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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lysistrategy

Some believe that history repeats itself. Their opponents contend that it is nothing more than a nice sounding bit of rhetoric. But one woman's legendary effort to stop the Peloponnesian War has become part of historical theatre. Translated into several languages, Lysistrata is one of the most staged plays. An Urdu version has even been performed in Pakistan by Sheema Kermani and her Tehrik-e-Niswan group. Now, at least that part of of history seems to be repeating itself, as this BBC news item shows:

Kenyan women hit men with sex ban Women's activist groups in Kenya have slapped their partners with a week-long sex ban in protest over the infighting plaguing the national unity government. The Women's Development Organisation coalition said they would also pay prostitutes to join their strike. The campaigners are asking the wives of the Kenyan president and the prime minister to join in the embargo. They say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence which convulsed the country after the late-2007 elections. Relations between Kenya's coalition partners, led by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, have become increasingly acrimonious. Now the dispute has moved to the nation's bedrooms. Lead from the front Patricia Nyaundi, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida), one of the organisations in the campaign, said they hoped the seven-day sex ban would force the squabbling rivals to make up. She said the campaign would start from her bedroom and that emissaries had been sent to the two leaders' wives, Ida Odinga and Lucy Kibaki, urging them to join in and lead from the front. "Even commercial sex workers should join in the campaign which is so vital to the country," Mrs Nyaundi told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. "Great decisions are made during pillow talk, so we are asking the two ladies at that intimate moment to ask their husbands: 'Darling can you do something for Kenya?'"
Army wives in India and Pakistan: Here's your chance to make a REAL contribution!

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Just what IS Shariah?

Given the extremes of our society and the Muslim Ümmah, it seems impossible for the average person to go beyond just the emotional outbursts for or against the imposition of the Shariah.

I am also unclear, when I talk with some people (especially men), about how they feel that their lives would be affected. The majority of them seem - while not physically flogging females in public - to treat women with such denigration, contempt and 'violence' (not just in their own homes but in 'respected' - if not necessarily respectable - institutions and organizations), in a predominantly Muslim society, that one wonders if some women weren't better off being buried alive - a practice to which Islam is said to have put an end.
Soddy Arabia has Shariah. Alcohol, Porn, Music, Illicit Sex … all are available. Without too much worry, I am told by friends there, to the chosen few and the well-connected. The richest among them even actually remain really pure within the country and fly out on non-Shariah holidays. I am sure that, after the initial 'revolution' - although I doubt that it will succeed (which is not to say that lives will not continue to be lost during the battle) - this place will be no different from the country that supports us and the Wahhabis.
Consider: If all this chopping of hands, flogging, the (controversial by Qur'anic injunctions) 'stoning to death' and the less horrifying — but by no means less restrictive and against human rights — laws pertaining to the status of women, were really abhorrent to all Pakistanis (and to many, including minorities, from the world over) would they sell their principles to go work there for a few Riyaal more? And should they, by this argument, not be equally willing to accept the imposition of similar views here, in their own homes, if the Talibans in power raised their wages in exchange for tacit support?
In a bid, for me and those who read my posts, to understand just what Shariah is, what is its source, and from where does it get its sanction, I would like to invite a guest post from some knowledgeable, unemotional person who could inform us with logic and history as to why we must reject or accept it, since 'Constitutionally' we are bound by it, anyway. (Let's face it, this fact does make the whole debate even more confusing to many here and — judging by frequent queries I get — to non-Muslim friends abroad who are wondering what all this is about, specially given the varying slants their own media offers.)
OK. As I understand it (and I am absolutely open to correction): 1. Qur'an is something that Muslims (generally - for I am beginning to see fissures here, too, and not just of 'interpretation') are agreed upon as The Source that all Muslims follow. 2. The Qur'an states that, other than Itself, Muslims follow the Sünnah — The Way of the Prophet (again, many people mistake the Hadith as being an intrinsic part of the Sünnah ... but I would want to stay, for the sake of this discussion, with the clear-cut distinction of the terms). 3. The Hadith — with all it's shades from Zaeef to Qavi, and the even more arbitrary term, Qüdsi — raises many questions, and not merely of authenticity (when one finds even the Saheehs containing highly doubtful and debatable passages). I am more concerned with the Qur'an claiming, on the one hand, that it is 'simple to understand' and, on the other, believers claiming that it is all but impossible to understand without the Hadith. I just wish that Allah's "followers" would at least accept that He knows better.
Remember, the Qur'an was being recited and preached in the marketplace and was being effective in converting audiences that included the illiterate and non-Arabs, so it could hardly be in an exclusive, high-flown, philosophy-ridddled language — a premise that some modern translators are beginning to consider.
As for the Hadith, here are some Qur'anic references to ponder. Forget how pro-Hadith translators have tried to 'cover up' by translating at is 'stories' or 'legends' or whatever … keep the Arabic before you and notice the use of the word, 'Hadith', or it's dervatives in the 'original'. (Surely, there are several words for stories and anecdotes in Arabic, a very rich language, but - just as surely - Allah must have reason to use a particular word is used at a specific instance.) S45/A6-7 Such are the Signs of God, which We rehearse to thee in Truth; then in what Hadith will they believe after God and His Signs? S31/A6 And among men are those who follow, instead, frivolous Hadith, diverting others from the path of Allah without knowledge … These have incurred a shameful retribution. On at least a couple of other occasions this (or a minor variation) occurs: fabi ayyi hadeethin ba'adahu yu'minoon (= Which Hadith, beside this, do they believe in?) 4. The Fiq'ah: Mainly refers to legalistic interpretations by FIVE accepted faqeehs - FOUR among the Sünnis and ONE among the Shiaas. I have often wondered why DID the Ümmah stop at five? I mean, the "accepted five" were explaining things, to the best of their ability and with good intent, but according to their times and personal müshaahidaat (hence the makroohaat, for example). So why can't there be a modern 'faqeeh', for our times, based on several further centuries of human experience, rather than mere splinter groups identifying themselves within the fiqah of one of these five?
What about a "non-taqleedi" approach that allows one to choose whatever one's mind accepts from each of them? And what of Ijtehaad? So, the questions is, "Is the Shariah a combination of all of the above? Or a mere concoction by theocratic forces … to be interpreted for political gains and throttling 'opposition' however/whenever?"
Send guest-post to me including tiny url references where appropriate, by email. Others, please add your comments so that the guest-post writer can address your questions, too.

