Respected Ms. Marvi Sirmed,
Let me start this letter by applauding your courage to stand up and defend your beliefs in the face of bullying bigots pervading the talk show scene of Pakistani television channels and discussing issues of importance that are often swept under the carpet, the pretext being issues such as nudity, gay rights and secularism being irrelevant to a country where people are struggling to survive on the daily basis or them being Western imports. How very convenient, is it not,to denounce the logical extensions leading from our cherished deals of humanity and democracy, albeit unacceptble to guardians of honor and shame, under the subterfuge of real politik and realistic grounds.
But what is repugnant is not how guardians of tradition and self proclaimed saviors of faith have no sense of a reasonable dialogue but the way they have taken to pose threats to lives of Pakistani journalists. It is preposterous that certain people should be condemned to death for voicing their peaceful protests in favor of need for reason, sanity and humanity to prevail in a country where ‘holier than thou’ mentality has seeped in,while certain others share fair amount of on air time to spew hatred against religious and sexual minorities, wihout being held accountble for the damage their hate filled speeches might do to members of the concerned communities being targeted. It becomes all the more of a worrying factor in a ‘post-Salmaan Taseer’ Pakistan where everyone of us deems it his responsibility to save Islamic order from alleged youth corrupting western intoxicated agents on the pay rolls of foreign governments and agencies, the allegations being mere delusional with out evidence, of course.
But you are not alone Ms. Sirmed. Given the fact that Pakistan rates as the worst country for journalists, I’d say you, along with Mr.Hamid Mir and Mr.Najam Sethi, are in a good company(in fact Mr. Sethi’s recent discussion of threats from state and non-state actors was alaming). However the fact remains that this nation can not afford to lose yet another Saleem Shehzad.
We have sacrificed far too many lives for a ‘free’ Pakistan to end up as a sham democracy where, as you stated in your note on Let Us Build Pakistan blog, instead of taking any action to protect you, an eminent Punjabi politician calls up your father and informs the old man how a militant group has decided to ‘eliminate’ you. So much for democracy.
What is outrageous is the way your family is having to deal with the situation. Being stopped by self righteous individuals on streets to be told how one ought to be ashamed of raising a daughter who defends immorality is enough to put one under extreme mental duress. Even more so for a man of seventy. How can one blame your family for publicly disowning you, no matter how heart wrenching it was.
I can relate to your concerns for your family. Often there are times when I think twice before voicing my opinion, my birth right to protest against what I deem unjust. Not because I am concerned about my well being for the day I chose to take a firm stance, I picked up the other end of the stick as well, knowing full well the repercussions of honesty in a country like Pakistan.
But Ms.Sirmed this is not only about you, Mr. Sethi or Mr. Mir. It is about the basic freedom of free expression no matter how much we disagree with one another. About facing the discriminatory world and defending what is just and humane. About fighting ‘hate speech’, which our ‘free’ media and nascent democracy has still not been able to demarcate from ‘freedom of expression’. About the troubles that we have to face, that we must ensure are not there for our children so that they can reach their optimum potential and work for the betterment of the world instead of trying to figure out the next best survival tactic. It is against the message of the moral police, the ghairat brigade,if you may, to the youth of Pakistan. A message of subjugation, hate and fear. And thus the need to take a stand.
Let me clearly state that I have disagreements with you. And you may not subscribe to my opinions, ideals and thoughts. But that is the beauty of democratic ideals. We all hold some small part of the objective reality and it is only through reason and dialogues and constructive criticisms that at the end of the day we may still be having a peripheral vision of truth, goodness and reality, but we are still somewhat more closer to them than before.
But alas, how difficult it is to explain it to the defenders of faithful bigotry. You are right to argue that these hooligans know nothing of the humane underlying principles of Islam, and in fact of any religion in the world. For understanding the verses they so often quote in the socio-historical context would be a direct blow to their political ambitions and power dominations. It is to save Pakistan from such sub-humans that we must continue speaking for what is humane, regardless of our differences.
It is a fight not only for Pakistani Liberals but every sane Pakistani out there whether conservative or secularist as the threat looms over the head of us all by letting militant organizations and terrorist student wings of political parties operate effectively while the politicians pander to the voters on the ‘democracy is the best revenge’ and anti corruption slogans and the religious ulema decry the discrimination faced b Muslims by being tagged as terrorists who can not be integrated into open and democratic non-Muslim societies, arguing for the compatibility of Islam and democratic principles.
Why should Muslims , and this case Pakistani ones, not be tagged as terrorists and religiously motivated self righteous thugs, Ms.Sirmed, if it is them posing death threats with the most spiteful and vilest language one could imagine to anyone breaking the spell of bad traditions and misuse of religion’s name and rule f the deep state? Is it not the Muslim world which is boiling with anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and racism? Of course this is not a letter in defense of the likes of Pamela Gellar whose bread and butter depends on spewing hate against and fears of Muslims. But these are some thoughts worth pondering over. If Muslims, in general, and Pakistanis, in particular, all over the world wish to change the perception regarding their communities, they must speak out and walk the walk, instead of empty talks, including the so called ‘moderate’ elements within the societies. No 21st century open, humane and democratic state ought to allow violation of its citizen’s rights to life, security, free expression et al.