Categories
Announcements Commentaries

Publishing a Kindle Writing Guide

Recently, I wrote a series of blogs about academic publishing in humanities. These articles did not dwell much on the nitty gritty details of writing but on specific strategies of planning, writing, submitting and publishing a paper.

After I finished writing the four article series, I decided to also make it available on Kindle. I had never used the Amazon publishing platform before, so I was slightly apprehensive. The whole process, however, went really smoothly.

Since I already had a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account, all I had to do was to log in and create an entry for the new project.

After that, it was a matter of filling up the metadata, and uploading the word file. I used Amazon’s cover generator and used a freely provided stock picture.

KDP first requires you to prepare files for a Print on Demand (POD) book and they will transform your word file to appropriate size and format.

After you have uploaded and finished the POD book, you get the option to create a Kindle version.

I prepared both. While the POD is still being reviewed (Note: the print book had to be 24 pages or more) my kindle version is already alive!!

Overall, this has been a good experience in sharing my public writings with a wider audience.

Categories
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.

Categories
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
Commentaries Culture Politics

Auctoritas, Potestas, and the Talibanistic Imaginary (Part 1-6)*

(This is a provisional summary of what I have written on this topic so far)

In discussing the complex concept of the “State of Exception” Georgio Agamben traces the origin of current normative and central role of the State of Exception through a discussion of the two competing Roman concepts of Auctoritas and Potestas.

Auctoritas, in the sphere of private law, Agamben explains, “is the property of the auctor, that is, the person sui iuris (the pater familias) who intervenes . . . in order to confer legal validity on the act of a subject who cannot independently bring a legally valid act into being” (76).  The term, Agamben further suggests, “derives from the verb augeo: the auctor is is qui auget, the person who augments, increases, or perfects the act–or legal situation–of someone else” (76).

Having discussed the term itself, Agamben asks the following important questions: “But where does the ‘force’ of the auctor come from? And what is this power to augere? His answer provides the most important explanation of auctocritas as a signifier of a specific juridical power. He suggests that auctocritas has “nothing to do with representation” (77) nor is the “auctor’s act” “founded upon some sort of legal power vested in him to act as a representative” (77). This power to augere, Agamben suggests, “springs directly from his condition as pater” (77). Important also to note is that Agamben argues that “auctoritas is not sufficient in itself” (76), its very existence also depends on an “extraneous activity that it validates” (76). Thus the act of the auctor reaches fruition only when it, in concert with an other, completes a perfect act by validating the act itself. That is why Agamben goes on to define the perfect act as follows:

It is, then, as if for something to exist in law there must be a relationship between two elements (or two subjects): one endowed with auctoritas and one that takes the initiative in the act in the strict sense. If the two elements or two subjects coincide, then the act is perfect. However, if there is a gap or incongruity between them, the act must be completed with auctoritas in order to be valid. (76)

Thus the role of the auctor is to fill the gap between the two parties, or elements, by adding his legal weight in order to erase the inequality that might make the transaction imperfect.  The auctor, whose power is inherent to his person, thus erases the deficit in a contractual act simply by inserting his will into the act itself: like the father giving consent to marry or the teacher providing an answer. This discussion is still only pertinent to the function of auctoritas in the sphere of private law. The next part of Agamben’s discussion touches upon the role of auctoritas in public law. But before I discuss that it is important to dwell on potestas. Generally speaking, while auctocritas deals with the anomic aspects of the law, potestas deals with the laws normative functions and in Roman law both are supposed to function in a sort of dialogic embrace.

Generally speaking, while auctocritas deals with the anomic aspects of the law, potestas deals with the law’s normative functions and in Roman law both are supposed to function in a sort of dialogic embrace. Traditionally in the Roman sphere of public law, potestas was the legal power vested in the magistrates who exercised it within  the law. Imperium, military power, was the highest form of potestas. Thus, while auctoritas (the anomic aspect of the law) performed the private function of the law and was associated with all those who could claim the status of pater, potestas (the normative aspect of the law) was always related to the magistracy and could not be claimed by virtue of one’s social status. A healthy and dialogic tension between the two was necessary to maintain the social order.

Agamben further complicates the discussion of these two concepts by re-reading the interpretations of yet another Roman practice: Iustitium. Agamben explains: “The term iustitium. . . literally means ‘standstill’ or ‘suspension of the law’.” (41). In most modern assessments of the term, the term is interpreted as an act of public mourning, but Agamben explains the term against this much traversed terrain of explication. First, he explains the material circumstances within the Roman history when an iustitium was proclaimed:

Upon learning of a situation that endangered the Republic, the Senate would issue a senatus consultum ultimatum [final decree of the Senate] by which it called upon the counsels . . . and even, in extreme cases, all citizens, to take whatever measures they considered necessary for the salvation of the state. (41)

Agamben also suggests that such a decree was contingent upon a real situation that could qualify as tumultus: like an invasion or internal resurrection. So how does this practice, Agamben asks, come to be understood as public mourning? Here is what he writes about the usual readings of the term:

Indeed, with the end of the Republic, iustitium ceased to mean the suspension of law in order to cope with a tumult and the new meaning replaced the old one so perfectly that even the memory of this austere institution seems to have entirely vanished.  . . . But how did this term that was used in public law to designate the suspension of law in situations of the most extreme political necessity come to assume the more anodyne meaning of a funeral for a death in the family? (65)

While discussing several misreading and explanations of the concept as mourning, Agamben finally suggests a particular explanation of this transformation of meaning of the term from a concept related to tumult to a concept signifying a public mourning. Agamben explains this subtle meaning by discussing Augustus’s conflation of auctoritas and potestas into one person, the figure of Caesar Augustus.  By having combined the private function of auctoritas and by absorbing the public aspects of potestas unto himself, Augustus had become the very body of the law. As Augustus had made auctoritas public by ascribing to himself the role of the pater of the nation and had arrogated to himself the powers of the magistracy, in him then, the anomic and normative functions of the law are made to reside in one person and the state of exception becomes the law. His, death, therefore, is also the death of law, the death of the state of exception, as the law resides in him. Agamben describes this, while discussing Agustus’s death, as follows:

The correspondence between anomie and mourning becomes comprehensible only in the light of the correspondence between the death of the sovereign and the state of exception. The original nexus between tumultus and iustitium is still present, but the tumult now coincides with the death of the sovereign, while the suspension of the law is integrated into the funeral ceremony. (68)

In a way, then, Agamben explains, by appropriating all powers and by making exception the norm the sovereign becomes “living law”, “nomos empushkos” (69) and thus can assert himself to be above law (69). Thus, the reason isutitium is read as public mourning is because literally the death of the sovereign itself becomes a tumult as law has died.

For Agamben this conflation of the normative and anomic aspects of the law and the creation of a permanent state of exception is a dangerous combination, and he asserts:

But when they [auctoritas and potestas] tend to reside in a single person, when the state of exception, in which they are bound and blurred together, becomes the rule, then the juridico-political system transforms itself into a killing machine. (86)

With this discussion of the state of exception, auctoritas, and potestas, I will now move on to discuss the sort of juridico-political world created by what I call the Talibanistic imaginary.

First, a brief explanation of what I mean by Talibanistic imaginary. Talibanistic imaginary is a worldview constructed within modernity, is shaped by the material, cultural, and political conditions, and relies on a literalist, reductive, and exclusionary definition of tradition. A Talib, the subject of this particular imaginary, views modernity itself as a threat to the body and soul and attempts to alter modernity by attempting to overwrite it with a premodern explanation of the real.

Though I use the term Talib and Taliban, I do not use it in its reductive usage from the US media as a signifier specific for the Afghan/Pakistani Taliban movement. In my theorization, the term signifies the Talibanistic trends on both sides of the global division of labor. With this brief explanation of the term, I will now discuss the Talibanistic imaginary as it develops on two opposite ends of the global division of labor: Afghanistan/Pakistan and the United States.

The term Taliban entered the metropolitan vocabulary in the mid nineteen-eighties, and it is only apt to first dwell on this term itself with a reference to its place of origin, Afghanistan. Taliban as a linguistic unit is plural of “Talib,” which literally means a seeker or a student in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. The pluralization, Taliban, however, is in Pashto. Thus as a signifier, the term Taliban is overloaded with its semantic origins but also with the traces of the Pashtun culture and politics. The term Taliban used in the popular vocabulary specifically tends to signify the kind of politics and worldview practiced by the followers of the Taliban movement, but I intend to stretch its usage to cover a particular countermodern imaginary and praxis that defies any regional locus and explanation.

The Afghan Taliban movement, I suggest, is an apt example of the conflation of auctoritas and potestas under a perpetual iustitium, and I will now elaborate on this claim by dwelling a little on the rise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan in the mid nineteen-eighties. There is an important passage in Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban where the author touches upon the popular myths about the rise of Taliban, and that particular passage is the starting point of my argument. Rashid writes:

There is now an entire factory of myths and stories to explain how Omar mobilized a small group of Taliban against the rapacious Kandhar warlords. The most credible story, told repeatedly, is that in the spring of 1994 Singesar neighbours came to tell him that a commander had abducted two teenage girls, their heads had been shaved and they had been taken to a military camp and repeatedly raped. Omar enlisted some thirty Talibs . . . and attacked the base, freeing the girls and hanging the commander from the barrel of a tank. (Rashid 25)

This is the moment when Mullah Omar, a teacher and a pater to his students, is approached by the community simply because he possesses a form of auctoritas in the private sphere. His help is sought in the face of a permanent state of iustititum caused by the post-Soviet-Afghan war internal strife. His act to enter the political arena can also be read as his assumption of the regulatory responsibilities by instituting a state of exception in which auctoritas and potestas are conflated in one person, and, by extension in his followers. The purpose of their actions: to seek justice at a time when law is at a “stand still.”

