Legitimizing the Drone

Source: thenewstribe.com

Source: thenewstribe.com

Would you believe that the drone is a divisive issue? But what isn’t.

A recent Amnesty International report with a rather emotional title was widely hailed by anti-drone activists, and locally by staunch anti-war parties such as the PTI. However, at the same time the report was criticized by people who think the weapon was doing a great job in firing terrorists. The accuracy of the report has also been questioned, although by some who have a history of defending drone strikes.

Obviously, you cannot expect the US government to concede that drones violate international law. However, I believe that when international human rights watchdogs are disapproving of drones and if the UN considers their use a violation of international law, there is no real need to go out of your way to defend the US drone campaign. Amusingly, a lot of commentators have been doing precisely that to justify the US government and military.

This does not mean that they do not have valid reasons to do that. Drone warfare is not any worse than conventional warfare, except for the fact that it is a constant threat looming on the heads of certain civilian populations, where militants are present. I think relatively safer populations cannot understand how a threatened population may see drone strikes.

The usual response to criticism of drones is that jet bombing kills more if not the equal number of people, can be as terrible for the people suffering the bombing and human rights, and that conventional bombing is more erratic than the drones. All these points are valid.

Whoever is opposing drones but advocating jet or artillery fire is not understanding the benefit of the technology. Pakistani nationalists opposing drones because they violate the sovereignty of the country is merely a nationalistic political viewpoint and has nothing to do with the human loss.

Drone technology is superior, indeed. But if the UN and other international and nonpartisan bodies are maintaining that US drone strikes violate international law, there is no sense in persisting with the support of an illegal device of war.

However, this does not mean that the use of this particular technology is condemned, even though it is a violation of people’s privacy and safety in any case. I do not see the reports criticizing drones and the civilian deaths caused by them as an attack on the technology, but one on the political force controlling these drones.

The drone can be legitimized. The US should stop carrying out drone strikes unilaterally and, since the technology is so accurate and helps minimize losses, the United Nations Security Council should be authorizing and supervising drone strikes when and where needed.

This does not necessarily have to require the US giving up the drone technology to the UNSC, but the UN body would only supervise the US strikes, as in UN Peacekeeping Missions. In this way, drone strikes would at least not violate the international law and the instances of possible abuse can be minimized. Critics may question the feasibility of this proposal, but the viewpoint of defending violation of international law is unreasonable.

Maybe all the criticism on the drone strikes is more about the distrust of the invader, instead of the weapon.

It’s not the drone that kills, but the people behind it.

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The OryaAbbasi Inquisition: Ganging Up on the Defenseless

OryaAbbasi - File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

OryaAbbasi – File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

A recent talkshow by Kamran Shahid on Dunya TV about Malala’s now-controversial biography “I am Malala” has become a talking point for Pakistanis. The participants of the show included columnist Orya Maqbool Jan, journalist Ansaar Abbasi, physicist and analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ambassador Zafar Hilaly. After watching the show, there are quite a few observations that I would like to make. The show can be found here.

And now, the commentary.

The show is the perfect exhibit to demonstrate that Pakistan is not a free speech society, even though such talk shows may appear to give the impression of the contrary. In a society, where expressing certain opinions pertaining to a certain religion is like sealing your death warrant. And the state only makes matters worse, which makes you thank your stars it is not half as effective.

A lot of people are attacking the host of the show Kamran Shahid for inviting people with conflicting views for better ratings, just so that he can have a heated argument. But I fully support him for this. First of all, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s great TV. He is only doing his job and I actually appreciate him for bringing together the likes of Veena Malik and Mufti Sb before.

However, there is a different reason altogether for which Kamran Shahid deserves criticism and ridicule. Shahid did an awful job at moderating the show, and it can be argued that it was deliberate. However, I would refrain from saying so. In any case, it was criminal negligence as he allowed religiosity to be a moral high ground in the debate through his word and moderating action.

Orya Maqbool Jan started the show by referring to certain passages from Malala’s book. His main focus was outraging at Malala mentioning that “her father was opposed to Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses but was a firm believer in freedom of speech”. He also rejected Malala’s criticism on curbs on women’s participation in public life and on media during the Zia regime, citing many female playwrights that rose to prominence at the time on the state television.

