The price I pay for respecting Islam

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would become a scholar focusing on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations.

Growing up, my passion was playing basketball and following the Boston Celtics. I never had any Muslim friends. In fact, I did not even know a single follower of Islam until my college years. If you had asked me “What is a Muslim?” when I was 16-years-old, I would not be able to answer you.

But everything changed when 9/11 happened. 

Muslims were seen as “extremists” and Islam was an “evil” force that had to be crushed by “freedom loving people”. When it came time to choose an academic discipline in college, I chose “Islamic studies” – not because I wanted to learn about a great religion and world civilisation, but rather to work for the CIA and become a spy to nab the “bad guys”.

One of the first classes that I enrolled in at American University was “The World of Islam”. I figured this was a way for me to learn about why an event like 9/11 happened. On the first day of class, I learnt about basic Islamic principles like giving alms to charity and praying five times per day. I was told about a hadith, or saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which stated:

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

I remember one of the Muslim students in the class standing up and reciting a Quranic verse, which read:

“Taking the life of an innocent person is like killing all of mankind.”

Another Muslim student stood up and recited a Quranic verse which stated that killing one innocent person is akin to killing humankind entirely.

What I learnt on that first day of class was not reflective of what you hear daily in the media about Islam and Muslims.

Since 2004, I have focused most of my time on researching Islam, US foreign policy with the “Muslim world,” and ways of bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims worldwide. My dedication to these academic pursuits have been enriching beyond imagination. I have made dear Muslim friends whom I hold in the highest esteem. I have been able to travel the world and spend time with Muslim communities of various backgrounds.

They have opened their schools, homes, and mosques to me. The hospitality, warmth, and love that Muslims have shown me over the years have made me an admirer of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and an individual who has deep respect for Islam. There is no doubt that these activities and experiences have made me a better person.

Muslims have brought me closer to God. For that I am ever thankful. However, researching Islam and becoming friends with Muslims have also come at a serious cost to my relationships and social interactions.

I have lost a good amount of friends because of my efforts in shedding a positive light on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Fraternity brothers who do not share my political beliefs have unfriended me on Facebook. I have been told by some of them that I am on an “FBI watch list” because of my “radical” views on improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Other friends who do not care as much about religion or politics simply cannot understand the kind of work that I do. Years ago, one of my friends asked me,

“So what is the difference between Islam and Muslims?”

Most of my friends have no idea about either of these subjects. Therefore, it is difficult for me to share my passion for learning with them. They simply cannot comprehend the benefits of a non-Muslim studying Islam.

Some people in my family consider me to be “weird” because I have an interest in studying a religion that they think is “foreign”. This is difficult for me because these are my family members who are supposed to care about things that matter to me. One person in my family has been so brainwashed by media coverage of Islam that he once told me:

“Muslims kill us because that’s what they’re supposed to do to Christians. It’s in the Quran”.

One Christmas, a family member wanted to buy me a book that she thought would be interesting to me. It turned out that the book was Islam for Dummies by the anti-Muslim activist Robert Spencer. On another occasion, someone close to my immediate family went through my library and picked up a book called The Mystics of Islam. He looked at me and said sarcastically,

“Remind me to read this one!”

He said that in a condescending tone as if the book was useless.

To be honest, it is painful to be seen as someone who studies something that other people consider to be irrelevant. As you can imagine, it does not feel great to feel unappreciated.

Non-Muslims are not the only people who look down on me for researching Islam. I tweet regularly about interfaith dialogue and ways of improving Christian-Muslim relations. Muslims will tweet loving messages to me about the great work that I am doing. When I respond back with “peace be with you” and “Amen” – two typical Christian phrases – they start to question me on my religious background.

“Are you Muslim?” these tweeters ask.

To which I respond,

“No, I am Catholic”.

Seconds later, I realise that I have fewer Twitter followers. These people “unfollow” me for the simple reason that I am not Muslim.

