Thursday, January 27, 2011

Line of the Day

From an oped about the treatment meted out to Veena Malik on Kamran Shahid's tabloidy Front Line programme on Express, titled "Our Obsession With the Inane" by Kamila Hyat in The News today:

"Of course a Pakistani man cavorting with a Hindu man would not have raised so much as an eyebrow."

If for some reason, you wonder what we're getting at, read the line again. For all we know, this may not be a typo and she may have a point...

Have been meaning to do a post on this whole issue but have been truly busy and fear it may already be too late. Meanwhile, DJ Shahrukh has come up with probably the best summarization of the saga and definitely the funniest:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Chastisement of Meher Bokhari

If you had any doubts about what Meher Bokhari, the recently removed host of Samaa's Newsbeat programme, is going through these days, here's an inkling. She turned up, unexpectedly, on Aaj TV's Bolta Pakistan, whose current hosts Orya Maqbool Jan and Salim Bokhari - frequent participants on her programme - probably felt sympathy for her and decided to return her favours to them. Inevitably, there was much discussion of Meher Bokhari's own predicament and, also inevitably, her (and the duo's) barely suppressed bitterness about criticism of them kept creeping out. Have a look.

Part 1: See in particular from 02:12... where Salim Bokhari claims an American plot to divide the media and society by labeling people (as right-wing and liberal), Orya Maqbool moans about Twitter and Facebook being used to defame people unlike in Tunisia, and Meher speaks in general terms about the dangerous polarization of society through labeling, the contradictions and rigidity of "the liberal class" (04:25 on). Then Orya moans about the anti-religiousness of "the secular class" but also to his credit brings up the sensationalism of the media as a factor in the polarization. Meher then leads into a refreshingly subdued assessment of the media's own immaturity and irresponsibility before her upset at her own situation creeps out (till about 09:45). If you have the patience, you can also check out Meher finally bringing out the "liberal fascist" tag (at round 12:30 onwards) and complaining of people saying she has a paet mein daarrhi.

Part 2: See in particular from 08:10 onwards... where Meher Bokhari finally refers to the Salmaan Taseer episode, where Orya Maqbool and Salim Bokhari make fun of her being called "a fundo", Meher whines about "religious" becoming a term of abuse (10:03) and all three speak about the "campaigns" against innocents such as them.

Part 3: A short one... where Meher Bokhari lets us know exactly how she was probably arraigned by Samaa CEO Zafar Siddiqui...after 1:45 Orya Maqbool and Salim Bokhari once again get on their favourite horse of how the US has it in for Muslims worldwide to boost its arms industry.

Well, we do learn one thing above all from this programme: that despite their pretense of ignoring all critique, concerted criticism does, in fact, bite our media personalities. At the very least, their egos - remember that they would like to believe they are loved by all - do take a battering. We also learn that in their quieter moments, they can also reflect on their own roles somewhat critically. Now only if they could leave their egos and bitterness aside and stay in their quieter, reflective moments more often.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rumours and Shakers (Updated)

First of all, on behalf of all of us, I wish to offer an apology for the lack of updates in the last 10 days. Call it a combination of too much other work and involvement in matters urgent, laziness and emotional fatigue. Sometimes we too need to take time off from blogging. Inevitably, some readers have written in to ask why he haven't 'covered' such and such, or made innuendos about our 'political' reasons for not writing about certain issues. There's nothing we can do as far as politically motivated innuendos are concerned but once more we'd like to point out that Cafe Pyala is not meant to be a newspaper or a news channel: we don't necessarily 'cover' everything, nor do we have the resources to do so. And more often than not, our reasons for blogging about something have to do with saying something that is not already being said in the mainstream media or by other bloggers, or to bring more attention to something that we feel is not receiving its due attention.

 Wali Khan Babar

As far as the assassination of young Geo journalist Wali Khan Babar in Karachi is concerned, we too feel we have lost a very bright and upright colleague and a warm-hearted human being. And we deeply mourn his death. However, unlike some, we do not feel we have unambiguous knowledge about who assassinated him and so refuse to be drawn into a blame game based on pure speculation. All we can say is that journalism has become a much more dangerous profession in this country in the wake of his murder.

In any case, there have been a number of developments and potential developments in the media that have piled up in our absence, which we should probably put on record. Some of these we have dealt with on Twitter though not in any great detail.

