Mullah, Media and Veena

01/23/2011

It was not without feeling a pain and shame to watch clips of Express TV‘s interview with Pakistan film star Veena Malik and a mufti. Pakistani media in cahoots with religious right has taken Veena Malik to task for participating in an Indian reality show.

The only blame that host of the program, Shahid Malik, and Mufti Abdul Qavi could bring against Veena Malik was that she defamed the culture of Pakistan by participating in the show. My first question is that is there anything called Pakistani culture? There is no consensus about it at any level, because Pakistani people have yet to explore their historical roots.

The religious section, which is on a warpath against any dissenting voice, have been trying all along to link our roots with the Arab land. There is another section which looks towards Central Asia to find their antecedents. However, historians like Mubarak Ali have a strong case to say that the people of this region are old Indians and present-day South Asians.

Unless Pakistanis relate themselves to their roots, they cannot talk of any culture of their own, because culture is always a historical continuity. It never begins at a point in history; at least not at a certain date and year. Culture adds new layers to its old ones like a crustacean to grow. Our culture did not begin with the invasion of Sindh by Mohammad Bin Qasim who was as culturally different from us as any foreign invader.

Except for Pakhtuns, no Pakistani share any cultural roots with Ahmed Shah Abdali and Mehmud Ghaznavi who attacked then India repeatedly from the eastern side. India had never been a land without its own people; it has a historical continuity of no less than 4000 years.People living in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are denizens of the mainland, and they should accept this fact.

It was the result of Arab traders’ intermingling with the local population and the message of love by great Sufis that a section of the local population became Muslims.With the change of religion, culture does not change so quickly; the Muslims of the region still culturally share a lot with people of India, irrespective of their religious differences.

Cultures can not live in isolation; we lived in harmony with people of other religions in the same land for centuries and that is the reason that we have a lot common in culture.Back to Veena Malik story, she presented a soft image of Pakistan for which she deserves our and our media’s kudos. Pity the media and pity the people who take pride when ‘we’ send Ajaml Qassab to spill blood of innocent people in India. Then, this fact did not cross our face that whose culture Qassab and his accomplices were representing? At least not ours.

If Veena Malik should not have taken part in an Indian show–as suggested by clean-shaved maulvi called Shahid Malik–because of cultural sensitivities, then Pakistani players should not go to India for sports, or Indian players should come to Pakistan.If our maulvis in and outside media are so touchy about the image of Islam and Pakistan, they should stop glorifying murderers like Qadri.

It is not only shaming us Muslims, but is also sacrilegious. Stop stoning people to death and stop harassing those very Pakistanis who are just religiously different from us. It is disgusting.If Meher Bokhari has Salman Taseer’s blood on her hands, then if–God forbid–Veena Malik is killed by another Qadri, Shahid Malik and Mufti Abdul Qavi must be counted among the culprits.

One longs for the good not-so-old days when there was no private TV in Pakistan and no such obscenity and vulgarity beamed into people’s living rooms.Veena Malik spoke with the strength of a conscience while shame was writ large on the faces of the two maulvis–one modern, the other archaic.

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Killing the Talib(an) within

09/25/2009

Will Durant says that whenever there is a turning point in the history of a people we always see a lofty character at the turn it takes. Pakistan, especially its north west, is passing through the worst of its times but we don’t see any lofty character. A lunatic fringe is hell-bent on dragging the whole society by its hairs to take it back to dark ages. They are the people who don’t believe in the journey the humanity has covered nor in the progress the humanity has achieved.

These obscurantist forces—name them the Taliban or the religious fanatics—take the society and its culture for a relic which must be preserved. They don’t know that culture or society is a social organism that breathes, grows and prosper. It needs nurturing and most of all interaction with other cultures to develop. After all, culture is a solution kit for the humanity. If a particular society is kept insulated from the outer world, it fails to offer solution to the problems that emerge in its forward march. In such a situation either the local culture has to learn from others or it will have to arrest the society’s forward march which is called change. Here begins a cultural decay that we see today in the shape of warped religious opinion, or clinging to worn-out values and traditions.

