Browsing "secularism"

What Pakistan needs to do in wake of Peshawar incident

Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.

For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.

As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.

Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.

With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.

Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.

The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.

Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.

Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.

One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.

Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.

Originally written for The Nation

 

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Email encounters of the other kind!

I get emails – almost anyone who exists in the virtual world gets emails – even if when they do not share that email address with anyone, they still get emails from Nigerian investor wanting to invest in their business and their email provider’s admin. I, unlike other people, get weird emails and I am not talking about spam here.

The emails I get are all not just weird, they cover a very broad range of spectrum. They could be people asking me to give them Urdu language tuition (never taught Urdu in any of my lives and though I speak it fluently and enjoy Urdu literature like any other enthusiast, I cannot teach Urdu Grammar to save my life – sarf-o-nahu anyone?), people sending marriage proposals after reading my articles (they are almost always men from India with a couple of random rishtas from Middle East but I have a feeling that they too would be Indian men), aunties seeking education advice for their sons and daughters (I am supposed to be awesome at fooling universities into providing grants and waiving fees – which I am obviously not – otherwise I would be enrolled in some kind of doctoral program instead of working and dreaming about a life where I would be rich enough to be idle) and people inviting me to expensive “Lawn” exhibitions (people in Pakistan would know what that phenomenon is, the rest don’t need to worry about that and those who know me must wonder why I get those invites considering how sartorially challenged I am).

The point of this whole tirade is that I get weird emails and should not be shocked when I get offers of digital qurbani (slaughtering your goat via skype) and “exclusive” dating services specializing in highly qualified brown people, but nothing prepared me for the email that was waiting for me this morning in my inbox. I actually went WTF out loud on my morning commute – much to the chagrin of an Asian lady sitting next to me at my very unladylike language.

The text of that email was

“I am working on a fiction book which includes a female character’s experiences with online dating. The woman is in her late 40s. I am soliciting stories from women who have dated online. I need unusual, weird, crazy, scary stories. Your name will not be used. Specifics will be changed to protect your privacy. You will NOT be paid for your story.

If you are a single woman – divorced, widowed or never married – who is 40 or older and have met and dated men via online dating websites, please contact. Since this is a Christian novel, stories have to be clean stories. No sex or deviant behaviour, no use of alcohol or drugs and no bad language please. Like I said earlier, keep it clean.

I mean really?

I tried to muster some outrage because the sender thought I was over 40 and over eager (no disrespect for those who go for online dating) enough to have an okcupid profile but come on! How can one not laugh at the message that is clearly bonkers? You want stories of online dating but no salacious details! Why would anyone want to read a book that has nothing going for it? I mean I am no pervert who would want to know details that should not be shared but if you take the bite out of life then what else is left? Would people actually shell out money to read about the stories of online dating for women over forty if it is going to be about creeps stalking your facebook profile, some hand holding of non-platonic kind and group sessions about Jesus saving your sorry selves? That book sounds like a snoozefest even before it is written.

Is there really a market for Christian romance out there? Probably in the Bible belt. I, for one, never thought there was a market for mommy porn but 50 shades proved me and the rest of the snooty people wrong. Who really knows what people actually want, Christian online romance may turn out to be the next big thing, after all Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember was not only a best seller, it also launched Mindy Moore’s rather tame acting career.

The most screwed up country in the world

I don’t get Pakistan. I really don’t.

And I lived all my life in that country.

After a day reading technical work related documents, I indulged in some random surfing this evening and read this short beautiful piece by Vikram Seth on criminalization of gay sex by the top Indian court. The crux of his piece was that everyone who wishes to ban love between people of different religions and castes and of same sex is basically declaring one thing. “My love is right. Your love is wrong.”

I was quite taken in by that heartfelt piece, but then Vikram Seth is a brilliant writer and has this way with words that makes you think. While browsing through some other links on my facebook feed, I came across this video and am flabbergasted. I mean what is wrong with Pakistan, like seriously?

There is a Z list TV actress who apparently could not find any acting job, so she decided to try her luck at journalism and someone was stupid enough to actually hire her as well. In this clip, she lands in the house of a transvestite/intersex/transgender (because we don’t really know whether people who pose as Khwaja Siras in Pakistan are transvestites, intersex or transgender. They could be anyone of those) person with TV crew, cameras and police.

