Keeping Mashaal Khan’s Mission Alive

Source: Dawn/Tanveer Shehzad/White Star

Secularism in Pakistan sounds like a hopeless cause. There are simply not enough people to give the movement any traction and nobody likes to openly express the cause save the leftist Awami Workers Party, which is sadly a fringe entity in Pakistani politics as much as they would like to tell themselves otherwise. But it is very important to show solidarity with them whenever they are out for the cause of countering fundamentalism and promoting democratic values, and all the allies who agree on the common cause of secularism and rejecting fundamentalism in Pakistan.

On the occasion of the second death anniversary of the brutally killed progressive student Mashaal Khan in Khan Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, the Progressive Student Collective organized short protest marches all across the major cities in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the speakers include civil rights advocate Tahira Abdullah, PTM activist Khan Zaman Kakar, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar and academic and analyst Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Apart from remembering Mashaal Khan and the brutal conspiracy to kill him, which was very well exposed by his teacher Ziaullah Hamdard, more contemporary issues were highlighted to protest Pakistan’s current trajectory. Post-Pulwama developments and the possibility of the country being blacklisted by the FATF was brought to attention.

 

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Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke passionately about the unabated fundamentalism in Pakistan, which is easily distinguished from the Islamist militancy that the Pakistani military took action in. Unfortunately, this brand of fundamentalism has been intertwined with Pakistan nationalism observed by social conservatives and has also become inseparable with the idea of hating Hindus and India.

It is similar hate and religious bigotry that led to the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the killing of the English literature professor in Bahawalpur, the blasphemy accusation on Multan teacher Junaid Hafeez, and of course the cold-blooded murder of Mashaal Khan. Hoodbhoy also mentioned how Pakistan could be blacklisted by the FATF soon but if it happens, it would not be a surprise considering the country’s seriousness in taking action against Islamist militants groups which are pointed out by the US, EU and several other countries including India.

Other speakers also talked about the bans on student union, which as per Ammar Rashid, could have saved Mashaal’s life. Progressive voices are already scant on our academic platforms considering the dominance of IJT or Islami Jamiat Tulaba who impose their Salafi Islamist agenda which remains a carrier for the Islamic fundamentalism that the state has promoted.

The IJT is great in numbers and the progressives only handful, but if they continue to carry Mashaal’s mission forward in some form, the seeds of secularism may even spread in Pakistan too.

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State Killers for Hire?

Source: YouTube video capture

Extrajudicial killings by state entities have become a norm in Pakistan. When the supposed exceptions of the excessive force by the state will be given free passes, those will eventually become the practice.

Indeed, on the other side of the picture, the same state offers complete impunity to violent rioters when it suits its political agenda to undermine civilian politicians. But unfortunately, the draconian iron hand of the state law enforcement goes far behind this.

This weekend, a family was allegedly shot dead, including a father and a mother and their teenage daughter, in front of the younger children that accompanied them, by the Counter Terrorism Department of Punjab Police on their way to Burewala from Lahore on the motorway near Sahiwal to attend a wedding. The shooting has been termed as collateral damage by the Law Minister of Punjab in an alleged operation carried out to capture a suspected terrorist with links with the Islamic State. Even if this is true, the sanity of such an operation can be questioned, even though pretty much all the official narratives have been negated by evidence surfacing on the social media and the account of the children and eye witnesses.

This is an extraordinary occurrence in Punjab of its kind but the rest of Pakistan might not agree with it. Initially, many estimated that it could be the result of familial or tribal animosity. This may still very well be the case but the involvement of the state law enforcement changes the equation.

Does this mean that a sitting political chief in Punjab was involved in settling a personal score through state machinery? It also raises some serious question mark about the administration of the incumbent PTI who has been criticizing other parties who have remained in power to abuse police for their vested interest. The only problem is that it has probably never been used in a darker manner before.

The deceased family – Source: pakobserver,net

This situation is even more disconcerting than the Model Town massacre of the at the compound of the protesting Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which was a public affair in comparison. Regardless, even that was the use of, albeit in the name of restoring law and order over.

Either way, the factor that always gets buried in the politics of these extrajudicial killings is the lives that are ruined. Many were recalling the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi and rogue cop Rao Anwar getting a free pass. And while you don’t get to see that impact with the murder of just another young man in some remote corner of the country which includes Karachi ironically, the cruelty of the Sahiwal killing was well publicized on the local and social media. Perhaps also because of the sheer brutality of this heartless act too, which involved the shooting of parents in front of the eyes of their little children and leaving them behind.

None of us can remotely claim to understand, let alone feel, the grief of the surviving children. Google the pictures and videos of the surviving children to know what condition they were left in. But don’t, on the second thought. Even I could not stomach taking a peek at the video. It’s simply unbearable.

But this is what you get for not asking enough questions of the state authorities. And rest assured, there are still way too many people telling the outraging dissenters to hush up. Especially because this concerns the image of Pakistan.

 

Free Asia Bibi

Source: Vatican News

So the moment of the decision of Asia Bibi’s appeal was this month. Surrendering to the terror created by the purpose-built gang Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, which again stormed the capital to protest the possible acquittal, the court has delayed the verdict indefinitely. There is nothing the tortured and abused Christian community, or anybody else can do about it.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan must realize the moral significance of this verdict. If they uphold the verdict, they will be forever upholding the ruthless apartheid against non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan. If they uphold the verdict, they will be forever upholding the absolute lack of religious freedom for the citizens of Pakistan who are not Muslims.

The fact that we are not able to raise our voice against this unacceptable injustice, and obviously that includes me, speaks volumes of our insensitivity and a lack of morals. Even an acknowledgment of this wrongdoing should not let us sleep in peace at night. It is absolutely a joke how we go on raving about democracy and human rights in a country and then have the nerve to complain about the treatment of minority Muslims in other countries while we go on to slaughtering human beings in ours.

It is a joke that countries such as Pakistan, which should actually be facing sanctions for its draconian blasphemy law, are now members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Or probably worse, it is a shame that a nation of 200 million morally constipated people has no power to do anything about this grave injustice. Until we adopt a secular constitution, religious clerics will keep on abusing the law to threaten the lives of non-Muslim minority citizens in Pakistan. It’s an absolute shame.

If indeed Asia Bibi is put to death, a 53-year-old mother of four, Pakistan will not be able to bear the burden of her blood.

What the Second or Ahmedi Amendment Means in an Islamic Republic

Source: The News

Most of the Sunni and Shia Muslim majority in Pakistan simply fail to recognize one simple fact of life. That an Islamic Republic is simply not compatible with secular democratic principles or, in other words, a fair social contract. They will simply refuse to even consider addressing the “settled” Ahmedi issue, the sort of vernacular that the Nazis used about the Jewish people during the Third Reich. The Ahmedi community, despite their absurd loyalty, to the state of Pakistan, has received little love from the people of Pakistan. However, recent incidents have even exposed the extent of bigotry to the staunch supporters of the Second Amendment that declared Ahmedi non-Muslims.

The Ahmedi community has actually been receiving punches from both sides of the aisle, as they have been the recipients of abuse during the oath amendment controversy during the final years of the PML-N term. Now in Imran Khan’s reign, the inclusion of Harvard economist Atif Mian has become a matter of dispute and the opposition, including many in the PML-N and PPP, are resorting to raising objections on the nomination of an “enemy of the finality of Prophethood.” Even Sindh Speaker Shehla Raza’s twitter account tweeted messages criticizing the appointment with caustic bigotry, as usual taking claim for the PPP for executing the Second Amendment, which she deleted and apologized for in a very messy way.

Information and Broadcast minister Fawad Chaudhary has dismissed the bigotry and has condemned people citing the Ahmedi faith of the advisor as a problem as far as his appointment is concerned. However, the same minister was pretty much silent about the anti-Ahmedi bigotry that had become his party platform this election. I am sure his public opinion about the Second Amendment must have still remained unchanged as well. So will be the case with the rest of the socially conservative and pro-Islamic Republic followers of the pro-establishment party.

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Even the twitter account of Speaker Shehla Raza of PPP criticized the appointment, citing the “great achievement” of the Second Amendment materialized by her party. However, where the opposition is stepping up to bash Imran Khan for appointing an Ahmedi citizen, probably some of the staunchest supporters of the Second Amendment are coming to defend the appointment. The pro-military blog Defense.pk, which usually stands with all the filth that Pakistan stands for, also criticized the basis on which Atif Mian’s appointment was being objected to.

What we miss in the middle of Ahmedi citizens getting crushed in the political clash of PTI and PML-N is that this bigotry surfaces unabated because the state has legitimized it on a legislative scale. This is what the Second Amendment or the Ahmedi Amendment really means in an Islamic Republic, other than the murders of the members of the community and their mosques destroyed and burned.

Until and unless we face this reality as citizens of Pakistan, we will never be able to make progress.

The Trouble With Being a Liberal, Non-Practicing Muslim Dissenter

Source: Washington Times

There is no denying that hate against Muslims is a real phenomenon around the world. But if someone said that Muslims have earned a great deal of that hate, it would probably not be too much of a stretch. A recent article by Khalil Yousuf, an Ahmediya Muslim (whose community isn’t even accepted by other Muslims in many major Muslim countries), makes the case for shutting down Geert Wilders’ Draw the Prophet contest event because it is hate speech. No, it is not shouting “fire” in a theater. It is simply playing the movie in it.

The premise of the article is that Europeans should stop organizing such hateful contests because it hurts the sentiments of Muslims and incite people to commit violent hate crimes against them. People would have greater sympathy for his case if the Muslim reaction to this alleged piece of bigotry was not this violent and outrageous. To his credit, perhaps the very small and heavily persecuted Ahmediya community has never displayed such violent language but not so much the case with the much larger and dominants Sunni and Shia schools. The Charlie Hebdo killings happened because actually a bunch of Muslims got to practice what the majority believes should be done with those who desecrate the name of the Prophet. We never got the memo when this sort of behavior became compatible with liberal ideals or democracy.

