PEMRA’s Bans: Perpetually Problematic


*First posted on The Nation’s Blog.

“Why is Ahmadi such a taboo word? Ideological stances aside, my only goal is that when an Ahmadi is killed or persecuted, the media shouldn’t be scared to talk about it,” he had said.

It seemed too good to be true. A conversation about a pressing issue being initiated by a prominent TV actor with a large fan-following on national television during Ramzan.

And indeed it was.

A few days back, a video emerged of Hamza Ali Abbasi hosting a channel’s Ramzan transmission in which he questioned the seated Islamic scholars whether the state has any right to define who is and isn’t a Muslim, and if the state has the right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. He further elaborated his intention to host an entire programme on the Ahmadis and the controversial Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. Hamza was treading on dangerous ground, one which is bloodied with risk and loss.

Social media immediately became abuzz with contention, praise on one hand and condemnation on the other. The latter was taken an alarming notch further when death threats starting pouring in from numerous ends and a certain “Maulana” Kaukab Noorani Okarvi appeared on a show to declare that anyone who discusses the two issues, of Ahmedis and the Blasphemy Law, warranted an end to be put to his life, “ussi muqaam par ussey goli maar di jaaye.”

The absence of any action on part of the government concerning what is an unambiguous signal for murder also indicates the level of its commitment in combatting extremism and safeguarding the lives of its citizens. But even more indicative is perhaps the possibility that either the government agrees with Noorani’s ideology or that it does not have the courage to take action against the expression of a belief, that those who speak of the Ahmadi issue and Blasphemy Law should be killed, which has a great deal of currency and supporters in the society.

But on a more immediate level, what should’ve been an active and responsible response by both PEMRA and other government authorities in light of the call for cold-blooded murder issued on national TV, resulted instead in PEMRA issuing a ban on both the programmes: of the targeted and the perpetrator; thereby essentially equating a discussion on an issue with incitement to murder.

In issuing the ban, it stated: “During these transmissions, ratings remain the focus under the guise of Ramazan shows,” read the Pemra statement, adding that “provocative conversations took place during the shows which has led to much anger”. “Even after clear instructions from Pemra, unfortunately TV channel owners, anchors and audience indulged in non-serious and irresponsible conversations,” added the statement. It is rather curious that the objection of “non-serious and irresponsible conversations” was not invoked in the case of the majority of shows dominating channels in Ramzan which shamelessly make a vulgar mockery and joke of the month. But this is also says volumes about our observation of Ramzan and the hypocrisy, which PEMRA’s decision reeks of, when televised circuses pass for popular Ramzan transmission programmes and a show attempting to go against this norm by broaching serious issues, with a clear set of risks attached to it, is dismissed as “provocative” in the pursuit of “ratings”.

PEMRA is not new to this exercise of farce and regressive thought.

Only recently did it announce and later revoke a ban on contraceptives’ and family planning advertisements. This was followed by its decision to issue notice to Udaari regarding its portrayal of child abuse in the drama.

What is common in this string of actions and decisions by PEMRA, apart from the absurdity of it all, is the idea of silence and denial that the Pakistani society and state thrives on. What exactly is being prevented by these bans? How flimsy and weak are the foundations and ideas of this society and state which are shaken and threatened by mere discussions and simple questions?

Hamza Ali Abbasi’s discussion sought to question and address the difficulties, the discrimination and the plight of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan which is sanctioned constitutionally and imposed stringently by many of its citizens socially and culturally. PEMRA’s ban, however, serves to preserve the state’s monopoly of narrative on the issue. This is the same monopoly that has under its grip issues ranging from the Second Amendment to Balochistan. These are narratives hailed as the truth; narratives that are dominant through years of indoctrination and imposition yet still weak to be confronted by mere question and inquiry. A question and inquiry which seeks to establish that a people have the right not to be killed irrespective of their beliefs and one’s own agreement or disagreement with those. But let alone raising voice in this regard, even the right of that voice is denied to us.

This is deliberate silencing.

The recent notice to Udaari demonstrates the same, but not with regards to state narrative but a cultural and social narrative. The portrayal of child abuse is a cause of discomfort for many, who would rather indulge in their ignorance and indifference to the ghastly acts that are committed every single day against children.

