Captain Safdar and the Lost Conscience of the Nation

Source: Dawn

A question that probably nobody has ever asked is if Pakistan ever had a collective conscience as a nation. Even though the next logical question should be an inquiry whether Pakistan itself is a nation or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is.

When it comes to the establishment of our theocracy, we completely lack any sense of morality and justice as a nation. We have utterly failed to produce even a fair and reasonable social contract and, even worse, are not even acknowledging that it is unfair to the religious minorities. Pakistan is indeed morally corrupt for its denial of the need of secularism.

A reflection of the state of morality of the Pakistani nation, at least of its majority, was offered by Captain Safdar on the National Assembly floor at the expense of perhaps the most vulnerable religious minority in the country.

Would the PML-N say that the husband of their probable future leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif is reflective of the official stance of PML-N? Could you say that this politician of no stature at all is appealing to the baser instincts of the conservative supporters by invoking his loyalty to the faith of finality of Prophet, for which you need to openly express your hate for one religious community? Could you say that it was a move to divert attention from the corruption cases against Captain Safdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who are facing criminal prosecution?

Could you say that they are playing good cop-bad cop? Challenging the naming of a Quaid-e-Azam University Physics Department named after Dr. Abdus Salam when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his father-in-law and party leader, himself recommended it to be named after the only Physics Nobel laureate in Pakistan’s history.

One way or the other, it is unbelievable that we have such a high place in our society and in our legislator, the highest institution of our democracy. But of course, when the constitution of a country is endorsing discrimination against a group of its citizens and essentially declaring them public enemy number one, how can you blame people like Captain Safdar. However, he particularly moved into very dangerous territory by questioning the national loyalty of Ahmedis and exposing his antisemitic tendencies linked them with Israel and declaring them a security risk.

Even if it was a good cop-bad cop move, the PML-N at least should have made an official statement to distance themselves from the bigotry and nonsense of Captain Safdar. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal did condemn the hate speech but without taking his name. At least it has undone the impact of moderation that the likes of Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and even Maryam Nawaz Sharif herself are trying to make.

Even though we have lost our conscience, humanity, and moral compass as a nation, I still need to say this.

Shame on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and shame on PML-N for putting up with this nonsense. And even if it is a deliberate move, the party should know better than this.

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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.

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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.

One Good Reason to Celebrate the Valentine’s Day

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Many of us are cynical when it comes to the Valentine’s Day. And for a good reason too. The Western and probably overly commercialized holiday makes you cringe. And of course, you don’t even need to focus on the harassment that ensues.

But we have forgotten in our sharp criticism that somewhere people with sincere expressions of love are celebrating this holiday too.

I know many people respond that they don’t need a specific day to express their love, because they do so every day. But perhaps we do since we are so lost in our materialistic pursuits in a gesellschaft.

How many times do you speak to a particular friend in a year? Let alone a love interest. At least I don’t nearly as many times as someone would expect, if at all. But I should speak for myself only.

But if none of these arguments make any sense to you, which is perfectly fine, there is one good reason that would help you celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or at least realize that it should not be taken for granted.

Don’t forget that Sabeen fought for the freedom to celebrate the holiday. I don’t know about most of you, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a good occasion to respect the memory of Sabeen, a true Pakistani free speech hero.

Well, now you would hardly find a trace of photographic evidence of this episode online because our overly concerned media publications worried about the sensitivities of their audience too much. However, like the photographs from the campaign, the courage of Sabeen Mahmud in the face of religious authoritarianism must not be erased from our memory.

We know for a fact that the campaign at least jeopardized her life thanks to the instant fatwa machines in the Karachi madrassahs. However, you could speculate if that was the only motive of her killer, if any at all. But that’s what they tell us.

With every forgiven attack and every neglected bit of hate speech and death threats, we are condemned to desensitize ourselves from this moral abomination. However, we are also condemned to put up with it, until we are not. Because in a land where morality is enforced by threatening the life of its citizens, the only law is that of the sword, not of some high moral divinity.

In a society, such as this, celebrating the Valentine’s Day is an act of defiance in itself. Especially when our courts issue verdicts such as banning the holiday in public spaces that defy the standards of civil rights. In some cases, it is even an act of sheer mad bravery. Not very different to what Sabeen did during her campaign challenging religious authoritarianism.

I am not a fan of mingling political statements with holiday celebrations at all. But this is one exception that I would not mind. So, when you celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pakistan, do keep in mind that in such a society, the holiday is more than just vain indulgence.

Isn’t it a good reason to celebrate?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

CyberCrime Bill: What Blasphemy Law Feels Like

cyber-crime-bill-southasiamedia-net-2404201518503513

I just came across an apparently credible copy of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill that is reportedly passed by the standing committee on information technology, but had learned just enough from the outraging social media posts criticizing it that the Pakistani government is at its worst again. Searches without warrant and internet censorship.

From the looks of it, the bill seems to be a grim reminder why government should be out of our lives in as many aspects as possible. It is also a reminder of the terrible extent of power our democratic structure vests into the hand of the government agencies such as the PTA and how nobody sees that as a problem.

The trouble with liberals aspiring for greater government control in Pakistan is that they conveniently forget that the country is an Islamic Republic. This means that ideologically, Pakistan is just a few shots away from becoming societies such as Iran. This is why I have always been skeptical about policing the internet for hate speech. But still, laws must protect people from hacking, harassment and financial fraud. However, such laws, just like any laws, should remain confined to dispute resolution as opposed to mandatory guidelines for moral behavior.

However, what is encouraging is the public outrage at the bill in the Muslim majority country, at least online. Finally, my dream of seeing the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami protesting on the streets to prevent a facebook ban could be near its realization perhaps. What is the world coming to?

Among the youth, it is really refreshing to see the passionate opposition, despite the fact that the bill apparently contains many things that the activist folks have been campaigning for years. Of course, that does not include protecting the head of the government, who happens to be a “natural person,” or the state from criticism, or allegedly defamation, but you could expect such provisions to creep into the penal code. Though that is a biased, out-of-the-way interpretation really of the most ambiguous, but pretty authoritatively liberal bill you have seen in a while. But in all honesty, I do not expect the current state regime to formulate any law without providing for the protection of the glory of Islam and the sanctity and security of the state.

This offers some remote idea to the liberal and conservative Muslim majority in the country of what the blasphemy law remotely feels like. The more informed of critics would obviously laugh away this comparison, as they should, but anyone can agree that you don’t see Pakistanis getting outraged at free speech curbs everyday. I would also like to apologize to the drafters of the bill for comparing it with something as terrible as the blasphemy law, but let me proceed with my argument anyway.

The insecurity that you just felt by learning about the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill 2015 is what most citizens not belonging to a certain religion in Pakistan do every day because of the blasphemy law. I really hope that this occasion is used to extract some empathy for the people whose lives are jeopardized by the blasphemy law.

As for the cybercrime bill, it is important to stay vigilant before the state ends up killing the internet in the name of preserving its sanctity. We must openly and unapologetically oppose the blocking of websites on any ground, let alone religious, political or pornographic. We must oppose the notion of the state deciding moral right and wrong for us. Unless that is the case, we are always prone to lose our freedoms forever. I know it is way too early to freak out about this bill, but we could be headed down a dark alley where columns such as this one would never be seen again on a Pakistani website in the future.

We have had enough activism in this country calling for government intervention. It is time to call for the government to keep its hands off the internet. It is time that we start questioning if offending the glory of state and religion is a criminal offense at all. Thankfully, the Pakistani youth, at least the online bit, is reading the writing on the wall. Since there is not much you can do about the Islamic nature of the constitution of the country, at least you can try keeping government out of things like speech on internet as much as you can.

I still have good faith that our government and parliament will not pass this bill into a law, or at least not unanimously, but you never can tell in a country crazy enough to still have YouTube banned for apparently no sensible reason at all.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2014: Muhammad Jibran Nasir

Source: Jibran Nasir

Source: Jibran Nasir

Up till this morning, I had been pretty clear in my mind that my Pakistani person of the year would be none other than Malala Yousufzai. But then again, I thought there should be better reasons than just being the Nobel peace laureate for the year. She is making her difference alright, and the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly the highlight of the year before she largely becomes irrelevant.

But who has contributed something different for Pakistan this year?

Who is it that has been willing to face the danger of challenging Mullahs for their understanding of what is good for the country, without putting their personal safety first.

For these reasons alone, my Pakistani of the year has to be Muhammad Jibran Nasir.

Though I cannot fully get myself to agree with the Charter of Demands of the movement. Article 3 more specifically, which gives PEMRA and PTA more reasons to live, and calling for the kind of social media profile witchhunt and ideological targeting that could kill free speech in this country. Because while it would be meant to target those inciting hate (hopefully), such internet policing would eventually target pro-secularism elements.

I also oppose suppressing the voice of Maulana Abdul Aziz, who is only doing the cause of secularism a favor by honestly expressing his Islamist beliefs. Let his madness be known to all.

Furthermore, I have no interest or inclination to call for the protest of someone who did not condemn or had celebrated the Peshawar massacre, and so what if he ultimately apologized? It means nothing.

