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Martyrs or Vermicelli?

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There is one thing that you have to give credit to the Taliban for, which is that their brutality can exceed the wildest imagination of most fiction writers.

Consider the recent attack in Quetta. 38 people butchered of which 19 were police officials. The attack was on a funeral, which too was arranged for by the Taliban. For that they attacked an SHO who had taken out his children for Eid shopping. The children were injured but their father was dead. An eid gift from the bearded Talib uncle. Ramzan, children, funeral, and all of that planned to the finest detail, can one be more heartless?

These 20 police officials did not have any personal enmity with the Taliban. Their sole crime was to wear their uniform, the one that they had donned to defend the likes of you and me.

In other words, these men were killed in the name of Pakistan. And the motive most probably was to send a message to us Pakistanis.

But the vilest of villains might just have met their match, in the form of the most indifferent of victims. Turns out TTP’s thunder was stolen by Mufti Muneeb and his promise of vermicelli. Because what mattered to Pakistanis on the eve of 8th of August was if they will be waking up for sehri or will there be vermicelli for breakfast? Shaheed gai bhaar main.

In my opinion we probably told the TTP to try harder. The bond of the word “Pakistani” is not that strong to make strangers ache for each other. The people that they did impact were the immediate family and friends of the deceased and those are a pretty small proportion of the Pakistani population.

I mean we could actually calculate an estimate of the people that the Taliban did affect in their last ten years of carnage. A rough estimate of TTP related deaths stands at around 40,000. Lets assume a family size of 7, and they have actually affected about 280,000 immediate family members. Throw in a circle of friends and extended family of around 14, and that’s another 560,000. Add these up and it’s a total of 840,000, add in a few suffering from Pakistaniat and we have a nice total of around 1 million affectees.

In proportionate terms that is nothing, as it is only 0.5% of Pakistan. If the TTP thinks its hurting the 180 million strong Pakistani nation by bombing and decapitating an insignificant minority then they are being deluded.

To many, our ability to not care about such incidents represents defiance and it somehow shows our “resilience”. I agree that we cannot give up on our way of life by succumbing to terror. But did we really show our defiance this Eid?

Defiance would have begun with a complete official focus on the incident. The Prime Minister, President, Federal Interior Minister, CM Balochistan and Governor should have all reached out to Balochistan police in every way possible. Making sure that the enemy knows that the elected symbols of state stand by its uniformed defenders. Our flag should have flown half-mast for the entirety of Eid, and our PM should have announced that this Eid be dedicated to the martyrs of Quetta.

Our clergy should have made a point in mentioning this incident in the two khutbas that day and castigated those who use Islam in such actions. Duas should have been dedicated to these martyrs and also to the families that they have left behind.

Our media should have focused on the sacrifice that our police is rendering, with the aim to galvanize this nation into honoring its defenders. It would have made these martyrs household names for the nation to cherish.

And with all that, we could have eaten our vermicelli, worn news clothes, and hugged each other Eid Mubarik. In doing so, we would have sent a strong message of resilience and defiance, that we still remember those who sacrificed their lives for us but we are not going to give up on our way of life. We are grateful to our martyrs and we will bring their murderers to justice.

But was it this way?

Well, not even close.

The Government’s response was pathetic at best. Nawaz Sharif, fresh from his umrah trip, simply sent his condolences and said that his Government is committed to eliminating terrorism. As usual, this “promise for future action” failed to name the Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan who had proudly taken responsibility of the incident. While the flag flew full mast on his office, the PM sahib was gracious enough to cancel an “Eid Milan party”.

Our Interior Minister saw it fit to spend Eid with his family rather than to rush to Quetta like he did after the Balochistan Medical Complex (BMC) attack. He showed up in Quetta on the 11th, i.e. 3 days after the blast to give this statementI pay tribute to the martyrs and the deceased who have lost their lives in the recent attacks and we want to assure everyone that an investigation is underway.” I wonder if someone could tell Chaudhry Sb, that the guilty have admitted to their guilt for the 100th time now. What exactly would he be investigating?

One wonders what happened to the Chaudhry sb, who only a month ago lashed out this strongly at the security agencies for the BMC attack? He has been awfully silent after that outburst.

And if you thought that the straight shooters of the nationalist government of Balochistan would come to the fore and reply to the TTP, then that too would be a pretty high expectation. When IG Balochistan did his press conference, there was no one from the federal or the provincial government by his side.

This was such a contrast to this press conference after the BMC attack, in which Nawaz Sharif was flanked by Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Mir Hasil Bizenjo and accompanied by DG ISI and DG IB. Where were these same people after this recent massacre? Didn’t they promise us the world after BMC?

This Friday gave our clergy that rare opportunity to give two khutbas. From what I could gather on twitter as well as from relatives and friends, almost every other mosque had nimazis chanting “ameen” for success of “Mujahideen”. Conveniently forgotten was the fact that the “success” of Mujahideen was in splattering the innards of these very nimazis on the floors of their mosques.  And that the sole hurdle to that success was dressed in a police uniform and standing guard outside, ready to sacrifice his own life for the safety of those who were praying for his death.

PoliceNimaz2

Pakistani media was no less disappointing than the clergy that prayed for the success of our killers. On the day of the bombing, by 9 pm the news had become the second most important news of the day i.e. before the martyrs were even buried. Here is GEO’s 9 pm bulletin and here is Dunya’s. Notice that in Dunya’s bulletin, the story of Quetta attack comes at around 27th minute. It was preceded by reports such as Reshma taunting Meera and interviews of people coming out of aitikaaf.

Media anchors were a mixed bunch on the 8th of August. Talat Hussain, Abdul Malik, Ejaz Haider and Javed Choudhry, canceled their regular Eid shows to cover this incident, and perhaps represented the only concerted and dedicated effort from our electronic media on this issue. Nadeem Malik and Abdul Moiz Jaffri added the incident to their regular topics.

But then we had Mehr Abbasi who was out on the streets talking about Eid shopping. Fareeha Idrees cashed in on the comic value of Sheikh Rasheed which has become so necessary for getting a rating push these days. Mr. Kharra Such, Mubashir Luqman invited two palmists. He actually began the show by claiming that he invites palmists when he has “no other topics to cover”. Asma Sherazi did a “gup shup” eid show to do “khushi key batain” while Moeed Pirzada focused on India Pakistan LoC tension. And then Waseem Badami along with Junaid Jamshed pondered if their “Shaan e Ramzan” show was as good as the show that they were trying to copy.

Talat especially pointed out the absurdity of our media in focusing on Eid shopping and Mufti Muneeb. Ironically, his own program got interrupted to facilitate Mufti Muneeb’s announcement. Watch his show, at around 4:25, when the reporter from Quetta is cut off mid sentence to beam Mufti Muneeb’s announcement live.

The owners of all media channels who make tall claims of bringing about a revolution in this country seemed very reluctant to cancel on their money making plans of fun and masti for the next three days. There were no exceptions. As from the 9th of August, the Quetta incident simply disappeared from all programming and gup shup shows featuring our giggling media anchors came to the fore.

But what takes the cake for me is this cartoon from Roznama Nai Baat on its Quetta edition for the 9th of August. This was on the back page, while the front page carried the news of the Quetta massacre.

Policecartoon

This pretty much sums up what we think of our police. A bunch of corrupt thieves whose sole aim in life is to rip us off of our money. Forget about this being in very bad taste because that would be too much to expect. But the irony is that this concern about corruption, that clearly outweighs the sacrifice of our police martyrs, is coming from a nation that has one of the lowest tax/GDP ratio in the world, i.e. a nation of tax thieves.

If this Eid signified our resilience then we need to redefine this word. We need to redefine it as the ability to not give a damn about tragedies befalling those who are neither friends nor family, the word Pakistani should not matter.

Define it like that, and yes, we might be the most resilient nation in the world.

A salute to our martyrs who have definitely been spared from this particular national trait.

I just wonder how many more of them are left?

