Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto on peace?

Yes, ironic, I know. But after reading this piece she wrote on peace, i've begun to gain a newfound respect for the woman.

Bhutto is dead. Long live Bhutto.

Views on Post-Bhutto Pakistan


Many friends have messaged me (through all means! phone, facebook, email...) inquiring what my thoughts were on the current socio-political situation Pakistan finds itself in. Thanks so much for your concern amidst this chaos and turbulence.

The fact is, my views are not too different from the views the majority of Pakistanis (around the world) hold - that this event inspires shock, awe, disgust, pessimism and fear. Just when we thought the end of the "State of Emergency" would bring some stability with the prospects of elections just around the corner, things actually took a turn for the worse.

My question, though, is why should Pakistanis be surprised by this twist of fate? Bhutto never had a good reputation to begin with. After being ousted in 1990, she returned in 1993 - only to wreak more havoc. If she did finally return, why didnt she "pay her dues" (literally; no pun intended...) and start afresh, with a clean slate?

Instead, the masses remember her as the woman who looted, raped and pillaged the country. I remember her time in power, and was in awe of her persona. She was charismatic. If one looks at pictures of her from her college and young adult days, you can foresee that she was destined to do great things; not necessarily positive things, but great nonetheless.

And so, today, I am baffled again as to how the Western media is celebrating Bhutto's life. Why, I ask? Yes, she's liberal, progressive, a smart female and the scion of a major political family, but she's also corrupt, greedy, hypocritical, and power hungry. She is one person whose thirst for power and wealth rivals only that of General Pervez Musharraf. I looked to both of them for hope - Bhutto in the 1990's and Musharraf post-9/11 - yet neither stepped up to the plate.

So, I would like to make a humble request. Two, perhaps. For those of you affiliated with the media, please refrain from celebrating her life. It was not worth it. Can anyone recall any of her achievements? At least Nawaz Sharif connected the entire country with a network of highways and beautified the cities of Punjab in his quest to make them the "Paris of the East". Bhutto effectively created an elite class that is politically and socially so secluded from the masses, she could very well be christened Marie Antoinette.

Did Bhutto really intend on coming back to her homeland to "serve" her people? I consider such an action to be highly dubious. If her track record is any indication, she was all set to take the country by storm again. I'm sure she slept so peacefully at night knowing that her largely illiterate voters were to be taken advantage of again. When will my countrymen learn?

My second request is that we pray for her soul. I dont care what political stance one may have, such an event is not only reprehensible and worthy of our highest condemnation, but has led to the breaking of a family and the loss of a mother for three teenage children. No one should ever have to go through this agony. This violence that has emerged in the past few years in Pakistani politics has frightened me beyond words. It is amazing how dissent and divergent opinions can do so much harm to someone. Disappearing people, drive-by shootings, kidnappings are all accepted forms of treatment meted out to people who question authority. It's as if we've forgotten the nature of democracy - yet we yearn for it so intensely?

With Bhutto's passing, we have lost a major battle in the war our masses are fighting to gain democratic control of the country. She was a beacon, maybe not of hope, but a beacon and a trailblazer nonetheless. I will make no predictions about the upcoming elections and instead, am hoping against hope that we finally see some fresh leadership emerge from somewhere, somehow.

It is this very leadership deficit that has brought us to where we are today. In an article I wrote just weeks ago for The Epoch Times when Musharraf declared the State of Emergency, I mentioned in it how many of my generation never even considered a career in public service. So strong was the social stigma against politics; those who pursue it as a profession are probably either illiterate or wealthy, effectively excluding countless people from creating a better future for the country. Clearly, this most harmful trend must be reversed, lest we see the country's law and order situation spiral so out of control that we never see it regain a stable footing.

Lastly, an update from the ground: I have been in conversation with my family back in Pakistan including my father in Islamabad and my mother and sister in Lahore, and both parties basically paint a picture of a barren wasteland. These cities are large, vibrant and dynamic and so to hear of them as being devoid of cars on their streets, with no gas stations or convenience/general stores open is quite odd. Not a soul can be seen apparently. Till yesterday, phones and internet were not functioning.

A friend in Karachi said that the evening following Bhutto's death, there was a wedding in the family that was canceled at the last minute. When news broke of the attack in Rawalpindi, people in Karachi closed businesses immediately and run for dear life. My sister told of another wedding she attended where the groom's procession only included seven people - even close relatives were not present!

The three day mourning period ends Sunday and I imagine that by the time I arrive in Islamabad Monday afternoon, things should be heading back to "normal". I have never heard of nor seen such a day in Pakistani history. This one event will have reverberations across coming generations, let alone mine.

I think this might be my last blog entry till departure (Sunday morning, 12/30), but I will try and update with relevant articles and other resources as and when possible. I return three weeks from now, God willing.

Again, many thanks to all those who've communicated their thoughts and concerns. You've all been like a pillar of support to me in these trying times. As if it's not enough that I am going back to my homeland for a three week vacation (which is crazy in itself!), I now am under this constant tension. The burden, I fear, will not be lifted soon.

Prayers for peace,

Zeeshan

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto killed in attack

Pakistanis around the world are still trying to make sense of this horrific situation. Thanks to all those who have expressed concern and thanks even more for the prayers. Surely, they will not go un-answered.

I travel to Pakistan this weekend and arrive in Islamabad, amid tight security, I assume. Keep me in your prayers as well!

I was never a fan of Benazir and, in fact, thought she did more harm to Pakistan than good, but under no circumstances should such treatment be meted out to any individual.

"From Him do we come, and to Him shall we return..."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My article on Pakistan's current state of affairs in The Epoch Times

Can't write in detail now, but as always, comments and feedback gratefully accepted! Hopefully, it should appear in the hard copy version of the paper in a few days. Please pick up a copy if you can!
The article is here.
Many thanks to National Editor for Epoch, Genevieve Long, whose passion for a prosperous and peaceful Pakistan will go far in helping bridge gaps and build bridges in US-Pakistan relations.
Happy reading!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Resources on State of Emergency in Pakistan

My email inbox has been overflowing with different resources on the State of Emergency in Pakistan, declared last weekend by General Musharraf. It would be a great travesty if I didnt share them. Please do feel free to leave comments with more resources and I can update later. And also please feel free to give any feedback - constructive and/or destructive! - and it will be accepted with gratitude.
Long live the voice of the people!

=====

From my friend Salman Ahmed Usman:

Some internet news sources on Pakistan :

www.pkpolitics.com is updated almost round the clock with latest news and videos of news bulletins and political talk shows. The website is currently also providing full coverage of Emergency Plus in Pakistan in audio format at pkpolitics.com/audio/emergency/ . This includes latest analysis of various hosts from Geo and ARY, including Dr. Shahid Masood and Kashif Abbasi. Also check sister website http://pklatest.com/

Live Geo news (audio only) on www.geo.tv

A number of Pakistani channels at www.jpjc.de. After registering, scroll down to the 'Live TV Channels' section.

Geo TV/ ARY live streaming at www.pakistanvision.com. Click 'Live stream 1' or 'Live stream 2' link on the left hand side.

Geo News live streaming at: http://watchgeotv.info/

Live streaming of Aljazeera English at: http://english.aljazeera.net/English . Click the 'Watch Now' link on the left hand side of the page.

DawnNews live streaming link on their website www.dawn.com


=====

NYT blog entry comparing Musharraf and Abe Lincoln: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/musharraf-and-lincoln-in-their-own-words/

=====

Petitions being circulated:

http://www.gopetition.com/online/15064.html

http://www.avaaz.org/en/emergency_pakistan

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/legalcourts/

=====

Some anti-Musharraf articles in the Columbia Spectator (Columbia University newspaper):

Pakistan and the U.S.: a Devious Relationship

Pakistan and the American Dream

=====

Some blogs with regular updates:

http://pakistanmartiallaw.blogspot.com/

http://emergepakistan.blogspot.com/

www.PakistanPolicy.com

======

For those of you based in New York, you can sign on to a google group for regular updates at: http://groups.google.com/group/emergency_newyork?hl=en

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Updates on State of Emergency in Pakistan

I just wanted to thank everyone who has expressed concern over the recent disappointing development in Pakistan.

Things seem to be calm; internet and phone are okay for now, though all TV and media seem to be shut down. No unrest as such. At least this is what i've heard.

I can only point to one authoritative source of information and that is the blog page set up by the folks at the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA). Check out more info here, which is thankfully being updated as well.

Please keep Pakistan and Pakistanis in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Madhuri Dixit - the legend - makes a comeback in Aaja Nachle

And the legend is back!

Madhuri Dixit - Bollywood's leading lady of the 80's and 90's - is making a comeback worth the wait! She's been gone only five years or so, but from the looks of it, she hasn't changed a bit. In fact, this video - which is hopefully reflective of the film in its entirety - is proof that wine only gets better with time.

Cant wait for the film - Aaja Nachle - to come out in a few weeks. Until then, enjoy this brief teaser and marvel at the legend that is Madhuri Dixit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thoughts on Ahmedinejad visit to Columbia

These may be a bit late, but some of my random thoughts have been succinctly summed up aptly in this article authored by my friend Jayati Vora, a Columbia U./SIPA alum.

I know there are divergent views on his speech both at Columbia and at the UN, so i'll save those for my visitors who can voice them in the comments section, but I will say that President Lee Bollinger of Columbia U. was in fact, the real disappointment in this whole affair. He stooped pretty low and displayed a certain arrogance that is uncharacteristic of people of such stature.

Columbia's students must be dumbfounded as to how they should feel after this interesting event on their campus.

In any case, Jayati's article sums up my views quite well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Arsalan Iftikhar NPR radio show on 9/11 anniversary

Friends,

Arsalan has blazed a trail as one of the great voices of the Muslim American community, not just as a representative of the Council on American Relations, but now as Contributing Editor and Columnist for Islamica Magazine.

Visit this link to hear some of his thoughts on the recent 9/11 anniversary. I wish I could post more on the event, but just havent had time. Arsalan does perfect justice to what millions would like to say, but dont have the opportunity or access to media like he does.

Here's wishing him luck and success in all endeavors he undertakes!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Young Innovator in Coexistence Award: Radeyah Hack

I'm on youtube now too! Wow - this is a first! All thanks to my colleague from the CUNY Graduate Center, Marriah Star. He's taken a great interest in AID's social entrepreneurship work and is clearly vested in making it widely known and accessible to as large an audience as possible.
Thanks, Marriah!

Tanda's first benefit - 9/30

From my friend, Cynthia Shannon - please support!

Tanda (which means "Love" in Zulu) is throwing it's first benefit (appropriately named "First Benefit"...as not to be confused with the many more to come!). Tanda is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 that supports orphans of AIDS in South Africa.

Tanda is currently working to fund the new Tanda After-School Program, which is set to open in January 2008 in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Designed by Tanda's directors, the goal of this program is to empower South African students by providing a safe alternative to risky behavior and by teaching marketable skills.

