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Friday, September 29, 2006

Just an addendum of sorts ...

Among the comments on my Zakir Naik post, I received one that stated: "The author seems to be of the type who has been influenced by the western media, the love of the life of this world ...", before the writer proceeded to offer me a "remedy" for my condition with, no doubt, the best of intentions, wishing only to save a fellow earthling from a painful afterlife. Ideas and beliefs are not divided by geography, race, gender or colour. Materialism is not a prevalent idea in the West alone - just as the East is not alone in its 'willful suspension of disbelief' (a Coleridge term I love and frequently use), as a survey (by Mother Jones) of the country most symbolic of "the West" revealed years ago:
The absence of Reason as a guiding force is a global phenomenon ... and on the increase, with power in the hands of the likes (plus likers and lickers) of The Bushtard. Read the full article from which the extract below is taken.
Condoleezza Rice, a person who has helped to develop American foreign policy, in discussing freedom and free enterprise in Cuba, a country in which she has never set foot, has said, “Cubans are not even allowed to operate a hotdog stand.” Condoleezza’s lack of knowledge and understanding of a country less than ninety miles off the coast of Florida is obviously based on ignorance. Condoleezza's opinions of life in Cuba, in addition to ignorance, are obviously tainted by her Neo-Con ideological enthusiasm, her religious fanaticism and her hatred of the socialist teaching of her lord and savior -- Jesus Christ. Her knowledge of Cuba and the world in general is not based on objective academic assessment and political reality. Upon visiting Cuba and conducting a simple observational study, a student of political science with failing marks in political-Science 101 would be able to tell America’s National Security Advisor that on per capita bases, there are more entrepreneurs in Cuba than there are in the United States. A first year political science student would be able to tell Ms. Rice that Cuban’s can obtain licenses to operate business and that thousands operate cottage industries without obtaining a required license.
So let's not blame/credit the West with just the love of worldly life ... many of them are as involved in helping their children prepare actively for the Hereafter as are Eastern schools of spiritual and religious learning.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Someone's a LIAR and no one seems to care!

What a moral world ... and the people who 'run' it. President Musharraf - in a widely seen TV program (60 Minutes - CBS) - said Richard Armitage, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, told Pakistan's intelligence director, "'Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.'" Armitage says he made no such remark. (In any case, the region he was presumed to be referring to does not need to be bombed into the Stone Age, it is in it already --- Zak) Whoever was Pakistan's Director of Intelligence at that time has not given his comments. So, unless he was lying when he conveyed the message, either Armitage or President Musharraf is a liar. I think the Pakistani and the American public, as well as the world's leading politicians, need an answer so that in future dealings they may be prepared to not take things at face value. Assuming some do so now, of course.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Look who's talking ...

The Pope's trying to wiggle out of the mess by stating (legally correctly) that what he expressed was not his opinion but of some person he was 'quoting'. While many Muslims and non-Muslims, even Atheists, have some right to pooh-poohing this lame excuse - (after all, of a zillion possible quotations available, why did he need to use this?) - there's one person, at least, who cannot fault this logic.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

