Another bomb blast in Lahore…and Louis Vuitton at Paris FW

Full calf-length skirts with wide hemlines and narrow bosom-y tops. SO wearable!

It’s going to be quite a dichotomous blog post today.

As the self-explanatory title states, there was indeed another terrorist attack in Lahore today.  Actually there were 2 suicide attacks that occured simultaneously in the same area, RA Bazaar in Cantt (which is basically an army-governed cantonment area that has both residential and commercial districts).  It happened just over an hour ago, at a time when most people were just heading out of their homes to attend the afternoon Friday prayers.  The two bombers were on foot and their main target was a military convoy that was passing through the area.  At least 20 people have been killed, and all main streets in the city have been cordoned off.

What good will it do now to shut down half the city?  The government had received threats that there would be militants entering the city but obviously that threat wasn’t taken too seriously.  The excuse they gave was that they get such threatening messages all the time.  And of course, when a provincial gov’t gets warnings about imminent dangerous events that will harm the populace, the smart thing to do is ignore them right? The result: 2 bomb attacks within 4 days, over 30 estimated lives lost with many more injured, a city under siege and its people numb and wary.  But I am not going to get into the semantics of all this again, it frustrates me; I see red and fail to understand the logic behind all this.  I have already questioned all this in an old blog post (“Pakistan Under Siege: What do you WANT?”) and I don’t want to sound like a broken record.

Time now to concentrate on the pretty stuff!  The Fall RTW collection from Louis Vuitton is GORGEOUSSSSSSSSSSS!  Designed by the one and only Marc Jacobs, the collection defined, in my opinion, the essence of romanticism.  The original concept was the inspirational decade of the 50s but I think all the clothes, with their soft, muted tones, and flirty hemlines, captured an idea that was more romantic that racy.  Calf-length skirts were the main feature, accompanied by cute little coats, and tops that were both conservative and cleavage-bearing.  Printed dresses were accesorized with waist-cinching belts that looked anything but severe and leather gloves in matching tones that added to the overall academic aura of the outfit.  It was almost like looking at the wardrobe for the next season of Mad Men.  The best part about it all was that Marc Jacobs actually used models that have curves!  He didn’t stick to the typical norm of using stick-thin pre-pubescent girls that merely act as hangers for the clothes, but rather used older models with bodies wider than a carrot stick .  From nearly 50 Elle Macpherson to Adriana Lima, who just had a baby a few months ago, the runway was awash with models who actually enhanced the beauty and sensuality of the clothes.

Some might say that the dull palette of the clothes, the matchy-matchy aspect of the accessories and the barefaced look of the models made the collection look a tad bit insipid but I would disagree.  Versace can afford to be va-va-voom and showcase stuff that is far from ordinary; Karl Lagerfeld can produce a whole collection based on full-body fur suits that no sane woman would want to be seen in; but Louis Vuitton is different.  An underlying essence of the romantic and the sensual radiated through each piece in the collection and Marc Jacobs managed to create an overall ensemble that was both subtle and sexy and true to the nature of the French fashion house.

A pleated leather skirt, and a shiny tailored jacket, what more can a girl ask for!

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Bomb blast in Lahore, but it’s no big deal, happens all the time!

I was sitting in the common room this morning, reading one of the many insightful works of al-Ghazali.  It was a quiet time, around 8:20 am, and there wasn’t much activity going on in the hostel building, most of the girls were asleep or already in class.  The only sound I could hear was the rhythmic swoosh swoosh of the maids’ brooms on the pavement outside,  strangely soothing and far more effective than Britney in getting me to concentrate on the reading.  I would read a paragraph and jot down anything useful my sleep-deprived mind could derive from it; and so it went, as I read and jotted, read and jotted, until I was almost at the end of the reading.

All of a sudden, 2 things happened at once.  I heard a discernable yet muted sound of a loud crash.  Simultaneously, the building shook and the windows in the room rattled momentarily.  Had I shut my eyes for even a second, I probably would not have even noticed it.  It sounded as if it had happened just behind our building yet when I got up to look outside, nothing seemed any different from the way it had been just a minute ago.  I didn’t really know what to make of it.  I first thought it might’ve have been a tremor, since those are common in thsi region but a mini-earthquake doesn’t make that sort of sound, its usually silent unless a building collapses, in which case it would’ve been a stronger movement that more people would’ve felt.  Subconsciously, the thought that it could have been a bomb blast popped into my head, yet there was nothing to prove that anything of the sort had really happened.  Had I just imagined the sound of an explosion?  Was I hallucinating when I saw the windows vibrating?

