Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4  

Triumph to Egypt! Triumph to the Truth!

It started on January 25, the National Police Day in 2011, only days after the rioting Tunisian people had forced their dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after his oppressive reign, millions took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and all major cities of Egypt with a single demand:

Step Down Hosni Mobarak.

Source: alsiasi.com

Hosni Mobarak became the President of Egypt only eight days after President Anwer El Sadat was assassinated by a fundamentalist soldier, most probably due to the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel. Mobarak had been ruling as a dictator for about 30 years when these protests began, and had also enforced emergency in the country for several years, strangling freedom of speech in the country.

On February 11, 2011, this historic day on which this post is being published, Hosni Mobarak has succumbed to the pressure of the masses and has stepped down after just a struggle of 18 days. The world has just witnessed the fall of tyranny spanning over 3 decades, crumbling to dust in less than 3 weeks. The scenes of jubilation in the Tahrir Square, also dubbed the Liberation Square, would never be forgotten in many years to come. The ecstatic crowd dancing and chanting, celebrating the victory of the Truth and the rightful.

 

Source: Patrick Baz (AFP/Getty)

This was no ordinary uprising. Neither was the one in Tunisia. It was the voice of longing for liberal freedom of expression and the world protested with the Egyptians. The images were broadcasted to all corners of the world and the media around the world approved of and supported the struggle of the Egyptian people against tyranny, with Al-Jazeera playing a phenomenal journalistic role.  It was the greatest sign for those who doubt the fact that the world has indeed become a global village.

Even the Western leaders, particularly those of the United States, had to recognize the rights of the Egyptian people and opted to show their support for the protesters instead of Mobarak, who had been their main negotiating contact for diplomacy and peace process in the Middle East, especially in relation to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia expressively voiced support for Mobarak, and for obvious reasons.

Many attribute these protests to the revelations made by the WikiLeaks and the fact that despite all the checks and controls on freedom of speech, the people in these countries were able to use the internet to rally and campaign to oust their respective dictators. People used social media like facebook and twitter to gather support for their cause, and bloggers and activists like Wael Ghonim played a key role in the uprising. Even the Egyptian regime of Mobarak was forced to suspend internet services in the entire country for a few days during the uprising.

But what do we learn from this? Were Egyptians so naïve that they did not bother to raise their voices for democracy, and more importantly, for freedom of speech? I am sure that is not the case. Egyptians have proved to the world how resilient, strong and determined they are. But they could never have achieved it had there not been an overwhelming unity of opinion and action among the protesters.

Many around the world feared the uprising in Egypt at the same time, and understandably so, especially Israel, who have a lot at stake in their relations with Egypt. Many feared that Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned religious political party and Islamic movement, which has been considered fundamentalist due to their opposition of Egypt’s peace process with Israel, will rise to power in Egypt.

This organization has been active in the social sphere and charity for a number of years and has also been in the center of anti-Mobarak protests. They have also been one of the main opposition groups  A lot of people are even skeptical about the path that Egypt has chosen of letting the military control the hold of the government. Many are fearing a change for the worse. Especially, when it comes to relations with Israel.

 

Source: Getty Images

While some around the world watch in doubt and fear, while others in jubilation and solidarity, you do not need arguments to convince Egyptians that they have done the right thing, which maybe they should have done years ago. They have complete trust in the military, as Ghonim, a prominent spokesperson of the people expressed in an interview to CNN, that it will not remain in power for long and will move to hold elections.

Whatever be the outcome, let us hope that Egypt moves on to a better future and that they uphold their peace agreement with Israel, while also not abandoning the Palestinian people, especially the ones in Gaza Strip. Let us hope life becomes a little more bearable for them. I hope that Egyptians will be responsible enough to take care of their own lives and of the peace in the region. If people like Mohammed El Baradei and Amr Moussa succeed Mobarak, then it can confidently be said that the peace in the Middle East will not be disturbed.

One of my twitter friends Purnima Rao tweeted:

To those who link violence & Islam, some of the most groundbreaking non-violent protests in the last 2 yrs have been in Muslim countries.

How true is that. The protesters remained non-violent and peaceful till the end and all the violence that occured was initiated by the police, the Presidential guards and the authorities in guise of pro-Mubarak supporters. It is a shame that Mobarak’s forces directly or indirectly caused the death of 297 people and injured thousands during the protests, according to Human Rights Watch, resisting the inevitable that he would have to step down eventually.

It would also be wrong to judge that the Egyptian people were the ones behind the looting and damaging the artifacts in the National Museum in Cairo, as the youth had formed a human chain around this building holding the treasures of nation along with the army to help prevent any more miscreants from entering it. A number of artifacts have been recovered and the damaged ones are expected to be repaired.

Whether you fear another military dictatorship, loss of American and Israeli interests in the region, or religious extremists overtaking the country, there is only one chant echoing in the streets and squares of Cairo.

Egypt is Liberated.

To many, this is just the beginning of a new Middle East.