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Ivan Illich, I Love You!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Medical Advice

This was sent out, initially, by email to a few doctor friends. I have been prompted to share it on my blog by Dr Zafar Mehdi who received it as a forward from someone on my mail list. He insisted that I place his name on my blog when responding to his request  "… and give me my 5 minutes of glory. I have never had the honour of being on any media." :-)

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yeh gaa∂ee kyaa yüñhee chaltee rahay gee?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the Taliboom's Pro-Love Marriage Stance

Swat Taliban promote ‘love marriages’ (The News, April 19, 2009) - via Adil Najam's ATP

The Taliban of Swat have set up a bureau named ‘Shuba-e-Aroosat’ for arranging love marriages of couples who are denied the marriage of choice by their families for one reason or the other, reports BBC Urdu Service. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the marriage bureau headed by Taliban Commander Abu Ammad arranged 11 ‘love marriages’ in the last nine days while 300 girls and boys are waiting for their turn. “The love marriage aspirants contact the bureau on a fixed telephone number. The Taliban collect their particulars and then contact their familites to arrange these choice marriages,” he said, adding that Islam allows every adult to get marry according to his/her own choice. He said, “Most of the girls, or their families, who contacted us wish to marry ‘militant’ Taliban.” Analysts say the Taliban are paving the way for themselves to marry the girls of their choice. It is really strange that they flog the couples on one hand for moving together while on the other hand allow young couples to marry according to their choice. Also the question arises how is it possible for a boy or girl to propose while they have not seen each other, reports BBC Urdu Service.
Whoaaa! Haé zann hee pasé pardah, faqat lab peh Khüdaa hae Talib haeñ yeh kiss cheez ke, yeh aaj khülaa haé Inn par na hañso tüm, keh bohat yeh bhi haé yaaro Sad shükr koee aaj sooé-zann* to huaa haé * Since the punning is aural, I decided to leave it in the romanized style. ============================ Note: It's never fun trying to explain jokes, but when one is part of a nation so unfamiliar with it's National Language that one needs to ask before making a presentation or taking a class whether they understand it, I guess one should.
The last class I interacted with 3 days ago - Class VIII students mainly from mid-income families - unanimously said they'd rather I spoke in English. And this in Karachi, the home of the 'muhaajir'. Haah!
I did get the same reaction in Lahore, but only at a very elite rich-brat school (mainly from its richer, brattier teachers!) although I think Aitchison and LUMS would not have reacted this way, for I find that their students speak Urdu reasonably well (or, at least, frequently).
Hence, here's a somewhat justifiiable - rather than presumptuous - effort at an Urdu Lesson :-)  for those wishing to understand the 'double-pun'. Here are the 4 components:
soo' (seen | vaao | hamzah) = kharaabi / evil zann (zoé | noon) = gümaan / conjecture ⁂ سوِٰظَن  sooé zann = the evil of conjecture soo (seen vaao) = taraf / direction zann (zay noon) = aurat / woman ⁂ سوٰے زَن  sooé zann = towards women

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Iqbal Bano: You will be greatly missed!

      CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR A RARE TREAT

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Worth repeating …

The Price of Moral Cowardice
by
Ardeshir Cowasjee
Founder and maker of Pakistan — Mohammad Ali Jinnah
August 11, 1947
 In the constituent assembly of Pakistan
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed
— that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
February 19, 1948
 A broadcast to the people of Australia
“But make no mistake:
Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.”
February 27, 1948
A broadcast to the people of the US
“In any case, Pakistan
is not going to be a theocratic state
to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.”
Deliverance into the hands of the theocrats came a mere six months after the death of Jinnah, the delivery made by the man who had succeeded him as the leader of his nation. The Objectives Resolution was adopted on March 12, 1949 by the constituent assembly of Pakistan, proposed by the prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. It clearly and unambiguously declared that religion had much to do with the business of the state. There could be no recovery, as history has proven over the past 60 years.
Now, with the resolution passed in the National Assembly of Pakistan on April 13, 2009, a perverted form of religion has been legally sanctified to terrorise the state, to threaten the nation, to widen the already alarming internal divide, and to spread alarm and despondency amongst those who still had hope that one day the creed of Jinnah would prevail.
The Nizam-i-Adl resolution, unanimously passed by the political parties present in the assembly on that disgraceful Monday in April is pure and simple appeasement by a weak government, by parties who have abandoned their principles, by other parties imbued with the bleakness of fundamentalism, all backed to the hilt by an army of over half a million men who were routed by a band of brainwashed terrorists.
To those of us who remember our history the signing of the regulation by the president of the Republic is akin to Great Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s gesture on his return to London from Munich at the end of September 1938, when he waved a piece of paper in the air and declared that there would be “peace in our time,” thus setting in place preparations for a long and bloody war.
Appeasement is, to put it mildly, a naïve policy denoting weakness. It is a yielding of compromise and sacrificial offerings. More bluntly, it is moral cowardice exhibited by pathetic men and women who offer concessions at the expense of others. Appeasement is doing deals with men who have insatiable territorial appetites with the wish to impose their own brand of false theological practices and beliefs. It is an indulgence in wishful thinking — peace in our time — at the price of surrender.
But all was not lost. The Chaudhry of Chakwal, brave and true to himself, spoke up when all were silent. My friend and co-columnist Ayaz Amir salvaged some of the disgrace when he told his fellow parliamentarians just what is what when it comes to dealing with the Taliban, when it comes to giving in to them, and when it comes to appeasement. He was rightly harsh on the government for its moral cowardice, and on the army in which he once served for having crumbled, for the abandonment of its pride. His warnings were valid, but have gone unheeded. He and the many whose heads are not in the sand are now at the mercy of a ragtag and bobble band of maniacal ‘students’ of a cruelly false religion.
Reservations are many about the MQM. We cannot forget the early 1990s, nor May 12, 2007. The party cannot be absolved of its past sins and crimes and its ‘cult’ image is somewhat off-putting. But last Monday it went far to redeem itself when Farooq Sattar, minister of this government and parliamentary leader of the party rose, prior to Ayaz, and told the house that a wicked precedent was being set, that the passing of the resolution will embolden all the militant parties of the land — and they are more than sufficient unto the day — that democratic and parliamentary norms were being violated, and that this pernicious resolution may prove to be the last nail driven into Jinnah’s Pakistan. He then led his party members out of the house and later further addressed the press in the same tone.
And that was it — just two went out on a limb, two out of the horde of parliamentarians, all of whom have vowed to uphold and honour the constitution of Pakistan, which constitution makes no provision for the passing of any such regulation as the Nizam-i-Adl, nor of the setting up in the country of a parallel judicial system, nor of ceding territory to dangerous fanatical outlaws.
The party in power claims to be a secular party as does the ANP of which the less said the better. The PML-N does not openly admit to secularism, its chief not being that way inclined as we know from his attempted 15th Amendment, but it also does not lay claim to be motivated by militant fervour. Those who let down the nation most severely were all the women parliamentarians, the most affected, the prime targets of the Taliban.
And where is ‘civil society’, where are the lawyers? They motor-marched for the independence of the judiciary. Why are they comatose when it comes to the imposition of a parallel judiciary by a supine parliament? The fearsome Muslim Khan of the Taliban may have threatened the lives of those who oppose the infamous Nizam-i-Adl, but there should be some, other than Ayaz Amir and the MQM, who can show a bit of spunk. The press, at least some portions of it, are doing their bit and speaking up and out. Where is everyone else? The army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, went to the rescue of the government at Gujranwala in March, but now he and his army have succumbed to obscurantism.
Now, only the US and the rest of the world can step in — we, in nuclear Pakistan, can do nothing but wait and see which way the cards fall. We, including the legislators, are all helpless, they by choice, we by default.
FOOTNOTE
Karachi is already feeling the Taliban pinch.
Co- educational schools in
Defence, Clifton and Saddar areas
are known to have received visits
and been threatened if they do not change,
others have been sent letters
with the same message.
© Dawn | Sunday 19th April 2009

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beyond the Flogging-Video Debate

Lo and behold. Nizaamé Adl has arrived in at least one part of the country - and promises (threatens - if you do not agree with this version) to come soon to a location near you. It's no longer, then, just the matter of a debate between a blogger, who responded strongly and sensibly to what was probably the Urdu version of an email from Anila Weldon that has been doing the usual rounds. Read them both, if you haven't already.