The bash will be held Sunday, September 30 at Mannahatta, starting at 8 pm. Tickets start at $25 and include a two hour open wine and beer bar, fancy hors d'oeuvres, beautiful jewelry designed by South African women, an extraordinary photography exhibition and a raffle (raffle tickets included with $50 or $100 donation). Music will be provided by DJ Moni and African Drummers.
Tickets can be purchased via the website www.tanda.org or at the door.
It would be a tremendous help if you could mention the event anywhere, everywhere. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, or would like additional information.
Kind regards,
Cynthia Shannon
Event Details:
What: Tanda's "First Benefit"
Where: Mannahatta, 316 Bowery (at Bleecker; 6 to Bleecker or B/D/F/V to Broadway Lafayette)
When: Sunday, September 30th 2007; 8 pm
Tickets start at $25 and include two hour open wine-and-beer bar, hors d'oeuvres, photography exhibition, original jewelry and a raffle. Music by DJ Moni and African Drummers.
Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hope not Hate Film festival: Revitalizing US-Middle East relations - Saturday, 9/15

&


PRESENT A FILM FESTIVAL

MISSION POSSIBLE:

Revitalizing US-Middle East Relations


FEATURING:

CONTROL ROOM

WHOSE CHILDREN ARE THESE?

A SON’S SACRIFICE

MUHAMMAD: LEGACY OF A PROPHET

DISCUSSION FACILIATATORS:

HAROON MOGHUL - Contributing Editor, Islamica Magazine;

Director of Public Relations, Islamic Center at NYU

YASMIN HAMIDINetwork of Arab-American Professionals of New York

MUSA SYEED - Producer: A Son’s Sacrifice

THERESA THANJAN - Producer/Director: Whose Children Are These?

FATIMA ASHRAFCommunity Activist

DATE: Saturday, September 15th, 2007

TIME: 10 AM – 6 PM

VENUE: The New School

Swayduck Auditorium - Room F-102

65 Fifth Avenue (between 13th and 14th streets)

Light refreshments will be served throughout the day!

More info and RSVP at: http://www.aidemocracy.org/hnhfilm.php

Thursday, August 30, 2007

NYCLU Civil Liberties Discussion Series - 9/4

logo
Published by the New York Civil Liberties Union (http://www.nyclu.org)

Civil Liberties Discussion Series

September 4, 2007 / 4:00 PDT

The NYCLU Civil Liberties Discussion Series takes place from 7 – 8:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month. Each session consists of three parts: a guest speaker, open discussion, and working group updates.

Each month the Discussion Series hosts a speaker from the NYCLU, ACLU or other advocacy group to discuss a current civil liberties issue or controversy. This month's session will feature Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. NYCLU Field Organizers will then facilitate a discussion on the topic.

At the close of the session, NYCLU Working Group members will provide updates on their ongoing advocacy campaigns, how Discussion Series participants can get involved, and the dates of the next Working Group meetings.

To RSVP for this event, please email cdugger@nyclu.org.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Elan Magazine - new Muslim magazine coming this Fall!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Moniza Khokhar
Publisher/Editor

Elan: A Magazine of Contemporary Muslim Culture
Rockefeller Center, Seventh Floor
New York, NY 10020
Tel: 646-756-2551
Email: mkhokhar@elanthemag.com

AMERICAN MUSLIMS FIND THEIR VOICE

Magazine to Launch in the U.S. Representing the Contemporary Muslim Community

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (August 20, 2007) Americans can barely pick up a
newspaper or turn on the television without hearing news about Muslim terrorists
worldwide. The problem is the terrorists that are making news don’t reflect any of the
values and culture of the seven million Muslims living in the United States. Moniza
Khokhar, President and Publisher of Wahid Media Ventures, a Muslim woman, is set to
represent the cultures influenced by Islam in her publication. “A Magazine of
Contemporary Muslim Culture,” reads the ELAN Magazine heading, a publication set to
launch in January of 2008. The concept of the magazine came about as a response to the
overwhelming need for a Muslim publication that discussed the lifestyle of the jet setting
young professional, rather than other Muslim publications that focused on politics or
religious doctrine. ELAN, the very name means “announcement,” in Arabic, Farsi, and
Urdu; this magazine is the Muslim American community’s statement about their
sophisticated lifestyles. ELAN, a quarterly produced and nationally distributed
publication, is highly anticipated by the Muslim American community, where readers are
already subscribing online.

ELAN is dedicated to quality reporting on the current trends in the arts, business, and
contemporary Muslim lifestyle, also providing a public forum for the young professional
community in print and on the web. “ELAN represents, embraces, and commemorates
the unique and distinct lifestyles of Muslim Americans,” describes Khokhar, “making
ELAN a handbook for the chic Muslim.” This cosmopolitan publication is committed to
incorporating all interpretations of Islam, realizing unity within its diversity.

Moniza Khokhar, whose family is of Kashmiri descent, is more than familiar with the
experience of living as a Muslim in the United States. She was raised in Chicago,
Illinois, and Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Her family always has instilled a strong sense
of culture and tradition in her, while always allowing her to make her own choices and
branch out into the competitive American society. She did just that, when she set in her
idea to create a forum for other Muslims like herself. She thought, “America is the
melting pot for all cultures. It is the land of opportunity for all. Every culture nowadays
has an emblem of representation: Latin Americans have the popular Latina Magazine,
African Americans have succeeded with Vibe Magazine, and its time for the growing
population of Muslims to have a voice as well.” Moniza is committed to providing this
voice for her community.

