A Giant Leap for Indian Civil Rights

Source: Tribune India

India might be taking a couple of steps back every now and then in terms of the secular health of its democracy. But one thing is for sure, its democracy is strong and steady.

India just took a giant leap for civil rights by suspending Section 377 of the regressive British-imposed Indian Penal Code. The Indian Supreme Court threw out this abomination of a law that criminalized homosexuality. It also functionally did not recognize male or male transgender rape. This section, which by the way is still enforced in Pakistan, only accounts for sodomy as an act against nature, even if a person rapes a man or a male transgender.

This is a demonstration of how the highest court that interprets the Constitution must function in a democracy. The Indian Supreme Court, I am proud to say, is performing that function indeed.

Unfortunately, back home in Pakistan, we cannot imagine coming anywhere near the suspension of Article 377. Although there is some activism going on, particularly brought into light due to the rampant cases of abuse and torture of Transgender persons throughout Pakistan. However, the idea of homophobia is central to the culture in the country, which is a heavy mix of Islam and traditional tribal patriarchy.

The case in Pakistan is actually far worse where the courts are not even aware of their jurisdiction and function. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has turned into an activist entity whose head virtually deems himself the reincarnation of Caliph Umer I or Umer II. Removing the Section 377 or any other human rights development seems to be low on the priority list, considering how critical it is to build the Diamer Basha Dam and to guard it.

However, for all its other ills, let it be caustic politics and corruption, growing fascist tendencies and theocratic influences of the Modi regime, and hideous communal violence, India is still robust as a democracy.

Very proud of India for this.

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A Fanatic Government Stance Laid Bare

Source: PTV News/geo.tv

There is little doubt that Geert Wilders is disingenuous when it comes to his intentions and goals when organizing the Draw the Prophet event. His main purpose is, of course, to get under the skin of Muslims around the world, especially because he precisely knows what sort of reaction he can get out of them. However, it is a free speech issue regardless of his controversial politics. The protesters thought of this idea when the mainstream Western media frequently began censoring itself whenever the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in media was involved out of the fear of backlash from the Muslim community.

The interesting thing is that no matter how civil the Muslim community tries to be in the face of such a provocation, there are always many who would resort to violence and death threats. One of the problems that more liberal Muslims are facing is that the religious orthodoxy not only permits but even encourages, violence against a person who is alleged to have blasphemed against. While liberal Muslims try their best to avoid that, the conservative far-right Christians, atheists, and other antithetical elements critical of Islam are well familiar with the weakness. Recall the Salman Rushdie Affair.

However, any of these violent actions remains to be acts of individuals. But what if the governments of a country engage in such policies. Of course, we have seen them before with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is even worse when that government is actually making that point from a moral high ground and lecturing others on human rights. The PTI government has vowed to raise the issue at the United Nations, other than calling the dysfunctional institution of Organization of Islamic Conference, giving Wilders a bigger audience than he could wildly imagine.

Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, had long been criticizing the Western idea of free speech by comparing Holocaust denial and desecrating the image of the Holy Prophet. He emphasized the same point in his special video message to the nation especially addressing the (non)issue. He points out that the Western viewpoint of free speech does not even understand the consequences of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet, which they see as freedom of speech.

Well, we can safely say that the Europeans have now understood that well enough ever since Charlie Hebdo.

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Geert Wilders, on October 30, postponed the Draw the Prophet contest citing death threats that he and people associated with the contest event were receiving. The PTI government started to claim the cancellation as an achievement of their “diplomatic efforts.” Not only has the government of Pakistan given such great importance to insignificant politicians such as Geert Wilders and his bigotry but has also exposed themselves as a state that does not respect freedom of speech. What is even worse is that the PTI

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The headlines shared by a local news channel are proudly displayed by the PTI KP Official account, which was retweeted by the official PTI account report the cancelation of the cartoon drawing contest as “a great diplomatic triumph.” The only problem is that the only diplomatic efforts that have been made to cancel the contest were the death threats made to Wilders and people connected to the event.

