‘Combine design thinking with digital technology’: Muqeem Khan

Published in Slogan (January ’11)

Muqeem Khan has worked as a visual effects artist for Walt Disney and Final Fantasy. Currently he is Visiting Associate Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar and also makes animated films. In an interview with Ayesha Hoda, Muqeem discusses his projects, interactive technologies and the future of animation/design.

Why did you choose to study design?
Since childhood I used to draw a lot and play with different mediums, from acrylic to water colours to oil paints. In ninth grade, I had the opportunity to participate in a world poster competition and my painting was one of the ten selected in Geneva. In tenth grade, I secured the first position in Karachi’s inter-school painting competition.
My father and my mother’s brothers were calligraphers. So I studied Nastaliq. It was wonderful to be able to observe the rigorous ethics required to create something. I explored different materials as well such as copper, plastic, brass, etc.
However, I had to switch back and forth because I was really into technology too. I would go to different electronic shops in Saddar or Lasbela and to anybody who could teach me about circuit analysis or new electronic kits. Every 14th August I used to have something to display – like an installation.
I had one set of friends who were completely into electronics and another group which was into creative media. So fortunately I had very good company, doing productive work, which taught me a lot about different aspects of life. The dominant part of my life is and was creativity.
Then somebody told me there was a competition in one of the technical schools, somewhere in Nazimabad, selecting only 7 students for National College of Arts. I gave the test and then the interview. I applied for architecture although they told me that I was more of a designer. But because of peer pressure, lack of awareness and other variables, I decided to study architecture. Once in Lahore, however, I realised I was more towards colours and mediums. And that design is the field for me.
So why did you focus on visual effects in motion pictures?
It was 1988 and there was a lot of turmoil in the country. I realised that I couldn’t make art in this beautiful city (Lahore) due to the situation and I had to move on. So I came back to Karachi and then later went to Ohio State University where I studied Interior Design under the umbrella of Industrial Design. Our focus was on retail design, hospitals, clinics to inmate facilities, that is, commercial environments. Then I also worked on graphics related to the design of cockpits, dashboards of cars, etc.
During my first year there, I realised that I wanted to be a designer with muscles; combine design thinking with digital technology. I was part of a team of students who worked with a software development company. I used to sneak into their labs, keep a sleeping bag with me and spend days and nights there as this kind of work involves great commitment.
In second year I decided that computer graphics with the creative industry, probably animation, was my goal. I had already touched upon these things while still school so it wasn’t something completely new.
In third or fourth year I applied for my graduate programme. There were only nine students who were selected from all over the world to study at ACCAD (Advanced Computing Center for Arts & Design) at Ohio State University. It was an open competition and highly competitive. The faculty and staff was highly motivated and associated with Hollywood. Luckily, I was selected and it had an amazing educational setup. Individualism was nurtured within an environment of collaboration of highly technical and creative people.
How did you get a break in Hollywood?
A week before my graduation (MA in Industrial Design, with specialistion in computer graphics and animation), I was hired by Walt Disney. I was in New Orleans and took my show reel to the interview but the panel at Walt Disney did not want to see it. They said they would rather like to see my thought processes. So I went back to my room, grabbed everything and lay down all my work before them to show how I solved different problems. They spent loads of time looking and discussing those.
I had several interviews in Los Angeles and then I was hired. My first project was George of the Jungle, where we had to create an elephant which behaved like a dog. The movie combined live action with digital effects.
Then I worked on Flubber, Deep Rising and Armageddon. After that I went to Hawaii to work on Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
You are also a Visiting Associate Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar. Tell us about this role and the courses you teach.
It’s been nearly ten years since I started teaching. Right after Final Fantasy, I had the option of going back to LA to work on Stuart Little or to start sharing my knowledge at American University of Sharjah. I took the second option, which was closer to Karachi, as my parents are based here. I also thought that after 9 years of working in production, I would like to work do individual projects – in big production houses you work as a team to achieve a single goal; sometimes tasks become repetitive and you don’t get as much freedom to explore your own ideas.
So I began teaching and working on freelance/personal projects. I have been teaching third and fourth year Graphic Design Studio, Portfolio Design to 4th year, 2D and 3D animation, foundation for Interior Design, related to creating narrative, etc. Currently, I am a Visiting Associate Professor at Northwestern University in Qatar. It is my honour to interact with an amazing group of researchers and scholars, hailing from motion pictures to broadcast industries, media and technologies.
Most of my students are Arabs and they have this tendency to tell stories in an amazing manner. My experience with them has been very positive. I have seen them produce highly creative ideas. Northwestern University’s environment is highly conducive to research and personal development.
You are exploring Intangible Cultural Heritage, Animation, Interaction Design and Mixed Reality Environments through your PhD studies. Elaborate.
My PhD research related to interactive technology was part of Doha Film Festival 2010. Now I am more towards interactive narrative, emerging technologies and processes. I firmly believe that in the future motion pictures will have a start and an end based on the audience.
My research is also based on preservation of heritage and culture. I am studying different cultures and their representations in museums. I want to investigate what we have learnt from our past and what we have skipped.
Which recent projects have you been worked on?
I work on many Individual projects like animated films. Last year I finished a broadcast piece for Stars of Science, which is funded by Arab television. It was aired on 21 channels all over the Arabian Peninsula. Other works are for my personal satisfaction and are screened at different film festivals.
What is your perspective on animation in Pakistan?
We are highly motivated, intelligent and inexpensive individuals. Each and every young mind I have met here, during my seminars and workshops, has been creating amazing things. Animations are being done in different pockets, which are really fun to watch. With leadership and direction, I think they will continue to create amazing work. We should also work on developing our own language of dynamics in motion graphics, like the Japanese have done.
What does design mean to you?
Design for me is a purposeful, systematic and creative activity. The design I have been studying/teaching solves problems of our physical world. Aesthetics is only a part of design. I firmly believe that design refers to organised thoughts. Like when you organise sound, it depicts music. When you organise your idea, it becomes design.
In your opinion, what is the future of this field?
I have come up with my own definitions of future design and future designers, which I presented in a paper in Italy. These are:
•        Design will be a knowledge based acquisition that along with its associated interventions can be used in multiple activities, which will search for possible solutions from one paradigm to another.
•        Designers will be searching, isolating, managing and manipulating the methodologies of multiple knowledges.
Any advice for aspiring designers/animators?
A good design/animation combines many disciplines. You should not just move one object or create a character. You have to create a story and a language of dynamics. Do your research before entering this field, what it is about and talk to individuals already working in this field.
You have to work with your heart. Plus animation is not just one area of expertise; it combines many skills and talents. You can be good in lighting or in motion or you can be good in creating models. You have to explore your talents; who you are and where you would like to be. But above all, passion is the key.

