Friday, May 25, 2007

More Pew Report Follow-Up: The Media, Eteraz, SF Chronicle

We've had a lot of members of the community saying that "The Press" was accentuating the negative and going down the "if it bleeds it leads" path, and so on. As a qualifier, I have to say that I don't quite bother to follow the mainstream cable and broadcast TV media (not just Fox, but CNN, etc., too) at lately, so the following is based on following the press and wire sources.

One interesting round up was done by Brian Lehrer on his show on WNYC. You can listen to the segment he did on the report at:

He reads out a bunch of headlines, and it is only the AP ones that lead with seeing the cup as a quarter full of poison rather than three quarters full of nectar.

On the other side, I have to say, Ali Eteraz is one of very few people actually taking the discussion ensuing from the Pew Report about American Muslims beyond simplicities, so to speak. Read his stuff here, and here. And on Huff Po here.

And for what it's worth, a couple writers here in the SF Bay Area did a pretty good job in the Chronicle this week, looking at this as a human and an American story, not just a Muslim disease, and putting the concerns that the Report raises, without getting jingoistic or turning to "Islam is evil" or "all Muslims are terrorists" kind of bashing.

And also, to summ up, from where I sit, as I pointed out on my blog, it took the BBC to turn to the highest ranking Muslim elected official in this country to get a comment. And I had to bounce it off someone like a Indian security hawk to try and make the story more a global study. Of course, where he's coming from is problematic, but it's very frustrating to get even American Muslim "media" to take the bigger view. There's much to learn from the experiences of Muslim communities in other countries.

Let's keep talking about this and related issues.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

B. Raman, Hyderabad, and Bushra Zaidi

It is reassuring that I am not the only one making the connection between Hyderabad, Kashmir, and other hotspots where Muslims are a "community of concern". But it's also worrying that I am in a small minority trying to advocate for folks to take a look at the bigger picture. Just reacting to the current outrage only guarantees that the cycle of mayhem continues—and that the people and groups whose political fortunes are contingent on that cycle continue to win

I could have written my last two posts (this and this) almost as a rejoinder to a column from B. Raman in Outlook India. Of course, he is taking it from the perspective of a "Security" hawk within the Indian establishment and not looking, as I am trying to do, beyond the tension between Muslims and other communities and on to intra-Muslim tensions, as in Karachi. The issue really is one of fanaticism being left on the table as the only option for a lot of young, educated folks (and yes, it is the educated ones I am particularly concerned about)—Muslim or not. South Africa, where Mandela himself has never said that their resort to violence was wrong, Ireland and Sri Lanka come to mind.

Of course, Mr. Raman's article is triggered by the recent tragedy/atrocity in Hyderabad, and I haven't yet commented here about it. I have, however, been having a very interesting conversation with a young friend in the city of the Nizams and hope to post excerpts from that here soon. Suffice it to say that the circle is complete; where we in Karachi once looked at the Muslim Majlis's role in Andhra Pradesh politics as an inspiration for what a minority can achieve, the events of the last fews days, with the role of the police in shooting protesters being a very major sore point for Hyderabadis, is eerily reminiscent of the episode that kicked off Karachi's troubles 22 years ago. (Look in the righthand column here--the story is not complete on that site. What really kicked off the riots was the one-two punch of Bushra Zaidi's accident and the police's inaction about it coupled with acts like starting and moving a police van while a young female student of Bushra Zaidi's—and my mother's—alma mater was standing atop it making a speech.)

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Following up on the Cycle of Violence and Terrorism

After my post yesterday about "Muslims in the USA, Muhajirs in Pakistan, and More", I have gotten into some very interesting conversations--which is what I was hoping; we all have to get beyond just the platitudes and finger pointing and to where we are looking at the bigger picture, anger and reaction, no matter how just, can only lead to repeating the cycle of violence and mayhem we see so often around the globe. Here's what I replied to one friend, edited and enhanced very lightly:

My point, in the Pakistani context, but that is just one example, is that there needs to be a voice at the table speaking for the concerns of Urban Sindh--especially Karachi and its Urdu speakers. And not exclusively--other voices need to be at the table, too. And, yes, the MQM has been a very flawed vehicle for that. Just as other groups, the Jiyay Sindh Movement, or Bugti, or what-have-you, have been flawed vessels of other aspirations. But I have always held that the MQM is not a cause of the problems that Karachi has, but a symptom of it. The problem is that since others did not do much for the needs and aspirations of, especially middle- and lower-middle-class, Karachi (and Hyderabad, and Sukkur), when the MQM leadership came along, they had an audience with who had tried every other option (trying to support Fatima Jinnah, the Jamaat, ...) and been bitterly disappointed.

Look at Palestine: I am a very strong opponent of Islamism (both militant and otherwise) as manifested by Hizbollah (and the Jamaat, and others), but it is because the powers that be (including Muslim leadership globally) were not going to sit down and really work with the leadership that the Palestinians had (Arafat, and now Marwan Barghouti and others), the people threw their support behind Hizbollah. That was my point behind the Black Panther Party allusion--Martin and Malcolm were murdered, which made African Americans much more open to the Panthers, and left the Panthers as the only visible "leadership" at some points. Also Kashmir--the complete hijacking of the election under Rajiv is what drove Yaseen Malik and his generation to the gun and made them open to the hot (proxy) war Ziaul Haq was trying to start....

Given that, the problem as I see it, both with Muslims in the West and globally, and "communities of concern" in places like Karachi, and Kashmir, and Palestine, is that, now that there is "leadership" in place that a lot of us find less-than-savoury, in the way that deal with them, we have to be careful not to seem like we're trivializing the real issues that they base their politics upon; otherwise the "silent majority" that we say exists in those communities, and whose "hearts and minds" we say need to reach, get the wrong message and we're set back a long way in terms of solving the problems them that make the current options successful.

Does that make sense?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Muslims in the USA, Muhajirs in Pakistan, and More

There's been quite a bit of discussion of a Pew Center survey released this week that finds "Muslims 'well integrated' in US" and, of course, it's the jump from there to the same old "...and therefore they are not as prone to fanaticism as those in Western Europe, for example" is a short one. But as I keep saying, for example on the first anniversary of 7/7, the story might not be such a simple one.

I haven't had the chance to actually read the report, but an item on the BBC last night caught my attention. They bothered to talk to the only Muslim in an elected office at the national level in the US: Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota. And they asked him the question that popped out at me. Here's the point as the BBC reported it:
younger Muslims in the US are more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defence of Islam can sometimes be justified.
Ellison had a good point in his reply, pointing out that problems like this are not unique to young Muslim Americans and we have this kind of issue with other young folks in the US. Which kinda makes the point I have often made; that it's not just Islam, but every faith and ideology that have come to these shores has had its aggressive, averse-to-history, everything-is-black-and-white versions thrive and develop here. Which is not to say that other versions of faiths and ideologies do not prosper here, too--there are Sufi centers and a full-blown Progressive Muslim movement pushing for women to lead prayer. But the Muslim-American story is an American story like other American stories. [And notice that Mr. Ellison uses the phrase "Muslim American" rather than the "American Muslim" or "American Islamic" versions so prevalent today, but I digress.]

The point does bear repeating that there's an ideological struggle for the soul of "American Islam" that needs to be fought. And as I was saying at a gathering a weekend or two ago, never mind outsiders, American Muslims themselves--or Muslim Americans, if you will--are still taking a very undifferentiated and unanalysed attitude to themselves. I was amazed at two very intelligent people--both non-South Asian, non-Arab Muslims, by the way--almost arguing when one held up Iman WD Muhammad's ministry and the other held up a community of very Islamist (yes, I use that word advisedly--take me up on it) yuppies as what the Muslim community in the SF Bay Area is all about. The point is that both of those realities are true. Just as the Lubavitchers' American branch and the Tikkun community are both very American Jewish communities and have very different world views. We--all of us, Muslims, non-Muslims, Progressives, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans,...-- really need to get beyond simplistic definitions if we are to make any progress in the discussion of the engagement of Muslims with the 21st Century and vice versa.

