Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's Beneath the Clothes?

So when I should be doing my school work I am blogging. Ah, blogs. A grad student's downfall - along with Facebook of course.

I was having a conversation with a close Desi friend of mine yesterday about the issue of racism. Specifically speaking, we were talking about non-Desis dressing up in Desi clothing (saris, shalwar kameez) for various reasons, the worst of them being Halloween. This Desi friend of mine, like me, was born and raised in Canada and it currently doing her PhD. Her and I both agreed that this phenomenon was extremely offensive.

Previously, I had discussed the same issue with another Desi friend as well as an Arab friend, neither of whom found it offensive, and both of who would consider wearing Desi clothes on Halloween themselves. Why the difference of opinion? Well, my Canadian born Desi friend and I came to the conclusion that it was because they were both born and raised outside of Canada - one in Pakistan and one in the Middle East. Neither experienced the type of racism we did about our Desi culture growing up. They didn't hear "Eww, that food stinks", or "Does your mom wear a sheet?", or "Does your dad wear a towel on his head?" The culture that once was disgusting, gross, and weird is now the thing. Everyone loves Indian food, knows about Bollywood, and is in awe of our saris. But then, when we were growing up, when we were in our most impressionable years, when we were in our identity formation years, it was not cool at all to be Desi.

So I suppose there is some bitterness there. What you once thought was repulsive you now embrace. And as much as we appreciate this new found appreciation, we still cannot forget our humiliation.

However, as bitter as some of us may be, this is not the deepest explanation. I think, a more intense reason for which I am offended at the thought of seeing someone wear Desi clothing on Halloween, is the racist undertones which occur in the presentation. These same racist undertones are present when a non-Desi person, particularly a member of the dominant group, or a White person, wears Desi clothing in other situations. For example, the White Hollywood actresses who wear saris to events, or Madonna wearing saris and decorating her hands with henna.

For years, people like myself and my family, struggled to maintain this culture. We struggled against the sneers and smirks, to maintain a sense of pride in our culture. We struggled to normalize our culture and thus ourselves. Those who grew up in the sub-continent at that same time were never a part of this struggle. They have come here now, after we made our culture somewhat normalized and made others appreciate it. They have it easy. Although they may face racism as well, their struggles will never be the same as the pioneers of our community.

Therefore, when those from outside the community don our clothing as if to say "this is fun, this is cool, this is easy" they trivialize our struggles. They fail to recognize how much we fought, often within ourselves, to make others appreciate our culture, our clothes, our food, our identities. So what we say back is "What we did to get to a point where people respect our culture was not fun, cool or easy. Now you're taking that respect away. You are taking away what is ours through a fight. You are taking away what identifies me. You are taking away what identifies my struggles. You are not appreciating our struggles. You are not respecting our fight. You're saying all that is a fun and funky outfit.You're reaping the benefits of something you never worked for nor could appreciate." And then to make that into a Halloween costume adds insult to injury. Now it's all a costume.

Now I'm not saying don't eat Desi food or listen to Desi music, etc. I am saying there is a limit which should not be crossed. And that limit occurs when you appropriate our culture and deny our experiences. Truly respecting our culture is to recognize the racism we experienced, the fight we fought.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

It's snowing outside and I LOVE it. Yes, I am truly Canadian. But let me explain why I love the snow. Or, to be more precise, why I love the snow falling.

When the snow falls outside, I feel cozy inside. I crave hot chocolate and a good book. I feel giddy and young. I go back to my childhood days when we would pray for a snow day every single winter day, and run around the house ecstatic when our prayers would be answered. We would stay in our pajamas and watch cartoons all day long. Even now, those same smiles come to my face when I see it snow outside.

Being a PhD student however, I cannot curl up with a good book but rather have to negotiate with my laptop - or at least with the documents stored in my laptop. Yet, the snow outside encourages me to do the work needed to be done. After all, the snow tells me it is winter and I am supposed to be in school. It tells me to stay inside and fulfill my duties as a student. Had there been sun and green grass, like the devil, it would tempt me away from that which I have to do. The snow, like the angel, tells me to be a good student.

Another reason I love the snow. I live in a condo here and do not need to shovel snow like I do at my parents home. My car is also with my family. No snow-clearing workout every morning. That may be why my views of snow have become so much more positive since I moved away from home.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Let's Tell Them: Sex Does Not Sell

I have been wanting to rant about those damn Tag/Axe commercials for AGES! I cannot stand those degrading, disgusting commercials. For a few years now, every Tag and Axe commercial depicts women as skinny, scantily clad, wild, animalistic, nymphomaniacs who cannot control their beast-like impulses when presented with a Tag or Axe scented man/boy. How such obviously disgusting and degrading images are allowed on television in the 21st century is beyond my understanding.

