Of Changing Perceptions: From ‘Terrorists’ to ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban’

As negotiations proceed with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by means of a new committee led by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) in consultation with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman, Imran Khan, and party leadership – rather than anticipating the conclusion of these roundtables, a more imminent concern is the political legitimacy such negotiations may provide to similar militant organisations in the near and distant future.

Article 256 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan states: “no private organization capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation shall be illegal.” The dialogue process, therefore, not only sets a questionable precedent but also raises serious concerns about the wider repercussions of ‘legitimising’ terrorist groups; especially within the domain of the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan, where violence can easily be justified in the name of “Islam” – take the recent example of Sawan Masih, a Christian, being sentenced to death for blasphemy in the Joseph Colony case.

In a state where the “Islam” card can trump all, even the sanctity of human life – such dialogues could potentially reinforce the already prevalent extremist mindset in Pakistan, thus ‘legitimising’ terrorist groups, their goals and even their violent means. Additionally, the ruling government runs the risk of weakening the fabric of democracy through such negotiations with the TTP – democracy being in its nascent form in Pakistan (Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) having completed its five-year democratic tenure for the first time in the history of Pakistan).

Likewise, whether intentional or unintentional, recently there has been a notable shift in the naming conventions for TTP in the mainstream and social media in Pakistan from ‘terrorist’ group to “TTP”. This, however, maybe a deliberate effort by the government in order to promote the peace dialogues, as we come to terms with the politics of naming groups as ‘terrorist’ or otherwise – ‘terrorist’ designation is often an attempt to delegitimise a group in a situation where negotiation is not considered an option, whereas using alternative naming terminologies can endorse the dialogue process by opening up a forum for non-violent engagement where concerns of the involved parties can be heard.

Historically, legitimation of ‘terrorist’ groups through negotiations has at times produced favourable results – for example, in the case of Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Philippines. However, both cases involved somewhat “nationalistic” conflicts where a compromise could be reached. If we disregard the naivety of the statement made by the Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan, on 27 March: “TTP only want to get out of US war, not impose Shariah by force”, then there may be a strong possibility of the peace dialogues’ success.

It should also be noted that TTP is not the only militant group threatening the safety and security in Pakistan. TTP has denied involvement in recent terrorist attacks, attributing these to other terrorist groups who aim to destabilise the peace talks. While rightly pointed out by Zeeshan Salahuddin in his blog ‘Pakistan and Taliban: New Bedfellows’ that “this begs the obvious question: if the TTP cannot control and/or reprimand other groups, what is the point of negotiating with them?” – the peace talks, however, may be a first step towards dismantling the terrorist network in Pakistan.

Even amidst the peace negotiations, the core issue still remains: how do we negotiate with an average Pakistanis’ fanatic mindset that gains legitimacy from the objectives resolution and the constitution of Pakistan.

Sana Hameed Baba


"For those watching “Zindagi Gulzar Hai”, it is a series far better than “Humsafar”. The drama is based on Umera Ahmed’s novel “Kya Zindagi Waqayi Gulzar Hai?” that is a story about the daily diaries of two polar opposites, Kashaf and Zaroon, who are first tied in the bond of hate, then love and finally matrimony.

At first the meeting of Kashaf and Zaroon seems like a Pakistani adaptation of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s first encounter from Pride & Prejudice. However, the drama touches on many social issues prevalent in Pakistan today from male chauvinism to a hierarchical class structure amongst others.

Kashaf is an average looking, lower middle class girl and the eldest daughter of an educated woman who serves as principal in a government school day in and out to raise her three daughters. The mother is an extremely patient woman with a thankful attitude towards God and no bitterness in life despite having faced hardships when her husband leaves her to marry an uneducated woman, as she is unable to born a son. With the father never financially supporting the three daughters in favour of his other family, Kashaf vows to restore her mother’s lost pride and improve their financial situation by getting scholarship in a renowned university. But Kashaf’s character is not as simplistic as this. She has waited years in hope for a better tomorrow and ultimately given up. I wouldn’t call her a pessimist but she is definitely a nihilist waiting for each day of her life to fold and unfold as nothing is ever going to change. Her dialogue is quite profound and telling of her character:

“behtar nahin ken na phool na kaante maangein, bus kache raaste pe chalna seekh lein”

“isn’t it better that we desire neither roses nor thorns, but learn to walk on a barren field”

Strangely she is neither an atheist nor agnostic but just believes God doesn’t pay attention to the struggling classes. But as they say, “Don’t eat all the Marshmallows…Yet” good things always come to those who wait.

While studying for her MBA, she meets Zaroon, her opposite, in terms of character and class. Zaroon is the son of a renowned industrialist and has never had to ask for anything in life. He has everything – looks, wealth and women – you name it. Despite this he is leading a somewhat unfulfilled life, as he seems to be in search of self-awareness and fulfilment. Zaroon is a light-hearted optimist with a strong sense of competition. His only problems in life are an elitist mother who neglects the family and a sister who seems out of sync with her expected duties towards her fiancé and family, wearing inappropriate clothes and coming home late regularly. Despite being raised in an elitist liberal family, Zaroon seems to have a conservative mindset and as the story develops we will witness how one’s better half could serve as a window to one’s fulfilment in life via reaching out to God. They’re both like ‘yin yang’ in a way.

