Sympathy for the Devil: Comment on the Milo-Maher Episode

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

There is a reason I am a bigger fan of Bill Maher than any other liberal comedian/political activist out there. Actually, his show is the only one where almost everyone gets a platform and where you can find some substance in the middle of the usual political insults.

I personally find his show very interesting for always evenly distributing the panelists among liberals and conservatives, and particularly for his much needed unfiltered criticism of religion. Seriously, without the likes of him, the Western left would have no remote clue what Islam and Sharia could really look like. Not that they would care anyway.

I know a lot of people don’t find him funny because his jokes are perceivably too rude, crude and offensive for them. But somehow I do, even when I find his jokes offensive. And that is probably because I know that Bill Maher, who has been called “nominally liberal,” hears the other side out. Even though, only to insult them to their faces. All in good humor.

I wanted to avoid commenting on this primarily because of some of the terrible opinions held by Milo, but thought it would be inappropriate to skip this considering what it means in terms of free speech. It would also be a tremendous disservice to the readers of this blog.

I consider myself somewhat a free speech libertarian, not a liberal. What that means is that I would be willing to give a platform to a lot of ideas and speech that would be off-limits to most decent circles of the society. Even though, in real life, I would avoid engaging those ideas in conversation, especially if I personally do not believe in them.

For example, I would listen to a meninist, as opposed to a feminist, but I would know that they are full of shit. Because women are simply at a tremendous disadvantage both socially and economically, and to my mind even physically, in what is still a man’s world. But nothing wrong in challenging third wave feminism and it should not be off-limits because at least its criticism of art certainly has a flaw or too.

But when I hear about the gender wage gap from a feminist, I would listen to the arguments with a healthy economic skepticism. Which is a polite way of saying that I need to learn more about this burning issue and that perhaps, some day, I would be able to form a strong opinion on this issue.

But I must say, I find Milo Yiannapoulous intriguing. And I don’t even have to agree with his politics or views on things. I know, it is about that for most people. But I seldom see people that way, unless sometimes they force me not to. Though Milo does come close, but it is still important to hear out before dismissing. And I am sure the same is true for Bill Maher.

His views on transgenders are absolutely disgusting, terming transgenderism a mental disease. But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

Bill Maher, of course, was rebuked viciously by progressive liberals for inviting him on his show, some of who are announcing their boycotts, as usual.  Frequent panelist journalist Jeremy Scahill was supposed to appear on that show but pulled out. How could he give the poster child of Alt-Right a platform on his show? Well, he also happened to be the Editor of Breitbart News at the time. The founder of the platform, Andrew Breitbart, a very outspoken provocateur himself, often appeared on the show. Milo looks somewhat of a resurrection of the late outspoken libertarian blogger.

Now, here are two ways to look at this. Either you are giving a troll a mainstream platform and audience, or you are simply exposing him to further scrutiny.

I had heard his name alright, but I had no idea what his deal was about until I saw him on Bill Maher’s show. And realized that Bill Maher indeed had given him a bigger platform for many. Though not for the first time, as he has appeared on Sky and BBC several times in the UK.

Milo Yiannapoulous has been insightful, particularly in his explanation of the Trump Presidency phenomenon. Not even the biggest of pundits ever realized that the Presidency of his “daddy” was won on a cultural platform. Which explains a candidate that is so bullet-proof that the release of his “grab them by the pussy” video failed to destroy his candidacy. How can historians explain this? Other than the Republican voter base completely lacking morals, which they often accuse the liberals of

Though here is the other side of the picture. It was because of Bill Maher’s show that both Milo and he were bombarded with hate blogs and reports on the liberal and mainstream media such as CNN. In other words, Bill Maher took Milo to CNN.

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And the intense attention that it brought led to the re-emergence, or rather emergence, of a long lost tape of an internet show in which he seems to be justifying homosexual men engaging in sexual contact with minors. Following it up with a joke about having sex with his priest.

