How Not To Be A Pakistani Liberal

We have become accustomed to certain ways of seeing and speaking about the world. The Pakistani liberal – a caste that has been educated and nurtured on Western educational, political and cultural ideologies as absorbed during years abroad at college, or careers, and through popular Western visual and literary media (fiction, non-fiction books), offers a particularly stark lesson in how certain forms of speaking, expressing and justifying arguments remain unchanged by thought, critical inquiry or self-doubt. The thoughtless regurgitation of European universalism, exceptionalism, and social sophistication  – all of which mind you are as much myths as anything, is an excellent example of this.

I was reminded of this as I took a few minutes to watch this presentation by the celebrity liberal Professor Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, famous for his much lauded anti-nuclear proliferation arguments, and his relentless critique (justified and well argued) of the decimation of critical inquiry and genuine research at Pakistani universities. Professor Hoodbhoy has been an eloquent and powerful voice speaking out against the decline of educational standards. But Professor Hoodbhoy also represents that small elite in Pakistani society who have – whether by chance or by cultivation, become the principal translators of the political and social trends in the country for most foreign journalists, and visitors alike. As a result, he has often been able to speak and express views on matters as far reaching as geopolitics, domestic politics, the global war on terror, ‘Islamic’ radicalism and fundamentalism and more. There are in fact a handful of select Pakistanis – Ahmed Rashid, Mohsin Hamid and some others, who are invited to offer their opinions and views on a range of topics, and help the world, particularly the Euro-American world, make sense of the mystery that is Pakistan. So be it. These are intelligent, creative and sophisticated men (and some women), and deserve their audience and their role. For the most part.

And so, unsurprisingly, Professor Hoodbhoy was invited to give this talk, one of many I am sure, and I found it rather compelling in the vivid and obviously inadvertent way it reflected so many of the problematic foundations of Pakistani liberal arguments and justifications for their criticism. Though short, it is a good example of the ways in which post-colonial intellectuals and others, undermine their own credibility by hanging on to an fantastic and fantasy idea of The West, create false and misleading comparisons, and judge any and all social, political or other phenomenon that does not match its Western model is less or deviant. Or in need of ‘reform’.

And so, I decided to pen a letter to the esteemed professor (not a real letter, juts a simulated one of course. Who writes real letters these days?) Details »

Not Our Men

I came across this piece in the news today, and once again, what immediately struck me was the fact that the piece was speaking about close male relative violence agains women, and yet never once does the writer refer to these acts of violence as an ‘honour killing’? In fact, no quotes or statements from a representative of an international NGO, or a feminist or even a ‘concerned’ artist, is offered to suggest that there is a unique pathology among Spanish men that is pushing them to attack and kill their women because of an insult to their ‘honour’ or their patriarchy as their pathology.  Details »

Unexpected Journeys Or How Did You Get To San Francisco?

She turns thirteen today. She dances at San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive programs this summer. It was just two years ago that she had auditioned for the Swedish Royal Ballet’s dance school, only to be rejected at the last stage of the week-long audition. It was just two years ago that I remember waking up at 2 am that night, and hearing her quietly crying in the bathroom. Last week, when she received the letter from the San Francisco Ballet, inviting her to come and train in the Summer Intensive Program, Sofia completed a journey that began in painful disappointment. This summer is no ordinary summer. For this 13-year old, this invitation letter was not just to another Summer Intensive program, but a confirmation that hard work, a refusal to accept the judgement of others, and a determination to become what she dreamed about, was the only way to face the dance world.

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Scratching At My Skin

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“I have been stereotyped: my life and lived experiences negated by photo editors in the USA in particular. I am nothing but my ethnicity, a man from my country of my birth 42 years ago. My name marks me as a ‘Muslim’, my ethnicity marks me as a ‘South Asian’, my birth marks me for work within the confines of the geography of the country of my birth. My birth on an unexceptional day in Karachi nearly 42 years ago was of greater interest and relevance than the nearly 18 years I spent studying, working, learning, and becoming in the United States of America (a country of which I am a citizen). I am the ‘Pakistani’ photographer and never allowed to be anything else, or asked to be elsewhere.”

I wrote this back in 2009. It came after my frustration at being told by a Time Magazine editor that she had no interest in giving me assignments in the USA (where I was based and traveling through), because I had no ‘competitive advantage’ in the USA. In Pakistan, where I had last lived over twenty years ago, I spoke the language and knew the culture. But when I reminded her that I also knew the American language, and had in fact lived in the USA for over twenty years, she wasn’t impressed. I never worked for the editor again.

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Math Scares Me But Numbers Sooth Me

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At times I can’t tell whether the writers and editors at the New York Times are just plain stupid, or supremely clever. For example, this entire piece is little short of an exercise in obfuscation and political propaganda, misrepresenting data repeatedly to shill for the argument – entirely false, that the economic situation of the average American is getting better, and hence, that Donald Trump is wrong.

Well, looking at the data you can concoct that argument, but it isn’t there in the data. So either Mr. Applebaum does not remember his high-school math, or, that he and his editors, believe that the ordinary New York Times reader is too stupid to remember her high school math.

For example, here is how they define ‘median income’ in the article:


“The median income is the amount that divides households evenly between those that make less and those that make more.”


That is not what median income is.

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The Long Arms Of Islamohysteria™

The [New York Times] article attempts to provide insight into how modern-day racists negotiate the contemporary racial terrain. But this is hard to do, given that the Times along with other establishment media outlets are a crucial part of that terrain.

Take the article’s observations about America’s shifting racial scapegoats. Confessore writes:

“While open racism against blacks remains among the most powerful taboos in American politics, Americans feel more free expressing worries about illegal immigrants and dislike of Islam, survey research shows.”

But why is it that white Americans feel more free to express Islamophobia and xenophobia than anti-black bigotry? Surely this has much to do with the fact that in recent years powerful media outlets have done much to legitimize the former biases.

FAIR Blog, “NYT Looks at the Political Exploitation of White Supremacism–but Not Too Hard”, July 14, 2016

To say that the New York Times these days is into Islamohysteria™ would not be an under-statement. Islamohysteria™ is a little known area of academic study, but one that has a long pedigree and reams of evidence. It is the habit of taking a handful of statements by officials, intelligence operatives, neo-conservative pundits and government provided ‘defectors’ and ‘informers’, and producing articles that use words like ‘global’, ‘nuclear’, ‘mushroom cloud’ and more. The New York Times has offered a masterclass in manufacturing Islamohysteria™, relentlessly publishing poorly investigated, anonymous and state / intelligence sourced articles that pretend to be journalism, but are really little more than stenography.

And where  once the likes of Judith Miller would run around the globe interviewing officials, defectors and intelligence operatives, and simply regurgitate their claims and statements as facts, and then construct wild and fantastic fantasies of global domination and nuclear annihilation by our enemies, we seem to have found a new set of recruits that are experts at the same game. There was Carlotta Gall of course, and David Sanger of the infamous ‘nuclear triggers for Osama Bin Ladin’ lie, Mark Mazzetti with his insider notes sent directly to the CIA to reveal what his colleague was about to file, or the shameless way New York Times Michael Gordon met with the State Department to ask for their help to ‘vet’ the Iraq Logs or completely bury them that were about to be published. There is a long, long history of sordid collusion with powerful state and intelligence actors here to 1) spread lies, 2) concoct evidence, 3) spread fear ad hysteria, and 4) manufacture enemies particularly ‘Islamic’ one. Details »

This Post Is Not About The Burkini

Moustafa Bayoumi had an interesting Facebook post this morning that speaks to the histories of colonialism that may inform the recent French idiocies around the uses of the burkini at French beaches. The post is here:

I found it provocative and decided to engage with him figuratively. That I am currently designing some photo projects for 2017 that look at the continuing ‘rot’ of colonial and imperial rule and the ways it scars and distorts life, ecology and economy, his arguments were very interesting. However, though Bayoumi makes some good points, but I can’t help but feel that he overstates his case, perhaps even over determines it, by suggesting a rather idealized idea of ‘direct’ vs’ indirect’ colonial rule. This idea does not stand the test of history in any way.

So here is why. Details »

Helping Us Absorb The Shock Of Reality

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Raymond Williams work ‘Keywords’ is perhaps one of the great pioneering cultural studies text of our lifetime. There are not many works that can claim that. In it, Williams pointed out that the meaning and use of words is deeply influenced by and changes with our political, social and economic situations and needs. As Williams himself argued in the book:

“…[T]he air of massive impersonality which the Oxford Dictionary communicates is not so impersonal, so purely scholarly, or so free of active social and political values as might be supposed from its occasional use.”

Words matter. And how, when and who uses them matters profoundly. When it is a word used by Western media, one deeply implicated in upholding corporate, political and military interests, we should always keep Williams insight in mind. Hence, it is irresponsible, if not disingenuous, of any writing by a media critic or commentator when writing about the American / Western media (broadcast, print, digital, radio) to not acknowledge the existence of this political and corporate influence, and the ways in which it influences so much of what is shown and spoken about. It is also disingenuous not to acknowledged that using and manipulating the media today is a crucial goal of any political administration anywhere in the world. The reach and access of media is greater today than ever before, and its influence on opinions and ideas second only to the Church. Perhaps more so, but I do not wish to blaspheme. Hence, I am repeatedly dismayed at the persistent and consistent eraser by media critics and analysts of American and European journalism’s close relationship to political and corporate power. (Le Monde Diplomatique is an exception, reporting repeatedly on this close collaboration when it comes to French media.) So much has been written about this to be self-evident, but it is intentionally pushed aside in discussions about how news get produced, published, disseminated and discussed. From corporate and private ownership of major newspapers, to political influence and collusion with journalists and editors, we know well today how closely our media has become a propaganda machine.

So when I came across this essay titled “Should News Outlets Show Photographs of Terrorists?” by Fred Ritchen – a former photo editor at The New York Times and now a teacher at the International Center for Photography in New York, I was left confused by many of its positions. Details »

Keep Your Eye On The Right Hand!

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European / Western wish for innocence, for purity of spirit, takes tens of millions of dollars to keep up. All sorts of bizarre, racist, programs have to be designed, and all sorts of institutions – scientific, civic, policing, political, social and cultural, are unleashed onto the unthinking citizenry, to seduce and numb them back to their place of quiet subservience and obedience. Here, the French yet again prove their determine war against truth and history. Just as before they spent tens of millions erasing their colonial legacy, their Algerian nightmare, their massacres on the streets, and their social and economic discrimination of a large percentage of their citizens, they are now aiming at any remembrance, or evidence, of the fact that France has been a nation at war in the Middle East, and West Africa, for over a decade now.

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A Rainbow Prohibition

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It is striking how in this entire piece about a lack of diversity in mainstream Western / European photojournalism, the idea ‘lack of representation’ is defined only as ethnic, nationalist, or gender. What is completely left out is politics. That is, the idea of a diversity of political views and perspectives that face, criticize, and dissent against the mainstream European / Western mainstream liberal discourse. And by not acknowledging the ‘manufacturing of consent’ element of mainstream Western media – a fact that has now been written about in countless books, articles and blog sites, it falls prey to simple, and yet again, ‘liberal’ ideas about what ‘diversity’ means and ought to be.

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