My interest in the series is not the romantic story plot of the contrasting personalities. Instead I have been rather analytical of the subtle messages underlying which seems to be a gender bias at times and at other instances an attempt to generalise male chauvinism throughout the class structure of Pakistan. I fail to decipher if the author is actually promoting a stereotype or highlighting it so that we can eradicate it? On one hand you have a lower middle class family scenario where Kashaf’s father is opposing her education beyond bachelors and in co-education in favour of marriage to her cousin; and on the other you have Zaroon’s father challenging his daughter’s inappropriate dressing. More so, Zaroon, the brother is also seen as legitimising his right to question his sister’s late night hangouts while he himself does the same. But everything boils down to them being men and their subjects being women.

Reading into Zaroon’s sisters and mothers challenging statements to authoritative male figures in the house, in isolation of their wealth and flamboyant outlook, would seem justified in a society of equals. Oddly, as a viewer however, everything coming from Zaroon, even the male chauvinistic comments made to his sister and best friend/ potential fiancé seem like the Ten Commandments due to his looks and charm while the dumb, blonde ostentatious, elitist image of the mother, sister and best friend/potential fiancé makes everything coming out of their mouth horribly wrong to the viewers. Unfortunately, we still judge books by their covers and none of us have been able to detach ourselves from the simplistic and innocent looking Cinderella image. Thanks to Disney. I found it rather strange how even I have been able to justify Zaroon’s evident male chauvinism. In a contrast, we will witness the viewers empathising and sympathising with Kashaf’s demand for independence, perhaps because she is conservatively dressed.

After much thought I think I got the subtle gist of the series. Indeed, a Pakistani man will always be a man exerting his male authority and it doesn’t matter what class structure in Pakistan he belongs to or how educated he is. Most men would demand a stereotypical feminine role as a mother, sister, wife and daughter’ but as the liberation trend suggests, they would diverge from these a little to accommodate the changing times. In Zaroon’s and Kashaf’s situation and in many cases these days such chauvinism would lead to problems in marriage where a man seeks an intellectual partner. Even though Kashaf is conservatively dressed, she vows for liberation in education and pursues a career on her own. She demands independence, as do other women in the series. She is an intellectual and opinionated being, while at the same time she satisfies a certain Cinderella image of simplicity and good values. Her struggles in a man’s worlds makes her the person she is today and that is reflected in her opinions and wish to take up a career, that is hard for Zaroon to digest. In a similar fashion, the elitist women in the drama also demand independence but of a totally different kind. Their demands are based on luxuries not needs and in contrast Kashaf’s demand is ‘intellectual’ rather than ‘materialistic’; although the aim is to justify women as equals.

So I was wrong, it is not because Zaroon is a heartthrob that we’re able to justify him, it is because our definition of ‘liberation’ tends to be quite shallow, skewed and deluded at times. Perhaps men need to understand that women are equals as competitive intellectuals and at the same time feminists need to pick their battles wisely. The measure of liberation is not evidenced by ones outlook or social life. Instead true freedom of thought is achieved in isolation of material desires i.e. through one’s ability to absorb pluralistic views.

So looking at this series with a positive lens, a change in perspective from men to view women as intellectual beings rather than mere objects of one’s pride and an acceptance on part of women that liberation doesn't mean we start comparing apples and pears, could lead to a state of equilibrium in the world of Mars and Venus."

By Sana Hameed Baba
Corruption is a middle-class morality

While millions of Pakistanis expressed their astonishment and dissatisfaction with the election of Raja Pervez Ashraf as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 22 June 2012, the news didn’t come to me as a shock at all. Raja Pervez Ashraf has been criticised as a symbol of corruption and bad governance. The new Prime Minister has been widely labelled in the media as “Raja Rental” because of the kickbacks he is alleged to have taken being the water and power minister. An investigation by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is still in progress against him.

Historically, Ayub Khan disqualified politicians who were later rehabilitated. Ghulam Ishaq Khan declared Asif Ali Zardari as the most corrupt man in one of his speeches and a few years later swore him in as a minister. Nawaz Sharif was charged with cases of loan defaults and tax evasion but returned to power. None of the political parties challenged the election of Asif Ali Zardari as the President knowing his past record. There are many more examples.

More recently, with the thrust of “corruption allegations” in the political battlefield involving the next generation of politicians - as witnessed in the Ephedrine case against Ali Musa Gilani (son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani) and a parallel score settlement with accusations of bribery against Arsalan Chaudhry (son of Chief Justice Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudhry) - were we really naive enough to be expecting election of a candidate far removed from the attributes of Raja Pervez Ashraf?

I sometimes wonder that if “all institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members” (even the religious institutions that claim to be upholding the moral code provided by God) then why do we constantly beat the corruption drum outside the government doors? At present, the corruption of the high-profile politicians and their associates seems to be in much more focus, but does it alleviate the burden from lower level corruption that encompasses voting and approaching the same individuals for illegal favours?

It is time we internalise that corruption and nepotism are now accepted as a middle-class morality in Pakistan and are deeply entrenched at all levels of society and class hierarchy. Not being rich in Pakistan is now a symbol of lack of opportunity rather than morality.

