Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

Advertisements

No Revolution for Pakistan

Source: Seattle Times

Do you recall the Arab Spring? It only happened within a period of last five years and even though it has largely died down, it has told us something very interesting about seemingly politically dormant populations. People can rise against oppressive governments, as they have so many times in history.

However, such instances among the population of the Indian subcontinent are very few in history, especially under a foreign colonial rule. Of course, there have been great exceptions with some great local warriors and insurgent empires like the Marathas rising against far larger forces. Resistance has not been absent. But largely, you will find little resistance until the failed War of Independence against the British in 1857, ignited for the perfectly wrong reasons, and finally the Swaraj movement under the unusual leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

Pakistan, separated from its Indian motherland, has been a breeding ground for political chaos. One so political. Pakistan, the Western part to be precise, has seen great political turmoil in its 70 years but no revolution. Of course, the Eastern Pakistan, which let’s face it, had no connection whatsoever to its eastern and clearly more prejudiced wing, had nothing to do with it anyway. Bengal had been at the forefront of the independence movement and with a very predominantly progressive political culture, it was only a matter of time that it would part ways with the regression of the socially conservative and theocratic Western Pakistan made up of Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris, and immigrants from Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.

Pakistan immediately fell under oligarchical bureaucratic dictatorship. Forget the old battered revolutionaries locked away. That romance is over. For so much micropolitical storms in its teacup, the beverage of democracy was never eventually brewed. The founding fathers, who stayed true to most and betrayed in the eyes of a few, strangled the very idea by injecting theocracy in the framework of the Constitution. A discriminatory document that no self-respecting republican could stand behind. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah apparently died too soon and too weak to have been a decisive factor over it, ironically and inadvertently becoming responsible for a theocracy for a man who embodied secular lifestyle and values.

With the context of this horrifying background and ruled by a draconian army that is apparently the best fit for the mix, the people of Pakistan live disconnected, indifferent lives. They acknowledge, but choose to ignore, the evils of their society. They recognize the need to hang people in public squares but never take any action. They frequently kill women for honor but never resist when their freedom is trampled on.

To add insult to injury, Pakistani not-so-private propaganda channels are loaded with state-backed faux revolutionaries to provoke people to throw out any remnants of elected office in the country, but never see any movement among the hibernating masses. Compare that to the Tunisian democratic revolution, then a lot more has happened in Pakistan to hurt the public sentiment to warrant one.

From the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to May 12 killings and Model Town massacre and from Panama Verdict and Judicial coups to allegedly systematic murder and rape of little children, nothing has inspired such a movement even though supposedly building public anger and frustration.

People continue to move on. So despite all the apparent injustice, widespread abuse, and intolerable discrimination and torture, people are opting to stay put. They have accepted their condition as a natural order, a will of God, and do not want to disturb the imperfect equilibrium that at least keeps life going.

But can you really blame them? They, the illiterate and naive people, have seen what revolution brings to those who seek it. Misery, persecution, and a whole new level of slavery and dangers. Nobody wants to give up their relative freedoms away, even those under a mildly draconian regime of thugs. There is still a lot to lose than to gain perhaps from such a misadventure. The loss of the individual is not the loss of society.

Nevertheless, you are compelled to ask when is it going to be enough. How many rapes and murders of the daughters of the poor and abandoned will it take for the people to be outraged enough? How many plots of land will be taken away from the poor and helpless before the people say no more? You wonder how much is it going to take.

And what will that outrage precisely be? A civil outrage fueling vigils? Is that enough? And if it isn’t what did the rioters in London, the arsonists in Missouri, and the miscreants in Islamabad achieve? Did they achieve revolution? Most certainly not. But were able to make life miserable for other common people like them, property owners or not. That same order of life those common people go to great lengths to preserve. Nobody really likes a radical, until he becomes socially acceptable.

When do you push the boundaries far enough to take a riot to revolution? To take political slogans to civil war? Why did the Egyptians feel compelled to overthrow Mobarek and why did they give up at Al-Sisi? Why did the Persians feel content with ousting the Shah and not the Ayatollah? Why settle with one oppressor, one abuser, and one tyrant and not the other? Are these people and this land worth sacrificing your life for? And if you wait for enough people to join in order to jump, do they ever get to?

These are the questions we are not willing to ponder, let alone even begin to think to answer. At least not now. We must get on with our lives because you only live once.

There is no revolution for Pakistan.

President Trump: An Ally for Dissenting Citizens and Minorities in Pakistan and Muslim Majority Countries?

Source: CNN

We know that our liberal friends in the West, especially in the United States, are particularly embarrassed by President Donald Trump and so should they be. But what if these liberals were more embarrassed and ashamed of the lack of assertiveness in terms of moral support offered to the dissenting citizens in Muslim majority countries?

What is refreshing about President Trump for the dissidents in countries such as Pakistan and Iran, as well as other majority countries, is the hard line he is taking to make them review the human rights and religious freedom violations. Trump has just put Pakistan on a special watchlist for the violations of freedom of religion. The designation was made by Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Before this, Pakistan was classified as a country of particular concern, a group also including countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, and Iran. While some political entities and commentators are trying to portray this action as diplomatic insensitivity, it makes the point the minorities there are trying to make and just what everyone is ignoring. Furthermore, it can be argued that the new classification more accurately describes the plight of the minorities in the country and probably countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia should be put on the special watchlist too.