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Written by Imran Khan

August 12, 2013 at 6:52 am

Lunar Legitimacy

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Having grown up in Peshawar, and in an extended family that comprises of both Barelvis and Deobandis, I can hardly remember a time when the whole family celebrated Eid ul Fitar on the same day. Considering the festival deficient nature of our national calendar, the annual spoiling of Choti Eid is not a small loss, especially when a Government body exists for the sole purpose of ensuring a united Eid. This problem has persisted for quite some time now, and its solution is stalled by completely wrong perceptions about its true nature.

A common mistake is to term this separate Eid as an expression of Pashtun nationalism that is limited to a few towns and cities. The fact of the matter is that Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti (ANP)’s decision to celebrate a separate Eid in 2009 was no different than that of Aftab Sherpao of PPP during his tenure back in the 90s, Akram Durrani of the MMA also took a similar decision during his time. It is very evident that the support for a separate Eid has come from all sorts of political quarters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), and not just nationalist ones.

Another mistake is to explain this separate Eid in light of the racist stereotyping of Pashtuns. It is almost a cliché to come across racist text messages as well as politically incorrect newspaper cartoons that cite “Pashtun stupidity” as the main reason. While the stupidity of the Pashtun gene remains to be proven scientifically, it is definitely moronic to actually believe that a race can be “stupid”.

It is true that the Eid disagreement manifests itself in ethnic terms, but its real source lies in the sectarian rivalries between Deobandis and Barelvis. These rivalries are annually reignited after the apparent discrimination faced by Deobandi witnesses in the Ruet I Hilal committee. At times the Committee adjourns very early for these witnesses to present themselves and sometimes the witnesses are rejected supposedly unfairly. The Deobandi complaints are mostly centered on the negative role played by the Chairman of the Committee; Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman, who happens to be a Barelvi.

The resulting Deobandi defiance is then announced through loudspeakers across KPK and it is here that the issue takes on an ethnic tone. These Eid/Ramzan announcements that are usually made pretty late during the night give details on how Pashtu speaking witnesses were rejected by a committee that is dominated by non Pashtuns. Thus, the announcement becomes a rallying cry, and the separation from the rest of the country becomes a show of defiance against the discrimination doled out by a Federal Committee. That being said, it is important to highlight the fact that many devout Barelvis and Shias in Peshawar follow the Ruet I Hillal Committee, and similarly some mosques in Lahore are reported to follow Masjid Qasim Ali Khan.

An ideal Eid/Ramzan announcement should have two attributes: First, its astronomical legitimacy and second, its legitimacy among its intended audience. The Pakistan Meteorological Department (MET) has enough capacity to ensure the astronomical legitimacy of an announcement, but as this is a matter of faith the verdict of scientists is bound to have a lower weightage than that of the clergy. It is this particular fact that legitimizes the existence of the Ruet I Hilal committee, as it should ensure a consensus among the masses on this issue.

But year after year, the Committee’s decision has been rejected by a sizeable number of Pakistanis. It is very amusing to hear Mufti Muneeb explain the legitimacy of the Committee’s decision by citing the MET department, goes without saying that if astronomical validity is the only thing that matters, then what exactly is the need for a Ruet I Hillal committee? Equally bewildering is the Chairman’s proposal to “enforce” an Eid, here again, the need for a Ruet I Hillal Committee stands annulled, as the enforcement can also be done for announcements emanating from the MET department. The good Mufti needs to realize that instead of blaming dissenters, the need is to contemplate on why the Ruet I Hillal committee has failed in building a consensus?

The structure of the Ruet I Hillal Committee allows for the needed consensus building as it has representation of all the sects. But, the main reason put forward by its dissenters is the apparent arrogance of Mufti Muneeb. These allegations were corroborated by the Mufti’s behavior on talk shows this year, as he flared up and stormed out of most of them when he was confronted on this issue.

But even if one disagrees with the allegations against Mufti Muneeb, it is important to consider the fact that this is his 10th year of Chairmanship. It is obvious that if one of the sects gets 10 continuous years of leadership, then technically the committee ceases to represent all the other sects. In this scenario the legitimacy of the Ruet I Hilal committee can be bolstered substantially, if the Chairmanship is rotated between the various sects on an annual basis.

