Mara Ahmed shows many faces of Islam

Written by Mark Hare, March 20, 2011, Democrat and Chronicle

We all want to make sense of the world. The problem is that we often want to make the world seem simpler than it is.

After the 9/11 attacks, it was simpler to go to war against Islam than to track down the people behind the attacks and bring them to justice.

And now as Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, is holding hearings on what he sees as the Muslim threat in America, Pittsford filmmaker Mara Ahmed is releasing her second film — Pakistan One-on-One, a documentary done in Lahore, the city of her birth. The 30-minute film is built around a series of interviews with men, women, students, professors, shopkeepers and a real estate agent — each asked about the future of democracy, the war on terror and the Taliban.

Ahmed moved to Brussels as a child and in 1980 returned to Pakistan, where she finished high school in Islamabad and college in Karachi before moving with her husband to the United States in 1993. She holds a master’s degree in economics but says “art has always been my passion.” After 9/11, Ahmed looked for ways to give voice to her perspective as a Muslim American woman.

She does not use her films to make an argument, but to let her viewers glimpse the complexity of the people she features.

Pakistan is a “nation of extremes,” she says, with affluent cosmopolitan city neighborhoods, such as Lahore, and abysmal rural and urban poverty, with extremist Islamic sects and highly educated Westernized Muslim professionals.

“Having grown up on three continents I feel that I am not anchored to any one country, language or culture,” Ahmed says.

Pakistan is far from an American-style democratic society, but it is even further from the country Ahmed grew up in. In the 1980s, she says, under Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, “there was one state-owned television station and no freedom of speech.” Today, there are many independent TV stations, bristling night and day with political programs, often featuring very “abrasive” women journalist/hosts who challenge every point of view. Pakistan is a nation of “political junkies,” she says. Doing interviews like hers in Iran would be a problem, but the Pakistani government “doesn’t care.”

In her film students debate the prospect for democracy. A shopkeeper says there can be no democracy “until the judiciary is independent.” A law student says he thinks “the war on terror has become a war of terror.”

The Taliban, Ahmed says, is no more monolithic than Islam itself, with different groups motivated by different circumstances.

“Every time I go back to Pakistan,” Ahmed says, “I am amazed at how people have been exposed to media and how down-to-earth and practical they are about their own plight and the world.”

That is a point worth showing. The world is not a simple place. When it comes to economics, international politics and religious motivations, “common sense” is usually shared ignorance. And when it comes to Islam, we can learn a lot if we’d just listen to our own neighbors.

Link to article here.

Film of opinions, attitudes on Pakistan

Written by Jack Garner, March 17, 2011, Democrat and Chronicle

Rochester filmmaker Mara Ahmed enlightened filmgoers two years ago with PBS and film festival screenings of The Muslims I Know, a documentary that strove to broaden the images of Muslims beyond post-9/11 media stereotypes. Now she’s back with a follow-up, Pakistan One on One, a 30-minute documentary debuting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at The Little Theatre.

Pakistan One on One employs the classic man-on-the-street interview technique to explore opinions and attitudes in Lahore, Pakistan, as professors, students, shop-keepers and others are asked about the war on terror, the Taliban, democracy in Pakistan, and American foreign policy in the region.

Like any man-on-the-street survey, it’s less than scientific; yet, it offers a thoughtful range of opinions from citizens in a nation that’s frequently in the news, and frequently considered a key in the war on terror. The film includes an appealing music score by Rochester-based musician Sunny Zaman and his band.

Ahmed holds master’s degrees in economics and business administration, and worked on business analysis for firms in both the United States and Pakistan. She then became interested in cinema, studied art at Nazareth College, and film at Visual Studies Workshop and Rochester Institute of Technology.

A panel discussion with the filmmaker and various educators will follow the Little screening. Admission is $10. For information, go to or

Link to article here.

mara ahmed

screening of TMIK at utica college – feb 7, 2011

screening of TMIK at utica college, feb 7, 2011. great event followed by a reception with great food. 2 1/2 hours drive each way. listened to “balzac and the little chinese seamstress” on cd. horrible driving conditions with lots of freezing rain. lost control of the car on the highway, on my way back – one of the scariest moments of my life. phew. all’s well that ends well.

screening of TMIK at uitca college - feb 7, 2011

jan 30, 2011

crazy day today: spoke about islamophobia in the morning, gave an interview about the egypt protest scheduled for tomorrow, discussed expanding a website to include my new film with a web-designer, attended my daughter’s piano recital (she was fabulous) and now on to my next modern art reading for tuesday! phew!

more info on my interview here.

my talk, “islamophobia – the new normalcy” at presbyterian church on jan 30, 2011

i will be speaking about “islamophobia – the new normalcy” at third presbyterian church (4 meigs street, rochester, ny) at 9.30 am tomorrow, sunday jan 30th. do join us if u can.

articles that i used for my talk on islamophobia:

1) the propagation of neo-orientalism by soumaya ghannoushi
2) the rise of anti-muslim hate by deepa kumar
3) islamophobia inc. by nicole colson
4) the great islamophobic crusade by max blumenthal

my second doc “pakistan one on one”

so my second film, “pakistan one on one” is officially in post production today – YAY!!! follow on facebook by joining the group, “pakistan one-on-one”.

btw i’m speaking about filmmaking and screening clips from my second film at nazareth college today, 5.00 pm, room 170, art department.

later that day: with lynn duggan and cathy kirby, both art professors at nazareth college. spoke about filmmaking as a tool for activism, screened the first 15 minutes of my new doc “pakistan one on one” and enjoyed a terrific discussion with art students and film studies students afterwards. what a delightful (and appropriate) way to celebrate the beginning of post production!

my second doc “pakistan one on one”

class on modern art in spring 2011

all registered and good to go to attend a course on “modern art” at the university of rochester in spring 2011 – yay!

i will be studying at morey hall, one of the buildings in the quad. it will just be covered with 3 feet of snow, or more.

morey hall, university of rochester, ny

reports from ohio

oct 27, 2010

in dayton, ohio. had some squash and pumpkin lasagna for dinner at winds cafe in yellow springs – a v hippie town about 30 minutes away. talked to two lovely ladies, who’ve organized the screening of my film. now off to bed. the screening’s tomorrow and they tell me there might be some resistance in the audience cuz this is still the bible belt. oh well, keeps things interesting.

oct 28, 2010

report on ohio screening: about 200 people. v diverse audience. extremely heated discussion. most people were open-minded but there was a sizable chunk of the aggressively defensive. one man complained that saying “violence begets violence” is anti-american (that’s pretty deep actually). a lebanese christian woman claimed that muslims want to spread islam by the sword (how original). but the moment i totally lost her was when she iterated that iraqis r converting to christianity en masse because of the love and good deeds of christian american soldiers. (one word: wikileaks). another woman became impassioned about how americans were fighting in iraq to give the iraqi people the freedom to practice their religion (say what?). a woman who had “many muslim friends” was more than happy to treat muslims decently but hey, they all wanna kill her and she’s just trying to survive. “i just want to live” said she. aie aie aie. my mantra for the evening: watch democracy now!

oh yes, my biggest supporter throughout the Q&A: a beautiful young woman sitting in the front row. she came to hug me later and was v upset at how ignorant many in the audience were. she was the wife of a young soldier who has just returned from iraq. she began to cry as she explained he had told her about the reality of the war in iraq. it was v moving for me to meet her.

also, thank u to sinclair community college for this cutting edge work on diversity, for reaching out to the community and trying to educate, and for their incredible incredible warmth and hospitality.