Friday, December 31, 2010

Image of 2010—Yes; 2010 in ONE Image

New and other media outlets love doing an "Images of XXX"—or, in a year such as this, an "Images of The Decade"—photo essay. But as 2010 comes to a close, the following recent image, taken in the closing days of the year, just sums up the year, if not the decade past, and is a good place to start the next one:

"u can burn the schools... not the quest of learning"
says the person who took this photograph.
See the whole album on Facebook here.
It was taken on a trip "up north" in Pakistan and captured some pictures of schools in the Swat Valley. Taken just on its own, the picture captures so much: the raw beauty, the pathos, the Pakistani spirit. But as a symbol of the year and all that came to pass in it, the image has another layer of symbolism. It was taken in the Swat Valley, Ground Zero for both of the "transcendent struggle of our time"—however you want to define the hot war being waged on The Roof of The World—and for the natural world we live in and the crises, both natural and man-made, we are faced with. And it presents you the people, for they are people, who are our future as a planet.

I could write for hours about both this and the other pictures in the Facebook album it comes from, but let me leave you with this almost more trenchant picture from the same source. This image, at least to me, adds a degree of closeness to the edge of a chasm:

Look into this image; see if you can see past the damaged top of the blackboard (how many of the younger folks out here in the West will ever see a real blackboard?) and into the valley beyond.

What do you see?

[Photo credit: Umair Ahmad Khan]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Afghan Exit Strategy Over the Last Few Centuries

I was just saying, in reply to Arianna Huffington's comment on the recent David Ignatius article, that the Afghans always take several decades to root out outsiders. Here's a graphic that lays it out:

(Click on the graphic to enlarge.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dalrymple, Sufis, and the Middle

This has been hanging out in my drafts folder for a little while. But the topic is one that stays current.

So, a little while back a friend/senior of mine from college forwarded the article yesterday by William Dalrymple in the New York Times titled "Sufis—The Muslims in the Middle".

I have great respect for Dalrymple Saahib, especially how he has one been one of the folks to start and unpack the exaggerations, myths, slurs, and slander that has become the received wisdom about our elders and forebears in South Asia. (I refer, of course to the Nawabs and gentry of Awadh, and such luminaries as our last native emperor.)

And it's a great article, in which he basically uses the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam of the mis-labelled "Ground Zero Mosque" to make the case for Sufis and Sufism.

But on the question of how the mosque has become such an issue in the silliness that is the American political echo chamber and the wider discussion about Islam, radicalism and fanaticism, I wish he'd not left the "…or political calculation" half of his argument to what amounts almost an after-thought. To me, as I have said before (here, for example, or all the way back here), it is not even a question whether the Xenophobic Right—be it in the US, in India, or  within the Muslim Ummah itself—gets excited over hot button issues (such as this mosque, or the—also mis-labelled—hijab, or this or that historical site) out of ignorance or out of political calculation. To me, bit is pretty obvious that these issues are used lightening rods to, we say in Urdu, add shine to their work.

And I can't leave the discussion of Dalrymple's little tangent on the Sufis without noticing that it does seem like he's trying to project his strong feelings and experience about the South Asian Sufi tradition onto the topic of the day. While it definitely is the case that Sufism represents the "softer side of Islam", so to speak, projecting one's feelings onto Sufism some times starts feeling like a lot of wishful thinking. But I have said that before in a post titled "Sufi Bunnies".

What time does "afternoon" end? My six-year old wants to know

Please help us sort this out, either in comments below (on the blog or the Facebook Notification) or via twitter.

Flashback: Benazir

Flashback to December 27th, 2007

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jinnah was no Ataturk.

A lot of Pakistan (and diaspora) "progressives" and/or champions of democracy and so on often invoke Ataturk. And say that Asif Zardari should not be President of Pakistan. So here's the summary of what I said in one such conversation:

Jinnah was no Ataturk. One was a man of legal means, democracy and the rule of law--to the extent of disagreeing with Gandhi on rabble-rousing and demagoguery. The other was a brutal autocrat.

The person I was conversing with said something to the effect of being in favour of everything Ataturk did, but without the brutality. Huh? Brutality IS what he did. Like a lot of the policies, effects, and blowback of the kind of imperialism practiced by the European powers in general and the British Empire in particular during the Age of Colonization, (and, to a large extent, still practiced as US and Western "foreign policy" in a post-colonial, some would say neo-colonial age) I see the Young Turks as one of those things that interrupted, delayed, and perverted the healthy evolution of the Turkish state and society. (The Armenian Genocide included, which was something carried out by the same team.) Giving us the Islamist government we have there today (which I really haven't made up my mind about) as surely as putting in place and propping up Mohammad Reza Pahlavi gave us the "Islamic Republic" in Iran.