Permanently paused: Minhas and Javed on Dunya

Thanks to our trusty informers, we were made aware of Nusrat Javed and Mushtaq Minhas having resigned from Dunya long before their Dunya Meray Aagay programme suddenly went off air though we could not get confirmations immediately. What is still not clear however is what the reasons were for the falling out. Dunya sources claim that their programme never achieved the kind of ratings the channel had hoped for when they got the two to leave Aaj and come on board. I have to say that Mushtaq Minhas' buffoonish right wing presence on that programme never endeared me to the format even when the team was at Aaj. However, with the almost parallel departure of Najam Sethi from Dunya for Geo (his new programme airs from January 31 in the 11pm slot), it seems like a strange time for Dunya to get rid of any of its mainstay programming.

Meanwhile, JournalismPakistan reports that Nusrat Javed and Mushtaq Minhas are now officially back at Aaj TV, with Javed also assuming the post of Director News and Current Affairs. What this means for the disastrous duo of Salim Bokhari and Orya Maqbool Jan - who took over the reins of Bolta Pakistan when Javed and Minhas left and competed with each other over who could be more obnoxiously right-wing - is still not clear.

Mubashir Lucman: rudest talk show host

There are also rumours - completely unconfirmed - that Dunya's Director News Naseem Zehra is also in talks to move to Pakistan Television (which is trying desperately to induct fresh blood into its news programming) and that Moeed Pirzada has also received offers to move to Express. Zehra has frequently expressed her frustration with the ratings game, pointing out that there is an inclination from channels to prefer the sensational but frivolous over serious issues. Meanwhile, for its part, Dunya has managed to lure Mubashir Lucman from Express TV. Lucman is known as the brashest talk show anchor though, it must be said, he does not combine his rudeness to guests with a lack of all sense that some others exhibit.

There are also persistent rumours that Hamid Mir has been in talks with Dunya to move from Geo, though Mir himself has refused to confirm them. Geo insiders say that part of Mir's discomfort with Geo is the pressure on him because of his own show Capital Talk's falling cache and the arrival on the Geo platform of Najam Sethi, who Mir has been publicly outspoken against. One staffer who works with Mir did confirm that Mir had thrown hints about moving a couple of weeks ago but, given the jockeying for better salary packages that media stars often indulge in, his move from Geo is by no means certain. Mir's eulogy to Salmaan Taseer (which is inevitably more about himself than Taseer) might also indicate that he is trying to reconcile himself to a changing Jang Group ideology. (As an aside, the Jang Group actually sacked the sub-editor who had mistranslated Shehrbano Taseer's New York Times article about her father into Urdu, leading to mullahs baying for her head.) Most seasoned media professionals do not believe Mir will actually make the move away from the top-rated Geo.

Meher Bokhari: raising the volume

Meanwhile there is also unverified information that Meher Bokhari may soon be leaving Samaa for Express, where she has been offered a hefty raise. In fact, credible sources claim that Samaa management may preempt her resignation by actually giving her the boot, as early as tomorrow. It should be remembered that Bokhari's Newsbeat programme has also suffered from lacklustre ratings, despite the hosts attempts to shout her way to higher viewership and sensationalize issues such as Salmaan Taseer's stand against the retrograde blasphemy laws. Despite its prime time slot, Newsbeat has been languishing in third position for its slot and has far fewer viewers than even Samaa's 10pm slot (hosted by veteran shouter Jasmine Manzur).

Things are also not looking good for Syed Talat Hussain over at DawnNews. His new show seems not to have made a dent in the ratings for the channel. Dawn News also recently lost its recently signed morning show host Juggun Kazim, when the latter was lured away by Express within three weeks.

What DawnNews' mornings now look like

In other news, daily Aaj Kal and Business Plus - The Daily Times' sister Urdu paper and television channel - have sacked some 240 staffers, including the editor of Aaj Kal, Khalid Chaudhry, who was considered close to the recently deceased owner Salmaan Taseer. This is the first big move within the group after the death of Taseer and the taking over of the reins of the Media Times group by his wife Aamna Taseer. According to JournalismPakistan's sources, 150 staffers have been laid off from Karachi, 43 from Lahore and another 40 from Islamabad. Aaj Kal had been struggling since its launch in 2007 - some claim it was the cause of the whole media group struggling - and from the looks of it, the Taseers have decided to shut down the paper altogether.

Into this fairly dismal media scenario has stepped yet another daily paper, Islamabad Dateline, which promises to "own" Islamabad and become the city's must-read newspaper. Edited by Kamran Rehmat, former acting editor in Islamabad of The News, and published by veteran journo Mustansar Javed, the paper has a tough task ahead with the glut of already existing English newspapers (remember Pakistan Today launched only a few weeks ago as well) and the overall difficult business environment.

