Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paris and Nicole visit a Pakistani family

Wow, this was totally unexpected! What an awesome way to brand a country: leave it to two silly young women who know the ins and outs of Hollywood, but nothing about the rest of the world to create a favorable image of Pakistan in the minds of people who are least expected to care: young adults.

I saw the episode myself and couldnt stop laughing for most of the time, especially when Mr. Ghauri was trying to teach Paris and Nicole how to pray. Paris's excursion to the club was also wild, as was happily-married Mr. Ghauri's reaction to his surroundings: covering his eyes with his hands.

The end was the best. Mrs. Ghauri comes back home after a long day and presents Paris with a beautiful shawl and Paris returns the favor with a t-shirt that says "Pakistanis are hot".

In their individual comments, Paris and Nicole had extremely nice things to say about their experience. Paris even said that Pakistani men treat their wives like pricnesses.

All in all, it was good to see that while the mainstream media does not cover anything positive about Pakistan today, the entertainment world is actually making a change in the opposite direction. It also goes to show how the news business and show business are, in many ways, merging.

Enjoy this clip!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Fireworks at the UN

First off, yes, I know it's been an entire week since i've posted, but you know what? I refuse to apologize this time! A lot has been going on, and every time I thought about updating my blog, I put it lower and lower on my priority list. Then I received some great feedback from people I didnt expect even read the blog often (thanks Nazia and Zoya!), so thanks for the always-appreciated encouragement and motivation. It's very kind of you.

So, today i'm going to post what I wrote in this week's column that I write for a Pakistani newspaper, The Post. I've been keeping an eye on the whole Brown-Bolton debate and how it has, in many ways, triggered an introspective, self-reflective debate within the community of international affairs experts as well as American policy-makers. What does it mean to be American and multilateral? How does a superpower engage the world? How does it "get things done" in the international arena? All these are valid questions that people from developing countries will be very interested in getting answers to.

Anyway, full text can be accessed here, while copied below are excerpts from the article, which is one of the longest i've ever written (almost 1100 words!):

The events that have transpired this past week at United Nations headquarters in New York City are testimony to the fact that New York does not have the best fireworks only on the fourth of July. With Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown’s comments at a conference being the ignition for the fireworks we witnessed, other events also took place which provided for some alternative jubilation.

The Deputy SG was speaking at a conference hosted by the prestigious think-tank, The Century Foundation and the Centre for American Progress, on “Power and Superpower in the 21st century”. Other speakers included America’s first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright (who recently published a book), as well as other scholars and government officials. One might ask then, why were Brown’s comments so noteworthy if people of such high calibre were in attendance? The answer lay in what Brown said regarding the United States’ role in international affairs and multilateralism, specifically the United Nations.

For those of who have been keeping a keen eye on UN affairs, we are well aware of the divisive role the current US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, is playing. Long before he assumed his responsibilities as Ambassador, Bolton had been quoted as saying that if 10 floors of the UN Secretariat were lost, “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference”. The audacity this man has! Well, it doesn’t end just here. After Brown made his speech at the conference, where he criticized the US’s position in the global diplomatic arena, he was lambasted by the American Ambassador. Brown’s comments were essentially very honest and truthful, nothing very harsh or extreme. In fact, the Financial Times of London went so far as to say “Mr Malloch Brown’s speech was a model of reasoned diplomacy” (June 9th, 2006).

Many international affairs experts have differing views on last week’s fireworks at the UN. Some say it was a much needed action, others say Bolton’s comments were taken out of context, while many others couldn’t care less, as the fiasco could be considered yet another PR stunt to raise UN-phobia in the halls of Congress. But who really knows what the future of such actions can be? Only time will tell…

But all fireworks are not harmful! Some can be seen in the night sky as symbols of a celebration in a land far, far, away. And while Bahrain might be close to Pakistan, it is far from those of us here in New York, USA. Does that stop us from celebrating the newly appointed President of the General Assembly (GA)? Not at all! Shaikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain is only the third woman and the first from the Middle East to hold the position. Incidentally, the first woman ever was Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India, who presided in 1953.

Shaikha Haya is a part of the Bahraini royal family and a pioneering lawyer and human rights activist, who happens to also be one of the first two women to ever practice law in Bahrain. One of her most important tasks as GA President will include the election of the new Secretary General, as well as negotiating between member states, much like her predecessor, Jan Eliasson of Sweden (now Foreign Minister), who brokered talks resulting in the creation of the Human Rights Council.

Shaikha Haya’s election doesn’t come as a surprise to me. The UN is quite an interesting place for women of Muslim heritage. Many of Middle Eastern and Muslim backgrounds have risen to high posts and have often been the first in the world to do so. Take Shaikha Haya’s example, as well as Nafis Sadik, who I’ve mentioned many times in this column before. Thoraya Obaid of Saudi Arabia, the Executive Director of the UN’s Population Fund is another shining example, as well as Mervat Tallawy of Egypt, who is the Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The list goes on, and provides encouragement and motivation for all of us who think of ourselves as “minorities”, or the “underdog”. Only we can change this fate.

While the fireworks at the UN were not entirely harmful, they have set us on the right path.

With Shaikha Haya’s election as GA President, we have hope for a better future where Muslim women can play positive roles in societies all over the world, and not in just their own. With Brown’s comments and Bolton’s hyper-reaction, we have the opportunity to delve into some much needed introspection over the role of the US in today’s interdependent world. Is it destined to be an authoritative quasi-dictator, or can it be a responsible hegemon? We need a solution, but we must also realize that we are part of the solution.