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Pakistan Press On Understanding Islamophobia, Journalists In Pakistan And Magna Carta For Pakistan: New Age Islam's Selection, 17 November 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

17 November 2020

• Understanding Islamophobia

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

• Journalists In Pakistan Being Deprived Of Free Will

By Munazza Siddiqui

• Women’s Charter Of Demands

By Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir And Nighat Dad

• Magna Carta For Pakistan

By Dr Nadeem Ul Haque And Malik Ahmad Jalal


Understanding Islamophobia

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

November 17, 2020

Despite the fact that the ethical, cultural backgrounds of Muslims from around the world are vastly different, they are all put together in a box. They are discriminated against on basis of their perceived beliefs and names. The Runnymede Trust in its 1997 Report acknowledged that the racism against Muslims goes by without being challenged as Muslims are not sociologically & geographically a ‘racial group.’ This is an interesting contradiction that needs a closer look.

Racism is a belief that certain race possesses behavioral traits and physical appearances that are very different from the others and can be discriminated on grounds of others being superior to them. Basically racism is antagonistic and prejudiced against, because they are of a different ethnicity/race. However, it is clear that different Muslims from different countries are different from each other on the basis of culture, lifestyles, physical appearance and so on. So the discrimination is strictly religious discrimination and placing it under the umbrella of racism may not be correct. “While Islam is not a race, it is argued that Muslims can nevertheless be racialized. Racialization is a contested concept that arose in scholarly circles in the wake of the gradual discrediting (not disappearance) of doctrines of biological superiority and difference, which led-in some circles-to a shift from race to culture as the marker of group superiority. White people could no longer speak openly about being biologically superior but could claim to have a superior culture that makes them more advanced, developed, and civilized, and this cultural superiority is then used to justify policies of domination and exclusion.” (Caner K. Dagli specializes in Qur’anic studies, interfaith dialogue, and philosophy: College of Holy Cross)

The question that arises here is: are all Muslims as a race religious extremists? And are Muslims alone extremists to the exclusion of followers of other religion? History does not support this view.

The world must first understand that Islamophobia exists. And the fact that whenever there is exclusion, antagonism; there will be reaction. Sometimes reaction or action can come before exclusion

In any given religion the beliefs followed may take different forms. These include the Moderates. The Fundamentalists. The Extremists. The Militants. The moderates’ belief is not watered down as compared to other categories. They implicitly believe in their beliefs & practices but understand that different knowledge comes from different kinds of sources.

Until 1950, there was no entry for fundamentalism in the Oxford English Dictionary; the derivative, fundamentalist, was added only in its second, 1989 edition. The Fundamentalists do believe that only their way of thinking is correct as opposed to any other. However, a Fundamentalist need not be an extremist or a militant. Extremism may broadly be defined as, “”the quality or state of being extreme” or “the advocacy of extreme measures or views”. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) If one historically views the Christian Fundamentalists, one can see that they observe the world from a Manichean view that bases its conflict of doctrine like light vs dark. There are no shades of gray in-between. Christian Fundamentalism for example began among British & American Protestants as early as 19th & 20th Century. They opposed the theologians whom they accused of misinterpreting certain doctrines that formed the basis of Christian faith like biblical inerrancy. They always have an approach of interpreting the Bible literally.

According to authors Robert D. Woodberry and Christian S. Smith:

Following the Civil War, tensions developed between Northern evangelical leaders over Darwinism and higher biblical criticism; Southerners remained unified in their opposition to both (Marsden 1980, 1991). Modernists attempted to update Christianity to match their view of science. They denied biblical miracles and argued that God manifests himself through the social evolution of society. Conservatives resisted these changes. These latent tensions rose to the surface after World War I in what came to be called the fundamentalist/modernist split. (Woodberry, Robert D; Smith, Christian S. (1998). “Fundamentalism et al: conservative Protestants in America”. Annual Review of Sociology. 24 (1): 25-56.)

