The great non-debate!

Published: September 6, 2010

The writer is contributing editor, The Friday Times

I have sinned. I must confess that the Great Human Cockroach-Liberal Lynch Mob-Don’t Act Surprised-Kondemn the Kommunity Klan Debate has left me more amused than contemplative. The Apollonian seriousness required to make use of such a debate I seem to be deprived of. Worse, I think I am none the worse for it.

No Pericles or Cicero here to lend himself to such seriousness, not only because that requires argumentation of a higher kind but also command of the language, the kind we now call a purple patch.

This is what I would call the Great Latke-Hamantash Debate sans humour, sharp wit and of course style. The Latke-Hamantash Debate originated at the University of Chicago in 1946 for several reasons, but primarily to spoof the high seriousness that attends the academic environment.

Jewish in origin but not confined to Jewish academics thereafter, it sought to debate the merits of Latke, a fried potato pancake, over hamentaschen, a triangular wheat-flour pastry. Latke, according to the Jewish tradition, is eaten during Hannukah, the hamentaschen on Purim. The debate has since been held regularly at various top universities and has included some of the sharpest minds from multiple disciplines, begetting in the process great wit and hilarity.

The debate of course is not meant to resolve anything, though for reasons entirely other than why “we” cannot resolve issues. In the words of historian Hanna Gray, also a former president of U-Chicago, “both the latke and hamentasch are simply wonderful. We welcome them to our diverse, pluralistic and tolerant community of scholars,” going on to state that “Renaissance humanism grew out of the revival of the latke!”

So maybe our cuisine is not suited to either humanism or the ability to have a pluralistic discourse where instead of talking at each other we can talk to each other. (That of course came out all wrong.) In our Great Debate in these pages, if I were pressed to take sides, I’d probably go with Messrs Zaka and Fulton, not because they were making some great points but because they weren’t. They were not even offering any arguments, academic or otherwise. They just used the middle finger and pursed their lips to spit out that great four-letter word without which life would come to a standstill.

As someone who has often used the middle finger to great effect, for instance, while driving, I can vouch for its cathartic usefulness both for myself and the one to whom it is directed. Ditto for the four-letter word whose effectiveness in all grammatical forms is undisputed. Sometimes, it is also good to stand in front of the mirror and middle-finger oneself. That’s what Messrs Zaka and Fulton did, and I see no reason, to mix metaphors, why their fulminations should have begot quasi-academic arguments. They weren’t mounting any arguments!

In other words, what we have had in these pages was the Great Non-Debate! In principle I think it is good to have such exchanges. But we can either have them just to score points or attempt, genuinely, to find common ground. It might surprise some, but my own reading is that none of the writers in this non-debate was at cross-purposes – except on one point. Are Pakistanis, constituted as we are, the only cockroaches, to borrow from Mr Zaka? The answer is no. But to mount arguments against that meant losing the larger point he was making.

In fact holding a passport accounts for zilch beyond an imagined identity and therefore “Pakistani” means nothing in any genetic, biological sense which could be said to suffer from some malaise, like haemophilia, in collective terms.

My only gripe, if I can put it like this, with Messrs Zaka and Fulton, is that it would have been great if they had created a P J O’Rourkian rather than Kafkaesque environment in their pieces. But then that is my preference and does not reflect on the efficacy of their style or how they wanted to vent their emotions.

Finally, all’s well that ends well and one hopes that if for nothing else, for reasons of sheer fatigue, we are about to move up the evolutionary ladder to whatever form is higher than cockroaches! Allah be praised!