Jasmeen Manzoor tweeted on the matter:  @jasmeenmanzoor

“No idea what message our dramas are giving to public by showing a 10 year old girl raped by her step father #disgusting #pathetic”

It is ridiculous that the depiction of a problem offends and hurts the sensitivities and sensibilities of people more than the realization that this depiction is an everyday reality in Pakistan hurting, harming and destroying hundreds of children and their lives. This is denial. What message are our dramas giving to the public by showing a 10 year old girl raped by her step father? They are giving a message of awareness, of consciousness, of cautiousness, and yes, of disgust, because this does happen in Pakistan. It is not a remote reality or a figment of dramatic imagination. And what message are we giving by calling these efforts “pathetic”? That the plight of abused children in Pakistan is trivial, irrelevant, worthless; that their plight is pathetic for denial, for us, is divine.

Perhaps this is why debates and discussions in Pakistan are seldom ever more than ugly degenerations into polarized demagoguery, tub-thumbing and crass behaviour, such as one witnessed by Marvi Sirmed recently, because we are not familiar with the practice and norm of civilized discussion, debate and disagreement conducive to the healthy development of a society and nation.

We conveniently cling onto silence, denial, dogma and indifference, for they do not offer us the discomfort reality in this country entails. We would rather ignore than cure the plagues and problems Pakistan and many Pakistanis, other than ourselves, face.

What Pakistan needs today is awareness and tolerance, the starting point of which is respecting and engaging differing points of view, opinions, questions and discussions. But for that to happen, there needs to be a basic ability to listen and to learn; an ability which clearly doesn’t exist if the answer to a question and the response to a discussion are death threats and bans.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Parting Ways with Sanity


*First posted on the Dawn Blog. Unedited version below:

Reham Khan and Imran Khan have decided to part ways.

And it seems we decided we part ways with decency and sanity in wake of  their decision.

Since they picked up confirmation of the decision through PTI’s Naeem-ul-Haq, the media has gone into a distasteful overdrive.

It is often said that a political figure does not have any personal or private life, and although @merabichrayaar was correct to point out that, “announcing the divorce through a political party spokesperson was really not the most privacy protective move”, the social and public response to the matter has been despicable and deplorable.

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In a society with even a modicum of decency, maturity and sanity in it, this decision would not be news. At least not in the sense of what qualifies as news in Pakistan, which is the continuous running of red tickers on TV channels that are religiously engaged in a zealous process of seeking comments on the divorce from all and sundry; trying to claw and probe into the reasons behind the separation; endlessly speculating and spouting sensationalism. Not to mention the trashy animation effects gracing all the slideshows of Imran Khan and Reham Khan’s pictures on channels causing thunderous cracks between each photo to Bollywood scores bursting behind: “Bhula dena mujhe, Hai alvida tujhe, Tujhe jeena hai mere bina, Safar yeh tera, yeh raasta tera, Tujhe jeena hai.. mere bina”.

And of course, how could a glorious opportunity for misogyny have been missed here? From the media to the people, within minutes of the matter’s revelation, speculations and “claims” began to rapidly surface which, as Faiza S. Khan (@BhopalHouse) clearly put it, were plain “misogynistic character assassination” relating to Reham Khan.

Social media also filled up with endless commentary on the matter which was being constructed and presented as a national issue; something that may have repercussions for Pakistan’s economy, foreign relations, domestic affairs or the lives of its 200 million people; because of course, Pakistan has no other issues Alhumdulilah to be bothered with. Not like this is a country where mobs burn down entire colonies of religious minorities; not like this is a country where hundreds of children are killed in a school; not like this is a country where hundreds of children are systematically sexually abused for years in a village.

This isn’t a country like that, no, not at all.

So the public response to this private matter of a divorce between  the couple has everyone involved; everyone concerned, and everyone having something to say.

It almost seems as if an earthquake has struck Pakistan, except that it did a few days ago and shattered thousands of lives but to the silence of the media and the crowd clamoring right now.

According to the BBC, government officials have stated that ‘at least 10,000 homes were destroyed by the earthquake, which struck Pakistan and northern Afghanistan’.