These commercials further this notion of woman as sexual being. They are telling men that this sexual animalistic woman is the type of woman they desire. This nymphomaniac is the woman they should want chasing after them. However, the most disturbing is that these commercials are saying that women are animals! Yes, we are animals. Not humans anymore, but animals. Roaring, chasing men as hunters chasing prey. This vision of sexuality honestly reminds me of Al-Ghazali's notion of female sexuality in which the woman is the hunter and the man the prey. These commercials, surprisingly, advocate Ghazali's idea of female sexuality. Though, I am sure this version of female sexuality is NOT exclusive to Ghazali. It is nonetheless extremely degrading and repulsive. It also extremely disrespectful.

However, this is also the culture in which women willing expose their breasts for the offensive and disgusting Girls Gone Wild videos. Ariel Levy so aptly calls this female chauvinism in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs. According to Levy the culture of pornography has provided the model of female sexuality today. Women believe that to be sexually alluring to men is a part of their sexuality. Women today confuse sexual power with power.

Ironically, as I write I am watching the show X-weighted, a reality show, in which one contestant tries to lose a certain amount of weight during the course of the show. The show I'm watching is following a 20 year old girl who aims to be able to wear a bikini in three months. At one point a "men's lifestyle" (is that what they call 'those' magazines now?) comes to ask her to be in the magazine once she has reached her goal. While explaining the process he tells her that her picture will appear at the back with the other girls they profile. According to this man they choose girls who are healthy, have a healthy lifestyle and diet, and take care of themselves. Meanwhile the example pictures they show are of half naked women, one with her bikini top coming off. Yes, that's healthy. And the contestant wants to model for them (though she doesn't think she will ever be that fit) because she thinks that will be a confidence booster. Again, this is another example of how such images are shown as the ones we as women should aspire to.

Just on a side note: Many women enjoy those Dove commercials. The Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty commercials have worked so well they've increased their sales. Although a cheap and sad ploy of using feminism to make money it has worked with women. However, other than the business aspect of it there is a very important warning that MUST go along with this campaign. Unilever is the company which makes Dove products. Unilever ALSO makes Axe products!!! Just so you know. Food for thought.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Body as Battleground

All our hearts ached for the victims of the devastating tsunami a few of years ago. One of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Many people asked why such a horrible thing would happen. How could so many innocent lives be taken like that? Who knows why things like this happen. Who knows God's plan. Who knows why God planned that.

Well, it seems some people in Indonesia do know why it happened and have found the culprits. Yay! Actual people to blame. But guess whose fault it is? Well, no, not the West. Not directly at least though one could argue there may be an indirect connection. Anyhow, guess again. That's right! WOMEN!

Why is that not a surprise to me? According to my friend, and journalist, Natasha Fatah, the right-wing conservatives of Banda Aceh have been blaming the women of the town for the calamity. In her article, Religion and natural disasters shouldn't mix, Fatah tells us how, following the tsunami, the local sharia-pushing conservatives found the perfect opportunity among the terror-ridden residents to spread their version of events. According to them it was the immorality of the women that caused God to punish them. To protect from further disasters they forced many restrictions on the woman. These self appointed morality police banned night time concerts so women would not be out at night and movie theatres were closed so that men and women would not be in the same dark space.

What was their proof? That's right. They had proof. The naked dead bodies of women from the disaster. When the force of the water hit these women, for many it ripped the clothes (sarongs and nightgowns) off their bodies. However, these guardians of Islam provided an alternate explanation saying that they were naked because of their immorality and this was God's way of punishing them, as well as everyone else for allowing them to be immoral.

Now this is getting to be an extremely old story. Whenever so-called Islamic law is implemented the first victims are always women. Always. They are the prey for the perverted, testosterone-thirsty (because real men, who follow the example of the Prophet (pbuh), would never behave this way), estrogen-hating 'mullahs.' Women are less powerful than men. They are easy targets. Easy to push around and bully. Their bodies are vessels for a very weak, fragile, and restless morality which, if not carefully watched, will find the first opportunity to escape into the real world to cause chaos, or fitna (disorder or chaos), among society. Therefore, they, like little, naive children, need to be instructed and ordered so that they do not harm themselves or others.

Fatah, in her article, quite aptly points out the 'female body as battleground' phenomenon.

