Archive for April, 2011

First published in english daily The Islamabad Dateline [28th April, 2010]

Ugay na maut Zamin par tou aur kya hoga / Key beej zehar key bantay gae kisano’n mayn!

I was born in 80’s. I grew up in 90’s, in a Pakistan with school curriculum preaching religious intolerance, state organs that colored geo strategic interests of our establishment in ‘holy’ flavor, Intelligentsia that fathered militant organizations, right leaning media that propagated conspiracy theories and a public sentiment that endorsed militancy, by open call for ‘Jihad’ in other countries.

I was more interested in Tom & Jerry then, but as I grew older and skimmed through unbiased political and religio-political history of Pakistan, I realized why our youth exhibit symptoms of being radicalized easily.

By radicalization I mean intolerance to others opinions (political, social or religious) and having a militant or extremist answer instead of agreeing to disagree peacefully. Many of us born in 70’s and 80’s were already pre-radicalized by constant bombardment and brainwashing by establishment, media and right wing political parties.

Many analysts of contemporary times believe socio-economic conditions and lack of education leads to radicalization but I beg to differ; Osama bin Laden is a civil engineer, Al-Zawahiri a surgeon, Omer Sheikh (famous for kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl) studied from London School of Economics, Faisal Shahzad is a financial analyst and in fact top leadership of all militant organizations are reasonably well-educated and come from rich families.

I witness three stages of radicalization in Pakistan. Pre-radicalization, radicalization and post radicalization. Endorsing a radical discourse is pre-radicalization. Radicalization is joining an extremist organization and blatant activism for the same. Post-radicalization is after joining a radical cause, now living a normal a life.

Madrassas have obviously played a vital role in providing a regular stream of radical minded youth. I had the pleasure to meet a senior official at NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority) who revealed that time of summer vacations in these religious schools is very crucial as it is the time when they are taught the art of ‘takfir’ (judging  as kaafir) and militancy. A 2008 estimate puts the number of madrassas in Pakistan as over 40,000 with an approximated 2 million youth enrolled. Every religious militant in Pakistan and from Pakistan spent time in a madrassa.

No one can deny the three stages of radicalization in Pakistan. The intensity of which unveiled when Governor Salman Taseer was murdered and almost 80 % of ‘educated’ youth were cheering for the assassin, on religious grounds.

What to do now? We have a huge youth bulge, many of them silently support radical causes and many exhibit high potential for joining radical causes.

Bear in mind here that every radical is not a terrorist but every terrorist is a radical.

Only counter and de-radicalization can serve to be the anti-dote to the venom of radicalization in Pakistan. Counter-radicalization on national level, like Zia’s radicalization programs, we ought to initiate counter-radicalization grass root initiatives spreading tolerance, peace and interfaith harmony. Countering radicalization should also involve reforming madrassas, keeping a strict check on religious discourse even in mosques where religious hatred is fed like en masse. This would mitigate the pre-radicalization mindset prevalent in masses.

De-radicalization for those already radicalized, like the famous rehab facility of would-be suicide bombers caught in Pakistan.

We cannot close our eyes to this monster when only in last years, 35000 Pakistanis lost their lives including top notch generals, politicians and ordinary citizens. We have to disrupt the extremist infrastructure, militant outfits, condemn biased journalism and instigate a multi-faced counter-radicalization strategy to prevent further abuse of our religion for political ends and stop following myopic U.S. policies and denounce Saudi/Iran sponsored intolerant religious discourse which have played a pivotal role in radicalizing Pakistan.

Key policy reformation is required in immediate future, hovering a broader objective, specifically targeting the younger generation else we will not move forward, but revolve in circles.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi


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Slightly edited version was first published in english daily Islamabad Dateline [20th April, 2011]

Great poets were a product of their times. I am sure had Shakespeare been alive today, he might have considered rephrasing his famous ‘to be or not to be’ to ‘to veil or not to veil; that is the question’

I recall when I went to Swat to deliver relief aide to IDP’s right after military action had come to its successful end in August 2009 I came across a barber shop. The glass window said: Hajamat karana mana hai [hair-cut is banned]. I got a chance to talk to the owner of the shop and he said when Taliban had taken over his neighborhood the first announcement made via radio was to force women to wear niqab and men not to dare cut their beards and hair. Such has been the case wherever Islamist militants took over. We called it extremism.
Personally, I remember being really agitated when ‘elders’ advised me to keep a certain hair-cut and not to wear shorts in public. The temperature was too much and I believed it to be a personal choice. Leaving religion aside, restricting the right to wear as you want infringes on personal freedom of conscience and thought.

Two months before my visit to Swat in June 2009, French president Sarkozy called the entire parliament, national assembly and senate to announce one of his grand ideas. He is known for his antiques to be honest, but this time what he had to say did not help the already polarized world we live in. He said: There is no place for the burka within the French Republic.

After much debate and hype – the law has finally been enacted in France. Some say now the Taliban and France have one thing in common; they both force women to dress a certain way. Not to mention the French Republic is now compared to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For Sarkozy and his government, the veil is dangerous and illegal. For certain Muslim communities, the veil is essential. Political commentators consider it ‘veiled’ agenda of the French ruling government. Women wearing veil over their faces would be asked to uncover their faces. If they refuse to co-operate, they can be fined €150.

Activists both pro and anti-niqab ban law devised new ways to make their voices heard. Activism saw its new form when video two women wearing the niqab with mini-shorts and high heels, wandering in the streets of Paris came on Youtube. The video went viral.
These anti-ban activists called themselves Niqabitch(es). I had been in touch with them since last year and got hold of them again regarding the ban.

Both of the women are in their early twenties, and one of them is a Muslim. Though, none was really affected by the law but they still felt the need to voice out their concern, in a rather unusual way.

To wear a simple burqa would have been too easy, too simple. So we asked ourselves: how would the authorities react to women who were wearing a burqa and a pair of hotpants?- they say on why they chose to protest in such a manner.

Fearing an onslaught from Muslims they had already cleared their position on the matter: We didn’t intend to attack or insult the feelings of orthodox Muslims – to each their own. Rather, we wanted to challenge the elected officials of the Republic who supported the passing of a law that’s believed to be largely unconstitutional. And finally, isn’t it better to have a laugh while making a statement?

Sarkozy might be playing his cards for the next elections. But it might back fire on and he can lose 6 million Muslim voters — and many more from those who despise the law.
Across Europe there is a new wave of anti-Islamic sentiment, from the banning of minarets in Switzerland to the niqab ban in France. The move might have been more political than religious but it surely serves to add a chapter in a local conspiracy theorists notebook.

Niqabitch(es) were kind enough to answer a few questions of mine.

I asked them, now that that burqa ban law has been enacted, do you have any plans to take your innovative activism further?
NB: We are happy that the word was spread and if we maybe raised awareness on the situation in France; but for now we haven’t planned anything in particular ! We said what we had to say in our own way and if we find more relevant things to do, who knows 😉 !
SAAZ: Did you receive any threats from radical Muslims, against the name you use, etc?

NB: We did get death threats from all kinds of radical people, not only muslims. Those who do not want to see people mingle. Sometimes it was very surprising, for example hardcore feminists attacked us for wearing hot pants and shaving our legs, or islamophobes who think we are promoting the Chariah.
As for the name, we explained that “bitch” was not an insulting word to us, we call each other like that, it’s the new way to say “sister” 🙂 But indeed, some people got offended. We can’t make everyone happy ! Like the song on the video says, ‘If you don’t like it, then hey : Fuck you.’
SAAZ: Do you think this law would backfire on Sarkozy? Was it ‘veiled’ agenda for next elections?

NB: We are not political analysts, but from what we can see : It is easy to use hatred in politics, and to target immigrant populations in times of economic crisis, and Sarkozy understood that very well. Problem is, most of the 5 million musilms in France are french citizens. WTF !
SAAZ: How do you feel about France, now having laws that ask women to dress in a certain way, is being compared to Iran and Saudi Arabia?

NQ: There’s no uniform yet, but it is not the role of a democratic government to tell citizens how they should dress. In a small italian town they want to forbid miniskirts.  Today they’re forbidding niqabs, but what if tomorrow they suddenly realize that they don’t like hoodies or skirts anymore ? Seriously this is getting ridiculous.


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Thanks to @evo3X3 for making tonight, a journey. The conversation started with Amir Khusrow’s rendition of Mann Kunto Maula [devotional kalaam to the father of Sufism, Hazrat Ali *]. What started with Man kunto Maula, Fa Ali-un Maula, Dara dil-e dara dil-e dar-e daani, Hum tum tanana nana, Nana nana ray, Yalali yalali yala, Yala yala ray… ends with  yeh toh apna apna hai hosla, yeh toh apni apni udaan hai…

The great Khan himself. The majestic Amir Khusrow  — the flight, the ecstacy, the trance and the pangs of separation. On 11th April, 2011 — when words ceased to have meaning.

Nami Daanam Chi Manzil from Tasawwuf on Vimeo.

Nami danam chi manzil bood shab jaay ki man boodam;
Baharsu raqs-e bismil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.
Pari paikar nigaar-e sarw qadde laala rukhsare;
Sarapa aafat-e dil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.
Khuda khud meer-e majlis bood andar laamakan Khusrau;
Muhammad shamm-e mehfil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.

English Translation.

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,
All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love,
tossing about in agony.
There was a nymph-like beloved with cypress-like form
and tulip-like face,
Ruthlessly playing havoc with the hearts of the lovers.
God himself was the master of ceremonies in that heavenly court,
oh Khusrau, where (the face of) the Prophet too was shedding light
like a candle.

