As a Pakistani-American who was raised Muslim, I’ve been abstaining from weighing in on the unrestrained anti-Muslim crusade that has recently metastasized to untenable proportions worldwide, partly because I don’t want to add another decibel to the din, but mostly because it’s hard not to feel utterly demoralized and alienated by the whole thing. What sense can possibly be made of a movement so obviously ill-informed, so outlandishly divorced from the facts and fueled by atavistic rage? Everyone seems to have an opinion, and worse, many people assume a sort of smug expertise–on both sides–on why Muslims are or are not a scourge on the civilized world.
Perhaps this is why even Nicholas Kristof’s recent apology to Muslims, in which he expressed the shame he feels for those of his compatriots who have lost their marbles, fails to really get at the issue. It is on behalf of the “gentle souls” in Islam that Kristof writes, the good ones who “have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate.” Despite Kristof’s commendable attention to this debate, even his efforts fall short because they deny a reality that’s conspicuously absent from the wide array of commentary: the utter ordinariness of Muslims. Continue reading →
I’ve written so often that New Orleans is like a lost love I can’t bear to see again that it’s become a cliche, party of one. I haven’t been back since 2002, you see, and this year once again I couldn’t do it.
But that’s not really true. I visit my exes all the time (and not just because the Internet has made drive-bys a lot easier; you can do them on Facebook instead of having to have a car and be in the same town). I have to see for myself that they’re OK.If they aren’t, I just can’t handle it.
I had made tentative plans to go to New Orleans this year, though, and then the Deepwater Horizon well blew and oil saturated my beloved Gulf and I thought about a New Orleans with another haze of depression, tragedy, pain hovering over it, the threat of hurricane season not just possibly breaching levees that still, five years on, are not up to snuff, but pouring crude oil all over the city, coating still-devastated areas in toxic sludge far worse than the swampy cocktail that soaked into the city in August and September, 2005. Continue reading →
I love the way BBC world news service segues from one story to another – from the misery of floods in Pakistan it effortlessly moves to jellyfish attacks on Spanish beaches. The consistent gravity of tone in the newsreader’s voice suggests that both issues are being treated equally seriously – and there is a reason for that.
The overarching theme of all recent reportage is global warming which, by the way, is also the cause for the increasing jellyfish population and stung beach goers. Weather reporting used to be a nice and chirpy affair, with a brightly suited presenter rattling out absolutely irrelevant information about fresh cloud formations somewhere over the Pacific, but not anymore. Continue reading →
On Friday, May 28, 2010, gunmen wearing suicide jackets and carrying grenades opened fire on two separate Ahmadi congregations in the city of Lahore as they were gathered for Friday prayer. Men got up in the minaret and shot into the crowd, killing adults and children alike and shouting “God is Great.” In the Garrhi Shahu mosque, there was nowhere to run. Eyewitnesses said that the gunmen would shoot from high up and then come down and shoot the injured in the head point blank just to make sure. No one could call out on their mobiles because the attackers had managed to jam the signal. When the police did come, they stood outside and refused to act so that, in the end, young men from the mosque were pulling guns out of the hands of policemen to defend themselves. Continue reading →
So another guy with a Muslim name, this time a Pakistani name, recently attempted to attack an American target. I’ve been watching the Daily Show about it, along with the other news channels of equal gravitas – Dawn News, CNN, FOX, whatever – and the joy Jon Stewart has taken in Faisal Shahzad’s ineptitude is a joy I share.
If for no other reason than because it has elicited from Hilary Clinton a stern warning that further terrorist ties to Pakistan are going to be met with severity, and I find that strangely vindicating. Or because at least now, when young Pakistani men, of whatever citizenship (it doesn’t matter anymore) get frisked, prodded, harassed and humiliated, it will by a disdainful and derisive officer of the law, and not an angry vengeful one. Continue reading →
What exactly is a “home grown terrorist?” Young Muslims cloned in specially controlled vats hidden in secret greenhouses under guard day and night from elite seven-foot tall Al Qaeda warriors? Deep in his super cave, between watching Arsenal get beat and planning the downfall of “The Great Satan,” does Bin Laden activate his newly matured creations and let them loose on Western society?
