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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Tale That Never Ends

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: December 27, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\12\27\story_27-12-2012_pg3_4

It is often said that you can determine a person’s character by putting them under a test in their weakest moments. By that definition, a man emerged as a victorious gladiator from the gallows of Rawalpindi. A defenceless man, tried with malice and, of course, convicted in similar fashion. In an unprecedented manner, his family members were not allowed to attend his final rituals. His adversaries thought that his story would end right there, but as they say, there are stories that never end. There is no epilogue ever for such tales. lf I still sound unconvincing, take a look at any story you witness on the silver screen. The hero triumphs in the end and we exit the dark theatre with a bit of renewed hope, still believing in this world, as uneven, crooked and corrupt as it may be. At times, we see the hero perish in the end on that very screen, yet we emerge with renewed hope that it is all about inner strength. The body may very well turn into dust but hope never dies.

How often do you see a lady emerge in a highly chauvinistic and male-dominated society? But as they say again, where there is a will there is a way. A fairly young, traumatised, harassed and verbally abused woman somehow managed to rise in a fairly controlled society. People often comment on that meteoric rise yet fail to acknowledge the real reason behind it. In my usually humble opinion, the strength and courage ran in her blood. Any other woman in her shoes would have given up, but no, she was definitely different, made of a different metal, different nerves and a different vision. She was so different that many men were afraid of her and many were unable to stand her sheer guts. Therefore, after a failed attempt on her life in Karachi, the same people were successful. They gloated in glee and claimed victory. Wow, what a remarkable act of valour it was: one unarmed lady and the killers decided to hit her from the rear. Again, the same people thought that it was the end of the story.

So when these lines will be read, there is word on the street that a 20-something, political rookie, the son of that slain lady, will pick up the mantle and launch his formal career. The critics will rush to the usual judgment and claim that an amateur young man is there to get the vote of sympathy. Here comes the irony. Had his mother not been ruthlessly slain, the son would still be enjoying his youth. The young man loses his mother in a manner that is unparalleled but he does not go on some sort of a rampage of revenge, but instead chooses the path of his mother. He stands up and says, “Democracy is the sweetest revenge.” Branded and peddled as a ‘spoilt rich and out-of-touch young brat’ by his detractors, it sure seems like another man is about to embark on that thorny journey.

But wait a minute, his family is here and it is here to take advantage of this country. I simply ask what family we are talking about. A father, who happens to be the first president who has relinquished presidential powers rather than holding on to them? Two younger sisters, who have not said or done anything to defame this country but reiterated what their mother stood for? Thus, the usual scorn and snide remarks laced with poisonous venom will follow the rookie chairperson as well. Very simply speaking, history is about to repeat itself.

I encourage the readers to revisit some newspaper archives and see what was said in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. What was said at that juncture is perhaps going to be repeated again, with a new twist and a new style. The words will change but the underlying message will remain the same. As wisely asked by an anchor on the idiot box, how many are out there who would follow the path of his/her grandfather or mother? I reckon there are very few. In the wake of the recent slaying of a voice of reason in the land of the pure, one can only be hoping for a miracle.

Since its inception, the country has been divided into two distinct categories: one that wants to give the people their right to elect and rule and the other that simply wants to rule over them. This is the real tussle and this is the real issue. The names will change, the characters will change, but the tussle will remain the same. This story will never end. Each era will bring a new face, a new name, but the tale will go on. But the point to remember is very few names have the ability to garner popular public support. Like it or not, it is entirely up to you.

The Meaningless Solution

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: December 20, 2012
Original link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\12\20\story_20-12-2012_pg3_6

 quickly hugged my second
grader who is always eager to go to school last Friday morning. As soon as I entered the freeway, I heard the radio giving out the annoying preamble of the ‘Breaking News’. By now, I have learned that it is rarely ever any good news that ‘breaks’. I was getting myself ready for yet another blast somewhere, when I heard the awful news of shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was two people in the beginning, including the shooter. The story was still raw and details were still sketchy. By the time my 45-minute commute to the office came to an end, it brought the horrific news of the total of 28 dead. Turning the PC on in disbelief at work, my worst fears were confirmed. Another mentally sick person had struck, taking 20 children out in his rampage, not to mention seven adults, including his own mother.

My initial reaction towards the perpetrator cannot be penned here. Not proud of that verbal diarrhea, but as a parent of a seven-year-old, I could feel the agony of the parents of the victims. The sheer rage engulfed my rational side of the brain for a few moments. A coworker with family members in that part of the country started to call frantically to check on his little niece and nephew. Luckily, their school was a few miles away, but on a lockdown due to this horrific incident.

An emotional President Obama took to the podium that Friday night, appealing to the nation to come up with a “meaningful solution’ to the madness that repeats itself very frequently. As a citizen, I do not doubt his sincerity one bit, but looking at this hydra-headed menace, how can this nation grapple with it? Had it been possible, or probable, would this ugly episode repeat itself so frequently in the United States of America? What an irony, a country that goes thousands of miles away to protect other nations from their enemies, is unable to protect its own citizens from their own fellow citizens. From Oklahoma City onwards, these domestic terrorists strike at their own fellow citizens. And the media goes into its usual frenzy.

Notice how the focus shifts from the victims, whose lives are taken away for no reason, and most of the attention is diverted towards the assailant. It is the typical profile of a ‘disturbed young man’ and a ‘social recluse’ or a person with ‘psychological issues’. The underlying theme is: people, this is an anomaly, don’t worry, until the next incident unfolds and the cycle of denial, and the cycle of a so-called facade is repeated. How many anomalies, how many unusual are enough, no one knows and no one is willing to accept.

This problem is so pervasive, but in my humble opinion, deliberately tucked under the rug. The media as mouthpiece is culpable in painting it as an individual issue. Deep down, it is a societal issue. The real impediments towards any meaningful solutions are individual rights and liberties of the citizens. In an exchange with a coworker that ill fated day, I emphasised that all these so-called troubled young men ought to be airlifted and dropped into sub-Saharan Africa, the jungles of the Sunderbans, to the slums of Kolkata or perhaps somewhere in Sibi so that they could learn to appreciate their lives. All of them will get on their knees and beg to be transported back to the comfort of their cosy homes here in the US. They will start loving themselves and their fellow citizenry. It is all about perspective. When life and its daily challenges for survival hit you hard, that is the Eureka moment. You tend to appreciate your life only when you experience it from another person’s perspective who is less fortunate than you.

It is safe to say that all of us carry one form of depression or the other. Life is a strange business of needs and desires, haves and have-nots. Some cope with their depressions with turning towards God, others find refuge in drugs and alcohol. The ones with deep-rooted depression succumb to violence and harm others. In my dictionary, individual rights and liberties end the moment someone harms another individual physically. The law should be speedy, where incarceration, conviction and sentencing should be efficient. Individuals on death row for decades make a mockery of justice. The taxpayers fund their life terms behind bars. Yet this great nation is unable to grab the bull by its horns, so to speak.

