One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Soft" Power; India VS Pakistan

and now, why Pakistan walked on opposite direction, while sharing a common history and culture with India? Whenever, there is a talk about Indian and Pakistani culture, Pakistanis are quick in pointing to their "cultural superiority" by counting cuisines, language, music, performing arts, dresses, architectural trends that Muslims had introduced to India during Moguls but these arguments do not change the fact. Today, it is India that is successfully projecting herself as a soft power while Pakistan's image has tarnished even within and among Pakistanis.  The notion that, "insecurity" had pushed Pakistan in choosing to use her strategic location for "borrowing power" to create a security balance and status quo, instead of choosing to use her strategic location as a energy and trade corridor is a plausible explanation. One of the most obvious and undeniable evidence comes from sponsoring of Jihadists and Islamists against Soviets at the cost of the local cultures, indigenous Paksitani cultural trends and intellectual growth. The Answer is there and it is written all over but it seems there is no change in hearts and minds as the level of insecurity has increased by rise of India and turning of "war on terror" into 21st century version of cold war scenario. 

Internet and specifically social media has shifted the concept of "soft power" beyond States' policies. Although, state is still the main player but the increasing role of the masses in projecting cultural trends and image of a nation have become an undeniable force. Time will tell, whether Pakistan's young generation can overcome the sense of "insecurity" and fill the gaps to reconnect with the rest of the world or not? 


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stephen Covey; Character and Personality

Here is my tribute to Stephen Covey,

                                            A few days ago (July 16th), Stephen Covey died. I was introduced to his bestseller book, "The 7 Habits of highly effective people" by my friend and roommate. I got it from Amazon, read it and didn't get much from it for two main reasons; first, it was a commercial product and naturally, like most other people, I have grown cynical about advertised products (Although, I read it by a friend's recommendation but the sensitivity was there) due to daily bombardments of commercial ads, and secondly; I came from a background, where "characters" were built around firm cultural and family values and there was little, if any awareness or focus on the "personality development". Therefore, by my own assessment, Stephen Covey's book was not suggesting something new to me. Having said that, I see a slow shift from the very basic cultural and family values that I was familiar and grew up with to adaptations of the "personality ethics" via media. The Pakistani private channels booms, cable and now internet are providing commercial cultural trends as an alternative to traditional cultural values and as most of the commercial products revolve around "image building" and "personality developments" so the "character ethics" are slowly eroding away.

Hearing the death of Stephen Covey, I dusted off his book once again, just to reread it and see, if there is a change in my mind after two years. The first thing, that I noticed was the observation of Covey. At the very beginning of his book, ("Inside Out") he talks about his research into last 200 years of success literature in US and discovers a shift from "Character Ethics" to "Personality Ethics" and it is what, we can observe happening in our community. In short, my understanding is that, the legacy of Covey is on stressing to build a personality around a character rather building it around the promotional trends. Please don't take me wrong; I am not against the social trends, as I know, the force of commercialization and aggressive advertisements (even political ones), however, I also believe in the power of conscience, rationality and the desire for making right choices. When it comes to "image", my observations  tell me that, the most vulnerable part of the society are "intellectuals". Because of their high level of "self awareness", really few dare to face their "prejudices" and talk and write according to their conscience and unfortunately, the most hardest hit segments  among intellectuals are "liberals" (Religious fundamentalists are out of discussion as they can't see out of their belief-paradigms). Sufis say, "Self is the only curtain between the creator and creature", likewise, the "prejudices" are curtain between liberal ideals and humanism (That is a character problem, Right?) 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Changing US and Pakistani "Elites"

On June 30th, Ayesha Siddiqa's column, "What is Pakistan's elitesappeared in The Express Tribune. It didn't move me as there wasn't anything new for me. Then, almost two weeks later, on July 12th, David Brooks's Column "Why Our Elites Stinks" appeared in New York Times and to my surprise, the arguments and conclusions were so identical to that of Ayesha's column, that I couldn't resist but read them twice to make sure, that I am not misreading their arguments. Wow, I said to myself, although, there is no match between the elites of both countries, but the Process of social mobility and the complaints are very close, if not similar. That was very surprising to me. So let's compare, the David and Ayesha's arguments and conclusions,

