Entries Tagged 'border border' ↓

How Brown is My Navel – Part 1

Off and on, I’ve been asked about how I want The West to react to some such thing I’m doing. I was asked here and in a forthcoming interview (that I shall link to later in my shameless self-promotion habit, when it’s up).

And then, I’ve been reading some things about race, tokenism, colonialism, feminism and the internet. And I have been having thoughts.

The thoughts I’m having are not so much about this current blogsplosion (which I don’t usually refer to at all but follow kind of avidly really), but about race and the relevance of the term for the kind of work I think I do.

So here are some thoughts-in-progress.

1. Expat

I’ve realized recently in a way that I didn’t before that there’s a vast difference between the US South Asian and the subcontinental South Asian. Maybe this is obvious, but maybe it’s not. But I realized it when I wrote a scathing and angry critique of Yoni Ki Baat for GlobalComment at one point and, in the responses of the creators of that project, realized that we were operating from very different premises.

My experience of South Asian identity in the US has been one of unification. Where the sub-continent is deliberately divided into is constituent countries and those national identities are virtuously adhered to, in the US, boundaries are erased and everyone’s a Desi or a South Asian.

Desi is a racial category. It signifies people from the sub-continent. It calls up brown skin and black hair. It is dominated by Indian identity, but it consists of Pakistanis and Indians primarily.

I don’t know if Desi includes Bangladeshis or Nepalis or Sri Lankans in the same way, or if in the US those points of origin fall under the category of  South Asian. I don’t know the nuanced difference between American South Asian and American Desi. Is South Asian also racial? Probably, but it’s also more. It’s an umbrella of some sort, but I’m not sure what sort.

The reason I can’t go further than this is that I’m decidedly not a South Asian American. Which is to say that, while I am South Asian, while I am Pakistani, while I am also American, and while I am mixed-“race” and mixed-nationalities, I am definitely not a South Asian American because in order to be a South Asian American or a Pakistani American, it seems imperative that one be in the United States. The identity [Ethnic]-American requires residence in and a primary dealing with the US context.

I am asserting this because, in contrast, in Pakistan, I’m half-gori. Or my mother’s American. My identity here is racialized to whiteness, but it’s not the same whiteness that I have when I’m in the States. There I am a light-skinned brown person of ethnic and Muslim origin, and therefore a kind of peripheral subject. Here I am a light-skinned Pakistani of Amreekan ancestry, but not peripheral as a result. Having an American mother does not trump having a Pakistani father or a regular Pakistani accent or fluent Urdu.

In the US, my ethnicity and religious identity marginalize me, and racialize me. Here, I have always been racialized, but that racialization doesn’t consistently marginalize me. Often it privileges me. Sometimes it does marginalize me, or at least put me on the back foot. Occasionally it combines with gender, and then it certainly marginalize me. Mostly it doesn’t matter. I’m gori, but I’m not not-Pakistani.

Gori is a racial characteristic. But race doesn’t mean here what it means in the US.

So, what’s the point? I guess to extricate one kind of Desi from another, one kind of South Asian from another. South Asians in South Asia identify by their national origin. Using the umbrella of South Asian usually comes difficult and it comes with conditions attached, and a time limit. “We will be South Asian for this conference or this SAARC summit or this project we have going together, but when it’s over, I’m Pakistani, you’re Bangladeshi, you’re Indian and we’re all going home now, thank you very much.”

In the US, it seems to be an ethnic and/or racial identity in the face of a larger hegemonic identity of whiteness.

Is that because the whiteness is up close? It’s not like the subcontinent doesn’t deal with the hegemony of the US. But perhaps it is about which hegemony is closer because if you’re using your national identity, that means you’re asserting yourself in the face of someone else’s national identity and so their race doesn’t matter. Whereas if you’re using your race, it means you can cross or have already left behind (to some extent) national borders and the relevance lies with the racial identity that is the South Asian (brown) (desi) person.

