Shame on Pakistan

Source: AFP/geo.tv

It greatly pains me to write these words but I cannot help but express my disappointment in Pakistan in the harshest of words on this day.

You would probably live with this situation (as if we the citizens had a choice?) if things were a bit more balanced and saner at some level somewhere. On one hand, you have a nation content and proud of some of the most discriminatory provisions in the constitution taken as a fair social contract. On the other, you have a group of mullah bandits who have taken the entire nation hostage by emotionally blackmailing them in the name of faith and the love of the Prophet. When you are a Muslim, you are forced to believe their bigotry disguised as passion and love for the Prophet. If you don’t, you are an infidel. A Qadiani sympathizer.

In Pakistan, bigotry has become the highest standard of piety and religiosity.

How can someone with a slightly saner worldview find any hope in a place like this? In a place where perhaps the best strategy to fend off these ills and threats is to remain silent. The November 25 clash between the mullah protesters and the state, ironically two sides of the same coin, is a terrible instance of this fact. What was even worse is that in the face of this blatant religious bigotry, the state, which is supposed to protect the citizens, ends up punishing the citizens for the crimes of a few. In perhaps the first time in my living memory, I have seen the government block the social media, facebook, twitter and youtube, other than the private TV channels just to deal with a riot in Islamabad. This confirmed any misconception that we were living in a democracy of some kind. This needless information blackout is a great stain on the record of the new Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is otherwise considered a very forward-looking politician.

Source: Hindustan Times

To add insult to injury, on the world news, the very next story following the sit-in protest crackdown was the US denunciation of the release of Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist leader wanted by India for Mumbai attacks. This was the world’s view of Pakistan on November 25. Even the high ministers and superiors in the echelons of the government are blind to what picture of the country is presented by this state of affairs to the world. Either that or there is nothing in the world that they can do. It is remarkable how they expect foreign entities to even visit Pakistan with this sort of air, let alone invest their capital in it.

Forget foreign investment and the global image, all of these are only more reasons to leave Pakistan for a humane country. All of these are more reasons to stop believing in Pakistan and to stop defending it, rooting for it or supporting it.

November 25 showed Pakistan’s true face to the world. A raving mad and bloodthirsty public infected with Islamic extremism and a draconian, undemocratic government misleading its citizens and enabling their viciousness.

Copy of the concluded compromise agreement

To further humiliate the government, the selectively just military of Pakistan refused to partake in the operation against the Barelvi protesters, terming them “our own people.” The terms on which this protest has ended on November 27 sound humiliating as well with the government succumbing to the demands of the sit-in protesters, which they have been resisting up till that point. Other than the resignation of the accused Law Minister Zahid Hamid, the compromise agreement called for an inquiry to penalize those who had made the amendment in the statement pertaining to the anti-Ahmedi oath. The Islamabad High Court has slammed the military’s role in this negotiation but we have a lot more to be alarmed about this. Wish our judiciary had too. This essentially means that even suggesting to propose an amendment to these draconian theocratic laws could possibly mean prison time if not death sentence, confirming Pakistan as a theocracy like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

November 25 will go down in history as a dark day for the people of Pakistan.

On this day, everyone should be ashamed to be a Pakistani citizen.

The Most Tolerant Nation on Earth

Source:  bosnewslife.com

Source: bosnewslife.com

Pakistanis are by far the most tolerant nation on earth.

They are easily the most tolerant considering how much shit they put up with. I am not even sure why are they accused of intolerance in the society, considering their loving, forgiving nature.

Want to try it? Ask the person sitting next to you about the possible hanging of Asia Bibi. Or even the YouTube ban, which is so embarrassing, that it makes you wonder if you should ever say that you are proud to be a Pakistani.

But enough of the elitist first world digital age problems.

Just look at all the tolerance that has been going on all this time. We have been tolerating and forgiving every single atrocity. From the Gojra riots to the Joseph Colony arson, and from the murder of Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan to the Gulberg Park bombing, all is in the natural order of things.

The recent episode has been the condemnation of the entire community of Christians in Mandi Bahauddin in the name of the honor of the Prophet. We have had such cases several times, in which a person’s loose tongue has warranted the collective punishment of a community. Won’t be the last because we are too tolerant to be moved by such horrors.

Perhaps the only way to survive is to convert to Islam once and for all. Because somehow that makes the rioting majority love the “janitors” all of a sudden.  Though think about it, who would remain a janitor if everyone converted to Islam? Perhaps that thought could ignite some intolerance among the forgiving majority.

I must say, these Christians and Hindus in Pakistan are either too brave or too moronic. And don’t even mention the Ahmedis. They are a special, incurable breed of crazy.

Things like that usually do not happen in most countries, and when they do, it is usually a big deal. But no, it’s just business as usual for Pakistan. Just shut up, look the other way. Hey, harmony and inner peace are important. At least, that’s what my shrink tells me.

We can still question considered outrageous in a parallel universe called Planet Earth, and ask our fellow citizens for their reaction. Only to be met by a silence, by looking the other way.

We privately do question these atrocities, but would seldom do it in public. With the exception of a few nutcases such as Sabeen Mahmud, Jibran Nasir, Taimur Rehman and Farzana Bari, who are so passionate in their activism that it honestly makes me nauseate and feel ashamed at the same time. That is why they remain constantly under the attacks of extremists and nationalist conservatives.

And I wonder if they make a hypocrite like me feel ashamed, what about folks with much higher moral standards? At least to not look the other way.

But do these handful really represent the majority of our society? While they are acting on the logic of the attendance of the Islamic funeral alright, but is their tiny participation enough to make a difference? Perhaps not, because these drivers-of-foreign-agenda are far outnumbered by more tolerant, more patriotic, nicer people.

The tolerance of our moralist political commentators on the television is particularly praiseworthy, who would constantly babble sermons against financial corruption day in and day out. While their passion for mourning the stolen wealth of the nation is exemplary, they would also look the other way when atrocities against non-Muslims, or even the peasants of Renala Khurd, are brought up.

Perhaps, it is time that the educated, civilized Pakistan become a little intolerant in order to discourage, if not put an end to, atrocities against the cornered. Too much to ask?

But then again, it’s probably propaganda funded by foreign NGOs anyway, for which I have thanked these mysterious organizations several times before.

It is probably wise not to care for the sheep and steer clear of the shearer. Because that appears to be in the self-interest of those who have not gotten to the position of the vulnerable yet. Besides, it’s safe.

Granted, but should we be doing that and claim moral superiority for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its great, true national faith? Because God knows that claim is true.

That still raises some serious moral questions of a population pious enough to go to great lengths not to miss a fast on even a single day in the scorching, dehydrating heat of June.

 

Too bad God only cares about those who really believe in him and those who fast during the month of Ramadan.

 

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

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”.

Hire-a-Mob

Source: asianews.it

Source: asianews.it

It is pretty elementary, yet so many people have been missing the point for such a long time. Not others though, because no one uses this openly secret weapon like religious groups.

In a democracy, the numbers count. For votes. But in half-baked democracies such as those in the Indian subcontinent, and in Pakistan in particular, it is the numbers with the pitchforks that count.

Yes, if you have the numbers, and passion, mobs can do just about anything for you.

Time and again, over decades, consistently and repeatedly, we have observed that rioting mobs have been and are superior to the police. They are the only force. There is simply no match.

The subcontinent has this proud medieval tradition of rioting. And then there are vendetta riots. Armed vigilantes taking control of things themselves and making sure that justice is delivered there and then.

Needless to say, that these mobs are often than not motivated by religion. Hindu Muslim riots, Hindu Christian riots, Muslim Christian riots, Muslim Ahmedi riots, Sunni Shia riots, partition riots, ethnic riots, favorite cult or political leader assassinated riots, anti Western blasphemy riots.

The history is so rich, both in variety and frequency of events, that a systematic proof is not even necessary.

The police has learned never to stand in the way of this unstoppable force. Any resistance is futile. When a mob is invading, the best bet for a cop is to run for his life and turn his firearms over to them like a responsible trooper.

After all, the police is neither trained, nor paid, nor equipped to handle these mobs. The worse that could happen is a few days of curfew and the military patrolling the streets. What could possibly go wrong?

So if you have an agenda, the most profitable way of achieving instant and tangible results is to hire a mob. There are professional rioters around who can execute the job with great skill and controlling chaos.

And the state is forced to listen to you. Rioting mobs forced the state to ban YouTube. Perhaps, activists who campaign against internet censorship could use the same tactics. But seriously, the state listens to rioters, say laid off government employees.

Of course, if you are in the business of insurance, life can be difficult for you. A lot of lost bets. Frequent claims, that is, if people bother to buy your hopeless policies at all.

But what of the relatively secular, god-fearing businessman and poor low key resident who is caught in the middle of the storm, just because they happened to be somewhere at the wrong time in the wrong place? Well, what of them? They are just a casualty.

If you are a Pakistani businessman, you are going to pay some very high premiums, especially if your business office or warehouse is located near a religious or political structure. Or even if it is located at a prominent location, where it is supposed to be, or a city square known to be a frequent rioting ground.

The most useful rioting agenda could be setting up an attack on one’s own office or home in order to lodge an insurance claim or to get rid of inconvenient office record. Just stir a riot for a reasonably unreasonable reason, and sit back and enjoy the show.

Who could ever possibly know?

So if you live in some city or village in Pakistan with reasonable population, you could be the next casualty. You have been warned.

Perhaps saying a little prayer at the right time could help.

Pakistan & Youtube Bans

Source: PTA

Source: PTA

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan’s information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

Bytes for All had earlier reported that the PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn’t it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily. It’s such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can’t even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity and utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malike can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party’s resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim’s Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik’s recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

Source: Bytes For All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.net

Source: Bytes for All/accessismyright.pk

Speaking of rights again, Bytes for All has launched the Access is My Right campaign. It’s a good initiative on the social media, but I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won’t break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about. So thank you very much for everything.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Update: Dec 31, 2012 – 0031 HRS – Access is My Right Graphics used with permission; 15:4  

To Our Generals…

General Kazi and General Zafar (Source: youtube)

The recent days have seen some unusual events. Generals in the dock. That is unusual in a country where generals call all the shots, and who along with the civil bureaucracy are a part of an establishment that makes sure that everything remains in “safe hands”.

I would not really go into a lot of details as far as the background is concerned, but in a nutshell the Supreme Court is trying General Baig and Maj. Gen. Durrani for the Asghar Khan-ISI-IJI case, but even more importantly or maybe not, three retired generals Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Kazi, Lt. Gen. Saeed-uz-Zafar and Maj. Gen. Hassan Butt are being questioned by the NAB for the Royal Palm Railways Real Estate Lease scam. Earlier three retired generals were being interrogated by the military in the NLC scam.

Now there is nothing wrong and unusual with committing a mistake, knowingly or unknowingly, and being tried for it. It’s actually business as usual, isn’t it? But there is something special about these gentlemen. Of all these generals, the ones interrogated by NAB in the Railways Real Estate case stole the limelight recently. What is even more inflammatory is that this is a case initiated by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of the bloody civilians.

Of course conidering how vigilant our media is, the correspondents from all sorts of news channels ganged around the generals and started asking all sorts of inconvenient questions that are asked of people under scrutiny. Well the most noteworthy part was the way the generals responded to the media. Gen. Kazi told the reporter to “shut up“, while Lt Gen Saeed-uz-Zafar sarcastically and derogatively bestowed his advice to the nation to vote for the transgender leader Almas Bobby for the next elections, even though I would actually like to see them in the legislature. It is hard to say what is the relevance of that recommendation to his case.

Well of course you would not expect them to be used to be questioned like that but nevertheless their response is pretty significant. I don’t really have much to say about it as the rest of the nation and the media are covering it pretty comprehensively anyway. However, I have just one point to add.  I at least want the educated members of the society reading these lines to memorize this event and never forget it.

Now I don’t have any youtube video links at hand right now because the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has blocked youtube over the presence of the trailer of a blasphemous film and for many other obscurantist reasons. How convenient. So you can’t expect media groups to upload these videos on the youtube, though they should anyway. I will surely upload this blog later and share it again to include those video links whenever available, but I have found one from Sama TV News. However, I am sure all those Pakistanis who closely follow the news would have witnesssed these significant comments by our able generals.