: : : UPDATES : : : 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011:

So, as predicted by our sources, Meher Bokhari was indeed sacked removed from on-air presence on Samaa TV on Monday, although she is apparently going round claiming she is on leave. Her former show, Newsbeat, was hosted by sister channel CNBC's Farieha Idrees on Monday.

A glut of rumours have done the rounds regarding the exact reasons for her removal, including claims that Samaa was forced to fire her because of threats of being shut down by PEMRA if she were not. We have been able to confirm that no such notices or threats were issued to Samaa. A major factor in her sacking removal (at least officially), it now seems, was that Samaa TV's owner, Zafar Siddiqui, finally took notice of her shenanigans with respect to the Salmaan Taseer issue and her flouting of PEMRA's general guidelines against the glorification of terrorists and criminals such as Mumtaz Qadri. In particular, her programme after Taseer's murder, where she provocatively posed the question whether Qadri was a terrorist or a hero, and gave equal space (often without critical intervention) to those glorifying the murderer, seems to have become her downfall. It should also be remembered that Chartered Accountant Zafar Siddiqui began his career in Taseer's firm.

Where Ms Bokhari next turns up still remains to be seen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011:

As also pointed out by one reader anchor2010, Samaa TV has officially denied last night that Meher Bokhari has been sacked. According to a brief statement on its website:

" per normal practice of other Current Affairs Anchors, Meher Bokhari has gone on leave from Monday, the 24th of Jan, 2011."

We have made the requisite corrections in the previous update. However, there should be little doubt that this is at least a case of enforced leave. We are not sure whether this is merely a face-saver for Ms. Bokhari. Note also that the statement does not specify how long a leave this is. The only question is whether Ms. Bokhari will actually return to Samaa in the future or find another employer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

List Please

Ansar Abbasi triumphantly points out on the front page of The News today that what is "generally ignored in the ongoing discussions in the media" is that the mandatory death punishment for blasphemy "applies to all the prophets" as per the 1991 ruling of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC). He writes:

"The selected portions of the FSC judgment are: "It is also to be noted that Allah Almighty creates no distinction or inequality in the status of the Prophets though. He did bestow on some of them more gifts than others." While quoting different verses of the Holy Quran, the judgment said, "Practically, all the jurisconsults and scholars agreed that in view of the above verses and the equal status of all the Prophets as such, the penalty of death as determined above shall apply, in case any one utters contemptuous remarks or offers insult, in any way, to any one of them.""

Explaining how the FSC judgement becomes the law de facto, he says:

"Ismail Qureshi, senior advocate of the Supreme Court, religious scholar and the man who fought a long legal battle to get death sentence for blasphemers in the Pakistani statute, told The News that the Federal Shariat Court's decision got finality after the then government had withdrawn its appeal from the Supreme Court. In talk shows and discussions even some prominent lawyers were heard saying that the Section 295-C is flawed as it does not cover all the prophets. Qureshi explained that after the FSC's judgment, the Section 295-C would be read in the light of the Shariat Court's decision. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice (retd) Saeeduzzaman Siddiqi, when approached, endorsed Qureshi's viewpoint and said that after a superior court's ruling gets finality, it becomes law no matter whether the concerned law is amended by the government or not."

Forget for a moment that this is Mr Abbasi's version of justice: in effect, his argument - like that of many other  blinkered defenders of the warped laws - is that those campaigning against them, which includes scholars of Islam, are mistaken because they are allegedly non-discriminatory. (Incidentally, typically, Abbasi picks on the argument of one marginal group of people who do not even represent the view of most of those who hold these man-made laws problematic. Nevertheless, if there were ever a decree to put to death all those with beards, I assume Abbasi would also defend it as non-discriminatory and commit hara-kiri.)

But I want to go on a different tangent.

Now, the Holy Quran actually names only 25 prophets. But it also says in Surah-e-Nahl that Divine Messengers were sent to every community (through history) and Allah also points out in Surah-e-Nisa:

“We have told you the story of some Messengers and of others We have not …”

So the Quran never tells us the exact numbers. However, according to Hadith No. 21257 from Musnad Ibn-e-Hanbal, the number of prophets is 124,000. Some scholars contest the veracity of this particular saying of the Prophet. Ibn-e-Saad claims the number is actually 1,000 while others say the number of prophets is as high as 224,000.

