Monday, February 28, 2005

State of the Black Union 2005 Video @ CSPAN


Where do I lay down my bedroll?

In discussions of Pakistani politics it often seems that the only space allowed is for the "Musharraf-is-the-greatest-thing-for-democracy-since-Jefferson-and-the-greatest-leader-since-Washington" crowd and those that think "he is the greatest evil that ever stalked the land"? But what about those of us who think that democratic governments in our country have been sorely wanting but also think that interrupting "sultani-e-jamhoor", as the great sage we all respect called democracy, in our Home of the Pure, our "pak sarzameen", is, on balance, a bad thing? What of those of us that want to build and strengthen the republic and good government--as well as democracy, but that's NOT the same as the first two? What of those of us who despair about getting the military-industrial complex and the wadera-bureaucracy complex out of our politics? As the old folk song goes, where do we put our manjis down, hainjee? Mai kayRay paasay jaawaaN?

PS: I know a manji isn't really a bedroll but a small cot, I was aiming for a cultural equivalent.

PPS: And for non-Pakistanis reading this--and for Pakistanis and others of Pakistani origin involved in other communities--doesn't the same dichotomy come up between Republicans and Democrats in the US, or left and right in other places? What comes to mind is when, on campus in Pakistan, both the Islamists and the ethnic heavyweights would both keep up a loud drumbeat of "There is no such thing as neutral; either you're with us, or you're with them." Third parties are not viable...ring a bell? Is sanity ever an option?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Rocking the Oscars!

Chris Rock just walked out to anchor the Oscars...It was only a few years ago that I said to my best friend, "If they dont' give it to Denzel, I will personally drive down to LA and start a riot." Let's see how these ones go...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Love thyself

Corey Booker at the SOBU 2005 points out the other half of what Jesus said:

"Love thy neighbor as they self"

pointing out that we can't love our neighbour until we first love ourself and are comfortable with ourselves.

Niggah, don't wait...

Michael Eric Dyson at the SOBU 2005:

"Niggah, don't wait till you in trouble to find out you a niggah."

Something to think about whichever type of "victim of democracy" (Malcolm X's phrase) you are.

Brother Minister

Listening to Louis Farrakhan at the SOBU 2005, it occurs to me: You have to understand that you are now listening to a Sunni Muslim leader.

He closed his presentation with:

"God ain't gon' give you no more! 'Cos has given you all you need. And you're not using what you got."

State of the Black Union 2005

Readers of this blog, in particular, will be familiar with Tavis Smiley. He is one of the most prominent African-American media personalities today, and quite an activist. Every year, Tavis hosts a gathering called the "State of the Black Union" with major Black leaders and leaders of opinion. The event is carried live on C-SPAN and I am watching it right now. More thoughts as they come to me.

Interesting News from South Asia

Interesting news articles:

India to welcome Pakistan cricketers with garlands, not vermilion
(Indo-Asian News Service)

26 February 2005

NEW DELHI — Respecting the sensitivities of Pakistani cricketers,
India will welcome them not with the traditional tilak and aarti but
with flowers as they land at the Indira Gandhi Airport here on Monday.

See story on the Khaleej Times site.


No flags on helmet vs Pakistan: BCCI

NEW DELHI, FEB 24: Indian cricketers will not wear helmets featuring
the Indian flag on them during the upcoming series against Pakistan,
but have sought a "clarification" if the three colours in the flag
could be worn.

and no, it's not anything to do with Pakistan; it has to do with
India's flag code.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Politics, Religion and ...Fashion?

The titles at the top of the list of Drafts I have lined up to work on for this blog are:

Condi's Heels
God's Politics

Is there a message there?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Foreign Influences on American Shi'ism

Once in a while one runs into something new. Found this yesterday:

Foreign Influences on American Shi'ism
by Dr Liyakat Takim at DU

Haven't had the chance to read it yet.

Tehmina Durrani

Tehmina Durrani (author of My Feudal Lord) is in the news again. This time because she's married, well, another Lord, so to speak. Of course, this time, it's an urban scion of an industrial family with political heft. Or was that also true last time, as well? The new Mr. Tehmina, of course, is none other than Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of the former Prime Minister and former Chief Minister of the Punjab himself. Some would describe Chotay Mian Saahab as the Sharif brother with the brains. The convential wisdom has always been that he was the one with the brains in this generation. And now, I guess we have Ms. Durrani's testimonial on his being the smart one...

I could go on with the gossip; my experience as TV Review writer for Mag would come in handy. But let's peel the onion, shall we?