........."the elite are not just a group, but also the name of a process that facilitates a constant cycle of change in a society. In case of a powerful, yet easily manipulated state like Pakistan, the process of elite formation is directly linked with the ability of a group to manipulate the state, its power and resources. This means that what may be the middle class or lower middle class of yesterday can be the elite of today. For instance, who could imagine a few decades ago that one day, people belonging to lower middle or middle class backgrounds, like Altaf Hussain, Qaim Ali Shah, Malik Riaz, Humayun Akhtar, Ijazul Haq, or Arsalan Iftikhar will be powerful millionaires and part of the elite? Not to forget the fact that today religious leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rehman or jihadi leaders such as Hafiz Saeed, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Malik Ishaq and others are also part of the power elite.".............

As, I have highlighted in the above excerpt, Ayesha recognizes "a process" and defines the process as "the ability of a group to manipulate the state, its power and resources". In the previous paragraph, she identifies the able group as "civil and military bureaucrats" but she doesn't mention about "the process" which form the bureaucrats,

....... "Popularly, the term ‘elite’ invokes the image of the landed-feudal group, which was originally part of the ruling elite in 1947. However, over the years this began to change with the state’s civil and military bureaucracy getting integrated into the elite and also using state resources to create other elite groups such as business and industry." ...........

Like Ayesha, David starts his column by pointing to the shifts in the elites of US, 

......"Through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Protestant Establishment sat atop the American power structure. A relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.

Over the past half–century, a more diverse and meritocratic elite has replaced the Protestant Establishment. People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.".........

But unlike Ayesha, David mentions the process  as meritocracy and later he elaborates the process, 

.............." I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room.".............

It would be fair to acknowledge that, Ayesha didn't mention the process because she wrote her column to highlight the negation of the "elites" as being elites and David wrote to defend the "meritocratic elites" but having said that, surprisingly both columnists points to the same trends among current elites and that is their negation and escapism from taking responsibility,

........Chris Hays, the man, whose thoughts were the main theme of the David Brooks' column......

  David; "Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment.

As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership."............

Ayesha; "The fact is that the term and concept, ‘elite’, is misrepresented and misunderstood in this country. Intriguingly, those who are part of the elite themselves carry out most of the anti-elite commentary. In fact, castigating the elite at popular forums is a way to gain legitimacy that could lead to acquisition of greater power. For instance, the MQMcondemns its opponents as elite, while being a part of the power circle itself. Similarly, the PTI leadership, which comes from an elite background, sells a middle class narrative to gain access to greater power and control of government. Even the judges challenge the elite when they are historically part of the power establishment of the country."......................

I may not be in position to analyse the changing elites of US and Pakistan however, I know, why there is a denial on the parts of elites. To make the  picture clearer, let me bring a historical excerpt from meeting and conversation of Ibn Khaldun (the "greatest Arab historian") and Tamerlane (The last of great Mongol conquerors). Why I have chosen Ibn Khaldun and Tamerlane? I chose Ibn Khaldun because he is the ideal representative of the 13th century hybrid elite (Aristocracy +Meritocracy). His family was part of upper class Arab Spain and after fall of Spain, they still managed to maintain their status in Tunisia.  He was involved in Politics and was Qadi of Maliki sect of Islam in Egypt. On other hand, Tamerlane was the Khan of an empire (Mongolian Khans had brought a world order that had unified Far East, Central Asia, South Asia and Middle East and had created an Eastern globalization based on Silk Road) that was superpower of his time. When Tamerlane and his army camped outside of  Damascus walls, Ibn Khaldun sneaked Damascus to meet Tamerlane and this resulted in a historical conversation between the two historical figures (It should be noted that no Persian historian of the time had recorded this conversation and we know about this conversation only through Ibn Khandun's autobiography and Arab sources) ....

Most of their conversation is about history and geography of Maghreb (Northwest Africa; Currently, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, Libya) and Heroes of history as per subject interest areas of the Tamerlane but what is relevant here to our topic is the efforts of Ibn Khaldun to please Tamerlane by exalting him,

After mentioning of the predictions by Astrologers and Sufis about the coming of the great power (Tamerlane), Ibn Khaldun says that, "May Allah aid you- today it is 30 or 40 years that I have longed to meet you," The interpreter, 'Abd al-Jabbar, asks him, "And what is the reason for this?"

He replies, "Two things; The first is that you are the Sultan of the Universe and the ruler of the world, and I do not believe that there has appeared among men from Adam until this epoch a ruler like you. I am not one of those who speak about matters by conjecture, for I am a scholar and I will explain this........"; Ibn Khaldun and Tamerlane and their historical meeting at Damascus... 

So, here is the greatest historian of Arab/Muslim world (Sometimes when I see Muslim religious scholars challenge each others' beliefs and refer to such scholars' books, I can think of nothing but saying, "for sure, there is no limit to stupidity") and first sociologist who knows, how to manipulate the power of his time. What is the difference between elites of the 13th century Muslims and those of today's. In Medieval ages, the source of the legitimacy was the bloodline of kings so Tamerlane was linking himself to Genghis Khan for legitimacy (Tamerlane's most conquered areas were in Khanate regions and he wanted to legitimize his dynasty by linking himself to great Khan) and elites like Ibn Khaldun could maintain their status by serving and glorifying Khans. In our time, the source of legitimacy is people so the elites want to be conceived as part of people even if practically they are not...

In conclusion, elites are attached to power and as Einstein was noticed, "The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while." The elites will change as circumstances change  and likewise the nature of complains.............. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Game Changer?

“If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.”….. Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992)

Although, I am not fan of fictions, particularly Science fictions but I couldn’t resist reading Isaac Asimov’s a few works sporadically, both out of curiosity and also because it was introduced to me by my uncle who was always an inspiration for me. In an interview (1988), Isaac Asimov had predicted that, internet will change levels of learning; Public education was a change from personal tutors for those who could afford to class based lectures, in which the students were expected to learn with an equal pace. The internet will not only allow each individual to learn with his/her own pace and timing but more importantly, it makes learning, a lifelong process. Asimov was not alone in speculating, how internet will change things as these speculations are still continued. After a decade of “worldwide” internet availability, we must be able to see some of the most evident changes and test some of the speculations. Here, I would like to link the fate of the three most popular, internet based movements.

 If eusociality have allowed humans to conquer the earth, it has also been a source of debates, conflicts and perpetual struggle between individuals and society, each side trying to increase the spheres of their influences.  By introduction of internet, this relationship disturbed as never before, as it has empowered both governments and individuals. Iranian green movement, Arab Spring, London riots and 99% movements came as a test of the levels of empowerments and to redefine relationships. Although, all these movements had the same characteristics like, absence of central leadership, no ideological basis and no clear lists of demands but the results were very different. While Iranian green movement, London riots and 99% movements could not survive, the Arab Spring evolved with mixed results. The Iranian, British, American governments were proved to have evolved with technology and were organized enough to easily deal with their respective popular movements so nothing happened. Arab governments that had not reorganized themselves collapsed in the face of popular uprising.

Aside from higher intelligence, higher culture and language, what makes humans unique from the rest of social organisms is that; all normal individuals can reproduce, make and shift alliances across all social levels and this flexibility is one of the main reasons for increasing sophistication of human individuals, society, culture and intelligence as a whole. Using imaginations to use past experiences and creating future scenarios to evaluate the consequences of their decisions is uniquely human and main cause of human’s deep interests in others and in socializations. This is why, Asimov could predict that by invention and spread of internet (socialization of computers; a human technology), individuals’ will gain a control over their learning; to learn at their own pace and timing and topic of choice.

After a decade of entering into this new level of socialization, at least one thing has become even clearer; in relationships of individuals with society and within groups, adaptability and organization are still the yin and yang of triumphs. The perceptions that internet has changed the old game of central leadership and ideologue have proved to be wrong as still, it is the central leadership and a common ideology that organize people. 