Other Muslims on Twitter do their best to convert me to Islam. They tell me that it is impossible to fully understand a religion if you do not follow that religion. They suggest that I “revert” to Islam “before it’s too late, before the end (of) time”, as if I am going to hell for being Catholic. Granted, I have many Muslim followers who genuinely admire my work in bridging the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, but to be put down as a non-Muslim scholar leads me to believe that some Muslims are not tolerant of my work.

Studying Islam has come at a price.

Old friends see me as a traitor; family members see me as “strange”, and Muslims see me as someone who will never be good enough. These developments make me think deeply about the issues of loyalty, love, and knowledge. Thankfully, I do have kindred spirits around the world who understand my mission and who appreciate the courage it takes for an individual to put relationships on the line in an effort to acquire knowledge and understand the mysteries of our world.

I certainly will carry on with this journey. To stop now would be to surrender to narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and religious supremacy. These are the evils in our world and I will not stop challenging them until my days on this planet are over.

The piece originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog


“If you want to teach here, you have to wear a burqa”

“You just have to wear a burqa inside the school; you are free to take it off when you leave the school premises,”said the principal of a Karachi-based school owned by a certain musician-turned-religious-revolutionary while interviewing a candidate.

“It’s just a garment,” thought the candidate, and a garment that was helping her get a higher salary than all the other schools.

So she signed the teaching contract and took the burqa home with her. All day at home, that burqa in her bag haunted her. How could she don something all day that represented something she hadn’t fully accepted in her heart?

Wasn’t she lying to impressionable children?

Wasn’t it hypocritical of her to wear it?

Wasn’t it hypocritical of the senior staff at this school to force her to wear something she wasn’t convinced of yet?

“I just take it like a uniform,” said another teacher to her in the teacher’s lounge the next day.

“But who am I doing purdah (covering) from?”

She questioned fumbling around with a confusing shroud that overwhelmed her entire being.

“Umm, maybe from the male staff,” said the other teacher.

“So why don’t they just hire female staff only then?”

The other teacher thought for a minute.

“Maybe it’s from the students,” she said after a pause.

“But my students are younger than five-years-old”

“Maybe it’s to show the parents that their children are in good hands,” she offered once again.

She rolled her eyes at the idea that only a person in a burqa is best suited to teach ‘morality’ to kids. Who will teach morality to the burqa-wearing principal who wanted her to don a burqa from 9am to 2pm?

But a job is a job, so she wore the burqa like any uniform.

After all, it wasn’t like she was teaching at a madarssa or anything. It was a popular school with a good name attended by children from the upper middle class background.

How bad could it be?

Soon enough, she found out it wasn’t just a uniform. The classes were gender-segregated from grade three onwards and the books had absolutely no pictures. If there were faces, the eyes were all blurred. Children were not allowed to clap, dance or hear music.

“How do I encourage the students when they do something right?” she asked the principal about the ban on clapping.

“Just say Alhumdullilah” she replied with great emphasis on the last word.

“Can I clap and say Alhumdullilah?” she argued.

“There will be no clapping,” the principal said sternly.

The Bismillahs, Alhumdullilahs and MashaAllah were always uttered with an Arabic accent.

Montessoris were strange there too – no dolls, action figures or stuffed toys. She could understand not wanting to keep Barbies in the play group as kids learnt negative body image from such toys – but you couldn’t even find cute little baby dollies here.

If there was a picture of a pig in a school book, teachers were supposed to skip that page and students were penalised if they said ‘pig’ while looking at the picture of a pig. The letter P was for everything else but ‘pig’. Lord knows how many times her students said ‘pig’ to each other and giggled just because they were told not to.

She wondered what would happen to these ‘protected’ and ‘indoctrinated’ children once they graduated from this school. How would they react and respond to pictures of real people, pigs, dolls, clapping, and women without burqas?

Would they judge other children for clapping or playing with dolls? Their cousins, friends and neighbourhood kids?

How would it feel if she ran into one of her young students and her family at a shopping mall, and she was dressed in her regular jeans and crop top?

