The Internet Under Attack in Pakistan


*Originally published on Fair Observer

It has been two months since Mashal Khan’s brutal murder. Amid great shock and outrage, many hoped that this would mark a turning point for things to change in Pakistan. Things had to change after this, they believed.

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And indeed there has been a change. There is now official license and pursuit for replications of the ghastly incident: a social-media witch-hunt and increased crackdown on alleged incidents of blasphemy and dissent.

Last month, text messages from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority began circulating nation-wide warning that “uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on internet is a punishable offence under the law” and calling for such content to “be reported for legal action.”

Rather than adopting caution and carefully defusing the growing incitement and agitation over blasphemy, especially after such an appalling incident, the government has decided to vigorously charge right into it by actively encouraging the use of the blasphemy law and expanding its stretch to social media.

THE RULE OF LAW

A few weeks back, the first death sentence for blasphemy on social media was handed to 30-year old Taimoor Raza by an anti-terrorism court. The allegations of blasphemy emerged after Raza engaged in an online Facebook debate on Islam with an individual who later turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent. The sentence was given by an anti-terrorism court and should occasion debate about the bizarre logic of an anti-terrorism court dealing with cases of blasphemy and its subsequent implication of blasphemy being tantamount to terrorism.

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Since the past few years, the internet and social media in Pakistan have surfaced as vital spaces for expression of critical views of the state, the government and discourse on various issues confronting the country, especially those that are deemed sensitive or left uncovered the media such as Balochistan, attacks on religious minorities and the Blasphemy Law itself. These were spaces long considered safe from the eye and intervention of the state and government; and free from the taboos prevalent otherwise regarding such subjects.

The disappearance of six prominent social activists and bloggers earlier this year, however, shattered this illusion. And the recent series of developments have only served to cement the realization that the internet is no longer safe but at the center of a dangerous witch-hunt and crackdown on dissent.

The creeping state spotlight on social media has been given a more threatening tint by the association of blasphemy with it.

It is also important to remember that after their disappearance and recovery, blasphemy accusations were hurled at the bloggers, which indicates increasing pervasiveness of blasphemy accusations for silencing people and for justifying harrowing acts like disappearances.

MISAPPLICATIONS

One of the strongest criticisms of the blasphemy law pertain to its use for personal schemes of vengeance, vendettas, petty conflicts and property disputes. But rather than curtailing the blasphemy law’s use and abuse, an official invitation and initiative for its use on social media only expands the potential for them. It must also be noted that the internet and social media are murky waters where, among other things, fake profiles, harassment and stalking abound and the possibilities of framing people can easily arise in relation to both concoctions of blasphemous content in someone’s name and harming them on that basis. The numerous profiles posting blasphemous content under the name of Mashal Khan that came into view after his death only attest to this. Navigating such a territory for the government will not be an easy task and poses peril for Pakistani internet-users. 

The danger of an increasing emphasis on blasphemy on social media and the punitive measures designed against it lapsing into a clampdown on dissent and criticism of powerful segments of the country is also not insignificant. And while these developments may be attributed to the influence or strength of the religious right, the existence of draconian laws, and the age-old aversion of the political and military establishment to criticism, but the pivotal role played by the Interior Ministry in actively creating these developments can no longer be discounted.

nisarThe Interior Minister’s constant pandering and cavorting with extremists and sectarian leaders is common knowledge. Recently, however, he has also taken to stress upon a number of sensitive issues to create a case for greater internet censorship and control. His efforts have included invocation of the sentiments underlying the Blasphemy Law, warnings of bans on sites with blasphemous content, instructions to the Federal Investigation Agency to act against “those dishonoring the Pakistan Army through social media” and announcements of new rules and measures against online anonymity. These have not been without significance.

Only a short while back, some social media activists and supporters of the opposition party PTI and even supporters of the PML-N were detained by the FIA on the basis of the fresh instructions to the FIA and the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crime Act.

A report in the Guardian on the matter quotes an FIA saying that “his agency had orders from the interior ministry to interrogate, and seize laptops and phones, without warrant” and that they were “authorized to detain anyone, just on suspicion.” An allegedly official list with the names of social media users and activists who are being monitored for their comments against “national institutions” also did the rounds on Twitter.

The surging tide of these developments and the proliferation of these problematic measures and repressive acts involve dangerous ramifications upon which suggest an increasingly bleak future for free speech, public criticism and opposition in the country. They also demonstrate the weakness of the government’s commitment to public freedoms and its own democratic credentials.

