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KLF 2014: Some questions for organizers and participants of Karachi Literature Festival

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According to media report, the 5th edition of Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) began in Karachi at the Beach Luxury Hotel (5-9 Fev 2014), which will have 100-plus sessions featuring 200 speakers from 11 countries. It has been reported that “intelligent looking men engrossed in animated conversations with women clad in crisp pure cottons with motifs inspired by Pakistan’s traditional arts, wearing kolhapuri chappals and sporting white stylised hair, the venue is teeming with Pakistan’s intelligentsia. For once, even if for a short three days, the topics of discussion here are education, language, literature and the arts.”

In the meanwhile, Pashtuns in FATA and KP, Balochs and Shia Hazaras in Quetta, Sunni Barelvis and Shias in Karachi, and Ahmadis and Christians in Punjab continue to collect deadbodies of their dear and near ones target killed by variously-named Deobandi militant outfits. Art is long but not long enough to grasp the depth of unending miseries of Shia, Sunni Barelvi, Pashtun and Baloch women, men and children? Art and culture are expected to be relevant to a society in which and for which they are being constructed. No?

I have a few questions:

Was there a single session in the KLF (Karachi Literature Festival) in which Deobandi ASWJ-TTP terrorism was CLEARLY discussed and its implications for Sunni Barelvis, Shias, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan debated?

Was any attempt made to understand the adverse implications of State-sponsored Deobndi militancy for Balochs and Shia Hazaras of Balochistan, Pashtuns of FATA, Saraikis of D.I.Khan and Muhajirs of Karachi?

Did any philosopher try to explain why there remains a Nazi style silence in Pakistani media, both (liberal) English and (Islamist) Urdu media, on the intolerant Takfiri Deobandi ideology and its impact on the fabric of Pakistani society?

Was any attempt made to explain the silence or obfuscation in Pakistani media, literature and socio-political discourse on Deoband identity fo TTP-ASWJ terrorism and Shia, Sunni Barelvi etc identity of victims? Did anyone bother to explain why rights groups and media persons highlight the Hazara identity of Shia victims of Balochistan but delete the Deobandi identity of ASWJ-SSP terrorists? Did anyone care to explain why Deobandi terrorism against Sunni Barelvis and Shias is obfuscated in false binaries of Sunni-Shia sectarian violence and Iran-Saudi proxy war?

Did any scholar try to explain why liberals such as Nadeem Paracha, Sherry Rehman and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy remain vague or silent while Ahmed Noorani and Zaid Hamid as well as Sunni Barelvi and Shia clerics of SIC, ST and MWM clearly and vocally condemn Takfiri Deobandi terrorists of ASWJ-TTP?

Was there any poet who recited poems on Ibtihaj, Mehzar Zehra or Aitzaz? Anyone who made a painting of Rukhsana Bibi, Mian Rashid Hussain and Sifwat Ghayur?

Was any attempt made to explain why right-wing Deobandi Islamists and many “liberals” seem to be equally vague and disoriented when it comes to clear condemnation of terrorism and practical approaches to deal with this menace?

Was any attempt made to understand why whisky-speaking Punjabi and Muhajir generals continue to radicalized Deobandi Pashtun and Baloch children as Jihadi proxy warriors in pursuit of imaginary strategic depths in Afghanistan and Kashmir?

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Abdul Nishapuri

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  • Yes, all of these issues were discussed in various panels yesterday, especially in Friday’s session “Human Rights and Wrongs” with Mohammed Hanif who champions the cause of the Baloch in the mainstream media (BBC Urdu amongst others) and Asma Jehangir whose human rights record is out there for all to see. Mohammed Hanif will be in conversation today and will most likely again address the issue of the disenfranchisement of the Baloch.

    The book launch “Pakistani Nationalism: The Extremist Threat” by Syed Jaffer Ahmed and Mohsin Babar dealt with the issue of religious extremism infiltrating legitimate nationalist movements.

    An Urdu session with Intizar Hussein titled “Dashat Gardi aur Hamari Kahaniyaan” looked at the problem of internal terrorism and how it affects our literature.

    Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke on “The Role of Textbooks” in spreading hatred and religious distortions in our national curriculum and education system.

    This morning’s session on “Baloch Literature and Landscape” will give even more voice to the arts and culture of Balochistan. Akram Dost and Ayub Baloch are the speakers there.

    Babar Ayaz’s book launch of “What’s Wrong With Pakistan” (which won second runner up in the German Peace Prize competition on Friday) is an in-depth look at the many problems we face in Pakistan, religious obscurantism and terrorism being a major factor. His thesis that secularism is the only way out for Pakistan is a brave one which he will speak about today.

    I hope this answers some of your questions about the issues addressed at KLF this year. Of course, there were some discussions about books and literature but since those are secondary in your mind to the issue of religious extremism, I doubt you will even be satisfied with what I’ve narrated to you here.

  • @Bina Shah

    Thank you for your feedback which is much valued and appreciated.

    In specific terms, did any session clearly deliberate on the DEOBANDI identity of terror and also why many respectable liberal authors including Mohammed Hanif, Intazar Hussain and Hoodbhoy have almost never written on the DEOBANDI dimension of terrorism that is killing not only Shias but also Sunni Barelvis, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Balochs and Pashtuns?

    I will appreciate if you could provide me links to articles or/and speeches by these esteemed authors on Nazi-style silence in Pakistan on Deobandi terrorism which is often obfuscated in false Sunni-Shia or Iran-Saudi binaries.

  • This ‘culture’

    Farooq Sulehria

    Tuesday, February 04, 2014

    This ‘culture’When official and unofficial Talibanisation is eating up every available space for artistic expression, it apparently becomes difficult to summarily dismiss spectacles staged in the name of culture. It becomes even more problematic to critically analyse a cultural activity when it has to be rescued from the charge of vulgarity as has been the case with the PPP-sponsored Sindh Festival at Moenjodaro.

    My problem with the Sindh Festival is not some random kiss or tasteless dances that have offended the clergy and the urban Taliban’s sensibilities. I take issue with Bilawal Bhutto’s attempt to commission ‘culture’ in its most banal and trivialised form to build an image for himself.

    In the first place, juxtaposing sufism and Talibanist barbarism is problematic in itself. Not every sufi order, or individual sufi, has been as pluralistic as is often romantically projected. Also, most sufi orders have a history of conformist reconciliation to authority. Such dissenting voices as Sarmad Shaheed or Shah Inayat have been few and far between. Moreover, institutionalised sufism delineated by pirs in control of lucrative gaddis and shrines symbolises ignorance, backwardness and exploitation. Lastly, the centrality assigned to otherworldliness in sufi philosophy is a recipe for disaster from a working class perspective. It teaches escape when what is required is to struggle and fight back.

    What, however, is indeed problematic is the de-authentication of culture when it is exploited to serve anti-people rulers. The Musharraf dictatorship also made a vulgar attempt to tap ‘sufi culture’ to build a counter-Taliban image to hide its para-Taliban character. Ironically, the National Sufi Council created by the military genius of Gen Musharraf was provided with Shujat Hussain as its chairman!

    When military dictators and such corrupt, inefficient governments as we have in Sindh, employ this ‘sufi culture’ for their ulterior political motives, it stands de-authenticated and discredited. De-authenticated because humanist, ascetic sufi teachings cannot be subscribed to either by dictatorships that are constructed upon conservatives such as Shujaat Hussain or the Sindh government consisting of exploitative feudal lords.

    When dictators and politicians are discredited, the ‘culture’ they have subscribed to is also discredited. Most importantly, whatever appears to be going against the officially-sponsored culture potentially becomes a symbol of resistance. In the absence of progressive alternatives, it should not surprise anyone if the Sindhi youth, disgusted by the PPP government, begins to enlist with the Taliban as an act of resistance. In other words, the PPP-sponsored ‘sufi culture’ may boomerang.

    I have almost similar problems with ‘Lit Fests’, as they are fashionably called. While the ritualistic one in Jaipur has recently concluded, its Karachi clone is about to start. While only a Taliban fanatic can oppose such an event especially when book reading is on the decline, the elitist – hence exclusionary – character of literature festivals is hard to ignore.

    The worth of a ‘Lit Fest’ is determined by the celebrities it attracts. It is like judging a film by the revenue it generates. Equally problematic is corporate sponsorship. Last year, I had the chance to attend the Jaipur Literature Fest (JLF). A life-size hoarding at the entry gate had listed over 50 sponsors of the event, most of them multinationals. These imperial authors of Indian misery wash their sins at the JLF annually.

    I would be interested in knowing if any author, celebrity or otherwise, has ever boycotted a Lit Fest on the question of multinational sponsors plundering the entire south.

    What, however, is the worst aspect is not even elitism and commercialisation. It is their unorganic, alien character. These Lit Fests may manufacture celebrities. But it takes a progressive writers movement to produce a Faiz or a Manto.

    The writer is a freelancecontributor.

    Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

  • I have attended KLF this year (two days) and also in 2013. Sadly, notwithstanding generic condemnation fo religious extremism, Taliban, Islamists etc, not a single presenter clearly spoke against Deobandi terrorists and their variously labelled outfits. In fact some thugs want to obfuscate and justify Deobandi terrorism as Sunni Shia sectarian violence and Saudi Arabia – Iran proxy war etc unable to explain why Sunni Barelvis, Ahmadis and Chrisitans are being killed by same Deobandi terrorists who are also killing Shias.

    It was a show of the elite, by the elite for the elite. A show of Nazis, the commercially-oriented authors, artists and rights activists.

  • LitFests as ‘cultural apparatus’

    Farooq Sulehria
    Tuesday, February 11, 2014
    From Print Edition

    117 68 48 1

    LitFests as ‘cultural apparatus’Arather systematic analysis of western cultural industries from a Marxist perspective began in earnest in the 1950s when a cohort of radical intellectuals – Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, Raymond Williams, C H Mills, Herbert Marcuse, Ralph Miliband, and E P Thompson – began to investigate the centrality of what they sometimes called the ‘cultural apparatus’.

    The ‘cultural apparatus’, a construct first conceptualised by Bertolt Brecht, implies the “very process and means by which a work of art is brought to the public in this era of speculators, promoters, and middlemen”. Brecht claimed that a commodity-oriented society did not allow its cultural apparatus to be appropriated for a radical function. Instead, the cultural apparatus merchandises the art and thereby distorts and nullifies it for its own ends.

    As a concept the cultural apparatus also played a formative role in the work of the Frankfurt School. As early as 1932 it emerged in Fromm’s writings, albeit in a rudimentary form. Fromm was later to describe the ‘cultural apparatus’ as a ‘filter’ conditioning what entered society’s ‘social unconscious’.

    Fromm asserted, “Eventually, he [the alienated industrial worker] is under the influence of our whole cultural apparatus, the advertisements, the movies, television, newspapers, just as everybody else, and can hardly escape being driven into conformity, although perhaps more slowly than other sectors of the population”.

    But it was through Marcuse (in his ‘33 Theses’, written in 1947) that ‘the cultural apparatus of monopoly capitalism’ was first conceptualised most elaborately. Mills in The Cultural Apparatus – left unfinished at his untimely death in 1962 – also highlighted the concerns shown by the Frankfurt School. Though Mills remained vague in his definition of the ‘cultural apparatus’, in his view it consisted of “observation posts, interpretation centres, and presentation depots” and was “composed of all the organisations and milieu in which artistic, intellectual, and scientific work goes on”.

    While the Frankfurt School was attempting to theorise the effects of the ‘cultural apparatus’ on the people, Mills – like Brecht – wanted to explore the role of an intellectual in the cultural apparatus.

    Almost simultaneously, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also being tormented by similar concerns – in a different context though. In an appeal to Pakistani writers, ‘Writers, Where Do You Stand?’, Faiz points out: “It is necessary to redefine for the writer…the basic tenets of his creed as a writer to enable him to rediscover his individual and collective responsibilities”.

    This is the role Faiz envisioned for the Pakistani writer: “Concretely, this means that in the world of today a serious writer must denounce imperialist, racialist and colonialist agencies and to support, admire and love all people in the east and the west struggling for freedom and basic national and human rights. He must make his pen a barricade against the threatened march of imperialist forces towards human destruction and a banner for the forces seeking to lead mankind towards universal freedom and universal peace”.

    However, even without invoking Faiz Sahib’s revered authority, shouldn’t we question the political economy of ‘literature festivals’? Their cultural significance? Their class character?

    Let us begin with the political economy aspect of ‘LitFests’. Sponsored by imperial embassies and institutions besides corporate houses, LitFests have a commercial logic. The idea is to market globally fashionable celebrities as well as advertising local ones. In essence, LitFests are vital cogs in the publishing arm of the cultural apparatus, whereby on the one hand the donor-funded and commercial character of these literary spectacles engenders a top-down structure answerable only to commercial interests and on the other, their onetime character does not translate into any grassroots movement.

    Now juxtapose LitFests and indigenous literary bodies such as Halqa Arbab-e-Zouq and the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). Not only would Halqa and PWA often elect – by vote or consultation – their leaderships, they would also collect funds from members to hold meetings at humble venues; not at elite places that drive away working-class people.

    In contrast, the figurative violence of elitism at LitFests filters out unsuitable client-audiences. Back in 1990, the day I arrived in Lahore from Sargodha as a Government College Lahore under-grad student, I literally spent my first evening at the Pak Tea House. With my working-class, small-town background, I really wonder whether I would have dared to enter the Pak Tea House if it were anchored in some elite beach-side resort.

    Particularly perturbing is to see sight radicals, some of whom I otherwise admire, moderating LitFest panels. Is this how the marginalised Left is strategising an ‘awami’ outreach? When the Left reduces itself to ‘interventions’ and ‘enterisms’ in donor-sponsored spectacles, it forfeits the right to organise the ‘awam’ it aspires to represent. It also lends credibility to such spectacles when the need is to expose them. I understand that these are hard times as cultural spaces are being encroached by the religious right. However, jumping the fences is an escape, not a solution.

    The writer is a freelance contributor.

    Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-231828-LitFests-as-cultural-apparatus

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