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Islam and Politics ( 10 Sept 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Refugees, the Gulf States and the West: New Age Islam’s Selection from Pakistan Press, 11 September 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

11 September 2015

 Refugees, the Gulf States and the West

By Zeeba T Hashmi

 Haj beyond Rituals

By Muhammad Ali Musofer

 Differences in Abilities

By Faisal Bari

 History Repeated

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

 PML-N’s Bad-Maza (Tasteless) Government

By Ayaz Amir

 The Phantom of the Cinema

By Mehr Tarar


Refugees, the Gulf States and The West

By Zeeba T Hashmi

September 11, 2015

When fleeing from war and persecution, from a violence-riddled country to a safer place for refuge, terming these people with the status of immigrant instead of refugee is perhaps the worst form of injustice we often notice in the media. Suffering from emotional strain and identity crisis, the sense of helplessness they feel when sailing to foreign lands is never easy because nothing can be more shattering for them than the feeling of loss, alienation and subsequent humiliation.

The current fiasco in Syria has resulted in the displacement of millions of its people who are desperate to escape the hell that was once their home. They have to make a choice for themselves: either risk dying in their homes destroyed by civil war or take a long journey away from their homes that has some possibility of hope for them. These are the hard decisions they have to take, placing their lives and fortunes at stake; for them it is a do or die predicament.

While being most vulnerable to dangers in the difficult journeys they have undertaken for themselves and their children, they are further scrutinised by immigrant and border patrol officers to determine whether they should be allowed in or not. Furthermore, most of these refugees easily fall prey to human smugglers to whom they pay a fortune to help them land in safer places. They are often met with tragic repercussions, as we have seen in Aylan Kurdi’s case, an example of the many that has finally forced open a new debate on dealing with this human catastrophe.

According to the UNHCR, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, nearly four million refugees have fled the country and 6.5 million have been displaced within the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has recorded that 210,000 people have died in the conflict. Who is to be blamed for this crisis? The manifestation of global political alignments and interference in nations through weapons infiltration to achieve political gains, as seen in the Arab world recently, has caused an unsettled future for the current and coming generations that have to endure civil wars and militancy in their home countries. Syria’s tragic story is no different. The start of the conspiracy to oust President Bashar al-Assad by encouraging the opposition to stand up against him prompted severe action from the president to assert his reign. A rebellion took place with arms allegedly supplied by other countries to arm opposition groups in Syria. This has come with serious repercussions as it is believed that among the opposition forces that are being aided militarily, extremist groups have also acquired arms (especially from Qatar) and ammunition to further their goals in the region. On the other hand, it is alleged that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has support coming in from Iran and Russia. What is ironic here is that the countries contributing most to the rebels are among the most hesitant nations to take in the influx of refugees who have to pay the price of the war inflicted on them.

The eight countries that supplied most weapons to Syria have at present accepted only about two percent of the refugees in their countries. What is most troubling to note is that the finances in military aid to the opposition forces in Syria are said to be about $ 16 billion, accrued since 2011. It is estimated that the US has spent $ 7.7 billion and EU nations (Denmark, the UK, France and Netherlands) have spent $ 882 million since 2011. Among the Gulf countries, Qatar has spent three billion dollars, Kuwait has spent $ 400 million, the UAE has spent $ 215 million and Saudi Arabia has spent $ 136 million in supplying arms to the opposition groups in Syria. In comparison to humanitarian assistance, only about four billion dollars has been pledged by the international community, which is not even half of what has been appealed for by the UN.

As for the refugees, the Gulf countries are facing severe criticism over their nil intake of refugees as compared to the west. In one of the most obscene remarks presented by a Kuwaiti official on why the Arab countries should not take refugees it was said that Kuwait and other Gulf countries are too “valuable” to accept refugees and that “it is not right for us to accept a people that are different from us”. This mentality speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the Gulf States that keep on criticising the west for not assimilating Muslim immigrants there. And they also seem to ignore the fact that Syrian neighbours that are way poorer than the Gulf countries are able to host more than four million refugees. If virtues are to be compared, even Israel has allowed afflicted Syrians to enter through its borders to receive necessary medical treatment.

