Red, White and Black

On tolerence and freedoms
21 May, 2010, 12:57 am
Filed under: Pakistan, social | Tags: , , , , ,

I set out to pen some thoughts on the Facebook debacle [1, 2, 3] of the past two days. But then I found the following two articles in my mailbox, which very gracefully discuss some of my feelings/concerns. Adil Najam wonders why did we even have to throttle this shameful act to the fore? Why could not have just ignored it and moved on?

Let’s think about it, what did the creators of the offensive page want to do when they set it up? First, they sought attention, and hits, and notoriety in a world where attention is too easily confused with fame. Second, they wanted to ridicule Muslims by the reaction they excepted from this. If you think of it, irrespective of whether Facebook removes the site or keeps it, the organizers of the page have achieved their goal. Well beyond what they expected. Now every other Islamophobic nutcase will get new ideas about how to have his little 10 minutes of fame spewing bigotry and hatred against Muslims.

But more importantly, they simply could not have done this without us. The only people who have turned this from nothingness into a huge issue is us. I am sure that those who set up the page are jumping up and down and thanking us for making their page such a huge success! And that is what pains me. [#]

Another blogger, Nabiha Meher, laments our incapacity to entertain multiple perspectives, our choice to be offended by the drawing competition and our “persecution complex”. She notes:

And I ask you: why do I HAVE to be offended? Is our faith so weak that a cartoon will destroy it? And even if I am offended, why am I not being given the option to boycott facebook voluntarily? A voluntary ban would have been much, much more effective in order to send a message out. A blanket ban has only lead to exactly what we like to cry about so much: negative publicity in the world press and many outraged Pakistanis protesting the ban such as me. How conveniently we pick and choose from religion! Lest we forget, I would like to remind the Muslims reading this of the incident of the woman who used to throw garbage at our prophet. The prophet, in whose name we claim we are protesting, was a peaceful, cooperative man who forgave people who pelted him with garbage and rocks. Responding with an intelligent dialogue, responding with patience is, in my opinion, the best way to protest one’s concern.

There is one other matter that concerns me. Why are our limits of tolerance so fragile? And for that matter, why do the organisers of this cartoon competition believe that their twisted view of freedom of speech exonerates them of all responsibility? But returning to our limits of tolerance. Today at the Karachi Press Club, Awab Alvi and some friends were almost mobbed by some members of Jamaat-e-Islami for protesting internet censorship.  Note that they were not condoning the cartoon competition. Far from it. They condemned it, but argued that in a civilised society blanket censorship of this nature has no place. And for their troubles, they were attacked by some members of the media and then had to escorted out under police protection. Read the newsreport here. I first learnt of the story on television and the news report made it sound like they were supporting Facebook’s position on the matter. The questions this raises is this: why are we so intolerant of perspectives that don’t agree with ours? And why do we possess such over-bloated and sanctimonious religious egos that are hurt at the drop of a pin? These are tough questions that we, as a society, need to answer. For this is a very slippery slope that we are navigating. And why aren’t we willing to question these attitudes of ours? Is this is what is entailed by being Muslims?!

‘Imaging the Future’
31 December, 2009, 1:38 am
Filed under: Pakistan, social | Tags: , , ,

As I write this, the last day of the decade dawns. And I wonder: what did Pakistanis imagine for themselves and the country as 1999 drew close? What were our dreams and aspirations?

A while  back after a series of terrorist attacks in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, my grandmother remarked that she had never even feared that we would be living in such times. She found it difficult to relate with the times we are living in today. What did her generation envision as a future for their grandchildren?

Another incident: a few weeks ago, I observed two boys (about 5 and 7 years of age) engaged in a role-play game. They were wielding play-guns and running around corners shooting. Every now and then, the older of the two would tell the other that he had spotted a ‘terrorist’ and they should lob a bomb now. What do they imagine themselves as when they grow up?

Yes, we are living through difficult times. Times where not only do we have to deal with mundane worries like power and gas shortages but where we now live under the constant fear for our lives. Times in which mosques have lost their sanctity and students and international players seemingly constitute legitimate targets. One by one, all of our reservations and pillars of faith have been stripped away. Indeed, the times are tough and hope is little. But that is not what I want to write about in this post.

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13 September, 2007, 7:59 am
Filed under: Pakistan, social

Follow story here:

Attack on giant Pakistan Buddha

Suspected pro-Taleban militants have tried to blow up an ancient carving of Buddha in north-west Pakistan. The statue, thought to date from the second century BC, sustained only minimal damage in the attack near Manglore in remote Swat district.

The area has seen a rise in attacks on “un-Islamic” targets in recent months.