But this very change is the essence of life, which the obscurantist cannot digest. Dr Fazlur Rahman, the renowned professor who taught at the Chicago University, says: “… no functioning human society can be utterly static—some changes always continue to occur.” Allama Iqbal, who is often quoted by the clergy for its own conservative worldview, says that only change is constant in the universe which means that everything (with added emphasis) is subject to a constant change.  But it is this change which these forces do not like because their eyes are lodged in the back of their heads instead of being to the front on both sides of the nose just beneath the eye-brows.

As far as leaders are concerned, a leader is the epitome of social currents. British philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell says that an ideal society is just below mediocrity. This he said in reference to ‘unpopularity’ of German philosophers in their life time as compared to popular acceptability of their contemporaries in Britain. Surprising it may sound, but this is proved from the universal accolade that German philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Goethe, Schopenhauer and others received in modern times. The collective intellect of their time could not catch up with the lofty ideas at the time of their origin. When the human civilization progressed—both materially and, with the creation and proliferation, of new knowledge it happened that it could understand and internalize the wisdom of these philosophers when they were no more there.

A human is an extension of his/her environment. There are always good and bad people in any society. Being feeble, a common man carries some (not all) good traits of his times; his fellows carry others. Now if a person is the paragon of the collective good—a good that others carry in piecemeal, becomes the leader. So if we don’t see any leader at this critical juncture, it means that the pieces of that characteristics are not there in the society. If we don’t have the Lego of a leader, how can we have one in whole.

Kemal Ataturk led Turkey towards modernity, not that he wanted it to be so; the people of Turkey had a longing for a modern state and prosperous life. Ataturk was in sync with the ideals of his people demanding change. Mahathir extracted Malaysia from the ruts of poverty and ignorance only when his people yearned for a better change. History is replete with personalities who have changed the course of history, especially when the going became tough for their people. However, when it comes to Pakistan, one wonders why is it ruled either by dictators (both civil and military)  or inept politicians at the political level and by bigoted mullahs at grassroots level? We dance maniacally on roads and garland tanks when elected civilian government is toppled in the name of yet-to-be-defined and much maligned ‘national interests.’ But shamelessly, we elect the same politicians when the dictator deems it fit to hold elections.

The men of Swat reveled in their ignorance when their womenfolk donated their jewelry to Mullah Radio who showed his disdain quite soon for anything that brings joy or freedom to the people, especially women. When the Taliban rained terror on Swat, we looked outside for the source of the marauding insanity that we groomed, nurtured and cared for all these years. We looked for but could not notice any messiah who could pluck us from the morass.

The Taliban are the replica of our collective character. Everyone of us carry a piece or two of the Talib(an), and when these pieces come closer, a real Talib(an) emerges on scene. They are not foreign; they are within our ranks. Forces bludgeon their heads and we produce more to continue this circus in one name or other. One does not need to look for the Taliban in the woods; just look inward and one is lurking over there to be released no sooner than later. Go and kill your own Talib(an) and you will choke one feeding channel.

To defeat the Satan without, one has to accept the Satan within, says Carl Jung, one of the greatest knower of human mind. After all, charity begins at home; improvement begins with “I”. The Taliban stalking the valley of Swat and prowling in our midst represent our collective soul. You cannot change others but yourself. And once you change yourself, it is not an individual: every person wears more than one mask at a given time. If you are a son or a daughter, you are also a friend and a neighbour, you are a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a friend or a colleague and so on.

So my friends, it’s time for soul searching instead of calling a spade a spade. Scratch your back and you find a Talib(an).

Taliban head is dead

08/26/2009

Finally, the Taliban announced that Baitullah Mehsud is dead in a U.S. drone attack that hit his father-in-law’s house in Waziristan on August 5. Good riddance! Hakeemullah, a cousin of the dead TTP chief, has replaced him after three weeks of confusion in which the rumour machines worked with full swing.

But the irony is that Waziristan seems to be an area outside Pakistan where its intelligence people do not dare to step in. Courtesy the repeated ‘peace’ deals that Pervez Musharraf signed with the Taliban which in fact were meant to cede more and more areas to the extremists. Resultantly, the Waziristans became magnets for the extremists of every hue. Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens besides others integrated themselves in the tribal society by marrying the local women.