What would the child think about her?

Would she end up teaching and bringing up a tiny Taliban here?

That day she handed over her burqa to the school principal.

“My morality and ethics don’t allow me to continue this job,” she said and left the school building.

This post originally appeared here. 

from The Express Tribune Blog

Tomorrowland: A riveting ride into the future, with a twist

Tomorrowland begins with the following line,

“This is a story about the future and the future can be scary”.

Certainly not what the audience was expecting to hear. The storyline which unfolds compels the viewers to put on their thinking hats in order to piece the puzzle together, while at the same time being awestruck by the brilliant and sleek futuristic world of Tomorrowland, rendered by computer graphics.

Directed by Brad Bird, the movie is set during 1964. However, Tomorrowland is a futuristic place where anyone from that time can enter this realm through a certain process. Frank Walker (George Clooney), full of ideas since a very young age, also visits this place, which is a utopian world for all the great minds living on earth. However, when Frank learns a dark secret about Tomorrowland, the decision-makers of this land exile him permanently and send him back to his present time in 1964.

Photo: IMDb

Years later, fate plays its hand in making Frank and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) meet. Casey herself has been to Tomorrowland and wants Frank’s help in order to re-enter this mysterious place. Casey, too, knows about the secret regarding the end of the world, which is why she cannot stay there for too long. Returning to Tomorrowland is imperative for them to in order to save the world, but chances seem slim.

Photo: IMDb

Viewers will love the onscreen relationship between Casey and Frank, where Casey is full of life and is thinking for the better – Frank on the other hand, has grown up to be sarcastic. The viewers will find a number of humorous and satirical moments, adding value to the movie and allowing the script, which is a bit monotonous during the first half, to be light-hearted as well.

It is interesting to see that Tomorrowland is a Disney production, and very unlike its previous movies. It may be a bit difficult to comprehend, especially for the younger audience. The movie has two differing plots. Where in the first half we see Frank as a kid, in the second half he has grown into an adult who meets Casey. The second half, however, is about Frank and Casey’s struggle to return to Tomorrowland.

Photo: IMDb

Will they survive the onslaught they face because of the secret they know?

Who is pursuing them?

What is the secret about Tomorrowland?

These are questions which the viewers will be asking during the various stages of the movie.

Although some parts of the story are catchy and interesting, which I feel is only because of Clooney’s presence; the rest of the script came off as dull and boring and does not quite live up to be Disney material. Tomorrowland is a futuristic movie; it highlights certain environmental issues, the cause for the end of the world, hence creating an unexpected twist.

Photo: IMDb

The computer graphics used to create the futuristic world of Tomorrowland will keep you glued to the screen. However, viewers will find it difficult to understand a number of technologies – a constant confusion for the audience.

Photo: IMDb

Where Casey and Frank dominate much of the screen time, it is Athena (Raffey Cassidy) – a former agent working for Tomorrowland, who at a crucial time in the plot reveals her true intentions and identity only to startle the viewer’s even further.

Tomorrowland stands quite apart from Brad Bird’s previous movies, who is famous for directing animated movies such as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and the action packed movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. This movie, however, bring Bird’s directorial dexterity to the forefront as he takes the viewers across various dimensions within the story, which he has co-produced and co-written as well.

Photo: IMDb

Tomorrowland could have been a much better movie if some confusing parts of the story were made easier to understand for the audience. Furthermore, by the time the movie ends, you will have a number of unanswered questions.

It is recommended that you watch Tomorrowland for the sake of having fun while giving your brain cells a rest. The adventure will enthral you, the special effects will astound you, and the secret, which Frank and Casey know, will shock you.

from The Express Tribune Blog

The day he took my love away

She never expected her marriage to come to an end. No woman ever does. She distinctly remembers the day she was betrothed and how excited she was. Her mother kept telling her not to smile for she had to make it look like she was genuinely sad about leaving her father’s home, but secretly she was over the moon.

