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.

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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.

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.