The South and North Waziristans became an Emirate of the Taliban who launched its activists in other parts of the country, especially the North West Frontier. When the Taliban emerged on the scene in Swat, the Taliban had already established an arc from Waziristan to Swat via Orakzai, Kurram, Mohmand and Bajaur. The extremists could move along with reinforcements quite unchecked in this arc.

Swat, Taliban and Independence day: Dialogue of the naive!

08/24/2009

The Independence Day was celebrated with  new ‘fervor’.

For the first time?

No. For the 63rd time or so.

What is so special about it this time?

The people of Swat deserved it.

Why them?

Because they suffered at the hands of the Taliban.

Who are the Taliban?

They are people with long beards (some with fake ones) and long hair locks, with guns slinging from their shoulders, hands full of grenades and wearing jackets that can explode them and people around them to smithereens.

Why do they kill people and, of course, themselves?

They want to Islamize the society and the people.

Through terror?

They know no other way of doing it.

Are the people of Swat hedonist enough to deserve such brutal treatment?

Yes!

How?

They used to listen to music. They would shave their beards. Their women will roam unguarded in the city. And disgustingly, not only their sons but also their daughters would go to schools.

But what is the wrong with all these things that Swatis did or do?

Look! Music appeals to human senses while the Taliban know no only death instinct. Music makes them imaginative and in imagination man can go to any extreme. It makes people soft and mild totally shorn of rigidity unlike the Taliban who know no gentility.

By shaving beards they look smart and clean thus making the Taliban and their ilk look uglier. Is it not good and easy to make others unclean and wash away the difference? When everyone else looks shabby no one could tell an ugly from a preen. It saves them the labour of rushing into washroom every morning to unload tones of grime which cost them too much. Because it takes a lot of rubbing and too much soap to unlatch filth from the skin.

Oh! And what about unaccompanied women in the markets?

Yes! They say women should not step out of their homes without a mehram. Because anyone can ogle the lonesome woman. So, it is the woman responsible if a lecher accosts her? Of course! Men cannot afford to see a female without a chaperone and do not ogle her. Don’t you know how difficult is for men to resist their amorous temptations?

Got it! To keep the men straight, women should stay home—not to be seen in public, because it tests the passion of men folk. But again. When I sweat, I get irritation in my skin. I visited the doctor and he prescribed me medicine for skin saying it is sensitive to perspiration. Why did he not prescribe something to block my pores and thus stop sweating? Simply, no sweat no irritation in skin!

I don’t appreciate your analogy, man!

Ok, now come to schooling. Why the Taliban are against schools?

Simple. Education makes a people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave. They want first to drive the people like others do in Karachi and Hyderabad and then enslave them. Leading them or governing them creates a lot of problems: the Taliban have to care for the public opinion, have to be accountable to them every three or four years. And may face defeat in a peaceful way.

So to avoid the ruckus of so-called democracy it is better to thrust iron-clad caps on their brains and stop their mental growth. And they will be ruled peacefully. To maintain peace they have only to slit open the throats of a few recalcitrant and that’s all. Females. They comprise over 50% of our population. If they get education, they will become too hot for the men to control them.

What, too hot?

Yes, but in another sense. Educated women will read religion Islam themselves, will fight for the education of their children and their own rights. It will create a whole lot of commotion in the society and men may lose patriarchy. Better keep their wings clipped, their eyes gouged out and their hands and feet crippled.

Why this much hate for the poor women?

This is no hate. This is love. They want to possess them lock, stock and barrel. Had there been any hate, they would never have married more than one woman. They want women to be sex tools and that too more than one. If one woman pleases them, others can serve them. When they see a woman in street or in the market, their animal instinct drives them. That’s why they don’t want their own woman to step out and tingle with the others’ same instinct. Freud called it libido.

Is there no one to stand to these marauders? I mean someone who can lead the common denizens and deny space to these psychopaths?