The Religion War

This post is not, of course, about that delightful book, by the creator of Dilbert, that bears the same title, and one that I'd strongly recommend to readers as a fast-paced thriller with a difference. It is much more than a thriller. It is a parable for our times. This is about the rather strange passage that the Pope chose to quote during his address at a University. As if there wasn't enough trouble in the world already. A transcript of the Pope's remarks reads:
"The emperor [14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus] certainly knew that Sura 2, 256, reads: 'No force in matters of faith'. It is one of the early suras, from a time -- as experts say -- in which Mohammed himself was still powerless and threatened. "However, the emperor of course also knew the requirements about the holy war that were later formulated in the Quran. Without going into details like the handling of the owners of the scriptures, or non-believers, he [the emperor] turned to his interlocutors -- in a surprisingly brusque way -- with the central question after the relationship between religion and violence. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"
Not surprisingly, and rightfully, it has drawn fire from Muslims around the world. Sadly, some of the more stupid ones may retaliate by 'avenging' themselves on Christians (including non-Catholics) and their places of worship. One can only hope that the governments of Muslim countries will act quickly to protect the minorities in their midst from being harmed because of the pronouncements of an idiot! Fortunately, it was not an ex-Cathedra pronouncement or, given the Pope's infallibility in those situations, there would have been no chance of a retraction or even an apology - not even the tiny ambiguous one that he has offered indirectly. In fact, never did the cliché - too little, too late - find a better example. To follow what he said with the following statement, via his Secretary of State, betrays a dysfunctional mind.
The new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the Pope's position on Islam is unmistakably in line with Vatican teaching that says the church "esteems" Muslims. Benedict "thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions," Bertone said in a statement.
For one, I am sure glad that he "esteems" Muslims; for had he detested them, I wonder what he would have said. For another, I am amazed by his being surprised at the 'interpretation' that Muslims have placed on the passage, unless it really was a message in secret code for his own international representatives to hurry up and send in what Lenny Bruce had called 'protection money'. Criticism has poured in from many parts of the world. Among them, from The New York Times, which has this to say in it's Editorial.
"There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as "evil and inhuman. ... The Vatican issued a statement saying that Benedict meant no offense and in fact desired dialogue. But this is not the first time the Pope has fomented discord between Christians and Muslims ... The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal."
However, by far the best and most scathing piece appears on Truthdig, where a leading atheist discusses the Pope's comment and much else from the speech. In a column titled Pope 'Rottweiler' Barks, Sam Harris, the bestselling author of The End of Faith responds to Pope Benedict XVI's speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Says Harris: "It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as 'evil' and 'inhuman' before 250,000 onlookers and the world press is now talking about a 'genuine dialogue of cultures.'"
ADDENDUM (30.09.06): Bishop Spong, writes in his piece titled Small Leaders in A New Dark Age
Joseph Ratzinger, the German Cardinal who became Benedict XVI, [embarrassed] the Christian world in his address on Islam. In this speech, in which he said his intention was to establish "the place of reason in inter-religious conversation," he condemned quite rightly religious violence. Yet his biased words implied that only Islamic fundamentalists had ever been guilty of religious atrocities. To introduce this talk he quoted a Byzantine Emperor from the 14th century, a time when the memory of the Crusades was still in the public mind, who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things evil and inhuman." Can anyone be so naive as to think these words were not intended to be offensive, coming from one who has publicly opposed the entry of Turkey, the world's lone democratic Islamic state, into the European Common Market because it would "compromise the Christian basis of European culture"? Trying to defend himself when Islamic leaders reacted with criticism, Benedict simply dug a bigger hole. "These were not my words," he said weakly, "I was only quoting someone else." He seemed not to be aware that he had chosen this quotation and that by doing so he gave its words renewed power. On the day before Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope, he lectured the cardinals on why Christianity must stand against all relativity. Behind his words lay the incredibly dated conviction that the content of the Catholic Faith has been received by Divine Revelation, and that anyone who disagrees with it cannot be other than wrong. Violence, whether it be political or religious, always begins with the claim that "my point of view is true and anyone who disagrees is evil."

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

From Zakir Naik to Irshad Manji

Much as I want, I can no longer avoid blogging this ... my jaamé sabr runneth over. Someone who wore a Hijab during the days she was my student, has just sent me a long email from Canada about her "journey from the strengthening of blind faith under evangelists like Mr. Zakir Naik to an enlightened modern view of Islam, partially through reading Ms. Manji's excellent book." She has requested anonymity, while becoming less 'anonymous' in real life: She's dropped her Hijab! My reaction, of course, was 'Khajoor say giree, Babool mayñ atkee!' (The equivalent phrase in English is 'From the Frying Pan into the Fire'). Much as both these names have become well-known and have attracted large followings, one reason for the attraction lies in the right mix of truth with fiction and the scholarly image they project to their audiences who, for the most part, are not knowledgeable enough to challenge what are often ignorant remarks, at best.

