Tag Archives: extremism

Pakistan’s Identity Battle Plays Out in Lahore

Bhagat_jpg_1225585g

The battle for Pakistan’s identity is playing out in Lahore’s streets and – oddly, on its thoroughfares and intersections. On 23rd March, this year, a group of civil society representatives gathered at Lahore’s Shadman Chowk to commemorate the 82nd death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, a Sikh freedom fighter renowned for his revolutionary struggle as part of the independence movement, and who became stuff of legend when he was hanged by the British in 1931 after a brief but eventful insurrection against colonial rule. The gathering, however, was disrupted by members of a religious group which was holding a protest aimed at denouncing the idea of renaming the chowk after Bhagat Singh, simultaneously.

The chowk and the adjacent area used to be Lahore’s central jail during the British Raj, and Bhagat Singh is believed to have been hanged at the site of what is now Shadman Chowk.

Late last year, a group of Lahoris made progress in getting local officials to rename a busy traffic circle for Bhagat Singh, a Sikh revolutionary who. They see it as a chance to honor a local hero who they feel transcends the ethnic and sectarian tensions gripping the country today — and also as an important test of the boundaries of inclusiveness here.

But in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, questions of religious identity also become issues of patriotism, and the effort has raised alarm bells among conservatives and Islamists. The circle was named in 2010 for Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, a Muslim student who coined the name Pakistan in the 1930s, and there was an outcry at the news that it might be renamed for a non-Muslim.

“If a few people decide one day that the name has to be changed, why should the voice of the majority be ignored?” asked Zahid Butt, the head of a neighborhood business association here and a leader of the effort to block the renaming.

The fight over the traffic circle — which, when they are pressed, locals usually just call Shadman Circle, after the surrounding neighborhood — has become a showcase battle in a wider ideological war over nomenclature and identity here and in other Pakistani cities.

Although many of Lahore’s prominent buildings are named for non-Muslims, there has been a growing effort to “Islamize” the city’s architecture and landmarks, critics of the trend say. In that light, the effort to rename the circle for Mr. Singh becomes a cultural counteroffensive.

“Since the ’80s, the days of the dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq, there has been an effort that everything should be Islamized — like the Mall should be called M. A. Jinnah Road,” said Taimur Rahman, a musician and academic from Lahore, referring to one of the city’s central roads and to the country’s founder. “They do not want to acknowledge that other people, from different religions, also lived here in the past.”

A recent nationwide surge in deadly attacks against religious minorities, particularly against Ahmadi and Hazara Shiites, has again put a debate over tolerance on the national agenda. Though most Sikhs fled Pakistan soon after the partition from India in 1947, the fight over whether to honor a member of that minority publicly bears closely on the headlines for many.

A push to honor Mr. Singh has been going on here for years. But it was not until the annual remembrance of his birth in September that things came to a head. A candlelight demonstration to support renaming the traffic circle had an effect, and a senior district official agreed to start the process. As part of it, he asked the public to come forward with any objections. The complaints started pouring in.

Traders of Shadman Market, the local trade group led by Mr. Butt, threatened a strike. Chillingly, warnings against the move were issued by leaders of the Islamic aid group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, largely believed to be a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Clerics voiced their opposition during Friday Prayer.

The issue quickly became a case for the city’s High Court, which said it would deliberate on a petition, initiated by Mr. Butt and a coalition of religious conservatives, to block the name change. That was in November, and the case still awaits a hearing date. The provincial government has remained in tiptoe mode ever since. “It is a very delicate matter,” said Ajaz Anwar, an art historian and painter who is the vice chairman of a civic committee that is managing the renaming process.

Mr. Anwar said some committee members had proposed a compromise: renaming the circle after Habib Jalib, a widely popular postindependence poet. That move has been rejected out of hand by pro-Singh campaigners.

Mr. Rahman and other advocates for renaming the circle paint it as a test of resistance to intolerance and extremism, and they consider the government and much of Lahore society to have failed it.

“The government’s defense in the court has been very halfhearted,” said Yasser Latif Hamdani, a lawyer representing the activists. “The government lawyer did not even present his case during earlier court proceedings.”

The controversy threatens to become violent. On March 23, the anniversary of Mr. Singh’s death, police officers had to break up a heated exchange between opposing groups at the circle.

Mr. Rahman and the other supporters have vowed to continue fighting, saying it has become a war over who gets to own Pakistan’s history.

“There is a complete historical amnesia and black hole regarding the independence struggle from the British,” Mr. Rahman said, adding of the Islamists, “They want all memories to evaporate.”