It occurs to me, however, that this definitional exercise is in itself bound up with the White-and-American-centred push to define non-white non-American subjects. By the very nature of this definitional process, I am and we are thrown into a world in which the ultimate centre resides in the US.

What I’m trying to do here is say that US South Asians and subcontinental South Asians are not the same thing at all times. A project like Yoni ki Baat (which is how this whole thought process got started for me) needs to acknowledge that, when it’s talking about South Asian, it’s not talking about every kind of South Asian. That a “South Asian” project initiated in the US has to be aware of its own circumstance.

There is a corresponding blind spot, I think, in subcontinental notions of South Asian projects that don’t acknowledge diasporic concerns. That imagine that if there is peace on the land here, there will be peace between people there and that if there is war here, there will be war there, as if the diaspora is a mirror of the “real” South Asia. There is no greater reality to either South Asianness.

Up next:

2. Islamophobia and Racism

3. White Skin Privilege

4. Talking to “The West”

Oprah, Diddy and Other Goodies at GC

I haven’t written here much lately because I haven’t got much to say these days. The stuff I do have to say I send off to GlobalComment or other such fun places what pay me. So I thought that, in addition to some shameless self-promotion that I’m about to do, I should also promote some other good stuff I’ve been reading. To wit, Joe Sapien’s take on Diddy as the next Bond. We take a break from his usual sarcastic tone to sample some flabbergasted outrage and the foolishness that is Diddy. In addition, there’s a good assessment of Obama’s Change.gov blog thing by Sarah Jaffe that you should take a look at. The piéce de resistance, though, is Renee Martin’s take on the fatness of Oprah and how we should shame her for being ashamed of it (my interpretation – not what she actually actually said) rather than point fingers at her for being fat in the first place. (In fact, she didn’t say at all that we should shame Oprah – I just think that Oprah should be ashamed of her shame. All that wealth, accomplishment and power and her weighing scale can break her heart? Pff. Stupid world.)

And I wrote about Mumbai because I do that kinda thing. This is the part where I’m shamelessly self-promoting, btw.

That’s all, folks.

Fuck Off Out of My Country

Yesterday: Well, Bush, McCain, Obama: it’s all the same to me. US ground troops landed a helicopter on Pakistani soil, got out, shot a bunch of villagers “indiscriminately” says Dawn, got back into their helicopter and fucked off. (Edit: yesterday it said “indiscriminately” and today I can’t find the source in Dawn.)

The bit in scare quotes are the bit I’m scared of. And the bit that’s disputed. Along with ground troops actually coming in. I googled the story and most US sources or international media are reporting it as if it was definitely Al-Qaeda that was hit. What we have is that 20 people died, most of them women and children. Someone got back from one of the agencies recently, which is what those parts of the northwest are called, like Waziristan. He was corroborating other stories. That the local “Taliban” are just thugs for hire and always have been. And that the locals, from the community, are now putting together militias of their own to fight the thugs and keep them off their land.

Today: The US is claiming it was soldiers that died and there was no ground attack. And it was all coordinated with the Pakistanis. Look here. And at the longer AP report.

Obama, McCain, Bush. They’d all go looking for bin Laden in Pakistan, unilaterally, without worrying about fucking with Pakistani sovereignty or killing innocent Pakistanis just living their lives between one set of bullies and another.

Talk about Black Flag Days. When Zardari is elected president tomorrow, vile stain of a man that he is, find me a ray of fucking sunshine then.


Why does Delhi smell like an inversion layer while it’s raining in the monsoon? I can’t figure it. But right now, I’m sitting in the guest room of a lovely house, it’s been raining all night and the smell coming in from the window isn’t that nice rain-on-dirt smell, but the smell of smog and deisel and yech.

I like Lahore better, though it smells like cow poo in the rain. What I really love is Islamabad. Rain on dirt. Yum.

Yoni Ki Baat – Global Comment

I wrote a sort of review of Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian rendition of the Vagina Monologues for Global Comment. This is my shameless promotion, let me show you it.

