Here is what has happened this week in the land of the pure. A politician (from PTI) punched another one (from PML-N) for calling his leader a traitor. In response, the first politician stood in front of the media and made allegations against his harasser’s sisters. That’s violence and misogyny taken care of, within a space of 24 hours.
Let’s move on to a few days before that. It seems that our judiciary is in need of special hugs because one of its members, a judge in the Islamabad High Court, professed to weeping inconsolably when he reads anything against his religion on social media. He wants the government to ensure that “blasphemers” are put on Pakistan’s pride and joy: the Exit Control List. One wonders why you would want anyone who you think has made fun of your religion to remain in the country. The answer is pretty simple. You don’t want them to leave because you want to punish them. And punish them how? Blasphemers get the death penalty. It’s not that these people just want others to leave their religion alone, they want to ensure that they get killed for criticizing it. After following the due process of the law, of course. As an aside, please note that I always hear the word “blasphemers” in John Cleese’s voice from the movie Life of Brian.
The Honorable Judge has had the support of various factions of the media and other parts of society, who are ever ready to lay down other people’s lives in the name of religion. The issue for them is very clear: no one gets to criticize Islam. That is how things are and should remain. On the other hand, nary a protest is made when Christians are called by derogatory names and Hindus are called “baniyas”, as was done by another politician to criticize his opponent.
Now let’s come to the last two days. Our Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar has also been triggered. He has professed to being very upset that social media sites like Facebook are not providing him with information regarding some people running a campaign against the Islamabad High Court judiciary. In his campaign to support only those elements that want to suppress others through religion, he has threatened to block social media sites in Pakistan, in an attempt to protect the very sensitive citenzry from reading blasphemous content. On the other hand, the statement by a blogger that he was kidnapped and tortured by state institutions has had no impact on our esteemed leaders.
These events of the past week or so show that violence, misogyny and bigotry define Pakistan and recourse to blasphemy is the cornerstone of its society.
If you are upset with an opponent, hit him. If you want to flex your muscles against bloggers, kidnap and torture them. When you have nothing in response to your rival, use the time-honoured practice of abusing the women in his family. And always ensure that the blasphemy law is kept as a precious resource, to be used whenever you require.
This is what we have reduced ourselves to: cultishly following leaders without allowing any criticism of them. It is interesting to note that not even the women leaders of PML-N called out their colleague on abusing women for point scoring. Because misogyny is so entrenched in our minds that even women do not think anything is wrong with it.
As for PTI, they also indulged in misogyny, while criticizing it. Their social media teams made allegations of blasphemy and threats against a reporter for recording a video of their esteemed leader.
These are the important aspects that define Pakistan. Our violent, bigoted, misogynistic reactions to even the smallest of infractions.
These are the things that outrage us. Not our low scores in human rights and education. Not the fact that while we wax eloquent about the Islamic golden age, the country is below every other one for any scientific achievements (other than the nuclear bomb and the water kit car of course), but the fact that our messiahs are criticized and our ideologies are not given due deference.
Freedom of speech is an important characteristic of civilized society. Censoring content and threatening people just ensures that the only kind of progress you make is in oppressing people. Using misogyny as a counter argument does not make you macho; it just shows your pathetic mindset. And using religion as a tool of the state has only ever meant clinging to backward notions of morality. Notions, which have never resulted in progress.
The enlightenment ensured that the west moved on from being bogged down by the same issues of violence, misogyny, bigotry and dependence on blasphemy. They were in the same boat till they realized that antediluvian methods of living one’s life did not work anymore. That religion and state needed to be separate. That life, liberty and freedom were important facets of civilized society. We need to do the same.
(Published in The Nation)