Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.

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What Has She Done?

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

So what has she done?

That pesky Malala.

What has she accomplished to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, you are asking? Especially, since she said she didn’t deserve it.

Here is what she has accomplished what I or any of you could not have.

Despite being a little girl, she stood up to a very clear and present threat from the Taliban, which actually jeopardized her very existence.

In case anyone had any doubts, the Taliban actually ended up shooting her in the head and it’s a fucking miracle she’s even breathing.

They still vow to go after her.

She just had to speak out an innocuous little thing to get all this attention that she just wanted to go to school. Yes, that’s all what it has been about.

But it snowballed into something gigantic thanks to the ignorance of her haters.

You think it’s all obvious? No, it’s not.

But she won the prize also because she was important enough for an activist to address the United Nations Youth Assembly. She has also been active for causes such as speaking for the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haraam and addressing the concerns of Syrian children refugees.

She is not just a local figure anymore, but a global figure.

What really matters is  that the world sees her as a global ambassador for education, for girls especially.

Now why girls? You know, why be a sexist? But you have to be, because in her culture, people do go out of their way to target women like her. To deprive them of education.

Now when does it prick the most that she has won yet another prize valued by the West? Well, when you constantly apologize for the Taliban, Islamism and obscurantist misogynistic forces.

But it probably happened for a plain reason that Malala has become a Gandhi like figure to the West. Right up there with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, and even Gandhi was not awarded this prize, thanks to his shocking Holocaust satyagraha statements.

And this is precisely why Malala is important to the world now, even if she is of no consequence to the social conservatives and Islamist nationalist conspiracy theorists in Pakistan.

So don’t be surprised if you find completely irrelevant babbling complaining why Edhi not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is such a disaster (as if they cared about that too) and sharing articles making ridiculous comparisons with a random girl testifying against drone strikes backed by an American congressman.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Which reminds me that part of why Malala is condemned is because she is backed by Western powers. Hell, even President Obama met her with his entire family. He never did that for the Pakistani Prime Minister. That’s really fucked up.

She even had the courage to criticize him to his face about the drone strikes of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient President.

But that’s how powerful Malala has become.

Maybe she has sold her soul to the devil.

I never really had tremendous respect for the Nobel Peace Prize anyway, because I had read somewhere that only a devil would put a prize on peace. Maybe George Bernard Shaw’s statement, not too sure.

But  I was greatly impressed when I saw the likes of President Carter, President Sadaat and Prime Minister Begin winning one for the Camp David Accord of 1979, and when I saw Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receiving it.

You know, bitter adversaries working hard to attain some peace. Back then, I really found this shit inspiring. That part I still admire though.

But overall, the idea has been pretty empty and meaningless. You know what they say, hey, that’s the award that President Obama got for who knows what. And oh, even Henry Kissinger received it.

Must be something evil for sure.

I know this one, like all of them, is highly political. But who gives a fuck. Somebody said something nice about Pakistan.

But if I ever was delighted for a Nobel Peace Prize, for the first and most probably the last time, it is for Malala Yousafzai.

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Donate to the Malala Fund please. 

Malice, Morality & Malala: or Adding Insult to Injury

Source: AP/The Hindu

I write this with a heavy heart, with disgust and with a sense of insecurity and fear.

As you all know, teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai had been shot by the Taliban in her native Swat on October 9, 2012 to the shock of not only the entire nation, but the whole world. Right now she is struggling her way back to life and hopefully making good progress. However, I am seriously concerned for her well being in the future as she is feared to have suffered brain damage, but that’s not confirmed. Hopefully not.

After this sad incident, amid spontaneous sympathy and genuine grief, all kinds of genuine heartlessness, cruelty and the usual idiocy emerged. I am talking about the organized campaign and the spontaneous reactions aimed at undermining the tragedy of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and maligning her character as an activist.

You can find all kinds of people coming up and linking the event with their political agenda and trying to prove something completely unrelated.