My only comment on AW's email - since many others have already responded to most of this and similar views - is about the line that says "Nowhere in the world does one react to a video specially the one made on a handy camera..." Hmmmm. Really, Anila? Remember Rodney King?
The debate has raged much more widely for the past few days on every conceivable electronic and print forum. Even Taliban spokesmen (no point in ever using 'spokespersons' in their context!) seem confused. Appearing on different TV channels they - (and even the same person on different occasions) - alternately share the views held by Anila and others who feel that the video is fake and, in other interviews, defiantly stand their ground and defend the flogging. A senior Tehreeké Taliban leader, Muslim Khan sahab, not only did not consider challenging the authenticity of the video but also went so far as to say that the girl was lucky she was only flogged because of insufficient evidence!!! Had full proof been available, she would have been stoned. Watch his interview. This is definitely a first! I've never heard that under any system - much less under one that aligns itself with a divinely inspired one - an unproven crime, gets a reduced sentence. Will the new spate of Qazis make statements like, "Err .. we can't prove theft, but, hmmm,  the guy kinda does look suspicious. I'd say let's just get his pinkie this time." - ? The same maulana, in the opening statement of the above linked video, also criticizes the way the punishment was given, because it was meted out in full public view and not inside the house. Soddy Arabians would beg to differ. They stone to death or behead in public, based on the Qurãnic injunction quoted in an interview by journalist Ansar Abbasi that says people must view the punishment.
"My own take is that if the video is fake, the creators certainly went through a lot of unnecessary trouble staging this episode and then left mistakes in! Not the kind of thing proper film makers and editors are likely to slip up on, I imagine. I mean this has to be professional work, na? It couldn't be an amateur effort: Who'd pay for the 'extras' ... all those people, including kids, standing around? I am surprised all the critics missed out on the possibility of there being a man under that bürqa. Or is that only done when an escape is desired? I know for a fact, as do you, that this kind of thing happens in real life all the time in areas under the Taliban … and much worse happens in Soddy Arabia in full public view. There is no restriction on filming it, nor should there be - after all the perpetrators are not ashamed but are actually proud of following what they think is Sharea or Islam."
I, therefore, choose to stand by the following paragraph that appears at the end of NYT's editorial:
"Many Pakistanis have wasted their time decrying the video as a conspiracy intended to defame Islam and Pakistan. They should be demanding that the army — Pakistan’s strongest and most functional institution — defend against an insurgency that increasingly threatens the state. Like their military and political leaders, Pakistan’s people are in a pernicious state of denial about where the real danger lies."
Of course, it may already be too late. Threats to women activists have begun in more earnest than before, forcing some to retreat to safer spaces. Threats to women on the street have increased. People are already being jailed for not praying according to one news report on TV. (My friend, Dr. Shamim, an earnest Muslim, wonders if prayers uttered under the threat of jails are earnest and will be heard by God.)
The Lal Masjid cleric has been released on bail and - if things go the way they seem to be headed (that's two words!) - will soon be free to continue his nefarious activities with impunity.
Education - deemed essential to a country's future - is in a state of shambles in Talibanized areas and under threat everywhere. After razing 200 schools in one part of the country alone - and not just girls' schools that they claim to be a westernized idea - several schools in major cities have been given warnings. The Taliban, as I glean from hearing some of them on TV, believe that the only education that Muslims (read 'men') need to undergo for a better life is an Islamic education. This seems to be at odds with the oft quoted hadees ('Go as far as China to seek knowledge'). For one, I do not see any mention of this being addressed to males, alone. For another, the Prophet was obviously suggesting that his followers study a lot more than just religious tomes. Unless China had an Islamic University at that time to which we were supposed to trek. 
All religious schools of thought, other than the Talibani view, are targeted, too, making it unsafe even to profess Islam as your religion in this Islamic state. Shias (Pervez Hoodbhoy, during his recent talk in Karachi, displayed images of Taliban atrocities against this sect according to Bina Shah who was present) have been a regular target. Now even Sunni followers of Sufism are being targeted, forcing them to adopt positions of violence at complete odds with their peaceful beliefs, as one can see from this frightening report that Abu Dhabi's The National carried today:
The puritan Takfiri ideology adopted by the Pakistani Taliban militants has repeatedly brought them to conflict with gaddi nashin, the descendants of Sufi saints who yield great political power in Pakistan. Their ranks include Yusaf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the foreign minister. To date, the conflict has been limited to gaddi nashin in the Khyber tribal agency, to the east of Peshawar, and Swat. The commander of Lashkar-i-Islami, Mangal Bagh, had last year expelled Pir Saif-ur-Rehman, a gaddi nashin, after their followers fought armed battles. He now lives in exile in central Punjab province.
Lashkar-i-Islami continues to clash with followers of Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, another leader of Sufi followers in the Khyber Agency who has been appointed a junior minister in the federal cabinet. The Swat Taliban faced their stiffest resistance from Pir Samiullah, a gaddi nashin who had formed a militia of followers and killed about 100 militants. He was shot dead in December in a battle with the Taliban, after army units called in for support went to the wrong location. His corpse was exhumed by militants and put on display at the main square of Mingora, the capital of Swat region, to be buried later at an undisclosed location.
Will the Taliban win?
Certainly not the hearts and souls of most Pakistanis (even in Swat they have genuin-ish support from less than a quarter of the population - though it is seen as increasing in %age as people escape from there and the demographics change). But, yes, they could rule through threats and the force of guns. After all our own military has done so over the same population for years.
My latest T-Shirt reads: Anyone for Nizaamé Aql?
PS: Adil, for a small royalty you can go ahead! ;-)