He was perfect; good looking, professionally accomplished, lived abroad and came from a good family background, and to top it off, he loved her wholeheartedly. What a beautiful union it was. Everyone was smiling and everything was going to be completely perfect.

And yet, here she was standing outside his family home in Islamabad, in broad daylight, screaming at the top of her lungs and banging her hands against the wrought iron gates

“Where is he? Where is he? Where is my son? Answer me now.”

Until a scrawny looking housemaid tentatively approached the gate and told her in broken Urdu,

“Madam, he is not here, everyone has left.”

She started shaking and could feel the ground turn to water underneath her feet.

“No, no, no!” she cried as she slowly collapsed to the ground.

“My son! My son! My son! I want my son!”

Soon a crowd of curious spectators had gathered and her anxious mother, who was standing nearby, managed to get her to stand,

“Get up, get in the car and stop making a scene; we will deal with them later.”

She could not move. Her legs were like jelly and all she could remember was seeing her son waving at her as his father took him for ‘a little drive to McDonalds’. His little hands and smiling face kept floating in front of her eyes and all she wanted to do was hold him close to her like she did at night while he slept. She felt her body was falling apart into little pieces, only to dissipate with the wind.

“I am not moving mother. My son needs his nappy to be changed and I will wait for him to come back,” she said looking at her mother with her slightly crazed eyes.

“Get in the car right now,” her mother said pulling her up with more force than before.

She managed to get up with her mother’s assistance and sat in the car. Her driver, flummoxed at first, began to drive the car through the growing crowd. She lay lifeless in the back seat, chanting under her breath, “my son, my son, my son” as tears rolled down her cheeks.

He was a beautiful baby boy, two years of age and ever the master of his own domain. His cheeks were plump and red like a ripe tomato, his hair wispy and peppered with blonde streaks falling around his big, bulbous honey-coloured eyes. He was perfection itself, but then to every mother in this world, her child could never be imperfect. As she looked outside her car window, she saw young children riding pillion on motorcycles clinging for their dear life to their fathers or their mothers and she started to cry.

Her marriage had its ups and downs but she never expected things to take such a drastic turn. They had been living apart for some time in order to try and mend the cracks, but it seemed the gap had been widened with time. This act was surely going to seal the fate of the marriage.

When she got home, she dashed to call her husband to find out his whereabouts, but as soon as she got a ringtone, it would go dead and she would be left fearing the worst.

How could she have been so stupid? She looked around her room and all she could see were her baby’s paraphernalia; his clothes, his toys and his shoes. Her father came into her room to find out what was wrong and she let out this guttural cry from the base of her stomach,

“He’s gone Abba, he’s gone!”

She proceeded to explain the story to him in detail and her father remained calm and composed as he always did in emergencies.

“Relax; he can’t have left the country with him since we have his passport, so calm down. We will go over to his uncle’s house and see if he has taken the child over there.”

She quietly acquiesced and they decided to go to his uncle’s house. Upon reaching his house, they were told that the child had been taken to America on the basis that his father was an American citizen.

She sat there perplexed and felt her heart explode into a thousand pieces. Whilst trying to maintain her composure she asked,

“How can they apply for his American passport without the mother’s signature or knowledge?”

“I don’t know. Islamically the child belongs to the father, not the mother.”

He said without looking her in the face. This is when she erupted in a frightful rage.

“Islamically? Islamically? What about beating your wife viciously? Is that allowed Islamically? What about not providing any money for food or clothes? Is that allowed Islamically? Don’t twist Islam to fulfil your own needs. Give me my son,” she screamed hysterically.

They were obviously going to be evicted from his uncle’s house and they returned home with heavy hearts and wet eyes.

Time was of the essence and they decided to register an FIR against her husband and his family for child abduction. She would not rest until she found her child. It was a tense moment but after some investigations, they were able to locate the child in Dubai about to board a plane to America.

