Love Letters To Feminisms

Nadia and I had an excellent time this afternoon at ‘Love Letters to Feminisms: a live performance of feminist texts’. Organised by the Loving Feminist Literature collective, the event featured several writers, poets, academics, and performers who shared their works and the works of other feminists.

The performances were powerful and emotional, and each one resonated strongly with everyone in the room.

Nadia was one of the performers and she read a piece that honoured the Pakistan women’s movement and all they’ve achieved over the last few decades.

Nadia performing at ‘Love Letters of Feminisms’, alongside an Auslan interpreter

Bonus: the event was held at the Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray, which a lovely venue that looks great in selfies :)

Selfie in front of the Bluestone Church Arts Space on Hyde Street in Footscray.

Seriously, though, it was a joy to be among so many diverse and enthusiastic feminists in Melbourne. I look forward to attending more of Loving Feminist Literature’s events in the future.

My mother would have turned 72 today

I remember the afternoon of 12 February 1983 very clearly.

I’m six years old and I spend what feels like several hours swinging back and forth on the front gate of our house in Lahore, Pakistan.

Why? Because my father is there, with my seven month old sister in his arms, pacing up and down the driveway and across the front of our house, looking increasingly concerned.

My mother, Shahla Zia, whose 36th birthday it is that day, isn’t home. I don’t know where she is, really. I just know that she was full of energy when she left with her friends and work colleagues.

Me and my father in, I think, 1980. I would have been four years old at the time.


Many years and several women’s day marches later I connect the dots: this is the day the women’s movement in Pakistan celebrates as National Women's Day (or Pakistan Women’s Day, as it was called back then).

On this day, some three decades ago, 200 women activists took a stand for all the women of Pakistan. The year was 1983. Images of these women being beaten up by the police are now part of the country’s searing conscience.

These women defied the military dictatorship of the day by taking out a public demonstration in Lahore, despite martial law regulations that outlawed political activities, processions and public protests. These iconic women of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in collaboration with Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association (PWLA) carried out a rally from Hall Road Lahore to the Lahore High Court to file a petition against the law of evidence which would reduce the testimony of women to half that of men. The accumulative trigger was the dictatorship’s unrelenting push to rescind women’s rights.

History has it that when these women reached the high court, the revolutionary poet Habib Jalib came to show solidarity with these women for their struggle for an egalitarian, democratic and progressive society and world order. He was beaten up by the police along with the women who were put behind bars for several hours.

National Women’s Day: Memoirs of trailblazing activists’ – Hassan Naqvi, The Express Tribune, 12 February 2014

Baton charge on protesters at Hall Road, Lahore. 12 February 1983. Photographer: Azhar Jaffery. (Source)


Today, on 12 February 2019, I’m in Melbourne, Australia.

I’m on the committee that’s organising this year’s International Women’s Day events at the company I work for. I’m working on a communications plan to showcase on social media how we're an employer of choice for women in Australia (as we have been since 2015).

One of the reasons I took this particular job (I got two job offers when I was looking for work last year) was because of how well Transurban scored on workplace gender equity. Now I get to tell people about it.

Compared to 1983 in Pakistan, I’m in a vastly different time and place – a vastly different world. A lot has changed. But, sadly, a lot hasn’t.

View from my office building on a rainy day.


Every year on 12 February my father writes a note to my mother, which he then sends to me and my siblings. (This year via WhatsApp!)

He writes about what we’re up to, where we are in our lives, and how proud he is of us. Three of us have kids (the other two, of which I am one, have pets) so he also talks about his grandkids and us as parents.

Ami and Abu, some time in the 1980s.


If she hadn’t died of cancer in 2005, Ami would’ve turned 72 today.

We all mark the occasion in our own ways, often with food – something Ami loved to eat. Today I’m having alu ka parathas for dinner.

I miss her.

Ami on her 50th birthday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

My Mother, the Women’s Rights Activist

When I was six I remember spending a few bored hours swinging on our front gate at our house in Lahore. I was there because my father spent those hours pacing anxiously up and down the driveway with my eight month old sister in his arms. It was years later I realized that this was the day that my mother, along with a few hundred other women from the Women’s Action Forum, had been arrested for staging a rally against our then-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia-ul-Haq was in the process of changing the country’s constitution by creating the Federal Shariat Court, a parallel court system that bypassed the Supreme Court. My mother, who had co-founded AGHS, the country’s first all-female law firm, had helped organize this rally. The police had tear gassed and baton-charged the protesters and had arrested dozens of them. That day, 12 February, is now celebrated as Pakistan Women’s Day. It also happens to be my mother’s birthday.

