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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

An anatomy of exceptionalism

(From Dawn.com)
An anatomy of exceptionalism

InpaperMagzine
December 19, 2010 (5 days ago)

Reviewed By Brig A. R. Siddiqi

THE bedrock of Masood Ashraf Raja’s thesis in Constructing Pakistan is a critical study of Muslim ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘separateness’ leading eventually to ‘nationhood’ and partition. The author admits that the book does not offer the history of Muslim nationhood as a ‘unitary progressive narrative’, nor does it pretend to be a comprehensive chronicle of the Congress-led and Muslim League-seconded freedom movement leading to the end of the British Raj.

With regard to the end result — the partition of India — the freedom movement had less to celebrate and more to reflect on the disastrous consequences.

The term Muslim exceptionalism did not necessarily embrace the urge to create a separate homeland on the basis of a divided India. It was much like the natural urge of a Bengali to look, dress and speak like a Bengali and still coexist with a Pathan and Punjabi.

Pakistan, as a separate nation state was contrary to the ulema’s idea of a universal Islamic state without frontiers. They would legitimise statehood only in the name of Islam and hence the constant opposition of theologians and the ulema to the creation of Pakistan. That includes ulema on both ends of the spectrum — a religious reformer like Mawdudi, on the one end, and a nationalist Hussain Ahmed Madani on the other. Mawdudi was as much opposed to Pakistan as was Madani. Both had been bona fide Indian nationals and accepted their status as such.

In his book Composite Nationalism and Islam Madani argued that ‘Partition was the handiwork of the secular elite of the two communities and not of the religious leaders’.

What then was the driving force behind the making of Pakistan? What was the Quaid actually fighting for? A theocentric or a theocratic state?

The question that arises then is: was the driving force Muslim exceptionalism or the Hindu thrust for the re-conquest of India and its re-conversion into a sort of Bharatvarsha after centuries of foreign domination? It could be either. In fact, much more can be explained in metaphysical rather than in simple physical and political terms. There had never been any lack of ‘discourse or social communication between the two communities.’

Amir Khusro, Nizamuddin Auliya and the entire panoply of Muslim saints down to Delhi’s Khawja Hassan Nizami are considered a rare combination of the spiritual and the temporal. Hindus too had their own pantheon comprising Bhagat Sur Das, Tulsi Das, Meera Bai and of course Mahatma Gandhi intonating Ram and Rahim in the same breath.

The term Muslim exceptionalism in pre-partition usage was just another word for the All-India Muslim League’s demand for an independent Muslim state. The demand for Pakistan rose entirely from the prospect of a brute Hindu majority ruling over a Muslim minority and the ensuing inequalities and possible repression.

It is said also to have arisen from a sense of the loss of past glory that once belonged to the Muslims and the hope to revive it in an independent Muslim state. Muslim exceptionalism remained blissfully untainted by the rabid communalism of Bunkam, Chandra Chatterji, Swami Dayanad Saraswati, Swami Shadhanad down to Tilak, Dr Shayama Murkerjee and many others.

Masood Ashraf Raja has based his explanation of Muslim exceptionalism on ‘foundational’ literary texts of great Muslim writers and intellectuals of the 19th century. He mentions Mohammad Hussain Azad, Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Maulvi Nazir Ahmed, Shibli Naumani and Akbar Allahabadi, etc. as its pillars.

Prof Mushirul Hassan, in his classic A Moral Reckoning: Muslim intellectuals in 19th century Delhi simply overturns the argument by highlighting the patriotic sentiment underlying and galvanising the work of the various intellectuals. Even Sayyid Ahmed Khan, wrongly said to be the pioneer of the two-nation theory, had been a great Indian patriot.

Though apprehensive of the status of Muslim minority under Hindu majority in the post-Raj independent India, he remained dedicated to the idea of an undivided free-India. Prof Hassan goes on to quote, at length, from the works of Farhatullah Beg, Zakullah and Nazir Ahmed to demonstrate their love of the land even if in the specific context of the Delhi culture and literary writings.

How could a community of such devoted and creative Hindustanis such as Khusro, Ghalib and Bahadur Shah Zafar subscribe to the theory of Muslim exceptionalism, least of all separatism? Even Iqbal, the ideological father of Pakistan, composed the Tirana-i-Hindi and hymns in praise of Raja Bharatahari and called Lord Rama ‘Imam-ul-Hind’.

The Muslims of India accepted India as their homeland. They interacted with the Hindus to produce a rich Indo-Muslim culture, cuisine, architecture and Urdu as a rich literary medium. The scope and rationale for Muslim exceptionalism remains open to debate.

Constructing Pakistan
(HISTORY)
By Masood Ashraf Raja
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN 978-0-19-547811-2
156pp. Rs495