This a quick summary of a discussion I had on Facebook. If you'd like to discuss something, or think I made a leap of logic you missed, please leave a comment below, or reach out on twitter or facebook. [And apologies for the earlier subject line that mentioned Asif Zardari and ZA Bhutto. More on them later.]

Editorial Update: Short bursts

I have decided that whenever I write or say something, even if it is short and pithy and mostly unintelligible, I am going to post it here. So watch out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Permission for Quoting from Twitter and Facebook

A friend just said on Twitter (and another cross-posted his agreement from there to Facebook), that magazines/newspapers/radio stations should ask permission before quoting from Twitter and Facebook.

I go back and forth on that. Both as a twitter contributor and a blogger who needs to quote Facebook and Twitter. Quoting from email or conversation, I am bringing something from a private domain into the public one; but when I quote Twitter or Facebook, I am quoting something that anyone can see anyway, no?

Unless it's a protected tweet. Then maybe it makes sense to ask. Also, some times I think one should ask permission if one wants to link to a status, particularly on Facebook.

And I didn't ask either friend for permission before writing this comment. Was I wrong?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

3 Cheers for Lyari--An Activist Pakistani "Neighbourhood"

This is a bit dated (yeah, yeah; I need to post more regularly), but it bears putting on the record. with all the work good people are putting into flood relief, a lawyer/activist friend based in Karachi recently put this up as her status on Facebook:

To which I was moved to add:
"Three cheers for them, indeed!

Whether one agrees with their politics and ever socially interacts with that community, if there is a place in Pakistan whose denizens once can be proud of for their civic engagement, their spirit, and their activism, as the poet said, hami ast."

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Monday, July 19, 2010

On Banning the Niqab

Don't get me wrong, I am not myself for stopping people who want to wear what is loosely (and historically inaccurately) called a "hijab", or a niqab, or a burqa. (Do check out the ads for various coverings you can no doubt see on this web page.) My grandmother and her generation wore a burqa all their lives--into the 21st Century. My mother--a Pakistani professional who has headed up educational institutions on two continents and taught Islamic History herself--wore it. She wore it whenever she visited my grandfather in my father's family home in a hamlet on the outskirts of Lucknow, India. She did it out of respect for tradition and her father-in-law. At one point, in the late 70's he--a traditional Awadhi "zamindar", or feudal landowner, himself--told her he didn't think it was necessary any longer. That is how our culture has evolved. Choice. Respect for tradition. Choice in respecting tradition.

But very frankly, when we engage with the issue as one of freedom for women versus preventing the oppression of women, we're buying into the Islamist-Islamophobic binary. The whole hijab-niqab-burqa thing (at least in Europe they make the distinction between the three; in the US, even most younger Muslims couldn't do that) is a power play on the one hand by the neo-purist/Islamist crowd, and on the other hand by the xenophobic/Islamophobic crowd. And, like these things have been for centuries, is being played out on the bodies and modesty of women.

If you need help understanding this, think Gay Marriage initiatives and laws in US elections; they are not put on the ballot because Gay Marriage is a pressing threat to The Republic, but to get out the right-wing vote. That's what the Islamist fringe is doing with hijab; and that's what the right-wing fringe xenophobes are doing with the ban.

And illiberal policies like the one in France are not new, either, or limited to The West; Attaturk's policies in Turkey were as illiberal as this ban--and they weren't restricted to women, either; he banned turbans, too. And, of course, we now have the ban in Syria.

But the point I am making is that this recent surge of "hijab", burka and niqab-related news has less to do with the heritage of these particular Muslims and more with a certain (and rather recent) religio-political movement using it as a political rallying point--much as god, guns and gays are used by the Christian Right in the US.

[Earlier posts discussing the topic of "hijab", which is how the issue of "Islamic dress" for women usually comes up in the US can be read here. This post has also been carried by Newsline Magazine, Pakistan's blog and the Journal of America]

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Fault Dear Brutus…

Been meaning to start writing again and putting it off till I have sorted out my website and all. But I seem to now have some material that might be of interest—or at least, might generate some discussion that might lead to organizing my own thoughts. I seem to do some of my best ranting in conversation with friends, Romans, and countrymen (and not a few wimin; and in my case from at least three or four countries) and in reaction to things I hear, see, and read. And, of late, that has increasingly been through discussions on Facebook statuses.

So. Here is a piece that brings together reactions to two pieces, both of a kind that I keep running into quite often nowadays. It has to do with Pakistanis (and my fellow naijaborn, or Nigerian folks) expressing either cynicism or sarcasm (as in the first case below), or depression (as in the second case) at various things "back home". I know some of my reaction might sound a bit idealistic; and let's talk about if you do.

