Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.

Boko Haram, Women and the Embarrassing Face of Islam

Source: abc

Source: abc

There is some problem with the way women are treated by Muslim populations, despite all the claims of honoring them.

Now there are a handful of events that actually directly point finger at the ideology, instead of the individual criminals.

The entire world was shocked when the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted hundreds of teenage girls from a school. In a video released by the group, the girls were seen in Hijaabs and veils.

Well, if you thought their intentions were any good, they have been reportedly forced to convert to Islam and have a bride price to their names, which is another expression for selling slaves. The Nigerian state is vowing to take action against  the perpetrators.

Source: Independent

Source: Independent

On the same continent, a Sudanese Muslim woman Meriam Ibrahim who married a Christian was sentenced to death by a court in the state for apostasy. Coincidentally, she was pregnant at the time. So her punishment was suspended till the time she gave birth to a child, which probably the state was interested in “confiscating”.

She has delivered the child and is now awaiting a walk to the death row. The international community is outraged, but the Sudanese government is unmoved.

Source: awamiweb.com

Source: awamiweb.com

A few days ago, a Pakistani woman Farzana Parveen was stoned to death, right outside the Lahore High Court in an “honor killing”. The attack was carried out by her father, brothers and accomplices for marrying against their will to the man she loved. Her lover, turns out, strangled his first wife to death to marry her and got away with it as well*.

This incident would also reignite the debate on blood money laws in Islam, which allow acquittal on pardon for exchange of monetary compensation. However, it is encouraging that the news was highlighted by the media all over the world.

This was not necessarily a religious, but a cultural punishment. But one that is not necessarily frowned upon by most Pakistanis, and one that is reinforced by the treatment of adulterers recommended by the Islamic Shariah.

However, the Pakistani government has now ordered action against the criminals, most of them already arrested.

But when you ask yourself the question as to why the Punjab Police failed to intervene, while witnessing the incident, there are no simple answers.

Events such as these are just embarrassing for otherwise peaceful and sane Muslims who secretly harbor the same beliefs but choose not to practice them.

Peaceful and responsible citizens who would have a good sense that such beliefs have no place in a civilized society in any century, but choose not to renounce them.

Who would express sorrow at an adulterer being killed. Then present the caveat of four witnesses before finally agreeing that they should be stoned to death, when the question is asked.

Who would otherwise propose strict punishment for murder and encourage proselytizing, but would support death penalty for an apostate Muslim.

It is just an embarrassment. Plain and simple.

Though this little inconvenience is causing a lot of individuals their lives and liberty.

*EDIT: June 2, 2014 0226 HRS