Mr. Zakir Naik has managed very successfully to exploit the fallacious connection - one not incredibly difficult among products of an education system that teaches people to value memory over understanding - between scholarship and his truly amazing ability to quote verbatim, off the cuff and with equal ease, from the holy books of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism.
Here is how a website about Famous Muslims describes him:
A medical doctor by degree, Dr. Zakir Naik is renowned as a dynamic international orator on Islam and Comparative Religion. Any Person who listens to his question and answers session is going to be astonished and overwhelmed as he clarifies Islamic viewpoints and clears misconceptions about Islam, using the Quran, authentic Hadith reciting each and giving each Surat, Ayat number (by heart) and he has not only learned Quran and Hadith by heart but has also learned several Bibles, the Talmud and the Torah (the Jewish scriptures), the Mahabharata and the Bhagvad Gita (the Hindu holy books), and other scriptures and gives very satisfying answer in conjunction with reason, logic and scientific facts. He has learned hundred and thousands of pages from different books by heart and has the knowledge of scientific and mathematical facts and theories. Dr. Zakir is popular for his critical analysis and convincing answers to challenging questions posed by audiences specially non-muslims, after his public lecture.
With such a stunning photographic memory, in another day and age, when what The Bushtard has called The Third Awakening was not the primary concern of large masses, he would probably have been part of Ripley's Wonders or P T Barnum's entourage. To his credit is the fact that he is no loony fundo, inciting murder and mayhem unlike many of his extremist counterparts in all religions, and that his TV Channel is promoting Interfaith Dialogue (a tricky matter) and Peace, (Amen!)
There is little to fault him, since much of what his speech contains are just quotations, accurately repeated from the sources. I have no problem, too, with the conclusions that Mr. Naik occasionally draws; like everyone of us, he has the right to be wrong. It is when he chooses to delve into the many areas not obviously within his scope that his ignorance (and that of the mesmerized, nodding audience) stuns me. Since I really find Mr Naik of no particular interest - other than as entertainment (of the Shakuntala Devi kind) or as an occasional measure of a section of the Ummah's pulse - I shall only quote one example from his program that I watched last week on Peace TV.
In response to a question about the calendars in use in Arabia, prior to the Hijri-based calendar being adopted by Muslims, he went on to describe the various Lunar Calendars and the Gregorian Calendar, mocking the amusing and obviously paradoxical sounding statement, that Christ was born in 6 BC, without bothering to explain how this came about and leaving some (like one 'teacher' who discussed this the next day with me) to think that it was part of some strange Christian belief. :-) But that is not which I found ridiculous ... after all, it could be argued that this was not the place or occasion for such details. It was when he spoke of AD that an ignorance - surprising for someone who must have come across this term in many works on Christ and Christianity - showed up.
Having rightly stated that AD stands for Anno Domini, Zakir Naik proceeded to translate this to mean "After Death" - a popular misconception, in the same way as the idea that SOS stands for "Save Our Souls" which, of course, it does not! - and then went further on to make the hilarious observation that Muslims would not follow this, anyway, because they do not believe in Christ's Death. Anno Domini, a Latin phrase, means 'In the Year of Our Lord'. And it starts where BC ends. That is, at the time of Christ's birth, not after his Death (or Disappearance - for those who prefer to subscribe to this view). Just reflect: if what Mr. Naik says is the case, what abbreviation or system would he (or anyone else) use to date an event that took place during the 33 years of Jesus's life on earth? As for its possible prevalence in the Arabia pre-Islam, no such luck. Anno Domini dating was not adopted until the 8th Century CE (CE= Christian Era, a term often used instead of AD for its relative 'neutrality').
