Posted by Mahim Maher
Dear Mr Pearl,
You don't know me. We've never met. And I am only able to write this to you because you are no longer among us. After you were murdered in Karachi in 2002, your parents started a foundation in your name, which, among other things, helps train journalists from Pakistan. I am one of the fellows, from 2003. I started writing my blog at the Jewish Journal shortly after. But also, each year, when the Daniel Pearl World Music Day is held, I cover it from Karachi.
To tell you the truth, each year when the invitation would land on my desk from the US consulate I would cringe. I have no idea how to cover music and because I am a desk editor, I always shy from interviewing people. So covering the music day event was always really hard for me. I also felt a lot of pressure from the Jewish World to cover it correctly. I also feel a lot of pressure to keep apologising for your murder in Karachi. We're actually not really bad people here; there are just some nut jobs around who spoil it for the rest of us.
Each year when the stiff, creamy envelope with the gold-embossed insignia would arrive on my desk I'd worry about finding a new angle to cover your music day. Of course, I understood how important it was for your parents and journalists here to remember those whose lives have been taken in the line of duty. I felt like it would have been inappropriate to also assign someone else to do the job because the fellowship had given me so much. It was the least I could do.
For the first few years it was super hard but I did it nonetheless. It was only in 2011 that it became easier to write about the music day; that was because I stopped apologising and started becoming part of the story.
Sadly, though, this year, 2013 your music day couldn't be arranged in Karachi for several reasons. October came and went and it suddenly hit me that the creamy white stiff envelope hadn't arrived at my desk. I emailed the US consulate and they said that as far as they knew, no music day was in the offing. I emailed your mum and she confirmed that it wasn't happening.
I went home that day really sad. I thought that this would be the first year that the music day wouldn't happen in Karachi. I felt that--shit. What is the point in having so many alumni if we can't do anything? And as they say in Urdu, "laanat mujh pe." I should be damned if I couldn't draw on some contacts to figure out a solution.
I prayed to God. I said, "Ok God, look we have to do something. But I know that people here are a little cagey about being associated with Jewish folks so you'll have to open some doors here."
Then I had a brainwave; Karachi was hosting Pursukoon Karachi, a festival to take back the city from violence, this weekend. Perhaps, just perhaps, one musical performance could be dedicated to you? And the seven other journalists who have been killed here since 1992.
As my newspaper was a media partner for the event I spoke to our CSR manager and they spoke to the festival's organisers. A day later I got confirmation that one session, a play or series of dramatic readings of stories of Karachi, would be dedicated to you and the other journalists who have been killed. I nearly wept with joy.
I wrote a really cheesy piece for my newspaper. It was about how you didn't sing as such but the voice was an instrument and, well heck, it would just have to do. Ideally I would have arranged a jam session or something. But time was running out. I am just glad something small happened because it would have been really sad if the year had gone by and Karachi didn't dedicate something to you.
I promise to organise a big noisy jam session next year. I am convinced you can hear me. Even if we aren't playing music for now.
Caption: Noel Francis, Kulsoom Aftab, Meesam Naqvi, Kashif Hussain and Bakhtawar Mazhar performing 'Mein Hoon Karachi' at Napa, dir by Zain Ahmed, for Pursukoon Karachi on Nov 22, 2013 in Karachi. It was dedicated to Daniel Pearl and the seven other journalists killed here since 1992. Photo: Ayesha Mir/Express
11.22.13 at 11:32 pm | Salvaging a missed music day
11.9.13 at 9:43 pm | As told to me by an old colleague and reporter. . .
11.5.13 at 11:10 pm | Some reading resources
10.16.13 at 7:54 am | Eid Mubarak everyone
10.11.13 at 12:58 am | Her versus Them versus Us
10.6.13 at 6:30 am | Never a dull day in the newsroom - my personal. . .
November 9, 2013 | 9:43 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Once upon a time, before 9-11, a non-profit working for press freedoms wanted to do a report on the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and the media. A reporter, who is now the Peshawar-based bureau chief of an English newspaper and represented the non-profit in Pakistan, was asked to help. Peshawar, you see, is just a hop, skip and a jump away from Afghanistan.
The non-profit and the reporter talked for a long time about how to go about this delicate task. It was, after all, a strange time. But the reporter believed in ethical reporting as did the non-profit he represented.
They deliberated for months on the risk of trying to tell this story and decided, in the end, that as with all good stories, it only made sense to make sure everyone had a chance to give their side.
The report was prepared eventually, with lots of interviews of journalists working in Afghanistan etc. But at the very top, right at the beginning, on the very first page, the report first gave the version of the Afghan Taliban on what they thought about reporters and journalists and the media. It gave them a prominent space to tell their story before anyone else's.
The report appeared in the beginning of the year of 9-11 and the reporter in Peshawar waited with baited breath for a reaction.
There was silence.
In the beginning of Spring, he had to travel to Kabul for some work. But there was a debate - would it be safe for him? He decided that he had heard no complaints from the Afghan Taliban and thus, it would be alright to go. He set off on his journey.
The reporter arrived in Kabul and went about his work. And as he did it, he began to feel really strange. Still, he went about his work.
At one point, he found himself in the office of a top-ranking Taliban government official who managed the country's foreign affairs. Remember, the Taliban officials in those days kept an eye on Pakistani reporters arriving on their turf. The government network was strong and they all knew the reporter was in Kabul.
