What Is It Going to Take to See Assad for the Butcher He Is?

Source: abc news

I often ask myself this question and hardly get any reasonable answers.

Sometimes I wonder how people are still defending Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and any conspiracy theory that finds him innocent. But then again, in a world in which Nazism is alive and well, and in which you ironically and stupidly have “brown Islamist Nazis,” pretty much any political opinion is not a shocker.

But you do feel disappointed and low when you see a lack of inclination to face facts among otherwise liberal and reasonable folks.

Sadly, sometimes the guilt of our liberals living in a fundamentalist society, regardless of Shia or Sunni background, and their contempt of Saudi Arabia can make them rather root for Iran or turn a blind eye to its sinister influence in the world. But it goes well beyond reasonable politics to keep on apologizing for and insisting on supporting a despot whose record speaks volumes of his atrocities.

I know that some of my liberal friends see the expansion of the influence of Iran as a solution for the Saudis, of course not giving a second’s thought to what it might hold in the future for Israel. But I see that as much of a problem as the unchecked Saudi influence. Or perhaps the growing Chinese and Russian influence.

This is why the decline of the American influence on international affairs has been devastating. We have seen two very contrasting versions of American liberalism with both President George W. Bush and President Obama. An invasion of Iraq and then complete withdrawal. If one action made matters worse, the other certainly did not help. And that is a pretty objective observation unless you are a Democrat.

Bashar Al-Assad is the latest of the many brutal butchers and psychopaths who has taken up the mantle of torturing and murdering their own people. Not a democratic leader by any means and someone who is extremely cynical in his perception of reality, if you ever hear him speak. After carrying out several chemical weapons attacks on his people before, his regime is thought to have struck again with his latest sarin gas attack. With accounts of eye witnesses and activists, as well as evidence from the US military, clearly disputing the narrative of Assad’s military denying involvement like always. Now being skeptical is fair but Assad sympathizers such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) thinks she would take Assad as a war criminal if proved to be responsible for this attack, clearly unaware of his history of earlier actions. It is really convenient how Democrats accept and condemn their Russian propaganda.

The strongman argument is often given to justify his regime. That Assad keeps the extremists at bay and is a secular but distant dictator. However, with the irreversible damage caused by the Syrian Civil War, this argument has lapsed for Assad and is not true anymore. He is not the great stabilizer anymore. You could instead argue that Putin is instead. And since with President Obama’s half-hearted intervention, Syria has almost been completely destroyed. So, what are we keeping Assad in for now, knowing that he carries out chemical attacks on his own people? But to acknowledge this argument, during the early years of the Syrian civil war, I used to believe Assad should stay too.

Of course, it has been explained to me that American intervention has only made matters worse in the Middle East. But with Islamists and humanitarian crises around in the region, the argument of nonintervention is absolutely nonsensical. That is why the long-term military occupation of Syria remains to be the only viable solution. And of course, it is very unreasonable to expect of Americans to give that sacrifice for the world. The key is to make other nations pay their due share, including Pakistan of course, whether as a part of the Saudi or the American coalition. But preferably the latter.

Policy and tactics for the future aside, I think at least it is time for the deniers of Assad’s atrocities to simply face facts. How many chemical attacks has the Assad regime carried out on its people? And how many more would it take to finally say that enough is enough?

I commend President Trump for at least recognizing the great moral problem at hand and acting at least in some capacity with his limited missile attack to make his intentions clear to the Assad regime. But unfortunately, this action is nearly not close to what is needed. While I support it, if I were to disagree with it, it would be for that reason. The faux liberal outrage you are seeing at the attack is more from isolationists defending their favorite dictator than bleeding heart anti-war activists.

The world must not stop short of anything less than comprehensive military action to depose Assad and end his illegitimate reign. And if it does indeed risk starting the third world war, it only speaks volumes of the evil of Russia and Iran as states for protecting a despot like Assad in this day and age. Sadly, many among our ranks stand for their insistence to be on the wrong side of history despite their commitment to democracy and liberty.

I wonder how many more chemical attacks would it take.

Sadly, given the apathy of the majority in the world toward the atrocities of both the Islamic State and the Assad regime, it helps us understand what happened during the reign of the Third Reich. While I am aware that the world was horrified to learn the troubling reality of the concentration camps after the Second World War, I doubt it would have changed anything. I doubt if they would have done anything substantial to prevent the atrocity had they learned about it earlier. At least, the world we live in today would not have bothered to take any action.

We are clearly not bothered about what the Syrian people are going through.

Even if that is untrue, we clearly do not seem bothered about what Assad is up to.

And it is so bad that we would manufacture things out of our behinds to apologize for his despotic rule.

 

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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.

Salmaan Taseer’s Sixth Death Anniversary Sees His Son Accused of Blasphemy

Source: Guardian

Source: Guardian

It’s probably not even a surprise that following the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by fanatic religious zealot Mumtaz Qadri, his son Shaan Taseer is accused of blasphemy. But for the sake of it, let’s just say who could imagine this happening.

Salmaan Taseer would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

The Quaid-e-Azam would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

Of all the Taseer children, it was perhaps only Shaan who has taken up activism for the rights of the minority religious communities in this fashion. He has remained in the forefront in protesting against religious extremism, including against the Laal Masjid, with Jibran Nasir and other similar activists. I recall seeing him speak first in the Aabpara protest against Laal Masjid clerics following the APS attack in Islamabad, which featured Jibran Nasir and Farzana Bari as well.

It’s one thing speaking out for the poor and the threatened, it’s a whole different thing altogether to become the victim yourself. Such is the brilliant dynamic of the politics of the blasphemy. No one is safe from the monster.

