The Bottomless Cup

Month: July, 2010

The Muslim Pacifist & The Need for Reverse Empathy

Right when I was telling her I was a Muslim, I could sense confusion in her eyes, because we really clicked as friends. She mustered up the courage to say “I find something disturbingly wrong in your religion.”. I could identify with her, for being enclosed in a bubble that is America, where the freedom of press has ironically lead to a very one-dimensional image of the Islamic world, she felt what many uninformed Americans felt but didn’t have the courage to say. I responded by saying “If I were you, I would have probably felt the same way.” I meant it. At the same time, I was determined to prove her wrong.

Therein lay my idea of how interfaith peace can be achieved. Muslims often respond to statements made about Islam being aggressive by being aggressive themselves and hence tarnishing the image of Islam as a very peaceful religion. When we expect people of other faiths to empathize with us, we need to empathize with them as well. Just like the common citizens of any country, the ordinary person in America has very limited international exposure, and often relies on the television as his or her window to the world. When they see the anti-Muslim sentiments and the terrorism around the world, they react, like any rational human being, with anger.

In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know that I went for a cultural exchange to America for 10 days in the spring, where we met a group of students from an American Charter High School called “City High”. These were a group of very bright students with a very limited exposure to the rest of the world. We were there to do a “Cultural Show and Tell” of sorts, where we sat as a Panel in front of a group of around 100 inquisitive students and gave them the freedom to ask us anything about our religion and culture. Some interesting questions were “What is the general perception of Americans in the Middle East? Is it negative?” and “Do you invite American intervention?”. We were blunt and said that it is negative, but only because we struggle to differentiate between the American people and the American Policy makers (just like they fail to differentiate between a Muslim and an Islamic extremists). American Intervention is welcomed, but in the fields of Education, Development and Economics, but not when it comes to national security. As they nodded with agreement and a gave out a big smile , these kids made me proud and gave me hope of a brighter future for interfaith peace.

I realized I have become what is popularly known as Islamic Pacifist where I fight for my religion, but with words, ideas and exemplary behavior instead of anger and aggression. I bear in mind that America is still perhaps the most welcoming nation in the world when it comes to accepting minorities.

I am sure many would disagree and say that I reacted softly, but when you look at people like Arslan Iftikhar (A Muslim-American Pacifist Lawyer fighting for the rights of Muslims in America), you will realize the power of pacifism when it comes to bridging the gaps between faiths. Unfortunately, Pakistan has its own checkered record when it comes to accepting its Christian minority. Its interesting how we barely discuss this.

We can achieve a lot if we show some empathy when we expect empathy.

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Did I Stutter?

It’s a big day. I am putting my best foot forward. I dress the part and practice in front of the mirror several times. I even say the prayer that Prophet Moses used to say when he used to stutter. Everything seems perfect. As I am about to talk, my chest holds me back. My lungs feel too constricted to let my words out. I tell myself to relax but it is no use. My palms get sweaty. Sigh, not again…

They say that stuttering has nothing to do with one’s psychological state.According to scientists, It is something that occurs during development, and may be due to a genetic condition or a traumatic event during childhood. Yet, I have not heard of anyone in my family or ancestry who suffers from a stutter, neither can I recall any childhood trauma. Speech therapists encourage stutterers to look at “background” careers where there is limited social interaction. Bummer.

The funny thing is, I never believed in what people say about the stutter. Wikipedia gives a million biological reasons for the stutter, and yet I believe the cure is in my hands. Thanks to the tremendous support from my friends and family, I’ve gone a very long way.

Not long ago, I could barely complete a sentence in public. And, as you can imagine, I was the victim of ridicule by many. I never figured out why specifically the word “yes” during roll call was so hard. The entire class used to wait for me to mess up again, and that just heightened the situation. They y-y-y-esss’s changed to y-y-y-y-yess’s. And I can’t say I’m ridicule free, even in university! Fatima & Maria still use my “uhhh uhhh” as a comeback to any argument I am having with them.  Hiba says Lady Gaga’s P-P-Pokerface should be my song.

On a serious note, things have truly turned around for me. The monster called The stutter, though still alive, has been tamed. Techniques such as pauses, synonyms and body language help divert people’s attention from my stutter. To my surprise, many people don’t even notice it anymore. My public speaking abilities have dramatically improved, and I am on my way to becoming a more publicly outspoken person. I truly believe in mind over matter when it comes to my stutter, no matter what anyone else says. And it’s working; I aim to be stutter-free in another 5 years. I refuse to do “background work” because of my stutter.

That’s the power of mind over matter.

Is it time for an “Idea Revolution”?

 

In the midst of political, economical and even ideological turmoil, a few intellectuals in Pakistan continue to exhibit exemplary citizenship as they try to resolve Pakistan’s socioeconomic issues by identifying problems at the grassroots level. Despite Pakistan being placed at no. 10 of the Fund for Peace Failed State Rankings, these individuals continue to write, invent and discuss ideas of hope.

