Reading in Karachi or: Meet Lutfi Latif


I have just returned from Karachi, Pakistan, where I had the pleasure of taking part in the annual Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) -- and it was just great. I am very aware of the fact that the KLF is not representative of Pakistan, mainly because it is a gathering of mainly liberal intellectuals and artists. But I doubt that there is any other event in the country where you can get an equally impressive idea of how many super smart, intellectual, liberal, progressive and daring people there are in Pakistan. 

Reading in Karachi
I witnessed very blunt and open discussions about missing people in Balutchistan, usually an absolute Taboo, a thrilling penal debate among Pakistani authors about the role of politics in their writing (and why being apolitical in Pakistan is a politcial statement in itself) and many other functions, readings and discussions that will stay with me for a long time. So many young people I encountered there were very eager for open debate, arguments and deep discussions about where their country should be headed and what needed to be said and fought over and brought into the open. I can‘t out it any other way, it was simply touching

Spending those three days in the sun by the water in that hotel with a few hundred fairly likeminded people was definitely one of the more special experiences of my life. I am grateful I was invited and I learned a hell of a lot -- and not only about Pakistan

It was also a fantastic experience to read from my own book there - for the very first time in English, because the Goethe Insitute that invited me was kind enough to be good for a partial translation of my novel. My book (which is until now only available in German) touches on several issues which are part of public debate in Pakistan, so it meant a lot to me to engage in discussion with the audience there. One of those issues is the rise of Islamophobia in Western Europe, another is issues of identity among second generation immigrants, a third is terrorism. All these topics have special meaning to Pakistanis, I found, and reading from my book for a Pakistani audience was in a way the ultimate test. I have, for example, never experienced a terror attack in my life, but I am still describing one in my book. Reading that passage to Pakistanis in a hurt city like Karachi means a lot, and being told that the passage works means even more. (Here is a link to a blog review of my reading that really touched me. Here are more links to what I did in Pakistan.) 

OK, you are probably by now getting a sense of how much that trip impressed me. Let me just say that I think I will be back - the KLF looks like a fantastic event, and if any of you are ever invited: GO!! 

Having said that, I will conclude this post by posting one excerpt from my book in English here. Some of you have asked me about it, so here it is -- only a few pages, but maybe it gives you a taste. There is not much background you need to know to understand this passage. Sumaya is a student of Palestinian heritage who works in the office of the newly elected MP Lutfi Latif - an Eygptian born German who, being the friendly and pious intellectual that he is, has the capacity to reframe the somewhat nasty German debate about Islam, integration and terrorism. But alas - how can a person like that not find himself in the crosshairs of extremists? 

I am very interested in your feedback! 

Cheers, Y. 

*****


(c) Yassin Musharbash
Translation: Katy Derbyshire



Chapter IV (excerpt; slightly abridged)

It was three minutes past nine on Monday morning when Sumaya realised she’d already made the first mistake of her first day at work before she’d even set foot in Lutfi Latif’s parliamentary office. She should have read the Globus before she came to work. How had she managed not to think of it all weekend long? She ought to have read the Globus this morning at the very latest. It would even have been enough if she’d listened to Deutschlandradio or watched Morgenmagazin. Or read a newspaper on the way from Kreuzberg to the government quarter – any newspaper. 
Instead, she’d spent the half-hour journey watching in fascination how much the city altered over such a short distance. As the florist shops, kebab shops and kiosks grew fewer, the purely functional buildings that caught her eye out of the bus window on the way to Mitte became more and more. At the same time, the city got greyer, higher, glassier. And as if to uphold some kind of secret cosmic balance, the composition of the passengers around her changed in parallel. There were fewer and fewer babies and toddlers from one stop to the next, the faces grew whiter, the make-up subtler, and the proportion of people in suits and business outfits rose from zero to seventy-five percent. Jackets and briefcases – she’d noticed them. But she hadn’t read a newspaper. And so everyone else knew all about it when she got to the office. Everyone except Sumaya. Sumaya, the newbie. 
‘It’s not exactly the best possible start,’ said Lutfi Latif, thank goodness addressed at her colleague Cord Munkelmann, as Sumaya noticed, while he was showing a technician where to hang up the framed map of the world. The office suite consisted of three surprisingly small rooms linked by open doors. Only the first room had a door to the corridor. The walls were lined with half-unpacked cardboard boxes.
‘Yes, that rather sums it up,’ Munkelmann said soberly, fiddling with his laptop.
‘Do you know why the Globus didn’t call us for a comment beforehand?’ 
‘No idea,’ answered Munkelmann.
‘Have there been any enquiries from the press?’
Munkelmann drew a note out of his inside pocket. ‘Generalanzeiger, Tagespost, Weltbild.’
‘Fine, well, let’s not let it drive us crazy. But of course it will make our start here rather chaotic. We’ll have to decide how to react to it,’ said the MP. ‘Sumaya, would you mind looking at all the material and making a suggestion as to how to deal with it towards the press?’ he asked.
‘Yes, sure,’ Sumaya answered, not even considering.
She looked at her watch. It was 9:13. She had just been given her first task on the new job. The only problem was, she still had no idea what it was all about. Luckily, she had noticed on her way to the office that copies of the most important newspapers were laid out on many of the low tables in the corridors of the Jakob Kaiser Haus, along with the magazines Globus, Argus and Spiegel. The report was on one of the first pages of the magazine. ‘In the Sights of Extremists’ was the headline. Sumaya read as fast as she could. 

Only three weeks after his election to parliament, the Green Party MP Lutfi Latif has received death threats from Islamist extremists. Threatening emails, letters and postcards have been handed over to the police. Most of the messages are apparently anonymous. Radicals accuse Latif of encouraging Muslims in Germany to take a more active role in democracy and society as part of his election campaign, among other things. One of the emails states: ‘It is no secret that you are paid by the kuffar to expedite the division and weakening of the umma, and that is tantamount to a death sentence for you.’ The security authorities are taking the communications seriously. ‘We consider it a threat,’ said a high-ranking security official. ‘We know there are Islamists in this country who would put something like that into practice if they had the opportunity.’ Lutfi Latif, an Egyptian-born German citizen, is regarded internationally as a pioneering contemporary interpreter of Islam, who attempts to reconcile social commitment and personal faith. Various leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist network have previously branded the Berlin MP a ‘danger to Islam’. 
Sumaya suddenly remembered the strange ending to her job interview the previous week. ‘It’s the man from the federal police again,’ Munkelmann had whispered to Latif. That must have been about these threats too. And now they’d been leaked. Back in the office, both Lutfi Latif and Cord Munkelmann were talking on their mobile phones. Sumaya decided spontaneously that she wouldn’t get into trouble if she simply sat down at the desk in the smallest room at the far end of the suite. She had hardly lowered herself onto the office chair when Munkelmann came in. 
‘Here you are,’ he said, handing her a fat envelope.
‘Thanks,’ Sumaya answered.
‘See you later then,’ said Munkelmann as he left again.
It’s all going so fast all of a sudden, thought Sumaya, opening the envelope.
As she read through the first email she realised she was facing a trip to a very dark place.
You are the worst of the munafiqun, the hypocrites, you pretend to be a believer but your goal is to humiliate Islam. You use the language of the enemies of God and you seek out their company, and that makes you one of them. You crawl on your knees before them!!! Everyone knows you are a boil on the face of the earth, and I hope Allah subhana wa taala will throw your guts on the ground. Your crime shall be punished.
What was that? Was it a murder threat? Or did someone just want to see Latif dead? Was there any difference? Sumaya read the email over again, slowly. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the person who’d written it. Nothing happened at first. But then a picture formed in her mind’s eye. She saw a man of about thirty wearing a khaki-coloured jellabiya. He had dark, flashing eyes and a deep black beard as long as a fist. The man was stabbing angrily at a worn-out keyboard.
We consider it a threat.
She turned to the second email. 
There is no greater offence than joining sides with the taghut, and if you know anything about your din then you know very well what sentence awaits you. You are a murtadd. And they are like a disease that spreads fitna. And someone will come, you will receive a visit, you can rely on that! It won’t be long now.
Once again, she tried to imagine the sender. Once again, the same picture came up as before: an angry man with a fuzzy beard.
Sumaya shook her head automatically, as if to get rid of the image. Where had it come from in the first place? Could it be that she, she of all people, had the same clichés in her mind as all the others, all the people she got so angry with? She knew better than that. Or did she? What was so threatening about a beard? A robe? She’d seen thousands of men like that, peaceful and friendly men. When she’d been to Damascus with her father, for example, or staying at her aunt’s home in Ramallah. So why did it only take a couple of lines of hate-filled threats dotted with Arabic words to change those people into caricatures in her mind’s eye, as if every one of them had a bloodthirsty twin who just needed coaxing out? Even in her head, Sumaya realised, there seemed to be a set formula for what an Islamist, an Islamic extremist, a jihadist, a mujahid, a holy warrior ought to look like. 
On the other hand, thought Sumaya, I didn’t think up the image either. Don’t the bad guys look exactly like that? The ones who plant bombs in the Hindu Kush in documentaries, the defendants in the terrorist trials on the news, the terrorists in their recruitment videos from Waziristan on the newspaper websites? I read and I see pictures, thought Sumaya, and the pictures I see are the ones they showed me before I even started reading. She wasn’t sure whether that was a deep insight or a totally banal statement. But she decided to take an analytical approach, not to look for mental images any more. Only for facts she could use to draw conclusions.

---

By just after eleven, Sumaya had worked her way through the pile of 64 threatening letters and mails. She still didn’t know what to recommend to Lutfi Latif though. She looked at the sparing notes she’d jotted down: None of the senders threatened that they themselves or someone they claimed to know would kill Lutfi Latif in the near future. Aside from that, none of them claimed to be speaking on behalf of a certain group or even any known organisation.
That was the easy part.
But what was the significance of the fact that not all the threats or death wishes, or whatever they were, came from Islamic extremists
The first dozen messages had basically consisted of variations on the first two emails. But then she’d come across a handwritten letter.
Dear Mr brand-new member of parliament,
Just because some multi-culture-fetishist in some stupid office issued you with a German passport, doesn’t mean YOU are one of us Germans. Not that I care much for ‘democracy’ personally. And anyone in your ‘party’ has to be gay or disabled or a nigger or all three to be taken seriously. But whatever the case, you shouldn’t start feeling too safe. There are still a few upright-thinking people in this humiliated land, who won’t put up with you not knowing your place.
With German greetings,
The National Resistance
How did a letter obviously written by a Nazi fit in with the Globus report, which only mentioned Islamists? And a few minutes later she had come across another message that raised a similar question.
Mr Latif,
Islam is a peaceful religion? Don’t make yourself look ridiculous! You consider unbelievers animals (Koran 9.5) and advocate killing them all (9.123). You are in favour of beating women (4.34), sexually abusing children (like your prophet did), not abiding to laws (66.2) and not making peace with unbelievers (47.36).
Of course you quoted from the Koran in your election campaign. But strangely enough it was always other passages. Why don’t you just stand by your political religion? Tell it like it really is! You’d have nothing to fear – the Koran still hasn’t been banned. Unfortunately, Judaeo-Christian Western civilisation is still slumbering, sung to sleep by two-faced hypocrites like you. Yet we will not look on idly while you and your hordes corrode our civilisation, introducing Sharia by deceit, producing girls in headscarves and abusing our tolerance with your cry-baby mentality. 
No signature.
We will not look on idly. Islamists, Nazis and now Islam-haters. At least Lutfi Latif has the right enemies, thought Sumaya.

****



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