The Dubai police had been alerted and the plane was prevented from flying in the nick of time. It transpired that her husband had applied for his son’s visa but entered the mother as ‘deceased’ and used a fake death certificate to prove this. Not only had he lied on a visa application but he had committed child abduction. How could a living person be declared dead with no body in sight? She found this outrageously hilarious.

She was over the moon that her son was found safe and well. All she wanted to do was hug her son, her life, her joy.

She could not care less as to what happened to her husband or his family. He was a complete non-entity to her. She flew over to Dubai to bring her son home and move on with her life. As she reached the police station with her family, she saw her son and smiled widely as tears fell down her cheeks.

He was busy playing with some toys and keeping the staff amused, but as soon as he saw her he laughed and squealed “mama!” They both hugged each other and she felt whole again, putting an end to her nightmare.

from The Express Tribune Blog

How I tackled the “Sir, I don’t think Shias are real Muslims” concept

I started my career as a Religious Education (RE) teacher in September 2013, in a school that has nearly 1500 students ranging from the ages of 11 to 18. Of these, approximately 75% come from a Muslim background.

Due to the comments and vitriol usually directed towards Shias, I chose to hide my identity as a Shia Muslim from my class. If my students ever asked me what ‘type’ of Muslim I was, I never felt the need to tell them that I was Shia. I merely insisted that I was just a Muslim – but they were never satisfied with that answer (a reflection of the state of affairs we live in). It was not because I was scared of their reaction but because, as a teacher you always have to think of the wider implications of every decision you make.

However, this did not stop the students from sharing what they had been taught to think of the global Shia community.

“Sir, I don’t think Shias are real Muslims.”

“Sir, aren’t Shias the ones who cut themselves?”

“Shias have some weird beliefs, sir.”

During lessons, whenever the topic of Shia Islam came up, I heard all the regular comments and misconceptions I was already used to hearing. Even though I always corrected them – without revealing that I belonged to the very group they were making these comments about – this led to little change. And while I found this experience very amusing (lesson number one = don’t take comments by your students personally if you are a teacher – you will not survive), I was disturbed at the same time.

I did not blame these students for having such views, because they were only repeating what they had been taught. My concern was with the sources from where they were getting this misinformation from.

However, ignoring all these things, I continued to concentrate on my teaching and, all praise to God, my reputation amongst my students and peers soon began to rise, and I generally felt well-received by my class. I tried to show my faith through my conduct and manners rather than labelling myself under some umbrella term, and it eventually paid off.

Fast-forward to September 2014, and I was (somehow) appointed as head of RE at my school and I was now in-charge of the curriculum, results, teaching and progress of every student who studied RE as well as the staff members who taught this subject. This, coupled with the spiritual boost I received from my visit to Karbala that year during Arbaeen, made me feel more confident about my faith and helped me in gradually displaying my religious beliefs more openly to my students and colleagues alike.

I started praying with my hands down, wearing a ring and wristbands with the names of Imam Ali (RA) and Imam Hussain (RA) written on them – which led to many questions – and started taking days off on Ashura and the likes, when the rest of the school’s Muslims would come in regularly.

Furthermore, when students asked me whether I was Sunni or Shia, I would give a straight answer, which often led to amusing responses.

“But how sir? You’re normal!”

“Wow! I’ve never met a Shia before”

“You know what sir? For a Shia… you’re not too bad”

“That is so cool sir!”

After telling them about my faith, I would ask them,

“Has that changed your opinion of me?”

And fortunately, with almost every student, the response has been a negative. This helped them to realise that one needs to respect all people, irrespective of belief systems.

It was the best decision I ever made. The students began to admire me even more and realised that I was the same person – regardless of whether they knew I was Shia or not. This then, naturally, allowed me to answer questions more directly (of which there were many) and made it easier for me to remove the misconceptions they had. My experience is summed up by a comment two 16-year-old girls made to me a few weeks ago:

“Sir, we’re not going to lie. We have heard some crazy things about Shia Muslims but you have made us realise how normal you are and how many of those things we were told wrong.”

