Archive for the ‘ Facebook ’ Category

Pakistan: More To Offer Than Bombs And Beards

By Asim Haneef for Al Jazeera

If you did not know anything about Pakistan and happened to pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news, you might be forgiven for assuming that it is possibly the most broken, troubled and violent country on the face of the earth – a basket case just moments from imploding.

In the all-important arena of international public perception, Pakistan has taken an unprecedented battering in recent years, accumulating more bad headlines than nearly any other country and making places like Afghanistan and Iraq look relatively stable by comparison.

The list of challenges it faces is seemingly unending: terrorism, corruption, drone attacks, natural disasters, poverty, a deficit in leadership, discrimination against minorities, mistreatment of women, attacks on freedom of speech, mass tax evasion, match fixing, the murder of judges, politicians, union organisers and journalists – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

So pervasive are the headlines pointing to a crisis in Pakistan that after a while they seem to blur into one another. Whether it is “hostages held in Karachi”, “al-Qaeda hideout discovered in Swat”, “floods bring pain to millions”, “suicide bomber explodes in market square”, “senior judge in blasphemy case shot dead” or “Pakistan’s ISI actively supporting Taliban in Afghan war” the message is uniformly bad news. The result is that for many the image of Pakistan is one of bombers, beards, shaking fists, distressed women and utter hopelessness. It makes for a pretty depressing picture.

I guess that is why the work of Syed Ali Abbas and his Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) featured in this week’s Activate, Pakistan: The New Radicals, is so refreshing. A courageous young social activist, Ali founded the PYA together with Maryam Kanwer when he was just 21 years old. It was born in the midst of severe political turmoil, as then-President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and fired the chief justice on national television, while the security forces brutally cracked down on dissenting lawyers.

Fed up with watching their country’s problems on the television, the PYA initially organised protests and rallies but quickly became more active. Its core premise and mission statement is to take a stand, to get as practically involved on the ground as possible and to exemplify the change they seek through their actions rather than merely proposing it on paper.

Their main goal is to create political and social awareness among the youth of Pakistan and to unite them irrespective of their religion, ethnicity, caste, race or language on an unbiased platform through which they can engage with one another and contribute practically to building a more progressive society in Pakistan – whether through protest, social and relief work or the arts.

Earlier this year, Ali was among a small group instrumental in organising counter protests to the hate filled ones celebrating and glorifying Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was murdered in January over his stance on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his ardent defence of religious minorities like Christians and Ahmadis. Ali says he did this because: “This is not what the founder of Pakistan and ‘Father of the Nation’ Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah would have wanted for this country today, especially as he repeatedly stressed the importance of inter-faith unity and religious harmony.”

Stories like these and others bring about something much needed in international news these days – a positive, hopeful narrative against the odds, showcasing some of the good news stories coming out of places like Pakistan, which often go unreported and deserve a spotlight too. So although we appear to have an extraordinary capacity to become fixated on negative headlines, there are also good things happening too and though progress and development is not as ‘sexy’ as a suicide bomber or a train-wreck, perhaps a little balance is in order, so that we do not become as, Ali says at the close of the film, “filled with dread, being hopeless about the future”.

So do good stories actually emanate from Pakistan? And, if so, where are they? Well an initiative by brothers and social entrepreneurs Majid and Mahmood Mirza aims to answer this. They set up a website simply titled Good News (www.goodnews.pk) , which focuses solely on positive developments coming out of the country. They describe the idea behind the website via Skype as being “to highlight amazing, awesome and inspirational news stories coming from Pakistan, as opposed to the usual negativities that steal the headlines”.

