What is Killing Our Teachers

Source: TRT World

When we start losing our teachers so casually and commonly to the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism, it is time to do some serious soul searching as a nation. Even the most religiously and socially conservative of our society can agree that the unhinged murder of our educated intellectuals is wrong. Clearly, there are conditions to that position, as we have seen with the unending killings of Shia and Ahmedi intellectuals and educated professionals over the years. It is the same rationale that is behind the shocking killing of a Bahawalpur Associate Professor Khalid Hameed, who was stabbed to death by his own student.

The event occurred in the public institution called Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur, a more religious conservative South Punjab district than usual. The video interview of the student Khateeb Hussain, a BS Student, who was taken into custody at the site of crime is chilling and gives a clear insight into the sort of mindset that enables students to act with such impunity. Viewer discretion is advised.

The student shows no remorse because according to him, the English literature Professor used to speak ill of Islam. That gave him enough reason to commit the crime but another reason that escalated the situation was the professor organizing a welcome party which was a mixed gender event. Pakistan is a society with significant gender segregation in public spaces, which is sanctioned more by religion than any social norms.

We also recall the time when Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) or the student wing of the Islamist Deobandi Jamaat-e-Islami held protest rallies in Quaid-e-Azam University against secular professor Pervez Hoodbhoy. It is a relief that he had been spared because the mindset that has been as caustic in those days as it has been today. However, the difference has been the public encouragement to vigilantism by the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan ever since the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri. Furthermore, the possible debate on whether a Barelvi is more likely to take such action is also interesting. This post could be Exhibit A for the arguments for a Barelvi likelihood to commit a righteous kill.

Like always, there were posts like this on the social media that celebrated this great feat of bravery. The post above celebrates the murderer as well as his mother who gave birth to such a lionheart “Ghazi,” the Islamic term for surviving victor. There is a slight nod to Khadim Hussain Rizvi in the post as well. The post also features the trademark Barelvi slogan “Gustaakh-e-Rasool ki saza, sar tan se juda” or beheading is the only punishment for a blasphemer. It is not shocking that tragedies like these occur when such venomous theological venom goes unchecked.

One of my friends Shujaat Hussain, also an English literature Professor, was immigrating to a Western country. He must have his own reasons but in general, I used to feel sorry for the loss of the country for losing such brilliant, free-thinking minds. But when I see such fundamentalism plague our educational institutions, it is probably better for intellectual teachers like him to leave this society to its own devices.

Perhaps the Bahawalpur teacher should have immigrated to a foreign country too.

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The Sanest Tweet on the Zainab Rape Murder Incident

Source: Express News

There is really nothing much to say about the Zainab rape murder incident. It’s just a shock. You can’t unsee her pictures everywhere, you can’t unsee her abused corpse and you can’t make this dull pain and strange guilt go away. You can’t make the anger go away either. But at least you can know better and not emulate the savagery of her rapist-murderers and start calling for public executions in the manner of Iran and Saudi Arabia and start tackling. It’s just symptomatic of people looking for a head. Though for a change, you didn’t have to try hard to convince most Pakistanis that it was morally outrageous.

So this is all that needs to be noticed on this day of chaos and madness and emotional distress. This is the sanest thing said on this day. Sort of brings the Nirbhaya episode to mind.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Let me write it down in case this tweet gets deleted.

“The people who criticised lawyers defending Mumtaz Qadri were as silly as those who will criticise the lawyers who defend the rights of the Kasur rape accused. The rights of all accused must be defended, no matter how certain society and talk show hosts are of their guilt.” – @SalmanARaja

The rest of the nonsensical noise you can afford to ignore.

 

The Secular Theocracy of Bangladesh

Source: EPA/npr.org

Source: EPA/npr.org

The future of democracy in Bangladesh is in serious jeopardy.

The machete attacks on secular, atheist and progressive bloggers and academics have become a norm.

Anyone speaking their mind about their worldview, as well as criticizing religious groups for their ignorance and obscurantism can consider themselves to be the next target.

It feels like just yesterday when I wrote about the brutal killing of Avijit Roy. Since then, dozens more have lost their lives including Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad and more recently Professor Rezaul Kerim Siddique. The list goes on.

The latest occurrence was Bangladesh’s very own Charlie Hebdo, if you will. The killings of Xulhaz Mannan, Editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine Roopban, and that of the openly gay actor Tanoy Mojumdar, only occurring within a week of Professor Siddique’s murder, are particularly significant.

