Friday, December 31, 2004

Satellite Pictures of Tsunami Effects

Courtesy TM (of :

I am still looking for pictures that might show the waves moving--I guess what I mean is satellite pictures from further away, so to speak; not such close-ups. Anyone?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Caring Across Communities

Stories trickle in. From Tamil Nadu in India:

Tsunami Roundup from South Asian Journalists Association (in the US)

Tsunami: Comments from Singapore

Here are some comments from Hasan Jafri, a journalist colleague from my days as a youth magazine editor in Pakistan. Hasan now works in Singapore for a major news agency. Yesterday, he wrote:

Lisa and I just gave some money to the Red Cross while I have also signed up with a local NGO called Mercy Relief to go to Sri Lanka if needed. This is a major crisis, but luckily we didn't feel a thing here in singapore. In fact, I got to know about it when a friend from London called to check if I was ok - I laughed at him, telling him he caught me on the tennis court!

Only when I got back to the apartment and checked the wires did I realize how bad it was.

And today he adds:

I live on an island the size of a pea in a pod yet didn't feel a thing when the earthquake struck. It was less than a thousand kilometers away from Singapore and we are all safe yet hundreds of thousands are dead or devastated far far beyond. Are we lucky here or what?

Singapore is often seen as a country full of people who think of themselves first then others, yet there is a long queue outside the Red Cross office every day. Maybe its the festive holiday season or that companies dished out good bonuses, whatever it is money is pouring in. Maybe, just maybe, it is the strength of the human spirit - irrespective of cast, creed, color or faith - that is now at play. Whatever it is, it is heartening.

At my condo where many upper and middle class Singaporeans and expats live the community hall is full of things - clothes, medicine, food - that people here are planning to send via Buddhist charity.

The YMCA already has two dozen volunteers lined up, others have signed up with other NGOs and charity groups. I have not seen such hope in the face of adversity as I see now in Asia - not even the Bali terrorist attack on October 12, 2002 touched us the same way. Only 911 did the same.

While everyone I know is safe, I feel the pain because I am so familiar with some of the places: Thailand is like a second home to me, Lisa and I go there often. Phuket is where I drank myself silly with two dear friends from Pakistan who were there for me in a time of personal crisis in 1999. We were also honored guests at the Kuta beach annual 'lady boys' pagent that year. It was plastic tits galore, but it was important to them. I still have a photo of us in a frame I bought there.

A year ago we were in Phuket again - this time for a friends wedding. We were in a merry mood. A few if us smoked a bit too much and under a full moon decided to take a swim in the emerald green Andaman sea - in our birthday outfits. The three of us - an American, a Saki and a Brit - soon realized we were not alone when a bunch of dogs began barking at us! We scrambled to find out clothes and then under the influence of the water and the smoke made our way back to the Banyan tree resort in what seemed like an eternally long and heady walk.

Langkawi is where Lisa and I went on a lovely romantic holiday that bonded us together. Penang, also in Malaysia, is where we went after working for three days nonstop when terrorist fell the Twin Towers and we needed peace and solitude.

Sri Lanka, a country that I have fallen in love with, is where Lisa and I went for our honeymoon. Our next trip there would have been to a lovely resort in Gale - a small town that no longer exists. Maybe I should checkout the web site again - just to remember how stunning the Indian ocean was before it turned into hell.

While I have not been to Aceh in Indonesia I know it well because of an insurgency that has shown the brutality of the Indonesian army and the resilience of its very conservative Muslim inhabitants who for five decades have fought for independence from Jakarta. Now, ironically, all are removing corpses side by side. The earthquake and the water didn't discriminate between a patriot and a rebel - it destroyed both with impunity.

Also in Sri Lanka one sees the horrors of war - landmines laid during the brutal civil war are now dislodged by the raging waters making rescue and recovery difficult. I first began to hate landmines when I saw innocent children maimed by them in Afghanistan - now I hate them even more. Three countries that I have ties with - Pakistan, America and Singapore - oppose banning the use of landmines. I wonder when and at what cost we will learn!

If there is one common image that remains with me of all the places we have been to that are now devastated, it is the smiles on the faces of the people there. The massage ladies and the ladyboys in Phuket, the driver in Colombo who kept smiling when I was furious he was late to pick us up and when the aircon broke down. The smiles. May they return soon.

And here I was enjoying my well-earned holiday and looking forward to moving to our own home next month. My worries - whether I should buy the Audi or the Alfa Romeo, whether I should take a year off from work and head back to graduate school, whether I should go watch Australia kick our ass in cricket in Perth or Sydney - all seem so trivial.

An earthquake and a wall of water in the middle of my tennis game brought me back to earth. Providence again reminded me how blessed and lucky I am!


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Thoughts on Tsunami Relief

The major local mosque in Silicon Valley (the Muslim Community Association of the SF Bay, or MCA) held a Namaaz-e-Janaaza (funeral prayers) last night for the dead of the devastation in Asia. There is a Muslim tradition of saying ghayaybaana or "in absentia" prayers that are exactly like the prayer one would say just prior to burial. Hopefully, this will help the community empathize with the affected and encourage further charity.

What I would like is to encourage people give across countries, communities and, most importantly, faiths. My proposal is to find charities that strongly identify with a community you would not normally interact with—or worse—and give, as Faraz said in that earlier post, till it hurts. We need to see and show the humanity and the good in each other.