"How are things going?" the official asked the reporter.
"Quite well," replied the reporter. "But there is one thing."
"Well, as I have walked around the bazaar," explained the reporter. "Your morality and vice police have stopped me many times to tell me that I can't walk around without a beard. Can you please do something about this? Even when I tell them I am a foreigner, they say, well you are a Muslim, so you must still have a beard."
Suddenly the reporter was not so sure he should have complained. Would this get him into more trouble?
Before he could say any more, the Taliban official started writing on a piece of paper. He wrote for a few minutes, reached into his drawer and pulled out an ink pad and a stamp. Thapp! Thapp! went the stamp. He then handed the paper over to the reporter.
"Show this letter to whoever stops you," he said.
The flustered reporter went outside after thanking the Taliban official. He looked down at the paper. It said that He, the Taliban Official, had exempted [reporter's name] from having a beard. And no one can arrest him. And indeed, whenever he was stopped in the street by the vice and morality police, he would just hold up the letter. They would nod and let him pass.
Eventually, the reporter wrapped up his work and headed back to Peshawar. But something still unsettled him. At the border, when he was exiting, he spoke to an interior ministry official as part of the routine procedure of leaving the country.
"Tell me one thing," the reporter ventured to ask. "Why have the Taliban been so nice to me on this trip?"
The official smiled. "You were fair about us when you helped write that report on the Afghan Taliban and the media," he said. "Your journalism was ethical. We appreciate that. Do come again."
(The identity of the reporter has been withheld as security conditions in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are constantly shifting. He told me this story on Saturday while he was visiting for a seminar.)
November 5, 2013 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
In September 2005, Sam Ser of The Jerusalem Post wrote about a letter they had received by a man saying he was one of Pakistan’s last remaining Jews.
The letter, quoted by the Post, was emailed from Karachi by an Ishaac Moosa Akhir. It said: "I am a doctor at a local hospital in Karachi… My family background is Sephardic Jewish and I know approximately 10 Jewish families who have lived in Karachi since 200 years or so. Just last week was the bar mitzva of my son Dawod Akhir."
(This para corrects an earlier date and details of the letter.)
Sam Ser wrote that Akhir wrote that he held prayer services in his home for the other Jews of Karachi. Although he and his fellow Jews there could practice their religion openly if they wished to, Akhir wrote, "We have loved the life of anonymity."
The letter was picked up by a journalist here, Adil Najam, who wrote about it and Pakistan’s Jews (‘Where have Pakistan’s Jews gone?’ Daily Times, September 16, 2005)
Caption: Two photos of the interior of the Magen Shalom synagogue on Nishtar street in Karachi. The sepia-toned one I found in the book 'Sindh: Past glory, present nostalgia'. It says the synagogue was built in 1893. The photo on top is via http://haroonhaider.files.wordpress.com and the sepia one from a Diana Reuben
Caption: The Magen Shalom Synagogue was resurrected in spirit in Israel by the same name in Ramle. Photo credit Nissim Moses for http://www.jewsofindia.org
This letter and the subsequent writings around it reminded Karachi of its Jewish past, which has been documented to a certain extent. Of course if you speak to some of the older journalists and writers, historians, they will tell you stories. But in general the average Karachi wallah did not much think about this part of our history. In my memory, this was the start of a consciousness of a past we had buried for a long time.
Caption: I took this photo at the Jewish Museum in London this July/Aug. It is of an Indian Jewish family, or members of the Bene Israel. It reminds me that they were, actually, just like me.
Over the last decade, though, I have seen renewed intermittent interest in these stories. I think many people in Karachi are fascinated with its Jewish past. In fact, when I look at photos, I have to pinch myself and remind myself that Karachi's Jews were not the fair-skinned Jews I met at college in Montreal but the dark-skinned 'local' folks who came from India (before independence in 1947) or lived in Karachi before that.
Caption: I took this photo at the Jewish Museum of London where I was bowled over to find this silver symbol - the crescent and the moon, which is the central design of the Pakistani flag. I have yet to understand its Jewish significance, but what a find.
This Nov 2 and 3, 2013, we had a fantastic international Karachi conference in which Gul Hasan Kalmatti presented a paper on Karachi's Yahudi. I was terribly excited but later on, back at my newspaper, realised that his 'scholarship' wasn't as rigorous as I would have liked. Some parts were straight off Wikipedia. He gave me his paper, which I translated and reported nonetheless. Of course, it does give you a picture. This is the link to The Express Tribune story.
And if you want to read the Dawn story covering the same talk, this is the link. Here is an earlier story my newspaper did which I have blogged about before: In Search of the Jews of Karachi by Huma Imtiaz link
You can gauge the interest in this part of Karachi's past by the fact that a group of youngsters staged a 20-minute play, The lost Jews of Karachi, written and directed by Veera Rustomji at the Alliance Francaise Karachi in November 2012
But by far, the best read has been by Akhtar Baloch because he tells the story of writer Mohammed Hanif going to Israel to meet the Bene Israel members who resettled there. But also, he sifts through Urdu sources which mention these lost people. Here is the link.
I have been working on gathering the pieces to this puzzle for a while. Some research can't be shared here as I feel that parts of this history could come under attack from extremists in Karachi. Perhaps some secrets should just stay like that. But then, again, perhaps we will see a better day when the people of Karachi will be able to embrace their past no matter what God it believed in.
