Friday, December 11, 2009

Az Karachi Ast: From our heart to yours, our sister cities

Just thought I would bring toegether thoughts about Lahore and Mumbai in one place. My previous post had some thoughts about Lahore:

http://blog.ifaqeer.com/2009/12/hamara-lahore.html

I have had some other thoughts in previous posts about the situation in Lahore:

http://blog.ifaqeer.com/2009/10/word-on-pakistan.html and
http://blog.ifaqeer.com/2009/10/lahore-we-say-is-pakistans-heart.html

and in that other sister city across the bay marking an event this week:

http://blog.ifaqeer.com/2006/07/thought-for-mumbaikars.html

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hamara Lahore

For some of us who lived through Karachi's troubles, Lahore is in our thoughts nowadays. We saw the fanatic tripe wreck first our campuses, then our city, then the country and then follow us across the world. It was the proverbial problem you wouldn't wish on anyone else--and, of course, for us, Lahore is the perennial "other". And we, of all people, feel for that city.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, December 04, 2009

Macaulay, Zia and Us

Had reason to say this on Facebook:

We are all Macaulay's grandchildren--and Zia's children. We need to stop acting exactly like those two wanted us to: for example fighting amongst ourselves over the scraps that Gora Saahab, or our Shayukh throw us, thinking we can't live as full, co-equal citizens of the world with Gora Saahab, or said Shaiyukh.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pakistani Musicians--the NY Times Video

There's a video from the New York Times website is going around. [Click on the graphic to view it on their website.]

This video is so hit-or-miss and done from one specific point of view!

Firstly, Pakistanis, including Pakistani musicians, can walk and chew gum at the same time. They see that Pakistan is stuck, as Ali Azmat's current ideological guru puts it, between the twin jaws of fanaticism and neo-imperialism. The same video clips could have been used to say that Pakistani musicians and artists are actually taking the issues on in a more nuanced way and talking about both sides of that equation rather than leaning on side or the other. Except Ali Azmat, but we'll come back to that.

To say that "Yeh Hum Naheen" (This is not us) is belittling the issue by not using the word "Taliban" is so ass-backwards! Pakistanis see that Taliban are only one face of terrorism and fanaticism. Take a closer look at the graphic on the left. That statement "Terrorism is murder. Murder is haram." expressed in those religious terms, using a word--haram--that every Western Muslim pounds into their children with respect to eating pork, and wine, and so on is something I am still waiting for any "American Muslim" or Muslim government official to utter, 8 years after 9/11.

I try not to make sweeping statements, but to say that only the entity (or three entities, if you really follow US establishment rhetoric) known as "The Taliban" are our fanaticism problem is to follow the same shortsighted attitude of solving one problem and ignoring if not creating another that the US establishment has done again, and again--not least during the jihad, yes, jihad, against the Soviets.

And coming back to Ali Azmat. To have a discussion about Ali Azmat without bringing into the discussion the gentleman--and I am personally not allergic to him as others--that he has been hosting a show with and seems to be re-presenting the thoughts of is to miss the point. If you are not following Zaid Hamid and his influence on large swathes of Pakistani society, you're not paying attention.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Would Iqbal Say?

A couple of days ago was the day celebrated in Pakistan as "Iqbal Day". Allama Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal is the thinker and poet that wrote a song that is de facto an alternative national anthem for India on the one hand, and who Pakistanis consider "the philosopher of Pakistan", the person who came up with the very idea that became Pakistan. [Please, I am just relating what the national story accpeted in Pakistan is; I know others--Indian lovers of the "Hakeem", or Doctor, in particular--disagree. I am not here to re-argue that one.]

So what would Iqbal say about today's Pakistan, a friend asked on Facebook? No need to ask the question. There's a famous poem by him in the form of a prayer "Lab pay aati hai dua bun kay tamanna meri" which Pakistanis love to quote--but don't much pay attention to the lines about what action to take:

Ho mera kaam garibon ki himaayat karna /
Dard-mandon se zaiifon se mohabbat karna
[May my work be to work in support of the poor
To love the afflicted and the weak]

And on Mullahs:

When in a vision I saw
A mullah ordered to paradise,
Unable to hold my tongue,
I said something in this wise:

‘Pardon me, O Lord,
For these bold words of mine,
But he will not be pleased
With the houris and the wine.

He loves to dispute and fight,
And furiously wrangle,
But paradise is no place
For this kind of jangle.

His task is to disunite
And leave people in the lurch,
But paradise has no temple,
No mosque and no church.’

See: http://www.masabih.org/showthread.php?t=3753 for one posting of the original and a translation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Different Kinds of Muslims

My position is that unless we learn to love other Muslims DESPITE and WITH all that we might disagree with them upon, we can't be united. The Saudi approach--and that of other neo-purists--is to say "No, no, no; there is only one thing here--we are all Muslims." and then only allowing what and how they understand things to be as what that "one thing" is. Too often it is these very people who will be quickest to say--maybe because they understand Islam in a very narrowly-defined unitary whole--that this or that practice is "not Islam" and therefore Sufis, say, or Shias are not Muslims. That's what's gotta change if we are to be united; we have to recognize that there will be those who are more in tune with the metaphysical side of the bigger picture (such as the Sufis), and others that will look at things rationally (such as those who follow Kutub or Maududi), yet others who revere the personal link to The Prophet (as the Shias do) and yet respect (and not even just tolerate) them all as different interpretations within Islam.

Forcing people to believe as one never works, and only creates harder divisions.

Sufi Bunnies

I always have a wry smile when someone says that all we have to do is switch to Sufism and we'll all be chanting Rumi, if not Kumbaya, before you can say "Jalaludin Rumi Balkhi".

Never mind that before the Salafis came around and made it all about neo-purist fanaticism, the struggles Muslims waged--often militarily--were led by Sufis. The Jihad, yes, Jihad, of resistance to the Russian Empire in the Caucasus has only for the last few decades been a Salafi project; before that, for centuries it was lead and manned by sufis like Imam Shamyl. The Sokoto "Caliphate" in West Africa was founded by someone who was a Qadiri-Tijani sufi.

And that's just the "just wars".

The point? The point is that it's not about finding muslims who are cute and fluffy like bunny rabbits—or Canadians. And I am not saying that the Sufis are not Allah's gift for a better, more spiritual, less fanatic world. What I am saying is that simplitudes get us nowhere if we're not ready to address real issues, such as intolerance, xenophobia, oppression, and the like.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Illiteracy causes Terrorism--Wishful Thinking?

Every once in a while someone I know—not to mention a million others, often highly educated Pakistani expats and not a few caucasians both in Western governments and even progressive circles, but also people in Pakistan—will express the thought that what is really causing all this extremism and fanaticism is that Pakistan, for example, has an abysmal literacy rate. And all we have to do is start 3 million schools, and we "wild and wooly gentlemen" of those crazy parts will hold hands and chant Rumi, if not sing kumbaya. One do-gooder just a couple of days ago was saying on NPR that you could run a whole school for a year in the money spent on maintaining one foreign soldier in Afghanistan.

I am not sure I agree.

These are two separate problems. Illiteracy might be fueling extremism, but the ideology behind it is very much the product of literate brains. The inflexible, extreme attitudes we see in a lot of Pakistan's Youth--on Facebook, for example--is the product of the tinkering with the EDUCATIONAL system and society by Gen. Ziaul Haque and his regime, not of illiteracy. Making people literate--rather than enlightened--only gives them the means to read and absorb things like Farhat Hashmi, "disturbing" emails, and so on. [Which is not limited to Pakistan or Muslims; for every Geo TV there is a Fox News; for every Mullah Rocketi, a Franklin Graham. But I digress.] Just consider a few points:
  • Who was it that was most enamoured of the Sufis that brought Islam to what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India? (At least one or two of them literally students and friends of Rumi.) The educated elite of the day, or the poor, illiterate working folk?
  • Who attends lectures by Farhat Hashmi and radical Western Muslim (like the Hizbut-Tahrir and some Americans I could mention) ? The taxi driver and the working class Muslim, or the professionals at some mosques in Silicon Valley and Toronto that I could mention?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lahore, we say, is Pakistan's Heart ...

...and yesterday, Mrs Clinton heard it straight from the heart.


And one has to give Hilary C credit for actually getting out and about and right into the heart of Pakistan. But winning it over will be easier said than done, never mind the hopeful noises one hears in the US media--be it corporate, public, or alternative. (See here, for example.) The US, after all, is coming right out of a complete and utter defeat on the propaganda, sorry, PR, sorry, Public Diplomacy front on the Kerry Lugar Bill. (In case, you don't follow what I mean, please ask. Or, if you understand Urdu, check out last Sunday's discussion on ABN Chicago, or the upcoming pilot podcast of Taraqqi Pasand Media.) Of course, "the other side" is helped in no small measure by the fact that any discussion between the American Establishment and the Pakistani People degenerates very fast into rapidfire mutual recriminations.

The New York Times actually has a very good round-up in their article, of her PR challenge. Readers of this blog and my other writings and radio appearances (here on general background and here on Mrs. Clinton's last foray into lecturing Pakistanis, for example) will remember me pointing out how Pakistanis feel. But all we usually get is a person in a business suit behind a podium and "the average Pakistani" screaming at their television. So, beyond the "I Told You So"s, it was heartwarming to see, as the article says, an American official go face-to-face with "an audience so uniformly suspicious and immune to her star power as the polite, but unsmiling, university students who challenged her at Government College University in Lahore". Yeh cheez! as we say in Pakistan; that's what I am talking about!

[Photo: Clinton at Badshahi Masjid, Lahore--Reuters photo with NY Times article quoted]

Word on Pakistan

A friend of mine wondered (on Facebook) about not getting word from me about the situation in Pakistan. Here's my response:

For the Lahoris, the operative word is ...

Duck!

For us Karachiites, it's a test of moral fiber; namely of whether, or how badly, we give in to schadenfreude now that the shoe is on the other foot.

For the rest of us; well, the message is just the same as it has been for years--except, maybe, prefaced with an "I told you so."

Over the last few years, besides my own blog and podcast, I have done half a dozen appearances on NPR stations in SF and NY and I can't find anything that wasn't covered then. And not just by me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pity the Nation: Allah, Army, and ... Awab?

Dr. Awab Alvi, someone I really respect and have no qualms about referring to as Pakistan's pre-eminent blogger, and one of the best in the world just posted this on his social network statuses:
Pakistan Army kicks out Rehman Malik from GHQ > http://teeth.com.pk/3Mf4 < my comments - throw him out of the country for all I say
Really Awab?!! I am no fan of corrupt politicians or Rehman Malik. But are our memories so short that the military showing insubordination to the civilian government is now a GOOD thing? No wonder Imran Khan can get away with saying that li'il old him (old enough to remember three military dictators, if not more) was just so nice a guy that he "was conned" (his words) by Musharraf's sweet nothings when he came to power. What was all that about the rule of law and restoring ... what was it we were all agitating about just a year or two ago?

PS:

Here are some comments from Rana Faisal on Awab's original post on his blog:

This is something we shouldn’t be proud of.

By the constitution of Pakistan Military works under civilian government. And Rehman Malik is the federal minister for interior. This treatment of Army is not acceptable at all. Army clearly let down both president and prime minister by not allowing him to enter, if simply because of the fact that he was not important to them.

Army should stay in its limits. It is a disciplined institution and should set an example and on the contrary they cross the line all the time and we “the naive common citizens” are always chanting slogans, long live army.

Why are we not questioning how did the terrorist manage to get in and hostage the highest military men inside the GHQ?

DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY IDEA WHO WAS MADE HOSTAGE INSIDE THE GHQ? YOU WILL BE SHOCKED IF YOU’D KNOW.

Why official notification informing GHQ by IG punjab was ignored which clearly stated that armed terrorist in army uniform will attack GHQ?

I am not defending Rehman Malik. If he is incapable, American agent or not competent enough to visit GHQ, he shouldn’t have been on the post of federal interior minister in the first place.

Why our army only reacts when it comes to their institution? and not something goes really wrong in other areas?

Musharraf sacked 3 most influential general highest in the hierarchy of army at that time in one go, on the orders or Americans and nobody made any noise, agitated, and if NS sacked Musharraf after Karamat, though by law he has the authority, toppling his government by Musharraf became justified?

Mush kept quite though he knew everything which he declared as a reason to topple NS government but he didn’t react and did military coup till the time it came to him and he was sacked

Stop treating army like a sacred cow, they are the last resort but so far they have their fare share in the mess we have around? If Rehman Malik is incompetent, Hussain Huqqani behaving like American ambassador in Pakistan Embassy of US, why they highest post men in army are silent about it and don’t they have the capacity and power to correct the government when something goes wrong?

But they only act when it comes to their institution and that is what we need to understand. It is time to question our army and stop treating them like a sacred cow. Think logically

Let me clarify neither i am a fan of Rehman M, Zardari and his cronies, Nawaz & the gang or anyone else.

And for Rehman Malik any day i can debate that he is the most incompetent man for the job so please don’t bother to ask me questions about why am i defending politician.

My sole purpose is constitution is supreme, if today we let Army abuse their powers tomorrow some individuals will abuse army and laugh at all of us and than we will not have any right to question them. So let the institutions be independent and work under constitution.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Quick further thoughts on Obama and The Nobel

My own first reaction was rather startled, but I actually think he HAS changed the direction of a few things. See for example this. And he also most definintely seems to be changing the direction of nuclear policy, bringing up the little matter of the long-neglected treaty commitment of nuclear powers to de-weaponize--something that a lot of Pakistanis and Indians pointed to as rank hypocrisy when they were being asked not to test their deterrent.

On the Nobel, of course, I think Ali Eteraz spoke for a lot people from the wrong side of the global tracks when he described the Nobel Peace Prize as "not a real award," adding that "It is mostly Euro-centric bloviation. Kissinger got it. Arafat got it. Now shut up and enjoy the word play."

I personally feel that the Committe does like to influence the global conversation, and they seem to be throwing their weight behind what Obama is starting to do, so as Eteraz puts it, "if we can have pre-emptive war we can have pre-emptive peace."

Friday, October 09, 2009

Memo to Nobel Committee: Larsha Pekhawr thay kamisthor ma la raora ...

