Friday, January 9, 2015


Je NE suis pas Charlie because I condemn disrespect for people's sentiments and for the figures revered by them, and Charlie Hebdo has been guilty of this. My prophet Muhammad whom I love and revere more than words can say was not a violent man or a man who revenged himself upon anyone, as Jesus was not, as Moses was not, as Budha was not.To portray him, or any revered figure or indeed anyone with disrespect is wrong.  When those cartoons appeared, it made me angry. But now I refuse to be herded into one of two slots with a 'You are either with us or against us' stance. There is a third slot, and perhaps a fourth as well. For myself, I am NOT Charlie,' I can not be. 
The reputation of such towering figures can withstand barbs. It is not they who are offended it is we who admire them. Therefore violence against people like Hebdo other than being murder and wrong is really revenge for our own ruffled feathers. Violence is against everything Muhammad stood for. So I wholeheartedly condemn the tragic shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. It was an unjust, a criminal act, not the act of persons who love Muhammad. In this hour I am with Charlie Hebdo in sorrow, with the families of the dead and injured, and united with those who believe in freedom of speech, tempered with courtesy and respect.

Monday, January 5, 2015

JUSTICE VS REVENGE  (This column is called 'Reason wins over rage' in the magazine).


By Rabia Ahmed - 
The tragedy in Peshawar brought people together in grief and against terrorism, both within and without the country. But there is something not quite right about the aftermath of the event, because the horror and anger that swept the country coalesced not into a call for justice but for revenge.
In the aftermath of the deaths in Peshawar, people have been calling for more forceful military action and for the execution of terrorists. In a bid to be seen doing something our government, forever short sighted and self serving is taking the line of most gain and least effort by complying with these demands where compliance is most visible.
Many ‘liberals’ are also calling for madrassas to be shut down because madrassas are fertile ground for terrorists, and undoubtedly they are. But madrassas, like mainstream schools, mosques, the media, and the economy should be monitored, and they are not. Therefore that warped creature known as a terrorist.
The teaching in madrassas is highly questionable but they still have a huge enrolment, because madrassas are all that many people can afford. These are people who were never educated in the rights and wrongs of religion or taught the importance of wider knowledge. Most recently a man of the Ahmadiyya community was shot in the Punjab, less than a week after a well known cleric called Ahmadis enemies of Pakistan on a popular television show. This is the second time such a thing has happened. It is not known where the ranting cleric was educated but the compare of the show is known to call himself a doctor based on a fake degree.
Gross economic inequality has pushed the have-nots into the arms of the local mullah and his madrassa, even into larger more affluent madrassas or mainstream government schools. Is there much difference between them? There are no minimum criteria for mainstream primary and secondary teachers or for the teachers in madrassas. My own English students can barely string an English sentence together yet they easily get jobs as English teachers. As for humane attitudes towards students, this varies as with anything else. I studied in a ‘prestigious’ convent school. My teacher slapped my face on my first day in class 3 for no apparent reason and also forbade me from going to the bathroom with dire and entirely expected results.
If closing down madrassas is the only action taken and nothing is done to improve the standard of education across the board, the results will once again be dire and entirely expected. Our literacy rate will plunge from low to pathetic because those children who at least learn to read in madrassas will be denied even that. Meantime madrassas will still exist, let’s be in no doubt about it, since mullahs will still exist and continue to be produced.
As for the greater demand for armed action against militants, clearly armed action is now unavoidable, but let us be prepared for the repercussions. The public has a short memory and has forgotten how the Taliban were created, how we cooperated in their creation and later fostered them for our personal gain.
Howard Zinn says that “War in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children.” He writes that following the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan the hospital morgue in Jalalabad alone received seventeen bodies in one weekend and officials estimated at the time that eighty nine civilians were killed in several villages. The injured included such as Noor Mohammad, 10, who lost his eyes and hands to a bomb that hit his house. Little has changed. ‘Targeted’ attacks such as those taking place today are causing the death of innocent civilians in Pakistan; it is mostly the survivors of such attacks who avenge themselves the way they did in Peshawar. After that event the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack calling it retaliation for the military operations in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal agency.
Reacting to the sudden call for terrorists to be executed, Pakistan’s Interior Minister announced the government’s intention to execute approximately five hundred prisoners on death row. One such prisoner is Shafqat Hussain in prison for involuntary manslaughter. His age at the time he committed that act was fourteen.
Justice Project Pakistan (‘JPP’) a non-profit human rights law firm and Reprieve, an international human rights NGO, issued a joint report in December 2014 which states that ‘over 800 prisoners on death row in Pakistan were tried as terrorists, though in many cases (as many as 88%) there was no link to anything reasonably defined as ‘terrorism’. It states that ‘in terrorism trials many of the defendant’s fundamental due process rights’ as well as various of the Islamic law provisions of Pakistan law, ‘are explicitly suspended in apparent violation of the constitution.’ It ends by saying that ‘there are currently over 17,000 pending ‘terrorism’ cases in Pakistan, many of which have nothing to do with terrorism.’
What we really need to do is something other than all these things above, so that we obtain justice, not revenge for ourselves and for those who committed the horrible, monstrous murder of our children.
Revenge, according to Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century cleric, is like ‘rolling a stone up a hill which, when a man has forced it to the top will return upon him with greater violence and break the bones of him whose sinews gave it motion.’
Justice on the other hand requires greater effort and starts with changing the living conditions of those persons who are pushed into becoming terrorists because of their disadvantaged living conditions. We must improve the lot of the poor man, concentrate on his education by bettering its content and monitoring and standardizing what is being taught in all the education institutions throughout the country. Also in need of very close monitoring are the so called religious leaders who wield their position and the microphone like a gun.
We need to work out what Pakistan stands for at a very basic level allowing for differences. And then we must work towards protecting it.