Shahla Zia at a protest rally in 2003

*start trigger warning about violence against women*

When I was thirteen my mother picked us up from school but, instead of taking us home, we drove for an hour and a half to the other side of Karachi where she had a meeting with some doctors and lawyers. We waited in the car outside the hospital for about an hour. On the way home she told us she’d gone there to see an eleven year old girl from a farming village who worked as a babysitter at her family’s land owner’s mansion. While there she has been raped, beaten, electrocuted, and held captive in a well. Aurat Foundation (AF), the non-profit my mother had co-founded a few years earlier in Lahore, was helping this girl and her family find shelter and legal representation.

My mother, by the way, was a constitutional lawyer and had previously been a criminal lawyer. When she was studying law in the 1970s she was one of six women in a law school of over two hundred men. She was the only woman in her graduating class.

Shahla Zia meeting with Nilofer Bakhtiar, President of the Women's Wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, in 2003.

When I was seventeen I dropped my mother off at her office for a meeting. She had established AF’s branch in Karachi and was now co-running its Islamabad branch. I was supposed to pick her up an hour later but, when I got there, there were a few police cars parked outside and an officer prevented me from going in but wouldn't tell me what was happening. I waited around anxiously for a bit but then went home and telephoned the office instead. My mother told me she’d call me once she was ready to head back, which turned out to be about four hours later.

They’d had a client at their office who had wanted to marry the wrong man; a man who was also of her own choosing. Her family had forbidden her from doing so but she and her now-husband had eloped. Her family had subsequently tracked her down and had made contact with her. She had sought help and had been referred to AF for legal advice. AF had negotiated with the family – who had said they wanted the client to come back home – so that afternoon they had organized a meeting between their client and two representatives from her family in order to discuss terms. However, before the two parties had met, one of the ‘representatives’ had slipped into the room down the hall where the client was waiting and had garrotted her. The murderer and associate had then then snuck out of the building without alerting anyone. From that day onwards there was always a security guard outside of my mother’s office.

*end trigger warning*

Shahla Zia at a panel in 2004

When I was nineteen my mother became a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was tasked with proposing amendments to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961). The committee held a two week long session in Islamabad when I was back home from college during the summer holidays and so, every day, I would drop and pick up my mother from the meeting venue. On the way home my mother would tell me about all the different ways in which the rights of women and minorities had been restricted by the law - and not just Pakistani law, but most of the legal systems around the world. It was quite an eye opener.

My mother, Shahla Zia, made a real, tangible difference to the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people in Pakistan – particularly women. Sadly, she died in March 2005 when she was only 58.

Mapping My Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn

Following on from my post on Immersion, the Gmail metadata mapping tool, I learnt of two other tools that map Facebook and LinkedIn metadata (i.e. your social graph). David Glance mentioned them in his article in the Conversation about the power of metadata ('Your social networks and the secret story of metadata').  

This is what my Facebook social graph looks like:  

What's cool about this network mapping is that, because people share a lot of information about themselves on Facebook and the tool knows who my friends-of-friends are, you can see one level deeper and find sub-networks within my broader social graph. Many of these are high school and university based sub-networks but some are also immediate-family groupings. 

The social graph that's probably cooler (and certainly prettier) is this one from LinkedIn Maps: 

This shows you that I'm connected to four major networks, one each for my two universities (LUMS and MBS) and one each for the two places I've worked at the longest here in Melbourne (Melbourne Water and Jetstar). 

And even though Jetstar and Melbourne Water are in completely different industries the kind of work I did (and am still doing) in both jobs is similar so the crossover space between their two clouds is where all my suppliers, vendors, and industry contacts are. 

One thing I've noted while doing all this mapping is the size of my network on each platform:  

  • Gmail contacts: 478 
  • LinkedIn connections: 505 
  • Facebook friends: 505 
  • Twitter followers: 776 

That's reasonably consistent and certainly above average for each of those social networks. I suppose that's a good thing. 


Immersion: Mapping My Email Networks

I've spent the last few days playing around with Immersion, a fabulous email network mapping project from MIT's Media Lab.  The project's creators describe this as "a people centric view of your email life" and what the tool basically does is create a network map of all your Gmail emails using the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields. 

Who Have I Been Emailing? 

You can can learn a lot from these maps. For example, here is what my email network looks like from April 2004 to July 2013. (I do actually have email from 1999 onwards in my Gmail account but, for whatever reason, Immersion only mapped my email from 2004 onwards. )


The person I emailed the most during this period was Nadia. After that, the network of people I emailed the most was my family. Obviously Nadia is also heavily connected via email to my family network. She is also connected with our Melbourne friends network and, to a smaller extent, my MBS (MBA) and LUMS (BSc) classmate networks.

The two other networks of people I emailed the most were my work colleagues at MBS and my other freelance jobs. 

Digging a Little Deeper

That's a high-level view but you can also divide this 2004 to 2013 date range into three distinct periods in my life.

The first is from 2004 to 2006, which is when I was living in Islamabad just before I came to Melbourne to do my MBA:  

Nadia and my family are obviously the largest nodes and network of nodes here, too. Aside from that, my LUMS classmates, my music projects (Corduroy and the F-10 1/2 project), and my other projects (earthquake relief) all have identifiable email networks of their own.

A couple on specific nodes are also interesting. Mosharraf, one of my seniors from LUMS and also a work colleague, is a connector of networks. And, on the upper right hand side, you can see my email correspondence with MBS starting to play a bigger role. 

The next period, from 2006 to 2008, is while I was doing my MBA at MBS: 

Here my MBS classmates network is a huge part of my emailing. That network also overlaps with the MBS staff network - from my emails to and from the Careers Centre team and my work colleagues from when I worked at MBS for a few months before graduating.  

Emails to my LUMS classmates have dropped of quite a bit, though I was still emailing Amanullah quite regularly. 

Finally, here is what my network looked like after I completed my MBA, that is from 2008 onwards:

Now a new network has popped up: my Melbourne friends outside of MBS. And, thanks to Facebook, I don't email my LUMS or MBS classmates as much as I used to.

That's really cool, isn't it? :) 

Summary Stats

Immersion also gives you a summary of your email stats, including who your top 'collaborators' are (and, if you want, you can also drill down further into your connections with each of these collaborators).

These are my overall stats and the stats for my two top collaborators: 

Yes, that's 20,879 emails with 194 collaborators over 9.3 years :)

My most active email sending years were 2007-2008, which was when I was doing my MBA. My most active email receiving years were 2010-2012 and I think those were because of Nadia, my family, my Melbourne friends, and various mailing lists. 

The group of people I email has stabilized over the last few years so the number of new collaborators I've been adding has dropped considerably. That's also because my Melbourne Water and Jetstar work emails aren't in Gmail so they're not counted here. 

Finally, the two people I collaborate most with are Nadia and my older sister Asha. I like that I've sent Nadia over a thousand emails, of which about two-thirds were sent just to her. Meanwhile I've sent Asha only 515 emails. Of those 137 were sent just to her, which makes sense because she's part of that big family network. 

So there you have it - my life in email.  

If you use Gmail you should check Immersion out yourself. It's fun to use and you can learn a lot about yourself and your email networks in the process. 

Microaggressions Blog

Nadia recently told me about the Microaggressions blog that, as the name suggests, publishes microaggressions.

The cool thing about this blog is that it publishes user-submitted stories (microstories?) and doesn’t limit them to just racially motivated encounters (which is what the term was originally coined for).

The blog is a great place to vent so, if you have any episodes to share, please do so.

My Experience

The kind of microagression that I come across most has to do with my language abilities:

[Usually spoken in a surprised and attempted-complimentary but actually-patronizing tone of voice] “Your English is really good!”

English is my first language but there are always people who will assume that, because I’m from Pakistan or because I don’t look like the dominant Caucasian population, that couldn’t possibly be.

Though, since:

  • I am male, largish in size (fat, not muscle, unfortunately), and whiter than the average Pakistani (so I don’t look “typically” South Asian);
  • my English is really good; and
  • I look and dress like a geek (sneakers, comfortable jeans, geeky t-shirt, Casio watch, glasses, bald, goatie…again, not “typically” South Asian)

not too many people say that to me directly.

The second most common one is to do with the numerous stereotypes people have of South Asian women. I won’t go into that here because…well, that can be a long story.

What Happens Next

The Microaggressions blog is great because it gives you a place to vent. But what’s sometimes more interesting is what happens after the initial exchange.

If you recognize what just happened you then have a choice of what to do next. You can:

  • do nothing and move right along,
  • react aggressively in return, or
  • make this a “teaching moment”.

What you choose depends on:

  • which of those options are actually open to you at the time (e.g. if you’re in large auditorium and the person making the presentation makes such a statement so you can’t do much till question time at the end),
  • how charitable, ticked off, or angry you’re feeling (which, in turn, depends on who made the statement and how they said it),
  • how many times you’ve heard that statement before in the last few days,
  • how tired you are of reacting to similar statements,
  • how well you think you can make your point,
  • who made that statement and how you think they’ll react to what you say next,
  • what the social dynamic of the group is,
  • and so on.

