New Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 February 2016
• No-Go Areas for Journalism in Pakistan
By Farman Nawaz
• Citizens and Terror
By Bakhtawar Bilal Soofi
• Burning Flags: They Associate A Particular Flag With Tyranny Or Are Advocating For Armed Movement Against The State
By Zeeba T Hashmi
• Unsilenced Voice
By Zubeida Mustafa
• Bannistan: Time to Step Out Of Utopia
By Farieha Aziz
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
No-Go Areas for Journalism In Pakistan
By Farman Nawaz
February 05, 2016
Just like in Pakistan, same-sex marriages are considered immoral or contrary to the local customs in China. However recently a Chinese court has accepted to hear a case regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. As such, the case got substantial coverage. However, in the Pakistani version of the International New York Times, the picture accompanying this news story was censored and a blank space was left on the front page of the newspaper.
It is very strange to leave (and see) a blank space on the front page of a major newspaper. This type of journalism is a new phenomenon in Pakistan. It verifies the hard reality of Pakistani journalism that it is growing under the yoke of fears and traditions. For instance, if it was not possible for the newspaper to publish the picture which included two men kissing on the stairs then perhaps at least a cartoon could have been placed along with the news story, showing the desire for gay marriage or same-sex marriage. The blank space on the front page, on the other hand, creates many questions. Does it mean that Pakistanis want to read and hear about same-sex marriages but they don’t want to see it? Does it mean that the mind of the relevant editor was blank at that time? Does it mean that the newspaper wanted to convey a message to the world that Pakistanis are narrow minded? Does it show the fears of liberals in Pakistan?
Journalism is the art of generalising the major events of the time so that the common people can easily understand the language and information of what appears in the news. Leaving a blank space however is not journalism. It sensationalises the news as well as the hard facts of a society. Homosexuality is not only an issue of morality but an issue of medical and psychological nature as well. Homosexuality has been a part of our society since forever. According to a Huffington Post story published in 2013, “Homosexuality is not tolerated in Pakistan, but the country leads Google searches for gay porn”. According to Daily Pakistan, a documentary film “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” is prepared to explore the history and modern culture of LGBT Pakistan to provide a deep insight into this hidden world.
In the modern world sexuality is given a legal protection and so is the case with homosexuality. Even in India, this week the Supreme Court referred a petition to make homosexuality legal to a five-judge bench. In every society there are some no-go areas for journalism. For example, holocaust denial in the western world and criticism of religion in the eastern world are both taboo topics. The censored picture regarding same-sex marriage from above is also against the religious norms in Pakistan. The law in Pakistan which criminalises consensual same-sex relations dates back to 6 October 1860 and was formed under the colonial rule of the British Raj. The censored picture could trigger a social uproar against the newspaper. Such events have happened in the past. For example, the Frontier Post English daily from Peshawar was attacked on 30 January, 2001 for publishing a satirical letter. Similarly the daily Mashriq was attacked when it published cartoon of a religious political leader.
It is a fact that secular and liberal viewpoints are not given a space on the pages of newspapers and news channels in Pakistan and the liberals have to wrap their ideas in religion and customs to make them worth publishing. Defending traditional values ingrained in society versus accepting new trends and norms is a hidden war in Pakistan. The mainstream media of Pakistan is not ready to take part in this debate openly due to threat of social uproar from the society but people have found social media more accommodating for discussing their liberal viewpoints. Pakistani society is not ready for accepting new trends and the possible reason is the stronghold of religion on the social life in Pakistan. Although English journalism is inclined towards more modern viewpoints, Pakistanis will have to wait for decades to see these debates in mainstream Urdu media of Pakistan.
Citizens and Terror
By Bakhtawar Bilal Soofi
February 5th, 2016
ON Nov 5, 2013, Brian Holt, a hospital porter, died after colliding with a lorry in East London. His death marked the start of a two-week period that would see five more cyclists die in a series of accidents across London.