Here goes:
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Cassius, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act I Scene II, 140-141
And, if I remember right, Cassius, too, was at least obliquely referring to authoritarian tendencies in government. [See notes at ]

And to your last point, Ariel, not just that we're responsible, but that it is our responsibility to change it rather than just whine and moan. And this is not to pick on Ali; he, after all, started this discussion and is in there mixing it all up. And, if I may say so, so are the Islamists and the Zaid Hamidists, and the Marxists. At least they are engaging with the problem and and trying to make things move they way they think they should be going. It is the petit bourgeous, latte liberal whining that pisses ME off. Ask how many of them have ever considered joining a political party or a social movement, or a citizen's movement?

The old saying of "Every people get the government they deserve" comes to mind; we Pakistanis deserve the horse-thief-from-a-line-of-horse-thieves we have in every station of our establishment and government.

Here's a something else I wrote in response to another friend's Facebook status:

We used to say our fathers' generation did not do the job right; but they were in survival mode as immigrants or people trying to get a country going that had little in the way of societal and govermental structures. This might sound cliched, bit it was, IS, our job to consolidate and build—and sometimes I think the ten years when the rest of the world ignored and/or sanctioned our asses was the time we could have really built up. And those were the very years I and my crop of upstarts came of age—the 90s—and voted with our feet. And yes, maybe we were too young and, for a lot of us from that Mian Bhai/petit bourgeous class, not plugged in enough to know how. So, having said that, maybe now is the time?

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Fever

Had reason to say this on Facebook:

For a person like me, who was born and grew up and West Africa, following the World Cup or soccer in general is like being a South Asian and following cricket; you don't have to love the game to be informed about what's going on and be invested in your "home team" or teams.


With The Eagles holding Argentina to 1-0; South Africa holding Mexico to 1-1, the US holding England to 1-1; and now The Stars pulling off a win against Serbia, I'd say we're having a good Cup!

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Terrorism; the topic that keeps on giving

Said this in response to a comment from a friend on Facebook:

To me, terrorism is a tactic. It has a clear definition, both in language and political science. The problem today is that political critters both in governments and outside are more often than not not honourable/honest enough to take the word and phenomenon for what it means. The communists of the early 20th Century, or Nelson Mandela in our day, were very clear about the tactic they used. [More on my position here.]

The poor common Muslim who gets caught up in "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" (a red herring if I ever saw one) and thus feeling that they must defend their co-religionists or compatriots are buying into a canard that only empowers neo-imperialists on the one hand and neo-purist fanatics on the other. [And more on that here.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Aafia Siddiqui. Victim or Terrorist--or both? Discuss.

Been thinking about what to say about the whole "Qaum ki beti" (Daughter of the Nation, never mind that she's a US Citizen) Dr. Aafia (Siddiqui) issue. Then, partly as a way to check out if the new Google Buzz is any good for public discourse, I posted the following on it:

My take is that the way she's been railroaded through the justice system and "convicted" on what is oh, so apparently a trumped-up charge is definitely very, very scary. But is she the "cooked up" "imaginary enemy" that Mike Ghouse of the World Muslim Congress would have us think? And if she's not, where does that leave those of us who do think that railroading her is actually playing into the hands of neo-purists in this here "transcendent struggle" against fanaticism/fundamentalism to use John McCain's words, or the existential fight of the common Muslim against the twin evils of neo-imperialism and takfiri fanaticism, to paraphrase Zaid Hamid?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pakistan and Echoes of the 80's: Zaid Hamid, NFP, and Imran Khan

Just noticed this in Facebook's "Suggestions" and saw which of my friends are already fans.

The aim of this page is to unite everyone against Zaid Hamid and his supporters and to save Pakistan from Neo - Nazism. The page will provide regular updates against this propaganda network and will facilitate discussions to counter his ideologies. This page also aims to counter Ghaz we Hind (A Delusional Paranoia of Zaid Hamid) suppose to take place soon or may be on 14 august 2012 according to his gullible followers.
Critic:275 fans

I just LOVE how this one cause--denouncing a senior of mine from college who's a right wing nationalist and is not even a political party yet--brings together my MQM wala friends, my Tehreek-i-Insaf-leaning friends, my progressive Muslim friends, my Marxist friends, my Trotskyist friends, my blaager activist friends...wallah! if we had that kind of unity amongst Pakistanis on ANYthing else, we'd get somewhere!

Though, I also have to say I am nostalgic for the late 80s/early 90s when NFP was the one walking around with a trademark cap (of which I can find no photos on the Internet--very curious!) and Zaid H was the one saving the world from the evil empire--and you have to give credit to Imran Khan; then, as now, he was a hero out saving the national honour, but who couldn't bring himself to give the little guy credit with having anything real to contribute to helping the nation achieve greatness...