Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Attack in Lahore

According to initial reports, five to seven militants stormed the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, killing at least twelve people and injuring ten more. A security guard and five police are among those killed. Militants entered the hospital in a rescue attempt to free the injured assailant of Sunday's attack on two Ahmadi mosques placed in intensive care, taking other patients as hostages.

I'll update the post as more information comes my way.

Update I: Hostage crisis is over and the Hospital has been secured. The militants escapes as the police entered, unsuccessful in retrieving the injured attacker. So far no single group has claimed responsibility, though an Al -Qaeda-Punjabi Taliban-Sectarian group nexus is thought to be responsible.

Facebook is back and other news for Monday

Pakistani Facebook users rejoice! According to the latest news report from Dawn, the access to facebook has been restored in Pakistan after a two week ban imposed on May 19th by a Lahore High Court decision and the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority (PTA) over a facebook group encouraging viewers to draw Prophet Muhammad, itself a reaction to the decision by Comedy Central to censor the image of Prophet Muhammad from the 100th anniversary episode of South Park (see my previous post on this topic here). The reversal follows the removal of this page from the website.Of course the two week ban was enough to spark some Pakistanis to create a "Muslim Facebook" which the creators hope would allows users to connect with the 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide. Non-muslims need not apply.

More violence for Ahmadis today. An Ahmadi Muslim was stabbed to death in Narowal by an assailant which broke into his house, claiming not to leave a single Ahmadi alive. Do we need anymore proof that Ordinance XX in the Constitution seriously needs to be revised?

Israeli armed forces attacked an aid flottila headed for Gaza, killing  at least ten people and injuring seventy more. No word yet on the condition of some of the more prominent activsts involved, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 85. International condemnation follows. See Glen Greenwald, Juan Cole, March Lynch and Andrew Sullivan's response. I will be posting something on this by the end of the day.

Much ado about animals. An very interesting piece on the use of zoos as political tools of statecraft.

What is common between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the recent promotion of A.G. Sulzberger at the New York Times? Well, if your parent happens to head something, then you can just sit back, relax and enjoy your ride to the top.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our silence enables their murder

 (Image Credit: Arif Ali / AFP / Getty Images; published in Time)

I have thought a lot about what I was going to write about the cold blooded killing of more than eighty Ahmadi Muslims in their mosques in Lahore yesterday. And though my fellow bloggers Kalsoom, Tazeen and Ahsan have written excellent pieces about this atrocity, I feel that there is more that still needs to be said.

I have covered violence against minorities in many of my previous posts. In this case however, I have a personal stake in the matter. This is because as a member of a minority sect considered sufficiently Islamic by the constitution of Pakistan I enjoy the right to call my self a Muslim, to name my place of worship a mosque, to possess and read the Quran, and to say the Kalimah (Muslim affirmation of faith) without any restrictions. I enjoy the freedoms that my fellow Muslims do not.

Moreover, I and all of the members of the sect to which I belong are very much responsible for the murder of our fellow Pakistanis. Why? Because when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was willing to sell out the right of the Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims in order to appease religious fanatics of the Jamaat-Ulama-Islam and remain in power in 1974, not only did we remain silent but our Ulema provided religious justifications for this. Similarly, when Zia-ul-Haq (may he burn in hell for eternity) passed  laws further legalizing tha religious persecution of  Ahmadis, we did nothing. In contrast, at least a hundred thousand Shiites marched to Islamabad to protest the Zakaat and Ushr Ordinance, which allowed the state to collect religious tithes because it did not correspond with the values of our sect. We were more than willing to protect our assets, but not the human rights of our fellow citizens.

I am also responsible on a personal level. A few months ago, I applied for a National Id Card for Overseas Pakistani (NICOP). During the application process, I checked my religion as Muslim and in doing so accepted the following statement, which was clearly discriminatory
I Solemnly affirm that, I believe completely and unconditionally in the finality of the Prophethood of the Prophet MUHAMMAD (PBUH), and that I am not a follower of any person who claims Prophethood on the basis of any interpretation of this word, neither I believe such a claimant to be a reformer or a prophet, nor I belong to Qadiani or Lahori group or call myself Ahmedi.
And even though I felt bad about doing this, my need for a NICOP card was more necessitated than denying this act of bigotry. I had other options. Instead of identifying myself as Muslim, I could have easily check-marked the box "Other". But I did not think to do that. This is the real tragedy of this incident.

As of last night, many Pakistanis have distanced themselves from this violence citing this incident as an act of extremism and expressing sympathy for the victims. Yet these same individuals have also affirmed the belief that Ahmadis are non-Muslims (just check out the comments in the public forum pkpolitics) and stated their support for the legislation denying Ahmadis the right to practice their faith freely; the root cause for these acts of violence in the first place. And until we deal with this underlying clause or the original sin as my fellow blogger XYZ (Cafe Pyala) puts it, violence against minorities is sure to continue.

