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.


Gotham3 said...

nice post cafepyala, pakistani masses should stick to insha allah rather than tend towards insha mullah

Anonymous said...

Nice post Cyril Almeida :)

TLW said...

I'm watching these fuckers talk to that Mir-Chut, and just observing the way they're charging the atmosphere. WTF are they trying to prep the environment for a coup or a rolling back of the government? Are these the signals GHQ is sending out?

The anti-American meme I can explain to some extent; Pakistan`s establishment has had a sort of a falling out with the Americans.

But coming back to the original question; are these wankers trying to prepare the ground for a coup?

Tayyab Mahmood said...

Payala great post. I always preach that liberalism is:-

"I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it without any ifs & buts"

Umair J said...

Klasra and Athar are crucial in this equation but they're also part of an older generation of mainstream journalists - a generation which grew up when progressive opinion was on the fringes, but still comparatively mainstream.

I'm actually curious to know what's the younger generation like in the Urdu press. Talat Hussain is probably the youngest op-ed writer and if he's anything to go by, then we're basically f***ed.

Anonymous said...

You know merely 12% of Pakistanis speak/understand English...so your revolutionary writings only reach those who already hold liberal views. I'd suggest that it is our duty to educate the public at large, and this can only be done by writing in local languages, or at least in Urdu. Please start a Urdu pamphlet/journal/mag to widen the horizon of readers.

Troll_bot,India said...

'Not just White girls, Pak Muslim men sexually target Hindu and Sikh girls as well
The term love jihad is very deceptive,its like saying roomly gas chambers..
Do you see a pattern???

Kyonn ? said...

At time of conquest of Mecca Abuld Uzzah Ibn Khattal the guy who was holding curtain of Kabba was killed on order of Prophet (PBUH). We are generally lead to be believe he was killed because of blasphemy?
Average non militant Pakistani regardless his political association to rightist or centrist is given this reference. You the so called liberals do analysis of things far more deeply and far more technically but somehow I never really saw any one coming from these grounds …….challenging notions of Mullahs in their own language… why?
Sometimes just returning to the basic can help rather than going in slippery slop arguments, (Hoor Chupoo any one? ). Salman Taseer was right calling this Law a “Black Law” but I wonder why he was lazy on pointing to couple of simple arguments which could have had significant impact not on perception of Mullahs, but on perception of Non Militant, general public of Pakistan. For instance
1. historical standing of blasphemy law in muslim history in general and in Pakistani context in particular ?
2. why only Abdul Uzzah was killed, why not the others who committed blasphemy in the past ?
3. And more so why in Kabba when we have specific orders to refrain from killing in house of Allah in Quran?

I know my answers to these questions that is why I believe Salman Taseer was correct.

But lets just admit average non militant Pakistani …WRITE, SPEAK AND LISTEN without READING much IN THE FIRST PLACE. I just feel two groups are arguing in a language which is exclusively to fulfill confirmation bias. Rather than going anywhere with it.

Abbasi said...

Dear azharshah,
You say, 'merely 12% of Pakistanis speak/understand English...'

First of all this is another 'argument' many ppl give against people like Cafe Pyala, Kamran Shafi, Nadeem Paracha, Mohammad Hanif and Irfan Hassan, apart from the usual 'liberal fascist' bullshit.

Look at it this way: These 12% are the ones who will be leading your political parties, multinationals, media outlets, businesses, beaucracy, etc. These 12% will be the main decision makers and it is important that they are addressed, talked to and enganged with.

Stop being such a defeatist.

DRG said...

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari announces 'jihad' against the GHQ-sponsored 'jihadists'

"Salman Taseer's murderers would be sent to hell...I can't be silenced by fear..."


Bolshevik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bolshevik said...

@ Kyonn ?

Did exactly that: No defence for archaic Judaeo-Christian law

"In the Sub-continent, laws related to blasphemy were initially promulgated in 1869 by the British as Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which called for two years of imprisonment for desecrating symbols associated with any religion. The reasons for this legislation even at the time were less religious than political, and Section 295 was enforced primarily to mitigate the causes which had led to the Mutiny of 1857."

But 'they' don't give a shit.

Anonymous said...

sorry pyaloos, but "the debate" was "defined" a very long time ago by the people who have (for 30 years now) housed, armed and funded your mullah "opponents".

how laughable is the idea that you with your dark gray blog are in some kind of opposition to that 50,000-strong crowd of bearded youths.

and how many of you bloggers (even from within the safety of your ABCD acronyms) dared to point out that this week's rallies were led by the L-e-T? How many of you will risk your lives, livelihoods and sanity to go one step further and state that the state (military-ISI) is what choreographs the L-e-T?