Super Genius

Turns out that the Afghani Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are not in fact the same Taliban. One has expressed a separation and distinction from the other, according to the BBC. Well, blow me down with, you know, a bull dozer because gosh, no one saw that coming.

Much as I think Imran Khan is a bit of a dope, he made a good point at LUMS when he was speaking on the night of the “Emergency” declaration (3/11/07). He said that the tribes there are a) not used to being governed by anything they consider a foreign power and will not welcome it, and b)  there’s a difference between the various extremists movements in Afghanistan, Waziristan, Swat etc. “Our” ones have more to do with the Musharraf regime than directly with wanting Shariah as the law, although that’s now a central point of the platform.

Meanwhile, Iran put Bahais in jail for propaganda and proselytizing, and is apparently fond of killing people.

Talk about Judicial Activism

Suddenly, BBC Urdu has started featuring more stories on judicial activism in other countries, namely India. This story is interesting in that it addresses responsible campaigning, “fake gun battles” which is something I’d never heard of and leadership culpability. Also, it’s about Nirdender Modi, which is always a la-a-augh.

You’re thinking of Lalu Prasad Yadav. He’s a different kind of laugh.

India’s supreme court has sought clarification from a politician over remarks he made during an election meeting in western Gujarat…

Media reports suggested that Mr Modi had “justified” the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a Muslim civilian…

In March, the Gujarat police admitted – at a hearing of the Supreme Court – that Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a Muslim civilian, was killed in a staged gun-battle…

They are alleged to have attempted to cover up the killing by claiming he belonged to an Islamic militant group.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government then admitted that the missing wife of Mr Sheikh, Kausar Bi, was also killed and her body was burnt…

The supreme court has asked Mr Modi to reply by end of January.
It rejected his contention that the remarks on Mr Sheikh were “political”, and he was reacting to election speeches made by the opposition.

Read the whole thing here. It’s quite the story – secular country, no religious campaigning, but Hindu nationalist says killing an innocent Muslim is justified, but then the SC takes notice of it and says explain yourself.

This is the kind of thing that was happening before November 3, 2007. And should be happening now.

Instead, the LHC Chief took notice of the people sitting outside a Justice’s house, who was about to be evicted because he didn’t take the oath, and told the police to arrest them. They were subsequently brought before anti-terrorism court. The SAC went on a hunger strike and through a concatenation of circumstances, Musharraf asked for all “but the gravest” cases against students, civil society members and professors to be withdrawn.

Lawyers are protesting today. Every Thursday, apparently, until the judiciary is restored.

Riot Gear: State of Emergency and Martial Law

Dear Diary, today we had emergency!, no! martial law, no! emergency! declared on us by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, moderate and enlightened president of Pakistan.

Now this is what’s going on: I’m watching CNN IBN via internet streaming because all the private news channels have been suspended. Musharraf will speak via PTV at 11 pm. But he’s declared that the judiciary has overstepped its bounds and so needed to be dismantled. He was afraid that the Supreme Court would reject his candidacy for president in the upcoming election and so, speculation is and I think it’s true, he declared emergency and removed everyone against him would be out of power.

Interestingly , he did not (or has not yet) cite Swat, Chaman and the general unrest (unrest!) in the Frontier as the reason for the state of emergency. It would seem more credible to do that. Swat has been in an uproar and many Pakistanis have died on both sides. There are perpetual military operations in the Frontier, in Chaman, in Swat, in Waziristan and anywhere in between. Surely, there is a state of emergency in those areas. But instead, there’s a somewhat petulant complaint against the judiciary and an act that is the equivalent of yelling “mein nahi khelta!”, taking your marbles and going home.

Or send your friends home and lobbing their own marbles after them. Grenad-shaped.

For regular updates, I have found no place better than Pakistan Politics. I don’t know who runs it but will attempt to find out. In the meantime, they are my heroes, being so excited about giving news quickly that they misspell half the stuff they’re typing.

I’m at my computer for a good while. If anyone finds an internet link to what Pakistan Politics is calling the performance of “meray azeez hum watanon”, let me know. I don’t have a TV and my radio is having issues too.

