Friday, November 04, 2005

Event of interest: "The Peacekeepers" documentary screening

Im really excited about this documentary screening im organizing at my college campus, the Graduate Center at CUNY. Thankfully, I have the tremendous support of a sponsoring organization for which I am coordinating the efforts on my campus. The name of the group is "Americans for Informed Democracy" and has an amazing team at the helm of affairs.

Details of the event are below, and I really hope as many people as possible can attend.





The Powerful New Documentary about the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Room 5414 – Social Lounge

Monday, November 14th, 7-9 PM

CUNY Graduate Center

365 Fifth Avenue

Free refreshments will be provided

More information: "The Peacekeepers" is a powerful new documentary about the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It documents the struggle to save "a failed state," taking the viewer back and forth between the United Nations headquarters in New York and events on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from summer 2002 until spring 2004.

Click here to get background on the Peacekeepers and view clips from the documentary

Click here to read a review of the documentary

Thursday, November 03, 2005

This week's article and some random reflections on Ramadan

As with all good things, Ramadan has also come to pass. I only realized this morning after the Eid prayers, that it was paradoxical how people were celebrating the passing of the month. And while I was perhaps the most joyous, I was wondering if any of the rest of these Muslims felt slightly saddened as I did.

It's funny how one grows older and experiences and age shape the way you think. Many years ago, I'd have guilt pangs thinking how unfulfilling and unsatisfactory the month had been for me - on a very spiritual level. Sacrificing food and drink was the least of my concerns. It was my spiritual side that I wanted to see grow. That just wasnt happening.

This year, as I look back at the month that has passed, I have finally come to appreciate the beauty of the month. Divine blessings aside, Ramadan has practically and realistically taught me that if man desires, he can do whatever he wants. Not eating or drinking for several hours is definitely possible and even beneficial. My late maternal grandfather fasted every day of his life after a certain age and his health was amazing. Not to mention that fasting also compels you to keep away from sin consciously and unconsciously.

What amazes me most of all, though, is that Ramadan is a conscious struggle. A jihad. That word throws most people off, but in the literal sense of the word, the month is definitely a struggle. But God is good; He doesnt desire that we toil away for no reason. Im better off now having struggled with the devil inside me and the temptations outside. I hope He accepts whatever I have done.

It is with that prayer that I happily announce the publishing of this week's column! Check it out. I felt like being a bit more critical and graphic in my details, but alas; This is a Pakistani paper, and I am a Pakistani living in the US. Do I want my behind deported?

Im not going to answer that question.

I volunteered for the United Nations Association last night for an event titled "Careers in International Finance". The panel was great, as were the participants. It was nice to see a student from my alma-mater, Queens College-CUNY, there as well. I posted on their list-serve and thankfully, at least someone took advantage.

I also was fortunate enough to meet some interesting people. Carl Robichaud, a true gentleman, is a Program Officer at The Century Foundation based in New York City. My friend Pauline who is a fellow MA student at the CUNY Graduate Center was there as well. Ann Nicol, who is Executive Director of the UNA NYC Chapter was great company. I have yet to have a discussion with her regarding her being an Etiquette Consultant.

The event's venue was the Hungarian Mission and our hosts were wonderful. The townhouse was exquisite, as was the reception.

Well, I must get going. I have much reading to do for a class I believe im not doing too great in. This is the moment when I need those prayers answered!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Halloween and a Fast for Justice

Monday evening was reminiscent of the days when I was growing up in Pakistan. I went to the West Village to "witness" the most famous Halloween parade of all time, and it was quite fascinating. Obviously, it's not all that one may expect. I mean, I for one, was entertained just by looking at people passing by on the sidewalks, let alone the people walking in the actual parade.

Not to mention how I was rudely awakened to a New York reality as I was making my way out of the parade: fighting. It's a favorite pastime of men to show their brute side, and so when push came to shove, which was happening anyway, some guys got infuriated and a fight broke out. We got pushed and shoved in the process but made it out safe and sound, only to walk several more blocks as the crappy subway system was CLOSED!

But I need the exercise; ask my family.

