Indian masses permission? Is India’s land your personal property?

Who gave you right to declare muslims as minority when Parsis, Jains, Jews, Buddhists, homosexuals, transgenders are actual minority and muslims the second largest majority?

Who gave you right to tax hindu temples and shrines and use the money for government and expenditure for all religion masses, but exempt tax on muslim and Christian shrines in name of appeasement? Are you punishing hindu faith believers for being hindus?

Who gave you right to segregate common laws meant for all? You reformed Hindu law and don't touch other religion’s law?

Who gave you right to allow muslims to practice polygamy etc but ban other faiths to do it, isn’t this sheer hypocrisy/ open bias towards one religion followers under the pretence of being secular party?

Who gave you right to spend Indian tax payers money on madrassa religious education when you don't pay same amount of funds to other religion followers education?

Who gave you right to fund haj subsidies, provide minority quota etc to them when you don't provide same subsidies to other faiths to visit their shrine or provide minority quota to kashmiri pandits in JK or other 8 states where hindus are in a minority?

Who gave you right to send/ use Indian navy frigate to lay wreath on sea burial of Edwina Mountbatten by her love interest Nehru in his personal capacity at British’s South Coast? Is Indian Navy machinery, your family members personal property?

Who gave you right to provide secret/safe passage to criminal Warren Anderson, Union Carbide CEO who was charged with manslaughter by Indian court and put in custody?

Who gave you right to flee a person from custody who was responsible for blinding and deaths of lakhs of people in Bhopal gas tradegy? Whose generation after generation still suffer deformity and yet received no compensation from them. Wasn't that betrayal and criminal on your part to India?

Who gave you right to mock 26/11 tragedy, strikes at border etc from the likes of Digvijay Singh, Sanjay Nirupam etc?

When Congress can answer all these questions, they can bother questioning others.

January 16, 2018

Hassan Nasir: The man who wasn’t there


Nadeem F. ParachaUpdated November 08, 2015

A political party poster with Hassan Nasir’s image

On October 31, during the first phase of the local bodies’ elections in Sindh and Punjab, I was going through the many images (of the event) that were being uploaded on my Facebook timeline.

Since the PPP (in Sindh) and the PML-N (in the Punjab) were clearly sweeping the polls, most of the uploaded pictures were of workers and supporters of the two parties celebrating their big wins in the elections.

However, as I was flicking through the photos on my iPad, I suddenly came across images of two celebratory gatherings — one in Sindh and one in Punjab. In these pictures more than a dozen or so supporters were carrying posters of a bygone communist activist, Hassan Nasir.

His face has become a symbol of defiance on political parties’ posters, since the 1970s

What is this, I wondered? Initially I supposed that the photos were of some PPP workers trying to link their party’s victory (in the area where the photo was taken) to the PPP’s distant socialist past. But I couldn’t see any PPP flags in the photos.


Intrigued, I messaged the young gentleman (on Facebook) who had uploaded the pictures. I asked him who the folks in the photos were.

The young man was a Sindhi and a student at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro. He told me that he was a member of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) — a leftist grouping of various small Marxist outfits who had merged in 2010 to form the AWP.

One of the photos was taken in the city of Okara in the Punjab, and the other was taken in Naseerabad, a town in upper Sindh’s Qambar Shahdadkot District.

The AWP had won a seat in Okara, Punjab so the Okara photo was of young AWP workers celebrating their contestant’s victory which they claim was achieved by putting up a committed party worker.

The other photo was of Naseerabad where the AWP had won a couple of seats in the mentioned elections. But I pondered, what was Hassan Nasir (who passed away in 1960) symbolising in a gathering of a left-wing group in this day and age; and / or 25 years after the demise of the Soviet Union and with it, communism?

I had first come to know about Nasir when I was a teenaged college student in Karachi in the early 1980s. Posters with his image had continued to crop up during the many movements that emerged against the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88).

At the time, the posters were mostly being issued by left-wing student groups such as the NSF, and parties such as the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP), and also the PPP.

In 1985, a MKP activist had told me that posters of Nasir had even emerged during the 1977 movement against the first PPP government of Z.A. Bhutto (1971-77). Some leftist groups, after being incensed by Bhutto’s ‘authoritarian personality’ and his regime’s ‘betrayal of its socialist agenda’, had joined hands with the right-wing alliance (the PNA) in a bid to topple Bhutto.

Ironically, before all this, Hassan Nasir’s image had actually first been used on PPP posters during the 1970 election when the party was positioning itself as a socialist alternative to the religious right and the ‘capitalist / feudal statuesque’.

So Nasir’s face continued to crop up (as a symbol of defiance) in the early 1970s, the late 1970s, and the early 1980s. It continues to pop up even today.

However, unlike Che Guevara (the celebrated Latin American revolutionary who was killed in 1967), and whose image too continues to be used by various protest groups around the world, Nasir’s image is yet to get his very own ‘post- modernist’ makeover by also appearing on coffee cups and on baseball hats!

But who was Hassan Nasir?

Hassan Nasir was born into an aristocratic Muslim family in Hyderabad Deccan, India. After finishing school in his hometown, Nasir got admission in UK’s prestigious Cambridge University where he came into contact with various young British and Indian Marxists.

On his return to India, and against his family’s wishes, he plunged into a peasants’ uprising against feudal lords and British Colonial overlords in the Telangana region.

When the movement collapsed after the departure of the British in 1947, Nasir decided to migrate to Pakistan. In 1950, he arrived in Karachi and joined the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). His family stayed back in India.

Though just 22 years old at the time, he greatly impressed the CPP leadership with his profound knowledge of Marxism.

Soon, Nasir’s revolutionary outlook and charisma made him popular among college students, peasants and factory workers. In 1954 he was arrested by the government, jailed, tortured and then forcibly flown back to India.

However, in 1955, he quietly slipped back in. Since the CPP had been banned, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking leftists began joining progressive Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pashtun nationalists to form the National Awami Party (NAP). In 1957 Nasir was made the party’s secretary general in Karachi.

He turned his office into a busy working and planning area for leftist students and trade unionists. Though his aristocratic background could have easily guaranteed him a rich and comfortable life in Karachi, he chose to live among labourers cramped in and around the make-shift shanty towns that had sprung up in the glittering metropolis.

In 1958, when Field Marshal Ayub Khan launched a military coup, he ordered a crackdown against leftists as well as against the religious parties. Nasir went underground.

Veteran communist leader, Jamal Naqvi, in his 2014 memoir writes that in 1960, Ayub, while being briefed by Karachi’s police chief, lost his cool when Nasir’s name came up. He is reported to have lashed out and shouted, ‘How is that bloody communist still free … ?’

The Ayub regime was equally harsh towards the religious parties. But Nasir’s activities and his popularity among the students and labourers had begun to greatly perturb the regime.

Nasir was finally located, hiding in a shanty town in Karachi. He was picked up by the police and then flown in chains to a special cell that had been set-up by the police in Lahore’s historical Lahore Fort.

Naqvi informs that here Nasir was continuously tortured, beaten up and refused food and water for days. Then finally, he was slayed in his muggy, tiny cell. He was just 32.

The Muslim aristocrat’s son who had become a communist rebel was never seen or heard from again.

The press was told that Nasir had died in an accident. The news of his death left his father suffering a mental breakdown. He had wanted his son to become a civil servant. His mother refused to believe that the body that the police had shown to the press was his.

With Nasir’s father indisposed, his mother travelled alone to Lahore to reclaim the body. ‘This is not my son’s body,’ the ailing old woman shouted and then fell to the ground. She was escorted out by the police and put in a waiting rickshaw.

She returned home empty-handed. Till this day, nobody is quite sure what happened to the young man’s body and where is it buried. His father passed away and the family eventually lost its aristocratic status in India. The mother too died soon after.

