Friday, June 29, 2012

Writers/Artists Convention in Sindh

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) cordially invites you to participate in
  ‘Sindh Writers/ Artists Convention’ 
on Saturday, 30th June, 2012 at 09:00 a.m. to be held at
Regent Plaza Hotel, Shahrah-e-Faisal, Karachi.
We are sure your participation would enrich the proceeding of the convention.
09: Registration
09:30: Opening remarks- Why this convention………….Mr. I.A. Rehman
Session One- 21st Century and Writers
President:       Dr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui
Article:           Mr. Mahmood Shaam
Panelists:        Prof. Dr. Pirzada Qasim……..Confirmation awaited
Dr. Zafar Iqbal
Mr. Ghazi Slahuddin
Mr. Nazir Leghari
            Ms. Atiya Dawood
Session Two- The role of writers and artists in the struggle for human rights
President:       Ms. Zubeida Mustafa
Article:           Ms. Zahida Hina
Panelists:        Mr. Sahar Ansari
                        Mr. Karan Singh
                        Mr. Tauqeer Chughtai
                        Dr. Rukhsana Channar
---Lunch: 01:30 to 02:00 p.m.---
Session Three- Culture and the challenges of the age
President:       Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ali Bhatti
Article:           Ms. Nilllofur Farukh
Presentations:Ms.Mehar Afroz                                           
Ms. Noorul Huda Shah
Mr. S.M. Shahid
Mr. Ahmed Shah
                        Mr. Fateh Daudpotho
                        Mr. Khalid Chandio
Panelists:        Ms. Fatima Suraya Bajya
                        Ms. Munneza Shamsi
                        Mr. Farhad Zaidi
                        Mr. Namatullh Khilji
RSVP: Phones: 021- 356 3713 & 32, Cell: 0322- 215 1822, 0333- 3999 765, 0334- 217 5682

Niilofur Farrukh
Dil na umeed toh nahin , nakaam hi toh hae
Lambi hae gham ki sham magar sham hi to hae

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
- Martin Luther King, Jr

Thursday, June 28, 2012


BUT we need to go further
God Loves All Children
Everywhere AND their
Parents too.  Most Poor
Parents don't have even
the most basic healthcare.

Reactions to breaking news below are at variance:

Monthly Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter - June 2012

in this edition
Great Victory for Children
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court found the entire Affordable Care Act constitutional including the Medicaid expansion.
“Today’s decision is a clear victory for children of all ages, races and incomes in America,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “I am delighted the Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act including the Medicaid expansion, but I am deeply concerned by the limitation of the expansion that could exclude millions of poor parents. Together we need to work until all children and parents and everyone in America are guaranteed access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage.”
What’s Next for Health Reform? Ensuring Affordable Health Coverage for Every Child
Children and young adults have seen great health coverage gains since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Learn about the early coverage gains for millions of children, young adults and families and explore the road ahead as states work to develop health insurance exchanges and design a simple and seamless system for families to enroll in coverage. Take action to protect and improve Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and learn about promising strategies to enroll uninsured children in health coverage including the Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education and CDF’s partnership with the American Association of School Administrators to enroll uninsured children in health coverage through local schools.
  • Elisabeth Wright Burak, Senior Program Director, Center for Children and Families, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute
  • Donna Cohen Ross, Senior Policy Advisor, Centers for Medicaid and CHIP Services
  • Sharon Adams-Taylor, Associate Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators, AASA
  • Amy Swanson, CEO, Voices for Ohio’s Children

Pursuing Justice for Children Urgently
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles, a giant victory for our children and our country. Before the decision the U.S. was the only country in the world to routinely sentence 13 and 14-year-old children to die in prison. Two thousand people now have hope of a new hearing and a new sentence. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, successfully argued the case. Watch Bryan Stevenson talk about the urgent need for justice for children in America with the CDF Freedom Schools® family earlier this month at Haley Farm. Come hear him talk about action we can take together at our national conference in a special plenary session, Ending the New Apartheid: The Cradle to Prison Pipeline and Mass Incarceration.

Spotlight on CDF Freedom Schools Sites
Right now, our CDF Freedom Schools partners across the country are serving more than 11,500 children. CDF President Marian Wright Edelman recently visited our four new sites in Cincinnati, Ohio and an excited young person told a reporter, “She's one of my heroes. She created Freedom Schools. If not for her, I would not be reading at the level I am today.” Our partner in Charlotte, North Carolina continues to expand under the leadership of Mary Nell McPherson, and has 25 sites this summer serving 1,600 children. Help close the achievement gaps by staunching summer learning loss. See CDF Freedom Schools sites in action in Cincinnati. Come to the conference to learn from Mary Nell McPherson how to build public support to bring the CDF Freedom Schools program to your community.

Saving Our Democracy: Creating One America
An all-out assault on democracy is underway as corporations and big money can now spend unlimited cash on campaigns, suppressive voter ID laws seek to disenfranchise vulnerable voters, and efforts to defund, de-unionize, demonize and privatize public services of all kinds put social programs from public schools to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, on the chopping block. Join Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as he moderates a robust discussion of these issues and more in a plenary session on Saving Democracy: Creating One America on July 24th at our national conference. Wade will be joined by the following experts:
  • Robert Edgar, President and CEO of Common Cause
  • Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials

Last Chance for Hotel Discounts
This is your last week to get a hotel discount when you register. Hotel discounts are on a first come first served basis and end July 6th. We’re less than a month away from our first national conference in nearly a decade and we’re excited and encouraged by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm. Take time to look over the world-class speakers, plenary sessions and workshops and sign up today to reserve your discounted hotel room. Look for more announcements of plenary speakers in the days ahead.

Nuns on the Bus
Nuns on the BusWe are so proud of our building neighbors and long-time partners in pursuing justice,NETWORK: A National Catholic Lobby, for taking their message against budget cuts to vulnerable populations on the road with their highly successful Nuns on the Bus tour across the heartland. Maybe you caught them on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Show your support with a ‘Like’ on their Facebook page and send them a note of encouragement for standing up against the disastrous House-passed ‘Ryan budget’ and for speaking out on behalf of ‘the least among us’.
I LOVE this group!  Check them out online/FB & sign-up for alerts

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

just something simple yet so comforting...

My head is bursting
with the joy of the unknown.

My heart is expanding a thousand fold.
Every cell,
taking wings,
flies about the world.
All seek separately
the many faces of my Beloved.

They will ask you
what you have produced.
Say to them,
except for Love,
what else can a Lover produce?

This is a gathering of Lovers. In this gathering there is no high, no low,
no smart, no ignorant ,no special assembly, no grand discourse,
no proper schooling required...

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, idolator, worshipper of fire, 
Come even though you have broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, and come yet again. Ours is not a caravan of despair.


This last has many variations and this one is as quoted by Amin Malak --
 the others were also found here

The mosaic was found here

Joseph's Voice for Our Time: Musings and Notes

Joseph's Brothers Sell Him into Captivity (1855 painting by Konstantin Flavitsky) Heavy
metaphors come to mind about how we treat our fellow-human family...

I posted and re-posted on the story of Joseph as found in the Qur'an and keep forgetting how deeply I felt this story the very first time:

JOSEPH in biblical and Qur'an accounts as well as in poetry and teaching stories has become
a haunting theme and personage for me yet these are just preliminary notations...

For now, I want to mark here my intention with the following poem...Then I intend to include new insights from a recent course offered by The Republic of Rumi course, "The Art of Joseph" with which I want to spend  much more  time...

 This painting is Persian and is from the 1400's -- find the credit and more

I also want to include a story or two told of a young Muslim boy hearing stories of Joseph sung by a beggar in his home.

This is an interpretation of one of Rumi's poems by Coleman Barks (See his Osho Chapter on p. 179 of "Rumi The Big Red Book")


Joseph has come, the handsome one of this age, a victory banner floating over spring flowers.

Those of you whose work it is to wake the dead, get up.  This is a work day.

The lion that hunts lions charges into a meadow.  Yesterday and the day before are gone.

The coin of now slaps down in your hand,
with the streets and buildings of this city all saying,
The prince is coming! A drumbeat starts.

What we hear about the friend is true.  The beauty of that peacefulness
makes the whole world restless.

Spread your robe out to catch what sifts down from the ninth level.

You strange exiled bird with clipped wings, now you have four full-feathered pinons.

You heart closed up in a chest, open.
The friend is entering you.

You feet, it is time to dance.

Do not talk about the old man.  He is young again.

And do not mention the past.  Do you understand?
The beloved is here.

You mumble, But what excuse can I give the king?
When the king is making excuses to you.

You say, How can I escape his hand?
When that hand is trying to help you.

