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My Interview by The Pakistani Spectator, By Amna Gilani

Posted below is the text of my recent interview with The Pakistani Spectator. Please do visit their site and support them.

Interview with Blogger Masood Ashraf Raja

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

Well, I am an assistant professor of postcolonial literature at the University of North Texas. [More on my bio here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masood_Ashraf_Raja]. My main blog is called The Pakistan Forum (http://thepakistanforum.net), which I had created as an extension of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies, an academic journal that I edit: http://pakistaniaat.org. The purpose then, and now, was to write about current issues related to Pakistan.

The Pakistan Forum was originally launched as a WordPress blog and I used the free blogging software provided by WordPress, but I soon moved on to a self-hosted platform and the blog transformed from a single author blog to a multi-author blog about all things Pakistan. I must admit that it was the layout and content of TPS that encouraged me to move to a self-hosted multi author blog.
I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

Well, our blog has covered some really important stories. Personally, one blog entry that got the most attention was the one that we published on silencing of a Hunger Strike Story (Hunger strike by Raja Jahangir Akhtar) by GEO TV: http://www.thepakistanforum.net/2011/09/17/geo-tvs-shameful-silence-on-the-hunger-strike/.

Another story that we are really proud of is about a fake Pakistani scientist whose claims to fame were thoroughly refuted by a sort of investigative journalism that was not really performed by the mainstream Pakistani media: http://www.thepakistanforum.net/2011/02/19/the-strange-case-of-a-renowned-pakistani-scientist/

Besides these few example, I think the long term impact of our blog has been to provide a platform to generate discussions about contemporary Pakistan by publishing writings of some prominent and some emerging writers from Pakistan.

If you had to describe life as a blogger in a Twitter message (140 characters) what would you say?

Blog, write, and challenge the normalized assertions of mainstream media.

What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

I think there are many aspects of our blog that set us apart. The first and the foremost is the quality of the writings contributed by our writers. We have prominent scholars, academics, journalists, and young writers as our regular contributors. This automatically enhances the intellectual depth of our content.

A second important thing that sets us apart is our editorial policies. We edit all our blog entries to perfection, so most of our blog entries are sometimes even better edited than some major newspapers in Pakistan.

We also moderate all our comments and make sure that the level of discourse remains fair and civil without harming the level of discussion. We, however, do not allow any comments that do not adhere to our stipulated policy of civil discourse.

But most of all, I would, say it is our fair and non-sensational account of all things Pakistan that sets us apart.

If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Compassion.

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

Well, the happiest is easy: when I met my wife. The gloomiest period, probably, was when I left Pakistan for the US in 1996 and was not yet sure what to do with my life.

If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

Kalash valley

Srinagar

Kabul
What is your favorite book and why?

Garcia Mqrquez’sOne Hundred Years of Solitude. I love this book because of its style, magic realism, and because of the way it transports you to a sort of different world.

How bloggers can benefit from blogs financially?

I am not sure how to answer this as I have not benefitted much financially. But I think if one becomes a successful blogger, or if a blog is successful, there could be wider financial benefits. In my case, for example, because of the blog and the visibility that it brings me, I was recently contracted by a major publisher to write a book about Pakistan.

What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world more friendlier and less hostile?

I think we all can do this by constantly challenging normalized hierarchies and by giving voice to all those who are silenced by power.

Who are your top five favourite bloggers?

Well my top two are Juan Cole’s Informed Comment (http://www.juancole.com/) and The Pakistani Spectator.

Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?

Yes, one of my blogs about my reflections on my Army life seemed to have gotten a lot of attention from all quarters: http://www.thepakistanforum.net/2011/05/26/reflections-on-army-life/
Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?

I find Juann Cole’s writings pretty stunning.

What is the future of blogging?

I think blogging has now become and will continue to be the most important challenge to entrenched interests of the mainstream media.

You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?

I think blogging has enhanced my professional reach and has had no negative effect on my personal life.

What are your future plans?

I plan to continue writing and to continue challenging the normalized systems. Most importantly, I want to focus on challenging the blanket assertions of all kinds of fundamentalisms.

Any Message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?

Please continue reading and writing. The future of Pakistan belongs to you and it will turn out to be the way you shape it. So, write, question, and challenge everything.

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Commentaries Culture Politics

GoodReads: Engaging the Muslim World, Juan Cole

Engaging the Muslim World

By Juan Cole

Publication Details:
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Rev Upd edition (September 14, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0230102751
ISBN-13: 978-0230102750

Details (From Amazon.com)

From Publishers Weekly

University of Michigan history professor and blogger Cole (Sacred Space and Holy War) takes aim at the Bush administration’s Islamophobic discourse, highlighting that some of the very people who promulgated the phobia (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld) once sang a different tune. He calls instead for evenhanded and pragmatic policy changes, not least a reckoning with the heterogeneity of the Muslim world. Yet for all his expertise, Cole fails to source some of his harshest accusations; moreover, for a scholar championing greater subtlety of thought, he too often discards nuance himself. To the extent that Cole argues against painting the Middle East with overly broad strokes, he brings a constructive addition to public discourse; his failure to be consistent is a lost opportunity. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Reviews

“Cole has delivered an important book that members of the administration would be wise to read en route to the Middle East.”–The American Prospect
“[A] balanced and effective antidote to oversimplified Western views of Islam. . . . manages to prick western misconceptions without taking extremist movements entirely at their own estimation.” —The Economist
“[Cole] brings a constructive addition to public discourse.” —Publishers Weekly
“Intelligent, clear and erudite. This is a timely and incisive retrospective of the Bush administration’s calamitous encounter with the Muslim World by one of the most noted scholars of the subject. Cole looks deep into what went wrong to show the way forward to a new engagement of the Muslim World.”–Vali Nasr, bestselling author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future

“Juan Cole, distinguished specialist on the Muslim world, delivers his most comprehensive and erudite commentary to date — covering imperialism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, American oil politics, radical Islam and Middle Eastern terrorism. Engaging the Muslim World is the book every educated American should read.”–Chalmers Johnson, bestselling author of Nemesis and The Blowback Trilogy

“Engaging the Muslim World is a MUST read, the right book at the right time for anyone who wants to understand ‘What went wrong, why, and where do we go from here.’ Juan Cole is uniquely qualified to provide a critical, incisive, provocative analysis and commentary that will be welcomed by experts, policymakers and concerned citizens.”–John L. Esposito, Professor of religion & International Affairs, Georgetown University and bestselling author of Who Speaks for Islam? and What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

“Cole provides a comprehensive alternative analysis of the current situation in the Muslim world and reveals how new U.S. policies might succeed in bringing peace where wars now rage. He proves the key role of oil interests in American foreign policy and demonstrates how incorrect or exaggerated ideas now prevalent in the U.S. are about the intrinsic militancy of Islam, and the aggressiveness of Iran. Everyone should read and ponder the facts he presents and the solutions he proposes.”–Nikki Keddie, Professor Emerita of History, UCLA and author of Modern Iran and Women in the Middle East

“Juan Cole’s depth and breath of knowledge on the Middle East has made him the most prescient analyst of the region’s politics. It might infuriate the neocons who are proven wrong again and again, but Cole’s insight is invaluable to anyone interested in the truth.”– Markos Moulitsas, DailyKos

“A well-reasoned, useful vision for Western-Muslim relations.”–Kirkus

“A leading American expert on the Islamic world, seeks to dispel many of the persistent myths about Islam and the Middle East. Cole convincingly demonstrates why one should not confuse Muslim activism with hidebound fundamentalism. The chapter dealing with Iran is particularly informative and evenhanded, and the analysis of myriad issues in U.S.-Iran relations is a welcome antidote to the barrage of alarmist commentaries on Iran in much of the U.S. press. This readable and intelligent book is a must read for policymakers and the informed public.–Library Journal, starred review
“Juan Cole’s ‘Engaging the Muslim World’ maps those fault lines, and one can only wish Bush had mulled over such material before the misadventures of the post-9/11 era began.  Like Lawrence Wright’s remarkable ‘Looming Tower’, published almost three years ago, this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms.” —New York Times Book Review
“The blog I turn to for insight into Middle East news is often Professor Juan Cole’s, because he’s smart, well-informed and sensible — in other words, I often agree with his take.” — Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
“The Obama administration, as it seeks to correct a decade of self-fulfilling phobias, will find no better guide than this nuanced, clear-headed, visionary book.“ –The Huffington Post
“I cannot improve on Juan Cole’s thorough and excellent debunking of the results [of the Iranian Presidential Election].”– Laura Secor, The New Yorker
“Provocative and sweeping . . . Of the three books, Cole’s is the most critically rigorous and empirically informed. Agree or disagree, one cannot ignore cole’s historically and sociologically driven analysis and moral courage.” — Fawaz Gerges, National Interest
“Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book.  One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes.  The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read.” –Ziad Fahmy, H-Levant