Thoughts on the Execution of Mumtaz Qadri

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

So, after years of deliberation, Mumtaz Qadri was finally hanged on leap day 2016 in Rawalpindi’s notorious Adyala Jail. A lot of people are celebrating and mourning passionately, but to me the very mention is repulsive.

Look, I know why some people are celebrating or are happy about it. For two reasons primarily. Because it’s not every day that the courts pass judgement against the guardians of the blasphemy law. Especially when the comment of the Justice exonerates the murdered governor of committing any blasphemy. And secondly, because the other side is celebrating the martyrdom.

To many people’s shock, Mumtaz Qadri was laid to rest in a funeral attended by thousands. I am fine with the lack of live TV coverage, but would oppose any government instructions to block the reporting. Some were not even in favor of allowing such a funeral procession, but you cannot tell people what to do.

Blasphemy law involves strange moral dynamics. While you can criticize and advocate its repeal for being a serious offense to freedom of speech, the defenders could compare it to liberal hate speech laws. As flawed the argument may appear, blasphemy could be considered hate speech. Many authoritarian progressive liberals would agree.

At least, it has been considered hate speech in India since the British took control of the subcontinental states and territories.

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Maybe the fight for the blasphemy law can still wait another day, but many are seeing the execution as a step in the right direction. A small victory in the dark war against the blasphemy law.

Nevertheless, even if the two camps were to reach a compromise, capital punishment for blasphemy is absolutely unacceptable. It is unconscionable how such a great number of people would gladly call for someone’s head for saying something. It’s frightening.

But even if you are a proponent of the blasphemy law, you could still find the brutal act of Mumtaz Qadri abhorrent. There are some who believe that only the state should be allowed to slaughter people for saying nasty things. As I find many unlikely people against the criminal, with some even reserving harsh judgment for the late Governor of Punjab, who himself was somewhat of a Donald Trump in his own right.

I strongly believe that tenets such as justifying murder for blasphemy are the Achilles’ heel of Muslims in terms of their standing as a community in the world. While I am aware that so many of Muslims do not hold this belief, it would be dishonest to blindly assert that such people do not constitute a minority.

Until this behavior changes, which is morally questionable by modern standards of freedom and democracy, it would be hard to blame Islamophobes and other skeptics for not trusting Muslims.

It is something Muslims with a working conscience should give a thought to.

Though some people may consider commentary such as this to be blaming the victim. To some, it’s just provoking a people who are just mourning a slain hero.

But actually speaking against the support for blasphemy law is standing up for victims, not blaming them.

Victims like Governor Salmaan Taseer.

But then again, Mumtaz Qadri is also a victim.

The Gridlock Misery

Source: Dawn/AP

Source: Dawn/AP

I don’t mind paying a good amount of bucks when it is due. Believe me, I don’t.

But not when you are doing so for absolutely stupid reasons… Or even wasting time and energy, for that matter.

September 19, 2014 was by far the most chaotic day I have ever had in recent memory. And I was not alone. Pretty much everyone who was moving between Rawalpindi and Islamabad was that day.

The day was declared to be the “Day of Deliverance” by the protesting opposition party PTI to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. Needless to say the Prime Minister did not resign and it was just another good old PTI concert with a bigger attendance. And the federal government decided to prevent people from reaching there.

But who cares either way?

The traffic gridlock occurred all of a sudden. It was when I was moving back to my office after attending a client meeting, before which my former supervisor had informed me about the Islamabad Highway being blocked.

I was stuck for an hour on a route that should have taken less than minutes. Then ended up reaching my home after about 5 hours when it would have normally taken me 40 odd minutes. This should have cost less than a $1 and ended up paying near $10, yet walking no less than 4 kilometers.

My misery (as a matter of fact, I had probably never walked that far to my home from the route that I took that day), which I enjoyed a little due to the surreal scenes, was nothing to that of hundreds of families stranded in a mega traffic jam that probably lasted all night. Probably some people had to get to the hospital and others wanted to just reach their apolitical, private destinations for their apolitical, private lives and chores.

In other words, it was chaos. The doomsday scenario. Somewhat close to the kind of surreal apocalyptic scenes you watch in a Roland Emmerich film. But thankfully, nowhere near in destruction. Which probably proves that most people are civil.

Or probably that traffic problems occur all over the world, from New York City to Dhaka. But not really, when you don’t have to have them.

It is another example of government making a mess of people’s lives.

It is yet another example of complete disregard of the rights of the citizens.

Yet another example of exceeding bureaucratic powers over people’s lives.

No, the chaos was certainly not because people are disorganized, unruly, or ungovernable barbarians.