With a staggering magnitude of 7.5, the earthquake ripped through the northern areas with unparalleled ferocity leaving hundreds dead and thousands of lives completely destroyed. The most affected areas are said to have temperatures which can drop to as low as -2 degrees and where there will soon be three to four feet of snow, but where countless people today have nothing but the cold to turn to – albeit some efforts seeking help from people to aid the victims – both the cold of nature, and the cold of human apathy and indifference.

This is the human apathy and indifference that has been fostered in the wake of our collective decision to part ways with empathy, compassion, sensitivity, decency and sanity as we remain glued to the crass circus playing out on the media and in our personal circles at the moment.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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12140767_1506012896364621_4320524351690497918_nSpeaking of the earthquake, the #LUMSReliefDrive aims to collect both monetary and material donations for the earthquake victims from all over Lahore. The #TurrReliefBus will be operating as part of the to collect donations from different places all over the city. The donations will be personally delivered to victims by a team of LUMS students who will be visiting the affected areas, so please do consider contributing and spreading word about this. For more information, do check the pages:

https://www.facebook.com/Lums-Relief-Drive-1505880633044514/

https://www.facebook.com/events/566258273522038/

The Wedding, the Media and Us


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog.  Unedited version below:


Tu ghanti big ban di, poora London thumakda
Oh jaddo nachche pehn di, poora London thumakda..

Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai, kee jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye….

Bollywood classics and the latest romantic songs rung loudly against the images of Imran and Reham Khan as a sense of festivity occupied most channels yesterday owing to the couple finally tying the knot. As lowkey and simple was the marriage ceremony, it managed to kick up an even bigger storm in Pakistan.

Jon Boone of the Guardian noted and wrote:

“For Pakistan’s news channels it was the equivalent of a starting pistol fired on a sudden royal wedding, but with no footage to satisfy the audience.

They did their best, overlaying with fireworks the few available stills of the couple while traditional wedding music played over video of impromptu celebrations thrown by Khan’s supporters around the country.”

Features on the new Mrs. Khan and her biographical information ran as tickers on several channels along with footages and pictures, astrologers were called in to foretell the future of the marriage; Imran and Reham’s faces were morphed onto pictures of gaudily dressed bride and groom, relatives of the couple were contacted and of course, social media also ran amok.

From following Imran Khan sisters and issuing news of their absence at the Nikkah, which journalist Shiraz Hassan aptly called ‘Phuphu Journalism’ on Twitter; to inviting astrologers to argue over the strength of the new union between the two individuals, going as far to predict when a khushkhabri will come; Pakistan’s media once again succumbed to the temptations of trashy sensationalism. And once again, it has thrown light on the long way it has to go before being a beacon of real, responsible and mature journalism.

As much as the crazed response to Imran Khan’s marriage and judgmental comments on Reham Khan are deplored, they are but nothing new in a culture in which privacy is an alien concept and prying is a popular practice and norm. Unfortunately in Pakistan, where many hold the audacity to foresee God’s will and declare people bound for hell, anyone’s business is everyone’s business. It is therefore little wonder and slightly understandable that Imran Khan’s marriage was made subject of such a reaction and response.

However, it has still been shocking.

For a nation that saw the coldblooded, barbaric murder of 140 children less than a month ago, a mood as jolly and celebratory as that espoused by the media and the obsession sparked within the people was nothing less than abhorrent. Yet it signaled the quick shifting of priorities, focus and heart in Pakistan. Pakistan seems to have internalized and entrenched the norm of apathy in the form of temporary outrage, temporary outpouring of grief and temporary empathy which are proudly shrouded in the glossy garb of ‘resilience’. Any hope that the Peshawar Tragedy would strike and shake the lifeless body of emotion, reaction and empathy in Pakistan with horror and fury into galvanization dims in the face of this reality. Our apathy has become complicity in the bloodletting.

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In view of which, maybe it is too much to expect Pakistan, institutions and people in it to put up a show of sobriety and solemnity; to, for once, hold a monstrosity alive in head and heart and drive a stake through the monster once and for all.

It is often here said that USA had one 9/11 but Pakistan has one every day; yet such a spectre as was witnessed after Imran and Reham Khan’s wedding would never have been witnessed in America less than a month after 9/11. They never forgot, and we already have, as always.

 ~ Hafsa Khawaja

Trial: The Army or Musharraf?


*First published condensed as a letter in The Friday Times and later as a post on Borderline Green.

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The Pakistan of today is a country, state and nation in transformation.

It is home to a budding democracy, a vibrant mainstream and social media, active judiciary, strong army and a civil society in awakening. It is only inevitable therefore that the examination and criticism of pillars of the state follows forth from this.

From elected representatives, ministers, lawyers, judges to media persons, all are subjected to the grilling by the public and the institutions of these groups themselves.

In divergence of this trend, one of the institutions is often mostly, if not always, manages to sidestep such criticism: the Pakistan Army.

The mainstream media has conventionally, cautiously avoided crossing this unwritten-yet-understood red line and has only recently been seen to gather the gut to tread it occasionally.

The influences that have produced this general condition tumble into an evident number.

kayani_ap_670First: the demoralization narrative. Reinforced by General Kiyani himself in a meeting with senior journalists and editors last year, to whom he also conveyed his complaint of media campaigns “damaging the morale of the jawans“, he firmly stated that “unnecessary criticism”, which we are left to interpret for ourselves, dampens the spirits in the ranks. This presents criticism as a risky foray, a tightrope for all criticizing the army to walk.

Then comes the traditional and social background to the issue, Pakistan as a nation has been consistently and constantly, and rightfully so, prodded through a variety of means (Shoaib Mansoor’s Alpha Bravo Charlie or Madam Noor Jehan‘s  ‘Ae puttar hattan tay nayi wikde’, anyone?) to become conscious of the valiance of our soldiers who risk their all today for our tomorrow. This coupled with the first narrative automates public thinking to to conceive it unacceptable to ‘target’ the army and dispirit those belonging to it, serving us day and night.

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The last angle to this, somewhat, a result of the abovementioned, is the entrenched McCarthyism in Pakistani society, which out-rightly assumes that any person criticizing the army belongs to or deserves to belong to the ’fifth column of the enemy’. This has also been fuelled by a cleverly channeled and built image of the army during or as preludes and justifications of military dictatorship, as the sole strongest and reliable institution of the state, especially compared to the ‘incapable’ civilians at the helm, that possess the commitment and power to alleviate Pakistan from its troubles.
In light of this, it is deemed the peak of being ’unpatriotic’ and the height of patriotic insensitivity to have the audacity to criticize the institution that protects us, our country and holds the state together.

Nawaz-Sharif3-480x238The recent declaration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution on the count of treason not only dimmed all concerns regarding the ambiguity of the government regarding the case but also witnessed the unsurprising and coinciding resurgence of the aforementioned features.

An attempt was also made to augment the argument by linking Musharraf’s trial to the sacrifices of Pakistan’s gallant shuhuda.

Social media began to be filled with photos of captions stating how the nation must never forget the ultimate sacrifices of our martyrs which are on the verge of, somehow, being insulted to satiate the personal vengeance of Nawaz Sharif by trying Musharraf; an act that will demean the institution of the army.

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The act of putting up the shield of the shuhada to save the institution of the army from the artillery of criticism and introspection is a shameless stunt that must cease immediately.


It eludes both sense and logic to assert that holding the transgressors within the army or bringing the excesses of the army into the fold of accountability is an affront to the institution and the shuhuda when their existence in the first place fulfills this condition already.

If there is something demeaning for the shuhuda, it is their exploitation to evade the necessary actions needed to counter the actions of those in the army, such as General Musharraf; who not only damaged the dignity of the army, marred the sacrifices of the martyrs’ with their grime but also played havoc with the country.

Pak_Army_177352815If the soldiers are to be disheartened and demoralized then they must be by the decisions of generals like Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf. For their discontent to be roused by censure of such actors within the army instead of such actors themselves clearly shows a case of misplaced ideas, priorities and focus.

What also remains to be realized is the difference between the gernails who are the focal point of criticism on the military and army, and the jawans, the fearless and selfless foot soldiers who brave the frost of Siachen and the heat at the barracks.

This is not to ignore the transition that the generals themselves have had to this rank from being soldiers themselves, but to distinguish between both is imperative to understand and tolerate the critical discourse on the army. To criticize the army or to speak on the scandals and excess of some gernails is not to degrade our jawans and to shrewdly muddle up the principal difference between the two to shun criticism of the army is unjust.

These elections did not merely mark a democratic and political transition but May 11th formally roared Pakistan‘s desire, with a massive turnout, to set out on the progressive path it is now on. Yet, to fully blossom into a one, democracy must trickle into Pakistani mindsets, public interaction and discourse. Criticism must begin to evolve into constructive and mature within the parameters of a healthy debate that shall, at the end of the day, be beneficial for all of Pakistan. The dogmas of yesterday must be broken and the ‘taboos’ that impose the locks on our lips must be smashed. A principle of equality of accountability must be established in Pakistan, no institution or individual is above the law and there exists no holy cow.

pervez-musharraf2Musharraf’s trial will not be the trial of the army, but a trial of the idea that he represents that has marred the army and charred Pakistan for far too long; an idea of constitutional violations and undemocratic adventures.

If a democratically-elected prime minister can be sent to the gallows, another humiliated and sent into exile then it is only right to place a man who stomped upon the country with his boots to be placed behind bars.
The support of all parties for the decision of the government in Musharraf’s case is a welcome step in the creation of a pulsating democracy in Pakistan.

Indeed Nawaz Sharif is pursuing vengeance on the trial of Musharraf, but not personal, national vengeance.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Banning ‘Anti-Pakistan’ Foreign Channels: At Variance With Reason


‘The All Pakistan Cable Operators Association declared that they will shut down all foreign news channels airing “anti-Pakistan” content from tomorrow. The decision to shut the channels comes after a media uproar both locally and abroad following a Nato air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops near the Afghan border.

The operators named BBC News as one of the channels to be closed down, citing their documentary “Secret Pakistan” as one of the reasons for the decision.

The documentary series which aired in Pakistan explored accusations by CIA officials and western diplomats that Pakistan was failing to live up to its alliances in the war on terror.”

Pakistan is currently in paucity of electricity, gas, political stability, peace and most palpably; sanity and rationale.

As a nation gladly reigned over by emotionalism and sentimentality, thus possessing a wild tendency to act unnecessarily foolishly and thoughtlessly; such a decision by the APCOA is just another testament to the times Pakistan is in today, where absurdity is the order of the day.

With the term ‘Anti-Pakistan’ being of an entirely ambiguous and vague  nature, with no definite meaning or criterion to adumbrate the exact content that comes within its scope – the interpretation of what precisely is ‘Anti-Pakistan’ ( which is something that will vary for people to people based on their own perception and opinion), has been left completely to the APCOA, who shall be deciding it by their own choice and judgement and taking off channels in response.

Exactly what and how will this ban achieve anything is a question that seems to have been lent not even slight deliberation by them.

Why are channels that brazenly embrace prejudiced approaches, wrongly act as Moral Entrepreneurs, air hate-inducing reports against other countries, people and groups within Pakistan itself, broadcast misleading programmes, false and exagerrated stories, stir up otiose ruckuses, flagrantly stomp upon and away on all media responsibility, treat sensitive issues with sensationalisation, further the bedlam that has become ever-existent in the country – neither shut down nor disciplined by the tight rope of castigation?

Just a day back, a private TV channel demonstrated its disgusting temerity by inviting the vile Ludhianvi of Sipah-e-Sahaba at the very start of Muharram, for whom a platform to propogate his views is the last thing needed, who spewed his usual hostility for the Shias, inciting malice, murder through his expression of sordid animosity.

PEMRA’s inaction despite these situations persisting and dominating the media, is certainly deplorable.

Closing down any international or national medium of information will, if anything, help in one sole way; help deepen Pakistan’s isolation from the world.

As Pakistan Media Watch writes:

‘Regardless of Khalid Arain’s desire to protect the national sentiments, he can’t turn off BBC’s satellite. The rest of the world is still tuned in.

Blacking out BBC will not make the offending documentary disappear. Neither will it convince anyone that the information contained in it is incorrect. Actually, it may make people more curious by suggesting that there is something to hide. This is why censorship never works – even when it’s self-censorship. If we don’t like a programme, we can turn off our sets ourselves. We don’t need the government deciding what we can and cannot watch, and we don’t need the military deciding what we can and cannot watch, and we don’t need All Pakistan Cable Operators Association deciding either.’

This decision is ridiculous at its best, and a classic case of the Ostrich or ‘Aal Iz Well’ Syndrome; at variance with all logic and reason.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Shia Hazaras: Guilty of Being A Minority In Establishment’s Pakistan


*Also published at LUBP.

The Pakistan of today has found itself to be nothing but a wreckage of a country, a carcass of a state and an international outcast.

A tragedy brought upon itself by both; the sharp functioning muscle of the unofficial institutional dictatorship that aggrandized itself under four decades of military authoritarians and the Pakistani nation’s obscene obsession with easy acceptance of the exacerbation, denialism, dogmatism and preposterousness.

The very characteristics have been manifest in wake of the recent unleashing of organized and systematic bloodletting of the peaceful, educated and civilized community of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan by the associates of the Establishment’s ‘Assets’.

Carrying a history replete with persecution and torment, the Shia Hazaras have found little relief and difference between their past in Afghanistan and present in Pakistan; where they are the victims of various sectarian militant groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, that deem and decry Shi’ites as Non-Muslims. ‘Impure’ creatures that they are determined to completely exterminate from ‘The Land of Pure.’

A question might arise, why is it that blame for this bloodshed is ascribed as such to them.

Amir Mir writes in one excellent article of his on the predicament the Hazara Shia have been placed in and the militant sectarian groups:

‘The SSP and the LeJ, which is considered to be the military wing of the SSP, were once the strategic assets of the state of Pakistan and have linked with al-Qaeda as its ancillary warriors, killing Pakistani citizens and targeting the security forces to dissuade Pakistan from fighting the “war against terror” as a United States ally.

The LeJ today has deep links with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and is considered to be the most violent terrorist organization operating in Pakistan, with the help of its suicide squad. As with most Sunni Deobandi sectarian and militant groups, almost the entire LeJ leadership is made up of people who have fought in Afghanistan with the backing of the Pakistani security establishment and most of its cadre are drawn from the numerous Sunni madrassas (seminaries) in Pakistan.’

The fact that these terrorist organizations are the ‘ancillary warriors’ of the ‘elements’ that the Establishment cherishes and avails in pursuit of its detrimental ‘Strategic Depth’ policy in Afghanistan (The Policy, to put it simply, is constructed on the Establishment’s compulsive obsession with the theme and idea of India as the arch enemy of Pakistan and envisages a Pro-Pakistan Government in Post-Troop-Withdrawal Afghanistan that counters the Indian influence there and protects ‘Pakistani interests’.) naturally transforms their position to being ‘untouchable’, considering they are part and parcel of the deal – thus the ‘failure of intelligence and the forces’ when it comes to sectarian killings similar to that happening in Balochistan of the Hazaras.

While much has been excellently chosen, written about and posted about the grave issue on LUBP and a few other sites that have proven to challenge the distortions of the mainstream media and welcoming to topics that they either ignore or willingly twist and feed to the people with their vulpine cunning – this post aims to focus on the collective, institutional and national conspiracy of silence that was concocted after the slayings of the Hazara Shias based solely on a sectarian footing.

One can only wonder where the conveniently-free-media is when fatwas, pamphlets and declarations of hate and instigation of murders are circulated around in different parts of the country?

Where does their self-proclaimed ‘patriotism’ and professional magnificence vanish to when it comes to the intentional misrepresentation of the massacres that only helps to reinforce, what those under whose patronage the groups act, want the people to believe?

Why is it that only outrageuously sparse coverage is provided to the victims and their plight but hours of talk shows are wasted on futile discussions?

And the ever-eager-to-take-suo-moto judges? Are the Shia Hazaras Children of a Lesser God in the eyes of a so-called judiciary that is anything but independent, rather just another instrument of the Establishment for furthering their goals and ambitions?

Afterall, what can be expected of judiciary that releases butchers like Malik Ishaq on grounds of ‘lack of evidence’

The Government too, brazenly watches over the the whole community being pulled down into pools of blood of their own while the Punjab Government gives the very butcher, a montly stipend and their Law Minister proudly courts extremists to garner votes for elections.

Hundreds from amongst the ordinary came marching on the streets and roads against Raymond Davis gunning down two Pakistani citizens and for a dubious ‘Daughter of the Motherland’ but as corpses over corpses pile of the Hazaras, none speak up nor the ‘activists’ hold their famed vigils.

Is the nation only moved and it’s compassion and anger only evoked when America is the proposed guilty party?

It must be made public knowledge to the citizens of Pakistan that these incidents of carnage aimed at the Shia Hazaras are not sporadic as they seem but part of an entire crusade (Note: The Shia Tooris of Parachinar, often slaughtered by the Haqqani Network members and other ‘Assets’ given refuge there) waged by sectarian militant outfits that are best-described as the subsidiaries of major terrorist organizations (in whose name and due to whom, the entire country has been struck by sheer devastation) and are under the auspices of the Establishment.

Which other nation should hold the importance of the lives, security, liberty and interests of the minorities highly than that of a country whose history bears witness that the threats to the interests and protection of the Muslim minority of Pre-Partition India was a central factor in fostering the struggle for its creation?

And today when the generations of that minority are a majority of the country – other minorities: the Shias, Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis are fraught with peril.

It is about time, that the proponents of Jinnah’s vision in this country, if any, come forward against the Establishment on all fronts and also fight for the rights of those whose only crime is being guilty of being a minority.

– Hafsa Khawaja

*Ironically, much of the non-controversial content in this post that concentrated on the lack of attention that the Shia Hazara murders deserved, was sent as three separate letters to the ‘News Post’ of ‘The News’ which they decided not to publish. So much for a free media.

Tackling The Disease of Desensitization and Its Effects by Activism in Pakistan


The Arab Spring, a Christian terrorist overturning notions of associating extremism to a single race and religion and last if not the least, the London riots [ that should be finally putting to rest the practice of describing particular cultures and people of possessing a ‘special traditional proclivity’ to behave in such a manner thus deeming them inherently uncivilized ] – 2011 has been more or less, a year defined by change.

But for Pakistan, it has represented nothing but a painful aggravation of political, economic and social instability.

From Salman Taseer’s cold-blooded assassination, the ‘Raymond Davis Saga’, Operation in Abbotabad for Osama Bin Laden to the paroxysms of violence in Karachi exploding to become a siege of a  reign of terror in the city.

Incidents of brutalities have now merged into the routines of the Pakistani, developing a great sense of vulnerability.

 

Also, the budding yet professionally weak media has caused an over-exposure of barbarities to people of all age groups, to the extent of imbuing [ albeit unintentionally one might suppose, in regard to how frequent such happenings take place in Pakistan; making their inclusion in the daily news  permanent] dispassion and insouciance in them towards occurrences that should naturally elicit responses of shock and leave one in a jarring spell.

Coupled with these, the contagion of being stung by the helplessness of not being able to stop this savagery has contributed immensely to the epidemic of hopelessness in the country.
The convergence of all these has affected the country, inevitably, with the disease of desensitization.

Joseph Stalin is to have allegedly said:

‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’

Nothing better illustrates the human propensity of desensitization. The human mind perceives a single death or loss with genuine compassion and sympathy but when it comes to a loss of more lives, it simply can not grasp it with the same rush of emotions.
The grip of those emotions loosens with the loss being bigger.

Keith Payne, a social psychologist, excellently notes in an article of his ‘Why is the death of one million a statistic; Why we feel the least when we are needed the most.’ :

‘Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said that the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic. And Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.”
When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention. It turns out that the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering is well documented. Deborah Small and Paul Slovic have termed this phenomenon the collapse of compassion.
It’s not simply that as the number of victims goes up, people’s sympathy levels off. No, when the numbers go up, the amount of sympathy people feel goes perversely down..’

One witnesses the very ‘Collapse of compassion’ in Pakistanis as the state of Karachi  deteriorates and corpses over corpses pile up as the result of being caught up in the crossfire between the thugs, goons of different political parties fighting for the hegemony of the city.

‘The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 800 people have been killed in Karachi so far this year, compared with 748 in 2010’. With some reporting the number to be 1450 on social networking sites. 

Changing channels, shifting the topic of conversation and blocking all confabulations related to Karachi are the new trends for coping with the reality of the ‘City of Lights’ having been made into nothing but a graveyard where some of the living reside. This also applies to the killings in Balochistan, murders of Hazaras and suicide attacks.

This desensitization has also given birth to the ‘Bystander Effect’ becoming widespread in Pakistan of which beastialities such as that which took place in Sialkot are a consequence.

At  TEDxPSU, Sam Richards says in ‘A Radical Experiment in Empathy’:

‘Step outside of your tiny little world. Step inside the tiny little world of somebody else. And then do it again, and do it again and do it again. And suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex world and they build this big complex world…Attend to other lives, other visions’.

By turning away from the cruelties in Karach or elsewhere in this manner, one insults the humanity that is within all since birth. Pakistanis need to abandon this desensitization and find the empathy that they have lost.

If people are affected adveresly in any place in Pakistan, nonchalance towards them is nonchalance towards the whole of the country because those people and that place too, is a part of the country.

The inferno that has set ablaze different areas of Pakistan will eventually devour all of the country if the pathetic numbness towards it is maintained by the rest of the nation while it chars countless Pakistanis mentally, physically and emotionally.

Tahmina Durrani wrote in the last pages of ‘My Feudal Lord’ :

‘Silence condones injustice, breeds subservience and fosters malignant hypocrisy’

 This silence, fathered by despair arising from the feeling that the people are powerless, needs to be torn too.

It wouldn’t be fallacious to say that it is Pakistan’s mortifyingly obscene acclimation and acquiescence with the exacerbation of the state of affairs around them that has quite generously contributed to their greater intensification and added to the confidence of the perpetrators and miscreants.

Condemnable compliance with the worsening environment has been once again, been jumbled with heroic grit and resilience.

The Quran states:

‘Verily Allah Will Not Change The Conditions of Those Who Do Not Wish To Change Their Conditions Themselves.’ [13:11]

This isn’t a mere message for only Muslims but for all mankind, keeping in mind that it is a fact.

Unless and until the people themselves transform their wish to change their conditions into action, all will remain static and stagnant.

An invitation to a colloquium ‘Public Action in Pakistan: Vacillating between Apathy and Anger’ faultlessly elucidated the problem in Pakistan:

‘While noticing the non-presence of robust movements of social action in Pakistan, the academic wisdom identifies the supposedly widespread ‘apathy’ towards public action in Pakistani society as one of the major reasons.
Dubbed at times as social malady, many observers claim that apathy is a commonly observed phenomenon in developing countries. Its symptoms include lack of participation and social responsibility resulting in meek public actions, allowing either the status quo or worsening of individual rights and civil liberties.

It is indeed true that the pattern of public reaction in Pakistan is sewn on its oscillation between anger and apathy, eventually halting at inaction and so, there is a striking void left by the nonexistence of dynamic social movements/activism. Social malady at its best.

One may attribute this to six factors;

1. Economic Conditions: most Pakistanis are engrossed in earning enough to put a four-square meal on the tables for their children and affording the basic necessities of life.

2. Discouraging situations in the country, desensitization and lack of trust in the elected representatives in regard to the possibility of their demands being fulfilled even if social movements are initiated or of a change occurring.

3. Disinterest and apathy: Many merely believe that the country is already in an abyss of disaster and the chances of bringing a change have dispersed into nothingness. This despondency lures them into adopting and accepting inertia.

4. Lack of appropriate knowledge pertaining to social actions: Majority in Pakistan wants to contribute in making a difference but they seek a set of guidelines, information and a direction for this [ Ways in which they could participate in social movements/groups/NGOs etc] which none have thought of providing them even now.

5. Limited vision and objectives of existing activist organizations that either do not strive to involve more people with them or are not determined enough to bring their organization or cause into peoples’ attention.

6. Political idealism: The general perception in Pakistan is that a change can only be brought through political means and figures even in matters of the society and community that they are well-capable of changing themselves.

Anyhow, what must be realized is that the public reaction in Pakistan must stop swinging and swaying between anger and apathy and must be converted into social activism and public action.

Be it in the form of peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations or internet activism. People must learn to register their dissent, initiate plans to make their demands met and must not be desensitized into inaction which has paralyzed the country.

Can one expect the politicians elected from the people to lend the mayhem, that has cloaked this country, some consideration if the people themselves do not seem to be burdened with the distress for it?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” — Edmund Burke.

~ Hafsa Khawaja