There are more than 220,000 refugees who are seeking asylum in European countries. In that, Germany has taken a morally leading role in opening its doors to refugees. For Germany, it is not only a moral decision but also a rational one in light of its falling population and rising dependency ratios. That is why the people coming in to seek refuge are not an economic burden but a welcome move. For the UK it is quite the opposite, however, giving in to the public outcry over the refugee crisis. Prime Minister David Cameron has also accepted taking in more refugees. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has announced the quota plan for European countries to take in refugees. Though not all European nations are in favour of the move and that plan is yet to be deliberated upon, there is at least an acknowledgment of the fact that with wars come a human price and that the international community should take a moral responsibility to alleviate human misery through diplomatic means, humanitarian aid and relocating and settling afflicted refugees. It is only humane to imagine oneself in their place and relate to the experiences a refugee has to undergo to lay a claim for a better and safer tomorrow.

Zeeba T Hashmi is a freelance columnist and may be contacted at


Haj beyond Rituals

By Muhammad Ali Musofer

September 11th, 2015

Haj is an important Muslim religious practice performed by millions every year by travelling to Makkah to participate in certain rituals during the month of Zilhaj. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to go beyond the rituals so that Haj transforms individual and communal lives.

In one saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Haj has been termed as an opportunity for devoted individuals to start a new life by reflecting on their past and setting new goals for life. Similarly, many scholars have seen the rituals of Haj as a means to expand the horizons of the spiritual, moral and social aspects of life.

For example, Nasir Khusraw, an 11th-century Muslim thinker, poet and traveller, who performed Haj not less than four times, gives a very deep interpretation of the rituals of Haj. In one of his Persian poems, he engages in a dialogue with a person who has just come from Haj; he leads the readers gradually to the spiritual dimension of the pilgrimage.

According to Nasir Khusraw, when a Haji puts on the ihram, he/she needs to avoid everything, except the thought of Allah. When one calls out ‘Labbaik’, it should be done so with knowledge as was done by Prophet Ibrahim during the inspiring dialogue with Allah.

Brotherhood is one of the important messages of Haj.

He further says that slaughtering a lamb in memory of Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice symbolises the slaughtering of the Nafs — which means to control one’s worldly wishes and lusts. When one is on the plains of Arafat, it should remind him or her of the supreme surrender, as with Prophet Ibrahim who was willingly going to sacrifice his son.

Furthermore, Nasir Khusraw asserts that when one stones the pillars symbolising the devil in Mina, it is akin to purging the evils inside oneself and promising to avoid them. The sacrifice of animals and feeding the needy and orphans also symbolises the killing of selfishness.

The ritual of the seven circumambulations, or Tawaf, around the Kaaba should remind the pilgrim of the angels who constantly circumambulate the Arsh, or divine throne. And the sa’y, or running between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, means to sanctify and purify one’s life. Finally, the departure from Makkah should be like death, because it symbolises the return from Haj.

According to Nasir Khusraw if one does not understand the spiritual dimension of Haj it becomes a ceremonial exercise. He says: “Oh friend, if you don’t understand the inner meaning of the Haj then you went to Makkah and visited the Kaaba, spent your money and bought the hardship of the desert.” The above message by the great scholar reminds us that Haj is not only about performing rituals; rather, it should be a transformative experience that changes our lives so that we play a positive role in society.

Haj is not only meant to transform personal life; rather, it also gives a very significant message to transform social and communal life by promoting the values of peace and harmony, brotherhood and equality.

It is evident from Islamic teachings that any kind of killing and violence are prohibited on the premises of the Kaaba. This indicates respect for life on earth. Today, many Muslim societies are facing the challenges of terrorism and violence and many innocent people are killed for no reason. Haj is a good opportunity for Muslims to reflect on how to adopt the Islamic message of peace and harmony in their respective societies.

