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Monday, January 11, 2010

Anand Patwardhan - Revisited

Anand Patwardhan made several excellent films, including War & Peace. Parts were shot on both sides of the Pak-Indian divide. Here's a great piece from Lahore Grammar School that some of you may have missed (or even forgotten).

It would be wonderful to have many of our current youth and, even more important, those in the group that were there during the shooting, to see if they have changed their views - one side or another.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Bertrand Russell … Mathemagical!

Wow! What a treat!
Delightful drawings. Great backgrounds.

I thought the whole concept
was stupendous.

So were the little images.

Thanks, a lot, Kove!

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Tie 2 …

1 and a 1/2 month later:

OK. So now I am well enough and I thought I'd start writing.

Once a week, though. At least until something really industrious comes along.

To start with, lemme go back to the 24th of October.

The topic: Blasphemy Ordinance - Do We Want Them Removed
6.20: About 10 mins to go
So, there I was.
Nuzhat and Sabeen.
A couple of oddball friends and relatives.
… but then people gathered up and the hall, around an hour or so later, was filling up. Soon, there were enough in the hallway to make sure it was full.

Everyone spoke well … including even the poor 'office' girl. But the delight of the evening was dear old Bhagwandas. Naasikh and Meer and tons more … Yayyyy!

General discussion ended with the consensus that no way does it seem likely to be done away with ... but ... a lot of its integrity can be resolved.

Hmmm ...


So, around 9+, Nuzhat, Sabeen, and I moved on to our house, ready to change (Sabeen still making up her mind, though) and we decided to have dinner.

Dinner done, I walked up to my room where Sabizak's little note asked when I'd be around. "In a while", I said. Then moved to the bedroom when I 'felt' a little chakkar and decided to lie down. That's when I felt a little more. So I decided to stand up and stay the other way …

… and suddenly I realized I was 'ON'!

In the next few moments I was not quite as conscious - well, kinda - so the events that took place are a bit transfused, but Shamim (the surgeon who lives opposite), Sabeen (who'd phoned up to say she was ready to go and was told to come over with an ambulance), the surgeon's wife, an antihistamine ( Old? Maybe! Let's try it! … No, it didn't do anything!!! ), Sabeen's arrival (still trying to get an ambulance), my insistence that I want to go to NICVD as fast as possible (at Aga Khan I'd probably die crawling under a stampede) … all this was lost somewhere around my constant feeling that I wanted to go to the bathroom.

Shamim had checked out his BP instrument and, as usual, seemed pretty sure that I was not likely to last - something that a pair of good earphones will put right for him. He also felt that my pulse was nearly 'zero' but kept on looking at me and saying 'Forty haé ...'.

But he was ready to stop me from going over to the loo. Nuz, too, had wanted to stop me … but, finally, she forced Shamim and [together] they drove me to the WC.

Lasted 2 mins!!! I was out, cold.

Lying on the floor, I was dragged back to the place near the bed.

Dunno if the closure lasted 2 mins or 5 ... who knows. But there I was … ready, willing, and able! Up again, with my ageless rhythm, it had to be the loo. So, there I was, dragging my feet all across the floor. Twenty feet to the WC, angry, angst, wanting to go, and there I now was. Nuzhat had finally decided to let me go on. On the floor to the commode I suddenly discovered I had enough strength to drag myself and get around to sit. [There was 'much' to be done. Loads of shit. Amples of clearance. Much water. But still …]

The trip to the loo was wonderful. I got up and, partly stretched across Nuzhat's body, I went all the way back to the bed and lay down upon it. On the way I only thought 3 times, in very quick succession, that Ragni should be here to see me go. Or stay. But I do need her.

And then I went back upon the bed and snored.

Down the stairway, down into the parking lot, up into the ambulance … all these passages seemed little until we went up into the hallway where a hundred doctors, patients, nurses, attendants, all created a noise. I reopened my eyes once and was told that the efforts were good. I was very likely going to survive.

(Oh, I did see a rather 'cute nurse' ... but, later, much much later, it turned out to be my friend Insiya.)

Just a few moments, as soon as I was taken into my CMU, I told Nuzhat that we had to call Ragni otherwise she is likely to see this on the net. People were told to stay off the net (including one gentleman who also said that on the net!).

Soon I heard Ragni's voice and was glad …

That was my day!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reason takes a backseat again …

It would be ridiculous for me to even begin a post on this topic without requesting that you read xyz's brilliant and hilarious rant first.

(By the way, XYZ, that doesn't look quite like a pair of binoculars to me but suspiciously like a Theodolyte … And it may well be one with a crescent painted inside the lenscap that's put on whenever the government wants the mullas to announce the sighting :D

Of course, to XYZ's objections the faithful will retort and say the Qürãn demands that we see it with the naked eye. Ahaaaa ... but it says nothing, does it, about someone else seeing it with their naked eyes and informing us? But, then, we reason, how does a blind person see it? Obviously s/he relies on others? So there is a lacuna that actually allows us to think for ourselves, right? Hey, mullaas - did you ever notice that?

The Qürãn set a principle that, in those days, required a physical sighting … not a law that can't be modified to suit the current situation. Ohhh, so there are exceptions? Yes. Specially to what Mullas think are Divine Laws, rather than Godly Guidelines

Here's a case in point: The holy book also says that during Vüzoo (Vudhoo to the Pakistanis who have difficulty pronouncing Züaads - through a case not of cleft palates but of cleft brains) the faithful must wash both hands. So is the one-armed person exempt because hir circumstances have changed? Should s/he skip the ablution? Or skip prayers (since pre-requisites aren't complete)? I think all would agree that s/he is expected to pray after performing a one-handed ablution. Without even spraying water over a phantom limb, Dr. Ramachandran :~)

So, where does s/he get the right to do that? Hmmm.... Hasn't anyone heard of Reason?"
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use!" — Galileo
Nizaamé Aql, anyone?

OK, enough bickering. I shall let the Mullaas fight this out among themselves as they have done in the past. On particularly bad days I wish they'd just kill each other - and the last 24 hours have been particularly bad for me.

Let me move on to the raison d'être for this post: Sharing Syed Mohammad Jafri Sahab's account of the RHC's doings under its friend and master!

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Tale of Three Tales

Tale #1

Nuzhat's father, whom I called Mamooñ Jaan, frequently regaled us with amazing tales that were often hilarious and almost always embellished for the sake of the telling, something that a storyteller's craft demands. Also, his stories were never-ending, because - like those of Schehrezade - they always spun off (or had the potential to do so) into several more.

Over half a century ago he once narrated to us how, having had his car hubcaps stolen in Calcutta, he was told by people to visit چور بازار (=Thieves Market). Even before the actual tale began, I seemed perplexed at the thought that a place with such a name, albeit 'unofficial', could exist. Years later, I was even more shocked when I visited Calcutta and heard my sights-guide rickshaw driver point out to a police station as the Chor Bazaar Thaanah!

