Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

I know, I know. It is early. One cannot wish people Eid Mubarak before the Eid namaz. But I ain't gonna be blogging that early in the morning and from the looks of it, will not be anywhere close to my laptop all day tomorrow. I am scheduled to visit millions of relatives around the city tomorrow.

Back to the point: Eid Mubarak to all the Muslims out there. Congratulations to those who kept all your rozas, you certainly deserve the festivities. Congratulations also to everyone else who can now emerge from the strange Ramazan routine and return to normal life. I for one cannot wait to start lounging in coffee shops again and listening to music on the radio instead of religious songs and such.

Enjoy your time in the shopping markets tonight, and at Eid namaz tomorrow and then later at your friends and relatives' houses. Try to be safe. I sincerely hope that the terrorists do not ruin tomorrow and turn what is meant to be a joyous day into one of tragedy.

On that hopeful note, I end with the last of the traditional three repeated greetings: Eid Mubarak!

Media circus

The ruet chief finally felt ready to address the nation. I watched the event unfold on Geo with baited breath and growing impatience. The man, dressed in a white shalwar kameez and black waistcoat, with a thick jet black beard, a Jinnah cap and really ugly plastic-framed glasses, positioned himself in front of a whole herd of microphones. This was apparently the head of the national Ruet-e-Hilal committee, a mufti like all the other bearded and bespectacled men seated at the table. Behind the chief was a proper horde of anxious and slightly bored reporters. The chief clears his throat and asks several times if everyone is ready. I, in the meantime, am wringing my hands and begging him to just say yes or no and deliver the entire nation of its misery. But this man had other plans in mind.

He begins with a tilawat. I groan. He has not even finished saying bismillah when a reporter's cellphone starts to ring. Another reporter to the chief's right is busy smsing on his cellphone. The chief is visibly annoyed. Without stopping his recitation of the Quran, he waves his left hand at the reporters, trying to get them to pipe down. It does not work. Another cellphone starts ringing. A helpful reporter makes shushing noises. The recitation and the hand-waving continue. Finally, the painful tilawat ends and the chief launches into what resembled an Oscar speech. " I would like to thank this fellow and that fellow and oh that fellow too." A million different maulanas were acknowledged for their contribution to the decision making process while I literally writhed in agony before the television. Just give me a yes or a no!

After the thank yous were all finished – surprisingly enough, Allah did not receive any acknowledgment from the chief, hmmmm – the chief launched into an awful, prewritten speech. He delivered it with painstaking slowness and in a complete monotone. He clearly wanted to make his moment before the nation last. He went on and on about the immense responsibility in his hands of deciding the fate of 160 million Muslims and their rozas. My mother wisely noted that mufti sahib was only stretching this out because he knew the moment he would give their verdict we would all change the channel, or at the very least put him on mute.

Finally, in belabored Urdu, mufti sahib announced that testimonies of moon sightings had been accepted and tomorrow is Eid. Well, why didn't you say that in the first place, mufti sahib? He was promptly put on mute by my family.

Baited breath

Ooh! It seems like there have been 15 sightings of the moon in Peshawar. The Chief Minister of NWFP has declared Eid in the province. Apparently, he has overstepped his constitutional limits. It is only for the ruet-e-hilal to announce Eid. Do I smell some drama?

The fogeys are said to be voting on the issue. If they vote no, are we going to have another divided Eid? That would be a shame. It would also mean that I have to go to work tomorrow. Despite it being a public holiday (irrespective of the ruet's decision), I am required to report to work if it is not Eid in Karachi. Thus, my interest in the fogeys.

Either ways, I really hope they make up their minds soon. And while I am hoping, might I also hope that we have a united Eid. At the very least the Muslims of this nation can celebrate their most important religious holiday together. After all wasn't this nation created on the basis of Muslim unity?


