The Blasphemy Hunger Games

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Our public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners, who have taken it upon themselves to inform the public of every little mischievous soul taking the Lord’s name in vain, are dominating the TV waves.

The biggest problem is who would decide that it is a blasphemy.

The answer is simple. The public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners themselves.

The rule is simple too.

If it looks like a blasphemy, and if it sounds like a blasphemy to certain people, rest assured that it is.

Hey, I am not even presenting the same old liberal argument of insanity or fake profiles. Let’s talk about things that people actually say.

Even Hamza Ali Abbasi asking about the rights of a minority community is considered blasphemy in this day and age.

Thou shalt not question the Second Amendment, even if you are not really doing so.

This is hilarious and dangerous at the same time.

In the Indian subcontinent, one of the perks of living in a society with so many religions is that people are just so easy to offend.

You would feel as if you were watching the moral policing version of the Hunger Games on your TV.

The only difference is that in the Hunger Games, the condemned contestants actually stand a chance to save their lives by winning.

We are witnessing a race on national TV to nominate blasphemers and waiting for the faithful to take them out. It’s a thrilling game of survival.

It may come across as free speech but it is precisely the very opposite, because this sort of behavior is not only meant to shut people up. It is meant to shut them up for good. As in the case of the murdered Bangladeshi bloggers.

Now do not forget, such behavior comes from this taken-for-granted belief that the society needs to think in a certain way, and anything and everything must be done to silence the deviants.

Our former philosopher-kings such as Orya Maqbool Jan and the inquisitor-in-chief Mubasher Lucman, who often pretends not to be concerned with others’ private affairs, are just the prominent faces of this reality witch-hunting show.

Blasphemy and public morality scanners have a certain goal in mind.

It’s not that such elements are not present on the liberal side of the political spectrum, but their goal is usually confined to naming and shaming. They get their orgasms out of people being publicly humiliated instead of offering allusions that people could hack you to death when out of control.

Many of my naïve friends ask me why secularism is needed in the presence of an Islamic state, not to be confused with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

With public inquisitors in charge, whose tone claim authority over the national discourse, considering atheism as rebellion to the Constitution of Pakistan, you do need secularism.

You need secularism because otherwise even existing could have serious consequences in an Islamic State, again not to confuse with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

In my opinion, witch hunters such as Orya Maqbool Jan and Mubasher Lucman themselves are the biggest argument in favor of secularism.

Because apparently, the very existence of a community in a country is a source of offense to the supposed view of the majority.

Now don’t bring up Jinnah’s view, please. Haven’t we trashed that already with the 1973 constitution?

Now as entertaining as they are, the blasphemy hunger games are nevertheless dangerous.

They are dangerous because not only are they intellectually bankrupt, but also socially authoritarian.

Sometimes, I do feel sorry for the people on the religious conservative side of the fence. Because the very presentation of their ideological view involves violating others’ free speech and personal security. And that is precisely how theocratic forces have been enforcing their view for centuries.

However, this does not absolve them of their sheer idiocy, lack of information, moral hypocrisy, and malicious intentions.

But since it is an Islamic State, the Blasphemy Hunger Games must go on.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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CyberCrime Bill: What Blasphemy Law Feels Like

cyber-crime-bill-southasiamedia-net-2404201518503513

I just came across an apparently credible copy of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill that is reportedly passed by the standing committee on information technology, but had learned just enough from the outraging social media posts criticizing it that the Pakistani government is at its worst again. Searches without warrant and internet censorship.

From the looks of it, the bill seems to be a grim reminder why government should be out of our lives in as many aspects as possible. It is also a reminder of the terrible extent of power our democratic structure vests into the hand of the government agencies such as the PTA and how nobody sees that as a problem.

The trouble with liberals aspiring for greater government control in Pakistan is that they conveniently forget that the country is an Islamic Republic. This means that ideologically, Pakistan is just a few shots away from becoming societies such as Iran. This is why I have always been skeptical about policing the internet for hate speech. But still, laws must protect people from hacking, harassment and financial fraud. However, such laws, just like any laws, should remain confined to dispute resolution as opposed to mandatory guidelines for moral behavior.

However, what is encouraging is the public outrage at the bill in the Muslim majority country, at least online. Finally, my dream of seeing the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami protesting on the streets to prevent a facebook ban could be near its realization perhaps. What is the world coming to?

Among the youth, it is really refreshing to see the passionate opposition, despite the fact that the bill apparently contains many things that the activist folks have been campaigning for years. Of course, that does not include protecting the head of the government, who happens to be a “natural person,” or the state from criticism, or allegedly defamation, but you could expect such provisions to creep into the penal code. Though that is a biased, out-of-the-way interpretation really of the most ambiguous, but pretty authoritatively liberal bill you have seen in a while. But in all honesty, I do not expect the current state regime to formulate any law without providing for the protection of the glory of Islam and the sanctity and security of the state.

This offers some remote idea to the liberal and conservative Muslim majority in the country of what the blasphemy law remotely feels like. The more informed of critics would obviously laugh away this comparison, as they should, but anyone can agree that you don’t see Pakistanis getting outraged at free speech curbs everyday. I would also like to apologize to the drafters of the bill for comparing it with something as terrible as the blasphemy law, but let me proceed with my argument anyway.

The insecurity that you just felt by learning about the Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill 2015 is what most citizens not belonging to a certain religion in Pakistan do every day because of the blasphemy law. I really hope that this occasion is used to extract some empathy for the people whose lives are jeopardized by the blasphemy law.

As for the cybercrime bill, it is important to stay vigilant before the state ends up killing the internet in the name of preserving its sanctity. We must openly and unapologetically oppose the blocking of websites on any ground, let alone religious, political or pornographic. We must oppose the notion of the state deciding moral right and wrong for us. Unless that is the case, we are always prone to lose our freedoms forever. I know it is way too early to freak out about this bill, but we could be headed down a dark alley where columns such as this one would never be seen again on a Pakistani website in the future.

We have had enough activism in this country calling for government intervention. It is time to call for the government to keep its hands off the internet. It is time that we start questioning if offending the glory of state and religion is a criminal offense at all. Thankfully, the Pakistani youth, at least the online bit, is reading the writing on the wall. Since there is not much you can do about the Islamic nature of the constitution of the country, at least you can try keeping government out of things like speech on internet as much as you can.

I still have good faith that our government and parliament will not pass this bill into a law, or at least not unanimously, but you never can tell in a country crazy enough to still have YouTube banned for apparently no sensible reason at all.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Jamshed Dasti, Parliament Lodges, Mujra and Alcohol

Source: Geo.tv/The News

Recently, Jamshed Dasti, an independent MP, has revealed to the nation that the tenants of the Parliament Lodges often hold Mujras and drinking sessions while speaking on the House floor. Dasti even vowed that he can produce video evidence if any MP attempts to refute his claims.

Later, the former PPP populist MP even produced empty liquor bottles on a TV talk show that he claimed he retrieved from the Parliament Lodges. He has even called for medical tests of the MPs to help determine the culprits.

Though it is hilarious that the Pakistani TV channel on which he appeared blurred the liquor bottles on screen. Why? Are those bottles that hard to watch?

I am not too sure if this is the greatest issue that our nation is facing. Personally, I find little problem with it, unless it is violating Parliament regulations and laws. But it surely does break one law, which is the main point behind it.

I can see only one reason to respect Jamshed Dasti’s complaint. And it’s a big one.

No act should be permitted for the Members of the Parliament should which is prohibited for any other citizen of Pakistan. Because, after all, they are citizens as well.

Therefore, they must not be allowed to consume alcoholic beverages.

This warrants an investigation, as the Speaker of the House has reluctantly called for. Whereas, the Interior Minister has completely ruled out the possibility of a Mujra or a dance party.

By law, holding a Mujra party, or inviting a female dancer over to your place, is not prohibited. For now. Unless the police changes their mind. Any citizen can do that for entertainment.

But what a citizen cannot do is buy and consume liquor, except through bootleggers. Which rules out the legal consumption of the commodity.

This is not a question of morality. It is a question of law.

Some could argue that the prohibition of Alcohol that materialized in the late 1970s is an infringement on the personal liberties and the fundamental rights of the people.

