As many of you may have noticed by now, there is an ever-present presence on student events. He is the silent watcher, guardian of what he believes is right. The one man you can be sure will speak out for what he believes in. Tariq Shamim Khwaja, aka The Outlook warrior.
When I first went to meet him the feeling of apprehension was high, I wasn’t sure what the man was like. I expected a rather smartly dressed man who was rather drab and boring but instead was confronted with a man of good humour and casual dressing. Wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a large smile he immediately put me at ease. With a quick introduction, and pleasantries I began the interview.
Q: How long have you been at LUMS?
A: I’ll start with Assalamualaikum, in fact, write that in for this piece! I have been in LUMS for three years now, and I got my admission here as a Ph.D. student in the EE department. Specifically, I’m working with, in fact, I’d love to mention him, my advisor Dr. Syed Azer Reza, as well as my co-advisor Dr. Mumtaz Sheikh, both of whom I’m very lucky to have. I have, Alhamdolillah, published once as a second author and have made two submissions being reviewed by IEEE Photonics Technology Letters and Applied Optics journal. The reason I mention this is to emphasize the optic labs, the stuff we’re doing in these labs is state-of-art by international standards. In fact, I’m ninety-five percent sure no civilian or even military facility in Pakistan is doing research that we’re doing at SBASSE, LUMS! My advisor has managed to do a lot with very limited resources.
I got my degrees from the American University in Dubai and Masdar Institute. My interview at LUMS went great, and here I am.
Q: Could you explain what you’re doing in the optics lab in layman terms?
A: Well this is kind of the stab in the back to the electrical department, but basically we’re motivated by trying to get the electricity out the way because the switching speed of electric pulses currently is the bottleneck when we are communicating with each other. For communication systems, optic fibres are the way to go. Now the electro-optic conversion that really kills our speed and when we are processing data. Since electricity cannot possibly operate at the frequencies that optic cables can. I can go to 100s of terahertz in optics whereas with electricity I can only go 10s of Gigahertz. So it’s a stab in the back because we want to replace electrical with optical signal processing, so in order to do that, one of the components we need to introduce is an optical delay line element which is what I work with. This is essential for any communication system. If you want the boring details, you can go the IEEE website (http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/LPT.2016.2598061). Its been explained over there.
Q: You’ve become a notable online presence on Outlook, how do you feel about that?
A: Yeah I feel a lot. I think it’s a huge sense of responsibility. Basically, for two years I’ve been looking at the emails, and how students act at an undergraduate level. Students make statements that I believe merit a response, and sometimes I feel people should talk about subjects they don’t talk about. I believe dialogue can convince people as opposed to social pressures. I felt that in some issues that there are some glaringly obvious truths that I’m aware of that don’t seem to have crossed peoples notice. So yeah it’s responsibility. Once I sent an email to everyone, as a response to a particular statement, and someone came up to me and said ‘you wrote this email and told somebody something and we thought you were just insulting him.’ So I re-read that email and thought that actually he was right, I was just insulting him, by accident, and I failed to get my message across. So when you post something on outlook or LDF, it has consequences. The admin kind of realises this but undergraduate students, for the most part, are yet to grasp this point.
Q: So with that said, people in LUMS have dubbed you the ‘Outlook Warrior,’ what do you think of that?
A: Awkward, that is really it, I just find it awkward (laughs)
Q: To my knowledge, since around last years, you’ve been trying to encourage undergraduates to create a cat welfare, animal welfare society. What gave you the idea to even start this?
A: Seeing students individually try and help cats is what gave me the idea really. Outside the physics department, there was a pregnant cat who had two babies, and people started feeding her. I must give credit to the janitors who did a great job too. But it wasn’t systematic.
Since I entered LUMS, I was looking for holes and opportunities in societies, so I can figure out a way to serve and that is how societies form. So I was looking for that, and it struck me one day that while people are looking after cats, it’s not systematic, leading to some cats getting over fed, others ignored. On the occasion people throw rubbish into the bin, but there’s a cat inside, so people label it ‘Cat inside,’ but once the cat is gone the label remains there! I’m a strong believer in leadership and organization, so I saw this opportunity where an animal society could systematically take care of the cats on campus.
In my undergrad, I studied in a small university and because of that I was able to become president of two new societies, and it looked great on CVs. While I didn’t think it was a big deal, all you do is get registered and follow through. But surprisingly in LUMS, initiative is really lacking, because I’ve been trying to push this idea and you know it has taken some time.
Q: Do you reckon students can lift this potential society up a bit?
