‘It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do’

Israeli forces approach one of six ships bound for Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: Reuters

More power to Uri Avnery; outrage re Israeli attack on aid ships going to Gaza

Just since Friday: the Maoist train attack in West Bengal, the Ahmedi massacre in Lahore the same day, and today, just as we’re getting our breaths back, the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla bringing relief goods and humanitarian aid to Gaza – some 20 killed, several injured. Israel has reportedly arrested all the 700 activists on the boats, incl.1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan of Ireland, European legislators and a Holocaust survivor.

Three Pakistanis were among those taken into custody including the popular Pakistani TV anchor and journalist Talat Hussain and his producer. A priest and Muslim cleric were reportedly among the critically wounded by Israeli gunfire. See timeline of attack and photos at this Gulf News report

Cyberspace has been abuzz with outrage at the developments. Some tweets: Continue reading

Ahmedi massacre: threats, demos – add to this debate please

Scanned photo & caption from front page of Dawn, May 29, 2010; Reuters photo

Posted this info to my yahoogroup today:

Dear friends:

There was a front page photograph the day after the Lahore massacres, of an elderly Ahmedi with a cap and small white beard, hands ‘clasped together in a prayer of sorts’ as Dawn captioned it. ‘Of sorts’. Even Dawn could not call it prayer.

Iconic photo of a Muslim man pleading for his life as fanatical Hindu fundamentalists went on the rampage in Gujarat, India (March 2002).

It reminded me of another photo of a man during the Gujarat carnage in India, hands clasped, pleading for his life.

Then there’s this photograph a friend sent of a banner on Mall Road outside Lahore High Court that reads:  “Yahudi, Isai, Mirzai Islam ke dushman haiN’ (Jews, Christians, Ahmedis, are enemies of Islam).

How could this banner be allowed to be put up and remain up?

Continue reading

Support Diep; Massacre in Lahore, some thoughts & responses

Posted to my yahoogroup yesterday, with a very heavy heart:

WE MOURN. A man weeps at the death of a relative killed in the Friday attack, after a funeral in Rabwa, May 29, 2010

I signed this Petition to Stop Constant Harassment and Mental Torture of Diep Saeeda Indo Pak Peace Activist – pls read and sign also. I hope they’re going to take it to the authorities and stop this harassment of one of our most courageous, spirited and committed activists.

Meanwhile, we are reeling with the massacre of some 100 Ahmedis at two Friday congregations in Lahore. This was not an isolated incident but cold-blooded murder, conducted by trained gunmen with suicide vests. (Only one was caught alive – wonder how much he’ll be allowed to reveal).

The incidents brought together various strains that have been tearing apart Pakistan in the bloodiest way. Several recent incidents are part of this continuum, all of which claimed many innocent lives: Continue reading

Remembering Doc; Farewell Mansoor Saeed

Here is the message I  tweeted this morning: “We remember departed loved ones every day. So why does the ‘barsi’ assume such significance? Doc, yr guiding spirit & love always with us”. He was never one for observing death anniversaries etc – but somehow, the date marks a landmark it’s hard to ignore. Good time to read again ‘Keep the fire burning’ by Zakia Sarwar on the Dr Sarwar blog

Mansoor Saeed - by Sohail Hashmi, New Delhi, 2009

Here’s another tweet I sent later: “Memorial meeting for Mansoor Saeed of CPP, PMA House, Karachi, May 28, 5 pm. Bereaved: Sania, Abida, Ahmer & Pk’s progressive community”…

I was in Delhi last week for the Aman ki Asha economic conference, which went really well. On my last day there, Sunday, I was invited to a small discussion organised by Prof Chaman Lal at JNU, Delhi (Chairperson, Centre of Indian Languages &s an authority on Bhagat Singh). Among the friends there was Sohail Hashmi Continue reading

Wiki & Pakistan Quashing Net Freedoms, Citizens Speaking Out

Quick update from Delhi – from where events in Pakistan look even more bizarre:

1. Pakistan Quashing Net Freedoms, Citizens Speaking Out: http://bit.ly/976TxU – updates and debates

2. Update from Abdur Rahman in the Bay area:
… regarding the Internet Censorship Wiki that several of us launched in the immediate aftermath of the ban on facebook by PTA (Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, following a court order). It’d be great if you could cross post it to your list asking people to update the site with any relevant information that may have. They need not worry about formating, one of the editors is continually pruning the content – http://pakistan.wikia.com/wiki/Internet_censorship

Defenders of Internet freedom protest Pakistan facebook ban

Press Release received today:

Karachi, May 20, 2010

Defenders of Internet Freedom Protest Against Nationwide Government Ban of Facebook

On Wednesday 19th May 2010, the Lahore High Court ordered the banning of Facebook across Pakistan. Facebook is the world’s most popular social media network and is used by over 400 million globally. In Pakistan, over 2 million people use Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family, conduct business, manage events, and share photos, news, and other content. A few days ago, a page called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” was created on Facebook asking users to submit drawings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on 20th May 2010. This page, interpreted as blasphemous, has triggered a nationwide ban on the entire Facebook domain.
While we recognize that sites on the Internet are used to spew hatred and incite violence, we steadfastly believe that governments have no right to control access to information. We believe that every citizen has an inalienable right to freely access information and by censoring Facebook, the Government of Pakistan has taken away that right. This action will have a very negative impact on Pakistan, especially considering that countless small businesses, nonprofit organizations, restaurants, art galleries, magazines, and media outlets use Facebook to conduct day-to-day business and share information with their stakeholders.
In 2006, the Supreme Court of Pakistan banned the entire blogspot.com domain for over 18 months over a similar incident where only one blog carried blasphemous cartoons. Thousands of Pakistani bloggers were deprived of the freedom to express themselves and interact with others. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority now has the ability to block specific pages on the Internet and could have banned just the single blasphemous page. As members of civil society and professionals who depend on social media networks for our daily communications, we demand the immediate restoration of Facebook and an end to Internet censorship by the Government of Pakistan.
Press conference to discuss the worrying trend of Internet censorship and the resulting impact on civil liberties and the free and unfettered exchange of ideas and information, today, 5:00 pm,Karachi Press Club

Peace hankies + trade + business = reduce hostilities

Happy Home School students display their Aman ki Asha 'peace hankies'. Photo: Naqeebur Rehman

Another Aman ki Asha event in the offing -‘Partners in peace and progress‘, the trade and investment meeting between top Indian and Pakistani business executives, taking place in Delhi May 18-19, 2010. This is the latest in the chain of events since the initiative was launched on Jan 1, 2010, by two media giants of Pakistan and India. Since then, there have been several events in both countries – literary festivals, music concerts, mushaira, editors and anchors’ meeting, a seminar on strategic issues, the ongoing peace hankies campaign, and now this major economic conference. The coverage of these events in the media, especially the sponsoring media groups Jang, News, Times of India and Geo TV, has created a buzz around peace. Crucially, it has helped to create ‘an enabling environment’, as Geo TV President Imran Aslam terms it, that may well have contributed to the thaw in India Pakistan relations. (For more peace hankies photos see my Flickr site). For those cynics and the critics – yes we all know peace is not going to happen overnight, but when the critical mass of people is clearly for it, it might not be so far away as it once had seemed.

Conversations 10: The trust deficit

May 6 2010

Dear Beena,

I am heartened too by our PMs meeting in Thimphu. But let me say that I also have hope from such events as your Aman ki Asha seminar, where there’s discussion between folks from both sides who have less political pressures on them than ministers.

Still, while I don’t mean to second-guess what happened at the seminar, I wonder about the urge to build a “consensus” in discussions like these. Is that always necessary or useful, what do you think? I wonder if we end up watering down our own emotions and concerns in the search for consensus, and thus leave them essentially un-addressed. If that’s at all true, it’s not a good prescription for peace. Continue reading

Mother’s Day, BB murder and Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila is force-fed in the secure wing of a hospital in Imphal. Photo: The Independent

Some links I posted to my yahoogroup today:

Why I hate Mother’s Day: “Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents…. (it) benefits no one but Hallmark” – well argued piece by Anne Lamott in Salon.com

Analysis: They killed Benazir Bhutto and this is how it happened – Anas Abbas’ painstakingly researched piece at his blog, titled AA@Counterterrorism, Imperialism, Extremism, Bigotry

One woman’s silent quest for peace on India’s wild frontier: Exclusive interview of Manipur’s Irom Sharmila, who has been on the world’s longest known hunger strike since 2008 – good article by Andrew Buncombe in The Independent


Panicked schoolgirls being evacuated after a bomb blast outside their school that killed one boy, Apr 19. AP photo

My monthly column Personal Political in Hardnews India
April 26, 2010

Beena Sarwar

On April 19, there were two bomb blasts in the heart of Peshawar – a low intensity one outside a police-run school as parents were picking up children that killed a small boy, followed hours later by a second detonated by a suicide bomber, in the famed Kissa Khwani Bazaar (story tellers’ market), killing over 20 people including one of Peshawar’s senior-most police officials.

There was a haunting Associated Press photograph in newspapers the next day: four schoolgirls in their school uniforms in the back of a van being taken to safety. One clutches a water bottle. Wide-eyed with fear and bewilderment, they can’t be more than six years old. Continue reading

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