Among other news, the Fast for Justice vigil was phenomenal. Both Washington, D.C. and New York City had a good turnout and media coverage was good as well. Let's hope it makes a lasting impression on folks who couldnt be there. I know for sure, this event will be etched on my mind forever. The reason is simply because of the presence of one student from Hunter College-CUNY who wore an orange jumpsuit similar to the type worn by detainees presently at Guantanamo Bay. He had a head covering that didnt allow his face to be shown and a leash around his neck. He was sitting on the ground and just uttered remarks periodically when people would pass by, usually along the lines of "they raped me", "they spat on me", "they burned my holy book", etc. It was definitely an attention grabber, but it also served the cause. Honestly, he looked worse than someone's pet. It humanized the issue and made clear what our struggle was for and that it was not in vain. These were real humans we were dealing with, and a real inhumane government as well.

Kudos to the Center for Constitutional Rights which has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to social justice and human rights. Their entire office was there, either volunteering or on their lunch break, so it was true dedication on everyone's part.

I can only hope I have the opportunity to work with such people - and on such projects - in the future.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Earthquake update - on a personal level

For those of you who are following the earthquake relief efforts, you might have realized how bad the situation is. With the onset of winter, lack of sufficient funding/donations for relief efforts and an enormous lack of resources, the situation, needless to say, is quite bad.

My cousin based in Chicago, Tashfeen Mahmood, sent me the following information earlier today, and I think the two degrees of separation between myself and the person in question make me (and us all) count my/our blessings and bring the sense of urgency home like never before.

Please take a moment to read, donate and/or pass the information on:

If you are looking to donate money to someone in Pakistan who has been a victim of the earthquake, then you might want to think of the following opportunity:

Hafeez was my driver when I was in 10th grade in Pakistan. His family has always lived in Kashmir. His dad, brother, wife and two sons live in the same house. I should say LIVED because like many other families in Pakistan, their house has also been destroyed. He has been asking us for any kind of help and so far I have been helping him little by little from here. He also has been getting some money from the place where he works. However, all he has received so far, is not enough for him to buy any long term supplies to keep his family warm or sheltered or fed, let alone all three. Disease outbreak is imminent and winter is harsh in Kashmir. If there is anything we can do to help this family out, we need to act now.

I am going to Pakistan on the 19th of November. If you want, you can transmit any funds you want to send to me. Contact me via email. We will make arrangements. Unfortunately, your donations will not be tax deductible, as neither myself nor Hafeez are authorized charity organizations. But I can assure you that 100% of your money will get to Hafeez.

The earthquake in Pakistan has devastated millions. If you can not help Hafeez through me, then please help someone there. They need all the help they can get. The time is now. Please act fast. A few dollars out of your pocket can save a lot of lives.

--Tashfeen Mahmood

Monday, October 31, 2005

Mukhtar Mai to speak in NYC - 11/05/05

Mukhtar Mai. The name needs no introduction.
Below are details on what I believe is the only public speaking engagement she has while in New York City for the few days she is here.
Please spread the word, and rsvp is NOT required, even though it is stated below. The venue can accomodate 900 peple, so no worries about not being able to hear her or see her.


We are proud to invite you to hear Mukhtar Mai speak in New York on Saturday, November 5th.
Many of you have heard of her courage, determination and strength. You have also probably heard of the international furore surrounding her case. NOW, you can hear her speak!

Asian American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights (ANAA) and The Amnesty International USA NYC Women's Human Rights Action Team with the Asia Society, Sakhi for South Asian Women, and Cooper Union are honored to present:

A Courageous Woman, A Courageous People:
Mukhtar Mai Speaks Out to Help Her Nation

When: Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005, from 10 am to 12 noon
Where: The Great Hall at Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street (at Third Avenue) Manhattan.
Subways: 6 to Astor Place; N/R to East 8th Street

$5 donation requested to cover costs of the event incurred by ANAA and Women's Action Team.

RSVP is requested, but not required. Please note that Sakhi is NOT coordinating RSVPs.

To RSVP or for more information, please contact: Jeanne Bergman: 212-979-7213

Mukhtar Mai is known around the world for her courage in speaking out about the brutal gang rape she suffered on the order of a Pakistani tribal jirga. No judge, social taboo, village leader or military administration could silence her,and her brave quest for justice for victims of rape and sexual violence has been an inspiration to women all over the world.
Mukhtar Mai is visiting the United States to meet thousands of her supporters and to draw attention to the legal, social and political repression faced by victims of violence in Pakistan. She will also speak on the deplorable conditions faced by women in Pakistan that have been made worse by the devastating earthquake in October this year.

