We Need to Talk about the Orlando Shooting and We Need to do it Honestly

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  ( This article appeared in Pakistani English language daily The Nation and can be accessed here: http://nation.com.pk/blogs/19-Jun-2016/we-need-to-talk-about-the-orlando-shooting-and-we-need-to-do-it-honestly )

What took place at Pulse in Orlando ought to make one thing clear: a queer person’s existence is still a crime. And I am not only counting the more than 70 countries where being gay is still a crime literally – death being an ultimatum in some of them.

This is what has followed since the tragedy: sick-minded celebration of the shooting on social media (are these the same people who clamour ‘do not associate us with ISIS’?)  and immediate attempts by media to deflect the homophobic element and make it look like just another terrorist attack.

Orlando shooting has boggled our minds because of its unique nature; the usual discourse of ‘oppressed-and-disillusioned-minority-member-taking-up-arms-against-privielged-majorty’ to help understand the tragedy flies out the window because this is a case of a crazed lone wolf from one vulnerable minority playing an unholy god with the lives of another oppressed group. But instead of using this as moment to challenge the hateful environment LGBTQ face, the wounded community has been slapped with being used by the Western Right on one hand and those on the other who wish to clad their casual homophobia under the garb of ‘condemning’ the attack while refusing to mentioning the letters ‘LGBT’. Orlando is not just about America’s gun laws (did you wonder what if it had been one man with a knife against hundreds of unarmed people?) or Islamic fundamentalism or latent homophobia or domestic violence as a red flag. It is about all of these and to talk about one aspect in order to avoid talking about the other is a disservice to the victims and their loved ones.

A liberal Pakistani Muslim friend and activist shared the press statement issued by Islamic Masumeen Center of New England on her social media account and when I pointed out that it failed to mention LGBT in particular and only gave a general condemnation, her reply was along the lines of ‘one step a time’. But LGBTQ community must not accept any condemnation from those who wish to pay lip service. Must the LGBT wait for their ‘turn’ even in their tragedy that is the worst case of mass shooting in the history of United States? Even in a tragedy that humanised the ‘monsters’ that insecure heterosexual homophobes have in their heads, the LGBTQ remain second priority? If the hateful religious preachers can mention gay people by name when they spew hate against them, then it is not bigoted to expect these same religious institutions to mention LGBTQ by name when they condemn Orlando. Or else we will keep on being confronted with the insulting ironies such as Pakistan, India and the Saudi Arabia decrying this incident while their own LGBTQ people are getting harassed and killed.

Instead of an honest discussion, there have been given carefully crafted condemnation so those who created the homophobic environment of religious fundamentalism towards the LGBTQ can continue to do so and save their skins too.

The issue is that Orthodox Islam and Islamic world do have a problem with LGBTQ. Digging into the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen’s personal life and finding out that he was no saint himself does not negate the fact that he found his homophobia religiously sanctioned. That is the problem. We need to drop this ‘he was not a Muslim’ rhetoric and realize that though we may term him a ‘bad Muslim’, this did in fact happen in the name of Islam and by a man who professed to Islamic faith. Why?

When I went to London Vigil for Orlando, my heart soared to see another Pakistani face, that of a human rights activist and lawyer Zaakbar Ali who was representing Association of British Muslims. These are the voices we need, those of an Islam that is relevant to a 21st century diverse globe full of its differences. But stuck between the Muslimophobia (and I use that term on purpose) and homophobia, those of us who wish to be progressive voices have been asked to choose a camp. We need to make reformers such as Amina Wudud, Imam Usama Hasan , Dr Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, Parvez Sharma (to mention a few) mainstream and we need to drop the politics of lower expectation from the Muslim communities. In short, the antidote to Islamic radicalism may lay within the Muslim discourse, in Sufi, American and European versions of Islam. We need to gap the schism between mainstream Muslim and the LGBTQ communities.

From Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer’s painful and infamous refusal on Sky News in the United Kingdom to check their privileges and wishing to make it about them to a Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento preaching to his congregation “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die!” it should be clear that Orlando is definitely not just a ‘Muslim problem’. GOP, which has a record of being homophobic, is now crying the crocodile tears having seen an opportunity to demonize an entire Muslim American population. Marco Rubio shared space in rally with Pastor Kevin Swanson who has argued for executing gays.

We need to celebrate Orlando Muslims who donated blood when LGBTQ are not allowed to and condemn the homophobic Islamic preacher Farrokh Sekaleshfar who preached in the same Orlando “Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now”. And it is possible. Or else, we leave a vacuum in intellectual discourse which will be exploited by the likes of Trump and Rubio. And so, this is no open invitation for the Right Wing to have its open field day. One can only imagine what forlornness of LGBTQ Muslims (such as the wonderful group I met at the same London Vigil called ‘LGBT+ Against Islamophobia’, who were the faces of what real compassion and reason look like when two vulnerable communities are being pitted against together)  who are confronted with ‘pick a side’.

Simply put, to defeat Omar Mateen’s mindset we need a dialogue, not rhetoric and to win this war, we must love more, not less, for if we do so ‘they’ have won. We need to talk about Orlando and we need to talk about it honestly. We owe it to the fallen brethren.

But What About Blasphemy Against Human Decency?

