Mass Desensitization Toward Holy Crimes

Source: thecompassnews.org

Source: thecompassnews.org

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.

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Day 2: Kissa Khwani by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan – “PTV & Radio Pakistan”

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a platform dedicated to documenting oral history, organized a three day event called “Kissa Khwani” in Islamabad, named after the famous Kissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, which was meant to promote the tradition of preserving oral historical accounts and storytelling. On June 21, 2013, the second episode of the three day event, “PTV and Radio Pakistan” was held in Islamabad.

The panelists included Agha Nasir, veteran broadcaster and producer, the pioneering director of Radio Pakistan and the former Managing Director of PTV, Muhammad Zubair, the former Director International Affairs of PTV and the first director of PTV Academy, and playwright, screenwriter and former columnist Ahmed Saleem, who created plays like “Amaawas” and “Kaala Pul“. Kanwal Naseer was also supposed to speak at the event but did not show up for some reason. The event was moderated by journalist, columnist and news anchor Farrukh Khan Pitafi.

A sister event was held in Lahore in which the panelists included Seemi Raheel, Salman Shahid, Naveed Shahzad and director and producer Ayub Khawar and was moderated by Adeel Hashmi and Alizeh Khalid. I really wish I were in Lahore to hear these brilliant speakers. The headline from the more interesting Lahore event was “Zia dictatorship ruined it all“, which was also discussed in Islamabad and immediately brought to mind the hazards of state-imposed censorship.

The Islamabad event kicked off with Agha Nasir presenting a historical account of the formative years of All India Radio. He was actually the only panelist in the entire three day event that mentioned the tragic Kissa Khwani Bazaar massacre, an Amritsar massacre like carnage, at the hands of the soldiers of the British Raj. Nasir mentioned that All India Radio was modeled after the BBC itself and was launched in 1935.

Remarkable pioneers such as Z. A. Bokhari, A. S. Bokhari and Patras Bokhari were engaged for establishing the state radio. Radio stations in present day Pakistan were established in Lahore at the YMCA on the Mall and in Peshawar. According to him, the Peshawar station was donated radio apparatus by Marconi himself. The monthly budget of a radio station used to be Rs. 1,500 per month and its main purpose used to be educational programming.

Agha Nasir expressed great satisfaction over his work at the Radio, despite the fact that it offered low income. According to him, the satisfaction of the work was the greatest factor why great names such as Saadat Hassan Manto and Z. A. Bokhari , apart from many prominent actors and stars, were attracted to the medium.

Muhammad Zubair lamented that the present day media is directionless and has become excessively moralistic and sardonic in its approach. He observed that radio was a medium that empowered him with the faculty of visualization during storytelling. He mourned that television was a medium which actually took that ability away from him.

He complained that the mandate of Pakistan Television of “education, information and entertainment” has eroded over time. He expressed his concern over the degeneration of the media and criticized the growing sensationalism and commercialism. He also expressed his concerns over the lack of censorship.

Playwright Ahmed Saleem mentioned producers and writers who pushed the frontiers of tolerance. He mentioned Dr. Anver Sajjad, Agha Nasir and Iqbal Ansari to be some of the most important names in this regard.

He recalled how his play “Amaawas” became a landmark in pushing the limits of tolerance on state television. The play was directed by Iqbal Ansari which portrayed the female lead played by Bushra Ansari demanding a divorce from the male lead played by Asif Raza Mir. The play stirred a great controversy at the time.

He recalled that people wrote to them objecting to the content of the play, worrying that it could corrupt the minds of women. He also recalled that they received threats from religious groups and clerics for airing such a play. However, he paid a tribute to director Ansari for encouraging him to express himself in the play as he pleased, even though the daring director had to offer an explanation and an apology once the play ended.

He also recalled working for the documentation of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of PTV. However, he left disgusted when many producers started claiming credits for things that were obviously were not their contributions. However, he said that he was proud to write scripts for Shireen Pasha’s landmark documentary on Cholistan.

He recalled that government interventions started plaguing PTV during Yahya’s regime when Tagore and Nazar-ul-Islam were banned in East Pakistan while adding more Urdu content, alienating the Bengali population.

Saleem recalled joining the newspaper “Aman” in the 80s as a television critic and used to interview TV stars. His interviews were criticized for being politically loaded such as the one involving actress Marina Khan in which he quoted her of criticizing the construction of Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. She said that many schools could have been built with that money.

Questions and answers session saw someone asking for a direction for the media. Mr. Zubair said that Pakistan was not prepared for freedom of media in its years of infancy and needed stability instead. He also insisted on the importance of following religious guidelines.

Agha Nasir recalled that PTV was issued one directive per week during Zia’s regime. Directives were about things like how the dopatta should be worn on air, that female singer should not gyrate while singing and that duets should be banned. Nazia and Zohaib Hassan’s duet also came under fire, despite the fact that they were siblings. The puritanical disciplinarians responded that not everybody was aware of that.

Moderator Farrukh Pitafi conceded that the media is rightfully criticized by the audience for sensationalizing reporting, distorting facts and commercializing and trivializing information, as well desensitizing audiences. He said that Pakistan was a classical example wherein space was expanding and quality was diminishing.

He said that poetic license of freedom was being used in news in Pakistan instead and that anchors have been guilty of such excesses. However, he also made a point that educated audiences would demand better content from the media and that the population explosion has been making things worse.

