Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

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Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and So Many Others

Source: NBC/ABC

What the Harvey Weinstein episode has revealed is that somewhere all men are complicit and are capable of such acts. They are guilty of perpetuating a culture of harassment, which has essentially become a lifestyle of their sexual, egoistic and social inadequacies, or something far worse.

Or perhaps it is just that women, perhaps with more empowered voice than ever since isolated matriarchal cultures, are waking up to challenge the traditional way men have always approached them. By harassing them as predators. And if does not make you guilty to be a straight male, don’t know what will.

In the United States, the discourse over abuse often gets deflected by politics. A lot of shots have been fired between liberals and conservatives about their own respective hypocrisies, considering that Donald Trump is President despite the Billy Bush tape. However, both are guilty of their fair share of cherrypicking either way.

Alright, they thought that Bill Cosby was a special kind of perve, but why was the media more traumatized about Harvey Weinstein than it was about Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or other Fox News garbage? Because Harvey Weinstein was supposed to be one of us liberals? Because someone like him should not be capable of such things and not surprising that sexists at Fox News could be.

Easily the most cringeworthy of the developments since the Weinstein revelations has been the Quentin Tarantino interview in which he reflects that he probably knew enough to do more than what he did. Which was pretty much nothing. But then again, what do you expect? Tarantino owed his entire career to him.

That is precisely what happened. Women are absolutely right to make this point. For far too long, the voices of women have been overlooked and ignored.

I personally believe that boycotting the “art” or  “body of work” (if you can call it that, that is) if a film director or artist because of his character or misdeeds does not make sense. I am not saying that it is necessarily ridiculous because I respect people for the reasons they take that stance, but the rape and gore in Tarantino and Weinstein films also make you wonder about this episode and how they see the world. Of course, it is easy to take the moral high ground.

Recall the time when Harvey Weinstein was in Howard Stern’s studio three odd years ago in which he vowed never to make a film glorifying guns again being a passionate supporter of the Democratic Party. But of course, he didn’t “stop making films glorifying guns,” if that is even a thing… However, his situation now is a good lesson how filmmakers of all the people should stop making such ridiculous statements and especially a man of Harvey Weinstein’s morals. It only puts their fellow filmmakers in trouble.

With all the problems around the alleged characters of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, I still think they are filmmaking geniuses and I am not going to stop watching their films.

You cannot say that as a straight male, you cannot help but feel guilty of all these developments. Because perhaps we know deep inside that within us that complicity lies that allowed Weinstein’s crimes to be covered up all these years.  Let it be conservatives on Trump or liberals on Weinstein, don’t forget how complicity is an issue. Furthermore, it is important to see how the divide between men and women go beyond industries, cultures, countries, race, and religion.

This is perhaps one divide which is going to be terribly hard to bridge.

Captain Safdar and the Lost Conscience of the Nation

Source: Dawn

A question that probably nobody has ever asked is if Pakistan ever had a collective conscience as a nation. Even though the next logical question should be an inquiry whether Pakistan itself is a nation or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is.

When it comes to the establishment of our theocracy, we completely lack any sense of morality and justice as a nation. We have utterly failed to produce even a fair and reasonable social contract and, even worse, are not even acknowledging that it is unfair to the religious minorities. Pakistan is indeed morally corrupt for its denial of the need of secularism.

A reflection of the state of morality of the Pakistani nation, at least of its majority, was offered by Captain Safdar on the National Assembly floor at the expense of perhaps the most vulnerable religious minority in the country.

Would the PML-N say that the husband of their probable future leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif is reflective of the official stance of PML-N? Could you say that this politician of no stature at all is appealing to the baser instincts of the conservative supporters by invoking his loyalty to the faith of finality of Prophet, for which you need to openly express your hate for one religious community? Could you say that it was a move to divert attention from the corruption cases against Captain Safdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who are facing criminal prosecution?

Could you say that they are playing good cop-bad cop? Challenging the naming of a Quaid-e-Azam University Physics Department named after Dr. Abdus Salam when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his father-in-law and party leader, himself recommended it to be named after the only Physics Nobel laureate in Pakistan’s history.

One way or the other, it is unbelievable that we have such a high place in our society and in our legislator, the highest institution of our democracy. But of course, when the constitution of a country is endorsing discrimination against a group of its citizens and essentially declaring them public enemy number one, how can you blame people like Captain Safdar. However, he particularly moved into very dangerous territory by questioning the national loyalty of Ahmedis and exposing his antisemitic tendencies linked them with Israel and declaring them a security risk.

