Friday, December 28, 2007

Funeral Services for Benazir Bhutto...and a word on the religious tenor of the Bhuttos

Just learnt that a Ghayabana Namaaz-e-Janaza is going to be held for Benazir Bhutto after/with Friday prayers at the Masjid-e-Farooq-e-Azam in Concord, California. I am told it is off the Clayton Exit, across from the Safeway and near the BART Station and there will be a prayer meeting (Du'a) at the BART Station afterwards.

Sorry about the late notice, but I just found out.

There will most probably be services in other places around the world. Please feel free to post information in the comments section here to inform others.

For those not familiar with the concept, "Namaz-e-Janaza" is the South Asian name for the Muslim prayer said at a person's bier before he or she is interred. There is a tradition of saying the exact same prayer "ghayabana", or "in absentia", in situations like this where a lot of people not physically present at the burial want to participate (or in cases where a body is not found; but that's another story).

As a matter of clarification, I am forwarding this not because I am a fan or follower of Benazir, her father, or the PPP, but for all their faults and follies, both she and her father were in a tradition of South Asian and/or Muslim leaders going back at least to Akbar, who chose to make at least a public connection with the more folksy interpretation of their constituencies' faith(s).

In my book, she gets credit for being the only Muslim leader I have ever heard invoke Ijma, the Islamic concept of consensus as a source of community self-governance .

The discussion on KQED about Benazir's passing and it's aftermath went well and the audio archive is available at:

Photo is an AP image taken off the BBC website.
Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog,, and Pak Tea House blogs.
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto, "Daughter of Pakistan, Daughter of the Muslim World", RIP

At least a couple of people have wondered why I haven't posted anything on my blog. Folks have been asking why I haven't posted anything. Been distracted because my wife and kids were en route to Karachi. Finally had them rerouted directly to Delhi from Hong Kong, skipping Karachi for now.

I hope to write and post. For now, you can catch me on The Forum on KQED tomorrow morning.

Notes on the quote on the subject and on the photo above: The photograph above often appears on Wikipedia articles and updates about Benazir. It is an image I captured myself at Chandini Restaurant in Newark California on September 28th, 2004 and made available under GPL License through that site. (See articles on my blog here and here.) The quote is from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the person she met as her last official appointment.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

What is Civil Society? Just a Nice Phrase?

"Civil Society" has become the new touch phrase in Pakistani politics. And it's gotten to the point where people express the same kind of cynicism about it that is usually reserved for words like "Islamist", and "War on Terror", and, well, "Progressive Islam". A friend on one of our alumni mailing lists was getting pretty disgusted by Nawaz Sharif's piling on to the Civil Society bandwagon.

But words have meanings, and undue cynicism can be self-defeating. In fact, we need to fight the battle of perception and how things are framed. That's been quite a discussion in US politics and thought, particularly kicked off by the book by George Lakoff titled Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

And in our own situation in Pakistan, it is important to keep people honest in their language.I think it would go go a long way towards a better society.

And honestly, I have the same attitude towards "terrorism", "moderate", "Islamist", etc. See, for example, my post on the concept of one man's terrrorist being another man's freedom fighter or other posts on being flip with language, such as this one about terrorists that are "Hindu" or "Islamic".

And to further that cause, here's my definition of "Civil Society":
Anyone who's not affiliated with a political party or a government servant (including military).
What's yours? What's your pet peeve in terms of language?

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Geo Taken Off the Air by the UAE...but how is this surprising?

The word going around about the Dubai/UAE government forcing the Geo Television Network (or parts thereof) off the air is "shocking"...

Miriam Webster defines "shocking" as " extremely startling, distressing, or offensive".

Offensive, yes. But startling? Unless you were--and most of us were--in denial, how is this startling? Distressing, well, if your world view was built on absolute monarchies doing the right thing more often than not, than yes, I can see how it would distress you to see them do othewise.

Startled I am not. My dear mother would have loved for me to live and work in the Gulf and I always said “Pinjra pinjra ho tha hai; chahay sonay ka ho.” [A cage is a cage, even if it is made of gold.] The places are absolute monarchies and they have always had very good relations with Pakistani governments, especially absolute Pakistani governments.

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On Greg Palast on Hillary and Musharraf

There's an article going around by Greg Palast whose operative paragraph is:
You’ve seen all those creepy photos of George Bush rubbing up against Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, the two of them grinning and giggling like they’re going to the senior prom. So it’s hard to remember that it was Hillary and Bill who brought Pervez to the dance in the first place.
To me, the point that article makes is that bad foreign policy that most often flies in the face of democratic ideals and the best interests and aspirations of the "natives"--not to mention the longer-term interests of America and its people--is a bi-partisan epidemic in the US, and we shouldn't forget that. Venting all our frustrations at placards of George W. Bush might feel good but is not going to help anybody in the medium-to-long term. What we need to do is to try and help the whole US establishment see the light...

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thoughts from a tired, but joyous activist

Folks I need to get some sleep. I have installed Picasa and will get more functional on the Wiki and lists and so on tomorrow. Promise.

Shab Bakhair, as the traditional greeting goes; a good night to all--and may the Subha, the morning, be even brighter. I am not kidding when I say that my pride and joy in all the activism and engagement we are seeing today far, far outweighs my pessimism over where our country and our communities (South Asian, Progressive, Muslim, ...) find themselves today. At least for this one moment in time, it is good to be part of something.

I haven't yet gone to a gathering where I can open up and just scream some naa'ray, but that might change this weekend. I leave you with something that's a work in progress and an attempt to update the chant of the late 70s when the people borrowed Bhutto's "Jamhuriyath kay theen nishaan; Talba, Mazdhoor aur Kisan" [Democracy (has its) three symbols; The Students, The Workers and The Peasant] and chanted:

Talba bhee maangain Azadi
Mazdhoor bhee maangay Azaadi
Kissan bhee maangay Azaadi
Is Martial Laa say Azaadi
Is General Zia say Azaadi
Azaadi, Azaadi, Azaadi....

The Students demand Freedom!
The Workers demand Freedom!
The Peasants demand Freedom!
From this Martial Law; Freedom!
From this General Zia; Freedom!
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! ...

Like I said, we need an update, please help me finish this by finding something to rhyme with "Mazdoor" and complete the picture on who's involved:

Talba bhee maangain azaadi
Wukla bhee maangain azaadi

Mazdhoor bhee maangain azaadi
Akhbaar bhee maangain azaadi

Kissan bhee maangain azaadi
Jawaan bhee maangain azaadi
Imran bhee maangay azaadi

Is Martial Laa say Azaadi
Is General Sia say Azaadi
Azaadi, Azaadi, Azaadi....

The Students demand Freedom!
The Lawyers demand Freedom!

The Workers demand Freedom!
Newspapers demand Freedom!

The Peasants demand Freedom!
The Soldiers demand Freedom!
Imran demands Freedom!

From this Martial Law; Freedom!
From this Black General; Freedom!
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! ...

Good night, and good luck.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fixing my Odeo Channel

Just trying to fix my Odeo Channel (odeo/1fd0971260f4b11c); it wasn't updating right

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Into the marketplace with bejewelled limbs we go...

