Art Langar: The Inception of a Ritual Festival

Source: Art Langar

Something extraordinary happened in Islamabad for the last two nights. A quiet city briefly came alive, and even though it has before, never like this. Never in such a grand Sufi manner. All thanks to Islamabad’s very own, and I am proud to call him that, Arieb Azhar.

Arieb Azhar is a very special person. He is sensitive about the society around him, mindful of the injustices, and somehow shockingly focused on positivity and bringing people together. There is enough hate to go around over here anyway, especially after weeks of a hateful sit-in protest by a religious party. Islamabad surely needed a break.

Art Langar, the new ritual festival of the artists of Pakistan, especially with a Sufi, spiritual and humanistic inclination, provided just that. Langar refers to the holy token food offered for free at a Sufi shrine, which primarily serves as enough for the day for the poor of the town. But it is not just reserved for the poor. A Sufi does not see class, caste, creed or color of the skin. The doors are open for everyone. And so were those of Art Langar.

I can’t say if loads of crowd visited the Art Langar but those who did were in for a treat. Art Langar mixes art with music performances, with a section reserved for art installations as well as the main auditorium serving as the venue for the musical performances of the featured stars. And they had quite a lineup.

Art Langar, the idea still being in its infancy is yet to achieve perfection in execution but more importantly, it seeks to initiate the trend of a gift economy in Pakistan, as well as the culture of buying tickets to support art as opposed to freeloading as is the norm.

The performing acts included the Shah Jo Raag Faqeers of Bhittai, Krishan Lal Bheel and his troupe, Mai Nimaani, Qawalistan, Farhad Humayun and the Overload, Khumarian, The Sketches, Akhtar Chanal Zehri, Makrani Lewa dancers, and the Mekaal Hassan Band, apart from Arieb Azhar himself.

But most appropriately, the festival concluded with the Dhamaal at the beat of the dhol of Pappu Saeen of the Shah Jamal Shrine, considering the theme of the festival and the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar chants just about after every act in a very non-religious way.

The purpose behind this festival was much deeper than the lineup of musical acts performing in it but I think we are going to take a few years, if the Art Langar team remains steadfast, to get there. All I hope is for Arieb Azhar to get encouraged enough to continue this journey.

Advertisements

The Most Important Piece of Journalism of the Year

Source: The New York Times

News stories come and go every day but there are defining points which make a mark in history. The news story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the revelations of sexual misconduct and even rape against Harvey Weinstein is probably the most important piece of journalism of the year.

It can be effectively argued that the story has produced conditions that have helped encourage the victims of abuse by powerful men in media to come forward. This was a moral check that was much needed after the Donald Trump tapes and his subsequent rise to the Presidency in spite of it.

Since the Weinstein exposé, more than a dozen prominent personalities from show business have been. Roger Ailes and Bill O’ Reilly went down before that but of course “they were not one of us” and “that’s who they (conservatives) are.” This was different. This time around, it was Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Louis C.K., George Takei, and Kevin Spacey. And recently and very importantly, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer you get, but Charlie fucking Rose?

If things are this worse in the world of liberals, you can imagine how tough it must be for conservatives, who might be more resistant to progressive legislation on harassment as many conservative men. Take President George H. W. Bush as an example, who I am sure slapped women’s butts because that was normal.

Another noticeable but seldom admitted nuance of this development has been the insight it has offered into the psyche of the male gender and perhaps even male sexuality regardless of sexual orientation.

This is not just a Hollywood problem. It is pervasive all over the world. Plainly speaking, we, men, are guilty of abuse and no, we are not likely to learn despite the insincere apologies. This is probably something inherent to male sexuality, and no that is not an excuse but a helpless attempt to understand a potentially criminal behavior.

I get it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks that the Presidency of Donald Trump helped pave way for this environment instead of Harvey Weinstein but let’s not take credit away from what’s due. This new story has been historic.

Cheers ladies and more power to you.

Yeah, men are pigs.

 

Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

America Finally Standing Up to Pakistan for Free Speech

Source: geo.tv

What perhaps separates, or should separate, America from the rest of the powers of the world is its moral leadership.

The United States might have ended up getting involved in, and sometimes started, some of the most violent and costliest of wars around the war but more often than not you will find that it had some sort of a moral intention behind it as opposed to naked expansionism. Whether that is true or not is up for debate, especially whether the United States has a monopoly over republican causes around the world.

However, one thing that can be said for certain is that no other nation of the world holds free speech more sacred and fundamental to liberty than the United States. This is because of the very ideology on which the United States was based. This was probably the reason why the first amendment passed to the Constitution by the founding fathers was to protect speech.

People in repressive and regressive countries such as Pakistan look up to at least the United States, if no other Western power, when it comes to protection from their own governments. These words seem to be stating the idiotic obvious but believe it or not, a vast number of people do not even consider curbs on free speech, theocratic rule, and Especially in countries with Muslim majority population and many in the West who think that Muslims need a break from hate, not aware they are doing them further harm by protecting theocratic authority.

It came as a rather pleasant surprise when the representative of the United States government, in agreement with that of the UK representative, urged Pakistan government to repeal its draconian blasphemy law at a UN forum. To their credit, the EU has also made similar demands from Pakistan before on a public forum. However, this reprimand was made in the presence of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was heading the Pakistani delegate at the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Khwaja Asif also presented Pakistan’s report.

Either way, it is a welcome sign but it still is a long way from the United States getting seriously in addressing this matter. States seldom are but this remains to be one outside hope for the citizens of oppressive countries than a bloody, brutal civil revolution from within, which hardly ever brings about a humane, democratic transition.

Perhaps one way that the United States could disturb the comfort and self-indulgence of the ruling class of Pakistan by threatening or imposing economic sanctions for imposing undemocratic laws such as the blasphemy law and discriminatory laws against Ahmedis.

While this sounds like colluding with a foreign power against your own, it is not. You could argue that willingly enforcing discriminatory laws targeting your fellow citizens is treason instead.

In a society like Pakistan, where the majority of the people do not understand how theocratic laws are contradictory to democracy and human rights, there is no other option but to count on moral diplomacy. There is no option but to influence change through lobbying and with the help of a foreign entity. Since Pakistani leaders and diplomats are never going to have this sense of social fairness, you have to pray that the Americans and the rest of the Western powers should do that bit of moral leadership for them.

You can read the full US delegation statement here.

The Perfect Representative of Our Collective Morality

Source: Youtube Channel

It probably would not be a harsh exaggeration, if you compared the collective moral state of the people of Pakistan with that of the Apartheid South Africa, the American South when slavery was practiced and even Nazi Germany. These analogies, if you consider them so, sound very harsh and damning. However, when you see otherwise reasonable and probably morally well aware Pakistanis defend the discrimination against Ahmedis like rabid dogs, you probably don’t see it that way anymore.

How can the Pakistani Muslim people, such beautiful, loving, compassionate people be so brutal at heart? Well, the extent of an evil is trivialized when it is diluted over such a humungous demographic. It is almost shocking if you look at the real degree of this problem. It is truly remarkable how a supposedly desirable trait can eat up all traces of your humanity like the termite.

Well, nothing brings forth the state of this collective social morality than the recent protest by a Khatam-e-Naboowat Group or Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Movement, a blockade protest that even the more pious of my friends have grown tired of. Some of them would mourn when the government will actually take violent action to remove them, which some of them are calling for so angrily. But what is even more hilarious is that people are actually visibly disturbed by this character Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the clear face of completely unwarranted Barelvi extremism in Pakistan.

The excuse is the paranoia that the Western powers and the nefarious Ahmedis are conspiring to change the precious Finality of Prophethood law. If you recall the parliamentary incident of the electoral amendment, exploited thoroughly by the opposition and the repulsive, corrupt Captain Safdar, the protesting Prophet-loving clerics are apparently behind the head of the “cleric committing the error.” You know what they mean by punishing the culprits, the lovers of the Prophet. Talk about unreasonable demands.