With the position I am in, I have now included the Shia perspective in all parts of the school’s RE curriculum. This discusses Islam holistically – be it Islamic history (we teach about how the Sunni-Shia split happened and Ashura), theology (the concept of the 12 Imams and Ahlulbayt), ethics (Ijtihad and the institution of Ayatollahs), architecture (the shrines of the Ahlulbayt), literature (the Psalms of Islam and The Treatise of Rights by Imam Zainul Abideen) and media (both Ahlulbayt and Safeer TV). The reaction to these topics have been incredible – the students (whether Muslim or not) have had a genuine fascination for learning this side of Islam that they have never come across before.

This has led to a level of tolerance in the school that I have never seen before.

Yes, it is a little selfish of me to add this to the curriculum, and many would say that I should focus on Islam generally and not go in the sectarian divide, but we live in a world where the words ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ are used so much – in the media and by the people around us – that the young people have become susceptible to negative ideas. They need to know exactly what the difference between Shias and Sunnis is, and not make one the devil and the other, the saint. It is only through the understanding of each other’s beliefs that we can strive for true unity.

Shia Muslims are being killed because of misconceptions. I am in a position where I can remove these misconceptions at an early age and where young people can learn about the authentic teachings of different world-views, so that when they leave this school, they leave with religious literacy. Not every religious class has to be one-sided.

I do not want the readers of this article to think I am some sort of a Shiite preacher at my workplace. This is the way I approach all subjects I teach. Along with removing ‘Shiaphobia’, my curriculum also aims at removing Islamophobia in general, anti-Semitism and all other forms of prejudice and discrimination towards people of faith or non-faith.

As a Muslim RE teacher in a school where the majority of pupils are Muslim, I regard it my duty to remove all hints of intolerance. And today, I am treated as an unofficial Islamic scholar. Muslim students ask me questions about Sunni Islam and other sects whereas non-Muslim students ask me about Islam and other religions. They do not care that a Shia Muslim is answering their questions. They now embrace it. And it is important that these children have a place to get answers to their questions, and if I am able to provide a fraction of what they need, I do not regret my decision one bit. They deserve it and so does Islam.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Zehreeli Chummi: The controversial ‘chummas’ Pakistanis need to take

There is one thing that all Pakistanis know about themselves – they can’t stand cartoons or comics. No, I’m not talking about the meek, biscuit or washing detergent company sponsored comics; I’m talking about those that question our beliefs, provoke our preconceived notions about religion, and reveal the corrupt system and politicians.

We get so emotional about a drawing that we are willing to destroy our own city, kill our own people and any outsider who comes in our way. It doesn’t matter if he or she had nothing to do with those comics.

Photo: Zehreeli Chummi Facebook page

We got in touch with one of those local comic-making shaitaans (devils) for you. They operate under the name of Zehreeli Chummi (poisonous kiss) on Facebook and have 23,000 fans on their page.

Photo: Zehreeli Chummi Facebook page

Let’s see what the creator had to say about drawing controversial comics, the Pakistani sensitivity, and the future of this awesome page.

How did the idea for Zehreeli Chummi come about?

We started out as Karway Laddu (bitter sweets) about two or three years ago. Karway Laddu was a collaborative effort of seven comic artists. We were already running well-established social media pages and we decided to start a dark humour project. We had to take down Karway Laddu because my reckless ways were becoming a threat for the others involved in the project. Eventually, everyone left. I took over and started Zehreeli Chummi as a solo project.

Why did you feel the need for a satirical Facebook page like Zehreeli Chummi?

We go to gym so we can work out, make our bodies strong and maybe take a punch or two, but what have we done to take a joke? I realised this nation needs an anger management class. We have to understand that the world will keep on making fun of us if we keep acting out. We have to realise that we can ignore these poorly drawn cartoons; they have no power over us.

Insults are not worse than injuries and if you think otherwise, you’re inflicting pain on yourself. You’re not letting go. Most of the times I’m not trying to offend people, I’m just making comics to offend my own self.