Well, Will Durant says that whenever there is a turning point in the history of a people we always see a lofty character at the turn. We are passing through the worst of times. There are people who are few in numbers but who are hell-bent on dragging the whole society by its hairs to take it back to dark ages. They are the people who don’t believe in the journey the humanity has covered nor in the progress the humanity has achieved.

They take the society and its culture for a relic which must be preserved. They don’t know that culture or society is a social organism that breathes, grows and prosper. They deny the distance humanity has covered over the centuries. Fazlur Rahman (not the Diesel one) says: “… no functioning human society can be utterly static—some changes always continue to occur.” Change is something which they do not like because their eyes are lodged in the back of their heads instead of being to the front on both sides of the nose just beneath the eye-brows.

As far as leaders are concerned, a leader is the epitome of social currents.

What is that?

An ideal society is just below mediocrity. Surprising it may sound, but this is what Bertrand Russell says. A human is an extension of his/her environment. There are always good and bad people in any society. Being feeble, a common man carries some (not all) good traits of his times; his fellows carry others. Now if a person is the paragon of the collective good—a good that others carry in piecemeal, becomes the leader.

So if we don’t see any leader at this critical juncture, it means that the pieces of that characteristics are not there in the society. If we don’t have the Lego of a leader, how can we have one in whole. The Taliban are the replica of our collective character. Everyone of us carry a piece or two of the Talib, and when these pieces come closer, a real Talib emerges on scene. They are not foreign; they are within our ranks. Forces bludgeon their heads and we make more to continue this circus in one name or other.

Don’t look for the Taliban in the woods; just look inward and one is lurking over there to be released no sooner than later. Go and kill your own Talib and you will choke one feeding channel. To defeat the Satan without one has to accept the Satan within, says Carl Jung, one of the greatest knower of human mind. After all, charity begins at home; improvement begins with “I”. The Taliban stalking the valley of Swat represent our collective soul. You cannot change others but yourself. And once you change yourself, it is not an individual: every person wears more than one mask at a given time. If you are a son or a daughter, you are also a friend and a neighbour, you are a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a friend or a colleague and so on.

So my friend, it’s time for soul searching instead of calling a spade a spade.

Anagrams

08/24/2009

his one is way too clever not to share.

DORMITORY:
When you rearrange the letters:
DIRTY ROOM

PRESBYTERIAN:
When you rearrange the letters:
BEST IN PRAYER

ASTRONOMER:
When you rearrange the letters:
MOON STARER

DESPERATION:
When you rearrange the letters:
A ROPE ENDS IT

THE EYES:
When you rearrange the letters:
THEY SEE

GEORGE BUSH:
When you rearrange the letters:
HE BUGS GORE

THE MORSE CODE :
When you rearrange the letters:
HERE COME DOTS

SLOT MACHINES:
When you rearrange the letters:
CASH LOST IN ME

ANIMOSITY:
When you rearrange the letters:
IS NO AMITY

ELECTION RESULTS:
When you rearrange the letters:
LIES – LET’S RECOUNT

SNOOZE ALARMS:
When you rearrange the letters:
ALAS! NO MORE Z ‘S

A DECIMAL POINT:
When you rearrange the letters:
IM A DOT IN PLACE

THE EARTHQUAKES:
When you rearrange the letters:
THAT QUEER SHAKE

ELEVEN PLUS TWO:
When you rearrange the letters:
TWELVE PLUS ONE

AND FOR THE GRAND FINALE:

MOTHER-IN-LAW:
When you rearrange the letters:
WOMAN HITLER

Yep! Someone with waaaaaaaaaaay
too much time on their hands!

Bet your friends haven’t seen this one!!!
DON’T FORGET TO SHARE THIS

Hypocracy of the religious right

06/29/2009

When Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, who had challenged the Taliban idealogy, was killed in a suicide attack in the compound of a Lahore mosque quickly followed by another assualt on another mosque in Nowshera, it brought to the fore a contradiction in the thinking of the Pakistani Jihadhists and the religio-political parties. They are quick and venemous when a madrassa or a mosque is targeted by the Pakistan Army or the American drones and try to incite the feelings of the naive fathful. They have still not forgotten the military operation against Lal Masjid when its affiliated seminary’s students occupied a children’s libraray in Islamabad and stalked the streets and roads of Islamabad to kidnap those with ‘loose morals’.

These jihadhists bomb out mosquesful of faithful with no remorse while their supporters and champions of Islam show no courage to issue a statement of criticism. Little they know that when they themselves violate the sanctity of the mosque and reduce to smithreens the practicing Muslims, they give a message to the outside world that even places of worship are not that sacred when it comes to their lust for power.

In the pre-partition Charsadda, a person was shot dead when he was saying prayers in a local mosque. When the British Royal Police personnel came to examine the site of the crime, they went inside the mosque while their shoes on, people present there protested that they violate the sanctity of the mosque. To which one of the English police men replied: “When you kill a person inside the mosque, it is no disrespect to the mosque, while walking inside the mosque with boot on is.”

It is time for the religio-political leadership to jettison their hypocracy and take a clear stand on what is going on in Pakistan in the name of Islam.

Gillani’s bid to step in the wrong shoe

04/27/2008

When Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani was addressing the Formation Commanders at a banquet at the Prime Minister’s House on Thursday, he did not know how close he resembled Ziaul Haq, the bête noire for the PPP. “Pakistan Army, unlike armies of other countries, has double responsibility of protecting not only geographical boundaries of the country, but also its ideological boundaries,” Mr. Gillani told the glittering gathering.

This added responsibility of guarding the so-called ideology of Pakistan was assigned to the army by Ziaul Haq who toppled Z.A. Bhutto in late 70s. Like every military dictator he also promised to have been forced to scuttle democracy, and to hold fair and free elections within stipulated 90 days–a promise he never honoured. To the bad luck of the country the Afghan war started. Since it shares a long porous border with the land-locked Afghanistan, Pakistan became central to the U.S. designs to trap the Soviet Union’s Red Army across the Durand Line. The U.S., the West and Arab countries started pampering the military dictator to make Pakistan the staging post for a protracted war inside Afghanistan, and it came in as a double jeopardy for Pakistan and its people.

To ensconce the armed forces, his only constituency, in the political matrix of Pakistan, Ziaul Haq coined the slogan that our armed forces are the guardians of not only the geographical borders of Pakistan but also of its ideological borders. It raised the stakes of the army in the political structure of Pakistan. Like the much-abused term “national interests”, the ideology of Pakistan is also a vague term which was framed much after the formation of the country in 1947.

Probably, it was during Ayub Khan’s martial law that the term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ was formed. Since we have a very short and blur view of our otherwise short history, people at large owned up this slogan. Thus Pakistani politics, which was very pluralist, was constrained by an ideology. Every political force has to adjust itself to the new reality. Those who tried to oppose were dubbed traitors.

This turn towards ideology bolstered the reactionary a la religious forces. Being the guardians of the ideology the army found its allies in religious outfits like Jama’at-i-Islami and centrist parties like Muslim League which never changes in character; it adds a new letter to its name whenever there is guard of change in the corridors of power. [There is a long list of PML (Q, N, F, J, …)] However, Nawaz Sharif, going through tough moments of his life, has made his faction of the PML into a coherent party.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has a long history of struggle against military dictatorship, always ended up on the wrong side of the establishment. It sacrificed yet another Bhutto on December 27, 2007 when the charismatic Benazir Bhutto fell to the bullets of the assassins at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi after addressing a public meeting. It looked the end of an emerging bonhomie between the PPP and the establishment. But, it was not so.

Prime Minister Gillani put a seal on it while addressing the banquet also attended by among many President Pervaiz Musharraf and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani. Things have changed a lot since the days of Ziaul Haq. Today Pakistan is embroiled in another kind of war which is eating into its vitals. Our social fabric is in tatters. The writ of the state is challenged within the confines of the state–even Islamabad is no exception what to talk of Swat and Waziristan.

All this mayhem visited us when our rulers hugged a narrow ideology only to please a lunatic fringe that has a lot of nuisance value and no vision for a prosper future. It is time to do away with this politics of ideology and focus on building democratic institutions. Democracy is the best ideology if we need any to latch onto. Prime Minister Gillani must weigh words before uttering them in formal gathering, because the powers that be will take him for his words when they strike a blow on democracy.

