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.

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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Time to Ban the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Young Fascist Goons Nationwide

Source: Babar Shah/PPI

Jamaat-e-Islami is a political organization which appears to rule the hearts and minds of a majority of urban people in Pakistan despite their dismal electoral performance. This statement would be heartening for a supporter of the Islamist party still struggling to make a dent in the secular wall of Punjab and Sindh.

One of the reasons to demonstrate that is the complete lack of checks and control over their band of young fascist goons, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT). Any given elected civilian government and even the military establishment are heavily under the influence of their ideological supremacy. They promise to establish Sharia in Pakistan despite having already influenced the theocratic elements in the Pakistani constitution. This is other words means that we are a work in progress to reach the excellence of the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria).

The IJT are in the news again for disrupting a cultural event in the public educational institution Punjab University held by a secular Pashtun student organization PSF. This obviously resulted in a clash that has seen many injured and the environment of calm and peace destroyed for thousands of students in Lahore. Yes, this is Punjab we are talking about.

This is not for the first time of course and it surely would not be the last. Just a simple internet search about news related to them should suffice. Exhibit A.

I wish it would be the last straw that would have us say that enough is enough.

The pioneers of violence in student politics and the prime factors resulting in the creation of counter fascist (not counter-fascist) secular movements like APMSO, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (Islamic Student Organization) has remained a menacing force in politics in Pakistan. The Islami Jamiat Talaba pretending to be representative of a democratic party and democratic values, always resort to violence for a reason. Because they actually work on a theocratic logic (which is never democratic) and are trained to silence everyone that holds a different world view. Because that is just the way religion works.

Also, it is about time we stop buying the same arguments about the alleged democracy of their mothership, the Jamaat-e-Islami, because that is precisely how they work as well. At least they promise Sharia in their manifesto in addition to what we have in Pakistan. Their so-called democratic process of electing an Emir is the biggest farce you are ever going to see.

Offering us the worst of the both worlds, the IJT is a mixture of toxic Islamist ideology and second hand anger fueled by misplaced male hormones, a trait they share with their secular brethren. This group of goons, just like the undemocratic party they represent, should be immediately banned from participating in politics nationwide in educational institutes at least. And there are valid reasons why.

Ask yourself this question honestly. How many times have you heard the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba have disrupted cultural and educational activities? While I know that the secular and progressive student unions do not have a clean sheet to offer as well and I am not a fan, there is simply no parallel when it comes to the history the Jamiat enjoys. And that too, completely unchecked. Even in the overwhelmingly theological International Islamic University Islamabad, the organization (which enjoys a complete totalitarian control there) has been known to disrupt mixed gender conferences in its relatively and nominally secular business school.

I know a lot of my friends would disagree and I would understand, but I was relieved that student unions were banned by military dictators during my days in college. Because that offered the students some peace due to the break in regular violence. Still in those days, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) enjoyed unchecked influence not only in institutions heavily funded by Muslim majority Gulf states but also in various public secular institutions like the Punjab University.

They had always been a major force in the Karachi University at least. They introduced weapons and violence in the politics of Karachi under the secure guidance of our state which kickstarted the shitstorm the city is in today. But even that is a smaller and long forgotten crime in comparison to the good work they are doing every day.

The biggest reason to ban the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) is simply the fascist, authoritarian, and totalitarian ideology they are poisoning the minds of our youth with. They abuse the freedoms offered by the democratic process to push their theocratic agenda and aim to make Pakistan a far more frightening state than Iran or Saudi Arabia.

I know a lot of people would jump to attack this piece as endorsing undemocratic ideas but sadly the IJT and their sympathizers do not know the first thing about democracy. Yes, even the political party of Adolf Hitler won a popular vote election and then suspended democracy. So, just having an election is not democracy, unfortunately.

Like other authoritarians such as Communists, fascists and Nazis, the Jamaat-e-Islami, IJT, and their ideology are the very anti-thesis of democracy, make no doubt about it.

I know the title of this piece is kind of ridiculous because any time to ban the IJT nationwide is good and it should have been done long ago.

And of course, whenever a ban on student unions is indeed put in place, the solution is to punish everyone for their crimes.

Because why discriminate against totalitarian theocrats?

Thanks to them, we have a theocratic constitution anyway.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Sectarian Diplomacy to End Sectarian Terrorism

Source: Times of Israel

Source: Times of Israel

This September, the New York Times featured a surprising piece from the Iranian foreign minister. Reading the article, you would find that he has curiously coined a new term for Islamic terrorism: “Wahhabism.” But sadly, it is not as clear as it sounds.

While you would occasionally come across the term used by Shia social media warriors every now and then, it certainly has not been a part of the mainstream with such political connotations. But now that it is, it effectively condemns an entire school of Islamic thought and apparently calls for its annihilation, correct me if I am wrong please. Imagine the outrage among our progressive liberals had the Saudi foreign minister made such an appeal to get rid of Shiite Islam.

Either the Iranian foreign minister is extremely naïve or wants to instigate divisive sectarian action from Muslims on purpose. While you could argue that the complaints against the Wahhabi school of Islam are not completely without substance, what about his verdict? If the Saudis are doing so with their action, such rhetoric surely would contribute to the problem. And I say this while appreciating that Iran needs its fair share of public relations to improve its image in the western world as well.

It is hard to interpret anything else from the term “Wahhabism” and “getting rid of it from the world,” which sounds a touch too sectarian a solution to end a sectarian problem. Unless it is really a new expression for Saudi foreign policy or radical Islamic terrorism as practiced by ISIL, Boko Haram, and Al-Qaida, instead of the theological school. Especially because like all Shias and Sunnis, not all Wahhabis must believe in militant and expansionist Islam apparently. At least not openly, like the rest.

I don’t recall if ever before a high-ranking diplomat has ever called for the annihilation of an Islamic school of theology. Either that or the title of the opinion article is terribly misleading. I find it shocking that a prestigious publication such as The New York Times would provide a platform to such outrageous ideas. But then again, it is also an effective way of publishing an insight into how the Iranian regime sees the world.

The main point in the article was much needed though that the Western world should wake up to the excesses of the Saudi foreign policy around the world. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia has been a disgraceful ally of the West due to the kingdom’s regressive and even malicious policies in the region. Saudi Arabia also needs to be called out for its anti-Iran aggression. Even arguing for sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its human rights violations makes perfect sense, but probably not what the title of his article suggests.

The point about the correlation of Islamic militant activity with the presence of Saudi funding of theological schools abroad is interesting, but does that mean that the very theology of Wahhabism is exclusively responsible for it? It is possible but consider this. Are Islamic militancy, expansionism, and enforcing of theocracy exclusive to Wahhabi Islam? Furthermore, are Wahhabism and the Saudi regime one and the same? More importantly, are all Wahhabi Muslims extremists and militants?

In my opinion, the Koranic literalism and strict monotheism of Wahhabism have done more harm than good in terms of tolerance and harmony in more diverse and almost pluralistic Muslim societies such as Pakistan, but I am not sure if it should be banned as a theology or if we should “rid it from the world.” We are well aware that this has been a standard of freedom of religion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, or even in Saudi Arabia. But why should the free world follow those undemocratic values?

In making his case, the Iranian foreign minister pretends as though Islamist tendencies are absolutely absent in schools other than the Wahhabis. Sadly, the regime he represents deny that assertion. Furthermore, Iran also regularly backs Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations that target Israel, if not other militant and political activity in the region. Especially, when Mr. Zarif speaks of the brutalities of the Syrian rebels while defending the sociopathic policies of the Assad regime, which is probably still using chemical weapons against its citizens.

At the end of the article, the Iranian foreign minister graciously invites the Saudis to join the fight against “Wahhabism.” What a joke. But this probably implies that by “Wahhabism,” he actually means radical Islamic terrorism instead of the Wahhabi school of theology. Though I am not sure if that means that either of the countries is in a position to reject Islamic militancy, which remains to be their weapon of choice.

In the very same article, the author declares Wahhabism a “theological perversion.” How terribly confusing. However, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the apparently cheerful Iranian statesman who does not dress like an Iranian cleric, does not come across as such a confused man by any means. He has a successfully negotiated nuclear deal with the United States under his belt, resulting in the lifting of some economic sanctions.

With a diplomat as brilliant and capable as Zarif, I think he knows perfectly well what he is writing about. In any case, it is a desperate attempt to counter the Saudi PR offensive he complains about.

The confusion that the article produces seems to be a case of deliberate ambiguity that could make the most out of the general ignorance of Islam among Western audiences. However, it needs to be called out for the nonsense that it really is. Not to take away from the fact that the credibility of the messenger ruins whatever traces of sincerity could be found in the message.

Probably the Iranian foreign minister should stop confusing everyone and join the rest of the world in referring to Islamic terrorism with the word that everyone understands. Terrorism. After all, you are not going to fight “radical Islam” unless you say the words.

A version of this post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Secular Theocracy of Bangladesh

Source: EPA/npr.org

Source: EPA/npr.org

The future of democracy in Bangladesh is in serious jeopardy.

The machete attacks on secular, atheist and progressive bloggers and academics have become a norm.

Anyone speaking their mind about their worldview, as well as criticizing religious groups for their ignorance and obscurantism can consider themselves to be the next target.

It feels like just yesterday when I wrote about the brutal killing of Avijit Roy. Since then, dozens more have lost their lives including Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad and more recently Professor Rezaul Kerim Siddique. The list goes on.

The latest occurrence was Bangladesh’s very own Charlie Hebdo, if you will. The killings of Xulhaz Mannan, Editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine Roopban, and that of the openly gay actor Tanoy Mojumdar, only occurring within a week of Professor Siddique’s murder, are particularly significant.

Unlike earlier attacks, this killing has been claimed by the Islamic State itself for the “unIslamic” sexual orientation of the offenders.

This is probably the first sign of the presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh, which is no surprise considering there are no ideological boundaries to this group. The presence of Islamic State in Bangladesh is obviously being denied by the Bangladesh authorities, considering the terrible optics that it involves.

I wonder what went on in the minds of the slain as they were witnessing the murder of fellow citizens who stood for free speech. I wonder what is going on in the minds of those who are alive and standing up for free speech in Bangladesh, as they see this menace get out of hand.

Using the word martyr is cheap. But these people were really brave and resisted life-threatening odds. Who knew what was going on around them, but instead of shutting up, they stuck to their positions. Walked the walk.

It’s easy to talk about freedom of speech, it’s an entirely different matter to live it. It surely is not easy. Especially in a world where it is easy and acceptable to use violence to silence people.

Secular bloggers and journalists in Pakistan have been enjoying relative safety considering the carnage in Bangladesh. Probably because they largely stick to the English language as a medium and preach to the choir, like myself. If confronted with a threat, most of us are not just likely to shut up, but to hide away for good.

Such a possibility is not entirely remote. Islamists are known for engaging in brotherly behavior, and they might very easily replicate the actions of their Bangladeshi brethren before you would expect.

With their repeated attacks on people who offend Islam, the Islamists have found an effective way to silence dissenters, apostates and critics. They have been carrying out these attacks with impunity, from Paris to Bangladesh, because they know that they will eventually get off the hook. Most commentators would gladly blame such groups for distorting their ideology than addressing the venom in the ideology itself.

In Pakistan, the liberal elements have always believed that the separation of Bangladesh was on a principled stance which included the demands of a secular constitution. Also, as a reaction to rights usurpation, a stolen election and injustices at the hands of the West Pakistan establishment.

However, despite escaping the theocratic leanings of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is disheartening to see Bangladesh lose its way in terms of building a more tolerant, free and open society. Probably becoming even worse than Pakistan.

And the incumbent Bangladeshi government, which sadly borders more on the lines of authoritarianism and fascist nationalism instead of being a liberal regime, is not exactly helping the cause.

Not only are liberal circles outraged at the inaction of the government to counter the attacks, the recent statements of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina criticizing the bloggers for attacking Islam have only added insult to injury. While I do not doubt the government’s commitment to purge Bangladesh of extremism and recognize the challenges to take the necessary action, these are surely not encouraging signs.

The Islamist groups, the traditional nemeses of the secular leader, have ironically welcomed her statement against antithetical and faithless elements. While her statement seems like the product of the pragmatism of any politician in a Muslim majority country, it apologizes nauseatingly for the murderers and blames the victim. Basically, the same old reason why Islamists get off the hook every time.

The situation does not make the secular and liberal elements in Bangladesh too hopeful about their government, which apparently seemed tough on Islamists with all the JI death sentences but is not willing to protect freedom of speech. When it comes to apostasy and blasphemy, even Sheikh Hasina would not dare confront the Islamists. Perhaps wisely so, or it could possibly make the religiously conservative population go out of control.

But some of her critics have other problems with the history of the government of the ruling Awami League.

Considering the violence that erupted after the calls of the boycott of the polls by the opposition Bangladesh National Party, they have been blaming deaths such as that of Avijit Roy on the rival party so instead of the Islamist terrorists. The Prime Minister is still maintaining that stance. Not that the leading opposition party has any better thoughts to offer on the killings, being an ally of Islamist parties itself, citing “absence of justice” as the age-old reason.

Just like the rest of the subcontinent, violence and intimidation are not unheard of in Bangladeshi politics. The last elections were a clear instance to prove that point. Some bloggers have even reported to be threatened for criticizing the government, which probably gives you some insight into how deep this problem runs.

There is no wonder why citizens with secular and liberal are growing more frustrated by their government for not blaming and cracking down on the Islamist militants for the killings.

Whether the threats to bloggers and journalists originate from Islamist extremists or secular political groups, the only losers are freedom of speech, democracy and the people of Bangladesh.

However, the Bangladeshi government should at least admit the presence of Islamist groups in the country and must take decisive action against theocratic activity. When it comes to Islamist groups, proactive action is justified in order to control more attacks on non-violent political commentators and journalists.

1971 worked. Perhaps secular Bangladesh should consider starting another movement for liberation from authoritarianism and theocracy.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why We Need More of Foreign Agenda

Source: APP/Dawn

Source: APP/Dawn

Recently the PML-N led federal government landed itself in yet another mess. The Interior Ministry ordered the closure of the prominent international NGO “Save the Children” and asking its staff to leave the country, but only to reverse the decision sooner than you know. The reason for banning the NGO temporarily was “the anti-state activities” they were allegedly involved in.

Now while the “Save the Children” matter has been taken care of, this just was not enough for the Interior Minister. He said that hundreds of NGOs are violating their charters in Islamabad and under the watch list. Someone else pointed out on TV that hundreds were unregistered.  There is no doubt that every NGO should be registered with the government. Makes perfect sense. But this incident also started a series of morally constipated nationalistic analyses on the national TV about how inherently evil the NGO business is. And how every NGO is absolutely corrupt and conspiring with world powers to destroy Pakistan and implement foreign agenda in the country.

Speaking of which, we should actually be thankful to the foreign NGOs for promoting foreign agenda in Pakistan, because clearly we could use more of it.

If helping children get a decent, rational secular education, better access to clean water and healthcare, and promoting democratic values mean foreign agenda, then certainly we could do with much more of it.

While the political parties and government in Pakistan, including the political party currently in power (since they have regained their monopoly over moral righteousness these days), make high claims about public welfare, they are clearly not touching areas that many of these “anti-state” NGOs are working on. If despite lofty claims, the government is not able to deliver education as a right, then do they blame foreign NGOs to take credit for promoting education in the society?

Why should we worry about the foreign agenda anyway when our own domestic agenda is so lethal.

OK, let me guess.

These foreign NGOs are dangerous because they are promoting education, free speech, and democracy. And that is probably anti-state, so that our children don’t get to learn that having a theocratic and discriminatory constitution is wrong. That could seriously disintegrate the almost perfectly homogeneous ignorance of our almost perfectly homogeneous society.

These foreign NGOs are particularly dangerous because they keep on talking about liberating women and helping them become financially independent. They are also a threat to the society because they keep on talking about legislating to punish violence against women. Because obviously that would shred our family values and honor to pieces.

If our constitution involves excommunicating religious communities, and our law supports provisions for capital punishment on blasphemy, then probably it’s foreign agenda alone that could come to salvage this hopeless mess.

But then again, when our local agenda involves hiding the most wanted terrorist in the world, there is not much to expect, is there?

That’s why we need more foreign NGOs to buy more local people with foreign money.

Let’s admit it as a nation, and there is nothing to be ashamed about it.

We need more of foreign agenda.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

It Could Have so Easily Been You and Me

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Why is no one in Pakistan talking about Raif Badawi with the exception of a couple of bloggers here and there?

Why is he not in the news?

Because he insulted Islam or the Saudi royalty? But of course.

But what does this tell the world about us? Or about our leaders who took the trouble of protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but would dare not even think about the flogging of the Saudi blogger.

Both liberal and conservative free speech critics would find great offense in a political cartoon mocking a holy religious figure, but would not find any problem in a theocratic monarchy persecuting the freedom of its citizens.

Therefore, the draconian penalty of 1,000 lashes to blogger Raif Badawi largely goes unaddressed by the likes of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, and overshadowed by the sad demise of King Abdullah. With the exception of a few extremist bloggers, Western publications and maybe Amnesty International.

I heard a few US senators did manage to write a letter strongly protesting the flogging. I hope that really happened.

But the torture goes on, despite appeals and concerns about Badawi’s health.

Obviously, the penalty of 1,000 lashes is carefully designed to prolong the humiliation and mental torture, without attracting significant disapproval of the Western countries. Not that they really care though.

After all, it is important to set an example.

I know it is dangerous and sensitive to talk about anyone who has allegedly blasphemed, but let us put this case this way.

Let’s not even waste our time with the question whether Raif Badawi insulted Islam or not, and whether he should be punished for it or not, without giving up the defense of his right to.

But what if the law of the land requires your free expression about your society to be punished like this? Especially when half of the people in Pakistan want the country to turn into Saudi Arabia and the other half wants it to become Iran.

 

What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmedis are persecuted in Pakistan?

What if you were penalized for wondering why Hazara and Shia are being targeted and publicly naming the culprits?

What if you were wondering about the unjust theocratic influences on the law and the constitution, and therefore on the society?

What if questioning the theocratic parts of your constitution would put you on a trial for treason?

The kind of opinions that could so easily be projected to be insulting to religion and, therefore, the religious figures, you never know.

 

Raif Badawi’s opinions were not too different to these seemingly innocuous political inquiries.

This is where more moderate and liberal elements in the society are the only hope to inch toward sanity. This is why they need to focus on Raif Badawi and put more pressure on enemies of free speech such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even though not as much, but Pakistan too. But I am glad I am enjoying enough freedom to write these lines and am proud of that.

As we speak, Raif Badawi’s second round of flogging has been postponed for the third straight week, albeit for health reasons. We should continue to speak until the floggings are called off as a matter of principle.

 

There is a reason why Raif Badawi matters so much.

It could have so easily been you and me.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.