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A five month pregnant woman and her husband beaten up by a mob and burned alive in the very same kiln where they worked. A child with mental challenges (reportedly Down’s Syndrome) jailed for ‘allegedly’ desecrating the Holy Qur’an, the Muslim scripture. A colony set ablaze by self-righteous defenders of the faith which ended up costing the lives of eight Christian men, women and a child and damage to a church. In any society with human decency and compassion such barbaric acts would boil the blood of masses. Yet those who cry for Gaza and Burmese Muslims (as they should) refuse to utter a single protest against the atrocities committed in our very own backyard. And yet when we speak about it publicly we are accused of defaming Pakistan. Of being unpatriotic. We are asked to move away. See no evil,speak no evil,hear no evil – such is the state of institutionalised hypocrisy running across board in Pakistan.

Shama and Shahzad, a couple working at a kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, were not the only ones who lost their innocent lives to blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The law is a gift from colonial British Raj and was further Islamisised under Pakistan’s very own Francisco Franco, General Zia-Ul-Haq. There are hundreds of Muslims as well as non-Muslims languishing in jail, the most noted case being that of Aasia Bibi, while a recent increase in the surfacing of blasphemy cases has been seen.

As it goes, Shama and Shahzad,the Christian couple were bonded labour and when they demanded their wages they were locked up for two days by the owner of the kiln, Yusuf Gujjar. The allegation of blasphemy against Islam followed,upon the dubious testimony of a rag-and-bone collector. And from there on the self-appointed warriors of Islam deemed it unnecessary to take a judicial route to justice and beat the couple and proceeded to burn them alive in the very same kiln where the couple worked. Reportedly Shama’s sister (the families of both the spouses worked there as well) took away her child while they were being dragged to be burned alive. One shudders at the thought of what would have happened to that child had the sister not come in the way. In either case, the child’s world was not a bed of roses to begin with and would be much more painful and troublesome from now on, just as the world of Aasia Bibi’s innocent children who can not afford the respite of even a single day due to an ‘allegation’ of blasphemy against their mother. What does it say about our justice system when a mere allegation turns the lives of people upside down and damage them beyond repair? Call it the 21st century inquisition or witch hunt for that is exactly what it is, helping the feudal lords and privileged class maintain their morally corrupt hang on the working class and the destitute. And now, the fire has spread beyond, with one of the leading self-proclaimed ‘secular’ parties, MQM, alleging blasphemy charge against the leader of another major ‘secular’ party, namely PPP (though MQM retracted later on). No one seems to be safe,anymore. Not even the privileged elite intellectuals.

During the press conference at Lahore Press Club discussing the issue of Shama and Shahzad, a whole panel stretching across the stage tried their best not to bring up blasphemy laws (except for the only two women in a whole panel full of men,including a leader of Awami Worker Party, a Leftist party) and turn it into a particular case of working class versus ruling class rather than coupling that fact with a more general take on the blasphemy laws as well (this being despite some people urging them to speak on the laws). Following the press conference, the demonstration outside chanted against the ‘misuse’ of blasphemy laws. My heart recoiled. Could you blame them,given how the killing season is here again? Yet those who can speak up,thanks to class differences, chose to keep quite.The ‘Leftist’ friends tell me there is no need to speak up because it is so dangerous. Yet they meet up at cafes in DHA and discuss radical changes needed. Ruling class leftists and liberals of Pakistan, are they not an entertainment in their own right?

In theory, at least, the intention of the accused must be proven. Section 295-A of the Pakistani Penal Code read: “Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the ‘religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Pakistan, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both. (italics are my own)

Section 295-B reads: “Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.” (Italics are my own)

Section 295(C) prohibits defiling the name of Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

The laws extend to Section 298, with 298-A and 298-B being persecuting Ahmadiyya under blasphemy laws for things such as preaching their faith or calling themselves ‘Muslim’.

Such laws would make Ibn-e-Sina (who openly questioned the existence of God), Al Razi (whose writings would make even the liberal Muslims uncomfortable), Ibn Hazm (who challeneged the ‘Mullah’ mentality of his time),Jalaluddin Akbar (who started a whole new religion altogether) and other ‘Muslim’ historical figures blasphemers,yet they remain revered by the Pakistani Muslims and are often quoted as the symbols of Islamic civilization’s contributions to the world. One wonders what the fate of Muhammad Iqbal and Jinnah might have been if they were born today.

Given the lynch-mob mentality that has become so pervasive, no one seems to be bothered about the ‘deliberate’ and ‘malicious’ intentions or the meaning of ‘wilfully’, terms which in-themselves seek explanation and interpretation by the courts. And so, anything goes, with cost to human lives and properties. Usually the cases are based on mere allegations that would fall apart with a single stroke of reasonable doubt such as the one which led to a Christian couple in Gojra being charged with blasphemy: that they were sending blasphemous text messages. As if religious minorities do not suffer the worst already. No one seems to be asking as to who in their right mind would do such a thing when the mentality of ‘Good Muslim’ seems to be endemic and in the air? According to Pakistan Today’s report although the couple admitted the action, they claimed it was a forced confession, which highlights another aspect of the blasphemy laws: how authorities deal with the accused (perhaps because they are unwilling to take on an unruly mob and impose rule of law with potential costs to their own lives but also due to their own arbitrary justice) which is best demonstrated by the case of an Assistant Sub-Inspector axed a prisoner accused of blasphemy. In another case a policeman killed a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with blasphemy).

