Tag Archives: tolerance

Why Does No One Challenge Stupidity a.k.a the Internet Ban?

25 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”sehartariq” only_single=false]

There is no end to the stupidity of certain segments of Pakistani society. Without informed judgement and any concerns for progress and individual freedoms, the Lahore High Court continues on its Internet banning rampage. My fury leaves me speechless.

Here are details from todays The News:

“Government Blocks 17 Website Links

ISLAMABAD: The government on Friday blocked 17 links of different websites including YouTube having blasphemous and anti-Islamic contents while seven websites will be strictly monitored.

The seven websites put under strict monitoring mechanism nose are: Yahoo, Google, Amazon, bing, MSN, Hotmail and YouTube. If the websites found placing any blasphemous material, strict actions will be taken by blocking those links as well, said a government official after attending a high-level meeting in which decision was taken to block 17 links of different websites. “The Information Technology Ministry has directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block 17 links of certain websites on which blasphemous contents exist.

“We are currently in the process to implement the orders of the government for blocking the 17 links,” a senior PTA official said, while talking to ‘The News’ here on Friday.He said the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had been instructed by the PTA to block identified 17 links and monitor seven websites strictly. The decision to block 17 links came during the inter-ministerial committee meeting held here on Friday to evaluate the websites having anti-Islamic contents.

AFP adds: The Lahore High Court earlier this week ordered the government to block access to nine websites including Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Amazon, MSN, Hotmail and Bing for showing material against the fundamental principles of Islam and its preaching.”

 

I saw the hordes of lawyers line up to demand the freedom of the judiciary – I find it hard to believe that not even one of them has the courage or the conviction to stand up and demand the freedom of the media?  I understand there is intimidation but if we continue to be silent and let all our freedoms be taken away one by one – we will no longer have the freedom to even speak up. This is no longer a matter that we can continue to overlook. The apathy and inaction of the educated middle classes will be the cause of their downfall and the destruction of Pakistan.

It seems there is a whole slew of citizens waiting in line with petitions to get certain websites banned and obviously our lawyer brethren are ever ready to strike in support of their demands but what makes me really sad is that there is not even one lawyer, or one citizen who will stand up to legally challenge this ridiculous ban? Why is it that the forces of obscurantism speak so loudly and boldly but the forces of reason remain unreasonably quiet?

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Speak Up!

2 Jun

Thousands took to the streets to protest against facebook and blasphemous content being published on it. On May 28th, 80 innocent Pakistanis were murdered in cold blood as they were peacefully praying in a house of worship. I wonder how many will take to the streets to protest this atrocity. I have a feeling that there will be few or maybe even none. There will be the usual round of condolences and demands for inquiries. But we know these are merely hollow promises. In Pakistan, little is accomplished without popular support and popular support does not lend its self to causes such as protection of minorities.
When we wanted the judiciary restored, we took to the streets and had it done. When we wanted facebook banned we took to the streets and had that done. But I have a feeling we don’t really want to protect the minorities in our country, so we’re going to let this one slide and stay inside. It’s ironic that we are willing to take to the streets for the sanctity of the name of the Prophet (PBUH) but not for any of his teachings. I am no religious scholar but what I remember from my poorly taught Islamiat classes in school, despite the poor fashion in which they were taught; the Prophet preached that it was a sin to harm innocent people.

