Friday, December 30, 2005

A new "Party of the European Left"

This came to my attention recently; apparently, a new "part of the left" has been formed in Europe:

http://www.european-left.org/about/introduction

Anyone following this closely? Comments? Details? I have been thinking about what it means to be progressive, left-of-center, etc. and would love to engage in some discussion.

Catching Up: Amartya Sen

A while back, while Dr. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist was on a book tour, I mentioned his description of Pakistan's Civil Society. Coming out of my "blogger's block", I have been going through my backlog of notes and found a couple of other points in the interview I quoted from which I hadn't mentioned:
  • His opinion on the nuclear explosions by the two South Asian rivals was that they were a mistake for both moral and political reasons.
  • He also says that the "India is taken seriously because of the bomb" line is absolute BS; India is taken seriously because of its economy. He points out that the rightwing government did not mention/make a big deal about the newfound nuclear status in the run up to the very next elections soon after the explosions.
  • He also had stuff to say about the Iraq War. Check out the interview.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Talking to a Neighbour

Someone from the same neighbourhood as the one I live in posted a comment on a news story I posted a link to. Here's a reply. Thought others might be interested, too.

Well, hello, neighbour!

"true roots"? "Hindu India"? "Muslim Pakistan". Are you saying that only what is today the Union of India is the homeland of Hindus and Hinduism? Weren't a large part of the empires that are the pride of history in that area and its people based in what is today Pakistan and even Afghanistan? Gandhara? Taxila? Moenjodaro/Mohanjodaro?

Personally, I'd like to not restrict more profound concepts--like that what is a South Asian Muslim, or what is a Hindu and what is the homeland for Hindus--to modern geo-political entities. Political borders come and go--and very often cut across human, cultural, and genetic affinities. We often discuss Europe as a parallel for our region, especially to point that the global trend is of coming together. And personally, I think that South Asia in general and just the Union of India in particular have more diversity (and certainly a larger population) than all of Europe. And if you look at Europe, you have Germans in Austria (Oster Reich, or "Western Country" in German), Germany, Switzerland, and historicly in other countries. But does that mean that a person of German ancestry in Switzerland is necessarily to be treated with more suspicion than others if they apply for citizenship in Germany? Or an American of German ancestry whose grandparents fled during one of the world wars?

I would like to believe that people can hold warm patriotic feelings for their own country without being necessarily hostile to a neighbouring country, whatever the history has been.

And it has now been two generations since the "partition"/independence--the people applying for citizenship are by no stretch of the imagination the same as the ones that chose to live in one or the other country at that time.

As for the historical bases for the existence and shape of one country or the other. I am, I like to think, a self-confidently patriotic Pakistani who is married to a proudly patriotic Indian and who works in the movement for peace between the two countries, but I believe that if we as individuals and as national communities are comfortable in who we are, we should have the self-confidence to compete in the marketplace of ideas and ideologies without the kind of insecurity and pettiness that this kind of policy seems to reflect. Pakistan, particularly, claims to have an ideology. And I am not talking about "just Islam". In fact, what passes today for "Islamism" and "Islamic politics" in today's news and opinion is very far from what I was brought up to believe my community's ideology is or what the founders' intent was; the idea of a country where people can live as who they are and not have to be second class citizens. And all people. I might not know all the history, but your assertion that Pakistan did not say that Hindus who wanted to stay could strikes me as rather inaccurate. What was Jinnah's speech, so oft-quoted, where he said that as of independence, all citizens of Pakistan are Pakistanis and free to worship as they wanted and live as they wanted. Now the bloodbath that followed (and it happened on both sides) did not live up to either Jinnah's words or the dreams and aspirations of Gandhi; that's a separate story.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to pick on India exclusively--Pakistanis, both in and out of government, too often display symptoms of the same kind of underlying insecurities and the same pettiness. I mean this as a critique of all sides, and a call to everybody to aspire towards the moral high ground. We live in separate geo-political entities, but we have a lot in common--history, culture, religions, music, cuisine, you name it--and others with far less in common work together across boundaries. Let us try to build a positive atmosphere for ourselves, our nations and our children; that would be best for all of us.

Some come on over (within Ardenwood and across the border--whether you have an Indian or a Pakistani background, visit "the other side") and let's have some chai.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Citizenship

This popped up at me out of Google's "Related Links" in my Gmail account:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1339357.cms

What a Difference a Month Makes!!

It's been a little while since I wrote much, here or anywhere else. As excuses go, first it was earthquake-related work, and then a few other things at my day job, as we call it here in The States, and some personal developments (mostly good, besides the flu going around the house). Then I saw the item on Mojo yesterday and just had to write. That helped. Now I hope will write more. There are quite a few items in draft here at blogger, so watch out!

With that out of the way, the first thing I have to say is: Wow!

Wow! indeed!! What a difference a month makes. If you had gone to Mars or somewhere else where they don't have access to American media for a month and then come back, you might well have have thought that you had taken the wrong left turn at that last planet on the way back. Because it sure as hell doesn't seem like one is listening to the same group of people one was listening to a month or two ago.

Over the last few years, I have actually almost completely stopped listening to the mainstream electronic media in the US. Maybe a little "Hardball" once in a while, but that's about it. In fact, it wasn't for Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show", it would be difficult to even keep track of what's going on in the mainstream zeitgeist. But then, Mr. Stewart has become the most significant media item there is anyway. Of course, that is but natural; with the "electronic newsmedia" becoming so clearly and completely infotainment, that it is but natural that the best thing in that category would be something that makes no pretence of being hard news. [Of course, this has rather odd side-effects. For example, I was missing a lot of the effect of Steven Colbert's show because I wasn't too familiar with the format of Bill O'Reilly's show or much at all with Anderson Cooper, CNN's new blue-eyed, white-haired boy.]

Though, to give credit where it is due, 24-hour news has led to a lot of useless noise, but the US media does have some life left in it. On this blog, I followed the way they did birddog, to use an Americanism, the White House Press Secretary on the not-quite-scandal about Karl Rove:

http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/07/karl-rove-scott-mcclellan-and_22.html


I guess the change in wind direction really came after Hurricane Katrina. When Brian Williams came on The Daily Show after Katrina and he'd taken on Administration officials on his own show, for most the interview, I was feeling that Jon was going too easy on him. I thought Jon would start the interview with a "So y'all grew a new set, huh?" But then, by the end of interview, Brian W had gone out of the way to raise the topics that establishment figures anywhere in the world often dismiss without a mention or with disdain--that of institutional racism. Brian himself brought up the fact that he wondered why the army, which can airlift whole bridges in Afghanistan and Iraq couldn't have send in helicopters into New Orleans. And then he did something even more startling; he said that he wondered how many helicopters would have appeared and how fast, if this had been a city in New England where the population was of a different skin color. An African American saying the same thing would have been dismissed as playing the race card.

I just wish more people would raise issues like that, which express frank opinions about communities they are not part of. We'd all be better off for it.

And before I go, just to point out how much has changed in the MSM, it was a pleasant surprise to see a Newsweek infographic about Iraq that showed both US as well as Iraqi casualties.

Though one has to wonder about a "free press" that only follows up on story angles when the political winds make it "okay" to do so. The phrase "Fourth Estate" takes on a new resonance; the mainstream media--in any society, not just the US--has become such an integral part of the establishment in our societies today that it is distressing. Maybe the only hope really does lie in the Alternative Media to play the role of watchdog, keeping the establishment in check.

And a "programming note" before I go. In the new future, I will be writing some pieces discussing the fundamentals of various issues. The Iraq War; Islam; Jihad; US foreign policy in the world. See you then!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Holy Alliance

I have been agonizing and procastinating over how to handle my re-emergence from a new malady, namely "Blogger's Block". But I just saw something that I didn't want to delay commenting on. And I know this is going to sound pretentious, but.

But.

