Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraqi election?

Okay, anything I say here is opinion, speculation, feeling around in the dark, so please don't judge it as "scholarship"! An open question: What do you think about the Iraqi election? My main news source (National Public Radio, in the U.S) is reporting that it went better than expected, with large turnouts in the north and south (Kurds and Shia) and some voting in the Sunni middle despite threats and calls for a boycott. Last I heard about 44 were killed and others injured in attacks. NPR is a fairly liberal media source, though not as liberal as they used to be.

The Republicans are declaring victory all over the place, of course. Jimmy Carter (our last good president) was quoted in the last few days as saying something like, "I see no signs that the U.S. will let the Shia determine policies." (That's a close paraphrase; I believe he was talking about foreign and oil policy, but I was running out the door as I heard this so didn't get the whole story.) I have an email from a Ugandan friend that I haven't yet opened titled something like, "Iraqi Election: Biggest Farce of the Century". My bias: From the little I know of him, I really like as-Sistani, who has many of the hallmarks of a Sufi saint, if you read about his behavior and the way people react to and talk about him. Also, he stood up to both as-Sadr and the Americans. He supports the elections, so I think there might be something good in them in spite of various impure agendas and manipulative behaviors. Okay, over to you.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Crisis is Not Only in Higher Education: A Response to Professor Hoodbhoy's Model of Higher Education

The recent debate on the issue of higher education reform has raised serious concerns about the state of graduate and post-graduate studies in Pakistan. One such critique is offered by Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and a well-known advocate for human rights and peace.
Hoodbhoy’s essay on the topic, published as two separate parts in the Pakistani newspaper DAWN, vividly highlights the inadequacies of the conditions of higher education. While much of the criticism offered is indisputable, Hoodbhoy’s analysis, like that of many others, is striking for its lack of regard for the larger political economy of Pakistan in which any such discussion must reside.

Some of the flaws in higher education mentioned by Hoodbhoy and others include: deficient institutions and universities, incompetent professors, intellectually lethargic students, meaningless and ill-earned degrees, and a lack of a vibrant scientific, intellectual, and political culture on the campuses. Few will contest that these are the characteristics of many higher education institutions, although not all. However, the mistake lies in ignoring significant societal factors which impact on the predicament of higher education, and that should therefore be taken into consideration when thinking about strategies for reform.

It is often mentioned how M.A., and increasingly Ph.D., degrees awarded to graduate students are hollow and do not really reflect any intellectual achievement. Hoodbhoy scathingly criticizes the myopic endeavor by the HEC (Higher Education Commission) to simply increase the number of doctorate degrees awarded in order to make up for the “Ph.D. deficit.” The indictment of the vacuity of graduate degrees may be well-intentioned, but it tends to ignore the whole picture. There may be an excess of graduate and post-graduate degrees granted in Pakistan, but there also is an incredible surplus of unemployed or underemployed persons with these degrees. The staggering number of M.A. degree holders either jobless or doing odd jobs to make ends meet is there for everyone to see. Therefore, narrowly addressing the educational and intellectual standards of the curriculum without paying any attention to the larger socio-economic context of scarcity does not seem to be a remedy for the situation.

Likewise, the complaints against the incompetence and self-interestedness of faculty at institutions of higher learning tend to overlook the fact that these professors also come from the same society as everyone else. In Pakistan, as in many other developing countries, the sharp socio-economic polarization of society often causes the crudest type of corruption and personal financial aggrandizement. Hoodbhoy faults the HEC for sending signals to professors that “corruption pays.” But the HEC’s position is nothing novel, and has always been a well-understood truism in Pakistan since its inception. Corruption certainly pays in a country where the majority sprawls in destitution and neglect, and where people undertake all sorts of ventures to wrest themselves away from the grip of the ubiquitous poverty and exploitation. In a country where one is fortunate to have a fixed job, even though the income from these jobs are usually meager, and where the paucity of both government and private jobs produce an unashamed zero-sum game of ruthless competition amongst the citizenry, a culture of corruption and individualist ethics should not be surprising.

In such an unfavorable environment, some still persist in their caricaturing of Pakistani graduate students as being brainless or intellectually challenged. Hoodbhoy claims that these students are incapable of making coherent arguments, creatively expressing themselves, and writing well. Before anything else, it must be said that such condescending remarks are an exaggeration. When Hoodbhoy laments the fact that Pakistani students rarely read newspapers or cannot write effectively, he could just as well replace “Pakistani” with “American,” and the sentiment would be more valid. Pakistani students are no different from students in other countries, and to believe otherwise verges on racism. It is rather remarkable that the vast majority of Pakistani students who have received grossly under-funded and sub-par primary education, have shown an amazing ability to remain politically alert and culturally aware. One is in awe at the keen level of interest and knowledge of many ordinary, undereducated persons of the lower classes. I often find their understanding of the world to be much more perceptive than my fellow American graduate students who have undergone the American educational model that Hoodbhoy praises so highly. Nevertheless, the key issue here is of social class—students of elite background are empowered by elite schools, whereas the vast majority of students have no choice but to develop their knowledge base and confidence on their own.

It should not be surprising that this entrenchment of social inequality and deprivation produces severe consequences for Pakistani society. The putative cultural/social characteristics that have emerged reflect the underlying political economy of the nation. Thus, an assertion that Pakistani students and young people are utterly uninterested in reading books, and therefore there is no market for bookshops, proves to be highly misleading. The explanation to the present dire straits lies not so much in a cultural thesis of intellectual lethargy, but primarily in the outrageous costs of the majority of quality, new books. The tragic dilemma for many is whether they should purchase books for their intellectual growth and pleasure, or save that money in order to pay the tuition for their little brother’s or sister’s education at a mediocre private primary school. These issues are not unique to Pakistan. They are the same issues in a country like India, with the obvious difference of a much larger middle class and an immensely vaster impoverished class.

The American model of higher education, and particularly its system of national examinations, is the alternative that Hoodbhoy and others propose for Pakistan. While blaming the present higher education exams in Pakistan of encouraging rote memorization and dullness, commentators forget that exams such as the SAT and GRE in the U.S. do pretty much the same as well. When Hoodbhoy refers to a new examination proposed by the HEC for Pakistani graduate students as “a shoddy literacy and numeric test,” many in the U.S. would not hesitate to describe exams such as the SAT and the GRE in the same way. After all, many upper level American exams are not aced by superb conceptual and creative abilities, but by the same old technique of memorizing vocabulary words and mathematical formulas. In the U.S., these exams have been consistently criticized for being shallow and meaningless indicators of a student’s talent and performance. In fact, many universities have reduced the emphasis they’ve historically placed upon them. Of course, now a massive “prep–course” industry has emerged in the U.S. that allows students of affluent background, in addition to already having attended the most elite private schools, to buy their way to the best universities by enrolling in these expensive prep-courses.

The SAT or GRE type of exams which are being advocated by some Pakistani commentators are a recipe for further “screening” the haves from the have-nots. The proposal to “cut down” the number of graduates will only polarize society more with an elite group of “experts” on the on hand, and a mass of ignoramuses on the other. The problems of unemployment and rapidly deteriorating socio-economic conditions are, once again, not on the agenda. Hoodbhoy’s most elitist comment is when he buoyantly states that a SAT or GRE type of exam introduced in Pakistan would “separate individuals who can benefit from higher education from those who cannot.” The arch-conservative socio-political nature of this comment is surprising coming from Hoodbhoy. Most of those who would be able to “benefit” from this higher education would necessarily be those who have attended superior primary and secondary schools and have the luxury of expensive private tutoring. The majority of students, who cannot “benefit” from this higher education, by implication, must remain confined to their hell holes. This represents a dreadful and unacceptable accommodation with a hierarchical social structure that continues to marginalize and impoverish Pakistani youth.

In the view of many of the Pakistani intelligentsia, the “American model” is necessary to “catch up” with neighboring India. An important point to remember when comparing the lackluster higher education institutions of Pakistan with their more advanced and distinguished counterparts in India is, historically, the negative impact of American “aid” in the sphere of education as well as in general national development. American “experts” flocked to “develop” Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s, only to expose the bankruptcy of modernization theory’s approach to the question of development. Arguably, Pakistan’s chosen path right after independence of being a U.S. client state has been precisely the reason why there has been a lack of successful national development in all spheres of society, including education. India, on the other hand, adopted a policy of non-alignment that created the space it required to implement comprehensive and progressive structural reforms and infrastructural development in the fields of education, health, and employment. Those types of “reforms” have never been tolerated by Pakistan’s long-standing patron, the U.S.

The call for the revival of a vibrant intellectual and political culture on the campuses is well-heeded, although this does not necessarily guarantee that progressive voices will be victorious. The “NGOization” of much of progressive life in Pakistan leaves the possibility of the emergence of a meaningful Left on the campuses rather dim. The Left in India, visible today in both the official Left parties as well as the new social movements, has been able to remain a potent force on campuses because of its rich history as a formidable political contender in larger Indian society,. The absence of such antisystemic politics in Pakistan, the co-optation of progressives by the NGO model that siphons off their liberal/Left passions into nine-to-five jobs, and the resulting de-politicization of society cause one to be rather skeptical of any benefits of intellectual glasnost on the campuses in isolation from the outside.

