Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.

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The Perfect Representative of Our Collective Morality

Source: Youtube Channel

It probably would not be a harsh exaggeration, if you compared the collective moral state of the people of Pakistan with that of the Apartheid South Africa, the American South when slavery was practiced and even Nazi Germany. These analogies, if you consider them so, sound very harsh and damning. However, when you see otherwise reasonable and probably morally well aware Pakistanis defend the discrimination against Ahmedis like rabid dogs, you probably don’t see it that way anymore.

How can the Pakistani Muslim people, such beautiful, loving, compassionate people be so brutal at heart? Well, the extent of an evil is trivialized when it is diluted over such a humungous demographic. It is almost shocking if you look at the real degree of this problem. It is truly remarkable how a supposedly desirable trait can eat up all traces of your humanity like the termite.

Well, nothing brings forth the state of this collective social morality than the recent protest by a Khatam-e-Naboowat Group or Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Movement, a blockade protest that even the more pious of my friends have grown tired of. Some of them would mourn when the government will actually take violent action to remove them, which some of them are calling for so angrily. But what is even more hilarious is that people are actually visibly disturbed by this character Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the clear face of completely unwarranted Barelvi extremism in Pakistan.

The excuse is the paranoia that the Western powers and the nefarious Ahmedis are conspiring to change the precious Finality of Prophethood law. If you recall the parliamentary incident of the electoral amendment, exploited thoroughly by the opposition and the repulsive, corrupt Captain Safdar, the protesting Prophet-loving clerics are apparently behind the head of the “cleric committing the error.” You know what they mean by punishing the culprits, the lovers of the Prophet. Talk about unreasonable demands.

Listening to the brutal, heartless, vulgar and merciless message that the leader of this movement has to offer, it is a disappointment to link him to the human race. Especially when he insulted Abdul Sattar Edhi, a rare incident of selfless humanity in the brutal Pakistani history of bloodshed and selfishness. But perhaps this is what the human beings were supposed to come down to. But other than that, this is perfectly what the Pakistani people deserved to have.

Pakistani people proudly and absolutely love the 2nd amendment that has demonized Ahmedi citizens among their ranks. Now they must endure the curse of Khadim Hussain Rizvi as a token of this love they are proud of so much.

I look forward to life becoming even more miserable for Pakistanis.

The Bigger Butcher is the Bigger Patriot

Source: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

We should have no illusions in our minds about the moral standards prevalent in Pakistan.

“Civil rights” is an expression hardly ever heard in public discourse in Pakistan. And those who try to somehow, unconsciously mention a reference to it, are forced to make an apology and elaborately explain how they never meant any harm. Or any good, that is. And we get reminders from time to time of the appalling state of our morals.

The election legislation pushed by the ruling PML-N has somehow raised alarms, led by McCarthyists such as Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed and his able patrons, who cried foul play with the country’s law regarding “The Finality of Prophethood.” Since then, officials such as Law Minister Zaid Hamid needs to recite the testimony to faith and the finality of Prophethood every time he makes a public appearance.

This has since started a renewed oath and reiteration of organized, institutionalized bigotry against Ahmedis, a relatively new sect of Islam of Punjabi origins which appears very reformist in its approach to many. Whatever their theology may be, the state of Pakistan has basically taken upon itself since the election of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to wage war on them. They had apparently “settled the Ahmedi question” by introducing the Second Amendment, formally excommunicating them from the faith of Islam by the decree of the Government of Pakistan.

Of course, the Pakistani public does not see it this way, but the Ahmedi population of the country and the diaspora considers this policy as discrimination of extreme proportions. It might be an exaggeration but some Ahmedi activists have even compared the national policy to Apartheid laws in South Africa. Others have compared it to the Nazi Germany, considering the tacit public approval of murdering Ahmedis, and how the state has singled out the community in the process of national identity registration.

And there is no way out of this vicious circle for them. The brilliant thing about the anti-Ahmedi Apartheid laws in Pakistan, which are also known as the “Namoos-e-Risalat” or the “Honor of the Prophethood” are that in order to prove yourself a supporter, you need to denounce Ahmedis and endorse the very basis of state persecution. Even blogging voices raising dissenting thoughts such as this one are only confined to very limited circles as openly questioning this policy implies treason and heresy.

So effectively, the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot. The harsher, more brutal you are in your hate toward the Ahmedis, the more loyal and moral you will be deemed in the Pakistani social and political world.

Take our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for an example, who had to explain how true a Muslim he was after he was accidentally photographed with an American Pakistani who happened to be an Ahmedi. He had no choice but to deconstruct and explain the situation in the show of a morally constipated anchor.