A woman's body is always the easiest battleground for religious zealots. It's hard to monitor honesty and morality but it's easy to chastise a woman if her hair is showing, if her clothes are too tight, if she's talking to a man in private, if she's out after 9 p.m.

For centuries it seems the female body has become a political battleground around the world. No part of the world is guiltless. Whether it be using rape as a weapon of war or telling women how to dress, this is an international and ageless tragedy. However, in recent times it seems Muslim countries have made the female body a favourite playground for their war games.

Iran and Saudi Arabia tell women she must cover her body from head to toe, she must have a male relative accompany her body when outside the home, her body must not drive - all to guard the morality of society, all to control this sexual being who was created to wreak havoc. *

Turkey tells women they must not cover their heads so that the rest of Europe does not see them as extremist or sympathetic to the fundamentalists. After all, we all know that only those extreme women wear the hijab.

Women everywhere are told to veil for two common reasons. The first is to protect the morality of the Muslim Ummah. The morality of the Muslim Ummah lies in her body. If she uncovers her hair her sexuality will be released to wreak havoc and will lead to the ultimate destruction of the Ummah. The second, to pledge allegiance to other Muslims and demonstrate solidarity. The hijab is a clear label of Muslim-ness. It clearly tells the whole world you are a Muslim. Therefore, to show the Ummah's pride and confidence Muslim women must cover.

Just as these occurrences in Indonesia point out, the female body is still a ripe and 'fertile' battleground. Used to instill fear in people's hearts, her body terrifies men into oppressing. This makes this tactic extremely successful for those in the business of using bodies. How and when we will be able to defeat this is one question I wish we could answer but unfortunately this plague seems impossible eradicate.

* Read Fatima Mernissi's description of Imam Al-Ghazali's interpretation of female sexuality. The idea of woman as fitna-causing originate with him.
Mernissi, F. (1987). Beyond the veil: Male-female dynamics in modern Muslim society. Bloomington : Indiana University.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This Has Been a LMOTP Moment Brought to You by My Annoyance

So I'm watching Little Mosque on the Prairie.

This show is definitely presenting a very conservative version of Islam as the only version of Islam. Rayyan's parents have found a possible husband for her. But of course they have to let her get to know him first. However, she cannot go on dates with him without a chaperone! She is a grown woman and a doctor at that. Yet she cannot be alone with her suitor, even in a public space!

No doubt many Muslims believe this but MANY Muslims do not. Personally, I think men and women can be in each others company without humping each other. I know. I've done it. As surprising as it may sound there have many times when I have been alone with a man and NOT had sex with him. I know!! Shocking!! And there are even more times when I have been with a man alone and not even wanted to have sex with him!! Oh, and ditto for making out. Or touching. Or anything of the sort.

The idea that a couple needs a chaperone is a very conservative and traditional one. I wish LMOTP would STOP telling us what a good Muslim is like. UGH!!!!

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.....

Science is the Enemy - Or So Says Our Government

I was watching the Rick Mercer Report Tuesday night and discovered some disturbing news. In his rant, Rick Mercer informed us of the contempt Canada's federal government apparently has for science. Recently, a group of Canadian scientists received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on and highlighting the seriousness of climate change. Now most of us Canadians would be extremely proud and would want to honour these scientists for their groundbreaking work. And most people have. The Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc, and the Green Party all united in saluting these scientists. But wait, you might say. Where were the Conservatives? After all, they are the ruling party.

Well, they boycotted the ceremony!!! Apparently, because they don't believe that climate change is a problem. Tey refused to recognize the brilliant work of our scientists.

I am not a fan of our Prime Minister. I never have been nor will I ever be. He seems to prove time and time again that he lacks intellect and rationality. He also proves his extreme arrogance which many times has surpassed that of George W. Bush. Last year in response to Canadian protests against a group of leaders meeting in Quebec, Harper made mocking comments. About his own country-people. Even George W. Bush has in the past had the decency to acknowledge the right of people to protest, instead of mocking them for their efforts.
Stephen Harper needs to be de-powered soon. This recent incident is just another example of his ineptness to represent Canadians. A man who once insulted Canada and Canadians to a right-wing American audience, before becoming PM, cannot represent us. A man who does not care about women's rights in Canada while talking about freeing the women of Afghanistan, cannot represent us. This man seems so out of touch with Canadians. Come next election we must elect someone else. However, as out of touch with Canadians as I think he is, my fear is his re-election. Let's hope this nightmare does not come true.