Hence, sloganeering against corruption of the politicians in the social media and other avenues is not likely to achieve the objective of Pakistan’s success. By doing so we are in fact creating more obstacles that are likely to pose an even bigger loss to the economy by delaying decisions on significant development and commercial issues. The recent political victimisation game of the parties in the court of law has not achieved anything except unsettling the “democratic” process and causing a further delay in matters of socio-economic significance.

It is a cliché that elimination of corruption will set Pakistan on a path to prosperity. Rather, we need to focus on the process of wealth creation by taking progressive decision on economic development and commercial issues. Political sloganeering on corruption and perhaps a wrong diagnosis of the problem has resulted in the wrong action plan. It is not possible to eliminate corruption within 90 days as a Prime Minister as claimed by Imran Khan through an imposition of administrative and judicial measures (except maybe in a few high profile cases). However, with development of economic policies as a focal point, average incomes and living standards may rise, that can certainly take us in the right direction.

By: Sana Hameed Baba
My name is Khan and I am not the terrorist Breivick is

In this day and age of “Islamophobia” Anders Breivick’s recent trial marks a significant shift in the way the word “terrorist” is perceived.

My perceived image of a “terrorist” stems from my own country unfortunately and sadly there is irrefutable evidence to prove this - be it the incidents external to Pakistan, such as the July 2005 London bombings and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, or the list of suicide bombings internal to my country, the list of which is endless and something that doesn’t surprise me as “news” anymore - regrettably I have become immune to such broadcasts.

Since 9/11 attacks certain prominent characteristics have come to be associated with the word “terrorists” including but not limited to: ‘Muslim’, ‘Pakistani’, ‘Rightist’, ‘Conservative’, ‘Extremist’, ‘Young’, ‘Male’ and others.

22 July 2011 proved to be an important day in the history of “terrorist” stereotyping for Muslims, when a man named Anders Breivick, a Norwegian militant, savagely massacred youths attending a Labour party camp after setting off a bomb outside the government offices in Oslo, killing 77 people. While the initial reaction of the media regarding the political affiliation of the assassin was routinely assumed to be with some Islamic group, phrased in the New York Times as: “there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible”; it turned out that the murderer was neither a Muslim nor Pakistani or even remotely connected to any Islamist group, but had every trait of a far-right terrorist. This event, although saddening, was an eminent mark for Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular across the globe - it offered their image some redemption.

During the recent trial it has come to light that Breivick is a “cultural conservative” and a practitioner of “political” not “religious” extremism, whose acts were aimed at defending Norway from rising immigration and multiculturalism. According to Breivick “multiculturalism is a destructive ideology” and he views himself as a political activist on a mission to save Norway from being invaded by Islam through elimination of “Cultural Marxists”. So what would you call an anti-Jihadi fanatic: a right-wing nationalist who committed mass murder or a terrorist?

While Breivick exemplifies an “Islamophobe”, in actuality he has adopted pinnacle of the same “extremist” ideology that he claims to be against. In his own words his inspiration has been Al-Qaeda and militant Islamists. With such statements from Breivick, more fingers are yet to be pointed at Muslims. In a globalised world where Islamists do indeed have the lion’s share of acts of terrorism publicised in the media, it is perhaps not surprising to an average person that he is not the first non-Muslim to be inspired by such extreme jihadist notions. It appears that the mastermind has cleverly designed his testimony, as well as his massacre, to ensure elimination of Muslims from Norway and Europe. Whatever Breivick’s inspiration really was, what would stand out to a commoner is that it was inspired by “Islam”.

 As a result, rather than Breivick’s incidence having a neutralising effect on the image of Muslims in the West, his statement about his inspiration is likely to make matters worse for Muslims. More so, because Breivick is a failed politician, providing the courtroom as a platform alongside excessive media coverage of his views is likely to exacerbate the scenario with the birth of more fanatics who might be inspired by his views. Sometimes I wonder, had Al-Qaeda not been given much importance in the media, perhaps the Oslo atrocity wouldn’t have happened, but then again when it comes to such events, there is always more than meets the eyes with concealed political agendas.

In my unprejudiced view, it really does not matter what Breivick’s motivation was. The conflict in “politics of hate” is hidden in the words ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’. Whether jihadist ideology served as his inspiration or not, no liberal would have taken inspiration from it. His inspiration was a direct consequence of his rightist ideology. This is analogous to the Islamic stage - the Islamic-left will never take inspiration from any jihadi historical narratives of Islam but it is likely the Islamic-right might and have done so. The problem then is with the rightist mindset that acknowledges the violent acts committed but justifies them or self-deceives themselves into believing it as “acts of goodness rather than evil” or “a small barbarian act to prevent a larger barbarian act” in the words of Breivick. In the world of rightists’ “collective identity” politics, there is no room for “individualism” of liberals. I would never assume that the political or religious ‘left’ is wholly pure, virtuous and correct, but when it comes to a fanatic impulse to violence, those on the far-right largely have the market cornered.

Nothing in the world can justify taking an innocent life, be it a Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jew or other, and in my dictionary there is no room for the world ‘casualties’. Having read Breivick’s account, I am however left speechless. In Breivick’s only tweet on his Twitter account he said: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests”. How can we punish someone who says that “being declared insane would be a fate worse than death”? What use is capital punishment to a person who is ready to blow himself up? What retribution can we offer for the loss of blood in the hands of extremists? For such people, death is peaceful. It is easy. But life; life is much harder.

