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.

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.

 

To Fidel Castro: Or The Disillusionment of Revolution

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

The legendary Cuban revolutionary, perhaps not so much as Che himself, Fidel Castro has finally passed at 90. Well, rest in peace. But as for all the mixed and divisive reactions are emerging, there really is no reason to be fighting over a dead man, even though the fight is really about the ideology that he represented. Communism.

I do not see why you cannot pay a tribute to a world leader just because you happen to be opposed to the world-view they represented. Fidel Castro should be no exception, as he is hardly the devil some people paint him to be. The Cuban diaspora in Miami reacted by celebrating, though even on the death of Osama Ben Laden, I did not see a reason to celebrate death. On the other hand, the Cuban people are in mourning too. A lot of former comrades have been paying towering tributes. Good for them.

However, on the other hand, I am not surprised that the worshipping adulations of the figure have drawn ire of the people aware of his decades-long tyranny in Cuba. I guess Justin Trudeau of Canada was treated a little harshly in his praise of the deceased leader. All he did was called Fidel Castro a remarkable leader. But then again, so were Hitler and Stalin. Of course, not equating Castro with the World War II tyrants. He was a more modern, probably more moderate tyrant in comparison with much softer, wallless gulags.

I thought President Obama’s reaction was probably the most balanced and appropriate, who heroically established relations with Cuba and lifted the embargo partially. This, in my opinion, would remain to be the greatest foreign policy legacy of the Obama years. Truly of historic proportions. Because when the criticism of the Cuban regime’s trade protectionism and closed markets are brought up, the cruel United States embargo should not go unmentioned.

What did the free world really do to invite Cuba to the free markets? Discourage it with embargos? Adopt policies that it is supposed to fight?

But enough of that as I am going to offer what I feel about him, beyond the abstract moral complexities of human rights. I find Fidel Castro inspirational in his emergence, his achievements, and his defiance. I strongly believe that he led his country down a dark alley. I believe he was more practical than the volatile and restless revolutionary Che Guevara, a facilitator of the Cuban revolution, for which I have always suspected Castro not to be a true believer in the cause of revolution and just saw it as an instrument of power.

In contrast, Che was a true revolutionary. One who had to move on and find new battlefields against the right wing imperialists. Not saying that Castro was not one. Of course, one who had to find revolutions to be a revolutionary. Castro just settled for a regime.

Fighting one superpower with puppets by being a puppet of another superpower.

What my friends on the left wing do not get about the socialist utopia created by Castro’s revolution is that it may deliver equality. It may even deliver a very good social medical system. But it deprives the citizens of freedom of action, expression, access, association, and movement in so many ways. Without freedom, isn’t social justice rendered redundant?

Source: youtube cap

Source: youtube cap

I was always impressed with the figure of the defiant Fidel Castro, but only because he was defiant. Even to the most illiterate mind in socialist propaganda, Castro’s visuals in Brian DePalma’s and Oliver Stone’s Scarface were awe-inspiring. Hey, someone who stood up to the gringos. I know many people who idolize him purely because he was anti-American, which is the perfectly wrong reason for admiring him. To others, that amount to fighting capitalism.

For that reason perhaps I should have also been impressed by Osama Ben Laden or Mullah Omer. But there is something about the David of Cuba versus the Goliath of America that you had to have a soft corner for the little guy. Besides, he was not exactly crashing planes into the World Trade Center towers.

Source: Universal Pictures

But even in my mild admiration of the dictator, a more dominant feeling was the disillusionment with revolution. I had one very clear idea about revolution. It was his revolution, the Iranian revolution of the Khoemini, and Lenin’s great Bolshevik revolution itself, that forever warned me of the ills and the dangers of this word. That getting rid of one despot could possibly lead to another, if you are flirting with the wrong, extreme ideas. Ideas such as hanging people in public squares. Ideas such as swift justice.

That a Shah would be replaced by a Khoemini. That a Batista would be replaced by a Castro. And I made up my mind of rejecting this notion whenever it presented itself as a resolution to problems. I particularly became conscious of how casually this very dangerous word behind a very dangerous idea was used. How we were better off without the valor and moral highhandedness of our revolutionary friends, shaming us to come on the streets. We are probably better off fighting the neo-liberal injustices that limit us in our own way. Without compromising our individuality and whatever private space we had.

The idea of revolution is romantic because human individuality and creativity thrive on rebellion as opposed to conformity. No one ever produced a great work of art for daring to be the same like everyone else. So there was no coincidence that El Comandante and his utopia appealed to so many great artists on the left wing, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and so many more of my left wing friends, whose friendship I greatly value.

The only problem I have with their idea of utopia is that it forsakes the very treasure to which the . Of course, it is about social justice, equality, and brotherhood. But it is also about much more than that. It is about your individual freedom. Just like the idea of abolishing private property. What is left of any freedom if you are not able to secure your property?

So perhaps others might be upset with the dark, cynical, mechanical human condition that the right wing capitalist liberals and conservatives offer. Fighting the ills of the capitalism. And building a near-perfect social medicine system. Or did he? But saying that Cuba is a utopia away from ills of capitalism would nothing but gross exaggeration, it’s the aftertaste of the bitterness of the fall of the Soviet Union, the bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Everyone has a different interpretation of revolution. Sometimes it is the means to the end of an apparently totalitarian but perceivably just social system. To others, it is a constant struggle to push the limits of the morality of a society. To others, it simply is a lifestyle that challenges them to test their own limits and to constantly seek new

Just like a socialist friend could accuse me of misunderstanding the concept of political revolution, at least that of Fidel Castro’s, I could counter the argument with their misunderstanding of what the word capitalism stands for. If capitalism is considered a holistic system of government, then sadly no such thing exists.

Just like the right wing liberals have turned the term of socialism as a pariah, so have the left wing progressives to the term capitalism. Assuming that a humane society cannot be sustained in the brutal financial rat-race of a capitalist economy. Well, we already have plenty of social programs in countries with a stock, futures, and commodity exchange markets. Just like those ignoring social democracies always assume that socialism always means Stalin’s Soviet Union. But arguing that it gradually takes the society to a darker place is a debate for another time.

It is important to understand that while the rivalry of ideology continues, they do not necessarily have to be at war. An economically liberal United States can still work with a communist Cuba. Then again, who could hate Cuba with such divine cigars? Which were celebrated, instead of discarded, by Castro, to his credit. Just like communist China has started to embrace free trade, albeit in its own twisted ways. But it is progress nevertheless and would make the world a better place.

This is why reaching out to Cuba is by far the greatest foreign policy legacy of the term of President Barack Obama and let’s hope for an even brighter future. You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 90 miles across the shores, for which countless Cubans risked their lives.

You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 300 miles from its shores, across the sea, for which countless Cubans risked their lives. Let’s even call it the greed of money or a better future. Others were simply looking for.

Freedom.

I thought that is all revolutions come down to.

If you are not selling that, who is going to fight for your revolution?