And they have plenty of examples ready. For instance, did you know that Pakistan has become only the sixth country in the world to map the human genome, joining the ranks of the US, the UK, China, Japan and India, which have all successfully sequenced it. Or, how about the fact that Pakistan has the largest volunteer ambulance organisation in the world started by “living saint” Abdul Sattar Edhi in 1948. Today, the radio-linked network includes 600 ambulances that work in every corner of the country. Or how about the recent news that Dr Umar Saif, an associate professor at the School of Science and Engineering in Lahore, has been recognised by MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators in the world – joining an elite group of researchers and entrepreneurs selected over the last decade, which includes Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and Jonathan Ive, the chief designer at Apple. Now who has heard of those stories?

Then there are serial entrepreneurs like Monis Rahman, who just four years ago set-up Rozee.pk, which is now Pakistan’s largest jobs website, with 500,000 unique visitors a month; or Karachi-born freelance designer Vakas Siddiqui laying to rest the myth that Pakistani students are limited to excellence in science and the humanities by being selected as one of the top 28 designers in the world; or filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who has just been shortlisted for an Oscar in the ‘best documentary short’ category for her film Saving Face. Whether it be in music, fashion, academia, activism, technology, sports or science these are stories that people do not usually associate with Pakistan and which might just show that there is more to the country than just bombs and beards.

Some of these unreported positive stories, along with the courage and creativity shown by people like Syed Ali Abbas and the Pakistan Youth Alliance in challenging these problems, reflect a surprising shift in the country’s growing and increasingly switched-on, globally-minded youth. They are using outlets like social media platforms and blogs to become more aware, educated and informed about their rights and more savvy to the different methods they must perfect in order to stop their country peddling even further backwards than it already has and to lead it to a brighter day, free from the same old headlines we’re all universally tired of reading and hearing about.

Asim Haneef worked extensively on Activate, a new eight part series featuring grass-roots activists from across the globe who are challenging the status quo and bringing about a change in their society. You can follow him on Twitter @asimhaneef

What’s My Dad Doing on Facebook

By Michael Franco for Francopolis.com

When I received a friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. But the inherent distance of online communication somehow allowed us to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person.

My dad and I are Facebook friends. That sounds like a completely ridiculous thing to say. I mean, we’re friends in the real world, so why wouldn’t we be Facebook friends? But that’s not the reason it sounds ridiculous. No, it sounds ridiculous because I see my dad practically every single day of my life, but I’m closer to the virtual him than the actual him. Strange, right? How is that even possible?

My father, you see, comes from a generation of men — perhaps the last — for whom expressing affection towards their children can be awkward, particularly children of the same sex. This, I’m sure, has something to do with evolving gender roles and what it means to “be a man”. For my dad’s generation — the early baby boomers — being a man meant providing a family with essentials, not emoting all over the place. Men were to be sturdy and stoic, not soft and sensitive.

I also get the impression that my dad wasn’t too close with his parents. His mother seemed distant; his father eccentric – neither the personification of affection. When I think back to my father’s interactions with his parents before they passed, words like “cordial” and “businesslike” come to mind. He was kind to them because he’s a kind person, but I never got the impression that he was maintaining fulfilling relationships. In light of that, I’m surprised he even knew how to express affection to my brother and me.

This doesn’t mean my dad never showed his love for us when we were growing up. I can recall countless acts he performed to express his affection. When he would take a day off from work, for example, he would spend it ironing our clothes and cooking dinner. My brother and I didn’t even care if our clothes were ironed, but I knew that was my dad’s way of saying that he loved us. Who, after all, takes off from work to iron Nike t-shirts and prepare roast chicken in garlic gravy?

But I could probably count the number of times my father has told me he loves me on my twenty digits, and that’s simply no big deal to me. I’ve never once thought that he doesn’t; I’ve just always known that some things are easy to feel but harder to say. There have been many times, in fact, when I have wanted to tell my dad I love him but have felt that it would be too awkward to do so. Guys can be funny that way.