It was because the government was preventing them to function freely, probably with the intention of their greater good, as is always the case.

Are you not sick of the idea of know-it-all, all-controlling government?

Rejecting the Candidate Running from Multiple Constituencies

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Alright this is no good reason to reject a candidate’s party in any way. But it seems good enough for the people of Peshawar.

It seems good enough to me at least. But only when it comes to the candidate.

While I totally respect the decision of the people of Peshawar to elect Ghulam Muhammad Bilour on the National Assembly seat vacated by Imran Khan because of his victory from two other constituencies, people have been getting offended for all sorts of moral reasons.

But the people of the NA-1 constituency of Peshawar have made their voices heard. They probably voted for Imran Khan, not the PTI. Surprisingly, similar results surfaced in Imran’s native Mianwali. I bet many of the original general elections voters never returned.

So what is the positive out of the August 22 by-elections? That people have rejected the party or substitutes of the candidates running for more than one constituencies.

This also happened in a seat vacated by the independent candidate Jamshed Dasti in Muzaffargarh and Shazia Marri has won the seat from Sanghar which she lost earlier in the general elections like Bilour.

I think if all the people start deciding to boycott voting for candidates who run from multiple constituencies, perhaps our politicians could be convinced to change this ridiculous rule from the electoral constitution. Of course, if the people choose to do so.

Take Javed Hasmi’s example. He ran from NA-55 in Rawalpindi and beat Sheikh Rasheed in the 2008 elections and won his seat from Multan as well. He later vacated the Rawalpindi seat which was taken by Malik Shakeel Awan of PML-N. In 2013, he ran from NA-48 Islamabad and again vacated the seat for his other win in Multan.

Politicians such as Javed Hashmi, Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif have made a habit running from multiple constituencies, it seems.

I know it is perfectly legal for these candidates to do so, but I have a problem with it. It unnecessarily results in by-elections that everyone can do without, which only ends up wasting public money. In NA-54, the PML-N candidate Malik Abrar ran for both national and provincial assemblies at the same time in 2008 and won both offices. At least that can be avoided.

Personally, given the political structure in Pakistan, I’d rather vote for someone local. Someone who actually lives in the constituency. But this does not mean that educated and reasonable people like Asad Umer should not be given a chance if they run from another constituency, and he won from the NA-48 seat vacated by Javed Hashmi.

However, I am familiar that all these political heavyweights are too insecure to take the chance of running from just one constituency, though people like Chaudhary Shujaat, Sheikh Rasheed and Amin Faheem can do that, and this is what justifies this rule. But I would really like to see this rule go, among so many others.

But then again, that’s just me.

Day 3: Kissa Khwani by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan – “Evolution of Cities”

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a platform dedicated to documenting oral history, organized a three day event called “Kissa Khwani” in Islamabad, named after the famous Kissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, which was meant to promote the tradition of preserving oral historical accounts and storytelling. On June 22, 2013, the third and final episode of the three day event, “Evolution of Cities” was held in Islamabad.

The panelists of the Islamabad event included columnist Ishrat Hyatt, renowned award winning photgrapher Syed Javed Kazi, Shafiq Siddiqui, urban town planner and senior director of CDA and Fauzia Minallah, nature conservation and peace activist and founder of Funkor Child Art Foundation. The event was moderated by Parveen Malik, the President of Asian Study Group.

I am sure a lot more significant sister event was held in Lahore with the same topic, where panelists included one of my favorite speakers and writers about history, travel and archeology, Salman Rashid. The Lahore event also included urban town planning expert Imrana Tiwana, artist and preservationist Dr. Ajaz Anwer, journalist Nusrat Jamil and architect Nayyar Ali Dada.

The event started with the moderator Parveen Malik recalling her early days in the twin cities when she moved in here with her husband in the ’60s. She talked about hanging out at the Shezan Restaurant, at the London Book Store and spending New Year eves at the famous Flashmann’s Hotel. She also talked about the covered market in Islamabad, which was sold off to everyone’s shock, apart from one of the Nafdec theatres in Islamabad, which was temporarily closed after a bureaucrat’s wife was bitten there by a rat.

She also mentioned a discotheque, aptly named “Disaster”, in the early days of the Islamabad Club where families used to hang out and dance. The discotheque was shut down after one Saturday night, a couple of MNAs demanded entry into the club and jumped into the swimming pool after stripping when denied. The membership fee was a few hundred rupees in those days, which is now up in hundred thousands.

