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Christchurch, Ardern and Islamophobia

The path is laid out for the world to choose



The tragedy at Christchurch remains in the news. But what compels me to write now is not the pain inflicted on Muslims as well as humanitarians around the world. What has moved is the compassion in New Zealand, led by none other than the nation’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among those who stood silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people, including nine Pakistanis, killed by a self-avowed white supremacist were read out at a national remembrance service recently.

“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” said Ardern, who when took the stage joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, received a prolonged standing ovation.

Wearing a hijab and modestly dressed in black, Jacinda Ardern, the 38 year old female prime minister, had went in person to condole the families of the victim when the tragic shootout at Christchurch took place. Pain was etched all over her face. But the condolence didn’t stop here. Her parliament held a session with the recitation of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Ardern began her speech by saying Assalam Alekum, the customary greeting of Muslims in Arabic, which literally means, ‘May peace be upon you’. She refused to take the name of the man who killed over 50 Muslims in a killing spree triggered by hatred towards their religion. She vowed to tighten laws in her country about the rights of owning and using a weapon and gun owners have already started submitting their weapons to authorities.

Whether her consolations drew from a passionate instinct natural to a woman, or from her being a more tolerant person, the inspiration Jacinda Ardern prompts is immense. The people of Christchurch turned out to show their rejection of the hate that inspired the attacks. Outside the two mosques that were attacked, mourners laid flowers as well as hand written notes. “This is not New Zealand” read one. Women of the nation wore a hijab on a Friday to show solidarity with Muslim women, the same day when the Azaan, a Muslim call to prayer, was broadcast.

All these steps were prompted by one incident, with which suffered the one percent representation of New Zealand’s population: Muslims. Compare them with the 1 percent Muslims living in the United States. Despite being a very small part of the US population, contribution by Muslims there is more pronounced. From the boxing champion Muhammad Ali to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Huma Abedin, aide to United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to the United Nations and to Fareed Zakaria, a journalist and Faran Tahir an actor, famous Muslim faces in the United States are many. But so are the sentiments of hatred triggered at them, as hate crimes in the United States increased by 7 percent last year to reach a record high.

Compare the leader of New Zealand, Ardern, with that of the US, Trump. His latest demand was to reinstate a TV newsperson made to go off air after her offensive remarks on Ilhan Omar. A statement of his related to Muslims was: “I think Islam hates us.” As if Islam was a person, with frailties and emotions a human possesses.

The hatred was also evident in an Australian senator’s reaction, who blamed the Christchurch incident on Muslims themselves, but was soon egged back to senses by a young boy. A man in London was attacked outside a London mosque hours after the New Zealand Christchurch shooting, while some men drove by the mosque and called those attending prayer “terrorists”.

Sadly, Islamophobia is a phenomenon afflicting the entire world today. It is also true, that unfortunately, many Muslims have themselves contributed to it. By claiming their violent acts as a jihad – a holy war, against atrocities targeted at Muslims, they in turn made people of other faiths come to believe, that Islam is a harsh religion, when in contrast, it’s faith is based on peace and love for humanity.

So is Islamophobia here to stay? As long as there is belief in a white supremacy or an Arya raj, the hatred would prevail. As long as a Muslim answers prejudice with anger and violence, the malevolence against him will remain. So long as a Muslim fails to understand the message of Islam himself and if he does, keeps it to himself, none will try to understand him.

But while hatred can be answered zealously by malice in turn, it can be truly conquered with love.

A man whose wife was killed in the Christchurch attack said he harbours no hatred toward the gunman who has no regret over his spiteful act. When the victim was asked if he forgave the 28-year-old white supremacist suspect, he said: “Of course. The best thing is forgiveness, generosity, loving and caring, positivity.”

One worshiper, Ambreen Rashid, whose 21 year old son and husband were among those killed, says “You can’t see me crying…. He (the son) will live forever because beautiful things never die.”

“Now we understand that this is not a game, terrorism doesn’t choose its victims selectively,” said Waleed Aly, an Australian television news anchor, also a Muslim. “That we are one community and everything we say to try and tear people apart, demonise particular groups, set them against each other — that all has consequences, even if we’re not the ones with our fingers on the trigger.”

Aly’s message was loud and clear, that those who claim to be tough on terrorism should impart justice without prejudice, not only when a Muslim fanatic kills a white man, but also when a white supremacist shoots innocent and peaceful followers of Islam.

If all Muslims demand justice in a rightful manner, and yet maintain a loving gesture towards humanity, and if all belonging to different faiths accept each other as part of one community, there will be no phobia against Islam, and no more shoot outs at Christchurch. The path is laid out for the world to choose. The victims of Christchurch have pointed towards it with their magnanimity and steps have been taken on it by Jacinda Ardern. It now awaits us to join hands.

The writer is a broadcast journalist and freelance writer. She has keen interest in issues concerning women, religion and foreign affairs.

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Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan



As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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The Mystery Colour Pink Beholds

Colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values



Pink has long been associated with girls, so where does this association come from?

Everything for a girl is pink, or will have at least a hint of pink. Starting from her nursery, toys, dresses to lunch box, school bag, pink is bombarded on girls.

There are a number of ways through which colours are imposed upon children. It begins when the baby is not even born. The phenomenal advancement in technology and prenatal testing, now makes it possible for parents to find out the sex of their still-not-born babies. This allows parents to decorate the nurseries in colours that they think are best suited with their newborn’s gender. It is the first step towards colour imposition.

It won’t be wrong to say that a baby girl is born in a pink world. It is this colour that she would find all around her after she opens her eyes for the first time. The room shading, dresses that she wears, toys she plays with and even birthday cakes she gets, are all pink. It’s not the parents only, this colour specification has become so real that new born gifts also comply with it. Visit a store for newborn accessories and the first question that is asked is about the gender of the baby. Even story books and children’s cartoons do their best to teach individuals gender specific behaviour . Barbie, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony n Friend are all girls’ favourite cartoons, painted in pink. Even the adventurous Dora wears a pink tee. Watching them, young girls associate themselves with the colour.

Marketing strategies that brands use further establish the colour identification for gender. It’s a psychological factor that brands exploit to leap their sales. They strictly follow with ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ rule and make sure their customers comply.

Studies show that after the age of two, children begin to understand gender specific roles and girls choose pink over other colours to identify theirs. Professor of Gender and Culture at the UK’s Leeds University, Ruth Holliday, states that “Even very young girls understand that pink things are for them. In experiments where guns were painted pink and My Little Ponies were painted black and made to look spiky, three-year-old children assumed the gun was a girls’ toy and the pony a boys’ one. The colour rather than the function determined gender appeal.”

Colour preference isn’t biological, it’s more of a human made marvel. Girls and boys are both born with the similar arrangement of biological composition, the only difference being X & Y chromosomes. It’s not that girls have a pink chromosome or a pink strand of DNA that compels them to like pink more. And if we look at historical perspective, the findings are interesting.

History suggests that before the 1900s, babies were usually dressed in white regardless of gender. There were no differentiation amongst them on the basis of their colour preferences. If there was any, it was quite opposite from what it is today. An article in the 1918 issue of Ladies Home Journal reads that “the generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls; the reason is that pink being a decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girls”. Then what brought the switch over?

Anya Helbert, a researcher at University of Newcastle, proposed that women prefer hues of red more because traditionally they have been more exposed to the colour by gathering fruits. Other studies regarding this topic cite some events that gave rise to the present colour enforcement. One such event is World War II, where due to the blue coloured uniform worn by soldiers, blue colour became associated with masculinity.

Similarly, in the 1940s, Think Movement tried to convince girls to embrace their feminism. This movement urged women to embrace their womanhood, with the name tag with pink, the colour naturally corresponding to women.

This colour coding creates a stereotype that stays entrenched in the minds of children even after they grow. They identify themselves with specific colour that not only limits their freedom but also bounds them to act in the ways society tells them to. This kills their imagination and creativity and limits their choices. One of the disastrous implications of this colour stereotyping is that it affects self-esteem. The very basic attributes of pink colour are that it’s pretty, polite, catchy and sensitive. When a girl is told throughout her lifetime that she has to be the manifestation of this colour to look more ‘girl like’, she tries to incorporate these attributes into her personality. The same is for boys, the tormenting and bullying that accompanies wearing pink is staggering to the point that boys, mostly avoid the colour even if they like it.

Angela Weyers, Style and Colour consultant comments that, pink is assumed as a sign of “weakness and a lack of intellectual rigour” and advises women to actually not wear it to work in the corporate world, as they are less likely to be taken seriously. This, along with other stigmas surrounding the color, make it a cliché.

Now when we have understood that colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values, we have to understand this as a societal issue. There is no such thing as real-man or real-woman. And pink has literally nothing to do with a woman. Both men and women are humans with no supernatural specifications and they should be treated that way. Parents, educational institutes and media can play their role in this regard. Rather than fabricating pink and blue norms they need to be responsible in raising individuals. Let pink and blue be treated as colours only.

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Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.



This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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