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Monday, September 26, 2005

Do we want our children to stand up for their principles? Or just for their Principals?

Philosopher Bertrand Russell, standing up against Conscription; Boxer Mohammad Ali, accepting a jail-term (plus being stripped of his Heavyweight Champion title) rather than joining an unjust war in Vietnam; Nathan Krystall (see my last post: 'Another Inspiring Refusal') preferring arrest to serving the IDF - possibly inspiring other young Israelis, today, who are refusing to fight against Palestinians, while serving in the Israeli Army. Such principled stands make headlines and earn respect for the courage shown.

In less legal circumstances (but not with lesser risks, especially under authoritarian regimes), when heroes or popular figures return or refuse to accept National or International Awards, because of their differences with the policies of the awarding bodies, they make news, too, and are praised for their honesty.

Even when clear 'risks' may not exist, such as in the instances highlighted in my earlier post ('Two Inspiring Refusals'), such acts are considered worthy of respect, because they serve - in no small way - to inspire the ability to stand up for one's views or, at the very least, help people understand the issues leading to such refusals.

I often wonder how teachers can inculcate this wonderful and noble quality among youth, given that many are strict disciplinarians, themselves, or have been forced into being so, because of a range of issues: from classroom management in overcrowded spaces, to the dastardly societal demands of instilling respect in the young for all authority, right or wrong.

Of course, this is not the responsibility of teachers, alone. In fact, the primary responsibility for ensuring that children develop a proper sense of values must rest with parents. But, in a society, where parental authority, too, is easily taken to be a licence for an almost dictatorial approach, the problem is even greater.

Is it possible that, while paying lip-service to such lofty ideals, we really do not want our children to imbibe them, lest they become misfits in an increasingly materialistic and hypocritical world? Even in this society's most repeated story, that of Karabala, the emphasis in its re-telling is subtly being changed over time. The stress is no longer upon the 'fighting for truth' that I recall hearing as a child. It is now more about the passion play and the wailing and the poetry-readings (which, more and more, celebrate the person - and his 'superior', almost supernatural, position - rather than what he is believed to have stood for).

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Another Inspiring Refusal

On February 5, 1995 Nathan Krystall was arrested in Jerusalem for refusing to enlist in the Israeli army and handed a jail sentence. Nathan was inspired, in part, by his teacher, the wonderful Eqbal Ahmad who, on hearing this, recalled:

"I do remember Nathan Krystall. Five years ago he came to me seeking admittance into my seminar on the Middle East. "Why do you want this course?", I had asked. "I am Jewish and zionist", he had said, "and I have decided to migrate to Israel. Since I am going to live in the Middle East I want to learn about it". I informed him that I regard political zionism as a sectarian ideology, view Israel as a discriminatory state, and advocate the restitution of Palestinian rights and democratization of Israel as essential conditions for peace in the Middle East. "I have heard that", he had said, "I want to know how you see it".

Nathan rarely spoke in class; asked questions occasionally; and read a lot. He did, it seems, migrate to Israel where he is now in prison. By choice!"

This is Nathan's letter of refusal:

To Minister of Defence

Despite my declaration to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), both written and verbal, that I will not serve in the army, I am still expected to report for 120 days of service on February 5. I ask that you cancel the order for my enlistment due to reasons of conscientious objection, which I briefly discuss below:

I arrived in this country almost three years ago. Over two years ago I decided, for various reasons, to take advantage of my privileged status as a Jew and, via the Law of Return, become an Israeli citizen. I knew that I would possibly be ordered to serve in the IDF, and at that time believed that service inside the Green Line would not be totally counter to my principles, but afterwards I changed my mind.

First and foremost, I now totally oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, which is antithetical to the establishment of any kind of democratic state here. After living in the country, it is clear to me that preservation of Israel as a Jewish state will always mean upholding the rights of Jews at the expense of Palestinians. As such, dominance can only be achieved and maintained by the use of force. The IDF - like its predecessor, the Hagannah - is a central instrument of this violent rule.