The country’s leftists consider Nasir to be their first modern ‘martyr’. That’s why his face has continued to emerge on posters ever since the 1970s.

‘He still symbolises defiance and clarity of purpose beyond the political cynicism and rightest demagoguery of today,’ (sic). This is how the young man who had uploaded the pictures described Nasir when he wrote back to me.

Indeed. Well, as long as Nasir (like Che) too doesn’t end up on coffee mugs …

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 8th, 2015

Policing Practices in a Global Perspective



5 JANUARY 2018

From Aarhus to Manila

Peter Albrecht, Maya Mynster Christensen, Mette-Louise Johansen, Helene Maria Kyed, Paul Mutsaers, Dennis Pauschinger, Finn Stepputat, Francesco Colona, Jairo Matallana-Villarreal, Louise Wiuff Moe, Naomi von Stapele, Anna Warburg, Morten Koch Andersen


■   Prioritize support to the establishment and maintenance of bureaucratic checks and
balances, as this is essential to ensure legitimacy of the police.

■   Question forms of policing that rely on suspicionbased
preventive practices or arbitrary use of violence, even if popularly normalised.

■   Pay attention to how positive and negative aspects of CVE/counter-terrorist strategies to counter violence, extremism or terror directly and indirectly
shape contemporary policing across the global North and South.

Policing in the global North and the global South is becoming more alike. An increasingly common characteristic is the blurring of boundaries between rule-based and more personalized policing styles. Reasons for this approximation include a growing focus on fighting or preventing radicalisation globally, and a general debureaucratisation of policing that has occurred in the global North.

More than half of the world’s population live in cities,
and urban centres will absorb almost all population
growth in the coming decades. The growing size and density of cities combined with increasing inequality between their inhabitants, means that urban areas have become sites of intensified insecurity and violence. This occurs in a context where a multitude of actors makes claims to policing urban violence. While the mandate of the police is to enforce the law, police work in practice often extends beyond the official mandate of state-sanctioned law enforcement and crime regulation, breaking down clear-cut divisions between public and private. Policing in the global South and North is usually characterized as vastly different by researchers and policy-makers alike. However, by exploring how the state police make order in urban settings around the world, global commonalities emerge, including the blurring of boundaries between bureaucratic and more
intuitive policing styles.

Policing across the North-South divide
Policing in the global South is commonly seen as taking place in a context of limited statehood. In turn, this means that a multitude of actors – such as gangs, ex-combatants and private security firms – engages in and makes claims to policing the city in the absence of the state police. This emphasis tends to put the role of the state police in the background and means that the global South is approached as somewhat unique, even exotic, when it comes to the role of so-called non-state actors.

Yet, contemporary policing practices in the global South are not necessarily substantially different from those in the North. One of the reasons for this is that policing of complex urban security threats in the North associated with radicalization and terrorism have given rise to an expansion of policing beyond securityrelated aspects of law enforcement.

Covert policing and security as social welfare
A major shift in policing practices, which has contributed to greater resemblance on a global cale,
began in the early 2000s in the context of the “War on Terror”. Across the world, countering violence and extremism has gradually legitimized more covert policing practices that push and sometimes cross the boundary of what is within the rule of law. In Nairobi, for instance, where terrorist attacks are linked to Somali refugees, policing has translated into arbitrary arrests, and practices that disregard national and international law.

Policing in many parts of the world is often accompanied by
considerable fear among the police and policed alike.

In Europe, the agenda to counter violence and extremism has legitimized the extension of policing
practices into new sectors of the welfare system, and thereby blurred boundaries between security and other public services. The ‘Aarhus Model’ in Denmark was established as a counter-radicalization initiative that is run by a variety of social services, including the youth sector, unemployment centre, street-based workers, social-psychiatric services – and the police.

The partial dissolution of what constitutes a particular policing task is reinforced further by the way in which radicalization is depicted. The ‘Aarhus Model’ uses the World Health Organization’s model for how epidemics spread to explain the dangers of radicalisation. While Danish authorities do not see the relationship between radicalization and a virus as one-to-one, they see radicalization as something that spreads, and while some are more at risk than others are, everyone can be ‘infected’.

Proximity and plural policing
An emerging commonality between policing in the global South and North is the blurring of boundaries between bureaucratic, rule-based and more personalized and intuitive policing styles. When states are considered fragile or failing, a central characteristic is a weak bureaucratic system that lacks administrative and political checks and balances. Fragility and failure are labels that are applied to a number of states in the global South. At the same time, the perception that bureaucratisation – or too much of it – is negative and even, anti-liberal, influences the evolution of policing practices in the global North.

Police reform in the Netherlands, for instance, has over the past years sought to minimize the distance between the public and the police by debureaucratising policing practices. This involves minimizing the paperwork and administration that is part of working within state institutions, but creates distance between police and population. The rationale behind debureaucratisation is that police officers should be in the streets, not behind desks.

This has led to a move from ‘state externality’ to ‘state proximity’, which blurs the boundary between professional and private identities of police officers. These processes of blurring have facilitated a shift from criminal to popular justice, including racial profiling, which is increasingly central to policing practices across both the global South and North.

The move from rule-based to more intuitive policing styles has also facilitated the appropriation of military techniques. This ranges from the employment of military equipment in the fight against urban crime to an array of propaganda methods to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the population.

Debureaucratisation in the global North may have diminished the distance between the police and the policed, and made the demarcation of competencies between state institutions progressively blurred. However, in several countries, primarily across the global South, the extension of policing beyond state-sanctioned law enforcement has never diminished, because bureaucratic practices always played a limited role in this regard. In Maputo, for instance, the police in many cases work through constant negotiation of legality and popular legitimacy. What is at stake is the status of the police, indeed, the definition of what the state should and should not do.

Violence against the police and police violence
Police violence is rarely applied without a degree of acceptance from a cross-section of the population that fears crime, terrorism or both. However, the police is not only the perpetrator, but also a victim of violence.

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, kneecapping is used methodically to punish suspects, and in Rio de Janeiro politicians and the police depict policing as warfare in certain parts of the city. Policing in these contexts is often accompanied by considerable risk for local communities, but also for the officers themselves. In Rio, officers perceive their routines inside and outside their job as unsafe. They risk assassinations, for instance, during armed assaults when they respond to a robbery or if the perpetrators realise that they are robbing a member of the police. At times, they are
victims of targeted attacks.

As the police seek to maintain and enforce urban order, different rules and practices often apply to
different socio-economic and ethnic groups. Indeed, a moral boundary may be drawn between those who are allowed to live and those who are not. In poor urban settlements, in Nairobi for instance, policing strategies are built up around the explicit use of violence. The
target of extra-judicial killings is commonly young men suspected of being thieves, (potential) terrorists or both.

Policing is a form of social control that includes
processes of surveillance and the threat or use of
physical punishment to make and sustain order.

Violent forms of policing are also prominent in the Philippine government’s War on Drugs. In Manila, the police portray themselves as working inside the law, yet act outside it. This form of policing has created a climate of fear that is used as an order-making strategy; yet, fear and insecurity are experienced by the policed and police alike.

The broader population in Nairobi and Manila observes extra-judicial killings ambiguously. In Manila, the government’s War on Drugs is legitimate in the sense that the visibility of drugs and crime have decreased. Fundamentally, the public accepts the premise of the war on drugs, that is, the existence of a drug crisis in the Philippines. In Nairobi, violent actions by the police are to some extent accepted both inside and outside poor urban settlements, because they are linked to
perceived corruption and inefficiency of the judiciary.