The Khwaja Sira who goes by the name Naila but is legally named Mohammed Saleem (a man’s name) is at home with another man Nadeem  ul Hassan. The journalist started off in a very patronizing tone   addressing the man as “tum”, a term used either to express familiarity or is for people who are considered inferior rather than a more professional “aap” that most journalists would/should use when interviewing a person. She asked him for how long he has been with Naila/Saleem and Nadeem  said that he has been in that house for over a year. Now we do know that no one who is of sound mind would willingly accept to be in a homosexual relationship in Pakistan – and that too in front of camera and police – because if one is lucky, it is tried as a penal offence and one can end up in jail for at least two years, if one is not lucky, it can be tried under Hadd.

The Khwaja Sira tried to cover that up and told the so called journalist that Nadeem is just staying with him after his parents death and that he is not well. Nadeem himself told her that he is undergoing psychiatric treatment with a doctor in a hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal  (a middle class locality in Karachi). She scoffed at that information and said that what kind of mentally ill patient would be aware that he is actually mentally instable. She then proceeded to enter in the inner rooms, checked out the closet as if she had an arrest warrant and pointed out the photos of Saleem/Naila  & Nadeem in wedding finery (they were two separate photo by the way) saying that they were committing sin.

She entered someone’s house without permission with police – I only saw the clip so I don’t know if they even have a court issued warrant to enter into that house but they did so. The local police aided and abetted this travesty passing for journalism. The whole report – if it can be called that – was conducted in a sanctimonious and holier than thou tone. That Z list former actor turned journalist ended her tirade against Nadeem and Saleem/Naila by putting the fear of impending epidemic of homosexuality that will engulf the children of all the viewers if strong measures were not taken against people like Nadeem (a man undergoing psych treatment for heaven knows what?) and  Naila/Saleem a Khwaja Sira. The report ended with Nadeem’s arrest. As a gay man undergoing psych treatment with no relative in the country – his brother lives in Canada – I fear what will happen to Nadeem in the police station.

I don’t get Pakistan, I really don’t. My heart went out for this man who looked lost and had no idea what happened to him. This woman – the Z list actress – couldn’t have found two more vulnerable people to attack, even if she tried, but no one will step up to support them because why invoke the wrath of mullah’s by supporting a man who has admitted to being with someone who was not a woman. This country is afraid to stand up to people who kill and maim innocent people but it is considered fair game to attack people in their home for their life style choices that do not affect anyone else but themselves. Nadeem was shown affection by a Naila/Saleem when he was apparently abandoned by his own family, but now he is arrested because he was not shown affection by the right gender. The word irony does not even begin cover this situation.

It’s about time we claim the title for being the most screwed up country in the world. I mean there is water shortage, energy crisis, population explosion, inflation and what not. The country is plagued with terrorism and sectarian violence but most important matter that should be reported is two people living in a house minding their own business and the arrest of a man who was clearly not all there. On the other hand, people like Malik Ishaq are allowed to roam free and spew more hatred.

PS: This is not the most coherent post but then I am angry, and anger strips away coherence at times. I apologize for that.

PPS: Watch the video at your risk, you might want to break a glass or two to vent after watching this. Trigger Warning.

PPPS: When will PEMRA wake up and take notice of this crap passing on as journalism.

 

 

Legal Status of LGBT in Pakistan

The Pakistani Constitution does not explicitly make mention of sexual orientation or rights of people of alternate lifestyle, but Article 377 of its penal code criminalized all consensual sexual activity outside marriage. As LGBT people cannot get married, any and all consensual sexual activities would be considered illegal and a person can land in jail for anytime between two to ten years for that. In addition, government appointed Islamic Nazariyati council also get to have a say in all matters as all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam, the official religion of the state so there is a chance that you can be tried under Hudood Ordinance, then you can be put in jail for life or can get life sentence.

 

The space for secularism in the national narrative

Pakistan is a strange country; the people who garner maximum news coverage are often shady. If January was the month of Mumtaz Qadri, then February and March definitely belonged to Raymond Davis and the man who hogged all the headlines across the globe in May was Osama Bin Laden. Last but not the least was Illyas Kashmiri who was killed in a drone strike in June.

It is even stranger that though all four of them were shady characters – murderers to be precise – the response of the popular media to their deeds, lives, and reasons have ranged from high praise to utter ridicule. While Davis was lynched by our media for killing two Pakistani men, Qadri was praised by a certain section of media as the saviour who, by shedding blood of another human being, has somehow restored balance in the universe and saved the religion, humanity and galaxy. The kind of debate bin Laden and Kashmiri spark is the stuff of legends. People have called them terrorists, warriors, messiahs and everything in between depending on their ‘ideological’ and ‘idiological’ leanings.