The only way to punish Breivick then is a life of humiliation that his mission was not accomplished, that we all still find ‘unity in our plurality’; that no matter what our beliefs are, we can still feel affection for each other as human beings; that in our world there is no room for violence; that we embrace each other with open arms and strongly adhere to human rights; that we can ‘live and let live’; that the boundaries between East and West have actually been broken because of his aggressive acts; that the flag of multiculturalism has been raised much higher as a result; and that we only recognize two kinds of people in this world ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and no other.

By in fact defying our vulnerability, physically, and most importantly emotionally, to the ascendancy of a violent far-right political and religious culture, we can actually win this war. So my plea to everyone is, in the words of Joe Blow’s blog: “one person with homicidal right-wing beliefs is equal to the force of a 100,000 who think only Muslims can be terrorists”. In a logical comprehension of Islam, whether, the word ‘Muslim’ is used as a ‘noun’ or as an ‘adjective’, there mustn’t be any connotation of the word ‘terrorism’ associated in theory or practicality of economic, social and public sphere. I am Pakistani and Muslim, but I am not the terrorist Breivick is.

By: Sana Hameed Baba
Domestic violence: Silence is a crime

Note: This blog focuses on domestic violence in urban Pakistan

What happens when your savior also becomes your violator? How do you feel when the father of your child emotionally, psychologically, verbally and physically abuses you instead of giving you the deserved respect for bearing his children and carrying on his legacy? How do you reclaim your self-esteem when he relentlessly ridicules you and your parental family and makes you believe every time that it is your fault, when actually it isn’t?

Domestic violence causes far more pain than the visible marks of bruises and scars. It is devastating to be abused by someone that you love and think loves you in return because you’ll always end up forgiving – if not for yourself, then for the sake of your children or family or to escape ‘divorce’ which remains a taboo for women in our society.

According to a 2009 US State Department report on Pakistan, 50% of the women in urban areas of Pakistan admit that their husbands beat them.

In 2009 efforts were in progress on a new domestic violence law in Pakistan. A private bill on domestic violence had been passed in the Pakistan National Assembly in 2009, which required approval by the Pakistani Senate. However, Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) warning that a law against domestic violence will ‘push up divorce rates’ coupled with Mohammad Khan Sheerani’s objections (of the JUI-F), led to a deferment of the hearing in the Senate. Since then the Government has slept on the matter and the bill has lapsed.

Whereas the need for a domestic violence law is a necessity in Pakistan (as it will undoubtedly assist with abuse cases in the rural areas), I personally doubt such laws will have any impact in the urban areas - as a law is of no use until the people internalize its spirit.

It appears that due to a fault within our social structure, even the urban women in Pakistan tend to have a high tolerance for domestic violence. It is disturbing that women are often at the forefront of inflicting pain on other women. When the same women who have once been subjected to violence become mothers of sons, they unfortunately fail to teach their sons the lessons of tolerance and respect. And so the cycle of domestic violence continues.

I am not interested in discussing gender discrimination or emphasize on the equality of the sexes in this blog (I am sure both men and women are equally capable in their respective fields). I simply intend to highlight how a basic humanitarian rather moral principle seems to be missing in the Pakistani male mindset and is perhaps confirmed by the female mindset in our society when she chooses to remain silent in the face of such atrocity.

Even if a woman is a weaker sex, it puts all the more moral burden on a man to treat her with more dignity. The in-laws must assume responsibility to treat the daughter-in-law with utmost respect as she leaves her own family behind to embrace another.

There is nothing wrong in a woman depending on a man after marriage but being the breadwinner in the house doesn’t mean that we inculcate an undeserved sense of superiority in men. While sons are taught to have courage merely to fight we teach daughter to have courage to resist and persevere in the face of even the most brutal physical or mental assault. As a result, we have raised a nation of very resilient, resourceful, considerate and brave women but we have raised a country of spoilt, insecure and violent boys who will resort to violence against those who are weaker.

So in the absence of a legal framework on domestic violence and a culture that relegates domestic violence as a non-serious private matter between husband and wife, what options does a Pakistani urban woman have?

In this case, let’s put verse 4:34 of the Quran aside as it appears to be a subject of various controversies and interpretations, but instead focus on a quote from Razi's commentary "At-Tafsir al-Kabir" where a woman complained to Prophet Muhammad that her husband slapped her on the face, (which was still marked by the slap). Prophet Muhammad said to her: "Get even with him".

In light of this, I suggest that if a husband physically abuses his wife in an urban setting, abuse him back equally to “get even” if you want to stay with him and make yourself thick skinned to his manipulations and mentally assaults. Do not ever commit the mistake of leaving your marital home as it will shift the onus on you; in fact ask your husband to leave the house, as it is yours now. Stay firm on your ground and shame him enough to teach him a life’s lesson publicly. If you’re unable to get even and you feel mentally tortured, leave him and please do not defy your self-respect. No human being (even your husband) is above another’s respect and honor or basic humanitarian principles. And remember by remaining silent you’re simply an accomplice to the crime committed against you.

One of the most powerful words I have ever read in the history of my academic life are from Sojourner Truth’s most famous speech “Ain’t I a woman” in my women studies lecture room. The conclusion of her speech states:

“…If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
     upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
     right side up again.”

