LHC Justice Don Quixote

The LHC’s crusade to blockade the Internet is a battle not unlike the famous Don Quixote who was ’tilting at windmills’. The enemy is imaginary and the battle is futile. Still, the Quixotes on the LHC continue to charge ahead. Meanwhile, a real enemy is organizing in the back garden, and we are paying to plant the seeds of our own destruction.

Two articles from Daily Times read together make for a pretty sad tale of poor judgement by the high court in Lahore. Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain points out that the court’s continued battle against the dragon of blasphemy on the Internet is a ridiculous exercise.

Moreover, by banning internet traffic, such sites will continue to exist and our behaviour will be akin to the ostrich burying its head in the sand. As far as disseminating any blasphemous material in Pakistan is concerned, such activity is illegal and carries very heavy penalties. But internet search engines as well as ISP providers are literally ‘inanimate’ entities and can be used for much of anything, including accessing pornography if the users so choose.

The internet is also a major educational and informational tool. Like much of modern technology, it can be used for good things and bad depending on the intentions of the users. An obvious analogy is the ubiquitous ‘cell phone’. The cell phones have made communications easy, their picture taking ability can be used to record unique incidents and transmit that information but they can also be used to plan and carry out terrorist activities. So, should we not ban cell phones also?

Moreover, censorship of any means of communication rarely works and often has the opposite effect from the one intended. It only helps to tweak the interest of people in the censored piece of information. The banning and the ‘fatwa’ against Salman Rushdie arguably made him a bigger, richer and more famous writer than he perhaps deserved to be.

The more important issue at stake here is really that of censorship of the internet or any other means of information transfer. Now that we are in a free and democratic environment where the freedom of the press is being hailed from all corners of our society, should we then be trying to curtail the freedom of access to the internet?

I want to especially take note of Dr Syed’s point that censorship “only helps to tweak the interest of people in the censored piece of information”. The fact of the matter is, even if we are ordered under ‘electronic purdah’, people are clever and will find a way to that which interests them. Worse, when something forbidden is so clearly publicised, our curiousity is piqued and we often want to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about. By these constant talks about bans for blasphemous material, are the courts not giving them more attention? It also makes you wonder how much time these judges are spending looking at obscene material that they seem to know so much about it!

But while all of this silliness is going on, there is a real danger at the doorstep. The LHC has, I suppose, been so busy looking at pornography and blasphemy on the Internet that they have not had the opportunity to notice that the Lahore government is funding JuD.

Funds to the JuD of Muridke are being provided by the CM of the largest province in the federation, while the amir of JuD is also the founder of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). According to media reports, the JuD and LeT have been accused by the US of training the gunmen of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

On December 7, 2008, under pressure from the US and India, the Pakistan Army launched an operation against LeT, raided a markaz (centre) of the LeT five kilometres from Muzaffarabad, and arrested more than 20 members of the LeT and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks. They are said to have sealed off the centre, which included a madrassa and a mosque along with the offices of the LeT. On December 11, 2008, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on JuD, declaring it a global terrorist group. Pakistan’s government also banned the JuD on the same day and issued an order to seal the JuD offices in all four provinces. To continue its activities, this organisation has gone through many name changes. As one name came under a ban, they changed to another. After the UN ban, they morphed into Tehrik-e-Tahaffuz-e-Qibla Awal (TTQA). LeT is a militant offshoot of Markaz Dawat-ul-Irshad, an Islamic charity and educational organisation. Markaz Dawat-ul-Irshad has since been renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Lashkar based its philosophy on the extreme views of Wahabiism, the austere brand of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia, and has relied on donations from overseas. Pakistan’s then President Pervez Musharraf banned the two groups accused of the attack on India’s parliament in January 2002. It had already been banned in India in October 2001 and was also designated as a ‘foreign terrorist organisation’ by the US.

In the US anti-terrorism circles, it is also known as Jamaat ud Dawa il al Quran al Sunnah (JDQ). A detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, who is a poet and a journalist, is said to have stated during his interrogation that “the JDQ has a military wing and practises assassination”.

An Indian journalist, Harinder Baweja, who was provided access to the Muridke centre of JuD, quotes the following dialogue with his guide: “Do you support Lashkar-e-Tayyaba?” Response: “We used to.” Question: “You used to?” Response: “Yes, we were like-minded, but the group was banned after Indian propaganda following the attack on parliament, which was done by Jaish-e-Mohammed and not the Lashkar. We used to provide logistic support to them, collect funds for them and look after their publicity.” Question: “Did you also provide them with arms?” Response: “They must have bought weapons with the money we gave them. They were obviously not using the money to buy flowers for the Indian army.” The author further says that Amir Ajmal Kasab confessed to having received training at Muridke.

The United Nations Security Council declared JuD a global terrorist group, and the same day the government banned the organization and ordered to seal the JuD offices in all four provinces. So why is Lahore government now funding the same with hundreds of millions of Rupees?

For all the chatter about ‘good governance’, there seems to be a complete blindness towards the priorities that are being followed in the judiciary. The LHC is a prime example of a government institution that is supposed to help provide justice and protect the rights of the people. Instead, it seems more intent on protecting the rights of the mullahs and sacrificing the people to that cause.

Don Quixote never slayed his dragon, which was fine for him as there was no dragon. Pakistan, on the other hand, is tilting at windmills while feeding the dragon that promises to devour it. Will we wake up from our slumber before it’s too late?

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