Sunday, March 12, 2017

Pakistan - Fifty ways to fail

Gul Bukhari

There has been a sustained effort to muzzle dissent and criticism of state policies since social media provided easily amplifiable voices to human rights defenders, voices of conscience and independent voices. Looking at the state on social media, it also took to social media some years ago to bully, and threaten dissenters with proxy and some not-so-proxy accounts on Twitter and Facebook.
The standard modus operandi by these accounts has been to label people as Indian or RAW (India’s military intelligence agency) agents, CIA or Mossad agents; to label them as traitors etc. But these attacks failed to silence, for the most part. A common theme for these abusive accounts, without fail, is that their profiles include phrases such as ‘love Islam’, ‘love Pakistan’, ‘proud Pakistani’, ‘love Pak army’, ‘love Raheel Sharif’ etc. More often than not, the background pictures are those of the army chief, of the Quaid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Ka’ba Khana, or verses of the Quran.
Hence, dissenting voices continued, many with real accounts, and many from behind anonymous Facebook pages such as Mochi, whose admins and members were eventually abducted in early January this year, and allegedly tortured as stated by one such abductee, Waqas Goraya, at the UN, and reported by BBC on Thursday. Luckily, the local and international backlash was strong enough to have all four abducted bloggers returned to their families mysteriously. However, even whilst they remained missing for three long weeks, a concerted social media campaign alleging blasphemy against them was started – with the aim of releasing dead men walking. Those protesting the abductions were labeled as blasphemers as well, in an attempt at crushing the protests. As a reaction, the protests grew more in volume and in substance, now pointing fingers directly at the state for weaponising blasphemy for its own ends. So here this was the next fail.
The accounts and pages were the usual suspects, mentioned earlier. Together with this a couple of television channels and the Lal Masjid establishment became active in the blasphemy campaign, with Lal Masid’s well known lawyer even attempting to have a case of blasphemy registered against the bloggers.
All sane minds and sane sections of the media came together to expose the absurdity of the allegations, given that had there been any evidence of blasphemy, the four would have been charged and brought to court. The civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, did not allow the police report to be registered however, because of the flimsiness of the application. The government, too, knew what was going on. However, the nexus of the Lal Masjid, the television anchors and channels alleging blasphemy, and the social media accounts fuelling the campaign was obvious to everyone who has watched these spaces even with a cursory interest.
In the midst of all this din and madness, a Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, made headlines with a dramatic ruling. Whilst hearing a blasphemy case against the erstwhile abducted bloggers on Tuesday, he directed the Interior Minister of the country to block pages that are deemed blasphemous even if it meant blocking all social media. The honourable judge is reported to have cried with tears at the hurt caused by blasphemy and reiterated his willingness to sacrifice himself and his family for the love of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) thus: “I submit and sacrifice myself and all what I have including my parents, my life and job to the person of Allah’s messenger (pbuh). If the blasphemous pages cannot be blocked, then Pakistan Telecommunications Authority should cease to exist,” as reported by the Samaa TV website.
Put the question of personal beliefs and emotions dictating judgments aside. Let’s not even consider the questions of fundamental rights to access to information, or right to assembly and practicalities and fallouts of such a possibility aside for the moment.
The honourable judge has had a judicial reference ongoing for alleged petty corruption with government funds, according to team Zara Hat Ke (a popular prime-time television show), who mainstreamed the story. The famous Lal Masjid lawyer filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court against Zara Hat Ke and its three show hosts for highlighting the alleged corruption. They argued that this signified a conspiracy against Islam as it was against a judge hearing a vital case against blasphemy on Saturday.
Back to Waqas Goraya’s statement in the United Nations naming the state as his abductors and torturers, within 30 hours and right on cue once again, retired generals started to circulate a badly made torrid Youtube video against the bloggers, narrating a story of the subversion of the Pakistani state through maligning Islam at the behest of an international conspiracy against Islam. That piece of propaganda was another fail.
Like ‘traitor’ was a fail, like abductions were a fail, like social media attacks on the general public were a fail, like the establishment TV channels are a fail, we are set to see many more fails. Question is, when will our ideological warriors understand they have ever done little else than fail against at truly heroic, patriotic, thinking nation.

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