With current worldwide figures of the Muslim population slightly over a billion people,
the publication is an empowering forum for the mainstream Muslim voice. With seven
million affluent Muslim Americans, ELAN showcases and honors the contemporary
evolution of the cultural experience. ELAN encourages, embraces, and celebrates the
diverse interpretations of these traditions due to the extraordinary beauty, strength, and
unity of the Muslim diversity.

ELAN will be covering topics such as travel abroad, the entertainment scene, current
events, the latest fashion trends, and other topics that the modern, jet-setting Muslim will
find of interest. Of course, as a mainstream publication, ELAN chooses to stay neutral in
topics such as politics and religious doctrine, which are the lenses the Muslim community
is often looked at. ELAN strives to portray the Muslim culture, to provide a common
ground for Muslim people, and to relay current trends and information within the Muslim
community, as opposed to telling people how to live their lives.

“ELAN’s philosophy of relating with our consumers,” provides Khokhar, “allows us to
represent the Muslim community in a way that truly exemplifies the diverse
demographics of today’s ever-changing society.”

# # #

For more information, contact:
Wahid Media Ventures
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
Seventh Floor
New York, NY 10020
Telephone: 646-756-2551
Facsimile: 646-756-2999
Email: mkhokhar@elanthemag.com
Website: www.elanthemag.com

Friday, August 24, 2007

WashPost article: In New York, a Word Starts a Fire

A lot has been written on the topic of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, but not much in the two bigwig newspapers - the New York Times and the Washington Post - but that changed when they finally started covering the school and its Principal-who-was-to-be, Debbie Almontaser.

This article in the Washington Post is pretty informative and balanced and gives good perspective on the issue with a wide variety of quotes from diverse stakeholders in the matter.

The "word" being referred to in the title of the article is intifada. I will not say anything further but I hope you read the article!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

NPR article: Acid Attacks on Women in India Prompt Protests

The article/news below has shocked and disgusted me beyond belief. I had hitherto only heard of these attacks against women during conflict and/or warfare, but to see it used as a weapon in domestic violence scares and shocks me. Interestingly, the article focuses on India, but I always thought these attacks occurred more frequently in Pakistan. Perhaps more research is warranted!

How long will we tolerate this?

Acid Attacks on Women in India Prompt Protests

Listen to this story... by

Haseena Hussain holds microphone, wearing dark glasses and covered by shawl
Scott Carney

Haseena Hussain was attacked by her former boss when she did not accept his marriage proposal.

Woman with acid burns, close-up
Scott Carney

Women from CSAAAW, including this acid-attack survivor named Jayalakshmi, gathered on the steps of city hall in Bangalore, India, Aug. 12, to call for better prevention and prosecution of acid violence.

Day to Day, August 22, 2007 · Haseena Hussain was an attractive, upwardly mobile woman in Bangalore, India, with everything going for her. But it all changed in 1999, when she turned down her former boss' marriage proposal and he sought revenge by pouring two liters of concentrated hydrochloric acid over her body.

Hussain now works with the Campaign and Struggle Against Acid Attacks on Women (CSAAAW) to fight the surge of acid violence against women. Since 1999, the group has documented 61 such attacks. In the most recent case, a 22-year-old mother of four children was doused with acid and forced to drink a deadly concoction of a corrosive chemical and alcohol by her abusive husband in the city of Mysore.

CSAAAW has had some success in persuading the courts and police to take acid attacks more seriously. In a recent ruling, the sentence of Hussain's attacker was increased from five years to 14. But even that measure of justice rings hollow to Hussain, who had burns over most of her body and lost her nose and eyesight.

In that ruling, the judge also demanded that the government set up a fund of about $250,000 to cover the costs of reconstructive surgery that many of these women need. Survivors of the attacks say that the fund is only enough to care for two women — far short of the needs of the more than 60 survivors.

Even with excellent medical care, the best that most of these women can hope for is survival. If not treated immediately, they can lose their eyesight and spiral into depression. Many commit suicide.

Acid violence seems to be almost unique to South Asia, with most incidents occurring in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Part of the reason is that acid is cheap and widely available. Many Indians use concentrated acid to sterilize their kitchens and bathrooms, as Americans would use bleach.

But the problem affects more than just the women represented by the campaign. A number of politicians, including the wife of the former prime minister of India, have had acid thrown at them. It is also commonplace in mob violence. Popular televised serials and films reinforce the idea by repeatedly portraying acid attacks.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about acid attacks is the fear that they create. With just a few rupees, anyone can buy a weapon that can ruin another person's life in just a few seconds. For this reason, activists from CSAAAW will raise their voices until the government does something to regulate acid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Christian Science Monitor article - Islamic Spain: History's refrain

I just love the Christian Science Monitor. I'd even go so far as to say that it should be patronized more than the Washington Post or The New York Times.

As testimony to its greatness, I bring to my blog visitors' notice a well-written, thoughtful piece on Islamic Spain and what we today can learn from that glorious period in Islamic history.

Happy reading!

csmonitor.com - The Christian Science Monitor Online
from the August 22, 2007 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p09s02-coop.html

Islamic Spain: History's refrain

It's a model for interfaith ties, and a warning about religious division.

The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models. Other times, as the philosopher George Santayana said, it warns of impending calamity for those who do not learn from it.

For the past several years, I've been immersed in a history that does both. As one of the producers for an upcoming PBS documentary on the rise and fall of Islamic Spain, I've witnessed its amazing ascent and tragic fall countless times in the editing room, only to go home and watch some of the same themes playing out on the nightly news.

Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe.

A model for religious tolerance

At its peak, it lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.

Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.

Because Islam's prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain's genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.

When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.

The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.

Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.