Funeral Procession for the Victims of the Lahore Massacre

But somehow it doesn’t matter what happens to those that “we” don’t consider Muslims. While the phenomenon of terrorism is new, the problem of sectarian violence is not. We have harbored violent hatred and have not been afraid of expressing it since the establishment of Pakistan. We have massacred Shia’s, Ahmedi’s, Christians, Sikhs – you name it and we’ve attacked it! We are so caught up in some billowing self-righteous rage that we have become blind to the teachings of the religion that we profess to love and in whose name we commit all of these sins.
But these really aren’t Muslims some would say. And some would cite the teachings of popular television anchors who consider these people, particularly, the Ahmadi’s wajib-ul-qatl. But from what I remember, The Prophet (PBUH) preached, that even in times of War, those who do not pick up arms, should not be harmed; particularly women and children. But innocent children were slaughtered in this rampage in the name of Islam. The old and infirm suffered frightened and tortured deaths, while they were busy in worship. This is not the Islam that the holy Prophet (PBUH) preached. The senseless and unprovoked murder of innocent citizens is not condoned by Islam.
The people that were murdered were peaceful, tax paying, law abiding citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is the responsibility of the state, under the constitution and religious doctrine, to provide security to those citizens who despite adhering to different religions, pay taxes and abide by the laws of the land. But instead of providing protection to these people, we let television programs go on air, where anchors are allowed to rally support for murdering innocent citizens. And in the wake of such hate filled media, innocent people are murdered. But we don’t care; we let the program continue being aired and we allow the hate mongering anchor to continue preaching in public. Not a word, a whisper or a whimper about this is heard. Because in our twisted world view, its ok to say whatever we want about any other religion or its followers. But when someone attacks our religion in any way shape or form, we are up in arms in a matter of minutes. We expect the world to show us nothing but respect while we show none of this to any other religion. We can laugh, joke, degrade and even attack and murder the followers of other religions without having our collective conscience even flinch. How did we become so hypocritical and irrational? How did we become so cruel?
With the deaths of 80 innocent Pakistanis, the lives of hundreds of families have changed forever. There is sorrow and heartache and fear in hundreds of Ahmadi homes tonight. But as the rest of Pakistan sleeps easy and TV anchors remain hypocritically silent, they forget that tomorrow this could be them. Through our collective silence, as we aid and abet a culture of intolerance and senseless killing, that one day might consume us too.  A famous poem sums up the dangers of being silent over injustice to others, with apologies to the original poet, if we were to adapt it to the Pakistani context, the poem would look like this:

                                                 In Pakistan, they came first for the Hindus and Sikhs,
                                                  And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Hindu or Sikh
                                                                  Then they came for the Christians
                                                    And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Christian
                                                                  Then they came for the Ahmadis
                                                  And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an Ahmadi
                                                                     Then they came for the Shias
                                                        And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Shia
                                                                       And then they came for me
                                            And by that time, there was no one left to speak up.
 
This violence, intolerance and injustice must stop. And it must stop with the largest majority speaking up against it. For once, let’s stand up and show the world that we actually abide by the spirit of the religion that we profess to love and follow. Let us turn not far away, but towards the Holy Book and teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) to learn that this kind of violence and hate is not tolerated in Islam. Haven’t we all suffered for years because of this violence and hatred? What good has it ever done to our country or the image of our religion? This senseless killing, violence and hate must stop. And it will not stop unless we demand that this be done. So speak up for those that are treated with injustice because if you don’t, tomorrow there will be no one left to speak for you either.

Published in The News June 3, 2010

 

A Ray of Hope in the Jaded Landscape of Pakistaniat

27 May

Times in Pakistan are tough. They’ve been tough for so long that we’ve forgotten what it was like before things got so bad. Things were never great but they were never this bad either. There weren’t as many incidents of violence, so many hours of load shedding or such high prices of food and electricity. And in our fast paced downward spiral, we have lost our sense of being one nation. Its each man and woman for himself or herself. Its the only way to survive. And in the pursuit of survival we will lie, cheat, steal, trample on others, cut corners and take the low road as often as possible to get to destination mere survival. Its not pleasant but we’ve become conditioned to be this way through years of hardship and inept political leadership that cant be relied on.

And in this Darwinian quest for survival we have become jaded and sarcastic and conditioned to believe the worst about those around us. Idealism, morality, humanity – seem like hollow buzzwords – such noble sentiments having been beaten out of us by circumstance.  On those rare occasions, when we are confronted with selfless displays of courage and nationalism; we tend to scoff at them and dismiss them as either political rhetoric or utterly naive insanity.

But this story made me stop in my jaded mental tracks and led me to believe that maybe there is hope for the future.

In May 2009, Captain Najam Riaz, was captured and martyred by the Taliban. He was part of the elite SSG commandos – the best of the best who are trained by the Pakistani army to be even better (yes, i know this is a quote from Top Gun). He was only 24 years old when he died fighting against the Taliban in Swat.

Captain Najam was captured along with three other colleagues by the Taliban. For many days he and the others were kept captive while the Taliban tried to use them to buy freedom for their captured commrades. When it seemed like such a deal could not be struck, the Taliban murdered Captain Najam Shaheed and the three other soldiers. All four brave men, died fighting valiantly. Surrounded by the brutal enemy, they were unfazed at the prospect of death and killed 8 Talibans with their bare hands before they were gunned down and later beheaded.

While the courage and valour of these young men in the face of such grave adversity is truly inspirational, what was even more heartbreakingly inspirational was the courage and selflessness of his family in the face of this grave loss. He came from a small village near Kahuta. His father had retired as a hawaldar from the army and Najam was his youngest son. His family is one of modest means. They dont have any of the fancy upper class trappings that one associates with the rich, liberal, elite, who are anti Taliban. But their understanding of the true nature of the Taliban is far more astute than some of our leading media commentators. But this is not why they are inspirational.

They are inspirational because they raised a son, who was brilliant and brave enough to be admitted to the most elite faction within the Pakistan army. And they are inspirational because they taught him to put his country before even himself a lesson that most of us merely laugh at. And they are inspirational because even when they lost their son to the cause that they had raised him to believe in, they did not put themselves before the need of their community.

After the martyrdom of their son, the government followed up with the usual official visits for condolences. And asked what they could do to help them. When the government asked what could be done for the family,  they could havked for anything for themselves. Money, job or promotion to name a few. They asked for none of these things.

Instead, they asked for a school, a dispensary and a road to be built for theircommunity. Even in the face of this great loss, they remained true selfless Pakistanis. And here I was thinking that none existed!

I am honored to be from the same country as them. And I hope that someone in the government has shown their appreciation for your devotion to the country, by honoring your community with a school named after your brave son. I pray that through this school, your community will raise many other brilliant sons and daughters who will not only serve the country but will be an inspiration for us all.

I hope the government is listening or reading if they arent already busy in building that school and road and dispensary.

Pakistan in Gentler Times

25 May

 

  

 

In 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy, came on a goodwill visit to Pakistan. Her trip was widely documented and photographed. Circulating on the internet is a video of her visit. Watching it, makes me nostalgic for gentler times in Pakistan. And not just gentler times but times when bombs and beards weren’t the defining hallmarks of our nation. 

I was wondering what would a Michelle Obama visit to Pakistan look like? Well its highly unlikely to happen because of our vitriolic hate for the United States of America, propogated by the media and clergy that has put all of us in a frenzy of fiery hate against the US for all that ails our country, regardless of whether they had a hand in causing it or not. 

But forget Michelle, no other first lady is likely to visit either. Actually no one is likely to visit! With the security situation in Pakistan, especially the targeting of Westerners we have deprived our country of a valuable source of income but also good publicity! With our borders closed to visitors and the airwaves open to the “breaking news” images of terrorists and angry young people, Pakistan is not on the list of popular tourist destinations. 

But if some brave first lady were to venture into Pakistan, her trip would look remarkable different. In this video of Jackie Kennedy’s visit, there are large crowds lining the roads and waving to her. There would be no crowds, thronging the roadside. They would be barricaded miles away. 

Jacqueline Kennedy with Lee Radziwill on a camel ride, Karachi, March 25, 1962

Jackie and her sister Lee, dazzle the gathered crowds with their smiles and “trendy merican dress.” There is no covering of the head or of the arms and legs. Both sisters appear in fashionable form fitting dresses with bare arms and lega. And there is no furore. The crowds seem unnmoved by the western dress and rather charmed and enamored. Clearly, there was a time when we were not obsessed with women’s dress and were more tolerant and accepting of what foreigners chose to wear. I doubt it would be the case anymore. If some foreign dignitary wore such clothes today, I imagine, there would be  loud proclamations of collective istaghfirullahs, a program by amir liaqat declaring them “Wajib-ul-qatl” and some protests by the Jamaat-e-Islami women’s wing demanding a ban on foreign dignitaries.

But the saddest was the realization that no other female foreign dignirtary will be visitng the “kyber pass region” anytime soon and walking about freely. And not for a long time, will this region be rightfully recognized for its rich cutlure, its dancers, poets and story tellers. 

Ban Hypocrisy

23 May

As a child I was told that God created human beings to be Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat–the greatest and best of all of God’s creations. And we were given this honour because, unlike in the case of other creatures, God gave us free will–the ability to choose between actions. He then gave us intellect and commanded us to acquire knowledge so that we could use the two in our exercising that free will.

As a Muslim, I hang my head in shame as we take to the streets to protest the inconsequential actions of a few. With intolerance, like injustice, already rampant in our society–and these are two of the things least liked by God and his Prophet (PBUH) – we are unworthy of the title of Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat. Now we have brought shame upon our nation and our religion through our irrational actions that defy but the gift of intellect and intelligence bestowed upon us by the Creator, as well as His commandments.