To makes matter even worse for the ruling party alleged to be sympathizing with Ahmedi, which they later proved that they are certainly not by calling for worsening the discriminatory laws, Captain Safdar spoke out in the parliament. The son-in-law of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for the ban of Ahmedis from the military service, oblivious of the proud history of the service of Ahmedis in the military, perhaps one institute which had not been as invasive in its discrimination toward the community. Hopefully, the move must have worked convincing a lot of bigots in PML-N voters of his innocence following the corruption charges on him.

However, even the record of the military cannot undo the Constitutional dilemma of discrimination and inequality in Pakistan. Something which is growing even worse considering the rhetoric and the affirmation from the DG ISPR that the military will remain to be the guardians of the Honor of the Prophethood. We all know what that means. The discriminatory constitutional amendment is going nowhere.

Even the military seems to be helpless in undoing the damage in terms of the civil rights for minority religious groups in Pakistan. Actually many will argue has been one of the political contributors, if not the source, to the mess along with orthodox mullahs.

What are you to do when the national ethos consists of isolating and even butchering fellow citizens who tend to have a different philosophy and viewpoint?

What are you to do when the bigger butcher is the bigger patriot?

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya blogs.

Captain Safdar and the Lost Conscience of the Nation

Source: Dawn

A question that probably nobody has ever asked is if Pakistan ever had a collective conscience as a nation. Even though the next logical question should be an inquiry whether Pakistan itself is a nation or not. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is.

When it comes to the establishment of our theocracy, we completely lack any sense of morality and justice as a nation. We have utterly failed to produce even a fair and reasonable social contract and, even worse, are not even acknowledging that it is unfair to the religious minorities. Pakistan is indeed morally corrupt for its denial of the need of secularism.

A reflection of the state of morality of the Pakistani nation, at least of its majority, was offered by Captain Safdar on the National Assembly floor at the expense of perhaps the most vulnerable religious minority in the country.

Would the PML-N say that the husband of their probable future leader Maryam Nawaz Sharif is reflective of the official stance of PML-N? Could you say that this politician of no stature at all is appealing to the baser instincts of the conservative supporters by invoking his loyalty to the faith of finality of Prophet, for which you need to openly express your hate for one religious community? Could you say that it was a move to divert attention from the corruption cases against Captain Safdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, who are facing criminal prosecution?

Could you say that they are playing good cop-bad cop? Challenging the naming of a Quaid-e-Azam University Physics Department named after Dr. Abdus Salam when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his father-in-law and party leader, himself recommended it to be named after the only Physics Nobel laureate in Pakistan’s history.

One way or the other, it is unbelievable that we have such a high place in our society and in our legislator, the highest institution of our democracy. But of course, when the constitution of a country is endorsing discrimination against a group of its citizens and essentially declaring them public enemy number one, how can you blame people like Captain Safdar. However, he particularly moved into very dangerous territory by questioning the national loyalty of Ahmedis and exposing his antisemitic tendencies linked them with Israel and declaring them a security risk.

Even if it was a good cop-bad cop move, the PML-N at least should have made an official statement to distance themselves from the bigotry and nonsense of Captain Safdar. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal did condemn the hate speech but without taking his name. At least it has undone the impact of moderation that the likes of Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif, and even Maryam Nawaz Sharif herself are trying to make.

Even though we have lost our conscience, humanity, and moral compass as a nation, I still need to say this.

Shame on Maryam Nawaz Sharif and shame on PML-N for putting up with this nonsense. And even if it is a deliberate move, the party should know better than this.

Why Pakistan Should Be On Fire But Isn’t

Source: Times of India

A lot of people have been irked by the not-even-nearly-enough inflammatory rhetoric from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his ouster following a business-as-usual judicial coup. Of course, nobody wants to see anarchy and disorder spread around them. It makes perfect sense.

Now that is particularly true if you live in politically dead cities such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and if you don’t find a bone of political activism in you. I sort of include myself in that category but no such excuses will be good enough when people will attribute the absence of political activism and a lack of civil responsibility for a weak democracy in Pakistan.

You could say that the verdict to disqualify the Prime Minister has been a resounding slap on the people of Pakistan. One day you have someone as a Prime Minister and the next day, you don’t and for no apparent good reason at all. Disqualified for life, just like that. There is someone else making that decision for you.

In many ways, the verdict is as outrageous, if not more, than corruption in carrying out the elections. Indeed, such doctoring with the legal term of an elected Prime Minister is a form of electoral corruption in itself.

We seriously need to ask ourselves this question. How do we respond to coups?