But, like Mamooñ Jaan, I digress… so, back to his story: Assuming that the area would have a horde of stolen goods in some nooks and crannies, he was amused to find that most shops specialized in specific types of goods and, upon enquiry, was led to the 'motor parts section' and, thence, to the 'hubcaps subsection'! He was disappointed as, not too surprisingly, he couldn't see many Citroën hubcaps around. He was asked by the shopkeeper when the hubcaps had been stolen and when he said "Yesterday …" he was told, "Voh maal to Jum'araat ko aaye gaa" (="That stuff will come in on Thursday").

We found a criminal system being so organized - and so open about itself - really funny. Even at every retelling. (Yes, there were many!)

Tale #2

It was also at Nuzhat's house that I met her 'Sheefi Bhai' - the son of some friends so close to her family that, for all practical purposes, he is considered a cousin. Sheefi - and he was not being satirical - once called Pakistan's Police Force more efficient than those of the rest of the world. The latter, he felt, had to resort to painstakingly track down criminals. "Our police people", he told us, straight-facedly and with obvious awe, "know who has committed the crime. They just are unable to catch them!"

"No Comment" (but only because ROTFLMAO wasn't known then!)

Tale #3

This morning Nuzhat was unable to control her laughter as I read out a front-page story from The News International's City Section.

Here's my annotated abbreviated version (with a link to the full story):

Three die as Bengali gangs clash in Korangi

Two gangs of Bengali robbers clashed with each other in Korangi area late Thursday night over territorial jurisdiction (Interesting that illegal immigrants should fight to death over territories that are not legally theirs, in the first place.) …

According to the police, [two Bengali gang-leaders have] been operating in Sector 50-C, 100-Quarters, Korangi in Zaman Town police limits for the past several years. (So why haven't they been stopped?) …

The area is reportedly inhabited by more than 100,000 illegal Bengali immigrants (Ok, so we now have a load of people engaged in illegal and criminal activities and we have them in one corralled space. So what are we waiting for? An independence movement so that we can arrest them for treason?), but the activities of both gangs had the police chasing after them since a long time (errr ---- but? you mean the police were after them despite their illegal activities? How odd!) …

The police said that when they were informed about the clash, they immediately reached the scene of crime, but due to the narrow lanes in the area, they could not enter. (May I suggest that, next time, we don't send fat policemen?). After several hours, the police managed to enter […] with the help of [an] Armoured Personnel Carrier (OMG: Does this mean that the policemen sent earlier were even fatter than the APC which seems to have gotten through.) …

Officials concerned meanwhile fear that if both these network are not clamped upon (By whom, dear officials? Aren't you supposed to do that?), the area might face a Lyari-like gang war since both Alam and Shakoor commanded the vast support of the Bengalis residing in the area. This apprehension is not [without] reason, as both men had been close friends in the past and used to rob citizens passing through the industrial area together, while also committing house robberies and killing people who resisted. Shakoor Bengali also used to sell narcotics in the area. (Wow! The Police certainly keep a tab on everything. Guess it's needed for their records. No action, of course, was needed to be taken after obtaining all this info.) …

Alam Bengali is said to be very close to Rehman Dakait [=Dacoit] of Lyari, who used to support him on various occasions. Most arms used by Alam Bengali were provided by Rehman Dakait, which included rifles, Kalashnikovs and repeaters. Whenever the police conducted an operation in Lyari, Rehman Dakait used to send his men to Alam’s den in Korangi for shelter. Similarly, when the police operated against Alam Bengali group, Alam and his accomplices found refuge in Dakait’s dens in Lyari. (I REPEAT LOUDLY: Wow! The Police certainly keep a tab on everything. Guess it's needed for their records. No action, of course, was needed to be taken after obtaining all this info.) …

Police officials had decided to launch a grand operation against the criminals, but on late Thursday night, a fierce clash erupted between the two notorious gangs (ANOTHER REPEAT: errr ---- but?) …

The area remained tense till the filing of this report. (I am tense, too, as should all peace-loving folk be. However, I am ambivalent about who worries me more: The gangs or the police. That is, of course, if they are different entities.)

But, seriously, what could be the reason for this confusing state of affairs???


Oh ... and Sheefi: You win!

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

FeelGood Product of the Year

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ivan Illich, I Love You!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the Taliboom's Pro-Love Marriage Stance

Swat Taliban promote ‘love marriages’
(The News, April 19, 2009) - via Adil Najam's ATP
The Taliban of Swat have set up a bureau named ‘Shuba-e-Aroosat’ for arranging love marriages of couples who are denied the marriage of choice by their families for one reason or the other, reports BBC Urdu Service. Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the marriage bureau headed by Taliban Commander Abu Ammad arranged 11 ‘love marriages’ in the last nine days while 300 girls and boys are waiting for their turn. “The love marriage aspirants contact the bureau on a fixed telephone number. The Taliban collect their particulars and then contact their familites to arrange these choice marriages,” he said, adding that Islam allows every adult to get marry according to his/her own choice. He said, “Most of the girls, or their families, who contacted us wish to marry ‘militant’ Taliban.” Analysts say the Taliban are paving the way for themselves to marry the girls of their choice. It is really strange that they flog the couples on one hand for moving together while on the other hand allow young couples to marry according to their choice. Also the question arises how is it possible for a boy or girl to propose while they have not seen each other, reports BBC Urdu Service.

Haé zann hee pasé pardah, faqat lab peh Khüdaa hae
Talib haeñ yeh kiss cheez ke, yeh aaj khülaa haé

Inn par na hañso tüm, keh bohat yeh bhi haé yaaro
Sad shükr koee aaj sooé-zann* to huaa haé

* Since the punning is aural, I decided to leave it in the romanized style.


Note: It's never fun trying to explain jokes, but when one is part of a nation so unfamiliar with it's National Language that one needs to ask before making a presentation or taking a class whether they understand it, I guess one should.
The last class I interacted with 3 days ago - Class VIII students mainly from mid-income families - unanimously said they'd rather I spoke in English. And this in Karachi, the home of the 'muhaajir'. Haah!
I did get the same reaction in Lahore, but only at a very elite rich-brat school (mainly from its richer, brattier teachers!) although I think Aitchison and LUMS would not have reacted this way, for I find that their students speak Urdu reasonably well (or, at least, frequently).
Hence, here's a somewhat justifiiable - rather than presumptuous - effort at an Urdu Lesson :-)  for those wishing to understand the 'double-pun'. Here are the 4 components:

soo' (seen | vaao | hamzah) = kharaabi / evil
zann (zoé | noon) = gümaan / conjecture

سوِٰظَن  sooé zann = the evil of conjecture

soo (seen vaao) = taraf / direction
zann (zay noon) = aurat / woman

سوٰے زَن  sooé zann = towards women

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shanaakht Revisited

So much has been said in the last few days about the events that led to the closure of one of the festivals that promised to add more zest to a Karachi that is just beginning to be itself again.

With a couple of exceptions, everyone has condemned the violence that endangered attendees, participants, and organizers alike. Some have condemned, rightly, all violent protests, bemoaning the fact that our intolerant times have made this the most common form of protest. Others have drawn some fuzzy lines, one commentor on some site even stating that such protests are "kinda acceptable because they are inevitable - such as when they hurt religious sentiment".

