Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2014: Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Source: twitter

Source: twitter

If you want to read matter-of-fact no-nonsense liberal analysis, without the mandatory center left PC and BS, then journalist and columnist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is the author you would want to go to.

His razor sharp satire of the pro-Islamist mindset of the Pakistani establishment and the people in general puts even the most outspoken liberal authors to shame. Yeah, for those of you who could not bring themselves to fully endorse NFP, you could be interested.

But more than that, Khuldune Shahid is a free speech hero in a country where speaking your mind is considered a crime, and where telling inconvenient truths is offensive to millions. Simply putting forth such opinion on mass media is a considerable contribution.

You would find him challenging the authority of the blasphemy law and would even see him laugh away how selective we are in fighting and being bothered about certain types of terrorism.

Whether it is about exposing the criminal hypocrisies of the founder of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah, or deconstructing the mindset of the well meaning, though pro-Islamist moderate Muslim, his words have always been a treat to read.

And of course, there is a special spot in hell for his caustic post about the critics of Malala Yousufzai.

But above all, he is a harsh critic of political Islam and an unapologetic proponent of secularism.

Such a columnist and opinion leader was definitely needed in a country such as Pakistan.

I highly recommend you to read him and follow him.


Read about my Pakistani free speech hero from the last year here.


Let’s Do This More Often

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

So how often do we see clerics accused of blasphemy, and not some poor Christian peasant who would almost surely be attacked for the crime.

A crime without a victim, of course.

But let’s take the case of our pop singer turned hymn-singing amateur Islamic scholar Junaid Jamshed.

I really want to sympathize with Junaid Jamshed over here, but cannot bring myself to. You know, eventually you would have no choice but to defend him against the blasphemy case. But not without the frustration, or satisfaction, that the devil is caught in his own trap.

It is the same religious scholars who have conditioned people like Pavlov dogs to outrage at the remotest imagination of what could be termed as a blasphemy. With the achievement of a Muslim majority humanitarian utopia, it is ensured that the entertainment for such public outrage is mostly reserved for the dominant faith. Not that better things are expected from the minority faiths, believe me, who want their own versions of this madness.

But what makes you want to walk away from supporting Junaid Jamshed is his utter hatred of women. The part of his lecture for which he was accused of blasphemy was actually about demonizing women. And like most of our misogynistic Shia and Sunni scholars, his favorite target was Prophet’s wife Ayesha as well.

So, the real blasphemy that Junaid Jamshed has committed is against women. But unlike his fellow overzealous brothers in faith, they could actually forgive him.

He apologized for his alleged blasphemy. But would Junaid Jamshed repent over how he insulted women? Instead he is worried about saving his life from the very crowd in which he enjoyed mixing.

I bet a part of him would be regretting becoming an Islamic scholar.

So what happens in this case? When someone influential such as Junaid Jamshed is accused of blasphemy.

Well, since registration of cases of blasphemy has become the standard operating procedure for settling disagreements, there is nothing surprising about it. As a matter of fact, just mentioning something about religion can actually qualify you for the honors.

Speaking of which, this piece is not about religion.

It is strictly about politics. It’s always about politics.

It’s about politics, because the powerful and the influential can always get away with accusations. And the likes of the Christian couple that was burned alive in Kot Radha Kishan cannot.

This is just proof that a religious and Islamic system of government is not safe for Muslims, let alone the non-Muslim minority subjects living under its influence. This busts the myth that the rules of this religious system of governance guarantees safety for everyone.

So there is no wonder why the likes of Junaid Jamshed have to go in hiding in secular countries such as Britain. But they don’t think for a moment about people who cannot escape an Islamic Republic.

This is the sort of hypocrisy which makes Pakistani Muslims call for a theocratic state at home but demand secularism in non-Muslim majority countries such as India, so that the Muslims there would feel safe from Hindu oppression. How convenient.

This is precisely why an objective and universally acceptable secular social contract is needed.

And everyone who thinks that blasphemy law should stay is a part of the problem. They are a part of the problem because they block every possibility of using logic and reason when the word religion is mentioned. And by doing so, they are indirectly jeopardizing lives.

But then again, I must confess, there must be some sort of protection for the sacred.

But just to give them a treatment of their medicine, let us accuse mainstream Islamic scholars and politicians of blasphemy more often.

Until they are forced to consider supporting repealing the blasphemy law.


Note: A toned down version of this post was published in The Nation blog here.

Mass Desensitization Toward Holy Crimes



One of the most remarkable commandments of religion is not to question the divinity. While it makes perfect sense to protect and safeguard the sanctity of the divine ideas, it is probably the greatest insult to the human mind.