When another cyclist — the sixth in a fortnight — died from a similar collision on Camberwell Road, in a remarkable show of solidarity, more than 1,000 cyclists staged a ‘die-in’ protest outside Transport for London’s headquarters in Southwark. As the protesters lay on their backs with their cycles flattened across the floor, they demanded greater governmental spending on improving road safety for cyclists. The government responded and Metropolitan Police launched Operation Safeway — an effort to improve road safety by deploying officers at key junctions across London during rush hours.
A little more than a year later, and several thousand kilometres away, seven gunmen from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar (APS) and massacred 142 people, a majority being schoolchildren. The brutality with which innocent students were slaughtered sent shockwaves across the country. Civil society, professional associations, trade unions and other student bodies mobilised to honour those who had fallen. But at the vigil organised by Lahore’s civil society near the Liberty roundabout 500, perhaps less, people showed up — 500 only!
Why was there such a large difference in the number of people who showed up in Southwark and those who showed up in Lahore, both, apparently, protesting against the loss of human life? Why was it that 1,000 people in London felt compelled to step out of their homes to protest when only six people had died and only 500 or so felt the same way in Lahore when more than 100 children were slaughtered?
Do Londoners value human life more than we do?
Was it because Londoners valued human life more than we did? Why was our citizenry’s response to APS Peshawar so embarrassing when compared with the one million Parisians who marched together to express solidarity against terrorist strikes? Why were we, unlike the Londoners and the Parisians, not able to translate our collective grief into affirmative action?
While we reflect on these questions, let us not forget that the cyclists’ deaths in London were not planned or premeditated and the drivers who collided with them did not intend to do so. Instead, the six deaths which 1,000 Londoners had stepped out to mourn were accidental, not intentional.
Contrast this with APS Peshawar, where children were murdered in cold blood. Unlike the cyclists, they were murdered intentionally. And yet, on the eve of the attack, when the wounds were still fresh, we failed to generate enough support to fill Lahore’s Liberty roundabout.
This is not to say that there were no protests, no vigils and no marches. There were a few of them for sure, but the important point is that these were all sporadic and the numbers — when compared to those in London and Paris — were embarrassing. For a tragedy of national proportions and for an attack that was as savage and as barbaric as ours, the response of our citizenry was disappointing.
If our collective response to APS Peshawar was disappointing, then our reaction to the attack in Charsadda has been nothing short of chilling passivity: fewer protests with even poorer turnouts.
APS Peshawar woke us up from our slumber because it was the first such attack to target schoolchildren. It reminded us, after years of insensitivity, about the sanctity and value of human life. But if attacks on schools and colleges continue like this, will we gradually accept them as predestination and move on, as we seem to have done after Charsadda? Will we retreat back into our shells and conveniently let everything pass by? Judging from our response to Peshawar and Charsadda, it seems so and the signs are already there: our citizenry is descending back into a state of insensitivity, and whatever little consciousness had been gained post-Peshawar is now being lost post-Charsadda. That is our biggest danger.
We must realise that Pakistan’s fight against terror is in essence a war of narratives. It cannot be won on the mountains of Waziristan alone. To defeat terror we will first have to defeat extremism. For this, our citizenry will have to play a more proactive role — one that requires citizens to question governmental policies, reclaim public spaces, shape public narratives and demand tougher, stricter and uniform governmental action. Desensitisation of our moral conscience, that brings with it a gradual withdrawal from public space, is something we cannot afford and something we should all fear.
By asking questions and piling up enough pressure, London’s citizenry extracted Operation Safeway from their government. Can we follow suit and, as a starting point, pressurise the state into arresting Maulana Abdul Aziz?
Bakhtawar Bilal Soofi is a lawyer.
