Thursday, January 20, 2005

Found a wondeful blog tonight: Avari-Nameh, The Book of the Unwilling, by Haroon Moghul.

Below is part of a totally hilarious post - Explaining the Mideast to the Midwest: an Avari-Nameh Exclusive Resource...

R is for ARAB

What exactly is an Arab? Your neighbor might ask you. Well, other than allegedly being human beings, the Arabs are a lot like the Russians. Before he gets to thinking 'let's kill a Commie for my mommy,' let's clarify. Russians are not equivalent to Communists, though Communism was a major scar and influence on the Russian past, present, and very likely the foreseeable future.

When I say Arabs are like Russians, I mean:

1) There are lots of them;
2) They're spread out over a huge area of the world, from one ocean to another;
3) They always try to be number one;
4) They generally fail at number three, which is to be number one;
5) They have a lot of oil and other petrochemical wealth;
6) For that reason, and others, they have had a lot of potential;
7) Their potential is squandered by their incompetence;
7) They lose embarrassingly lopsided wars to the underdog (Chechnya, anyone?) and the rest of the world kind of grins and looks away in embarrassed bewilderment, puzzled that a people with so many advantages could be so swiftly and decisively steamrolled (they lose by inverse proportionality);
8) Number seven notwithstanding, the Arabs are not the French, because the Russians are not the French. They're the Russians.

Despite being rich in oil, history and resources, with the cultural resources that once dominated the world, the Arabs have only raced towards the finish line, only to trip over their feet, fall flat onto their faces, break their noses and then, get so damn upset, they blow themselves up. This is the more severe method of shooting one's self in the foot. Much like the Russians, too, amongst the Arabs there is an unfortunate predilection for apocalyptic and millenarian and, frankly, violent, thought. The Arabs also have a similar trend in receiving winners as leaders: Mu'ammar "I'm Going to Stay in Power Forever" Qaddafi, Saddam "This prison is better than that hole" Hussain, Hafez "I lost every war I fought" al-Assad, and King "I'm Living as Long as Noah" Fahd. Ad infinitum. And nauseum.

How about Brezhnev, Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev, Chernenko?

It helps my example that, during the 1960's, Nasser and the Soviet Union were acquaintancesdrawn closer and closer. The ideological antecedents of Arab Nationalism, Ba'athism and the like, all of which have failed, are rooted in Russian experiences (which also failed) with the onslaught of the modern world. In many ways, Russia experienced modernity traumatically, much like the greater Islamic world had and has. So is it any surprise the Arabs looked north, to their Slavic big brother? But Big Brother wasn't watching. He was too damn incompetent. His empire fell apart, and the Arabs fell apart, too, but without at least the consolation of having realized an empire. At all.

Sorry for such a humongous quote - but I just couldn't resist. Do read the whole post, though.

This has also cheered me up - for a moment, I felt like I found a lost twin or something:

I took a course in Czech Culture and History, and it was probably the most fascinating and intriguing course I took, at least in terms of subject matter. That’s not to say the professor was bad: He wasn’t. He was a good professor. I just mean, some classes stick out because the prof is just so interesting, funny, or more often than not, lax, and in this case, it was actually what we were studying that made me so eager(Confession: I wrote my final paper on a comparison between the Czech enlightenment and the process of Wahhabi-driven Islamic "reform" in the Muslim world, something I am sure that professor has never seen before, and will never see again. He gave me an ‘A,’ though maybe because he thought I was a terrorist and was scared of me, or just had no idea what the hell I was alluding to and so he bought my poorly-researched rant). Anyway, the hell am I trying to say? I love studying Eastern European and Slavic cultures, and looking back, really wish I could have studied Czech and Russian during my undergraduate years. My consolation: One day, I will travel through Eastern Europe and Russia.

I doubt I've ever said it on this blog, so here goes, very briefly: I could never study history, could never remember all the dates and all the wars, always felt more confused than bored, or perhaps both - until I got to the history of Pakistan some eight years ago. First of all, there were only 50 years of history on the surface, History for Dummies, sort of. And then I realized that Pakistan and Ukraine had so much in common, despite all the differences, that by reading about Pakistan I was also learning about my own country. I found it terribly interesting and exciting, and I still feel this way. And my consolation - or is it a dream? - is that one day I'll definitely travel to Pakistan. Sooner or later. (Did I ever mention that my great-grandmother was Czech, by the way? She had gorgeous white hair, long and heavy, so heavy that she had to cut the lower layers from around her neck to keep her head from swinging backward under the hair's weight. Mama told me that a few of my aunts had inherited this miraculous hair, and she's always been quite jealous... The Czech great-grandmother died at the age of 100-something.)

Back to Avari-Nameh: here is a bunch of photos from Haroon Moghul's travel to the city of Lahore, with an Introduction:

Recently I came across a weblog, by a blogger whose stated purpose was to warn the world of the evils of Islamic fanaticism through a an affirmatively unaesthetic combination of poor research, questionable sources, and 14-pt. font. Rather than respond to logorrhea, I decided to mount my own pre-emptive strike.

While in Pakistan over the winter and spring of 2004, I had the chance to visit many portions of the country. Though most of my pictures aren't scanned, what follows here is a collection of pictures from my brief travels through just some of the storied sites of beautiful Lahore, offering you the reader-cum-viewer a different sort of argument.

Islamic civilization has had its ugly periods, without a doubt, and they do not deserve to be lightly brushed aside. But the story of Islam has its marvels, which far outweigh its scattered mendacities. Islam in India has produced monuments that to men and women around the world are remarkable enough to stand aside the wonders of ancient ages.

"Verily, God is beautiful, and loves beauty." - the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be with him.

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