Category Archives: Pakistan

Pakistan in trouble.

The patriot’s pop

1378895_orig.jpgThe pop culture machinery has always been generating alternative viewpoints that the state has been unable to successfully repress, whether it was Junoon’s banned Ehtisab in the 90s or Beghairat Brigade’s Aloo Anday in 2011. Through the presence of mass acceptance and love for Junoon, Ali Azmat today has modeled himself as a spokesperson for a political youth. Similarly Ali Aftab Saeed of Aloo Anday fame has been writing about media and national politics in national newspapers and has quite a readership.

Power and national/community culture create a symbiotic relationship over time where they both reinforce the status quo. Pop culture is the only element of culture that can resist the status quo, especially in traditional conservative societies were views on religion, social relationship and political power are deeply entrenched. Most of our counters to the status quo come from pop culture.

Examples of resistance to the state narrative are abound. They include Laal, the band formed by two academics with a common interest in Marxist theory. Osman Khalid Butt in his YouTube commentaries constantly critiques dominant social norms. And then we have a massive corpus of Pakistani meme’s hosted on Facebook pages like The Sarrialist Movement and Sarcasmistan, providing us with a daily changing commentary on Pakistani life and culture with humour and wit to boot.

Indian culture and it’s influence in Pakistan cannot be understated… what with Veena Malik marketing herself as the nation’s Malika Sherawat (with added masala), and Amitabh Bachan being a household name. Our parents and grandparents grew up on Kishore Kumar’s music and Rajesh Khanaa’s acting. There is a long history of shared stardom with Muhammad Rafi, Nusrat Fateh Ali and Adnan Sami Khan.

This connection is sometimes lamented as the pollution of a Pakistani-Islamic culture with pagan Indian influence. In conservative discussions, the influence of Hinduism and India is ignored when it comes to our customs and traditions, but this concern is irrelevant to pop culture. It just isn’t something that can be nationally or ideologically controlled.

What it is, is a collection of actions and influences that creates something instantly recognisable. Nadeem and Waheed Murad would always have stiff competition from across the border. Much of our urban youth looked to Shahrukh Khan and Kajol for entertainment in the 90’s and Imran Khan and Katrina Kaif today, rather than Pakistani actors like Moammar Rana or Saima who seem to have graced the silver screen since time immemorial. The neighbourly influence is natural.

Cultures have regional and national characteristics, so for the subcontinent that has a shared history of centuries, it is natural that Pakistani would be part of the cultural influence of a much bigger and louder neighbour. A decade ago, Kyun Ke Saas Bhee Kabhi Bahu Thee had a monopoly over the hearts and minds of housewives everywhere. Only recently did shows like Humsafar take this territory back. But not completely. Within culture’s own struggle for identity, whether through an agenda, or for want to identify with something non-Indian and “Islamic”, the broadcasting and watching of Turkish soaps dubbed in Urdu has become a favourite national pastime.

Across the border, Prime Minster Modi has made Smriti Irani, aka Tulsi, the actress of Kyun-Ke-Saas-Bhee-Kabhi-Bahu-Thee fame, his Human Resource Minister— a move that would fit well in an Indian soap. The influence that popularity has on political power cannot be understated. There is no other way to explain why the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger could have such political success as to become the Governor of California. Or the mass appeal Imran Khan has and his success in Pakistani politics. His status as a national cricket icon has reaped him great dividends in his political ambition. What is familiar is easier to trust, and the nostalgia his cricketing days produce in our hearts and minds help us feel better about him as a leader.

There is huge support in political and cultural theory for popular culture as an untapped source for mass empowerment. Traditions from Gramsci (the Italian Marxist philosopher) see pop culture as a space of struggle between subordinated groups and the forces of ‘incorporation’ operating in the interests of dominant groups in society. Post-modern theory even goes so far as to reject the distinction between dominant or ‘high’ culture (fine art, architecture etc.) and pop culture, giving as much importance to the phenomenon of crass Punjabi films as one would to high brow films like Ramchand Pakistani.

