Mad dogs and laal topiwallahs – By Feisal H. Naqvi

The latest of ‘crusaders’ (read idiots with a cause) who has taken his ‘case’ to the courts is one Zaid Hamid, self-described as the “Founding President of an Internationally Recognised Threat Analysis Consultancy and Defence Think Tank.” On March 27, 2012, he announced triumphantly that he had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the death penalty for a number of journalists as well as the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).

Mr Hamid’s basis for seeking the death penalty against eleven different people is his firm belief that they are involved in “nefarious activities”, hence guilty of treason and hence liable to be put to death.

More specifically, what the petition says is this: (1) “If the ideology of Pakistan is destroyed, the entire State of Pakistan will then automatically crumbles [sic] and cease to exist; (2) SAFMA is attacking the ideology of Pakistan by “projecting the father of the nation as a secular leader”; (3) In addition, SAFMA is “a covert operation of Indian establishment and RAW”; (4) The Federal Government should lodge an FIR under the High Treason (Act), 1973 so that the various SAFMA members can be prosecuted and punished (presumably with the death penalty); and, (5) the Supreme Court should listen to Mr Hamid because he is, inter alia, “an internationally known … analyst” and because the Jordanian Strategic Study Institute named him as one of the 500 most influential living Muslims.

Legally and logically, the petition is rubbish. To begin with, critical analysis will not lead to the physical disintegration of Pakistan. Pakistan has been criticised ever since its birth; it has yet to disappear let alone “automatically crumble”. In any event, we no longer live in a world in which it is possible to wall off all criticism: unless you live in North Korea, those days are over.

Secondly, saying that the Quaid was secular is not treasonous. Not only was Jinnah far from being an orthodox Muslim but he explicitly disavowed a purely religious identity for Pakistan in his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

Thirdly, the contention that SAFMA is a covert operation of the Indian secret intelligence services is laughable. If Mr Hamid knows about SAFMA’s covert status, so too does the ISI. Is Mr Hamid then accusing the ISI and the Armed Forces of Pakistan of deliberately ignoring an entity that is being funded/guided by RAW? Why is Mr Hamid taking his suspicions to the Supreme Court rather than to the DG ISI? Is it because the spooks know him to be a moron?

Fourthly, inclusion on the list of the 500 most influential living Muslims means nothing. Had Mr Hamid actually read the introduction to the publication, he would have noticed that the book itself makes it very clear that Islam encompasses a diversity of beliefs and that “influence” is by no means to be confused with rightness.

For example, the same publication also lists Mullah Mohammad Omar and Ayman Al Zawahiri as amongst the 500. Should all Pakistanis join al Qaeda as a consequence of this recognition? I don’t think so.

To take another example, the list of 500 includes Mir Shakil ur Rahman, owner of the Jang Group. The Jang Group is one of the main sponsors of the peace initiative called “Aman ki Asha.” The petition filed by Mr Hamid alleges that the objective of “Aman ki Asha” is to destroy Pakistan. Clearly, the honour of being one of the 500 most influential Muslims is no basis on which to determine the truth or falsity of anything.

At this point, the petition in question has yet to be accepted for hearing, let alone fixed. This is because the Supreme Court sometimes tends to deal with really stupid petitions by stashing them away in some back corner till everybody involved has either succumbed to old age or lost interest. But is that really good enough?

Not in my view. A petition asking that somebody be put to death, no matter how absurd, is still a document on which action can be taken. As we have seen in the Asghar Khan case, petitions can rise from the dead even after decades.

More importantly, the accusations being made by Mr Hamid are no laughing matter. While Pakistan has increasingly adopted freedom of speech as a core value, nobody has sympathy for RAW agents. To accuse somebody of being an Indian agent is therefore, a deliberate attempt to short-circuit all critical thinking and instead provoke a violent response.

One contrary argument is that SAFMA and the others should sue Mr Hamid for defamation. Unfortunately, while SAFMA has already filed suit against Mr Hamid for earlier allegations, the fact is that trials in Pakistan tend to be a joke. By the time any result ever emerges, and by the time the inevitable appeals are adjudicated, the issue and the controversy are long dead. For all that it is worth, we may as well not have a law of defamation.

The petition therefore does not deserve to be let alone: instead, it deserves to be dismissed with penal costs. The petition is not only an abuse of judicial process but a deliberate attempt to intimidate every person who does not agree with Mr Hamid. Indeed, Mr Hamid has made his intentions very clear, announcing that everybody who is not with him is a “SAFMA snake” whose name will be added to the “list of traitors” and that every word “barked” by such traitors will “become the hanging rope around [their] necks.”

So long as this petition remains even theoretically alive, it will continue to poison the intellectual atmosphere of Pakistan. What is at stake here is not just freedom of the press but the freedom of every Pakistani to think critically. It is a freedom that the Supreme Court must defend, if only to put petty bullies like Mr Hamid in their proper place.

Courtesy: The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2012.

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