Behavior / 18.09.2013

By Anjum Altaf To want new things in old ways is to consign oneself to despair, frustration, anger and impotence. That at least was my conclusion after attending an event organized by activists to deliberate on poverty and the rights of citizens. As the meeting progressed, I sensed a shadow descending between the desire and plan for its realization. The event commenced with a presentation of economic and social data – growth, employment generation, cost of living, income inequality, poverty estimates, access to services, allocations to the social sectors, etc., etc. There followed a discussion that more or less ignored all the nuances of the presentation save a generalized sense that the situation was terrible and unacceptable. One after another speakers engaged in extended rants excoriating all governments for exploiting people and pillaging the country’s resources for personal ends. Many heartbreaking incidents were narrated and, as is natural in such...

Behavior / 22.05.2012

By Anil Kala [I saw Amir Khan’s show on Indian TV about child abuse with some interest. I suppose I qualify for victim of child abuse therefore the interest. My case appears curious in the sense I don’t feel I was abused at all. I am telling this story so that we do not lose sense of proportion in demanding punishment for offenders. Remember some fellows asked for death penalty for rapists.] When I look back through the hazy tunnel of time, picture of this curious but very vulnerable kid crystallizes in clear focus. Even though that kid was me in distant past, I can’t quite identify with him anymore for we have moved so far apart in character and attributes that he could be just any vulnerable child. Yet, I know this child very intimately; a shy fellow, fidgety when meeting strangers but compensates that with...

Behavior / 17.12.2011

By Anjum Altaf Veena Malik has provided Indians and Pakistanis something to talk about – to, at, and across each other. There is much that can be ignored but a few strands strike me as promising and worth pursuing. Most of the outpouring, at least on the blogs, is a voicing of individual personal opinions for and against Ms. Malik’s act. That, to me at least, is the least interesting aspect of the fallout. Why should my personal opinion carry significance for anyone besides myself? If the objective were to run an opinion poll, people could vote yes or no anonymously and be done with it. It would be different if the person offering the opinion were a public figure. Take Imran Khan, for example: his opinion on the incident could provide a clue where he might lead the nation if given the opportunity.How would his yuppie fan...

Behavior / 20.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf What can the affair of Dominique Strauss-Kahn tell us about stereotyping and our biases? I intend to present for discussion five biases pertaining to religion, nationality, gender, communalism and civilization. Religion Imagine a role reversal in which the man who allegedly emerged naked from the bathroom of a $3,000 a night hotel room in Manhattan had been an Arab Sheikh who attempted to flee after the incident and the maid who was allegedly pounced upon, dragged around and forced to perform oral sex had been a French Jew. Would the media coverage, including the commentary on the blogosphere, have been the same? Or would religion have been a much bigger issue, with extensions to its relationship to the oppression of women, respect for law, the clash of civilizations, and latent hostility to Judaism? It is impossible to say for sure but it is difficult to imagine...

Behavior / 09.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf Patriarchy is the name given to social arrangements that privilege men and subordinate women. The desired end for many is an egalitarian structure that does away with gender bias. There are some obvious and some not-so-obvious facets of patriarchy and its contestation. In this article I will explore some of these with reference to Pakistan. I hope readers from other countries in South Asia would add to the discussion with observations rooted in their own realities. The most obvious point is that patriarchy is real. Its forms cover the entire range of gender relations. There are still places in Pakistan, I am told though I cannot vouch for it personally, where women are treated as property and bartered for various purposes.I do know for certain of women who have internalized patriarchy to the extent that its weakening makes them insecure, the lessening of domination...

Behavior / 07.04.2011

There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind. There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion. The argument offered...

Behavior / 03.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf Prayer, superstition, luck, talent, effort, unity, professionalism – what was it that won the Cricket World Cup in the end? I am reasonably convinced it was some combination of the last five; all the more reason for a fascination with the first two that were so visibly on display. What exactly is the role of prayer and superstition in our lives? Why do we resort to these devices? How seriously are we to take them? Are they harmful or harmless? A whole host of questions wait to be asked and addressed. At one level, there is a simple explanation. Any endeavor where the stakes are high and the outcome depends on some element of chance gives rise to nervousness and anxiety. And these feelings need to be assuaged. While participants in the endeavor can focus on the rigors of preparation and the demands of...

Behavior / 25.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf The title of Gautam Adhikari’s new book, The Intolerant Indian, is intended to be provocative and it might indeed provoke those who go just by titles. Anyone reading the book though is more likely to be puzzled. The subject is important no doubt – the extent of conflict fueled by the inability to agree is increasing – and so the intent to provoke a debate is laudable. But the manner in which the debate is framed is likely to generate more heat than light thereby threatening to inflame the very intolerance it aims to subdue. The book starts off on the wrong foot right from the Preface by choosing an ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ frame in which to locate the moral argument: I just wanted to talk about those of our compatriots who did not seem to appreciate the idea of pluralist tolerance, which formed the structural...

Behavior / 19.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf The following is the issue: If a South Asian were introduced to, say, a first-time visitor from Norway with the preamble “He/She is a liberal,” would the Norwegian be able to guess correctly where the South Asian might stand on a number of salient policy issues? I expressed my doubts in an earlier article (The Peculiar Nature of the Pakistani Liberal) that concluded as follows: “On closer examination, the Pakistani liberal turns out to be a breed apart. The easy transfer of ideological labels – “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “reactionary” – across political and social contexts obscures the nuances and complexities necessary for understanding the juncture at which we have arrived in Pakistan today.” To be useful, a label has to convey an accurate representation of reality and many of the labels we use in South Asia today fail this test.I wish to illustrate this using...

Behavior / 18.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf The “West” versus the “East,” the “West” versus “Islam” – there is much talk of the clash of cultures in these ideologically charged times. Yet, there is as much confusion about the understanding of culture itself. If we are to be clear about the nature of the conflict, we need to first define what the argument is about. Culture as a thing in itself: “the power of culture” Culture has many dimensions and meanings – we can talk of the power of culture as well as of the culture of power – and some of the meanings have altered over time. In its original sense the notion was applied to humans as it was to the earth, the equivalent of agriculture – a way of cultivating the mind akin to cultivating the soil. It was common to speak of a cultured person as one who...