Brotherhood is also one of the important messages of Haj. Millions of Muslims from around the world perform the pilgrimage together in a spirit of brotherhood and community. However, today many Muslim societies are facing conflicts within or with others for different reasons. Such political or sectarian conflicts sometimes lead to hostility within Muslim societies and affect the lives of the people in many ways. Learning from the message of Haj, Muslims need to reflect on how to resolve their differences peacefully by enhancing the message of brotherhood.

Equality is another important message of Haj. During the pilgrimage there is no difference of race, geography and gender. Haj is obligatory for both males and females, who perform it together. However, in many Muslim societies the gender gap is quite evident in different spheres of life such as education, health, politics and development. Hence, Muslims need to learn from the message of Haj in order overcome different forms of inequality in their respective societies.

In sum, Haj forwards a significant message to transform different aspects of individual and communal lives. It is important to understand that Haj is not just an event to perform rituals; rather, it demands a proactive approach to bring about changes in one’s spiritual and social life by promoting the universal message of inner and outer peace, brotherhood and equality.

Muhammad Ali Musofer is a freelance contributor with an interest in cultures and religion.


Differences in Abilities

By Faisal Bari

September 11th, 2015

YASMEEN, now 12 years of age, has not been to school since she was five. Her teachers thought she was ‘slow, careless, and not interested in her studies’. One day she had an epileptic seizure in class and after this her teachers did not want her to attend school. Yasmeen dropped out.

Six years down the road, we find that although she has epilepsy, she does not have any learning disability. Her eyesight is weak. She could not see the blackboard and thus could not follow the subject in class. This got her classified as a child with special needs. The epileptic episode cemented the view. Now we have a 12-year-old child who, with a pair of glasses and medicine for epilepsy, is rearing to go but is illiterate and has no opportunity for a second chance. Her father is not rich. Yasmeen will remain almost illiterate.

Children not only come in different sizes and shapes, they come with different abilities. Leaving aside the nature versus nurture debate, groups of children in a class will, on any measure of ability, perform differently. If you asked them to run from A to B, their performance will vary as it would if you asked them to solve a mathematics problem or if you assessed their self-esteem or social skills. And there will be intra-group variations too as you move from one measure to another. For instance, a good runner might not be a good mathematics problem-solver.

A few questions come to mind here: what explains the variation in learning/performance, should we aim to cater for different abilities and try and thin out the tail on the left of the distribution (those who do not do well on a particular measure), and how should our teaching/pedagogy practices alter to cater for differences in ability and performance?

There is a tremendous taboo on talking about or facing ability issues in Pakistan.

Many children face serious challenges. And there are numerous kinds of learning and other challenges that can shape a child’s ability to learn: physical and mental predicaments, household, family and community issues, and the interactions between these and then their impact on the child’s physical and mental makeup and well-being.

Other things remaining the same, we know that children from poorer households are less likely to be enrolled in schools and more likely to drop out than their peers in the same class who come from wealthier backgrounds; they are also less likely to do as well as them. Gender, caste, income, geography, and a number of other factors can impact a child’s performance as well as his or her makeup. Similarly, psychological and physiological factors can play a significant role in shaping the learning abilities of a child as well as how he or she achieves knowledge.

If a child fails in an examination, the usual assumptions are that he or she had not studied hard enough, or was not careful enough or that the child lacked the ability to learn. We are still looking at the phenomenon of children dropping out through the lens poverty, lack of interest and ability only. The education system is not realising the significant variation in the circumstances of these children, the abilities they have or might possess, and the challenges they face. The question of what our teachers, schools and education system can do to address this and assist children in achieving their potential has to come after recognition of these issues.

Yasmeen need not have dropped out of school if her eyes had been tested in time and her epilepsy managed earlier. Her parents and teachers did not have the information or the resources to intervene effectively in this case. And only a small intervention was needed. But this requires the system to be cognisant of children’s needs and then to have the information and resources to make effective interventions.

Even in elite schools there is hardly any recognition of the issue. I frequently come across parents who are struggling on their own to deal with the learning challenges their children face. Elite schools are as caught up in the grades and examinations game as any other school and they do not have time for children who might require a different type of or additional support. Parents are left to fend for themselves and their children.

