Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Merc Gives Us Ink

For those that might not be completely familiar with it, the San Jose Mercury News is "Silicon Valley's hometown paper". As newspapers go, over the years, I have always had respect for it as one the "better" papers in the US. I know that's not saying much, in this day and age. But this, after all, was the newspaper where the story behind the crack epidemic in Los Angeles broke surface. (What followed, of course, could have been better.)

Today, Thursday, July 20th, they ran a story on their cover (below the fold, a few column inches on the bottom righthand corner; but still on the cover, continued on page 12A) about the Blog Ban in India. It is titled:

"Ban of blogs stirs outrage from India to Silicon Valley"

If you go to the above site before Friday morning California time, you can see it listed under the "BUSINESS" section. The direct link to the story is at:

Several people, including yours truly, are quoted.

No mention of the Pakistani block :(. And they said the tools being used to circumvent were those used for China.

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Indian Blog Ban: Pakistani Blogosphere Reaches Out

This came in late Wednesday afternoon, California time. It was posted on the "Bloggers Collective" mailing list, where Indian Bloggers, and their supporters worldwide, have congregated to monitor, oppose, and discuss the blocking of blogs in India. I am reproducing it without further comment:
Hi Everyone,

I am a fellow blogger living across your borders in Pakistan I am also the co-founder of the Don’t Block the Blog campaign when Pakistan was confronted with the dilemma of facing a blanket blockade of the entire blogspot domain. We seriously thought it was because of a thick and stubborn headed Pakistani government that resulted in such a stupid move but seeing the Indian Government react similarly it seems all governments are the same when they want to implement decisions always without due thought and consideration.

Reading a few emails in this group just recently it seems the Indian government might actually come to its senses and finally lift this blockade surely a big relief to the world, but until then we would like to present the Indian Blogging community with yet another tool to be used on their websites which converts all Blogspot links into a URL utilizing the proxy servers of

Feel free to download this tool from the Don’t Block the Blog website - - credit to Adnan Siddiqui

The Pakistani blogging community has over the few months learned to co-exist with the ban and has created a number of tools to by-pass this ban.
We share all these as a gift to build better friends across the border and hope to shed the image of hatred and violence and give way to a peaceful co-existence between to lovely nations.

On behalf of all Pakistanis

Dr. Awab Alvi
Teeth Maestro
Don’t Block the Blog

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Different Face of South Asian Women

There was a time, we are told in our respect national myths, when the women marched in the streets and "manned", so to speak, the barricades. The photograph above highlights the one side of the political spectrum, still, today that most clearly still carries on that tradition, and takes it to new heights.

More at:

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India Blog Ban?

After the Mumbai blasts, I sent a "We Feel Your Pain (as Karachiites)" mail and blog post to some lists I am on with Indian activists and friends. This even got picked up by Outlook magazine in India, with them running it on the front page of their webzine. But there were still people taking the "You are evil, we are the victims" line--on both sides. But then, along comes the blog ban in India, providing yet more proof that the people, and societies run for the benefit of the people, are ALWAYS the victim. And what is evil is oppressive goverments--anywhere and everywhere.

What I really wanted to do was write another mail that ran just like the first one and said:
We in Pakistan have seen our share of mindless governmental oppression. And as the news comes in this morning, we pray for our friend, our friends to the East...
But let's start with a round-up of what's been happening on the issue. You can skip down for my own commentary, if you're already familiar with what's been going on.

There are varying reports of people not being affected by this, but as of yesterday, it appeared that India had taken, or briefly took, Pakistan's lead in blocking/banning Blogspot.

I heard about this first on the mailing list for the "Society Against Internet Censorship in Pakistan", but there's now a separate group monitoring the situation in India:

That group is also working on a Wiki Resource:

One of the major groups following this and related issues is Global Voices. Their site (I think they like to think of it as a collaborative blog) is at:

[Their "For the Media" page is at: ]

They also have a Wiki (a collaborative site) at:

Which includes a "Bridge Blog Index":

It was interesting following the issue during the course of yesterday. Various thoughts went through my head and various things happened. Among them:

One of the first things folks realized was that the easiest and fastest way to get around the block was to use the website:

It warmed my heart to see a resource developed to help solve a problem in Pakistan be also useful to our neighbours, as well. As I keep saying, we're all in this together.

There was discussion of what motivated the ban. And what it meant. Personally, I think this is a matter of, as Niemoller said, "Them" finally "coming for me". What is getting lost in all this is that the Indian Government already does (or tries to do) a lot of information control; we in cyberspace are only noticing this because it has obvious impact on our daily lives. Read the HT story at:,000600010001.htm

and some of the more informed discussions, especially between bloggers, and others, about what is being blocked. There is casual mention of there being a list of things to block and so on. The assumption is that gag lists are a part of life; they are an accepted and "normal" part of the way the Internet operates in India. I'd like to see more discussion about that aspect of the story; about what exactly "Situation Normal" is. I am not very well-informed about this and don't have the bandwidth or the resources to go after the story. (Unless someone is willing to step up and fund a sabbatical for me...) I would love some full-time journalists actually digging up and presenting a more complete picture. Or maybe a blogger will...

I, of course, also joined the list devoted to discussing/following the ban in India. At one point during the day, someone started a thread for conspiracy theories on that list. Here's what I contributed:
Here's one. What made me thing of it is the headline I just saw in my
mailbox that said: "Is Pakistani state sponsoring terrorism in India?"

My theory is this: Pakistani Agents who have infiltrated the Indian establishment are the ones to blame for this ban. Who else would support something so obviously against the interests of the Indian people?
I think the opposite could be said about the ban in Pakistan, too, no?

Personally, and this might be an unexpected point of view for a Pakistani to expres, the fact that there's a large democracy next door is, at least for some of us Pakistanis, in some ways a reassurance; that people just like us can have one, and make it work. But in all the rhetoric of "the world's largest democracy" and so on, it is important to look beyond the labels. The point is how well a government and a nation lives up to the nice, enlightened rhetoric we all like to mouth.

In closing, a request: Could folks please help me/us (there's a discussion on the "Bloggers Collective" list and I am sure others will be interested) find groups in South Asia and the diaspora specifically devoted to Free Speech?

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pakistani Left: Launch Movement against Terrorist Activities in the Name of Islam

For a while now, I have meaning to discuss what seems to be a nascent revivification of the Left in Pakistan. Over the last year or so, I have seen several pictures of Press Conferences with two of the leading lights of the Pakistani Left, the poet Ahmed Faraz and Abid Hasan Minto, the veteran Marxist leader visible in each. I might be mixing up vague memories, but there was a press conference about a joint movement by six Left parties; a press conference about the "military action" (I don't remember exactly whether the phrase "civil war" was used) in Balochistan; I think one about the Iraq War and then one about the military action in Waziristan...or maybe I am exaggerating; but not by much.

Then, a day or two ago, via Munir Saami Saahab and Tarek Fatah (themselves veterans of the Left in Pakistan, and now lights in the Progressive constellation up to the North of us in Canada), I got the statement below and knew I had to share it with everyone. For people not familiar with the Pakistani political and activist scene, please mark the names signed at the bottom--people who are familiar with that area of activity will already know the names:
"We Condemn the Heinous Crime in Mumbai"

The bomb blasts on local trains and at railway stations in Mumbai, in which over 160 people have been killed and many more are on the verge of dying, are perhaps the most shocking of all such killings that have occurred in the subcontinent of late. The reason is that this massacre has targeted thousands of office and factory going men and women returning home to be with their children and parents after a whole day?s hard work. Those who committed this great crime cannot even be called animals because animals do not commit such crimes. Only human beings do.

It is time for the governments of Pakistan and India to re-assess their priorities and be on a state of high alert. As long as they fail to resolve their mostly man-made disputes and allow free and unfettered people-to-people interaction between the two countries, all sorts of extremists and terrorists would find it easy to indulge in and get away with such insane barbarities. What has happened in Mumbai is indicative of a widening of the dimensions of terrorist outreach. It calls for united effort by not only the governments of Pakistan and India but the people at large to identify and wipe out this cancer that is spreading far and wide at a frightening pace.

Pakistan needs to take stern measures to put down all kinds of demonstrations and displays of religious extremism in the country, which directly or indirectly encourages terrorist activities in the name of religion and undermines the peace process between Pakistan and India.

Similarly, India needs to curb the activities of religious fanatics using the umbrella of India?s pluralist democratic political system, to spawn communal conflicts and derail the peace process. In order to avert a possible collapse of the peace process as a result of such tragic incidents, it is necessary that the two governments put their heads together and take immediate steps to create a relaxed political atmosphere in the subcontinent by removing all outlandish restrictions on the movement of people between the two countries, thus making it impossible for the terrorists to operate.

We would also ask all the sane, secular forces among the Muslims of the world to rise above their petty sectarian positions and help launch an international movement against terrorist activities in the name of Islam.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the members of the families who have lost their near and dear ones in the bomb blasts and assure them that we will strive, along with those in Pakistan and India and the world who abhor religious extremism and terrorism, to fight this evil till it is eliminated for good.

M.B.Naqvi, Senior Columnist & Founder Member PIPFPD
Dr. A.H.Nayyar, President, Pakistan Peace Coalition
Karamat Ali, Director PILER
Muhammad Tahseen, South Asia Partnership-Pakistan
Ms. Ayesha Yahqub, Takhleeq Foundation
B.M.Kutty , Secretary, Pakistan Peace Coalition
Dr. Aly Ercelan, Economist
Ms. Sheen Farrukh, Journalist
Ms. Sheema Kermani, Director, Tehreek-e-Niswan
Notice the statement does not talk about "reforming Islam", or about "bringing liberal or progressive values to Muslims". This is just a bunch of citizens living within Muslim community who think, very naturally, that Muslims should work against Terrorism in the name of Islam.

There is much talk nowadays about looking for voices from the Muslim world that are not right wing or, whatever the word now means, fundamentalist. And great excitement on finding the stray one. Expatriates often talk about trying to create examples within the community that are not corrupt and which work for the uplift of the masses. The question that crosses my mind is this: Which organization or organizations in the Pakistani diaspora, or the wider South Asian diaspora, especially in the US, would put its signature to such a statement? Who's going to live up to their progressive ideals and actually reach back and work as equals with the folks "on the ground", so to speak?

[Acknowledgements: I'd like to thank Maroof Syed and Prof. Adil Najam in help locating the picture above, which was finally located on the on the Islamabad Metroblog. I already mentioned Munir Saami Saahab (founder and moving spirit behind Writers' Forum, the list on which I received the statement above) and Tarek Fatah.]

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

One Man's Terrorist...

... is everyone's terrorist. Whether he's a freedom fighter or not is besides the point.

I have had reason to say this on mailing lists and in conversations, but haven't gotten round to posting it here as a post:

I am sorry, but "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is not a morally defensible position.

It wasn't when Ronald Reagan said it, and it isn't today. When The Gipper used it as excuse for his foreign policy alliances, it gave us Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a man that, if I am told right, when The Gipper and Pakistan's Mard-e-Momin (Gen. Zia) started patronising him, already had a record of throwing acid in the face of a fellow student at Kabul University who had the audacity not to wear a veil.

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" seems to imply that if a person who is otherwise committing a terrorist act does it for a valid cause like fighting for freedom, it is okay, or at least less “evil”. Even if someone commits an act of terror, or other heinous act for my personal, social, or national benefit, it is my moral, religious and legal responsibility to call it out as exactly that. An evil, yes, evil, indefensible act. And then it is my duty to either stop it, denounce it, or at least recognize it as such. I believe says it is a sign of how strong one's faith is to either put it right with one's hand, speak against it, or at the lowest level of faith, to know it is evil in my heart.