But we, the moderates in the Muslim World--and I use that word advisedly, to mean people who have a strong faith, but who disagree with the "Islamic Parties" (notice I avoid the word "Islamist") on matters of ideology, politics, and how society should be structured and run; we who have have not, on the other hand, traditionally been either socialist-leaning, or, to put it in South Asian terms, in the "tharaqqi-pasandh" ("progressive"--then understood to mean "commie") camp--we, dare I say, the silent majority of the Muslim world (notice I avoid the word "Ummah"), have always felt that these "Islamic Parties" have been rather, shall we say, inconsistent between their rhetoric and their actual alliances ("qaul wa feyl" we say in the community). If you wanted proof, the documents are now available:

http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2006/01/holy_warrior.html

Friday, November 18, 2005

Muslim Lifestyles...

alt.muslim review 010 discusses Muslim Lifestyle magazines, mentioning that there are now several in the UK:

http://www.q-news.com/
http://www.emelmagazine.com/
salaam
azizah

The obvious thing that crosses my mind--and did cross one of the brothers' minds--was that they are just a generation or so ahead of us, having had a substantial Muslim community (in their case, more heavily South Asian in content, I guess) for that much longer. Though Shahed, the US-based half of the hosting duo of brothers--threw out the possibility that maybe we've just leapfrogged the magazine phase and gone to electronic media, what with Bridges TV. I'd say the dynamic is much more complicated...more as things happen and I react.

[As an aside, I hear India Abroad is coming out with a lifestyle magazine...]

Other issues the Amanullah brothers discussed include some of the race issues in Britain and Mukhtaran Mai's visit to the US. I have been meaning to bring up the latter issue and am working working with a friend to finish up some she said on a discussion list that bears repeating. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Eid Mubarak: A Discussion about Compassion, Patience and Peace

Published on alt.muslim, November 3, 2005.

Eid Mubarak, we say today; Mabrook! Have a Blessed Eid.

It's a wholesome, almost New Age greeting.

But within the community, we all know there is a whole lot of whining and carping, with almost all of us taking one of three stands: a) the need to stay true to tradition and actually sight the moon, b) the need to follow the dates in the Holy Land (currently manifested in the form of the geo-politicaly entity known as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) or c) the need to get with the times and science and use the wonderful blessings of science in these highly evolved times and go totally scientific and take the uncertainty out of the calendar (never mind that the suggested "fixed" calendar has been around for centuries--our wonderfully well-educated friends still insist it is the fruits of modern science that make this possible, but I digress). All three sides complain that it is a sign of the state the Ummah is in that we don't all just agree on one date--of course, with their preferred option being the one that should be adopted.

But let's look beyond the carping: what happens in practice is pretty cut-and-dried; some mosques hold prayers one day, some do it on others. And for the common Muslim, that rarely-mentioned aspect of Islam, Ijma, or the democratic consensus of the community, rules the day, and you go to pray where your neighbours and friends--that is, your community--does. And all the while the three types of whining proceed without interruption, A very few of us, in my experience, point to that one tradition of The Prophet that we have been told about: the one that says that even if you see the moon yourself but your community celebrates on the "wrong" date, you should celebrate with the community.

But here's the point I would really like to make on this eve the festival--a night our elders tell us is one of the most blessed, sanctified nights of the year, right up there with the Night of Mi'raj (the Acsension) and the Night of Qadr (Power):

Why not look at the issue of community from the opposite angle; have you considered the possibility that, uncertainty or not uncertainty, this is a test? If we can't stay civil while we disagree on this matter and continue to love each other as fellows in one faith, what chance do we have of ever rising above other disagreements; like the ones that so often lead some of us to call others kafirs and murtad and so on?

Think about it; we never tire of telling others that Ramazan is the month when we are supposed to work on building the spirit of charity, patience, and compassion within ourselves--but the moment it's over, in fact, on the very topic of when it's over, we turn into inflexible, it's-my-way-or-you're-a-braindead-bigot fanatics. And I AM talking about all sides; those who would rather follow traditional interpretations AS WELL AS those who would rather follow the Holy Land AS WELL AS those who love science and go on endlessly about how much wonderful progress humanity has made and how we can now determine to the milimicrosecond the birth of the new moon. If this wasn't such a holy night, my next sentence would have included the words "pox", "all" and "houses". Instead, in the language of the industry I spend my days working for:

The uncertainty is a feature, not a bug--read the doc.

Let us try to see if we can agree to disagree with each other in Peace, with patience and compassion, as a community, a Jama'ah, an Ummah.

We never tire of saying that the word "Islam" comes from the root "Salaam", or peace. When we claim to be Muslims, we are saying we are "those that have Peace" (Ma'As Salaam); the community that adopts peace as our way. So my brothers and sisters--let's adopt peace in our own persons and within the community. Let us, in this holy season, not just tell CSPAN and CNN about it; let us start with our own communities and practice it towards each other; let us feel it; let us live it.

As Salaam Alaikum, and Eid Mubarak; Peace Be On You and have a Blessed Eid.


Postscript, November 3, 2005:
The Zaytuna Institute's position this year on the matter, while critical of the decision to celebrate on Thursday, repeats the spirit of my post in their penultimate paragraph:

"However, there is another consideration, that is the spirit and intent of 'Id. As one of the great signs of Allah, whose underlying spirit is unity, and celebration, we feel that if a Muslim is in an area where the overwhelming majority of his/her community, family, and friends are celebrating the 'Id on Thursday, November 3, 2005. He/she should join them if his/her heart is at peace with that decision. However, he/she should make up the day out of precaution as soon as possible."
[The full article is at: http://www.zaytuna.org/articleDetails.asp?articleID=86 ]

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Iran and Israel and Israel and so on

Starting to engage with the topic of Iran, the following crossed my screen:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fear
Nasrin Alavi
1 - 11 - 2005
The speech of Iran’s president calling for Israel’s destruction is a sign of domestic weakness not international strength, says Nasrin Alavi...

More at http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-irandemocracy/ahmadinejad_2981.jsp

Or as I was saying in a comment on another blog:

There is method to the madness of people like Robertson, Ahmedinejad, and so on: the apologies and the backtracking and condemnation can follow, but the message has gone out to the faithful; and it is their base they are talking to.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Azad Karachi Radio Program 003, October 31, 2005

Program 3 of Azad Karachi Radio continues discussion of the earthquake in South Asia and discusses issues of democracy, civilization and the role of the World Bank and the Military.

You can hear the program, or get information on how to subscribe to the Podcast here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Military, National Disasters, and Posse Comitatus

The principle that the military can not be used for operations within the "homeland", as it has come to be referred to, is one that is often taken for granted in the discussion and practice of American (meaning, of course, US) democracy. Both by those who believe it is a very important principle and by others who think, as a lot of even "liberal" and "Democratic" (with a big "D") pundits have said in the last month or so, that since the military is there and it is very well trained and equipped, we should use it. There was quite a bit of discussion about the role of the military in disasters of a national scale in the US media lately, peaking a few weeks ago, and I have been meaning to comment. See for example, the following on National Public Radio:

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/10062005
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4864431
and more generally,
http://www.npr.org/search.php?prgId=5&text=posse+comitatus&submit=Go

You will hear the "liberal"s I am talking about.

Frankly, to a person that has lived under more military governments than elected ones, that is scary. And this is coming from a person in the thick of trying to keep track of relief and aid for about a 100 000 or more of my own compatriots in Pakistan. The logic of "they are there, let's use them for this, and since they are the best (physically, I guess) equipped and trained, it would be criminal to not use them" is very, very tempting. But is it a replacement for building up institutions to really do the job the way it should be done?

Take this scenario: Say, two elected governments in a row have scandals that bring governance to a standstill. Then nepotism emerges in a time of national disaster and need. Oh, say mishandling the governmental response to a series of hurricanes followed by a major earthquake, with the appointment of an incompetent administrator for national disaster relief and then profiteering in relief and reconstruction. And then someone says "Well, we need some short-term management expertise to run things till we get back on our feet. Why don't we declare Martial Law--we won't remove the President; the guy we appoint to run things, the Chief Administrator for Homeland Security Law will report to the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, but he'll have broad powers, so he can coordinate things. Just for some months. And it will soothe the nerves of our Chinese and Japanse creditors, too." Wouldn't the folks like the commentator in that NPR clip above say "Hell ya! Bring it on!! And about time, too!!!" Well, that's approximately what happened in Pakistan circa 1958. And again. And again. Most recently around mid-October 1999.

The most interesting and unsettling thing in the US perspective about all this is that the legal basis that prevents us from rushing headlong into that scenario is not a constitutional guarantee. It is a simple law, passed by Congress, usually referred to as "Posse Comitatus". And a simple act of Congress could change it. And given the speed and un-examined way in which, for example, the Patriot Act passed in a moment of national emotion, can anyone look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that it couldn't happen? Think about it.

