Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.

Advertisements

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2015: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: The News

Source: The News

There were quite a few Pakistanis braving their way through threats, intimidation, discrimination and hate, but who could equal the couragee that Sabeen Mahmud has inspired us with. She used to do things where others like me only talked from behind the closed doors of their comfortable lairs. She interacted with people and reached out instead of resorting to convenient misanthropy.

While most people thought she was targeted by people trying to silence, her fundamentalist killer confessed that he was offended by her Valentine’s Day movement, for which she was my hero in 2013. While some folks can still argue about what caused her untimely death, there is no argument over her brilliant resolve to say and fight for the right thing in an environment very hostile to free speech.

She is a free speech hero in the true sense of the word. Others can make claims, but she lived that and probably proved the point with her death-defying lifestyle. What makes her special was that she was a woman of action, not just words. Her death, by far the worst shock of this year, shook us to the core. But still, it is hard to express in words how proud I and many of my friends are of Sabeen. Long live her cause.

Source: Laal

Source: Laal

However, she is by far not the only free speech hero this year. In countries where curbs on free speech are a norm, there hardly ever is. Not unrelated to her accommodation of the talk about Baluch rights featuring Mama Qadeer at T2F in Karachi is Taimur Rehman of Laal, a professor of Political Science in the LUMS affiliated with the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party. Taimur is known for speaking out about unpopular causes such as rights of minority religious groups and labor rights in a country very hostile to leftist parties.

What made matters even worse for Taimur Rehman was the smear campaign run against him by pro-establishment nationalists for speaking about Balochistan, particularly on mainstream media while he had no access to any such platform to clarify his views. The campaign largely condemnded him as a traitor and accused him of having links with Baluch nationalist separatists. It certainly takes courage to express political dissent as openly as Taimur does, but it goes to show how dangerous doing so still is in Pakistan, particularly with the history of bans on the Communist Party.

PervezRasheed-dawn-p-1

Source: Dawn

Another reminder why democracy is so important. Speaking of which, it is not everyday that a member of the government wins a nod in the Free Speech hero of the year post, but this year is an exception. Pervez Rasheed, the soft spoken but expressive Senator and Minister of Information from PML-N attracted the ire of the clerics and religious conservatives by his speech promoting rational education and condemning madrassahs or religious seminaries as “Universities of Ignorance.”  It’s a big deal coming from a government official of an Islamic Republic.

As expected, Pervez Rasheed was bombarded with condemnation, rather damnation of excommunication from the religious clerics, who bestowed all sorts of titles on him including Ahmedi, infidel, atheist and non-believer, not that anything is wrong with all that. However, that is a fundamentalist Muslim’s way of saying they hate you, and well killing you is alright.

This only goes to show that even government officials are not free from the attacks of religious conservatives for speech, that can potentially cost them their lives if not their positions. I am just glad that protests against him did not escalate as much as in the case of Pakistan’s first foreign minister Sir Zafrullah Khan for being Ahmedi. Because it very easily could have. The good news is that he is undeterred and still serving in the same position, and is a good example for the rest of the leaders in the government to follow for criticizing the role of religion in public life.

Read about the Pakistani Free Speech hero of the last year here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2014: Imran Khan

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Source: Quora/Amir Qureshi

Who else but the pied piper leading our children to the mirage of Islamic socialism and the dark and hopeless abyss of a lifestyle of constant whining would be the candidate qualifying for 2014?

He is guilty of putting his personal politics above the national interest and acting like a kindergarten kid and whining like a sore loser and turning almost his entire following to act like him.

His actions for mobilizing the youth and for initiating the debate for electoral reform is heroic, but his ways of pursuing those have been terrible.

He is, among several other populist politicians throughout the history of Pakistan, guilty of converting the masses into a justice-demanding holier-than-though moralist lynch mob, in many ways, like the electronic media they so despise.

He is also guilty of letting his party workers get drawn into the violent storming of state buildings by following the lead of the violent mob of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek on September 1.

Probably looking to get out of the “sit in” (actually series of concert-like campaign party conventions) for a while, he ends the movement abruptly succumbing to public and media pressure, only to lose favor, temporarily, among many in the party. But he only has himself to blame for that.

Though his honesty is exemplary. He shoots himself in the foot by revealing the intelligence memo warning about an attack such as the Peshawar school massacre as early as August 28. But at the same time, puts the military in the spot, so rather heroic again. It really takes an idiot to make a hero, you know.

But he was not alone in this unending race for idiocy. Many others were close behind.

How could we forget a mention of Imam TUQ (AS) aka Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to his theatrics to strengthen the faith of an already convinced population of how evil democracy is. Only he knew what he was doing, apparently.

He also deserves a lot of credit for leading his mob into storming the Parliament and the PTV headquarters, and making the nation cry for the use of tear gas on the innocent band of criminals he was leading.

He also deserves appreciation for perfectly demonstrating his vision of the Islamic Welfare State by setting up the “sit-in camp village” outside the Parliament and hiring protesters for welfare stipend. Finally we know what it is going to be like.

People such as Pervez Musharraf, Zaid Hamid, General Hamid Gul and Hafiz Saeed also deserve their due mention for making sure that the TTP does not get its due credit for the Peshawar massacre.

An insulting mention for Maulana Abdul Aziz, who idiotically turned everyone against himself by issuing death threats to the protesters who started with a rather idiotic reason, though for the right cause. He now has anti-terrorism warrant issued against his name and must be immediately arrested.

Another insulting mention for Aamir Liaquat Hussain and his panel of clerics for declaring an already state-declared enemy religious community as the enemy of the state. But for that we also have to revisit the masons of our pillars of faith, because that is pretty much what the faith has become.

Further special mentions for Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed for encouraging the politics of revolutionary violence from Imran Khan’s platform, and especially for the former JI emir Syed Munnawar Hassan, who had his wish coming true of Qital-Fisabeelillah in the Peshawar massacre.

And of course, our Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar for thinking too hard to make the world a better and safer place. Something that he is obviously incapable of doing.

But in the end, no one comes down so spectacularly, and so pompously as the Mighty Khan. Someone who is so obstinate, so delusional, so self-obsessed, it reminds you of his ideal leaders. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Islamic Socialism and the Islamic Welfare State have the perfect heir in him.

The Pakistani idiot of the year has to be Imran Khan.

Read about the Pakistani idiot from the last year here.

 

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2014: Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Source: twitter

Source: twitter

If you want to read matter-of-fact no-nonsense liberal analysis, without the mandatory center left PC and BS, then journalist and columnist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is the author you would want to go to.

His razor sharp satire of the pro-Islamist mindset of the Pakistani establishment and the people in general puts even the most outspoken liberal authors to shame. Yeah, for those of you who could not bring themselves to fully endorse NFP, you could be interested.

But more than that, Khuldune Shahid is a free speech hero in a country where speaking your mind is considered a crime, and where telling inconvenient truths is offensive to millions. Simply putting forth such opinion on mass media is a considerable contribution.

You would find him challenging the authority of the blasphemy law and would even see him laugh away how selective we are in fighting and being bothered about certain types of terrorism.

Whether it is about exposing the criminal hypocrisies of the founder of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah, or deconstructing the mindset of the well meaning, though pro-Islamist moderate Muslim, his words have always been a treat to read.

And of course, there is a special spot in hell for his caustic post about the critics of Malala Yousufzai.

But above all, he is a harsh critic of political Islam and an unapologetic proponent of secularism.

Such a columnist and opinion leader was definitely needed in a country such as Pakistan.

I highly recommend you to read him and follow him.

 

Read about my Pakistani free speech hero from the last year here.

 

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.