Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why is Elitist Such a Bad Word?

Elite schools, elite surgeons, elite forces, elite revolutionary corps.

Each has its place.

Even in our younger, Chan-Board days, L33T or L337-speak stood opposite to it's denigrated opposite, n00b. Elite was, and should be considered good, and definitely useful.

The best defence of being above average, or even in a level all to oneself, i.e, elite, is the short story I read, Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut.

Mind you this was written in 1961, 16 years after World War II, a time when the largest economy of the world (the US), the largest landmass (the USSR) and the largest population (China) were locked into rigid systems of conformity. The latter two (the USSR & China) existed beyond mere conformity, into the totalitarianism of Communism and Maoism.

In such a world, Kurt Vonnegut penned a tale, telling the story about a boy, his love, and his desire to show boat his talent a little bit. With tragic-comic results.

But that was the more dangerous, colder, potentially more apocalyptic world of 1961.

In today’s world, the Randians of Atlas Shrugged’s fame have taken things a little too far and channeling various resentments have pushed back the welfare state so far, it’s anemic, been relieved at the post-Soviet dismantling of the Communist era social support structure and gleefully joined hand with the descendants of “Maoism” to wreck havoc on China’s environment and voiceless labour force.

This isn’t individual elitism; this is systematic exploitation. There is a difference.

And Mr Kurt Vonnegut Jr. spoke out against the depredation of the state systems against the global ecology, till the bitter end of his life.

Elite work is alright. Exploitation, never so.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

After 2013, Shorter Election Cycles

It’s been some summer. In Pakistan’s tumultuous history, summer seasons are not known for being incredibly politically decisive. It’s just too hot. And a bad time to march outside. But regardless of that, we’ve seen power riots, bombings, cross border terrorist attacks and an uptick in the murder of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. The horrible monoculture of corrupted, semi-anarchic violence, mixed with high 21st century personal weapons and communications technology we’ve been familiar with in Karachi has spread throughout the periphery of the country. FATA, Balochistan, and to an extent, Gilgit Baltistan, places where there just isn’t enough money to buy protection the way Punjab and parts of Sindh and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa can afford, have been abandoned to a vacuum of militant violence by the establishment, the military, much of the political class, and to a great deal, the ideological hotshots of the Pakistani private consumer media.

This though, has been a difference in degree of violence, we crossed the qualitative rubicon way back in 2005-2007. Back at the ranch in Islamabad, we have seen the real action, the true qualitative “change” happen, where a clash of institutions dislodged the Prime Minister from his elected seat, in the hopes of sending president Asif Ali Zardari packing.

Back in 2007, when everybody joined for a movement to restore the Chief Justice, besides democracy, one principle that was being fought for, was to restore some balance to the equilibrium of institutions that dominate Pakistan at the federal level. In 2007, the parliament was shot through with rigging charges, and was supine at the feet of General Musharraf’s military dictatorship. He was from the Pakistan military, and so that institution held the commanding position within his personalised political set-up. And to kick out the Chief, Chaudhry Iftikhar, Pervez Musharraf’s paranoid intent was to render the Supreme Court supine in front of him.

Fast forward through the Chief’s restoration movement, Benazir’s murder, the unrigged election of a free-er parliament in 2008, forcing Musharraf’s resignation, the election of a President Zardari, the Chief being restored a second time and a couple of wars to take back some districts and here we are, a re-invigorated Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, in the pursuit of having Zardari tried for some old cases, declaring the elected (and now former) Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gillani in contempt of court for not writing a letter to the Swiss Courts to open a case against President Zardari. President Zardari, whose reputation for corruption has preceded him, is however the sitting head of state and does have immunity from prosecution.

The Supreme Court, having claimed one elected Chief Executive’s scalp at the altar of “Rule Of Law”, has let up for now. Despite the provocative appointment of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf at whose feet the power crisis can be laid as, as Prime Minister, a reticience has come in to kick out another Prime Minister. The court is not falling for the very clear desire it still has to kick out Raja Pervaiz, even though there is a strong lobby for it. Possibly because of the larger distaste in the electorate, and the reaction building up in PPP circles.