However, I can't say enough that please don't give with your eyes closed. My preference would be for organizations and channels that, even if they have a strong sectarian or ideological character on the back-end, that do not have ideological strings at, as they say here in The States, the business end of things. In fact, organizations that have an ideological, communal, or even governmental background but who give with truly no strings deserve praise and support. I say this from being a volunteer for one of the efforts after the earthquake in Gujarat a few years ago and then later finding out that a lot of that money went only to communal organizations that were picky in who they gave aid to, and otherwise left a bad taste in the mouth. ('Nuff said; this is not a time to go into details on that.) But then, no one said being good was easy. Let's do the hard work it takes to really make a difference.

PS: In the US, I have heard both the Red Cross and a few others say that the best thing to give here is money; organizations like the Red Cross can use that most efficiently and flexibly. Remember, most of the blood given to the Red Cross after 9/11 did not do too much good. But that's not absolute; let's listen to the experts and help them in the ways they really need.

Apologies for being more dispersed (than usual) in my thoughts on this topic.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Asian Quake/Tsunami Relief

The e-mail below is rom a friend.

By way of comment and disclaimer: Hidaya is driven by religious people and is something that has formed around people that go to the MCA (local mosque) a lot and work through like-minded organizations, they are not officially a religious organization or, to my knowledge, picky about who they help.

And what I like about Hidaya is that it has really done what all of us dream about in the NGO world or the corporate world--started work with the "home country" and community of the founders and now has expanded
operations to other South Asian countries.

----------forwarded mail
From: "Faraz Hoodbhoy"
Subject: Asia Quake and Tidal Disaster Relief Fund
Date: 12/28/2004 11:39:38 AM

Hi and Happy Holidays to you and yours!

In this time of holiday cheer, it’s possible that we sometimes overlook opportunities where we can help make the world a better place. As you’re aware, the recent natural disaster in Asia has been characterized as the single worst humanitarian disaster of our lifetime. But there is much that we can do to help, and I’d like to ask for your support in helping provide relief to the people affected by the Asia quake and the ensuing tidal disaster.

I'm currently helping out at a California non-profit organization called Hidaya ( for fund raising for the victims of the Asia Quake and Tidal Disaster. We're collecting to send a contingent of doctors and medical personnel and supplies from Pakistan, the US, and other areas to affected areas in Sri Lanka (initially) where the death toll is greater than 12,000 and the devastation is more than half of that nation's economy.

These people need our help and Hidaya is working with organizations that are on the ground in Sri Lanka conducting daily operations, e.g. now the organization we are working with, Muslimaat, is a women's organization that is helping collect the 5,000+ bodies that are still scattered around the city and provide burial services before the bodies rot and start to become disease centers.

Hidaya is similarly working with organizations in Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh.

What I ask from you is to please contribute generously (i.e. truly give till it hurts) to the fund that Hidaya is collecting for augmenting relief efforts. Hidaya accepts credit card payments online at and of course, all donations are tax deductible.

This is truly the worst human disaster we have ever seen -- please help in whatever way you can, financially, as well as time if you can.

BTW, Hidaya is just one group that is doing good work and I can personally vouch for the fact that money sent to it is going to where it is most needed. But if you prefer, please help out in anyway you can to any similar organization. An interesting fact I learned at Hidaya yesterday is that with just $20,000 they were able to provide a meal for 180,000 people in Bangladesh last year. Truly, every dollar you can spare can make a HUGE difference.

Warm regards,

--------------end forwarded mail

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

America as Microcosm

"There is no conflict we cannot understand by looking into our own history."
—Thomas P.M. Barnet, Senior Strategic Researcher at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and a former strategist in the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation. More at

Full presentation at rtsp://

Friday, December 17, 2004

A Euro-Turkey

The following discussion is thought-provoking:

One thought is that anti-secularists won't have Turkey to kick around too much longer—funny thing is, the changes Turkey has undergone and is undergoing complicate, not simplify, what the "Turkish model" means in that discussion...

Only in the Bay Area

Chauvinism for a place you live is common in a lot of places. Cities often have a pride of place best expressed in that timeless New York cliche, "Only in New York". And unique to San Francisco is the fact that a character like Emperor Norton would be an institution--and even more uniquely that their would be a serious move to name of the most important monuments after him:

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!

Democracy Now! reports that "The Washington Post has revealed the CIA has been operating a top-secret detention center inside Guantanamo Bay base..." (See more at

Amazing how even the most alternative of alternative media in the West finds something like this news—most of the rest of world will be sitting there going "Duh!".


Everytime I have to fill out a form (for a mortgage, for a bank account, and so on) in the US, the (completely voluntary) section for "ethnicity" is frustrating. The one box that makes the most sense is "Asian". Whenever I tick it, I know it is an exercise in futility, since most of the establishment (all four estates—the press is probably one of the most clueless) thinks of that word as meaning what I—at least—consider the "Pac Rim". Here's an article that points to the utter stupidity of lumping South East Asians, Asians, and Japanese-Americans in one demographic?

Los Angeles Times
December 16, 2004,1,852219.story

Stark Contrasts Found Among Asian Americans
The group's average family income tops the overall U.S. figure. But while
Indians prosper, Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong struggle.

By Teresa Watanabe and Nancy Wride
Times Staff Writers

Indian Americans have surged forward as the most successful Asian minority in the United States, reporting top levels of income, education, professional job status and English-language ability, even though three-fourths were foreign-born, according to U.S. census data released Wednesday.

The striking success of Asian Americans who trace their heritage to India contrasted with data showing struggles among Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong immigrants. Those three groups reported continued significant poverty rates, low job skills and limited English-language ability since their flight from war and political turmoil.

....and so on

Monday, December 13, 2004

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Secularism and No Hindus in Pakistan; Muslims in India.

The Wikipedia (see the original post on the 'pedia) has an article on the Partition of India, and I have objected to the following text twice and removed it once myself, so I guessed the other people helping edit the article deserved an explanation:
''While Pakistan eventually chose to be an Islamic state, India continued to exist as secular state. Almost all the Hindus in the Pakistan were driven away from Pakistan, notably from Sindh. However there is still a sizeable Muslim minority in India. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan.''
This verbiage was at the end of the section on "Border definition". Here are my issues:
  • That information doesn't really belong at the end of that section.
  • The first sentence, while vaguely correct, is an over-simplification. "Continued to exist as a secular state"? There was a secular state in existence before independence? And India's secular credentials are not untroubled. And a case can be made that the secularism practised by [[Nehru]] was very different from how more recent Indian and western advocates of the concept understand it. Nehru famously said (liberally paraphrasing here) that the difference between Britain and India was that the former had an official religion but an irreligious populace, while in India, the state was a-religious while the populace was very religious. This is my POV, but IMHO, a serious case can be made that while [[Nehru]] looked at a secular state giving equal importance to all religions, modern secularists say the state should not give any importance to any religion, all the while in their heart of hearts wanting the state to be aggressively adverserial to all religious belief, if not to ban it outright.
  • The next two sentences are an even more profound over-simplification. The bloodbath happened on both sides. And the problem is that Indians keep pointing to riots (which happened not just against Hindus, but Sikhs, too) while Pakistanis point both to Hindus leaving voluntarily (as happened extensively in Sindh) and the riots against Muslims in Indian parts of the subcontinent.
  • The last sentence is true. In fact, unofficially I think India has the largest single Muslim population in the world. But again, their existence in that country is not untroubled.
IFaqeer|(Talk to me!) 21:02, Dec 8, 2004 (UTC)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

ID Cards—Why Not

Pakistan already has a system. India does not. And the discussion on whether or not a national ID card is a good idea or not keeps coming up in the UK and US. Here's an example of why having a citizen's identity invested and defined solely by one item is a bad idea:

And the more computerization and centralization are relied upon, the more chance I see for things like this happening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Firefox and Pakistan(is)

Just posted the following as a comment at:

Good to see you all discussing this (the Firefox release; see previous entry). From the moment I saw the Vamosi article yesterday, I have wanted to write to all of you to discuss this. Here's why:

I am a (technical) writer in Silicon Valley and have had a preference/bias for Netscape (and then Mozilla)for the same reasons everyone else on forums like this does. But the reason for not shutting out use of IE by myself or family members completely was because something that I learnt on a visit to Karachi back in 1998. The patrons and admins of a cyber cafe in Karachi (the one in Clifton center across from Motta's for people that know that neighbourhood) expressed the opinion that "IE works faster". I later got a technical explanation for this from a techie who has interned at the Microsoft mothership up in Redmond, WA: the graphics rendering engine in IE is definitely faster than the one in Netscape. And a difference like that can help one's sanity when surfing over a very slow connection and paying by the minute. It is things like this that reinforce my respect for the online and techie community in Pakistan--they know their tools and know how to get the best out of them. (And my opinion for the technie and NetSurfer community of Karachi has only gone up recently, as I have seen the sheer number of Orkut members from our fair city.)

Which is why, since I saw that article, I have wanted to get feedback from the streets of Karachi on how Firefox is playing out in the cybercafes and desktops out there. Does it really compete with IE in the "real world", outside our cosy work areas with fast connections and OpenSource shrines?

Firefox 1.0 is out!

How come no one told me?



Reputedly, there's also a "We're Not Sorry" website. Haven't found it yet.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Islam and war: The real story


Muslim leaders are failing to live up to the Islamic rules of war — and in too many cases even of peace — that is why there is so much anger, disillusionment and despair in the Muslim world.

More at

Thursday, October 28, 2004

News Roundup: Nigeria

** 'Things fall apart' in Nigeria **
World-famous author Chinua Achebe rejects a national award, criticising the "dangerous" state of affairs in Nigeria.

**Obasanjo backs bishops over gays

The Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has praised Anglican bishops from Africa for what he called their principled stand against homosexuality.

Comment: Can you imagine a world where we have a Nigerian Pope and a schism in the Anglican communion also led by Nigeria?

Oh, and:

**Bush website blocked outside US
Surfers outside the US have been unable to visit the official re-election site of President George W Bush.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Updates, and planning

Trying to fight the Urge to Wiki, I am going to start paying attention here.
  • I have made the template (layout, look-and-feel) a little lighter, with headings becoming smaller and less "heavy".
  • I have added a link to the Spider Blog from Pakistan to the right-hand column on this page [look under "Listening to Dem Po' Folk"].
Topics I intend to discuss often include:
and similar topics.


Engaging with the Wikipedia is a addictive; it gets in the way of this and other writing. I have gone to fighting the urge.

Progress, however, is steady :D. See:

Friday, September 17, 2004

WikiWikiWiki WikiWikiMe!

Growing up on the periphery (with the occasional foray, of course, into the heart) of, three or four different societies/cultures/civilizations/what-have-you, one often felt that encyclopedias and the other canons of modern life did not do justice to the world as one say it. Finally, there's an encyclopedia to end that; the Wikipedia that I have mentioned before. I think I am there to stay as a member of that community. You can follow my presence there at my User page on that system. Might even tell you a few things about me you didn't know and didn't care enough about to ask :D.

In particular, I have a list on the above page that describes Wikipedia Content I recommend highly.

Who's Winning?

Somebody once said:
The Cold War is over; Japan won.
I can't remember which talking head (or disembodied voice, if you will) was talking about this yesterday on NPR, but the following flashed through my mind:
The war in/on Iraq is not going as planned; Iran is winning.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Standing Pat on Iraq

The first step is to get over being startled at the fact that Pat Buchannan is against the War in Iraq. Given his isolationist stance this shouldn't really be a surprise; but so few people anywhere take stands purely on principle anymore, you can't really be blamed.

But once you get over that, actually listen to the guy; he has some interesting geo-political points to make. One place to do to this is the following (second-last segment):

The way he talks about and points out the importance and significance of Baghdad. I have not heard Muslims discuss that aspect. If I may say so, most Muslims are too busy being modern victims of the post-Ottoman period that we live in to own their own history and take in the bigger picture. As I have said before, in a lot of ways we are still living in the period of tying up the loose ends of that empire. More on that later.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Wikipedia--Encyclopedia of the Masses

I have recently become involved in Wikipedia. Check out what I am up to there. I will post interesting items and things I run into on that project here. Here's a start:
  • Wikipedia also has versions in other languages. Including Urdu.
  • Wikipedia has the best exposition I have seen on the Urdu-Hindi-Hindustani issue. Maybe not a perfect description for any of us; but still a better starting point than I have seen anywhere.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Human Rights and the Muslim World; Pakistan in Particular

During the Question-and-Answer session at a recent documentary showing event in the Bay Area [], someone asked something to the effect of "We keep talking about Human Rights problems [in the context of Pakistan], but is there any hope? Where's the silver lining?"

My answer included pointing out that there are people struggling for Human Rights in Pakistan and it is that struggle, for example, that has given the world the person that was, till very recently, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. A web search tells me, she has just been appointed...well, take a look:

Asma Jehangir is a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan [], and has served as Secretary-General and later as Chair of the same. This group is often the lone voice against things that are against humanity in my country--often having to go against the interests of "the West". Like being the only ones to speak up against a military coup.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Background Reading on Pakistan

The link below provides an article for background reading. The interesting thing is, the article was written in 96.

Remember: The article is from 5 or so years before 9/11. On the Indian side, the massacre in Gujarat happened after this. The heyday of the Taliban was in the future. And there are other little things; for example, the article says that Pakistan's complaint about not receiving stuff they've paid for has been "partially resolved". Most Pakistanis are still very pissed, and as far as I know, no real money has been transferred.

I don't agree with everything in the article, but on the whole it gives a complete view of Pakistan--both the fundamentalists and the more democratic tradition. The conclusion sums things up well:
"Whatever fire may emerge from this tinderbox, Pakistan will be a pivot. Perhaps the source of conflict or perhaps a mediating influence."
One very important thing; don't base anything you think on only one paragraph in the piece. The article makes a complete point and reading a paragraph here or there out of context will give the wrong impression about what the writer is saying. Unless it is the following paragraph [which might show you my bias :D]:
"It was earlier suggested that the resurgence of Islam as a political force in the world presents us with what will be the 21st century's most important political problem. We shall have to deal with this in our foreign policy. But we shall also have to confront it as a national problem, as Muslims are now the second largest religious group in the United States and are becoming a widely recognized political force. Pakistan can help us understand this phenomenon in a unique way. Pakistan is one of the few countries which has a long history of reconciling Islamic and non-Islamic values, of interpreting in English a moderating Islam in the context of western culture. This unique reconstruction (some would say modernization) of Islam began with the work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) in pre-partition India. His orientation is revealed in the name of the institution which he sought to establish: Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, which ultimately became Aligarh Muslim University. This reconstructive or modernist orientation is continued in the work of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) the Muslim poet-philosopher regarded as the creator of the concept of a separate Islamic state on the South Asian subcontinent. His Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a classic in modernist interpretations of Islam. The pre-eminent Pakistani historian, Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, was preoccupied for several years with articulating Islam to modem constitutionalism. His book, The Future Development of an Islamic Polity is a brilliant analysis marked by clarity and comprehension of other political systems. The point of view of the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was in the same tradition - Islamic to be sure, but not militantly Islamic. Rather it was reconstructionist, progressive and modernist."
Now the link:

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

What's a Muslim Republican Leader To Do?

Syed Rifat Mahmood has been an active Republican for decades. He was the Republican candidate for Congress from California's 13th Congressional District *after* 9/11 (before the War in Iraq started). The way in which he balanced his own position on a possible War in Iraq with his party's line was, in my opinion, pretty classy. However, it did lead to the American Muslim community organizations not listing
him on their list of candidates to support. (He wouldn't come out and
breath fire and promise brimstone.)

[By way of disclosure, Mr Mahmood is one of the elders of my own family by virtue of being the eldest relative I have in the United States. But when you hear a first cousin of your mother answer a question about his stand on Gay Rights--being a Republican *and* a former President of the United Muslims of America, mind you--with an appeal for freedom of choice, it takes him to a whole 'nother level, I tell ya.]

So what does a Muslim Republican leader do at a time like this? Read on.

[Carried by the Argus in Fremont, the Daily Review and one other
publication I forget right now.]
Rep. Pete Stark represents California's 13th Congressional District, which includes Alameda, Fremont, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Sunol, Union City and small portions of Oakland and Pleasanton. Syed Mahmood, a resident of Union City, is a business consultant and founder and president of American Institute of International Studies. He was Stark's Republican opponent in 2002.
Stark, Mahmood Offer Bipartisan Rebuke of Bush Policies

Fortney Pete Start & Syed Mahmood

Thursday, August 12, 2004 - AS a Democrat and a Republican who two years ago ran against each other for a seat in Congress, one wouldn't think there's much on which we agree.

We've debated many issues and disagreed often, as Republicans and Democrats do. That said, with our nation and world in turmoil, there is one issue on which we both agree: the United States needs a dramatic new foreign policy.

The Bush Administration is pursuing a foreign policy that is reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. In addition to making our country less safe, it has seriously wounded the international reputation and credibility of the United States.

How can a bad situation turn into an ugly one? Let's look at the present condition of Afghanistan and Iraq. After the attack on 9/11, the whole world united against this heinous crime, an act of terrorism perpetuated against humanity. And what did the Bush Administration do with that unity? It squandered it. By alienating our allies and starting an unjust war, the Bush Administration obliterated any hope of international cooperation and exposed Americans to greater risk.

It is far easier to win the war than to win the peace, as the Bush Administration is just now realizing. The U.S. is still struggling to pacify Afghanistan. Just after 9/11, the United States ousted the Taliban and its crooked regime. Now, more than two years later, most of Afghanistan is still under the control of warlords. The opium trade is thriving, reconstruction work is very slow, and 50 percent of Afghanis are out of work. Monumental work remains to be done in Afghanistan and the United States should have concentrated its efforts on finishing the job. Instead, George W. Bush decided to go to Baghdad.

The invasion of Iraq was a monumental blunder. To begin with, it was founded on false pretenses: 1) that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction putting us in imminent danger; (2) that the removal of Saddam from power would help resolve the Israeli and the Palestinian issue; 3) that the war would bring democracy to Iraq; and, (4) that the war would make the world a safer place. None of these have proved to be true.

What has the U.S. achieved so far except deposing Saddam Hussein from power? Our young soldiers of underprivileged families are dying every day. The elites of our society are enjoying life without sacrificing any of their luxuries. We agree with U.S. retired General and a former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command, Anthony Zinni, who said: "Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time -- with the wrong strategy."

It is important that we recognize the very real costs imposed by President Bush's Iraq policy, not just in lost American and Iraqi lives, but lost opportunities here at home.

Our intervention in Iraq has diverted needed attention and scarce resources away from the 44 million Americans without health insurance, 9 million of whom are children. It has taken billions of dollars away from programs to train teachers, reduce class sizes and improve failing public schools, all of which are vital to ensuring opportunity for the next generation of Americans. It has broken our promise to provide a secure retirement to seniors and future generations of Americans by borrowing against Social Security.

We need to forge a new bipartisan commitment to these issues. And we must forge a new foreign policy, based on international cooperation, to restore America's place in the world and bring us real security. Republicans and Democrats must come together as we, two former adversaries have, to forge this new vision. Our nation itself is at risk.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Monday, June 21, 2004


Have I mentioned that I know a young gentleman with a middle-eastern sounding name whose name turned up on a watch list and had to show his face to an SFPD officer the last time he was travelling internationally?

And this past weekend, he's taken up a new hobby--rocketry, building, with a person who is a Pakistani citizen, his first model rocket and turning up for a launch with the Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry [].

Do you think this gentleman should be checked out by the FBI? The DHS? Kept on a watch list? Interrogated to make sure he's not up to something funny?

Would it help if I told you that said gentleman was born on April 12, 2000 in New York city? []

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Morning of 9/11

Heard some NPR during lunch outing. []

On the morning of 9/11/2001, it turns out, only two (groups of) people in America actually knew what to do and did it:

  • Dick Cheney
  • The passengers on Flight 93

  • Cheney actually ordered the Air Force to shoot down Flight 93. And the passengers literally paid the ultimate price to save either the White House or the Capitol.


    There are definitely conclusions there. But let's leave it at that for now.

    Postscript; November 8, 2005
    Here's an update on that:

    James Carroll of the Boston Globe (quoted here via the International Herald Tribune) point out that what Cheney did might have been a usurpation of power--and says it was unnecessary. I guess we'll have to wait a bit longer for history to provide even more context...

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    On Secularism: Enough Already!

    One of the perennial discussions on "Secularism" drove me to write this:

    In my view, the problem is that most people that express views for or against "secularism" today--especially South Asians--equate it with being against the very existence of religion in any realm. Whether they will admit or not--even to themselves.

    The phrase, folks, is separation of church and state--not destruction of one or the other. Just like the indepedence of the three branches of government and the media from each other does not mean we should abolish, say, the courts.

    Personally, I think the word (secularism) is at best a red herring or a red rag, and at worst the biggest, most unfortunate, most distracting, and irrelevant concept we have in the discussion of how society can and should be made better. The "secularists" use it as some kind of high holy concept they wrap--dare I say hide--their anti-religion emotions and passions in [notice I don't say logic or rationale? it's intentional]; while the "religiousists", if I may call them that, use it as some kind of bugbear and code word for satanism.

    A pox on both houses!

    For they both only use the discussion to try to further their own ideas--not to make the life of humankind any better.

    Mazhab thoe buss mazhab-e-dhil hai; baqee sub gumraahee hai (the only (true) creed is the creed of the heart; all else is heresy), as a South Asian poet once said; and frankly, neither today's "defenders of Islam" nor the "enlightened liberal thinkers" act like they have a heart--they have rationales and logic, they have right on their side, they have truth, history, geography, anthropology, sociology, neonatology and every other kind of -ology. No heart.

    A pox on both houses!

    For if you don't have a heart, sir, you're heartless. And if you are heartless, you fit neither my understanding of the words "Muslim" or "Hindu" or "Christian", nor my understanding of the words "enlightened" or "liberal".

    Can't we all just ... do something for the common human? Insan1? Remember that concept? Huququl Ibaad2 anyone? The tired, the poor, the huddled masses, anyone?

    1. Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic for "human".
    2. Huququl Ibaad: One of the fundamental principles of Islam is the dichotomy of "Huququllah" and "Huququl Ibaad". That is , the Creator [Allah] has some rights [Haq, right; plural, Huquq] on the human [namely to be worshipped, obeyed, etc.] and just as important are the Rights (Huquq) of Creation [Ibaad; literally "worshipper"], which a human must observe: everything from the rights of one's family over one's time, love, and resources; the rights of neighbours (not necessarily *Muslim* neighbours, mind you) towards each other; the rights of all things great and small, basically, to be treated right. People that watch these things closely might have noticed Gen. Musharraf mention this concept--especially in some of his earlier speeches to the Pakistani People right after 9/11; and, more importantly, some of his statements on these issues *before* 9/11.

    Monday, June 07, 2004

    The Gipper

    One of the most tempered reactions I have seen to Ronald Reagan came from a gay journalist in Los Angeles. From Yahoo News:
    Jon Beaupre, a gay journalist and Los Angeles radio talk show host who is HIV (news - web sites)-positive, said Reagan's death "brought mixed feelings."

    "The fact that he reflected the values of a lot of people was unmistakable. Clearly, Ronald Reagan was a man of principle and integrity," the 51-year old said.

    [Full article at]
    Having said that, I had reason to say yesterday that two of the strongest formative influences on people like me were Ronald Reagan and Ziaul Haq. It occurred to me that over the last year or so, I have repeatedly discussed with my peers from Pakistan that our formative years were spent in an environment that was controlled and shaped by General Mohammed Ziaul Haq.

    A lot of what we did and didn't do; a lot of what happened to us; a lot of what we had the opportunity to do and not to, from our dating habits and opportunities—or the lack thereof—to the lack of dance parties and the profusion of political parties and the plethora of "religious parties" and the movements around us, from the "Kalashni-coats" [American army-style jackets] some of our peers wore as a mark of political affiliation, to "chaadhar aur chaar-diwari", can we deny the influence and how much society around us was shaped by Gen. Zia?

    And behind it, just another step, was Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. It was his administration that backed Gulbuddin Hekmatyar over others in the Afghan War--or let Gen. Zia's subordinates do that....

    There I kinda stop. All I can think of is that back in 1997, when I first joined a discussion group/mailing list for people in my profession, I responded to a "holy war" raging on another topic with the following retort:

    Subject: Jihad fi Sabil il Platform
    From: Sabahat Ashraf
    Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 15:22:55 EST

    [the subject is my way of saying "Jihad for the sake of the Platform"]

    Now that we *are* having a holy war, I thought I would throw in a set of fundamentalist "na'ray" as we call them in the subcontinent.

    Take your pick of slogans:

    Leader: Tayba r' Tayba!!
    Chorus: Tayyyyyyyba!!! [favourite war cry of the subcontinent's fraternal version of the Ikhwaan—just one 4 feet high skeleton of a guy with a wispy beard leading about 10 Jamaatis in this chant can throw the fear o'God into you, believe me.]

    Leader: Dhayaar-e-haq, Dhayaar-e-haq!
    Chorus: Ya Nabi kay saaray haq!!
    [which approximates to
    Leader: The Limit of The Truth
    Chorus: All the Truths of saying "Oh my Prophet"]

    That last is the fanatic Sunni reply to Shia cries like:

    Leader: Nara-e-Haidari!
    Chorus: Ya Ali!!
    [which approximates to
    Leader: The Slogan of Haider (another name for Ali)
    Chorus: Oh Ali!! (the grandson of the Prophet; main figure in the Shia dogma and canon]

    Meanwhile, on the other side of our AK-47-infested [courtesy of Cap Weinberger, Al Haig, George Shultz, and The Gipper] campus were the Reds going:  

    Surkh hai, Surkh hai; Asia Surkh hai!! [Red! Red!! Asia is REd!!]

    to which our Bhai-log ["brothers" -- the Jamaatis mentioned above] went:
    Sabz hai, Sabz hai; Asia Sabz hai!! [Green! Green!! Asia is Green!! -- Green being the colour of Islam]

    Well, mes amis, mi amigos, my colleagues, what we always said to these guys was:  

    Surkh hai na Sabz hai: Asia koe Qabz hai!! [Red nor Green; Asia is constipated]

    [Full post at:] ---------------------------------

    Anyone else care to comment? For and against? This might be a good time to get a lot of this on the table? Let's vent, discuss, let it out... please comment using the link below.