A good addiction

As a musician in the US

Published in Slogan (August 2010)

Todd Shea, an American musician running a health facility in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, talks about his life, music and disaster relief, in conversation with Ayesha Hoda.

Todd Shea is not only casual; he is ultra-casual. He converses in a friendly and frank manner, sipping a glass of lemonade and using a few words of Urdu, which he has learnt during the last almost five years in Pakistan. Clad in a simple t-shirt and jeans, he wants people to see him the way he is high up in the mountains with the children of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

Last year, Adam B. Ellick did a video story for The New York Times on this “Improbable American”, which shows Todd enthusiastically singing “Dil Dil Pakistan” in his strong American accent for a highly impressed Pakistani audience.

Living near the Line of Control, his health facility, Comprehensive Disaster Relief Services (CDRS), provides high quality health services to people in remote and quake-affected areas.

Todd was recently in Karachi for his first major fundraiser in Pakistan – a simple evening, like the man himself, where his songs entertained the audience and his talk enlightened them about ongoing activities in Kashmir.

Preparing for a disaster

Childhood troubles led 12-year old Todd towards cocaine addiction. But at the age of nineteen, Todd decided to distance himself from the crowd of drug addicts and serve his country. He joined the US Marina Corps, surviving there for about six weeks before he was inevitably sent for drug rehabilitation. During his teenager years, music was always a companion and it saved his life.

Post-rehab days, Todd put his life together and played rock and folk music for the next 15 years, in a group and as a solo artist, travelling across the United States. Side by side, he also helped disillusioned teenagers who had drug problems. His songs are mostly inspired by life’s various tragedies and injustices. But he wants to give a positive message and inspire young people in particular.

On 12th September 2001, Todd was to play at CBGB, one of New York City’s popular nightclubs, where bands like the Rolling Stones have also performed.

Then 9/11 happened. Todd was staying in a hotel situated only a few miles away from Ground Zero and he volunteered to help. For five days or more, he made logistical arrangements, ‘making supplies of small things available to whoever required them’. And he realised that he was actually good at this: “I am good at disaster relief perhaps because my life has been a disaster,” he rationalises.

Perhaps God was preparing him for the future because more opportunities came for Todd to fulfill his new commitment to help people. With his 9/11 experience, he was welcomed by Global Crossroads, a group teaching English in developing nations, which moved towards disaster relief when the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean.

Thus, Todd travelled to Sri Lanka where he helped at orphanages and at a medical unit, and also rescued animals. This was followed by rescue efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

With the children of Kashmir

And then the mountains moved

Todd had just returned from his work of helping displaced residents in the aftermath of Katrina, when another catastrophe struck. An inner voice compelled him to leave home and fly to Pakistan where a major earthquake had been witnessed in Kashmir and northern areas. Todd helped with the immediate relief efforts and saw that a lot of work needed to be done here so he cancelled all his gigs and shows. He was no medical doctor or disaster relief expert, but he was the one who stayed on and established CDRS.