 {Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/world/asia/plan-to-rename-traffic-circle-provokes-outcry-in-lahore-pakistan.html?ref=global-home&_r=1&}

Iqbal Hussain: The agony and the ecstasy

DSC_1540 copy WITHOUT RIGHTSIqbal Hussain’s new work reveals a darkly poignant preoccupation with death, an artistic crisis born of the violence in our midst. But this work may yet survive the changing cultural topography of Pakistan, says Raza Rumi

Being stuck in an awful traffic jam on Lahore’s Mall Road is an everlasting nightmare. This was the road which once housed the tempestuous and famously poly-amorous painter Amrita Shergil, as well as the grand old man of Indian writing in English, the legendary Khushwant Sigh, among other lost symbols of our bygone past. But mine was not a fruitless journey: I was heading to the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery at the National College of Arts (NCA), where Iqbal Hussain’s new work was being displayed. I would not hav e gone to see this exhibition had I not heard about the significance of the show from the proficient curator of the gallery Qudsia Raheem. I liked to meet Iqbal Hussain in the throes of the walled city where he has reinvented a space for himself among his own people — entertainers, artists, traders, sex workers and a multitude of local and global visitors. Iqbal Hussain has been successful through his personal endeavors to put Lahore’s old city and its infamous red light district on the world map. He has achieved this primarily through his stupendous paintings and sublime rooftop views of Mughal monuments from the Cooco’s Den Café he owns and manages.

DSC_1510 copy WITHOUT RIGHTSIqbal Hussain’s work over the decades has brought to life the shades and aspects of sex workers from Heera Mandi around whom Hussain grew up. Most importantly, he is proud of his heritage and origins and, unlike the hypocritical and self-denying society in which he lives, he has publicly claimed ownership of this background. His work has obsessively captured the many narratives about the women who are central to Heera Mandi. In doing this, Hussain has humanized the portraits of the “dancing girl”, the aging prostitute and the honorable livelihood earner. Contrary to the religious decrees on such women, or the excessive romanticization of dancing girls in our culture, Hussain’s subjects are nothing but human. They are real and vulnerable while blessed with the ability to sing, dance and celebrate life and sex. In our socially conservative culture, made even more so since the advent of Victorian values in what was then British India, such characters have been the recipients of much derision. Hussain, through his momentous collection of paintings, has countered every stereotype and cliché that comes to mind about such women. Continue reading

Terrible news from Lahore – extremists are back in action

Raza Rumi

Two horrific incidents took place in Lahore today. First, the blasts in the busiest of streets – Hall Road frequented by thousands of people. The moral brigade had been objecting to and threatening the shop-owners against selling CDs, DVDs as they somehow lead to decline in morals and of course challenge the puritanical worldview of the Islamists. Now, a warning was sent through two low intensity blasts. Lahore’s Talibanisation nightmare might be turning into a reality.

Second, the famous Shezan brand is under attack – the reason: it is owned by an Ahmedi. After killing them in the villages and their places of worship, their right to engage in commerce (a basic right by the way) is being violated. This persecuted community has never been targetted so badly in the recent years.

Lahore – a peaceful, towering cultural centre of yore is now under direct attack by retrogressive forces while the Punjabis continue to deny the existence of religious extremism in their midst. When will we wake up – once the city is destroyed?

Markets, mosques and roads are becoming unsafe while we sit and watch the reality horror shows in our homes. How long will the homes be safe?

Express-Tribune reports: LAHORE: Twin low intensity bomb blasts hit a music and CD market in Lahore on Saturday evening, injuring 11 people and creating panic in the area, police said. Continue reading

Pakistan police targeted as attacks kill 15

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Gunmen attacked police offices in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday and a car bomb exploded outside another in the northwest, killing at least 15 people after a week of violence in which more than 100 people died. Continue reading

‘Jinnay Lahore ni Vekhya’ depicts

‘Jinnay Lahore ni Vekhya’ depicts
Sunday, July 05, 2009
By Schezee Zaidi
Islamabad
The portrayal of the most glorifying human emotion of compassion and love as the core element to fight extremism and hatred was at the heart of ‘Jinnay Lahore ni Vekhya’ at the PNCA drama festival.
The popular play, staged by Sheema Kermani and her group Tehrik-e-Niswan on Friday and Saturday at the National Art Gallery Auditorium, was well received by the audience to the last for skilled performances by the entire cast around a well-knitted theme of an immigrant family in post-Partition Lahore.
Conveyed through the powerful and magical medium of theatre, whether in the form of tragedy, comedy or satire, the main idea of the play is to narrate the historical realities, touching the lives of ordinary people and shake up a nation’s collective conscience, make people think and question things, and admonish apathy.
Scripted and adapted for stage by Anwar Jaffery from the original drama, written by Asghar Wajahat, and with a finer touch of direction by Sheema Kermani, the wonderful production of Tehrik-e-Niswan is based on a true story of a Hindu woman, caught in the aftermath of Partition in Muslim dominated Pakistan. Set in Lahore of 1947 immediately after Partition, the story begins with the arrival of an immigrant family in Pakistan, which has been allotted a ‘haveli’ abandoned by a Hindu family. Having spent many torturous months in ‘Mohajir’ camps, the family looks forward to start a new life in their new home but to their dismay, they find a Hindu woman, the mother of the owner Ratan Lal Johari, still living in the ‘haveli’.
The presence of this old Hindu woman also irks some local ruffians, who believe that the country now belongs only to Muslims. This is opposed by poet Nasir Kazmi and the Maulvi of a local mosque. In the midst of the conflict, the old woman endears almost everybody she comes across with her loving and helpful nature, which is why that finally when she dies, a debate ensues in the community over the issue of performing her last rites.
As the play’s theme is based on a real occurrence, the dialogues of Nasir Kazmi have been taken from his letters and writings. The cast gave a very refined and accurate performance as per the mood of the play. It is also not out of context to mention that the play received great accolades in India.
Powerful dialogues with meaningful connotations from people like Sheema Kermani, who are engaged in activism and theatre for a cause, portrays the common concern about the exploration of ways in which the formal qualities of their art form creates a dialogue on ways in which important socio-political issues affect the everyday lives of people. Sheema explains that she believes that culture and cultural activists, the arts and creative media present many opportunities for promoting the understanding of human rights, and forging unity and awareness amongst the people.
Since its inception in 1980, Sheema Kermani’s Tehrik-e-Niswan (women’s movement) has consistently strived to raise awareness about women’s rights in Pakistan through cultural and artistic expression, using the medium of theatre, dance, music and video productions.

