On Writing

Credit to Streets of Madness by Evelina Kremsdorf

NOTE: This piece is more a catharsis, than a legitimate piece of writing. However, it is part of the process to step out of the writing comfort zone and explore why some of us write how we write… In other words, deconstructing the process of writing in order to understand it better. I hope to learn from this exercise, so it would be constructive to hear your views, even if they are biting criticisms tearing it apart. It’s only through hearing opposing opinions that one can grow as a human being, I think. So Take 1 of “bad writing on display” :

Originally published on Medium

Credit to Streets of Madness by Evelina Kremsdorf

Credit to Streets of Madness by Evelina Kremsdorf

“All ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the gardener with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.” — Mark Twain

There’s a bothersome itch I like to call a “writing epiphany.” It’s that sudden feeling when, regardless of time or space or matter, you’re possessed by an overwhelming urge to write… That moment when the pen becomes so restless that you are almost compelled to siphon everything out of your head onto any writing surface you can find… It means 3AM drafts, when you rudely wake the phone that’s sleeping next to you, to unburden your soul… It means sticky notes, and backs of notebooks, and scribbles in unexpected places. In a lot of ways, you’re acting outside of yourself; it isn’t conscious. Untrained writers like myself often look for “inspiration”… for something that brings out feelings that you’ve tried to bury under sands of pragmatism… for something that words can’t capture… for the ethereal on earth… anything, everything.

Of course, once possessed by the Writing Spirit, you’re often a mere automaton, driven by a senseless urge to create what isn’t yours… often times, it’s just a thought that can tip you over the edge… and then you’re drowning in a chalice of emotion, something that you might not even understand. To someone saner, it would look like madness. And maybe it really is a Red Room of ideas that are beyond comprehension. But you write anyway… letting the words take you through labyrinthine, unknown passageways.

When you read what you wrote the next day, it might just be pseudo-intellectual garbage, interspersed with borrowed ideas and broken thoughts.

You might look at something you posted in a fit of writing, and wonder why you ever thought it was kosher for public consumption. Of course, there’s probably the fact that there was no “thought” involved. Something that should’ve remained a draft, tucked away neatly in the Recycle Bin, lies naked in the infinite vastness of the Internet. If you had sense, you’d have hand-written it, keeping it safe in the rare privacy that is afforded by cellulose pulp.

There’s that Millennial, almost megalomaniac, to share though… the sense that you’re important… the idea that your words mean something… a want of human connection… a desire to be heard… Perhaps that feeling can be traced back to Man’s age-old art of storytelling… or maybe it’s just a Denial of Death… or maybe just therapy.

Regardless, I can’t help thinking that “real” writers — those who practice the art of writing almost ritualistically — must cringe at the idea of unedited, first drafts, served shamelessly, without a hint of salt and no garnish.

So now when the writing parasite bores its way into my mind, I resist… I’m afraid of “what they’ll say”; I wonder if it’s worth it…. and I over-think some more, until exhausted, it lies dormant for another day.

The Hunar Foundation- Enabling Pakistanis for a Brighter Future

Maha Kamal:

Great cause for donations:

Originally posted on saramuzzammil:

 

The Hunar Foundation is a non-profit organisation that took root with the objective of finding a solution to the problems of livelihood for the youth through quality vocational training of international standards. They offer one year courses in various trades followed by internships in industry or commercial organisations.

Apart from professional training, they aim to create better human beings by teaching work ethics, social and moral values. They are specifically focused on these critical aspects of social conduct so as to produce a high quality, skilled workforce of integrity, and who are readily employable locally and abroad.

THF has been working since 2008 to make sure that the majority of Pakistani population that is deprived of basic education can make a livelihood for themselves and help boost Pakistan’s social and economic conditions.

Please help their cause by donating as much as you can. Also, help create awareness for them by…

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Why is Pakistani Society so Divided on Malala?

First published on Medium

CREDIT: TIME MAGAZINE, 2013

Why is Pakistani Society so Divided on Malala? 

Everyone has an opinion. 

I never thought watching The Daily Show would leave me misty-eyed… Nor did I think Jon Stewart could ever be left speechless.

But watching Malala sitting calmly next to Jon Stewart recalling her innocent thought-process of what she’d do if she ever confronted a Talib was inspiring:

“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’

Last week, Malala Yousufzai was probably the most popular (or unpopular) teenager in Pakistan, depending on who you talked to. With the 16-year old nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, emotions ran high. On opposing ends of the spectrum, there were those who prayed for Malala winning the coveted prize, and there were those who questioned her nomination.