The good thing about the phenomenon that is Tehmina Durrani is that a person with as creative a social life has just as creative an intellect, and is a Pakistani, and is actually taken seriously in Pakistan. Somehow, I find that reassuring.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

War, Crimes, Rape, Honor and Being "Pure"

Published online in Al-Mizaan, February 23, 2005.

"War is coming to Balochistan," says Ali Ahsan Halai.

Now, even most Pakistani readers will not know that name. Ali Ahsan is a Pakistani journalist who was writing in this month's Herald, the older of the two major English monthlies in Pakistan. So why should anyone besides Balochis, or Pakistanis in general, care?

Balochistan is a province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. And Pakistan is the seventh largest nation in the world. And, depending on how you look at it and who you believe, Pakistan is also the 2nd or 3rd most populous Muslim nation in the world. Oh, and did I mention it is the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons?

As for Balochistan, well, amongst other things, Balochistan borders Afghanistan. Balochistan is where China is helping Pakistan build a second warm water port. This is the point at which a pipeline from Central Asia would most probably bring natural gas to be shipped to the rest of the world. Oh, and did I mention that it straddles the border with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

So, to this wonderfully strategic point on the world map, Mr. Halai tells us, war is coming. Why, you ask? Well here's the view of a prince of the people, so to speak, the son of a major Baloch leader:

And to pick up the theme of what is happening in this current conflagration in Balochistan, here's how Herald's lead story starts:
Battlefront SUI
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
It was a "chhoti si baat" or a minor matter, as Inter-Services Public Relations spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan put it on television. But the Baloch saw it as an affront to their honour which, in the words of Bugti chief and nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti "must be avenged at all costs." Despite such widely divergent views, the rape of Dr Shazia Khalid of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) brought the Pakistan Army into a dangerous confrontation with the Baloch nationalists that threatens to destabilise the whole country.

Dr Khalid was raped in the confines of the maximum-security Sui gas refinery compound on the night between January 2 and 3, allegedly by four persons including an army captain belonging to the Defence Security Guards (DSG). The incident itself did not rankle as much as the subsequent cover-up by the military authorities and the PPL management, who tried to paint the event as a robbery and prevented police officials from meeting the victim. When the tribesmen reacted, the government responded by turning on the heat on the nationalists instead of arresting the suspects. Although there have been attempts by the political forces to broker a truce, the two sides have stuck to their positions, thereby turning Dera Bugti into a virtual battle zone....
So, in a lot of ways, it is the same story that has played out since time immemorial, one does that quaint old document from the 18th century read? "... a long train of abuses and usurpations..." Whether the litany of abuse and usurpation is real, or perceived, in my humble opinion, doesn't really matter; when a nation or people feel that they have been abused and their rights and resources usurped, then, to them, that is their reality. And the government cover up hurts more than the offense.

But is that the whole story? There's an angle that caught my eye. But first, a couple of words by way of background. Readers that are familiar with happenings in Pakistan will know that there are laws currently in force in that country that, to put is simply, set up a Catch 22 situation: A person alleging rape has to produce 4 witnesses to the act. And if she (and as far as I know, it has always been a she) cannot prove that the act of adultery (zina) was under duress (bil jabar), the admission of having been involved in zina (or being pregnant outside wedlock) leads to a conviction for that act. All this in the name of religion and God.

Overlay on this a country of 150 million with a society that is in large parts still feudal--and I do mean that word in it's literal, historical meaning--and where "honor" is a big factor, and you have the fact that Balochistan is the province that brought the concept of "karo kari", or "honor killing" into our news bulletins and our everyday conversation. Saying any more about that topic would be restating reams and reams of the obvious, serving only to make any self-respecting human rights activist froth at the mouth. And if you have a single feminist bone in your body, then God help you.

So what's the angle I was talking about? What's my point? Well, read the following; it's a short story from the news site of a Pakistani 24-hour news channel:
Rape suspect influential: Bugti

DERA BUGTI: Tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti claimed on Tuesday that the accused of raping a female doctor in Sui has not been arrested because he has influential and brother of a DCO in Punjab. Speaking to journalists at Dera Bugti, Akbar Bugti said tribesmen were being threatened with military action if they did not give up their protests at the alleged gangrape.

