Sympathy for the Devil: Comment on the Milo-Maher Episode

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

There is a reason I am a bigger fan of Bill Maher than any other liberal comedian/political activist out there. Actually, his show is the only one where almost everyone gets a platform and where you can find some substance in the middle of the usual political insults.

I personally find his show very interesting for always evenly distributing the panelists among liberals and conservatives, and particularly for his much needed unfiltered criticism of religion. Seriously, without the likes of him, the Western left would have no remote clue what Islam and Sharia could really look like. Not that they would care anyway.

I know a lot of people don’t find him funny because his jokes are perceivably too rude, crude and offensive for them. But somehow I do, even when I find his jokes offensive. And that is probably because I know that Bill Maher, who has been called “nominally liberal,” hears the other side out. Even though, only to insult them to their faces. All in good humor.

I wanted to avoid commenting on this primarily because of some of the terrible opinions held by Milo, but thought it would be inappropriate to skip this considering what it means in terms of free speech. It would also be a tremendous disservice to the readers of this blog.

I consider myself somewhat a free speech libertarian, not a liberal. What that means is that I would be willing to give a platform to a lot of ideas and speech that would be off-limits to most decent circles of the society. Even though, in real life, I would avoid engaging those ideas in conversation, especially if I personally do not believe in them.

For example, I would listen to a meninist, as opposed to a feminist, but I would know that they are full of shit. Because women are simply at a tremendous disadvantage both socially and economically, and to my mind even physically, in what is still a man’s world. But nothing wrong in challenging third wave feminism and it should not be off-limits because at least its criticism of art certainly has a flaw or too.

But when I hear about the gender wage gap from a feminist, I would listen to the arguments with a healthy economic skepticism. Which is a polite way of saying that I need to learn more about this burning issue and that perhaps, some day, I would be able to form a strong opinion on this issue.

But I must say, I find Milo Yiannapoulous intriguing. And I don’t even have to agree with his politics or views on things. I know, it is about that for most people. But I seldom see people that way, unless sometimes they force me not to. Though Milo does come close, but it is still important to hear out before dismissing. And I am sure the same is true for Bill Maher.

His views on transgenders are absolutely disgusting, terming transgenderism a mental disease. But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

Bill Maher, of course, was rebuked viciously by progressive liberals for inviting him on his show, some of who are announcing their boycotts, as usual.  Frequent panelist journalist Jeremy Scahill was supposed to appear on that show but pulled out. How could he give the poster child of Alt-Right a platform on his show? Well, he also happened to be the Editor of Breitbart News at the time. The founder of the platform, Andrew Breitbart, a very outspoken provocateur himself, often appeared on the show. Milo looks somewhat of a resurrection of the late outspoken libertarian blogger.

Now, here are two ways to look at this. Either you are giving a troll a mainstream platform and audience, or you are simply exposing him to further scrutiny.

I had heard his name alright, but I had no idea what his deal was about until I saw him on Bill Maher’s show. And realized that Bill Maher indeed had given him a bigger platform for many. Though not for the first time, as he has appeared on Sky and BBC several times in the UK.

Milo Yiannapoulous has been insightful, particularly in his explanation of the Trump Presidency phenomenon. Not even the biggest of pundits ever realized that the Presidency of his “daddy” was won on a cultural platform. Which explains a candidate that is so bullet-proof that the release of his “grab them by the pussy” video failed to destroy his candidacy. How can historians explain this? Other than the Republican voter base completely lacking morals, which they often accuse the liberals of

Though here is the other side of the picture. It was because of Bill Maher’s show that both Milo and he were bombarded with hate blogs and reports on the liberal and mainstream media such as CNN. In other words, Bill Maher took Milo to CNN.

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And the intense attention that it brought led to the re-emergence, or rather emergence, of a long lost tape of an internet show in which he seems to be justifying homosexual men engaging in sexual contact with minors. Following it up with a joke about having sex with his priest.

Well, well. You thought that Milo would actually be with his signature bravado, but not to be. He held a press conference regretting his “poor choice of words,” something he had never done before I assume. He resigned his position as Breitbart Senior Editor, possibly being forced to, which he made look like a voluntary one. Before that, the deal for his book “Dangerous” was canceled.

But ideologically worst of all, he lost his speaking spot in the CPAC. That must have been a huge blow to his fans.

Later, Bill Maher was taking credit, saying “you’re welcome.” If that sounds douchey, well, only Bill Maher can attain those levels. But he may have a point there. Sunlight, indeed, is the best disinfectant.

So Bill Maher’s delusions aside, what happened? Why was this comment the last straw that broke the camel’s back? Despite everything and everything Milo had said and done, including reportedly donning Nazi paraphernalia, Islamophobia and making antisemitic remarks,. An article by Nathan J. Robinson asked this question too. And I tell you what, his comments appearing on the video regarding the age of consent are nothing new and not nearly as shocking as you would believe. Even though I believe the age of consent is a legitimate debate and varies in different regions, I guess the conservatives draw a line when it comes to pedophilia, especially when a gay man is involved. And I am not even sure if these cases even qualify for the wildly thrown around term pedophilia, which is supposed to be classified as a mental disorder. Underage sex or statutory rape, yes.

Actually, a lot of websites are accusing Maher himself of justifying an older woman having sexual relations with a minor and not rejecting the idea that women could possibly rape men. But I guess for someone who has a problem with Prophet Muhammad marrying a minor, raise this issue all you want. Well, send me a memo please but I don’t think it destroyed Maher’s career. HBO must be aware of it. I guess the only shit he faced was because of his 9/11 comments.

Before this episode, Milo Yiannapoulos was invited by the College Republicans in the UC Berkeley campus in California. This led to some of the most vicious violent riots the United States has seen in the recent years. One of such riots in Seattle saw a person shot. On Van Jones’ show, the one who had invited him said he was worried for his life during the episode. It was this incident that prompted Bill Maher to invite Milo to his show because he happens to have a problem with left’s hypocrisy, hate of free speech and love of safe spaces too.

Like Bill, I sided with Milo on that and had absolutely zero problems with him appearing on his show. The left media went berserk, of course.

According to the hysteric Jezebel, Bill Maher was a monster now. The others shredded him for basically enabling Milo and not calling him out on the more offensive parts of his comments. Even though Maher himself is barely as progressive socially as many would like to believe. He grew up with old school comedians and perhaps could be considered as the heir to George Carlin for his caustic humor.

Though I do admit that he was clearly doing it for the most part. But still, I would not divorce Bill Maher from the ranks of my political allies. Be glad that a comedian and political activist like that is on your side. Though eventually, you would feel, the left-leaning Democratic Party would eventually drive out anyone. If only the Republicans were not so horrible.

In the end, I like Milo’s style but I can have no sympathy at all for the terrible political opinions he stands for. But I am not bothered much about his moral unorthodoxy. Actually, I am attracted to it, because I can relate to the boundaries that he is trying to push and it is fun to see him getting under the skin of so many whose righteousness we take for granted.

I must say I am intrigued by Milo because I am interested in people who question moral conventions. And more often than not, it requires being offensive and some courage as well. But pushing the limits of moral boundaries is something that could really start some new debates. Though I am not sure how well he qualifies for this great mission.

But while social justice wars are all good, it is important not to forget the essential right of free speech, which is the most important human right of all. And most of all, he reminds us of how much self-censorship is prevalent in the age of information, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is dishonest.

This is one of the primary reasons I have never identified as a “progressive” as yet, though being an ally on most issues including feminism, and most probably never would.

 

Let’s Accept Porn

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

What is the best response to a government that proactively blocks porn websites and going out of its way to do so?

The answer is to openly and unashamedly embrace porn, regardless of the attacks from religious conservative and liberal moralists.

In the latest episode, the Pakistan government has moved to block 400,000 porn websites. You can either mourn the indirect ill effects of this monstrous but “necessary” step of internet censorship, or simply call a spade a spade.

Blocking porn is plain and simply wrong. Porn is not. Neither is it immoral. Only the people who act like moral police are.

There is no surprise that the government’s campaign has brought out their usual idiocy and inefficiency of blocking completely unrelated content. What else are you going to expect from a government that is so obsessed with taking public morality measures?

Thanks to our authoritarian government, accessing pornography and erotica could become a human rights issue, if it is not already. Blocking pornography is often justified by religious and moral decency. However, any religious freedom that curtails any other freedoms should be abolished, particularly in this case the access to pornography.

There has been no shortage of criticism, but pretty much all of them have always sounded more like indirect apologies for the supposedly inevitable action. As if it is alright to block porn. They would rightfully mourn the loss of platforms such as tumblr, for not being pornographic, with some accounts possibly containing links to some pornographic material. However, they would completely ignore the loss of access to thousands of porn websites important to millions of others.

For various understandable personal and professional reasons, activists and journalists avoid being vocal against blocking porn. Doing so could be deemed as its endorsement, no wonder a discussion about porn jumps immediately to child pornography (talk about red herring), even if some of them may not have substantial objections to the access of pornography privately.

This is why it is not only necessary for citizens and internet watchdogs to respond to the legal aspects of such internet censorship, but also address the terrible morality of it. And it is important to point out that blocking an adult’s access to pornography is morally objectionable, instead of the pornography content itself.

When the internet started, it became the paradise for libertarians and anarchists. But soon, the ill effects of the freedoms of anonymity began to show as the deep web became the comfortable hideout for data hackers, financial criminals, identity thieves, digital blackmailers, and harassers.

Taking action against them became necessary and the government had to establish its presence online to counter the unrelenting wave of cybercrime which became hard to ignore. With such measures, the governments of the world also took it upon themselves to filter and censor access to information on the internet as it suited their respective ideologies. And why the hell not? In a way, the internet came from the government anyway.

Just like various made up crimes in the penal code of Pakistan, such as blasphemy, attempt to commit suicide and gambling, possessing or displaying pornography or “obscene objects” is yet another crime. We need to convince our lawmakers that it is not, and being guilty about it is not going to help.

There is no need to feel discouraged by reports from journalistic sources crooked with respective ideological agenda such as Fox News and Huffington Post shaming Pakistan for accessing pornography. If indeed these reports are true, let us be proud of them. There is also no need to be ashamed by people discounting the right of accessing pornography of a Muslim majority population, only reflective of common people’s pursuit of freedom.

There is only one way to make voices matter in an environment of suppression. That is to be clear about your rights of freedom of access and freedom of expression.

So let’s not beat about the bush and be vocal about the morality of censorship.

Let’s allow access.

Let’s accept porn.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

A version of the post was 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.

 

Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4  

All the Lonely People….

Charlton Heston once said, “The internet is for the lonely people…”

The very first time when I read those words, I was astounded at the discernment of the old man.

In fact, I wonder if this tool, which the lonely people use to hide the saddest fact of their lives, is even creating more loneliness. The question to ask is whether those who were not lonely, have isolated themselves from their world or not due to the introduction of this new dimension in their lives.

I still strongly believe that many people prefer the old-fashioned ways to communicate than the modern technology such as internet and social networking, although they may not be as hip. The only benefit to technology in communication is that it can bridge physical distances. But what about emotional distances?

The best way to communicate is to speak face to face, or even more than that, if you know what I mean. And there is simply no substitute to the human touch, the cure of the human misery, depression and loneliness.

We are hiding behind our elaborate modes of communication.

We don’t reach out. Or feel too frightened to. Something that malfunctions our minds.

We should not complain about how miserable our lives are then.