To Amjad Sabri: Qawwali Never Hurt Anybody

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

A few days ago when I landed in Karachi for the first time since Sabeen’s murder, the first thought that struck me was that now this city was without her presence. This drove me into a state of temporary depressed state until I had other things to take care of to offer a distraction.

But I had pictured the scene of gunmen approaching her car and opening fire on her. I wonder how it would have felt. You can only imagine the horror.

Who could imagine, I guess you could, but even expect to bear that the happy-go-lucky, jolly and constantly smiling Amjad Sabri would meet a similar fate. He was killed pretty much in the same fashion as Sabeen on June 22.

The TTP Hakimullah Mehsud group has expected responsibility. Most likely for the same supposedly blasphemous Qawwali that got Shaista Wahidi into trouble for allegedly disrespecting Ali and Fatima. Everyone acting on those calls for violence and considering holy figures more important than human life ought to be ashamed of their morals. Especially blasphemy public inquistors like Mubasher Lucman and the petition filers Shauhada Foundation.

Now, the people are speculating on who murdered Amjad Sabri, whether it is the Taliban or was it a political assassination, or just personal rivalry?

Who cares? At this point in time, so many including myself are in shock and pain.

Perhaps not grief, because it was not someone very close and dear to us. I know some who knew hin somewhat closely and are very heartbroken. But this is all you can think of. The dull pain never goes away, as in the case of Sabeen and so many more who have lost their lives to mindless violence in our cities.

What if the murderer gets caught? Just like the one who killed Sabeen got caught and confessed?

What if we have the satisfaction of having them hanged? Would that bring him back?

Source: Shia Multimedia Team

Source: SMT

I am not sure of anything, but I am sure of this.

For no reason at all, the lives of his family are ruined, especially those of his children.

His widow has already been hospitalized after collapsing of grief. I don’t even want to imagine what she would be going through. What her children would be going through.

They must be wondering what did their father do wrong to deserve this? Especially because they must be religious.

We were never a nation that killed Qawwals. What is the matter with us?

His father Ghulam Fareed Sabri Qawwal performed his masterful Tajdaar-e-Haram in s period fresh with the Islamization from the Zia regime. No threats came to him, despite the Islamization at the time.

Why do these Taliban-like militants on the loose targeting Sufi singers today?

Would Ghulam Fareed Sabri had even the remotest of ideas that his son would be slaughtered in a country that adored and valued his work so much?

For a country that is known for the world for Qawwali, we got to ask ourselves. When did we start hating it?

Does the puritanism of the faith of some have grown more important than messages of peace and love?

Qawwali never hurt anybody.

Every moment of existence is becoming difficult in this suffocating mess.

I do not watch Pakistani TV channels much, but always enjoyed his full of life presence whenever I caught him.

I particularly look forward to his performance in Coke Studio 9.

His voice will always remain with us.

May his soul rest in peace.

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The Curse of Messianic Government: Big Claims Mean Big Responsibilities

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Let’s face it.

Pakistani people’s concept about the government is all over the place. Probably the supposedly illiterate rural population is more sensible and realistic in its expectations of the government than the idealistic and educated urban demographic that lives in a fantasy world.

However, there is nothing wrong with expecting that the government should help its citizens and make their lives easier. It is supposed to. After all, what else is the purpose of a government?

But surely there are limits to it. Especially when everyone agrees that the government is controlled by a bunch of incompetent jerks, who also happen to be corrupt and the biggest thieves in the world, by the way.

The government is not really some superhero entity like Flash or Superman that would instantly fly over to prevent a traffic accident from occurring. As a matter of fact, it is also not Batman and would even not be able to prevent your commonplace mugging on the street. It can improve the policing, improve law and order, but not necessarily stop a crime from occurring in real time. It is just not in its power, as much as you would like to think otherwise.

And frankly, for people who make laws, this entity takes way too much responsibility on its shoulders. Certainly more than it can ever come close to carrying. Surely, they should look after policy concerning everything, but what’s their business with running corporations?

Frankly, we would be much better off if the government was out of the business of generating power for the most part and left it to the free market. That way, at least we would be getting the product in full that we are paying for. However, let’s go with the argument that it is a public utility, and the government needs to oversee every step of the way from its production to delivery, and that it needs to be subsidized for the lower income groups. Which brings us to our politicians.

Our politicians, even the supposedly more conservative ones of them, absolutely have no intention in explaining this as an ideological point during their campaigns. They would keep on bombarding the people with more Messianic claims, more Messianic promises, and they would simply promise miracles and no less. And that’s what gets them elected in this country, believe it or not. Because people love Messiahs over here, which is ironic because Imran Khan lost. But who knows, he may win next time.

PML-N was also elected for its claims of turning around the power crisis in Pakistan, which it has failed to do so as yet, because let’s face it, the government has no concrete solutions to offer. The best thing about that party is that it is apparently the only major pro-privatization party in the legislature at the moment, but it is throwing the same old public control crap at the people as solutions. In part, you cannot blame them for the audience they have to play to.

But with big claims, come big responsibilities.

The government has made the claim to deliver the goods of the public utilities, and the goods it must deliver. And on a low price too, as promised. So it must produce something with the money it does not have, and then sell it at a loss.

But if it is not possible, then can they please stop making the claims?

So that is why the government is responsible for failing to produce power and supply it to Karachi, worsening the conditions in the middle of the worst heat wave this region has ever seen, leading to over a thousand deaths. Not because it was something that the government was supposed to do, but because they had made that claim.

The Sindh government of the champions of public ownership and Messianic Islamic Socialism, the PPP, failed on the same account. But thankfully, they are in more of a position to conveniently point fingers at the moment, though they could have mobilized the relief work in a better way.

And with every crisis, ensues a circus of blame and claims.

Which brings to us a quote that another champion of Messianic government has been sharing on its social media pages, endorsed by Islamist thought leaders. The quote is said to be attributed to Caliph Umar I, which has destroyed the concept of government in the minds of our youth forever. Paraphrased:

“If a dog died hungry on the bank of River Euphrates, then I (the Caliph) would be responsible for it.”

There is surely more wisdom in Abid Sher Ali’s quote out of the two.

This is just the manifestation of our tendency to escape personal responsibility and to have an entity to point fingers to. If not God, then the government would do.

No, the government is not responsible for every single death that occurs, and it is not responsible for every dying dog for that matter. It is responsible for guaranteeing freedom and security to its citizens, establishing law and order, infrastructure, public services, and ensuring secure borders. It is also responsible for promoting the welfare of the citizens, but the more it allows people to take care of themselves the better. Let’s just say it is also responsible for running the social security.

But it cannot perform miracles. It cannot effectively run corporations in a profit, especially when it has to carry the labor deadweight along with it. It cannot possibly rescue every single person dying from a heat wave, or drowning in a flood, or getting buried under rubble in an earthquake. It cannot bring corpses to life. It cannot turn water into wine. All it can do is offer emergency relief.

It cannot even manage power production, because really, it is not supposed to and qualified to do so. That’s an entire industry we are talking about and there are more qualified people and enough resources in the private sector to do the job. Maybe keeping the government out of our lives for a change would make things a lot better. How about we ever try that, since we hate paying taxes anyway?

But how would that realize our dream of an Islamic welfare state?

This single quote sums up everything that is wrong with politics in Pakistan.  And it also offers the perfect excuse for Messianic Islamist politics, because that is perfectly the Islamist view that the likes of Jamaat-e-Islami is a proponent of.

And that dog that died on the bank of river Ravi last night is not the fault of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Foreign Hand Excuse

Karachi-Bus-Attack-news_184842_l

What do we need to absolve the usual suspects within the country of their responsibility? Just let someone utter these words that our ears always long to hear:

Foreign hand was involved.

Let us not doubt the words from our foreign office, for we don’t have the access to the information to either take their word for it or deny it. However, what is certain is the instantaneous told-ya knee jerk reaction deviating attention from the real problem that such statements trigger.

Incidents such as the Karachi bus attack targeting the Ismaili community, and other similar religious terrorism that has been going on for years, have much deeper root causes than just the foreign hand.  We better not shy away from the problem of religious extremism at home.

It is no secret that religious terrorist organizations run amok in Pakistan, despite scores of them being banned by the federal government, and quite a few of them targeted by law enforcement. Considering the power of religion in the contemporary Pakistani society, any government would think twice before even planning to initiate an operation against such culprits.

However, I cannot help but applaud the incumbent Information Minister Pervez Rasheed for his courage to speak against religious seminaries. A statement that has apparently attracted fatwas against him.

Not even the serving government officials are safe from fatwas. This only goes to show the perpetually threatening force of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. An undemocratic entity that enjoys legitimized status in the Pakistani society. Considering how true they are to their faith, you can hardly blame them.

Even if we suppose that factors such as foreign intervention were behind the Karachi bus attack, it is not the foreign intelligence agencies that declare Shia infidels. It is not the foreign agencies that would publicly condemn them to death in sermons. The sectarian hate movement against the Shia is very indigenous, and if someone would advocate its foreign influence, it would only inconveniently point fingers to certain allies in the Middle East. But let’s just call that a vague conspiracy theory.

Until the Pakistani state takes the responsibility for not acting against religious political parties and sectarian terrorists, it would never be able to overcome the problem of terrorism. Even if foreign powers are exploiting such anti-state weaknesses in Pakistan, it is such elements of the Pakistani society that are at the heart of this problem.

Another thing that is at the heart of this problem is the faith of the people guiding them toward such belligerent behavior. Simply attacking religion of freedom by issuing draconian decrees regulating the time of the call to prayer would not suffice. The government should never hesitate to tread upon the religious freedom whenever it is threatening the individual liberty and security of the people. This is where sectarian terrorist groups must be proactively crushed.

It is true that having a secular constitution is not a guarantee to prevent the flourishing of religious fundamentalist terrorism. The growing Islamist terrorism against rational Bangladeshi bloggers is a demonstration of this notion.

Nevertheless, the government must promote religious tolerance instead of puritanism, but if it is finding it hard to do so, it can at least crack down on extremism for establishing law and order. Egypt is doing so, albeit with an undemocratic show of force.

Until and unless we stop apologizing for religious political parties in the name of choice and democracy, we would keep on falling in their trap of totalitarianism. And will remain tangled in the obsession with homogeneity and purity, which were apparently or allegedly the basis of creation of Pakistan, which continue to extend and evolve.

It is time to nudge the law enforcement operation to a slightly different, uneasy direction.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.

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.