Encounter Project 2: Propagating Islam as an Inflexible, Rigid, Harsh System

I am now forced to translate “Encounter-2”, an Urdu column published in 2000 because I have noticed that since 9-11 there is a flood of rigid Islamic literature, likes of which were never encountered in my readings of Islamic literature during 1970s-80s. The literature that I typically came across then was published from a period extending from mid of 19th century till the 1980s. Recently, however, the frequency with which certain rigid thoughts and ideas seem to have been excavated from the ancient archives of fringe Muslim thoughts and then systematically spread as mainstream Islamic thought appears to be a part of a concerted campaign that seems to be growing in intensity. I think we need to seriously examine the proposition put forward in Encounter-2 below when we see rigid literature specifically relating to children books written from fringe Islamic perspectives that indicate:

  • Ban on fiction; reading, writing and telling of stories.
  • Ban on humor; reading, writing and telling of even decent jokes.
  • Ban on poetry; reading, creating and enjoying of poems.
  • Ban on showing the faces of animals in pictures i.e. facial hijab of animals; cutting off the heads of horses, camels, goats and other animals from their illustrations in school books of children.
  • Ban on the picture of snakes and even of vegetables such as onions!

“Encounter-2” Column Published in Jang by an Urdu Columnist 

[Translated in English by me]

“Encounter ” also known as Paris Review appeared immediately after the end of second world war as the foremost authority on communism. Published using offset paper through the state of art printing systems, the magazine would surface at the ports, airports and railway stations of Paris and from there would quickly spread in a few days to tea houses, coffee shops and bars around the world, where every line and every word in the magazine would not only be read as a gospel but would also become the part of the communist belief system that commanded instant obedience to the instructions contained in the articles.  If we research the history of Marxist thought, analyze the Marxist behavior of its followers and study their extremist ideologies, we would discover “Encounter” as the most potent source that made “hunger” of have-nots the most dominant of all the philosophies. It was Encounter that convinced the followers of communism to let their hairs grow, to discontinue the practice of daily bath, to memorize verbatim the Marxist literature as if it was a holy book, to divorce their wives on flimsy grounds, and to instruct their “have-not” kids to ‘kill and rob the rich “haves” ‘.
The magazine had millions of Russian Roubles behind it, thousands of the most intelligent Marxist minds, expert journalists, and extremely sharp critics and erudite intellectuals, and therefore there was no other magazine of the kind that was more impressive, more comprehensive and with better organized content. You can evaluate its standard by looking at the editorial board members that boasted of the top intellectuals of that time including Spender, Auden, and Marlowe. In addition, it had an international editorial board that would critically analyze the submitted articles containing descriptions, evaluations and reviews received from around the world. This analysis would involve ensuring that the submissions are aligned with the Marxist yardstick, and ensuring the correctness of grammar and diction, validity of of statistics, and weight of the arguments. On passing such rigorous analysis, the submissions would then go to different desks where they would be translated by experts of different languages followed by further refinement of the language and its usage. Then another department would reanalyze the translation, correct the appropriateness of words, tighten their loose ends, and improve other language issues. When the time came for printing, the approved article would not only be printed in English but it would also be accompanied with the original language text, so that an interested reader can compare the original with the translation and can verify any discrepancies, if any. The rigorous standards for selection and painstaking review often compelled critics to give a prominence to “Encounter” that was sometimes not even accorded to Karl Marx or Lenin.

But readers need to observe the irony of revelation about ten to fifteen years after the completion of the “Encounter” project when it came out that the magazine which was regarded as the Bible of Communism was actually a CIA project through which an American of the rank of a deputy secretary sitting in a small room of the CIA headquarter along with two clerks and a peon and a few files, a few telex messages and some secret phone calls, was deceiving the whole socialist world by poisoning their ideas and thoughts which triggered  the opposition to communism in the countries being targeted by the communists.

