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Reviews Uncategorized

Learning to Love my Kindle Fire

When it concerns serious reading, I am pretty old fashioned. I love the feel and smell of a book and enjoy annotating in the margins. Because of my training as a literary scholar, I cannot read a book without highlighting and commenting on the text. Because of these traditional reading habits, I never seriously considered reading on Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone.

A few years back, however, I started traveling a lot for my work. And since my travel was mostly international and involved summer stays in Pakistan, and as I could not carry many of my books, I decided to give Kindle Books a try.

I realized that while I may not be able to enjoy reading serious scholarly books on my kindle, I could give fiction, especially popular fiction, a try. So, at first I started using the Kindle app on my phone. I love fantasy and science fiction, so my first few Kindle purchases included a couple of books by Robert Jordan and then Ursula Ke Le Guin’s Earth Sea novels. needless to say, I enjoyed having access to these books while traveling.

Pretty soon, I realized that I could enjoy this more if I had a larger tablet. So, after a little bit of research I decided on a Kindle Fire. It was the perfect choice for me, especially since I only needed it for reading and not for any other fancy stuff, even though I have occasionally watched movies on it.

The tablet cost me less than $30 because Amazon had some promotion going on, but even now a later version of Kindle Fire is still available for less than $50. 00. My Fire now has more than a hundred books and I have even added a lot of PDF articles and documents that I can access even when I am away from my office library.

Now that I have also learned  to use the digital annotating tools and know that I can actually look up words while reading from within the tablet/ app reading is no longer just for pleasure but also an educational experience. In fact, I now also have quite a few free downloads of political and philosophy books, through several websites and apps that allow free downloads, and and am often switching between a work of fiction and a book on philosophy or politics!

On the whole, I am happy to share that I have learned to love reading on Kindle and while digital books will never really replace the material paper books for me, I will Always be carrying a small digital library on my Kindle Fire.

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Reviews Uncategorized

My Knitting Experience

A few months ago, I decided to start knitting again. I had previously knitted a scarf or two and had found the experience of actually creating a material “thing” exciting and deeply satisfying. My previous foray into knitting, however, was part of a different world: World of no Youtube tutorials or other helpful websites!

This time, though, I was able to research various patterns using helpful websites, like Ravelry, and then when I chose a pattern I was able to look up the basics, and even complicated things, on youtube.

I decided to knit a scarf for my wife using the two-colored Brioche stitch: This knitting stitch is all the rage these days! Of course, I immediately watched a few videos on Youtube and learned that for this pattern I would need double point knitting needles. So, of course, like everyone else these days, I looked up the cheapest available Knitting Needle Set and found it on Amazon. I ended up ordering a set of 75 double point Bamboo needles.

Now these bamboo needles might not be the best, but they offer really great value for a beginner. So, I have used a couple of different sizes for different projects, and they have worked fine. Since they are wood, the chances of accidentally slipping a stitch are much lower than using metal needles. I would certainly recommend these for beginners. Of course, if you are an experienced knitter then the best wood needles, in my opinion, are from Knit Picks. I bought a pair of no. 7 needles from our wonderful local Yarn Store, but those are meant for my long-term collection of knitting tools. For now, I must admit, I am really pleased with my cheap but functional bamboo knitting needles:)

Here are some pictures of my finished projects:

 

 

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Announcements

Coming Soon, My New Book

Just wanted to share that my book on ISIS will be published this month. Here is the description provided by the publisher:

Relying on a thorough understanding of the role of ideology, discourse, and framing, this volume discusses ISIS as an Islamist ideological organization, and examines its philosophical scaffolding within the material conditions produced by neoliberal capital. As Raja asserts, it is this nexus of specifically retrieved Islamic history and the current global economic system that creates the kind of social identity ideally suited for ISIS. The combination of the historical narratives and the contemporary means of communication enables ISIS to frame and spread its message, recruit its adherents, and replicate itself.

While many scholarly and journalistic works on ISIS provide a wealth of information, not many elaborate on the terms that are often invoked in these writings. For example, scholars often use the term “Salafi-Jihadi” but they do not provide a comprehensive explanation of such concept within the same text. This book not only provides an explanation of the instructive terms used to explain the ISIS phenomenon, but also asserts that only one school of thought in Islam [The Sunni Wahabis] is likely to be the ideal target for ISIS recruitment. This claim, of course, does not rely on an essentialized pathology of Wahabi Sunnis, but provides an explanation of the Wahabi Islam as a proverbial “slippery slope”, as an absolutely necessary first step for an individual’s transformation into an ISIS fighter.

