State Violence, Democracy and the Illusion of Liberty

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

A comment on the latest incident of carnage in Lahore.

Ahead of the arrival of Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Maulana Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Punjab Police supposedly wanted to remove a barrier outside his residence.

They were met with supposedly violent resistance and the police ended up firing on them, apart from violently beating them for not letting them do their jobs. The incident resulted in 8 deaths and counting and several critical injuries.

A needless, needless loss of lives. I really respect people who give their lives for democracy, but wonder what the cause was here.

In any case, this surely has been the greatest mistake to date of the Punjab government and one that could have been avoided. There was bait for state violence and Punjab government took it. Needless and disastrous.

But it is pretty much mission accomplished for PAT leader Tahir-ul-Qadri who had prepared supporters for martyrdom and has asked the government to step down as lex talionis.

I know it’s better to shut up about it if you don’t know the facts, but a few occurrences are unmistakable.

The Punjab police actively confronted the protesters this time around.

zI support aggressively curbing violent protesters damaging private property, but don’t forget, the Punjab Police were arguably infringing on private property themselves. Unless they had a judicial warrant.

However, if the guards fired first, as the government claims, they suffered the consequences. With liberty to bear arms, comes responsibility for actions.

But the Punjab police is traditionally very lenient when it comes to violent protesters, rioting religious mobs burning Christian colonies and women being stoned to death.

They usually witness the incidents and lodge a report afterward. Hell, they could not even protect vehicle-damaging Gullu Butt to be beaten up by an angry mob near, if not inside, the Lahore court.

So what happened that day?

It can be safely said that the police were ordered by some high officials to crack down on the protesters in such a violent way, some of them unarmed women. It could either be the responsibility of the police chief, the Punjab law and home minister Rana Sanaullah or the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif himself.

At the moment, the Chief Minister is playing safe and has ordered an inquiry into the incident. But it is clear that what happened was undemocratic, unconstitutional and dictatorial. It was not only an excessive overreach, but criminal on the part of the government.

Rana Sanaullah - Source: Dawn

Rana Sanaullah – Source: Dawn

In my opinion, at least the Punjab law and home minister Rana Sanaullah should step down to offer reasonable closure to the incidence, if not someone higher in the hierarchy. For now, only police officials have been suspended.

Who would regard the Constitution, if not a democratic government?

But to add insult to injury, PML-N has now handed over tremendous political leverage to the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, who would rightfully play martyrs now. Well, and guess who is saying the same about the PML-N government. The opposition is rightful in reminding the provincial government that it’s a democracy.

PML-N must pay a price for its disregard of democratic principles, and especially more for its idiocy and political naivety.

But make no mistake about it. Dr. Qadri is on a mission here, and has way too many brainwashed pawns at his disposal. And he made a fool out of the PML-N, if not a criminal.

The likes of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, as reasonable as they may sound in their criticism of a faulty democratic system, represent a mindset against democracy in Pakistan. This mindset has been particularly promoted and nurtured by the State bureaucracy in Pakistan, which involves holding democracy and the Constitution in contempt.

They are doing it for the right reasons alright, but all the parties lining up for the government to step down are the ones who are always standing for pro-establishment campaigns. Why is the PPP largely silent at this point and only resorted to issuing a warning before the incident?

In front of our very eyes, we are witnessing pro-establishment parties building a coalition against the elected federal government. And everyone who was not happy with the result of the last election stand behind them. Apparently except the PPP.

The demands of the government to resign due to the violation of democratic principles are fair. The demands of suspending democracy are not.

The most idiotic part is that people call for or expect the martial law whenever a civilian government violates democratic principles. More oppression as a remedy for oppression. How ironic.

Has anyone ever asked for our state bureaucracy to step down? Yes, and don’t ask what happened to them in the 1980s.

Sadly, many in this coalition do not understand that a dictator has no reason or interest to reform a democracy. They can wish for a dictator like General Musharraf again, but that’s just wishful thinking. But a democratic government, no matter how terrible it is, can be voted out.

I agree that the current democratic apparatus does not offer true liberty, since its foundation lies in authoritarianism and Islamic principles, but the perceived liberty offered by military dictatorships is an even greater illusion.

Don’t forget, right now at least people have the option to ask, and are asking, for government officials to step down.

Wonder if that would be the case if a Pakistan Army General were in power.

The Politics of Entertainment

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

It might sound a bit insulting, though it really should not be, but the politics of populism and perpetual revolution is very much the politics of entertainment. With or without the bloodshed.

Now that is what gets people going for an otherwise very boring and very repulsive subject matter. But it really is no laughing matter, is it? This really is about raising your voice against oppression.

A lot of people do that actually, in a very serious and effective manner. They even end up paying for it with their lives.

A great example has been the Arab Spring and the continuous protests in Egypt, the Ukrainian protests, the Venezuelan protests, the Bahrain protests and protests against the Shah. Another recent one has been the Iranian opposition protests, in which people were killed by the state police.

A seemingly similar campaign but nowhere near to the Iranian moderate protests has that been of the PTI protests against the results of the last elections. This is because the Iranians protested the oppressing regime of the Ruhollahs, who would rule with an iron fist regardless of elections, because a lot of people think Iran is a democracy.

However, in this case the PTI is protesting against their perceived primary oppressors, the PML-N federal government, while their main grievance of unfair elections in a few constituencies should actually be addressed to the Election Commission that it apparently just rejected.

Oh, and speaking of oppression, I never saw people bothering to leave their homes to protest against the military and civil bureaucracy who have been effectively oppressing them for six decades. But sorry for the mandatory red herring…

However, as Imran Khan very aptly put it and it really explains it all pretty perfectly. He and the youth were getting bored by the break in the revolutionary movement. A complete year after the elections. It was exciting to see them back in action.

And the protest rally disbursed after demanding the formation of a new election commission, which is an indirect way of saying that they don’t really accept the results of the previous one, but still accept the results and keep the seats.

However, while the formation of a new election commission would only be encouraging, but doesn’t that happen every time?

And don’t even get me started on the “neutral” caretaker administrations.

But there is some progress after the protest, alright. But who cares in the end anyway.

The people were not out there to protest against oppression.

The people wanted a good night out, which they cannot otherwise get in a dull town.

The people wanted, well, entertainment.

Malice, Morality & Malala: or Adding Insult to Injury

Source: AP/The Hindu

I write this with a heavy heart, with disgust and with a sense of insecurity and fear.

As you all know, teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai had been shot by the Taliban in her native Swat on October 9, 2012 to the shock of not only the entire nation, but the whole world. Right now she is struggling her way back to life and hopefully making good progress. However, I am seriously concerned for her well being in the future as she is feared to have suffered brain damage, but that’s not confirmed. Hopefully not.

After this sad incident, amid spontaneous sympathy and genuine grief, all kinds of genuine heartlessness, cruelty and the usual idiocy emerged. I am talking about the organized campaign and the spontaneous reactions aimed at undermining the tragedy of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and maligning her character as an activist.

You can find all kinds of people coming up and linking the event with their political agenda and trying to prove something completely unrelated.

So, you’re upset about Malala, right? How come you don’t make the same kind of fuss about hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks?

I am so sorry for not outraging as much about the hundreds of little children who have died in the drone attacks, but what in the world drone attacks have to do with Malala and what does grieving for her have to do with grieving for the children dying in drone attacks? Why is grieving for a girl that you knew as a public figure wrong and how that negates the feelings you have for the people dying in drone attacks?

So is speaking out for the attack on her wrong just because you think people are not condemning drone attacks? What kind of morality is that, by any of the twisted standards we have in this world of ours? Maybe just because the whole world is sympathizing with her, she must be an evil person, right? The ever-obnoxiously-eloquent Ayaz Amir puts it like this.

I mean what in the world are people trying to prove over here. Yes, drone attacks (which are, mind you, bombings, which are bombings and are lethal, let them be by manned aircraft or not) are atrocious for both innocent and terrorists alike, but those events are completely irrelevant to the point that Malala Yousafzai was an innocent little child who was brutally shot. I literally felt as if someone had shot my own daughter, but you don’t have to feel the pain to imagine if the girl was your “daughter” really. I regret even mentioning that word here. Though I cannot see it or put it any other way.

Actually the reaction from many of the hyper-nationalist and self-proclaimed exclusively-patriotic and religious right and center-right (with sincere apologies to the sane center-rightists) of the country, and especially the religious leaders and “scholars”, is nothing more than a dirty display of Groupthink, with hurt pride turning into venomous damnation of Malala and of all the sympathy for her. It is certainly not without a reason.

They do actually consider Malala and everything she represents as a threat. A threat to their religious-nationalist identity. A threat to the Pakhtun Islamism, a threat to the Islamic clergy, a threat to the Taliban and a threat to their cult of oppressing women into oblivion, ignorance and obscurantism, depriving them a right to education and a happy and free life.

Islamists like the Taliban are more aware than your average moderate Pakistani Muslim what great a threat secular education can possibly be to the religious dogma and faith. The reason is that education on scientific basis can help children grow to become freethinkers and use reason and scientific method, which could possibly eliminate the superstition and the supernatural from their lives.

Oh yes, was she really innocent of all her charges? The razor-sharp wit of Wus’atullah Khan so sarcastically puts why she was not. Even Nicholas Kristof sees it this way.

I agree that she is not innocent of her charges. I am proud that she is not. She was doing something even the most outspoken of liberal and secular public figures were and are afraid to do. She was propagating, supporting, endorsing and practically ensuring secular education to the children of her land, especially girls. This is something remarkable considering how the Taliban love to blow up girls’ schools and how they consider education to women an evil.

This is also remarkable because not long ago the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups had taken over the control of Swat and enforced their Shariah there for the time. The Pakistani state had briefly lost control over the territory until a military operation was carried out to regain it. So it takes some courage to take on the Taliban not far from their lair.

This is precisely why the Taliban targeted her and their spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan has vowed to attack her again if she survives this one. Actually, the Taliban specifically mentioned that she was attacked because she was “secular-minded”. This is the reason why many in the rest of the supposedly moderate Pakistan think that attacking her was justified, even though they cannot or could not do it themselves.

So much for those who think that though shooting her is wrong, she does not deserve all this attention and sympathy. There are even those who think that shooting her was completely justified. Those who side with the Taliban. Therefore, I find this incident, not polarizing, but cleansing, in terms of who is who in our society. If we still cannot see who our enemies are as Pakistanis, then we never will.

Source: Amnesty International

While I think about Malala Yousafzai this day, what overwhelms me more than anything else and what really puts me to shame is her bravery and her clarity. Because what she is demanding is so obviously and unmistakably right and worth defending and not worth giving up, even for a second, just like breathing, eating and drinking. And stepping down and giving that up just because your life is under threat is just clearly wrong reasoning, isn’t it? But are we fighting that hard?

Either we are stupid or Malala is.

The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?