For example, when someone makes a generalized statement about Pakistan that perpetuates a stereotype but, in my opinion, they’ve said that because they don’t know any better, I will almost always try to correct them right then and there. (Though sometimes what I really wish I could do is sit them down and show them Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on ‘The Dangers of a Single Story.)

If I think they’ve made that statement because they genuinely believe it, then I think more carefully before saying something at that time. Sometimes it’s better to address more complex points later on and one-on-one. Sometimes it’s easier to send a link to an article or blog post that explains things better than you can. I do, however, try to make a quick point by saying something like “Well, that’s not quite right…but we can talk about that later.”

Of course, none of this takes away from the sting, irritation, hurt, or anger that you might feel at the statement this person has made. Which, of course, is what the Microaggressions blog is all about.

How I’ve Responded

When people have complimented me on how good they think my English is I’ve generally responded in a couple of different ways.

The first is a quick dismissal of their statement:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Well it should be! It’s my first language, after all.”

I generally say that to people who genuinely don’t know better (yes, some people do live under a rock). This highlights their stereotyping without making it a very personal retort.

Most of time these people will accept what I’ve said (often with a sheepish smile) and move on. I can remember only once instance in the last few years in which someone replied to this with: “No, that’s not what I meant. I just mean that your English is better than most of the people working here.”

I responded to that with something like: “Oh, okay. It’s just that I hear statements like this most often from people who have stereotypes about the English speaking abilities of people from South Asia.” (Though I didn’t say it quite like that at the time!)

Fortunately, this person was very open to the highly productive discussion on stereotyping that followed.

My second response is reserved for the people who do know better:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! Such are the joys of having taught English for years and having worked as an editor whose job it was to correct others’ English!”

The idea being that I react as if they’d said that to someone they perceive to be a “native English speaker” (i.e. another white person). And since my English is usually better than theirs I simply…highlight that fact.

The response I haven’t yet used is one that I’m saving for someone who really deserves it:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! So is yours!”

Or the one that one of my classmates at MBS suggested:

PERSON: “Your speak English really well!”

ME: “Thanks! So do you…for a white guy/girl.”


Rest in Peace, Asim Butt

I heard just now that Asim Butt (1978-2010), my friend and classmate from LUMS, committed suicide on Friday. (I've been offline for the last couple of days.)

I didn't know Asim as well as I would have liked to but...well, I had always assumed I'd meet up with him some time in the future. My most recent contact with him was last year, in the months after I blogged about him, but I did try to keep up with everything he was up to.

I don't know what led to his decision. Indeed, we may never know. It's just incredibly sad that it had to come to this.

That's about all I can say right now.

Other have said more:

Danger of a Single Story: TED Talks, Africa & Stories from Pakistan

My favourite TED talk used to be ‘Benjamin Zander on Music and Passion’ (a.k.a. classical music with shining eyes).

It is now Chimamanda Adichie taking about ‘The Danger of a Single Story’:

You can find out more about Adichie on her Wikipedia page.

How Not To Write About Africa

Speaking of the “single story of Africa”, you must also watch Binyavanga Wainaina’s ‘How Not to Write About Africa’:


If you have the time, do watch Wainaina’s follow-up video (which is rather long, unfortunately) in which he explains why he wrote ‘How Not to Write About Africa’: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

You can find out more about Wainaina on his Wikipedia page.

A Message for Peace From Pakistan

Continuing with the single-story theme, check out Asher Hasan’s short TED talk called ‘A Message of Peace from Pakistan’:

You can find out more about Asher Hasan on his LinkedIn profile. Also check out his non-profit, Naya Jeevan.

More Pakistani Stories

This is why blogs such as these – which are written about Pakistan or by Pakistanis – are so important because they tell you much more about this country and its people than what you would normally hear, see, or read via global media outlets:

For many more Pakistan-related blogs, take a look at these lists:

Song of the Year: ‘Aik Alif’ by Saieen Zahoor & Noori

There are very few songs that affect me deeply in an emotional (and almost physical) way.

Saieen Zahoor and Noori performing a modern rendition of Bulleh Shah’s ‘Aik Alif’ at Coke Studio earlier this year is certainly one of them. This is my song of the year, if not song of the decade:


For more on this song:

Coke Studio Kicks Ass

I first heard of Coke Studio late last year but, when I checked it out, I wasn’t particularly impressed with its first couple of episodes. It was good stuff, yes, and I did like the idea…it just wasn’t all that great.

Then came Season 2 and everything changed.

But Wait…What is Coke Studio?