Nusrat added some verses himself, which serve to salt the wounds.
Had e La fakaan say guzar gaya
Had e La makaan say guzar gaya
Teri Justuju Mein Khabar Nahin
Mein Kahan Kahan se Guzar Gaya
Yeh Apna Apna Hai Hosla
Yeh to Apni Apni Uraan hai
Koi Urh keh Reh Gaya Bam Tak
Koi Kehkashan se Guzar Gaya

Nami Daanam Chi Manzil
Nami Daanam Chi Manzil

Shab e hijr hans key guzaar li / Gham e ishq dil say laga lia ; Meray jazb e shouq ki dad day / mayn har imtehaan say guzar gaya!

Woh Maqaam Dair-o-haram Baney
Waheen Sab ki Gardanein Kham Hui
Waheen sar ka Sajda Hui Jabeen
Tu Jahan Jahan se Guzar Gaya

Manzil pay puhanch key bhi ura ata houn manzil say..

fikr e manzil na hosh e jata e manzil mujhay
Ja raha houn jiss taraf lay ja raha hai dil mujhay

Kisi say meri manzil ka pata paya nahi jata
Jahan may houn wahan farishton say jaya nahi jata

Abhi to asli Manzil pana baqi Hai
Abhi to irado ka imtihaan baqi Hai
Abhi to toli muthi bar zamin
Abhi tolna asman baqi hai.


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First published in The Islamabad Dateline (3rd April, 2011)

If music be the food of love, play on. 
— William Shakespeare

Music is an integral part of human life. Known as food for soul this art form penetrates social and cultural lives of humans to a great extent.

Whether used as a mean of entertainment or an anthem for uniting under a social, cultural or political cause, music plays an essential role in our daily lives. Ayerman and Jamison, in Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Tradition in the Twentieth Century (1998) talk about the effect music had on social and political movements across the world.

They draw a conclusion that ‘protest songs gain power through their appropriation of tunes that are bearers of strong cultural traditions’. They recognize that music can be a vital force in preparing the emergence of a new movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the freedom songs this way: “They invigorate the movement in a most significant way…these freedom songs serve to give unity to a movement” 

In the USA, the 19th-century music dealt for the most part, with three key issues: The American civil war with songs such as Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye from Ireland, and its American variant, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again finding popularity in masses; The abolition of slavery with Song of the Abolitionist and No More Auction Block for Me among others and women’s right to vote.

The dawn of 20th century with the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the war in Vietnam all inspired great music.

Music seemed like an outlet for black musicians who protested against racial discrimination, such as Louis Armstrong’s What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue in 1929.

It was also during this period that many African American blues singers were beginning to make their voices across America through their music.

This eventually led to birth of rap-music in the 1980s with bands like Grandmaster Flash, Boogie Down Productions with their famous Stop the Violence, N.W.A and Public Enemy with their hit Fight the Power and later Tupac Shakur who fervidly protested the discrimination and poverty which the black community faced in America.

In 1988 the Stop the Violence Movement was formed by rapper KRS-One in response to violence in the hip hop and black communities.

Every era gave birth to a genre. Blues, hardcore rap and then in 1990’s the hardcore rock with bands like Rage Against the Machine using music as a tool for social activism.

Not only in the Western world, even in Palestine music is used to voice out against injustice. One suchsong is Biladi, Biladi which has become the unofficial Palestinian national anthem. Chinese-Korean Cui Jian’s 1986 song Nothing to My Name was popular with protesters in Tiananmen Square

Pakistan too has a rich history in music. Sufis used music and poetry to speak against tyrants and rigid interpretation of religion for centuries.

Inspirational songs of Madam Nur Jahan like Aye Puttar Hattan Day Nae Wikday during 1965 war and Iqbal Bano’s Hum Dekhayn Gayn are sung by all and sundry.

In contemporary times, we have had artists united against extremism in Yeh Hum Naheen and Laal band using Habib Jalib’s rebellious poetry as a tool to inspire youth.

Laal’s rendition of Aitezaz Ahsan’s Kal Aaj aur Kal became the anthem of lawyer’s movement which eventually ousted the dictator Musharraf and reinstated judiciary.

Atif Aslam with his Ab Khud Kuch Karna Paray Ga and Shehzad Roy’s pinching numbers are also popular in youth.

I grew up listening to Bob Marley, Lennon and Tupac Shakur and I believe their art made me the person that I am today. Our rich folklore and its music is anti-dote to the venom of extremism which has been used as one in highly polarized societies quite successfully.

Music in television, radio, cinema, mobile phones and internet has become an indispensable commodity. It helps each one of us find our social niche, uniting us with those who share similar interests. It also documents the history of social and cultural changes in society and its evolution.

Sadly, we our educational curricula does not pay high accolade to this art form. It is high time the stakeholders of our educational system realize the importance of music and give it the attention and space it deserves.

 My music fights against the system that teaches to live and die. — Bob Marley

 Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer by force, an activist by mind, a wanderer by soul and lover by heart.


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