The commentary of Hoodbhoy and others displays their essential acceptance of the assumptions of the Higher Education Commission and of Pakistan’s rulers, i.e. that Pakistan is lagging behind and needs to “catch up,” in particular with its neighbor India. This premise is paraded as an unassailable sacred cow, and therefore issues related to the unequal and dangerous costs and benefits of this project of “catching up” are not permitted to be discussed. What is ignored by such “catch up” pundits is the ethical bankruptcy of focusing on an issue which is not of primary concern to the overwhelming majority of the population. Information technology and more rigorous and competitive higher education curricula speak to the needs of the middle and upper classes, and if Hoodbhoy’s model ever gets implemented, then really only the upper classes. These are not the issues of ordinary working people in Pakistan, whose children attend primary and high schools of distressingly substandard quality. For the vast majority of Pakistanis, this “catch up” model of higher education, like the stock market in the United States for the majority of Americans, will allow them to be spectators in awe, not participants. Pakistanis await the day when the zeal being displayed on higher education reform is also shown on matters such as elementary education and health care, aspects of their lives which are so scandalously neglected by Pakistani rulers and complicit intellectuals.

In the last national elections in India in 2004, Indians demonstrated their rejection of the “shining India” image promoted by the Indian elite to its population and to outsiders. Indians shunned a development model which enriched a minority but displaced and impoverished tens of millions. Indian farmers swept into poverty and forced to commit suicide in places like Andhra Pradesh could care less about how brilliant their IT workers are. Peoples’ movements in India are rebelling against the logic of western-style capitalist development, with its emphasis on a crass competitive ethic and the turning of humans into home oeconomicus. It is ironic that a renowned human rights activist like Hoodbhoy would consider the “intensely competitive” nature of Indian higher education institutions as a positive feature. Any model that produces self-interested, atomized individuals with concern only for themselves is not very inspiring. There is a need to engage the ideas of contemporary thinkers such Noam Chomsky and Michael Albert, who decry the competitive ethic of the world capitalist system for breeding soulless and isolated machines, not humane humans who are in solidarity with each other.

Genuine grassroots activists in India tell us that it is no success when you have hundreds of millions living below the poverty level, without clean water, sanitation, medicines, and food. And these Indians also tell us who they believe “successful” Indians are: the tens of millions of Indians involved in struggles in the Narmada Valley area, Kashmir, the streets of Mumbai, etc., all opposing neo-liberalism and the state violence which tends to accompany it. Those are the success stories which laudable intellectuals such as Arundathi Roy, Vandana Shiva, P. Sainath, and Praful Bidwai highlight as demonstrating the beauty and achievement of India.

So-called Western meritocracy and sanitized screening tests along the model of U.S. exams, hence, are an elite solution to the problem of higher education reform, not a people’s solution. Before anything else, the primary needs of the majority of the population must be prioritized. Education at the primary, secondary, and graduate levels must be made participatory and meaningful, encouraging the creative and investigative faculties of students to fully express themselves without the typical competitive and destructive constraints to which we’ve become so accustomed. In this regard, educators must re-engage the insights and educational strategies of intellectuals such as Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich. Otherwise, higher education reform will intensify the creation of an elite cadre of technocrats whose “specialized” knowledge will only increase the gulf between the haves and have nots, the managers of power and the thoroughly disempowered.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Enemy of "Freedom!"

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Cartoon by Khalil Bendib, a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

Remembering the Horror of Nazi Crimes

Salam everyone,

It is the 60th anniversary of the victory over the Nazis and the liberation of the Nazi death camps in which 6 million Jews, 3 million Poles, 1 million or so Gypsies and assorted Communists, trade unionists and homosexuals met their deaths.

There are many commemorative events being held to remember this horrible happening. There are several things I wanted to say in memory of the people who suffered and died under the Nazis.

First, this event was unique in history for the reason that the Nazis planned it so calculatedly and implemented it and documented it so clearly. Hannah Arendt wrote about this in her book The Banality of Evil. It's the banality, the documented details, that make this event more chilling to hear about than other similar tragedies.

Second, in commemorating this event and saying/praying "Never Again," we must remember that the main lesson to be gained is that we must be vigilant against fascist political movements that seek to "otherize" huge groups of people and condone their extermination. Those movements exist today.

Third, it cheapens the memory of those who suffered and died in these camps for the commemorations to be carried out on behalf of a certain country or political affiliation, or a certain group, to the exclusion of others. The Nazi atrocities were a crime against all of humanity.

Fourth, it is beyond contempt to pretend that either it did not happen (denial), that it was exaggerated somehow by partisans (revisionism), that the Nazis were somehow justified for it (assorted racists, particularly those who hate Jews), or that we should scorn commemorating it because of some or another political issue happening today. That would put us not much above those who lean the fascist way.

I mourn the untimely deaths and the untold suffering that took place in Dachau, Auschwitz, Birkenau and all the other Nazi death camps. May their suffering and death have not been in vain to the extent that they provided the grim lesson to all of us to be ever vigilant against the dangers of fascism and intolerance.

I do not pretend to have any special authority to speak about those who were ruthlessly and bureaucratically slaughtered. It is my belief that all people in the world today, particularly the majority who were born after the death camps were liberated, can only be worthy of even remembering them if we learn the lessons from history and become more civilized people, creating a world where the evils the Nazis called for and carried out would truly become completely unthinkable. May we one day realize this dream. Only then can we truly hope that the dead will be at peace.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Whose discontent? An Open Letter to Dutch Intellectuals

Dear Dutch Intellectuals

I write to you as one of those that the organisers of the Winternachten (and some of you perhaps) regard as a “discontent from the East”. Even though I bear no enduring “discontent” and the discomfort that concerns many Dutch intellectuals seems more theirs than mine; even though I am not from “the East”. But since some vociferous Dutch intellectuals and cultural workers have decided that I, as a Muslim, must be Eastern and discontented, I will wear that label for a few minutes.

I attended a debate on the 21st January 2005, which was part of the exciting Winternachten cultural festival in Den Haag. I had been in the Netherlands for exactly a week and found the debate extremely stimulating.

The debate featured three well-known European men of letters: two Dutch (Michael Zeeman and Paul Scheffer) and one French (Olivier Roy) Actually, there was a fourth European, Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan, but he was treated as if he was less of a European than the other three. (I found it interesting that the French Embassy tried to convince the Winternachten organisers to withdraw the invitation to Ramadan, but that is a matter that, perhaps, does not need to be addressed here.) The other two panellists were Eddin Khoo, a Malaysian writer, and South African academic Farid Esack.

As an aside, I must say that there were problems with the organisation and composition of the panel. I am sure that such oversights are not an example of the Dutch intellectual scene. There were no women on the panel, just six men. I know that there are Dutch female intellectuals and cultural workers. I wondered that perhaps what Europeans wanted was just a good fight, a clash of machismos. “Forget the women, find their strongest men and let’s battle it out.” Forget, also, other marginalised groups. There were no Africans on the panel, even though there are a number of African Muslims and other African intellectuals in the Netherlands. And strangely, there was no Dutch Muslim on the panel.

Then there was the debate topic. “Discontent of the East”? Should “Arrogance of the West and its resultant discontent” not have been more appropriate, I had wondered. Where is the discontent and why? Also, have there been debates here about the discontent of Africans living in Dutch society? Women? Dutch workers? Other marginalised groups? Was the message that discontent will only be acknowledged in Dutch society if the discontented planted bombs and killed people (as it is claimed “discontented” Muslims do)?

And what of “the East”? Only one member of the panel – Khoo – was of the East. The other Muslims were Westerners. Stereotyping Islam as Eastern is a huge part of the western confusion about Muslims and for casting them as “the other” that needs to be analysed, feared, civilised and / or subjugated. I am also wondering whether “the East” has not become another codeword in reference to Muslims; so that people can attack “the East” without being seen for what they are doing: Muslim-bashing. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention of the Winternachten and I am also grateful that they didn’t use Theo van Gogh’s word of choice in describing Muslims: “goatf*****s”.

I turn to some of the substantive matters in the debate. The moderator-panellist, Michael Zeeman, one of your important literary figures, was unbelievable. Most astounding was his half-hearted apology on the absence of women panellists. All he could concede was that it was a “slight mistake”. As a South African, I was appalled. This would not happen in an academic or cultural programme in South Africa. And if it did, there would be profuse apologies and attempts to rectify the situation, not the feeble acknowledgment that Zeeman gave.

But this wasn’t his only amazing statement. Zeeman set the tone for the evening with his initial comments. He explained why the debate took place at this time and why it could not have taken place 10 or five years ago. As justification, he listed what he regarded as watershed events of the past five years: the terrorist attacks of the 11 September 2001, the murder of Theo van Gogh, etc. Incredibly, he forgot the refusal by the US and Europe to discuss reparations at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 and the US’ snub to the rest of the world by walking out, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter in violation of the UN Charter), Dutch troops currently in Iraq, the many global mobilisations of millions of people by the global justice and anti-war movements, attempted coups against Venezuela’s elected President Chavez, assassinations and murders of Palestinians by Israeli Occupation Forces, the rejection by Israel and the US of the International Court of Justice ruling on the Apartheid Wall.

But that is not enough. People from “the East” have memories longer than five years. What of the 56-year genocide of the Palestinian people? The coups against Iran’s Mossadeqh and Chile’s Allende? The assassination of Congo’s Lumumba? And Europe’s role in all of these?

Zeeman compounded his selective narrative with the comment that Dutch people have suddenly, in the past five years, been faced with violence and murder which they had not witnessed “in centuries”. How many centuries, I wondered.

Much as we South Africans remember gratefully the Dutch role in the anti-Apartheid struggle, we also have another memory of you. I am constantly reminded of this memory as I walk the streets of Leiden where I am currently based. I repeatedly hear that Leiden University is the oldest in the Netherlands, built in 1575. And each time I am told this, I remember that my country has just emerged from a long period of Apartheid which began, as far as South Africans are concerned, in 1652 – 77 years after this great centre of learning was built – when the Dutch colonised South Africa and subjugated her people by force.

Muslims (whose discontent you are so desperate to understand) were brought to the Cape Colony as slaves and exiles by the Dutch. I also remember that Indonesia and Malaysia suffered 350 years of brutal Dutch occupation and won their independence only in the 20th Century. And we Africans remember that even today your Royal Dutch Shell – owned in large part by your Royal Family – causes the deaths and misery of tens of thousands of Ogoni in Nigeria. Have the Dutch really no memory of violence and murder, when they are themselves responsible for it even in the 21st Century?

Paul Scheffer, the journalist-politician, constantly asked the Muslim panellists to “take responsibility” for Muslim violence. A fair demand. But will you Dutch (and European) intellectuals, literati and politicians ever (unlike Scheffer) take responsibility for and grant reparations for your societies’ crimes against humanity? Also a fair demand.

The other demand constantly made in this debate (and at other forums) was for Muslims to repeat that we are a “peaceful people”. As a Muslim intellectual and activist I am not sure I want to make such a categorical statement under this kind of duress. I spent a large part of my life trying to convince Muslims that we were not a “peaceful community” who had to be “good citizens” under the Apartheid government, so that they would realise that they had to fight against Apartheid. A highlight of that part of my life was the death of my brother, AK47 in his hands, his body shredded by bullets from the guns of Apartheid police. We South Africans won the struggle against Apartheid – with your help – because we were not a “peaceful people”. And South African Muslims engaged in that struggle because we refused to be a “peaceful people”.

Surely you cannot expect us to now suddenly accept Apartheid for Palestinians and become “peaceful”? Or to see children’s bodies ripped to shreds in Iraq and to repeat the mantra of “peace”? Surely you understand that global Apartheid and injustice needs to be fought against as well? Surely you cannot expect oppressed people around the world to forget that Dutch troops participated in subjugating Iraqi people as part of the US coalition? (That the Dutch government has just decided to withdraw its troops is welcome news, but they are still there.) Surely we cannot face the reality of 36,500 Third World children dying every day of malnutrition and “peacefully” accept our lot? You will not allow this for your children; please do not expect us to allow it for ours.

Before I conclude, I must, in all fairness, say that I do not lump all Dutch intellectuals and writers in with the Zeemans and Scheffers. There are many Dutch intellectuals who are part of the global justice movement. They do not caricature and stereotype people, they involve themselves in the day-to-day struggles of the underclasses – Muslims and others – in order to stem the tide of capitalist globalisation and realise a better world. They seriously engage with issues of injustice and violence and find common cause with all the discontented – of the East and the West – in a world of unbridled capitalism, greed, environmental degradation, gender, racial and class discrimination. As an African and a Muslim I am proud to be their comrade.

Clearly, just as not every Muslim is a violent terrorist, not every Dutch writer is a Theo van Gogh – anti-semitic, misogynist, Islamophobic and racist. What the Netherlands requires is an intelligentsia across ethnic and religious boundaries that will stand firmly against murder and against the bombing of religious buildings, that will support free speech and protection from racist and sexist hate, that will condemn violence against artists and demagogical hatred against marginalised groups. Such a pity that Winternachten did not see it fit to invite any of these intellectuals to the debate.

This letter is already longer than I had hoped; we still have lots to discuss and many centuries to cover. Let me conclude by inviting you to engage more, as equals and as fellow human beings, with Muslims – in your own country and beyond – so that we might together understand the factors that cause discontent for us all and so that we might discuss how these causes might be removed. Removed in a way that will allow us all to live as peaceful individuals and communities. Removed in a way that will allow us all to realise our full human potential – the potential of peace and development. We Muslims, you see, desire peace and development as much as the next Dutch person – even if we do sometimes seem somewhat discontented.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Letter Seeking Peace and Justice

“If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the one that heareth and knoweth all things.” Qur’an 8:61.

I received this Eid letter from a rabbi working for peace among the Abrahamic peoples. As you may know, there are many Jewish and even Israeli peace and justice activists, but as with others working for the same causes, their activities go un- or under-reported, while violence is always assured of headlines. I think you'll enjoy the truths and practical suggestions below.

Asalaam aleikum, eid mubarak!

May the festival bring you even closer to God, and fill you and all of us with deeper willingness to join in God's call that we seek peace and justice. May you find joy and fulfillment in this celebration. I am struck that once Ibrahim has made clear he is willing to offer God what is dearest to him, God turns from demanding the death of his son to inviting Ibrahim to use the sheep that has appeared to feed the poor. I am espccially struck that Muslim families to this very day celebrate Eid by feeding the poor. We might almost say that one teaching we receive from this moment is to feed the poor instead of killing our children. We are all at this moment caught in a war that is robbing the poor in order to kill our children -- a travesty, a disaster, a denial of God's Will. May we all receive the blessing that next year at Eid, we will have been able to turn America back to truly serving the God of compassion.

Next fall, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holy month of Tishrei (which begins with Rosh Hashanah and includes Yom Kippur and the harvest festival, Sukkot) will coincide. They will begin on or about October 3, and the saint's day for Francis of Assisi falls on October 4.This confluence offers us an extraordinary moment for interweaving our celebrations in these three traditions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the families of Abraham. We have nine months to prepare - time to conceive, gestate, and bring to birth this joyful moment. Nine months to create open hearts where now there are clenched teeth, to share tears with each other where now we shed each other's blood.We are tottering on the precipice of religious and civilizational war. GOD HAS GIVEN US A SPECIAL GIFT to help us step away from the cliff: THE GIFT OF TIME. Time to help us walk hand-in-hand, listening to the Spirit alongside each other.A few possible ways to share:

Congregations can agree to share dinner after nightfall on any of the evenings of Ramadan, and carefully shape the dinner as a spiritual meal with prayer, meditation, storytelling.

Perhaps groups of six - including two people from each tradition - could share the stories of important moments in their own spiritual journeys.

Perhaps groups of three congregations - a church, a synagogue, a mosque - could each host one meal during the month for members of all three.

Churches could invite Jews and Muslims to join in learning about and celebrating Francis of Assisi. (He was one of the few Christian saints who learned in a serious way from Muslim teachers.)

Jews could invite Muslims and Christians into the "sukkah" - the leafy hut of the harvest festival. Traditionally, "ushpizin" - holy guests - are invited in and blessings are invoked upon "the seventy nations" of the world. Jewish prayers implore God to "spread the sukkah of shalom" over us. These are perfect rubrics for peacemaking among the children of Abraham.

Muslims could invite Jews and Christians to join in celebrating some aspects of Eid el-Fitr, and Jews and Christians could (as in Morocco) bring food to the celebration of the end of Ramadan's fasting. It marks and underlines the month-long commitment to fast so as to offer food and life-abundance to God as a sacrifice, and to focus on devotion to God instead of to material success.

Synagogues could invite Muslim scholars and spiritual leaders to teach in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah how it is that Muslims understand the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael. (The biblical version of the story is part of the Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah.) Then there could be open discussion of the differences, the similarities, the wisdom held in each of the versions of the story.

Perhaps most important, in the light of standing on the precipice of religious war and repression: Together, rabbis, priests, nuns, ministers, and imams - perhaps with their congregants - could take some action to change public policy - for human rights, for healing of the earth, for peace in the whole region where Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah sojourned.WE WELCOME YOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR SHARING PRAYER, LEARNING, EMOTIONAL CONNECTION, SOCIAL ACTION, AND FOOD DURING AND BEYOND THIS TIME. Please write me your ideas. We hope to begin NOW to plan with others of the Abrahamic faiths in our own cities and neighborhood, as well as nationally and internationally.

Shalom, salaam - Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow directs The Shalom Center, voicing a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To subscribe to The Shalom Report (weekly on-line newsletter) and for a wealth of information on social action and its spiritual roots, click to -- http://www.shalomctr.org

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Happy Eid Mubarak!

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Inshallah, remember all those living in war, areas hit by the tsunami, and all of our fellow beings.

Islamic Relief

Alt Aid Acheh

Monday, January 17, 2005

a conversation with bob marley

"How long shall they kill our prophets?"

Hello, Bob Marley
Finally your question has an answer
Or shall we say has to be updated
They no longer kill the prophets
The wallets do the talking and prophets shut their mouths.
Once we deployed comrade Ram
From labor to the government sector
He re-deployed himself to the corporate sector
By chance I met him at a dinner party
Asked him to clarify the difference
Between retrenchment and rightsizing
"It is not cultured to talk while you are eating", he said
My simple mind got the message:
How can you talk while the mouth is full?
"How long shall they kill our prophets?"
Nowadays they manufacture
Electronically modified prophets
One leg in the jet, another in the country
Heart in Washington DC, bums on jam
Eyes on loot, spooky noses
Hands on the files, soul on holiday
Libido on rampage
Enclosed children all over
Disclosed ones abroad,
Fat cheques in a Swiss bank
Skulls in the closet

"How long shall they kill our prophets?"