Since 2006, this health unit has assisted the government with its budget for medicines and extra supplies, repairing ambulances etc. It serves a population of 200,000 and assists 12 government facilities. The unit is more like a shack but Todd believes in having a good team of doctors rather than spending on huge structures that serve no purpose.

Todd also does not spend on his security and feels quite at home in Pakistan, admiring various aspects of Pakistani culture and society. He lives simply because he wants his donors to realise that their funds are being spent on providing healthcare facilities. Individual donors, mostly Pakistan-Americans, have been giving various amounts for running this project.

Todd has also initiated a community-based sustainable healthcare project where people of the local community contribute small amounts to help with their healthcare. This will ensure that the community gets the services it needs, even when Todd is not around.

CDRS has also extended support during other trying times in the country. Immediate cash was given to the Marriott blast victims in Islamabad; medical camps have been organised on coastal Sindh; and 3 months last year were spent helping tackle the Swat crisis.

Media-driven myths

In his early years, Todd could never have imagined living in Pakistan. Highlighting how important a role media plays in shaping perceptions, he says, “I find that US media only tells 2 percent truth about Pakistan most of the time. They only tell the bad side. This leads to skewed perceptions and opinions. In NYC, there are couple of neighbourhoods in the Bronx where you hear of murders, shooting, drug problems etc. every other day. If you took only that news and said that’s what America is all about, that would be a really wrong reflection because it’s happening in only one part of the City. That’s what they are doing to Pakistan just because there are a couple of bad people in the neighbourhood who are demonising the whole country.”

Todd feels he has earned more goodwill for America in Pakistan than the billions of dollars that have been poured in as aid for the country.

“Why would Pakistanis trust America? I love the US but whatever Americans have done so far for Pakistan, they haven’t done it right. It isn’t enough. And the common American can help put things right.

“Even if they cannot come down here and work, they can always write about it; use their social networking skills to spread information about people who are working in social development; raise funds. People back there can dedicate a few hours each work to make a difference by collecting money for donation, writing stories on various issues or NGOs, etc.“

A musical bridge for peace

Life has been much more fulfilling for Todd while running CDRS, but music has still remained a part of his life. Todd’s entry in the Pakistani music industry happened when a friend invited to him to play at a new year’s party. There, a person from MTV Pakistan approached him and asked him to play on a show. Todd thus appeared on MTV, once with Ali Safina and Anoushey, and another time with Dino.

“Then I was on some radio shows and I got a lot of emails from young people in Pakistan,” says Todd. “They loved my music and the work I was doing. Then it occurred to me that I could write an album of songs and sing it with some Pakistani musicians. It would be a cultural bridge of peace; a battle against wrong perceptions.”

Todd got together with some people in California. He talked to the members of American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses. One of them had read the book ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, on humanitarian work in Pakistan. He was very inspired and eager to do something. So they decided to do it in a big way. Todd contacted a lot of musicians in Pakistan. Members of Guns ‘N Roses, Atif Aslam, Rohail Hayat, Shehzad Roy, Areeb Azheir, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and his son Rustam Fateh Ali khan, Strings, Noori and Salman from Junoon have come together and they are not only going to make a music album but will also film the interaction between Pakistani and American musicians while they work together and visit different places such as shrines etc.

“I hope this project can bring people closer together and erase misconceptions,” Todd says. “If it touches the hearts of Americans, may be they will realise the truth about Pakistanis; they may become more willing to give money to projects in Pakistan that are helping children and other underprivileged people.

“I believe that the only thing that can change this world is love; not bombs or weapons. We also want Americans to understand that a handful of people, with their own agendas, are spreading wrong information about Islam and Muslims. This project may turn out to be highly popular or it may fall flat on its face. But it’s definitely worth a try.”

‘I have always been a dreamer’ – Sidra Iqbal

Published in Slogan (Jan 2009)

Crossroads with Sidra Iqbal

She loved to communicate even before she learned to speak. It was quite inevitable that she would excel at public speaking one day.

Sidra Iqbal has used her natural ability wisely and made use of every good opportunity that life has offered. As a public speaker, youth trainer, brand consultant, PR practitioner and media anchorperson, she is an inspiring example for the young generation.

Exuding tons of confidence and a charismatic spark, with a dream of becoming someone whose opinion mattered, Sidra Iqbal instinctively took to debating and public speaking while she was still in school. She rose to prominence in college (DHA, Karachi) when she became the youngest finalist of the Prime Minister’s Shield – a competition put together by the Higher Education Commission in which over 132 universities participate from across the country.

