Mashal Khan’s Murder: An Act of Collective Cowardice

Last week a mob of students of Khan Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan performed a collective act of cowardly murder of one of their fellow students. In any other country, this news would have come across as ‘fake” or sensational but in what has now become of the so-called “Land of the Pure,” this is our living, brutal reality.

Apparently, Mashal and Abdullah were attacked by their fellow students because of the rumors that they had committed blasphemy. The university administrators, who should all be fired for their failure to protect their students, have in their sick wisdom ordered an inquiry into the conduct of victims to ascertain whether or not they had committed blasphemy. This is another act of cowardice and moral ineptitude, for the University administrators should have instead condemned the murders instantly and then declared that they will apprehend and prosecute all those responsible for this murder.

This is not the first instance where a group of so-called “Muslims” have collectively murdered defenseless and helpless victims maligned by rumor and innuendo. Blasphemy has now become the weapon through which the religious fanatics in Pakistan blackmail, intimidate, and kill all those they deem a threat to their way of thinking and imagining the world. Mashal’s murder, therefore, is yet another example of this journey into madness of a culture that has a large segment of its population convinced that murdering others in the name of God is a pious and honorable act.

Our mullahs and our religious political parties are clearly responsible for these acts: after all, all such attacks on university campuses can be traced to one politicized student organization that is funded and supported by one major political party. Their way of implementing their version of what they construe as Islamic is through brute force and intimidation. Mashal’s murder is not an abebration! It should not be read as abnormal. This, in fact, is the new norm in Pakistani Islam and if we don’t stand together and fight against it, we will regress into an intolerant society where rule of law is privatized and punishment for all alleged crimes is death at the hands of the so-called Muslims around us.

The cowardice does not end at the act of murder itself: it actually permeates our entire culture. The cowardly maulvi of the mosque, around Mashal’s home, refused to lead the Jenaza prayer for him and, it is reported, only a handful of family members showed up for his final prayers. Thus, even after his death, caused at the hands of his fellows, even if he had “technically” been punished through mob violence, the religious leaders neither had the courage nor the wisdom to perform his last rites. On the other hand, the same Maulvis competed each other to say the last prayer of a convicted cold-blooded murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, and thousands of people showed up for his Jenaza. So, it seems only the murderers get the kind of accolades that should have been deserved for those who are killed in collective acts of cowardly violence.

It took the prime minister of Pakistan TWO days to issue a statement against these murders! TWO DAYS! What was Mr. Nawaz Sharif thinking? Did he need two days to figure out that killing people in the streets for whatever reason is morally and legally wrong? And now that the government has condemned  it, what kind of justice can we expect? And will the religious leaders of Pakistan–of all parties and sects–please stand up and make their views known. Yes, all of you mullahs and so-called scholars of Islam, where is your moral outrage? Or do you, through your silence, want to declare that in an “Islamic” society, it is fine and truly Islamic to kill defenseless people simply because they have, according to some rumors, committed blasphemy?

Read your sacred texts!! There is only one sin that God will not forgive: shirk. And even that only applies to Muslims. According to Imam Abu Hanifa and other scholars of Islam, blasphemy is not punishable by death. That is a fact of Islamic jurisprudence! And even if someone does commit any such act, the door of forgiveness by the God almighty is always open. Blasphemy laws cannot even be applied to non-Muslims, for in a truly Islamic society, only the Muslims are subject to the Muslim law. Furthermore, if there are laws, then the ruling government must implement them. laws are not a tool that people in the street can use to bludgeon, literally and metaphorically, their fellow citizens.

Mashal’s murder, and other such acts, are also symptoms of our cultural malaise caused by the venomous ideologies of our religious parties, weakness of our elected governments, and general degradation of our civic society. Since the early eighties the narrative being pushed by our religious scholars is simply this: all our ills are because we have lost touch with the true teachings of our religion; so, if we all become truly Muslim all our problems will be solved. Here we are, thirty years later, and our journey into a purist view of religion instead of solving our problems has, in fact, aggravated our social divides. The question, of course, is what religion do these murderers follow?

The Qur’an openly declares unequivocally :

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (Al Qur’an 2: 256).

