The Science of Religion

Source: maharishiyagyaprogram.eu

Perhaps a potentially interesting area of exploration for neurological and psychological researchers is the science of religion: the science of discovering not only how religion wires the human brain in general but how different religions shape it differently. Perhaps it is indeed worth exploring how a Muslim’s brain is wired to work, perceive, and process ideas differently to a Hindu’s brain and how the religious conditioning changes their outlook on life and society. And more importantly, why people following different religions tend to be tribal or communal in their mannerism.

Of course, it would be going too far to suggest that certain channeling of thoughts would bring about a physiological change. But would it be too far off to suggest that this channeling of thoughts would force certain neuron routes in the brain which could have existed in another state had this intervention not occurred? Would it not inspire or prevent the construction of new patterns of cognitive practices which otherwise would not emerge? Or is it possible that instead of the subtle differences between the religiosity of a Hindu sadhu or a Sufi ascetic and an orthodox Muslim cleric or a Jewish Rabbi, the wiring of the brain would only be apparently different between a religious dogmatic and a rational agnostic?

I know it may sound like an unworthy subject for such a deep exploration but it is of little doubt that these different belief systems nurture a completely different set of behaviors altogether. There have been works which acknowledge the impact of religiosity and spirituality on the human brain, effects of prayer, and explore the neurological basis of religion, but can we study the impact of different faiths? The only problem with this idea is setting up science to “evaluate” religions and their impact on society. However, there must be a way to do so without political controversy as unlikely as it seems.

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that factors such as religious upbringing or inspiration can shape a person’s personality to be a certain way. However, what do we mean when we say that? It definitely implies a pattern in which that person behaves and thinks with certain individual nuances in the context of that cultural tradition.

The politics of such a study is indeed going to be controversial in the postmodern era with many likely to be jumping to comparing it to a pseudo-science such as eugenics in terms of being discriminatory to religious communities. However, it is not necessary to see this potential study through the lens of morality, of right and wrong, and of virtuous and evil. It will merely be a psychological and sociological experiment with possible physical dimensions if anyone gets to discover them.

But at least questions can be asked. How a person would think if they are told about the existence of God and how would they think if they are told there is no God. What would be their behavior if they were to believe if divinity can take different forms of life and how it would be different if divinity was held to be off-limits to mortal creatures? Would there be a difference if they were raised in a vegetarian culture as opposed to a carnivorous tradition that relishes hunting as a sport? Will any such biases impact whether they are more receptive or hostile to people from another culture?

This indeed sounds intriguing but the future of humanity is not depending on it either.

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Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

Trump Meets Trump: Why Our Prime Minister is a Joke

Source: Pakistan Today

July 22 witnessed one of the most cringeworthy political moments ever in history. In a rare Trump meets Trump moment, which we can only hope never to see again, President Donald Trump met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. To nobody’s surprise, the two got along very well together. The foreign office declaring the “tour went better than expected,” it is widely hailed as a diplomatic success for Pakistan. Largely due to Trump’s irresponsibility in his bid to impress Pakistan to help with the talks with the Taliban. Trump allegedly falsely attributed Prime Minister Modi requesting US arbitration for Kashmir, other than making a couple of other disastrous statements, especially the one about wiping out Afghanistan off the face of Pakistan.

During the press conference, the two anti-media leaders found good cause to bond with each other. Their mutual disdain for the media in their respective countries, as much as that media has played a role in raising them to the position of power. Even though the dynamics are different in Pakistan, and the media is freer in the United States to really reflect on it, it is food for thought considering their action and reputation as heads of government.

However, the moment that truly laid bare the lies and hypocrisy of Prime Minister Imran Khan was his comment on the curbs of freedom of the press in Pakistan. An answer that should have shocked everyone around the world and present in that room was that the Pakistani media was freer than the British media. Imran Khan said that he had been attacked by the media day in and day out and the notion that “the freedom of the Pakistani press is being curbed is a joke.”

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Pakistani journalists who are already battling every day with the Deep State for their survival instantly slammed this malicious and arrogant comment. An op-ed piece in Washington Post effectively chronicled some of the most prominent curbs on the media in Pakistan probably the very next day. The comment clearly insulted the people of Pakistan who were witnessing some of the worst curbs on their freedom of expression since the Zia regime, arguably the worst dictatorship Pakistan has ever suffered. And there is a reason for that.

Here is the full video of the Trump and Imran Khan meeting.