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (54)

  • Sep 6, 2010 - 2:11AM

    Amazing! Great piece!Recommend

  • Talha
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:14AM

    This article is just like the mentioned articles, would have been to good to apply the prescribed approach to this article too.Recommend

  • Usama
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:18AM

    Can we end this topic for God sake?? Even Im sick of it now!!Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:30AM

    Er, sorry, exactly what is your point? Are you trying to one-up the others by using a lot of big words or are you really saying something I can’t understand shortly before Sehri? If this is a non-debate, why are you even writing about it? And what’s that whole Latke Lassi Hammelshchammel example got to do with the topic? Not to mention the grace with which you acquaint us with the middle finger and your penchant for using it. What a waste of time reading your cynical and high-and-mighty critique of two young children who have just started writing and have a long way to go to catch up with Mr. Contributing Editor of The Friday Times. Please stop wasting our time. Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:38AM

    You can’t get rid roaches that easy and end the non-debate. Words have consequences, and I prefer a flood to cleanse the debating halls.Recommend

  • Jacob
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:43AM

    This piece is not good enough even for Newsweek Pakistan. For an article trying to ride a bandwagon, but claiming that its not, and making grand claims to knowing better writing, how come Ejaz, you havent?Recommend

  • Khurram Bukhari (Rotterdam)
    Sep 6, 2010 - 3:03AM

    Ijaz ! Splendid column that gives a balanced and unique way to transform and vent out outrage, anger and frustration against all kinds of brutality and barbarism reflected within our Pakistani society. But still we are forgetting tolerance, self respect and openness to embrace criticism and difference of opinion even within the so-called academic and intellectual circles. Its time that we should rather adhere ourselves to the noble words of French philosopher Voltaire :

    ” I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. “Recommend

  • SSA
    Sep 6, 2010 - 3:18AM

    @ Muneeb

    What are you so bitter about? The article makes perfect sense in the context of the authors discussed and what they’ve been writing in these pages. I hope you realize that your own argument is inherently flawed: you say reading the article wasted your time for which you could be given the benefit of doubt since you did not know what to expect. But then you go and whine willingly about something that in your words wasn’t worth the effort therefore wasting more of your time. I suggest reading the article again after having acquired a long rest so that you won’t have to tax your…err..mind so much. Recommend

  • mehdi army
    Sep 6, 2010 - 3:27AM

    totally agree with muneeb.Recommend

  • SB
    Sep 6, 2010 - 4:18AM

    @ Muneeb – Read it after iftaari,

    @SAA – You are so right :)

    Thought provoking and beautifully written article. Its so good to know that Ejaz has started contributing for Express Tribune. Recommend

  • Rizwan Sharif
    Sep 6, 2010 - 6:59AM

    ejaz haider..good to see u after a while…i love a peculiarity in ur style…from start to end ur article seems to be an intro a preface..with no main-body, no conclusion…only a grand preface all the way :))))…….but i love itRecommend

  • Raheel Amer
    Sep 6, 2010 - 7:31AM

    Amen.Recommend

  • Husnain Lotia
    Sep 6, 2010 - 9:31AM

    Again… what’s so low about cockroaches. Woh bhi insaan hain, unke seene may bhi dil hai!Recommend

  • Farhan
    Sep 6, 2010 - 9:31AM

    Hahaha – great end to a not-so-great debate. Hilarious =)Recommend

  • Farhan
    Sep 6, 2010 - 9:34AM

    @Muneeb, Talha, Mehdi_Army: Please follow instructions given in the article and do as Zaka/Fulton did.Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Sep 6, 2010 - 10:25AM

    Dear Ejaz
    Was it the middle finger or mirror mirror on the wall who is the most beautiful of them all? As always, enjoyed your free flowing article, thanks. Recommend

  • Jamil Uddin
    Sep 6, 2010 - 10:33AM

    haha, another forum for him vs they debate.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Sep 6, 2010 - 10:59AM

    Did not expect you to waste your time on this. I guess Newsweek Pakistan isnt giving you enough “intellectual space”…?Recommend

