Salmaan Taseer’s Sixth Death Anniversary Sees His Son Accused of Blasphemy

Source: Guardian

Source: Guardian

It’s probably not even a surprise that following the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by fanatic religious zealot Mumtaz Qadri, his son Shaan Taseer is accused of blasphemy. But for the sake of it, let’s just say who could imagine this happening.

Salmaan Taseer would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

The Quaid-e-Azam would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

Of all the Taseer children, it was perhaps only Shaan who has taken up activism for the rights of the minority religious communities in this fashion. He has remained in the forefront in protesting against religious extremism, including against the Laal Masjid, with Jibran Nasir and other similar activists. I recall seeing him speak first in the Aabpara protest against Laal Masjid clerics following the APS attack in Islamabad, which featured Jibran Nasir and Farzana Bari as well.

It’s one thing speaking out for the poor and the threatened, it’s a whole different thing altogether to become the victim yourself. Such is the brilliant dynamic of the politics of the blasphemy. No one is safe from the monster.

Source: Express Tribune

Amazingly enough, Shaan Taseer has been accused of blasphemy for just giving a video Christmas message to everyone in which he obviously criticized the blasphemy law as “inhuman.” Of course, he brought up Aasia Bibi missing God knows how many Christmas nights for being jailed. And of course, even any judge is not willing to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal case. Thank God someone is still talking about it.

However, this video was enough for him to attract a very serious and dangerous, legally protected death threat. Yes, that is what a blasphemy fatwa really means.

The Barelvi clerics of Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah affiliated with the Sunni Tehreek, the group that wreaked havoc in Islamabad on the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, issued the fatwa or legal opinion against him. The trouble with the fatwa sort of “legal opinion” is that most Muslims end up considering it a verdict. Anyone remember Salman Rushdie?

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

If you need an evidence of the insanity of the blasphemy allegations flung at just about anyone, then consider the case that the same clerics have issued a warning against PTI leader Imran Khan too. Now Imran Khan is a very popular leader, who has now turned a conservative populist nationalist, with his party allying with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. He knows very well that blasphemy is political suicide. Someone as careful as him is not even safe from the threat of blasphemy accusations, albeit he is powerful enough that they stop short of issuing a fatwa against him and settle on an open letter.

On the anniversary of the assassination of the late Governor Taseer, let us express our support and solidarity to Shaan Taseer who is fighting the fight for liberty at a cost.

We must realize that no one is safe as long as these medieval obscurantists are in power.

We must realize that no one would be free as long as these ignorant tyrants keep on shutting everyone up.

We must speak out.

That is the only way to pay our respects to the mission of the Taseers.

 

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Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.

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 Launching Ceremony of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls

Source: UNWOMEN/DilSeJoKehtiHai

Source: UNWOMEN/DilSeJoKehtiHai

On November 28, 2012, the launching ceremony of 16 days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Girls was held in Islamabad by UNWOMEN and the Ministry of Human Rights. I happened to cover the event on social media with a team led by Tazeen Javed and including Shiraz Hassan and Usama Khilji, under the directions of Faisal Kapadia. The event was a part of the UNiTE campaign initiated by the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon in 2008 that is meant to spread awareness against gender-based violence. The campaign itself aims to raise awareness of the issue, particualarly among men.

Several government figures participated in the event, including Begum Shehnaz Wazir Ali, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Human Rights, Shaigan Sharif Malik, the Secretary Ministry of Human Rights, Ghazala Gola, the Baluchistan Minister for Minorities and Women’s Development, Sitara Ayaz, the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Minster for Social Welfare, Farzana Yakub, the AJK Minister for Social Welfare and Women’s Development and Dr. Nafisa Shah, the Head of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. All of them reiterated the government’s commitment to bring the necessary social change to end violence against women and girls through legislation and its implementation.

The main focus of the event this time around was social media. The campaign has its social media face in “Dil Se Jo Kehti Hai“, which has its own facebook page and twitter account. In that relation, Natasha Kemal and Farieha Aziz presented how social media can be effectively used to report incidents of violence against women and girls and how it is an effective tool to reach the policymakers. They also emphasized its role and relevance to activism and how it can make a difference. The event also featured a brief exclusive screening of Samar Minallah’s documentary “We Are All Malalas!” about education of girls in Swat.

UNWomen OIC Lena Lindberg and the UN Resident Coordinator Timmo Pakkala also spoke at the event. They found it heartening to see all the Pakistani government officials participating in the event and showing their commitment to end violence against women and girls. In the end, a group discussion was held to brainstorm ideas for mobilizing social change. While everyone was pretty clear about the legislation, the experts were more or less at a loss on how to actually bring about the social change that they want to see. Sorry if that sounds like an oversimplification.

And then again, there was the usual obsession with correcting people’s and media’s morals as per their ideals which I find so widespread among activists and which really puts me off most of the time.

As I walked out of the hotel conference hall with a smoking Shiraz Hassan under the steel grey rainy skies of Islamabad, I simply hoped that the Senate would let all the reasonable legislation protecting the rights of women pass and that we could find a way to break down the walls of social conservatism, which is the real enemy of men and women of Pakistan more than any moral degradation or anything else.

The Pul-e-Jawan Experience: The Pakistan Country Forum Event April 11-12, 2012

Introduction Brief (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

Pul-e-Jawan is a peace initiative and a discussion forum covering India, Pakistan and Afghanistan peace and security issues. I learned about an event of the forum being organized by Bytes 4 All, an organization dedicated to internet freedom and online privacy in Pakistan, and had a chance to participate. The event that was held on April 11 and April 12, 2012 in Islamabad, covered various aspects of regional peace and security through the participation and opinions of the analyst-turned-Foreign Office advisor Mosharraf Zaidi, analyst and scholar Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and the representatives of the independent US institutions monitoring aid in Pakistan including Nadia Naviwala of the US Institute of Peace, Danny Cutherell of Center for Global Development and Pakistani-American entrepreneur Awais Khan of American Pakistan Foundation. Indu Nepal briefly joined on live stream from Afghanistan to explain what the Pul-e-Jawan forum was about.

In one of the sessions, Pakistan’s foreign policy strategy was discussed. The most important piece of information was the fact that Pakistan had started engaging with all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan instead of just Pashtuns. Some found it hard to believe but it nevertheless was something positive. Pakistan’s approach of increasing trade with India and other nations was also discussed. A journalist from Waziristan asked about the compensation for the “Pakistani citizens” becoming victims of the war campaigns in the tribal areas from the Pakistani government. It was found that Pakistani government was largely clueless about the idea, let alone the thought of considering those casualties Pakistani citizens. Criticism of the alleged Saudi petrodollars funding terrorism was a positive. We also learned that people of Pakistan did not vote for internet freedom in 2008, causing a momentary outrage but life went on.

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s session was a candid discussion primarily about civil liberties and national security, also including the state of affairs of Pakistan vis-à-vis its neighbors and the war on terror. Most of the discussion revolved around the internal affairs of Pakistan, the role of the military establishment and religious extremism. She discussed how the perceived freedom of Pakistani media was an illusion and how the Pakistani political left has been eradicated out of existence. She talked about how she had been criticized for being anti-military and explained that criticizing military does not mean that you advocate putting it out of existence. The highest point of her talk was when she mentioned that she decided to return to Pakistan since the battle for better civil rights and democracy would be best fought from within the country. She considered the thinking ones a minority in the country and was not as enthusiastic about supporting civil liberties over national security as your average hawk would have thought.

To tell you the truth, I personally had very little interest in listening to the US officials because I am not really thrilled about the subject of aid anyway. It always sounds pretty meaningless to me in terms of politics, but if it can be of help for underprivileged people, great. Also because they would not have had answers to any of the questions that I wanted to ask from anyone coming with US aid proposals and it was therefore absolutely pointless to ask anything. However, a lot of participants were very interested in the discussion and contributed enthusiastically to it. I couldn’t help but observe a few things which I am sure would be making US aid officials and the US government in general sick to their stomachs. I have noticed that some of the participants were literally crucifying the US for the uselessness of the aid initiatives due to the corruption in the Pakistani society and government and yet were complaining that not enough aid was being sent and not utilized on better projects. Now isn’t that unreasonable? What the hell are they supposed to do?

A journalist from Waziristan was talking about the need for investment in the tribal areas as unemployment was turning young men to militancy and probably what we refer to as terrorism. Another friend asked them about the lack of US contribution to Baluchistan. While both the gentlemen were spot on and I cannot recall with certainty if the FATA journalist asked them this particular question, but to answer the general mindset, I cannot understand how aid in itself could end unemployment and create industries in the region, which was actually the aim of some of the questions put to those officials. Perhaps the gentleman from Waziristan was referring to direct foreign investment, so that is what he talked about, it only came as a feedback for the personnel on how aid was really changing their lives. I think this kind of demand should be forwarded to an official of the Government of Pakistan instead of aid monitoring officials. I think it is about time that Pakistanis should realize that it is economic growth instead of the US aid that could really get them anywhere, especially when it comes to earning respect among the nations of the world. At least it will keep their government from being obsessive-compulsive beggars.