That's BS. Violence is violence.

Is what happened in Lahore, when the Danish Cartoon protests took place, not condemnable? It destroyed the property, in some cases even the livelihood, of people who were as hurt by the cartoons as presumably the protesters were.

On blogs and Facebook people continue to debate, defend, and deride the art, or the artist, or the decision to display it. Even on Twitter, when the issue isn't so small as to fit into 140 characters. Discussions like this are invaluable in helping us understand other views, other sentiments, other ideas. My own blog post, too, and my comments elsewhere, came under criticism, and in some cases, I understood and even partially agreed that there were aspects I may not have considered when penning my thoughts.

All I can say in my defense is that I was still reeling from being present on the spot, dazed by the gun-slinging unruly anfd threatening mob's disregard for any civilized negotiations or discussions. My critics, some of them, had read detached (and often distorted) reports in the media and had had the luxury of a lot of varied inputs before they made their worthy analyses. Too, I was privy to more conversations and discussions, some overheard, than were people who were not there.

The arguments, from both sides, are as old as Creativity itself and, once knee-jerk reactions fade, deserve a great deal more serious thought and discussions - hardly possible in an atmosphere of FIRs, threats, and other pressures.

If you are genuinely interested in the larger issue of an artist's responsibility, take time out to read this piece of writing from over half a century ago and form your arguments for either side.

By allowing such sad incidents to be used for the imposition of censorship, by handing over the control of what we read or view, even think, to individuals who, for the most part engage in none of these activities, or to groups of people who would allow or disallow art and books on the basis of personal - often fascistic - views would be to condemn this society to ignominy.

I, for one, am unwilling to make members of any group - themselves guilty or suspected, of bribery, corruption, lies, fraud, and much higher crimes - the guardians of my morality.

... please don't let the Shanaakht aftermath be used for other agenda!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

An appeal to the Pope for Sanity and Honesty

(Pity these two qualities are lacking among religious leaders of all faiths - Z)


Dear friends,

Pope Benedict's statement last week that condoms may aggravate the AIDS epidemic could put millions of lives at risk. Sign the petition to the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention work!

Take Action Now!

This week, on his first visit to Africa, Pope Benedict said that "[AIDS] cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The Pope's statement is at odds with the research on AIDS prevention, and a setback to decades of hard work on AIDS education and awareness. With powerful moral influence over more than 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and 22 million HIV positive Africans, these words could dramatically affect the AIDS pandemic and put millions of lives at risk.

Worldwide concern is starting to show results and a willingness by the Vatican to revise the statement - Sign our urgent petition asking the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention strategies:

The personal and religious beliefs of Catholics and all people should be respected, and the Pope does advocate for other effective AIDS prevention methods such as abstinence and fidelity, while the Catholic Church engages in a vast amount of social service work, including the care of those living with AIDS. But the Pope's claim that condom distribution is not an effective AIDS prevention mechanism is not supported by research. It's untrue, and if it diminishes condom use, it will be deadly.

The fact is, HIV and AIDS are prevented by condom use.

There is no easy solution to the spread of this tragic disease, but condoms and education are the best known prevention combination and have not been found to increase risky sexual behaviour. That is why even priests and nuns working in Africa have questioned the Pope's statements.

We may not be able to ask the Catholic Church to change its broader position, but we are asking the Pope to stop actively speaking out against prevention strategies that work. It's important that people of all beliefs, especially Catholics, call on the Pope to exercise care in his leadership on this issue. Sign below then spread the word to your friends and family - this petition could actually save lives:

25 million people worldwide have already died of AIDS, and 12 million children have been left without parents. If enough of us join this outcry, we will win an important battle in the struggle for a world without AIDS.

With hope,

Ricken, Alice, Ben, Graziela, Iain, Brett, Paula, Pascal, Luis, Paul, Veronique, Milena and the whole Avaaz team


ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.)

Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva. Call us at: +1 888 922 8229 or +55 21 2509 0368 Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

We Interrupt This Blog For Some Breaking News ...

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Mumbai & The Media Circus

Enveloping that rare (and ever unconfirmable) commodity, FACT, there are rumours, knee-jerk reports, denials, counter-denials, planted stories, cooked-up videos, government leaks, 'experts' (the stress presumably on the first syllable), disinformation, misinformation, analyses that require analyses, investigative reporting tinged with biases, and soundbites from the proverbial '[wo]man on the street' - as if s/he could possibly reach an informed judgement after being subjected to the above. 

Will the truth (whatever that means) ever out? Was Sahir right: Khoon phir khoon hae, tapkay ga to jam jaaé ga ... ?

In the political and emotional aftermath that engulfed many on both sides, the larger picture has been lost. The reasons for such incidents are often traced back to the twin evils that clearly plague us on both sides: a nationalism that borders on the absurd and a fundamentalism not merely confined to religious ideas.

Religious extremism gets the bulk of the blame. But what of the causes of religious extremism itself? While religion has always provided a fertile ground to sow the seeds of hatred in, most religious people I knew in the past were not fundamentalists or extremists or terrorists. Is there a more recent malaise that has reaped the current crop? 

Those of you who have read many of my previous posts must be aware that I love Tarun Tejpal. I consider him the only male member of my 'acquired' family that boasted (until I met him) only sisters and daughters. Had rakhsha bandhan been also a same-gender practice (but all sorts of those are apparently unacceptable in our societies) I'd have formally made him my younger brother.

The Writing On The Wall

Tehelka lost a close associate in Rohinton Maloo, one of the earliest victims of the recent carnage, shot in cold-blood at the Oberoi. In writing about him, Tarun has written one of the finest pieces on the event, the most sensible and touching, so far, among those I have come across. I thought I'd share it with you all. So, please download it read it, and pass it on.

It's not just about India. It's about all of us.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Telling & Chilling!

So what do all these guys have in common?

They are Sponsors of the 17th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. Now I am REALLY worried!

(Thanks for the poster, Isa)

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Day of Days

This is not a frequent happening.

The festivals of several belief systems and cultures have come together on March 21, 2008: Good Friday, Holi, Nauroz, and Eedé Meelaad-ün-Nabi have all fallen on the same day as World Anti-Racism Day, beckoning everyone of us to live in Peace.

In a saner world - considering that the event could have been reasonably predicted years ago - we would have made this a special international day of celebrating our diversities. Here's hoping it'll happen the next time around.

Until then, the least we all can do is

(The graphic has been taken from some website. Can't recall origin. Z)

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Bakray kee maañ kay naam!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Today's the day ...

Perhaps you have a friend, a work colleague or even a family member who still isn’t convinced about Climate Change? Well help is now at hand!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rejoice, Bloggers and other Pakistanis

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bloggers ... October 15th is coming!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Creative Thinking and The Creation

You may believe that the present is the key to the past, but what if The Present has been 'created' as is, and there is no such thing as The Past?