The Nation,  July 9 2014.

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What do Hitler, OBL and Stalin have in common? And is there a correlation between religion and ethics?

“God bless Mujahid bin Laden”

“God bless Sheikh Mujahid Osama bin Laden, and no consolation for the ignorant (Jahil) parrots of the West”

These were the comments I read under the following (liberal?) image I came across Facebook… so here is some food for thought (or not depending on how indignant people get in the comments).

Nutjobs

The poster/picture was shared by a Jordanian friend and the commenters below were mostly Arab, (though I think Pakistani readers would have similar reactions). Now the general sentiment of the comments was agreement with the captioning of the personalities, all except for Osama bin Laden who people tried to defend. What makes the goal of  killing for religion (OBL), better than killing under Communism (Stalin)?

Here is another comment: “First: Hitler was a disbeliever, originally did not believe in Christ, Second: Osama bin Laden, a man who acted when the world sat idle”

(BTW Hitler’s religious beliefs are actually not conclusively proven unreligious, however Nazism and neo-nazism today is heavily grounded in Christianity)

What does this kind of defense of OBL mean? Do people outraged at Osama’s presence on the above poster support suicide bombing? Do all these people not see killing as a crime whether it is Americans or Jews or Muslims?

Its not only us Pakistanis with masses of extreme wight-wingers, upset with liberalism, secularism, feminism and everything left of centre. Most of the religious world is rife with such destructive sentiments. The way a mass of us has been celebrating Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of  Salmaan Taseer, the same type of type of support groups popped up on Facebook for the neo-nazi Norwegian killer, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 92 people in 2011. And it didn’t end here. In an act of provocation the Thor Steinar clothing company, associated with the neo-Nazi scene, has opened a store in eastern Germany called Brevik, a name almost identical to Breivik. Neo-nazi parties and groups exist across Central and Western Europe and are condemnable. There are many many examples of music groups, hate groups, individuals and churches that are know for being anti-Semite, pro-white and Christian. The difference is maybe in the quantity of support for these groups and national laws that does not give them space for great national and international impact.

So when people who share the viewpoint of the image, say that OBL is evil, or a murderer, or just an all round bad apple, its not because he was Muslim or that they are pro-West/USA, its because of his actions. Anyone who has such a disregard for human life is evil. That is why we have law, and criminal codes and prisons and punishment, so that a Mumtaz Qadri does not wake up one day and go on a rampage because he does not agree with what you are saying.

But is there a correlation between religion and ethics? Are religious people more moral than atheists or agnostics?

Studies have found no difference between religious and non-religious individuals on unethical behaviors such as dishonesty and cheating, while a negative relationship was found between use of illegal substances and individual religiousness*. Kidwell et al in 1987 found no relationship between religiosity and ethical judgments of managers. Religion may not be the key to making you a good (or a bad person), and there is no conclusive study to say otherwise.**

The picture also seems to show a (weak) correlation between mustaches and ethics. Get over it.

Notes

*See Hood, R. W., B. Spilka, B. Hunsberger and R. Gorsuch: 1996, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach (Guildford Press, New York). Also see Khavari, K. A. and T. M. Harmon: 1982, The Relationship between the Degree of Professed Religious Belief and Use of Drugs, International Journal of the Addictions 17, 847–857.

** See Parboteeah, Hoegl and Cullen: 2008, Ethics and Religion: An Empirical Test of a Multidimensional Model, Journal of Business Ethics (2008) 80:387–398.

Pak Tea House, August 2012.

Pakistan meme

I’m doing some research on memes and internet culture in Pakistan, so if you are here and reading this click this and help me by filling out this survey if you are a young Pakistani (and tweet/Facebook it too if you like it). Will post findings here soon.

Survey: http://memecloud.treebark.org/64147

And here’s a hilarious image from the Facebook page Sarcasmistan

The ‘F’ Word

Published today at Pak Tea House. Ruffled a lot of feathers. 

