Freedom of expression, in my humble opinion, is extremely important for individual and national liberty. No other right is as important as the right to think what you please and then express what you’ve thought, albeit keeping the discourse civil.
Being able to debate on ideas and information is important for a community as well. First of all, a community is made up of a group of people or individuals, so what matters to them matters to the community. Also, the only way to get new ideas and improvements on the status quo is to be able to question the status quo, no matter how offensive others might find it. Even hate speech has a place: when we hear it, we can fight against it and make our own arguments stronger.
As of late we see that in our country, there is little to no room given for debates or discussions and people fear for their lives if a collective “mob” thinks that the particular person has not agreed with its point of view. We have the examples of Javed Ghamidi a liberal Muslim scholar, Sherry Rehman, a female PPP leader voicing concern over blasphemy law, Kamran Shafi, a liberal writer critical of the army, all have been at ne point been threatened for their lives. Not just these people but there are many more people who get death threats and are afraid for their safety simply because they do not agree with the popular ideas or “norms” of the society.
We have to realize that Pakistan is already in a state of crisis, fighting terrorism and extremism. At this critical point in time, imposition of views and opinions on others without proper discussions or debates is one more hurdle towards the progress and prosperity of our country.
I think that US and the international can definitely lend a helping hand in this matter by not just focusing on providing military aid to Pakistan in order to fight the militant insurgents, but by helping Pakistan provide counter narrative to this radicalized ideology we see brewing around us. More influx of money in the social sector (health, education, construction of roads, highways, transportation etc) will also help in the reformation of system in place.
The government can take new and dynamic approaches for creating economic opportunities for the people and make efforts to reform madrassa education so “shaoor” or conscience can be allowed to develop.
Why are we as a society not tolerant of other? Is it because of the homogeneity that is being created in the name of our religion? Why do people have to fear for their lives if they want to express their opinions? And why are they labeled heretics or wajib-ul-qatal if they sway from the cultural norms being portrayed as religious absolutes? These are some of the questions that need answering.