Even though the Pakistani Constitution does provide for the fundamental rights for the citizen, it also faces the dichotomy of accounting for the Shariah and Islamic tradition. The problem is you can hardly protect individual liberties if you are accounting for Shariah at the same time.

Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman complained about the moral policing on the MPs in a statement that I loved. But sadly, he is a proponent of Shariah himself and it is partly due to people like him that these acts are even considered crimes. While I hate to say this, his political position in this case arguably amounts to hypocrisy.

But then again, passing moral judgments about our MPs is not my prime interest here. I would leave that to our clerics and leftists.

But with Dasti’s complaints, our lawmakers are having a taste of their own medicine. This is how it feels when someone interferes in your private affairs. Even though they are holding public offices and should be up for greater scrutiny.

But will they ever learn?

If our MPs are so fond of drinking, a choice that I very much respect, they should call for a vote to legalize liquor and marijuana.

Let the people choose too.

I Brought You Flowers… and Got Arrested

Source: siasat.pk

Source: siasat.pk/Express News

What will become of you in a country in which people are arrested for bringing someone flowers.

Maybe I am exaggerating the horrific nature of their crime, because these men happened to have been standing outside a college exclusively for girls for the probable intention of harassment. You guessed it, on the demonic, capitalistic occasion of Valentine’s Day.

But that is not the point, because hey, moral policing on Valentine’s Day is nothing new. Moral policing and big government measures for all the wrong reasons have been a feature of the current administration.

What is noticeable in the incident is that in Pakistan you can get arrested when you are not even breaking the law, apparently.

The incident occurred in Faisalabad when dozens of male youths were arrested by the Punjab police for standing outside a girl’s college and allegedly “making noise“, whatever that means. It can even be argued that the noise was harassment and that they infringed on the institution, but I am not too sure if the latter really was the case.

The police can be rightfully called as a security measure, but why would they proceed to arrest them without any reported wrongdoing? In a news report I watched, the police officer was just having the question of them standing there. Whatever happened to the right of assembly?

The news report even mentioned special security arrangement in hotels and restaurants to prevent any wrongdoing or immoral activities. What in the world does that mean?

I mean, are all  those security measures related to a “festival”? Then why are weddings not raided?

The arrest was probably a preemptive measure to prevent possible or further harassment. Yes, it seems that pre-crime is not science fiction anymore. But of course, arrest on harassment would make complete sense.

Alright, I concede that the act of giving Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to someone (like that) is arguably cheesy and inappropriate, but it is not really the kind of offense that someone should be locked up for.

But I do want to give the police the benefit of the doubt and would like to think that they responded to the complaint of the college officials, but still the boys were not apparently breaking any law. The police could have guarded the scene if they thought the security situation was unsatisfactory.

But without a second thought, the police only ended up ruining their public record of a number of people for nothing at all, especially because they probably arrested some people who were there to pick up their relatives. Rest assure, these were more of raids than anything else.

And of course no one cares about the mental agony and harassment that they went through before they would be released. That is just not a priority for a nation obsessed with false sexual moral righteousness.

But what is alarming is that in a country where the police can just arrest people without a reasonable cause, a warrant or even without an instance of crime, what would be the status of those perceived to be rebels or enemies of the state?

The issue of Baloch “missing persons” is often brought up, but how can you expect suspected rebels to be treated fairly, and hey just about anyone can be a suspected rebel anywhere in the country, when citizens with no such credentials are treated so harshly.

And it does not even matter if the citizen knows their rights because the cop would only respond to reason with overwhelming slaps on the back of the head. The trademark policing maneuver in the country.

But nevertheless, it seems that Pakistani citizens must only leave their homes with a copy of the fundamental rights in the Constitution and the penal code with them to prove to the police when and why they can arrest them.

But perhaps the problem lies with the Constitution itself, in which Article 10 lacks much clarity and speaks very loosely about the “detention” of a citizen. This pretty much encourages the prevalent detention on suspicion practice of the law enforcers.

The Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan states:

No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.

But more importantly, the Article 14 states:

(1) The dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.

(2) No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence.

Obviously the Constitution comes with countless caveats when it comes to the inviolability of the “dignity of man” and the “privacy of home”. Without the requirement of showing a prior lawful document pertaining to the cause, the articles could even arguably be in conflict with each other.

