The OryaAbbasi Inquisition: Ganging Up on the Defenseless

OryaAbbasi - File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

OryaAbbasi – File Sources: currentaffairspk.com and foxcey.com

A recent talkshow by Kamran Shahid on Dunya TV about Malala’s now-controversial biography “I am Malala” has become a talking point for Pakistanis. The participants of the show included columnist Orya Maqbool Jan, journalist Ansaar Abbasi, physicist and analyst Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ambassador Zafar Hilaly. After watching the show, there are quite a few observations that I would like to make. The show can be found here.

And now, the commentary.

The show is the perfect exhibit to demonstrate that Pakistan is not a free speech society, even though such talk shows may appear to give the impression of the contrary. In a society, where expressing certain opinions pertaining to a certain religion is like sealing your death warrant. And the state only makes matters worse, which makes you thank your stars it is not half as effective.

A lot of people are attacking the host of the show Kamran Shahid for inviting people with conflicting views for better ratings, just so that he can have a heated argument. But I fully support him for this. First of all, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s great TV. He is only doing his job and I actually appreciate him for bringing together the likes of Veena Malik and Mufti Sb before.

However, there is a different reason altogether for which Kamran Shahid deserves criticism and ridicule. Shahid did an awful job at moderating the show, and it can be argued that it was deliberate. However, I would refrain from saying so. In any case, it was criminal negligence as he allowed religiosity to be a moral high ground in the debate through his word and moderating action.

Orya Maqbool Jan started the show by referring to certain passages from Malala’s book. His main focus was outraging at Malala mentioning that “her father was opposed to Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses but was a firm believer in freedom of speech”. He also rejected Malala’s criticism on curbs on women’s participation in public life and on media during the Zia regime, citing many female playwrights that rose to prominence at the time on the state television.

Pervez Hoodbhoy - Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Source: Newsweek Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy, in return, had zero arguments in Malala’s defense. As a matter of fact, he did more damage to Malala’s cause than a conservative could have imagined, though the aging scholar performed far better emotionally than I expected.

Hoodbhoy started out by saying that Orya and Abbasi were lying and that they were misrepresenting facts and maligning Malala, including an ad hominem attack on their English language skills. Apart from this opinion, hardly any argument was offered by the former QAU Professor.

The only solid argument from his side was about writing PBUH (Peace Be Upon Him) with the mention of Prophet Muhammad, as Ansaar Abbasi had raised this rather obnoxious and easily beatable objection on Malala’s book.

This is where Kamran Shahid proved his lack of impartiality as the moderator, as he stupidly mentioned the anecdote of his thesis submission abroad in which he wrote PBUH with the name of Prophet Muhammad, despite the warning from his supervisor that writing it implied bias in a research report. This way Shahid tried influencing the debate as if not writing PBUH with the Prophet’s name was something immoral in terms of faith.

Ansaar Abbasi maintained a consistent mantra of calling Pervez Hoodbhoy “jahil” or ignorant throughout the course of half an hour of the debate, until Hoodbhoy was forced to leave amid such onslaught just before the show ended. However, for someone as religious as Abbasi, calling someone else ignorant sounded pretty hilarious and stupid.

Ambassador Zafar Hilaly, who was wondering what he was doing there, was asked to present his opinion about drone strikes and on talks with the Taliban. He was only seen shaking his head in disapproval as the war of relatively civil curse words went on between Abbasi and Hoodbhoy, as Orya continued shouting out of his lungs to stop their exchange in order to read the passage from Malala’s book.

The only reason there should be sympathy for Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is that Orya Maqbool Jan and Ansar Abbasi, who for convenience and for promoting my branding of their inquisiiton, would be referred to as #OryaAbbasi as the duo’s pseudonym from this point on, ganged up on him. I repeat, OryaAbbasi literally ganged up on Hoodbhoy, interrogating in a frighteningly self-righteous manner.

OryaAbbasi started an inquisition of Hoodbhoy to publicly frame him for opinions offensive to Muslims, paired with a hilarious but threatening diabolical laughter, as if warning him of consequences. Hoodbhoy was obviously dumbfounded for being trapped in this cul-de-sac. He narrowly dodged the inquisition by answers considered somewhat acceptable by the standards of the Pakistani Islamic society.