The reason why conservatives and right wingers need to push the limits of free speech is that liberals have given up on that idea. What is even worse, secularism is now losing its ground thanks to liberal governments appease such religious extremists around the world. No wonder there is a resurgence of right wing nationalism around the world.

Decades long pandering to the extremism of Indian clerics, all in the name of the rights of Indian Muslims, has led to a resentment among the Hindus which has brought us to the civil rights disaster of the cow witch-hunt vigilantes and the future of a potential Hindu Nationalist state under Prime Minister Modi. And the sad reality is that his followers in India has started taking the secular nature of their democracy for granted. This is why I endorse provocative statements such as India becoming a “Hindu Pakistan,” made by Shashi Tharoor, because this is the perfect analogy to make people understand the risks.

Not to say that the Congress is the only authority on secularism in India. Sometimes, the political difficulty of taking a stand against such behavior can be immense, as in the case of the Salman Rushdie affair but probably the Congress is suffering the consequences of its past policies today, other than lacking leadership that could inspire the people like Modi. There indeed was a time when the more secular Indian National Congress used to sweep the elections. The people are disillusioned for a reason.

Now Islamophobia (or Muslimophobia as some would prefer to call it) is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it. The family and friends of any atheist or dissenting liberal Muslims will remain on the radar of bigots all around the world, whether India, America or Europe. Furthermore, no matter how disconnected they are to Muslim extremism or even the religion of Islam, they will never be fully seen removed from the identity of their religion of birth, unless they are someone very outspoken and famous like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But telling people to shut up because Muslim sentiments are being hurt and threatening to destroy them in one breath does not go a long way to win hearts and minds either.

So, what is a liberal, non-practicing dissenter Muslim to do to survive as an individual? How can Muslims express dissent from the orthodox theocracy without further exposing the community to the risk of hate crimes? Should Muslim dissenters continue to call for reform in Islam, as has happened in Judaism, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or defend the existing absurdities like the majority of Liberal Muslims banking their hopes on different interpretations? Or should the atheists among them simply condemn the idea of Islam altogether such as Armin Navabi? I guess nobody knows the answer.

This article was originally published in MyNation.com

Why Pakistan Should Be On Fire But Isn’t

Source: Times of India

A lot of people have been irked by the not-even-nearly-enough inflammatory rhetoric from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his ouster following a business-as-usual judicial coup. Of course, nobody wants to see anarchy and disorder spread around them. It makes perfect sense.

Now that is particularly true if you live in politically dead cities such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and if you don’t find a bone of political activism in you. I sort of include myself in that category but no such excuses will be good enough when people will attribute the absence of political activism and a lack of civil responsibility for a weak democracy in Pakistan.

You could say that the verdict to disqualify the Prime Minister has been a resounding slap on the people of Pakistan. One day you have someone as a Prime Minister and the next day, you don’t and for no apparent good reason at all. Disqualified for life, just like that. There is someone else making that decision for you.

In many ways, the verdict is as outrageous, if not more, than corruption in carrying out the elections. Indeed, such doctoring with the legal term of an elected Prime Minister is a form of electoral corruption in itself.

We seriously need to ask ourselves this question. How do we respond to coups?

What do we do as citizens and soldiers to resist the tyrants taking over a democratically elected administration? What do we do as citizens and soldiers to actively prevent such situations? Why are coups almost always bloodless in Pakistan? Without a single shot being fired? And after all, who will fire that single shot?

Even if we ignore the Judicial ones under the pretense that the honorable Supreme Court carried out a legitimate verdict and that there was nothing political about it, we still have examples of military coups. People old enough still recall how smooth the 1999 military takeover was. Only the Prime Minister happened to get arrested.

Why is that we in Pakistan can only be amazed by the Turkish people who came together to save the government of an elected leader who is bitterly divisive? Why is it that we in Pakistan put our partisan affiliations above the office of the elected leader of the nation?

We probably would be a little more chaotic than the calm we prefer in our resistance to the bureaucratic tyranny in Pakistan if we were more committed to the constitution. Perhaps the fault lies in our political class for not being able to make a case strong enough for democracy and even for the supremacy of the constitution.

Perhaps the fault lies in our civic education that failed to convey to the people about the importance of the rights that the constitution guarantees. Perhaps it is the weakness of democracy that they fail to grasp the importance of their rights and have learned to love their tyrants.

Perhaps our democratic leaders are fools to believe that the people will go out on the streets and riot for them. They overestimate our commitment to democracy and our right to vote. They probably have no idea how we abhor political activism and even worse, much prefer unelected bureaucrats to govern us.

But in a way, it’s much better this way. Nobody wants damage to property and lives. All that for what?

We don’t want trouble. We don’t want chaos. All that too for these corrupt politicians in the name of democracy?

Pakistan might be on fire soon enough, but never for this reason.

 

This post was originally published in Dunya blogs.

The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.