This is not to say that "suspect" minorities should be early and often with their condemnations. Condemnations should not be demanded. But we shouldn't feel it inappropriate to condemn and call a spade a spade because it might *seem* like we're caving. Or, worse, because it might be a "brother" (sisters are nicer ;)) that did something. Isn't Islam one of those religions that says to be truthful in witness, be it against a brother? Isn't Islam the religion that says one should help an aggressor or a transgressor by stopping him or her from committing such transgresions?

[Also posted on my blog on]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mumbai, Outlook and Friends

Outlook's title for my post earlier today on FOIL/my blog is rather interesting. You can find it on their main site under "Mail from Karachi":

or go there directly:

Wiki Resource for Mumbai Blasts

Just sent the following mail around, especially to the South Asian community.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: iFaqeer (SIA)
Date: Jul 11, 2006 10:36 AM

I have created a Wiki resource for the Mumbai blasts on the India Wikia (just like we did on WikiPakistan for the Earthquake in Pakistan) at:
[Yes, I am an admin on that database, too]

This is an open database hosted by Wikia Inc. [] and anyone and everyone can contribute. Please consider creating an account on that system, especially if you are going to be contributing often.

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A Thought for Mumbaikars

If there is one city I am a citizen of, it is Karachi. But us Karachiites have a too-often unstated, but very visceral bond with that other city across the Gulf to our South. One of our favourite tunes is the old Bamba'ee say aaya mairaa dhosth, dhosth koe salaam karoe.... Both Karachiites and Mumbaikars, more than others, will know what I refer to.

We in Karachi have seen our share of blood on the streets, destruction and mayhem. And as the news comes in this morning, we pray for our friend, our dhosth to the South.

That fair city is one of South Asia's greatest, even if one goes just by how much of humanity calls it home. An elder just said that things like this make the situation of Mulims in India only worse. But then, bad blood between communities, in my humble opinion, seems to be a desired aim of those who claim to be out to be soldiers of their communities, and those that would exploit the common dhost for their political aims. God help us all to overcome them.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

The Poet is Eternal; The Man is Ephemeral: Urdu Poet Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi Passes On

[Photo courtesy Urdu Manzil and Syed Saghier Ahmed Jafri]
As we say in Urdu, the man has passed on from the material, ephemeral world. But the poet and his poetry lives on, and helps us live on. Probably one of the most quoted couplets in Urdu about this very matter, one that captures the matter as few have done before, in any cultural and literary tradition, is from Janaab-e-Qasmi himself, who said:
kaun kehtha hai kay mauth aayee tho marjaa'onga
main thoe dharya hoon samandhar main uthar jaa'onga
Who says that when death comes, I will die away?
I am a river and into the ocean will I flow away
The Wikipedia article on Qasmi Saahab can be found at:
and a longer Urdu ke Naam post from your humble correspondent (including links to more pictures and more poetry) about Qasmi Saahab is at:
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Adil Najam, Blogs, and A New Graphic Ethic

I have already mentioned most of this, but I felt I still owe readers a formal introduction.

Over the years, I have watched from afar, and then built a relationship with, and collaborated with Dr. Adil Najam, as he evolved from Civil Engineering student, journalist and talk show host in Pakistan; to student and scholar at MIT, Harvard and Yale (which is when I first met him, while I was interning at a design consultancy in Boston) ; and then on Boston University's faculty; and now as Associate Professor of International Negotiation and Diplomacy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Over the years, I have learned to respect Adil's deep social, cultural and historical insight. And especially how, very much in the spirit of the couplet that provides the theme of this blog, his social and sociological comments are couched in the kind of very pithy and down-to-earth, yet civilized language one can only expect from a person who is as comfortable on the streets of Lahore as he is addressing the UN General Assembly. At one point, Faraz Hoodbhoy and I were discussing the very new, for us back in 1995 or so, realization that even as we became student activists and thought of ourselves as working for the betterment of society, we were, whether we liked to think of it in that way or not, hooked in to, if not part of the "ahl-e-karam", as the couplet says, of our community. It was an uncomfortable realization. Adil's comment about this was, simply: "You are in denial. I am in recovery, you're in denial."