Ishrat Hyatt talked about the peaceful environment in Rawalpindi and Islamabad in the 60s. She recalled how parents had complete faith that their children would return home safely each time they went out. She mentioned the unforgettable sight of fireflies in Rawalpindi, which gradually disappeared as the city expanded. She mourned the loss of a bunch of beautiful cottages that made way for the construction of a cricket stadium.

Photographer Javed Kazi painted a picture of his pleasant walks across Rawalpindi, from the Charing Cross all the way up to Topi Rakh, the location of the Ayub National Park. Kazi observed that the natural beauty of the city offered numerous photo opportunities. Structures such as Flashmann’s Hotel and the 1907 built St. Paul’s Church are located on the same road, known as the Mall. A 30 feet high statue of Queen Victoria also stood at the square by the St. Paul’s Church, which was later uprooted.

According to Kazi, one of the most remarkable structures in Rawalpindi from the colonial times is the Rawalpindi Cathedral, which was built around 1852. Another significant building of the period was the Presidency, which was actually the palace of Sikhs related to the legendary Sujan Singh of Rawalpindi. The building now serves as the campus of Fatima Jinnah Women’s University.

Other structures by the Mall Road included the Odeon and the Plaza theatres, which were surrounded by gardens at the time. Freemason’s Hall was one of the little known structures of the city on the way to Florence Road. Rawalpindi also housed religious structures of Hindu and Sikh communities. There used to be a major Hindu temple in Bagh Sardaraan, while there was a Gurdwara of Narankari Sikhs in the Narankari Bazaar located in Rawalpindi city center.

Shafik Siddiqui of CDA commenced a long account laying out the history of the creation of Islamabad with the mention of the formulation of the Federal Capital Commission under President Ayub Khan. The commission selected a territory of approximately 350 square miles spanning an area from Kohala to Hassan Abdal and from Rawat to the location of Khanpur Dam, beyond the Margallas. The commission ruled out the idea of moving the federal capital to East Pakistan.

The Greek architects of Islamabad, Konstantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, chose to plan the city in a grid iron pattern. This was a feat in its own right, since the grid pattern is suited for planes, instead of plateaus and hills that make up the territory of Islamabad. To the astonishment of the audiences, he mentioned that the notorious Nullah Lai, used to be a source of fresh water supply for the residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, which was discontinued after an epidemic broke out in the 1990s. The rest is history.

He also mentioned that four major highways were planned to be built around the city, namely, the Kashmir Highway, Islamabad Highway, Capital Highway and finally the never-built Sawan Highway, which was meant to replace the GT Road. He observed that the CDA plans to remove encroachments around the city were badly affected by corruption and lack of law and order, apart from fear of certain religious groups.

Fauzia Minallah began her account by expressing her attachment to the natural beauty of Islamabad. She recalled that she instantly fell in love with the place when she moved there. She passionately talked about the pleasures of exploring the Margallas and the Saidpur village. She spoke fondly of her experience of interacting with the natives of the village and especially with the village potter Rahim Dad, who had a pottery workshop in the village.

She mourned the loss of tolerance in the society, apart from the gradually diminishing natural beauty. She told the story of the chopping down of the “Buddhist Tree” in the E7 sector at the hands of religious fundamentalists for being sacreligious, where her Japanese friend Tajima Shinji used to meditate. I found this rather ironical because I once tweeted that maybe the only way people in our culture could preserve trees was declaring them sacred.

She also noted that Saidpur used to be a pilgrimage site for Hindus but they cannot dare visit the place anymore out of fear of extremists. She observed that the fundamentalist Muslims were narrowing down the living space for people from other communities, giving them an impression that they are not welcome here. Perhaps it was her, or Parveen Malik, who mentioned that the very name of the city, Islamabad, was like a warning to people following other faiths.

She also attacked people who called Islamabad a “dead city” due to the lack of social activities. She said that Islamabad was never a dead city to her because of its immense natural beauty and for being very habitable. She said that people should understand that every city has its own mood and this is how Islamabad is meant to be. It is not supposed to look like a city with high rise buildings.

According to Minallah, the construction of high rise buildings in Islamabad has been disastrous to its appearance and environment. She warned that unusually high structures are not meant to be built in Islamabad due to its high earthquake risk for being located on a fault line. She also criticized the “so-called developmental projects” from the CDA which were a threat to the trees of the city and which polluted the then pristine fresh water streams of Saidpur village. The stream now pretty much looks like an open sewer.

Minallah mourned the insensitivity of the town planners regarding ancient and heritage structures, as well as precious trees. She mentioned that most of the urban development of the city was misguided. She insisted that people would rather have cinemas instead of shopping malls. Answering one question she rejected the notion that people do not have a good sense of their connection with nature and their heritage. She insisted that the results of the 2013 elections confirmed that the people of Pakistan were aware.

