Archive for the ‘ Freedoms ’ Category

Facebook in Pakistan: Islamists vs. Liberals

By Adam B Ellick and Ahmad Ziadi for The New York Times

When Facebook was recently banned in Pakistan for hosting a “Draw Muhammad Day” fan page, one thing became very clear: Islamists here operate with organized precision, able to mobilize the masses in an instant, while the liberal voice remains paralyzed by fear and passivity.

Some media experts predicted that the ban – which a Pakistani court has now ordered the government to lift – might motivate the nation’s deeply disconnected liberal elite to take on the Islamists. After all, while members of the urban elite have been largely immune to the recent rise of violent militant attacks, the Facebook ban presented them with a personal vendetta.

In a nation without bars, and where entertainment options such as music concerts are rare, Facebook serves as a precious tool for the elite to organize discreet private events with music, drugs and alcohol. It has also helped mobilize social movements, including the lawyers’ march in 2009.

But the fervor that has followed the Facebook ban has been entirely one-sided in favor of the Islamists.

As the rest of Muslim world remains largely indifferent, tens of thousands of anti-Facebook Pakistanis protested in urban centers by burning American flags. A poll conducted by an IT portal called ProPakistani showed 73 percent out of about 8,000 voters favor a permanent ban on Facebook.

How did it get to this? There has been a widespread SMS campaign perpetuating a false narrative that Pakistan’s ban has brought a behemoth anti-Muslim company to its knees. One SMS attributes the recent fall in the Euro to the ban. Here’s another SMS I received:

THE BOYCOTT MADE BY MUSLIMS AGAINST FACEBOOK SINCE LAST 2 DAYS

CHARGE DEM A LOSS OF 2 BILLION EUROS..AND IF ITS CONTINUED AFTER 7 DAYS IT WOULD

REACH AROUND 40 BILLION EURO…. PLZ SPREAD AS MUCH AS U CAN.

Facts suggest otherwise. Facebook is not a publicly traded company, therefore, its earnings are not published. Still, some venture capitalists have valued Facebook at about $8 billion. Its annual revenue is estimated between $500 to $800 million.

In addition to the SMS campaign, this week, two new Muslim-friendly alternatives to Facebook have been launched. One of them, www.millatfacebook.com, was inaugurated by the bar association of the same Lahore court that banned Facebook. Millat means “Nation” in Urdu.

The site wooed more than 20,000 users with its slogan: “A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome!!” Members are asked to specify if they drink alcohol. The founders are enraged at Facebook for curtailing Nazi-related hate speech while refusing to curb the Muhammad cartoons.

Their website says “Let’s prove to the world that if we can generate revenue for Facebook.com then we can also run our own website. Prove to the world that we are independent Muslims…” The other alternative site, www.Buddyflick.com , aims to “create/build/run our own network.” But where are Pakistan’s liberal and moderate voices?

Speaking out against the ban can be as hazardous as the forbidden cartoons. When those against the ban held a small news conference, the press mostly ignored it. After the press conference, several anti-ban activists were aggressively confronted by a large crowd of opposing activists as they left the venue. As tensions escalated, the anti-ban activists retreated into the building and waited for the crowd to dissipate.

One friend who is especially furious about the ban wouldn’t dare to speak out. “Nobody has the guts to go out and do something about it. The issue of Muhammad is so sensitive that you just never know.”

Instead, liberals are hashing out their frustrations in the low-traffic comment sections of liberal blogs and leftist newspapers, and, ironically enough, on their actual Facebook pages. Some have hacked into the banned site from the confines of their gated homes. Among the comment section in one newspaper is the latest joke: What’s the difference between Facebook and Lashkar  e Taiba? Answer: Facebook is banned!

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Pakistani Muslim Rocks Against Extremism

By Richard Allen Greene for CNN

Salman Ahmad is a devout Pakistani Muslim on jihad — but his holy war is a rock ‘n’ roll battle against intolerance, he says. He’s the frontman of the band Junoon. He’s sold 30 million albums. And he says music is a powerful weapon against extremism. “My own personal narrative tells me that arts and culture is mightier than the sword,” he told CNN during a tour of the United Kingdom Thursday.

