The Other Side of Silence

Thanks to Conrad Barwa who recommended this book to me.

This is a good book which collects some stories of the riots and migrations that accompanied independence and partition of India in 1947. The book focuses on the Punjab, rightly so in my opinion since the Punjab is where most of the “action” happened.

Partition was a cataclysmic event which affected millions of people. Most other migrations, riots and ethnic cleansing in the 20th century pales in comparison to the numbers who were killed or migrated at the founding of Pakistan.

In the space of a few months, about 12 million people moved between the new, truncated India and the two wings, East and West, of the newly created Pakistan. By far the largest proportion of these refugees —- more than 10 million of them —- crossed the western border which divided the historic state of Punjab. […] Slaughter sometimes accompanied and sometimes prompted their movement; many others died from malnutrition and contagious diseases. Estimates of the dead vary from 200,000 (the contemporary British figure) to 2 million (a later Indian estimate) but that somewhere around a million people died is now widely accepted. As always there was widespread sexual savagery: about 75,000 women are thought to have been abducted and raped by men of religions different from their own (and indeed sometimes by men of their own religion).

Butalia has about a dozen narratives of people who lived through the hell that was Punjab in 1947. She especially focusses on women and children. Lots of women were abducted, raped or killed at the time. There were also cases of women and children killed by their own families to save their ‘honor.’ Some women committed suicide or were ‘encouraged’ to commit suicide for family honor.

In the case of abductions, the governments of Pakistan and India signed a treaty to recover such women. These operations continued well into the 1950s. According to the treaty, abducted women were defined as any women who were “seen to be living with, in the company of, or in a relationship with a man of the other religion” after March 1, 1947. This did create problems for interfaith relationships (which were not very common, but not nonexistent either). There were also issues regarding the consent of the women themselves in such recovery operations.

Though Butalia has written a good book on an important topic, sometimes she goes too much into meta-comments and her own thought processes.

The Other Side of Silence is also important because not many good books have been written on the topic of the riots and the migrations that accompanied partition.

Strangely, however, there is much good literature which is based on those events. For example, there is the short story Toba Tek Singh by Manto (English translations). There is also the book Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh.

I have previously posted about my Dad’s experience of the riots in Jammu and his migration to Pakistan.

Six Figures

Some time around 1:45pm today, this weblog received its 100,000th visitor since I moved to my own domain and Movable Type last May. It took 11 months to achieve what Instapundit and Daily Kos manage in a day.

I am, however, grateful to all my visitors and hope that you’ll keep reading this weblog and offering your comments.

New York Auto Show

Amber and I went to the New York Auto Show last weekend. It was extremely crowded there and hence I did not get much opportunity for good photos. Anyway, here are a few, including my dream car Porsche Carerra GT.

Porsche Carerra GT Carerra GT only $440K 1500 Carerra GTs to be made
Nissan 350Z Porsche Boxster Mazda RX-8: A Wankel in there and our baby could fit in as well
The new Chevrolet Corvette Honda S2000 Should be nice to drive


I have read a number of books in the past month or so and owe you guys about five reviews. Hopefully, I’ll get to them in the next couple of weeks.

Asad has informed me that he has created a phonetic Urdu keyboard layout for Unipad. He also pointed me to the Yahoo! mailing list for Urdu computing. These are useful resources to add to the list I compiled in a previous post.

Hijabman recommends the book Muslims in the U.S: The State of Research by Karen Leonard according to which most Muslims in the US are ‘invisible’ Muslims, i.e. they don’t attend any mosque.

According to Muslim Wakeup, “less than 7 percent of American Muslims attend mosque regularly (compared with 38 percent of Americans who attend church weekly).” In the comments, the author Ahmed Nassef explains where this 7% figure comes from.

The 7% figure for regular mosque attendance comes from the 2000 national mosque study co-sponsored by ISNA and CAIR. The study, which depends only on information from mosque officials, points to 400,000 regular mosque attendees out of an estimated population of 6 million Muslims in the US.

