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The Arab awakening, Islam and the new Middle East

Book Review:
The Arab awakening, Islam and the new Middle East
New York: Penguin, 2012. 273pp ISBN 978 1 846 14650 3
Reviewed by Fakiha Hassan Rizvi

The unexpected spectacle, astonishing for the world and a trigger for mass mobilization in Middle East, involved a street vendor setting himself alight in Tunisia. The defiance of Mohamed Bouazizi against state oppression is often labeled as the beginning of Arab uprising. However, The Arab awakening,Islam and the new Middle East urges readers to view the demonstrations in the Arab world objectively and by taking into account broader historical, political, social and economic contexts. Ramadan explores the appropriate term that should be
associated with mass protests in the Arab world, instead of blindly projecting them as ‘revolutions’ or ‘springs’, he calls it an ‘awakening’, with “cautious optimism”. The author connects the deep-rooted indicators of ‘social explosion’ like unemployment, illiteracy, lack of opportunities and despotism at a specific and general level in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Tracing down the origins of these unprecedented mass mobilizations, The Arab Awakening, Islam and the New Middle East, finds a midway between the notions of ‘Western control and manipulation of Arab uprising’ and the ‘exaggerated optimism that if often linked with the change in Middle East’. According to the text, “cyber-dissidents” and digital activists were trained by foreign funded organizations (centers like Albert Einstein Institution and Freedom House), back in 2004, to promote non-violent protest through the use of social networks and digital technology. However, none of the Western powers could have
anticipated the reaction of Mohamed Bouazizi and the chain of reactions after his death. Resistance against dictatorial set ups scattered at an exponential rate. This propelled the Global North to give a patient hearing to the aspirations of the people.

The author links this ‘revolting attitude’ of the Arabs with Edward Said’s concept of ‘other’ by marking it as an end point of a “time worn” debate between “Secularism and Islam”, “Occidents and Orients” and “We and Others”. For Ramadan, “the other no longer remains the other” as it is striving for the same values179
(equality, dignity and freedom) that the West has always promised, but has failed to provide. To validate his hypothesis, the author refers to other events occurring in the wake of Arab uprising. Considering the death of Osama Bin Laden as a ‘media coup’ planned by the American president at an appropriate time he opines that this event itself indicated the extension of a friendly-hand from the West towards the Muslim. After eliminating a man known as the symbol of “anti-Western ideal” a new “political orientation” was established for Muslim-
majority countries. There was no reason for the West for not listening to the voices in Liberation Square (Tahrir Square) when they non-violently demanded for human dignity and an end to coercive measures employed by the dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Throughout the text, references are made that explicitly indicate dual-standards and moral relativism of the West for the sake of safeguarding economic and geo-political interests. While
the United States and other NATO countries accepted the aspirations of the people to some extent in Egypt and Tunisia, at the same time, it maintained close contacts with the military establishments of these countries. On the other hand, the mass movements in oil-rich petro-monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar were downplayed and manipulated by the international media. The liberty to use Internet when curtailed
for the Egyptian bloggers was countered by Google, which provided them with satellite codes. The same ‘Google’ denied access to those codes when asked for by Syrian bloggers. It is noteworthy, as Ramadan mentions that the role of Google has been completely in line with the policies of NATO countries
along with the United States during the mass protests in the Middle East.

The author considers the ‘Arab awakening’ as an eye opener for the Muslim countries and the rest of the world as well, to devise new socio-political models instead of adhering to the present and flawed ones. Restoration of “self-confidence” in the Global South is the key to engage developing and under developed countries in a constructive debate. For the author, such debates can serve well to provide blueprints of socio- political models based of ethical governance, that is no where to be seen in today’s global order. The Muslims are advised by the author to use their state of awakening in a positive direction for the welfare of human society. He refutes the argument that democracy and political Islam are dissimilar by claiming that180 Journal of Media Studies 26(2)
five essential components of democracy are in “fundamental conformity” with Islam; ‘rule of law’, ‘equality for all citizens’, ‘universal suffrage’, ‘accountability and separation of powers’ (executive, legislative and judiciary). Religion can play a decisive role for formulating the ethical norms of governance that are absent in majority of the countries of today even “the civilized Occidents”. The Arab world needs to turn this uprising to its advantage as it has suffered a lot at the hands of Western imperialism and colonialism. Ramadan aptly puts it at two instances “ours is the era of mass communication”, “ours is the era of passivity” and the need of the hour is to change for the good of humanity. Relying on the ideology that there are “no ideologies” will not turn the Arab awakening into the Arab revolution as the author points out the necessity to create ideologies from within, which are irrefutable for both the East and the West and derive ethical principles from religion.