“But this is not possible,” he added. Akbar Bugti said the female doctor was not a “kari” but the victim of a heinous crime. He said tribals considered her to be “pure”.
What we have is one of the last absolute feudal lords on the face of the earth (again, as I said, in the classic sense of the word) going on the record as saying that a rape victim is "Pak", or pure. And call me a hopeless sentimentalist, but that can't be a small matter in Pakistan, The Land of the Pure...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Rummy Rumsfeld

From an article in the Washington Post, yesterday; gotta love the wit:

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) then complained about long-term Army expenses being included in an emergency spending package. Rumsfeld said the matter "really is beyond my pay grade." When Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) observed that there are few positions beyond Rumsfeld's pay grade, Rumsfeld retorted: "Senator, I thought Congress was Article 1 of the Constitution."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cat Stevens Update

Cat's Fight Yields Victory
By Julie Keller

The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens (news) has just run the peace
train over a couple of British newspapers....

More at:

Progressive Islam and other updates

My apologies for the staleness of the blog lately. There's a ton of stuff to say and discuss, but there have been a couple of things holding me up. Firstly, as is sometimes the case--at least it is for me, it is--something gets stuck in the pipeline and one can't do anything else till it is out of the way. And in this case on the one hand I was trying to recreate the magic of something I wrote a few years ago that a friend then published in The News (a major English paper in Pakistan), while on the other I get the feeling that the piece is is so unstructured, so stream-of-conciousness, that it most probably is not something other folks would want to read. A mixture of being involved with a piece and an enervating heaviness that, together, saps all energy. Not really writer's block, I guess, so much as writer's plumbing issues. Or as the Winnie the Pooh character puts it when Mr Pooh gets stuck in the entrance to Rabbit's abode, "There's a bear gumming up the works."

With that out of the way (I finished typing out my notes on that piece last night), on to updates and catching up.

Firstly, about the event in SiliValley recently about Progressive Islam. I took copious notes and intend to write a detailed report, but here are a few quick impressions:
  • What has Maha El-Gennaidi done?! A lot of people will remember the event for the last five minutes when things got a little colorful, with various audience (and even panel) members challenging Ahmed Naseef (who is Editor-in-Chief of MWU!, remember?) about some of the more, shall we say, spicy comments about articles on the site. But the thing that stood out most to me was Maha al-Gennaidi, a very significant activist of the SV Muslim Mainstream (founder and moving force behind ING, speaking in this case, in a personal capacity), saying "these guys not a bad thing; in fact, they are most probably a necessary part of our community". I mentioned that to her after the event. Her response was to point out that Zaid Shakir saying, in effect, that "some of the issues they (the Progressive Muslims") raise are things we really need to talk about," as being even more significant.
  • And yes, Zaid Shakir said "I was delighted and pleased by a lot in the book." The book in question being Omid Safi's "Progressive Muslims", described on the Amazon site as "a diverse set of essays by and about "progressive" Muslims" and used by the speakers a reference point about who leaders of opinion in this new set of "Progressive Muslims" are and what they are saying to the rest of us.
More on this after I type up my notes (it's almost a selective transcript) of the event.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Outsiders' view of an "Islamic Republic"

There's an interesting excerpt from the first chapter of a recent book at the following link:

Interesting to read a foreigner (and hear, if you care; listen to the the second clip at that link) describe these things, whichc are so close to a lot of us culturalyl religiously, and personally.

Care to comment?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hold the Presses Again: Feedback from the Region

Got a comment from Hasan Jafri, the journalist friend of mine based in Singapore (remember him?), about the recent entry about a meeting between the leaders of Pakistan's two major parties. Here's what he has to say:

Not surprised at all by [the] BB/NS [Benazir Bhutto/Nawaz Sharif] meeting. I hate to say it, but events in Pakistan are troubling. Small-time politicians such as Bugti don't take on the army without some sort of "help/nudging" from the establishment. The entire western border is now a military zone with two operations underway - one against the jihadis in FATA and the other against so-called Baluch nationalists in Balochistan. Mushi has bungled both.

Whatever one may think of BB and NS, I think the meeting is a good sign. Musharraf must go and he must be replaced with a real political leadership. I know many will disagree with me (and will probably send me hate mail), but as a democrat I believe power rests with the people and the people elect their leadership - no matter how incompetent or imperfect the leadership may be. It is also encouraging that BB/NS are meeting (and hopefully, for the sake of the country, resolving their very parochial personal differences), because mainstream political parties are the only way Pakistan can hope to counter the rising fundamentalism in the country.

Elder Statesman

Just finished watching the tribute to the retiring chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe. The star of the occasion, as with all such Democratic Party events, was, of course, the Grand Old Man of the Democrats, William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of these United States.