Efforts are made to bring these individuals together in order to create a synergy of sorts, such as nationwide, privately organized conferences. The most prominent of such conferences that is gaining momentum among the public is TEDxLahore, which is an independently organized TED event that takes advantage of its local setting to discuss ideas that are pertinent to Pakistan. The speakers hail from a very wide variety of professional and demographic backgrounds but have the common mission to use their genius for the greater good. As a TEDxLahore Logoresult, TEDxLahore wants to bring these people together so that they can discuss and collaborate to dream and achieve even bigger. Appropriately dubbed as “collective genius”, the event makes an effort to involve thinkers even in its audience members. The high demand for attendance gives its organizers the luxury to pick its audience through an online application where prospective audience members have to prove that they can become a valued contributor to this social meeting for intellectuals. With an audience of 400 people and a live stream that is reaching out to a global audience, the organizers are confident that their efforts will bear fruit. Heavy involvement of social media aims to make this project an “idea movement” where intellectuals, independent from a political agenda, call for people to use their talent and brilliant ideas to help their ailing country.

However, such efforts are not always in the form of single events. Several people have set up organizations that are committed to finding solutions for Pakistan’s social problems by ideas through research and academia. One such organization is SEPLAA, which stands for Seeds of Education, Policy & Legal Awareness. Representing itself as a “Think Tank” organization, it comprises of intellectuals, including a handful of lawyers, who perform research on Pakistan’s index_01socioeconomic problems, to influence the opinions of the public and the policy makers. Citizens also have the options of becoming voluntary ‘members’ of the organization so that they can use whatever skill they have to contribute. Like TEDxLahore, SEPLAA relies strongly on the social media to spread its message. The organization maintains several blogs and other social networking accounts that encourages participation and spreads awareness.

The government and political system of Pakistan has a very tarnished reputation as it is believed to largely comprise of uneducated Pakistanis whose sole purpose is achieve personal gains through their positions. Therefore, many of Pakistan’s intellectuals try to disassociate themselves from any government or political institution, and tend to work independently. With the newly found freedom of press in this country, such institutions can achieve their goals without government intervention to a large extent.

Critics claim that ideas do nothing to solve the problems on ground. However, these entities believe that these ideas, coupled with a strong public relations backing (such as the social media), can influence policy makers to do the right thing. There has been success. For instance, organization including SEPLAA pressurized the government of Punjab into including a new clause in the ‘Nikahnama’ (Marriage Contract) that makes it compulsory for couples to undergo a blood test before getting married to avoid birth defects.

Efforts such as the ones mentioned above touch every citizen’s heart primarily because there is a strong need for people who believe that things are not beyond repair. Pakistan appears to have an abundance of people who love to sit back and criticize, and who shamelessly say that the country is doomed. Very few people use whatever talent they have, be it big or little, to do their part to bring their country back on its feet.

Ideas have caused revolutions. Maybe its time for ours.

Education–A matter of National Security

The future of Pakistan seems unpredictable to say the least; Policy makers are scrambling to put an end to to the violence caused by people with a perverse sense of glory. These terrorists are relying on the children of the region to further their work and their weapon of choice is lack of education & awareness.  The eye-opening TED talk by Sharmeen Obaid Chinnoy concludes that lack of education and isolation from the rest of he world is creating a breeding ground for terrorists in the vulnerable regions of Pakistan:

 

Sharmeen Chinoy gives a shocking talk on the underlying reason for the growth of extremism

 

The talk above gives an obvious but accurate depiction of how a terrorist is born. These childrens are being brainwashed just because they are poor and do not  have an education. Furthermore, these regions are often mountaneous and underdeveloped, and are hence blocked from the rest of the world. By limiting the use of television and media in the region; the terrorists leave the children  with no choice but to believe in what they hear from their surroundings. The only object they see from the outside world is bombs dropped by American airplanes.

Clearly, the military needs to think and strategize before it acts. There is a need for it to make sustainable plans that ensure a healthy society in that region. Awareness  and Educational problems will go a long way in not only destroying the fundamentalist ideologies of the taliban, but to also show the people of the region that Pakistan cares for them. If we fail to do that that; terrorists will be born as fast as they will be eliminated. It is about time that the army imports more than weapons from the west. Education and Awareness is of utmost importantce for our national security.

The video below shows an OLPC initiative in Colombia. What really struck me was that the initiative was taken not by the ministry of education, but by the ministry of Defense! It realized that investing in children is necessary so that they can become productive, rather than destructive, members of their society. I really hope that the Pakistan military does the same, and tries to make sustainable efforts to improve the wellbeing of the people in Pakistan’s northern areas. One Laptop Per Child might just be the answer to our biggest problem. These laptops not only provide a tool for endless learning, they provide these children a window to the outside world . This will enable them to see the world for what it truly is and also give them the ambition to better the world around them. It is about time that the massive government funding on the military is put to better use.

Nicholas Negroponte shows us how education can be a matter of national security.