October 16, 2013 | 7:54 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
I find myself talking fast and loose at a professor's house. Someone's brother-in-law who worked as a television anchor is talking about the Shia-Sunni divide and its origins. A book by Lesley Hazleton. I remember vaguely putting it down in fear after something had rattled me. It was about the burial of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). I don't trust this writer, I remember myself thinking. The brother-in-law gets a bit upset when I say this. "She sourced everything. Every source is mentioned." I don't think it is polite to get into an argument. But I hate men like him. I am a guest. I sit back in my chair and purse my lips. I am more interested in the professor. He went to McGill like me. He confesses to not liking Montreal too much.
I am in Lahore for Eidul Azha - it marks the sacrifice the Prophet Abraham (RA) was willing to make in his son for Allah (Yaweh). It is a story of near-violence and the ultimate sacrifice, layered in meaning. The ultimate sacrifice. It is the story of coming through a slaughter.
It is the night before Eid. Some friends have taken me out to the professor's house. It is a rambling old one in a planned part of Lahore I have written about. The driveway would have taken a carriage, the double doors the sweep of a gharara. The ceilings are high, the rooms full of history. A Naiza Khan hangs by the door in the corridor. I am happy to recognise the art. The rest is strange, looks not expensive as much as heirloom. Famous. I know I am meeting famous people but won't know who they are.
"Israel, Pakistan and Turkey," says someone. Three experiments with religion and they are coming apart. Islam is coming down around our ears. Turkey tried the secular way, and now. Israel... he doesn't finish the sentence. I cannot remember the last time someone delighted me like this.
I reach for a pickled gherkin; should I tell the story of AdiikaloOn? How the Russians can pack away so much vodka because they take a bite of a pickled gherkin in between shots. The salt keeps them steady. Absorbs the alcohol. When Garbacheev introduced prohibition, they drank perfume. Eau de Cologne = Adii-ka-loOn. Perhaps I am showing off. I am humbled by the professor. I do not mean to name drop. I mean to source. That brother-in-law comment on sourcing switched something on in me; I am subconsciously sourcing all the names for the stories, anecdotes, tales. The time I made the worst mistake of my career that sent my editor, Najam Sethi, through the roof. Cowasjee had called him up in the morning to ask what pubic servants were doing on page 2 of the Karachi metropolitan edition?
Perhaps I am trying to impress the professor. But, perhaps I want to open myself to get him to teach me. I want to show myself I am worthy of being talked to. I present my problem: the violence of Karachi. Steven Pinker, Susan Sontag, Mark Epstein, Slavoj Zizek. Hannah Arendt. Nichola Khan. He explains that Arendt was talking about something else. How the Germans could turn all those wonderful scientific, philosophical things into a thing for killing.
"You should read it regardless because of how well she writes," he says, as I can only best re-quote him. The only way they could unseat the landed political elite, I hear him say, is to use violence. All the parties do it. There is someone who has been in power for generations. His family always wins in that constituency. What do you do to unseat him? You slit a few throats. That is violence. The government is forced to sit up and take notice. "You level the playing field." I sit back, delirious. I have never heard this analysis. I was stuck in Karachi's urban fabric, searching for answers there. The 1992, 1996 operations subjecting them to violence that repeated itself; violence internalised after you have been brutalised. Am I wrong?
It is hot, but quite pleasant. Someone lights up a cigarette. I feel I need to get back to the bookstore and stock up. I am so far behind. I feel weak; under-read. Someone mentions the Baloch academic who studied the effects of the nuclear testing in Chaghi. She had to leave. No one knows where she is now. The Baloch websites list the number of missing. The brother-in-law feels the need to mention that there are so many different types of violence; you can't lump them all together. I make comforting and polite noises. "Oh, yes, absolutely." I don't know if stating the obvious really helps here. Am I thinking about the homicide rate? The professor comes to my aid. We'd have to look at the numbers, he says in a measured tone. But then how would you compare Karachi's numbers? With another urbanised center? Per capita? I think that we are a city of 23 million souls.
How can I compare that with anything else in the world?
October 11, 2013 | 12:58 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
Cartoon: Satish Acharya
Everyone - well almost everyone - was rooting for her; but Malala Yousafzai has not won the Nobel Prize. It seemed, to me, at bit far-fetched in the first case. She herself had repeatedly said in the past that she had not "done enough" to merit such an honour. Sensible girl. Her case of being nominated by many has, however, served to demonstrate just how polarised Pakistani society has been on her versus the Taliban. That is the most important dilemma we face, challenge we face. Because it will ultimately determine if we emerge from and defeat terrorism.
Many Pakistanis are, of course, disappointed. It would have been really great if she had won. Shortly before the Nobel announcement was made at 2pm Pakistan time, the assassinated Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto's son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had tweeted: #Malala4Nobel pretty please. He lost his mother to terrorism.
I spoke to a few people, journalists in her province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the photocopy wallah, secretary and students at my school. So much surrounds Malala but what is clearly emerging is: two Pakistans.
There is a Pakistan that supports Malala - venerates her and her cause.
There is a Pakistan that doesn't.
BBC's Aamer Ahmed Khan very pointedly just tweeted: "Of mainstream leaders, I've only seen Bilawal [Benazir's son] and Imran [Khan] wishing for #Malala so far. Why are the Sharifs [PM Nawaz Sharif and CM Shahbaz Sharif] so quiet?"
