A New Low for the Pakistani State Every Day

Source: rferl.org

Just when you thought that the Pakistani state could not stoop any lower, it surprised you with its latest achievement. Although you really shouldn’t be surprised and probably many were not when they learned about the arrest of human rights activist Gulalai Ismail. Gulalai is a young Pashtun woman who has been vocal about women’s digital rights and free speech and has been recognized for her contribution abroad as well.

The cause for Gulalai’s arrest was her support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Pashteen, who has largely been dubbed as a traitor by the Pakistani state establishment. Gulalai was arrested immediately on her arrival in Islamabad from her tour and her name was put on the Exit Control List, a blacklist supposed to prevent citizens from traveling outside Pakistan. While she has been released on interim bail, the case against her by the FIA stands as her home in Swabi was also raided for her arrest.

Gulalai is a well-respected figure not just in Pakistan but globally for her work in human rights. Founder of NGO Aware Girls, focused on women’s rights and leadership, she has received the Chirac Prize for conflict prevention in France and there was no wonder it wasn’t long before Amnesty International was calling for her release.

It only goes to show the impunity of the Pakistani state and their sheer disregard of not even sparing human rights activists of an international repute. You can only imagine how the authorities must be treating more obscure political dissenters and human rights activists. You can accuse people like Malala and Gulalai of privilege as compared to their fellow citizens, even though that would be unfair, but figures like them become symbols of resistance when the struggle of the common man goes unnoticed.

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The way the Pashtun population has been treated in recent years, especially since the recent Swat and Waziristan operations and the APS incident, has been a disgrace, to say the least. They are particularly discriminated against at military check posts and the way the Punjabi establishment has been painting non-violent grassroots leaders like Manzoor Pashteen as terrorists in their public broadcasts has been simply unacceptable. Such an ad has been airing of late and the embarrassed Punjab government was forced to pull it off.

The Pakistani state must seriously reconsider the way it treats its citizens and must put an end to its long history of undemocratic authoritarianism if it wants democracy to flourish. That clearly has not been the goal of the civil and military bureaucratic establishment in the country.

Pakistan must keep in mind before lecturing other countries on human rights.

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Indus Blues is finally here

The film that I had worked almost all year now with filmmaker Jawad Sharif has been finally completed. Now, the release of the film is upon us. And tomorrow will see the first public look at the trailer of Indus Blues, which will give us a broader and better idea of how the public will react to the film.

Indus Blues was the idea of director and producer Jawad Sharif, whose approach to documentary filmmaking is truly refreshing among independent filmmakers in Pakistan. The project has been at least three years in the making. I am proud to have been a part of the team and particularly for collaborating with Arieb Azhar, someone who I truly look up to in terms of their contribution to art and culture in Pakistan, apart from being a big fan.

The film features 9 folk musical instruments from various cultures all across Pakistan and features some of the last remaining maestros playing these instruments. These include the likes of Sachu Khan, Faqeer Zulfikar, Mumtaz Ali Sabzal, Zohaib Hassan, and Ejaz Sarhadi among others. The film is different because it not only features musicians but also the craftsmen.

Source: indusbluesfilm.com

We are very proud that the film has already been nominated for two documentary feature awards at two international film festivals. However, more important than such recognition is spreading the word about the struggle of survival of these indigenous musicians and craftsmen. The film is the production of Foundation of Arts, Culture and Education (FACE) and Bipolar Films.

My personal comment on the film is that it is important because it reminds Pakistanis to appreciate the indigenous humanism in the cultures of the Indus, as well as the remarkable cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity in Pakistan that is often ignored. Indus Blues also captures some of the most memorable performances of folk artists such as Sachu Khan who is in the twilight of his career and battling heart disease.

Please follow Indus Blues on its social media accounts on facebook, instagram, and twitter. Check out its official website at:

http://www.indusbluesfilm.com

And also, watch out for the official trailer release on Monday, October 1, 2018 at 2000 HRS.

The Mockery of the Law and Constitution

Source: The News

Probably never before in Pakistan have we witnessed such a reckless and irresponsible judge. A deluded man from the bureaucratic elite who considers himself to be a godsent Messiah for the people now stands on the edge of criminal violations of the Constitution of Pakistan.

There is an entire history of the ridiculous statements that he has made which has brought disgrace to the office of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. However, he sunk to a new low by threatening to try the dissenters who might resist the construction of dams under Article 6 or the charge of treason. He also added that he has “begun to study” the Article 6 of the Constitution.

He made these statements while taking action against water bottler corporations. While we wish that everyone from the elite bureaucrats would have such a bleeding heart for the common people, he can spare us his twisted sense of populist justice. He should instead run for office after he will thankfully retire, hopefully on the due date in January.

Considering the concerns about the Indus Delta shrinkage, it only makes sense for people to raise questions about the dams he so fiercely advocates. Dams can be environmentally disastrous and there are certainly better ecological solutions than the large and wasteful dams, which can adversely alter the natural flow of rivers.

The honorable Chief Justice even ups the ante by vowing to build the controversial Kalabagh Dam which has been the bone of contention in Pakistani politics for decades. Now whether that is the bureaucratic establishment’s way of reinforcing the Punjabi supremacy. However, it remains to be seen if the unspoken military establishment has yet become strong enough to force the construction of the Kalabagh dam despite the protest from Sindh and the ANP.

But you wonder when is enough going to be enough. You wonder when will people have enough of this insane man at the helm of the highest judicial body in the country. You wonder when people will start challenging his nonsense. Which is particularly becoming difficult with a spineless Prime Minister paying tributes to his dam fund and has actually called for donations for building the dam himself.

Where is the outrage?

Where are the protests? Where are the dharnas?

We either are too afraid to see the inside of a local jell cell or probably we all have just stopped believing in Pakistan.

There is no reason why both can’t be true.

A Giant Leap for Indian Civil Rights

Source: Tribune India

India might be taking a couple of steps back every now and then in terms of the secular health of its democracy. But one thing is for sure, its democracy is strong and steady.

India just took a giant leap for civil rights by suspending Section 377 of the regressive British-imposed Indian Penal Code. The Indian Supreme Court threw out this abomination of a law that criminalized homosexuality. It also functionally did not recognize male or male transgender rape. This section, which by the way is still enforced in Pakistan, only accounts for sodomy as an act against nature, even if a person rapes a man or a male transgender.

This is a demonstration of how the highest court that interprets the Constitution must function in a democracy. The Indian Supreme Court, I am proud to say, is performing that function indeed.

Unfortunately, back home in Pakistan, we cannot imagine coming anywhere near the suspension of Article 377. Although there is some activism going on, particularly brought into light due to the rampant cases of abuse and torture of Transgender persons throughout Pakistan. However, the idea of homophobia is central to the culture in the country, which is a heavy mix of Islam and traditional tribal patriarchy.

The case in Pakistan is actually far worse where the courts are not even aware of their jurisdiction and function. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has turned into an activist entity whose head virtually deems himself the reincarnation of Caliph Umer I or Umer II. Removing the Section 377 or any other human rights development seems to be low on the priority list, considering how critical it is to build the Diamer Basha Dam and to guard it.

However, for all its other ills, let it be caustic politics and corruption, growing fascist tendencies and theocratic influences of the Modi regime, and hideous communal violence, India is still robust as a democracy.

Very proud of India for this.

What the Second or Ahmedi Amendment Means in an Islamic Republic

Source: The News

Most of the Sunni and Shia Muslim majority in Pakistan simply fail to recognize one simple fact of life. That an Islamic Republic is simply not compatible with secular democratic principles or, in other words, a fair social contract. They will simply refuse to even consider addressing the “settled” Ahmedi issue, the sort of vernacular that the Nazis used about the Jewish people during the Third Reich. The Ahmedi community, despite their absurd loyalty, to the state of Pakistan, has received little love from the people of Pakistan. However, recent incidents have even exposed the extent of bigotry to the staunch supporters of the Second Amendment that declared Ahmedi non-Muslims.

The Ahmedi community has actually been receiving punches from both sides of the aisle, as they have been the recipients of abuse during the oath amendment controversy during the final years of the PML-N term. Now in Imran Khan’s reign, the inclusion of Harvard economist Atif Mian has become a matter of dispute and the opposition, including many in the PML-N and PPP, are resorting to raising objections on the nomination of an “enemy of the finality of Prophethood.” Even Sindh Speaker Shehla Raza’s twitter account tweeted messages criticizing the appointment with caustic bigotry, as usual taking claim for the PPP for executing the Second Amendment, which she deleted and apologized for in a very messy way.

Information and Broadcast minister Fawad Chaudhary has dismissed the bigotry and has condemned people citing the Ahmedi faith of the advisor as a problem as far as his appointment is concerned. However, the same minister was pretty much silent about the anti-Ahmedi bigotry that had become his party platform this election. I am sure his public opinion about the Second Amendment must have still remained unchanged as well. So will be the case with the rest of the socially conservative and pro-Islamic Republic followers of the pro-establishment party.

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Even the twitter account of Speaker Shehla Raza of PPP criticized the appointment, citing the “great achievement” of the Second Amendment materialized by her party. However, where the opposition is stepping up to bash Imran Khan for appointing an Ahmedi citizen, probably some of the staunchest supporters of the Second Amendment are coming to defend the appointment. The pro-military blog Defense.pk, which usually stands with all the filth that Pakistan stands for, also criticized the basis on which Atif Mian’s appointment was being objected to.

What we miss in the middle of Ahmedi citizens getting crushed in the political clash of PTI and PML-N is that this bigotry surfaces unabated because the state has legitimized it on a legislative scale. This is what the Second Amendment or the Ahmedi Amendment really means in an Islamic Republic, other than the murders of the members of the community and their mosques destroyed and burned.

Until and unless we face this reality as citizens of Pakistan, we will never be able to make progress.

A Fanatic Government Stance Laid Bare

Source: PTV News/geo.tv

There is little doubt that Geert Wilders is disingenuous when it comes to his intentions and goals when organizing the Draw the Prophet event. His main purpose is, of course, to get under the skin of Muslims around the world, especially because he precisely knows what sort of reaction he can get out of them. However, it is a free speech issue regardless of his controversial politics. The protesters thought of this idea when the mainstream Western media frequently began censoring itself whenever the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in media was involved out of the fear of backlash from the Muslim community.

The interesting thing is that no matter how civil the Muslim community tries to be in the face of such a provocation, there are always many who would resort to violence and death threats. One of the problems that more liberal Muslims are facing is that the religious orthodoxy not only permits but even encourages, violence against a person who is alleged to have blasphemed against. While liberal Muslims try their best to avoid that, the conservative far-right Christians, atheists, and other antithetical elements critical of Islam are well familiar with the weakness. Recall the Salman Rushdie Affair.

However, any of these violent actions remains to be acts of individuals. But what if the governments of a country engage in such policies. Of course, we have seen them before with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is even worse when that government is actually making that point from a moral high ground and lecturing others on human rights. The PTI government has vowed to raise the issue at the United Nations, other than calling the dysfunctional institution of Organization of Islamic Conference, giving Wilders a bigger audience than he could wildly imagine.

Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, had long been criticizing the Western idea of free speech by comparing Holocaust denial and desecrating the image of the Holy Prophet. He emphasized the same point in his special video message to the nation especially addressing the (non)issue. He points out that the Western viewpoint of free speech does not even understand the consequences of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet, which they see as freedom of speech.

Well, we can safely say that the Europeans have now understood that well enough ever since Charlie Hebdo.

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Geert Wilders, on October 30, postponed the Draw the Prophet contest citing death threats that he and people associated with the contest event were receiving. The PTI government started to claim the cancellation as an achievement of their “diplomatic efforts.” Not only has the government of Pakistan given such great importance to insignificant politicians such as Geert Wilders and his bigotry but has also exposed themselves as a state that does not respect freedom of speech. What is even worse is that the PTI

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The headlines shared by a local news channel are proudly displayed by the PTI KP Official account, which was retweeted by the official PTI account report the cancelation of the cartoon drawing contest as “a great diplomatic triumph.” The only problem is that the only diplomatic efforts that have been made to cancel the contest were the death threats made to Wilders and people connected to the event.

People all over the social media have been raising this point to criticize the government. The PTI has beautifully manipulated the issue in order to gain public approval in the manner of Tehreek Labaik Pakistan. And I am not even mentioning their ridiculous protest rally and threats endorsed by the Pakistani foreign minister, which openly called for war against the Netherlands.

But let us judge actions instead of intentions. With this claim of endorsement, PTI has laid bare its fanatic stance of endorsing death threats to a foreign lawmaker. While we are aware that Pakistan has blasphemy laws which openly endorse potentially capital punishment for alleged blasphemies, emphasizing such a narrative on the international level and shamelessly claiming something that had nothing to do with them. Pakistan has indeed endorsed terrorism before, so why should this time be an exception?

The Trouble With Being a Liberal, Non-Practicing Muslim Dissenter

Source: Washington Times

There is no denying that hate against Muslims is a real phenomenon around the world. But if someone said that Muslims have earned a great deal of that hate, it would probably not be too much of a stretch. A recent article by Khalil Yousuf, an Ahmediya Muslim (whose community isn’t even accepted by other Muslims in many major Muslim countries), makes the case for shutting down Geert Wilders’ Draw the Prophet contest event because it is hate speech. No, it is not shouting “fire” in a theater. It is simply playing the movie in it.

The premise of the article is that Europeans should stop organizing such hateful contests because it hurts the sentiments of Muslims and incite people to commit violent hate crimes against them. People would have greater sympathy for his case if the Muslim reaction to this alleged piece of bigotry was not this violent and outrageous. To his credit, perhaps the very small and heavily persecuted Ahmediya community has never displayed such violent language but not so much the case with the much larger and dominants Sunni and Shia schools. The Charlie Hebdo killings happened because actually a bunch of Muslims got to practice what the majority believes should be done with those who desecrate the name of the Prophet. We never got the memo when this sort of behavior became compatible with liberal ideals or democracy.

The reason why conservatives and right wingers need to push the limits of free speech is that liberals have given up on that idea. What is even worse, secularism is now losing its ground thanks to liberal governments appease such religious extremists around the world. No wonder there is a resurgence of right wing nationalism around the world.

Decades long pandering to the extremism of Indian clerics, all in the name of the rights of Indian Muslims, has led to a resentment among the Hindus which has brought us to the civil rights disaster of the cow witch-hunt vigilantes and the future of a potential Hindu Nationalist state under Prime Minister Modi. And the sad reality is that his followers in India has started taking the secular nature of their democracy for granted. This is why I endorse provocative statements such as India becoming a “Hindu Pakistan,” made by Shashi Tharoor, because this is the perfect analogy to make people understand the risks.

Not to say that the Congress is the only authority on secularism in India. Sometimes, the political difficulty of taking a stand against such behavior can be immense, as in the case of the Salman Rushdie affair but probably the Congress is suffering the consequences of its past policies today, other than lacking leadership that could inspire the people like Modi. There indeed was a time when the more secular Indian National Congress used to sweep the elections. The people are disillusioned for a reason.

Now Islamophobia (or Muslimophobia as some would prefer to call it) is very real. And interestingly, you cannot disconnect the image of Islam from it. The family and friends of any atheist or dissenting liberal Muslims will remain on the radar of bigots all around the world, whether India, America or Europe. Furthermore, no matter how disconnected they are to Muslim extremism or even the religion of Islam, they will never be fully seen removed from the identity of their religion of birth, unless they are someone very outspoken and famous like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But telling people to shut up because Muslim sentiments are being hurt and threatening to destroy them in one breath does not go a long way to win hearts and minds either.

So, what is a liberal, non-practicing dissenter Muslim to do to survive as an individual? How can Muslims express dissent from the orthodox theocracy without further exposing the community to the risk of hate crimes? Should Muslim dissenters continue to call for reform in Islam, as has happened in Judaism, like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali or defend the existing absurdities like the majority of Liberal Muslims banking their hopes on different interpretations? Or should the atheists among them simply condemn the idea of Islam altogether such as Armin Navabi? I guess nobody knows the answer.

This article was originally published in MyNation.com