Ahmad, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in New York, has set himself an ambitious goal — not only fighting Muslims’ own misconceptions about their religion, but reclaiming the very word “jihad” from extremists.

It’s come to mean violent holy war of the kind waged by al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Ahmad says that’s not its true meaning”There has been a sinister case of identity theft where the extremists have hijacked not only language but culture,” he said. “Jihad means to strive, to overcome your ego, to work for social justice and peace.” That may be why his new book and album are called “Rock & Roll Jihad.”

He insists his long-haired, guitar-driven rock music is entirely compatible with Islam.

“Anybody who says that music is un-Islamic is a poser,” he said. “Muslims have expressed their faith, their lives, their hopes, through music, through poetry, for 1,400 years.”

His own music is a fusion of the wildly disparate influences he grew up with, he said. “I was a 13-year-old from Pakistan (when I) arrived in a suburban cocoon like New York,” he recalled. “My exposure to rock-and-roll was watching Led Zeppelin in Madison Square Garden.” Frontman Jimmy Page “had a two-headed guitar and dragons painted on his pants, and I said: ‘That’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.'”

“My music takes equal inspiration from classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and also Sufi poetry,” he said, citing a mystical Muslim tradition. “We are in the same tradition of musicians who are sending out a message of love, a message of joy. “And while he may seem like a trailblazer — and be one — he said he is not alone. South Indian Muslim composer A.R. Rahman won an Academy Award for best song for “Slumdog Millionaire’s” anthemic “Jai Ho,” Ahmad observed. And Ahmad’s mentor, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, performed with Peter Gabriel and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. “He said to me, “The Quran promotes cultural diversity, so why not play with rockers?'”

Ahmad’s done some high-profile collaborations of his own, including recording a song with American rocker Melissa Etheridge. “I saw him perform at the concert and was amazed by his vocal and guitar abilities. Here was this traditional Eastern sound that was rocking hard at the same time,” Etheridge writes in the introduction to Ahmad’s new book. They traded ideas, resulting in the song “Ring The Bells.”

She remembers listening to some tunes he recorded to kick off their collaboration: “I found in one track a haunting guitar part that I kept playing over and over until finally the words started to come. ‘Whose God is God? Whose light is light? Whose law is wrong? Whose might is right?'” The message is resonating, Ahmad said.

He has played rock concerts in the disputed territory of Kashmir, with “thousands of kids braving death threats going to hear concerts,” he said.

“It’s a way for people to vent their emotions. Junoon’s sold over 30 million albums,” he said. “That music wasn’t bought by a fringe. That’s a mainstream majority.”

Muslim-Americans: Bracing For A Backlash

By Christopher Alessi for The Huffington Post

Adil Najam, a Pakistani-American professor at Boston University, took his 12-year-old son aside before sending him off to school last Wednesday. He told him to hold his head high, even if the other kids make fun of him and call him a terrorist.

In the days following this month’s attempted car bombing in Times Square by Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, Pakistanis and other Muslim groups in the U.S. have been taking precautions to prevent a public backlash similar to the one Muslim-Americans faced following 9/11–but they are still preparing for the worst.

“We are so grateful, thank God, that the bomb did not blow up, but the real damage here is to the Pakistani community,” Najam said. “Everyone [Pakistani-Americans] now gets ready for the office – or school – knowing he will be looked at differently.”

As a result, community leaders, such as Dr. Saud Anwar, the director of Connecticut’s branch of the Pakistani-American Public Affairs Committee, are counseling fellow Pakistanis to jump on the offensive. “We’re hoping we’re not going to be marginalized and we’re trying not to be scared, so we’re mobilizing the community to condemn the incident,” he said.

After 9/11, Anwar made a choice to be more “politically active and to build bridges with the law enforcement community.” He now works closely with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to help identify suspected terrorists. He has also encouraged his fellow Pakistanis in Connecticut to become more engaged with the police, in part to counter the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorist-sympathizers.

If Muslim-Americans don’t take an active approach, Anwar believes, they will only be further marginalized, which in turn will lead to increased “identity crises” and subsequent radicalization in the greater Muslim community–an arguably vicious and deadly cycle.

Najam also contends that Muslims are being “more vigilant against crackpots within their own communities,” by reporting them to the authorities. “We are trying to deal with incidents involving black sheep much better,” he said, referring to fellow Muslims that are suspected of harboring radical and violent agendas.

Both Najam and Anwar are trying to preemptively thwart the onslaught they say their communities faced after 9/11. Back then, both men argue, many Muslim-Americans felt they were put under a microscope by the mainstream American media and society at large. “There was a very high level of apprehension immediately after 9/11,” Najam said. “‘American-Americans’ – whatever that is – were apprehensive about Muslims, and we were internally apprehensive about how we were being viewed.”

Prof. Sinan Antoon of New York University believes that U.S. government policy and rhetoric following 9/11 only compounded the situation for Muslims. “The war on terror discourse and the manichaean view of a world populated by those who are with us and those others who are against us spelled danger and disaster for Arab and Muslim citizens or immigrants,” Antoon said. “After 9/11,” he added, “Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans were all guilty by association.”

Indeed, for many ‘ordinary’ Americans – non-Muslims, or “American-Americans,” as Najam put it – ‘Muslim’ became the codeword for ‘terrorist.’ As a result, many Muslims felt forced to take responsibility for the acts of religious (and political) fanatics who happened to share the same faith.

Antoon further argues that Muslims were easily linked with terrorists after 9/11 because “terrorism was explained in cultural and civilizational terms, not in material history and politics.” “The result,” he explained, “was for the U.S. government to absolve itself of its own responsibility in supporting foreign jihadists in the 1980s…and skirt the blame to the cultural sphere and simplify phenomena and events as simply a class of cultures.”

But Najam is optimistic that things could be different this time. He believes that mainstream American society has evolved since the time period following 9/11. “Society is more adept at handling these [terrorism incidents] as acts of criminality,” he said. Most Americans, Najam argues, no longer see the actions of individuals such as Shahzad as representative of an entire cultural or religious group.

Anwar, too, is trying to remain positive. “There are over 1 million people of Pakistani heritage in the U.S., and there was one idiot that couldn’t think straight,” he said.

“I think America is better than that–blaming the whole community.”

Hamid Karzai Is Losing All His Marbles and His Credibility

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Kabul, Afghanistan- President Hamid Karzai’s troubling remarks this past Saturday that he would join the Taliban if he continues to come under pressure to reform by the United States and other “outsiders” has caused a stir in Washington DC.  Karzai’s comments came a week after President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of March to pressure Karzai’s government to reform the political system, end corruption, and do a better job of fighting the Taliban.

Instead, what Karza delivered was a threat of the worse kind and quite possibly the most offensive and troubling thing one can say to a country that is risking countless soldiers lives daily to secure the country from the Taliban and other militant warlords in Afghanistan. In 8 short years, Hamid Karzai has gone from being the special guest of honor at George Bush’s State of the Union address to a leader who threatened to join our worst enemy. All because he feels that the US needs to stop badgering him to be a more responsible, fair, and an equitable leader as well as an effective partner in fighting the Taliban.

Karzai apparently made these unusual comments at a closed door meeting of lawmakers on Saturday, just days after accusing “foreigners” presumably the Unites States of being behind the fraud of the disputed elections of 2009. “He said that if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban”, said Farooq Marenai, a lawmaker from the eastern province of Nangarhar.  Mareni also stated that Karzai appeared nervous and demanded to know why parliament last week rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened Karzai’s authority over the country’s electoral institutions. Several other lawmakers confirmed that Karzai twice threatened to join the insurgency and the Taliban.

Karzai’s comments are troubling on many levels. First and foremost, he gives legitimacy and strength to the Taliban as his comments present the Taliban as an alternative option to American support or view on the situation. Karzai’s statement will no doubt have traveled the length and breadth of Afghanistan as word will spread that there is a weakness in the American-Afghan coalition that has been fighting and hunting the Taliban since October of 2001, post 9-11. The remarks by Karzai also puts every American, NATO, and Pakistani soldier at risk as instead of liberators, the foreign armies would be thought of as invaders, literally overnight. Lastly, Karzai’s remarks prove to the fact that Karzai is no longer an ally nor a credible partner for the US , NATO, and Pakistani army that have been fighting the Taliban with all their might.

There are reports of widespread nepotism, corruption, fraud, looting of the treasuries, and even drug trafficking, as Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been alleged to be a prominent figure in Afghanistan’s world leading illegal heroin production, cultivation and its global distribution. These facts along with his inability to rule effectively and assist the United States in its exit strategy out of Afghanistan by end of 2011 has made the Obama administration weary of dealing with Karzai. Also his typically slow response in instituting political and social freedoms along with a renewed focus in fighting the Taliban, has also been a factor in displeasure from Washington.

The Obama administration has refocused on the Afghan war with 30,000 additional troops to help with the war effort and that initial surge has helped the commanders on the ground in running the Taliban out of certain areas. There have also been great recent victories by the Pakistani army to go after the Taliban militants on its side of the border and in helping cut down the bases of support for the Afghan Taliban from the Pakistani tribal areas sympathetic to their cause. So these comments come at the worst possible time when the Taliban are on the run both in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a strong coalition of US-Afghan-Pakistan resistance against them could help eliminate or destroy the militants for good. But instead, the US and its allies are left wondering what to do with Karzai and how much he could be trusted in this tenuous partnership against the Taliban.

Iranian Protests for Democracy is a Cry for Freedom Across the Muslim World

Tehran, Iran- Demonstrations in Iran continue a little over a week after the mass protests the occurred throughout Iran on the Shiite festival of Ashura as protestors defy the government’s crackdown on dissent. It appears that for the first time since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the regime of Iran is appearing weakened. Despite the brutal violence used by government soldiers and militiamen, the Iranian people are brazenly standing up and are demanding the end of the supreme rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and establishment of a democratic nation where freedom and rights of the Iranian people are respected.

For far too long the current regime has used violence and intimidation to quell revolt. However since the disputed election of last year, the majority of Iranian citizens want an end to theocratic rule. The government must sense the tide turning against them as the popular revolt is gathering steam and gaining strength. Overseas, the Iranian communities around the world are standing in support with their brothers and sisters in Iran and demanding an end to suppression and tyranny also and asking governments around the world for support of this movement by instituting embargos and sanctions on the Iranian government.

The situation is bleak in many Muslim countries around the world when it comes to prudent and competent government. If one takes a look at the Arabian Gulf region we have kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, etc. There is not a great deal of individual and civil liberties as they are normally afforded in the western world. Freedom of speech, religion and right to protest is simply outlawed in most of these countries. If one takes a look at countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria, and until recently Iraq, are all countries where there are dictatorships akin to monarchies where power is held for generations as is the case with Muammar Al-Gaddafi or it is passed on to a family member as was the case with Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. Pakistan too is a country that of its 62 years of modern history, over half have been ruled by dictatorships robbing the people of a robust democratic system as is one that flourishes in neighboring India.

Far too often, in many Muslim countries around the world, governments and individuals in power are robbing the coffers of their national treasuries for their own greed and simultaneously either brutally cracking down on human rights and dissent or neglecting their responsibilities all together and therefore not providing basic services, infrastructure, and security.

It is not as if democracy is in theory in any ways in conflict with Islam, rather, Islam’s set of norms and ideals that emphasize the equality of people, the accountability of leaders to community, and the respect of diversity and other faiths, is fully compatible with democracy. Yet time after time, Muslim countries are finding themselves under repressive, corrupt and  inept leadership that has no problem using  vote rigging, violence, brutality and intimidation to remain in power.

The Iranian uprising and protests currently underway in Iran should inspire Muslims in other countries to demand better governance, more accountability, and freedoms from their leaders. A country that does not have the participation of all it citizens in all fields of endeavor is not going to advance aggressively as it should. Many citizens of Iran and Iranians around the world are hoping that the repressive regime in Tehran is overthrown by the brave protesters there. One would hope that eventually this starts a chain reaction throughout the Muslim world where repressive, authoritarian and harmful governments are holding back the progress of nations. Thomas Jefferson said it best  when he stated that “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”

Reported by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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