This policy brief presents notable points of discussion from a workshop on urban policing held in Copenhagen on 22-23 June 2017. The workshop was hosted by DIIS · Danish Institute for International Studies and the Danish Institute against Torture (DIGNITY).

The policy brief is written by:
Peter Albrecht & Maya Mynster Christensen with: Mette-Louise Johansen, Helene Maria Kyed, Paul Mutsaers, Dennis Pauschinger, Finn Stepputat, Francesco Colona, Jairo Matallana-Villarreal, Louise Wiuff Moe, Naomi von Stapele, Anna Warburg, Morten Koch Andersen, Kari Øygard Larsen, Birgitte Dragsted Mutengwa og Steffen Bo Jensen

Will the Dollar Survive the Rise of the Yuan and the End of the Petrodollar?

Source: Mises.org

01/10/2018Alasdair Macleod

This might seem a frivolous question, while the dollar still retains its might, and is universally accepted in preference to other, less stable fiat currencies. However, it is becoming clear, at least to independent monetary observers, that in 2018 the dollar’s primacy will be challenged by the yuan as the pricing medium for energy and other key industrial commodities. After all, the dollar’s role as the legacy trade medium is no longer appropriate, given that China’s trade is now driving the global economy, not America’s.

At the very least, if the dollar’s future role diminishes, then there will be surplus dollars, which unless they are withdrawn from circulation entirely, will result in a lower dollar on the foreign exchanges. While it is possible for the Fed to contract the quantity of base money (indeed this is the implication of its desire to reduce its balance sheet anyway), it would also have to discourage and even reverse the expansion of bank credit, which would be judged by central bankers to be economic suicide. For that to occur, the US Government itself would also have to move firmly and rapidly towards eliminating its budget deficit. But that is being deliberately increased by the Trump administration instead.

Explaining the consequences of these monetary dynamics was the purpose of an essay written by Ludwig von Mises almost a century ago. At that time, the German hyperinflation was entering its final phase ahead of the mark’s eventual collapse in November 1923. Von Mises had already helped to stabilize the Austrian crown, whose own collapse was stabilized at about the time he wrote his essay, so he wrote with both practical knowledge and authority.

The dollar, of course, is nowhere near the circumstances faced by the German mark at that time. However, the conditions that led to the mark’s collapse are beginning to resonate with a familiarity that should serve as an early warning. The situation, was of course, different. Germany had lost the First World War and financed herself by printing money. In fact, she started down that route before the war, seizing upon the new Chartalist doctrine that money should rightfully be issued by the state, in preference to the established knowledge that money’s validity was determined by markets. Without abandoning gold for her own state-issued currency, Germany would never have managed to build and finance her war machine, which she did by printing currency. The ultimate collapse of the mark was not mainly due to the Allies’ reparations set at the treaty of Versailles, as commonly thought today, because the inflation had started long before.

The dollar has enjoyed a considerably longer life as an unbacked state-issued currency than the mark did, but do not think the monetary factors have been much different. The Bretton Woods agreement, designed to make the dollar appear “as good as gold”, was cover for the US Government to fund Korea, Vietnam and other foreign ventures by monetary inflation, which it did without restraint. That deceit ended in 1971, and today the ratio of an ounce of gold to the dollar has moved to about 1:1310 from the post-war rate of 1:35, giving a loss of the dollar’s purchasing power, measured in the money of the market, of 97.3%.

True, this is not on the hyperinflationary scale of the mark — yet. Since the Nixon shock in 1971, the Americans have been adept at perpetuating the myth of King Dollar, insisting gold now has no monetary role at all. By cutting a deal with the Saudis in 1974, Nixon and Kissinger ensured that all energy, and in consequence all other commodities, would continue to be priced in dollars. Global demand for dollars was assured, and the banking system of correspondent nostro accounts meant that all the world’s trade was settled in New York through the mighty American banks. And having printed dollars to ensure higher energy prices would be paid, they would then be recycled as loan capital to America and her friends. The world had been bought, and anyone not prepared to accept US monetary and military domination would pay the price.

That was until now. The dollar’s hegemony is being directly challenged by China, which is not shy about promoting her own currency as her preferred settlement medium. Later this month an oil futures contract priced in yuan is expected to start trading in Shanghai.1 Only last week, the Governor of China’s central bank met the Saudi finance minister, presumably to agree, amongst other topics, the date when Saudi Arabia will start to accept yuan for oil sales to China. The proximity of these two developments certainly suggest they are closely related, and that the end of the Nixon/Saudi deal of 1974, which created the petrodollar, is in sight.

Do not underestimate the importance of this development, because it marks the beginning of a new monetary era, which will be increasingly understood to be post-dollar. The commencement of the new yuan for oil futures contract may seem a small crack in the dollar’s edifice, but it is almost certainly the beginning of its shattering.

America’s response to China’s monetary maneuvring has always been that of a nation on the back foot. For the last year, the yuan has been rising against the dollar, following President Trump’s inauguration. Instead of responding to China’s hegemonic threat by increasing America’s role in foreign trade, President Trump has threatened all and sundry with trade restrictions and punitive tariffs. It is a policy which could not be more designed to undermine America’s global economic status, and with it the role of the dollar.

In monetary terms, this leads us to a further important parallel with Germany nearly a century ago, and that is the contraction of the territory and population over which the mark was legal tender then, and the acceptance of the dollar today. The loss of Germany’s colonies in Asia and Africa, Alsace-Lorraine to France, and large parts of Prussia to Poland, reduced the population that used the mark without a compensating reduction of the quantity of marks in circulation. Until very recently, most of the world was America’s monetary colony, and in that context, she is losing Asia, the Middle East and some countries in Africa as well. The territory that offers fealty to the dollar is definitely contracting, just as it did for the German mark after 1918, and as it did for the Austro-Hungarians, whose Austrian crown suffered a similar fate.

The relative slowness of the dollar’s decline so far should not fool us. The factors that led to the collapse of the German mark in 1923 are with us in our fiat currencies today. As Mises put it,

If the practice persists of covering government deficits with the issue of notes, then the day will come without fail, sooner or later, when the monetary systems of those nations pursuing this course will break down completely.

Updated for today’s monetary system, this is precisely how the American government finances itself. Instead of printing notes, it is the expansion of bank credit, issued by banks licensed by the government with this purpose in mind, that ends up being subscribed for government bonds. The same methods are employed by all advanced nations, giving us a worrying global dimension to the ultimate failure of fiat currencies, whose only backing is confidence in the issuers.

Now that America is being forced back from the post-war, post-Nixon-shock strategy of making the dollar indispensable for global trade, the underlying monetary inflation of decades will almost certainly begin to be reflected in the foreign and commodity exchanges. There is little to stand in the way of the global fiat monetary system, led by the dollar, to begin a breakdown in its purchasing power, as prophesied by Mises nearly a century ago. Whether other currencies follow the dollar down the rabbit hole of diminishing purchasing power will to a large extent depend on the management of the currencies concerned

How a Fiat Currency Dies

The last thing anyone owning units of a state-issued currency will admit to is that they may be valueless. Only long after it has become clear to an educated impartial monetary observer that this is the case, will they abandon the currency and get rid of it for anything while someone else will still take it in exchange for goods. In the case of the German hyperinflation, it was probably only in the last six months or so that the general public finally abandoned the mark, despite its legal status as money.

Mises reported that throughout the monetary collapse, until only the final months, there persists a general belief that the collapse in the currency would soon end, there always being a shortage of it. The change in this attitude was marked by the moment people no longer just bought what they needed ahead of actually needing it. Instead, they began to buy anything, just to get rid of the currency. This final phase is what Mises called the crack-up boom, though some far-sighted individuals had already acted well ahead of the crowd. Both these phases are still ahead for the American citizen. However, we can now anticipate how the first is likely to start, and that will be through dollars in foreign hands being replaced for trade purposes with the yuan, and then sold into the foreign exchanges.

Once the process starts, triggered perhaps by the petrodollar’s loss of its trade settlement monopoly, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility for the dollar to initially lose between a third and a half of its purchasing power against a basket of commodities, and a similar amount against the yuan, which is likely to be managed by the Chinese to retain its purchasing power. It will be in the interests of the Chinese authorities to promote the yuan as a sounder currency than the dollar to further encourage foreign traders to abandon the dollar. From China’s point of view, a stronger yuan would also help ensure price stability in her domestic markets, at a time when countries choosing to remain on a dollar-linked monetary policy will be struggling with rising price inflation.

There then emerges a secondary problem for the dollar. A fiat currency depends in large measure for its value on the credibility of the issuer. A weakening dollar, and the bear market in bonds that accompanies it, will undermine the US Government’s finances, in turn further eroding the government’s financial credibility. This will be happening after an extended period of the US Government being able to finance its deficits at artificially low interest rates, and is therefore unprepared for this radical change in circumstances.

As the dollar’s purchasing power comes under attack, lenders, whether they be those with surplus funds, or their banks acting as their agents, will increasingly take into account the declining purchasing power of the dollar in setting a loan rate. In other words, time-preference will again begin to dominate forward rates, and not central bank interest rate policy. This will be reflected in a significantly steeper yield curve in the bond market, forcing borrowers into very short-term financing or using other, more stable monetary media to obtain capital for longer-term projects. This, again, plays into the yuan becoming the preferred currency, possibly with a rapidity that will be unexpected.

The US Government is obviously ill-equipped for this drastic change in its circumstances. The correct response is to eliminate its budget deficit entirely, and refuse to bail out failing banks and businesses. Bankruptcies will be required to send surplus dollars to money heaven and therefore stabilise the dollar’s purchasing power. A change in the Fed’s attitude towards its banks and currency is, however, as unlikely as that of the Reichsbank subsequent to the Versailles Treaty.

Therefore, it follows that capital markets in dollars will inevitably be severely disrupted, and market participants will seek alternatives. Remember that the dollar’s strength has been based on its function in trade settlement and its subsequent deployment as the international monetary capital of choice. Both these functions can be expected to go into reverse as the trade settlement function is undermined.

Whether China will be tempted to employ the same methods in future to support the yuan as the Americans have during the last forty-three years for the dollar, remains to be seen. It may not be a trick that can be repeated. There is a great danger that a significant fall in the dollar will lead to global economic stagnation, coupled with escalating price inflation, affecting many of China’s trading partners. China will want to insulate herself from these dangers without adding to them by going for full-blown hegemony.

We are beginning, perhaps, to see this reflected in rising prices for gold and silver. China has effectively cornered the market for physical gold, the only sound money of the market that over millennia has survived all attempts by governments to replace it. Her central planners appear to have long been aware of the West’s Achilles’ heel in its monetary affairs, and have merely been playing along to China’s own advantage. As the dollar weakens in the coming years, her wisdom in securing for herself and her citizens the one form of money that’s no one else’s liability will ensure her survival in increasingly turbulent times.

Now that’s strategic thinking

January 13, 2018

Sectarianization: An Interview with Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel

Riad Alarian

Nader Hashemi

Danny Postel

January 10th, 2018

The following is a transcription of an interview with Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel, editors of the pioneering new book, Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East. At the site of last year’s Middle East Studies Association (MESA) conference in Washington, D.C. (November 18 – 21, 2017), I sat with Hashemi and Postel to discuss their book and many of the important contributions it provides to the study of the Middle East. This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity, but is otherwise presented in its entirety:

Riad Alarian (RA): Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. I wanted to start by asking you to briefly explain the sectarianization thesis and some of the novel ideas it introduces to the discussion on sectarianism.

Nader Hashemi (NH): We contrast the concept of sectarianization with the more popular term, sectarianism, and we try to highlight a set of core differences between these two concepts. Sectarianism sort of presupposes there is this enduring, ongoing tension or conflict between different sects in the Muslim world that has deep historical roots and has always played itself out throughout the course of Islamic history. That is very much the dominant view, not only among “Westerners,” but among many Muslims too, who believe that Sunnis and Shias have always been in conflict. In the book, we try and push back against that narrative. To be sure, we acknowledge that there are differences between sects. But, we employ the term sectarianization to identify a much more immediate set of political conditions that give rise to conflict between Muslim sects. These conditions are fundamentally rooted in the project of political actors that are pursuing goals rooted in the acquisition of power, or the perpetuation of power, by the mobilization of sectarian identities, and deliberately so. In other words, we try and historicize this question of sectarian conflict by pushing back against the idea that it has deep historical roots, claiming—as many people do in the book—that it is a modern phenomenon, and it has a history, and the history is not as deep as people think. It actually goes back to 1979, when political actors in the Middle East (primarily Saudi Arabia and Iran) started to use sectarian narratives to advance the political agendas of ruling elites. So, in a nutshell, sectarianization is a project that involves the deliberate, calculated mobilization of social and religious groups around sectarian markers of identity in pursuit of political goals.


RA: And how does the book help locate sectarian conflict as a distinctly modern phenomenon? What are some of the ways this is apparent?

Danny Postel (DP): Ussama Makdisi’s chapter, which is the first chapter of the book, really sets the historical stage for the story of sectarianization. Makdisi locates sectarianization in the transition from Ottoman rule into the colonial period. It’s not as if sectarian identities didn’t exist under Ottoman rule. They did. The question is how they were organized, why they were organized in the particular way they were, and how sectarian fault lines in the region were transformed under colonial rule. A lot of people react to our argument as if we’re claiming that sects are completely artificial and don’t exist. That is not what we are arguing. Of course there are different sects of Islam, just like there are different sects of Christianity and other religions. The question is, when did sects, or sectarian fault lines, become key political identities in the region? Makdisi claims this is a very recent phenomenon, and argues that sectarianism has distinctly modern roots.

In the introduction to the book, Nader and I bring the story forward even more and suggest that sectarian conflict is a really recent phenomenon—we’re really talking about the last thirty to forty years, essentially. The three key years in this intensification of sectarian identity and violence in the Middle East are 1979, 2003, and 2011. I always say 2011 dash. Meaning, if you just say 2011, it implies that the “Arab Spring” created all of this sectarian chaos and violence. That’s actually not what we argue. It wasn’t the Arab uprisings of 2011 in themselves that created sectarian violence. Quite the contrary, we show in the book, in case after case, how the slogans, demands, and animating impulses of the Arab uprisings had nothing to do with sectarianism, or religion at all. They had to do with broad-based political demands: social justice, human rights, dignity, bread, and freedom. It was through the response of the regimes in the region to those uprisings that the sectarianization process became operationalized, with crackdowns on peaceful, non-sectarian demonstrations characterized by regime after regime as either an “Iranian plot,” or the “Shiite crescent,” or, in the eyes of the Assad regime, “Sunni extremism.” This is all despite the fact that the Syrian uprising, like the other uprisings of the region, were cross-sectarian, non-sectarian, and arguably anti-sectarian. Still, they were characterized from day one as sectarian, which is demonstrably false and straight-up propaganda.

But, over time—and this is the darker story the book tells—that narrative became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is partly because of regime policy, which fomented sectarianism. As Paulo Pinto demonstrates in his chapter on Syria, the Assad regime used targeted repression—what he calls a “selective distribution of violence” against different groups, depending on the sectarian identities—in response to the protests. What happened was not only sectarianization “from above,” but also sectarianization “from below,” where people take the bait and buy into the sectarian narrative. Certain “sectarian entrepreneurs,” from imams to grassroots activists, began to see things in sectarian terms themselves. They bought into the false regime narrative and made it real. But, the point of the book is that this is a process; it was not inevitable, and it’s not the “natural” playing out of primordial forces. That idea is an Orientalist fantasy. These are specific regime policies and they’ve been taking place in a very recent time frame.

RA: So why now? What made you decide to write this book at this particular moment in history? What sort of readers did you have in mind when you wrote it?

NH: That’s a good question. We were, I guess, looking for a new project to work on at our Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, where Danny and I worked very closely together. We felt there was an emerging sense that the Middle East is heading toward greater sectarian conflict. We also came to the realization that, in the academic literature, there was very little serious work that had been done to try and explain and theorize what had been happening in the region. So we just had a meeting of the minds where we thought that this would be a good project to work on, and we gradually identified a number of people based on what we had been reading who we thought would be good potential contributors to the book. Most people we approached were enthusiastic about it, and we were able to invite some of the contributors to Denver to give preliminary lectures, which then became book chapters. That was really the background for the book. Unfortunately, our prediction and our prognosis have been proven correct, because things in the region are heading toward greater sectarian conflict, driven by a number of factors—some of which Danny identified. It is really a result of the growing regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which we argue in the book is fundamentally driven by politics, not theology.

DP: Let me add to that point about “why now?” One thing that really started getting under our skin was the international conversation on Syria. As you might know, our previous book is titled The Syria Dilemma, and we spent a good two to three years focused exclusively on that conflict. We organized two major international conferences on Syria on top of writing the book, and that became the central focus of our research and energies. One of the most striking things about the international conversation on Syria was the development of this new “conventional wisdom” in diplomatic and policy circles, media debates, and amongst the pundit class, where the Syrian conflict was referred to as a “Sunni uprising.” Nader and I would look at each other and say, “What Sunni uprising?” The Syrian uprising had nothing to do with Sunni versus Shia. It had to do with the struggle for democratic rights, human dignity, and social justice—the same things that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings were about. Where did this new “conventional wisdom” come from? We started hearing, from voices in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, about the “sectarian knife fight” going on in Syria, and questions like “Why should we [the West] be dragged into these ancient conflicts?” Nader and I started realizing that this narrative is an ideological miasma that was being trotted out at a very specific moment in history.

If you go back to the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war, remember that the pundit class (especially the more militaristic wing communicating through Fox News) was very, very triumphalist about the U.S. invasion. “We’re toppling Saddam Hussein and bringing freedom,” they said. Then, over the course of the first three years of the U.S. occupation, there was a clear shift in the discourse; a palpable sense of “What’s wrong, why aren’t Iraqis happy about this?” In fact, Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing pundits started explicitly saying, “Wait a minute, why aren’t the Iraqi people more grateful for these gifts that we’re bringing?” Then O’Reilly started saying things on his show like, “You know what? We have to get the hell out of Iraq, these people are savages, they don’t appreciate freedom, they can’t accept the freedom that we gave them because—

NH: —because they “enjoy killing each other!”

DP: He literally said that! We quote it in the introduction to the book. You know why Sunnis and Shias are killing each other in Iraq? Because Allah tells them to, and they love it!

NH: But, it’s also on the left too, Danny. Don’t leave the left off the hook here.

DP: Yes, there is a left-wing version of this narrative. The Independent’sPatrick Cockburn, for example, adopts a decidedly sectarian narrative. The way he and others on the left frame the Syrian conflict reproduces harmful, sectarian understandings riddled with essentialist and Orientalist baggage. Madawi Al-Rasheed and I debated Cockburn on the BBC Radio 4 program Thinking Allowed about this. He was quite explicit in his defense of the sectarian narrative.

Basically, across the board, there’s this new conventional wisdom swirling around in Washington, London, Brussels, and in the media. People are saying, you know what the problem is in the Middle East? It’s these ancient religious conflicts and passions. This is what drives these people. How are you going to have democracy in this region? That’s why the Arab uprisings failed. That’s why the invasion of Iraq failed. These people “can’t do” democracy—it’s all about religious passions and sectarian conflict for them. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, asserts that the conflict in Yemen is rooted in the 7th century, over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad. So, this becomes, I think, a convenient story that the West tells itself about why the region is in such turmoil. It has nothing to do with Western policy, it has nothing to do with colonial history, it has nothing to do with U.S. militarism, it has nothing to do with the authoritarian regimes we’ve been propping up and funding. Rather, it’s because “those people” are just incapable of being like “us”! I think this is an imperial narrative that the West wants to tell itself—it’s a soothing, comforting story.

NH: And it draws upon deeply held Orientalist stereotypes and prejudices about Muslims; that they’re just fundamentally savages and they can’t be democratic. Then there’s the scary policy consequence that Danny just alluded to, which is that authoritarianism is basically a good thing, because it keeps those savages in control!

DP: “Bring back the dictators!”

NH: “If only we could bring Saddam and Gaddafi back. What a wonderful world the Middle East would be!”

DP: That is actually more or less the new wisdom in diplomatic circles.

NH: And I hate to say this because I’m a big fan of his, but Bernie Sanders, who I think is a very decent and moral person, and in my view the only hope for this country, has actually come pretty close to arguing that point.

DP: The point is this new conventional wisdom, Riad, is so widespread. There’s a right-wing version of it, which is explicitly Islamophobic, and demonizes Islam and Muslims. There’s also a left-wing version of it, and a more centrist foreign-policy establishment version of it. From 2012 to 2015, as things got worse and worse in the region, this new “wisdom” started to pick up and take hold, and you could hear it everywhere, all across the spectrum. That was a huge part of the reason we decided to write this book. We told ourselves we have to show systematically, in case study after case study after case study, how this narrative is wrong and mystifies, rather than clarifies, the politics of the region.

RA: Let’s talk a little about the approach of the book in assessing the question and problem of sectarianization. It accomplishes this in two ways: First, through a “big picture,” theoretical framework, and second, through a more particular, contextual approach. Could you elaborate on these two approaches, how they present themselves in the book, and why you chose to assess the sectarianization thesis this way?

NH: Well, we thought first of all that there was very little good political history on the question of sectarianism in terms of its origins and the argument that it’s a modern phenomenon, as we talked about. There’s also very little work in the scholarship (and we hope that we make a contribution) to try and provide a political theory of sectarianism in terms of how it actually develops, its political manifestations, and the social conditions that produce it. And so we thought that we needed to really address this, which is why the first few chapters in the book speak specifically to these points—to the history and the “religious studies underpinnings” of where the concept of sectarianism emerges and how it manifests itself—

DP: —and the geopolitics

NH: —and then the geopolitics, right. So, it’s the history, the theory, and the geopolitics of the topic. It has an international relations dimension, a comparative politics dimension, and a political theory dimension. So, we lay that out in the beginning of the book, with people who are very well credentialed scholars, and then we look at the case studies. To our credit, if I can sound a bit proud of what we’ve done, the case studies actually affirm the theoretical framework laid out at the beginning of the book. This is true in case study after case study, which look at all the major countries. So that’s really the layout and framework of the book.

DP: Yeah, that first section of the book is very important because it’s the “big picture” of sectarianization, putting the sectarianization argument in historical perspective—with Ussama Makdisi and Yezid Sayigh’s chapters—and the geopolitical dimensions of sectarianization, which Bassel Salloukh does brilliantly. Then Adam Gaiser’s chapter adds a very rich theoretical framework to understanding how sectarianization operationally takes root in individual psyches. He uses narrative identity theory to show how the sectarian narrative can actually speak to individuals. How do individuals “emplot” themselves in these sectarian stories? That’s his question.

But, for me, the heart and soul of the book are the actual case studies. Let’s say a reader does not find the “big picture,” theoretical arguments in the first section terribly convincing—because they’re highly debatable, to be sure. To me, it’s all about taking a closer look at how the sectarianization process actually worked in Syria, and in Yemen, and elsewhere. What’s so striking, for all the profound differences between and among those cases, is that you see the same basic pattern over and over. The real issues, if you will, the really defining fault lines in these societies, have nothing to do with sect. They have to do with power, they have to do with injustice, they have to do with corrupt authoritarian rule and repression, and with class and economic inequalities. But in case after case, you have these conflicts that then morph into sectarian conflicts. How? That’s what the case studies show. And, again, what’s striking is how connected they are. To be sure, sectarian compositions differ from society to society. Some societies are Sunni majority ruled by a Shiite minority. Other societies are Shiite majority ruled by a Sunni minority. But in each case, it doesn’t matter which sect is in power, or which one is the majority or minority. It’s about regimes manipulating people and scapegoating the “Other,” deflecting attention from the central question of corrupt, despotic rule. The late historian Peter Gay called this the “cultivation of hatred.”

RA: One of the things the book points out quite well is the way in which societies in the Middle East went from understanding and conceptualizing politics primarily through the lens of anti-imperialism, to adopting points of view which became increasingly defined by sectarian language and tensions. What is the nature of this shift, and what are some of the major turning points that led to it?

NH: That’s actually a very good question. For much of the modern history of the Middle East, the primary organizing theme that mobilized people was indeed the question of national independence and resistance against imperialism. In that broad mobilization, Sunnis, Shias, and people from different sects were all united. This is why you don’t see sectarian conflict until much later, until the end of the 20th century. One example, which is so revealing to cite, is Iraq, where people today think that sects have been fighting forever. In 1920, in the early days of the British occupation, there was actually a major uprising against British imperial rule, and it was a Sunni-Shia joint uprising against the common enemy. It’s only once we get to the post-colonial phase, when there is at least some nominal political independence, and when the regimes of the region start to face a series of political and economic crises, that sectarianism really enters the equation at all. Because these regimes started to fail, and because the promises they made to their people were not delivered, frustrations and demands for political change arose. As a result, you begin to see the attempt by many of these regimes to play the sectarian card in exactly the ways Danny described. Fomenting sectarian strife was a way of deflecting attention from their own corrupt rule, and it made it seem as though “foreigners who are intervening in our country” were the real problem. This allowed regimes to mobilize people around particular sectarian narratives, primarily as a project of retaining and perpetuating power. So I think that’s the broad historical context, where the question of imperialism sort of recedes in the background.

The bigger political crisis that is now shaping the politics of the region is the politics of authoritarian regimes. These are regimes that lack a base for political legitimacy. They don’t have elections, there’s no accountability, and there’s rising political, economic, and social frustration. Consequently, these regimes have to figure out a way to deal with this issue. 1979 becomes a key turning point in all of this. That year is so significant because it’s when the revolution in Iran announces itself as a non-sectarian revolution, as a revolution geared toward mobilizing Muslim populations—

DP: —including anti-imperialist motifs

NH: —and it claims to be a revolution with broad appeal across the Muslim world—

DP: —which it did actually, to some extent

NH: —yes it did, in the Sunni world. And the Saudis were petrified. They were petrified firstly because there’s now another regional entity that claims to represent the leadership of the Muslim world, but they were also much more petrified because what happened in Iran—a pro-Western monarchy, toppled by a popular mobilization—is something they fear might also happen within their own society, and within the Gulf states more generally. So they play the sectarian card, and you actually see a deliberate increase in sectarian publications, fatwas, and mobilization as a way of trying to portray the Iranian revolution as a sectarian revolution. In their eyes, it has nothing to do with Islam, or with being a good Muslim, it’s actually a “Safavid, Persian, Shiite heresy.” That’s when you begin to see a deliberate attempt to deepen and mobilize people around these sectarian identities, and the fundamental driver of it is really the crisis of authoritarian state projects, which are failing and are relying on these new narratives and plans as a way of trying to perpetuate their political lives.

RA: Earlier in the book, there’s discussion about “weak states” and how they’re essentially more prone to sectarianism because they manipulate identity cleavages, which is a dominant feature of their politics. Could you touch on this in the context of a few examples?

NH: Yeah, in many ways the inspiration for at least the theoretical framework of the book was based on this wonderful chapter that was republished with a little bit of an update by Vali Nasr, who is a prominent political scientist of the Islamic world—now the Dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has a fascinating case study about Pakistan, where he says this whole process of a weak state and the rise of sectarianism, or sectarianization, plays itself out. What happens in the late 1970s is that Pakistan, like other authoritarian regimes, begins to suffer a serious crisis of legitimacy. There’s a lot of frustration and anger from the people, and the dictator at the time, Muhammad Zia Ul-Haq, decides to pursue a policy of “Islamization” of Pakistan, essentially as a way of mobilizing people around a particular sectarian narrative, but primarily to perpetuate his own political rule. He starts pursuing this policy by mobilizing people around a particular Sunni narrative of Islam that alienated the roughly 20% Shia population. That’s when you begin to see this deep rise in tension and conflict between different groups in Pakistan, which is driven by state policies that attempt to mobilize people around certain identities.

You also have other things happening around the Islamic world at this time, which play a role in this, including the beginning of the Irani-Saudi conflict, and the spread of a particular Saudi-Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that finds its way into Pakistan. That’s when you begin to see the first forays of something that has no historical precedent in Pakistan, namely, of people going into a mosque of a rival sectarian group and massacring people en masse, claiming that those people are heretics. Pakistan is actually one of the first places where this sectarianization process—state exploitation of fault-lines in society—begins to take its most toxic form. I think that’s one crystal clear example and one of the earliest manifestations of sectarianization by a weak state, and I think one of the strongest chapters in the book overall is the case study that Vali Nasr narrates on Pakistan and sectarian conflict.

DP: And Iraq is another obvious example. Iraq post-2003, where you have not just a weak state, but you basically have the destruction of a state—

NH: —a collapsed state

DP: —a “politicide,” a “state-icide,” if you will, from outside. The destruction of the Iraqi state was the destruction of a very problematic state under Saddam, to be sure. But, when the leviathan dissolves and melts away so quickly, there’s mass violence, insecurity, and chaos. What do people revert to in this scenario, if not sectarianism? It’s not because of primordial impulses. The sectarian narrative would be, “these regimes, the strong men, kept the lid on sectarian passions, and when you let the people rule, look what they do, they want to kill one another, and they’ll go for a majoritarian sectarianism.” In reality the situation is much simpler. When there is physical insecurity and chaos, in a situation like post-2003 Iraq, people need protection. And when you need protection just for your basic survival—just to get through the day and be able to feed your children without being murdered—you look for protection networks. And the protection networks are these “sectarian entrepreneurs” who create militias and who identify the enemies in sectarian terms. Now, it’s not shocking that this happens in a situation of state-collapse imposed from the outside, which includes mass violence. Let’s also remember that while a lot of that had to do with the imperial invasion of Iraq by the United States, it also had to do with the incredible brutality of Saddam’s rule. The fantasy that Saddam solved the sectarian problem is really just that—it’s a fantasy. Fanar Haddad has a brilliant chapter in the book on what Iraq was actually like before 2003, what sectarian relations looked like. It’s not as if sectarianism was introduced to Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003. There was an incredibly elaborate sectarian grid that Saddam manipulated in a highly Machiavellian way before 2003. What we have post-2003 is a massive intensification of the sectarianization process. But, the sectarian picture of Iraq before 2003 is incredibly important to understand.

NH: These two things actually work together. The legacy of authoritarianism in Iraq laid the foundations for very tense relations. Then when the external shock of a U.S. invasion came, it exacerbated the tensions that were already there—including much of the anger and the animosity Saddam fomented. When the state collapsed, everyone just went for their own local sectarian identities as a way of trying to get security and support.

RA: Okay, I want to touch on the Arab Spring again, because this is very important, I think. Could you talk in some more detail about the specific ways in which the Arab Spring was sectarianized and why and how this happened?

NH: There are a lot of great studies that we have in the book, and so many ones we could talk about. The Syria case is of much more interest to us, because it’s such a part of the destabilized Middle East today. The uprising in Syria was non-sectarian and democratic, and one of the responses of the Assad regime was to deliberately pursue a strategy of sectarianization as a way of retaining power. The regime does it with two goals in mind. The first is to send a message to the international community, that what this conflict is about is not the forty-plus year rule of the Assad family, but rather these sectarian narratives that are coming in from the outside inspired by Al-Qaeda that want to take over this region—so “international community, support me!” The idea was “you guys are fighting Al-Qaeda, and I’m fighting Al-Qaeda here, so we’re fighting the same fight.” The other goal of the Assad regime was to try and break up the unity of the Syrian protesters; to say that, look, if you’re a minority Alawite or a Christian, you shouldn’t be part of that uprising, because this is an uprising that’s fundamentally sectarian, and if “they” come to power, you’re all dead. So there’s a double goal here. And the sad tragedy of what’s happened in Syria is that this narrative has broadly taken root, internationally and domestically, largely as a result of the brutality of the Assad regime. There’s good documentation of how in the first five years of the Syrian uprising, there were roughly fifty-five deliberate sectarian attacks which took place, chronicled by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Out of those fifty-five attacks, forty-nine of them were attacks that were organized and perpetuated by the Assad regime—

DP: —or shabbiha militias, i.e. pro-regime forces

NH: —yeah, to try and sectarianize this conflict as a way of accomplishing the goals that I just stated. So that’s the Syrian case, but it also plays itself out elsewhere. Basically, it’s the same kind of narrative: It’s these authoritarian regimes feeling that their shelf-life—their longevity—is threatened, so they play the sectarian card as a way of mobilizing people and dividing the opposition, and sending a message to the international community saying, “Look, you need to come and join us in this fight against Al-Qaeda.”

DP: Right, and in case after case, the specter of a foreign source of these sectarian threats is always invoked. When the Assad regime spoke of Al-Qaeda, it wasn’t just “domestic Al-Qaeda,” but also “foreign Al-Qaeda” and “transnational jihadi networks.” This happens to appeal to a certain kind of Syrian national identity or nationalist sentiment, in that the threat is not only domestic Salafi murderers, but also crazy, foreign ones. Never mind the fact that hundreds of thousands of Shiite foreign fighters are in Syria fighting for Assad—including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iraqi militias, Lebanese Hezbollah, and even Pakistani mercenaries and Afghan children, who the Iranian government is sending—but they’re not “foreign fighters,” right? No, of course not, it’s only the opposition that has “foreign” fighters. Anyway, my point is that in case after case, not only do you have the sectarian narrative, but also the specter of a foreign entity. Even Saddam Hussein characterized the Shia, who are the majority in Iraq, as “foreigners.” And these are Arabs who identify as Iraqi. Anthropologists and historians of Iraq agree that Iraqi Shia are very, very Arab and very, very Iraqi. But in Saddam’s eyes, they were “Persians.” They are and were always “foreigners”—outsiders and “Others” coming to destroy Iraqi society.

RA: How do you respond to those who are still unconvinced by what you’re saying, and who insist that, even if sectarianism today has a distinctly modern tint to it, that many religious groups currently fighting among each other seem to be more or less the same as those that were fighting in the premodern era? What do you say to those who believe that religious infighting today is not entirely detached from religious infighting in the past?

NH: Well, I would push back against the premise of your question that there were similar forms of religious conflict between groups in the past as there are in the present. I would argue that today it’s much more frequent, the intensity is much greater, and the difference between the premodern era and the contemporary moment is that, now, we’re seeing the deliberate manipulation and mobilization of identity by authoritarian regimes with the goal of perpetuating their own shelf life. That’s what’s driving this process. In the premodern era, we do not have the same types of states, or the same types of political actors. You certainly had conflict between different groups, and they would clash periodically, but then things would be calm. The deliberate attempt to mobilize people around a particular identity for the sake of political power is much more infrequent in the premodern era.

Admittedly, you did see it happening in the premodern period, particularly with the rise and the clash between Ottoman Turkey and the Safavid Persian empire. The dynamics in that sense are very similar and they do have a modern resonance. In the case of the “new” Safavid Persian empire, there was an attempt to distinguish itself from its regional rival, and so it underwent a process of “Shiafication.” People generally don’t know this, but prior to 1501 Iran was a majority Sunni country. It’s only because the “new” Safavid regime that came to power wanted to distinguish itself from its neighbors that it imported imams from Lebanon and the Arab world to convert people to Shiism. This was done to deliberately defame and denigrate key themes within Sunni Islam for the sake of political power and the political projection of power. In that sense, there’s a parallel, but otherwise the sectarianization process today is distinctly modern, for the reasons we previously discussed.

DP: Shiism came to Iran through the Arabs.

NH: Yeah, through Arabs, and actually driven by a process very similar to the modern phenomenon of sectarianization—which is where the parallel lies. But, I think what we’re seeing right now is fundamentally the project of authoritarian regimes suffering deep crises of legitimacy in the eyes of their own populations. These regimes don’t have answers; they refuse to share or relinquish power, and so they have to fall back on these projects of state manipulation and mobilization of sectarian identities—of which there is some basis in reality, as there are different religious groups and there are tensions between them. That exists everywhere. I like to bring it back to the United States, because a lot of Americans think “sectarianism is over there, where those backwards people are.” But, look at what’s happening in the United States today. We’re seeing deep conflict. Perhaps it is not sectarian conflict, but it is at least communal conflict between races. And the key difference, the “why now” question, is Donald Trump, who has deliberately mobilized white nationalist sentiments around a particular narrative to perpetuate his power, and to deflect from his own failed agenda. It’s not at the same level—

DP: —it’s not sectarian, but it’s identitarian.

NH: —it’s identitarian, it’s communal. It’s racial. It’s not “sectarian,” but it’s different groups that exist in tension, and we’re seeing a significant rise of it. This is happening particularly through the mobilization of white nationalist, populist sentiment inspired by Trump, who is going out into the public in ways we haven’t seen before and saying, “Look, we’re a victimized group here.” It’s a parallel phenomenon that I think is driven by a very similar process as sectarianization.

DP: To add a question to that parallel, what exactly is a key component of the white nationalist populist narrative? It’s that “you’re in bad shape, you’ve got economic troubles, and you don’t have the same wages as you used to. Your jobs are being shipped overseas.” Who is to blame for this? It’s not capitalism. It’s not neoliberal policies. It’s not the ruling class or the billionaires. It’s the Mexican rapists. It’s the Muslims. It’s the immigrants. It’s the foreigners. And, of course, it’s also the liberals, who sold our country and let these rapists and Muslims in to begin with. That’s all a scapegoat!

NH: There are some dangerous opinion polls, and they’re quite shocking, that show a significant majority of white Americans believe they face greater discrimination than any other group in the country.

DP: Right, and this gets back to the sectarianization story in the Middle East because that demonization, scapegoating, and outsourcing of problems to the “Other” is a broader phenomenon. In the final chapter of the book on de-sectarianization, Tim Sisk looks at the case of Northern Ireland, which faced its own sectarian problem. When I was growing up, the word “sectarian” was mainly used in reference to Northern Ireland and the troubles there. That came to a political conclusion in the late 1990s—just 20 years ago. So I think it’s very important to remember that, yes, the Middle East today is engulfed in a spasm of sectarian violence, but this is by no means exclusive to the Middle East. Europe had to fight religious wars for centuries, and in Northern Ireland they only came to a resolution very recently. The sectarian story is actually a global story.