You saw fire, and light came.
You expected blood.  Wine is being poured.

Do not run from your tremendous good fortune.
Be silent and do not try to add up what has been given.

An uncountable grace has come to you.


Also note:

In the Mathnawi Rumi tells a story about "childhood friends"....and one such friend who
visits Joseph as the de facto ruler of Egypt.  The friend asks: "What was it like when you
realized your brothers were jealous and what they planned to do?"  In the story, Joseph
answers: "I felt like a lion with a chain around my neck...not degraded by the chain...but
just waiting for my power to be recognized."  The friend asks how it was down in the well
and in prison. Joseph answers: "Like the moon when it's getting smaller, yet knowing the
fullness to come..." 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Reminder from the Past: Lest we so soon forget...

                                        Heinrich Himmler and his daughter Gudrun

I found a small piece of paper with the following quote above my husband's desk and place it here --
-- with deep and heartfelt prayers.

I pray that we may learn the lessons of the inhumane horrors STILL applied to so many precious people of all ages, religions, nationalities and backgrounds IN OUR TIME.

"Naturally, the common people don't want war...but, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship...all you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in any country."
                --from Herman Goering (Adolph Hitler's Second in Command)

One corroboration that this quote is true and truly attributed is found:

Also see stories and quotes from family members of the Nazi war criminals: What parent, leader or not, would want such a legacy for their family?  See what this precious child
-- Gudrun -- had to endure:

Be sure to peruse or file this one because the insights and mirrors are so palpable
as well as heart-breaking.  If we haven't yet made our own applications of this, when'will be that day?
(The photos on this post are taken from this source.)

Herman Goering

Daughter and Father  

Help open up a dialogue for peace.

7 US Peacemakers suggest Jill Stein

FROM: David Swanson, Medea Benjamin, Leah Bolger, Bruce Gagnon, Chris Hedges, George Martin and Kevin Zeese

Dear Friends in the Peace Movement,

We can't afford to let this opportunity slip by. By taking action over the next five days the peace community has a chance to inject a compelling and courageous peace advocate into the 2012 presidential campaign, to have a voice in the national debate over war, militarism, and military spending.

You know what is going to happen if we leave this election up to the two major party candidates. President Obama will defend his troop surges, his excessive Pentagon budgets, his preparations for war with Iran,  his escalation of the drone wars, his crackdowns on whistleblowers, his indefinite detention policy, and his new role as manager of the White House assassination list. Mitt Romney will not question these policies, but will promise to pursue them with even more enthusiasm. In debates and interviews, the American people will have the Big Lie drilled into their consciousness: that our nation must accept escalating military engagement and must visit worldwide violence against all who defy the U.S. government.

Peace PartyJill Stein stands ready to challenge the Big Lie. Jill Stein, a physician from Massachusetts, who has been a national board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, has just won 29 state primaries to secure the presidential nomination of the Green Party. She is putting some badly needed fundamentals for peace on the table:

Cut the Pentagon budget by 50%. Halt the drone wars. Pardon the whistleblowers. Restore our civil liberties. Make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. She is driving home the point that the Obama/Romney fascination with war and violence is dangerous for our nation and the world. We need to make sure she is heard.

Jill Stein is closing in on federal matching funds that would double the value of donations to her campaign. Because she doesn't receive big checks from Pentagon contractors and their lobbyists, public funding is essential to her campaign. She needs to raise about $24,000 by midnight on June 30th so that she can apply for matching funds.

That's not much money to ask of a national peace movement. We can do it. And the payoff for peace will be tremendous.

So we urge you do two things. First, go to Jill Stein's website:, and make a generous donation to her campaign. Second, please forward this email to your friends and networks. Forwarding this message is critically important.

Thank you for helping us open up a dialogue for peace.


  David Swanson, author of War is a Lie and also of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial President and Forming a More Perfect Union
  Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK
  Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and senior fellow at the Nation Institute
  Leah Bolger, retired naval commander and current president of Veterans for Peace
  George Martin, three term national co-chair of United for Peace & Justice
  Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.
  Kevin Zeese, executive director of Voters for Peace
      * organizational affiliations listed for identification purposes only

PS. While all donations are valuable, Jill Stein especially needs donations from the following key states to help her reach the required $5000 per state threshold.  If you know anyone in these states, please ask them to make a donation of up to $250:   AZ, CO, CT, DC, FL, ME, MI, MO, NC, NM, OH, OR, SC, TN and VA.  Read all the nitty gritty details and updates here:

Please take an immediate step by making a donation:
Authorized and paid for by Jill Stein for President
PO Box 260217, Madison, WI 53726-0217 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World." PBS on July 6th



You Mean Muslims Make Art?