What I would like Abbasi and others of his ilk (including the mullahs of the FSC) to do is to provide us a verified list of ALL the prophets covered by this 'law', preferably all possible 224,000, but even 1,000 will do. Because, you know, we don't want to even inadvertently blaspheme against any of them by throwing someone's business card into the waste-paper basket.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Fight To Define the Debate

Ab roshni hoti hai ke ghar jalta hai dekhain
Shola sa tawaaf-e-dar-o-deewaar karay hai
- Mir Taqi Mir

[Will it lead to light or the house burning down, we'll have to see
A spark of sorts is circling the walls of our home]

Some people still don't get it. They don't understand why people like us have been so incensed over the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and the deplorable shenanigans that have followed it from those who have felt no shame and have in fact celebrated it and from those who have not come forward to condemn it in the strongest terms. They question why we are insistent on turning a worldly politician into a saint (we aren't) or why Taseer's death has taken precedence over all the other killings taking place in Pakistan (I will explain this). I read recently some comments on the journalists' mailing group PressPakistan where the convenient and insufferably lazy bogey of 'extremists on both sides' has been trotted out to explain demented murderers like the murtid Mumtaz Qadri on the one hand and 'blogs like Cafe Pyala' on the other which have used words to condemn him and his fanatical ilk. Thanks to petty idiots like Hamid Mir and Ansar Abbasi, the term ""liberal fascist" has become part of the lexicon of the average Pakistani commenter who understands neither liberalism nor fascism. Not that Mir or Abbasi understand either, either.

Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about people who were born without any brains or those who chose not to use them. But what people who genuinely don't understand, don't understand is that far more than the murder of one man, Taseer's killing and its glorification by the thekedaars of religion represents the breaking point for a lot of decent people. It represents a challenge to the very idea of a civilized Pakistan, it represents a challenge to the already small space occupied by rationality and logic and tolerance in this country. Those who raise their voices, raise their voices in order not to cede even this space to the madmen. They can either raise their voices now or forever hold their peace. They can either fight or submit to being swamped.

This is perhaps the only silver lining in this shameful episode, that it is forcing people to get off their intellectual (and safe) fences and exposing which side they stand on. And in that it is laying bare the real fight for the soul of Pakistan. Remarkably a fight it is becoming, despite the apparently skewed numbers, despite the mullah brigade's desperate attempts to tamp down the debate. The munafiq-e-deen (hypocrites of religion) may bring out twenty or thirty or forty thousand ill-informed fanatics on to the streets to cow down everyone but it irks them greatly that it still does not stop people from saying what they feel and exposing these thekedaars' hypocrisies, because they know that they cannot win on logic or intellect.

Abbas Athar: standing up and being counted

What is even more fascinating is that this fight is now being played out in the full glare of the media, which itself has become swept up in it. There has been plenty of internal debate and finger-pointing within the media about how this issue has been handled or mishandled. Today there was also news that both Samaa TV and Waqt TV had been fined one million rupees each by the regulatory body PEMRA for broadcasting interviews with Qadri (finally! some backbone from PEMRA). There have been some rather bold op-eds recently by people who have stood up to be counted (and one must give due credit here to the Express Group and its chief editor Abbas Athar who have been far braver and clearer about the stakes than any other media group or editor). But today I want to share two instances of the debate which are from the opposite extremes in that one is raising a questioning voice while the other is attempting to stifle all discussion.

First up are some translated excerpts from journalist Rauf Klasra, writing an op-ed in the Urdu daily Express on the 9th of January. Now, I have to say that I find the venom he directs at Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani a bit startling and curious given how close he was rumoured to be to the man but, in all honesty, I cannot say I fault his logic.

“The Tale of A Nation Destroyed by Ifs and Buts”
 By Rauf Klasra

"In front of me is Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s most widely read English newspaper. The weakness, hypocrisy and expediency the Pakistani media and more than anyone else the parliament and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government has shown, are sins the Saudi paper has tried to do penance for. The day after Salmaan Taseer’s murder, the paper wrote in its editorial that he was without doubt a shaheed [martyr] who became the victim of the bullets of those religious fanatics who wrongly believe that he perhaps wanted to end the Tauheen-e-Risalat [anti-blasphemy] laws. According to this newspaper, an extremely cruel murderer killed him [Taseer] at the behest of some satanic forces. The paper writes that Salmaan Taseer was a true Muslim and those who killed him and celebrated his death committed an act that is not liked [by God]. According to Arab News, Salmaan Taseer was a brave Muslim who was fighting for truth and justice. The paper has called on the Pakistani nation and its leaders to stand steadfastly against such forces that are fast pushing Pakistan and Islam into darkness. In the paper’s views, real Islam is for justice, truth and respect for humanity.

Saudi Arabia’s prominent newspaper called Salmaan Taseer a shaheed at a time when, besides the immensely respected journalists and columnists Abbas Athar and Najam Sethi, nobody dared refer to the Governor Punjab as a shaheed on the first day. Let alone others, even Yousuf Raza GIlani’s weak and hypocritical government reversed the appellation it gave him on PTV [Pakistan Television] after two hours. The reason given was that someone had called and threatened PTV. So in the face of one threat, the entire state fell to its knees. The editorial in the Saudi newspaper has been printed at a time when not one of the 342 members of the National Assembly have yet had the courage to stand up and condemn this murder [on the floor of the house]. Yousuf Raza Gilani stands up in the National Assembly and thinks it important to offer his comments on every random issue, only for the sake of getting himself into print and on television. But he has not yet felt the need to answer why, when he can go to the MQM headquarters Nine Zero to wash the stains of the Haj scandal from his government’s and his children’s faces, he does not have the time to offer a strong response from the state to this cruel murder.


I also well remember the day when, to please the Taliban, the National Assembly was bringing in Nizam-Adl in Malakand Division. The Taliban had threatened that they would themselves deal with anyone who opposed this bill. I saw with my own eyes the atmosphere of terror that pervaded the National Assembly and how all the members of the Assembly stood in line to sell the State and its people to the Taliban by signing the document. I looked everywhere and saw only one brave MNA [Member of National Assembly], whose name is Ayaz Amir. Ayaz Amir stood up and tried to explain to his deaf and dumb colleagues that the deal would make the Pakistani state weaker rather than stronger, that more blood would flow. Nobody listened to his speech. But a few days later, when the Taliban’s bloodletting increased and the State decided on an [military] operation against them, the same MNAs who that day had been submissive cowards, were making such fiery speeches that I could not believe what revolution had occurred in a week’s time. For the first time in my life I saw cowards becoming courageous, and then again last week I saw them silent in the shadow of fear. When the State and its structure have been badly shaken, our representatives’ silence is taking us further towards the abyss.

Bangladesh has now moved miles ahead of us. But neither has anybody in Pakistan read the historic judgement given by the Bangladesh Supreme Court nor has anyone found the time to discuss it. Under this judgement, religious groups have been banned from taking part in politics, because these groups were bringing religion into disrepute in the name of politics.

At first, after every suicide attack, our television stations would run the Taliban spokesmen’s point of view for hours. The spokesmen would explain in great detail why they had killed women, children and [other] human beings in suicide attacks. The bodies of the 72 poor labourers killed in the Wah Ordnance Factory had not yet been identified when a female anchor took the Taliban spokesman live on air in her programme, and after 20 minutes not only thanked him but even said 'Inshallah we will speak to you in the future too.' The meaning was, 'you continue killing poor people with your bombs, we will continue to run your point of view like this.' The same sort of thing is still going on. In the name of taking a point of view, such words are being aired that one cannot comprehend where this media is taking us and why it has become an enemy of its own society and country. This society is being destroyed in the name of sensationalism and ratings. We certainly cannot blame the Pakistani people for the rising fanaticism because they have never given these religious parties the right to rule over them. The way our media is becoming an agent of extremism, one day this same fanaticism will eat it away like termites eat away wood."

Now keeping in mind what Klasra validly says about the media and the religious fitna parties, have a look at the excerpts from this miserable excuse of a programme, Bolta Pakistan, broadcast on Aaj TV today (Aaj TV having become particularly rabid in recent times). In it the hosts, Salim Bokhari (who looks perpetually like he just sucked on a lemon) and former bureaucrat-turned-pop-historian Orya Maqbool Jan, try their best to glorify the anti-blasphemy law amendments rally held in Karachi on Sunday as some sort of representative voice of the masses, as the shining new hope for toppling the government akin to the PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) movement against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and get their guests to justify Salmaan Taseer's murder. Don't miss the point where Bokhari exclaims (no doubt to please his new masters at The Nation and elsewhere) that he can't figure out how any Muslim could be a liberal...

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

See the difference in the approaches to the question at hand? See the desperation of Bokhari at Nawaz Sharif's refusal to play the game he wanted him to play? See the attempt to shift the debate? At least these two anchor-wankers may have inadvertently stumbled upon / divulged one bit of truth in the midst of their grossly irresponsible and political agenda-driven programme. Remember what was subsequently revealed about the PNA movement, how it had been funded and organized specifically by other forces to topple ZAB?

So this then is the choice. Make yourself heard or let the anchor-wankers define the debate for you.

Friday, January 7, 2011

An Apology

In my last post, I included an alleged fatwa by an alleged mufti Muhammad Idris Usmani associated allegedly with a seminary called Jamia Islamia. The alleged fatwa was sourced from the Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) blog and indicated as such but was reproduced in my post without the qualifiers it should have included.