Written in a clear and direct style, this volume provides scholars and lay readers alike with a deeper understanding of ISIS and its strategies of recruitment and self-sustenance.

 

While the book is a bit expensive for individual buyers, I would be grateful if you could recommend it to your institutional libraries.

 

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Editorials

A Great Milestone for Pakistan: Second Successive Elected Government Ends its Term

June first was a historic day for Pakistan: as the caretaker prime minister took his oath of office, Pakistan, for the first time in its history, completed the full term of its second elected government. The skeptics would have us believe that it is no big deal, and that democracy has not solved many of our problems. All of these objections are valid but also rely on a faulty narrative, a narrative that democracy by itself can, somehow, immediately transform a nation. Democracy, however, is a messy and a long-term process and it takes years, decades sometimes, for things to change, but electing our representatives every five years through a fair election is the absolute first step toward greater change.

Yes, this government probably made a lot of mistakes, but they have had quite a few accomplishments as well and we, regardless of our party affiliations, should bear that in mind. As the system develops and becomes more transparent and responsive to people’s needs, it would continue to prefect itself.

Democracy, however, needs a responsible, aware, and critically conscious citizenry. I am not one of those who believe that only a college degree can make us into critically aware citizens; I think people can always be aware of their material conditions and then ask the government to remedy the ills around them. But I do believe that critically aware education can play an active role in enabling us to become more informed, tolerant,and responsible citizens of a democracy.

Democracy by itself is not a panacea for expedited development; it does not solve all our problems simply by being there. Democracy is first and foremost a process and it also creates, over the long-term, a system of government that MUST respond to the will of its constituents. It is this accountability in front of the people that makes democracy the best possible human-made system. Yes, sometimes the will of the majority can take us to places we do not want to go, but if the minority voices are heard and if the press does its job, or is allowed to do its job, of always informing the public and holding the powerful accountable, then a democratic system has a higher chance of perfecting itself in serving the people.

There are those in our society who believe that they are the only one’s who know the best interests of the people and the nation. Most of the times these privileged and powerful people have lived far removed from the every day exigencies of life; their needs are fulfilled, often at the cost of the future of our children. But from their safe, cozy and privileged existence, they deem that their opinions, somehow, should have more weight. Maybe, some of their claims are true, but to think that a few privileged individuals who have neither seen any want int their lives nor have had to struggle for existence can somehow KNOW the dreams and aspirations of the people is a dangerous kind of hubris.

There are also politicians who see being elected as an end in itself. For them, taking a public office means that they get the right and power to plunder the nation, build private wealth, and use their power to oppress people. This is the most dangerous group, for their actions are often invoked to “prove” that democracy and electoral politics is inherently corrupt and hence not suitable for Pakistan.

There are also those who consider  themselves the custodians of faith: they want us to believe that only their version of truth is worthy of our reverence and all others are either suspect or fit for elimination. sadly, these traders of faith also pit us against each other to a point that we come to hate others even when we do not have any personal interaction with them or even know them. This is another form of politics of hate and exclusivism.

And of course, there are also those who are actively engaged in destroying our national infrastructure and take pride in killing civilians and solders, all in the name of God.

These are some of the internal dangers that we face as a nation and as a result fascist thought and practices offer themselves as the ultimate solution to our problems. Against the material and ideological challenges to Pakistan, democracy, sometimes, comes across as a s slow, corrupt, and ineffective system. But we must never acceded to any other alternatives, especially the ones that silence the people, rely on hate, or ascribe our destinies to a coterie of unelected “leaders” who do  not have the power of popular vote behind them. We must continue to struggle for the creation of an open, fair, and transparent system of democratic government with the hope that an open system is more likely to become humane, representative, and accountable to the people. We all also must live responsible, compassionate, and informed lives. And, despite the myriad of our problems, we must remember that in the end we are all Pakistanis and, regardless of our differences, our destinies are intertwined with each other and with the future of Pakistan.

This government has concluded its term. Yes, there was corruption and a lot of those associated with power have done questionable things, but, to be fair, the government also tried to address people’s problems and did formulate policies to make people’s lives better. And all of this was done in the public eye with open debate in the national assembly: that is democracy! When our elected leaders make their decisions under the scrutiny of the press and with the full knowledge of their people, there are no secret deals possible.

So, while one government, imperfect as it may have been, has successfully concluded its term, let us prepare ourselves for the next one, and the one after that, all elected by the popular vote and held accountable by the people!

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Commentaries

Library Systems and Labs for Tier 1 Universities

Introduction:
While the HEC Vision 2025 document does mention the need for libraries and labs for research institutions, it seems prudent to recognize the integral connection of libraries and labs to the long-term mission of innovative research. This brief document offers a few insights, gleaned from my experience of research universities in the US, about library systems and labs that could be useful for the future planning of HEC
Libraries
In the US university rankings, the library holdings (print and digital) along with the availability of trained staff is crucial to maintaining Tier 1 status. Most research Universities have one major main library and several other subject-related libraries. My campus, for example, has one main library and five other subject-related libraries.
Research Librarians:
A research university must have highly trained research librarians. At UNT, for example, each department has a liaison research librarian. During our research, if we need information on any materials not held in our library, we send a query to our Liaison librarian, and she not only finds the sources for us but also procures them from other libraries.
The research librarians also train our students in how to use the library resources, and also help each department develop the collection according to the needs of the department.
Inter-Library Loans:
The inter-library loan system allows our library to request books throughout the United States. In this way, even if our library does not have a book/ paper they can acquire it from us at any time. The online library catalog allows us to request a book through the loan system simply by logging in and requesting the item.
HEC could encourage this initiative at regional level and maybe one such program could be piloted first to see how it materializes.
Libraries of Record;
Quite a few Tier 1 libraries also act as libraries of record either for state government documents or for the local government documents. UNT, for example, is the library of record for the state of Texas. All public state documents and proceedings are therefore housed and archived in our library and becomes a resource for local, national, and international researches interested in Texas history, culture, or politics. HEC could also test this practice to see if it would be viable at national level.
Special Collections;
All research libraries also have a special collections section. These could vary from collection of rare books [Like the collection of Islamia College University Library] or archives of authors, scientists, leaders, and other local or national figures/ projects. The special collections can provide a university the opportunity to develop a niche research resource that draws a lot researchers if they are writing about the topic related to the special collection holdings.

Research Labs
There are usually two kinds of labs in tier 1 research university. General purpose labs that the students use during their education and the research labs of science professors who are active researchers. Generally, when a tenure track professor is hired at a research University he/ she is provided his/her own lab so that they can develop their r research and also train their respective graduate students in their lab. Only those hired as teaching professors only have no labs of their own. This could be enormously expensive, but HEC could try it on a limited scale and then, depend on the finding available, extend this practice to all major universities. Of course, this could also be done in research clusters, and I know that it is already being done at some major universities.

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Commentaries

Brief Guidelines for Applying to US Universities for Doctoral Studies and Post-Doc Research

Introduction:

This draft document elaborates the general application process to US research universities. For a more detailed understanding of the process, the candidates should research the application criteria on the particular University websites. These draft guidelines are prepared voluntarily to aid the aspirational guidelines of Higher Education Commission as contained in the HEC Vision 25, Section D and are primarily focused on the Pakistani scholars interested in applying to US PhD programs or Postdoc research projects.

Applications to Doctoral Programs:

General:

Most US universities require certain general qualifications that apply to all Doctoral candidates regardless of their discipline of study. Please bear the following in mind before applying:

  • Most US universities only consider PhD application for the fall admissions (Starting in August or September).
  • The application deadlines are usually in December or January: For example, if you are applying for admission for Fall 2019, your application deadline could be either Dec 31, 2018 or January 31, 2019.
  • US universities very rarely admit doctoral students in the Spring semester.
  • The reason for this schedule is connected to funding. The Universities decide their graduate funding once a year, and thus all funding is made available for the fall semester as the beginning semester of the academic year.
  • Admission to a good US university, therefore, is almost a one year process.

Basic Requirements:

The admission at all universities is a three-tier process and you will be dealing with three entities on any US university campus: The Office of International Studies; The office of Graduate Studies/ Admissions, and the College or department to which you are applying.

First Stage (Required by the International Office/ Graduate Admissions Office to Move your application to the College/ Department

  • An Official TOEFL score (Unless you have masters from an English-Speaking Country (Pakistan does not qualify for this).
  • Transcripts of all your previous work
  • A GRE/ GMAT Score depending on your area of study.
  • A statement of Purpose (Usually up to 700 words)

Second Stage: College/ Departmental Requirements

  • Three letters of recommendation
  • A Writing/ Research sample

Final Stage: (After Admission has been granted)

The Office of International Studies will ask you to provide proof of Payment ability. Usually a bank statement or a letter stating that you have a scholarship. [Note: Ability to pay is not considered in making a decision about your admission; that is why you are asked for finances only after you have been admitted]

Issuance of I-20 Student Visa Form.