Hey, Mister Bob Marley
This question begs for an update
Che’ is an ornament
Biko is collectors’ item
Designer labels bought with pomp and grandiose
Paraded at exclusive clubs
By strange creatures speaking a strange language
At home in New York, terrified in Soweto
Physical citizens of Azania, mental residents of Europe

"How long shall they kill our prophets?"

Hello, Bob Marley, this question needs to be updated
Malcolm X is a citation in a dissertation
Fanon is a footnote in a thesis
Hector Peterson is a tourist attraction
Sobukwe is an artwork

"How long shall they kill our prophets?"

Hello, Mister Bob Marley
They build false monuments
In the name of the prophets
Turn heroes into iconoclast
Now they engineer cloned poets
Dreaded caricatures ejaculating sterile verses
Rhyme crazy, content shy morons
Spiting nursery rhymes for poetry

Some say it’s just the part of it
We have to fulfill the book"

Hello, Mister Bob Marley
The book of real life is unfolding
Today it is murder by memory
Bureaucrats institutionalize
The legacy of our heroes
To build an empire for themselves
From the marginal zones of shanty Alex
Biko’s ghost watches in amazement
As he is re-membered
In a club-members only banquet
In the comfort zone of urban suburbia

letter to Abu Dharr al-Ghifari (RA)

"A man does not make a nation
But a nation at its birth can find its strength in a man

Thus proclaimed a great man
Who laid his life for his people
I put this pen to paper to pour out
My inner feelings about you
In whose simplicity
Men of humility find inspiration
You the epitome of the man of sincerity
Defined by The Maker in the book of guidance
“Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant
Of them some have fulfilled their obligations
And some of them are still waiting
But they have never changed in the least"

Your simplicity and humility
Was a mark of the sincerity that moved the most sincere and trustworthy
To declare it to all and sundry:
“No one walking on the earth and under the sky
Is more truthful than Abu Dhar"

Born among a people
Perceiving might as wisdom
To whom humbleness was weakness
And the weak were meat
You saw the folly of might without right
Perceived the wisdom behind humility
Recognized the might
Accruing from the righteousness
Of the cause of the weak
You grew knowing the bravado
Of bossing the roads
Striking terror in men’s hearts
Taking over their caravans
Seizing their possessions
Taking over their lives
Till you reflected
On the deeper dimensions of life
Discovered your life is but a droplet
In the vast ocean of life
You inquired from your brother
About the message of the unlettered one
Who spoke of the life beyond the mundane
Taught that life from the cradle to the grave begins but a journey
Beyond the cosmic present to the reality that transcends past, present and future
That the ultimate reality super-precedes past, present and future
And goes beyond yesterday, today, tomorrow and the time beyond tomorrow.
The quest for truth steered you towards the prophet
You heard him recite
The most beautiful verses
Your heart was moved to tears
With the sincerity of intention
And the purest of motives
You declared the belief
In the oneness and unity
Of the creator and humankind
Pronounced it without fear
In the mist of the unbelievers
Their rage visited you
They crushed your body
Your spirit remained strong
Your soul soldiered on
Your mind stayed focus
Your intentions remained true
Your motives got purer
You faced the trials
You endured the tribulations
You dealt with the betrayals
You scoffed hypocrisy
You had no time for mediocrity and superficiality
You followed the prophet to exile
Laid your soul bare
And put your life on the altar
In sacrifice to the maker
You of the powerful Ghiffari clan
Saw no wisdom
In the power used to subjugate
And strove for the day
When power liberates
When the ruled shall rise
To unseat the power
For the just to be just
You saw the rich tear themselves
Tearfully requesting a million tongues
To chant melodies and sing glory
Fervent thikr and symphonic naats
Holy melodies to the ultimate reality
Romantic salutations to the prophet
You saw the tattered ones in tears
Hopelessly raising their hands
Taking a hopeful look
For the humane face
Only to give in to fatalism
And take the street as the home
The clouds the ceiling of hope
Your human self cried out
Freed the pure soul
To speak naked truth
And unclothe the hypocrites
They asked you to cool off
Say it a little softer
Your heart failed to be softened
By the protestations
Of those who prostrate in prayer
But cannot hearken
To the cry of the have-nots
Today they build monuments
Build avenues and label streets
In your humble name
And say nothing
About the homeless
Who face arrests
For defiling tourists attraction centers
By sleeping on the pavements
Asking not for a slice
But crumbles from the table
Tears rain on my face
As I recall you walking the streets
Preaching the simplicity gospel
Demanding not a slice
A half or a loaf of bread
But the bakery and the whole land
For the poor who till the land
And the workers’ who make the bread
Somebody evoked your name
And said he is a Socialist Muslim
Some say yours was a workerist Islam
Others say you were the first Muslim Socialist
I call your egalitarian Islam an Islamic Islam
An Islam of complete surrender
To Allah and His messenger
You chose words instead of the sword
To fight the corruption and opulence
Of the rich and the mighty
Though you would prefer the sword
For your knowledge of the arrogance
Of those with power and boastful show
You submitted to the advice of the messenger
For you to be patient
Until you meet him in the other world
Yet you never ceased to speak out
Till the Caliph waged a righteous war
Against those who mistook wealth for everything
And heeded not to the commands of the book
Later they regrouped
To complain to the Caliph
That your tongue lashed too hard
On their opulence and greed
To Damascus you were deployed
Where they soon felt
The lash of your tongue
And raised a hue cry of protest
Until you were recalled to Madina
The Caliph invited you
To live with him
You chose the Mosque as your abode
You knew that too much comfort
Makes a man heartless
And too much eating
Throttle the truthful tongue
Ultimately you opted for self-exile
To live in loneliness
Yet at peace with the self
That is at peaceful submission
To the will of Allah
Till you bid farewell
To the world that you refused
To believe is all it could be
Alone in the desert at Rabaza
You took the final step
To the ultimate meeting with the maker
And the messenger who requested your patience
Till you are re-united in the other world
Where your reward awaits you
And punishment and retribution awaits your detractors
A group of believer came to do their fard kifaya
And fulfill the prophecy:
" One of you will one day die lonely in the desert
But will be buried by a group of believers"
As I seat here and pen this letter to you
I ponder over the words of the prophet:
“May Allah have mercy on Abu Dhar
He marches alone, dies alone, and resurrect alone"
I have known the loneliness of an isolation cell
The hurt of being ridiculed for dreaming
The possibility of a world
Other than the one in which
Material has taken over the soul
Including of those who prostrate in prayer
I know of parents whose kids never returned from exile
They do not know whether they are living or not
Maybe they have been swallowed by the hole that never gets full
Maybe I will die among my people
But who are my people?
The unbelievers who offer me a slice of bread
For me to break the fast I make
To The God they don’t believe in
Or the believers who repel me with indignation
When I knock at their doors smiling “Salaam"
These thoughts come to my mind
As I recall you finding no horse
To be part of the action
Thus deciding to foot-march you way
Up the hill to join the fight in the path of Allah
They thought the enemy was pursuing them
The prophet knew better:
“Be Abu Dhar"
One day when God bless me with a son
I will ask him to be Abu Dhar
Every time I tell my children about
Abu Bakr Asvat and Che Guevara
People’s doctors who exiled themselves away from luxury and opulence
To live and die for the people
I will say they were
Like Abu Dhar
Any day when people ask me
What is to be a good Human being
I will tell them
It is to be like Abu Dhar
Every moment I remember Imam Essa
Who spoke his mind even on his deathbed
And left his people with no inheritance
Safe the legacy of self-annihilation
I will say he was
Abu Dhar of Azania
Anytime when they ask me
What is Ubuntu
I tell them
It is to be like Abu Dhar
Every time I ask Allah
To make me a better person
I request him to make me Abu Dhar
Maybe when my parents called me Mphutlane-
The one who is all by himself in the world
They wanted to say
Abu Dhar, Umuntu wa Bantu – The people’s person
Had the prophet not cautioned you to use words
Would you not consider the sword
In the face of the world
That has taken to the worship of wealth
And Muslims who speak Islam
But live the worship of riches
This question comes to my mind
As I see former guerrillas
Become gorillas
Feeding on the poor
Instead of feeding the poor
And observe yesterday’s ascetics
Who scoffed politics
And withdrew to the Mosques
Hotting seats in parliament
Sleeping through the speeches
No longer concerned about
Brushing shoulders with "atheists"
Or getting embroiled in " Kufr politics"
As I see them out-smarting each other
For a superb command
Of the language of the masses and the best ways to toi-toing
I recall they called it thikrul kafirun
Way back 1989 @ the--Islamic Institute
When they send my colleagues and me
Back to the township
For messing the minds of good Muslim boys
Now I understand
You chose to march alone
Die and resurrect a soloist
Without a chorus to mess the tune
The conductor to contain the message
The fundi to change the chords
And the crowd to swallow your voice
As I think of the stand you took
I listen attentively
To the message of the pavement conference
Hoisted alongside the World Conference on Racism Charade
& The peoples social movement Indaba
Gathered on the occasion of the WSSD Circus:
"Nothing for us by others
Nothing about us without us
For Us By Us to us is the way "
I other stand clearly
The Big Noise of the parasites:
" Differing with the people’s government is anti-patriotism
Patriots must chorus like parrots
Ultra-leftists must not deceive the people
The propertied have to be ultra-rich
They have ultra-responsibilities"
Dissent becomes criminalized
The poor are objectified
The victims are vilified
The parrots are eulogized
Mimicry is awarded
I ask myself the million-dollar question
Were wealth is might and might is right
Does the pen remain
Mightier than the sword
Would the prophet still prescribe the word
Where the spoken word is silenced
The written word is doctored
Doctors of philosophies are courtier clowns
Activists are bought over & the strong are sophistically eliminated
Would the prophet discourage the sword
Where words have lost their meaning
And the response to human suffering is
"What is so special about aids? "
Would the prophet confine us to the word?
Where houses are razed to dust
And Palestinian blood has become ice cream and jelly
Would your speech be soft
Where George in the Bush
Smells oil in the gulf
Decides it is thicker than blood & more sacred than life
And the world has to be with him
Or face the hell-fire
As I ponder these questions
I recall the prophet asking you
What would you do if they dismiss you
Out of the Mosque in Medina
" I will go to the Mosque in Damascus "

