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I Kill about 60% of My Darlings Before Publishing


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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blogging-tips

I edit what I write several times before I hit the “Publish” button.

On many occasions I leave my darlings aside for a fortnight or so; and then I read them, cut, append, read, juggle sentences and paragraphs, juxtapose, add, drop, umpteen times in no specific order until satisfied to a certain extent. In most cases I publish only about 60% of what I originally typed.

In her post titled “Kill Your Darlings” W. Michelle says:

Being a good writer means knowing how to edit: taking what you’ve written and stripping out the dulling distractions so your ideas shine. It’s not always easy, but it is necessary.

She quotes American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner: “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

This is Michelle’s advice to bloggers:

  • Today — whenever you’re reading this — start a new post. Write until you’ve said everything you want to say, then save your draft — but don’t publish.
  • Tomorrow, open the post and check the word count (hint: it appears at the bottom of the editing box). Edit your post down by 10%, then save it and forget it again.
  • Repeat on two more days, until you’ve done three days of editing.
  • After three days of editing, hit “Publish.”

If your original draft was 1,000 words, the piece you ultimately publish should be around 730; if you started with 500, you’ll end up with 365 or so. If you’re a flash fiction writer who starts with 50, you’ll need to get yourself down to 36. (If you have a bolt of searing editorial insight and want to cut it down more than 10% on any day, feel free.) Whether you’re a long-form or short-form blogger, learning to wield your red pen ruthlessly will improve your writing.

A fellow blogger and poet Tom Balistreri commented to Michelle’s post:

After I write I go back and remove all my typos.
Then I go back and correct my sentence structure.
Then I correct my grammar.
Then I throw out anything that’s frivolous or doesn’t make sense.
At that point I have a blank page.

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The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise PascalPensées

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On April 28, 2014, I wrote an article titled “Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?”  After reading it, my friend Joe Croos, a constant reader of my posts, now living in Germantown, Maryland, USA, forwarded me the following hilarious piece of writing sent to him by his friend Tony Rajanayagam.

Neither Tony nor Joe knows who the original author of this article is. Obviously he must be a Sri Lankan.

I enjoyed reading every word of this sarcastic, thought-provoking dissertation, and wish to share it with you.

I have used my editorial discretion, to strike out two phrases in the first paragraph which, though hilarious might seem objectionable to a few. Also, I have added images to spruce up the presentation.

Sri Lanka Passport (Source:  elankanews.com)
Sri Lankan Passport (Source: elankanews.com)

There are three things in the world that are of no use to anyone, viz. a man’s breast, a priest’s balls,, and a Sri Lankan passport. The uselessness of the third item becomes absolutely clear when one tries to apply for a visa to go abroad.

Today, international travel for a bona fide traveler from Sri Lanka is fraught with unbelievable red-tape, undesirable paperwork and unforeseeable pitfalls. It is, for example, much easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an honest Sri Lankan passport holder to enter the United Kingdom. Everything in life has a price.

Ironically, these days, it is relatively easy for a Sri Lankan illegal immigrant to enter any western country of his choice and claim asylum, become a citizen and sponsor his kith and kin. This way, entire villages from Jaffna peninsula have been uprooted and are now relocated to Scarborough in Toronto, Canada.

A Sri Lankan passport is not unique. Israeli passport is the next most useless document as it is not recognized by 23 countries in the Middle East and also by North Korea and Cuba. Presenting an Israeli passport to an immigration officer in a Muslim country would be the equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull in Spain.

Although the Sri Lankan passport clearly states that “The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests and requires all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary” the document is more often than not treated with total disdain while its possessor is regarded with suspicion by almost all countries including Bangladesh, Benin and Bulgaria.

Although the purpose of the Sri Lankan passport is to promote and facilitate international travel, the way in which its owners are treated at foreign embassies makes one wonder if it was instead designed to dissuade and restrict international travel as much as possible.

Applying for a visa to a western country in Sri Lanka has become such a complex, confusing and complicated activity that some people, especially old men and women, come down with the condition known as “visaitis“. This is a relatively new disease which emerged in Sri Lanka at the end of July 1983.

The symptoms include a certain dryness of the mouth, dizziness, and mild dementia. Patients afflicted with this disease also suffer from outrageously watery diarrhea and are in the habit of passing urine frequently, and in rare cases, may be subject to catatonic schizophrenia. They can be nervous, irritable and immune to therapy. The mere thought of going to a western Embassy or High Commission in Sri Lanka is so traumatic that one or two people have in fact died of a broken heart, following the mandatory medical check-up.