Some readers correctly raised doubts about the authenticity of the religious opinion, after which we wrote to LUBP asking for the source of their information. A day has passed and we have not heard back from anyone at LUBP. Another reader Samad Khurram has pointed out that the alleged picture of Mufti Idris Usmani (also from LUBP) is actually of Mufti Fuzail-ur-Rahman (Fazl-ur-Rahman?) Hilal Usmani of the Darus Salaam Islamic Centre in Indian Punjab and Darul Uloom Deoband. We have also not been able to identify through our own research where Jamia Islamia is located and the only source for this fatwa seems to be the LUBP blog itself. All of this points to the fact that the so-called fatwa is a fabrication.

While the point of my earlier post stands, and this perhaps indicates how easy it is to manufacture fatwas about anything as well as their worth, there is no doubt that the inclusion of a seemingly fabricated fatwa without the disclaimers that should have been part of the post, is a lapse on our part and damages our credibility. It also detracts from the point of the post itself. And for this we offer unreserved apologies to our readers. Needless to say, we will far more skeptical of LUBP information and will attempt to be much more stringent about attaching disclaimers in the future.

To those readers who were happy to see that at least someone within the clergy was taking an unequivocal stand to condemn those guilty of praising a murderer, equivocating about moral issues and twisting religion to suit their own ends, I apologize for the disappointment. I guess we'll have to wait a little longer for sense to arrive among the mullah brigade.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fatwa Back At You (Corrected)

Further evidence of the depths to which some in Pakistan have sunk. This is a short video of the Murtid Qadri being presented in court yesterday, charged with the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, where he was lauded by some lunatic lawyers, showered with rose petals, garlanded and even kissed. (Link courtesy Shahid Saeed.)

This is an account of his presentation in court today from the Express Tribune, where the lunatics once again greeted him. In addition to the lunatic lawyers, most religious fitna parties have refused to condemn Taseer's murder, with many going out of their way to praise the "valour" of the deranged criminal. They include the so-called "sufism-inspired", "moderate" Barelvi parties (Qadri is from the Barelvi sect) who in fact have been at the forefront of defending the murder.

Many in the media seem also to be hemming and hawing, refusing even to attach the word "shaheed" [martyr] to Taseer (whereas they think nothing of attaching it to people dying in accidents and even the Lal Masjid terrorists), apparently buckling to open threats hurled at media houses and anchors by extremists. The height of hypocrisy has come from anchors and talk-show participants, pretending to treat the issue "objectively" by debating the straw-man polarization of the country into 'left' and 'right' extremists. Actually, as Kaalakawaa has pointed out in his excellent post, all they are doing is equating murder with a voicing of opinion and demonstrating their blinkered cowardice. (There have been a few notable exceptions to the general cowardice on the electronic media in this case and it is only fair to also point these out: Iftikhar Ahmed (Geo's Jawabdeyh host as a panelist on Dunya TV), Kamran Khan (on Geo), Mosharraf Zaidi (as an independent analyst on Dunya), Moeed Pirzada (on Dunya), Najam Sethi (on Dunya), Arshad Sharif (on Dawn News), Rauf Klasra (as a panelist on Dawn News) and Sana Bucha (on Geo) - of the ones I watched - did not try to hedge their bets.)

But perhaps worst of all, most mainstream 'secular' political parties, including the Taseer's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), have been at best mealy-mouthed about their condemnations. In fact, the PPP has shown remarkable pusillanimity and short-sightedness by refusing to take on the issue of religious extremism head-on and instead claiming a political conspiracy behind Taseer's murder, basically attemting point-scoring against the PML(N) Punjab government. The PML(N) government does indeed have a lot to answer for (since Qadri's Elite Force came under its jurisdiction) but surely the greater issue is of the mindset that has been allowed to be cultivated in this country. The party's official stance - as articulated by the closet rightist law minister Babar Awan and the blundering interior minister Rehman Malik (who boasted he would shoot a blasphemer himself as if to prove his piety credentials) - has been nothing short of abominable. This at a time when even conservatives such as Pakistan Muslim League (Q)'s Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain are willing to concede - in the face of growing civil society outrage - that steps do need to be taken to stop the misuse of religion by the lunatics.

The Let Us Build Pakistan blog has published a fatwa (religious decree) by Mufti Idris Usmani against not only Qadri but also those who support him in word or deed. Normally, I would never post a fatwa on here because I believe them to be largely irrelevant to today's world and usually absurd. But as I pointed out in an earlier post, it's about time these lunatics got a taste of their own medicine.