By David Swanson

Click for big version.
When Jesus used a good Samaritan to explain the need to appreciate foreigners, he can be forgiven for not having known that so many Samaritans would later convert to Islam. It's not as if he was omniscient or something! And think of how muchhe's forgiven us. Nonetheless, since we can't reasonably be expected to appreciate Muslims -- at least not while we're teaching young people that Muslims deserve genocide -- that whole parable falls apart.

I doubt one film can solve this problem, but I did just get a chance to preview a beautiful documentary that will be airing on PBS on July 6th, called "Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World." Susan Sarandon narrates, and the voices are all in English -- no dubbing or subtitles. They're the voices of professors, art scholars, and artists. The subtitle could be a reference to cultures of the distant past, as an early comment in the film suggests, or perhaps it carries some sort of religious meaning.

The art in the film is largely but not exclusively religious. It's all art and architecture of "the Muslim world," taken to mean geographic areas dominated by Muslim culture now or in the past. We learn about the heavy use of Arabic writing in Islamic art, in calligraphy, and in architectural inscriptions. We tour great works of architecture in Palestine, Syria, Spain, Turkey, Mali, and India. In the secular world, apart from the mosques, we see plates, bowls, pitchers, sculptures, and paintings depicting animals and people.

In Isfahan, in the middle of Iran, so easily bombed, we find the origin of the blue and white ceramics we associate with a nation they spread to: China -- as well as stunning images of a beautiful blue mosque. During the course of the movie we are told how various Muslim art forms were influenced by Christian or Hindu art. And of course, the opposite has been just as common. The interlocking histories of these cultures make it very difficult to speak of one as if it were separate from the others.

I have to assume that someone who identified with a religion other than Islam could have as easy a time appreciating Islamic art as I do, being an atheist who would prefer to see the world leave religion behind. Some of the experts heard in the film instruct us that various art objects refer to prayer or heaven, or that the art provides the viewer with a religious experience. And yet if I ignore the commentary what I see are incredible designs and colors developed around natural and mathematical beauty.

God said: to know me, know my creations, we're told, and yet the flower designs woven into wonderful tapestries in Western Asia inspire even if I'm not trying to know something else that I can know by knowing them, if you know what I mean.

David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at and and works for the online activist organization He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and Facebook.
© Scoop Media


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are we one of the people who do nothing? (to counter Islamophobia)

Find this and many more articles on the Islamophobia issue: The Nation Magazine:
July 2-9 2012

My dad, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, was arrested by the FBI on trumped up charges, sending a chill through the local Muslim community. Yet we found support from unlikely allies.

Here's just an excerpt of the articles' ending:

... In November 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney created the “1 percent doctrine,” which held that if there is even “a 1 percent chance” that a threat is real, “we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” As policy, this has led to innocent Muslims being framed or entrapped in plots wholly manufactured by the FBI.

One of the most egregious cases took place in Albany, where a local imam—a Kurdish immigrant named Yassin Aref—found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case began with a notebook, discovered in 2003 in the wreckage of a bombed-out encampment in Iraq. Aref’s name was on one of the pages, alongside the Kurdish word kak, which US authorities translated as “commander.” (It actually means “brother.”) With that, Aref was suddenly a government target. The FBI enlisted the help of Shahed Hussain, an informant facing deportation for fraud who has since been involved in several other sting operations throughout the Northeast. Hussain approached a friend of Aref’s, Mohammed Mosharref Hossain, and offered him a loan of $50,000. After giving him the money, Hussain told him it had come from the sale of a missile to be used in an attack against the Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations. That, too, was part of the FBI sting.
Aref, knowing nothing about the supposed missile sale, was asked to witness the loan payment. The informant spoke in code, using the word chaudry—a common South Asian surname—to refer to the missile. Aref was arrested and, in March 2007, sentenced to fifteen years in prison on terror charges, including support for a foreign terrorist organization and money laundering.
“It’s fabricated police work,” says Andrew Shryock, a University of Michigan professor, regarding these types of prosecutions using government informants. “And the disturbing thing is not that it produces arrests but that the public tolerates it.”