There is a particular Hindu place of worship known affectionately as the “Visa Pillayar Temple” (VPT) in Colombo where people go to break a coconut and offer a silent prayer to ensure success prior to their interview (or interrogation) for a visa at the Embassy. Visa aspirants from places as far away as Valluvettithurai (VVT) in the north come to VPT to collect the vipoothi (holy ash), which when applied on the forehead is supposed to confer divine protection during the inquisition at the Embassy.

The insults start at the gate of an Embassy where you experience the taste of what is in store for you in the country you plan to spend your hard-earned money.

French Tricolor Flag - 1803

At the French Embassy in Colombo, rated 9.5 in the “Richter Scale of Rude Shocks,” it is the illiterate gatekeeper who functions as Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, to whom one must give the sop to slip into the Embassy.

Japanese Flag

At the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, you cannot see the visa officer through the one-way opaque glass window when you submit your application. He can see you, but you cannot see him. The experience can be quite unnerving. It is a bit like speaking to an Oracle in Greece.

Canadian flag

The application for a Canadian tourist visa is 10 pages long and has more than 60 questions, including the names, places and dates of birth of yourself, your wife, your siblings, parents, grandparents, your wife’s relatives, your in-laws and outlaws! All these details have to be submitted first electronically before you are given a date for the interview.

Bangladesh flag

Once I went to the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo to apply for a visa. The Embassy looked more like a tuck shop and I was the only applicant. Even then that bored consular officer rudely told me that it would take five working days to issue a visa!

Indian Tri-Colour flag

In the Indian Embassy, one would witness the death of common sense. However, much you gather the required documents you need to substantiate your application for a visa, the officer will ask for the one that you forgot to bring.

US flag

By contrast, the US Embassy in Colombo offers one of the best services in the world. The US staff are extremely kind, helpful and patient and they genuinely try to assist the potential visa applicant to the best of their ability. The US evaluation process is very fair, thorough and proper. If you are a genuine visitor to the USA, you need not worry. You will get a fair hearing. All the US immigration officers are trained well to be civil and polite to the visitor. They would often engage you in small talk just to find out if you were a genuine visitor or not to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Today, many embassies have subcontracted the TT Services to deal with the initial stages of processing the visa.

New Zealand flag

More recently, on arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand (the Land of the Long White Cloud), the immigration officer asked me, very politely and with a pleasant smile, what the purpose of my visit was? When I told him that I had come to deliver a talk on elephants at the University of Canterbury, the bewildered officer exclaimed, “But we do not have elephants!” and stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. It spoke so well about the country of just 4.5 million people and 60 million sheep.

WWF

Once when I worked for WWF-International, I was a member of a small working committee planning the next International Theriological (= Mammal) Congress. Two countries, Australia and Colombia, were interested in hosting the event. The Australian delegate was interested in moving the Congress to Sydney, but cautioned us that the only requirement for the visa was that none of the foreign participants had any criminal record. On hearing this, the Colombian delegate jumped up in sheer joy and informed us that on the contrary, his Government would welcome delegates with a criminal record! The Congress was held in Sydney.

In the unlikely event of a visa being issued, it does not automatically guarantee that you’d be allowed to enter the country at the other end. That depends on the mood and the maturity of the immigration officer.

United Kingdom flag

One of the most traumatic experiences one could have on arrival is at the Heathrow airport in London. You had been travelling 16 hours from Colombo and the flight lands at 9 am. It is supposed to be summer, but the sun is nowhere to be seen in the Land of Ceaseless Fog and Drizzle. Thus, even before the plane comes to a complete stop, you would get an idea of the weather that awaits you on arrival. Sometimes it appears that the plane had been taxiing through ginger beer or syrup. That’s the colour of the atmosphere outside.

Heathrow airport inside

On arrival I have to join the cattle class and then go to the queue reserved for aliens. No wonder I am often treated as if I am an extraterrestrial phenomenon!

Almost all British immigration officers are most unfriendly to non-Caucasian visitors, and often act like tinpot Hitlers. They are as hard as nails and bored as the people who serve you at McDonalds. They look miserable knowing they are stuck in dead end jobs.

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Right behind his shoulder you can read in letters big, bright and bold, the banner that reads, “Welcome to Heathrow”. The welcome you receive is frostier than the weather outside.

The first question the bored and grumpy immigration officer with a smirk on his face asks the hapless visitor is: “When are you getting back?”

