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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?