For all you poor, lost souls who haven’t yet discovered the wonders of Coke Studio:

Coke Studio is a Pakistani television series featuring live music performances. The program focuses on a fusion of the diverse musical influences in Pakistan, including eastern classical, folk, and contemporary popular music. The show provides a platform for renowned as well as upcoming and less mainstream artists, from various genres and regions, to collaborate musically in live studio recording sessions. [Source: Wikipedia]

Think of it as a combination of Later…with Jools Holland, MTV Unplugged, Live from Abbey Road, and the numerous musical collaborations you get to see at award shows like the Grammys.

Oh, and it’s produced by one of my favourite musician-producers, Rohail Hyatt (official site).

Okay, That Sounds Exciting (I think)…Where Do I Start?

Start on YouTube (see links and embedded videos below) by watching the videos that have been uploaded there (don’t forget to rate, comment, and favourite as you see fit). These are available both on the official Coke Studio channel as well as on other users’ channels.

Then visit the official site to download the audio and video of all the performances. Once you’ve been suitably blown away and you still want more (which you will), watch the behind-the-scenes videos for Season 2’s episodes, read the artists’ profiles, and contribute to the site.

And if you still haven’t had enough, check out the Coke Studios Facebook page and the songs from the show featured on Babelsongs (‘Great music translated’).

Let Your Journey Begin…

Start with these three videos.

‘Chal Diyay’ by Zeb & Haniya and Javed Bashir:

‘Aik Alif’ by Saieen Zahoor and Noori:

‘Husn-e-Haqiqi’ by Arieb Azhar":

You can thank me later.

Enjoy :)

Ten Years of the LUMS Music Society

In early 1999, while I was a senior at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), we were planning for the annual student variety show called ‘So?’. Now the ‘So?’ is organized jointly by the all the student clubs who want to participate and, being president of Alpha Hour, I was a part of that year’s organizing committee. [I also co-wrote ‘Zahoor: A Musical’ – Dr. Zahoor being our Associate Dean at the time – that some of my classmate and I performed there but that’s another story.]

A lot of the performances at the ‘So?’ were musical ones. Indeed, we started the show with a song from Jahanzeb and Adil Sherwani, had lots of Ali Hamza in the middle, and even ended the night with the hugely popular cover of The Strings’ ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ as performed by Saad Ansari, Sameer Anees, Jahanzeb Sherwani, and Adil Sherwani.

It was around this time that we all realized that LUMS needed an official music society and so we encouraged the musicians who had performed at the ‘So?’ to start one. That’s what Saad, Jahanzeb, and Ali Hamza did and thus the LUMS Music Society was born.

Fast-Forward to the Present

The Music Society has come a long way since then: They now have their own fully-equipped recording studio (as opposed to the single room next to the gym that we started out with) and they organize all sorts of musical events, some of which you can check out on their YouTube Channel. Also visit their Facebook Group page for event listings, photographs, and discussions.

This year they’re celebrating their ten-year anniversary with a music conference on 9 May and a big concert featuring the likes of Noori, eP, Laal, and Aunty Disco Project on the 10th. They’ll also be launching their official website at that time.

10th Anniversary of the LUMS Music Society

My Association with the Music Society

I owe a lot to the LUMS Music Society because it was through them that I learnt how to play the drums and it was at their launch concert (called ‘The Jig’) in early 2000 that I first performed in front of an audience as a drummer. I even have a recording of the very first song I played at that concert (‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries) with Mehreen on vocals, Vex on bass, and Saad on lead. Yes, it’s terrible of me but I’ve forgotten who was on rhythm guitar.

Even though the actual performance of that song is mostly a blur, I remember that I started out too fast and was mimed to slow down by Jahanzeb who was sitting in the audience. I also made one major error – a hand-spaz miss-hit on the snare drum – that, not only did no one there notice, you can’t even hear it on the audio recording so it obviously wasn’t as big a mistake as I thought it was. I performed in two more songs during that show – Pink Floyd and Alanis Morissette covers, no less – the latter of which was on the bongos which were also new to me at the time.

A few months later, I performed at their first proper, on-stage concert (called ‘It’) in the central courtyard. This time I was on the drums (‘Dosti’ by Nazia and Zoheb), tambourine (‘Smooth’ by Santana and Rob Thomas), and bongos (‘Those Were the Days’ by Mary Hopkin). Later in the year I travelled from Islamabad to Lahore to specifically attend their first big concert (called ‘The Show’) which featured a professional sound system and hired musical instruments. They could afford all this now that they were officially sponsored by LUMS. I last checked-in on them in 2003 when I went to guest lecture at LUMS and they’d already grown quite a bit. Now, of course, they’re the largest club at the University.

In spite of all that, my strongest memory of the Music Society is still that of me, Ali Hamza and Saad packed into a hot, stuffy jam room as we rehearsed a rock version of Nazia and Zoheb’s ‘Dosti’. I used to have a recording of that performance as well but I seem to have lost it along the way, which is sad. That was the first time I came up with my own drum beat to a song (yes, we really changed it around from the original) and I remember being proud of myself for that because I’d grown quite a bit as a musician over those few months.

To Conclude

It’s been ten years since I graduated from LUMS and ten years since the Music Society was formed. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing both my reunion and the 10th anniversary concert because I’m going to be in Australia during both events. That sucks, I know, but I will be there in spirit. And, at the very least, I do get to blog about it and encourage other people to be there on my behalf. Here’s hoping some of you manage to do so.

New Edition of LUMS NEWSnet Published

The March 2009 edition of LUMS’s external newsletter, NEWSnet, was published recently and you can read all of it online. This edition covers about nine months worth of news and events and makes a good read.

Terrible Usability

What’s weird about it, though, is the format it’s been published in: it’s all image files. Basically, instead of taking the time to make a proper website for the newsletter or even make a PDF file out of it, they’ve converted each page of the newsletter into an image which they’ve then sliced into smaller images for faster transfer over the Internet. (Note: making image slices for online publishing is pretty standard for intricately designed websites but is highly unusual for publishing newsletters online.)

Publishing the newsletter in this way makes life a lot simpler for them because (a) making image slices is really easy and (b) the newsletter’s original design, formatting, fonts, photographs, page numbering, etc. are all preserved without them having to make any extra effort. However this is a silly way to publish a newsletter online. Why?

Well, first, the image-only format takes up too much bandwidth and is slow to transfer over the Internet (no matter how many slices you make, transferring HTML code is still quicker). Second, though it’s nice to be looking at a well-formatted page, you are basically stuck with whatever font size they’ve decided to publish the newsletter in (in this case, 9pm Tahoma). Third, reading text as text is much easier than reading text that’s an image. For example:

Text as Text: Text as Image:
Jahanzeb Sherwani is Pakistan’s first developer (and LUMS alumnus) whose application has been accepted into Apple’s iPhone App Store. Jaadu is a groundbreaking application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that lets you control your computer from wherever you ware in the world. page_01_10

Finally, to nitpick a little: I hate the fact that you can’t click to zoom-in on any of the photos they’ve published and the newsletter’s masthead is far too large for an online publication.

The Options They Had

The thing is, I understand why LUMS would do something like this because the online version of NEWSnet is probably not a priority for them. Indeed, they most likely wanted to make as little extra effort as possible in converting the print version to a format they could publish online.

That said, they actually had three choices for that print-to-online conversion:

First, they could have made a proper website for the newsletter. This, however, would have required a bit of work on their part because they would have had to design the site layout, create a template, and then copy all the text and images into it.

Second, they could have made a PDF version of the newsletter and made it available for download. PDFs are the Internet-standard way of publishing newsletters online because they preserve your design, layout, fonts, page numbering, and so on. They are also much better from a usability standpoint because readers can zoom in and out to adjust the print size and, if the text within them is rendered as text, they are also much easier to read.

Finally, they could have done what they did: convert the pages into images and publish those online. This, while the second-easier option for them (making the PDF is easier), is the least user friendly option for readers (or, in this case, site visitors).

Why, then, did they do it this way? I’m not sure. Image files certainly look better than a simple link to a PDF file from the LUMS homepage. And they could have been trying to cater to their six site visitors who don’t have PDF file reading software installed on their computers or in their browsers. Regardless, their choice of publishing the newsletter in this manner is, in opinion at least, a bit of a cop-out. And though I understand why they did it, the reasons for doing it aren’t very convincing to me.

Some Good Things

Among the things they did do right, however, is the fact that the newsletter’s content is both short and very interesting. Also the design and layout of the newsletter itself is quite good. So, even though it’s a pain to read, I have actually skimmed through bits of the newsletter to see what’s going on in the world of LUMS.

Where is the Outrage?

The BBC’s Ilyas Khan has written an excellent article on how casually top Pakistani officials continue to treat the local fundamentalist militant threat that has grown so quickly over the last year.

Khan uses the official reaction to the recent attack on the Manawan police academy in Lahore to make his point:

Eight hours of siege, eight policemen killed, nearly 100 injured, and at the end of the day what do we know about the stand off at the Manawan police academy?

Very little, as usual.

And just as usual, analysts have continued to point out on television news shows that Pakistan has yet to stop being casual about the militant threat.

The question is, why do top Pakistani officials continue to make off the cuff remarks about a problem that appears to be ripping the country apart?

I don’t know the answer to that question but it saddens me to see a lack of outrage from many of those top officials. Certainly they claim to be upset by what’s happened, but they’re obviously not upset enough to do anything concrete and long-lasting about it. All they seem to want to do is apply another roll of duct tape to the problem in the hope that it’ll hold everything together.

I mean, seriously, why are analysts, journalists, and reporters the only ones – aside from the general public, of course – who are openly discussing the gravity and long-term implications of attacks such as these? And why are they the only ones who seem to be saddened by the loss of life that accompanies each and every one of those attacks?

This lack of acknowledgement (of gravity) from the top is an issue because openly admitting that you have a problem really is the first step you have to take before you can start to solve things. And it’s that very acknowledgement that doesn’t seem to be coming from the people who can actually do something about it.

Some Optimism

Mosharraf Zaidi, meanwhile, is optimistic that this most recent attack will finally get the bureaucracy to do something about the situation. In his most recent article and blog post, ‘Counter-Terrorism Through the Civil Service’, he writes:

The attack on the Lahore police training facility yesterday, which as of the time of this article’s writing had not ended, should wake Pakistan up. There is an existential monster that Pakistanis are unable to acknowledge because of the weakness of their Muslim faith. This weakness is exacerbated by the average Pakistani Muslim’s dependence on unholy mullahs whose money-ing by General Zia, radical Saudis, and the joint efforts of the CIA and the ISI is now proving to be the single gravest threat to the sustainability of Pakistan as an operational entity.

The ostrich-like reaction to terrorism is driven by the average Pakistani’s inability to debate the mullah, and an unwillingness to invest the effort and time required to tame that mullah. Abandoned and let loose by the “shurafa” that once were able to tame the mullah, and to speak his language, the mullah’s new master–the comfort of Land Cruisers and bottled water–has no scruples.

Do make sure you read his entire blog post as well as the comments the post has generated. The comments on all of Zaidi’s posts are always worth a read.

What Happens Now?

So there you have it: a reason to be pessimistic about the whole situation and yet there’s always a glimmer of hope that maybe this time people will be motivated enough to actually do something concrete to fix the problem (or at least start to fix the problem). The lawyers certainly did with their long march. How long before the rest of us wake up and really do something about the militancy problem too?

Here’s hoping there is cause for optimism over the next few days as officials tell us exactly what happened during the Manawan attack and what they’re going to do about it. As one expert commentator on Geo News said a couple of days ago: until the government actually captures, punishes, and makes an example of the people who are carrying out these acts of terrorism, the militants don’t really have any incentive to stop doing whatever it is they darned well want to. This, then, is the opportunity for the government to do just that. If they want to send a message to the militants, now is the time.

Here’s hoping…

Maliha Got Married

If you’re wondering why I published only one blog post in February that’s because I spent most of that month in Pakistan attending (and, of course, helping organize) my younger sister Maliha’s wedding. This is her and my brother-in-law, Ibaad, at their wedding in Islamabad:

From Maliha and Ibaad's Wedding

Yes, I know I’m about a month late in blogging about this but I’ve only recently gotten the time to organize the photos from that trip. This is me ‘n Nadia in Karachi, which is where Maliha and Ibaad now live:

From Pakistan Trip Feb-09

You can view all these photos on my Picasa Web Albums page in these two albums:

  1. Maliha and Ibaad’s Wedding
  2. Pakistan Trip Feb-09

Enjoy :)

The Islamization of Pakistan

This month’s Newsline has a couple of excellent articles on the Islamization of Pakistan.

First there’s an article called ‘The Power of the Pulpit’ by Mohammad Hanif, author of ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ which was shortlisted for the 2008 Guardian First Book Award.

Hanif writes:

Mullahs, maulvis, imamas, or ulema-i-karam as many of them prefer to call themselves, have never had the kind of influence or social standing that they enjoy now. A large part of Pakistan is enthralled by this new generation of evangelists. They are there on prime time TV, they thunder on FM radios between adverts for Pepsi and hair removing cream. In the past few years, they have established fancy websites with embedded videos; mobile phone companies offer their sermons for download right to your telephone. They come suited, they come dressed like characters out of the Thousand and One Nights, they are men and they are women. Some of them even dress like bankers and talk like property agents offering bargain deals in heaven.

Then there’s an article called ‘The Saudi-isation of Pakistan’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of High Energy Physics and the Head of the Physics Department at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

Hoodbhoy writes:

The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation state.

Both are excellent, though long, articles that I highly recommend you read.

Politics – Change & Struggle for Change

So a number of interesting things happened in politics this week. I’m not good at writing about this stuff [1] so you get pictures, video, and links to other sites.

I Can Haz Change?

