The Words of a Perpetually Angry Minister

Source: voanews.com

The recent blown-out-of-proportion episode of Dawn Leaks saw the civilian leadership reprimand the military for not being tough enough against Islamist militant outfits. However, the recent tirade by the Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, makes you wonder if they need to give a lecture to people in their own ranks.

Like a raving lunatic, Nisar went on to flaunt his love for a theocracy while serving in a democratic regime. His favorite target as always were his biggest critics but easily the softest ones in the country, of course. The secularists. I would not go as far as some as far as calling his comments a provocation to lynch the faithless, with Mashaal Khan’s murder fresh in memory, but let’s just say it was a pretty appalling display.

Basically, what gets under the skin of Chaudhary Nisar is the allegation that he is in bed with the Islamist terrorists of the country. While he completely considers it baseless, he has been seen often in talks with the religious fundamentalist leaders who are often seen to be behind Sunni sectarian terrorism. One of the recent episodes being his meeting with the ASWJ leadership.

Given Nisar’s predicament as the Interior Minister, which you cannot expect the likes of Jibran Nasir to fathom, you may have to engage such elements from time to time. However, his onslaught is more targeted to his more substantial PPP archrivals such as Senator Aitezaz Ahsan and other more secular peers who have often targeted the interior minister for his record.

But where he makes matters worse for himself by dodging the allegations by declaring himself a defender of Islam and emotionally blackmailing the religiously fervent public. And even worse, misrepresenting secularism in front of the masses while holding his secular office.

Furthermore, secularists in Pakistan are also lamenting the fact that the Interior Minister is playing an intellectually dishonest narrative by equating secularism with a lack of religion. While many secularists would not mind a society without religion, the tactic used by the Interior Minister is a classic one to create a roadblock for secularism in a society like Pakistan.

But what these critics of secularism fail to understand is that since a secularist deems religion to be an individual affair, they are least bothered about what religion anyone is practicing. It is precisely the paradigm of interfering with another’s religion that defines the viewpoint of someone who wants to impose a theocracy. The trouble with religious conservatives is that they expect everyone else to share their invasive ideas about religion in society.

Either that or Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan is more malignant than he is ignorant. As Wusatullah Khan points out in his latest BBC Urdu column, it is strange that someone educated at Aitchison would confuse secularism with atheism. But what if the minister is playing the ladeeniyat (faithlessness) card on purpose, and like always has used the dirtiest trick to block the already narrow path to secularism by equating it with a lack of religion.

Of course, a lack of religion means a lack of moral compass to religious people, especially with the oldest beverage in the world getting an honored mention in his speech. But it is funny how all these reservations are absolutely disregarded with atheist communist friend China by the same theocrats like him who attack others for stooping to anything for power. You know the atheist communist China which actually persecutes Muslims horrifyingly as opposed to the meek critiques of the toothless and terrified Pakistani secularists. It would indeed be fun to watch how China tolerates Pakistan’s vision of religion as it invests physical assets more heavily than ever in an ally cursed with theocratic instability.

But perhaps more than anything else, the honorable federal minister is just a very compulsively angry man who probably should not be serving as the boss of the national cops and federal agencies. It is under him that we have seen the worst crackdown against bloggers in history and he is still at it by announcing a new witch-hunt against websites which defame the Pakistani military. He might also want to take a look at a few of the members of his own party for those instances.

If you find yourself confused that Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan belongs to the same party as that of the Prime Minister who has spent two straight Holi festivals with the Hindu community, nobody should blame you too much. And for as long as the PM keeps this relationship for a handful seats in the Rawalpindi district, it would remain to be the bane of his existence.

As it would be of ours.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

.

We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why We Badly Need to See a Therapist As a Nation

Source: geo.tv

In a saner world, or let me rephrase that even before I begin…

In the real world, such behavior is easily considered to be mentally unstable. A serious problem. Yes, even in Pakistan.

