More than meets the eye – Dr Manzur Ejaz
– BBC Urdu bulletins were banned in Pakistan without any justification
In the garb of performing a pious act by banning the most popular internet sites, the government has knocked out its critics. Now, Pakistanis are left at the mercy of the government or corporate media overwhelmed by religious ideologues
Pakistan has done it once again. From Morocco to Indonesia, nowhere did the public come out against the abominable act of depicting cartoons of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) except in Pakistan. Other than Pakistan, no other government, including theocracies in Saudi Arabia and Iran, keen on condemning the US in any way, have hurriedly shut down Facebook, YouTube or Twitter and several hundred sites on the pretext of the repulsive cartoons. Both Pakistan’s government and demonstrators have agendas other than reacting to these said cartoons.
The question was raised in my column a week back why most jihadis throwing bombs in other countries are traced back to Pakistan. Another question to raise is, why do only Pakistanis feel hurt when a lunatic publishes something in other countries? Are Pakistani Muslims the most honest, pious and God-fearing in the entire world? Every Pakistani knows in his or her heart that Pakistanis’ honesty and reverence for religion is a myth that is broken every day by corruption, nepotism, underhand dealings, cruelty to the poor and women and overblown greed. Therefore, Pakistanis taking the pain of safeguarding the entire Muslim world is quite hypocritical.
The Pakistani distinction of producing a bulk of jihadis and demonstrations against lunatic individuals in foreign countries are linked. Both are, directly or indirectly, supported by the state in the form of sponsoring private militias and allowing thousands of religious nurseries to be built from where jihadis and rebel rousers originate. In the case in hand, pro-jihadis are fighting a proxy war for the Taliban and other kinds of religious extremism because the state has been forced to take coercive action against the ones who were threatening its writ.
However, the government or its powerful institutions have played a clever trick to put stringent restrictions on personal freedom. In the garb of performing a pious act by banning the most popular internet sites, the government has knocked out its critics. It was the government and its institutions that were being exposed by such websites by individuals who cannot use the mainstream corporate media. Now, Pakistanis are left at the mercy of the government or corporate media overwhelmed by religious ideologues. By the way, BBC Urdu bulletins were banned in Pakistan without any justification before the cartoon issue. Therefore, the government’s designs about freedom of expression were already doubtful. Wholesale banning of internet sites has proved that the government is intent on imposing intellectual dictatorship.
The government’s hypocrisy was too obvious when it lodged a protest to the US government. Everyone in top government positions in Pakistan knows firsthand that President Obama and US state institutions are helpless to stop an individual from expressing his or her opinions (right or wrong). Personal freedom is guaranteed in the US constitution and is adhered to very faithfully. If this were not the case, American Muslims would have been banned from worshiping and expressing their opinions.
Let us assume that President Obama or anyone else in the US government takes an action against the lunatic who became the origin of the cartoon controversy. Such an action will immediately be nullified by the courts and President Obama will be in an unprecedented, dire situation. Therefore, the Pakistani state has lodged a protest to placate the religious extremists knowing fully well that the US state cannot take any action in this regard.
Starting from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani state has been continuously appeasing these religious elements. State sponsorship of religious militias and madrassas changed the political field so unevenly that the religious elements developed a habit of always winning and having their way. Nothing succeeds like success and, therefore, everyone jumped onto the religious bandwagon to achieve their personal goals. Consequently, the state institutions, including the mainstream media, became a playing field for pro-jihadi zealots. The distinction between independent media and state (or its agencies’) operators disappeared. No wonder then that most of our top media persons have climbed the ladder because of their deep links with the intelligence agencies.
A recent controversial audiotape of a leading media personality, Hamid Mir, with a Taliban representative should not be surprising for anyone. It should be investigated whether the voice of Hamid Mir is authentic or not before accusing him. However, the son of Khalid Khawaja — murdered by a Taliban group called the Asian Tigers — has claimed that Hamid Mir’s write-up in the newspaper he writes for contains similar information to the audiotape. Nonetheless, at best, this can be taken as circumstantial evidence and the matter should be investigated by competent state authorities. As a matter of fact, media bodies should investigate this case and try to cleanse all those elements that are playing games with the intelligence agencies and extremist anti-state entities.
The present government does not seem to be interested in cleaning up the mess that has pushed Pakistan to the edge. The Pakistani government’s quick concession to the religious zealots and banning internet sites may be beneficial for its ill-conceived immediate goals, but it has pushed back the country by many years. After this saga, Pakistan should not expect any foreign investment or efforts to improve its image in the international community. Pakistan is falling behind India every day and if the trend continues, its competition with its archrival will be a foregone conclusion. This should be noted by all the state institutions, including the military whose chief has proudly professed to be India-centric.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
May 26th, 2010