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Monday, August 31, 2009

Sabeen Mahmud's "Reality Bites"

[Sabeen's own excellent, but rather infrequently updated, blog - Meanderings - is, sadly, down again thanks to the shittiest hosting service I know of … so she posted this well-written piece, following the SaadKhan-Unilever-Mindshare accident, on Facebook where a lively discussion has ensued. However, I think people not on FB ought to be able to read it, too … so, here it is!] Reality Bites Dr. Adil Najam's post What Happened to Saad Khan, coherently summarizes the tragedy of a young man's death during the filming of a reality tv show for a Unilever product. Farrukh Ahmed's post raises a number of critical questions and has focused on demanding a response, from the multinational giants, Unilever and Mindshare. I did a lot of multimedia and technology work for Unilever between 2000-2005 and my colleagues and I spent many nights there to get projects completed on time. There was a lot of camaraderie and we got the opportunity to observe almost all the departments in action, practically as insiders. Some of the key people who worked there during that time were fantastic and those were heady days. But I do remember commenting one day, rather wryly, that if someone were to drop dead in the next cubicle, it would probably take a week for anyone to notice. "The Corporation" is a soulless machine, dedicated to the pursuit of profit. Vision statements, ethical guidelines, and corporate social responsibility programs are merely legal requirements that have no practical bearing on how companies do business. I'll never forget the "wise" words of an intern who flippantly said one day that business and personal life have nothing to do with each other. This is what the kids are taught at business school and this is the dream that plays out in the corporate world. Some blog commenters have questioned Saad's sense of (ir)responsibility for participating in a potentially dangerous reality show. Others have spun conspiracy theories around the fact that Unilever's Corporate Affairs Manager is married to the head of Geo, and hence the media silence. Facebook groups are springing up each day demanding explanations. A magazine editor has urged people to stop jumping to conclusions and has dissed online crusaders. A satirical comic strip has emerged. Twitter is abuzz with the #SaadKhan hashtag. Irrespective of points of view, people are speaking up and most of them are enraged. While Big Media is relatively quiet, possibly in connivance with the country's largest advertiser and media agency, the online airwaves are on fire. Hopefully, Unilever will soon have a PR crisis on its hands, because "the people" are only just getting started. I have a single demand. Multiple third-party vendors were involved in the Clear Shampoo reality tv show. However, the project was commissioned by Unilever, and therefore, they owe the public an explanation, supported by documentary evidence. Once they do that, next steps can be determined. Right now, the facts have to be brought out into the open. The public has a "right to know" and has a responsibility to demand accountability. It takes a tragedy that affects people personally for a shift in perception to occur and I hope that after this, people will start thinking, even just a little bit, about the "military-industrial complex" and questioning the super-power status of corporations in our lives.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ragni

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reason takes a backseat again …

It would be ridiculous for me to even begin a post on this topic without requesting that you read xyz's brilliant and hilarious rant first.

(By the way, XYZ, that doesn't look quite like a pair of binoculars to me but suspiciously like a Theodolyte … And it may well be one with a crescent painted inside the lenscap that's put on whenever the government wants the mullas to announce the sighting :D
Of course, to XYZ's objections the faithful will retort and say the Qürãn demands that we see it with the naked eye. Ahaaaa ... but it says nothing, does it, about someone else seeing it with their naked eyes and informing us? But, then, we reason, how does a blind person see it? Obviously s/he relies on others? So there is a lacuna that actually allows us to think for ourselves, right? Hey, mullaas - did you ever notice that?
The Qürãn set a principle that, in those days, required a physical sighting … not a law that can't be modified to suit the current situation. Ohhh, so there are exceptions? Yes. Specially to what Mullas think are Divine Laws, rather than Godly Guidelines
Here's a case in point: The holy book also says that during Vüzoo (Vudhoo to the Pakistanis who have difficulty pronouncing Züaads - through a case not of cleft palates but of cleft brains) the faithful must wash both hands. So is the one-armed person exempt because hir circumstances have changed? Should s/he skip the ablution? Or skip prayers (since pre-requisites aren't complete)? I think all would agree that s/he is expected to pray after performing a one-handed ablution. Without even spraying water over a phantom limb, Dr. Ramachandran :~)
So, where does s/he get the right to do that? Hmmm.... Hasn't anyone heard of Reason?"
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use!" — Galileo
Nizaamé Aql, anyone?
OK, enough bickering. I shall let the Mullaas fight this out among themselves as they have done in the past. On particularly bad days I wish they'd just kill each other - and the last 24 hours have been particularly bad for me.
Let me move on to the raison d'être for this post: Sharing Syed Mohammad Jafri Sahab's account of the RHC's doings under its friend and master!