Urgh! Why must old fogeys decide when Eid is going to fall every year? My father says that there are old fogey meetings on every level, from district to provincial to national. They all gather every month and, I assume, strain their rheumatic necks and cataract-clouded eyes in search of the thin sliver of the new moon. Small wonder that almost every year they emerge from their late night meetings and shake their heads at us. Not tomorrow, the day after.

The strain on one such fogey was clearly visible today when he spoke to the media briefly, and that too only to rail against the ungrateful public which only gives a flying **** about it once a year. He yelled angrily that for the remaining months of the year, no one cared about their verdicts. Well, of course, old man. We do live in the twenty-first century and follow the solar calendar on a day to day basis. Ever heard about that? Unlike this antiquated system, the solar calendar is laid out years in advance and does not need grandpas to figure out when one month begins and another ends.

Which brings me to my main point. Why can't we just tell the Met to figure out the lunar calendar for us? Tell it to do some math and figure out when the first day of each lunar month should be. It would give us all the opportunity to plan our lives a little better. I for one would not have to sit grumpily before the television waiting for this committee to make up its mind.

It is a doomed suggestion , I know. It would send all the puritans – which nowadays includes just about everyone in this country – up in arms. Breaking from tradition, unislamic, heresy. I can here all the politicians and pundits denouncing it on national television. Fine, I shall let these fellows on these committees have their moment of glory. Whatever.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


On Dawn TV, Mr. Liaqat Baloch of the Jamaat-i Islami echoed my father. These attacks are a result of wrong policies carried out by our government in the tribal regions. This is proof of a policy failure. We must reverse our decision to fight and talk to the terrorists, whom he referred to as "our own people". When the newscaster asked whether we have not gone beyond the point of dialogue today, Mr. Baloch only repeated his mantra.

At this point, I do not think it is adequate for me to simply state Mr. Baloch and my father's views because too many people see them as completely rational, even self-evident.

These terrorists are not our people. They are up in arms against us. They want to bring down the Pakistani government and in the process are willing to kill as many Pakistani soldiers and civilians as is necessary.

I will not argue about why and how these terrorists came into being. You will tell me that they are only doing the noble thing, avenging the blood of their relations cruelly murdered by the Pakistanis and the Americans. I will tell you that the terrorists existed before the attacks on them, and not the other way around. You will say that those terrorists were an American myth. I will point you to every sort of evidence in the Western media (I would give you proof from our own too, but it is too feeble an institution to do any reporting of its own) as to the existence of these terrorists and their ill-intentions. You will tell me that the Western media is in on this conspiracy and that nobody can be trusted and everything is exactly the opposite of what it seems to be and so the logical is actually illogical and that your illogic is therefore the truth.

So let us skip the blame game. These terrorists exist. They have bombed a hotel killing 40 so far, injuring dozens more, and leaving at least 15 trapped inside with no way to escape. This much we can surely agree upon.

They do not want to negotiate. They want to kill innocent people and thereby sow fear in our hearts. So far so good?

Now what must we do in response? Are we to go to Swat and FATA and beg for negotiations? Let us say that we do, as we have done in the past. They will say they want Shariah Law in their regions, complete autonomy and withdrawal of the army. Can we agree to these terms? Can we abandon, to the whims of these terrorists, our citizens there, whose only fault is that they happen to be living in these terrorist-infested regions? Can we leave these people to suffer public beheadings and stonings-to-death under these terrorists' warped version of Islam? Can we withdraw from these regions and let them reorganize, plan bigger attacks and encroach upon more of our country? And most importantly can we reward the terrorists for murdering these innocent Pakistani citizens?

We should rather avenge these deaths. Action should be swift and decisive. The militants must be brought to their knees at any cost. They cannot be allowed to terrorize our country.

But instead, the people who are speaking on television tonight are busy bemoaning that we ever took on these terrorists in the first place. They are crying that if we would not have harmed them they would not have harmed us. Why oh why did we listen to America! The answer is simple. These terrorists, escaping from Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, would have regrouped, gained in strength and tried to take over Pakistan anyways. They were already using Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to plan more attacks on other countries. It is unimaginable that we could let these terrorists carry out attacks on innocent people from our soil while we silently stand by and watch. And if that were to be the case then the world would have been just as justified as it was with Afghanistan to sanction the use of military force against Pakistan.