The protests across Pakistan demanding the ban on the social networking site Facebook defied reason and logic. It is true that the website contained material that was blasphemous and hurt the sentiments of many Muslims. Muslims across the world have the right to be upset by this and to protest against it. But asking for a ban is an action that not only defies logic but defeats the purpose.

Banning Facebook in Pakistan did little but make us a laughingstock in the world. A more effective way of protest would have been to use the same platform to counteract the offenders who started the mischief. And this effective action has been taken by thousands of Facebook users, who started protest groups and campaigns that were gaining visibility and registering the Muslim protest in a more meaningful way. Instead, we in Pakistan chose to impose a ban and then congratulate ourselves about it, as if we had accomplished some great feat.

Let’s analyse what we accomplished. We received bad press from around the world. We helped the rest of the world reconfirm their misguided belief that Muslims are reactionary and incapable of rational thought. We played right into the hands of those who wanted to provoke Muslims. We brought internet connectivity in our country to a near-halt, thereby hurting our own economy and hundreds of small-business owners who rely on Facebook and other social networking sites for their livelihood.

Oh, and did I mention we did not stop the blasphemy either?

Banning the website in Pakistan didn’t make the page go away from Facebook, although we did congratulate ourselves as if we had managed to put an end to it.

But this is not what hurt me most. What hurt most was that while our people and the media were out protesting against a website, we as a nation continued our endless descent into chaos. And as we continued to plummet from rock bottom to whatever is even lower than that, we chanted hollow slogans in the name of religion but paid no heed to its spirit or injunctions that could have been our salvation in these times of great despair.

Our political leaders claimed that they were willing to lay down their lives for the Prophet (PBUH). I found it ironic that they issued such statements when they paid no heed to–in fact, showed great disregard for–all of the Prophet’s (PBUH) teachings and the commandments of God.

We continue to lie, cheat and steal. Bribery and corruption are rampant across the country, yet these don’t seem to cause even a facial muscle to twitch in the political leadership. Last I checked, these were also considered sins in Islam. There is violence and oppression against the innocent. Last I checked, these were banned in Islam.

I remember the chilling story of the massacre at Gojra, when innocent Christians–men women and children–were brutally slain in the name of religion. There wasn’t a peep from these defenders of the faith who now protest so loudly. Last I checked, the Prohpet (PBUH) through both his actions and words had forbidden any harm to come to those who are innocent, regardless of their religion. And while the champions of Islam protested against Facebook, policeman near Wah illegally held a young girl child for 21 days and brutally raped her. Who stood up to protest the atrocity against this innocent child?

The Prophet (PBUH) merely turned away from those who not just criticised him but protested violently against him. He chose to reason, persuade and convince, rather than to incite violence his opponents. After the conquest of Mecca, he pardoned even those who had plotted against his life. Such was his attitude of mercy, peace, justice and reason.

On the contrary, great was his intolerance for injustice and oppression of the weak. It’s a pity that those who claim to defend the honour of our Holy Prophet (PBUH) have learnt so little from his example. With their hollow words, they incite violence among misguided and unemployed youths of the country. They disregard the spirit of our religion and its teaching. They lobby for political gain under the guise of Islam.

They seek to gain popularity by using the name of religion, although they do so little to act upon what religion commands. They choose the injunctions of God that suit their political motives, disregarding the others. To me this reeks of hypocrisy. And last I checked, hypocrisy was also a sin in Islam. So could we try and ban hypocrisy instead of Facebook? That might be better for our country and really please God.

The writer is a student of Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, working for a master’s degree in public policy. Email: tell.sehar@gmail .com and www.sehartariq.wordpress.com 

Published in The News, May 23, 2010 http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=240839

Can We Ban Hypocrisy Instead of Facebook, Please?

21 May

The Jamaat-e-Islami is the main political party that is organizing anti-facebook protests in Pakistan. It was in large part due to their efforts that the issue of the “everybody draw muhammad day” got visibity and facebook eventually got banned. The Jamaat has a history of being a very disciplined political party and effective organizer of street protests.

The women’s wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, organized a large rally in Lahore about this and scores of women and children carrying posters and Jamaat flags attended the event. They even made ripples on the international media scene and the associated press and reuters carried coverage of these protests which the Jamaat proudly displays on its website. In these videos you see an angry mob of protestors chanting slogans and there are interviews with articulate and very forceful women who issue “warnings” to facebook to  be prepared for the wrath of the Muslim world.

