Dispatch from the World Social Forum (Pakistan)


Richard Moore

Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2006 11:02:38 -0800
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Justice International - PEJ News: Dispatch from the
           World Social Forum
From: "lex" <•••@••.•••>

Dispatch from the World Social Forum

Ingmar Lee

PEJ News
March 25, 2006

Karachi, Pakistan - I tried very hard to get to Pakistan by
train, but there was zero information available from Indian
Railways about the Thar Express which started running
between Jodhpur and Karachi in February after having been
shut down since partition in '47. The only other alternative
was to take the train up to Amritsar, then cross the border
at Wagah, a short bus hop to Lahore, and then a 16 hour bus
ride to Karachi. So after two days of wrangling visas and
plane tickets in New Delhi, I flew into the beautifully
austere Jinnah Airport at Karachi, population 15 million.
Upon exiting the airport, one's first view of Pakistan is of
a flashy McDonald's joint, which the new airport surrounds
like a crescent moon.

I arrived just in time for the start of the plenary of the
Karachi World Social Forum, which started, luckily for me,
several hours behind schedule. There was a raucous red
flag-waving, demonstration crashing the front gates to get
in and the banner-festooned sports stadium was already
packed with a boisterous crowd of about 10,000 people. I
found myself a spot on the carpetted floor in front of the
stage just in time for the introduction of the evenings
keynote speakers, Tariq Ali, and the Palestinian activist
Jamal Jumah. I haven't had a chance yet to identify the
other speakers from Brazil, Cuba, South Africa and India. As
the speakers were introduced, hundreds of terrified doves
were shaken out of large sacks behind the stage, many of
which careered straight into the crowd.

Before the speaking began, the first of three powerful
Qawwali bands came out on stage to warm up the crowd.
Qawwali is sacred music which was made famous around the
world by the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Nusrat is beloved and revered in Pakistan. Qawwali's
spiritual power is such that it is also greatly respected
and appreciated by Hindus and is amongst the best aspects of
the irrevocably intertwined Muslim/Hindu culture which binds
the subcontinent's history. Given the large Hindu contingent
which had come from India, this was a great choice of
entertainment and the bands really got things going. People,
men, and women, immediately got up in the crowd and danced.
People even climbed right onto the stage and danced
joyously, clearly intoxicated only by the music.

The speeches were all intensely fiery, -given with a
podium-pounding anger which is rarely witnessed in the west,
and although the translating was excellent, the details of
the speeches were clear enough whether in Urdu, Portuguese,
Hindi or Spanish. George W. Bush is the biggest terrorist
scumbag ever to defile the planet. The crowd was completely
energized and engaged, shouting out comments, with waves of
call/response chants rolling around the stadium. It was very
nicely staged, the whole evening, -nobody droned on too
tediously as can happen, and the speakers were interspersed
with the Qawalli bands and a frenzied troupe of
kerosene-guzzling fire-blowers. The evening ended at
midnight with a finale of fireworks launched dangerously
right on the roof over the stage.

I had arrived straight from the airport and hadn't made any
hotel arrangements, so it was pretty wild trying to grab a
rickshaw as the crowd streamed out of the event, but
eventually I got one to take me down to the train station
where I figured I'd have the best chance of finding a hotel
within my $5-a-night budget. Sure enough, I found a room at
the Al-Faisal hotel, complete with squatter-toilet and hot
running water, and as expected, perfectly comfortable.
Karachi gets very few foreign tourists, thanks no doubt to
the dreadful Traveller's Alerts which are posted by western
embassies warning of bombings, drive-by shootings,
kidnappings and beheadings etc., (like it's safer walking
around any American city) so although people are a bit
surprised to have me walk into their kebab, nan and tchai
joint, as soon as I sit down, all the men go back to their
dinner. It's all men at midnight, and the restaurant is busy
all night.

This morning I took a rickshaw out to the venue to get
registered. I registered a month ago on-line, but it looked
like it was touch and go as to whether the Forum would
proceed, as it had already been held up by the devastating
earthquake that hit the Kashmir region of Pakistan a few
months ago. I'm registered as a delegate and will be
conducting a workshop on the seemingly insurmountable
obstacles which are encountered in the effort to protect the
Earth's final forests.

Although environmental issues have a low profile at this
Forum, which is understandable, given Pakistan's location
near the epicentre of the impending geopolitical catastrophe
being wreaked by America's current and threatened invasions.
Nevertheless, there's a good deal of interest and there were
two demonstrations today over plans to dam the Indus, led by
a large and loud group of angry women from Sindh.

A large aspect of the obstacles I'm talking about involve
what has already been identified as a problem within the
procedures and direction of the World Social Forum itself,
-it's turning into an Big NGO-dominated event which is
overshadowing its grass-roots roots. Just as the
environmental movement is being disempowered by
collaborationist ENGO's which are choosing to negotiate
compromises with government and industry, similarly, the WSF
is apparently swinging towards entrenchments which transform
flexible, energized grass-roots action-oriented effort to
entrenched, professional, celebrity NGO pyramidical power

Here's how Arundhati Roy, who turned down an invitation to
the event, put it in an interview with Amy Goodman on
Democracy Now! recently:

Amy Goodman: Finally, Arundhati Roy, you are headed to
Pakistan, not to follow President Bush, but for the World
Social Forum that will be taking place later this month. Can
you talk about what you'll be saying there and the
significance of this forum on the heels of this visit?

Arundhati Roy: Well, actually, I'm not headed there, because
-- I know that my name was announced, but that was done
without anybody asking me. And, you know, I'm really
thinking about all these things too much to be able to go
and speak at the World Social Forum now, because I'm very
worried about, you know, all of us who are involved in these
things, spend too much of our energy sort of feeling good
about the World Social Forum, which has now become very
NGO-ized and, you know, a lot of ñ it's just become too
comfortable a stage. And I think it's played a very
important role up to now, but now I think we've got to move
on from there, and I've already said this at a previous
World Social Forum job, and I really don't want to, you
know, carry on doing something when the time is over for it,
you know? I think we have to come up with new strategies.

I attended a workshop this morning on "The State of Federal
Democracy in Pakistan: The Reality and the Rhetoric." One of
the three speakers was the Canadian Professor Bruce Toombs,
who has, apparently acquired some sort of academic posting
here. He described the Canadian "Federal Democratic System"
(what the hell is a "federal democracy??") in great detail,
going over the evolution of the Canadian parliamentary
process, which he said has always been a 'work in progress'
and never initially envisioned in its present form. He made
referrences to the FLQ "terrorists" which have been
reintegrated into Canadian society and described the
French/English issue as Canada's main source of tension. I
was utterly shocked that he worked through his entire
presentation without a single mention of the fact that what
is called Canada had been peopled for tens of thousands of
years prior to the white arrival, and that the Colonialist
adventure which had resulted in Canadian democracy has bee!
n as genocidal for First Nations as has the Zionist
occupation of Palestine, which is the focus of so much angst
at the Forum. So my first real work at the WSF was to stand
up immediately when the guy was finished and remind Mr.
Toombs of the context in which he was speaking.

Yeah, it was only the first day, but I did get the sense
that there are a lot of people there, who unlike me, have
some kind of hope that we can turn the world around from the
very brink of disaster through the existing political
processes, like in the event that the left should prevail
against the right, that Peace and Justice will prevail
again. I don't believe it, and I hope that Arundhati isn't
exactly right, ~that the WSF has stopped being a cutting
edge vehicle for finding new ways to organize people to

I do think she's a bit unfair, because really, this is a
very impressive event for Pakistan, it speaks to Pakistan's
social maturity and I commend the people who put it

So, I'll head back to the Al Faisal Hotel now.

Cheers,  Ingmar

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