"What if they dismiss you there?"
The prophet asked
"I will come back to this Mosque"
You replied and the prophet asked
"What if they dismiss you out of it again?"
You declared as in oath
" I will fight them till I die."
Every time they ask me who is my hero
I will unflinchingly pronounce
Abu Dhar Al Ghiffari
Every time they ask me
Who I would have loved to be
I will shout with certainty
Abu Dhar
One day when God bless me with a son
I will ask him to be Abu Dhar
Every time I tell my children about
Holding firm to your beliefs
I will tell them the story of
The young Azanian man who wrote what he liked
Spoke his mind in the torturers face
Till they took him on a 1000 kilometers journey to martyrdom
At the back of the landrover, chained, naked and battered
To a lonely cell where he was found
Lying bare on a cold, concrete slab
Cold, dead, naked and chained
In cold, naked and dead chains

I think I will tell them
He was the friend of the poor
Just like Abu Dhar
One day when I tell my children
About selflessness, sacrifice, struggle and perseverance
I will tell them the story of Karballa
One man giving himself and entire family
For the cause he believed to be righteous
I know I won’t shut mouth
Before I tell them
The story of Rabaza
A man dying all by himself but a faithful wife
Assuring her not to worry about the burial
For his unwavering belief in the prophecy of the messenger
Any day when people ask me
How to be a good Human being
I will tell them
Be Abu Dhar
Anytime when they ask me
What is Ubuntu
I tell them
It is to be like Abu Dhar
Every time I ask Allah
To make me a better person
I request him to make me Abu Dhar
Maybe when my parents called me Mphutlane-
The one who is all by himself in the world
They wanted to say
Abu Dhar, Motho Wa Batho – The people’s person

Those who claim to be in the know
Advance all sorts of arguments
On the stance you took
To live out of the crowd
Speak against the tide
Live out of the comfort zones
And frown worldly treasures
Was it not a monkish approach to life?
One of the scoffers posed a question
I fervently remembered
Your response to your detractors
I have a goat to milk, a wife and companion, and
What more do I need?
From you answer
I learned to live within my needs and means
To be content with what Allah has provided me
And to take heed of the caution
From the book of guidance:
"The mutual rivalry for the piling
Of the goods of this world
Diverts humanity from more serious things "
The most important thing I learned from you
Is not to be swallowed by the environment
And still remain conscious of the world around me
I really ask you
To allow me
To march with you
As you remake the world

* This poem first appeared in "The Journey Within: Reflection in Ramadaan" published by Yaseen Islamic Publishers -International

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Internment camps for Muslims in America?

Daniel Pipes internment camps.

News item Daniel Pipes favors internment camps for U.S. Muslims

News item: Bush does'nt re-nominate Pipes for the "Peace (sic) institute"

And news item:Bush nominates Michael Chertoff for chief of homeland security
Keep your eye on Michael Chertoff. As bad for the law and Constitution as many of Bush's judicial appointees are, Chertoff has been the architect of prosecutions in the "war on terror." And he may have big changes in mind for you, me, the courts, and the Constitution.
And click here for another Ihsan post on internment camps.

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib,
a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click www.bendib.com

extract from post freedomsongs

Headline news: “DOYEN OF PEOPLE’S THEATRE COMMITS SUICIDE.” He threw himself from the fourteenth floor of a dingy flat in Hillbrow. He was squatting with an actor friend lucky enough to put a piece of bread on the table by appearing in some television sitcom cautioning people against illegal reconnections of water and electricity, land invasion and other such acts of hooliganism. . The story is accompanied by pictures of him flying his way to death and of his body lying dead and cold on the dead and cold concrete pavement. They are juxtaposed against photos of him doing the toi-toi at the ceremony to welcome the returnee exiles at First National Bank Stadium in 1990… performing an outstanding piece on the Sharppeville shooting…conducting a people’s theatre workshop. And…

Obituaries wax lyrical about how patriotic he was and how he selflessly gave limb and body, and mind and soul to the freedom struggle. A group of artists are digging into their pockets to raise money for his funeral and a trust fund has been set up. There are talks of putting up a publication featuring his works of visual art, a collection of his plays, essays and short stories and a photo-album on his stage performances. Some people are suggesting that his works should be in the curriculum at all government schools. A fellow artist commits himself to putting up a dance-drama-cum-opera on his life, off and on-stage. Some big company is ready to fork out the big bucks.

I stare in wonder thinking about our last encounter. He came in the office with a face written anxiety all over. Anger passionately refusing to be suppressed. I have to intervene, he said. He has put all his life in this script. It is beyond narrow definitions and categorizations of artistic expression. In it there is poetry, song, movement, mime, story telling, drama, sermonizing, lecturing, pain, joy, celebration, mourning and everything that is part of human experience. The actors and singers and dancers and storytellers and preachers and lecturers and activists are all masters in their fields. Three years of brainstorming and rehearsals – improvisations and innovations-have gone into it. People who are crewed-up on the subject matter and very passionate about the message have done more than enough research. But funding is simply not coming to put the work on stage. None of the theatres around is prepared to even include the project in their developmental projects. He has also tried to start small and stage in the small community halls and in schools and churches. But nobody wants to have anything to do with the project.

Close comrades he literally spent entire life with- serving in the street committees, doing people’s theatre and sacrificing in the defense committees, suffering under-ground and doing time in apartheid jails- have accused him of being a struggle romantic. They say he’s been sleeping through the revolution. Who is interested in a play about the small people who fanned the fires of resistance through experimental theatre and street theatre? Reality speaking, what happened to the guy who used to do tap dance in the streets of Johannesburg (I can remember the name, I think it was Joe something) is not a priority. Who cares to know who composed “Nantsi Mellow-Yellow” or who was the greatest toi-toi dancer in and around the PWV area in the 80’s at the time such an area is not even on the map of South Africa? Why not move with the song of Umfolozi, dance the protea and the springbok…rhyme to the beauty of the green valleys and smiling hills, compose an anthem for 2010. And hip to the re-birth of Eugene Terreblanche or think something creative over a braai vleis over Whisky & Jack D over the sounds of Mafikizolo on a sunny Sunday morning. His own father has accused him of being hero of yesterday in search of a cause to pursue today because he performs at the gatherings of the Treatment Action Campaign, the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatization Movement. The old man said frustration at not being in the top echelon of the party, let alone making it to local government, has made him to hang around good-for-nothing ultra-radicals suffering from anti-everything-ism.

“All your friends are in parliament. That boy next door was a police spy in the struggle years but he is a favorite to be the major. Your brother has been re-deployed to the corporate sector. Just now you will call him a fat cat. He has betrayed labor and has embraced capital. But what can you boast of…A great toi-toi dancer turned performing artist. Listen to me my boy. This gray hair is a mark of wisdom, I have been in both Poqo and Umkhonto and most importantly, I fathered, raised you and gave you political education…. All this nostalgic talk about telling the story of people’s culture through new forms of artistic expression is bullshit. And the whole nonsense about combating the tyranny of capital is daydreaming. Everybody has embraced the supremacy of the market in the global village. All the struggle heroes have done so. Even your big friend Gaddafi has embraced real politicks and befriended the West to court global capital. Castro will follow suit in a matter of time or he will eat dust and rust in the dustbins of history like Saddam. Who do you think you are? After all you were never anything but a sloganeering idiot who graduated into a glorified “comrade-slogan”- a people’s poet. But poetry for a cause is a dead horse, man. Stop looking for accolades for being the great singer of freedom songs and wake-up to the post-freedom songs, my man: embrace poetry for beauty’s sake and dance to the poetics of capital.”

In defense he told the old man “I am just an artist giving expression to the voice of the people and articulating their fears and hopes, dreams and aspirations.” To his surprise his young communist brother who had just landed himself a job as Executive Director at Thari E Ntsho Investments exploded: “That’s bullshit, big brother! How can you call supporting people who see no good but wrongdoing in the government of the people as giving the people a voice? Papa is right; you are a good man in search of a cause.” That hurt him more than Brutus’ sword’s piercing Caesar’s heart. Perhaps that’s the real reason why his younger brother asked him to move out of his house, using complains of his wife as a scapegoat. Not only has he become a burden and embarrassment to his family for being uncircumcised, unemployed and unmarried and homeless at the age of forty. He has become somebody they have to disown in order to keep the family’s name in the good books of the powers that be. Now he’s come to me, his child-hood friend and longtime comrade-in-arms. He is skeptical about everybody in the corridors of power and calls them “former guerillas turned gorillas feeding on instead of feeding the poor.” But he has some retained his confidence in me. We have always shared the passion for theatre and the arts and the belief in culture as a weapon of the people. My baritone voice always complemented his mellow tenor whenever freedom songs where sung. I vividly remember one morning at the hideout. He woke up in excitement. He had dreamt us ambushing a mellow-yellow. After the job was done he stood on top of a rock and sang a song celebrating our fearlessness in the face of the system’s sophisticated weaponry. We sat and worked on the song while other comrades tucked on morabulo, going to town about what Marx meant by the withering away of the state. He struggled to remember the words but finally we put some lyrics together. I came up with the tune. We sang at the top of our voices and the comrades stopped everything they were doing and joined us. The song became an instant hit.

