Sympathy for the Devil: Comment on the Milo-Maher Episode

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

There is a reason I am a bigger fan of Bill Maher than any other liberal comedian/political activist out there. Actually, his show is the only one where almost everyone gets a platform and where you can find some substance in the middle of the usual political insults.

I personally find his show very interesting for always evenly distributing the panelists among liberals and conservatives, and particularly for his much needed unfiltered criticism of religion. Seriously, without the likes of him, the Western left would have no remote clue what Islam and Sharia could really look like. Not that they would care anyway.

I know a lot of people don’t find him funny because his jokes are perceivably too rude, crude and offensive for them. But somehow I do, even when I find his jokes offensive. And that is probably because I know that Bill Maher, who has been called “nominally liberal,” hears the other side out. Even though, only to insult them to their faces. All in good humor.

I wanted to avoid commenting on this primarily because of some of the terrible opinions held by Milo, but thought it would be inappropriate to skip this considering what it means in terms of free speech. It would also be a tremendous disservice to the readers of this blog.

I consider myself somewhat a free speech libertarian, not a liberal. What that means is that I would be willing to give a platform to a lot of ideas and speech that would be off-limits to most decent circles of the society. Even though, in real life, I would avoid engaging those ideas in conversation, especially if I personally do not believe in them.

For example, I would listen to a meninist, as opposed to a feminist, but I would know that they are full of shit. Because women are simply at a tremendous disadvantage both socially and economically, and to my mind even physically, in what is still a man’s world. But nothing wrong in challenging third wave feminism and it should not be off-limits because at least its criticism of art certainly has a flaw or too.

But when I hear about the gender wage gap from a feminist, I would listen to the arguments with a healthy economic skepticism. Which is a polite way of saying that I need to learn more about this burning issue and that perhaps, some day, I would be able to form a strong opinion on this issue.

But I must say, I find Milo Yiannapoulous intriguing. And I don’t even have to agree with his politics or views on things. I know, it is about that for most people. But I seldom see people that way, unless sometimes they force me not to. Though Milo does come close, but it is still important to hear out before dismissing. And I am sure the same is true for Bill Maher.

His views on transgenders are absolutely disgusting, terming transgenderism a mental disease. But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

Bill Maher, of course, was rebuked viciously by progressive liberals for inviting him on his show, some of who are announcing their boycotts, as usual.  Frequent panelist journalist Jeremy Scahill was supposed to appear on that show but pulled out. How could he give the poster child of Alt-Right a platform on his show? Well, he also happened to be the Editor of Breitbart News at the time. The founder of the platform, Andrew Breitbart, a very outspoken provocateur himself, often appeared on the show. Milo looks somewhat of a resurrection of the late outspoken libertarian blogger.

Now, here are two ways to look at this. Either you are giving a troll a mainstream platform and audience, or you are simply exposing him to further scrutiny.

I had heard his name alright, but I had no idea what his deal was about until I saw him on Bill Maher’s show. And realized that Bill Maher indeed had given him a bigger platform for many. Though not for the first time, as he has appeared on Sky and BBC several times in the UK.

Milo Yiannapoulous has been insightful, particularly in his explanation of the Trump Presidency phenomenon. Not even the biggest of pundits ever realized that the Presidency of his “daddy” was won on a cultural platform. Which explains a candidate that is so bullet-proof that the release of his “grab them by the pussy” video failed to destroy his candidacy. How can historians explain this? Other than the Republican voter base completely lacking morals, which they often accuse the liberals of

Though here is the other side of the picture. It was because of Bill Maher’s show that both Milo and he were bombarded with hate blogs and reports on the liberal and mainstream media such as CNN. In other words, Bill Maher took Milo to CNN.

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And the intense attention that it brought led to the re-emergence, or rather emergence, of a long lost tape of an internet show in which he seems to be justifying homosexual men engaging in sexual contact with minors. Following it up with a joke about having sex with his priest.

Well, well. You thought that Milo would actually be with his signature bravado, but not to be. He held a press conference regretting his “poor choice of words,” something he had never done before I assume. He resigned his position as Breitbart Senior Editor, possibly being forced to, which he made look like a voluntary one. Before that, the deal for his book “Dangerous” was canceled.