Or are they men like Omar in controversial satirist Chris Morris’ new film “Four Lions?” Omar’s married to the beautiful Sophia, has a gorgeous son, owns his house and has an understanding boss who lets him go to Pakistan at short notice for an “emergency wedding.” So why does he want to martyr himself and, in reality, go to a terrorist training camp with the blessing of his wife and child? Continue reading →
When I was in college in the US, I dated someone who used to say, “I’m a Christian with a big crush on Islam.” I think it’s safe to say that I’m a Sunni with a big crush on Shi’ism. This is a problematic thing for a Sunni to say, because there’s no way to not sounds like a complete plonker, and I’m trying to cut down on plonkertude in my adult life. But I was taught Islam in high school by a Shi’a woman who I didn’t know was Shi’a and her love for Ali and Hussein did not detract from her respect from the other three Rightly Guided Caliphs – the Prophet was beloved of God, Abu Bakr was his faithful and honest companion, Umar was passionate in the cause of Islam, Uthman was generous to a fault, and Ali was justice personified. No riots occurred in either our minds or our classroom as a result of this.
To understand why this is a radical message, you have to know the story. Continue reading →
I had never even heard of Moon Market. Iqbal Town is several kilometres away from Gulberg, where I live and work, and is a kind of mini-city on its own. I visited there once, to drop a student home, and got lost on the way back. I’m not a native Lahori and it’s a strange, agglutinative city, so I think I can be forgiven.
On December 7, 2009, there were two explosions in Moon Market in Iqbal Town that killed 48 people and destroyed dozens of businesses. According to the BBC report, the first explosion was set off at the back of building causing people to run towards the front, where the second went off, trapping them in. Continue reading →
It’s an amazing thing, watching a woman’s rights activist from my parents’ generation in action. The passion that those women had at the height of the women’s movement in the 80s when they were protesting the seclusion of and state-sponsored violence against women, that passion was a sight to behold – then, with 8-year-old eyes, and now, at 30.
I came to this realization when I was dragged by friends to a one-woman show by Sheema Kermani, dancer, actor and feminist activist, at the Awami Jamhori Forum (the People’s Democratic Forum) in Model Town, Lahore. I didn’t really want to go; after a long day at work, ennui, hot chocolate and an oft-read Terry Pratchett beckoned. But the play was going to be outdoors, Lahore wasn’t quite cold yet but it had finished being hot, and my friends have been jeering at me for phoning in my feminism lately. So I went with them to watch Sheema Kermani perform on the evening of October 24, 2009.
The thing about clichés is that they endure because of a fundamental truth. And “Mein Kon Hoon?” (“Who am I?”) is a show filled choc a bloc with feminist clichés: invisible women in history, early marriage, violence against women, lack of bodily autonomy, religious fundamentalism.
My grandmother, who’s from Pittsburgh, was very afraid that I’d turn out not American enough, so she taught me the Pledge of Allegiance and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” asking me to recite them every summer we visited, until I was eight, by when I knew them by heart. In my teenage years, it was Jesus Christ we fought over, and whether “my guy” – this would be Prophet Muhammad – had performed any raising-the-dead type miracles because “her guy” was really cool like that. In my twenties, with first one, then the other Iraq war, when my grandparents put that star spangled banner up outside their Florida mobile home, and pasted “Support Our Troops!” onto their American-made car, Grandma and I had established a fragile peace. This we have kept ever since.
But the rocket’s red glare can still choke me up a bit, I’m abashed to admit, if it catches me unawares. “One nation, under God” still rings in my ears like a clarion call, albeit from far away, to really be one nation and to really be under God.
I have the entire American TV show “The West Wing” on DVD because I’m a fan of good writing acted well and Aaron Sorkin is a minor writing god. And while those corny moments of the entire cast declaring “I serve at the pleasure of the President” (a nice phrase in itself) make me gag, scenes where coffins come off of aeroplanes wrapped in the US flag and everyone’s grave, or Amazing Grace is playing on bagpipes and some old lady gets handed the flag after her son has been buried in Arlington Cemetary – those scenes make me cry.
So I’m going to attribute to this American training of mine the desire I felt suddenly, driving home from work in Lahore today, to stop near two policemen getting on a motorbike and say, “It must be really hard for you that two police training centres and the Federal Investigation Agency’s building were attacked by suicide bombers and gunmen today. You must be worried and scared, but I want to tell you that I appreciate the job you’re doing.”