Keeping Mashaal Khan’s Mission Alive

Source: Dawn/Tanveer Shehzad/White Star

Secularism in Pakistan sounds like a hopeless cause. There are simply not enough people to give the movement any traction and nobody likes to openly express the cause save the leftist Awami Workers Party, which is sadly a fringe entity in Pakistani politics as much as they would like to tell themselves otherwise. But it is very important to show solidarity with them whenever they are out for the cause of countering fundamentalism and promoting democratic values, and all the allies who agree on the common cause of secularism and rejecting fundamentalism in Pakistan.

On the occasion of the second death anniversary of the brutally killed progressive student Mashaal Khan in Khan Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan, the Progressive Student Collective organized short protest marches all across the major cities in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the speakers include civil rights advocate Tahira Abdullah, PTM activist Khan Zaman Kakar, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar and academic and analyst Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Apart from remembering Mashaal Khan and the brutal conspiracy to kill him, which was very well exposed by his teacher Ziaullah Hamdard, more contemporary issues were highlighted to protest Pakistan’s current trajectory. Post-Pulwama developments and the possibility of the country being blacklisted by the FATF was brought to attention.

 

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Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke passionately about the unabated fundamentalism in Pakistan, which is easily distinguished from the Islamist militancy that the Pakistani military took action in. Unfortunately, this brand of fundamentalism has been intertwined with Pakistan nationalism observed by social conservatives and has also become inseparable with the idea of hating Hindus and India.

It is similar hate and religious bigotry that led to the killing of Salmaan Taseer, the killing of the English literature professor in Bahawalpur, the blasphemy accusation on Multan teacher Junaid Hafeez, and of course the cold-blooded murder of Mashaal Khan. Hoodbhoy also mentioned how Pakistan could be blacklisted by the FATF soon but if it happens, it would not be a surprise considering the country’s seriousness in taking action against Islamist militants groups which are pointed out by the US, EU and several other countries including India.

Other speakers also talked about the bans on student union, which as per Ammar Rashid, could have saved Mashaal’s life. Progressive voices are already scant on our academic platforms considering the dominance of IJT or Islami Jamiat Tulaba who impose their Salafi Islamist agenda which remains a carrier for the Islamic fundamentalism that the state has promoted.

The IJT is great in numbers and the progressives only handful, but if they continue to carry Mashaal’s mission forward in some form, the seeds of secularism may even spread in Pakistan too.

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A Moment of Silence for a Nation Without Conscience

Source: Sky News

The final verdict has finally been delivered on Asia Bibi case, or so we think. It has finally been established by the highest court of the land that the poor Christian woman accused of blasphemy around 8 years ago in an obscure Punjab village was innocent of any of the allegations. Interestingly enough, it was not Asia Bibi but the moral conscience of the entire nation which was on trial. All I can have is just a moment of silence for those who would have done anything to see her hang and are now silent in retreat. Just imagine if they would have been successful in hanging her.

We have seen some of the most disgusting and vile displays of brutality with which certain circles of the society have reacted to her case. While this case was far from the only instance where this trend has been observed, the case has effectively established how the cult of the Prophet in Pakistan has gone totally out of control. This case resulted in the murder of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was the only politician in the country who had the courage to defend her publicly. He was gunned down by his Barelvi guard Mumtaz Qadri, who was widely celebrated by the followers of the cult of the Prophet. It was partially this case that actually became the basis of the rise of arguably one of the craziest political movements in the country. The extremist Barelvi party called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah or Tehreek Labaik Pakistan.

Fully backed by the Pakistani deep state to put the then popular PML-N of Nawaz Sharif out of power, the recent law enforcement operation against it could lead you to believe that they are a fringe group. This catchy yet vile anthem of the political party offers an insight into the mindset of a Tehreek Labaik Pakistan voter. There are dozens of fan uploads in which you can see the noose next to Asia Bibi’s photograph.

As a matter of fact, the line in this song about hanging Asia Bibi was covered by dozens of young boys and girls for a mobile video sharing platform. These indeed are no extremist clerics but regular, fun-loving, otherwise peaceful Pakistani Muslims whose conscience bears no guilt over this vulgar display of religious righteousness.