The big news, of course, was the US presidential inauguration and Aretha Franklin’s hat. I guess Americans finally have earned the new puppy that coming with the Obamas to the White House :)

The Struggle for Change

Meanwhile, Nadia and I attended a protest rally in Melbourne over the weekend:

2009-01-18 - Melbourne Protest Rally

And though the people who attend rallies (myself included) all have their own particular agendas, mine was summed up by this poster:

Targeting Civilians

And The Struggle Continues

Finally, if you’re in Lahore, consider attending the peace rally being organized by the newly-formed Amn Tehreek  (peace movement) at 3pm on Saturday, 31 January (click the image for details):


It’s easy to have a “nothing I do will make a difference anyway, so why bother?” attitude towards all this, I know. But if there is one thing that has the potential to make a difference – however small that influence may be to begin with – it’s attending rallies such as this one (at least to start with). Because if you don’t, then you might as well stick your head in the sand, renew your silent majority membership, and lose your right to complain if the future doesn’t turn out the way you wanted. (I extend the same argument to voting in elections, by the way, which is why I love the fact that, in Australia, voting is compulsory.)

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[1] I have a hard time writing about politics because this is not something I talk about often. As a result, I have far too much to say and far too little space to say it in. I also have a hard time cutting to the chase which, funnily enough, I have no problem doing when I’m writing about other topics (…must work on this). Besides, I find that, when it comes to politics, others say what needs to be said much better than I do. People like Mosharraf Zaidi, for example.

Chay Magazine Issue 2

The second issue of Chay Magazine is now out. This seems to be a small edition – only five articles, all of which are listed on the front page – but that’s five more articles on this topic than would otherwise have been written. Good job, folks!

Meanwhile, they are now accepting submissions for Issue 3, which is on the topic of sexual diversity.

Further Rant on BBC Article on Zeb & Haniya

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I had a few issues with Syed Shoaib Hasan’s recent BBC News article on Zeb & Haniya.

As expected, that article was picked up by a number of Pakistani blogs like PakPositive and Vajood and I thought it might be useful to include here the comments I left on one of those blogs because it further explains my issues with the article:

I don't understand the relevance of Nadeem Paracha's comments in this article. Was this a news report about Zeb & Haniya or a review of their music? This is aside from the fact that saying their music is "good, not extraordinary" is actually quite useless because it doesn't mean anything. I mean, really, what does it mean when you say that someone's music is "good"? That's too general, too relative, and basically a cop-out. And why does Paracha "caution" people about their music? Is he afraid they'll like it too much and will think it's "extraordinary"?

The reason I'm getting so irritated by this is that this is the only time I've read an article about Pakistani musicians in which their music has been reviewed by a "leading music critic" or by any critic for that matter. And, personally, I don't think it's a coincidence that the only time this has happened is the only time a female duo has been discussed. I don't remember *anyone* talking about the quality of the music of *any* male artist, duo, or group in an article like this *ever* in the past. Do you?

BBC News Report on Zeb & Haniya

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan just published an article on Zeb and Haniya on the BBC News website. And while it’s awesome that Zeb & Haniya are getting this kind of international news coverage, I don’t particularly like the angle that Hasan has taken with this story.

As it stands, the article has the “Ooh, look! Pakistanis aren’t all terrorists – some women are allowed to sing!” tone and that really pisses me off. This despite the fact that political commentary in a story like this was inevitable. The phrase “girl band” in the title, ‘Pakistan girl band creates a stir’, ticks me off as well.

The article then makes a needless reference to Bollywood in its first sub-heading (“Ooh, look! They watch Indian movies…they must be normal people!”) and contains this sentence:

Addicted to their Bollywood movies and Pakistani pop music, many are at ease with privately imitating their idols.

Right. That exactly what all Pakistanis are like.

Hasan also keeps calling the duo “Pakistan's first all-female music band” which is not accurate.

Worst of all, though, he goes and quotes the eminently patronizing Nadeem Farooq Paracha who is, apparently, “Pakistan’s leading music critic”. I’m not sure why Hasan did that because Paracha’s sole contribution in the article is to put Zeb & Haniya down (in his usual eminently patronizing style) which is particularly irritating as this is supposed to be a news report and not a music review.

I mean, WTF? Why couldn’t this have been a straightforward article about a couple of female musicians who are doing well in Pakistan. Wasn’t that news enough? What was the added benefit of talking about how good or bad their music is? (This is like writing an article about a new female politician in Pakistan who is doing quite well and then getting a quote from a political analyst who says something like “her policies are good, but they are not extraordinary”.)

All those issues aside, though, I’m glad the article was written because at the very least it gives widespread and much-deserved coverage to Zeb & Haniya and their music.