Over the last year or two, I was honored to be invited by Professor Najam to help out on the West Coast with a survey he was leading of the Pakistani diaspora in the US, focused on their philanthropic giving. (See the post on this blog about that survey and report.)

More recently, I have been providing what input I could as Adil first discovered the blogosphere and then set to work launching his own first foray into that realm. It's called "Pakistaniat: All Things Pakistan". and if you haven't already seen it, check it out. The sensibility of a one-time-newspaperman, the habits of an inveterate information hound, and Adil's amazing sociological eye makes it a joy to read/see. Readers will have noticed the more graphic style that this blog has taken on in the last month or so. That is itself the effect of engaging with that project, and the influence of Adil's style in these matters.

Hope readers will enjoy both blogs, and the content on them.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Unsurprising Reflections on 7/7

For the last few months, I have been going around talking to community activists, a few academics, and one person who was visiting from Britain, here in the United States. Amongst my questions is:
"Were you surprised when you learned that the 7/7 bombers were British born and bred?"
While this is not a statistically significant sample, or a scientific or academic analysis, the results, quite frankly, have not been surprising.

Folks that know me, and my often quixotic-seeming rants about the influence of right-wing ideologies on the mainstream of American Muslims, in particular, might, and I say might, understand what I am talking about. The same people who have always argued with me that there is no such right-wing tilt in the American community--or the ones who looked at me as if I had two heads--have been the ones that answered "Yes" to that question. And, interestingly, though not really surprisingly to me at least, the ones who say they are not surprised are often the folks within Muslim communities that are consciously moderate or progressive. These are the folks that are not the ones arguing that there is no such thing--or no need for such terms--as "Moderate Islam" or "Progressive Islam". [The folks that answer "Yes" are the same folks, in my humble experience, that do not make the distinction between "Islam" and "Muslim" when they discuss these things, even if they might in their own minds. But that's a discussion for another time.]

As the anniversary of the bombings in London comes around, I see the same blindspot, the same stubborn refusal to get real, on most sides of this discussion--and on both sides of the Pond, as it is sometimes called. And I mean most sides, not just "the Muslim one"; Mr Blair's recent statement has me tearing out my hair, too. His complete dismissal of any role for his country's foreign policies in even giving fanatics an excuse for their acts is mind-boggling. As we say back home, you either think your listeners are completely foolish; or you are trying to make fools of them; or you are foolish yourself. None of those choices pleasant or that augur well for our planet.

And then there's the bishop and his comment about a "false ideology". I know that is most probably his Anglican way of saying "evil ideology", since in a lot of religous systems anything that isn't exactly the same as your point of view about the road to salvation is false, the work of the devil, and evil, and so on. But isn't the equation of things that are false from one's point of view with "evil", and "satanic" what we are all talking about here?

And then, of course, there are the Muslims. Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Usama and the local Mullah. And between "community leaders" in business suits who say they were "very surprised" that the 7/7 bombers came from their communities and the elected politicians who say that there is no way their policies could make anyone angry.

One can only shake one's head in un-surprise.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

iFaqeer Guest Post on Pakistaniat: All Things Pakistan

Folks following the blog will know about Pakistaniat: All Things Pakistan, an effort started by Dr. Adil Najam. I haven't had a chance to catch my breath and comment on it. I'll do more of that as I go along, but here's an update related to this blog: today, ATP is featuring a guest post by your humble correspondent. It is a version of an earlier post on this blog itself.

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