What do we do as citizens and soldiers to resist the tyrants taking over a democratically elected administration? What do we do as citizens and soldiers to actively prevent such situations? Why are coups almost always bloodless in Pakistan? Without a single shot being fired? And after all, who will fire that single shot?

Even if we ignore the Judicial ones under the pretense that the honorable Supreme Court carried out a legitimate verdict and that there was nothing political about it, we still have examples of military coups. People old enough still recall how smooth the 1999 military takeover was. Only the Prime Minister happened to get arrested.

Why is that we in Pakistan can only be amazed by the Turkish people who came together to save the government of an elected leader who is bitterly divisive? Why is it that we in Pakistan put our partisan affiliations above the office of the elected leader of the nation?

We probably would be a little more chaotic than the calm we prefer in our resistance to the bureaucratic tyranny in Pakistan if we were more committed to the constitution. Perhaps the fault lies in our political class for not being able to make a case strong enough for democracy and even for the supremacy of the constitution.

Perhaps the fault lies in our civic education that failed to convey to the people about the importance of the rights that the constitution guarantees. Perhaps it is the weakness of democracy that they fail to grasp the importance of their rights and have learned to love their tyrants.

Perhaps our democratic leaders are fools to believe that the people will go out on the streets and riot for them. They overestimate our commitment to democracy and our right to vote. They probably have no idea how we abhor political activism and even worse, much prefer unelected bureaucrats to govern us.

But in a way, it’s much better this way. Nobody wants damage to property and lives. All that for what?

We don’t want trouble. We don’t want chaos. All that too for these corrupt politicians in the name of democracy?

Pakistan might be on fire soon enough, but never for this reason.

 

This post was originally published in Dunya blogs.

What Independence Means After 70 Years

Source: BBC

Well, here is the 70th anniversary of the independence and we are supposed to be ecstatic.

Just imagine how it would be like on the 75th anniversary, or on the centennial, for that matter.

Well, I wish.

Because in my entire life, I have never felt more suffocated by Pakistan than on the 70th anniversary. I have never known Pakistan like I have on the 70th anniversary.

Never more disillusioned, nor more disappointed. It is like living in a prison with walls closing in that you would want to escape. But forget me. I feel for the 200 million others, most of who don’t even feel the suffocation that they are being subjected to.

It has been 70 years and still, there is no respect for a citizen of Pakistan.

It has been 70 years and still, there are people who are being harmed and abused by the state.

It has been 70 years and still, an elected leader has not completed their term, and one just got dismissed in a judicial coup.

It has been 70 years and still, Pakistan remains to be a theocracy.

The fact of the matter is that the minority religious groups are constantly jeopardized and marginalized by a hypocritical and morally

There are people in this country who will deny the rights to other communities for which they have claimed to win a separate country.

And in the same breath, they would complain about corruption and justice and transparency.

It is disappointing, to say the least.

The very root of this country is infected with a moral corruption that seems incurable at worst.

It is unfortunate that we still have people in this country who are not willing to give marginalized communities a chance in this country.

It is unfortunate that we still have people who would not agree to a fair social contract in this country.

Then there are people who say that freedom would remain to be an abstract, relative concept for every individual and group anyway?

So why celebrate the independence of a political regime after all?

But so much for being a contrarian.

So they tell us to celebrate 70 years.

70 years of independence from the British colonists? Yes.

70 years of independence from ignorance, tribalism, obscurantism, tyranny, and theocracy?

70 years of freedom of speech or freedom of political association?

NO.

The Medicine for Apathy

Source: khybernews.tv

Can you lose the ability to sense the pain of other people, if only temporarily?

And does that always necessarily mean that you are an awful person?

A depressed prefrontal cortex under the influence can be a good excuse.

But what is the excuse for so many commentators failing to acknowledge the pain of protesters in Parachinar in response to the suicide bombings targeting the Shia community.

For refusing to accept the condition of the people perishing in the Bahawalpur oil tanker tragedy.

For wilfully overlooking the tragedy of the displaced Syrian people.

For ignoring the plight of the people of Gaza Strip deprived of water and electricity.

For being glad to see Mishal Khan die a painful death just because he said something offensive, which they say he didn’t.

Maybe there should be medicine for that.

But there is no good in passing moral judgment when you are guilty of the same.

Why pick and choose tragedies, just like the people you are pointing fingers at.

Why talk about people abroad when I don’t even sympathize with the person living next door.

Why would you want to save humanity if it is people that you just can’t stand.

The fact of the matter is that I do not remotely feel the pain and agony of all those people. Even if I try.

I don’t find in myself to be bothered enough to go out for the pain and loss of so many people.

And how many causes can you possibly choose.

 

Maybe there should be medicine for that.