But the strangest common factor in all the cases is that the popular media has developed the narrative and catered to the incidents surrounding these characters on the basis of religion. All the discussions and responses on the subject have been based, not on the news worthiness of the issue, but on the perceived religious reasons for the actions of the perpetrators and on the basis or lack of their religiosity.

Qadri was hailed as a hero because he was defending his faith. Even his critics were at pains to point out that he was mislead because the religion was not interpreted in its true spirit by who so ever was inspiring him. The only person, Sherry Rahman, who actually said that this law needed to be amended, had to stay cooped up in her house for the fear of her life. The fact that a man was killed was either ignored or the victim was blamed for his own death. The focus of the discussion stayed on religion and religion inspired laws and how essential they are to the survival of this society. The condemnation of that murder was subdued because vociferous denunciation would have challenged the religiosity of the narrative. Even before the death of the slain governor, one anchor decided to act as the prosecutor, jury and the judge and held a public trial of Governor Salman Taseer. With media pandering to the dictates of the overtly religious groups, presenting secular arguments in mainstream media is neither desired nor is considered safe.

Davis, an American guilty of the same crime homicide, was labelled the devil incarnate because he was an infidel who killed two Muslim men in the land of pure. The fact that it was Federal Shariat Court supported Qisas and Diyat Law that saved him in the end was again ignored. No one either wrote or spoke against the law in the popular media. The fact that perpetrators of the same crime can have different punishments depending upon their social standing and the amount they are willing to shell out to stay out of the prison and that the law actually supports the criminal with a sizeable bank account are largely ignored by our esteemed media persons and anchors.

Apart from these cases, the television debates usually centre on the quest of making the country a “true’ Islamic state instead of a working state. How many times have we seen sanctimonious anchors and so called experts discussing whether a legislation or a verdict by the courts is religious enough or not. Hardly have we seen any debate on whether a course of action is workable or not, which basically gives all the governments the license to do as they please irrespective of the consequences of the bad governance practices they employ.

There can be two probable reasons for such glaring omission of the secular content in any news debate in Pakistan. The country was created on the basis of religion, when the raison d’être for a country is its official religion, then any ideology contesting it kind of gets lots in the narration. The other is that there are some secular voices but they either submit to the views of majority for the fear of retaliation or they think that their voice will get lost. In either case, secular voices end up ceding political space and jeopardizing their own long term future.

This is not limited to the fourth estate. The other three pillars of the country – Legislators, executives and judiciary are as much to blame as the media for it. Last year, the Chief Justice of Pakistan expressed ‘concern’ about Parliament’s ability to redraft the constitution in such a manner that it will make Pakistan a secular republic. It was painful to note that the secularity of the constitution was seen as a threat by the man presiding over the most august court in Pakistan. The chief Justice’s concerns were obviously unfounded because the parliament is housed with likes of Shiekh Waqas Akram, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Rehman Malik who have repeatedly vowed to deal with anyone who dare speak against legislation based on theology.

In addition to them, the armed forces, perhaps the most powerful group in the country, owe their acceptance and popularity with the people on their stance as the defenders of not only the geographical boundaries of the country but also as the defenders of the faith. People are willing to forgive the armed forces for gobbling up the lion’s share of the resources in the country as long they stay vigilant against the threat of the infidel. That is why Pakistani nuclear capability is sold to its people as “Islamic atomic bomb” – a pan Islamic achievement rather than a national one.

Secularism cannot be pulled out of thin air like a genie. Just like fruitful discourse needs secular input, secularism cannot survive without debate, political space and social acceptance. It will not germinate in a vacuum but will arise out of liberal interpretation of theology and questioning the dogma which are not possible in current Pakistani milieu. Liberal research of the religion is virtually nonexistent. A few random liberal scholars like Dr Farooq Khan and Ghamdi were either killed or had to relocate to stay alive. If the country has to survive as a viable entity in future, its political, judicial, military and bureaucratic leadership must realize that giving space to dissenting voices is as necessary as bowing down to the wishes of majority.
Religion, in whatever way, has always been part of the discourse. Apart from Madrassah students, Islamic studies have been an integral part of the syllabus everywhere in Pakistan, from elementary school to degrees courses. The concept of secularism, on the other hand, has never been formally introduced in academia. We cannot move forward if this disparity is not addressed.

Originally written for Dawn

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