People all over the social media have been raising this point to criticize the government. The PTI has beautifully manipulated the issue in order to gain public approval in the manner of Tehreek Labaik Pakistan. And I am not even mentioning their ridiculous protest rally and threats endorsed by the Pakistani foreign minister, which openly called for war against the Netherlands.

But let us judge actions instead of intentions. With this claim of endorsement, PTI has laid bare its fanatic stance of endorsing death threats to a foreign lawmaker. While we are aware that Pakistan has blasphemy laws which openly endorse potentially capital punishment for alleged blasphemies, emphasizing such a narrative on the international level and shamelessly claiming something that had nothing to do with them. Pakistan has indeed endorsed terrorism before, so why should this time be an exception?

Minorities Gasp for Air in a More Undemocratic Pakistan

Source: The Nation

Seventy years since Muhammad Ali Jinnah made his famous August 11 speech about the freedom of religious minorities, Pakistan has become a much darker place than what its founders intended to be. His understanding of the logical consequence of founding Pakistan is astounding to anyone with even a remote understanding of the reasons for a separate state for the Muslim community. However, his words remain to be a beacon of inspiration for those who intend to make the social contract in Pakistan fair and humane, even though in reality it is nothing more than a speech.

The founder of the nation must have been shocked out of his senses seeing the covert military dictatorship that goes on behind democracy. The way the deep state has been censoring and manipulating the electronic media has been so astounding that even mainstream journalists could not resist raising their voices on alternative media sources. While the military and bureaucratic regime of the country has not yet considered social media such a threat, but as we have witnessed a couple of instances before, it is not beyond the Pakistani deep state to deprive its citizens of this modern but basic source of self-expression.

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It is an even greater disgrace, and perhaps a consequence of the authoritarian regime, that the current election was held as a virtual referendum on the discriminatory and undemocratic Second Amendment. The military and the theocratic mullah establishment clearly joined hands against one political party Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which had taken a relatively secular turn of late. Some Sunni clerics even went so far as to declare voting for the party haraam or forbidden according to Sharia. The two million votes and two Sindh assembly seats for the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan are a testament to the fact.

This is the consequence of establishing a constitution that requires Pakistan to be an Islamic Republic. It is a travesty that in such a country people would even claim that the religious minority citizens have equal rights. And then to maintain that Islam offers the best alternative to secularism. It is because of these faux intellectuals and theocratic bigots that Pakistan is in such a dismal state of civil rights and individual freedom. Relatively more liberal and progressive parties such as the PPP continue to offer representatives from religious minority groups opportunities on general seats but all of this remains meaningless unless constitutional reforms are brought into place. Something that remains impossible due to more nationalist and populist elements coming to power.

People continue to be killed in the name of blasphemy. Forget the minority religions, even members of the majority religion are not safe either. Recently, a Sindhi artist Qutb Rind was pushed from a building in Lahore because of an alleged blasphemy. To my mind, artists such as Rind are indeed minorities in an obscurantist nation blinded by bigotry and religious hate.

I can only be ashamed of being a citizen of such a country where minority communities are treated with such brutality and hang my hand low in shame this independence day.

Another Victory for Islam in Pakistan

Source: @Ehzan

The religiosity of the devout Muslims in Pakistan is a remarkable phenomenon. On one hand, the religious conservative Muslims maintain that people of other faith cannot possibly have a safer abode than a Muslim society and yet they will insist on further cornering marginalized community. They will openly express their hate and while this must not be the case with fringe liberal Muslims,

To remind the bigotry of a regular orthodox conservative Muslim in the holy month of Ramadan, a mob in Sialkot destroyed an Ahmedi mosque, which according to Ahmedi pages was 150 years old. The video of the aftermath of destruction is shared by people whose posts are full of derogatory slurs against Ahmedis.

According to American Ahmedi activist, Kashif Chaudhary, the mob consisted of the members if the extremist Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah. While they are the usual suspects ideologically, the word on twitter, at least as per Rabwah Times, local PTI leader Hafiz Hamid Raza was also involved.