In my humble opinion, the universal healthcare proposal should be amended to accommodate an annual psychiatric evaluation of all citizens. People should not be able to renew their vehicle registrations, pay their income tax, be allowed to vote, be able to obtain or renew their driver’s licence until they have clearance from their psychiatrist. This should be augmented with tougher firearm laws. It is time for this legislation to be passed and implemented in letter and spirit to avoid any additional massacres. Otherwise, the talking heads will keep on yakking and we will never have what the president alluded to as a meaningful solution to this horrific mess.

The Unsung Hero

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: December 13, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\12\13\story_13-12-2012_pg3_4

If you were to flip your currency note, you will find a statement in Urdu, which can be loosely translated as, “Earning an honest living is a form of prayer.” Not many people know someone who embodies that statement in real life. I do, or I guess I am compelled to say, I did, to be grammatically correct. It was a man who rose from very humble beginnings, yet remained humble at all times, a man who gave this scribe the love for reading as much as he did.

He went through perhaps 10 to 12 newspapers, four or five magazines and radio and television news like a sponge, almost every day without fail. His early morning walks, the strict exercise regimen and the newspaper reading routine were his staples. No matter how cold the weather was, his tenacity to fight the odds was exemplary. A workaholic at all times, he was always focused on his goal of earning an honest living for his family.

If this scribe was taught how to read and write by his mother and teachers at school, then this man really showed him what to read. He was deeply passionate about his career of four decades in banking but enjoyed politics immensely. He was a social magnet who immediately lit up social gatherings with his discussions and views. He could touch on any topic and people marvelled at his keen interest in poetry, the arts and music.

I saw many of his co-workers and staff members surprised to see him so simple and humble in real life. The man who had a wardrobe full of designer suits would be clad in a simple shalwar kameez at home and whom people addressed as ‘Sir’, ‘Sahib’ or very simply ‘Saab’ would be cooking on a Bar-B-Q grill at home.

He possessed a photographic memory about people and could easily recall the genealogy tree of someone within minutes. A hearty laugh would typically follow at the end of a discussion and often as a punch line, he would quote a couplet in Urdu. Very few people knew that he did not have any formal college degree, yet he could articulate and communicate far better than most highly educated individuals could.

A young man leaving Pakistan in the 1950s for Germany was a bit uncommon in those days. He shared those black and white photographs with me where he was beaming with smiles with his group of German friends. But someone somewhere had him destined to come back home to the Lyallpur of yesteryears. Hired as an apprentice in a Pakistani bank, he managed to climb the ladder with his sheer honesty and simplicity; it was mostly unheard of someone reaching a senior level post without any ‘personal connections’ or ‘foul means’.

I heard many stories from him about the people he met — celebrities and well-known figures — whether it was the late Prime Minister Bhutto, General Zia or the present president of Pakistan. It was in the early 1980s when he met our president in Dubai, before Ms Bhutto got married to him. There are photo albums of him and many Indo-Pakistan sports and film celebrities who went to Dubai in the 1980s. Dilip Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and many others come to mind. His all-time favourite actor was Dilip Kumar and he had a special liking for ghazals. Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s ghazals on audio cassettes were often found in the glove compartment of his cars.

“The excitement in your voice tells me it is another boy,” he said to me when I asked him to guess whether it was another grandson or a granddaughter. This was my last talk with him that I could really call a discussion. A few weeks later, I found myself pacing through long lines at some busy airports of the world. Approximately 30 hours later, I found my two brothers with swollen eyes at the Karachi Airport. The ride to our house was rather sombre. I rushed to meet my mother because there was something inside me that was getting uncontrollable. The pent up emotions for restless hours finally broke at her feet. I went to his empty room where everything was intact. I even slept in his bed, hoping that I would hear something from somewhere, maybe a term of endearment that he used for me when I was a child. How he had laughed heartily when at the age of eight I told him that I wrote a movie script in the pocket diary that he had gifted me. How he would beam with joy when a five-year-old me impressed the strict principal of the prestigious Catholic school I attended by imitating the chocolate hero, the late Waheed Murad. Or how silly I was when we would get into debates about my future and my career. How I was not as successful as he was. Because an apple may not fall far from the tree but some apples are not so lucky. I consider myself one of those rotten ones.

My simplest tribute to the man I know as my father is my abbreviated first name so that his name gets to live. When people address me by his name, it gives me immense joy and pride. But at the same time I wish he was around so he could see his own offspring’s scribbles in print. To some who would think how selfish of me to attribute a column to my own father, yes, I am selfish, because without him, there would not have been a me. All I can ask all of you is to overlook my little transgression and say a prayer to God for him.

All These Godly Men

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: December 06, 2012
Origianl link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\12\06\story_6-12-2012_pg3_5

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi and his decree of being chosen by God to lead the people of Egypt sounded more like a scene from a Hollywood action drama. It was almost like a sequel to my all time favourite classic, Ben Hur. These decrees that would make him above any judicial oversight are perhaps meant to make him the modern day Pharaoh. Come to think of it, it is not his fault after all. Let us blame it on those Pharaohs who perhaps left their evil legacies in the air of this ancient nation by the Nile. To add insult to injury, Mr Morsi’s stance is that it is all to strengthen the roots of democracy. This is a nation that has barely got over the 30-plus-year-old rule of Hosni Mubarak. Boy, what a democrat he was. Honestly, our Muslim world as a whole is very deficient in the basic tenets of democracy. All over in our parts of the world, one witnesses monarchs, dictators or dictators who behave like so-called democrats. The concept of absolute power is what everyone wants to practice and excel at.

The general masses think it is the western conspirators who want these Muslim despots to further their agendas. This may have been true until perhaps the late 1980s or early 1990s, but believe me, times have changed. The British are struggling to maintain themselves, so are the rest of the European nations. The Americans, after the episode of 9/11 have come to a very hard and realistic conclusion. For a long-term solution to the menace afflicting the Muslim world, it has to support the freedom and will of the Muslim people. After all, it is the battle of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Borrowing a famous line from one former US president: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Mr Morsi’s decree reminded me of another ‘self-made’ president, but this one is from my land of birth. Mr Morsi ought to take a lesson or two from Mr Musharraf, as he in the last leg of his tenure tried to curtail the powers of the judiciary too. Perhaps he was not in direct contact with God like Mr Morsi, so he ended up taking his final bow within a year or so of his so-called ‘emergency declaration’. While we are on that subject, I would urge you to revisit newspapers of November 2007. Has anything changed? All the reasons outlined as the reasons behind his declaration are perhaps still present and maybe with a renewed vigour. The only thing that is visibly missing is Mr Musharraf himself.

All I know is, Moses was the only one who was able to speak to God, but another US president claimed to be in direct contact with the Lord. President Bush claimed to be in touch with the ‘Big One’ when he launched his war against the menace of ‘evil’. Of course, much prior to that when he was a governor, he was commanded by the Almighty to shun alcohol and remain ‘sober’ for the rest of his life. One wishes that he could have concentrated on becoming the latter with all seriousness and sincerity.

While we are on the subject of God’s chosen men, another self-made president of Pakistan, the late General Zia comes to mind. He felt that God had directed him to save the nation from the jaws of destruction. He tried to enforce the will of the Almighty with all his might. But 11 years later, perhaps he lost his inner connection with the Big One himself. One of my most favourite writers, Mohammad Hanif, penned an article in English in a publication, where this scribe has done a few scribbles as well. The title interestingly is in Urdu, “Murshed, marwa na daina” (Don’t get me in trouble, my spiritual teacher). This was the line the late general had reportedly uttered to one of his confidants prior to following the command of his Lord.

