Soniah Kamal

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Election 2008 Results - Pakistan returns to that elusive democratic learning curve*

In a Q & A with the Financial Times (February 8th, 2008) concerning the upcoming elections in Pakistan, novelist Tariq Ali stipulates “Very few people in Pakistan believe that the elections will be fair. The interim government is packed with Musharraf cronies, the Election Commission likewise. The only question is whether the results will be cleverly or crudely rigged.
From all reports neither a clever nor crude rigging has proven to be the case. Good for Musharraf that he ‘allowed’ the people their say, and very good for us the people that International watchdogs closely monitored the proceedings. In fact, over all the elections were conducted peacefully with no discernible rigging and the results speak as much: the opposition parties won the majority of seats, this despite the President’s rather ominous prediction that his party was going to win… (What was his motive behind this? If the voting was not to be rigged, why give statements casting blemish on ‘free and fair’? Or was he simply full of faith that indeed the people, the Qaum, they love him?)
Well, whatever the President’s state of mind, the state of the country seems on the mend thanks to the people who turned out to vote. And double thanks to the voters in the northern areas for the defeat of the Taliban-types though one must keep in mind that the Taliban type parties boycotted the elections in protest of the Lal Masjid incident, and so were not available to be voted in. Also boycotting the election was Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf party in protest of the ousting of the Supreme Court Justices. Had these parties been standing, would the election results be the same? Might there have even been higher voter turn out? Out of 80 million registered voters in the country only around 35 % showed up. Why? A general apathy after the President’s predictions? A frustration with the same old political parties standing anew? A fear of random bombings and mayhem?
Uplifting election results withstanding, the threat of random violence (state or non-state instigated) remains, and the public is dubious regarding political parties—both PPP and PML-N— whose past performances in office have been far from laudatory. Well, at least Pakistanis can’t be accused of completely forgetting past conduct. Let us then remind ourselves of the years 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999 when either the late Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif were unceremoniously dismissed from power. In all cases, far from an uproar most Pakistanis then were rather complacent if not outright pleased. Well, here we are, 2008, and the same parties are in the majority again and this time the army, savior-in-general, is also in the doghouse. Not that the army should ever be the solution to end a democratically elected government no matter how botched a job they’re doing. As Pakistan has witnessed in the recent past, a dictator, no matter how benevolent, is at the end of the day a dictator.
Fact remains that Musharraf has maneuvered himself to be President elect for the next five years. Recently Nawaz Sharif ‘vowed to impeach Mr. Musharraf if he (Nawaz) had the combined support of two thirds of the parliament’. After yesterday’s results as we await the full picture of the coalition to emerge, it is necessary to remember that there is a time for political punches and there is a time for handshakes and that now is the time for handshakes no matter how half hearted. Hopefully the opposition parties are not so keen to wrought ‘justice’ that they forget their first duty is not to address personal grievances but rather to do what is best for Pakistan today, and tomorrow when things have settled down and the PPP and PML-N recall that not only do they have issues with Musharraf but that they were not always best of friends amongst themselves.
Only time will tell whether Pakistan will fall into fusion or into further friction…Here’s to hoping that, one day, we learn—rich, poor, young, old— to vote for party policies rather than personalities. For now, regardless of the caliber of the personalities/parties voted in, the cause for celebration is a return to democratic process and thereby a return to a nation’s democratic learning curve, for only in voting again and again and again will we one day get it right, or as close to right as is possible anywhere. In the meantime, let’s also hope no one gets injured from the celebratory fireworks going off in every street and every corner of Pakistan.

*originally posted on Pak Tea House

Monday, February 25, 2008

Books into Film at the 2008 Oscars, and Pride and Prejudice

When I was a little girl I always read my Anne of Green Gables and Donna Parker and St. Claires and dreamed them into film. When I was a little older, my tween excitement knew no bounds upon finding the Famous Five and Timmy the dog striding across a field on TV. Of course as I got older and older it no longer sufficed to see a book character in living color a la Disneyland 'loooook there's Winnie the Pooh', rather I hoped the film version would prove as enjoyable as the book if not, in its own way, more satisfactory. Some novels and films turn out to be masterpieces in their own right i.e. no matter how many makes and remakes of Pride and Prejudice are churned out, not one has yet been able to capture the nuances of the novel and yet the lovely 1995 A&E/BBC adaptation with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth holds its own (and Mr. Collin's is played to perfection). And yet without novel, without novelist, there would be no Elizabeth and Darcy, no Mr. Collins and Lydia, no film after film after film adaptation. The 2008 Oscars are in many respects the books to movies Oscars with three* of the five best film nominees based on novels and yet, as David Ulin writes in the LA times, there was no mention of the novelists, as usual.

"...if these kinds of movies have anything to tell us, it's that interiority can sometimes play itself out on screen. Is this an indication that Hollywood has finally become more sympathetic toward writers, that we might move beyond a century of misunderstanding and disdain? Not very likely, the settlement of the WGA strike notwithstanding." read rest here

*Atonement by Ian McEwan
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
There Will be Blood by Upton Sinclair
the other two nominees were Juno and Michael Clayton

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Sacred Place: a novel by Daniel Black

Daniel Black's excellent novel 'The Sacred Place' is based on the 1955 racial murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till. Here's a quote from Black's novel:

"How arrogant it is, Jeremiah thought, for people to expect a Black man to remain humble when he's contantly being downtrodden. He would have to be Jesus to manage that kind of nonviolent forgiveness, and even then Jeremiah wasn't sure he admired such meekness. In the end, it always meant being trampled upon in the service of some higher principle in which, obviously, only the oppressed believe. Righteousness had not borne the fruit Jeremiah's ancestors promised it would, and, for the time being he simply wanted to win. Just once. He wanted the thrill of victory, the recognition by his enemies that he had beaten them, and the life of of children to prove it. Others had warned that God's wrath would visit itself upon him if he exacted justice on his own terms, so, trying not to anger an all powerful God, Jeremiah had surrendered to a non-confrontational mode of resistance until the day Cecil and the Cuthbert boys tried to take his grandson away. After then, Jeremiah determined that God would have to so whatever God was going to do because apparently his people had never considered that righteousness and whipping white folks' asses might be one and the same."

There is also a lovely monologue in the novel about what a relief it is to take off a damn bra at the end of a long day, or any time of the day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

On novels that take a long time getting written

John Dalton took eight years to write his novel Heaven Lake. On this winding way he was asked the one question sure to induce a sinking heart: DONE YET? I guess he was asked enough times for him to write this poignant essay, 'Done Yet? Struggling with the Novel'. So many sentiments in this essay touched me but the line that settled deep:
"There is a popular and entirely false belief that every talented person who follows a dream eventually meets with success."
rest of John's essay here
My father grew me up with the conviction that every hard working person, sooner or later, will meet with just fruits. In my experience this is far from the truth too. John's story ends happily; I want to know what happens to the hearts of the 'talented and determined people (who) fail all the time'.