The videos just made me sad. I wanted to shake this woman, who was the protest leader,  and ask her if she knew of any other Muslim country protesting in this manner. But more than that reasonable argument, I wanted to ask her if she had heard about the young girl near Wah who had been detained illegally and raped by police officers for 21 days. Was she aware of the misery that this child had suffered? Did she care? Would she raise her voice for that child?

She probably wouldnt. Probably no one from the Jamaat would. A quick visit to the website of the Jamaat will show you ban facebook logos and news plastered all over it. You will see a ton of anti america rhetoric but no mention of or outrage at the ills that plague our society. Ironic.

And as any student of Islamic history would know, that had the Prophet (PBUH) been in a sitaution like this would undoutedly have stood up to demand justice for the young girl so creully treated before he demanded revenge or retribution for the actions of a frivolous few. Instead of making a fuss about his detractors, he would have fought for ridding our land of the injustice where the guardiuans of the law are its worst abusers.

Our Prophet (PBUH) the wisest of all men taught us, through his own example, to stand up against hypocrisy and injustice. It is amazing to me that we and the Jamaat in particular are willing to die in the name of the Prophet but are not willing to organize a single protest or rally or even a statement of codemnation for this heinous act and the countless others that are so frequent in our land and would undoubtedly have been whole heartefly condemned and probably abhirred by our Prophet (PBUH).

To me this sounds like hypocrisy. And from what little I know of my religion, hypocrisy is a sin.

Dancing in the Streets of Pakistan (once more!)

6 Apr

There is dancing on the streets of Pakistan. In markets, in malls and in restaurants, groups of young people are breaking out into dance. And it’s wonderfully choreographed and spectacularly synchronized. But what are we dancing for when there is so little to be happy about?

The dancing is part of Coca Cola’s new advertising campaign in Pakistan. The phenomenon is called a flash mob and has been used as marketing gimmick in Western countries but I believe it is being done for the first time in Pakistan. The company has hired groups of young people both boys and girls (yes girls too!) to dance to the new coca cola jingle in crowded public places. It begins with one person breaking out into dance and strategically positioned “onlookers” joining in. Towards the end there are about ten people dancing. The dancers seem to be in their twenties and urban middle class youth, probably belonging to the more privileged segments of society given their trendy clothing.

The dance is fun and I cannot help but tap my foot to the upbeat music of the jingle. Also, I cannot help but be amazed at the courage of these young people dancing on the streets in such times. Yes, it’s a corporate gimmick and yes they must be paid for it but given the rising levels of intolerance in our society towards things like music and dance (especially where it involves a performance by both men and women together) it’s still pretty brave.

The locations are carefully selected. So far it’s been performed at more upscale locations in Lahore and Karachi where the crowd is more likely to be accepting of the co-ed dancing. But a group of performers performed in Liberty market in Lahore where there was no crowd screening or control. It takes courage to perform in public. It takes even more courage when there are small but violent segments of society that are opposed to such artistic expression and have exercised violent means to put an end to such performances in the past.

What is heartening is that so far there have been no reports of any kind of violence or aggression against the dancers. Lots of videos up on you tube show, surprised Pakistanis looking at the dancers with amazement and then some even joining in with clapping or nodding or tacit smiles and in the rare case by joining in the dance!

Indeed there will be segments of our society who will claim that this must be stopped as it’s against our culture and this is an exercise in corrupting the morals of our society. There will be those who claim that this is hindu-zionist propaganda. But I believe it is an expression of our cultural evolution. The popularity of music and dance from around the world is evident in Pakistan. And while we might deny it, music and dance remain deeply entrenched in our historical and cultural legacy as well as in our displays of happiness at festivals even today.

As I see these talented young Pakistanis dance with such skill and gusto and enthusiasm, I cannot help but feel a sense of pride. The numerous complements of non-Pakistani friends on the sheer creative genius of Pakistanis and their dancing abilities also did wonders for my Pakistani ego. After all, whoever these young Pakistanis are, they do a pretty good job and would put even top Bollywood dancers to shame. And the effortless and carefree joy with which they dance makes me nostalgic for gentler and happier times in Pakistan. But as I watch these young people break out into dance I cannot help but smile as I look to those around them. There is something strangely heartening in watching people letting go of their fear of expressing joy in public and joining in the fun. It reminds me that our spirits have not been entirely crushed by the recent years of terror and violence. It makes me proud that we still have the courage to view with tolerance a form of expression that we might not approve of. It gives me proof that we are more tolerant than the world makes us out to be. It gives me hope for a better future.

Published on All Things Pakistan April 06, 2010

%d bloggers like this: