A Fanatic Government Stance Laid Bare

Source: PTV News/geo.tv

There is little doubt that Geert Wilders is disingenuous when it comes to his intentions and goals when organizing the Draw the Prophet event. His main purpose is, of course, to get under the skin of Muslims around the world, especially because he precisely knows what sort of reaction he can get out of them. However, it is a free speech issue regardless of his controversial politics. The protesters thought of this idea when the mainstream Western media frequently began censoring itself whenever the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in media was involved out of the fear of backlash from the Muslim community.

The interesting thing is that no matter how civil the Muslim community tries to be in the face of such a provocation, there are always many who would resort to violence and death threats. One of the problems that more liberal Muslims are facing is that the religious orthodoxy not only permits but even encourages, violence against a person who is alleged to have blasphemed against. While liberal Muslims try their best to avoid that, the conservative far-right Christians, atheists, and other antithetical elements critical of Islam are well familiar with the weakness. Recall the Salman Rushdie Affair.

However, any of these violent actions remains to be acts of individuals. But what if the governments of a country engage in such policies. Of course, we have seen them before with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is even worse when that government is actually making that point from a moral high ground and lecturing others on human rights. The PTI government has vowed to raise the issue at the United Nations, other than calling the dysfunctional institution of Organization of Islamic Conference, giving Wilders a bigger audience than he could wildly imagine.

Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, had long been criticizing the Western idea of free speech by comparing Holocaust denial and desecrating the image of the Holy Prophet. He emphasized the same point in his special video message to the nation especially addressing the (non)issue. He points out that the Western viewpoint of free speech does not even understand the consequences of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet, which they see as freedom of speech.

Well, we can safely say that the Europeans have now understood that well enough ever since Charlie Hebdo.

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

Geert Wilders, on October 30, postponed the Draw the Prophet contest citing death threats that he and people associated with the contest event were receiving. The PTI government started to claim the cancellation as an achievement of their “diplomatic efforts.” Not only has the government of Pakistan given such great importance to insignificant politicians such as Geert Wilders and his bigotry but has also exposed themselves as a state that does not respect freedom of speech. What is even worse is that the PTI

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

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

The headlines shared by a local news channel are proudly displayed by the PTI KP Official account, which was retweeted by the official PTI account report the cancelation of the cartoon drawing contest as “a great diplomatic triumph.” The only problem is that the only diplomatic efforts that have been made to cancel the contest were the death threats made to Wilders and people connected to the event.

People all over the social media have been raising this point to criticize the government. The PTI has beautifully manipulated the issue in order to gain public approval in the manner of Tehreek Labaik Pakistan. And I am not even mentioning their ridiculous protest rally and threats endorsed by the Pakistani foreign minister, which openly called for war against the Netherlands.

But let us judge actions instead of intentions. With this claim of endorsement, PTI has laid bare its fanatic stance of endorsing death threats to a foreign lawmaker. While we are aware that Pakistan has blasphemy laws which openly endorse potentially capital punishment for alleged blasphemies, emphasizing such a narrative on the international level and shamelessly claiming something that had nothing to do with them. Pakistan has indeed endorsed terrorism before, so why should this time be an exception?

Advertisements

A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

Calling for Sharia in the Capital

Source: tanzeem.org/Twitter: @syousuf71

To most people in Pakistan, there would be nothing out of the place about demanding Sharia in a country which was made in the name of faith. While a lot of people don’t even agree with the statement that Pakistan was established on the basis of faith but on the basis of the protection of the rights of a community, the distinction does not even matter considering the established narrative in Pakistan.

Throughout the Muslim majority world, you would find Islamist groups blackmailing the local population for enforcing Sharia, the Islamic law that eliminates a likelihood of establishing a fair secular social order and is widely known for persecuting women and minority groups. Granted, you might call for Sharia while also asking for the abolition of any secular order in a country alleged to be created in the name of religion but not in a democracy. Because those calls are by very definition

For the entire past week and even on the day when I write this post, the citizens can see signs from the self-proclaimed revolutionary Islamist group Tanzeem-i-Islami or Islamic Organization with inflammatory messages condemning secularism and democracy and calling for the Caliphate and enforcing theocratic Sharia.