The rise of the Taliban cannot just be attributed to the Qur’an and the Islamic texts, for after all these texts had been there for centuries without spawning something such as the Taliban. The rise of the Taliban is inherently connected to the material conditions and the perpetual state of tumult that existed in Afghanistan in the mid-eighties.

When the Taliban finally oust their opponents and capture Kabul, the final phase of the conflation of auctoritas and potestas is completed. The way in which Mullah Omar defines his official position is analogous to that of  Octavian declaring himself “Augustus.” Mullah Omar takes on the title of Ameer-ul-Mominin, the leader of the faithful. Traditionally, this title was designated for the early caliphs of Islam. By declaring himself the leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar can conflate his private role as an auctor with that of the “law-giver”, thus creating a perfect and perpetual state of exception in which his person becomes the law. This title also makes him into a supranational figure, for by declaring himself the leader of the faithful he becomes the leader of all those Muslims willing to join his cause regardless of their national or cultural origin.

But the situation is further aggravated also by a perpetual state of tumult in which each of his followers is given imperium to regulate life. This imperium is granted to them under the rules of behavior governed by the tradition of “Am’r bil ma’roof wa nahi anil munkar–to encourage the correct actions and to stop the wrong actions.” In the streets of Kabul, this guiding formula gives the Taliban foot soldiers the power to regulate and punish all actions that may not fit their particular definition of “right” and “wrong.” Thus, just when the law is at a stand still, a permanent state of exception is established in the shape of a power to regulate life through a popular imperium granted by the authority of the “Ameer” in whom the law has become embodied in one person. The result of this conflation of auctoritas and potestas, amidst a perpetual tumult, of course, is the creation of a “death world.”

It is no wonder, then, that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan is inextricably linked with a permanent state of iustitium as the country, for so many reasons, was and is in a perpetual tumult. Furthermore, since the Taliban had mobilized a purist past in order to cope with the present, their entire political philosophy is linked with this perpetual tumult of modernity that, in their view, threatens their world view. The result:  a system of law in which the state of exception is the norm. Thus, the anomic aspects of law are conflated with the normative functions of the law to create a stable but anomic legal order, an order in which even the foot-soldiers have, in some ways, an absolute imperium over their fellow citizens.

Furthermore, since the Talibanistic imaginay is connected to this permanent tumult, even in absence of a material danger to their rule, an ideological tumult–modernity, corrupting influences, deviations, must be constantly invoked to create a state of ideological siege in which the state of exception can no longer  be erased but becomes a permanent system of law. In fact, under such a scenario, maintaining a permanent state of tumult is a perfect strategy to continue the Taliban rule. The actions of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan these days are a perfect example of this strategy: they do not have a viable long-term plan but their immediate goal is to alter the ground realities in a way that both Pakistan and Afghanistan  either stay in or transition into a permanent tumult. And it is here that the policies grounded in the American Talibanistic imaginary come to play the most crucial role in, probably unintentionally, maintaining the material conditions ideally suited for the Taliban movement. [More later]

* (All citations are from Georgio Agamben’s State of Exception. Chicago, U of Chicago P, 2005).

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Commentaries

Women’s Rights in Islam, By Sayed Mumtaz Ali

Translated by Masood Ashraf Raja

Preface

In these few pages I have explained the crux of my thoughts about the rights of women, a subject upon which I have often thought and reflected. Although my thoughts have gone through slight changes over a period, my views on all- important aspects of this subject have neither weakened nor changed too drastically. In fact, I believe that these reflections have strengthened my resolve and bettered my character. I am hopeful that my expression of these thoughts and the attendant practice of these ideas would enhance the cultural development of our nation. And that is the reason I am daring to share my thoughts openly.

I am aware that my thoughts would be given various unsavory names: emulating English values will be one of the charges brought against me and my views. A hundred pens will write against me and numerous lips will criticize my attempt. But those true souls who find the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) better than their own family values will find some truth in my thoughts and will, I hope, attempt to live according to the example of the Prophet. And the barbs of the critics, I am sure, will not deter these true souls.

If my this humble attempt enables, in any way, the rights of one lone old woman to be upheld in Hindustan, I would consider it a worthwhile reward of my efforts.

The False Preference of Men Over Women

Men and women are both part of the human race and cannot, therefore, have any essential preference of one over the other. A few characteristics that privilege men over women are strictly related to the societal role played by men while using those [gender-specific] characteristics. Other than these existential differences, all other differences that fix a male essence and a female essence are just arbitrary and unreliable. These existential differences are always caused by the material conditions such as the differences in one’s regional abode, climate, difference of age, or cultural differences. I will prove that the gender differences that have been normative in our current culture, a difference that should have been based in natural division of labor, are highly accentuated and are based in myth, prejudice, and male ignorance. Thus, our current explanation of gender roles is harmful and based on uncivilized and prehistoric barbaric ideas.

The entire edifice of our culture is based on this false premise: Men are rulers, women the subjects, and that the women are created for men’s comfort.

From this it is construed that men have the same rights over women as they have on other things that they own and in such a relationship women can never be considered men’s equal. Now if men had considered this unclean principle only as a product of their male prejudice, I would have had no problem with it. But the tragedy is that men consider this claim to be rational, just, and divinely inspired. To refute these claims and to prove them wrong is the main purpose of this book.

I will conduct this discussion in five parts. In Part 1, I will refute the evidence used to prove privilege of men over women; Part 2 deals with the question of women’s education and Part 3 with Purdah. In part four I will discuss the rules of marriage, and in part 5 the cultural norms for marriage.

The Arguments Offered in Favor of Men

Following are some of the reasons offered by those who believe that men are better than women:

  1. God has granted more physical strength to men, therefore they are privileged in all those spheres that need physical prowess and mastery. From this it is construed that governance, as it depends on physical power, is a male prerogative.
  2. Men’s mental capacities, just like their physical strength, are also relatively stronger than those of women. That is why historically women have always thought to be less intelligent and their superstitious ways, shortsightedness, and infidelity are all rooted in their weak intellect.
  3. Just as kingship is the most important institution in the material world, the Prophethood is the greatest human role in the spiritual realm. God has always appointed men as prophets but never a woman.
  4. Theologically, one verse of the Qur’an (Al Nisa) is mobilized to claim that men are “rulers over women.”
  5. Another argument offered in favor of men is that God created Adam first and then Eve as his companion. Therefore, it a woman’s role is to be a comfort to man, to obey his rule, and to prefer his comfort over her own in order to be true to her divine purpose of creation.
  6. The Qur’an equates testimony by two women to that of one man and gives half of a male share of inheritance to women. Both these statements are also used to prove that men are superior to women.
  7. As God permits men to have four wives but does not grant the same tight to women, this also is used as an argument for the divinely inspired superiority of men over women.
  8. Another argument in favor of male superiority is that the Qur’an promises them female companions in the afterlife, while women are not promised male companions in heaven.

Besides these rational and Qur’anic arguments, there are also a few other irrational mythological reasons that are offered to prove male superiority [which Munshi Inyatullah mention in his book], but I do not consider worthy of consideration.

In a nutshell these are some of the reasons-you may call them intellectual or religious, that are used by many to render one half of human population as inferior to the other half. As a result the women are reduced to a condition of obedience to men that is even worse than slavery. These arguments have made it so that even the worse kind of sinful men can still consider themselves better than women.

I will now analyze these arguments to see whether they are based in any logical reasoning or are they just falsehoods mobilized by the proponents of the status quo in order to keep the male dominance intact.

Refutation of the Male Superiority Arguments

I will now analyze these arguments to see whether they are based in any logical reasoning or are they just falsehoods mobilized by the proponents of the status quo in order to keep the myth of male superiority intact. Anyone who selflessly and objectively analyzes the above cited arguments would reach the conclusion that these are just base argument without any basis in the shariah or in reason.

First Argument: Men are superior to women because of their higher physical strength. Their higher physical strength also grants men the right to govern.

The first argument offered in favor of men declares them superior to women because of higher physical prowess of men. This is a rather strange argument. I do not deny that men are usually physically stronger than women. But how can one construe from this argument that simply because men have more physical strength, they are, as humans, superior to women.

A division of physical labor corresponding to one’s physical strength is only natural. No one denies that men can perform more labor-intensive tasks. Men can labor freely: they can carve mountains, cut trees, and, if they so desire, chop off heads of other men. The question, however, is that how does this physical prowess make them superior to women? One can see the sad poverty of this argument, if one were to compare physical prowess of men not with that of women but with that of beasts of burden. Most beasts of burden are blessed with more physical strength than men. So if physical strength is the only criterion for one’s superiority over another, then why are not the laboring animals considered superior to men? Would it be logical to state that since a donkey can carry a heavier load than a man it is, therefore, superior to man? Naturally, we cannot make such a claim nor can we, thus, claim that a man is superior to a woman because he is stronger.

We must also question the very nature of this comparison of physical strengths between men and women. We know that men and women have the same animal essence. We do not designate them as “male human animal” and “female human animal.” The term human animal, in fact, designates both men and women. The term human is a combination of two faculties: animal+speech. Thus, it is the capacity of rational speech that makes humans better than other animals. The humans therefore have evolved beyond their animal nature, and if they have, then how come men are considered better evolved than women. And if the brute strength is a cause of superiority, doesn’t it amount to privileging the very animalistic part of human beings that they have left behind as humans?

We know that human beings are an evolved form of animals; they are humans because God imbued their animalistic spirit with an angelic essence. This new creation–a combination of animal and angel–He named human. Thus the comparison between men and women should not be based in their animalistic qualities but rather their angelic qualities. To prove man superior in animalistic attributes is, in fact, a denigration of his angelic qualities.

Secondly, if for a moment we do accept male superiority on the basis of physical strength alone, does it mean that men are essentially and naturally stronger or is this difference in their relative strengths based in existential material reasons? A realistic observation reveals that this difference in male and female physical strengths is not natural but is temporary and caused by environmental and cultural factors over thousands of years. This difference appears even in men depending on their regions of abode. Looking at men alone, why is it that the Afridis from Kabul are so physically strong and vital while the Baboos of Bengal are dark and weak? Why is it that we consider the Punjabi Sikhs as lions, but find the Bunyas effeminate and less manly? The causes of physical weakness of women are even older than the ones that have caused the Bunyas and baboos to be weak and are mostly environmental. Even if women live in different regions, their physical prowess is strongly connected to the civilizational aspects of their particular cultures. This civilizational difference becomes quite obvious if one were to compare the physical strength and vigor of the women of Ghazni and Hirat with the begums of Lucknow and Delhi. Obviously, the relative differences in their physical prowess are not based in their gender [in which case both these female groups would display the same degree of physical prowess] but in the culture in which they live. The relative physical weakness of women is, therefore, produce over a long period by keeping the women away from the kind of activities that would have made them physically stronger.

The second assumption of the first argument in favor of men is even more ridiculous. Governance and rule are never always a result of physical prowess. This rule of might is right might have applied in the earlier stages of human development when human being lived a savage and unorganized state. During this stage it might have been possible to assume that the strongest amongst men shall be the ruler. But as soon as a rudimentary social order was established, the rule of power and brute strength no longer remains the sole justification for individual rule. Thus, as the social systems develop, the ruler no longer governs through brute force but rather relies on the good will of his friends and allies. This rule [working through the collective hegemonic influence of ones allies] has remained a central tenet of governance in all ages. The mere fact that the ruler must work in concert with like-minded people presupposes that governance is not necessarily dependent upon brute strength f men. In fact, if alliances are important to rule, then, other than the normalized privileged position of men, there is no reason one could not imagine women being a part of such alliances and may even become rulers themselves. Info fact, in every culture women have been known to become rulers at one point or other and in most cases have proven to be great and respected rulers. In India the rule of Razia Sultana, though brief, was a relatively more peaceful and prosperous rule. Similarly, Jahangir’s rule is in truth reign of Noor Jehan, the queen. Currently, one can see how grandly does the Queen of England run this empire. Is there any reason for us to think that governance belongs only to men?

Furthermore, to think that governance is dependent only on force is based in faulty reasoning. Development of knowledge, rise of civilization, and mastery of India by Britain has taught us that knowledge is the most powerful force in the world. And those who posses knowledge, whether male or female, have the right to govern over those who lack in knowledge. Thus, we hope that men would no longer use their physical strength as the sole reason for their right to governance and for their superiority over women. It is, in fact, a preposterous argument.

(More later)

Categories
Commentaries

Write for US

Now that we have transformed our blog into a multi-author, newspaper-like format, we would love for you to contribute your work. You can either email us your writings (pakistaniaat@gmail.com) or register with the website as a contributor and upload your content directly.

Our Topics of Interest:

Pakistani Politics and Current Affairs

Pakistani Culture, History, and Stories

Pakistan-Related Announcements

Why Share your Work:

We believe that Pakistan is at a very critical juncture right now and it is imperative on us to foreground and showcase the progressive, enlightened, and inclusive voices of Pakistani intellectuals and writers. So please contribute, pass the word, and place our link on your websites and blogs.

Let us work together to fight the forces of intolerance and hate that seem to have claimed the Pakistani public sphere.

