Last week’s protests in response to the amateur internet video intended to defame the Prophet Muhammad dominated headlines about Pakistan and served as an unfortunate and misleading introduction to Islam for too many in the West. While outrage against the offensive video clip was real – just as films like The Last Temptation of Christ and works of art like “Piss Christ” inspired outrage in the US – the violence that broke out represented not the majority of devout Muslims, but the craven opportunism of radical political groups who seized on the film as a convenient tool for manufacturing rage and amplifying their political message far beyond their actual support among the people. As noted by Trudy Rubin in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer,
Violent protests against critiques of Islam have no roots in the Muslim religion. As the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia said last week, the Web video “would never harm the noble Prophet in any way, nor the religion of Islam.” He denounced the destruction of embassies and public buildings as un-Islamic.
While cynical political leaders were exploiting religion to hijack media headlines, however, a little noticed event in Washington, DC presented a much different representation of Islam – one that would be far more familiar to the billions of Muslims across the world who registered their offense through reasoned outreach and quiet prayer, and serves as a much more informative introduction to the Islamic tradition prevalent in countries like Pakistan. Over the weekend, the Smithsonian Institution hosted Sufism at the Smithsonian: Searching fro the Divine through the Arts, a two-day symposium on Sufism and Sufi-inspired arts.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, spoke at the event on Saturday, explaining that,
Over the past decade, the emergence of ideological terrorism and its narrative of hate has cast a long and dark shadow on the picture of Islam as it has been practiced for centuries, as it is still practiced today. This tiny percentage has virtually hijacked the religion of Islam and distorted it as a religion of exclusivity and violence. In fact, allow me to say, that those who dominate international media discourse have strayed far from the teachings of Sufi masters who were the votaries of love, from the “maktab i ishq” or school of love; aligning themselves with an increasingly apocalyptic creed that promotes exclusion of all those who disagree with their narrow interpretation of faith.
Let there be no mistake that the essence of Islam advocates peace above all else.
Pakistani analyst Najam Sethi contends that last week’s violent protests were not a spontaneous and popular uprising, but a media event carefully orchestrated by radical political groups who seek to overshadow “the point of view of an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are tolerant and moderate and want to reflect such values to the global village with which they wish to trade and integrate, for whom jobs, education and upward mobility are worthy ambitions.” That point of view was eloquently stated by Ambassador Rehman on Saturday night. It’s too bad more media wasn’t there to cover it.
Video of Ambassador Rehman’s full remarks is below:
Pakistani journalist Javaid Ur Rahman, who writes for The Nation in Islamabad, spent three weeks in Minnesota as part of the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism Program with the International Center for Journalists. Fox affiliate KMSP in Minneapolis-St. Paul interviewed him about his first experience in the United States, which defied many of the assumptions and stereotypes that he brought from home.
Javaid Ur Rahman’s experience exemplifies the importance of engagement and interaction in overcoming the suspicion and distrust born of assumptions and stereotypes. The more we get to know each other as people, the more we will see how much we actually have in common.
When Janice and William Mazur’s children moved away to college, they felt like something was missing from their home. Muhammad Nadeem wanted to learn more about America. Together with the YES Program, they introduced an American community to Pakistan, and a young Pakistani to America. What came out of the experience are life-long friendships and a greater understanding – and respect – between people both nations.
As the story of an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan charged with the capital crime of blasphemy continues to make headlines around the world, Al Jazeera’s Folly Bah Thibault spoke with Ayesha Tammy Haq, a barrister-at-law and civil rights activist; Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute for Policy Studies, specialising in domestic and regional politics; and Aasim Sajjad, a professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University, and a member of the central committee of the Worker’s Party, about the history of the laws and whether they can be enforced in a just manner, or whether they should be repealed.
Acting Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Richard Hoagland, recently sat down with ARY News Foreign Affairs correspondent, Beenish Javed, to discuss key issues in US-Pakistan relations including shared counter-terrorism operations, drones, and how American economic assistance can be better used to improve Pakistani sentiments towards the US in the future.
In celebration of Pakistan’s Independence Day earlier this month, a group of Pakistani students produced this short video that provides a glimpse into a Pakistan that too many Americans don’t get an opportunity to see – one of pride, hope, joy, and love.
It’s an important reminder that, despite facing the challenge of a global economic crisis and the threat of extremist violence, the vast majority of Pakistanis are working hard to provide their families a better tomorrow.
Ambassador Cameron Munter spoke to Hamid Mir on Capital Talk on Monday, July 23 in his last major interview before leaving Pakistan to return to his academic career in the US. During the interview, Ambassador Munter left the program with the following message:
Pakistan, I believe, needs to have confidence in itself – and by that it has to believe that it can solve its own problems, that it can elect the right people, that it can repair its democratic system; that these things are possible; that it’s not waiting for other people to do it for them; that Pakistan has the brains and Pakistan has the guts to solve these kinds of issues. When Pakistan does that, the true friends of Pakistan around the world – and America is among them, but we’re not the only ones – Pakistan’s friends around the world are there to support Pakistani leadership.
Ambassador Munter concluded by saying that he is optimistic about the future of Pakistan, noting that “Pakistanis are great people – they simply have to achieve their potential.”
US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter spoke with BBC Urdu on Tuesday about current issues in US-Pakistan relations.