The provisions are somewhat vague and fail to convey a clear idea of a more precise guideline to prevent abuse of authority. Not that we can be sure that the police all over Pakistan would still read and follow it anyway.

But in comparison, the following is how the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, which is an inseparable part of the Bill of Rights.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As opposed to the apparently compulsive right of detention provided for by the Pakistani constitution, the Fourth Amendment is very specific on the line it draws between the liberty of the citizen and the authority of the state.

It even goes to the length of requiring the mention of specifics in the warrant to make the search or seizure lawful. In comparison, Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan does not even mention the word “warrant“, correct me if I am wrong.

US Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) are even suing the President of the United States for violating the Fourth Amendment rights over unwarranted NSA surveillance. Whether you agree with it or not, this is the extent of empowerment that the Constitution accords to the citizens in the United States.

But as long as liberty of the law abiding and peaceful citizens of Pakistan is continued to be abused at the subjective will of the law enforcers of the land, it is hard to trust its government to be democratic.

Django Unchained & On-Screen Morality

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Over the past months, one of the most talked about controversies in Hollywood has been director Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. A lot of people from African American and other communities objected to the depiction of slavery in the film and the franchise action figures. Director Spike Lee has refused to watch the movie out of respect for his ancestors. I respect their opinions.

For those who have not watched it yet, it is a story of a slave freed by circumstances, who embarks on an adventure to free his enslaved wife on the plantation of a racist and sadistic landlord with the help of an unlikely accomplice. It is an almost fantasy western, loaded with everything that Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for. Well, almost, if you know what I mean. But recommended.

The film has particularly come under fire for Tarantino’s excessive usage of the word “nigger” on the screen.

Of course, I can’t speak for the African American community, and I would welcome all those who would tell me to shut up on this, but I still could not understand what the problem was about after watching the film, which I would consider anti-slavery overall.

It actually seems to be a part of the incomplete trilogy of “Tarantino’s Frustration on Historical Atrocities”, starting with relatively mediocre Inglorious Basterds, in which (spoiler alert) a Jewish girl avenges the murder of her family by shooting the Nazi audience with the military leadership in a theater and setting fire to it. Django unleashes his wrath on his Caucasian “masters” in the most violent manner as well.

But what’s so new about it all? First of all, Tarantino is known to go over the top with his vivid and shocking non-linear story-telling, depiction of violence and abusive language. That’s not news. Secondly, it is a film that seeks to depict slavery, and you would think that a milder portrayal would not have done as good a job. Maybe its timing was perfect to set the audience’s mood for Spielberg’s Lincoln.

So using softer language would only have made the usual Tarantino audience die of laughing fits. Furthermore, it would have taken away the realism and believability, despite the absurd and exaggerated action sequences and fountains of blood.

While I would like to review the film separately, I am glad Tarantino won Oscar for best screenplay, his second since Pulp Fiction for the same category, though I guess movies like Amour looked like having a better choice. But it is a statement for the freedom of speech and an apt answer to the moralist critic. I would have preferred to see Samuel L. Jackson at least nominated for his part though.

Now coming over to the matter of on-screen morality, political correctness and appropriateness.

What you are showing on the screen depends on what you are talking about and it must. When storytellers mold their narrative to meet the moral standards of the audience or the critics, they cease to be storytellers in the first place.

You could reject it, criticize it, condemn it and even boycott it if you want to. However, calling for bans would be inappropriate in itself. But let us move on with the assumption that disagreements about on-screen morality do not take place at such a primitive level.

A motion picture is after all, just a motion picture and nothing more. It can be used for propaganda, but I would always prefer to see it used for art and entertainment.

I am not denying that the content and visuals and sound of the motion picture do not affect people. Indeed, they do which is the entire point of their exhibition in the first place.

However, it is up to the audience what they take home with them on watching a particular motion picture.

Depicting a torture scene loaded with racist slurs from a Nazi concentration camp could be seen as both sympathetic to the Jewish people and antisemitic.

