Oppression survives through silence

Two young boys are brutally killed in broad daylight. The killers ferociously thrash the innocent boys to death. They drag the dead bodies in the street and finally hang them. A throng stands closely watching the atrocity. It is a huge throng, of elderly, adults, young, tender age children. Yet, not a single soul has a shred of humanity to raise a cry, let alone stop the vicious manslaughter.

Who is more condemnable: the heinously silent crowd; the cannibal killers or both evenly?

I once read a quote by Dante Alighieri “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality”. Having read it a long time back, I did not understand it much then, but after watching the footage of this incident, its meaning clearly revealed on me.

This event may not have caused so much fury and distress nationwide had it taken place in the confines of a house. What gave to this incident grievous and agonizing overtone is the fact that it happened while a large crowd stood by. Everyone watched standing at their places, weak to do anything. No one felt sympathy or pain for those boys being violently beaten. As if no sense of morality and humanity ever prevailed.

Dante’s quotation most probably alludes to such people who witness crime and injustice but maintain their protective silence. Hence, they are equal culprits of the crime, rather more despicable. Their silence not only gives tacit approval to criminals that they can carry out the crime but also condones them. In the Sialkot incident, people who stood there while the violence ensued entirely undeterred in their presence, and who had all the power and muscle to prevent it, should be as severely punished as the main culprits. While the killers flayed the innocent boys mercilessly, it was the moral and human responsibility of the bystanders that they should have stopped those who were executing the massacre, and were only few in numbers.

The other most disturbing aspect about this incident is that how could people mishandle law that blatantly. The foundations for this gruesome murder were probably laid when people immolated a thief and then paraded the corpse in the city, without any response or punitive action from the government. A policeman stood gallantly in the patrolling car amid the caravan of people, as if this act of sheer barbarism is heroic. What rationale could there be for such acts in any civilized and educated society? Poverty, frustration, present condition of Pakistan, et al but isn’t the feeling of humanity and compassion above all this. Media also showed that disconcerting footage as if it is an illustration of bravery, instead of reproaching and castigating it. There was no hue and cry from public against those responsible for ensuring law, are abusing it themselves.

But that is not it. Take a look at the bigger picture. Every day we hear news about drone attacks and the scores that get killed. We conveniently assume that those dead are always terrorists and that contends us back to our snug lives. Neither our politicians nor members of civil society stage any outcry or demand that terrorists should be tried in court, rather than inhumanely killed in air raids. After all, justice should not be elusive-even to terrorists.

What kind of society are we becoming? This is a thought-provoking and solemn question to every sensible citizen who wishes to preserve the basic human values and wants to see the society safe and secure for generations yet unborn. While justice becomes a quaint notion in our society, oppression and violence is becoming the norms. Martin Luther King, in his essay ‘ Three ways of meeting Oppression’ leads a discourse on the three ways to resist oppression namely through acquiescence, through hatred and violence and lastly , through nonviolent resistance. Few lines of essays are notable in the context of the issue in hand, which are ‘to accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good….. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother’s keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right.’

Thus, whether the act of oppression directly affects us or is remotely linked to us, it is trivial or significant; whether it is an isolated incident like the one in Sialkot or the recurring as drone attacks; whether it relates to people of different religion, for example the Gojra killing and attack on Ahmedis holy places, or it is the sectarian violence; we need to condemn it and its perpetrators. This is only possible if we think on human level, irrespective of the faith, race, creed we belong to and also, this is the only way to make justice possible.

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War Against Media

The concept of human security was given by the veteran Mahbub-al Haq. It entails seven factors like food security, health security, personal security, political security, et al; the latter needs some highlighting here. Where political security concerns free and fair elections, people’s right to democracy, it also has an important relation with people’s right to information and ideas, and to express their opinion. Hence, freedom of press and freedom of expression are part and parcel to political security. The extent of freedom of expression is undoubtedly characteristic and symbolic of how democratic and progressive a country is and can be observed by the response a voice of dissent is meted either from the government or the society: whether it is crushed, tolerated or embraced?

The Press Freedom Index 2009 by Reporters without Borders evaluated Pakistan at the lower end of the scale 159 out of 180 countries. This may not surprise many of us, considering the present gagging of Jang group and ARY News in parts of Pakistan after the shoe-throwing incident at His Highness Asif Ali Zardari.

Kudos to PM Yousuf Raza Gillani when he stated, in one of his preliminary speech in the Assembly, that his government stands for free press. However, the current coercion on media is the blatant contradiction of his very words. Yet, this is not the first time happening in Pakistan. This is the oft-repeated episode in this country which is not limited only to dictator rule. Every successive government has toyed with the press freedom. Be it the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif who gagged Jang Group in 1999 leading to a long standby between the two or the Islamization era of Zia-ul-Haq who had the audacity to flog journalists in public or Enlightened Moderation period of Gen. Musharraf who imposed martial law in the country, after which followed a blackout in all media.