As an informational aside, the currently common Gregorian Calendar, was introduced only as late as 1582, by Pope Gregory. Russia adopted it as late as 1918 and countries in Europe adopted it at different periods, with Greece being the last to do so in 1923! Imagine the difficulties of communicating any dates to anyone in the intervening years. And for a bit of fun, try and guess the name of an imprtant person who was born on Oct 9, 1582 ...
Let me now move on to the much more interesting and complex matter of Ms. Irshad Manji. Her name first caught my eye rather late, since her book was not sold in most Pakistani bookstores. Bookshop owners are, naturally, afraid of possible book-burning mobs - not a farfetched fear given the hooliganism previous protestors have displayed. Her comments on the Jalalabad Riots were emailed to me and, if nothing else, since then The Huffington Post has become a regular site to visit.
Intrigued by her, I have occasionally been following many of her articles and interviews with amusement and amazement. While admiring her courage to challenge traditions and ideas forced upon her, to be accepted without question, I increasingly began to feel that she plays to the gallery and, in doing so, fails to pay heed to a wonderful bit of old advice about how to act when confronted with subjects one has little knowledge of: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.
Unfortunately, her misinterpretations and misunderstanding do more harm than good to her causes (such as Project Ijtihad that, with a little refinement and practicalities, could provide much-needed support to Muslim women). Most times, her genuine, often sensible and well-meaning advice or criticism is lost on Muslims who do not wish to hear anything she says, because of the way she says them. As my friend Isa says in his comment on my post about Pervez Hoodbhoy's recent TV ouburst, "If the idea is to convert people to your way of thinking then it helps to be heard." Were she to just shrug away these people, she'd be left with an audience for whom these issues are of no deep interest.
There are are bound to be people who find some of her ideas and ways of expression downright insulting (and not without reason). Others find her claiming to be a Muslim itself odd, especially when she denies some of the very basics of their beliefs, such as the purity of the Qur'an as an unaltered word of God, as she does in the Jalalabad post mentioned above. Surely, among Muslims there are people who can engage her in a debate and, as always happens in such encounters, provided both sides come with open minds, each could learn much from the other. I am, quite obviously, not talking about those who indulge in vulgarisms and character assassination, on her site and elsewhere, for matters that are not the topic of her writings and lectures on Islam but of her personal concern.
This summer, particularly after a 'nonversation' with 2 young Hijab-clad Pakistani girls, back from their North American colleges, who said many negative things about Ms Manji but had not read a word by her or could even quote anything they had heard, I decided to read the much acclaimed and hated book myself. The Urdu edition is made available on the website as a FREE download - along with the Arabic and Persian editions - on the reasonable premise that the book is unlikely to be sold openly in countries where these languages are generally spoken. Although the site does show a Pakistan edition under 'Buy the Book', the link leads only to an online version. As for the other versions, it is unclear whether it is to boost sales that some editions conveniently drop the 'Today' - adding a different twist to the title - or whether some add it to tone matters down. I found the Urdu downloadable and online editions difficult to read as the scan resolution was too low to enlarge without horrible jaggies and my eyes can no longer cope with the original size. So I finally obtained an English print edition from India a month ago.
Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam Today has been quite a roller-coaster of an experience. I would certainly recommend the book to all but the easily inflamed. But recommendation does not mean approval for all she says. In fact, I will be writing a fuller review of the book in the next fortnight, and taking issue with some of its misrepresentations and falsehoods that mar what could have been a very interesting critique of the Muslim society today. I would have done it in sooner, but an imminent trip to Bangkok, in connection with a Drik Partnership meeting, has me engaged in a host of other activities.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rotten Apples?