And if you'll let me go beyond the 140-character limit:

Larsha Pekhawr thay kamisthor ma la raora;
Thaza thaza dha guluna darai salor ma la raora

It's a Pushtu song from Pakistan:

When you go to Peshawar; bring me back a nice shirt
Fresh flowers, too; bring me back three or four

Here's a modern remid of the original Pakistani movie version:


And here's a slightly Urdu'ized version closer to what us "Children of Zia" (Gen X and Y in Pakistan) grew up listening to--which includes an Urdu adaptation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFWMrjdWWdk

That song covers Peshawar and Bajaur; here's one that sings the same paen to Nangarhar:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf-rqsmUyI

Now you're wondering if I have finally completely and utterly lost it; why am I taking you on a tour of the Pukhtun YouTube on a day when the Nobel Committee has thrown its weight behind the world's hopes and aspirations that my brother Barack Hussein will save the planet. Maybe you're thinking I should just belt out a lusty "Ya Qurban!" like the good pro-Western liberal Pakistani (and thus 15% Pukhtun) that I am (see this for example) and get with the program.

Thing is, it is this morning, also, that my friend Zainab Jeewanjee tells us:
After months of consideration on how to deal with our escalating engagement in the AF-Pak region, Obama’s administration has decided:
“the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement”
See, I am just one of those people cursed with a memory and some knowledge of history beyond the last US presidential election cycle. I can't but think back to the fact that after the US was finished tangling with the last "transcendtal challenge", we Pakistanis--and, as we found out on 9/11/01, the rest of the world--were left holding the bag full of Islamic fundamentalism, violence and hate. And just a few decades before that, Obama's role model FDR took what Lawrence of Arabia had--not two decades previous--described as "a fanatical Moslem heresy" and made the deal that gave them and their neo-purist attitudes the dominant position in Muslim hearts and minds, never mind the world economy, that they hold today.

So, now, you tell me, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee, what DO I, an American taxpayer and a Pakistani citizen do besides grab a rabab and, like pensive Pukhtuns across the ages, pray that the poetry does its work.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Muslim Terrorist"

Just got into another argument on Facebook about the phrase "Muslim Terrorist". As always, it started with someone posting an item and then agonizing about that phrase; "Muslims are not terrorists", the refrain always is. My reaction:
"No Muslims are terrorists? That's like saying no Muslims have brown hair."
And before I get into my main point—and because I know my brothers and sisters in the Muslim world will get all defensive and act as if I am just a self-hating Muslim saying that Muslims are terrorists, you can read my position on what a terrorist is here, and on the use of phrases like "Muslim terrorist" and "Hindu terrorist" here.

But the main point, quite frankly, is that this whole "Muslims are terrorists" ... "No, Muslims are not terrorists" is a great distraction from real issues that we should be discussing. Instead of thinking about and acting about the conditions and issues that face Muslims--and other humans--like neo-imperialism, exploitation, oppression. And those are just the external dangers. Even worse for Muslims are the internal issues like social and cultural attitudes that are backwards and, quite frankly, not even very much in alignment with the spirit of Islam which teaches us to be noble, strive for knowledge, and help make the world a better place for ourselves and for everyone.

And when I talk about oppression above, I am talking about both oppression by outsiders and by people who call themselves Muslims and take advantage of that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Good Night, Sweet Prince--Ottoman Edition


The news that Ertuğrul Osman, the "Last Ottoman", the last grandson of an Ottoman Emperor—or, to put it more clearly, the Head of the House of Osman, the erstwhile ruling house of the Ottoman Empire, and the last house to hold the office of "Khalifa" and "Ameerul Momineen" to all Muslims with any seriousness—had died came in the form of two contacts posting a news item on Facebook. (One posted the NY Times story, and another, the BBC one.)

My first reaction was to ask who the next Head of the House of Osman would be. (A question that is not answered by either of the above stories from the mainstream media, and for which one has to turn to the Wikipedia. Apparently it's a gentleman by the name of "Osman Bayezid Osmanoğlu", who doesn't even have an entry on that encyclopedia yet. PS, Sept. 25, 2009: An article has since appeared.)

Then someone who sounds Turkish themselves judging by her(?) name, said "[a]s a side note, many secularists in Turkey are no longer so proud/happy about Atatürk having kicked the Sultan and his family out, because obviously the Osman family would have made much more 'presentable' heads of state in their view than the current headscarf-wived PM and President!"

From where I sit, that's the point a lot of us who think of ourselves as moderate have always made; extremism breeds extremism. For all it's modernization, Attaturk's policies were a really extreme response to where Turkish--and the wider Muslim--society and nation found itself. Who knows what might have developed had critical parts of the Muslim world evolved gradually as much of "The West" did. Instead, what happened was that a bad situation engendered a radical solution, which is now creating its own blowback...and so continues the circle of life...

Rest in peace, Son of Osman, we never knew ye—or what might have been

اِنٌا لِلٌہ واِنٌا اِلیہی راجیعون as we say; from Him to do we come, and to Him to we return.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tariq A. Al-Maeena : An Eid message to our fellow expatriates/Guest Workers

As I promised over the weekend/holiday, here is Tariq Al-Maeena's piece in full:

An Eid message to our fellow expatriates
Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Now that the blessed month of Ramadan has come to an end, its passing should not signal the end of exertions of goodwill and worship that had governed us for this past month.

And as the citizens of this country prepare for the festivities of family gatherings and reunions in the days ahead, let us not forget the countless number of Muslim expatriates among us who stood with us in worship, but who will celebrate the dawn of Eid in solitude, away from family and friends.

Millions have come and gone, and millions remain among us today, some alone and distant from their families, tasked with the duties of helping oil the machinery that makes this country run. Many perform to the expectations required, mostly in silence. Their isolation and loneliness in a land different than their own cannot be simply compensated by the riyals they earn.

Leaving behind fathers and mother, brothers and sisters, wives and children, these foreign expatriates who reside amongst us ask little of us as they fulfill their duties. And yet they love and feel like the rest of us; the joys and pains that course through our emotions are not alien to them. Separated on a day meant for togetherness, many will celebrate Eid in solitude and bitter loneliness.

Let us honor them like we honor our own. Let us bestow upon them our best wishes as we do upon those near and dear to us. Let us thank them and expatriates of other faiths as well for the difficult sacrifices they are making daily in leaving their loved ones behind and coming to this country to help us forge a better life. Many move around us, barely visible or seen. Yet they continue in their toils, expecting very little thanks or gratitude from their hosts while putting in an honest day’s work.

Let us begin by ensuring that their rights are protected and dispensed with in the manner and spirit that Ramadan has roused in us. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful (Allah). Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you." This mercy extends to the proper execution of our obligations to our guest workers.

The Prophet (pbuh) also said, "The likeness of the believers in their mutual love, their mutual mercy, and their mutual affection, is like a single body. If any part of it complains of an injury, the entire body responds with sleeplessness and fever… Allah will continue to help the servant as long as the servant is helping his brother.” This narration emphasizes the fact that our mercy as servants to our faith shouldn’t be confined to our immediate circle of family members and acquaintances. Rather it should extend to the entire nation of believers.

On this Eid day, most of us will enjoy the blessings of ample food and gifts. But we should never forget those among us, and especially the less fortunate expatriates form Third World countries whose daily existence is a continuous fast. These noble men and women deserve our thanks.

Those Saudis who have fasted and stood in prayer at night during this past month with sincere faith must continue to be diligent and dutiful in our worship of Allah, and kind to our fellow residents including the silent expatriate. Such obligations must continue in good faith, even as Ramadan comes to an end this year.

And while I can personally deliver my Eid greetings to family members, friends and associates, I take it upon myself to use this column to acknowledge our fellow expatriates and thank them for being among us. Eid Mubarak.

The writer is a Saudi socio/political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and can be reached at talmaeena@gmail.com.

Friday, September 18, 2009

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

A couple of years ago, when I was on the board of the Muslims for Progressive Values, I had pushed for a campaign calling for compassion, patience and peace within the Muslim community. You can read the petition and my original blog post here. And please give it a second thought. We all have strong positions and opinions on what the right time of Eid is, what our faith means to us, and what is good about our faith and wrong about our communities--even on how "Ramadhan" itself should be spelt in the English script. But, as the petition said:
...engage with people who hold different positions ... 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.
[Postscript: Also in previous years, I wrote this and this. Laury Silvers wrote a follow up that doesn't seem accessible any more.]

In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to two pieces of writing. Firstly, there is Mike Ghouse's piece "Ramadan Politics", in which he reminds us:
In the tradition of Prophet, let every one celebrate the way their group feels, it is against the spirit of Ramadan to denigrate, diminish and devalue other practices. The essence of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness and hate. Let’s fill our hearts with goodwill and honor Ramadan by saying “Eid Mubarak” (pronounced “eed” as in “eel” the fish) or Happy Eid to every one who celebrates on a different day in the same town. The essence of Ramadan is joy and let’s not prick any one’s bubble; God has not signed a pact with any one behind others back, let’s rejoice the differences. If you want to celebrate, go to every celebration.

In the spirit of Ramadan, I pray Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and make us embrace all factions of Muslims without undermining their tradition and further pray that we treat every human on the earth with dignity, respect and care.

For Ramadan to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims to common humanity with others. Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human, and its universality is reflected by its observance in Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other faiths.
Okay, so he gets the translation of "Eid Mubarak" wrong; it is much closer to our Wiccan friends Samhain greeting of "Blessed be", than to the generic "Happy Holidays". But the point he makes is sound.

The other piece came to me via email, and to someone who's always been skeptical of the expat lifestyle in the Gulf, is one of the best gestures I have seen in a long time. It is a piece by Saudi socio/political commentator, Tariq Al Maeena and is "An Eid message to our fellow expatriates". I have sent him an email asking if I can reproduce his piece in full, but his main thrust is that:
as the citizens of this country prepare for the festivities of family gatherings and reunions in the days ahead, let us not forget the countless number of Muslim expatriates among us who stood with us in worship, but who will celebrate the dawn of Eid in solitude, away from family and friends.

Millions have come and gone, and millions remain among us today, some alone and distant from their families, tasked with the duties of helping oil the machinery that makes this country run. Many perform to the expectations required, mostly in silence. Their isolation and loneliness in a land different than their own cannot be simply compensated by the riyals they earn.

Leaving behind fathers and mother, brothers and sisters, wives and children, these foreign expatriates who reside amongst us ask little of us as they fulfill their duties. And yet they love and feel like the rest of us; the joys and pains that course through our emotions are not alien to them. Separated on a day meant for togetherness, many will celebrate Eid in solitude and bitter loneliness.

Let us honor them like we honor our own. Let us bestow upon them our best wishes as we do upon those near and dear to us. Let us thank them and expatriates of other faiths as well for the difficult sacrifices they are making daily in leaving their loved ones behind and coming to this country to help us forge a better life. Many move around us, barely visible or seen. Yet they continue in their toils, expecting very little thanks or gratitude from their hosts while putting in an honest day’s work.

Let us begin by ensuring that their rights are protected and dispensed with in the manner and spirit that Ramadan has roused in us. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "The merciful ones will be shown mercy by the all-Merciful (Allah). Be merciful to those on Earth, Allah will be merciful to you." This mercy extends to the proper execution of our obligations to our guest workers.
Some of my dearest and oldest friends now live in the Gulf, or grew up there--some have spent a couple or three generations there now. There are guest workers in a lot of countries we live in, whether in the East or the West. Let us keep them in our minds in this festival season.

As Mike Ghouse says in the piece above, "We wish a happy Ramadan, a peaceful and prosperous Rosh Hashanah, and truth triumphing Navaratri and other festivals that begin with the New Moon on September 19, this year."

Blessed be.

Pause for thought

I just ran into this quote from a Dawn editorial on Pakistaniat.com. It is written by a Pakistani in relevance to Pakistan; but it applies equally to Nigeria, Zimbabwe, inner cities in the US...pick your place.

Yes, those working on anti-imperialism, and against neo-liberalism and so on will tell you that it is what they are struggling against that causes the conditions mentioned below. But even then--and especially if you think that way--it's something to keep in mind, even if it is just to be able to remind onself and explain to others the relevance of our own work:
"Does a man who can’t feed his children really care whether or not Pervez Musharraf is tried for treason? Is a mother whose child has died of gastroenteritis likely to give much thought to America’s military presence in the region? Will a jobless person be impressed by the president’s much-touted ‘achievements’ during his first year in office?"
Pakistaniat: http://pakistaniat.com/2009/09/18/blasphemy-law/
Dawn: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/03-the-real-issues-ha-03

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Obama passes the real test--or does he?

Ever since his inaugration, I have been saying that the real test on human rights for the Obama administration will not be what he does in Guantanamo Bay--which he had committed to close down as a campaign promise. The real test will be what he and the administration do in Bagram, which is much bigger, and from the Pakistani point of view, much closer to home.

I have been meaning to write something about this. And my point really isn't to just take a "Marg bar Amrika" point of view; to imply that America is always evil or that no American President can do any good. I really do feel that Obama has a chance to change the actual policies and procedures of the American presence around the world in all its forms, and to set a new tone.

But, as I have said repeatedly since before the last presidential elections (in the US), what Pakistanis remember from the 2008 presidential election cycle is Obama making his foreign policy chops by saying, in effect, that "we will bomb Pakistan, and its sovereignty be darned". And in the last month or two, the influx, or rumoured influx, of a thousand or two each of marines and mercenaries (oh, okay, Xe/Blackwater "consultants") in Pakistan, that image has been reinforced many fold. (See this story in the News Observer.) And in the mean time, the other story being followed and, very frankly, used to whip up anti-American fury in Pakistan is that of Dr. Afia Ahmed, "Prisoner Number 650". (Just google her name for a taste--or search Bloggers.pk, the main Pakistani blog aggregator.)

And just a night or two ago, I heard the Obama Administration's General Counsel of the Department of Defense tell the American Bar Association (on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, no less) that Bagram was completely different from Guantanamo, and that what was happening there was okay, and so on. (The event is on CSPAN.)

But, suddenly, now I see the following story, which actually reverses, or substantially changes what the General Counsel said. Is Obama actually doing better than even his own team expected--and keeps thinking it should be doing? Or am I missing something? I would love to hear from our legal friends--and anyone else who has a real thought on this:

U.S. Gives New Rights To Afghan Prisoners

Challenging Detention to Be Allowed

These detainees were released from Bagram in June 2006. About 600 people remain in the prison.
These detainees were released from Bagram in June 2006. About 600 people remain in the prison. (By Musadeq Sadeq -- Associated Press)

Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hundreds of prisoners held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan will for the first time have the right to challenge their indefinite detention and call witnesses in their defense under a new review system being put in place this week, according to administration officials.

The new system will be applied to the more than 600 Afghans held at the Bagram military base, and will mark the first substantive change in the overseas detention policies that President Obama inherited from the Bush administration.

