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Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Not So Juicy Details

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: February 23, 2012

The year was 1974. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as the prime minister of Pakistan, succumbed to a resolution passed in the National Assembly to declare a minority sect of Muslims known as Ahmedis 'non-Muslims'. In my repeatedly humble and perhaps an utterly flawed opinion, the state never has and never will have the right to be the arbitrator and the sole judge of people's faith. That is not in a state's constitutional purview. The state is solely responsible for introducing and applying legislation that respects and provides equal protection to its citizen, regardless of their faith.

To squarely blame this on ZAB is at least downright dishonest. There was a campaign from the Right, which was very vociferous and created a lot of ripples. In one of his major political blunders, Mr Bhutto thought that by appeasing the mullahs, he would be able to calm the otherwise rhetorical pulpits. Little did he know that three years down the road, the same mullahs would be baying for his blood in a totally different movement. From Tehreek-e-Khatme Nabuwwat to Tehreek-e-Nizam-e-Mustafa, it was a full circle. Unfortunately, a circle of a rope, a noose if you will, that took him away in the wee hours of an April morning. Looking back at both of these movements, they both had a very narrow and specific malicious agenda.

Many believe and attribute ZAB's untimely demise or shall we say execution to this move. You ask some people of the Ahmediyya community and you get the response in the affirmative. To them it was justice from the Divine. For the record, I am a Sunni Muslim, I do not agree with this narrative. There were many other elements behind ZAB's judicial murder. It was just a matter of fate. By the same token, I certainly do not subscribe to the notion that all other sects or faiths are inferior to mine. This fatal self-righteousness is the root of the rotting ills of our otherwise progressive Pakistan.

Certainly no one has the right to alienate any member of society based on their faith. When people contribute to the collective welfare of society, they come together as equal citizens. At that point, when the state collects revenue from them in the form of sales, general, excise or any other tax, it does not discriminate based on faith. So when it comes to the responsibility of the state to provide equal protection to its citizens, it cannot apply any discriminatory standards. No ifs and buts about it.

To those who think that it is a liberal rant and fashionable to talk about Ahmedi persecution, I humbly disagree. It is purely from a human perspective. Today the Ahmedis are in a minority, but if miraculously they multiply and become a majority, then what? If this particular sect were to get even with the present day's majority to settle their scores — perhaps a stretch of imagination but an illustration of how wrong the perspective is. It is not the state's prerogative to determine who will be the messiah for the people. I may disagree with my Ahmedi, Sikh, Hindu or Christian brethren, but I am certainly not the one who adjudicates their ultimate salvation. The reason is plain and simple. I for one have no clue about mine to begin with. When my Prophet (PBUH) stood endlessly at night, begging his God for salvation, while being guaranteed with glad tidings of paradise, then who the heck am I?

When the emotionally charged of the land decided to initiate a boycott of an Ahmediyya-owned product, I was reminded of 1974 again. These boycotts were introduced back then as well. Fast forward almost 38 years and the product is still in immense demand, purely because a product has no faith. It is in a market full of consumers, consumers who belong to every segment of the market. Bless his heart, late Gandhi ji introduced the boycotts of products in our lexicon. In all honesty, the British deserted India for a litany of reasons. The boycott of salt and fibre were perhaps not even on that list. No offense to my Indian readers (amazingly I do get e-mails from our southern friends), I consider Bapu a true leader. Had there been no Gandhi ji, no Jinnah sahib joining the Indian National Congress and no split. With all due respects to my Indian brethren, I may have a totally different perspective on Pandit Nehru.

Getting back to the issue at hand, if this still leaves some doubts about the sheer futility of such actions, please revisit our history. The boycott of Coca Cola (popularly known as Coke), being a Jewish drink, was a total failure. Coke is one of the most popular soft drink not only in Pakistan but around the globe. In more recent days, our emotionally charged boycotted Facebook for a few days. I remember reading the pledges of people to never ever use Facebook again. I see them back on Facebook and just smile at the sheer stupidity.

Just for some fact check, we are entertained 24/7 by Indian Hindus and Muslims. We consume all kinds of cheap consumer goods made by the Communist Chinese. The technology through which we are able to communicate is attributed to American Christians and Jews. The list is way too long. The bigger question to ask is: do we question the religion of those people? Perhaps not and this in itself is a testimony of the hollow argument being presented here.

