Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.

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Asma Jahangir: Mourning Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero

Source: refrl.org

What we had feared for long finally happened this dull Sunday afternoon.

I often used to wonder how in the world Asma Jahangir was alive and well in a country where bloggers are getting abducted for criticizing the establishment and where journalists are getting murdered and attacked in the light of the day. I often used to wonder how this brave lawyer woman can get away with how openly and aggressively she attacked the bureaucratic oligarchy ruling this country.

Perhaps she was a part of that privileged class too but at least she spoke out about those who lacked it. She successfully managed to separate from the filth of the complacent privileged classes (which most of us in Pakistan, at least from urban Punjab, are connected to in way or another) by calling them out on their hypocrisy. She did so by speaking out for the helpless and the unprivileged.

She genuinely spoke out for the cause of democracy and human rights and in the meantime, even confronted politicians from all parties and even judges when she had to. Her fairminded activism earned her the position of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights Council on Iran which magnified her voice on a global scale. Of course, her diplomatic role for the UN which only made a good name for Pakistan was seen as a traitorous act. But enough of the international impact.

She always knew that the real battleground was back at home in Pakistan, where the state of human rights was as abysmal as anywhere in this world. Could have immigrated to a Western country any day.

As unimaginable her death was to her followers and admirers, it only brought to surface the venomous bigotry that she had been fighting her entire life. Widely hailed as the conscience of the nation by several obituaries following her passing, this was how a large section of our urban population was treating someone who stood up for their very rights. Of course, anyone who had a different idea of living their lives other than the prescribed bigoted and suffocating convention in Pakistan is considered an Indian, Israeli or American agent.

Another one of the reasons why she will be so badly missed and has been irreplaceable is that she could say unimaginably brave things and get away with it. But at least she led by example and showed that it could be done. The question really is not what would have happened to another person, it is that nobody else dared to go even close.

In the end, there have been several calls to offer her a state funeral, with the most prominent one made by the Chief Minister Sindh. While the idea sounds great in theory, just imagine for a minute. Wouldn’t it have been the greatest insult to her legacy? Why would a discriminatory state mar the honor of her funeral? Why should the national flag obscure her individuality and her singular message of freedom and human rights for all?

She never needed a certificate of patriotism from anyone.

Source: geo.tv

When you are a hero, even your funeral becomes a symbol of resistance against ignorance.

Unbelievably, her funeral even became an object of conspiracy when orthodox misogynist Muslims condemned those mourning her to mix genders at the funeral prayer. These sort of opinions and the sort she fought all her lives might sound absurd in a parallel universe. But sad enough, they are a fact of life and have undoubtedly outlived Asma Jahangir.

This is why we are mourning the departure of Pakistan’s Eternal Free Speech Hero as we celebrated her life.

May God have mercy on us.

No Revolution for Pakistan

Source: Seattle Times

Do you recall the Arab Spring? It only happened within a period of last five years and even though it has largely died down, it has told us something very interesting about seemingly politically dormant populations. People can rise against oppressive governments, as they have so many times in history.

However, such instances among the population of the Indian subcontinent are very few in history, especially under a foreign colonial rule. Of course, there have been great exceptions with some great local warriors and insurgent empires like the Marathas rising against far larger forces. Resistance has not been absent. But largely, you will find little resistance until the failed War of Independence against the British in 1857, ignited for the perfectly wrong reasons, and finally the Swaraj movement under the unusual leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

Pakistan, separated from its Indian motherland, has been a breeding ground for political chaos. One so political. Pakistan, the Western part to be precise, has seen great political turmoil in its 70 years but no revolution. Of course, the Eastern Pakistan, which let’s face it, had no connection whatsoever to its eastern and clearly more prejudiced wing, had nothing to do with it anyway. Bengal had been at the forefront of the independence movement and with a very predominantly progressive political culture, it was only a matter of time that it would part ways with the regression of the socially conservative and theocratic Western Pakistan made up of Punjabis, Sindhis, Kashmiris, and immigrants from Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.

Pakistan immediately fell under oligarchical bureaucratic dictatorship. Forget the old battered revolutionaries locked away. That romance is over. For so much micropolitical storms in its teacup, the beverage of democracy was never eventually brewed. The founding fathers, who stayed true to most and betrayed in the eyes of a few, strangled the very idea by injecting theocracy in the framework of the Constitution. A discriminatory document that no self-respecting republican could stand behind. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah apparently died too soon and too weak to have been a decisive factor over it, ironically and inadvertently becoming responsible for a theocracy for a man who embodied secular lifestyle and values.

With the context of this horrifying background and ruled by a draconian army that is apparently the best fit for the mix, the people of Pakistan live disconnected, indifferent lives. They acknowledge, but choose to ignore, the evils of their society. They recognize the need to hang people in public squares but never take any action. They frequently kill women for honor but never resist when their freedom is trampled on.

To add insult to injury, Pakistani not-so-private propaganda channels are loaded with state-backed faux revolutionaries to provoke people to throw out any remnants of elected office in the country, but never see any movement among the hibernating masses. Compare that to the Tunisian democratic revolution, then a lot more has happened in Pakistan to hurt the public sentiment to warrant one.

From the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to May 12 killings and Model Town massacre and from Panama Verdict and Judicial coups to allegedly systematic murder and rape of little children, nothing has inspired such a movement even though supposedly building public anger and frustration.

People continue to move on. So despite all the apparent injustice, widespread abuse, and intolerable discrimination and torture, people are opting to stay put. They have accepted their condition as a natural order, a will of God, and do not want to disturb the imperfect equilibrium that at least keeps life going.

But can you really blame them? They, the illiterate and naive people, have seen what revolution brings to those who seek it. Misery, persecution, and a whole new level of slavery and dangers. Nobody wants to give up their relative freedoms away, even those under a mildly draconian regime of thugs. There is still a lot to lose than to gain perhaps from such a misadventure. The loss of the individual is not the loss of society.

Nevertheless, you are compelled to ask when is it going to be enough. How many rapes and murders of the daughters of the poor and abandoned will it take for the people to be outraged enough? How many plots of land will be taken away from the poor and helpless before the people say no more? You wonder how much is it going to take.

And what will that outrage precisely be? A civil outrage fueling vigils? Is that enough? And if it isn’t what did the rioters in London, the arsonists in Missouri, and the miscreants in Islamabad achieve? Did they achieve revolution? Most certainly not. But were able to make life miserable for other common people like them, property owners or not. That same order of life those common people go to great lengths to preserve. Nobody really likes a radical, until he becomes socially acceptable.

When do you push the boundaries far enough to take a riot to revolution? To take political slogans to civil war? Why did the Egyptians feel compelled to overthrow Mobarek and why did they give up at Al-Sisi? Why did the Persians feel content with ousting the Shah and not the Ayatollah? Why settle with one oppressor, one abuser, and one tyrant and not the other? Are these people and this land worth sacrificing your life for? And if you wait for enough people to join in order to jump, do they ever get to?

These are the questions we are not willing to ponder, let alone even begin to think to answer. At least not now. We must get on with our lives because you only live once.

There is no revolution for Pakistan.

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 2017: Khadim Hussain Rizvi

Now you can’t really say that our Pakistani idiot of the year this time around is really an idiot because he has been grabbing the entire nations by the balls and making them do what he essentially wanted to. Albeit for a limited period of time. He has got hundreds of followers mesmerized by him despite obviously being a foul-mouthed psychopath who wants to see blood on the streets and want everyone killed who does not subscribe to his views about the finality of Prophethood, or even someone who even remotely have sympathy for those who do not.

He is a dangerous idiot because he has endangered the legitimacy of the government and the rule of law in Pakistan. And the state apparatus that has been so tolerant to him and his goons of the Tehreek Labaik Ya-Rasool Allah probably do not realize that he has singlehandedly undermined their authority with seemingly irreparable damage caused by the approval of his unreasonable demands on the alleged attempt to amend the Finality of Prophethood clause. I cannot begin to get into the horrific world of Khadim Hussain Rizvi but in my tradition of celebrating the most hideous instances of idiocy every year, here is a little glimpse of what the not-so-charismatic-and-abusive cleric-politician is capable of.

This is the wildness and viciousness of the religious extremism that shows its face when it cannot express itself in violence.

There have been other quite a few idiotic incidents this year as well and please forgive me for not keeping track of all the nonsense that has been going on through this year, so please free to add something to this list if you want to bother. One of them being the goofball they have hired as the new DG ISPR Gen. Asif Ghafoor claiming to be a “fundamentalist and not an extremist,” apart from a wide array of idiotic political statements. High Court Justice Shaukat Siddiqui for taking unsolicited action against bloggers and suggesting that social media be blocked if blasphemous content is not removed. Aamer Liaquat Hussain for his ridiculous blasphemy witch hunt on BOL TV Network and Orya Maqbool Jan for his declaration of Jihad against secular bloggers.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Jamaat-e-Islami Chief Prof. Ibrahim Khan for taking pride in undoing the secular curriculum in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his Emir Siraj-ul-Haq offering to bear the expenses of the wife and children of Mumtaz Qadri to honor the “martyr.” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise a sane and supposedly progressive politician, by being the most responsible authority figures under whose eyes the social media and information ban was imposed on November 26. Pervez Musharraf, who has apparently completely gone senile after losing power for praising the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba for supposedly supporting him and thinking it is cool to shame his political rivals by insulting women. Right at the beginning of this year, our honorable Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif anti-Semitic rant in reaction to fake news about Israel.  And of course, who could forget the filthy McCarthyist hate speech-laden tirade by Captain Safdar on the floor of the assembly.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi is particularly an idiot to even alienate the most religious of Barelvi Muslims by his unacceptable behavior, for which the devil in me also has admiration for him as he has contaminated the supposed sanctity of religious teachings. But such a useful idiot he was for the state, which let him loose to harass and harness an elected government.

The real idiots should actually be the people of Pakistan, who actually supported his cause one way or the other, but wouldn’t that be every year?

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the last year here.

Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

The Perfect Representative of Our Collective Morality

Source: Youtube Channel

It probably would not be a harsh exaggeration, if you compared the collective moral state of the people of Pakistan with that of the Apartheid South Africa, the American South when slavery was practiced and even Nazi Germany. These analogies, if you consider them so, sound very harsh and damning. However, when you see otherwise reasonable and probably morally well aware Pakistanis defend the discrimination against Ahmedis like rabid dogs, you probably don’t see it that way anymore.

How can the Pakistani Muslim people, such beautiful, loving, compassionate people be so brutal at heart? Well, the extent of an evil is trivialized when it is diluted over such a humungous demographic. It is almost shocking if you look at the real degree of this problem. It is truly remarkable how a supposedly desirable trait can eat up all traces of your humanity like the termite.

Well, nothing brings forth the state of this collective social morality than the recent protest by a Khatam-e-Naboowat Group or Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Movement, a blockade protest that even the more pious of my friends have grown tired of. Some of them would mourn when the government will actually take violent action to remove them, which some of them are calling for so angrily. But what is even more hilarious is that people are actually visibly disturbed by this character Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the clear face of completely unwarranted Barelvi extremism in Pakistan.

The excuse is the paranoia that the Western powers and the nefarious Ahmedis are conspiring to change the precious Finality of Prophethood law. If you recall the parliamentary incident of the electoral amendment, exploited thoroughly by the opposition and the repulsive, corrupt Captain Safdar, the protesting Prophet-loving clerics are apparently behind the head of the “cleric committing the error.” You know what they mean by punishing the culprits, the lovers of the Prophet. Talk about unreasonable demands.

Listening to the brutal, heartless, vulgar and merciless message that the leader of this movement has to offer, it is a disappointment to link him to the human race. Especially when he insulted Abdul Sattar Edhi, a rare incident of selfless humanity in the brutal Pakistani history of bloodshed and selfishness. But perhaps this is what the human beings were supposed to come down to. But other than that, this is perfectly what the Pakistani people deserved to have.

Pakistani people proudly and absolutely love the 2nd amendment that has demonized Ahmedi citizens among their ranks. Now they must endure the curse of Khadim Hussain Rizvi as a token of this love they are proud of so much.

I look forward to life becoming even more miserable for Pakistanis.