Picture from While the Earth Burns

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's Going on in the Motherland and Why Do I Care Again?

Well, the election results are coming in and it seems that Musharraf's party has lost terribly. This was inevitable with unrigged elections. Which is what seems to have happened. The elections seemed to have been conducted honestly. In a country in which rigging elections is normal, an honest election is unusual. Though I have to admit the idea of Zardari becoming leader of Pakistan makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

It also seems the Islamists and Taliban are terribly losing in the NWFP with a secular party winning. Yay! The last thing Pakistan needs is crazies, who exploit and manipulate people by abusing Islam, leading in any manner. However, from what I have heard this is not so unusual. Perhaps the support for extremists in the NWFP is exaggerated. I always knew that the average Pakistani is a moderate Muslim with no sympathies for the extremists. But to see it demonstrated so loudly is wonderful.

However, as briefly alluded to in my past post, I did wonder why I am so invested in what happens in Pakistan. I only have extended family there, most of whom I don't know well at all. Yet, I have always had a very strong interest in the happenings of that far away land.

Obvious reasons are that my parents come from there. Therefore, growing up I heard about Pakistan constantly. Anytime there was news on TV about Pakistan (which was very rare when I was a child - nothing compared to the current situation) everything would stop to watch the news. If any sound was made a quick "chup!" (be quiet!) would quiet us down. As a child this was very annoying. As an adult, I'm the one to "chup" others.

Another obvious reason is that my mother's side of the family was and is involved in politics. Therefore, information about the Bhuttos (father and daughter), Zia (Satan's spawn from what I understand), Sharif and so on was completely unsolicited but always available. It was something as a child I found drier than uber-steeped tea (how do you like that analogy? - extremely steeped tea is drying on the tongue - really - try it). But somehow all that talk must have permeated my brain and changed the synaptic action in there because as an adult I revel in political talk - of all kinds. And of course, seeing the passion of my grandfather about Pakistani politics rubbed off on my impressionable mind.

Yet, there are other inconspicuous reasons as well. Being someone of Pakistani descent and being someone who was raised in a very small province of Canada remaining abreast of the issues in Pakistan is my way of staying connected to a culture so bitter-sweet to me. Bitter because there is much I don't know, and so much I hate. Sweet, because there is much I understand and much I love. This is my way of being desi as I did not go to cultural shows, did not have South Asian friends, and made infrequent visits to the motherland. Perhaps, I didn't want to admit that I was as desi as I was. Perhaps, because in my mind being desi meant going to cultural shows and hanging out with desi friends and this seemed superficial. Perhaps, I found this superficial because I was envious that they had external opportunities to mold their ethnic identites. Remaining in touch with the political sphere of the country provides me with what I feel to be a serious, in depth way to be desi. many things...

Regardless, it looks as if things may be changing in Pakistan. Altough, the crowds from the 90's seemed to have returned to the forefront, let's hope that this time they may bring about change. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Speed Round

Unforunately I don't have much time to write today. Therefore, as it is election day in Pakistan I'm posting this Q & A session with Tariq Ali and Stephen Cohen originally published on February 8th, 2008 in the Financial Times. I am a fan of Tariq Ali and find a great deal of what he says enlightening.

Personally, I think the elections will be rigged and Musharraf will be president again, though a much weaker one. Although democracy in Pakistan has never seemed to work with one corrupt leader following another, it seems Musharraf's rule has fallen short. Although when he came into power it seemed that things would get better, unfortunately this did not happen - or at least any prosperity that did occur did not last. I do not doubt that Mushrraf was and still is in a very precarious position. He has to tread very carefully and I therefore cannot blame him for many of the decisions he made. But he did seem to go too far and the power he gained seemed to go to his head. Too bad. I had many hopes. (Though I do wonder why I am so invested, considering I was born and raised in Canada. I'll analyze this in tomorrow's post.)
Anyhow, here is the interaction.
What impact will Pakistan’s elections have?
Published: February 8 2008 11:58
The assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in the middle of the country’s election campaign has thrown the already fraught political future of the country into further confusion.

The subsequent delay to the election has prolonged Pakistan’s latest political crisis, deepening international anxiety over the spread of extremism, the fate of the county’s atomic weapons and the risk of a new partition along tense ethnic faultlines. It has also opened up a new front of discord in relations between Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, and opposition parties that have been pushing for free and fair elections at the earliest opportunity.

So can the elections be fair? Could any opposition party form a stable government? Can anyone improve the security situation?

Stephen Cohen, fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, and Tariq Ali, novelist, historian, political campaigner and one of New Left Review’s editors, are answering your questions on Pakistan’s elections and the country’s political future in a live Q&A.
1. Will the elections reflect the true will of the people? Also, how important is Musharraf - the person himself and not Pakistan - to the US. Is the US currently looking at him as a threat or a friend?
Raghavendra Jagtap, Minneapolis

Tariq Ali: Very few people in Pakistan believe that the elections will be fair. The interim government is packed with Musharraf cronies, the Election Commission likewise. The only question is whether the results will be cleverly or crudely rigged.
If the latter there could be trouble on the streets. I think Washington has mixed feelings about Musharraf, but with the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the choices are limited. Certainly he is not regarded as a threat. He made Pakistan’s military and air force bases and the country’s air space available after 9/11, helped the US to take Kabul painlessly and suffered three attempts on his own life as a result.

Stephen Cohen: I’ll take on the second part of this question. Musharraf’s importance is critical from the perspective of a few key US leaders, who probably exaggerated his competence and his “sincerity” as an ally against radical Islamic terrorism. I’d say that more Americans now see him as a liability, and this begins with the US military who have encountered Pakistan-based Taliban. On the US left there is a vague commitment to democracy, but no one believes that the US can force Pakistan to hold free elections. Even if it wanted to, the bureaucracy is so used to fixing them that this will not happen. At best I see Musharraf being eased out by a combination of the Pakistan army, which must find him now to be an embarrassment, and foreign supporters, including the US but certainly China and the Europeans who realise that Pakistan must have coherent and effective leadership to tackle its many problems, not least of which is the growing violence in the society.

2. The Economist magazine in its January issue labelled Pakistan not only the most dangerous country in the world but also a failed state and aired worries that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the terrorists. What is your view?
Yash Bhatt, London

Tariq Ali: I think it is a dysfunctional state rather than a failed one, but the notion of jihadi terrorists capturing the nuclear facility is nonsense. They would have to capture the Pakistan army first. This consists of half a million men. The nuclear facility is the most heavily guarded place in the country. A handful of senior officers know the codes. So its safe. And its worth repeating that except for a short period following the break-up of the country in 1971, the command structure of the army has never been broken. Even in 1971, the generals responsible for the debacle were asked politely to resign, which they did. Jihadis could only capture the nuclear facility if the army wanted them to and there is no likelihood of that at the moment.

Stephen Cohen: I can provide a gloss on Tariq Ali’s answer - I’ve looked at the question of failure closely in my recent book on Pakistan and concluded that it had failed in pieces, but not comprehensively, as had Afghanistan (which was in some ways a murdered, not a failed state) and several African states, which are hardly states in any sense of the word. Yet, the nuclear assets are perhaps still vulnerable, one scenario for Pakistan would be a falling out among the military, or perhaps a politician trying to divide the military - in these cases, short of total state failure, nuclear assets could be important in a power struggle, and who knows what would happen to them. This is, of course, a distant possibility, and Ali is correct in emphasising the unity of the armed forces. However, there’s a lot of concern that under stress unpredictable things could happen, and Pakistan’s earlier record as the wholesaler of nuclear technology to other states does not inspire confidence.

Tariq Ali: Cohen is right to say that a split in the army could have catastrophic results, but this is unlikely unless the US decided to invade and occupy the country. That would split the army but it is as long a shot as jihadis capturing the nuclear weapons. True that Pakistan sold nuclear technology in the world market on the assumption that everything was now for sale. They weren’t alone. Yeltsin’s Russia did the same.

Stephen Cohen: The fact that we are even talking about this is comforting to me in a perverse sense: the last sentence of my ”Idea of Pakistan” stated that Pakistan could, soon, become America’s worst foreign policy nightmare - I’m not pleased to have anticipated this catastrophe.

(My side point: Yesterday on the news I heard that only 4% of Pakistani people in the NWFP, the most volitale and Taliban sympathetic region, would actually support extremists and Taliban. Therefore, the chances of such people gaining power do seem very slim - Alhumdollilah!)

3. Pakistan has remained a key ally of the international community in the “war on terror”. However there seems little international appreciation of its role. What are the factors behind this misperception and how can Pakistan’s image be improved and its role be truly acknowledged by the international community?
Umer Shami, Lahore

Tariq Ali: Its not a question of improving the image. It’s Pakistan that has to be improved. Just take one aspect: education. This is a total mess. Not enough trained teachers, text-books that are a total disgrace, the monopoly of English by a well-off minority, a callous elite that can’t be bothered. Don’t look to the “international community”, whatever that may be. Look at yourself. Hold the mirror high and see what needs to be done.

