Remembering Doc: The importance of civil discourse and the art of listening

At a small gathering last year, our friend S. Ali Jafari read his essay in Urdu about my father, whom he called “Doc”. His son Salman videotaped the reading, which forms the basis of this 14-minute video I edited for 26 May 2019, ten years after Dr M. Sarwar passed away peacefully at home in Karachi, at age 79.

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Asma Jahangir: A meaningful life, an inspiring legacy

I wrote this piece for a web dossier produced by Heinrich Boell Foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘ 70th anniversary 2018 – Asma Jahangir – ein bedeutungsvolles Leben, ein inspirierendes Erbe. Sharing now, a year after Asma Jahangir has passed on. This piece doesn’t include her role for peace in the region and in the UN system that I’ve written about earlier and also detailed in a longer essay to be printed in an anthology titled Voices of Freedom from Asia and the Middle East, co-edited by Mark Dennis and Rima Abunasser, TCU, is under publication by SUNY Press. Above: Asma Jahangir at her office; still from my documentary Mukhtiar Mai: The struggle for justice (2006)

By Beena Sarwar

The field on the outskirts of Lahore was full of workers waiting to hear the woman from the city speak. They squatted on their haunches with dull hopeless eyes, the drab greys and browns of their clothes at one with the earth they fashioned into bricks to bake in bhattas — kilns that dot the rural landscape of Punjab and upper Sindh. For their back-breaking labour they were paid in kind, leading to generations of indebtedness as the traditional informal economy transitioned into a cash-based system.

Brick kiln-Shehryar Warraich:News Lens-2015

Brick kiln workers, Pakistan. Photo: Shehryar Warraich/News Lens, 2015

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Khan, Sidhu, Vajpayee, and India Pakistan relations

Sidhu-Khan

Navjot Singh Sidhu has a visa to attend Imran Khan’s swearing in ceremony. Why can’t visas be easy for everyone? Image courtesy: CatchNews

August 17 this year marks 30 years since the mid-air explosion that killed the military dictator General Ziaul Haq in 1988. This year, Zia’s death anniversary ironically took a back seat to the election of the country’s new prime minister. Today, the 342-seat National Assembly voted on the prime minister, who of course was Imran Khan. His speech and that of Shahbaz Sharif were sadly marred by sloganeering in the gallery from their opponents. Everyone listened attentively to Bilawal Bhutto’s maiden speech in parliament – well spoken, reminded the speaker and prime minister-elect of their responsibilities and paid tribute to those who have given their lives for democracy. Very much hope both PTI and PML-N observe more decorum in coming sessions. Also worth listening to: Mohsin Dawar’s maiden speech, courageously calling for accountability beyond politicians and parliament. Tomorrow, Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony will be attended, among others, by Indian Punjab minister for culture and tourism, Navjot Singh Sidhu, himself a former cricketer. That, and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s passing away yesterday are sharp reminders of the urgent need for peace between the two countries. I wrote about Vajpayee and his significance in terms of this issue for the India Today Group Digital, published in Daily O today (text below).  Whatever his flaws and political moorings, when it came to building peace in the region, Vajpayee showed the kind of moral courage and political will that today’s leaders would do well to learn from.

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Howard Zinn’s July 4th Wisdom

HowardZinn-People's History

Image courtesy Arkansas Times

  

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

From progressive.org, forwarded by Isa Daudpota. So relevant not just to USA and the time it was written, but today and elsewhere too.

Howard Zinn’s July 4th Wisdom

4-5 min read

Editor’s Note: The late historian and Progressive columnist Howard Zinn shared these words with us back in 2006.  His message is still just as compelling  A World War II bombardier, Zinn was the author of the best-selling book A People’s History of the United States.

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism—that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder—one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking—cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on— have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

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Author of travelogue on Pakistan’s Sikh legacy experienced “nothing but love” there, grateful for visa

Amardeep Singh-book

Author Amardeep Singh shares a story from his travelogue. Photo: Beena Sarwar

“I experienced nothing but love in Pakistan,” says Amardeep Singh, author of the photo-illustrated travelogue “Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan”, published in January 2016 (Himalayan Books).  Continue reading

Travels though history with a rural archivist

A lesson in history

Sainath at MIT, explaining the concept behind PARI. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Tracing the footsteps of rebels like Kartar Singh and Sita Ramaraju with a rural archivist — none other than the iconic P. Sainath… Wrote this piece to mark his groundbreaking initiative PARI’s first anniversary; published in The News on Sunday, Jan 3, 2016. Text below with links and additional photos. Continue reading

Rest in peace, Shahab Ahmed, prominent Islamic scholar from Pakistan

A beautiful sunny day…  and Shahab Ahmed’s funeral. His friends, including prominent scholars some of whom had known him for decades and traveled long distances to be there, like Kamran Ali Asdar and Shahnaz Rouse; many from Harvard like Homi Bhabha, Parimal Patil, Asad Ali Ahmed, Martha Minnow, Asim Khwaja; students and former students now themselves teachers; family members; all devastated and in shock. We were together in this panel at Harvard on the ‘blasphemy’ issue a few years back. I had last heard from him in July when his then fiancé Nora replied on his behalf to an email I’d sent. That’s when I learnt he was ill in hospital. My report today, basically just getting the facts out for now. Thanks to Nora for sharing his biographical details and photo at her time of grief. (NOTE: Updated below with comments from Michael Cook, his dissertation advisor, and others):

Prominent Islamic scholar Shahab Ahmed laid to rest

Shahab Ahmed-Photo by Rehan Lashari

Shahab Ahmed in Pakistan. Photo by Rehan Lashari, courtesy Nora Lessersohn

Prominent Islamic scholar Shahab Ahmed, originally from Pakistan, was laid to rest on Saturday morning at the historic Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his adopted home. Born in Singapore on Dec 11, 1966, he passed away on Sept 17, 2015 in Boston.
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