What is Killing Our Teachers

Source: TRT World

When we start losing our teachers so casually and commonly to the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism, it is time to do some serious soul searching as a nation. Even the most religiously and socially conservative of our society can agree that the unhinged murder of our educated intellectuals is wrong. Clearly, there are conditions to that position, as we have seen with the unending killings of Shia and Ahmedi intellectuals and educated professionals over the years. It is the same rationale that is behind the shocking killing of a Bahawalpur Associate Professor Khalid Hameed, who was stabbed to death by his own student.

The event occurred in the public institution called Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur, a more religious conservative South Punjab district than usual. The video interview of the student Khateeb Hussain, a BS Student, who was taken into custody at the site of crime is chilling and gives a clear insight into the sort of mindset that enables students to act with such impunity. Viewer discretion is advised.

The student shows no remorse because according to him, the English literature Professor used to speak ill of Islam. That gave him enough reason to commit the crime but another reason that escalated the situation was the professor organizing a welcome party which was a mixed gender event. Pakistan is a society with significant gender segregation in public spaces, which is sanctioned more by religion than any social norms.

We also recall the time when Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) or the student wing of the Islamist Deobandi Jamaat-e-Islami held protest rallies in Quaid-e-Azam University against secular professor Pervez Hoodbhoy. It is a relief that he had been spared because the mindset that has been as caustic in those days as it has been today. However, the difference has been the public encouragement to vigilantism by the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan ever since the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by Mumtaz Qadri. Furthermore, the possible debate on whether a Barelvi is more likely to take such action is also interesting. This post could be Exhibit A for the arguments for a Barelvi likelihood to commit a righteous kill.

Like always, there were posts like this on the social media that celebrated this great feat of bravery. The post above celebrates the murderer as well as his mother who gave birth to such a lionheart “Ghazi,” the Islamic term for surviving victor. There is a slight nod to Khadim Hussain Rizvi in the post as well. The post also features the trademark Barelvi slogan “Gustaakh-e-Rasool ki saza, sar tan se juda” or beheading is the only punishment for a blasphemer. It is not shocking that tragedies like these occur when such venomous theological venom goes unchecked.

One of my friends Shujaat Hussain, also an English literature Professor, was immigrating to a Western country. He must have his own reasons but in general, I used to feel sorry for the loss of the country for losing such brilliant, free-thinking minds. But when I see such fundamentalism plague our educational institutions, it is probably better for intellectual teachers like him to leave this society to its own devices.

Perhaps the Bahawalpur teacher should have immigrated to a foreign country too.

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Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2017: Mishaal Khan

Source: Dawn

For a country that is so hostile to free speech, it is remarkable how many free speech heroes we have in Pakistan. You might hold a dissenting view or two, but if you have not been menaced by the mobs yet, chances are you are not taking half of the risk that could possibly have an impact on this obscurantist society. However, some go even beyond that knowingly or not and end up exposing the hideous, decaying collective moral state of a people.

Mishaal Khan became a free speech martyr in April this year to a case of brutal flogging by a lynch mob that shook the entire world. It also supposedly shook Pakistani Muslims who suspected that the Mardan University student probably deserved it and paid the price for it.

You don’t necessarily have to be killed to be a free speech hero… or let us just say not killed yet. Anyone who is putting their voice out there. Mishaal Khan, a brave student activist and political worker, did the same despite being surrounded by obscurantist and totalitarian religious extremists, whose views could possibly qualify them as mentally ill and psychopaths in a more civilized society.

The Mishaal Khan’s murder is significant considering how it reveals the sheer brutality and lack of moral sensibility in general in the society in Pakistan. But more than that, because it is shockingly symbolic of the struggle between education and obscurantism, between enlightenment and ignorance, between knowledge and violent superstition. Mishaal Khan, a student, was killed in an educational institute by other students. Perhaps it must take an irony as brutal as this one to help someone understand the battle of free speech in Pakistan.

You could say that people like Mishaal are looking for trouble in an obviously bloodthirsty society. Well, they are better than you and me because they are doing what they are supposed to do without fearing for consequences and despite that knowledge. However, it will be idiotic to say that Mikaal got what he deserved or that he was looking to die. And speaking your mind should not be considered committing suicide.

Mishaal Khan’s family has been as brave as their slain son and the way they have stood by him is the dream of every fighter for freedom of speech in Pakistan. Imagine their helplessness and suffocation, yet another manifestation of the forces of ignorance laying a siege around the enlightened and the freethinkers.

Bushra Gohar speaking at the Mishaal Khan protest in Islamabad

Even though he died alone, Mishaal left many of his allies in unity, albeit with a weak impact on an authoritarian society. There are so many more free speech heroes in Pakistan. People like Pervez Hoodbhoy, Bushra Gohar, Marvi Sirmed and Farzana Bari who were at the forefront of protests against Mishaal’s murder in Islamabad and especially people like Asma Jehangir who are taking on the military establishment heads on. Curiously, some of our politicians also deserve a place in this list in their resistance to the deep state. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif became the first top diplomat in a long time to concede that entities such as Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were a burden on Pakistan and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal who condemned fatwas of apostasy and blasphemy on the national assembly floor. And especially all of those who protested the murder of Mishaal Khan and those of the missing bloggers and activists. A special mention in this post remains to be for the many bloggers resisting the oppressive state in Pakistan but there is a more special place reserved for them.

Pakistan remains to be a battlefield for free speech like so many other countries in the world. But the battle in Pakistan is unique because of the character of this nation-state in terms of its cultural, ethnic, religious and political diversity despite the apparently monolithic state. And whether the people win this battle or not, we must not go down without a fight.’

Read about the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2016 Qandeel Baloch here.

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?