Religious Militancy is yet another layer of approach. Religion can be a powerful aphrodisiac to unite people and mobilize them. They can be not only used but also misused in this way. Religious extremism can & does arise within a religion against different points of view that lead to conflict & subsequently militancy. Many Jewish thinkers & militants hold the view that Golan Heights & Gaza are a permanent part of Eretz Israel (Translated it means “Land of Israel”). They support larger Jewish establishments in the occupied areas with a view to marginalize Palestinian settlements. The Israeli army has killed more Palestinians in the intifadas than the other way round.

The brief discourse hopefully clarifies that any religion has different cultural, ethnical groups of people that cannot be jointly labelled under one heading. Even within one religion different individuals have different approaches towards religion. Also, this is not one-religion specific. It applies to all religions.

It was not until the Islamic Iranian Revolution that the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ was coined. This made it easy for the West to relate to what was happening in that part of the world, as they were well aware of Christian fundamentalism.

Pew Research Center in an interesting research, in a report stated that from a period of 2007 till 2017 government restrictions on laws, religious freedom, beliefs & their practices have increased manifold. In its Tenth Annual Report, PEW presents the data that 52 governments including Russia & China placed a high restriction on religion. The percentage has gone up by 40% from 2007.

Religious militancy is intertwined with religious terrorism. According to Juergensmeyer, religion and violence have had a symbiotic relationship since before the Crusades and even since before the Bible. (Juergensmeyer, Mark (2004). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. University of California Press)

The world must first understand that Islamophobia exists. And the fact that whenever there is exclusion, antagonism; there will be reaction. Sometimes reaction or action can come before exclusion. There are no hard & fast rules. However, the issue to be handled needs better understanding at grass root level of strands involved. Generalizations are self-defeating. The majority of Muslims around the world are moderates & do not support religious militancy. Clubbing all Muslims in one group-in unjust and in turn gives birth to more negativity.

International media can play a pivotal role in putting forth in a balanced view that shun confrontation and encourage inclusivity. Media must transform the general culture of blame game & promote one of tolerance and promoting understanding between communities hailing from different religions. The hostility and hate lets out in different areas may it be civil society, academia and activism. The narrative of women wearing hijab for example is part of their religious belief, just as nuns covering their hair. The covering of hair is attributed to modesty since time immemorial. A traditional interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-6 in the New Testament inspires covering of head while “praying and prophesying”. (Osburn, Carroll D. (1 July 2007). Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity, Volume 1. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 208)

This world needs inclusivity.

And more inclusivity.


Yasmeen Aftab Ali is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’


Journalists In Pakistan Being Deprived Of Free Will

By Munazza Siddiqui

November 14, 2020

Buridan’s donkey was quietly dying. Philosophers were ripping apart the paradox at the seams when it suddenly acquired a new lease of life. It assumes that a hungry donkey standing precisely midway between two identical piles of hay will be unable to choose between the two and starve to death because reason provides no grounds for choosing one rather than the other. Despite its inherent contradiction, this philosophical paradox is about ‘free will’, assuming absolute free will exists.

Either way, free will has never been as fictional as it is today. Before technology went exponential, before recent waves of populism and nationalism swept the world with their histrionics, and when the world was somehow easier to understand, free will was just that: free will. Sure, we knew it was a profound philosophic problem, but at least we believed it existed, even if it was relegated to the shadows. We also believed we had a right to it. But now, not so more because those shadows are fading and lines are being drawn in blood.

According to a voguish critique of free will: “The very concept of free will is incoherent; therefore, it obviously doesn’t exist.” In order to endure such an over-simplification of this basic yet complicated human right, self-proclaimers have built for themselves a carapace – an elaborate system of rationalization, if you will. Basically, this system justifies monocratic actions in the name of the greater good. As a logical outcome of this system, patriotism and nationalism become interchangeable. Who cares if these are as different as day and night. As long as they feel the same, they must be the same. Laws don’t understand feelings so populism gets to decide who’s a patriot and who’s not. The first casualty of this whimsical environment is the perception of free will – and hence the freedom to choose.

The concept of casualty is central to the idea of free will; that effects have causes. So what happens when equal enticements are replaced with equal threats, when two alternatives are judged to carry equally frightening consequences. Deriving from the conclusion of 14th century French philosopher Jean Buridan of the Donkey Paradox that in such a situation no rational choice can be made and action must be suspended until circumstances change, it would be logical to conclude that in case of equal threats one has no choice but to freeze from indecision.