The thing that I liked the most about the US officials session was their honesty about the aid process. They admitted that the government processes were slow on the both sides, referring to the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which is actually in jeopardy overPakistan’s shady role in the Osama Ben Laden episode, but maybe not due to the dual nature of Pakistan-America relations. Though I do wonder how the military aid gets processed so quickly. They explained that if an NGO receives too much aid, it is most likely to go corrupt. Cutherell stated that aid will never solve Pakistan’s issues and Pakistanis have to take control of the things themselves. Common sense will tell you that as well, but Pakistanis are hooked to any kind of aid anyway. Too lazy and incompetent to earn money themselves perhaps. Awais Khan was suggesting people to vote in a better way, at which point I was forced to unsuccessfully ask who we should vote for, since I really cannot make up my mind. That was the end of that.

On the second day, MP Bushra Gohar of the ANP spoke about the achievements of the women’s caucus of parliamentarians for better legislation for women’s rights and acting in a united manner beyond party lines. She started the presentation with an ode to the active social role played by Pakistani women in all fields of life with a sentimental montage repeatedly focusing on Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan after her self-imposed exile in 2007. The Tina Sani song was instantly criticized for its rather patriarchal lyrics, referring to the Anchal or the Chador, by the witty Tazeen who was interviewing Gohar, since all women do not wear it. Gohar apparently was one step ahead instantly explaining that she had the same problem and that the lyricist had also taken the criticism in a positive light. I personally found the lyrics overly sentimental and somewhat touching, but that’s poetry. Maybe it was the montage. You can check the song and the video for yourself, not that it’s important.

She pointed out how women parliamentarians took an initiative when they were left out of the Constitutional Standing Committee. The rest of the time was spent on defending the position of the Awami National Party on various fronts. She was asked why the tribal areas have been neglected by the ANP Government to which she responded that the FATA has been included in the KP province in the ANP constitution, apparently unlike the Pakistani constitution. She was spot on when she said that FATA has been reduced to a strategic space and its people strategic assets by the Pakistani states and should take a stand for their rights. In my opinion, that is where the polarized Pakistani nation is at one. She also mentioned that she had received death threats and acid attack threats from the Taliban for her views and even for her appearance and attire. Had the pleasure of briefly meeting her, a very intelligent and articulate woman. She is the kind of representative you would want to vote for any day, without getting impressed by her party much.

MP Bushra Gohar at the Pul-e-Jawan event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

To my delight, and of everyone else’s if I may take the liberty to say that, Nabiha Meher Sheikh took her time out to conduct an excellent workshop on Critical Thinking and Cognitive Biases. This was important because some of the participants were realizing what biases meant for the very first time, if I may not be considered too biased for stating that. After the initiation, the participants were divided in 5 groups, each required to present and justify a local example of Groupthink. A couple of groups gave the example of the 1971 war, one of the lawyers’ movement and my group gave the example of Pakistani nationalists’ criticism of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary.

FATA Journalist Ihsan Dawar at the event (Source: Furhan Hussain for Pul-e-Jawan)

The stars of the show and the center of attention among participants remained to be two gentlemen from the beautiful tribal land of Waziristan, which has been abandoned by Pakistan ever since the independence. At least in my books. The radio journalists Ihsan Dawar and Umer Daraz Khan stole the show through their input about the situation in the tribal areas and bombarding all the speakers with stinging questions about the role of Pakistan in the tribal areas. They also gave a pretty hard time to the US officials and enjoyed a fair bit of preference as far as opportunities for questions were concerned, for which I admire the organizers. Gulalai Ismail was another prominent participant who gets my admiration for her Aware Girls project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Participation of activists from the Hazara community and the Sindhi Hindu community was also something worth noticing and the event encompassed the diversity in Pakistan pretty well.

Before taking my leave of the event, I and my group proposed a new social media campaign idea which would involve online petition messages from the citizens of Pakistan and India to their governments for withdrawing troops from the Siachen glacier in order to end a pointless and bloody conflict, which was causing more deaths due to the horrific living conditions instead of the battle. The campaign is meant to go beyond just being an online petition, as it would constantly pursue the Siachen conflict, as it is often easily forgotten, and would remind India and Pakistan of what they are doing to their people.

All in all, it was a great experience and learned quite a bit from it and made a few friends. Other than that, still trying to develop something a bit more meaningful and constructive out of the experience at the Pul-e-Jawan forum.