This suffocation of spaces for robust debate, dissent and a healthy discourse by the cultivation of a climate of fear is certain to foster intimidation, harassment, abuse, and violence. After Mashal Khan, it seems the Pakistani government itself has stepped in to lead attacks under the cover and with the cudgel of blasphemy but for the purpose of clobbering dissent, freedom and opposition.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Ishq, Ibadat aur Pakistan


I often think about the love that this land has given birth to: Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punno, Mirza Sahiba. These were tragic romances, there was separation, pain and loss.

Maybe all great romances are tragic.

I said this once previously, but I must repeat it again today: I see the loss of cricket in Pakistan as the loss of a nation’s love to foreign lands, the exile of a beloved.

This too is a tragic romance, whose pain all of us feel, the return of whose beloved all of us seek.

It has ached, it has devastated us.

But this too is a great romance, one that we refuse to give up on and vow to win over.

Perhaps that is why when it comes to our beloved, we either sink or collapse into despair or we rise to the heights of passion and audacity that stuns all.

And while there may be separation from the beloved, we have never been more in love.

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Shift as many meetings with the beloved to a nearby desert but what thrill lies in that? There is no home away from home. What beauty is there in this rendezvous with the beloved at places that belong to neither of us?

Yet every win is a promise of loyalty fulfilled for the beloved; an affirmation of our resolve that our love will overcome the pain of this exile, this separation. It will triumph.

Every single time I cross Liberty Roundabout, I wonder at the irony of the place; this is where, for years, celebrations have converged in the city to the thaap of the dhol, to the beat of the bhangra, and yet this is the place where it all ended in March 2009 by the chilling sound of shots.

This is where the tragedy began. Yet today this is where the jashan of the ishq again surfaced.

They say ishq is also ibadat, and indeed it is.

Cricket has never been just a game in Pakistan. It has been a nation’s beloved; it has been a people’s religion. This is a religion truly shared across the country, surpassing all others. Go out tonight and see how the roads and streets are jammed with throngs of its followers, from the thailay wallas to the jeep wallas, from those on the motorcycles to those on foot, from the young to the old, engaging in the ritual of joy, of celebration, of worship.

No wonder today feels like Eid before Eid.
Is this how the renewal of the vows of love with a separated beloved feels?

How incredible is it that a team that hasn’t played on home ground since 2009, that hasn’t seen home crowds since years, that ranked at the bottom of the table and were no one’s favorites; were torn by weaknesses, lack of resources, and heaps of problems, rose to become the first in the finals and beat traditional rivals and become the champions with such brilliance, with such confidence, with such class?

There has been stumbling, there has been staggering, there has been faltering, there has been fumbling, but they have shown there is always more to them than this, if they will.

I think of the tragic romances again, and I see what happened today and I know this romance will never be tragic. It will live to be told to generations. We will endure, we will overcome, we have persevered, we haven’t given up; we can, we have and we will triumph. And so will it.

The reunion is inevitable.

We come from the land of Sassi and Punno, Heer and Ranjha, Sohni and Mahiwal. And while our beloved may be exiled from home, while we remain in separation, we have never been more in love.

What happened today was ishq.

And what happened today wasn’t surreal, it was only Pakistan.

 

-Hafsa Khawaja

 ———-
*Later published on PCB Blogs.

An Old Man at Ghora Chowk


I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk late last night.

It was a mere glance, as much a glance as a moving car can afford.

There he was, an old man holding four balloons in his hand, sitting all alone by the side.

We passed him by and I turned around to look, every time a vehicle would approach he would strain his creaking old knees and legs to stand up. Balloons in hand. So he could be noticed.

So he could be visible.

The cars would rush past, and he would sit back down again. Whenever he would see another at a distance, he would stand up again.

There was something about him that made a knot in my throat; that felt as a punch to my heart.

Here was an old man, sitting all alone at 1AM in the sweltering heat on an empty road, with nothing but his plight.

107551530It was a distressing contrast; the vibrant balloons, and the grim desperation of the man who had pinned his hopes on them. I wondered if people even bought balloons these days, I thought about the utter distress and desolation that the hope for whose reduction hung by the thread of a balloon. At 1AM, at an old age, on a road in a city with stifling heat.

It was a mere glance, and yet I thought of my old grandfather who needs care, attention and comfort at the stage of life, as do all elderly. I thought of the difference between them, and the injustice inequality is. No old man should have to be subjected to the ignominy of poverty like this.

