Free Speech in Pakistan? You’re serious? 20 November 2006Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Hypocrisy, Land of the pure...and the not so pure.
Comment gone lengthy… (©: Knicq Enterprises) – in response to Sabizak’s comment on the previous post.
I do agree that many Westerners are of course admirably honest and diligent in their views of Jews and Israel – I have discussed a few of them (eg Finkelstein, Chomsky et al) here previously. However, even these guys are hardly mainstream. The dissenting voices of a few ‘leftwing’ intellectuals (the Ivy League tenured class) may be grudgingly tolerated but are never welcomed. The difficulties encountered by Professor Finkelstein when publishing his books in the US are just one stark reminder of the numerous controls on ‘free speech’. In any case, a few bastions of left-wing or anti-establishment rhetoric do not a country make.
When it comes to the mainstream discourse, even those mild criticisms of Israel are rebuked. The opprobrium and scorn heaped on Mearsheimer and Walt by their peers, by the media and by the wider America society, for stating what most of us outside the US would accept as being a ’statement of the bleedin’ obvious’ is eye-opening. The message is this: whilst its okay for lefties (eg Chomsky) or fascists (eg David Duke) to criticise Zionism, it certainly is not kosher for ‘normal’ folks to do so.
Secondly, I would submit that the reference to Pakistan is somewhat irrelevant here. We (Pakistanis, or Muslims, for that matter) do not claim to be paragons of “free speech” – in fact, our penal code and our society places visible and well-known controls on expression. To berate us for something we never claim to be in the first place seems a trifle harsh – whilst we never claim to be adherents of such dubious notions as ‘free speech’, “they” (ie the Western world as a collective) do! Hence, it is only proper that ‘they’ are held accountable by the standards they themselves proudly cherish and uphold, allegedly.
However, as Pakistan has been mentioned, it would be instructive to explore the issue. Sabizak wrote that in Pakistan, if you “publicly deny the ideology of pakistan”, your fate would not be the envy of many. Is this really borne out by the facts?
Pakistani print and electronic media is replete not only with denials and criticisms of the canard that is the public face of the ideology of Pakistan, but also contain veiled and not so veiled criticisms of many aspects of Islam. Even the recent fiasco that is the so-called “Women’s Protection Bill” was used by many in the ‘liberal intelligentsia’ as a convenient stick to hit Islam and Islamic concepts with, generally in a manner that had little relation to fact or reality. Every evening, loony lefties such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, Mehdi Hasan Rizvi, Samar Mubarak Ali et al fill Pakistani TV screens with semi-demented notions of what Pakistan should be or should not be – and these notions generally do involve robust critiques of Islam and of Pakistan as an Islamic state. Heavens have not fallen and these mouthpieces continue to receive their paychecks from their foreign or local paymasters – doesn’t sound like a particularly repressive environment to me.
I do agree that such criticism and free speech is rare and confined to the Western elite of the country, but that is often the case, even in richer countries. In Pakistan, even mainstream politicos like Iqbal Hiader, Umar Asghar etc openly and blatantly express sentiments that are not only inimical to Islam but often downright blasphemous – that does not seem to impact the vote bank of the political parties these gents caucus with.
Let me clarify – I am not implying that the above is necessarily a good thing or even something to be applauded – my personal view is that it is not – however, the fact that it exists should nonetheless be acknowledged.
Pakistan’s largest selling English language newspaper, The Dawn, is a bastion of ‘left-wing and anti-establishment rhetoric’, and has been for as long as I can remember. The newest decent entrant in the print media market, aka The Daily Times, has made a name for itself with its stridently ‘liberal’ (though not libertarian) and pro-West stances. Najam Sethi, Cowasjee, Dr Lodhi, Irfan Hussain, Khalid Ahmed, Ejaz Haider etc have all made a nice living out of this racket, and there are many more waiting to jump on the gravy train – if criticising Islam and Pakistan wasn’t so lucrative an enterprise, these guys would have been out of business. :-)
So no, being critical of Islam or Pakistan’s ideology in Pakistan is not a one-way ticket to gaol – it is a decision that makes sound commercial sense and is thus the choice made by many of the leading media barons of the country.