The cancellation of a talk on Balochistan at LUMS, allegedly on orders of ISI, has raised a significant outcry across the country. As has been pointed out by many analysts, the state’s decision to ban the event has probably given the issue much more publicity than it would have received had it been allowed to go forward without comment. Some of those who support the decision to cancel the event have taken to pointing to the case of PTI MNA Asad Umar whose talk at LUMS was also canceled. However, this comparison ignores several important differences.
First is the most obvious: the Balochistan talk was allegedly canceled on the order of national security agencies, as if merely talking about the issues plaguing Balochistan is itself a matter of national security. If Mama Qadeer and other Baloch activists are peddling lies and misinformation, wouldn’t we want them to be exposed? By refusing to let them speak, the impression is left that what they are saying has a ring of truth to it – why else would it be so dangerous?
In the case of Asad Umar, the event was canceled not because of the content of the PTI lawmaker’s speech, but because overzealous supporters broke university rules about politicising an event.
“Posters not approved by the Office of Student Affairs were put up all over campus in which his event appeared to have been converted primarily into a political rather than educational event in breach of the agreed policy. It was therefore decided to cancel Mr. Asad Umar’s speech,” the statement says.
Second, and most important, is how LUMS chose to deal with the outcry against stifling the politician’s freedom of speech.
“LUMS regrets the inconvenience caused to Mr. Asad Umar by the cancellation of the event. LUMS also recognizes that it would have been preferable to contact Mr. Umar prior to the cancellation so as to clarify the nature of his speech. Mr. Asad Umar is welcome to come and speak on the LUMS campus at any time, albeit in accordance with our policies regarding public events.”
In the case of Asad Umar, LUMS publicly apologised for canceling the event and invited Asad Umar to speak at any time. Will LUMS now apologise to Mama Qadeer and invite him to speak at any time? More to the point, will hyper-nationalists who are bringing up the Asad Umar case demand the same rights? Or are they hypocritically using a ‘straw man’ to distract from the real issue: Whether or not ISI is silencing Pakistani citizens…
LUMS decision to cancel the event on Balochistan is regrettable for reasons explained perfectly in Dawn’s editorial. This does not mean that LUMS should have canceled Asad Umar’s lecture, and implying that one justifies the other is nothing short of dishonest. The real question is whether those who were outraged by the decision to cancel Asad Umar’s speech will demand the same rights for those they don’t agree with.