Let's not forget about Lahore Commissioner Khushro Pervez's attribution of these attacks to the Indian Intelligence Agency RAW before they were claimed by the Taliban or Brigadier Imtiaz Billa on Business Plus suggesting that this was an American conspiracy to force the Pakistan army to conduct an operation in North Waziristan and Southern Punjab and to malign Islam and Pakistan. From the words of these idiots, it is clear that we have a lot of work to do before the injustice against Ahmadis is corrected.

P.S. It is important to note that MQM's Altaf Hussein is the only politician who has publicly defended the rights of Ahmadis. I do not support his politics, but he is definitely right on this one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

YouTube back online, Facebook still pending approval....

According to this news tidbit, YouTube should be accessible to the Pakistani public in a matter of day with only videos of material deemed blasphemous and sacrilegious blocked . So why didn't the Pakistani government do this in the first place? Then there is the question of who will determine which content is Blasphemous or not? Will Youtube videos of religious practices of other sects be banned because the majority Sunni faith considers them Blaspehmous? Will potentially embarassing videos of politicians be blocked as well under this rule?Who will implement this ban (The PTC or the ISPs)? So while I'm glad that YouTube is back, this newest development is nothing but another can of worms in my opinion. As for Facebook, it is still pending a court decision about its future in Pakistan.

P.S. Be sure to check out this post on how banning Facebook is like the Hijrat to Medina. It's mind boggling how some people can come up with this stuff. Ahsan (Five rupees) summarizes it quite nicely here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The ban on Youtube and Facebook and how to get around it

By now I'm sure all of you have heard or experienced the PTC ban on Youtube, Facebook and other websites such as Wikipedia and Flickr (briefly blocked) following the Lahore High Court ruling which initiated this stupidity in the first place. While I will admit that I'm fuming mad about this and happy that I am not in Pakistan at the moment, I have decided against going on about it mainly because:

1) All of my fellow Pakistani bloggers have done such a good job expressing my feelings ( To AKS at Five rupees, I feel exactly the way you do. And thanks to Huma Imtiaz, for harassing the authorities on my behalf)  and discussing the minefield issue of free speech  in this context (Kalsoom at CHUP, Sepia Mutiny, Saba Imtiaz, Umair J at  Recycled Thought). Also props to FK at Deadpan Thoughts for the most creative post title surrounding this controversy so far.

2) My opinion on the ban is not going to make a difference on the ban itself. While I am somewhat narcissistic, it is very unlikely that my vehement disagreement with the LHC ruling and subsequent bans will cause any of the decision makers in Pakistan to reconsider their actions.

3) Railing against this ban may be understandable but it is very much reactionary. Sort of like the incredibly asinine individuals who initiated this ban in the first place (the fact that I've used the word asinine  should give you an idea of how I feel about this).

 Considering the massive impact these bans are having and going to have on internet users in Pakistan, I have decided to be proactive by posting some simple ways of getting around this ban instead.

One way to get around the ban is to use web proxys or anonymizers. Anonymizers hide your personal IP information and  reroute the internet connection through various servers all over the world allowing individuals affected by bans to virtually reside in a different country. One of the best  free proxy servers out there is the Hide My Ass, which allows users to access the majority of sites. Hide my Ass also has a specific Youtube Proxy which allows Internet users to access Youtube without any restrictions.

While Hide My Ass is designed for general website blocking such as at school, work etc, Ultra Reach an organization against Internet Censorship of any kind has developed a software specifically designed to combat Internet censorship at a state level. Ultra Surf (which can be downloaded from the previous link), allows users in countries with intense internet restrictions (China, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc) to access the Internet freely. Please note that Ultra Surf is an executable file and does not require any installation process.

Some other software designed specifically to combat Internet censorship at a state level are:

FreeGate is an anti-censorship client software for a secure and faster internet.  It requires no installation or change in system setting and works with DynaWeb, a P2P-like proxy network system.

JAP makes it possible to surf the internet anonymously and unobservably. Instead of connecting directly to a webserver, users take a detour, connecting with encryption through several intermediaries, so-called Mixes. JAP uses a predetermined sequence for the mixes. Such a sequence of linked mixes is called a Mix Cascade which users can alter according to their own privacy preference.

Your Freedom
Your Freedom services makes accessible what is unaccessible to you, and it hides your network address from those who don’t need to know. It turns your own PC into an uncensored, anonymous web proxy and an uncensored, anonymous SOCKS proxy that your applications can use, and it can even get you connected to the Internet just as if you were using an unrestricted DSL or cable connection.

Hopster is all about open, safe and uncensored internet access and allows you to hide your real IP address while surfing the net. 