So please people, stop all this talk of appeasement of the terrorists, and stop trying to blame America for the actions of the vicious terrorists. This tragic event should bolster our resolve to fight the terrorists not weaken it. Our dead need to be avenged. These terrorists need to be brought to justice.

Still Speechless

My father, who was also watching the news when I returned, has just informed me that these terrorists are a direct result of the eight-year military operation in FATA which Pakistan conducted on America's behest; that the people we killed there have spawned the terrorists who today attacked the Marriott; and that we must now reap the violence that we ourselves have sown.

I am staggered. And the sad truth is that a lot of Pakistanis would agree with my father.

In essence, half the people in this country want to kill everyone and the other half believe that they deserve to be killed. What am I supposed to do in the middle of this madness?


I just posted to this blog and switched on the TV. A suicide bomber has attacked the Marriott in Islamabad. The TV is filled with images of a fire raging through the hotel. Over 20 people are confirmed dead and many more injured. The suicide bomber ran his car through the security barrier at the gate. The car was loaded with explosives.

He attacked Marriott at iftar time, when god-knows-how-many families must have been there opening their fasts.

Is absolutely nothing sacred to these bastards?

I don't want anymore half-assed rhetoric about addressing terrorism. I don't want anymore equivocation. I don't want anymore peace treaties and accords. I want the army to do what it is supposed to, protect the people of this country, and go get those bastards in FATA and Swat. Alive or dead.

I think I am going to go back to the TV and watch the death toll rise. Latest news on this can be found here, here, here and here.

Women and Public Spaces

It was only when I visited Sri Lanka that I realized how far behind Pakistan is in terms of women's lib. On the streets in Sri Lanka, whether in Colombo and Kandy or in the smaller villages, there were women everywhere – and I mean everywhere, not just in and around bazaars as is the norm here. They walked in groups, alone or with other men. They did not seem worried or badgered. One could tell that these women have grown up walking on the streets without fear of being harassed, humiliated or attacked.

There were female traffic police officials and, wonder of wonders, people were not hitting on them or being rude to them.

Equally wonderful was the number of stores owned by women. Photocopy shops, restaurants, grocery stores, all run by women.

I even saw women on motorbikes, something completely unimaginable here.

Well, actually, all these things are unimaginable in Pakistan. The roads are a purely male-dominated space. Most women are kept at home, allowed only to leave to go to the bazaar or with a male escort. Richer women, who are not fettered by these conservative rules, move around in their chauffeured cars. They hop into their cars at the gate of one place and hop out at the gate of another, completely avoiding the need to walk on the roads. And those few women who have to brave the roads and the public transport must tolerate stares and worse.

My maid always wears a burqa when she is out on the road. This, she says, is purely for utilitarian reasons. If she wears a burqa, men tend to harass her less. But she clarifies that even this does not prevent some men from staring or making lewd comments.

A Spoiled Man by Daniyal Mueenuddin

A very interesting story by a Pakistani-American in The New Yorker. Check it out.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

I was several months late in reading Mohammed Hanif's book. In June, A Case of Exploding Mangoes was all that anyone could talk about. After reading the book, I understand why. It is a truly a wonderful piece of satire. I have transcribed one of my favorite parts, Hanif's fictionalization of how Zia came up with the Hudood Ordinance, below. Zia is on the phone with his spiritual mentor, some religious judge in Saudi Arabia, and the following conversation takes place:

'Yes, Qadi, I wanted your guidance on this matter: what happens if the accused says that she was forced to fornicate? How do we establish whether she is telling the truth? I mean, sometimes you can look at a woman's face and tell that she is a fornicator, but we need legal procedures to establish it.'