Pakistan is a plural society. It belongs to a Shia of Parachinar as much as to a Hindu of Mirpur Khas, an Ahmedi of Rabwah or a Christian of Karachi. Everyone has a stake in it, everyone should get a fair share. All of us collectively make the fabric of this nation. People like me across the globe in every continent of the world have their roots firmly in the land. Enough of this religious superiority complex of some of our overzealous crowd. If there is an ounce of shame left in any of those souls, they would come back to their senses.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Deafening Noise of The Empty Cans

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: February 16, 2012

The Prophet (PBUH) provided the following distinct traits of a hypocrite: "When entrusted with something, he betrays the trust; when he speaks, he lies; when he promises, he breaks the promise; and when he argues, he behaves in a very imprudent and insulting manner." If you still have doubts about the hypocrisy of our nation, just revisit these signs. It sure makes you feel almost strip naked in front of the mirror.

When it comes to Islam and its purity, we think that screaming off at the top of our lungs will make us convey our message properly. Whether we understand the essence and its real beauty or not, our faith is always on our sleeves. We are trying to convince this entire world in futility that we are right and we mean well. But truly speaking, we are so detached from the real teachings of our much revered Prophet (PBUH) that it is beyond saddening.

Just imagine, a person who was termed as 'Rehmatul-lil-Alameen' (Blessing for the entire Mankind), has followers who have become nothing but a joke and major ridicule of this world. We just celebrated Eid Milad-un-Nabi (PBUH), which signifies the day of his blessed birth. We had processions, lectures, speeches, religious hymns, lights and TV transmissions dedicated to this auspicious occasion. Yet in my humble opinion, it was nothing but a bunch of noise from empty cans.

Each year we celebrate Eid Milad-un-Nabi (PBUH) and try to demonstrate our devotion and love for our dear Prophet (PBUH) through these means. Undoubtedly, its sheer reverence makes you go into total awe. The hymns often move you so emotionally. Often I find myself welling up or breaking down in tears. The shame of being extremely sinful often overcomes my entire soul. The fact that I believe in the message of such an exemplary person amazes my entire existence.

Yet when I see myself and my brethren going a total 180-degree turn on what our beloved Prophet (PBUH) has taught us, it just baffles me. Today, people look at us as some strange creatures, totally detached and alienated from the values and morals that made us who we are. What has really overtaken us? Where did we miss the boat? In my very humble and flawed opinion, the day we embraced hypocrisy. The day we thought that our religion is merely a ritual.

We pray five times a day without even understanding the meaning of that requirement. To us it has become more of a matter of display. People can certify that we are seen praying five times a day in a mosque. Whether we are rude, obnoxious or untrustworthy, it all pretty much is of no significance. Whether we slander others, rip other people's character to shreds, no issues, so long as we get the seal from others as 'punj waqta namaazi' (a person who regularly prays five times a day).

Getting back to Eid Milad-un-Nabi (PBUH), there were many transmissions on TV. On great insistence of the better half, I sat for about an hour in front of the otherwise idiot of a box. Our famous 'televangelist' was on air — the same guy who was caught mouthing obscenities once he was off the camera, the same guy who dismissed his obvious hypocrisy as a 'conspiracy' by his former employers — giving people lectures and sermons about the character of our beloved Prophet (PBUH). It all just hit me like a dagger in the heart.

There were callers who called him, there were SMS messages being played on the screen and it all appeared like a show. The unstoppable rhetoric if you will. How shameful of a person who uses third rate abuse off camera: rather than being repentant and asking for forgiveness from the viewers, he was the one preaching to them. I was reminded of the Prophet's (PBUH) saying about hypocrites. You look at the media, print or electronic, and you will find those a dime a dozen in our gifted land. Their shows are on at all times. There is no dearth of preachers in our promised land. None whatsoever. If there is any dearth, it is of people who truly understand and embody the real message of our beloved Prophet (PBUH)

To add insult to injury, there were certain channels that were running these Eid Milad-un-Nabi (PBUH) specials very shamelessly. Yet they owed several months of pay to their workers. Again, I was reminded of the saying of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) about paying your employees their dues even prior to their sweat drying up. But I guess that is all unimportant. We have figured out our means of salvation. To us we are the chosen, we are the followers of the best Messenger (PBUH). We are banking on this assumption regardless of what we do to our fellow human beings. We have quantified the number of good deeds we will receive upon the recitation of the Holy Quran, hamd or naat, yet unable to quantify how many ditches in hell we are digging for ourselves by harming others. But of course, what can one expect from a bunch of empty cans. That would be utter wishful thinking.
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Friday, February 10, 2012

The two of a ‘missing’ kind

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: February 10, 2012

Although former President Pervez Musharraf and our newfound urban legend, Mansoor Ijaz, have nothing in common, yet they both share something very special. Both of them have graced the venue of Dubai with their prolonged or brief presence and both have reneged on their promises to come to Pakistan on certain and very particular dates.

Mr Musharraf at his infamous ‘jalsi’ (a very small gathering) held in Karachi in early January 2012 had vowed to return to Karachi in the last week of that month. May God bless Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the sufi saint who is revered for guarding the port city from any ill weather. Personally, I respect the saint a lot and have visited his shrine a few times in Clifton, but I think it is Almighty Allah who has been merciful and kind to the Karachiites. So January came and went, and there was no ‘seismic’ activity from the former commando.

If the newspapers were to be believed (I guess we have no other choice), his party workers (if there are still any left in that bruised, battered and wounded party), advised him to delay his triumphant return. I was picturing him landing in Karachi with his new uniform (white sherwani) with bold letters reading: ‘Mission Not Accomplished’ — of course getting inspiration from his former friend, an equally challenged, George W Bush. But as they say, there is a God up there and He wanted the Karachiites to enjoy the first month of the year without the ‘Hero of Kargil’.

The same newspapers also indicated that a very important personality from his former institution flew to Dubai to convince him to scrap his plans of return. What a ‘danaa dost’ (sage well-wisher) he was. So now who knows that our dear friend, Musharraf, will stick to his original plans of returning in March 2012 or not. If I were his travel agent, I would not count on that potential itinerary either.

The incumbents share some blame too. The beloved prime minister issued some statements that may have scared our otherwise daring general. The friend who flew to Dubai must have reiterated to him that the Zardari-led government means business. A plethora of cases and a lot of disgruntled and bloodthirsty people are eager to embrace him. An astute khaki as he is, he knows that ‘survival’ is the name of the game.

This brings us to someone who is relatively similar to him, in terms of being a no show. If your guess is the newly found darling of the media called Mansoor Ijaz, then you are absolutely correct. Mr Ijaz sparked a major controversy by accusing the former Ambassador to the US, Mr Husain Haqqani, of drafting a memo to the US government, in essence asking assistance from the US to intervene should the military in Pakistan decide to overthrow the elected government, post-OBL raid in Abbottabad.

Of course it was a mega bombshell and the print and electronic media just went haywire and overboard with this whole episode. Mr Ijaz lit up the screens of various TV channels of Pakistan. His stance was to carry the truth to the world. In that pursuit, he decided to appear in front of the Pakistan Supreme Court probing this sorry case, yet demonstrated his reservations of presenting himself to the Parliamentary Committee investigating the same matter.

On his way to Pakistan, he reached Dubai as well — much like Mr Musharraf — and decided to call it off. His reservations were predominantly based on security reasons. Many talented and senior analysts have opined on the real reasons why Mr Ijaz decided to shelve his plans. Perhaps it was the civil-military truce, as they have indicated, which made Mr Ijaz’s presence of zero significance. However, this entire episode exposed many people and their true colours.

Mr Ijaz’s many fans in Pakistan accused the government of intimidation and threats against their newly found champion of truth and justice. A few months back, this scribe wrote in this space that the absolute truth always resides somewhere in the middle. Regretfully, in our case, we take positions solely based on our emotions. A couple of pointers for our emotionally charged crowd: Mr Ijaz being a US citizen could not be placed on the exit control list (ECL). Very simple reason, he was not guilty of committing any crime on Pakistani soil. Secondly, he was assured by the same government about his security. If the government would have reneged on it, it would have weakened its position in front of the general public.

If anything, this whole episode has exposed the knee-jerk and very reactionary handling of this non-issue. In any other part of the world, the judiciary would have excused itself from a purely political issue or it would have dismissed the petition, based on the petitioner’s longstanding bias against the respondent. Above all, the judiciary would have excused itself from the matter as the petitioner launched a Long March in its favour, which eventually resulted in its restoration. This of course constitutes what is termed as ‘conflict of interest’.

When the dust will settle, both of these missing heroes may emerge. Of course the spin machine will go into action, defending their delayed return. So far, I have not witnessed a wide-scale protest of the people seeking their immediate arrival to Pakistan. If I were a gambler (thank God I am not), I would not bet my money on either of these gentlemen landing in Pakistan in the near future.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The "Mourning" Shows

Original Article: Daily Times
Date: Feb 02, 2012
Talk to the general public in Pakistan, or engage them in any reasonable discussion on a public forum, and you hear a patent gripe. We are headed towards doom because of the US. No doubt that the US and Pakistan both share a rather testy relationship since the 50s but it is based on ‘mutual benefit’. As much as we lambaste the American values, we are nevertheless embracing them whether on purpose or inadvertently.