The Arab Awakening, Islam and the New Middle East is a well- researched attempt to understand and operationalize the accelerating changes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The author generously offers readers to negate his views and proposes that the debate in his book is open for all.

Originally written for and published in the Journal of Media Studies (JMS)- research journal of the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab.

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Posted by on November 10, 2013 in Book Review


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Without Dreams by Shahbano Bilgrami – Book Review

Author: Shahbano Bilgrami 

Pages: 262

Reviewed by: Fakiha Hassan Rizvi 

This novel is a clear depiction of ethnic and social segregations among the people of South Asia. The story revolves around two boys, Haroon Rizwan, the son of a renowned businessman of Saathpari and their servant boy Abdul. Although belonging to a rich family, Haroon’s nights are sleepless and marked by dreadful nightmares. Domestic violence and the shouts of a drunk father highlighting his high-handedness over Tahira (Haroon’s mother) give a psychological jolt to their child. He tries to intercept his parents during small quarrels, but finds himself as helpless as a statue, like the servant boy Abdul, who has no volition in the things defining his life.

As years pass by, Haroon sometimes wonders that how come Abdul breathe in subjugation. The servant boy on the other hand has special association with Haroon’s mother and is often noticed by her. After so many years when Haroon comes back to Saathpari, he realizes that it was him who murdered his father. Abdul wanted to stop him that night, but was accused of killing Javaid Rizwan (Haroon’s father). At that point Haroon identifies that despite the differences in social strata and financial statuses, there was still something in common between the servant boy and him. It was a life marred by violence, struggle and helplessness.

However, Abdul thought that the only thing that differentiated between him and Haroon was that the latter had a history. From his first prodding to his teenage, everything was recorded in the form of photographs. On the other hand, Abdul had no clue about his existence.

Without Dreams is a a must read for readers of South Asia. It gives a strong message about child labour, psychological influence of domestic violence over children and how even the privileged segment of the society is burdened by social differences.

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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Book Review, Reviews


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Resurrecting Empire by Rashid Khalidi

Book: Resurrecting Empire Western Footprints and America‘s Perilous Path in Middle East

Reviewed by: Fakiha Hassan Rizvi

Publishers: I.B Tauris

About the Author:

Rashid Ismail Khalidi  is an American historian of the Middle East, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Rashid Khalidi in his impressive account backed with substantial facts explores the perilous path taken by the Bush administration into Iraq. He aptly explains the misuse of rhetorical devices such as ‘democratization’ for legitimizing U.S footprints in the Middle East and Iraq, in particular. Khalidi argues that the Iraq war was fought without learning about the history and culture Arabs. This, at the first place made it an ignorant attempt. He unveils the chequered record of Middle East – U.S ties that worsened with the United States’ acceptance of Israel as a country, America’s retention of colonial bases in order to counter Russia and the incentive of self-determination on the condition of vested regional interests. Rashidi finds it interesting that how neocons surrounding Bush suddenly felt concerned about democracy in Iraq as they never expressed the slightest inclination towards the democratic cause in the region during the past years.

In a nutshell, Rashid Khalidi shares a persuasive set of arguments marking the ‘Iraq War’ of 2003 as the worst failure of the US foreign policy.

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Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Book Review


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Pakistan in ‘India Today’ During 2012 – Part 4

Independence dayAugust 20, 2012 Edition

An imaginary dialogue conducted between Gandhi of India and Jinnah of Pakistan was published in the Independence special edition of India Today. The conversation was written by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a former governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi.

During the discussion Gandhi laments at divided India and the present situation of the Indians. Where as, Jinnah wasn’t happy for he wanted only Pakistanis to live in Pakistan, not Hindus and Muslims.

Selected dialogues of the imaginary conversation:

Mohandaas Karamchand Gandhi (MKG) I hate seeing my face grinning away on paper money when millions of my people are poor, malnutritioned, exploited… But so is your picture up on every office wall in Pakistan…
Muhammad Ali Jinnah (MAJ) So much that consumed our time, our energy, our life, seems so utterly pointless now. What did we fight for and fight each other for…? To see prime ministers… former prime ministers… would-be prime ministers… assassinated… terrorists at our neck… rank corruption… misgovernance… And nuclear warheads…

Mohandaas Karamchand Gandhi I know! The rise of religious bigotry in both countries… the brutalisation of women in the name of orthodoxy… I sometimes wonder if we are returning to the Middle Ages… The levels of violence in our region are unbelievable… direct violence and disguised violence… exploitation… Money rules everything… it is killing all human compassion… We have to do something about all this.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah Remember, we are both dead to that world, Mr Gandhi, stone dead. We are just phantoms… phantoms of the imagination… in this Realm of Un-being… not real beings…
These solutions are discussed between them:

MKGandhi We cannot watch idly!
MAJinnah Your methods of civil disobedience have become commonplace in India… a mockery…
MKGandhi Has your call of ‘Islam in danger’ not returned in unexpected ways? But no recriminations, please… there is a new goal for us, Quaid-e-Azam. We have to ensure that innocents do not die again on our land whether as a result of riots or terror or war. We must get India and Pakistan and Bangladesh to outlaw war.
MAJinnah What about Kashmir?
MKGandhi Let us meet in Srinagar. Let there be a summit at Dara Shukoh‘s Pari Mahal, to inaugurate a new chapter… not replacing the lines of the Partition but redeeming them… Let Kashmir become the world’s capital for conserving nature… I did not know that word everyone uses now… ‘ecology’… but our physical environment needs to be saved from man’s greed. The way things are going, mining, cutting trees, drawing water from deep inside the land, digging, digging, deeper and deeper… very soon there will be nothing left, our forests, our rivers… our air…our water… will stink… Kashmir can show a way out to the world… not just to us… And say with Jahangir from there… If ever there can be a Heaven on Earth… it has to be here… here…
MAJinnah No mushiness, please.
MKGandhi And let us have a festival of music there… sufi music… Kabir’s songs… And Ramdhun… Ishvar Allah Tere Naam…Let India and Pakistan announce from a Srinagar summit a subcontinental plan for ecological wisdom… called the Srinagar Code…along with a de-nuclearisation programme… an exchange of prisoners… a treaty not to violate borders…let India hear loud and clear from Pakistan that it will have nothing to do with terrorists… Let India hear the truth about the Bombay attack… Bombay was special for you… Quaid-e-Azam… I will whisper into Delhi’s ears that the gracious home of yours in Bombay belongs to you… India should not be small-minded about it… If I had a house in Karachi… or Jawahar had one in Lahore… would India not want it? Quaid…your eyes are filmed over…
MAJinnah Are yours… dry?

English: Gandhi and Jinnah in Bombay, Septembe...

English: Gandhi and Jinnah in Bombay, September 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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Pakistan in ‘India Today’ During 2012- Part 3

Messpot or Despots

July 2, 2012 Edition ‘India Today

Cover stories: *Messpot of Despots *Why Pakistan Failed as a Sate?

*Messpot of Despots
Qaswar Abbas in Islamabad and Sandeep Unnithan in New Delhi

The article labels the sacking of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza as one of the ‘most watched’ television show in Pakistan. Qaswar and Sandeep formulate the opinion that an adamant judiciary, corrupt politicians and journalists compromising the prime values of truth and impartiality, steered the nation towards a brittle democratic structure. It discusses the plated interview of Malik Riaz that erupted debates about ‘media accountability’ in the country.

Messpot of Deposts throws light upon the following challenges being faced by Pakistan

– Sectarian violence

– Faltering economy

– Wavering ties with the US

In addition to this, it rightly inducts the thesis that Gillani was enjoying a ‘borrowed time’ as a premier because he had blatantly defied the orders of the apex court. The leaked video of property tycoon ‘Malik Riaz’ has been presented as a matter of media ethics. In addition to this, Qaswar and Sandeep opine that in case Shahabuddin will succeed Gillani then this would evoke the already disgruntled Chief Justice. As stated in Messpot of Despots:

In 2011, Chaudhry directed Pakistan’s Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) to arrest and question Shahabuddin for approving a 2009 import of nine tonnes of ephedrine as health minister. The drug was imported by two pharmaceutical firms to ties with Gilani’s second son Ali Musa, a member of the National Assembly. Mindful of this controversy, the PPP has also nominated Raja Pervez Ashraf as a back-up candidate.

*Why Pakistan failed at a state
Dhiraj Nayyar discusses the annual ranking of failed states published by the Foreign Policy magazine, according tot which Pakistan was declared as a failed state. The writer builds the opinion that it is the ‘bankrupt economy’ instead of politics which has pulled the nation to a beleaguered state.