To this day various versions of the song can be heard sung at students’ meetings, workers’ gatherings and at congresses of various organizations that were part of the liberation movement. How can I forget these sweet moments? How can he not trust in me? I’m the one who launched in defense when ideologues and combatants belittled us and called us “bo-comrade slogan” or accused us of fiddling while Rome burns. “It is the sound of the bazooka and not free verses that shall make the land to be shared amongst those who live in it for the people to share in the country’s wealth…for the doors of learning and culture to be opened…for peace, security, comfort to reign…. For food to be plenty that no one maybe hungry.” I argued that every struggle needs a bard, and that culture is a site of struggle. I said music is the healer and our poetry is the voice of the voiceless. That even in post-apartheid South Africa there will be a need to give artistic and cultural expression to the socio-economic and political realities facing the people. That when freedom dawns there would be fresh matters to address and new issues to hype about and hip to. That people will still be people and they will still need a song and a dance to express their sorrows and frustrations. That our role would be to compose new songs and inspire people to confront the issues of the day and consolidate the gains made by the people on the terrain of the struggle.

I said the bard’s role would be to be a watchdog against revisionism and counter-revolution. My argumentation moved some high ranking party officials to lobby against the party’s decision to close its cultural wing on the eve of liberation. But today I am in a completely different position. As the Director of the Department of Arts and Culture in the local government I have been part of the decision to privatize some of the public theatres, stadiums and other sporting and cultural amenities. I am also in the process of courting private capital to sponsor few of the public theatres and arts and culture centers that have escaped privatization. There is nothing I can do and nothing much I can say. I am just implementing government policy. I have a job to take care of.After all, over the years I have become convinced that if we leave the economy on its own, it will take care of itself and everything shall follow. That in the initial phase the economic growth yielded by liberalization and state withdrawal shall benefit only a tiny and minute propertied and learned few. But in the long run the benefits will slowly, but surely trickle down to the masses on the ground. As much as I have very fond memories of our times in people’s theatre, I simply believe that its time is over. But how do I tell my friend? How do I tell him that his script makes ideological but not economic sense? That I am afraid that being seen endorsing the script might cause me to be added to the list of ultra-radical leftists, and therefore jeopardize my position. I offered to think about the issue and kept skirting around it every time he came to see me. To ease my conscience I regularly offered to take him out on a drinking spree and gave him some money. I also shared all the freebies I get on account of my position in society with him. Stupid as I have become, I never noticed that this irritates him. Oneday he gave me his piece of mind: “Listen comrade, I am not here as a beggar, but as an artist who need nothing but to be given a chance to showcase my talent and make a contribution to the country. Why don’t you simply face up to the truth and tell me that you too believe that the market must dictate which productions gets sponsored and which should receive publicity and a platform?” I was left speechless. I was still thinking of words to philosophize and euphemize the issue when he stormed out of my office. His facial expression and body movement sad it all. “I shall never set a foot in your office”Now I look at his picture and hopelessly try to suppress my tears. I imagine him barking at me, commanding me not to cry for him. The phone rings. It is a request for me to speak at his memorial service. To prepare for the speech I go through his works. I just cannot avoid returning to the script on people’s theatre, so powerfully loaded with striking images of struggle and survival, witty and sarcastic humor and brilliant portrayal of the resilience of the human spirit. I am hooked on the scene portraying the internal and external struggles of one of the many blind people who can be seen on the streets of the cities of South Africa and the world…. Singing their hearts out to a world keen on hearing but not listening to the call in their music. He sits in a corner nearby Park Station and plays his flute all day long. The melody is something that could rock Mozart from the dead out of the grave on to the dance floors. A reckless taxi driver nearly hits him. On-lookers jeer at the driver, who in turn, calls their mothers with all sorts of names. Someone throws some coins in the tin and hurries to wherever his feet are taking him to. Another throws a note. A few are moving and jiving to the music. Others just give symphatheic looks. Slowly, poignantly choreographic, he shuffles and whispers a tune, so soft that to most people it is a wordless hum:“When you are up and I am downForget not to rememberAll that goes up must come downWhen everybody is up and you rise upRemember not to forgetAll that goes up must converge”

The sun is just about to go down and he is now on a completely wordless tune. But my friend with his spiritual ear can hear in the song, the yearning of the blind musician for the people to appreciate his music for its quality rather than simply fork out coins and notes out of sympathy… Without even caring to take heed of the stylistic and thematic content of the music. Yes, says my friend, the song does have lyrics but because people choose not to bother to listen, they will never hear the words and their message. He says the song says something about the frustration of the man at being heard rather than listened to, and being patronized because he is blind instead of being acknowledged because he is terrifically talented artist.“The point is not the sight but the insightMy music is not for the hearing but for the listeningI need no sympathy but understanding”

meditation or song fela kuti would have sung

Mama said
Rainbow is a sign
A promise and assurance
Life would never be drowned
When she offers the remedy
Laugh as much as you cry
Maya teaches
Life is too precious
To be drowned in floods of tears
Of blood

When she declares tears
The natural counter balance of laughter
She must mean
Life allows far more diversity
And provides more space and movement
Than a sitcom
Though sitcoms might correctly so
Laugh at the mediocrity
That is rigidity

When agnostics defend the mind
From constriction by myth and fear, creed and dogma
And the artist refuses to
Be pigeonholed to a genre, school of thought and trend
When Frantz Fanon refuses to be constrained by history
And Pablo Neruda declares:
Like the earth I belong to everyone
It is because they have seen
Beyond the difference and diversity
The unity and oneness of creation

The Sufi once declared himself the ultimate truth and
Never lived to explain it
Perhaps he wanted to say
He had killed enough of himself
For truth to dwell in him
And speak through him

I am the poet
There is me in everybody
Though selfishness denies everybody the reality
Everybody is me
Everybody is in me
I am nothing and still am everything
I am a nobody and still am everybody
Cause nothing and nobody is without
A sparkle of beauty
A little purpose & some meaning

Everything becomes nothing
When turned into the only beauty
Purpose and meaning in life
Everybody becomes nobody
When the self is elevated into a god
And the only beauty, meaning and purpose in life

The annihilation of the self
And enhancement of the other
Is brought by the realization
That the self can only realize itself
In the othered self
That the self for the sake of the self
Is an illusion

Chekov portrayed the world
Not as it is or should be
But as it existed in his dreams
Even as the death call dominated his ears
And ironed pierced his eyes
Galileo saw the earth
Rotating in orbit and
Spoke what he saw
Biko writes what he likes Toni Morrison pens
The kind of books
She would love to read
Alice walker the type of literature
She would have read as a student
If there where no initiatives
To purge the black face
From the pages of history and herstory
And turn the blackstory
Into a mystery

Virginia Woolf advised
The aspirant writer
To find a room of her own
With lock and key
Rebecca Jackson followed the lead
Of the inner voice
Against the bigger noise of society

Behind the bars
Admist the rubble
Gramsci, Ngungi, Dennis Brutus
A thousand writers
Found the key to unlock
The house of imagination

I dreamer, child of the spirits
Say together with Alice Walker
Writers and artists
Follow the lead of the inner voice
Towards the supernatural, esoteric
Mysterious and prophetic

The griot reads the past
To update the present and
Say the future
The guru established the link
Between action and karma
The sangoma sees health as a
Mind-spirit continuum
The Sufi says
Man and woman
Are but couriers of the soul
All of them listen
Speak to the source
All could be one
We could be all
Be one be the world
The world could be one

Nature speaks our unsung songs
The earth our thoughts
The death and the cry
Of the universe is we
With our toxic waste; pollution
Destroying a piece of ourselves
With every Hiroshima and Nagasaki
A piece of the universe
With every ethnic cleansing, and ideological purge life is obliterated.

I am the artist, child of the gods
Called to rememory the art and story
Of San, Khoi – Abantu
Arts and stories of civilizations purged
Like the song of a deceased bird
Echoing in the hunter’s ears
Moving from soul to body through voice
To the heart into lungs via throat
Through trumpet \ trombone \ sax
From singer to dancer inner veins via fingers
Thru piano \ keyboard, guitar

Millennia before the bard proclaimed
The fruits of love
And psychologists, musicologists proposed
People that listen and play Mozart
Don’t throw Molotovs
Africa found in music
An outlet for intimate feelings
The drum conversed with spirits and
Spirits conversed to the people

Since time immemorial
Sensing demands of moment and circumstance
Story tellers, entertainers & rant\conteurs
Added their vibe and beat
To the sounding board of local
And universal struggles

For as long as art saves
Me from declaring war against
The me I refuse is all I could be
And the world that refuses me to be me
I shall never seek to silence
The voice of Chekov \ Gramsci \ Ngungi \ Fanon \ Biko \ Toni Morrisson
Rebecca Jackson \ Galelio \ Virginia Woolf\ Alice Walker
And the Buddha in me
But still I shall embrace
The voice that is my own
Most authentic
My supreme teacher
Sankara said
It is the madness
Of the foolish man of yesterday
That brought today’s clarity and reality
I, dreamer
Child of the universe says
To the naked eye
The abstract appears obstruct
Yet those who converse
With the spirit world
Extract meaning
From the abstract

The sage reckoned
Until the lion
Creates her own fables
Nobody shall acknowledge her victories

The artist must add:
Life, art shall never be freed
From chauvinistic strictures
Until I create my own routes
My own myths
My own gods
My own dreams
My own follies

Until I follow freedom….

