KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan was recently mesmerized by a bottle of Scotch whisky. On Oct. 30, as hundreds of supporters of the opposition party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (P.T.I.) were making their way to the capital Islamabad, with the declared intent of shutting down the city, the police searched the car of a P.T.I. politician and discovered a bottle of Johnny Walker Double Black.
Most Pakistanis had not seen a bottle of whisky in the news in a long time. Although there’s no ban on showing alcohol in the media, the subject rarely comes up in TV news. But this one bottle of whisky, waved around by a policeman, was broadcast on a loop. It became an emblem of the opposition’s immorality.
The politician claimed it contained honey. Yet later that evening, on a current affairs TV show, he put a sobering question to the other guests, “Which one of you doesn’t drink?” Complete silence.
If they said yes, they’d be implicating themselves. If they said no, nobody would believe them. For Muslims in Pakistan, drinking alcohol is prohibited and talking about it is taboo. Drinking and denying it is the oldest cocktail in the country.
It wasn’t always like this. The country was founded in 1947 by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was known to indulge in the occasional drink. Alcohol shops and bars were banned in 1977 by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a person who had publicly proclaimed, “Yes, I do drink alcohol, but at least I don’t drink the blood of the poor.”
That year, facing protests over an allegedly rigged election that his party had won, Mr. Bhutto decided to declare prohibition. He probably believed that he and his comrades would continue to enjoy their Scotch in private. He was hanged two years later.
Since those days, Pakistan’s rich have continued to enjoy their liquor at home and members’ clubs, but the less privileged have been persecuted and flogged, and are at risk of being imprisoned, for possessing and consuming alcohol.
It’s true that most people in Pakistan don’t drink because they are Muslim. But many more don’t drink because they are Muslim and poor. Nobody abstains from drinking because it’s prohibited by law.
When alcohol was banned by Mr. Bhutto, an exception was made for non-Muslims. They would be issued licenses and allotted a quota. Non-Muslim visiting foreigners would be able to order a drink in their hotel rooms, but the hotels would make them fill out a form saying they needed the alcohol for medicinal purposes.
In the province of Sindh, where I live, licensed shops, usually called wine stores, have operated even since prohibition. The stores are supposed to sell only to non-Muslims, but they don’t discriminate. Owners have to pay off the police, though, and any dispute can result in the shops having to close down.
The laws can be cruel and absurd. Last summer, the local police in Karachi banned liquor stores from keeping freezers, in order to stop consumers from buying a cold beer. Apparently chilled beer was a threat to our faith and to peace, but warm beer was just warm beer.
In late October, a High Court judge ordered the closure of all these stores after accepting a petition that said alcohol is prohibited not only in Islam but in Christianity and Hinduism, too. This ban means that only those who can afford imported liquor will keep buying from a flourishing network of bootleggers.
Others will have to buy one of the many versions of moonshine brewed all over the country, which routinely blind and kill consumers. Two years ago, when liquor stores were shut in Sindh over the Eid holiday, more than 25 people died after drinking home-brew. Survivors report that if the stuff doesn’t kill you or blind you, it isn’t that bad.
Members of Parliament and law enforcers and industrialists and bureaucrats and young professionals and even some religious scholars can drink with impunity. A taxi driver trying to score a beer on the go risks a jail term or losing his eyesight to moonshine.
It’s a law-and-order issue, you see. The rich drink in their own homes and frolic or puke on their own lawns, but the assumption is that if the poor get drunk in public spaces, they’ll make a nuisance. Which is why those who can afford fine scotches can also afford to give everyone else lectures about our religious duties. It seems that those who suck the blood of poor people want to make sure it’s not tainted with cheap alcohol.
No wonder Pakistanis go to any lengths to ensure they’re not seen drinking, even when they smell like a barrel of liquor. I once had dinner with a 74-year-old grandfather who sipped from his spiked bottle of cola but worried that one of the children at the table would get their Pepsis mixed up with his.
I’ve tried to interview my neighborhood liquor-shop owner, but he has discouraged me. There are enough problems in Pakistan, why don’t you write about them? But is this Bombay Sapphire knockoff you’re selling any good? How would I know? he said, I have never had a drop. Not even for medicinal purposes.
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.”
Letters threatening that President-elect Donald Trump will do to Muslims what Adolf Hitler “did to the Jews” were sent to three California mosques last week, according to the Council on Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR.
The handwritten letter, which referred to Muslims as “children of Satan,” was mailed to Islamic centers in San Jose in Northern California and Long Beach and Pomona in Southern California. It called Trump the “new sherriff [sic] in town” who will “cleanse America and make it shine again” by eradicating the country’s Muslim population.
“You Muslims are a vile and filthy people. Your mothers are whores and your fathers are dogs,” the letter states. “You are evil. You worship the devil. But, your day of reckoning has arrived.”
The letter went on to say that Muslims “would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”
The Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose was the first to receive the letter, according to CAIR, a civil liberties and advocacy organization for Muslims in the United States. Authorities were alerted Thursday night after the center’s imam found it in the mail, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
On Saturday, CAIR said the Islamic centers in Long Beach and Pomona also received a similar letter.
“The hate campaign targeting California houses of worship must be investigated as an act of religious intimidation, and our state’s leaders should speak out against the growing anti-Muslim bigotry that leads to such incidents,” Hussam Ayloush, executive director for CAIR’s office in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
The letter, which was signed “Americans for a Better Way,” ended with “long live President Trump and God bless the USA.”
Faisal Yazadi, chairman of the board of the Islamic center in San Jose, said he hopes the sender would try to engage in a conversation with the Muslim community.
“Our doors are never locked,” Yazadi told the Chronicle. “I hope that person knows that we’re more than happy to have a dialogue. Hopefully, we learn a thing or two from him or her, and he or she learns something from us.”
The FBI said this month that hate crimes against U.S. Muslims spiked last year to its highest level since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Law enforcement agencies across the country reported 257 anti-Muslim incidents last year, an increase of nearly 67 percent from 2014, according to recent FBI data.
Overall, hate crimes increased by 6.7 percent from 2014 to 2015. Anti-black and anti-Jewish incidents rose by about 7.6 and 9 percent, respectively, according to the FBI.]
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, told The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky that the anti-Muslim rhetoric that came out of the presidential campaign was to blame.
On the campaign trail in December, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. The ban is one of his most controversial and popular proposals, alongside building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting illegal immigrants. Trump’s campaign later repackaged the proposal, saying immigration should be suspended from countries “compromised by terrorism.”
More than 100 anti-Muslim incidents have occurred since the presidential election, according to CAIR’s national office. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, has tallied more than 700 incidents of harassment from Nov. 9 to Nov. 16. Many appear to have been made in Trump’s name and were directed at immigrants, African Americans and Muslims. The center cautions that not all incidents have direct references to the president-elect and that not every report could be immediately verified.
CAIR also said this month that the FBI questioned Muslims in at least eight states to seek information about a possible threat from al-Qaeda to carry out pre-election attacks.
Hassan Shibly, a lawyer and executive director of the CAIR office in Florida, told The Post’s Katie Mettler that his clients were asked whether they knew the al-Qaeda leaders killed in U.S. military strikes last month and whether they knew of anyone who wished to harm Americans at home or abroad. Among those questioned, Shibly said, were a youth group leader and wealthy doctors.
“The FBI actions . . . to conduct a sweep of American Muslim leaders the weekend before the election is completely outrageous and . . . borderline unconstitutional,” Shibly told The Post. “That’s the equivalent of the FBI visiting churchgoing Christians because someone overseas was threatening to blow up an abortion clinic. It’s that preposterous and outrageous.”
PASSU, Pakistan — Sajid Alvi is excited. He just got a grant to study in Sweden. “My Ph.D. is about friction in turbo jet engines,” Alvi says. “I will work on developing new aerospace materials—real geeky stuff!”
Alvi’s relatives have come to bid him farewell as he prepares to leave his mountain village and study in a new country, some 3,000 miles away.
“We will see you again,” one of them says as they hang out in the potato field in front of Alvi’s house. “You know you won’t get far with a long beard like that. You look like Taliban!”
Alvi, dressed in low-hanging shorts and a Yankees cap, is far from a fundamentalist: He’s Wakhi, part of an ethnic group with Persian origins. And like everyone else here, he is Ismaili—a follower of a moderate branch of Islam whose imam is the Aga Khan, currently residing in France. There are 15 million Ismailis around the world, and 20,000 live here in the Gojal region of northern Pakistan.
I’ve been visiting Gojal for 17 years, and I’ve watched as lives like Alvi’s have become more common here. Surrounded by the mighty Karakoram Range, the Ismailis here have long been relatively isolated, seeing tourists but little else of global events. But now, an improved highway and the arrival of mobile phones have let the outside world in, bringing new lifestyles and opportunities: Children grow up and head off to university, fashions change, and technology reshapes tradition. Gojal has adjusted to all of this, surprising me every time I return by showing me just how adaptable traditions can be.
With these photos, I hope to add nuance to our understanding of Pakistan, a country many Westerners associate with terrorism or violence. People have suffered from this reputation, and many feel helpless in trying to change it. The Pakistan I’ve seen is different from that popular perception. I returned there this summer with my family and focused my attention on a young and forward-thinking community in Gojal, a place I know well.
I first came here in the summer of 1999. I was 25 and my girlfriend and I bought one-way tickets to Pakistan. We were looking for inspiring treks (the Karakoram Range has the highest concentration of peaks taller than 8,000 meters). Back then, we were among the roughly 100,000 foreign tourists to visit northern Pakistan each year.
We stayed for months, opening new passes, learning the language, and exploring the Karakoram, Hindu Kush, and Pamir. I kept returning, but over the years, I saw the number of fellow hikers plunge. The tourism department now records only a few thousand foreign visitors each year.
“Following the terrible September 11th attacks, anyone involved in tourism had to sell their jeeps or hotels; no tourists dared to come here anymore,” says Karim Jan, a local tour guide.
With each return visit, I noticed other changes. While outsiders were rare, the improved Karakoram Highway, now able to host vehicles other than Jeeps and 4x4s, brought in local tourists from south Pakistan, and southern cities became more accessible to the Wakhi.
“In these remote parts, our relationship to our honored guests has never changed,” Jan says. “You know, our kids go away to the cities, but deep down we are just mountain farmers living off the land. Sometimes we feel sadness for the way the Western world thinks of us, but we would rather joke about it than be bothered by it.”
The day after Alvi’s going-away party, we climb a nearby hill where young people are gathering. In the distance, we see the peak of Tupopdan—which means “sun-drenched mountain” in Wakhi—as it towers above a green oasis and the Passu village. A road winds through a barren valley—a branch of the old Silk Road. Beyond these peaks are the deserts and plains of Central Asia, China, and Afghanistan.
Some of the young men on the hill sport designer t-shirts, jeans, styled beards, and ponytails (hipsters know no boundary). Others wear the traditional white pants and long shirt. Four young men bring up a huge speaker and blast a mix of dancehall and traditional music.
As we dance, a group of girls watches us, laughing. Others ignore us, focusing instead on a game of volleyball. Alvi points to them.
“They are all going to school and most of them speak at least four languages,” he says, as our conversation switches between English, Wakhi, and Urdu. “We have a famous saying: If you have two children, a boy and a girl, but you can afford to educate only one, you must give the education to the girl.”
A few days later, Esar Ali, dressed in a suit and ready for a family wedding, climbs a boulder, away from the crowd. “The recent changes,” he says, discussing village life, “they come a lot from our education. Nowadays we go to universities outside of our villages, in the cities or abroad.”
“But they also come from this,” he adds, pointing to his phone. Smartphones and mobile data networks have changed how the people here relate to the outside world, and to their neighbors.
“I first saw Shayna in a town near my village,” Ali says. “There is a decent 2G reception there.”
“We started messaging, agreeing on a time to talk when no one is at home,” he says. “In our tradition, to be with someone is something sacred. So while we slowly establish our relationship, we never want to offend our elders. Phone or no phone, we have to keep our customs alive.”
Ali is now married to Shayna. This courtship would’ve been much different 10 years ago, but not because he wouldn’t have had a mobile phone. Back then, “our parents would pick the bride or groom,” he says. “But now it’s practically all love marriages, or rather arranged love marriages. We simply suggest to our parents the boy or girl we want to marry.”
There are two long lines in front of the wedding house; men on one side, women on the other. An elderly lady, her white veil flowing on top of an embroidered skullcap, welcomes me. She takes my right hand and kisses the top of it. I kiss hers in return; it’s the Wakhi way of greeting each other. I walk down the line, asking the traditional “How is your health, my sweet mother?” to each of the ladies.
It’s a typical mud house, and inside, young men are standing next to a gigantic pot of food; Ali steps up and says he hopes I’m hungry. “They are making bat for over 200 people,” he says, referring to the porridge-like food in the pot. “We will eat that with boiled sheep meat and lots of chai.”
My wife and two young sons are outside somewhere playing cricket. When I look for them, I see my wife being pulled into a group selfie with the young bride and her friends. They ask me to join in.
Here, there is no such a thing as an uninvited guest. We’re joined by our friends Emmanuelle and Julien from Paris, and they’ve brought their two daughters. “With the current world situation, people thought we were joking when we were telling them that we were going on holiday to Pakistan,” Emmanuelle says. “We got worried too and almost called off the trip.”
But Emmanuelle says she’s glad she didn’t cancel. The scene is nothing like what she assumed.
“I mean, if you ask someone back home to imagine life in a remote mountain region in Pakistan, do you think they will picture this? This place is really doing something to me; it’s making my soul grow.”
Coming here again and again, this tight community always humbles me. Now, as external changes increasingly permeate daily life and relationships, Gojal has planted a foot in the modern world while retaining its traditions and ability to inspire. Traveling in places that we only know little about—or hold wrong ideas about—puts life into perspective. I hope the grace of this place will touch many more people.
This September, the speaker of the National Assembly accepted two bills on issues of grave concern for religious minorities, which parliament may consider voting into laws. One is about establishing a “Pakistan Minority Rights Commission” and the other “Protection of Minorities Bill 2016” is about making forced conversion an offence.
The bill for constituting the Commission encompasses the needs of an independent, empowered and a delivering human rights institution. For example, it envisions a body of 11 members, with a combination of religious, ethnic, gender and age diversity, though most importantly it does not exclude the representation from the majority community. Because, after all, the object is integration of the citizenry beyond religious divides. Besides being representative, the Commission ought to be an effective body to curtail human rights abuses; a question which runs through the entire scheme of the bill, not merely its composition.
In the course of debate one expects that the parliamentarians and the civil society will be mindful to address any shortcomings and to make the bill worthy of laying the foundation of this long-awaited institution. For instance, section 25 of the bill places one-year limit on the purposed commission for pointing out difficulties that needs to be removed for discharge of their functions towards the stated objectives. A sunset clause can be a hindrance to the procedural powers of an evolving institution, expected to expand the scope of respect for human rights in a challenging environment. Hence such limits ought to be removed. It is also suggested that the realising equality of rights among citizens needs a mention among the objects of the Commission.
The bill addressing the forced conversions is a well articulated draft. Take section 4 for instance that states, “a minor who claims change of his religion before attaining the age of maturity (18 years) shall not be deemed to have changed his religion and no action shall be taken against him for any such claim or action made by such minor.” The section fulfils the requirements of two basic standards of international law; the freedom of religion and belief and; the best interest of the child in two sentences though with a margin of appreciation for ground realities.
Drafters seem to be fully aware that a number of reported cases of forced conversions involved minors, usually female who were abducted, raped and reported to have contracted marriage, finally driven into forced servitude. Moreover, there is a looming threat of being charged with apostasy in case a forcibly converted person objects to his or her victimisation. Such violations involving abuse of religion feed into social processes the larger scheme of religious extremism and exclusion of minorities. The bill therefore is a welcome development.
The anti-forced conversion laws of Sri Lanka and a few states of India were driven by majority communities’ fear of losing members to growing minority faiths. Pakistan faces no such danger. The demographic picture of Pakistan suggests a need to preserve its diminishing religious minorities.
The mover of the bills, Sanjay Pervani, and his legal experts deserve praise for their hard work, as well as a nuanced understanding of domestic issues, international and domestic laws.
This February, when the Human Rights Action Plan was unveiled, the federal government had pledged to move legislation for establishing a National Commission for Minorities. In fact, the government was already in defiance of the Supreme Court’s order given in June 2014, to form a council which could monitor realisation of the rights of religious minorities and policy formation.
Now that the opposition has shared its burden, the government must seize this opportunity for an early approval of this bill. Pakistan is already behind countries of comparable clout in the Asian region, whereas human rights institutions have demonstrated an enormous potential in helping the countries in transition or in socio-political transformations.
Despite all difficulties, the National and Provincial Commissions on Status of Women and Commissions on Right to Information made important strides in their respective areas in the recent past. The institutionalisation of minorities’ rights will not only rehabilitate minorities as equals but it can also treat the existing imbalance and discrimination on the basis of religion. The next step will be apt and timely appointments, which has been a challenge, not attributable to a lack of competent human resource though.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2016
DUBAI, July 8: Saudi Arabia identified on Thursday suspects in two of the three attacks that struck the kingdom on the same day this week, including one outside the sprawling mosque where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is buried in the western city of Madina that killed four Saudi security troops.
In a statement released by the Interior Ministry late Thursday, authorities said the Madina bomber in Monday’s apparently coordinated attacks was 26-year-old Saudi national Na’ir al-Nujiaidi al-Balawi.
Three suicide bombers behind a botched attack, also Monday, outside a Shia mosque in the eastern region of Qatif in which no civilians or police were wounded, were identified as Abdulrahman Saleh Mohammed, Ibrahim Saleh Mohammed and Abdelkarim al-Hesni, all in their early 20s.
It was not immediately clear what nationality or nationalities the three carried.
The ministry said investigations following the attacks led to the arrests of 19 suspects, seven Saudi and 12 Pakistani nationals. No other details were immediately available.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia identified the suicide bomber who struck outside the US Consulate in Jeddah as a Pakistani resident of the kingdom who had arrived 12 years ago to work as a driver. It named him as 34-year-old Abdullah Gulzar Khan. It said he lived in the port city with “his wife and her parents.: The statement did not elaborate.
In that attack, the bomber detonated his explosives after two security guards approached him, killing himself and lightly wounding the guards, the ministry said. No consular staff were hurt. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks but their nature and their apparently coordinated timing suggested the militant Islamic State (IS) group could be to blame.
Pakistan has condemned Monday’s attacks in the kingdom. There are around 9 million foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, which has a total population of 30 million. Among all foreigners living in the kingdom, Pakistanis represent one of the largest groups.
The Saudi ministry said the attacker in the Madina assault set off the bomb in a parking lot after security officers became suspicious about him. Several cars caught fire and thick plumes of black smoke were seen rising from the site of the explosion as thousands crowded the streets around the mosque.
Worshippers expressed shock that such a prominent holy site could be targeted. The Prophet Muhammad’s mosque was packed on Monday evening, during the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan, which ended on Tuesday. Local media say the attacker was intending to strike the mosque when it was crowded with thousands gathered for the sunset prayer.
Saudi Arabia is part of the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and the militant group views its ruling monarchy as an enemy.
The kingdom has been the target of multiple attacks by the group that have killed dozens of people. In June, the Interior Ministry reported 26 terror attacks in the last two years.
Amjad Sabri, a master of qawwali, the devotional music that is wildly popular across the Indian subcontinent and well beyond, was gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan. The man who spent his life singing the praises of the prophet Muhammad, continuing a centuries-long tradition of musical veneration, was accused of blaspheming the prophet, and he was executed for it.
That is so important, so painful and so hard to make sense of for the many Muslims — particularly for Pakistanis like me — because qawwali is part of our religion. At a time when Islam is reduced to warlike, uncivilized violence and portrayed as an angry, intolerant faith, qawwali is evidence of something different. The historic spread of Islam through much of what we call the Muslim world happened largely through architecture, calligraphy, poetry, but perhaps above all, music.
In South Asia, home to an astonishing one-third of the world’s Muslims, preachers and poets composed verse that survived for centuries, embedding Semitic values into local languages, a mix that was as intoxicating as it was unique. Qawwali is the soundtrack of that tradition.
The poetry, often Urdu or Punjabi, is set to music, usually in praise of God or the prophet Muhammad. A band of singers joins together to deliver songs that ecstatically convey the deep love of God, which classical Muslims expressed in secular metaphor: an intoxicating beloved, or an intoxicant itself.
Masters of qawwali, known as “qawwals,” are world famous. In fact, qawwali was the first concert I ever went to. His name was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and only later would I know enough about who he was, and what he sang, that my mind could be fully blown.
When I entered graduate school, it was to study Islam in South Asia, which means the many ancestries —Punjabi and Urdu, Hindu and Muslim, Arab and Turkish, Eastern and Western —that gave birth to me. There was a lot there for me to try to make sense of, an attempt to grasp not just facts and figures, but emotions and feelings.
My parents were religious, and very much socially conservative, and taught us that we shouldn’t dance in public, and certainly never men with women. But when I was 11, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan came to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was in grad school, and this very large man, cross-legged on a carpet spread out on the stage, joined by a team of musicians, began singing. Now, Nusrat was perhaps the greatest qawwal of all time; when I was growing up, the only names mentioned alongside him were the Sabri Brothers — one of whom was the father of Amjad Sabri.
There in that auditorium, I felt like a visitor on an alien planet, like someone who had seen the invasion of the body snatchers. My parents and their friends were up and dancing, and it wasn’t just that nobody cared; they loved it. They saw it as worship, probably.
History, heritage, theology, piety.
Qawwali emerges from the conviction that, before the majesty of God and the span of Creation, reason fails; only art, only music can possibly evoke the deepest feelings stirred in the human soul. So you have a musical form that reflects, in its very effect on you, the nature of faith as Muslims once believed it to be: A deep, romantic love, between a dependent human being, and an all-powerful Divine.
Here’s Nusrat performing “Allah Hu,” a simple, stunning song, whose very performance embodies the meaning of artistic endurance, which glorifies God by drawing attention to His utter otherworldliness, the translation of Islam’s radical monotheistic theology into rhyming verse: “when this land was not, when this sky was not, when this here was nowhere…. You, You….” Here’s a Pakistani rock band, Junoon — the name means ecstasy, passion, madness — performing the same song with a modern spin.
