Leaving Good Company

Source: Focus Features/huagl.net

Source: Focus Features/huagl.net

I have always believed that just as the presence of something is pleasant, the absence of it would be as much unpleasant and vice versa.

While this applies to many things, and almost everything for that matter, it holds true the most for good company.

Good company. Good is vague here, even misleading or inappropiate.

Enjoyable company perhaps.

This is a rarer commodity than you thought. Even rarer than happiness. Even though it is one of the most genuine sources of pure happiness itself.

Usually such experiences are the other way around. It’s mostly about repulsion. Maybe that is the way our world has been accidentally, or deliberately, designed.

So whenever you get a shot of this pleasure spirit, and are forced to retreat to your retreat, then you get a sweet-bitter hangover, rather a sweet-sour hangover, the likeness of which can never be offered by any other intoxicant.

Surely, good company, rather, enjoyable company, is different for everyone. And indeed it has everything to do with that particular person.

But I wonder if the perception of the experience is the same for everyone, and also the intensity of it.

It is one of the few happy sad things in life that you can actually take back home.

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© 1999 Focus Features – Under Fair Use

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.

Humiliating for a Living

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that human beings, as a species (for the sake of emphasis), take great pleasure in humiliating their fellow beings. Evidence so overwhelming that it hardly needs a demonstation for a proof, as it almost defines our lifestyle.

There is no greater dimension of social life to demonstrate this fact than politics. While there is no culture in the world, from the United States to India, where people would not have bitter resentment for their political rivals to the point of seeing them grovel, but in Pakistan, we have invented new fabulous ways for it which were never heard of before.

The newest innovation in this regard has been the qualification check or “scrutiny” from the election commission’s returning officers receiving the nomination papers based on the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

While in another country, they would be asking the candidates about their understanding of the law and the constitution, the Pakistani returning officer is interested in everything about the married life of the candidate to his or her knowledge of the religous rituals, funeral rites and of Islam. I wounder if they have asked them about their circumcised penises as well.

Basically, the idea is that these officials are verifying if the morality of the candidates is in line with the religious, traditional and conservative values of the culture. As a matter of fact, the eloquent PML-N MP Ayaz Amir was recently declared disqualified, only later to be declared qualified, on the basis of his column questioning the ideology of Pakistan. So much for freedom of speech.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

But one thing is for sure. These returning officers seem to be biased in favor of religious parties because if these questions are asked to their candidates, they would, or are supposed to have answers memorized like the back of their hands.

But obviously, this piece of news was a great source of entertainment for the Pakistani media, because incidentally a lot of candidates failed to dodge the loaded questions of the returning officers. Questions which ranged from the demand of recital of the funeral prayer to enquiring about the reason for marrying a second time.

Here I am not implying that any such idiocy be banned, which many often conclude when you voice such criticism. But nevertheless, it is an embarrassing state of affairs. Even the Lahore High Court, known for its youtube moralism, was embarrassed and condemned it.

Musarrat Shaheen - Source: journalismpakistan.com

Mussarat Shaheen – Source: journalismpakistan.com

But come on, it did put up a great show. Entertained the nation for a week or two.

For example, the sheer delight of Mussarat Shaheen, a Dera Ismail Khan dancer-actress turned politician candidate who I publicly and shamelessly support by the way (the more women in the parliament, the better for their own good. Besides she kicks Maulana’s ass), reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi or Verse of the Chair or Throne (2:255) from the second chapter of the Koran. (A Koranic mantra usually chanted to ward off evil spirits)

And the ecstasy of watching an older-than-middle-age woman shedding tears on the TV screen for being unable to recall some nonsense from Islamic or Pakistan Studies teachings.

Not long ago, the media came up with a clip which showed Senator Rehman Malik being unable to fluently recite in Arabic, which is by no maens his first language, the Sura-e-Ikhlaas  or the 114th chapter of the Koran, which is certainly a matter to be laughed at.

As if being able to recite the Koranic verses is imperative to qualify you not only for public office, but for public respect. And vice versa.

Source: CNBC Pakistan

Source: CNBC Pakistan

But apparently it is. And despite Rehman Malik’s apologies to the nation for the failure of the parliament to remove Articles 62 and 63 from the constitution, it was his party and none else who laid the foundation for that fanatic madness.

Though I consider his statement about Sadiqs and Ameens pretty heroic and very wise in the end. He said that only people named Sadiq and Ameen are the ones who are Sadiq and Ameen in Pakistan, clarifying the actual status of these Arab adjective-names taken for holy characteristics of the ideal Muslim. A lot of people mock him for his stupidity, but they would not have half the courage to utter this undeniable fact.

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

This rather reminds me of my days in the International Islamic University Islamabad, where you could not earn the degree without reciting one of the verses from the last 40 chapters of the Koran, whichever asked.

I, despite putting up with this ridiculous regulation, was openly against it. However, my classmates, without any exceptions whatsoever, all of them devout and pious Sunni and Shia Muslims, saw nothing wrong with it. They were pretty cheerful about it actually, making me doubt my motives as I was pretty bad at it.

Of course, what could possibly be more charming than being able to recite the good Word of God at a minute’s notice. Sadly, many a fanatic Muslims destroy and abuse the childhood years of their offspring who guarantee paradise for their seven ancestors through this glorious virtue.

What more could you possibly ask for?

But coming back to the most necessary provision of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and why criticizing which does not amount to treason, I fail to comprehend.

However, these provisions simply send out a message to the Christians, Hinuds, Sikhs, Parsis and other religious minorities of Pakistan that they do not have any business living and flourishing in this country.

Oh wait, I got it wrong. They have their rights as provided by the constitution.

It actually suggests that any one who is non-religious and supports secularism has no business living in this country, let alone take part in the public affairs.

As for the humiliation part, why complain?

That is probably all that our species derives its entertainment from.

Why not make a living out of it?

What Made Hitchens So Cool

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) Source: The Times

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
Source: The Times

In one word what made Christopher Hitchens so cool was his courage.

It’s a word easily taken for granted, often involving violent connotations. But in Hitchens’ case, the courage was far more relevant and greater than any soldier with a gun could ever muster.

I speak as one who did not admire Hitchens for his politics and warmongering, becoming an advocate of the American war machine in the latter years. But as a great admirer of him for his eloquence, oratory and his clarity of thought and action on freedom of speech, secularism and raising arguments that no one would dare go near to. The kind of single-minded commitment which looked even like fanaticism to some, and at times, probably rightly so, I don’t know.

In his journalistic career, I consider his work on Mother Teresa to be probably the most important one. Well everybody knows how peace loving Henry Kissinger is, but questioning the moral integrity of Mother Teresa was really something unheard of. If I ever would have met Hitchens, I would most certainly have sincerely congratulated him on that effort.

But not only that. Christopher Hitchens was one of the most outspoken British journalists to have supported author Salman Rushdie during the Satanic Verses fatwa affair in 1988. As a matter of fact, he was one of the leading names to offer him support when everyone was reluctant. While that may not sound unpleasant to the Western ears, his support for controversial British historian David Irving which attracted much criticism.

While Holocaust Denial, a ridiculous history view which nevertheless deserves independent inquiry from scientific minds, is associated with Antisemitism, Hitchens, who supported David Irving’s right to his opinion is said to have some part of Jewish ancestry himself.

Now these are the opinions which would earn you a lot of enemies, let alone followers and admirers, but at the same time it was what he thought was right in consistency with the principles of freedom of speech. Why shut certain people up and if there claims are so ridiculous, why not scrutinize them and let them be humiliated. And boy, was Hitchens great at the art of humiliating, aka the hitchslap.

As a matter of fact, we do need people who must stand up for freedom of speech no matter how politically incorrect or offending it may sound. The kind of freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the one that is the natural right of every human being. It’s pretty much physics as you cannot prevent someone from thinking and speaking in a certain way.

Probably that is why humans feel empowered by trying to repress the rights of others like them. Now that is power. That is control. That is government. Challenging existing accepted moral standards and dogma was what made Christopher Hitchens so cool. And we all know his views on religion. He called himself an antitheist.

It’s all outrageous to many, but well, that is what is different and most unique about him. The idea behind “God is not Great” is certainly not his originally, as he himself and other New Age Atheist scholars would acknowledge that it has been around for centuries, but his battle with the conventions certainly was. This is what made him stand out, for better or for worse. For not apologizing to those who called him an apologist.

The most important lesson from Christopher Hitchens is to question everything. And that nothing is sacred enough, if at all, to be immune to it.

So what is that one thing that you would have said to Christopher Hitchens on his birthday had he been alive?

Not sure about all of you, but I would have suggested him to smoke cigars instead of cigarettes.

Perhaps he would have lived longer had that been the case.

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Here’s Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech

Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech, again