Apparently not.  That was 4 hours ago.  I just received frantic phone calls from my mom and my brother asking me if I was alright because, guess what?  That nagging suspicion at the back of my mind was right!  There was yet again another bomb blast in Lahore today.  The target was a gov’t office, or a ‘secret agency’ and Geo reports on its website ( http://geo.tv/3-8-2010/60629.htm ), that was functioning out of the residential neighbourhood of Model Town.  Yup, the location’s definitely not so secretive anymore, especially since there’s an 8-feet deep crater at the site of the blast, caused by the car that exploded with the 800 kg of C4 explosives it was packed with. 

Around 60 people have been injured, and approximately a dozen have died, one of the casualties being a guy in a building down the road from the site whose ears couldn’t handle the decibel-level of the blast.  Bummer.  It’s strange though.  A week ago, my dad was down here for a visit and he marvelled at how efficient and severe the security situation has become in the city; we would literally drive down a road and see a uniformed rifle-bearing officer at every corner.  So I do wonder how it is that a car filled to the teeth with 800 kilos of C4 managed to roam about the city as if it’s completely not dubious or alarming at all?  But then again, given the frequency of bomb blasts in this city, maybe it’s become a norm by now.  I jest…I hope.

I guess the terrorists decided that the short time period they’d given this city between this and the previous blast was long enough for some quiet time and self-reflection.  Co-incidentally, they also managed to make this blowup happen on the same day Gossip Girl resumes after its mid-season hiatus.  If this doesn’t mean it’ll be an explosive few episodes, I don’t know what will.  Way to welcome back the Upper East Siders with a bang, eh?

Just another post about 9/11

It had been an ordinary Tuesday morning.  I had woken up, late as usual, hurriedly dressed and walked quickly to school without bothering to look around at the leaves turning from forest green to burnt orange as they normally began to do every fall.  It drizzled lightly that morning and a chilled breeze had wafted through the portable-cum-classroom as I tried to stay awake and pay attention to the long division we were being taught.  I had never enjoyed Grade 6 arithmetics, and certainly less so on cool September mornings when all you want to do is stay warmly tucked under the covers, without having anything to worry about.  Little did I know that, in just a handful of minutes, we would all be burdened with something greater that numbers and equations to think about.  The intercom had blared, shaking me out of my daydream about warm beds and soft pillows, and the principal’s voice boomed out to every classroom and corridor in the school.  A grave terrorist act has taken place, he had said, as two planes crashed into the Twin Towers.  Not in Toronto, he reassured, but in New York.  He had called it a shocking and terrifying act, and urged us all not to panic and to stay calm and that he would inform us of any updates if necessary.  I remember being confused then, and wondering how the collapse of a couple of buildings could possibly have any effect on us, sitting in school in Toronto.  If only the principal could also have told me then, on that fateful morning of September 11th, 2001, of the many consequences that would follow the attack on the WTC.

I was eleven years old and only a few hours away from New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred.  Nearly nine years later and thousands of miles away from Ground Zero, I am still just as perturbed, not about what actually happened, but about the chain of events that unfolded soon after.  A total of nineteen hijackers took control of four commercial airliners, crashing two into the WTC in New York, one into the Pentagon in Virginia, and one in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania.  Nearly three thousand people died that day, with many more injured, but that, as I later discovered, was just the tip of the iceberg.  Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in the eight years that have passed, owing to the decisions made by the American government following 9/11. Almost five hours after the WTC was attacked, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield started making tentative plans to attack Iraq and obtain control over Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that neither Iraq nor its dictator had any link whatsoever to either Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the actual perpetrators of the attack.  A note taken by one of Rumsfield’s aides quotes, “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.” –Saddam Hussein – “at same time. Not only UBL” (Osama Bin Laden)  They simply needed an excuse and some conspiracy theorists see the whole incident of 9/11 as simply a smokescreen dropped by the US itself so that it could go after the countries it wanted to.  As a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched a War on Terror against Al-Qaeda and its agents of terrorism, and used this reason to invade Afghanistan only twenty six days after 9/11.  Although the American attacks in Afghanistan did initially serve to dethrone the Taliban from the region, they also hurled Afghanistan into a whirlpool of instability and insecurity, as its civilian population suffered from the cut-off from food and medicine supplied, and illegal drug-trafficking proliferated and anti-American insurgent groups acted out within the country.