Transition to US:

Here are some of the important steps:

  • Accommodation: if the institution provides graduate housing, immediately apply for it through their online request forms.
  • If you cannot get University accommodation, contact the International Office to suggest any off- campus accommodation. Reach out to Pakistani/ South Asian Student associations on campus to see if they can help you find a place to live.
  • Arrange with the International office to see if they will arrange picking you up at the airport; most universities will make this arrangement.
  • Get in touch with the Grad advisor in your future program to seek guidance about registering for classes etc.
  • Bring all your credentials in original to the US.

Post-Doc Applications:

The US universities do not charge a bench fee for post-docs. The post-doc students come under the J1 visa program. In order to get the visa, you may follow the following steps:

  • Contact a specific faculty member who works in the area of your interest.
  • Send them a query email, clearly stating your research interests and ask if they would be willing to work with you as a mentor.
  • If they agree, then send them your research proposal.
  • It takes only a few days for a faculty member to fill the necessary forms and refer you to the Office of International Studies.
  • The office of International Studies will gather more of your information including your ability to bear the cost of your stay [usually calculated based on cost of living statistics of the state]
  • After you have proved the ability to sustain your stay, they will issue you a J-1 visa.
  • As a J-1 scholar, you can also work on campus for up to 30 hours per week.
  • Your spouse can also accompany you on a J-2 visa if you can prove your ability to pay the cost of his or her stay.
  • You will also need the proof a health insurance plan that meets the J1 Visa stipulations.

Useful Links:


Categories
Editorials

US-Pakistan Knowledge Program: How to Negotiate with US Universities

Introduction:
These observations are based in my personal experience at three US research universities and including also the experience of negotiating such a deal, at smaller level, with the University of North Texas. I offer these insights to the HEC initiative as described on Pages 37-39 of the HEC Vision 2025 Document.

Who to Contact:
In all cases, instead of initiating contact at the Chancellor level, it is more prudent to talk directly with the university administration, as the university Presidents are pretty autonomous in such cases.

Selecting the Universities:
We should target all major Research 1 universities, but especially those which are located in places with low cost of living. We could also research and target various universities based on their most highly ranked programs.
How to Contact:
A brief note should be developed that explains the Pakistani initiative to send 10000 PhD scholars to various US universities.
A designated person should first reach out to the office of the provost or the office of the president of the University and send a query email about whether or not they will be interested in discussing the project.
If they show interest, then HEC should send a team of experts to start the negotiating process. The team should have all the information and a really good presentation. Please make sure to invite the people from the department that you are interested in.
If possible, involve a diasporic Pakistani academic in the process.
What to Negotiate:
That the partnership will offer a certain specific number of seats, for certain specific number of years to qualified Pakistani candidates.
Ask them to charge you only the In-state tuition. You have the numbers on your side, so they should be willing to work with you. Various states have different laws for offering in-state tuition. Note that International tuition rate is almost always double that of the in-state tuition.
If your candidates have teaching experience, the host university can very easily adjust them at in-state rate by employing them as Teaching Assistants/ Research Assistants.
In the state of Texas, if Pakistan contributes $1000.00 to a general fund at the host university, the host university can issue that to the students as “scholarship” thus legally qualifying them to pay in-state tuition.
Where possible, negotiate that the host university should provide the health insurance.
Conclusion:
All major US universities love diversity and are desperate for International graduate students. In any such negotiation, Pakistanis, therefore, have an edge over their US counterparts, as the latter are never using their resources at an optimal level and bringing in more graduate students looks good in their annual reporting.

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Commentaries Uncategorized

Why Does the Pakistan Army Deserve our Support

It seems that deriding Pakistan army and maligning its efforts has become a finely tuned mechanism within the Pakistani public sphere. It would, however, be prudent to keep certain truths in our minds when we reach hasty conclusions and then share such easily formed opinions on the ubiquitous social media outlets. I write this neither as a former army officer nor as an international scholar, but rather as a diasporic Pakistani who has never actively severed his symbolic and material links with Pakistan.