Even if there are only 3 million Muslims in the US, the percentage of regular mosque attendees is still much less than that of church attendees.

Via Perverse Access Memory comes the news that processing times for most immigration documents have increased substantially.

Processing times —- for everything from renewing an annual work permit to securing permanent legal residency —- have as much as quadrupled over the last 18 months, despite the Bush administration’s pledge to cut waiting times in half. The wait to replace a lost green card, for instance, has grown to 19 months from four. And the kind of paperwork sought by Ms. Barschdorff —- a document allowing her to re-enter the country after a brief trip —- now takes seven months instead of two.

As a consequence, and despite an infusion of $160 million earmarked for cutting the backlog, the number of pending applications has risen by nearly 60 percent over the last three years, to 6.2 million, according to a recent congressional report. The root cause, officials say, is the post-9/11 reassignment of 1,000 agents who used to issue documents and now do extensive security checks of every applicant instead.

The fallout ranges from minor inconveniences to wrenching dilemmas.

Jesus, Carrey, Von Trier and Jagjit

What better day to watch a Mel Gibson movie than Good Friday. So off I went with Captain Arrrgh, who will probably blog in more detail about it, to watch The Passion of the Christ since Amber doesn’t like movies with such blood, gore and torture. It is a powerful movie and works pretty well as a movie, except that the devil is just a comedic release. I didn’t understand his role except for the scene in the garden near the start of the movie. Pontius Pilate also seemed like too much of an empathetic character. I won’t comment about the fidelity to scripture since I haven’t exactly read the Bible and am not a Christian to boot. It was also interesting that I could pick up a few words in Aramaic that sounded quite like their Arabic counterparts.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a very different movie from the Passion. It is about love and memories. Since it was written by Charlie Kaufman, it has some nifty tricks in there too. Also, good acting by Jim Carrey after a long time.

It took some effort to find a theater in Jersey where Dogville was running, but we found it in a single screen theater in Chatham. The effort was definitely worth it as this is a very good movie. The plot was absorbing and the artistic choices were interesting. Nicole Kidman performed very well and is probably one of the better actresses around at this time.

We also went to a Jagjit Singh concert in Elizabeth, NJ. The ghazals and Jagjit’s singing were good, but the acoustics of the hall or the sound equipment was not up to par.

My Browsing Sideblog

While I haven’t been blogging daily, I do put up interesting links that I find on the sidebar on the right under the title “Browsing.” It’s just below my book list. You can also get the complete list of all the stuff I have put up there.

Usually, I put links to articles, photographs and other websites that I find interesting or intriguing, but don’t have much to comment about on that list.

Some bloggers who point out such stuff to me are Gary Farber, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Reid Stott. I usually try to put a link to the blogger who drew my attention to it, but sometimes I forget.

I do recommend that you visit those websites on my browsing list and read the articles I link to. I think you would find them interesting. I do not, however, claim to agree with or endorse everything I link to.

Democracy, Military and Pakistan

While listening to President Bush, I was getting frustrated. So what do I do? I start reading the BBC News and Dawn websites and find even more frustrating news.

Forget President Bush, let’s hear from President-General Musharraf.

Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has said he has still not decided whether to step down as chief of the army by the end of the year. His comments on BBC World’s HARDTalk programme were in contrast to his public commitment to quit the post and become solely civilian head of state.

Wasn’t that part of the law that was passed in the deal between the religious political parties and Musharraf and his cronies? It is. See the Constitution of Pakistan, Article 41(7)b.

The president’s pledge to quit the army post helped him win a vital confidence vote at the start of the year.

It seems that because of the uncertain political and security situation in the country, President Musharraf has now decided to keep his options open.

Bullshit. For people like Musharraf, their own power is what matters. They just cloak it in national interest and security concerns.

