My Pakistani Person of the Year 2017: The Missing Blogger

Source: Beena Sarwar

Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, Salman Haider and the original Bhensa, with all of them largely unrelated but contributing in their own right to the cause of free speech, other than many more bloggers that have been abducted by the Pakistani deep state have made an impact on the society never seen before in the country.

This is the effect of the age of social media.

The year 2017 revealed the ugly, draconian face of the government and the state of Pakistan to its relatively insulated urban population like never before. I came to know first about the urgency of the issue when American scholar Christine Fair tweeted about the safety of Bhensa, a satirical antithetical blogger known for his scathing criticism of Islam in particular, and who obviously got harassed by patriotic bloggers in return.

Pakistan has always been an undemocratic and authoritarian country in its true essence. Meet its figures in the government, even including many in elected office, and their view on state affairs and the people of Pakistan are bound to disappoint the democrat.However, the abduction of the dissident bloggers finally truly revealed the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Pakistan to the entire world, with the most prominent news media around the globe covering the news from the New York Times to the Daily Telegraph.

The civil protest against the abduction of the bloggers still was not quite near as strong as it should have been but it did attract attention around the world. One nightmare that the Pakistani military establishment is not used to is the urban civilian educated population protesting against it.

The way the Pakistani deep state entities have approached the dissenting bloggers really reveal the thought process behind repressing political dissidents in the country. Things were going all smooth with the detention and extrajudicial killings of the Baloch resistance at home but considering the local backlash and the critical coverage in the international media about the blogger issue, perhaps this is the reason why all three of the most prominent bloggers were returned home unlike people finding their roadside corpse as previously found in the case of journalists like Saleem Shahzad.

The page Bhensa reappeared as well. However, there are still question marks behind the true identity of Bhensa thought to be Ahmed Raza Naseer of Nankana Sahib, another one of detained and acquitted bloggers, but one way or the other, the page has arguably never been restored to its original expression since the abduction. On facebook, the Bhensa ID is used to actually run an anti-liberal page.

All the returned bloggers said that they were tortured in their own way. Some like Netherlands based Goraya, perhaps the most defiant of them all, were more vocal and more explicit about what happened to them. He also directly accused the Pakistani military while speaking in the a side event of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Others like Salman Haider were far subtler, being a gentle, poetic soul caught up in the storm.

A national campaign of disinformation was launched by the trolls and journalists on the dark side to accuse the detained bloggers of blasphemy. Prominent news anchors and social conservative anchors, some of which are often the usual suspects for any cause backed by the deep state, were in the forefront to build up public anger and hate against the liberal bloggers.

Something which the state apparatus strongly backs to this day as new ways of legitimizing the hunt to crack down on free speech are being put into effect. Blogger Taimur Raza became the first to be sentenced to death for blasphemy on social media by a “counter-terrorism court.” What a joke! Another Ayaz Nizami is under detention for the same accusations. Back in August, even Punhal Sario, a Sindhi activist campaigning for the return of missing activists is thought to go missing himself. Most recently, peace activist Raza Khan has gone missing with no resolution to his case to this last day of 2017.

But it was not revealed who the great souls of justice were who were dispensing justice to the blaspheming bloggers. Only recently have the bloggers been acquitted by the courts of any such allegations due to the complete lack of evidence. Which begs the question why the dangerous tradition of blasphemy hunting goes unpunished and without reprimand in Pakistan. And like always, you could count on the disgusting goons of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to harass and pelt stones at the activists supporting the bloggers.

However, I do not consider this verdict as a moment to celebrate as such since the legitimacy of these courts has already been tarnished for standing behind the draconian blasphemy law and announcing death sentences to freethinking citizens who committed no offense to humanity.

Despite the efforts of cover up by mainstream media in Pakistan, which is in the complete clutches of the military establishment, and despite other distractions on the political front, the impact the missing blogger has made on the civil society has proved to be the most moving. This issue has raised questions about the conscience of the society claiming to protect free speech and democracy.

They have been currently haunting M. Jibran Nasir, arguably the most progressive voice in mainstream politics, and an honorable mention is due for my Pakistani of the year 2014. The notorious TV Channel Bol Network has been in the forefront of targeting Jibran Nasir for raising his voice for the rights of Ahmedi citizens, which in his opinion is due to his opposition to the acquittal of the murder of a Karachi youth named Shahzeb at the hands of the son of a feudal from the Jatoi tribe. Whatever may be Jibran Nasir’s reasons, I don’t think there is anything wrong with talking about changing the Second Amendment, and same goes for Minister Zaid Hamid et al.

In 2017, an elected Prime Minister was disqualified and ejected by the Supreme Court and when a group of Barelvi clerics brought the state down to its knees. But none of that matters and have had an impact on the consciousness of a nation like the missing blogger, perhaps only second to the brutal murder of Mishaal Khan, which arguably was largely ignored anyway.

But these missing bloggers still came from some layers of privilege in the Pakistani society, but as many of them have been pointing out like Sabeen, who is going to care about the struggle of the missing persons in Baluchistan?

Read about my Pakistani person of the year 2017 here.

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The Most Important Piece of Journalism of the Year

Source: The New York Times

News stories come and go every day but there are defining points which make a mark in history. The news story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the revelations of sexual misconduct and even rape against Harvey Weinstein is probably the most important piece of journalism of the year.

It can be effectively argued that the story has produced conditions that have helped encourage the victims of abuse by powerful men in media to come forward. This was a moral check that was much needed after the Donald Trump tapes and his subsequent rise to the Presidency in spite of it.

Since the Weinstein exposé, more than a dozen prominent personalities from show business have been. Roger Ailes and Bill O’ Reilly went down before that but of course “they were not one of us” and “that’s who they (conservatives) are.” This was different. This time around, it was Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Louis C.K., George Takei, and Kevin Spacey. And recently and very importantly, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer you get, but Charlie fucking Rose?

If things are this worse in the world of liberals, you can imagine how tough it must be for conservatives, who might be more resistant to progressive legislation on harassment as many conservative men. Take President George H. W. Bush as an example, who I am sure slapped women’s butts because that was normal.

Another noticeable but seldom admitted nuance of this development has been the insight it has offered into the psyche of the male gender and perhaps even male sexuality regardless of sexual orientation.

This is not just a Hollywood problem. It is pervasive all over the world. Plainly speaking, we, men, are guilty of abuse and no, we are not likely to learn despite the insincere apologies. This is probably something inherent to male sexuality, and no that is not an excuse but a helpless attempt to understand a potentially criminal behavior.

I get it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks that the Presidency of Donald Trump helped pave way for this environment instead of Harvey Weinstein but let’s not take credit away from what’s due. This new story has been historic.

Cheers ladies and more power to you.

Yeah, men are pigs.

 

Banning the Anti-State Cable Network

Source: The News

Source: The News

Politics of the Jang group is such a mixed bag.

At times, the news group is said to be in the pocket of the ruling Sharif brothers and at others, it is considered to have operatives in a hostile India.  Sometimes, it is serving as the bullhorn of the Chief Justice and sometimes it seems to be the voice of Islamist bigots.

At times, its channel is said to be the mouthpiece of the establishment. At others, it is apparently perceived to be accusing the ISI of all the ills in the world, especially shooting its senior anchor Hamid Mir, and asking its head to step down.

But everyone can agree that the channel Geo News is sensationalist at best.

We have a problem in Pakistan, which by the way, exists all over the world too. A problem that needs to go. We are ever prepared to penalize people for saying things.

Therefore, the currently ongoing silent censorship of the news channels of the Geo Network, which may or may not materialize into license cancellation. The backlash came after the ISPR decided to file a libel lawsuit for false accusations over Mir case, followed by the Defense Ministry forwarding an application to the PEMRA for its ban. (Really Khawaja Asif? Oh I get it.)

OK, so why is everyone quiet over it?

Because clearly they have crossed the line. Nobody likes it, neither do I even though I didn’t catch what is said to be the worst of it, and it is hideous. Typical Geo TV. And yes, an example must be set to teach the channels to report responsibly.

But how? And who would do it?

And why do bans need to be enforced for the same purpose?

The government can’t shut a channel up just because it had an unfavorable broadcast for a few hours. Then there is no free media if that is the case, and certainly no free speech.

Libel lawsuits are all good, so are penalties on violating code of conduct. But does this kind of reaction mean that anyone criticizing certain public institutions will be met with such a reaction from the government? What are we aspiring to become? Soviet Union or Nazi Germany?

In any case, the government must not penalize speech and any such law should be deemed unconstitutional. Surely, not the case in Pakistan.

I believe the right way to penalize an irresponsible channel is to impose a monetary fine instead of banning it altogether. Even though I would never support even a monetary fine for speech.

We need to stop shutting people up to feel secure. Not sure if that kind of security ever worked.

Or perhaps just let people change the channel.

RIP Ardeshir Cowasjee

Ardeshir Cowasjee (1926-2012) – Source: Herald

One of the most illustrious, colorful, vibrant and daring freethinkers in the Pakistani history, Ardeshir Cowasjee has passed away. He was 86. He was a columnist, primarily for Dawn , a businessman and a philanthropist.

I can’t say I know a lot about him but he has always been a huge inspiration for as long as I have known about him. And I am sure I am not the only one. Everyone likes someone with great clarity of mind and zero tolerance for nonsense.

It was his outspokenness towards nonsense in a nonsensical country that earned him his reputation and made him an inspiration for so many others who want someone to take a stand.

I believe that despite the fact that he had extraordinary charisma, what further enhanced his status was that he lived in Pakistan. I think most people would easily say that he was probably out of place for the country, a misfit, but then again, it really was Karachi.

Of course I never met him and have no experiences to share but I find it fascinating to read how he touched other people’s lives. Nabiha Mehr Sheikh wrote a particularly impressive eulogy that actually celebrated him more than it really mourned his death, something inevitable for almost anyone, let alone a man of his age.

But what really is a concern is that probably there is no one around to fill his shoes. Simply no one who could carry forward his legacy.

That sounds a bit like an overstatement considering that he had remained inactive in the recent years, but then again being inactive is not the same as being dead.

Still I take acknowledging a man of his stature a religious duty and can only hope that his impact lasts for as long he is remembered.

I hope we never forget him.

Shaista Zaid Retires

Source: PTV

Shaista Zaid is a name synonymous with English language news bulletins for my generation, those growing up in the late 80s and 90s in Pakistan. But actually, her career spanned over 43 years.

I have been talking of late of how we have completely lost the Pakistan we once knew and grew up with, let it be the sights and sounds, the culture, the solidarity and the experience, so there goes another part of the old Pakistan with the announcement of her retirement on July 21, 2012.

Here is her brief biography. It is hard to believe she started her career in 1969.

Well she had to stop reading news one day, though she never seems to get old. But she will never be forgotten by my generation.

I hope she enjoys her retirement.

Selling Misery

Source: newstimes.com

What happens when they start dealing in misery? What if their bread is earned when people bathe in blood and tears? Nothing much, it makes some very engaging and entertaining television. Not implying that they cause the misery themselves, although you could always speculate, but the world has enough troubles to keep people occupied at the same time anyway. After all, it is a huge planet. But it is a small world.

Everyone seems to know everything, even though they understand nothing. But at least everyone gets to know what is happening around. The media are there to tell you that. News every second of the day. Well, if you look at the world headlines, they hardly stretch past three stories, but of course, that is not the case with the domestic issues, which in case of certain countries, as the ones located in the subcontinent are rather of a violent and unpleasant nature.

There are crimes and misdimeanors and then there are natural calamities, floods, earthquakes, plagues and epidemic and accidents. There also is terrorism, the latest spice in the soup of misery, the one we sip day after day, night after night. The one that tastes unbearably horrible, but the one that we have grown addicted to. Like a junkie who cannot afford to buy his favorite drug anymore and suffices himself on whatever thrill he can find.

Writing about misery is like waging wars. You need to find some evil to write about, to whine about, just like you need to create some evil to wage war against. Oh, pardon me, find evil, or realize its existence wherever it maybe and in whatever form, especially Weapons of Mass Destruction. But there is always enough supply of what is considered to be evil in our world, if anyone sets their mind to write about it. Their task is much simpler than that of the general or the politician or the diplomat-statesman.

But then again, there are the overzealous, and then there is professional competitiveness. The eagerness to cover and report the story first, the eagerness to determine the cause and effect first, the eagerness to declare the verdict first and most of all, the eagerness to sell the misery first. The winner takes it all and the early bird catches the worm. You need to be at the right time, at the right place, with the right words. Just leave any sense of civility at home, if you happen to have it.

Some people died of a terrorist bomb blast. Oh, jolly good. But strategy first. You, move to the crime scene, you, the hospital, you, call the buffoon Interior Minister, you, call the retarded Chief of the Police, you, call the sadist analyst, you, shoot the corpses, you, write copy and you, read the bloody news. And tell the marketing guy this is why the headlines should just follow that ad that we run every hour.

But don’t get me wrong.

They are doing an excellent job.

Somebody has got to do it anyway.

People need to be informed of what is going on in the world.

But of course there comes a time when it is all too obvious that too much information for comfort is being attempted to be published. Something that certainly no one wants to know, or even see.

But it is information nevertheless.

The more information, the better.

Remember that, always.

As news reporters, we intend to bring you the very emotions that people go through when they lose a loved one.

We go beyond impersonal facts.

We bring you, the reality.

And did we say that we will entertain you as well.

By humiliating them.

Exhibit A.

INT. BILAL’S HOUSE OR THE SCENE OF MOURNING – DAY

We see a crowd gathered around a house. We walk in. We see a corpse lying in the middle of the room, clad in a white shroud, surrounded by women of all ages, who are wailing and crying. We see our correspondent.

 CORRESPONDENT

  Viewers, as you can see the corpse of 10 year old Bilal and you would also

 be able to listen to the wailing of his family. He died in a bus accident that

took place yesterday, killing 30 more like him. A very emotional scene, I

have to say. Let us go and talk to the family to learn how exactly they

are feeling.

Walks up to the crying mother.

                      CORRESPONDENT (continued)

What exactly happened here? How did he die? Although I know.

  MOTHER

  (traumatized, wailing)

 (Says something incomprehensible) Bus accident. (Continues saying

something incomprehensible).

CORRESPONDENT

Viewers, you just listened to the mother of the child. Nerve-wrecking

scenes here. Let us now talk to the little sister of the kid to get an idea

 of how exactly she is feeling.

Walks up to a five year old girl who looks shell shocked. The correspondent thrusts his microphone in front of her face. She starts staring at it.

                      CORRESPONDENT (continued)

 How are you feeling?

A man standing beside the girl, whose legs are the only things visible in the scene, pushes the girl to speak. No response.

                      CORRESPONDENT (continued)

 Do you miss your brother?

 LITTLE GIRL

  Yes.

SLOW MOTION.

We hear a depressing sitar or sarangi Indian classical music tune to go with the sentimental response.

CLOSE UP.

We see the corpse of the young Bilal pictured in a psychedelic fashion.

                      CORRESPONDENT (continued)

Little Bilal wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force. But now, he cannot.

He pauses and smiles.

                      CORRESPONDENT (continued)

Because he is dead.

And remember, you saw this exclusive report first on <insert name> Channel.

Stay tuned for more action.

I could make a few bucks selling this scene and these lines to a local news channel. But then again, it would be plagiarism.

I stole the idea from one of them anyway.

Cyber-Bullying Institutionalized & Published

According to one of my twitter friends, the social media have brought out the assholes in everyone. Cyber-bullying has become a phenomenon in the age of social networking, but it was taken to the next level with the case of a young man in an Imran Khan protest rally talking about the conduct of the police and the difficulties he faced in the rally. The video which has become the object of ridicule on twitter, facebook and other social media, unfortunately, was either leaked or aired from a private Pakistani TV channel, and I’m sure the experience must have been traumatic to the person in the video.

While everyone shared the video to their personal audience, something odd caught my eye yesterday. The correspondent of the New York Times in Pakistan, who apparently had run out of topics to write about, had all the time in the world to write about the video and use it to prove how ridiculous was Imran Khan’s cause. Of course, it was an important event in the history of AfPak. Even a few of well-known Pakistani journalists were sharing the link and cracking jokes on it.

While I disagree with Imran Khan and his supporters as far as their so-called revolution is concerned too,  but this had certainly gone too far, simply out of political opposition and hatred, which goes to show the kind of journalism that is being practised.

The New York Times blog post, along with the video broadcasted from Pakistani channels,  institutionalized the cyber-bullying and since it was against the PTI and published in an American publication, it was OK by the standards of the so-called liberal journalists in Pakistan. But what to say about Pakistani journalists, who were of course the source of the video anyway. To make matters worse, the Honorable Pakistani Ambassador to the United States made it official by tweeting the post.

Yes, nothing wrong with sharing the link, and let us not expect any sane behavior from the general public including myself. Well everyone needs a good laugh, isn’t it? But institutions need to be more responsible than individuals and the public, Pakistani channels included, especially the Honorable Ambassador. Isn’t it?

Hilarious.

It’s a lesson to everyone that you should think twice before talking to the press.

I shared the link on social networking as well and rather feel ashamed and disgusted at myself, though the idea was not to ridicule but to show how much people know about a revolution. But that is when the cause is lost and you invade someone’s privacy and become the culprit yourself. The intention of other people and journalists sharing it would have been the same, except for those cracking jokes on him, but making his comments a point to discuss on publications, …well you decide.

I apologize to the person in the video and have learned my lesson in cyber-bullying.  Also learned my lesson in how the press works.

While this post would only propagate the video further, it would also hopefully offer the side of the picture that very few are presenting, so I thought that writing about is alright after all. Comments are welcome.

The point to ponder, which goes for myself too, is:

There is no point in laughing at the political ideas of kids. They are only learning.

But guess what, adults need to learn too.