Stephen Cohen: Even though I have disagreed with Tariq Ali on a number of points over the years, I certainly concur with his answer - and would go further in pointing out that Pakistan has received a huge amount of money for its rather moderate role in the struggle to combat violent extremism that purports to be acting in the name of Islam. While the present government has talked a good game for a long time, in terms of containing extremism, it has also fostered it, and now even the Chinese, Pakistan’s all-weather friend, are worried about trends in Pakistan.

4. What role could the charismatic Fatima Bhutto, the niece of Benazir and daughter of Murtazar, who was assassinated by the police in 1996 while his sister was prime minister, have in Pakistan’s future? Do you think she could re-unite the family with a joint leadership of the PPP with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari? If so would it help Pakistan?
James Khan, London

Tariq Ali: None, I hope. We’ve got to get away from family-politics in this country. It’s a nightmare. The comparison of Benazir to Kennedy was nonsensical. The Kennedys never owned the Democratic Party and nor do the Clintons as we witness each day. The same re the Bush family and the Republicans. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in India is more comparable but that is not a healthy situation either.
Stephen Cohen: On Fatima: probably none, but the PPP is a different matter - more like India’s Congress party. It needs the charisma of the son (if there is any), but it also has a real organisational base. One of Pakistan’s many tragedies is that its parties were never allowed to make mistakes and grow. I told Musharraf, right after his coup, that he ought to reset the system, and allow the parties to grow, make mistakes, and let the Pakistani people correct their errors at the ballot box. Alas, he had other ideas.

5. Why is the US and wider western world not backing wholeheartedly the democratic struggle of the Pakistan people by asking President Musharraf to step aside?
Mohammad Shoaib, New Delhi

Tariq Ali: Some are and some aren’t. The western media is divided on this question. In any case this can only be solved in Pakistan and by Pakistanis. The fact that the new Chief of Staff General Kayani has withdrawn all military personnel from civilian duties is - I think - a broad hint to his predecessor to follow suit.

Stephen Cohen: I agree, but would also point out that two of Pakistan’s historically important allies, the Saudis and the Chinese, are hardly going to press the military for the restoration of democracy. This is ironic, because perhaps the best route to stability and order (which both crave) is through a more democratic and accountable system of governance.

6. Can Pakistan have a functioning democratic system without land reform?
Jacob Gulmann, Copenhagen

Tariq Ali: It could but it would remain very weak. Every single government has fudged the question of land reforms.

7. Considering India and Pakistan were the same country until only 60 years ago, why has Pakistan allowed so many military dictatorships to take power in this period, while neighbouring India has only had one 3-year period of emergency?
Jyoti Malhotra, New Delhi, India

Tariq Ali: For a mixture of internal and external reasons. Internally, civil society in what is now Pakistan was weakened by the departure of Sikhs and Hindus. The Muslim League that came to power lost both its key leaders (Jinnah and Liaquat) very quickly and, in any case, was not a party that had been formed in the course of mass struggles against the British empire as was the case with the Indian Congress Party. What was left after Jinnah’s death was a party dominated by Punjabi and Sindhi landlords with little popular support. The two functioning institutions were inherited from the British: the Army and the Civil Service. The latter ran the show for the first 10 years, then the military took over. This was at the height of the cold war and Pakistan had aligned itself firmly with the United States and was a member of SEATO, the Baghdad Pact and CENTO. The US (as in South America during the cold war) preferred the army in power than any political party that might threaten its perceived interests. The coups of 1958 and 1977 in Pakistan were backed by Washington. This is a very brief answer to a complex question, but it’s a start...

8. If the upcoming general election results in hung National Assembly, i.e. no political party is in a position to form a government alone, what will President Musharraf do to take democratic process further?
Mohammad Shoaib, New Delhi

Tariq Ali: In that eventuality the largest single party will spend a lot of money to buy up MNAs (Members National Assembly) and try and get an absolute majority. This has happened in the past and has worked. The pity is that the auctions are held in private. Musharraf will obviously be backing his faction of the Muslim League led by the Chaudhrys of Gujarat. Whether any of this will take the “democratic process” further will have to remain an open question.

9. Given the law and order situation in Pakistan at present where people even fear for shopping in bazaars, will they have enough courage to go and vote in polling booths when you know the local government bodies are loyal to Q-League?
Gull Larik, London

Tariq Ali: Difficult to predict. A low poll would mean a lack of legitimacy and I have no doubt that bundles of marked ballots are waiting to be cast by government appointees as has often happened in the past.