On an evidently non-violent trigger, anger fits so severe that you end up possibly and at times actually killing a human being. Even doing the same to a non-human animal would warrant serious investigation but of course what really matters is how good you feel at the end of the deed. Nobody wants to burn in the agony of repressed anger about God knows what.

Let the rage out. It’s good to let the poison out. But also focus on the positive things in life. You know, surround yourself with positive people. But still does that make this problem go away?

And what is the solution to this sort of behavior? What would you suggest for an individual displaying such dangerous, out-of-control behavior? Or even worse, a large group of individuals displaying shockingly identical symptoms. Now it is easy to condemn and dismiss a large group of people just like that, but what about offering a real solution.

The latest episode of rage is an undeniable symptom and evidence of such a condition among our nation.

I don’t know about you but when I experienced not-so-similar and far less dangerous anxiety and compulsive symptoms, I went to a psychiatrist. I was prescribed some medicine and now I feel much better, or I am trying at least. Now I know while there is no way you can make the problem disappear completely, you can at least manage it and become socially acceptable.

There really is no taboo in mental illness, especially when you acknowledge that you are going to act to treat it. Of course, no one chooses their mental disease but they can sometimes choose to keep people around them from suffering the consequences.

It is more difficult to diagnose and treat mass hysteria though. Especially when it is mixed with a strange mix of illusions, delusions, and paranoia of an extreme nature. They have an altered version of reality.

However, it is just a thought that we may go on with this sort of inappropriate behavior or start facing the reality of our condition and to start treating it. While I know that it is hard for an entire nation to see a therapist or be prescribed an SNRI or an antipsychotic for curbing the violence in our heavily indoctrinated nerves, we could start doing so in an individual capacity.

Mashaal Khan – Source: wire.in

Doing so might limit incidents such as the lynching and public humiliation of Mardan journalism student Mashaal Khan at the hands of his fellow campus mates in Abdul Wali Khan University for committing a blasphemy, allegedly or not.

This is not normal if you think it is. It is just a socially acceptable mental disease. And estimating very carefully, we badly need some help. Which means seeing a well reputed, qualified psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressants and anti-psychotics, whatever is needed in each deteriorated case.

However, you could choose to make matters worse if you think that the local cleric in your mosque is a good substitute to a psychiatrist. Or especially if you think he is more qualified. That is why we have this role in our society and economy.

But of course, all the rational prescriptions to this condition would sound not only ridiculous but outrageous and offensive when religion comes into the picture.

In that case, even the most savage behavior somehow becomes the most enviable sign of high piety.

In that case, diagnosing, prescribing and helping become acts of blasphemy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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People Who Want to Impose Sharia Should Be Socially Isolated By Now

Source: Shahbaz Malik/Express Tribune

Are you not tired of hearing people screaming on TV talk shows that we have not learned our lessons in the war against terrorism? Hearing people ask why we need a military operation every one or two years.

One of the biggest reasons Pakistan has not been fully able to eradicate the tumor of terrorism, and probably never will, is because we speak from the both sides of our mouth. We probably never would be fully able to control the menace of Islamist terrorism because let’s face it, we actively support the ideals of the Taliban, whether good or bad, in Pakistan.

We speak of madrassah reform and guarding the Afghan border, but what do these abstractions really mean if you are silent about allies of terrorism within your borders? What are you going to do about people actively aligning themselves with the ideology of the terrorists?

Have we not implemented the Will and the Law of God by establishing the Objectives Resolution and declaring Pakistan an Islamic Republic? Since then, have we not established the Shariah Courts, as well as the Islamic Ideological Council?

So what is this “Sharia” that these people speak of? Surely, they are referring to the atrocious system that the Taliban have been imposing in Afghanistan and the Northwestern parts of the country, and currently practiced by the menacing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. This system involves women locked inside their homes and not leaving them without an acquaintance and wrapped in face veils, as well as cruel and inhumane penalties such as stoning to death and public floggings.