Qadi spoke as if he had thought about this for a long time. 'Women always make this excuse after they are caught fornicating, but we all know that rape is not easy to commit. The perpetrator will need at least four accomplices. There will have to be two men holding her by her arms, two pinning down her legs and then the fifth one between her legs, committing the act. So the answer is yes, a woman can be raped and it's a serious crime.'

'So the woman will be required to recognize all five culprits in the court?' Zia asked.

'Our law, you know, is not set in stone, it encourages us to use our common sense. So the two men who are holding her down by her arms, maybe the woman would not be able to recognise those two and the judge can make an exception.'

'And what if she didn't see any of the culprits? What if they were wearing masks?'

General Zia could tell the old man was suddenly angry.

'Why would a rapist wear a mask? Is he a bank robber? Bank robbers wear masks. Kidnappers wear masks. I have never heard of a rapist wearing a mask in my forty years as a judge.'

General Zia felt stupid as Qadi continued, this time in a cold, admonishing, teacher-like voice. 'Rapists like to see their own reflection in the woman's eyes. That is one reason they'd never wear masks,' said Qadi.

'And what if the woman in question was blind?' General Zia asked.

Qadi clearly didn't get General Zia's drift.

'Do you mean morally blind or someone who Allah has not given the physical power to see?'

'Blind. A woman who can't see.'

'The law doesn't differentiate between those who can see and those who can't. Let's assume for the sake of legal argument that the rapist was blind in this case, would he be entitled to any special privilege? So the victim, blind or not, is entitled to the same scrutiny, same rights.'

'How will she recognize her rapists and the other people who held her down?'

'It can be done in two ways: if she is married, her husband will have to establish in the court that she is of good character and then we'll need four male Muslims of sound character who have witnessed the crime. And since rape is a very serious crime, circumstantial evidence won't do. "We heard screams and we saw blood and we heard the man hitting her" is not enough evidence; witnesses will be required to have witnessed the actual penetration. And if the woman is not married she'll have to prove that she was a virgin before this horrible crime was committed.'

General Zia felt much better by dinner time. He had already passed Qadi's legal advice to his Chief Justice and was now composing a speech in his head that he would ask the First Lady to deliver at the annual charity bazaar of the All Pakistan Professional Women's Association. He tried to test some of the arguments on the First Lady after reminding her of her promise to carry out her state duties. She listened silently at first, but when he reached the part about the victim having to establish her virginity the First Lady interrupted him.

'Are you talking about Blind Zainab's case?'

'Well, yes, but basically we are trying to establish a legal precedent that will safeguard women's honour. All women's honour.'

'I don't know anything about the law and I'll make this speech it that's what the law says.' The First Lady pushed her plate away. 'But how is this woman supposed to prove that she is a virgin if a bunch of men banged her for three days and three nights?' (138-9)

-- Excerpt from Hanif Mohammed, A case of exploding mangoes. Random House. New Delhi; 2008.

Taking Geo to task

Most people must be aware of what happened on 7 September 2008. Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain, host of Geo TV's popular religious show, Aalim Online, said on his show that the murder of all Ahmadis is mandated by Islamic teachings. His remarks were followed by the murder of two Ahmadis, one in Nawabshah and one in Mirpurkhas, by unknown individuals.

This incident shocked me to the core. I can understand Baitullah Mehsud setting up an illegal radio station and preaching hatred and violence through it, but it is inconceivable to me how Geo TV, perhaps the most popular and trusted news channels in Pakistan, could air such malevolent statements.

In previous posts, I have strongly supported freedom of the press, but the line must be drawn at instigation to violence. We as a nation tend to be intolerant of religious differences but we are not Nazi Germany that the mainstream media can with impunity talk about the wholesale extermination of a religious minority.

As far as I know, Geo TV has neither cancelled this hate-preaching show, nor offered a public apology for 7 September. The very same news channel that last year, during the Emergency, was the people's hero, has today fallen to an astonishing low.

