Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Democracy Within, Democracy Without

In the wake of BB's assassination, per her will, her (not too popular) husband Asif Zardari was to be the chairperson of PPP, however, Zardari then bequeathed the role to their 19 yr old son, Bilawal, who will become chairperson (for life, I presume...) as soon as his studies at Oxford end. So continues the Bhutto legacy in Pakistani politics. If democracy is PPP's ideal for the country, then why is it not ideal within the party itself? Why Bilawal rather than a 'democratically' elected chairperson? Whither the actual chances of democracy within Pakistan when political parties are run as dynasties. Mr. Married Me reminds me that, sadly, political parties in Pakistan are entirely personality/dynasty based instead of ideals/policy based. Yet here was a perfect opportunity to change this status quo and make the PPP indeed a party of the people and not a Bhutto fiefdom...

I hear the media and people in general telling me that this is how it is, that Pakistan needs this as a symbol of unity, that this is the great and holy concept of tradition : well this is not how it should be. Tradition and all its traditional entrapments have never been valid arguments for me in any sphere and never will be. What I find most ridiculous is when people I think perfectly intelligent, or whom at least pretend to wear the mantle of thinking beings, inform me with the most serious of faces and the most educating of miens about the sacrosanct status of tradition in politics pertaining to country or family and how I really must get with this program.

William Dalrymple gives this insight into BB's reading material:

Benazir's favourite reading was royal biographies and slushy romances: on a visit to her old Karachi bedroom, I found stacks of well-thumbed Mills & Boons lining the walls; a striking contrast to the high-minded and cultured Indira Gandhi, in some ways her nearest Indian counterpart in their flawed centrality to their respective nations' histories.
romance and the royal biography on your bookshelf is no sin for a leader of a country, but for it to be your sole's to hoping Bilawal's tastes are more eclectic and in tune with his newly bequeathed responsibilities...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"Rudy Giuliani is the Guy to Get Rid of the Muslims"

Why should Rudy Giuliani become President of the US?
Because, says one of his campaign officials, Rudy has what it takes to bring about the solution to the 'rise of the Muslim problem' i.e. he'll get rid of them by sending them (all of them! hurrah!) back to their caves.
I sincerely urge voters to please please vote for Rudy in these upcoming elections. His beliefs prove that he is one smart cookie who wants nothing more but to spread goodwill and peace amongst mankind. And if Rudy is not good looking enough for you, then please please consider Obama who believes in invading sovereign nations without their government's permission for, what else, the good of humanity. But then naturally this is a pure and good belief to hold since Iraq is turning out so successful an invasion.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Daughter of the East: Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Two time serving ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27th December, 2007 in Pakistan. To my immigrant eyes Benazir Bhutto was an opportunity to be proud of my birth country for she was a female leader, and that too of a Muslim country and often, despite her unremarkable terms in office, I was able to say to skeptics in the US that of course Americans are ready to elect a female leader, Pakistan has already done so!
While it is a valid claim that the Bhutto surname gave Benazir a political leg up, it is also true that she was bold and brave in her own right for she stood-- the lone woman-- in rooms often packed with men only, the lone woman at a dais speaking to crowds of men only, a woman talking of matters predominantly associated with the male domain, and so challenged the stereotypes of 'what women anywhere can do', as well what a Muslim woman is capable of and, additionally, the stereotype of Muslim societies being naturally misogynistic.
Politically Benazir 'grew me up' . When she first stood for elections, I would have voted for her purely because she was a woman but, by the time I was old enough to vote, her terms in office had taught me to vote, not for gender, but for the best candidate. In her 1988 memoir Daughter of the East, a young Benazir talks of coming of age both as a woman and politically: growing up a Bhutto, living through her father's hanging by General Zia, her own years incarcerated in solitary confinement under General Zia's rule...I read Benazir's memoir when I was a teenager and have been meaning to reread it since. It will be with great sadness that I will do so now. Whether one liked or disliked Benazir's politics, whether one believed she truly cared about Pakistan or was just another politician greedy for power, for Pakistanis everywhere it is surreal that Benazir is gone, just like that, at age 54 when much of Pakistan was expecting that, in a few months, she would get yet another chance to lead Pakistan.
Here MicroPakistan reviews an updated edition (April 2007) of Daughter of the East, and HarperCollins is now planning a February 2008 release of Benazir's new book, 'Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West '.

* What disturbs me most about Benazir the person is her supposed hand in her brother's (Murtaza challenged her position as head of the PPP for life) shady murder during one of her terms in office. Murtaza's wife Ginwa, their daughter the erudite Fatima Bhutto (author of a published book of poetry), and even Benazir's mother believes in her culpability: no doubt one's family can be wrong about one....but, on the other hand, one's family can also be right...
To be Benazir and have had your brother murdered (out, out damn spot), or to be innocent and yet have your mother and sister in law and niece believe this of you (et tu, brutus): in either case, a sad case.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto. Assasinated.

Its seems unbelievable. Benazir. Dead. Was it just the other day I was watching news snippets of BB speaking in Larkana and addressing herself as 'aap kee behen' to the Larkana folk and me jesting that aap kee behen needs new glasses (because I do need new glasses, and have always been fascinated by the veritable goggles Benazir always wore: in her last speech though, the goggles were replaced by glasses which suited her face-- and I wonder, what happens to those glasses, and I feel sadder and sicker.)

I feel sick with sadness, and loss, and for her kids. How does one sit down with one's children and say 'beta, this field that I'm in, it could get me assassinated." How does a child, no matter what family legacy dictates, reconcile with the fact that, as much as their parent loves them, they continued in this potentially life threatening field. With anguish at their parent being something other than simply Mom or Dad? Or pride at their parent's convictions? Or a bit of both?

-this is not how politicians should die. in Pakistan. anywhere.
- Benazir was such a fixture on the political scene...
My Khaloo used to be Benazir's speech writer. I met her at a dinner party at their place. During the customary 'foto with the family' session she sat the middle of a sofa with us 'family' surrounding her. Later my Khala hung a blow up in her living room. When you see BB, day after day, on your Aunt's living room wall sitting amidst your family, she becomes part of it, for an odd moment, too.

Today I feel very Pakistani.
Today I am a Pakistani.
In grief.

22 others also lost their lives during the assassination.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Slavery in 2007

In November a show titled 'Competition' aired on This American Life. Act 1, Cowboys and Indians (though not those Indians) is about a group of Indian workers brought from India with promise of subsequent green cards Oklahoma to work in a factory where they find everything is not as they were told. Mr. Pickles, the factory owner who recruited them, finds himself in a pickle (no pun) when trying to get in tune with globalization in this way, and eventually the Indians, through sheer good luck, manage to find help. The story is infused with moral and ethical questions, beginning with the cost of exotification on both sides i.e. India very very poor/ US great good & plenty. I think Ira Glass ends in a particularly interesting way: Mr. Pickles might or might not be wrong about his assumptions concerning India, but the Indian workers found the US shining after all...
link to the show
John Bowe has written a book on on the sordid incident:
Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Enchanted: a fairy tale film?

Enchanted is Disney's new movie about an animated Princess who finds herself lost in real world New York, but everything turns out happily ever after. Of course. Which would have been nice for me too, because I went to the cinema in the best of moods looking forward to an uplifting hour or so only for my mood to steadily go down. spoiler alert: the evil guy (played by Timothy Spall in pic) tempting our blonde blue eyed princess with a poisonous apple pretends to be
1) a gyspy (?) with a very distinct Arabic accent
2) an Italian (?) with jet black hair and long curly mustache who sounds suspiciously enough like, who else, an Arab.
3) a Sikh (no question mark about it) with his orange turban and long beard

Sorry to say these blatant stereotypes of 'what evil incarnate, little children, will sound and look like' ruined an otherwise delightful movie for sensitive old me. Am I being too sensitive?
This reminded me of Disney's The Lion King in which the bad hyenas sounded like African Americans. There was an uproar over that, not that anyone at Disney seemed to learn or care. The Lion King made tons of money, and so will Enchanted. Case Closed.