If you ask for a three-month stay in England, you are more likely to be given just a month. On the other hand, if you were to request for only a week, just to attend a conference and get back home, you may be granted a stay for six months. More disturbing is the recent news from the UK that in the future, visitors to Britain from ‘high risk’ countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana coming to Britain on a six-month visit visa will have to put up a 3,000 pound (equivalent to Rs. 594,000 in Sri Lankan currency) bond as security, according to the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Australian flag

Sometimes things can go wrong. During my first visit to Australia in 1990, I flew into Sydney from Jakarta. Before the plane landed, we were given immigration forms to be filled. There was an additional yellow card that had to be filled as well, and one of the questions on it was: “Are you carrying live semen?” to which I promptly ticked the yes box, given that I had already fathered two kids.

As I cleared the immigration and moved to the customs, I was stopped and taken to a small room where I was interrogated by a big, bespectacled, Wagnerian white woman with a pair of enormous Bristols and a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. She waved a yellow card at me and exploded, “Is this a joke?”

I was genuinely clueless as to why she blew her top and asked her what was it all about, to which she pointed the box I had ticked off to say that I was indeed carrying live semen. I told her that I believed so, to which the human volcano erupted once more and thundered in no uncertain terms that it referred to livestock and warned me not to make a joke of it ever again! It was literally a seminal experience for me. The yellow card is no longer issued.

Sri Lanka flag

In the 1960s, we had a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) member from the United States who became friends with us while we were doing research on wildlife in Wilpattu national park with Dr. John F. Eisenberg from the Smithsonian Institution and his assistant Melvyn Lockhart. The VSO chap was a hippie who loved smoking ganja (marijuana). In his lucid moments he managed to learn a few words in Sinhala which Melvyn taught. 

When he left Colombo, he was in fact carrying some ganja with him, and given his long hair and hippie demeanor, he was promptly stopped by a vigilant customs officer who wanted to see the contents of his handbag. In a flash of brilliance, despite the perspiration which had commenced its journey down his spine, he began to engage the customs officer in small talk, and told him that he had lived in Ceylon for a month and that he could even speak the local language a bit. 

When the customs officer asked him to say something in Sinhala, he promptly remembered what Melvyn had taught him, and blurted out in a loud voice “මගේ පුක්කෙ මයිල් නෑ” (Transliterated: “Magey pukkay mayil naa“) meaning “my arse has no hair” in his native Texan drawl.

All the customs officers who heard him burst out in uncontrollable laughter and began to dance (a few even had tears of joy streaming down their cheeks). They complimented him on his language skill and wished him “bon voyage“. It was the hippie who had the last laugh.

Melvyn later received a “Thank you” note from Amarillo, TX.

As a Sri Lankan, I feel that we are treated abroad as if we do not matter, despite our education, ancient culture and proud heritage. We may be short on geography, but we are long on history. We deserve better treatment in the western countries. Unlike the ASEAN countries where citizens of the member states enjoy a 14-day visa free entry to each other’s country, we who belong to the SAARC cannot go to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, or Bhutan even for a short stay without a visa!

In the final analysis, given the limitations of our Sri Lankan passport, it is far better for us to enjoy a local holiday than be subject to untold indignities and interrogations at the hands of immigration officers. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

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A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author - Chamath237)
A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author: Chamath237)

 

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Extravagance at Marriages – An Austerity Lesson from ‘Soliga’ Community


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By Ramya BN

Published in Mangalorean.com on March 22, 2012

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As the marriage season approaches in April and May, a bride’s father’s pocket gets drained day by day shopping and making arrangements. Doesn’t it?

In the modern society, lakhs and lakhs of rupees are spent on marriages – on clothing, jewellery, food arrangements and the like. Most of all, lakhs need to be spent on the marriage hall just for a day or two.

But, in the middle of all this, what catches one’s attention is a unique ritual followed in the ‘Soliga’ tribe in Karnataka, where they spend just 12 rupees and 25 paise for a marriage. Something out of this world in the 21st century, where a sum of Rs 12 and paise 25 cannot even fetch a bouquet, leaving alone the fact that 25 paise coin has been de-recognized by the Reserve Bank of India.

Photo: mangalorean.com
Photo: mangalorean.com
Photo: mangalorean.com

The Soliga community  is a tribe which inhabits the Biligiri Ranga and the adjacent hill ranges in southern Karnataka, most prominently in Chamarajanagar district. They are segregated into 82 different ‘podu’ (villages). It is said that there are 82 podu  in Kollegal, 40 podu in Gundlupet, 32 podu in Chamarajanagar and 10 podu in Yellandur Taluk. Most of them are concentrated in and around the the BR Hills in Yelandur and Kollegal taluks of Chamarajanagar. Their population numbers close 46,000 in the state.

Basavaraju, a Soliga, explained the unique way of marriage rituals followed in the community, saying that the bride is chosen during a dance performance. If any girl likes any boy in the dancing troupe, she can throw a stone and he will approach her, and if both wish to marry they will go to the forest and stay there for 8 days. When they return, the podu (village) head will administer an oath to them, whereby they vow to live together. The bride will pay rupees 12.25 to the community as ‘thera’ (as a fine) and marry.

He said that even now the same rituals are followed, but as an influence of modernization, the stone is replaced by a banana or biscuit and instead of forest they go to their relatives’ house in the podu.

The story behind 12 rupees and 25 paise sounds interesting. It is believed that in the early years, Soliga Bommegowda and Rangamma couple had 7 daughters. Among them, the youngest one, Kusumaledevi, was the most beautiful daughter among the entire tribe.

They used to go digging mud in search of sweet potato, which was then the staple food for the tribal people. Once when Kusumaledevi went with her sisters in search of sweet potato, Lord Biligiri Ranga was impressed by Kusumaledevi’s beauty and wanted to marry her.

So to speak to Kusumaledevi, with his magical powers he made all her sisters get more sweet potato and return home.  Kusumaledevi was made to stay back, still digging for sweet potato. When she was alone after her sisters had left, again with his magical powers, he made her get more sweet potato so that she was not able to lift it on her head.

When she screamed for help the Lord appeared in front of her disguised as an old man and promised to help her if she agreed to marry him. She thought that the old man was saying so for fun and she agreed. As he helped her lift the sack, he showed his real face and she also fell in love with him.

However, not having enough courage to seek her parents’ approval, they went and stayed in the forest for eight days and came back. Lord Biligiriranga Swamy gave diamonds and gold to Kusumaledevi’s father Bommegowda as penalty for taking her without his consent. An enraged Bommegowda pushed it aside, but Kusumaledevi’s mother grasped it in the ‘pallu’ of her sari and prevented it from falling down. A sum of 12.25 annas (old coins) fell into her ‘pallu’ which are now accounted for as 12 rupees and 25 paise.

From then on the ritual has been followed in the Soliga community. With a firm belief that Kusumadevi as tribe’s common sister and to celebrate the happiness of her marriage with Lord Biligiri Ranga, they dance for the appeasement of community deities like Jadeyappa, Ketappa, Dodasampige and others.

They also dance and celebrate ‘Rotti habba’ during ‘Suggi’, once in a year, in the month of March or April.

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Re-posted from Mangalorean.com

“Fascination That Comes With Change” by Elaina Pasangha


 By Elaina Pasangha (Std 10)

Change is defined as a difference or alteration in something, be it the system, society or even one’s behavioural change. From the invention of the light-bulb to the launching of the first rocket, change has always bewitched us. Change has always incited fascination, in other words, ‘change has always demanded our attention.’

Not so long ago, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. The world was gripped with amazement at this unimaginable feat. For years people sang praises and composed ballads proclaiming this never-thought-before feat, this remarkable achievement. But, a mere forty-three years later the launch of a rocket in NASA has become just another passing event not even big enough to be headlines.

Moving further back, when Henry T. Ford invented the first economy car, people were astounded, left spellbound. The first common–man car hit the road! A change in the perception that only royals could own a car was brought about. This change too, like all other changes, fascinated the world! Was man content with the change? No! With each passing day, he aspired for more changes. Change is the only constant. Today we have a one lakh Rupee car for the masses! Has contentment now come about with this change? Only time will tell.

Forget the ‘white’ areas of life. Even in the so-called ‘black and grey areas’, change has always demanded our attention. Many years ago, in West Virginia a mine exploded killing three hundred men, two hundred of whom were fathers. In order to honour these people a special day began to be celebrated all over the world, a day, commonly known as ’Father’s Day’. However, in this twenty-first century that is inhabited by a generation of heartless people we wonder if a commemoration is worth it for a mere two hundred odd fathers who lost their lives in that explosion!

The change that we see today is of an insensitive population. Are we that heartless? Have we lost our value for life? Has death become so commonplace that it feels odd if no suicide or murder is reported in the newspaper? The ‘behavioural change’ too continues to fascinate me is a ‘cold’ sense.

Is today’s rocket less fast or less complex than Apollo 1? It is most likely more complex and ten times faster than Apollo. But why, does it fail to capture our imagination?