One of the worst by products of the has been the selective mass desensitization toward holy crimes, for a nation that has a hyperactive moral compass. The reason for that is simple. Either it is to avoid trouble, or because the sacred entities shall not be questioned.

Time and again, we have seen atrocious incidents occur purely for religious reasons and no other, and as always the result is looking the other way. Not facing the problem. The problem of religious influences on law and the constitution.

It can only horrify you to imagine that someone would even come up with the idea of establishing a religious constitution.

People, for all their gullibility, have been deceived to believe that the Islamic system of society and law is much superior to any other. While human drafted constitutions most certainly have their flaws and limitations, they are designed to minimize conflict of interest among members and groups of societies by offering an equally acceptable social contract.

Source: The News

Source: The News

The absence of such solutions, aided by certain beliefs known for their violence, ensure the occurrences such as the murder of Sajjad and Shama, a Christian laborer couple in Kala Shah Kaku, Kasur, for allegedly desecrating the Koran. The angry mob (here we go again) burned them to death in a brick kiln.

How appropriate. Probably this is the punishment by fire that the faith warns about.

What makes the incident more tragic is that the woman was said to be pregnant. For someone cynical like me, the child probably was better off dying than becoming a member of such a hostile society. Blessing in disguise.

However, the parents were not so lucky, and went through probably the most horrifying trauma before suffering the most excruciating death. It’s remarkable such horrifying torture could occur in this day and age.

But at the same time, this event does offer a little hope to the marginalized minority religious groups in the country. There was at least some major reaction this time. 50 odd people were arrested. The Prime Minister condemned it, the Chief Minister visited the parents and the opposition parties condemned the incident too. Some progress.

Ironically, even the Emir of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami paid a sympathy visit to the grieving family. Some nerve.

Perhaps he has changed his stance about the Shariah law.

But still, the lynching doesn’t count as a tragedy in the eyes of most Muslim Pakistanis. Just an inconvenient piece of news that should not be paid attention to. For others, rough justice rightly done.

After all, Allah has taken the responsibility of safeguarding the Holy Book.

In any event, this incident is importance because it busts the myth offered by apologetic liberal Muslims that all blasphemy lynch mobs commit such acts due to “property disputes.”

Another remarkable murder was committed a day after the Ashura. A person charged with blasphemy, most probably a Shia religious narrator, was arrested in Gujrat. Before that person would even find the opportunity to explain himself, he was butchered, quite literally, by the ASI at the police station.

Now I don’t want to blame religious laws for this completely random occurrence, but would just like to point out one problem here for the proponents of theocratic law.

A lot of not-so-fundamentalist defenders of the blasphemy law claim that it helps prevent vigilante killing. Another apology for the religious extremism, while encouraging parallel narrative for glorifying heroes such as Ghazi Ilm Deen, who was coincidentally defended in the court by the father of the nation.

However, the claim that blasphemy law protects offenders from vigilante violence is clearly in jeopardy here. As a matter of fact, statistical evidence points quite to the contrary. More blasphemy killings have taken place ever since the law came into place than before.

Due to the newly found encouragement offered by the state, people have been encouraged to commit more blasphemy murders than before the introduction of its recent sub clauses. The blasphemy law is the legacy of the British, but Pakistanis have surely taken it to the next level.

From their colonial masters, they have successfully inherited the value of suppressing free speech and rewarding fundamentalist violence.

But the fact remains that religious violence has been deliberately ignored, in terms of considering it an atrocity, even evil, and for assessing whether it is something worthy of outrage and protest.

The simple fact is that while religious faith has completely killed the moral conscience of the most devoted, it has terrorized the majority of followers into silence. And the fear of the sacred has ensured mass desensitization toward the holy crimes. How could it be even possible, you would say.

If you think religion is nonsense, you are sadly mistaken.

It is the most powerful political tool, as primitive as it is.

Brutality Defining Justice

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When justice needs to be served, how much is enough?

How much should be done to undo the wrong that has been committed and to relieve the wronged?

How much should the severity of the punishment be to inflict the same degree of pain that the victim of the crime suffered?

Is an eye for an eye enough? Or do we need to go beyond that to ensure that we have perfectly balanced the pans of the scale of justice?

How much torture would suffice the necessary urge for revenge?

Well, it’s hard to answer. Because every person has different needs and standards when it comes to revenge. But you do need a close-to-objective standard to establish a state-level punishment that would satisfy a mass audience.

So what could be the most potent standard?

Thankfully, there are systems of governance in the world that have just the answer.

Be as brutal as you possibly can be.

Sadly, gone are the days of medieval torture in Europe and even the Electric Chair has been outlawed in the most conservative states in the US.

But not to worry, there is plenty of other help.

Shariah Law punishment is alive and well, and growing healthy by the day.

Perhaps not everyone is chopping off everyone’s hand, but the intent is commendable.

Saudi Arabia recently beheaded another Pakistani for smuggling heroin. Well, the bastard certainly deserved that. That ought to teach those drug dealers a lesson.

But before you cry Islamophobia, well, it’s not the only guiding principle. there are a lot of guidelines in the secular law around the world, which can be just as illuminating.

Take China’s brutal punishment of Liu Xiaobao for an example. Is speaking your mind treason? And is treason even a crime?

Or perhaps take a few examples from the civilized world?

US citizen Jonathan Pollard is still in prison for spying for Israel in the United States. Could someone explain to me what has Private Manning done to deserve, how many, 35 years in prison. Or even how the terrorist financier Afia Siddiqui could probably survive 86 years of confinement, even though she has not apparently directly killed a single man. Or maybe Shakeel Afridi’s sentence.

But then again, isn’t our Blasphemy Law a by-product of the civilized world?

Oh, but that was the British Empire. Apologies.

Forget even that. What did private property destroyer Gullu Butt actually do to deserve 11 years in prison? Seriously, I would like to know.

We are probably just a bunch of self-righteous passive-aggressive closet sadists who thrive on publicly humiliating and killing one of our own. Which sounds more like symptoms of some sort of mass moralistic psychopathy. And in order to hide that instinct of ours, we have created the label of justice. Because we are not brave enough to apologize for our dark side.

And oh, swift justice. Isn’t that what Ambassador Zafar Hilaly recently quoted on Capital TV to hint why people loved the Sufi Muhammad regime in Swat so much. But he won’t recall it now. It was in the heat of the moment.

And then there is the news and opinion media to serve this very purpose. To satisfy our insatiable appetite and lust for punishing and humiliating someone. Like these cannibals and necrophiliacs.

But why bring local politics in.

Anyway, let’s go for more recent, safer examples.

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Source: Golara Sajadian/AFP/Huffington Post

Take Reyhaneh Jabbari for instance.

The poor woman killed someone who was about to rape her, which actually doesn’t make her an angel, but she did it in self defense. You never know if the rapist is going to not kill you, and prevention of rape is a right after all. So violence for violence, as per the eye-for-an-eye rule, is perfectly justified.

But no, she did something so terrible. The Iranians had to hang her despite all the Western propaganda. So they did. End of story.

But then again, she committed a murder. Numerous others are publicly hanged in Iran, with their executions seen in live media broadcast. According to many of my social conservative friends, this is the best form of punishment to help deter crime.

Let’s see the other extremity too.

Unlike her, somebody like Mukhtaran Mai survived a gang rape, which by the way, was ordered by a village judicial council or jirga to address another grievance. And dozens of women like her undergo that rather weird form of punishment.

Or maybe another, which involves calling for castration for rape. Death for rape. You know, folks back in India could be as brutal and heartless as the vigilante mobs and other brutal penalizing authorities.

Well, I can’t say I hold the moral high ground here. I definitely don’t. Following the brutal murder of a young girl after her gang rape in a bus in New Delhi, I felt the same way. But I do realize, I was wrong and probably not any better than the rapists.

Maybe I am as barbaric when push comes to shove. I support shooting at violent rioters to prevent killings and damage to private property anyway. And ironically, oppose capital punishment.

But my personal hypocrisies are secondary here. I could believe in private revenge, like a million superheroes, or I may not, but it’s setting a moral example for state governance is what matters here, doesn’t it?

Having said that, I still support, as in Jabbari’s case, killing for self defense, and even in theory and in part, the apparently savage Stand Your Ground laws in the United States, despite their discriminatory application, which demands abuse reviews and possible amends. It’s not a perfect world if you are looking for justice.

There are a lot of liberal folks in Pakistan who wanted to put Mumtaz Qadri to death. Recall him? The same guy who killed Governor Taseer because of his criticism of yet another barbaric guiding principle, the Blasphemy Law.

I am one of those who are against capital punishment for Mumtaz Qadri. I even think that the blood money laws, if not coerced, are among the better parts of Islam.

But probably a lot of folks would blame people like me for the death of a British blasphemer in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail after the incarcerated Mumtaz Qadri incited his murder in religious zeal. He actually believes that shit.

I’d take them seriously, but we have a lot worse problems to deal with.

Because half of people in Pakistan want the country to look like this.

And this is what the other half wants.

And Justice has been served.

Happy Halloween.

The Gravity of Religious Threat

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

We often hear our confused youth cry about the absence of real democratic values in the society. According to them, democracy is impossible to achieve the widespread corruption and oligarchical influences.

They are very right. But not only do they forget this fundamental problem preventing democracy to flourish in Pakistan, they insist on denying it and vehemently defend it.

That problem remains to be theocratic influence on Pakistani law and constitution.

But then again, they would denounce democracy in the very next breath, because then they declare that their goal is not democracy, because its values are impossible to achieve under a democratic setup. Only free and fair elections under a dictatorship can resolve the dilemma.

Sadly, the problem is far more serious than they think.

The danger of religious influence on the law is so grave that no one is safe from it.

The latest evidence of that is that some folks have filed a petition of blasphemy against the Leader of the Opposition from PPP, Khurshid Ahmed Shah.

 If a blasphemy case can be filed against one of the most powerful people in Pakistani politics, who is safe?

Is it safe to assume that MQM is behind it? Hope not. But if true, this would be coming from what is supposed to be one of the more liberal parties of Pakistan, who should ideally work to suspend these laws. Just for saying that the word “muhajir” or “immigrant” is derogatory. But of course, that easily qualifies to abuse the Prophet and his companions who migrated to Medina from Mecca.

Now obviously, it is a different matter altogether whether Khurshid Shah would actually be charged with the allegation. Because that depends on his position and the sort of people he offended.

However, it is important to emphasize the theocratic influences on the law and the constitution as the biggest hurdle to democracy, because tools such as the blasphemy law are used to shut anyone up, from a common citizen to the most powerful cable networks and politicians.

 And all you need is just a figment of doubt in the mind of the petitioner that a blasphemy has been committed.

Should not that be a part of the status quo that we should be struggling to change?

It’s rather ridiculous that you have to explain it so explicitly to some people, but here goes.

Democracy will not work until freedom of speech is ensured.

There will be no free speech as long as blasphemy law is in the books.

The Blaspheming Hilarity

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: ARY Digital/Pakistan Today

Never before in the history of Pakistan has the political tool of Blasphemy ever been used in a more hilarious and ridiculous manner.

Because never before an obviously reverent religious piece has been turned into a perceived blasphemy. And never before the adherents of the sect that would otherwise hold the work of art in honor out of religious fervor would be resorting to lodge complaints of blasphemy against it.

It is just like crying blasphemy for a hymn honoring Allah and the Prophet and calling for its ban. It makes no sense to a casual observer.

But it would make perfect sense when seen in the context of the campaign against GEO TV, after it launched an attack on the DG ISI in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir.

More than Shaista Lodhi’s “blasphemous” show, the following show by Mubasher Lucman, created all the stir. Ironically, the same song had run on his own channel.


Never before have two media groups been at odds with each other for committing a blasphemy. Never before have prominent anchors and artists been the targets of the blasphemy police in this manner.

Is it a coincidence that a talk show anchor forges a blasphemy out of thin air of a hymn that is frequently used by the adherents of a certain sect? Not only was this an effort to wrongly accuse of blasphemy, but one that could have deepened the sectarian rift in the country.

What is actually even worse is that the Shia scholars have joined the ranks of pro-establishment commentators in accusing the network and participants of the show for committing the blasphemy. They have joined forces with the Sunni Ittehad Council, which has issued a fatwa against GEO that watching the cable network is haraam or forbidden.

All of a sudden, there are rallies and protest marches all over the country. None of it seems to be a coincidence or a spontaneous reaction. But it could actually be, as nothing else unites this nation of religious harassers more than blasphemy.

A couple of days later, the Islamabad High Court issues notices to not only the GEO Network, Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, Shaista Lodhi, Veena Malik and her husband, but also to Mubasher Lucman, ARY Digital, Nida Pasha, singer Amjad Sabri and the poem of the hymn Aqeel Mohsin Naqvi. All in a bid to ban the Shia mankabat or religious ode or hymn or whatever it is.

Now how come the idea of banning a piece of religious music is not blasphemous? Why are the Shia scholars quiet about this piece of sacrilege to something that they would otherwise revere.

As a matter of fact, the Shia folks pretty much have no choice when it comes to the GEO Network Blasphemy controversy. On one hand, there is the pressure from the state establishment, and on the other, there is the vicious Sunni blasphemy police.

But one thing is for sure.

Never before has the phenomenon of blasphemy appeared so clearly as a political tool as it has in this controversy.

Especially when there clearly was no blasphemy. And an alleged one that was noticed all of a sudden by everyone when an anchor spots it on a network against which he spews venom every night and still continues to do so.

And a network that just committed blasphemy against the most powerful intelligence agency in the country.

Only today, PEMRA has announced the suspension of the license of GEO Network channels for airing the blasphemous content. To be further confirmed on May 28.

So which blasphemy is greater?

The one against the family members of the Prophet or the one against the ISI and the military?

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.


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