Letter from my Undergrad School

I am thinking of writing about my undergrad years. Not personal stories, but more tied into education and politics in Pakistan. Instead of first giving the background, I’ll post the translation of a letter that my parents got from the head of our college during my junior year (the letter is dated March 12, 1992). That same letter was mailed to the parents of all male students. I’ll get to the story behind the letter in a later post.

So here’s the translation. I have tried to make the translation as halting and verbose as the original. I don’t think I have succeeded.

Through this letter, I sincerely appeal to the students’ parents that they, alongwith the university administration and faculty, do their best in improving student behavior so that their child can have a better professional career.

Unfortunately, in December 1991, due to some miscreant students, there was a fight between the college and the locals of Gangoo Bahadur, a village near the college. As a result, the students set fire to local property and a government toll booth. A bus and tractor belonging to the college were also severely damaged. Your son was also involved in this incident. After this incident, on December 17, 1991, the civil administration called the police to action in the campus which resulted in some students being arrested. Now those students have been released on bail. After mutual discussion of the civil and college administrations, the college has reopened on January 25, 1992. The college administration has taken serious notice of this incident and has fined each student one hundred Rupees so that students are warned and focus on their studies and are dissuaded from getting involved in dirty politics.

You are reuested that you advise your son that he not take part in such activities in the future and help us in guarding against non-academic and discipline. [I know this sentence does not make sense but this is how it’s written in Urdu. —- Zack]

If your son is involved in such activities in the future, then his name will be struck off the rolls according to college rules and regulations and thus his future will become dark.

I have fervent [?] hope that you will cooperate with us in restricting activities against the college discipline. (Thank you.)

Wishing for your cooperation

Chew on it for a while. I’ll post more about this and related issues during my college years in Pakistan in a couple of days.

UPDATE: More here and here.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63

I recently finished reading Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63. It’s a huge book with more than 900 pages of text plus about 78 pages of notes. It took me a long time to read, but it was worth it. The book is fascinating and Taylor Branch brings the civil rights era to life. I highly recommend it to everyone.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is about the Birmingham protests by children. The use of dogs and firehoses on those children is heart-wrenching. It’s somewhat unreal to read the comments of some leaders of the time feigning concern for black children.

Birmingham’s white leaders scrambled to head off a swell of public sympathy for King by denouncing his use of children. Mayor Boutwell told the city that “irresponsible and unthinking agitators” had made “tools” of children to threaten life and property. “The respectable people of Birmingham, white or colored, did not create this danger,” he declared. “We are not contributing to it. We are innocent victims.” […]Judge Talbot Ellis […] said that those who “misled these kids” into demonstrations “ought to be put under the jail.”

Another interesting bit was the difference in perception between whites and blacks, something that has not been eliminated (though is greatly reduced). It seems from the book that a lot of whites did not understand the conditions blacks lived under. It was as if they had turned a blind eye to the black population.

The role of the press is as usual not the best. They jump for stories when they get big, but then lose all interest after the climax. At times, they don’t understand the fundamental issues at all. It’s like that stupid “objectivity” thing. Here are the questions King and Wilkins (NAACP head) were asked on “Meet the Press” before the March on Washington:

Lawrence Spivak spoke of the numerous authorities who “believe it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting,” and he asked Wilkins sourly what the country could possibly learn about civil rights that could justify such risks. […] the next panelist promptly asked King three times how the march’s leadership could tolerate Bayard Rustin’s background of subversion and character defects. […] The fourth panelist pressed King to admit that the movement needed to eliminate extremism and “rowdyism,” such as the public booing of Mayor Daley and J. H. Jackson.

Here is King speaking at a mass meeting during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955:

“And you know, my friends, thhere comes a time,” he cried, “when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression.” […] “There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being thrown across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair,” he declared. “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July, and left standing amidst the piercing chill of an Alpine November.” […] “We are here —- we are here because we are tired now.”

Here are some excerpts from Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail replying to some white Alabama clergymen who had written a public letter opposing King’s marches in Birmingham:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

[…]I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

And here is the text of King’s famous “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 and click here to listen to an audio version.

Finally, I want to note Kennedy’s hesitant role for civil rights. He was very mindful of politics and of losing support of Southern Whites who were all Democrats and generally in favor of segregation.

Mississippi must wait until I am finished with the second book Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65. That book covers the Freedon Summer of 1964. There is however a lot of material about Mississippi, including the assassination of Medgar Evers, in this book as well. To whet your appetite for civil rights in the worst state of the era, here is a post by Al-Muhajabah.