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

View from the other side - Col (r) Harish Puri

AN OPEN LETTER TO GEN KAYANI from: The News, Tuesday, April 14, 2009 Dear Gen Kayani, Sir, let me begin by recounting that old army quip that did the rounds in the immediate aftermath of World war II: To guarantee victory, an army should ideally have German generals, British officers, Indian soldiers, American equipment and Italian enemies. A Pakistani soldier that I met in Iraq in 2004 lamented the fact that the Pakistani soldier in Kargil had been badly let down firstly by Nawaz Sharif and then by the Pakistani officers' cadre. Pakistani soldiers led by Indian officers, , he believed, would be the most fearsome combination possible. Pakistani officers, he went on to say, were more into real estate, defence housing colonies and the like. As I look at two photographs of surrender that lie before me, I can't help recalling his words. The first is the celebrated event at Dhaka on Dec 16, 1971, which now adorns most Army messes in Delhi and Calcutta. The second, sir, is the video of a teenage girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat -- not far, I am sure, from one of your Army check posts. The surrender by any Army is always a sad and humiliating event. Gen Niazi surrendered in Dhaka to a professional army that had outnumbered and outfought him. No Pakistani has been able to get over that humiliation, and 16th December is remembered as a black day by the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani state. But battles are won and lost – armies know this, and having learnt their lessons, they move on. But much more sadly, the video of the teenager being flogged represents an even more abject surrender by the Pakistani Army. The surrender in 1971, though humiliating, was not disgraceful. This time around, sir, what happened on your watch was something no Army commander should have to live through. The girl could have been your own daughter, or mine. I have always maintained that the Pakistani Army, like its Indian counterpart, is a thoroughly professional outfit. It has fought valiantly in the three wars against India, and also accredited itself well in its UN missions abroad. It is, therefore, by no means a pushover. The instance of an Infantry unit, led by a lieutenant colonel, meekly laying down arms before 20-odd militants should have been an aberration. But this capitulation in Swat, that too so soon after your own visit to the area, is an assault on the sensibilities of any soldier. What did you tell your soldiers? What great inspirational speech did you make that made your troops back off without a murmur? Sir, I have fought insurgency in Kashmir as well as the North-East, but despite the occasional losses suffered (as is bound to be the case in counter-insurgency operations), such total surrender is unthinkable. I have been a signaller, and it beats me how my counterparts in your Signal Corps could not locate or even jam a normal FM radio station broadcasting on a fixed frequency at fixed timings. Is there more than meets the eye? I am told that it is difficult for your troops to "fight their own people." But you never had that problem in East Pakistan in 1971, where the atrocities committed by your own troops are well documented in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. Or is it that the Bengalis were never considered "your own" people, influenced as they were by the Hindus across the border? Or is that your troops are terrified by the ruthless barbarians of the Taliban? Sir, it is imperative that we recognise our enemy without any delay. I use the word "our" advisedly – for the Taliban threat is not far from India's borders. And the only force that can stop them from dragging Pakistan back into the Stone Age is the force that you command. In this historic moment, providence has placed a tremendous responsibility in your hands. Indeed, the fate of your nation, the future of humankind in the subcontinent rests with you. It doesn't matter if it is "my war" or "your war" – it is a war that has to be won. A desperate Swati citizen's desperate lament says it all – "Please drop an atom bomb on us and put us out of our misery!" Do not fail him, sir. But in the gloom and the ignominy, the average Pakistani citizen has shown us that there is hope yet. The lawyers, the media, have all refused to buckle even under direct threats. It took the Taliban no less than 32 bullets to still the voice of a brave journalist. Yes, there is hope – but why don't we hear the same language from you? Look to these brave hearts, sir – and maybe we shall see the tide turn. Our prayers are with you, and the hapless people of Swat. The New York Times predicts that Pakistan will collapse in six months. Do you want to go down in history as the man who allowed that to happen? Col. (Retd.) H. B. Puri ===== The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian army who lives in Pune. Email: hbpuri@hotmail.com

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Shanaakht Revisited

So much has been said in the last few days about the events that led to the closure of one of the festivals that promised to add more zest to a Karachi that is just beginning to be itself again. With a couple of exceptions, everyone has condemned the violence that endangered attendees, participants, and organizers alike. Some have condemned, rightly, all violent protests, bemoaning the fact that our intolerant times have made this the most common form of protest. Others have drawn some fuzzy lines, one commentor on some site even stating that such protests are "kinda acceptable because they are inevitable - such as when they hurt religious sentiment". That's BS. Violence is violence. Is what happened in Lahore, when the Danish Cartoon protests took place, not condemnable? It destroyed the property, in some cases even the livelihood, of people who were as hurt by the cartoons as presumably the protesters were. On blogs and Facebook people continue to debate, defend, and deride the art, or the artist, or the decision to display it. Even on Twitter, when the issue isn't so small as to fit into 140 characters. Discussions like this are invaluable in helping us understand other views, other sentiments, other ideas. My own blog post, too, and my comments elsewhere, came under criticism, and in some cases, I understood and even partially agreed that there were aspects I may not have considered when penning my thoughts. All I can say in my defense is that I was still reeling from being present on the spot, dazed by the gun-slinging unruly anfd threatening mob's disregard for any civilized negotiations or discussions. My critics, some of them, had read detached (and often distorted) reports in the media and had had the luxury of a lot of varied inputs before they made their worthy analyses. Too, I was privy to more conversations and discussions, some overheard, than were people who were not there. The arguments, from both sides, are as old as Creativity itself and, once knee-jerk reactions fade, deserve a great deal more serious thought and discussions - hardly possible in an atmosphere of FIRs, threats, and other pressures. If you are genuinely interested in the larger issue of an artist's responsibility, take time out to read this piece of writing from over half a century ago and form your arguments for either side. By allowing such sad incidents to be used for the imposition of censorship, by handing over the control of what we read or view, even think, to individuals who, for the most part engage in none of these activities, or to groups of people who would allow or disallow art and books on the basis of personal - often fascistic - views would be to condemn this society to ignominy. I, for one, am unwilling to make members of any group - themselves guilty or suspected, of bribery, corruption, lies, fraud, and much higher crimes - the guardians of my morality. ... please don't let the Shanaakht aftermath be used for other agenda!

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Thank you, MQM

I am not a member of your party. Or any other party. In fact, I have a great deal of opposition to all the political parties in this country. Credit, however, must be given where due. Your walkout against the shocking development in the Swat Nizamé Adl affair is to be commended.