Pretty much all major Muslim scholars agree that this verse has universal implications, which means that no one can be forcefully converted to Islam. It has been said that while the students of Mardan university were beating their fellows to death, they were asking them to recite the verses of the holy Qur’an, maybe to “convert” them or force them to accept “Islam.” I do not know their reasons, but according to the dictates of their own religion, that act, in itself, was Un-Islamic. Now, let us see if any of our “moral religious scholars” and political leaders point this out to their blind followers. Furthermore, the Almighty also declares to the Prophet (PBUH)  “We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds” (Al Qur’an 21:107). Note, that this mercy, according to all major scholars, of the past at least, is extended to all the worlds and everyone in it!

Now, let us look at the so-called protectors of the Prophet (PBUH) and their actions: do their actions, in any shape and form, correspond to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet (PUH). In my reading, the answer is a resounding NO!

In Mashal’s murder, we have lost yet another life to those who have taken the best of Islam and turned it into a narrative of cruelty, murder and cowardice. We will keep losing more and more of our young men and women to these armies of hate. It is time we all came together, in solidarity and love, to actively fight against such hate. It is also time that our religious leaders lived up to their duty in creating a world of tolerance and love, in the true spirit of the Prophet (PBUH).

Pakistan, its people, its government, and its religious leaders need to make up their minds: Will it be a tolerant nation governed by the rule of law, or will it continue its disastrous slide into the realm of bigotry, intolerance, hate and murder?



American Protests against the Muslim Ban: Lessons for all Pakistanis

It is now a recorded fact of history that as soon as Donald Trump signed and promulgated his infamous Muslim Ban, hundreds of Americans rushed to their local airports to protest this singularly stupid action of their president. Note, no one organized this protest, there was no centralized call by leaders or activists: this was a spontaneous response by the average American citizens from all walks of life.

On the legal front, the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) immediately field stay orders against the detention of some detained refugees and some major district courts in America issued a stay order within a few hours. Of course, this is not a total victory, but it says  lot about the general American culture. Note also that included amongst the protestors were Americans from all faiths and creeds: Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists etc.etc.

In fact in so many way the American Jews were and have been the strongest critics of this policy. In most of the cases in new York as they, in the words of one of my Twitter sources they finished their Shabbat and rushed to the airports to protest:


Similarly, a lot of Democratic leaders, liberal activists, students, and Christians also joined the protests against the Muslim ban. Some leading Catholic and Protestant church organizations also called President Trump’s actions Un-Christian and Un-American. Now, please note that for the Democratic party the American Muslims are not even remotely a huge political  constituency, but they still came out strongly against the ban.

These protests, of course, were prompted by several individual and collective motivations: some people were there because they saw it as Un-American, others joined because they thought it immoral to stand by when refugees were being detained, yet others joined the protests because they felt it was the wrong way to make America safe. Their personal of collective motivations notwithstanding, all these people came out and made their collective bodies speak against the Muslim ban, and that is truly American and commendable!

Now, as Pakistanis we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. The most important question  to ask, of course, is this:

How many of us, the Pakistani citizens, would have come out and stood in solidarity with a minority group if the government had promulgated a law like this?

And if the answer is “we don’t know,” or worse “not many” then we have a lot work to do as a nation!


Disappearing Acts: What is at Stake for Pakistan

In a recent spate of unexplained disappearances, at least eleven social media and other activists have suddenly gone missing in Pakistan. At this point neither any terrorist organization nor any state agency has claimed the responsibility. There are no ransom demands or any other announcements about these disappeared activists. I am only aware of the names of four of them: Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed and Ahmed Raza Naseer.

That these activists were all either progressive or openly critical of all forms of intolerance, hate, sectarianism, and fundamentalism is also a fact. Their disappearance, therefore, is not only a violation of their bodies and souls but a threat to the very future of public discourse in Pakistan.

Let us look at it reflectively. The most urgent threat to Pakistan in the current times is the rise of sectarianism, intolerance, and terrorism perpetuated by those who believe that only a simplistic way of defining Pakistan’s national identity is valid and laudable. All the state forces, government agencies, and the police forces combined have not been able to eliminate these material and ideological threats to Pakistan. Pakistan can only win this fight, in the long run, through the active participation of its youth and citizens. To eliminate the Taliban, for example, all Taliban-friendly thoughts must be slowly eliminated.