By Schezee Zaidi

The portrayal of the most glorifying human emotion of compassion and love as the core element to fight extremism and hatred was at the heart of ‘Jinnay Lahore ni Vekhya’ at the PNCA drama festival.

The popular play, staged by Sheema Kermani and her group Tehrik-e-Niswan on Friday and Saturday at the National Art Gallery Auditorium, was well received by the audience Continue reading

Cleric’s killing turns Pakistan public against the Taliban

Pamela Constable, The Washington Post

LAHORE, Pakistan – The modest office where Sarfraz Naeemi kept his library and received visitors seeking spiritual guidance is now a charred hole. The floor is strewn with burned pages, glass shards and ball bearings from a young suicide bomber’s lethal vest. Continue reading

Pakistan’s Media Crucial In Fight Against Extremists

By Madiha Sattar, HuffingtonPost Contributor

“So, it’s not okay for women to be touched by male doctors but male executioners can hold hands and slap bottoms in front of milling crowds?” asked a Lahore-based lawyer in an April 6 op-ed in Pakistan’s English-language daily The News.

“Apparently only girls must be punished for their libido. Boys, after all, become men when they can ‘tap that’.” Continue reading

Lahori civil society speaks

Zinda dilaan-e-Lahore say no to Talibanisation, reports Raza Rumi

Never before have we citizens been traumatised with an uncertain future and the knocks of destruction at our door as is the case in the year 2009. The celebrated twenty first century has, if nothing else, blown the contradictions of Pakistani society and state right into our faces. One hundred and eighty million people cannot be spectators to the imperial great games and a callous state that gropes in the dark trying to locate the ‘enemy’ outside, instead of looking into its own crevices and cracks.

Not that Lahore has been a haven of peace in recent years – the inequities, the crime levels have been on the rise. However, March 2009 witnessed two Continue reading

MY FRIEND, THE ENEMY

- The middle class of Lahore feels encircled and beleaguered

The Telegraph – POLITICS AND PLAY RAMACHANDRA GUHA

In the summer of 2008, I accepted an invitation to participate in a meeting of historians to be held in Lahore. On November 24, after months of trying, I finally got a visa from the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi. Two days later, terrorists based in or coming from Pakistan struck in Mumbai. Inevitably, tensions escalated between the two countries.

My meeting was scheduled for the first week of January. Should I go? Must I go? With these questions on my mind, I went off to the Niligiris on a family holiday. A few days before the new year dawned, the ministry of external affairs issued a travel advisory, asking Indian citizens not to travel to Pakistan. My mother, for whom this 50-year-old is, well, still a boy, urged me to heed the advisory. An aunt added that I had no business to visit an “enemy country”, one which, as she put it, “was full of Muslims”. But their sentiments and reservations were vetoed by my teenage daughter, who insisted that I must go to Pakistan, if only to show that “not all of us hate all of them”.

If I chose finally to go ahead with my visit, it was partly out of a sense of professional obligation — some colleagues had been kind enough to invite me, and I could not let them down — and partly out of curiosity — what would Pakistan be like at a time like this? Continue reading

‘Hotel Mohanjodaro’, staged by the Ajoka Theatre

LAHORE: A group photograph of Governor Salmaan Taseer and performers of the play ‘Hotel Mohanjodaro’, produced by the Ajoka Theatere at the Al-Hamra Arts Council. APP

Yasser Hamdani at Chowk writes: We must learn a lesson from Abbas’s prophecy and stop this decay before it consumes us, as Pakistanis and as Muslims. Even as a has no real conception of clergy. Repeatedly the Quran calls upon the Muslims to live their own lives without interferences from the holy men and witchdoctors. Then why are we tolerating the Mullah in the name of ? The Mullah is no defender of . He is a parasite sucking the very life blood out of our . Obscurantism and retrogressive will lead us no where but to total destruction. We will be humiliated and in the words of Iqbal ‘tumhari dastan tak bhee na ho gi dastanon mein’. The Muslims world over should decry this unnatural priesthood conferred upon the mullah.

Watch the video clips below: Continue reading