America Finally Standing Up to Pakistan for Free Speech

Source: geo.tv

What perhaps separates, or should separate, America from the rest of the powers of the world is its moral leadership.

The United States might have ended up getting involved in, and sometimes started, some of the most violent and costliest of wars around the war but more often than not you will find that it had some sort of a moral intention behind it as opposed to naked expansionism. Whether that is true or not is up for debate, especially whether the United States has a monopoly over republican causes around the world.

However, one thing that can be said for certain is that no other nation of the world holds free speech more sacred and fundamental to liberty than the United States. This is because of the very ideology on which the United States was based. This was probably the reason why the first amendment passed to the Constitution by the founding fathers was to protect speech.

People in repressive and regressive countries such as Pakistan look up to at least the United States, if no other Western power, when it comes to protection from their own governments. These words seem to be stating the idiotic obvious but believe it or not, a vast number of people do not even consider curbs on free speech, theocratic rule, and Especially in countries with Muslim majority population and many in the West who think that Muslims need a break from hate, not aware they are doing them further harm by protecting theocratic authority.

It came as a rather pleasant surprise when the representative of the United States government, in agreement with that of the UK representative, urged Pakistan government to repeal its draconian blasphemy law at a UN forum. To their credit, the EU has also made similar demands from Pakistan before on a public forum. However, this reprimand was made in the presence of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, who was heading the Pakistani delegate at the Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Khwaja Asif also presented Pakistan’s report.

Either way, it is a welcome sign but it still is a long way from the United States getting seriously in addressing this matter. States seldom are but this remains to be one outside hope for the citizens of oppressive countries than a bloody, brutal civil revolution from within, which hardly ever brings about a humane, democratic transition.

Perhaps one way that the United States could disturb the comfort and self-indulgence of the ruling class of Pakistan by threatening or imposing economic sanctions for imposing undemocratic laws such as the blasphemy law and discriminatory laws against Ahmedis.

While this sounds like colluding with a foreign power against your own, it is not. You could argue that willingly enforcing discriminatory laws targeting your fellow citizens is treason instead.

In a society like Pakistan, where the majority of the people do not understand how theocratic laws are contradictory to democracy and human rights, there is no other option but to count on moral diplomacy. There is no option but to influence change through lobbying and with the help of a foreign entity. Since Pakistani leaders and diplomats are never going to have this sense of social fairness, you have to pray that the Americans and the rest of the Western powers should do that bit of moral leadership for them.

You can read the full US delegation statement here.

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The Monster of Free Speech

Is your defense of free speech often met by sarcasm? If yes, you are not the only one.

But it is not always the mullah, the fundamentalist religious fanatic or the nationalist social conservative raising eyebrows when such an idea is brought up. Even apologetic liberals and educated religious moderates are at the forefront of attacking freedom of speech.

You know you have a tough battle at your hands when the lawmakers in your country protest against the right of a publication to publish something, instead of an attack on it. Or when the President of the United States sounds apologetic about the First Amendment, probably explaining his sheer helplessness to the world about this miserable part of the constitution.

It is about time that we stop acting surprised each time we see someone irked at the mention of free speech and getting bombarded with caveats in return. Actually, many of them are pretty sick of the very mention of the expression. Because this idea threatens their worldview dictated by selective morality, which they want followed by everyone.

Still, those of us who consider themselves to be proponents of this idea must not jump to judgments, and should try to understand and appreciate their predicament instead.

They are the ones carrying the heavy burden of defending precarious political positions, so it is not an easy fight. They are the ones brave enough to undertake the Herculean task of either protecting theological stances or justifying ridiculously inconsistent liberal laws that are as dangerous as the evil they are supposed to avert.

Therefore, instead of ridicule and admonishment, these brave individuals and groups deserve our applause and appreciation. Their resolve for building bridges and avoiding conflict is truly inspirational and praiseworthy.

It would not only be unfair, but criminal, if their intentions are deemed as malicious. If someone is so keen to speak ill of somebody, they should focus on their actions instead. But then again, attacking their actions in this case is necessary indeed.

