Optimism, and the liberty to be free

Salman Taseer and Saleem Shahzad’s murders may make us question the freedom we have. Revolution seems inevitable.

Abu Bakr Agha June 02, 2011
Salman Taseer’s first birthday since his assassination, unsurprisingly brought back memories of a very dark day.

Still ensnared in those thoughts, that quiet day turned on its head when news of the kidnapped journalist, Saleem Shahzad’s killing broke out. The investigative reporter was tortured and killed brutally.

The feelings I felt put a sense of déjà vu in my conscience. Anger, disgust, fear and sadness all made their simultaneous entries into my mind, but felt strangely familiar. Soon I realised that these feelings actually hadn’t just entered my head, they were already there. I was already feeling all these emotions being reminded of the equally barbaric murder of the late Governor of Punjab. Not only was there a sick similarity in the despicable nature of the act, but also in the act they were ‘punished’ for.

Freedom of speech or expression or even thought are recognised (with limitations) human rights in international law. By that definition everyone is entitled to their opinion, information and argument. Rights are principles of freedom and considered fundamental to civilisation. What needs to be noticed here is that freedom is given paramount importance.

But is it really freedom when you are forced to act in the presence of fear?

We no longer have ‘freedom’ when what we say must be controlled in order to not play with the sentiments of people or the interest of the government. Admittedly no force can actually physically disable us from expressing our opinion, but the fear of harm against ourselves because of something we said or feel, can play a massive part in influencing our decision to exercise this ‘right.’ The two unfortunate men I mentioned previously did exercise this right and in my opinion, without exceeding any reasonable limitations. They did so perhaps despite the fear of repercussions, and both their lives were taken away.

This leaves journalists and all citizens alike in a very precarious situation. If we disapprove of something, want to speak against something, hold a different opinion of something or feel the need to educate people on something that involves religious pieces or information about politics, global security and terrorism, what do we do?

Religious beliefs (some of them not true) are established deep in the roots of our people’s history while our country is currently the centre of the world’s attention regarding terrorism, secret agencies and kidnappings. Pakistan was recently ranked the most dangerous country for journalists with over 10 killings in one year. These are facts that simply cannot be ignored and do play on one’s mind before he or she voices his or her opinion, and as he or she thinks deeper - the same old anger, disgust, fear and sadness pay another visit.

This, believe it or not, brings me to my point. Like it or not, being a Pakistani today you do live, in some capacity, in anger, disgust, fear and sadness. We have witnessed seven years of increasing terrorism, assassinations, economic turmoil, corruption, price inflation and incompetent leadership. These feelings are not new to us; in fact they have become part of us. When I felt those four emotions they also felt familiar before I heard the news about Shahzad. This is because they have become a part of my subconscious being a citizen of this country.

Incredibly what this has done is something remarkable. It has created in some of us the inability to feel further fear and also space for a fifth emotion, optimism. This optimism is the fuel that keeps us going and this country alive.

No country comes to mind that has been through worse or seen as bad times as Pakistan, but still somehow the people can put a smile on their face and hope for the best with all their heart. This optimism comes through the power of free speech and the power of the people.

We have become immune to react towards the terror we see. If there was a bomb blast in the 80’s we would not react to it like we do today. Instead, what actually makes us react and brings out our emotions more are the great things we do. The power of the people created an independent judiciary for the first time in the country’s history. The media was never this vibrant and continues to exploit mistakes (sometimes for the worse) of the people in charge, bringing it to the public’s eye.

Revolution in sight

Salman Taseer and Saleem Shahzad’s murders might make people question the freedom we really have, but have also proved that our rights can never be taken from us. The non-Muslim minorities did get some attention after Mr Taseer’s murder while the blasphemy law was actually finally studied by a lot of people, and even after Saleem Shahzad has been killed, we all await one of his reports to be released by the Asia Times. Even despite such enormous violations of human rights to freedom of speech, our media is one of the most effervescent I have come across anywhere and that has to count for something.

Our people don’t see fear like they used to, they see change. They have suffered enough pain and heard enough lies and are willing to speak against injustices and to expose the truth. They let their optimism and bravery stand side by side to their anger, disgust, fear, sadness and patriotism and use all these emotions together to speak their mind for the progress of their country and for the liberty to be free.

To me a revolution seems inevitable. More people are vocal about the country from the population than ever before despite all that has happened and are determined to make sure these deaths, and countless others, will not be in vain.
Abu Bakr Agha A software engineer, musician, writer and activist from Islamabad, currently based in Chicago. He tweets @AB_Agha (twitter.com/AB_Agha)
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