Choti or Meethi Eid is one of those very few occasions that is not exclusive to any particular sect. Considering the fact that we have lost thousands of lives to the menace of sectarianism, this day needs to be leveraged to build bridges. But as things stand, it is instead magnifying sectarian differences into ethnic ones. In this situation, raising the credibility of the Ruet I Hillal Committee is crucial in halting the deepening of these fissures, if that raised credibility comes at the price of a few hurt egos then that is a price worth paying, as the reward is in terms of much needed national cohesion.

A slightly edited version appeared in The News on the 5th of September 2011.

Written by Imran Khan

September 5, 2011 at 5:10 am

Exposing Real Faces

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On this 14th of August, most Pakistanis did two things on facebook; first they wished everyone a happy independence day, and after that, they shared a video titled: “The real face of Dr. Amir Liaquat”. This video, that went viral in hours, shows a very “informal” side to Pakistan’s favorite televangelist. But apparently Dr Sahib’s joyful cussing and swearing didn’t go well with his audience, as most vented out their anger by using swear words that were even worse than the ones used in the video.

But the question is, was it really that bad? I mean let’s face it, the “street language” used by Dr. Sahib, is very common in the streets of Pakistan and even in its educational institutes. One hears the same cuss words, if not worse, in informal settings; whether it’s a dhabba or a college cafeteria, and just like Dr. Liaquat the same people would not repeat them on camera or in a more formal setting. In my opinion, this “real face” of Amir Liaquat is not that different from that of the average Pakistani.

But Dr. Liaquat does have another side, a side worthy of criticism, disgust and indignation, one that he showed to a literally deadly effect, but amazingly that showing went somewhat “unnoticed”. Dedicating the Alim Online on the 7th of September 2008  to the issue of Khatam I Nabuwat (finality of the Prophethood), Dr. Liaquat and his guests launched an attack on the faith of the Ahmadiyya Community. The discussion focused on the shortcomings of the Ahmadi beliefs, and included a series of personal attacks on the Prophet of the Ahmadis. The legitimacy of such criticism could be defended under “freedom of speech”, but then according to Dr. Liaquat et al such freedoms do not exist; as in matters of religion, there is no distinction between hate speech and criticism/banter.

In any case, bigotry was pretty low down the list of flaws on that day, as the discussion moved into the zone of internationally defined hate speech; with Dr. Liaquat legitimizing a massacre of the Ahmadis, while his guests, representing both the Sunni as well as the Shia sects, echoing his views. Within days, two members of the Ahmadiya community were assassinated, for which Dr. Liaquat was blamed not only by the aggrieved but also by his former political party i.e. the MQM.

But, what was even more disturbing than the vitriol of Dr. Liaquat was the indifference or for that matter the acceptance that he got from his audience. Hats off to the MQM for distancing itself from him, but that was about it. In the aftermath of the show, Dr Liaquat’s career went from strength to strength; forget about sponsors distancing themselves, in its stead he recently got signed up as the head of a TV channel. Needless to say, his corporate acceptance which is based on his ability to generate revenues, is a reflection of his social acceptance; an acceptance that is conditional on a seemingly twisted and biased sense of morality.

Unlike the allegations of incitement to murder, Dr. Liaquat was very quick to respond to the allegations of “swearing and clapping”. Interestingly, his absolute denial is qualified with a reference to his past “contribution” to the cause of Khatam I Nabuwat.

On an unbiased scale of morality; the crime of “incitement to murder” would far outweigh “clapping and swearing”. It seems that by generating these paradoxical responses, Dr. Liaquat has not only exposed his own real face, but that of our society as well.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 19th of August 2011

Written by Imran Khan

August 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Our Muted Moderates

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The recent Tahafuz a Namoos I Risalat rally in Lahore boasted a gathering of around 40,000. The participation was all male, mostly bearded and wore a variety of sect specific head gears. Apart from anger over the Blasphemy issue, the speakers also seemed disgusted with the onslaught of western influences.

Although this outpouring was impressive in its numeric strength, by and large it was from the more conservative segment of our society. Mainstream Pakistan, let’s call it moderate Pakistan, has some traits in terms of its appearance and norms that makes it different from conservative Pakistan. Our moderates usually have no qualms about listening to music, and have favorites from Hollywood as well as Bollywood. Men don’t grow beards and women are not that keen on donning a scarf, burqas are usually unheard off among this lot. There is a higher acceptability of women education and an increasing number is opening up to the idea of women employment.

Recently, a good friend who considers herself a moderate explained that in the post Taseer scenario, our country has been split into two extremes; the liberal as well as the conservative. The moderates according to her were part of neither. After putting me into the liberal extremist category, she went on to agree with me that the murder of Salman Taseer was an unjust act.

To me that sounded a bit confusing, if we both agree that Qadri was wrong in doing what he did, then how come I am a liberal extremist and she is a moderate? What did I do differently from her that equalized my stance with the outright fascism of our conservatives? She responded that, in this situation, liberal extremists were those who were making the conservatives angry by picking up issues that are dear to the conservatives. Salman Taseer apparently could have avoided his death, had he not taken up this very “sensitive” issue. But then subsequently, she agreed that the Blasphemy law has been misused to target minorities, the case of Asia Bibi being an example. Yet again I probed, if it was an injustice, then didn’t Salman Taseer do the right thing in speaking out against it?

While we went on and on, her point was very obvious, do not anger the religious right by speaking out against them. The sad thing is that, she is not alone in this; this is the exact attitude that is exhibited by our elected Government. It would be good to remind ourselves that this present Government came into power with a secular mandate; PPP, ANP and MQM are all parties that have secular agendas, and got into power because of the moderate sensibilities of the Pakistani people. But yet, the capitulation of these secular parties is evident, our senate could not even agree on doing a fateha for Salman Taseer. With Sherry Rehman bullied into a retreat and the unavailability of a prosecutor to charge Qadri, conservative Pakistan has scored a major victory, despite their routing in the last elections.

But the triumph of our religious right, which was achieved through murder and intimidation, has major consequences for the future of Pakistan. Those who think that the sacrifice of a few Christians or Ahmadis would be enough to appease the growing blood-lust of our conservative fascists are in for a surprise. The speeches made at the recent rally in Lahore, were not limited to the blasphemy law, “displeasure” was shown at suggestions for changes in Madrassa curriculums, or trying to bring to justice those responsible for suicide bombings and be-headings, or any attempts to control the spread of violence through mosques, and the list goes on. These are all issues on which there is a broader consensus for the need for reform. This forced compromise on the Blasphemy Laws is bound to be followed by forced compromises on other issues concerning the religious right.

My friend is educated and employed; she shops without any mahrums accompanying her, and doesn’t cover her face or her hair. The description of her lifestyle would fit that of a rising number of young Pakistani women, and they all owe their liberties to the current norms prevailing in our society. Consider for a moment that she is transported to the Kandahar of the Taliban, with the same fashion sense and the same liberties. In that case her mere existence would be a source of displeasure and ire, she will be a liberal extremist by merely existing.

By appeasing the demands of our religious right, Pakistan’s moderate majority is helping in pushing this society towards more conservative norms. Norms, that would eradicate the liberties and choices enjoyed by these very moderates. A continuation of this process will only make the silent moderates of today be the liberal extremists of tomorrow.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 8th of February, 2010

Written by Imran Khan

February 8, 2011 at 9:26 am

Selective Indignation

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The novel “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” gave birth to the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde”. The novel features a character named Dr. Henry Jekyll, who has two distinct personalities; one good and the other evil. The phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” usually refers to having extreme swings in moral character according to changing situations. The recent behavior of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy exemplifies similar swings in moral character that are reminiscent of the mood swings of Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The Barelvi version of Islam is often branded by its rivals as heretical; going to shrines and excessive glorification of the Prophet is criticized by others such as Deobandis to be against the tenets of Islam. The differences are so pronounced that the Taliban specifically attack Barelvi mosques, shrines as well as clergy. The assassination of Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmad Naeemi for speaking out against suicide bombing, and the bombing of Daata Darbar and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi among many other shrines, are all examples of these atrocities.  In all of these attacks two points are notable. First is the desecration of these holy places that results in the desecration of the Holy Quran and the name of the Prophet. The second is the ownership of these attacks, which are claimed unabashedly by the Taliban, thus also owning the blasphemy committed during these attacks.