But ideologically worst of all, he lost his speaking spot in the CPAC. That must have been a huge blow to his fans.

Later, Bill Maher was taking credit, saying “you’re welcome.” If that sounds douchey, well, only Bill Maher can attain those levels. But he may have a point there. Sunlight, indeed, is the best disinfectant.

So Bill Maher’s delusions aside, what happened? Why was this comment the last straw that broke the camel’s back? Despite everything and everything Milo had said and done, including reportedly donning Nazi paraphernalia, Islamophobia and making antisemitic remarks,. An article by Nathan J. Robinson asked this question too. And I tell you what, his comments appearing on the video regarding the age of consent are nothing new and not nearly as shocking as you would believe. Even though I believe the age of consent is a legitimate debate and varies in different regions, I guess the conservatives draw a line when it comes to pedophilia, especially when a gay man is involved. And I am not even sure if these cases even qualify for the wildly thrown around term pedophilia, which is supposed to be classified as a mental disorder. Underage sex or statutory rape, yes.

Actually, a lot of websites are accusing Maher himself of justifying an older woman having sexual relations with a minor and not rejecting the idea that women could possibly rape men. But I guess for someone who has a problem with Prophet Muhammad marrying a minor, raise this issue all you want. Well, send me a memo please but I don’t think it destroyed Maher’s career. HBO must be aware of it. I guess the only shit he faced was because of his 9/11 comments.

Before this episode, Milo Yiannapoulos was invited by the College Republicans in the UC Berkeley campus in California. This led to some of the most vicious violent riots the United States has seen in the recent years. One of such riots in Seattle saw a person shot. On Van Jones’ show, the one who had invited him said he was worried for his life during the episode. It was this incident that prompted Bill Maher to invite Milo to his show because he happens to have a problem with left’s hypocrisy, hate of free speech and love of safe spaces too.

Like Bill, I sided with Milo on that and had absolutely zero problems with him appearing on his show. The left media went berserk, of course.

According to the hysteric Jezebel, Bill Maher was a monster now. The others shredded him for basically enabling Milo and not calling him out on the more offensive parts of his comments. Even though Maher himself is barely as progressive socially as many would like to believe. He grew up with old school comedians and perhaps could be considered as the heir to George Carlin for his caustic humor.

Though I do admit that he was clearly doing it for the most part. But still, I would not divorce Bill Maher from the ranks of my political allies. Be glad that a comedian and political activist like that is on your side. Though eventually, you would feel, the left-leaning Democratic Party would eventually drive out anyone. If only the Republicans were not so horrible.

In the end, I like Milo’s style but I can have no sympathy at all for the terrible political opinions he stands for. But I am not bothered much about his moral unorthodoxy. Actually, I am attracted to it, because I can relate to the boundaries that he is trying to push and it is fun to see him getting under the skin of so many whose righteousness we take for granted.

I must say I am intrigued by Milo because I am interested in people who question moral conventions. And more often than not, it requires being offensive and some courage as well. But pushing the limits of moral boundaries is something that could really start some new debates. Though I am not sure how well he qualifies for this great mission.

But while social justice wars are all good, it is important not to forget the essential right of free speech, which is the most important human right of all. And most of all, he reminds us of how much self-censorship is prevalent in the age of information, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is dishonest.

This is one of the primary reasons I have never identified as a “progressive” as yet, though being an ally on most issues including feminism, and most probably never would.

 

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Well, it feels like as if I were writing a single post for the free speech hero and this one. But believe it or not, this has been the impact of Qandeel Baloch on the Pakistani society, in my opinion. She offered Pakistanis the necessary shockwave that was needed to break their convenient slumber of socially conservative morality. It was a much needed first shock needed to a population that is a bit too uptight about its sexuality while tolerating all sorts of perversions under the cover.

To her credit, model and liberal social media icon Qandeel Baloch single-handedly cleared up that suffocation a little. With a little help from earlier stars such as Mathira. A heroic model who appeared in a much-needed ad for a much-needed commodity in Pakistan. Condoms. Of course, the ad was banned. But condoms are not. More power to her.

Qandeel Baloch, alias Fauzia Azeem, started as an apparently cheap social media sensation, and slowly started gaining the sort of following that no one could ever anticipate. Her fame was further catapulted by the local media because, let’s face it, her unusually bold glamor sold like anything in a market thirsting for it. But little did her clueless audience realize that she was making statements that went beyond just fun and games.

Now, I wish I knew more about her. I wish I had followed her more and had not dismissed her in the way most ordinary Pakistanis had. I hardly ever followed her videos. I wish I had paid more attention to the buzz about her in the local media, but I knew what was largely going on about her person. At least I cannot accuse myself of ever condemning and rejecting her. At least morally and politically, I always found a supporter of her in myself.

When writing this post, I simply cannot put into words what Qandeel Baloch has really accomplished. She has been dubbed the Pakistani Kim Kardashian, a reality icon widely mocked for her superficially extravagant lifestyle and social media selfies. Imagine how big a reality star she would have become had she appeared in Bigg Boss on Indian TV.

Qandeel’s own lifestyle had become something similar from her humble beginnings, though nowhere near extravagant as that of the Hollywood superstar who never had to face any such odds in her life. Qandeel Baloch came from a much more difficult background and never ever really enjoyed the “privilege” you could accuse her of enjoying. Well, being a woman in Pakistan is enough to explain it, for that matter.

Now I hear that double Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has made a film on her life. Even though I was considering her to be the nominee for this title of mine this year, but even if she were to win three straight Oscars in a row, she would never have been able to pull off what Qandeel Baloch did. Perhaps no one could, short of a Pakistani Larry Flynt. Hell, not even such a character. And yes, a part of it is being a woman.

Qandeel Baloch’s sense of self-righteousness and of being morally upright came from a mix of the modern urban Pakistani liberalism, as well as the social conservative background of her roots in South Punjab. In an interview with Sohail Warraich recorded just before her death, you would hear her being a snob toward the “vulgar” mujra dancers. Being pro-mujra, that slightly offended me.

No, these women are not prostitutes. And yes, prostitutes are honorable women too. But I leave aversion to mujra as a personal aesthetic preference, as opposed to being a matter of making cultural judgments.

Unfortunately, she was accused herself of vulgarity by people from her ranks and from the less liberal sections of the more progressive Pakistani urban classes. You know, for twerking and not dressing up according to the standards ordained by the Sharia. Don’t believe me? Google for any of her videos and observe the titles from the socially conservative uploaders.

As I have often said, it sometimes becomes hard to keep track of what amounts to vulgar and what does not in Pakistan. I am not even sure what the word really means anymore.

And another thing that I like repeating is that it is easy to talk about feminist ideals. It is very hard to live them up in a society and industry dominated by men, who are going to attack you like a vicious pack of wolves from all directions and every chance they get. So it was obligatory for someone like me to defend her every chance I get. I have respect for what she did.

As I said, it is hard to articulate the impact of Qandeel Baloch. Through her bold antics, she proved how confined and captivated the Pakistani women really are. Through her outspokenness, she proved how tolerant our society really is. She basically demonstrated how free women are in our society and how hypocritical we are about our sexuality in public. She also proved how easily our men are willing to put our women to death for “honor.”

She was a resounding slap in the face of every woman-hating man rejecting the notion that Pakistan is not a society dominated by men.

She helped expose how disgusting religious clerics can be when it comes to women and in ways nobody could even imagine before.

She tested and questioned our moral compass in a complicated world in which we take it for granted, and exposed our hypocrisy harmlessly.

She showed how easy it was to kill in Pakistan, and for what reasons.

She made us feel immensely proud of being a Pakistani and made us feel immensely ashamed at the same time.

In that sense, she has been an iconoclast of the revolutionary proportions in her individual capacity. Nobody even comes close.

I learned about the news of her murder while I was on a shoot in Karachi this year’s July, right when I was in the middle of people in front of who I had to defend Qandeel Baloch. On that day, it seemed I really had no other substantial purpose to my existence. Not that there would be any otherwise. But when her brother and former husband are found involved in her murder, it is hard not to feel disappointed.

And the government also did not take her requests for security seriously.

I know a lot of people believe that a lot more people were so much more important to Pakistan this terrible year. But honestly, I don’t have time to think about those self-proclaimed saviors of this country. Because seriously nobody did this much for the Pakistani society for decades. Nobody in the history of this country ever promised a striptease for a Pakistani cricket star.