While in the United States, Mukhtar Mai will be presented Glamour Magazine's "Woman of the Year" award by President Bill Clinton. She will also urge the United States Congress to uphold their commitment to women's rights in Pakistan by pledging an additional 50 million dollars in humanitarian aid specifically earmarked for the women and children affected by the earthquake.

Please join her on November 5th in demanding justice and human rights for all.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

All is well, that ends well!

And so another week comes to an end, but mind you, not all weeks have been as good as this past one. A lot of interesting things going on, new experiences, new people.

As with most weeks, things picked up during the latter half. After spending Wednesday at the Center for Constitutional Rights, my friend Seema, who is a paralegal there working on the Guantanamo Project, and I went to NYU where the Muslim law students hosted an Iftar and panel discussion. Shallow as this might sound, I think I only went for the food, but was pleasantly surprised when I met some of Seema's contacts there (she's a closet social butterfly). Her friend Maria, who was an Ella Baker intern last summer, and is currently a law student at CUNY, and two of her other Kashmiri friends, not to mention one of the speakers. After a Mexican iftari (it was the first time I had Mexican halal food), the panel started and I was pleasantly surprised to hear NY Law School professor Sadiq Reza. His words were thought-provoking, logical and inspiring. I think the same things in solitude, but he had the courage to come out forthright and ask why the Muslim community was so complacent, and not in the forefront of many activities. I think we all arrived at the conclusion that we need a balance between institution-building and taking action. A good evening, definitely.

Thursday presented me with a quandary. But dont laugh when you hear the two options I couldve chosen from. I had two free tickets to the new Nicholas Cage movie, "The Weatherman", and the opportunity to see/hear Pakistani human rights activist and UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir. I was honestly thinking I should've gone to the movie, but was smart to have made the decision to hear her speak. It was my first time seeing her in person, let alone hearing her speak. I think there was much to be desired in her speech, but who am I to complain? Again, I had the opportunity to meet with some new, interesting folks: Huma, from the Rockefeller Foundation (my friend just finished designing their website - it's great!); Rabia and Taimoor from the NYU Dental School; Zubaida Rasul from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). And even saw another friend named Zeeshan (Amin), who's at the UN these days, along with some other friends of my parents. All in all, another good evening.

Then comes Friday. Eventful as it is, I stayed true to the reputation of what a typical Friday should be like: fun, fun, fun. So what did I do? Attend a meeting in the evening. Ok, ok - that was one among the many things I did that day. After spending most of the day at the Foreign Policy Association (where i'm interning), the meeting I attended was for the 2006 CUNY South Asian Conference. I am a member of the Steering Committee, so it's a privilige to sit on the table with other CUNY scholars and give a student voice to discussions put forth.

From there, I went and met my good friend Yasir for Iftar, and then proceeded to Blood Manor for a 15-minute long spookfest. The special effects were good, but it surely wasnt made out to be all that either of us had heard. It was basically a maze and different horrific things were going on in different parts of the maze. Good, but not great.

And I got out from there in time to make it for Brook's Qawwaliween Party at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope, Brooklyn. As expected, it was mind-blowing. I've always been a fan of fusion and cross-over stuff, so this was a welcome change to the sometimes monotonous schedule an MA student can have. The group passed around a tip basket and all money donated would go to earthquake relief efforts in Pakistan. While introducing myself and talking to Brook later in the intermission, another "admirer" came and said hello. The name sounded so familiar: Paula Jeanine. And then I remembered downloading some of her music clips from her website ages ago. I love it when foreigners sing South Asian music. Her voice is peaceful, calm and her interpretation is refreshing. It was a joy meeting both Brook and Paula and seeing the great work they're doing to bring South Asian music to non-South Asian audiences. We have the same struggles in South Asia, only our struggles are for keeping the music alive, let alone worrying about spreading it.

And so the weekend rolled around, and I looked forward to some rest and relaxation. I did just that, but with my friend Vibha Kagzi, who's visiting the US on business. Always a pleasure to see her and discuss all the things we have to catch up on.

As you can see, there's so much going on! I guess i'll keep the blog updated with whatever is new and happening.