His reluctance to honour the commitment suggests he is giving serious thought to a request by some members of the governing coalition not to quit as army chief. On Monday, 18 MPs from one of the coalition parties formally asked him to retain both the posts of president and army chief to ensure stability and security.

Sure, people like those 18 MPs can always be found.

In the HARDTalk interview, the president was repeatedly asked whether he was to step down as head of the army by the end of this year, but refused to give a direct reply.

It seems he’s afraid of of becoming a lame-duck President-General.

But legal experts say it is difficult to see how he can wriggle out of the situation and retain his military post, particularly when the amendment clearly states that by the end of 2004 the president cannot hold any other office.

You can see Musharraf’s interview at the BBC website.

And Pakistani democracy and judiciary have obviously been strengthened1 by sentencing an opposition leader to 7 years in jail.

District and Sessions Court Islamabad on Monday sentenced ARD president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi to 23 years in prison and fined him Rs42,000 for inciting mutiny in the army. Mr Hashmi was sentenced on seven counts, with a maximum of seven years on one count. The prison terms will run concurrently.

[…]Mr Hashmi was arrested on Oct 29, 2003, after he read out and distributed among journalists an unsigned letter titled ‘Qaumi Qiyadat Kay Naam’ at a news conference. The letter on a purported GHQ letterhead was said to have been sent to some parliamentarians by unknown army personnel.

Here are the sections of the penal code under which he was found guilty.

  • Section 131/109 PPC (incitement to mutiny): Seven years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs10,000.
  • Section 124-A of Pakistan Penal Code (defaming the government and the army): Three years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs10,000.
  • Section 505(a) PPC (defaming army): Two years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs5,000.
  • Section 468/471 PPC (forgery of documents): Four years rigorous imprisonment on two counts with a fine of Rs5,000 each.
  • Section 500 PPC (defaming army officers): One-year simple imprisonment with a fine of Rs5,000.
  • Section 469 PPC (forgery): Two years rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs2,000.

I would be happy if most of these sections of the penal code were repealed.

Here is what the judge had to say.

“A careful perusal of the contents of the letter reveals that not only an attempt has been made by the author to cause disaffection between the Pakistan Army but also he has abetted in inciting the people against the President of Pakistan as well as the Army for mutiny,” the order said.

In this way, the author has also tried to harm the solidarity of the country and to create hatred between the public and the government constituted by law, the judge said.

Thus the wordings used in the offending letter, distributed by none else but by the accused, fully constituted an offence, the judge said.

If you are wondering what the letter said, here is some information.

Javed Hashmi was arrested after circulating a letter bearing a military letterhead which was purportedly written by disgruntled officers. It called for an inquiry into alleged corruption in the army’s senior ranks and demanded a judicial investigation into a Pakistani military operation in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1999.

The authorities claimed the letter, which was also highly critical of President Musharraf and his alliance with the United States, was a forgery. Mr Hashmi’s allies say they believe the letter was genuine and that the charges of forgery are politically motivated.

Seems like I agree with everything in that letter in that description above. May be I should stay away from Pakistan.

Oh and the trial was closed and held in the jail.

Continue reading “Democracy, Military and Pakistan”

Israeli Fence

Let me just say that I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan about the fence Israel is constructing.

I think the fence can have a positive effect in cooling down Israel-Palestinian relations and thus get them to the negotiating table.

Forward talks about the effects of the fence on Jenin.

Life is returning to normal here in the city once known as the suicide-bombing capital of the West Bank. The economy is picking up, services are being restored and local leaders describe a new optimism.

The reason, Israeli military officials say, is the nearly completed security fence separating this sector of the West Bank from Israel. A 50-mile stretch —- from the Jordan River to just north of Netanya —- is three months from completion. Already the barrier has virtually eliminated terrorist incidents, as well as car thefts and illegal infiltration, inside nearby parts of Israel. In response, the army has sharply curtailed the hated roadblocks and closures that had disrupted life for local Palestinians. Workers can now reach their jobs. Farmers can bring their crops to market, reviving Jenin’s business district.