A: I think for the students to lift this society up they’re going to have to lift themselves up first! I believe there is potential, huge potential in students in LUMS, but they’re wasting it. There is much-hidden potential, but it remains hidden or misdirected. When an opportunity shows itself, you should grab it immediately. When I first pitched this idea on Student Events, I thought people would jump on it! I sent this on the weekend, and thought on Monday Babar sahib (OSA) will be flooded with people trying to create this society, I thought there would be a race. Eight months later still no race. I got a lot of emails, a lot of response, around fifteen to twenty people who claimed they wanted to do this, but hardly anyone wanted to lead the initiative.
Now I understand that there are only one or two leaders in a hundred people but one or two leaders in four thousand? That is sad. You know you can get into some societies like SLUMS, where there are already so many people working, and there is a decent chance after four years of work that you may end up in the EC, but it’s a rather slim chance being president. Now here I am offering you the chance to be the founding president, and I can’t do it because I’m busy with my Ph.D. and people are just letting it slip for the last eight months? So yes, there is wasted potential, but the probability of 1 in 4000 turning up to create this society is still high because you know, 4000 so there is hope still.
Q: Sometime in October last year, you took a stand on the cleanliness of the campus. You, in fact, suggested stopping people littering we should pick up their litter in front of them and throw it away. With that said do you feel the standards have improved? *Note this was before the student council launched their cleanliness campaign.
A: Did people take my advice? But that email had two issues which I tried to resolve, which I will elaborate on.
First, people don’t know how to confront each other in LUMS. Yet people love to talk about each other behind their backs, and fewer people love to insult people in public, more often with names. For example, with the cleanliness issues, and the car parking issue, I remember LDS wrote an article on this. They post pictures online and think this form of shaming will reform people, but this doesn’t often work. If you publicly shame someone he isn’t going to reform, but private shaming, one on one that works. If you see people throwing stuff around, go to them, take them to the side and explain what they did is wrong. However, people don’t take that option. They will instead backbite and insult others. I see people in LUMS don’t want to privately confront people, why? They say they don’t want to interfere in their lives and it creates badmazgi. How does that make sense? You will shame them publicly and behind their backs but do the brave thing and confront them privately; that’s wrong? What they are doing is taking the Chaska. You love to take the Chaska and insult people but can’t stand the badmazgi of confronting them head-on. You’re no different to Imran khan who goes on television to insult Nawaz Sharif. But how many times do you think he went to the prime minister’s house and told him in a private meeting that you need to fix these problems. Nawaz Sharif comes on television and does the same. If you want to confront people confront them privately not publicly, because private confrontations are far more constructive.
Now the other issue was, that the method of picking litter in front of people who threw it works wonders. You don’t insult the person, yet to guilt them and win their hearts. Winning people’s hearts is what we should be trying to do.
Q: Recently, if you’ve been following the LUMS news, the ‘Gamla Issue’ is something pretty big. What’s your opinion on that?
A: Winning people’s hearts, the admin needs to win people’s hearts. With the littering issue, we’re talking about students winning each other’s hearts. But with the ‘Gamla Issue,’ it isn’t about social responsibility. It is about the LUMS business winning the hearts of its customers. But how can you win their hearts if you don’t keep them in the loop? Ultimately what happens, students get the message that here was an issue, and we had the student council stand up, and because our council responded, and used the danda, the admin was put back in its place. That is the final impression the students get. Okay, we can use our council danda and put the admin back in their place. Now is that the impression the admin wants the students to have? What is the best way to prevent that impression? To actually keep students in the loop in as many things as possible if it is going to affect them. Do the students want to make LUMS greener? Do they want to do it this way or that way? Yes keeping people in the loop is a lengthy a process, and no-one wants to go through the bureaucracy, but that is the way forward. LUMS is an over 25 years old institute, and this is how you solve this kind of issues, win the student’s hearts across the board. They want to do what is best for the students, and most students are reasonable, and they’ll actually negotiate properly with you.
Q: The drug policy for LUMS was recently amended to say that, in essence, that if you are a group of people consuming drugs but you yourself are not, you will still be punished. What is your view on this?
A: If you’re cheating on any exam, and I emphasise on this because I wish Pakistan was more strict on cheating, if you cheat on exam, the one who cheats in responsible, the one who cheated is responsible, the one who gave him the ability to cheat is responsible, and anyone who is an on looking witness and did nothing is responsible. You will be called a snitch, but I believe you should be strict in these matters. If you were a true friend to the friend, then you would not want them to do drugs, you would report them, but if you’re just social friends, you wouldn’t report them.