And moving on to the Pakistani scenario, I'd like my Pakistani brethren and sisters in Pakistan and, especially, in the diaspora, to also take a moment to temper the emotion and energy they are pouring into this time of national need. I get emotional and angry emails about what the army is and isn't doing for earthquake relief in Pakistan and what use it should be put to. I agree that, especially since we don't have the equivalent of a Posse Comitatus and the military is already involved in running so much else, we shouldn't leave any stone unturned in how we can use the military. But let us live up to that Islamic principle that we often quote, and at least know in our hearts that, even though we can't lift a finger to change things, this is not the best, or as we say in Islamic parlance, the "Ahsan", course of action.

World Bank "Support" to the Quake-Hit

A journalist friend forwarded a press release titled "Pakistan: World Bank Supports Earthquake Recovery with US$470 million", which said that
"The World Bank today announced a package totaling US$470 million to assist the Government of Pakistan in the reconstruction of areas devastated by the massive earthquake of October 8.

The package comprises US$200 million in quick disbursing credits from the Bank’s concessional International Development Agency (IDA), a US$100 million loan for highway reconstruction, US$130 million in additional credit financing for community infrastructure and US$40 million, announced last week, in reallocated IDA funding.
You can read the whole release here.

My reply to my friend was simply this:
"There's a Bollywood song that puts to music an old South Asian expression: "Main ro'ooN ya hasooN; karooN maiN kyaa karooN?!" [Do I laugh or cry? To do; what do I do?"]

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Azad Karachi Radio Program 002 now available

The second program of Azad Karachi Radio (I mentioned it last week) has just been uploaded. Please take a look and provide feedback:

Azad Karachi Radio is an Urdu language audio program available on the web. Published under the Azad South Asia banner, this program covers, politics, poetry, and life. The first two programs are now available at:

http://AzadKarachiRadio.blogspot.com


You can subscribe using podcasting software using the address:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/AzadKarachiRadio

Azad Karachi Radio is also available for online listening via Yahoo!s new (Beta) Podcasting service at:

http://podcasts.yahoo.com/series?s=3d848ad579b260b163d17218e7fcbad5

Please send comments to me at iFaqeer@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pakistan's Civil Society Shines

One of the rays of hope in the crisis in Pakistan at this time--and I am not just talking about the Earthquake-- is that Pakistan's "Civil Society", our silent majority, is showing what metal it is made of

I hate to sound like a broken record, tooting the same horn again and again, but readers of this blog will be familiar with WikiPakistan's documentation of the Quake and relief efforts, which is at:

http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Earthquake_10-05

People following that story will have seen how a nation, torn apart by ethnic animosities and sectarian conflict; the media coverage from where seemed to be all of "religious parties" holding rallies to burn international leaders in effigy (including their own--and never mind the religious proscription on making craven images); the way this nation just dropped all the noise and fury and focused on helping its own was a wonder to look at. And the "religious parties"? I have been trying to run an informational site on the crisis and it was on the 11th day that I saw anything from them that any Pakistanis paid attention to--and even then mainly to shake our heads in bemusement. I covered some of this in a previous blog entry.

But this past week came some positive feedback from two other sources--both, in a manner of speaking, from just over the border. (And I mean this not in an gloating way, but in a "It is good to be thought well of by the most thoughtful of neighbours" spirit.) If you get a chance, listen to what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has to say on Talk of the Nation (a US radio program put out by National Public Radio) about the Human Rights community in Pakistan:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4957424&ft=1&f=5

He says that Pakistan, in terms of Civil Society, has made major progress. Pointing to the Human Rights Commission, an NGO that "under visionary leadership of Asma Jehangir and IA Rehman" (his words) has done great work. He goes on to point out that our newspapers play a very big role, and give opportunity to different points of view. "I don't feel as hopeless about it...Pakistan will move towards democracy."

Then a few days ago, a friend in India pointed out what Pankaj Mishra has to say about our Press in the 10th anniversary issue of Outlook, a major, well-regarded journal:

http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20051017&fname=ANPankaj&sid=1
(skip to page 2 and look for "Pakistan" if you are in a hurry--Note: The page requires login and the archives might not be available; Qalandar has been nice enough to reproduce the paragraph I am talk about in the comments section for this blog post.)

It is almost a throw-away line on page 2, and I feel that in his frustration with it, he's giving short shrift to India's very robust English language press, but it it does make the point that Dr Sen makes: that contrary to what you might have heard in most of the media in the West and elsewhere (and not just on FOX), this Muslim nation at least (the second largest, by the way) has a very strong tradition of an independent press, independent thinking, and independent speech--and not just "Islamist" rhetoric, neither.

So please, if you're not a Pakistani, in this moment when the world's kleiglights are trained on it, take a moment to explore Pakistan's society. You can start at WikiPakistan, or any of several sites that index Pakistani websites and information; or any of the Newspapers: The Daily Times, said to be the most independent; Dawn, our very own "paper of record", with all that that status entails; The News, our largest circulation English paper. Or explore the blogosphere at Karachi's Metroblog, or Lahore's; read Danial's blog; or tech maven TM's...write to me for more.

And if you are a Pakistani or have roots in that region. Well, ditto. Take a look at Pakistan. Not the Pakistan we whine about or the Pakistan your parents or you left a decade or five ago. Follow the disaster relief effort: notice the strength of our spirit and the beauty of our hearts once the silent majority wakes up and engages with an issue. We need to keep this alive beyond this month, this year. We need to come out of this a stronger, more engaged, more caring nation, playing the role that our founders envisioned--that of a modern nation and a democratic republic that stands for the best, most--to use the dreaded word--enlightened model of how Muslims can engage with the world of today; any day.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

...if it doesn't hurt...

"Let's Give until it hurts; for if it does not hurt, you haven't given enough."

Words to live by:

Read the full article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Interview with an ISP Manager in Pakistan

Tariq Mustafa, Senior Manager, Core Networks, with one of the largest ISPs in Pakistan is a techie I have learned to respect and like--even though he was several years my junior at college. He's done a lot of things on the Internet over the years. He runs about the oldest mailing list there is for alumni of our common alma mater. You can read his own blog at http://karachitoday.blogspot.com/

Here's an excerpt from a conversation I had with TM, as he is known in Pakistani technical circles, on Wednesday morning, Karachi time. Their offices are situated, together with other telecommunications providers that are part of their corporate group, in a highrise building near my parents' home in Karachi. There had been a tremor in this southern Pakistani city overnight.

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
we couldn't sleep last night

iFaqeer@gmail.com
the 4.0 that hit Karachi?
apparently, my mother slept through it

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
yes
but it were the rumors that made a louder noice

iFaqeer@gmail.com
i was following it on the Karachi Metroblog

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
i got this call from my 24X7 team at [our] office (Hasan Center)
they panicked out of the building

iFaqeer@gmail.com
i'd forgotten you have a 24x7 team reporting to you
that must have been "fun"

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
no..i was just wondering that god forbits if anything happens, how wholesomely would *I* be affected
imagining the tower housing so many communication stuff [a cellphone provider, a payphone company, etc.] coming down
forbid

iFaqeer@gmail.com
do you have any technical reports on how sound that building is vis-a-vis earthquakes?

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
no
but that is the most scary part

iFaqeer@gmail.com
do you intend to try and get something now?
as a manager, it seems like it would now be laazim [Urdu for obligatory] on you to do that

tariq.mustafa@gmail.com
yes
we've already started finding things out
but this email [about what to do in the case of an earthquake]
that come this morning from the admin
was the worst way of starting a day

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

iFaqeer Podcast, October 11, 2005

Podcast program. Covers a new Urdu language podcast, Earthquake information, and Pakistanis' reaction in a time of crisis. Who do they turn to?

Audio file is here.

Refers to these previous blog posts:

http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/10/azad-karachi-radio-new-urdu-language.html
http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/10/information-site-on-earthquake.html
http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/10/who-do-pakistanis-turn-to.html

Who Do Pakistanis Turn To?

... besides God, that is.

In spending time on the Earthquake page I am administrating (hate that word) on WikiPakistan, (see previous post), and monitoring what has been happening around that whole mix, I had the following outburst on a mailing list I am on.

In Pakistan, for direct, on-the-ground information, about the best sources are Lahore and Karachi's "Metroblogs" at:

http://lahore.metblogs.com/ and
http://karachi.metblogs.com/

If you want to see a Muslim nation come together in a time of need; a nation that others have dismissed as a "failed state" and one of the "Least Developed Countries" and on and on, read those blogs. This disaster has brought Pakistan and Pakistanis together like never before. (One poster on one of those blogs pointed out Pakistan's winning of the '92 World Cup of cricket as the only other time he felt a similar spirit).

And in this day and age, there is much talk about "secularism"--and the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" is often under discussion in that context. But think about this:

Take as one example, Canada, arguably is one of the shining examples of the success of secular, liberal democracy. (I mean that without sarcasm; I have come to have great respect for that country and its social order.) But on the list of charities provided by "Foreign Affairs Canada" on their website for Canadians to consider donating to, 10 were based on one religion (never mind which one; I'd be raising the issue if they were all Sunni Muslim agencies approved by my mother); one's address doesn't work; and the 12th was the Red Cross.

On the other hand, we have Pakistan, so often in the news in connection with religious fanatics. And which is the Pakistanis' favorite charity--to a man, woman and child around the globe? Who do the denizens of this "breeding ground of terrorists" turn to in our time of need as our FEMA, our Salvation Army, our Red Cross, and our Mother Teresa rolled into one? Not a religious organization. Just one founded and run by an simple, God-fearing, unassuming, plain-spoken man in rubber slippers and basic kurta-pyjama (the dress that is the origin of our modern sleepwear, our pyjamas) who often drives the ambulances himself. We turn reflexively to the Edhi Foundation and Abdus Sattar Edhi. A man that is no Jamaat-i-Islami leader, no Franklin Graham, no Mother Teresa-equivalent. (And believe me, we have those, too.) Just a volunteer worker who now heads an organization that, as unassuming as its founder, and to the frustration of thousands of expats over the last few days, still does not have an official website touting, for example, that they run the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world, or asking for money. For information on the man and the organization, see

http://www.contactpakistan.com/socialwork/Edhi/
http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Edhi_Foundation

The rest of us mortals are demeaned devils (and I do mean that in the theological sense) compared to this man--a man who has, over the years, run afoul of every religious and ethnic organization in Pakistan--probably bar none--with his simple-minded insistence on doing the right thing; whether it was providing decent burial for the bodies of heathens, or putting a cradle outside the Foundations' Welfare Centers for abandoned/unwanted children. In the troubles that have engulfed that region over the last three decades, it was often the shield of an ambulance with the Edhi name on it behind which innocent bystanders were shepherded to safety--including at least once in this writer's life. And again this was often unsung: in my own case, it was amusing to hear on the BBC that evening that the Police had apparently rescued us.

That is humane leadership. And that's what matters in the end. As far as I am concerned, Edhi--often referred to by Pakistanis as "Maulana Edhi", a title reserved for the most respected of religious leaders and which literally means "My Lord"--is living proof that terms like "secularism" and "Islamic Republic" are distractions from the real work, that of doing well by the rest by His Creation.

And, to quote the Jewish sage, "the rest is details", or, in the words of an Urdu--the official language of Pakistan--poet:

mazhab thoe buss mazhab-e-dhil hai; baaqee sub gumraahee hai
(the only (true) creed is the creed of the heart; all else is heresy)

Information Site on Earthquake

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that I am the founder of WikiPakistan--a "Pakistan Information Database" hosted by the same foundation that runs WikiPedia. I started a page about the Quake on WikiPakistan on Friday night (California Time) as soon as I heard of the Quake. The page (and affiliated pages) is starting to become a good place to gather and look for information.

Here's the message I sent around Friday night:

-----Original message from WikiPakistan Admin to community

I set up a page on WikiPakistan, which can be used to gather information, provide links, etc.:

http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Earthquake_10-05


This is a good place to put information you receive, so there is a central place to go to.

Suggestions/Requests for information:

* Specific information about towns, cities, etc. and how much they have been affected.
* Database of missing people and informatioin about people found.
* First hand accounts of events, photographs (phone camera pix welcome)
* Relief efforts, fundraising events planned, etc.

Please add the information yourself, if you can. Otherwise, e-mail it to iFaqeer@gmail.com.

Since this tragedy spans several countries, please feel free to add quake-related information, from India and Afghanistan (and beyond? China?).

WikiPakistan is a relatively new Information Database about Pakistan, Pakistanis and the diaspora. The site is at http://pakistan.wikicities.com/ and background information can be seen at http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Pakistan:About . It is an open database that anyone can edit and is developed under a Free Document License. Contributors are encouraged to click on the "Create an account or log in" link in the top righthand corner of every page and create an account. You do not need to provide any personal information.

Azad Karachi Radio; a New Urdu Language Podcast

We've launched a new Urdu Language Podcast with the title "Azad Karachi Radio". Check it out at:

http://AzadKarachiRadio.blogspot.com/

You can subscribe to the RSS feed using the following address:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/AzadKarachiRadio

Please let us know what you think.

For Azad South Asia,

Monday, October 10, 2005

Now PodCasting!

I have added a Podcast to this blog. The way things work for now is that I will make selected posts, and some Podcast-exclusives, available as audio files that will form the Podcast feed. You can subscribe to either the text version of this blog or the Podcast using the following URL/link:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/iFaqeer

Just copy and paste that address where the software you use to subscribe to PodCasts (for example iTunes from Apple, iPodder, etc.) asks you to put addresses of Podcasts you are subscribing to manually.

Most entries with a Podcast associated with it will also provide a link to the MP3 file for readers who want to download and listen to Podcasts directly.

And here's a Stop Press: Someone (not me; honest!) has already created an entry on Yahoo!'s new beta Podcasting service for this program. Check it out:

http://podcasts.yahoo.com/series?s=197a479e7b622d8a0a030cea74669ebf

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On Foreign Policy and Doing The Right Thing

The problem, I think is not that America, or the American establishment, is evil or something. The problem is the false assumption--or big lie, if you will--that is often used to underpin propaganda; the assumption that any nation's foreign policy can be based purely on the human rights or best interests of other people.

Granted that one can operate in the foreign sphere with moral principles and try to do the right thing, and one can wage war and conduct one's diplomacy in ways that are not morally repugnant; and nations have done these things on occasion, including the USA. But to say that one is running one's foreign pollicy for the benefit of others is just not logical. And I am not picking on the US--Pakistan's (the country I am a citizen of) policies in Afghanistan; India's in Sri Lanka, the list goes on, fall under the same category. And often, as was arguably the case in Afghanistan under the Soviets, the cause was just. But the means chosen, the agents and friends the US and Pakistan picked, were not the ones that, especially in hindsight, were the best people to work with in the long run. In fact, one of the most prominent ones is now on the State Department's terrrorist list. And I am not talking about Usama bin Laden, but someone that was much more central to the activities of those governments at that time.

Personally, I hold critics of this or that foreign policy whose critique is that the policy is "selfish" in nature more at fault than the people actually running them. The critique, in my humble opinion, should be that the policy is not being implemented in with the dignity and rights of human beings in mind; thus not "Why is America looking out for its oil interests?" but one of a multitude of others. For example, "Why is American making deals with the House of Saud not some nicer Arab?" or "Why did American subvert Iranian democracy and put a monster like the Shah in place?" or "Why did American support Saddam in the first place?"

Friday, September 23, 2005

PodCast test

Updated 10/1/05 with an introduction in English.



This post is a test, trying out the new podcasting feature on this blog. To try things out, I have put in a link to an audio file of a speech I gave at Yaum-e-Sahir an event celebrating the Urdu poet and Bollywood lyricist, Sahir Ludhianvi.

For now, the audio file is here. Apologies to non-Urdu a -Hindi speaking readers, but the file is in Urdu for now. I intent to add an audio commentary in English to the file as soon as I can. It will also give me a chance to try out a new hosting option.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Installing Urdu" on Windows XP

I have made a lot of noise along the way about blogging in Urdu and I promised instructions on how to install Urdu as a language that your Windows XP machine can handle. Here are the instructions, from the website of the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing in Pakistan:

http://www.crulp.org/Downloads/read_me_xp.txt

Once you have followed those instructions, you can use Urdu not just for blogging, but for pretty much anything you now use English and the English script for on your computer. And as I have said before, no, it is not the same as using InPage or some other editor to write Urdu, but using Urdu all the time. With the InPage solution (which is wonderful for "kitaabath" and page layout), what you have to do is convert your text in to a graphic and put it on your website or page, etc. But with this procedure, you can actually write directly in your HTML file, or Word document--or even while chatting with people over Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger or other IM client!