The reaction of Pakistan’s Barelvi clergy to these horrendous outrages has been a most civilized one. Back in 2009, Sunni Ittehad Council launched the “Save Pakistan Movement”, which aimed to raise awareness on Talibanization through peaceful means. There were no calls for storming the nearest Deobandi madrassa or the offices of pro Taliban political parties. There was no mustering of suicide bombers or initiation of terrorist training camps. It was a civilized outrage that was expressed under the submission that only the State has a monopoly on violence. It was this response and the attitude that came with it that made us Pakistanis announce our separation from the fanatic ideology espoused by the Taliban.

But then came Mumtaz Qadri and his decision to murder Governor Salman Taseer. The shock of the death of Mr. Taseer was magnified manifold with the shock of the Barelvi response to this attack. Gone was the Dr. Henry Jekyll who faced the Taliban, and out came Edward Hyde; there were celebration for the death of the Governor, the killer was praised as a Hero, and to top everything off the bereaving daughter of Salman Taseer was told to learn a lesson from the fate of her father. One would wish with all his heart that this outrage was shown by a fringe minority, but with the attestation of Tanzeem Ahl-e-Sunnat and Sunni Tehreek, there is no denying that this response is owned by the Barelvi clergy at large.

So is this response to a mere suggestion for changes in the blasphemy law consistent with the response to the desecration of shrines and mosques? The late Salman Taseer was bending over his back in trying to reiterate that he did not mean any disrespect to the Holy Prophet. On the contrary, the Taliban had no qualms in taking responsibility for the desecration of mosques as well as shrines.  So why is it that in the case of the Taliban, our Barelvi clergy was very eager to press the Government and the Military to do their job, and rightly so. But in the case of the Liberals, as represented by Salman Taseer, the same Barelvi clergy had no qualms about appreciating a complete violation of the law and are threatening to do more of the same in the future.

The difference could easily be explained by the consequences of side stepping the Government in each of these cases; in the case of the Taliban, physical reaction to their attacks could result in targeted suicide attacks, where as in the case of Salman Taseer, the reaction would come in terms of op-eds in English dailies. It seems that our Barelvi clergy decided to play tough on the softer option; if uncontrolled outrage was an essential consequence of blasphemies then the Taliban would also have been at the receiving end of such Barelvi outrages, which is clearly not the case.

The death of Salman Taseer was because of a mindset, a mindset that seems to be prevalent among Pakistanis. This mindset needs to be challenged through reason, for which both sides need to be provided an equal opportunity for expression of their views. For the conservatives in this country, there is no fear of a physical reprisal from the minority liberals, but on the other hand the liberals are threatened every day through the use of the pulpit as well as through political platforms.

These open threats exist because of the inability of the Government to exert its authority. If the liberal voices are stopped through forced bullying, then it would be a major loss to the discourse around this issue, a discourse that is essential in defining the future of the Pakistani identity.

Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 18th of January 2011

Written by Imran Khan

January 18, 2011 at 4:44 am

A “Righteous” Confusion

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What differentiates the smiling face of Mumtaz Qadri from that of an apprehended criminal is a lack of guilt. Mr. Qadri is beaming with pride because according to his religious beliefs he has not done anything wrong.  But this raises a question; how does the belief in a religion, whose name literally means “Peace” result in senseless and guiltless killings such as that of Governor Taseer? There are various explanations making the rounds; some blame this twisted sense of morality on the current American war against the Taliban, while others blame it on the previous American support of the Mujahideen.

