“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
* 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.