The Electoral Politics of Terrorism

In the wake of the Peshawar school massacre, the major political parties all seem to be united in their resolve against “terrorism”. But will many of these parties dissociate themselves from the banned extremist outfits and convicted terrorists they court in order to save their own hides and bolster their vote banks?

Almost all major political parties in Pakistan have been known to associate with banned extremist and militant organizations. In his book Vying for Allah’s Vote, Haroon K. Ullah talks about the JI’s association with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, Hizbul Mujahideen, and the Punjabi Taliban, for instance; or the JUI-F’s links with Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The PML-N has been criticized for frequently courting extremist organizations such as the SSP and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in order to make electoral gains. During his stint as a PTI leader, Javed Hashmi addressed a public gathering of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council in Multan in 2012 – a gathering also addressed by leaders of the JI, lawyers’ community, Jamat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees, ASWJ, JUI-F, and the PML-N –  and declared his support for Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the JuD on whom the United States had placed a $10 million bounty for his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Hashmi called Saeed a “preacher of peace” and declared that “a social worker … can never be a terrorist but all those declaring him a terrorist are the real threat to the peace of the world.” When asked in an October 2013 interview about sharing a stage with Hafiz Saeed at the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, Imran Khan responded, “If I [as a politician] talk to or share a stage with someone who’s supposed to be a violent organization, what’s wrong with that?” Continue reading The Electoral Politics of Terrorism

Army Public School, Peshawar, December 16, 2014

I’ve been meaning to write something at length, but even four days later, I am finding it a challenge to begin writing anything without the lump rising in my throat and tears blurring my vision, that merciless fist of pain strangulating my heart and soul so that I can do nothing but weep. This is what I have mostly done in the days since the Peshawar school massacre, like most people in Pakistan. Like most of us, I have never felt such abject hopelessness, such desperate grief.

As things stand, I have no faith in the will of the state of Pakistan to rid us of the monsters that it has been harbouring for decades. This is a state that does a better job protecting monsters than protecting our children. I am not convinced by the superficial words and deeds that have been flung about by the government and the army in order to appease a grieving and angry public, ever since this tragedy happened. Until the state unequivocally denounces, disarms, and dismantles every single militant and militant-leaning organization in this country – their political and charity arms included – I will not be convinced. Until every single political party openly condemns and ceases all dealings with such organizations – and make no mistake, all of them have had dealings – I will not be convinced. Until the state repeals all laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, including the blasphemy laws, anti-Ahmadi laws and Hudood Ordinances, I will not be convinced. Until the state takes steps to purge narratives of uber-nationalism and Muslim exceptionalism from not only the public education system but also the state’s own political language, I will not be convinced. Until these things begin to happen, this will remain the state that repeatedly fails to protect its children, repeatedly fails all its citizens.

Bach’s Coffee Cantata: “Cats do not give up mousing, girls remain coffee-sisters”

Image via geekyartistlibrarian on Flickr

Listening to the On Being episode “Discovering the Cosmology of Bach”, I was beyond excited to learn that Bach wrote a short comic operetta about coffee! I have no words for how much I love this! The “Coffee Cantata”, composed around 1732-1735, is about a man named Herr Schlendrian trying to get his daughter Lieschen to give up her coffee addiction. “You naughty child, you wild girl,” the father scolds, “get rid of coffee for my sake!” But if Lieschen can’t have her beloved three cups a day, she protests, she will “turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.” The back-and-forth between the two is priceless, as is Lieschen’s eventual solution to the conflict. Continue reading Bach’s Coffee Cantata: “Cats do not give up mousing, girls remain coffee-sisters”

On the enduring creepiness of (classic) clowns

bozoI don’t know if this is true for most people, but I can vividly remember the very first nightmare I ever had in my life. It was when I was four years old and it featured Bob Saget and Bozo the Clown – guess which of them was the villain. Saget, known to me only as Michelle’s dad on Full House, may have represented fatherly warmth in my dream; Bozo, on the other hand, was an unholy terror, chasing after me through the halls of a deserted children’s hospital, smiling his enormous red smile, laughing his deranged, bubbling giggle as I ran for my life. During the chase, I came upon a ward where Bob Saget sat on a kiddie stool with a storybook in his lap. Safety! I ran to him, but alas, even nice ol’ Mr. Tanner couldn’t save me now – the clown found us. I’ll spare you the disturbing details, but in a nutshell, I was eaten alive by a big, bouncy, happy-faced creature – and it was laughing gleefully all the while. I woke up screaming. Continue reading On the enduring creepiness of (classic) clowns

What’s a TV drama got to do with international politics?

This post comes a bit late but, I got published at The Week last week! I wrote a piece on the uber-jarring inaccuracies in the portrayal of my hometown Islamabad on Showtime’s Emmy-winning series Homeland. A portrayal that is essentially as authentic as setting Midnight In Paris in New Orleans and having all the native Parisians played by pencil-moustached Louisianans. Of course, that’s true for a lot of television shows, even very good ones – The Good Wife comes to mind for the criticism it often receives from Chicago residents for its unrealistic depiction of their city. But Homeland‘s shoddy approximation of Islamabad is different not just because it’s a whole new level of wildly inaccurate, but is also very irresponsible, given the ugly and offensive stereotypes it helps propagate. Continue reading What’s a TV drama got to do with international politics?

“The Election” (New Jersey, 1788)

Zealous Patriots, heading rabbles,
Orators promoting squabbles;
Free Electors always swilling,
Candidates not worth a shilling;
Butchers, Farmers and Car Men,
Half Pay Officers and Chairmen;
Many Zealots, not worth noting,
Many Perjured Persons voting;
Candidates with Tradesman pissing,
Cleavers, Bagpipes, Clapping, Hissing;
Warmest Friends in Opposition,
Hostile Forces in Coalition!
Open Houses, paid to tempt the
Rotten Voters with Bellies empty;
Boxing, Drinking, Rhyming, Swearing,
Some Fools laughin, some despairing;
Fevers, Fractures, Inflammations,
Bonfires, Squibs, Illuminations;
Murd’rers daring all detection,
Pray, gentlemen, how do you like the Election?

– ‘The Election’, Federal Post (Trenton, NJ) 18 November 1788

Cited in Rapoport, David C. and Weinberg, Leonard. “Elections and Violence.” Terrorism and Political Violence, 12:3-4, 15-50. 2000.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams

In-the-Wild-Robin-Willaims-with-Dolphins-650x443The thing I always remember about Robin Williams, before his comedy, before his antics, is that he smiled with his eyes. When you’re a little kid watching Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time, the movie casts its magic over you not just because the guy in it is so funny dressed in drag, but also because he has eyes that you trust: the warm eyes of a loving father, the kindly eyes of a wise old lady – the movie just wouldn’t work otherwise. They were eyes that smiled, really smiled – I can honestly say I have not seen a pair more smiling. When Robin did a documentary for PBS called “In the Wild”, in which he played and communicated with dolphins, I thought the filmmakers couldn’t have picked a more perfect celebrity for the job. What human being can you think of who is more dolphin-like? That friendly smile, the impish giggle, the fireball of energy and lift-you-up showmanship. Continue reading Rest in Peace, Robin Williams


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