It is at this point that the darker parallels to our time begin. Into the competition for land, resources, and power, some leaders on both sides began to appeal to religion to rally support for their cause. Wars became increasingly religious in nature. Into this tinderbox a match was thrown: the Crusades – the same term that many Arabs use today when referring to America's adventure in Iraq.

The Crusades deepened Spain's religious divide. Minorities in both Christian and Muslim kingdoms become increasingly suspect. Persecutions, expulsions, and further warfare ensued. Nothing could stop it, not even the black plague.

Ultimately, Christian kingdoms gained the upper hand as the Muslim kingdoms of Islamic Spain fell. Spain's Muslims and Jews were forced to either leave or convert. This led to the rise of the Inquisition, whose purpose was to verify the loyalty of suspect converts. The expulsions and inquisitions racked Spain economically, culturally, and morally. Its power was severely compromised. The fall of pluralism in Spain was the fall of Spain itself.

Dark parallels with today

This fall directly links to events today and raises many of the same stakes. Though few Americans note it, one of Osama bin Laden's justifications for the 9/11 attacks was to avenge the "tragedy" of Islamic Spain.

So far, the post-9/11 world and the policies it has spawned seem to be heading in the same dangerous direction as witnessed before. The religious intolerance that engulfed and overwhelmed medieval Spain threatens the increasingly beleaguered pluralism of our own time.

At its best, the history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths. At its worst, it's a warning of what can occur when political and religious leaders divide the world. It reminds us what really happens when civilizations clash.

Alexander Kronemer is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. His film "Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain" premieres on PBS Aug. 22.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Khalil Gibran event a success!

The Khalil Gibran school event turned out to be amazing! I was there primarily in solidarity, and was upset to have arrived so late, but clearly our community has its act together - finally! Everything was done by 7:15, and the sidewalk was cleared shortly thereafter with lots of media and a surprisingly diverse crowd.

Copied below are links to articles on the coverage - take your pick! - all courtesy of Erica Waples.

Thanks, Erica!

=================================

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Supporters of NYC Arabic school want founding leader
reinstated (multiple news outlets using AP story)
> AM New York: http://www.amny.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny--arabicschool0821aug21,0,7617290.story
> International Herald Tribune: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/08/21/america/NA-GEN-US-NYC-Arabic-School.php
> Staten Island Advance: http://www.silive.com/newsflash/metro/index.ssf?/base/news-27/1187655317296650.xml&storylist=simetro

ASSOCIATED PRESS: U.S. rabbi defends N.Y. Arab school despite charges
it will be anti-Israel
> Ha'aretz: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/895796.html

DAILY NEWS
> http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/08/21/2007-08-21_protest_pans_principals_ouster_over_tshi.html
> http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/08/21/2007-08-21_2language_schools_put_in_spotlight.html

FOX TV CHANNEL (Channel 9, different from Fox News Channel on cable)
> http://www.myfoxny.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=4124172&version=5&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.2.1

NEW YORK TIMES
> http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/21/nyregion/21protest.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin

NEWSDAY
> http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny--arabicschool0821aug21,0,4590078.story

NY1 NEWS
> http://www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=1&aid=72822

NY POST
> http://www.nypost.com/seven/08212007/news/regionalnews/rallying_cry.htm

NY SUN
> http://www.nysun.com/article/60909
> http://www.nysun.com/article/60954


** Pre-Event Articles **
> The Arab American News: http://www.arabamericannews.com/newsarticle.php?articleid=9515
> Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2007/08/20/2007-08-20_they_scapegoated_her.html
> New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/15/education/15school.html?fta=y
> NY Sun: http://www.nysun.com/article/60846

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Khalil Gibran Intl' Academy event - 8/20

COMMUNITIES IN SUPPORT OF KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY


Press Advisory Contact: Erica
Phone: 718-431-4465
For Immediate Release Email: media@awaam.org





NEW YORKERS COME OUT IN SUPPORT
OF ARABIC-LANGUAGE SCHOOL
Diverse groups applaud Almontaser’s work and urge public officials to “reject racism”


August 17, 2007; New York, NY— Communities in Support of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a diverse
group of community leaders and organizations, plan to express their backing of KGIA on Monday, August 20,
2007. Below is the text of their statement of support.

Statement of Support for Khalil Gibran International Academy
As New Yorkers in support of quality public education for all our communities, we stand in solidarity with the
Khalil Gibran International Academy, which has sustained hateful and false attacks by anti-Arab media and
extremists. In the post-9/11 world, a school educating our children about Arab history, culture, and language is
not only crucial for the next generation to become informed leaders for positive change in our communities; it is
also an extraordinary place of hope for peace, understanding, and justice for our embattled world. We regret
that Debbie Almontaser was pressured to resign and applaud her work to establish this school and promote
intercultural exchange in this diverse global city.

Those who seek to equate the study of Arabic language, culture, and history with religious fanaticism and
violence are irresponsibly aggravating a present moment of hysteria against Arab and Muslim communities, and
are using this moment to promote hatred in a time of war. We urge our public officials to reject these racist and
inaccurate attacks and continue to work towards building a lasting educational institution that promises to bring
our communities together, rather than divide and pit them against each other. We call on all New Yorkers who
want to see peace on our streets and in our world to stand with us in support of the Khalil Gibran International
Academy.


Event Information
Peaceful Demonstration in Support of KGIA
Monday, August 20, 2007 at 6:00 PM
NYC Department of Education
Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers Street



###


For an up-to-date list of event sponsors, please visit www.awaam.org. Interviews available upon request.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pakistan: 60 years on...