By Rabia Ahmed - 

After ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ and ‘Forty Rules of Love’, Shafak's new novel is set in sixteenth century Ottoman Istanbul 

Elif Shafak, one of Turkey’s best-selling authors, needs little introduction. Her writing is known for its blend of fantasy and significant social and cultural questions. Shafak’s previous books, nine of them novels, several of them award winning, include The Bastard of Istanbul, and Forty Rules of Love.
‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ her latest novel published this year by Penguin Books is set in sixteenth century Ottoman Istanbul and contains its share of fantasy, but it is also about love, peril, betrayal, gypsies, eunuchs, kings and the master architect Sinan and his apprentices, one apprentice in particular.
Shafak has played with history and chronology in this book. She says in the author’s note at the end that she ‘decided to jettison a strict chronological order and create my own time frame, with historical events absorbed into the new time line.’  Perhaps this part of the note would have been better placed at the beginning of the book keeping in mind readers for whom history is not a strong point.  Either way, it  adds to an appreciation of the author’s imagination and her writing skills because what the heck, history is manipulated all the time…we do it as a matter of course here in Pakistan, albeit for other, less salutary reasons, and no one is warned of the manipulation.
The book goes from Istanbul to … no; I’m not saying where it goes because I believe spoilers should be boiled in oil and served on a bed of nettles, which is actually the sort of stuff the Ottomans used to go in for.  In fact the book starts with images of several burlap sacks each containing a dead child, each a prince of the royal court, discovered by ‘a man too nosy for his own good, animal tamer and architect’s apprentice.’
That animal tamer and architect’s apprentice is Jehan, erroneously known as ‘the Indian’, through whose initially twelve year old eyes we get this glimpse of Istanbul. Jehan is good with animals but his great concern is the elephant ‘Chota’ for whom he cares with a tenderness and love that serve as a foil for the cruelty and machinations of the Ottoman royal court.
Jehan is not native to Istanbul. He arrived on board a ship along with the (literally) white elephant Chota and was put in charge of the animal. This was during the reign of Sultan Suleiman, the same Sultan whose harem included the dreadful Hurem, popularised by the popular television series ‘Mera Sultan’.
In addition to being the elephant’s career Jehan is one of four apprentices attached to Mimar Sinan the royal architect under Sultan Suleyman and later under Sultans Selim II and Murad III. Sinan, is said to have built more than 400 structures including 84 major mosques, 51 small mosques, 57 religious schools, 7 seminaries, 22 mausoleums, 17 care facility, 3 asylums, 7 aqueducts, 46 inns, 35 palaces and mansions and 42 public baths under royal commission, but his most famous work was the Suleimanye, a complex of buildings covering almost 25 acres overlooking the Golden Horn commissioned by the Sultan.  Sinan died at the age of ninety nine. When the story begins around 1574, he is eighty five years old.
Shafak is a true story teller. In addition to juggling timelines she knows to intersperse her tale with interesting detail that expresses more than any lengthy narrative ever could. We discover for example that Sinan fasted for three days before beginning work on any new design. And also that ‘no matter how great the building, he would leave within it a flaw…a tile placed the wrong side up, an upended stone or a marble chipped on the edge. He made sure the defect was there, visible to the knowing eye, invisible to the public.  Only God was perfect.’
There is another description, a short and poignant one of ‘the Wish Tree’ which manages to also possess a certain ironic humour. The Wish Tree is an evergreen hung with ‘hundreds of scarves, ribbons, pendants and laces’ each representing a secret that a concubine in the royal harem was unable to share with anyone but God. These motley items were fastened to the tree on behalf of these concubines by eunuchs who were persuaded to help them. ‘Since the aspirations of one woman often went against those of another,’ notes Shafak, ‘the tree bristled with clashing pleas and warring prayers.’
Clashing pleas and warring prayers. It looks as though things were always this way and little has changed. That, oddly enough, is what some people want, to go back to the past and bring back the caliphate. This book may change a few minds.