Hypernationalists and Censorship: Old Whine, New Media

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Censorship in this country is nothing new. Anyone who has worked in media is familiar with the way articles are ‘reviewed’ and ‘edited’ before going to publication. Even international media is censored before it is ever allowed to appear before a domestic audience.

New York Times Pakistan blankWe are all too familiar with the famous cases of independent voices being silenced, either by banning them from writing, or in some cases, silencing them permanently. Less well known, but more common, though, is the practice of quietly deleting pieces that are deemed offensive by hypernationalist trolls and their patrons.

The latest example is a blog post by esteemed lawyer and Jinnah historian Yasser Latif Hamdani which was quietly deleted within 24 hours of being published by Express Tribune. The post, which had raised a storm of hypernationalistic anger on social media, is available here with the author’s response to the censorship.

The question we should be asking is not whether the author is right or wrong – that is for anyone to read and decide themselves. What we should be asking is why our hypernationalist brothers and sisters are so scared of allowing anyone to think for themselves. Why are they so scared of allowing anyone to be wrong? And what makes them so sure they are always right?

Claims about protecting patriotic sentiments and defending national ideology are the oldest whines of civilisation. It is the countries with the most liberal speech laws that have the strongest ideologies, and it is those that constantly threaten and censor that always seem to be in danger. Wrapping censorship in new media doesn’t change that.

Why ‘bans’ are worse than futile

Welcome to BanistanOur proclivity for banning things for one reason or another resulted in the hastag #Banistan appearing on social media a few years ago. During this time, YouTube was banned, though it was easily accessible to almost everyone with a little work around. This caused many to note the futility of our obsession with ‘banning’ things that we don’t like. However banning is often worse than just futile, as was noted in an excellent letter to Dawn on Monday.

APROPOS the letter ‘Liquor Shops’ (Nov 23). The writer maintains that liquor shops in Sindh should remain sealed because alcohol is bad for health.

What our perpetual sermonisers do not take into consideration are the following: 1) alcoholism in Pakistan after prohibition was imposed in April 1977 has always remained higher than what it was before prohibition; 2) the curbs have given birth to bootlegging mafias, or worse, those selling tainted alcoholic beverages; and 3) very rarely have any serious crimes been reported in which consumption of alcohol was involved.

Third, many Hindus and Christians known to me are forced to buy alcoholic beverages on the black market since the court ordered the sealing of the licensed wine shops. Interestingly a non-Muslim friend tells me that people meet their needs by driving to Hub, where the sellers are making hay while the sun shines.

The Sindh government must make a more realistic law regarding the sale of alcohol as the current law was made in 1979 and has lost its relevance. Last but not least, should we not be more concerned about the bad health effects of things like extremism, bigotry and domestic violence?

M.M.D.D. Karachiwala

As this person correctly points out, a ban can not only be worked around, but there are also unintended consequences from the workarounds that may make the cure worse than the disease.

Same can also be said not only about bans on alcohol but Bollywood films also. Some argue that such bans will not only protect Pakistani culture but Pakistani film industry also. But does banning Bollywood films actually get rid of them? Obviously it does not, it only takes them out of the legal economy and pushes them into the illegal economy of bootleggers and pirates.

‘Black economy’ of Pakistan, or the informal economy of goods and services that escapes the eye sight of authorities, is estimated over $100 billion. This is where criminal gangs and militant groups get much of their funding. So when we ‘ban’ alcohol or foreign movies, we are really just pushing them into the black economy and providing more funds for terrorists and mafias. In other words, we not only fail at the stated goal of stopping the thing we are banning, we are actually making our society worse by funding the worst criminal and extremist elements.

CENSORED: The Myth We Believe In

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 17th Sept. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Gen Raheel

In Pakistan your patriotism is gauged by your love for the uniform. Not just any uniform though. Not blue, not white nor the greys. The respect is deeply attached to the Khaki tone. If you worship the cloth you are a true Pakistani, if not you’re simply a traitor.

Choosing sides is fairly easy when it comes to the skirmishes involving the khakis. One fairly common battle is the khaki vs the sherwanis. Everyone knows who wins these. The Sherwanis’ squeaky attempt at going head to head with the former has been a sore retelling throughout our history. The dabs of corruption and opportunism give an outrageous edge to the Khaki’s who manage to woo the crowd. Not much good happens when the crowd sides with the Khaki’s alone. However, the support is not up for debate. It never has been; as far as the unsaid laws of this country go.

There are other battles as well; or at least there should be. The Khaki has been a bully dominating a playground that was made for others to play in. Take the real estate for example. Retired khakis who have only retired officially but maintain their kahki ego and influence, monopolise some of the most lucrative endeavors in the real estate business. Somehow, the field in question is a money minting machine if you’re a khaki. Besides a certain rarity (who himself has often exhibited himself as an accessory to the Khakis), those who don’t wear the color usually don’t prosper as much. Why this happens is a matter of perspective. The ex-Chief’s brother and his adventures give some insight. The Ferrari crash too, clears the picture. And then there is so much more. There are the banks. There are the factories. And indeed, so much more.

The khakis have managed to maintain dominance in the setting of other uniforms as well. The mammoth budget directed to the uniforms out of our tax money has the lion share go to the them. No other uniform ever protests this. Then there is the obvious usurping of power sectors that the other uniforms -thankfully so- don’t even dream to venture into. The populace has believed in the myth the Khakis want them to believe in. In times of despair or political frustration, the chief in Khaki is looked upon. As time has taught the nation of Pakistan, these expectations are never really a good idea.

No one dares challenge the might of the Khakis. Those who do simply don’t exist. The rules of the game in this country dictates it as so. However, someone just did. A person bearing the grey uniform did what he was paid to do. The khakis didn’t like that. Figures of an elite force were called in to help their khaki brothers. The greys were beaten. There are pictures and first and second person accounts. The beating was not the end for the greys were then forcefully kept at Attock fort.

The said incident does not raise many eyebrows. The term ‘bloody civilian’ has been often repeated by men who believe being rude dictates authority. Similarly, the traffic police too have not had to face the anger of a disappointed influential who’ve insisted on not paying their dues. This incident is but a usual affair in our country.

What is interesting however is how the country has reacted. The reaction takes us back to the initial premise of this article whereby one’s patriotism is dictated by having complete faith in the army. There have been ludicrous justifications to the incident. Those who seek to justify the actions of the men involved have just made a mockery out of the institution. ISPR too has brushed this aside with a rather casual term: sad. Now there is supposed to be an internal inquiry of the men involved. Strange, why the said men are not being brought to the civil courts for more transparent proceedings. After all, wasn’t this the expectations the civilians attached to the civilian cases sent in to the military courts?

If this incident is not brushed under the carpet it will make an impact that has been much awaited. However, those found guilty must be held accountable to the public at large as well. With secret proceedings and rulings, not many of us will know what exactly happened with the case. Most of us will forget about it much sooner than we should. Here is to hoping that the ISPR does a better job at this than the tweets it has most recently become fond of. A detailed ruling must be shared with the public. The Khakis are good at making the public believe in their myth; let’s hope they can make the public believe the truth too.

The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based  in Islamabad

AQ Khan’s Offshore Accounts Exposed: Military Officers to Follow?

A Q KhanThe Panama Papers are not going away. Nawaz Sharif spent the day in parliament discussing the scandal, and there appears to be little sign of resolution as opposition parties walked out in response. After calling for Nawaz to resign, Imran Khan has also found himself facing problems as he was exposed as having offshore accounts also. At least Immy was honest and admitted that his offshore company was created so he could avoid paying taxes. However Imran turns out not to be the only ‘Khan’ exposed in the scandal that won’t go away. It is not learnt that AQ Khan has also been exposed in Panama Papers.

AQ Khan has denied having any offshore companies and claimed that his family members signatures were all forged as part of a huge conspiracy against him by Habib Bank.

“I have never even heard the name of this company,” A.Q. Khan told Dawn over phone. “Neither did my wife and daughters. My brother, who died a few years ago, was with Habib Bank and, as you know, bankers are always up to their tricks and hanky panky,” he said without mincing words. “My wife and daughters never signed any documents to create this company. The signatures (on the incorporation paperwork) are surely false. My brother never discussed it with me and my family only heard about this company after the Panama Papers release.”

It’s not just what AQ Khan knew about these companies that is now coming under scrutiny, though. Many are also asking how this was not discovered until so late. One name that appeared in Panama Papers list was wife of AQ Khan, Hendrina. This is not a very common name and surely a researcher would have noted it, especially a researcher like Umar Cheema who is not only a Jang/Geo reporter but also a member of the ICIJ that broke the story! Is this another case of Army’s strangle hold on media?

Surely the powers that be knew that things could not be hidden forever. Now questions are being asked who else has been ‘missed’ in the long list of offenders? So far it has been civilians who have been in the bulls eye of the Panama Papers scandal, but we know thanks to former DG-ISPR Maj-Gen (r) Rashid Qureshi that Army has been covering up corruption among military officers since long. Will we soon learn than the names of military officers appear in the Panama Papers but were not previously reported? Will these too be blamed on ‘hanky panky’ at Habib Bank?

Trumpistan Update: Zaid Hamid’s Enemy Database

When a shop owner in Hafeez Centre posted a notice banning “infidels” (explained to mean Ahmadis), social media erupted with questions of whether Pakistan could be called ‘Trumpistan‘ after the infamously Islamophobic politician Donald Trump. Now there is another case of Pakistani hyper-nationalists imitating their famous American counterpart. Our own infamous hypernationalist zealot Zaid Hamid has announced creation of a new database to track anyone against Pakistan ideology.

Zaid Hamid Database

Now, you are saying, what is the harm of tracking Pakistan’s enemies? Obviously, there is none, but this is asking the wrong question. The question is what is the definition of an enemy? Zaid Hamid gives a clue: “I am specially talking to those students who follow ANP, BLA, MQM and Sindhi sub-nationalist groups.” So you see, Zaid Hamid is not actually threatening Pakistan’s enemies, he is threatening Pakistanis who doesn’t accept the same politics as him.

Donald Trump has threatened to create a database to track all Muslims in America. In Pakistan, our own hypernationalists are threatening to create a database to track anyone who disagrees with them. Donald Trump wants to silence Muslims. Ironically, so does Zaid Hamid and his backers.