In the first moments of Junoon’s performance of “Allah Hu,” singer and guitarist Salman Ahmad announces, “The whole concept of a qawwali is not the performer performing, but the performer and the audience being in a spiritual bond.”
Maybe that’s why Sabri’s assassination hit so hard. Not just who we lost, or that we lost a piece of ourselves, but that many Muslims, especially Pakistanis and Indians, see qawwali as a bond between themselves and their history.
On Wednesday, I heard from many friends and colleagues, many but not all Pakistani, mourning Amjad Sabri’s death. One woman said she fought back tears the whole day.
Journalist Murtaza Hussain of the Intercept said it hit particularly close to home. “It was the music we grew up hearing around the house,” Hussain recalled. Not just Sabri, he meant, but all qawwali. “It was distinctively Pakistani and was our own unique expression of Islam. That’s why this killing really strikes at the heart and soul of Pakistan.”
“I don’t know if people outside the subcontinent can appreciate how much qawwali music is our own expression of religion,” Hussain said.
Sabri’s assassination happened in a Pakistan that itself would not exist without poetry — the great 20th century philosopher and poet, Muhammad Iqbal, might be said to have willed the Pakistan movement into existence. It was Iqbal’s poetry that roused the masses, that animated the idea of an Indo-Muslim homeland, that is read in every part of the Muslim world today. And that poetry is, as you would expect, also performed and sung.
But I don’t think it’s a time of mourning all the same, because I don’t think Sabri himself would have wanted us to see his death that way. The Sufis call the day of your death the wedding day, the day the lover leaves his temporary home to join his Beloved. It is a day for songs, for music, for crying out to God above and stamping your feet against the ground below, which is pretty much the best way I can think to describe our time here in this world, as long as it lasts.
It is with great regret that I must admit that I never had the chance to see Amjad Sabri in concert, but when I think about his passing, I keep remembering that Amherst auditorium.
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a very large, very intense man, who seemed to be operating on a different plane of existence, who was among us, but not really with us. A hall where men and women, my aunties and uncles, as we addressed them, who always seemed so much older, so distant, so disconnected from the world I was born into, very soon jumped out of their seats and let loose, and turned round and round, laughing and dancing and clapping, ageless and joyous, as if they had, at last, come home. This was the music that connected generations of Muslims, that gave us a shared religious language.
I hardly understood a word out of his mouth, and yet I cannot forget it.
ORLANDO, Fla. — A gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire in a crowded gay nightclub here early Sunday in a shooting that left 50 dead and another 53 wounded. The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, had been investigated twice by the F.B.I. for possible connections to terrorism, the bureau said, but no ties could be confirmed.
Mr. Mateen, 29, an American citizen whose parents were from Afghanistan, called 911 and talked about the Islamic State at the time of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub, the worst mass shooting in American history, Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Tampa Division, said at a news conference. Other federal officials said more explicitly that he had declared allegiance to the group.
“The F.B.I. first became aware of him in 2013 when he made inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” but could not find any incriminating evidence, Agent Hopper said.
Law enforcement officials said the suspect in the attack on an Orlando nightclub on Sunday had been monitored for possible terrorist ties, but was still legally able to buy guns.
In 2014, the bureau investigated Mr. Mateen again, for possible ties to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who grew up in Florida but went to Syria to fight for an extremist group and detonated a suicide bomb. Agent Hopper said the bureau concluded that the contact between the two men had been minimal, and that Mr. Mateen “did not constitute a substantive threat at that time.”
The suspicions did not prevent Mr. Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Fla., from working as a security guard, or from buying guns. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Mr. Mateen legally bought a long gun and a pistol in the last week or two, though it was not clear whether those were the weapons used in the assault.
The gunman stormed the Pulse nightclub armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and a handgun around 2 a.m., turning what had been a celebratory night of dancing to salsa and merengue music into a panicked scene of unimaginable slaughter, the floors slicked with blood, the dead and the injured piled atop one another.
Terrified people poured onto the darkened streets of the surrounding neighborhood, some carrying wounded and bleeding victims to safety; police vehicles were pressed into service as makeshift ambulances; and hundreds of people gathered at hospitals and on the fringes of the law enforcement cordon around the nightclub, hoping for some word on the fate of their relatives and friends.
“I saw bodies on the floor, people on the floor everywhere; it was a chaos, everybody trying to get out,” said Ray Rivera, a D.J. at the club who was playing reggae music on the patio area while Latin music played inside the building, when the shooting began. “I heard shots, so I lower the volume of the music to hear better because I wasn’t sure of what I just heard. I thought it was firecrackers, then I realized that someone is shooting at people in the club.”
Joel Figueroa and his friends “were dancing by the hip-hop area when I heard shots, bam, bam, bam, and the only thing I could think of was to duck, but I ran out instead,” he said. “Everybody was screaming and running toward the front door. I didn’t get to see the shooter.”
Some people who were trapped inside hid where they could, calling 911 or posting to social media, pleading for help. The club itself posted a stark message on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
A three-hour standoff followed the initial assault, with people inside effectively held hostage until about 5 a.m., when law enforcement agencies led by a SWAT team raided the club in force, using armored vehicles and explosives designed to disorient and distract.
Hours after the attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement released over an encrypted phone app used by the group. It stated that the attack “was carried out by an Islamic State fighter,” according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist propaganda.
But officials cautioned that even if Mr. Mateen, who court records show was born in New York and had been married and divorced, had been inspired by the group, there was no indication that it had trained or instructed him, or had any direct connection with him. The pair who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December also proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, but investigators do not believe they had any contact with the group.