But I think that this event is the moment of truth for urban moderates and liberals. So far we have only bemoaned hate-mongering in that is prevalent in the far-flung regions of our country. It was not in our power to do anything concrete to prevent that. Now, on the other hand, a media group from our midst is preaching hate and advocating violence. We are all in a position to influence Geo TV because our tuning in to their channel is what brings them money. If we call and email Geo to express our condemnation it will have to listen and respond. Now is the time for us to act on our beliefs and do something about the extremism that is rotting our society. We, members of civil society, must act firmly and decisively against Geo TV so that other media outlets will be wary of airing such inflammatory garbage.

For more details on the incident, please visit the Asian Human Rights Commission's website. It gives you the option of sending a letter of appeal to government officials, urging them to look into the matter. I, however, would suggest that you call or email Geo directly and demand an explanation, express your condemnation and/or ask for a public apology and for the cancellation of Aalim Online.

Whatever you do, please do not sit back and let this one slide.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Pakistanis are the most racist people I know. We, in Pakistan, may hear and read a lot more about the West's Islamophobia and about discrimination against minorities there, but that is just because racism in Pakistan is left completely undiscussed. The intellectuals and the media do not talk about it, and of course, it is way too much to expect the government and the religious elite to deal with it. And so, racial and ethnic prejudices in Pakistanis remain entirely unexamined and most Pakistanis blithely display their bigotry in their interactions with members of different races and ethnicities.

To convince the unmoved reader of the extent of racism in Pakistanis, I have listed some of the stereotypes that I have come across. This list is in no way comprehensive but, in my opinion, is long enough to mandate a serious conversation about the issue.

1. Pathans are considered stupid, aggressive, oversexed, homosexual, pedophiles, religious fanatics and mysoginists. They are the butt of an entire genre of Pakistani jokes, which are called akhroat (walnut) jokes, so named because Pathans are supposed to be thick-headed like walnuts.

2. Punjabis are stereotyped as crass, vulgar, fat and gluttonous.

3. Sindhis are said to be feudal, servile, docile, backward (especially with regards to women's rights), nosy and illiterate.

4. Baloch are thought to be tribal, uncivilized, violent and illiterate.

5.  Muhajirs are called bedbugs and stereotyped as being wily and money-minded.

7. Bengalis are thought to be effiminate, spineless, cheats and racially inferior.

8. Indians are supposedly all Hindus, vegetarian, amoral piss-drinkers.

10. Africans are considered irrational, violent, barbaric, uncivilized, ugly, prone to crime and racially inferior. Their color and their blunt features are looked at with undisguised abhorrence by Pakistanis, who refer to Africans and African-Americans rather derogatorily as kallas (blacks).

11. Asians are stereotyped as tiny, spineless and uncivilized. They too are considered racially inferior and their narrow eyes are the basis of many Pakistani slurs including chaptas and chinkies. Many Pakistanis will unabashedly admit that all Asians look exactly alike to them.

12. Jews are stereotyped as money-hungry, Zionists, anti-Muslim and extremely wealthy. Jews are at the center of almost every international conspiracy theory in Pakistan. America is thought to be entirely run by this evil Jewish super-race. 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are all chalked up to a Jewish conspiracy. Many in Pakistan will even go so far as to say that the Holocaust was merely a story concocted by the Jews who control the media to garner international sympathy and secure support for Israel.

13. The people of the West are considered white, arrogant, hypocritical, ignorant, anti-Islam, pro-Israel, hedonistic, amoral, indecent, oversexed, decadent, Satanic, biased, racist and evil. I have lumped all of Europe and America together as the West because Pakistanis apply these stereotypes to every white person from a developed country. Of course, if said white person turns out to be American, then things are all the worse.

As I said at the beginning of this list, this is by no means a complete account of racism in Pakistan. These stereotypes not only exist in the minds of most Pakistanis, but they exist entirely unchallenged. It is a small wonder then that Pakistanis tend to be so xenophobic and communalistic.