Today, many liberal optimists in Pakistan are saying that justice has been served by the eventual Supreme Court ruling by Justice Khosa. But before making such rosy statements, it must be appreciated how Asia Bibi had been ordered to hang to death even by the high court and the lower courts and how the entire nation had been out of her blood on the streets. Even the expression mass hysteria does not capture the violence and evil in this case. But perhaps they are right, even this ruling by the Supreme Court is nothing short of a miracle.

These are shocking realities that the Pakistani people are not willing to face. Until they address the darkness in their hearts which is at the center of their religious beliefs, until they abolish the atrocious blasphemy law, and until they are not willing to adopt a Secular Constitution, cases like Asia Bibi will keep on surfacing.

All we can hope is for them to surface instead of swept under the carpet.

Salmaan Taseer’s Sixth Death Anniversary Sees His Son Accused of Blasphemy

Source: Guardian

Source: Guardian

It’s probably not even a surprise that following the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer by fanatic religious zealot Mumtaz Qadri, his son Shaan Taseer is accused of blasphemy. But for the sake of it, let’s just say who could imagine this happening.

Salmaan Taseer would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

The Quaid-e-Azam would have been so proud in the grave, or perhaps so pained to see this.

Of all the Taseer children, it was perhaps only Shaan who has taken up activism for the rights of the minority religious communities in this fashion. He has remained in the forefront in protesting against religious extremism, including against the Laal Masjid, with Jibran Nasir and other similar activists. I recall seeing him speak first in the Aabpara protest against Laal Masjid clerics following the APS attack in Islamabad, which featured Jibran Nasir and Farzana Bari as well.

It’s one thing speaking out for the poor and the threatened, it’s a whole different thing altogether to become the victim yourself. Such is the brilliant dynamic of the politics of the blasphemy. No one is safe from the monster.

Source: Express Tribune

Amazingly enough, Shaan Taseer has been accused of blasphemy for just giving a video Christmas message to everyone in which he obviously criticized the blasphemy law as “inhuman.” Of course, he brought up Aasia Bibi missing God knows how many Christmas nights for being jailed. And of course, even any judge is not willing to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal case. Thank God someone is still talking about it.

However, this video was enough for him to attract a very serious and dangerous, legally protected death threat. Yes, that is what a blasphemy fatwa really means.

The Barelvi clerics of Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah affiliated with the Sunni Tehreek, the group that wreaked havoc in Islamabad on the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, issued the fatwa or legal opinion against him. The trouble with the fatwa sort of “legal opinion” is that most Muslims end up considering it a verdict. Anyone remember Salman Rushdie?

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

If you need an evidence of the insanity of the blasphemy allegations flung at just about anyone, then consider the case that the same clerics have issued a warning against PTI leader Imran Khan too. Now Imran Khan is a very popular leader, who has now turned a conservative populist nationalist, with his party allying with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami. He knows very well that blasphemy is political suicide. Someone as careful as him is not even safe from the threat of blasphemy accusations, albeit he is powerful enough that they stop short of issuing a fatwa against him and settle on an open letter.

On the anniversary of the assassination of the late Governor Taseer, let us express our support and solidarity to Shaan Taseer who is fighting the fight for liberty at a cost.

We must realize that no one is safe as long as these medieval obscurantists are in power.

We must realize that no one would be free as long as these ignorant tyrants keep on shutting everyone up.

We must speak out.

That is the only way to pay our respects to the mission of the Taseers.

 

Thoughts on the Execution of Mumtaz Qadri

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

Source: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

So, after years of deliberation, Mumtaz Qadri was finally hanged on leap day 2016 in Rawalpindi’s notorious Adyala Jail. A lot of people are celebrating and mourning passionately, but to me the very mention is repulsive.

Look, I know why some people are celebrating or are happy about it. For two reasons primarily. Because it’s not every day that the courts pass judgement against the guardians of the blasphemy law. Especially when the comment of the Justice exonerates the murdered governor of committing any blasphemy. And secondly, because the other side is celebrating the martyrdom.

To many people’s shock, Mumtaz Qadri was laid to rest in a funeral attended by thousands. I am fine with the lack of live TV coverage, but would oppose any government instructions to block the reporting. Some were not even in favor of allowing such a funeral procession, but you cannot tell people what to do.

Blasphemy law involves strange moral dynamics. While you can criticize and advocate its repeal for being a serious offense to freedom of speech, the defenders could compare it to liberal hate speech laws. As flawed the argument may appear, blasphemy could be considered hate speech. Many authoritarian progressive liberals would agree.

At least, it has been considered hate speech in India since the British took control of the subcontinental states and territories.

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Source: christiansinpakistan.com

Maybe the fight for the blasphemy law can still wait another day, but many are seeing the execution as a step in the right direction. A small victory in the dark war against the blasphemy law.

Nevertheless, even if the two camps were to reach a compromise, capital punishment for blasphemy is absolutely unacceptable. It is unconscionable how such a great number of people would gladly call for someone’s head for saying something. It’s frightening.

But even if you are a proponent of the blasphemy law, you could still find the brutal act of Mumtaz Qadri abhorrent. There are some who believe that only the state should be allowed to slaughter people for saying nasty things. As I find many unlikely people against the criminal, with some even reserving harsh judgment for the late Governor of Punjab, who himself was somewhat of a Donald Trump in his own right.

I strongly believe that tenets such as justifying murder for blasphemy are the Achilles’ heel of Muslims in terms of their standing as a community in the world. While I am aware that so many of Muslims do not hold this belief, it would be dishonest to blindly assert that such people do not constitute a minority.

Until this behavior changes, which is morally questionable by modern standards of freedom and democracy, it would be hard to blame Islamophobes and other skeptics for not trusting Muslims.

It is something Muslims with a working conscience should give a thought to.

Though some people may consider commentary such as this to be blaming the victim. To some, it’s just provoking a people who are just mourning a slain hero.

But actually speaking against the support for blasphemy law is standing up for victims, not blaming them.

Victims like Governor Salmaan Taseer.

But then again, Mumtaz Qadri is also a victim.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2013: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: inc.com

Source: inc.com

A right that is almost taken for granted and even denied in Pakistan is that of free speech, and any honor for its promotion is barely ever acknowledged.

Since no one else would bother to say this, at least I would have to. And I am upset with myself for not acknowledging a free speech hero last year. Anyway, partially, that hero was also prominent this year, that is, Malala Yousafzai. No surprises there.

Apart from Malala, a number of people like assassinated politicians Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, journalists Saleem Shahzad and Umar Cheema, Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and alleged blasphemer Asia Bibi, who everyone has conveniently forgotten, have been prominent in years prior to 2013. It is also important to acknowledge PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for publicly expressing his wish to see a non-Muslim as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in his lifetime, contrary to the provision in the constitution.

But more important free speech heroes are the ones who are in close proximity to threats and yet take the initiative to speak their minds, even if that means challenging the blind authority and unreasonable norms of the society.

To my mind, the Pakistani free speech hero of the year 2013 is social activist and entrepreneur Sabeen Mahmud.

Sabeen took flak after she started a counter initiative to respond to the anti Valentine’s Day campaign of Tanzeem-e-Islami. Her campaign involved rather amusing messages promoting love, such as “Pyaar Hone De” or roughly ‘Let there be love’, in front of the billboard messages from the religious movement prohibiting Valentine’s Day celebrations, citing verses and traditions. It immediately became controversial.

The content cannot be found any more on the Express Tribune website, the publication which primarily covered her campaign, because it is considered in bad taste by a number of Muslims. The publication even issued an apology for the campaign slideshow.

However, I have seen the pictures from the campaign and can testify that there was hardly anything about the campaign that was offensive. It would have been seen in a completely different light, if many of us had a little sense of humor.

Yet Sabeen was harassed by random people on social media, which included death threats, apart from coarse and abusive language. She was even threatened with a fatwa.

Her apt and enterprising response to the hate speech onslaught was the Nafrat Aggregator, an online tool that quantifies reported hate speech on social media.

Sabeen Mahmud has also been the driving force behind other initiatives such as the Pakistan for All campaign with Muhammad Jibran Nasir and Taimur Rehman, which involved the formation of human chains around Cathedrals and churches to express solidarity with the Christian community in major cities around Pakistan, the Hug YouTube campaign and Pakistan’s first hackathon in Karachi. She is also the founder of T2F in Karachi and is the Director of PeaceNiche.

It is a shame that such individuals are harassed instead of being admired by our society, as it is supposed to be in a democracy, just because they have a dissenting voice on certain issues.

But this is precisely why she is an inspirational free speech hero. I fully support and endorse her, even if I am not half as enthusiastic to legislate against hate speech.

While I admire all her work, this acknowledgment is primarily for her stance in the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy.

To quote her: “Fear is just a line in your head”.

Taseer Assassination: What Have We Learned?

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

                                                                                                                          – Voltaire

Source: AllVoices.com

A year ago, on this very day, the Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by one of his guards. Allegedly, the guard killed Taseer for calling the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan a Draconian law and for advocating Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who is still under arrest on charge of blasphemy.

What have we learned from this shocking event so far?

Although nothing can make up for the loss of the person of Salmaan Taseer and his role in the Pakistani society as an entrepreneur and a leader but on the bright side it made a rift in the Pakistani society. Many among Pakistani people realized for the first time that the monster of religious fanaticism was getting out of hand, despite several incidents of violence against minorities over the years.

Why is Salmaan Taseer important? He was just another politician who was probably more hated than admired, so why his death should cause such an outcry?

The reason why Salmaan Taseer mattered, and still matters, is because as funny as he was in his witty speech, he ended up touching some of the most serious and sensitive issues in Pakistan. He was the only politician, apart from Sherry Rehman, who challenged the authority of the Blasphemy Law.

Furthermore, his actions and especially his death has strengthened the beliefs of many that the remedy to Pakistan’s rapidly multiplying religious fanaticism is nothing but a secular constitution and brutal state action against hate preaching, something which most Pakistani politicians would give anything to block, even the so-called Pakistani secular parties.

There are people who would tell you that we should carry on the mission of Salmaan Taseer so that his blood does not go wasted. I would just say that Salmaan Taseer is not among us any more to care a little bit about what we think or do about what he stood for in the months before his assassination.

It is a matter of survival and progress of the Pakistani nation if it chooses or not to adopt the values that Taseer advocated pertaining to the Blasphemy law and Asia Bibi. As long as Pakistanis keep discriminating on the basis of religion and persecute its minorities, they will continue to build their society on the foundation of hatred, discrimination and inhuman values and further threatening the lives of its very own citizens, regardless of their community.

What we learn from the Taseer Assassination is that we have a long way to go as far as attaining civil rights is concerned. We have also learned that none of that would have happened if Pakistan had a secular constitution. We can prevent many more assassinations of brave persons like Taseer who would stand up against religious fanaticism if only we make a few adjustments in our textbook ruling the state, so that at least the state would offer protection to the persecuted.

But what has changed since Taseer’s assassination? Nothing. Actually, his assassin was garlanded. Asia Bibi is still in prison and perhaps it is better this way unless she finds asylum in a safe place where her life is not threatened. The Pakistani state seems least bothered about the Blasphemy Law, the persecution of the minorities and religious fanaticism. It is up to the Pakistani youth and teachers to take on this challenge and to propagate humanitarian values in the society.

The actual motive behind Taseer’s assassination can be debated but not most people’s insensitivity. Actually why be shocked if the assassin of Salman Taseer is showered with petals and hailed as a hero. That is all what we have taught our people and expecting them to act otherwise would be just like expecting a field of wheat when you have sown the seeds of poppy. When religious beliefs begin to overshadow humanitarian values, far worse things can happen. So what have we learned?

Maybe said a thousand times before.

The answer lies in humanitarian education and a bit of courage to question the absurdities of religion.

The answer lies not in despising people, but connecting to them.

Faiz’s Word – Dare to Speak the Truth

One of my very good friends, Ahmad Jamal Saeed, who lives in Lahore, the city of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is a great fan of this revolutionary poet. He shared this link earlier, which is probably his greatest tribute to the people who dare to speak the truth against tyranny and are tried for it.

A tribute to people like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Faiz Ahmed Faiz himself. And yes, to the late Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer too, who recited his uncle’s revolutionary verse in a press conference about the Blasphemy Law before he was murdered.

To all the Soldiers of Truth.

Update: A very good translation found at Aligarians.com

Let’s go today to the bazaar in chains

The tearful eye, the noisy spirit, are not enough.

The accusaion of the hidden love is not enough.

Let’s go today to the bazaar in chains.

Let’s go with hands waving, intoxicated, dancing.

Let’s go with dust on our heads, blood on our sleeves,

Let’s go to the city our love lives in

Everyone is watching

The city’s ruler, the general populace

The unhappy morning,

The day with no purpose

The arrow of accusation

The stone of abuse

Who else beside us is their intimate friend?

Who now in our beloved’s city is still pure?

Who now is worthy of the executioner’s hand?

Pick up the burden of the heart, let us go heartbroken ones.

We are the ones who have to be murdered again, my friends