What kind of subjects do you like to cover in your comics?

I don’t make comics on things that I hate. I make comics on issues that are dear to me. For example, I consider myself a feminist but I’ve made rape jokes. Why? Because rape is a problem, rape jokes are not. Racism is a problem, racist jokes are not. Religious extremism is a problem, jokes on religion are not. People can and will make jokes out of anything they want. Don’t make it an issue of ego or some self-righteous sense of morality.

How long have you been posting content? How often do you post content?

For about two or three years now. Sometimes I post about 10 comics a day and sometimes I don’t post anything for weeks.

What’s the target audience of your page like?

Anyone who can take a joke or an insult.

Who designs the comics? Who comes up with the concept? How many people are involved?

I usually come up with the ideas on my own but every now and then I’ve had someone else’s help. Sometimes I just find something funny in the comments section and after notifying the person I make a comic out of it. I try to be very careful in giving out credits where someone deserves them.

Considering the sensitivity of our people, what kind of rabid responses have you received so far?

We receive threats every now and then but nothing serious. If anyone goes through the trouble of writing to us, we go through the trouble of explaining why we do what we do. You’d be surprised how a little dialogue can change the perspective of a majority of people.

Have you thought of coming out openly with the name of the creator?

I’m always itching to come out; in fact, I leave traces behind for people to follow. Nothing is more frustrating for an artist than staying anonymous. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Is anything off limits when it comes to the content?

When we started the Karway Laddu project, we had an understanding that we’re not going to talk about religion and politics but that’s the first thing I did. I made sure there’s nothing that’s off limits. The whole idea is that people can and will joke about anything they want, we may as well learn to deal with it.

Photo: Zehreeli Chummi Facebook page

You’ve already gained a huge following, what are your next plans for Karway Laddu?

I’d love to do something like South Park. Perhaps start making animated shorts.

Can majority of Pakistanis handle satire?

As long as it’s not about their own principles and beliefs, then yes. But there are a significant number of people who can handle almost anything and that’s the kind of Pakistan I’m striving for.

Your content contains a lot of profanities; can’t the message go across without them?

There are several reasons why I use profanity in my comics. It’s not just my way of sticking up my middle finger to censorship; it also plays a subtle role in keeping the audience in check. People who are worried about moralities wouldn’t touch our comics with a 10-feet pole and it’s a good thing. It not just teaches them to ignore us, but it also keeps us off the radar.

I also like experimenting around with profanities. For example, I have noticed people would rather rant about a subtle profanity than actually ponder about the big issue we’re talking about. This distorted sense of morality disturbs me.

How do you deal with the haters?

We practice absolute freedom of speech on this page. No one gets banned for anything, not even for aiming personal attacks on the administrators or getting on our nerves.

This post originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog

Why is the shipment of bio-hazardous anthrax being overlooked, United States?

While we were still in the process of recovering from the dumbfounding FIFA fiasco and the horrendous IRS hacking, the odiously toxic news of live samples of anthrax being  shipped ‘mistakenly’ by the Department of Defence (DoD) to different parts of the country and South Korea further contaminated the airwaves.

While one cannot stay away from crying bloody murder when such an incident, a rather unforgiving event, occurs, bringing back awful memories of Union Carbide and Chernobyl, Pentagon officials assured people that nothing earth-shaking took place and there were no reports of exposure to the deadly bacteria.

“There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers,” said a Pentagon spokesman.

“The DoD lab was working as part of a DoD effort to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats in the environment,” the spokesman went on.

We do know that 22 folks have been hospitalised at the Osan base, though it is unclear if they were exposed or not. Additionally, four lab technicians, right here in the US state of Maryland, have received medical attention as well.

