Protest or pique?

Published: May 25, 2010

The writer is an Indian author and columnist (farzana.versey@tribune.com.pk )

The Islamists and the government of Pakistan have been unable to follow the Holy Quran in spirit, given the laws against women and minorities. The liberals do not make a strong case against local issues. They are busy downloading or uploading videos of people being shot dead by the Taliban, indulging in a titillating form of sadism that whets the voyeuristic appetite for the gruesome violence being perpetrated.

For a while now, Pakistani authorities have been trying to be more loyal than the most devout king. A lot has been written about the blocking of social networking sites that would expose its citizens to images of the Prophet (pbuh) following a cartoon contest. This gave the establishment an opportunity to send out the message to the world that it is seriously an Islamic Republic.

The decision, though questionable, goes beyond freedom of speech, whether it is of the cartoonists or the citizens to access websites. Muslims in other parts of the world do protest, but banning restricts the space of individuals who might have remonstrated using the same websites to make their point. Interestingly, the contest invitation had been up a month ago and there was no outcry then.

For those opposed to such censorship, is it ideological resistance or is it about bored youngsters who will lose out on exchanging notes with friends or checking out photographs? Do they support the idea behind such lampooning? It is unlikely, for they react with vehemence in matters of religion. It may often be a public posture that may have nothing to do with their personal stance, which would qualify as self-censorship. What could be the reason behind putting a muzzle on one’s mouth?

There is a good deal of talk about the Saudi-isation of Pakistan. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had to face resistance for encouraging ‘un-Islamic’ ideas in the physics department when he started a film club at the Quaid-e-Azam University. Some students switched off the lights when the brilliant mathematician (portrayed by Russell Crowe) is being seduced by his wife in A Beautiful Mind. Yet, pirated DVDs of Bollywood films sell well. It is not the Saudis, stupid; it is about a Pakistan in denial, fighting its own demons. Wearing certain kinds of clothes or using language in a particular manner does not delete history. Culture is internalised.

When Indian artist M F Husain painted figures of Hindu goddesses, he got threats from hardliner groups at home. The Indian government woke up to support him only when Qatar gave him citizenship. The liberals back him selectively as an upholder of pluralism. Had he conveyed that he portrayed those images for reasons other than ‘knowledge’ and ‘interest in Indian mythology’, he would have been toasted, and not with a bottle of bubbly.

“Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime,” said Jacob Bronowski. Belief systems are conformist and censored paradigms, in that the faithful believe in only the given material. This is why countries like Pakistan cannot fight extremist religious elements within, but in matters of grabbing international eyeballs for an Islamic cause there is no obfuscation. It is time to reach the pique.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.

Reader Comments (13)

  • May 25, 2010 - 1:24AM

    We in Pakistan seem to be impulsive and demonstrative when it comes to our faith. Everyone is happy to protest and burn public property whenever an issue of blasphemy comes up, and claim to be the protectors of Islam. That’s all well in good, but the same people ignore many of the other tenants and best practices of the faith which do not involve overt demonstration of faith. Tenants regarding abiding the law, paying taxes, paying zakat, shunning hypocrisy, modesty in displays of wealth are flaunted daily and have actually become a source of inspiration to those who equate their “izzat” with being able to break the law, get away with not paying their bills etc.

    Proud Muslims and proud Pakistani’s indeed. I just wish that we all shared the same passion and disgust to go out and protest with the same venom to uphold the law, tackle poverty and spread social welfare! Warning: Impotent rage and burning tires not required!Recommend

  • meher
    May 25, 2010 - 1:39PM

    Indians criticizing Pakistan for censorship :-) Their history is full of incidents where people have been prevented from expressing freely. I have traveled in the India shining land and seen it. We have our history. Thank you. Recommend

  • Vickram G
    May 25, 2010 - 2:05PM

    Well, Pakistan is a relatively new nation. It does not have an inherent ‘culture’. Their culture is basically part of the culture of greater India. Unfortunately, the Pakistanis have come to believe that ‘Arab’ culture is the ‘Muslim’ culture. That is the reason for the ‘Saudi-ization’.

    If Pakistan believes that it is the torch-bearer for Muslims around the world, it should encourage its own version of Islam which is compatible with its culture. Sadly, the country lives in denial and is becoming a joke in the international community.

    I am 100% sure that the Pakistanis will shun the two nation theory the moment India is offered to it as a province to be governed by muslims till perpetuity. Therein lies the truth about the Pakistani state.Recommend

  • P. Vengaayam
    May 25, 2010 - 4:38PM

    Pakistan’s search for an identity that was “not India” has resulted in this “saudi-ization”. Pakistan’s founder openly stated that Pakistan’s raison-de-etre for existence was because Islam and India (which was equated with Hinduism in his mind) were not compatible. After some time, this urge to be “not India” has made Pakistan search for its “identity” in the Middle East and Central Asia, only to find that their culture does not resemble any of those, and the compulsion to pretend that their identity was not Indian.

    At this stage in Pakistan’s evolution, nothing short of a majority of the populace speaking out against the hypocrisy and lies that they been feeding themselves will fix the situation. But the problem is that there is an equally large segment of civil society that is willing to use force to stop the forces that may try to moderate pakistan. When guns and violence enter through the front door, reason quietly slips out the window.Recommend

  • MQM
    May 25, 2010 - 6:17PM

    Liberal culture cannot exist together with religion. Pakistan’s extremist issue the author talks about are not religious but political. Historically the nation is part of the South Asia there is no denying that. Ms Versey do you agree that partition took place?Recommend

  • Sarah
    May 25, 2010 - 10:22PM

    Has the SECULAR India government succeeded in providing masses from all religions the same opportunities as the majority Hindus? Have you been able to control your religious extremism and the violence going on as a result of it? Why hasn’t world’s biggest democracy been able to solve this menace? We would appreciate it if Indians refrain from sermonising and patronising us and telling us about our history,identity and our current problems.It’s beyond me how people like the writer and the 2 Indian making comments above find time to worry about and analyze our problems when they themselves live in the land of 1.5 BILLION problems! Which means India’s woes are ten times bigger than us by default!Please worry about your own selves,leave us alone.

    Oh and by the way,I’ve been to India too and what a rude surprise was that!India shining indeed!Recommend

  • Raakesh
    May 26, 2010 - 12:12PM

    Just a reply to Sarah

    Yes. It has succeeded in providing masses from all religions the same opportunities. Are there problems? Yes. Are they being addressed? Yes. Is there violence in India? Yes.As in any other country. But is suicide bombing a career option ? No.Not even for the poorest of the poor. Oh I get it! You understand India because you have been here sometime. I am only a common citizen of the country still trying to do that.( not your super patriot or card carrying member of the VHP).Recommend

  • Mahesh
    May 26, 2010 - 2:13PM

    MQM :
    You said “Liberal culture cannot exist together with religion. Pakistan’s extremist issue the author talks about are not religious but political. Historically the nation is part of the South Asia there is no denying that. “.
    Very well said. Moreover, you make an interesting point … “Pakistan’s extremist issue the author talks about are not religious but political.”. Care to elaborate for further discussion ?
    Cheers,
    Mahesh.Recommend

  • Waqas
    May 26, 2010 - 4:08PM

    an Indian take on global view… much like bollywood’s apologetic approach akin to “my name is khan ..” syndrome… well.. Ms. Versey.. try and go eat at a Brahman’s place and lets see if your culture upholds your identity then. Why can’t indians stay away from Pakistan. Go Away.Recommend

  • May 26, 2010 - 7:14PM

    Thanks for the lucid comments. Nadir, true that.

    A few general points: I find it limiting that a couple of Hindu names immediately allude to Indians and then there is this non-Hindu Indian writer. Now, would not any country wish for that?

    Oh, and I have eaten at a Brahmin’s place, or several Brahmins’ places several times, which only means that my culture is about a lot of eating and my identity has transformed from glutton to gourmet. Hope that helps.

    There is a search box and you will find that I have dealt with some of the 1.5 billions problems in my country. Have been doing it for years.

    I do believe the Partition took place, but when we talk about regions we see it differently. Perhaps more on that some other time.

    Re. MGM/Mahesh: I would call it politicisation of religious views as long as the country has a Constitution based on the Sharia.

    Finally, when you don’t want an Indian to talk about your issues, then you might reconsider about using a Bollywood film as an analogy! Btw, I have written here in my first column against My name Is Khan. (Check out ‘Guns and Lollipops’)

    Oh, and would anyone tell a westerner to ‘stay away’ from Pakistan? Nah. When Pakistan decides to become a planet peopled by aliens who one cannot have access to, I will think about it. As long as you live in the same world as I do, we have no choice.

    If you like to live on an island, you can visit mine. Mumbai. Recommend

  • P. Vengaayam
    May 27, 2010 - 1:16AM

    Ms. Sarah, When Indians point to problems in Pakistan, it is because Pakistan seems to be unable to deal with those problems with the urgency that today’s circumstances demand. Pakistan’s unwillingness or inability to control terrorism within its borders has repercussions of terrorism for the average Indian. So, when someone says “Pakistan has a specific set of problems”, you point out that “India has problems also”, but such a response again is another form of denial.

    The existence of problems in India does nothing to take away or add to Pakistan’s problems, but the terrorist problem engulfing Pakistan adds to India’s problems and hence the concern.Recommend

  • Sarah
    May 27, 2010 - 3:49AM

    Just a reply to Raakesh

    You make me laugh.Loudly!I don’t need to tell you the countless stories of extreme discrimination, violence and social ostracising of religious minorities in India and don’t even get me started on the Indian caste system and the treatment meted out to the “lower castes”.Equal opportunities indeed! Please cut out the hypocrisy and accept the truth. And How do YOU “understand” Pakistan? And that too good enough to comment on and judge? Oh and suicide bombing is NOT a Pakistani invention or practice.Go google it and see where it came from.It’s an Afghani export to Pakistan, one we DID NOT ask for and making it sound like a ‘taana’ (taunt) is extremely sad and a cheap shot on your part.

    To Mr P. Vengaayam
    The urgency that you refer to is felt THE MOST by US!!PAKISTANIS!!!We are NOT in denial about ANY of our problems and you and rest of the world sitting and commenting, criticising, judging and giving suggestions just proves that IT’S EASIER SAID THAN DONE! YOU don’t need to tell US what needs to be done urgently,we know that better than ANY ONE ELSE. And saying that India also has problems is not a form of denial, it’s reminding you that you should be hogging your own government to control your TONS of extremists, separatists and terrorists. Or does Naxalites killing your soldiers and police men doesn’t matter to you?Recommend

  • P. Vengaayam
    May 27, 2010 - 9:14PM

    Ms. Sarah, Please do not get annoyed with facts presented — the way out is to make sure that the right thing is done, not just talked about in great detail with no action, like we do in India and in Pakistan.

    I can point to news items in the past two days where Pakistani establishment has released the well known terrorist kingpin Hafiz Saeed on “absence of Evidence” — it is an open secret that he has been the central figure in the Lashkar-e-toiba which has conducted terrorism worldwide. How can outsiders watching the actions of the Pakistani establishment in this manner assume that Pakistan is taking the terrorist problem serious, as you are claiming? You may have heard the old proverb, “Actions speak louder than words”. Pakistani leadership talks a lot about resolving its problems but nothing seems to happen on the ground to prove that all the talk is serious talk.Recommend

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