So many words kept being tossed around: Malala, the Muslim Feminist, Malala DramaBrand Malala, White SaviorsBrown Honor, et cetera. And in all the cacophony of voices, it seemed like everyone has an opinion about Malala. Fact or fiction, everything’s jaaiz, fair game.

What bothers me is that Malala was being turned into a symbol for all causes galore. From anti-terrorism to gender equity to critical race theory to non-violence to the pursuit of happiness, just Malala-brand it. This, I believe, is disrespectful to the young woman who is bravely raising her voice for the cause of education. As she eloquently calls for education for all, advocating for non-violence and dialogue as the path to progress, by focusing on the messenger more than the message, we risk politicizing Malala. In fact, it may be argued that Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination, a prize that is historically awarded in light of global politics, may itself be an indicator of this politicization. Does fame and the limelight automatically put a person at the mercy of public opinion, and in due course, their politics?

The larger question, of course, is how did a 16-year-old become such apolarizing figure for Pakistan? Malala is being called everything from a a shame for the Pashtuns to a puppet of the West.In her op-ed “The Real Malala Drama”, popular blogger Hafsa Khawaja described this division of society well:

One would reckon that a shot in the head of a 15-year-old girl advocating education, against the agenda of barbaric monsters and risking their wrath, would shake the nation into unanimously becoming a steel wall of support behind her. Not in Pakistan. Not in a society so deeply divided on issues that invite no second thoughts in most societies.

WHY would anyone hate a girl who is

a) a victim of terrorism, and was shot

b) only 16 years old, for Heaven’s sake

c) speaking out for a great cause

d) a brave proponent for dialogue at a time of increasing violence

The list could go on why Pakistan should be proud of Malala. But that might result in too much of a personal bias.

There is room for dialogue (in fact, from what I know of Malala, she may even encourage healthy debate). You may disagree with her methods. You may disagree with her “white savior” support from the West. You may even question why other victims of terrorism were not given as much attention.

However, in all of this, please do not hate the girl. This destructive emotion is the last thing Pakistani society needs.

Hafsa, in her op-ed, traced the main causes of Malala-hate and society’s division, to jealousy, conspiracy-theories & paranoia, a lack of trust, and a general image insecurity about Pakistan. However, it is not that black and white. Previously, I’d have thought it was a no-brainer to support the young girl. On closer introspection, and after hearing a wide range of opinions on the subject (and more), I believe that this division of society is symptomatic of a larger problem that Pakistan needs to address. This deep segmentation of opinions is not a simple case of Reason versus. Insanity. In fact, framing it in this context is harmful for truly addressing the roots of the problem. Why is Pakistani society so divided on Malala? And the broader question, why is Pakistani society so deeply paranoid that we indulge in conspiracy theories and exhibit a general lack of trust?

Part of the problem has to do with our society being anxious as a whole, and displaying high levels of stress. Earlier this week I was researching anxiety disorders (particularly in relation to societies), and talked to a few experts regarding them. Some of the common individual symptoms of anxiety were a feeling of insecurity, mistrust, a feeling of constantly being in danger… One of the experts I talked to said that in societies like Pakistan when people are constantly under pressure because of terrorism, unemployment, poverty and other factors that create a high-stress environment (see Terrorism and its Effects on Mental Health), majority of people face some level of anxiety. However, it may only be classified as a disorder at high levels.

A lot of scientific studies still need to be done to prove or disprove this hypothesis, as data is fairly limited on levels of anxiety in Pakistani society. However, the high stress environment that Pakistanis live in may be part of the reason why emotions run high. The sense of foreign forces out to get Pakistan, the idea that no one can be trusted may on some level be tied to these larger endemic causes related to conflict (and related trauma), and may help explain why this mistrust has worsened over the years. There are environmental causes of stress, and then there’s educational exacerbation (in very simplistic terms).

But it definitely does not help when organizations like the CIA prove Pakistani conspiracy theories right through misguided plans that interfere with healthcare, and strengthen the notion that it’s the “World against Pakistan.”

Overall, Pakistanis need to rebuild their trust — in institutions, in the world, and in themselves — to progress. But unless things start looking up in the country of 180 million, unfortunately Malala and her ideas may not sway the Pakistani people.