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

That Day

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That day when her tears set the lantern alight
I stepped in her darkness and my Self afire

That day when her sight set my wings aloft
I soared in her silence and my tongue-tied

That day when in her eyes my courage drown
I drank her wine and lost all of my Self drunk

That day when her words my soul’s crown
I was enchained and my guilty Self on trial

That day when her moans set my eyes' sun
I was burnt and my wide eyed Self so blind

That day when she died and angels left numb
I was dead but my arrogant Self pressed on

The photograph is of an 8_year_old AIDS orphan who is often sick and too weak to attend school. Her grandmother has depleted her business capital and savings to provide medical care for the girl, who is likely to die before she reaches her teens. Carlos Brito / UPI Photo Service .

The poem is by a guest contributor Dara, she has a wonderful website of poetry, including many that are dedicated to people living with AIDS. Dara is also encouraging musicians to produce for people living with AIDS:

"Two Iranian musicians in their early 20s composed this beautiful performance for our beautiful Haitian 8-year old, their band is called Good Persian Boyz. This is an experimental music for Persian Kamancheh and Indian Tabla in Esfahan mode and Kaharba rhythm (8 beats). If you listen carefully to the violin like instrument (Kamancheh) you hear THAT DAY WILL COME which means the day will come when we will finally meet that Divine Beloved."

Click here to listen to this beautiful piece Alhamdulillah

For those interested, we have a couple of articles on Muslims and AIDS here on our Ihsan blog.

HIV and AIDS: Positive Muslims


Muslims and AIDS

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

From Self-Realization to and Self-Annihilation

(posting for our newest blogger from South Africa)

I am a South African Muslim, writer, performer, Black Consciousness activist and member of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. For obvious reasons, the issue of identity is a very serious one in South Africa. In the effort to engage in what Stephen Bantu Biko referred to as “an inward-looking process of self-definition”, and define myself as a Muslim of indigenous African descent, I wrote the article below, which appeared in Al-Qalam in 2003.


“I am a Muslim first and a Muslim last.” This is often the response of some passionate lovers of Islam when asked whether their primary identity is that of the socio-cultural group they belong to or that of being a Muslim. I agree that all identities other than that of being human and Muslim are artificial and arbitrarily arrived at identities. They are historical, cultural and social constructs in the sense that they are results of a socialization process. The Qur’an makes this succinctly clear when it emphasizes that the origin of the humanity is a single soul – a non-gendered being which cannot be defined in racial, ethnic or any sectarian and jingoistic terms. Other than products of society, human beings are essentially and intrinsically Muslims. The Prophet of Islam unambiguously reaffirmed the intrinsic Muslimness of all Humanbeings when he declared that every child is born a Muslim but is turned into a Christian or a Jew by society.

However, you cannot reclaim your Muslim self (you primary being) outside the context of the social-cultural-political situation in which you find yourself. You cannot come into grips with you primary being when you’re not in touch with the socio-cultural self, your secondary being. Yet you have to come into contact with your essential being (your Muslimness, your God-Conscious Self) to comprehend the nature and the limits and de-limits of your secondary self. The prophet Ebrahim (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) interrogated his socio-cultural self for him to transcend the belief system prevalent in his society, and arrive at the Ultimate Truth -The oneness and Unity of Allah.

The prophet Muhammad (SAW) had a thorough grasp of the dynamics and workings of the Meccan society. He arrived at the straight path after he had critically interrogated the Kufr system and embarked on a soulful search and deliberate journey for the rediscovery of the religion of Ebrahim (AS). The prophet SAW) did not have to deny his Meccan origin to move beyond the knowledge-and-belief system of the Mecca of the times of Jahiliya. Until the Hijra, the prophet operated within Mecca, but knew that his mission transcended the borders. He did not have to speak in tongues and live outside society to prove that his message transcended linguistic and socio-cultural barriers. He spoke in Arabic but delivered a universal message. He lived in Mecca and Medina but lived for the whole of humanity. His immediate recruits were his kindred (Khadeeja, the wife, Abu Bakr the friend, and Ali the nephew), but his ultimate brethren and companions were a microcosm of the whole of humanity (Bilal the Abysinian, Salman the Persian, etc). Mecca was his point of departure, but the world was his target.

The township is my abode, blackness is my experiential reality, the world is my space and Islam is the way I have chosen to guide my conduct in the time and space I live in. I chose to re-embrace my intrinsic Muslimness when I declared the Kalima in 1986, and I chose to re-affirm my Blackness in 1981 when I embraced the philosophy of Black Consciousness. I had to grapple with the particularities and peculiarities of being Black in rural, township and suburban South Africa \ Azania and in an obnoxious world obsessed with race and class. In that process of self-definition and self-searching I ultimately came into contact with the way of achieving wholeness by dissolving the self into the vast ocean of the ultimate reality- Allah.

I found complete submission to the will of God as a means of finding inner peace and a way towards world peace and justice, or maybe I should say Islam found me. I did not have to be oblivion to the poetics of blackness for me to be conscious of the beauty of being Muslim. I did not have to be oblivion of the poetics and esoterics of being Muslim for me to be conscious of the beauty of being Black. Islam was not there to uproot me from where I am. Islam was there to make me grounded on whom I am, and give me a sense of being and belonging. To make me aware that what I was made to believe is all I can be is not all I could be-that there are no limits to extends to which the heart, soul, and mind of a person can grow except being the ultimate reality. In Islam I learned to embrace myself as I am but to remember that I am not the end in myself. I embraced Islam informed by the Black Language and Culture that calls bending in knees and kneeling down in prostration humility rather than meekness. I re-embraced my Blackness but reaffirmed the intrinsic beauty and nobleness of all humanity.

I re-embraced the ethos of Ubuntu and re-committed myself to the principles enshrined in the institution of lekgotla and imbizo when I committed myself to live in accordance with the principles of Ukhuwa and Shura. I embraced Islam informed by the Township experience, but willing to move from experience to consciousness to the changing of experience and the re-focusing of the mind from experiential reality to the Ultimate Reality…. ALLAH! ALLAH! ALLAH! ALLAH!

The point I am trying to make is that Islam is a universal way of Life is practiced in society and not in a vacuum. You do not have to be a social and cultural exile to be a Muslim. The message of Islam as articulated by the Qur’an, and embodied in the traditions of the prophet started at a particular place, in a particular time, and its immediate recipients were a particular people. Yet Islam was, is and shall remain the message for all ages, and the way of life chosen by Allah for all humanity, relevant and practical in all places. The Qur’an and the Sunnah addressed the issues of the time but presented the message for all times. It captured the spirit of time and place but transcended time and place.

This is the paradox of our life. We live within time and place but are creators of time and space. All of us speak, walk, talk, and live in a specific environment that shapes our language, movement, experiences and lifestyle. Yet, by virtue of us being human, we have the capacity to re-shape the environment, re-construct our experiences and change our reality. This is the paradox of our life. We are born in an environment yet we create the environment. We find ourselves in situations, but still we find situations.

The environment conceives our experiential reality. Our thoughts stem from our experiences, and our actions spring from our thoughts.

Yet, we make our environment, interpret, and therefore give shape and form to our experiences. We decide our actions and therefore choose our reality and destiny. We live within an environment but have the potential rise above that environment and create a better environment for ourselves and generations to follow.

To speak in such a way that your talk is in tandem with your walk, it is imperative that become part of the living experience of the environment that informs your thoughts, and inspire you actions. Speaking, talking, living, experience, thoughts and action take place within a particular environment. It is the environment that shapes language, movement and action. But our thoughts can bring new ideas, and our actions can change the world. In short, the human being is an agent of change, and not a slave of history, environment and tradition. The Qur’an is very straightforward in making it a responsibility of human beings to change their world. It also stresses that the starting point of the efforts of human being to re-order their reality should be transforming themselves. “Allah will not change the conditions of a people until they change themselves”

* Motjholoko is a person undergoing initiation and transformation into a healer \ ngaka (doctor in Sesotho) and a mediator between the material and spiritual world through a process known in Sesotho as ho thwasa (ukuthwasa in the Nguni languages), meaning “to become”. The initiated person completes the killing of the flesh in a night vigil ritual that involves drumming, singing, chanting and trance-dances.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Letting go... Into free fall

As salaam 'alaikum

Since this is my first blog, let me begin with a brief introduction before my actual post (below).

I am South African and regard myself as a 'progressive Muslim' activist. I know some bloggers here are not happy with that label. That's cool with me. A very good friend (who thinks he is a 'progressive Muslim') refuses to acknowledge me as such. He prefers to think of me as a 'reactionary progressive'. Quite frankly, I'm not unhappy with that label either. Whatever works (and sometimes, even if it doesn't).