On my question about the pathetic transport system in Islamabad, which was particularly unfriendly to anyone who dared to commute to the Capital from Rawalpindi, Mr. Siddiki admitted that it has been a problem area. He said that much had been planned to develop the transportation system of the twin cities, but out of lack of funds and sincere will,  no such projects materialized the way they should have. He also blamed the local tranporter’s unions for the problem.

Siddiki also mentioned that religious extremism and blackmailing have been on the rise in Islamabad for years and it has been a major hurdle for the CDA to carry out disciplinary measures. Parveen Malik noted that mosques in Islamabad were not allowed to build madrassahs, but just about every mosque had been violating the law, without attracting the attention of the CDA. She mentioned that President Musharraf wanted to take action against the madrassahs but Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman intervened and convinced him not to.

The panelists and participants seemed to agree that the newly constructed high rise buildings looked ugly and out of the place in Islamabad. Many raised the point that the rusty water supply pipes in the city should be fixed, which were getting mixed up with sewage at places.

But as a citizen of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the cause that appealed to me the most was the preservation of trees. Fauzia Minallah deserves applause for raising the issue. I wish there were ways we could help people who stand up for nature for a change.

In the end, I found the Kissa Khwani event a very fulfilling experience as far as interacting people was concerned. I congratulate the Citizens Archive of Pakistan for organizing the event.

I really hope this town sees another one of these events.

Note: This is not a paid post.

The Love of Dust

How much do you love dust?

Oh, for the love of God, I am not talking about the germs and all the crazy microscopic creatures that we are told share the same space as ours. How unromantic.

Why not take it as the inseparable, sticky particles of the Motherland that reminds you that you are only going to be reduced to it one day?

Or perhaps a golden opportunity to reconnect to nature? Oh wait, Mother Nature.

Or even an opportunity to recreate and relish the environs of an Arabian Desert in order to stimulate piety?

Where I am sitting right now, or living right now, is a great bowl of dust.

It’s as if I am back in time in the American Great Depression and am in the middle of the Dust Bowl.

Well, watch what you wish for, because it actually is the case.

Miserable economy, unemployment, power cuts, misery, poverty, frustration, dry country, no breadlines but all sorts of other terrible lines, and most importantly, dust. It could not be more perfect.

I have heard that history repeats itself. But I never thought that it would be true in such a horrific manner.

But hey, let us see the lighter side of things. After all, what cannot be cured, must be endured.

I have dust particles in my mouth.

Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that simply divine?

I just went to the roof of my house in order to write better while being closer to the stars. The cloud of dust in my neighborhood was so thick, I could hardly make out any bright dots in the blackish brownish what-appeared-to-be-the-sky. Despite the fact that it was pitch dark all around. Power cuts, mind you.

What is even worse, I could smell the dust.

Ah, the divine, maternal smell of the earth you belong to. One of the most disturbing and irritating feelings in the world.

And you know what is even crazier?

I seem to be the only person who has a problem with it.

It has been raining inches of dust on my part of the town for the past few weeks and it seems that there is no end to it.

And what is ironical, all that has occurred in the name of developmental construction, whatever that is.

OK, I’ll tell you what I think it could mean. It means vote for dust.

What is the most disturbing aspect about it is that it ruins the outdoor environment and you are greatly deterred to even step out of your house. Not that it would help you escape dust any better, but somewhat at least. You must hope to stay alive, while eating dust with your food and drinking dust with your drink.

For all the lamentation about the dusty air I breathe, let me inform you that I am a person who is accused of having a pretty dusty room myself, and partially rightly so. I do not usually appreciate foreign interferences in form of excessive dusting of my room, which through experience, I have often found counterproductive for a myriad of reasons, both in terms of time and the energy that keeps you patient.

Still by my shabby standards of living, the current unending storm of dust has succeeded in getting under my skin. It now seems as if I have developed a completely new sub-layer of skin which is made out of dust particles. Proving the Koranic revelation that “we made you out of dust”.

Wish they hadn’t.

But this disaster of a dust bowl surrounding my habitat is anything but divine, unless by divine, you mean manmade. And this colossal effort has been put forth in order to connect the misguided, naïve and degenerate people of my neighborhood to the soil of their Motherland.

And fortunately, people seem to be loving it. They are thanking the architects of these majestic pillars of dust every minute by ritually circling around them, celebrating their love of dust by not giving a fuck.

As much as I find it repulsive, it is about time I give in and announce my love of dust too.

