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FOR THOSE TIMES WHEN "DURKA DURKA MOHAMMAD JIHAD" JUST WON'T CUT IT

 

Sunday
Apr012012

"Running the country? Pah, easy"

Londonstani, as readers of this blog know, used to live in Cairo. And while there, he'd often wonder how it is that street cafes can be run like well-oiled machines, while the country was so badly run.

Well, in the new Egypt, a cafe owner has decided its time to put his awesome management skills at the disposal of his country.

"I met another of the candidates, Farghal Abu-Deif Atiya, holding court at his cafe in a poor neighbourhood.

"It is called the Freedom Club Cafe but he hopes soon to rename it the Presidential Cafe when he is successful.

"If I can run my cafe efficiently, why not Egypt - indeed the world?" he says.

(read Jon Leyne of the BBC's article on the hundreds of candidates running for election for the full story)

Before you totally dismiss this guy, it's worth remembering that in Pakistan, Imran Khan is running for election (and getting masses of support) while regularly citing his achievements as a former captain of the national cricket team.

Monday
Mar262012

Paintballing with Hizbullah

Yup, you read the title right.

Mitch Prothero in Beirut has finally pulled off the holy grail of sport's writing and Middle East reporting in one nifty article; paintballing with Hizbullah, the "A Team of terrorism".

"Yes, I remind myself, this is really happening: Four Western journalists (two of whom alternated in and out of our rounds of four-on-four), plus one former Army Ranger-turned-counterinsurgency expert, are playing paintball with members of the Shiite militant group frequently described by US national security experts as the “A-Team of terrorism.”

 

Monday
Mar052012

Underworld Al Azhar

Londonstani read the Wa-Po article "At al Azhar mosque, struggle over Islam roils a revered Egyptian institution" and thought about the interesting points it alludes to about the millenium-long tussle in the Muslim world between the salafi and sunni interpretations of Islamic theology. And how the salafis, nearly a thousand years after their spiritual head, Ibn Taymiyyah, was imprisoned in Cairo are the closest they have ever been to claiming the highest seat of sunni religious jurispudence.

However, it's a cold Monday morning in London, and Londonstani doubts anyone is interested in reading a discussion on theological differences and their impact on the modern geopolitical order. Instead, watch this trailer for the movie Underworld about werewolves and vampires. It's about as useful as any of the articles you're likely to find online about the significance of the differences between these two Islamic worldviews - and it'll be a whole lot more entertaining. 


Saturday
Mar032012

Imran Khan on the politics of culture

Reading Imran Khan lay out his feelings towards Pakistan's history of colonialism in Jason Burke's article in the Observer today, Londonstani couldn't help wonder whether the dynamic he describes is felt as universally as he suggests.

"Khan says he first became aware of the effects of colonialism as a teenager. "My first shock was going from Aitchison to play for Lahore. The boys from the Urdu [local language] schools laughed at me… Then in England we had been trained to be English public schoolboys, which we were not. Hence the inferiority complex. Because we were not and could never be the thing we were trying to be."

Even the memory agitates him. "I saw the elite [in Pakistan] who were superior because they were more westernised. I used to hear that colonialism was about building roads, railways etc… but that's all bullshit. It kills your self-esteem. The elite become a cheap imitation of the coloniser."

Londonstani does agree that the feeling of inferiority is real and does propel people to attempt to exorcise themselves of the stigma in different ways. There was a time in South Asia when "aping" Western habits, dress and modes of living was seen as a way to be equal (As Londonstani has seen in his great grandfather's memoirs). When, as Imran suggests, the acquired habits didn't lead to acceptance on equal terms, later generations came to vilify those same Western habits and idolise the "indigenous".

It's always struck Londonstani as odd that its often the wealthy (or upper middle class) in post colonial countries in the Middle East and South Asia and Muslims in Western countries that almost fetishise an imagined sense of the "pure" and "original". In this world view, "Western" or "modern" norms, vices or "problems" include (but aren't limited to) dysfunctional families, drug or alcohol use, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, consumerism and greed. As if somehow none of these things existed in 1,400 years of Muslim civilisation from Morocco to Malaysia.

The result is that those from formerly colonialised countries either idolise or vilify their own society and the civilisation that used to rule them. Neither the West nor their own societies are seen for what they are; good and bad.

However, this unhealthy relationship is based on a power dynamic. The former coloniser needs to be seen as powerful and influential. Therefore, worthy of emulation or vilification. What happens when the goal posts change?

The reason Londonstani brings this up in the context of Jason's article is that he mentions Imran Khan turning 60. The former cricketer is seen as amongst Pakistan's "younger" politicians. In reality, Imran Khan's age means that his world view is fashioned by an experience most Pakistanis will not have lived through. 66 percent of Pakistanis are under 30. Colonialism definitely does not loom as large for them.

While it's true that Western fashion, language and habits are seen as status symbols across various levels of Pakistani society, no longer are they "English" cultural markers. What makes you "cool" in Pakistan is increasingly likely to be the trends of a globalised youth culture. Some of it might be Western in origin, but a lot of it is going to be filtered through Chinese, Indian, American or Arab tastes.

To get out of this nasty little vicious circle Imran Khan needs to figure out how in the future Pakistani youth culture will be contributing to the global mix. A plan to unleash Pakistani creativity on the world is what Londonstani wants to hear from a man who plans to be the country's future leader. What he doesn't want to hear is a man who courts the country's young sounding like the old guy at your grandmother's house on Eid that everyone avoids.

Saturday
Mar032012

Changing relationships - Government and the people(s)

UK diplomat Tom Burn, an old friend of Londonstani's from the days they both studied Arabic at university, has started blogging on Her Majesty's Service. This, in Londonstani's view, is to be encouraged because 1) Tom is very clever and needs to be listened to, 3) It's not common to hear what clued-up people working in government are thinking about the evolving nature of how governments and people interact, and 3) Tom has good taste in Hip Hop music. (So please, drop him a line and ask him what OutKast and The Pharcyde can teach us about power relationships).

Tom's latest post makes some very interesting points about governance:

"What I think is interesting about the Arab Spring and the broader impact of change driven online across the world, is the potential it has not only for changing the relationship between citizens and government, but also for changing government itself. A government that simply changes how it delivers its messages might be missing the point. Might online society also change government itself?"

And then the killer line at the end;

"We cannot just go on governing in the same way, but communicating digitally. We also have to think about how to govern digitally."

In Londonstani's experience, sensible grown up types sometimes get a little incredulous at the idea that interwebs can change the world, and so dismiss the whole discussion outright. In Londonstani's view, the point here is that the online world, social media and the rest, is just a new tool for disseminating and sharing information. This by itself is not a new phenomenon, but a continuation of a process that started with people drawing on cave walls before progressing to print, radio and television. However, it does change the relationship people have with information; where does it come from, who controls it, how much are you willing to share, how much do you get to know etc. This in turn affects the relationship between people, and between people and power.

Mubarak's end didn't come when Facebook and Twitter arrived in Egypt, but when al Jazeera showed Egyptians that US warships were moving through the Suez Canal on the way to attack Iraq.