You'd think our prime minister and president would have something to say? Does that give you a picture? A senior minister told BBC that Malala was giving a bad impression of Pakistan - that we were not educating girls. Her message is good for the areas where it is a problem but there are many places where girls go to school unhindered. This kind of stupid thinking was spawned by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf who came to power post-9/11 and hung around like a bad smell till very recently. He chastised Mukhtaran Mai for bringing a bad name to Pakistan internationally. What was she doing? Well, she was gang raped, did not get justice, and went on to talk about women's rights on the international stage. Musharraf came up with the phrase "enlightened moderation". Orwell is turning in his grave.
The two Pakistans exist and their reaction to Malala is just a symptom of a malaise that runs much deeper and is the reason why we have tolerated terrorism for so long in our midst.
A journalist in Peshawar, who I cannot name, explained that the attack and subsequent story has divided or polarised people, which in his mind is not a good thing. It complicates reporting on the issue as well; you are either with her or against her.
[INSPIRING VIDEO: Malala makes Jon Stewart speechless]
A journalist in Karachi added that one would have thought that the attack would have been the last straw for Pakistanis - but it wasn't. It did not turn the tide. In fact, just a day ago bombs went off in all provincial capitals.
"At least she's still standing," debated one of my students in English General A' Level class this morning. A girl of 16 or 17 herself.
"Standing in America - not in Pakistan!" hit back another student. A boy. (It was perhaps lost on him that she is not based in the US; his comment so indicative of a camp that is 'anti-America' or at least largely sceptical of American foreign policy and applies it to everything American to justify hatred).
"At least it's symbolic," replied the young girl.
At the photocopy booth at school, I asked the young man behind the counter what he thought of Malala. "Miss," he replied, after a few seconds. "This whole attack - did it even really happen or was it orchestrated?"
And so, as you can see, some people doubt the entire thing even happened. Just like people who still ask me, when they find I blog for the Jewish Journal, if the Holocaust even happened. Somehow they assume I am an expert and the two are linked. I say, yes, six million Jews were killed. There are survivors and documentary evidence etc etc. They go on to quote Ahmadinajad. The same thing happens with 9/11.
This is the kind of thinking that makes me sad. This is the reason why the Taliban are still around. The spin machine or conservative media that is pro-jihadi and pro-Taliban create it. I don't want to give them space here. But needless to say, they have long been confusing the Pakistani public about the Taliban agenda and its effects. One of the biggest problems we ignore is that when a bomb goes off in Peshawar Muslims are killed. Taliban violence (and sectarian) is Muslims killing Muslims. But no one talks about this. It's our dirty secret.
I was until very recently confused about how one emerges from this kind of thinking. And while this may seem like an aside, it was a very powerful lesson for me. One of our reporters went on a fellowship to Belfast. He returned with an incredible story: it was only when the Catholics themselves, fed up of the bloodshed, withdrew support from the IRA that it was forced to the negotiating table. (We see similar examples, as our senior subeditor Neha Ansari pointed out to me, in Timor Leste, Sri Lanka etc.)
The question we often ask ourselves in the newsroom is WHEN will the Pakistani people withdraw their entire support for the Taliban and extremists, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, al Qaeda, Jundullah - all those hate-mongering outfits with double-barrelled names. When will they stop being apologists for violence?
Unfortunately, we seem not to have reached that point. I have been reading Steven Pinker and his study of violence. He has shown how it has gone down over the centuries. Sometimes people argue that we are (at least the Taliban are) in the equivalent of the Middle Ages. In fact, Gordon Brown, the former British PM, commented in the BBC documentary that is seems as if the fight for education that Malala has espoused, the civil rights movement, is like what the US saw in the 1960s. It is a non-violent movement. I know that Pinker is right in that we are not living in a world that is violent if compared to the centuries before. I know that Pinker argues that violence goes down with 'englightenment' and changes in human psychology. But I fear that we still have a long way to go. And spin tends to obfuscate the debate. All of this is complicated by something I need to explore more: violence fatigue. I liken it to reader fatigue or donor fatigue. But that is a topic for another blog.
Suffice it to say now though that education is one of the most powerful tools to combat terrorism in Pakistan. And our biggest challenge is to convince people. So let me return to the 2 Pakistans.
Scepticism and clarity, celebrities and causes
Many Pakistanis are wondering how the Malala machine works. There is the book, the movie, the tea with the Queen. AFP hit the nail on the spot by doing this story. It explains how, "One of the world’s biggest public relations firms, Edelman, has a team working on her behalf while politicians, journalists and book publishers are making her into something of a global brand."
I was thinking about this myself - but then I stopped. Why is it so alien for us for a Pakistani to get so big. I guess we aren't really used to it. This is the international stage. Of course people are needed to surround her to help her manage her money and the mechanics of her foundation etc.
The only other people with "swollen bureaucracies" surrounding them, to use a phrase from Camille Paglia, are people in the Pakistani government. We are used to seeing them surrounded by such entourages, experts, PR managers, etc etc. It is sort of new, at least for me, to see a teenager from Swat fitting into this picture.
Our former ambassador to the US, a former journalist herself and a woman I personally admire, Sherry Rehman, wrote a stellar piece 'The Malala Moment' in my newspaper today, addressing this phenomenon. "Yes, she is in danger of being over-packaged and objectified," Rehman wrote.