A key question that came to prevail over all public discussion was “Why do they hate us?”, asked by President George W Bush nine days after 9/11.  The answer was thought to be discovered not in the United States, its political framework or in any of its foreign policies but in ‘the other’, the irrational, angry and bearded militant Muslims of all Islamic societies. Everyone was wondering ‘What is wrong with the Muslim world?’ rather than bothering to question that perhaps there was something fundamentally wrong in the United States itself that it was targeted for a such a large-scale terrorist act.  America was deemed as normal, its ideology was universal, whereas any harm done to America could only stem from a not-normal, and illogical culture.  Aggression, hate and anger were all instigated within the general American populace to such an extent that many people did not even bother to question the actions of their government and wonder over whether or not starting wars and taking innocent lives was the right way of obtaining justice for the atrocities committed on 9/11.  Any opposition to the war on terror was seen as unpatriotic and possibly even dangerous, and this led to a rise in hate crimes all over the world, with Muslims being the primary victims.  My own brother Muhammad was threatened repeatedly at his workplace in Toronto despite the fact that nothing about his mannerisms or accent indicated he was a religious man or even an Arab.  It was simply because of his name that many people felt the need to accuse him of being in cahoots with terrorists hiding away in caves halfway across the world.

When I met new people in Toronto, they wondered about the exotic origins of my name.  After 9/11, I stopped telling them it was in Arabic name, and I stopped correcting their erroneous pronunciation.  Instead, I said I had no idea what my name meant, and preferred to be called by the Anglicized version of it that they created.  It was not all unpleasant, but the feeling that, suddenly you are seen as an outsider and an unwelcome foreigner in a place where you had lived your whole life, was hurtful and more than a little baffling.  I did not understand then the larger scope of what was going on in the world, or the actions of the American government that would lead to senseless aggression, suppression of people, unfair imprisonments of innocents, and the destruction of thousands of blameless lives.  What happened during 9/11 was certainly unfair, but it did not, in any way, give any right to the United States to embark on a mission based on global domination through force and coercion.  9/11 does not justify manipulating the truth in order to advance politically accepted dogmas and nor does it set a precedent for establishing governing metanarratives of unquestionable authority and then enforcing them throughout the rest of the world.  What happened on 9/11 was unjust but what has happened since then is simply beyond the pale of justice entirely.

Pakistan Under Siege: What do you WANT?

injured-608

– In the past 2 weeks, more than 150 people have been killed as a result of terrorist activities

– 3 law enforcement compounds in Lahore were attacked on the same day, now known as the Bloody Thursday (Oct 15th)

– 2 suicide bomb attacks took place in an Islamic university in Islamabad on October 21st

– Many more bombs have been found and diffused in other cities across the country, including Peshawar and Karachi

– All schools in Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP and Punjab have been ordered to shut down by the gov’t

– Colleges and universities in Punjab, both public and private, have also closed down.  This includes BNU, NCA, Punjab University and LUMS

peshawar-blast-oct-15-afp-608 

The question that I pose to the perpetrators of these attacks is: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Why is it that you choose to destroy your own country?  Why do you want to halt this country’s progress, blight its already-controversial image in the international arena, spread the germ of fear and hatred throughout its citizens, and ensure that no child can peacefully receive a proper education without being worried about a possible bomb blast in school?  What kind of twisted justification can you offer for all the havoc you’ve wrecked, for all the innocent lives you have taken, for all the sleep you have stolen from widows, orphans and grieving mothers?  What cause are you really fighting for, the perpetuation of your perception of Islam or the hidden agendas of other influential players that aid and fund your heinous actions?  What sadistic pleasure do you get out of going into bustling bazaars and blowing not only yourself but also everyone around you into smithereens?  Do you honestly think that makes you some sort of noble martyr, a shaheed?  Can’t you feel the abhorrence and antagonism everyone in this country feels against you and what you stand for or are you really so deluded that you think you’re actually doing us a favour?  Can’t you stop before it’s too late, before you cripple the country entirely so that it must remain subservient to the vested interests of a foreign superpower forever?  If you come from a poor and unprivileged sect of society, do you really believe that attacking schools and police compounds is going to improve your standards of living?  Can’t you see that the blood you’ve spilled of all the guiltless and absolved lives is not going to grant you the privileges of living in luxury or help you, in any way, to get back at the system that treated you unfairly?  When will you stop, when will it be enough?  Is there even a point of no return or are you far too removed from reality to imagine that life CAN be led peacefully without killing the unsuspecting?

There’s someone at my window..

Peaceful campus of LUMS

Peaceful campus of LUMS

Throughout the night, I’ve been hearing gunshots at arbitrary intervals.  At first I thought there was something wrong with my ears, then I thoughht maybe I was just imagining it out of paranoia because of all the latest emails from the VC warning the student body to avoid going off campus because of the threat of terrorism in the city.  I was in my room when I heard the first round of shots, but I dismissed it as being boys playing with firecrackers (‘cuz we Pakis do that for fun around here).  The next few rounds were louder and distinctly closer to our dorms.  I even got up to look outside the window, a little apprehensive of what I might witness.  But there was nothing wrong, the campus was just the way it usually is around midnight, mostly quiet but with groups of students peppered around here and there.