There is however a buildup of massive amounts of tension in the system. The case against a member of Chaudhry Iftikhar’s own family is a part of that increasing build up of tension. We do not know which part of the Pakistani right wing, the army high command, the PPP high command or the intelligence apparatus motivated the shady real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, to reveal the allegged corruption of Chaudhry Iftikhar’s son. This put a man like Chaudhry Iftikhar, who’s position in the Supreme Court has usurped some executive authority to take some decisive action. To take down Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani’s elected seat was a desperate move in its own manner.

Considering that 30,000+ Pakistanis have died in terrorist attacks in the Zardari-Kayani era, responsibility falls on those who control the levers of power in Pakistan to prevent tension from building up in the political system. Earlier elections after 2013 would aid that.

The right wing, in its senile desperation is turning partially suicidal. And with multiple commercial media avenues open to them, compounded with this government’s governance deficit, they can persuade enough people to oppose the government to create instability. Within this instability, many ordinary non-political people fall collateral damage to death or the loss of their livelihood (a slower death).

Rather than have them mercilessly explode and throw government partisans at the problem, suicidal partisans ready to die, and ready to let innocents around them die, openings must be created to allow some new talent to cycle in, and political frustration to cycle out. This can best be accomplished in the form of shorter election cycles, and an expansion of elections to the local level.
The People and The Power
Source: Feica

The need for more regular elections can be argued in Pakistan even more significantly if we take into account the structure itself of the Pakistani democratic set-up, where it is derived from, and the most visibly significant cases of its application.

Pakistan’s own system of governance is derived from the British Parliamentary system. Our particular exigencies are created by Pakistan’s politicians and the state institutions that oppose them not having incredibly spotless reputations.

In the British system, or if we use its official name, the Westminster System, elections are held every five years, with the obvious method of bringing down a government through a vote of no-confidence. However, the British are not troubled with multiple armed fractious ethnic or sectarian factions, nor are they on a kind of hair trigger nuclear alert with a next door neighbour. Pakistan has all that. The British also tamed their privileged anti-democratic state institution, the monarchy, long ago from interfering in the democratic process, whilst Pakistan’s privileged anti-democratic state institution, the military, still has the capacity to harass the elected set-up. Under these circumstances, taking the political temperature of the public at a more regular interval, if nothing else, but to shore up the civilian and elected side of things, seems useful in keeping extra-parliamentary forces, which are very alive and kicking, at bay.
This is a practical and useful idea. The United States has elections after every two years and that helps clear the air very quickly. I am referencing tangentially at the massive amount of anger that the Zardari government faces, to the point where it destabilises government and creates a gridlock in even starting governance in the face of multiple tragedies. I'm not advocating elections now, when the first elected government since a nine year long dictatorship was bought to an end, has not even completed it’s mandated tenure. I would recommend changing the length of the mandate.

But seriously, in a country like Pakistan, with its fast changing political landscape, and a country where much needs to be changed, five years is a little long between elections. Maybe not five years, but four years would certainly be a more appropriate length of time, after which an election could be held. It could be considered that after 2013, the next elections be held in 2017, rather than 2018, maybe as an experiment.

As a comparison, one could consider the election cycle of the US or India, two democracies Pakistan has to deal with on a regular basis. India has elections every five years, but these are spread out over a month and are a logistical exercise of mammoth proportions. The United States has elections every two years and these elections always politically clear the air pretty fast, and point the way the wind blows amongst the domestic populace. In the last 6 years, three elections have been held, in 2006, 2008 and 2010, in which the population has swung drastically in a different directions every time, from in 2006, throwing the Republican majority out, to then throwing the Republican presidential election candidate under the bus in the face of an economic meltdown, to then revoking that Democratic majority in the lower house of Congress. These wild changes could be attributed to the massive change in desire amongst the American populace, in reaction to Republican mishandling of the government (2006), and possible foreboding for the economic collapse, on to a reaction against the economic collapse (2008). This was followed by what was perceived as regulatory capture (the massive bailouts, and the in-some-quarters resented compulsion to buy health care aka Obamacare) and a reaction against it in the form of Tea Party victories in 2010. The Tea Party victories were compounded by the discouragement of the Democratic base in 2010, because they felt that President Barack Obama did not go far enough in trying to alleviate the worst effects of the 2008 economic crash.