"ut so what? At this level of global stardom, some PR-cum-development-world machinery has got to grind its mills. That’s not the point. Yes, there are hundreds of brave young Pakistanis being egged on to ask why their own trauma didn’t propel them to fame, but that’s not the point either. At all.
"This is the postmodern leftist, who hand-wrings at the poor young girl’s commodification by the ‘west’. Mostly, this is not a Malala-phobe per se, who resents her identity as a poster child for resistance to coercion, but quibbles because she has become a brand bigger than her authentic, grassroots self. But their reductive, often well-meaning, criticism misses the simple point that even Brand Malala fills a deep vacuum in Pakistan. It also ignores the volume of damage their objecting voices do in a polarized, fraught environment where the air is taut with the gun-smoke of terror and the wild-eyed certainties of suicide missions. They ignore the need for clarity against an enemy which is contemptuous of doubt, or its philosophical groundings."
Rehman has summed up who the two Pakistans are:
The Pakistan that supports Malala's CAUSE, which Rehman describes as "glittering core of unyielding resilience which has become the backbone of every citizen’s daily challenge in going to school, office or the marketplace in contemporary Pakistan."
Malala herself said to BBC that it didn't matter who she was, what she looked like, or perhaps even whether X, Y, Z supported her; what was important was the cause of education.
The other Pakistan is the Pakistan that says Malala is the work of the devil. I take the liberty of quoting Rehman here at length because of the beauty of her summation:
"One is the rightist that conflates Islam with the worst excesses of millenarian militancy and misogyny, demonising Malala as a handmaiden of satanic coalitions. This protagonist is no longer a marginal voice, lurking in the shadowed, layered protections of guns, cash and sweaty muscle. This is the barbarian now at our gates. This is the extremist who spews hate on the internet, manufacturing cyber shrouds on women’s bodies, which they fetishize. This is the militant who threatens people at mosques if they question sermons that valourize violence, in the name of religion that privileges peace above all. This is the terrorist that bears arms with the intent to kill, maim, kidnap and steal. They all hate Malala for fighting back, and what she stands for."
I have always wondered why for many people in Pakistan it is difficult to handle celebrity. Someone else's success. Someone like Malala. I thought about it again when the whole country was waiting to hear who would get the Nobel prize. We are familiar with celebrity figures in the sense that we admire many people beyond our borders such as Madonna, Bill Clinton, Edward Said, Yasser Arafat, Mother Teresa, Angelina Jolie, Che Guevara, Steve Jobs. The cult of celebrity exists for many people at home too. Our cricketers especially can be said to have achieved that kind of fame. They have espoused causes in their own time. We have artists, singers, painters. But the more I tried to come up with a name for a woman, the more I drew a blank. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy came to mind in the sense that she and stellar filmmaker Sabhia Sumar (of Khamosh Pani or Silent Waters) won an Oscar for the documentary, Saving Face. But the magnitude of their celebrity status comes nowhere near Malalas.
Perhaps you have heard of Mukhtaran Mai? She was gang raped many years ago and her case became known in the West as well. She now pursues the agenda of education for girls as well. But even she is not as big as Malala. This is not to belittle any of their achievements but to just coldly measure.
There is little point in such objective metrics but I went in this direction because I wanted to articulate to myself somehow that we have never seen something like Malala. This is the first time something this big has happened to us in recent memory.
In the West or even the Far East - K-pop is big - we are used to seeing celebrities and the news around them. We are used to seeing people get that big. Achieve big things. It is normal for me, for example, to read Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction or Booker prize-winning fiction. I listen to music by artists like Justin Timberlake who are surrounded by entire media empires.
Perhaps America is used to this kind of bigness. Perhaps we are not. Benazir Bhutto was a celebrity for sure. But her record wasn't entirely clean at home. I am talking about the kind of celebrity that is above reproach. We have seen this rarely.
So, I thought yesterday that it would take some getting used to. But this is good for us. We need a Malala; we need to be players on the international stage as well for important causes like education.
In order for anyone to understand the negative reaction Malala gets from within the country, perhaps it could help to look at our general perception of celebrities. I am convinced there is a link. All of this is perhaps really new to us in a country where we don't have a lot of people we can look up to on a national stage or international stage. I'd just like to throw that out there; of course I'd like to be wrong about it.
While watching the BBC documentary on Malala this morning, I realised that this girl intends to be in this for the long haul. We have to stand firmly behind her and wherever possible try to debunk or deconstruct useless conspiracy theories to undermine her cause.
Pakistan's only Nobel prize winner
Then there is the fact that we are talking about the Nobel. Pakistan has not been in this league for a long time. But if you want to consider it, take a look at how we treated the last, and only, Pakistani who won a Nobel Prize: Dr Abdus Salam.
He was born in Jhang, Pakistan in 1926. After much academic success, he went on to do a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge. He returned to Pakistan and after working there, went back abroad. In 1979 he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for "contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current".
How did Pakistan treat him? Well, as Dr Salam was an Ahmadi, who are considered non-Muslims here, the epitaph on his tomb which initially read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate”, the word “Muslim” was erased on the orders of a local magistrate, leaving the nonsensical “First Nobel Laureate”. There is a comprehensive piece on this and his links to Higgs Boson here.
Dr Abdus Salam - Pakistan's first Nobel Prize winner (1979), linked to the Higgs Boson. His grave's epitaph was desecrated as he was an adherent of the Ahmaddiya sect, who are considered non-Muslims in Pakistan.