Even if it was a good cop-bad cop move, the PML-N at least should have made an official statement to distance themselves from the bigotry and nonsense of Captain Safdar. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal did condemn the hate speech but without taking his name. At least it has undone the impact of moderation that the likes of Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and even Maryam Nawaz Sharif herself are trying to make.

Even though we have lost our conscience, humanity, and moral compass as a nation, I still need to say this.

Shame on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and shame on PML-N for putting up with this nonsense. And even if it is a deliberate move, the party should know better than this.

A Foreign Minister With A Mind of His Own?

Source: Asia Society

I am not saying it has happened for the first time in Pakistani history, but it surely seems something out of the ordinary in the current political atmosphere in Pakistan. After the Pakistani military and bureaucratic establishment realized what a colossal error its favorite dictator General Pervez Musharraf had committed by permitting private TV channels, a regime of media control was brought about.

It was at least too late for Musharraf himself who erroneously started considering himself to be a democratic leader with a liberal economic vision who enjoys complete support by the people of Pakistan. He probably banked too much on his ridiculous referendum numbers and ended up resigning due to the resistance put up by civilians for a sacked judge.

The same political party which had been overthrown by the military bureaucracy returned 14 years later with another overwhelming mandate, only earlier paralleled in its volume by the Awami League in the 1970 election. The Awami League was,, of course, declared as an outlawed and traitorous party in a rebel country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had his third term cut short by some dimension of the state bureaucracy earlier in July this year. Today, at this situation, it is refreshing to see that the Foreign Minister of the same political party who had delivered a fiery speech against the military establishment in the parliament embarrass it on an international forum. Especially when the current Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi looks like a zombie bullied by the drill sergeant at the Kakul Academy about “What to say at UN manual.”

Here is Khawaja Asif speaking at the Asia Society in New York.

Not only that, Khawaja Asif completely owned the label of a “more liberal foreign policy,” criticizing the opposition party to pandering to the “religious fringes.” Like most liberals of Pakistans, he also reminisced about the “old liberal, pluralistic, tolerant, and progressive Pakistan of the 50s and 60s,” which was taken away due to the Islamization in the wake of the Afghan Jihad. He also thought that Pakistan so openly joining the American camp during the Cold War years was a mistake. At least, it is refreshing to see such an approach taken by a Pakistan government official so openly in an international diplomatic forum.

Khawaja Asif also remarkably admitted that Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other terrorists like the Haqqani Group were liabilities for Pakistan and that Pakistan needed time to deal with them. He also stated that the dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had put his career on stake in order to improve relations with India, which he considered necessary while also describing the struggle of the Kashmiri youth at the hands of the brutality of Indian military and government.

Khawaja Asif certainly has many flaws. He is an inarticulate loudmouth with a knack of saying inappropriate things every now and then, blame it on his Punjabi male chauvinistic upbringing.  Even was my Idiot of the year 2016. But once in a while, he also ends up doing something right. And to his credit, more often than the broken clock telling the time right. However, he is still the same man who threatened Israel over a piece of fake news when he was the Defense Minister. Read about the underlying antisemitism of his comment here.

Of course, his statements have given indigestion to a lot of nationalist conservatives and military establishment loyalists including the PTI who are accusing him of treason as usual. However, all supporters of democracy and civilian supremacy should celebrate this rare moment in Pakistan foreign policy. State protected terrorist Hafiz Saeed s even suing Khawaja Asif for Rs. 100 million for defamation. Just to give you an idea how bad things are in Pakistan when it comes to the moral authority of the state. It would also not be beyond our deep state if we shortly see the resignation of the minister following the controversy he has stirred. In that case, the Pakistani people should stand by a diplomat that has, for once, truly represented them.

There has been Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the PPP government who chose to dissent but never like this. So a Foreign Minister finally having a mind of his own, or at least saying the right thing, has been rare in Pakistan.

Let’s celebrate that.

The Brighter Side of President Trump’s First UN Speech

Source: CNBC/Getty Images

Of course, it is President Trump.

He is going to get under your skin and it is hard to ignore whatever he does. He is a foreign policy and public relations embarrassment and just referred to a country called “Nambia” in Africa. Of course, he clearly meant Namibia.

But forget his reckless personal style for a minute and let us focus if there was a brighter side to his speech, his first as the US President at the UN General Assembly.

With the recent trends in American politics, the victory of President Donald Trump itself being the greatest sign, as well as the gains of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders in the Presidential election, isolationism seems to be on the rise. This threatened the American world order globally and also became a point of concern for people who care about freedom and democracy all over the world.