Is today’s car noisier and less effective than Ford’s first car? Definitely not! It is faster, more effective, less noisy and more spacious than that breakthrough car, in other words, it is a class apart! However, it fails to capture our imagination. Yet it amazes none! Why?

Einstein, Newton and Edison brought about a change that was so fascinating that it changed the way mankind lived. However, the trinity is forgotten now.

Things do not change; we change. The rocket has not got any slower nor has the car got any noisier. Bill Gates’ achievement is not greater than that of Edison! Life has not become less important. We are all still God’s unique and beautiful creation. Even so, the fact that no electric impulse passes through us every time we hear something so ‘commonplace’ is not because of the change, but the feeling of change.

It is the ‘feeling’ of change that incites emotions, that incites excitement , that incites pain! Change is a mere adjustment or alteration. When we have finished adjusting to change the ‘change’ doesn’t go away, it is the stimulation within us towards change that alters and slowly fades.

When Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon or when Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norkay first climbed Mount Everest it was a change for human beings. This change immediately stimulated excitement within us. However, after the adjustment completed within us, this stimulus too, failed to sustain.

When those two hundred fathers died in the mine explosion, entire West Virginia was gripped with pain. But as human beings slowly adjusted their system towards this change, again sadly, the pain of death got less strong and maybe one day the pain might cease. Is this right? Is this what we really need?

Sadly, we are no one to answer. This mystery will always remain unanswered. People may live on Mars one day but they will never know why initial excitement slowly fades. People may have robots which do everything for them one day, but they will never realise why the robots have suddenly become for them, just another machine!

Maybe this is how we are created. Maybe this is how it was always meant to be. Or maybe, we just evolved and our systems have ‘changed’. I have no answers. Change may be good or change maybe bad but, as far as what is in your hand, don’t let the stimulus die out quickly. Be it happiness or sadness, pain or joy, let the stimulus stay on as long as it is appropriate, for otherwise we’ll always live wanting and finally die wanting! Change comes as change does, yet don’t wait for that change neglecting the present. This craving for change is just going to make you an unhappy individual. Sometimes, that want to change can even kill you. Be happy with what you have. Find joy and satisfaction in the smallest of things that exist presently around you. When the change that is inevitable and fascinating does finally happen, embrace it and sustain the stimulus. The world isn’t going to run away anywhere. Keep the stimulus alive! Hakuna Matata! It’s a wonderful world!

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Elaina Pasangha a student of Sacred Heart Girls High School, Bangalore, India won a national-level award for this creative writing at the National Essay Writing Contest conducted by the ICSE Board (Delhi) for all the ICSE Schools in the country.  

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The Effect of Humour on Insult Between Chesterton and Shaw


George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K.Chesterton
George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton

G.K Chesterton a Catholic and a Distributist, and George Bernard Shaw, an atheist and a socialist debated often. However, both could joke and to stay on as friends. Their ability to joke produced heated debates. Even some who disagreed with Chesterton well-known for his reasoned apologetics recognized the universal appeal in such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.

As a political thinker, he denigrated both progressivism and conservatism. In 1924 in the Illustrated London News of April 19th, he wrote: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

Once Bernard Shaw, Chesterton’s “friendly enemy,” said of him, “He was a man of colossal genius”.

Chesterton often associated with his close friend, the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc. Chesterton’s friendly enemy, George Bernard Shaw, coined the name “Chesterbelloc” for their partnership.

Chesterton loved to debate. He often engaged in friendly public disputes with such men as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. Whenever Chesterton and Shaw debated it looked like they played cowboys in a never released silent movie.

During a debate between Chesterton and Bernard Shaw chaired by Hillaire Belloc, Shaw defending his wish to abolish private property, said:

If I own a large part of Scotland I can turn the people off the land practically into the sea, or across the sea. I can take women in childbearing and throw them into the snow and leave them there. That has been done. I can do it for no better reason than I think it is better to shoot deer on the land than allow people to live on it. They might frighten the deer.