“The F.B.I. is appropriately investigating this as an act of terror,” President Obama said from the White House. He said that the gunman clearly had been ”filled with hatred” and that investigators were seeking to determine any ties to overseas terrorist groups.
“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another,” he said. “We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”
As he had after previous mass shootings, the president said the shooting demonstrated again the need for what he called “common sense” gun measures.
“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or a house of worship or a movie theater or a nightclub,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
The shooting was the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest attack in the nation’s history on a specifically gay gathering. The F.B.I. set up a hotline for tips.
Law enforcement officials increased security at gay pride events and gay landmarks in cities around the country, including Washington, New York and Chicago. Officials in Santa Monica, Calif., on Sunday confirmed the arrest of a heavily armed man who said he was in the area for West Hollywood’s gay pride parade. The authorities, however, said they did not know of any connection between the arrest and the Orlando shooting.
Some terrorist attacks, like the San Bernardino killings in December, have been carried out in the name of Islam by people, some of them born and raised in the West, who were “self-radicalized.”
The Islamic State in particular has encouraged “lone wolf” attacks in the West, a point reinforced recently by a spokesman for the group, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, in his annual speech just before the holy month of Ramadan. In past years, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda ramped up attacks during Ramadan.
“Make it, Allah permitting, a month of hurt on the infidels everywhere,” Mr. Adnani said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. Noting that some supporters have lamented that they cannot strike at military targets, he took pains to explain why killing civilians in the land of the infidel is not just permitted but encouraged.
Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, released a statement saying: “We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”
The toll of the dead and injured far exceeded those of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, and the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed.
The club posted a message on its Facebook page about 3 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
The Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Central Florida said it was offering grief counseling to victims and survivors.
Officials at Orlando Regional Medical Center asked members of the families of victims and missing people to gather at the north entrance, where they would be escorted inside.
The slaughter at Pulse occurred a day after the singer Christina Grimmie, a star of YouTube and the reality TV show “The Voice,” was shot down after a concert in Orlando. The police said she had been killed by a St. Petersburg, Fla., man who drove to Orlando with the specific intention to kill Ms. Grimmie. The man, Kevin James Loibl, killed himself moments later.
Chief Mina said Mr. Loibl had traveled to Orlando with two handguns, several loaded magazines and a hunting knife. Police officials were examining his telephone and computer to try to determine a motive.
Lizette Alvarez reported from Orlando, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Wendy Thompson and Les Neuhaus from Orlando; Alan Blinder in Fort Pierce, Fla.; Rukmini Callimachi from Paris; Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt from Washington; and Steve Kenny, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Rick Rojas and Daniel Victor from New York
Sadiq Khan asks to meet in the Lahore Kahari, his local curry house, in Tooting. I haven’t eaten all morning – don’t want to spoil my appetite. Khan walks in, shakes my hand tightly, sits down and starts talking 10 to the dozen. It’s only a couple of weeks since the election, and he says he’s in the final stage of grief: acceptance. But it’s still painful. “It’s quite upsetting … ” he exhales loudly. “Thoroughly depressing. I was inconsolable.” He apologises for the speed of his delivery. “Two things you know when you’re a Khan: speak fast or you’re not heard, and eat fast or you don’t eat.” I make a mental note to get in quick with the food.
Khan, 44, is one of eight siblings (seven of them boys) born to a bus driver father and housewife-seamstress mother. He grew up in this part of south London, and still lives around here, as does his mother (his father died in 2003) and the rest of his family. He points out of the window to the mosque across the road – his local. The Henry Prince council estate where he grew up is a bus-ride away in Wandsworth; the house his parents later bought is a short walk, and he now lives 10 minutes away with his lawyer wife Saadiya and their two daughters. As local MPs go, you don’t get much more local than Sadiq Khan.
Former shadow justice secretary discusses Labour’s ‘rose tinted glasses’ about Blair era, claiming some in the party are looking back too favourably on the past
It’s a fascinating geo-history, but my mouth is watering. “Do you fancy some food?” I say. He looks surprised. “Well, let’s see how we get on.” So we carry on talking, not so much as a poppadom and glass of water between us. I’m beginning to understand why we’re here. Khan, the consummate politician, never misses a photo opportunity – this is Sadiq in his manor.
He asks where I’m from. Manchester, I say. He grins. “Come down here, take our jobs, take our women, bloody immigrants!” Khan could have been created by screenwriter David Simon – say, the successor to Tommy Carcetti as mayor of Baltimore in The Wire. He is fast-walking and fast-talking, with steel behind the smile; a wheeler-dealer with an eye permanently on the prize. (And then the next one.)
As it happens, the MP for Tooting does now hope to be mayor – of London. First, he must see off fellow Labour hopefuls, then dispatch candidates from rival parties. Let’s just say he’s quietly confident; he already has the backing of Unite, the largest trade union, and the GMB.
Khan was one of Ed Miliband’s lieutenants, responsible for the general election campaign in London. “We did very well by the way,” he says. “We kept all 38 seats and won seven others.” So why did Labour get hammered? “There was a concern among those who aren’t poor about what we could do for them, I suspect.” Are the candidates for leadership of the Labour party strong enough? “Let’s wait and see,” he says non-committally. Look me in the eye, I say. He does, but still doesn’t answer with any more conviction. “It’s too early to tell. I’ve got no horse in the race.”
The one thing he won’t do is rubbish Miliband’s legacy. Too many of his colleagues are already doing that, he says, looking back on the Blair years “with rose-tinted glasses”.
