Dangerous Estimations

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

A lot of people are shocked at the suspects captured for the murder of Sabeen Mahmud and the Ismaili community bus attack. Though there are many others who are not, whether any links are found with foreign intelligence agencies or not.

Many people are dumbfounded by the idea that graduates of the most prestigious secular educational institutes could be involved in such mindless, fanatic violence. A lot of apologists for religious seminaries are rather delighted that the fingers are being pointed toward students of schools and colleges. What they are completely ignoring is how comprehensively the effects of the teachings of their beloved seminaries and pulpits are engulfing the society. Actually, they should be proud of the results.

If these suspects did indeed commit these crimes, as at least one of them with a relatively “sinful”, affluent background has reportedly confessed, that alone is not evidence of the possibility of fundamentalist indoctrination of college students in our society. We know for a fact that there is a pattern. People living our educational institutions experience it firsthand every day.

The misconception that higher education completely turns you into a rational person that is peaceful in all respects is simply wishful thinking. This only goes to show how vulnerable our youth are to religious indoctrination. And if that is not a problem, they are certainly prone to fall for more stupid ideas at least. For example, killing people for “celebrating Valentine’s Day”, or because they happen to have a different religious sect or leader.

The biggest reason to that is that there is nothing about the technical scientific, though secular, education that shuts down the religious indoctrination on the side. As a matter of fact, technical education such as electrical and chemical engineering can only equip them with the necessary knowledge of executing their terrorist missions. Perhaps it would be realistic to expect college graduates to not to turn to religious fundamentalism, had critical reasoning been a mandatory course, just like Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies are in the junior grades.

Even that is not a guarantee that people would not fall for religious fundamentalism because you always have the option of not applying what you are studying. An option which can be as effectively exercised as shrugging off evidence that disturbs your worldview.

So when people are making assumptions such as these, they are making two critical errors. They are overestimating the structure of the secular education, which does not necessarily promise strict indoctrination, if any at all, of a system of morality. They are also underestimating the effects of religious indoctrination dedicated to the very goal, and the fears and desires of the human nature that it addresses.

We make such mistakes not only in commenting on certain tragedies and acts of terrorism, but even when we vote. And it is probably the same mistake when we apologize for the acts and beliefs of the more radical of the religious fundamentalists across the globe.

Of course, what is the harm in voting for a religious party? It is not like they are going to bring about a Khomeniesque revolution overnight, are they?

However, reducing the problem of religious fundamentalism among college students to the lack of rational application only undermines the problem. Approaching religious fundamentalism at college should also be seen as a political movement, not too different to any other college union, just like the leftists or right nationalists.

You can adhere to the idea that Sharia, or say Marxism, should be enforced in the country without giving a second thought to what the doctrine actually is. You don’t need to know what the ramifications would be anyway. If you do and still want it, even better. Makes you a better foot soldier for the cause.

Besides, it must be harmless if it is a divinely sanctioned code of governance and lifestyle. We’ll change.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Foreign Hand Excuse

Karachi-Bus-Attack-news_184842_l

What do we need to absolve the usual suspects within the country of their responsibility? Just let someone utter these words that our ears always long to hear:

Foreign hand was involved.

Let us not doubt the words from our foreign office, for we don’t have the access to the information to either take their word for it or deny it. However, what is certain is the instantaneous told-ya knee jerk reaction deviating attention from the real problem that such statements trigger.

Incidents such as the Karachi bus attack targeting the Ismaili community, and other similar religious terrorism that has been going on for years, have much deeper root causes than just the foreign hand.  We better not shy away from the problem of religious extremism at home.

It is no secret that religious terrorist organizations run amok in Pakistan, despite scores of them being banned by the federal government, and quite a few of them targeted by law enforcement. Considering the power of religion in the contemporary Pakistani society, any government would think twice before even planning to initiate an operation against such culprits.

However, I cannot help but applaud the incumbent Information Minister Pervez Rasheed for his courage to speak against religious seminaries. A statement that has apparently attracted fatwas against him.

Not even the serving government officials are safe from fatwas. This only goes to show the perpetually threatening force of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. An undemocratic entity that enjoys legitimized status in the Pakistani society. Considering how true they are to their faith, you can hardly blame them.

Even if we suppose that factors such as foreign intervention were behind the Karachi bus attack, it is not the foreign intelligence agencies that declare Shia infidels. It is not the foreign agencies that would publicly condemn them to death in sermons. The sectarian hate movement against the Shia is very indigenous, and if someone would advocate its foreign influence, it would only inconveniently point fingers to certain allies in the Middle East. But let’s just call that a vague conspiracy theory.

Until the Pakistani state takes the responsibility for not acting against religious political parties and sectarian terrorists, it would never be able to overcome the problem of terrorism. Even if foreign powers are exploiting such anti-state weaknesses in Pakistan, it is such elements of the Pakistani society that are at the heart of this problem.

Another thing that is at the heart of this problem is the faith of the people guiding them toward such belligerent behavior. Simply attacking religion of freedom by issuing draconian decrees regulating the time of the call to prayer would not suffice. The government should never hesitate to tread upon the religious freedom whenever it is threatening the individual liberty and security of the people. This is where sectarian terrorist groups must be proactively crushed.

It is true that having a secular constitution is not a guarantee to prevent the flourishing of religious fundamentalist terrorism. The growing Islamist terrorism against rational Bangladeshi bloggers is a demonstration of this notion.

Nevertheless, the government must promote religious tolerance instead of puritanism, but if it is finding it hard to do so, it can at least crack down on extremism for establishing law and order. Egypt is doing so, albeit with an undemocratic show of force.

Until and unless we stop apologizing for religious political parties in the name of choice and democracy, we would keep on falling in their trap of totalitarianism. And will remain tangled in the obsession with homogeneity and purity, which were apparently or allegedly the basis of creation of Pakistan, which continue to extend and evolve.

It is time to nudge the law enforcement operation to a slightly different, uneasy direction.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

CyberCrime Bill: What Blasphemy Law Feels Like

cyber-crime-bill-southasiamedia-net-2404201518503513

I just came across an apparently credible copy of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill that is reportedly passed by the standing committee on information technology, but had learned just enough from the outraging social media posts criticizing it that the Pakistani government is at its worst again. Searches without warrant and internet censorship.

From the looks of it, the bill seems to be a grim reminder why government should be out of our lives in as many aspects as possible. It is also a reminder of the terrible extent of power our democratic structure vests into the hand of the government agencies such as the PTA and how nobody sees that as a problem.

The trouble with liberals aspiring for greater government control in Pakistan is that they conveniently forget that the country is an Islamic Republic. This means that ideologically, Pakistan is just a few shots away from becoming societies such as Iran. This is why I have always been skeptical about policing the internet for hate speech. But still, laws must protect people from hacking, harassment and financial fraud. However, such laws, just like any laws, should remain confined to dispute resolution as opposed to mandatory guidelines for moral behavior.

However, what is encouraging is the public outrage at the bill in the Muslim majority country, at least online. Finally, my dream of seeing the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami protesting on the streets to prevent a facebook ban could be near its realization perhaps. What is the world coming to?

Among the youth, it is really refreshing to see the passionate opposition, despite the fact that the bill apparently contains many things that the activist folks have been campaigning for years. Of course, that does not include protecting the head of the government, who happens to be a “natural person,” or the state from criticism, or allegedly defamation, but you could expect such provisions to creep into the penal code. Though that is a biased, out-of-the-way interpretation really of the most ambiguous, but pretty authoritatively liberal bill you have seen in a while. But in all honesty, I do not expect the current state regime to formulate any law without providing for the protection of the glory of Islam and the sanctity and security of the state.

This offers some remote idea to the liberal and conservative Muslim majority in the country of what the blasphemy law remotely feels like. The more informed of critics would obviously laugh away this comparison, as they should, but anyone can agree that you don’t see Pakistanis getting outraged at free speech curbs everyday. I would also like to apologize to the drafters of the bill for comparing it with something as terrible as the blasphemy law, but let me proceed with my argument anyway.

The insecurity that you just felt by learning about the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill 2015 is what most citizens not belonging to a certain religion in Pakistan do every day because of the blasphemy law. I really hope that this occasion is used to extract some empathy for the people whose lives are jeopardized by the blasphemy law.

As for the cybercrime bill, it is important to stay vigilant before the state ends up killing the internet in the name of preserving its sanctity. We must openly and unapologetically oppose the blocking of websites on any ground, let alone religious, political or pornographic. We must oppose the notion of the state deciding moral right and wrong for us. Unless that is the case, we are always prone to lose our freedoms forever. I know it is way too early to freak out about this bill, but we could be headed down a dark alley where columns such as this one would never be seen again on a Pakistani website in the future.

We have had enough activism in this country calling for government intervention. It is time to call for the government to keep its hands off the internet. It is time that we start questioning if offending the glory of state and religion is a criminal offense at all. Thankfully, the Pakistani youth, at least the online bit, is reading the writing on the wall. Since there is not much you can do about the Islamic nature of the constitution of the country, at least you can try keeping government out of things like speech on internet as much as you can.

I still have good faith that our government and parliament will not pass this bill into a law, or at least not unanimously, but you never can tell in a country crazy enough to still have YouTube banned for apparently no sensible reason at all.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Sabeen died for your Freedom

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sends shivers down your spine just when you think writing about Sabeen Mahmud.

Because no matter who you are, her closest of friends, or just someone whose life she distantly touched like mine, you cannot help but be in awe of Sabeen’s colossal courage. And I try not using that word lightly.

For the sort of acceptance free speech has in our society, her fearlessness and initiative were extraordinary. Shocking actually. And she was not going anywhere.

There is also a stark difference between her and all those who are writing about her. Sabeen was a person of action, not words. She lived what she believed in. Took action when others would hesitate and never follow up.

Her organization is reflective of this very fact. Instead of talking gibberish about solutions, she actually presented the claustrophobic Pakistani society with one. She showed the way to people to express themselves freely. She showed us that we should not wait for the government to make our lives better.

I very clearly recall the night in November 2013 when Shia-Sunni clashes erupted in the Raja Bazaar area last Muharram. Being in Karachi, she could not wait to send out a message of peace and condolence to the victims of a mosque attack on behalf of Pakistan for All. I wanted to go, but could not. Did not. Rather stay away from the riots targeting Imam Bargahs and the curfew that shortly ensued.

But it was her passion that made me feel ashamed of my lack of empathy for the victims of that riot, or my sheer lack of action. Of course, there must not be a single soul who would not be disturbed by sectarian violence including myself, but it’s reaching out that matters. Her messages and my lack of action are now going to haunt me forever. My self-esteem dwarfed by her towering, though selfless humanity.

Not just in humanity, but in sheer, fearless courage. For someone who received way too many death threats for her fair share, she was amazingly defiant. During her Valentine’s Day campaign, someone even issued a fatwa against her, or almost did. In other words, a lot of supposedly morally righteous people were pretty much after her life. Not that it deterred her in the least.

Finally, she probably went too far in the eyes of our deep state when she invited Baloch activist Mama Qadeer for the Unsilencing Balochistan talk that LUMS turned down for obvious reasons. The social media pages of her organization were apparently blocked because of that, which is a good sign that the state was targeting her cause. Whoever brutally murdered her, could the state be completely absolved of the way they targeted her organization?

Wusatullah Khan’s column, which is a resounding slap on the faces of her killers, report that she died satisfied that the talk went well. Nothing outrageous, inflammatory or offensive about it. Everybody went home satisfied. Sabeen too, only she didn’t reach her home.

Though in the eyes of the holier-than-thou patriots, that was one offense too many.

Why did she do it? Well, somebody has to fight. Somebody’s got to do it.

A lot of my rational friends cringe at my admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. I don’t care if he was a religious fanatic, or ridiculously devoted to peace and non-violence. I just admire the fact that he practiced what he preached, and so completely. Or at least he tried. I admire that because I know it’s very hard to do so.

I can hardly think of anyone else who lives so completely what they preach. Maybe Malala and Edhi are other such people. But if I were to think of someone else, hardly anyone but Sabeen’s name comes to mind. If people like her don’t leave you awestruck, then probably you have no idea what it takes to live like that.

If anyone from the youth is reading this, it is people like her who are fighting for your freedom, for true democratic values. This is what free speech is about.

To be honest, I have personally lost a lot of faith in this country today. But I am not sure if giving up is even an option if you are going to be fair to her legacy, as Jibran Nasir said. It is time to support her organization with even greater vigor and donate.

She had the option to live just like any of us. Keeping a low profile, being quiet, not involving themselves in these needless social problems. She even had the option of leaving Pakistan. That would have made a lot of sense after the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy. But guess what, she didn’t.

I just saw Kamila Shamsie’s tweet who asked her to be careful. She replied, in almost Geetaesque conviction, “somebody has to fight.”

She did not leave the battlefield. She waged war, with PeaceNiche.

It is the battlefield where heroes are needed.

It is in the battlefield that heroes fall.

It is up to us whether we take up and carry on her fight or not. Now that we got a hero in her.

But if you don’t, it’s alright because not everyone is that brave. I know I am not.

But I do know, for a coward that I am, that she died for my freedom.

Sabeen died for your freedom.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Ignored Mass Hysteria of the Righteous

Source: Telegraph

Source: Telegraph

Not long before the date of the publishing of this post, a woman was lynched and burned alive for burning the Koran by an angry mob of men in Afghanistan. A few days later, another secular Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death by religious fundamentalists, after Avijit Roy met a similar fate. A few months ago, similar religious justice was dispensed in a small Punjab town near Lahore.

It would probably be fallacious and inappropriate to link allthe religiously motivated mob lynching and killing incidents occurring in these different South and Western Asian countries into a pattern. However, you cannot help but notice the similar convictions and motives driving the angry killers in all of these apparently isolated incidents. Of course, we know that the quoted incidents are just a few of the many such incidents. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that different mobs separated by language and other geographical barriers converge under a common banner of morality.

While it appears that the antitheists only resort to unreasonable bigotry when they blame religion for making good people do terrible things, such incidents of violence only seem to validate their strange claim. It would be very difficult for even the most conservative of critics to actually deny the religious nature of the motivation of the attackers.

It is amazing that these societies, which are apparently obsessed with moral righteousness and justice, let these incidents go largely unaddressed in terms of criticism and outrage. Or actually, some would argue that such strong tendencies are the very factor behind these outrageous cases of mob violence, apparently condoned by the society in their immediate surroundings. Obviously, there are a few who protested all these incidents, but they can hardly engage the majority directly in a reasonable debate over this issue. No wonder why such criticism is largely absent from Urdu language press in Pakistan.

You can understand the occurrence of individual apathetic sociopaths, but it is worrisome when such behavior becomes a socially accepted norm. The degree of violence that is associated with this perceivably divine system of justice is pretty much an insult to humanity by any standard. However, in this day and age, this medieval system of witch hunting is pretty much alive and well.

Would it be too bizarre to claim that these people have been exposed to certain instructions or a common moral code that encourage them to act in this manner? Surely, there must be a common idea uniting thousands of people to come together and target a defenseless person so brutally. Ah, just imagine the horror of a mob beating you up. Imagine the pain and humiliation. Oh wait, let’s not even go there. Invoking the theory of mind is such a cliché, or perhaps hardly of any use in this case.

Or would it be too offensive and inappropriate to question the morality of the community condoning their practices?

It is interesting to note how consistently such faith related killings occur. Yet it is hard to point out the elephant in the room. Probably there really isn’t a pattern, nothing to do with what these people were actually supposed to follow, but you cannot help but notice why it is happening, especially if you find the chants of these mobs at work hard to ignore.

Nevertheless, it would have been encouraging had such behavior been confined to angry and vicious mobs and fringe radicals looking to stone infidels to death. The problem is that some of the states supposed to stop the madness are even worse, putting it into legislation. While the scholars who would conveniently condemn a vigilante witch hunt would happily offer an alternative legal route for the same.

You might be tempted to falsely term this widespread organized righteous behavior mass hysteria, but that would be a gross understatement.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein Excuse

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The parliament just voted down the possibility of sending out troops to assist Saudi Arabia to bomb the hell out of Yemen, and like always, pretty unanimously too. Well, almost. And to make things even more fun, a top UAE diplomat came out with a blatant and open threat about the consequences for the half-hearted vows and the lack of substance in its friendship with the Arab world. An interesting turn of events.

A lot of people see this as an issue which is pretty black and white in terms of its morality. In my view, things are not as straightforward as that. There is evil on both sides, especially if you refer to the Iran-Saudi conflict and take Yemen out of it altogether. The only moral problems are the violation of the sovereignty of Yemen, which apparently does not even matter anymore, and obviously the loss of innocent civilian lives. But I take that is the least of our problems at the moment as well.

However, my criticism has nothing to do with the morality of the action of sending the troops or not. Either way, this is going to be a diplomatic mess, with a question of which party you can afford to offend less. Personally, I feel you should not stir a hive of bees if your legs cannot carry you far enough to escape the swarm. But this is actually about the morality of why you would want to send the troops.

So you genuinely believe that Pakistani troops should be sent for the Saudi campaign, then stop lying to the Pakistani people. Now that is something on the morality of which pretty much everybody can agree, no matter on which side of the camp you find yourself. OK, maybe not.

But let’s try again. It’s not like the Iranians are taking over the Kaa’ba again. How about instead of offering the reason of the security of the sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, you try pitching the restoration of the deposed Yemeni regime as the objective. Now one way or another, this sounds like a far more legitimate reason for intervention, and coincidentally this is what the military intervention is really going to be all about anyway. Why is that so hard to explain? It’s about defeating the Houthi rebels, which are allegedly backed by some country which is apparently the only one upset by the Saudi bombing.

So whatever you want to do, please stop invoking the security of Harmein-al-Sharifein for crying out loud. The religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, JUD and the JUI(F) just held a conference dedicated to the Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein, or in other words, for endorsing the Saudi bombings in Yemen. This only goes to show how much religion is used by our politicians to blackmail the sensitivities of the masses.

Now ironically, these are the same political parties who protested against the Gaza bombings by Israel, but are not only silent over the killings in Yemen, the images of which starkly resemble the former, but even vocally support it. Because apparently Yemeni people are less important than the people of Gaza, or maybe because the killer is not an infidel this time around. And as it turns out, comparing the Yemen bombings with Gaza bombings is not much of a case of apples and oranges anyway. The only difference is that Israel was bombing Gaza for far more legitimate reasons and to respond to a more immediate threat.

Now speaking of Israel, don’t you think our state uses the security of Harmein Al-Sharifein excuse just like the American hawks use the security of Israel for warmongering in the Middle East? This may be a false equivalence, but the similarity is that politicians on both sides have succeeded to develop mass consensus on these issues to use military force and consider it an integral part of their national security.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that either. But invoking this sacred reason for justifying military action for worldly political ambitions of another country certainly sounds like a bit of a moral problem.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Bored Baby With the Dangerous Toy

Source: telecompk.net

Source: telecompk.net

While I did expect that it would happen one fine day, but just when I was done with an overdose of patriotism with the March 23 parade, I found out that my blog was not a safe surfing area for people living in Pakistan anymore.

Of course, I was not receiving any special treatment and it was wordpress.com which was blocked, and along with it hundreds of other Pakistani blogs. From what I read in the papers, it was because of national security. No confirmation from the PTA, but apparently it was just another of those switch on and off episodes. Nothing to worry about.

Perhaps the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is either incompetent, or is being malicious on purpose.

The PTA has become an out-of-control psychotic. Or if that sounded too harsh, probably more like a bored baby with a dangerous toy in his hands, with rather juvenile and cute, but obnoxious antics, only with potentially dangerous consequences. The idle and overly concerned bureaucrats in this government body, which probably should not exist in the first place (at least the department of censorship), must invent new things to keep themselves occupied and feel purposeful about themselves.

We often hear political parties make big fuss about public infrastructure and welfare projects being a waste of money for partisan reasons, but no one ever bothers considering these bureaucratic agencies, not to mention completely useless organizations such as the Islamic Ideological Council, a burden on the poor taxpayer. They are just drawing salaries out of your tax money, and they need to be there because, well, they are a part of the government.

But there is an even more dangerous question to ask.

How far will our government go in curtailing our civil liberties and access to information in the name of national security?

Sadly this question remains as unanswered in advanced democracies such as the United States and the EU, as it is in countries with almost theocratic preoccupation. So why bother.

Despite the tendencies among the Pakistani people to accept every single state absurdity in the name of national security, they do come across as pretty freedom loving. So would they be willing to give up facebook one day in the name of national security, decency or for the protection of all things that are holy?

Or would that trigger a riot for the demands of their beloved social media platform one day, with the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami leading it? Only time will tell.

I really do hope we live to see that day. Wishful thinking.

Though the question of the temporary blocking of wordpress.com should not go unanswered. We should demand a response from the PTA, who should explain to the Pakistani people why they take them for an intellectually challenged group.

Why do they believe that blocking words of dissent on one platform would prevent the people from its harmful effects?  And that if they are curious, they can always find ways to reach such information.

Why is Pakistan trying so hard to become China?  I am not even sure if our other horrible ideal, Saudi Arabia, practices this much internet censorship.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs

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