Lifting ban on student unions: a bane or boon?

04/13/2008

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in his first speech to the National Assembly, after being elected with a two-thirds majority, announced the lifting of ban on student and labor unions. Two kudos and too much trepidations. Many hailed the decision. They are of the view that democracy starts at the grass-roots level where young students learn the intricacies of leadership. There are no two words about that. However, the announcement raised many an eyebrow also fearing the politicization of the already polarized educational institutions.

Since 1984, when the military dictator Ziaul Haq slapped a ban on student unions, the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jama’at-i-Islami, monopolized the educational institutions across the country. Unchecked by any, the Jama’at students terrorized the whole community on the campuses in their zest for ‘Islamising’ the students and the education itself. This led to the emergence of a highly polarized situation on one hand; on the other, it circumvented pluralism on the campuses. Students and teachers found it difficult to expound their views on anything freely. Because everything was to be seen and debated within the parameters of a narrow ideology. Life was reduced to black and white without any grey areas. The fact is that life is all about the grey area which faded away in our society. While other student groups were hounded, the IJT had a field day to terrorize not only the students but even the teaching faculty.

The ban was imposed ostensibly to stop politicking in educational institutions. However, it produced the reverse results: atmosphere at the campuses became more polarized—and in many cases militarized. It caused a brain drain when the liberal-minded intellectuals were forced to leave the campus for greener pastures where they could breathe freely and express their thoughts without any fear. Pakistani universities, since then, are ruled by mediocre who stifle debate in the name of ideology and morality.

Ridiculously enough, during this period of regimentation in the name of Islam and morality, plagiarism flourished—as if intellectual stealing has nothing to do with religion and morality. University of the Punjab, which has been in the throttle grip of the IJT since long, has been in the press but for the wrong reasons. Five teachers at its Center for High Energy Physics have been found guilty of plagiarism. A professor of Applied Psychology Department has been dismissed from service after his MSc degree showing first division was found to be based on bogus notification.

This is the morality that has been pushed down the throat of the university students and teachers. What is more intriguing is that the Punjab university administration is finding it difficult to take any action against the plagiarists because they are protected by the Jama’at. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has stopped funding to the university for its dithering over the plagiarism issue.

From 1984 onwards the campuses saw more violence and less peace. Educational institutions are considered the breeding ground for the future leadership. By electing their leaders the student develop a taste for democracy, while the elected ones, while speaking for the rights of the students, learn how to negotiate on behalf of the community.

However in Pakistan, the student unions turned into a bane when they became hand tools of the mainstream political and religious parties. At their beck and call, the student unions are being used by the parent parties for their own political ends. Thus the dirty politics of the streets creep into the campuses. Egged by the support from the outside the education institutions, the student unions fought their war among themselves spilling a lot of blood.

One expected that before lifting the ban on student unions the government would have evolved a mechanism to ‘free’ the students form the stranglehold of mainstream political and religious parties. It is hard to oppose student unions, but it is far harder to see them play puppets to the religious and political parties. The 24-year old ban did not help our education system, but the lifting of ban in the present circumstances is going to radicalize the environment on the campuses.