... so said Faiz Ahmed Faiz, probably the most popular poet of revolution in the latter half of the 20th century in South Asia; Pakistan, India, and particularly on the Left.

South Asia has a very rich tradition of poetry, one which draws on both the spiritual tradition that gave the world Rumi and Khayyam, and the revolutionary spirit of the last century or two. And because of the Sufi tradition it is steeped in, allegory, depth of meaning, and multi-faceted verbiage is the norm, rather than the exception. The words "Aaj bazaar main pa-bajaolaan chalo..." are probably some of the most recognized word. The "jewels" being described are, for the uninitiated, the ball and chain of oppression. Here's the poet himself reciting the poem, with English sub-titles, followed by one of the best renditions of the poem with music, in this case with an overlay of dramatic video:

[You can read the piece by Dr. Adil Najam, where I first found this video, here.]

But wait, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has sent out a poster that puts these words above a poster that just needs to be seen to be believed. You couldn't, as we say, make this stuff up:

Please check in regularly at WikiPakistan's Emergency 2007 pages:

for updates. And contribute what input you can, participate in whichever way you can.

[My previous post on the issue, introducing the Emergency 2007 wiki pages, by the way, is here.]

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I have been away from blogging since September 19th or so, except of very short and situational pieces. I was back in Pakistan for family reasons this last week. When I left Pakistan Friday evening local time, Emergency was just a rumour. I had just attended an event the evening before with some journalists, bloggers, activits, and other members of Civil Society titled "Take Back Karachi". (Details at: -- they've added a graphic about the emergency.)

When I got off the plane at JFK, I saw a typically short report on CNN that Emergency had been imposed and immediately started Facebooking with a couple of journalists on the ground in Pakistan. Since then, it seems like Pakistanis are starting to step up to their moment of truth.

But first here's a flashback for those who missed it; it's a former head of Pakistan's much-mentioned ISI saying, the day before "Da Proclamation", that if Martial Law is proclaimed--and he points out that a constitutionally-mandated "Emergency" is not an option--civil society should step up and push back:

I attended just such a meeting of civil society via Skype Saturday night (Pacific Time)/Saturday afternoon (Pakistan Time) and by morning, had been pulled in to talk about the Emergency on WNYC, New York Public Radio:

And, well, what else can I say.? Here's a comment from Dr. Adil Najam, dipped in revolutionary verse:

As Adil says, people see a picture and all they feel is shame for the 5 policemen beating up a lawyer; I feel nothing but pride, for I see one Pakistani putting his self on the line for his principle. People see a media blackout; I see journalists that a dictator has no choice but to ban.

As with the earthquake in 2005, we have started information collection at:

this includes trying to monitor and check up on the status of detainees:

and a bulletin board of sorts for events:

(By way of background, WikiPakistan is an Information Database about Pakistan, Pakistanis and the diaspora hosted by Wikia, a community destination supporting the creation and development of wiki communities and run by a lot of the same people who run the Wikipedia. The site is at and background information can be seen at . It is an open database that anyone can edit and is developed under a Free Document License. [Contributors should be aware that if they choose to post material there directly, they are agreeing to release it under the GNU Free Documentation License. Please see and WikiPakistan for further details.] 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.)

You can read more, and find links to more, on the pages referred to above. More later.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

News on Pakistan...where to go

A quick update:

As of 11 am Eastern, before I got on a plane to SFO all electronic media was down in Pakistan. There is talk of a Code of Conduct being put in place for media. For unvarnished updates out of Pakistan, here's where to start:

Metroblogging Karachi
While the blog is constantly being updated about the events as they unfold, I am sure there would be concerns about law and order situation in the city.


and, generally:

PS, 7:10 pm Pacific/7:10 am Pakistan ST: We're all assessing what's going on. The words "Martial Law" keep being used. Technically, the government is trying to pass this off as a constitutionally-defined "Emergency". There's a difference.

For Civil Society in Pakistan--the media, the human rights activists, the lawyers, and the bloggers--this is our moment of truth and the folks on the ground need all the help, support, encouragement and recognition they can get.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nobel Prize Update: Well Played, Adil Bhai!

The news going around in Pakistani circles is the fact that one of our own is the one of the Convening Lead Authors in the team that shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. [And of course, the team is chaired by another South Asian; Rajendra Pachauri.]
Pakistani scientist in Nobel team -DAWN - National; October 14, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct 13: Pakistani professor Adil Najam, now teaching at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, US, is amongst the team of scientists and experts in the Intergovernmental ...
Over the years, I have come to know Dr. Najam rather well, and have learned from and been inspired by him:

In the idiom of South Asian sport, Well Played, Adil Bhai; Bahoth Aala, Adil Bhai!

PS: From a comment Dr. Najam posted on

Thank you to all for their kind wishes and congrats. I should add, however, that the Nobel was awarded to the work of the IPCC (a panel of eminent global climate change experts), so I am just one of the many experts on that Panel. I have served on the IPCC for some 8 years, the last many as a Convening Lead Author. So, yes, it does feel terrific to have one’s work and research celebrated by the Nobel Committee, but it really is an honor shared by many (including by Dr. Tariq Banuri who played a leading role in the IPCC’s evolution in the past).
Some links: Dawn, Boston Globe, The Fletcher School.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Call to Compassion, Patience and Peace between Muslims in this Season

Personally, as I was saying on my Facebook status, my family and I are not in a very festive mood on this festival. But our prayers are for everyone to receive all the blessings of Eid.

One very important note that I have been working on, on behalf of the MPV, is the following. Please do ponder it and sign the pledge if you see fit:

(Click on the graphic to download Eid Song)

In The Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Mabrook! Eid Mubarak. Have a Blessed Eid.

Ramadan Kareem! The Noble Month of Ramadan is coming to and end and the blessed festival of Eid-ul-Fitr is upon us. It is a time when Muslims the world over focus on spirituality, compassion, patience, peace and the joys of having completed a month of fasting for the pleasure of God. Two months and ten days from now, we will all celebrate Eid-ul-Adha, the time of the year when we focus on sacrifice, humility, dedication to our faith, and the blessings of the pilgrimage for our community. ‘Tis the season, as the saying goes, to renew our deen, our faith in Islam, a religion that derives its very name from the same root as a word for peace.

Over the years, three or four clear positions have evolved within the global Muslim community and particularly in North America with regards the method of determining the dates of these holy days and month, with some advocating for local moonsightings, others preferring to follow Saudi Arabia, yet others relying upon astronomical calculations, and so on. Each group holds its position in all sincerity and with great passion; each group has faith, tradition, and logic to back up its position. Unfortunately, the differences in approach, and the strength with which each position is held, often lead to disrespectful exchanges within the community, and even to lasting grudges and ill will between neighbors, friends, and members of local congregations.