Pakistani democracy needs to be strengthened. And the only way to do that is to take the electorate's political temperature more regularly, so that the public's opinion becomes the ad-hoc gauge for political power. A shorter election cycle will allow us to do that.

Rest In Peace Mr Gore Vidal

A master of the universe, a titan of literature, a bon vivant, a raconteur, witty conversationalist, verbal bomb thrower and a dissident never losing sight of the humour his adversaries presented to him; these are some of the phrases that come to mind when describing Gore Vidal.

An openly gay, upper crust American, Mr Vidal was a noted dissident in the last years of the Bush administration, coining the phrase "the United States of Alzheimer's" to describe the way the United States allowed itself to forget historical lessons. Gore Vidal was openly gay in a time when it was quite scandalous to be so, but the man had a regal air about him that let him get away with saying and supporting things that ordinary men and women could not do so.

This obviously had to do with his privileged upbringing amongst the American elite. His grandfather was a US Senator, Gore grew up around Washington DC, and during his grandfather's tenure, when the senator was blind, Gore Vidal as a child would act as his aide around the US Capitol.

I was first introduced to Mr Vidal and his strident opposition to Bush era policies in the editorial pages of Harpers magazine. Mr Vidal was referenced widely for his insight into the more arcane traditions of American governance echoed by the Bush administration, where a privileged group of overgrown man-children, in the guise of President Bush and his cabal, were running the most powerful country in the world like it was a family owned factory. As opposed to being the beacon of democracy that it touted itself as.

Mr Vidal had a Roman and patrician air about him, a high imperialism, that sought to maintain a peace or more accurately, a balance of power in the world. This was contrasted by the chaos that the Bush clique set off in and around Iraq, in Lebanon, their slow motion disaster in Afghanistan and the drumbeat to a near war with Iran in the mid-2000's. In contrast to this, Vidal came of as an American patriot who wished to maintain American strength by not squandering it in wars, letting the inertia of America's pre-9/11 example work itself. This model of American regeneration still resonated amongst American liberal 2007-2008 when I learnt more of this man. The economic collapse in 2008 put paid to any ideas of returning to a pre-9/11 world and the election of a half-black man as the president of the United States re-defined what it meant to be an American nationalist.

Mr Vidal's evocation of the Roman Empire was sympatico with his literary career in which he had written historical novels, using pre-World War II America and the Roman Empire as settings.

Mr Vidal's self confidence, in the face of his deeply diverging views with the American mainstream could be seen even in his youth, in the years immediately after World War II. He wrote a book in which the protagonist was not only a homosexual youth coming to term with his gayness, but unlike the prevalent moralising against homosexuality, Mr Vidal did not kill off his protagonist to indicate that homosexuality is a sin.

The late and controversial Christopher Hitchens wished at times that he was considered Mr Vidal's heir. Christopher Hitchens opposed Gore Vidal quite strenuously after the latter had made it clear that he knew of this and did not approve of it. There is also something to be said of Christopher Hitchens, the younger man dying much earlier than Mr Vidal.

Mr Vidal had a sharp mind, wit and an encyclopediac knowledge of American politics and history, a fact that he amply demonstrated in his novels.

However, it was obvious that politics, beyond literature was his true passion. In the late '90's and 2000's Gore Vidal, Noam Chimsky and Howard Zinn formed a sort of dissident, anti-imperialist, academic triumvirate against the dominant narrative relevant in America till the economic collapse of 2008. They constantly shot at the image America projected of itself as a nice and caring place. After the United States saw its economy collapse in 2008, this narrative has lost place amongst the young.

Mr Vidal was there long before the housing crisis, the many wars of this generation, and the faux-righteous of a preceding generation.

Mr Vidal said never give up a chance to either have sex or appear on television. Considering how the television genie is well and truly out of the bottle in Pakistan, observing the studied contempt with which Gore Vidal used and treated this vacuous medium is something we could easily learn from. To commemorate him, I have found the best clip possible to sum up Mr Vidal in his own words, which spliced in his famous verbal dust-up with conservative critic William F. Buckley.