You tell a male that this day forth he must not go out to work, he must marry to support himself, he must take permission from his wife or parents before he goes out, that he doesn’t need education… he would find such restrictions ridiculous. When a female has the same sentiments, she is thought to be ridiculous.

The sentiments of the sexes can be the same, because as humans we are similar and equal. This notion of gender equality is what has been riling up conservatives, stirring up traditions and changing cultures for centuries.

The strongest counter argument against feminism is based on physical traits. That men are physically stronger and so must go forth and earn. Women are weak and must go forth and be a tool of biological production.  Thus men and women have some pre-assigned roles, and this physical design is cemented into culture, religion and politics. This whole she-bang is part of traditional conservatism, and the doctrine is ancient (demise in the late 1800s). Many conservatives in the west do not even subscribe to this gender-separation view at all. This is of course not true for many other societies like ours.

Feminism is not an ideology based on female superiority. Just like racial justice or religious tolerance are not doctrines that advocate racial or religious supremacy. Formally it arose in the late 1700s as a rights-based liberal reaction to conservative political philosophy and a revision of liberal thought. The grand-daddy of liberalism, a man called John Locke in the 17th century premised the role of the state on the provision and prevention of natural rights of humans. Humans are free and self-governing because they are naturally rational and able to make decisions.

This was a radical challenge to dominant conservative thought; like the divine right of kings, feudal aristocratic supremacy, political representation for only the moneyed, educated and pedigreed, and an unquestioning faith in the clergy. Versions of which exist here and now. A hundred years later, a lady (called Mary Wollstonecraft, mother to Mary Shelly of ‘Frankenstein’ fame) put up her hand and added to the liberal shift saying: “Hey Locke talked of natural rights of humans. Is only the male a human being? Are women not as rational, intelligent or mentally capable? Should we also not work, be allowed to own land, vote, and contribute to society and economy.” How radical/unacceptable/scandalous/wrong!

So it was ironic to read this extreme conservative viewpoint by a girl called Paras Abbasi who has the opportunity to study at one of Karachi’s best institutes and has the opportunity to voice her concerns publicly. Let me quote from this article that represents the prevalent feminophobic position:

“What favor are you doing to the woman (specifically) and a human in general by brain washing her to work rather than letting her take care of her house and bring up her children?… And coming back to those who think women need the very same rights as men… How about dragging all the daughters to the borders to fight for the country if any war breaks out, just like we do to the sons of our nation? The reality is we cannot afford it…respect what importance both of us have been given naturally.” 

Feminism does not blame the male solely, it’s the female as well that perpetuates her own role in the patriarchal drama. As Nabiha Meher puts it: “Mothers collect dowries and makes sure their daughters are always presentable, always ready to impress any eligible… when these young women do want to work they are held back by their… If sisterhood did exist, wouldn’t their mothers fight for them?”

I hear you Paras Abassi. I hear you everyday. Telling me that its okay to say that I want to marry rich, that I deserve to live off a male, that I must have children to be a successful and complete human being, that I can’t serve my country as a soldier, that I cant travel without amahrem, that my career comes second to the happiness of my husband, that my children will be wasted if am a working mother.

It is not okay. If my rights and life is based on the fact that I am physically different from a male, the logic of the anti-feminist argument is no different from that that of a racist or of a creationist.

Must the female be boxed up in such spaces or can we allow for her to have the potential to be much more? It is not a debate for me. Political and social equality is my right, regardless of my sex.

*The title is borrowed from my colleague Qursum Qasim who wrote a similar themed article back in 2007.

If famous books were written by Pakistanis

Begum Chatterjees Whipping

Allah of all things (small and big)

Chanda’s Web

Songs of Blood and Sword ….oh wait Fatima Bhutto already ripped that one off from George RR Martin

Please compare

Bhai Stokers ‘Denguela’
Did anyone know theres a Cambodian-Psychedelic band called 'Dengue Fever'?

Did anyone know theres a
Cambodian-Psychedelic band
called ‘Dengue Fever’?