Aref’s case galvanized peace activists in Albany, who held vigils and wrote letters to the judge calling for Aref’s release. Among them was Steve Downs, a former attorney for New York state, who volunteered in his defense. The day after Aref’s conviction, he visited his client in prison. “He looked at me and said, ‘I want to fire you as my lawyer,’” Downs told me, smiling. “But he said, ‘I want to hire you as my brother.’ He said, ...and I need family more than I need lawyers.’”

Downs and the Muslim Solidarity Committee, as the mostly non-Muslim Albany activists called themselves, raised thousands of dollars to help cover the rent for Aref’s wife and four children. Downs and others also drove Aref’s children to visit their father in prison, fourteen hours away in Indiana.

“I’m not sure I would’ve had the guts to do any of this by myself,” Downs says of the activism around Aref’s case, which drew strength from the number of people involved. Now 70 and retired, Downs says his profession long discouraged him from involvement in political causes, so that for twenty-eight years, he was in a “cocoon.” Today, he is glad to have broken free of it.
“When I was 3 years old, my father died in World War II,” he recalls. “He was a Navy doctor. Later, I asked my mom, ‘Why did he die?’ She would say, ‘Well, there was this war—the Nazis came to power in Germany.’ I would ask, ‘How did Hitler come to power if he was so bad?’ And she would say, ‘Because good people who could have stopped him didn’t do anything.’
“A lot of time growing up, I was angry at good people who didn’t do anything,” Downs says. “Until one day, I realized I was one of those people.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How The Twelve Steps Lead Many to Healing and Peace

(see below for photo credit)

The following reads like poetry for me and is becoming a reassuring reflection during
morning and other quiet times throughout my day.  So, I wanted to share this piece with my blog-friends:

From Survival to Recovery (p269)
If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve Steps, our lives will be transformed. We will become mature, responsible individuals with a great capacity for joy, fulfillment, and wonder.

Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential. We will discover that we are both worthy of love and loving.

We will love others without losing ourselves, and will learn to accept love in return.

Our sight, once clouded and confused, will clear and we will be able to perceive reality and recognize truth.

Courage and fellowship will replace fear.

We will be able to risk failure to develop new, hidden talents.

Our lives, no matter how battered and degraded, will yield hope to share with others.

We will begin to feel and will come to know the vastness of our emotions, but we will not be slaves to them.

Our secrets will no longer bind us in shame.

As we gain the ability to forgive ourselves, our families, and the world, our choices will expand.

With dignity we will stand for ourselves, but not against our fellows.

Serenity and peace will have meaning for us as we allow our lives and the lives of those we love to flow day by day with God’s ease, balance, and grace.

No longer terrified, we will discover we are free to delight in life’s paradox, mystery, and awe.

We will laugh more.

Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

An excerpt from Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature (CAL),

From a book entitled: Survival to Recovery, Growing Up in a Alcoholic

Home, pages 269-270, copyright Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc., 1994.

Al-Anon is for family members and friends of those who have an addiction (often to alcohol)...The Twelve Steps (originally discovered by alcoholics in prayerful recovery) are
now being used for many other kinds of addictions.  As one very dear to me said tonight
in a moving meeting: "Everyone would benefit from living by these steps -- this program -- there is so much wisdom here."

Some folk have even applied The Twelve Steps to the prevelant addiction humanity has
to war.
photo credit:

MORNING BY Franz Schumacher

Found at web design ledger dot com/inspiration/  33 beautiful examples of sunrise photography MORNING BY Franz Schumacher

The uses of desperation

Photo: Rizwan Vaheed
Terrorism may grab the headlines, but across Pakistan, hundreds of unknown activists are working to promote diversity and tolerance.
By Amber Vora | March/April Issue 2012  Ode Magazine

