Friday, April 10, 2009

Radio Free Swat Valley

Radio-Free Swat Valley
New York Times, March 29, 2009

ON March 5, in the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, forces believed to be affiliated with the Taliban bombed the shrine of Rahman Baba (born around 1650), the most revered Pashtun poet. The attack evokes one of the grosser Taliban outrages from the pre-9/11 era: the dynamiting in 2001 of the enormous stone Buddhas in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley.

This use of bombs as cultural commentary is especially notable in that the shrine was sacred to other Muslims. It reminds the world, and especially complacent Muslims, that the Islamist extremists’ war is a civil war within Islam — and not just a “holy war” against other religions and the United States. It should show American policymakers the wisdom of working to persuade Pashtuns to reject the Taliban.

The bombers took aim at the poet’s shrine because it represented Sufism, the mystical form of Islam that has long been predominant in India and Pakistan. The Sufism of Rahman Baba generally stresses a believer’s personal relationship with God ... It refrains from exalting violence and war and praises such virtues as tolerance, devotion and love. Its practice relies extensively on dance, music and poetry. Some of Sufism’s most esteemed poets and scholars are women.

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