Burning Flags: They Associate A Particular Flag With Tyranny Or Are Advocating For Armed Movement Against The State
By Zeeba T Hashmi
February 05, 2016
When flags are burnt, sentiments run high. Though it is justified to state that desecration of a national flag is in fact an insult to the people belonging to a nation, double standards often surface when a rival country’s flag is humiliated in public. On Monday this week, a prominent writer of Pakistani origin was witnessed publicly burning the Pakistani flag in a protest organised by Baloch separatists in Canada. We are in no position to comment on whether the intention of this particular gentleman was to genuinely highlight the resentment of the Baloch separatists. This particular action, especially coming from an intellectual, is hurtful to our national sentiments but it is certainly not shocking. This action per se is not as disturbing as is to completely turn a blind eye to the reasons behind why the flag has been burnt. And, quite unfortunately, the examples of our deliberate ignorance in the garb of jingoism are many in Pakistan. While television channels show with much jubilation separatists in India burning their flag, they feel enraged when the same is done to the Pakistani flag.
If we are to focus on our regional politics, there have always been enough reasons for burning the US, Pakistani and Indian flags. The politics of nationalism are commonplace in Pakistan, where an individual gets jailed for a long time in Pakistan for hoisting the national flag of India in support of his favourite cricketer, whereas very little has been done to take to task those who out-rightly commend and support groups responsible for terrorism and sectarianism in the country. A similar incident happened in India when seven Indian nationals were imprisoned for displaying the Pakistani flag on their banner commemorating Eid-e-Milad un Nabi, the birth anniversary of the Prophet (PBUH). These biased administrative policies seem unable to understand the fault lines running within the country, where segments of the nation feel alienated from national ownership of the country mainly because they have been refused their fair share of citizenship, liberty and basic rights. The proponents of the Khalistan movement in India have burnt Indian flags on several occasions. This was done as an act of expressing resentment of the Sikhs of Indian Punjab against their state. In Pakistan too, many feel oppressed by certain actions by the state. This is particularly true for our regions that remain devoid of political representation like Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan.
The separatist tendencies in Pakistan are a far more serious issue for the state to tackle. Pakistani flags have been burned many times in Balochistan. Armed groups are gaining a stronghold in the region because they sympathise with the people’s resentment against the establishment of extra-judicious actions against them. The voices raising awareness about missing persons in the province are being silenced. Deprivation of economic empowerment and lack of political participation are adding up all the woes in the province. Where one voice is silenced by the state, more will protest against it. There is a misperception of the government that its heavy handedness will diminish their separatist movement but they do not realise that a mere minority of those wanting a separate homeland has the tendency to turn into an agitating majority if remedial steps are not taken now to integrate them into the economic and political mainstream of the country.
Other segments of the population in our nation face extreme discrimination and insecurity, and are leaving in huge numbers. Over the past five years, about 12,000 Hindus have left Pakistan, followed by Christians, Ahmedis and Hazara Shias who have taken to hazardous shores they find safer than living in Pakistan. Minorities like the Parsis have all virtually left, leaving behind just a few dozen. The Ahmadi community is also leaving Pakistan because they feel helpless, constitutionally violated and without state protection against violent religious mobs that have been targeting them for their beliefs. Hazara Shias also feel stuck and are fleeing because of the worst kind of violence they face at the hands of militant Sunni groups. It is in fact the unchecked radicalisation over recent years that has led Pakistan to be divided on religious lines, severely damaging its internal harmony and resulting in growing resentment towards the state for its failure to protect them. Though it is not right to state that those leaving the country are equated with the separatists, the only thing that is common in them is a loss of state ownership. Even if they want to stay loyal to the nation, the hostile environment for them leaves them with no other option. If they feel any agitation against the state, they have many reasons for it.
There comes a moral dilemma for those who protest by burning flags: whether they associate a particular flag with tyranny or are advocating for armed movement against the state. We must keep in mind that the people who protested against Pakistan recently in Canada were no militants; in fact, they were represented mainly by the students and Baloch diaspora, which had organised this rally. Though it was a small event it consisted of intellectuals and other opinion makers whose voice leaves a deep impact on shaping the mindsets of the people.
There should be no patronising of burning flags that symbolise a national identity. Doing so is not only an irresponsible act as it simply means that one is denying to accept the sovereignty of the nation. But this should not mean that the state taking action against the protestors by imprisoning them without trial and torturing them in their illegal detention is going to contain the movement. It is time the state realised that it cannot expect loyalty from the people and unless the state proactively works to resolve and redress their issues, more flags will be burned.