Over the last year or two, following the electioneering and other things, I have gotten to really enjoy Clinton's speeches. And watching that event, it occurred to me; the reason I can now listen to him speak is that he is no longer in government. When he was President, I wasn't able to bring myself to listen to him much--much as I didn't listen to Gen. Zia or can't now bear to hear speeches by W or Condi Rice.

PS: One other thought on the event. While Kerry and Clinton made nice with Da New Kid on the Block, MacAuliffe did mention his successor in his speech.

You can catch the full event at rtsp://, it starts with Al Franken speaking, by the way.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Her Party 2; More on Whitman

Christie Whitman is still on the "book tour":

See my previous post on this, as well, but listening to this interview, it occurred to me that the challenge the Republican Right threw at Arlen Specter in the primaries for his senate seat last year must have been really close to home for her in more ways than one, what with New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Specter's state, being joined at the hip.

A few thoughts as I listen:
  • She keeps getting rapped for not criticising the President at all. "I'd like to hear her say one thing negative about the President," one caller challenged. Her reply: "I disagree with him on things..." Though personally, I think that is a red herring; on the topic she's discussing, W isn't the issue anymore. It's who and what next.
  • And speaking on what's next, she says she can say all this because she's not in office nor running for Office. (As I said before, Bill Weld, another 2008 presidential pretender, sorry, contender-in-waiting, is on the board for her PAC.) But she didn't contradict the host when he, almost sotto voce, said something to the effect of "and maybe she is now redy to continue her political career".
  • Is she the Republican Dean?
  • For people keeping score, I haven't discussed Newt Gingrich and his "book tour"? Gotta fix that. Is he the Republican Dean?
  • Over all, it really is refreshing to see a major figure actually disagree in substantial ways with the leadership and/or mainstream of her party in a sober and graceful way without, for the most part, getting defensive or throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It has become so rare anywhere nowadays, whether it is within political parties or withing the progressive vs. conservative vs. traditionalist discussion in religious communities. Lady's a class act, as they would say in New Jersey.

Hold the Presses!

As a Pakistani, here's a picture and news items I didn't think I'd ever see:

Don't really know what else to say, only the usual cliches about politics and strange bedfellows come to mind...

American Desi dot TV

Someone mentioned that there is a new "24 hour English-language television network for South-Asian Americans":

No info yet on how widely it is available, etc. Will keep folks posted as I find out more...if any readers have any more info, please leave a note under "Comments" below.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

DoD News About the War on Terror

Just found the following site; it gives you "[US] Department of Defence News About the War on Terror":

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Wikis and an Encyclopedia in Urdu

Posted an update on Wikis and an encyclopedia in Urdu on the Urdu ke Naam blog about a wiki I found in Urdu and the Urdu Wikipedia.

The Wiki also provides information about blogging in Urdu. For those who are not following this, there is a very large community of bloggers in Farsi/Persian--it's a largest single community in one language besides English or something—and it will be wondeful to see people blog more in Urdu, too. The languages are very close in script and other such technicalities, so we should be able to build on their achievements.

BTW, I never tire of saying this: the Wikipedia community has also set up an encyclopedia in Urdu. Let's see how it engages the Urdu community. The lack of formal structure for scientific and modern knowledge in "Third World" (and I use that phrase very advisedly) languages--even major ones with hundreds of millions if not billions of users--and specifically those spoken and used extensively by Muslim communities is often discussed as a symptom, or a reason for their "lagging behind" in the march of "progress". (And, to name the elephant in the room, at other times it is used as an illustration of inferiority.) If this encyclopedia takes off, it should be a step towards proving orr disproving some of that. Here's the URL directly:

(And here's a link to my Urdu ke Naam blog entry on this topic.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Urdu ke Naam...

I just got invited to contribute to the Urdu ke Naam blog at started by a couple of tech writers and others in one of the traditional homes of the language, Hyderabad Dakkan as speakers of the language call it. You can read my first post there at: if it has moved down.


Frontline Documentary of the House of Saud

PBS's Frontline is doing a documentary on the House of Saud--to be shown (at the time of publishing this) tomorrow:

the related website is at:

I think their programs are available online after the intial broadcast. Their archives are at:

They have done interesting pieces on Muslims, Islam, etc. Look around under:

and their other archives.

