Just Like in the Old Days…

Source: Dawn

What is a win but a number?
What is a loss but a figure?
Adding yet another digit to the evergrowing tally.
What does it mean after all?
That the people from here and the people from there spoke for the first time in years.
That our players hugged and shook the hands in the field.

That they helped out the injured from the other side.
That they applauded every time they played well.
Just like in the old days…

New friends were made in the stadium stands.
New names were learned which we never thought were real.
We saluted each other’s flag for the first time in years.
Across the fence, we could see each other’s faces after such a long time.
At least the taunts and jests felt human enough.
Not some distant babbling regurgitated by some noisy talk show host.
Sweetmeats were exchanged whether we won or lost.
Smiles were exchanged to heal broken hearts.
Just like in the old days…

Try to come and see us every now and then.
If only to beat us every time you are here.
Even if you never want to meet us when you are there.
It feels like home again.

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

.

We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why We Badly Need to See a Therapist As a Nation

Source: geo.tv

In a saner world, or let me rephrase that even before I begin…

In the real world, such behavior is easily considered to be mentally unstable. A serious problem. Yes, even in Pakistan.

On an evidently non-violent trigger, anger fits so severe that you end up possibly and at times actually killing a human being. Even doing the same to a non-human animal would warrant serious investigation but of course what really matters is how good you feel at the end of the deed. Nobody wants to burn in the agony of repressed anger about God knows what.

Let the rage out. It’s good to let the poison out. But also focus on the positive things in life. You know, surround yourself with positive people. But still does that make this problem go away?

And what is the solution to this sort of behavior? What would you suggest for an individual displaying such dangerous, out-of-control behavior? Or even worse, a large group of individuals displaying shockingly identical symptoms. Now it is easy to condemn and dismiss a large group of people just like that, but what about offering a real solution.

The latest episode of rage is an undeniable symptom and evidence of such a condition among our nation.

I don’t know about you but when I experienced not-so-similar and far less dangerous anxiety and compulsive symptoms, I went to a psychiatrist. I was prescribed some medicine and now I feel much better, or I am trying at least. Now I know while there is no way you can make the problem disappear completely, you can at least manage it and become socially acceptable.

There really is no taboo in mental illness, especially when you acknowledge that you are going to act to treat it. Of course, no one chooses their mental disease but they can sometimes choose to keep people around them from suffering the consequences.

It is more difficult to diagnose and treat mass hysteria though. Especially when it is mixed with a strange mix of illusions, delusions, and paranoia of an extreme nature. They have an altered version of reality.

However, it is just a thought that we may go on with this sort of inappropriate behavior or start facing the reality of our condition and to start treating it. While I know that it is hard for an entire nation to see a therapist or be prescribed an SNRI or an antipsychotic for curbing the violence in our heavily indoctrinated nerves, we could start doing so in an individual capacity.

Mashaal Khan – Source: wire.in

Doing so might limit incidents such as the lynching and public humiliation of Mardan journalism student Mashaal Khan at the hands of his fellow campus mates in Abdul Wali Khan University for committing a blasphemy, allegedly or not.

This is not normal if you think it is. It is just a socially acceptable mental disease. And estimating very carefully, we badly need some help. Which means seeing a well reputed, qualified psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressants and anti-psychotics, whatever is needed in each deteriorated case.

However, you could choose to make matters worse if you think that the local cleric in your mosque is a good substitute to a psychiatrist. Or especially if you think he is more qualified. That is why we have this role in our society and economy.

But of course, all the rational prescriptions to this condition would sound not only ridiculous but outrageous and offensive when religion comes into the picture.

In that case, even the most savage behavior somehow becomes the most enviable sign of high piety.

In that case, diagnosing, prescribing and helping become acts of blasphemy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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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.

 

Why You Should Never Stop Watching Films

Source: Universal Pictures/Working Title Films/Mike Zoss Productions

In this past year, I have kept myself busy with a lot of work after a shattering episode of depression just about this time of the year last year. But while you are at work every day, especially in full employment where you leave your place to spend time in an office, you tend to lose perspective. You tend to forget about your mental growth, about your physical well being, and even your perspective about the bigger picture. About life.

While there are things that you are never going to fix, or can fix, which are lost with time. Second by second. There is no turning back from there. You could at least get your focus right. You could at least slap your face and wake yourself up from the slumber and start paying attention to the things that matter. Now there are plenty, not just limited to human relations. But one of them is your appreciation of art, literature, and cinema.

And especially when you are put off by the sort of films that are coming out. So while I cannot believe that audiences have rejected “Hail Caeser! (2016)” of the ever-magnificent Coen Brothers and rather watched X:Men Apocalypse and Deadpool, it only increases my appreciation for things that I admire. It tells you that cinema is still alive.

Haha, there was a time when I said to my friend Faheem Zafar who had introduced me to such great cinema that I was afraid one day we would run out of films to watch. He laughed off my comment and rightly so as I hardly watch a film anymore until in the recent days. But it is true in a way because I am pretty much out of anymore Bunuel or Fellini films to watch. That is all what matters.

Now these works of art (if you can call them that) inspired you to be a filmmaker when you were young. When you grow up and enter the industry one way or another, you wonder if you are really all that into it. Even if you don’t want to, or cannot, do anything else.  And you wonder if you can really keep up.

But what we forget at those times is that it is telling your personal expression which was once the dearest to us. We are here because we wanted to tell our -stories, even when we are not able to. Because we are telling stories in some form. Even if it is someone else’s story.

So when you are putting on thick armor around your skin to survive, it is important not to forget to live the way you did when those moments of inspiration struck you. Those moments of inspiration that set your sail this way.

It is very important that you should not stop watching films. Or even reading books.

The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.