Even in this last epoch of his life, the Obama era, he remained sharp as ever. Enough of my words, here's the man himself. Mr Gore Vidal will have the last word.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Creator of the Universe

The discovery of the Higgs Boson is possibly one of the most upbeat and uplifting stories of the entire year. This was a collective human endeavour of intellect and resources, all forged across international lines to peel back the very fabric of reality itself and discover the field that gives every particle its respective quantity of mass.

The Higgs field is one story in itself, and its discovery another. The Higgs Boson is a sub-atomic particle called a Boson, that is a part of the Higgs field, which is emitted when two subatomic particles (likely protons) are smashed together in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The subatomic particles are smashed together by sending them at, or near, the speed of light, in the freezing vacuum of the LHC tube. This witnesses a reaction in the collision, that excites the Higgs Field enough to emit the Higgs Boson.

The discovery of the Higgs Field confirms the last bit of evidence needed to verify the standard model of the universe, a model which classified the most basic particles out of which all matter, e.g. nuclei, atoms, molecules, us, our food, our houses, every bit of matter in the universe, is made of.

The existence of the Higgs Field allows all matter to have mass, depending on the extent of how deeply it bends (I’m using a simplistic term here) the field. Many of you may know what a photon is. The photon is the particle that carries light. You also know what the electron is, the negatively charged particle in the atom, the movement of which through metal wires, carries electricity.

Both electrons and photons are classified as basic particles under the standard model of physics. But electrons have mass whereas the light carrier, photons’ zero mass allows it to travel at, well, the speed of light. Despite being in the same neighbourhood of volume (which is approximately, nil) the electron has some mass, whilst the photon has none. This, as I earlier said, has to do with the interaction of the electron with the Higgs Field, and the Photon’s total lack of interaction with the Field itself. This ought to demonstrate the significance of the Higgs Field. The existence of the Field, and the lack of interaction with it explain why the photon has no mass, whilst the electron, which interacts with the Higgs field, has a minute quantity of mass.

Now involved in the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the act of smashing together protons and various sub-atomic particles is the story of the great and good Large Hadron Collider.

The Large Hadron Collider is an awesome piece of technology. This super-frozen miles long vacuum tunnel is actually the largest human thing ever built.

Where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) presents us with a lesson in organising society though, is how the LHC itself is a large scientific project brought together by various first world governments, the European Union top amongst them. People, worked together, decided that this was a scientific endeavour worth pursuing, and put up the requisite political, economic, human capital and scientific resources to carry it through. In the Large Hadron Collider they paid and had built, the largest particle accelerator in the world to aid scientific discovery and push the frontiers of scientific knowledge. And the LHC has done so, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

With the sort of funding and administrative development the Large Hadron Collider had it makes one happy to see it as a symbol of a political decision, taken by various democratically elected representative bodies to dedicate resources to advance the frontiers of science. The Large Hadron Collider and its construction were also a triumph of internationalism as many countries across the European Union and the developed world paid for its construction and upkeep, whilst scientists from across the globe worked at the CERN campus, which itself straddles the Franco-Swiss border.

The discovery of the Higgs Boson in a manner like this, with industrial scale government involvement in the funding and delivery of a major scientific breakthrough, finds an apt analogy in the Manhattan Project that delivered, the United States, the nuclear bomb. Except this time, instead of a weapon, all these government resources were sunk into the construction of a device to advance human knowledge and even teach the world something that could spur economic advancement.

The Higgs Field that has been discovered, by this endeavour of human science, politics and economy has pulled back the fabric of reality and revealed the field, without which all particles in the universe would just be beams of light particles, shooting every which way at the speed of light. We now know, or should I say, have physical proof, of why the phenomenon of mass exists.

Who knows, if we could stop a particle from interacting with the Higgs field, if we could control its interaction with the Higgs field by either stopping and re-starting it, we could possibly have travel at the speed of light within human grasp.

This, is for a better, more hopeful future; and the wonderful places it can take us.

Postscript: I remember when the Large Hadron Collider was initially about to begin operation, there were oppositions on the basis that it might create a black hole that would swallow the world whole. I kept in mind the absolute worst of the naysayers and how these losers, and I'm sorry but there is no other word to describe these macroscopic griping idiots, objected to the LHC on the basis of cost. When so much has gone wrong in between the years 2008 and 2012, the discovery of the Higgs Boson is a vindication for optimism. And as a parting gift, here is Mr Irfan Hussain's column from June 2008 that gave me much of initial information back then, on CERN's search for the Higgs Boson and the construction of the Large Hadron Collider:

A Voyage Into Inner Space
Creator of the Universe by Stephane Peray

Friday, June 22, 2012

"On This Black Day"

For some reason this one song kept coming back into my mind all of yesterday and even today. It's Na Cherni Din' by a post-Soviet folk punk rocker called Yanka Dyagileva. She was from Siberia and died of a strange suicide by drowning at the age of 24.
My preferred song from her is a 70 second ditty called Печаль моя светла. If anyone can translate that properly, I'll be amazed and impressed. But for now, with the strange events of the last few days, with a Prime Minister of a country where PM's get kicked out, sometimes violently before their tenures end, Na Cherniy Din', seemed to be apt.
The song starts with an upbeat guitar intro, before kicking into some defiant angry lyrics by my favorite Siberian Punk rocker. I had no idea why I was listening to this Russian song so often, so I decided to google the translation of the lyrics. And I find that "Na Cherni Din'" means "This Black Day". How apt. The word "Din" sounds similar to the Urdu word for day (pronounced D'in). So angrily singing about a day, with a guitar blazing with joy in the background? Intriguement.

Here's a translation of the lyrics I cleaned up a bit, and my, comin from the bubblegum world of Pakistani pop, they are bleak. But you know another trait this Siberian Russian Folk Punk girl had? They were defiant against the darkness.

Na Cherniy Den' (On This Black Day)

On this black day, came a tired dance of drunken eyes and pierced arms
The second one fell, the third one sat, the eighth one was taken to the circle
Onto the wires, out of the wheels and to the three letters from under the pavement
Into the calm deep pool of a hot head
Cold sweat running out in circles

A steel horse, protecting color, carved caterpillar band in the raw
An attraction for the newbies – the horses were floating in circles
A clockwork kaleidoscope is rattling with curved mirrors
The wheel is spinning faster
Through sounds of march, off with the head

The moth has eaten a colored shawl, the cards show 3 and 7
A bull whisking away the flies with its tail, with a hard heart is coming up the hill
Billiard balls have collided
And went apart onto both sides
And to the corners of spaciousness

Behind the shattered shop windows – torn parts of holidays costumes
Under the hobs of sledge – the living flesh of somebody else's plans
Under the counter the parrot is taking tickets out of the hat
To the tram, to the nearest bridge
To the helicopter without windows and doors
To the calm deep pool of the hot head
The wheel is spinning faster


Monday, May 21, 2012

When King of Self Inspired

I'm going through my old stuff, clearing things out, when I came across a CD. I put it into my computer to see what comes up, and it turns out this was one of the first CD's I ever burned when I got my own computer. This was a presentation I made for a student government group I was a part of. We had to make an "inspirational" video, and coming fresh out of Pakistan (but making sure I didn't look too fresh of the boat) I made a presentation incorporating one of my earliest, and true loves, Modern Pakistani Music.

But these weren't Pakistanis.

I needed a familiar hook. Enter a rap song. Specifically, the intro to a cartoon I loved known as "The Boondocks".

This, with it's lyrics, was my "inspiration".

I just used the audio, but way back in the ultra reactionary days of 2005-2006, when the groundswell was really building for the liberal backlash, warmed over leftist rhetoric & imagery from three decades back, garnished with a tussle with gangsta rap was the most "militant" that resistance went to the reigning conservative "consensus".

It took the inflation and collapse of the real estate bubble to bring this resistance to the surface.

But I digress. Here is the powerpoint presentation that came with this.

And finally, my Pièce de Résistance, my stake at Pakistaniat in front of the vilayiti crowd, my group identity, pride and inspiration: King Of Self.

My audience was a little non-plussed. Maybe because artistic integrity is not a new concept in the Vilayat. I was just glad to get "my" turn at doing something "inspirational" out of the way. I at least burned a CD full of stuff I cared about. I remember a girl once, in one of these sessions, showed Napoleon Dynamite's weird dance scene. Her message was, I think, don't be afraid to be unique.

