The story is as predictable as it is embarrassing. Two Sufi clerics visiting Pakistan from across the border go missing. Indian media immediately jumps to the conclusion that the two were picked up by ISI. Pakistani media immediately reported that the reports were just the latest example of anti-Pakistan Indian propaganda and that the two clerics had simply entered into an area where mobile phone signal was not available. Now that the clerics have returned home, though, the truth is coming out, and it is not quite as neat and clean as we wished.
Actually, the two elderly clerics Syed Asif Nizami and Nazim Nizami were picked up by our intelligence agencies and interrogated about their supposed ‘anti-Pakistan’ activities. And where did our brilliant agencies get their intelligence about these two? Apparently Urdu daily Ummat had published some fake stories accusing them of being secret RAW agents.
Now our media is scrambling to create the narrative that the entire affair was a big misunderstanding from an inaccurate report in Ummat. In the most hilarious example, Express Tribune has even tried to frame work the story as agencies providing ‘VIP treatment‘ to visiting clerics!
Let us review the facts of this case:
Two Muslim clerics visited Pakistan.
An Urdu newspaper falsely accused them as RAW agents.
Our intelligence agencies read the report and picked up the Muslim clerics, holding them ‘incommunicado’.
After realising the mistake, the clerics were allowed to return home and our media is spinning their being picked up and interrogated by agencies as ‘VIP treatment’.
It has been noted that daily Ummat is also the ‘news’ paper that first accused missing bloggers of blasphemy.
The entire affair is an indictment not only of our senseless media, but raises serious questions about intelligence agencies. If they were fooled by fake news in this case, how many other fake reports have they been fooled by? And why are intelligence agencies taking their cues from what they read in media reports anyway? It is a recipe for a national security disaster. Do not expect anyone to demand Parliamentary Commission to investigate this humiliating episode, though.
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.
We 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.
Every media group picks up stories from other media groups. Today, Express Tribune picked up a report from Australia about a group of Muslim students who did not participate in singing the Australian national anthem during a school fair. The headline of the article says the students “walked out” during their country’s national anthem. However, the reality is that the school invited Shia students to leave the room before the singing began out of respect for Murrham. The school principal explained this perfectly.
“During the month of Muharram, Shias do not take part in joyous events, such as listening to music or singing, as it was a period of mourning. Muharram is a Shia cultural observation marking the death of Imam Hussain. This year it falls between Tuesday October 13 and Thursday November 12,” Principal Irving said.
“Prior to last week’s years 2-6 assembly, in respect of this religious observance, students were given the opportunity to leave the hall before music was played. The students then rejoined the assembly at the conclusion of the music,” the principal added.
Despite the reality, Express Tribune published a sensational headline along with a photo of school children with their backs turned which gives the impression that Muslim students showed disrespect for their country rather than the reality which is that the school was showing respect for the Muslim students.
It is clear from the report that some non-Muslims are very upset because they incorrectly believe that the students were turning their backs on their country and saying that the national anthem is against their culture. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth and the entire incident is due to ignorance of the facts. As a respected media group in a Muslim country, Express Tribune should know better than to feed Islamophobic ignorance and by repeating the incorrect view that the students “walked out” and “turned their backs” on their country. Instead, Express Tribune could have used the story to report about how a secular country like Australia is showing respect for Muslims. This would not only correct the false impressions that are being spread but it would also serve as a model for our own schools about respect for religious minorities does not mean disrespect for the nation.
When Najam Sethi discussed the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud on his show, an interesting thing happened. The audio feed cut in and out during the program. Many viewers ignored the brief periods of silence, chalking it up to technical problems with their sets or with the the transmission. Only later was it realised that the missing audio was probably not an accident.
The following piece was originally published by Express Tribune on 12th April 2015 but was removed from their website reportedly on the orders of a government official. We are re-posting the piece here for informational purposes only.
So finally the mouse has roared.
Parliament “desires that Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive role to end the crises,” declares the resolution passed by the joint session of parliament. Whoa!
And then comes the naked, blatant, shameless threat from the rich Arab sheikhs. Speaking to Khaleej Times, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash warned Pakistan of having to pay a “heavy price” for taking on what he called an “ambiguous stand”. He said Pakistan should take a clear position “in favour of its strategic relations with the six-nation Arab Gulf Cooperation Council”
Then this Arab sheikh vomited a gem: “The vague and contradictory stands of Pakistan and Turkey are an absolute proof that Arab security — from Libya to Yemen — is the responsibility of none but Arab countries.” Really?