Cross posting documentary made on me & PYA by Al-Jazeera English, highlighting some of the work we do.
Posted in From Other Blogs, Politics, Published Work, TV/Press Interviews, tagged anti america-ism in Pakistan, Council on Foreign Relations, Pakistan USA relationship, siege of mecca, Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi on February 8, 2012 | 2 Comments »
First published Council on Foreign Relations website
It was November 1979. Anti-American outrage filled the streets of Pakistan. Several U.S. facilities were attacked across the country. A mob in Islamabad nearly burned the U.S. embassy to the ground. The chant “Kill the American infidels!” echoed in the air in response to the siege of Mecca’s grand mosque, Islam’s holiest site.
Pakistani crowds angered by the unprecedented events unfolding in Mecca concluded that such a plot could only be orchestrated by Americans. It turned out they were wrong. The homegrown radical group in Saudi Arabia that led the bloody siege had no link with the United States.
While the U.S.-Pakistani relationship has experienced many changes in the decades since, miscalculations of ground realities on both sides and anti-American sentiment have remained.
The majority of people in Pakistan admire the way Americans live—almost every Pakistani family has a member settled in the United States—but a glaring majority hates the impact of U.S. policies in Pakistan. The United States is considered by many to be the “great Satan.” Every U.S. political move in Pakistan is interpreted as an effort to destabilize Pakistan or to fight a war against Islam. Aggressive rhetoric on the Pakistani side—at times reflecting an unrealistic worldview and at times responding justifiably to belligerent U.S. action—molds mass perceptions.
A few months ago, I was in Kot Addu in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province filming recent flood damage in the area with a British filmmaker named Oliver. He was confronted by a local who, after pushing Oliver, scanned the sky and shouted “drone, drone” as if Oliver’s tripod and camera were the equipment that maneuvers drones. Bear in mind that south Punjab has never had a drone attack and is very far from the area where drone attacks take place.
For me, this incident highlights an important fact for U.S.-Pakistani relations. The general public in Pakistan cannot be expected to understand the complicated nature of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. When something goes wrong in Pakistan, the public relies on their interpretation of the events at face value. In the case of drone attacks, for example, the United States must consider this effect and act more responsibly.
Many of my American friends ask the same question: “Why do they hate us?” By way of explanation, the discourse rampant in Pakistani streets is closest to what most Muslim-majority communities feel. The invasion of Iraq, decades-long support for oppressive governments, bias in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the killing of thousands of innocent Muslims, recurring stories of torture and abuse of prisoners—all have combined to generate suspicion of the United States within Pakistan. When Pakistanis find evidence that the United States applies its values of democracy and human rights selectively depending on its interests (the Raymond Davis episode and “collateral damage” from drone attacks being prime examples), for many, suspicion turns to hate.
Finally, solidifying this ill will is the lack of understanding between the two countries on a human level. People-to-people, civil society-based contact and interaction is scarce, and misconceptions are aided by a U.S. media that does not propagate alternative opinions from within U.S. society. The result is the image of the United States as a monolithic society.
Disagreement is a trait of democratic society and should be considered a strength rather than a weakness. If on-the-ground dissent in the United States can be understood in Pakistan, and communication between the United States and regions that “hate” the United States is given importance in the international media, the United States’ monolithic, negative image will become less rampant in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority communities. This will not only benefit the image of the United States worldwide, but will give “conspiracy theorists” reason to look within before pointing the finger at the United States.
Posted in Politics, Published Work, TV/Press Interviews, tagged Bulleh Shah urs, extremism in Pakisytan, Mumtaz Qadri, Pakistan, Pakistan and Islam, Radicalisation in Pakistan, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Sufism on November 20, 2011 | 2 Comments »
First published and cross-posted from Huffington Post
I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organizations in Pakistan.
Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.
Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.
Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.
4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.
For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.
Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.
The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.
7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.
When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.
Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.
9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.
Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.
Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.
Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.
This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan
We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.
Follow Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi
Posted in From Other Blogs, General Utterances, Published Work, TV/Press Interviews, tagged ali abbas PYA, dawn blog, extremism in Pakistan, Karachi, Lieutenant Yaser Abbas, PNS Mehran attack, Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, Syed Yaser Abbas Shaheed, terrorism on October 12, 2011 | 1 Comment »
The night of Sunday, May 22, 2011, will be remembered as one of the most haunting nights in the history of Pakistan. While Pakistan was still reeling from the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2, the 16-hour operation against terrorists at PNS Mehran served to add salt to the wounds of the nation.
At 10:40 pm I received a message from some course mates while having dinner together that a “P3-C Orion has been hit”. I tweeted this instantly, seeking confirmation from the media as I did not know whether the aircraft was hit in the air or on ground. This was the first and last message I would hear from my friends, who were now engaged in the operation.
At 12:54 am my social media feed read: My junior Lt Yaser and guards in his Squad are in the operation theater, the doctors are not confirming their condition, but saying that they have been shot – O negative blood is needed at PNS Rahat.
Just a few minutes later, we learnt that our brave junior had breathed his last. A couple of my close friends had also been shot.
I remember playing cricket with Yaser; he was an amazing athlete and one of the brightest students at the College of Aeronautical Engineering, Risalpur.
His course mate Abdullah talks about his personality:
“I haven’t known a more genuine person. The academy really puts you to test and only a fortunate few come out victorious. Lt. Syed Yaser Abbas represented the best of his kind and always managed to pass with flying colors. As per tradition, we called him ‘Naval Yaser’ (since he was part of the Pakistan Navy). Yaser was very close to me. Any person who has been at a boot-camp, will realise that when we call our course mates, our brothers, we mean it in the truest sense.
Ever since the PNS attack, I have endlessly recalled and relived the memorable times I have spent with Yaser – teasing seniors, late night gatherings, group study sessions, sitting on the roof-top chatting until late night, watching T20 world cup matches, mast qalandar sessions and the MOHA, CS gaming sessions – the list is endless. Yaser would also be early to bed the night before an exam, while we crammed but somehow he still managed to get better grades than us. He was also the one in the group who always had a bag of eatables on hand.
Yaser’s most distinctive feature was perhaps his loud, hearty laugh that could be heard long before anyone saw him coming. He always insisted he was an introvert back home, but we never really got to see that side of him. He was always joking and fooling around.
Spontaneity was his forte. Yaser executed unplanned, last-minute trips with ease. He never shied away from helping anyone who asked for his help. Even if you asked him at 3 am to come over, there he would be with his car.
All of us had been, in the last four months, planning a reunion. Just a day before the PNS Mehran attack, Yaser told me, he probably wouldn’t be able to make it for the reunion because his leaves had been postponed. He asked that we carry on without him, to which I replied that we could wait until he was granted leave. Who would have known then, that he would be the cause of our much-awaited reunion. May Allah bless his soul.”
And much like the proverbial teaching in the military: no guts, no glory – his bravery, courage and sacrifice will be remembered for a long time to come.
Written on the walls of College of Aeronautical Engineering are the words ‘The Few, The Proud’. Yaser is most certainly among the few who have made his college and everyone who knew him proud by being nominated for the Nishan-e-Haider.
With the media coverage Yaser has received, he may be known to many as the face of the PNS Mehran attack, but there are tens of thousands of young men like him who have died fighting for their country.
Terrorist sympathisers are quick to point out that it is the US who has brought their war into Pakistan among other defenses for these heinous attacks of terrorism. In the face of haunting attacks such as that on PNS Mehran, even the thought of a terrorist sympathiser among us is appalling.
I believe nothing can be more tragic for a nation, which is still confused about who their real heroes are.
– interview on Channel News Asia
Just found through an incoming link on my blog, that I have been listed in the World’s Bravest Bloggers
Around the world, netzien activists face harassment, arrest, and worse for using social-networking tools to spark change. But now, after cyber-inspired revolutions in Tunisia and Cairo, twittering muckrakers seem to be standing their ground more than ever. Here are 17 who are chaning the world, one click at a time.
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi
The artist-activist brings a bohemian flair to his call for greater religious tolerance. Zaidi says hes working towards a ‘progressive’ & ‘democratric’ future his country