The Incredible Humiliation of the Afterlife

Source: Hieronymous Bosch/wikiart

I started writing these lines surrounded by an environment of religiosity harassed by the thought of an afterlife, numbed by the sheer meaningless of life. Yes, the thought is horrifying, depressing, and gives an empty feeling.

But is this feeling of worthlessness and emptiness worth more than the condemnation of eternal existence?

Let us forget logic and reason for a moment. Let us suppose for a moment that humans would be subjected to an afterlife. As if the humiliation of one lifetime were not enough. And to add insult to injury that there would be a higher being to judge humans and to either condemn them to hell or reward them with paradise.

While most people would not find a thought more appealing, would anything be more humiliating? Would they not be satisfied with the comfortable isolation of oblivion? Isn’t the curse of one life enough? It is horrifying how people are motivated to resort to absurdities enticed by such a prize.

It is horrifying how people are motivated to resort to absurdities out of the enticement of eternal life. And add the mythology of the Abrahamic faiths to the thought and it would horrify you even further. Because a God bestowing eternal life could as easily condemn you to the inferno, being as angry and jealous he sounds like.

And even if that is true, just imagine the humiliation of such an afterlife. Whether you are condemned to hell or awarded with the pleasures of paradise, the sheer humiliation of going through it would be unbearable. Would there be anything more insulting to the self-respect of a sentient creature?

There is no wonder that Eastern cultures with philosophies such as Buddhism have the concept of moksha to escape the carnal cycle of birth and death. With the caveat of existing in a higher state of consciousness. But it is like a cry out to protest the misery of the existence forced on every creature.

Does a part of me want to indulge in the promised delights of paradise and reunite with family and friends if there is a life after death? Yes. But there is a part of me that knows that existence involves pain and dread.

Wouldn’t they instead give anything to escape the horror of life? The horror of existence?

Would they force this misery on others?

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

.

We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

What George Michael’s Music Meant to Me

Source: Rolling Stone

Source: Rolling Stone

It is hard to believe the news of the passing away of pop icon George Michael, who was anything but ashamed of this label. While 2016 has been cruel when it comes to taking away so many stars that we love, with Carrie Fisher being the latest, George Michael’s death has been truly unexpected and untimely. Perhaps, it is the opioids again. It is not as if I never expected to hear this news, but its timing came as a real shocker. And there is a reason why it came as a shock to someone of my generation.

Growing up in the 90s, George Michael’s music meant so much more than just songs on tape. It was way past the Wham! years and he was well established in his solo career. But most of all, George Michael was establishing himself as a rebel figure that became an icon for individual freedom and personal choices. A gay icon before being gay was even remotely acceptable, George Michael became the voice for millions of all gay, straight, bi and other orientations when he expressed his sexuality through his music.

Right from the very beginning, no idea ever appealed more to me than individualism. Nothing brought me greater inspiration than the ideals of individual freedom and the importance of each individual. This is where I saw his music as an inspiration, and as a constant soundtrack to my life, that lifted me up in my darkest of moments. His music was truly empowering and inspiring. I recall the time when nothing else made me feel better than his music and how I bonded with my siblings over his music.

Source: Columbia

The way George Michael defined Freedom may have been gibberish to the ears of many at the time. It defined a worldview to the rest of us. It became the anthem of the defiant. His songs boasting of sexual openness became a license to take liberties. He made having faith sound cool and spun the wheel of our curiosity. Just like Bowie and Madonna, he was truly a figure that changed the face of music.

So for these reasons alone, I could never forget George Michael, nor separate his work from my life. The words of his songs, as well as those tunes, became a part of the way I saw the world. At least at that time. And I cherished every single moment of it. And never regretted it for a second. For someone who could barely play a six string, George Michael proved to be someone with a genius for producing the most haunting music you would ever listen to, enabling him to sell millions of albums effortlessly.

Source: musicroom.it

Source: musicroom.it

Now that we learn that George Michael was a far more generous and gracious person than we thought, considering his crude, 90s figure, having arrested for lewd acts in a men’s restroom in the United States, inspiring his controversial Outside video. However, his charity figures would never have made any difference to his fans, who already saw him as an inspiration.

To a generation that was bogged down by too many rules, George Michael taught how to stand up to convention. Taught the importance of questioning convention. He most certainly was not alone in expressing himself like that among the pop and rock icons of the 1980s and 1990s, but he was most certainly one that I personally associated with more than anyone else. And who I admired more than anyone else, even those whose music I got to appreciate even more than his later in my life.