Luckily, DHA College was also invited to participate in the English Speaking Union’s competition that year (1999). Sidra was first selected from Karachi and then from Pakistan to represent the country abroad. She became the first Pakistani to win the prestigious English Speaking Union’s International Public Speaking Championship in London. Emerging as a winner from amongst 58 participants from 28 countries, she was honoured with a visit to the Royal family at the Buckingham Palace and awarded the winner’s certificate by HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Sidra participated in many other such competitions later and had the privilege of visiting several countries for this purpose, such as Japan, Australia, United States and Cyprus. Youth forums, conventions and training programmes happened concurrently with the progress she made in her academic life – completing her BBA and MBA from the College of Business Management, Karachi.

Sidra also got a training opportunity at the British Council, Karachi in 2000. She designed and executed the summer public speaking workshops called Speech Craft. In 2003, she was asked to use the same concept and launch TCS Hyde Park Juniors. This was a popular training programme and championship series in which over 200 young participants enrolled to receive training in public
speaking and personal grooming.

After graduation, Sidra’s first job was with City School Network as the marketing head. She then took a brief sabbatical and wrote for a journal published by Boston University. For one of her pieces on advertising, she interviewed Taher A. Khan, Founder and Chairman of Interflow Group. He was launching TV1 at that time and asked Sidra to join.

“I started off as a marketing person there but even before the channel was launched, I also became the producer of a show and finally, when the personality of the show had to be selected, I ended up hosting it,” says Sidra.

After that, Sidra also worked as the Content Head at ARY. In summer 2006, she was awarded a full scholarship to attend the International Relations Summer Programme at the Oxford University, UK.

“Interest in International Relations developed at a young age,” says Sidra. “For example, when my friends were discussing which college they wanted to go to or when I participated in international competitions. In 1999 and 2000, everyone was talking about the Millennium Development Goals; about what was happening in the country and how we can have a more equal place in the world.

“Moreover, as a debater and public speaker you need and want to generally know about what is happening around in the world; hence the course in IR.”

On her return, she pursued anchoring, hosting shows like Corporate Coffee on PTV News. This show is still running.

“When we designed the programme, we thought we would reach out to the corporate world only but a major chunk of our viewership comes from management students all over the country.”

Some of the other notable shows she has been a part of include Baaton Baaton Mein (ARY Digital), KIVA Circle of Wisdom (TV1) and Red Talk with Sidra Iqbal (Radio1 FM 91).

While hosting and producing shows, Sidra was once again approached by Taher A. Khan; this time to work at Ogilvy & Mather, Pakistan. From November 2007 to October 2008, she served there as Vice President, Public Relations. This is when Sidra also got a chance to train and work at the Ogilvy Hong Kong and Singapore offices.

Now Sidra works freelance as a consultant and a media anchorperson. She has recently returned from an official visit to the US. She had been invited for the 16-part drama series, ‘Khuda Zameen Sey Gaya Nahin.’

“We were invited by the Ambassador of Pakistan to the US, Mr. Hussain Haqqani. He put together a media show at the Embassy of Pakistan inviting the most prestigious media representatives from CNN, BBC, PBS and others.

“This media show was related to the launch of ‘Khuda Zameen Sey Gaya Nahin,’ in the US on PTV Global with subtitles. The story is based on operation Rah-e-Nijaat and how the people of Pakistan are fighting against extremism.

“We received an incredible response in Washington. People there were moved by the stories, the music and the characters.”

Sidra has started hosting a new show called ‘Crossroads with Sidra Iqbal’, on PTV News. It covers socio-political subjects. In the show, Sidra addresses the civil society about anything major that is happening. She aims to bring viewers at a juncture where they have to determine the way forward.

Speaking in general about her achievements so far, Sidra says, “I have always been a dreamer. Television, communication in general and corporate communications are subjects of passion for me. My philosophy in life is to keep growing and keep learning.

“I wasn’t always sure about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. But God has always been kind and given me so many opportunities. I try my best to take advantage of them. It doesn’t matter whether the opportunity is small or big.

“The work I do has to be exclusive. I give it my heart and soul because my name is attached. I firmly believe that whatever I have achieved is all because of my mother’s appreciation. Without her support, I wouldn’t have been even one percent of what I am today.”

– By Ayesha Hoda

The good and the just

Published in SouthAsia (May 2009)

A prolific writer, brilliant intellectual and powerful activist, Dr. Eqbal Ahmad was admired by a large number of revolutionaries, journalists, activist leaders, students and policymakers around the world, writes Ayesha Hoda

“Artists and intellectuals are in the business of working with their minds. What distinguishes humans from animals is the manner in which people use the mind. And what distinguishes various levels of civilization – their literary and artistic achievement, economic prosperity, and moral outlook – is the extent and manner in which the resources of the mind are put to use. This is a profoundly complex subject. There are myriad aspects to it. I shall discuss only one which I deem important. It has to do with the notion, by no means uncontested, that it is the intellectual’s special responsibility to affirm the good and just and resist the bad and unjust,” opined Eqbal Ahmad on intellectuals’ role in society, in one of his articles for Daily Dawn.

Ahmad was a Pakistani writer, journalist and anti-war activist. Born in a village in Bihar in the early 1930s, Ahmad had witnessed violence at an early age. His father was murdered over a land dispute as a young Ahmad lay beside him. He therefore stood for justice and putting an end to violence throughout his life. He was instinctively attracted to liberation movements and to causes of the oppressed.

Edward Said, in his tribute to this great intellectual, after Eqbal Ahmad’s sudden death on May 11, 1999, wrote, “No one more than Eqbal Ahmad captured and understood the human suffering and distorted vision that produced the reckless violence of people or movements who, in his memorable phrase, were radical but wrong. Whether it was the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or India and Pakistan, he was a force paradoxically for a just struggle but also for just reconciliation…He was that rare thing, an intellectual unintimidated by power or authority, a sophisticated man who remained simply true to his ideals and his insight till his last breath.”

Eqbal Ahmad and his elder brothers migrated to Pakistan in 1947. He graduated in economics from Forman Christian College in Lahore, in 1951. After a brief stint as an army officer, Ahmad went to Occidental College in California as a Rotary Fellow in American History in 1957. He also studied political science and Middle Eastern history at Princeton, earning his PhD from there.

For a few years, Ahmad worked in North Africa, mainly in Algeria, where he joined the National Liberation Front and worked with Frantz Fanon during the revolt against the French. He was a member of the Algerian delegation to peace talks at Evian.

On his return to the United States, Ahmad taught at the University of Illinois in Chicago and then at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He came to be known as “one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia.”

In 1971, he was indicted along with six anti-war Catholic priests and pacifists, on charges of conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger as a protest against US involvement in Vietnam. After fifty-nine hours of deliberations, the jury dismissed the case.

Ahmad was also strongly critical of the Middle East strategy of the United States as well as of nationalism and religious fanaticism in countries like Pakistan. In 1967, he addressed a group of students at Cornell about the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states. In his speech he argued that the conflict was more complicated than the media portrayals. However, this point of view was not popular and Ahmad became an outcast from mainstream academia.

Ahmad left Cornell and did some freelance work. For about a decade, he was Senior Fellow at the Institution for Policy Studies. He also founded and served as the first director of its overseas affiliate, the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam for two years.

In 1982, he joined the faculty at Hampshire College, in Amherst Massachusetts, where he taught world politics and political science till 1997. His wisdom and insights inspired two generations of students.

He was also an editor of the journal Race and Class, contributing editor of Middle East Report and L’Economiste du Tiers Monde, co-founder of Pakistan Forum, and an editorial board member of Arab Studies Quarterly.

Courtesy: Khaldunia.edu.pk

In the early 1990s, Ahmad was granted land in Pakistan by Late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government for his dream project. This was to build an independent, alternative and world-class liberal arts university, named Khaldunia after the 14th century Islamic scholar and historian, Ibn Khaldun. He was especially inspired by Muqaddimah, one of Ibn Khuldun’s great works.

Unfortunately his dream could not be realized although a respectable school named Khaldunia High School was established in Islamabad. Ahmad settled permanently in Pakistan in 1997, where he wrote weekly columns for Daily Dawn.

Eqbal Ahmad also became the founding Chancellor of the Textile Institute of Pakistan (TIP). As many of the ideals proposed by Eqbal Ahmad are considered the driving spirit of TIP, the institute organizes a series of lectures on Eqbal Ahmad Memorial Day and also presents the much coveted Eqbal Ahmad Award to the best graduate.

Poetry was also one of Ahmad’s passions. His interest in progressive Islamic traditions made him particularly fond of Ghalib and Faiz. He would recite their poetry and translate it for those around him.

Ahmad believed that religion and worldly affairs should be separated and that forced change “robbed the people of their soul, and that a backlash would come.”  He wrote extensively on the relationship between the West and the post-colonial states of Africa and Asia.

As he was always concerned about the welfare of people, he was completely opposed to war and violence, whether by nation states or by ideological, nationalist or fundamentalist movements. He was an expert at critical analysis which made him a valued counsellor, as well as a critic, of leaders and intellectuals in the Middle East, Pakistan, etc. His works and interviews have been compiled in several books i.e. Terrorism: Theirs and Ours, The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad and Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire.