One instructive thing to do is look back in history to the Civil Rights Movement and, say, the Black Panther Party. In my humble view, it was the way Dr. King and Malcolm X were treated and dismissed as communists, or worse, when they talked of rights and a better society for all (Malcolm, especially towards the end of his life) that made the Black Panther Party more of a phenomenon and left it the only manifestation of the movement for the rights of African Americans with any media oxygen at some points in history. [Of course, a closer look at the latter also reveals ideals that, at least in the beginning were more progressive than violent.]

And if I may, this might seem like me digressing again, but the very same applies to what has been happening in Pakistan and the role of the MQM that I was discussing a few days ago. In reacting to the the role the MQM played in the events of May 12th, 2007, if our attitude to that party is that it and all it stands for (or claims to stand for) are bunk, then we are in danger of completely disenfranchising a very large part of the population of the sixth largest nation in the world--and the second largest Muslim nation. And it is the disenfranchisement, the leaving them feeling that they don't have any outlets for their aspirations and concerns that leaves what is so broadly referred to as Terrorism as their only options. Much more than the economic desperation that so many people turn to as the only scapegoat. There is a case to be made that in Kashmir, for example, it was the complete farce that the last election held there in the 80s under Rajiv Gandhi that turned the very kids, like Yaseen Malik and others, that were involved in the political process to the gun. And the educated, urbane young men that are the most at risk. Remember, one of the bombers of 7/7 worked with kids and had been featured on the cover of a British magazine as an example of a ... what's the phrase being used in relation to this Pew Report... "integrated"...."assimilated"

By way of background, major findings the Pew Center Report highlights include:
  • Overall, Muslim Americans have a generally positive view of the larger society. Most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.

  • A large majority of Muslim Americans believe that hard work pays off in this society. Fully 71% agree that most people who want to get ahead in the U.S. can make it if they are willing to work hard.

  • The survey shows that although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society. And by nearly two-to-one (63%-32%) Muslim Americans do not see a conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.

  • Roughly two-thirds (65%) of adult Muslims in the U.S. were born elsewhere. A relatively large proportion of Muslim immigrants are from Arab countries, but many also come from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Among native-born Muslims, roughly half are African American (20% of U.S. Muslims overall), many of whom are converts to Islam.

  • Based on data from this survey, along with available Census Bureau data on immigrants' nativity and nationality, the Pew Research Center estimates the total population of Muslims in the United States at 2.35 million.

  • Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries. However, there is somewhat more acceptance of Islamic extremism in some segments of the U.S. Muslim public than others. Fewer native-born African American Muslims than others completely condemn al Qaeda. In addition, younger Muslims in the U.S. are much more likely than older Muslim Americans to say that suicide bombing in the defense of Islam can be at least sometimes justified. Nonetheless, absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world.

  • A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government "singles out" Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.

  • Relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and many doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Just 40% of Muslim Americans say groups of Arabs carried out those attacks.
You can see the Pew Report directly at:


Drop me a line--either in comment below or via email--and let's talk about this; the discussion really needs to start here, not end here.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Adil Najam on 5/12...and "The Daily Jinnah"?

I have mentioned Dr. Adil Najam before, as someone who's opinion I follow. He was in Pakistan for a little while and just got back. Here are a couple of op-ed he's done on the situation in Pakistan recently:
The other thing I wanted to mention is that I just noticed that someone has started a newspaper called "The Daily Jinnah", it seems, from Lahore. And they are doing some really good work. Check it out.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Karachiites on Events in Karachi

A lot of the discussion around what happened in Karachi starting on the 12th of May has been centered on the role of the MQM. I thought readers might appreciate reading the following exchange between a few people who, though they spend most of their time living outside Karachi, strongly feel and identify with the city. [At least one of them has written in "Karachi" under "Ethnic Background" on the US Census form.]

First, a comment from a person on a mailing list:

A dictator supporting another dictator

Time and again events have proved that MQM is not a political party; it is a core group of criminals and a large body of naive people gathered around a cult figure. The simpletons believe the party is working for their rights. The core group of ruffians makes sure there is no internal dissent to the Pir who in turn dishes out favors to this group. The people at fault are the naive of Karachi who neither have any political maturity nor a desire to come out of this quagmire.