As we wait, I'd like to share our reporter Fazal Khaliq's story for the anniversary of the attack on Oct 9 which appeared in our newspaper, The Express Tribune. He wrote:
Unlike the rest of the world where it was fervently celebrated, the first anniversary of the attack on Malala Yousafzai, the child-education activist who spoke against destruction of schools in Swat, went quietly in her hometown. The Khushal School and College, where Malala got her early education, remained sadly closed for security reasons.
The silver lining in a solemn Swat district is that enrolment in the girls’ education institutes throughout the valley has substantially increased – a fact which seems like fulfilment of Malala’s dream.
“We have 14,022 new admissions in the girls’ schools just this year, while a total 30,000 enrolments have been recorded since we returned to Swat after normalcy,” disclosed Dilshad Begam, a female officer in the district education department.
“Irrespective of regional boundaries, people today want education, and the proof that came out loudly was that the world raised voice together for Malala as she raised hers for uplift of education. And now she is the strongest candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize,” Azmat Ali, a social activist in Mingora told The Express Tribune.
According to analysts, even the anti-Malala campaign, which has deep roots in the valley, has borne a positive fruit.
A photo The Express Tribune's reporter in Swat, Fazal Khaliq, took a long time ago of Malala with a medal.
“A change of mindset is being observed as more and more girls want to express their abilities on higher platforms to prove that Malala was not the only brilliant and outstanding girl on the Pakhtoon soil,” Gulalai Rahim, a graduate student in Mingora, said. Where many think ill of Malala and consider her an agent of the West, there are many others who miss her in Swat valley.
“We, her friends, feel proud that we have had the company of such a bright icon who attained international fame,” Noorul Kainat, her former classmate said to The Express Tribune.
October 6, 2013 | 6:30 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
It is never a dull day in Pakistan. Here are just some of the highlights from this week.
The top story is of Ziaur Rahman, a 30-year-old business graduate, who has become one of the six Pakistanis who want to be a Martian. After Dutch venture, Mars One Applicants Community, started mobilising enthusiasts to sign up for the 54 million-kilometre space travel, Rahman signed up. His application was accepted. The Mars One project will cost around $6 billion and will take four persons to the red planet in 2023, my newspaper, The Express Tribune reported. What is not clear, however, is whether he’ll get the visa.
Malala, prizes and a film
Pakistanis are also talking about Malala, who has been in the news for a while since she was shot in the head by the Taliban. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has apparently invited the young Yousafzai to Buckingham Palace. We have also been talking about Malala amid the speculation that she will be named the youngest winner of the Nobel peace prize this week. Our newspaper also reported that the first documentary film on the life of Malala Yousafzai is going to be released in Canada this week. The film, titled ‘A Girl From Paradise’, will then journey from Canada to China, to Europe and then to USA. The documentary has been directed and produced by award-winning Pakistani-Canadian Journalist Mohsin Abbas who, along with his crew, spent nine months in Pakistan, United Kingdom and Czech Republic, interviewing a wide range of people during its shooting.
Photo: Express News
This story, though, was a real winner with me. As you may have heard, All Saints’ Church in Peshawar was attacked by a two suicide bombers two weeks ago. One hundred people were killed. This Sunday, however, 200 Muslims and Christians in the city of Lahore formed a human chain outside St Anthony’s Church in a show of solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar church attack.
Louboutin & anti-Islam campaign
I was surprised to read our news desk pick up on this item: Shoe designer Christian Louboutin has forcefully been associated with an extreme anti-immigrant Belgian party Vlaams Belang’s campaign. Flemish senator Anke Van Dermeersch, who is also a former Miss Belgium, has used the designer’s iconic red-soled shoes in the party’s campaign leaflets. Louboutin is not happy with this act and has sought an injection. He is concerned that the outspoken politician, by insisting on wearing the shoes with his trademark red soles, has linked him with her political agenda. The campaign condemns Islam. The poster, titled Women against Islamisation, shows the bare legs of Dermeersch, who is wearing a pair of red-soled Louboutins while lifting up a black dress. The Vlaams Belang’s poster also carries the slogan ‘Liberty or Islam’, as well as the party’s email address.
BK Lounge and Starbucks Paki stylee
Photo: Arif Soomro for The Express Tribune
Oh, and I was personally interested in this: Burger King has come to Pakistan by opening three outlets in Karachi. And while I haven’t been there because I think the lines will be terrible, I may report on how good the satisfries are. And while I’m on the topic, I should mention Sattar Baksh, a café that has opened in Karachi to pun on the name Starbucks. Sattar Baksh is actually a proper Pakistan man’s name. It has a quirky menu with items like the ‘Topless Besharam Burger’ – the word besharam means shameless in Urdu.
July 31, 2013 | 3:58 am
Posted by Mahim Maher
It is the story of the summer in Pakistan: A popular televangelist, Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, has stunned the world by giving away babies on his marathon seven-hour Ramadan transmission, Amaan Ramazan. (Update) According to industry sources, it raked in revenue of Rs300,000,000 or $3 million for one month, the highest ever for any programme in the Pakistani media. The ratings have broken all records.
(Update) This is not, however, the first show to do this. Apparently Shaista Wahidi has also done it and Fahad Mustafa's show on HUM TV, but I was unable to confirm this.
In Pakistan, where life is often stranger than fiction, television is the stage where it plays out. CNN, BBC and international publications have reported it.