But now compare that with the ownership of my umbrella. As a matter of fact the umbrella I have tonight belongs to my wife; but I think she will permit me to call it mine for the purpose of the debate. Now I have a very limited legal right to the use of that umbrella. I cannot do as I like with it. For instance, certain passages in Mr. Chesterton’s speech tempted me to get up and smite him over the head with my umbrella. I may presently feel inclined to smite Mr. Belloc. But should I abuse my right to do what I like with my property–with my umbrella–in this way I should soon be made aware– possibly by Mr. Belloc’s fist–that I cannot treat my umbrella as my own property in the way in which a landlord can treat his land. I want to destroy ownership in order that possession and enjoyment may be raised to the highest point in every section of the community. That, I think, is perfectly simple…

To this G.K. Chesterton responded:

Among the bewildering welter of fallacies which Mr. Shaw has just given us, I prefer to deal first with the simplest. When Mr. Shaw refrains from hitting me over the head with his umbrella, the real reason–apart from his real kindness of heart, which makes him tolerant of the humblest of the creatures of God–is not because he does not own his umbrella, but because he does not own my head. As I am still in possession of that imperfect organ, I will proceed to use it to the confutation of some of his other fallacies…

I fully agree with Mr. Shaw, and speak as strongly as he would speak, of the abomination and detestable foulness and sin of landlords who drove poor people from their land in Scotland and elsewhere. It is quite true that men in possession of land have committed these crimes; but I do not see why wicked officials under a socialistic state could not commit these crimes. But that has nothing to do with the principle of ownership of land. In fact these very Highland crofters, these very people thus abominably outraged and oppressed, if you asked them what they want would probably say, “I want to own my own croft; I want to own my own land.”

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The Girl Who Changed Pakistan: Malala Yousafzai


by Shehrbano Taseer
Oct 22, 2012

Shehrbano Taseer takes an insider’s look at the 15-year-old girl who may finally turn the tide on extremism.

Malala Yousafzai in 2009 (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images)
Malala Yousafzai in 2009 (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images)

The teenage girls chatted to each other and their teachers as the school bus rattled along the country road. Students from a girls’ high school in Swat, they had just finished a term paper, and their joy was evident as they broke into another Pashto song. About a mile outside the city of Mingora, two men flagged down and boarded the bus, one of them pulling out a gun. “Which one of you is Malala Yousafzai?” he demanded. No one spoke—some out of loyalty, others out of fear. But, unconsciously, their eyes turned to Malala. “That’s the one,” the gunman said, looking the 15-year-old girl in the face and pulling the trigger twice, shooting her in the head and neck. He fired twice more, wounding two other girls, and then both men fled the scene.

Over the screams and tears of the girls, a teacher instructed the bus driver to drive to a local hospital a few miles away. She stared in horror at Malala’s body, bleeding profusely and slumped unconscious in her friend’s lap, then closed her eyes and started to pray.

As of this writing, Malala fights for her life at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England. Her would-be killers have not yet been caught. But it’s clear who bears responsibility. And in the days since the Oct. 9 assault on her, sadness, fury, and indignation have swept the world.

For months a team of Taliban sharpshooters studied the daily route that Malala took to school, and, once the attack was done, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan gleefully claimed responsibility, saying Malala was an American spy who idolized the “black devil Obama.” She had spoken against the Taliban, they falsely said, and vowed to shoot her again, should she survive.

The power of ignorance is frightening. My father, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered last January after he stood up for Aasia Noreen, a voiceless, forgotten Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. My father, the governor of Punjab province at the time, believed that our country’s blasphemy laws had been misused; that far too frequently, they were taken advantage of to settle scores and personal vendettas.

In the days before my father’s murder, fanatics had called for a fatwa against him and had burned him in effigy at large demonstrations. His confessed shooter, a 26-year-old man named Mumtaz Qadri, said he had been encouraged to kill my father after hearing a sermon by a cleric, who, frothing at the mouth, screeched to 150 swaying men to kill my father, the “blasphemer.” Qadri, a police guard, had been assigned to protect my father. Instead, on the afternoon of Jan. 4, my brother Shehryar’s 25th birthday, he killed my father, firing 27 bullets into his back as he walked home.

My father, one of the first members of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, was frequently imprisoned and tortured for his unwavering belief in freedom and democracy under the harsh dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul Haq.

But in later life, as he spoke against the blasphemy laws, his views were distorted to suggest—wrongly—that he had spoken against Prophet Muhammad—just as Malala’s views were twisted by both her Taliban attackers and opportunistic politicians peddling poisonous falsehoods for their own gain.

One would think the nightmare and the brutality of the Zia regime ended when the tyrant’s aircraft fell out of the skies in 1988 and he was killed. We were so wrong.

These clerics are raising merchants of hatred, believers in radical Islam (Photo: Lynsey Addario / VII))
These clerics are raising merchants of hatred, believers in radical Islam (Photo: Lynsey Addario / VII))

What the attack on Malala makes clear is that this is really a battle over education. A repressive mindset has been allowed to flourish in Pakistan because of the madrassa system set up by power-hungry clerics. It’s a deeply rooted indoctrination, and it sickens me to see ancient religious traditions undermined by a harsher form of religion barely a generation old. These madrassa, or religious schools headed by clerics, are the breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. The clerics don’t teach critical thinking. Instead, they disseminate hate. These clerics are raising merchants of hatred who believe in a very right-wing and radical Islam, to hail people like Osama bin Laden and Mumtaz Qadri as heroes. They train children how to use guns and bombs, and how not to live but to die.