“A word I think you’ll hear overused in the leadership contest is ‘aspiration’. It’s used in a pejorative way to suggest we didn’t understand what it meant. I understand what it means. It means your dad working all the overtime hours that London Transport will give you, aspiration means your mum, notwithstanding having eight children, works as a seamstress at home as well to make ends meet. Aspiration means, as a 24-year-old trainee solicitor, sleeping on a bunk bed in your mum and dad’s home to save for a deposit. So I get aspiration.” This is classic Khan – defending Labour while promoting his ability to lead London in the same breath.
During the election campaign, Khan warned Labour MPs who had already announced they were standing for mayor not to put personal ambition before the party. Within a week of Labour losing the election, he stood down as shadow justice minister and shadow minister for London, and announced his bid for the mayor. By his own logic, surely Labour need him in the shadow cabinet? “Yeah, it was a tough one.” Did his daughters, aged 15 and 13, think he should go for the leadership or mayor? “Mayor. Maybe children are smarter than you think, and they saw I’d have much more fun as mayor of London. I’d be able to do what I want to, whereas being leader of the opposition is a far tougher proposition.” It’s a surprising answer – not least because he insists he does not want to be a “red-carpet mayor like Boris”. In the end, he says, it goes back to what London has done for his family, and what he’d like to see it do for future generations.
He loves to tell the story of the bus driver’s son made good; the boy who learned to box to look after himself on a tough estate (two of his brothers became amateur champions), who went on to captain the school’s cricket team and had trials for Surrey, who became a human rights lawyer representing victims of police abuse, and who sacrificed a brilliant legal career to serve his people. It is an inspirational story. And like all good lawyers, he retains the ability to tell it his way, always the master of his own narrative.
Khan began his legal career working with eminent human rights lawyer Louise Christian as a trainee in 1994, when she was in partnership with Mike Fisher. They made Khan a partner in 1997. Five years later Fisher left and the company was renamed Christian Khan. But when Khan was selected as Labour candidate for Tooting in 2004 he quit without notice.
“I walked away from the business. I wasn’t paid out because I wanted to be a full-time politician. It’s never been about money for me, so Louise took over the firm and I became an MP.” It was a brave decision – Khan had no salary for six months while campaigning. But it is also a selective interpretation of events.
I later hear that Khan hired lawyers threatening Christian with legal action unless he was compensated for his share of the company – and that only after Christian suggested a counter-claim (because she and his clients had been left in the lurch by him) did he drop the matter. I ring Khan to ask if it is true. He says he doesn’t know about a counter-claim, but yes, he did threaten legal action. “I was concerned about my tax liability, but ended up taking that on the chin. And strictly speaking, I was entitled to half the firm, and my lawyer advised me to pursue everything I was entitled to. In the end, I decided not to because I wanted to get on with my political career.” Khan admits that he and Christian have not talked since he left the firm.
Christian had been his mentor, and hoped he would one day take over the practice. Does he regret the way things ended? “Yeaaaah,” he says, weighing his words carefully. “But you’ve got to move forward. In my next venture, where I’m mayor of London, I can’t be looking backwards to my 10 years as an MP. You’ve got to move forward.”
As chair of the human rights pressure group Liberty in the early noughties, Khan campaigned against imprisonment without trial, then in 2005 as a new MP voted against Labour’s proposal to hold terrorism suspects for 90 days without charge. “When I first got elected, everyone said, ‘Sadiq’s a rising star, he’s going to go all the way.’ But Blair wanted to pass 90 days, and you’ve got a choice: do you hold true to your beliefs and speak out against it? And I did. It was the first ever defeat Blair had.” Did it make an enemy of Blair? “Oh my God, yeah! There were some people who never forgave me. I was threatened.” How? “That ‘you’re finished as an MP, you’ve got no chance now’. Whips said that, other MPs said that.”
Yet, three years later Khan was the whip responsible for pushing 42-day detention without charge through the Commons. What would the Khan who chaired Liberty make of Khan the politician? “The thing you’ve got to remember is, it’s a different role you’re performing. As the chair of Liberty, your job is to to put pressure on governments of whatever colour, right?” Ultimately, he says, you’ll get nowhere as a politician unless you compromise. “You’ve got to think: do you want to be a megaphone politician or do you want to get things done? ”
Khan has always had a reputation in politics – as he did in law – for getting things done. Do you have to be ruthless to succeed? “Ruthless? No. Decency can get to the top in politics.”
There seems an element of ruthlessness in going from challenging detention without charge to championing it, I say. “No,” he protests, “it’s not about you. It’s about who you did it for. So, when I’m a lawyer, I’m doing it for my client – he or she is the most important person, not me. When I’m a member of parliament, constituents are the most important people. When I’m chair of Liberty, our members are the most important people. And when you’re mayor of London, London is the most important thing. So you’ll be ruthless for your clients, ruthless for your constituents, ruthless for London, without necessarily being ruthless as a person.” You sense that whatever job he does, Khan will always see himself as a lawyer – the eternal advocate.
David, the photographer, arrives. “Your job is to make me look really really good,” Khan tells him, running his hand through his hair. “Clooneyesque is the job spec.” He laughs. “Yes, Clooneyesque.” Is it true he likes to think of himself as “cool and metrosexual”? “This is interesting, you see. When I see my children’s friends’ parents, right, I look at myself and say to my girls, ‘Come on, you’ve got a cool dad, surely?’, but they say, ‘no Dad, you’re not cool.’ They say my taste in music is not cool.” What does he like? “Jay-Z, Paul Weller, Sting.” What else do his girls say about him? “They say I’m a smart Alec because I like to have the last word.”
David suggests, as we’re in the curry house, it would be nice to take pictures of him eating. This time, Khan is more keen. He speaks in Urdu to the manager, Rizwan, and asks him to order for us.
“How spicy do you like it?” Rizwan asks.
“Not very spicy,” Khan answers for me. “He lives in north London! The article will be as good or bad as the food – so make it good!”