Freenet is free software which lets you publish and obtain information on the Internet without fear of censorship. To achieve this freedom, the network is entirely decentralized and publishers and consumers of information are anonymous.

Tor is a software project that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.Please note that installing this program is not enough and that there are specific guidelines that need to be followed in order to use this program as efficiently as possible.

HotSpot Shield HotSpot Shield creates a secure virtual private network (VPN) over your connection allowing you to bypass any ISP firewalls, including those set by your local ISP.

 Please note that information for all of these sites was taken from Zimbio.
P.S. A note to all of my readers, if you are in Pakistan and have some time on your hands, I would really appreciate it if you could test some of this software out. I would like to know whether the proxy software that I have provided is working in the context of the Pakistani censorship activities.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cartoon of the Day - An Ode to Pakistani Cricket

 (Credit: Sahil Rizwan)

 I just spent the last 5 minutes rolling on the floor with laughter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Inane headline of the Day

From today's The News:
 Versified translation of Holy Quran proves Hindko richness

Meh! In my patronizing Urdu-speaking view, Hindko is still a dialect.
P.S. The above statement is meant to convey a sarcastic tone. No offense is intended for Hindko speakers.

Reading for Tuesday

Somethings are far from black and white.Ahsan (Five Rupees) and Mosharraf Zaidi on some of the controversies surrounding drone attacks.

Forget about frogs, snails and puppy-dog tails. Kalsoom(Chup)with a guest post on what Pakistani boys are really made of.

Mommy and Me. Family photos of some of the most powerful people on the planet (courtesy of Foreign Policy)

Pakistani Porn. And Tazeen (A Reluctant Mind) on Pakistani Porn.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Roti List: Tunes for a long trip or possibly when you're high

Mabool- Orphaned Land

Gonjasufi - Kowboyz and Indians

Radiohead-Kid A

Broken Social Scene

MIA Bamboo Banga


Meekal Hasan Band-Huns Dhun

Broken Social Scene- Fire Eyed Boy

Omodaka-Plum Song

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

On the heels of the UN probe into Benazir Bhutto's death and the publication of the Fatima Bhutto's Song of Blood and Sword (Saba Imtiaz rightly thrashes the book here), the million dollar question as Cyril Almeida put it is  "Who killed BB?" and its counterpart "Why?". So far we know that stringent security measures were not provided for BB by the "establishment" and members of her own party were seen fleeing the scene moments before the attack. Additionally, it seems like the crime scene was purposefully hosed down on direct orders from an higher up in the government establishment. But neither the UN report nor the Pak
 fact finding mission has turned up any evidence that may lead to convictions of any sort, nothing new considering that none of the major political assasination in Pakistani history have been solved convincingly (Liaqat Ali Khan (assassin known, reasons unknown), all members of the Bhutto family, and Zia ul Haq (may be accident)). While I feel that shedding light on the events that led to the December 27th as well as finding and prosecuting her killers is important in providing closure to the Pakistani nation, this investigation is irrelevant in the large scheme of things.

Firstly, Benazir's assasination has provided the PPP an opportunity to participate in sympathy politics (notice the prevalence of BB's potrait at all political rallies, the utilization of her assasination in all political speeches, interviews etc) and I don't see that changing anytime soon regardless of any future convictions.  In the event of a conviction or arrest, if the individual(s) in question is affiliated with a rival political party, extremist religious group or the military, then  it is very likely that the PPP will play up the assasination (aka martydom) even more.

Secondly, based on the low conviction and case closure rates of political assasinations in Pakistan, it is highly likely that BB's assasination will not be resolved (cynical but true). And even if a conviction is sought, given the number of conspiracy theories out there ranging from AAZ offing his own wife to religious militant-military cooperated attack planning to religious extremists taking revenge, this issue will not be resolved easily (at least not by this generation of Pakistanis). The one thing that Mohammad Hanif's "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" makes clear is the lasting power of conspiracy theories and the irrelevance of historical fact in such circumstances.

Capturing our collective imagination, the assasination of BB on 27th December 2007 has becomes an important milestone in Pakistan's history, sure to be mentioned decades from now in heated living room discussions in the same reverential tones as the Kennedy assasination or the events of September 11th. What is more interesting is our response. The national fascination with her murder says much about our current soceity. It is a mainfestation of our desire for the past and our discomfort with the future.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Something new...

All of my readers may have noticed that my posts have been diminishing in frequency for some time now. I don't feel like writing much these days. It might have to do with the inordinately large amount of report writing that I have to do or the fact that I've taken up another hobby.

I've been cartooning for quite sometime now. Recently, instead of thinking of post ideas I've been scribbling down cartoon strips. Here is a prelimiray sketch of my most complete idea so far (read from left to right). Any feedback will be much appreciated. I'll post a final copy (inked) of this soon.