First published on Urdu ke Naam

Monday, September 19, 2005

Urdu Technical Blog

At this point there are now more than one blog from Pakistan on technical issues. And at least a few devoted to Urdu on the Internet. (See this previous post, and this one.) I have been invited to join a new blog in Urdu about technical topics. It's at:

http://urdutechnews.blogspot.com/

Please check in once in a while to see what's happening.

Update on "The War Within" (Movie)

Last night, I'd mentioned a movie that came to my notice. (See http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/09/war-within.html ) One of the Executive Producers has responded to that entry. See "Comments" on that page.

The War Within

Just saw this movie preview on iFilm. Is it very new, or is it a "sleeper" (excuse the pun) that hasn't gotten much play:

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2679382?refsite=7114&c=clod&cid=176&htv=12

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Katrina, Muslims, Pakistanis, and the like

I haven't been slow posting again. But this time I have a better excuse:

I am a founder/co-founder of a couple of Web database projects and have created pages relating to Katrina and the Muslim and Pakistani communities respectively. (Of course, there's a lot of overlap.)

http://humanrights.progressiveislam.org/index.php/Katrina
http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Katrina

If you know of things happening around the world, where you are, etc. please send me web links and other material that should be included on those pages. In the latter case, you can just click on the "Edit" link at the top of the page and enter/edit information directly.

By way of information, WikiPakistan is a relatively new Information Database about Pakistan, Pakistanis and the diaspora. The site is at http://pakistan.wikicities.com/ and background information can be seen at http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Pakistan:About . It is an open database that anyone can edit and is developed under a Free Document License. Contributors are encouraged to click on the "Create an account or log in" link in the top righthand corner of every page and created an account. You do not need to provide any personal information.

The Human Rights Project at ProgressiveIslam.Org is is a "wiki" devoted to documenting human rights issues within the Muslim community world-wide. More information is at http://humanrights.progressiveislam.org/index.php/About_Us

Monday, September 05, 2005

Taking Offence

A snippet from something I posted on a list a while back:

"If I am going to to be offended as a Muslim, I am offended by both people who equate the word "Shariah" (or Islam, or Fiqh, or Hadith, or ... or "socialism", or "Hindu", or...) with the worst
mis-use and abuse of the concept as I am by people who equate their own particular interpretation of such a concept with the wider concept (like W's use of the words "Liberty", and "Freedom" and ...and that's being charitable to him).
"

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pakistan and Israel

More detailed comments later, but one thing that non-Urdu speaking readers and journalists, in particular, might be interested to know. Not really earth-shaking or anything. Just a thought.

The statement, refrain, one could say, from the Pakistani side is that "this is not official 'recognition' of Israel by Pakistan ..." That is well and good; the word "recognition" has a certain commonly understood meaning in English, especially the way it is used in describing diplomatic goings-on. However, when you listen closely to the news, views, interviews, translations and discussion in Pakistan's native language, Urdu, a whole other depth of meaning and complexity is just below the surface. (I recently subscribed to podcasts of news bulletins from Geo TV, a private Pakistani satellite channel.) The word used is "thasleem karna", which is closer in meaning to "acceptance", than it is to "recognizing". And one wonders where the discussion of official diplomatic recognition ends and where the issue of acceptance of the existence of the State of Israel starts...

But more on that later. Just thought readers might appreciate the perspective.

The Youth of Pakistan

Someone on a mailing list I am on announced an organization for Pakistani Youth. I meant to congratulate and encourage them, but the following spilled out from my keyboard. It comes from the dark side of the old psyche, but bears repeating, I guess:

It is commendable for Youth to help themselves by creating institutions what will help them learn, grow, and engage with society and the wider world. I currently make my living as a technical writer based in Silicon Valley, but I started my career as editor of The Teenager, Pakistan, in 1987, during General Ziaul Haq's time. This was just about the time the last working dance floor in Karachi shut down; it was before satellite, and MTV and even the modern rock of Vital Signs and the neo-Sufi rock of Junoon; before MBA's and BBA's broke the back of the "Engineer-Doctor" career obsession in society; before offshoring and outsourcing brought jobs that paid decent salaries to young folk. The word that one most often heard in relation to the Youth of Pakistan, was "Frustration". Even now, some days I am reminded of the French philosopher that said "Energy restricted is energy perverted" and feel it is not an exaggeration to say that we Pakistanis, and the rest of the world with us, are reaping the whirlwind we sowed by putting the energy and life of a generation of young people in a vise; leaving them without any positive, constructive outlets for their youthful energy.

So bless you for starting an organization for the Youth of Pakistan.

Monday, August 29, 2005

On Local Elections in Pakistan, Musharraf, and Other Modern Dictators

Okay, this might be simplistic, but someone on a list I am on asked what we Pakistanis think of the local elections in Pakistan recently--and Musharraf.

Attitudes to Musharraf range from the "necessary evil" as you said about the Saudis (not being sarcastic here; just commenting) to a straight "any diversion from democracy is bad in the long term". And that tinges most reactions.

My personal take is that dictators (military or otherwise; generally people who don't want to give up power--Pakistan has had one civilian Martial Law Administrator) like this have a productive, progressive phase and then, as time passes, the exegiencies of keeping power lead to their making compromises and deals that make things, on balance, worse for things like human rights, the rule of law, and so on. I think it was on this list that someone pointed out that even Saddam had a phase that built up Iraq into an industrial power with pretty good social indicators. But the later phases lead to unhealthy distortions in the rest of society. The same would apply to what limited knowledge I have of the arc that the regimes of Anwar Sadat, and Siad Barre, for example, took. Or even elected parties in democracies that decide they don't want to let go. Take a look at what happened in Mexico when the PRI held on to power for decades. Or in India with the Congress. In those two cases, things are turning around now; but the unhealthy things that have come up are complicating things.

That's why, IMHO, a healthy democracy is better in the long term--even if right here, right now, it's rather dysfunctional. And that is what leads people like me to say that things we might see as temporary "necessary evils" like the House of Saud, the Shah of Iran, Zia, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Marcos--dare I include Saddam in the list; for the West's support of him was also based on similar logic--are NOT what people who want to support "freedom and democracy" should condone.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Back from Vacation

For anyone reading this and who might have been wondering where I'd disappeared to, my apologies for not explaining. I have been distracted for a couple of personal reasons and then took a week's vacation for a week--practically my first since the late spring/early summer of 2001.

I will now try to make up for lost time. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

CAIR's Anti-Terror PSA...or is it Anti-Violence...

Been meaning too post this for a few days. Since the PSA was released. But now, with the recent "Terrorism Defense" mounted by a London Non-Bomber, it is even more urgent.

> U.S. MUSLIM RELIGIOUS COUNCIL TO ISSUE FATWA AGAINST TERROR
> CAIR to release English, Arabic, Urdu radio versions of anti-terror PSA

>

> (WASHINGTON, D.C., 7/27/05) - On Thursday, July 28, the Council on

> American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will hold a news conference at the

> National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to release a fatwa (Islamic

> religious ruling) against terrorism and extremism. The fatwa is being issued

> by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and endorsed by major U.S.

> Muslim groups.

>

> Representatives of the Fiqh Council, an association of Islamic legal

> scholars that interprets Muslim religious law, and leaders of several
> leading American Muslim organizations will take part in the news conference.

> (The term "fiqh" refers to Islamic jurisprudence.)

>

> WHAT: Release of Fatwa Against Terror and Extremism/Release of CAIR Radio

> Anti-Terror PSA

> WHEN: Thursday, July 28, 10:30 a.m.

> WHERE: National Press Club (13th Floor), Murrow Room, 529 14th Street NW,

> Washington, D.C.