Silicon Valley Muslims Address "Progressive Islam"

Since I moved to the San Francisco Bay--or more specifically, the Silicon Valley--Area in late 2000, I have interacted with quite a few groups with the phrase "American Muslim" in their name. AMILA ( has been one that, from my limited interaction, seemed to have one of the sunnier dispositions. But for some reason, I never seemed to connect with them to be able to attend meetings and the like. I know some people who are members, and have met one of their "leadership circle" (for want of a better word) and remember being impressed by him as someone who seemed rather level-headed, etc. Then AMILA fell off my radar--it seemed that they were going through one of those phases of lowered energy that volunteer efforts go through, and I, on the other hand, was busy with other things (election activism, South Asian issues and so on). Their website, it seemed to me also reflected this: their photo gallery ended at events in 2002 and the Steering Committe mentioned was for 2003-2004. And then someone forwarded me information on the following event:

February AMILA Gathering: What is "Progressive" Islam? A Conversation with Ahmed Nassef, Imam Zaid Shakir, Maha El Genaidi, and Ahmed Kamal Sultan Salem
Saturday, February 12th, 6:00 pm - In recent times, American media pundits such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman have claimed that a "civil war" is taking place within Islam, a war which draws clear dividing lines between Muslims "with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one." The last few years have also witnessed the emergence of various groups–both inside and outside the Muslim community–calling for reforms in Islam that claim to make it possible to recast its practices in forms better suited to our "modern" times.

You can read the full announcement at:

Now call me a English-medium paranoid Pakistani who is reading too much into this, but the following part of that webpage jumped out at me:

"...binarizing formulations–i.e. progressive/traditional, East/ West, forward/ backwards–fail to address the myriad of complexities facing Muslims living in a thoroughly globalized world."

While the complexity thing is good, but to imply that the two types of Islam found hereabouts in Silicon Valley can be "binarized" by anyone into "progressive" versus "traditional" is to imply that the folks that most vocally disagree with the progressives--the mainstream mosque-based activist Muslim in, oh, say Santa Clara County--is a "traditionalist". Dare I mention those who take for granted that the views of Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi are, well, to be taken for granted as the authoritative take on how to live as a Muslim? I have to say, to use an Americanism, ain't my grandfather's Islam. In fact, as I have mentioned on this blog before, my late maternal grandfather at one point changed the mosque he walked to five times a day in Karachi, Pakistan. He didn't go around arguing with them about whether they were "true" Muslims. He just steered away from hanging around them too much; a luxury he had in a city where you can hear the call to prayer from at least 3 mosques at any given prayer time.

So it should be interesting to see how AMILA handles this one. The program promises a "talk from Ahmed Nassef, editor-in-chief of Muslim WakeUp! and one of the founding members of the PMU ... followed by a mediated discussion between Nassef and our other distinguished panelists, Imam Zaid Shakir, Maha El Genadi, and Ahmed Kamal Sultan Salem (bios below)." So it seems like they are implying that this is a case of a new view--at least for this community--having a conversation with the mainstream already present here.

And when I went back to AMILA's site to see if I could tease out a more detailed understanding of where exactly they were coming from, I noticed a few things. Firstly, apparently, I was mistaken: their website lists an unbroken list of events they have organized or co-sponsored (see their main site, so they were less inactive than thought. Then--if you will forgive my personal emphasis on such things, but the whole globe is fixated on this right now--there was nary a headscarf amongst the "Steering Committee" for 2003-4...or wait! is that one I see there? Next, when you do read through their events, they've had a retreat that included Kabir & Camille Helminski as "guests and teachers" (Sufis from Southern California with an affiliation with the Mevlevi Order), and sessions with Nadeem Mohaiemen and Mohja Kahf ( see also the column she "anchors" on MWU!, but be warned, it is not for the faint of faith, I mean, heart).

I am going to try hard to get to this event! Be there; or be square. (Pun unintended--but not unfortunate ;)).

US, Iran Exchange Words

Apparently, the Saudis are holding an "anti-terror" conference (I wonder if the Israelis and Indians are attending). In the review of what the BBC was saying on Sunday, I quoted:

Saudis call for anti-terror hub:

Apparently, there's more fun to be had at the conference; now we hear the US and the Iranians have been having a real conversation:

"Iran and US in 'heated exchange' at Saudi anti-terror meet: report" reports the AFP:

Though as one who wants peace to rule, it is good to see them talking--something they haven't done much of WWI, I think. They've kidnapped each other's nationals or governments, attacked each other's nationals--or nations--indirectly, and so on. But words--and "professional" ones at that if one is to believe the US government on this, and let's do that--at a conference; that's got be an improvement, no?

Oh, and I forgot, the exchange was apparently on the definition of "terrorism". Hmmm. That's something I would like to have or hear a real conversation about, too. I am working on writing something on this--a real article/essay.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Sunday on the BBC

A little round up of stuff I happened to notice on the BBC news site at this hour.