RA: Insofar as a key claim of this book is that sectarianism fails to explain the current disorder in the Middle East, and that it obfuscates more than it clarifies, it seems there are two main challenges we are being asked to tackle. The first, and perhaps the simpler one, is to erase and do away with sectarianism as an explanatory force in academia, journalism, and popular media representations about the region. The second, arguably more ominous challenge, is “de-sectarianizing” sectarianized regions. These are both profound challenges. How exactly do we address them and what’s the way forward?

NH: Well, I think for the first part, in terms of how we get away from the narrative that sectarianism explains the turmoil in the Middle East, I think you have to do very much what we’ve been arguing in this interview and in the book: try and look for alternative explanations. We have to advance the idea that sectarian conflict is not something that’s deeply rooted in the culture and history of the Middle East. It is historically a new phenomenon. We then have to try and prove that empirically, while showing how the process of sectarian conflict is driven by the projects of state actors. It’s rooted in authoritarianism, collapsed states, and regional rivalries. It’s fundamentally rooted in politics, not piety. So, I think we have to try and make an argument for that and provide the examples that affirm that position. In terms of how we deal with the second part of your question, as we sort of acknowledge in the book (perhaps not as forcefully as we should have), it’s very easy to start sectarian conflict, but once it gets started, ending it and rolling it back is much more difficult. When you have deeply entrenched views of “The Other,” when blood is shed, and when people lose their lives, trying to roll that back becomes, I think, the immense challenge of our world and of the Middle East.

There are no clear and easy answers. I think fundamentally that what we have to focus on in terms of arriving at a “de-sectarian moment” is changing the underlying social conditions that perpetuate sectarianism. We emphasize heavily in the book the problem and persistence of authoritarianism, but also the need to transition to democracy, arrive at consensus-based politics, give different groups a seat at the table, and write strong constitutions that give people meaningful rights and representation. These are all things I think need to happen.

In the case of Northern Ireland, there was strong support from the international community to try and end the conflict. In the case of the Middle East today, however, it’s in many ways the reverse. We have the U.S. government under Trump openly embracing the sectarian narrative of the Saudi royal family, quite directly. I say that not to let Obama off the hook, because the Obama position was not as vocal in terms of supporting the Saudi position on Yemen and other places, but it was still cautiously and quietly supportive of their allies in the region. So, I think the international community’s approach to the Middle East has to change in ways that should, in fact, follow what we’ve been hearing recently from the German Foreign Ministry. They came out with a position that said the Saudi policy of trying to quarantine and isolate Qatar is a disaster for everyone. They took a very strong position on this, and the Saudis got upset and pulled their ambassador out of Germany. I think the international community’s position should follow more the German example, as opposed to the Trump/Obama example. And there are other, difficult internal issues that have to be addressed in the cases of Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. We need truth and reconciliation commissions. There are a lot of injustices that have taken place, and you can’t heal these societies unless there is some sense of accountability, and a sense that people can get justice. I think these are some of the things that have to happen, in order for us to be able to de-sectarianize the Middle East.

DP: On a sobering note, it really is a lot harder to get the genie back in the bottle than it is to unleash it. We can demonstrate, as we try to do in the book, the artificiality of the sectarianization process—the sense in which it is a constructed, conscious project of states, power brokers, and entrepreneurs to manipulate peoples’ sentiments. We can also show the historical genealogy of the process and map the way it gets operationalized. But, at the end of the day, it takes on a life of its own. Once you unleash these forces, it almost doesn’t matter how they came to be. Once they lodge themselves in peoples’ hearts and psyches, and when people are willing to kill and die on the basis of these narratives, I mean that’s real—that actually happens. We can argue and theorize and talk about the artificiality of the sectarianization process till kingdom come, but it’s not going to affect people on the ground.

Still, we’re very excited about the fact that the book will be translated into Arabic soon. That’s very important because, at the end of the day, if only English-speaking academics, intellectuals, and journalists are reading this stuff in the Anglosphere, who cares? We want the book to be read and discussed and debated in the Arab world. That’s very, very important. But even beyond that, it can’t just be intellectuals. It has to be organizers, civil society activists, imams, and people doing work on the ground—not just amongst the educated elite, because the educated elite are mostly already against these sectarian narratives. It has to be people who are actually in these communities. It has to be religious leaders.

RA: This is a good way to segue into my final question. I found it very refreshing that the book kind of ends on a hopeful note. It ends optimistically but also qualifies that optimism with a sort of caution that, artificial as it may be, sectarianism can become “naturalized”—like the self- fulfilling prophecy you mentioned earlier. How fearful should we be of this possibility, and are you more optimistic than pessimistic, or is it the other way around?

NH: Well, the prognosis for the region looks very bleak, so yes, the book ends on an optimistic note. But, the reality on the ground is that it looks like we’re headed, at least in the short term, for greater sectarian conflict. Still, as you said, and as we argue in the book, there’s nothing natural about sectarian conflict. These are projects and policies that are pursued by state actors. So, since this is a project and a byproduct of politics, then only through politics, properly configured, can we start to de-sectarianize the politics of the region (if the proper policies and the proper politicians and political processes are put in place). There’s nothing inevitable about it. It requires serious commitment to try and roll back the social, political, economic, international and even theological conditions that give rise to sectarianization in the first place. It’s about human commitment, and it’s about credible leadership that’s willing to stand up and push back against this current. It’s also really a question of getting all of the proper stars aligned in an ideal sense to try and roll back this process.

I think fundamentally that what has to happen is there has to be a serious commitment by actors within and outside these societies to try and work toward a non-sectarian future. In that sense, because politics is in the hands of individuals, there’s nothing inevitable about this. At some point, I think people are going to get tired of it, and you can already see signs of that happening, and there’s going to be an attempt to push back. So, there’s hope. But, I think it’s a longer-term hope. The short-term prognosis looks quite bleak, and I think the bigger recent developments, not just the Saudi-Iran rivalry, but really the destructive role that the Trump administration is playing in fueling the sectarianization process, is going to make things very ugly and very bleak for a while.

DP: I will only add that it’s important to remember that even in the very recent past, between 2015 and 2016, the “You Stink” garbage protests in Lebanon were cross-sectarian, if not indeed anti-sectarian, protests. The “You Stink” protests were a beautiful example of protesting horrible mismanagement on a municipal and policy level. It had nothing to do with sect. There were people of all sects in Lebanon out in the streets together. Now, did it translate electorally? Not really. But, the point is those protests are one of many examples of non-sectarian, cross-sectarian, and anti-sectarian organizing that is going on, about all kinds of issues. Labor issues, economic inequality, and mismanagement are things that draw people together across boundaries. It’s going on in small ways across the region. It’s not the dominant narrative and it doesn’t get the headlines, and it’s certainly not what’s defining the politics of the region, unfortunately. But, it is valuable.

Let’s remember that the Arab uprisings occurred only six years ago. People were demanding bread, freedom, and dignity. People were struggling for democratic rights, peacefully, across sectarian lines. Sunnis, Alawaites, Christians, Ismailis, Druze, and atheists stood, side-by-side, demanding democratic rights and the end of the torture mafia state. A lot has happened since then, and there has been a sectarian nightmare that has unfolded both “from above” and “from below,” which is the saddest part to me. But let’s remember that it was actually very recently when people organized around different issues—not sectarian identities—and had common projects of social justice. That can happen again, very quickly. The tide can turn overnight