In Solidarity,

Editors, Pakistaniaat Forum

Categories
Commentaries Education

Ania Loomba’s Colonialism/ Postcolonialism: A Candid Discussion With My Students

Today we concluded our discussion of Ania Loomba’s introductory book to postcolonial studies in my undergraduate class. Toward the end of our class session, I asked my students if they had trouble reading, understanding, and consuming this text. Not surprisingly, quite a few of them had some interesting and quite aptly critical things to say about the book. Their comments can be summed up in the following few sentences:

  • The chapters are too long; it would have been better if the author had organized her chapters in short [thematic] sections.
  • She mentions a lot of authors we do not know about [Fanon, for example] without providing us any details about them.
  • She jumps from one topic to another, sometimes without giving us a warning or a hint.
  • The sentences are too long and the authors tends to repeat herself a lot.
  • She does not give us any precise definitions.

Needless to say, I agree with some of my students concerns: the book is, at times, hard to read, especially for undergraduates. Having said that, I disagree with their expectations of the text. I feel that the author cannot write an academic book–especially one that is introducing a complex field of study–purely from the point of view of making it accessible to its readers. The author has the liberty of presupposing a certain degree of theoretical knowledge on the part of students, especially those studying literature. I do think the book could have been better organized in terms of its chapters; maybe shorter, more focused chapters would have been helpful.

But again, coming back to my students side of the story, their comments also made me aware of the kind of consumer culture that structures their subjectivities. In a way, in my view, the book was also a product for their consumption that they as consumers had found “defective.” While most of them admitted that they did get something out of the book, the book was troubling to them as it did not provide a linear and reductive narrative that all of us have come to expect in our lives as consumers.

Personally, I had chosen the book after having read quite a few other readers on the subject. My main reason in choosing the book, surprisingly, was its very ambiguous and inconclusive discussion of postcolonialism as a field of study. I guess I have to do a better job of rendering the book more accessible to my students without simplifying things too much. I am, however, pleased that my students read a wonderfully complex book, took notes, and came back with their questions. Did I mention, I really like my students:))

Categories
Commentaries Education

Thoughts on my Last Class at Kent State

Yesterday was the last day of my summer graduate seminar on Postmodernism and also my last day of teaching at Kent State University. I came to Kent State in the fall of 2006 immediately after finishing my Ph.D. at Florida State. Looking back at my three and a half years at Kent as a full-time faculty member, I have, in a very unpostmodernist way, as sort of nostalgic reaction to my relationship with Kent State. While I may not have much to say about the department or the university, I will certainly miss my students from Kent.

In my time at Kent, I found majority of my students to be extremely dedicated, curious, and engaged in their studies. Going to class was never really a chore but rather an exhilarating experience as I entered the class not only to teach but also to learn from my students.I will certainly miss my students from Kent State.

Teaching is an interesting vocation, for the very value of your practice depends upon the gaze of the other, upon a tacit understanding between the teacher and the student that the teacher does not have all the answers and that learning is complex, interactive, and, at times, confusing.

My last summer course at Kent had all the ingredients of an interesting pedagogical experience: an illusive subject (postmodernism), an engaged and dedicated group of students, and the fast pace of a summer course. I am not a postmodernist by training, so teaching this course was also a way of co-learning with my students. And I am happy to declare that by the end of the course not only my students had grasped the major debates of postmodernism but that the experience had also enabled me to build my own repertoire of teaching strategies that worked for this course and that I would incorporate in my future courses.

As I get ready to leave for UNT, I would like to thank all my students from Kent for being an important part of my life. Thank you, for you all have taught me so much.

Categories
Commentaries Education

Linda Hutcheon: Reading Notes for Chapters 1 & 2

By Alex Hall and Caleb Berkemeier

(Reading Notes for Linda Hutcheon’s A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction)

Chapter One:

In this first chapter, entitled “Theorizing the Postmodern: Toward a Poetics,” Linda Hutcheon informs the reader that the purpose of this book is to attempt a thorough definition of “postmodernism”—a concept that she claims is often under-theorized by both its supporters and its detractors. To this end, she reveals her primary argument, that “postmodernism is a contradictory phenomenon, one that uses and abuses, installs and then subverts, the very concepts it challenges” (3). If nothing else, this is the core idea that one should take away from the reading of this book: postmodernism is not a total or transcendent rejection of the past, nor is it an uncritical acceptance of the present—postmodernism is a provisional, contingent, complex, and even playful way of viewing past and present from a wholly immanent position. The transcendental position—the notion that one can critique a system without at the same time being implicated in that system—has been overthrown and is no longer the most sophisticated way of understanding the world. Therefore, the only way in which one can critique the present order is from within its logic, to “use and abuse” the concepts that the present order offers.

In order to elaborate on what she thinks postmodernism is, Hutcheon relies heavily upon literary texts as manifestations of postmodernity. The most amenable literary genre for this task is what she calls “historiographic metafiction” which includes novels that “are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages” (5). According to Hutcheon, the study of postmodernism is directed at either literature, history, or theory and is narrative in all three. Historiographic metafiction, therefore, is the best source for understanding postmodernism because it “incorporates all three of these domains. . . . its theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constructs. . . . is made the grounds for its rethinking and reworking of the forms and contents of the past” (5). Some theorists (such as Fredric Jameson) have misinterpreted this focus on the past “as a negative. . . . imprisoning of the text in the past through pastiche” (11), but Hutcheon counters this criticism by characterizing the explicit revisiting of history as “liberating” in its challenging of “a definition of subjectivity and creativity that has for too long ignored the role of history in art and thought” (11).

A common criticism of postmodernism is that it is ahistorical since it is preoccupied with the idea that history can only be known through text. This has led many to believe that postmodernism’s revisionary project is an assault on history rather than what it truly is: an examination of how we come to know history and everything that knowledge implies. Hutcheon says that history is “being rethought. . . . as a human construct” and that “in arguing that history does not exist except as text, it does not stupidly and “gleefully” deny that the past existed, but only that its accessibility to us now is entirely conditioned by textuality” (16). History is a real object (not just language as some radical semioticians claim), but it is impossible to recover the “real story” because history is always mediated through texts that, for all their pretensions to coherence and unity, cannot free themselves from the very history they record.

One of the important literary techniques (along with self-reflexivity) that is used to critique the rationalist historical view is that of ironic parody. It is what Hutcheon calls a “perfect postmodern form” because “it paradoxically both incorporates and challenges that which it parodies” (11). This is one of the more difficult ideas to grasp about postmodernism—that it uses what modernism has to offer but is not modernism itself since postmodernism is a critique of that logic. Modernism’s “discarding or recuperating of the past in the name of the future” (19) is what postmodernism opposes; the transcendent position of modernist art in its search for pure truth is turned into the parodic as postmodern art reenacts the past but without losing its self-conscious connection to the historical present. Through postmodern parody “ironic discontinuity. . . . is revealed at the heart of continuity, difference at the heart of similarity” (11).

But postmodern parody is no mere exercise in literary technique. Its purpose is ambitious and vitally important because it forces a reevaluation of the foundations of unquestioned narratives that are problematical in their exclusionary logic. Hutcheon says that “[p]ostmodern culture. . . . has a contradictory relationship to what we usually label our dominant, liberal humanist culture. It does not deny it, as some have asserted. . . . it contests it from within its own assumptions” (6). What this means is that the grand narratives of human reason and progress that have functioned as a cover for so much irrationality and regression are no longer untouchable. To question the truths of liberal humanism (or any other meta-narrative) is not to default to impoverished relativism; it is to say that truth is provisional and contingent. People can still believe in certain truths, but what they can no longer do is believe those truths uncritically and without the contextualizing process of self-reflexive consciousness. What Hutcheon wants to make clear is that “there are no natural hierarchies . . . only those we construct” (13).

Finally, Hutcheon is concerned with constructing a particular way in which we can talk about postmodernism, not a rigid theoretical framework but what she calls a “poetics.” The function of this poetics is to “offer, as provisional hypotheses, perceived overlappings of concern . . . reading literature through its surrounding theoretical discourses rather than as continuous with theory” (14). She demonstrates what she means by this in a lengthy passage where she accuses Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson of basing their arguments against postmodernism in abstract, theoretical terms that do not touch the world of practice. She goes through some of Eagleton’s criticisms of postmodernism and gives her own textual examples that seem to defy his claims. While at first this tangent seems too divergent, it soon becomes clear that what is most important about this deviation is not necessarily the particular counter-arguments against Eagleton—what is important is that Hutcheon is using products of postmodern practice in conjunction with abstracted theory. She is putting into practice her definition of a poetics of postmodernism that is constantly engaging both theory and practice, a poetics that does not “place itself in a position between theory and practice . . . but rather . . . seek[s] a position within both” (17).

Chapter Two:

Hutcheon’s second chapter, entitled “Modelling the Postmodern: Parody and Politics,” begins by first reiterating what she has already said about postmodern art: that it is “art marked paradoxically by both history and an internalized, self-reflexive investigation of the nature, the limits, and the possibilities of the discourse of art” (22).  Parody, she further suggests, is actually that which can relate the “aesthetic . . . to the political and the historical” (22).  With this in mind, Hutcheon proceeds to outline her intent in the chapter, which is to focus on what she believes “offers the best model for a poetics of postmodernism: postmodern architecture” (22).  According to Hutcheon, postmodern architecture is “the one art form in which the label [postmodern] seems to refer, uncontested, to a generally agreed upon corpus of works” (22).  Backtracking, Hutcheon again cites the historical and political, pointing out that postmodern works are both “precisely because they are formally parodic” (23).  Hutcheon takes this idea a bit further by suggesting that the parody that results in the historical and political aspects of postmodern art actually “use and abuse, install and destabilize convention in parodic ways, self-consciously pointing to both their own inherent paradoxes and provisionality and, of course, to their critical or ironic re-reading of the art of the past” (23).  This to say that postmodern art can simultaneously participate in and critique the system under which it is produced, including by bringing history to bear on the present.  One place where this process can be recognized quite distinctly is in architecture—but Hutcheon will come back to this.  First she is concerned with contextualizing her argument within intellectual discourses on postmodernism, showing that many critics have condemned postmodernism as something that is bereft of critical potential (she specifically points to the conceptions of postmodernism put forth separately by Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson).  For Hutcheon, however, there is critical potential in postmodern works because their use of parody, as she has said, causes the works to be both historical and political, the former of which directly contradicts the ideas about postmodernism according to Jameson.  She further shines her postmodernism through the lens of structuralism/poststructuralism “in an extension of the meaning of ‘language’” (25) which finally brings her to the subject of architecture.

Architecture is suggested as the way that identity was reestablished in Europe following the Second World War, and the use of historical architectural forms helped with that reestablishment.  Now, under postmodernity, “parodic revisitations of the history of architecture interrogate the modernist totalizing ideal of progress through rationality and purist form” (25).  Still, there is some suspicion that this kind of parody relegates postmodern architecture to the so-called “mass culture of late capitalism” (25), which is code for “low culture,” a level of distinction that postmodern art seems to subvert, if not simply ignore.  Thus, architecture, though it had began to look quite distinct from the high modern architecture around the 1970s, began to parody high modernism even as it utilized new styles (26).  At this point, Hutcheon sees the need to define her use of the word “parody,” that is, “repetition with critical distance that allows ironic signalling of difference at the very heart of similarity” (26).  This is to say, parody does not ridicule, but in fact allows for critique, once again because parody causes postmodern art to be both historical and political.

In the next section of the chapter, Hutcheon is interested in discussing how modernism in architecture actually sought to control the “users of the buildings” (27).  After all, as she points out, architecture is fundamentally social.  A loss of faith in this attitude, according to Hutcheon has produced that which we see in postmodern architecture.  Still, the parody inherent in postmodern architecture can challenge this loss (29-30).  In so doing, this period of architecture actually contains what might be characterized as utopian potential, for, as Hutcheon puts it, it “open[s] things up to the possibility of the new” (31).  One way this is evident is by the fact that postmodern architecture “urges us to be active, not passive, viewers” (32).

In the final section of the chapter, Hutcheon continues her discussion of how parody can ascribe critical potential to postmodern architecture.  Still, this potential can be “élitist, if the codes necessary for its comprehension are not shared by both encoder and decoder” (Hutcheon 34).  For this reason, architects might be preoccupied with assuring decoders are in the know, and they try to meet such an assurance via the parodying of classical forms of architecture that are familiar.  To conclude, Hutcheon writes that “postmodern architecture seems . . . to be paradigmatic of our seeming need, in both artistic theory and practice, to investigate the relation of ideology and power to all of our present discursive structures,” which is why she uses it throughout the book (36).

Categories
Commentaries Education

The Incompatiblity of Conservatism and Humanities

I recently found myself stating in one of my classes that conservative thought was inherently incompatible with humanistic inquiry and praxis. Though I offered a brief explanation of my  statement to my class, I felt that there was a need to further expound my statement and to trace the very geneology of my desire to express it.

What I mean by conservatism, of course, needs a bit of an explanation. To me conservative mode of thinking relies heavily on metaphysical and religious explanations of the real and presupposes, to a certain degree, that certain ideas, thoughts, and practices are a priori wrong, forbidden, or unacceptable. Such an approach to critical inquiry, thus, can very easily foreclose certain fields and modes of inquiry.

Thus, in a conservative mode humanities and humanistic practice would cease to be an open-ended questioning of truth and would have to rely on certain exclusionary practices that predecide the permissibility and impermissibility of certain thoughts and practices. This foreclosure, caused by assumptions and practices dictated by one’s religious or political presuppositions, would eventually end up making the conservative humanist to be selective in what to include as an object of study.

Such predecided exclusions, I believe, are against the very practice of an open-ended inquiry and the inclusionary practices that encourage us to think at the very limit of thought. To be effective, humanistic inquiry must not prejudge or exclude any possible avenue of inquiry and only a progressive and inclusive politics can enable us to do that.

And since conservatism depends on stable boundaries and exclusionary practices to maintain that stability, it is, therefore, an unsuitable politics for an open and more complex humanistic philosophy and praxis.