Puttar Haris and the Search for Halal HamOh God, where do I even dig up these disturbing images from??

            Oh God, where do I even dig up these disturbing images from??

Fahrenheit 404 or How Pakistan shut down its internet, rewrote history textbooks and censored female parts everywhere

The Devil wears Bata

Exploding Mangos of Wrath

Where the Radical Islamists Are

The Kite Ban-ner – and other stuff Shabaz Sharif banned in Punjab

Our apologist athlete and his students

(Published on Pak Tea House on 1st July, 2011)

Last week in class, two of my students were to present the impact of the War on Terror on the Pakistan economy.

My young freshman students missed the point of the presentation, to focus on the economy, and economic policy in light of a war. Rather they delved into Pakistani politics and said that the War on Terror was Americas war, nothing to do with Pakistan and we should have stayed out of it (as if we had a choice or wanted to do that) and the only politician calling this spade a spade was Imran Khan.

They ended their presentation with this video clip, where repeatedly Khan says that the military was wrong to go into Wazistan… the military by attacking its own people had ‘created’ the Taliban said the apologist athlete. The presentation ended with the whole class clapping and nodding in agreement.

Fasi Zaka write for the Express Tribune (June 14, 2011), “Many Pakistanis clamour for an independent Pakistan free of corruption, yet they balk at the idea of supporting Imran Khan.” I find myself among the ‘balkers’ and agree with Mr Zaka. But why so? The man has established himself to be honest, generous and uncorrupt, which is more than we can say for the gahirat brigade or President Zardari. Recently Nadeem Piracha has also written about Imran being a creation of the establishment. And then Raza Habib Raza on PTH has commented that the youth’s love affair with Khan saying it’s all about a lack of other options. I think it runs deeper than that, students like his ‘blame rhetoric’, the idea that he’s the only politician that hasn’t mucked up yet.

After two years of teaching classes in political science and economics, to well near a thousand students in a private sector college, all but a handful actually have a critical understanding of politics. Our youth does not read papers; they read top rated blog posts and top tweeted news stories. They go to the news anchors for their information and none of them know their Islamic history from their political and cultural history. The general sentiments are pro-Imran Khan and either apologetic about terrorism and radicalization or pro-Taliban, views that are hard to change in one semester and that belong to both liberal and conservative students. These are dangerous ideas to adopt and give forces like the Taliban a semblance of legitimacy. For me much of my face-palm reaction at Imran Khan and his student supporters is because his simplistic rhetoric spells trouble in case he ever gets elected.

Fasi Zaka is spot on when he says that Khan is Jamaat-e-Islami 2.0, “Imran blamed the death of Salmaan Taseer on the war on terror. As if blasphemy related murders never happened before 9/11… he suggested a ceasefire, negotiations and compromise. That’s exactly what happened in 2009 in Swat and Malakand, with the government going further and giving the extremists legal cover”… gaping holes in his 2.0 ideology sprinkled with progressiveness.

But we will only know what Imran Khan can actually do if he has political success in elections. His competition has hardly handled the country well. Is there room for optimism that he can whip Pakistan into shape? Many fear he will blunder through foreign policy and make a fool of Pakistan.

Today as well, while debating corruption in class, a student asked what viable political option did we have? ‘Well Tehreek-e-Insaaf of course,’ replied another student. But what must the youth do? Blame the military, USA and the corrupt system of politics? “Yes why of course, Miss Gardezi”. But blame militant groups themselves for turning buildings into rubble and killing Ahmadis, Shias and anyone else who acts different… “Oh no Miss Gardezi, militants only blow up stuff because USA invaded Afghanistan and is now invading Pakistan.”

What an open letter from a terrorist group looks like (Link)

What an open letter from a terrorist group looks like.

Must read. People who are apologists about militancy and attacks on other sects need to open their eyes… a direct attack on human rights and human dignity. Shameful and sad.

This post is from http://afghanistananalysis.wordpress.com/