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.
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The Politics of Shipping Containers

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A government is supposed to protect the interest of its public. But what to do if it becomes the biggest hurdle in their way?

Now for the uninitiated, the politics of shipping containers probably sounds like manipulating the trade at the port, not that that was never a problem, but these shipping containers are contributing to the economy around a thousand miles from the shore. In the federal capital and in a very different way too.

We had all suffered the consequences of the blockade during the 2014 sit-in protest by PTI and PAT.  Now it is time to brace ourselves again to dread getting out on the roads and to find our way out of the gridlock. The question is, who has the time and money? No matter which side you are on, you would be forced to either stay home or join the political tamasha.

Can you blame the entire problem on the PTI and Sheikh Rasheed protests? Probably you can, because the containers were not there a couple of days ago. But here they are now. Still, they are not put into place by them. The fact of the matter is that the government can possibly handle this situation in another way. Imposing Section 144 is not the solution to every problem.

So I wonder if it is the fault of the protesters or the Federal Interior Ministry itself that people like me cannot go to work when they should be able to on a regular weekday. Of course, we are not fully aware of the reasons why shipping containers are used to block roads, perhaps to block suicide bombing trucks, who knows? But ever since these blockades have started appearing on our roads, the lives of the people of the twin cities have never been the same.

While the party in power uses shipping containers to block access from roads, the one in the opposition would use it as a stage to prolong, if not perpetuate, the misery. PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s recent call to shut down the capital is just one such example, which has already sent the stock market crashing even when the actual sit-in protest has not taken place yet. To add insult to injury, he has decided to challenge the orders from the Islamabad High Court forbidding the shutdown.

The fact of the matter is that the people want to get on with their lives and are sick and tired of the storms of made-up revolutions that our political leaders like to stir in a teacup. Clearly, most of the people reject the politics of shipping containers, something which could even be a threat to our fragile democracy. But like always, this silent majority remains without a voice.

What is even worse is that the government that warns protesters of refraining from interrupting public life is doing all it can to make things miserable for them. This is what the politics in Pakistan have come down to, only to strengthen the ignorant belief that democracy is not fit for a “country like Pakistan.” Whatever that means.

Perhaps we cannot get past the days of tear gas because we have not evolved from rioting and destroying to the peaceful protest that is often met with ridicule in our society. Perhaps we would really attain the ideals that we speak so fondly of when we really start supporting peaceful, liberal democratic values on the ground and learn to respect the democratic process.

Out of all the rights of the people that the government is responsible to uphold, perhaps the most underestimated in Pakistan is the freedom to access. People are simply too willing to give too much for too little. This reflects the way our government thinks and it also offers an insight into our minds as well. This probably means that our days of living in an authoritarian state are not over and neither is the will to resist it. Or if things have improved indeed, we have still not been able to shake off the hangover from our past of dictatorships.

I hope some day our protesters would learn to make their point without blocking roads and that our governments could restore order without taking any lives.

Is it too much to ask?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Blaspheming Hilarity

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: ARY Digital/Pakistan Today

Never before in the history of Pakistan has the political tool of Blasphemy ever been used in a more hilarious and ridiculous manner.

Because never before an obviously reverent religious piece has been turned into a perceived blasphemy. And never before the adherents of the sect that would otherwise hold the work of art in honor out of religious fervor would be resorting to lodge complaints of blasphemy against it.

It is just like crying blasphemy for a hymn honoring Allah and the Prophet and calling for its ban. It makes no sense to a casual observer.

But it would make perfect sense when seen in the context of the campaign against GEO TV, after it launched an attack on the DG ISI in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir.

More than Shaista Lodhi’s “blasphemous” show, the following show by Mubasher Lucman, created all the stir. Ironically, the same song had run on his own channel.

 

Never before have two media groups been at odds with each other for committing a blasphemy. Never before have prominent anchors and artists been the targets of the blasphemy police in this manner.

Is it a coincidence that a talk show anchor forges a blasphemy out of thin air of a hymn that is frequently used by the adherents of a certain sect? Not only was this an effort to wrongly accuse of blasphemy, but one that could have deepened the sectarian rift in the country.

What is actually even worse is that the Shia scholars have joined the ranks of pro-establishment commentators in accusing the network and participants of the show for committing the blasphemy. They have joined forces with the Sunni Ittehad Council, which has issued a fatwa against GEO that watching the cable network is haraam or forbidden.

All of a sudden, there are rallies and protest marches all over the country. None of it seems to be a coincidence or a spontaneous reaction. But it could actually be, as nothing else unites this nation of religious harassers more than blasphemy.

A couple of days later, the Islamabad High Court issues notices to not only the GEO Network, Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, Shaista Lodhi, Veena Malik and her husband, but also to Mubasher Lucman, ARY Digital, Nida Pasha, singer Amjad Sabri and the poem of the hymn Aqeel Mohsin Naqvi. All in a bid to ban the Shia mankabat or religious ode or hymn or whatever it is.

Now how come the idea of banning a piece of religious music is not blasphemous? Why are the Shia scholars quiet about this piece of sacrilege to something that they would otherwise revere.

As a matter of fact, the Shia folks pretty much have no choice when it comes to the GEO Network Blasphemy controversy. On one hand, there is the pressure from the state establishment, and on the other, there is the vicious Sunni blasphemy police.

But one thing is for sure.

Never before has the phenomenon of blasphemy appeared so clearly as a political tool as it has in this controversy.

Especially when there clearly was no blasphemy. And an alleged one that was noticed all of a sudden by everyone when an anchor spots it on a network against which he spews venom every night and still continues to do so.

And a network that just committed blasphemy against the most powerful intelligence agency in the country.

Only today, PEMRA has announced the suspension of the license of GEO Network channels for airing the blasphemous content. To be further confirmed on May 28.

So which blasphemy is greater?

The one against the family members of the Prophet or the one against the ISI and the military?