I am a member of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, the leading progressive Muslim organisation in this country, around for about 35 years. Most of the well-known progressive Muslim names from South Africa that you might have heard have come out of the MYM, or spent some time in the organisation (often in its leadership). This list includes fellow blogger Farid Esack (who later betrayed us by leaving the MYM and forming the Call of Islam), Ebrahim Moosa, Sa'diyyah Shaikh, Abdulkader Tayob, Shamima Shaikh, and others who might be less well-known.

Zabalaza is an isiZulu word meaning struggle - the isiZulu equivalent, I guess, of Jihad.

This, my first blog, is my understanding of the fundamental basis of "zabalaza" for a progressive Muslim. (This blog has been published in the January issue of the MYM's newspaper Al-Qalam.)

Ps: Not that you should be interested, but in case you are ... My real name is Na'eem Jeenah

The Dreamworld theme park in Brisbane, Australia has, on one of its rides, the tallest free fall ride in the world. I saw a brochure for the Giant Drop recently when I was in Brisbane. Although I drove past it, I didn’t get the opportunity to take the ride myself, even though I would have loved to.

As I read the brochure advertising the ride and showing pictures of people’s expressions as they fell through the air, I thought that this is exactly how I would like my relationship with Allah to be; for me the ideal relationship with my Creator would be a Giant Drop.

I guess it’s a little strange associating a theme park ride with the bond one would like to have with Allah, but it is the act of surrender on such a ride that impresses me. People get onto the ride, and after being lifted vertically 120m into the air, their car hangs suspended from the top. Just before they fall into space, in a moment that seems like hours, they wait with great anticipation and some apprehension. But, most importantly, they open themselves in surrender and hand their lives over to gravity (and the Giant Drop).

And, as the car begins to "plummet a knuckle-twisting 120-metres at terminal speed", they realise that they have absolutely no control. They have no power over their bodies or their lives; they are simply no longer in charge. A force external to them now determines the next few seconds and, perhaps, the rest of their lives. Then the drop ends and they feel again as if they are in control. But are they?

The ultimate and most important realisation for us is that we are not in charge – of anything. That it is only Allah who has real control, that only He has power over the universe and over our lives. And the most important challenge for every Muslim is whether one can live one’s entire life as if one is hurtling down the Giant Drop.

Can I live my life as if I am not in control? Can I live my life having handed over its destiny to The Other? Can I live my life having complete trust and reliance on The One external to me (Who, at the same time, is The One that is the deepest part of me)?

The belief in tawhid, in the oneness and omnipotence and sovereignty of Allah, demands that I at least try. It demands that I live my life in a constant endeavour to hand it over to Him. But, in case this sounds like I’m asking myself to sacrifice everything and lose out, let’s be clear that far from losing out, this means that I will gain enormously. Indeed, I will attain a oneness with the universe and with its Creator.

Yes, it is a demand for utter and complete reliance on and trust in Allah. It is a demand for the absolute dependence on Allah, so that we might experience complete and utter independence from the creatures of Allah. It is not a simple demand for enslavement but for ultimate liberation.

It is like the liberation one would experience on the Giant Drop, a seeming enslavement to the force of gravity which, actually, is liberation from the other forces that keep one wanting to feel safe and on solid ground. Anyone who has witnessed or been observing from afar the aftermath of the recent tsunamis from Sumatra to Somalia will know that standing on solid ground is no guarantee of safety. Nor is a dependence on the creatures of Allah – neither in this world nor in the hereafter. The only dependence that keeps one safe (for eternity) is the total and comprehensive dependence on The One who is Independent.

It is not only an acknowledgement of this fact that is demanded of us by our affirmation of the shahadah. Our shahadah also requires that every act we engage in is an act that will take us closer to our liberation and, thereby, closer to our enslavement. It provides a yardstick by which we measure all aspects of our lives.

When we celebrate the ‘I’d al-adha later this month, it is to commemorate this liberation of Nabi Ibrahim, his son Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar.

This idea of enslavement only to Allah and its consequent liberation from this world was explained centuries ago by a companion of the Prophet (s) Raba’i bin ‘Amr. He was asked by Rustum, Commander-in-Chief of the Persian army, “For what purpose have you come?” Raba’i replied, “Allah has sent us to bring anyone who wishes, from the servitude to human beings into the service of Allah alone, from the narrowness of this world into the vastness of this world and the hereafter, from the tyranny of religions into the justice of Islam.”

It is because of such a notion of liberation and enslavement that the Prophet (s), it is reported, said, “Poverty leads to a rejection of belief.” Poverty, after all, is the greatest factor to lead to the self-enslavement to the creatures of Allah. How can one afford to be dependent only on Allah when one’s stomach and the stomachs of one’s children are empty every night? Our task, then, is, on the one hand, to let go of our lives completely to Allah and, on the other, to engage in the struggle that will remove the impediments for ultimate liberation for all other people - whether poverty, imperialism, racism, patriarchy...

Anyone who has been to a theme park and tried some of the more daring rides would know, it takes guts to try the Giant Drop. It takes even more courage to convince ourselves to release ourselves from our dependence on this world and to hand over our beings to Allah. It takes enormous courage to just let go, completely and utterly let go and feel yourself falling, with no control over the fall but with the sure knowledge that no matter how big the drop and no matter how long, Allah will catch you at the bottom (or even before the bottom).

Friday, January 07, 2005

Memories, Dreams and Reflections of Pakistan

When I travel it is never a linear, satisfying whole, but a splattering of waking and sleeping randomly, having intense dreams and longing to both “fit in” and to “return home”. As trips continue I realize that I am afraid to really experience that place.Well, in this case, that place is Pakistan.The place my father and his family moved to from their original home in India. In 1969 my father came to America, married an Irish/German born American woman and had a family. I traveled there twice that I remembered. I had not been in over ten years though. I speak no Urdu and barely know my family that lives there. My father and I went to attend my cousin’s wedding in Islamabad. We also spent some time in Lahore to visit my great uncle. When reflecting on how to present this strange and beautiful trip, I decided that my journal gave a clearer picture than my memory could. I only included a few entries so it wouldn't get too boring. As I read these now, I see that I was afraid to experience Pakistan fully, often wondering what real relationship I even had with this strange and wonderful place.
I did not sleep at all on the plane ride. When we finally arrived in England I passed out on the bus. This has all been a half awake/half asleep stupor. On the plane I tried to meditate and say silent prayers as we were about to land. I prayed that my heart be opened on this trip and experience all the complexities of this place as best I could. My eyes filled with tears and gratitude and I realized how little time I spend actually going deep enough inside myself.
My father's classmate who picked us up at the airport was reminiscing with my father about old friends and teachers, many of whom are now dead. When speaking of his medical practice in the car he told my father, "What does paperwork really mean? What does any of it really matter?" I wondered if this affected my father.
Finally I arrive in Pakistan and a certain fear, perhaps of letting go of myself has appeared. It felt good seeing uncle Zika and Jawad at the airport. Being in the house with the other relatives is strange though. There is a disconnection from normal life here that scares me and certain "worldliness", though maybe that's not the right word. Everything is extravagant, yet across the street there are tiny shacks and stores. I want to empty myself and just experience this place. I don't know if I can though. Awareness is the key, so I must stay aware of both the "beautiful" and "ugly" here in order to move beyond both. ___________________________________________________________
Dream: I'm with a few friends and my professor from school. We're at a gas station about to pray jumma. Someone in the group's family ruins this place. The professor suggests we pray in the bathroom, which I find bizarre. I see a small room to the side with a patch of carpet. It seems perfect. As I awake, there is an infinite echo of the call to fajr prayer like two mirrors facing each other. _______________________________________________________
How can we bow to our shadows
and drink from decay
When light and wine can spring from ashes
and forests grow all night
There are only a few days left before we leave Pakistan. Many feelings have bubbled to the surface in me lately. First of all, there is this strange quenching for "safety". Today when my cousin was telling me about people being robbed and killed I felt very uneasy. I thought of my own safety and that of my family. I realized that many times I try to imagine a safer place wherever I am. As Sheikh Bawa says, "The only safe place is in the heart with Allah and the Rasul." The outside world always contains danger. I feel this fear is a reflection of inner turmoil which I have trouble controlling. ___________________________________________________________
Blurred Pakistan-
As an experiment
I tried to seize this smooth pebble
That proved instead to be
a Mughal palace
Unfolding like a makeup box
Colliding nooks and panels
With tops like sculpted nipples
Gold leaf painted ribbons
Singing sitar notes
Which meet unfurled fingers
Smooth, red digits extending
Extensions of whispers
Full like bird nests
Mother sitting
On top of eggs
Where eyes meet a dull light
Exposed to be
1000 pebbles
Expected to be part
Of an experiment
To smear landscapes
Today was a nightmare for millions, and I am not far from this disaster enjoying a day with my family.Peace to all souls that are departed. Peace to all families that have lost loved ones. My being plunged into a spontaneous prayer of the heart after hearing this. I felt myself crying "Allah...Allah" with no other words or prayers coming.
We are so fragile.
-I'm in a fancy, comfortable house my family moved to in Pakistan. It is connected to an expensive, westernized mall. There is little here of the real Pakistan. It is nice but I don't belong here.
-I walk along a dusty road in Islamabad by myself. A group of young teenagers see me. They are poor thieves who decide to rob me. I have nothing to give. I have no possession but they still approach threateningly. We are next to a cliff. To prove that even my own life is not mine, I jump and land on the edge of the cliff. I then jump again on the other side with my eyes closed. I land and continue jumping as the thieves look on horrified. I then go back to them. They accept me as their brother, and only then did they see that I really have nothing that's my own.