Facebook Drama and More

When this silly drawing page started on Facebook, I didn’t make anything of it. I mean, seriously, there are so many anti-Islam pages and groups on FB that spout all sorts of nonsense about Muslims and their lives that to take notice of one or any is to drive yourself crazy over nothing at all. In fact, any attention given to these ‘waste of anyone’s time’ pages only brings more web traffic to them and gives them more clout on the Internet.

Now, what does irk me a lot is to see how some people in the west are getting their panties in a bunch over finding ways to rub the Muslims the wrong way. Sarcozy in a frenzy over the face veil; the ban on the ‘burka’ in Belgium where only a couple of dozen women (out of some 500,000 Muslims) take the full ‘niqab’ or face veil; the mayor of a French town going crazy over a burger joint’s decision of putting halal burgers on its menu in some Muslim majority neighborhoods; and now this pointless ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ page that was started as a reaction to the banning of a South Park episode, where the Prophet (PBUH) was portrayed in a bear outfit.

All of these acts fall under the guise of either secular government policy or freedom of speech. What confuses me about this is that under the first category, nuns and Sikhs should also be required to change their appearance, just as the burka clad women (which, hasn’t happened so far). And, under the second, FB should block this ‘Draw Mohammad’ page in Pakistan, just as it has blocked pages that deny the holocaust in countries where it is a crime to do so. I haven’t seen this happen either.  Therefore, am I to believe that secularism and freedom of expression are selective?

What’s really ironic is the fact that these are the very people- the paragons of liberty and progress- that are doing unto the entire Muslim world what a handful of barbaric tribal warlords from the mountains did unto them. That is, criticize their lifestyle choices. As far as I recall, it wasn’t me that said, ‘off with your heads for listening to music!’ Then why deny me my halal beef patty in a little restaurant in France. I certainly don’t see local bodies taking up arms against the numerous vegetarian and kosher restaurants that are ‘challenging’ France’s secularism by the same logic.

This nonsense of secularism exists only as a shield against any sort of change, especially when the change comes from the Muslim world. India calls itself secular, yet you have the BJP there that runs a riot all the time. The US is supposedly secular (separation of state and church and all that jazz), yet you have an influential Bible belt and the Republicans. Try and drive through middle America and the villagers of Pakistan will start to look more progressive. Switzerland bans minarets but has churches with steeples. These are not actions of secular states. These countries are merely preserving their own culture, tradition and religious symbolism in the face of something new.

Anyway, after ranting about the myopia of some, I have to say something about appropriate reactions and responses to this kind of incitement. To come back to the FB ‘Draw Muhammad Page’, I think that the ban imposed on FB by Pakistan’s Lahore High Court was just plain old silly. The LHC had no business getting involved in this online fracas.

For starters, how ridiculous is it that as the whole Muslim world ignores this issue, the Pakistani government takes it upon itself to put aside all civilian issues of priority such as electricity failures, target killings, enforced disappearances, and the ongoing war, to sort out this Facebook page matter. The fact that the government has even requested an enquiry into the matter is just preposterous.

Does the Pakistani government really think that by banning Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia and Gmail that people all over the world would suddenly change their opinions and convert? Or that, perhaps, if our foreign minister were to casually meet the owners of that page over tea and samosas that those guys would actually say, ‘aah, we see your point!’ I mean seriously, who are they kidding?

I think ignorance is bliss sometimes. It would have been best to ignore this page for then its fate would have been similar to my resume’s. It would be lost in the dark hole of the Internet, never to see the light of day again.

If the page had to be fought against, then everyone should have supported the ‘Anti Draw Muhammad Day’ page, which, by the way, did have many more members and ‘likes’ than the said controversial one. Let the numbers speak for themselves.

I really wish that sometimes we as Pakistanis (the government included) would stand up for ourselves using our brains and not our hearts. We should not let the guilt of being the ‘silent majority’ make us do moronic things like this, which, ultimately, are futile.

Are You More a Teacup or a Mug Type?

It was a somewhat cold day in mid May and I was out shopping with a friend on the Hampstead High street. Her objective was to buy a gift for a friend. I was just accompanying her and taking in the sights and enjoying the vibe (and yes, there is a vibe in London even on a cold day). We went to Whittards of Chelsea- a great place to buy teas, coffees, cups, mugs and other related knick-knacks. Though Whittards has branches all over England, it has still managed to maintain that quaint, ‘mom-and pop owned’ type look in some of its stores. This particular one had a rickety, narrow staircase that took you down to a basement room where all the crockery was displayed.

As my friend debated over buying the blue striped mugs or the red patterned teacups as her friend’s birthday gift, we got into an interesting conversation about personalities. The question that triggered it was, “Are you a tea cup type person? Or More a mug type?” My immediate reaction was to recoil in discomfort and say, “No, No. Definitely not a teacup type.”

Now, I never really did think of myself as any one type or the other, but this was an interesting question. For one, I had to understand why the idea of being a teacup type actually put me off so much. For starters, it has to do with certain associations. I have a cousin from a distant connection, who is very particular about matching her cups to her napkins and tablecloths and vice versa. Now, I do appreciate the effort and the look but sometimes, I find this obsession just a bit tedious. So in my mind, she was the perfect teacup type person. That is, someone who is fussy, traditional, proper and with a lot of time on hand. Oh, and also someone who takes their tea in small quantities.

I also associate teacups with a slower pace of life and excessive luxury (when they are the Vera Wang teacups with etchings of pure gold). The image of an immaculate Dorchester tea party with fresh scones, mini sandwiches and clotted cream starts to form in my mind. It’s a great image, till I see myself sitting in a posh manner struggling to keep up with the formalities. Poof! The image disappears.

I think teacups are cute and very British, but just not that practical. To begin with, the saucers are unnecessary, especially since they can easily be replaced with coasters. Secondly, every time, I drink tea in a cup, I feel the need to top up at least a couple of times, which may seem really rude if you are a guest somewhere. Lastly, tea drinking is something that requires a certain posture and delicacy of temperament. You have to curl your pinky finger at just the right angle; keep your back utterly straight; and cross your legs sophisticatedly to one side, in order to make it look elegant. Tea drinking is a test of true finesse and I am not sure if I can score high in that category.

As for mugs, well, mugs are just mugs. No hassle and no unnecessary accoutrements. A large quantity can be consumed without looking rude or greedy. Mugs are sturdy and reliable and they let you be who you are. They are unpretentious and mature. I feel in control of life when I greet my morning with a mug in one hand and a remote control in the other. Ok, so maybe not the remote control so much. But undoubtedly, I get a positive and satisfactory affirmation on life when I slam my mug down on the kitchen counter. With a teacup, I just get broken ceramic.

It’s strange how an insignificant conversation like this one can make you think about yourself and your values in life. But I, sure as hell, like my mugs and I stand by them- be they striped, patterned, mono chrome or colored.

Pakistani Documentaries that Channel 4 Should Learn From

Yesterday was an absolutely phenomenal day at the British Museum in London. It was organized by the London International Documentary Film Festival in association with the Pakistan High Commission. The two main sessions, called Filmmaking for Social Change, focused on short films made by students from Pakistan. My immediate reaction was, ‘Wow, I am impressed. Why didn’t I make these?’

I salute these young film students for making documentaries that were emotionally evocative and represented the average Pakistani’s point of view. After having watched enough crap documentaries on the (supposedly, hopeless) state of Pakistan, commissioned by the likes of Channel 4, and CNN, where they make you believe that everyone in your household, including your 80 year-old grandmother and her pet parrot, have been radicalised and are on the verge of blowing themselves up and taking you down with them, these films felt like a breath of fresh air.

They all had an overwhelming sense of optimism and showed the inherent resilience that most Pakistanis often pride themselves on. These films boldly challenged existing perceptions of Pakistan in the media and confidently showed off a new image of our society- and no, not the image that focuses on raves, crazy parties, bare mid-riffs and the oh-so-provocative fashion shows that show the mullahs off. Nopes. Not that.

They showed the hope that an average Pakistani held as he moved back to Pakistan from America; the fire and energy of a famous painter from the red light area of Lahore as he fights for the integrity of his work; the gratitude a bus driver felt for being alive even as he watched his bus being burned down by the mob; and the carefree and all-embracing attitude of students at a local missionary school in Karachi- an image quite contrary to that of schools with children rocking back and forth and bent over religious books reciting phrases full of hate. These documentaries showed me the Pakistan I knew and grew up in. A country that is obviously altered, but inherently the same.

The films were a far cry from the sensationalist content that appeals to the western audience and media. They weren’t screaming ‘terrorism- run for your lives!’. They were not talking about the new generation of Talibanized youth that is threatening western values and progress; they were not showing a decrepit society; and a few were audacious enough to say that some Madrassahs actually serve a social purpose and are not the evil institutions they are made out to be by trendy opinion writers.

Yet, despite the lack of sensationalism, these films appealed to everyone. The auditorium was mostly packed. There was genuine appreciation for the content. The loud applauding was a testament to the fact that these films were successful.

What got me grooving was the fact that there was a kind of bravado in how these films ignored the many stereotypes that the western media has created about Pakistan. The films were not apologetic in their approach to issues. They were not defensive about the country’s maligned image. They just voiced what is the complex reality of a progressing Pakistan.

My words of advice to Channel 4 and the likes (as well as all Pakistani broadcasters)– take a lesson from these kids and be honest in your reporting. Don’t just sell bullshit to people, because you think it sells. People aren’t as stupid as you take them to be.