Thursday, February 04, 2010

Afro-Pakistani Poet Noon Meem Danish + African-Iraqis Struggling

Moon Neem DanishAfro-Pakistanis. They exist. Have you ever heard about them? Or, in fact, that there's an Afro-Pakistani poet of fame living in Pakistan, a country we seem to hear about in the US these days only in conjunction with the ever-metastasizing "War" on "Terror." A few years ago, Lehigh University prof Amardeep Singh blogged about Noon Meem Danish, "an Urdu-speaking poet from Karachi who is of African descent," whom he'd learned about via 3 Quarks Daily. The original piece, which cited yet another piece in the online newsite Dawn, was entitled, "A Poet in New York," and read:

Whether you think of Lyari as Karachi’s Harlem or Harlem as a Lyari in New York, for Noon Meem Danish places provide a context but not a definition. ‘I am what I am’; he explains his signature with a characteristic mixture of pride and humility. Off-beat and defiant, he was a familiar figure in the literary landscape of the ’70s and ’80s. His poems expressing solidarity with the Negritude and the plight of blacks all over the world were referred to in Dr Firoze Ahmed’s social topography of the African-descent inhabitants of Pakistan. Karachi’s poet Noon Meem Danish now makes his home in the New York state of mind, and feels that he is very much in his element there. It is where I met him again after a gap of many years, as he came to the Columbia University to attend a talk I was giving. We made our way afterwards to the student centre, talking freely in the relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Noor Mohammed was born in Lyari in 1958. He received his early education in Okhai Memon School in Kharadar and soon metamorphosed into Noon Meem Danish, the poet.

Did you even know that Karachi had its own "Harlem"? Noon Meem Danish does have his own Wikipedia entry, which notes that one of his influences is Langston Hughes, and (after the jump), he's on YouTube (speaking in Urdu) too, from a June 2009 event:

More from Samar on Afro-Asia in Pakistan. Harlem-Lyari, on your mind....


As we were heading overseas this past winter, I picked up a print copy of the New York Times, something I haven't done in years but which used to be my staple for years. In the International Section, I came across Timothy Williams's article, "In Iraq's African Enclave, Color is Plainly Seen." If it's true that we hear almost nothing about the contemporary political, economic and social status of Iraq these days, it's even more true that Black Iraqis receive almost no coverage at all. None. Zero. Zip.
Joao Silva for The New York Times

This is problematic on multiple levels, not least of which is that they are, like black people across the globe, are at the bottom of the society's hierarchy, and in their particular case, as Williams reports, they are not only slurred as "abd" (slave in Arabic), but "prohibited from interracial marriage and denied even menial jobs." Of the 1.2 million African-Iraqis, as they're known, many in Basra are employed as car washers, one of the few jobs they're allowed. They are campaigning now for recognition as a "minority population," which would grant them government benefits, as Christians now receive, and reserved seats in Parliament. Basra's provincial government, however, appears not to want to discuss their plight, or even acknowledge that racism or they exist. Sound familiar?

Something tells me that our Black president has not directed anyone involved in US-Iraqi affairs to address their situation, and I cannot imagine the US military or our current Ambassador Christopher Hill have broached the issue. How about we send the president a note to let him know he ought to pressure the Iraqi and Basra governments to address the situation of these African-Iraqis--and tell our Congress people to get on it as well?

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