I'm excited to announce that an article I just wrote on the 60th anniversary of Pakistan's founding has just been published by one of Pakistan's most respected newspapers: The Nation. I'm thrilled!

I've copied it below and the webpage is here.

As always, comments appreciated and always sought after!

Pakistan: 60 years on

Zeeshan Suhail

Six long decades have passed since Muhammad Ali Jinnah saw his dream come true when Pakistan was created on August 14th, 1947. We had so much to be proud of when the country was founded: a secular homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, where those from minority backgrounds could also live in peace and harmony; a country whose economy grew to be self-reliant and resilient; a nation whose people were prosperous and content.

Yet a cursory perusal of Pakistan’s state of affairs in the 21st century reveals anything but what I’ve mentioned above. Our people are victims of inter- and intra-religious conflict. Our economy has been spurred by Western aid, grants and loans. And lastly, our people are demoralized and distraught. It is evident we do not have much to be proud of.

It is in such dire straits that I cannot help but think of what Pakistanis can do - particularly members of the Diaspora - in these trying times. The task at hand is difficult, but it requires broad vision, strategic thinking and boundless ambition. I outline some of the more important issues at hand below. God knows there is so much more to be done. We must start somewhere. I hope this article is a good place to begin.

The rule of law is the single most important pillar of any society where citizens of the state can look to for redress of their grievances and for the upholding of sacred values such as equality among all citizens. No one is above the law. It is because of this reason that we should not fear law enforcers, but demand their assistance as and when it is needed. To know that the integrity of Pakistan’s Constitution could have been compromised severely this past spring when the Chief Justice was sacked was more of a plausible fear for me than the number of lives that could have been lost in subsequent protests demanding justice. Knowing that the whole fiasco was carried out by higher authorities angers me even more so.

Pakistan has seen most of the past six decades of its political history dominated by martial law administrators. For any country that was founded on the ideals that Pakistan was founded on, this fact serves as a rude awakening every day of its citizens lives. To see such talent, such potential go to waste every day because the masses must act at the whim of an un-elected, un-democratic leader is extremely distressing. Those Pakistanis who lived under General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime can testify to the suffocation one could feel simply trying to survive in the country.

Accountability is the hallmark of any democratic entity, and Pakistan’s government should be no different. For most of the 1990’s, Pakistanis watched in horror as politician after politician squandered billions after billions from the national exchequer, only to leave the country yearning for sustenance. Everywhere one looked, one could not find a suitable leader. Such was the absence of oases in this barren desert that stretched for thousands of miles.

As Pakistanis look forward to a future where they are equal stakeholders in the future progress of the country, they realize the road is bumpy and may even be laden with landmines. But six decades of hardship has taught us much. We have been shoved to the side, and pushed to the floor - but not for long. An Arab proverb says it aptly: The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.
But before we march henceforth, we must make an assessment of the changes that need to take place. On my list, transition to a democratically-elected government features prominently at the top. My cynical friends would laugh at this proposition. That’s how tragic our state of affairs is. What we in the West take for granted every moment of our lives, the concerned Pakistani citizen fights for every moment of her/his life.

The first step in this transition should include the return of some Pakistanis living abroad who have skills, expertise and experience as well as the language and cultural affiliation to assist in a smooth transition from a western lifestyle to an eastern one. This is not a novel concept; Indian professionals with degrees from top western schools are heading back to India to take advantage of the economic boom. I’m sure they are also looking at such an opportunity to provide some sort of service to their country.

Pakistanis should do the same. With growth rates averaging over seven percent annually for the past few years, what time other than this would anyone consider going back? Multinational enterprises scout out those with English language proficiency, and the social service sector is thriving. Pakistanis are volunteering and donating to charities in record numbers as well.

A close second to a reverse brain drain phenomenon, is the stepping down of General Pervez Musharraf. While Musharraf’s initial expedited and progressive action on various issues such as women’s rights and media liberalization was much appreciated, his recent crackdown on independent media and the judiciary have been anything but appreciated. Pakistani civil society has become so deeply entrenched with personnel from the military that it seems as if it is an extension of the government itself! It disgusts me to even think what sort of work must be done to cleanse this sector of society from the residue of the military and/or government.

I often ponder over General Musharraf’s doctrine of “enlightened moderation”. It is remarkable how rhetoric and semantics can go so far in developing the policies of a country which damage it so badly beyond repair, that the country’s citizenry can only sit and watch in horror. While this ideology is nothing but words, Musharraf’s actions - or inactions - have spoken much louder than them. His inaction when it comes to the disappearances and killings of media personnel speak volumes, as does the state-sanctioned violence targeting media outlets. The media assault on his power trips are intentional and will only increase until and unless he steps down to make way for leaders who have what it takes to lead us out of harm’s way.

In my work on an initiative called “Hope not Hate” with an NGO called Americans for Informed Democracy, I often refer to the glorious past Muslims enjoyed - along with Jews and Christians and those of other faiths. Despite all our present day problems - from political instability to religious extremism - we can find solutions. Pakistanis would be better off revisiting their past before stepping in to the deep, dark recesses of an, as yet, unknown future. I hope we can do this with the help of the global community, for Pakistan cannot live in isolation and will be better served if it used its time-tested friends.

Much as this seems unrealistic, Pakistan must set a precedent in the geo-political realm as a state that values democratic ideals, women and religious/ethnic minorities, and true vision for a prosperous future. This means Pakistanis must formulate ways of working cooperatively with neighbors like Iran, China, Afghanistan, and of course, India. In a globalized world, we have much to gain from our allies, and also much to learn. And as we become more and more globalized, we must devise steps of reducing inequality within a socio-economic context. This should be a high priority for both policy-makers and those who are affected by the policies that are set.

I feel as if this is the time in my life where I want to stand on a podium and yell to a crowd of millions that I have a dream, much like Martin Luther King. But the fact is, this dream has come - and gone. I am actually beginning to realize it. While many of my Pakistani brethren have disappointed me in years past, I will not hold any grudges. I need their support as I help a sharply divided country begin to heal its wounds. We can’t do it alone, but we can surely try. It’s worth the effort.

The writer is a Board Member for Americans for Informed Democracy

Support "Whose Children are These?"!



Friends,

Theresa Thanjan has done a splendid job in this film, and I request your strong support. All assistance is greatly appreciated! More info below...

Whose Children Are These? is an award winning documentary about the post 9/11 experiences of three Muslim teenagers and it is being offered to PBS stations in August 2007.
Supporters of the film are encouraged to send emails to the programmers of their local
PBS stations. Let them know why you feel it is imporant to show this film.
For more information on how to contact PBS, please check out this link:
About Whose Children Are These?

Whose Children Are These? provides a gripping view into the lives of
three Muslim teenagers impacted by anti-terrorism national security
measures. One such program, "Special Registration," required male
non-citizens, as young as 16 from 25 predominately Arab and Muslim
nations, to register with the US Government and resulted in the
deportation of nearly 14,000 men, with none being charged
with terrorism related crimes.

The film introduces Navila, an honors student who fought to have her
father released from detention; Sarfaraz, a popular basketball player
who confronts pending deportation; and Hager, a young woman who faces
bias and is spurred into activism as a result.
Film's official website: www.whosechildrenarethese.com

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Barack Obama is scaring me

Many of my friends would never forgive me if I told them I am starting to strongly dislike the democratic candidates for president, but what am I to do? They are turning a new leaf - every week!

I am especially concerned for Barack Obama. This man has set records for campaign fundraising and has become a beacon of hope for millions all over the country, and world. Yet for me, he has become nothing but a puppet in the hands of some newly-appointed neocon staffers or donors. I saw Hillary Clinton as a sellout to interest groups who helped her become the political titan she is today, and I look at Obama with the same disdain - and pity. How tragic to see such a shiny and rising star, already set the stage for his political fall.

His recent stance on Pakistan and its handling of internal and external terrorism is the cause of this rant and change in personal views. One would think that after you make controversial statements about foreign policy goals, you might want to make a critical re-assessment. After all, you're running for president - it's no joke! But Obama goes ahead and plays with semantics. One of my previous blog postings drew another blogger's ire after he completely misconstrued my critique, so I will state explicitly here that whatever I am stating here is a critique on the language Obama has used in the article.

Take, for example, the way many people thought that in his initial comments from a few days ago, he was referring to an invasion of Pakistan if Pakistan didnt crackdown on terrorists or extremists, when in fact, he was really advocating military action in Pakistan - not necessarily invasion. Fine. He's entitled to his thoughts.

Then he publishes this piece, days later, coming clean about what he actually meant: military action in the country. I've copied a salient para from the article below, to give a brief idea of his thoughts:

I have never called for an invasion of Pakistan. You don’t need thousands of American troops to take out a meeting of high-level terrorists. Any student of the American military knows that we have many options to target terrorists with limited force, many of which involve no American boots on the ground. To suggest that targeting terrorists in Pakistan would be tantamount to an invasion is to misunderstand the capabilities of the U.S. military or to misrepresent my position.

Now, he goes into decent detail outlining some methodology, so clearly, he is serious about these actions. This is no joke for him. Which compels me to ask: if he can use military force in one country to root out terror, what makes us safe to think he wont use it in other countries? Perhaps pre-emptively? If one notices the language he uses, he has not once mentioned diplomatic dialogue as a first step in rooting out this evil he has constructed quite simply for us.

This is a whole other discussion, because frankly, Americans should be much more worried about public school shootings and sexual abuse as potential creators of violent citizenry as opposed to "Islamic terrorism" (a very misleading term). If America still valued and held in high esteem what is at its core, we would never need to worry about our security. But today, it is our insecurity that forces us to amass weapons of mass destruction as we single-handedly spearhead an arms race as millions more all over the world vie for peace and security.

Obama's prospects may be good politically, but his statements and bearings have faltered - for the worse. I am fearful of a not-so-pleasant future with all these loonies in the race. Is it too much to ask for a balanced, well-rounded candidate that is on top of the game and doesnt worry about ratings?

Alas, my greed gets the best of me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Palestinian loss of land


This is indeed tragic.

I'm wondering if someone can verify the source and/or the info presented in the image?

Courtesy of my friend Sherrise.

First Annual Sudanese Music and Dance Festival

I happened to attend this concert just by chance because a friend was going and asked if I wanted to come along - and it was a great decision to do so!

The music was so mellifluous and melodious and had the audience in raptures.

The video is extremely brief and quite the teaser but i'm looking out for the complete version if anyone could be kind enough to pass on. It gives a good idea of the quality of the artists and what the experience was like.

Hope they perform again!

Friday, August 10, 2007

I'm scared of wearing this t-shirt


I sometimes wonder how far I should go to fight for civil rights and civil liberties. Notice how I didn't write MY civil rights and civil liberties - alas! - I am not a citizen! So how can I enjoy those same rights? Yet, still, I think it's worth the broader fight and struggle; to stand in solidarity with those who've lost so much and continue to prod on.