Syrian Christian Report (!)

My friend Anup Mathew Thomas went to a wedding recently among his Syrian Christian qaum in Kerala. It’s a really pretty old church, but it’s too small for the current congregations. So the congregation of this, the Kenanya church, has retired the church and build a new one near and done this to the old one, in the same compound. I think it’s really cool.

Regurgitation: Pakistan Bans Blogspot

I wrote this article for Chowk on March 5, 2006. Chowk has made its layout even more unreadable than before and, anyway, its more fun if you just read it here. In connection with Don’t Block the Blog, I thought I’d do some cud chewing.

Pakistan Bans Blogspot

You’re not going to believe this.

Or maybe you will. Those of us who have grown up in Pakistan, particularly during the Zia years, may well have a conditioned response to such news of censorship: a sudden jolt of shock, followed immediately by ennui, depression and a desire to move to Guam.

Blog*Spot has been banned in Pakistan.

According to BBCUrdu.com, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has instructed all internet service providers to block twelve websites that have republished the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Among them is one blog on Blog*Spot. In answer to this, all major ISPs (if not all) have blocked the entire domain, blogspot.com, from Pakistan. No one in Pakistan can access any blogs on that domain.

I don’t know what appalls me more: the sheer idiocy of such a blanket ban; the horror that someone thinks they’ve just struck a blow for Islam; or this insidious thought that, in Pakistan, we have no rights, only privileges.

Truly, it’s the role of the Supreme Court I find debilitating. According to the BBC, on March 2, the Supreme Court ordered that all internet content that is insulting and degrading the beliefs of Muslims, and any site publishing the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, should be blocked from access in Pakistan. Not only that, but it has demanded that the concerned officials explain why such measures are not already in place.

Where do I put my face, as they say.

That the law in Pakistan steps into the social, the domestic and the private with all the aplomb of your stern uncle coming in to give you a right seeing-to, is something we have come to expect. Rape, blasphemy, murder, whatever – the law will explain to you why it can legislate to you on behalf of both man and God.

But I was truly hoping the internet would escape. I was truly hoping that this wasn’t going to be the UAE, where you can’t go on Orkut because it somehow offends morality. I was hoping, in all honestly, that my little world, with my little blog, would remain free and safe, for me. My four friends in Pakistan and six outside would read my blog, we’d agree or argue, and then all go back to the rest of our lives.

This was silly of me. But I wasn’t alone. Noumaan Yaqoob, whose blog was featured on BBCUrdu.com and which seems to have been what alerted the news service of the block in the first place, expressed similar views. He feels that, of all the restrictions on free speech placed in Pakistani law and society, “internet unka torr hai [the internet is their undoing]”. Here’s hoping it’s true.

Meanwhile, through RSS readers such as Bloglines.com, you can still read the articles that are posted on Blog*Spot blogs. In fact, you can actually post to your own blog in the usual manner, by logging into blogger.com, which is a domain that has not been banned. Witness the ridiculousness of that, now.

I don’t expect much of the law. In fact, I don’t expect anything, really, except that which is not good. Censorship has a great history with us. My mother was a journalist in this country for some fifteen years, and worked for The Muslim daily for most of that newspaper’s life. She remembers when Zia came into power and the paper had to go to the censors every evening. She tells me that for a while, whenever a story was censored, The Muslim would run STOP PRESS, and publish the white space. But then, after a while, when nothing looked like changing, reporters stopped reporting and writers stopped writing stories that were likely to get censored. It took the edge off, she said.

What I expect from the law is that it will take the edge off me, or try to. It will reduce all of us citizens to subjects, and in the end, the personality lording over us on a given day will become irrelevant – it will just be the Badshah Salamat of the time. And we will be left to scuttle about, scooping up whatever privilege we can, never assured of any rights.

Because Badshah Salamat isn’t a person. It’s a system. It’s a meena bazaar of power relations and negotiation, where we barter freedom for freedom, service for service, and gouge out a small tract of land in which we can be reasonably secure that we will be who we will be. And all this time, we move through life on the defensive: because we can only be reasonably sure. We can never be certain. We scrape up the privilege, here and there, to speak up, but we have no inalienable right to do so.

