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.

 

The Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein Excuse

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

The parliament just voted down the possibility of sending out troops to assist Saudi Arabia to bomb the hell out of Yemen, and like always, pretty unanimously too. Well, almost. And to make things even more fun, a top UAE diplomat came out with a blatant and open threat about the consequences for the half-hearted vows and the lack of substance in its friendship with the Arab world. An interesting turn of events.

A lot of people see this as an issue which is pretty black and white in terms of its morality. In my view, things are not as straightforward as that. There is evil on both sides, especially if you refer to the Iran-Saudi conflict and take Yemen out of it altogether. The only moral problems are the violation of the sovereignty of Yemen, which apparently does not even matter anymore, and obviously the loss of innocent civilian lives. But I take that is the least of our problems at the moment as well.

However, my criticism has nothing to do with the morality of the action of sending the troops or not. Either way, this is going to be a diplomatic mess, with a question of which party you can afford to offend less. Personally, I feel you should not stir a hive of bees if your legs cannot carry you far enough to escape the swarm. But this is actually about the morality of why you would want to send the troops.

So you genuinely believe that Pakistani troops should be sent for the Saudi campaign, then stop lying to the Pakistani people. Now that is something on the morality of which pretty much everybody can agree, no matter on which side of the camp you find yourself. OK, maybe not.

But let’s try again. It’s not like the Iranians are taking over the Kaa’ba again. How about instead of offering the reason of the security of the sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, you try pitching the restoration of the deposed Yemeni regime as the objective. Now one way or another, this sounds like a far more legitimate reason for intervention, and coincidentally this is what the military intervention is really going to be all about anyway. Why is that so hard to explain? It’s about defeating the Houthi rebels, which are allegedly backed by some country which is apparently the only one upset by the Saudi bombing.

So whatever you want to do, please stop invoking the security of Harmein-al-Sharifein for crying out loud. The religious parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, JUD and the JUI(F) just held a conference dedicated to the Security of Harmein Al-Sharifein, or in other words, for endorsing the Saudi bombings in Yemen. This only goes to show how much religion is used by our politicians to blackmail the sensitivities of the masses.

Now ironically, these are the same political parties who protested against the Gaza bombings by Israel, but are not only silent over the killings in Yemen, the images of which starkly resemble the former, but even vocally support it. Because apparently Yemeni people are less important than the people of Gaza, or maybe because the killer is not an infidel this time around. And as it turns out, comparing the Yemen bombings with Gaza bombings is not much of a case of apples and oranges anyway. The only difference is that Israel was bombing Gaza for far more legitimate reasons and to respond to a more immediate threat.

Now speaking of Israel, don’t you think our state uses the security of Harmein Al-Sharifein excuse just like the American hawks use the security of Israel for warmongering in the Middle East? This may be a false equivalence, but the similarity is that politicians on both sides have succeeded to develop mass consensus on these issues to use military force and consider it an integral part of their national security.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that either. But invoking this sacred reason for justifying military action for worldly political ambitions of another country certainly sounds like a bit of a moral problem.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Bored Baby With the Dangerous Toy

Source: telecompk.net

Source: telecompk.net

While I did expect that it would happen one fine day, but just when I was done with an overdose of patriotism with the March 23 parade, I found out that my blog was not a safe surfing area for people living in Pakistan anymore.

Of course, I was not receiving any special treatment and it was wordpress.com which was blocked, and along with it hundreds of other Pakistani blogs. From what I read in the papers, it was because of national security. No confirmation from the PTA, but apparently it was just another of those switch on and off episodes. Nothing to worry about.

Perhaps the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority is either incompetent, or is being malicious on purpose.

The PTA has become an out-of-control psychotic. Or if that sounded too harsh, probably more like a bored baby with a dangerous toy in his hands, with rather juvenile and cute, but obnoxious antics, only with potentially dangerous consequences. The idle and overly concerned bureaucrats in this government body, which probably should not exist in the first place (at least the department of censorship), must invent new things to keep themselves occupied and feel purposeful about themselves.

We often hear political parties make big fuss about public infrastructure and welfare projects being a waste of money for partisan reasons, but no one ever bothers considering these bureaucratic agencies, not to mention completely useless organizations such as the Islamic Ideological Council, a burden on the poor taxpayer. They are just drawing salaries out of your tax money, and they need to be there because, well, they are a part of the government.

But there is an even more dangerous question to ask.

How far will our government go in curtailing our civil liberties and access to information in the name of national security?

Sadly this question remains as unanswered in advanced democracies such as the United States and the EU, as it is in countries with almost theocratic preoccupation. So why bother.

Despite the tendencies among the Pakistani people to accept every single state absurdity in the name of national security, they do come across as pretty freedom loving. So would they be willing to give up facebook one day in the name of national security, decency or for the protection of all things that are holy?

Or would that trigger a riot for the demands of their beloved social media platform one day, with the likes of the Jamaat-e-Islami leading it? Only time will tell.

I really do hope we live to see that day. Wishful thinking.

Though the question of the temporary blocking of wordpress.com should not go unanswered. We should demand a response from the PTA, who should explain to the Pakistani people why they take them for an intellectually challenged group.

Why do they believe that blocking words of dissent on one platform would prevent the people from its harmful effects?  And that if they are curious, they can always find ways to reach such information.

Why is Pakistan trying so hard to become China?  I am not even sure if our other horrible ideal, Saudi Arabia, practices this much internet censorship.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs

The Condemned Heroes of Pakistan’s Democracy

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

Source: Dawn.com/White Star

We often find our political experts singing praises of the responsibility which political party leaders such as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari have shown in coming together over issues. While there is no denying that Pakistani politicians have certainly learned their lessons as far as preventing the suspension of the constitution is concerned, the kind of consensus that we have been seeing of late is hardly doing democracy any favors.

Some would say that veteran politician Raza Rabbani has proved to be a great hero for democracy for speaking his mind about voting against his conscience during the passage of the 21st amendment in the Senate. He is certainly a hero for democracy, but hardly for simply shedding tears when his constituents waited for him to do the right thing, at least in his view. In the end, it was his vote that would have made a difference, albeit at the cost of the seat of Chairman Senate.

But the heroes that I am talking about are the ones who are condemned and cornered by their parties and are pressured every election season to follow the party leadership. No one is opposing a little whipping every now and then, but when the Prime Minister writes to the Election Commission for suspending the membership of an MPA for voting for the Senator of another party, you know that things have gone too far. Similar is the case for constitutional amendments preventing voting against party liners.

People such as Javed Naseem of the PTI, who has been thrown out of the party for issuing dissenting statements against the alleged corruption of the party leadership (treatment of own medicine), and Wajihuzzaman of PML-N, both from the KP Provincial Assembly, are lone warriors for the fight of the rights of the individual legislator. Same goes for many more individual MPs, such as Jamshed Dasti, breaking away from their political parties for whatever reasons they had to give.

The greatest damage that the party leaders are doing to the very fragile democracy in Pakistan is to try blocking individual vote of dissent in party lines in the name of preventing corruption. Just the very mention of the expression “horse trading” triggers a knee jerk reaction from the media and the people alike, limiting the individual delegate’s choice and influence. We must remember that the claims and allegations of corruption are not its proof, and a politician who switches parties is not necessarily corrupt. The need of discouraging “horse trading” stems more out of political parties protecting their investment than looking after the interest of the people or penalizing corruption.

The greatest example of such suppression of individual legislators could be witnessed in the recently concluded Senate elections. Even though all parties try blocking independent voting within their rank and file, two have been at the forefront for proposing amendments to the Senate election procedure. PML-N and PTI were all for changing secret ballot to open show of hands, only to be blocked by the PPP & JUI-F.

While there is no harm at all in open voting, it is also important to understand the motives of the political parties supporting the proposed 22nd amendment. This is probably to discourage what little hope individual MPs have to vote for the candidate of their choice, even if they are not from the same party. What our party leaders are now happy with is the absolute consensus for passing controversial constitutional amendments and electing the Senate Chairman unopposed, as long as their orders are obeyed. Party discipline.

Actually secret ballot hardly even matters as dissenting members of the legislature are pressurized by their parties already. However, open voting works well in legislative systems where members are not threatened with suspension for voting as per their will.

In Pakistan, the entire purpose that it would serve for now would be helping the media figure out which Senators from other parties voted for Shibly Faraz, the PTI candidate for the position of Deputy Chairman Senate, over Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, the cleric backed by the consensus of secular parties.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

May the Best Rioters Win

Source: @safya777

Source: @safya777

We know that there is not much that we can trust our government with in Pakistan, but there is one thing about which you can be completely certain. You can count on the government to not provide you with any security whenever a violent rioting mob is on the loose.

Now, violent rioters in the sub-continent in general, and in Pakistan in particular are not isolated incidents. It’s a pattern, a culture, which is not just openly practiced, but even encouraged by otherwise seemingly sane individuals and political leaders.

We have invented a million functions of the government from the regulation of online speech to forcing the prices in the market, but sadly we have completely lost focus of the most essential and fundamental one. Establishing law and order and protecting the lives and the property of citizens.

From Gojra riots to Joseph Colony tragedy, Kot Radha Kishan and Sialkot lynch mobs to the Yohannabad violence, and from the Benazir Bhutto assassination riots to May 11 shootings in Karachi, the common winners have been the rioting forces, looters, rapists and criminals. The only losers have been unarmed, defenseless, peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

While it is not hard to understand that the government is almost incapable of blocking terrorist attacks, despite its best efforts, it can at least use its police to stop a riot from culminating. Especially considering the recent examples of police violence on violent political protesters in the PTI and PAT rallies in Islamabad.

However, stopping a riot is not the usual custom. Especially when the riot is of religious nature, the police prefer to witness the complete carnage instead of taking any action and relying on footage captures for trying to catch the criminals afterwards. In all fairness, sometimes the police have valid reasons too, because no one wants to be tried for murder just because they prevented a crime. But largely, it kills the purpose of trusting the police and necessitates civilian arms.

It really does not matter if there are laws encouraging protection of self-defense. It is whether such laws help protect people or not is what is important.

I don’t care who the rioters are in any of the several past or future cases.  I don’t care who or what they associate with. I don’t care what their grievance is. If they resort to threatening people’s lives and private property, they are criminals. Invoking constitutional right to assembly to justify their madness is not only inappropriate and abusive, but also intellectually dishonest.

If they are threatening life and property, the law enforcement authorities are justified to use whatever force is possible to disable and disperse them. Either that, or pay the damages to the victims suffering at the hands of these violent mobs. Sadly, you cannot pay for lost human life with money, if the government ever had the intention to compensate the victims due to their negligence.

I don’t see any harm in shooting at a violent rioting mob to disable and disperse them when they are clearly about to hurt people or threaten their property, and a lot of harm in letting them run loose. There is no other way to deal with such threats to public safety. Unless the police are empowered and adequately equipped to do so with reasonable exceptions, I don’t see any end to this culture of madness in the near future.

The more humanitarian side of our political spectrum could see the condemnation of mob violence as provocation to further violence or even suppressing people’s rights to protest, but encouraging the culture of mob violence is even worse. They should revisit their definition of hate speech as far as political rhetoric and its impact are concerned.

Actually, it is justifying and apologizing for violent riots and tolerating the suspension of law and order which is inviting more unrest and harm. It is precisely the tolerance of state toward violent rioters that brings rioters to the streets more violently than ever before every excuse they get.

The way things are right now, you can only perceive the law enforcement authorities to be inviting people to take it to the streets and indulge in violent riots. Because apparently that is the only way your grievances are going to be addressed in this country and nobody seems to have a lot of problems with it either.

Any group that is not resorting to violent riots is idiotic, as they are missing out on this tremendous equal opportunity to clinch their rights by burning cites to ashes, robbing banks and businesses, and lynching defenseless people to death.

The more enlightened elements of the society are actually losing the battle by just resorting to vigils. If they want something done, say restoring the YouTube, they should begin a riot just like the one that forced the government to ban it.

The more oppressed segments of the society, such as the Hazara, should stop with their peaceful protests already. Christian communities in Punjab should stop turning the other cheek as their colonies are burned to dust and should retaliate by burning some more buildings to ground.

No aggrieved party should wait for the courts to try the murderers of their people. They should be lynched to death and burned alive.

Let the violent mobs run loose on the streets of the country and deliver the swift justice that we have been aching for so badly.

May the best rioters win…

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Bottom Line Feminism

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

If there is a single most important issue that could make the greatest difference to women’s rights in Pakistan, it is their financial independence.

Apologists irritated by feminists might want to disagree with it just for the sake of proving them wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the conservative structure of our society, obsessed with maintaining the unreality of sexual purity, is clearly rigged against female individuals.

Marriage itself is an area which is traditionally designed to disable professional opportunities for women to a great degree, citing the natural role of motherhood and family building. The traditional norms ensure that women remain dependent on their husbands for lives, which subjects them to endure never-ending abuse in many cases.