For those of you who need a nudge from your science-infested arrogance, to return to belief, the Institute for Creation Research offers a great deal of information to counter the propaganda spread by such ignoramuses as Charles Darwin, Julian Huxley, and the evil-mouthed Richard Dawkins. Here's an extract from an article by Andrew A. Snelling, Ph.D., of ICR, that finally trumps all the fallacious logic which has resulted in conclusions based on faulty extrapolation of evidence.
The Appearance of Age at Creation

At the marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus commanded servants to take huge water pots and fill them with water. He then told the servants to draw from the pots and take it to the Ruler of the Feast, who deemed it excellent wine. However, the Ruler of the Feast had used the assumption that the present is the key to the past! He used his own reasoning based on what he knew happens in the present. He assumed, based on everyday experience, this wine had come from grapes grown on vines, grapes that had been harvested and crushed, fermented, and bottled. He thought it had taken a long period of time, but he was wrong. Jesus had, in fact, created this wine. This then is the characteristic of anything God does in creation. From our experience it has an apparent age, an appearance of a non-existent history. And why did Jesus do this? He did it to meet an immediate need.

When God commanded the fruit trees into existence He created them already bearing fruit. If we went back in time, we would have looked at those trees and would have said that they had taken years to grow and mature. But God created a mature, fully-developed creation, because it was meant to be in existence immediately so that when Adam and Eve walked the earth three days later, their food needs would be met.

What do many people say today? They say the world "looks old," therefore the Bible is wrong or God has deceived us. No, God has not deceived us, because He told us what happened in His eyewitness account in Genesis 1. God saw what He made and said it was very good. He was present. He was fully capable of recording and preserving for us His eyewitness account so we would know what happened at creation with absolute certainty. The Gospel accounts give Jesus' stamp of approval on Genesis 1 as the historical record of the earth's beginning. God's timetable for the creation was that He spoke the earth into existence.

Yes, the earth has an appearance of age. But if we use the wrong assumptions to interpret the evidence, we come to the wrong conclusion that the earth is very old, when God clearly says it isn't.
Evolution is not the only misleading theory under attack by the people at ICR, which claims that its "articles are written by top professionals in the fields of geology and biology."

"Global Warming may affect some parts of our society negatively ... but would likely benefit others. In fact, the current warming trend may be returning our global climate closer to that prevalent in the Garden of Eden...", says Larry Vardiman, Ph.D., also of ICR.

Hmmm ...

Dr. Snelling bases his conclusions on the Bible, but what about Dr. Vardiman? I searched and searched ... and finally found the book from where he got his great insight.


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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rotten Apples?

When was the last time you received mail, or had to bear a sarcastic comment, because your dreamcar manufacturer, Ferrari, had a small market share? Or because your favourite CD Label had the nasty habit of packing its CDs into a non-biodegradable Jewel Case which, in turn, was placed into a 'bubble pack' twice its size that also contained unnecessary cardboard sheets? Never? Neither have I.

But, for us Apple users, this is not an option.

From dear friends who send me frequent reminders of the Mac having lost (only to be reminded, themselves, that the GUI which Mac introduced actually won and can now be seen on every computer that uses it's cheap copy)

to the not-so-dear chap who sends me updates on all Apple criticisms in the press, as if I were personally accountable for everything Steve does.

So, it came as no surprise that, when Greenpeace charged Apple with environmental irresponsibility, I got an email from a friend who is a very conscious environmentalist. Titled "yr fav slipping?", the mail quoted an article, "How Green Is Your Apple?" - from The Economist, a magazine I find deceitful and obnoxious. (Unfortunately, I am not as forgiving of irresponsible and slanted reporting as many of my more learned friends.)

But, I had also come across the charges by Greenpeace in other sections of the press, and had been following the story keenly, not because it involves Apple but because of my own interest in the Environment.

Why should Apple (in the final analysis) be expected to be better or worse than any other corporation in its pursuit of money? It has never, to my knowledge, claimed a moral high ground. True, it has not yet fallen foul of the law for the kind of strong-arm tactics and illegalities that Microsoft uses, but that doesn't 'guarantee' it never will. Who knows what goes on inside all these big companies? Corporate greed is a killer disease.

Getting back to the Greenpeace charge, they have stated that Apple's performance is very poor in terms of environmental responsibility. According to CNET, Apple disagrees with Greenpeace's assessment, saying that they have strong environmental records and follow worldwide regulations.

As an aware citizen, and a devout Mac user, such things are important for me to trace and track. I am, therefore, not entirely new to the slurs and doubts cast by (otherwise well-meaning) organizations on Apple. It's often a mere 'strategy'. After all, any story with the word 'Apple' or the name 'Steve Jobs' will draw more readers and provide publicity for the cause than would news about Michael 'Dull' or his company. In fact, even Michael uses the strategy to bad-mouth Apple so that his stupid pronouncements get press coverage!

While I cannot categorically state that Greenpeace - an organization I admire immensely - would stoop to such tactics, it is not entirely inconceivable. Truth, honesty, ethics, all go out the window at the drop of a hat in every instance. Sad, but true. The concept of 'ends justifying the means' has completely obliterated the adage which reminded us that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'.

Those who think I have gone too far in my pro-Apple stance, by casting aspersions on a great activist organization, would do well to remember that, in 2005, the 'Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition' targeted many Apple events to criticize the company's position on recycling and takeback programs for used computers. The SVTC activists kicked off the campaign at MacWorld during Jobs's annual speech ... cashing in on the kind of photo-ops they could not have had any other way. That their charge-sheet was full of everything from suppression of truth to blatant lies, poor analysis, and false conclusions was of no concern to the many who saw the pictures in the press and read their rants and may have concluded that Apple was at fault.

I request those who raise objections - and all who are environmentally conscious - to read the post from which the following extract is quoted to highlight and underscore my point. (For those who live in countries that comprise the Axis of Insanity, where even the delightful tinyurl is banned - amazing, na? - this link may be a better option.)
The UnApple Report issued by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and their partners, mixed generalized assumptions about Apple Computer, depictions of Apple products, and a spoofed Apple logo, with general facts about the environment and societal ills, and implied a correlation between the two. For example it stated:

50-80% of the e-waste taken to U.S. “recyclers” is actually shipped out to developing countries in violation of international law. In China, India and other countries, dirty electronics recycling has had horrendous consequences—polluting the air, land and water and endangering people’s health. Without an aggressive takeback system, including a commitment to work only with responsible recyclers, Apple is contributing to this growing problem.

This suggested that Apple was involved in sending toxic trash to third world countries, which isn't true. SVTC knew that, so they only implied a relationship. Reports of the protest widely linked Apple to “accusations” of third world dumping, so a vague implication was enough to fulfill the coalition’s political agenda.

Apple lags far behind Dell and HP in its policies or programs to take back its own obsolete products.

This suggested that Dell and HP have actually recycled more of their PCs than Apple has, but that isn't true either. Dell and HP have both produced far more toxic trash than Apple, and continue to generate many times more e-waste than Apple, both in sheer volume and in the degree of toxicity of the new products they ship, as noted below.

A disturbing growth trend in e-waste recycling is the use of prison work programs where super-exploited, under-protected captive workers are subject to toxic exposure. Without a system in place to ensure that Apple e-waste does not end up in prisons, Apple is contributing to this growing problem.

This similarly implied that Apple was using prison labor for recycling, when SVTC knew that Apple really wasn't.

Under a depiction of an iPod being thrown away, the report presented various facts about lead poisoning and the toxicity of burning plastics, but headlined the general statements with: Many manufacturers are addressing the problems associated with electronic waste, or e-waste. Apple, however, is compromising brand value and leadership by placing short-term financial gain over environmental concerns. Apple products include toxics, and need special care.

Was the iPod targeted because it is a serious contributor to e-waste, or was SVTC targeting Apple because their brand name and consumer popularity would guarantee it front page press coverage? Would it be better if the iPod used AA batteries, the way many other music players do? That would result in the tens of millions of iPod users each throwing away hundreds of toxic batteries throughout their iPods' lifetime.
Apple's official policy and record, too, is worth a read. A caveat: after all, it is the company's site and, like all content on company sites, must be read with a critical mind. But also worth keeping in mind is that the ex Vice President of the USA, Al Gore, one of the leading environmentalists today, also sits on the board of Apple.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

The Pros and Cons of Being Early

Snapped during my early morning walk.

The early photographer caught the early bird ...
And the early bird caught the early worm ...

But what about the early worm?

So, Munir Niazi Sahab, you may actually have been lucky all along.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Magnum Opus 2: Kudos Unilever and Marketing-360

The recent Magnum Ad Campaign in Pakistan created a bit of a furore (see earlier post).

On a forum dedicated to marketing there were many streams of thought: from those yelling blue murder, through some extolling the 'liberal' tilt of the ad, to the obvious ones betraying their juvenile excitement of being able to use phrases on the forum that they would not use with the same aplomb at home - even when discussing the Magnum issue. However, one view that particularly saddened me was the expression of helplessness among some who felt that views discussed on such fora are in effective.

Wrong! The ads are gone and here's a part of what happened:

Dear Ms Musharaf Hai

I have always admired your leadership and innovation skills; Levers Pakistan has certainly benefitted from the same. I am a keen member of the marketing subgroup which is a group of Paki professionals (incl some from Unilever) and we have been debating the 'relevance' of the sexual context of the MAGNUM CAMPAIGN esp some females have made some strong comments that I highlight below. I am sure as a WOMAN and as a socially responsible organization; you will take notice of the same; if you haven't already that is. I wish Levers and Magnum success; while maintaining its image and reputation in a society which isn't yet ready for provocative content in advertising. Regards and all the best

Imran O Kazmi
MD Synergize
Dubai, UAE

Dear Mr Kazmi,

We greatly appreciate your concerns, and would like to inform you that the Walls Magnum Caramel advertising campaign has already been withdrawn last week.

As you are undoubtedly aware, Walls Magnum is internationally positioned on "Indulgence", and this advertising campaign was produced in keeping with this international strategy. There was no intention in any way to upset Pakistani cultural sensitivities. Unilever Pakistan regrets if the feelings any member of the public have been upset.

Walls treasures its relationship with the people of Pakistan and will not allow any issue to affect this special bond.

Thank you for taking your time to write to us and expressing your concerns as these are extremely important to us.

Kind regards

Sher Afzal Mazari
GM Corporate Affairs
Unilever Pakistan Ltd

Dear Group Members

I forward Mr Mazari's response on the Magnum Ad; personally I appreciate the sensitivity displayed by Levers Pakistan - I do believe that creative fields border on the fine line between sanity and insanity, between light and the dark, between elation and sorrow and between euphoria and hatred; the person creating an ad has always to walk this fine line of perceptions.

Well done Levers!


Imran O Kazmi

Here's my letter to the Forum; I wanted to share it with those not on its mailing list.

Through the forum I'd like to extend a very special thanks to Unilever for their sensitivity and for taking an action that must have proved very expensive and difficult to execute in such a short space of time.

At the same time, I'd like to also address those who said (and even more who constantly feel) that individuals or small groups are powerless and cannot achieve anything: As you can see, this is not so. One should never hold back because of feelings of disempowerment. Remember Gandhi's words: Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

In some discussions, on and off the forum, there was a constant undercurrent of criticism that Unilever has a brilliant woman at the helm of affairs and this should not have happened. Some felt it may have slipped past her. Now we hear a few voices saying that Ms Hai must have had them removed. Regardless of who took the final action, I wonder why the onus of sensitivity and morality is expected to rest on women? Do men in similar positions have no responsibility?

And what about the responsibility on those who actually produced the commercial, acted in it, directed it, regardless of gender? None of them seem to have been forced into it as a result of poverty. Perhaps some of them had to do this as a job and had no option. Accepted. But, in such cases, I'd say: do so while registering your protest or dissent.

Let us not, in our rush to judgement of corporations, forget that every single one of us makes up this society and has a right and a duty to express views if s/he disagrees for more than mere personal reasons.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Magnum Opus (aka Wall's Balls)

Wall's is anything but inconsistent. The ads suck, if you'll pardon the expression.

The Magnum ads have, once again, sparked a debate in Pakistan. Not the philosophical kind that raged in the West and on the Net about its "5 Senses" ad ... and whether it was blatantly sexual or merely sensual (the line is rather blurred between these two words now). The current debate, with participants ranging from advertising and marketing execs to students, centres around whether local context, culture, values, and taboos must be respected or not. Many worry that such ads will open the door, at one of the worst moments in our history, to a flood of obscenities. Others are turned off and disgusted. The few who do not oppose it merely suggest we accept the fact that selling is a no-holds-barred enterprise.

Some may even argue that, by being placed on a billboard - a medium that does not offer the luxury of reaching for the remote control and switching it off - it tramples upon the choice of those who do not wish to see this or have their kids exposed to it. At least not when they are together.

Here is one comment from a female participant of the above-mentioned discussion. There are dozens of more blunt and angry comments that I did not see fit to quote.

i drove by karsaz today and saw the blown up magnum ad.
even though the ice cream is amazing
(took a bite off a friend's magnum),

the ad
made me feel kinda... sick.
this is not about ethics,

this isn't about what is socially acceptable.

i did not want to have an ice cream that hinted at what magnum was hinting at.

that is not pure indulgence for me.

it so isn't.

did the ad
it worked in scandalising people and creating a hype.

did people go out and buy the product?

i'm not so sure.

i'll say it again: the ice cream was amazing.
but thinking about

you-know-what is not what i want to think about while having it.

thank u whoever-was-in-charge for spoiling it for me.

That the ad 'hints' (to use the above writer's word) at what it does is no accident. An earlier campaign by Wall's had many arguing that the young model was duped into portraying what she did not realize what the ad would suggest (or, as some held, the viewer was reading too much in it). I only requested such 'defenders' to look at several people, of all shapes, sizes, and genders eating ice-cream - even Magnum - and see how many had the eyes-half-closed expression or the emotion that the ad showed. None ever brought it up again.

As ad-savvy people who follow international campaigns know, Wall's ads have always had a clear intent. For example, one Magnum Cone storyline was described thus on an ad-related website: Man is eating a Magnum Cone when a woman walks by and starts licking it. [And one has to see it for the briefest of moments to understand what's being implied.]. Even a less provocative ad by them, which showed a man rolling paper into a long marijuana joint, did not escape the sexual innuendo: it was called The Sixties Nine

Do I have a problem with the ad? Yes! I think that this ad - and many more that seem to confuse modernity with sexual liberalism - play right into the hands of the fundos, destabilizing all moves towards the more important aspects of liberal or open-minded thought in an already confrontational society. Soon we'll have the right-wingers screaming and demanding of people if this is the kind of immorality they want their children to be brought up with --- a form of emotional blackmail that works and will help them gain sympathy, paving the way for other nefarious activities under their self-apointed position of moral guardianship. From disfiguring billboards (already a fairly common sight as you travel further north) it is but a short hop to disfiguring people ... and they will stop at neither.

May I suggest that consumers express their views not merely on private and net-based forums but also to Unilever.

Or shall we wait until the next Wall's ad appears with Studded for Extra Pleasure as a slogan?

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Monday, January 23, 2006


Have been wanting to blog this since walking out of KaraFilm Festival's closing/awards night, which we finally did due to an extremely late start ("VVIP mooment ho raha hae; dayr to ho gee. Taenu jaldi kyaa hae?", as one RoboCop had barked). In fact we left as soon as the President arrived and we realized that there would be even more speeches and ceremonies and security beef-ups. An underlying reason that 'got to us' was the creeping, increasingly unbearable horror of realization that the venue was most antithetical to such human-centred events: The PAF Museum, 'decorated' with pedestalled engines of destruction.

The Good News for KaraFilm Fests is that it has come of age. More films, more participants, more audiences, more venues, more sponsors. Great results for the dedicated and extremely hardworking team that has been at it relentlessly and with much less support than people imagine. And now they have a 'ModEn' President patronizing it.

But this last bit of Good News could also spell Bad News.

Unlike the Presidential (and, thus, Governmental) patronage of the APMC - for all sorts of reasons, none negative - this could, unless vigilance is excercised, prove non-productive. There are, at APMC concerts, no anti-Government Raags, no dissenting Taals, no politically inspired performances (other than the words of the Sufis, if people only delved a little deeper). Film Festivals, worldwide, tend to primarily be the meeting ground of such protest material. From Michael Moore's larger-than-life movies to The Little Terrorist or Submission, they strike at the roots of all that is wrong around us, at least in the eyes of independent film-makers. Like Deepa Mehta and Anand Patwardhan's films, they challenge or highlight taboos. Some better than others. A few offering alternatives. But ALL making one think. And thinking, often, leads to action. And action to reaction.

Given the reactions of the President to some forms of dissent and the Prime Minister's recent statement (quoted in the Press with reference to a partial ban on cable channel content) that he would like to prevent the showing of material that was against our religion, state, culture, vaghaerah (now that's going to be a really hard one to figure out for censorship but may help shut down PTV!), the strings of patronage could as easily become the ropes for throttling a truly independent selection. I am not saying they will. All I am saying is that the guys at the KaraFilm Festival need to be on their toes and need all our support.

Here's hoping there will be even more venues added next year, with at least one on 'the other side of the bridge'!

Three cheers for the KaraFilm gang. I love you!

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Le Whore ... she just don't treat me right!

If I survive the next week (and the education conference), I shall be back in the arms of my hometown, that peaceful (ok, so I am pushing it) city of lights, Karachi.

I shall, then, have time and the opportunity (and be safely out of reach), to tell you loads of stuff about my experiences in Lahore, a city that constantly reminds me of a passage from my all-time favourite book, Alice in Wonderland:
Alice looked round her in great surprise.
"Why, I do believe we've been under this tree all the time! Everything's just as it was!"
"Of course it is," said the Queen: "what would you have it be?"
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else -- if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
Don't get me wrong: The hospitality at the home of my hosts can't be beat. CHILL OUT's gorgeous sugar-free ice cream, in two flavours unavailable elsewhere in Pakistan to diabetics like me, and Shoaib's unique humour are simply amazing, but (a) one does not have access to them everyday (Shoaib strictly forbids visiting him more than once a week!); and (b) I am sure there are harmful side-effects of both.

Exceedingly soft-spoken Gulzar's erudite (and well-articulated) conversations are a treat, as is Salima's warmth. But one cannot be expected to tap these resources too frequently. (A secret: it was the possibility of interaction with these two that had made me consider, once, a longish stint at BNU, Pakistan's first Liberal Arts University.)

Meanwhile, this is just to tell you all that this blog may be kinda inactive until the 5th ... although, for my own sanity, I will probably add a few lines every now and then.

Oh ... a recommendation. Hamza Moin has an interesting site for young Muslims.

Khuda Hafiz ...

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The School of Tomorrow: Part 4 - The Changing Scene

The Shrinking World and the New Media

Under a fast-shrinking world, values and cultures are melding, egged on at dizzying speed by the new media. Whether we like it or not, cross-currents of influence are altering our views and ways of life. How will the Education System prepare students for the conflicts that arise from this --- conflicts they will face within themselves, in their homes, and in their society?

The impact of media is certainly far greater than it ever was, or was even envisaged, except by visionaries such as Marshall McLuhan, most known for coining the now-clichéd term, "Global Village". One of his statements that requires careful consideration by educators is: The new media are not just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression.

Accepting this view, which is both valid and undeniable, we need to be introducing Media Literacy into our curriculu; and soon. Many, around the world, are doing so already, equipping their students with the tools and the grammar of the new media. It is not just desirable but essential that our children not be left behind. With the plummeting costs of cameras and scanners, and the increasing access to computers in schools (the recent MIT unit will accelerate this further), a modest beginning is not as difficult as it sounds. Podcasts and Blogs must be not only encouraged but be considered natural progressions in Language Arts and other areas of study. They are potent, allow more exciting ways of expression, engage the student, and cost almost nothing.

Concepts of Media Awareness have to be incorporated early, too, at all levels of the Education system. After all, children are being targeted unscrupulously by mind-enslaving advertisements for products, while adult minds are continually bombarded with a variety of communication forms that blur all lines between truth, propaganda, and blatant lies - rendering their decision-making capabilities ineffective. The message being received is , as one activist poster had it: Work, Eat, Buy; Consume, then Die! A great way to keep us all engaged - during the time left between watching megasports, thought-preventing sitcoms, and pseudo-serious 24/7 news about non-issues: after all, how important is it to know which head of state received purely formal - often hypocritical - salutes on arrival in another country? All this goes on while the establishment slowly takes control of our personal liberties. [Note: Teachers and High-school students must be encouraged to read magazines such as Adbusters - available online.]

These, and other related aspects, are being incorporated into the curricula, in the Western schools, from fairly early class levels. Already results show that children can discern such matters far earlier than many parents and teachers imagine. We need to act NOW, if we are not to have this aspect of curriculum also defined by those who neither understand our values, culture, and aspirations, nor can be rightly expected to know what we treasure or cherish and wish to preserve most. Let us be proactive, rather than reactive. As the saying goes, if we don’t take control of our lives, someone else will.

Recent memory and bitter experience tell us how educators, by distancing themselves from ICT (through fears, mistrust, and the resistance to change), handed over the reins in this field to technology-centred people and organizations. Soon, we ended up with tons of useless software and numerous proposed syllabi that, at best, revealed the ignorance of their authors, and, at worst, exposed their overarching desire to sell more hardware, with little or no thought for education.

Here's a plea: Teachers, Educators, Parents, please understand that Ignorance is neither bliss nor an excuse if the future of your children is at stake. Please learn about the new media; its power, its impact, its potential dangers, and its numerous advantages. Much of value is available on the Internet, itself. Do not repeat the above mistake by surrendering to a syllabus designed by ‘media specialists’. Certainly not for the K-12 sector. On the other hand, respect them for what they can do for Education. Let them help Vocational Training Centres develop and deliver courses for people wishing to join the Media Sector. Get them to sponsor, or help sponsor through their megabuck clients, community spaces, such as Sarai in India.


Finally, while there are many more aspects which will impact education and need to be considered, I will touch upon just one other matter close to my heart.

Regional Cooperation

In our region, this is a phrase on everyone's lips. SAARC members are constantly looking at the European model, and the Indo-Pak peace process rests a large part of its success on people-to-people contact, at least on paper (Visas are still hard to obtain). Already ideas about a common currency (Sasia has been suggested by SAF founder, Madanjeet Singh) are beginning to appear. All this brings about another set of complexities, but also provides tremendous opportunities. Here are some things that we must begin to think about and do:
• Consider ways in which shared histories can be used in the classroom to show how much more there is in common within the region, rather than always teaching about the wars which highlight only differences.
• Encourage student- as well as teacher-exchange programmes and SAARC regional scholarships. When youth meet and spend even a short while together, their personal friendships have a ripple effect that is unbeatable. YIP offers several examples.
• Introduce Peace Studies in schools.
• A jointly developed course on the Environment (which ignores man-made political boundaries) would not be difficult to put together. SAF is already supporting such an initiative.
• Sharing the massive expenses needed for developing really useful learning software, that could then be localized for each countries' national and regional languages, is an idea that can be followed up with Roger Schank (who is expected to be at the School of Tomorrow conference). Given the population sizes in our countries, the shared cost (per student / per year) of such courses would be easily affordable.
• Inculcate truly global and universal values, such as Tolerance and Mutual Respect, through the curricula. Underscore the importance of this through international projects with schools across the globe. Placing more stress on this, than on the differences that have served to divide our world, is an essential first step.
If all this does nothing else, it will at least make schools useful until the real thing comes along.

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The School of Tomorrow: Part 3 - The Religio-Political Factor

An important issue to consider in the face of increasing polarization, but one from which many shy away ...

It is no secret that a tussle exists between the religious right-wing forces, on the one hand, and the middle-of-the-roaders (plus the few remaining liberals) on the other. The latter have no clear-cut, or even well-defined, agenda (other than not accepting the views of the right-wingers), perhaps because of the lack of a common platform or coordination among themselves. The former, for all their internal disputes - mainly over aspects of shariah or fiqah, that would primarily affect the teaching of Islamiyaat in schools - are committed to the Islamization of Education, always a puzzling notion to me, since I thought Islam recommended all Education. (Sorry. I must correct myself. It recommended Learning, not Education. Subtle difference, no?).

The process of Islamization of Education, it has often been stated, should cover every aspect: from the educational environment, itself, to the content and the way it must be taught. Among several questions that must be looked at, in this light, should the religious parties come to power (or form an even stronger opposition), are:
• Will Arabic be made compulsory (as some have demanded)? Does that mean our children will - in addition to Arabic - have to learn a provincial and/or community language (their need and genuine right), plus Urdu (the National language), plus English or some other language (as an International language, for Business or Higher Education abroad)?
• Will Co-Education at any level be acceptable? If women are, eventually, to be excluded from certain jobs or fields, as many Ülema have suggested, will the State stop teaching them those subjects or skills?
• What limits, if any, will be placed upon the freedom of Private Schools?
• How will non-Muslim Missionary Schools be affected?
• Will non-Muslim students (although even the definition of this label seems fluid), in State or all schools, need to sit through History or other subjects where, by implication, their beliefs and heritage are often subject to ridicule, as is occasionally the case now? (Download the SDPI Report — Nayyer and Salim’s The Subtle Subversion — on the state of our text books. The report caused much furore, chaos and embarrassment all around.)
• Even if we 'excused' the non-Muslim kids and sent them off to attend Morality 101, or some other Character-Building class, will not highlighting the differences affect the behaviour of the Muslim children toward them? Even more important, will emphasizing such differentiation (in any way) not make it easier for ‘the enemy within’ to exploit and incite violence among our population?
• Will access to education via the new media (considering just the TV and the Internet, for now) be curtailed?
• Will the Media itself — a greatly useful resource in Education — be heavily censored?
• Will the Virtual University be supplemented or replaced by a Virtuous University?
Further difficulties will arise, inevitably, and will also demand to be tackled. For example, the curriculum will need to undergo a massive change as the objectives of Education are re-defined, or split into two separate objectives on the basis of gender. Even three, if one of the goals is to help the minorities to live peacefully as 2nd Class Citizens. Lest you feel that I am trying to make things seem worse than they would be, this idea of all non-Muslims being 2nd Class Citizens under a Muslim State was introduced by a popular leader in Islamic thought (at least in Pakistan), Dr. Israr Ahmad, during a recent Aaj Islam TV segment.

The Islamization of content and teaching methodologies brings to mind examples from the bleak Zia era, when suggestions, such as those from the Jamaaté Islami run Institute for Policy Studies, included the following. (These and more examples can be found in Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy's book, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality)
  1. • Teaching Cause and Effect was deemed unIslamic as God was the cause of all. So the correct methodology of teaching such basic facts as 'Two parts of Hydrogen and one part of Oxygen combine to form Water' had to be supplemented by "God willing" or similar phrases.
  2. • Since all laws are God's Laws, it is unIslamic to call them Boyle's Law or Charles' Law.
And we are not even touching Evolution, a subject that seems to annoy many (but, thankfully not all) members of the Religious Right, the world over. The recent Dover School Board Trial in the USA, where Creationism - under the rather flimsy guise of Intelligent Design - was being introduced as Science, represents one end of the spectrum. At the other end lies this country.

It is more likely, here, that it is Evolution which may need to be cloaked in order to be taught. Although no law (to my knowledge) exists against its teaching, chats with numerous students and teachers reveal that this highly important portion of teaching Biology is now glossed over in many classrooms. The reasons include, sadly, the fear among teachers, of being trapped into answering a question that could then implicate them in a long brawl, and even punishment, under Blasphemy Laws.
Commonly known as the blasphemy law, section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 stipulates that any person who ‘by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly’ defiles the name of the Islamic Prophet, Mohammad, is liable for blasphemy. In additional to a fine, he shall be punished with the death sentence or imprisonment for life.