So, you’re upset about Malala, right? How come you don’t make the same kind of fuss about hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks?

I am so sorry for not outraging as much about the hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks, but what in the world drone attacks have to do with Malala and what does grieving for her have to do with grieving for the children dying in drone attacks? Why is grieving for a girl that you knew as a public figure wrong and how that negates the feelings you have for the people dying in drone attacks?

So is speaking out for the attack on her wrong just because you think people are not condemning drone attacks? What kind of morality is that, by any of the twisted standards we have in this world of ours? Maybe just because the whole world is sympathizing with her, she must be an evil person, right? The ever-obnoxiously-eloquent Ayaz Amir puts it like this.

I mean what in the world are people trying to prove over here. Yes, drone attacks (which are, mind you, bombings, which are bombings and are lethal, let them be by manned aircraft or not) are atrocious for both innocent and terrorists alike, but those events are completely irrelevant to the point that Malala Yousafzai was an innocent little child who was brutally shot. I literally felt as if someone had shot my own daughter, but you don’t have to feel the pain to imagine if the girl was your “daughter” really. I regret even mentioning that word here. Though I cannot see it or put it any other way.

Actually the reaction from many of the hyper-nationalist and self-proclaimed exclusively-patriotic and religious right and center-right (with sincere apologies to the sane center-rightists) of the country, and especially the religious leaders and “scholars”, is nothing more than a dirty display of Groupthink, with hurt pride turning into venomous damnation of Malala and of all the sympathy for her. It is certainly not without a reason.

They do actually consider Malala and everything she represents as a threat. A threat to their religious-nationalist identity. A threat to the Pakhtun Islamism, a threat to the Islamic clergy, a threat to the Taliban and a threat to their cult of oppressing women into oblivion, ignorance and obscurantism, depriving them a right to education and a happy and free life.

Islamists like the Taliban are more aware than your average moderate Pakistani Muslim what great a threat secular education can possibly be to the religious dogma and faith. The reason is that education on scientific basis can help children grow to become freethinkers and use reason and scientific method, which could possibly eliminate the superstition and the supernatural from their lives.

Oh yes, was she really innocent of all her charges? The razor-sharp wit of Wus’atullah Khan so sarcastically puts why she was not. Even Nicholas Kristof sees it this way.

I agree that she is not innocent of her charges. I am proud that she is not. She was doing something even the most outspoken of liberal and secular public figures were and are afraid to do. She was propagating, supporting, endorsing and practically ensuring secular education to the children of her land, especially girls. This is something remarkable considering how the Taliban love to blow up girls’ schools and how they consider education to women an evil.

This is also remarkable because not long ago the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups had taken over the control of Swat and enforced their Shariah there for the time. The Pakistani state had briefly lost control over the territory until a military operation was carried out to regain it. So it takes some courage to take on the Taliban not far from their lair.

This is precisely why the Taliban targeted her and their spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan has vowed to attack her again if she survives this one. Actually, the Taliban specifically mentioned that she was attacked because she was “secular-minded”. This is the reason why many in the rest of the supposedly moderate Pakistan think that attacking her was justified, even though they cannot or could not do it themselves.

So much for those who think that though shooting her is wrong, she does not deserve all this attention and sympathy. There are even those who think that shooting her was completely justified. Those who side with the Taliban. Therefore, I find this incident, not polarizing, but cleansing, in terms of who is who in our society. If we still cannot see who our enemies are as Pakistanis, then we never will.

Source: Amnesty International

While I think about Malala Yousafzai this day, what overwhelms me more than anything else and what really puts me to shame is her bravery and her clarity. Because what she is demanding is so obviously and unmistakably right and worth defending and not worth giving up, even for a second, just like breathing, eating and drinking. And stepping down and giving that up just because your life is under threat is just clearly wrong reasoning, isn’t it? But are we fighting that hard?

Either we are stupid or Malala is.