Anthrax has made a comeback to mainstream news. Back in 2001, soon after 9/11, five Americans lost their lives on account of anthrax-related bioterrorism. The irony of the current incident is that no one knew about the live anthrax sitting in various facilities until just a few days ago. Twenty-two shipments were sent out from Dugway Proving Ground, Utah in March of last year to nine US states in addition to Osan via Federal Express. Yes, Federal Express, a publicly owned business entity that ships millions of packages everyday across the globe and hence may have gotten its containers contaminated while carrying this live anthrax.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been involved in the investigation of the issue. So far it has kept mum with not even a statement of assurance from their side. We haven’t heard much else from any other source. Obviously if the news gains momentum and captures the sound-bytes, we may hear some panic bells ringing in the coming few days and weeks. This seems a bit unlikely with all the media attention focused on the death and destruction taking place in Texas and its adjacent states.

The Republican-run Congress may or may not be interested in conducting an inquiry since it hasn’t been in a mood to do anything constructive for eons now. They may feel compelled though, to condemn poor President Barack Obama for the incident or simply blame Hillary Clinton for her bio-hazardous politics since she seems to be responsible for all of America’s past, present and future woes.

It remains to be seen if the officials responsible for shipping the anthrax in question at the Utah facility will be taken to task. No high hopes there unless a mass scale catastrophe takes place. While saying anything against the military, just like in Pakistan, is a no-go area, quite unlike Pakistan, the justice system is still quite alive and kicking.

Whereas the Dugway incident could simply be attributed to human error, it is hard to imagine how in the world such a fatal error could be committed. It obviously goes to show that even the greatest of checks and balances cannot establish watertight mechanisms, and no system is perfect.

Ironic as it may sound, years ago ABC NEWS carried out a project that showed the fallaciousness and fragility of the safeguards put in place by the US security network. That was a sarcasm-laden, hands-down mockery of those minding our borders. Doubts are often expressed about how rickety and old-fashioned the US governmental procedures are but it’s all an open-ended debate. I wouldn’t go there for the moment since that is a whole different creature to talk about.

Having said that, some sarcastic critics are questioning the fact that why is it okay for the US to experiment on weaponising but Iraq gets destroyed for material that they didn’t even have?

A diehard, ‘bitter nut’ at our local post office went on to say that,

“Maybe we finally have explanation for the 2001 anthrax mailing.”

I didn’t consider his argument more than a splash and dash of conspiracy mongering.

Things happen and while I’d have wished Dennis Rodman to personally deliver anthrax to the North Korean presidential palace, it is just too sad that it was FedExed to a tried and tested ally. Come on Dugway, you guys could have done a better job!

I have a feeling that this anthrax episode will pass just like many other issues that although, are not trivial in nature, but do not impact our lives so much so that our functionality is jeopardised slash paralysed. The accident was part of routine training aimed at better understanding and detecting anthrax as a weapon. Though highly unfortunate that it ended up in a cataclysmic mistake, it may linger on the peripheries of the news headlines for the next few days, tickle a few minds and eventually die down.

One is sorry for those who might end up suffering grievously because of this fatal mishap, but that’s the cost one has to be ready to bear when working in danger zones where fatalities are an imminent possibility. This is just like the Republicans not letting go of the Benghazi tragedy. We all know that the US ambassador who was killed that day knew the consequences of signing up for serving in such an ‘uncontrolled’ part of the world. One has got to learn to let go and move on.

Beyond the realm of should have, would have and could have that we are listening to all around about the anthrax story, I’m sure, going forward, lots of stricter checks will be implemented as far as dealing with bio-hazardous material is concerned. It’s a challenge to the military establishment, the Pentagon and the DoD to tighten the screws, prepare better and ensure that nothing is allowed to slide and no one escapes responsibility.

In any event, these days watching the news for even five minutes can drive anyone to insanity. There’s way too much going on – murders, suicides, guys making pipe bombs, brainwashed kids going to faraway lands volunteering for ISIS and now anthrax. I think we all need to sit back, turn off our devices and try to find the entrance to the sanctuary and inner peace that undoubtedly lives within us.

from The Express Tribune Blog