  • Gurriya
    Sep 6, 2010 - 11:06AM

    i am not sure whether the pun was intended or not but the great non-debate, as you put it, had some nonsensical contributions to it and the most amusing one has been yours actually. while you discard the debate to be a “non debate” and find it amusing, you actually choose to be a part of it. secondly, what are you trying to say? from a person who whispers to his friends ‘you know what my foreign friends say about me? that i am the best columnist in pakistan’ we would have expected even a conceited, but at least sensible write up. Are you really that desperate to write that you would write on a non issue as this one? the write ups by Zaka and Fulton were not meant to start a debate actually. they were op ed write ups which received criticism and appreciation like any other but what irks me most is the unagreeable policy of the editor who is allowing the standards of the international tribune to go haywire to such an extent that this op ed page is actually turning into a molested version of Capital Talk where the host\’s only job is to make commentators yell and screech at each other. in a bid to point score over each other, you fellow columnists have actually forgotten your job. we do not want a bunch of narcissistic writers who would waste precious op ed space which is the most sacred part of a paper on crappy comments. plz feel free to write in the comments box next time you disagree with a writer but do not waste op ed space! and plz grow up.
    reminds me of Animal Farm by Orwell, if you happened to read that, remember when the proletariat animals said that the borgeious ones twist around with numbers and words and forget the actual issue?Recommend

  • Sufi Shams
    Sep 6, 2010 - 11:29AM

    Ejaz sb’s arguments are always difficult to understand. I just wonder if he was trying to make an argument or impress people with his knowledge. Agree with Muneeb that his article is in the same tone as those he tried to criticize. Recommend

  • Asad
    Sep 6, 2010 - 12:13PM

    Brilliant article! Enjoyed every word of it!Recommend

  • imran.
    Sep 6, 2010 - 12:39PM

    The Express Tribune op-ed pages just grew up. And how.

    Superb piece.Recommend

  • Jawad Khan Niazi
    Sep 6, 2010 - 12:42PM

    pretentious much?Recommend

  • Faiza
    Sep 6, 2010 - 12:42PM

    finally, a floating head we can trust. thank you for stepping into the minefield of mediocrity and frothing indignation that has been ”this debate”. i’m afraid you’re too sophisticated for the current readership and will have to get them time to get over their habit of honing in on the obvious.Recommend

  • Fatima Siddiqi
    Sep 6, 2010 - 12:57PM

    This is PPP writing (pretentious, pompous and pseudo-intellectual) of the worst kind. Recommend

  • Sep 6, 2010 - 1:27PM

    The most absurd piece, I have even read from the veteran writer like EjazRecommend

  • Faiza
    Sep 6, 2010 - 1:49PM

    telling comment above, ”ejaz’s comments are difficult to understand”. Yes, that’s because you’re required to THINK, something you may have forgotten how to do given all you’ve read in these op-ed pages in last few weeks. Recommend

  • Gulmeenay
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:05PM

    Kudos to the Tribune for publishing this and keep holding holding up that finger Ejaz!Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:22PM

    Hogwash, but on a high intellectual plane!Recommend

  • Jakob
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:36PM

    In this non-debate ejaz haider loses badly. Recommend

  • parvez
    Sep 6, 2010 - 2:55PM

    @Parvez – 12 hours ago. I thought I was the original Parvez.
    So how do we settle this ??? Suggest Parvez (me) and Parvez (1) you.Recommend

  • Moin A. Alvi
    Sep 6, 2010 - 3:46PM

    Dear ejaz,

    great piece from you. (its good to see you back, missing your writings after you left the daily times)

    But after reading the comments about your excellent article, i am sorry to say that most of our so called educated persons who read English newspaper, badly lack the understanding of the language and of course forget about the comprehension of the topic, arguments and intellectual approach.

    One reason may be that there are very few good writers around and most the readers are used to read average pieces in most the op-ed pages of newspapers.Recommend

  • Sep 6, 2010 - 4:03PM

    ejaz:

    nice to see you here:)

    forget latke..let’s discuss the merits of triangular vs. square samosa….no!…not round ones they’d be more like pakoras!

    game?Recommend

  • Scuze me, Moin,
    Sep 6, 2010 - 4:42PM

    but I beg to differ.

    I revert to Punjabi to emphasize my point: Haider sahab, ki keh rahey ho tussi?

    As someone who has great pride in having the angraizi skills to comprehend a piece of writing even after missing sehri and living on an ath pehra roza, I for real can’t find a point to this article beyond some mad name dropping.

