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Save Palmyra From ISIS’s Rampage


Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.  Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Photographs of Palmyra by Felix Bonfils, Myron Bement Smith Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery have placed on view a relic from ancient Palmyra in Syria. In addition, the galleries are displaying images of 18th century engravings and 19th century photographs from its archives. In the wake of Daesh or the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria, this exhibition has attained a symbolic significance. Being held in the capital of the world’s only superpower with a questionable Syria policy, the display reminds us of what is at stake.

It was exhilarating to be connected with this rich past of humanity and at the same time extremely devastating to remember that we live in a world where our ancient treasures can be wiped out while we look on helplessly.


Haliphat – a limestone funerary relief bust on display at Sackler- stares at you with an intense expression. Her two fingers on the chin represent modesty and virtue. For a moment it seems like a reflection on what is happening in Palmyra today. Halpihat has been dated back to 231 C.E. The almost-alive figure displays Roman and Aramaic artistic styles, reminding us of how Palmyra was the bridge between the East and West.

The Islamic State reportedly has planted mines and bombs in Palmyra. It is unclear if ISIS intends to destroy Palmyra or is using the threat as a strategy to deter attacks by Iraqi forces. Nevertheless, our collective heritage under grave threat. […]

Islam Needs Reformation from Within

“Would you permit me to teach my children that God is greater, more just, and more merciful than all the (religious) scholars on earth combined? And that His standards are different from the standards of those trading the religion” — Nizar Qabbani, Syrian poet.

Much has been said about the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and its slain cartoonists and their provocative cartoons about Muslims. Satirical representations of the Muslims in Europe do merge with racism and evoke destructive passions. But the barbaric killing of journalists exercising their right of free speech is beyond condemnable. It strikes at the heart of press freedom.

Muslim communities in most Western countries view themselves as besieged collectives. Issues of integration, racism and the colonial baggage resonate each day. But in the past two decades especially with the rise of violent extremism as global phenomena, these complexities have become even more intractable.

By brutally killing staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, the violent extremists have offended their faith far more than the perceived blasphemy of the magazine. Theirs is a political ideology — of using terror as a weapon — to avenge a history, to settle grievances and to assert power through violence.

Billions of men and women who practice Islam often have little input in shaping such narratives of hatred. Such violent ideas emanate from the minority schools of thought within Islam, which rationalize the killing of ‘infidels’ and their ‘associates’. This ideology is the same that hounded Salman Rushdie, and killed Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam for a film.

Ironically, the main targets of this ideology have been Muslims themselves. From the mass killings of Hazara Shias in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the ongoing killing spree in Syria and Iraq, it is the Muslims that bear the brunt of this violent mindset.

Dozens of Sufi shrines and hundreds of schools have been blown up in Pakistan by extremists. Most of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in the last decade were Muslims. And in this day and age this ideology prevents the majority of Pakistanis to access YouTube simply because somewhere, someone lampooned the holy figure of Islam.


Freedom to broadcast hate

This report by the BBC is extremely insightful. How broadcast media are fanning sectarian passions across Middle East – on all sides. With dubious financiers, power interests, it becomes even more relevant for us in Pakistan.

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Comments and views welcome

March 27th, 2014|Middle East|0 Comments

Saudi bailout & jihad as a foreign policy tool

Pakistan’s finance minister has proudly announced that a friendly country has deposited $1.5 billion in our reserves and more is likely to follow. The impact of this cash injection has been the stabilisation of the rupee and its dramatic appreciation in the past few days. This may prove to be good for arresting inflationary trends and decreasing energy prices. However, the underpinnings of this generous assistance are lesser known. Usually, bilateral agreements operate under a legal framework and there is a semblance of transparency. However, this case remains mysterious thus far. The government needs to tell parliament and the people as towhat the deal with the friendly government entails. Recent developments on our foreign policy — hostage to worn-out doctrines — may provide some clues.

In recent weeks, there have been high-profile visits of Saudi officials and the joint statement issued on the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in February 2014, indicated a shift in Pakistan’s approach to the ongoing Syrian crisis. Discarding the earlier policy stance, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the usual diplomatic platitudes, agreed on the “formation of transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country”. This, essentially, means the ouster of the Assad regime. […]

March 17th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

New battle against old demons

Raza Rumi

After 30 years of self-defeating policies, the new National Internal Security Policy may be the right way to make a fresh start


New battle against old demons National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz


Pakistanis should be grateful for small mercies. The federal cabinet finally approved the draft of the internal security policy that was pending for review since December 2013. This is some improvement from the earlier performance of civilian authorities and complete outsourcing of security question to the military. The approval does not suggest that the military has backed off and the civilians are fully in charge. In fact, reports suggest that the military leadership has proactively argued for a cleanup in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and had advised the Prime Minister for not delaying the final putsch any further.

The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) has a detailed conceptual part that highlights the extent of damage that Pakistan has suffered during the last 12 years. While reporting on the victims of terror, the NISP notes that from 2001 to November 2013, 48,994 people were killed in the country including 5,272 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. The attacks on security apparatus accelerated during 2011-2013 as 17,642 casualties including 2,114 security personnel took place during this time period. The NISP notes that with more than 600,000 strong personnel in 33 civilian and military security organizations provide adequate capacity to the Pakistani state to fight terrorism. The impact of terrorism has been calculated as losses worth $78 billion to Pakistan’s economy. Surprisingly, the draft also refers to the foreign policy priorities with respect to Afghanistan, Kashmir and India and limited civilian input in policy process. Governance failures also find a mention in the draft.

The democratic process in Pakistan has been a victim of terrorist narratives

Perhaps the most important feature of the NISP refers to the emphasis on the narratives – political and martial – which have increased the domestic support for terrorist outfits and mislead many a citizen in believing that terror tactics are justifiable at a certain level. This area has been largely unaddressed by Pakistan’s political parties and permanent state organs. While the PPP-led coalition tried to make some amends, it was often cowed down into acquiescence by militancy all around. In fact, the elections of 2013 took place under the threat of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that decided which political groups had more space to campaign and contest. Certainly, the democratic process in Pakistan has also been a victim of terrorist narratives. […]

March 9th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|0 Comments

Would you permit me?

Nizar Qabbani

In a country where thinkers are assassinated, and writers are considered
infidels and books are burnt,
in societies that refuse the other, and
force silence on mouths and thoughts forbidden,
and to question is a sin,
I must beg your pardon, would you permit me?

Would you permit me to bring up my children as I want, and not to
dictate on me your whims and orders?

Would you permit me to teach my children that the religion is first to
God, and not for religious leaders or scholars or people?

Would you permit me to teach my little one that religion is about good
manners, good behaviour, good conduct, honesty and truthfulness,
before I teach her with which foot to enter the bathroom or with which hand she
should eat? […]

September 10th, 2008|Middle East, Poetry, World Artists|11 Comments

To Muslims: Smash the Doors, Wash your brains..

Came across this excellent article by Farooq Suleria that rather candidly talks about the dearth of creativity in Muslims of today. I love the poem by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani at the end. First an excerpt from this piece and then the poem:

…the solution to all our problems is always simple: return […]

June 18th, 2008|Arts & Culture, Islam, Middle East, Religion, World Literature|5 Comments