When was the last time you received mail, or had to bear a sarcastic comment, because your dreamcar manufacturer, Ferrari, had a small market share? Or because your favourite CD Label had the nasty habit of packing its CDs into a non-biodegradable Jewel Case which, in turn, was placed into a 'bubble pack' twice its size that also contained unnecessary cardboard sheets? Never? Neither have I. But, for us Apple users, this is not an option. From dear friends who send me frequent reminders of the Mac having lost (only to be reminded, themselves, that the GUI which Mac introduced actually won and can now be seen on every computer that uses it's cheap copy)

to the not-so-dear chap who sends me updates on all Apple criticisms in the press, as if I were personally accountable for everything Steve does. So, it came as no surprise that, when Greenpeace charged Apple with environmental irresponsibility, I got an email from a friend who is a very conscious environmentalist. Titled "yr fav slipping?", the mail quoted an article, "How Green Is Your Apple?" - from The Economist, a magazine I find deceitful and obnoxious. (Unfortunately, I am not as forgiving of irresponsible and slanted reporting as many of my more learned friends.) But, I had also come across the charges by Greenpeace in other sections of the press, and had been following the story keenly, not because it involves Apple but because of my own interest in the Environment. Why should Apple (in the final analysis) be expected to be better or worse than any other corporation in its pursuit of money? It has never, to my knowledge, claimed a moral high ground. True, it has not yet fallen foul of the law for the kind of strong-arm tactics and illegalities that Microsoft uses, but that doesn't 'guarantee' it never will. Who knows what goes on inside all these big companies? Corporate greed is a killer disease. Getting back to the Greenpeace charge, they have stated that Apple's performance is very poor in terms of environmental responsibility. According to CNET, Apple disagrees with Greenpeace's assessment, saying that they have strong environmental records and follow worldwide regulations. As an aware citizen, and a devout Mac user, such things are important for me to trace and track. I am, therefore, not entirely new to the slurs and doubts cast by (otherwise well-meaning) organizations on Apple. It's often a mere 'strategy'. After all, any story with the word 'Apple' or the name 'Steve Jobs' will draw more readers and provide publicity for the cause than would news about Michael 'Dull' or his company. In fact, even Michael uses the strategy to bad-mouth Apple so that his stupid pronouncements get press coverage! While I cannot categorically state that Greenpeace - an organization I admire immensely - would stoop to such tactics, it is not entirely inconceivable. Truth, honesty, ethics, all go out the window at the drop of a hat in every instance. Sad, but true. The concept of 'ends justifying the means' has completely obliterated the adage which reminded us that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'. Those who think I have gone too far in my pro-Apple stance, by casting aspersions on a great activist organization, would do well to remember that, in 2005, the 'Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition' targeted many Apple events to criticize the company's position on recycling and takeback programs for used computers. The SVTC activists kicked off the campaign at MacWorld during Jobs's annual speech ... cashing in on the kind of photo-ops they could not have had any other way. That their charge-sheet was full of everything from suppression of truth to blatant lies, poor analysis, and false conclusions was of no concern to the many who saw the pictures in the press and read their rants and may have concluded that Apple was at fault. I request those who raise objections - and all who are environmentally conscious - to read the post from which the following extract is quoted to highlight and underscore my point. (For those who live in countries that comprise the Axis of Insanity, where even the delightful tinyurl is banned - amazing, na? - this link may be a better option.)
The UnApple Report issued by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and their partners, mixed generalized assumptions about Apple Computer, depictions of Apple products, and a spoofed Apple logo, with general facts about the environment and societal ills, and implied a correlation between the two. For example it stated: 50-80% of the e-waste taken to U.S. “recyclers” is actually shipped out to developing countries in violation of international law. In China, India and other countries, dirty electronics recycling has had horrendous consequences—polluting the air, land and water and endangering people’s health. Without an aggressive takeback system, including a commitment to work only with responsible recyclers, Apple is contributing to this growing problem. This suggested that Apple was involved in sending toxic trash to third world countries, which isn't true. SVTC knew that, so they only implied a relationship. Reports of the protest widely linked Apple to “accusations” of third world dumping, so a vague implication was enough to fulfill the coalition’s political agenda. Apple lags far behind Dell and HP in its policies or programs to take back its own obsolete products. This suggested that Dell and HP have actually recycled more of their PCs than Apple has, but that isn't true either. Dell and HP have both produced far more toxic trash than Apple, and continue to generate many times more e-waste than Apple, both in sheer volume and in the degree of toxicity of the new products they ship, as noted below. A disturbing growth trend in e-waste recycling is the use of prison work programs where super-exploited, under-protected captive workers are subject to toxic exposure. Without a system in place to ensure that Apple e-waste does not end up in prisons, Apple is contributing to this growing problem. This similarly implied that Apple was using prison labor for recycling, when SVTC knew that Apple really wasn't. Under a depiction of an iPod being thrown away, the report presented various facts about lead poisoning and the toxicity of burning plastics, but headlined the general statements with: Many manufacturers are addressing the problems associated with electronic waste, or e-waste. Apple, however, is compromising brand value and leadership by placing short-term financial gain over environmental concerns. Apple products include toxics, and need special care. Was the iPod targeted because it is a serious contributor to e-waste, or was SVTC targeting Apple because their brand name and consumer popularity would guarantee it front page press coverage? Would it be better if the iPod used AA batteries, the way many other music players do? That would result in the tens of millions of iPod users each throwing away hundreds of toxic batteries throughout their iPods' lifetime.
Apple's official policy and record, too, is worth a read. A caveat: after all, it is the company's site and, like all content on company sites, must be read with a critical mind. But also worth keeping in mind is that the ex Vice President of the USA, Al Gore, one of the leading environmentalists today, also sits on the board of Apple.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Have a nice day!

Every once in a while a totally fun art application comes along and grabs people's interest merely by its uniqueness. But is some/all art useless? More to the point: Is this art? Who cares about these larger questions when having fun! Windmills of My Mind
What do the colors mean? blue: for links (the A tag) red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags) green: for the DIV tag violet: for images (the IMG tag) yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags) orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags) black: the HTML tag, the root node gray: all other tags
Thanks, Sala!

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Hadd ho gaee!

The Hudood Ordinance is merely a political stick for both sides in our parliament to beat each other with. Neither side, it is clear, has the slightest interest in the plight of women who are incarcerated under it (almost always wrongly), its validity or otherwise under the Qur'an, it's misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Islamic injunctions, or the fact that it was imposed upon the nation by a tyrannical, megalomaniac military dictator through an ordinance ... and that it could just as easily have been removed through a similar instrument by the current one. To be fair, the press did report yesterday that President Musharraf had considered (and even ordered) a unilateral removal of this draconian and stupid set of laws, using the Power that his Uniform gives him over people's lives. But, lo and behold, we are told that the progressive PM, Shaukat Aziz (the same one whose excessively enthusiastic prayers for rain have inundated the streets of some of our major cities), swayed him away, asking for it to be done through a Bill in the assembly. If this path was chosen to prove to the world that things are done democratically in this country, the PM and the President are certainly naive. No one outside, or inside, Pakistan swallows that. Of course the MMA (the President's friendly enemies) will want to misuse this opportunity to rally support against the President and the Government. The latter, in turn, may have to 'negotiate' and 'water down' what once they considered 'right' (supported by studies released by various commissions and scholars) to what they will next begin considering 'right'. Things are even more awkward this time, with some members of the President and PM's Party also opposing the much needed reform. (Understandable. They have to lord it over their women! Obtain permissions to remarry and threaten any wife who refuses to grant such permission with these laws.) So, to keep their votes on the Governments side, more 'negotiations' will take place. At the end of it all, the women, the nation, the beliefs, the morality, the principles, and the legality will all be bartered away by both sides in exchange for licenses, positions, ministries, lands, withdrawn cases, and other political currency. These are scenes we have watched before, and, as the adage goes, if we do not learn from history, we shall be forced to repeat it. So be it. What bothers me, however, is something that is infinitely worse and has much farther-reaching consequences for the Ummah. "What", you ask, "could be worse than the misuse and misquotation of the Qur'an and Islam by Muslims who not only profess their faith loudly, at every opportunity, but among whom are many who lead the religious congregations from the pulpits of masjids and imambaa∂aas ?" To almost all Muslims, casting aspersions on the veracity of the Qur'an, I'd say, would fall into a worse category, wouldn't you agree? Surely, you say, that can't be something I could seriously accuse the Ulema or lawmakers of doing. Bear with me... The Offence of Zina Ordinance that forms a part of the Hudood Ordinance prescribes the punishment of Rajam (stoning to death) as the Hadd punishment for a married man and/or a married woman if found guilty of Zina. Those against the Hudood Ordinance argue that Rajam has not been mentioned in the Qur'an. The maximum (or Hadd) punishment for Zina is 100 lashes (provided all the requirements for Hadd punishment are met). This, in itself, is a very severe punishment and the Qur'an states that solid proof, beyond any doubt, is required before convicting the accused. Do note that the punishment is not 'lashing to death'! The punishment by Rajam ends with killing for a crime for which death is not the prescribed punishment in the Qur'an and is, threfore, not Islamic. (It is a punishment that the Jews, in the early days of Islam, carried out under Mosaic Law). Therefore, opponents of this law demand, this punishment be stricken off the law books. A reasonable demand, I'd say, if based on verifiable evidence - and that is not something that would take long to find out by going through a copy of the Qur'an. The proponents, who include some Ulema, argue that Rajam was introduced - and actually awarded - as a punishment for Zina during the time of the Holy Prophet and of the Rightfully Guided Caliphs (Khulafaaé Rashideen). And, since the Qur'an commands Muslims to follow and obey the Holy Prophet, any act sanctioned or introducd by him is an intrinsic part of Islam. Once again, to those who subscribe to this view - and an overwhelming majority would obviously agree - Rajam is unquestionably Islamic. Adding to the weight of this approach is the fact that it is practiced in Saudi Arabia. But wait... We are also informed, in defence of Rajam, that some[?] also believe there was (WAS?) a verse in the Qur'an, regarding Rajam. WAS??? It was written on a leaf. At the time of the Holy Prophet’s death, the leaf was 'misplaced'. It was later discovered that it 'may' have been eaten by a goat and 'a reference' to it was later added in several collections of Ahaadees. Excuse me?!?!? Quite apart from the fact that the various 'leaf & goat' stories (and there are some that are even more astounding; so astounding in fact that they are rejected out of hand as being ludicrous by the 'majority') would not hold well under scrutiny, are the Muslims now being told that a verse from The Book - whose Divine Author has 'guaranteed' that He will protect it for all times - has a leaf missing? I am stumped! As, I am sure, are you. Does this not open up a Pandora's Box, leading to questions of how many other leaves were lost? Does this not cast aspersions on The Book and all that it stands for? Does it not wreck the case for its having remained unchanged from its original form and content? And may we know how this ayat was eventually re-discovered? And authenticated? When and by whom? And, under what authority was a 'lost-and-found' verse of the Qur'an, if ever there was such a thing - 'downgraded' (if you'll pardon the expression) to a level of a mere 'reference' in the Ahaadees - a status that even the staunchest of Hadees supporters would not equate with Islam's most sacred text? For casting doubts on the Qur'an, can those Mullaas who expound such ideas be tried under their own favourite weapon, the Blasphemy Laws, which are themselves very debatable in the way they are interpreted and used. To those of you who think I have made all this up: C'mon, guys. Do I seem the suicidal type? If you wish to know more about the Bill that is being debated (more likely prostituted) today - and I think EVERYONE needs to get off their apathetic asses and understand both sides if they are desirous of a better future, please skip across to GEO's brilliant site, Zara Sochieye. [For those who can still read the National Language, there is an Urdu section, too!] Those who just wish to verify the leaf tale, the section called Both Sides of the Story offers a confirmation of my report and highlights other controversies.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

They're back, with a vengenace!

Maybe it's a false memory ... but I seem to remember that cigarette ads were banned. Or, if they were not banned, something had prevented them from appearing in newspapers. Suddenly, there's a spate of them. And, by the freshness and intensity of the campaigns (posters in public places, half-pagers in major newspapers, airport lounges with bigger smokers' sections replete with brand ads) it does seem that something has 'given'. While the USA makes smoking in public places more and more impossible, our public places encourage this. During a recent trip I sat at a Pakistani airport business lounge. Three large gentlemen (who had earlier been seen off by a fair-sized group) arrived and sat in the non-smoking area and lit up. One of them looked around and could not see the Smokers' Corner sign but was courteous enough to ask the lady at the desk where they could move to smoke. And she, all smiles, said "Sir, jahaañ marzee piyayñ, koee mind naheeñ karay ga. Sabhee aap ko jaantay haeñ." Aaargh! On flights, where the question of smoking no longer arises, we still have announcements that humbly 'request' people to 'co-operate' and refrain from smoking. Some passengers, almost always from among those who sit in the seats of power, still occasionally flaunt the rule and the airline staff is too intimidated to object. On one flight from Lahore, one of the more daring stewards did raise enough courage to say to a mustachioed black-vested 'gentleman' (a word that lost its meaning years ago) who, to the horror of some, had started smoking in the seat, "Aap idhar pantry mayñ aa jaaeñ - küchh passengers ko aytraaz ho sakta hae..." I wonder if, as my friend Isa has suggested, strengthening my suspicions, this newfound leeway to tobacco companies is directly related to the stringency in the USA, which is leading to lessening of smokers there. And the Push is by Bush to Mush for allowing US Tobacco manufacturers to expand their markets here. After all, we have large populations. And our life isn't exactly revered by the Bushtards.

Adapted from an Ad Campaign by the American Lung Association
Of course, there is always a positive side: Tobacco Kills ... and our anti-population explosion projects, such as projects encouraging birth control , are not working. .. and every bit of help counts. So, Cigarette Manufacturers, Fundos, Car/Phone Snatchers, Quacks, and Faith Healers: Rejoice! Your unwitting support to your country's overpopulation problem, however unconventional, is welcome.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

May 'The Force' be with you, PH!