Pervez Hoodbhoy - Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy, in return, had zero arguments in Malala’s defense. As a matter of fact, he did more damage to Malala’s cause than a conservative could have imagined, though the aging scholar performed far better emotionally than I expected.

Hoodbhoy started out by saying that Orya and Abbasi were lying and that they were misrepresenting facts and maligning Malala, including an ad hominem attack on their English language skills. Apart from this opinion, hardly any argument was offered by the former QAU Professor.

The only solid argument from his side was about writing PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) with the mention of Prophet Muhammad, as Ansaar Abbasi had raised this rather obnoxious and easily beatable objection on Malala’s book.

This is where Kamran Shahid proved his lack of impartiality as the moderator, as he stupidly mentioned the anecdote of his thesis submission abroad in which he wrote PBUH with the name of Prophet Muhammad, despite the warning from his supervisor that writing it implied bias in a research report. This way Shahid tried influencing the debate as if not writing PBUH with the Prophet’s name was something immoral in terms of faith.

Ansaar Abbasi maintained a consistent mantra of calling Pervez Hoodbhoy “jahil” or ignorant throughout the course of half an hour of the debate, until Hoodbhoy was forced to leave amid such onslaught just before the show ended. However, for someone as religious as Abbasi, calling someone else ignorant sounded pretty hilarious and stupid.

Ambassador Zafar Hilaly, who was wondering what he was doing there, was asked to present his opinion about drone strikes and on talks with the Taliban. He was only seen shaking his head in disapproval as the war of relatively civil curse words went on between Abbasi and Hoodbhoy, as Orya continued shouting out of his lungs to stop their exchange in order to read the passage from Malala’s book.

The only reason there should be sympathy for Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is that Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who for convenience and for promoting my branding of their inquisiiton, would be referred to as #OryaAbbasi as the duo’s pseudonym from this point on, ganged up on him. I repeat, OryaAbbasi literally ganged up on Hoodbhoy, interrogating in a frighteningly self-righteous manner.

OryaAbbasi started an inquisition of Hoodbhoy to publicly frame him for opinions offensive to Muslims, paired with a hilarious but threatening diabolical laughter, as if warning him of consequences. Hoodbhoy was obviously dumbfounded for being trapped in this cul-de-sac. He narrowly dodged the inquisition by answers considered somewhat acceptable by the standards of the Pakistani Islamic society.

OryaAbbasi asking Hoodbhoy about his position on The Satanic Verses and whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is fine, and perhaps encouraging in theory, but doing so on public TV in a society such as Pakistan is dangerous, to say the least. Because someone believing in free speech or not agreeing with excommunicating the Ahmedis would most probably be threatened by the extremist Muslims who consider it righteous to kill someone with such views.

The OryaAbbasi inquisition could also be a frightening insight to the future of Pakistan is an increasingly authoritarian and theocratic state. The state already requires its citizens to declare in writing that they are not in any way affiliated with Ahmedis. Would this imply that the National ID card and Passport forms would also carry a declaration condemning The Satanic Verses, if not on more informal levels However, Pakistani Muslim individuals would still not see this as an invasion of their personal and social freedom.

In order to successfully tackle the OryaAbbasi inquisition and to effectively respond Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, Pakistanis need a secular liberal spokesperson who is not fearful of their life like Taseer or Christopher Hitchens. This is why I have tremendous respect for Christopher Hitchens, because he had very real death threats as well, but he never compromised on free speech, and he even defended Rushdie at the time when he was in hiding for his life.

A nervous, frail and emotional debater such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, despite his prestige and knowledge, is not able to take on these harassing fundamentalists. Partly because of the self-censorship that you need to exercise about Islam in the Pakistani society for the sake of security. 

Unless people are clear that it is the values of an Islamic authoritarian society that is the threat and the enemy of freedom, no one would buy the mild apologies for passages from Malala’s book that liberals have to offer. Because let’s face it, this passage from the book has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box, but I still support it. It is her freedom to write whatever she likes and I agree with it. 

If Malala has written that her father believed in freedom of speech, it is the duty of the secular-liberal debater to defend free speech as a superior value no matter what. This is what Malala’s fight is about anyway, but we are failing her. Now that Malala has been put in this position by the likes of OryaAbbasi, we need a better public defense of her.  

