By The Progressive on November 02, 2007
November 9, 2007 By Amitabh Pal

The one heartening thing about the recent events in Pakistan is that the global reach of mass nonviolent protest has yet again been confirmed.

The amazingly defiant lawyers’ movement that has taken on the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf has demonstrated that the Muslim world is as fertile for the application of nonviolent disobedience as any other part of the planet. The peaceful uprising has been an extremely effective counter to the libel that Muslim people—being followers of an allegedly intrinsically aggressive and violent religion—are immune to the charms of nonviolence.

I was going to complain that the Western media was ignoring this incredible exercise in nonviolent organizing, but recent coverage has (happily) proven me wrong. The New York Times, for instance, on Nov. 7 carried a long front-page article on the genesis of the lawyers’ movement and the astonishing courage it has shown.

Perhaps due to this coverage, there have been wonderful expressions of support from the United States. The American Bar Association has written a letter to Musharraf voicing disapproval of his actions. And the National Lawyers Guild has issued a strong statement asking President Bush to suspend aid to Pakistan.

The lawyers’ protests began in March, when Musharraf sacked the chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, for having the gall to defend Pakistan’s constitution. The protests were so effective that Musharraf was forced to reinstate Chaudhry in July. Even after his reinstatement, Chaudhry refused to back down, causing Musharraf to impose emergency rule.

And the lawyers are carrying on their struggle. They are driven by a simple question, articulated by Babar Sattar, a prominent figure in the protests: “How do you function as a lawyer when the law is what the general says it is?”

For the temerity of asking that question, the lawyers and judges (and their civil society allies) have been subject to massive arrests, beatings and tear gas by the Musharraf regime, with thousands now filling the prisons. And this may be only the start of it. Human Rights Watch has issued a statement of concern that three prominent lawyers are quite possibly being subjected to torture.

Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that the Pakistani military’s feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Military Intelligence (MI) agency are jointly detaining and interrogating them,” the statement says. “Both agencies have a well-documented history of ‘disappearances’ and using torture against political opponents.”

Pakistan’s most famous human-rights activist Asma Jahangir has also alleged that lawyers are indeed being tortured in custody.

Still, the lawyers are carrying on defiantly. For inspiration, they can turn to
Pakistan’s own history. Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan, was forced out of office in the late 1960s by nationwide protests. And further back in time, Pakistan from the 1920s to the 1940s was home to one of the most remarkable nonviolent movements of modern times—the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God). This Pashtun organization, which reached 100,000 at its peak, was formed by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a friend of Gandhi’s, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region to oust the British and bring social reform.

Many of the lawyers’ demonstrations have opened with a poem by the late Marxist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, perhaps the greatest poet of the modern era from the Indian subcontinent:

Promises that you make to us,
Of the day, the hour, the moment of our victory,
The promise of the promised land,
Of course, we shall wait and see.

These shackles, this burden around our necks,
Will turn into cotton and vanish in thin air,
And when we common people will stake a claim
On this land that is our very own,
When the tyrant rulers will submit to defeat
At the hands of us simple folks,
Of course, we will wait and see.

The lawyers hope to paralyze the judicial system by not having any attorneys appear before judges accepting Musharraf’s emergency rule. May the shackles around their necks turn to cotton and vanish into thin air.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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