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Among the many moments I cherish

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Of Independence

Happy Independence Day?
Rather than write about my feelings (actually I feel kind of numb), I would like - once again - to share those of my friend, Naeem 'Warrior' Sadiq, the full-time working arm of the collective conscience of some of us.
I decided not to celebrate the 14th August this year, to record my personal grief, shame and solidarity with the innocent citizens of Gojra, who were killed , wounded and burnt, for belonging to the same God, but a different religion. In my room I will fly the Pakistan flag at half mast, I will put my TV off, have none of those “milli naghmey” and sing no national anthem. I am sad, ashamed and distressed. I will call up all my Christian friends to say I am deeply sorry and I apologise. I do not wish to celebrate the birthdays of a land where the Mullahs spread hate from the minarets of their mosques. Where 20,000 Muslims unite to kill a few hundred Christian men, women and children. Where the administration provides bullet-proof vehicles and multi-layer protection to its leaders but will do nothing to protect the life and property of its ordinary citizens. I am ashamed that not one person, the CM, the PM, the Governor or the President resigned from his job as an admission of failure to perform their primary duty. There are plenty of flags, parades, speeches and ceremonies, but no real sense of guilt, remorse, or reform. The Dawn newspaper alone has 24 ‘ad’ nauseam ads, sponsored by the government departments, with the tax payers’ money, most carrying the pictures of four members of the same family. All under the garb of a “Happy Birthday to you, dear Pakistan”. The theft and plunder of peoples’ money does not pause for rest, even on the 14th day of August. Should not a state, at a minimum, protect the life and property of all its citizens, to deserve ‘a happy birthday’.
Pakistan at 62: How different is it from Pakistan at 2?
Not very much, I guess, in matters that really matter. From Leaders to Facebookers, from the Steeple to Tweeple, everyone is still asking others to do something for Pakistan, even if it is just to superficially 'go green' by changing your display picture. In 1949, when I was almost 9 and Pakistan had just turned 2, Abi (my father, Azhar Kidvai) wrote a poem that he read out on at a small mushaaerah celebrating Independence Day. While the rest of the poem was simple and understable enough at that age, too, it was the brief section of it that contained an anecdote I found very amusing and read it often enough to have it permanently etched in mind. Listen to me reciting it for my daughter, Ragni, a few years ago.