    Thursday, June 03, 2004


    What Would Gore Have Done?

    That is a question I have often asked folks, especially American Muslims that froth at the mouth about the Muslim "Bloc Vote" for Bush last time around.

    In the following clip, is where I have heard the first serious analysis of this:

    Friday, May 14, 2004

    "...I am the Proud Little Brother of Sargeant Sherwood Baker"

    "...I am the Proud Little Brother of Sargeant Sherwood Baker"

    Love the war or hate it; one can always support a good soldier. And agree with views of the brother on the war or not, this is one heck of a tribute:

    Wednesday, May 05, 2004

    FZ or Zakaria Filles

    Fareed Zakaria was on Forum [on KQED, with Michael Krasny; see sidebar] this morning. ( He is a really interesting case. For the most part, most of the Average Joes and Jills in the Muslim community consider him a sell-out—as one caller said to him in that show—but when you listen to him, he's actually saying a lot of things to the Average American that need to be said. And presenting them in a package (he himself being the package) that they can relate to.

    Tuesday, May 04, 2004

    Abu Gha-ra-eib

    The Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Scandal is, like everything else, being over-covered and under-understood. But Brian Lehrer's segment is definitely a little better than most:

    Media and Opinion-Shaping

    Talk of the Nation on NPR has a segment on "The Arab Media" today, with Shibli Telhami, the manager of Al-Arabia, and the Washington Correspondent of Al-Jazeera. []

    Shibli Telhami's take on whether the media drives public opinion or public opinion drives the media is interesting—he's right about the media reflecting more than forming public opinion on the most important issues. I mean, people have always believed the most cynical possible version of what Amrika Bahadur, The Agency and their own rulers are up to—and up till very recently, without the benefit of satellite television. Besides the political point—and irony—of the Secretary of State of the Free World wanting to shut down Free Speech, there's a subtle and deep point here for students and watchers of the media.

    And the thought going through my head during the clip of Colin Powell commenting about Al-Jazeera “crossing the line of screaming ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre” was this: “So, Mr Secretary, you would rather that the 1.2 billion Muslims base their opinions on conspiratorial e-mails than on a news channel that carries you and Don Rumsfeld live much, much more often than even C-SPAN? Or that carries Knesset proceedings?”

    Monday, May 03, 2004

    Was It Worth It?

    I have been a bit of an activist on human rights in Pakistan and in the US, but before it started, I was never able to bring myself to say I was against a war in/on Iraq. Not that I was for it either. Governments go to war or interfere in other countries for national and personal interests--never for morals or ethics—or rarely so. My own country's record in Afghanistan is a wonderful case study. We stood up to the Soviets, which was good for all. But the way the governmet and the military went about it was, well, pretty objectionable. And that was back when there was a black and a white in this world.

    One rather odd fact Americans need to think about is this: The only time Saddam actually used weapons of mass destruction is when he was a US ally. When he wasn't, he didn't. Which did not make him any less of a monster.

    Why did the US go after him? Well, he wasn't "our SOB" any more. Which, from the strictly logical point of view of a nation-state or government, is a valid reason for going to war. Always has been, however much us 21st century liberals might think otherwise.

    As for whether we did Iraqi's a favor getting rid of him—we certainly didn't do them a disfavor. But that's not the same as saying we did them a favor. We use a lot of playground analogies in the US. Here's one that might help in this situation: Say you are the little kid on a playground being terrorised by a bully. And there's a bigger person standing behind that bully handing him Gatorade, holding his towel and sharing the lunch money the bully just snatched from you. And then, suddenly the other, bigger person whacks the bully, and turns to you, cracks into a big smile and says in a very LOUD voice "Now on things are going to be all nice in this here playground." How would you react? That was the state of mind of Iraqis and a lot of the Muslim world the day the statue fell in Baghdad.

    Friday, April 30, 2004

    "Surprise! We're Human"

    An ethnic mailing list in Silicon Valley was recently--as these lists are wont to--going apesh*t over the "secularism" versus religion as a guiding principle issue and gave me reason to say
    Surprise! Underneath it all, we're all human!!
    Seriously, it does get frustrating when people either talk as if, as Pakistanis, we're politically and constitutionally aboriginal savages and "The West" is some paragon of civilization [assasinations as a tool of war, anyone?!!]--or that, just we because we were born Muslims, we're angelic beings and "The West" is morally depraved.

    Thursday, April 29, 2004

    On "Secularism"

    The problem as I see it, frankly, is that "secular" is too often practised as being "anti-religion" rather than "neutral to religion, ideology and persuasion"--especially amongst South Asians.