Talking to friends about it confirmed that those really were gunshots that I had been hearing, because they had heard it too.  I had certainly been aware of all the bombings and terrorist activities that had taken place in Lahore in the past year, I had also noticed that the frequency of such incidents had escalated, and yes, I had also subconsciously realised that eventually it would get close and closer to the only internationally-recognised university in Pakistan that was renowned for its liberal environment.  Everyone talked about it with a sense of nonchalance, and that too only for a few minutes.  The fact that we were hearing gunshots at night and were situated only a few minutes away from where the latest terrorist attack had occured did not seem to bother many people, it was not an issue that was high on the list of priorities, certainly not higher than the upcoming midterm exams. I am not quite sure how to react to all of this.  I know Pakistan is viewed as “dangerous” place to live, but it was my choice to come here.  All the bombings that have happened in Lahore have certainly been devastating in terms of the innocent lives lost as well as the heightening of radical insurgent action, but they haven’t affected the day-to-day ongoings of its inhabitants per se.  In fact, I can speak for myself when I say that despite the attacks on crowded marketplaces, I still continue to go out and shop as I used to.  But now, it just seems as if something has changed.  For one, the Lums administration actually sent a series of emails over the past few days, warning the students to stay cautious and not take any unnecessary risks.

____________________________________________

Dear Campus Community,

 Due to the prevailing law and order situation in the city, you are advised to take extra care and avoid all unnecessary visits to crowded places and security related buildings. The University is monitoring the situation carefully and assures you that it is communicating with authorities and taking all possible precautionary measures. We request increased vigilance by the LUMS Community and ask that any untoward activity on campus be reported immediately.

Dear LUMS Community:

As you know, several ugly terrorism incidents have occurred in recent days and more are to be expected, particularly in our major cities including Lahore.  I have put the campus security on high alert, which means greater scruiiny at the main gate and more vigilance in and around the campus. I ask for your cooperation and patience when you are asked to identify yourself at the main entrance. This is a difficult time for our nation and we all need to be extra vigilant of any suspicious activity. It is important that we remain alert to our surroundings and avoid any crowded places when venturing off campus. 

Dear Lums Community:

I am told that there are two terrorist incidents unfolding in town today; one near Badian Road at the Elite Force headquarter and the other at the FIA building. Please be aware of this unfortunate situation unfolding in town. Although there is no direct threat to LUMS at this time, we have put the campus security on the highest alert. Please do not venture off campus until the situation clears. We will advise you further as we learn more about the situation.

 ____________________________________________

The last email is particularly disconcerting: Badian Road is only a 5-minute drive from the campus (I know it as the area where all the farmhouses are) and that is where the sound of gunfire is coming from.  There is alot of security on campus, it is heavily guarded, but so were alot of the other targets of terrorist attacks.  How long before they get through to us?  Also, the fact that LUMS is known for being “liberal” in the sense that you will find all sorts of people on campus, from ultra-conservatives and super-religious to atheists and free-spirited souls.  LUMS does not follow any one particular political ideology or religious school, it is accepting of all and lets its student body express its autonomy.  However, the recent press that the university has garnered regarding PDA on campus ( http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1014/p06s05-wosc.html ) has just given it more publicity, and, in my opinion, even more reason for the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba or whatever other fundamentalist Islamic group there is out there to attack the campus in a bid to eliminate the “non-believers”. 

Even as I am writing this, I am surprised at myself.  I have always believed that it is unfair to judge a nation or a people by the way they are perceived by others.  In other words, I am very critical of how people in the West see Pakistan and all that it represents in a harsh light that’s basically illuminated by the influence of terrorism.  I have come across many people who have this way of thinking, and it always annoys me that they are so quick to judge, that they can so easily just conform to the lens of Orientalism that the media outlets of the West use to portray this region.  And yet, I find myself straying to their train of thought.  I do not want to be critical of Pakistan and its affiliation to terrorist groups, but something is really wrong here.  I feel almost fearful that I am living in an area where I can hear gunshots so loud that they might as well be being fired outside my window, and where the people are going about their normal lives, unconcerned and pretty much detached from all that’s going on.  But perhaps that is not their fault, such incidents have become so pedestrian in Pakistan that the people have become conditioned to dismiss it out of their minds, so that they don’t have to think about the deeper meaning of this: that their country, their homeland is under seige by elements of evil who have exploited and misrepresented Pakistan and Islam and out to wage an all out holy war for a bogus cause and that they might just end up accomplishing this.  Such thoughts are depressing, no one wants them swirling around the confines of their minds, and so I suppose that is why many people are either just used to it have forced themselves to be indifferent.

Today was the first time I actually felt a little scared of being in this country.  But this is the country where my ancestors come from, it is where my identity comes from.  I cannot call it my home but for now, this is where I live.  And if I have to get used to gunfire and violence to stay here, so be it.