Random thoughts that occurred as I read about the Jaswant Singh book
• As I commented on Fawad Zakariya's FB, the one conclusion that I strongly subscribe to - and have always held - is that the Muslims of the subcontinent have been the greatest losers because of the Partition of India. • It is obvious that had Pandit Nehru and others accepted certain demands, the Quaid - with his fairly strong commitment to Hindu-Muslim Unity - would not have had any reason to press on for Pakistan. [BTW, I have never quite understood how one can support the concept of Democracy and, then, expect a larger than democratic share in the cake.]
• Pakistan was forged out of the fears of a Muslim minority. Whether they were real, perceived, or instigated (by the Pakistan Ka Matlab Kyaa brand of sloganism that introduced religiosity into the equation) is of no consequence. [Incidentally, this is one of the the major reason for the tragic state we find ourselves in, because those who have attained security (the Feudals, the Rich-by-any-means, the Theocracy, and others in power deceptively usurped) have no more 'fears' and, so, are no longer concerned about the needs or insecurities of the rest.]
• Much as the Two-Nation Theory may have attempted to shape them artificially, this 'nation' (and a separate State for it) were certainly not created on the basis of common aspirations - the key ingredient that defines real nations. [Had the usually touted ingredients for nationhood - the commonality of religion, language, heritage, culture, and, preferably, geographical contiguity - been of any real consequence, there would have been one large Arab state, or, at least, an attempt to push for one.]
• Nations (the American Nation is just one example) continue to exist, despite their many diversities in these matters, as long as they more-or-less share the larger vision for a common future.
• I anxiously await a book from a Pakistani writer that re-visits Gandhiji in the same way: criticism, yes - demonization, no!

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Sunday Sermon: Free Will

The first thing in the morning that popped up on my computer this morning was an email with a link to the Quinn vs Dawkins mini-debate. Although it is obvious that I am - in most matters - on Dawkins's side of the divide, I cannot deny that he has more or less earned the wrath of the believers. And he enjoys it! A quick look at his [in]famous (but hilarious, as the audience's reaction testifies) response to fellow-atheist Tyson - at an all-Atheist conference - is proof enough. (Btw, RD - who has been caricatured as a warrior may not accept this but he has taken a bit of Tyson's advice to heart for I have begun to notice a great deal of mellowness in his tone in many recent debates, including this one. On the other hand it could just be age :-)

While a couple of Quinn's statements have a degree of validity and need to be thought about and discussed, his assertion (and one that is usual for believers to bring up) that atheism has been as responsible for deaths as religion in this century (citing Stalin, as one example) is - imnsho - basically flawed, if not intentionally deceitful. Of course, I have heard this argument from so many people who, otherwise, seemed to follow logic - at least one of them is a lawyer (and, so, one whom I hope never use as mine).
I am amazed that they cannot see the obvious difference between an atheist (or, in the case of the Sri Lankan tragedy, a bunch of atheists) killing for any cause — personal, political or otherwise, but NOT in the name of Atheism — and those who kill in a holy war under divine injunctions emanating from their deity via religious books. If you listen carefully, Quinn actually shows up this [manipulative?] approach in a sentence where he compares killings in the name of religion to killing by atheists. Hell, that's not an equation!
What specifically struck me, and which is the reason behind this post, was Quinn's speaking of his subscribing to the concept of Free Will - something that Dawkins thinks is of no great importance - as one of the bases for his beliefs. Whether or not it is an important issue in your life, is for you to decide - it is a matter that is even at the root of many internal debates among the religious.
The 2008 film, God on Trial, is one brilliant example of such a discourse, based on the events of the Holocaust. The film is unlikely to get a public viewing in Pakistan (and I am glad - for we could do without another riot) but it is available for purchase, for watching in private, via the Internet. You may even download it via torrent sites, if you are so inclined. Take a look at one brief scene that shook some of us - specially a young man with three tiny sons - when we watched it off my MacBook Pro at T2F one afternoon.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Biology Experts, Please Note …

What more proof does does Dawkins need?

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Sunday, August 02, 2009


Text Color

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What the hell is wrong with our people?

The Gojra killings, in which the Christian minority has been targeted, are not an isolated incident. The fascistic attitude of several religious groups has become a scar on the face of Pakistan and, if not checked, will disfigure it beyond recognition.

The Taliban may have suffered defeats at the hands of the Army in the recent skirmishes and battles, but the obnoxious ideas that have been planted in a large number of minds by a range of religious fanatics (and it's rare to see the face on TV of a Mulla who isn't) have to be actively countered. Any religion or 'ism' that becomes dogmatic, is bound to become intolerant and fascistic.
I am still reeling from shock after reading the attached 'notice'.

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