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The news will not be found anywhere in the mainstream Pakistani news media of course, which preaches faux tolerance when it is not spreading hate and bigotry or is calling people to report instances of blasphemy. A more substantial footage of the incident was shared by the Ahmedi page The Rabwah Times. It is immensely important to both report and record incidents such as these because most of the time you will find Pakistani social conservatives even denying their occurrence altogether.

In Pakistan, a lot of fuss is made about security, justice, and law and order. As evident from the speech of the leader of the mob, the members of the district administration were not only present at the site of this incident but were apparently supervising the demolition. But if the federal government accepted defeat on the very same issue to the goons of Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah after the sit-in protest about six months back in November 2017, this is a small violation in comparison. Ideologically, the Government of Pakistan and its law enforcement backs this religious bigotry.

It is important to point out that this incident is committed by a community that is outraged to this day by the demolition of an obscure Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in India. That incident was undoubtedly a clear example of Hindu extremists in India and resulted in their strained relations with the Muslim community. However, you would expect some level of understanding from the orthodox Muslim groups. Not the case in Sialkot.

But it is also liberal naïvety comparing it to Babri Mosque incident. You need to see the incidents from the eyes of Sunni Muslims too. The mosque belonged to a community which is not supposed to have a mosque according to the Pakistani law. They have only done justice in their eyes.

Again, in the proud history of justice in Pakistan, this incident will shine as yet another example of the exemplary state of civil rights in the country.

How could things possibly be wrong in an Islamic Republic?

This was just another victory for Islam in Pakistan.

In the Defense of the Ramadan Game Shows

Source: Dawn

Ramadan, the holy fasting month, is here. My personal fervor or lack thereof for the festival aside, you are bound to get caught in its whirlpool if you are living in Pakistan.

It does not matter whether you fast or not, you need to follow a certain eating pattern for the most part due to the society around you. One way or the other, you cannot avoid Ramadan no matter how hard you try. And just like the eating patterns, the piety is infectious too.

But just like everything else such as mass hysteria on the roads, another factor infectious about it is a sense of festivity and entitlement.

Born out of this market need was the showmanship of Geo Network’s original Aalim Online, Aamir Liaquat Hussain. With Aamir Liaquat, Reality TV entertainment meets religiosity. He took it a step further in the recent years by branding the Ramadan Transmissions and turning it into an extravagant variety show. Even more recently, he turned it into a giveaway fest loaded with corporate sponsors big and small who saw their image going with his “circus.”

Yes, “Ramadan circus” was what Islamabad High Court Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui referred to his show. He considered this gambling an abomination and blasphemous in an “Islamic Republic” that was supposed to safeguard Islamic tenets in a Shariah sanctioned society. He even insisted that the title of Islamic Republic should be removed from the state of Pakistan. What else could you ask for?

Perhaps Justice Siddiqui is one of those self-proclaimed “True Islam” purists who believe that religion should be practiced in its supposed authentic state, unaware that the monolithically solid idea in their perception is nothing more than an abstraction. They are not aware that these religious ideas have become cultural and have evolved. Even the Prophet himself could not have stopped them from evolving. He is not aware that people don’t just want to but will practice Ramadan on their own terms.

Justice Shaukat Siddiqui – Source: geo.tv

The judge makes a fool out of himself by threatening to ban Fahad Mustafa Tunio, Aamir Liaquat, and Waseem Badami for life, wonder what that means in the glossary of Pakistani justice. Are these the guardians of democracy, free speech, and freedom of the press in this country? Are these the authoritative figures who cite the superiority of the Constitution every second hour? We must not share their hideous, anti-freedom, authoritarian, totalitarian views. It would even be a duty to resist this stupidity which is a far more ridiculous spectacle than the TV circus it condemns.