Interestingly, two points are common in all these episodes to curb the power of media. Firstly, governments impose restrictions on press always to conceal their own shenanigans, and to strengthen and prolong their rule. The restriction on media always prove to be another faux pas by them leading to the second point in common that the effort to curb is usually the last nail hammered on the coffin to oust the government which the latter perform itself obliviously.

It is distressing that our culture and our governments give little value to the tradition of freedom of expression. What more can be shameful that a ruling democratic government hampers press freedom and that too so daringly and openly?

If PPP claims to bring democracy to the country, then mishandling with press freedom should not be their virtue. Somebody should tell them that democracy and freedom of expression are intertwined notions. Freedom of press is fundamental for the sustenance of democracy and is even more important than free and fair elections because press keeps the electorate informed of the performance of government which is more crucial for democracy than a mere earnest process of elections. But it’s sad to notice that in our country, the freedom of media has been time and again challenged and most of our people seldom fathom its consequences. Whether it’s an in international issue of Draw Muhammad Day, national crises involving government and judiciary at loggerheads, or comic incident of shoe-throwing, our press suffers both from the Machiavellian laws of government and the draconian attitude of society.

However, it is time our leaders take the lesson home that days of repression for media are over now. And that any attempt to control media would backfire. Media is now a power to reckon with and has a considerable and well-recognized niche. Moreover, with the opening of satellite channels, nothing can go inconspicuous and the ruling elite would be living in a fool’s Paradise if they think they can mask their deeds by controlling media.

The recent assail to media in parts of Sindh where PPP has its large vote-bank may have obstructed the news from the masses but it surely has marred the credibility of the government further on the national level. A humble suggestion for the government could be that instead of endeavoring to control the media, rather they should concentrate their efforts to improve the functioning of political administration.

Antagonistically, Free press and government can work in collaboration with each other to enhance each other’s performance and boost the repute of each other. Free press will lend credibility to government’s efforts and initiatives and can create a general goodwill for the government.

However, this should not deter us to say that we still need to work to achieve media that is well-regulated, with its principles and ethics well defined and followed. Media, that work in the best interest of its viewers and the society at large. Media, that follow code of conduct, and exhibit decorum and decency.

Allies, or Enemies?

In the last visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to India, talking about Pakistan he commented that Pakistan “should not promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world,” and also accused Pakistan that it should stop its double game, talking of stabilizing Afghanistan publicly on one hand and on the other, clandestinely supporting Afghan insurgents.Whatever objective these pejorative remarks had; maybe to strengthen ties with India, chastising Pakistan’s spy agency or even if he seriously meant these words as he refuses to track back on his dictum, but one thing is clear to the Pakistani nation that the reward for alliance with America in this ‘war on terrorism’ is only bashing and smacking, and that too internationally, on our traditional enemy’s soil.

For the past seven or eight years, this nation has been persistently hammered that this is our war and hence we have to fight it. Our great intellectuals and leaders have desperately tried to prove this to the nation of almost 17 million. The war that originally started by America with the search of larger-than-life figures of Osama bin laden and Mullah Omer (and with obvious ulterior motives of gaining control of world’s resources) has now actually become our homeland war. Though we were a nuclear power, and still are, but we succumbed to the threats given to us. Now today we are the ones fighting this war and also are the fuel for this war.

Previously, radicalization was synonymous to Talibans and Al Qaeeda, but the investigation of Parade Lane Blast, blast in IIU etc, uncover that the situation is now slipping out of control. Our youth, probably hailing from middle class and educated families are also being recruited by Taliban or like agencies to perpetrate terrorism in the country. More and more youth are being enticed to join these paths as an easy way to hop to heaven. On the other hand our army is engaged in fighting the Talibans while drone attacks regularly kill countless innocent citizens. In short, we are the ones paying the highest price for joining this war which apparently has no advantage for us. Be it social, economics or political, we are only plunging steadily into the abyss from where there is no way back.

So the war started in the name of Osama bin laden has actually become a colossal humanitarian and security crisis. After eight years in this costly war, Hillary Clinton remarked that Pakistan should do more and speculated that Osama bin laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan. With due respect, Mrs. Clinton, but what a dumb thing to say? If Mrs. Clinton knows that he is hiding somewhere in Pakistan then why can’t she just locate him for us, so that we can put an end to this merciless war and take back the road to development that is checked by this war.