This certainly is an end of an era in music, and one that passes with a heavy sense of personal loss and a scar on the heart, just like at the start of this year with the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. And nothing is more heartbreaking than the news of his possible return in 2017.

Source: Virgin/MTV

RIP George Michael.

You  have been loved.

 

RIP Junaid Jamshed: A Voice Like No Other

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Who would have thought that on a day like any other, we would hear something as dreadful as this about Junaid Jamshed?

PIA flight PK-661 crashed near Havelian on its way from Chitral to Islamabad on December 8. To the nation’s shock, Junaid Jamshed, and his wife were in the ill-fated ATR, along with around 46 others. Whether PIA knew about the fatal faults in the plane is now a matter of speculation.

Plane crashes are absolutely terrible. Imagine yourself in one. I often do.

The pain, shock, and horror of these accidents somehow have a far greater amplified effect than most other ones. And especially if you happen to know someone in them, and especially if there is a celebrity. Junaid Jamshed, in my opinion, has a national hero status for his contribution over the years. But more than anyone else, you have to think of his children. You can only imagine what they would be going through. Still, the entire nation shares their burden of grief.

I can’t say I was his biggest fan, but I always admired him. And of course, his music did have an impact on me growing up, like the rest of my generation.

Even if we want to, there is no way we can ever ignore the impression his patriotic song “Dil Dil Pakistan” had on us as a nation. Especially to people like me who were growing up in the 90s. The images of that song deeply imprinted on our minds. Even a few notes enough to stir a euphoric sense of freedom and patriotism, that are otherwise clearly absent.

With Shoaib Mansoor - Source: Dawn

With Shoaib Mansoor – Source: Dawn

Source: pakteahouse.net

With Maulana Tariq Jameel – Source: pakteahouse.net

The two highly contrasting parts of Junaid Jamshed’s life could be reflected by the two highly contrasting mentors that inspired them. His highly celebrated pop career inspired by PTV producer Shoaib Mansoor, who created the concept behind most of the songs of Vital Signs, his band that included Shahi Hassan and Rohail Hyatt.

As a recent DW piece pointed out, his transition personified the contradictions any, if not most, Pakistanis have to wrestle with all their lives.

Even though I do not want to mar the respect for the tragedy of his death by bringing up his recent comments about women, but I am probably going to find no other occasion to talk about it. But it is safe to say that he eventually betrayed his through his misogynistic comments, albeit in the form of the traditional criticism of Ayesha, the Prophet’s wife, or draconian decrees of mullahs inspired by Saudi Arabia.

Even in his worse preaching days, I never disliked him because I knew he meant well. His views on women had become misguided, if they were not already, but were more reflective of the religious ideology he had adopted than anything else. Because in his latter years, all he had become was a mouthpiece for it. And if he indeed had such views about women, it made him come out with them.

Though after a while, it became hard to apologize for what his views had become, for the decent human being that he was. Still, what are you to do if his faith required those views? But it only goes to show what a certain type of religiosity does to a pop icon such as Junaid Jamshed, or to any person anyway.

From a pop icon to a controversial preacher, to someone who was selling high-end designer clothing and fashion accessories, Junaid Jamshed attracted as much flak as he did love. But amid all this, most people fail to see that he was a very misunderstood person in the middle of his confusing worldview.

Of course, it is hard and unfair to make a comment about it, but more than anything else, it seems that Junaid Jamshed wanted to reach out and help. Tried being useful in whatever way he could and sometimes went too far with his passion. And even if craving spotlight would have been a factor, it was his desire to reach out and contribute to the society that defined his celebrity. As fans, there is probably not much we could have asked for.

But one point that hardly anyone would dispute is that he was a voice like no other.

Let’s mourn him. Let’s celebrate him.

Rest in peace.

The Trauma of Life: The Pictures That Shook The World

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Just when I thought my conscience was dead, when my heart had hardened enough to take the most gruesome of things, and when I had become cynical enough to appreciate the value of anything in this life, a picture shook me like very few things had ever before.

We have seen so many . We have seen the helpless death of Aylan Kurdi pictured on the beaches of Turkey. We have seen so much that we should not have seen. The genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, the children suffering Assad’s chemical attacks, and the corpses of dead babies from Gaza Strip and the Syrian civil war.

Somehow this image is different. Somehow it is more shocking that any other thing we have ever seen.

Shocking in its lack of violence. Shocking in its calm.