On a hazy winter afternoon last year in Lahore, Pakistan, Diep Saeeda’s adult daughters tearfully begged their mother not to attend a protest she had organized to condemn the assassination of Salman Taseer. They feared for her life. Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, had been assassinated by his bodyguard because of Taseer’s opposition to the country’s sweeping blasphemy laws. A Muslim, he had spoken out against the laws because he believed they were being used to target religious minorities with imprisonment and death.
Arguably more disturbing than the assassination was the public response. Tens of thousands gathered in cities across the country to celebrate Taseer’s killer. It was harsh evidence that support for extremist violence in Pakistan is not limited to a tiny vocal fringe. While many moderate Pakistanis are aghast at this, they fear voicing opinions publicly. When most Westerners think of Pakistan, they think of the extremism and intolerance that led to Taseer’s assassination. In recent times, conservative religious factions have harnessed Pakistanis’ discontent with inequality and corrup­­tion to pro­mote militant interpretations of Islam. Attacks against Pakistan’s minorities have been on the rise. U.S. military campaigns in the region—especially drone strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians in addition to their al Qaeda and Taliban targets—have exacerbated tensions. However, religious extremists aren’t the only ones competing to shape the future of Pakistan.
Across the country, thousands of activists like Saeeda are carrying out courageous acts of compassion and dissent. At great personal risk, they are speaking out against intolerance, whether of religious or ethnic minorities or of those who hold opinions critical of the army, the government or the religious right.
Lahore, a sprawling city of 10 million, is known as the cultural heart of Pakistan, home to poets, artists and lush gardens. Historically, the city has been the cultural nexus for many civilizations, and until recently, remained insulated from violence occurring elsewhere in the country. But when she was organizing the first vigil for Taseer, Saeeda received threatening phone calls she thinks were from religious extremists. “‘If you protest, someone will come and blow you up,’” she says was the message she received. “I said, ‘Okay, you come. I will be there, so you must come.’” Saeeda also reports being repeatedly harassed by Pakistan’s government intelligence agencies, which routinely interrogate, abuse and occasionally kill activists and journalists who threaten the status quo. Brushing aside the threats, Saeeda donned a heavy shawl against the winter chill, gathered freshly painted placards condemning the blasphemy laws, terrorism and religious extremism, and stationed herself at dusk with a candle in hand at one of Lahore’s busiest traffic circles.
One hundred and fifty people had come to an earlier planning meeting for the vigil, but that night only a handful showed up for the demonstration. The rest were too afraid to attend. Surrounded by buzzing schools of auto-rickshaws, scooters and the occasional donkey cart, the vigil went off peacefully and became a weekly ritual. Each week the numbers grew, and eventually, 150 men and women stood with Saeeda, holding their candles at dusk. “We know we can get killed,” she says, “but it is impossible to stay silent and to see all the injustice around you.”
Saeeda’s vigils have lessened now, and since last year she is busy working with Pakistani youth to plan peace delegations to India as well as organizing weekly lectures that explore the roots of religious extremism. Operating on a shoestring budget, she sells her jewelry to pay for office expenses. Despite the challenges, Saeeda embraces a tempered optimism, her eyes sparkling through wire-rimmed glasses, “I’m very positive and hopeful,” she says. “We’re trying to get to those people who think like us but are scared and convince them not to be scared. If we’re going shopping or in the shrines, at any moment they can blow us up, so we should do something for the betterment of our children. But it’s going to take a while.” Waqas Falak, a 23-year-old man from a Muslim family in Multan, shares Saeeda’s passion for change. Multan is known as the City of Sufis for the dozens of Sufi mosques, tombs and shrines with elegant turquoise and white domes that crown its horizon. Sufis make up a significant percentage of Punjab’s population and embrace a more moderate interpretation of Islam. Yet Multan is also close to southern Punjab, which, Falak says, “serves as a nursery for the Taliban.”
“When I was 16 years old,” he says, “I started volunteering for human-rights organizations. I belong to a family of small landlords, and I saw landlords suppressing local farmers. I wanted to work with people so they could know their rights and improve their situation.” Falak also experienced domestic violence within his own family, an ordeal that instilled in him a passion for women’s rights. Several years ago, while volunteering for a women’s organization, he witnessed the non-profit group refuse to assist a ­transgendered hijra woman. Hijras, who are described as a “third gender,” are born with male bodies but take on traditionally feminine dress and behavior. They have long been part of South Asian culture yet face tremendous prejudice in both Pakistan and neighboring India. The incident inspired Falak to start his own organization with classmates. Neengar Society (Neengar means “youth” in the local Siraiki language) works with marginalized young people and their communities, particularly religious and sexual minorities.
One of Neengar’s first projects began in 2009, when the government of Pakistan infringed upon an ancient Hindu temple complex in Multan, constructing a building without permission from the Hindu community. “When we found out the government was violating the rights of minorities as enshrined in the constitution, we decided to take action,” says Falak, who speaks with poise and passion. “As a Pakistani, this is my heritage also, so I have to support it.”
More than 2,000 years old, the Prahlad temples have significance for Hindus, for whom the religious festival of Holi has mythological origins. The technicolor holiday, which honors the temple’s namesake, is famously celebrated by Hindu and Muslim youth, who lob brilliant liquid pigments in shades of indigo, fuchsia and vermilion at one another. Today, the temple complex has a crumbling edifice of brick and rubble with a desolate feel. It was partially destroyed in a 1992 riot when Pakistani Muslims retaliated against their Hindu neighbors after the destruction of a mosque in India by Hindu extremists. Memories of that attack and recent violence against religious minorities left Multan’s small Hindu population too afraid to protest against the government’s infringement.
After discussions with the Hindu community, Neengar filed a court case to halt construction and preserve the temple. The action was successful, and Neengar Society helped organize the first puja, or Hindu religious ceremony, at the temple since 1992. The event was attended by Hindu and ­Muslim youth alike. Neengar Society will also launch a puppet theater to educate people about the historic importance of the temple. Because the organization has worked with Christians; abused children; and gay, lesbian and bisexual Pakistanis, Falak and his colleagues ­decided that Neengar Society’s membership should reflect a ­cross-section of Pakistani society. As a result, the board is 50 percent female. Two board members are between 15 and 25, at least one is from a religious minority community, and another is from a sexual minority community. At the same time, Falak announces with pride, “In our organization, the coordinator for the Christian [project] and the transgendered people is actually a hafiz of Islam,” someone who has memorized the Qu’ran from beginning to end.
Neengar Society’s membership is a ­vibrant example of how a tolerant Pakistani society, a society that embraces the faiths and diversity of all its citizens, could be a model society. However, not everyone is prepared to accept the open society that Neengar represents. Pakistan’s security forces have brought Falak up for interrogation, and some of his friends and family have expressed criticism of his work. Yet he is the first to say that support has come from unexpected quarters.
“My younger brother is 17,” Falak says, “and once his friends came to [our office. They] were asking me, ‘Why are you preserving the Hindu temple? Why not a mosque?’ My brother had not been ­interested [in our work], but that day, he spoke up and said, ‘The Prophet forbid[s] us to destroy the places of worship of others.’ And I was so surprised, that he should say such a liberal thing but rooted in religion. I was really impressed.”
Tahir Khilji, a trim, middle-aged man perched behind his desk in the spartan office of Vision Pakistan, is another of Pakistan’s unknown activists. Based in Abbotobad and Lahore, his non-profit organization has historically worked with marginalized children and sexual minorities. However, as the security situation in Pakistan deteriorated, ­Khilji has begun to bring together grassroots human rights activists working in marginalized communities to learn from one another and strategize for their security. Khilji is old enough to remember when things were otherwise. “We grew up with very different role models that were secular in nature,” he recalls. “Our ­history ­included all people who contributed to the land that is now Pakistan, and we understood that Pakistan was born out of this diverse history, not created by Allah.” Another activist offers similar recollections. “There was much more openness for everyone. My nani [grandmother] would wear trousers and ride a bike to work. In my mother’s era, they would walk to college; now you can’t even do that. There was ­ballroom ­dancing. I never saw that, I was too young—but I’ve heard the stories they tell.” Many of Khilji’s activist colleagues have few resources and work in relative isolation. But scattered around Pakistan are dozens of such groups, often low profile and unfunded. “The more I’m getting into communities [and] meeting community-based people, the more hope I have,” ­Khilji says. “There are small pockets where people are working that we don’t even know about, and there are efforts at collective voice now. These communities must find their own voices because we can’t speak for them as well as they can speak for themselves. We have to invest in these groups, because no one [else] has.”
Asked what he feels hopeful about, Khilji’s answer is somewhat surprising. “Desperation. I’ve never seen this kind of desperation in my country. But I think there has to be grassroots desperation, a very desperate need of wanting to speak. People on the grassroots level are unprotected and want to express themselves. That anger and desperation is going to translate into a movement, a grassroots movement,” he concludes. “Inshallah.”
God willing.
Amber Vora works for Chaya, a group that combats violence and abuse in South Asia. She is writing a book about her time in Lahore, Pakistan.
“It is impossible to stay silent and to see all the injustice around you,” says Diep Saeeda, director of the Institute for peace and secular studies, seen here during a protest meeting against the strict Pakistani anti-blasphemy laws.
Find out more about Diep Saeeda’s Institute for Peace and Secular Studies. Find out more about Vision Pakistan.