By Zubeida Mustafa
February 5th, 2016
JAN 22 was Perween Rahman’s birthday. Had she escaped the assassin’s cruel bullets she would have turned 59. But that was not to be and this devoted social worker, a friend of the poor, was snatched away from us three years ago on March 13, 2013.
Not that she has receded into oblivion. The poor are not ungrateful. Nor have those who feared her mended their ways. OPP-RTI, the organisation she headed, wanted to observe Perween’s birthday and celebrate her life and achievements. Such events help imprint on the public memory the work of selfless and lovable personalities who have made an impact on the lives of those they worked for. Thus alone will many Perweens be born. This is absolutely necessary if this society is to be saved from the avarice of the selfish.
The documentary that was screened at the event captured beautifully Perween’s smiling face and lilting voice. It reminded the 400-strong audience that her powerful message should not be allowed to slip away. Among those present were her family and friends and her colleagues and partners (from all over Pakistan — from Layyah in South Punjab to Mithi in Sindh). They had come to revive their spiritual bonds with their mentor.
The reading of Asad Mohammad Khan’s short stories and Zeeshan Sahil’s poetry by Qissa Farosh, a newly established theatre group, charmed the audience which sat in the open courtyard opposite the room that used to be Perween’s office where she had spent hours studying land maps. The stories narrated that day were about the wretched of the earth. I could feel Perween’s presence. She would have found the narrative familiar.
There has been no closure for those who mourn Perween Rahman’s loss.
What was most touching was a song Let’s Save the World sung by Tabrez Ali Saqib. He had written the lyrics and dedicated a stanza to Perween. It read, “Let’s save the homeless, the vagrant, the settlers who are compelled to leave/…./ Behold the edifice of the rich; Behold the sparkling opulence/ Pity the pauper in the street; Pity the dwindling sustenance./ There lived a queen without a crown, a mother to the disowned./ She was waylaid most cruelly, her children left forlorn.”
Perween’s message still inspires the OPP workers who have carried on their work despite the insecurity that surrounds them now. One of them, Abdul Waheed who ran a school in the area, was killed while another, Saleem Alimuddin, was attacked. Yet OPP has struggled on in search of redress for the landless and the deprived.
But the wheels of justice turn slowly — too slowly for the people’s reassurance. There has been no closure for those who still grieve Perween Rahman’s loss. The petition filed in July 2013 in the Supreme Court after the Sindh police had declared the case ‘closed’ has yet to produce results. On different occasions, members of the judiciary have expressed their dissatisfaction with the police investigations. A murderer allowed go scot-free creates a sense of insecurity for the public. The distinguished judges of the Supreme Court also understand the implications of an unresolved case, especially when the person who pulls the trigger does so at the behest of others who stand to gain by removing from the scene someone who is obstructing their heinous quest for loot.
Whatever little progress — not too satisfactory — that has so far been made in the investigations has been at the prodding of the court that justice must be done and the police must do its job. At one stage, hearings were being held practically every month mainly due to the fact that two former chief justices of Pakistan, i.e. Tassaduq Hussain Jillani and Nasir-ul-Mulk, were personally hearing the case. That had an advantage. It put pressure on the police to act.
No hearing has been held since September 2015 when the police submitted a report saying one of the main accused had migrated from his home in Swat and his house was demolished.
One can ask, what would we gain by going after the killer? Perween cannot be brought back. The fact is that we cannot abandon Perween’s mission — to provide homes for the homeless by giving them security. This security will only come when the goths ringing Orangi are regularised. This work is at a standstill and as long as fear prevails, the land mafia will have the upper hand. Arresting the killers and unmasking the unscrupulous elements behind those who instigated the murder would serve a dual purpose.
First, justice will be done which is the first demand of a civilised society. Secondly, it will drive away the fear that is terrorising the common man who, as it is, has no place in Pakistan’s political, social and legal system. Perween Rahman gave the poor a voice. She may no longer be there today but her voice should continue to be heard loud and clear.