Granted that Trump’s leadership is far from what the world needs in the face of some of the gravest authoritarian threats since the fall of the Soviet Union, still, it could have been a lot worse. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is even a relief that he was there to address the world in the UN General Assembly. Though what he wouldn’t do for some attention?

While he is complaining that the world is not doing enough to repay America for its international duties. he is acknowledging that the world’s problems are his problems. While he is troublingly emphasizing too much on nationalism and sovereignty as the guiding principles for nation states, he is still acknowledging the investment the United States is willing to put in for world peace and prosperity.

He recklessly ended up threatening North Korea with annihilation, something he was condemning them for. Now that is an extreme, but in all his speech, he made one thing clear. His condemnation of Cuba and restoring the embargo could be the most disappointing aspect of his foreign policy legacy, a great achievement of the Obama years.

His speech meant that America still has not lost its internationalism, albeit at a cost of significant influence. His speech meant that Trump is still very much onboard the idea of America caring about its allies around the world. He tried making it clear that it was not about establishing the American Empire of the Bush family, reminding of no territorial gains in recent wars and rejecting the notion of nation-building. Yet he was very much on track of the Republican liberal policy than not.

His position on the Iran Nuclear Deal is pretty much the official position of the Republican Party and the sort of stance that Israel wants to take the United States. Whether this approach will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or not is another matter but most certainly, this sends out a stern message to Iran that perhaps their diplomatic achievement was not one after all.

Iran might take a moral high ground after Trump’s speech but the fact remains that it continues to directly threaten b0th Israel and the United States. And Iran getting nuclear weapons will not only be an apocalyptic scenario for the Middle East but the greatest hurdle to regime change in the country, which is one of the most urgent need of the hour for the world and the Iranian people.

In the end, the noteworthy point was that Trump, guided by seasoned generals Mattis and Kelly in his cabinet, is pretty much an interventionist President.

Trump remains to be irresponsible on many global liberal fronts such as free trade and climate change, but perhaps he is not prepared to wash his hands off the world peace situation. If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

If he does not ends up disturbing it himself, that is.

The Most Important Decision by President Trump to Date

Source: The New York Times

More than a year ago, I had written how important it was for a Republican to win this election. There was only one reason behind it. The foreign and military policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, I did not want someone like Donald Trump to make it to the top.

Even though there are plenty of sane Democrats on that subject around as well and Hillary Clinton could easily be one of them. However, since the charismatic victory of President Barack Obama, elected with a massive anti-war mandate, and the pressure from Bernie Sanders progressives, who knew what direction policy would have taken. After President Obama turning the direction of the hands-on American Empire created by the Bush family and growing threats from China and Russia, American influence is only likely to fall in the coming years.

There has been plenty of areas where Trump has displayed how out of touch he is with American people, as well as how inappropriate his response could be to certain tragedies such as the Charlottesville rally. However, in foreign policy, he stuck to the conventional military wisdom of the Republican leadership.

Sure, he has deviated from the intellectualism of furthering the American Empire that has been the legacy of Bush 41 and Bush 43. This solidifies the notion that President Trump is a part of the same sentiment that got President Obama elected, as different both of them may be to each other. But where both agree is that America should not have invested heavily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America should not be nation-building, a Bush era policy widely condemned as neo-colonialism.

But when I indeed wrote about a Republican winning, the precise person that I had in mind was Jeb Bush. Because he would have continued where Bush 41 and Bush 43 left office. While the execution of the military campaigns was flawed, even criminal, under Bush 43, you could say the intention and idea behind it were noble and well-meaning. But then again, you could not possibly ignore factors like business interests affiliated with the military industrial complex. And then there was all the corruption in the Bush 43 administration.

Of course, lacking in detail, but this speech by President Trump is greatly symbolic. And one that even his nemesis in Senate, Senator John McCain would be proud of, as such a policy speech means that the hard work of the latter has been paid off. At least there is assurance that Afghanistan is not going to prove another Vietnam as the enemies and critics of America so frequently like to quote.

President Trump not only reassured that America is going to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, at least there will be no “hasty withdrawals” as in the case of Iraq, he also addressed irresponsible allies. While Pakistanis have been complaining about his tough talk pushing Pakistan to do more, nobody focused that he also pressed India to play its due contribution. Because like China, you would always find India conveniently shunning its due international affairs responsibilities from the war on terror to relations with Iran. Such brutal clarity from American leadership was much needed after eight years of intellectual ambiguity from President Obama.

It is hard to tell what the future holds for the free world in problem areas such as Afghanistan. However, at least the direction has been set right.

Nevertheless, let us not be too excited to proclaim this as a sign of furthering the American Empire.

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An Opportunity for Globalist Centrist Liberalism

Source: National Review

The world may appear to be sharply divided among the far left and the far right on the social media, and even on the mainstream media these days. However, you could make the case that with the election of Emmanuel Macron as the French President, some hope has been revived in centrism and globalist liberalism. Because the polls in late April were nothing less than a scare with Marine Le Pen ending up neck-a-neck.

One of the features of the shifts to far left and far right camps in public discourse has been the cynicism toward centrism and pragmatism. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton have been condemned as “neo-liberal” by progressive and leftist activists, who could have prevented the Trump Presidency by turning out in greater numbers for her favor. The shift toward absolutism might sound romantic to some in a twisted way, but it has given us politicians such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and perhaps even Trump on the right and Jeremy Corbyn and Tulsi Gabbard on the left. Of course, each honest in their own dangerous way. I am deliberately not mentioning Bernie Sanders in this list, whose proposals of single payer healthcare is anything but an extreme view for a centrist liberal, but he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the Wall Street.

While still both the left and right in the West are variants of liberalism, relatively speaking, but both have seemed to lose the essence of its ideals of late. The left continues to demonize the idea of private property while the right frequently compromises the liberties of people who either look different or are less fortunate. And another group simply refuses to pay for just about anything. Did I mention Ron Paul in the list?

Since when have these ideas become abominations to the people?

There is no wonder even today a majority of the population might agree on centrist ideas and fortunately that is still what a lot of voting pattern around the world follows. Though that voting pattern has been consistently shifting rightward, evident in Turkey, India, and Israel. Common sense, yes, you hear this expression very frequently in the campaigns of more conservative politicians in the West. But actually, you would rather associate this term with more centrist and pragmatic liberals beyond party lines.

The disillusionment and cynicism of the recent years have particularly been on the rise as a “people’s awakening” of sorts. This has been generally true for the attitude toward the United Nations but the precarious unity of the EU has particularly brought it into light. Blame it on the operational and bureaucratic flaws of these globalist bodies but there is no reason why the ideals behind them should be targeted without anyone putting up a reasonable defense for them.

On the other hand, there is really nothing about centrism or economic liberalism that necessitates apathy toward those who are less fortunate in the society. This ideological direction does not necessarily eliminate a social democracy. It is not as if most of the moderate British conservatives would be effectively killing the NHS, despite their fiscal conservatism. Certainly, not the Liberal Democrats. I guess centrist liberals would only be more respectful of private property and freedom for businesses than obsessing over bringing the budget into surplus too much.

Most moderate Republicans would not dare criticize late night host Jimmy Kimmel making a case for healthcare safety nets by bringing up his sick child. It is precisely the mindset that attacked him for it that a centrist liberal would discourage. Long story short, centrist liberals are more likely to side with a pragmatic, practical direction, keeping a balance between the bleeding heart and the facts of the world. Most of them would at least entertain the idea of a single payer healthcare approach while respecting private caregivers for humanitarian reasons, despite the controversy around its ideological correctness.

Another reason why globalist and centrist liberals are important is their interventionism, another point that gets under the skin of people on both extreme left and right. While there is no point getting behind a warmonger, an isolationist progressive or libertarian would be as caustic to world peace as a relentless hawk.

As much as we would like to hate President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush, their timely humanitarian action in Bosnia and Kuwait goes unappreciated. It is amazing how the critics of American imperialism completely fail to recognize how the intervention has saved the freedom for the people of South Korea and West Germany. Furthermore, globalist liberals would be all for aid and accepting refugees and intervening to prevent a genocide, while an isolationist nationalist or an apathetic progressive could prove to be a humanitarian disaster. But enough of what they might mean for a government.

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm, the ideological polarity itself ironically presents an opportunity to the third way liberalism to bring people from left and right together. At least as a practical electoral alliance holding your nose. In a way, the rise of Donald Trump represents that possibility as opposed to someone like Sen. Ted Cruz who could become the President too. Although some could argue the same about Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The person of Donald Trump has always appeared to be pragmatic and centrist, even liberal, in his approach to things but it is unfortunate that he relied on more far right policies and people to run his campaign. Perhaps that was the only way he could win this election. The policies he is enacting are not any more encouraging either. But who knows, that might change with time as he is beginning to figure out the realities of the political world and governance. And say, if Jared and Ivanka do not stay too far. Hanging on to a thread, are we not?

But don’t get too depressed. The world may still give sanity a chance.

It’s not too late.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.