Archive for August, 2010

From News of the World (left to right): Bowler Asif, skipper Butt, bowler Amir, keeper Akmal

For many of us who grew up in Pakistan, our childhoods were filled with memories of cricket blaring on the television, children playing the sport on the street, even the Howzat popsicles Wall’s promoted in conjunction with major sporting matches. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis are all icons, not just in the cricketing world, but among all Pakistanis. We are a country that bleeds for cricket. So you can imagine the outrage that has been generated from the latest spot-fixing scandal, in which several members of the Pakistan national cricket team allegedly took bribes for rigging a match against England. Below, Shaheryar Mirza, a reporter with Express 24/7 and a self-confessed cricket fanatic, delves into the scandal below:

On Sunday, The News of the World broke a sensational story, reporting that a cricket fixer, Mazhar Majeed,  accepted  £150,000 pounds for allegedly directing Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif to deliver three ‘no-balls’ at specific junctures during the final test match against England at Lords.  Hidden-camera footage shows Mazhar Majeed accepting money from a reporter posing as a member of  a ‘Far East gambling cartel’ and players Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz taking jackets lined with cash from Majeed, apparently in return for having done his bidding.  The News of the World’s video dossier also shows Majeed bragging that he bribed the players to deliver those no-balls at that precise time.

The players at the center of the controversy are Salman Butt (Captain) Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. A total of seven players are suspected to be a part of the fix (two could be Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz as they also appear in video footage), though Butt and Akmal are said to be the ‘kingpins’ of the scam. Video footage of the bowlers delivering no-balls exactly when Majeed said they would is the smoking gun, particularly since Amir’s no ball is so blatant and exaggerated and bowlers rarely ever miss the mark by that much a margin.

In the worst-case scenario, Pakistan’s players will be found guilty of spot-fixing and the investigations will lead to greater information on match-fixing and other such misconduct by Pakistan’s players and the offenders will be banned – for life.  The Pakistan Cricket Board, (PCB) which has also come under fire and has been held responsible for this embarrassment, could choose to make an example of the players to let themselves off the hook. Calls for the PCB to be dissolved can be heard on every channel in the country.

Pakistani players have had little credibility since the match-fixing scandals of the 1990’s and the Pakistan Cricket Board has always been accused of being soft on offenders.  That reputation will be more deeply entrenched among Pakistani fans and followers of the sport around the world. Like all scandals, the outrage will intensify as the scandal unfolds, but after punishment is meted out, it will slowly fade to the back of people’s minds and Pakistani players will continue to perform through a haze of suspicion, as they done have over the last decade.

However, the biggest casualty of this scandal will undoubtedly be Mohammad Amir. The teenage strike bowler is arguably the biggest find for Pakistani bowling since Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Not only does he have immense natural talent, he has ability years beyond his experience. Amir is also blessed to be born with a high cricket I.Q., for lack of a better term. Fans of Pakistan cricket will be torn between feelings of betrayal and the desire to see Mohammad Amir fulfill his potential as a legend of Pakistani bowling.

That is where the toughest question arises out of this scandal; should Mohammad Amir be banned for life if he is found guilty? The heart says no. Despite how embarrassing and filthy it is to cheat at Test level, and that too at Lords, the Mecca of cricket, a lifetime ban would be disproportionate. To make an example out of him would be understandable, but not justified. This is a first-time offense for Amir and he is not guilty of fixing an entire match. At the end of the day, he is an eighteen-year-old kid and could not have been complicit in a scam of this proportion without senior players leading him into it.

This is ultimately a failure of the PCB to adequately chaperone Amir and shield him from people like Majeed who have preyed on much more experienced and knowing players in the past. Those senior players like Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Asif are all responsible for this if it turns out to be true. A lifetime ban for all three of the previously mentioned players would be justified and Mohammad Asif, in fact, would deserve such a punishment as it is obvious he has not learned from his past mistakes. While Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal may also be first-time offenders, one is the captain and the other is a senior player in the squad. Make examples of them. Not Mohammad Amir.

‘Match fixing’ where the entire outcome of the match is pre-determined and ‘fancy-fixing’ where certain scores by a batsmen or a specific number of runs within a certain amount of overs are predetermined, plague the game and every country that plays the sport. In numerous conversations I’ve had with reporters who have covered cricket for over two decades, fixing is mentioned casually as a fact in their conversations about the sport. Some insiders say that match-fixing has gone down to the extent of their knowledge, but it is still frequent and reaches the highest levels of cricket, including cricket boards.

