Monday, August 18, 2014


It’s just that I wish to allow democracy to function, limp along as it may. PHOTO: AFP

In 2008, at the prime minister’s palace in Baghdad, President George W Bush took the stage when suddenly, a shoe whizzed through the air towards him. Bush ducked (he was good at that at least) and missed the shoe but the world heard the words yelled that accompanied the missile,
‘This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you *&% !’
And then, since normally he who has one shoe also has another, another shoe followed the first with another shout,
‘This is for the widows and orphans, and all those killed in Iraq!’
This person, who had been unable to contain himself, was an Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, and before he could throw anything else at the president, was taken into custody and removed by security personnel.
Few people would disagree that Bush, responsible for immeasurable carnage in Iraq, deserved this humiliation and much more. Unfortunately throwing a shoe, however satisfying to the thrower, is an extremely ‘jangli’ (wild) expression of anger and disdain. The practice did not stop with this one incident but became an established form of protest. Protestors pelted shoes at effigies of Bush and at the US embassies around the world in solidarity with al-Zaidi, and earlier this year Hilary Clinton managed to miss a shoe intended for her.  The following year it was the Chinese premier, followed by the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, the BJP leader Advani and Manmohan Singh in India, the director of the IMF in Turkey, Tony Blair in Dublin.  Zardari and Musharraf also had shoes thrown at them in England, and Imran Khan in Lahore. There have been countless similar incidents involving lesser known individuals.
Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, with their supporters, are in Islamabad staging a protest, called variously a tsunami, a revolution march and who knows what else. Our hearts go out to the people of Islamabad, we know what the people of Lahore had to put up with when the procession was planned and originated from here. Whatever you might think of the protest, it was the government that was responsible for what, for want of a better word one might call, ‘inconvenience’ to the residents of the city, and Model Town in particular. People spent hours on the road, unable to go home, to work, school, to the shops and even to hospitals. No one has the right to stop citizens from protesting, not taking into consideration the forces behind them or their reasons, which is a different issue to the point I am trying to make here, but no one has the right to bring life to a standstill to protect their personal interests.
But just as al-Zaidi chose the wrong expression for his anger, Imran Khan and Qadri have chosen the worst possible way of expressing themselves. It infuriates me to hear Qadri ‘demanding’ the resignation of the government and his ten ‘demands’.
Just who does he think he is?
But worst of all, imagine if these people succeed and the government has to go because of this procession and their ‘demand’ that the government should go and the parliament should be dissolved. What if this becomes a precedent? What if every time someone disagrees with something, something that has always happened and will always happen till the end of time, and they ‘demand’ that the thing they disagree with is removed/changed, and force the change to happen every time?
Can democracy, can any measure survive such peremptory methods? I am not a supporter of this government, but I do not wish it to go this way, and there are many who will agree. I am, therefore, with Nawaz Sharif, in spite of his supremely foolish response to the procession, in spite of his pathetic governance, in spite of the fact that I do not like the man. It has nothing to do with thinking that Imran, Qadri or the army is a poor replacement, because really there is little to choose between these four. It’s just that I wish to allow democracy to function, limp along as it may. In this, I laud Asif Ali Zardari facilitating a peaceful change of government. I do not wish this government to fall, because whether or not the elections were tampered with, this government is now legally and democratically recognised.
Let’s change things some other way. In the meantime, tell those ‘protestors’ or so called ‘revolutionaries’ to get off your property, even though you cannot tell them to get out of Islamabad. Islamabad belongs to all of us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

The book called ‘Zealot’

Some years ago an Ayatollah’s fatwa jolted Salman Rushdie’s S. V off book shelves all over the world, following a rather sluggish release, sending Rushdie both an unexpected fortune and him and his family scrambling for cover.

Reza Aslan’s book ‘Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth’ (published a year ago today by Random House) generated its own share of controversy on a much milder scale than S.V (S.V  being something of a Voldemort around these parts, is best not named too openly or too often, hence the abbreviated reference).  Refreshingly though, it is not the rabid Muslim right that is railing against Zealot, but the equally rabid Christian right, and one example of this was Aslan’s interview on Fox News by the channel’s somewhat confused religious correspondent, Lauren Green.

One of Aslan’s other books ‘No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam’ is so interesting that I would have read Zealot anyway, eventually. But the Fox interview forced me to check out Zealot sooner, because the interview was so awful even by Fox’s standards that it went viral as soon as it was put up online at The Daily Beast.

The website itself owns that ‘it was excruciating viewing,’ and oh it was, but I would recommend that every Muslim suffering Taliban fatigue see this interview to cheer up; I cheered up immensely.  In fact I felt euphoric because I’m used to right wing excruciation, I wince whenever a militant extremist calls himself ‘a Muslim’ and groan as people in complicated headgear issues strange religious pronouncements on television. But here in this interview was a young lady, Ms Green, firing irrational questions at a well known and intelligent scholar and writer, and she was not the Muslim. He was. A Muslim moreover with a list of academic qualifications (not that it is uncommon), rather than a length of facial hair. Really, if you replaced Ms Green’s sleeveless dress with something (considerably) more muffling the usual picture would be complete.

Green asked Aslan repeatedly why he, a Muslim, should write about Jesus Christ and why he did not reveal the fact that he, Aslan, was a Muslim. And Aslan answered, just as repeatedly, that he was, “A scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades...who also happens to be Muslim.” 