So when I received a Facebook friend request from my dad, I was, frankly, weirded out. I’ve been accustomed to keeping my dad close, but not too close. Sunday night dinner? Sure. Friday night pub crawl? No thanks. In accepting his request, I would give my dad insight into my entire life: my interactions with friends, my comings and goings, my random thoughts, my likes, my dislikes, what I “like” and “unlike”, the random compliments I give my girlfriend (who, ironically, doesn’t even have a Facebook account)… This simple request felt more like an invasion.

And yet, I knew I had no option but to “friend” my dad. What conceivable excuse could I have to not? Before I clicked on “Accept”, though, I took the time to review my past posts and photos to “clean up” my profile. I even thought about starting a whole new profile for friends and keeping the one I had for people like my dad and my boss – people for whom I reserve the persona that, otherwise, only gets used when I attend Mass every few years.

In the end, though, I decided to let my dad simply be like any other Facebook friend because, well, he’s my dad. At first, however, I wasn’t sure how to virtually interact with him. I was even scared to look at his profile. Would he post creepy photos of him and my mom drinking martinis and standing too close to one another at creepy parties for creepy people of their age? Would he have bizarre, unacceptable interests, like scrapbooking or watching American Idol? Would he be socially awkward, posting head-scratching comments on others’ posts?

All the worrying was for naught. My dad, turns out, is completely normal. What’s more, accepting his friend request allowed the two of us to communicate more than we ever have before. While I have always talked to my mother on a daily basis, neither my dad nor myself have ever felt comfortable just picking up the phone and diving into conversation. Again, the generational divides.

But on my Facebook page, my dad was suddenly showing interest in my life: complimenting me on accomplishments, posting comments on my posts, taking notice of the things that are my life. Somehow, the inherent distance of online communication allowed him to express affection in ways that are too awkward in person, and that has given us things to talk about in our face-to-face interactions.

One day, for example, he commented about my blog, not realizing that I spend many evenings in front of the computer. “I like your blog,” he said. “I didn’t know you blogged. Is there a way for me to add it to my favorites? I really like your articles.” And just yesterday he complimented me about a piece I wrote for an online magazine, telling me I did a good job. No matter how old you are, hearing your father express interest in your interests is flattering, nice. And if he weren’t my “friend”, he might never know of my writing pursuits.

I’ve also learned a lot about my dad because of our newfound “friendship”. Through his Facebook page, for example, he has revealed an astute humor I never knew he possessed. One night, my girlfriend and I couldn’t keep from cracking up at his profile picture: a shot of him sitting on a toilet in the middle of a driveway, scarf wrapped around his neck and stocking cap on his head, posed like Rodin’s “The Thinker”. Why was a toilet in the middle of a driveway? What was my dad doing sitting on it on an obviously cold day? Most of all, why would my dad make this his profile picture, his way of greeting the online world? It was genius, that’s why, and it turns out my dad has a genius wit.

The best part of having my dad as a Facebook friend, though, is that it keeps the family in constant contact with one another. If I post a picture of my son that’s particularly funny or charming, my parents will comment on it or call to get the full story. If I comment about an exciting happening during my day, my parents will ask me about it when I talk to them later in the day. These moments – relatively small but meaningful nonetheless – would go by without being shared if not for Facebook.

No, I don’t necessarily buy into the notion that the Internet has made the world smaller in every single circumstance, bringing everyone closer together in every conceivable way. In many ways, it has done just the opposite, giving people the means to seclude themselves in their virtual lives rather than participating in their actual lives — as well as draw rigid ideological lines that purposely exclude large portions of the world.

But for all the ridiculous, overblown assertions that the Internet can erase divisions and bring people together, sometimes it actually does. Some people, for instance, join couch surfing groups and travel around the world, staying with complete strangers with a shared love of travel. Others join online communities and talk to people from foreign countries, learning about cultures that, without the Internet, they’d never have the chance to experience.

And then there’s me: I accepted my dad’s friend request and found out that in addition to being a great dad, he’s also pretty damn cool. Maybe that Friday night pub crawl is in our future yet. Perhaps a virtual beer first…

%d bloggers like this: