Banning books, films, paintings, and poems, and censoring academics and journalists is now old in Pakistan. But in recent times this has taken an even more dangerous turn.
As veteran columnist Irfan Hussain wrote in a piece titled ‘Our Identity crisis’ “We have been banning films, paintings, books and poems with abandon for several years now. Anything with a whiff of independent thought is immediately suspect, and its creator branded a traitor at the drop of a hat. And increasingly, he or she is hounded and, in far too many cases, kidnapped and beaten up or treated roughly, as we saw in the recent case of journalist Matiullah Jan.”
As Hussain notes countries ban books because they “contain subversive ideas that might undermine the state-approved narrative. But this is exactly why they remain so popular: almost every literate person who has read contemporary English literature will instantly recognise Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. Here in Pakistan, we have a problem of a different dimension. In most other countries, books are written and sold in larger numbers than ever before, and little censorship exists. In Pakistan, in an attempt to drag us even further back, the state has been stamping its authority on books for years. This effort has recently attained new heights in Punjab that is governed by Imran Khan’s hapless satrap, Sardar Usman Buzdar. One had hoped that the appointment of this unknown tribal chief would result in better governance. But this hasn’t been the case.”
Finally, Hussain notes perceptively “A state confident of its legitimacy and proud of its history and culture does not stoop to censorship to protect itself. But since Partition, Pakistan has been locked in an identity crisis as the state seeks to find its place in the world.”