Irfan is one of the brightest and sweetest kids I have known. He has a simple issue: he has dyscalculia: difficulty in learning arithmetic/numbers. His dyscalculia was not diagnosed till he was in grade 10. His parents and his teachers had been treating him very poorly, calling him lazy and careless, and he even got beaten a few times, in his first nine odd years of schooling. It is nothing short of a miracle that he has survived the experience.

Getting the issue diagnosed was not easy in Pakistan as there are not too many places that offer such diagnostic services. But even after diagnostics, problems remain. We do not have teachers who specialise in providing support and our education system is not geared to deal with such children. Irfan might not be able to make it to university in Pakistan as he has to clear a certain level of mathematics to be able to apply for it. He loves literature and wants to be a teacher but we might not, in the end, be able to have his services if he cannot get a Bachelor’s/Master’s degree.

To cap it all, there is a tremendous taboo on talking about or facing ability challenges. Some parents feel shame in acknowledging that their child might have an issue. Others feel that only by hiding the problem can they protect their child or deal with society or peer pressure. But this only worsens the situation. Diagnosis takes longer and prescriptive measures are delayed. The child suffers and so does society.

The quality of learning and access to education issues will not be resolved till we acknowledge and then address issues of diversity and challenges.

Faisal Bari is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at LUMS, Lahore


History Repeated

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

September 11th, 2015

TODAY marks 14 years since the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon that triggered a series of events which changed the whole world, not least Pakistan, Afghanistan and our wider region. In this time, ‘terrorism’ — or rather the imperative of countering it — has become the motive-force of the entire state system, with the media, intelligentsia, and artists and just about everyone else jumping on the bandwagon.

Yet it can easily be argued that what has transpired over the past decade or so is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. When the state system as we now knows it crystallised in the aftermath of the Second World War, the defining imperative of the self-proclaimed ‘free world’ was the need to contain communism, which was that era’s proverbial bogeyman: communists were depicted as inimical to human nature and generally committed to destroying ‘our’ way of life.

Of course, dissidents refused to accept the anti-communist ‘consensus’ that was forged in the capitalist West and its allied states all over the world, including Pakistan. Just like dissidents in today’s world regularly call attention to the dubiousness and contradictions in the discourse and practice of states vis-à-vis terrorism — after all, state terrorism is the most prevalent form of all.

But today there is no counter-bloc of countries to provide refuge to alternative ideas about society and its ills, let alone support political movements that reject the bogeyman of ‘terrorism’ and instead identify capitalism, patriarchy and imperialism as the bane of humankind. The handful of leftist governments in Latin America is a pleasant exception, but they do not have the capacity to effect developments in faraway regions such as ours.

‘Terrorism’ in Pakistan is far from a straightforward matter.

The comments of Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali provide insight both into the limits of the mainstream political ‘consensus’ and the cul-de-sac that parties like the ANP now find themselves in. Reacting to the targeting of the MQM and PPP in Sindh, he lamented that the political forces with principled positions vis-à-vis terrorism, which had also sacrificed greatly to this effect, were being actively victimised.

It is indeed a tragedy of our very peculiar political order that mainstream parties remain willing and able to target one another, often at the behest of the military establishment. The PML-N is walking a dangerous road — like all other weak civilian regimes in the past it is under the delusion that acceding to khaki wishes will allow it to complete its time in office.

It is a matter of conjecture how the merry-go-round of Pakistani politics plays out in the coming months and years, and particularly whether the military high command remains content to pull the strings from behind stage or decides once again to bestow its grace upon us in more direct ways.

But I want to come back to the question of ‘terrorism’ and the realm of political possibility. While in other countries, especially in the Western world, the bogeyman of terrorism has been deliberately concocted to protect corporate and state interests, the situation in this region is unique and deserves to be considered in its own right.

As is now common knowledge, today’s ‘terrorists’ were yesterday waging a principled jihad against ‘Kufr’ (read: Soviet communism). Indeed, as the reaction to the death of jihadist ideologue-in-chief Hamid Gul shows, many segments of contemporary society continue to believe in the righteousness of the jihad, and completely reject any association of this cause with ‘terrorism’.

