race, USA

Mourning Malcolm X again

Here was a man.

Here was a true man, a truthful man, a powerful man, a man of historic strength. And this man was gunned down in cold blood.

This was a death that deserves to be mourned again and again. It is doubtful to me that America has ever been granted a soul as great as this one.

gender, Islam, political

Just like a submissive woman

My latest blog post “Just Like a Submissive Woman” is up at Religion Dispatches.
As a Muslim feminist who does not wear a head-cover but who fights for women’s right to do so with total honor, I am in that uncomfortable space between Muslims and non-Muslims. Many non-Muslims would not accept my feminist credentials and many Muslims would sniff at my Muslim qualifications.

Still, when certain strands of feminism put on their French blinders – “Le foulard? Patriarchy! Sexism!” it’s hard to resist.


White feminists need to establish that their solidarity with all women is not contingent upon these women becoming replicas of White Western women. Women should not be excluded from the benefits of global sisterhood because of a shalwar kameez, or a business suit, or a kaffiyeh, or a sari, or a headscarf, or a face-veil. Or because of Islam.

political, race, USA

The price of freedom

Lynndie England “apologizes” for the scandal in Abu Ghraib, but lashes out at the media:

Look, she half-snarls like an angry teenager in trouble, I’m kind of sorry I took those pictures. Those pictures with me holding a naked Iraqi by a leash and posing with a pile of naked Iraqis, where I’m pointing at a naked prisoner’s genitals. Yes, I’m sorry I took those pictures.

But if the MEDIA hadn’t PUBLISHED them, no one would have found out about them. And it wouldn’t have created such a scandal. And everything would have been okay! Except for the naked Iraqi in the leash, maybe, but whatever.

I mean, if we’d just kept it quiet, and circulated the photographs for private entertainment — well, of course we took the photos because we thought they were entertaining and because we wanted to preserve that amusement for others and for future merriment. Of course. We don’t get cable out there in Baghdad, you know. And Gawd, this stuff was FUNNY. I mean, did you see that guy’s penis? I just wanted to pose next to that thing because it was cool. And one of these was actually kind of like a family photo.

But the worst thing is, when the pictures came out, the Iraqis got an excuse to get really mad and to shoot at us, and so a whole LOT of people got killed — and whose fault was that? THE MEDIA. For publishing the pictures.I’m so angry that those people got killed. Lives were lost, American lives, all because … of the media. Big picture, people.

Because let’s get real – these things happen in war. Face up to it. Except this time, when they published the photos, those frigging anti-war people had their chance. And THIS war is important. Big picture, okay? Collateral damage happens. Except some kinds of collateral is okay, and other kinds is not okay. Focus, people.
It’s not like I’m the only one that did those things. Which makes it all so much better.

These things happen in war, right? Degradation, sexual humiliation, torture, dehumanization, – all this stuff happens when you’re trying to bring democracy to a people. It’s not easy importing freedom.

children, cultural, gender

Strawberry Shortcake and Charlie & Lola


I picked up a DVD of Strawberry Shortcake (Strawberry Shortcake meets spring) in a moment of desperation at a Columbia, MD baby thrift store a few months ago. I regretted spending that $8, so I’d like to warn you not to. Strawberry Shortcake is not my ideal role model for Raihana. Her primary characteristic is “sweetness.” The very grownup singing is not just very grownup – it’s annoying (“That girl’s so sweet – just like her name- Strawberry Shortcake.”) Strawberry Shortcake grows strawberries. Her cat is called Custard. Her friends bake cookies and cakes and do other nurtury things, always involving a great deal of sugar. I do not need this with all my other struggles to keep Raihana eating healthy.

But the worst part of the DVD I picked up is Huck. Huck is the only boy in this DVD. He wears his baseball cap backwards. While Angel bakes cakes and Strawberry grows berries, Huck – what does he do for a vocation? He sails all over on his skateboard. And not just that: while all the girls are working together responsibly on planting berries or finding spring clues, Huck and Custard run off and (to the beat of percussion) decide that it’s more fun to indulge in some physical play. Ew.


Instead, I picked up “Charlie and Lola” at Vision Video. What a relief. Not only are they real children, with real childlike fantasies and real childlike grammar. Charlie is the nurturing, patient older brother – a responsible boy – whose happy, imaginative, playful little sister Lola (who is “small and very funny”) has an imaginary playmate called Soren Lorenson. Charlie teaches Lola that peas are really skydrops in greenland and that other food items are likewise a lot of fun. They may have cookies and cakes in there, but I don’t remember any.

And pick up the books – the show is originally a book series, and I wish I could get some of them but all I seem to find is paperback, and Raihana is in Jane the Ripper mode.

So if it’s a choice between the two, I say Charlie & Lola – skip the sugary gender stereotypes.

Pakistan, spiritual, Uncategorized

Mandatory reflection

This is an old post from autumn of 2006 that I thought deserved a re-run.
A couple of nights ago, I went out a night stroll.
I went out, leaving Svend doing his homework in front of “The Towering Inferno,” and Raihana playing on the carpet. I must be selfish and seek my inner space, I thought.
Then I came back in and said, “Wanna go for a walk?” I put her in the baby bjorn, and off we went.I want her to have some memory of peaceful nighttime family walks. She should know that she had not simply hours of watching ammi and abbu at their screens. Our evenings are so predictable: we’re sitting in front of the boob tube, with our laptops on in front of us. (Note: since we kicked cable, our evenings have changed).

I know I am who I am because I’ve spent hours and hours of boredom – yes, in my new life in the US we’d call it boredom. I would sit alone and idle, outdoors in the garden (we call it a “garden” not a “yard” – so much more picturesque, no?) in hot Lahore evenings, surrounded by the heavy fragrance of champa flowers. Boring, but profoundly shaping of the person I am today. Or long prayer vigils outside under the dark starry sky, as the isha adhan went up. There I would be reading long rosaries of Rabbi innee lima anzalta ilayya min khayrin faqeer (28:24) – (and NOT because ammi said you would get married if you recited that.) Where, today, do I have the hours of leisure to indulge in that luxury?

Those were the days, the mid-to-late 1980s, when I had no machine higher than the old Remington typewriter that accompanied us from England in the 70’s. TV was not terribly interesting. TV is now perpetually interesting. It holds endless promise. And even if there is only “The Golden Girls” and “Magnum P.I.” on, at least you can endlessly click the clicker in hopes of finding “Good Times” at least. In those days, at the most, you’d have “Dehleez” or some other Amjad Islam Amjad Urdu drama serial playing. And for that, you had to wait till Friday evening. Friday evening 8pm to 9pm, and then paradise was over and you returned to the world of Khabarnama (the news).

The entire city shut down for those drama serials, so rare were they: my father, a doctor, got very upset with them. He shut his clinic at 9pm, and sure enough, just as he was getting ready to go home, those patients showed up on their Vespa scooters with their coughing infants – “Drama vekh keh aajanday ne” (They finish watching their drama serial and then they show up). He hated having to stick around at the clinic for that paltry Rs. 30 for a paracetamol, or an injection, and he resented that his patients enjoyed their TV while he was stuck in his hot clinic, and then they kept him there 10 minutes longer.

Apart from the drama serial there was, for people like us, “Trapper John, MD.” And that appeared in snippets that survived the censor board, so that you could barely make any sense of what the hell happened.

And then there were days and nights where “load shedding” caused power outages so long you didn’t think that the Lord would allow such things to happen in the world. And yet they happened. Hot humid Julys with no fans or air-conditioners were pure misery. In the still air, sweaty and dull, you could not but reflect on the nature of the cosmos.

Thinking back of those nights and evenings, I’d like to make a spiritual exercise mandatory for myself.

Going outside. By myself. Preferably at night. Surrounded by trees. Surrounded by moonlit silence.
I’ve compared the indoors and outdoors experiences. Something about being indoors insulates me from opening my soul up. Something about light bulbs, indoor air, walls, concrete, carpeting, – is unhelpful to my soul.

This was one thing that disturbed me about living in the city in Washington, DC. Going out was no improvement over staying indoors. Our landlady had this overgrown berry-tree that deposited unhappy berries in smooshed piles on our doorstep. Fruit flies and ants proliferated on the steps where I wanted to sit and watch the moon. The overgrown weeds on the sides seemed to be there precisely to raise families of insects. And if the bugs were not there, the police car was almost always there at our corner, monitoring that group house with the pesky dog and the hostile young men. Outside was not a pleasant experience.

Outside in Islamabad, at the Islamic University women’s hostel, on the balcony–now *that* was outside. I was amazed there, by how many more stars were visible in Islamabad than in Lahore. And then, running to prayer across the cold, cold marble floors of Faisal Masjid, with the dark, dark hills towering over us. I’d be saying “I’m here, I’m here.” THAT was outside.

Here in Athens, too, there are tall trees, the moon over them, quiet air, and few passersby.

Reflecting, or just breathing, outdoors in the quiet, should be essential for such sleepy drowsy souls as myself.

I must allow Raihana to experience that. And then, when she needs it, she can draw on the memory.

I need it for myself too. There are spaces in our souls where no one else ventures, and we are alone with the One.

Darkness, aloneness, silence, and stillness outside help us hear the harmony within. Sometimes the sounds in my head are not pleasant. When I wake up and I hear the commercial jingles stuck in my head, looping around and around, I am upset with what I do to my evenings. I wish, instead, that I stuck my head in a freezer.

Or ran out barefoot in the quiet night, moon or not, mountains or not. And looked up and said, “I’m here, I’m here.”

Remind me if i forget.

academic, children

Brown immigrant school-kid in White school

My niece immigrated to join her mother in Australia while in middle school. Every time I speak to her on the phone, she tells me how easy her curricular material is. She is at the top of her class in math and science. It’s so easy it verges on boring. “Because,” she says, “it’s all really difficult in Pakistan.”
You might have thought otherwise. After all, those Pakistanis speak English as a second language. Surely that should make them dumb. Except then you move to Australia –. All right, no jabs at Australian English here. I will refrain. But I am generally upset for my niece. In Pakistan, private schooling – even for the frugal middle-middle classes – is competitive. Parents struggle to get their children prepared for global academic competition. And then they end up in the global school, and someone takes a look at them, listens to them speak English with an accent, and says, “Off you go, back to a grade lower than what you’ve already completed.”

Why can’t her teachers make an honest and accurate estimate of her academic preparation and place her appropriately? As it is, she will be wasting time in her grade because they placed her behind. Not just that – she’s coasting, barely trying, not challenged, bored by the ease of school-work, waiting to move up the next grade. I am afraid that this will affect her academic future because she is not being challenged. And it’s already been over a year in Australia.

Is it because the teachers assumed that she was from Pakistan and that surely she would *struggle*? Or is it because she spoke English as a second language and that determined her academic placement?

I’m guessing this is a matter of White first-world nation judging brown immigrant from developing nation. It is sad when educational professionals become the instrument of Empire. But why should they be any different.