Towards a citizen media

03/20/2008

Democracy and media go hand in hand. Democracy cannot flourish without a free and pluralist media. Media cannot grow in a dictatorial or autocratic environment. In short, democracy and media supplement each other. Diversity in the marketplace of ideas is a must for democracy, while dictatorship and autocracy strive for uniformity of opinion. In autocratic regimes, dissenting voices are silenced in the name of national interests and national cohesion. [The term ‘national interests’ is a loaded phrase which is open to many definitions, but they always come in handy for dictators and autocrats in times of crisis, with Pakistan no exception.]
Autocratic governments are not the only threat to a free and pluralist media. Free market economy and conglomerates have emerged as the greatest threat to the freedom of the press. Advertisers, who have become the economic lifeline of the media, determine what news to be published—and what qualifies to be a news. They don’t pressurize the media to publish news in their favor; they use their economic clout to stop the publication of a certain news. Adverts compete with news for audience attention, and at the end of the day audience gets lots of adverts and little news.
This reminds one of Shorash Kashmiri’s famous quote that “we don’t charge for what we publish, we charge for what we don’t publish.” Important news just gets “killed” to appease the advertisers. Over the years, journalists in Pakistan have developed a tendency of self-censorship for a variety of reasons. Since the dark days of Ziaul Haq, Pakistani press, apart from the government and state agencies, is facing other enemies as well.
Political parties and religious groups, egged by the government, started targeting newspapers and individual journalists not falling in line. Karachi, otherwise the hub of newspaper industry, was the worst-hit area where outspoken newspapers were stopped from publishing by militant groups while the government looked the other way. Individual journalists were physically harmed to silence them and sow fear in the hearts of the whole journalist community.
The sad part of the story is that the newspapers managements entered into deals with the militant groups instead of standing by its victimized journalists. After being ditched by their respective organizations, the journalists felt more threatened and found safety in not challenging the demons. For fear of being killed by the one of a kind militants, the journalists opted for “killing” the stories that could tempt the ‘providence’.
Another outgrowth of the myopic rule of Ziaul Haq was the radicalization of institutions by inducting religious activists in them. Journalism, which till then was the forte of leftist intellectuals, was contaminated by religious parties’ zealots who are more of activists than journalists. This again reinforced self-censorship. But this time not for the fear of journalist’s life, rather to serve a narrow ideology in the guise of journalism. Any news story, which is against the ideology or parent party of the journalist, is “killed” conveniently.
Now come conglomerates: these are in fact “private ministries of information” that generate their own news and control others. Conglomeration, an outcome of free market economy, encroaches on the free marketplace of ideas. Every newspaper has become a publishing house churning out more than one newspaper in more than one language. Now every publishing house has a cable TV service as well. This surge in conglomeration has lead to monopoly of news, while journalism itself has become an industry. The large publishing houses work like the notorious corporations. Much to the loss of the audience new technologies have accentuated monopoly in media by increasing the power of big corporations to exercise more power and increase their range.
Conglomeration is nibbling away at audience’s choice of plurality which results in uniformity of opinion and the lacking of diversity. When diversity of opinion gives way to a uniform worldview, democratic discourse comes to an end. Democracy, shorn of diversity of opinion, leads to dictatorship where a single individual or institution drives the whole society. People embrace, out of their free will, the yoke of slavery in the name of democracy and ‘national interests’.
In such a situation the culprit is not the dictator but the corporate media. The media creates certain imagery by giving news which is fragmented and sketchy that makes it difficult for the audience to see the connections across issues. It becomes difficult for the common people to follow the development of a particular issue over time. This situation promotes apathy, cynicism, and quiescence at the expense of political participation. Common people become mere spectators in a democracy which otherwise should be a participatory business.
No situation is more congenial for hijacking democracy than this. Media becomes part of the power troika along with the bourgeoisie and the army that take the common people for a ride in the name of inculcating real democracy. Thus democracy and a free media get sacrificed at the alter of free market economy which is the linchpin of capitalism.
In case of Pakistan, alternative media is also no panacea. Not content with the mainstream media and the state-run PTV a new media has emerged. But, unfortunately, this media espouses a narrow and distorted worldview in the name of alternativity. For arguments sake, the press run by religious and sectarian organizations is the only alternative media, but it is heavily laden with issues that have nothing to do with democracy or free market of ideas.
This downslide of the media can be balanced by the emergence of citizens’ media which is run by the community instead of a corporation, a family enterprise or a religious/sectarian organization. In citizens’ media common people are part of the whole journalistic activity which develops a sense of belonging in them. Citizens’ media does not compete for circulation or for corporate adverts. Its interest lies in the interest of the community and community is the owner of the media. Mainstream press, because of its widespread reach, has a larger agenda in which smaller communities and their problems find little space.
No time is more opportune for the emergence of a citizen media than today. Corporate media can be countered by a network of small community media with no commercial interests and with strong roots in the community. The voice of any community should not get lost in the din of corporate culture.