"Shaykh-ul-Islam Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Idris Usmani of Jamia Islamia has issued the following fatwa about the killer of Governor Punjab (Pakistan) Salman Taseer and about those who are praising and justifying his murder.
What do the Ulema say about the murder of Governor of Punjab (Pakistan) Salman Taseer who was killed by his own security guard. The guard claimed that he killed Salman Taseer because he was blasphemous to the Prophet (peace by upon him). However, there is no evidence of Salman Taseer’s blasphemy to the Prophet (pbuh). What do the Ulema say about many people who are praising Salman Taseer’s killer?
“In the Name of the Merciful and Compassionate Allah, Dar al-Fatwa. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe; blessings and peace be upon our Master Muhammad, the Apostle of Allah, and upon his Family, his Companions, his Followers and those who have found the way through him.
I have carefully read the whole issue and also read various news reports and articles related to this (issue). I have also spoken to the jayyad ulema (eminent scholars) in Pakistan and India.
In the light of the available evidence, I state the following:
1. Malik Mumtaz Qadri has committed gunah-e-azeem (great sin) by killing an innocent soul. By taking law into his own hand, by killing an innocent man, and by bringing disgrace to the name of Islam, Malik Mumtaz Qadri has created fasad fil arz (mischief on earth) and committed tauheen-e-risalat (blasphemy to the Prophet). Same applies to those who are creating further mischief (fasad) by praising or justifying this heinous crime in the name of Islam. The killer of Salman Taseer is a real blasphemer to Islam and the holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
2. Those individuals and groups including the ignorant ulema, misguided journalists, politicians, lawyers wa deegar (etc), who are celebrating or justifying in any manner this heinous crime must be treated as accomplice in this crime. Those who endorsed a fatwa of Salman Taseer’s murder too must be treated as mufsid fil arz and must be punished according to the Shariah.
3. While the state of Pakistan will pursue a legal case against the killer and his abettors according to their national laws, the following verses from the Quran clearly specify the punishment for Malik Mumtaz Qadri and his supporters and cheerers.
This is a case of fasad fil arz. The perpetrators of such acts should be punished as provided in Sura Maida of the Quran (Ayah 32 and 33).
32. We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person―unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land― it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our Messengers with clear Signs, yet even after that many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.
33. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.
According to Islamic Shariah, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, any one supporting or praising his act must be executed by law or crucified or their hands and feet cut off from opposite side. Exile is not needed in the present case as the State can exercise Shariah authority on its citizens and subjects.
Those who are praising a killer and a mufsid want to go to Hell of their own accord.
For others, we can only pray for their path of righteousness.
In the light of religious commands, in the light of religious rules known to us, I think that these people should renew their faith and renew their marriages. But no one can remove anyone’s obstinacy. I pray to Allah to enable all Muslims, through His Prophet, pbuh, to be steadfast to His religion, Islam. Ameen!
Muhammad Idris , Mufti, Darul Ifta, Jamia Islamia
29 Muharram-ul-Haram 1432 AH"

There's also a list of people on the LUBP blog of who they think fall under the ambit of this fatwa.

Here's an idea. Register blasphemy cases against all these fitna leaders and lawyers. Clog up the courts with blasphemy cases and let's see how the pious Federal Shariat Court and the enlightened Supreme Court deal with it.


We have been made aware that the above mentioned alleged fatwa posted on the LUBP blog is fake. And while I personally may still subscribe to the notion that religious lunatics need to be dealt with strongly, as a blog we cannot allow fabricated propaganda to damage our credibility. We really should have been more skeptical of the source and while we did link to the original, we should have qualified ourselves better. The inclusion of the made-up fatwa also marginalizes the rest of the post, by which we stand. Apologies to all our readers. A separate clarification will also be posted. Needless to say, we will look upon any future information posted by the LUBP blog with a far more skeptical eye.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Real Blasphemers

"Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye shaulon ka dar nahin
Mujhe khauf aatish-e-gul se hai, ye kaheen chaman ko jala ne de"
[My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without
I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down] 
— Shakeel Badayuni couplet referenced by Salmaan Taseer on Twitter, 8 hours before his assassination 

I had been hoping that I could post something light-hearted, more entertaining at the start to the new year, but today's Pakistan it seems is not the place for these sort of things any more. Four days into January and we already have yet another tragedy that has evoked not only pain and sadness but also immense amounts of disgust at the depths to which we, the unfortunate inhabitants of this blighted country, have sunk.