The two baby girls, one of whom has been named Zainab, are barely two to three weeks old. They were reported to have been rescued from garbage dumps by the Chhipa Welfare Association, a non-profit started by a man named Ramzan Chhipa (see more on this group below). The association says it receives up to 15 abandoned babies a month.
The non-profit claims to have its own vetting procedure, the first lucky couple, said to be trying for 18 years, was registered with them and they had already had four or five sessions with them. But CNN reports that the couple didn't know they would be handed a newborn when they were invited to take part in the show and paperwork was not processed before the live broadcast.
The show is rumoured to be giving a baby boy away next.
On the show, Liaquat performs for a live audience at the time of the breaking of fast (dusk) and the keeping of the fast (dawn). There are recitations from the Holy Quran, exegesis, hymnals, sermons, tributes to holy personalities. For children there is story telling in a garden set with real animals, even snakes.
Liaquat cooks, sings, hugs audience members, rides a motorcycle around the stage before giving it away. In addition to the babies, the giveaway bonanza includes microwave ovens, washing machines and fridges. For the poor members of the audience, this is a boon.
The problem is that Pakistanis are debating whether the show's decision to give babies away is ethical or not. Opinion is divided.
In a country where infanticide exists at some level, abortions are illegal, premarital sex is taboo and girls are still considered a financial and social burden in certain sections of society, babies are abandoned in garbage dumps. As a result, charities such as The Edhi Centre, the country's largest non-profit network of its kind, puts small steel cradles outside its buildings.
According to the centre, up to two babies turn up each week. But, surprisingly, demand for abandoned babies far outstrips supply. The Edhi Centre's
Bilquis Bano Edhi, who is in charge of the adoption process, puts the number of such forms in the range of 6,000 to 7,000 (2011 data).
Our newspaper reported in 2011 that since they set up the centre in 1951, about 19,600 babies have been given to foster parents.
About 80% of these unwanted babies are girls. This is why the adoption form says you have to wait longer if you want a boy. The process takes from two to 12 months.
Samia Saleem reported for us: "There are 13 conditions for adopting a child. The first one is that the decision of the chairman, Bilquis Edhi, cannot be challenged. The details of the biological parents and adoptive parents are kept extremely secret. The law in Pakistan does not allow adoption – only ‘kifala’ is permitted in which monetary and emotional care can be given to the child, but not obligations or rights. An abandoned baby has no legal identity and the state does not register such a child as a citizen. (A petition has been filed recently to challenge this).
"Adopting through Edhi is therefore ‘closed adoption’ (confidential or secret adoption), whereby the record of the biological parent is kept confidential and the child is given the name of the adoptive parent. Most of the abandoned babies are found with slips which mention the name and the religion of the baby."
Dr Liaquat and Mr Hyde
You can read all about the show and the baby on CNN or BBC but what you won't find there perhaps is some historical perspective on the man. A few refresher points about 'Dr' Aamir Liaquat, who is not all that he seems. Just so we're clear, to me, he looks like the god Pan, a cloven-footed, horned imp.
The doctor comes from an MBBS degree in medicine he claims to have completed at the Liaquat Medical College. It was reported that he secured a PhD degree reportedly three weeks after obtaining a Masters degree, just in time to contest 2002’s general election. His PhD came from The Trinity College and University of Spain whose website reads ‘get your degree today’. A freelance journalist, Maria Kari, wrote a blog about his qualifications.
A subsequent 2012 investigation by my newspaper's reporter Noman Ahmed revealed that Liaquat had enrolled in an MA programme at the Urdu university but had never sat the exams. He told us that someone had used his name and social security number.
But if you want to know if he really makes sense consider this: Liaquat once commented that Pakistani cricket team was defeated because the soles of their sneakers were green, a colour associated with Islam.
But it was in 2011, that the most damning evidence of his two-facedness surfaced. A video was posted on YouTube showing Liaquat swearing while prepping for his religious sermon that quoted from the Quran.
"Oh mo$&er-f%@k it, read the [...]," he says in Urdu to someone off screen while referring to a numbered holy verse. There was much more salty language than that, but I can't print it here.
All copies of the video have been removed from YouTube and other video-sharing sites but some smart people had already downloaded it. You'll find a copy here at this blog.
In the video you will see him making fun of a caller asking about the legality of suicide in the context of protecting a woman’s honour. Columnist George Fulton wrote about this in more detail here.
For whatever it is worth, a poll on The Express Tribune's website showed that 88% out of 5,437 voters did not think the tape of doctored as Liaquat has claimed.
The televangelist and hate speech
In September 2008, the political party Liaquat belonged to, kicked him out over making incendiary sectarian-hatred inspiring speeches on his television show and at events. This referred to the Sunni-Shia divide as well as hate speech against Ahmedis, a persecuted minority. Shias are also a persecuted minority in Pakistan.
Liaquat's party responsibilities were ended one and a half years earlier and his membership was suspended as well. But the 2008 sacking of a man who became a federal minister from the party's platform came as the party further distanced itself and didn't want to be “responsible for any of his words and deeds”.
There was some claptrap from him about resigning from office over the British government’s decision to knight writer Salman Rushdie. But most people didn't buy this. "Since this doesn’t stand to reason," said an editorial in the Daily Times newspaper on Sept 11, 2008, "it is more likely that he was forced to resign because he sided with the vigilante gangs of Lal Masjid and made it public on a TV channel."
