One Good Reason to Celebrate the Valentine’s Day

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

Many of us are cynical when it comes to the Valentine’s Day. And for a good reason too. The Western and probably overly commercialized holiday makes you cringe. And of course, you don’t even need to focus on the harassment that ensues.

But we have forgotten in our sharp criticism that somewhere people with sincere expressions of love are celebrating this holiday too.

I know many people respond that they don’t need a specific day to express their love, because they do so every day. But perhaps we do since we are so lost in our materialistic pursuits in a gesellschaft.

How many times do you speak to a particular friend in a year? Let alone a love interest. At least I don’t nearly as many times as someone would expect, if at all. But I should speak for myself only.

But if none of these arguments make any sense to you, which is perfectly fine, there is one good reason that would help you celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or at least realize that it should not be taken for granted.

Don’t forget that Sabeen fought for the freedom to celebrate the holiday. I don’t know about most of you, but to me, Valentine’s Day is a good occasion to respect the memory of Sabeen, a true Pakistani free speech hero.

Well, now you would hardly find a trace of photographic evidence of this episode online because our overly concerned media publications worried about the sensitivities of their audience too much. However, like the photographs from the campaign, the courage of Sabeen Mahmud in the face of religious authoritarianism must not be erased from our memory.

We know for a fact that the campaign at least jeopardized her life thanks to the instant fatwa machines in the Karachi madrassahs. However, you could speculate if that was the only motive of her killer, if any at all. But that’s what they tell us.

With every forgiven attack and every neglected bit of hate speech and death threats, we are condemned to desensitize ourselves from this moral abomination. However, we are also condemned to put up with it, until we are not. Because in a land where morality is enforced by threatening the life of its citizens, the only law is that of the sword, not of some high moral divinity.

In a society, such as this, celebrating the Valentine’s Day is an act of defiance in itself. Especially when our courts issue verdicts such as banning the holiday in public spaces that defy the standards of civil rights. In some cases, it is even an act of sheer mad bravery. Not very different to what Sabeen did during her campaign challenging religious authoritarianism.

I am not a fan of mingling political statements with holiday celebrations at all. But this is one exception that I would not mind. So, when you celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pakistan, do keep in mind that in such a society, the holiday is more than just vain indulgence.

Isn’t it a good reason to celebrate?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2015: Sabeen Mahmud

Source: The News

Source: The News

There were quite a few Pakistanis braving their way through threats, intimidation, discrimination and hate, but who could equal the couragee that Sabeen Mahmud has inspired us with. She used to do things where others like me only talked from behind the closed doors of their comfortable lairs. She interacted with people and reached out instead of resorting to convenient misanthropy.

While most people thought she was targeted by people trying to silence, her fundamentalist killer confessed that he was offended by her Valentine’s Day movement, for which she was my hero in 2013. While some folks can still argue about what caused her untimely death, there is no argument over her brilliant resolve to say and fight for the right thing in an environment very hostile to free speech.

She is a free speech hero in the true sense of the word. Others can make claims, but she lived that and probably proved the point with her death-defying lifestyle. What makes her special was that she was a woman of action, not just words. Her death, by far the worst shock of this year, shook us to the core. But still, it is hard to express in words how proud I and many of my friends are of Sabeen. Long live her cause.

Source: Laal

Source: Laal

However, she is by far not the only free speech hero this year. In countries where curbs on free speech are a norm, there hardly ever is. Not unrelated to her accommodation of the talk about Baluch rights featuring Mama Qadeer at T2F in Karachi is Taimur Rehman of Laal, a professor of Political Science in the LUMS affiliated with the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party. Taimur is known for speaking out about unpopular causes such as rights of minority religious groups and labor rights in a country very hostile to leftist parties.

What made matters even worse for Taimur Rehman was the smear campaign run against him by pro-establishment nationalists for speaking about Balochistan, particularly on mainstream media while he had no access to any such platform to clarify his views. The campaign largely condemnded him as a traitor and accused him of having links with Baluch nationalist separatists. It certainly takes courage to express political dissent as openly as Taimur does, but it goes to show how dangerous doing so still is in Pakistan, particularly with the history of bans on the Communist Party.

PervezRasheed-dawn-p-1

Source: Dawn

Another reminder why democracy is so important. Speaking of which, it is not everyday that a member of the government wins a nod in the Free Speech hero of the year post, but this year is an exception. Pervez Rasheed, the soft spoken but expressive Senator and Minister of Information from PML-N attracted the ire of the clerics and religious conservatives by his speech promoting rational education and condemning madrassahs or religious seminaries as “Universities of Ignorance.”  It’s a big deal coming from a government official of an Islamic Republic.

As expected, Pervez Rasheed was bombarded with condemnation, rather damnation of excommunication from the religious clerics, who bestowed all sorts of titles on him including Ahmedi, infidel, atheist and non-believer, not that anything is wrong with all that. However, that is a fundamentalist Muslim’s way of saying they hate you, and well killing you is alright.

This only goes to show that even government officials are not free from the attacks of religious conservatives for speech, that can potentially cost them their lives if not their positions. I am just glad that protests against him did not escalate as much as in the case of Pakistan’s first foreign minister Sir Zafrullah Khan for being Ahmedi. Because it very easily could have. The good news is that he is undeterred and still serving in the same position, and is a good example for the rest of the leaders in the government to follow for criticizing the role of religion in public life.

Read about the Pakistani Free Speech hero of the last year here.

I Brought You Flowers… and Got Arrested

Source: siasat.pk

Source: siasat.pk/Express News

What will become of you in a country in which people are arrested for bringing someone flowers.

Maybe I am exaggerating the horrific nature of their crime, because these men happened to have been standing outside a college exclusively for girls for the probable intention of harassment. You guessed it, on the demonic, capitalistic occasion of Valentine’s Day.

But that is not the point, because hey, moral policing on Valentine’s Day is nothing new. Moral policing and big government measures for all the wrong reasons have been a feature of the current administration.

What is noticeable in the incident is that in Pakistan you can get arrested when you are not even breaking the law, apparently.

The incident occurred in Faisalabad when dozens of male youths were arrested by the Punjab police for standing outside a girl’s college and allegedly “making noise“, whatever that means. It can even be argued that the noise was harassment and that they infringed on the institution, but I am not too sure if the latter really was the case.

The police can be rightfully called as a security measure, but why would they proceed to arrest them without any reported wrongdoing? In a news report I watched, the police officer was just having the question of them standing there. Whatever happened to the right of assembly?

The news report even mentioned special security arrangement in hotels and restaurants to prevent any wrongdoing or immoral activities. What in the world does that mean?

I mean, are all  those security measures related to a “festival”? Then why are weddings not raided?

The arrest was probably a preemptive measure to prevent possible or further harassment. Yes, it seems that pre-crime is not science fiction anymore. But of course, arrest on harassment would make complete sense.

Alright, I concede that the act of giving Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to someone (like that) is arguably cheesy and inappropriate, but it is not really the kind of offense that someone should be locked up for.

But I do want to give the police the benefit of the doubt and would like to think that they responded to the complaint of the college officials, but still the boys were not apparently breaking any law. The police could have guarded the scene if they thought the security situation was unsatisfactory.

But without a second thought, the police only ended up ruining their public record of a number of people for nothing at all, especially because they probably arrested some people who were there to pick up their relatives. Rest assure, these were more of raids than anything else.

And of course no one cares about the mental agony and harassment that they went through before they would be released. That is just not a priority for a nation obsessed with false sexual moral righteousness.

But what is alarming is that in a country where the police can just arrest people without a reasonable cause, a warrant or even without an instance of crime, what would be the status of those perceived to be rebels or enemies of the state?

The issue of Baloch “missing persons” is often brought up, but how can you expect suspected rebels to be treated fairly, and hey just about anyone can be a suspected rebel anywhere in the country, when citizens with no such credentials are treated so harshly.

And it does not even matter if the citizen knows their rights because the cop would only respond to reason with overwhelming slaps on the back of the head. The trademark policing maneuver in the country.

But nevertheless, it seems that Pakistani citizens must only leave their homes with a copy of the fundamental rights in the Constitution and the penal code with them to prove to the police when and why they can arrest them.

But perhaps the problem lies with the Constitution itself, in which Article 10 lacks much clarity and speaks very loosely about the “detention” of a citizen. This pretty much encourages the prevalent detention on suspicion practice of the law enforcers.

The Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan states:

No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.

But more importantly, the Article 14 states:

(1) The dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.

(2) No person shall be subjected to torture for the purpose of extracting evidence.

Obviously the Constitution comes with countless caveats when it comes to the inviolability of the “dignity of man” and the “privacy of home”. Without the requirement of showing a prior lawful document pertaining to the cause, the articles could even arguably be in conflict with each other.

The provisions are somewhat vague and fail to convey a clear idea of a more precise guideline to prevent abuse of authority. Not that we can be sure that the police all over Pakistan would still read and follow it anyway.

But in comparison, the following is how the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, which is an inseparable part of the Bill of Rights.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

As opposed to the apparently compulsive right of detention provided for by the Pakistani constitution, the Fourth Amendment is very specific on the line it draws between the liberty of the citizen and the authority of the state.

It even goes to the length of requiring the mention of specifics in the warrant to make the search or seizure lawful. In comparison, Article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan does not even mention the word “warrant“, correct me if I am wrong.

US Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) are even suing the President of the United States for violating the Fourth Amendment rights over unwarranted NSA surveillance. Whether you agree with it or not, this is the extent of empowerment that the Constitution accords to the citizens in the United States.

But as long as liberty of the law abiding and peaceful citizens of Pakistan is continued to be abused at the subjective will of the law enforcers of the land, it is hard to trust its government to be democratic.

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”.

Why So Afraid of Love?

Source: Express Tribune/AFP

Source: Express Tribune/AFP

While there is nothing particularly special about Valentine’s Day, a rather irritating tradition, it always becomes a point of debate among Pakistan’s religious and conservatives and the not so religious and the not so conservatives. You can hardly find people here who do not belong to the two groups.

Nobody would even take Valentine’s Day too seriously any more should this conflict come to an end. With defaced billboards and privacy invasions, the conflicting attitude about this “foreign” festival will continue in Pakistan. But underlying this war of morals, is a deep and disturbing behavioral problem prevalent in our society that may be a root to many other of our problems.

Many…, most Pakistanis have a problem with “love”.  I mean they have a problem with people with a romantic association. I mean they have a problem with sex itself. Not really, they like to have it a lot and add to the exploding population of the country. But they don’t like people talking about it and don’t like people showing willingness to have it with each other. It immediately qualifies you for adjectives that are reserved for sex workers, who by the way are humans and surely good members of the human society too.

Therefore, with this obsession of their hatred with love, or sex, or their erotophobia, they raise their children with a guilt about sex that simply does not fade away. I can tell you that because I am one of the millions of children in Pakistan who have been raised on the same lines. The lines of orthodox religious conservatism, though the word orthodox seems almost superfuous here.

The point is that disapproval of sex and its mention have become an unchangeable and unquestioned ethos in Pakistan, which I am not sure would have been the case in India before Islam’s advent. You cannot help but speculate that it would have been to some extent, especially given the vicious culture of the Rajputs.

In any case, this has a lot of benefits as well, as it perceivably reduces the opportunities of strangers, potential rapists and random chchichchoras abusing your women. However, not a lot of thought is given to women abused by the not-so-strangers, since they are like property and must be possessed and jealously guarded. Therefore, one of the greatest objections to Valentine’s Day is women seen publicly around universal but forbidden symbols of love and sex.

Source: sina.com

Source: sina.com

When you have that many grown-up people who cannot have healthy romantic, or even sexual relationships, they turn into psychotics. Maybe that is scientifically, morally, logically and politically wrong. I don’t know. I am not an expert, but it makes a little sense to me. Perhaps psychologists could explain whether such repressed sexual urges could be one of the reasons behind the torture-loving and violent behavior often demonstrated by the members of our society, and by humans in general.

Not sure. But I can tell you that it does certainly brew trouble. And those who are living it, I mean really living it and surviving it every other day, will be able to tell you about it in a better way. You know, people enduring witnessing and themselves being threatened by honor killings and the virtuous and by the immaculate menace of ghairat or “honor” itself. Usually women suffer almost all the fallout, but that is not always true. A lot of men are killed for marrying as per their will too. We must keep that in mind.

If we discard morality for a moment, such killings seem rather intellectual as they block human procreation in general. At least for the perpetrators, it prevents a dirty DNA from merging their pure one. But since everyone, especially the offenders themselves are so concerned about morality, you have to bring it in the picture and what they do seems ridiculously awful. Funny to the point of reducing you to tears. Tragic to the point of contorting you with fits of laughter.

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

But it is indeed a serious subject and one that requires immediate consideration of people who claim that humans are Ashraf-ul-Makhlookat, or the “Highest of all Creation”, which they are most certainly not by any means. The reason why I say this is that even though they are great believers in sanctity of life, they are content with treating their children like cattle, suppressing their biological and emotional desires and turning them into neurotics. 

But what to do with a culture that supports suicide bombings on the infidents, which supports and cannot deny the support of stonings-to-death for adultery, which garlands murderer Qadri for slaughtering a loudmouth governor and which sets fire to its cities just because some Dane with a sense of humor drew the caricature of their Prophet who lived 14 centuries ago? A culture that loves violence. Violence and hate.

How can a culture that loves violence and hate can appreciate love? It would certainly hate love and would be afraid of love.

Maybe Paksitan needs to get over its erotophobia to recover from its sickness of violence.