Thirty ideas from people under 30: The Change Agents

They are explorers and activists, artists and educators, farmers and faith leaders – even mayors. And they have trenchant suggestions on how to improve the world.

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Ammar Aziz: Band member, filmmaker, and voice for Pakistani poor

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    Pakistani activist, musician, and filmmaker Ammar Aziz.
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If Pakistani liberals find themselves a marginalized group these days, it’s because they’ve failed to combat the powerful anti-elite rhetoric of Islamists. 

That’s what Ammar Aziz, a 23-year-old rights activist from the city of Lahore, believes.

Now he’s on a mission to fight for the country’s impoverished downtrodden peasant and labor classes, using politically charged music and documentaries to highlight their plight.

“Nobody is talking about the working class in the country, the real majority” says Mr. Aziz. Instead, Pakistan’s liberals cloister themselves behind walled compounds and surround themselves with luxury items imported from the West, creating resentment among the poor around them.

The youngest member of a popular leftist pop band “Laal”(meaning Red), Aziz has just released a new song 'Inquilab'(revolution), dedicated to freeing Pakistan’s bonded laborers. He’s also directed a video for the band, “Awaken my life,” that rails against the economic disparity and political corruption which strikes at the heart of what ails his country. In addition to helping organize protest rallies, he's working with political groups to organize peasant and worker rallies thousands-strong in rural Punjab.

Underpinning his work is a strong belief not just of a fairer society, but of checking the influence of the Taliban. Four years ago, a prominent Karachi-based seminary handed down a Fatwa against Aziz for helping to produce “Taqwacore,” an award-winning documentary on an Islamic punk rock group touring Pakistan. He was forced into hiding. More recently, Aziz has been using his platform as a blogger for Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper to highlight social issues, including a Christian girl’s rape and forced conversion to Islam of a Christian girl last Christmas.

Says Ammar, Pakistan’s US-backed liberal elites present the masses with a false binarization. “People say, ‘either you oppose the Taliban or you oppose us [Pakistan’s liberal elites] and America,’ ” says Aziz. “We say there’s a third option.”

–Issam Ahmed, Lahore, Pakistan

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