Well, well. You thought that Milo would actually be with his signature bravado, but not to be. He held a press conference regretting his “poor choice of words,” something he had never done before I assume. He resigned his position as Breitbart Senior Editor, possibly being forced to, which he made look like a voluntary one. Before that, the deal for his book “Dangerous” was canceled.

But ideologically worst of all, he lost his speaking spot in the CPAC. That must have been a huge blow to his fans.

Later, Bill Maher was taking credit, saying “you’re welcome.” If that sounds douchey, well, only Bill Maher can attain those levels. But he may have a point there. Sunlight, indeed, is the best disinfectant.

So Bill Maher’s delusions aside, what happened? Why was this comment the last straw that broke the camel’s back? Despite everything and everything Milo had said and done, including reportedly donning Nazi paraphernalia, Islamophobia and making antisemitic remarks,. An article by Nathan J. Robinson asked this question too. And I tell you what, his comments appearing on the video regarding the age of consent are nothing new and not nearly as shocking as you would believe. Even though I believe the age of consent is a legitimate debate and varies in different regions, I guess the conservatives draw a line when it comes to pedophilia, especially when a gay man is involved. And I am not even sure if these cases even qualify for the wildly thrown around term pedophilia, which is supposed to be classified as a mental disorder. Underage sex or statutory rape, yes.

Actually, a lot of websites are accusing Maher himself of justifying an older woman having sexual relations with a minor and not rejecting the idea that women could possibly rape men. But I guess for someone who has a problem with Prophet Muhammad marrying a minor, raise this issue all you want. Well, send me a memo please but I don’t think it destroyed Maher’s career. HBO must be aware of it. I guess the only shit he faced was because of his 9/11 comments.

Before this episode, Milo Yiannapoulos was invited by the College Republicans in the UC Berkeley campus in California. This led to some of the most vicious violent riots the United States has seen in the recent years. One of such riots in Seattle saw a person shot. On Van Jones’ show, the one who had invited him said he was worried for his life during the episode. It was this incident that prompted Bill Maher to invite Milo to his show because he happens to have a problem with left’s hypocrisy, hate of free speech and love of safe spaces too.

Like Bill, I sided with Milo on that and had absolutely zero problems with him appearing on his show. The left media went berserk, of course.

According to the hysteric Jezebel, Bill Maher was a monster now. The others shredded him for basically enabling Milo and not calling him out on the more offensive parts of his comments. Even though Maher himself is barely as progressive socially as many would like to believe. He grew up with old school comedians and perhaps could be considered as the heir to George Carlin for his caustic humor.

Though I do admit that he was clearly doing it for the most part. But still, I would not divorce Bill Maher from the ranks of my political allies. Be glad that a comedian and political activist like that is on your side. Though eventually, you would feel, the left-leaning Democratic Party would eventually drive out anyone. If only the Republicans were not so horrible.

In the end, I like Milo’s style but I can have no sympathy at all for the terrible political opinions he stands for. But I am not bothered much about his moral unorthodoxy. Actually, I am attracted to it, because I can relate to the boundaries that he is trying to push and it is fun to see him getting under the skin of so many whose righteousness we take for granted.

I must say I am intrigued by Milo because I am interested in people who question moral conventions. And more often than not, it requires being offensive and some courage as well. But pushing the limits of moral boundaries is something that could really start some new debates. Though I am not sure how well he qualifies for this great mission.

But while social justice wars are all good, it is important not to forget the essential right of free speech, which is the most important human right of all. And most of all, he reminds us of how much self-censorship is prevalent in the age of information, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is dishonest.

This is one of the primary reasons I have never identified as a “progressive” as yet, though being an ally on most issues including feminism, and most probably never would.

 

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Just When You Needed Establishment GOP Candidates To Do Well…

Source: AP/ktar.com

Source: AP/ktar.com

Just when you needed the establishment GOP candidates to do well at this point in history, American conservatives seem to be having a populist Tea Party-like awakening. Well, sort of.