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Pakistan in ‘India Today’ During 2012- Part 2

In April 2012 an avalanche trapped 140 Pakistani soldiers under the snow in Giyari sector located at the Siachen glacier. 129 lost their lives and all the bodies have not been recovered due to the difficult terrain. Siachen is known as the world’s most difficult and highest battlefield. Once again, peace proposals came into limelight.

However, the adamant stance of India is clearly reflected through the reviews of the cover stories, published in India Today during 2012.

Blood Politics in SiachenMay 2012 Edition of ‘India Today’ magazine

Cover Stories: *Siachen can be a mountain of peace *Blood Politics on Siachen *India cannot afford to give up Siachen

*Siachen can be a mountain of peace
Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri (former foreign minister of Pakistan) suggests to expand the ‘issues of concern’ related with Indo-Pak diplomacy, beyond the Kashmir issue. He recalls in his article, the consensus between Rajiv Gandhi (India) and Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan) to call back soldiers from Siachen. Kasuri emphasizes on the expenditure of budget on developmental projects instead of defence and military. Being the adviser on foreign affairs and head of Kashmir affairs for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Kasuri revealed that his party wants a harmonious relation between both the countries.

As quoted in ‘Siachen can be a mountain of peace’:

Between 2002-2007, we were able to create the right atmosphere for peace. We had reached an understanding on key issues like Jammu and Kashmir and were just a signature away from a solution for Sir Creek. It is time to infuse momentum in our bilateral ties-in 2007, a draft on Kashmir was ready to be presented to our Cabinet and Parliament. Our solution would have been acceptable to all the three sides, India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris I had several meetings with the Kashmiris in India, Pakistan and in other countries and almost 85 per cent of them were willing to accept the solution we proposed.

*Blood Politics on Siachen
Gaurav C. Sawant and Shiv Aroor reiterate the idea that ‘peace talks’ are in vain and the Indian army has an edge over the Pakistan army at Siachen. In case the civil government is resolved to ‘gift’ Siachen to Pakistan then the military should stop it all costs. They blatantly state:

The status quo, India believes, is bleeding Pakistan more. For the Indian Army, Siachen is not negotiable. “There is no reason for withdrawal from Siachen at this stage. Both tactically and strategically, holding those commanding heights is to India’s advantage. Pakistan has given no reason for India to trust it.
The strategic community is opposed to the Indian Government’s piecemeal approach to peace. They want Pakistan to stop infiltration, close down terror camps, crack down on terrorist groups hostile to India on their soil before there is forward movement on Siachen.

The entire article draws the conclusion that dialogue over anything (let alone Siachen) between the two countries isn’t feasible. The authors inadequately use the term ‘serial violator of bilateral agreements’ for Pakistan. This is proved by another author in the same edition of the magazine…

*India cannot afford to give up Siachen

…the changed circumstances of the day demand that we abandon the quest for an accord on Siachen. In this context, it may be recalled that when such an agreement was originally mooted in the late 1980s, we were suffering many casualties in the area which is no longer the case. Satish Chandra

This explicitly shows that the Indian government had been shifting stances on the Siachen issue according to its position on the ground.

What are the guarantees that Pakistan will not occupy the heights vacated by India? General V.P. Malik, Former Chief of Army Staff

Prime Minister cannot compel the Army to withdraw based on empty, meaningless words not backed by action. Ajit Doval, Former Director, Intelligence Bureau

At Saltoro, we dominate the heights overlooking the Northern Areas and land illegally ceded by Pakistan to China. Kanwal Sibal, Former Foreign Secretary


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Pakistan in ‘India Today’ During 2012 – Part 1

While tracking back the archives for the year 2012 of ‘India Today’ magazine, I came across some interesting ‘cover stories’ pertaining either to Pakistan or the relations between India and Pakistan. This post will provide a review of all those cover stories in series:

Greed vs Guns Edition January 30, 2012

Cover Stories: * Pakistan Crisis, * Greed vs Guns, *Deliberate attempt to incite a Coup *It takes three to Tango, *Judge Dread

 *Pakistan Crisis The cover stories begin by sharing the views of leading Pakistani journalist/columnist and anchor person Naseem Zehra and political anaylst, Farrukh Saleem. Both of them describe the tense political atmosphere among the judiciary, parliament and the army in the wake of memo-gate scandal and the US NAVY SEALs raid in Abbottabad. Farrukh Saleem relates this situation with the ‘Game Theory’ in which all the three entities (namely Supreme Court, General Head Quarters and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party) tend to look after their vested interests. Naseem Zehra, opines that the Judiciary and the Army are on the same page and the Parliament is being used by the ‘government’ against the ‘army-judiciary’ duo.