His articles and essays also appeared in the New York Times, The Nation and other major newspapers and journals throughout the world. He believed that people should not blindly trust the way mass media portrayed issues. They should read and question. In an interview with David Barsamian, he stated, “For God’s sake, let us not be only consumers of information. Each person knows some truth – and I really think that almost anyone who is listening to you and to me right now has some knowledge, some truth, some understanding of the world, that is different from that of the dominant media institutions. The moment you find that your truth clashes with what is being peddled as their truth, intervene.”

Eqbal Ahmad truly had the courage to stand up for what he believed in even if his ideas were not appreciated by a great majority. He was always ready to answer questions and respected opinions which were different from his own. He worked endlessly to broaden the horizons of knowledge. His struggle for resistance against imperialism in different parts of the world and other services are an example set by very few Pakistanis till date.

A Partial Tale

Published on September 14, 2008 in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn)

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

Original Link

With rising interest (post 9/11) in Islam and what is termed as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, several books have been written on the religion and current events revolving around it.What is Islam in its revised edition of the book (first written in 1990), also falls into a similar category and addresses some relevant religious/political issues. However, its primary focus is on imparting knowledge about the religion’s beliefs, history, laws or Shariah, sects and so on.

‘An Introduction to the Muslim World’ would perhaps have been a more appropriate title for this book by Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale. Horrie is an award-winning former staff reporter, editor and author or co-author of around 10 books. Chippindale has written Mink and Laptop of the Gods.

The book discusses in-depth the Muslim world and the shape it has taken in the present century, rather than explaining what Islam is, as one would expect. The front cover states that the tome is a comprehensive introduction to Islam. However, this is not the first book you would recommend to someone to introduce them to the religion. Understanding of the religion and its philosophy is largely missing from the book.

The concise and simple style of writing is a positive aspect which makes it easy to grasp the details. What is also praiseworthy is that the book has been written in an unemotional manner; it is more of a factual account of what happened in Islamic history and what the basic principles of the religion are. However, at several places there are factual errors. This is disappointing, especially since the book has been rewritten and mistakes could have been noted and corrected in the revised edition.

The chapters have been divided into four categories: Faith, Islamic history, Islamic sects and The Muslim world. The section on faith comprises of brief explanations of the pillars of Islam, articles of faith, Islamic law, the Islamic calendar, universality of the religion and the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The section on Islamic history provides an overview of the early Islamic Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and there is also a chapter on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with discussions on The Wahabbi Revolt, The Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Revolution and so on. A chapter called ‘A Clash of Civilisations?’ has been included in this section, which is basically a critical review of Samuel P. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. The authors’ personal viewpoint on the clash between Islam and the West is not really clear except that they think Huntington’s views are paranoid and extremist. A chronology of important events of Muslim history has been included and can be useful for quick reference.

The third section on Islamic sects discusses the various factions of the religion in some detail, right from the four schools of Sunni law to Mahdi’ist movements and the Black Muslim Movement in America. It recounts the differences between the Twelvers, the Seveners, the Assassins and other sub-groups within Shi’ite Islam. There is also a chapter on other Islamic groups such as the Sufis, the Ibadites, the Qadiriyah, etc. As a large number of people, including Muslims, are unaware of the various sub-sects that exist within Islam, the perusal of this section will prove to be enlightening.

The section on the Muslim world mentions some particulars of Muslim countries, their religious laws and brief political history. It does not mention countries with significant Muslim populations, where Islam is not the state religion (for instance India).The book is generally neutral. However, at some points, the authors seem to be rather biased and make statements without elaborating or providing substantial examples to validate their reasons for making them. For instance, they write:

‘The couple [the Prophet and his first wife Khadijah] had only one surviving child, a daughter called Fatima who in later life became a fanatical Muslim’. And referring to Islamabad, they call it the ‘new citadel of orthodoxy’.

Moreover, there are also several instances where the authors do not differentiate between what Islam actually teaches and what several Muslims might believe due to social, cultural, political and other influences. For example, they say that ‘Muslim women may take part in Hajj, subject to various restrictions. During it each must be accompanied by a male chaperon (mahram), who must be a man she is legally unable to marry – for example her father or brother’ and ‘Failure to carry out a fard obligation is both a sin and a crime punishable in Shariah courts.’

Topics such as Da’wah and Ijtehad are completely missing; they would have been relevant to current times. Overall, the book does not thoroughly cover all the aspects and may be read along with a number of other books on the subject in order to offer a better and more lucid perspective on Islamic history, culture and the faith itself.

——————————————————————————–

What is Islam?
By Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale
Virgin Books, UK
Available with Liberty Books, Karachi
ISBN 0-7535-1194-7
324pp. Rs695

A Climate Friendly Future?

Published in SouthAsia (July 2007)

Climate change or global warming is endangering the road to sustainable development in South Asia: a region that adds only a fraction to global emissions. Is it possible to pursue economic prosperity and address environmental concerns, simultaneously, inquires Ayesha Hoda

Global warming is often referred to as climate change as this signifies noticeable changing patterns in measurements such as temperature, precipitation, or wind , etc.; changes which last for decades or even longer periods.

