Posted below is the text of my recent interview with The Pakistani Spectator. Please do visit their site and support them.
Would you please tell us something about you and your site?
Well, I am an assistant professor of postcolonial literature at the University of North Texas. [More on my bio here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masood_Ashraf_Raja]. My main blog is called The Pakistan Forum (http://pakistaniaat.net), which I had created as an extension of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies, an academic journal that I edit: http://pakistaniaat.org. The purpose then, and now, was to write about current issues related to Pakistan.
The Pakistan Forum was originally launched as a WordPress blog and I used the free blogging software provided by WordPress, but I soon moved on to a self-hosted platform and the blog transformed from a single author blog to a multi-author blog about all things Pakistan. I must admit that it was the layout and content of TPS that encouraged me to move to a self-hosted multi author blog.
I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?
Well, our blog has covered some really important stories. Personally, one blog entry that got the most attention was the one that we published on silencing of a Hunger Strike Story (Hunger strike by Raja Jahangir Akhtar) by GEO TV: http://www.pakistaniaat.net/2011/09/17/geo-tvs-shameful-silence-on-the-hunger-strike/.
Another story that we are really proud of is about a fake Pakistani scientist whose claims to fame were thoroughly refuted by a sort of investigative journalism that was not really performed by the mainstream Pakistani media: http://www.pakistaniaat.net/2011/02/19/the-strange-case-of-a-renowned-pakistani-scientist/
Besides these few example, I think the long term impact of our blog has been to provide a platform to generate discussions about contemporary Pakistan by publishing writings of some prominent and some emerging writers from Pakistan.
If you had to describe life as a blogger in a Twitter message (140 characters) what would you say?
Blog, write, and challenge the normalized assertions of mainstream media.
What do you think sets Your site apart from others?
I think there are many aspects of our blog that set us apart. The first and the foremost is the quality of the writings contributed by our writers. We have prominent scholars, academics, journalists, and young writers as our regular contributors. This automatically enhances the intellectual depth of our content.
A second important thing that sets us apart is our editorial policies. We edit all our blog entries to perfection, so most of our blog entries are sometimes even better edited than some major newspapers in Pakistan.
We also moderate all our comments and make sure that the level of discourse remains fair and civil without harming the level of discussion. We, however, do not allow any comments that do not adhere to our stipulated policy of civil discourse.
But most of all, I would, say it is our fair and non-sensational account of all things Pakistan that sets us apart.
If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?
What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?
Well, the happiest is easy: when I met my wife. The gloomiest period, probably, was when I left Pakistan for the US in 1996 and was not yet sure what to do with my life.
If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?
What is your favorite book and why?
Garcia Mqrquez’sOne Hundred Years of Solitude. I love this book because of its style, magic realism, and because of the way it transports you to a sort of different world.
How bloggers can benefit from blogs financially?
I am not sure how to answer this as I have not benefitted much financially. But I think if one becomes a successful blogger, or if a blog is successful, there could be wider financial benefits. In my case, for example, because of the blog and the visibility that it brings me, I was recently contracted by a major publisher to write a book about Pakistan.
What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world more friendlier and less hostile?
I think we all can do this by constantly challenging normalized hierarchies and by giving voice to all those who are silenced by power.
Who are your top five favourite bloggers?
Well my top two are Juan Cole’s Informed Comment (http://www.juancole.com/) and The Pakistani Spectator.
Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?
Yes, one of my blogs about my reflections on my Army life seemed to have gotten a lot of attention from all quarters: http://www.pakistaniaat.net/2011/05/26/reflections-on-army-life/
Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?
I find Juann Cole’s writings pretty stunning.
What is the future of blogging?
I think blogging has now become and will continue to be the most important challenge to entrenched interests of the mainstream media.
You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?
I think blogging has enhanced my professional reach and has had no negative effect on my personal life.
What are your future plans?
I plan to continue writing and to continue challenging the normalized systems. Most importantly, I want to focus on challenging the blanket assertions of all kinds of fundamentalisms.
Any Message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?
Please continue reading and writing. The future of Pakistan belongs to you and it will turn out to be the way you shape it. So, write, question, and challenge everything.