The National Library’s Pulping of Children’s Books

Earlier, I had made a video in response to the National Library Board (NLB)’s banning and pulping of three children’s storybooks in Singapore. Watch the video below.

I was then invited to be one of the guest speakers on national TV on Channel News Asia’s “Talking Point” on Wednesday 16 July 2014. The programme was called “Books Fit For Our Kids?” The full broadcast should be available below:

An Interview with Gulwali Passarlay and the Diverse Opinions on US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement

President Hamid Karzai’s inaction over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) had sparked antagonistic reactions in the media. John R. Allen and Michael E. O’Hanlon from the New York Times title their piece ‘Ignore Karzai’s Arrogant Insults‘ (see link), while Xinhua News in China state this in their headline: ‘U.S. warns Afghanistan of civil war if no BSA deal‘ (see link). Washington Post has a milder, more balanced view, in their headlines with ‘U.S. and Afghanistan need to work together to reach deal on forces‘ (see link), while BBC write ‘Afghanistan-US security deal at impasse ahead of jirga‘ (see link).

Locally, Tolo News in Afghanistan state ‘Afghanistan Needs the BSA: Momand‘ (see link), as well as ‘Afghan Businessmen Fear Downturn Without BSA‘ (see link) in support of the BSA, but Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Afghanistan in India, refuted many of these Western claims, stating that Karzai knows best. He writes in his rebuttal to New York Times: Continue reading

I Argue. I Insist. I Warn: Academic Writing Tips on Clarifying Your Theoretical Position

Making a stand or clarifying a theoretical position in an academic essay takes various forms. Sometimes, making it explicit for your readers is as easy as just stating it in the first-person anywhere in your sentence, such as:

I argue that…

I posit that…

[The angle I am taking], I propose, is [one way of looking at the dynamics and complexities of the issue]…

At other times, summarising points of view and making a new departure can signal the argument you are intending to make. Or in some simpler cases, hastening the pace (“urgently”) or gravely exaggerating a point (“deeply problematic”, “critical”) can do the trick. Continue reading

Two Military Performances of ‘Gangnam Style’ in Afghanistan: What A Joke!

So far, I haven’t looked at the military occupation in Afghanistan. What the military forces do there have not appealed to me, personally and professionally. In part, I am “fighting” against the academic urge to research and write about it because I have very little optimism about the military situation there. Counter-insurgency strategies, policies, and other literatures around post-conflict zones have been documented, but it is not the place, nor is it my intention, to summarise them here. I’d prefer to look at cultural practices in conflict zones. Although not primarily in line with my PhD research on Afghan theatre practices, I thought I’d add my reflections on two videos I came across coincidentally. They were done by military personnel based in Afghanistan, performing a parody of the Gangnam Style.

A fad considered dated by now, the ‘Gangnam Style’ (released in July 2012)  is a Korean pop single performed by Park Jae-sang, favourably known as PSY. It is a very catchy tune done to a rather amusing horse-riding choreography. The Gangnam Style was an instant sensation over social media and everyone seemed to ride on the K-pop wave and, literally, imitated PSY’s fun moves. President Barack Obama had been reported to dance it privately (see link). Ellen Degeneres did it with Britney Spears, together with PSY, on The Ellen Show (see video link). Hugh Jackman taught Jay Leno the sexy moves on the latter’s talkshow (see video link). Even Madonna shared the stage with PSY, did the entire sequence, and crawled under his groin (see video link). According to The Asian Age polls in the UK, Gangnam Style topped the video charts and beat Michael Jackson‘s Thriller (see link).
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Football Champions at “Play” at the South Asian Football Federation Championship 2013 and a Victorious Remaking of Afghan Cultural Identity

Two immediate observations from the triumphant 2-0 win over India at the 2013 South Asian Football Federation Championship stand out for me: (i) the euphoria signalling a nationalistic pride; and (ii) the celebratory attan dance by the football champions on the pitch.

Football is not new in Afghanistan.The historical context given by Al Jazeera is important in setting up the background because it is sometimes easy to assume that football is a recent phenomenon only post-9/11, as if modernity only began twelve years ago. However, according to the Al Jazeera story by Ali Latifi (‘Afghanistan Triumph Over India‘), he states that football officially went as far back as 1922. He writes:

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Unwelcome Return of Trauma and the Necessary Paradox of Beauty in the Beast

I had just moved into my new one-room flat along Kersal Way, Salford, UK. In all accounts, it is a clean apartment which overlooks the River Irwell, with a semi wasteland in my backyard. It is tranquil, the kind of peace I’d need to sit by the window and write, but the extreme quiet in the neighbourhood, especially at night, has had a stranglehold on my state of calm.

It has barely been 7 days but the noises startle me. Not strange ones – no, not those in horror movies – but typical sounds like the wind causing the window to slam against the windowpane, or a sudden rumbling from the washing machine. Sometimes I hear other sounds, as if someone is by the door. Then my imagination goes berserk, like how I went to “check out” where the source of the sound came from: I opened my kitchen door and, instantaneously, flashbacks of The Event in Kabul rushed through the pores of my entire being. What if they were in the hallway waiting to attack me?
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National Geographic and the Afghan Girl: A Case for Critique Using Edmund Chow’s Applied Performance Model

In an earlier post, I wrote about the insidiousness of the media and the unethical objectification of women, especially that of the Afghan girl in the 1985 issue of National Geographic (see link). In 2002, National Geographic went out in search of the mysterious girl with Steve McCurry, the original photographer, and a “team of experts, including a forensic pathologist, who constructed from the original photograph a model of the girl’s face seventeen years later. In addition, it sent the photograph to John Daugman, inventor of automatic iris recognition, a technology that uses iris patterns much as we use fingerprints to determine identity” (Dinah Zeiger, p.270, ‘That (Afghan) Girl! Ideology Unveiled in National Geographic’, in ‘The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore, and Politics’ (2008), edited by Jennifer Heath).

After the team had located that Afghan girl, the team went on to examine her in detail, exacerbating the cultural insensitivities employed in this endeavour. The Afghan girl, now a woman identified as Sharbat Gula, had to be isolated for an eye examination by a male optometrist, albeit in the presence of her husband. Zeiger writes about this at length: Continue reading