burning books is a manifestation of a culture that is afraid to face the truth.
It is ignorance of the book’s message or the fear of the latter that is often
the reason for someone trying to ban a book. We have a long history of
suppressing dissenting views perceived as posing a threat to the prevailing
order. Not only have books been banned, writers too have been persecuted. The
space for reason and freedom of expression is further shrinking thanks to
growing authoritarianism and rising bigotry in society.
reported confiscation of copies of the Urdu translation of Mohammed Hanif’s
book A Case of Exploding Mangoes and the recommendation by a Punjab Assembly
panel to ban three seminal books on Islam are the latest examples of the
growing intolerance towards critical thinking. The books include Lesley
Hazleton’s The First Muslim and After the Prophet.
Exploding Mangoes is concerned, some personnel allegedly belonging to an intelligence
agency were said to have raided the office of the publisher in Karachi and
taken away copies of the translated book that came out last year.
Interestingly, the original English edition of the book — a satirical take on
Gen Ziaul Haq’s plane crash — was published in 2008, and the work has been
that certain elements have suddenly discovered something in the Urdu version
that they feel threatens our ‘national security’. It says a lot about their
lack of understanding of a literary work. The raid itself could, perhaps, be a
plot for a new bestseller satire by the author. Apparently, the government has
not banned the book, so who ordered the raid on the publisher?
insidious is the suggestion to ban the books authored by Lesley Hazleton, an
American journalist and scholar. Both books have been impeccably researched.
“The First Muslim illuminates not only an immensely significant figure but his
lastingly relevant legacy.”
I have read
the two books by Hazleton and found them to be extremely instructive, more than
any other work on the subject. The books have been a bestseller in this country
for more than a decade, and suddenly some unscrupulous lawmakers want these
books to be banned just because of their own narrow-mindedness and prejudices.
bigotry has been the main reason for the decline of sound scholarship regarding
religious matters in this country. Some genuine scholars like Javed Ghamdi have
had to leave the country because of the threat to their lives. Many enlightened
clerics have been killed by extremists, with the result that the interpretation
of religion is left to semi-educated mullahs. It will be a tragedy if these
books are banned in this country. One hopes that the government has the sense
to ignore such mindless recommendations.
paranoid certain sections of our establishment have become with any critical
narration of this country’s history is apparent in their reaction to a recently
published book, The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough
Neighbourhood. It is a remarkable work by Shuja Nawaz, an acclaimed writer on
Pakistan’s military. Although the book is not banned, its launch in Pakistan
was blocked allegedly by certain quarters said to be unhappy with the objective
study of the rocky relationship between the Pakistani military and the US in
the past decade.
reality is that this is a well-researched book and the arguments are
substantiated by facts and based on interviews with senior Pakistani and US
military officials directly involved in policymaking during that period. Nawaz
previously wrote an authoritative history of the Pakistani military: Crossed
Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within.
attempt to block the launch, the book has already drawn a large number of
readers. Instead of learning from their mistakes and accepting the reality, the
powers that be are attempting to restrict the freedom of views. It is such a
narrow-minded approach that turns a country into an intellectual desert.
deception have often been used to cover up blunders, conspiracies, and military
misadventures spanning Pakistan’s seven-decade history. Over the years, great
pains have been taken to hide facts from the nation, even if these are
generally known. Failure is celebrated as victory. This situation has led to a
widening trust deficit between the public and the authorities.
the people tend to believe foreign publications on the issue, however
unrealistic they may be. So sensitive have the concerned authorities become
that even a public debate on such issues is seen as breaching national
security. As a result, we can never learn from our mistakes and wrongdoings.
It’s all in the name of ‘national security’ — a handy term when it comes to
suppressing saner voices. Such strong-arm actions are actually a sign of
weakness. Confident societies face criticism rather than silence the messenger.
to live in a society where they enjoy freedom of thought and action and can
freely exercise their right to speak. Liberal democracies thrive on the freedom
of expression. Unfortunately, the past few years have seen an attempt to roll
back democratic values.
expression is the principal target of authoritarianism. In fact, one of its
symptoms is the creeping expansion of ‘deep state’ power. The raid on the
office of a publication house in Karachi and the attempt to stop the launch of
an important book on Pakistan-US relations is a grim reminder of a country
alarming is the rise of bigotry in society and the growing confluence of
religious extremism and politics. The call by some lawmakers for banning
seminal works on Islam is troubling. The strengthening of right-wing religious
extremism threatens not only to weaken democratic institutions but also to
divide the country.
achieved either through direct censorship or other forms of pressure, will turn
the country away from the path of progress and enlightenment. The weakening of
democratic institutions gives non-government forces greater opportunity to get
involved in manipulating politics as they attempt to thwart fundamental rights.
More worrisome is that all this is happening under a democratically elected
Hussain is an author and journalist.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan