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.

 

Bronchitis: Strike Three!

Source: shutterstock

Source: shutterstock

Forgive me for not writing for such a long time,  but so much happened since words last appeared on this blog. I embarked on a rollercoaster but enjoyable trip to Sukkur and Moenjodaro and survived massive fatigue in Swat.

For the last two years, I had caught the condition of bronchitis roughly around this time of the year. I had resolved that this year would be different. However, not to be. For the third straight year, I am now fighting the terrible condition of bronchitis which has made life as difficult for others around me, as for myself. It conveniently came when I was on an official tour to the northern parts of the country, which are not particularly known for moderation in cold temperatures. Perhaps leaving me in a more humiliating position than ever before.

I wrote about how bronchitis felt last winter. Similar feelings now. The same coughing fits. It’s just that I was prepared for it to hit this time around.

Just did not know I would hit the emergency twice in two days. Even though it just hit at the perfectly wrong time. When I was out in the field for work and just when I needed to keep myself fit and well. But I was anticipating its arrival. It was just a matter of time. And I would be lying if I said I took enough precautions. I guess it takes walking around wrapped in a quilt.

But as I approach the next year, I do have one resolution to make among a few others. I am not going to catch bronchitis for the fourth year in a row.

But I have a feeling that I will be writing a similar post next winter. And I seriously doubt that I would be walking around wrapped in a blanket.

I predicted it the last time too.

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.

The Trauma of Life: The Pictures That Shook The World

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Just when I thought my conscience was dead, when my heart had hardened enough to take the most gruesome of things, and when I had become cynical enough to appreciate the value of anything in this life, a picture shook me like very few things had ever before.

We have seen so many . We have seen the helpless death of Aylan Kurdi pictured on the beaches of Turkey. We have seen so much that we should not have seen. The genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, the children suffering Assad’s chemical attacks, and the corpses of dead babies from Gaza Strip and the Syrian civil war.

Somehow this image is different. Somehow it is more shocking that any other thing we have ever seen.

Shocking in its lack of violence. Shocking in its calm.

But it only strengthened my view that this world is no place for a living creature. It is no place for a fragile little kid like Omran, who has now probably seen everything that a human should not in their entire lifetimes. I have probably never felt so disgusted with the idea of life in the recent years.

Throughout the time of the survival of Omran, we keep on hearing the calls of “Allah,” who was so conspicuously absent from the scene. Probably that’s why.

It’s a different feeling in a natural disaster, perhaps, where you are helpless for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control. But this is not supposed to happen. These families really had done nothing wrong to deserve this sort of hell.

But to my mind, if these pictures did not destroy your faith, probably nothing would.

Nothing has destroyed my faith in humanity like this ever before.

Not everything about this is apparently so tragic. Omran’s family survived the brutal air bombing on their apartment complex in a rebel-held neighborhood in Aleppo, allegedly by the Russian jets on August 17. The bombing was enough to scar the family for life, but there was hope that they would escape the war zone. However, Omran’s brother Ali, who had been rescued too, could not make it and died of injuries.

It’s probably not the worst thing in the world. At least the family survived. At least the child survived, and who knows who and what he would go on to become.

It’s not worse than the Holocaust. It’s not even worse than the killings of the young children that an Israeli gunship strafed apparently for fun.

But does that make the personal tragedy of his life any less important? Why do we have to consider the severity and the magnitude of a tragedy to reserve our outrage and shock and grief for it?

I don’t know what to make of such a tragedy.

Should we embrace life harder than ever before, or should we move away from it? Should we celebrate his life or should we mourn? I don’t even have to explain why we should mourn. Others are saying he is lucky. Is he?

Should we value life or should we see it as nothing but a series of painful and traumatic experiences?

There comes a time for families when their lives are irreversibly destroyed, and altered for the worse. It is moments like these that change them forever, which change the course of their lives.

In reducing it to a conflict with complicated powers, how we discount the life of an individual.

Should we use it to push the anti-war agenda or should we use it to rally support for more war against Assad, Russia, and the Islamic State? Should we use it to trash whoever is our political opponent or should we use it to advocate for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees?

Is this what our existence comes down to? Is this what life is about?

I don’t even know what’s right anymore.

I don’t know whether I am sad, angry, frustrated or disgusted. I don’t even know what to say anymore. This is the sort of shock after which you don’t want to be happy again.

I don’t even want my mind to be numb anymore. I don’t want to suspend my consciousness, as I would usually do. I want to absorb every bit of these pictures.

Even crying does not undone the grief. It does not undone the trauma of life.

I don’t know how to respond to the pictures of Omran Daqneesh.

We would move on from this, but for a change, something inside is dead.

 

The Deep Roots of Human Prejudice

Source: buzzfeed.com

Source: buzzfeed.com

The roots of human prejudice are so deep, and it is so pervasive, that it almost feels like second nature to man.

While it is widely believed that men are born free of prejudices, you would find it hard to believe just how naturally they come to us. It almost is the best, most suitable reasoning shortcut.

What if prejudice were an inseparable trait of an intelligent species? And if it isn’t. Why do people continue to indoctrinate their children with prejudiced ideas and undoubtedly have been doing so for centuries? And does prejudice go beyond nationalistic, ethnic, and religious boundaries? Apparently, it does.

What if prejudice is a problem that possibly cannot be separated from the act of thinking?

We are surely the only prejudiced species, or so we believe.

 

Is liberal education enough to get rid of prejudice?

Liberal education may or may not cure someone hellbent on antisemitism give up support for Nazism, for instance, but it certainly does improve the odds of minimizing that.

One way or the other, you would be shocked and surprised at how deep the roots of human prejudice go. It’s a huge challenge.

And is training for critical reasoning enough to get rid of our intrinsic, deeply embedded prejudice and biases? Even despite learning about all the logical fallacies, biases, and flaws?

 

Are we really free of prejudice when helping others escape it?

And do we really when we think that we have escaped it? Judging others for it?

 

So how deep are the roots of human prejudice?

Guess we’ll never know.

Abdul Sattar Edhi: The Mahatma of Pakistan

Abdul Sattar Edhi (1928-2008)

Abdul Sattar Edhi (1928-2016) – Source: pakvoices.com

While it was scarcely believable in itself that a man like Abdul Sattar Edhi existed in the world, his residence and service in Pakistan make it an even more extraordinary occurrence. Not because there is something so wrong with Pakistan that such a man could not live here, but because of the persistent bigotry the nation has proudly exhibited over the years.

Not because there is something so wrong with Pakistan that such a man could not live here, but because of the persistent bigotry the nation has proudly exhibited over the years.

Or perhaps it was sheer good fortune that he emigrated to Pakistan from Gujarat.

But probably people like Abdul Sattar Edhi are needed in places like Pakistan. Where no one else in there to help the helpless.

When there wasn’t anyone to help anyone, there was Edhi. Who would not shy away from begging in order to help others if he needed to.

Words fail you for some people. I have been struggling for words for nearly a week now and have not been able to find any save one.

The more I think of it, the more it becomes clear. I can hardly think of a single human being who was even remotely close to being like Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was a Mahatma.

No one else even comes close. Probably Jesus, and Gandhi. The only person in modern times who fits is Malala.

And looking at Abdul Sattar Edhi, a strong case could be made that even the other two were probably not as great in terms of the magnitude of service. And the overwhelming evidence to support it due to his existence in the modern age of information.

He did not just provide free funeral to those without means, he also helped raise abandoned infants. He gave hsi own name to nameless babies. He provided food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, hope to the hopeless.

You know, all those things that your God is supposed to do.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

He showed us how to love in a world void of it, and how to live in a world where doing so is so hard.

And somehow found a partner who had it all figured out for him. It’s not easy living with a Mahatma.

Unknowingly, he became one of the last few factors uniting a nation bitterly divided on ethnic and linguistic lines, and ended up uniting them, if only for one last time, in Pakistani nationalism that many of them despise so much.

Yet his loss was a global one.

And it was again remarkable that we are lucky to call such a man a Pakistani citizen. And to have had him serve our nation, purely out of his dedication to humanity.

In a society filled with hateful, bigoted beasts thirsty for the blood of the innocent by accusing them of blasphemy, he even served those who declared him an infidel. He even served those who badmouthed him. And are still doing him, harming his legacy while he is gone.

He never discriminated.

Abdul Sattar Edhi was the Mahatma of Pakistan.

 

Who said saints were a thing of the past?

But probably now they are.

And we don’t even know how to mourn such a loss.

RIP Abdul Sattar Edhi.

——————————–

Please donate to the Edhi Foundation.

Elie Wiesel Leaves a World With Antisemitism Alive and Well

Source: cufi.org.uk

Source: cufi.org.uk

When Elie Wiesel would have been liberated from the Nazi concentration camps, the last of his third one, he would have started life with a renewed hope.

It probably would have restored his faith in humanity and in hope, though it never restored his faith completely in God. At least not in the way it was before.

There is surely a lot to read about the Shoah or the Holocaust, but nothing equals the viewpoint of a sensitive soul that has lived through the living hell of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Not everyone believes his words, which is why he ensured that other than Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., remains an undeniable evidence backing them.

Still nowhere near reflecting the human suffering.

What is the material evidence of that?

Source: Jewish Virtual Library

Source: Jewish Virtual Library

The pain and suffering endured by Elie Wiesel, resulted in the creation of the play “The Trial of God“, which was a brilliant, iconoclastic idea for a people with a theistic tradition, and to someone who saw God as an important part of his life.

But can you blame him to dare to rebel? In his own words, he could never forget the flames of the body, which consumed his faith forever. The moments which murdered his God and turned his dreams to dust.

In his own words, he was there when God was put on trial in Auschwitz.

While it is easier for some people with full, partial, distant or spiritual relation to the Jewish culture to relate with the pain of the Holocaust, it is important to accentuate its importance in a global, more humanist manner. It is important not to simply reduce it to references about the deliverance of the Jewish people, such as referring to it as the “birth pangs of the Messiah.” I am not sure if Elie Wiesel himself would be thrilled by the thought.

Elie Wiesel would rather focus on the sheer absurdity of creation and the unacceptability of the nightmare that the Jewish people and many more such as the Romani and the homosexuals went through during the reign of the Third Reich. It was simply something that was not supposed to be.

In any case, it is important to explicitly establish the Holocaust as a burden on the conscience of humanity, instead of tying it as an accident exclusive to the Jewish identity. It is important because gentiles, who are particularly anti-Israel politically, find it easier to dismiss this human atrocity as something that happened to the Jews. And the antisemites and anti-Zionists who are kind enough not to dismiss the Holocaust widely believe that it was something that the “Jews deserved” and something that they “deserve to go through again.”

While there are scholars like Norman Finkelstein who believe that the Holocaust has been exploited to further the Zionist cause, the fact remains that in our world, the Holocaust is trivialized more than anything else. Something perhaps more horrific than Holocaust denial. This is not to condemn Holocaust jokes because that attains nothing, but everyday approach people take to the atrocity in political discourse. Probably because so many genocides have been committed since then, without getting nearly as much attention.

Perhaps this was why Elie Wiesel feared indifference more than hate. Hate, in his words, you could fight.

Imagining the horrors of the Holocaust, how thrillingly secure it feels to be able to witness such a living hell and having the comfort that you are completely safe from it. How reassuring is this feeling that such a threat could possibly not threaten your life.

Let’s just stop. You can’t even imagine. But the relics, the documentation and the haunting photographs from the not so distant past do leave you shaken.

But I wonder how many times Elie Wiesel and thousands of other Holocaust survivors and their children would have woken up in the middle of the night, not being able to shake away the horrors of the death camps, the ovens, the gas chambers. Checking if they are still not on those horrible bunk beds by the corpses, still not required to shower together every morning.

Because believe it or not, any day it could happen again.

I could not help marvel at the irony that Elie Wiesel is leaving the world with antisemitism alive and well, but not without considerably retreating him. It is shocking how vulnerable Jewish people still are, despite “controlling the world” in some people’s view.

I feel disgusted when I have to lecture someone on the basic morality of it. But I guess that is what his good fight was all about. A fight that all of us must fight. It’s the least we can do.

Elie Wiesel is not just important as a literary figure, but because he left the empathy in the world for the Holocaust, its victims and its survivors.

This day is important in history, because the most enduring living symbol of human resistance to inhumanity, to the Holocaust, is alive no more.