This year, and in future years, we at the Muslims for Progressive Values would like to invite everyone who identifies themselves with the community of Muslims, or who participates in the cultural life of the Muslim community, to make a commitment to engage with people who hold different positions on the matter of dates and calendars (or any other issue) with respect, good will, and compassion. If we can pass this test of fraternity within the community, if we can treat other Muslims with respect whether we agree or disagree, and do so without losing sight of what holds us together and makes us brothers and sisters in our faith and our humanity; if we can do that, then we can try to begin fulfilling our role as the upholders of peace and justice and truly be the best of communities.

The month of Ramadan, the Hajj season, and the days of the Eids are some of the most blessed moments of our calendar, let us try to fill them with peace, compassion, and good will towards all humanity; and let us start within our community.

Have a blessed Eid, and please sign this pledge:

We pledge to engage with respect and good will towards those who hold views different from ours on the calendar of our festivals. Wa Allahu Aalam, only the Almighty has perfect knowledge.


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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thank You for your Thoughts, Prayers, and Wishes

On behalf of the extended Ashraf family, from Northern California to North Carolina, to India and Pakistan we'd like to thank everybody for the outpouring of thoughts, wishes and prayers that we have received since September 19th, when we lost one of our patriarchs. From Australia to Norway and from Kazakhstan to Lesotho, it is at a time like this that one realizes, as one family friend put it, how many lives one person can touch and how wide one's support structures are; how many people one can reach out and touch if one cares to.

It's been a very intense few weeks, and we have not been able to reply to many missed calls, emails, and other contacts. We will try to do that as we move forward. Please continue to remember us in your prayers and send good thoughts and wishes our way.

Thank you.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Inna Lilla Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji'oon

Professor Jamal Ashraf Ansari, RIP. 1934-2007

Please remember us in your prayers. My father passed away today. Apparently fell and hit his head at a shop in the neighbourhood. His passing was painless and in a state of fasting. (He decided to fast, if his blood sugar would allow--my brother, the doctor was literally calling about twice a day to check on his sugar level since Ramazan started a few days ago.) That's the reassuring part.

He was 73. Had a law degree but never practised. (Said he couldn't have lied enough, be devious enough, to be any good in that profession. Which was true.) Brought my brother and I up to be understand politics, law and religion better than most politicians, lawyers, and "clerics" I have ever met. Besides the Kalima, we could rattle off the three branches of government; rule of law; and "innocent till proven guilty" literally before I, at least, could read. All the while living through one empire and almost a dozen military regimes--and one civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator--in India, Pakistan, and Nigeria. (Which is why it isn't even novel for me to think of Muslims not being able to live under a constitutional democracy, for example.)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Cry of Pain -- or Call to Arms?

Adil Najam's recent post on Pakistaniat is quite a cry of pain and a call to arms; he's not someone that jumps into political frays--least of all on a site he's invested blood, toil, tears, and sweat in building over the last year and a half as an inclusive space. Do read it.

Over the weekend, I got quite an education on the history of violence on Pakistani campuses--most specifically, the one I ended up on in the late 80s-early 90s--at an alumni convention here in Silicon Valley, and will post my thoughts on that as soon as I can. (I am trying to tone them down.)

And the point is not that I think no one has the right to hold the political, theological or social opinions the Taliban, the Jamaat, or anyone else holds. But subverting the writ of the state is not in the tradition of The Prophet of Islam. (SAW) He did not take up arms until a community elected him Head of State and he was at the head of a government.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Today, I am Proud to be a Muslim Journalist

I just heard the anchor--not a guest, the anchor--of a news show confront a member of the federal cabinet on live TV about their attitude towards the press. "Why don't you just go ahead and ban the press--put us all in jail?" he said.

And it wasn't the US of A (sorry folks!) or Western country--but it was in a Muslim country; the 2nd largest Muslim country.

And a lot of people--including Aitzaz Ahsan, the lawyer for the famous Chief Justice case--have been going around they are ashamed of their country today, and that the events in Pakistan on September 10, 2007 lower the moral standing of Muslims in this day and age. I am not.

I am very, very proud of Pakistan and Pakistanis today. And I am especially proud and honoured to have been a member of the Pakistani press; and a Muslim who works in media when I can.

You can watch Talat Hussain and the news organization he heads at:

and and other Pakistani journalists live off Jump TV at:

A lot of them free and a lot of them in English.

[PS: More on pride versus shame is in this post: , specifically, as Adil Najam put it, people see a picture and all they feel is shame for the 5 policemen beating up a lawyer; I feel nothing but pride, for I see one Pakistani putting his self on the line for his principle. People see a media blackout; I see journalists that a dictator has no choice but to ban.]

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Monday, September 03, 2007

The Stuff The Taj is Made Of ...

... lives.

That's the first reaction I had to a piece a young friend of mine who lives and works in Hyderabad sent me. I have been wondering what I can say about recent events in that city, and just as when "my city" was burning, or when a sister city burnt across the sea, I was in pain, this young writer has had to deal with what he has always described as a stab to the heart of the place he loves dearly. And now, he has captured his feelings in a way that is too beautiful not to reproduce in full here; it is the same spirit that has led to great and noble things in that region of the world--from the Taj Mahal, to the deepest, most profound sufi poetry in the world. And it is uplifting to see it alive in those younger than oneself. Here is Manzoor's piece:
The Sultan’s Prayer

Hyderabad is a multi-religious and multi-cultural abode for millions of people, and this is not any recent phenomenon. Multiculturalism is the very foundation of this great city. It is said that some 400+ years back, Prince Quli Qutub Shah of the Qutub Shahi dynasty fell for the beautiful Bhagyamati and rebelled against his father, the King, to marry her. On becoming King himself, he bestowed upon his beloved Bhagyamati the title of ‘Hyder Mahal’. It was this romantic and chivalrous king who—like the emperor who created the more famous monument to love in Agra—built a whole city on the banks of river Musi, and named it after his beloved wife.

That is how Hyderabad happened.

While laying the foundation of this city, the Sultan is reputed to have prayed to his Creator that “Let millions of men and women of all castes, creeds, and religions make it their abode, like fish in the ocean." And truly, the Almighty heard every word of his prayer. For over 400 years, Hyderabad has lived up to the romance of Sultan Quli Qutb Mulk, wherein people of different religions, languages, and ethnicities have dwelled and prospered peacefully. The vibrant, rich, and progressive culture that we see in the air of Hyderabad today is the cumulative love of the 400 years since the Sultan’s prayer.

Love, however, has its enemies everywhere. This romantic and peaceful city was brutally stabbed on 25th August, 2007 by people with no love and no respect for humanity—by those who hate to see love blossom; by people envious of Hyderabad’s peace and tranquil. It was like stoning a lover whose only crime is that he believes in love and compassion.

But the thing about love is, it’s not just brave and immortal–it’s also undyingly optimistic. Hyderabad, the city of love, has always braved incidents triggered by the hate mongers, and persevered with the message – loud and clear – that it will not give up its character. Surely, the Sultan’s prayer has more power than the evil intent of a few hate mongers.

The peace march in which we participated on September 1 was but a fulfillment of the Sultan’s prayer and his wishes. A multitude of us Hyderabadis, with varying ethnicities and beliefs, uniformly clad in white kurta/shirts, with a heavy heart and a message of peace, walking silently over a kilometer’s stretch, and finally lighting candles and praying in front of Lumbini Park – I promise, Sultan Quli Kutub Shah must have been be very proud of his city this day.

