Wednesday, December 13, 2006

lost in the desert

Nicholas Kristof has written an interesting piece in the New York Times on the common stereotypes about Islam. In it, he argues that no "religion's influence is intrinsically peaceful or violent," but admits that "some Muslim societies do have a real problem with violence, wih the subjugation of women, with tolerance."

His main point is that Muslims exist across the world, and subsequently the practise of Islam spans too broad a spectrum to be so easily summarized. In fact, "The mosaic of Islam", he says, "contains many hopeful glimpses of the future."

He cites a Muslim in Brunei who implies that the problem is not with Islam, but with 'Arab' Islam. By putting it this way, Mr. Kristof simplifies the problem by breaking it up geographically: Asian Islam is like this, and Arab (or more specifically, Saudi) Islam is like that. This is partly true. Local culture and history do tend to play a large role in the way the religion is practised. But that's not the whole story.

The trouble with Saudi Islam is that it, moreso than its counterparts, is so opposed to updating its rituals in any way that integrating its followers with the rest of the world is becoming increasingly difficult. As a smart Muslim once pointed out to me, it "needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century."

What Mr. Kristof fails to point out, however, is that Saudi Islam, as the supposed purveyor of the faith, has a significant influence on other varieties, regardless of geography. Pakistani Islam, for example, often uses the Saudi model as a yardstick, unwilling as it is to carve out its own identity.

What's left is a problem that is exported out of Saudi Arabia into other parts of the world. The Saudis are quick to justify everything they do in the name of Islam, making it hard for Muslims everywhere, especially less educated ones, to deny their alliegance to some pretty dastardly things. The result is that many Muslim societies, among which Pakistan is a shining example, are sharply divided along educational, not geographic, lines.

Mr. Kristof drives home his point with a slightly melodramatic comment:

There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam — the austere fundamentalism of countries like Saudi Arabia — and riverine or coastal Islam, more outward-looking, flexible and tolerant. Desert Muslims grab the headlines, but my bet is that in the struggle for the soul of Islam, maritime Muslims have the edge.

So what about places like Karachi, that are, quite literally, both maritime and desert at once?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Pakistanis are idiots.

Since Friday, no less than 12 people have either mentioned or sent me a link to this BBC article. It's about how Indian men have smaller penises than standard international condom sizes. The article itself is quite funny. But from the taglines appended to each of these forwards (generally in the "Haha, Indians are so lame, we have bigger dicks" vein), I gather that many Pakistanis consider this some sort of triumph of our nation over theirs.

This is completely stupid. Our two countries have only spent 59 years apart, separated by an artificial border. Many have criss-crossed this border several times over since independence, not to mention mass migration during partition itself. Conclusion: if Indian penises are small, then, sorry to say, so are Pakistani penises.

It would be fine if Pakistanis castigated Indians about things that are distinctly 'Indian', i.e. those that have evolved since partition. Unfortunately, such things (like democratic government, or entrepreneurial spirit, say) have generally shown themselves to be quite successful. Maybe we could learn a little from the things that are distinctly Indian, instead of ridiculing those that aren't.

Eventually maybe our penises will evolve in different Darwinian directions. Until then, young ladies throughout the subcontinent will have to look elsewhere for a good time.

Friday, December 8, 2006

will shoaib get fucked?

I'm sorry.

Call me juvenile, but this photograph may turn out to be quite prophetic in answering the aforementioned question.

I continue to wonder what will happen with this whole affair. Bob Woolmer has gone on the record saying he supports the decisions of both tribunals, which, umm, is a bit daft, given that they both handed out completely opposite sentences.

My guess is the ICC won't let this one slide. They already feel like the PCB has bullied them enough over the past few months (on which count I disrepectfully disagree). They will use the WADA excuse to push their weight around on this.

If the players do end up getting fucked, though, it will be unfair to them. They were made scapegoats in the PCB's unprecedented and unjustified campaign to promote justice and virtue. Regardless of whether or not they intentionally took nandrolone, they did not get a proper first trial; and it was the impropriety of the first that set the tone for the second.

Unfortunately, neither justice nor virture will prevail. If Shoaib and Asif were innocent, then their legacy has been unnecessarily tarnished; if guilty, then two intentional dopers are now openly allowed to play.

The PCB, on the other hand, deserves whatever it gets. I have tried to be supportive of them, but there's only so much incompetence I can take. The sad part is that they are likely to come out of all this relatively unscathed.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

cream of shrooms soup

In an article about the inconsistencies in the PCB's doping trials, Osman Samiuddin proves his point that this is not Pakistan's first encounter with anti-doping legislation:

For Pakistanis who are celebrating this decision, they should first cast a sombre glance at the cases of Meherullah Lassi and Faisal Karim. They are possibly Pakistan's best boxers, among the region's cream as well, and they have just been handed life bans by the Pakistan Boxing Federation for testing positive for use of cannabis.

I am amused. First, Meherullah Lassi is an awesome name. Second, cannabis is no reason to get kicked out of any sport. If you can be a pothead and still be "among the region's cream," then good for you. In fact, you might well be able to tackle other region's creams if you stopped getting high all the time.

basically the same

Here is an audio version of an interesting NPR story. The US Ambassador in Berlin has started a program to meet with young German Muslims and set up a dialogue about each other's respective worldviews. As part of this program the kids even get to go on a trip to the States. They visit New York and DC; check out Times Square and the State Department; and talk to Americans about America, Germany, and Islam.

This is a great idea. A lot of these kids grow up in small immigrant communities, often underpriveleged, and never leave them. Like in any inward-looking community, they end up with localized and skewed ideas about a lot of things concerning the rest of the world.

A program like this gives these kids a chance to step out of their bubbles, and also to see the more “human” side of America - or at the very least gives them some context and a frame of reference for the country and its people.

I think there should be similar programs for Americans to visit Pakistan, and also, for that matter, for Pakistanis to visit the US. Just spending some time in the other’s country and speaking frankly with its people would give both sides a much better understanding of each other. It would go a long way towards dispelling so many of the pre-conceived stereotypes that people on either side can’t help but have these days. It would at least instil in young kids two fundamental facts: (1) that you can't blame an entire country or a tradition for the actions of a few of its members, and (2) that despite all the social, cultural, or economic differences, people everywhere are basically the same.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

a bunch of dopes

I have watched events unfold in the Shoaib/Asif scandal with a fair bit of incredulity. For some reason I haven't posted about this yet. Maybe because I had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't over. Well, lo and behold, it wasn't. In the latest development, they have both been completely acquitted of all charges brought against them. Which means the entire process of having a trial and serving out a harsh-but-fair punishment was one big sham.

Here's how it happened: PCB, an organization so fervent about maintaining its secrecy, so notorious for its lack of accountability or transparency, suddenly decided to sacrifice its two best bowlers just to showcase a strange new commitment to justice and integrity.

They rushed to judgment, and now the country looks like a bunch of bumbling idiots. They should have played it safer earlier. They should have either: (1) stuck to their time-honored traditions of secrecy and dealt with the matter behind closed doors; or (2) opened it to the world and had a proper trial - not one where the sentence was, as it appears, pre-determined, but a real and proper and final one.

What has happened is neither here nor there. And it is shameful. And it makes us look shady.

Of course, I'm not all gloom and doom about this. In fact, I'm quite conflicted. There's a big part of me that's thrilled they're back. No, not thrilled...relieved. Despite the team's recent 2-0 test victory against the Windies, there was no angle from which to see Pakistan lifting the World Cup. Now, at least such a chance is vaguely visible, if only through a powerful electron microscope.