In the short time that I have been here I have witnessed how the IDF, upon the orders of government and its commanding officers (which ultimately emanate from the same place, namely yourself, being both the prime minister and the minister of defence) will stop at nothing to silence any voice that cries out against this oppression, and to smash any action that aims at guaranteeing the full rights of Palestinians. This I have witnessed every single day, through accounts via the media, stories told to me personally, and with my own eyes.

The continuing, and even increasing, expropriation of Palestinian land, settlement expansion and road building in the West Bank, particularly in the Greater Jerusalem area, along with IDF and settler presence in the Gaza Strip, West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon, only reinforces my resolve to refuse army service.

It is IDF that guards the work crews who uproot trees and tear through hills to build Jewish-only settlements, and now the Jewish-only bypass roads. It is the IDF that protects settlers who rampage against Palestinian residents; that enabled the massacre, one year ago, of 30 worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque by Baruch Goldstein and his accomplices; that, over subsequent months, carried out an additional massacre of forty more Palestinians; that now supervises religious persecution through the division of the Ibrahimi Mosque; that routinely assassinates Palestinian political activists and stands guard over thousands more in Israel; that bombs to death hundreds of Lebanese citizens every year and afterwards claims that they were "terrorists"; that prevents Palestinians from drilling even the wells required to meet the minimal level of water use; and that blocks Palestinians from reaching Jerusalem - the geographic, economic, cultural, and religious center of Palestinian life.

And, finally, it is the army that, by en masse expulsion and deportation, has created millions of Palestinian refugees and that keeps them refugees by refusing to allow them to return to their homes, on both inside and outside of the Green Line.

Furthermore, the IDF serves as an initiation rite into full Israeli manhood. It is these men who regularly beat and shoot to death their wives and girlfriends. Many feminists have drawn the connection between service in the Israeli army and the high level of male abuse against women that exists in Israeli society. Also, gay men, only recently allowed to serve in the IDF, do not fit into the norm of the Israeli Man and are subject to constant harassment.

The IDF solidifies the class stratification of Israeli society based on race and religion. Perusal of the "Help Wanted" advertisements in the newspaper reveals that a very large percentage of bosses demand army service as a condition of employment. This immediately excludes the vast majority of Palestinians who constitute 18 percent of Israeli citizenry, thus hindering their chances of economic upward mobility. Plus, it is common knowledge that within the army itself the most undesirable jobs are reserved for certain sectors of society, for example Ethiopian immigrants.

If there existed here a popular army that protected equally the lives and rights of every citizen regardless of religion, race, sex or class, I would gladly enlist and serve. However, for the above reasons and more, I am unwilling to serve in the IDF even for one day.

Nathan Krystall,
File #309960805,


Note: The last info I have about Nathan dates back to 1998, when he was a leading activist with NYJMEP (New Yorkers for a Just Middle East Peace), and was part of a brief but successful campaign against my favorite ice-cream company's slip-up ...

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Two Inspiring Refusals

Three years ago one of my favourite artists, Jules Feiffer, declined to attend Laura Bush's Whitehouse NBF Breakfast, as a protest against the Iraq War. I can almost imagine what the panels would look like, had he chosen to 'draw' the letter in the style of his amazing strips. This is what he wrote:

Laura Bush
First Lady
White House

I wish that I could come to your National Book Festival breakfast at the White House on Saturday, but after giving it much thought, I can't attend.

I was thrilled to be invited, along with other writers and illustrators, to help celebrate your campaign to inspire young people in the pleasures of reading.

But I find it unbearably ironic that, while the uses of language are celebrated by you and your renowned guests, elsewhere in the White House language is being traduced and transformed to nudge us into war.

There are honest arguments on both sides of the Iraq debate (such as it is), but it seems necessary on the occasion of a celebration of reading to press the point that words, at their finest, don't set out to confuse or obscure. Their aim is to clarify.

But clarity is not what we're getting from your husband's White House. It seems that clarity would deny him a war.

I am a father and a grandfather. As every parent knows, most children can intuit whether the stories their parents tell them are true or if they're making them up.

The American people are able to tell too.

I am delighted to participate in National Book Festival events scheduled for the Library of Congress and the Capitol grounds. But as for your breakfast, may I convey my regrets and best wishes to you and your guests.