Assassinated Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer: last man standing (Photo: APP/Dawn)

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer's brutal and senseless murder in Islamabad today (Tuesday) is not only an intensely heavy blow for his family and friends - to whom our thoughts go out to - but also to the hopes for a saner public discourse about issues that certain people endeavour to keep out of the conversation altogether. He often said things that many think but are unwilling to say in public out of fear or aversion to stoking argument. Whatever anyone may have thought about Taseer's personal life (not that it's any of anyone's concern) or his business practices, there is absolutely no doubt that he was a brave and outspoken man who did not compromise his personal beliefs for the sake of cowardly politics. Along with barely a couple of other politicians on the national level (Sherry Rehman being one), his was a rare voice that was willing to take on the rightist mullah mindset in the public domain.

And contrary to what his detractors claimed, he did so with full awareness of the moral responsibilities of a public figure. In a recent interview, he was asked why he chose to raise the issue of the unjust blasphemy laws when he knew that he would receive brickbats from the rightist parties and become the target of the extremists. He replied: "Because if even I don't, how will others get over their fears?" On December 31, he tweeted:

"I was under huge pressure sure 2 cow down b4 rightest pressure on blasphemy.Refused. Even if I'm the last man standing"

In Salmaan Taseer's untimely death we have all lost a truly courageous individual. Those within his party who opposed his just stand on the abhorrent misuse of blasphemy laws, moral pygmies such as Babar Awan, should hang their heads in shame.

The face of fanaticism: Malik Mumtaz Qadri (Photo: Reuters)

At the same time, one must also feel disgust at those who have either valourized Taseer's self-confessed lunatic murderer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, or used their weasely arguments to somehow try and justify the outrage. So-called-intellectuals like Irfan Siddiqui and bigots like Jamaat-e-Islami's oily Fareed Paracha and the ever-slimy Ansar Abbasi tried their best to claim (on Geo) that Taseer was somehow himself responsible for his fate because he had raised a "sensitive" issue. I am not of the opinion that one should not speak ill of the dead only because he or she is dead, curse Zia ul Haq with every breath as far as I am concerned. But these gentlemen's basic argument was this: even expressing your opinion about a warped law made by a warped dictator and endorsed by his warped proteges is enough to condemn you to death, so everyone should keep quiet about the misuse of religion and leave it all up to the mullah brigade. It's time to tell them to shut the fuck up themselves.

But the disgust does not end with a couple of morons trying to silence all discussion about religion to and other fanatics praising a criminal. The bigger issue, as we have been saying all along, is the refusal of society to see the inter-linkages of such acts of terrorism with the mindset that has been cultivated through the military establishment's promotion of jihadi outfits, the propping up of so-called religious parties whose only agenda is bigotry, the pusillanimous and opportunistic silence over the treatment of minorities such as Ahmadis, Shias, Hindus and Christians and indeed all dissenters (religious scholar Javed Ghamdi being one), the valourization of criminals such as the illiterate Ilm Deen (dubbed shaheed [martyr] because he was hanged in 1929 for murdering a publisher), the rejection of rationality and logic, the marginalization of the arts and cultural traditions as something alien to our society, and the tolerance for hate-speech and incitements to violence such as that of this monkey. It is this mindset, which has been cultivated by the state looking the other way at - if not directly promoting - acts of radicalization, that allows an entire police squad to see nothing wrong in one of their own planning to commit the murder of someone they are assigned to protect. (We now hear via Geo that Qadri had in fact confided to his colleagues in the Punjab 'Elite Force' about his plans and had even requested them not to shoot at him, a request they honoured.)

Our real disgust should be directed at all those parts of society that cannot put two and two together despite the evidence staring them in the face. We will inevitably hear a lot in the media about security lapses and administrative efficiency lapses that led to a criminal being part of a protective force (incidentally, Geo is also reporting through its sources that Qadri had been sacked from the Punjab Police's Special Branch a few months ago because he was dubbed a 'security risk'). But the only void that I think we really need to focus on is the one in our society's collective brain.

So how do we deal with all this? I have heard a lot of dismay and hopelessness today and I can completely understand the feeling. For many people, this is another nail in the coffin of the idea of a viable future for Pakistan. The only option to counter this feeling of despondency, in my opinion, is to become more assertive and louder and to shame those who would stifle dissent. The problem of course is that wishy-washy liberalism cannot fight fanaticism. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Simply put, we can either shut up, resign ourselves to our fate and disconnect from this country and society or we can fight back and refuse to cede the space that the bastards want us to. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

As a start, let us declare Qadri, all those who support Qadri and murderers like him, the Khatm-e-Nabuwat movement and its ilk as outside the pale of Islam. Let's see how they like being referred to as blasphemers and murtids. Nobody said the fight would not be dirty.