> CONTACT: CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or

> 202-744-7726, E-Mail: ihooper@cair-net.org

>

> At Thursday's news conference, CAIR will also release radio versions of its

> 30-second "Not in the Name of Islam" television public service announcement

> (PSA) in English, Arabic and Urdu. The PSA campaign ties into CAIR's "Not in

> the Name of Islam" online petition drive designed to disassociate the faith

> of Islam from the violent acts of a few Muslims. To view the television PSA,

> go to: http://www.cair-net.org/video/psa.ram

>

> CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 31 offices and

> chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the

> understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower

> American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual

> understanding. To read CAIR's Mission, Vision Statement and Core Principles,

> go to: http://www.cair-net.org/default.asp?Page=About

> - END -
>

> CONTACT: Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:

> ihooper@cair-net.org; Rabiah Ahmed, 202-488-8787 or 202-439-1441, E-Mail:

> rahmed@cair-net.org


Okay, let me try to say this as clearly as I can. I know there might be consequences, but staying silent or beating about the bush is not an option. I have been trying to get the text of the Fatwa issued in Britain a week or two ago, because I thought I saw the same problem there that I see here.

I find it very vexing that this ad (which I watched online) uses "violence" and "terrorism" almost as synonyms. The ad ends with
"Islam is not about hate and violence; Islam is about peace and justice."
Am I to understand that Islam is pacifist in all circumstances? Does it say not to take arms in the face of violent oppression and aggression? Does an ad that implies that have much hope of being taken seriously—or will it inevitably be dismissed as apologist eyewash?

I write this not to endorse terrorism--but to point out that terrorism is a more specific issue than "violence"; that Islam makes a distinction between honourable striving for a just cause (aka jihad) and the use of morally, ethically, and legally reprehensible tactics, even when used in a just cause.

I write this to point that a knee-jerk, not very-well-thought-out statement that oversimplifies an issue is bound, in the final reckoning, not to be useful either in countering the propaganda of those who want to tar the community as following an evil faith; or in convincing young, impressionable Muslim minds (if that is an aim to begin with) that Islam is a faith that can engage with the 21st century's issues without the necessity of resorting to terrorism.

I write this because I have great respect for what CAIR has done in a lot of cases, and CAIR doing good work and making a positive contribution to this discussion is what I would really love to have happen—but in this case I disagree that this is a positive contribution.

Wallahu Aalam, as we Muslims say; only a Supreme All-Encompassing Deity can have full, or real, knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the Cosmic Elephant.

[...and the "Fatwa" by the Fiqh Council does not say, by the way. Which makes it a bit suspect in terms of being a formal, real Fatwa...but more on that later. Though one has to note that the Fiqh Council Fatwa does a better job of not conflating "terrorism" with "violence".]

The Terrorism Defense

You will have heard of the man arrested in Italy for the second bombing attempt in London. From what I have heard in the press, his lawyer is using a rather interesting defense--that he hadn't meant to kill anyone; just scare them. (See for example, "UK Bomber: Act Was in Protest of Iraq War" at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/08/02/1438211.) Or, in other words, his defense is that he only meant to terrorize...huh?! What?!

Though, seriously, when you come to think about it, for quite some time now, everyone (and I mean everyone, including American Muslim groups like CAIR; see their latest Public Service Announcement) has equated "terrorism" with "violence" and defined it as just being "all violence against civilians" (or some times, just all violence one does not like). Can we then complain when someone turns around and says that his act isn't terrorism because it wasn't violent?

Excuse me while I take a break to puke.

Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the (belatedly) Free Press Day 9

rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072905.rm

It seems the press has given up the ghost. Nary a mention of the Rove issue. I guess I will only continue this series as and when they do ask.

It's been fun following one story. And having had to actually file some stories to real media outlets over the last few months (after a long time), I have developed a healthy respect for what folks in the press do. Individually, we can mouth off about this person or that organization, but when one is faced with filing a coherent, complete story, it is difficult to express opinions. Of course, this is a comment about people trying to file real news stories, not opinion pieces or fluff.

For the complete series, see: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/07/karl-rove-scott-mcclellan-and_22.html

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bolton

So, will John Bolton be given an office in one of the top ten stories of the UN Building?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the (belatedly) Free Press Day 8

rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072705.rm
The Karl Rove issue seems to have become part of the background (Helen Hunt's voice can be heard asking a question about it), but the press does seem to have become a little more daring over all. Or is it because we are not paying attention?

For the complete series, see: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/07/karl-rove-scott-mcclellan-and_22.html

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the (belatedly) Free Press Day 7

rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072605.rm
The press seems to be getting more classy in probing about Rove; one question was couched as a request for a comment on Bill Clinton's saying that Rove's political machine "have gotten away with murder", for example.

BTW, questions about a recess appointment for John Bolton are coming up now.

For the complete series, see: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/07/karl-rove-scott-mcclellan-and_22.html

Monday, July 25, 2005

Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the (belatedly) Free Press Day 6

rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072505.rm
The Rove issue seems to have become a part of the background noise, with journalists wondering if Rove was in this or that meeting.

The Indian gentleman goes back to saying that it is an insult to the Prime Minister of India (not to mention the country) for other members of the White House Press corps to ask questions about scandals.

For the complete series, see: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/07/karl-rove-scott-mcclellan-and_22.html

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Is Urdu Ready for the Information Superhighway?

July's cover story in Spider magazine (the Dawn Group's Internet Magazine) is titled "Sifting Scripts: Is Urdu ready for the information superhighway?".

Details and links are on the "Urdu ke Naam" blog:

http://urdu-ke-naam.blogspot.com/2005/07/is-urdu-ready-for-information.html
[Main blog at: http://urdu-ke-naam.blogspot.com/ ]

The cover package includes a story on the Urdu blogosphere by yours truly:

http://www.spider.tm/jul2005/cstory2.html

On Slavery...

Someone on a list I am on recently posted a very succint and, in my humble opinion, well-rounded analysis of the phenomenon of slavery, especially in the context of the last few centuries:
There were white slaves in the Americas too of course, usually political rebels. People have developed a warped view as if Europeans invented slavery some time after they conquered the Amerias, where the reverse is true, Europeans were the first to abolish savery, though meantime they had added a racist twist to it. But conditions for ordinary workers in the Middle Ages and often much later were little different from slaves and there were regular owned slaves as well. Not very many because people were too poor compared to Roman times where if you were rich you didn't pay your doctor or schoolteacher, you bought them. Another thing people don't realise is that many of the Northern American states abolished slavery long after Independence, for instance New York was 1828 and the racist clash between ex-slaves and immigrants was central to the 'Gangs of New York' kind of situation. What Americans called slaves, Russians called serfs but the actual difference is negligible.
[I only know the person as "live@surrealist".]

Biking to Alaska...

No, not me! Just thought I would post a shout-out to a childhood friend who is:

http://wasi.xzyler.com/Index.html

Friday, July 22, 2005

Karl Rove, Scott McClellan and the (belatedly) Free Press

NOTE: This is one of a series of "live" entries on this blog that I will update as we go. Please check back often. I will post entry at "the top" of the blog notifying when this entry is updated.
All links are to the CSPAN archives.
Day 1, 7/11
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb071105_mcclellan.rm
Which includes, Scotty Mack cutting off a journalist trying to get him to reply to a question in a robust dicussion of Karl Rove, turns to ye olde "indian" journalist who asks, to summarize, "How far can we go now in pursuit of Usama Bin Laden? Because Usama Bin Laden in in Pakistan."
Who's the old guy? Was he being sarcastic?

Day 2, 7/12
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb071205.rm

Day 3, 7/13
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb071305.rm
[Video not working too well right now]

Day 4? (7/18)
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb071805.rm
A lot of references are made to the "press availability of Pres. Bush with Prime Minister Singh of India earlier in the day rtsp://video.c-span.org/15days/e071805_india.rm)
The Indian gentleman finally engages with the issue of the day--in a way--when he asks if it isn't an insult to an foreign leader when American reporters go off on tangents during joint availabilities...

Day 5 (7/21)
[link to be added]
Interestingly, even in responding to questions about London (and the new bombings today), McClellan repeatedly refers to "fight the terrorists in Iraq, so we don't have to fight them at home". Huh? London is not part of "at home" of the allies? I wonder how Tony Blair would feel about that.