Yet here was a man, solitary in his presence on the road, hard to miss, but not solitary in his suffering.

There is a roundabout in Main Market. And on its ground lie dozens of people, every day, living and sleeping. That, is their abode. That, is all they have.

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I look at them, and I look at myself.

There are times I cannot bear Lahore’s heat. I thank heavens for the ACs and the splits and the UPS. Why can’t I bear the heat? Is my skin different from the skin of those lying in Main Market right under the sun? My intolerance is my privilege. I pinch my arm to remind myself we have the same skin, separate but by the stroke of fortune. I can’t bear the heat because I have the choice not to, they bear it as it strikes down at them, because they have no choice.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day. We inhabit two different worlds behind the window from which we see each other.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers, the young, the old, the disabled begging on the roads every day.  You look at them and you remember, those residing in their palatial residences, in their Raiwinds, their villas, their flats, with their wealth and stakes stashed in places like London, Dubai and Panama. With enough wealth for their seven wretched generations, while the millions live in the uncertainty of what the other day will bring.

The old man at Ghora Chowk, the dozens in Main Market, the children on roads selling flowers every day.

These are the people upon whose bones, flesh and blood the palaces and the wealth has been built upon.  

I caught a passing glance at the old man, and I cared not one bit about democracy, justice, morals, ethics, political correctness, and wished for all this lot to rot in hell with their ill-gotten wealth.

May the shame they lack be found in their ruin. And ruin they will.

There are two worlds. What finds no fulfillment in this world, will find fact in the other.

_____________________

On our way back home, I silently prayed in my heart that the old man had gone home.

I don’t know why I did, but I just did.

And yet, as we rushed past Ghora Chowk again on the entirely empty roads, there he was. Still sitting. Balloons in hand.

It was 2:30 AM.

I glanced again and his sight seized my heart.

Yesterday, I saw an old man at Ghora Chowk and I wished the world came crushing down.

I wonder if someone bought his balloons,

I wonder when he went home,

If he had any.

-Hafsa Khawaja

My Mother is a Sultanate


*This is dedicated to all the women and the mothers in Pakistan whose strength, patience and efforts go unacknowledged and yet they refuse to cease. You inspire me, and you make us all.

I watch Turkish dramas.

Especially the one on the Sultanate of Women. You know, the ones on Hurrem and Kosem Sultan.

It’s a subject I’ve long been fascinated by.  It is fascinating, how these slave girls rose to become sultanas that more or less ruled the Ottoman Empire.

Most of it is fiction in the show, but if you’ve read actual history, it gives faces to the names; it gives a life to history.

Life wasn’t easy in the harem, there was struggle, there was conflict, there was suffering, there was love, there was loss, there was death.

I’ve read about these sultanas, their lives, their reigns and I have always been left enchanted by their intelligence, their strength, their beauty, their courage, their power, their triumph against adversity and difficulty; their fight against fate.

I read about these women in history and it gives rise to a strange feeling: a pride that the womanhood I possess has been shared by such glorious women; and a realization that inside every woman, there is a capacity for the things they did.

But I wonder if there are more of their kind.

I wonder if I was in their position, would I have survived?


As I am forced to venture further into adulthood, I find myself absolutely fearful not of what the future holds for me, but what this society holds for me.

There is so much that is wrong in it. So much to battle against, so much to resign to.

I don’t think I have the patience, the tact, the strength in me to deal with the pressures and expectations of our culture and society. As dramatic as this sounds, I fear for my survival in it because I don’t think I’ll be able to put up with what it throws a girl’s way.

Then there are times in my life during which I am struck and seized by a moment of sheer marvel and awe at my mother.

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This is a woman who seems ordinary. She has a life and story shared by perhaps millions across Pakistan.

She’s a homemaker.

20170514_135739She was married fairly young, and she has devoted her entire life to her family, the family she was married into, and the family she raised of her own. She has two grown kids now, a few strands of gray in her hair, and yet even today, from the minute she wakes up to the minute she shuts her eye at night, her day revolves around me, my brother and my father. Us, our needs, our demands, our joy, our utmost dependence on her from the smallest thing to the biggest pareshani. We frustrate her, bother her, test her. We are not easy people.

And yet, it is almost as if we’ve usurped her life from her as a right of ours.

She’s the most beautiful woman I know. She’s the woman with the most melodious voice, that I often wake up to, hearing it hum along or rendering a rendition of a classic Indian song.

She’s the woman whose every word, expression, gesture and effort is a lesson in compassion, thoughtfulness and selflessness.