While you would expect modern and educated women to overcome these hurdles and end a relationship when they have to, many women are handicapped to do so even in our upper middle class. You can’t end an abusive relationship because you would have no means to live, and nowhere to live, especially if your own family refuses to accept you. But even in a normal marriage, no woman should ever run out of options on how to live their lives.

In many cases, you cannot help but conclude that the greatest protection women need are from their socially conservative parents, who are ready to sell them to the next best buyer for the next best price.

Just because marriage has the seal of social and legal approval, does not necessarily make it any different to slavery, if that is what it really turns out to be.

There is an easy way women can escape the abuse that ensues. By simple having the means to live on their own. Just like anyone else is supposed to.

We already know that, don’t we? Yet, it is still a problem, and it’s the 21st century.

And there is hardly anything we can do when we find such instances around us, even in our very families.

In practical terms, there is no cause more important to focus on than to promote the financial independence of women in Pakistan, especially outside the universe of the affluent and the educated.  And it is indispensable for women to reclaim their due space in the society.

This is why the more useful of our activists are focusing on helping women become financially independent and making actual difference in people’s lives.

Not to get too optimistic, but initiatives such as WeCreate from the US-Pakistan Women’s Council is more on the lines of what we need. I guess it’s about time that we momentarily stop complaining about America being the evil empire and start thanking them from thinking about women in our country, among other things. Because apparently we could be doing a better job.

But this is not the first initiative that promotes entrepreneurship and financial empowerment for women. While the Pakistani government has also initiated such projects which are much needed, we should not wait for it, or for American aid, for that matter.

Private local businesses and non-profits can make a difference by partnering and initiating grass root platforms to offer hope, if not security, to women facing domestic social pressures and help them become financially independent. We can never have enough of these initiatives.

No woman should ever be afraid of the idea of divorce and of living as a single mom. Ultimately, it goes down to building the culture of gender equality in economic participation, with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Eliminating segregation and ensuring financial independence.

That’s pretty much the bottom line to my mind.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

The Politics of Personality Worship Cults

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

An overwhelming number of Pakistanis draw many of their life lessons from religion. It is an important part of their personal beliefs that extends to personal relationships, lifestyle, social habits, world view and politics, of course.

While religion has its due benefits, it could not have possibly affected an area of life more adversely than politics. Not only does it twist the concept of the government and its role, but terribly destroys the approach of the masses toward politics due to Messianic influences in its teachings.

While this sweeping commentary may seem far-fetched to some, it is not hard to observe clear displays in Pakistani politics supporting this notion. None is more obvious than the way we rally around our leaders and how far we are willing to go in our submission.

Religious indoctrination has conditioned people in Pakistan to turn political parties into personality worship cults.

A good number of political parties devote solemn attention and unconditional submission to their holy leaders. Not very different to the way the local religious people devote worshipful attention to their holy spiritual leaders.

Combine that with the Messianic effect and it drives home a very unhealthy approach toward politics, and life itself. It helps followers escape personal responsibility and build unrealistic expectations as far as addressing issues is concerned.

And if by accident, or by deliberated effort, a leader is killed, then they are raised to the status of martyred saints.

This approach to politics is probably a reason behind the support of dictatorships and monarchies among people in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Why bother about democracy when you are willing to give up your rights for a beloved leader?

Another problem with personality worship cults is that it deprives a political group of logic and reason, discourages progressive debate and gives way to unreasonable political tactics. But above all, it maintains the golden rule of religions.

The authority must not be questioned.

And where there are personality worship cults, there are blasphemy laws.

Even secular political parties can act like cults, forcing shutting down cities in protest of their leader being insulted. Likewise, you would often see these cult-like parties waste weeks, if not months, over needless juvenile squabbles and obscene name-calling. It always involves one cult party insulting the holy figure of the other, causing wide outrage.

As soon as the blasphemy is committed against the party leader, logic and reason are locked out of the debate. And well, then there is no debate.

The sooner we move to issues in our political debates, the sooner we would be able to help restore people’s faith in democracy. But while doing so, we need to learn an even more important lesson.

Let’s stop blaming others for our problems. Let’s use democracy as a tool for the same. Don’t render it useless by turning it into a war of cults.

No, democracy is not perfect. It does not promise you prosperity, or paradise.

But that’s no reason to wait for a Messiah, or blindly rallying behind one.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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