I thank all who participated. God bless Hyderabad and God bless you all.

Aadaab Hyderabad!
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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Indians Did it!

A friend forwarded the following story from The Economist:

The piece is rather well-written, isn't it? Mazaaq-hee-mazaaq-main (In jest) it actually lays out the political topography of Pakistan right now rather well: We have two flawed "democrats" and a military strongman hogging the democratic aspirations of the 2nd largest Muslim country in the world (and the 2nd largest South Asian/6th largest over-all), while the people grasp at straws and the "Great Powers" play their games, while the neo-purist revolutionaries gain ground...

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who's Editing the Wikipedia?

There's been quite some discussion about the Wikipedia, triggered by the recent report from a Caltech grad student analysing the anonymous edits to the encyclopedia. See for example:


A few points from a recovering Wikipedaholic:

The whole situation does not "prove" that that Wikipedia is useless or open to manipulation (at least not as easily as most press reports are implying). Note the following para:

"The text, deleted in November 2005, was quickly restored by another Wikipedia contributor, who advised the anonymous editor, "Please stop removing content from Wikipedia. It is considered vandalism."

Secondly, journalists are doing such a hack-job of this. The para I quoted above seems to imply that this was something unusual and the message from the editor was spontaneous--it's not; the message is now an everyday--or several times every second (and I am not exaggerating)--occurrence. The report on the BBC's site was even worse.

What all this does do is help us see what unethical behaviour folks are up to--Diebold, and everyone else.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ignatieff's Mea Culpa

Bouncing off something a friend posted on Facebook. I read Michael Ignatieff's NY Times piece. Notes:
  • Is he always this long-winded? Or is it just becuase he's having to say sorry that it is difficult?
  • That's the longest I have seen any one take to call someone a rich brat who's caused a mess.
  • I like the fact that he only blames the troubles of Iraq on the last 35 years and doesn't go for the Western Establishment's usual "hundreds/thousands of years" that X non-white population has been dysfunctional.
  • I agree with the Achilles Heel theory that some folks mentions--that this is basically a way of neutralizing something that could hurt him politically. But he is, in effect, saying "It's not my fault; Harvard made me do it." Which only confirms that he's now all politician--and not the kind of politician folks love, neither.
The other issue a friend raised was why he said all that in the NY Times and not a Canadian magazine. My reaction is that I think that is but appropriate. His support for the Iraq War was as an academic/pundit at an American institution--you could say as an American pundit, in a manner of thinking. Or you could say that he work in support of the War was done while at the center/capital/seat of the empire, and it is only fair that he make his mea culpa's in the same forum--The Forum in Rome itself, if I may use the metaphor. In fact, the fact that he did in that forum might actually mean that it is a real conversion/Road to Damascus moment or what-have-you.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pakistan and the US; Not Just An Open Letter to the Obama Campaign

I just sent this to the Obama campaign--the point raised goes way beyond the Senator's presidential fortunes:

Re: The war we need to win

You know, the funny thing is, a major presidential candidate recently said:

"And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America's commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists' program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair --our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally."

And no one noticed.

I don't need to tell y'all that the excerpt above is from the same Obama speech that is being quoted and re-quoted today.

If one steps back a bit, it really is very, very symptomatic of the underlying disconnect between the American establishment, in particular, and the Muslim world that in the same speech, the same gentleman that said the above and also says, describes the the Iraq War as:

"a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world..."

then advocates unilateral military action within the sovereign territory of the second largest Muslim nation in the world--five or six times as populous as Iraq. If George W. Bush is not the only one who can't formulate any polcy beyond alternating between supporting dictators with military aid on the one hand and the unilateral use of military force on the other--notwithstanding what I quote Barack Obama as having said in words that sound like wonderful music to the ears of this Pakistani resident of the US--then what hope do we have for world peace?

As a flashback, please do check out this picture of better days:

and the following blog post by Prof. Adil Najam up at Tufts:

I am copying this mail to the editors at the South Asian Journalists' Association Blog and, probably the most popular blog in the Pakistani American community. Hopefully they will consider it or inclusion/posting.

If anyone wants to discuss these issues further, do drop me a line.

Warm regards, and good luck with the campaign,


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Marxism in the 21st Century...

Folks will know I follow Marxism. As I have said elsewhere, "on the theoretical side, Marxism (not Lenin's version, and not Mao's version...) has very important tools, analyses, and insights to offer. It's very important to say that one should constantly be looking at different ways to analyse an issue (social, political, business-related, "professional", ... every type)--it's the only way to come to a more complete picture. The real world is most often a many-splendoured thing, with multiple layers, dimensions and dynamics at play. And in this regard, a Marxist analysis is a very important tool for looking at things from the view point of, specifically, what class dynamics are at play, and what economic dynamics are at play." Folks of faith are free to tune out when them commies get to opinion and matters of religion ;).

This is why the following caught my eye:
Communist Party of Cuba Approves
Investigation into Socialism of the 21st Century

Heinz Dieterich

July 7, 2007


Recently, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) decided that among its research priorities in the social sciences and humanities for the period 2007-2010 would be included “Socialism of the 21st Century.” This is good news – since its becoming a reality would reinsert the Cuban Revolution into one of the most important theoretical debates concerning humanity’s future.

More at
It will be interesting to see what thoughts, conclusions, insights, etc. they come up with. If you get any news of this or other such developments, please do drop me a line, or leave a comment on this site.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

A Rocker, A Blogger, a Comic Book Maker; Muslims One and All

I can't help saying it this way, so please forgive the pretentiousness:

What are Muslims like? some folks wonder. Well, remember that nursery rhyme that listed some common folk, as "a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker"? Well, the "cover" story on WireTap. "a national online magazine by and for young people", in the current edition, profiles three of a different kind of Muslim--a Punk Rocker, a Blogger, a Comic Book Maker:
The only thing I'd have changed might be:
"In fact, Ashraf's politics differed greatly from his father's, but, he explains..."
to say
"Ashraf's politics has moved to the Left over the years, away from his father's, but, he explains, ..."
Otherwise, Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed and the editors seem to have done a pretty good job. Besides the personal recognition, for which I am grateful and humbled by (despite the tone above ;)), giving air time to Muslims who are going about being who they are in an alternative, confident unapologetic, way is cool. Who'd think that in this day and age, when a magazine sets out to find Muslims who are just like anybody else in society--and isn't that what everybody that wants to humanize Muslims does?--they'd end up profiling a punk rock band called "The Kominas".

Let me respell that for South Asian audiences, the word is one you will be very familiar with; only, you'd most probably just say "Kaminay"--yes, the word we use when we want to say either "scoundrel" or, more literally, "bastards". They have quite a following in punk circle and claim, along with the book that is their inspiration, "The Taqwacores", to be only the first budding in a Muslim Punk spring...

And a couple of things before I stop:

And I have to say, I loved the description of Wire Tap Magazine: "a national online magazine by and for young people". It resonated. I started my writing career as the editor of The Teenager, Pakistan at the age of 17 and at that point, it was one of very, very few outlets for Pakistani Youth (and about the only one in English).