Qandeel Baloch is the star of the age of social media. I know she came into prominence from a Pakistan Idol audition, but it was social media that really took her voice to the people. So in many ways, in the transformation of the Pakistani society to more liberal and open ideas, social media is as much a star as are the people whose voices it is empowering.

And don’t let me forget. She is not my Pakistani Person of the Year because she was killed. Far from it. You know a lot of people died in 2016, including Edhi. It was not the death of Qandeel Baloch that made her special, but her life. It is her impact on the society that has outlived her, and it is our responsibility as citizens to carry it forward and fight ignorance, illiberalism, and obscurantism.

All I can say is that as a Pakistani citizen, I salute Qandeel Baloch and applaud her for her courage to express her sexuality. She is and must be an inspiration to all of us. Shame on us for not valuing her enough.

Farewell, and rest in peace, you brave, beautiful soul.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.

What George Michael’s Music Meant to Me

Source: Rolling Stone

Source: Rolling Stone

It is hard to believe the news of the passing away of pop icon George Michael, who was anything but ashamed of this label. While 2016 has been cruel when it comes to taking away so many stars that we love, with Carrie Fisher being the latest, George Michael’s death has been truly unexpected and untimely. Perhaps, it is the opioids again. It is not as if I never expected to hear this news, but its timing came as a real shocker. And there is a reason why it came as a shock to someone of my generation.

Growing up in the 90s, George Michael’s music meant so much more than just songs on tape. It was way past the Wham! years and he was well established in his solo career. But most of all, George Michael was establishing himself as a rebel figure that became an icon for individual freedom and personal choices. A gay icon before being gay was even remotely acceptable, George Michael became the voice for millions of all gay, straight, bi and other orientations when he expressed his sexuality through his music.

Right from the very beginning, no idea ever appealed more to me than individualism. Nothing brought me greater inspiration than the ideals of individual freedom and the importance of each individual. This is where I saw his music as an inspiration, and as a constant soundtrack to my life, that lifted me up in my darkest of moments. His music was truly empowering and inspiring. I recall the time when nothing else made me feel better than his music and how I bonded with my siblings over his music.

Source: Columbia

The way George Michael defined Freedom may have been gibberish to the ears of many at the time. It defined a worldview to the rest of us. It became the anthem of the defiant. His songs boasting of sexual openness became a license to take liberties. He made having faith sound cool and spun the wheel of our curiosity. Just like Bowie and Madonna, he was truly a figure that changed the face of music.

So for these reasons alone, I could never forget George Michael, nor separate his work from my life. The words of his songs, as well as those tunes, became a part of the way I saw the world. At least at that time. And I cherished every single moment of it. And never regretted it for a second. For someone who could barely play a six string, George Michael proved to be someone with a genius for producing the most haunting music you would ever listen to, enabling him to sell millions of albums effortlessly.

Source: musicroom.it

Source: musicroom.it

Now that we learn that George Michael was a far more generous and gracious person than we thought, considering his crude, 90s figure, having arrested for lewd acts in a men’s restroom in the United States, inspiring his controversial Outside video. However, his charity figures would never have made any difference to his fans, who already saw him as an inspiration.

To a generation that was bogged down by too many rules, George Michael taught how to stand up to convention. Taught the importance of questioning convention. He most certainly was not alone in expressing himself like that among the pop and rock icons of the 1980s and 1990s, but he was most certainly one that I personally associated with more than anyone else. And who I admired more than anyone else, even those whose music I got to appreciate even more than his later in my life.

This certainly is an end of an era in music, and one that passes with a heavy sense of personal loss and a scar on the heart, just like at the start of this year with the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. And nothing is more heartbreaking than the news of his possible return in 2017.

Source: Virgin/MTV

RIP George Michael.

You  have been loved.

 

RIP Junaid Jamshed: A Voice Like No Other

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Who would have thought that on a day like any other, we would hear something as dreadful as this about Junaid Jamshed?

PIA flight PK-661 crashed near Havelian on its way from Chitral to Islamabad on December 8. To the nation’s shock, Junaid Jamshed, and his wife were in the ill-fated ATR, along with around 46 others. Whether PIA knew about the fatal faults in the plane is now a matter of speculation.

Plane crashes are absolutely terrible. Imagine yourself in one. I often do.