10. Is the new parliament likely to reinstate the pre-November 2007 judiciary?

Tariq Ali: If it’s a Musharraf Muslim League victory, then the answer is no. The two major parties, PPP and Muslim League (Sharif brothers) have pledged that they will do so. But were this to happen, the Supreme Court would accept a legal challenge to Musharraf’s legitimacy. They were considering this when the state of emergency was imposed and the majority of judges were sacked, with very little adverse comment from officials in Washington or London.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Explaining Crushes

After two serious posts, I thought that before I got 'typecast' as only a political writer, I'd post something fun and frivolous. Now, me being me I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep the political away. After all, the personal is political, right? But, for this post I'm leaving it aside and just posting on something frivolous. Straight girl crushes!

What do I mean? Well, I'm referring to straight girls having crushes on other girls. But is this possible? Yes, it is I say. I have them. Just three. But I have them. And they are celebrity crushes - Sushmita Sen, Roselyn Sanchez, and Salma Hayek.

My crushes are not sexual at all. I have no desire whatsoever to have any sexual interaction with these women. I am simply in awe of their beauty and love seeing them. And in the case of Sushmita Sen and Salma Hayek I have a lot of admiration for them. Their talent, their attitude, the way they handle themselves in interviews. What I know of them impresses me. With Roselyn, it's simply that I think she's hot and nice to look at. And that I think it would be cool to look like her. Not sexual - just admiration. To me, this is what distinguishes a straight girl crush from others. The crush is based on sense of admiration of some sort, not a sexual attraction necessarily.

Now, there is a reason that my two crushes are women who are not White. I think White women are beautiful but White beauty is not something I can aspire towards. Especially not the beauty portrayed in our North American media. I will never have the Caucasian look. But I am South Asian like Sushmita, and I could pass for Hispanic like Roselyn or Salma. Not that I will look like any of them unless I get plastic surgery (which I have no intention of getting) but seeing women who are of my ethnicity or close to it, validates my own potential for beauty.

For women to see beautiful women of their own ethnicity is extremely important. It says that there people out there, many people, who feel that you can be beautiful too. If all the beautiful women were only White, then the message we would be receiving would say "sorry, you people have no beauty among you and can never be beautiful." Therefore, to have women with similar features as us tells us that we can be considered beautiful by the world.

I have no tendencies toward lesbianism or bisexuality. I am only attracted to men. But I enjoy my girl crushes, and obviously, now have no problem with admitting them.

Well, I had intended to keep the political away from this post. But looks like it didn't happen.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Privilege of Being Arab

Being a budding social constructionist, academic in the social sciences, and feminist I'm often exposed to many criticisms of the system. Why are things the way they are? Do they need to be that way? Who benefits from the way they are? who loses? Within the slew of criticisms one which has hit home many times is the criticism of racism and white privilege. How does it benefit White people, often unbeknownst to them, and how does it disadvantage me, also often unbeknownst to me. I've had many chances to think of it and notice. I will write about that at another time.

Today though I wanted to draw attention to a similar and equally as disturbing a phenomenon, especially for those of us South Asians. And this is the idea of Arab nationalism as racism. Now, some may accuse me of being racist right at the get go, but let me say, this is not about aimlessly and uselessly criticizing a group of people. This is rather an attempt to criticize the power imbalances in this world, especially in the Muslim world, which have often lead to unfair treatment. Unfair treatment from the institutional to the personal level.

Of course, most South Asians 'know' that Arabs think less of us. From my conversations on the topic with South Asian friends, it seems to be understood. From the stories which come out of the Middle East it appears that our fellow South Asians are often abused and exploited. No doubt many educated and privileged South Asians have made their way to the Middle East for the exalted oil money but this doesn't cease the manifestation of racism. Usually, these educated professionals are paid less than their Arab (and often Western) counterparts. And if that isn't enough Arab nationalism seems to have snuck itself into our religion as well.

It seems so that our South Asian brethren who travel to these oil rich countries become mesmerized by the Arab style/version of Islam. For generations we non-Arab Muslims have been under the false impression that Arabs are better Muslims than us; that their knowledge of Islam is greater than ours. No doubt there are Arab Muslims with great Islamic knowledge, just as there are Muslims with great Islamic knowledge among all nations. However, the reverence for Arabs among non-Arab Muslims has become epidemic. Many aspects of what we consider Islam trace back to Arab culture, and not Islam itself. The hijab and niqab are just a couple of examples of them. Neither the hijab nor the niqab are mandated in the Qur'an, nor is there strong evidence that either are either obligatory nor encouraged.

By buying into the propaganda, as I like to call it, we have given rise to Arab privilege. Somehow, we believe, eating, dressing, talking, behaving like an Arab makes us better it the eyes of God; it grants us certain privileges that being a non-Arab does not. How many times have we seen a Pakistani brother in traditional Arab garb, or a Pakistani sister don the abbaya instead of a loose pair of shalwar kameez?

However, the most detrimental impact of Arab racism toward non-Arabs is the psychological impact of the inferiority complex which many of us suffer from. Muslims of non-Arab cultures are shunning their own culture for that of the Arab countries, falsely believing they are being better Muslims. We feel ashamed of our 'naive' and 'ignorant' cultures. We believe our people are stupid, simple, and jahil. We look down upon our own roots. We ignore the richness in our own cultures. But what if our beautiful cultures die out? Isn't that what the racism of the West did to many cultures of the East? Will we allow this to happen within the East?

One of the best ways to combat racism is education. Educate the racists about those whom they hate, and educate those whom they hate about the racism they encounter. Those of us non-Arab Muslims (as well non-Muslims of non-Arab, non-White background) must become aware of this racism and help educate those who 'hate on us.' We must tell them that we are not inferior, that our cultures are precious to us, that those of us who are Muslims are equal to them.

Did the Prophet (pbuh) not say:

No Arab has any superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab. Nor does a white man have any superiority over a black man, or the black man any superiority over the white man. You are all the children of Adam, and Adam was created from clay.

However, I realize this will be a difficult task. We have been so brainwashed to believe that what the Arabs do will get us into heaven. We should not be listening to our bhangra music; we should not be wearing our saris; even our shalwar kameezes are too provocative and we should be wearing their abbayas and gowns. But we need to become more confident in our own abilities to understand God's word. God's word is after all for all of us and not the exclusive property of the Arab nation to do with it whatever they like and present us with the end result. We too need to be involved in the process and we will have to demand that.

Also, for a great analysis of the issue check out Muslimah Media Watch's Fatemeh Fakhraie's article at AltMuslim: The Arabization of Islam.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What Do They Expect?

Danish newspapers have republished the the infamous Prophet Muhammad cartoons. It has been reported that a few Muslim men had planned to kill the cartoonist and as a result many Danish newspapers decided to republish the cartoons in solidarity with the cartoonist as well as to express their freedom of speech.

When the cartoons were originally published I definitely had complaints about what I saw as Islamophobia. There really was no need to do such a thing and in Europe's fragile political environment it hurt more than it helped.

However, the reaction of so many Muslims at that time was extreme and completely defeated the purpose of the protest. Muslims were protesting the violent portrayal of our prophet. Yet they did this by being violent. Even Islamic academic Tariq Ramadan expressed his annoyance at the extreme and hypocritical reaction by Muslims. I felt they seemed to make the situation worse.

And now we are faced with a similar problem. The plan to murder the cartoonist is another example of hypocrisy of these Muslims who claim to be the defenders of Islam. Yet, their actions prove that their knowledge of Islam is severely lacking. Thus, the reaction of the papers to publish the cartoon in protest is completely understandable and expected. Not appreciated but understandable.

As I see it the Muslims who planned to kill the cartoonist are also responsible for the republication of the cartoons. Just as the Muslims who protested the Satanic Verses greatly increased sales of the offensive book, these Muslims have again brought the cartoons off of the dusty shelves onto the pages of the latest Danish newspaper.

By acting in absolutely unIslamic ways they have once again tarnished the name of the prophet.

After all, the Qur'an says

For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all humankind, and whoso saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all humankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth. (2:32)

And let me say, what the cartoonist did was not corruption in the land and definitely was not murder.

So why can't Muslims let it go. If you want to protest then please do it peacefully. Write letters, write editorials, educate people about our prophet. By acting in such idiotic ways these people give a bad name to our entire Muslim community, including the Prophet Muhammad.

Blog Views

Although the verbal medium is my most common method of expression, I thought it would be 'neat' to get all my thoughts, opinions, and rants out online. Now I am notorious for stopping things I start. Well most things. I've miraculously been able to continue my PhD. However, blogs are just too much work and committment for me. So this is a challenge to myself. To take even a few minutes to throw some words on the screen. Let's hope I can.