Oh, how lovely it is to have its particles meet the taste buds on my tongue.

I can hardly tell the difference anymore.

Bohr Masjid: No Protests for This Mosque

The Damaged Bohr Masjid façade

Not too far from where I live, Bohr Masjid, or the Banyan Tree Mosque, located in Churr Chowk, Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi has undergone some drastic changes. The façade of the mosque is almost completely destroyed by the orders of the local government, operating in the constituencies NA-54 (Rawalpindi V) in the National Legislature and PP-10 in the Punjab government legislature, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board.

While in my opinion, this step by the local government for the sake of road expansion was completely unnecessary, apart from the general needlessness of the entire project of the so-called renovation of Churr Chowk Rawalpindi, where the inauguration stone of Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif had already been erected in March 2012 (If you happen to go around Churr Chowk these days, there is probably no other structure standing in its vicinity), what happened to the mosque only added insult to injury.

This project seems nothing else but the customary election year ritual of the reigning political parties of Pakistan, in this particular case PML-N, with their incumbent MPs Malik Ibrar Ahmed for NA-54 and his brother Malik Iftikhar Ahmed for PP-10, to gain sympathy of the voters by demonstrating that “developmental projects” are underway. I would have gone on to post the image of the ridiculously large and “vulgar” political hoarding thanking the mentioned MPs and Mr. Shahbaz Sharif and Mr. Nawaz Sharif for “fulfilling their promise of making Churr Chowk look like the Sahara Desert”, but I really don’t want to make this post sound like something political and targeting any one party, because I am sure that perhaps another party would be at it anyway.

However, it does concern politics anyway because the politics is ruining my neighborhood and my city. While a book can be written on how this project is being executed, the reason why I have chosen Bohr Masjid as its worst manifestation is because apparently mosques and religion are pretty important to the people of Rawalpindi, Punjab and Pakistan. I asked quite a few people about it, but they apparently considered the subject rather too unpleasant to be discussed much and it was something they were clearly willing to ignore.

Given the religious aspect of the damage to the mosque, the people of my city are apparently too peaceful or too lazy or too naïve to make fuss about it. However, to me, that mosque was a part of the city and a part of its culture and sights and sounds. It was heartbreaking to wake up one morning and see its façade gone just like that and what is worse, it is literally in ruins now, and it offers the view of a damaged structure in a bomb-battered warzone. A few images could offer a better idea of what has happened to the mosque.

The Debris of the Destroyed Bohr Masjid façade

Source: Another View of the Destroyed Mosque façade

What I can’t figure out is this. Why are there no protests over this? Had a Christian or some other non-Muslim even spitted betel towards the mosque, the person would have already left the world for committing the crime. Alright that is a little exaggeration, but hey, we have seen colonies of Christians reduced to ashes for supposedly desecrating the Holy Koran in this country. The only reason why there are no protests I guess is because the mosque has been destroyed by an elected Muslim government, who have apparently done great service to Islam and humanity by doing this, as they are carrying out a road expansion that everyone would have done without.

The Banyan Tree with Bohr Masjid

What concerns me more than the destruction of the mosque is the fact that the old banyan trees that are synonymous with the mosque and are an important landmark of the area would go down soon as well. Already a number of irreplaceable trees have been lost for the sake of this mindless “development” project and I am not sure how many more will follow. Peshawar Road, at least its Westridge part, is one of the relatively pleasant parts of the city connecting the G. T. Road and apparently the government wants to turn it like the rest of the urban parts of Pakistan as well.

Barren, dusty, dirty, treeless and an eyesore.

The Destroyed Bohr Masjid façade

I took these photos on August 2, 2012 and even visited the place today, on August 11. The mosque is still in the state that can be seen in the images and I expect it to remain that way for quite a while. No one knows how long will this gigantic “development project” will take to complete but I wonder if anyone would do anything to rebuild this poor man’s mosque. Surprisingly enough, it is the only building in the vicinity that has been graced by the authorities for its destruction.

Just a question for understanding the religious mind. If there is no outrage on the deliberate destruction of a mosque, a holy place, just for the trivial purpose of road expansion, why would you be raging on the destruction of a mosque claimed by another religion to be the birthplace of one of their human-gods? A much more important purpose. Maybe Muslims can destroy mosques themselves, but no one else can.

There is no connection of the two really as the attack of Hindu extremists was a violent and violating act in its own right, but why have different standards on the treatment of a mosque? Why not react to this deliberate destruction of a mosque, protesting against a Muslim government? No riots please, just concern on the loss of a cultural and historic building.

I find the apathy rather fascinating.

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?