*Greed vs Guns This piece negates the idea that the meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani on January 14, 2012 was related to the security concerns. It builds the opinion that a military coup was warded off by the President on the condition that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani will not serve as the premier of Pakistan for long. The reason, as presented, lies in the resentment of the COAS against Prime Minister Gillani for his criticism on the army chief’s stance over the ‘memo-gate’ issue in the court. Interestingly, the author mentions that if there had been a ‘coup’, it would have been unique in the Pakistani context. Kayani would have brought a ‘national government’ consisting of ‘non-PPP parties’.

In a historical context, ‘Greeds and Guns’, refers to the perpetual rivalry dwelling in the way of army as ‘an institution’ and Bhuttos as a ‘family’. The narrative argues that Gillani had been following the orders of Zardari (on the Swiss bank case) instead of the Supreme Court and he deserved the notice of ‘contempt of court’.

Related to the reopening of graft-cases against President Zardari, the following statistics were found in the article:

  •  A report prepared by Pakistan’s secret agencies estimates that the Bhutto family allegedly stashed away more than $1.5 billion (Rs.7,500 crore) in Swiss bank accounts. Close aides of Zardari term him a person of “great lust” for whom “money is everything”.
  •  He owns mansions on either side of the English channel. The 365-acre Rockwood estate with a $6.5 million (Rs.32.5 crore) mansion and two farms in Surrey, Britain, and a 16th century chateau in Normandy, France. But it is two specific charges of corruption-a Swiss money-laundering inquiry and a British civil case-that continue to haunt the Zardari presidency.
  •  In 2003, a Swiss magistrate declared he had evidence against Zardari and Bhutto after pursuing a money trail from offshore companies in the Caribbean to banks in Geneva to a jewellery shop. The judge convicted Zardari and Bhutto of money laundering in absentia. He connected Zardari to a chain of corruption cases that began with two Swiss firms which funnelled $11.9 million (Rs.59.5 crore) in bribes to bank accounts in Geneva via three offshore firms in the British Virgin Islands.

The complex and intricate nature of governance in the country is due to the clash between the institutions. Sandeep Unnithan and Qaswar Abbas go further by attributing the collision of institutions with lack of credibility, governance- inefficacy of Pakistan’s establishment and Pakistan’s hand-to-mouth existence that too through the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the international fore front, authors state that the Pakistani public does not support the US-Pak relationship. The drone strikes coupled with the memo-gate issue escalated anti-American sentiments. As quoted in ‘Greed vs Gun’;

A popular SMS doing the rounds reads, “America ka jo yaar hai, gaddar hi gaddar hai” (A friend of America is a traitor). The implication: Zardari had betrayed the nation by seeking foreign help. The overseas troika of China, US and Saudi Arabia, key players in Pakistan’s stability, kept a low profile. A US envoy who attempted to visit Pakistan during the ongoing crisis was snubbed, indicating Washington’s diminishing leverage with its ally. There are indications that Zardari’s frequent trips to Dubai may have to do with secret meetings with the powerful Saudi royals.

 * Deliberate attempt to Incite a Coup

 Imran Khan, Politician The government must step down and let the people decide.

Ahmed Quraishi, Defence Analyst The elected government was deliberately provoking a military coup and to come out as martyrs of pro-democracy.The PPP knows that it’ll lose the cases filed against it.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Ex-foreign minister Zardar’s obstinate and dictatorial approach has created a chance of ‘class among key institutions’. He should obey the orders of the Supreme Court.

Shireen M. Mazari, Geostrategist The Pakistani government should have implemented the Supreme Court verdict in true spirit; rather, it has ignited a fight with the army just to earn the sympathy of the masses in view of the forthcoming general elections.

* It takes three to tango

 Madiha Sattar, Journalist Pakistan is seeing a 21st-century version of its lifelong problem of clash-of-institutions.

Aftab Khan Sherpao, Former minister The government was getting into a conflict with state institutions only to divert the masses’ attention from the National Reconciliation Ordinance implementation and Memogate case.

 * Judge Dread

Memogate: Pakistan’s CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry puts the fear of judiciary into the executive, Qaswar Abbas.

end game in Pakistan

Courtesy: India Today Magazine, January 30, 2012.


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