Source: Original

There are following posts in Urdu language, which hope to incite an already tired and frustrated population to rise up against the democratic order, which barely exists in a country with a ruling bureaucratic oligarchy. Messages would barely translate to:

“Secularism will only lead to slavery and humiliation while only the Sharia can deliver.”

“Denying the ideological (theocratic) state is tantamount to ideological apostasy.”

Here it is important to remind that apostasy or “irtidad” is an offense in traditional Islam that apostates, or those converting out of Islam, should be put to death. Many Western liberal Muslims will deny such a rule even exists but it is the majority consensus in the Sunni or orthodox sect of the religion and you often hear antithetical critics quote it during debates. Now, equating the denial of the theocratic basis of the creation of Pakistan to a charged word like apostasy is clearly a threat.

There are many more messages like this which you can find throughout the length of some of the most modern sectors in Islamabad. The Tanzeem,  founded by the late Dr. Israr Ahmed and led by Hafiz Aakif Saeed, calls it the “Strengthening Pakistan Campaign” and cites Jinnah’s irrational quotes about the religious law as the basis for their faith in a theocratic version of the Ideology of Pakistan. And clearly, they are no fans of democracy as their very message displayed as the cover image for this blog reads that the idea of the rule of people is counter to the monotheistic beliefs of the sole right of worship of Allah or God.

If you go through their statements, they essentially present the Ideology of Pakistan as an article of faith, as if disagreeing with it, as the likes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did, would qualify you for apostasy. This is the promotion of an extremely dangerous idea in a nation which has already been blinded beyond control in terms of their approval of violence for blasphemy.

In a democracy, extremist entities such as anti-democratic theocrats and Islamists can exist and possibly practice their politics. Another instance is the Neo-Nazis in the Western democracies. However, when their ideas are so clearly undemocratic that they lead toward the harm of the people and the democratic system of law that threatens the very fundamental rights and liberties that offer them the chance to thrive, it is going beyond that acceptable line.

But never do you ever see such extremist groups becoming active electorally and come even close to representing the people in the legislature to affect the law and the constitution, unless that nation wants to give an opening for it to become Nazi Germany or Islamic Revolutionary Iran.

Some progressive and conservative liberals actually advocate actively pushing back these groups because they are a threat to democracy and fundamental rights in whatever capacity they exist. However, it is important to respect the principle on sheer emotion. Nevertheless, it is time to think about seriously banning such an organization when they start threatening democracy by taking their hate speech to the mainstream and by threatening to take electoral seats away from democrats just because they enjoy the sympathy of theocrats in the public.

Tanzeem-e-Islami is doing its job. I don’t wish them all the best but I do respect that they are taking their message across peacefully, even though a very violent and brutal message. However. what I am astounded at is the Government of Pakistan, the ever-present bane of our existence. A Government that openly asks for people to report social media posts for blasphemy, but would take zero action against an organization that is openly talking about enforcing theocracy and eliminating democratic freedoms, the very freedom it is exercising to take away their freedoms paradoxically.

In such a scenario, you can’t help but think that indeed Pakistan was formed for establishing a theocracy and is ruled by people who want such a policy to be enforced, even including the elected democrats.

A Jumping Escape from Justice

Source: Pakistan Times Youtube

It was not a leap of faith. It was a jump of desperation.

It would be criminal of us to even remotely pretend to know what this person must be going through.

Sajid Masih is the latest casualty of the impeccable Islamic Sharia Justice system that we are so proud of. But wait, it is not Islamic Sharia system. Because in the case of Islamic Sharia, he would have been beheaded long ago. Though would he have endured the kind of abuse that Sajjad did is debatable. At least you can be sure of it in Pakistan’s imperfect law enforcement and the justice system. Let’s blame it on the colonial times.

Pakistan’s federal law enforcement agency FIA has been accused of abuse and torture by a dying man. That man is a Pakistani of Christian faith known as Sajjad Masih. He is the cousin of fellow detainee Patras Masih, who is accused of blasphemy and was detained with his cousin. According to him, apart from brutally torturing them, the FIA officials forced them to have oral sex with each other. While other mortals might have succumbed to their vile demands, Sajjad chose to break free and jump from the fourth floor of the building instead, regardless of consequences.