Journalists in Pakistan today are being forced to do exactly that. Fear is freezing honest-to-God journalists every day. As if there weren’t enough menaces impeding sound judgement already, the last few of years have seen a dramatic rise in multidirectional yet equally menacing reasons for practicing indecision.

There was a time when pressures to censor were – for lack of a better word – distinctly unidirectional. We never came to terms with the pressures but at least we knew what they were about and how to play around them. It gave a semblance of liberty and allowed us the freedom to do our jobs, albeit creatively. Not so much anymore. Every pillar of journalism is struggling to cope with fear, and laws meant to protect journalists as professionals and as citizens no longer work as well as before. Yet they should, more than ever before, because laws are not there just to protect the weak but also to protect us from our individual and institutional autocratic impulses.

To give an example, journalists in Pakistan are being labelled traitors for doing their job. One third of the journalists facing legal cases in Pakistan risk being charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law, and most of these cases have been filed by government officials who are often ranking bureaucrats. The most common allegations against journalists include “acting against state institutions” or “defaming state institutions”.

Journalists in Pakistan are being systematically deprived of free will. They are being made to believe that theirs is an unholy job. Fear of retribution is forcing them to freeze with indecision. That is akin to not having the right to choose. The current extent of threats facing journalists in Pakistan today prove Jean Buridan’s paradox: that if the situation doesn’t change soon, journalists will start to wither away.


Munazza Siddiqui is an executive producer, Geo News, and editor of Jang-The Economist annual edition.


Women’s Charter Of Demands

By Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir and Nighat Dad

November 14, 2020

On the 28the of October this year, the women of Pakistan released a letter and Charter of Demands, which was addressed to the state of Pakistan, and copies of which were shared with the president, prime minister, minister for law, minister for human rights, minister for interior and all members of the National Assembly.

As of now, over 1700 women across the country have signed the Charter of Demands, while over 200 men have endorsed it. Over 1700 women came together to express their grievances to the state, and recommend solutions for the way forward in protecting women, and the state’s response is apt: pretend like there is no problem to address.

The 22 demands contained therein encompass a broad range of issue areas, where reform can be pushed without substantive resource re-allocation and financial cost. For example, one of the demands calls for the expedited and increased recruitment of female police officers. Where women police stations cannot be immediately established, it has been recommended that women-staffed units be set up at each police station nationwide. This is the least that can be done to ensure that barriers to access for women in filing complaints and pursuing remedies are removed.

We are all well aware of the fact that when women go to police stations to register cases of harassment, they are discouraged from pursuing them by male police officers, who can neither empathize nor process the trauma and humiliation inflicted upon women as a result of what has been accepted as routine harassment.

In a similar vein, another demand provides for the expedited inclusion of female prosecutors and provision of adequate resources and facilities to Gender Based Violence (GBV) courts. Even after women overcome the hurdle of dealing with police, the next obstacle in their way are judges and lawyers who have not received gender sensitization training and, therefore, do not deal with issues of sexual violence in a tactful and sensitive manner. Women who have been subjected to sexual violence or harassment already have trauma inflicted upon them. No woman wants to relive the trauma, especially not in a criminal justice system where the odds are stacked against her.

Another important demand of relevance considering recent developments is the immediate removal of all elected and appointed state officials that engage in the victim-blaming of survivors of sexual assault. The charter demands that a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and misogynistic remarks be implemented. Recently, a government representative attributed a leading opposition figure’s “beauty” to “plastic surgeries” allegedly paid for with taxpayer’s money. As if it isn’t bad enough that women politicians’ physical appearances and clothes are commented on ad nauseum, now even the beauty of some female politicians is subject to question and turned into political fodder.

There is a history and context for these sexist attacks. Senior male leadership from the PPP, PML-N, PTI and JUI-F have all made remarks of this kind at one point or another, often even on the floor of parliament. What we see in response to such attacks is a classic deflection tactic: but others have done so too. That is exactly the point – everyone has done it and it is not acceptable. It can never be tolerated, regardless of where the attack against a woman is coming from.

Equally important is the demand for introducing, and making compulsory, intermediate and secondary level courses highlighting legal and moral viewpoints on gender sensitization, harassment and sexual violence. It is pertinent to recognize the prevalence of rape culture and teach children in schools about the concept of consent. At present, women in Pakistan are not viewed as having agency of their own – that is the fundamental root cause of violence against women.

Another significant demand in the charter is to decriminalize defamation in Pakistan, particularly in light of the decision by several democratic governments around the world to get rid of their criminal defamation laws. What we have seen in Pakistan is this criminal defamation law being used to silence survivors of harassment and sexual violence. Safe spaces for women cannot be created – online or offline – till the culture of silence is broken.

The only way to ensure silence does not persist is through the creation of a safe and enabling environment in which survivors can speak about their traumatic experiences of violence and harassment. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of freedom of expression has already stated that criminal defamation laws are an unjustifiable restriction on expression and that the same must be abolished.

Despite the scale of violence and harassment prevalent in Pakistan, Gender Based Violence (GBV) courts have not been operationalized throughout the country, reflecting the non-serious attitude of the State towards women’s issues. Former CJ Asif Saeed Khan Khosa had directed all the high courts across the country, in October 2019, to ensure the establishment of GBV courts by November 4, 2019.

This apathy towards the plight of women is also reflected in non-implementation of the Criminal Law Amendment (Offence of Rape) Act 2016. This law was an important piece of legislation; since it was introduced, women have not been charged with zina for reporting rape. However, the law is not enough – there also needs to be awareness of the law and here is where state apathy is reflected. Most women do not know that if a police officer, or medico-legal officer, refuses to proceed in accordance with law where the crime of rape is reported, they can invoke Section 166 of the Penal Code 1860 (public servant disobeying law, with intent to cause injury to any person).

While cases of abduction and kidnapping for rape, sexual abuse, etc. have to be decided within a three-month time frame, this time period is not strictly adhered to. Women who do approach the courts for some form of relief in these cases are often left disappointed and disgusted as proceedings linger on and they face additional trauma and humiliation in court.

Understanding that these are not isolated incidents of violence but part of a larger pattern stemming from how women are viewed in Pakistan is crucial. Some facts in this regard are pertinent to expose the scale of violence. Since the motorway gang-rape incident on September 9 this year, there have been 123 cases of rape and gang rape reported in the country. On September 13, a young girl was gang-raped and killed by three people in Jhelum. On the same date, another girl was repeatedly raped by her stepfather in Gujranwala; and also on the same date, another girl was sexually assaulted at gunpoint in Bahawalpur by an influential person.

On September 14, a woman in Bahawalpur was gang-raped after returning home from a marriage ceremony. Also on September 14, a man, his brother and other accomplices stabbed his first wife to death in Lahore. Again, on September 14, a woman in Sargodha was killed by her nine year old nephew over ‘honour’.

On September 15, a female lawyer was killed by her husband in Hyderabad. On September 16, a woman was shot by her brother in Lahore. There are too many cases and not enough space here to narrate the data from September 13 this year till November 11.

Is the state asleep? Does it not realize that no woman in Pakistan is safe anywhere? Does it have no responsibility towards its citizens – except to mobilize after public pressure when news of a horrific incident surfaces? It has been weeks since the president and prime minister were sent the Charter of Demands. Acts of violence continue with impunity on a massive scale; we only come to know of those cases reported. Yet, neither the president nor the prime minister has felt it appropriate to respond to these 1700 women or to take this charter forward.


Magna Carta for Pakistan

By Dr Nadeem Ul Haque And Malik Ahmad Jalal

November 17, 2020

In 1215 AD, King John of England signed the Magna Carta (‘The Great Charter’) – a historic power-sharing arrangement with a group of rebel barons. Its philosophy is enshrined in the British legal system, as well as the American constitution. What were the principles of Magna Carta that led to the emergence of two successive superpowers?

In its sixty-three clauses, the thirteenth century barons engaged in deep thinking on a mechanism for opposing power holders to co-exist by constraining their own powers, with a system of local government (city charters), granting greater protections to citizens from themselves to ensure that power was not concentrated in a few hands – a far greater vision for nation-building than the twenty-first century leaders of our country.

The Magna Carta eventually led to the creation of a governance system of parliamentary democracy, affirmed liberties of local management for cities like London, giving all English subjects the right to a fair trial. Most importantly, the document established a balance of power between the barons and the king, so the nation could progress without being paralyzed by struggles for power. The history of great nations and empires are marked with such grand bargains and landmark arrangements which demonstrate great statesmanship and sacrifice, of constraining the power of your constituency and devolving it to citizens to become more united and powerful as a nation.

Looking back at 73 years of our own upheavals – competition for absolute power between strong constituencies, from “vote ko izzat dou” to hybrid regimes, the National Reconciliation Ordinance, Charter for Democracy, but no statesmanship of the Magna Carta level. Our charters are about gaining absolute power, or perpetuation of self-power- for my family, clan or institution. They are mere affirmations of ‘my might is right’ and not an act of state-craft by distributing power and creating an ownership society.

All institutions want a say in policymaking, but there must be an institutional mechanism for engagement between different state institutions for long-term policy development, though no key players address the central issue of setting up the rules of power sharing and accountability. So, we live in a state of perpetual crisis, from commissions to reconciliations, or from the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD) to the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

Without agreed rules of respective responsibility and accountability enforced through an institutional setup, we act like spoilt children seeking absolute power – what King John too craved. Instead of collaboration, cohabitation, we seek total domination and unquestioning loyalty. This is the reason our fight is about getting into government, but not whether parliament performs or not.

Political families keep party leadership within the family. Such tight control of talent to run the party, and hence government, precipitates mis-governance and mis-management. Family comes first, then political party and the nation perhaps last. The establishment too are caught in the game, with hardly any strategy for systemic improvements.

And Pakistan continues to wait for statesmen or intellectuals who can develop blueprints of a grand bargain for our country’s progress. We dream of a Pakistani Great Charter which will strike a settlement between players, to reframe the existing zero-sum and divisive political game of maximizing their share of national wealth, to aligning all constituencies to increase the size of national wealth, so everyone has a greater share to themselves. For this, thinkers and ideologues must develop grand reform ideas.

A consensus is required on a new electoral system which creates a level playing field for new knowledgeable entrants, without privilege or established power. We need to think beyond the first-past-the-post system of winner-takes-all and governments forming with only 30 percent votes. A system of ranked choice on the ballot with proportional representation will make our electoral process more egalitarian, inclusive, and break old political monopolies.

There should be a clear definition of a party that can be listed on the ballot, as an entity with regular ECP-managed internal party elections. Without this condition, a party should not be listed on a ballot. There can also be a requirement of a minimum membership in each province to be registered on the ballot, to force political parties to appeal across linguistic, ethnic boundaries.

Legislators must be legislators. They can have no say in development projects or in executive decisions. No more than five percent of the legislature can have any executive position – to keep a clear divide between legislature and executive. Term limits must be reinstated not only for the PM, but for legislators too. Representation is not a lifetime entitlement or subject to the ability to buy votes.

A Great Charter must be backed by a process of deep consultation, involving small town-hall meetings to draw up plans for the deep reform of all our colonial institutions, from the civil service to judiciary, from intellectual spaces to defence forces – to build an institutional and governance architecture for the digital age. The process should culminate in parliament, and not in half-baked ordinances or amendments that are orchestrated in the dark of night.

The concept of Charter is embedded in Hadith. When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) entered Mecca in a glorious victory, instead of retribution he sought co-existence with local power players by assigning houses as refuge of peace forging humanity’s first City Charter with the residents of Mecca. The reverent final sermon at the Hajj was about protecting property, keeping trust and equality before Allah of Arabs and non-Arabs – forging the Charter for Muslim Nationhood, to progress as a unified cohesive body, even as diversity increases.

Nation-building is a decades-long project that requires statesmen to think beyond themselves, their families, and to strive for the growth of our nation by bringing out its best facets and strengths of constituencies together. This is not only politically correct, but an obligation incumbent upon all of us.


Malik Ahmad Jalal is the founder of Zambeel Partners and Pakistan2047.



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