In the very same Gojra, in 2009, a mob set alight houses and Church of the Christian community which, ironically, comes under the acts covered blasphemy laws. But in a land where almost every other hand is jumping up for the ‘Holier Than Thou’ Muslim-ness,these facts do not amount to much.One could have laughed in the prior times when the Mullahs took to street demanding that Bible be banned in Pakistan since it contains ‘blasphemous’ content.But no more. They did and it was a sign of the coming  times where we’d be accused of challenging Mullah’s Mullah-ism in the name of Islam and trying to save Pakistan from religious lunacy. What we see in front of us is the ‘Arabizing’ of the land which has always taken pride in its own version of Sufi Islam, inclusive and reasonable. We laugh(ed) at these Mullahs while they did their shenanigans and today they are a noose around our necks. When the Nazis started off people did not take them seriously and the political elite did not look at them as a threat. Such are the ways of the fascism,religious or secular, aided by the complacency of those privileged and safe in their elitist towers high up in the skies.

Change the wordings to include Shia,Ahmadiyya,Christian and anyone who does not fit the criteria of a Sunni Heterosexual Muslim Man  and it seems Martin Niemöller’s famous ‘First They Came For‘ text speaks to and about Pakistan. And the signs are already there. Given the poverty and limited opportunities Pakistani religious minorities find themselves in, coupled with their class, the blasphemy laws have been notoriously used to settle personal scores, property feuds et al and the cases have been documented by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, among other bodies. Nevertheless, the spineless politics and lack of political will means no change, not even a minimal one. The voices which were freely demanding the repeal of blasphemy laws at the time of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer in 2011 are now nowhere to be seen. Even those who were urging the path to reform of the blasphemy laws to make them more strict and limited have become silent. Yet the Mullahs who have been clearly shown to incite against the accused roam free.

The judges seem to be less and less willing to take a principled stand as is evident by the Lahore High Court upholding death penalty for Aasia Bibi (However, At the time of writing this piece the Supreme Court finally granted bail to a British national of Pakistani origin, Muradur Rahman, who was accused of blasphemy by none other than Pakistani journalist Ansar Abbasi. The Sindh High Court had refused to grant bail to the accused and the Supreme Court lamented the “delay in conclusion of his trial” which they found to be “unconscionable”.)
Amongst all this the theologians who decry blasphemy laws as quintessentially un-Islamic seem to be given no air time while the those inciting masses seem to be enjoying the hot seats on talk shows. From the son of Maulana Abdul Maudoodi to Dr Khaled Zaheer to Javaid Ghamdi there are theologians speaking against it. But their fault is they are not on the payroll of the masters. In a country run by macho patriarchal lords, it took a woman with a spine, Sherry Rahman, to bring blasphemy laws to the attention of the parliament. After Salmaan Taseer‘s assissnation ended with PPP leadership turning their backs on their very own deceased late Governor of Punjab and after Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was showered with garlands by the lawyers, making a mockery of their profession, silence took over.

We must ask ourselves pertinent questions: Is possible for us to claim to be a ‘democracy’ and expound notions of ‘free speech’ and ‘free thought’ when that part of sociopolitical structure, religion and religiosity, remain beyond the power of reason, critique and debate? How does one talk about a religious law whose very own wording makes it hard, if not impossible, to discuss it? What use is a justice system when a false allegation against another leads to either a FIR where the actual blasphemous words are not mentioned (since repeating them would,it is said,make a blasphemer out of complaining party as well) or an unruly mob bent upon committing any atrocity against human decency in the name of a religion they claim to be a ‘religion of peace’? Will the world listen to Pakistani Muslims when they decry being equated to ISIS and Al Qaeda when we Pakistanis have vigilantes in our own backyards and those who are sane and compassionate, even if in majority, are silent? How would it be possible for us to create a ‘naya Pakistan’ (New Pakistan) if we are unwilling to ignore the legacy of Zia-ism? Would the Naya Pakistan have place for religious minorities and dissent? How will productive and progressive Islamic discourse in this country build when the blasphemy laws keep getting used against dissent?

Unless we find courage to call spade a spade and demand what is just and reasonable there will be many more Shama and Shahzad in the bleak future that is hovering over Pakistan.

We,the Other Pakistan

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NOTE: (I do realize the worth and  universality of this post,in that it speaks to human rationality and emotions regardless of geography. Please keep in mind, that although directed towards the Pakistanis, this piece may as well be for someone sitting in China, Chile or Alaska. So feel free to think of your own country/locality ‘s name whenever the name of Pakistan comes up)

This is dedicated to ‘us’, the ordinary people of Pakistan, the other Pakistan that no one wants to talk about but exists nevertheless, swept under the carpet, waiting for their time to come. We are not movie stars, political icons or revolutionary leaders. But we all have the potential to be revolutionaries unto ourselves.

 

We have our own stories of inspiration and fear, failure and achievement, of struggle in the face of all odds, of hopeless and hopefulness to share.

 

We are victims of child sexual abuse who suffer in silence, trying to save family name(s). We are rape victims who are let down by families believing their dignity and respect lies between our legs and not our individual contributions.

 

We are the religious and non-religious minorities of Pakistan. Thousands and thousands (estimated at 20,000 by some) of Shia killed in an unfair battle for survival that they never opted for in the first place; their fathers handpicked off the buses and killed mercilessly, their mother widowed.

 

We are Hindus whose daughters have been forcefully converted or raped as an even easier target,them being women in the midst of an already marginalized and stigmatized religious group. We, the Hindus, who have yet to be recognized as lawfully wedded couples as per Pakistani law.

 

We are Christians and Ahmadis, suffering the brunt of blasphemy laws, our crime being nothing but of being non-Muslims, or refusing to declare ourselves so.

 

We are Christians whose churches are under attack and Jews who live under false names, with no synagogue to go to. We are Ahmadis who cannot declare themselves Muslims as per 2nd Amendment and Ordinance XX. We suffer the systematic violence and stigma by both, the state and the society.

 

We are Women, who have been suffering domestic violence, acid attacks and honour killings with the only thing we possess of our own, our bodies, being exploited on the daily basis, in one way or another, by our very own husbands and fathers, sons and brothers.

 

We struggle to educate ourselves every day, and that is if we are allowed outside the four walls in the first place.

 

This is about the Balochi women who got buried alive for choosing marry someone out of their own choice. About mothers who got paraded half naked for perceived crimes committed by their sons. Who suffer the repercussions of Hudood Ordinance. About all the unsung heroines of Pakistan’s history and daily life.

This is for thousands of disappeared people that we have grown tired and used to talking about but who we fear might betaken for granted if no one spoke up. Be they Balochis picked up from their homes and their dead bodies thrown on the outskirts of the cities or the Pakhtun nationalists misrepresented in media and public discourse with next no voice of their own or those in the tribal belt held under the anti-terrorism laws and without any trial, making a mockery out of the  ‘innocent until proven guilty’ common and legal sense.

 

This is dedicated to Queer/LGBT/Khwajasara (Intersex) people of Pakistan who have yet to be recognized as human beings deserving love, respect and empathy. Who suffer in silence believing their urge to find love in life a crime, and their sexual desires sinful, as if  consensual love between two men (or women) was responsible for the turmoil our nation has found itself in and not the ineptness of indifferent political elite, the unleashed military High Command or the terrorists and militant outfits yet to be dealt with.

 

To the parents, children and friends of Pakistani Queer/LGBT/Intersex people: Stop being ashamed and embarrassed of your sons and daughters, parents and friends and/or their gender non-conformity for it was not their call to make in the first place.

 

They never chose to become gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, for it that were the case how easy it would be for them to wake up on morning and say ‘from hereon, I am anything but queer’  and lead a heterosexual life.

In fact they have tried. We have innumerable stories of homosexual men who married your heterosexual daughters, only to make their own lives, and those of their wives, miserable. Your Lesbian daughters married heterosexual men thereby stuck in a tragic, yet ironic, situation, of getting raped by consent(?).

If only our Pakistani parents realize how much an embrace of a mother and support from a father would mean to a Queer child. If only our society saw the loving relation between two adult members of same sex and the beautiful bond that exists beyond physical realm.

 

If only a Queer child sitting in some rural,or even urban, area of Pakistan ,could one day understand that he is as ‘normal’ as anyone out there and that it is but a false perception, false consciousness if you will, created by aggressively heterosexual and heteronormative to think otherwise geared towards control and domination.

 This is dedicated to Queers who happen less queer than aggressively heterocentric society excluding them, for what is more queer, more strange, than irrational hatred or fear of another even if based on sexual orientation,religion, gender,religion et al? What is more unnatural than homophobia and what defines it in essence: lack of human reasoning coupled with irrational hatred.

So here is to the hoping that we finally do wake up and move beyond mere rhetoric for change and struggle for a real,and needed, change, lest our children and future generations look back at us hang their heads in shame, questioning us as to why we stood by while their raped, killed and pillaged one by one?

And that we learn to celebrate the  individual acts of courage rather than decrying them in the name of traitory, and that we learn to appreciate the individuality and its contribution to the society as a whole,for we underestimate the individual acts of courage in helping gain the momentum for a collective change when the time has come.That we look beyond their religion, or lack thereof, gender or sexual orientation, ethnicity, or language. That we learn to accept. Accept what is real about Pakistan. Not the ‘Arabization’ or the pretence of being a fortress of Islam, but the ‘other’ Pakistan, that needs to be accepted, talked about,empathized with,and even celebrated!

Thank You

A Short Note On Protest,Solidarity and Our Futile Drawingroom Rants

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Respect All,

Consider this as brief a personal ‘blogpost’  as possible, in contrast to my usual way and style of writing. I write this to you,after seeing so many likes on my recent Facebook profile picture demanding action against terrorist outfits perpetrating crimes against Shia and Hazara community. That got me thinking , if you appreciate my action to stand up against militant outfits, why would you be everso reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with me in demanding something that appeals to your sense of justice? I know that it sounds inane, and useless,and perhaps even funny and unconcerning,to many of  you when I ask you to accompany me to protests and solidarity events. This would not be the first time. You try to tell me how you empathize with my vigour but that it would bring no big change. Big changes were never brought about in a generation, or a decade or two, leave a night.

You cry out ‘what good will it do?’. Even if nothing, it will send out SOME form of resistance. SOME resistance, I believe, should always be there to keep whatever check there could be, on the status quo. Then you probably would not be having ‘geniuses’ like Tahir Ul Qadri come in and play on populist feelings. You would not be having such merciless killings of Shia and Ahmadiyya.  And this is just a start,and by no means an end.When they were killing Ahmadis in Pakistan, Shia didnt join in and protest against such brutality. Today they suffer for all to see.Today they ask us to shirk aside Ahmadis and Shias as non-Muslim.Tomorrow they will ask us to label anyone a ‘kafir’ who does not sport a beard.And do not be mistaken into thinking that it is far fetched and would not happen. Read between the lines. Its always small successes and achievements for radicals which give them platform for a greater change, whether for good or bad. Those of us living in posh areas and believing it is not going to affect us are mistaken. Please join in next time and register your voice against brutality,whether by state or non-state actors. You might be bringing about revolution, a word you have grown so fond of, but you would certainly be on the right side of history.And when it goes wrong, you could always point out you stood on the right side of the line.We are ALL revolutionaries unto ourselves. We all have a purpose greater than eat,sleep and shit routine. After all,there ought to be a difference between a human and a pig,no?

Either you stop complaining about what goes around, or you better stand up and use your vote,speech et al, to stand up against injustice. Drawingroom rants can only help us so far. Do not pin your hopes solely on elite politicians who may or may not pay heed to you. There have been  many Imran Khan(s) and Tahir ul Qadri(s). Even if they started right and honest, the circumstances brought them down on their knees to compromise the very position they were brought to power for.

You don’t have to be in every protest and solidarity event, but please spare me the exucses like’its too hot and I am fasting, so I would not be able to come’ (and yes,someone did give me that excuse once,much to my shock). Change, if only it could come without us pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones! The power,and the genuine democracy lies in your  hands. Vote is just one way to push forward change. Don’t just settle for that and be complascent. You talk about changing Pakistan while you refuse you move your lazy bodies beyond your Facebook statuses and tweets.Social media activism is just one of the many ways. Try to use your democratic powers as far as you can,and in as many a multitude ways as possible. Before demanding a better Pakistan, act like a better citizen (and a better human being) of Pakistan.

Your Fellow Concerned Citizen

Usmann Rana

 

 

Here Comes The Holy Month

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Here comes the Islamic month of Ramadan. When Pakistan becomes all the more of a  playground for the moral righteousness and religiosity which is but a farce, the people either deluded or forcing themselves to believe it to be otherwise. These are the days of make-believe merriment when those who do not fast are looked down upon. When all the entertainment talk show hosts you saw drinking behind the scenes, cover up their heads with  chaddors and stoles and end up preaching orthodoxy, the same brand of wine which itches the genitalia of womankind in this society of patriarchs. As of  right now, twitter’s second highest trend is #MuhammadPBUHSaid but no trend makes it to the top when Bahalwapur blasphemy incident occurs.

The problem of course is not with their religiosity, or the lack of, but the blatant hypocrisy looking Pakistanis in the eyes and them not realizing it. It might well be the case all over the Muslim world (on August 2, yesterday,the Palestinian Authority arrested six men across the West Bank this week for publicly breaking the fast of Ramadan and desecrating the “desecrating the holiness of the month of Ramadan”, possibly earning them a month law prison sentence under the law). Nevertheless you would be considered a silly for expecting anything less in Pakistan, a country whose generation is brought up on the notions which forms the  premises of Ehteram-E-Ramazan Ordinance which prohibits smoking,eating,and drinking in public place during the holy month. Also cinemas and theaters are to be closed til the expiration of three hours after sunset. Not following the rules can result in three months in prison and a possible fine. The logic used is the same one we have inculcated in our psyches: temptation. Because she dressed ‘immodestly’ and tempted my manhood I,not being in control of my senses raped her. Because he was drinking in front of me, temptation got the best of me. And so why should it not be applied by those guilty of unlawful activities on smaller scale : Because you are eating in front of me, and I am on a fast, by my own accord, you are tempting me to break it. Therefore I will ban your eating, drinking, even smoking.

But then why fast in the first place? Yes, because the fear of entering the hell or seeking the wrath  or displeasure of your deity got into you. But many others did not fast today. Maybe you shall wish you spare them the agony of hunger pangs and thirst? Pakistan may be having a great majority of Muslims but it also constitutes of religious and non-religious minorities along with those Muslims who might not fast. They are left hanging because they did not go out burning and damaging stuff demanding sanity, like Muslim hooligans would,were the Ehteram-E-Ramzan Ordinance to be even amended tomorrow, leave alone struck off.

The Ordinance is the gift from Pakistan’s own version of General Francisco Franco, General Zia-Ul-Haq who was both deluded in his religiously motivated moral righteousness and conniving enough to use it as a populist element. To date sane Pakistanis cuss the General. Men and women are suffering either directly or indirectly from his rule and ideas. Nevertheless like  other laws and Ordinances Ehteram-E-Ramzan Ordinance stays intact, thus preserving the fundamentals of his fundamentalism. The repercussions follow. Those who not fast are dragged into almost a state of one.It seems almost every year there are reports of arrests being made for eating in public and of restaurants being closed down for serving during the time of the fast. Not to those who are fasting. But who are not. Why should they suffer as well? This year two were arrested. A further two were not only arrested but beaten up by the policemen for arguing in their defense, that they were eating in a place where no one could see them and that it is not their business. How dare they?!  It is there business as per the crooked laws of this country. How dare they try to snatch away this golden opportunity for earning some divine blessings right out of their hands?

That is,then, correct. Impose the righteousness on others so you could earn a nod from your deity. Such a selfish deed it is, yet in the name of guarding the other members of the society, and their temptations and sensibilities.

If they are not fasting, then we shall not let them eat or drink in public even if they are darn hungry!

But does that not  defy the very purpose of the ritual in the first place?

A bus nearly full of working class men heading to another city for an important protest, with some of them not fasting. And how I was amazed  at the fact that not only plates of rice were being handed out to those not fasting, but how fine those on fast seemed to be with it. The man sitting beside me did not raise his eye brow. I am sure he must have been feeling hungry as well. But he refrained from both, breaking the fast and lecturing me to guilt about the sanctity of the holy month. That is how Ramadan should be celebrated, especially if,as the conventional explanation goes, the purpose is to make Muslims evermore patient and  determined in their character.

That is the patience and steadfastness Muslims need to inculcate, speculating on their inner being, than going out and about moral policing. Muslims need to learn that it is not their business whether others are fasting or not.And that there is nothing selfless about it but quite a selfish and superficial mindset they need to get rid of. So spare the act and hope your fast is enough to make you a better Muslim rather than superficiality and moral policing. Perhaps then we would not have incidents like Indonesian bar attack where one fifty young people -some as young as thirteen entered De Most bar to create havoc and bring down the house. Perhaps then we would learn to be both better Muslims and better human beings.

And Thou Shall Debate Only On What Is Given To Thee!

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   “Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely.”

                                                                                                          Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

On 10th July an ‘investigative journalist’ from The News, reported that a certain ‘elite’ school in the federal capital, Islamabad, was all set to debate gay rights under the title of Munich Debates. Who was this journalist, we do not know but a certain Mr. Ahmad Noorani takes credit for the story, tweeting his lament on a long story cut to a few lines and published without his name, which only casts doubt on his real reason behind pursuing the story: Did he write the story for the greater good of the people (an investigative journalist ‘outing’ –pun intended –the story on what he deems is an immoral topic to be discussed in the Islamic Republic Of Pakistan, a sight seen on almost every other Pakistani media forum) or  because he could not find another interesting and/or controversial issue to raise to make some name (since he seems to be rather sorry about it not being mentioned) and so giving in to the sudden surge of media interest in LGBT after US Embassy Pride event, decided to wash his hands in the flowing Ganges?

Given The News’ past history it would not be wrong to stick to the latter option.* Therefore not only the content of the ‘investigative’ report but the fact that it is reported by The News raises certain questions including intentions and real agenda behind it. Furthermore why highlight the fact that the owner of the school chain was a high official of a newly ‘rapidly emerging’ party (now it would not take a genius to decipher the name “Pakistan Tehreek I Insaaf”.) Was the main purpose of the reporting piece to report, moral police the school grounds or malign the name of the owner of the school and thereby target the party? Would it have been reported the same way if the school belonged to any other party official?

However this piece is not as much about homosexuals as the right to freely discuss such sensitive issues as abortion, homosexuality, sex reassignment surgery, prostitution, drugs, euthanasia et al. The Munich Debates were going to be a MUN (Model United Nations) event. It would do well for all the Ahmad Noorani(s) to do their homework before they go around creating a fiasco by pandering to populist emotions all in the name of investigative journalism, for in a MUN participants are not to voice their own opinions but those held by the countries they have been assigned.

I was a part of World Health Organization committee in LUMUN 2012 (MUN event held by LUMS in Lahore) and was assigned the country Netherlands. Were there to be a discussion on drugs and health issues in my committee, I would have had to take the same position as my country, the Netherlands, and advocate the legalization of what are categorized as ‘soft drugs’ under the condition of so called ‘personal use’, no matter how much I may or may not be opposed to the whole idea of legalizing drugs.

But more importantly, why cannot we discuss issues of such pertinence? Why the moral policing on the part of The News and others? Are these not the issues prevalent in our society, however marginalized they may be. Such is the problem with Pakistani populace that we suffer from Pigeon’s Syndrome. The problems do not exist if we were to close our eyes and shy away from them.

According to some there is nothing wrong with discussing such issues as LGBT Rights but the fact that our young are being exposed to such ideas. All the more better, I dare say! Our youth, if it were to bring about any real change in future, beyond vapid rhetoric, better be trained in exercising their reasoning faculties to the fullest.

But any debate on sex or human sexuality or religion is deemed a taboo, invasion of our culture, and at times blasphemous, all these words being in need of clear definitions themselves. Such morbid mindset is responsible for the gruesome and horrid state of intellectual stagnation, and affairs, not only in Pakistan, but the Muslim world as a whole. If breaking taboos is to open new vistas for our future, so be it. If our culture is to be invaded by the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights of which we are signatory, and in defiance of, it is still better than being invaded by the foreign Wahabbi culture Arabizing our land of tolerance and diversity leading to a homogenous culture of silence and taboos.

It is worth pointing out that Pakistani parliamentary and MUN debaters, when representing us internationally, can be bound to debate such issues. The motion for the sixth round of this year’s World School Debates was ‘This House Believes That the feminist movement should seek a ban on pornography”; for quarter finals teams debated the motion ‘This House believes that the gay right movement should “out” gay public figures’. Were team Pakistan to make it to the quarters what was it supposed to do? Turn back, pack their bags and leave a good old ‘We are Muslims and too good for this unethical, amoral debate’ note, signed underneath as Team Islamic Brigade?

There is no excuse for the irresponsible and unprofessional behavior shown by The News and its correspondent(s) under the guise of investigative journalism. There was nothing investigative about it. Only that it had elements of pandering to the homophobic sentiments with a subtext of moral righteousness as to what ought and ought not to be debated and discussed.

Umar Cheema, another one of The News ilk, tweeted about it being City School. Either Mr Cheema was utterly stupid to not think twice about the safety of a school campus, if the news were to become even bigger than it already is or he was utterly insensitive and callous regarding that thought which makes him another one of many unethical journalists Pakistan is fortunate enough to possess. (One has to ask, are Mr Cheema and Mr Noorani a representative sample of the quality of The News staff? If not then why have not the words of the report been ameliorated? )

But as he always does, Pakistani talk show host Hamid Mir managed to emerge as a giant amongst his company of guardians of the Gate of Islam and Pakistani constitution (and homophobes). In his show Capital Talk, which aired on 12th July, and which had nothing to do with either the LGBT issues or the Munich Debates, Mir spins the issue out of thin air and makes it a bone of contention that such debates on Gays and Lesbians are taking place right under the nose of Federal government and how they are unlawful, to which in reply Ansar Abbasi not only accused the private school institutions of taking money from US Embassy but also suggested a solution that only a true Pakistani man of the Right can come up with: shut down such schools. This is the level of intellect of those advocating against any decent and eye opening debate on socio-culturally sensitive and/or controversial issues. One is then bound to ask, have all these Ahmad Noorani(s), Umar Cheem(a), Ansar Abbasi(s) and Hamid Mir(s) ever sat in a decent debate on controversial and dividing issues such as LGBT Rights, let alone engaged in one?