As crazy as it sounds, but they hardly have any argument if they don’t defend what they believe in. This is about liberty and freedom from theocracy, and the only argument is to reject religious authoritarianism.

Unless there is a debater who presents arguments that attacks the fallacy of faith and theocracy, liberal and secular debaters will always be on the losing side, shut up by religious emotional blackmail. 

Any volunteers?

On Objective Morality

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio - Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio – Source: Wikimedia Commons

In my opinion, there is no such thing as an objective system of morality, at least for an (intelligent and) emotional species such as human beings. I would not even consider a single value to be universally agreed upon, no matter how morally correct or incorrect it may seem to any person. Not even instincts of self interest in nature guarantee an objective system of morality.

Ayn Rand called her philosophy of preserving self interest and individual liberty “moral objectivism“. People find her philosophy immoral, but I like it and rather admire her for challenging moral conventions. However, I consider it a bit arrogant and naïve of her to call her philosophy moral objectivism. It is not moral objectivism in the true sense, because it is not objective, you may go with the name, but by her own definition, a more appropriate title would be “rational morality” or “moral rationalism”. Though people would even dispute that, on the count of rationality. I don’t have enough sympathy for the philosophy to even defend that label though.

Even if there is a God, and has ordered a certain set of morality, there is no reason for humans to accept it. God’s opinion is just an opinion and humans may find no reason to find it superior to theirs. And since humans have enough intelligence to reason for themselves, they do not need to follow the opinion of an alien entity, even when enslaved.

Somebody asked me that if there were no objective morality, would it allow people to rape babies. This question has nothing to do with the idea that there is no such thing as objective morality, because this tells more about the person committing the act. While a lot of people may commit the act considering it something wrong, while going on with it, while others would not consider it immoral at all, even if it kills the baby. Take righteous and honor killing for an example. An apparently very wrong act committed for very moral and noble reasons.

There can possibly be a moral system in which even eating the babies would not be considered wrong. On the lighter note, it actually calls to mind Jonathan Swift‘s satire “A Modest Proposal“. But consider someone actually following the outrageous idea for moral reasons

So there is only one explanation of subjective morality systems around the world. Humans came up with it themselves and almost all of them have some sort of contradiction at some point.

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Answer to Quora Question: If there is no God, then how can there ever be any sort of objective system of morality?

The Embarrassment of Standing With the Oppressed

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page – Under fair use

I am not particularly proud to be a Pakistani citizen.

I don’t really find it an unpatriotic thing to say because someone sympathetic to the country would say that provided its discriminating history. The Pakistani constitution, law and the society are largely discriminating.

So when you stand with the oppressed minority groups in Pakistan, there is this perpetual embarrassment that you need to deal with.

Take the Pakistan Christian community for an example, the most popular and widely recognized religious minority group in Pakistan. Most Pakistani people would agree with offering them security and coexisting peacefully with them.

Even with such a minority religious group, you would have the dilemma of treating them as if they were weak or not even raising that point at all. I mostly prefer to do the latter usually, though you can always agree with them tactfully about how terrible discrimination is.

Morally speaking, they are not weak, and it would be rather insulting to make that point, but let us face facts. They are not exactly powerful and are most certainly oppressed.

Especially in the wake of the Peshawar church bombing killing more than 300, the realization is increased, especially in protests and political events. But what remains is their constant friendliness, peacefulness and tolerance. What is added is a slight anger toward the intolerance, which is justified, natural and understandable.

I have no sympathies with the theology of any minority religious group, as is the case with majority religious groups, because they are as dangerous in their effect as the other. I know some Pakistani Christians, though not everyone, are as eager for their share of blasphemy law, despite knowing how harmful it can be to just about anyone.

But their religious zeal does not change anything for the better for them in the Pakistani society, where disbelief is a crime, more or less, or enough to qualify someone to be ostracized. Besides, they are not treated as equal citizens anyway, despite their religiosity.

So I want to save myself further embarrassment and would like to say that protesters and activists rallying for peace and against terrorism should raise their voices to demand a secular constitution. So while I may not exactly be proud to be a Pakistani citizen, I would have one less reason to be ashamed.

So instead of promoting gibberish like “Many Faiths, One God”, we should demand the elimination of the intrusion of faith into public life.

Keep your religion to yourself.