Bhensa, Blasphemy, and the Role of the Court

After several liberal activists including a professor of Fatima Jinnah University mysteriously disappeared, state security agencies once again found themselves facing negative international attention. Critical statements from international human rights NGOs and foreign governments began pouring in. Then came the ultimate trump card. The ‘Ace of Spades’. Blasphemy allegations.

The allegations began from right-wing hyper-nationalist websites and social media accounts like so-called ‘Pakistan Defence’.

defence.pk postThere is no proof that any of these missing are responsible for any blasphemy. There is not even any proof that any of these activists is behind the ‘Bhensa’ account that is being accused! Actually, they were originally accused of being anti-Army, not anti-Islam. Now that the blasphemy accusation has been made, though, it has also been formalised under the law as application has been submitted to register blasphemy cases against the missing activists.

However, this could be a test case not only for the democracy but for blasphemy law as well. Civil Rights activist Jibran Nasir is calling for arrest of Pakistan Defence admins for inciting violence against the activists. At first it sounds like fantasy, but on second thought there may be something to his thinking. No less than Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Tahir Ashrafi has called for extreme care in handling of blasphemy cases and has even called for death penalty for those leveling false allegations. I personally do not support death penalty, but Maulana Ashrafi’s view shows how serious the issue is. Therefore, everyone can agree that such cases should be decided in court based on all the evidences.

In order for a court to evaluate, both the accused and the accusers should be made to appear before the Court to be questioned. The disappeared activists must be produced and also the admins of Pakistan Defence and other social media accounts that are making such serious allegations should be produced before the Court also. Otherwise, isn’t it those leveling such allegations from behind anonymous accounts who are making a mockery of the Court as well as the blasphemy law?

Perhaps there is someone who has committed blasphemy. We cannot know unless the case is heard by an impartial Court. There is also the question whether someone has tried to misuse blasphemy allegations in order to distract attention and cover their tracks. This also cannot be known unless all the actors and evidences are examined by the Court.

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.

Tashfeen Malik Conspiracies: Who Is Trying To Hide What?

Tashfeen MalikWhen the identities of the terrorists responsible for San Bernadino massacre were revealed, the familiar sick feeling was revisited once again. Worst fears came true as the attackers were not only Muslims but also Pakistani. Since past several days, more information has come to light. As we learn more about the attackers, though, something peculiar has begun to take place.

When fact of Tashfeen Malik’s Pakistani nationality was reported, the popular response was to point out that she was born in Pakistan but was raised in Saudi Arabia. In other words it is not a fault of Pakistan that she became extremist it is a fault of Saudi. Now Saudi is saying that she was only there for two short visits. Then a copy of her CNIC was leaked. This was quickly dismissed even by liberals as photoshop.

However now it has been explained that the CNIC is not a photoshop, it is the internal version used by law enforcement officials.

Other conspiracy theories are also being heavily reported by the usual hyper-nationalist disinformation walas, creating more confusion and leading people to believe that even though they have watched the entire event unfold in great detail. Actually it is often the details that are used to create confusion. For example, I have seen many friends on social media asking if this woman was such a conservative Muslim why were her legs exposed and they point to the photos from the death scene. However they are ignoring the simple explanation that police had to search the bodies for bombs and other weapons!

While hypernationalist disinformation agents are spreading these conspiracy theories, there is a very real conspiracy that is proven to be taking place under our noses. Real journalists investigating Tasfheen Malik’s background have been threatened by agency men to stay clear or suffer consequences, and her professors have been warned not to speak to media.

Three professors at Malik’s university said they had been advised not to talk to the media, while men claiming to be from Pakistan’s security agencies told reporters to drop their investigations into her background on pain of arrest.

Now we are learning that Pakistan intelligence agencies were aware of militant extremism being promoted at Bahauddin Zakariya University, and now it has also been revealed that Tashfeen Malik also attended al-Huda in Multan.

Conspiracy theories and logic-twisting denials have become routine in our society. Rather than face the terrible facts of what is happening around us, we choose to ignore it and blame some foreign conspiracy. In this case we are witnessing the activation of conspiracy theories at the same time as agencies are threatening real reporters. The question is hard not to ask…Who is really trying to hide what?

 

 

Expo 2020 Controversy Highlights Failure of Hyper-Nationalist Mindset

Gulf News: UAE deserves answers from Pakistan and Afghanistan

In the hyper-nationalist mindset, Pakistan never makes a mistake, and anyone who suggests otherwise is an enemy that must be defeated. This mindset manifests itself in different ways, from Army blaming Indian TV dramas for Kargil disaster to government’s resolution praising convicted war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah as ‘supporter of united Pakistan till the time of his death’. Typically, this mindset targets countries like India or America, but even Islamic countries can find themselves the target of hyper-nationalist venom if they dare to question Pakistan’s decision, as is highlighted by the current controversy over Pakistan’s vote for host of Expo 2020.

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Let’s Declare Independence From Hyper-Nationalists

Supporters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chant anti-Indian slogansDuring the previous government, it seemed that whenever officials began making progress on talks with their Indian counterparts, something would flare up in Kashmir that would increase tensions as the right-wing elements in both countries began rattling swords. Today we see the same predictable cycle taking place, which begs the question whether once again the incidents at the LoC are a drama being stage managed to manipulate the government for the interests of certain quarters rather than the interests of the Pakistani people. It’s time to declare independence from these hyper-nationalist elements, and take our country back.

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