Perhaps, you could argue that they are free to do so under their constitutional right of the freedom of association, if not out of pure religious obligation. If this is what freedom of religion is going to protect, then we should have nothing to do with that constitutional liberty.

But here is the question that we all must be asking. Why should such people be treated any less harshly than the way the Communist party workers were during the Cold War years? We had the luxury to malign them socially for allegedly being atheists, as many of them would have been. But how to counter the hardcore Islamist who thinks that the common Pakistani, always busy dodging the label of kafir, is an infidel?

The Pakistani military’s periodic and desperate outbursts against Islamist militants ironically branded by fancy Arabic names are not going to achieve anything lasting. Because probably they are scared enough to even address the Islamists within their own rank and file. It is because they are not even there yet to address the madrasahs at home, which are virtually sanctuaries for Islamism.

We live in a country where people get away with issuing amateur fatwas of death against just about anyone they please. Especially, when these legal opinions are considered established verdicts. Let that sink in. That is the state of morality of our nation at the moment. So, of course, we are not going to hear anyone challenge the authorities of the assets of Islamism in the country. Everyone is too scared.

Islamist terrorists around the world, from Al-Qaida and the Islamic State to Hezbollah and Muslim Brotherhood, are sadly united by one battle cry. Their local ally Jamaat-e-Islami is no exception. All of them are pan-Islamists at heart and support global domination of theocracy by belief and practice it under the guise of practicing their mystical version of “Sharia.” A doctrine that brutally destroys humanities, arts, and culture, whether secular or religious. Sometimes even taking refuge in democratic systems to drive their undemocratic totalitarian agenda.

The fact of the matter remains, and our civil and military leadership should realize it, that supporters of Taliban terrorists are present throughout the country. A suicide bomber does not reach Sehwan from the Afghan border in a day. Every single person who wants to “establish Sharia” despite living in an Islamic Republic happens to be one for starters. Because clearly, they have more sinister designs in mind which are threatening to the way of life of the cultures of the Indus.

Considering the latest in news, you can safely estimate that the security establishment is focusing its attention on, if not taking sadistic pleasure in, persecuting the perfectly wrong elements. Of course, this sort of behavior would be absolutely unacceptable in a parallel universe, but since we are condemned to be stuck in this one, let us hope that they amend their focus to the real threats faced by the nation.

However, it is important to get some perspective in order to achieve that. By the way, the imposition of Sharia as these people see it would not just be an ideological defeat to a handful of harmless secular bloggers isolated in their respective bubbles. It would be as great an inconvenience to the obscenely lavish and Westernized lifestyle of our honorable politicians, generals, and bureaucrats. A group of people who have colluded to force their subjects to live by very different rules.

As long as the state does not correct its focus, the pointless firefighting drills against the real enemies of the state would never end.

And it is about time we reject and isolate those around us demanding “Sharia” ourselves because our leaders do not have the guts to take action.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Intolerance of the Cult of “True Islam”

Source: Hindustan Times

Source: Hindustan Times

The unfortunate and devastating bombing at the Sehwan Sharif shrine sheds a new light at the. The devotees of the shrine and those with a Sufi leaning in their faith reinforced their love for the spiritual rituals practiced over there.

The Islamic State accepted the responsibility for the Sehwan Sharif suicide bombing and sent a clear message to all who have deviated from the true practice of the faith.

Perhaps only a day or two after the bombing, classical dancer Sheema Kermani went up to the shrine and performed the iconic dhamaal to send her message that life must go on at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine. Now, this was supposed to be a beautiful, powerful moment of spirituality and love that should have brought the entire humanity together.

By good numbers, the dhamaal, or the ecstatic spiritual dance, was seen as a moral abomination. Something they would never imagine their mothers or sisters to be doing as opposed to the obscene dancer who defied the terrorist, other than the notion that it was pure heresy. Something which would have made the true founders of Islam turn in their graves.