Jules Feiffer

This year, I learn that the sensitive teacher-poet, Sharon Olds, has declined to attend the National Book Festival in Washington, which is to take place on 24th September (coinciding with an antiwar mobilization in the city).

Here is her letter, as it appears in The Nation ("Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865"), under the heading: No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame.
Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women's prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.


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Monday, September 19, 2005

It only hurts when I laugh

The current tour of the USA by President Musharraf was filled with numerous controversies. From his UN speech, to which the Indian politicians and press objected, to his meetings with the Jewish Congress, which angered many Muslims and provided MMA leaders with more nuisance-value opportunities, things did not go well. Even worse, the remarks that Washington Post attributed to him caused international indignation, with NGOs and individuals, including the Canadian PM, lashing out and/or demanding apologies. For many Pakistanis, these were trying times.

Fortunately, for those among us who really love the English language, the Pakistan Times (which bills itself as Pakistan's First Independent Complete E-Newspaper) provided some independent comic relief via its reports and, especially, its Sept 18 Editorial, partially quoted below.

Musharraf's Vision on the UN
By the Editor at the United Nations

Going by pragmatism, one can expediently adjudge that with the epoch-making speech of President General Pervez Musharraf at the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, Pakistan accomplished ovation par excellence on Wednesday.

As I look at it, it was for the reason that the President said was the manifestation of his marvelous perceptions vis-à-vis the global issues with Kashmir and Palestine atop.

Via his unique style of oratory, Musharraf clutched filled attention of every-one who included Kings, Presidents, Premiers and delegates from all-over the world and are attending the current session of the General Assembly all through his speech.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Support WAR?

Help rape victims
email: phone: 583-0903

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Silence is not always golden

Many have been angered, worldwide, on reading the Washington Post report of President Musharraf's statements on rape in Pakistan. I have just seen President Musharraf's videoclip on CNN where [referring to the objectionable parts that have been quoted on every media] he emphatically stated that he was referring to words someone else had uttered in his presence. Although I was very clear that this was, indeed, the case - because that was what was reported by the press - I agree that many may have not understood it as clearly and attributed the words to him. This wrong impression is what he has sought to clear.

Would the President care to identify the person who had said this in his presence? After all, not everyone has the facilty to get within the President's hearing distance, especially given the security situation; so the name should not be difficult to recall. I am really interested in knowing who that someone could be, who could have the temerity and audacity to utter something so disgusting while talking to him about female citizens of the country he heads, and not have been taken to task by him. My expectations of him would be to direct a slap, perhaps the one that he had recently wished to strike Asma Jehangir across the face with, onto the face of this speaker. I am sure many would have done more, had someone dared to voice this view about Mukhtaaraañ Mai or Sonia Naz or the child victims that have been in the news lately.

As I write this, the TV Program Pachaas Minat ("50 Minutes") is showing an interview with yet another victim of rape. Our newspapers carry reports every day of rapes, including those of children, some as young as 3!!!

The President is very upset about Pakistan being singled out for chastisement while rapes also occur in the most 'developed' countries. Not only are the instances of such happenings in the 'developed' world no consolation to the victims, their families, or their sympathisers, I cannot recall any rapes taking place, in those countries, on the orders of 'councils of elders' or police officials. This comparison becomes even more odious when one looks at the recourse available to those victims, while here they cannot even file an FIR. Even when they manage to do so, VIPs - very often including members of our 'elected' represenatives - use their power to alter the course of justice. On the TV talk-show I am watching as I write this, a panelist has just said, as if to underscore my thoughts, that in the Mianwali Case it was the Nazim who was excercising such pressure.

The President should not be upset by people who are expressing justifiable anger, which grows with each frustrating action or inaction of the government. He must acknowledge, even if not publicly, that his placing of Mukhtaaraañ Mai on the Exit Control List has caused more damage to Pakistan's image than she could possibly have done by travelling to the USA to accept funds from some organizations for her school project.

All of us must continue to speak out against suppression, wrong decisions, bad laws, indeed anything we wish to speak out against, if the country is to develop into a democracy (or whatever its people truly desire), for, " remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all...", as Nobel Peace Prize Winner and holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, aptly said.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

A footnote to the staggering Presidential comment on the victims of rape in Pakistan

For readers outside Pakistan: The quote mentioned in the post below appeared just a couple of days after we'd had 3 days in which 5 children were reported raped in different incidents across our country. The youngest, a girl of 3, was also bruised & battered (she sustained fractures in both arms and a leg) and was burnt in places with cigarette butts. Hmmm … Wonder if they were in it for Canadian citizenships or US Dollars???

And do not forget that these were only the ones that got reported. At yesterday's 'protest' by various human rights organizations, in Karachi, there was a pooor couple (Sumar Mallah, a fisherman, and his wife) whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped lately. They had not even been able to file an FIR with the police, until they were helped by someone from that bunch with an agenda (NGOs) that our President dislikes. Sumar said that he'd been offered money in return for silence, but had refused to accept it. What a fool to miss an immigration opportunity!

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

I am speechless (a very rare condition, indeed, as friends will

"You must understand the environment in Pakistan," the President said, speaking a couple of days ago to The Washington Post, "This has become a moneymaking concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped."

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Assassination as the Ultimate Censorship

Just watched the infamous 10-minute film that resulted in the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's murder.

Almost all Muslims would have been upset by the sarcasm that the technically well-made and well-directed film uses, even without the use of a naked female body upon which qur'anic verses are projected. But, I doubt if so many Muslims, outside of Holland, would have justified Theo's killing in their minds, had a different 'effect' been used. I say "outside of Holland" because fewer and fewer people - as one recedes from Holland and Europe - knew much about him or his views.

Although not revealing anything earth-shatteringly new about its subject matter (the position of women in Islam), frequently a source of controversary among Muslims themselves, the contents and context of the film - not to mention its well-timed release, given the surging inquisitiveness about all things 'Islamic' - are powerful enough to have had impact without such provocative imagery. Perhaps, by using something different, he may not even have gotten himself killed, at least not as such a seemingly direct response to the film ... (though that's difficult to say: Predicting actions of the very angry, is almost impossible).

In any case, this was his film and artistic license gave him a right to choose to present things any way he wished, I suppose, in his part of the world. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, most of all for Theo, the world is no longer a collection of isolated parts.

My initial reaction had been that of a film-buff and self-taught media analyst: Just who was the target audience, I wondered? Muslims, who were expected to alter, give-up, or even challenge their own views and beliefs after seeing this? Obviously not! In any case, SUBMISSION is too confrontational to be considered an element of rational debate. Was it meant, then, for Muslim-haters who were going to gloat (it is unimportant whether 'rightly or wrongly') about yet another bashing? Maybe. Or was it just an act of self-expression and catharsis, as he had said, earlier, of some of his works? Not too likely, I suspect.

The following, adapted from the Wikipedia entry about Theo, may provide the raison d'etré for the film:

Although Theo Van Gogh [grandson of Vincent's brother, art-dealer Theo, after whom he was named] was generally known as a friendly, tolerant character, there were those who saw a venomous side to him as well. When he fell out with someone he tended to respond with hurtful prose. In the 1980s, he became a newspaper columnist, and through the years he used his columns to vent his anger at politicians, actors, film directors, writers and other people he considered to be part of "the establishment".

He incurred the anger of leading members of the Jewish community by making comments about what he saw as the Jewish preoccupation with Auschwitz. This quote from a 1991 magazine interview is a typical example of such commentary. Van Gogh explained a "smell of caramel" by stating that "today they're only burning diabetic Jews." When he was criticized by the Jewish historian Evelien Gans, he wrote in Folia Civitatis magazine: "I suspect that Ms. Gans gets wet dreams about being fucked by Dr Mengele." He also expressed the wish that she would sue him so that she would have to explain in court why his remarks were false.

Van Gogh rejected every form of organised religion. In the late 1990s he started to focus on Islam. He caused widespread resentment in the Muslim community by consistently referring to them as geitenneukers (goat-fuckers), which he justified by reference to alleged remarks on the permissibility of bestiality in a book on Islamic law by the Ayatollah Khomeini (although it is not clear whether Van Gogh actually coined the term geitenneukers, he certainly popularized it). He felt strongly that political Islam is an increasing threat to liberal western societies, and said that, if he'd been younger, he would have emigrated to the U.S.A., which he considered to be a beacon of light in a darkening world.

Working from a script written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, van Gogh created the 10-minute movie SUBMISSION. The film is about violence against women in Islamic societies. It shows four abused naked women, wearing see-through dresses. Qur'anic verses unfavourable to women are painted in Arabic on their bodies. After the movie was released, both van Gogh and Ayaan received death threats.

Needless to say, the title itself, being a literal translation of "Islam", must have angered many. But, I guess, it wasn't only for the making of SUBMISSION that he was targeted. Obviously, since he had been making waves even earlier, there were Muslims (and even Jews), specially in Holland, who were seething with anger from much before the film's release.

As for Ayaan - who comes from Somalia and is an apostate (which leads to another debatable issue; but let's save that for a later post!) living in Holland under political asylum - she had, in an interview, said of the prophet of Islam: "Measured by our [sic] western standards, he is a pervert. A tyrant." Since then, she has received several death threats, including the note that was pinned to Theo's body by the assaassin. She is provided continual police custody, I think because she is also a member of the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament.

Many left-wing Dutch intellectuals accuse her of "poisoning the political atmosphere of the Netherlands against Muslims", claiming that she, a self-proclaimed Liberal, "is contributing to the very cause she claims to be fighting against". Measure this view against another: the fact that she was included by Time Magazine in their 2005 listing of 100 Most Influential People in the World and was awarded the annual Democracy Prize of the Liberal Party of Sweden for her courageous work for democracy, human-rights and women's rights this August. Confusing, isn't it? This multiplicity of views is, I suppose, what makes us human!

Many are quick to point out parallels to the Rushdie affair and, to a lesser extent, Taslima Nasreen's case. But those two writers, IMHO, should have been more sensitive to, and aware of, the possible reactions, since, unlike Theo, they were parts of the very communities they eventually angered. The fatwa was, to my mind, a purely political attempt by Khomeini to stay in the limelight. Had it really been considered a seriously religious edict, Rushdie would have been killed by an Irani by now. As it stands, not even an attempt has been made. (Thank God for little mercies.)

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Monday, September 12, 2005

We live and learn …

Although it had quotation marks, there was no name to identify the 'source' at the bottom of the passage printed in large white letters against a green background, subconsciously suggesting a Muslim connection. My own first reaction to it was that, if it weren't for the obvious Christian references, these words — with some variation — could have easily been misconstrued as the rants and raves of a fanatical Muslim preacher.

"... My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to the fight against them and who - God's truth! - was greatest not as sufferer but as fighter. In boundless love, as a Christian and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and of adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.

Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion, I recognize - more profoundly than ever before - the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I do have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. And, as a man, I have the duty to see to it that human society does not suffer the same catastrophic collapse as did the civilization of the ancient world some two thousand years ago - a civilization which was driven to its ruin through this same Jewish people."

This obnoxious piece of paper was thrust into my hands, as I got off the bus at a street corner in New Jersey, by a group of 3 white youths, who then scurried away hastily. I assumed, later, that their action was probably because distributing such hate material must be against the law (but, with today's USA, I am only guessing). The back of the sheet was plain: no address to contact; no organization to join; no action demanded. This struck me as odd, even as I stuffed it into my bag-load of shopping, to read again at leisure and hazard a guess at who would be behind it and why.

Later, as I thought things over, I wondered whether it was handed over to me because my Pakistani looks indicated that I would be sympathetic to the preaching of such hateful stuff. If so, wasn't that, too, a form of racial profiling? Another thought — despite the fact that I was now in my motel room, far away from the bus-stop — sent a sudden shudder down my spine: Was I being set up? Could the next step for those kids have been to send a policeman after me and have me searched for spreading hate-literature? Recent events indicated that, in such a case, I would be guilty until I could prove my innocence.

