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Azmat Khan: A Year in Digital Discoveries

December 30, 2010

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By **Azmat Khan**

Azmat_Khan_Photo.JPGPrimarily focused on South Asia, gender, and Islam, these twenty links were some of my favorites from 2010. Some are melancholic and others uplifting, but all of them were meaningful to me at various points during the year. No subscriptions required!


**_Want to Know Your Cabdriver? Talk to His Daughter_**

A Pediatrician Takes Pride in Her Afghan Cabdriver Father—By Waheeda Samady, This Afghan-American Life

Careful, it’s hard to hold back tears when reading this account. A glimpse into the “what-ifs” of when dreams are lost to war and tragedy, this is a stirring portrait of an Afghan cabdriver through the eyes of his daughter. My absolute favorite short read in 2010, I keep copies in my handbag to distribute as an elixir for the xenophobia and various -isms I regularly encounter.

**_Painted Personalities_**

Lapata on Flickr

From Jihad Jane and the underwear bomber to Ayatollah Khamenei and Benazir Bhutto, I adore all of artist Daisy Rockwell’s paintings (especially Bismillah Alien). These illustrations often compliment her equally arresting posts on the blog Chapati Mystery. Here’s one of my favorites, in which she channels _My Name Is Red_ in a fictional account of lady Jackie Kennedy’s famous South Asia visit.

**_”Lady Al Qaeda” or “Daughter of Pakistan”?_**

“Dr. Aafia’s Appea”l—Rafia Zakaria, Dawn

“Lady Al Qaeda,” “the Grey Lady of Bagram,” “daughter of Pakistan” and “the original daughter of Islam” are a few of the popular monikers coined to describe a thirty-eight-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist whose real name is Aafia Siddiqui and who earlier this year was convicted of assault and the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Yet her manifold labels don’t fully represent the complexity, or even the absurdity of the complicated gender politics and competing narratives surrounding her. In this piece, Rafia Zakaria reflects incisively on how Aafia Siddiqui has curiously become a heroine icon and an emblem of womanhood in Pakistan. (Though not here, there’s also a very compelling story to be written about the equally reductive trope of the “militant Muslim woman.” It appears Siddiqui is everyone’s pawn.)

**_There Are No Faces on Pakistani Milk Cartons_**

“The Missing”—J. Malcolm Garcia, Guernica Magazine

J. Malcom Garcia tells the affecting stories of Pakistan’s “disappeared” in fifteen volcanic scenes. Scene XII, which depicts the sudden transformation of detainee Mohamad Hafiz, was my breaking point.

**_Precious, Fragmented Lives_**

“The Venerable, Vulnerable Taxi Drivers of New York”—Amitava Kumar, Vanity Fair

Written shortly after the stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver in New York, Amitva Kumar analyzes the narratives in which we are embedded about the immigrant, the Muslim, and the military. Even with the heavy undertones, it’s beautifully uplifting, in a way.

“Each employed immigrant has his or her place of work. It is only the taxi driver, forever moving on wheels, who occupies no fixed space. He represents the immigrant condition. And yet, there is no one more adept than him at mapping our streets and cities. He is not an alien. The cabbie has made familiar, though not without faltering, nor without arduous, repeated labor, all that was strange and forbidding. Perhaps amongst us he is most American.”

**_What’s Pashto for “Xanex” and “Ambien”?_**

“Pakistan’s Deadly Robots in the Sky”—Graeme Smith, The Globe & Mail

People drone on about drones a great deal. There are, of course, raging debates over their legality, consequences, and civilian casualties in numbers, but Graeme Smith delivers something sorely lacking—detailed accounts of the paranoia, anxiety, and general dystopia brought by drones to those living in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

**_Mosque-Hopping in the U.S.A_**

30 Mosques—Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq

Amidst the tempest that was the “ground zero mosque” during the summer of 2010, this fantastic endeavor by Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq was akin to therapy, minus the costs. It’s the day-by-day storytelling of their “Ramadan road trip” visiting thirty mosques in cities across America. My obsession with this isn’t just about them blogging their experiences at the very first mosque in America (North Dakota) or breaking fasts at a Shia mosque in Chicago, it was also about observing how Americans embraced them throughout their journey. Please check this out; I assure you you’ll learn something, and laugh a little.

**_Say “Paneer!”_**

The Indian Memory Project

I’ll likely never meet the people featured in them, but spending a few minutes with these gorgeous photos makes me feel like I already have. This nostalgia-inducing photographic history of India through family archives is worth your time.

**_Facing Iraq’s Dead_**

“Restoring Names to War’s Unknown Casualties”—Anthony Shadid, New York Times

Even long after it seems that everyone has forgotten, Anthony Shadid makes Iraq’s spilled blood indelible in the mind. This was just haunting.

“Whoever reads the Koran for me, cry for my youth,” read the marker for Oday Ahmed Khalaf. “Yesterday I was living, and today I’m buried beneath the earth.”

_**“Today’s Taliban™: Now with ninety-six virgins.”**_

Not Your Father’s Taliban—Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

Hilarious. That is all.

_**Forget the Damned Pelicans—the 11 Who Died at Deepwater Horizon**_

Eleven Lives—Tom Junod, Esquire

While researching “BP’s Troubled Past”, I couldn’t shake this intimate portrait of the eleven good men who died in the explosion at Deepwater Horizon on April 20th. It captures the tragedy of their loss and of the families who mourn them. An excerpt:

“Now their men are dead, and they feel that America has chosen to forget them. They would like them to be remembered. No, more than that: They would like us to know them and the lives they led and the choices they made, so that we can once and for all answer the question that they ask themselves every time they turn on the television: What’s more important, the lives of eleven good men or a bunch of damned pelicans?”

**_Storied Cuisines_**

The Spice Spoon

A gourmand, economist, photographer, and storyteller, I often think of Shayma Saadat as a bit of a goddess. Her Afghan-Pakistan-Iran-centered food-memoir blog is as intelligent as it is tantalizing. I believe it really does, as she hopes, give her readers “a much needed antidote of humanity and romanticism about our peoples and cultures.”

_**“Why Are Things So Bad for Afghan Women?”**_

“What You Should Know about Women’s Rights in Afghanistan”—Anand Gopal, Huffington Post

This was published in 2009, but belongs here because it’s what people should have been reading when Time Magazine’s provocative “Aisha” cover story came out. Written by an exceptional journalist working from Afghanistan, it provides honest political and historical context, while deconstructing the pervasive monolith of the Afghan woman and the politicization of gender to ends other than gender equity.

**_Pakistan, Blogged & Doodled_**

Mehreen Kasana’s Blog

A captivating, sharp and relentlessly funny Pakistani blogger who “doodles, ” Mehreen Kasana is so damn charming. Cultural critiques, LOLpoliticians and plenty of her inner thoughts await.

**_“The Dead Speak in Kashmir, Often More Forcefully than the Living.”_**

“Kashmir’s Forever War”—Basharat Peer, Granta 112

“The dead speak in Kashmir, often more forcefully than the living,” writes Basharat Peer about his home. Here, the author of Curfewed Night captures Kashmir’s complicated history, the grave casualties of its conflict and what it is that’s driving young men to take up arms with militant groups.

**_Kite Hopes Fall Flat in Afghanistan_**

“Afghan Equality and Law, but with Strings Attached”—Rod Nordland, New York Times

Some of what’s wrong with Afghanistan—and wrong with America in Afghanistan—is depicted subtly and wryly in this reporting on a day-long kite festival in Kabul. Somehow, Rod Nordland manages to make this absurd tragedy exceptionally funny.

_**Imaginationland!**_

A Writer Leaves Journalism to Find Truth in Fiction—PBS Need to Know

Lorraine Adams, a novelist and a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, makes the case for fiction beautifully in this interview with Jessa Crispin about her book The Room and the Chair. I rely on news and reporting a great deal to keep me informed, but this by Lorraine was an striking reminder of what those accounts lack. An excerpt:

“Those accounts by those embedded reporters stand in for the truth: They are observed scenes, they are witnessable scenes. But there is a privacy that no journalist ever pierces. That is where the truth resides. Because we live in a culture that believes we must not waste any time on works of the imagination, that we must only be hardworking, very serious people who only read facts, we assume that these nonfiction accounts are the whole truth. In fact, they are as much as a partial truth, for different reasons, as fiction.”

**_A Modern Day Don Quixote_**

“An Army of One”—Chris Heath, GQ

In a way, Gary Faulkner captured American hearts and minds when he was captured in Pakistan this summer with a broadsword on quest to kill “Binny Boy,” or as you and I might know him, Osama Bin Laden. In this profile, the new face of Quixotic ambition is further complicated by hang gliders, hot-wiring, and the other relentless pursuits of a man who dared to dream.

**_Iran Real and Imagined_**

Tehran Bureau—FRONTLINE

Of course, I have a bit of a conflict of interest here, but I believe strongly that this is the model of how journalism on hard to access places can thrive, free from political agendas. More than just the sexy politics of the region (on which its reporting, dispatches, and primers are exceptional), Tehran Bureau brims with art, original fiction, and exquisite photo essays. Perhaps best of all, it’s all brought to you by authentic voices. (To be fair, I didn’t discover this in 2010, but in 2010 I didn’t see anything else come close to it.)

**_Caveats for Your Online Communitas_**

“The Heady Feeling of Being Totally Integrated”—C.W. Anderson, Nieman Lab

I had a severe digital addiction long before I made the move from broadcast journalism to the web, but things have become considerably worse as of late. I’m afraid it’s very easy for me to overlook the oft-fleeting authenticity of the enveloping online world, but this Nieman Lab post by C.W. Anderson is a valuable reminder of just how elusive the promise of community (whether online or other) can be.

Copyright 2010 Azmat Khan

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Azmat Khan is on the Web/Editorial team at PBS FRONTLINE and writes about Iran-Pakistan issues for Tehran Bureau.

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