I ask Khan why he would make the best mayor, and suddenly it feels like I’m interviewing him for the job. “I went to a good local state school, had an affordable university education, one of my brothers had an apprenticeship, council accommodation. Today’s Londoners don’t have the same opportunities we had, and it breaks my heart. But being disappointed about it is not enough. I want to do something about it. And I’ve got the experience – I ran a successful business before becoming a politician, lawyer for more than 10 years, big jobs in government, I understand what makes London tick, I’ve got ideas whether it’s housing or helping businesses or reducing inequality or the living wage.” He’s talking faster and faster. “Also, I want to get things done. I’m not doing it because it’s just a reward for long service or because I couldn’t hack it in politics or in law. It’s because I’ve genuinely got something to offer.”
David suggests a picture of Khan tucking into a poppadom. He looks appalled. “Don’t even try that. Listen, it’s got to be proper food. Not a poppadom. There’s an urdu word, gora, which means white. So you guys are gora. The joke would be, ‘that’s gora food’.”
But back to pitching for mayor. “First of all, we need a candidate who’s going to win. So, I’m the only candidate who’s fought and won a marginal seat. On every occasion my share of the vote has gone up. I was in charge of the 2014 London elections; not only did we keep all 15 councils we won another five. We had the best ever European election results in 2014.”
Dish after dish arrives – fish massala, chicken methi, seekh kebab, lamb karahi – the smell is overpowering, the taste heavenly. But Khan doesn’t seem interested. David asks if he could stop talking for a second. Khan smiles at the waiters. “Well, he can make me look Clooneyesque or make me look like Ed eating a bacon sandwich, so I’ve got to be nice to him.” And then back to me. “The reason we won the most seats in the European election was because we did well in inner London and outer London, so I get the science and the art of winning elections. I’m a winner. So if we want a candidate who will win the election in May, I think that’s me.”
Are you not going to eat, I ask. No time, he says – a mayoral candidate’s work is never done. His assistant tells him they had better be on their way. I’m staring at all the dishes in front of me; Khan wraps a kebab in a serviette and prepares to head off. I ask him if it’s true he does standup comedy. Only at Labour party functions, he says. “At my last gig, I met Windsor Davies from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. He said I was very funny. Arthur Smith says I’d be a very decent standup comic.” What’s his best joke?
“I went to hospital last week to meet the surgeons. I said: ‘What’s the easiest form of people to operate on? Surgeon One says: ‘The easiest form of people to operate on are accountants, because you slice them open and all their parts are numbered.’ Second surgeon goes: ‘No, actually you’re wrong, the easiest people to operate on are librarians because you cut them open and all their parts are in alphabetical order.’ Third surgeon goes: ‘No, you’re both wrong. The easiest people to operate on are politicians.’ I said: ‘Why?’ He goes: ‘Well, last week we had Jeremy Hunt in here and we sliced him open, and he was headless, heartless and gutless and his head and arse were interchangeable.’ Thank you. We’ve gotta go.”
ISLAMABAD, March 30: Four days into their protest outside at D-Chowk, supporters of the former Punjab governor’s assassin have agreed to call off their sit-in and disperse following a ‘successful’ round of negotiations with the government, Express News reported on Wednesday.
According to sources, the government has agreed to some of the demands of pro-Mumtaz Qadri supporters, which include the release of non-violent protesters, no amendment in blasphemy laws, and withdrawal of cases against ulema to be considered, among others.
However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied any written agreement with the demonstrators.
“No written agreement or otherwise was reached between the protesters’ leaders and the government, neither anyone from the government was mandated to do so,” he said while speaking at a news conference after successful negotiations with the representatives of some religious parties.
Several thousand protesters had marched in Islamabad Sunday, clashing with security forces before setting up camp outside key government buildings along the capital’s main Constitution Avenue.
No one will be allowed to hold protest at D-Chowk: Nisar
The interior minister said the government will not allow any person or party to hold political rallies or protests in the Red Zone area of Islamabad.
“I as an interior minister have decided it will be prohibited from now on to hold rally or political conferences at the D-Chowk area,” he said.
Talking about the protests, the country’s top security czar said a few violent people had used the situation to politicise the matter. “Some scholars had decided to mark the 40th day of Qadri’s execution peacefully, but miscreants took an advantage of the situation and started marching towards Red Zone.”
He went on to say, “Time has come that we decided people or party who threaten the state by occupying this area will not be allowed to do so.”
Commenting on those who have been arrested during the four-day protests, Nisar said whoever broke the law will be prosecuted accordingly.
“Every single person who broke the law, many of whom have been arrested, will be prosecuted. However, the bystanders or people who were not involved in breaking of law will be released soon,” he said.
Earlier during the day, protesters said they would not end their days-long sit-in and were “willing to die”, as armed security forces readied to clear the camp.
A police source said more than 7,000 security forces were poised to clear the sit-in, including the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps with reinforcements from the Punjab Police.
Army troops had been standing guard at government buildings near the protest camp.
Qadri’s hanging, hailed as a “key moment” by analysts in country’s war on religious extremism, has become a flashpoint for the deep divisions in the conservative Muslim country.
His funeral earlier this month drew tens of thousands in an extremist show of force that alarmed moderate Muslims in the country, while the call to hang Bibi along with the Easter attack in Lahore has underscored a growing sense of insecurity for Pakistan’s minorities.
“It’s a sense of great grief, sorrow and fear,” Shamoon Gill, spokesperson for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, told AFP.
The Lahore blast had left Christians feeling that “no place is safe”, he said, while the “mob situation” in Islamabad was “dangerous”.
“They are a serious threat to Asia Bibi’s life… there is a chance the government could bow down to pressure on this issue,” he warned.