There is absolutely no excuse for curbing intellectual development of our people, especially the young, if we are to progress beyond the mere rhetoric of change. It is not the first time self-appointed guardians of morality have tried to do it, and it is certainly not the last. If anything it is becoming more and more of a harsher reality and so let us be afraid were these hooligans of moral self righteousness to go on without any opposition, our future generations may never forgive us for precisely that crime: silence

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* Sometime back the English daily had the audacity to publish a rather blatant and homophobic piece a certain Dr Abrar Umar blaming homosexuals for the epidemic of HIV/AIDS. That a doctor was such a moron is incredulous. But that reputed English daily served as a platform for his homophobic rants, neither backed by science nor reason, was outrageous. Of course the news took down the story after a rather upfront, challenging and well thought out article by Rabayl Manzoor Memon appeared on Express Tribune blog taking the The News and Dr Umar to task.

Our Inane Leader (Thoughts on Imran Khan’s NDTV Interview)

Standard

 

(Simultaneously published at Pak Tea House)

 

One of the rallying points in favor of the rise of Pakistani politician Imran Khan, apart from the utter disillusionment of the masses and corruption of both the major and leading parties, has been his charismatic personality. But Khan’s recent interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, seemed to have lost that element and for once laid bare the stark contradictions between his own statements showing his inanity.

Imran Khan: Hope for Some, Good-For-Nothing Rhetoric for Others

For example, Khan believes, to quote him, ‘the age of martial law is over… Whatever happens I don’t see military takeover.’ Yes, Mr Khan it is. But the ‘military Raj’ has not ended, it has found new ways to penetrate back into the Pakistani society. To believe that military makes its presence felt only through martial laws and coups is naïve. Furthermore according to Khan the parliament may be sovereign but the ‘constitution is supreme’. No doubt that constitution must be upheld at all times and given utmost respect. But if the constitution is supreme and not the parliament, what about the fact that the parliament can amend the constitution? Would that not be against the supremacy of constitution? If not, then would that not make parliament supreme and not constitution?

Khan has a problem with stereotyping but would not hesitate to label Pakistani liberals across the board as drone loving ‘fascists’, or ‘scum of Pakistan’ against the interests of Pakistan. One is but bound to wonder the expression Shirin Mazari and Yasir Lateef Hamdani must be wearing while the great Kaptaan uttered the words. Ironically he uses the typical image of a liberal woman in Pakistan, wearing jeans, to show how his jalsas had garnered the presence of Pakistani people across the board from all sections of society.

The inspirational philanthropist and cricket legend deems the corruption of PPP and PLMN so despicable, and perhaps rightly so, that he would not join hands with them. Not until they declare their assets. According to him once they honestly do so, they would lose out in the game even before he accepts or rejects partnership with them since they are corrupt and an impartial Election Commission of Pakistan would preclude them from running.

However Khan seems to have made corruption the only criteria, or so it seems. That may not be wrong. But one is to ask some questions on that account. He may have problem shaking hands with PPP and PMLN but is alright having representative from his party, Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaaf, attend Defaye Pakistan Rally holding hands with the religious zealots such as notorious Hafiz Sayeed, whose inflammatory speeches the talk show host Barkha Dutt raised issue about. Khan failed to answer adequately why he would send PTI representatives to Saeed, save the explanation that one needs to reconcile the polarized sections of society than to marginalize themg. But not marginalizing the voices of the likes of Hafeez Saeed would in turn mean silencing the voice of progressive Pakistanis, and sanity. Is that really the price Mr Khan is ready to pay in hope that Hafeez Saeed and company might have a change of heart given their status quo depending on blind Islamic nationalism? How mature of Khan to believe that people like Saeed once brought to table may leave aside their fundamentalist demand for further rigid application of Shari’ah laws. It is true that the strategy would most probably work for the low levels of such fundamentalist movements, where the support and muscles are derived from the poverty stricken sections of society but let us not forget the strategy would most probably fail for the higher cadre of these movements where more than poverty it is power status quo and rigidly jihadi mindset at work. How can you reconcile them, without compromising on fundamental principles of democratic and open societies in 21st century, is my question.

One may deem it easier to imagine that if given a chance to reconcile and leave their old ways, PPP and PMLN, including notorious Zardari may turn all saints and leave corruption. On what grounds is it exactly that a misogynistic, anti-religious minority party with no sense of what the demands of a 21st century open and democratic Muslim society are, is to be given leverage over corrupt albeit progressive and secular parties. The point is not to defend any party in particular but to raise a serious question regarding the future prospective partnerships between PTI and others. While Khan is not ready to work in alliance with liberal ‘fascists’ (read: drone loving liberals), he is fine having talks and attending rallies with Islamist fascists.