Day 6 (7/25)
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072505.rm

The Rove issue seems to have become a part of the background noise, with journalists wondering if Rove was in this or that meeting.
The Indian gentleman goes back to saying that it is an insult to the Prime Minister of India (not to mention the country) for other members of the White House Press corps to ask questions about scandals.

Day 7 (7/26)
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072605.rm
The press seems to be getting more classy in probing about Rove; one question was couched as a request for a comment on Bill Clinton's saying that Rove's political machine "have gotten away with murder", for example.

BTW, questions about a recess appointment for John Bolton are coming up now.

Day 8 (7/27)
rtsp://video.c-span.org/60days/whpb072705.rm
The Karl Rove issue seems to have become part of the background (Helen Hunt's voice can be heard asking a question about it), but the press does seem to have become a little more daring over all. Or is it because we are not paying attention?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London 07/21/05

Listening to the statement by Tony Blair (press availability with PM Howard of Australia) and the calming tone of his voice is amazing--conveying in itself a determination not to let the incidents disrupt the flow of things, or his temperament. Interesting. Makes me wonder if any other nation--the US, Pakistan...--could react like that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Barbara Boxer: We lost our focus

One of the most honest comments I have heard in a while:

"9/11 shook us. And we lost our focus. We didn't regain our focus for quite a while....the day I got my legs back was the Tom DeLay got up and said we don't have the right to question the President on his domestic policies in a time of war."

(Speech to the Commonwealth Club, July 8, 2005. Full audio available at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/05/05-07boxer-audio.html)

Monday, July 11, 2005

John Edwards: "We need a domestic intelligence operation"

rtsp://video.c-span.org/project/rwh/rwh041005.rm

MIddle East Peace

Just heard "Big Ed" Schultz on Air America Radio the phrase "Middle East Peace" in the context of bringing an end to the violence in Iraq. How words and phrases evolve!

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Women in Mosques -- Episode II

Over the last couple of days has come the announcement by first CAIR, and then ISNA on an intitiative towards "Women-Friendly Mosques". My first reaction yesterday was to say positive things about the initiative being taken. I did this because I was sure I or someone else would much to critique in it when we read it through. And Shahed Amanullah (editor of Alt.Muslim, and one of the leaders in the AMILA community) has the needful in a way that means anything I would write would be reinventing the wheel:
"Women-Friendly Mosques" Document Leaves Unanswered Questions
The "women-friendly mosques" document allows male-run mosques to obey the letter of the law without significantly improving the situation of women in US mosques today....
By Shahed Amanullah, June 24, 2005
http://www.altmuslim.com/perm.php?id=1480_0_25_0_C
And this is becoming quite a dialog. The Progressive Muslim Union, an organization whose advocacy has no doubt been a large part of what set off this whole chain of events, has put out a statement. They welcome the step while expressing the opinion that this is a first step in a longer journey:

http://www.pmuna.org/archives/2005/06/pmu_response_to.php

And from Dr. Muqtedar Khan comes his own interesting analysis:
"CAIR has announced that it will distribute a “Women Friendly Mosques” Brochure. This document is perhaps the most enlightened statement that CAIR has ever issued in its eleven-year history. This is a good beginning for their new Chairman, Dr. Parvez Ahmad. I hope that this document is a promise of more progressive thinking to come from CAIR. The document is meekly titled as a brochure when in fact it is a document that clearly lays down a new mosque policy for American Muslims. To read more click here... http://www.ijtihad.org/women-mosque-policy.htm"
A couple comments on specific things in his piece:
  • Dr Khan observes that "Now even CAIR is a progressive Muslim voice..." I wonder; does that then make them Neo-Con dupes, too, like the other groups carrying the "progressive" message have been accused of being (not by Dr. Khan, of course) ? Sorry; I couldn't resist that joke. Or is it a joke?
  • And he makes another very interesting observatino: "It is a bit disturbing that more Muslims organizations endorsed John Kerry than this brochure." Food for thought.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Security Situation in Iraq

This speech seems to have much to commend it:

C-SPAN: Anthony Cordesman, CSIS, on "Iraq: Security & Development"
Anthony Cordesman, CSIS Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy talks about "Iraq: Security and Development."
rtsp://video.c-span.org/project/iraq/iraq062405_cordesman.rm


His assessment has the sound of reality. For his conclusions and analysis, you'll have to listen to the speech, but to give you a minor example, he makes a distinction between "Wahaabi" and "Neo-Salafi"--but not in the way that it is usually done; he actually says that even the Saudis aren't really ideologically Wahabi, but Neo-Salafi.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Women in Mosques--CAIR Takes Up the Issue

The following came over the wires yesterday. Today, ISNA has announced a parallel initiative:

> In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
>
> FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
>
> CAIR TO DISTRIBUTE `WOMEN FRIENDLY MOSQUES' BROCHURE
> Publication designed to educate U.S. Muslim leaders on women's rights
>
> (WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/22/05) - A prominent national Islamic civil
> rights and advocacy group said today it plans to distribute a
> brochure supporting the religious rights of Muslim women to mosques
> throughout the United States.
More at: http://www.cair-net.org/default.asp?Page=articleView&id=37017&theType=NB

Without going into some of the nuances and before we start picking nits, let me see if I can say this right:

This is a good thing to have happened. Kudos to CAIR and the authors of the report for doing this. If results is what one cares about, this a step in the right direction for the community--and I am referring to Muslims in North America in particular and the Ummah in general.

Whatever we say about each other, an opinion leaders (like ISNA, CAIR, et al) has taken what I think can safely be characterized as a progressive step. From where I sit, the Progressive side of the community has played at least the role of a catalyst. Congratulations are in order, I think, to the whole community.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Madrassas in Pakistan and Elsewhere -- Myth and Reality

A New York Times article was making the rounds late last week:

OPINION | June 14, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor: The Madrassa Myth
By PETER BERGEN and SWATI PANDEY
There is little or no evidence that the Muslim religious schools produce terrorists capable of attacking the West.
(The full article might no longer be available online without paying a fee.)

Here's my reaction. To quote the article itself:

"While madrassas are an important issue in education and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States."

Translation: To the West, they are just a bugbear and the West should shut up about them. But the issue of how well the institutions that we refer to as "madarassas" today--there was a time when the word was used for a very different type of institution; the Sindh Madarassa, for example--prepare Muslim youth for the 21st Century is an internal issue for the Ummah, one that we MUST analyse and engage with--on our own terms and in our own way; but very urgently.

As a postscript, the #1 Most Emailed Story at the NY Times the same week was another story on Pakistan that promises to be around with us for a while. Here's the list quoted from the same mails that sent the above article:

> 1. Op-Ed Columnist: Raped, Kidnapped and Silenced
> 2. Next Generation of Conservatives (By the Dormful)
> 3. Snake Phobias, Moodiness and a Battle in Psychiatry
> 4. Finding Nirvana on Two Wheels
> 5. Op-Ed Columnist: One Nation, Uninsured

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hijab; Another Minor Rant

I haven't posted anything here in a little while, and thought I would catch up some. The following is actually a little repetitive of other entries on this blog, but I just can not say it enough.

The word hijab, for anyone with any understanding of the "Islamic" meaning of it, refers to a whole scheme of modesty; of modest dress, speech, behaviour and, if I may use a popular concept, attitude. At a lot of times following the activism and rhetoric around the issue, it really becomes difficult to believe that some of the people so passionate about it have this in mind. Very often Muslims themselves act like it is just a synonym for "headscarf" and the whole discussion of proper dress and behaviour for Muslims--which should not just be a matter for the ladies to bear the whole burden of in the first place--boils down to wearing a headscarf; a very particular kind of headscarf.

And that worries me. Very much.

That's where I am coming from.

As we Muslims say, Wallahu Aalam; o
nly a Supreme All-Encompassing Deity can have full, or real, knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the Cosmic Elephant.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sunil Dutt's Faith

The recent death of Bollywood screen icon, politician and activist Sunil Dutt reminded me of an article about his "faith community", a group of people who, though Hindus, were, as we say "Maula kay naam-laiwa"--of those who remember the lord (Ali). Here's a link to the article on a website run by the author (worth exploring in itself):

http://www.islaminterfaith.org/july2002/issue.html


Or here's a better-looking of the same article:

http://www.himalmag.com/2002/may/profile.htm

And here's an article from after his death that talks about Sunil Dutt himself and why his funeral, though not an international affair, was one of those rare occasions when common people, politicians and superstars turn out to put their shoulders together--literally:

http://news.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=86382&cat=Entertainment

What is Islam? Episode I

For non-Muslim friends who really want to understand what makes Muslims and Islam tick, here's a really good one; in fact, one I have been strongly recommending that Muslims also sit down and really listen to, as well. There is a lot Hamza Yousuf says/reminds us that we often don't live up--or even remember.