Source: Express Tribune

Amazingly enough, Shaan Taseer has been accused of blasphemy for just giving a video Christmas message to everyone in which he obviously criticized the blasphemy law as “inhuman.” Of course, he brought up Aasia Bibi missing God knows how many Christmas nights for being jailed. And of course, even any judge is not willing to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal case. Thank God someone is still talking about it.

However, this video was enough for him to attract a very serious and dangerous, legally protected death threat. Yes, that is what a blasphemy fatwa really means.

The Barelvi clerics of Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah affiliated with the Sunni Tehreek, the group that wreaked havoc in Islamabad on the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, issued the fatwa or legal opinion against him. The trouble with the fatwa sort of “legal opinion” is that most Muslims end up considering it a verdict. Anyone remember Salman Rushdie?

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

If you need an evidence of the insanity of the blasphemy allegations flung at just about anyone, then consider the case that the same clerics have issued a warning against PTI leader Imran Khan too. Now Imran Khan is a very popular leader, who has now turned a conservative populist nationalist, with his party allying with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. He knows very well that blasphemy is political suicide. Someone as careful as him is not even safe from the threat of blasphemy accusations, albeit he is powerful enough that they stop short of issuing a fatwa against him and settle on an open letter.

On the anniversary of the assassination of the late Governor Taseer, let us express our support and solidarity to Shaan Taseer who is fighting the fight for liberty at a cost.

We must realize that no one is safe as long as these medieval obscurantists are in power.

We must realize that no one would be free as long as these ignorant tyrants keep on shutting everyone up.

We must speak out.

That is the only way to pay our respects to the mission of the Taseers.

 

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?

It Could Have so Easily Been You and Me

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Why is no one in Pakistan talking about Raif Badawi with the exception of a couple of bloggers here and there?

Why is he not in the news?

Because he insulted Islam or the Saudi royalty? But of course.

But what does this tell the world about us? Or about our leaders who took the trouble of protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but would dare not even think about the flogging of the Saudi blogger.

Both liberal and conservative free speech critics would find great offense in a political cartoon mocking a holy religious figure, but would not find any problem in a theocratic monarchy persecuting the freedom of its citizens.

Therefore, the draconian penalty of 1,000 lashes to blogger Raif Badawi largely goes unaddressed by the likes of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, and overshadowed by the sad demise of King Abdullah. With the exception of a few extremist bloggers, Western publications and maybe Amnesty International.

I heard a few US senators did manage to write a letter strongly protesting the flogging. I hope that really happened.

But the torture goes on, despite appeals and concerns about Badawi’s health.

Obviously, the penalty of 1,000 lashes is carefully designed to prolong the humiliation and mental torture, without attracting significant disapproval of the Western countries. Not that they really care though.

After all, it is important to set an example.

I know it is dangerous and sensitive to talk about anyone who has allegedly blasphemed, but let us put this case this way.

Let’s not even waste our time with the question whether Raif Badawi insulted Islam or not, and whether he should be punished for it or not, without giving up the defense of his right to.

But what if the law of the land requires your free expression about your society to be punished like this? Especially when half of the people in Pakistan want the country to turn into Saudi Arabia and the other half wants it to become Iran.

 

What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmedis are persecuted in Pakistan?

What if you were penalized for wondering why Hazara and Shia are being targeted and publicly naming the culprits?

What if you were wondering about the unjust theocratic influences on the law and the constitution, and therefore on the society?

What if questioning the theocratic parts of your constitution would put you on a trial for treason?

The kind of opinions that could so easily be projected to be insulting to religion and, therefore, the religious figures, you never know.

 

Raif Badawi’s opinions were not too different to these seemingly innocuous political inquiries.

This is where more moderate and liberal elements in the society are the only hope to inch toward sanity. This is why they need to focus on Raif Badawi and put more pressure on enemies of free speech such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even though not as much, but Pakistan too. But I am glad I am enjoying enough freedom to write these lines and am proud of that.

As we speak, Raif Badawi’s second round of flogging has been postponed for the third straight week, albeit for health reasons. We should continue to speak until the floggings are called off as a matter of principle.

 

There is a reason why Raif Badawi matters so much.

It could have so easily been you and me.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Value of Freedom

Source: npr.org

Source: npr.org

Alright, let’s give credit where it is due, even though I mostly find promoting Google Doodles very distasteful.

I woke up to this Google Doodle, and in a minute and a half, it made me realize something very striking.

Source: Google

You don’t value freedom, or even recognize its cost, until you find it gone or threatened by political forces that could so easily part individual from individual.

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall, an almost universal symbol of tyranny and everything contrary to freedom, since the beginning of the Cold War.

And that’s the only thought that comes to my mind today.

How fragile freedom is.

Today, it means nothing to us because we have overcome the political conflict that gave rise to the human tragedy of a divided German Republic. The supposed liberators of the city ended up having it divided in the most terrible manner, even with deadly consequences.

How would you react if that happened to your city tomorrow? No matter where you live and no matter who forces the division.

There are many other examples too. The Koreas, the partition of Kashmir and the Indian sub continent, the Arab Israeli conflict.

But it’s easy to observe that not just 25 years, but a much shorter period, was sufficient to forget the misery of more than 3 decades of suffering that Berliners endured in the name of political conflict.

It is important to notice how two opposing political forces can actually divide a part of your lives for their own authoritarian power grab.

Just imagine you being unable to walk into a part of your own town, just because it belongs to an alien political entity now.

Is there anything more horrifying?

That’s just how precious freedom is.

The scary part is that all of this can happen tomorrow. All over again.

Source: TIME
Source: TIME