Or this would have been the image in my mind:
7 Steps to Happiness for Windows Users 1. Open a new file in your computer.. 2. Name it ’Taliban’ 3. Send it to the Recycle Bin. 4. Empty the Recycle Bin. 5. Your PC will ask: ’Do you really want to get rid of ’Taliban’? 6. Firmly Click ’Yes’ 7. Feel better? Hmmmmm. Nawaz, tomorrow? Zardari, next? Given the asses who lead us, you could have a ball all year with this feel-good activity. Mac Users: It's worth installing Windows via Boot Camp just for this! Update: Thank you Ayaz Amir, too [see comments section]

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sensitivities and Sensibilities: Moving Beyond The Festival

As it became apparent once again, Art - like most creative forms of expression, is often debatable or debated. But ads? A girl student has mailed me to ask "If an image has to help in trying to sell products to women, why do ad agencies use one that men are more likely to find exciting? Are bare shoulders necessary to sell something worn on the wrist?" (Italics mine - Z) She sent me this as one example and has asked where she could protest about advertisers who use women's sexuality to market goods. Answers, anyone? Just to put things into a global perspective: "Today, the media industry is worth billions of dollars. DirecTV, a subsidiary of General Motors Corporation, the world’s largest company, now sells more graphic sex films every year than Larry Flynt, owner of the Hustler empire", says C. J. Onyejekwe (Sociologist). Much of this has to do with the male myth of being superior - a myth, supported through years of patriarchy, if not originating in then certainly being strengthened by religious views. wtf!