Bannistan: Time To Step Out Of Utopia
By Farieha Aziz
February 5, 2016
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is on a website blocking spree — yet again. In a directive issued to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), it has instructed them to block 429,343 URLs containing objectionable content. It seems as though some filters have come to rest permanently on the ears of PTA operatives, who seem to lose instructions given to them in court. In 2012, the Supreme Court instructed the PTA to ensure that the offending Innocence of Muslims video was removed. For the PTA, this instruction translated into ‘block YouTube’. In 2016, when the Court directed PTA to find “remedial measures” to the problem of offensive and objectionable online content, that somehow translated into the blocking over 400,000 URLs.
If anything, the YouTube ban has been a lesson in how the internet works and the futility of bans. How many times during the three-year ban on YouTube did we hear jubilant cries celebrating the return of YouTube? The excitement would die down once the ‘glitch’ in the ISPs’ filters or settings was taken care of and YouTube made unavailable once again. Over a period of time, people stopped celebrating because they just didn’t care anymore. They would circumvent the ban through the use of proxies and VPNs. This use of proxies and VPNs, or frequent glitches in the filters and settings of ISPs that made YouTube available while it was banned applied to other blocked websites as well — and still does.
A fact the morality brigade misses out on is that people are fairly oblivious to the existence of certain offensive content on the internet — until somebody announces it’s out there. Take for instance the Facebook ban of 2010 due to the presence of an offensive caricatures page. It was after the ban that traffic to the page increased — because people around the world found out such a page existed. The same applies to the offending Innocence of Muslims video. This video was present on YouTube four months prior to the ban when it was one day discovered and its existence announced. Once this happened and the bans were imposed, is when a large part of the global population learnt about its existence.
What’s baffling is that this is content you don’t want people to see. By announcing its existence, you’re sending hordes of traffic towards it. Why? The same goes for the other websites blocked by the PTA. Who knew of these 400,000-plus websites before a ban on them was announced? Now there is a centralised list of these blocked websites out there. How many hands must it have exchanged already — and continues to exchange?
What part of ‘how the internet or technology function’ does the morality brigade not understand? Its efforts are counterproductive for the very thing it wants to ensure — keeping people away from such content. In fact, its efforts turn into PR campaigns for the content that should have gone by unnoticed, unviewed. By announcing and compiling lists of such websites, it drives traffic towards them. And despite the bans, somewhere on the internet such content still exists — and there’s a way of getting to it.
The PTA has admitted before the courts that it’s not possible to completely block content on the internet. Then what is this latest blocking spree about? Do we have endless resources and money to burn over futile pursuits? Instead, there could be efforts to ensure more people gain access to the internet and that we harness it to make strides like others have around the world rather than reducing the internet to just porn and blasphemous content.
If we really want to consider viable solutions that fulfil the purpose of shielding people from content they may think is objectionable — and this is particularly important where children are concerned — methods other than state-level URL blocking and filtering will have to be considered. This is because the nature of technology simply renders these state-level measures ineffective, and more importantly, because the state has no business being our nanny.
Why not try some common sense for a change? Instead of going on blocking sprees, why not empower the user to better manage content in their homes. Let parents decide for their children. There are free-of-cost tools and software available. For parents who are not tech-savvy, ISPs can offer value-added services at a nominal cost that customers can opt into, out of choice, to ensure their children are not exposed to certain types of content. This won’t burden ISPs as they’ll be rid of the added operational costs that PTA directives bring with them, and will also provide consumers with a facility. But none of this will work with the prevailing mindset — where we want a thing removed completely, and want others to do it for us. Come to terms with how technology works and understand what’s possible and what’s not.
Unlike television, content on the internet doesn’t just appear in front of you. You have to make a conscious effort to get to it. A large part of being on the internet is about making the right decisions for yourself and exercising choice. That’s something technology or the internet can’t do for you — and neither can others.
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