If the zigzag commentary of this scribe is making you scratch your head, then let me ease your confusion. I know I am sinful and I just experience a calm silence when I try to communicate with my Lord. Most people share the same experience. The ones who claim to be following the commandments of God are actually trying to cover their shortcomings in the guise of decrees and directions directly from God. It is the easiest cop-out, if you will. If you are still in doubt, go back in time. All dictators and tyrants, whether they were Pharaohs or other rulers, called themselves god. The pursuit of absolute power made them indulge in absurdities.

Now just ask yourself, where are these ‘god-likes’ and where is the real God? Silly are those who think they can achieve absolute power. The name of the sage does not come to mind who once said: “Just hold the dry dirt firmly in your clasped palms. When the dirt starts slipping, you will get the reality of power and life.” If I was Mr Morsi or anyone like him, I would give heed to this sage’s words with all honesty and sincerity.

The Wedge Within

Original Article: Daily Times
Date: Published: November 29, 2012
Original link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\11\29\story_29-11-2012_pg3_4

When Allama Iqbal dreamt of the unity of Muslims to protect the sanctity of the Holy Kaaba, he was not thinking of the ongoing suicide blasts of today. United we are for sure, in different factions with only one cause in mind: how to eliminate or annihilate the other. It is with a false hope that ours is the right one and the others are nothing but a bunch of heretics. As far as the Holy Kaaba is concerned, the One who owns it is fully capable of protecting it. From the very first stone laid by Adam to the present day monument, He obviously does not need a bunch of hypocrites like us to protect what has survived for centuries. It is a shame that we do not learn from the Holy Book where the chapter of ‘The Elephant’ narrates the triumph of tiny birds and their pebbles against an army of mighty elephants.

If you think the scribe is off base in opening with such scathing and critical remarks, then let me explain. Another Muharram is here and another bloodbath has begun. The people are at each others’ throats and processions of mourners commemorating the death of Hussain (AS) are being mourned. The bombs go off somewhere and the body parts of many scatter in the air. As the mourners of Hussain (AS) say ‘Labbaik Ya Hussain’, off they embark on their eternal journey. The gruesome footage of these horrific scenes and the beheadings of my Shia brethren transport one to the level of the deepest depression.

When my friends obfuscate and claim all Abrahamic faiths have divisions, whether Jews or Christians, I disagree. Yes, I disagree, because my Islam supersedes, because it is supposed to be the ‘final message’. This faith was finalised on the Mount of Arafat 1,400 years ago. No one is superior, neither an Arab nor a non-Arab, black or white, except the one who holds fear of God in his heart and possesses the inner wealth of piety.

But as soon as the Prophet (PBUH) departed, the wedge happened. The thrust of the difference very simply speaking was succession. Who leads the Ummah? By the way, people who think ‘democracy’ is a western concept ought to look at its nascent shape, in the form of ‘Bait’ that all of the Prophet’s companions had to have in order to lead. To say that Islam is incompatible with democracy is a major fallacy. But by the same token, pretending that Muslims cannot kill or harm another Muslim is another big one. The people who invited the grandson of the Prophet (PBUH) to Karbala were Muslims, and those who brutally murdered his family members were Muslims too. The bloodiest chapter of cruelty and inhumane acts was written at that battleground by none other than Muslims. It has created a divide so huge that hundreds of years later we are still where we began. The people who conspired and martyred Hussain (AS) have become the ultimate villains in history. Hussain (AS), on the other hand, by losing everything, including his life, to protect the will of his grandfather (PBUH) and his own legendary father Ali (AS) has managed to ensure his name in everlasting history.

With all due respect, in all these years what have we learned from his great sacrifice? We mourn and follow rituals to demonstrate our solidarity with the 72 oppressed members of his entourage. Yes, but is that enough? Why is the love for Hussain (AS) only evident in the month of Muharram? Because much like Ramadan, it is merely an annual ritual that we follow. To atone for sins, some do self-immolation, some walk on burning coals and some use knives and chains to inflict wounds on their bodies. My respects for all of those acts, as those acts are a testimony of unquestionable devotion and conviction. I still ask nevertheless: is that enough?

The message of Hussain’s (AS) martyrdom is to stand for what is just, stand for what is right. How many of us including myself have the courage to speak the truth, no matter what? How many of us love our God so much that we would prostrate in front of Him in the shadow of a creeping sword? The courage, the conviction and the strength of faith that Hussain (AS) demonstrated against all odds, we perhaps do not even have a fraction of a fraction within our souls. What we have done in essence is let Hussain (AS) and his sacrifice down by remaining divided into factions. His sacrifice was meant to teach us to be fearful of God and follow the path that his grandfather (PBUH) had charted for us. Hundreds of years later, we are doing exactly what the conspirators did to him. Kill the innocents, behead the unarmed, and label each other with the ultimate scorn of apostasy.

What has always amazed me is that hundreds of years later, we are perhaps waiting for a messiah to come and mediate our self-created differences. Or perhaps some think that the ulema should take charge and make the repairs. Again with all due respect to such aspirations, had that any merit or hope, it would have happened by now. And by the way, how irreconcilable are these differences?

The wedge between you and me needs to be filled by you and me. We have one God, one Prophet (PBUH), and one Holy Book. These are the biggest similarities to have and share. If we can only agree on these, then and only then we can claim to be real Muslims. If we remain divided by bigotry, intolerance and hatred then I am afraid we are doing a major disservice to the martyrs of Karbala each year regardless of what month of the lunar calendar it may be.

The Open Wound

Original Article: Daily Times:
Date Published: November 22, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\11\22\story_22-11-2012_pg3_5

 When I came to the US, and went for the Friday prayers, I use to cringe at a certain prayer that the imams led after the service. It was about God helping the ‘Fidayeen’ of Palestine. I knew those were suicide bombers who went into Israel and caused havoc among the civilians. The people on the pulpit used to misuse the pulpit by only rendering a ‘one-sided account’. At least according to my interpretation, no matter how noble and just the cause may have been, yet it did not justify the act of suicide, which led to innocent civilian casualties. I had a few Arab friends at school and we would go hours and hours in endless debates about the situation in the Middle East, but to no avail. Regretfully, three decades later, we can engage in very similar verbal bouts, but again, regretfully, to no solution.

The recent rise of violence between Israel and Palestinians is a recipe for further disaster. Both sides are extremely sentimental and hawkish, and both are wrong. Yes, I had long conversations with my fellow Arab students, who were perhaps adamant even back then that the Intifada was the way to go. They justified the acts of the Fidayeen much like the passionate Friday sermons here and back home. Those passionate sermons made many of the faithful simmer in rage, but this scribe always advocated the opposite very vehemently, and that was because of one basic rule: “Two wrongs do not make a right.” If the road to everlasting peace rested on the corpses of many, then that road should remain unseen and perhaps untravelled.