The concept of global warming goes as far as 1824. It came to the forefront as a result of Joseph Fourier’s calculations, which led to the conclusion that without ‘atmosphere’, the Earth would be a much colder place.

The greenhouse effect is what makes this planet habitable for human beings, plants and animals; the atmosphere comprises certain gases, which confine heat like the glass panels of a greenhouse.

The factors responsible for bringing about such drastic alterations in the climate include natural factors (changes in the sun’s intensity or gradual changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun), natural processes within the climate system (e.g. variations in ocean circulation) and human activities.

In 1895, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, discovered that humans could enhance the greenhouse effect by making carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Anthropogenic degradation of the environment, which causes changes in the atmosphere’s composition, is brought about by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, desertification, urbanisation , etc.
Global warming is different from the Ice Ages and long periods of warmth experienced centuries ago. There have been rapid changes in the climate since the Industrial Revolution, causing perhaps some irreversible damages to the environment.

The earth’s temperature has been rising; the three warmest years have been witnessed in the past five years only. In recent times, we have been frequently witnessing several negative impacts of climate change.

These include increase in the average level of temperature, rise in the sea level, melting glaciers, disappearance of entire islands, increase in the number and types of tropical diseases, lengthening/shortening of growing seasons, extinction of some species of animals, many adverse effects on ecosystems, etc.

South Asian countries are more vulnerable to climate change. Economic losses in the region, due to environmental degradation, are estimated to be five or six percent of GDP. Food shortage is expected in South Asia, according to the predictions of a recent World Bank report. Bangladesh is expected to be hit by persistent typhoons in the future, which will make it inhabitable and cause massive immigration to countries like India, which have to cope with their own environmental crisis.

According to recent projections, land populated by 80 million people is at risk of flooding. Around 60% of this land is in the South Asian countries of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma, with the very existence of the Maldives Islands under threat.
Sir Nicholas Stern, former Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, commenting on the issue of climate change in South Asia, recently said:

“I think people understand the rising water stress, and how vulnerable they are to melting glaciers and snows from the Himalayas…Precipitation comes and it’s held there. That’s how you get water in the rivers. That effect will not be there if the glaciers and snow are not there. Which means you’ll get torrents during the wet season and dry rivers in the dry season. So you’ll get a combination of flood and drought.”

This reveals that, apart from other things, agricultural produce will be significantly affected. Several South Asian countries like India and Pakistan are largely agrarian economies and farm produce represents a large part of their national output. Even short run fluctuations in the climate can have drastic effects on productivity. Crop yield may fall by as much as thirty percent, around the middle of the century. Average crop yield is estimated to drop down to 50% in Pakistan.

Decrease in yield may be attributed to lack of access to an adequate amount of water, a shorter growth period and vernalization. Also, the countries will have to deal with flooding in some areas and drought in others, simultaneously.

Looking at the options open for defence, there are just two approaches that can be taken to combat global warming. These are mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation refers to diminishing the extent of global warming whereas adaptation refers to lessening the impact.

Adaptation methods include development of stronger defences from flood (storm drainage systems), water management systems (that can handle water extraction plus irrigation efficiently) and changing patterns of land use (avoiding vulnerable areas for housing). There is a need to develop crop varieties with greater drought tolerance.

For mitigation of global warming, governments need to plan and shift from their present energy policy and modes of investment planning. However, since South Asian nations are still developing, they cannot reduce emissions much because of industrial development.
Individual choices can also affect the global warming scenario. Methods for mitigation for individuals and businesses include support to renewable energy resources, reduction of energy use per person, carbon capture and storage and birth control to lessen demand for resources.
However, to bring about substantial change in global warming, global effort is a prerequisite, since South Asia is not even the biggest contributor to increasing climate risks.

To address this issue, the US government has established a policy to slow the growth of emissions, strengthen science and technology and enhance international co-operation.

However, despite being the largest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States has refused to abide by the Kyoto Protocol. This is the most significant international agreement on combating climate change and came into force on 16 February 2005. It encompasses 160 countries and controls 55% of greenhouse gas emissions.

The US has rejected it since there are no emission targets for Asian countries; despite the fact that an average Indian produces only a 10th of the greenhouse gas emissions of Europeans and a 20th of the average American.

The Kyoto Protocol is an important step taken, but mitigation efforts, as compared to daily threats posed by climate change, have been modest on a global scale. So unless countries like the US, Australia and Kazakhstan co-operate, perhaps not much can be achieved.

Moreover, for technology, research and resources, the South Asian countries need the help and aid of the developed nations. Only then is the development and application of renewable technologies throughout the region (which range from large-scale hydro projects with proper environmental protection and small-scale renewables with social safeguards), possible.

