Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Suaad Saga continues

More developments emerge on Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Somali-Canadian who was finally repatriated to Canada after being labeled an imposter in Kenya and imprisoned. On May 21st 2009, Suaad was detained while trying to board a KLM flight to Toronto after a three week visit when she was detained for not matching her passport photo, according to officials her lips were not the same as in the picture.She spent eight days in jail and was released on bail with no travel papers. Kenyan officials sent her passport to Canadian consular officials, who said she was an "imposter," voided the passport and sent it back to the Kenyans for prosecution. She spent three months stranded in Kenya and returned home when public pressure forced the government to conduct a DNA test, proving that the Canadian woman was who she claimed to be.

Court affidavits show that the first Canadian official who interviewed the detained woman, Paul Jameison states that he suspected the woman to be Suaad Hagi Mohamud's sister. 
Jamieson said he interviewed the woman – in English – three times in five days while she was in Kenyan custody. The first time was by phone May 21, the second in person at the airport May 22, the third at the Canadian High Commission on May 25.
(he) did not take notes of the telephone interview ... but recalled  some of the questions and answers
The lack of notes for a telephone interview, and that too one by a government official makes me suspicious. Steven Harper and his government has often covered up its mistakes. But there are some discrepancies to be noted on the part of Suaad also.

For example, in her interviews with the Toronto Star Mohamud said she was a divorced mother of a 12-year-old in Toronto, and that she fended for herself in slum hotels while stranded in Nairobi.

In the court affidavits, she says that in 2007 she married Mohamud Osman, a Kenyan of Somali origin who lives in Nairobi.

I'll admit I was on Suaad's side when this whole affair started. But now, I'm not so sure. These new developments have left me wondering whether Suaad is a victim of government misconduct or her own mistakes.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A cricket game and a dilemma

I admit that I'm not a very big fan of cricket. I've never actually sat through an entire game and am not exactly sure of what LBW means. Still, when I heard about about Pakistan's win against India in a Champion's Trophy match, I was overjoyed. Which ended up puzzling me. Why should someone who knows nothing and doesn't care about cricket care if their national team wins or not? After all, isn't it just a game where winning is based on the a greater number of imaginary points as compared to another team. Or so I tell my self

Considering that I eschewed patriotism as a foolish attachment to a piece of land during my undergraduate studies, this joy over something I could care less about is disconcerting. Maybe because it points to the hypocrisy of my "non-patriotic" beliefs. Or perhaps it is a reminder of the fact that I am more Pakistani than I'd like to think.

Friday, September 25, 2009

David Miller announces his last term!!!!!!

Toronto mayor David Miller just announced that he will not be running for a third term in the upcoming municipal election. Citing concerns over intensified pressure on family life, the two time mayor of Toronto bowed out of the running. Already three potential mayoral candidates have emerged: Denzil-Minnan Wong; a long time adversary of Miller, John Tory; a former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and  a talk show host for Newstalk 1010 and George Smitherman; the deputy premier.And the race has just begun to heat up. The weeks and months ahead of the municipal elections were expected to be a political roller coaster and Miller's bowing out changes almost nothing. Considering his faltering popularity, stepping away is probably a wise move on his part. And I for one will not miss him.

Cartoon of the Day

Monday, September 14, 2009

American far-right sinks to new lows

False images inflating the number of Tea party protesters attending the national march on September12th have been circulating the web and were posted on several prominent conservative blogs before being taken down.

Several important facts proving the fact that this picture was not taken this weekend include:

1)Pete Piringer, public affairs officer for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Department, noting that though there were a lot of people,  the Capitol the crowd "only filled the Capitol grounds, maybe up to Third Street,". Note in the picture they extend until the Washington Monument which is bordered by the 15th and 17th streets.

2) The National Museum of the American Indian, located at the corner of Fourth Street and Independence Avenue opened on Sept. 14, 2004, but is missing from the photograph.(Looking at the photograph, the building should be in the upper right hand corner of the National Mall, next to the Air and Space Museum.) . So the picture is clearly older than five years ago. (taken from

3) In the picture, there are also cranes in front of the Natural History Museum .
According to Randall Kremer, the museum's director of public affairs, "The last time cranes were in front was in the 1990s when the IMAX theater was being built."(taken from

A sobering reminder of government inadequacy

Eighteen people were trampled to death today in a stampede in Khori Garden, Karachi in order to get free flour from a philanthropist. According to Dawn, among the dead were a number of children.  Eyewitness reports indicate that a private security guard responsible for making sure the women formed an orderly queue baton charged the women when they became impatient with the long wait. "The women got scared and tried to save themselves... which caused the stampede," said local police official Hashmat Ali. This is the first incident of food shortage related deaths. Earlier this week, a elderly man died from heat exhaustion standing  in line for subsidized flour.

Inflation on wheat prices this year due to have resulted in widespread wheat shortages in the country. Considering that the majority of Pakistan's 160-180 million people live in poverty, this is nothing short of disastrous. The food market has been relatively unregulated in Pakistan since the military takeover in 1999. . But it was only around the time of general elections in Februrary 2008 that nagging flour shortages erupted into a full-blown crisis. Within weeks the price of wheat had doubled.The skyrocketing wheat prices, therefore, may become a matter of life and death for the extremely poor, according to a report of the Oxfam GB, a UK-based non-governmental organization.The report, “Food Crisis in Pakistan: Real or Artificial”, says the number of poor in the country has risen from 60 to 77 million because of food inflation.While the Pakistani government has implemented a food subsidy program as an effort to curb rising  flour, sugar, oil and rice prices, many claim its not enough. There have been complaints about long line ups and subsidy shortages at the subsidized food depots.

The philanthropist behind the stampede has been arrested and the local provincial government has promised a compensation of Rs0.1 million for the families of the victims.  However, these actions are merely a cosmetic fix to the real problem at large. The blame for this incident should not only fall upon the philanthropist in question but the national and provincial governments as well. There has simply not been enough substantial actions to curb food price inflation.Without legislation calling for long term market regulation of food prices, these incidents are bound to repeat.

As I am writing this, it seems that the democratically elected government has wholeheartedly embraced corporate agriculture farming (CAF) policy which will allow Arab states to lease vast tracts of land for food production and repatriate all produce and profits, even if there is a food deficit. In light of this, the deaths of 18 women and children should not be considered on a stand alone basis. Indeed, it is a symptom of governmental inadequacy and failure in serving the needs of its people.



Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

I'm posting my favorite political cartoons about Pakistan from 2008

I just love this one

and last but not least,


Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's time to be serious about Balochistan

The PPP recently made important overtures towards Baluchistan by halting the construction of army cantonments in Dera Bugti and Kohlu. The presence of the military is one of the most contentious issues in the region. Indeed majority of Baluchis view the army as tool of state oppression and control over the province and its natural resources which include one of the largest natural gas deposits in South Asia.

Baluchistan has had a tutmultous history. Since its inception into Pakistan through the Instrument of Ascention treaty by Jinnah and Khan of Kalat in 1948, Baluchistan has been the forefront of secessionist activity. One of the main political actors in this region the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) was involved in the bombing of railway lines and markets in 2000 and has called for repeated aggression against the Pakistani armed forces.It is also the least developed of all the regions in Pakistan  with a literacy rate of only 32%. Major ethnic groups are the Pashtuns and the Baluch each consisting of approximately half of the popualtions with Punjabi and others ethnic groups as a minority. However, the Baloch have been the most marginalized both politically and economically. Despite being a minority, Punjabis dominate the majority of top political posts in the region. In addition to this, non-Baluch are also in charge of natural gas extraction, sidelining the Baluch from obtaining any economic benefits. The development of the port of Gwadar without Baloch approval or involvement under Musharraf's regime remains one of the most contentious issues.

Considering the decades long policy of Baluchistan without the Baluch, its is not hard to understand the rise of secessionist activities in this region. Thankfully, the situation has not reached the point of no return. As Shahzain Bhugti, the grandson of the late Akbar Bhugti stated in a recent television interview,  Baluch grievances must be addressed if there is to be any positive progress. The Jamhoori Watan Party leader emphasized three main issues that need to be discussed if there is to be a reconciliation; the trial of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the provision of gas royalty arrears to Balochistan and provincial autonomy. The curtailing of military cantonments in the Dera Bugti and Kohlu region is only a step towards improving the relationship between the center and the Baluch people. However, this alone is not enough. The Baluch people also deserve greater representation in the state apparatus and in security and development projects especially Gwadar. Islamabad msut make genuine efforts to right decades of wrongs if Baluchistan is to remain part of Pakistan.

Bhugti`s interview below:

Did I mention that I hate the interviewer. I feel he behaved in a very unprofessional manner.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cartoon of the Day: Obama Envy

Continuing on the theme of Obama envy

Obama Envy

I just finished listening to Obama address the United States Congress and the nation on health care reform and all I'm thinking is why can't he be Canadian. Why do American's get all the charismatic reform minded politicians. The last Canadian leader that was at par with Kennedy/Obama was Pierre Trudeau and that was 60 years ago. And while US undergoes reform, the likes of which I have never seen, Canada is moving to the right under Stephen Harper who despite having a minority government behaves as if his party has a majority and refuses to abide by the orders of the Supreme Court of Canada for the repatriation of Omar Khadr, the last westerner in Guantanamo Bay. I keep hoping that this is all a nightmare, and that it will all be over when I wake up.

For those of you who missed the speech I've posted it below:

Cartoon of the Day

This time I'm posting one from Pakistan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Minority Report: Shahbaz Bhatti just doesn't get it.

In a public statement issues on September 1st 2009, the Central Committee of the  World Council of Churches (WCC) called on the government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all minorities in (Pakistan). In a public statement on "The misuse of the Blasphemy Law and the security of religious minorities in Pakistan", the council stated that since the amendment of the Pakistani penal code to include the Blasphemy law, “Christians in particular have become targets of harassments and persecutions." This statement comes in the wake of the Gojra attacks in which Muslim mobs torched over a 100 christian homes, killing eight people  in Gojra, Punjab over allegations that someone in the Christian district had defiled the Quran.

Pakistan minister for minorities; Shahbaz Bhatti responded to this statement saying that the law had been abused by extremist elements and that it was now under review by the government. This response just highlights the level of disinterest of the ruling elite when it comes to minority rights. To claim that the infamous blasphemy law is merely being abused is ludicrous. The problem is not the abuse of the law, but the law itself.

Pakistan's blasphemy law consists of two amendments made during the regime of Zia-ul-Haq. The first amendment 295-B introduced in 1982 made derogatory remarks about the Quran or its desecration punishable by life imprisonment. The second amendment 295-C  came in 1984 promising a fine, life imprisonment and death to anyone making "derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet . . . either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly."  Six years later, the Federal Sharia Court, where cases having to do with Islamic issues tend to be heard, ruled, "The penalty for contempt of the Holy Prophet . . . is death and nothing else."

The most transparent problem with these amendments is that they curb the freedom of Pakistani citizens to express their views on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad in any manner that they chose. In addition to this,  none of these amendments defines the terms  "derogatory remarks" or "desecration". This means that anything and eveything said about the Quran or Prophet can potentially be derogatory.  As the WCC puts it

The Blasphemy Law, while purporting to protect Islam and religious sensitivities of the Muslim majority, are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution.

The application of the Blasphemy law is a human rights nightmare. Upon the testimony of the compliant, the person charged with blasphemy is immediately jailed. Under the current provisions, conviction is possible even without proof of a deliberate attempt on the part of the accused. The accused tend to be members of religious minorities (Shiites, Ahmadiis, Chrisitians and Hindus). The charges are often related to political motivations or land claim disputes. Between 1988 and 2005, 647 people in total have been charged with blasphemy and though few have been convicted. Twenty of those charged were murdered soon after the charges were laid. Dawn provides details for many  of these cases here. I'm highlighting some below:

2008 – May: The Punjab police jailed Robin Sardar, a Christian physician, upon an accusation of blasphemy from a Muslim street-vendor who wanted to set up his shop in front of Sardar's clinic.

2008 – April 08: Jagdesh Kumar, a 27 year old Hindu worker, was beaten to death by fellow Muslim workers in his factory in Karachi on the charge of blasphemy. The incident took place in the presence of policemen. Some reports suggested that the victim was in love with a Muslim girl that angered the Muslim workers, who decided to teach him a lesson.

2005 – August 11: Judge Arshad Noor Khan of the Anti-Terrorist Court found Younus Shaikh guilty of defiling a copy of the Quran, and propagating religious hatred among society. Shaikh was convicted because he wrote a book ‘Shaitan Maulvi’ (Satanic Cleric) in which he mentioned stoning to death as a punishment for adultery was not mentioned in the Quran. The judge imposed a fine of Rs100, 000 rupees and sentenced him to lifetime imprisonment.

1998 – May 6: Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph of Pakistan shot himself in the Sahiwal courthouse to highlight the case of Ayub Masih, a Christian sentenced to death for allegedly uttering blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammad. The death of the 66-year-old led to protests by Christians. Subsequently, the Lahore High Court ordered a stay of execution for Masih. His fate remains undecided.

1995 – July: Catherine Shaheen, a teacher in Lahore, Punjab, was denied her salary on grounds of blasphemy. Since then she has been in hiding because of threats against her life made by some fundamentalists.

1992 – January 06: Christian teacher Naimat Ahmar, 43, was butchered by a young member of a militant religious group, Farooq Ahmad, on the office premises of the District Education Officer in Faisalabad while on duty. Ahmad killed him because the deceased had reportedly used highly insulting remarks against Islam and Prophet Mohammed and by killing a blasphemer he had won his way into heaven. No case of blasphemy was registered against him nor was he tried by any court. Ahmar left behind a widow and four children.

1991 – October 08: Chand Barkat, 28, a bangle stall holder in Karachi, was charged with blasphemy by another bangle vendor, Arif Hussain, because of professional jealousy. Hussain decided to teach Barkat a lesson by accusing him of using derogatory language against Prophet Mohammed and his mother. Barkat was charged under section 295-C of PPC, however, he was acquitted by the Sessions Court for want of evidence.

These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. The rampant abuse of minorities under this law has gone on for far too long. The problem as I have repeatedly stated in the past is the inclusion of religion in the state apparatus. It is not the job of the state to protect the Prophet or the Quran from defilement. However, the state is responsible for protecting the life, property and dignity of all of its citizens. By blaming hate and intolerance against minorities on the abuse of the blasphemy law and rather than the law itself, Minister Shahbaz Bhatti undermines his credibility with the very people that he represents.

Photo by AP

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Halal search engine: Can it get any more ridiculous?

When Koogle (Kosher google) came out, I wrote a post on how religious web engine may lead to cyber segregation. I noted that a Hoogle (Halal Google) may not be so far behind. Well,  now its here. A Dutch media company AZS has announced the launch of, created for Muslims who avoided the internet due to proliferation of explicit content. The company press release states:

The site offers a broad range of functions that are developed specifically to increase the users search experience. Besides focusing to be a great Islamic search engine, also aims to deliver the best search product as well.

The creator Reza Sardeha  got the idea  after he and his friends kept getting explicit content when using Google and Yahoo!. 
First of all, we have blocked all sexually explicit content. We are also in talks with Imams [Muslim scholars] to determine what might be considered haram and therefore be blocked."

The searing filter is static but is made up of three different layers which serve to give the user as good an engine as possible
  He also plans on adding Islamic widgets for prayer time or a quote from the Koran into the search engine.

There are a host of ethical issues associated with determining with  halal online content.  Firstly, what is halal? As we all are aware, there are many denominations within Islam.  What is considered halal in one denomination may not be halal in another.Even within Sunnism,  the concept of halal differs between Hanafis, Malikis, Shafaiis and Hambalis.

Secondly, who determines what is halal?  It is a fact that there is no universally accepted Islamic scholar. Even within different sects there is no one person who is universally accepted. So, which scholars should be used to determine halal online content?

Added to that is the potential for many conflicts of interest. Obviously porn sites are not halal, but what about those advocating safe sex or abortions. Will these sites be filtered through as well? How about those criticizing Islam? How about those that are critical of organizations that support the clerics determining what Halal is?

Religious search engines may provide a way for the faithful to both surf the net and safeguard their souls, but they can also contribute to cyber segregation making it impossible for people from different religious, social, moral and political values to interact with each other.  By transferring power from the hand of the populace to the hands of the clerics to determine what is and is not acceptable online, people no longer have the right to determine their own morals.Something that I find very disturbing.

And the mud slinging continues...

Pakistani politics is not exactly known for its civility (see after). In the recent days, the PPP and the PML-N have been butting heads, with Nawaz Sharif accusing Zardari of running a "smear cell" against him and the PML-N. Zardari of course, is denying this. The atmosphere in the national assembly has become poisoned to such an extent that Sharif is now threatening retribution against Zardari and the PPP if this "smear campaign" is not halted within 48 hours.

 As many of you are aware, confrontations between the PPP and the PML (both N and Q) are not a recent phenomena. Animosity between these two parties goes back to the 1990s aggregating between the late Benazir Bhutto and Sharif himself. With her passing, it is not surprising that this torch of hostility and acrimony has been passed to her successor Zardari. But jokes aside, enough is enough.

This constant personal (yet so very political) confrontation between Zardari and Sharif has to stop. There are more important domestic and foreign issues that demand the attention that is being given to this barroom brawl. Both the president and Sharif need to understand that national stage cannot be hijacked to highlight  personal agendas. Mudslinging in the National Assembly is certainly not getting this country anywhere. The fact is that both leaders and their respective political parties are incompetent. Mr "10 percent" Zardari is notorious for his greed when it comes to handling the tax payer's money (I'll address these tax payers and their counterparts in a separate post). And let's not forget about the Swat deal. But Sharif isn't innocent either. After all he is credited for bankrupting the country. According to the Wall Street Journal:
In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, Pakistani economy was in shambles. Pakistan’s total debt as percentage of GDP was the highest in South Asia – 99.3 percent of its GDP and 629 percent of its revenue receipts, compared to Sri Lanka (91.1% & 528.3% respectively in 1998) and India (47.2% & 384.9% respectively in 1998). Internal Debt of Pakistan in 1999 was 45.6 per cent of GDP and 289.1 per cent of its revenue receipts, as compared to Sri Lanka (45.7% & 264.8% respectively in 1998) and India (44.0% & 358.4% respectively in 1998).
None of what I've said is new. So why comment on this recent episode of mudslinging? For one, this entire episode only highlights the fact that democracy is a joke in Pakistan. Musharraf may have been an unelected representative of the Pakistani people, but I'm not sure if the elected ones are any better. The state of Pakistan seems even worse now. That's not to say that I am a supporter of Musharraf and its military regime.I'm just not sure how democracy has worked in favour of the Pakistani people.The egotistical nature of  the Sharif-Zardari confrontation only highlights this. And frankly speaking its tiring. If only both leaders could promote national education or health care with such a zeal. If only they spent this much time and energy on dealing with the shortages and runaway inflation on daily necessities such as wheat, rice and sugar.

And as much as I would like to hope for change in the political sphere, its not going to happen anytime soon.


Civility: See below

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cartoon of the Day

I'm sure you've all heard about the Disney takeover by Marvel. The reactions to this news (among cartoonists) at least have been very negative. Here are some examples:

What are your opinions about this takeover? Do you think it will affect the creative work of Marvel?