What Independence Means After 70 Years

Source: BBC

Well, here is the 70th anniversary of the independence and we are supposed to be ecstatic.

Just imagine how it would be like on the 75th anniversary, or on the centennial, for that matter.

Well, I wish.

Because in my entire life, I have never felt more suffocated by Pakistan than on the 70th anniversary. I have never known Pakistan like I have on the 70th anniversary.

Never more disillusioned, nor more disappointed. It is like living in a prison with walls closing in that you would want to escape. But forget me. I feel for the 200 million others, most of who don’t even feel the suffocation that they are being subjected to.

It has been 70 years and still, there is no respect for a citizen of Pakistan.

It has been 70 years and still, there are people who are being harmed and abused by the state.

It has been 70 years and still, an elected leader has not completed their term, and one just got dismissed in a judicial coup.

It has been 70 years and still, Pakistan remains to be a theocracy.

The fact of the matter is that the minority religious groups are constantly jeopardized and marginalized by a hypocritical and morally

There are people in this country who will deny the rights to other communities for which they have claimed to win a separate country.

And in the same breath, they would complain about corruption and justice and transparency.

It is disappointing, to say the least.

The very root of this country is infected with a moral corruption that seems incurable at worst.

It is unfortunate that we still have people in this country who are not willing to give marginalized communities a chance in this country.

It is unfortunate that we still have people who would not agree to a fair social contract in this country.

Then there are people who say that freedom would remain to be an abstract, relative concept for every individual and group anyway?

So why celebrate the independence of a political regime after all?

But so much for being a contrarian.

So they tell us to celebrate 70 years.

70 years of independence from the British colonists? Yes.

70 years of independence from ignorance, tribalism, obscurantism, tyranny, and theocracy?

70 years of freedom of speech or freedom of political association?

NO.

The Incredible Humiliation of the Afterlife

Source: Hieronymous Bosch/wikiart

I started writing these lines surrounded by an environment of religiosity harassed by the thought of an afterlife, numbed by the sheer meaningless of life. Yes, the thought is horrifying, depressing, and gives an empty feeling.

But is this feeling of worthlessness and emptiness worth more than the condemnation of eternal existence?

Let us forget logic and reason for a moment. Let us suppose for a moment that humans would be subjected to an afterlife. As if the humiliation of one lifetime were not enough. And to add insult to injury that there would be a higher being to judge humans and to either condemn them to hell or reward them with paradise.

While most people would not find a thought more appealing, would anything be more humiliating? Would they not be satisfied with the comfortable isolation of oblivion? Isn’t the curse of one life enough? It is horrifying how people are motivated to resort to absurdities enticed by such a prize.

It is horrifying how people are motivated to resort to absurdities out of the enticement of eternal life. And add the mythology of the Abrahamic faiths to the thought and it would horrify you even further. Because a God bestowing eternal life could as easily condemn you to the inferno, being as angry and jealous he sounds like.

And even if that is true, just imagine the humiliation of such an afterlife. Whether you are condemned to hell or awarded with the pleasures of paradise, the sheer humiliation of going through it would be unbearable. Would there be anything more insulting to the self-respect of a sentient creature?

There is no wonder that Eastern cultures with philosophies such as Buddhism have the concept of moksha to escape the carnal cycle of birth and death. With the caveat of existing in a higher state of consciousness. But it is like a cry out to protest the misery of the existence forced on every creature.

Does a part of me want to indulge in the promised delights of paradise and reunite with family and friends if there is a life after death? Yes. But there is a part of me that knows that existence involves pain and dread.

Wouldn’t they instead give anything to escape the horror of life? The horror of existence?

Would they force this misery on others?

Feeling Sorry for Iran? Not Me

Source: abc.net.au/Saudi TV

There is very little doubt that the US-Arab Summit was a vulgar display of power and malice on the part of Saudi Arabia and the United States primarily. There is also very little doubt that the conference where Pakistan had to ensure its attendance was an openly anti-Iran in its agenda.

All of this does not sound right and I agree with the criticism.

There are a lot of folks who are criticizing Pakistan for even being in the conference. Other than the fact that Pakistan was humiliated by not getting an invitation to speak, despite its former army chief being the Commander of the new alliance. You get the criticism.

But not being in the conference would have been an even greater blunder. And siding with Iran diplomatically against the Arab-American coalition even more so.

But is it right for all the powers in the world to gather for its condemnation? It surely does sound bad.

But having said all that. Do I, unlike many others, feel sorry for Iran?

Absolutely not.

I take Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif’s cocky demeanor as an occupational necessity, considering he completely ignores the moralistic holes on his side of arguments. His criticism of the pompous US-Arab Summit and the massive $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal was absolutely spot on and strikes a never even if you are siding with the allies. However, the fact remains that Iran is living in a world it created for itself. And sadly, even President Obama’s nuclear deal cannot change that.

Nobody has ever pushed Iran to behave the way it has since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So, the big question is this. What exactly is there to like about Iran?

Iran is probably the only country other than the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah which openly vows to destroy Israel as a policy. Death to the United States is a regular rally chant approved by the Ayatollahs and they have particularly maintained an antisemitic stance on Israel.

Of course, this is where the civilized world draws a moral line when it comes to relations with Iran. Otherwise, there really is no reason for the entire world to go out of their way to isolate and target Iran. After all, the Bush administration almost handed over the entire country of Iraq to their proxies following the 2003 invasion. Something that only pushed Iraqi Sunnis to reveal their dark side in the Islamic State.

Especially there is no reason to favor the obviously regressive Saudis over a people who many deem culturally superior. But unfortunately, none of that culture has had any effect on softening Iran’s uncompromising collective nationalistic ego.

What is worse, Iran fully backs the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and has been one of the reasons why he is still hanging by a thread. They have also been allegedly backing militant activity in a few Arab states and has also been behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The US State Department has already declared them the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, as reiterated by President Trump in the summit.

It’s not as if they have their women liberated if compared to the Saudi driving ban on women. However, the fact remains that Iran has significantly higher women participating in the workforce relatively speaking. Nevertheless, the dreaded veil in public remains to be the bane of the existence of women in both countries.

One way or the other, I am not surprised by this anti-Iran coalition and if Iran does not mend its ways, I am not sure if it deserves too much of our sympathy. In any case, its distant allies in the EU and India would dare not come for its help if this military alliance ever intends to target it. Especially if it comes remotely close to threatening a strike on Israel or Saudi Arabia.

But if there is any consolation for the pro-Iranian Saudi hater out there, here it is.

If there is a road to the downfall of the House of Al-Saud at all, it passes through the destruction of Tehran.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

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.