It may be concluded that there is no question now of ignoring this environmental crisis, in pursuance of wealth. Economic prosperity now needs to take into account the depletion of natural resources and the negative effects of industrialisation, on the environment. However, the responsibility does not lie with South Asia only.

To counter the dramatic impacts of global warming, the only viable option seems to be for all countries to work together and make a difference, by adopting the various measures mentioned above.

In the words of Former President World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz:

“We have an opportunity today, to think outside the box and find new ways, practical solutions, to promote the generation and diffusion of low carbon technologies and the integration of climate concerns in development strategies. Let’s work together for a climate friendly future.”

A New World

Published in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn) on August 3, 2008

Original Link

Billions of Entrepreneurs
By Tarun Khanna
Penguin Books, India
ISBN 0-67-008148-5
353pp. Indian Rs595

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

‘Far better to be wise and informed about changes the world over than to be the ‘fool…who tries to hustle the East’.

Is the theory of the American Empire still relevant? Or are we heading elsewhere for economic and cultural gains? Is it time to discover the new destinations the world has chosen?

Overlooking China and India is impossible, rather a flawed stance if taken by any country, as the spotlight for billions is shifting from New York, London and western capitalism. China and India are now in focus as two of the world’s fastest growing economies, with populations having reached a cumulative figure of 2.4 billion.

How these countries have metamorphosed into emerging markets and how they will reshape the global economy (and in turn politics and society) in the near future, are subjects of great interest today. Therefore, generally speaking, it is about time that the West (America in particular) seeks a broader view of the East and discovers that the two great civilisations of India and China mean more than lo mein and chicken curry, Jhumpa Lahri and Yu Hua, Bollywood and Bruce Lee, Taj Mahal and Great Wall, as Tarun Khanna points out in his vividly written book.

Khanna has a PhD in business economics from Harvard University and is presently Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School. He also works with multinationals, indigenous companies and investors in emerging markets worldwide. His book reflects the wide range of experiences he has had and he provides readers with numerous examples of cultural stereotypes (‘the vigorous and smiling Chinese or the lassitude and repression of the Indians’), as well as perspectives of people from China and India or those who have been associated with the same.

His aim is to do away with the vague and skewed images that people relate to these two Asian giants and emphasise the need to study about China and India and establish fruitful, mutually beneficial links with both.

With a refreshing sense of neutrality and a smooth flow that defines his style of writing, Khanna also draws links between China and India. By citing examples from ancient and modern history, he illustrates how elements of each country’s distinct culture are entwined in the roots of the other (such as in the chapter titled ‘Monks and Merchants: The Indianisation of China’). He makes apt comparisons between their strengths and weaknesses (such as in ‘Why China Can Build Cities Overnight and India Cannot’, ‘Bias & Noise’ etc.) and accurately states that ‘the countries are inverted mirror images of each other.’

With Sino-Indian hostilities finally diminishing after four long decades, it is imperative that not only the world should understand the Indian and Chinese markets but that these two countries should also be keenly familiar with each other’s work practices and laws, socio-political culture, corporate ideology and organisational philosophies.

China can learn how to better manage its equity markets from India, whereas India can learn to appreciate and profit from its diaspora in different countries — the way China has been doing with the non-resident Chinese. Through the analyses presented here, it is clear that economic interchange will lead both nations to new avenues and brighter horizons: ‘Distance no longer hampers scholarly, intellectual, and commercial cooperation.

The first direct flight from Beijing to Delhi began in March 2002, and direct flights are being planned from secondary cities in China to secondary cities in India. The future looks brighter already.’

This book can serve as an introduction for those who are still unaware of the immense potential of making money in China and India. It gives a fair idea of how many adaptations foreign companies, entrepreneurs or exporters may have to make with respect to indigenous ways of doing business, government regulations, political climate and so on, as happened in the case of the giant company Microsoft, which was asked to ‘study Chinese culture to appreciate how to deal with the Chinese.’

It is also necessary to realise that if any company wants to build a long-term position in either country, then it has to pay specific attention to local welfare and broadening the scope of corporate responsibility to meet local needs.

Khanna comes across as a natural storyteller, and his personal experiences and observations make the book even more engrossing by bringing it closer to reality.

He has meticulously sourced the book and there are chapters on topics as seemingly distinct (yet linked) as Buddhism, outsourcing, General Electric’s corporate bridges, freedom of media, diaspora management, medical tourism and so on, sprinkled generously with several seminal ideas (China’s hard power versus India’s soft power, etc.), which can be subjects of further discussion.

Diversity resonates throughout the book, as a symbol of the diversity that is a distinguishing feature of both India and China. An atypical treatment of the subject-matter makes Billions of Entrepreneurs not only thought-provoking and informative but also a pleasure to read.