Since my father’s murder, I have often wondered if Qadri would have killed him had he known my father’s actual views and not what they had been twisted into by media anchors and clerics on a hysterical witch hunt. Maybe if he had listened to what my father really said, Pakistan would not have lost its bravest man and I my center of gravity.

After his bloody deed, Qadri was hailed as a hero by right-wingers and fanatics. In a loathsome display in front of the court where he was to be tried, hundreds of lawyers charged with upholding justice instead showered the murderer with rose petals in praise of him taking a sacred life.

But terrorism bears within it the seeds of its own destruction. What schools with a good syllabus can offer is the timeless and universal appeal of critical thinking. This is what the Taliban are most afraid of. Critical thinking has the power to defuse terrorism; it is an internal liberation that jihadism simply cannot offer.

This time, with the attack on Malala, what is different—and encouraging—is the outpouring of support in Pakistan for this young girl. We cannot, and we will not, take any more madness.

Malala was only 11 when she started blogging entries from her diary for the Urdu-language website of the BBC. Her nom de plume was Gul Makai, meaning cornflower in Pashto and the name of the heroine of many local folk stories. A star student with olive skin, bushy eyebrows, and intense brown eyes, Malala wrote about life under Taliban rule: how she hid her schoolbooks under her shawl and how she kept reading even after the Taliban outlawed school for girls. In an entry from January 2009 she wrote: “Today our teacher told us not to wear colorful dress that might make Taliban angry.” She wrote about walking past the headless bodies of those who had defied the radicals, and about a boy named Anis, who, brainwashed by the Taliban, blew himself up at a security checkpoint. He was 16 years old.

Encouraged by her father, Ziauddin, a schoolmaster, Malala quickly became known as she spoke out on the right to an education. Ziauddin had two sons also, but he told friends it was his daughter who had a unique spark. She wanted to study medicine, but he persuaded her that when the time came she should enter politics so she might help create a more progressive society—at the heart of which was education for all. In Pakistan, 25 million children are out of school, and the country has the lowest youth literacy rate in the world.

"For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet,” says former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Photo: Arshad Arbab / EPA-Landov)
“For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet,” says former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Photo: Arshad Arbab / EPA-Landov)

“I hope you won’t laugh at me,” Ziauddin wrote in an email to Adam Ellick, an American filmmaker, after Ellick had stayed with the family in Swat for several months. “Can I dream for her to be the youngest to clench a Nobel award for education?”

In the film that Ellick made for The New York Times in 2009, the bond between Ziauddin and his daughter is evident as is his pride in his young daughter’s accomplishment. “When I saw her for the first time, a very newborn child, and I looked into her eyes, I fell in love with her,” Ziauddin says at one point in the film, beaming. “Believe me, I love her.” (Her mother, a homemaker who speaks only Pashto, is also supportive of Malala’s work; she wasn’t depicted in Ellick’s film for cultural reasons.)

At the time, the Taliban had swept through Swat, banning girls’ education and attacking hundreds of schools in the province. But Ziauddin—who, in addition to running a school, is also a poet, a social activist, and head of the National Peace Council in Swat—defied the Taliban by refusing to cancel classes, despite continued death threats. “They were so violently challenged,” says Ellick, who is still close to the family.

As Ziauddin explained his motivation at one point: “Islam teaches us that getting an education is compulsory for every girl and wife, for every woman and man. This is the teaching of the holy Prophet,” he said. “Education is a light and ignorance is a darkness, and we must go from darkness into light.”

Ziauddin “has given Malala a love, strength, and confidence that’s rare,” agrees Samar Minallah Khan, a Pakistani journalist and filmmaker who knows the family. “She has an incredible spirit and a mind of her own because of the confidence he has given her.”

In three short years, Malala became the chairperson of the District Child Assembly in Swat, was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, was the runner-up of the International Children’s Peace Prize, and won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. More recently she started to organize the Malala Education Foundation, a fund to ensure poor girls from Swat could go to school.