A very dear and respected friend, Pervez Hoodbhoy - Scientist, Educator, Activist - pushed the boundaries of media freedom on Geo TV a couple of nights ago. Here is the episode in his own words:

Last night (6th September) I tested the limits of media freedom.Geo TV asked me to be one of the guests for a live program on Defence Day when our glorious army had the greatest victory of all history. General Omer and Air Marshal Sheikh from Karachi, and me plus a wimpy ex-ambassador, Tariq Fatimi, from Islamabad. Well, they all prattled on about the importance of 1965, power, strength, etc. until I get my first chance to speak or, rather, launch a broadside. So I went into 1971, Kargil, and the fact that this great and glorious army has been throwing bombs and machine gunning the Pakistani population in places like Balochistan and Waziristan, and the only war it has won has been against our own people. The anchor (Chughtai) kept interrupting me but I fended him off until it appeared useless and then I threw off the microphone and walked off. The link to Karachi, where the anchor was based with the two military men, mysteriously broke so I do not know whether this walkout was visible. Actually, I have no idea of how much I said was heard, even though it was a live program because at home our TV does not work. Anyhow, I reached the elevator outside and a bunch of Geo people came to persuade me that I should return and complete what I had been saying. They said they liked very much what I was saying and hate the army too. So I did. The anchorman eventually returned to me and asked me about the economy. So I launched a second broadside about the army having eaten Pakistan out of the house, having become real estate sharks, forcibly capturing industries. I ended by saying that fauj ka kam mulk ka difah karma hai, cheenee aur dalia banana nahin hai. He cut me off once again and launched into a panegyric of the army's great sacrifices! So there you have it. This country lives in terror of its occupiers and murderers of our people. Unless we get rid of this parasitic entity known as the Pakistan Army, we are all done for. Whether the ISI comes knocking at my door today or not, the truth had to be said.
I realize that not every reader will subscribe to Pervez's views. and many may find them too harsh. But my posting this is less about soliciting agreement with or criticism of his stance, though that's welcome, too, but more about celebrating the pushing of the envelope on our media and offering all views a fair hearing. We get enough preaching down on all other matters from the establishment. And: Thank you, too, Geo!

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

There's life in the old dog, yet!

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The irrepressible Jim Petafi

Jimmy Petafi, whose first encounter with Nuzhat and me will get a small but separate telling in Ships and Shoes and Sealing Wax, sailed with us as First Mate in the 70s, when I was in command of a merchant ship.
A combination of tribal ruggedness and semi-feudal attitudes, tempered with a strange softness and warmth that caught most by surprise, he became a wonderful shipmate. His 'Tom Jones voice' was a feature of all our parties, as it was of the bars and clubs we visited at various ports. His amazing belting out of the then popular 'Delilah' at a restaurant in Vizagapatam, where he threw a surprise party for our wedding annivesary, still rings in my ears.
Settled in Liverpool, Jimmy - as far as I knew from other shippies - had become a popular singer at clubs. Almost 2 decades later, through an out-of-the-blue phone call from him, I learnt that - surprise, surprise - he has become a successful businessman. In fact, he even offered to help me set my business right.
We did keep in touch, off and on, exchanging greetings on special occasions, but I had not heard from him in months, when I got this from him early this week: I've finished writing my book , Life Begins After a Heart Attack. Trust Jim to surprise me, again.
And yet again! Following on the heels of the news of his authorship - for which may heart-attack victims have thanked him - comes another, fairly disconnected reason to thank Jimmy. This September 23rd the thanks will come from wives around the world.


Karachi's Pride comes home!

"The W11 is Karachi's most famous bus route because of its spectacular decoration. For the Commonwealth Games 2006, in Melbourne Australia , a team of of W11 decorators from New Karachi, led by Nusrat Iqbal, were invited by Mick Douglas, to decorate a Melbourne tram in the style of W11. The tram ran a free service during the games and some 80,000 people rode on it. It was voted the most popular cultural event of the games. The public response was so good that the tram is scheduled to continue to run as a weekend service. People said that after Pakistan won the world cup in 1992, this was the first time that so much praise was showered on Pakistan. The national and international press has carried the project all over the world. The entire project was filmed by Wajid Ali, a fine art graduate of the Department of Visual Studies, University of Karachi, from its beginnings at the New Karachi workshop to the inauguration and duration of the project in Melbourne.

Please come and see the street screening at Allahwali, the last stop of W11, New Karachi.
Date: September 3, 2006 Time: 8.30 PM BE ADVENTUROUS ... BE THERE!
You can get there by taking a ride on the W11 from any of its stops, starting from Keamari near the entrance to the Docks.
September 7-22: a photographic exhibition of the project and a repeat of the screening will be held at the VM Gallery, Karachi. (Mick Douglas has come from Australia for the two events and will be there to give you more information about the project's aims and achievements.)"
[Text adapted from the e-mailed circular]

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