In his programme, he proposed that it was justified to kill members of the Ahmedi community, a minority group declared non-Muslim in Pakistan. After that broadcast, an Ahmedi doctor was shot and killed in Mirpurkhas in the south and another person heading the community in Nawabshah was also murdered. The Asian Human Rights Commission filed a petition in court against Liaquat.
The welfare trust that gave the babies
The Chhipa, pronounced ch'heepa, welfare group was set up to rival that of Edhi's, Pakistan's most revered philanthropist. Chhipa runs ambulance services, soup kitchens etc. Its ambulance drivers fight with Edhi's staffers over collecting bodies from bomb blast scenes; whoever gets the most 'wins'.
Press photographers have told me that they have been offered bribes and known photographers and cameramen who accept them so make sure they photograph (only) the Chhipa staffers at a rescue scene or disaster site. The aim is ostensibly to be more visible in the newspapers and on TV and attract more charity donations. Chhipa is said to be well supported by the political party that Dr Amir Liaquat was associated with (until he was kicked out in 2008).
Adoption should be kept private for the baby's sake, as it is done the world over. Perhaps the Pakistani media regulatory authority would do well to consider if the show violates certain rules. Many people have questioned whether it behooves a religious 'scholar' to behave in such a fashion during the month of Ramadan, whose core spiritual message is supposed to be one of restraint.
Pakistanis seem not to know how to judge the effect of television on their lives when it is used to further religious agendas. Many people felt in their gut that something was very wrong about this. As someone tweeted: I also want to make baby clothes that say "I survived the Amir Liaquat show."
July 12, 2013 | 5:52 pm
Posted by Mahim Maher
Malala Yousafzai talked about educating the Talibs. And many people in Pakistan agree with her. Here I want to talk about the educated Pakistanis alongwith the uneducated ones.
There is no debate: Our government, however, has yet to really understand just how important education is going to be to fight the battles of tomorrow. What worries me the most, and what I have seen in the last decade, is a system that does not help young people.
Let me give you the example of Ernest, a young Christian fellow in his late teens or early 20s, whose aunt asked me for help to get him a job. When I interviewed him, he said he had worked as a 'rider' which in Karachi means something like delivery boy. He didn't want to academically study more when I offered to pay tuition for any programme of his choice. We settled on a vocational computer skills course at a reputed institute. He had gone there before and tried to enroll but didn't have the money to pay for it.
There are countless young men and women who are in Ernest's place in Pakistan. They are disillusioned with the government-run school system and can't afford private school. The ones who do go through the government-run system emerge with very few skills.
As a result, we have a lot of disillusioned young men. Today, 60% of our population of 180 million is under 30 years of age. I am worried about the youth bulge. Some more numbers: About a quarter of the 19.75 million children in Pakistan aged five to nine are out of school. If the age bracket is increased to include adolescents, then about 25 million are not enrolled in school, out of a total school-going population of about 45 million. These are UNESCO's numbers from 2012.
Pakistan’s literacy rate from age 15 and above is 55%, while India’s is 63% and Bangladesh’s 58%. (I think this includes people who count signing their name as literacy or being able to read the Quran). Compared to other countries in the region, Pakistan’s spending on education is significantly lower at 2.3 %. India’s is 4.5%, Iran’s is 4.7%. But this much you already knew.
While a large part of what you may have heard about Pakistan and education has included the word madrassa, I'd like to highlight two consistent streams of education that have been reaching thousands of young people.
The Fulbright batch in Islamabad for their orientation this month. Photo: Myra Iqbal/The Express Tribune
A US contribution: One hundred and eighty young Pakistanis, the best of our universities, are off to the US on Fulbright scholarships this year. This year a total of 151 master’s scholarship and 29 PhD scholarships were granted. The Fulbright programme is in its 63rd year and is one of the largest in Pakistan. Since 2005, 1,255 Pakistani’s have received Fulbright awards for graduate degrees of which 40 per cent have been women. The programme binds the student to return to Pakistan after the degree is over. They cannot leave for I think about three years. This means that hundreds of Fulbright scholars are back in Pakistan, reversing the brain drain.
A UK contribution: Last year 13% more students in Pakistan sat the Cambridge International Examinations for O' and A' Levels (grades 11 and 13). This involved nearly 500 schools that registered approximately 180,000 students. The three most popular subjects for O’ Level students are English Language, Islamiyat and Math, and at the AS/A’ Level Math, Physics and Chemistry. But more than this, Pakistanis regularly sweep the CIE awards each year. In the O' Levels students sit about 8 to 10 subjects. Some kids get As (90+) in all exams - others score the highest in the world.
Teach for Pakistan (http://www.iteachforpakistan.org) pays university graduates market rates to teach the poorest of students in the most ignored schools. Here is a story on their work: http://tribune.com.pk/story/569347/education-for-all-36-young-fellows-start-journey-to-teach-pakistan/
The Citizens Foundation is a non-profit that has built excellent schools across Pakistan where children are getting a high quality education. One year I personally monitored their summer school English camp as a volunteer. One of their students just made it to Harvard. http://tribune.com.pk/story/556897/the-road-less-travelled-from-ismail-goth-to-harvard-front-page/
And, yes, I haven't forgotten the madrassas. Here is a documentary from a project that has videos on many more education success stories: http://tribune.com.pk/story/558702/dual-education-from-madrassa-to-mainstream/