Bully for India! This is the kind of thing India should be doing; the role she should be playing in the world:

India calls for fair trade rules:

[Palaniappan Chidambaram, India's finance minister] said the issue is not globalisation but "the terms of engagement in globalisation."

You go, Mr Chidambaram! Touche.

I think India a bunch of other large (by population; or just moral stature ;)) countries have played this kind of role in the global conversation on trade rules. While what is described in the article is not the whole picture, it is ths kind of attitude that will expand the discourse to where we are talking about doing well by the people, not just by capital.

And here's some news for Pakistanis:

Pakistan and US hold F-16 talks:


Saudis call for anti-terror huh:

And from the cultural capital of the Arab world:

Rare Cairo rally against Mubarak:

Friday, February 04, 2005


Since childhood, I have followed how Aurangzeb is discusssed in Western academia and Indian scholarship (Indology?), not to mention the popular consciousness of India. Which is why, when I got involved with the Wikipedia, I started taking an interest in the entry on the last of the The Great Mughals. During the course of that discussion, I had a rather interesting discussion with a person I am assuming is an Indian or an Indian-American about him. You can read the disccussion at the link below. I have to say, it was refreshing to interact with a person that took the facts/scholarship on its merits and had the guts to evolve his view of the matter:

Yemen's War Against Terror

One country that doesn't get enough attention in the discussion on Islam, Terrorism, Fundamentalism, etc. is Yemen. Yemen, the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family; Yemen where the USS Cole was bombed.

Apparently, Yemen has found an "innovative" way of reducing its problems with militancy, terrorism, if you will. And I use the word "innovative" very advisedly, since that's what even the Bush administration has been paying lip service to--fighting an ideological battle on the extremists own turf, using basic Islamic texts and scholarship to convince them that their way is wrongn--or at least make it untenable for them to use Islam as the basis of what they do.

I first caught this story on NPR about exactly a year ago, but now the Christian Science Monitor has an update:

As a postscript, there is an older this article on Yemen, too:

Are Iran and Al Qaeda vying for influence in Yemen? (

Thursday, February 03, 2005

State of the Union Reactions Part 1

As folks were discussing on NPR this morning, to hear POTUS upbraid Saudi, Egypt and Jordan on democracy and commit to a viable Palestinian state from such a forum (SOTU) was progress. And part of why American Muslim groups backed him in 2000—because he was the only one that seemed like he might do something that, pre-9/11, seemed like a US politican would never do.

On the Bright Side: ICG on Iraq

I have recently started getting information from the International Crisis Group (the ICG at on my PDA (Palm Pilot equivalent) via AvantGo.

It is worth noting that the International Crisis Group (the ICG at Crisis Watch Bulletin for February lists Iraq under "Improved Situations".

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of War

Someone said it again this morning on an NPR talk show: "...since we are in a state of war...". Are we? I thought the US of A has a constitution and there is a formal process for declaring a war. I am not saying we are not in a place where we should be behaving as one does or needs to during a war. I am just saying that we never formally, legally got there. Why haven't we? Because we don't have a country to declare a war on? Don't both sides of the partisan divide in Congress agree that we are in this "new kind of war"? Shouldn't they set up the rules for behaviour in this "new kind of war"? Isn't that what Congress is for?

I mean, it really is very subversive of the constitutional system to have people going around saying we are at war when there has been no formal declaration.

Movement of Jah People

Okay, maybe one last, short note before I turn in.

Most readers might have noticed this as an amusing aside, but when you grow up in Africa, part of your childhood has Reggae as a sound track. Of course, living in the US later in life and becoming a fan of NPR and Tavis Smiley, things like this have a special resonance:


I am going to put off posting tonight; have a couple of things to do. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Torture Does Not Work"

From The Brian Lehrer Show from WNYC:

The Road Ahead
Harlan Ullman, senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, columnist for the Washington Times and author, Finishing Business: Ten Steps to Defeat Global Terror (Naval Institute Press, 2004), says much remains to be done in Iraq
» Harlan Ullman

Thaza-Thazaa Dha Guloona ...

The BBC has a story today that builds on a point I made in my previous post (see

[The title of this post is a reference to a traditional Pushtu song that refers to "Fresh Flowers".]

Who Stole Our Fun?

One frustration in conversations with "Westerners" is that otherwise intelligent people refuse to see that not every "moderate muslim" is all ga-ga over the West helping people run their countries—by force if possible.