(Full Washington Post at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/12/AR2009091202798.html)

Monday, August 31, 2009

India and Muslim Rennassaince


Jaswant Singh has said some very interesting things, of late. Of course, the funny thing is, as an elder recently put it, there's nothing there that Maulana Azad hasn't already said--or even MJ Akbar, Mr. Indian Patriot himself. But, as I have had occasion to say recenlty, that's not what I wanted to talk about.

The following line is from an interview carred by Al-Jazeera (there's a video, too)
The real renaissance of Islam would have taken place in undivided India if there had not been a partition.
Recently, in a rather heated back-and-forth with an Indian Muslim on Facebook, I had the following to say:
Funny thing is, Indian Muslims are one of the largest and, if you ask me, one of the most important communities in the world in this regard. You have it in you to help find a solution for this issue and make the world a better place for ALL of us: after all, it is Muslim India that gave us Iqbal and Azad and Jauhar--and, yes, Jinnah.
My point, as in a lot of this, being that we now have multiple countries in South Asia--and that's not an exception in history, that region always had multiple geo-political entities in that space, even as there was always a loosely-defined identity to Hind, Hindustan, India, whatever you want to call it. Why should how we're structured politically today get in the way of cultural, I dare say civilizational evolution?

What do y'all think?



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Thursday, August 27, 2009

| News on Website: EFF’s BayFF on Social Media in Activism http://bit.ly/C3je7

Friday, April 03, 2009

Voting Rights for Overseas Pakistanis (NRPs) and Other Thoughts on a Muslim Democracy

My Facebook status said: "Call it franchise, call it suffrage; now I haz it. I can vote!! I iz an enfranchised citizen of a Muslim democracy! Take THAT, W and OBL!!. And quite a discussion ensued.

The discussion was fun. Of course, a couple of friends assumed this was about me becoming an American citizen. Which is interesting, given what I said, but I digress. Another friend asked which Muslim Democracy gave me the vote and why. Interesting way to put it.

The news, of course, was this:
Overseas Pakistanis to get right of vote

Wed. April 01, 2009; Posted: 01:58 AM

Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Deputy Convenor MQM, Dr Farooq Sattar, has said that President Asif Ali Zardari has accepted a proposal from his department to give the right of vote to the Pakistani people living aboard. He was addressing the launching ceremony of Marhaba Musafar of Western Union at a local hotel here on Monday.
The Minister said that his ministry had also proposed to reserve seats in the National Assembly for overseas Pakistanis. He hoped that other political parties would support the bill moved by the overseas Pakistanis ministry in this regard. Referring to the current political situation in the country, Dr Sattar said that time had come for the masses to decide whether they want a liberal, enlightened and welfare state of Pakistan as dreamt by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah or the extremist one of Hameed Gul and Ziaul Haq. He added that silent majority of the country wanted the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He urged the people to play their role to develop Pakistan as per dream of Quaid-e-Azam.

MQM has been playing its leading role to make Pakistan an enlightened, liberal and welfare state, he said. Commenting on his party support to the privatisation of KESC, Federal Minister said that MQM was not against the privatisation process in the country and added we have witnessed successful results of the privatisation of PTCL.

We believe in the privatisation process in country and underlined the need of government role to support and promote the private sector in the country, he added. Dr Sattar alleged that the company had wilfully ignored its responsibility to provide electricity to Karachiites, adding that KESC administration did not fulfil the privatisation agreement. He pointed out that the KESC administration has not invested even a single penny in the country to enhance production of electricity.

The company is only concerning about recovery of dues through over-billing and hike in power tariff. He alleged that to extort money from the citizens, the KESC administration had installed faulty metres. He urged NEPRA to take the notice of the miserable condition of the citizens due the apathetic attitude of KESC administration. He warned that people have the right to protest against unannounced power outages in the metropolis.

http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/2251016/
And this just a few months after I raised this question with my own MNA (Khushbakht Shujaat, represents Clifton, where the parental homestead still is) during her visit to a Chicago-based radio show I contribute to.

The MQM is, of course, taking full credit. One friend on Facebook who's active with the MQM said that this was "democracy MQM-style", working for all parties to benefit. And I say it's a good thing if Pakistan has evolved as a polity to the point where a party that spent its early years fighting--often literally--for the right to put the ethnic identity of their original vote base on the table as a legitimate part of the Pakistani landscape now is working on issues that concern the common man and might not even result in a net gain in votes for them.  (One activist friend online specifically pointed out that the diaspora often leans towards supporting what they see as benevolent dictators that are "good for the economy" and "stability" and so on.)

The first question a friend asked was actually rather interesting: was I "celebrating or lamenting"? A reality check right off the bat! I guess I was looking at it as a responsibility. I left Pakistan at the age of 24, before I really had the chance to vote in any elections (the voting age was 21), and this is the first time I really feel enfranchised as a citizen of any part of the world--citizen of the world, if you will.

Another, pan-South Asian-minded friend with a base across the border went on to say that we should now work towards a real democracy--which, she said, would be possible if we root out corruption. An interesting point, but the logic of which I really don't buy. What we have is not corruption that can be rooted out the way it was rooted out in New York or Chicago; it is a systemic problem, if you ask me, rooted in the way the Raj structured the systems we still use) and needs systemic solutions. Honest law enforcement that people can believe in and not think of as less desirable than Taliban rule can not be achieved unless we pay a living wage for the street cop police and middle-level judges, for example...

But onward and upward, I am hoping this will help the diaspora feel like they have some real skin in the game back home; feel ownership and a stake in the politics of Pakistan. Maybe I am being Pollyanna'ish. But as I have said often, I have a 24-hour personal moratorium on raining on parades and generally throwing cold water on folks being happy about something--be it the Obama Inaugration or whatnot. And besides, this now gives us a stick to hit Overseas Pakistanis (our original, native term for what are now sometimes called NRPs in imitation of the Indian designation) with; if they don't vote, if they don't actually support a party--or help start one--if they don't like their choices, they should really shut up about Pakistan.

If you're on Facebook, you can read the whole discussion here.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Indian Muslims and Arabic

I am in the habit of pointing out to Indian Muslims that the difference in how pervasive neo-purist fanaticism is in Pakistan verus India is only one of degree. Especially when they bring out their "We told you so; it was a bad idea to begin with! See all the fanaticism you have in your country!" line. And don't get me wrong; I think learning Arabic is a wonderful thing for anyone, especially Muslims or anyone who wants their grasp on Urdu literature. (And Persian/Farsi helps, too.) But why is the National Council for the Promotion of the Urdu Language (http://www.urducouncil.nic.in/) in India advertising an Two Year Diploma in Functional Arabic on their website, but only a One Year Diploma in Urdu?!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pakistani Reply to Obama Strategy Announcement

I have not seen this stated so clearly:
"We do not want any more VOA-TV type propaganda that, in its condescending way creates more enemies than friends. We want a proper dialogue with the US and the West over what its goals are and whether these are our goals as well. Whether we like it or not, the battle for a safer America cannot be won if the people of Pakistan are not convinced. This is the stark reality, no matter how many drone attacks are carried out on the one hand and assistance is given to our government on the other.