On re-reading the passage, I felt absolutely certain that these could only be the words of a rabid Anti-Semitic Evangelist. Heaven knows, there are several hate-spewing preachers I have come across, during my years of seafaring, who could have uttered such crap without a blink! Just before I burnt the paper (I was still worried that some room-service guy would find it on my desk and report me), I decided - can't quite remember why - to type a phrase from it in ScrapX: As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I do have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.

The phrase seemed innocuous enough, at the time. Even mundanely moral. Until today! Stumbling across it, several months after the New Jersey trip, I decided to cut-and-paste it into the iSeek search box. Imagine my disbelief when the name of Adolf Hitler jumped out at me from all the links that were displayed.

Reading his Munich speech, from which this quote was taken, has certainly made it a lot easier for me to comprehend the sinister routes such scoundrels take, be they a Christian Adolf Hitler in Germany, a Hindu Narendra Mody in Gujarat, or a Muslim Zia-ul-Haque in Pakistan.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

To prevent drifting aimlessly, we need some Moorings

Here's a quote from Michael Moore's recent Letter to All Who Voted for George W. Bush

"Do you believe in Jesus? Really? Didn't he say that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us? Hurricane Katrina came in and blew off the facade that we were a nation with liberty and justice for all. The wind howled and the water rose and what was revealed was that the poor in America shall be left to suffer and die while the President of the United States fiddles and tells them to eat cake.

That's not a joke. The day the hurricane hit and the levees broke, Mr. Bush, John McCain and their rich pals were stuffing themselves with cake. A full day after the levees broke (the same levees whose repair funding he had cut), Mr. Bush was playing a guitar some country singer gave him. All this while New Orleans sank under water."

Read Michael Moore's full letter. The site, for the few of you who have not visited it yet, is a great place for other related writing, by Moore and others who question the establishment. On one of the pages, Dubya's current nemesis, Cindy Sheehan, asks What Kind of an Extremist Will You Be?

A local 'dissent page' would be a great place for many different views, culled from Pakistani Blogs, Helpline Trust's mailings, and other sources, and be a lot more effective than the scattered posts within a myriad blogs. MM's Links section might generate a few ideas.

Are you listening, Warrior and HM?

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Do people often ask you all sorts of questions?

Send them here. It's really very therapeutic.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina: Need One Say More?

The quotations below represent the views of 2 US Citizens from fairly diverse backgrounds. Thank you, President George W[acko] Bush, for your part in bringing together people as diverse as Michael Moore and Hesham Hassaballa under one banner.


It's not your fault that 30 percent of New Orleans lives in poverty or that tens of thousands had no transportation to get out of town. C'mon, they're black! I mean, it's not like this happened to Kennebunkport. Can you imagine leaving white people on their roofs for five days? Don't make me laugh! Race has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with this!

Read full piece: An Open Letter to George W. Bush by Michael Moore.


Funny, isn't it, how we have the ability, money, and wherewithal to invade a country thousands of miles away in the desert - for no good reason - to save them from the grips of tyranny and oppression? Yet, "it takes time" to send food, water, and supplies to the southern end of our own country. Funny, isn't it, how we miraculously found $1 billion to spend per day in Iraq, but we could not find the money to shore up the flood protection for New Orleans? Funny, isn't it, that our President flew back to Washington in the middle of the night - in his pajamas - to intervene to keep Terri Schiavo alive, yet he didn't do the same thing for the thousands of stranded residents of New Orleans?

Read full article: All I can say is "Lord Help Us" by Hesham Hassaballa.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dunno about God, but Tolerance is certainly dead!

"God is dead" proclaimed Nietzsche's words, in blazing red, across an all-black cover of Time magazine. But its offices were neither set ablaze nor its editorial staff threatened by fuming members of the 'religious right' (an oxymoron par excellence!). And this happened at a time when the political muzzling of dissenting youth, under a deceitful President, Richard Nixon, and a venomously vengeful FBI Chief, J, Edgar Hoover, raged on in a USA that turned a blind eye to social injustices against people of colour in its Bible Belt.