If you really want to read a Pakistani writer that says some of this better than I ever will; or want to know how some of Pakistan thinks, check the following out. I read it after writing the previous post. It shows you how "controlled democracy" can turn out. And hopefully, it will show you some of the nuances in the discussion of freedom and democracy.

Remember, the "Zia" he refers to was the Great Ally in the fight against communism. And remember, the writer is espousing freedom and paryting—but is no lover of Don Rumsfeld as an agent of the Democracy Fairy (see and


Injury, fine, but why the insult?
By Ayaz Amir
(Current at this week; will move to later)

Staging the kind of farce which goes by the name of democracy in Pakistan is an injury to the Pakistani people. In my lifetime I don't see this state of affairs improving, the army giving few signs of vacating the political heights it has conquered.

Fine, when you accept the inevitable you're well on your way to wisdom. If there is going to be no democracy, and ISI and MI are to constitute the real election commission of Pakistan, no point in ceaselessly fretting. The next time I think of standing for elections, I'll first seek an appointment with MI chief. That's it, my communist manifesto.

But denying social freedoms, which is also something we've managed to do with some aplomb in Pakistan, is adding insult to injury. If we are incapable of working democracy, and we've proved over the last 57 years that we are, subjecting the sorely-tried people of Pakistan to ceaseless doses of morality, amounts to giving them the worst of all possible worlds: no representative government and no cakes and ale.

The denial of democracy is enough. Why must it be supplemented with turning Pakistan into a Sahara of the spirit? There are other climes and countries where generals have called the shots, whole swathes of Latin America, for example. Many of the conquering Latino generals committed horrendous human rights abuses, in Chile, Argentina, etc.

But even when the worst of this repression was going on, no one banned the tango in Rio or ordered bars and clubs to shut down. When dictatorship ruled the roost, you were all right and could do what you pleased, as long as you kept your distance from politics.

Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro has been lord of Cuba since 1959, which must be some kind of a world record. But despite the cult of the revolution and the existence of a one-party state with zero tolerance for dissent, Cuba is one of the great fun-places of the world.

If I had the money, which I don't, I'd choose Havana over Las Vegas as a holiday destination any time. Love among the sugarcane fields. I know what one of my biggest regrets will be when the shadows of eternal evening close in: not to have visited Cuba.

Castro's compact with the people of Cuba is this: follow the flag of the revolution and the state will educate you from kindergarten to university and take care of you if you fall sick. Education and health care are totally for free. You pay not a penny and you get services that rival the best in the world. And there is social freedom.

It was like this in the old communist bloc as well. No political freedom and no criticism of the ruling party but all the fun you could rake in. When I was in Moscow 1974-77, Pravda, the organ of the communist party, was the most turgid newspaper human ingenuity could produce.

But seeing Muscovites letting their hair down in the evenings, filling the city's countless cafes, restaurants and hotels, showing their passionate dedication to the national drink, vodka, and dancing the evening hours away, was a delight to watch. Unless you were a born sourpuss, you also followed the example.

In short, under the hammer and sickle, the people of all the Russias had no political freedom. They still don't, not in the accepted John Stuart Mill sense of the word. But by God what fun they had.

Consider our plight in the light of these examples: no head for democracy, and little taste or zest for pleasure. Of all the bargains in the world, this is about the worst.

Why do Pakistanis flock to Dubai? Not because of Dubai's famous political freedoms but by way of sampling some of the good things of life. Things denied them at home they seek abroad.

Was Pakistan always so discontented? You bet your life it wasnt. Dubai was a fishing village when Karachi was one of the great, fun-filled cities of the East, rivaling in splendour Bombay and Singapore. As for Lahore, it was a magnet attracting people from all over Punjab, rich and not-so-rich.

I am not saying it was a flesh pot or a modern Babylon, just a great place to burn some money in, offering something to suit every taste and pocket. A village or small-town chaudri spending a few days in Lahore returned home refreshed and invigorated.

Then to our lasting ill-luck occurred the Puritan Revolution which changed the country's face, putting false pontiffs in charge of the nation's affairs, from whose lips poured forth a spurious morality. Lahore and Karachi were never the same again.

Hatched in the throes of the anti-Bhutto movement of 1977, this reactionary movement is now in its 28th year. Can you imagine? Nearly three decades of concentrated falsehood. It would cripple far stronger nations and if Pakistan has withstood the ravages of this tide, it says something for the resilience of its people.

But the price of withstanding has been heavy. Discontent sits at the heart of the Pakistani psyche. We arent a normal people any more, our collective condition like that of the village damsel said to be afflicted with djinns. When she is married off, the djinns miraculously disappear.