It was true of the Musharraf government and is becoming increasingly true of the Zardari government too. The people of Pakistan are not seen as stakeholders in the battle against militants and extremism. It is too often said that while the West talks to our leaders, Al Qaeda and the Taliban talk to the people. Sadly, this is an issue President Obama has not addressed."
[Full article at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=169835. The author is "Editor Reporting" in Karachi for Pakistan's largest English-language daily]

Obama's Afghanistan Strategy Breaks Old Ground

The heading above, taken directly from the article at:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1888257,00.html

brought a smile to my face for its cuteness. But the point it makes is serious.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nigeria's Opposition Parties to Unite, Pakistani Parties agree to

I like both the news linked to below, and the one about PML-N and PPP in Pakistan agreeing (again) to implement the Charter of Democracy. These are both major countries on their respective continents, and stability in them is good for the whole world. It is by these evolutionary steps, this push and pull, check and balance that body politics mature.

http://ping.fm/XheGO

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

To Non-Pakistani Muslims--and Others--Commenting on Pakistan

There's an Urdu couplet that Madeline Albright reputedly quoted in her congratulatory message to IK Gujral when he became Prime Minister:
Eh mauj-e-saba, un ko bhi zara, dho chaar thhapaiRay halkay say
Kuch log abhi saahil pay khaRay, toofaan ka nazaaray kar thay hain

Oh, morning breeze, to them, too, a few pats, but gently;
For some folks, yet, stand on the shore, being entertained by the storm
There's been several non-Pakistani Muslims expressing academic opinions of the type: "We see Pakistan is melting down; now why would that be?" or "Look what Swat and other mistakes have wrought!" 

Any "We told you so"s or "Look, they be f****ed" reactions within the Muslim community (in any direction) are ... I can't use the word I am looking for, so let's just say "ill-adviced" and "naive". Whether it is Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, or minority communities like those in India or the West; we're all in this together. Too long we've pointed to each other and said either that the "other" is medieval-minded and stuck in the past, unfit for the modern world (either because a) we're too bidah-ridden and need to get pure again or b) that Islam is not fit for the modern world)--or that this or that country is failing or so on. To paraphrase someone I don't quite agree with, either politically or tactically, right now, we are stuck between the twin jaws of neo-colonial domination via a comprador class on the one hand, and neo-purist fanatics on the other. The difference between Santa Clara California and Swat Pakistan; between Hyderabad India and Brighton in the UK is one of degree--or generational. Nothing more, nothing less.

And I speak of Muslims because they are part of communities that overlap--overlap, I say, mind you--with Pakistan. But the rest of the world is no less inter-linked. The West--the US and the British in particular--has been involved in how that region of the world has taken shape over the last century or two generally, and the last few decades specifically. Britain played off groups against each other; the US too often has sided with "our SOB"s (a choice list of Pakistani fundamentalists from the House of Saud to Ziaul Haq to Gubuddin Hekmatyar, but not limited to them, come to mind). And just like us Pakistanis, India--both the Indian establishment and Indian Muslims--have, for too long, been happy to play with fire (Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, anyone?), or ignore the fire (till very recently Indian Muslims have pooh-poohed my saying that the difference in influence by neo-purist fanatics in India and Pakistan is one of degree). I am on the record,too, on British Muslim--and "mainstream"--leadership. [Addition, PM, Tuesday March 3, 2009: And the same goes for American Muslims--including, quite frankly, a lot of Pakistani-Americans and other diaspora Pakistanis.] I could go on. 

I will return you to your regularly-scheduled programming in a minute. But for now, just think about this. Then let's talk if you really care to.



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Monday, March 02, 2009

More updates on Situation in Lahore


Graphic from the Sydney Morning Herald. Read the AAP report on their site here.

Oddly enough, the Metroblog for Lahore doesn't seem to have anything to say about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers. But one can find some updates from local folks at the following URL (the #lahore hashtag for Twitter, which consolidates posts about that city):

PS: As an update, a better way to follow twitter updates about and from Lahore is to follow the twitter search:

http://search.twitter.com/search?q=lahore



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Live Reports: Attack on Sri Lankan Team in Lahore


For updates on the attack on Sri Lankan team in Pakistan; as usual the Teeth Maestro is on it, twittering live from Pakistan:

http://twitter.com/DrAwab



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Anyone paying attention to this? (Somalia...and Bangladesh?)

You know, we all need to be paying more attention to Somalia (and, while I am at it, Bangladesh, but I will come to that another time). For example y'all saw the headlines about the recent news about a new President taking over in Somalia. And then of his coming to an agreement with "Islamist" "rebels". (Okay, so, yes, there's much to be said about how "real" the "presidency" is and all that.)

But there's talk about ministers handing over to other ministers (okay, so the VOA might not be the best place for objective news)--something that I don't think Somalia's had since a Somali classmate of mine in Freshman year at college in Karachi told me "A civil war started today in my country."

But what really struck me was why was it ONLY the CNN article that carried this paragraph:
However, Ahmed told a news conference he won't agree to a strict interpretation of the law,which forbids girls from attending school, requires veils for women and beards for men, and bans music and television.
I mean, with all that angst about deals with Islamism (yes, I use that word; take me up on it) isn't that what it's about? Shouldn't we be paying attention to this? Being supportive of this kidn of thing if that really plays out as the quote promises rather than groping at "moderate Islamists"? [Something I need to pick on, too.]


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's with the PPP?

In all the angst that is turning up in the chattering and protesting classes in Pakistan, one question is coming up pretty often: whatever happened to the PPP? Others express a complete disdain for it. And I don't want to sound naive; the PPP and its founders and others since have done much to deserve all the reactions they get: both positive and negative.

But too often today, too many people talk only of Zardari. Or, if they want to discuss politics just a wee bit more, of the group that was close to BB herself as the counterpoint. But the PPP today remains the largest grouping in the country and, as such, consists of, and has always consisted of, a coalition of groups. It was set up as a left-of-center vehicle that, if you believe some of the very first die-hards, very rapidly was dominated (taken over, if you believe some folks) by the personality of the charismatic (evil genius, if you believe others) of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. There were the left-of-center (and some outright "Left") activists. There were the urbane, well-read, (and, in some cases, most nobtably and visibly nowadays Aitzaz Ahsan) Leftist lawyers and intellectuals. There were the gritty, "awami" activits, not least those from Karachi's Lyari section and it's Afro-Pakistani/Baloch community, but others as well. There are the Sindhi nationalists, both inside and, on-and-off, supporting from the outside. And, of course, there were those who were just taken by the charisma of the man--either because he convinced them that he would carry their causes to victory or because of the sheer electric power of his personality. And there were other such components--not least the professional politicians, the feudal lords, the industry-walas, and the military folks that hitched their stars with a rising star. The opportunists, if you will.

The amazing thing is how long the coalition that Zulfi built has lasted. I often tell the story of a colleague of my father's (they were both college professors) who, in the late 80's still had a larger-than-life picture of the man in his "drawing room", even as he shook his head with disappointment written all over his face and said "He had such a dynamic start; but power went to his head. For a man who had risen on street power to get to where he said 'I can crush street power with state power'..."

The morning after Benazir was assasinated, I was on KQED San Francisco's Public Radio Station and halfway into the discussion, after everyone had discussed the personality of the heir not-quite-apparent, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and the modalities of how a successor will be picked, I had to pull everyone back and say, "Wait a minute; y'all are forgetting one person. The husband. He's paid his dues; spent a decade in jail (whatever the conditions of his incarceration)--and he has always been a smarter person--and speaks much better English--than caricatures of his have given him credit for."

Of course, we all know what happened next. To cut a long story short, Zardari took over the party at the head of the opportunist wing, and that wing is now dominant.