Check this tweet out by politician and activist Jibran Nasir.

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

Now you may say that this is simply the big government going out of control but this is far more than that. While the sadistic FIA officials may have a habit of having fun at the expense of the detained individuals but they were not keeping Sajid and his cousin locked for fraud or murder exactly. It makes the occurrence all the more tragic and infuriating when you realize that they were being held for committing absolutely no crime at all. There really is no need to prove the insanity of

Here is the video in unadulterated form.

It is important to document instances such as this because of the social conservative majority in Pakistan that refuses to accept the wrong a theocratic constitution is doing to the non-Muslim minorities. It is also important to remind them that a secular constitution.

Source: Reuters

Sajid Masih’s misery and his struggle with life and death are a direct consequence of the draconian blasphemy law in Pakistan. People failing to recognize and at least voice their opinion against them are being complacent to one of the most blatant systematic and apartheid murders happening in our times. And if Pakistan was not getting enough bad publicity, Rome made the Colosseum go red to protest the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

The secular democratic forces in Pakistan must unite in the manner of the manifesto of such a larger movement proposed by the Awami Workers Party, which actually deserves another post but here goes.

If not for any other reason, we must come together to get rid of this evil from Pakistan. We can’t claim to reform our corrupt authoritarian state but perhaps we can at least do our due to defeat the organized apartheid theocratic terrorism in Pakistan.

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.

America Finally Standing Up to Pakistan for Free Speech

Source: geo.tv

What perhaps separates, or should separate, America from the rest of the powers of the world is its moral leadership.

The United States might have ended up getting involved in, and sometimes started, some of the most violent and costliest of wars around the war but more often than not you will find that it had some sort of a moral intention behind it as opposed to naked expansionism. Whether that is true or not is up for debate, especially whether the United States has a monopoly over republican causes around the world.

However, one thing that can be said for certain is that no other nation of the world holds free speech more sacred and fundamental to liberty than the United States. This is because of the very ideology on which the United States was based. This was probably the reason why the first amendment passed to the Constitution by the founding fathers was to protect speech.

People in repressive and regressive countries such as Pakistan look up to at least the United States, if no other Western power, when it comes to protection from their own governments. These words seem to be stating the idiotic obvious but believe it or not, a vast number of people do not even consider curbs on free speech, theocratic rule, and Especially in countries with Muslim majority population and many in the West who think that Muslims need a break from hate, not aware they are doing them further harm by protecting theocratic authority.

It came as a rather pleasant surprise when the representative of the United States government, in agreement with that of the UK representative, urged Pakistan government to repeal its draconian blasphemy law at a UN forum. To their credit, the EU has also made similar demands from Pakistan before on a public forum. However, this reprimand was made in the presence of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was heading the Pakistani delegate at the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Khwaja Asif also presented Pakistan’s report.

Either way, it is a welcome sign but it still is a long way from the United States getting seriously in addressing this matter. States seldom are but this remains to be one outside hope for the citizens of oppressive countries than a bloody, brutal civil revolution from within, which hardly ever brings about a humane, democratic transition.

Perhaps one way that the United States could disturb the comfort and self-indulgence of the ruling class of Pakistan by threatening or imposing economic sanctions for imposing undemocratic laws such as the blasphemy law and discriminatory laws against Ahmedis.

While this sounds like colluding with a foreign power against your own, it is not. You could argue that willingly enforcing discriminatory laws targeting your fellow citizens is treason instead.

In a society like Pakistan, where the majority of the people do not understand how theocratic laws are contradictory to democracy and human rights, there is no other option but to count on moral diplomacy. There is no option but to influence change through lobbying and with the help of a foreign entity. Since Pakistani leaders and diplomats are never going to have this sense of social fairness, you have to pray that the Americans and the rest of the Western powers should do that bit of moral leadership for them.

You can read the full US delegation statement here.

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

.

We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.