Although, I am myself, doesn't like central leadership and ideology as they both retard people in following them but, it is a fact that, the bigger and more efficient an organization is, the easier, it controls over individuals and smaller groups and organizations. For this we even don't need to think much as Empires of the past, powers and multi-national companies of our times are all standing evidences. It may not be wrong to say that, although, human societies are unique in flexibility of social mobility but the function of society as a whole is no more different than the colonies of other eusocial organisms. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Al-Qaeda Service Pack 2

Sometimes I question, why there are imaginary heroes like Superman, Spiderman, Batman and so on in our times? Why we can’t have real life heroes in our time? Answers immediately follow without much thinking. It is because modern men do not have set of values that they could identify themselves with and those who stand for them become their heroes. One group’s heroes are other groups’ demons. It is not that there is total lack of values but instead because the values have reduced into tools of power struggle. In modern language, it is called, “Soft Power”. Now, power is not something promising for everybody but instead, the control of few over others. Let me dare to say, it is pleasing to convince ourselves as men of conscious and conscience standing for humanistic values but the fact is that, we are mere docile laborers of Soft Power.

Anybody who has watched “Troy” that is based on the Homer’s Iliad, can’t forget the contrasting characters; Hector and Achilles who were symbols of honor and bravery versus characters of France and Agamemnon, the first one is representing lust of beauty and pleasure and second one representing lust of power, with both having a common selfish feature of putting their personal drives above everything else resulting in a lengthy war that had cost countless deaths and total destruction of the               Troy.  Horace writes it,

“All because Paris loved another’s wife,

Greeks and barbarians clashed in baneful strife”

Archaeological layers in the ruins of Troy

Here, I do not intend to tell, why Homer’s Iliad is appealing to people of all ages and still fascinates  people of modern age as it is common knowledge that human nature has not changed despite of advances that humans made. Like all times, Agamemnons still sacrifice Achilleses and Hectors for their personal drives. I remembered Troy and its characters because these days, almost every day, the news of Syrian civil war is making headlines. It is amusing to see the Cold War Scenario is back and the rivalry is played around the character of President Assad. To a layman like me, President Assad is presented as France who is destroying the Troy (Syria) for his personal drive. If it was ancient Greek times, where the only narrative available was those of victorious Greeks, spiced up with legends of dramatic events, people would celebrate Agamemnons as Heroes. However, in the age of information technology, the roles of the Saudi and Qatari Sheikhs are like Agamemnons that  do not have any values whatsoever and their only drives are their personal lusts; lusts for power and pleasure at the costs of lives and freedoms of the whole Middle Eastern people. It is just their luck that they have found niche for their lusts due to global rivalries. I don’t know, how global players expect people would get fooled, that it is just a single person’s arrogance and lust that is limiting people’s freedom. I don’t know what kind of freedoms Saudi, Qatari and Al-Qaida Sheikhs are standing for that fit perfectly with UN charters and Western countries’ values? Back in the 1980’s, the West and Arab Sheikhs made an alliance against Soviet Union that gave birth to Taliban, Al-Qaida and affiliated groups that not only attacked West but are proudly killing innocent people in South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

I am just sacred and feel sorry for coming generation as the new alliance of West and Arab Sheikhs to hijack Arab Spring for creating a Cold War scenario to contain Russian and Chinese economic power (While US and Europe’s economies are in trouble) are grooming an upgraded version of Al-Qaida and Taliban that will be more lethal as they are getting equipped with much sophisticated technologies and strategies (not to forget the basket full of experiences that were gained from three decade long terrorist operations). The na├»ve citizen are still believing that they are standing for democracies and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa while ignoring the ideologies and motivations of those people who are fighting on the ground and their backers. How short are the memory of modern men that have forgotten the 9/11 attack and “war on terror” that are still taking victims on daily basis.

There is a Persian saying, “Victims of snake bites fear black and white ropes”. I don’t care if Assad stays in power or not but I do care about the militants who fought in Libya, fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and are preparing the ground in Egypt. Arab Spring was promising at the beginning when youths stood for democracy but now it seems that the season has changed and the Arab Summer has started. I fear that, sand storms of the Arab Summer cross Atlantic and Indian Oceans. From what is happening, I feel that, just like our generation, the coming generation will enjoy (more) the Taliban and Al-Qaida’s upgraded version. I can just tell them, Have Fun; You will never get bored as all their shows are thrilling J