Obviously, many of the urban upper class Deobandi/Wahabi kids had seen dhamaal for the first time in their lives, so their shock is understandable. But it is the rest of the crowd, who actively campaigns to condemn dissenting religious groups is where the intolerance begins a little too much to tolerate.

While their assertions of what was and was not done by the Prophet and his companions may well be true, their effect in the contemporary society goes far beyond that. What the Cult of True Islam cannot stomach is the fact that somehow Pakistan happens to be very pluralistic in its religious makeup at the grassroots, even with its seemingly very homogeneous official faith. What the Cult of True Islam cannot come to terms with is the possibility that Islam may have evolved a little over the last fourteen centuries and hundreds of regions.

The Islam of Pakistanis happens to be far from one at least, unlike the monolithic form of monotheism you see practiced by the Saudi Arabian regime. We do kiss and touch stones over here, prostrate at grave sites in reverence, and wear charms and amulets. Not surprisingly, we have sects within sects within sects in Pakistan and it is not necessarily a bad thing, the shock at it certainly is. Not only that, we have a rich Sufi tradition that has oftentimes been a result of marriage with the wisdom from Hindu ascetics. Nobody should be afraid to say that.

So just like the region of the Indus that today falls under the modern Pakistan republic is ethnically and lingually diverse, it is no surprise that it is as diverse in its religious affiliations. The Cult of True Islam has been at it to dismantle every aspect of its culture and turn it into Arabia. Too bad we still don’t see as many date trees around our neighborhoods than we ought to.

While we can manufacture several conspiracy theories about how the Islamic State emerged, what we hesitate to face is the foundation of our fatwa culture. It is basically the Islam purists among us who we dismiss playfully that are responsible for the culture of declaring “kafir.” While I have never had personally anything against the label (I used to think it was a compliment), I gradually realized what it meant for others.

The acceptance of this intolerance has been as commonplace as the occurrence of the word kafir and Shia in one sentence. It was only a matter of time that the larger practice of paying homage to the great Sufi saints that this region is known for started falling under that category.

The expression of “True Islam” remains to be an enigmatic paradox which apparently is grappled only by those who claim to be its proponents in whatever context it is thrown at you. If it is in the context of secularism, you know all its good qualities were already embodied in it. If it is in the context of who is a truer Muslim, then you know you certainly cannot win. I only wish the proponents of the True Islam were as flexible as the concept itself is.

It is not a problem to hold, observe and practice a certain belief system. Actually, that is precisely what I am arguing for. But how about you stop imposing their superior faith of you on others who are observing their own tradition. Perhaps, it is not going to happen in an atmosphere where intolerance is encouraged and where art and culture are seen as obscenities.

The funny thing is that the same people would make tall claims of how their faith would perfectly allow existence for anyone with a different belief system.

We may feel appalled by the Islamic State and dismiss and condemn them as “Kharijites,” but what about the apologies for the very philosophy that they are acting on? Are they not found all over Pakistan? Or sitting in the next cubicle at your workplace?

Religious zeal and puritanism sound like nice ideas but they need to understand that the fabric of the society cannot remain intact without the necessary tolerance for the faith of each other.

And yes, even the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan appears to promise that freedom that these purists want to see disappear.

So how about we keep the contract going that the locals of this region have had with each other for thousands of years?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

One Good Reason to Celebrate the Valentine’s Day

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Many of us are cynical when it comes to the Valentine’s Day. And for a good reason too. The Western and probably overly commercialized holiday makes you cringe. And of course, you don’t even need to focus on the harassment that ensues.

But we have forgotten in our sharp criticism that somewhere people with sincere expressions of love are celebrating this holiday too.

I know many people respond that they don’t need a specific day to express their love, because they do so every day. But perhaps we do since we are so lost in our materialistic pursuits in a gesellschaft.

How many times do you speak to a particular friend in a year? Let alone a love interest. At least I don’t nearly as many times as someone would expect, if at all. But I should speak for myself only.

