Since when is it a crime to be a liberal in Pakistan? This newspaper is not aware of any law or any constitutional provision outlining whether or not specific political ideologies are acceptable. Yet the Ajoka theatre group appears to have been banned from their performance Burqavaganza based on a letter written by just one person which alleged that the show was promoting “dangerous elitist and liberal ideas.” The writer, Samia Raheel Qazi (the leader of the Jamaat-e- Islami’s women’s wing), was probably more accurate than she imagined, though one gets the impression that she is not entirely aware of what liberalism is so we would like to give her and others of her ilk a primer. A parliamentary democracy is a liberal idea. One man one vote is a liberal idea. An independent judiciary is a liberal idea. The right of every individual to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law is a liberal idea. In short, everything that this nation aspires to be is a liberal idea, hence the term “liberal democracy.”
The writer accused the theatre group of presenting a controversial idea. Perhaps she is unaware of the concept of art being controversial almost by definition. It is the job of artists and writers to question everything around them, including culture and even religion, or certainly society’s understanding of religion. It is the sign of a vibrant society that lets its artists and writers speak freely and dissent from the norm. They act like a mirror to a nation, pointing out the fallacies and moral inadequacies that have congealed in our society to become what we now call tradition. Ms Qazi and the spineless management of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) have displayed moral cowardice of the highest order by refusing to allow society to watch a self-reflective play. And Ajoka’s act of defiance of their dictates is an admirable one.