And a shout-out to Eteraz, who pointed Ms. Ahmed to the MPV and me when she reached to him looking for a Progressive Muslim blogger to profile.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Can a Muslim treat a Non-Muslim like Brother?

I first came across the sentiment I want to talk about in a video of a lecture by Zaid Shakir or someone, in which a young person asks him, after his lecture, if he heard him right when he said that it is our duty, as Muslims, to be kind and just (I forget the exact words) in our dealings with people. The young man's question was whether it was a duty to deal well with Muslims or all of humanity.

And now there's a quite a discussion going on at the Muslim Bloggers Alliance blog (and a cross-post at the author's own blog) about a very similar issue.

The question, in this instance, is whether a hadith (a report of something The Prophet said or did) that says "No one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself." applies only to fellow Muslims or to any human being.

While that hadith in itself, since it refers to a "brother", and is easily interpreted to mean a brother in faith, the question is important.

It is very exasperating for people like me to hear things like "we Muslims have far too long advocated an exclusivist philosophy".

Funny thing is, most young American Muslims often dismiss the way Islam was traditionally interpreted and practised (Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, and the two Shi'a schools) as either "medieval" or "bid'a-ridden". I am not a scholar so I can't speak of whole schools, but I am a person brought up by traditional Hanafi parents (South Asians--who make up a good 30-50% of the Ummah) and who had my early education in government schools in (then traditionally Maliki) Northern Nigeria. And I have always understood "brother" in the hadith in question to mean "the next man". Man. Not Muslim.

And the curriculum in Northern Nigeria, my parents' upbringing--all of that was not put in place because "political considerations have come into play". It was what a *lot* of very traditional Muslims held to be their faith.

I know WHY he did it, but it is very vexing that my brother Naeem has to say things like "...this otherwise excellent posting..." and "Before somebody accuses me of reinterpreting this hadith for my own purposes, they should know that this is the understanding of the scholars from centuries back."

I say that in a lot of these matters, we only need look back half a century to what the conventional wisdom was in the Muslim world. And I am not defending the misogyny, illiteracy, and corruption that a lot of Muslim cultures were ridden with. I am an activist who grew up in Northern Nigeria and Pakistan and have worked in the field of human rights on the ground in Pakistan. I follow affairs in India very closely and have friends and relatives there.

But American and Western Muslim friends have often asked me in the last few years, as I got involved in organizations and efforts that carried the "progressive Muslim" label, "..but, but Islam is progressive in its nature; why do you need to say 'progressive Muslim'?" This kind of issue is exactly why.

I have often had to say to people: Islam told us to be nice to our neighbours. Not to our *Muslim neighbours*. The Prophet and Awliya and Ulema down the centuries have set an example of good conduct and actively looking out for the welfare of even their Jewish neighbours. A story is told of one aalim, of how he had a neighbour, who just happened to be Jewish, who would intentionally disturb him, especially during worship. Then, for a few days, the disturbance stopped. The aalim took it upon himself to find out and discovered that the man was ill or something--I forget the exact details--and took it upon himself to help. THAT was the Islam I was brought up in. And I am thirty-six. My upbringing was not changed because of events in 2001 or since. Today, do most of us even know the names of our non-Muslim next door neighbours?

Islam is by definition progressive and humanistic; but how we often understand it, especially how we have come to understand it in the last 2 or 3 decades, and how Muslims have come to practise it, is not at all humanistic, humane or compassionate. Looking out for your own tribe is not compassion. It is not Ihsan. It is parochialism. Being just only to members of your own tribe is not adl. It is discrimination.

Wa Allah Aalam, but in my very "naqis" opinion, one thing should be pretty obvious to anyone who reads the Qur'an--and most of the folks on that site seem much more formally educated in what we called "Islamic Religious Knowledge" in in the Nigerian educational system. Where the Qur'an wants to refer or address Muslims, it says "Ya Ayyuhal Momineen", or "Ya Ayyuhal Muslimeen". But in other places, it refers very clearly to "Rabbin Nas, Malikin Nas". Do go back and read the verses on compassion. For example:
Surah 60, Verse 8: 8. Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.
Tell me He is not telling you that he will love you for being kind to non-Muslims--who are not belligerent towards you.

In my late 30s, and having lived under more than half a dozen military dictators, all forms of corruption in the Third World, and at the receiving end of the American Media, there is little that surprises me. But I have to admit that it amazes me no end that whether a Muslim should be kind and humane towards non-Muslims is even a question.

Wa Allahu Aalam, indeed!

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter in K-Town!

Here's where the two biggest stories of the day merge; the Harry Potter launch festivities in Karachi, Pakistan get cancelled due to a terror alert:

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Pakistan's Legal Fight: The Players

Two things. First, take a look at the lawyer in the upper right hand corner of this graphic (from Dawn, the "senior" of Pakistan's two major English dailies):

This is the man who actually led the legal battle to reinstate Pakistan's Chief Justice. I don't know, just something about his gesture of thanking The Almighty says so much. And that he's quite a dapper-looking gent doesn't hurt either.

Second point: who's this Chief Justice of Pakistan? Here's the AFP report, via Dawn:
Even detractors beginning to admire Iftikhar Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD, July 20: With his rambling, legalistic speeches and his lazy eye, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has become an unlikely hero for opponents of President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

The 59-year-old judge, in his signature black suit, has been showered with rose petals by tens of thousands of cheering supporters on a series of road shows since President Musharraf suspended him for alleged misconduct in March.

On Friday, the Supreme Court reinstated him and overturned the charges against him, sparking jubilant celebrations outside the court.“This man has shown a lot of courage,” said political commentator Shafqat Mahmood.

“If he had any personal mistakes in the past they have been superseded by his exemplary fight back against Musharraf.”

Justice Chaudhry’s journey began on March 9, when television footage showed him being summoned to meet Gen Musharraf, in army uniform, at his residence to answer the charges against him.

It was an unprecedented moment in the country’s 60-year history and sparked outrage among the lawyers’ community.

The charge-sheet against the Chief Justice included claims that he abused his position to land a top police job for his son and get cars he was not entitled to. He was also accused of ordering intelligence agents to spy on other judges.

The judge later said he was detained for five hours and pressured to resign by top intelligence chiefs, but refused to do so. He was kept under virtual house arrest for several days.

Ironically, Mr Chaudhry was one of the judges who validated Musharraf's takeover and dismissal of the civilian government of former premier Nawaz Sharif after a bloodless coup in 1999.

President Musharraf appointed him as chief justice in 2005 and personally swore him in -- providing the only other picture of the two men together, with Mr Chaudhry in ornate ceremonial robes and judge's wig.

But his backers say Mr Chaudhry started to anger the government by breaking with precedent and taking notice on his own jurisdiction of some 6,000 cases, particularly on human rights.

One landmark decision was the overturning of a lucrative sale of the Pakistan Steel Mills to a private consortium last year, which embarrassed its brainchild, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and sparked allegations of corruption.

