My Pakistani Person of the Year 2012: Malala Yousafzai

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

The undisputed Pakistani of the year 2012 is Malala Yousafzai. Malala has been significantly important this year and is expected to be in the future as well because her influence has not only created an impact locally, but also internationally.

The failed assassination attempt on her carried out by the local Taliban mercenaries resulted in a strange twist of fate catapulting her to the status of an international ambassador and symbol of education of girls around the world, particularly in repressive environments.

For those doubting her and undermining and underestimating her achievements, she stood for education of girls and women in probably the most unfavorable conditions in the world, especially where there was a direct threat to her life. This was proved by the assassination attempt on her on October 9, 2012, which also injured two other of her classmates. The Taliban still vow to continue their attacks until she is dead.

Another unconscious achievement of Malala, the daughter of a Pakistani teacher and school principal, has been exposing the insensitivity, cruelty and illogic of the fundamentalist conservatives of the country who rejected the incident as a hoax, denying that she had not been shot at all, and calling her a foreign agent.

Malala Yousafzai is a name well recognized around the world now, as she has been appreciated by the likes of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, British Prime Minister White and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Canadian journalist Tarek Fatah has even initiated a global petition for nominating her for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013, adding to her long list of honors including the Sitara-e-Shuja’at for her bravery. I am not a fan of the Nobel Peace Prize, but hell why not if Henry Kissinger and President Obama can win it.

Malala Yousafzai has also been the runner up for TIME magazine’s Person of the Year nomination for 2012.

But of course, she didn’t deserve the first place.

But I am pretty sure that the greatest of all her achievements is standing up against fundamentalism and even conservatism and that is what truly makes her a hero for me. I wish I had even half of her courage and energy. Hope is certainly not dead in Pakistan, as hard as they might try.

She is currently hospitalized in Birmingham, UK, recovering from damage and awaiting reconstructive surgery on her skull bone and let’s hope she gets back to full mode.

I am sure we all miss her energy.

Happy New Year.

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Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4  

The Mayan Apocalypse Day Post

Source: Bizarro.com

Source: Bizarro.com

So today is December 21, 2012.

The Sun aligns the center of the Milky Way galaxy, something that happens once in every 25,772 years. Well sorry, that occurs every year. Not me, NASA said that.

And everyone is making fun of the people who believed that today would be the Doomsday. Well, they are spot on because apparently the world will not end today, though I would want to wait till the date December 21 is over on the last timezone in the world, and everyone has the right to criticize the otherwise-all-knowing Mayans. But wait, what do Mayans have to do with this doomsday date? I’d rather give the due credit to the History Channel.

Well, for starters, the end of the Mayan calendar does not mean the end of the world. The cartoon above shows most probably what would have happened.  And no one is stupid enough to expect the plot of a pathetic Roland Emmerich motion picture becoming reality. Although I must say that the panic and destruction in that pathetic motion picture to some extent is very much possible, but perhaps not at ridiculosly apocalyptic levels.

But what really ticks me off is religious people criticizing and invalidating the Mayan Apocalypse theory with a shot of preaching of their own version of the Apocalypse, let it be Hadith eschatology or the Book of Revelations and the Rapture. And the usual line “Only Allah knows about the end of the world”. So your criticism on anyone and anything is more than welcome, but please do examine the validity of the explanation that you are confidently presenting as its alternative as well.

I mean how ridiculous can you get. If we consider the Mayan “prophesy” (because I am not even sure if there was any prophesy at all) to be religious, has it occurred to the religious people that their versions of the story-that-never-happened could be equally false? Especially when their versions of the history have no place for the dinosaurs who went extinct after a similar apocalyptic event, as per scientific estimates with the most plausible explanation, which you are free to doubt without being responsible enough to explain your conviction over your belief-without-evidence.

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Yes there are millions more waiting for Jesus, the Mahdi, the Meshiach, Kalki and God knows who else. Are they any saner than the ones who have been supposed to have brought forth the Doomsday prophesy, a misnomer in the Mayan case. Sorry I am using the Apocalypse as an excuse to bash religion, but it’s just so related to it that it controls people’s lives, especially the Abrahamic fanatics, who base their present prejudices on the basis of horrific future certainties. I can tell that a lot of silent animosity between Muslims and Jews is because of the end of days traditions.

Actually it was really amusing. A news anchor on Aaj TV (and I really don’t want to single them out, it must be going on on several other Pakistani “news” channels as well, but that’s what I was watching at that time) was presenting a report on the December 2012 craze and he was literally preaching Islam on television and I said to whoever was sitting with me: Is this news? Is this a professional news channel? “Only Allah knows about the Judgment Day”. Are we presenting that statement as a fact to the people? I’d never allow that if I were in charge but it’s just hilarious. Maybe they should start hiring mullahs as newscasters and newsroom editors.

But the fact remains that science tells us there will be an Apocalypse sooner or later, whenever it may occur. The Earth could be eaten up by the Sun if Andromeda does not bang into our system before that, or we do not get to witness a Gamma Ray Burst in the coming months that occurred thousands or even millions of years ago. But I believe we have made enough scientific progress to see it coming a bit before it occurs, unless the space agencies choose to hide the information, and in any case we would not be able to do much about it though. Recall Armageddon (1998)?

But even a major earthquake or a flash flood or a tsunami is like Apocalypse for a person whose home is swept away with the indifferent fury of Mother Nature. Therefore, I would not call those who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take precautions idiots. I think their investment is going to pay off sooner and later, and while hoaxes like 2012 could be dismissed as propaganda for stimulating the business of the “survival industry”, it is not really a bad idea investing for a doomsday backup, whether they call it paranoia or not. Though the key is ease of access on a minute’s notice.

In a similar effort, a Chinese citizen Li Qiyuan has built a spherical doomsday ark that can support 30 people for 2 months in apocalyptic conditions at a cost of $ 288,000. Sounds pretty impressive, especially because it could possibly withstand a lot of shock, though I am not sure about the impact on the physical health of the persons inside. But nevertheless, it is the next best thing after the underground shelter and Larry Hall’s comprehensive luxury 2012 condos. Another entrepreneur with a similar invention has even started taking orders.

The Chinese inventor fittingly named his creation the “Noah’s Ark” and the funny part is that a group of Muslims found that offensive, as usual.  I just hope they don’t kill this very very useful man. But apart from jokes, it is blasphemy scanners like these who end up achieving violent protests and killings.

So I’m glad the end of the world turned out to be pretty hilarious in the end.

Anyway.

Happy Mayan Apocalypse Day.

Better luck next time.

Ravi Shankar – The Sound of Memories

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) - Source: Nagara Gopal/The Hindu

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012) – Source: Nagara Gopal/The Hindu

What do memories sound like?

I am sure when I will look back at my life at its end, a lot of them will sound like the music of Ravi Shankar.

As I am sure what they would have sounded like to him.

The greatest sitar maestro of our times passed away on December 12, 2012 in a San Diego hospital. He was 92.

From his fabulous works with the London Symphony Orchestra and the soundtrack of Pathar Panchali to the soundtrack of Gandhi, which is one of my fondest memories of his music, every note out of his strings was divine. And I, by no means, want to deify him. It’s just sheer magic.

He popularized, if not introduced in the true sense of the word, Indian classical music in the West. Particularly with the Beatles. Particularly with George Harrison.

But it must have felt good, to some extent, to leave the world with such massive marks that would keep on reminding people of you for eternity.

I have often pictured myself standing facing the sun rising over Ganga on one of the Ghats in his birthplace Varanasi right after dawn with his Shanti Mantra playing. I hope to do that before I die. A surreal spiritual experience.

Source: Anna Kastner/vedicodyssey.com

Source: Anna Kastner/vedicodyssey.com

Also, thank you for Anoushka Shankar.

One of the rare moments where procreation actually worked.

Rest in Peace. At least we do when we listen to your music.