The players and boards are still just pawns of a much greater game being played by gambling syndicates. The amount of money at stake in cricket has skyrocketed with India netting the greatest profits from the sport and as a result also plays host to the biggest gambling syndicates. Mazhar Majeed, the man at the center of the controversy, expressed that he deals with ‘an Indian party’. These gambling syndicates must be investigated all over the world. As long as they can readily get access to players, fixing will continue to plague the game. In an ideal world, honest players would be the greatest protection against this, but sport has proven time and again that people do cheat for the right price.

I run the risk of sounding like an apologist calling for Mohammad Amir to be excused for embarrassing the entire nation. But in my defense, I would rather see action taken against gambling syndicates. The first rule of journalism and also in crime-fighting is ‘follow the money’. The money lies with the syndicates as does the highest form of accountability. Give a lifetime ban to the three senior players I mentioned earlier. Dissolve the wretched and systematically corrupt Pakistan Cricket Board while you’re at it. Mohammad Amir should not be made an example for the Pakistan Cricket Board’s failure to prevent and punish fixing in the past. Do punish Amir, but the calls for a life-long ban are unfair. Mohammad Amir is a rare player who has the potential to give back immeasurably to international cricket for a decade to come. He could certainly give back much more than he would have taken away by bowling those two no-balls.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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The Bright Spots Amid the Gray

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Pakistan hasn’t had a lot to be positive about lately. Last summer, millions were displaced from their homes due to military operations against the Pakistani Taliban in northwest Pakistan. This year, about 12 million are affected by the flood disaster, with authorities estimating that reconstruction will take up to three years after the rains subside. Beyond all of that Pakistan has a volatile political situation, a continuing militant threat, and a weak economy. Last week, two brothers were brutally murdered by a mob in Sialkot as police officers looked on, a horrific atrocity that sparked anguish and outrage among Pakistanis, [Rabayl has a brilliant piece on the incident here].

So much of this makes me sad, infuriated, and sick to my stomach. But yesterday, while reading through various articles on the floods and disaster relief, I realized that we so often get engulfed by the negativity, by the tragedy of our circumstances, that we sometimes miss the bright spots amid the gray. The floods in Pakistan are the worst disaster any of us have lived through. But it is also within this tragedy that we have seen real heroes that demonstrate what citizen action truly mean.

In Karachi, fellow bloggers Faisal Kapadia and Awab Alvi, both part of the 4×4 Offroaders Club, have been using their “off-roading skills to deliver life-saving supplies to flood victims across nearly impassible terrain and waters,” noted CNN. They have distributed 100 tents and about eight truckloads of food to affected families in Sindh. Awab told CNN, “We could have stayed home and watched this happen on TV. But someone has to take the next step.”

Future Leaders of Pakistan, an organization of young Pakistanis, has also been coordinating flood relief for those affected by the disaster. Last week, Sana Saleem wrote about their trip to Thatta, Sujjawal and Sharif Solangi in Sindh, providing relief to over 500 families. Over at her blog, Sana provided a guide to others planning to provide relief on the ground, including ways to manage and coordinate aid with large crowds, see here.

Faisal Chohan, a senior TED fellow and founder BrightSpyre & Cogilent Solutions, recently set up PakReport.org, an initiative that allows citizens to text observations and report incidents about the disaster to create a dynamic and comprehensive crowdmap about the flood situation on the ground. One of the team members told the Express Tribune, “What happens is that people send in reports via text, email or web, indicating a need. The map then plots the need and also notifies NGOS and relief agencies working in the area. If they have resources, they can help.” The online initiative employs Ushahidi software in order to visually categorize the needs on the ground.

Other social entrepreneurs, such as the Kashf Foundation, are also involved in disaster relief. Naya Jeevan, a social enterprise that provides quality health insurance to the urban poor [see here for CHUP’s interview with Asher Hasan], has partnered with two credible NGOs – Shine Humanity and UM Trust – to provide health care to families in the hardest-hit areas. Naya Jeevan is also distributing Ramadan calendars to raise money to provide health insurance to people in the flood-affected districts.

Overseas, the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which includes 13 UK humanitarian agencies, has raised £40 million from the British public for flood relief efforts in Pakistan. According to the website, “The Disasters Emergency Committee said it had never seen such an extraordinary pattern of giving for any appeal in its 45 year history. Donations usually spike sharply in the first week after the appeals are broadcast and then drop significantly in the second and particularly the third weeks.” DEC Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said,

This belies all talk of donor fatigue. Growing awareness of the sheer scale of the disaster has seen the public continue to respond to the needs of people who are in dire need of help. Their generosity has been astounding.