The administration’s moral support of the people of Iran must also be acknowledged, though that is usually true for any US administration. While the watchlists have been present in previous administrations as well but you rarely ever saw such stern statements, the focus on calling out these regimes for their suppression in such terms is important for at least holding them accountable at least at some level. And not sure if it exactly spells third world war.

Trump is also noticeable in the manner he is assertively putting pressure on Pakistan for repercussions for supporting terrorist groups. This did not start with him though as the Obama administration has been continually reminding Pakistan to correct its course.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The “irresponsible tweet” by Trump initiated a corps commander meeting and a seriously irresponsible series of tweets from Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif which gave an impression that only the United States had stakes in the war on terror, that Pakistan was forced to participate and would otherwise have no problem with terrorists as was evident by Islamabad’s support of Mullah Omer’s terrorist regime. Also, our Foreign Minister was tactful enough to tweet these statements in Urdu language addressing the United States stating that they should not ask what Pakistan has done because a dictator had entered their war, resulting in bloodshed in Pakistan and allowed 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan, offered passage for their military logistics and had several civilian and military casualties.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

He preferred to tackle the more factually dubious parts of Trump’s tweet in English. Pretty smart.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

And our ISPR responded in perhaps as worse a manner saying that they will not do more for anyone. To quote The Express Tribune, ““We have fought an imposed and imported war twice in Pakistan, and now we cannot do any more for anyone,” said the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in his opening remarks at the news conference.”

Can anyone explain what the fuck that means in response to simple requests of taking action against safe havens for terrorists? There is not much to say when the official diplomatic response to the United States is the following petulant statement.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It is amusing to see how the Trump tweet has gotten under the skin of Pakistani government officials. This begs the question is if you could really trust Donald Trump as an ally? Does he really take the hardline out of the liberal goodness in his heart or does he simply take such action out of sheer hate and contempt for the “lesser nations?” Unfortunately, the true answer is who the hell really cares?

This actually brings you to the sad and cruel reality of finding liberal dissenting forces apparently having to find allies, if only temporary ones, in the bigots among the Western conservatives and some of the religious fundamentalists on the other side. You can never trust them and you probably can never really be friends with them in the long term, perhaps only the secular conservatives among them. However, it is still better than finding no sympathizer or active ally in sight.

All that we can hope is that saner, more enlightened, leaders can offer better alliances to dissidents in Muslim majority and other authoritarian countries.

We would take one from any party.

The Sanest Tweet on the Zainab Rape Murder Incident

Source: Express News

There is really nothing much to say about the Zainab rape murder incident. It’s just a shock. You can’t unsee her pictures everywhere, you can’t unsee her abused corpse and you can’t make this dull pain and strange guilt go away. You can’t make the anger go away either. But at least you can know better and not emulate the savagery of her rapist-murderers and start calling for public executions in the manner of Iran and Saudi Arabia and start tackling. It’s just symptomatic of people looking for a head. Though for a change, you didn’t have to try hard to convince most Pakistanis that it was morally outrageous.

So this is all that needs to be noticed on this day of chaos and madness and emotional distress. This is the sanest thing said on this day. Sort of brings the Nirbhaya episode to mind.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Let me write it down in case this tweet gets deleted.

“The people who criticised lawyers defending Mumtaz Qadri were as silly as those who will criticise the lawyers who defend the rights of the Kasur rape accused. The rights of all accused must be defended, no matter how certain society and talk show hosts are of their guilt.” – @SalmanARaja

The rest of the nonsensical noise you can afford to ignore.

 

Remembering Benazir Bhutto… A Dark Night Ten Years Ago

Source: AP Photo/B.K.Bangash

Being just a mile away from that fateful occurrence… I recall that night ten years ago.

I recall the 27th of December, the darkest of nights…

It struck our hearts like thunder.

She was meant to shine like the sun that day.

But went down to leave a dark void forever.

Who cares what day it was? Who cares where you were?

You knew that there was rioting on the streets and that you somehow had to save yourself from it…

That you had to save your car or bike from burning… (Not that I had one, or will ever have one in a decade…)

But our minds were too numb to think about that.

The nations’ mind was too numb to think about that.

Somebody else was doing the rioting and the looting.

Our country was burned and looted the moment we saw her fall.

It felt as if something was lost… Something precious… Something that would never to return to us…

It felt as if someone was lost.

Someone you wished you had met just once…

Someone you wished you had known only for a while…

Life is not fair… Did not even let us the chance to hear her again…

To see her again…

To meet her…

Even when we were in the same town as she was… The same street virtually, before they pulled the trigger…

Before that bomb went off…

With it died so much more than her…

With it died our hopes and dreams…

Everything, we believed in. And it wasn’t much to begin with..

 

Not that we knew this when we were younger, stupider, naïver…

But now we know that we may never have the likes of her again in our lives…

We may never ever see what leadership like that means with this nation ever, ever again…

This meant that we may never hear from her again ever, ever again…

The End.

 

Thank you for choosing us to lead.

We may not have been strong enough to save you, or value your leadership.

But let us hope that we are able to honor you in your death.

Let us hope we have this much of human decency left…

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.