In 1990, the Federal Shari’at Court ruled that the penalty for blasphemy should be mandatory death sentence, with no right to reprieve or pardon. The decision of the Federal Shari’at Court is binding but the Pakistani Government has so far failed to pass the necessary bill to amend the law. Hence the current situation is that the clause ‘or life imprisonment’ is void, even though the Pakistani Government has often used this anomaly to defend itself against critics of the death penalty.

The final post in this series will cover issues connected with Globalization, New Media, and Regional Cooperation.

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The School of Tomorrow: Part 2 - "Feeding" the Job Market

Before I delve into areas of greater interest to me, I shall give in totally to those who view one of the main roles of the school as that of providing workplace fodder. Crude? My apologies. Feel free to replace it with any euphemism of your choice.

In 1987 a survey in the US showed that a full 63% of Job Titles in use then had not even existed just 30 years earlier. Seemed unbelievable to those of us sitting through the presentation, on October 4 that year. The date was the 30th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. Suddenly, we all realized that several new jobs had sprung up because of the Space Race, alone, which had really begun in earnest after the Sputnik launch ruffled America's competitive feathers.

New jobs were, over the next 30 years, not confined to the Space industry and its fallout (which varied from the manufacture and sale of Superglue to research in extra-light construction material). Many other undreamt of wonders, such as the one Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were to pull out of their garage, suddenly altered entire lifestyles in homes and workplaces. This new personal computing industry created an immense need in the suddenly mushrooming software programming sector. Soon, Desktop Publishing and Desktop Animation triggered off their own offshoot industries filled with new job descriptions. And that was just one sector. Tim Berners-Lee, the man responsible for the miracle that is the WorldWideWeb, was hardly 3 at that time. The bio-tech boom, poised to be “the next new, new thing”, to borrow a phrase, was not even the subject of discussion for the vast majority.

Had people on October 3, 1957, been asked to predict the next 30 years, how close would they have got to the scenario that unveiled? As we look at the next 30 years, in this world of accelerating progress, how many of us can predict what the Job Market will be? And, of those, how many can work out the curricular needs to cover the shape of things to come? Of this handful, how many will have the ability to support and train teachers who will, in turn, be required to mentor the students, some of whom will even be born a quarter of a century from now?

More pertinent to our debate, will the majority of the skills needed in 2035 be best taught in a school environment? Even the most diehard defender of the school system would find this hard to believe in, let alone predict the changes required for the school to meet these demands.


When reading or hearing about the future of Education in Pakistan, I have generally found that the articles or talks relate only to those matters that are deemed to be connected directly to the education area, such as Assessment, Curriculum, Syllabi, Literacy, Teacher Development, and the physical school itself. Rarely, if ever, have I found references to 'external factors' that could and, doubtless, will have great impact over our learning and education environments over time. A few that come to my mind will be considered in my next post.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

The School of Tomorrow: Part 1 - Problem or Paradox

[This post is part of a series that, together, forms my response to the School of Tomorrow conference being held Nov 30 to Dec 2, in Pakistan, this year.]

Learning, as I understand it, is a spontaneous and on-going phenomenon that lasts through life. By that definition, Education is its very opposite: It is neither spontaneous, nor does it assume itself to be an continuous or on-going process. In fact, it places milestones that define when a person is ‘educated enough’ to perform certain tasks or to be certified as possessing a certain degree of knowledge. Education is also, increasingly, an amalgam of (among other things) indoctrination and vocational training. Talking to academics over years, one cannot help but notice phrases from Business and Industry creeping in with speed: Students are referred to as Products … to be delivered to Industry, the End User ... ! The Education Market is said to be very competitive!

Educators have begun to use terms that, until a few years ago, would have been considered downright insulting by a true Taalibé Ilm (or Seeker of Knowledge). ‘Travel to China to seek Knowledge’ seems to have been replaced, in the minds of educational institutions, by ‘Travel to the USA to seek jobs.’

Following the above line of reasoning, it is only natural that I would consider it impossible for "The School" — an institution, designed for the very purpose of serving and furthering Education — to alter its character to that of a Learning Evironment, without rebelling against its own raison detre.

Admittedly, from time to time, the school system has made concessions to ideas that feed the irrepressible human desire and impulse to learn. But such concessions have been quickly followed by labeling those ideas as a sort of sub-class (Montessori Schools, for example). Later, when societal pressures, commercial aspects (not to forget advantages) necessitate it, these ideas are subsumed by the system ... and then destroyed, by being reshaped into just another bland, mainstream process! The most recent example of this is the delightful world of computers in learning, as envisaged by Seymour Papert and others. It only became acceptable after had been turned into boring subject, taught in classrooms where students are made to chant Excel Commands in unison and tested on their remembering the exact year Charles Babbage was born.

But that’s a whole different debate … and a very touchy one.

The matter being addressed at the coming BSS-sponsored conference is The School of Tomorrow. Most discussion and conversation (but certainly not all, considering a few of the speakers invited) is expected to centre around how to improve the school system. I must state at the very outset that I don’t think such a thing is really possible, even if it were desirable.

A friend, who also supports and helps run a chain of schools under an NGO, expressed a view that I encounter very often in response to my criticism of school systems. “The school,” he said, “is the only place we’ve got for learning, so why knock it? Do something constructive: Help us tweak and fine-tune them and put them right.” My response to him came only weeks later, when he wanted to ‘computerize’ his garment factory: I sent him my broken down and battered (once-trusty) Commodore-64 computer from the 1970s, to "tweak and fine-tune" for his purpose!

Sorry, friends; but that’s how broken I think this system is!

So … is there an alternative, as another friend asked just today? An alternative? The use of the singular struck me as particularly strange, when the one-size-fits-all approach by schools is one of its major drawbacks. There are many solutions. Some are being tried out; others researched upon. After all, replacing an on-going system, which has entrenched itself into society slowly, cannot (should not!) be replaced overnight. But the thinking to do so needs to be put in place. NOW!

That the School System is failing is apparent by the hot topic 'School Reform' has become, from Pakistan to the shores of its current Ideological Twin (No points for guessing who that is!) ... A solution to such a vast problem requires more than a discussion among those who helped get us to this stage without heeding the obvious signs along the way. A much larger public discourse and debate would be ideal. But, for it to be meaningful, the public would have to understand the problem and the nature of the questions being asked. The media could play a great role in this. We will have to re-identify and spell out the aims of education, consider the ways in which schools are unable to meet those needs, and structure the next system accordingly, if that is what can help.

This process will need to be invoked time and again over the coming years. Revolutions are incomplete and pointless if counter-revolutions are suppressed. To stay relevant, all systems beg the classic feedback loop approach. We would do well to remember that the school system does not exist by Divine Edict. Our allegiance needs to be to our children, not to an archaic idea that, however wonderful in its time, is now just short of useless when it comes to helping them with their future.

However, given that the replacement of schools is not happening any time soon, and while the debate for and against the system and its alternatives progresses, let us also ponder over the scenarios and problems. My own views on some of the forces that Education will need to reckon with will be part of the next 2 posts.

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