If a person with sadistic tendencies who does not consider rape wrong and sees its depiction on screen, no matter how painful, then the chances are that person will take sexual pleasure in it. However, the same scene can affect another person to be moved by the portrayal of the trauma and pain and could develop sheer disgust and contempt for rape or anyone who commits it.

Shifting the onus to film and entertainment actually diverts attention from the responsibility of the educators. You cannot really expect every entertainment oriented medium to lecture people on morality all the time, whatever be the cause. That won’t happen because not only is it unrealistic and absurd, but too authoritarian in terms of moral policing.

Such films would be propaganda, not art. I know some directors try to do that all the time and I can’t begin to tell you how bad they make it look.

The trouble with our world is that it does not constitute of just good and considerate people. The darker side of humanity is far more apparent every other day than its empathetic one. It is a rather pessimistic way of looking at things, but ignoring it altogether would be idiotic actually. Besides, hardly any moral ideology is complete without an evil to fight.

Furthermore, if you believe in the correctness of your moral stance, then you should consider it strengthened by the depiction of its violation. A war movie could always be seen as anti-war, no matter how much it is glorified in it, especially if it is a realistic depiction. Movies depicting female objectification, rape and exploitation will always support the feminist argument, not otherwise. Films with racist dialogue would only prove how wrong and illogical racism is.

Someone finding inspiration from it to commit crimes would most certainly not have a problem with these evils in the first place.

Bad people do not need films to strengthen their wickedness. Good people need not be worried about the loss of their virtue by what is depicted on the screen.

Freedom of Speech and the Illusion of Secular & Liberal Political Parties

Source: Pakistan Today

The May 20 twitter ban from the Pakistani government and the recent announcement of the PTA to seek vendors in order to block “objectionable” material from the internet have been revelations for those who are under the impression that the current Pakistani government has anything to do with promoting freedom of expression and values consistent with their democratic claims. They may be pretty tolerant of the local television channels and the crude satire and criticism that is the part of the most of their content, but they have really shown signs of weaknesses where it really matters.

Nothing highlights a government’s intolerance of freedom of speech more than its restrictions on the internet, the most immediate medium of publication for the common man. Some of the most undemocratic and authoritarian regimes have been noticed of their intolerance of the internet. Blocking websites, internet censorship and limited user access are common in regimes such as China and North Korea. However, in the recent years countries such as Pakistan and, surprisingly or maybe not so surprisignly, India are joining the list.

The funny thing is that the government does not realize that its most immediately noticeable act of suppressing the freedom of expression on an international level is banning websites and putting controls on the internet. As a matter of fact, the Pakistani government and its overzealous telecommunications watchdog, the PTA, have been highlighting online events perceived to be blasphemous themselves by going out of their way and banning them. And ones that hardly anyone in Pakistan even knows about, let alone bother about them. Responding to anything that can be perceived remotely blasphemous has actually become a political stunt to gain cheap public sympathy in Pakistan. It is even worse to see these tactics employed by political parties which claim to uphold democratic, liberal and secular values.

The funniest thing about these bans are that they only last a while. Why is that so? Not sure what changes about the internet afterwards. One of the greatest examples of that is the Wikipedia page about Prophet Muhammad which contains his illustrated images. The problem about that page is that to date it has still not changed a bit since the ban on it was imposed and lifted, so I am not quite sure what do you achieve by a ban, other than have a false sense of self-importance that you are in charge, just because you can block access to certain webpages. Also, the banning of certain social media websites as a response to any blasphemous event taking place would not take away all the blasphemous content from the internet.

The blasphemous content can actually turn up in an instant with a simple Google search. But hey, I guess the only ones searching for such content seems to be the PTA. Because frankly, I can hardly imagine that an average intenet user in Pakistan is even bothered by that. And even if they are, why would they disarm themsevles in response of an action supposedly carried out to offend them? Why should they not keep themselves empowered to respond to that? Why cannot they use the same medium to protest against any blasphemy, which is used to carry it out?

You really can count on the Pakistani government to make fools of themselves in whatever manner they can find possible. I don’t even want to start with foreign policy examples, but the mere mention of the twitter ban episode is enough to prove that point.

I want the PTA and the Government of Pakistan to read this.

Because I want them to know that their way of protesting against something is absolutely nonsensical.

Grow up please.