When Peaceful Protest Became Treason in Pakistan

Source: YouTube

Pakistan is a funny country. We have been taught as citizens growing up by state propaganda to pledge our unity under one flag and that all the people in Pakistan are equal citizens. However, as we grow up and the reality of the country dawns on us, it becomes evidently clear that some people are more equal than others.

Perhaps no political movement has revealed this notion in recent years more than Manzoor Pashteen’s Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. It has become perhaps the largest non-violent civil rights movement of its kind in a country that has largely discouraged democratic ideas and protests. However, it would be unfair to say that the people of Pakistan have not been democratic or focused on civil rights, considering the various progressive movements, albeit failed, throughout the history of Pakistan. In that tradition, the stand that the young leaders of the Awami Workers Party has taken has been nothing short of heroic.

When Pakistan is declaring bright young political leaders such as Ammar Rashid as a traitor. There were around two dozens other political workers who were arrested during a non-violent and peaceful protest demanding the release of Manzoor Pashteen in Islamabad. The brutal police crackdown made a mockery of the claims of the current government’s claims of democratic values.

Source: Awami Workers Party

Ammar Rashid and other young AWP workers were arrested and charged with sedition and terrorism. Earlier, the organizers of the Student Solidarity March were also arrested and charged with sedition, and those arrested included Lala Iqbal, the father of Mishaal Khan, the martyred progressive student of the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, for alleged blasphemy.

The authoritarian regime in Pakistan is trying to intimidate anyone who has a dissenting voice, especially anybody going anywhere near the message of Manzoor Pashteen. A person like me would think twice and neither do I care enough about Pakistan to spend a night in jail, let alone two weeks like Ammar. Undeterred, Ammar and his comrades displayed courage in the face of harassment and intimidation and endured the harsh jail term

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We certainly have bigger civil rights resistance heroes like Manzoor Pashteen, Ali Wazir, and Mohsin Dawar, but Ammar Rashid is most certainly a hero for progressive politics and the cause of the people of Pakistan. Ammar’s struggle is important because someone from the strongholds of the Punjabi ethnic majority needs to stand up for the civil rights of all Pakistanis too. Ammar is one of such political leaders, although not well known by most of the voters in his constituency of NA-53 in Islamabad. Not only that, He has always been on the forefront by demanding people’s rights from issues such as rescuing Islamabad’s razed Afghan refugee slum to protesting against the Blasphemy law and the rights of students to form political unions, he has always led the right causes for civil rights.

I don’t know about others but Ammar Rashid has truly earned his vote for me as a progressive leader pursuing civil rights.

The Trouble With Being a Liberal, Non-Practicing Muslim Dissenter

Source: Washington Times

There is no denying that hate against Muslims is a real phenomenon around the world. But if someone said that Muslims have earned a great deal of that hate, it would probably not be too much of a stretch. A recent article by Khalil Yousuf, an Ahmediya Muslim (whose community isn’t even accepted by other Muslims in many major Muslim countries), makes the case for shutting down Geert Wilders’ Draw the Prophet contest event because it is hate speech. No, it is not shouting “fire” in a theater. It is simply playing the movie in it.

The premise of the article is that Europeans should stop organizing such hateful contests because it hurts the sentiments of Muslims and incite people to commit violent hate crimes against them. People would have greater sympathy for his case if the Muslim reaction to this alleged piece of bigotry was not this violent and outrageous. To his credit, perhaps the very small and heavily persecuted Ahmediya community has never displayed such violent language but not so much the case with the much larger and dominants Sunni and Shia schools. The Charlie Hebdo killings happened because actually a bunch of Muslims got to practice what the majority believes should be done with those who desecrate the name of the Prophet. We never got the memo when this sort of behavior became compatible with liberal ideals or democracy.

The reason why conservatives and right wingers need to push the limits of free speech is that liberals have given up on that idea. What is even worse, secularism is now losing its ground thanks to liberal governments appease such religious extremists around the world. No wonder there is a resurgence of right wing nationalism around the world.

Decades long pandering to the extremism of Indian clerics, all in the name of the rights of Indian Muslims, has led to a resentment among the Hindus which has brought us to the civil rights disaster of the cow witch-hunt vigilantes and the future of a potential Hindu Nationalist state under Prime Minister Modi. And the sad reality is that his followers in India has started taking the secular nature of their democracy for granted. This is why I endorse provocative statements such as India becoming a “Hindu Pakistan,” made by Shashi Tharoor, because this is the perfect analogy to make people understand the risks.

Not to say that the Congress is the only authority on secularism in India. Sometimes, the political difficulty of taking a stand against such behavior can be immense, as in the case of the Salman Rushdie affair but probably the Congress is suffering the consequences of its past policies today, other than lacking leadership that could inspire the people like Modi. There indeed was a time when the more secular Indian National Congress used to sweep the elections. The people are disillusioned for a reason.

Now Islamophobia (or Muslimophobia as some would prefer to call it) is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it. The family and friends of any atheist or dissenting liberal Muslims will remain on the radar of bigots all around the world, whether India, America or Europe. Furthermore, no matter how disconnected they are to Muslim extremism or even the religion of Islam, they will never be fully seen removed from the identity of their religion of birth, unless they are someone very outspoken and famous like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But telling people to shut up because Muslim sentiments are being hurt and threatening to destroy them in one breath does not go a long way to win hearts and minds either.

So, what is a liberal, non-practicing dissenter Muslim to do to survive as an individual? How can Muslims express dissent from the orthodox theocracy without further exposing the community to the risk of hate crimes? Should Muslim dissenters continue to call for reform in Islam, as has happened in Judaism, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or defend the existing absurdities like the majority of Liberal Muslims banking their hopes on different interpretations? Or should the atheists among them simply condemn the idea of Islam altogether such as Armin Navabi? I guess nobody knows the answer.

This article was originally published in MyNation.com