The reason why I call this issue an open wound is that this has always been handled with a band-aid by all the stakeholders. No one has been successful to heal the wound completely for the world to become a better place. People in the Muslim world can use this issue at any given moment to stir the emotions of many; they start whipping up the plight of many of their co-religionists for their personal political agendas. Never have one of these ‘faithfuls’ ever proposed a pragmatic solution to the issue, other than annihilating the other side. If denying the Holocaust is an act of valour and perhaps wiping out a country from the face of this world is the ultimate sign of victory, then I am afraid we are on the wrong page and perhaps on the wrong planet.

Our problem is that most of us Muslims see the issue of the Palestine-Israel conflict as a purely religious issue. We often ignore that this is a territorial conflict, which has its own history dating back several years. I know I am no historian, but when the British decided to create this ‘dagger-shaped country, which many of my co-religionists abhor, they had invited multiple Arab tribes to the discussion. But if my feeble and flawed memory serves me right, the Arabs had declined, because there was lack of unity among the many tribes. Can someone please fast forward for us and please tell us what the biggest problem facing the so-called Ummah is? If someone whispered what was missing almost 70 years ago, then I would say, we are on the same page.

People who actively use the Palestinian plight to further their political and religious agendas ought to take a trip to some of the Arab countries to get a first hand education of how most of the affluent Arabs consider their Palestinian brothers. I would refrain from jotting down the term that is used by Arabs for Palestinians as at least to me it is highly offensive.

Where Arabs are at fault for not uniting at the right time and, subsequently, unable to come up with a practical and durable solution, so are the Israelis, who have used brutal force to get their strong hold on the area. The fact of the matter is that the United States has stood behind and, at times, gone and above beyond the normal limits in declaring their solidarity with Israel. Although the current administration has snubbed Israel on a few occasions for the first time ever, but that is just a drop in the bucket, if you will.

One may disagree with the US policy, but one cannot discount the historical Middle East summits that were close enough to seal the deal under the administration of President Clinton. Based on the memoirs of both President Clinton and Secretary Albright, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the late Yasser Arafat backed out of the Camp David Accord. The much-disliked President George W Bush had tried his luck too along with his Saudi friends, but he also met with the usual deadlock.

Therefore the overly charged brethren all over the world have to realise that this issue can only be put on the back burner for some time, but it cannot remain there forever. These are fighting neighbours if you will, who will eventually have to sit at a table for the negotiation of peace in the region. Both sides will have to have talks. Not the Katyusha rockets, stones, Molotov cocktail bombs from one side and heavy artillery from the other. The tribes of Isaac and Ishmael have to live together, peacefully with one another, no matter what. The United States of America has to act like the leader of the free world, bring all the stakeholders to the table again and have them sign on the dotted line. Where President Clinton and Bush may have left an unfinished mission, it is perhaps for President Obama to ensure that it sees the light of day. If there is any legacy that he should leave behind, then this would be that legacy. Are you listening Mr President?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Blessed One

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: Nov 15, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\11\15\story_15-11-2012_pg3_5



Four years ago, when a junior senator from Illinois shocked the entire world by leaving many contenders behind and came to the top, it was unbelievable. Everyone, including this scribe, was sceptical about him really reaching the finish line. Little did his detractors know, despite his supposedly ‘funny’ name, he was the man destined to alter the course of history. Perhaps it was all about his name that made him so determined and, yes, very blessed. When Mr Obama took the oath of office and became the first African-American president, many grownups cried like children. There are certain moments where emotions overpower your entire being, and perhaps it was one of those moments, when Barack Hussein Obama, a son of a Kenyan immigrant, became the 44th president of the United States of America.

Mr Obama’s critics and so-called pundits gave their verdict by labelling him as a single term president. They said he would be unable to accomplish much. Imagine inheriting a financial train wreck if you will; imagine getting a divided nation; imagine a deprived and wounded nation to lead. Yet the man, who was ridiculed as a mere ‘community organiser’ by the former mayor of New York City, decided to organise his nation under the banner of “Hope” and “Change”. One may disagree with him or criticise him for using these clichéd terms but discounting him or his presence is next to impossible.

No, this is not an article about how Mr Obama has proven his detractors wrong yet once again in 2012 by almost scoring a landslide victory against his challenger. It is about the person Barack Obama, mostly unknown and mostly overlooked. Behind the exterior persona of a suave, dashing, and debonair orator is perhaps an insecure, a bit scared, anxious and a bit nervous child, longing for the love of his father that he barely had. One can only get a glimpse into the real Barack Obama by embarking on his personal journey along with him through his books, where he opens the door for you and you get to share his trials, tribulations, challenges, sorrows and moments of joy with him. Both The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father are flawlessly narrated by him on the audio versions, captivating the listeners completely. The former takes the reader or a listener to his world of becoming a community organiser in Illinois and then his race towards becoming a Senator from Illinois, whereas the latter truly touches you with his emotional roller coaster of a partial relationship with his father, which eventually leads him to trace his roots all the way to Kenya.

I must admit I was truly moved by the purity and sincerity of emotions displayed by Mr Obama in his book about his father. You can relate to the teenager Obama waiting to hear from his father and the anguish he must have experienced at a tender age while growing up far away from both of his parents. Losing a father to a car accident in Kenya and a loving mother to a bout with cancer, growing up with grandparents and still be able to grow up as a fine African-American man is quite an achievement.

Mr Obama has the candid ability to entertain his audience by delivering superb impressions of his grandparents, President Bush, his Kenyan relatives and average African-Americans in the audio version of Dreams from My Father. Barack Obama is undoubtedly a highly underrated performer. Had he not taken the route of politics, he could have made it big on TV or perhaps Hollywood.

One is transported to Mr Obama’s world of excitement and adventures with his family and extended family members. There you get to meet his maternal grandfather, a World War veteran, his grandmother “Toots”, the banker, his compassionate mother, his overly charming father, Aunt Zaytuni, Cousin Bernard, his Indonesian stepfather and many other real characters along the way. It is truly a remarkable story, perhaps a script made for a Hollywood blockbuster. One gets to meet Barry who is in search of his own identity in a very black and white world of the 1970s and early 1980s. It is about a young Obama on the basketball court, unsure of his future, his internal turmoil with his split identity, trying hard to fit in truly in both of his black and white worlds.

At the end of the journey with Mr Obama, you tend to realise that one has to be truly blessed to achieve what he has managed to do thus far. Despite the odds, despite the challenges and the monstrous opposition, he has stood firm and determined. Only a man with that kind of desire, will, courage and determination can escalate to become the leader of the free world. Yes, he has actually freed the ‘free world’ of its rotten and old biases too. No wonder, why he is and will be called the blessed one.

The Wrath Of Words

It is time again to roll the tape back for the benefit of many who may have forgotten the events of August 2005. The Gulf Coast here was bracing for a ruthless hurricane called Katrina. That deadly storm was an unprecedented storm that left the levies of New Orleans paralysed. The water submerged the city, reminiscent of floods in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The scenes on television and the print media were devastating and surreal. To witness a strong nation like the US go through such a disaster was incredible, to say the least. The TV talking heads were repeating the phrase ‘mother nature’ way too much in their broadcasts.