Another significant development was the way the Supreme Court used its powers to delve into the forced “disappearances” of hundreds of people, taken away by the all-powerful intelligence agencies as part of the “war on terror”.

Many of the missing people were linked to a three-year insurgency by autonomy-seeking tribal militants in Balochistan, Mr Chaudhry's home province.

The Chief Justice's crusading stance raised fears that he would cause trouble for President Musharraf ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections that are due in the coming months.

President Musharraf hopes to get himself re-elected as president-in-uniform by the outgoing parliament this year, defying the Constitution which says he should quit as head of the military by the end of 2007.

Long-term friend Hadi Shakil Ahmed said Mr Chaudhry had shown the same independent streak when they were both lawyers in Balochistan, where Mr Chaudhry joined the profession in 1974.

“He is a crusader against corruption and a staunch supporter of people's rights,” Ahmed said. “He is a workaholic and totally self-made.” Even some in the government have been won over by his stand.—AFP
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Friday, July 20, 2007

Pakistan Twenty Oh Seven, Twenty Oh Seven

I could start today, given the events in Pakistan, with what Iqbal, one of the greatest thinkers and poets South Asia has produced, said:
Sulthani-e-Jamhoor ka atha hai zamaana
Joe naqsh-e-kuhan thum koe nazar aayay mitaa dho
[Comes, now, the era of the People's Reign
What signs of oppression you see; erase them]
But being the Pakistani elitist liberal that I am, caution and paranoia are my first reactions. What I am reminded of is a poetic piece by a friend of mine, which includes the lines:
Dhar-Dhar shehnaa'ee baajay gee
Jamhoor paree yaan naachay gee
Yehi bhanshanr ab sarkaree hain...
[Everywhere the flutes of joy will ring
Fair Fairie Democracy will dance, here, with joy
These speeches now are the official line...]
and goes on to say
Hum bheek kay ghandhum kh-aathay hain
Hum apnee sohni dharti maain
Apnon kee laashain ugaathay hain
Haan sharm-e-hayaa say aaree hain
Hum pandhraa crore bhikaari hain...
[We live off grain we got as beggars
In this fair beloved land of ours
We reap the corpses of our own
Yes, we are devoid of shame
We are a a hundred and fifty million beggars]
The same friend, having come up politically in a religio-political party in his student days, now says that each of these things (Lal Masjid, the CJ, May 12th...) are distractions from the neo-liberal selling out of the country under an international banker's supervision. Of course, he didn't use the phrase "neo-liberal selling out", but was talking about things like Mr "Shortcut" Aziz's government's total neglect of the sector that is the backbone of the country's economy: agriculture. We Pakistanis used to pride ourselves in the 70s and 80s that no one was dying of hunger in our country--we had our first few farmer suicides (a phenomenon that's been going on in India for while) in the last year or so.

So now the people have a victory. And the rule of law is big in the words of leaders.

Never mind that when the coup originally happened the whole current crop of folks chanting "Rule of Law!" "Rule of Law!!", from New York Times best seller Mohsin Hamid to every Silicon Valley Yuppie were either being supportive or equivocating. The gentleman just reinstated, at some point, took an oath under the constitutional scheme currently in place. One media darling, and especially popular with young yuppies, is Imran Khan. Don't ask me why; he's never won a single parliamentary seat fair and square--the ONE seat his party has was a gift from the establishment; his opponent, the incumbent/natural candidate from that seat and who carries the same family/clan name (Khan Niazi) as him, withdrew in his favour the last weekend before the election] was doing. He's leading a chant of "Rule of Law!", "Rule of Law!!" Here's what he was doing right after the current coup:

The only clear voice for constitutional integrity was the "liberal"s everyone's bashing nowadays:

The full statement from the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan (HRCP) is at right.

That's who we should all be working with and supporting. But what do I know? I am just an elitist liberal from Pakistan.

Having said that (as I did in email, earlier in the day) a friend chastised me for a negative note on the one day that Pakistanis can feel proud.

Thing is, I already wrote a blog post expressing my pride in things Pakistani just a couple of days ago:

I take time out regularly to be proud of things Pakistani--and I often do it "off-season", too, not just when the whole crowd has deigned to join us; see here, here, here, here, and here, for example.

But on today's events, I think it is the duty of those of us cursed with memories to be the ones urging caution. All I can say is that , for example, progressive activists must have felt as proud as all of Persia the day they overthrew the Shah. And the feeling must have lasted, what? a few months? It was just a few days ago that William Dalrymple was saying that "Pakistan today in many ways resembles pre-revolutionary Iran...." and "...[s]ome fear that Islamists could hijack the protests of the lawyers’ movement, just as they hijacked the civil-rights protests against the Shah in Iran in 1979..." [You can read the full article here.]

I don't want to be the wet blanket on happiness. I celebrate today, a victory for the people. Sulthani-e-Jamhoor ka athaa hai zamana and all that. I love it!

But tempering joy with some of what we have learnt in the last 3-6 cycles we have gone through might not be a bad thing. But then, like I said, what do I know? I am just an elitist liberal from Pakistan.

PS: A shout-out to the Teeth Maestro for providing the inspiration for the subject line by pointing out the uniqueness of the date.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Who is a Muslim?

I just had reason to say this in reply to a comment on this blog by a blogger I really respect and like:
It is really odd--about 50 years ago, the government of Pakistan convened a council of Ulema to decide "Who is a Muslim?" Having declared ourselves an "Islamic Republic" the matter was legally pressing. Their decision in the end was that the State and community must recognize anyone who claims to be a Muslim to be a Muslim. That was the official position of the 2nd largest Muslim nation in the world--then the only "Islamic Republic"around--and that of its Ulema. Today, only the most progressive of organizations--who you, it seems, do not want to consider properly Muslim--holds that position.
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Robert Jensen, Farid Esack, and Junaid Ahmad on The Lal Masjid and Pakistan...

The Robert Jensen article keeps coming up...where, as I saying earlier, we have Farid Esack, Junaid Ahmad, and Robert Jensen telling us that Pakistani liberals, it seems, "[i]nstead of talking about these fundamental questions of justice" "might ignore ... movements [like the Lal Masjid brigade] and conflicts in the outer provinces" ... and yet "found it offensive that such an embarrassing incident could happen in the capital, where the world eventually would pay attention."

What I get from this article is that there are two, and quite reminiscent of George Bush, only two possible ways to look at the phenomenon of this fanatic, militaristic manifestation of Islam coming out of Pakistan. You either caricature it, or you give it the sympathetic hearing these respectable---and I mean that without sarcasm--want to give it on the premise that what Abdul Rashid and his cohorts are about is those "fundamental questions of justice".