To which I thought two responses were very instructive. Please read both. I found Saquib Mausoof's comment below one that really resonated, at least for me:

But first, from Umair Muzaffar of Pleasanton, California:

Before I begin ... I want to first clarify that I am not a member of any political or any ethno political party or any military institution, I am just a simple Pakistani who was raised in Karachi.

And now a few observations:-

Somehow this whole issue has been turned into MQM, the viability of MQM, need for MQM, all the evils because of the MQM and shifted the debate from the dictator Musharraf getting rid of an allegedly corrupt Chief Justice and that Chief Justice going berserk in political activism while still trying push his case through the supreme judicial council and the Supreme Court.

The reality is that MQM has always been used by Pakistani establishment to quell fingers from pointing at itself.

We may raise all the faults that exist at the MQM organization and justify by providing very real facts ... but the reality still is that MQM is no different from any other powerhouse that calls itself a political party. The other two parties PPP and Muslim League also have the same leadership for almost as long as MQM. Any dissent towards leadership in these parties has also been crushed in similar fashion as done by MQM.

The problem with MQM is that it, on most parts, represents an ethnic minority ... that until recently has been sidelined by other ethnicities in every aspect of the national or local affairs. Thus everyone, including us on this group starts to point finger at the MQM and what it allegedly represents.

Sometimes veiled and sometimes unveiled non-acceptance of what MQM represents is a norm ... specially from the non-Karaciite journalist institutions. This non-acceptance is at times similar to the non-acceptance of the East Pakistan based popular institutions before the 1971 debacle.

We have to realize that MQM is supporting what it claims is an elected President and his reference in the Supreme Court and the process that the
government claims is constitutional.

All the lives lost, either by-standers caught in the fire fight, opposition workers/fighters, MQM workers/fighters, law enforcement personnel and all
the others who lost their lives - lost it because of the STUPIDITY of everyone including the MQM, the Government, the opposition parties and YES the Chief Justice --- who is not willing to rely on the Supreme Court that he until recently was heading. Blaming these deaths solely on the MQM is as narrow minded as blaming the entire Israeli - Palestinian issue on the Palestinians or on the Israelis or on the Americans.

There were fighters on both sides ... both sides were shooting ... both sides were dealt casualties ... both sides killed. Everyone saw the video

Can we be a little objective here?

And now Saquib Mausoof:

Yes, it is a dictator supporting another dictator, however, the fact that you consider MQM not a political party but a core group of criminals reminds me the rhetorics on War Agianst terrorism when Taliban were declared 'enemy combatants' since they don't wear uniforms, and send them Camp X-Ray?

I think it is very easy to fall prey to jingoism when one's own city is hurt. Anyone who has visited Karachi has seen what the Musharraf years have done for the city. the goverment has been MQM and it has been good for business.

True MQM has demonstarted repeatedly their appetite for destruction, but instead of letting this movement mature democraticaly (BJP in India is a good example, they took leadership on democracy and become somewhat mainstream) we have a tendency to call them criminals.

I think this is a mistake.

However, this could have been controlled if the Federal Goverment had not allowed MQM free reign in the city and used them to do their dirty work. For this MQM will pay dearly and they should.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Marxism and the Thinking Muslim

We all carry the derived knowledge of our backgrounds, experiences, etc. And Marxism, or even the very idea of being Progressive (or tharaqqi-pasandh) has often been seen as absolute anathema for those of us who have come up in a Muslim context. (Notice I don't say "Islamic"; because for me that is a theological judgement.)

In the discusion about what's happening in Karachi and Pakistan right now, ARR, the keeper of the Rabita Zone (the word means "connection", "link", etc.), sent me this article yesterday:

Pakistan, A Country at War with Itself (en Espanol here)

commenting that he found it:
Interesting, however when you put the words "Marxist Viewpoint" it tends to put me off - given my strong bias against Marxists / Communists for "free Markets", "Adam Smiths invisible hand theory" is indeed the way to go. Regardless of how nations may try to use to their respective advantage.
My response to him was that I used to have that reaction, too. And I still do in terms of Marxist groups and governments. But 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. When they get to opinion and matters of religion, you are free to tune out ;).

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On Falwell's Passing

I owe readers at least three posts on things happening in Pakistan, but on Falwell, I have had reason to repeat on several lists that at times like this, I am reminded of one of the comments I heard on Reagan's death--interestingly enough, from a gay radio host:
From Yahoo News:

Jon Beaupre, a gay journalist and Los Angeles radio talk show host who is HIV (news - web sites)-positive, said Reagan's death "brought mixed feelings."

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

My blog post on the passing of the Gipper is at:

There's not really much else to say beyond that.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Twenty-Two to my Head and a Press Pass in my Pocket

If there's one
city I am "from", it is Karachi

It's very difficult to report on events when it is your own home on fire. Especially when it's an inferno you, personally, can do nothing about at the moment, you're too busy, most of all, either trying to find your family and housemates--when you're not just sitting there with your head in your hands. But then, friends want to know what's happening with you and yours. And especially now that the news outlets, at least, are telling us that things have "calmed down", here goes.

This is a first post that's triggered by something I saw and then I will post a compilation of comments from expat Karachiites.

First of all, the question from friends is "Where do we get information about the situation that we can trust?" The answer to that--from a person whose city is one of the largest in the world (never mind superlatives as "greatest" and suchlike) and whose streets have seen running battles for decades, both battles of information, and battles with firearms, --is that if you are going to trust any one source on the planet for the last word on anything, I want what you're smoking and a trip down Da Nile with you.

Having said that, in the early 21st century, we now have blogs, and even more importantly, we now have blog aggregators and collaborative blogs. So the best place to go to see different points of view and different reports from, on, and about Pakistan is the central site called "Bloggers.Pk", which will give you a compiled "feed" of a large number of the most active blogs in the Pakistani "Blogosphere".

Yes, you will see posts about trivialities, but you will also see live updates, comments, and views from all parts of the Pakistani spectrum.

The next place you need to go is the Metroblogs for Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

And then read Pakistan's major newspapers and the websites of the electronic/satellite media. Pakistan's press is still, and has always been very independent, if not often not allowed to operate freely. At a time like this, when the press itself has come under attack (see here and, if you understand Urdu/Hindi, listen to an interview of Aaj TV's New York rep here), it is important to remember that. Even Dawn, The News and Jang which might be tepid, or cautious in their reporting (Disclaimer: the Reporting Desk Editor at The News in Karachi is a childhood friend and assured me, this past December, that he's working hard to build a team that is balanced, diverse, and trustable--both in it's professionalism and in terms of the people who are part of it) are worth visiting. But do also visit The Daily Times, and The Frontier Post at least. If you can, check out what we have in terms of the alternative press--mostly Urdu papers. Also read the news sites for the electronic/satellite media. Aaj TV has not only been covering the news, as mentioned above they have been part of the news. There's also Geo TV, The Jang Group's electronic wing.

In the next few posts I will follow up with opinion, views, etc., as we Karachiites come out from under the rubble (physical, emotional, political), and take stock. But for now, like I said, I am a Karachiite, and today I feel that we as a community, and as a nation, today stand, as the report in the Daily Times puts it (using our local sobriquet for a twenty two-calibre handgun:

TT to my forehead and a press pass in my pocket
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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

... 'Gar na badhakhaar hoe tha: RIP Boris Yeltsin

The above line from Urdu's most highly regarded poet seems to be the consensus of the Western world on Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. "...If only he hadn't been a tippler." It seems now that his successor has started to really get on the wrong side of "The Free World", they are waxing nostalgic for the man. But the problem with that logic is that he was the one--for whatever reasons of his own--that put Putin in place. As Michael Gorbachev put it in his statement,
"I offer my deepest condolences to the family of a man on whose shoulders rested many great deeds for the good of the country and serious mistakes—a tragic fate".

And that's not going to the discussion of his having started the first post-Soviet brutalization of Chechnya and thus creating the first of several "terrorist breeding grounds", so to speak...

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