In the U.S., where “donor fatigue” has become the chief buzz word of late, donations are nowhere near the scale we saw following the Haiti earthquake earlier this year. But, via Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched two weeks ago, we’ve seen numerous Americans – not just Pakistani-Americans – step forward, being a part of an effort that has raised $81,000 as of today for Mercy Corps’ first response relief efforts on the ground, [see this past post for more on the campaign]. I’ve also read and heard of numerous efforts occurring throughout the country, all in a push to mobilize support for Pakistan. The Acumen Fund, for example, recently launched “On the Ground in Pakistan,” an initiative that allows users to add their observations and appeals to their “tapestry” online. Today, the Gates Foundation also donated $700,000 for those affected by the floods.

I was lucky enough to be part of Riz Khan‘s show on Al Jazeera on Wednesday, where Mosharraf Zaidi, Sir John Holmes, and I discussed the issue of “donor fatigue,” [see below]. My heart breaks on a regular basis for Pakistan. At the same time though, I am so inspired by the amount of people I have seen take action amid this tragedy. Their tireless work and commitment to this country should continue to inspire us all.

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America, the Islamophobic?

Cover of TIME Magazine

On Tuesday night, a NYC cab driver was stabbed several times by Michael Enright, a reportedly “intoxicated” passenger. Enright allegedly stabbed Ahmed H. Sharif after Enright asked him whether or not he was Muslim. According to USA Today,

In a statement Wednesday the from New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Sharif warned his fellow cabbies. “Right now the public sentiment is very serious” because of the ground zero mosque debate, he said. “All drivers should be more careful…I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before,” he said.

The incident sparked immediate debate among pundits, bloggers, and blogger-pundits alike, as many tried to analyze whether the stabbing was not only a hate crime but a reflection of growing Islamophobia in America (Max Fisher over at The Atlantic Wire has a good run-down of the commentary). Juan Cole didn’t blame Enright (who apparently works for Intersections International, a New York-based “global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith…and other boundaries that divide humanity,” which had recently announced their support for Park 51, previously known as the Cordoba House, more famously dubbed as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’.). Cole blamed the Republican National Committee. He wrote:

I have said for some time that the American Right’s scapegoating of ordinary American Muslims– Muslims who serve in the US military, die for our country, invest in our cities, find cures for diseases, save our children’s lives in hospitals– would eventually cause pogroms and get people killed. A New York cabbie came close to dying for the sake of the G.O.P. Tuesday night.

So what ultimately drove Enright to stab this cab driver? Was it the messaging of the RNC, as Cole suggests, that incited violence? Or was this an isolated incident that shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of a larger phenomenon?

It’s a tough question. Taking the stabbing as a reflection of growing Islamaphobia in America would ultimately be the same thing as buying into the notion that Faisal Shahzad, the wannabe Time Square bomber, was a reflection of homegrown extremism, wouldn’t it? At the same time, at what point do isolated incidents – Pastor Terry Jones calling for a bonfire of Qurans on September 11th in Florida, protests and fear-mongering over Park 51, and a stabbing – all motivated by a fear/hatred/intolerance of Islam – become part of a wider trend? Moreover, if the media didn’t disproportionately cover these issues within the Islamaphobia context, would we be having this conversation?

Update: (via @alexlobov and @venkatananth) Another day, another drunken anti-Islam incident. This time, “an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs,” reported MSNBC. In Fresno, California, there have been a spate of hate crimes committed against a mosque. The imam walked into the Madera Islamic Center today to find a pair of menacing signs, including one that read, “Wake up America, the enemy is here.

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The WTF List of the Week

LOL Cat says WTF.

TGIF! Here is my round-up of events/developments this week that really had me screeching, “WTF” [What the eff], mainly at my computer screen, television, or to no one in particular:

WTF #1: What is up with the U.S.’s unhealthy obsession with President Obama’s religion?! I just don’t understand. Remember when he had to distance himself from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright once upon a time? Let’s break it down. Pastor = Christian. Obama went to Pastor’s sermons. Obama = Christian. How is this hard to comprehend? Why do nearly one-in-five Americans believe that the President is a Muslim? And, more importantly, why does it matter?!

WTF#2: As an addendum to the first WTF, please observe this Washington Times piece by Jeffrey Kuhner, entitled, “Obama’s Islamic Agenda.” He wrote,

Mr. Obama openly bragged about his “Muslim background” and that his family had “followers of Islam.” He spoke of his youth in Indonesia, his study of the Koran and the call to Islamic prayer. In short, he discovered his inner Muslim in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Arab street.