All of which amuses this Pakistani liberal/progressive/whatever no end. (As a friend of mine just put it over the phone from Pakistan, "when it comes to Pakistan, the definition people seem to have is that if you're not a mullah, you're liberal"--a definition these gentlemen seem to subscribe to.) Especially since I am FROM one of those "outer provinces". And the descriptions of the bullet-marked madarassah in Islamabad that everyone is wringing their hands about could very well have been a description of any of the colleges and universities we went to in the 80s and 90s in Karachi. We've been living at the business end of the firefights between the mullahs, the military, and the militant ethnicists for a few decades now. And I am sorry, but my personal experience--and I guess it is biased by my dealings with the "moderate Islamists" that I keep hearing about (the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba was our local manifestation)--is of exactly us "liberals" having been the only ones actually working on human rights, and freedom of speech and the like, when these Mullahs were in government with the last military dictator we had. Was it these Mullahs lining up to take on General Zia or Asma Jehangir?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pride and Human Rights in Pakistan

Yes, pride in Pakistan. In something uniquely Pakistani. Not a word you will hear often given the news coming out of that country.

We have heard about Mukhtaran Mai. And if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will remember my quoting Dr. Adil Najam about how Mukhtaran Mai is the one Pakistani he's most proud to have met. And, if you are more in touch with Pakistan, you know about Edhi, Faiz, Dr. Abdus Salaam...but the one thing that makes me more proud than anything else, is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the HRCP. This is the organization that gave the world it's first UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. This is the organization Dr. Amartya Sen mentions when asked about Pakistan and how it's doing as a country.

On the other hand, today, we have Imran Khan and his party today telling us that what we need is Rule of Law, and and an independent judiciary. And we have Farid Esack, Junaid Ahmad, and Robert Jensen telling us about Pakistani liberals that ""Instead of talking about these fundamental questions of justice" and "might ignore ... movements [like the Lal Masjid brigade] and conflicts in the outer provinces" ... and yet "found it offensive that such an embarrassing incident could happen in the capital, where the world eventually would pay attention."

But when a military coup last happened in Pakistan, the only clear voice saying it was a bad idea was not The Great Khan, for example, (he was making appreciative noises).. The only clear voice saying "interrupting the flow of democracy is always a bad thing" was the HRCP. [If you can find the press release or a news story about it, please do send it to me; I am franticly looking for it. PS, 9/11/11: Beena Sarwar helped get HRCP dig it up and it is now part of a subsequent post.]

And now they have a blog: and that's a very, very good thing. I have left them a comment saying that if they need any help, they can ask me. I request other bloggers to to do the same--and pass the word around. This is one Pakistani--one Muslim--organization that needs all the support, ink, oxygen it can get. Especially at a time like this.

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The State Department on Pakistan

Video of State Department briefing on CSPAN at:


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Islamism, Episode 1: "My qualm is with Islamism and not with Islam"

Just a few days ago, someone asked what the definition was of "Islamist". One of things on my "ketchup" list is sitting down and compiling a definition from what I and others have said in conversations online and off. But this caught my eye a few days ago, in an interview on alt.Muslim, and it provides a very good place to start:
You've obviously titled your book "The Islamist," which is a bit of a loaded word these days. What is your definition of "Islamist" as you're using it in this book?

Ed Husain: In very broad terms, three things. Firstly, there's the rejection of 1400 years of Muslim traditional scholarship and re-reading of scripture with political lenses. Secondly, they advocate a world view that's based on eventually at some stage confronting the West. And thirdly, they reject mainstream Muslims and give us all sorts of labels such as 'non-practising Muslims', 'jahils', 'partial Muslims', and so on. Generally it's those three things and all of this is underwritten by the works of particular writers - to be more specific, Sayyid Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani and, in our times, Fathi Yaqoun, and so on.

It's a really important question, especially from a Muslim point of view because many Muslims confuse Islam with Islamism. The lines have been blurred and my qualm is with Islamism - the ideology that's been set up in the name of the faith - and not against Islam, the religion that our Prophet left us and which was developed by our scholars of all traditions - Shia, Sunni, whatever. My qualm is with Islamism and not with Islam. I think increasingly Muslims, thanks to Islamist propaganda, have failed to see the difference between the two.
You can read the whole interview on alt.Muslim:

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Hindi Blogging takes off...

Regular readers of this blog and other places I post might have noticed me trying to follow blogging in the Devnagri script, and often wondering why we--or I, at least--don't see more blogs in Devnagri. (See here, for example.)

Now either blogging in that script is taking off, or they're getting to where I am noticing them. See here and, more generally, you can follow it here:
Now on to what I'd really like to see in the blogsophere: Purabiya, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, ... or at least the blogging equivalent of what Inshajee wrote.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NFP On Karachi, the MQM, and Fascists

I have been hoping to put my thoughts on events in Karachi on May 12th, and the fall-out together. Then I stumbled back into something written by an old, old associate--the man's gone through a lot in the years since I knew him, but his voice and his content is still as clear, as unconventional, and as capable of inducing discomfort in the reader or listener. So for those who comment and go on and on about Karachi, here's something to think about--from one of Pakistan's most acerbic, uncompromising (the Urdu word I am thinking of is "تلخ") voices in Pakistan.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

South Asian ("Desi") Immigrants and Immigration Reform

I have been meaning to write something on the topic of immigration reform and that whole hullabaloo. But as often happens while we work together as members the Friends of South Asia, Ramkumar Sridharan, a friend and fellow member steps up and says things so well that I then don't need to. Here's what he's sent around and all I can add is, as we say here in the US "What he said!::
Hi all,

You must be following the immigration reform debate, and the collapse of the immigration reform bill (S.1639) on the Senate floor last week. The primary reason the bill was voted down was because several senators thought it provided "amnesty". However, numerous immigrant advocacy groups also opposed the bill because of the devastating impact it would have had on immigrant communities.

Given the options on the table at the present moment, the death of the bill might have been the best possible outcome. But it is awkward and unfortunate that the bill was voted down for all the wrong reasons. Clearly the bill was at odds with the demands of the immigrant rights movement; and the failure of the bill only shows the strength of the ultra-right.

I wrote the following Op-Ed (published in the print edition of this week's India-West, dated Jun 29) in conjunction with SAALT before the bill was voted out. I wrote it in response to a general tendency amongst my some of friends and peers (H1-B workers in the tech industry) to view undocumented immigrants as their adversaries; and that policies that attempted to (or appeared to) provide even a modicum of relief to mitigate decades of injustice to undocumented folk (sloppily at that, like the current bill) were "unfair" to H1-B and other "legal" folk.



South Asian Community Urged to Stand Up for Immigration Reform It is time to realize that immigrants of all status are our true allies—and that it is in our interest to fight for fair immigration laws for everyone.
By RAMKUMAR SRIDHARAN. India-West, June 29, 2007 (Page A8)

Immigration reform is a hot topic these days in my circle of friends and peers in the South Asian community– many of whom, like me, are first-generation Indian immigrants on H-1B visas. As the debate in the Senate proceeds again, it is refreshing to note that South Asian immigrants are becoming more engaged in understanding the impact of the proposed legislation (S. 1639) on our community. But while we try to understand how the bill affects immigrants, it is also important to look at the legislation–and immigration reform policy—as a whole to see if it is really fair to everyone across the board.

The proposed immigration bill in the Senate is controversial for many reasons. It contains provisions that would affect families and workers negatively, for example. It also creates a merit-based point system for obtaining green cards. The Senate bill is problematic for a range of immigrants, including people in situations like mine. I am in my seventh year as an H-1B worker, and personally empathize with the call to reform the immigration system. My employers filed an application for a green card on my behalf in 2003. My application languished in the system for four years before the first stage of the process—the labor certification–got approved a few months ago. Ahead of me is a wait of approximately 3 years, perhaps more, given the nature of today's immigration process.

Clearly, immigration reform legislation could improve or worsen the lives of H-1B workers. The Senate bill under consideration right now does not pave a rosy path for H-1B visa-holders. For instance, it offers less flexibility and control for employers over the process, and reduces the overall numbers of employment-
based visas from 140,000 to 90,000, exacerbating the current visa backlog.

As we analyze the impact of the Senate bill, it is also important to keep in mind that green card holders, undocumented immigrants, and workers of South Asian descent all have a stake in immigration reform. We are intricately linked and share common aspirations as immigrants to this country. We also are products of immigration policies that are generally not made with our interests in mind.

The argument thrown around in some South Asian circles is that any immigration reform legislation should benefit skilled workers first and foremost. Some say that immigration reform should not benefit undocumented immigrants, who have "violated the law" and not "played by the same rules" as legal immigrants. Let's examine some of these arguments more closely.

First, the definition of who is "legal" and who is "illegal" has historically been a constantly changing one based on economic needs. We have to realize that a vast majority of undocumented immigrants had no legal means to come work in the U.S. in their job categories, while H-1B workers and other immigrants had that option. If there were legal paths for undocumented immigrants, would they have had a need to break the law?

In the context of the Senate bill under consideration right now, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are actually disadvantaged due to a merit-based point system that assigns a range of criteria to determine who obtains green cards. The merit-based point system would in effect establish an explicit class-based discrimination system by ostensibly preferring"skilled" over "unskilled" workers. The criteria used to determine who gets green cards include education, employment and English-language ability.

Under the point system, working class South Asians such as cab drivers or domestic workers will obtain fewer points than individuals with educational degrees or work experience. Some may argue that this is fair from an economic standpoint–they say that the U.S. economy, to compete and remain a leader in the world, needs more skilled workers than unskilled ones. But is that argument fair or humane?

The bottom line? The Senate bill is antifamily and antiworker. If the bill is passed in its current form, it will have far-reaching negative consequences for all immigrants including South Asians. We, the H1-B workers, were conspicuously absent last year when the immigrant rights movement needed us. Now, as we become more engaged in the debate and the possibility of a new immigration law looms ahead of us, it is time to realize that immigrants of all status are our true allies—and that it is in our interest to fight for fair immigration laws for everyone.

(The author is an H-1B visa holder living in Santa Cruz, Calif. He is a member of the San Francisco-based Friends of SouthAsia and Washington, D.C.-based South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.)
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Friday, June 29, 2007

Update: Poem from The East on Oppression and The Oppressed

Once upon a time, I had posted a translation of an Urdu piece by Gauhar Raza, and had been trying to get in touch with him to submit it for his attention and maybe get his okay for posting his poem here. I finally got in touch with him (and his wife Shabnam Hashmi) over the last few days and got him to comment on the translation and the poem. It was gratifying to hear that he thought well of the humble effort at translation. He added:
"Though I would like the poem to be dead and irrelevant as soon as possible but since the world is not going to be peaceful in near future therefore I suppose it has some use."
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Friday, June 22, 2007




Founding conference attracts diverse gathering resolved to create physical spaces for progressive Muslims

Bronxville, NY/Los Angeles, CA: The progressive Muslim movement in the United States took a significant step forward as a diverse collection of activists, organizers, and academics gathered at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, May 15-17, for the first conference of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV, website: Coming together in fellowship, they joined in communal devotion, shared the various personal, intellectual, and spiritual journeys that brought them there, discussed how to formulate their positions on political, social, and cultural issues and how to interact with other progressives and other Muslims. They also elected an Executive Board to lead them for the next two years.

The progressive Muslim movement in the United States has been a work in progress for a few years now. The first prominent, tangible manifestation was probably the publication of a collection of essays seeking to challenge the visions of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and conservative, or radical right-wing Muslims. Online communities, mailing lists and Meet-Ups also built a community of people who self-identify as progressive Muslims, or just consider themselves progressives who happen to be Muslims--or vice versa. Various organizations, including the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), were later formed. Then, in 2006, Muslims for Progressive Values was founded by former PMU board members Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld.

MPV's first conference brought together a diverse gathering of people from the local area and across the nation, as well as friends and allies from north of the border in Canada. From Boston to Los Angeles, and Miami to the San Francisco Bay Area, people who had developed deep friendships online met each other for the first time. The conference was themed "Finding our Voice", and its agenda ranged from the very personal--discussing participants' personal spiritual paths, views, and experiences--to passionate debates on human rights and political issues. The conference also included organization-building items such as board elections and the planning of future MPV activities.

The event kicked off with an evening zikr, a Sufi devotional ceremony, led by the Sheikha (leader) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order based in New York. The first order of business on the following day was the discussion and adoption of a Mission Statement. MPV formally defines itself as seeking "to bring together Muslims and others who share progressive values to work for a more humane world," welcoming "all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for the implementation of progressive values—social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of church and state—as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam."

Over the next two days, the organization discussed resources, achievements, issues, activities, and plans for the future. The group resolved to expand its online and offline community building efforts
and--in collaboration with established like-minded groups--take them to the next level by creating physical spaces where the community can come together and put down roots. Los Angeles and New York were defined as the first two sites where the group will set up centers. The mandate is to provide open, welcoming, non-judgemental spaces for members of the community.

The Executive Board, elected for the 2007-2009 period, includes Pamela Taylor (Chair), Kareem Elbayar (Vice Chair), Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld (President), Noreen Dabbish (Secretary), Vanessa Karam (Interfaith Coordinator), Raquel Evita Saraswati (Human Rights Coordinator), and Sabahat Ashraf (New Media Coordinator).

MPV's plans for the coming year include activities such as creating a curriculum for religious education that is progressive in content and spirit, putting out position papers, building membership, and working to bring a tolerant and inclusive voice to the table--
both within the Muslim community, and in the progressive and wider communities.

One conference highlight was the announcement of the winners of the First Annual Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Memorial Khutbah Writing Competition. This competition is focused on excellence in sermon writing and is held in memory of one of the strongest and most respected voices of Islam in America. This year's winning entry, titled Women's Rights in Islam, was written by Dr. Lena Al-Sarraf and submitted by the Muslim Women's League.

In the immediate future, MPV is co-sponsoring God Loves Beauty, an interfaith visual and performing arts festival in LA from June 30th to July 8th, 2007. Other planned events discussed at the conference include establishing four dates for annual nationwide female-led prayers, and a family summer camp in 2008.


Muslim for Progressive Values is based out of Los Angeles, California, and has members and supporters nationwide. Founded in 2006 by Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld, MPV brings together progressive Muslims and others who share their values, to work for a more humane world. MPV welcomes all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of religion and state, as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam.

To schedule interviews, or for other information, contact:

Ani Zonneveld
p: +1 323-842-2869


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