In the day and age when the worst form of state censorship of journalism has returned, we have a judge that wants to worsen the censorship on the media. While there is little doubt that

Before our self-righteous hate of commercialism becomes too out of control, we must not forget that people always complain about not having free handouts during the holy month. Now that someone has come up with that, we have a problem with it. This is what freedom is about and it is manifesting itself into this. And then again what’s the harm? Even if a very small pool of people are being given electronic appliances, and occasionally motorbikes and cars randomly? It is not going to end world hunger but it is certainly not contributing to it. It only creates a bunch of jobs people like Justice Siddiqui believe the government is supposed to create.

Ramadan is a festival of gluttony after all. It is only appropriate that it should be celebrated with greed.

A Wake Up Call for the Interior Minister

Source: Dawn

Ahsan Iqbal is easily one of the most dignified, educated, and well spoken politicians in Pakistan. He is a visionary and has been promoting a progressive economic vision since the earlier terms of PML-N.

He became an unlikely candidate for the position of Interior Minister when the self-righteous Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, an ultra conservative pro-establishment PML-N dissident, stepped down. When the Prime Minister was also disqualified, the tensions got even more intense and paved way for Ahsan Iqbal’s rise to the powerful but controversial position of becoming the civilian security boss of the country. Many expected that the position will not suit him well, a man of a scholarly background. Especially because it was in this current tenure that the social media was blacked out during a protest for the first time in history in Pakistan.

Back in November, when Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah was occupying the parliament square in Islamabad, the greatest test came of his leadership. His resolutions to the problem drastically failed when due to the unwillingjness of the military, a half backed operation ended up further strengthening the hands of the rogue Labaik Tehreek Ya Rasool Allah, a radical Barelvi political cult whose agenda is to reinforce the laws about the Finality of the Prophethood and to make life further miserable for the already marginalized Ahmedi community of Pakistan. Ahmedis are perceived as a threat by orthodox religious Muslims in Pakistan to the tenet that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, even though the Ahmedis respond that they share the same belief.

The recent controversy over the Ahmedi oath for the parliament members sparked the protest in the first place with the blame falling on the , apart from generally on the entire leadership of PML-N. Sunni clerics even issued fatwas that voting for the party was haram or forbidden.

Despite the threat to the party, and some would say that particularly because of it, the PML-N federal government decided to appease the extremist Muslims by making laws about blasphemy and speech even stricter. The Ministry of Interior, as well as the National Counter Terrorism Agency, are running campaigns that openly call for people to hunt for perceived blasphemies in the guise of acting against hate speech. While such narrative has not been started by the Government of Pakistan so proactively, as you can thank the narrative of the local cleric for that, it has emerged with full force as a countering reaction to unpopular speech on social media.

Today, hours ago actually, Ahsan Iqbal was shot at by an angry citizen in a meeting with the constituents in his native Narowal District. Fortunately, the bullet only brushed his arm and his life was spared. The would-be assassin Abid Hussain has been captured and he has confessed to have made an attempt on the Minister’s life because of the “Finality of Prophethood” or “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” issue.  While this complex term may not mean anything to most people, it is the article of faith of the Muslim population, and takes an extreme in the more radical elements of the Barelvi sect that is particularly devotional to the Prophet.

Source: Times of Islamabad

While the Minister has been lucky, all the citizens hunted by the extremists such as his assailant are not so much. Especially when the one putting them to death is the judiciary. The 30 year old blogger who got convicted by the court for just expressing himself was not so lucky. Often people tend to forget how harmful and dangerous these so-called responsible information campaigns are. And it is important to remember that government campaigns calling for reporting blasphemy are as dangerous in creating the mindset that resulted in the attempt on the life of Ahsan Iqbal as the hateful teachings in the mosque.

I wish the Interior Minister will consider this unfortunate event a wake up call. We are very happy that he is safe but it is time that he starts thinking about safeguarding the speech and lives of his citizens. Of course, he can’t fight the atrocious courts in Pakistan but at least he can tone down the explicit witch hunt. Or the same poison that stung him today could get just about any one of us.