Years later, when the chief of the Encounter project went to attend a seminar on cultural empowerment in Paris, all the participants in the hall stood up to greet him. The American who was now old and had retired, took off his hat to acknowledge the greeting and then took his seat. One of the participants asked, “Sir, how did you achieve all this?” The old man smiled and touching the mike said, “Young Man, it was very simple. We turned communism into such a rigid, harsh and inflexible system that it became no longer acceptable to the masses.” Another young participant stood up to ask, “But, how did you do it because the entire management team and editorial staff of the magazine were committed communists, and to our knowledge CIA had no direct interaction with the management and staff?” The old man gave a laugh and again touching the microphone said, “Young man, you are right. We had no direct connection with the management, editorial board or the communist workers of the magazine. However, the articles reaching the magazine for publication from around the world were all submitted by people who were writing on our behalf.” Another young participant stood up incredulously and asked, “But, what difference would such submissions make?” This time the old man smiled, and clasping the mike with his fingers said, “Don’t you see the huge significance of this, young man! Please consider, what would you think of a bible that gives instructions that are against man’s natural instincts, that stop man from thinking freely, that do not permit man to say or do things of their liking, that instructs man to wear smelly and unwashed clothes, that instructs man not to shave their facial hair, nor to clean their teeth, that teaches people to use foul language; how can such bible be acceptable to people? We did precisely that. From the platform of Encounter we demonstrated that people with communist ideology are inflexible, militant and unreasonable. This triggered the opposition in third world countries against communism which made our task easy.” At this point, the hall erupted with applause. The old man stood up from his chair, waved his hat again, put his hand on his heart and bowed the way actors thank after a successful performance on stage, turned and left the hall.

…… and now when in gatherings I hear the fatwas (tirades) of “educated” ladies and gentlemen against the ulema, and see the youth saying that Islam (Naoozobillah) is obsolete, regressive and unworkable; when I see decent, quiet and buzurg people getting addressed as “molvis”, when I see kalashinikov wielding guards outside the mosques, when I see the innocent children of medrassahs protesting against the disinformation spread by newspapers and magazines; then I visualize a small room in the headquarters of CIA with a deputy secretary level officer with two clerks and peon, with some files, a few telex messages and some telephone calls converting Islam into an alien system in the Islamic countries, and projecting Islam as a system that is regressive, inflexible, unworkable and against natural human instincts!

Dear Readers: If you analyze it with a cool mind, you will agree with me that the extent of hatred spread against Islam through Islamic means, the extent to which maulvi has been maligned as unreasonable with the help of maulvis, the extent to which medressah has been made detestable using medressahs themselves, the extent to which masjid has been made abominable (naoozobillah) using masjids, is tremendously bigger in magnitude than the criticism that has been spread by the speeches and writings of Jews, Christians, Hindus over the last two-three centuries.

Trust me, when some young person speaks the word “molvi” with venom and hatred, it immediately brings to my mind the sight of that old American clasping the mike with his fingers and saying: “Very simple, we made Islam so much bitter, harsh, and inflexible that it became no longer acceptable to the people of the Islamic countries.” The old American then continues on to say: “We have now demonstrated to the world that the religion in which a molvi is not willing to sit with another molvi, is a religion that can no longer be acceptable to modern man. Yes, we had demonstrated that people who can not withstand a little criticism, who do not allow another Muslim to enter their mosque, are people who are not capable of following the democratic norms. Yes, we have demonstrated that Muslims belong to the stone age, they are people who can only reply to a question with stoning.”

During the last part of the night, when the entire street is engulfed in the pre-morning mist, I am wondering is there no one in the Islamic world who can read the file of “Encounter Project-2”!

[End of my translation of Javed Chaudhry’s Column]


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  1. This is a though provoking and perception opening article Dr.

    After having read your article the following discussions come to my mind:
    1. Having read you other recent article where computers have advanced to such a level that every single cyber activity is now being recorded, much to the resemblance of how Voyager gobbles up all energy sources in Star Trek, and being able to synthesize the context of computerisation with the propaganda warfare campaign that the Encounter project did with Communism and now extending towards Islam, the world is actually becoming purely Communist. We see a trend where emotions, religion, feelings, spirituality, human bonding and relations, culture, civility are increasingly losing relevance in favour of deterministic, mechanised and pattern following procedures to move the cogs of life and change, or literally accurate the electrons of systems and expansion. Furthermore, Russian Communism wasn't true Communism. It was a Bureaucratic system that was heavily influenced by the establishment of Russian Feudalism and Autarky. Can it be said that the Encounter project was merely an entity, which mind as well have been anything else to have accomplished the same objective and that it was actually bringing about pure Communism naturally by eliminating all other parasitical elements which saw Russian Communism as a tumour instead of muscle growth? And Can it be said that the Encounter 2 project is doing just the same thing with Islam, which sees it as a cancer instead of hormonal development? Are we actually moving really towards Communism while under the delusion that we're not?

    2. From a different perspective of consideration, where we see that the Encounter project was a tool of propaganda warfare launched in a campaign against Communism and now against Islam with Encounter 2, can it be said that Communism was as misunderstood just like Islam is being depicted as rigid, extreme, intolerant, crusading &c? Or would it rather be that the Encounter project was evil and Communism was evil too and it was just too evils fighting against each other and now Islam is being threatened by the victorious evil (Encounter 2)?

    3. How would you characterise the scholarly abilities and instruments (reasoning, rationality, statistics, hypothesis, analytics, philosophy, research) of Islamic scholars and scholars in general today vs specifically Islamic scholars 250 years ago (at the height of Ottoman and Mughal Empire) and vs Islamic scholars 1,000 years ago? Do you think that scholarly instruments i.e. human mental abilities have an effect on Islamic 'interpretation' and 'implementation'? Could it be that the Encounter project was actually rooting out the limitations of Communism (don't relate the context of question 1) by projecting it to its extremities in order for people to take caution and similarly the Encounter 2 project is rooting out the limitations in Islamic interpretation and implementation? Or was it that ancient Islamic scholars possessed scholarly thought, wisdom and intelligence that is unmatched today and secret ancient treasure of knowledge that is lost today? Or is it that the instruments available today to scholarly instrumentation are not as worthy as the scholarly instruments available to ancient Islamic scholars?
    Note: Scholarly instruments refer to: reasoning, rationality, statistics, hypothesis, analytics, philosophy, research

    P.S: I sometimes hate how when one writes an entire discussion and presses publish, only to find out that it has magically vanished just because the blog loads one's account profile. I had to write everything from scratch again.

  2. I am afraid I do not have answers to many of your questions. And some questions would require separate posts.
    Q1: I agree with your conclusion that we are actually moving towards control of not only actions and writings of human beings but also their social interactions and even thoughts and ideas that are still in the process of forming in mind [ref Big Data n Star Trek post]. I think Western modern society established on the foundational assumption of individual freedom (freedom of speech, expression, religion, ideas etc) has encountered an internal contradiction with a totalitarian control of all ideas and thoughts by the like of Google and their mega control successors that would put to shame communist politburo. Google, facebook, skype and viber et al would put to shame what Goebelz could achieve.

  3. Q2: Had communism been allowed to spread peacefully and had it not encountered such resistence from capitalism, it is possible to have had a more friendlier face. However, the initial steps of Lenin and then Stalin/Brezhnev's autocratic and vicious regimes solidified the hardline policy. However, I think as a man-made system, communism encountered its own internal contradiction. See its idea of historical change, so communism had to change by their own theory.

  4. Q3: This involves a huge debate among the various reform movements with each one diagnosing a different cause of the decline in scholarship and the method of overcoming the decline. It has to do with scholarship, ijtehad, tajdeed, and revival but not quite the way you are defining it. That is huge subject.

  5. For more reading about Q3, I can lead you to some interesting books.

  6. Ah!

    It is better first to define what you called "extreme", "rigid" and "fringe Islamic perspectives" and you included even "Ban on showing the faces of animals in pictures."

    I believe humans commit mistakes and our analysis could be erroneous, one way or the other. Just taking a single point of view of a well-known journalist cannot explain the entire ongoing scenario in a nut shell. There are too many dots to connect: Quran Hakeem, Hadith, History and current affairs to draw some valid and concrete conclusions.

    A lot has been overlooked.

  7. I was just trying to connect the dots. What Encounter Project did was to select from the various communist philosophies only the ones that were not in the mainstream. I mentioned that I did not come across children's literature that contained these bans: Have you seen children books in which the faces of animals are cutoff? Have you come across people who think that poetry, stories and humor should be avoided?

  8. I am curious to find out about books published in sub-continent during the 19th and 20th century till 1970s containing prohibitions and/or bans on poetry, stories, humor, pictures of animal faces and snakes and onions. I am also interested in finding out about the earliest reference to such bans in 20th century around the world, specifically, in Arabia.

  9. For the sake of this research, let's formally hypothesize that "fringe" stands for the 5 bulleted statements mentioned after the first paragraph in this post. Each bullet can be a sub-hypothesis. Now we have formally defined the research parameters.

  10. Dear Shahryar. Don't you agree now to the thesis of this post after seeing the flip flop of Saudi support for salafi doctrine and embracing of westernism. Salafi thought was being propagated by a desk from state department?

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