Despite the terrible run, not many people would have expected Senator Lindsey Graham to have come to the forefront in the second Republican debate. I personally believe he was in the wrong debate, and should have been in the prime time debate. Nevertheless, he lacks either the polling numbers or the popularity among the American public to have made it.

But hearing Senator Lindsey Graham in the September 16 Republican Presidential nomination debate makes you wonder what on earth went wrong. While he is not the sort of Republican who would greatly offend the liberals, Graham is not always the most popular person in the media, probably due to his uncompromising foreign policy views and reputation as a hawk. In my opinion, ironically, a hawk is what is needed to take on ISIS and the situation in Syria and Iraq.

However, there is a reason why Lindsey Graham and his relatively more accepted partner in crime in the Senate, John McCain, sound so dangerous to the American people. Because they almost always have war on their mind pertaining to the scenario in the Middle East, and sure it just sounds as evil as Dick Cheney. Nevertheless, right now the world needs moral leadership in the White House when it comes to the ISIS issue, and candidates from both the parties should be making a similar pitch, because it is a shame that the most unpopular candidate is making it.

Just when you thought that the Republican base needed to support more establishment candidates, such as Jeb Bush and Senator Graham himself, you would find the disillusioned voters polling in favor of Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, and lately Carly Fiorina. Of course, just about any Republican candidate offers at least some will to fight ISIS and these “political outsiders” are not any different. But are they electable?

Many voters, particularly those on the liberal side of the political spectrum are worried about Trump’s anti-immigration and perceivably xenophobic rhetoric, something further worsened by his refusal to correct an Islamophobic question from a supporter in his New Hampshire rally.

On the other hand, Mike Huckabee, popular with evangelicals, is strongly standing by the side of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis who refused to issue licenses for gay marriage. And the uncompromising and strong headed Senator Ted Cruz, who is urging the leadership to push the defunding of Planned Parenthood to the point of shutting down the government, following the release of controversial sting videos.

In the debate, Lindsey Graham thwarts the idea of shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, he thought that it was futile to pursue the idea during the term of President Obama. He was probably the only one acknowledging the good social welfare.

For all the criticism that the GOP is bombarded with by the Democrats and American progressive liberals, the establishment views of the party are nowhere near the sort of material the front runners are providing these days for political satires.

According to a new CNN poll, Trump is still leading, while another political outsider Carly Fiorina has dramatically jumped to the second spot, owing to her strong debate performances. Dr. Ben Carson, who just made a statement that a Muslim should not become the American President, is still in top three. And Lindsey Graham is still stuck at 1%.

Fortunately, many believe the primary system is designed to make people like Jeb Bush get the nomination, instead of people like Donald Trump. Despite the polls, mood of the Republican voters, and that he is a Bush.

I am not too sure about that.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Questions You Should Not Ask

Source: AP/HBO

Source: AP/HBO

In recent days, a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher has been circulating all over the social media, and even in news publications. The clip is about the confrontation between Academy Award winning actor and director Ben Affleck and atheist scholar and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Well, no introduction to the clip needed.

                               Source: HBO

This brief confrontation led to a number of critiques, both on Ben Affleck and Maher and Harris. The primary criticism on the latter was about their Islamophobia and bigotry. In comparison, Affleck was attacked for not being thoughtful in the debate.

There is little doubt about the fact that Ben Affleck was emotional form the word go, and Sam Harris even claimed he was “gunning for him from the start.” But in short, Affleck lost his cool and should have acted in a saner manner.

But instead of wasting our time with Affleck calling Maher and  Harris “racist”, which they most probably are (who cares), let’s focus on the other side of the debate.

You could argue that both of them have been displaying behavior toward Muslims, which could be termed hostile by many. Despite their claims that they do not engage in Islamophobia.

What is noteworthy is that most of their critics completely ignore their objection on tolerance of cruel and illiberal fundamental beliefs among Muslims. And the questions they raise are:

  • What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for adultery in Islam?
  • What is the punishment for blasphemy in Islam?

The answer to all three questions happen to be death, like it or not.

These are the questions that you should not ask.

Even the recent opinion article from religion apologist and scholar Reza Aslan, who claims the moral high ground by saying that both sides lacked sophistication.

Curiously, that eloquent article conveniently lacked any mention of those questions, which kills the criticism on Maher and Harris for someone who is familiar with their rhetoric.

Now this could put some serious questions in the minds of someone who would actually want to disagree with them.

But yet another problem with this is that those who have already picked a side would not be prepared to change their minds. However, from my own experience, I know it is not true for everyone.

What Maher and Harris mean is that we probably have a big problem when that many Muslims actually believe in fundamental beliefs that have no room in a modern Western civilization. And which are simply unacceptable by any standard but their own.

And especially because their population makes up such a significant portion of the world population. So why not talk about it and take a step toward sorting this issue.

However, asking these very questions have become unacceptable in the unwritten rules of the Western progressive liberals. While they accuse people like Sam Harris to be indulging in bigotry and Islamophobia in the guise of criticizing religion, they could be accused of tolerating illiberal and even dangerously brutal beliefs in their eagerness to avoid being xenophobes as well.

So what is the solution?

How are you going to confront most Muslims for their irresponsible beliefs that they would gladly defend?

Should you just shut up because that’s racist?

The Window of Opportunity

Maulana Abdul Aziz - Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

Maulana Abdul Aziz – Source: AP/B.K. Bangash

I have observed that most Pakistani secularists find the idea of talks with the Taliban nauseating. However, a new window of opportunity has dawned for their cause by the turn of events in the past weeks.

The religious conservatives of the country have really put themselves in an awkward position by making practical steps to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban have made their lives even more difficult. They have responded by demanding the imposition of Shariah Law throughout the country and have rejected the constitution. Curiously, these are demands that are not even acceptable to most conservative parties, except for the extreme religious groups.

This makes a common Muslim wonder why would there be such resistance to a system that they have been taught is the solution to every ill in the world. How are the likes of Maulana Abdul Aziz wrong in their insistence that the obvious demand of Shariah imposition should not even be a matter of debate.

What, then, is making the Pakistani political leadership so suspicious about Shariah imposition?

Even though every Muslim is supposed to be an Islamist, the fact remains that an overwhelming majority of them are not.

At least not in Pakistan.

Their lifestyle, their customs, their way of life and their voting patterns, all suggest that they want nothing to do with Shariah Law.

Pakistanis watch movies, love music and love to dance. They may indulge in a lot of social ills, but they would have problems with someone blowing up music shops and telling the women of their family how to cover themselves. They also like to shave and do not mind skipping their prayers.

They also do not seem to be prepared to sacrifice their almost Western lifestyle in cities and traditional ways in rural areas to embrace an 8th century code of life.

To them, Shariah is a word that must be revered and must not be challenged, but it really has no place in their lives.

While the Taliban have reminded the people of Pakistan of what Shariah is, it is the perfect time to convert them against this threatening and authoritarian ideology.

At least it is time to ask some tough questions about Shariah, if we must not get too carried away with our ambition.

And make no mistake about it, it can be done in the most discreet and polite manner.

There is no harm in asking them why they would want to support something they do not practice. There is no harm in asking why they would not embrace Shariah as it is if they are Muslims, and why would they reject secularism then.

Everyone can start with their near and dear ones. I ask my family this question everyday, and no, it would not get you killed if you do it respectfully. Charity begins at home and it can easily be propagated to bigger platforms through leading secular opinion leaders.

They would surely shy away from the taboo subject. Surely, they would find it hard to step out of the reassuring shelter of faith, but a little perseverance could pay well.

This is the first step to win the battle against the Taliban. And the first step to convince people why proactively countering the indoctrination of Islamism is essential to their liberty, peace and way of life.

This is the perfect time to reiterate that secularism will prove to be the best social contract to resolve the multitude of religious problems. This is something politicians on right and left must agree on.

It is the perfect time to offer reason to those who are willing to take it.

But don’t get me wrong. This is not a time to build fences. It is not a time to merely win debates and score ideological points.

It is a time to win hearts and minds. We must overcome our curmudgeonly cynicism to see that perspective.

Even in the darkest of thunderstorms, there is always that silver lining.

The OryaAbbasi Inquisition: Ganging Up on the Defenseless

OryaAbbasi - File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

OryaAbbasi – File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

A recent talkshow by Kamran Shahid on Dunya TV about Malala’s now-controversial biography “I am Malala” has become a talking point for Pakistanis. The participants of the show included columnist Orya Maqbool Jan, journalist Ansaar Abbasi, physicist and analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ambassador Zafar Hilaly. After watching the show, there are quite a few observations that I would like to make. The show can be found here.

And now, the commentary.

The show is the perfect exhibit to demonstrate that Pakistan is not a free speech society, even though such talk shows may appear to give the impression of the contrary. In a society, where expressing certain opinions pertaining to a certain religion is like sealing your death warrant. And the state only makes matters worse, which makes you thank your stars it is not half as effective.

A lot of people are attacking the host of the show Kamran Shahid for inviting people with conflicting views for better ratings, just so that he can have a heated argument. But I fully support him for this. First of all, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s great TV. He is only doing his job and I actually appreciate him for bringing together the likes of Veena Malik and Mufti Sb before.

However, there is a different reason altogether for which Kamran Shahid deserves criticism and ridicule. Shahid did an awful job at moderating the show, and it can be argued that it was deliberate. However, I would refrain from saying so. In any case, it was criminal negligence as he allowed religiosity to be a moral high ground in the debate through his word and moderating action.

Orya Maqbool Jan started the show by referring to certain passages from Malala’s book. His main focus was outraging at Malala mentioning that “her father was opposed to Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses but was a firm believer in freedom of speech”. He also rejected Malala’s criticism on curbs on women’s participation in public life and on media during the Zia regime, citing many female playwrights that rose to prominence at the time on the state television.

Pervez Hoodbhoy - Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy, in return, had zero arguments in Malala’s defense. As a matter of fact, he did more damage to Malala’s cause than a conservative could have imagined, though the aging scholar performed far better emotionally than I expected.

Hoodbhoy started out by saying that Orya and Abbasi were lying and that they were misrepresenting facts and maligning Malala, including an ad hominem attack on their English language skills. Apart from this opinion, hardly any argument was offered by the former QAU Professor.

The only solid argument from his side was about writing PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) with the mention of Prophet Muhammad, as Ansaar Abbasi had raised this rather obnoxious and easily beatable objection on Malala’s book.

This is where Kamran Shahid proved his lack of impartiality as the moderator, as he stupidly mentioned the anecdote of his thesis submission abroad in which he wrote PBUH with the name of Prophet Muhammad, despite the warning from his supervisor that writing it implied bias in a research report. This way Shahid tried influencing the debate as if not writing PBUH with the Prophet’s name was something immoral in terms of faith.

Ansaar Abbasi maintained a consistent mantra of calling Pervez Hoodbhoy “jahil” or ignorant throughout the course of half an hour of the debate, until Hoodbhoy was forced to leave amid such onslaught just before the show ended. However, for someone as religious as Abbasi, calling someone else ignorant sounded pretty hilarious and stupid.

Ambassador Zafar Hilaly, who was wondering what he was doing there, was asked to present his opinion about drone strikes and on talks with the Taliban. He was only seen shaking his head in disapproval as the war of relatively civil curse words went on between Abbasi and Hoodbhoy, as Orya continued shouting out of his lungs to stop their exchange in order to read the passage from Malala’s book.

The only reason there should be sympathy for Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is that Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who for convenience and for promoting my branding of their inquisiiton, would be referred to as #OryaAbbasi as the duo’s pseudonym from this point on, ganged up on him. I repeat, OryaAbbasi literally ganged up on Hoodbhoy, interrogating in a frighteningly self-righteous manner.

OryaAbbasi started an inquisition of Hoodbhoy to publicly frame him for opinions offensive to Muslims, paired with a hilarious but threatening diabolical laughter, as if warning him of consequences. Hoodbhoy was obviously dumbfounded for being trapped in this cul-de-sac. He narrowly dodged the inquisition by answers considered somewhat acceptable by the standards of the Pakistani Islamic society.

OryaAbbasi asking Hoodbhoy about his position on The Satanic Verses and whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is fine, and perhaps encouraging in theory, but doing so on public TV in a society such as Pakistan is dangerous, to say the least. Because someone believing in free speech or not agreeing with excommunicating the Ahmedis would most probably be threatened by the extremist Muslims who consider it righteous to kill someone with such views.

The OryaAbbasi inquisition could also be a frightening insight to the future of Pakistan is an increasingly authoritarian and theocratic state. The state already requires its citizens to declare in writing that they are not in any way affiliated with Ahmedis. Would this imply that the National ID card and Passport forms would also carry a declaration condemning The Satanic Verses, if not on more informal levels However, Pakistani Muslim individuals would still not see this as an invasion of their personal and social freedom.

In order to successfully tackle the OryaAbbasi inquisition and to effectively respond Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, Pakistanis need a secular liberal spokesperson who is not fearful of their life like Taseer or Christopher Hitchens. This is why I have tremendous respect for Christopher Hitchens, because he had very real death threats as well, but he never compromised on free speech, and he even defended Rushdie at the time when he was in hiding for his life.

A nervous, frail and emotional debater such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, despite his prestige and knowledge, is not able to take on these harassing fundamentalists. Partly because of the self-censorship that you need to exercise about Islam in the Pakistani society for the sake of security. 

Unless people are clear that it is the values of an Islamic authoritarian society that is the threat and the enemy of freedom, no one would buy the mild apologies for passages from Malala’s book that liberals have to offer. Because let’s face it, this passage from the book has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box, but I still support it. It is her freedom to write whatever she likes and I agree with it. 

If Malala has written that her father believed in freedom of speech, it is the duty of the secular-liberal debater to defend free speech as a superior value no matter what. This is what Malala’s fight is about anyway, but we are failing her. Now that Malala has been put in this position by the likes of OryaAbbasi, we need a better public defense of her.  

As crazy as it sounds, but they hardly have any argument if they don’t defend what they believe in. This is about liberty and freedom from theocracy, and the only argument is to reject religious authoritarianism.

Unless there is a debater who presents arguments that attacks the fallacy of faith and theocracy, liberal and secular debaters will always be on the losing side, shut up by religious emotional blackmail. 

Any volunteers?

Islamabad Event on Freedom of Expression for Civil Liberties in Pakistan

Bytes for All, an organization dedicated to promoting internet freedom and free speech in Pakistan, organized an event in Islamabad on Freedom of Expression and Civil Liberties on September 19, 2013. The event featured participants from all over Pakistan, including the FATA.

The event included three sessions, focusing on hate speech, fair trial and surveillance in relation to freedom of expression. The introductory speech was made by author and journalist Mohammed Hanif, who primarily spoke about the human rights violations in Baluchistan by Pakistani security agencies. Hanif revealed that no less than 529 people have died over 5 years in such incidents, which involved torturing and mutilating the victim’s bodies beyond recognition.

Hanif also served as a panelist for the first session, along with Taha Siddiqui, Murtaza Solangi and Sabeen Mahmud. that focused on hate speech. The session was moderated by the flamboyant Ajmal Jami. Taha Siddiqui, journalist, presented the findings of his research report on the presence of terrorist organizations on the internet and the hate speech they propagate to find recruits. A participant objected that the report focused on only a certain kind of groups, which sounded reasonable, but apparently Taha’s focus was on emphasizing that terrorist groups were operating unabated in the country with a clear online presence and that authorities were not moving a muscle in response while banning other websites instead.

Murtaza Solangi, broadcasting journalist, defined hate speech for the audience and said that you should not impose your beliefs on others for harming them. What he did not explain was what if that was precisely what the beliefs required you to do. Mohammed Hanif was the one who actually briefly touched that aspect, emphasizing that you would not be able to take the poor people’s God away from them and that it simply would not happen. He also mentioned that it is hardly any use complaining about extremist militant groups if the state itself handpicked a community, namely the Ahmedis, during a democratically elected government and declared them literal outcasts by legalizing their expulsion from Islam and inviting hatred against them.

Sabeen Mahmud, the Karachi based founder of T2F, presented the hate messages and death threats, quantified on the Nafrat Aggregator, that she received in response to her controversial pro Valentine’s Day campaign in response to Tanzeem-e-Islami’s campaign of forbidding people to celebrate the holiday using Koranic verses and Hadiths. She offered a personal viewpoint on how it is like to be threatened with groups invading your free speech and right to life in that manner. The shocking aspect remains that most people in Pakistan would consider it their religious duty to violate other’s freedom and security like that, even though in this case, she had hardly done anything that can be considered wrong. I personally fully support her actions and consider her a free speech hero.

The second session focused on Fair Trial and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rabia Mehmood. The panelists included the eloquent Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer and columnist, Safdar Dawar, a FATA based journalist and journalist Mahvish Ahmed. The most important point was made by Ijaz that legal jurisdictions and continued debate about fair trial, surveillance and privacy violations are necessary and will eventually make a continual but certain difference for the better. The session also focused on the implications of the vagueness of legal definitions. Dawar emphasized how FATA was not ruled by any court of law and that there was no way to address violations of civil liberties there. Mahvish Ahmed raised the importance of political solutions.

The third session focused on Surveillance and its impact on free speech, moderated by Rahma Mian. The panelists included Abid Imam, a lawyer and academic, Asim Zafar Khan, a technology adviser to the government,  Shahzad Ahmed of Bytes for All and Fahd Deshmukh, a technology expert and activist. The crux of the session was that surveillance was inevitable, so staying ahead of the technology curve is all that people could do. Abid Imam pointed out that avoiding surveillance is not even a declared fundamental human right in the law, and not one that states are likely to grant. Shahzad Ahmed spoke passionately about the need to reclaim the right of privacy and to raise voice against growing state surveillance.

The good thing about such events is that introduces a lot of people to the very idea of freedom of expression, which is pretty much alien to a society like Pakistan where questioning is discouraged and you are mostly required to practice self-censorship right from your childhood. However, when you hear about an event focusing on freedom of expression, you prepare yourself to reflect on a more academic discussion about the subject, especially focusing on the subtleties of hate speech and freedom of expression. It is not always the case when you get there and in this case discussion often deviated from the topic due to the line of questioning from the participants as well.

As a matter of fact, a lot of participants use the forum to bring forth other subjects than the one under discussion. While there is nothing wrong with doing that, as I understand many of these participants need a forum like this to be heard, but it is rather unproductive, time-wasting, largely distracting and drains a lot of energy of everyone involved.

The event was concluded after recommendations from the participants. While I believe that such seminars that educate people about freedom of expression are very useful, further interest among the educated general public could be stirred by holding public debates between liberal and conservative columnists and intellectuals who are for and against freedom of expression, instead of constantly offering a lecturing monologue.

If it does not convince more people of how important free speech is, it would actually make the anti free speech debaters look bad.

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?