Almost unanimously, the panelists agreed that excessive freedom of expression is inappropriate. Ahmed Saleem gave a similar reply to my question why people were so fond of censorship in Pakistan. I found that rather disappointing coming from a writer.

He narrated how a news anchor misrepresented CM Shahbaz Sharif’s medical aid to him for undergoing a liver transplant as an act of corruption. He noticed that it came as a surprise to him since he was a political critic of the Sharif brothers. Yet the generous and praiseworthy deed of the leader was painted as a vile act by a news anchor with a political agenda.

But this story made me doubt his understanding of freedom of speech, which he later mentioned to be a positive tool if used properly. He recalled how they used to wonder what they should play and write about after the death of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. But they frequently followed their heroic struggle for freedom of speech with the warnings of the need for discipline and order.

Revolutionaries of yesterday, with the exception of Mr. Zubair of course, have become the conservatives of our times.

But it is hardly a surprise.

Note: This is not a paid post.

Manto’s Centennial: Tapping the Lost Memory

Saadat Hassan Manto (1912-1955) – Source: Wikipedia

Saadat Hasan Manto would have turned 100 today. Anyway he passed away more than 50 years ago in the most hostile of circumstances. However, it is needless to say that his stories continue to be an inspiration and I have personally found them to touch my imagination deeper than I expected, but I cannot say that about all of them. He is certainly a man worth remembering and telling your children about, if you have any or would ever like to have them. He was often criticized for vulgarity and obscenity by his contemporaries, for whom the crude realism and daring of his writing were nothing less than a shock and an attempt of an apparently libertine writer to break the conventions of the time.

I have not read all of Manto’s work as of this day though I do want to. I need to read more to write about it but I doubt if I’d feel too differently. I don’t know much about Urdu literature either but of whatever I have read of Manto’s short stories, I have found it really fascinating. I can’t say but probably there is some sort of encoding of the memories from the past centuries on our DNA from grandparents to parents and so on, or so it seems, probably just our imagination, which seems to be revived or activated by such stories. In Manto’s case, this is true for India during the Raj, particularly around the turbulent years of the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.

Manto’s writing style is often associated with a lot of sexual crudeness and what is commonly and popularly referred to as “obscenity” or “vulgarity”, at least for his time, and for which he had been tried quite a few times as well, but the fact is that his writings are among the most sensual and sensitive that you will ever read. It largely depends on the particular story you are reading but really I am in no position to offer a critique on what sort of a writer he was. I don’t really care about critical analysis as long as the writing taps the lost imagination, or if I dare say, the lost memory.

As a matter of fact, I find a lot of commentary on Manto’s writing very crude and in bad taste itself, especially one which tries to emulate it in admiration and ends up in putting you off. If the writing is indeed “crude”, “obscene” and “vulgar”, the sort of commentary makes it doubly so, or makes it so if it was not in the first place. Those who know about it would know about what I am talking about. Those who do not would probably have to start with his stories first. While his stories are popularly considered to drive a lot of lust and sexual stimulation in the imagination, I wonder if it is really meant to be taken that way at all. I don’t know. This is the beauty of any art form. However, carrying out an open surgery on it certainly does bring the reader’s mind to that level.

But enough of the unpleasantness. I am more of a fan of the subtle detail that constructs the picture of the India that a part of me has known even before I was born perhaps. I keep on going to that absurd threshold of lost memory, instead of lost imagination, because somehow the feeling is far stronger and far more overwhelming than just imagination. Perhaps it is that, imagination, but I would like to think otherwise, or go one step further, calling it lost memory anyway. It feels more like memory. Perhaps, it is my grandmother’s old house, my grandparents themselves, the neighborhoods I grew up in and the city that had not yet lost its tradition to the mechanized modernity disguised in progress. The curiosity how the earlier generation used to live, the loss of the different elements of the Indian society living together, the lost hormony, the lost peace, the lost values.

Some of his short stories such as Mozelle have had a deeper effect on me than others. The greatest thing about those stories is not just the people, but the very environment around which the story has been woven. Another one being Sahib-e-Karamaat, but these surely not being the only ones. It is not just the sensitivity of the story that matters but also the universe that it exists in. Of course it exists merely in our brain cells, but that information certainly comes out of each individual’s association with the time. I know this really has nothing to do with what his stories are actually about but maybe it does not really matter as much since each person can relate to it in their own way and a person born in a different era can find it as a link to reach the years he or she cannot reach otherwise or physically, in their own way. It’s a good portal.

Perhaps one of the great things about his stories has been the way it lets you construct the scene and that is the greatest thing about any writing. Of course, it is meant to bring out that lost lust in you and it was important in a more or less repressive society of the India of the earlier twentieth century, perhaps not as much as a modern mind would imagine, but at least to the extent that such writing style would have been found out of place at the time. To me, writing is supposed to be. Manto was sort of an iconoclast in terms of Indian literature at the time and of course was way ahead of his time. Not to imply that he did not have an audience or people who did not understand and who were not good enough to receive it without going into a state of unproductive shock instead of ecstasy or at least literary if not hormonal pleasure of some sort. But it nevertheless is a fact that the society mostly acts unlike its individuals.

You would say that about every artist probably but more work out of Manto would have been great because the thought of having read all his stories is frightening, as is the thought of watching all the motion pictures from Fellini or Buñuel and getting done with it.

Because we need more inspiration to tap that lost memory.

A sense of nostalgia, a past-future, that is just not supposed to be there, or maybe it is.

Maybe we should try ourselves.