But if none of these arguments make any sense to you, which is perfectly fine, there is one good reason that would help you celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or at least realize that it should not be taken for granted.

Don’t forget that Sabeen fought for the freedom to celebrate the holiday. I don’t know about most of you, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a good occasion to respect the memory of Sabeen, a true Pakistani free speech hero.

Well, now you would hardly find a trace of photographic evidence of this episode online because our overly concerned media publications worried about the sensitivities of their audience too much. However, like the photographs from the campaign, the courage of Sabeen Mahmud in the face of religious authoritarianism must not be erased from our memory.

We know for a fact that the campaign at least jeopardized her life thanks to the instant fatwa machines in the Karachi madrassahs. However, you could speculate if that was the only motive of her killer, if any at all. But that’s what they tell us.

With every forgiven attack and every neglected bit of hate speech and death threats, we are condemned to desensitize ourselves from this moral abomination. However, we are also condemned to put up with it, until we are not. Because in a land where morality is enforced by threatening the life of its citizens, the only law is that of the sword, not of some high moral divinity.

In a society, such as this, celebrating the Valentine’s Day is an act of defiance in itself. Especially when our courts issue verdicts such as banning the holiday in public spaces that defy the standards of civil rights. In some cases, it is even an act of sheer mad bravery. Not very different to what Sabeen did during her campaign challenging religious authoritarianism.

I am not a fan of mingling political statements with holiday celebrations at all. But this is one exception that I would not mind. So, when you celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pakistan, do keep in mind that in such a society, the holiday is more than just vain indulgence.

Isn’t it a good reason to celebrate?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Writing on the Wall

Source: clarionproject.org

Source: clarionproject.org

Well, the writing on the wall is clear.

Now it begins. So much for the days of freewheelin’ secular and leftist bloggers. It’s all over.

Now is the time for the Islamist social conservative and the militant nationalist to reclaim the space on the social media that they probably should never have given up. So that these secular bloggers never should have started in the first place.

Now begins the time to silence our pens and tongues from dissenting.

On the bright side, at least the social conservatives and religious fanatics might stand against the banning of social media websites, which actually comes as second nature to our authoritarian government.

As I said earlier that the Jamaat-e-Islami goons could be the first on the streets protesting a facebook ban.

But I’d understand if you accuse me of too much optimism here. Because the picture on the ground… on the cyberspace, rather… is quite dismal.

We get it. There are some matters which are too sacred and important to be discussed.

But whichever force is behind the sudden disappearance of the three bloggers, could you please return them to safety as citizens of this country?

While we are sadly aware that an allegation of blasphemy is considered verdict in this society, and even though that’s what the fight is all about, could we still hope for some respite for them?

We totally understand. We know that perhaps some of the nationalistic entities absolutely have no regard how the world sees us in terms of our tolerance for free speech.

We would keep that in mind whenever we are going to write. Because we want to live peacefully in the one and only life that has been enforced upon us.

Not only do we assure of good behavior, we would also be particularly respectful of any ideas that is held by our social conservative ideological adversaries. Because there really is no other choice.

But even if we do adhere to these rules and do not wake up the dormant, if not dead, conscience of the nation, we still cannot ignore the damage done. We simply cannot ignore the “disappearance” of the secular bloggers.

And now we hear that all of them have committed blasphemy. How convenient. So, who is the entity that takes such action against such people and how have we decided that they are guilty?

Of course, the ones who get caught are always the blasphemers and the traitors.

Alright, we get it. There are certain lines that we are not supposed to cross. But not everyone is going to agree. There are always going to be some people who are never going to agree.

What are we going to do with them?

Are we going to make them disappear, kill them, or try them all for blasphemy and treason? Hang them on public squares?

And if yes, then what is the message that we are sending to the world about Pakistan? What sort of a country treats its citizens in this way?

The guardians of national security should think about it.

Now this may offend the loyalist of the state and religion, but there is a reason it is our duty to stand up for these missing bloggers.

One of us could be next any day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.