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.
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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2015: Malala Yousafzai

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Source: REUTERS/Cornelius Poppe/NTB

Much to the chagrin of our nationalist critics, Malala Yousafzai keeps on achieving great things. And she is destined for even greater things.

If she is a foreign paid agent, then God knows we need thousands more like her, and would thank the generous foreign power for allocating such funds to a Pakistani girl. But if only the world were such a magical place.

2015 was the year in which Malala transcended the Pakistani nationality, and became what every human individual ought to be. A Citizen of the World. In the true sense of the expression.

Focusing on just one country does not even matter anymore, neither does justice to her vision for humanity.

On the turn of this year, Malala Yousafzai became the first ever Pakistani and Pashtun woman and the youngest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Malala Yousafzai is my Pakistani person of the year for showing Pakistan what the right to education really means and for teaching adults how to raise their children, especially girls. In many ways, she always will be because we would hardly see an individual as brave and as bright in any time to come.

Malala has earlier worked for the education for Nigerian girls, particularly those affected by Boko Haraam. She is now working for the education of Syrian refugee children, which are probably the most troubled individuals in this world. She is leading by example for not waiting for others to take action by founding the Malala Fund.

It is only ironical that Malala comes from a country where the lawmakers have declared education as a right of all citizens, without providing any plan for it, or even understanding what that means. Malala’s critics are not aware that she is only echoing the ideals of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Don’t worry too much if Malala Yousafzai is not working for Pakistan in your opinion.

She has beaten death to fight for her cause. Shrugging off these taunts and allegations are not going to bother her, though these words could be sharper than bullets and blades. But then again, demanding education for girls is a serious crime in a society that constantly laments about the lack of it rhetorically.

Your opinion judging her nationalistic loyalty does not even matter anymore.

She has moved on to do greater things.

Happy New Year.

Donate to the Malala Fund here.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Khawaja Asif, Traitors & the Pakistani Welfare State

Source: Sabir Nazar

Source: Sabir Nazar

Part I: The Traitorous Defense Minister 

Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, has been under fire for his recent statements against the Armed Forces.

Of late, the Armed Forces have taken active offense to the relentless criticism on its institution from civilian sections, such as the media. Finally, we have an aggressive ISPR Director General on board.

But apart from the media, certain politicians have also been actively criticizing them as well. Especially from the party in power.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The incumbent PML-N Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been at the forefront of this assault, more recently merely for stating that the Parliament is the more sovereign institute.

He had been particularly at it, when he was in the opposition during the reign of President General Pervez Musharraf and the last democratically elected government of the PPP led alliance.

Khawaja Asif may have been irresponsible but he has spoken his mind when it comes to criticizing the Pakistani military for certain practices.

As rightly pointed out by Ahsen Iqbal, the current confrontation has more to do with offering the under-trial General Pervez Musharraf a safe exit path than anything else. However, with the fallout of the assassination attempt on Hamid Mir, the counter offensive has taken a new turn.

In the currently on-going pro-establishment campaign on most media channels, one of Khawaja Asif’s speeches from 2006 was aired to prove his traitorous record.

I was startled by that speech which Khawaja Asif made on the parliament floor that I must confess I was not aware of. I have a feeling I must not be the only one. Had I been in charge of the ISPR, I would have made all efforts to prevent the airing of that speech on national TV, it was so revealing.

The speech was not just about the usual cries of military imperialism or the excesses breaching civil liberties in Baluchistan, but it concerned something lot deeper. Even for the Punjabi people.

 

Truer words have hardly ever been spoken on the floor of the Pakistani legislature.

Well for the most part.

There is no wonder why he is the latest entrant in the traitors’ Hall of Fame, or Shame.

——————————————————————————————————————

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

Part II: The Pakistani Welfare State

The last minute of the clip of this speech, mentioning the words “Welfare State” largely reiterates what I have been maintaining for quite a while now. Perhaps not on my blog though.

The people of Pakistan have been fed this false ideal of “Islamic Welfare State” right from the beginning. They have been fed a utopian fallacy that a state would be established which would provide them everything from food stamps and shelter to free education, and from utilities to free healthcare.

Actually, all these benefits have been reserved to the people in the government service, whether military or civilian. However, such entitlements, or privileges, which include insured housing, subsidized education and absolutely free healthcare have been particularly enjoyed by the military service.

In Pakistan, the military pretends that it is a profitable corporation with benefits only reserved for its employees. This approach has largely improved the acceptance of these institutional perks. Nobody should dare question “private property” right?

Furthermore, their absolutely inevitable national defense function and employment incentive have particularly ruled any possible political criticism out. At least in Punjab.

This is the current Pakistani concept of Welfare State, and one that has been widely accepted by the Pakistani people. As a matter of fact, one of the main aspirations of the-not-so-affluent classes is to uplift their living standards by entering the exclusive club of military and civilian government service.

As a matter of fact, there could not have been a better strategy for the exclusivist government club to strengthen and legitimize its power grab.

Pakistan is a classical example of a government entity that has a state and a large piece of land at its disposal. It would employ all in its means to perpetuate its hold and the most lucrative of such tactics is increasing government based employment. A mode of employment that is as useful to the economy as a leech is to human body.

Surprisingly, but perhaps not so surprisingly, the people of Pakistan celebrate the announcement of government positions. It is for precisely the same reason.

They are condemned to.

It is their only ticket to the dream of the Pakistani Welfare State.

Banning the Anti-State Cable Network

Source: The News

Source: The News

Politics of the Jang group is such a mixed bag.

At times, the news group is said to be in the pocket of the ruling Sharif brothers and at others, it is considered to have operatives in a hostile India.  Sometimes, it is serving as the bullhorn of the Chief Justice and sometimes it seems to be the voice of Islamist bigots.

At times, its channel is said to be the mouthpiece of the establishment. At others, it is apparently perceived to be accusing the ISI of all the ills in the world, especially shooting its senior anchor Hamid Mir, and asking its head to step down.

But everyone can agree that the channel Geo News is sensationalist at best.

We have a problem in Pakistan, which by the way, exists all over the world too. A problem that needs to go. We are ever prepared to penalize people for saying things.

Therefore, the currently ongoing silent censorship of the news channels of the Geo Network, which may or may not materialize into license cancellation. The backlash came after the ISPR decided to file a libel lawsuit for false accusations over Mir case, followed by the Defense Ministry forwarding an application to the PEMRA for its ban. (Really Khawaja Asif? Oh I get it.)

OK, so why is everyone quiet over it?

Because clearly they have crossed the line. Nobody likes it, neither do I even though I didn’t catch what is said to be the worst of it, and it is hideous. Typical Geo TV. And yes, an example must be set to teach the channels to report responsibly.

But how? And who would do it?

And why do bans need to be enforced for the same purpose?

The government can’t shut a channel up just because it had an unfavorable broadcast for a few hours. Then there is no free media if that is the case, and certainly no free speech.

Libel lawsuits are all good, so are penalties on violating code of conduct. But does this kind of reaction mean that anyone criticizing certain public institutions will be met with such a reaction from the government? What are we aspiring to become? Soviet Union or Nazi Germany?

In any case, the government must not penalize speech and any such law should be deemed unconstitutional. Surely, not the case in Pakistan.

I believe the right way to penalize an irresponsible channel is to impose a monetary fine instead of banning it altogether. Even though I would never support even a monetary fine for speech.

We need to stop shutting people up to feel secure. Not sure if that kind of security ever worked.

Or perhaps just let people change the channel.

The Libertarian Case for the Baloch Resistance

Source: balochistanpoint.com

Source: balochistanpoint.com

No resistance movement is popular in the State against which it is initiated. The Baloch resistance to Pakistan is not any different.

But do they have the right to resist the tyranny of the State and struggle for freedom? And does that also extend that right to the Taliban? It is illegal, but arguably, yes.

This pertains to their fundamental rights, which should be covered by the Constitution, even if they are not currently.

The resistance movement would prove very sound from a Libertarian viewpoint as well, but from the standpoint of the defending State, it would be rightful to enforce law and order and curb it. So in terms of warfare, it is a violence for violence battle. But what is the limit?

While there is little doubt about the Baloch right for the secession, what should the State do to win the hearts and minds of the Baloch people?

Should the State continue to rule a people like a colony, as an alien ruling class, or should it start allotting more aid to the province? Should the State take measures to free the local people from the tyranny of local Baloch nobles and feudals or would that be the tyrannical intervention of the Federation on one of its independent units or States?

How should a civil war be treated? Is it justified to use violence, or any means possible, to preserve the Union?

There are arguments on both sides, but the dissidents are arguing beyond Pakistani nationalistic fervor here. Their opinion may not necessarily be liberal, but would reach out to the violated individual liberty of the freedom fighter.

The Libertarian case for the Baloch resistance would be the recognition of their right to bear arms and engage in an armed struggle against an oppressor. It would be the recognition of their right to life and liberty and protection from any unwarranted searches, detention and unlawful killing. It would be the recognition of their right to free speech for expressing dissenting views against the State and rejecting the Constitution.

This is where the Pakistani state law enforcement and military agencies are making a big mistake.

Pakistani agencies are allegedly detaining Baloch citizens on the suspicion to be a part of the treasonous resistance, which is both illegal and unconstitutional. An extrajudicial killing after torture would be even worse.

Now there would be a lot of Pakistani nationalist friends who would defend this act, which is supporting the idea of curbing the resistance by all means necessary.

But if this sort of behavior were to be given legal approval, then the State could detain any citizen for any given cause, without warrant. If it does not alarm a citizen, then they need to be more aware of the excesses of the government that could threaten their liberty.

I am not saying that the State has no right to curb an uprising by force and to enforce law and order. What it cannot do is to alienate its own people. So while it is curbing an uprising, it is up to the State how it treats its own people.

But above all, it is the responsibility of the State to not violate the liberty of an individual based on suspicion, instead of a legal warrant based on reasonable doubt.

This is not how a democratic republic should curb an uprising. Of course, a military dictator or monarch could use any means at their disposal, but surely that would be the wrong way of doing things. In another words, not the democratic way.

Now arguably all the rights for the Baloch resistance also apply to the Taliban. Which is true, like it or not. So let it be the Baloch cause or the Taliban, the liberty of the individual citizen must not be violated.

Surely, it would be outrageous for some for me to mention both of the different resistance movements together, considering the different morality of their ideologies. But then again, morality of ideologies is relative.

Of course, all that makes Baloch cause any better to that of Taliban is that the latter is fighting to enforce the authoritarian Islamism on an unwilling population. While others could have the same distaste for the Baloch resistance if it were Socialistic or Anarchic in nature.

While you could talk about just about any resistance movement regardless of the ideology or cause, there is a reason to present the case of the Baloch resistance. At least in the context of Pakistan. At least when we have inspirational people like Mama Qadeer marching all the way from Quetta to Islamabad to make this point.

The Baluch people have allegedly seen brutal assaults from the State elements and have had their liberty violated.

This is the perfect way to make enemies of already dissenting and defecting citizens.

—————-

Disclaimer: The post does not reflect my support of or opposition to any of the resistance movements anywhere.

Made for Intolerance

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A lot of people outrage at the thought that there is so much discrimination and intolerance in the Paksitani society.

After all, Pakistani society is made up of such brilliant individuals and forward looking political and social groups. There are intellectuals in this country with ideas and works that are as brilliant as they would have anywhere.

So why is Pakistan stuck with elementary issues, such as religious and social discrimination and intolerance?

Well, Pakistan is not just like any other country in the world. Its creation involved one of the most unique events ever. Arguably, the biggest mass migration in modern, if not recorded, human history.

When you are artificially creating a homogeneous demographic and forcefully rejecting any variation, at least discouraging them to flourish, if not just expelling them out of communities, then you can expect resistance to accept what is different.

This is why Pakistan was always bound to be intolerant as a society, with the demographics not being the only factor for the aggravation of the intolerance.

Arguably the only other country that rivals it in this unique characteristic is Israel.

This is only a subjective opinion, but I have a feeling that it is a scientific fact. The resistance to strange ideas must be stronger in a more homogenous society.

Because over time, the Muslim population has increased exponentially in Pakistan and the non-Muslim population has declined. And as this trend continues, we have only seen lesser tolerance to communities with ideas alien to Pakistani and Islamic nationalism, and more tolerance toward religious rioting.

So why are people complaining? This is what we have always wanted.

Pakistan was made for intolerance.

Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4