God forbid we all get in touch with our “inner Muslim” by being tolerant, worldly, and developing some form of cultural understanding. To drive home his point – that Obama loves the Muslim World more than Amuuurrica, here was the accompanying photo:

Greg Groesch for The Washington Times

See everyone! Underneath Obama’s makeup, he is a Muslim in disguise! He even has a tatoo on his cheek to prove it! Alert the media! We have a Hajji in our midst!


WTF#3: American news channels, politicians, and figures – can we please stop with the coverage about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque“?! It’s not a mosque. It’s not at Ground Zero. Let’s reach a compromise and move on. Sarah Palin, I know the withdrawal symptoms from Twitter bashing (“twashing”) may be tough at first, but you’ll get over it. There are far more important things we should be talking about, which leads me to…

WTF#4: The U.S. media’s concentration on Obama’s religion and Park 51 (aka, the “Ground Zero Mosque”) means there’s been relatively little coverage of an enormous humanitarian disaster – the floods in Pakistan. And we wonder why many Americans aren’t that aware of the devastation of this disaster, which is ongoing. Also, when the Western media does cover the floods, it’s often done through a negative lens, and the human loss and impact of this disaster gets lost in the process. Can we please, for the love of God, recognize the millions suffering without bringing Zardari’s spending habits into the equation or the Islamist issue? Cover the disaster in a way that does justice to the families who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, to the many who don’t give a damn about politics or “strategic interests.” They care about surviving and they care about the day-to-day. Remember that.

WTF#5: Dear Pakistani government, your response to the disaster in Pakistan has been atrocious. As a Pakistani citizen, one who is peddling like mad to drum up funds to send back home, I am disgusted with your political pot shots, your disinterest in your own people, and your lip service to something unfolding in front of your eyes. Everyone has pledged aid – even Afghanistan – who barely has anything right now. If every leader who defaulted on their loans or didn’t pay taxes actually dug into their pockets, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t be calling us selfish beggars.

WTF#6: India offered aid to Pakistan when the floods began. What do our illustrious leaders do? They considered it. They refused to offer visas to 400 Indian doctors ready to come across the border and help flood victims. Even if Pakistan “accepted” the aid, why on earth did it take so long?! You might as well have taken that good will and thrown it out the window.

WTF#7: Via Huma Imtiaz (and an Express Tribune report):

The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.

Are you kidding me with this crap? Aid should be colorblind, because disasters are indiscriminate with who they impact. Your response, dear clerics (or whoever was behind this), should not be contingent on your prejudices. It should embrace every single family suffering because of this disaster. WTF.

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Photo by Ali Khurshid

If you follow the international news (or at least read this blog somewhat regularly), then you are well aware of the increasingly dire situation in Pakistan. Over 20 million Pakistanis have been affected by weeks of flooding, as the rains continue to displace families from their homes, fan dangers of cholera outbreaks, and destroy livelihoods. Pakistan’s senior meteorologist Arif Mahmood told reporters that floodwaters “won’t fully recede until the end of the month, and existing river torrents were still heading to major cities such as Hyderabad and Sukkur in the south.”

Mahmood’s prediction essentially means that the floods will continue for two more weeks, making it difficult to quell the damage of this disaster and for relief agencies to provide adequate responses on the ground. As we all encourage others to dig into their pockets and help the millions in need (Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched last week, has so far raised over $30,000), we also need to remain cognizant of the realities that can hinder this relief. Here are some:

  1. The continuation of the rain, even if it’s less heavy this week, makes it difficult for relief teams to reach the people in need. Last Friday, I attended a USAID discussion on the situation in Pakistan, where the speaker noted that there are now 15 American military helicopters in Pakistan. The State Department website notes, “U.S. helicopters have evacuated 5,912 people and delivered 717,713 pounds of relief supplies.” However, noted the USAID official last week, helicopters can’t exactly fly when it’s raining. So relief teams have to rely on four-wheel drives, trucks and even donkeys, often delaying delivery time.
  2. The floods have devastated infrastructure, further complicating the delivery of aid. Countless numbers of bridges and roads have been destroyed, washed away, or blocked by landslides. If bridges aren’t repaired more quickly, than aid and food will fail to reach the hundreds of families cut off from relief. (Again, if it wasn’t raining, helicopters could be instrumental in food drops, but their efforts are hampered by the continuing rains).
  3. Because the floods are not over, we still don’t know the full extent of the devastation. Remember when news agencies said over 14 million had been affected by the floods, “more than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined”? Yeah. That was last week. This week, the number is over 20 million. And as the rains continue, more land will be submerged by water, more families will become displaced, and the overall impact will be larger.
  4. Pledged aid does not translate to aid delivered. The United Nations today announced that international aid is arriving too slowly, while some organizations are running out of resources. According to Al Jazeera, “The World Food Programme has warned that it needs more money to support Pakistan’s food supplies, which are “under significant pressure.'” So two issues here – first, not enough aid. Second, the aid that has been pledged by governments can take weeks of lead time to trickle into the system. Daniel Toole, the South Asia regional director for Unicef, told Al Jazeera, “We cannot spend pledges. We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges.” Ted Itani, from the International Red Cross & Red Crescent, echoed, “I can only spend cash that is in my budget. Although donors have pledged millions of dollars it has to filter down into my account so I can order things before the onset of winter.”
  5. Again, pledges. They aren’t tangible. According to the BBC News’ Mark Doyle, the United Nations launched a “Flash Appeal” for $459 million to cover the first 90 days of the disaster. Nearly half of this appeal has been raised – $208 million – with a further $42 million pledged but not yet earmarked for specific projects. But, noted Doyle, “Rich “donor” countries often double count their contributions to make themselves look more generous to voters at home, or to curry political favor with particular parts of the world.”
  6. Relief agencies and the Pakistani government aren’t operating in all the affected areas. Much of the current emergency first response relief seems to be concentrated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (particularly Swat Valley) and Sindh provinces. However, very little aid has been delivered to Balochistan, which has also been impacted by the floods, mainly because international agencies can’t operate in those areas. According to ARY Television (via @mirza9), a Balochi official today said only the army are operating in the province. The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), provincial government and the federal government are completely missing on ground.
  7. Emergency first response relief aside, the public health and economic ramifications will be much more severe in the long-term. Dirty flood water and rain = lack of clean water. Lack of clean water = high risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, etc. Relief agencies on the ground, like Mercy Corps (the recipient of the Relief4Pakistan donations), are working to provide clean water, water filtration units, and hygiene kits to not only address the immediate need, but also to prevent future outbreaks of diseases. Mercy Corps, working in Swat and Sukkur (Sindh) is attempting to serve 10,000 people a day with a 20-person team on the ground. Moreover, noted TIME, “Last week, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the floods had destroyed crops worth around $1 billion. By conservative Pakistani estimates, the figure is at least double that.”
  8. Finally, the millions affected by the floods aren’t just suffering, they’re pissed off. And justifiably so. News agencies today noted affectees’ anger at the government, which they say has not provided enough aid to the people who deserve it most. This was not helped by President Zardari‘s Europe visit or the fact that PM Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly visited a fake relief camp on Wednesday, one that was allegedly erected “hours” before his arrival. Residents of the camp, which was also “wound up” after his departure, told Dawn that they had been “living out in the open, with no shelter.” Zardari recently acknowledged that the government response has so far been inadequate, noting, “Yes, the situation could have been better. Yes, the arrangements could have been made better. Yes, everything could have been better.

For those who want to continue to do more and fill in these gaps, you should continue to donate to vetted agencies working on the ground. I’ve provided a list here, and have plugged my own campaign, Relief4Pakistan in my last post. Donations can go a long way, further than pledges that can get caught in bureaucratic red tape. More importantly, you can raise awareness about the situation, particularly if you live overseas. If you live in Pakistan, you can and should take part in the PakRelief Crowdmap, which creates a dynamic map of the flood emergency and directs relief agencies to those area. This effort is vital in an environment where efforts are often duplicated, or for certain areas don’t receive enough attention. To submit your own observations to the Crowdmap, text about the disaster to 3441, beginning the message with “FL” for flood relief. See here for the website, and here for the Facebook page.

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AFP/Getty: The Proposed Site - A former Burlington Coat Factory

Not when people in the anti-GZM (Ground Zero Mosque) camp are likening the people behind the community center to Nazis. Oh yeah. I’m talking about former House speaker Newt Gingrich. According to the Washington Post,

Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” Gingrich insisted, speaking of the museum where just a year ago a guard was killed by a white supremacist trying to enter the building with a gun.

I know what you’re thinking – this debate has gone on for far too long. And yet, here we are, and the cacophony of voices on the issue continue to rise. Last Friday, President Obama made an “endorsement” of the proposed Islamic community center [see here for my last post on the debate], but reportedly “retreated” on the issue the next day, telling reporters that Muslims “have the right to build a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, but he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so.” The President later told CNN,

My intention was to simply let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country, we treat everybody equally in accordance with the law. Regardless of race. Regardless of religion. I was not commenting on and will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country’s about and I think it’s very important that as difficult as some of these issues are, we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.

Obama’s comments sparked further statements and political stances on the issues, most surprisingly from people within his own party. Senate Majority Leader and prominent Democrat Harry Reid, who is running for elections in November, reportedly came out against the building of the Cordoba House, the oft-dubbed, “Ground Zero Mosque.” His spokesman, Jim Manley, said in an email, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Amid all the political posturing and hedging, though, came perhaps one of the more rational voices on the issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – a Republican – “essentially cast a pox on both parties’ houses,” noted Politico, saying both Republicans and Democrats are using the issue as a “political football.” Christie emphasized,

I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day at the hands of radical Muslim extremists. And their sensitivities and concerns have to be taken into account…On the other hand, we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. … We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this, is that it’s being used as a political football by both parties.

What Christie noted above is very true – the issue surrounding the Cordoba House [now being called Park 51] – a community center that will house a prayer space, as well as restaurants, auditoriums, and interfaith programming – has been politicized by lawmakers/figures who care more about garnering votes than the damage this politicization has had on the underlying issues at hand. Moreover, it appears increasingly clear that the two sides are incapable of having a rational discussion on the center because they are not even talking about the same issue.

For many in favor of the center and its construction, the debate seems to center on protection and advocacy of religious freedom. Keith Olbermann in a “special comment” on his MSNBC show Monday, noted, “Yet in a country dedicated to freedom, forces have gathered to blow out of all proportion the construction of a minor community center…” For those against the construction of center, they claim Muslims are “free” to build a mosque, but they shouldn’t because it’s “insensitive” to build one two blocks from Ground Zero. And essentially this is insensitive because the perpetrators behind the 9/11 attacks belong in the same checkbox as the Muslims behind the center.

Blogger Cop in the Hood wrote,

45 and 47 Park Place. You can punch it into Google and see where it is. It’s near where the World Trade Center was. Two blocks away, to be precise. So is the Hudson River. So is City Hall Park. I mean, in lower Manhattan, everything is close. If people really want to create a “no-mosque zone,” at want point exactly would it be OK to build a mosque?

As the debate becomes intensified and more polarized, is there a solution in sight? Professor Akbar Ahmed, author of the new study, Journey into America, proposes one in a recent CNN op-ed, when he noted, “For a start, the imam in New York should ensure that the cultural center — which he has clarified is not simply a mosque — invites Christians and Jews to include a church and a synagogue so that the building is truly a symbol of interfaith worship. That is the American way.”
So, turning Park 51 into an interfaith center instead? A potential solution or one that still gives legitimacy to the anti-GZM voices? What do you think?

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The Relief4Pakistan Campaign

NYT: Flood Victims Near Multan

Today, news agencies report that Sindh province is currently bracing for a second round of heavy floods, and authorities warn “it could be as big as the first wave, which displaced millions and destroyed thousands of homes.” According to Al Jazeera English, “Authorities said waters have unexpectedly begun to rise at the Kotri barrage along the Indus river in southern Sindh, and now threaten to overrun the embankments around the barrage. Flooding at Kotri could potentially threaten the city of Hyderabad.”

So far, more than 1,600 have been confirmed dead since the flooding began in Pakistan two weeks ago, though this toll will rise as the disaster continues to spread and the threat of water-borne diseases like cholera rises. Villages have been swept away. Hundreds of families have been displaced from their homes, their livelihoods destroyed. Over 14 million people have been affected by these floods, more than the 2004 Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.

Since the flooding began, I have laid awake at night, haunted by the images of the tragedy – families wading through what was once their homes, villages submerged under water, people frantically escaping to safe areas not already destroyed by the floods. This disaster is bigger than anything you or I have seen in recent years. But it is not productive to just lament about the loss and tragedy of this disaster. It is not enough to hang our heads or blame leaders for their lack of action. If we want to help the millions suffering, we have to actually do something to help.

As many of you know, I’m the director of Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources. Social Vision provides seed funding and support for innovative initiatives and social entrepreneurs/enterprises in their earliest stages. Earlier this week, I received a call from my friend, Mahnaz Fancy, who was one of the founders of Pakistani Peace Builders, a new initiative of Pakistani-Americans and concerned global citizens, the group behind the recent Sufi Music Festival in New York City. Mahnaz shared many of my same frustrations about responses to the disaster, and offered the most time-sensitive solution – a grassroots donation campaign to benefit the millions impacted by the floods in Pakistan, a campaign that would appeal to both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis.

We got to work immediately, designing a campaign that would leverage social media and grassroots giving to fund raise in the most efficient way possible. Therefore, rather than five people giving funds to five different (albeit all well-deserving) organizations, this campaign would enable those same five people to donate to one relief organization, an agency we had thoroughly vetted and were in close contact with. Therefore, the campaign aims to centralize donations in order to maximize impact of those funds.

This of course was a lot easier said than done, given the tremendous work of numerous relief agencies on the ground, both international and Pakistani. However, after much deliberation and due diligence, ML Social Vision and PPB chose Mercy Corps, a global aid agency, as the direct recipient of these donations. We made this decision based on Mercy Corps’ stellar reputation and credibility in the West and on the ground, its transparency, its ability to respond quickly to emergencies, and its previous work in Pakistan. Not only has the organization already launched its fundraising appeal, it also coordinates directly with local communities and organizations in Pakistan. Mercy Corps also doesn’t attempt to do too much, and instead concentrates on doing things well – it’s currently focusing on providing clean water, staple foods and clean-up tools for affected families mainly in Swat Valley and Sindh, two of the worst hit areas.

On Thursday, our campaign – Relief4Pakistan – went live, and we set our first fundraising goal at $100,000, with ML Social Vision providing the first $10,000 to jump start the campaign. Since then, we have managed to raise over $19,000, which is fantastic, but we still have a way to go before hitting our goal. So please, donate by clicking here. Every dollar (or foreign currency!) counts. The money will go directly towards Mercy Corps and will be earmarked for their flood efforts. You can also join our Facebook page, where you will receive updates on our progress,  news on the disaster, as well as updates we will post from Mercy Corps’ efforts on the ground. Given that tomorrow is Pakistan Day, there is nothing more patriotic you can do than donate or support the numerous families affected by the floods. If you decide to hold your own fundraiser, and are not sure where to donate the funds you receive, please feel free to contact us or donate it directly.

At a time of such tremendous tragedy, the best way to make a difference is to help. Thanks and Happy Pakistan Day!

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My crappy attempt at image splicing...

On most days, I use Twitter to find interesting insight about the news or Pakistan. Today, though, many Pakistani Twitter users found a far more “patriotic” use of our time. Fitting, really, since August 14th (Pakistan Independence Day) is fast approaching.

Allow me introduce you to the PAKISTAN HULK. Or, #PAKISTANHULK. He is angry. He is green. He is Pakistani. He is also knock-off (slash pirated version) of others like, @MuslimHulk, @FeministHulk, and even @DrunkHulk. Who are they? Who cares? But they come up with gems like:


So dear readers, yours truly and others decided enough was enough. Pakistanis have a hell of a lot to be angry about these days. Enter #PAKISTANHULK. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Pakistan Hulk likes conspiracy:

Gotta love the shorts:

Ah, peer pressure:


For more PAKISTAN HULK brilliance, check out the hashtag trend. Now all we need is someone to officially launch a @PakistanHulk Twitter account and my life will be complete. Anyone? Bueller?

Ramazan Mubarak everyone and a Happy Pakistan Day in advance! ( A far more sober post on the floods will be up soon, but thought we all need a little comic relief.)

Update: Someone out there was listening! @PakistanHulk now exists on Twitter!

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Zardari, Shoes & Floods

"The shoe was not...a Ferragamo...no..."

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal released an op-ed by President Asif Ali Zardari defending his Europe tour, a trip that garnered tremendous criticism and even resulted in shoes being lobbed in his direction.

Yes, shoes. Nice throwback to Bush in Iraq in 2008, don’t you think?

In the article “written” by Zardari, he noted,

As the floods hit the country, I faced a dilemma as head of state. I could stay in Pakistan and support the prime minister in our response to the floods, or I could continue with a scheduled visit abroad. I chose to use my travels to mobilize foreign assistance—money, supplies, food, tents, medical care, engineers, clean water and medicine—for our people. Some have criticized my decision, saying it represented aloofness, but I felt that I had to choose substance over symbolism.

To an extent, I agree with the-aide-writing-as-Zardari. If he had stayed in Pakistan instead of jetting off to Europe, would that have made an enormous difference to the government’s response, or lack thereof, to the floods? Probably not.

He went on to add,

I might have benefited personally from the political symbolism of being in the country at the time of natural disaster. But hungry people can’t eat symbols. The situation demanded action, and I acted to mobilize the world.

Mister President, I agree with fellow bloggers that media attention on your trip has been overblown and took away from the much more serious issues at hand. But I am not sure a Europe jaunt was the necessary step in “mobilizing the world.” Couldn’t a phone call have sufficed? Skype? A few smiley faces and lol’s can go a long way these days.

But regardless of our feelings toward Zardari’s trip, the series of developments prior to and upon his return are even more frustrating. After the GEO and ARY television networks aired the shoe-hurling incident against Zardari, the two stations’ signals were reportedly “blacked out” in parts of Sindh. Geo’s managing director Azhar Abbas told CNN, “Activists of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party are threatening cable operators to take Geo off the air as well as cut cables of operators in Karachi and interior Sindh.” Copies of the Jang group’s daily Urdu newspaper, the Daily Jang, were also set on fire, and when a group of PPP activists surrounded Geo’s building Tuesday, “law enforcement groups did nothing to stop them.”

While the threat of media groups is a dangerous phenomenon, it is also exacerbated by these outlets’ responses, which sensationalize reports and further this cycle. All the while, the attention that should be dedicated to the 14 million affected by the floods in Pakistan is diverted to far less important things. So shame on you. Shame on all of you.

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Bilawal and the PPP Throne

Image: Telegraph

Anger continues to rise against President Asif Ali Zardari, as critics lambast the leader for jetting off on a Europe tour while the country faces devastating floods and violence. After his meeting with British PM David Cameron [who made some very controversial remarks against Pakistan last week], Zardari told reporters,

Storms will come and storms will go, and Pakistan and Britain will stand together and face all the difficulties with dignity.

Storms will come and storms will go“? Very sensitive analogy, Mister President, particularly when 4.5 million people have been affected by floods caused by torrential storms.

Attention has also been directed towards Bilawal Bhutto, son of Zardari and the late Benazir, the “heir” of the Pakistan People’s Party. In a biting article entitled, “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born to Rule Pakistan, but Destined to Fail,” the Telegraph‘s Dan Nelson wrote,

So this Saturday, the Bhutto-Zardari family will present Bilawal Zardari, or “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari” as he is now known, as the PPP’s new leader, head of the family business, at a party rally in Birmingham. Despite his tender age and minimal experience of Pakistan, the young scion of one of the country’s wealthiest feudal families will take over the reins of the country’s largest political party…It’s a position for which there was neither contest nor welcome contestants. While the PPP has a number of promising up-and-coming MPs, like Palwasha Khan, or inspirational and able veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan (the former interior minister who led the successful lawyers’ movement to reinstate the deposed chief justice), merit simply doesn’t come into it.

In a statement released Thursday though, Bilawal “categorically denied” that he would be launching his political career tomorrow, emphasizing that he is instead opening a donation point for the flood victims in Pakistan. He stated, “I felt it was necessary to issue a statement to counter some inaccurate information that has recently been reported. As for my future plans, I intend to continue my education both academic and political.”

The back-and-forth has left me both perturbed and irritated. First, why are we still so surprised and incenced by the presence of dynastic politics in Pakistan? Yes, it is disturbing that the PPP and political parties in the region as a whole portray political office more as a family business than a merit-based career. But isn’t that also something fundamentally wrong with society’s perception of politics? Don’t we, at the end of the day, vote [at least some of] our leaders into power? If dynasties have become the norm in the region, then society also plays a role in perpetuating the reality of personality-based politics.

Second, are we selective in our criticism of Bilawal Bhutto? I find it interesting that past coverage of his political journey have been framed alongside the presence of his cousin Fatima Bhutto, not veteran politicians who have devoted their careers to the PPP. Articles have discussed who is more “deserving” of the PPP throne, with Jemima Khan acidly noting in 2008, “If everything’s in a name, Fatima need not have changed hers in order to inherit. Brought up in Pakistan, unlike Bilawal, and a native speaker, she is an established writer and political commentator. At least she has some work experience. Aunt Benazir’s first-ever job was prime minister of a 160-million-strong nation.” Yowza. Catty.

While I am not a proponent of personality politics, and certainly not of the paradoxical “dynastic democracies,” I do think it’s important to go beyond being angry about Bilawal Bhutto and ask deeper questions about the prevailing reality of Pakistan. Also, I do think (as I mentioned in my last post) that we really should be concentrating our energies elsewhere – like actually donating our time and money towards the millions of people impacted by the floods. Isn’t that what’s really important right now?

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