So in this matter, I agree with LUMS, to the extent to that yeah as a policy it’s okay. I’m okay with the vagueness of the policy. The reason I’m okay with it is because there is no implementation. The admin would do well to focus on ensuring strict implementation. I have commonly heard that a lot of people use prohibited substances at LUMS and they are readily available. So A) I support this and B) I want to see the admin implement this. The admin nor the student council would publicly say drugs are good. But unless they implement this, it is all talk. So yes I’m with this policy, and if the students disagree well, they are wrong.
Q: Do you think society is proactive about social issues? And if not how do you think we can fix this?
A: The LUMS Student Society is not proactive because unfortunately, society is in a country that is not proactive. LUMS is as my friend used to say and how in kana raja. Yes, students at LUMS are relatively, compared to other universities and Pakistan much more proactive about social issues but are they proactive enough? Are they even close to how proactive they should be? Not at all. There is a lot of wasted potential in this matter. How can we solve this? There are two answers I’d like to plug.
One answer is Hum-Aahang (https://www.facebook.com/HumAahang/), they try to do inter-faith harmony. They have this Seeds of Change project that aims to counter religious extremism by educating on matters related to gender justice, interfaith harmony, the historical role of minorities, etc. through a religious lens. Or Manama where students aim to provide education to communities devastated by terrorism and religious intolerance and not to let them feel side-lined. They try to encourage that love through this campaign.
Then there’s the #Religions4Peace campaign. On their Facebook page, they post verses from prime religious texts (Qur’an, Bible, Vedas and so forth) that promote peace, justice, kindness, religious freedom, etc. The Qur’an does this most so than others in my opinion contrary to the mainstream media’s narrative.
In moral values, religions are united. Yet people don’t focus on the moral values that unite us, but instead, they focus on the differences, while completely ignoring the moral values. Thus “fundamentalists” aren’t really religious. I think the only people who may not like this campaign is Atheists because the campaign presents religions in a good light. Otherwise, however, as a social issue this campaign can help unite people in our country.
Q: Do you think LUMS undergrad student live in a bubble? And once we leave LUMS, this bubble pops. A lot of students do think we live in a bubble, including myself. Since we have so much freedom to express ourselves, opinions that we probably couldn’t say in other public places. So what do you think?
A: I love our previous provost of the HSS School. Dr Anjum Aktaf, he left more than a year ago, he said one thing ‘Our freedoms are slowly being encroached upon, and LUMS is one of the last standing pillars in that respect’, and that is why he wanted the student to be much more active. Now the word bubble has two connotations; you are not affected by the outside, and the outside isn’t affected by you. So are LUMS student affected by the lack of freedom of speech across Pakistan? Not much. Are they doing anything to fix Pakistan? Also not much. It’s a two-way bubble, and you’re right, I guess I agree with you. LUMS student shouldn’t be in a bubble and should try to fix Pakistan. They should try doing the brave thing, the courageous thing. Some try to fix the inside of LUMS but not the outside since inside they are protected. I want to reiterate that I admire Hum-Aahang as an initiative. But I do not at all believe that as a solution to the problems that we face it’ll actually work. There are too many issues like funding or lack of sufficient motivation that slows down the execution of its noble causes. To truly get out of the bubble you need to have the motivation, and LUMS students don’t have that motivation. Why? ‘Dude we have too much on our plates already!’ or ‘I’m already rich and life is easy so why bother?’
Historically (within the 1400-year history of Islam and before it) that motivation has only come from Divinely guided religious leadership that does not promote violence, does not only pretend to promote interfaith harmony but actively promotes it and sets an example of patience and forbearance in the face of evil for others to follow. That is really the only genuine solution in my opinion. If we discover that genuine religious leadership, then problems will solve themselves. We need to search with a sense of urgency.
The dogmatic religious urge to serve humanity is essential to fix this problem. It’s like, God is watching me, and I should help everyone as much as I can. Not to say an Athiest may not do well for humanity. Princess Diana, for example, did a lot of humanitarian work but didn’t claim Divine motivation. However, I have found genuine religious leadership has a stronger impact on society at large (as opposed to lone wolves here and there) since it is supported by God. Godless initiatives cannot bring about moral revolutions and motivate people out of their bubble.
Q: Any sage advice for us naïve undergraduates?
A: This advice I would’ve given to the admin, to Imran khan or Nawaz Sharif, to whoever asked me. Stop asking for your rights and start realising your responsibilities to society. You have to make your choice as undergrads, do you want to be a burden or do you choose to be someone who loves God, His creation and wants to serve as a carrier of the world’s burden.
With that the interview ended, I proceeded to take a picture of his work and bid him farewell. Realising there was so much more to the man behind those emails.
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