From Fascination To Inspiration : What Tunisia’s Revolt Signifies & Teaches Us



 
Seldom does the world get to witness nations standing up to take hold of their country from tyrannical heads and their atrocious hands.

Recently it did, watching in fascination as Tunisians came out on the streets to revolt against the corrupt and autocratic government of Ben Ali, their President in power since 1987.
 


What eventuated this uprising in opposition of unemployment, inflation and for civil liberties that lead to Ben Ali absconding the country just after 29 days of unrest as a young, jobless man Muhammad Bouazizi.
 
International Business Times writes about him under the title  ‘The Story of Mohammed Bouazizi, The Man Who Toppled Tunisia’ :
 
“Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26-year-old Tunisian with a computer science degree.

Like millions of angry and desperate Tunisians, he faced the unpleasant combination of poor employment prospects and food inflation. Moreover, the Tunisian government was seen as corrupt and authoritarian.
By December 17, resentment against authorities has been brewing for a while.
To make ends meet, the unemployed Bouazizi sold fruits and vegetables from a cart in his rural town of Sidi Bouzid, located 160 miles from the country’s capital Tunis. He did not have a license to sell, but it was his sole source of income.

On December 17, authorities confiscated his produce and allegedly slapped his face.
Bouazizi became incensed.
                                                                                                                                                          

He then drenched himself in gasoline and set himself on fire outside the governor’s office. Bouazizi survived his initial suicide attempt. After being transported to a hospital near Tunis, he was visited by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali before passing away on January 4.

 

 

After his suicide attempt, unrest broke out in Sidi Bouzid. The police cracked down on the protestors, which only fueled the movement. The revolt eventually spread to the capital city.”
 
For decades, many a nations under totalitarian regimes have eagerly fancied the idea of a revolution – waiting for the ‘right time’ and a leader to take them forward to actualize it but Tunisians have shown that when it comes to taking back the ownership of their country, no nation needs a leader rather their actions have asserted the reality that nations are their own leaders.
 
Those who had been following the unfolding of events in the Arab country since December had their thoughts about the marches, protests and riots dangling between doubts over their success yet the citizens of Tunisia proved that it is people like them who deserve a country and freedom – for they value and fight for it and in the end, the power and will of the people is what will always surface to reign high.


 
Award-winning columnist and an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, Mona El-Tahawy has penned-down a notable piece on the happening in The Washington Post:
                                                                                                                                                              

For decades, a host of Arab dictators have justified their endless terms in office by pointing to Islamists waiting in the wings. Having both inflated the egos and power of Islamists and scared Western allies into accepting stability over democracy, those leaders were left to comfortably sweep “elections.”
                                                                                                                                                      

Ben Ali was elected to a fifth term with 89.62 percent of the vote in 2009.


All around him is a depressingly familiar pattern. Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi (68 years old) has been in power since 1969; Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh (64) has ruled since 1978 and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (82) since 1981. Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika (73) is a relative newcomer, having been in power only since 1999. Not so much fathers as grandfathers of their nations, these autocrats cling to office – and are increasingly out of touch with their young populaces.

No doubt, every Arab leader has watched Tunisia’s revolt in fear while citizens across the Arab world watch in solidarity, elated at that rarity: open revolution.”

This is not only a matter of much relevance and significance for Arabs but also countries like Pakistan, which today staggers towards the precipice of danger finding it hard to balance the burden of terrorism, inflation, poverty, rife corruption, institutional dysfunctions etc – hoisted on its back by years of military rule and political tug of wars for control of the state.
                                                                                                                                                           

One hopes that the result of the Tunisian rebellion and revolt is a domino effect. Are Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Syria or Pakistan next? After all, the nations of these countries do possess simmering feelings of frustration and have been forced to swallow too many bitter pills over the years.
                                                                                                                                                              

Every population is as capable as that of Tunisia to kick start a movement of dissent yet what most of them lack currently is the will, unity and valor of the Tunisians to exercise this, for which they must be saluted.
  
An Egyptian friend and youth pertinently comments on the whole situation:
                                                                                                                                                             

All we lack is the start. What started it in Tunisia is one of the most commonly incidents that you can see daily, a simple man burning himself up protesting for being unemployed, which led to one of the biggest protests in the Tunisian history…

We also need to realize that its our own countries not theirs (rulers), so every right in these countries is ours, not them being so ‘kind’ giving them to us. We should be the feared side.

While it may be too soon or facile to term this revolt a complete success, it has come to symbolize what can be labeled as an inspiration for countless countries and future order of events.
 

 Vive Le Tunisia!

 

– Hafsa Khawaja

Mob Insanity or Justice? Save Pakistan From Itself!


 The basic structure of a society consists of laws and their regard which help to make it civilized. A society where the people take the law and process of justice into their own hands is in plain words : Chaotic and barbaric.

 

On August 19th, a video surfaced of two brothers Hafiz Mugheez Sajjad and Muneeb Sajjad being mercilessly beaten by batons to death by villagers in front of area police and a mass gathering in Sialkot. Their bodies were then hanged upside down with poles and then paraded in the back of a tractor trolley around the city which is known as ‘Shehr-e-Iqbal’.

 

Both brothers Mughees who was 19 and Muneeb who was 17, were Hafiz-e-Quran. It is being said that :

“At the early morning of 15th August 2010, the two brothers set of on their motorbike to play a cricket match. whilst on their journey, were distracted by a group of people who were looking for robbers who open fired on two people. The two brothers were wrongly accused of robbery, and without a fair trial, the police let angry mob of people kill the two innocent brothers.

They were murdered ruthlessly during the holy month of Ramadan. At the time of their death, both brothers were fasting whilst beaten to death viciously.”

Dawn News writes :

“On the the very day newspapers reported the Sialkot double-murder, they also carried a news item about the awarding of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz to the DIG Gujranwala, Zulfiqar Cheema, for “maintaining law and order”. The police officer, in whose jurisdiction Sialkot also falls, appears to do his job in a manner that is condemnable.

Meanwhile, SHO police, alleged mastermind of killing of two brothers, has fled away and is still at large, police sources said.”

  
This is not a case first of its nature in Pakistan, mob justice has been a routine practice especially in our country. Many incidents as such emerge from time to time. From catching alleged robbers and burning them, to killing non-Muslims on account of ‘blasphemy’  to stripping the sister by a family of whose girl the woman’s brother fled with.

When the general public, mostly which is uneducated begins to to play judge and executioner, it is time that the Government and Judiciary wake up.

 

One is left shocked and appalled after viewing the gruesome video leaving one wondering as why none of those who were present at the time of this incident including the eight policemen did not stop the barbarians committing this crime? Not one in the many who witnessed this spoke a word of protest! This clearly evinces the crumple down of our society’s moral framework and the virtual absence of the rule of law.


People are giving mixed reasons as to why the two brothers were battered to death ; while some say they were involved in crime, others say it was a petty rivalry.

However, even if they were (as alleged) guilty of committing a crime they should have been brought to the courts. No civilized society of the world or sane human would do what had been done to them.

Pakistanis proudly procalim to be a Muslim nation, yet what recenlt happened clashes with the saying of Propeht Muhammad (PBUH) :

“Whoever of you sees wrong being committed, let him rectify it with his hand, if he is unable, then with his tongue, and if he us unable, then with his heart, and this is the weakest of faith — or in another version: beyond this there is not a single mustard seed’s weight of faith (iman).”

Those who silently watched the teenagers being dragged into the mouth of death are equally blameworthy and censurable for the bestiality for them being  acquiescent to the cruelty.


Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has already taken Suo Moto Notice of the savagery and summoned the police officials while in the same vein Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also ordered an investigation while vowing to hang the culprits in the same place.

Indeed, those who had played a part in this should be dealt the same way.

As Islam says “An eye for an eye.”

The videos uploaded of the gore happening shows the faces of those who killed the boys as identifable and with the aforementioned commencements, the whole nation expects the matter to be solved and those behind it to be strictly and severely retributed rather letting the reality of this brutality to fade out .

The culture of sheer mob madness churned with naked atrociousness, masked under the name of ‘Mob Justice’ must be completely spurned by the iron hand of justice.

 

 After 63 years, this is what we have come to as a nation? Devoid of even a smidgen of compassion, humaity and conscience! Neither are we a civilized society nor a we a nation worth following. This is not the Pakistan Jinnah and Iqbal has thought of. Majority of Pakistanis believe and talk of Pakistan needing a revolution but revolution means change which we only deserve after evolving from being such animals into humans that reform the society. What we have today is what we are worthy of because the heart of this nation is rotten. With such occurences that slightly expose the ugly face of our society, one must say Allah has still been very kind to us as a nation.