The pain, shock, and horror of these accidents somehow have a far greater amplified effect than most other ones. And especially if you happen to know someone in them, and especially if there is a celebrity. Junaid Jamshed, in my opinion, has a national hero status for his contribution over the years. But more than anyone else, you have to think of his children. You can only imagine what they would be going through. Still, the entire nation shares their burden of grief.

I can’t say I was his biggest fan, but I always admired him. And of course, his music did have an impact on me growing up, like the rest of my generation.

Even if we want to, there is no way we can ever ignore the impression his patriotic song “Dil Dil Pakistan” had on us as a nation. Especially to people like me who were growing up in the 90s. The images of that song deeply imprinted on our minds. Even a few notes enough to stir a euphoric sense of freedom and patriotism, that are otherwise clearly absent.

With Shoaib Mansoor - Source: Dawn

With Shoaib Mansoor – Source: Dawn

Source: pakteahouse.net

With Maulana Tariq Jameel – Source: pakteahouse.net

The two highly contrasting parts of Junaid Jamshed’s life could be reflected by the two highly contrasting mentors that inspired them. His highly celebrated pop career inspired by PTV producer Shoaib Mansoor, who created the concept behind most of the songs of Vital Signs, his band that included Shahi Hassan and Rohail Hyatt.

As a recent DW piece pointed out, his transition personified the contradictions any, if not most, Pakistanis have to wrestle with all their lives.

Even though I do not want to mar the respect for the tragedy of his death by bringing up his recent comments about women, but I am probably going to find no other occasion to talk about it. But it is safe to say that he eventually betrayed his through his misogynistic comments, albeit in the form of the traditional criticism of Ayesha, the Prophet’s wife, or draconian decrees of mullahs inspired by Saudi Arabia.

Even in his worse preaching days, I never disliked him because I knew he meant well. His views on women had become misguided, if they were not already, but were more reflective of the religious ideology he had adopted than anything else. Because in his latter years, all he had become was a mouthpiece for it. And if he indeed had such views about women, it made him come out with them.

Though after a while, it became hard to apologize for what his views had become, for the decent human being that he was. Still, what are you to do if his faith required those views? But it only goes to show what a certain type of religiosity does to a pop icon such as Junaid Jamshed, or to any person anyway.

From a pop icon to a controversial preacher, to someone who was selling high-end designer clothing and fashion accessories, Junaid Jamshed attracted as much flak as he did love. But amid all this, most people fail to see that he was a very misunderstood person in the middle of his confusing worldview.

Of course, it is hard and unfair to make a comment about it, but more than anything else, it seems that Junaid Jamshed wanted to reach out and help. Tried being useful in whatever way he could and sometimes went too far with his passion. And even if craving spotlight would have been a factor, it was his desire to reach out and contribute to the society that defined his celebrity. As fans, there is probably not much we could have asked for.

But one point that hardly anyone would dispute is that he was a voice like no other.

Let’s mourn him. Let’s celebrate him.

Rest in peace.

To Fidel Castro: Or The Disillusionment of Revolution

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

The legendary Cuban revolutionary, perhaps not so much as Che himself, Fidel Castro has finally passed at 90. Well, rest in peace. But as for all the mixed and divisive reactions are emerging, there really is no reason to be fighting over a dead man, even though the fight is really about the ideology that he represented. Communism.

I do not see why you cannot pay a tribute to a world leader just because you happen to be opposed to the world-view they represented. Fidel Castro should be no exception, as he is hardly the devil some people paint him to be. The Cuban diaspora in Miami reacted by celebrating, though even on the death of Osama Ben Laden, I did not see a reason to celebrate death. On the other hand, the Cuban people are in mourning too. A lot of former comrades have been paying towering tributes. Good for them.

However, on the other hand, I am not surprised that the worshipping adulations of the figure have drawn ire of the people aware of his decades-long tyranny in Cuba. I guess Justin Trudeau of Canada was treated a little harshly in his praise of the deceased leader. All he did was called Fidel Castro a remarkable leader. But then again, so were Hitler and Stalin. Of course, not equating Castro with the World War II tyrants. He was a more modern, probably more moderate tyrant in comparison with much softer, wallless gulags.