What I am talking about is an interview of Hamza Yusuf Hanson, who one of the most respected (by people like me) Muslim Scholars in North America of ANY background or stripe. The good thing about him is that he is really well-read and -informed about both the Islamic and Western body of knowledge, culture and history and makes it a point to draw parallels and point out similiarities that help in understanding world history as the one whole (mess?) that it is:

http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R505230900

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Islam and Constitutional Republics - Episode I

Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, First Prime Minister of Pakistan, gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California on May 16, 1950. The audio is at:

http://www.commonwealthclub.org/50-05khan-audio.html


The following is a part of this speech I love to quote:
"... we have proved it to the world more than once. We established Pakistan because of our passion for what we call the Islamic way of life. This is no narrow sectarian, or medieval, or theocratic or intolerant conception. It means no more and no less than this: that we believe in God and atheistic doctrines cannot flourish amongst us. That we believe in the equality of men and the equality of civic rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of their religious belief. That we believe in social justice, ... that we believe in democracy, not as a political creed; but as a part of our religious faith ... the way of life that we have chosen for ourselves, [is] not a new concoction, but one that is based on a body of belief and tradition that have been handed down to us by our forefathers"
The speech the Nawabzada gave to Congress was part of our High School English curriculum. (I think it was Congress; thought I have faint recollection of it having been the very University Churchll gave his "Iron Curtain" speech)

Dr Adil Najam recently mentioned to me a speech by the Nawabzada to the Constituent Assembly about the Pakistani flag; a speech that mentions what the Pakistani attitude to minorities should be. I have requested him for information on how and where to get a transcript or recording.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Islam is the Religion of Peace -- Episode I

Not to pick on the man or the organization because a million "community leaders" have done it before him, but when Nihad Awad gets on CSPAN and says "Islam is a religion of peace" without much qualifification or explanation, the oversimplification does not do anybody service. It doesn't help us Muslims convey what we are about to the rest of the world; and it doesn't not help the rest of the world understand what we are about, either, when what they are seeing is buildings being blown up and suicide bombers and people protesting at not being allowed to wear a headscarf.

What I wish Nihad Awad had said was that Islam is a religion of Justice and Compassion. (Sorry for sounding like I have been drinking the Omid Safi Kool-Aid, as some well-informed readers will no doubt be quick to point out, but I seriously and sincerely believe this.) Islam puts a very high priority on achieving said Justice and Compassion by peaceful means if at all possible, even making compromises where necessary. But not to the extent of sacrificing Justice or Compassion completely. And when one is forced to the point of "No Justice No Peace", as the old slogan goes, Islam prescribes very clear and strong rules that make it mandatory to not let go of Compassion while you pursue Justice by "other means", as the political scientists call war.

I wish Nihad Awad and the others that get the chance to get on NPR and CSPAN, and heck, even Fox News, would "read into the record", so to speak, the rules of engagement that The Prophet, and Hazrat Abu Bakar and Hazrat Umar and Maula Ali have laid down and repeatedly reiterated; so people would clearly know the basis of people like us saying that terrorism is unIslamic--as, the way I see it, are all WMDs. The thing that goes unmentioned being that Iran did not pursue nuclear weapons (at least as far as he knew) while Khomeini was live--for exactly that reason.

That's what I wish Nihad Awad had said. Sara E's saying it to O'Reilly might have been a little more difficult because of the way he drives conversations. I wish someone would say it on Bill Maher's show, too.

But I am just a cubcile-dweller in Silicon Valley. And, as we Muslims say, WAllahu Aalam; Only a Supreme All-Encompassing Deity can have real knowledge, the rest of us are just blind folk trying to feel up the Cosmic Elephant.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Monty Python on the European Constitution

Someone on NPR mentioned the Monty Python sketch about the dead parrot in relation to the recently ... er ... wounded European Constitution. Here's a more full treatment of the matter:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/4596443.stm#monty

Thursday, June 02, 2005

On Moderates and Majorities

I have been tracking Christine Todd-Whitman's current book tour, where she also promotes her new PAC for Republican moderates: www.mypartytoo.com. During a lot of lectures, she quotes Ronald Reagan on something that the "Moderates" and others in other communities and places--like Muslims--would be wise to heed:
"..you do not get to be a majority party by constantly looking for groups with whom you will not associate or work."
You can hear, for example, her Commonwealth Club Speech, May 13, 2005.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

What is a Progressive Muslim? Episode I

People sometimes ask "What is a Progressive Muslim?" Or even "What is a Moderate Muslim? How is one different from another type of Muslim?" This post and others will try to tackle aspects of this discussion.

The way I see it, the diversity of opinion within the progressive "fold"--and not just amongst Muslims, for I see this mirrored at least in Christian and Hindu circles--ranges from die-hard a-theistic secularists who identify as "Muslim" as a matter of strategy and/or culture, through secular (in the I-believe-in-the-separation-of-Church-of-State-but-I-have-a-strong-faith sense of the word) believers, right up to those that genuinely believe that a Muslim can live their faith within a constitutional and/or democratic framework. Of course, often these three strains co-exist in the world view of individual members...

Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part.

Heroes from World History--African Edition

Wonderful list at:

http://www.dodorima.com/Documents/African%20Leaders.html

Askia, for example, was probably the first ruler in world history to have a Minister in charge of Fisheries. Mansa Musa, Samora Machel, Amina of Zaria, Jaja of Opobo--people the rest of the world should know about; and not just to give them their due, but so we can understand our own heritage better, all of us. For a better understanding of history makes us all better people and able to build a better world.

And I have intentionally not listed here the leaders that the world does often talk about: Mandela, Nefertari, and the like.

Sharia -- What is it?

As is often the case with me, coming off a discussion on a list I am on:

A very large flag goes up in my head when someone--whether it is Daniel Pipes, or someone on the progressive side or in the mainstream of the Muslim community--equates "Sharia" with the understanding of the dominant strain in the North American Muslim community of how Muslims should live and conduct their lives.

Here is one little believing Muslim who disagrees that girls' education is secondary to their being dressed modestlly. Or that the word "hijab" is a synonym for "headscarf". Of any description. (See note at the end of http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2004/04/whither-muslim-world.html.) Or that "Allah Hafiz" is the preferred "Islamic" greeting--for South Asians or anyone else. Or that being aggressive or downright rude to waiters when you explain that you don't eat pork is allowed under Sharia or Islam--much less identifying you as a "good Muslim". Or that it is an option for you to assume the negative when you are offered meat at a fellow Muslim's home. (All based on real incidents in my own life--and, no doubt, others'.)

When we accept or assume that what is being thrust down our throats by the privileged or dominant strain of North American or Western Muslim communities--and by a vocal section in the Muslim world--is what Shariah or Islam really is, we've lost the battle for a sane, enlightened world. That's just my humble opinion. Wallahu Aalam, as we Muslims say; Allah knows best, I might be wrong.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Monday, May 23, 2005

Desecration of the Qur'an--Why the Riots?

One reaction within progressive Muslim circles(and please note the lower-case "p") to the discussion of the desecration of the Qur'an is this:
People are being killed by mobs over alleged desecrations of the Quran.
Is this not an outrage?
Well, people who feel they don't have any dignity left; who have, in their view, been exploited, oppressed, and marginalized for 8-10 decades and more; the only thing such people have left is their icons and their faith. And then, what happens when something rubs salt in their wounds, I call it a reaction. I offer you a quote from Sherif Feisal Bin Hussain via TE Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") as a call to compassion based on empathy on all sides of this discussion:
"...either forced good or forced evil will make a people cry with pain. Does the ore admire the flame which transforms it? There is no reason for offence, but a people too weak are clamant over their little own. Our race will have a cripple's temper till it has found its feet."
[Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Chapter IV.]
As a lot of people have said, especially since 9/11 till we are blue--this is not to justify the outrage, which I completely agree it is--but, to use the language of today, to show you where folks be coming from.