This is the first such attack in Pakistan and is reminiscent of the Taleban’s 2001 destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.


Officials and witnesses in Swat said armed men arrived in the area on Monday night.

“Militants drilled holes in the rock and filled them with dynamite and blew it up,” provincial archaeology department official Aqleem Khan told Reuters news agency.

“The explosion damaged the upper part of the rock but there was no damage to the image itself.”

And eyewitness, Shahid Khan, told the BBC that because of its location on a steep ridge the statue had been only slightly damaged. It is carved into a 40m (130-foot) high rock.

Local archaeology expert Professor Pervaiz Shaheen told the BBC that the Buddha statue in Swat valley was considered the largest in Asia, after the two Bamiyan Buddhas.

He said it was 2,200 years old. Swat valley is a centre of the ancient Gandhara civilization.

“They constructed similar smaller statues and figurines, dozens of which are still present in the area,” Prof Shaheen said.

Swat has seen increased pro-Taleban activity in recent months, with the re-emergence of militant group Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) under new leader, Maulana Fazlullah.

Last week, militants blew up about 60 music, video and cosmetics stalls at a market in the valley after stall owners ignored warnings to close businesses deemed un-Islamic.

The world watched in shock in March 2001 as Afghanistan’s then rulers destroyed the 6th-Century Bamiyan Buddhas. The Taleban said they were offensive to Islam.


update: and again. Where are the authorities? When would be the time to rise from the slumber?

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: a review
17 May, 2007, 1:21 am
Filed under: Islam, Pakistan, Politics, social

I wrote up the following review a while back after reading the book, today I came this interview via ChapatiMystery and thought I would (stop being lazy and) post it:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is a very short read- just 111 pages. This is what the back-flap says:

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting…

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite “valuation” firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.

The story is narrated in first person and the setting of the narration is the food street at old Anarkali, giving it a very quaint feel. The book silently brings out the contrasts and contradictions in Changez’s life – but never passes judgment on them. They are just stated – for you to draw upon. Some really thoughtful historical parallels are drawn. [I won’t spill them here – but they did ring true.] One other thing that stood out: radicalisation of political beliefs is not necessarily the outcome of religious indoctrination. In fact, the protagonist of the book remains a non-religious person through out the book [he drinks, parties, sleeps around, never prays…]. At the end of the day it was just a matter of perspective. The change in Changez owes entirely to social and political stimuli.

If you are one of those people who enjoyed Moth Smoke, you will love this one. It was a much better book than Moth Smoke…simply because it left so much unsaid and allowed you to reach your conclusions. Highly recommended.

Just want to leave you with the following excerpt from the NYTimes interview, which says it all:

Is it fair to describe your second novel as a Muslim’s critique of American values?

That’s oversimplifying. The novel is a love song to America as much as it is a critique.

I didn’t find it so loving. It takes place on a single evening at a cafe in Lahore, as a charming, well-educated Pakistani in his 20s recounts his life story to an unnamed American stranger, who seems suspicious of him.

The American is acting as if the Pakistani man is a Muslim fundamentalist because of how he looks — he has a beard.

Call for Support
12 April, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics, social

Attention Citizens

Concerned citizen of Islamabad/Rawalpindi have been watching with anger and frustration the terrorism being inflicted on them by extremist fringe within society. The citizens are also appaled at the state’s inability or reluctance to deal with violations of law of the land by the Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Freedia students. Their attempt to challenge the writ of the state by establishing what in effect is an alternate governing syste in the area under their control poses a threat to all law-abiding citizens.

To express the concerns of mutiple strands of civil society, including families, professionals ad business community, we the citizens of Islamabad and Rawalpindi intend to hold a peaceful rally condemning the tolerance of law breakers and threat extenders by the state. We also wish to condemn the terrorisation of a whole city by extremists. We hop all those comprising the silent majority will come out for this peaceful rally under the general rubric of Citizens of Islamabad and Rawalpindi – rather than any particular organisation. Everyone should participate in their individual capacity. The date and time of the rally has been fixed to coincide with similar rallies in Lahore and Karachi.

Date: 19th April
Time: 2:30 P.M.

Venue: From Islamabad Private Hospital to the Parliament

Placards and banners will be available on the day but feel free to bring your own as well with the relevant message.

Let us fight the tyranny of the minority. Let the voice of the silent majority be heard.


Please advertise this rally as much as you can – to your friends, coworkers and family and of course, on the blogsphere.

Pakistan Monument: change of winds?
11 April, 2007, 10:15 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics, social

In the midst of all sorts of negative developments in the country over the past few weeks, this weekend a visit to the National Monument gave me reason to rejoice. The Monument constructed at Shakarparian in Islmabad. The Monument was inaugurated by Musharraf on 23 March. The Monument was designed to be:

signifying strength, unity and dedication of the people of Pakistan into an icon representing an independent and free nation. It was envisaged for the National Monument to serve as a beacon representing the past, present and heralding a bright future for all Pakistanis to whom the Monument will stand dedicated.

Pakistan Monument from Zero Point


Pakistan Monument

[Photo credit: Suha!l @ flickr]

More details on the monument:

The monument will comprise of four blossoming flower petals representing the People of Pakistan standing united, shoulder to shoulder, shielding the crescent and star in the space below. The design concept is imbued with simplicity and strength, relaying the vision of standing guard over the Motherland. The inner walls of the petals will be decorated with murals and artwork.

A metallic crescent will be inscribed with sayings of Quaid-i-Azam and poetry of Allama Iqbal ... The theme of the National Monument revolves around creation and development of Pakistan, making it different from other two Museums in the close vicinity i.e. the Heritage and Natural History Museums. It will house exhibits highlighting Iqbal’s Concept of a Muslim State in South Asia, Quaid-i-Azam’s efforts and struggle for the independence of Pakistan and how Pakistan stands today as a forward looking developing state in Asia and the world.

Pakistan Monument @ Night

[Photo credit: cnextsteps @ flickr]

So why am I making this post? Yes, it is a beautifully built monument – but struck me and brought a smile to my face was the symbolism and the lack of typical nationalistic rhetoric in the images and various pieces of quotations and descriptions around. My only regret is that I was unable to capture good photos of those that night. But it is worth noting: the description of the monument relied on the identity of the Pakistani people in their own right – without any comparison or reference to partition. It used terms like “progressive” to describe the thought of Iqbal and vision of Quaid. In short, the main plaque was inspiring without being jingoistic. Yes, I think we have turned a leaf. 🙂

Lasting thought, consider this photo:

Jinnah and Fatima @ Pakistan Monument

[Photo credit: ZillNiazi @ flickr]

The inscription below it stated “No nation can rise to height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.” This is somewhat big, because you don’t see such juxtaposition on national monuments. A welcome change!

Overall, the ambience and the message of the monument was very positive and I do believe we are making small strides towards change. More power to that!

More than Shame
29 December, 2006, 10:26 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics, social


Police broke up a protest demonstration organised by family members and relatives of missing persons, badly beating and arresting several of them after they tried to march to the GHQ to present a memorandum to the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff.

Eyewitnesses said the trouble began when a heavy contingent of police, led by SP Yasin Farooq, SP Muhammad Azam and DSP Rana Shahid, pushed some of the protesters inside the hotel’s boundary wall, shoving and manhandling them badly.

After some time more protesters arrived and started shouting slogans against the police. Those who had been detained inside the hotel also came out to join them.

This led to skirmishes between police and the protesters. According to the eyewitnesses, the protest took a turn for the worse when the police stripped a young man, Mohammad bin Masood, the son of missing Masood Janjua. The witnesses said even then the police continued to drag him, finally throwing him into a police van. [Link]

Follow on to this post on ATP. So who’s shame is it anyway?

I am too shocked/incensed to put down anything else. Maybe later. But does anything more need to be said?

 Update: A balanced and well-made documentary by PBS can be watched here.

Hoodbhoy on “Unity, Faith and Discipline”
14 December, 2006, 11:31 am
Filed under: Pakistan, social

A hurried post. Came across this masterful address to students of Indus Valley School by Pervez Hoodbhoy. Some excerpts that I just loved:

First, I wish for minds that can deal with the complex nature of truth. Without minds engaged on this issue there cannot be a capacity for good judgment. And, without good judgment a nation will blunder from one mistake on to the next. Now, truth is a fundamental but very subtle concept. The problem is that things are usually not totally true or totally false. Still, some things are very true and others are very false … But these are quite easily established; separating true and false is often extremely difficult.

My second wish is for many more Pakistanis who accept diversity as a virtue. So I am not asking for unity, but acceptance of our differences. Let’s face it, we’re all different. The four provinces of Pakistan have different histories, class and societal structures, climates, and natural resources. Within the provinces there live Sunnis, Shias, Bohris, Ismailis, Ahmadis, Zikris, Hindus, Christians, and Parsis. Then there are tribal and caste divisions which are far too numerous to mention. Add to this all the different languages and customs as well as different modes of worship, rituals, and holy figures. Given this enormous diversity, liberals – who are rather good people in general – often talk of the need for tolerance. But I don’t like this at all. Tolerance merely says that you are nice enough to put up with a bad thing. Instead, let us accept and even celebrate the differences!

