Wednesday, December 28, 2005

George Clooney's movie, "Syriana" and the newspaper, "Muslims Weekly"

My column in the Pakistani newspaper, The Post, was just published online. Copied below is the article in its entirety:

For anyone who has been keeping up with Hollywood and the American film industry in general, it is plain to see a newfound fascination for the Middle East and the Islamic world. While pleasant inquiry and genuine interest is more than welcome, one can only hope the result of this allure manifests itself in more than the presentation of stereotypical images in the eyes of the “Western” masses.

I saw George Clooney’s Syriana a few nights ago. While I was pleasantly surprised to see the theme of CIA/US intervention in the Middle East shown so explicitly, I was not so pleasantly surprised to see the depiction of Muslims in the typical negative light we have become accustomed to. What pains me more is that such films do so well at the box office, subsequently solidifying an image that is already flawed. While tackling difficult issues using film as a medium, filmmakers tend to use their power to sway audiences and influence human psyche in whatever way they wish. Unfortunately, Syriana viewers will think of a Muslim as the terrorist who has to be purged from American soil, and not the person who believes in the American dream just like any other fellow citizen.

Trying to help in this struggle against a single-tracked media is a devoted newspaper based in New York City called Muslims Weekly. While its circulation might not be in the league of bigger religious/ethnic newspapers like the Jewish Week or India Abroad, Muslims Weekly strives to provide timely news, with integrity of purpose and accuracy. Unfortunately, it has become victim to the same financial problems that plague all enthusiastic projects that start out small and want to become bigger and better.

To remedy this situation, the newspaper had a Fundraising Dinner, which coincided with its 6th anniversary as well. The event was held at Maurya Restaurant, in Queens, New York, and was well attended by many community leaders. Attendance was mirrored by the number of diverse speakers who took to the podium and spoke about what a great service the newspaper was doing for the community. The newspaper was badly in debt and so it was only natural that the theme of the evening was to look back at what this media outlet had done for its target audience, and look to the future for what it could do for Muslims.

Khalid Lamada looked forward to the day when Muslims Weekly would actually become a Muslims Daily. Kashmiri activist Malik Nadeem Abid had recently lost his beloved mother and his sister was ill, but showed his support by being present at the event. Noted Pakistani community leader Dr Shafi Bezar assured Muslims Weekly of his full support. Renowned Muslim religious leader Imam Siraj Wahhaj personally pledged to raise $10,000 and urged several others in the audience to do the same as well, albeit for lesser amounts of money.

Jawed Anwar, Publisher of Muslims Weekly, urged readers and attendees of the programme to understand that good deeds could be recognised by contributing to the newspaper. Donations don’t always need to be made to masjids (mosques) and madrassas in order to gain sawwab. He gave examples of other publications and how they flourished. One Jewish newspaper had an editor, whose salary was paid entirely by a Jewish organization, thereby allowing him to devote his energies to the newspaper. One Haitian newspaper organizes an annual community event that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, thereby letting its staff concentrate more fully on the actual news, as opposed to financial issues.

Several non-Muslim speakers also enlightened the audience with their views. Linda Kateura, author of Voices of American Muslims, stressed the need for an American Muslim voice and for the community to be active to express itself. Trish Schuh, a journalist and peace activist, mentioned how she goes through several different media outlets on a daily basis, but found in Muslims Weekly what she found nowhere else. Keynote speaker William Blum, who is a staunch anti-war activist and accomplished writer with several published books, spoke about the role the US has played, is playing and will play in the Islamic world.

The past few weeks have proved that Muslims – and Pakistanis – are in a lot of trouble. It’s not because of their activities, but their inactivity. If movies like Syriana continue to make millions of dollars and newspapers like Muslims Weekly continue to struggle for their very existence, we should understand that something is desperately wrong. I hope we realise this soon.

Request for Medical Professionals

The information below is posted on a website that is useful for anyone who wants to help in the Pakistani earthquake relief efforts: DCPak. Please spread the word...

There is a desperate need for doctors, nurses and medics in the quake affected areas including the camps.

United Pakistan
The Omar Asghar Ali Khan Foundation
National Rural Support Programs

These three organizations will provide lodging/transport/etc for any medical personnel that can spare time and provide their services.

The most specific and dire need is for Female Gynecologists and other female medical specialists.

Article: Student Finds a Stolen Thesis by Thinking Like a Thief

Wow, I would have a serious bout of depression if my MA thesis was ever stolen. I'm still taking courses towards my MA, so this technically isnt something I should worry about, but several months from now, it could be a reality I must face: the possibility of having my written and researched work stolen, as mentioned in this Washington Post article.

The first thought that came to my mind was, how could she have NOT backed up all the data? Even though she was a smart woman for thinking like a thief and eventually retrieving her stolen/lost belongings, I think it was more the desperation of the situation and the fright of having to do all that work over again that made her think like a thief. Why wouldnt anyone just be smart from the outset and make copies of the documents that are so important to you?

God help me if anything remotely similar happens to me. I don't know what i'd do...

Event: Careers at the United Nations

United Nations Association of New York’s
Young Professionals for International Cooperation


Careers at the United Nations

Date: Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reception: 6:00 – 6:30 pm
Panel Discussion: 6:30 – 7:30 pm

Q & A Session: 7:30 – 8:00 pm

The Polish Consulate General

233 Madison Avenue (corner of 37th street)


Gillian Sorensen

(Senior Advisor to the UN Foundation and former Assistant Secretary General at the UN)

Sandra Haji-Ahmed

(Director, Operational Services Division, Human Resources Management, UN)

UNA Members: $5 Non-Members: $20.00*

*Non-members can join UNA-USA at just for $25 and attend the event FREE plus enjoy all other membership benefits, including discounted price at future career events, throughout the year.

Your new membership confirmation page will provide you a link with a discount code to register for this event FREE.

Admission only through online Registration

Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis

Register now at

If you are not sure of your UNA-USA membership’s current status or need any further information,

please contact or call (212) 907-1333

Next event will be “Careers in NGOs” in March 2006

Business attire please…

Article: Bono berates NATO over aid delay in Pakistan

I wish this was the Bono of U2 we are all too familiar with now, but the Bono this International Herald Tribune article refers to is the Spanish Defense Minister. I had read earlier accounts of slow aid distribution and mis-coordination, mostly because of these organizations who were sending manpower to the country, and later not doing much because they didnt know what to do.

After reading the article, it's a confirmation of the problems of bureacracy. NATO has agreed not to continue humanitarian relief operations in Pakistan, but will continue to stay on in regions like the former Yugoslavia where they should have withdrawn long ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Article: Pentagon rolls out stealth PR

These people will stop at nothing for PR. Notice how I didnt write "good PR". The fact is, no matter how much money one spends on PR, it will never make a difference if the heart and soul of incorrect policies arent changed. Can one's negative viewpoints of a country really change when the policies of that country help another stay in miserable shape?

This article from USA Today tells us that the Bush administration is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on yet another PR campsign, this time again using the very company (among others) that was involved in paying off local Iraqis to publish positive material about the Americans and their intervention in Iraq. How foolish can one be? This firm is still under investigation for that fiasco, but its services are being used again? Wow...