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.

The Ignored Mass Hysteria of the Righteous

Source: Telegraph

Source: Telegraph

Not long before the date of the publishing of this post, a woman was lynched and burned alive for burning the Koran by an angry mob of men in Afghanistan. A few days later, another secular Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death by religious fundamentalists, after Avijit Roy met a similar fate. A few months ago, similar religious justice was dispensed in a small Punjab town near Lahore.

It would probably be fallacious and inappropriate to link allthe religiously motivated mob lynching and killing incidents occurring in these different South and Western Asian countries into a pattern. However, you cannot help but notice the similar convictions and motives driving the angry killers in all of these apparently isolated incidents. Of course, we know that the quoted incidents are just a few of the many such incidents. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that different mobs separated by language and other geographical barriers converge under a common banner of morality.

While it appears that the antitheists only resort to unreasonable bigotry when they blame religion for making good people do terrible things, such incidents of violence only seem to validate their strange claim. It would be very difficult for even the most conservative of critics to actually deny the religious nature of the motivation of the attackers.

It is amazing that these societies, which are apparently obsessed with moral righteousness and justice, let these incidents go largely unaddressed in terms of criticism and outrage. Or actually, some would argue that such strong tendencies are the very factor behind these outrageous cases of mob violence, apparently condoned by the society in their immediate surroundings. Obviously, there are a few who protested all these incidents, but they can hardly engage the majority directly in a reasonable debate over this issue. No wonder why such criticism is largely absent from Urdu language press in Pakistan.

You can understand the occurrence of individual apathetic sociopaths, but it is worrisome when such behavior becomes a socially accepted norm. The degree of violence that is associated with this perceivably divine system of justice is pretty much an insult to humanity by any standard. However, in this day and age, this medieval system of witch hunting is pretty much alive and well.

Would it be too bizarre to claim that these people have been exposed to certain instructions or a common moral code that encourage them to act in this manner? Surely, there must be a common idea uniting thousands of people to come together and target a defenseless person so brutally. Ah, just imagine the horror of a mob beating you up. Imagine the pain and humiliation. Oh wait, let’s not even go there. Invoking the theory of mind is such a cliché, or perhaps hardly of any use in this case.

Or would it be too offensive and inappropriate to question the morality of the community condoning their practices?

It is interesting to note how consistently such faith related killings occur. Yet it is hard to point out the elephant in the room. Probably there really isn’t a pattern, nothing to do with what these people were actually supposed to follow, but you cannot help but notice why it is happening, especially if you find the chants of these mobs at work hard to ignore.

Nevertheless, it would have been encouraging had such behavior been confined to angry and vicious mobs and fringe radicals looking to stone infidels to death. The problem is that some of the states supposed to stop the madness are even worse, putting it into legislation. While the scholars who would conveniently condemn a vigilante witch hunt would happily offer an alternative legal route for the same.

You might be tempted to falsely term this widespread organized righteous behavior mass hysteria, but that would be a gross understatement.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

It Could Have so Easily Been You and Me

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Why is no one in Pakistan talking about Raif Badawi with the exception of a couple of bloggers here and there?

Why is he not in the news?

Because he insulted Islam or the Saudi royalty? But of course.

But what does this tell the world about us? Or about our leaders who took the trouble of protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but would dare not even think about the flogging of the Saudi blogger.

Both liberal and conservative free speech critics would find great offense in a political cartoon mocking a holy religious figure, but would not find any problem in a theocratic monarchy persecuting the freedom of its citizens.

Therefore, the draconian penalty of 1,000 lashes to blogger Raif Badawi largely goes unaddressed by the likes of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, and overshadowed by the sad demise of King Abdullah. With the exception of a few extremist bloggers, Western publications and maybe Amnesty International.

I heard a few US senators did manage to write a letter strongly protesting the flogging. I hope that really happened.

But the torture goes on, despite appeals and concerns about Badawi’s health.

Obviously, the penalty of 1,000 lashes is carefully designed to prolong the humiliation and mental torture, without attracting significant disapproval of the Western countries. Not that they really care though.

After all, it is important to set an example.

I know it is dangerous and sensitive to talk about anyone who has allegedly blasphemed, but let us put this case this way.

Let’s not even waste our time with the question whether Raif Badawi insulted Islam or not, and whether he should be punished for it or not, without giving up the defense of his right to.

But what if the law of the land requires your free expression about your society to be punished like this? Especially when half of the people in Pakistan want the country to turn into Saudi Arabia and the other half wants it to become Iran.

 

What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmedis are persecuted in Pakistan?

What if you were penalized for wondering why Hazara and Shia are being targeted and publicly naming the culprits?

What if you were wondering about the unjust theocratic influences on the law and the constitution, and therefore on the society?

What if questioning the theocratic parts of your constitution would put you on a trial for treason?

The kind of opinions that could so easily be projected to be insulting to religion and, therefore, the religious figures, you never know.

 

Raif Badawi’s opinions were not too different to these seemingly innocuous political inquiries.

This is where more moderate and liberal elements in the society are the only hope to inch toward sanity. This is why they need to focus on Raif Badawi and put more pressure on enemies of free speech such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even though not as much, but Pakistan too. But I am glad I am enjoying enough freedom to write these lines and am proud of that.

As we speak, Raif Badawi’s second round of flogging has been postponed for the third straight week, albeit for health reasons. We should continue to speak until the floggings are called off as a matter of principle.

 

There is a reason why Raif Badawi matters so much.

It could have so easily been you and me.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.