But it only strengthened my view that this world is no place for a living creature. It is no place for a fragile little kid like Omran, who has now probably seen everything that a human should not in their entire lifetimes. I have probably never felt so disgusted with the idea of life in the recent years.

Throughout the time of the survival of Omran, we keep on hearing the calls of “Allah,” who was so conspicuously absent from the scene. Probably that’s why.

It’s a different feeling in a natural disaster, perhaps, where you are helpless for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control. But this is not supposed to happen. These families really had done nothing wrong to deserve this sort of hell.

But to my mind, if these pictures did not destroy your faith, probably nothing would.

Nothing has destroyed my faith in humanity like this ever before.

Not everything about this is apparently so tragic. Omran’s family survived the brutal air bombing on their apartment complex in a rebel-held neighborhood in Aleppo, allegedly by the Russian jets on August 17. The bombing was enough to scar the family for life, but there was hope that they would escape the war zone. However, Omran’s brother Ali, who had been rescued too, could not make it and died of injuries.

It’s probably not the worst thing in the world. At least the family survived. At least the child survived, and who knows who and what he would go on to become.

It’s not worse than the Holocaust. It’s not even worse than the killings of the young children that an Israeli gunship strafed apparently for fun.

But does that make the personal tragedy of his life any less important? Why do we have to consider the severity and the magnitude of a tragedy to reserve our outrage and shock and grief for it?

I don’t know what to make of such a tragedy.

Should we embrace life harder than ever before, or should we move away from it? Should we celebrate his life or should we mourn? I don’t even have to explain why we should mourn. Others are saying he is lucky. Is he?

Should we value life or should we see it as nothing but a series of painful and traumatic experiences?

There comes a time for families when their lives are irreversibly destroyed, and altered for the worse. It is moments like these that change them forever, which change the course of their lives.

In reducing it to a conflict with complicated powers, how we discount the life of an individual.

Should we use it to push the anti-war agenda or should we use it to rally support for more war against Assad, Russia, and the Islamic State? Should we use it to trash whoever is our political opponent or should we use it to advocate for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees?

Is this what our existence comes down to? Is this what life is about?

I don’t even know what’s right anymore.

I don’t know whether I am sad, angry, frustrated or disgusted. I don’t even know what to say anymore. This is the sort of shock after which you don’t want to be happy again.

I don’t even want my mind to be numb anymore. I don’t want to suspend my consciousness, as I would usually do. I want to absorb every bit of these pictures.

Even crying does not undone the grief. It does not undone the trauma of life.

I don’t know how to respond to the pictures of Omran Daqneesh.

We would move on from this, but for a change, something inside is dead.

 

The Politics of Personality Worship Cults

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

An overwhelming number of Pakistanis draw many of their life lessons from religion. It is an important part of their personal beliefs that extends to personal relationships, lifestyle, social habits, world view and politics, of course.

While religion has its due benefits, it could not have possibly affected an area of life more adversely than politics. Not only does it twist the concept of the government and its role, but terribly destroys the approach of the masses toward politics due to Messianic influences in its teachings.

While this sweeping commentary may seem far-fetched to some, it is not hard to observe clear displays in Pakistani politics supporting this notion. None is more obvious than the way we rally around our leaders and how far we are willing to go in our submission.

Religious indoctrination has conditioned people in Pakistan to turn political parties into personality worship cults.

A good number of political parties devote solemn attention and unconditional submission to their holy leaders. Not very different to the way the local religious people devote worshipful attention to their holy spiritual leaders.

Combine that with the Messianic effect and it drives home a very unhealthy approach toward politics, and life itself. It helps followers escape personal responsibility and build unrealistic expectations as far as addressing issues is concerned.

And if by accident, or by deliberated effort, a leader is killed, then they are raised to the status of martyred saints.

This approach to politics is probably a reason behind the support of dictatorships and monarchies among people in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Why bother about democracy when you are willing to give up your rights for a beloved leader?

Another problem with personality worship cults is that it deprives a political group of logic and reason, discourages progressive debate and gives way to unreasonable political tactics. But above all, it maintains the golden rule of religions.

The authority must not be questioned.

And where there are personality worship cults, there are blasphemy laws.

Even secular political parties can act like cults, forcing shutting down cities in protest of their leader being insulted. Likewise, you would often see these cult-like parties waste weeks, if not months, over needless juvenile squabbles and obscene name-calling. It always involves one cult party insulting the holy figure of the other, causing wide outrage.

As soon as the blasphemy is committed against the party leader, logic and reason are locked out of the debate. And well, then there is no debate.

The sooner we move to issues in our political debates, the sooner we would be able to help restore people’s faith in democracy. But while doing so, we need to learn an even more important lesson.

Let’s stop blaming others for our problems. Let’s use democracy as a tool for the same. Don’t render it useless by turning it into a war of cults.

No, democracy is not perfect. It does not promise you prosperity, or paradise.

But that’s no reason to wait for a Messiah, or blindly rallying behind one.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Mass Desensitization Toward Holy Crimes

Source: thecompassnews.org

Source: thecompassnews.org

One of the most remarkable commandments of religion is not to question the divinity. While it makes perfect sense to protect and safeguard the sanctity of the divine ideas, it is probably the greatest insult to the human mind.

One of the worst by products of the has been the selective mass desensitization toward holy crimes, for a nation that has a hyperactive moral compass. The reason for that is simple. Either it is to avoid trouble, or because the sacred entities shall not be questioned.

Time and again, we have seen atrocious incidents occur purely for religious reasons and no other, and as always the result is looking the other way. Not facing the problem. The problem of religious influences on law and the constitution.

It can only horrify you to imagine that someone would even come up with the idea of establishing a religious constitution.

People, for all their gullibility, have been deceived to believe that the Islamic system of society and law is much superior to any other. While human drafted constitutions most certainly have their flaws and limitations, they are designed to minimize conflict of interest among members and groups of societies by offering an equally acceptable social contract.

Source: The News

Source: The News

The absence of such solutions, aided by certain beliefs known for their violence, ensure the occurrences such as the murder of Sajjad and Shama, a Christian laborer couple in Kala Shah Kaku, Kasur, for allegedly desecrating the Koran. The angry mob (here we go again) burned them to death in a brick kiln.

How appropriate. Probably this is the punishment by fire that the faith warns about.

What makes the incident more tragic is that the woman was said to be pregnant. For someone cynical like me, the child probably was better off dying than becoming a member of such a hostile society. Blessing in disguise.

However, the parents were not so lucky, and went through probably the most horrifying trauma before suffering the most excruciating death. It’s remarkable such horrifying torture could occur in this day and age.

But at the same time, this event does offer a little hope to the marginalized minority religious groups in the country. There was at least some major reaction this time. 50 odd people were arrested. The Prime Minister condemned it, the Chief Minister visited the parents and the opposition parties condemned the incident too. Some progress.

Ironically, even the Emir of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami paid a sympathy visit to the grieving family. Some nerve.

Perhaps he has changed his stance about the Shariah law.

But still, the lynching doesn’t count as a tragedy in the eyes of most Muslim Pakistanis. Just an inconvenient piece of news that should not be paid attention to. For others, rough justice rightly done.

After all, Allah has taken the responsibility of safeguarding the Holy Book.

In any event, this incident is importance because it busts the myth offered by apologetic liberal Muslims that all blasphemy lynch mobs commit such acts due to “property disputes.”

Another remarkable murder was committed a day after the Ashura. A person charged with blasphemy, most probably a Shia religious narrator, was arrested in Gujrat. Before that person would even find the opportunity to explain himself, he was butchered, quite literally, by the ASI at the police station.

Now I don’t want to blame religious laws for this completely random occurrence, but would just like to point out one problem here for the proponents of theocratic law.

A lot of not-so-fundamentalist defenders of the blasphemy law claim that it helps prevent vigilante killing. Another apology for the religious extremism, while encouraging parallel narrative for glorifying heroes such as Ghazi Ilm Deen, who was coincidentally defended in the court by the father of the nation.

However, the claim that blasphemy law protects offenders from vigilante violence is clearly in jeopardy here. As a matter of fact, statistical evidence points quite to the contrary. More blasphemy killings have taken place ever since the law came into place than before.

Due to the newly found encouragement offered by the state, people have been encouraged to commit more blasphemy murders than before the introduction of its recent sub clauses. The blasphemy law is the legacy of the British, but Pakistanis have surely taken it to the next level.

From their colonial masters, they have successfully inherited the value of suppressing free speech and rewarding fundamentalist violence.

But the fact remains that religious violence has been deliberately ignored, in terms of considering it an atrocity, even evil, and for assessing whether it is something worthy of outrage and protest.

The simple fact is that while religious faith has completely killed the moral conscience of the most devoted, it has terrorized the majority of followers into silence. And the fear of the sacred has ensured mass desensitization toward the holy crimes. How could it be even possible, you would say.

If you think religion is nonsense, you are sadly mistaken.

It is the most powerful political tool, as primitive as it is.