Category Archives: Culture and the Arts

Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa I will not be over stating if I say the challenges to a peacemaker in Karachi are phenomenal and nearly insurmountable. I have been asked to speak on how you as teachers can help your students to … Continue reading

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The neuter gender

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

geust-contTHE Pakistani woman: can she be defined? For that matter can the Pakistani male? Somehow we don’t think that much about defining the Pakistani male – its women are so much more interesting! Pakistani society is stratified and its cultures mixed; yet its male value stereotype is almost constant. Feudal lordling or serf, bureaucratic grandee or babu, urban or rural, whatever the income bracket or professional tag or social exposure, men are convinced they know better than their women – whether they indulge them or control them. They retain the right to intervene be it as wise men or tyrants.

But the Pakistani woman’s attitude to the male in her orbit varies dramatically depending osocial standing. The plane of stratification and the cultural mix make an enormous difference to her mental attitudes and responses. One could say that women are still evolving and the men have evolved – which is a polite way of saying that they are Continue reading

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Karachi seeks peace

Logo of I am Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

JO dil par haath rakho tau/ faqat itna hee kahta hai/ Woh Isa Chowk ho ya Das Manzil ka koi mandir/ Lohari Gate ho ya Goth Qasim ki koi basti/ Woh Babul Ilm ho ya Masjid-i-Siddiq-i-Akbar ho/ Hussainabad ho ya woh meri Farooq Nagri ho/ Jahan bhi golian chalti hain meray dil pe lagti hain/ Har ek woh ghar jahan maatam bapa hai mera apna hai. — Ishrat Afreen

(I place my hand on my heart/ and all it says is/ whether it be Isa Chowk or some temple of Das Manzil/ be it Lohari Gate or a neighbourhood of Goth Qasim/ be it Babul Ilm or the Siddiq-i-Akbar mosque/ be it Hussainabad or my Farooq Nagri/ where bullets fly they strike my heart/ every home in mourning is my very own.)

These verses draw a startling picture of Karachi torn by sectarian/communal violence. The picture is of a fragmented city. The verses also poignantly capture the poet’s pain and sense of shared grief with the victims irrespective of their caste or creed. This theme — horror and empathy — has recently found resonance in the numerous conferences held under the banner of the ‘I am Karachi’ peace campaign. This is the need of the hour in a city that lost over 1,100 of its citizens to violence in 2014. Continue reading

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We are to blame

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By Zubeida Mustafa

LAST Tuesday’s carnage by the Taliban in Peshawar has left the nation in grief and shock. Such was the enormity of the crime — more than 130 young lives snuffed out brutally — that the emotions it stirred have yet to subside.

The post-Peshawar reactions are intense. But will this be a watershed event? Many think not. Public attention has already started to wander. The discourse is changing. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty that has led to a spree of hangings has invited Continue reading

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The role of language in education and its impact on society

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By Zubeida Mustafa

Language which is a basic capacity with which man has been endowed is something that distinguishes the human being from all living species. It is a multi-dimensional issue that has an impact on every sector of life and human relationships. Here I am reminded of a seemingly small slip of language that could have led to a chain of events that in turn could have preempted the formation of this alliance between Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences and the Hamza Alavi Foundation, the sponsors of today’s talk.

It was way back in the late nineties when Prof Hamza Alavi was preparing to return home to Karachi after his retirement from Manchester University that a colleague of mine at Dawn, Ghayurul Islam, who was also a founding member of Irtiqa, requested me to introduce Irtiqa to Professor Alavi. Since I had met Hamza Bhai and was in touch with him I could always write to him, Ghayur Sahib suggested. I agreed and sent Hamza Alavi an email mentioning this group of intellectuals who were keen to meet him on his return to Karachi and to have a working relationship with him. That was all fine except that I made a faux pas. I jumbled up the alphabets when describing this venerable group – a different Continue reading

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Breaking the cycle

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By Zubeida Mustafa

PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.

There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.

  In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.

Also read: Psychiatrists concerned about plight of IDPs

This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading

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Teachers’ voices

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By Zubeida Mustafa

TEACHERS have been in the news recently as it is universally recognised that the quality of education and the learning output of children in any society depend preponderantly on teachers’ performance and academic standards.

Hence considerable improvement can be brought about only if we focus on the teachers on a priority basis. The Children’s Literature Festival has added a day for teachers since its Karachi session in February this year. Once again teachers got a day to themselves before the CLF opened in Lahore last week. Earlier, two reports titled The Voice of Teachers by Alif Ailaan and SAHE’s report on Teaching and Learning English in Sindh’s Schools Continue reading

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Justice in jobs

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By Zubeida Mustafa

WHEN human rights are in the news, the focus is invariably on civil and political rights such as life, liberty and democracy. Their violation causes explosive reactions. Rights that are not of a political nature are not so visible though their continued denial has a profound and insidious impact on the lives of a far greater number of people. They are like slow death that kills society itself.

These are the rights that have a role to play in sustaining human life with dignity which is no less than the right to life itself. Yet strangely enough, these seemingly mundane issues such as jobs, education and housing do not receive the same attention in public forums globally. Mercifully, realisation is now dawning in some quarters that there is a solution to the problems caused by the absence of social justice.

If awareness were to be created about these issues, enough pressure could be generated to force the powers that be to take positive measures. With this goal before it, Poster for Tomorrow was formed in 2009 in Paris by a group of artists led by Hervé Matine. Continue reading

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No science culture

By Zubeida Mustafa

PAKISTAN’S first Nobel Laureate, Prof Abdus Salam, constantly lamented our failure to promote science. His contributions to theoretical physics apart, he was a powerful advocate of science and research. For decades, even after he had left Pakistan in protest, Salam’s love for his homeland and concern for his government’s failure to promote science was undiminished. He continued to plead the case for science through his speeches, writings and the institutions he founded, till he died in 1996.

It is a pity that 18 years after his death, science in Pakistan continues to languish as the neglected stepchild of state and society. It never recovered from the severe blow it suffered under Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation and anti-education policies. Not that science and research had received preferential treatment at any stage, but today their survival is endangered. Continue reading

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Pakistan’s Youth: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Zubeida Mustafa

The so-called youth bulge in Pakistan has now become visible. One young woman making news around the world of late is 17-year-old Malala Yusufzai, who was named the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in early October.

Not that Pakistan has not been a young country for several decades. The country’s high population growth rate over the 1980s and 1990s means more than a quarter of the country’s population of 182 million today is between 15 and 29 years of age, which is how youth is defined by the United Nations. However, it is only in times of turbulence, as Pakistan is experiencing at present, that the youth’s presence has become pronounced. Two democratic elections in a row – in 2008 and 2013— have focused public attention on young voters.In the May 2013 general election it is said that about a third of the registered voters were under 29 (that worked out to 25 million in absolute numbers) and many of them would be casting ballots for the first time. The political parties took note, and all of them included plans for the youth in their election manifestos. Continue reading

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