People have spoken, they deserve to be honored

02/25/2008

It was like a refreshing, cool breeze in a sweltering hot summer. The pall of gloom that had overtaken the wretched masses, gave way to the hope of a new morning. Years of machinations were undone in a day. By voting against the ‘king’s party’ and the religious right, the people of Pakistan in general and those of the NWFP in particular, shattered many a myth. What the guns of the U.S. and the men of Musharraf could not do in years of bloodletting the poor people did it joyfully in a single day on February 18: empowering the liberal and secular forces of the country and dislodging the obscurantist forces.

The message was loud and clear that the people of Pakistan can make a good choice once given a chance. The results of the general elections may be flabbergasting for Musharraf and his masters, but this is what the common man/woman had on her/his mind while trekking to the polling stations on a sunny Monday. And that they turned out in such an impressive number (43%) shows how they longed for this day and time to register their faith in ballet and show their disdain for the bullet.

It also showed that even the illiterate can make a decent choice, but our educated ones are not decent enough to honor their mandate by stepping out of the way to let people’s leaders in. It was a referendum against Musharraf who failed to see the reality and kept bathing in the illusion of ‘silent majority’s’ support. If still the president thinks that he enjoys even a modicum of popularity, it is a plain case of delirium that needs hospitalization. And if the U.S. and the West still think that Musharraf can deliver in their ‘war on terror’, they need to refashion their line of thinking on democracy and the public will.

What else could be more soothing when television screens flickered with images from Wana in that ‘wild’ Waziristan where women, undeterred by the Taliban and the ongoing war against them, flocked to the polling stations to exercise their right to universal suffrage. Not to be left behind, the better half of men in Jamrud and Landikotal also voted unhampered to elect their representatives. Is it not a slap in the face of extremism and fanaticism? If yes, then why helicopter gunships and the dreaded drones haunt the skies of the tribal belt?

This much for the euphoria: the hard reality is that the new government has already inherited piles of problems: to top it all, the war against terror, which is straining the very social fabric of our society. One fails to fathom it at all: the more they rain bombs, the more the resistance stiffens. So much so that the militancy spills into the city centers. Our armed-to-the-teeth soldiers find it difficult to set foot on the militant’s land; for militants even the brims of the GHQ are not no thoroughfares.

Militants and terrorists need to be isolated from the larger society. Nothing can isolate them more than empowering the common man. To vote freely is the exercise of power. This s what the people of Frontier, especially in Swat, did. Till recently in the spot light as the bastion of militancy, the people of Swat proved everyone wrong by voting for the secular ANP in toto. Guns and bombs may have dislodged the mediaeval-minded Fazlullah and his combatants, the people of Swat defeated them on February 18 by simply voting against them.

This much for the militancy: Next is the question of restoring the judiciary. The relentless struggle that was spear-headed by the lawyers’ community and aided by the civil society won votes for three parties—the PPPP, the PML (N) and the ANP. To vote for one of these parties was in fact voting for the ‘deposed’ judges as well. The quest for an independent judiciary has woven the three popular parties and the civil society in a common thread. If any of the parties falters in restoring the 60-plus judges, it is going to send the whole movement helter-skelter. So far Nawaz Sharif is forthright on this issue, but the PPPP seems to be having second thoughts.

This is what dampens the euphoria and makes one cynical. But this time round there is a realization that the gaze of media and an intense interest of the outer world in a democratic Pakistan may keep the power brokers and wielders in check. It is the last chance for the democratic forces to deliver. No time is more opportune than the present one. Political parties and their leaders may have squandered many opportunities, but still people have more confidence in a democratic dispensation than a dictatorship, howsoever benign it may be.

If the civil society can empower political forces, they can also confine them to the dustbin of history—the way they did it with Q-League and the MMA. In this age of a pluralist media environment, political leaders may find it hard to take the common man for a ride. And for President Musharraf no time is more opportune than the present to step down honorably and let parliament take the reins of power. The U.S. can easily pressurize a single person, howsoever powerful he may be, than a parliament, howsoever weak it may be.