The Zia era remains in my mind a period of intense darkness and fear, led by Zia, but painted in the rich shades and nuances of dark by all the other actors – the censors, the police, the intelligence, the editors who gave up printing STOP PRESS, jurists, the lawyers, the ideologues who brought the law so low. The people who tried to take the edge off. And the people who gave up their edge.

Our era, our Enlightened Moderation, has its own set of criminals. The Supreme Court I now list as one of them. The internet service providers of Pakistan are another. Who else goes on the list?

Because we’re Pakistanis and we’re keeping track. Jaza saza, as Faiz Sahb said, sab yahin pe hogi.

Urdu: Ek Zaban Ki Taqseem

Check out this video from BBC Urdu. Interesting stuff. It’s down the page a bit under the “Videa/Tasaveer” heading. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out a way to link directly to it and there’s no embedding.

Sunday Love

I’m going to take this down in a couple of days, but I feel like sharing today. And I guess I’m looking for some feedback. This site gets more traffic than the main poetry site. So here it is.

any given Sunday in your church – see me
taking communion in whatever has
become of us – nights flowing to morning
like water to water again – any
given Sunday of remembrance and your
church – and your altar – and your vaulted
love of man – see me

I am small – my knees rub
the earth, I look for Mary and her bright heart –
pincushion heart – to toe the line row the boat
home – our lady of perpetual
holding – water, flooding – mother – mary – mother –
mary, see me

– given a Sunday to love and no days off –

communion for dead hearts in live
hands, wet mouths in wet mouths – bombers
flying over looking for an earth to land –

your – church –
in communion with –
soft earth –

flow to morning
like wine is wine
mother sunday mother remembrance see me

The Thing About India

I have some Indian friends. And when they visit Pakistan and spend more than a sentence lauding, or even mention, the democratic prowess of India and how it’s a better place to live, they threaten their welfare and their booze supply. I have a terrace; it overlooks a golf course: you could bury a body and no one would be the wiser – or even wander past for quite a while.

And yet.

Democracy is unsung in our land. Or sung badly. Like a drunk in a bar right before or after a brawl. There are some yummy things about democracy. As for example, you can say stuff. Do stuff. And it’s quite a bit easier. You can protest in Janter Manter and be whatever manner of weird (in this case, queer) and no one will haul you off. In fact, the cop in charge of keeping you in line might stand around and discuss the finer points of queer rights and the law with you. You can say queer in India. It’s not the most genius right in all the world, but it’s not bad for a start.

In India, major atrocities are not met with torpor. They are met with pavement pounding, yelling, screaming and the making of parchas to distribute and litter the landscape with.

The major atrocity I’m thinking of is the mere existence of Lal Masjid’s cadre of moral police. Vigilantes for Allah, VAH! Or VFAH! Either way. What a bunch of shits. Most recently, they have kidnapped 9 Chinese people from a massage parlour in F-8/3, which they claim is a brothel (I believe it is), and held them for a day. Anti-terrorism police standing outside the Masjid did not manage to keep the Imam from coming out and speaking to the press. Apprehending him was apparently not a part of the plan. The mind, it boggles.

I don’t know if this is the new order. Or if two attempted new orders are clashing with each other. Sunnat-e-Musharrafi b’muqabla Sunnaan-e-Taleban. But they are failing to curtail each other and they are only making partial gains in their objectives. If someone said they were in league, I wouldn’t raise a hair off my eyebrow, but their end result is something beyond my comprehension if that’s the case. I teach the history of Pakistan but I swear I got no clue why we’re allowing this kind of shameless flouting of both Islam and the ethics of liberalism. It’s a sham either way and it’s abhorrent.

Some day they’ll come for us. Do what Zia could never do: enter our homes and take fahashi down off the walls, stop the booze and drag you kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat.

I really don’t want to live among fascists, though I will: I refuse to live under them though.