I thought President Obama’s reaction was probably the most balanced and appropriate, who heroically established relations with Cuba and lifted the embargo partially. This, in my opinion, would remain to be the greatest foreign policy legacy of the Obama years. Truly of historic proportions. Because when the criticism of the Cuban regime’s trade protectionism and closed markets are brought up, the cruel United States embargo should not go unmentioned.

What did the free world really do to invite Cuba to the free markets? Discourage it with embargos? Adopt policies that it is supposed to fight?

But enough of that as I am going to offer what I feel about him, beyond the abstract moral complexities of human rights. I find Fidel Castro inspirational in his emergence, his achievements, and his defiance. I strongly believe that he led his country down a dark alley. I believe he was more practical than the volatile and restless revolutionary Che Guevara, a facilitator of the Cuban revolution, for which I have always suspected Castro not to be a true believer in the cause of revolution and just saw it as an instrument of power.

In contrast, Che was a true revolutionary. One who had to move on and find new battlefields against the right wing imperialists. Not saying that Castro was not one. Of course, one who had to find revolutions to be a revolutionary. Castro just settled for a regime.

Fighting one superpower with puppets by being a puppet of another superpower.

What my friends on the left wing do not get about the socialist utopia created by Castro’s revolution is that it may deliver equality. It may even deliver a very good social medical system. But it deprives the citizens of freedom of action, expression, access, association, and movement in so many ways. Without freedom, isn’t social justice rendered redundant?

Source: youtube cap

Source: youtube cap

I was always impressed with the figure of the defiant Fidel Castro, but only because he was defiant. Even to the most illiterate mind in socialist propaganda, Castro’s visuals in Brian DePalma’s and Oliver Stone’s Scarface were awe-inspiring. Hey, someone who stood up to the gringos. I know many people who idolize him purely because he was anti-American, which is the perfectly wrong reason for admiring him. To others, that amount to fighting capitalism.

For that reason perhaps I should have also been impressed by Osama Ben Laden or Mullah Omer. But there is something about the David of Cuba versus the Goliath of America that you had to have a soft corner for the little guy. Besides, he was not exactly crashing planes into the World Trade Center towers.

Source: Universal Pictures

But even in my mild admiration of the dictator, a more dominant feeling was the disillusionment with revolution. I had one very clear idea about revolution. It was his revolution, the Iranian revolution of the Khoemini, and Lenin’s great Bolshevik revolution itself, that forever warned me of the ills and the dangers of this word. That getting rid of one despot could possibly lead to another, if you are flirting with the wrong, extreme ideas. Ideas such as hanging people in public squares. Ideas such as swift justice.

That a Shah would be replaced by a Khoemini. That a Batista would be replaced by a Castro. And I made up my mind of rejecting this notion whenever it presented itself as a resolution to problems. I particularly became conscious of how casually this very dangerous word behind a very dangerous idea was used. How we were better off without the valor and moral highhandedness of our revolutionary friends, shaming us to come on the streets. We are probably better off fighting the neo-liberal injustices that limit us in our own way. Without compromising our individuality and whatever private space we had.

The idea of revolution is romantic because human individuality and creativity thrive on rebellion as opposed to conformity. No one ever produced a great work of art for daring to be the same like everyone else. So there was no coincidence that El Comandante and his utopia appealed to so many great artists on the left wing, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and so many more of my left wing friends, whose friendship I greatly value.

The only problem I have with their idea of utopia is that it forsakes the very treasure to which the . Of course, it is about social justice, equality, and brotherhood. But it is also about much more than that. It is about your individual freedom. Just like the idea of abolishing private property. What is left of any freedom if you are not able to secure your property?

So perhaps others might be upset with the dark, cynical, mechanical human condition that the right wing capitalist liberals and conservatives offer. Fighting the ills of the capitalism. And building a near-perfect social medicine system. Or did he? But saying that Cuba is a utopia away from ills of capitalism would nothing but gross exaggeration, it’s the aftertaste of the bitterness of the fall of the Soviet Union, the bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Everyone has a different interpretation of revolution. Sometimes it is the means to the end of an apparently totalitarian but perceivably just social system. To others, it is a constant struggle to push the limits of the morality of a society. To others, it simply is a lifestyle that challenges them to test their own limits and to constantly seek new

Just like a socialist friend could accuse me of misunderstanding the concept of political revolution, at least that of Fidel Castro’s, I could counter the argument with their misunderstanding of what the word capitalism stands for. If capitalism is considered a holistic system of government, then sadly no such thing exists.