 

The Prime Minister who supposedly carried himself immaculately through the Fox News interview ended up making a gaffe that the Government of Pakistan would like you to pretend it didn’t happen. While saying that Shakeel Afridi was in the jail for committing a crime that hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan and committed treason, that is reporting the location of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, he also claimed that the Pakistani military intelligence ISI had informed the Americans about his location ahead of the attack. Interestingly, that contradicts the position of the state.

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Had Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, or especially Maryam Nawaz Sharif had made that statement, they must have been booked under Article 6 by now. However, the selected Prime Minister can make as many gaffes such as this as possible.

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Speaking of which, for the brilliant, unifying, national leader he is. This was the greatest highlight of his petty, partisan and treasonous speech in front of a crowd made up of Pakistani expatriates in the United States in a DC arena who have no connection to the lives of people in Pakistan anymore. However, what they do have in common with the urban nationalist conservatives. What they were cheering was Imran’s vow to remove the air conditioner from the jail cell of an ailing Nawaz Sharif, the legitimate Prime Minister disqualified before the 2018 elections, who should not have been jailed in the first place.

Considering how things are going downhill in the country since the PTI has assumed office, that DC arena is pretty much the only rally space the selected Prime Minister will be able to fill.

The New Censorship Regime in Pakistan

Source: Pakistan Today

After ten years of relative democracy in the country after General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from 2008 to the last election in 2018, the country enjoyed an oasis of the explosion of free expression. Again that free expression is an expression to be used in relevant terms. Either way, Pakistan has not seen such flourishing of journalism in its history until the new censorship regime was introduced by the military and bureaucratic establishment.

With the assumption of office of the current military establishment and their subsequent “selection” of the PTI administration under Imran Khan, the censorship of the media has never been escalated to such a degree. Other than the organized harassment campaigns against journalists, the twitter handles of three journalists were forcibly deactivated temporarily by the state agents. Sadly, there is ample data on the web for anybody who wants to write a paper on it.

Journalist Hamid Mir recently held a press conference in which he sounded like a political activist campaigning for rights instead of a reporter. Well, things have gone this bad for journalists in the country and probably more than ever before.

 

Only a few days back, the ruling political party removed all doubts whatsoever as far as its support of the crackdown on journalists is concerned. Many journalists can barely believe that a party that owes so much of its current support to the media.

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Pakistani state agenda’s true representative political party PTI went out of its way to launch a disgusting campaign against press freedom. What they pretty much mean is that if a journalist is not following state propaganda, they are committing treason. Some of the tweets even directly implied that as reported by Dawn.

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The powerful DG ISPR also routinely lectures journalists about what they should report on.

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The ruling party PTI, which rose to power as a result of constant media coverage when it was in the opposition, has routinely blocked coverage to the opposition. Particularly Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a new leader on the rise, protesting with the aim to free her father former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified and jailed following two controversial judgments. Media outlets such as Geo Network have been repeatedly blocked in local cable following the coverage of her rallies. Earlier interviews of President Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz Sharif were blocked from the media but the latter was not even mentioned in the mainstream electronic media, which the military and bureaucratic establishment, along with the PTI considers the actual source of public information.

To many journalists, the kind of censorship practiced under the PTI regime even surpasses the standards set by the draconian Zia regime. However, the difference is that this 21st-century censorship continues despite the presence of social media on the parallel. Considering how dissent is considered “treason” by the patriotic lot in Pakistan, wonder when we will see a blanket ban on social media. We know our government has tried that before in the previous administration. The day people finally decide to come out on the streets against this draconian government, that day is not far off either.

Pakistan can become Sudan any day.

Unleashing Cricket Bigotry

Source: The Sun

The Pakistan Afghanistan cricket game in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 was perhaps the darkest moment in the sporting event, politically speaking. Even though I cannot speak much for the Afghan side, but it is safe to say that the game brought out the worst in both the nations, at least among the rioting fans in the stands. Afghan and Pakistan fans brawled on more than one occasion after the game, clearly due to the verbal exchanges.

The game surely brought out the ugly, racist, and xenophobic side of Pakistan. The Pakistan twitter was terrible enough to trend “Pakistan v Namak Haraams,” an expression used for unfaithful traitors. Pakistanis particularly have a problem with the Indian Cricket Board supporting the Afghan team and providing it with a home base, something which the Pakistan Cricket Board offered earlier. Of course, the Indian “interferences” in Afghanistan, whether political or sporting, threaten the national security of Pakistan. So while we hate the Afghans, we need to be in charge of everything about Afghanistan.

In order to eloquently express and represent the sentiment of the nation about their Afghan brothers, Rawalpindi fast bowler Shoaib Akhter stepped up. With all the anti-Afghan bigotry he could absorb from my hometown, he repeated all the usual tropes, only stopping at not directly calling the immigrants parasitic, though he pretty much implied it. He probably took it down from his twitter later but this video has been saved for all posterity.

Even in Leeds, the venue for the game, the political atmosphere was full of tension. The Baluch and Afghan political activists found it the perfect opportunity to highlight the human rights violations in Baluchistan. A skywriting plane was carrying the message of “Justice for Baluchistan” and “End Forced Disappearances.” The “End Forced Disappearances” campaign has been making its appearance on public signage and newspaper front pages as well, which the patriotic British citizens of Pakistani origin have been tearing and destroying every chance they got in their exercise of “free expression.”


The playbook of the Pakistani xenophobes and racist nationalists, who are far worse than Trump’s base, attack Afghans in a standard fashion. For the usual part, they blame them as burdens on the economy and a source of crime. You can safely say that this xenophobia is prevalent from Peshawar and Gilgit-Baltistan to Islamabad and Karachi. The narrative also blames them for not being faithful enough for Pakistan even though it has given their refugees asylum for more than thirty years, even though it has refrained to allow citizenship to most of them.

Interestingly enough, the Pakistani nationalists believe the Afghan refugees owe Pakistan something for destroying their home country.

Gul Bukhari, the Pakistani dissident journalist, put the response to this baseless allegation by Pakistani nationalists in this tweet. With someone asking her if there are a more ungrateful people than the Afghans (who never repaid Pakistan’s generosity in kind), she summed up the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan political equation. Indeed they are a very ungrateful nation. We have been on the forefront for imposing war on them for forty years, pocketed dollars on account of Afghan refugees, and have imposed the Taliban on them to this day. With all the generosity, they have not bothered to thank (Pakistan) once. 

Pakistan almost lost the match against Afghanistan on June 29, but our people have certainly lost the moral high ground they think they always had.

Hanging Them in the Squares

Source: Naya Daur

Conservative and populist Nationalists in any nation enjoy a special license of holding trials when and where they wish. In Pakistan, a part of the Messiah Syndrome happens to be the longing for swift justice that suits them. It is pretty strange because this kind of swift justice was dispensed by leftist Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia and earlier Republican revolutionaries in France. Either way, this sort of swift justice is usually associated with challenging the established order. But which established order?

In Pakistan, interestingly enough, it is fashionable to support the forces responsible for the status quo while calling for the violent elimination of the forces that have mysteriously caused the moral corruption of the society. In order to cleanse this evil from society, it is important to selectively pick certain individuals who have somehow simultaneously threatened the interests of those deemed essential for the national security of the country.

The narrative of the casual fascism practiced by a number of the people of Pakistan for a long time, particularly the social conservative nationalists in Punjab, has only started to appear in the political mainstream with this audacity. A lot of people are condemning Faisal Vawda and his extremist statement about “hanging 5,000 odd people being necessary for fixing the state of the country,” but that is pretty much the sentiment of these social conservative nationalists across urban Pakistan.

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However, since Faisal Vawda is particularly more psychopathic than the rest of the elements in the current administration, he doubled down on his call by adding dragging them behind vehicles before hanging in the square. Unfortunately, the Constitution guaranteeing rights to citizens is the only hurdle in the way of this much-needed action. Of course, a person who is so widely broadcasting his savagery deserves all the condemnations in the world. But the overzealous and partisan speaker who often jumps at “expunging obscenities” from the house proceedings apparently did not have a problem with such vile statements.

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While it is true indeed that there is a wilder, savage side to the tribal justice in indigenous India or anywhere for that matter, as is often the case with undemocratic tribal societies. It is pretty interesting that even in very liberal settings frequented by respectable Senators, discussing very progressive ideas, you could hear them talking about the need to hang people to cure the country.

The sweeping statements from these conservatives remind how frighteningly close democracies remain to the rise of fascism. These bloodthirsty urges are far more dangerous than the campaigns of xenophobia and cries of economic nationalism. The thought of swift justice can sound pleasant to the depressed ears forever waiting to hear something good in the news. For them, the swift justice would be the fruit of the eagerly-awaited Messiah and just like the coming of the Messiah, it would turn around the age-old evils of social inequalities, injustice, and poverty. This is a path to hell paved by “good intentions.”

Be thankful for thoughtful fascist ministers like Faisal Vawda that have truly represented the idea of justice of a regressive administration elected by the morally constipated and hypocritical social conservatives.

On to the revolution.

Let’s talk about nice things

Well, let’s talk about nice things. At least I have been told to do so. Why talk about terrible, ugly things when there is so much beautiful about this world.

Why talk about that we need to immediately free Asia Bibi?