    Here’s my exact reaction reading your piece [I'm in roza, I'm bound to give you the truth], bit by bit after the latke bit, the only part that seemed to say anything

    I’d probably go with Messrs Zaka and
    Fulton, not because they were making
    some great points but because they
    weren’t. They were not even offering
    any arguments, academic or otherwise.

    “So, not completely or at all getting what he’s saying, but yokay, it’s only halfway in maybe I’ll get it later…”

    ‘Are Pakistanis, constituted as we
    are, the only cockroaches, to borrow
    from Mr Zaka? The answer is no. But to
    mount arguments against that meant
    losing the larger point he was
    making.’

    acha.

    So there IS now a ‘larger point’ zaka’s making?

    Last bit

    My only gripe, if I can put it like
    this, with Messrs Zaka and Fulton, is
    that it would have been great if they
    had created a P J O’Rourkian rather
    than Kafkaesque environment in their
    pieces. But then that is my preference
    and does not reflect on the efficacy
    of their style or how they wanted to
    vent their emotions.

    Theeek, yaar, so why mention it at all? Oh right, name dropping. It never gets old, does it, the nerdy thrill of showing someone how well read and learned you are, being the ‘smart’ guy in the huge heated debate laughing at both sides for the futility of the argument they’re in.

    Good on you, homeboyRecommend

  • Sairah
    Sep 6, 2010 - 5:26PM

    Absolutely delightful read! Compleltey or alomost completely agree but this great non- debate has been very telling in my opinion. It tells us that many cannot appreciate the subtelties of english prose (or may be they don’t want to) and whats worse they have the audacity to come and comment that soemone has wasted their time and the standards are slipping. Worrying thought if we are to be ruled by the masses (as Fazi i thinking put it)!Recommend

  • Saif M
    Sep 6, 2010 - 8:16PM

    In college, in the English language course, we used to have what was called Comprehension Test, where the examiner would choose a passage from some particularly difficult essay and then ask the students to answer a few questions from it. I was never good at it.

    Just for fun, let’s see how the students of today would fare if they were asked to read this article and answer the following questions:

    1.”The Apollonian seriousness required to make use of such a debate I seem to be deprived of.” Can you explain in simple terms what does the author mean by Apollonian seriousness?

    2, “No Pericles or Cicero here to lend himself to such seriousness …”. Who was Pericles, and how do you pronounce his name? You need not answer this if you happen to be a Greek.

    “The author has explained what Latke and Hamantash are. Given a choice, which one of the two would you prefer? Or would you still prefer a Kulcha?
    Which finger or fingers of your hand you use more often, in Pakistan, while eating, while driving, and for other things?
    Recommend

  • Mikaail
    Sep 7, 2010 - 12:41AM

    I wonder what offended him so much in both those articles that he couldn’t hold back.Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:37AM

    @SSA – I’ll tell you why I am bitter. I, hopefully like every thinking and caring Pakistani, am looking to our media for focusing our opinion on how we, as a nation, have contributed to the current state of the union. What Zaka, Fulton, and their critics with an opposing point of view did was to stir the debate and let us see, in words, what we may be thinking, whatever side of the fence we are on. What Mr. Haider, from whom I had higher expectations, did was to dismiss the debate altogether. And in dismissing it, he did not sound concerned about Pakistan, or the need for its people to think and discuss the issues we are facing. Instead, he went on with rather foreign examples, to mock the people who care enough about writing and reading discussions on matters of consequence. I am very bitter, yes, because this is not a time for mockery. Self-loathing, self-love, two sides of the same coin, go hand in hand, and make us look at the situation. Mockery and dismissal of something as irrelevant just tells us that we should shut up, shut our brains down, and not think about these things because we are too immature; because we haven’t all been praised in or by the almighty west for our eloquence. The hell with that attitude. If he is going to use air space here in Pakistan, let him at least respect the issues that are of concern to people. This is not a debate about Latkes and Samosas. Shame on him and shame on all of you for thinking that reducing something that effects our futures to some ridiculous non-debate by goras is funny or on-point. Recommend