Just like the right wing liberals have turned the term of socialism as a pariah, so have the left wing progressives to the term capitalism. Assuming that a humane society cannot be sustained in the brutal financial rat-race of a capitalist economy. Well, we already have plenty of social programs in countries with a stock, futures, and commodity exchange markets. Just like those ignoring social democracies always assume that socialism always means Stalin’s Soviet Union. But arguing that it gradually takes the society to a darker place is a debate for another time.

It is important to understand that while the rivalry of ideology continues, they do not necessarily have to be at war. An economically liberal United States can still work with a communist Cuba. Then again, who could hate Cuba with such divine cigars? Which were celebrated, instead of discarded, by Castro, to his credit. Just like communist China has started to embrace free trade, albeit in its own twisted ways. But it is progress nevertheless and would make the world a better place.

This is why reaching out to Cuba is by far the greatest foreign policy legacy of the term of President Barack Obama and let’s hope for an even brighter future. You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 90 miles across the shores, for which countless Cubans risked their lives.

You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 300 miles from its shores, across the sea, for which countless Cubans risked their lives. Let’s even call it the greed of money or a better future. Others were simply looking for.

Freedom.

I thought that is all revolutions come down to.

If you are not selling that, who is going to fight for your revolution?

To Shimon Peres, The Peacemaker

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Source: The Daily Telegraph

As a young man, my mind was captivated by the image of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, along with Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat shaking hands in the White House lawn in 1993, overseen by President Bill Clinton. Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority.

Sadly, the Oslo Peace Accords, for which all the three gentlemen won the Nobel Peace Prize, failed to bring lasting peace to the Middle East but laid the foundation of the Palestinian Authority. It angered many Israelis and failed to satisfy many Palestinians, but sadly the fundamentalists always fail to follow the sacrifices and efforts put in to get even remotely close to such an agreement. Many believed that the peace deal led to Rabin’s assassination.

However, it inspired the entire world with the hope that a conflict as impossible as Israel and Palestine could possibly see an opening for peace, which could put millions out of suffering and misery in the region. One of the central figures behind the peace initiative was Shimon Peres, the foreign minister at the time.

Probably nothing inspired me more to value world peace than this single photograph. I thought that if a peace prize meant anything, it had to be all about the meaning of this picture. Just looking at it offers you a glimpse of hope that peace is possible in one of the harshest political conflicts in the world.

Source: Haaretz

Source: Haaretz

His death brings that sinking feeling in my heart, with a regret that I would never be able to meet Shimon Peres in person, perhaps in a diplomatic position. Just like the feeling I had after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a regret that I would always live with. Another regret is that the Pakistan state establishment could not find a reason to establish diplomatic relations with Israel during his lifetime.

While his role as a statesman and diplomat for peace remains to hold universal appeal, he was one of and headed Israeli naval services after independence. A Polish Jewish immigrant, he was a part of the Haganah that later transformed into the IDF and was instrumental as one of the founders of the state. He saw the state grow to become a formidable outpost of democracy in a region crippled by autocracy and perpetual conflict.

Since he has been involved in the affairs of the state almost all his adult life throughout Israel’s history, his personality cannot possibly be removed from the controversy due to Israel’s brutal defense and retaliation tactics. However, as a statesman, and later as the President of Israel, Peres continued to reach out to the world and build a friendly image of Israel in a world that finds it hard to shrug off its antisemitic tendencies.

Probably the greatest reason to mourn the death of Shimon Peres, even though his role was mostly of a formal powerless figurehead of late, was that Israel has probably lost one of the last figures who could engage sensibly with the other side. His death leaves the current Israeli leadership in the hands of some of the most hardline right-wing government that Israel has ever had in its history. The worrying part is that the fundamentalism in the nationalism is only expected to grow, which hardly leaves you with an optimistic view of the situation.

There is easily more to celebrate about Shimon Peres than there is to mourn.

People like Shimon Peres matter because they are optimistic enough to believe in peace in a world of cynics, who believe in humanity when it is much easier to hate.

Let’s hope his passing serves as a reminder of how valuable peacemakers are.

Rest in peace, indeed.