She’s the brightest woman I know. The strongest woman I know. A shelter in storms, a shade to rest against amid scathing heat, a breeze amid the stillness and silences of the night.

She amazes me, and yet she frightens me because God knows, the sort of strength, patience, the ability to sacrifice, the ability to endure, to overcome, to love, and to forgive, that she has, I would never be able to muster even in a thousand years.

She’s been put through a lot, she has endured a lot.

She’s a warrior.

I know there have been times that if I had been in her place, I would’ve given up, let go or collapsed.

I falter at the thought of it. I am nothing like her, not even a mere fragment of her self.

And yet I wonder how much I have still taken from her; her health, her youth, her time, her individuality.

She’s fought for me in ways I know and know not. She’s suffered and been hurt because of me, in ways I know and know not. After all, I am a hot-tempered child to have (all of them say it is “meray naam ka asr”) and often an ungrateful one too.

And yet she’s lifted and moved mountains for me.

________________________________________________________________

I love looking back on the Sultanas, and I wonder if there are more of their kind. Yet I need not look far in books, in dramas, to history, to different times and spaces.

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Because at home, with the cracks on her feet, the sweat on her brow; with her strength, her patience, her sacrifices, and her beauty, my mother stands. Holding our worlds by her very existence.

My mother stands. Not as a sultana.

But as a sultanate on her own,

To which I bow.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Remembering Eqbal Ahmad


“Editorials and newspaper columns published around the world quickly paid homage to a unique and fearless thinker. Egypt’s Al-Ahram wrote “Palestine has lost a friend”, while the New York Times, whose Vietnam and Palestine policies Eqbal had forcefully criticized, admitted that he “woke up America’s conscience”. The Economist described him as “a revolutionary and intellectual who was the Ibn-Khaldun of modern times”

-From Eqbal Ahmad: The Man who Inspired a Generation

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“Throughout the world, we are living in modern times, and dominated by medieval minds—political minds that are rooted in distorted histories.”

Today is the 18th death anniversary of Eqbal Ahmad, who was one of the most brilliant minds Pakistan has produced and one of the greatest public intellectuals.

In the “intellectual indolence” (as he called it) that has reigned in Pakistan, he was a flare of exception, and he continues to be that, years after his departure from this world.

Anyone who has happened to read my ramblings would probably have noticed my eagerness to quote his words and works in them.

Although I became acquainted with his life and work long after his demise, his intellectual honesty, courage and brilliance have taught me to think, to question and to hold writing to a sacred standard of telling the truth, raging against the wrong and raising voice for what is right.

After all, “lack of success does not justify the crime of silence in the face of criminal, arbitrary power.”

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                  A young Eqbal Ahmad  (Photo via South Asian American Digital Archive)

 

Since the day I read of him, my admiration for him has known no bounds, and delving into his writings has only left an immeasurable impact on my mind.

Eqbal Ahmad is an ideal for me.

Along with numerous others, I am truly indebted to his work for awakening, educating and inspiring me; and for pushing me into the pursuit of ceaseless learning. As audacious as it is, I would like nothing more than to consider myself and to be considered as a student of his

It is a shame that a man like him – whose unparalleled insights and advice writers, politicians, activists, revolutionaries, intellectuals and people from all over the world sought; and who possessed a prophetic foresight – is hardly known of or acknowledged today in his own country.

Edward Said, with whom Eqbal Ahmad shared a cherished friendship and association (Said dedicated his book Culture and Imperialism to Eqbal Ahmad), said it best when he stated:

“Knowing him has been an education”

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Edward Said’s letter of recommendation for Eqbal Ahmad when the latter applied for a job at Hampshire College.

And on occasion of his retirement from Hampshire College, Said remarked that Eqbal was,

“..to paraphrase from Kipling’s Kim – a friend of the world.”

Eqbal Ahmad was indeed a friend who saw the future before its time, who was an ally of the oppressed and dispossessed all over the world and was an epitome of intellectual integrity, courage and excellence – a friend who, in today’s global moment of confusion, crises and clamor, is all the more important to remember, revisit and consult.

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Eqbal Ahmad gesturing as he leaves the Federal Building, Washington, DC, in May 1971, as part of the Harrisburg Seven, a group of anti-war activists unsuccessfully prosecuted for allegedly plotting to kidnap Kissinger.

If you wish to read more about Eqbal Ahmad, please do check this excellent page run in his memory on Facebook, along with the Eqbal Ahmad Center for Education, and try getting your hands either on The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad, or Stuart Schaar’s book on him, or simply Google and directly read about his life, his vision, his many, many interviews, and writings. Or watch his lectures online.

Let us remember the man whom we have are fortunate enough to call one of our own, a man whose words and ideas can still guide, enlighten and lead us out of the dim abyss we find ourselves in.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Remembering Bassem


“And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

– Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Today marks three years since my dear friend Bassem Sabry passed away.

This will be a very personal post, I don’t think I’ve spoken about this before and I would rather not speak about it but I hope it makes someone avoid what I did.

I had gotten to know Bassem through Twitter in 2011, a few months after #Jan25, something I will forever be indebted to social media for.

And every single exchange I had with him revealed him to be an incredibly intelligent, witty and kind soul. It was a joy to talk to him.

He was brilliant, in mind and heart. In every way.

A year before he passed away, Bassem wrote a moving post on his reflections on life upon turning 30.

I remember reading it and thinking just how lucky I was to know such a beautiful person, and how privileged I was to have his friendship. I thought of expressing this to him but only properly i.e by writing him an elaborate and thoughtful message when I had ample time. I was lazy too. Days passed, and so did the months, and I still hadn’t composed anything.

Until April 2014, when I learned, through the very place I had gotten to know him, that he had left forever.

I had looked for time to express myself and it had passed me by, or maybe I had.

Not a day has gone by since April 29th, 2014 when I haven’t remembered him, but not writing to Bassem is the biggest regret of my life. Everyday, I wake up with this regret, this unmovable mountain crushingly sitting on my heart. It gnaws at my heart, just like his loss.

I read of the things happening in Egypt and the world, and I think of what he would’ve said or written about them. He wrote so well.

I think of things that have happened in Pakistan since he left that he would’ve messaged to ask me about.

I think of how our friendship would’ve grown with time, I wonder if my frequent “come to Pakistan someday, Bassem” would’ve ever realized.

I think of him every single time I exceed a given word limit for something I have to write, and remember how we’d joked that we can never write within limits and it was almost as if it was beyond our control.

I remember him whenever I listen to Shik Shak Shok, and how he’d laughed with surprise that I knew of it sitting in Pakistan.

I think of him everytime I turn a page from one of the books I bought after looking at his Facebook album of recommended books. I read the words and wonder what he would’ve thought when reading them.

I think of the kindness, knowledge, wisdom, beauty and love this world has been deprived of by his departure.

I think of how unfair his loss has been to a world and to a people who need someone like him the most today.

I think of my wish of going to Egypt and visiting him, just as I wanted to in his life.

Cb9FBu5WwAAc4SOI knew him for a short while but I got to know such great people and things through Bassem.

And how generous he was to teach me something even in his passing: that one should never spare even a second in saying a kind word, in appreciating people, in expressing how much they mean to you.

I have done this everyday since he left, even with strangers. Some people find it odd how expressive I am to them, but I learnt a hard lesson.  I hope no one ever loses out on expressing his or herself to the people they cherish and value. We take so much for granted.

And maybe how swiftly expressive I am to people now is also my way of making up to Bassem. I pray for him everyday. My prayers are profuse because deep inside, I want to make up for what I lost out on. Yet I know it isn’t the same, it can never be.

Never hold back from saying a kind word or connecting and appreciating those who light up your life in little or big ways, even if just for a minute or forever.

Please do read up on Bassem today, acquaint yourself with the person he was; remember him, and perhaps learn something from him, because his knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and heart were limitless in their giving, and thankfully he has left behind much through which people can glimpse and gain from them.

Spare a thought and prayer for him today and most importantly, do what he would’ve loved: do an act or say a word of kindness to someone.

For those who are still reading this, I end with words from Mohamed El Dahshan’s tribute to Bassem:

“May you be as as kind, as smart, and as loved, as Bassem Sabry. There’s nothing better.”

Rest in peace, my beautiful friend.

Wish you had stayed longer.

The Blood on Our Hands


*Originally published in The Nation. Unedited version below:

“How I wished during those sleepless hours that I belonged to a different nation, or better still, to none at all.”

– W. G. Sebald

A glance at his profile reveals bits and pieces from which you can patch together his person: poetry, musings, an avidness for photography, friendships, quotes from books, posts on global affairs and local issues, a love for knowledge, an interest in Sufism, support for women’s rights and a heart for humanity.

This was Mashal Khan, a kind and gentle soul whose crime was to think freely, to have the audacity to think differently, and to envision a better society and a better people.