He also denied concealing the fact that he was a Muslim, saying that had Ms Green read his book she could have read his declaration of faith for herself very early on in the Preface. “But,” she came back again, “why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Somewhere along the family line Ms Green is obviously related to a terrier. They’re known to be hard to shake and sometimes a bit thick.

This column is ‘about the book’ and not ‘a review’ because a review of a book of this stature would require an academic background in the subject that I do not possess. But there is no doubt that ‘Zealot’ is a meticulously researched, extremely interesting book, a biography of the man and political activist later called Jesus Christ who lived 2,000 years ago.  It is not a religious work but a scholarly study of a towering personality from an historic point of view.  “My biography of Jesus,” says Aslan, “Is probably the first popular biography that does not use the New Testament as its primary source material.”

Aslan was born to an Iranian Muslim family which moved to the USA many years ago.  Although now a Muslim, Aslan was a Christian for a period in his life; he studied and wrote about the historical Jesus after discovering that there was a chasm between the historical Jesus and the Jesus that he had been taught about in church. 

“Whether or not you believe that after three days of being dead and entombed, Jesus got up and walked out of his own accord,” Aslan says, “What you cannot argue about is the fervent belief of the followers that this happened.” So what probably happened? This is what this book explores and it is in this spirit of curiosity that it deserves to be read. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Published: August 6, 2014


‘We are honoured to be delivering these ‘girly’ care packagers for our lovely female Israeli Defence Forces fighters! Today’s packages were stocked with thousands of products for our girls protecting Israel', Garnier. PHOTO: STANDWITHUS FACEBOOK PAGE

Social media is much more than ‘teenage youth using Facebook to have a relationship with opposite sex,’ which appears to be its only side perceived by some. It also consists of forums where people speak up for Gaza for example and for Israel against Gaza.
One such page belongs to a non-profit organisation that delivers care packages to the Israeli army. Some of these packages have been donated by the cosmetic group Garnier, and this is what StandWithUs the NGO says on their post (and I don't see Garnier taking down their page):
“We are honoured to be delivering these ‘girly’ care packagers for our lovely female Israeli Defence Forces fighters! Today’s packages were stocked with thousands of products for our girls protecting Israel. They even received facial soap and minerals, so they can still take care of themselves, even while defending the country.”
All those reading this post are asked to ‘shout out to Garnier Israel’ for this amazing donation. Well, bravo, Garnier. I vow never to use your products again.

On the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean lays Gaza, all 139 square miles of it populated mostly by Palestinians and Bedouins totalling about two million human beings. This is approximately half the population of Lahore living in an area only four times the size of Lahore’s DHA.
This is the Gaza that Gilad, a Major in Israel’s reserve forces, recently called on the Israeli army to ‘flatten’, just like the worm it is shaped like.
Gilad wrote in the Jerusalem Post,
“Flatten all of Gaza”
And since Gaza’s electricity is supplied and its borders are controlled by Israel; Gilad also suggested that the government should force the leadership of Gaza to surrender by cutting off all supplies. He wrote that,
“There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.”
Nothing and dead men do not speak; so who could call for a ceasefire, if there’s supposed to be nothing left?
Gilad is the son of Ariel Sharon, who, eight years ago, was the prime minister of Israel. And Gaza is being flattened as Gilad desires.
Last month, Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed which means that Gaza, already crippled by power cuts for more than twenty hours daily, now also faces a water crisis since water has to be pumped. We, in Pakistan, should be able to relate at least with this particular aspect of the tragedy.
The Guardian reported on July 30, that
“Gaza hospital officials put the total number of Palestinians killed in the conflict at 1,224; most of them civilians. The UN said 182,000 people, around 10% of Gaza’s population, had sought shelter in its premises.” “Around 70% of the wounded will remain disabled,” says Ghassan Abu Sitta, a plastic surgeon, “their lives will never be the same.”
Yamin is the only survivor of an attack which flattened his house and left 19 people dead, the evening the moon was sighted for Eidul Fitr. He is one of hundreds of persons who suffered horrendous injuries in Israeli shell fire. He now lies all alone in Gaza’s single operating burns theatre, awaiting treatment to a face burnt and disfigured for life, and a body broken by several fractures.
Yamin is three-years-old and now an orphan, one of many.
According to UN figures,
“Children continue to bear the brunt of the crisis, with 373 killed and at least 2,744 injured.”
This is war, of course, there has been damage on both sides, but the damage on the Israeli side has been light.  Again on July 30, the Guardian reports, that
“On the Israeli side 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed since the start of the offensive on July 8.”
If anything were needed to highlight the disparity between the two sides it is those dreadful care packages by ‘Take Care, Garnier’. Images of the women of the Israeli army, who obviously have the time and the stomach for special ‘girly’ products, deodorants and soaps, are superimposed by those of medical workers painting an antibacterial ointment onto little Yamin to help his skin scar over. Yamin is a tiny naked, frail and frightened victim of this holocaust perpetuated by the scented hands of the Israeli army.  Take Care, Yamin, okay?
There are times when something so indefensibly callous occurs that it takes your breath away. In the midst of the tragedy that is Gaza and the slaughter of its children by the people who have for years wailed about the death of a little girl called Anne Frank, this display of shameless insensitivity by Garnier is such a one. Surely Garnier will now be forever engraved in our minds as the grisly Lady Macbeth rubbing and washing her hands, crying,
‘Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!’
Who could have thought the world would have so much blood in it.