For many perhaps such questions may sound moronic. Are not PPP or PMLN guilty of such crimes, leave alone almost all the so called secular parties in Pakistan? Correct. But not in the way Khan and company does it. If it was a political alliance only, we could have justified it in the name of real politik. But the darling takes it a step further and repletes his speeches, interviews and even on stage actions with ‘I Used To Be A Playboy But Now Am A Humble Sinner’ statements, while openly promising us a religious freedoms and rights in an ‘Islamic welfare state’. We know how well that promise works, in an Islamized society. Also, not only freedoms and rights Mr Khan but religious equality should be the goal of any man seeking to change the ‘status quo’ to quote you favorite word.

But how would Khan be able to change status quo when he is not ready to take on the Military/Mullah axis in Pakistan? Do the problems of Pakistan begin and end with PPP and PMLN? Surely corruption by political parties is a serious crime but one ought to ask are these parties and their corruption the disease themselves or mere symptoms of a much more serious issue lying underneath? If Khan wish to change status quo in Pakistan he would have to be a bit more courageous and call spade a spade. It comes with a price of course. But wait! Was he not the one promising us unprecedented change and the one Pakistani society deems to be an honest and upright man of principles? After all according to Khan “Religion liberates you from fear; fear of being killed.”

During the interview Khan somewhat admitted he thinks it dangerous to discuss the whole blasphemy law controversy. His solution to the problem? Reconcile the polarized society by eradicating poverty (and of course drone attacks). But is it that simple? To deal with the controversy of the misuse of blasphemy laws we would always need an unpopular iron fist move. Is Khan ready to speak up for real change? Nobody wants to end up dead but nobody should be allowed to give such reductionist explanations, making him seem like a simpleton and misleading people.

Khan speaks of revolution but why is it that there is little attention paid by him to the issue of Balochistan and how military is using its might? Why is it that he is silent on the persecution of religious minorities, especially Ahmadiyyah and Hindu community? Similarly if Khan believes, as he stated elsewhere, that ‘any law that discriminates between human beings is unjust’ and if one is to believe ,as he puts it, ‘Tehreek-I-Insaaf stands for justice’ why is it that Khan has not talked about the unjust religious laws against religious minorities in Pakistan, in the face of their ever more increasing persecution day in and day out, save the same old mantra by almost all of the political class in Pakistan stating under their rule religious minorities would enjoy liberties and freedoms? But by playing his Islamic cards he is doing exactly the opposite. His explanation that Allah is Rabb-Ul-Aalaameen (Lord of the Worlds) and not Rabba-Ul-Muslimeen (Lord Of Muslims) sounds just in an idealized Islamic state. But the fact is Khan is more than sixty now and would soon be with his Rabb-Ul-Aalaameen. What about then? Would the next leadership of PTI show the same reformed mindset while pandering to the Islamic voters on the party lines set down by Khan? That is the reason a clear cut party line for PTI must be set out now, a party line which is all-inclusive, a secular one. If Imran Khan has reached such an enlightened understanding of Islam ( “In my opinion someone who is religious, who is spiritual is going to be compassionate, leftist,” he says while his party’s Ijaz Chaudhry along with religious parties declare al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden the ‘martyr of Islam’ at the Istehkaam-e-Pakistan Caravan on The Mall in Lahore), it does not mean every PTI voter would think like him nor would be watching every interview of his explaining his understanding of Islam. For voters, the Islamic symbols that adorn Khan’s speeches may well represent a common understanding of ‘Muslim identity’, and thus add to the present status quo’s power Khan would like to deconstruct, without an intellectual exercise to comprehend the real meaning behind Khan’s usage of them. That is the reason playing with religious politics, even with a reformed mindset, is a dangerous deed. That should answer Khan’s question to Dutt, “Am I not respecting the sentiments of my own people?” when asked about his praying on stage in front of 100,000 people.

Khan goes on to tell Dutt how “if I was not spiritual I would not have been in politics” and “if I did not have faith in God I would not have been in politics”. Good Mr Khan. Now stop shoving your spirituality down our throats. Pakistan has religious minorities, and nonreligious minorities, apart from Liberal and Secular Muslims. Do you not count them in when you tell Ms Dutt that PTI “is a party that hopes to get all the country on the platform”?

In 2002 when he was elected into the parliament as the sole spokesman from PTI, Imran Khan aligned with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and criticized the idea of madrassah reforms as well as the mixed sex races being held. Can we be sure now that he has support even from the moderates Khan will shake off the earlier influence of MMA? To convince his critics just as he has conceded his wrong by once supporting Musharraf, he ought to concede publicly being wrong on this note as well. Above all he ought to admit how wrong he was in his reservations on the Women’s Protection Bill in 2006. If he did have the problem with bill and not the freedoms and rights of women it was seeking, Khan could have proposed amendment(s). But he did not. Unless he does so his saying to Ms Dutt that “youth and women are always in the forefront of the change” is futile and contradictory to his actions for he would have failed to protect the very harbingers of change he is counting his support and hopes from a change on.

What then is the alternative seems to be the favorite question of PTI supporters. You, one should tell them. Supporting Imran Khan does not and should not mean pinning down all on him. Your vote does not mean you have lived off your responsibilities as a citizen. It is time that PTI youth should start asking Khan critical question and form a pressure group within party to pressurize him into not only fulfilling his commitment but to move beyond rhetoric and contradictory statements. Today Imran Khan may be Pakistan’s symbol of hope, but the real force is the support behind the symbol. Liberals (if they have any shame and self-respect they should have left the party by now) and Moderates within the party must pressurize PTI to bring itself in line with common sense. Or else, if what we are seeing is the coming of a revolution, a tsunami, we better cross our fingers and hope it dies out soon.