 

I would only quote what Iqbal had once beautifully written :

 

“Ya Rab Dil-e-Muslim Ko, Woh Zinda Tamana De,

Jo Qulb Ko Garma De, Jo Roh Ko Tarpa De”

May heart bleeds for them,

May the soul of the brothers rest in eternal peace!

And Allah save Pakistan from itself!

– Hafsa Khawaja

The Chain That Shackles Us – Poverty, Inflation and Child-Labour


We as Pakistanis have developed the habit of being unappreciative and ungrateful to what we have around us. Humans, as we are, are ravenous beasts wnating ever more. Recently, I heard a couple of young people I know whine and complain about not going to a posh restaurant where they wanted to dine but instead were going to a restaurant of equivalent standards. This made me ponder, have we ever seen what lies around us?

According to information available with WFP, the number of food insecure people in Pakistan has increased from 35 million to 45 million during and after the 3-F (food, finance & fuel) crises.

Also Pakistan ranks fifth among countries having the highest number of hungry people (to an estimate), with women and children among the worst affected.

A recent incident clearly paints the picture of desperation that has developed between people : in Karachi, women were killed due to a stampede as they all tried to acquire bags of flour.

The inflation rate in Pakistan was 13.68 percent in January of 2010. Inflation rate refers to a general rise in prices measured against a standard level of purchasing power.

In our country, around 85 per cent of the population lives on income less than two dollars a day and food costs are more than 50 per cent of the monthly expenses. And a surge in food prices has adversely impacted the food security situation in the country, resulting in poor children being deprived of the right of education just for the cause of working to do menial jobs at tender ages to help their families meet their ends.

According to a newspaper:

“Many wealthy Pakistanis employ children as servants, often to help with their own youngsters, a relatively common practice that Pakistani law does not prohibit. Slight and shadowy figures at the edges of birthday parties and nights out in fancy restaurants, these young servants, who rarely earn more than $50 a month, form a growing portion of Pakistan’s domestic labor force.
It was raw need that brought Shazia into the house of Chaudhry Naeem, a prominent lawyer who lives in a wealthy neighborhood in this leafy city in eastern Pakistan.
She received $8 a month to wash his floors, his cars and his toilets, her mother said, money that went toward paying off a family debt”

Inflation and poverty has lead to one of the most serious issues of child labour in Pakistan. As known to all, our population in the rural areas due to their lack of education and understanding, increase the number of children in their households as to strenghthen their man-power and with the envisagement that they’d be helped by their very children to facilitate them in times of need and by working.

Such was the case of Shazia Masih, a thirteen year old girl who worked as a maid for Former President of Lahore Bar Association and was tortured to death in Lahore. The girl worked for a mere amount of money for her family, that many in Pakistan would squander in a day.

The Senate was recently informed of 3.3 million children in Pakistan as child-labourers.
A report was published in 2009 :

“In Pakistan children aged 5-14 are above 40 million. During the last year (2008), the
Federal Bureau of Statistics released the results of its survey funded by ILO’s
IPEC (International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour). The findings
were that 3.8 million children age group of 5-14 years are working in Pakistan
out of total 40 million children in this age group; fifty percent of these
economically active children are in age group of 5 to 9 years. Even out of these
3.8 million economically active children, 2.7 million were claimed to be working
in the agriculture sector. Two million and four hundred thousand (73%) of them
were said to be boys.”

Child labour is also associated with physical, mental and moral exploitation of children. Not only is the child-hood of these children crushed and drained away but their mental growth is also stunted. These children when once, start working for their ‘Sahabs’ or ‘Bajis’, are blatantly mistreated and remain underprivileged of their rights. They are often beaten up as ‘punishments’ for little mistakes that these children might commit such as stealing. And why wouldn’t they?

*A child as defined by UNICEF is anyone under the age of 18.

When these children see us, of their very own age group and yet living a luxurious life and more fortunate, they start buliding grievance and grudges inside them that can be stated as a reason for the rise in crimes of murder, robbery that these youths later commit.

Though child labour is an entirely different issue in itself, my intention behing writing this is that the next time one of us begins to gripe about a meal not cooked of our choice, be thankful and remember the many children in Pakistan who sleep without a shelter each day, with hunger pangs resting in their stomachs and no hope for a better future.
Look around yourselves and aim for a change by working in your own capacity to put an end to the suffering of those who are victims of such atrocities or impoverished in any shade for every one of these issues are inter-linked and if we don’t break this chain, no one will.

Hafsa Khawaja