"Nietzsche is dead!" proclaimed a humourous postcard 'signed' by 'God'! Displayed frequently by religious students in their college dorms (and one that can still be seen on the pinboard at T2F if you are in Karachi), it was considered funny, even by the agnostic-atheist-leftist kids on campus, including the few among them who were almost evangelist-style preachers of atheism.

The same period also gave rise to flower-children and hippies, triggering in the young a more than passing interest in mysticism - from sufism to transcendental meditation. Tolerance, among the majority of people, was King! Today, it is either dead, or a mere zombie, propped up by the occasional administration of artificial respiration in the form of politically correct statements and shallow slogans.

Those who claim that their own religion is the only right path, support calls for interfaith dialogues and denounce religious extremism, while fanning the flames of denominational and sectarian hatred from pulpits. And the most self-righteous among them dole out even stranger messages: Preacher Pat Robertson, a presidential candidate in the 1988 US elections, described Feminism as a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft and become lesbians". He was again in the news, when he recently suggested that USA "take out" (a CIA-FBI euphemism for 'kill') Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, because of the latter's anti-US stand.

Following the 9/11 and the Tsunami disasters, such religio-sadistic preachers everywhere (often with a slightly perceptible hint of gloating) reminded us that these calamities, whether man-made or unleashed by forces of nature, were Divine Retribution against a sinful populace.
Televangelist, Jerry Falwell, commented that the 9/11 attacks were punishment for America's preponderance of "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal organisations".

"There is one reason: they lied, they sinned, and were infidels. Whoever studies the Koran can see this is the result", said Ibrahim Al-Bashar, an advisor to Saudi Arabia's Justice Minister, referring to the Tsunami deaths.
And now, with Katrina, having caused extensive damage to one of my favourite places in the USA, New Orleans - the birthplace of Jazz, we have yet another pronouncement from a self-proclaimed pulpit of righteousness: Repent America. Its website states:
"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence', New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge," he continued.

"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Marcavage said. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.

Pre-empting those who are likely to ask, "What of the innocent victims, the infants and the infirm, who surely cannot have been guilty of the wickedness?", the webpage provides an answer: "[God] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)

When tragedy struck the Twin Towers, we were told of the rejoicing in what one TV commentator referred to as "fundamentalist Muslim territories" (he, obviously, uses a world map colour-coded differently from mine). Although some of the images shown, on at least one major news service, are now known to have been 'doctored' or 'falsely connected' to this event, there is no denying that such a reaction did occur in small pockets. However, these disgusting displays were certainly not limited to the Muslim world alone; they also took place in many predominantly (and, often devoutly) Christian countries, such as Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and even Greece (where a crowd of football fans vociferously refused to observe a 2-minute silence for the victims).

How anyone could rejoice at, or even be indifferent to, the deaths of innocent people is a question that has no acceptable answers. But it does make one wonder why those, who claim "God is Love", despise, with such intensity, their own deity's creations?

These moral-high-ground approaches, almost always aided by religious fanaticism or nationalism, are not much different from (and, very possibly, the source of) other instances of warped logic: The justification, in the minds of seemingly sane people, who conclude that, through a certain mode of dress or behaviour, a rape victim 'was asking for it', is one such example. Another example, more specific, that comes to mind is the case of a nurse raped by a doctor in a Karachi hospital years ago. The 'learned' judge, upon hearing that the nurse had had consensual sex with a boy-friend on previous occasions, opined that she could hardly bring charges against this doctor because "she was habituated to sex".

For me, one of the worst instances of intolerance occurred when a dear friend (and her 6-month old baby), who had been staying with us during her husband's long but terminal illness, was flying to Nepal, accompanying the dead body of her husband. All on board perished in an aircrash that devastated many families. A 13-year-old girl from next-door, who was deeply affected by this, tearfully told her classmates of her attachment to the baby. She was stopped from crying by her Islamiyaat teacher, who then proceeded to tell the class that this was God's way of punishing our friend because she had married outside her own religion. [As for the baby, and the scores of others who died in the crash, I guess it was just another divine instance of raining "on the just and on the unjust."]

To those who behave this way, I can only pass on Asimov's advice: Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right!

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