Even in the words of Jinnah:

“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women."

So use your power to lead men on the right path today instead of remaining silent in the face of domestic violence. It takes one to speak up and trust me; many others will follow your lead.

By Sana Hameed Baba
Humsafar: some scores are never settled

Well I got a male friend of mine from NYC hooked to ‘Humsafar’ finally! He finally gave in to his feminine side. Whereas we all have been criticising Khirad’s miss goody-two-shoes character (that includes me), my friend said the only problem with Khirad is her communication skills. Had she communicated everything to Ashar, things would not have turned out the way they were. He asked me today why when Ashar was ready to talk to her and forgive her while sitting near the shore, she chose to remain silent?

I think I understood Khirad perfectly well for the first time. In matters of the heart, words hardly have any place – one doesn’t expect verbal communication after spending a certain time with each other. The person she loved and thought understood her the most doubted her character – it left her lifeless. It wasn’t even the character, being a girl with an utmost self-respect that her mother and father emphasized on so much, how could Ashar doubt she would even let another man become a part of her existence. It was already hard for her to make that space for Ashar, in the process killing her pride by marrying someone much richer and educated than her, how he could make her feel even lower than that. She was already low in her own eyes due to the circumstantial marriage; it was almost like Ashar had done “ihsaan” on her. Any girl with a little bit of ego and self-respect would think that way and not go after a man like Ashar despite the love.

She cried and pleaded over the misunderstanding but was Ashar ready to listen to her? No. He chose to hate her and kick her out of his life as his male ego had been hurt. She then gave up – her love turned into indifference and her faith in God strengthened. She wished to face Ashar on “roz-e-hashr” in the court of God, rather than in the court of people. When she said “in sab zaalimon mein sab se bare zaalim tum the” – it emphasized how she expected him to trust her and he didn’t. There is no forgiveness for that and so “Jab tak mein tumhein maaf nahin karoon gi, mera Allah bhi tumhein maaf nahin kare ga”. She didn’t need to prove her innocence she thought, if he loves her and knew her, he would have trusted her even then. Could she forgive him for the lost time, could she forgive him for the 4 years, could she forgive him for not being there by her side on her child’s birth, could she forgive him for doubting her loyalty to him, could she forgive him for the character assassinations? No. So she will remain silent until he reaches a self-realization. The guilt must one day kill him.

She was silent because the truth was that she didn’t need to be forgiven, rather Ashar should have been asking for her forgiveness. She probably thought Ashar was doing this to keep his daughter with him and so the bigger person that she was, she decided to leave Hareem with her father who could give her a better life – she had no ego but was very objective with the future of her daughter. She now didn’t care about anything but her daughter. She was at peace inside. She didn’t need proving. If anyone needed to prove anything it was Ashar, if anyone had to reach self-realization of the wrong they had done, it was Ashar. It wasn’t his mother, it wasn’t Sara, it wasn’t Khizer – it was Ashar.

If after reading pages and pages of books on a certain topic day and day out, you’re unable to understand it, interpret it or translate it – it isn’t anyone else at fault – its either the reader’s fault or the writers – but mostly the readers’ fault for not understanding the text. Almost like saying God gave you the Quran, it is your fault if you don’t read it and even more at fault if you don’t understand it and even worse after understanding it, you chose to ignore it. Here Khirad was the book, Ashar read her and then chose to ignore his understanding of her.

All in all, if Khirad goes back to Ashar, it will be a slap on every woman’s self-respect. If she goes back as Hareem’s mother, that is fine but she should never go back as his wife. Some scores can never be settled.

By Sana Hameed Baba
Take control of your destiny
There’s always a choice: Yes or No

We often come across Pakistanis seeking refuge in Allah’s will or fate. Since childhood we have been hearing phrases like “InshAllah”, “Allah de ga”, “Har koi apni kismet le ke aata hai”, “Shayad kismet mein yehi likha tha” and so on.  If you have been brought and bred in Pakistan, it is unlikely that you escaped from these constant regurgitations of fate.  The emphasis is always on the fate of an individual rather than one’s responsibility to make informed choices via free will - this is unfortunately the mindset with which most of us are brought up. At least I have never been exposed to phrases in our society that carry a certain notion of taking personal responsibility for the outcomes suffered.

From a spiralling population in Pakistan that is relentlessly justified by the majority as Allah’s determination no matter how scarce the resources; acceptance of unchallenged religious traditions failing rationale; selection of careers dictated by survival rather than passion to promulgation of arranged marriages based on family conformity rather than meaning companionship – the authority of independent, responsible and informed decisioning is taken away from us at a very early age and “fate” is introduced as the most powerful tool in our subconscious existence. Be it a consequence of religious traditions or culture; but due to this  concept of fate we have eventually become ‘followers’ rather than ‘leaders’; not only in our personal and professional lives, but also as a nation. It is now second nature to us to shift the burden of decisions on fate or others. Translating this micro level irresponsible attitude of individuals to a macro level can perhaps help us decipher why Pakistan is still struggling to progress.

It is about time that we as individuals and as a nation break this idea of compliance to fate. We must not defy the element of fate completely from the equation but rather introduce the factors of free will and responsible decisioning for a better outcome. In the context of our daily lives, we have all at least once come to a point where we think that we have no control over our lives and that we are ultimately a product of our fate rather than choice.

Paulo Coelho in his book, The Alchemist, suggests that thinking our lives are controlled by fate is perhaps the world’s greatest lie and I am in agreement with the author. We need to understand that fate is constantly intertwined with free will. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru “The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” Hence the choices we make have a very strong hold on later events and our destiny. While fate can take over at times, what is important is one’s capability of excavating themselves from the situation. This is precisely the difference between ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ - leaders make educated decisions with the knowledge and resources at hand while the followers let fate engulf them. Perhaps if all Pakistanis make a conscious decision today to take control of their personal and professional lives, Pakistan could transform extraordinarily as a nation. All it takes is positive will.

I believe neither marriages nor your path in life is made in heaven. Fate exposes you to choices and it is then up to you to make a responsible choice rather than letting others steering the course of your action and hence your destiny.  It is true that not everyone is lucky enough to be born with a golden spoon, but a strong will can help you manoeuvre your circumstances to reach your aims, whatever they may be.  Depending on where you are brought up, you will face limitations depending on your family, finance, culture, and environment. Some of us are born to have easy lives, while some are born to take a more challenging path. Perhaps the limitations and obstacles you currently face, that lead to feeling out of control of your life, are a part of your journey - you must overcome them to grow stronger on the path to achieving your goals. Mind is a very powerful tool indeed but when mind and heart are synchronized to achieve a certain goal, the entire universe will indeed conspire in helping you achieve it, as says The Alchemist. And if you don’t achieve it, always remember someone else somewhere wanted it more than you.

We often see others not the way they are, but often the way we are. We tend to presume that others' reactions would mirror ours and hence arrive at conclusions on the motivations or the reasons for action on the part of others based on what we would have done. While money can buy you freedom, it cannot buy you passion. It is painful if one doesn’t make enough money to live comfortably but it is even more painful if the work you do has no meaning to you. It is almost like a wife or a husband you don’t want to wake up next to everyday as the marriage is meaningless to you.

Ordinary people usually dwell on their problems and indulge in a comparative analysis with people who they ‘perceive’ to have been given everything on a silver plate. However, for leaders life is all about balance and focusing on the positives. Being aware of the opportunities and wary of the risks is something which puts people on the path of being a visionary and leads to responsible decisioning. So you don’t need a silver spoon and don’t really need to be a genius. All you need is sincere belief in yourself and willingness to take action towards your ambitions. Now wither you can believe in the world’s greatest lie or take control of your life today by taking conscious Yes or No decisions as there is more under your control than is actually controlled by fate.

By Sana Hameed Baba
Is hate a disguised form of love?
Reality Check: Absolutely NOT!

Note: This note is specifically for women readers but the writer is not a feminist at all. It is perhaps a generalisation; the writer acknowledges and welcomes other points of views and is empathetic to the male readers.

“I HATE your voice, I HATE your face and I HATE your existence!” said Mr. X

Ms. Y was in absolute shock with eyes mischievously wide open. She thought how could someone hate someone’s “existence” and bring them to do such nasty deeds without conscience? WOW! She hadn’t done or said anything horribly wrong to him and there was no evident romantic connection in the past except that she did find his character amusing enough to make it to a Bollywood movie. She then contemplated that she might have an atrociously ugly face (which was NOT true by any standard) and an irritating voice (she was definitely somewhat LOUD!), but why would someone question her very birth?

Ms. Y then deviously smiled. Marvellous!

Ladies and Ladies, I am disappointed to tell you this but hate is not a disguised form of love – there is an alternative theory I will present in this blog. It is just that brain’s “love” and “hate” circuits share identical structures which we perceive as the thin line between love and hate. When he says he hates you, he actually means it. So please stop flattering yourselves. Men are not rude to you because they like you. In the 21st century, looking through a male-lens, we are perhaps all equal and the hatred could stem from jealousy, competition or just no obvious reason except that someone hates your guts t to the core or thinks that you’re a waste of oxygen due to your very biology. He could perhaps just be a misanthrope or be suffering from some sort of character disorder. All in all there could be many root causes to the hatred thrust upon you aside from an unfulfilled love escapade. What we need to learn is that the root causes are not important. Getting bewildered in the root causes just helps you justify someone else’s wrong actions and that is not an intelligent start. Rather it is the ultimate impact and/or translation of the biology of hatred to our everyday lives on the surface that we must understand and accept as it consequentially leads to abominable actions to damage us or someone who is a subject of hatred. Eventually, it is the action not the intention that is imperative. I am sorry to have just popped your romantic fantasy balloon. But let’s see what goes on in that world of neurons in the brain to emphasize this.

To biologists, hate is a passion that is of equal interest to love, but conflicting in character. A study in University College London has revealed that the brain's love and hate circuits share identical structures. Hence, there is a thin line between love and hate; but only in the biological structure, not in its translation into our everyday lives – in everyday lives while love is associated with selfless sacrifice for the beloved, hate is associated with absolute destruction of the subject – two opposing extremes. We can suggest that hate is an evil passion equivalent in intensity to love and the fine line between the two extremes can be flipped at any moment - but it is not necessary that it will. Similar to love, hate is often seemingly irrational and leads individuals to perform heroic and evil deeds.

In my simplest understanding of biology, there is what is called a ‘hate circuit’ in the brain which includes structures in the cortex and the sub-cortex and has components that generate aggressive behaviour and translates this into an action via motor-planning. This involves two distinct regions in the sub-cortical activity know as the ‘putamen’ and ‘insula’ which are linked to aggression and distress respectively. Research has implicated the ‘putamen’ in the perception of contempt and disgust, while the ‘insula’ to control the brain's distress response. The study at University College London has showed that the same ‘putamen’ and ‘insula’ are also both activated by romantic love and the brain becomes mobilised to take some action. Hence, we often hear people making confusing and fleeting statements on how hate is an inverted form of love without much knowledge on the issue. It should also be noted that there is also a significant difference in the cortical pattern produced by these two sentiments. Whereas with love large parts of the cerebral cortex associated with judgment and reasoning become de-activated, with hate only a small zone becomes de-activated. This is surprising considering that hate is also an all-consuming passion like love, but whereas romantic love makes one less critical and judgmental regarding the loved person, it is more likely that in the context of hate the hater is actually exercising the judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or take revenge. Therefore, while love is subjective, hatred is more objective in nature but the intensity of both remains almost parallel.  More so, romantic love is directed at one person only while hate can be directed against entire individuals or groups as is the case with racial, political or gender hatred. Additionally, some men may suffer from character disorders that can consequentially lead to an underdevelopment of one’s conscience or a lack of mirror neurons (empathy neurons) leading to extreme aggressive behaviour and/or hatred. The basis for this can be genetic and/or social upbringing and this is more common amongst males from developing nations as they strive for survival.

Now that you all understand the biology of hatred somewhat, it is perhaps easier to embrace the pragmatism of your relationships. If he says he hates you, he probably does! There is no element of love at all. So either you can falsely boost your ego under a facade of hatred and illusion of love or be better informed to make sensible decisions.

Until today Ms. Y is unaware of the root cause of Mr. X’s hatred but definitely knows it is not a disguised form of love.

By Sana Hameed Baba
Is Religion still the opium of the masses in Pakistan?

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Karl Marx

[Please Note: This blog is just a discussion and not reflective of the writers’ personal religious views]

Institutionalised religions can have major social impact in societies, for good or for evil. This blog is not concerned with discussing the “religious” aspect of religions, but only with considering their impact on society. The social impact of religions is generally more to do with its institutional form rather than the “religious” aspect of religions itself. Generally, it is the poorer societies that have the greatest proportion of the population following institutionalized religions. Therefore, religions tend to have a greater social impact in poorer societies, where they tend to be supported more strongly by the majority – one religion predominates and has substantial effect on the governance of the state.– either the religion controls the government or the government uses religion as an opiate in a majority-poverty society to influence them. When Karl Marx stated that “religion is the opium of the masses”; he was perhaps referring to the abovementioned features existent in the state of Pakistan today – there is a majority following of institutionalised Islam and there is an abject condition of poverty prevalent in the state.

If religion can be equated to a drug, let us first determine why people resort to opium in the first place. A person may take drugs under peer pressure, to get rid of unwanted physical pain, to calm down, be happier or is simply bored. However, the widely associated reasoning for taking drugs is to gain a temporary escape from one’s problems, pain, feelings or emotions. Is religion then a temporary escape from reality whereby men create illusionary contentment about their prevalent condition of misery or a condition that requires illusions to self-deceive one into believing the uprightness of their objectives? In this sense religion only helps men escape into a world where they have a ‘sense of belonging’. Religion then is, perhaps, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again as stated by Karl Marx. In this perspective, a religion like institutionalised Islam that promises a “better afterlife” helps the poor to live with their poverty, exploitation and government oppression so the poor tend to more strongly support religion, and governments in poor societies can tend to encourage or use religion to help maintain social control.

The bitter truth then conceivably is that Islam today in Pakistan is no more a sense of spiritual connection with the Creator, but rather a politicized phenomenon with a hidden conflict between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘haves’ in Pakistan are those in places of authority who have the state in their hands as an instrument of oppression so as to control the ‘have-nots’ and thereby indulge in practices of corruption. In this process the rich have become richer, as we have witnessed, and the common people no longer have access to the basic necessities of life as the welfarist phenomenon in Pakistan has become extinct. Institutionalised Islam is therefore the next available option to fill the gap that the failure of the Pakistani state has created. It has become the opium of the masses as it provides an alternative to the deteriorating condition occasioned by mismanagement in governance of the state. Poorer societies are more inclined towards institutionalised religions for the simple reason that they serve as a point at which the outcry of the common people are heard so as to relieve them of their stresses and despondencies, which the state has created or refused to solve such as lack of access to basic necessities, health facilities, unemployment etc. It is therefore not unusual to find the ‘have-nots’ resort to ‘madrassas’ that provide welfare, counselling, prayer and service communities today; performing the functions originally assigned to the state of providing the basic necessities of life: ‘roti, kapra aur makaan’ (food, clothing and housing). Unfortunately, the institutionalised religion in Pakistan has been used to promote evil rather than good - the ‘madrassas’ have promoted radical extremist activity in Pakistan under the banner of “religion” and “welfare”.

In the context of Pakistan, Islam was and is still today the opium of the troubled masses. However, it appears that institutionalised Islam has merely served as a temporary medication to the disease of oppression and poverty. Historically an oppressed minority condition in pre-partition India led the Muslims to drug themselves with the religious-opium while institutionalised Islam in the form of ‘madrassas’ today tends to fill the gap the failure of the Pakistani state has created. Until Pakistan remains in a condition of poverty, institutionalised Islam in the form of ‘madrassas’ will continue to influence the majority of the masses negatively, that is, ‘have-nots’. While the ‘haves’ so far have chose to turn a blind eye to ‘have-nots’ for temporary gains, it is perhaps time for them to realize that the same institutionalised religion can serve as an ally of the government if revolutionized or reformed strategically with balanced interests and promulgation of modern Islamism; else a majority force so destructive in nature will rise very soon that it will probably endanger the existence of Pakistan. The need of the time is to create economic alternatives for common people of Pakistan and ensure a smooth transfer from a condition of illusionary religious existence to economic reality and if such a shift can be achieved through institutionalised religion, it is perhaps not a bad idea to make use of it.

By Sana Hameed Baba
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”

Mohandas Gandhi

On January 30th 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was shot dead by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu “extremist”. Godse and his allies believed that Gandhi was responsible for the 1947 partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Nathuram Godse and his friend Narayan Apte were hanged while his brother Gopal Godse and two others were sentenced to life imprisonment for their assistance in the conspiracy. They remained in jail for 18 years. An interview with Gopal Godse was published in the February 14th 2000 edition of the TIME magazine. What follows is an extract from that interview. Unfortunately nothing has changed since 1948.

TIME: Why did you want to kill Gandhi?


Godse: Gandhi was a hypocrite. Even after the massacre of the Hindus by the Muslims, he was happy. The more the massacres of the Hindus, the taller his flag of secularism.


TIME: Is that why Gandhi had to die?


Godse: Yes. For months he was advising Hindus that they must never be angry with the Muslims. What sort of ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) is this? His principle of peace was bogus. In any free country, a person like him would be shot dead officially because he was encouraging the Muslims to kill Hindus.


TIME: But his philosophy was of turning the other cheek? He felt one person had to stop the cycle of violence.


Godse: The world does not work that way.


TIME: Did you not admire his principles of non-violence?


Godse: Non-violence is not a principle at all. He did not follow it. In politics you cannot follow non-violence. You cannot follow honesty. Every moment, you have to give a lie. Every moment you have to take a bullet in hand and kill someone. Why was he proved to be a hypocrite? Because he was in politics with his so-called principles. Is his non-violence followed anywhere? Not in the least. Nowhere.”

While the political decisions taken by leaders such as Mohandas Gandhi are always debatable, I, nevertheless, used to firmly believe that the moral teachings he attempted to disseminate were words of timeless wisdom that had summarized the core universal religious (moral) maxims and therefore were unquestionable. I am neither an expert in the field of politics of the land nor an academic per se, however, being a student of religion and someone who aspires to influence Pakistan’s politico-religious landscape, for years I believed I had concluded the basic values I had to live by and introduce in the political process of Pakistan. After all, only by inculcating such principles in myself could I preach them to others.

Amongst Gandhi’s version of the ‘Seven-Sins’ (that includes wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle) what interested me the most was “politics without principle”. And so my struggle of Year 2011 was to introduce this very basic concept at an organizational level in the Pakistani cohort if not a federal one in my limited life span. 

Needless to say, nothing has changed since 1948. As we have read above in Godse’s interview, in actuality the majority view is that seeking principles in politics is hypocrisy and in politics one cannot follow non-violence. As a result, I regret to admit I not only miserably failed but now also have to live with some everlasting labels that are used by friends and foes alike to their convenience.

Advocates of ‘principles in politics’ are either hypocrites or will not survive as the ‘world does not work that way’. People like Gandhi who cannot ‘kill’ simply get ‘killed’; to that many Pakistanis would say he perhaps ‘he got a taste of his own medicine’ or perhaps make them “believe” their intentions were wrong to the core and so ‘he must quit lying to himself’ not that he was a martyr who gave up his life for preaching the principle of non-violence. The majority view is that ‘might is right’ and the majority has a right to oppress the minority. The criminal is never wrong for inflicting harm; rather the victim is for letting themselves be hurt. The irony of it all is that such moral degeneration is the contemporary way of living and is ‘expected’. There appears to be no room for Gandhi’s principles in the world of realism, neither in personal life nor in politics. Regardless of one’s ideology or honest intentions, one is bound to be condemned. Based on my observations, most Pakistani’s have reached that state of paranoia where deception is considered inherent to the matrix that has been foisted upon us and we continue to assert our dominance in the prevailing conditions for survival.  We continue to search our own distorted image in others and seek justification for our own actions in it. The supreme declaration of our suspicion in each other as Pakistanis is the failure of the incorporation of basic humanitarian values in Pakistan’s constitution granting everyone equal rights as citizens of the state and perhaps the sense that the majority owes a greater responsibility to the minority of Pakistan, but this will be the subject of discussion in another blog.

In such state of affairs a person is bound to become the worst version of themselves for continued existence else be ready to be a denounced martyr. It is then true that “an eye for an eye is making the whole world blind” and so I rather be a condemned minority than live a life of disability in blind darkness.

By Sana Hameed Baba