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He was brutally murdered in Mardan.

Is it even a shock that such a horrific incident took place in a country which has institutionalized bigotry and hate? Where politicians, representatives, leaders, judges, journalists, anchors and clerics peddle hate, bigotry and violence every single day?

Before the matter of blasphemous posts was concocted, Mashal was accused of being an Ahmadi which he had denied. Is such an incident unexpected in a land whose laws enshrine exclusion, discrimination and persecution towards the Ahmadi community?

When the state sanctions hate, it is a license for the public to have a free hand to apply it wherever and whenever they wish.

The gruesome incident also forces questions about blasphemy in Pakistan, including the reform and the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. It is undeniable that the matter warrants honest and candid debate, but it is also a point to ponder whether or not the people would stop baying for blood if the Blasphemy Law goes. In Mashal’s case, neither a formal complaint nor an arrest had taken place. There has been no appeal to law, mob vigilantism was the law of the day.

The baying for blood may not disappear with the Blasphemy Law, but let us be clear that state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas opens the floodgates for abhorrent public sentiments and abominable tendencies and menaces to come to the fore and actively play out. Trump’s ascent to the White House and the boost it has been for white-supremacists and racists stands stark in sight. One need not even look so far for proof of this, a glimpse at our eastern neighbor suffices. Modi’s rise has emboldened Hindu right-wing organizations and India has subsequently seen a sharp growth in incidents of violence, fear, threat and intimidation against those who provoke their ire.

In Pakistan, state patronage of certain ideologies and ideas, a certain narrative of Islam and the narrative of blasphemy, is an encouragement for the public to engage, express and execute their depraved schemes, bigotry, intolerance, and to take the law into their hands.

Mashal’s murder, however, must not push us into the utopian expectation and idealistic hope that the Pakistani government and state would step up to reflect on their responsibility, their complicity and decisively act to steer the country away from the destruction it is steeply descending into by each passing day.

Such an expectation and hope cannot be fostered while the state and government pander and patronize for their own agendas and interests the very elements and organizations whose extremism, intolerance and violence are fatally injuring Pakistan. Such a hope cannot be kept while religion is employed as a potent weapon for political expediency, for cheap political mileage and for silencing dissent; while lawmakers declare those who wish to see Pakistan should either mend their ways or leave the country; while the Prime Minister’s son-in-law engages in hate speech against the Ahmadi community; while political parties scurry to shake hands bloodied with the lives of thousands of Pakistanis, in the name of electoral alliances; when disappeared bloggers and arrested professors are struck with blasphemy allegations; when the Interior Minister threatens to shut down social media due to blasphemous content; when judges become moral crusaders and drum up perceived dangers to Islam to curtail freedoms.

That this witch-hunt and venom would extend and seep into online spaces was only inevitable.

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Shama and Shehzad

It is too much to expect for things to change when not a leaf stirred when Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were gunned down in broad daylight, when the Christian couple of a pregnant Shama and her husband Shehzad were lynched and thrown into the furnace of a brick kiln, or when an angry mob set fire to a house in Gujranwala killing three Ahmadis including eight-month-old Hira, and five-year-old Kainat.

The involvement of ordinary people in such acts does much to underscore the extent, gravity and ideological and cultural facets of the prevalent challenge of extremism and intolerance confronting Pakistan. We are complicit, through our outright espousal of extremism, through our apathy towards its victims; through the stutter and stammer of our tongue with “ifs” and “buts” when condemning these acts, through the repugnant “justifications”, “explanations” and “questions” we offer for these acts; and through our refusal and silences to protest against them. In one way or another, we are complicit.

When an institution of education, knowledge and learning becomes the site of a cold-blooded, brutal murder, it should be enough to recognize that the Pakistani state is a rotten state, with a diseased society, both of which can never bear a truly living and thinking individual like Mashal.

The state is complicit, and so are we.

We may not have been present at the site of the murder, but we enabled it.

One can suppose that the splatters of blood are lighter on our hands, but know that they are there nonetheless.

Every day, this country dies a ghastly death at the hands of the mob it has the misfortune of calling its people, its nation.

It seems even God has forsaken Pakistan for we alone are responsible for the hell and havoc at home.

Kitni badnaseeb hai who qaum jo apne mashal khud hi inkar aur tabah karde.

Kitne mashal bujhaye jayein gay is mulk main? Aur agar hai, tau kitna tareek hai iss mulk ka mustaqbil.

-Hafsa Khawaja