Musharraf’s Gems

This guy Musharraf makes me angry:

President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday declared that the Legal Framework Order could not be undone and he would continue as the chief of army staff as “unity of command comes through one person in order to give stability to the nation”.

This is the government we are talking about, not the army. Quit your army talk.

“I will not remove my military uniform, nor would give a time in this regard. I understand uniform has to be removed, as it is not democratic.”

“When I see functional democracy and stability in the country, I will give up the post of army chief. God has placed me in this position. If I have to wear 10 hats in the interest of the country I will do that,” the president added.

So the uniform is not democratic. Therefore, while he’s in uniform, there’ll not be real democracy in Pakistan. But Musharraf will only remove his uniform when he sees functional democracy. Do you see the problem here?

[…]Replying to a question, the president said he had the power to dissolve parliament. He stressed that the nation was supreme. “If the nation is in trouble, I have to take a decision in the national interest,” he maintained.

[…]To another question, he said: “Democracy is the rule of the majority. Majority wants me and wants me in uniform.” The minority was being dictated by people from outside who were least concerned about democracy in Pakistan. They were least bothered about the LFO or the Constitution, he said, adding they were only interested in personal gains.

That’s great. Everything I do is in the national interest and everything my opponents do is for their personal gain. Great logic by Our Great Leader!

Country Quiz

United Nations
You’re the United Nations!

Most people think you’re ineffective, but you are trying to completely save the world from itself, so there’s always going to be a long way to go. You’re always the one trying to get friends to talk to each other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of beating each other about the head and torso. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and you get very schizophrenic as a result. But your heart is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

Via Brian’s Study Breaks who I have added to my blogroll.

Deference to the Executive

Go read a great post by Unqualified Offerings about the decision of the DC Appeals court backing secrecy for Sept 11 detainees. NOW.

Weird Search Results

I am sorry to disappoint the visitor who came here by searching for “sexy in islamabad email address”. I am sure there are sexy men/women/?? in Islamabad and they might even have email addresses. You just won’t find them on this weblog. Apparently I am the #3 result for this search on Google.

BTW, who is Shakeela? And why are people searching for Shakeela adult movies and nude pictures coming to my blog?


I was going to post a review of Taylor Branch’s book “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63” today but I have to grade some homeworks. It will have to wait till tomorrow.

I am posting this using SharpMT which is a Windows-based client for Movable Type. I have installed this on my notebook as I would like to be able to type up posts when I am offline.

Brain Persuasion Test

Following Zack, my Brain Persuasion Test had the following result:

Your Brain Usage Profile
Auditory : 66%
Visual : 33%
Left : 47%
Right : 52%

Ambrin, your hemispheric dominance is equally divided between left and right brain, while you show a moderate preference for auditory versus visual learning, signs of a balanced and flexible person.

Your balance gives you the enviable capacity to be verbal and literate while retaining a certain “flair” and individuality. You are logical and compliant but only to a degree. You are organized without being compulsive, goal-directed without being driven, and a “thinking” individual without being excessively so.

The one problem you might have is that your learning might not be as efficient as you would like. At times you will work from the specific to the general, while at other times you’ll work from the general to the specific. Sometimes you will be logical in your approach while at other times random. Since you cannot always control the choice, you may experience frustrations not normally felt by persons with a more defined and directed learning style. You may also minimally experience conflicts associated with auditory processing.

You will be systematic and sequential in your processing of information, you will most often focus on a single dimension of the problem or material, and you will be more reflective, i.e., “taking the data in” as opposed to “devouring” it.

Overall, you should feel content with your life and yourself. You are, perhaps, a little too critical of yourself – and of others – while maintaining an “openness” which is redeeming. Indecisiveness is a problem and your creativity is not in keeping with your potential. Being a pragmatist, you downplay this aspect of yourself and focus on the more immediate, the more obvious and the more functional.

Arranged Marriage

I had completely forgotten about completing this series until I saw Yasmine comment on Abez’s blog (no permalinks; look up the June 10 post titled “How I Own 1/7th of Riaz’s heart”)….

Previous Posts in my series on marriage: Cousin marriage, forced marriage in Pakistan, forced marriage in Islam.

I had completely forgotten about completing this series until I saw Yasmine comment on Abez’s blog (no permalinks; look up the June 10 post titled “How I Own 1/7th of Riaz’s heart”).

Although Western socities tend to deride arranged marriages as backward and uncivilized and primitive, there do exist positive aspects. For example, Westerners focus more on the physical aspect of relationships, and are thus obsessed with love, sex, beauty, etc. As a result, people get married based on these factors and then get disenchanted with one another very easily. The divorce rate in Western countries such as the U.S. has skyrocketed. […]In contrast, Eastern cultures that practice arranged marriages place far more emphasis on the practical, such as integrity, diligence, ambition, humility, generosity, etc. People get married based on practical reasons, and work on building affection later. Strong characteristics like the ones described above are very conducive to building love and affection in Eastern marriages. As a result, these marriages are much longer-lasting than many Western marriages (at least, based on what i’ve seen so far). It’s BECAUSE the primary emphasis is NOT on love, sex, and physical beauty that arranged marriages are usually so successful, because the spouses get to know one another on a practical level first, looking beyond trivial issues such as beauty or lack thereof.

And, of course, i know it can go both ways: there ARE many arranged marriages that are just total hell, and there are marriages that started out based only on infatuation and grew stronger as time passed. But I think as long one as looks for the right characteristics in a potential spouse, then, arranged marriage or not, ‘s all good.

I won’t reply to her points directly but a discussion of the similar ideas comes later in this post.

First, we need to consider what an arranged marriage is. It is basically a marriage which is arranged by someone other than the couple themselves, usually their parents. It encompasses a lot of different varieties: the harshest arranged marriages are almost forced upon the bride or groom while the most liberal ones start with just an introduction of the coouple through their parents and the rest is up to the couple.

Traditionally in arranged marriages, the decision is made by the parents of the couple and they have to abide by that decision. It was quite likely that they would see each other for the first time after their wedding. These marriages are still prevalent though in lesser numbers than the past. I know quite a few people who are actually proud that they did not meet with their spouse before marriage and married a total stranger. Another thing that I have heard happen is that the parents are usually so confident of their child agreeing to whoever they arrange their marriage with that they don’t bother asking for their opinion before finalizing the proposal. The guy or girl is then left with little choice but to agree.

Then there is the emotional pressure or even emotional blackmail. Parents beseech their children to agree to a proposal before they die or make use of other emotional pressures. A very mild example is shown in this Washington Post article:

But the Patels didn’t drop the idea [of going to India from the US to look for a groom for their daughter], and Indian daughters hesitate to defy their parents. Many times her mother had prepared vegetarian meals for Vibha while she was away at college, and her father had driven nearly five hours to Blacksburg to deliver them, then turned around and headed home — how could she now dismiss their wishes? Her father’s eldest brother, dying in a nearby hospice with the whole family gathered around, yearned to see her engaged — shouldn’t she give him this final pleasure?

The more liberal arranged marriages nowadays are called “semi-arranged marriage,” or “arranged introduction” by some people. Here, the process starts with the parents but the guy and girl have input as well and the final decision is the couple’s. That’s why some proponents of arranged marriage say that it is no different than your mom setting you up on a date. However, there is a huge difference.

They [the parents] run ads, canvass Web sites, put the word out on the community grapevine: Dad’s aunt knows a nice Bengali family in Atlanta whose nephew is an electrical engineer. Mom’s medical school classmate in Detroit has a cousin with a single daughter working with computers in Bangalore.

After their parents perform due diligence — Hindu marriages are considered a union of two families, not merely two individuals, so bloodlines and reputations matter — the children meet and spend time together and decide whether their relationship has a future. A voluntary process, no different from having your friends fix you up, the fixed-up like to say.

But it is different. Families —- many of whom disapprove of or forbid dating —- don’t want to introduce their kids to someone to hang out with or move in with; they want a wedding, and soon. Vinay’s relatives think that after he’s spent three or four evenings with a woman, he ought to know: She’s his future bride or she’s history.

So the parents have a large amount of input in deciding who gets through the initial vetting. Also, there is pressure to make a decision. One is not allowed to take the time it takes to get to know someone, but has to decide on a deadline.

In Muslim families, one-on-one meeting is generally out. So the couple get together along with their parents or in more liberal families with a chaperone. Try meeting your future wife for the only time before your wedding decision in front of both your parents and then try striking up a conversation with her.

People think that the do-it-yourself marriages (“love marriages”) in the West rely on superficial characteristics like physical beauty. Here’s the ad placed by Vinay’s parents:

Punjabi parents desire beautiful, professional, never married, US raised girl for handsome son, 34, 5’10”/150, fair, slim, athletic, engineer/MBA, consultant in DC area. Enjoys travel, sports, music. Please reply …

When parents go looking for a spouse for their child, they consider beauty, ethnicity, religion, education, social/financial status and even horoscopes. Which of these criteria are superficial? There are times when a guy’s mom would reject girls because of the smallest “defects” in physical appearance. Or because of the girl being a bit older than the guy (even by a few months).

Ethnicity and religion are very important factors that most parents don’t overlook for arranged marriages. I know a number of guys whose families insisted that they had to marry another Pathan (an ethnic group in NWFP, Pakistan and in Afghanistan) even though these guys and their families had otherwise completely assimilated in Lahore or Karachi for hundreds of years. No one in their families spoke Pashto or Dari, the languages that Pathans/Pashtuns speak. Still their families would not think of marrying someone outside their definition of the tribes that comprise the Pathans.

Imagine how many parents in the US are comfortable with their children marrying someone of another race. Now think what would happen if these parents could decide who could or could not marry their kid. The result would definitely be far less miscegenation. And that’s what happens in societies with arranged marriages.

In the end, the discussion of arranged and love marriages comes down to which is better. Obviously, the one that leads to more successful marriages. Proponents of arranged marriage claim that it is more successful, but their definition of success focusses on divorce rates.

It [arranged marriage] works better than Americans’ impulsive love marriages, which so often split apart. “We have less divorce,” Vibha’s mother points out. “That’s what results tell us.”

But are divorce rates really a measure of successful marriage? Do all the couples that don’t get divorced stay happy with each other? The prevalence of divorce in a society depends on a lot of factors including the stigma of divorce.

In fact, the advantages and drawbacks of arranged marriages can’t be so easily appraised. The incidence of divorce among Indian-born Americans is dramatically lower than among Americans generally, but that partly reflects the continuing stigma of divorce. Even as the divorce rate among Indian Americans appears to be increasing, the topic is rarely discussed. […]Divorce reflects poorly on an Indian family, and some proportion of arranged marriages endure not because they are successful or rewarding, but because leaving them would bring such shame.

In addition, the concept of a woman living independently is foreign to most people in South Asian culture. Also, a majority of women don’t work in Pakistan and hence find it difficult to have enough money to support themselves without getting married or after getting divorced.

And many endure because the definition of success differs from Western ideas. Traditional Indians don’t expect a partner to be that improbable combination of soul mate/confidante/red-hot lover/best friend. “The husband-wife bond is one of reliability and dependability and complementary family roles — raising children, caring for elders,” explains Karen Leonard, author of The South Asian Americans and a University of California-Irvine anthropologist. “They may communicate very little in intimate ways, and it’s still a good marriage.”

Hence, they are married as strangers and stay strangers all their lives.

Arranged marriages are the norm in Pakistan and if its proponents are right, then marriages should be very successful there in general. In terms of divorce rates, they are but then how to explain this:

Estimates of the percentage of women who experience domestic violence in Pakistan range from 70 to upwards of 90 percent.

A lot of people nowadays think that arranged marriages are somehow tied to Islam or Muslims. In fact, arranged marriages are common in a lot of societies in Africa and Asia. They are the norm in India and Japan among other countries.

What is the position of Islam on the topic of arranged marriage? As I mentioned in my post about forced marriage in Islam, traditional and conservative scholars require the approval of the bride’s guardian for her marriage (a position I disagree with). In addition, conservatives are wary of any kind of mixing of the sexes socially. Therefore, for women, there is not much of a practical way out of this dilemma. Some modern scholars however disagree and allow a couple to get married without parental involvement. They still disagree with dating, but meeting of the couple for the purpose of making a decision about marriage is allowed. So, the marriage would tend to be like the “semi-arranged marriage.”

A final question to anyone who favors arranged marriage and specially those who don’t want the couple to get to know each other before marriage: What do you think about having sex with a stranger to whom you are married? Or do you think a couple like that should wait until they know each other better?

Muslims in the Americas

The answer to the quiz about the country in the Americas where Muslims are the largest percentage of the population as compared to other countries is Suriname.

According to the CIA World Factbook, here are some of the population statistics for Suriname:

  • Population 436,494
  • Religions: Hindu 27.4%, Muslim 19.6%, Roman Catholic 22.8%, Protestant 25.2% (predominantly Moravian), indigenous beliefs 5%
  • Ethnic groups: Hindustani (also known locally as “East Indians”; their ancestors emigrated from northern India in the latter part of the 19th century) 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, “Maroons” (their African ancestors were brought to the country in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves and escaped to the interior) 10%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

Razib of Gene Expression was the first to email me the correct answer. Others who got it right are Dan B. and Al-Muhajabah.