But despite all those differences, his cause is absolutely right.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the clerics of Lal Masjid and the administrators of Jamia Hafsa are killing freedom of hundreds of children. And it is not hard to imagine that if it were up to them, they would take away whatever freedoms we enjoy.

Even during the anti-Abdul Aziz protests, a father was looking for the release of a detained daughter in the female seminary of the mosque run by the wife of Maulana Abdul Aziz.

This, apart from their active militant activity back then,  is why the Lal Masjid operation carried out by the military in July 2007 was absolutely justified, though seemingly a little excessive in its execution.

Jibran Nasir became a hero for the secularists and liberals in Pakistan as soon as he started his protest movement, but he also gained the support of most skeptics when he received the first death threat from the Lal Masjid terrorists.

A death threat from these people is no joke. It is not freedom of religion, though that is what gives them a free pass, and it is surely not freedom of speech.

If that was not enough, Maulana Abdul Aziz dug his own grave by threatening Nasir, the MQM chief and other protesters. It was primarily his own stupidity more than anything else that got him into trouble. Even resorting to sending out threats of suicide attacks. But the credit must go to the protesters outside the Aabpara police station who persisted on the calls of his arrest.

While a local judge has issued the warrant, Maulana Abdul Aziz has not been arrested as of December 31, 2014.

Meanwhile, Jibran Nasir has been accused of all sort of things that the pro-Islamist, pro-Taliban nationalist right wing considers to be evil under the sun. He has been called an anti-Islam agent of the Indian, US and Jewish lobby, member of the MQM, a Hindu-loving Holi-celebrating traitor and an Ahmedi, the ultimate enemies of the state and the root of all evil in the universe.

No, he is not anti-Islam. It is probably people like me who would bash him for not being precisely that. But no, we won’t.

He responded to each and every falsehood though, and has proved to be the moral victor. But moral victories do not matter in the real world, or at least in Pakistan.

While I am aware that the militantism that the anti-Abdul Aziz movement is taregeting does not address the root of the long term problem of faith based violence, but I must also concede that his movement is probably the best shot we got. This, along with the government’s decision to crack down on religious extremist elements.

However, our law enforcement still looks pretty weak, and almost unwilling, when it comes to cracking down on the real culprits, namely Islamist extremists, and would be far more comfortable targeting the protesting workers of AWP as easily as they would drink water.

It is people like Jibran Nasir who are actually making a difference for Pakistan, out in the battlefield, and putting the rest of us to shame.

Dear Pakistani expats, this is the sort of person you may want to support.

His battle is the battle of the people of Pakistan and is the battle for democracy.

And for all you Islamists out there, he is not alone.

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Read about my Pakistani person of last year here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2014: Imran Khan

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Who else but the pied piper leading our children to the mirage of Islamic socialism and the dark and hopeless abyss of a lifestyle of constant whining would be the candidate qualifying for 2014?

He is guilty of putting his personal politics above the national interest and acting like a kindergarten kid and whining like a sore loser and turning almost his entire following to act like him.

His actions for mobilizing the youth and for initiating the debate for electoral reform is heroic, but his ways of pursuing those have been terrible.

He is, among several other populist politicians throughout the history of Pakistan, guilty of converting the masses into a justice-demanding holier-than-though moralist lynch mob, in many ways, like the electronic media they so despise.

He is also guilty of letting his party workers get drawn into the violent storming of state buildings by following the lead of the violent mob of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek on September 1.

Probably looking to get out of the “sit in” (actually series of concert-like campaign party conventions) for a while, he ends the movement abruptly succumbing to public and media pressure, only to lose favor, temporarily, among many in the party. But he only has himself to blame for that.

Though his honesty is exemplary. He shoots himself in the foot by revealing the intelligence memo warning about an attack such as the Peshawar school massacre as early as August 28. But at the same time, puts the military in the spot, so rather heroic again. It really takes an idiot to make a hero, you know.

But he was not alone in this unending race for idiocy. Many others were close behind.

How could we forget a mention of Imam TUQ (AS) aka Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to his theatrics to strengthen the faith of an already convinced population of how evil democracy is. Only he knew what he was doing, apparently.

He also deserves a lot of credit for leading his mob into storming the Parliament and the PTV headquarters, and making the nation cry for the use of tear gas on the innocent band of criminals he was leading.

He also deserves appreciation for perfectly demonstrating his vision of the Islamic Welfare State by setting up the “sit-in camp village” outside the Parliament and hiring protesters for welfare stipend. Finally we know what it is going to be like.

