I don’t know about you. But I feel a bit unnatural. It has become rather unnatural to be an ordinary, caring, socially conscious human being. We ordinary everyday folk, who take good, wholesome things such as community, tradition, looking after nature and each other, for granted, now find ourselves in postnormal times, where what we regarded as normal has evaporated and nothing seems to make sense. It is a period of contradictions, complexity and chaotic behaviour that brings us face to face with multiple, interconnected threats.
Superpowers. Of all the possible superpowers in this best of all possible worlds, which one would you most like to possess? We sought the counsel of a four-year old girl. Without hesitation she replied that she wished she could ‘make everything pink’. An extreme desire from a tender, innocent mind. Much like Greek Mythology’s King Midas, described by Aristotle as having starved to death after his superpower wish that all he touches should turn to gold is granted, the realisation of extreme fantasy often belies an ugly reality.
There’s an old riddle that is surprisingly current. If you haven’t heard it before, allow yourself some time to answer before reading past the end of this paragraph: a father and son are in a terrible accident that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital but just as he’s about to be operated on, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Discuss.
‘So, you are Pakistani?’ Almost every day, when I meet Turks for the first time, I am asked ‘where are you from?’ Almost without fail, the conclusion is reached before I can say anything. Even though I was born in Britain, and have spent less than ten months of my entire life in Pakistan, I agree for simplicity’s sake. But there is another more significant reason: Turkey is one of the few places in the world where being a Pakistani is celebrated.
I have probably dedicated more time and energy to researching and teaching the topic of Islamophobia than any other academic in Norway, yet I cannot quite recall where and when I first encountered the term. It would be a fair assumption that the first time I came across it was back in 2009 when I hosted a visit from an American academic. I was launching a series of public lectures in anthropology at the then recently established House of Literature in Oslo.
An openly racist party with deep roots in France’s fascist tradition, the Front National, won control of a dozen local authorities, in March 2014. Two months later it gained more seats than any other party in the European elections with a quarter of the vote. Some opinion polls in 2014 even identified its leader, Marine Le Pen, as the figure most likely to win the first round of the 2017 presidential election. Le Pen has vowed to put mosques under surveillance, tap the phones of ‘proselytisers’ and ban ‘ostentatious’ religious symbols from all public services.
Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni liked school. No, he loved school.The challenge to read and recite, to count and to calculate was fun, but the real sport was to contest the ideas of others, to engage their motives and call into question their goals. A Muslim, he was also a Persian. And the Persian gene – some would call it ‘genius’ – was to argue, to debate, to advance through active exchange with the ideas of thoughtful others. Not everyone in his community was born thoughtful. Some never went to school.
‘Taz’, a new channel on the Pakistani Geo TV network, is dedicated to twenty-four-hour news. There is a rapid-fire news bulletin every fifteen minutes: hence the name, Taz, or fast. But even after an endless stream of stories about sectarian violence, terrorist atrocities, suicide bombings, ‘target killings’, ‘load shedding’, political corruption and the defeats of the Pakistani cricket team with mundane regularity, there is still ample time left in the schedule.