Unlike earlier attacks, this killing has been claimed by the Islamic State itself for the “unIslamic” sexual orientation of the offenders.

This is probably the first sign of the presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh, which is no surprise considering there are no ideological boundaries to this group. The presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh is obviously being denied by the Bangladesh authorities, considering the terrible optics that it involves.

I wonder what went on in the minds of the slain as they were witnessing the murder of fellow citizens who stood for free speech. I wonder what is going on in the minds of those who are alive and standing up for free speech in Bangladesh, as they see this menace get out of hand.

Using the word martyr is cheap. But these people were really brave and resisted life-threatening odds. Who knew what was going on around them, but instead of shutting up, they stuck to their positions. Walked the walk.

It’s easy to talk about freedom of speech, it’s an entirely different matter to live it. It surely is not easy. Especially in a world where it is easy and acceptable to use violence to silence people.

Secular bloggers and journalists in Pakistan have been enjoying relative safety considering the carnage in Bangladesh. Probably because they largely stick to the English language as a medium and preach to the choir, like myself. If confronted with a threat, most of us are not just likely to shut up, but to hide away for good.

Such a possibility is not entirely remote. Islamists are known for engaging in brotherly behavior, and they might very easily replicate the actions of their Bangladeshi brethren before you would expect.

With their repeated attacks on people who offend Islam, the Islamists have found an effective way to silence dissenters, apostates and critics. They have been carrying out these attacks with impunity, from Paris to Bangladesh, because they know that they will eventually get off the hook. Most commentators would gladly blame such groups for distorting their ideology than addressing the venom in the ideology itself.

In Pakistan, the liberal elements have always believed that the separation of Bangladesh was on a principled stance which included the demands of a secular constitution. Also, as a reaction to rights usurpation, a stolen election and injustices at the hands of the West Pakistan establishment.

However, despite escaping the theocratic leanings of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is disheartening to see Bangladesh lose its way in terms of building a more tolerant, free and open society. Probably becoming even worse than Pakistan.

And the incumbent Bangladeshi government, which sadly borders more on the lines of authoritarianism and fascist nationalism instead of being a liberal regime, is not exactly helping the cause.

Not only are liberal circles outraged at the inaction of the government to counter the attacks, the recent statements of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticizing the bloggers for attacking Islam have only added insult to injury. While I do not doubt the government’s commitment to purge Bangladesh of extremism and recognize the challenges to take the necessary action, these are surely not encouraging signs.

The Islamist groups, the traditional nemeses of the secular leader, have ironically welcomed her statement against antithetical and faithless elements. While her statement seems like the product of the pragmatism of any politician in a Muslim majority country, it apologizes nauseatingly for the murderers and blames the victim. Basically, the same old reason why Islamists get off the hook every time.

The situation does not make the secular and liberal elements in Bangladesh too hopeful about their government, which apparently seemed tough on Islamists with all the JI death sentences but is not willing to protect freedom of speech. When it comes to apostasy and blasphemy, even Sheikh Hasina would not dare confront the Islamists. Perhaps wisely so, or it could possibly make the religiously conservative population go out of control.

But some of her critics have other problems with the history of the government of the ruling Awami League.

Considering the violence that erupted after the calls of the boycott of the polls by the opposition Bangladesh National Party, they have been blaming deaths such as that of Avijit Roy on the rival party so instead of the Islamist terrorists. The Prime Minister is still maintaining that stance. Not that the leading opposition party has any better thoughts to offer on the killings, being an ally of Islamist parties itself, citing “absence of justice” as the age-old reason.

Just like the rest of the subcontinent, violence and intimidation are not unheard of in Bangladeshi politics. The last elections were a clear instance to prove that point. Some bloggers have even reported to be threatened for criticizing the government, which probably gives you some insight into how deep this problem runs.

There is no wonder why citizens with secular and liberal are growing more frustrated by their government for not blaming and cracking down on the Islamist militants for the killings.

Whether the threats to bloggers and journalists originate from Islamist extremists or secular political groups, the only losers are freedom of speech, democracy and the people of Bangladesh.

However, the Bangladeshi government should at least admit the presence of Islamist groups in the country and must take decisive action against theocratic activity. When it comes to Islamist groups, proactive action is justified in order to control more attacks on non-violent political commentators and journalists.

1971 worked. Perhaps secular Bangladesh should consider starting another movement for liberation from authoritarianism and theocracy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sabeen died for your Freedom

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Sends shivers down your spine just when you think writing about Sabeen Mahmud.

Because no matter who you are, her closest of friends, or just someone whose life she distantly touched like mine, you cannot help but be in awe of Sabeen’s colossal courage. And I try not using that word lightly.

For the sort of acceptance free speech has in our society, her fearlessness and initiative were extraordinary. Shocking actually. And she was not going anywhere.

There is also a stark difference between her and all those who are writing about her. Sabeen was a person of action, not words. She lived what she believed in. Took action when others would hesitate and never follow up.

Her organization is reflective of this very fact. Instead of talking gibberish about solutions, she actually presented the claustrophobic Pakistani society with one. She showed the way to people to express themselves freely. She showed us that we should not wait for the government to make our lives better.

I very clearly recall the night in November 2013 when Shia-Sunni clashes erupted in the Raja Bazaar area last Muharram. Being in Karachi, she could not wait to send out a message of peace and condolence to the victims of a mosque attack on behalf of Pakistan for All. I wanted to go, but could not. Did not. Rather stay away from the riots targeting Imam Bargahs and the curfew that shortly ensued.

But it was her passion that made me feel ashamed of my lack of empathy for the victims of that riot, or my sheer lack of action. Of course, there must not be a single soul who would not be disturbed by sectarian violence including myself, but it’s reaching out that matters. Her messages and my lack of action are now going to haunt me forever. My self-esteem dwarfed by her towering, though selfless humanity.

Not just in humanity, but in sheer, fearless courage. For someone who received way too many death threats for her fair share, she was amazingly defiant. During her Valentine’s Day campaign, someone even issued a fatwa against her, or almost did. In other words, a lot of supposedly morally righteous people were pretty much after her life. Not that it deterred her in the least.

Finally, she probably went too far in the eyes of our deep state when she invited Baloch activist Mama Qadeer for the Unsilencing Balochistan talk that LUMS turned down for obvious reasons. The social media pages of her organization were apparently blocked because of that, which is a good sign that the state was targeting her cause. Whoever brutally murdered her, could the state be completely absolved of the way they targeted her organization?

Wusatullah Khan’s column, which is a resounding slap on the faces of her killers, report that she died satisfied that the talk went well. Nothing outrageous, inflammatory or offensive about it. Everybody went home satisfied. Sabeen too, only she didn’t reach her home.

Though in the eyes of the holier-than-thou patriots, that was one offense too many.

Why did she do it? Well, somebody has to fight. Somebody’s got to do it.

A lot of my rational friends cringe at my admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. I don’t care if he was a religious fanatic, or ridiculously devoted to peace and non-violence. I just admire the fact that he practiced what he preached, and so completely. Or at least he tried. I admire that because I know it’s very hard to do so.

I can hardly think of anyone else who lives so completely what they preach. Maybe Malala and Edhi are other such people. But if I were to think of someone else, hardly anyone but Sabeen’s name comes to mind. If people like her don’t leave you awestruck, then probably you have no idea what it takes to live like that.

If anyone from the youth is reading this, it is people like her who are fighting for your freedom, for true democratic values. This is what free speech is about.

To be honest, I have personally lost a lot of faith in this country today. But I am not sure if giving up is even an option if you are going to be fair to her legacy, as Jibran Nasir said. It is time to support her organization with even greater vigor and donate.

She had the option to live just like any of us. Keeping a low profile, being quiet, not involving themselves in these needless social problems. She even had the option of leaving Pakistan. That would have made a lot of sense after the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy. But guess what, she didn’t.

I just saw Kamila Shamsie’s tweet who asked her to be careful. She replied, in almost Geetaesque conviction, “somebody has to fight.”

She did not leave the battlefield. She waged war, with PeaceNiche.

It is the battlefield where heroes are needed.

It is in the battlefield that heroes fall.

It is up to us whether we take up and carry on her fight or not. Now that we got a hero in her.

But if you don’t, it’s alright because not everyone is that brave. I know I am not.

But I do know, for a coward that I am, that she died for my freedom.

Sabeen died for your freedom.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Boko Haram, Women and the Embarrassing Face of Islam

Source: abc

Source: abc

There is some problem with the way women are treated by Muslim populations, despite all the claims of honoring them.

Now there are a handful of events that actually directly point finger at the ideology, instead of the individual criminals.

The entire world was shocked when the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted hundreds of teenage girls from a school. In a video released by the group, the girls were seen in Hijaabs and veils.

Well, if you thought their intentions were any good, they have been reportedly forced to convert to Islam and have a bride price to their names, which is another expression for selling slaves. The Nigerian state is vowing to take action against  the perpetrators.

Source: Independent

Source: Independent

On the same continent, a Sudanese Muslim woman Meriam Ibrahim who married a Christian was sentenced to death by a court in the state for apostasy. Coincidentally, she was pregnant at the time. So her punishment was suspended till the time she gave birth to a child, which probably the state was interested in “confiscating”.

She has delivered the child and is now awaiting a walk to the death row. The international community is outraged, but the Sudanese government is unmoved.

Source: awamiweb.com

Source: awamiweb.com

A few days ago, a Pakistani woman Farzana Parveen was stoned to death, right outside the Lahore High Court in an “honor killing”. The attack was carried out by her father, brothers and accomplices for marrying against their will to the man she loved. Her lover, turns out, strangled his first wife to death to marry her and got away with it as well*.

This incident would also reignite the debate on blood money laws in Islam, which allow acquittal on pardon for exchange of monetary compensation. However, it is encouraging that the news was highlighted by the media all over the world.

This was not necessarily a religious, but a cultural punishment. But one that is not necessarily frowned upon by most Pakistanis, and one that is reinforced by the treatment of adulterers recommended by the Islamic Shariah.

However, the Pakistani government has now ordered action against the criminals, most of them already arrested.

But when you ask yourself the question as to why the Punjab Police failed to intervene, while witnessing the incident, there are no simple answers.

Events such as these are just embarrassing for otherwise peaceful and sane Muslims who secretly harbor the same beliefs but choose not to practice them.

Peaceful and responsible citizens who would have a good sense that such beliefs have no place in a civilized society in any century, but choose not to renounce them.

Who would express sorrow at an adulterer being killed. Then present the caveat of four witnesses before finally agreeing that they should be stoned to death, when the question is asked.

Who would otherwise propose strict punishment for murder and encourage proselytizing, but would support death penalty for an apostate Muslim.

It is just an embarrassment. Plain and simple.

Though this little inconvenience is causing a lot of individuals their lives and liberty.

*EDIT: June 2, 2014 0226 HRS

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2013: MP Mujahid Ali Khan

Source: pakistanileaders.com.pk

Source: pakistanileaders.com.pk

After a hotly contested race in a universe of idiots and after much consideration, the coveted title of Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2013 goes to PTI MP Mujahid Ali Khan, the incumbent National Assembly or federal legislature member for NA-11, Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Mujahid Ali Khan demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed and proud assassin of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer on the legislature floor. His idiocy was given fierce competition by the Sunni Ulema Board for their passionate support and appreciation of his demand, but all the parties can agree that the honors should go to Khan for his courageous initiative.

Another nominee in contention for the coveted title was the incumbent Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications Anusha Rehman, for floating the idea of blocking Google. Other idiots in the race included former MP Zamurad Khan for his idiocy disguised as half-baked courage against the infamous Islamabad gunman Sikander, which almost resulted in him getting shot and arguably indirectly caused the gunman’s wife getting shot, apart from Sikander himself, PPP Chariman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for his not-so-liberal tweet defending blocking messaging apps during operation against terrorists in Karachi, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar for evading security questions on Senate floor and blocking cellular signals after vowing not to and Rana Sanaullah for a myriad of hilariously ridiculous statements which are so many, I have lost count.

Even though some of you would be missing Syed Munnawar Hassan and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman among the nominees pertaining to their statements about who can be shaheed or “martyrs” and who does not qualify, let me clarify that both of them are perfectly intelligent individuals who know what they are talking about, despite their religious ideology. Besides, I assign very low weight to statements about imaginary concepts.

A special mention is also due for Ansaar Abbasi and Orya Maqbool Jan, aka OryaAbbasi, for their televised inquisition of Pervez Hoodbhoy for his ambiguous views on Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel “The Satanic Verses“. But the idiocy of this action is highly debatable and subjective, though deemed by some as an invitation to murder.

I deeply regret if I am missing anyone though covering the entire list of possible nominees is beyond the scope of this post or even the capacity of human endeavor, so feel free to add to it. I am sure I have said a lot of idiotic things myself during the course of this turbulent year.

For a second, PTI minister Amin Ali Gandapur‘s statement about not being happy about not enough policemen getting killed while defending the Dera Ismail Khan prison against a terrorist attack was also considered. However, in retrospect the statement did not seem all that outrageous in its context and its degree of being outrageous is also debatable.

Despite such great company, the clear and obvious winner is HE Mujahid Ali Khan for his absolute audacity to bring up such a taboo demand in such a public and legal forum. Even though the PTI MP was only voicing the opinion of a good majority of pious Pakistanis, since Mr. Qadri is a cult hero, he was clearly calling for a complete acquittal of a self-confessed murderer who would be considered fit for incarceration in most judicial standards around the world, especially for death penalty in Pakistan.

Having said that, I personally strongly oppose death penalty to Mumtaz Qadri, but most probably would equally disapprove of his acquittal in most circumstances. I would also strongly recommend mental health rehabilitation of the passionate murderer to cure his excessive religiosity.

Even though the Pakistani Idiot of the Year title has gone to a politician from the KP province for the second consecutive time, for the sake of political correctness I would like to give a disclaimer that the selection is not based on any prejudice whatsoever, but purely on merits and performance.

The Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2012 title went to ANP Minister Haji Ghulam Bilour.

A Government of Idiots (Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2012)

Ghulam Bilour (Source: AFP/ET)

So how low a government made up of supposedly progressive parties can go just to win cheap voter sympathy and public support?

I can quote analysts like Ayesha Siddiqa that there are hardly any secular forces in Pakistan. She is absolutely right, because those who are secular are virtually non-existent and are overwhelmed by the center and right forces.

But there are political parties like the ANP who claim to believe in non-violence and secular values, apart from the undying support of a number of their members to Peshawar’s (in)famous declaring-Eid-in-advance Masjid Qasim. Hey, I support their right to celebrate Eid the way they want.

I was very disappointed to see ANP’s very own Ghulam Bilour, who by far is the worst performing minister in the cabinet considering the shambles that the Railways is in, offering a bounty of $ 100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims“.

I mean, really?

Before we even go into questioning the moral and legal authority of the minister, who maintains that he has offered the bounty in “personal capacity”, the greatest question to ask is this.

How is Mr. Bilour still holding his office and why the Government of Pakistan and the Awami National Party have not taken any action against the statement?

However, I do respect how he has responded to the news of the Taliban removing his name from their hit list. He was largely ambivalent, saying he could also die of a heart attack.

Nevertheless, I can hardly fathom the incalculable damage that he has done to the reputation of the country around the world. Not that it was very good already, but with such leaders at the helm, who needs enemies?

Source: AFP/ET

The government and the ANP should have taken strict action and should have called for the resignation of Bilour, if they could not agree to sack him. But despite all the clarifications, Bilour is still in charge of the Railways, a department which his administration has pulverized quite literally.

The statement was sensibly rejected by the incumbent Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, but let’s not offer him a clean sheet for that.

It was PM Ashraf’s absurd decision to observe the ridiculous holiday of “Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool” on Friday, September 21, 2012, which was an open invitation to the extremists of the country to unleash their wrath on the infrastructure and assets of the cities in Pakistan. The day ended with the loss of billions of rupees with more than 15 death and several injuries.

Source: AP/Dawn

It might sound a little harsh for someone who has lost his wife in such a cruel manner, but you really need to start acting like a head of state when you become one. I am really sorry to say but President Zardari looks like a complete idiot each time he places Benazir Bhutto’s portrait on the rostrum at the UN General Assembly. It was not his first appearance there this year. He has been at it before with the same portrait-displaying obnoxious exhibitionism.

Source: Wall Street Journal

His idiocy was also matched well by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up a ridiculous chart which was supposed to tell the world why they have been all a bunch of idiots for not bombing Iran already. The bomb chart was brutally mocked by Israelis and non-Israelis alike shortly afterwards.

Both these props would have worked perfectly for both these gentlemen nevertheless.

What I personally found disgraceful about President Zardari’s speech was calling for an international blasphemy law or some kind of rules allowing UN to take action against alleged blasphemers. While this would sound perfectly sensible to Muslims around the world, I find it to be just another effort to extend censorship measures and to curtail freedom of speech. The Pakistani government, one which claims to uphold democratic and progressive values, has itself banned youtube over the film controversy and should keep its censorship advice for the world to itself.

I have been wondering why not start declaring the Pakistani idiot of the year from now on. We have our winner for the year 2012 already.

His Excellency Ghulam Bilour of ANP.

I can safely put my money on no one surpassing him in the last quarter.