Now there's Coke Studio. Back then, there was a dearth of art or media, aside from news, with overt messages. Sajid and Zeeshan's King of Self, stepping away from the Indus Music Nursery and stressing on personal and artistic integrity, was a bit of a relief. It demonstrated that conscience could mix with integrity. Of course that stab at conscience did go awry with a few acts.

The new season of Coke Studio has begun. The first episode was as usual excellent. Pakistani music and art don't need validation. They've stood on their own two feet and stared down some precipitous odds.

A few months after I made this presentation, Musharraf called Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in to ask for his resignation. He refused and the rest has been shipping container loads of history since then.

This was accompanied by an explosion of arts in Pakistan. Along with explosions of another kind.

I can now throw that CD away in good conscience.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Osama Bin Ladin's Murder - One Year Later

Ted Rall captured the absurdity of it all in one fell swoop. Osama Bin Ladin should've been physically captured and bought to justice like the Nazi's were at Nuremberg. His crimes spanned countries and destroyed lives across multiple nations.

Nuremberg, or an equivalent at the Hague World Court, not a "He flinched so I killed him" like some crackhead. Osama Bin Ladin was worse than a crackhead, he was a war criminal, and he should've been held , like the War Criminals of today (Charles Taylor, Milosevic) to account for his crimes.

And finally, the late date of the assault to capture him, is an indication of how far, to an extent the war Al Qaeda provoked in Afghanistan succeeded. The United States did suffer an economic collapse, and entered one of the greatest recessions in it's industrial history. It was only fast work in late 2008 that prevented a full on depression, and just gave the US the Great Recession.

And in the midst of great public suffering, one crime against the American people was avenged in Abbotabad.

Now, when there has to be a full accounting of why the Pakistanis let Osama Bin Ladin be so deep in their country, the commission on that man being there, cannot be allowed to dissipate into fog.

The secretive military structure of Pakistan, has to become more responsive to it's democratic political structure.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Observations at the Karachi Marriott

I was in Karachi just before New Year's Eve and I wrote this piece as an experiment, to see what I could write, after arriving in a city I had been away from for a long period.

When I recently arrived for a break from studies abroad, a group of us decided we should eat out. Since one of our number just had her birthday, days before I arrived, it was decided that a suitable place needed to be found. The decision was made to choose the Marriott, a place with many wonderful memories. From milky Rooh Afza iftars, to a bookstore that monthly would stock my childhood library for a few years, the Marriott seemed like a nice place.

And so we drove there under the darkening evening to a place we considered we knew. As the barriers approached, it seemed like a usual enough sight, but the twists and turns once we crossed the crash beam barrier were a minor adventure all to themselves. We went through one lane, twisted in a u-turn and then entered the parking lot. All the while we passed over at least three speed bumps, saw the car checked by a sniffer dog at the lesser barrier, merely a rope strung between two ends of the lane, themselves bordered by blast walls. It was interesting.

Parking the car, we got out and walked towards what was clearly an outer security room. The X-ray machine into which people had to drop their purses, briefcases, handbags, was worthy of any international airport. Passing through the metal detector, I was fortunate enough to not set it off and was spared a wave with the wand. Our audience with this semi-effective show of security theatre complete, we were cleared to walk the rest of the way to Marriott. That was at least a pleasant experience, a return to the Marriott of half a decade ago; when I had been under order to go to a seminar chaired, by a person who I think was a closet ex-Jihadi. This time the run in with religion in the interior of the Marriott was even stranger. There were two ladies standing as greeters. One was a lady in a respectable pantsuit, and I must commend Pakistan, or at least its major cities for now tolerating adult women who may wish to wear jeans. I guess a country’s beating hand can only harm so many women before it tires out. The other lady was a display of corporate religious confusion. Like a caricature from Arabian Nights, she had a hijab on that tightly covered her ears and hair, leaving her face and neck uncovered, which I think goes against Muslim regulations, since she didn’t have a chador wrapped on. However from the waist down she had a flowing smock in peach and the colours of the rainbow draped on. It looked like something a Hollywood costumer would dream up for a female character on 1001 Arabian Nights, crossed with whatever monstrosity a repressive Gulf Monarchy would toss out trying to look “modest but modern”.

It wasn’t the religious and clothing disaster, but rather the display of confused religious appeasement by the Marriott that looked strange to me. Here was a hotel that had instituted a minor labyrinth of security procedures that its customers had to enter, and simultaneously to protect the Marriott from attack by religious madmen, had one of its most famous branches attacked and destroyed by religious lunatics, and if we weren’t all used to so much security theatre by now, we would find the experience degrading. Yet to go to such lengths of behaviour to find one normal lady greeter, and one dressed to “appease” what should be clear by now is a bottomless pit of religious demands, is breathtaking as a corporate policy. I guess it shouldn’t surprise us that a literal bastion of the Pakistani elite, which has constituted fortress style defences to keep an enemy out, would still throw sops to that enemy in a confused attempt to maybe ideologically buy it off. Whilst protecting oneself from religious madmen, why not at least try not to care what they think about you, since they do seem determined to bump your hotel and its staff off.

After observing this weird display of confused religiosity at the door, the rest of the Marriott thankfully looked the same as I had seen it in the past two decades.

There was the usual reception area and its restaurant, with the lobby musician singing quite sweetly to the crowd. We passed by the bookstore, which was closed since it was after its hours. We walked to the restaurant, were seated and served. One must commend the waiters for their attentiveness to the guests and the food was scrumptious. One cannot be as effusive about some of the guests, as one particular gentleman on his phone seemed to loudly want the entire restaurant to know that he was making a VERY IMPORTANT deal. A teenage couple seemed to be sitting quite bored at their separate seats, obviously there unaccompanied, making one wish that I had the resources and initiative to take a date as a teenager to the Karachi Marriott.

We had our dinner, paid and headed for the exit, stopping for a group photo in the lobby. At that time we saw entering the building, one more display of weird religiosity. With a white flowing gown, a head covered with a hijab so tightly you could bounce a coin of it, and arms and chest covered tightly in bright white cloth. With the flowing gown nearly a cape, she looked like a villain from the later Thundercats. So there was good reason for the Marriott to appeal to the religiously confused segment of the elite.

This whole cycle of supply and demand of religious pretension, especially amongst the Pakistani elite might be part of the problem for the baseline existence, tolerance or acquiescence to religious terror. And when I walked out of the lobby I was greeted by the sight of the huge mosque that stands in front of the Marriott. The black comedy of its placement was darkly ironic. Definitely that outsize and very obvious mosque had been put up as some sort of sop or appeasement to religious irrationalism. Fat lot of good that did the Marriott people with their Islamabad branch destroyed, their parking lot turned into a fort’s maze and even the public display of their hotel front’s Bauhaus architecture blocked.

Appeasing irrational religious urges does not seem to help much in cooling that irrationality or burning it out. It seems particularly pointless when the religious irrationality is melded to elite opinion, especially an elite that is targeted for assassination or elimination by religious revolutionary groups as stated by Al Qaeda and its fans within Pakistan. And no amount of kowtowing to religious strictures can protect someone from being a victim of terrorism if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s best to dispense with ornamental religiosity when everyone has been a target.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Adding Iblees, A Tale By A Takhalus & A Liberal Fascist Beghairat Mind

Can't fault them for original names can we? Iblees has the shortest, and of course it means Satan ;-) But Haseeb Asif has one of the funniest blogs all around; a blog that I've even compared to Salman Rushdie in his more wittier incarnations. You need to check it out.

A Tale By A Takhalus is run by a well known Pakistani Pukhtun twitter personality Takhalus. His knowledge of Pukhtunkhwa and its issues even takes Karachi exceptionalism into account, and his blog shows a willingness to teach even basic knowledge of Pukhtun issues, where it may be lacking in the readership.

Last is the now famous blogger for the Express Tribune, Syed Nadir El Edroos. Also known as Needroos, Nadir's knowledge of economics is especially relevant in his analysis of the issues that Pakistan faces and is always welcome in a journalistic world where Pakistanis, especially those on the right, seem to demonstrate either a lack of economic knowledge, or the most rudimentary understanding of it. The name's quite nice as well.