So when I read this article, one can understand the shiver that went down my spine as I recalled the day I wore the same t-shirt - that, too on my flight to Chicago. I think my brother, who was traveling with me that day, balanced us out by trying to look cool thereby neutralizing my not-so-cool attire? You folks decide.

Anyway, I must admit: every time I wear that t-shirt, I am nervous. I am fearful of what may happen to me. But those of you reading this, please know that it was for the masses of nameless, faceless people who died as unsung heroes, fighting for a better future - which many of us enjoy today. I am merely but paying my dues.

Accept this as a small token of my gratitude. I will not remain silent.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Indian film focuses on women in 2002 riot"

This article's title really intrigued me, and it goes without saying that I was definitely going to read it, but my real question was - which women? - Hindu, or Muslim?

The article is a simple news piece, but a real work of genius when you think of how different terms and language have been used.

Take, for example the title itself: "Indian film focuses on women in 2002 riot". The film is most certainly "Indian", yet the "women" in the film he refers to are Muslim - so why not mention that in the title? Instead, we find out only in the second paragraph that the protagonist is Muslim. If the focus of the film is this 23 year old pregnant girl, at least she deserves to be identified as a Muslim - the very reason for the violence she was victim to.

Then, towards the end of the piece, the writer did something I really detest - he called the film a "Hindi" film. Now, i'm pretty sure my criticism is directed appropriately, because many writers do this: they refer to Indian films as Hindi films. Why? I will never know. yet he still goes on to use "Indian" in the title of the article, but "Hindi" in the body. Very interesting!

Usually, what they're trying to say is that it is an Indian film, yet Hindi denotes the language of the film, and those of us familiar with South Asian cinema know all too well that Urdu is used almost always more often than Hindi.

But on that count, I may be mistaken, because the title of the film is kya hum jinda hai? with jinda being the hindi term for an urdu word, zinda - alive.

Anyway, semantics and use of language in unique ways never ceases to amaze me.

Forgive me if I have erred, and do leave comments if this spurs a discussion.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lobbyists, Democrats pressure Bush, Pakistan government for fair elections

This is the first time in Pakistani electoral history i've seen such an organized campaign to get someone out of office. Bhutto has her work cut out for herself, but it also seems odd that she is sleeping with the very enemy she seeks to do away with.

I've copied some salient lines below, and the article gives some good background info as well.

"Lobbyists for a Pakistani opposition party are urging top Democrats to press the Bush administration and President Pervez Musharraf to promote free and fair elections in Pakistan this year.

Under contract with the Pakistan People’s Party, led by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, lobbyists with BKSH & Associates have made dozens of contacts with Capitol Hill, the State Department and think tanks around Washington.

“Our key message has not wavered: Robust U.S. support for free and fair, internationally monitored elections in Pakistan remains critical, as does U.S. support for the safe return and participation of opposition candidates,” a BKSH director, Lisa Cotter Colangelo, said.

Her firm has earned more than $80,000 since January for its work on behalf of Bhutto’s party, according to records filed with the Justice Department.

Led by Cotter Colangelo, who has more than 15 years of experience in representing foreign opposition parties, BKSH is using its partners to help Bhutto’s party.

BKSH’s affiliate, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, has worked on polling research for the party.

Parent company Burson-Marsteller LLC is handling an extensive media campaign, with the former Coalition Provisional Authority’s communications director in Iraq, Robert Tappan, taking the reins.

Lobbyists have handed out several op-eds critical of Musharraf, including columns by Bhutto and an editorial by The New York Times, entitled “Propping up the General.”

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tom Tancredo is at it again

I'm going to let Tancredo's statements speak for themselves because they speak volumes! It is disappointing and extremely horrifying that an elected official in the US can not only say such things, but get away with it.

I hope anyone reading this calls his office and gives them a piece of their mind.

Republican candidate advocates threat to bomb Islamic holy sites as response to terrorist attack on U.S.

2007-08-02 19:10:39 -

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way he can think of to deter a nuclear terrorist attack on the U.S. is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites.
The Colorado congressman on Tuesday told about 30 people at a town hall meeting in the state of Iowa that he believes such a terrorist attack could be imminent and that the U.S. needs to hurry up and think of a way to stop it.
«If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina,» Tancredo said at the Family Table restaurant. «Because that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do.
Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia, are Islam's holiest cities. All able-bodied Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage there at least once in their lives. Tancredo's comments were recorded and posted on the Web site iowapolitics.com.
A Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group responded in anger Thursday, calling Tancredo's statement «unworthy of anyone seeking public office in the United States.
«Perhaps it's evidence of a long-shot candidate grasping at straws and trying to create some kind of a controversy that might appeal to a niche audience of anti-Muslim bigots,» said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Campaign spokesman, Alan Moore, said Tancredo stands by his statement.
This is not the first time Tancredo has suggested taking extreme action against Mecca and Medina.
In 2005, he drew international criticism after he told a radio talk show host that «you could take out» Islamic holy sites if terrorists ever launched a nuclear attack against the United States.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Film Screening - Bling: A Planet Rock - 7/31

GenerationEngage, United Nations Development Program & Metro NY Present a
free screening of
Bling:A Planet Rock

Bling follows Raekwon, Paul Wall, and Tego Calderon to the diamond mines of
West Africa and takes a hard-hitting look at how the flashy world of
commercial hip-hop played a significant role in the 10-year civil war in
Sierra Leone.

Free
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
6:30 PM
Tribeca Grand Hotel
Screening Room

2 Avenue of the Americas @ White St.
A/C/E to Canal 6/N/R/Q/W to Canal 1 Train to Franklin

Please RSVP to Jason.Page@generationengage.org or call Jason Page at
646.792.8085