    Or when self-appointed anti-religion gadflies make it their business to argue against other peoples' faiths, ideologies or persuasions at every available opportunity.

    I earnestly wish that more people—on both sides of such—discussions would base their own discussions in matters of state policy, social structure, etc. on what would work with their audience rather than what helps builds they themselves--or strictly on the merits on their case rather than why the other person's point of view is wrong because of what they believe.

    Friday, April 23, 2004

    The Draft

    I mentioned The Draft a couple of days ago, referring to Brian Lehrer's segment on his program about the topic. His blog entry after that segment is very interesting—summing up the thoughts and feelings about the topic for a thinking American. However, I am still not convinced it won't happen.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2004

    Reinstating The Draft

    Another of those thoughts going through my head has been that if GW is re-elected, The Draft will be reinstated. And then today, Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran and influential member of the Foreign Relations Committee came out in favour of reinstating The Draft. Charlie Rangel, Congressman from New York, has been in favour of this for a while. You can hear more discussion at:
    The discussion is rather interesting. As Brian Lehrer says above in the segment from his show, the Progressive point of view during the Vietnam war was against The Draft; now it is for The Draft.

    Monday, April 12, 2004

    Hoodbhoy, Sir Syed and Us

    In reply to a person disagreeing with me on a mailing list, I had reason to write:

    Hoodbhoy, Sir Syed and Us

    A couple of points with respect to religion as a political and social motivator and the relationship of that discussion to pure "secularists" like Pervez Hoodbhoy:

    Firstly, I am, myself, an engineer by training, but I very strongly disagree that the perspective of someone whose mind is trained as a scientist or engineer—especially in our current set-up—has a good chance of creating or critiquing solutions that would be truly humanist. Rationalist philosophies, in their own inflexible extremes, have given us situations that were just as inhumane as anything inflexible extreme religious forces have done. I invite you to listen to

    "NPR : Commentary: The Power of Faith and Religion" <>

    Secondly, I respect Dr Hoodbhoy as one of the most cogent and coherent voices coming out of, and most well-meaning and effective activists we have in, Pakistan today. And I think that my previous point does not apply to him as much as it does to most people, frankly, in Silicon Valley that think they know what ails our community. And I have met Dr Hoodbhoy and found nothing to change that opinion. But his take on Sir Syed is not the same as what has been posted here recently and repeatedly. Dr Hoodbhoy's opinion is that "the Sir Syed line" [his words] is not what we need to follow. He is a pure secularist, an agnostic if you will. And please, again, I have the utmost respect for Dr Hoodbhoy as one of the very few Pakistanis that *has* a real grasp on social issues and something real to say on what we should be doing--and the guts to follow up; come hell, high water or death threats.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2004

    one thing going through my head over the last few days was that Iraq might be center stage; but the long term story might still be in afghanistan.

    then the events of the last few days happen. which reminds all of us that the iraqis are actually fight much more than most of us expected.

    and then the thought going through my head this morning is

    "George Bush really has turned out to be a uniter: he's united the democrats; and he's united the shias and the sunnis in Iraq--both feats that are not considered impossible feats under normal circumstances."

    Math chhaiR faqeeroN koe...

    Starting a blog. the saying goes in south asia, na chaiRh faqeeraaN noo or "don't agitate the dervishes" for, as a guru* once said:
    math chaiR faqeeroN ko jo mundh-hay hain aak-hain
    daalee jo nigaah hum nay tho rukhsaar jalain gay
    *guru. n. from gur, sanskrit/prakrit for skill, tip, trick, wisdom. thus, guru: some that knows something about something; someone from whom one learns. a teacher. an elder

    Thursday, April 01, 2004

    Whither Muslim World?

    The discussion of where Islam and Muslims are coming from and where we need to go is an evolving, gathering and increasingly loud voice in my head that it is becoming more and more difficult to keep suppressed while I earn my daily bread. Existential angst, if you ask me. I will write more later; but for now suffice it to say this:

    When we say either that the so-called "Hijab"* is OR IS NOT our most important issue, or when we buy into the mainstream "western" media's saying that to improve the lot of the Ummah it is a matter of either backing the secularists on the one hand or of backing a new set of people who are just now "learning" from the West on the other; when we do either of those we are being trapped into, we are buying into, the world view of the inflexible, rationalist obscuranists on BOTH sides--the Huntington crowd on the one hand and the Taliban on the other.

    It is very interesting to see the Rand Corporation's recent report basically say the same thing; that what enlightened "world opinion" should be doing is supporting the "modernists" (as the report calls them; dare I say us) and not the secularists. [The Rand Report is titled Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies and can be read at]

    *NOTE ON "HIJAB": The reason I said "so-called Hijab" above is that the artifact being discussed is the Right Wing's modernized version of what I believe was called the Djellaba. The Islamic concept of "Hijab", and "to do Hijab" ["Hijab karna"] is wider than one very modern implementation of it. And the moment we--the people that like to think we are enlightened and want to bring the true spirit of our Islamic and Pakistani heritage to the table and make the world a better place for it—call that headscarf a, or worse, the "Hijab", we are buying into one interpretation of how things should be. And I beg to say most humbly that it is not the interpretation I agree with.

    My apologies for that rant, but calling the modern headscarf a "Hijab" is a pet peeve of mine; as is the noveau orthodox greeting "Allah Hafiz".