You can't. Because that would amount to accepting that your enemy is the state. In which you live.

Oh dear.

You pyaloos should forget about all this liberal-shiberal and sit around a bonfire instead and drink an honest toast to the Pak Fauj, singing: "Gham hai ya khushi hai tu, meri zindagi hai tu..."

AHK said...

@azharshahani: You write: "You know merely 12% of Pakistanis speak/ understand English...so your revolutionary writings only reach those who already hold liberal views."

So basically all those who don't speak English have an extremist or rightist mindset?

Where do you come up with these stereotypes?

AHK said...

@Kyonn?: At the time of the Conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (PBUH) ordered the killing of more than one individual. I think there were something like 10 individuals who were ordered to be killed because they were inciting people against the Prophet & Muslims.

But your point is right. We should debate the religious foundations of the blasphemy law. Only if we can arrive at an agreement through religious reasoning will it be accepted by the masses. The masses follow the religious leaders & the religious leaders don't want any debates to take place on religion or anyone to question what they say because that will erode their power & prestige.

Simple dismissing the laws outright & having a contemptuous attitude towards anything to do with religion will never achieve anything because for the average Pakistani religion is an important part of his or her identity.

CoderInMaking said...

@Umair J
What did Hassan Nisar had to say about salman taseer's murder? Isn't he a very progressive and liberal commentator?

Ulltah Seedha said...

You would be surprized by the sudden spat of utter establishmentarian and rightist crap hassan Nisar has been spouting lately.

just the other day on his show on Geo, he got into a fight with dawn columnist Kamran Shafi. Shafi was talking against Army take-overs but I just couldn't believe it when mr. nisar began to actually advocate it!! He sounded like a retro-Jamaati. What happens to these guys on TV??

AA said...

Two things regarding this whole affair. I think the moderates have committed a huge mistake by abandoning the Urdu discussion space in favor of English, specifically in the print media. Urdu discussion has been taken over by a narrow minded, largely mediocre group of people barring a few only. And they have become the opinion leaders of the masses. Writing in English only serves our own purposes, I feel. Urdu must not be abandoned.

Secondly, much as I am upset over the goings on and the seeming crossroads the liberals and fundos seem to have created, I refuse to believe that the mullah's defiance and courage bursts forth from pure Ishq-e-Rasool. This couldnt happen without support. So Pyala should take a deep breath and watch things unfold. I dont want to undermine the struggle the so called liberals are putting together, but am quite sceptical about its outcome. I mean this may all be engineered and therefore not be a crossroads at all after all.
In Pakistan, nothing is what it seems to be.

Anonymous said...

of course athar abbas will speak against it being a shia and is also a ppp mouthpiece after-all

Anonymous said...

As far as I am aware, the late Mr. Taseer and Ms. Sherry Rehman belong to the majority community.
As for the PPP, we have now had Gilani, Malik, Awan speak against the law.
So all I can say is that you are a sick, twisted sectarian troll who exemplifies all that this blog condemns. Why do you read it then (if you can that is)?

Anonymous said...

Only 3 out of 57 muslim countries prescribe death punishment for blasphemy i.e. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi arab.

So according to Hamid Mir and Ansar Abbasi, the muslims of these 54 muslim countries are liberal fascists. These jokers are part of the Zia's lost generation, they are hopeless.

Anonymous said...

Pakistan has come to a point where thousands believe they are righteous and have divine authority to carry out God’s acts on this earth. The repugnant response by the supporters of Salman Taseer’s alleged killer has truly been mesmerizing. Qadri’s fan base has distorted Islam to such an extent that it has become laughable to comprehend how they perceive themselves to be protecting the sanctity of Islam. To read this article: http://bit.ly/i6eiYK

Anonymous said...

There is one solution we must beg for the nuclear option. Lets us bomb our selves back to the dark ages. We are a nations of gutless human that attack women, minorities, and then we do that under a cloak.

we must either start again or have a good 20 years of communism...either way the the current scenario cannot continue

An Ahmadi that has been wronged

MZR said...

@An Ahmadi who has been wronged: You aren't alone. We have wronged your whole community.

@Cafe Pyala: Nice couplet from Mir. Sadly, the 'people who still don't get it' would have lynched Mir for apostasy had he lived today. No doubt they would have also labelled Jinnah a kaafir and incited hatred for him from every loudspeaker.

Mutazalzaluzzaman Tarar said...

excellent, hard hitting post CP.

probably your best.