Now I also object to the dominant discourse on ‘terrorism’, but not because I think that Jihadis are doing us a great service. In fact, myself and many progressives are still not convinced that the Pakistani state, and, for that matter, Western imperialist powers, have any principled contradiction with right-wing militants — they continue to patronise some elements while picking a fight where strategic and material interests demand it.

There are more specificity: for instance, can the Baloch brand of militancy simply be equated with that of the religious right?

All of this is simply to say that ‘terrorism’ in Pakistan is far from a straightforward matter. Unfortunately, the mainstream parties that consider themselves part of a heritage of progressive politics — the PPP and ANP most notably — have owned the dominant narrative. This strategy has neither benefited these parties unambiguously nor weakened the religious right per se.

This is in part because religio-political forces are very well integrated into the economic, political and cultural mainstream. So the PPP, ANP and ‘civil society’ can cry foul about the militant right wing, but what about society at large? The only way out of this impasse is to reintroduce a radical lexicon into the mainstream that goes beyond ‘terrorism’. One can only hope that we will still not be floundering 14 years from now.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad


PML-N’s Bad-Maza (Tasteless) Government

By Ayaz Amir

September 11, 2015

Sindh’s strongman, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, and the army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, have one thing in common. Every other day the Sindh CM has to be in Dubai to attend to the concerns and fears of his party head, ex-president and presently more fugitive than anything else, honourable Asif Ali Zardari. Every other day the army chief, leaving everything else to one side, has to attend on the prime minister in Islamabad.

Just as Shah Sahib is in danger of spending more time in Dubai than looking to the affairs – as best as he can – of his nominal domain, the land of Bhitai and Lal Shahbaz, the army chief stands in peril of spending more time commuting to Islamabad and there spending long hours at the PM House than attending to his other duties.

As someone possessed of the Napoleonic quality of going to sleep at will, Syed Qaim Ali – a revitalised octogenarian or at least a septuagenarian, what with his jet black hair and moustache – can be expected to take his frequent trips to Dubai in his stride. One of Pakistan’s champion bureaucrats, Salman Faruqi, once told me that he always looked fresh because he had mastered the art of going to sleep on a plane. We can assume that Shah Sahib has mastered the same art.

But what about the army chief? Unlike the Sindh PM and indeed Mian Nawaz Sharif, who are gentlemen of leisure with not much on their plates, his plate is more than full. He is running a war, the longest and toughest in our history, stretching from Fata to Karachi, and from Quetta to the Indian border. Corps commanders are trying to infuse order and discipline into the working of the different provincial governments through ‘apex committees’. ISI and Military Intelligence are fully involved in the war against terrorism, as the Rangers are employed to the hilt in Karachi. And the army chief is the man looking over all this.

He’s always on the move and, one would think, has not a moment to spare. But then just as Sindh’s ironman, every other day, is summoned to Dubai, the army chief is asked to attend endless meetings at the PM House. There he sits stony-faced. Whatever his inner feelings, he still has to be there. And sometimes those meetings drag on for hours.

They no doubt are good for the PM, fulfilling a psychological necessity – giving him the assurance that he remains in charge and the army chief is saluting him and observing the niceties of protocol. But do they serve any useful purpose for the army chief? Does he return a more enlightened man? Is he instructed in the higher principle of war?

Mian Nawaz Sharif’s advantage in these meetings is clear. He has never been one for such trivialities as reading papers or other stuff. At last count when he was in Saudi Arabia he had newspapers read to him in the evenings, after Maghrib prayers. So when he walks in to meet the army chief from his office or his living quarters he is fresh, his mind unencumbered. The army chief, on the other hand, leaves a full-fledged war behind him in General Headquarters. The ISI chief is also usually in attendance. We can presume he too has a full desk awaiting his attention. And the prime minister just sits there. It would be fascinating to know what profundities pass at these momentous meetings.

It would be one thing if these were infrequent meetings. But as we can see on TV and in the papers they are held every other day. What do the army chief and the ISI chief say to each other, what do they mutter, afterwards?

Gen Raheel may be topping the popularity charts and people may be singing his praises but would it have ever crossed his mind that the PML-N’s revenge would come in the form of this Chinese torture? The rich irony of it has to be appreciated: terrorism on the run in Fata, militancy under attack in Karachi, a drive against corruption underway in Sindh, a rising chorus of demands for similar accountability in Punjab. But the generalissimo, the commander-in-chief in this war on many fronts, a helpless prisoner in the PM House every other day…forced to listen, as can be easily imagined, to an endless stream of pieties and clichés.

The general’s patience has to be applauded. Anyone else in his place would either have relinquished his command or sent in the guards to put an end to this nonsense.

But we must also spare a thought for the PML-N’s predicament. With the military and Gen Raheel overshadowing everything and riding high in public opinion, the ruling party is afflicted with a serious inferiority complex. While it should be conducting the score and the orchestra, circumstances have forced it to play second fiddle to the army.

The man of the nominal mandate is the PM. But the real mandate, as most people now recognise, has shifted elsewhere. The PM heads the government and finger-wielding younger brother continues to be subedar in the powerhouse of Pakistani politics, Punjab. But the joy has gone out of their victory. They continue to be in power but the taste of that power has gone insipid and stale.

The military’s problem is terrorism and bringing stability to the country. The ruling party’s problem – to put it no stronger than this – is envy. The faces of its leading figures tell their story: like Cassius their faces are lean and hungry, like his brooding over imagined wrongs. But they don’t know what to do about it.

They were army-baiters – the Khawaja Asifs, the Pervez Rashids, the Saad Rafiqs – as recently as last year. Necessity and expedience have turned them into cheer-leaders and drumbeaters for the army. To listen to them now, in their enforced conversion, you would think that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was their brainchild, not the army’s.

A drama could be written about the conflicting emotions gripping these Shakespearean actors. They now realise the general’s elevation to army command was a mistake, not bargaining for what has come in its wake. They consulted the world’s astrologers and jotshis but got their calculations wrong – as Bhutto got his calculations wrong with Gen Zia and they themselves got theirs wrong with Gen Musharraf.

Zia and Musharraf turned out to be conspirators. Raheel Sharif has turned out to be something worse: a successful general…one who’s caught the imagination of the people to boot. How can a politician, lord not of one but three mandates, abide a successful general, especially one with popular standing? So riding the nerves of the nominal ruling coterie are not the Taliban or the demons of extremism, as the simpleminded might tend to think. It is the triumph of the army.

So unless I am grossly mistaken they would already be thinking of how to exorcise their nightmare come November next year when the general’s time is up. If they have to make him a field marshal to achieve that end my hunch is they’ll seize the opportunity.

So beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Who knows what comes in their Trojan horses.

So the next 12 months are uncertain. We don’t know what will happen. Much has changed, the most notable change being despair turning to hope. Just a year ago we looked a nation on the verge of collapse. And the astonishing thing is that more than the Taliban or any other threat, our own politicians, whether in government or the other side, were the principal agents of this defeatism, selling it to the nation.

But the work remains half done…and the national stables are sky-high with muck, desperately in need of cleaning. Let’s leave it at this for we will have to call in soothsayers to know anything more.



The Phantom of the Cinema

By Mehr Tarar

September 11, 2015

The banning of the Indian film Phantom in Pakistan would not have made any headlines had it not been for the noise that ensued after the ban. Like most noises, this one was as effective as a deer’s scream during an open season. Talk about making noise; what some callous critics rate, at the most, a mediocre film has been talked about more this August than Imran Khan’s August 14, 2014 long march to Islamabad to change Pakistan. From how it was banned to who spoke most vehemently about it to who the biggest patriot is to who the biggest traitor is, Phantom is no longer a film, my dear readers. Phantom, for a week or two, was the yardstick of much that matters, and much that does not, and much that lies somewhere in between, as well as magically turning into a stick to hit the bigmouths with.

As some erudite social commentators word it, Pakistan, on particularly banal days, becomes Banistan, as it has, very loudly, mastered the dying art of banning things. Ban YouTube; ban this book and that; ban all films of Saif Ali Khan in which he plays a Mission Impossible-ish agent out to eliminate the bad guys in Pakistan, or from Pakistan; ban BBC… or was it Fox News; ban stuff from Denmark; ban loud honking outside the chief minister’s house; ban loud laughter in Gloria Jeans… it could be just about anything, everything or nothing.

And we also ban extremist organisations, notwithstanding the tiny detail that it mostly happens when that distant Uncle Sam wags his long, accusatory finger at the over-zealous, sworn-to-attain-Jannat-through-killing-of-infidels 20-something jihadis. Irrelevant is the fact that most of these banned organisations rebrand themselves under a new name; don’t forget that all titles that have the word Lashkar, Sipah, Jamaat, Tehreek (no reference/disrespect meant to the political party headed by Imran Khan), Jaish, Mujahid or Talib are protected under a 200-year-long copyright.

While we ban all films that are ostensibly anti-Pakistan, we also ban Pakistani leaders, who in their nightly bluster and fluster rant about enemies of Pakistan, not realising the importance of zip-the-lip when the words reach a point of incoherence and outright incitement to violence. Then, as their words of contrition become insufficient, one of the 6,067 petitions against them in the many courts and jirgas of Pakistan work, and the mute button becomes applicable. You can’t edit the words; let’s just ban the man from speaking. No fan of Altaf Hussain, but condoning a ban is against my lifelong, yes, liberal allegiance to the right-to-speak-freely-in-a-democracy. If only he could be advised to speak like a normal leader in self-imposed exile: lots a difference between courage and craziness, and a thin line dividing the two, Mr Hussain.

Yes, Phantom… I’ve a proclivity for going off the topic very often. I’m a huge Kabir Khan fan after the heart-warming and tear-inducing Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Saif Ali Khan is one of the many Khans I like, and I don’t doubt their love for their country, and their anger at the Mumbai attacks. However, I’m not an endorser of vigilante justice, or covert ops, or droning sovereign countries, or the Ghus-Ke-Marenge bombast. A film that would have been banned by the Pakistan Censor Board didn’t even reach the sanctimonious Babus, as the Lahore High Court on the complaint of Hafiz Saeed, the head of the banned Jamaat ud Dawa (oh, yes, some Jamaats  are banned too), axed the already non-existent plans of Phantom becoming a hard reality in Pakistan. Justice should be served for all victims of all terror activities, and Mumbai attacks are no exception. However, let’s not send gun-toting, mono-expression-ed Saif, and wild-tressed Katrina to seek revenge. Let’s devise a bilateral legal system that holds trials and punishes culprits. No? Not patriotic enough?

In all this hoopla, Faisal Qureshi (not the actor) posts a video against Phantom and Saif that goes viral. The nobility of his intention notwithstanding, and while his hyperbole was loud and expected, the issue was the blatant sexism and misogyny… eewww! The us-versus-them, the patriots-versus-traitors, the jingoistic-versus-rational war erupts in all its bleep-able glory, and an inconsequential film and an equally inconsequential video becomes the litmus test for I-love-Pakistan-more-than-you-do. As I write this, the mud-wrestling must be on somewhere, one tweet, one Facebook-like at a time.

Not to forget the lovely Mawra Hocane (Hussain, right?), and the macho Shaan, an old friend of mine. Come on, darlin’, if mere words are the criterion of patriotism, then only PTV loves Pakistan. You cannot ask people, your many, many fans, to ban a young actress simply because she ostensibly spoke against the banning of Phantom. Or can you? Does your opinion matter? Is she banned? From what? I’m confused, my head spins. All this talk of bans…

Let’s ban… bans. And before someone bans me for going yada-yada — questioning hyper-nationalism might just lead me to get my dainty foot in my big mouth — I should stop writing to fork a large bite of the French toast I’m having for breakfast during a strict diet.

P.S. Let’s ban food too.