The failure of communication and leadership in the state of Louisiana was downright shameful. The confusion, the chaos, the inability of the city, state and federal government left many dead and thousands stranded. The racial undertones to the catastrophe could be hardly ignored. President Bush at the onset of the disaster looked detached and indifferent. No matter what he did subsequently as damage control, it appeared to be fruitless and almost in vain.

Back then, our Pakistani ‘independent’ media was not to be left behind in replaying the miseries of my fellow Americans. Heck, media here was beaming the plight of my fellow citizens and highlighting the folly of our government without fail. There was one exception back home though. The very independent-of-reasoning media had labelled it ‘the wrath of God’. According to their interpretation, it was the answer of the Almighty for the US’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Urdu newspaper columns were littered with rebuke and it was mostly on the line of ‘divine lesson to the evil Umreeka’ (America) theme repeated over and over again.

I was reminded of a Sufi poet’s Punjabi line back then. “Dushman maray tay khuskhi na kariyey, Sajana wee marr jaana” (Do not rejoice on the death of your enemy as your friends are going to perish too). Little did I know that this line would resonate with many of my fellow Pakistani brethren within weeks of Katrina. It was Ramadan in October 2005; I had stopped at a gas station and as soon as my engine started, the CBS radio announced a massive earthquake in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. The sheer magnitude of 7.6 was alarming for a densely populated area. Having lived through a 6.7 earthquake myself, I could relate to the agony of many. The darn shaker comes unannounced and at that moment there is nothing you can do other than bear its swaying brunt. The earth becomes your adversary and the aftershocks tend to play with your jittery nerves for a long, long time.

I had wondered if the theory of the wrath of God was valid, then what was it that the poor 1,400 people on the mountainous plains must have done to invite the fury of the Almighty. The same ‘ugly’, ‘imperial’ and ‘cocky America’ offered a helping hand to Pakistan. Government and private assistance in the form of donations from various US organisations poured in within a few days of the massive destruction. The self-righteous on the idiot boxes and local rags, rather than being grateful for the American generosity and compassion, came up with a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to their unsubstantiated claim, the earthquake was caused by the so-called HAARP technology that the US administered remotely. The quacks spun it and the clueless crowd sucked it up like sponges.
How about the deadly floods of 2010 that left many of my poor Pakistani brethren dislocated and many dead? If the same wrath of God theory was true, then only the Almighty knows what those economically deprived had done to turn penniless and, of course, homeless. Ah yes, even then the HAARP theory was peddled. But I digress.

So when Hurricane Sandy knocked on the Eastern Coast of the US last month, the familiar theme of wrath was repeated on our national TV. Social media had images laced with various captions of ridicule and rebuke. This time around, it was about it being an answer to drones, the YouTube anti-Islam video and, of course, the Afghanistan and Iraq invasion. I am not here to defend all acts of the US, and I certainly have disagreed very vocally on a few of those, but the silly and juvenile captions of my fellow ‘faithful’ are plain distasteful and disgusting.

The 167 lost lives and billions of dollars worth of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy will be a point of discussion for months in the US. Rest assured, the investigation, fact-finding and reasons will be transparent. The measures will be in place to minimise such a loss when the next one strikes. But I sure hope, wish and pray with utmost sincerity that the Punjabi line of the Sufi poet does not get to rebound again for my motherland.

The US is a resilient nation and I have witnessed it with my own eyes. It picks itself up, moves and marches forward. The sheer compassion of people is very uplifting and exhilarating. Perhaps this is the reason why the Almighty has blessed this land so much. Yes, the same Almighty that my fellow Pakistani brethren feel should be punishing ‘all Americans’ for their ‘collective’ transgressions around the globe.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On Elections And Democracy

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: November 01, 2012
Original link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012%5C11%5C01%5Cstory_1-11-2012_pg3_6


The election season is in full swing here. Radio, TV and social media is barraged with campaign ads. As much as some of my fellow brethren will ignore the outcome in their rage, the fact is many eyes are set on who gets to be in the White House. This clarifies what I was referring to in my last week’s ‘gibberish’. As much as we may disagree, the world watches where the US is headed. After all, whoever runs the show here has a significant impact on the entire world, which of course includes Pakistan.

Historically, the Republicans have been very beneficial for Pakistan, or let me rephrase, a certain institution of Pakistan. Their mutual agendas are often aligned and hence, it just happens to be an ideal fit. The Democrats including the incumbent democratic president, who has incidentally made a couple of trips in his student time to Pakistan, are not so keen. Again, that is the geopolitics and its reality for you, with some historical perspective.

The two-party system of the US, whether it is good or bad, is a debate in itself. But I can tell you this much, it discards all the riff raff for the most part. Ideologically, there are only two sides: conservatives or liberals. No wonder, you see a similar trend in the rest of the developed world where the voters have to decide between these two choices for the most part. Come to think of it, we are blessed with our own versions of these two opposite ends, a la the South Asian or better yet the Pakistani version.

There is no dearth of parties in Pakistan and those who dream of establishing a very ultraconservative and idealistic form of government are divided in multiple groups of all shapes and forms. Any single ideological dissent and there is either an expulsion or resignation from the party ranks. Those dejected idealists either find solace in the arms of the competitors or if they have the drive, go on their own and create another ‘jamaat’ (party), ‘tehreek’ (movement). In a country where democratic norms have been ignored and suppressed for decades, at least one thing is for sure: there is this much of democracy in ‘overdrive’ for sure. If and when the average voter sees the ballot paper and perhaps goes through the multiple choices, he or she is bound to get a rush of confusion.

Approximately 30 years ago, when I landed in this land, I was amazed at the way the elections were conducted here. My school was a polling station and there were no banners, no posters, no handbills or any graffiti. Heck it was not even a holiday. People very quietly came, got their ballots and quietly stood in a cubicle, voted and off they went back to their work or home. There were no ink markers on thumbs or fingers, no symbols, no nothing. Before the night turned to day, the late Ronald Reagan was declared victorious; it was announced on television and that was it. There were no rallies, processions, crowds going wild with jubilation, indiscriminate firing in the sky, riots, arson, fires and accusations of rigging. It was all so surreal and every two years we go through this exercise here. I am referring to both the general and the midterm polls of the US.

When I engage our folks about this, I get to hear the usual retort: do not compare the US to Pakistan. The US is over 200 years old and we are a very young and above all, a developing country. I agree on some levels, but rather than waiting for our 200th anniversary to implement some positive changes, can we not just look at things more objectively right now, I often ask. But those blank stares full of rebuke usually follow and one has to just opt for the ever golden silence.

In a country where democracy is still viewed with strange scepticism and considered an alien concept, it is a monumental task for those who promote it. Those who wish to bring an idealistic form of government, based on a revolution and want to change everything from top down, amuse me. Often in their minds, they envision a system of ‘cleansing’. This cleansing is a clever term used for violence and extrajudicial killing. To my dismay, a few of our revered columnists in their passion suggest it as the ideal recipe for our salvation.

Democracy is not a magical wand. It is not the be all and end all. It is not a perfect system. It is a system in constant evolution with certain basic parameters. The reason is plain and simple. It is a system designed for the people and by the people who are in an ever-changing state at all times. It is dynamic and gives the people the ability to adapt according to their environment and its needs. If we look at the developed world and want to emulate their recipes of success, then it is one of the most paramount elements on their menu. People tend to confuse the failures of elected representatives with failures of democracy. That is a fairly amateurish excuse to reject democracy.

Come November 6, I will exercise my right to vote. Yes, it is not going to rid the world of its miseries, but not exercising it at all will leave me perhaps equally miserable.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clearing Some Obvious Confusion

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: October 25, 2012
Original link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012%5C10%5C25%5Cstory_25-10-2012_pg3_4



So when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan in the late 1970s, was it ‘America’s war’? Perhaps not, but we all know why the US had to get involved; and yes, Pakistan was used as a conduit to supply the arms and assistance to the Mujahideen. Then did we show two thumbs to the mighty US and said it was not ‘our war’, please seek another country for your Central and South Asian strategy. One of the distinct possibilities was that the Soviets would have reached our borders too had there been no resistance in Afghanistan. The bigger question is: was Pakistan in a position to tell the mighty US that it was not up for the task?

To some of our ‘boiling youth’ all this may come as a surprise but this is undeniable history. When the late Saddam Hussein moved into Kuwait in the early 1990s, was it America’s war, may I ask again? But our dear friend Saudi Arabia sought the assistance of the Yankees to liberate the neighbouring Kuwait. For that matter, was it Saudi Arabia’s war? Perhaps not. Had Iraq not pushed back, it was going to pose an existential threat to our ‘brotherly nation’. On the surface, Pakistan remained neutral but it opted to provide humanitarian assistance to Kuwait in that conflict.

The world and its geo-politics is always in an ever-changing state, but some facts remain constant. Even my second grader knows that he is not supposed to pick a fight with someone twice his strength. This is called common sense. The basic instinct of survival kicks in. The Mujahideen of yesterday were miffed for a whole sleuth of reasons with their previous benefactors. Hence, the shift in their policy towards their benefactors of yesterday created another conflict now widely known as 9/11.

Let me remind our zestful and ultra-patriotic youth that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only countries that recognised the regime of the former Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Therefore, before they get all excited about why we jumped into America’s war, I would urge them to get a few lessons in regional history and politics. But I am afraid this is the crowd who is fed that 9/11 was all planned to get to the riches and minerals of Afghanistan. Hmm...if conspiracy theories could sell on astock exchange, every single Pakistani would have been a billionaire.

Thus, when the US decided to take action against its former allies and present foes in Afghanistan, it knew the significance of our country. When it sent a clear and unambiguous signal to us, what was expected of our patriotic crowd? People who tend to mislead often disregard the intimate involvement of Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. For the sake of respect, I will not expand on this particular aspect, as it will offend a lot of them. Hence, when the infamous call of Mr Armitage came to Pakistan, what other choice did Mr Musharraf have? I guess he felt just like my second grader and decided to opt for survival.

Then our newly found political idol and his overly high on patriotic fervour followers have the audacity to call it America’s war. They make it sound like we should have opted for the conflict with the mighty US. No matter how high you may be on an ideal or a chemical substance, there is something called the ground reality. Slogans are good; one-liners and zingers make you feel great, but at the end of the day it is the same mirror you end up facing. Again, we were hand and fist involved in the affairs of our neighbouring country; how were we supposed to play dumb to the US? Can someone please enlighten all of us?

Hence, when the charged leader often misleads by stating that once the US leaves Afghanistan, the terrorism that engulfs Pakistan will evaporate, one has to dismiss that completely as untrue and here are the reasons. The US will exit from Afghanistan in 2014 but it will not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s. It will remain committed to the region. Whatever that means still remains to be seen, but Pakistan will not be taking a U-turn on its policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan either.

The menace of terrorism plaguing Pakistan will not go away with the US pullout from Afghanistan. It is quite naïve and simplistic of our former cricket champion to derive this wishful conclusion. The border between the two countries is quite porous and culturally both are quite intertwined. Therefore as a country Pakistan has to make some significant decisions regarding its future. If we continue to obfuscate and remain indifferent towards the deteriorating condition, then I am afraid that Pakistan we know as of today will be extinct.

Lastly, it is equally childish of that leader to propose that he will be able to communicate with the tribals of Pakistan. According to him, he is familiar with their culture and mindset. I will respectfully beg to differ with him on this one. If he has such a pull with the tribals, then why is he not pleading to them to hand over the culprits to our law enforcement agencies right now? If wishes could be traded on a stock exchange, we would definitely not look towards the US for the much needed economic aid. Say what you like, but things in real life are not so black and white. Ask my second grader and he will give you a few examples in a minute.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Triumphant Loser Part 2

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: October 18, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\10\18\story_18-10-2012_pg3_4

If you have been to a school, (which I am certain most people reading my gibberish have), you can recall your childhood squabbles with your classmates. When the fallout of the Kargil misadventure hit the nation, the Prime Minister (PM) at that time and his Chief of Army Staff (COAS), reminded us of two quarreling schoolchildren. A war of words followed and the usual blame game began. Of course, you and I were not in the power quarters of Islamabad, so we just have to rely on the reported ‘he said and again, what he said’.

A simple deductive reasoning begs us to dissect this so-called conflict between the two. The PM insisted that he was kept in the dark about the military operation in Kargil, feigning complete ignorance. The COAS rebutted by stating that matters of national security were discussed with the PM as per protocol. Hence, I repeat again, it was he said and again what he said. Who knows what was discussed behind closed doors, but it sure seems like it was a major embarrassment. Yes, deductive reasoning would lead us to believe that a civilian PM is the boss and a COAS is answerable to his civilian boss. There is a caveat to this: under normal circumstances in any other country that is the standard operating procedure. Those who think that Pakistan is any ordinary country ought to think again.

The macho PM was perhaps trying too hard to grow too fast for his boots, and that too, in a special country like Pakistan. I think I read somewhere that the former PM’s late father warned him about the ‘untrustworthy’ general. The general had paid a visit to the PM at his Jatti Umra ‘palace’ and the late Mian Sharif with his decades of experience may have read something in the general’s eyes that made him uncomfortable. The macho PM perhaps decided to give heed to the sage advice of his late father, but the way he went abount it was, to say the least, very unprofessional.

Indeed, it was within the constitutional powers of the PM to replace the general, but why did he wait for him to leave for Sri Lanka? Rumour has it that he had to summon the stars and medals that go on the chest of the chief from a supply store of Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi. But had the PM dealt with this in a more professional manner, perhaps Pakistan could have been saved from another so-called bloodless coup. When I touched on this subject previously, at a different venue, I was told by one of my readers that General Butt was from a different division of the army and the top brass would have objected to his appointment. I sighed and said at that point that it is all about the top brass, isn’t it?

So from there on the macho PM just kept on repeating the comedy of errors, but I have a different take on the entire episode. As wrong and as unconstitutional as the outcome was, perhaps it was meant to be. It was perhaps divine intervention to show the PM that history could repeat itself. The PM, who was the product of another general, was deposed by none other than a general. In Urdu there is a line that goes like this: Dekho mujhey jo deeda-e-ibrat nigah ho (Pardon me for my poor translation: Look at me should you need to seek any lesson).

Supposedly, a general on a commercial flight from Colombo to Karachi was not granted permission to land in Karachi. He went into action ‘in the air’ and the PM’s government was folded up within an hour and a half. If you buy the story that it was all done hovering over Karachi, then I have to sell you the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and the magnificent Taj Mahal, all three for the price of one dollar. Frenzy was created about the ‘hijack’. This was the first hijack in the history of all hijacks where there were no hijackers on board and had no demands. But again time to pinch myself, I am dealing with a special country called Pakistan.

From there on a triumphant ‘chief executive’ was sworn in by a rather very familiar figure. In a typical Mughal style, the deposed PM was thrown into the dungeons of the Attock Jail. We were told it was not a martial law. Thus, the moderately enlightened general started his journey by inventing the title of chief executive of the most profitable venture for a certain institution. Maybe he should have also renamed the place as Pakistan, Inc. The former PM was sentenced by rather familiar faces and sent to zindaan (dark prison), in a typically Mughal king’s fashion.

I remember seeing the former general justifying his act on TV: “How dare you remove a chief of the armed forces? Mind you, he is not a peon. It is not a joke.” Sure Sir, only in Pakistan this joke is possible where a loser (in the literal sense of losing a war and putting many in harm’s way on a flawed strategy) can turn around and become the king. It is one of those jokes that can only make you cry. Yes, I had tears in my eyes when I saw clueless people dancing on the streets of Lahore chanting, “Saddee fauj ayee pyari” (Here comes our beloved army) on the ‘triumphant return’. As clueless as the PM was, he was the leader chosen by the people. But legend has it, might often is right and tends to exert its right. Laugh or cry, it is your choice. After all, we are no ordinary people, are we? 

(Concluded)



The Triumphant Loser Part 1


Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: October 11, 2012

Memories may have faded but this scribe clearly remembers it like yesterday. I think I have used this opening sentence in the past, but cannot think of another one as apt as this one to jog some rusty memories. The summer of 1999 was an extra hot one back home. The news and buzz was sizzling that some ‘changes’ were about to occur on the political scene. The late Pir Pagara took out his crystal ball and made the usually chirpy prediction about martial law on the horizon. Most people including this scribe dismissed the late Pir Sahib as being in one of his typically light and jovial moods. Behind the scenes, perhaps the groundwork had begun. In the mysterious town called Islamabad, things were turning. Most of the public was oblivious to what was really ahead of them.

Some of us may have conveniently forgotten but there was a war-like theatre opened at the heights of a rather unknown place called Kargil. Many gifted analysts and war strategists have written about that fiasco. I am a civilian, devoid of any military training or any know how of military strategy. The closest I can get to battle strategy is ‘Business Strategy’, which interestingly finds its roots in books on war strategy. Therefore, I am not going to bore the readers with inordinate details that will fly over their heads. The usually detailed and painstaking analysis that has so much jargon that an average person scratches his head, simply remaining confused and too embarrassed to admit it.

Here is the very simplified scenario in my signature style (if there is any such thing at all). Look back at 1965 when we launched ‘Operation Gibraltar’ with overly optimistic bets. What transpired from there is common knowledge. We celebrate every 6th of September as our Defence Day, but we very conveniently ignore the fact that we initiated that conflict with the hope of getting to Kashmir. The neighbour, like any other country, responded when it found infiltration into its territory. Kargil, which is now dubbed as a ‘misadventure’, was perhaps a sequel to that aforementioned operation. The goal was perhaps still the same:: to get to the disputed territory of Kashmir. Life permitting, one of these days I will touch on Kashmir as well, and both of my Indian and Pakistani readers (if any) will be equally surprised.

But going back to the subject at hand, in simple words, the Indians vacated a post at the heights of Kargil. Our soldiers decided to infiltrate and gained control of the post. The idea was perhaps that when we were in a position of advantage we could inflict maximum harm to the returning Indian soldiers, and perhaps from there make advances into the Kashmir Valley, which was again an overly optimistic plan in this simplistic strategist’s utterly unprofessional opinion. It perhaps discounted two very distinct possibilities. One, if the returning Indian soldiers outnumbered, let us say four to one, our occupying soldiers were going to be at the maximum disadvantage, because at the heights they were going to be paralyzed. The back up at those spots becomes next to impossible. Secondly, the grand plan of advance into enemy territory without being undetected was highly farfetched. Hence, how it ended is again common knowledge. 

Ordinarily, anyone behind this miserable debacle would have been court martialled, or to say the least would have been relieved of his duties with some sort of reprimand. But it was not meant to be. In our land, some men are not ordinary at all. Some are above from the rest, way above. They know how to change the narrative in their favour. No matter what. I think, in one of my previous write-ups, I had expressed my awe and gratitude for men who move in unison on one single order of their superiors. They embrace death with fervour as a call of duty. I will salute them until my last breath as their valour and dedication is unquestionable. Nevertheless, I often wonder about those who send them in harm’s way, knowing that the odds are so humongous that it will require divine intervention to overturn the inevitable. If my memory serves me right, close to 500 soldiers became the victims of this flawed strategy. But all they got was some minor recognition, a meagre pension perhaps to their loved ones and the eternal abode of six feet under.

The architects of this grand plan of death, of course, dubbed it a misadventure and called it a day. I wondered back then and will continue to question the strategy of advance to Kashmir. I will repeat I do not know much about military strategy, but as an ordinary person, I will question this much. Looking back at that particular year, was it wise to make that move when our neighbour had demonstrated its nuclear prowess? God forbid, if it would have escalated into a full-scale war, and that either side had exercised the dreaded nuclear option, what would have been left of this part of the world? However, this question or possibility was perhaps not in the contingency plan of the grand architects. Perhaps not. Perhaps until the powers from Washington gave the right signals and perhaps when the casualties of jawans (soldiers) and the inevitable retreat became clear as day.

(To be continued)

The Return To Jahiliya

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: October 04, 2012
Original Link: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\10\04\story_4-10-2012_pg3_4

On a rare occasion, both my presidents came under the same roof in New York last week. I am referring to the UN General Assembly, where both President Obama and President Zardari spoke their minds. President Obama reiterated the American stance of free speech being the bedrock of our constitution. However, in the same vein, he clarified the American position about hurtful or blasphemous religious material, and most importantly, about the trailer of the shoddy anti-Muslim film on YouTube with strongest condemnation. He is absolutely right that it is offensive to not only all the Muslims around the world but many millions of American Muslims too. Yet America is unable to ban any such material. With that, President Obama condemned the meaningless violence around the globe, which engulfed a lot of Muslim countries. He mentioned Libya in particular, where a US ambassador along with a few others became the victims of an extremely wild mob.

Luckily, most of the western nations did not witness violent protests that followed around the Middle East and South Asia. The tragic and highly illogical reaction on Muslim streets speaks volumes about our immaturity. I was very disgusted by an image of a child holding a placard in front of the US Embassy, perhaps in Sydney, which read, “Behead all of those who insult our Prophet (PBUH).” There was another image of perhaps a 4-year-old boy with an automatic assault rifle questioning, “Who insulted my Prophet (PBUH?” that was retweeted on Twitter.

I was reminded of the year 1989. When a not so widely acclaimed writer by the name of Salman Rushdie shot to fame by writing a novel called The Satanic Verses. It was considered blasphemous and insulted our Holy Prophet (PBUH), who was depicted in a derogatory fictional character. There were riots back then as well. The killings and mayhem made headlines. The decree of death was awarded to Rushdie by the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. I was younger and a new entrant in the banking industry here. My coworkers questioned the behaviour of my co-religionists. I remember going through that book to respond to their queries. They were dismissing it all as fiction and I debated their limited knowledge about the events that brought Islam to the world of ‘Jahiliya’, what is now known as the present day Saudi Arabia. Had I not gone through that book (with utmost disdain and disgust), I would have sounded like a clueless, overly emotional and ultra-naïve Muslim. At times, the exchanges were a bit tense but highly civil.

I shared with my colleagues the story of the triumph of Mecca and the Prophet’s (PBUH) reaction towards his worst adversaries — the real ‘infidels’ — and they were shocked. It was amazing how little they knew about my faith and the inordinate amount of misconceptions surrounding their knowledge. An act of some bizarre novelist could turn into an opportunity for a meaningful dialogue about my faith I was unprepared for that challenge. My point here is that every adversity brings an opportunity to benefit from. Regretfully, we as Muslims take every such event as a threat to Islam, which in my humblest opinion is our biggest weakness. We as a whole have lost the essence of our belief. If we believe that the Prophet (PBUH) was sent as a mercy to mankind, then we have to follow his path. Did he kill, behead, threaten or abuse his abusers and worst of the worst, the blasphemers? I am often reminded of the ultimate scorn hurled at the Holy Prophet (PBUH), that his name would dwindle as he had no male child to carry his name and his word. I am an ultra-sinful person and do not know much about even a single verse, but I do know this much from Chapter 108, Al Kauthar, where in three simple yet extremely powerful verses, the Prophet (PBUH) was given the glad tiding by the Almighty. This is my belief that without a doubt, no matter what happens, what anyone says, the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) will be around until the end of time.

Regretfully, to this day, people in the US and around the world are ignorant about our faith. They get to witness our absurdities and tend to exploit them. We get miffed and blame a certain quarter for their malicious attempts to malign our faith. I beg to differ with that defeatist mentality. There is nothing in the world that stops us from demonstrating as individuals that we respond to offence with patience and perseverance, to an abuse, an insult, an allegation, scorn, with logic and reasoning. The honour of the Prophet (PBUH) is not in the hands of mere mortal human beings. He was awarded the highest places of paradise by the Almighty. His honour cannot and will never diminish because it resides at the ultimate heights. No Uzi, machine gun, AK-47 or any form of explosives are needed to defend it. Islam is supposed to solidify our faith in the Almighty and his Messenger (PBUH). To kill others to prove our point would in my humblest and perhaps flawed opinion, be a return to Jahiliya.

The 65 Year Old Infant Part 7

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: September 27, 2012
Original link:  http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012\09\27\story_27-9-2012_pg3_3 





The irony cannot get any greater than this. Trying to establish a system of ‘justice’ by suggesting ‘injustice’ to some, and that too all in the name of a revolution. Kill a few to create a better society. Ignore the basis of law and order by enforcing ‘vigilante justice’ and hope that when your lust for blood is over, the society takes a 180-degree turn out of admiration for your ‘justice doctrine’. There are many who peddle this garbage and it is extremely ironic that perhaps a significant majority believes in this.

When you ask about the ones who will be impacted by such speedy justice and their loved ones, you get the typical childish response: “They deserved it.” From that point onwards, a utopian world is envisioned where everyone would have respect for the law. It reminds me of a jungle, I often say. But the eyebrows are raised and the usual stares follow when I say that human civilisation has evolved and the ‘jungle law’ will backfire too. The stares get uglier. You cannot have a ‘totally clean slate’, where you start anew and make people compliant with whatever ‘norms’ you perceive as ‘right and just’. Societies that justify violence fail to create an appropriate order, no matter what.

A nation so full of rage, incensed and inflamed by any and everything, is truly lost in some wilderness. One can easily deduce that anger and negative energy is pretty much the prevailing commodity in our land of the pure. It can be easily mobilised and geared towards whatever direction is the need of the moment. We are ready, willing and able like robots to charge and discharge that negative energy. Death and destruction is our ultimate goal.

Incidentally, this week, I was going to propose a solution related to the negativity of our nation. Before I could even jot anything down, Friday, September 21, 2012 happened. It was a day full of rage, mayhem, chaos and destruction, sadly very much reflective of our nation’s future. The readers may assume that as a scribe, I have lost my marbles, but I am only reading the handwriting on the wall. It pains me immensely to see and say that we are slipping down the cliff rather rapidly.

Following my thought process of the last few weeks, I had a solution to propose, but with due respect to the readers, I will refrain. Many would laugh at me, a few would be disappointed and I am sure a lot would be relieved as they would not have to see their ugly souls in the mirror. The death and destruction caused on Friday, all in the name of the holiest of the Holy Prophets, Mohammad (PBUH), should give anyone with an ounce of shame left in his body, many shudders. But sadly people are unaffected. Looting, rioting, arson and killing were glorified as an act of rage towards those who insulted our Prophet (PBUH). Need I say more than what a bunch of infants we are?

No amount of anger management therapy can fix our terminal illness. It has seeped into our DNA. The lost generation is glorifying violence and displaying their weaponry as a show of the strength of their faith. One has to be on a different planet to rationalise and justify any form of violence. This is a clear indication we are headed towards a point of no return. So disgusted and ashamed I am that, honestly, I do not have adequate words to display my true feelings.

I ask the learned revolutionaries and the enlightened how do you plan to make a model society based on the goodness of our faith, when people are heavily armed, highly dangerous and utterly illogical? When we are hell bent on the path of self-destruction, how do you invoke any sense in the rowdy and the insane? How do you calm the boiling rage of years of failure? I will repeat: a nation fed on fairytales and imaginary lullabies is bound to fail. We are on the incline and headed towards our ultimate destination of oblivion.

That ‘day of rage’ has truly enraged this scribe from within. I felt that our ideology was on a life alert. Let me correct myself: we as a nation are on a life alert, dead from within, on a high of a lethal superiority complex of the unseen world commonly termed as the hereafter. I said it once before, I will repeat it again. The test of the hereafter begins with this world and the life and legacy we leave behind right here. I would like to ask the people on the throne of the mighty capital what they were thinking. Has any protest related to faith ever been peaceful in our land in the past?

Let me leave those on that throne with a few parting thoughts. Next time around, when you face a situation like this, ask this nation to pray on that day. Fast like your Prophet (PBUH) did. Feed a hungry person. Pay some extra charity. Smile at your fellow neighbour and offer them something to eat. Load some naats on YouTube. Send some Durood and salam to the Holy Messenger (PBUH). Donate a book about him to libraries around the world. Teach our children his virtues of kindness, patience and steadfastness. But maybe it’s all my fault. I am expecting ‘infants’ to act like grownups, which I believe is my utter stupidity, to begin with. We do not need any solutions. We need miracles and I am afraid, I do not have the power to offer some.

(Concluded)