But the profile of Mr. Qadri and his followers doesn’t exactly match that of the past beneficiaries and the recent affectees of US interventions in Afghanistan. To begin with, Mr. Qadri is a Barelvi, the sect of Islam that is portrayed by us Pakistanis as anti Taliban. We distance ourselves from the barbarity of suicide bombings and beheadings by quoting the fact that a majority of Pakistanis are Barelvis and thus not Taliban. Furthermore, Mr. Qadri also does not represent a fringe element among the Barelvis, as more than 500 Ulema of the Jamaate Ahle Sunnat Pakistan (JASP) celebrated his crime and warned of similar consequences for others daring to disagree with them. facebook pages dedicated to Mr. Qadri are teeming with fans that have no qualms about shaving their beards, listening to music or openly declaring their dating preferences. This killing and its subsequent celebrations can not be blamed on fringe elements, this bigotry is as Pakistani as it can get.

Pakistan’s religious right has embraced this act unabashedly and the justifications offered are quite bewildering; take for instance the statement of the Amir of Jamaat I Islami, Syed Munawar Hassan, who blames Salman Taseer for his own death. His explanation and that of many others is that, the emotions surrounding the issue of blasphemy are so intense, that it makes it very difficult for Muslims to control their anger, it is because of their “hurt feelings” that they are forced to take such actions.

But by using the same logic, Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi should also be held responsible for the suicide attack on him, because by speaking out against suicide bombings, Mufti Naeemi “hurt” the feelings of its proponents who consider suicide bombing as the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. The 40 dead in Daata Darbar, and the 8 dead at the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, should also be held responsible for their own deaths, because what they thought of as Islam, was actually an “insult” to the Islam professed by their “enraged” murderers. Also, if “hurt feelings” are a measure of the justification of an act, then the faceless suicide bombers of the Taliban seem to be much more hurt and thus more justified than Mr. Qadri, who despite being supposedly blinded by rage, found the time to pre-negotiate a safe exit.

As the self proclaimed guardians of Pakistan’s Islamic ethos, our religious right has always emphasized the importance of Islam as a complete code of life; a set of ideals, that ensures the abidance to Islamic laws. The murder of Salman Taseer is a gross violation of the very same ethos that our religious right claims to champion.

The irony is thick in these “righteous” celebrations, because by celebrating the death of Salman Taseer, these defenders of the Blasphemy Law are in fact celebrating the irrelevance of that very same law.

Appeared in the Express Tribune on the 12th of January 2011

Written by Imran Khan

January 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm

To Ban or not to Ban?

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Image Credit: Reuters 2010

It is said that when the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) tried to preach Islam to the people of Taif, their disagreement took the form of physical as well as verbal abuse. Stones were thrown at him and he was called names. As Islamic sources tell us, the Prophet (PBUH) had the power to seek vengeance from the people of Taif, by smiting them off of the face of the earth. But it was his response to those insults that enables Muslims today to declare Islam to be the Religion of Peace and Tolerance. Not only did he forgive his tormentors but he also prayed for their salvation. Today, Taif is a citadel of Islam, a far cry from its past when the Messenger of Islam was ridiculed and tormented on its streets.

It has been approximately 1400 years since that incident in Taif, and a group on a social networking site has revived its memories. Ridicule was hurled at the Prophet, which has resulted in deep distress and anguish for his followers. But his “followers”, despite their passion for his message, forgot the response of the Prophet when he himself was put in a much worse situation. As things stand, facebook has been “smitten” from Pakistan, along with Wikipedia, youtube and many other sites.

Yes, the provoking cartoons were posted on a group on facebook, but the story didn’t end there. In response to that group many groups opposed to it were also formed. These groups were created to denounce the ridicule of the Prophet and aimed to create awareness on this issue.

facebook provides the ideal method of raising that awareness; every time anyone joins these protest groups, all of his friends receive a message that Mr. so and so has joined the group that denounces the caricaturing of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Which means that all of the Non-Muslim friends of that person also find out that their friend is against the idea of making fun of the Prophet (PBUH). This then delivers a very powerful message; because the image created in the aftermath of the Danish Cartoon Crisis, with the bombing of embassies and the torching of properties, was that these reservations are held only by Muslims who are extremists and too full of hate to have Non-Muslims as friends. But when these reminders come from friends, then of course the Non-Muslim recipient is bound to take notice. He/she would be more receptive to reasons coming from their own friends, rather than trying to understand why a mob was burning KFCs and McDonalds. The results of these efforts are already showing; the groups that are against the caricaturing of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have Non-Muslim members as well, these are people who may not agree with the tenants of Islam but agree with the objections raised by their friends. This is EXACTLY the sort of awareness that Muslims want to raise in the West, and facebook has been an excellent tool for enabling them to do that.

The ban on facebook in Pakistan, has robbed this effort of at least 20 million supporters. The lower revenues of facebook are nothing compared to the loss that the Ummah has to endure; which is the setback to its efforts in convincing Non-Muslims about this issue. It is wrong to consider facebook as an entity that is party to this conflict. It is rather a platform which can be leveraged by each side to its own advantage. Sadly, with this ban, the Pro-Islam camp just delivered a major blow to its own cause.

Reactions such as this one and the one to the Danish Cartoons are providing a big incentive for anyone and everyone seeking quick fame. The formula is simple, say something bad about Islam and Muslims will make sure that your effort gets the maximum hits on the internet and that your name is elevated to celebrity status. There are thousands of groups on facebook that are on topics related to sports, politics, business, religion etc. Each group aims to outdo the other in its membership count, and membership is something that is a function of marketing and advertising. When international media giants such as CNN and BBC are reporting on a random group on facebook, then I leave it for the reader to decide, how big a marketing push the Pakistani emotional outburst is giving to the group ridiculing the Messenger of Islam.

facebook has a fair share of groups that are dedicated to Islam and these range from Pro-Islamic to Anti-Islamic. While we heard so much about this one Anti-Islam group, there are countless other groups that support and propagate Islam. For instance, there are groups where members share and discuss Quran and Hadith. Then there are groups that carry out debates between Muslims and followers of other religions. These groups intellectually pit Muslims against Non-Muslims, and enable them to proselytize from the comfort and safety of their own homes. A permanent ban on facebook would drastically weaken the contribution of Pakistani Muslims to the efforts on that platform. Countless victories would be forfeited and so would be the conversion of potential Muslims. How big a price can the proponents of this ban put on one potential conversion to Islam? Are the lost revenues of facebook sufficient to equal out this potential loss?

The ban on facebook has been followed by a ban on other sites as well. Because of the ease of sharing this content, the people who want this reaction from Muslims are making sure to share it on every website possible. Most notable of the next are youtube and Wikipedia. This then brings to the fore the hopelessness of this “banning” response, which does not take into account the importance of these websites to Pakistan. Take Wikipedia for instance, it is a monstrous source of information to which contributions are made by ordinary visitors, currently the site has more than 10 million articles on a variety of topics. Besides its obvious benefits to students and knowledge seekers, the site also provides ordinary Pakistanis with the opportunity to promote the Pakistani view point to international audiences. For instance, topics such as “the 1947 partition”, “the Kashmir Conflict” etc have their own dedicated pages. As we know, in these issues there are conflicting viewpoints between Indians and Pakistanis. So if an Indian writes something about the 1947 Partition that a Pakistani doesn’t agree with, then that can be contested on the website. The benefit of such disagreements is that, if a third party wants to access the information for further use, then they have the Pakistani rejoinder as well that balances out any potentially controversial claims from the other side. Given the global reliance on Wikipedia for reference and research, Pakistanis risk losing the explanation of their side of the story and by so doing risk a further tarnishing of the national image in the World.

In this day and age, websites such as facebook, youtube and Wikipedia serve as bridges between nations. As history has shown us, no one has ever benefited from isolation, especially those who are confident about the righteousness of their cause.

I would conclude by saying that, if one is to appreciate the wisdom in the way of the Prophet (PBUH), then it should be noted that the descendents of his tormentors in Taif are today vociferously condemning the ridicule that is targeted towards him.

An edited version appeared in The News on the 22nd of May 2010, under the title “Such a needless ban”

Written by Imran Khan

June 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Islam

Tagged with ,

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