In Pursuit of Better Tomorrow

It’s not corruption as Imran Khan sums it up. It’s not liberalism also termed as bay-hayaee as Munawwar Hassan thinks, it’s not entirely the intrusion of army in political affairs as Nawaz Sharif sums it up and it’s definitely not the subversive attitude of supreme court alone, as Asif Ali Zardari would like to think. It is maybe all of the above and none of above mentioned problems at the same time. But what none of our leaders know or maybe knowingly ignore is the root of our nation’s predicament – “the lack of sensibility” among our people. This lack of sensibility provides a delightful atmosphere for the corrupt politicians, far-right religious groups, army and biased judiciary to exploit people the way they want and get the maximum benefit from them.

There are two ways of putting “sensibility” inside the countless number of heads in our society. The most effective approach would be to re-write a more intellectually rich education syllabus. The kind of syllabus which reflects our real history and not a distorted picture of it, written with objectivity and sensibility that not only glorifies our achievements in history, but also has tales of our failures.

The other is actually not a way, but a wish, if ever come true, might change this society for good, and that is the need for a genuinely honest and intelligent Reformer. We lack the true abilities of a Gandhi-like reformer, not only in the present day leaders but also the leaders this country has got in the past. It is so sad that when we hear about Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, we get to hear or read some astounding words of wisdom which shaped the ideology of our nation, while our history is only filled with names or pictures of some feudal lords and Nawabs who hardly said anything intelligent. Allam Iqbal, is the closest figure to a Reformer who shaped the ideology of our nation, his role in India’s partition becomes questionable when one goes through some controversies which surround Iqbal’s personality and intellect.

Hoping that someday our country will be blessed with a Reformer is both impractical and overly optimistic expectation from a society which has embraced all kinds of insanities a modern and sane society could reject. In such scenario, expectation from an average IQ political leader to bring some radical and effective changes to our education system would sound more practical for an expectation.
Our society is turning itself into a savage beast, and although the outside world which is more civilized will always find a way to defend themselves from the viciousness of this beast, but riding on the back of this brute might confirm our own destruction. In many ways it has already reached its obliteration point.

Sociology is given the status of Science for a reason. Many societies and nations in past have reached its doom in the same kind of situation our society is facing. More than anything else, conservative ideas such as bigotry, desensitization of people, authoritarianism, dominance of clergy and imposition of religious ideas in the affairs of state are responsible for human suffering in this world. And a more perfect world could be perceived only if we purge all such orthodox beliefs that stand as a hurdle in our intellectual, sociological, scientific and economic growth. Only maximum personal freedom can unleash the depths of true happiness, and such self-actualization is only achievable with the implementation of a more objectively written education syllabus.


Religious Intolerance

I’d be a fool to deny there’s religious intolerance in our society. And not just ours either – the issues is prevalent in the entire Muslim world in one way or another. But surprisingly, there are also hundreds of examples of this society proving otherwise.

Ghani Khan, scholar and brother of Wali Khan is considered one of the greatest pashto poets. The majority of his fans include completely uneducated people in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah’s rural areas who have his poetry memorized. In his poetry Ghani Khan mocks God, Angels, the concepts of heaven and hell and disparages Mullah-ism. He was once interviewed by PTV Peshawar, and he jokingly said that God has taken his wife from him and how he wish God had one too so that he could steal her. I still remember how everyone around me used to laugh at this gag. There were some people who did believe Ghani Khan’s poetry was sacrilegious, yet he used to roam around in Charsadda and Peshawar without fear.

At the time of Afghan-Russia war, many people, particularly in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah started joining the Communist Party in Pakistan. There was a student political movement known as Democratic Students Federation who also believed strongly in Communism. The funny thing about the majority of these communists was, they hardly knew much about the actual philosophy of communism, but the atheist part. They would openly divulge that they were atheists, and not worry about being harmed. The movement wasn’t limited to intellectuals alone, but many labor rights activists, who happened to believe in atheism, or, what was wrongly termed as communism.

We used to laugh at religious people labeling all atheists as communists.

After the cold war, some people did revert back to Islam, but not all of them. In fact I still know many of these people who don’t just admit to being atheists, but also denounce God and Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH). The last time I was in my village, this guy comes to see me while another friend was in the middle of offering his prayers. My atheist friend joked that he is praying to the wind, for there is no one up there to listen to him. When the religious guy was done with prayers, he only responded with laughter.

Our folklore is filled with jokes about God, Angels, Mullahs, Heavens and Hell. Not just that but there are even anecdotes about wrong translations of Quran. One I’d like to mention: the Pashto word for Tweezer is Noosey. They say, once a man came to a Maulvi asked him if it’s OK to pick his nose hair with a tweezer according to Islam? The mauvli got confused and told him he will look for an answer in Quran. When the man returned the next day, the Maulvi had prepared an answer for him. He quoted from Quran, “wa nusni alaikal khair” which he then proceeded to translate in his own way. “It’s OK (khair) to pick nose with a Tweezer (Noosey – Nusni).”

It’s just one of those thousands of jokes which one might think will land you in jail under blasphemy law.

In my opinion, although Punjab is a more religiously conservative place compared to Khyber Pukhtoonkhwah, there are so many examples which prove Punjabis are also religiously tolerant.

Quran shuns skeptics and transgressors. Yet there are many poets who questioned or mocked religious ideals. Hum ko maaloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin – dil kay khush rakhnay ko ghalib yeh khayal accha hai, Asadullah Khan Ghalib comes to mind. The apologists, though, try hard to interpret this couplet in a politically correct way, but I don’t agree with those interpretations. He was not just famous for his beautiful poetry but also his satirical takes on God and Islam.

I can carry on and probably end up writing a book giving such examples.

The only time I have witnessed a display against Blasphemy with my own eyes, is probably one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I remember getting stuck in traffic in the midst of a demonstration in front of Peshawar’s branch of KFC. They were demonstrating against those sketches mocking the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There were few bearded people I could see, and you could tell they had a good idea of what they were doing, but accept those few people, I saw two groups of people fighting over a big television set in KFC. Each group claimed they touched the television before the other.

The fight went on till a maulvi came in the middle and he settled the conflict by equally distributing what they referred to as Maal-e-ghaneemat. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. The majority of those people had not even a clear idea of why they were there. I even heard one kid asking another why they are there. That was not a display of an intolerant religious society, but plain stupidity. Kids from schools and colleges were running around, destroying and burning everything, stealing and clearly they were not out there to demonstrate against those sketches but looked quite excited they got this opportunity to just do damage.

Coming back to Tolerance, I think the only way you become completely tolerant is when you are dead. That is the time when even if your enemy comes to your grave, and he spits on it and curses at you, you can not even feel his presence. Of course there are people who would get offended if they hear others mocking at their religious ideals. Hell, I hardly tolerate if someone tells me Pulp Fiction was a bad film. Getting offended is something human and no matter how hard we try, some emotions are hard to control. It’s just the extreme kind of reaction people give when they are offended. That is what needs to be condemned.

Our society has many flaws, and religious extremism is probably the evil number one we need to tackle, but even today after so much religious polarization, it will be unjust to call this society religiously intolerant. It’s just those few violent kind of Mullahs who have hijacked the entire society. In a country of 180 million, a crowd of five hundred thousand doesn’t qualify to represent the entire population of the country, but they are enough to instill fear. Which was quite evident after the murder of Salmaan Taseer when even these so-called brave news anchors couldn’t talk about. The politicians hardly spoke about his murder.

I am not saying that these few Mullahs come from outer space or they are part of an anti-Pakistan conspiracy; they are from this land and they are psychopaths. Distorted history taught in our schools, economic instability, energy crisis, Arab-ization of society and political instability all help these Mullahs keep on expanding their followers. It’s like, on a pleasant day when you are happy, even if someone collides with you on a sidewalk, you just smile at him and apologize to him even if you knew it was his fault, and on a bad day you might end up fighting with him or at least cursing him silently. So it’s a bad day in our life, but the problem is it’s a bad day only because we made it bad.

A bad day is not even an excuse for us to start fighting with people or get what they call, mushtayel, agitated easily, but try to think about it and first work hard to contribute in correcting our mistakes. Co-exist, be moderate, be sensible and be a good human being.

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Better be a clean slate

Twelve years is ample time to become brainwashed by a syllabus. From childhood to youth we are reduced to learning from textbooks that hardly ever tell the truth about our nation’s history. The whole time period between primary education to intermediate, teachers unknowingly keep brainwashing children. At university level this may change a little but not entirely.

The term “clean slate” over here is usually reserved for illiterates, a form of insult by the so-called educated people. Personally I beg to differ. My own experience with what are known as clean slates tells me otherwise. I have personally witnessed that these people can be convinced to see right from wrong with a logical argument, something I cannot say about the educated ones, who are often stubborn enough to reject rational views.

Whenever I’m in my village in Charsadda, my evenings are spent sitting in the hujra with men my age, with whom I have been interacting with since we were all kids. Most of these friends have at least an intermediate degree except for me and another friend who went on to do masters. About seven years ago, when Taliban were a major hit in our areas, highly praised and supported for their ideology, I remember this guy came to our village from Bajaur agency to meet his family.

The seventeen year old youth was not only a Taliban supporter, but he was a Talib himself. Although except for my family everyone in our village was supporting Taliban verbally, having an actual Talib around was a different feeling. I remember this guy used to go to mosque every evening while we were sitting in the hujra and he always used to look at us with contempt and anger, because most of my friends were not into offering prayers regularly no matter how religious they thought they were.

At times they used to jokingly blame me for being a bad influence. Anyways, one day I asked this guy if he could come to Hujra after prayers, and even though he agreed he still seemed angry and disrespectful. Everyone was startled why I had asked him to come and they told me that he’s a violent young guy, and might hurt me but I just wanted to find out a real Talib’s perspective.

So after offering the evening prayers, the guy joined us in the hujra and he sat there stiffly, that mask of anger on his face but he also looked a bit confused. I asked him why he joined Taliban and he started with the typical stuff, like they are the chosen people by God to fight evil, US is the biggest evil and then science and technology keeps us away from God – the same spiel you would expect.
I wouldn’t get into the details of our conversation. But I started bringing Quran from home every evening to hujra and try to explain to him things in a more rational way. It took me only five days to completely change this man’s opinion by saying some things that I had been telling all my so-called educated friends who had always stuck to their beliefs. The young Talib’s way of thinking changed to the level that he didn’t even go back to Bajaur but instead went to Karachi to begin work there with his uncle.

Five days. That’s all it took.

Suffice it to say even I was not anticipating such an astonishing change. But it made me realize that all this happened because he was more of a clean slate compared to those brainwashed by false history, influenced by teachers who come from the same educational background. This young man, though easily influenced by Taliban, changed his path when he was shown the more rational and clear picture.

I am no saint, far from it actually, and I am no intellectual, yet I tested a theory and since then I have done tried it on many other simple folk. The results are the same. Eventually I find its impossible to make those understand who think they already understand. I remember when Musharraf came into power, according to my own observation, he was not just popular among liberals, but also had a huge fan following among the completely illiterate population.

All this was because Musharraf, in his early days, used to properly explain things to people.
Most of our population is illiterate and although it’s a sad thing on one hand, on the other hand it might just be a good thing because if some day a good leader comes he could easily change the way people think. Our education system produces more emotionally charged stubborn minds, and until that changes, ignorance and illiteracy in our country might be something close to bliss.

Laws of Physics have changed

I am a huge fan of science fiction. I think the movies and television shows are all fun to watch, whether based on real science or what they refer to as Fringe Sciences. This one show titled FRINGE is actually produced by J.J. Abrams who also happens to be the Director of the recent Star Trek and Mission Impossible films. Everyone gives up to the temptation of earning some extra cash at some point and Abrams did too by producing Fringe, which even in my opinion is a little absurd because it doesn’t really portray the actual progress or the trajectory of progress in the future of science.

The show wasn’t as bad in the beginning and had some interesting stories, and proof of this was the fact that they gained over ten million committed viewers only in the US. But that was then. Now the show is full of extremely hackneyed story lines which portray the human brain as an old model 486 computer. They act as if programming the brain and manipulating the data is the easiest thing in the world and the Fringe world is mainly composed of humans who have the ability to defy laws of physics because they were the subjects of some dim-witted scientific experiments in the past.

Let me just say here that this article isn’t supposed to be a critical review of an American TV show. And before it takes that turn, allow me to come right to the point. Fringe Science is more commonly called Pseudo Science and although even the name of the show itself suggests it is created in a universe where the laws of physics are not the same as the universe we are part of even they had to explain the notion in the form of dialogues spoken by the full-blown mad scientist character Dr. Walter Bishop. According to his explanation, the laws of physics had somehow been altered by a certain group of Observers (the main antagonists of the show) who seem to have entered their universe to manipulate their timeline.

Ever since the news about Agha Waqar’s claim to invention of water kit for cars hit our broadcast and print media, I have consistently been wasting grey matter arguing with people about it. I mean I get that a common man who has no former schooling wouldn’t know much about science and is prone to believing anything he likes, but what is rather tragic, and amusing at the same time, is how people like Dr. A.Q. Khan, the Chairman PCSIR Shaukat Parvez and Samar Mubarakmand have been responding to this fraud. So here is the proverbial point: If Agha Waqar can call himself a scientist then I, for one, should be regarded as an even bigger scientist. Allow me express my views.

Even though it may seem we are part of the same universe, in effect we are actually not even close. We are someplace I would like to call the Fringe Point, which separates us from the rest of the universe. And as a result, our leaders fail to understand what the international community demands from us, and though we write the same date as the rest of the world, our people constantly overlook the fact that we have progressed to the 21st century. A problem that, of course, comes with challenges. Time in this assumed fringe point goes back instead of forward. The rest of the world thinks we are joking when a Pakistani tries to explain to them what load shedding is. Slowly but surely, the fringe point is moving further away from the rest of the world. In my opinion, this is the only theory that justifies our behavior.

Agha Waqar’s water kit invention is just as much of a possibility as a bhang kit for a helicopter. All we have to do now is to wait for Dr. Ataurrahman to let us know that “the laws of physics have indeed changed in Pakistan.” Bhang anyone?