  • Sameera
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:43AM

    @Sairah – subtleties of English prose are best suited to an English Literature class. There’s no writing skill involved in dropping names. I totally agree with Scuze Me Moin, Saif M, and Muneeb. Substandard article inspite of its beautiful, exotic references and analogies. Nobody here is stupid enough to not appreciate the subtleties, we are just not interested in reading prose written on the pretext of journalism and that too an opinion-ed.Recommend

  • Chairman of the Bored
    Sep 7, 2010 - 11:59AM

    @Sameera: Guess you’re not a fan of the New Yorker, then.Recommend

  • Truthful Mole
    Sep 7, 2010 - 4:18PM

    Well written as always Mr. Haider, however, your argument, or should we say non-argument, is rather convoluted. I know you’re trying to say something but I can’t gather what! I do agree that Fulton and Zaka were simplistic and rather coarse in their outpourings, but they expressed some straigthforward thoughts, non-academic I agree, but one doesn’t have to aspire to pretensions of academic writing to express an opinion. I would suggest you consider saying it straight as well – it may help us, the reader, understand your complex thoughts. Theirs was a non-debate since it was probably not meant to be a debate – but yours is a definitely a
    non-argument.Recommend

  • Jakob
    Sep 7, 2010 - 5:56PM

    In the great non-debate ejaz haider writes a losing article, trying to get importance in the pantheon of other authors who always get more views and comments. your piece ejaz which cannot even break the 100 social network like barometer is a non starter because it is a non article with no merits for a non debate (in your words)
    Recommend

  • KKK member
    Sep 7, 2010 - 8:06PM

    @ Truthful Mole and Jakob
    Well said! Agreed. Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 10:58PM

    These rebuttals are turning tribune into a online forum where people are more into proving I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong than to actually probing into the matter.
    Anyhow, this one is still better. And I agree.Recommend

  • Parvez Mahmud
    Sep 7, 2010 - 11:41PM

    @ Parvez, I have changed by using my full name. Problem solved.Recommend

  • Raman
    Sep 8, 2010 - 12:44AM

    If anything, i think Ejaz was too polite to them. But to be honest its ‘comment-wars’ that keep me scrolling down. to anyone interested i came across this blog and no its not mine. lol

    http://x-bts.blogspot.com/Recommend

  • Sameera
    Sep 8, 2010 - 1:25AM

    @Chairman of the Board – I have a sneaking suspicion you are Ejaz Haider only because you compared this stinking piece to The New Yorker!!Recommend

  • Saira
    Sep 8, 2010 - 7:10AM

    This article is a complete waste of time. but the issue is important. This is something everyone should read: http://obamasaysdomore.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/an-open-letter-to-george-fulton/Recommend

  • Chairman of the Bored
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:02AM

    @Sameera, in your own words: “Nobody here is stupid enough to not appreciate the subtleties, we are just not interested in reading prose written on the pretext of journalism and that too an opinion-ed.”

    Nuff said. I did find your sneaking suspicion quite amusing!Recommend

  • vikas ranjan
    Sep 8, 2010 - 3:23PM

    @Husnain Lotia

    Again… what’s so low about cockroaches. Woh bhi insaan hain, unke seene may bhi dil hai!

    I do not know about being low, bur cockroaches are definitely not ‘insaan’. Insaan ke do pao hote hain aur cockroach ke chheh. Gaur se dekha jaye to aur bhi dissimilarities nikal ayengi.
    In one respect cockroaches in fact score over insaans, they are likely to survive a nuclear holocaust much better than us humans.LOLRecommend

  • Bangash
    Sep 8, 2010 - 8:30PM

    This article doesn’t make any points and only makes the author look elite and pompous.Recommend

  • Shanza Khan
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:16PM

    Too good – although I could argue and win this one!Recommend

  • Sep 12, 2010 - 2:48PM

    “As someone who has often used the middle finger to great effect, for instance, while driving, I can vouch for its cathartic usefulness both for myself and the one to whom it is directed.” Impressive expression.Recommend

  • Zameer
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:37AM

    @Bangash, I agree – so does his picture…maybe a different profile pic would be better choice for future pompous articles. Recommend

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