Personally, in terms of discussing the internal dynamics of the PPP, I think what is interesting to follow is whether the Uncles (Mirani and that generation that worked directly with ZAB), or the Young Turks (the above-mentioned Amin F & Co., which, as in the case of Amin Faheem himself quite literally, are either children of that first generation, or younger people who joined later) or the Leftist Lawyers (the aforesaid Aitzaz, et al), or anyone else can throw up a leader that can bring together and hold a coalition...

Otherwise, as I also often say, it might be time to build a new political movement, a new coalition in Pakistan; something that has only been done twice since indepence--once by Mr. Bhutto himself, and once, on a regional level, by Altaf Hussain and the MQM...but more on that another time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Muslims and Democracy...c.1950

This is for all those--both Islamists and Islamophobes--who ... remember this is from -- before those who would totemize Islam (Islamists, if you will) started to dominate the discourse and the News:
"... we have proved it to the world more than once. We established Pakistan because of our passion for what we call the Islamic way of life. This is no narrow sectarian, or medieval, or theocratic or intolerant conception. It means no more and no less than this: that we believe in God and atheistic doctrines cannot flourish amongst us. That we believe in the equality of men and the equality of civic rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of their religious belief. That we believe in social justice, ... that we believe in democracy, not as a political creed; but as a part of our religious faith ... the way of life that we have chosen for ourselves, [is] not a new concoction, but one that is based on a body of belief and tradition that have been handed down to us by our forefathers"
full speech audio at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/50/50-05khan-audio.html
Liaquat Ali Khan, First Prime Minister of Pakistan, at the Commonwealth Club of California on May 16, 1950.

March 23rd is "Pakistan Day", the anniversary both of the day in 1940 when the All India Muslim League adopted as its official position the "Lahore Resolution" (a.k.a. the Pakistan Resolution). and of the day in 1956 when Pakistan adopted its first constitution and becoming a democracy--thus finally ending almost a hundred years of a British sovereign reigning in large parts of South Asia.

I'd like to propose that we declare March 23rd "International Democracy in the Muslim World Day". Any takers?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

30th Anniversary of the Iranian Revolution

The 30th anniversary of Khomeini's return to Iran should be something we all take the time to reflect upon. From thinking about what the role of the US--and the West generally--has been in Persia, (supporting the Shah; hosting Khomeini...), to what the Iranian model and experience says about what the possibilities are in Pakistan, to what neo-purist interpretations of Islam have meant for the world at large today, the list is endless.

Here's a flashback from a BBC journalist:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/nolpda/ukfs_news/hi/newsid_7861000/7861357.stm

Saturday, January 31, 2009

For forms of government let fools contest;

Just a reminder:
For forms of government let fools contest;

Whate'er is best administer'd is best:

For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;

His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.

In Faith and Hope the world will disagree,

But all mankind's concern is Charity:

All must be false that thwart this one great end,

And all of God that bless mankind or mend.

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, EPISTLE III: Of the Nature and State of Man, With Respect to Society

Or, to quote a South Asia poet I have quoted before:

mazhab thoe buss mazhab-e-dhil hai; baaqee sub gumraahee hai

[the only (true) creed is the creed of the heart; all else is heresy]

Friday, January 30, 2009

Erdovan, Davos, and Dealing with Israel


This mornings Stratfor Podcast is titled "Erdovan's Davos Walkout Lays Down the Marker". I haven't heard it yet (hoping to, on the exercise machine), but just from that title, you can see one thing: the recognition of Israel has been anathema in the Muslim world, but if you had wondered if any good could ever come out of recognizing them, this is it. The fact that Turkey is seen in the Western World as a "moderate" Muslim state and has respect for being one of very few Muslim states to recognize Israel gives Erdogan's action much more weight than, say, a Pakistani or Indonesian leader doing the same. I am not saying Pakistan should up and recognize Israel, but it's something for Pakistanis to think about in the debate of whether and when to think about "normalizing" relations.

Folks not related to Pakistan might ask: Why Pakistan, specifically? Why not Saudi Arabia, or Indonesia? Well, Pakistan IS the 2nd largest Muslim nation in the world--and it's not Arab, and it's the only nuclear power in the Muslim world. Not to mention that ideologically and socially, it's a center of much that happens and affects the rest of the world--both Muslim and otherwise. This IS the "most dangerous country in the world" if we are to believe the conventional wisdom in the West; this is the "training ground of terrorists", no? Of course, it is a country I identify with (together with the US and Nigeria), and therefore it's my job to raise the issue in its context; others can chime in with the view from their corner of the globe.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Brother Barack Hussain talks to Al Arabiya

When my son started First Grade, come the start of African-American History Month, he coolly informed his first (predominantly East and South Asian) classmates that his otherwise very Pakistani-looking, and -sounding, "dad is an African-American". I do not remember ever having used that phrase within earshot of him. But he knows that I was born in same region of Africa that is the origin of most of the people who came to this country as slaves. One way to put it, therefore, is that I came to this country as an African-born grad student much like Barack Obama Sr. 

So don't get me wrong; I love my brother Barack Hussain. I have been following his presidential ambitions almost from the first buzz around a possible run--and have discussed it in my blogging and even Urdu podcasting. I am joyous at seeing him in the White House. To repeat the cliche, it tells me that my now 8-year old son and, even more possibly, my 4-year old daughter can really follow in his footsteps.

And I am actually one person who did NOT hold his staying mum about the events in Gaza over the last month or so against him. Speaking out would only have used up political capital that he didn't need to spend for no substantial gain. Whichever way he chose to lean, it would have have cost him; either in terms of political support at home, or in goodwill that he still has on "the Muslim street".

But when my brother Barack Hussain says:
"My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy."
And then his first real communique in terms of practically reaching out and touching, so to speak, people in the Muslim world is an unmanned drone dropping bombs in violation of the sovereignty of the 2nd largest Muslim country in the Muslim world--a country that has been one of the longest-term and most faithful allies of the US--then I feel it is my duty, as a person who wants him to succeed, to ask him to think about what message the people who actually live at the business end of that communique will be receiving.

In case you missed the full interview (say you've been vacationing on Mars and just returned), here is his first formal foray into the Muslim media 



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wading into the Palestine Discussion

Okay. I guess it is time to talk about Palestine--if nothing else, because that's what everyone seems to want to talk about and the issue intersects with everything else  that's happening.

When one  friend put me on the spot by asking my opinion about the "Palestinian issue", my first reaction was to ask whether he meant the Palestinian issue or the current situation in Gaza. Of course, Maulana Techno promptly said I was free to comment on whichever I felt was more relevant and urgent and what was possible given the medium (a Facebook comment-swap). Here, expanded to some extent and rephrased a bit, is what I said:

The situation in Gaza is what it is; it hardly needs any elaboration.

And I do think that the conflation of criticism of the actions of Israel and Zionist ideology and the actions taken to further it on the one hand and anti-semitism on the other is starting to break down a bit in American public discourse and the "mainstream".

And, as I was saying in a comment on Teeth Maestro's blog, in the US in particular, any challenge to Zionist actions (and I mean that advisedly; in the sense of actions that further the ideology and aims of Zionism) have been painted with the anti-semitic brush and thus kept in check. It is only in the last 2-3 years that some discussion has started in the public space. Until recently, this was true without exception even in progressive circles. But things ARE evolving; we’ve come a long way since 9/11, quite frankly. And the current assault on Gaza and the coverage of it has been both a case in point and another “halla” (as we say in Urdu) in that direction.

And, this might sound like a broken record, but this is not to pick on Jews; or even Zionists. After all we have the same thing gaining momentum both in Pakistan and in the wider Muslim world: the bugbear of “Islamophobia” is used to keep any challenge Maududist/Qutbist/Salafist thought and politics at bay.

Also, mind you, I am not saying Islamophobia does not exist–it is as real as anti-semitism; but my point is that both concepts have been used by extremists in our respective (Jewish and Muslim–the Hindus have their Hindutva, too) communities to their political benefit.

But there are still a ways to go and many myths to bust and many bugbears to put to rest along the way. I will address what I see and write and comment as we go along. Here's another one:

Someone expressed one thought that's been going through many minds around the world--not least in the Muslim world: that the Palestinians are being "punished for electing Hamas". While a very tempting argument for a lot of reasons, one can't forget that at one point the Israeli government used the same arguments and rhetoric ("No negotiating partner on the Palestinian side." "Terrorists we can't talk to." and so on) for the PLO and were actually, actively supporting Hamas in an effort to create a counterpoint to the PLO. Again; this is a tactic. It ain't Zionist or Jewish or American or Islamophobic in origin. It's just ye goode old "Divide and Rule" at its "finest"!

Another friend, going back to the media theme, wondered aloud--and that's what I'd call it; wondering aloud with your keyboard--why "the general media" was so on-it when the events in Mumbai happened but is "silent" now. My first response was what I said above; that there IS quite a bit of coverage and a regular body count in the headlines (and I am talking about the US media here). What I see is a media (thankfully she didn't say "news media", or she'd have gotten an earful from me) that was being played well by the Western and Indian establishment in the aftermath of Mumbai; and I see a media that is being played well by the Western and Israeli establishment now.

But, I also saw and see something else. I saw alternative media and the media and grapevine in Muslim and progressive circles buying in to some of the narrative of the neo-purist Islamist and hyper-jingoistic Pakistani (not always the same thing) circles at the time of the Mumbai tragedy/atrocity; and I see alternative media and the media and grapevine in Muslim and progressive circles buying in to some of the narrative of the neo-purist and hyper-jingoistic Islamist circles now.

Not much has changed qualitatively. But "facts on the ground", to use the favourite phrase of Israeli functionaries, do seem to be moving.

Let's see where they go. All I can do is quote something that's been going through my head the last month or two--what with the month of Muharram in the Muslim calendar upon us, with it's highly charged dates of Ashura. (And if you don't know what that is, do click through to the Wikipedia; any further ignorance about basic concepts from the Muslim world is just plain stupid--and dangerous for all of us.) The quote? No, not the "Every day is Ashura; Every land is Karbala" line that's been on every slideshow about Gaza that's gone around, but this one:

Har Phir'aon ra Musa; har Karbala ra Hussain

For every Pharoah, a Moses; for every Karbala, a Hussain




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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

TIME Mobile - Another Gitmo Grows in Afghanistan

Another Gitmo Grows in Afghanistan


Obama faces a tough decision on detention policy at the U.S. prison at Bagram

The incoming Obama Administration says it wants to shut down the U.S. military prison at GuantÁnamo Bay. But even if GuantÁnamo closes, the controversial U.S. practice of jailing suspected al-Qaeda militants and other terrorists indefinitely won't end, because such detentions continue on an even greater scale at the U.S. military base at Bagram, Afghanistan, 40 miles north of Kabul. Approximately 250 detainees are currently being held at GuantÁnamo; an estimated 670 are locked up under similar conditions at Bagram. The Obama transition team has declined to comment on whether U.S. detention policy for enemy combatants will change with a new Administration. Nevertheless, the U.S. military is building a new prison for what it calls "unlawful enemy combatants" at Bagram that won't be finished until Obama is well settled in the White House. "The Obama Administration is inheriting not so much a shrinking GuantÁnamo as an expanding Bagram," says Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a nonprofit legal group based in New York City. (Read "Trying to Tie Obama's Hands on Gitmo.") Foster and a consortium of other human rights lawyers will be in Federal District Court in Washington on Jan. 7 to demand that those being held at Bagram get the same habeas corpus rights - the right to know the charges against them, and to be freed if a court deems those charges insufficient - that the Supreme Court gave GuantÁnamo detainees last summer. Their case centers on Redha al-Najar, a 43-year-old Tunisian national who has been held without charge in U.S. military custody since May 2002. Al-Najar was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, where he had been living with his wife and child. According to his attorneys, al-Najar spent the next two years being shifted among various CIA "black sites" before ending up at Bagram. They argue he has been held for more than six years, virtually incommunicado and without charges or access to a fair means to challenge his imprisonment. The suit asks the court to order al-Najar's release. What the Pentagon calls "the long war" on terror has led the U.S. military to seek a way to keep people it deems a threat behind bars indefinitely. While GuantÁnamo's unique status - far from the battlefield yet subject to total U.S. sovereignty - led the Supreme Court to grant Gitmo detainees habeas relief, the U.S. government argues that neither circumstance applies at Bagram. "Federal courts should not thrust themselves into the extraordinary role of reviewing the military's conduct of active hostilities overseas, second-guessing the military's determination as to which captured aliens as part of such hostilities should be detained, and in practical effect, superintending the Executive's conduct in waging a war," the Justice Department said in its Dec. 19 filing in the al-Najar case. The U.S. military had hoped to farm out the Bagram detainees to prisons run by Afghanistan and other nations, but over the past year, amid escalating violence and a surging prison population, it became clear that it would not be able to hand over all the detainees. So the Pentagon has decided to build a new prison to replace the current Bagram Theater Internment Facility, a converted hangar used by the Soviets during their occupation. The new facility, expected to cost at least $60 million, is slated to hold 600 detainees under normal circumstances, with a capacity of 1,100 in emergency conditions. It will be tucked into a remote 40-acre location on the 4,000-acre base. The original U.S. prison, established early in 2002, was the main screening site for those captured by Americans and their allies during initial fighting in Afghanistan. At least two detainees died there in December 2002 after being beaten by U.S. troops. While conditions are said to have improved since then, hundreds of prisoners remain in wire mesh pens edged with coils of razor wire, and earlier this year U.S. military officials revealed that a Bagram interrogator had been convicted of assaulting an Afghan detainee who later died. Just last month, the military issued a statement saying it would investigate whether a pair of U.S. soldiers had abused Afghan detainees. The al-Najar case presents Obama with a tough choice. If he keeps the existing rules at Bagram, he'll have to justify why those prisoners should be treated more harshly than those who ended up at GuantÁnamo. But if he wants them handled the same way as the GuantÁnamo detainees, he's going to run afoul of the U.S. military's wishes. Given Obama's promise to nearly double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, that's not something he wants to do. And the Pentagon argues that giving those held at Bagram habeas relief would endanger the very U.S. troops Obama is prepared to order to Afghanistan. "Given the ongoing war, there is every reason to believe that our military mission in Afghanistan would be compromised if the writ is extended to Bagram," the government said in its court filing. "To provide alien enemy combatants detained in a theater of war the privilege of access to our civil courts is unthinkable both legally and practically." But Foster, one of the lawyers representing al-Najar, sees the case from another angle. "Does Obama," she asks, "really want to have Bagram be his GuantÁnamo for the next four years?" See pictures inside GuantÁnamo. See TIME's Pictures of the Week.