Not only is it a necessity to oppose their actions, but it is a duty. Or their well-meaning zeal to establish everlasting harmony in the world might destroy its calm for good. For their phobia of the expression free speech could destroy the very cornerstone of freedom and democracy.

There is no real necessity to tolerate the preachers of protecting the liberties of intolerant theocratic and undemocratic positions. But what really is needed is to call out their cherry picking of what can and cannot be allowed, and what is and is not moral. What is really needed is to remind them that not all criticism is tantamount to bigotry and violating religious freedom. And that not all religious freedom is for the good of humanity.

So next time, don’t be surprised at all if you see someone getting offended at the idea of free speech. Just realize where they are coming from.

They just deserve your sympathy. Help them out.

To them, free speech is nothing more than a monster hiding under their bed.

They think it doesn’t really exist. But they sure are afraid of it.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

What Made Hitchens So Cool

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) Source: The Times

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
Source: The Times

In one word what made Christopher Hitchens so cool was his courage.

It’s a word easily taken for granted, often involving violent connotations. But in Hitchens’ case, the courage was far more relevant and greater than any soldier with a gun could ever muster.

I speak as one who did not admire Hitchens for his politics and warmongering, becoming an advocate of the American war machine in the latter years. But as a great admirer of him for his eloquence, oratory and his clarity of thought and action on freedom of speech, secularism and raising arguments that no one would dare go near to. The kind of single-minded commitment which looked even like fanaticism to some, and at times, probably rightly so, I don’t know.

In his journalistic career, I consider his work on Mother Teresa to be probably the most important one. Well everybody knows how peace loving Henry Kissinger is, but questioning the moral integrity of Mother Teresa was really something unheard of. If I ever would have met Hitchens, I would most certainly have sincerely congratulated him on that effort.

But not only that. Christopher Hitchens was one of the most outspoken British journalists to have supported author Salman Rushdie during the Satanic Verses fatwa affair in 1988. As a matter of fact, he was one of the leading names to offer him support when everyone was reluctant. While that may not sound unpleasant to the Western ears, his support for controversial British historian David Irving which attracted much criticism.

While Holocaust Denial, a ridiculous history view which nevertheless deserves independent inquiry from scientific minds, is associated with Antisemitism, Hitchens, who supported David Irving’s right to his opinion is said to have some part of Jewish ancestry himself.

Now these are the opinions which would earn you a lot of enemies, let alone followers and admirers, but at the same time it was what he thought was right in consistency with the principles of freedom of speech. Why shut certain people up and if there claims are so ridiculous, why not scrutinize them and let them be humiliated. And boy, was Hitchens great at the art of humiliating, aka the hitchslap.

As a matter of fact, we do need people who must stand up for freedom of speech no matter how politically incorrect or offending it may sound. The kind of freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the one that is the natural right of every human being. It’s pretty much physics as you cannot prevent someone from thinking and speaking in a certain way.

Probably that is why humans feel empowered by trying to repress the rights of others like them. Now that is power. That is control. That is government. Challenging existing accepted moral standards and dogma was what made Christopher Hitchens so cool. And we all know his views on religion. He called himself an antitheist.

It’s all outrageous to many, but well, that is what is different and most unique about him. The idea behind “God is not Great” is certainly not his originally, as he himself and other New Age Atheist scholars would acknowledge that it has been around for centuries, but his battle with the conventions certainly was. This is what made him stand out, for better or for worse. For not apologizing to those who called him an apologist.

The most important lesson from Christopher Hitchens is to question everything. And that nothing is sacred enough, if at all, to be immune to it.

So what is that one thing that you would have said to Christopher Hitchens on his birthday had he been alive?

Not sure about all of you, but I would have suggested him to smoke cigars instead of cigarettes.

Perhaps he would have lived longer had that been the case.

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Here’s Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech

Christopher Hitchens on Freedom of Speech, again