The Blasphemy Hunger Games

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

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

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

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

The rule is simple too.

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

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

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

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

This is hilarious and dangerous at the same time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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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.

The OryaAbbasi Inquisition: Ganging Up on the Defenseless

OryaAbbasi - File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

OryaAbbasi – File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

A recent talkshow by Kamran Shahid on Dunya TV about Malala’s now-controversial biography “I am Malala” has become a talking point for Pakistanis. The participants of the show included columnist Orya Maqbool Jan, journalist Ansaar Abbasi, physicist and analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ambassador Zafar Hilaly. After watching the show, there are quite a few observations that I would like to make. The show can be found here.

And now, the commentary.

The show is the perfect exhibit to demonstrate that Pakistan is not a free speech society, even though such talk shows may appear to give the impression of the contrary. In a society, where expressing certain opinions pertaining to a certain religion is like sealing your death warrant. And the state only makes matters worse, which makes you thank your stars it is not half as effective.

A lot of people are attacking the host of the show Kamran Shahid for inviting people with conflicting views for better ratings, just so that he can have a heated argument. But I fully support him for this. First of all, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s great TV. He is only doing his job and I actually appreciate him for bringing together the likes of Veena Malik and Mufti Sb before.

However, there is a different reason altogether for which Kamran Shahid deserves criticism and ridicule. Shahid did an awful job at moderating the show, and it can be argued that it was deliberate. However, I would refrain from saying so. In any case, it was criminal negligence as he allowed religiosity to be a moral high ground in the debate through his word and moderating action.

Orya Maqbool Jan started the show by referring to certain passages from Malala’s book. His main focus was outraging at Malala mentioning that “her father was opposed to Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses but was a firm believer in freedom of speech”. He also rejected Malala’s criticism on curbs on women’s participation in public life and on media during the Zia regime, citing many female playwrights that rose to prominence at the time on the state television.

Pervez Hoodbhoy - Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy, in return, had zero arguments in Malala’s defense. As a matter of fact, he did more damage to Malala’s cause than a conservative could have imagined, though the aging scholar performed far better emotionally than I expected.

Hoodbhoy started out by saying that Orya and Abbasi were lying and that they were misrepresenting facts and maligning Malala, including an ad hominem attack on their English language skills. Apart from this opinion, hardly any argument was offered by the former QAU Professor.

The only solid argument from his side was about writing PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) with the mention of Prophet Muhammad, as Ansaar Abbasi had raised this rather obnoxious and easily beatable objection on Malala’s book.

This is where Kamran Shahid proved his lack of impartiality as the moderator, as he stupidly mentioned the anecdote of his thesis submission abroad in which he wrote PBUH with the name of Prophet Muhammad, despite the warning from his supervisor that writing it implied bias in a research report. This way Shahid tried influencing the debate as if not writing PBUH with the Prophet’s name was something immoral in terms of faith.

Ansaar Abbasi maintained a consistent mantra of calling Pervez Hoodbhoy “jahil” or ignorant throughout the course of half an hour of the debate, until Hoodbhoy was forced to leave amid such onslaught just before the show ended. However, for someone as religious as Abbasi, calling someone else ignorant sounded pretty hilarious and stupid.

Ambassador Zafar Hilaly, who was wondering what he was doing there, was asked to present his opinion about drone strikes and on talks with the Taliban. He was only seen shaking his head in disapproval as the war of relatively civil curse words went on between Abbasi and Hoodbhoy, as Orya continued shouting out of his lungs to stop their exchange in order to read the passage from Malala’s book.

The only reason there should be sympathy for Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is that Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who for convenience and for promoting my branding of their inquisiiton, would be referred to as #OryaAbbasi as the duo’s pseudonym from this point on, ganged up on him. I repeat, OryaAbbasi literally ganged up on Hoodbhoy, interrogating in a frighteningly self-righteous manner.

OryaAbbasi started an inquisition of Hoodbhoy to publicly frame him for opinions offensive to Muslims, paired with a hilarious but threatening diabolical laughter, as if warning him of consequences. Hoodbhoy was obviously dumbfounded for being trapped in this cul-de-sac. He narrowly dodged the inquisition by answers considered somewhat acceptable by the standards of the Pakistani Islamic society.

OryaAbbasi asking Hoodbhoy about his position on The Satanic Verses and whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is fine, and perhaps encouraging in theory, but doing so on public TV in a society such as Pakistan is dangerous, to say the least. Because someone believing in free speech or not agreeing with excommunicating the Ahmedis would most probably be threatened by the extremist Muslims who consider it righteous to kill someone with such views.

The OryaAbbasi inquisition could also be a frightening insight to the future of Pakistan is an increasingly authoritarian and theocratic state. The state already requires its citizens to declare in writing that they are not in any way affiliated with Ahmedis. Would this imply that the National ID card and Passport forms would also carry a declaration condemning The Satanic Verses, if not on more informal levels However, Pakistani Muslim individuals would still not see this as an invasion of their personal and social freedom.

In order to successfully tackle the OryaAbbasi inquisition and to effectively respond Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, Pakistanis need a secular liberal spokesperson who is not fearful of their life like Taseer or Christopher Hitchens. This is why I have tremendous respect for Christopher Hitchens, because he had very real death threats as well, but he never compromised on free speech, and he even defended Rushdie at the time when he was in hiding for his life.

A nervous, frail and emotional debater such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, despite his prestige and knowledge, is not able to take on these harassing fundamentalists. Partly because of the self-censorship that you need to exercise about Islam in the Pakistani society for the sake of security. 

Unless people are clear that it is the values of an Islamic authoritarian society that is the threat and the enemy of freedom, no one would buy the mild apologies for passages from Malala’s book that liberals have to offer. Because let’s face it, this passage from the book has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box, but I still support it. It is her freedom to write whatever she likes and I agree with it. 

If Malala has written that her father believed in freedom of speech, it is the duty of the secular-liberal debater to defend free speech as a superior value no matter what. This is what Malala’s fight is about anyway, but we are failing her. Now that Malala has been put in this position by the likes of OryaAbbasi, we need a better public defense of her.  

As crazy as it sounds, but they hardly have any argument if they don’t defend what they believe in. This is about liberty and freedom from theocracy, and the only argument is to reject religious authoritarianism.

Unless there is a debater who presents arguments that attacks the fallacy of faith and theocracy, liberal and secular debaters will always be on the losing side, shut up by religious emotional blackmail. 

Any volunteers?