People such as Pervez Musharraf, Zaid Hamid, General Hamid Gul and Hafiz Saeed also deserve their due mention for making sure that the TTP does not get its due credit for the Peshawar massacre.

An insulting mention for Maulana Abdul Aziz, who idiotically turned everyone against himself by issuing death threats to the protesters who started with a rather idiotic reason, though for the right cause. He now has anti-terrorism warrant issued against his name and must be immediately arrested.

Another insulting mention for Aamir Liaquat Hussain and his panel of clerics for declaring an already state-declared enemy religious community as the enemy of the state. But for that we also have to revisit the masons of our pillars of faith, because that is pretty much what the faith has become.

Further special mentions for Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed for encouraging the politics of revolutionary violence from Imran Khan’s platform, and especially for the former JI emir Syed Munnawar Hassan, who had his wish coming true of Qital-Fisabeelillah in the Peshawar massacre.

And of course, our Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar for thinking too hard to make the world a better and safer place. Something that he is obviously incapable of doing.

But in the end, no one comes down so spectacularly, and so pompously as the Mighty Khan. Someone who is so obstinate, so delusional, so self-obsessed, it reminds you of his ideal leaders. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Islamic Socialism and the Islamic Welfare State have the perfect heir in him.

The Pakistani idiot of the year has to be Imran Khan.

Read about the Pakistani idiot from the last year here.

 

The Potential Menace of Islamist Politics

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Dawn

For a long time, I have held this rather well meaning but terrible belief that Islamist or religious parties should participate in democracy. Now I must say that I realize the gravity of such disastrous ideas.

Probably the most underestimated factor in democracy is that church and state should be separate. Not only is that fact being undermined in countries with Muslim majority population, but also in some Western and perceivably more democratic nations.

In Pakistan, however, the problem is particularly disturbing. Even though the Jamaat-e-Islami gets very little love at the polling booth, a large number of people agree with their populist Islamist rhetoric. This is a problem when anyone who wants to see democratic value flourishing in a country with such a poor track record in the subject.

Belief in Islamism and the tenets of Islam in general encourage a draconian system of governance and a violent medieval system of justice, contrary to freedom and democracy. If this statement sounds like an Islamophobic sweeping rant, then consider the following statement by former Jamaat-e-Islami Emir Syed Munnawar Hassan.

Syed Munnawar Hassan just called for Qital Fisabeelilah or murder in the name of God in order to fight oppression. While this sounds just like a noble call for the righteous kill from the Bolshevik revolutionary in your high school mate, it is a far more dangerous than militant socialism, or even authoritative conservatism for that matter.

When an Islamist leader calls for something, he or she, pardon me it’s always going to be a he, is always going to invoke the name of God for any action. Since religious people in general and Muslims in particular are conditioned not to question religious authority, they are bound by whatever sort of decree comes down upon them. Their potential for menace is far greater than what most people imagine.

It’s not that Jamaat-e-Islami, or other Islamist and other religious parties for that matter, should be banned for statements such as these. Instances like these only show how dangerous they are. They should be banned anyway because they endorse and promise to enforce undemocratic or religious principles.

I understand the dilemma of our secular politicians allowing the religious parties to live with them. They are afraid of their violent backlash if they are not allowed to maneuver politically.

However, if the Communist Party of Pakistan can be banned for all its undemocratic values, by ironically a military dictator without any violent resistance from them, why should we treat the Jamaat-e-Islami any differently? I would always endorse serious violent crackdown on Islamist parties in case they try rioting or disturbing the peace and quiet of our cities.

Apparently, there is a lot of hope in the Pakistani society as you see great resistance to the political ambitions of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that is linked to Muslim Brotherhood and has sympathies  for, if not possible connections to, Al Qaeda. You would see the most conservative quarters rejecting JI candidates. A JI candidate has not won a major seat in Punjab or interior Sindh in my living memory.

However, there is no shortage of well meaning and religiously bound idiots who would still endorse Islamic system of governance and Shariah. As if giving up their freedoms would redeem them. A more dangerous breed among them recognizes that only religious parties can truly enforce this system of governance and support Jamaat-e-Islami without holding back.

Just imagine the horror of an Islamist group gaining access to power through a democratic process, when they should actually not even be participating in it. The irony.

So it is a disappointment when I see Information Minister Pervez Rasheed speaking at an anti-Israeli rally held by Jamaat-e-Islami. Or Governor Punjab validating their political forum by offering them a speaking appointment.

We must come to our senses before we end up destroying whatever democracy we have left. We must also understand that democracy must have no room for religious political parties. All the more reason for a secular constitution.

In other words, Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned.

Note: As published in The Nation blog.