By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Have they not travelled in the land, and seen what was the end of those before them? (Qur’an 40:21)
Travelling in this post-modern age has become unreal because what one does over the internet somehow does not feel real. After all you just press some buttons and in the end you have a booking for a flight. But is it real? Then you arrive at the airport and your name pops up on the other screen and the person on the other side of the desk checks your travel documents, hands over a piece of paper which allows you to board a plane and the cyber experience starts to become real. Now, there is a physical object—a plane—ready to take off, that is, if one can get through the maze of an utterly non-sensical security apparatus. You cannot take water with you, but you can buy a bottle of water and take it to the plane once you have passed the security point. You are not allowed to take gels or liquids—even toothpaste—that is in a container which can hold more than 100 ml, as if there is nothing lethal below that volume limit. You have to take out your laptop from the carrying case, because it is deemed more dangerous while it is inside! At one security check point you can walk through with your shoes but at the next place, you have to take off your shoes and the alarm still beeps nevertheless.
This is the gift left behind for all travellers by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld with additional grit added by Lord Blair. This global mania has also allowed airlines to play second fiddle to the state; gone are the days when one felt like a guest in the hands of uniformed airhostesses who treated you with respect and showered you with smiles; now they treat you as a would-be criminal and even though you have paid for the journey, it is not a right anymore but a favor. But let us add all of these changes to the collateral damage and a fall out of 9/11.
Regardless, one has to travel and the cyber experience does become real once in the plane. Now, distance shrinks, detailed news become flashing headlines on computers and TV screens: riots in Tripoli, massacre in Bahrain, bloodbath in Benghazi, British Prime Minister in Egypt, America to pay for the transition in Egypt, Raymond Davis, the American double murderer, is an employee of the CIA!
Then memories hit back: the day in the distant past when Lahore was filled with a vibe never experienced before or since then. On that day, our own socialist revolutionary, the late ZA Bhutto had brought the good old colonel from Libya to the largest public place in Lahore—the cricket stadium then at the outskirts of the city—which we all loved and which on that fatal day was renamed as Gaddafi Stadium. The scene in Lahore on that day of 1972 was simply overwhelming. The whole city was adrift. Yet, the man from Libya was used by ZA Bhutto as a pawn for his own plans to recognize Bangladesh. The colonel must have sensed this as their so-called brotherhood never really got off. Numerous great plans announced during his visit all disappeared from the news and no one ever spoke about the Peoples Publishing House which was going to fill the world with revolutionary literature; the joint fertilizer plants never got off the ground and several other ventures announced in the heat of a friendship just dissolved in thin air. ZA Bhutto and Colonel Muammer al-Gaddafi were both budding revolutionaries at the time and perhaps there was no room for two such revolutionaries on the stage; hence they simply dissolved the drama and left the audience hanging in suspense.
But thirty-nine years later, the colonel is back on stage, wavering his fists, claiming he is not a mere president who will step down just as a president recently did; he is, rather, a revolutionary, in fact the revolution itself, and he will die on the Libyan soil. He may or may not. What one has seen so far is the bodies of those young men and women who have had enough of him. Or those who took Egypt’s sweet and sour revolution as their ideal and who thought change is now just around the corner. They came out and were crushed with tanks and according to eye-witness reports, gunned down by helicopter gunfire. The Colonel, with his collection of armed female bodyguards will indeed fight to the last man or woman, as he said. But fight what? His own people whom he has subjugated to unrelenting terror for over forty years now? His own ego, which has made this erstwhile revolutionary of yesteryears a demonic figure?
The heady days of colonels and generals toppling old monarchies and proclaiming their little republics as socialist peoples’ republic are indeed over. But they refuse to see the change. They refuse to understand that the march of history has made them fossils and hence they keep working from the same old book. They had all come with socialism, anti-Westernism, and nationalism and they all ended up establishing dictatorships which begot dictatorships or which remain to this day destructive authoritarian regimes with mid-night knocks, torture cells, and Gestapo-like state setups; they all have blood of thousands of human beings on their hands.
But they will not disappear from the flashing screens in airport terminals. They have a life of their own. The lies they have concocted, the web of deceit and destructive forces they have unleashed will continue to mushroom in other forms as long as there are buyers for this nonsensical drama on world stage. As long as there are George Bushs and Dick Cheneys, and Donald Rumsfelds and Collin Powels who are willing to use a Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi—the Iraqi defector whose false “evidence” was used by the United States of America to obtain its UN license for killing thousands of Iraqis through an illegal invasion—there will remain strife and bloodshed and chaos in this world.
semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).
During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.
Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.
His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.
He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.