Take capitalism for example. Pakistan is a far more capitalistic society, very cognizant of the value of ‘money’ — very hip and brand conscious. I remember when VCRs were introduced in Pakistan back in the mid-70s, a certain brand was the only VCR considered as the real VCR. The rest of the brands were not given much credence. Marketing and advertising galore engulfs the land of the pure with daily bombardments, simply because a thriving market exists.

With the advent of ‘private TV channels’, we have seen a flurry of shows and their respective sponsors. People are transforming into materialistic junkies. As much as they abhor Americanism on the surface, inwardly they are attracted and drawn to flashy consumer items. God bless Abraham Maslow, who left the hierarchy of needs for the marketers to exploit to the core. So with channels sprouting like wildfire, the content has to take a backseat and jingles and spots rule the screen.

If you look very closely, a majority of these channels follow American television’s format. My readers who have read my scribbles here and there or follow or interact with me on Twitter very clearly know my position on TV. I abstain from this mode of infotainment for certain reasons. To me it is a major waste of time, as one can get the news from various other methods and the entertainment provided by this conduit is mostly not worthy of my time.

When I provide alternatives to my friends and relatives back home, such as gardening, reading books, writing, praying, walking or exercising, they laugh. They ridicule me because, according to them, TV is the cheapest entertainment and what else can a common person do in Pakistan? People are afraid to walk outside or congregate due to security issues. I smile and retort, yet they go to work to make a living, do they not? Agreed that poor homemakers, the unemployed, elderly or sick, who have no other option, can be exempted from this ordeal. They are perfect victims who let their brains melt away in front of the idiot box early in the morning.

Daytime TV (for me ‘anytime TV’) here in the US is equally silly. As said earlier, Pakistan is following the footprint of American TV to the tee. The morning shows, which I would consider ‘mourning’ shows, have loudmouth, hyperventilating and occasionally rude female anchors, who are trying to ‘fix’ the otherwise sorry lives of their sisters. They opine on almost everything from marriage to sports, to cooking to you name it. The desi Oprahs if you will.

One such daring TV diva took it upon herself to go to a Karachi park in the morning for a moral witch-hunt. Of course a storm ensued, as she was trying to invade the privacy of two consenting individuals. There was no lewd conduct in progress, so both individuals had the right to their individual privacy. The anchor in the goodness of her heart was trying to highlight the ‘decay’ of our values where a boy and a girl were openly meeting with one another in a public park. One of my friends commented that had this incident been captured on tape in any western country, there would be a major lawsuit about invasion of privacy. I tend to agree with that.

Our dilemma is that we try to poke our nose in everyone’s business whether it is on this level or on a much broader national level. One has to ask the dear anchor, how do you expect a boy and girl to consent for marriage without at least talking to one another? This scribe does not endorse the ‘dating culture’, but certainly believes in the rights that our religion has provided to an adult man and a woman.

Nevertheless, the Twitterati went into action. My Twitter time line lit up with condemnation tweets. Petitions, SMS’es and BBMs were floated against the anchor and the TV channel. Most of my friends were extremely vocal and used the harshest words against the moral policing of the anchor. Some very gifted and very senior scribes wrote very moving and convincing columns echoing the same sentiments. The TV anchor gave a rather brief apology. The channel also made some comments to that effect.

The outrage was well founded and in my humble opinion a bit overdone. My rationale is very simple. A lot of my Pakistani friends are caught up in this warped mentality that they have no other choice but to get themselves glued to the box, I mean the idiot box. Very humbly, the idiot box is not what is paying for all of this. It is the mobile phone companies, ‘unfair and ugly’ cream manufacturers, soft drink makers, clothiers, bankers, etc, that are bankrolling these channels and programmes.

Please remember the remote control is in your hands. The choice and power is within your fingertips. You can send a very strong signal within days. TV channels cannot survive without advertising revenue. The companies that advertise do not blow their money on spots for nothing. As consumers, you have the right to exercise your choice. Do not succumb to temptation. These channels will disappear in no time, only if you decide to do so. Never feel gullible or vulnerable. The power resides in you. Try to use it wisely. Soon these self-proclaimed divas will be seen tasting their own medicine, getting their daily fix from some other channel.