Calling for Sharia in the Capital

Source: tanzeem.org/Twitter: @syousuf71

To most people in Pakistan, there would be nothing out of the place about demanding Sharia in a country which was made in the name of faith. While a lot of people don’t even agree with the statement that Pakistan was established on the basis of faith but on the basis of the protection of the rights of a community, the distinction does not even matter considering the established narrative in Pakistan.

Throughout the Muslim majority world, you would find Islamist groups blackmailing the local population for enforcing Sharia, the Islamic law that eliminates a likelihood of establishing a fair secular social order and is widely known for persecuting women and minority groups. Granted, you might call for Sharia while also asking for the abolition of any secular order in a country alleged to be created in the name of religion but not in a democracy. Because those calls are by very definition

For the entire past week and even on the day when I write this post, the citizens can see signs from the self-proclaimed revolutionary Islamist group Tanzeem-i-Islami or Islamic Organization with inflammatory messages condemning secularism and democracy and calling for the Caliphate and enforcing theocratic Sharia.

Source: Original

There are following posts in Urdu language, which hope to incite an already tired and frustrated population to rise up against the democratic order, which barely exists in a country with a ruling bureaucratic oligarchy. Messages would barely translate to:

“Secularism will only lead to slavery and humiliation while only the Sharia can deliver.”

“Denying the ideological (theocratic) state is tantamount to ideological apostasy.”

Here it is important to remind that apostasy or “irtidad” is an offense in traditional Islam that apostates, or those converting out of Islam, should be put to death. Many Western liberal Muslims will deny such a rule even exists but it is the majority consensus in the Sunni or orthodox sect of the religion and you often hear antithetical critics quote it during debates. Now, equating the denial of the theocratic basis of the creation of Pakistan to a charged word like apostasy is clearly a threat.

There are many more messages like this which you can find throughout the length of some of the most modern sectors in Islamabad. The Tanzeem,  founded by the late Dr. Israr Ahmed and led by Hafiz Aakif Saeed, calls it the “Strengthening Pakistan Campaign” and cites Jinnah’s irrational quotes about the religious law as the basis for their faith in a theocratic version of the Ideology of Pakistan. And clearly, they are no fans of democracy as their very message displayed as the cover image for this blog reads that the idea of the rule of people is counter to the monotheistic beliefs of the sole right of worship of Allah or God.

If you go through their statements, they essentially present the Ideology of Pakistan as an article of faith, as if disagreeing with it, as the likes of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did, would qualify you for apostasy. This is the promotion of an extremely dangerous idea in a nation which has already been blinded beyond control in terms of their approval of violence for blasphemy.

In a democracy, extremist entities such as anti-democratic theocrats and Islamists can exist and possibly practice their politics. Another instance is the Neo-Nazis in the Western democracies. However, when their ideas are so clearly undemocratic that they lead toward the harm of the people and the democratic system of law that threatens the very fundamental rights and liberties that offer them the chance to thrive, it is going beyond that acceptable line.

But never do you ever see such extremist groups becoming active electorally and come even close to representing the people in the legislature to affect the law and the constitution, unless that nation wants to give an opening for it to become Nazi Germany or Islamic Revolutionary Iran.

Some progressive and conservative liberals actually advocate actively pushing back these groups because they are a threat to democracy and fundamental rights in whatever capacity they exist. However, it is important to respect the principle on sheer emotion. Nevertheless, it is time to think about seriously banning such an organization when they start threatening democracy by taking their hate speech to the mainstream and by threatening to take electoral seats away from democrats just because they enjoy the sympathy of theocrats in the public.

Tanzeem-e-Islami is doing its job. I don’t wish them all the best but I do respect that they are taking their message across peacefully, even though a very violent and brutal message. However. what I am astounded at is the Government of Pakistan, the ever-present bane of our existence. A Government that openly asks for people to report social media posts for blasphemy, but would take zero action against an organization that is openly talking about enforcing theocracy and eliminating democratic freedoms, the very freedom it is exercising to take away their freedoms paradoxically.

In such a scenario, you can’t help but think that indeed Pakistan was formed for establishing a theocracy and is ruled by people who want such a policy to be enforced, even including the elected democrats.