Get rid of the social and moral dictatorship that holds Pakistan in its grip and the djinns giving the country a headache will go away. We don't have to invent a new liberation.

The seedbeds of liberation are there, buried under the moral rubble of the last 30 years. Remove the rubble and if nothing else happens, Pakistan at least will become a more cheerful place.

Our historical point of reference has always been the Mughal Empire and, rightly or wrongly, we flatter ourselves that we are the descendants of that empire. That this optimism may be misplaced is beside the point.

The Mughals did not rule India for over two hundred years through zealotry and bigotry. When they practised tolerance, they drew within the folds of their empire all the races and nationalities of India. When they forgot the lessons of Akbar and turned to evangelism, their empire fell on evil days.

There were other causes for the decline and fall of the Mughals but this - a turn towards a harsher interpretation of religion under the last of the great emperors, Aurangzeb - was one of them.

For all its sins, Pakistan did not deserve General Ziaul Haq and his fake Islamization. Every symptom that distinguishes the country's present psychological profile can be traced to his rule and the hypocrisy in the name of Islam it spawned.

But the past is done and over with and there is no point in excoriating Zia if we are not willing to dismantle his legacy. The prescription is not all that complicated. All we have to do is agree upon a single-item agenda: do away, expunge from the law books, all of Zia's decrees and ordinances.

Just that and nothing more, no other act of liberation or redemption, turning the clock back and returning to the true spirit, the native genius, of the Pakistani people. Just this and the dirt covering the nations face, the false makeup giving it such an unwholesome appearance, will be washed away.

Simple yet to all appearances so much beyond our reach. Gen Musharraf could have done this in the first flush of his coup when a good section of the Pakistani people looked upon him as a deliverer. (One of the symptoms of the Pakistani condition: look upon everyone who slips in through the back door as a deliverer.) But he missed his moment and got embroiled in other things.

Even so, the social liberation of Pakistan, the breaking of the self-imposed taboos that shackle its spirit, must be the nations first order of business. Afterwards who knows, the search for constitutionalism may prove less elusive than it has been these past 57 years.

Postscript from iFaqeer: I have to say this; that piece really is fun! Ayaz Amir is forgiven past nationalistic jingoism.

I Pray...

A lot people, especially in These United States, (including Fareed Zakaria on The Daily Show with Jon Steward) have been engaging in high-fives and triumphalism (or the Talk Show-Call In and/or e-mail equivalent thereof) about the "successful elections" in Iraq. Being a confessed Sunni (or is it confessional Sunni?), though not an Iraqi, I thought I would write a response:

I pray most fervently that what most of you have said is true. In the historical narrative of my community (actually, several communities I am part of) Baghdad has a depth of importance that most of y'all cannot begin to fathom--or maybe you can, if have ever sung the songs of slaves (Africans in America and Hebrews in Egypt and elsewhere) about a capital long lost and now in ruins, a far, far way from the glory it once had and deserves. Saddam was only the latest of monsters to despoil one of the greatest seats of civilization the world has known.

I pray that englightenment, moderation, and brotherhood between Chaldean Christians, those that revere Ali and Hussain, and people that pray at the mosque in downtown Baghdad named after the scholar whose writings and name identify the religious practice of my parents (Imam Abu Hanifa) can all live again in a society that is a beacon of how differences can enrich and advance human civilization.

The problem is not between the Christians and Muslims or Sunnis and Shias; but with the fanatic Shias, the neo-conservative Muslims, the neo-Hindu groups, and the neo-conservative and neo-imperialist (of course, in the cause of civilizing imperialism) parts of the Western establishment. Each of their intolerant jingoism is first and foremost felt by their own "softer" co-religionists, compatriots or what have you.

And prayers begin at home, so I pray that the new-line conservatives (dare I say neo-cons?) of the Islamic world--people whose way of understanding and practising the religion made my late maternal grandfather to change the mosque he walked to five times a day in Karachi, Pakistan--are not successful in changing the nature of the community of Muslims in the world in any permanent way.

I pray that when cars are allowed to run in Iraq again, there are no more car bombs.

I know I pray against what will most probably happen. For having to ban moving traffic is not a good omen for a free and fair election.

And I pray for the souls of the American soldiers that have given their lives in Iraq; for I have met the common American and she and he are probably the most sincere, most unqualifiedly (and I pray that is a real word) well-meaning person I have met on four continents.

I can only pray you are right. For I have lived under "controlled democracy"; and I have not seen it be good for a nation in the long run. But I pray this will be an exception.