OryaAbbasi asking Hoodbhoy about his position on The Satanic Verses and whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is fine, and perhaps encouraging in theory, but doing so on public TV in a society such as Pakistan is dangerous, to say the least. Because someone believing in free speech or not agreeing with excommunicating the Ahmedis would most probably be threatened by the extremist Muslims who consider it righteous to kill someone with such views.

The OryaAbbasi inquisition could also be a frightening insight to the future of Pakistan is an increasingly authoritarian and theocratic state. The state already requires its citizens to declare in writing that they are not in any way affiliated with Ahmedis. Would this imply that the National ID card and Passport forms would also carry a declaration condemning The Satanic Verses, if not on more informal levels However, Pakistani Muslim individuals would still not see this as an invasion of their personal and social freedom.

In order to successfully tackle the OryaAbbasi inquisition and to effectively respond Muslim and other religious fundamentalists, Pakistanis need a secular liberal spokesperson who is not fearful of their life like Taseer or Christopher Hitchens. This is why I have tremendous respect for Christopher Hitchens, because he had very real death threats as well, but he never compromised on free speech, and he even defended Rushdie at the time when he was in hiding for his life.

A nervous, frail and emotional debater such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, despite his prestige and knowledge, is not able to take on these harassing fundamentalists. Partly because of the self-censorship that you need to exercise about Islam in the Pakistani society for the sake of security. 

Unless people are clear that it is the values of an Islamic authoritarian society that is the threat and the enemy of freedom, no one would buy the mild apologies for passages from Malala’s book that liberals have to offer. Because let’s face it, this passage from the book has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box, but I still support it. It is her freedom to write whatever she likes and I agree with it. 

If Malala has written that her father believed in freedom of speech, it is the duty of the secular-liberal debater to defend free speech as a superior value no matter what. This is what Malala’s fight is about anyway, but we are failing her. Now that Malala has been put in this position by the likes of OryaAbbasi, we need a better public defense of her.  

As crazy as it sounds, but they hardly have any argument if they don’t defend what they believe in. This is about liberty and freedom from theocracy, and the only argument is to reject religious authoritarianism.

Unless there is a debater who presents arguments that attacks the fallacy of faith and theocracy, liberal and secular debaters will always be on the losing side, shut up by religious emotional blackmail. 

Any volunteers?

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The Embarrassment of Standing With the Oppressed

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page

Source: M. Jibran Nasir facebook page – Under fair use

I am not particularly proud to be a Pakistani citizen.

I don’t really find it an unpatriotic thing to say because someone sympathetic to the country would say that provided its discriminating history. The Pakistani constitution, law and the society are largely discriminating.

So when you stand with the oppressed minority groups in Pakistan, there is this perpetual embarrassment that you need to deal with.

Take the Pakistan Christian community for an example, the most popular and widely recognized religious minority group in Pakistan. Most Pakistani people would agree with offering them security and coexisting peacefully with them.

Even with such a minority religious group, you would have the dilemma of treating them as if they were weak or not even raising that point at all. I mostly prefer to do the latter usually, though you can always agree with them tactfully about how terrible discrimination is.

Morally speaking, they are not weak, and it would be rather insulting to make that point, but let us face facts. They are not exactly powerful and are most certainly oppressed.

Especially in the wake of the Peshawar church bombing killing more than 300, the realization is increased, especially in protests and political events. But what remains is their constant friendliness, peacefulness and tolerance. What is added is a slight anger toward the intolerance, which is justified, natural and understandable.

I have no sympathies with the theology of any minority religious group, as is the case with majority religious groups, because they are as dangerous in their effect as the other. I know some Pakistani Christians, though not everyone, are as eager for their share of blasphemy law, despite knowing how harmful it can be to just about anyone.

But their religious zeal does not change anything for the better for them in the Pakistani society, where disbelief is a crime, more or less, or enough to qualify someone to be ostracized. Besides, they are not treated as equal citizens anyway, despite their religiosity.

So I want to save myself further embarrassment and would like to say that protesters and activists rallying for peace and against terrorism should raise their voices to demand a secular constitution. So while I may not exactly be proud to be a Pakistani citizen, I would have one less reason to be ashamed.

So instead of promoting gibberish like “Many Faiths, One God”, we should demand the elimination of the intrusion of faith into public life.

Keep your religion to yourself.

What is Common Between Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Aamir Liaquat Hussain

Source: Dawn/aamerliaquat.wordpress.com

Source: Dawn/aamirliaquat.wordpress.com

What is common between Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Aamir Liaquat Hussain?

Both of them divide the public opinion drastically about themselves, with half of the population loathing them, while the others adoring them. But the popularity factor is rather true for Aamir Liaquat Hussain, as most people dislike the Maulana for his devious and Machiavellian politics. At least on this side of the Indus river.

But seriously, what is common between them is religion. Well not really. Who in Pakistan is free of a connection to religion?

What they actually have in common is the religious background and how it has held them back from achieving their ambitions, while offering them success at the same time. But this success is largely due to their personal modified talents, instead of any genuine religiosity.

Both Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Aamir Liaquat Hussain are sons of clerics, alright, religious scholars is the more politically correct job title. This fact immediately sanctioned both of them with the duty to follow the footsteps of their respective fathers. Both were laden with the heavy responsibility to continue propagating the holy faith.

While many would deem religious background an advantage, for these two gentlemen, it has been nothing more than a handicap apparently. Not only has it prevented both these individuals from achieving a lot more, but it has also kept them bound in a cage, especially Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. Being condemned to live with a beard for all their lives.

Even though Aamir Liaquat still is an actor and an entertainer and probably nothing more, he cannot openly pursue a career in acting and dramatics because of his religious background and career. He only started wearing that beard on the insistence of his adoring audiences. While most people, secular and religious, would consider his pursuit of acting inappropriate any way, I actually find it tragic.

This gets even more tragic for Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman who is condemned for life to live like a cleric. While I believe that he is actually secretly not religious, there is little doubt that he would be tempted by the lifestyle of his peers and must be greatly conscious of his handicap. Furthermore, I get the impression that his beard and religious leaning are the greatest hurdles to his becoming the Head of State of Pakistan.

So what if Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman is referred to as the father of the Taliban? Was Zbig Brzezinski also not involved in collaborating with Pakistani forces in arming and preparing them for Afghan Jihad? So what if he could possibly be accused of the deaths of thousands. Is that not true for Henry Kissinger as well? Statecraft demands a little sacrifice every now and then.

Getting back to Aamir Liaquat, his religious rhetoric is drenched with melodramatic theatricals, and it moves people doubly because it concerns faith. His love of theatrics is all but obvious and his religious show is a living testament to that. Most of the people attack him for his personal morality and feeding lies to the public, but they cannot deny that his innovation in religious broadcasting has become a popular trend.

He is a brilliant showman and perhaps even a megalomaniac, which is evident from the elaborate sets that his wife helps him set up. What he is actually doing is telling the world that he is capable of building his own theatre, with its own million rupee stage and with him alone enjoying all the spotlight. And that he can buy crews and even audiences. And that it’s all about money and that there is nothing wrong with it.

Source: New York Times

Source: New York Times

Most of the people were mad at Aamir Liaquat Hussain for his Geo TV leaked video. I actually developed some respect for him after watching it, except for the infamous misogynistic rape joke. It showed his human side and probably that is how a reckless drunk actor would be behaving in between scenes, no matter how immoral it looks. At least it was far less profane, lethal and immoral than his on-screen religious preaching.

I would have had more respect for him had he manned up and admitted that it was indeed him saying all that. But since he is in the business of lying hypocritically, that is religious preaching and TV evangelism, he had to attribute the clip to certain “camera tricks and advanced dubbing techniques”. His sheepish, embarrassed, insincere apology almost gave out that he actually believed people knew he was lying. But then again, only the prophets are incapable of committing sins.

With Chaudhary Shujaat – Source: Express Tribune

Speaking of sins, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman may get all those votes for promoting a militaristic Deobandi Islam under the white-black striped Jihadi flag, but that largely undermines his personal skill and talent. Like the MQM, he always is at the forefront of negotiations for government formation.

As a matter of fact, he mostly wants to be at the forefront of negotiation of any sort. He has this longing to be a diplomat and a statesman. He has this megalomaniac urge to have his name written down in history books for something great. He wants to go beyond being a politician.

It can be estimated conservatively that Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Aamir Liaquat Hussain are probably both psychopaths. That’s alright, most interesting people who have something to offer to the world are. And let us, the highly-judging moralist audiences be not such hypocrites ourselves. We all have that morality on-off switch.

But it is indeed an interesting study, and the beauty of the high drama of life that such powerful individuals can become so helpless when bound by the unchallengeable walls of the fortress of Islam that they swear so passionately by.

It’s as ironic as the lives they lead. As the lives we lead.