As I write these lines, the young officers and soldiers of Pakistan army are fighting and dying for Pakistan’s very survival and security on various fronts. I have no doubt that they have the necessary skills, the leadership, and the material support necessary to continue defending Pakistan against all threats. But armies are never only about equipment and technology alone: at the end of the day an armed force is a trained body of human beings who voluntarily offer their services and, when, needed their lives to defend their nation. No amount of money can induce anyone to sacrifice their life: one must believe in the nobility of one’s mission and its intrinsic value to offer one’s life for a cause larger than oneself. When I was deployed at Sia Chin, I did not give my best to the nation because I was being paid a hard area allowance; I gave my best because I believed in defending Pakistan and would have died in the process. I could have such faith because at that time when I introduced myself as an army officer, no matter what the scenario, people treated me with respect and honor. As a human being I knew deep down that the nation for whom I was willing to sacrifice my life accorded me honor and respect. In other words, the public opinion of my service had an inextricable link with my morale, my self-worth, and my commitment to lay down my life for my country!

In the early nineties, only a fraction of Pakistan army was deployed at Sia Chin: at this time over eighty percent of our troops are deployed in one internal struggle for Pakistan or another. Just visit any cantonment and you will see that most battalions only have their rear parties in the cantonment, for rest of them are fighting in one way or the other. The soldiers and young officers, according to my sources, hardly ever get the one and a half month annual, staggered, leaves that happen to be their legal right. Besides this, about seven thousand soldiers have died just in FATA and the number of seriously wounded is even larger than that. In such a scenario, the least we can do for our troops is to offer them the kind of moral support that is absolutely essential for their morale and eventually crucial to Pakistan’s survival.

I live in the United States, an established democracy with strong civil institutions. Even here, from leaders to the average people, no one ever unduly criticizes the armed forces or troops. In fact, if every day Americans run into a military person, they often say to them: “Thank you for your service.” If we just adopt such every-day rituals, it means a world to the soldiers who are fighting for the very survival of Pakistan.

I understand that some politicians and their supporters find it easy to scapegoat the army, but if their politics can only sustain itself by unduly maligning the very integrity of their national defense force, then there is certainly something wrong with such politics. Of course, the politicians are well within their rights to insist on the civilian control of the institutions, but that does not mean that they should force their will upon the internal functioning of armed forces or make it their mission to malign their own armed forces.

I am not naive and am aware of the past political adventures of the Army elite. I am, however, also aware that soldiers, officers, and the current leadership is more interested in keeping Pakistan safe and secure and impugning any other motives onto them is dangerous and self-defeating.

So, your soldiers are fighting and dying for you. It is only fair to lend them your love and support, for if Pakistan loses this fight against the forces of destruction, then no amount of electioneering or democratizing will save Pakistan!

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Announcements

Welcome to My Podcasts

This is just a welcome message to the future podcasts of Cross Cultural Conversations


Welcome to My Podcasts

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Announcements

Pakistaniaat: CFP for Special Issue on English Language Pakistani Literature

Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies

CFP for a special issue on English-Language Pakistani Literature

Co-editors: Dr. Cara Cilano, Professor, Department of English, Michigan State University & Dr. Aroosa Kanwal, Assistant Professor, Department of English, International Islamic University

This special issue of Pakistaniaat seeks to forge new critical insights into the now well-established field of English-language literature in Pakistan. The co-editors invite analyses and theorizations of moments, trends, oeuvres, and writerly or readerly generations that push beyond received interpretations of individual texts, the diasporic in relation to the nation, or, most fundamentally, the antagonistic position of English as a language in Pakistani political, cultural, and literary contexts.

Well-researched and argued contributions may address, for instance, how writing and reading in English amidst Pakistan’s multi-lingual cultures are metaphorical acts of translation. That is, how do literary works originally written in English negotiate Pakistan’s multi-lingual realities? How does English interconnect with regional literary traditions and practices? What influences circulate, including those from Urdu, Persian, and Sufi traditions, on English-language literature? How do questions of difference or connectedness—be they in terms of class, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.—get born across these multiple linguistic practices when viewed comparatively and constitutively? Understanding “translation” more broadly, how does Pakistani English-language literary production engage with histories, be they subcontinental, national, regional, or folk? To what archives does the literature contribute and from which does it draw? How do such literary texts re-cast what archives and historical knowledge are? What do we learn when we look at literary texts as themselves stretched across historical moments and geographical locations? What critical accumulations occur through interpretations, marketing, teaching, and other forms of reception? With a view to broader cultural dynamics, how does English-language Pakistani literature work to translate places, histories, injustices, triumphs, or inequities for its readers? In other words, in what ways does literary culture as exemplified in English-language Pakistani literature address/redress the materialities of our lives?

Please submit 6000-10000 word essays to both Drs. Kanwal (aroosa.kanwal@iiu.edu.pk) and Cilano (cilano@msu.edu) by May 1, 2018. All submissions should follow MLA formatting guidelines and should have not been published previously.