[…]Last January 1, when the first stretch of fence was completed, Avman met with the mayor of Jenin at brigade headquarters. “On the way back home,” he promised the disbelieving mayor, “you will not see a single Israeli tank.”

The town has not been closed off for more than four months. This had major effects on both sides of the fence. In Jenin, life is closer to normal —- which, as Avman is quick to point out, creates an incentive to avoid terrorism, as people have more to lose. On the Israeli side, people seem to feel much safer. Three weeks ago, more than 30,000 Israelis turned out for a hike along the Gilboa ridge near here organized annually by local authorities. A year ago, the number of hikers was less than 6,000, and security expenses were five times higher.

There is, however, one catch.

There is another major distinction between Northern Samaria and other areas: The fence here largely follows the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. There are few Israeli settlements in this sector, and so there are few deviations eastward to appease the settlers, few Palestinians separated from their fields and orchards, and no enclaves of Palestinians forced to pass a gate every time they go to school, to work or to see a doctor. In several other regions under construction, this is not the case. The pressure around the fence in those spots is expected to be much greater, leading to more security problems and more pressure on the army.

A fence which follows the Green Line as closely as possible, thus allowing the Israeli army to withdraw, will make life much easier for Palestinians and hence enhance the prospects for peace.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to my Christian readers.

Secularism, Islamism

It seems I wasn’t exactly clear in my post where I argued that there is lots of diversity among “Islamists.”

Ideofact writes about some statements and ideas of al-Ghannouchi which do seem quite bad to me. My point in my previous post was not to defend al-Ghannouchi or Fazlur Rahman or anyone for that matter. As a secular Muslim [what is that? —- ed. It means I am secular and would in fact like a more secular US, but at the same time I identify as a Muslim rather than an agnostic or atheist etc.], I have obviously some fundamental disagreements with anyone who wants religion (Islam or any other) to have a place in the political sphere.

My point was simply that we, and I include myself, people in the west as well as the Muslim world here, have a habit of sometimes conflating all Muslims together. Or at least considering all religion-based politics as equally bad. That is not the case. There are some pretty bad groups, some are less bad and some have some redeeming qualities/ideas. For example, I think the Justice and Development Party currently in power in Turkey has been a good positive development for that country. I also think that Algeria would have been better off with an FIS government in the early 1990s than the military coup and the civil war with the extremist groups that it actually experienced.

Ideofact also gives examples of fascism and communism as reasons for considering all Islamists together.

While there were variations among German, Italian and Spanish fascism, or Soviet, Chinese and Yugosalvian communism, that all these systems are illiberal, that the only difference is how heavy is the one wearing the boot while standing on your face.

This comparison depends on how widely you are casting the net for Islamists. For example, a number of people consider Alija Izetbegovich, the former Prime Minister of Bosnia, as an Islamist politician as well. Bill, on the other hand, has written glowingly about the guy on his old blog, Paleo-Ideofact. [I think Bill and I agree much more than disagree on this whole issue, but what’s the fun in agreeable blogging.]

As a secular guy, it is also not my purpose to decide which religious group is good or bad. However, as I argued in a post about secularism and the Middle East, we need to focus on specific actions rather than condemning all of political Islam. For better or worse, religion does play a large role in the lives of many people around the world. And there are a lot of things happening in the Muslim world with both positive and negative consequences. As Thebit points out, we sometimes blame everything on the “Wahabbis” and consider the traditionalists as the good guys. However, traditionalists are also responsible for a lot of bad stuff, like superstitious beliefs, cooperation with authoritarianism, etc.

On the other side, a lot of Muslims don’t like criticism of bad Muslim behavior by others. That is a wrong attitude. Criticism is definitely something to be engaged with and not condemned outright. See, for example, posts by Ideofact, Muslims Under Progress and Avari-Nameh on the criticism of the Muslim world by the former Archbishop of Canterbury.