Insaaniyat: the need for an attitude change

Originally posted on Insaaniat:

After witnessing the incidents of the last few days where many people lost their lives due to the presumed shia-sunni conflict and many similar incidents that have been occurring in our society, we felt a dire need to take an initiative of promoting the spirit of insaaniyat (humanity).

Whenever such incidents occur whether we attribute them to Shai-sunni, deobandi-barelvi, muslim-christian, mohajir-pathan (list goes on.. ) conflicts, the biggest question that arises is not what is the nature of our differences, the point is why do we always generate conflicts out of our differences. The problem is not with having or developing differences, the problem is with our attitude as to how we manage these differences.

Every society consists of individuals and these individuals have different personalities, preferences, experiences, needs and beliefs. it is perfectly normal to have different views and to belong to different groups or schools of thought but…

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The International Day of Tolerance & Insaaniat

November 16, 2013
 
It’s tragic that on the International Day of Tolerance (November 16), Pakistan is dealing with the aftermath of sectarian violence. In a region that has a brilliant history of Sufi poetry (Bulleh Shah) and that has produced individuals like Abdul-Sattar Edhi, time and time again, we have seen the darkness that ensues because people forget what it means to be human – to love unconditionally – and instead spew divisive nonsense that only hurts all of us.

Zehra Batool and I began a series of letters to each other in January, to try to understand more of what it meant to be a Shia or Sunni in Pakistan: http://insaaniat.wordpress.com/sushi-sisters/

What we need is more discourse, more tolerance and more love. Please ASK questions instead of inventing theories about “the other.”

I wanted to wait before I launched the project, so to speak. But every day the monster of hate only seems to be growing, so the time is now. The narrative that ensues about Pakistan the world over seems to be that we’re a bunch of angry young men and women, with no sense of direction. That is far from the truth, and I want us who believe in the power of healing amongst communities to raise our voices for love. Have more things like #PakistanforAll, an interfaith mosques (http://dawn.com/news/1030003/) – build an environment where we respect and learn from our differences. After all, it is diversity that makes this world so beautiful.

Pakistan and the Social Contract

Written for and originally published in PakVotes

Pakistan celebrated 66 years of Independence on August 14th. Green and white flags hoisted throughout the country spoke of a patriotic nation that is proud of its people. Campaigns like #14ActsforPakistan revived a spirit of activism for the motherland. Television channels showcased marching parades and national anthems. Sparkling lights on offices and buildings masqueraded as a “Roshan Pakistan.

Yet though there was an air of quiet festivity in the country, many people had mixed feelings about celebrating Pakistan. With the country facing increased political violence and terrorism, terrible bloodshed and a hike in crime (and taxes), a lot of people held resentment against the state for its failure to uphold people’s rights.Even after six decades, the state has failed to protect the life and property of its people. The numbers are dismal. The Global Peace Index ranked Pakistan no. 2 on its scale of terrorism, after Iraq. Violence is on the rise, with the daily newspapers splashed with tragic accounts. Serious flooding is claiming hundreds of lives because of poor water management. And with an attack on an Ismaili Jamaat Khaana on the very eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, no house of worship or sanctuary seems to be safe for the citizens of the country.

In this vein, there is an urgent need for the state to reestablish its “social contract” with its people and protect their human rights. In political philosophy, the social contract addresses the question of legitimacy of a state over individuals. Philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau had different ideas on what this meant. However, the basic idea is that individuals relinquish some of their freedoms and subject themselves to a rule of law in exchange for protection. Thus under this concept, the state’s legitimacy largely depends on its success of protecting and safeguarding the lives of its people.

Patriots get irked when Pakistan appears under “failed states,” rankings but the state threatens its own legitimacy when it fails to honor its commitment to the social contract. The Pakistani “state” becomes a conglomerate of individuals taking matters into their own hands. From addressing electricity shortages through candle lights, generators, UPS and even solar panels, to meeting security needs through personal guards, the acts of individuals reveal a huge trust deficit in the state. What is worse is that these acts are also reflective of a society where the rich can create their own mini-states to meet their needs, while the poor are left at the expense of a state that does not have mechanisms for protecting its people. Subsequent governments talk about addressing the challenges of governance, yet these remain the subject of conferences and dusty reports. To understand how little these policies are implemented, and their insignificant impact on the daily lives of Pakistanis, one just needs to talk to any man or woman on the street. For the average person, the adage, that “nothing is certain but death and taxes” seems truer than ever before.

How can the state reclaim its legitimacy? Better planning and systematically addressing its problems. Pakistan had a peaceful transition in democracy with the elected PML-N government promising solutions to Pakistan’s problems. These solutions need to reflect the priorities of its people through a participatory and consensus-oriented approach. Currently, security seems to be one of the biggest challenges that the new government faces. The state will need to create a national consensus against terrorism and present a strong front against it. Moreover, the government will have to emphasize the Pakistan’s total losses due to terrorism and make it public information. The Economic Survey of Pakistan released earlier this summer chose to keep the financial losses from terrorism classified. But for Pakistanis to own their own war against terrorism, it’s incumbent upon the government to be clear about this and help create a counter-narrative.

Moreover, the government will need domestic confidence building measures for its citizens to regain peoples’ trust. Better communication, transparency and accountability in governance processes will allow people to understand them (and subsequently participate more). A positive move in this regard is accessibility of elected officials, with increased ICT updates. Political parties are also more active on social media, allowing for more communication between citizens and their political representatives.

Lastly, and most importantly, Pakistanis as a nation will have to cooperate with their government, and give constant feedback to help improve governance processes. Creating grassroots accountability, and meeting their own responsibilities – whether it’s through keeping the roads clean or paying bills on time or just being honest in their day to day lives – will go a long way in improving the overall state of affairs of the country.

Every citizen of Pakistan deserves the right to life, and to not live in conditions of constant fear and insecurity. It is about time that the government and people rebuild their social contract.

On Death

Lately I have been thinking a lot about life and death. How we consider the two to be the opposites of each other, like light and darkness. Perhaps it is this idea of the two being seen as the converse of one another that I find the concept of death so challenging. It seems tragic, and as I try to find meaning in it, I’m lost. Perhaps it’s a sign of weak faith; perhaps it is only introspection. Regardless, this post is an attempt to  find peace in an elusive concept, and gain clarity through the thoughts and feelings of others who understand it better. 

Every Soul shall have a taste of death: in the end to Us shall ye be brought back,”

(Quran, 29:57)

Every Soul shall have a taste of death, it says in the Quran…Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as the oft-quoted lines go. There’s a finality to it, an inevitability. And there’s loss; the heartbreaking pain of losing someone dear to you; there’s a sense of lost time, and things unsaid; of memories and mistakes, and helplessness…

One of my earliest memories is my grandmother’s funeral when I was about 4 years old. Nanoo was 51. She was too young to have passed away. I don’t remember a lot, perhaps because I was too young to understand it at the time. But I can still recall the emotions from that day; the utter sense of loss, of confusion and tears, of knowing not how to respond. And finding pillars of support in unlikely places, and seeking solace in prayer.

Everything changes…Yet it all comes back to you, in vivid images. There’s a sense of eternity in memories, the idea that they will always be with you. Yet you think of the things you could have said; your last memories with them; what you could have done to change things; could you have done anything? And the process is debilitating…dealing with your own loss and grief.

I know that the words of God hold comfort. There’s the idea that a soul is returning to its original abode, “brought back,” and going back to the Creator. After all, He who gave life, takes it away. So life then becomes an amanah(t): God’s trust in you to fulfill your responsibilities, and a kind of blessing. You pray for the departed souls, and you hope with all your heart that they are at peace.

Yasmin Mogahed once wrote about the journey of a soul back to its home, and its one desire: a union with God. This prayer held comfort:

“O Lord, make my soul a sanctuary, a fortress within. That no one and nothing can disturb. A place of calm, silence, serenity, untouched by the outside world. The soul that Allah (swt) calls al-nafs al mutmaina (the reassured soul) (Quran, 89:27). The soul that Allah (swt) calls back saying:

“(To the righteous soul will be said:) ‘O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord – well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou, then, among My devotees! Yea, enter thou My Heaven!’” (Quran, 89:27-30)”

(Yasmin Mogahed)

Ramadan is a test of patience…and one of the biggest tests of sabr is dealing with loss. This Ramadan, remember those who have passed away in your prayers. May God give us all courage.

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirun (the patient). Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Verily! To Allah we belong and verily, to Him we shall return.” (Quran, 2:155-156)