CPEC Marks the End of Free Speech in Pakistan

Source: par.com.pk

The latest provocative Dawn story about the CPEC might as well be a pack of lies but what about things unfolding right in front of our eyes. It is very hard, and almost feels immoral, to remain silent at the Interior Minister’s crusade against dissenting bloggers and social media activists. Since Zia’s period, we have not seen the Pakistani state practice such blunt and open crackdown against free speech and dissent in the countries. What are you to say of authorities who treat their own citizens, whose taxes pay for their livelihood, like the enemy?

It is deeply disappointing.

There is a reason why people are skeptical of China. The Chinese Road and Belt initiative does sound very good to the ears and who in their right mind would oppose economic cooperation beyond borders? But the reason why people find it hard to trust them is because of the political culture and ideology they practice in their country. They do not practice the freedom they have preached in this initiative. There are no Google and facebook in China and that is precisely why I am not too excited about the cross border optic fiber cable network from China border to Rawalpindi. The Chinese ideals are not shared by the Pakistani youth struggling for freedom of expression.

The Chinese cultural push in Pakistan also sounds more than just a rumor, with their political culture seems to be creeping into the country. You see, in Pakistan people like to dissent, even when it comes to the blasphemy law. They like to vote for other parties, speak ill of the people of other sects and ethnicities. And considering the totalitarian trends that are also creeping into Pakistani politics with unanimously passed constitutional amendments, it is important to remind that we are not a one party country and would never be no matter what happens. It is only sad to see that these values of the Pakistani people are not being shared by those cracking down on dissenters.

We can only beg our higher authorities to please think about the people of Pakistan above everything else and stop crackdown on dissenters.

Ever since the CPEC has started, the government has been responding very aggressively and reactively to any criticism, without trying to understand what the concerns might be. In good conscience, you cannot possibly support that, especially when the democratically elected officials stand behind such policies. China may genuinely have a very encouraging vision of the regional economy but the questions that the local Pakistani businessmen and cultural critics have are worth listening to.

The Pakistani dissenting bloggers may criticize or insult the Pakistani armed forces all they want, at least we knew that their higher echelons appreciated finer things in life. At least they valued some freedom for themselves, some of which trickled down to us mortals. But with an authoritarian influencer in the picture, are we even going to have the little freedom that we used to enjoy? The future looks uncertain and scary.

Also, please do not mistake these lines to be a contradiction to the title of this piece. The more frightening aspect is that now the Pakistani authorities do not even fear if their reputation gets affected by openly targeting dissent. And that is precisely the effect of the CPEC.

Consider this and all the pieces to come from hereon to be heavily self-censored.

Long live Pakistan.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Sympathy for the Devil: Comment on the Milo-Maher Episode

Source: LA Times

Source: LA Times

There is a reason I am a bigger fan of Bill Maher than any other liberal comedian/political activist out there. Actually, his show is the only one where almost everyone gets a platform and where you can find some substance in the middle of the usual political insults.

I personally find his show very interesting for always evenly distributing the panelists among liberals and conservatives, and particularly for his much needed unfiltered criticism of religion. Seriously, without the likes of him, the Western left would have no remote clue what Islam and Sharia could really look like. Not that they would care anyway.

I know a lot of people don’t find him funny because his jokes are perceivably too rude, crude and offensive for them. But somehow I do, even when I find his jokes offensive. And that is probably because I know that Bill Maher, who has been called “nominally liberal,” hears the other side out. Even though, only to insult them to their faces. All in good humor.

I wanted to avoid commenting on this primarily because of some of the terrible opinions held by Milo, but thought it would be inappropriate to skip this considering what it means in terms of free speech. It would also be a tremendous disservice to the readers of this blog.

I consider myself somewhat a free speech libertarian, not a liberal. What that means is that I would be willing to give a platform to a lot of ideas and speech that would be off-limits to most decent circles of the society. Even though, in real life, I would avoid engaging those ideas in conversation, especially if I personally do not believe in them.

For example, I would listen to a meninist, as opposed to a feminist, but I would know that they are full of shit. Because women are simply at a tremendous disadvantage both socially and economically, and to my mind even physically, in what is still a man’s world. But nothing wrong in challenging third wave feminism and it should not be off-limits because at least its criticism of art certainly has a flaw or too.

But when I hear about the gender wage gap from a feminist, I would listen to the arguments with a healthy economic skepticism. Which is a polite way of saying that I need to learn more about this burning issue and that perhaps, some day, I would be able to form a strong opinion on this issue.

But I must say, I find Milo Yiannapoulous intriguing. And I don’t even have to agree with his politics or views on things. I know, it is about that for most people. But I seldom see people that way, unless sometimes they force me not to. Though Milo does come close, but it is still important to hear out before dismissing. And I am sure the same is true for Bill Maher.

His views on transgenders are absolutely disgusting, terming transgenderism a mental disease. But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

But probably what is worse about him is that he has become somewhat of a professional troll. He still is voicing some very unpopular opinions in the public with. But it strikes a chord with a lot of people because in their perception the liberals have gone a bit too far off the rails.

Bill Maher, of course, was rebuked viciously by progressive liberals for inviting him on his show, some of who are announcing their boycotts, as usual.  Frequent panelist journalist Jeremy Scahill was supposed to appear on that show but pulled out. How could he give the poster child of Alt-Right a platform on his show? Well, he also happened to be the Editor of Breitbart News at the time. The founder of the platform, Andrew Breitbart, a very outspoken provocateur himself, often appeared on the show. Milo looks somewhat of a resurrection of the late outspoken libertarian blogger.

Now, here are two ways to look at this. Either you are giving a troll a mainstream platform and audience, or you are simply exposing him to further scrutiny.

I had heard his name alright, but I had no idea what his deal was about until I saw him on Bill Maher’s show. And realized that Bill Maher indeed had given him a bigger platform for many. Though not for the first time, as he has appeared on Sky and BBC several times in the UK.

Milo Yiannapoulous has been insightful, particularly in his explanation of the Trump Presidency phenomenon. Not even the biggest of pundits ever realized that the Presidency of his “daddy” was won on a cultural platform. Which explains a candidate that is so bullet-proof that the release of his “grab them by the pussy” video failed to destroy his candidacy. How can historians explain this? Other than the Republican voter base completely lacking morals, which they often accuse the liberals of

Though here is the other side of the picture. It was because of Bill Maher’s show that both Milo and he were bombarded with hate blogs and reports on the liberal and mainstream media such as CNN. In other words, Bill Maher took Milo to CNN.

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And the intense attention that it brought led to the re-emergence, or rather emergence, of a long lost tape of an internet show in which he seems to be justifying homosexual men engaging in sexual contact with minors. Following it up with a joke about having sex with his priest.

Well, well. You thought that Milo would actually be with his signature bravado, but not to be. He held a press conference regretting his “poor choice of words,” something he had never done before I assume. He resigned his position as Breitbart Senior Editor, possibly being forced to, which he made look like a voluntary one. Before that, the deal for his book “Dangerous” was canceled.

But ideologically worst of all, he lost his speaking spot in the CPAC. That must have been a huge blow to his fans.

Later, Bill Maher was taking credit, saying “you’re welcome.” If that sounds douchey, well, only Bill Maher can attain those levels. But he may have a point there. Sunlight, indeed, is the best disinfectant.

So Bill Maher’s delusions aside, what happened? Why was this comment the last straw that broke the camel’s back? Despite everything and everything Milo had said and done, including reportedly donning Nazi paraphernalia, Islamophobia and making antisemitic remarks,. An article by Nathan J. Robinson asked this question too. And I tell you what, his comments appearing on the video regarding the age of consent are nothing new and not nearly as shocking as you would believe. Even though I believe the age of consent is a legitimate debate and varies in different regions, I guess the conservatives draw a line when it comes to pedophilia, especially when a gay man is involved. And I am not even sure if these cases even qualify for the wildly thrown around term pedophilia, which is supposed to be classified as a mental disorder. Underage sex or statutory rape, yes.

Actually, a lot of websites are accusing Maher himself of justifying an older woman having sexual relations with a minor and not rejecting the idea that women could possibly rape men. But I guess for someone who has a problem with Prophet Muhammad marrying a minor, raise this issue all you want. Well, send me a memo please but I don’t think it destroyed Maher’s career. HBO must be aware of it. I guess the only shit he faced was because of his 9/11 comments.

Before this episode, Milo Yiannapoulos was invited by the College Republicans in the UC Berkeley campus in California. This led to some of the most vicious violent riots the United States has seen in the recent years. One of such riots in Seattle saw a person shot. On Van Jones’ show, the one who had invited him said he was worried for his life during the episode. It was this incident that prompted Bill Maher to invite Milo to his show because he happens to have a problem with left’s hypocrisy, hate of free speech and love of safe spaces too.

Like Bill, I sided with Milo on that and had absolutely zero problems with him appearing on his show. The left media went berserk, of course.

According to the hysteric Jezebel, Bill Maher was a monster now. The others shredded him for basically enabling Milo and not calling him out on the more offensive parts of his comments. Even though Maher himself is barely as progressive socially as many would like to believe. He grew up with old school comedians and perhaps could be considered as the heir to George Carlin for his caustic humor.

Though I do admit that he was clearly doing it for the most part. But still, I would not divorce Bill Maher from the ranks of my political allies. Be glad that a comedian and political activist like that is on your side. Though eventually, you would feel, the left-leaning Democratic Party would eventually drive out anyone. If only the Republicans were not so horrible.

In the end, I like Milo’s style but I can have no sympathy at all for the terrible political opinions he stands for. But I am not bothered much about his moral unorthodoxy. Actually, I am attracted to it, because I can relate to the boundaries that he is trying to push and it is fun to see him getting under the skin of so many whose righteousness we take for granted.

I must say I am intrigued by Milo because I am interested in people who question moral conventions. And more often than not, it requires being offensive and some courage as well. But pushing the limits of moral boundaries is something that could really start some new debates. Though I am not sure how well he qualifies for this great mission.

But while social justice wars are all good, it is important not to forget the essential right of free speech, which is the most important human right of all. And most of all, he reminds us of how much self-censorship is prevalent in the age of information, though it is not necessarily a bad thing. But it sure is dishonest.

This is one of the primary reasons I have never identified as a “progressive” as yet, though being an ally on most issues including feminism, and most probably never would.

 

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?