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.

Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4  

The Mayan Apocalypse Day Post

Source: Bizarro.com

Source: Bizarro.com

So today is December 21, 2012.

The Sun aligns the center of the Milky Way galaxy, something that happens once in every 25,772 years. Well sorry, that occurs every year. Not me, NASA said that.

And everyone is making fun of the people who believed that today would be the Doomsday. Well, they are spot on because apparently the world will not end today, though I would want to wait till the date December 21 is over on the last timezone in the world, and everyone has the right to criticize the otherwise-all-knowing Mayans. But wait, what do Mayans have to do with this doomsday date? I’d rather give the due credit to the History Channel.

Well, for starters, the end of the Mayan calendar does not mean the end of the world. The cartoon above shows most probably what would have happened.  And no one is stupid enough to expect the plot of a pathetic Roland Emmerich motion picture becoming reality. Although I must say that the panic and destruction in that pathetic motion picture to some extent is very much possible, but perhaps not at ridiculosly apocalyptic levels.

But what really ticks me off is religious people criticizing and invalidating the Mayan Apocalypse theory with a shot of preaching of their own version of the Apocalypse, let it be Hadith eschatology or the Book of Revelations and the Rapture. And the usual line “Only Allah knows about the end of the world”. So your criticism on anyone and anything is more than welcome, but please do examine the validity of the explanation that you are confidently presenting as its alternative as well.

I mean how ridiculous can you get. If we consider the Mayan “prophesy” (because I am not even sure if there was any prophesy at all) to be religious, has it occurred to the religious people that their versions of the story-that-never-happened could be equally false? Especially when their versions of the history have no place for the dinosaurs who went extinct after a similar apocalyptic event, as per scientific estimates with the most plausible explanation, which you are free to doubt without being responsible enough to explain your conviction over your belief-without-evidence.

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Source: disbelief.net via Michael Dare

Yes there are millions more waiting for Jesus, the Mahdi, the Meshiach, Kalki and God knows who else. Are they any saner than the ones who have been supposed to have brought forth the Doomsday prophesy, a misnomer in the Mayan case. Sorry I am using the Apocalypse as an excuse to bash religion, but it’s just so related to it that it controls people’s lives, especially the Abrahamic fanatics, who base their present prejudices on the basis of horrific future certainties. I can tell that a lot of silent animosity between Muslims and Jews is because of the end of days traditions.

Actually it was really amusing. A news anchor on Aaj TV (and I really don’t want to single them out, it must be going on on several other Pakistani “news” channels as well, but that’s what I was watching at that time) was presenting a report on the December 2012 craze and he was literally preaching Islam on television and I said to whoever was sitting with me: Is this news? Is this a professional news channel? “Only Allah knows about the Judgment Day”. Are we presenting that statement as a fact to the people? I’d never allow that if I were in charge but it’s just hilarious. Maybe they should start hiring mullahs as newscasters and newsroom editors.

But the fact remains that science tells us there will be an Apocalypse sooner or later, whenever it may occur. The Earth could be eaten up by the Sun if Andromeda does not bang into our system before that, or we do not get to witness a Gamma Ray Burst in the coming months that occurred thousands or even millions of years ago. But I believe we have made enough scientific progress to see it coming a bit before it occurs, unless the space agencies choose to hide the information, and in any case we would not be able to do much about it though. Recall Armageddon (1998)?

But even a major earthquake or a flash flood or a tsunami is like Apocalypse for a person whose home is swept away with the indifferent fury of Mother Nature. Therefore, I would not call those who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take precautions idiots. I think their investment is going to pay off sooner and later, and while hoaxes like 2012 could be dismissed as propaganda for stimulating the business of the “survival industry”, it is not really a bad idea investing for a doomsday backup, whether they call it paranoia or not. Though the key is ease of access on a minute’s notice.

In a similar effort, a Chinese citizen Li Qiyuan has built a spherical doomsday ark that can support 30 people for 2 months in apocalyptic conditions at a cost of $ 288,000. Sounds pretty impressive, especially because it could possibly withstand a lot of shock, though I am not sure about the impact on the physical health of the persons inside. But nevertheless, it is the next best thing after the underground shelter and Larry Hall’s comprehensive luxury 2012 condos. Another entrepreneur with a similar invention has even started taking orders.

The Chinese inventor fittingly named his creation the “Noah’s Ark” and the funny part is that a group of Muslims found that offensive, as usual.  I just hope they don’t kill this very very useful man. But apart from jokes, it is blasphemy scanners like these who end up achieving violent protests and killings.

So I’m glad the end of the world turned out to be pretty hilarious in the end.

Anyway.

Happy Mayan Apocalypse Day.

Better luck next time.

Blasphemy Scanners & the Responsibility for Violence

Source: archbishopcranmner.blogspot.com

There is a certain type of Muslims. I call them Blasphemy Scanners. They are pretty fervent and though they are educated and may appear to be pretty peaceful, they are as fanatic as your average uneducated mullah.

These are zealots absolutely infatuated with the fear of someone in some remote corner of some country in the Western World insulting the good name of Prophet Muhammad in one way or another. While you would find youtube to be absolutely clogged with verbal insults to the Prophet, you cannot possibly take real action against just about every bigoted individual, can you?

Therefore, the only possible instances on which you could possibly invite and incite fellow believers to take meaningful action is published blasphemy. Even then, not all published perceived blasphemies are graced by the attention of these blasphemy hunters. Nevertheless, they try not to miss the chance whenever they do get to learn about one. Because just like honorably righteous people who like to catch people having encounters of a sexual nature in these countries, they like to hunt for reasonable blasphemies to outrage about.

If not all, then most of you would be familiar with the Muslim belief that anyone insulting Prophet Muhammad should be put to death. This view may not necessarily be very fervently shared by all sects who claim to be Muslims, but I believe that mainstream Sunnis and Shias would agree on it, especially the former. This is why the awareness of almost all the perceived blasphemies involve rage and more often than not direct incitement to violence, depending on the anger experienced by the particular blasphemy scanner at the moment.

The recent controversy over the film Innocence of Muslims, which has disappointed many over its appalling artistic quality and concerns over misleading actors about its subject, has sparked violent riots all over Pakistan as expected. In a wave of violence that swept Pakistan from Peshawar to Islamabad and from Lahore to Karachi, 4 cinemas, at least 3 bank branches, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce building and outlets of a US food chain were set fire. At least 100 people were reported injured and 19 were killed. 1 policeman was also killed among countless injured, while several ATMs were plundered.

All this occurred on the “Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool Day” or the “Love for the Prophet Day”, a meaningless holiday declared by the Pakistani Government on Friday, September 21, 2012. Let us not for a minute go into the ridiculous idea of the holiday, which was of course meant to invite “peaceful protest” over the offensive film, but let’s talk about what really happened at the end of the day. The violence of the protesters all over Pakistan clearly demonstrated to the world how tolerant Muslims are and and how ridiculous their reaction is. But then again, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, it has all happened before.

The interesting fact is that most of the people have criticized and condemned the violent protests resulting in the loss of billions of rupees and priceless and precious human lives. What is even more interesting is that a lot of people, who have been reproaching other Muslims for not taking enough action over the insult to Prophet Muhammad, are now left with no choice but to condemn the violence too, because they apparently had some other ideas about how the protesters would demonstrate their wounded faith. These primarily include hypocritical religious scholars pretending to be peaceful on TV.

Granted that any calls for peaceful protests over any alleged blasphemy is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But when they reprimand them for “not enough action” and “lack of honor and faith”, what exactly do they want people to do but to act like a mob and try burning the American embassy or worse local civilian and police property down to ashes. It is apparently the most convenient thing in the world to dismiss any onus of violence when you are actually calling for it, but the truth is that these blasphemy scanners are very much responsible for directly inciting violence as a reaction to these perceived offenses. I would like to hear that some of them are guilty about it.

As a matter of fact, I would go as far as deducing that these blasphemy scanners are more responsible for inciting violence than the original alleged blasphemers, if the latter are at all. The reason for that is quite simple and straightforward. The blasphemy scanners are directly inciting a reaction, which is more often than not violent in case of  extremist Muslims, especially knowing that the accepted reaction to mainstream Islam for the offense is one of violence. We have witnessed the same reaction against the alleged blasphemers in the case of the blasphemous films or the satirical cartoons about Prophet Muhammad to be sure about that.

