Keep Politics Out of the Olympics

Source: spokeo.com under fair use

Source: spokeo.com under fair use

Protesting Russia’s discriminatory anti-gay laws, a number of gay activist and human rights groups have called for boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014. It has been reported that Russia has initiated a counter campaign for improving the image of their government. The International Olympic Committee has been criticized for going on with business as usual and saying that the law does not violate the Olympics charter.

While the Russian campaign is said to have defended their position on the anti-gay law, I am critical of the calls for boycott for a very different reason. I am against Russia for having such cruel laws but I am also against the unreasonable idea of boycotting Olympics, regardless of the reason.

I think Olympics is a universal event, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world, and I want political activism out of it. I do not approve of boycotting the Olympics, no matter how moral the reason may be. And by the way, there is no such thing as anti-gay Olympics, people are anti-gay and homophobic.

Source: rusalgbt.com

Source: rusalgbt.com

Coming from a country that has discriminatory laws against certain communities, I understand what it means to live in a society that treats people on the basis of their faith, race or sexual orientation. However, the importance and moral righteousness of the cause do not necessarily justify every form of protest.

I know everyone has a different priority, but to me the idea of all the nations and people of the world coming together on a platform meant for sports and not anything else is very important as well, while recognizing the right and freedom to carry out such a protest that calls for a boycott.

Source: sylviagarza.wordpress.com under fair use

Source: sylviagarza.wordpress.com under fair use

Olympics is one of the few, if not the only event, in which the whole world comes together and participates with a spirit of sportsmanship and global unity. It is always an inspirational moment seeing all the flags together in one arena. I don’t want a single flag missing which is supposed to be there. And I don’t want this idea to be destroyed by political activism, even when it is about civil liberties.

I am all for criticizing Putin’s Russia mercilessly on this issue, especially for those out on Russian streets, but I am not entirely sure if calling for boycotting Olympics is the right kind of protest. I have respect for the cause, just not for this ridiculous, unreasonable and disappointing form of protest. Never for calls for boycott. Especially when the Olympics flame has just been lit in Greece and at a time when the OIC cannot possibly change the venue. Perhaps such protests would make more sense when the organization of another Olympics is allotted to Russia.

The trouble is that if you bring political activism, alright let’s call it human rights activism, into Olympics, there is no end to it. Every four years, nations from every corner of the world, every single one, come to wherever the event is taking place, setting aside all their political differences. Jeopardizing it with politics simply kills the very idea of Olympics.

Summer 2020 Olympics are to be held in Japan. should we boycott it because they indulge in whale hunting? We should have boycotted Beijing 2008 Olympics for reasons not too different from those raised in Russia, especially their internet censorship. No one did. And imagine all the nations of the world engaging in a vendetta of Olympics boycott for one reason or another. It is just a stupid idea, which I am glad is not being heeded by those who understand what Olympics stand for.

Your way of protest tells a lot about you.

Pressuring governments is good. Jeopardizing the Olympics is not.

The Logic Behind Honor Killing

Source: Sajjad Qayyum (AFP/Getty) under fair use

Source: Sajjad Qayyum (AFP/Getty) under fair use

Call me naïve, ignorant, immoral or disconnected from my culture, but I never could understand the logic behind honor killing.

I have thought about the subject a lot anyway, but hearing a recent news of one of these frequent incidents made me want to ask the question loud.

Why do brothers and fathers, or any other male (or sometimes even female) members of a Pakistani family, who outrage so much when a female of the clan is found to have a relationship against their wishes, and what particularly changes in the nature of sexual relationship when she copulates with someone of their choice under a matrimonial bond?

Marriage merely becomes another tool to control people, doesn’t it? But seriously, someone is still having sex with that woman. Oh, is it about sex?

This emotion known as “gairat” is rather loosely and perhaps erroneously translated into “honor” and this emotion is shared by population throughout the country, and even in other countries such as India, Afghanistan and actually people here and there all around the world.

While gairat has something to do with family honor, it is also related to sexuality and the jealousy affiliated with it. There would be probably be no film noir had there been no such sentiments in the West. I am not even sure if such emotions can be termed natural or not, but they surely make sense.

Now while it seems a very noble and chauvinistic quality, it probably kills its very supposed purpose by finding satisfaction from killing the very “offender-victim” it is meant to protect.

And if a jealous cuckold husband kills an adulterer or a cheating couple gets rid of the inadequate husband, it would make sense, but it requires the brain of Sigmund Freud to get your head around fathers and brothers killing daughters and sisters and sons killing mothers.

But during a marriage, which, at least and especially in Indian culture is a mere material transaction for the woman to spend the rest of her life as a slave, the family honor is somehow fulfilled giving away their daughter in such a manner. This shameless public display of humiliation is somehow considered honorable.

What is even worse, many, if not most, of these families would tolerate all sorts of atrocities in the name of married life. You would expect them to wreak even more havoc in the event of acts such as domestic abuse, not that such exceptions do not occur, often depending on the social status of the offended.

So in the Indian subcontinent, domestic abuse is widely considered nothing unusual in the married life by most traditional people, who find separation and legal divorce process a disgrace.

The rationale behind honor killing is certainly that women are property, the attachment of great offense to its violation and that women do not have the privilege of pursuing sexual liberties like men. People are brought up believing that all around the world in one way or another actually.

Though in the conservative Pakistani society, even men are not completely free to pursue sexual relationships, with peace at least, either. Because let’s face it, men are also victims of honor killings and are at least traumatized when a partner is targeted.

This is why I consider establishing a sexual or marital relationship in the Pakistani society a great risk that could potentially take your life. You just never know where you would offend the honor of a person, and usually one person in a group is enough to initiate a riot.

It is like committing a blasphemy with which most people somehow get away easily, but not everyone is so lucky. And you could be next.

But it is only understandable why people are so outraged about the event of the greatest cosmic significance in their lives. After all, the propagation of the human race depends on it. It must be pure and noble.

It is a pity that God chose sex as the method of procreation and created the vulgarity of genitals in the human body.

Nevertheless, sex is a sin. And the penalty is death.

Islamabad Event on Freedom of Expression for Civil Liberties in Pakistan

Bytes for All, an organization dedicated to promoting internet freedom and free speech in Pakistan, organized an event in Islamabad on Freedom of Expression and Civil Liberties on September 19, 2013. The event featured participants from all over Pakistan, including the FATA.

The event included three sessions, focusing on hate speech, fair trial and surveillance in relation to freedom of expression. The introductory speech was made by author and journalist Mohammed Hanif, who primarily spoke about the human rights violations in Baluchistan by Pakistani security agencies. Hanif revealed that no less than 529 people have died over 5 years in such incidents, which involved torturing and mutilating the victim’s bodies beyond recognition.

Hanif also served as a panelist for the first session, along with Taha Siddiqui, Murtaza Solangi and Sabeen Mahmud. that focused on hate speech. The session was moderated by the flamboyant Ajmal Jami. Taha Siddiqui, journalist, presented the findings of his research report on the presence of terrorist organizations on the internet and the hate speech they propagate to find recruits. A participant objected that the report focused on only a certain kind of groups, which sounded reasonable, but apparently Taha’s focus was on emphasizing that terrorist groups were operating unabated in the country with a clear online presence and that authorities were not moving a muscle in response while banning other websites instead.

Murtaza Solangi, broadcasting journalist, defined hate speech for the audience and said that you should not impose your beliefs on others for harming them. What he did not explain was what if that was precisely what the beliefs required you to do. Mohammed Hanif was the one who actually briefly touched that aspect, emphasizing that you would not be able to take the poor people’s God away from them and that it simply would not happen. He also mentioned that it is hardly any use complaining about extremist militant groups if the state itself handpicked a community, namely the Ahmedis, during a democratically elected government and declared them literal outcasts by legalizing their expulsion from Islam and inviting hatred against them.

Sabeen Mahmud, the Karachi based founder of T2F, presented the hate messages and death threats, quantified on the Nafrat Aggregator, that she received in response to her controversial pro Valentine’s Day campaign in response to Tanzeem-e-Islami’s campaign of forbidding people to celebrate the holiday using Koranic verses and Hadiths. She offered a personal viewpoint on how it is like to be threatened with groups invading your free speech and right to life in that manner. The shocking aspect remains that most people in Pakistan would consider it their religious duty to violate other’s freedom and security like that, even though in this case, she had hardly done anything that can be considered wrong. I personally fully support her actions and consider her a free speech hero.

The second session focused on Fair Trial and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rabia Mehmood. The panelists included the eloquent Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and columnist, Safdar Dawar, a FATA based journalist and journalist Mahvish Ahmed. The most important point was made by Ijaz that legal jurisdictions and continued debate about fair trial, surveillance and privacy violations are necessary and will eventually make a continual but certain difference for the better. The session also focused on the implications of the vagueness of legal definitions. Dawar emphasized how FATA was not ruled by any court of law and that there was no way to address violations of civil liberties there. Mahvish Ahmed raised the importance of political solutions.

The third session focused on Surveillance and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rahma Mian. The panelists included Abid Imam, a lawyer and academic, Asim Zafar Khan, a technology adviser to the government,  Shahzad Ahmed of Bytes for All and Fahd Deshmukh, a technology expert and activist. The crux of the session was that surveillance was inevitable, so staying ahead of the technology curve is all that people could do. Abid Imam pointed out that avoiding surveillance is not even a declared fundamental human right in the law, and not one that states are likely to grant. Shahzad Ahmed spoke passionately about the need to reclaim the right of privacy and to raise voice against growing state surveillance.

The good thing about such events is that introduces a lot of people to the very idea of freedom of expression, which is pretty much alien to a society like Pakistan where questioning is discouraged and you are mostly required to practice self-censorship right from your childhood. However, when you hear about an event focusing on freedom of expression, you prepare yourself to reflect on a more academic discussion about the subject, especially focusing on the subtleties of hate speech and freedom of expression. It is not always the case when you get there and in this case discussion often deviated from the topic due to the line of questioning from the participants as well.

As a matter of fact, a lot of participants use the forum to bring forth other subjects than the one under discussion. While there is nothing wrong with doing that, as I understand many of these participants need a forum like this to be heard, but it is rather unproductive, time-wasting, largely distracting and drains a lot of energy of everyone involved.

The event was concluded after recommendations from the participants. While I believe that such seminars that educate people about freedom of expression are very useful, further interest among the educated general public could be stirred by holding public debates between liberal and conservative columnists and intellectuals who are for and against freedom of expression, instead of constantly offering a lecturing monologue.

If it does not convince more people of how important free speech is, it would actually make the anti free speech debaters look bad.

Feeling Sorry for Kerry

Source: mediatrackers.org

Source: mediatrackers.org

I feel sorry for Secretary Kerry. I really do.

He has a difficult task on his hands selling who knows what. Sometimes it seems to me as if he himself does not fully know what it is.

For those who have heard him at the Senate hearings and afterwards would have some idea of what I am talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, I take his word for it. I am sure he is a responsible man and I have no reason to doubt anything he says. Even though what he said made little sense to me.

Neither do I question the moral authority for taking action against Assad for having used chemical weapons against his own people, as is alleged.

Though the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations was not as confused and passed the resolution 10 to 7. However, the G-20 nations were not as clear and tied at 10-10. Kerry has been presenting his case in the EU after the hearing as well.

But what I am confused about are the same questions that pretty much everyone is asking.

  1. How does a missile strike deter Assad from using chemical weapons again if he is still in power and if he can deny doing it again?
  2. How does a missile strike from an enemy ship deter a dictator desperate to hold on to power to keep from resorting  to more desperate measures?
  3. If Assad has become such an evil, why not take direct action to depose him?
  4. Since it is about morality according to the President, how would bombing Syria make things better for Syrian people?
  5. Why is killing more people necessary to make a point about how terrible the use of chemical weapons is?
  6. If the strike is not time sensitive and the revelation would not put the enemy at advantage, then what is the harm in publishing the intelligence evidence and making things crystal clear, and most of all to prove the claims made by Putin and Assad wrong?
  7. If the concern is people getting killed, is it equally not important to stop the rebels, who I understand are armed by the West?
  8. Is the US government, in all good conscience, satisfied with letting Syria be captured by Islamist militants with Al-Qaeda factions?
  9. What is the US government planning to do once Assad has been toppled over and Syrian rebels control Damascus?
  10. How can Secretary Kerry be sure about the Syrian opposition “improving”?
  11. Why is the question about the chemical weapons in Syria falling in wrong hands in the aftermath of a strike not being clearly answered?
  12. What is the basis of the assertion that inaction on the Syrian conflict would only make things worse, given that there is no explanation of how precisely the strikes would make things better, especially if other countries are affected by the conflict?
  13. Why is this not being considered as a declaration of war, at least by the US government?
  14. Why did Secretary Kerry mention the possibility of deploying troops if the situation called for it and then maintained strictly that there would be “no boots on the ground”?
  15. Why is the President not being clear on his line of action in the event of Congress turning down the resolution to carry out a military strike against Syria?

Of course, it is easy to ask questions.

The “limited” US strike makes sense to me on just one account presented as two points, keeping into account Kerry’s categorical “no boots on ground” explanation.

  1. From a militaristic viewpoint, the artillery and air support will help the rebels advance toward Damascus.
  2. The military strikes will ultimately, though indirectly, help in the fall of Damascus.

While that is great, this makes way for the following problems, since we are discussing morality over here.

  1. Why are the President and Secretary Kerry not being clear to the American people that these strikes involve deposing the Syrian President?
  2. Why repeatedly and strongly insist that the strikes are not about regime change?
  3. Why not be clear about owning US involvement in Civil War, when the Senate has already voted 15-3 for approving a resolution arming Syrian rebels? (The political correctness reminds you of the Soviet Afghan War)
  4. If Assad is someone similar to Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, in Secretary Kerry’s words, then would not that make deposing him a moral obligation to the United States and take credit for it?
  5. Therefore, why not clearly list deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the main objective of carrying out military strikes in response of his chemical attacks?
  6. If not, does this imply that leaders around the world can get to stay in power after carrying out chemical weapons attack, since the attack is about setting an example?

I understand that President Obama does not want to look like President Bush, given his “anti-war reputation” and that there is a lot of political correctness involved in their stance, but it is this covertness that arouses people’s suspicion. Too much zeal can be mistaken for malicious intentions. People are convinced of Assad’s brutality, it is the intention of their own government that they do not trust.

These and many more questions are confusing people in the United States and around the world. Unfortunately, President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the rest of the administration is answering none of them, so far. Congressman Dennis Kucinich also raises some questions, though I won’t go that far.

Today, the Congress votes for Syria.

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Note: This post is dedicated to Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) who was probably the first to mention the neglected role of the United Nations on the issue of military action against Syria in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.