My third, and last, wish is that Pakistanis learn to value and nurture creativity. Creativity is a difficult concept to define but roughly I mean originality, unusualness, or ingenuity in something. If nurtured from an early age in children, it leads to great writers, poets, musicians, engineers, scientists, and builders of modern industries and institutions. No one can dispute that creativity is a good thing. But how come Pakistanis – with some important exceptions – have done so poorly on the world stage? Why are there only a dozen or two internationally known Pakistani inventors, scientists, writers, etc for a nation of 165 million people?

First, we need to bring economic justice to Pakistan. This requires that it possess the working machinery of a welfare state. Economic justice is not the same as flinging coins at beggars. Rather, it requires organizational infrastructure that, at the very least, provides employment but also rewards according to ability and hard work.

Second, we must fight to give Pakistan’s women the freedom which is their birthright … The culture of suppressing women and excluding them from public life is spreading like wildfire. As our collective piety increases, the horrific daily crimes against women become still less worthy of comment or discussion.

Third, and last, we have to wake people up and get them politically engaged again. Young people have tuned into mindless FM entertainment and tuned out of participation in social causes. University campuses are empty of discussion and debate, and movements against manifest social and political injustice bring forth only handfuls of committed individuals… We have become cynical and think that nothing can be done. Today the military rules an apathetic nation.

This apathy must go, and can go. Last year’s earthquake galvanized people across the country. It broke the myth that we have stopped caring for each other. I have never seen Pakistanis give so whole-heartedly of their money, time, effort, and energy. Ordinary people, students, shop-keepers, businessmen…just about everybody pitched into the huge relief effort.

I literally rooted when I read the last bit of advice! Oh yes! Yes! Yes! Please give his lecture 15 mins of your time, it’s worth it all and more. : )

The Perks of Being Rich
4 December, 2006, 1:40 pm
Filed under: general, Pakistan, social

Over the weekend, I followed the development of one very depressing incident with a grim heart. The incident in question, was brought to my attention by Zakintosh at The Windmills of My Mind. According to the news reports, the owner of the Nirala chain caused the death of 2-month baby in Defence, Lahore and then proceeded to threaten the injured parents into silence. Media reports suggest that an FIR against the culprit has still not been registered owing to an apparent collusion between the police authorities and the culprit. Such, of course, are the perks of the rich in our country.

I don’t know what is the status of this story at this point in time, but knowing how the system here works it would not be wrong to assume that Nirala company owner will get away with making a complete travesty of justice. In this regard, I urge you all to do your little bit to highlight this incident through the press and the media. One, I endorse Zak’s boycott of Nirala sweets. If we can support an innocuous boycott of European products to protest against the Danish cartoons, it ought not to be too hard for us to say NO to Nirala Sweets. Second, I urge you all to write letters/emails to your favourite papers and try to get this issue highlighted. Our efforts will not be able to bring back a dead baby, but we can at least make an attempt to stop the incessant mockery of justice.

Every single voice matters. Please join the chorus!

P.S. On a related note, Ejaz Haider of The Daily Times laments the lack of deceny in our society. Thought provoking material there! Give it a read.

P.P.S. A few friends and I are trying to organise some sort of protest in Islamabad (this week/end) and Lahore (the following one). So please drop in a note if you are interested.

Edit: The issue was also covered at ATP.

9 March, 2006, 9:25 pm
Filed under: lahore, social

It’s that time of the year again. Basant is here. Traditionally, Basant marks the advent of Spring and coincides with the yearly Jashan-e-Baharan (the festival of the spring) at Lahore. Lahore is adorned in green, with flowers sprouting around every curb, every boulevard and most magnificent sight is the lit-canal that criss-crosses the city. The air is crisp and fresh. You can feel the spring in the air. While there are many spring festivals organised by the city government, the real attraction is the kite-flying season. For a day, all Lahore takes to the rooftop and the skies ring with cries of bokaaata! The Lahoris fly, eat and have a great time. But this was a couple of years ago. Now its a different story, altogether.

Over the last 10 years, Basant has been immensely commercialised. Now you have huge Basant parties being orgainsed by the corporate world, enthusiasts fly in from all over the country and abroad. With such commercialisation, the innocent festival has taken on a ruthless edge. The prime perpetrator has been the metallic wire – which is the traditional kite flying string enhanced with glass, metal and certain chemicals. The idea is to make the string sharp enough to pull down the other kite in a pecha – i.e. when two kites entangle mid air. It would have been okay if it was just about the kites. But owing to excessive proliferation of metal string – over the last few years we have begun to see human causalities and severe losses to WAPDA – the electricity guys.

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