What these generals fail to realize is that they are actually telling the entire nation to shut up. Furthermore, while I personally don’t mind seeing transgender MPs in Pakistan, let it be clear that the statement from the honorable General was an insult not only to the civilian leadership of the country but to the nation as well. I wish I could actually recruit transgenders as generals given the kind of people running the Pakistani military.

Given the almost apartheid-like discrimination in the area of civil and military services and facilities, it is no surprise how our generals view the general public that they so proudly claim to defend. Oh wait, it’s the country. And then statements are issued by the military that certain people are conspiring to destroy their morale. Perhaps, but how about some tolerance for reasonable criticism?

I would be be prepared for much more criticism than this if I were undertaking that much responsibility. And there is no need to remind the world of the events in history that demand them to take responsibility.

But thanks for shutting us up, again.

Never forget…

A Government of Idiots (Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2012)

Ghulam Bilour (Source: AFP/ET)

So how low a government made up of supposedly progressive parties can go just to win cheap voter sympathy and public support?

I can quote analysts like Ayesha Siddiqa that there are hardly any secular forces in Pakistan. She is absolutely right, because those who are secular are virtually non-existent and are overwhelmed by the center and right forces.

But there are political parties like the ANP who claim to believe in non-violence and secular values, apart from the undying support of a number of their members to Peshawar’s (in)famous declaring-Eid-in-advance Masjid Qasim. Hey, I support their right to celebrate Eid the way they want.

I was very disappointed to see ANP’s very own Ghulam Bilour, who by far is the worst performing minister in the cabinet considering the shambles that the Railways is in, offering a bounty of $ 100,000 to anyone who kills the maker of the blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims“.

I mean, really?

Before we even go into questioning the moral and legal authority of the minister, who maintains that he has offered the bounty in “personal capacity”, the greatest question to ask is this.

How is Mr. Bilour still holding his office and why the Government of Pakistan and the Awami National Party have not taken any action against the statement?

However, I do respect how he has responded to the news of the Taliban removing his name from their hit list. He was largely ambivalent, saying he could also die of a heart attack.

Nevertheless, I can hardly fathom the incalculable damage that he has done to the reputation of the country around the world. Not that it was very good already, but with such leaders at the helm, who needs enemies?

Source: AFP/ET

The government and the ANP should have taken strict action and should have called for the resignation of Bilour, if they could not agree to sack him. But despite all the clarifications, Bilour is still in charge of the Railways, a department which his administration has pulverized quite literally.

The statement was sensibly rejected by the incumbent Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, but let’s not offer him a clean sheet for that.

It was PM Ashraf’s absurd decision to observe the ridiculous holiday of “Yom-e-Ishq-e-Rasool” on Friday, September 21, 2012, which was an open invitation to the extremists of the country to unleash their wrath on the infrastructure and assets of the cities in Pakistan. The day ended with the loss of billions of rupees with more than 15 death and several injuries.

Source: AP/Dawn

It might sound a little harsh for someone who has lost his wife in such a cruel manner, but you really need to start acting like a head of state when you become one. I am really sorry to say but President Zardari looks like a complete idiot each time he places Benazir Bhutto’s portrait on the rostrum at the UN General Assembly. It was not his first appearance there this year. He has been at it before with the same portrait-displaying obnoxious exhibitionism.

Source: Wall Street Journal

His idiocy was also matched well by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding up a ridiculous chart which was supposed to tell the world why they have been all a bunch of idiots for not bombing Iran already. The bomb chart was brutally mocked by Israelis and non-Israelis alike shortly afterwards.

Both these props would have worked perfectly for both these gentlemen nevertheless.

What I personally found disgraceful about President Zardari’s speech was calling for an international blasphemy law or some kind of rules allowing UN to take action against alleged blasphemers. While this would sound perfectly sensible to Muslims around the world, I find it to be just another effort to extend censorship measures and to curtail freedom of speech. The Pakistani government, one which claims to uphold democratic and progressive values, has itself banned youtube over the film controversy and should keep its censorship advice for the world to itself.

I have been wondering why not start declaring the Pakistani idiot of the year from now on. We have our winner for the year 2012 already.

His Excellency Ghulam Bilour of ANP.

I can safely put my money on no one surpassing him in the last quarter.