Free Speech Hypocrisy: Theirs…and Ours



Debate about free speech has almost completely overshadowed the tragic 16th December attacks that supposedly marked a turning point in the nation. While that painful day will never be forgotten, it is hard not to think that we have moved on to a more convenient point of outrage – one that allows us to unite against an enemy that is much more convenient to rally against seeing as how they are in far away lands armed only with pens rather than our own backyard armed with guns and bombs. However pertaining to ‘freedom of speech’, there are certain double standards, however, that are glaring and must be given due consideration given the present controversies.

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A Tale of Two Protests

Pro-terrorism rally in Islamabad

One month has passed since a group of terrorists shocked the world to its core by mercilessly killing nearly 150 women and children at a school in Peshawar. In observance of this dark day, members of civil society across the nation gathered in demonstrations intended to respect the memory of the martyrs and to hold the government’s feet to the fire to turn the tide against the terrorism that plagues our country.

Media headlines have been dominated by another set of protests across the country, however. Across the country, people gathered not to protest against terrorism, but for it. These protests were not in support of the terrorists that attacked APS Boys Peshawar, they were protesting in favor of the killers of 12 journalists in France who worked for a magazine that published cartoons that were derogatory towards Islam.

These two protests, held the same day across the same country, shine a bright light on the harsh reality that we face. On the one hand, we are against terrorism when it affects us. On the other hand, we are sympathetic when attacks target people we don’t agree with.

When Maulana Pir Mohammad Chishti led a small demonstration in Peshawar supporting the terrorists in France earlier this week, many dismissed it as the embarrassing act of a small but vocal minority. In the past few days, though, the movement has grown.

On Thursday, National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the offensive cartoons. The resolution included a passing statement against “all kinds of violence”, but the text of the resolution holds the publication of the offensive material as worse than the killings. If there was any doubt about this, it was wiped away when lawmakers too to the streets chanting, “In the service of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), we are willing to die”.

Even liberal politicians like Rehman Malik took to terming the victims of the Paris attacks as the real “terrorists”.

More protests are being organized against the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Sadly, the growing number of demonstrations of sympathy for the French terrorists have even eclipsed the memorials for our slain children in the national and international media. They have also delivered a clear message that despite the rhetoric of abandoning a policy of ‘good Taliban’, for many of us terrorism is still acceptable as long as we agree with the reasons.

#CharlieHebdo and #PeshawarAttack are connected, but not how you think

Two apparently unrelated atrocities. In one, armed gunmen stormed into a school and murdered over 130 defenseless children. In the other, armed gunmen stormed into a an office and murdered a dozen journalists. The first took place in Pakistan, the second in France. The only seeming connecting between them for most people will be that both were carried out by Islamist terrorists, but this is not the whole story. Actually, what connects these two events could hold the key to stopping the terrorists once and for all.

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