Sharing her father’s eloquent and determined advocacy made Malala a powerful symbol of resistance to Taliban ideology.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown said the attack had given rise to a children’s movement, with children proudly wearing “I am Malala” T-shirts and defiantly asserting their rights. “Young people are seeing through the hypocrisy of … their leaders [who] deny millions of girls and boys the opportunity to rise,” Brown said in an email. “For one Malala shot and silenced, there are now thousands of younger Malalas who cannot be kept quiet.”

Ziauddin is reportedly shattered by the attack on his daughter and unable to speak, yet he plans on returning to Pakistan once her treatment is complete. He wants to return to their work on education with renewed commitment and strength. He told Ellick: “If all of us die fighting, we will still not leave this work.”

In order to operate, the Taliban need the acceptance—or submission—of the population. A Gallup poll conducted two years ago shows that only 4 percent of Pakistan’s 180-plus million population views the Taliban in a positive light. But the TTP, as they are known, have capitalized on the mounting anti-Americanism spurred by civilian casualties of U.S. drone strikes. Keen to cultivate favorable public opinion, Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, issued a “new code of conduct” in 2010 that banned suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, and cutting off ears, lips, and tongues. On the Web, the TTP rallied against drone strikes, condemned attacks on shrines, hospitals, schools, and marketplaces. In practice, however, the code was spottily enforced and did not necessarily mean a gentler insurgency. Critics claim that any changes were cosmetic—a tactical shift in preparation for a long-term fight.

The assault on Malala seemed a departure from Mullah Omar’s “charm offensive”—a desperate but well-known attempt to spread fear. Even among those who had supported the TTP’s ideological goals in the past, there was revulsion at the attack on the little girl. “The shooting could be an attempt to show that they are still active,” says author and analyst Zahid Hussain. “They want to send a message.”

Instead of being chastised by the popular outrage both in Pakistan and in the West, the Taliban has responded by threatening local journalists who have covered the attack on Malala. The TTP has even threatened cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, claiming he is a liberal and therefore an infidel. The threats surprised many since “Taliban Khan”—as many refer to him—is perceived as an apologist for the extremists. In fact, in the days after the attack on Malala, Khan was strongly criticized for not taking a more forceful stance on her shooting. (Khan said he could not speak too openly against the Taliban because that could imperil the lives of his supporters in the north.)

“Pakistan has arrived at its with-us-or-against-us moment,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the president, told Newsweek by email. The 24-year-old Bhutto Zardari succeeded his mother, Benazir Bhutto, as chairman of Pakistan’s ruling party after her assassination in 2007. (The family believes that the Taliban killed her, though an al Qaeda commander initially claimed responsibility.)

Even as Malala fights for her life, people continue to twist her views and words to suit their own incendiary narrative. Samia Raheel Qazi, herself a mother and a senior figure in Pakistan’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, posted an image of Malala, her father, and the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on Twitter, adding a caption that falsely claimed that Malala had attended “a meeting with American military officers.”

In Pakistan such character assassinations and conspiracy theories are unfortunately not uncommon—and they benefit the Taliban’s odious campaign. “Liberals would like to believe this is a turning point for Pakistan,” says journalist Najam Sethi. “That’s what they thought when a Swati girl was publicly flogged by the Taliban in 2009.” Pakistanis were at first outraged, but the anti-Taliban consensus soon evaporated, he recalls. Sethi believes that upcoming Pakistan elections will further politicize the attack. “The government will make the right noises but fall in line with exigencies of party politics. No general or civilian will risk precipitous action.”

Pakistan’s government is funding Malala’s treatment and will present her with a national award for courage. It has also promised jobs to the family members of the other two girls who were shot. But many fear that—despite the arrest of almost 200 people—the investigation into the attack will conclude as most investigations do: with a failure to prosecute those responsible. Our antiterrorism courts have a shoddy record of convictions. The judiciary and law-enforcement agencies clearly lack both the will and the means to bring perpetrators to justice. “If we do capture the terrorists who attacked Malala, I do hope they are brought to justice,” says the government spokesman, Bhutto Zardari. But sounding less than convinced, he cautions in the same email: “This is a war zone. Just as NATO or the U.S. will not capture every terrorist in Afghanistan we cannot capture every terrorist in Pakistan.”

Malala’s English teacher, who is close to the family, clicks his tongue when asked if he believes the attackers will get caught and punished. “I don’t think so at all,” he says. “When have they ever?”

There is talk now in Pakistan of further military sweeps of militant strongholds. But it is clear that the solution cannot be purely military. The government must address the root causes of terrorism as Malala argued. “If the new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns by the terrorists,” she said before she was shot. “We must raise our voice.”

Reproduced from The Daily Beast

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