Listening to the brutal, heartless, vulgar and merciless message that the leader of this movement has to offer, it is a disappointment to link him to the human race. Especially when he insulted Abdul Sattar Edhi, a rare incident of selfless humanity in the brutal Pakistani history of bloodshed and selfishness. But perhaps this is what the human beings were supposed to come down to. But other than that, this is perfectly what the Pakistani people deserved to have.

Pakistani people proudly and absolutely love the 2nd amendment that has demonized Ahmedi citizens among their ranks. Now they must endure the curse of Khadim Hussain Rizvi as a token of this love they are proud of so much.

I look forward to life becoming even more miserable for Pakistanis.

Working for My Sanity

Source: nycastings.com

What is work to you?

A distraction? A repetitive everyday cycle to shroud the enormous pointlessness of existence? A hopeless, pointless effort to make sense of your relation with the world?

A compulsion? A condemnation? The price of the existence to live through the contract of a slave by birth? A fear of not paying your bills?

A delusion? An imagined sense of purpose extending all the selfishness, survivalism and competitiveness of the animal instincts of human beings?

Or a false sense of intellectualism that allows us to forget that we are nothing more than animals?

A pastime? Or your only shot at socializing?

To me, it’s mostly about just keeping my sanity.

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and So Many Others

Source: NBC/ABC

What the Harvey Weinstein episode has revealed is that somewhere all men are complicit and are capable of such acts. They are guilty of perpetuating a culture of harassment, which has essentially become a lifestyle of their sexual, egoistic and social inadequacies, or something far worse.

Or perhaps it is just that women, perhaps with more empowered voice than ever since isolated matriarchal cultures, are waking up to challenge the traditional way men have always approached them. By harassing them as predators. And if does not make you guilty to be a straight male, don’t know what will.

In the United States, the discourse over abuse often gets deflected by politics. A lot of shots have been fired between liberals and conservatives about their own respective hypocrisies, considering that Donald Trump is President despite the Billy Bush tape. However, both are guilty of their fair share of cherrypicking either way.

Alright, they thought that Bill Cosby was a special kind of perve, but why was the media more traumatized about Harvey Weinstein than it was about Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or other Fox News garbage? Because Harvey Weinstein was supposed to be one of us liberals? Because someone like him should not be capable of such things and not surprising that sexists at Fox News could be.

Easily the most cringeworthy of the developments since the Weinstein revelations has been the Quentin Tarantino interview in which he reflects that he probably knew enough to do more than what he did. Which was pretty much nothing. But then again, what do you expect? Tarantino owed his entire career to him.

That is precisely what happened. Women are absolutely right to make this point. For far too long, the voices of women have been overlooked and ignored.

I personally believe that boycotting the “art” or  “body of work” (if you can call it that, that is) if a film director or artist because of his character or misdeeds does not make sense. I am not saying that it is necessarily ridiculous because I respect people for the reasons they take that stance, but the rape and gore in Tarantino and Weinstein films also make you wonder about this episode and how they see the world. Of course, it is easy to take the moral high ground.

Recall the time when Harvey Weinstein was in Howard Stern’s studio three odd years ago in which he vowed never to make a film glorifying guns again being a passionate supporter of the Democratic Party. But of course, he didn’t “stop making films glorifying guns,” if that is even a thing… However, his situation now is a good lesson how filmmakers of all the people should stop making such ridiculous statements and especially a man of Harvey Weinstein’s morals. It only puts their fellow filmmakers in trouble.

With all the problems around the alleged characters of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, I still think they are filmmaking geniuses and I am not going to stop watching their films.

You cannot say that as a straight male, you cannot help but feel guilty of all these developments. Because perhaps we know deep inside that within us that complicity lies that allowed Weinstein’s crimes to be covered up all these years.  Let it be conservatives on Trump or liberals on Weinstein, don’t forget how complicity is an issue. Furthermore, it is important to see how the divide between men and women go beyond industries, cultures, countries, race, and religion.

This is perhaps one divide which is going to be terribly hard to bridge.