Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hearts and Minds

You’ve got to hand it to the American government: they’ve got their priorities straight and hearts in the right place when it comes to renouncing extremism. It’s a quality our representatives lack, a fact that’s become even more evident in the wake of the Taseer assassination.

Exhibit A is a speech – a wonderful, inspiring, honest speech – from Obama in remembrance of the victims of the Arizona shooting. It was a speech you wished President Zardari had the courage and temerity to give. But that, alas, is wishful thinking.

Exhibit B is a letter from Representatives Israel, Ackerman, King and McCaul, addressed to Hillary Clinton, which requests that further visas “should not be issued to people (visa holders who condone the crime) and that applications for new visas from those who have endorsed this heinous crime be denied.”

Another great gesture? Not quite.

Now I’m sure King et al. mean well but, quite frankly, the latter of these requests is one ridiculous stipulation. For multiple reasons. I am not, by any means, condoning or even tacitly supporting the Fanatic Qadri Supporters (FQS). Our stance on that is clear, obvious and appropriately sensible. What I really want to understand is how the State Department, Homeland Security and the US Government in general hope to implement this ridiculous idea and identify those who endorse the assassination.

Here are reactions to a few ideas:

(1) Stalk Facebook: Never thought those seemingly pointless hours checking out that girl from LSE would count as valuable training for professional life? Think again; the US Embassy needs YOU. It wants you to sit 9-5 scouring and stalking visa applicants for any information that suggests membership of the FQS. But that itself will be tricky: sure, the vilified Gaga/Cyrus/Qadri fans will be easy enough to detect. But what if we expand the definition of FQS members and, for example, include those not actively condemning Qadri on Facebook as a signal of tacit consent, approval and surreptitious winks for the Right? Why, I bet 80% of all internet users in Pakistan would be disqualified. Who cares, though? Jobs don’t get any sweeter.

(2) Rigorous interviewing processes: I can imagine what this process will be like, if past experiences provide any evidence of DHS competence:

“Do you support Qadri? No. What colour is your hair? Black. No, it’s dark brown. Now go into that corner until you’re ready to stop lying and renounce your extremist ways.”

Alternatively, they could be smarter and pick up on common trends members of the FQS exhibit: “Identify this song: ‘Babyy-Babyy-Babyy-ooh…’” “Umm…that’s kind of a weird question but Justin Bieber?” “Aha! I knew it: trying to slip your fanaticism past me, boy?”

(3) Pinpointing petal-showering lawyers/clerics: That’s a pretty good starting point, right? Those lawyers deserve not being able to visit Times Square for the 2012 ball drop. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’d still be marching on the streets and garlanding Qadri even if they had the option of becoming taxi drivers on Devon Street, Chicago.

(4) Stringent screening procedures: I find it extremely difficult to believe that any screening process, barring those that border on the extreme, would provide sufficient evidence of FQS membership. Even if it did, it would inevitably be questionable. And again, what if you were to expand the logical grounds for FQS membership to include tacit consent? No visas for those extremist Pakistanis, I’m afraid. But I’m sure Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi would be happy with more evidence of American Zionism (!). Next conspiracy theory: they’re just trying to round us up in one place so they can finish us all off with the next HAARP-induced flood.

So I’m sure creating a policy that bans visa issuance to Qadri supporters is the best possible way to condemn the tragic Taseer assassination while simultaneously mitigating security threats and reversing what seems to be a growing tendency of Pakistanis to endure injustice. In fact, I really think the prospect of not meeting Lady Gaga in person will get the FQS to change its views. And Rehman Malik, too. Or is there an exception for incompetent government officials in this policy?

My point, condescending sarcasm aside, is that there are no reliable and reasonable metrics to ascertain support for Qadri, especially when the bounds of the definition are stretched. Salman Taseer could have been remembered more appropriately, for example, by another exceptional speech; homeland security would have remained unchanged; and ‘growing extremist tendencies’ could have been addressed better by supporting and strengthening local policies. To expect stricter immigration rules to address the matter is, in truth, a bit like expecting Twitter to initiate an uprising in Libya.


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