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Shanaakht Fiasco

{I started writing this post before the [heart]Breaking News of the cancellation of the festival hit me. Despite my criticism of some of it's flaws, I think that nurturing it would, over time, have had it evolve into something more sensible and sensitive. The closing down bodes badly for art and many other activities ... but the organizers were left with no options, given the to-ing & fro-ing of the PPP and governmental commitments.}
The incident at CAP's Shanakht Festival yesterday should convince people that all 17 crore hearts do not beat as one all the time. Oh, of course they do, sometimes. But NOT when an identity is being forced, instead of being allowed to develop.
The event - despite my personal objections to some aspects of it - is an effort that needs to be encouraged and guided. The very important and noble task that CAP (The Citizen's Archive of Pakistan - or The Citizens Archive of Pakisan) has undertaken, of gathering oral, textual, and image-based histories of Pakistan,is commendable. Yet, IMHO, the organization should be an archiver, not a view-point creator. Its archives should be resources for some to find their roots, others to understand individual or collective identities, for some to comprehend even the opposing views on numerous topics through the years, and yet others to use excerpts in whatever form of research they are undertaking (and for whatever cause).
In and of itself an archive is not meant to offer a slanted stance, though nuanced interpretations may be derived from it for diverse purposes. For example, a WWII Archive would not be the same as that of the Holocaust Museum, though images from the latter would certainly be part of the former. At least that is how I have viewed CAP's project.
Last year, too, I had questioned the reasoning about the CAP festival focusing on shanaakht and was told that it was "because the young are trying to find their identity". Being not-so-young, I felt that my criticism would be viewed as just another old-person's usual censure of the young, so I backed off … recalling in the process that one of the slogans I shouted in my visible hippie days was 'Never Trust Anyone Over Forty!' (With age, contrary to expectations, I have altered the 'Forty' to 'Thirty-Five' for my occasional talks.)
The festival's opening day - yesterday - had a successful start - 1500 children came for the festival and also participated in art activities organized by T2F. The evening offered some interesting and nostalgic moments for me. Listening, once again, to The Little Master was certainly one that brought tears to my eyes as he recalled the old matches and the tutoring he received from Master Abdul Aziz. He shared the evening with the wonderful commentator, Jamshed Marker, talking about his involvement with our sports and politics. Meeting Lutfullah Khan Sahab, was, as usual a delight. Photographs and images from his vast collection were on display and this energetic young man of 93(!) was there to be part of the festivities. His legendary music collection is now being digitized and, perfectionist that he is, the process will take 3 lifetimes - by his own reckoning - to be completed. Can't wait ;-)
As the evening moved on, the crowd swelled. Numerous strands - exhibitions, chats, speeches - attracted people differently.
The atmosphere was truly festive. Ethan Casey who seems to have a special relationship with our country was there to talk of his last and next book. And he was going to speak at T2F. Yessss! T2F, now. between its own old and new venues, was looking gorgeously cute (if you'll pardon my use of a word that I have all but expunged from my vocabulary since I heard a lady say she thought Zakir Naek was cute) in its little stall and the adjacent speaker's area.
It was during Ethan's talk that we suddenly became aware of a disturbance, followed almost immediately by an aggressive crowd screamin blue murder and ordering us all to close down and get away "before we burn the place down". Soon this led to sounds of firing and some people moving out quickly while others, almost led by Beena Sarwar, trying to 'talk' to the mob to get to the root of the problem.
We soon discovered that the crowd was PPP supporters—  (someone later said it was the PSF but, to me, the two main people were too old to be students. One, in fact, was a journalist I have encountered before) — who were expressing their anger at an obnoxious and meaningless piece of drivel passing off as art. Mind you, all art is subjective and it's drivel-ness (to me) may be challenged by a number of people, just as my disgust at Adnan Sami Khan's music usually is. On the other hand, even if my greatest favorite exponent of Classical Music, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, decided to sing a piece full of obscenities at the APMC, I'd certainly not support it.
The image in question, now sadly all over the internet (and I beseech those bloggers whom I count among my friends to remove it), was extremely offensive to me and objectionable at several levels. I am NOT a Benazir supporter, however immensely pained I was at her death. I am not a member of the PPP, nor have I ever voted for them (or for anyone else from among the menu of crooks, extortionists, rapists, kidnappers, fundos, and murderers offered to us by various parties). 
I will not reproduce the image here to give it further currency, but it is now common knowledge that it portrayed BB sitting in the evil and mal'oon Zia's lap. My reaction was that this was ridiculously meaningless.
We have seen 'photoons' - photo cartoons - of her being married to Nawaz and Altaf on the net before. I did not take offense to them because they were satirical comments on real alliances. After all, even the textual statements in the press referred to these, at times, as 'marriages of convenience' or 'an unholy political matrimony'. The images only carried the representation further. I admit that I, too, on hearing that JI chief Qazi Husain Ahmad had tried to prevent Mian Nawaz Sharif from forming an alliance with BB, had passed around (among friends) a photoshopped image of the two newlyweds - with Husain Ahmad looking sullen - and captioned it Jab Mian-BB raazi to kyaa karay ga Qazi.
BB & Zia? That cockeyed asshole had murdered her father! She had never ever negotiated any 'deal' with him. So just what DID this image represent? I mean merely the ability to manipulate images doesn't always produce art, does it? And what did the term Stiff Competition  - the title given to the image, signify? I will not repeat the remarks that brought out. 
Several posts/blogs hastily commented on the matter, one 'toning down' the image's offensiveness (and sexual connotation) by stating that it showed an infant Benazir. Not only was this untrue, but even in that case it would have been more suitable to show, as infants, those leaders of today who were nurtured through their political infancy by that bloody dictator. Would that have been acceptable to their followers? I suspect not. I assure you that at least one party would have burnt down the entire area had their leader been shown, even with justifiable sarcasm, in the lap of one of his several mentors. 
Add to this the fact that the Bhuttos bring out emotions far stronger - and the issue is not whether such emotions are wrong or right - among their supporters who have consistently laid down their lives for these symbols and icons. Yesterday one of those leading the mob was in tears as he said he'd spent 11 years in jail protecting the dignity of this woman who was being insulted. You may find such emotional outbursts, and the violent reactions that inevitably follow, condemnable but the problem is that we are a nation among which a large population is easily aroused to such acts. So, a little judiciousness and caution would make sense, too, specially when the creator and the curators of the image are risking the lives and properties of others.
I was mainly offended by it as a feminist. What gives anyone the liberty to do this and display it publicly, inviting the wrath and endangering the safety of others. Would the artist - a woman, herself, I was shocked to learn - be ok if someone put up an image of hers in some insinuating position with any man? (BTW, Insiya also raises similar questions in a piece that presents the views of someone a generation apart. And the comments provide even greater insight into what the younger generation thinks.)
I realize that celebrities are fair game but only if the game is fair! And how far can this go? What if the pose or postures represented become more obscene - never mind whatever that means to different people? Isn't there a self-censorship or restraint that one is supposed to excercise? Do all of those who use a zillion swear words a day use them indiscriminately before their parents/children? Do we walk around naked on the streets because we believe that God created us naked and, therefore, clothes are the work of the devil? Do we shit in public? That IS self-censorship and respect for our surroundings.
Defenders of the terms, 'artistic license' and 'freedom of expression', may insist that there's nothing wrong and the reactions are stupid. I'd like to dare them to display some of the works from an international museum in their own open-to-public galleries. Not that I disagree with them that both freedoms must exist. It's just that there is a time and place for everything. (Pornography is available, including the kind that features hardcore images, in most book and video stores in the liberal West. But it is confined to a separate corner or a high bookshelf, out of the immediate sight of any other than those looking for it.)
None of this is meant to condone the aggressiveness and violence, threatened and carried out (at least to property) by the PPP jiyaalaas. Although they were clearly not acting on official PPP orders, I do suspect that there were other games at play. What was strangely obvious was the absence of the Arts Council biggies making any effort to tone things down. In fact some people among the mob said that they had received calls from the venue officials, asking them to come and see this image - and many felt that the members of the Arts Council were complicit in the planning, since they are having internal political struggles. Another rioter, obviously up in the hierarchy, claimed that they had been told (by whom, was not clear!) that the army had funded the exhibition and 'some Major' had instructed CAP to display the image. Bull!!! We shall, of course, never get to the truth.
Finally, it was the media that - as usual - sensationalized the story. By using phrases such as 'objectionable art' in their headlines they only help the fundamentalists and spineless moderates - both for different reasons - find excuses for not displaying art. DAWN reports PPP Leader Mr Mehdi as saying "controversial art should not be displayed publicly". This kind of statement will promote censorship and, sooner or later, art exhibitions will be asked, to 'clear' their works in advance with 'the authorities'. Following that, we will have nincompoops, with no understanding of art, 'failing' works at whim or 'passing' them against bribes. This is not a fantasy - it has happened before and will happen again.
And, remember, this leads to nothing but fascism in the long run.
Mr Mehdi went on to say, “The sympathisers protested to the Arts Council representatives and the organisers (the Citizens Archive of Pakistan) and asked them to remove the offensive picture. However, they refused. It was a peaceful protest, but there was some tension because of the refusal. People got emotional as the organisers refused to take down the picture.” If that absolute lie is what was conveyed to him, his statement should have begun: The sympathisers 'claimed' to have protested ...
I decided to withdraw from my sessions at T2F - scheduled for the 9th & 11th - in protest at the insensitivity of the organizers in including such an image. Despite being opposed to accepting the artificiality of the identity the festival was bent on creating, I had felt that such festivals and events would familiarize the younger audiences with various aspects of their free-flowing identities. So, I was there as a T2F board member and had planned a tribute to Urdu prose and poetry (under the title of Sheereenié Güftaar) and was, in the second session, to join Asif Farrukhi in a romp through Pakistan's history through Urdu shaaeri
Guess that'll now have to wait until T2F re-opens. (A small selection from what was going to be played will be on this blog by Sunday.)
A sad end to a great opening day … but, "We are like that only!"

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Open your eyes now …

… or THEY will close them!


This article, written by a Czechoslavakian in 2006, deserves wide circulation. It should be placed on the notice-boards of institutions of higher learning and public spaces, quoted in newspapers and magazines, and introduced into the English textbooks recommended by the syllabus:

Why The Peaceful Majority Is Irrelevant

Paul E. Marek

I used to know a man whose family were German aristocracy prior to World War Two. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since. “Very few people were true Nazis” he said, “but, many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.”

We are told again and again by “experts” and “talking heads” that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unquantified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam. The fact is, that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars world wide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals.

The hard quantifiable fact is, that the “peaceful majority” is the “silent majority” and it is cowed and extraneous. Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China’s huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people. The Average Japanese individual prior to World War 2 was not a war mongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of Killing that included the systematic killing of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet. And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were “peace loving”.

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by the fanatics. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don’t speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awake one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun. Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others, have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts; the fanatics who threaten our way of life. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” - Edmund Burke

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Jihad to end all Jihads?

On most days, Jigar's shayr 
جہلِ خرد نے دن یہ دكھاےٴ 
گھٹ گےٴ انساں بڑھ گےٴ ساےٴ 
comes to haunt me each time I switch on the TV or read the news. Today, however, this ad caught my eye:
Even to someone not 'into' the Sufi 'system' this seemed innocuous enough, especially given that the alternative being offered to the world is the mad and cruel Talibinized version of Islam and it's equally insane counterparts in other religions. (Well, in most of them, coz I'd really be bowled over if I met a fundamentalist Parsi!)
I mean, imagine, IF all the religions could merge into one big happy family, towards a peaceful unity! No Jihads. No Crusades. No Gujarats. No Pogroms. Wouldn't we - or at least the humans among us - be all for it?
But following the link led me to this fantasy…
one that is crying out to be placed on a pedestal, alongside L Ron Hubbard's con and that of Ramtha, one of the nuts in the group that gave us that well-packaged DVD set of half-truths ('What The Bleep…')
There really IS one born every minute.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

The coming dark age

I received a disgusting and painful video, forwarded by a young acquaintance. It shows the brutal killing - in public - of a young girl. The clip - showing the girl actually mercilessly beaten to death with fists, kicks, and stones - was impossible to watch in its entirety and I certainly could not bear to keep the sound on. More horrifying was the obvious: Someone had the time, the nerve, and a clear viewing spot from which he could film the entire process. Worse, one could spot some among the murderous mob holding cellphones in their hands and filming the scene while kicking and hitting the girl. Comments on my Facebook, where I posted my immediate reaction to it, indicate that others were as horrified. But FB is no criterion: After all, those who can and do comment on it are more than likely to be birds-of-a-feather (although, admittedly, some of our closest acquaintances are springing surprises on us in this area nowadays). The girl's crime was not clear - at least from the part of the video that I could bear to see. Conjectures among viewers ranged from charges of adultery to issues like being 'improperly' dressed or even to having ventured out without a mahram, all of which have been used as grounds for perpetrating violence against women. That the video was made and distributed by the perpetrators of this heinous act, is obvious ... for no one in their right minds (and, thus, opposing such a deed) could have survived that crowd. Any outcry or hint of sympathy and the chap would have met similar treatment. So why would they make such a video? Certainly not for record keeping (although the Nazis did keep detailed records of their atrocities, so one can't completely ignore the possibility). The release of it on the Internet was obviously done to instill fear among the whole society. I was unable, without sound - and I was NOT going to turn that on after the first scream that pierced my ears - to ascertain where this video was shot. The sender, too, despite having heard all of the soundtrack, could not identify the language or dialect. But it was widely believed by many that this was most likely an act of Islamic Fundamentalists. Wrong! Fundamentalism is the new face of all religions. In this case the girl was reportedly on the 'wrong side' for her alleged conversion to Islam for love. Her name, Du'a Khalil - (meaning 'The Prayer of Abraham') - and surname, Aswad, which brings another stone to mind - further underscored life's ironies. Oh .. so now that we know that it wasn't a Muslim mob, shall we heave a sigh of relief, happy at the fact that 'our kind' is not involved … for once? Does this exonerate the Muslim fanatics in any way? Can we not look at this, and at what is happening at our shrinking border, to extrapolate the danger present in Pakistan so that something can be done before it's too late? I knew that even discussing such matters can earn the wrath of some elements, but I'd always thought that that would be personal or party anger. However, soon after seeing the horrible video (it seems to have become hot recently, though the incident is a couple of years old), came RSF's report on Swat which made such discussions almost a sin: Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the founder of TNSM, told Reporters Without Borders that he believed in press freedom. He nonetheless also claimed that the Sharia forbids discussing past events, including the actions of Taliban activists. Right! I urge you to read the 6-page Swat Report here. (It's a PDF file so you can download it and read at leisure.)

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ragni & Julián - The Wedding Pics

Have posted all the pictures I have of the Ragni-Julián wedding here. (Start at Album 1 if you are a chronology freak. Or do 4, 5, 6 and then move on to 1, 2, 3 if you are a George Lucas fan.) In case you want to go straight to a specific album, here are the individual link:
2. When Traditions Meet
The original post, for those who may wish to read it, is here.

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