You could doubt my point about violent incitement against perceived blasphemies, but it is very much part of the faith of most Muslims and it is widely accepted by the community around the world. A few protest text specimens calling for the death of those who have been involved in insulting Prophet Muhammad.

Source: Arif Ali (AFP)/Al-Akhbar

Source: The Daily Nation

Source: IndexonCensorship.org – A Protest from London

Source: DNA Photo

The last two photographs would be really shocking for some. The first one, for those who believe that Muslims living in the West are moderates and the second one for those who consider eunuchs and transgenders to be the most peaceful and the weakest members of the Pakistani society. In the last photo, they are calling for the beheading of the perceived blasphemers too. I don’t really blame them as violent individuals by nature and oppose doing so. It is their unreasonable faith which pushes them to call for such mindless violence. As a matter of fact, a businessman refusing to participate in the violent protests was accused of blasphemy as well.

Here are a few clips of some of the mainstream ulema or the scholars of Islam openly calling for the death of anyone who insults Prophet Muhammad. This includes Sunni scholars including the Deobandi and Barelvi schools and also a Shia scholar, which covers pretty much everything. Just in case you thought your particular brand of Islam was any better. You may want to skip the videos, if you are already convinced.

You could argue that these perceived blasphemies, particularly the film Innocence of Muslims, were meant to provoke a violent reaction, but it can easily be disproved because as far as I understand those works do not involve any direct call to violence. As for the latest controversy, it is just a very poorly made motion picture that takes an alternative and derogatory look at what would or could have been the history of the origins of Islam, I don’t know.

But certainly there is absolutely no excuse or justification for inciting violence and carrying out those violent acts, even if we suppose for a minute that the blasphemous film did really call for violence against Muslims, still there would be no justification for such hateful statements and violent protests harming people who have nothing to do with the controversy. And many so-called peaceful Muslim scholars, who bear the prime responsibility of inciting all the violence then try getting away with a clean image by condemning it once the act is committed.

While this post may seem contradictory to the notion offered in my earlier post that most peaceful Muslims do not take part in violent protests, it actually is not the case. Peaceful Muslims do not take part in violent protests indeed, and yes there do exist peaceful Muslims contrary to what they would like you to believe.

But yes, most of them are infected with the inability to challenge the barbaric, violent and completely unreasonable beliefs that are a part of their faith, so they play silent and willfully ignorant witnesses to this madness. Maybe they are not religious enough to be violent or maybe they are choosing to remain silent out of love of their own dear lives, but that’s the way it is.

The reason why the attitude of the moderate Muslims, who have many critics who call them no better than the extremists, is dangerous because such violent beliefs are extended to persecute minorities such as the Ahmedis. It is a well known fact that Ahmedis are considered offenders of the concept of the Finality of Prophet Muhammad by Sunni Muslims and many of them believe that it is a duty to murder them. So there is absolutely no doubt that the faith is violent but the followers have a choice to follow the incitement to violence or not.

Even if the film was meant to spark violence, the ignorant and tactless extremist Muslims have surely helped its makers  and financiers achieve their objectives.

What is the defence of violence?

What we can probably safely say is that the film surely was meant to spark hatred for Muslims but that too in an indirect manner and it is not the first film in the world made for propaganda purpose. But does that justify banning it? Because if you were to advocate banning it for those reasons, then I would also recommend banning scripture, another form of propaganda, by using the same rationale.

Of course that would not be acceptable to any religious person so it always hurts when they get a treatment of their own medicine.

Learn to live with it.

The Dangers of Ideologies

Source: Reuters/MSNBC

If there is one word that could be used to sum up machines building prejudices, it is ideology. I don’t want to make the argument in this phrase sound like a sweeping judgmental statement like the ones particularly condemning religion in our times, but yes, a part of that is a part of it. This does not necessarily mean that ideology is a bad thing. All I want to say here is that it can be counterproductive at times, and particularly dangerous when it interferes with logical and mathematical reasoning, especially when it fuels and/or builds prejudices.

Ideology is important to most people. It is actually important and indispensable to most people. I am not against having that sort of a broad outlook to life and existence. It can prove healthy, yet unhealthy at the same time, as a lot of things which are meant to be healthy-for-the-mind go. It all comes down to application but the problem is that people choose to take their beliefs a bit too far to be able to reconcile them with the contradictory facts or reason that they may encounter. While it would be incorrect and absolutist of anyone to assert that ideology is the root of all evil, which it clearly is not as evil predates all such products of evil mistaken to be its sources, it can still create quite a bit of trouble.

While the problem is almost natural to occur, I somehow find it disturbing to how it divides people. Still I would not act like an ideologue by asserting that ideologies are the absolute source of evil, even though I know that there is a part of me that is irrational and that also believes in an ideology. However, if you are reasonable, it does not really matter. It is this being reasonable part which I want to see, because being unreasonable is simply the greatest problem under discussion in this context.

Yes, indeed, it is ideology that prevents you from accepting what others have to offer you in good reason. But not everyone is like that, though not everyone is like that at one point of time, and not unlike that at another. We tend to forget, or not know about it as if we never had it in mind at all and many give in to the domination of ideology if latter is the case. But in any case and at any rate, this surely causes a lot of trouble and un-productivity, unnecessary arguments, killed time that could rather be spent masturbating and illegible and meaningless ink stains on wasted paper that could have actually been a thousand trees injecting oxygen into our suffocating airspace.

Does it require any mention that in more of uncivilized and relatively irrational societies, ideologies can potentially and do cause a lot of bloodshed, in which those people indulge who hardly understand what they believe in? And in civilized and almost rational societies, in which scholars would conveniently contradict their own principles as long as they do not contradict with the mutated baton of bigotry passed on from one ideological fallacy to the other. The greatest thing is that it goes unnoticed by you when you are at it, only spotted by ideologues waiting for something to pounce on or by idiots like the writer of these lines, using it for writing lines like these.

Not every ideology may be reasonable but reason is employed to create each and every one. Not every ideology will bring happiness because somehow life has its own mechanism to run things that probably no such idea can encompass. You need a way to live your life, something to believe in before you give in to despair, but beware lest you become so blindly loyal to your ideology that you start bringing harm to your fellow beings and not even realize when a word of sense and reason is being spoken to you. I call it the bureaucratization of reason.

However, let us not spoil our evening with bitter realism and let us pretend that our ideologies steer us to a happy ending, as in Giaochinno Rossini‘s La Gazza Ladra, the composer whose 220th birthday is today. Because there is a good chance that ideology will defeat reason again.

The Politically Religious

In the English language, the adjective “religious” is used to mean in one of its contexts, to quote Merriam Webster as one of the many possible sources, for being scrupulously and conscientiously faithful, or fervent or zealous.

Well, perhaps the expression “doing or following something religiously” is used because the religious adhere to faith without much reasoning. Similar is the case with some people in the political sphere, who may or may not have anything to do with religious political parties or a religion even (clarifying just because I used the term “religious” in the post, and also to exaggerate the fact that they are perfectly smart folks), but who would adhere to their political parties so religiously that they would even justify the obviously wrong actions that their parties have been resorting to.

And this happens in the case of almost all the political parties around the world, no one singled out. And let me be clear again, it is actions, or say even statements, and not ideology that is being discussed here.

They would justify actions that any sane man would question and would object to, just because of their affiliation with a party. I guess it would not be incorrect if I take the liberty to call them “The Politically Religious”.

They are either not sincere to their countries or humanity, or are more sincere to their political parties than their countries or humanity, which is perfectly fine and rather admirable, and the only way this behavior would make sense, well to me at least.

In either case, their principle, if there is one, is beyond my understanding.

In the end, to quote Mark Twain:

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government (party?) when it deserves it.

Though the last refuge of a scoundrel…

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NOTE: If you have been offended by this post, then let me clarify the fact that if you do criticize your political party for all its nonsense, then this post is not talking about you. If you are feeling offended anyway,  then you may or may not even know that what nonsense your political party is or has been up to, and I am glad that I successfully offended you. Nothing personal though and I support your freedom to uphold your opinion. If you know that you have been at it and have not been offended, then you are fit to become a politician, if you are not one already. I have been as general and discreet in my manner of putting forth my argument as possible. You will find your specific examples when you come across them and will not have to work as hard for finding them as you would have for reading these lines. However, my sincere apologies and respects to the genuinely religious folks, that is, only if you disapprove of suicide-bombers and preaching.

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