Activists like those disappeared serve a crucial function in this regard: they actively engage with the youth and help create and sustain a competing narrative of a tolerant, diverse, and democratic Pakistan. Their silencing, abduction, and incarceration, therefore, does not serve the Pakistani national interest, but rather strengthens the very forces that are threatening the ideological and material existence of Pakistan as a nation.

In the current climate of Pakistan, all dissenting voices are considered suspect and it takes a lot of courage to challenge the normative narratives so shamelessly proffered by powerful constituencies. It is important to have activists, scholars, and journalists who constantly ask the hard questions of power. Asking hard questions can never be considered unpatriotic! It is, therefore, shameful for people on various state-sponsored social network pages (Pakistan Defense Forum, for example) to exult in these disappearances. By rationalizing these disappearances, through their venomous and silly rhetoric, these people are empowering the kind of intolerance that it is the job of intelligence agencies, police forces, and the government to eliminate.

A few years ago when I had written a few critical articles about the generals of Pakistan army, I was invited to meet a senior official of the ISI. This official was a former superior of mine and an exceedingly professional officer and a decent human being. I went voluntarily and there was no coercion involved in the process. During our conversation, I was told that Taliban and their ilk were a new kind of enemy and that the armed forces believed that this fight could not only be won through military operations. I think the intelligence agencies still have the same view, for this fight needs every Pakistani citizen on the front lines to counter the venomous discourse that underwrites all pronouncements and actions of hate by Taliban and other hate groups. These activists, in my view, are the first line of ideological defense against the forces of intolerance and hate: they should be enabled to work freely and openly. They should be protected and not disappeared!

The current government has announced that these disappearances are illegal and that they will try their best to “recover” these activists. I hope that the government will live up to its own pronouncements, for the alternative is to have a population cowered in fear of not just those who threaten Pakistan but also of those whose job it is to protect us.

And for our protectors, where ever you are, we have a simple message: No army fights in a vacuum and all national armies rely on the sacrifices of its people to fight the material and ideological wars. The Pakistani people live in poverty, struggle every day, and have often sacrificed the future of their children to sustain their defense institutions. The Pakistani people deserve your love and respect, for in the end YOU are there to serve them and not vice versa.

We don’t need any more dictators; we have had enough of them already! We have had four illegal, unconstitutional regimes so far and all of them are responsible for the state Pakistan is in now. You cannot rule for thirty years and then blame the politicians for the ills of the nation! Yes, democracy is messy and our politicians are not all perfect: but they are responsible to the people and if the system continues, people will learn the habits of democracy and weed out the corrupt and the inefficient.

The activists who have been disappeared are doing a great service to the nation: they are practicing and perpetuating the habits and responsibilities of living in a democracy. They need to be respected, lauded and acknowledged for their service to the country, for they do this of their own free will and do not ask for anything in return.

Let there be open and free conversation about what do we mean by Pakistan and what are the rights and responsibilities of its people. So, in solidarity with these disappeared activists, let us all remember that only our silence will make such acts normal. We all, therefore, must speak and must continue being thorns in the heart of power, for power, as Deleuze famously said, must “totalize” and the role of the activists, the intellectuals, the journalists, and citizens is to constantly pose hard questions, to keep power from totalizing itself. For totalization is silence and death!


Editorials Uncategorized

The Incredible Pettiness of Mr. Trump

America has had its fair share of not too intelligent presidents, but in most of the cases when such people got elected they made up for their intellectual shortcomings by either being compassionate and kind, or by simply projecting a popular I-am-just-like-you-all persona. That Mr. Trump does not have the required experience and intelligence to run this country is fairly obvious, but what, in my view, is even more startling is his tendency to be petty, little, and mean.

In fact, this is probably the first time in post World War American history that a person with a foul temper, juvenile behavior, and petty attitude has won the nomination of a major political party. So, if he gets elected, America will, for the first time, have a president who is likely to stomp his feet and yell and scream when he does not get his way. And, being president, no one will be able to set him straight and send him on a time out or ground him. Some people believe that as he runs for office, he will, somehow, become more presidential. But no amount of coaching will ever make Mr. Trump “presidential.” He has, in the recent weeks, become even more childish in public.

His recent attack on Ghazal Khan, the mother of a fallen Muslim soldier, is yet another example of this cruel childishness. This is classic juvenile behavior: think of your school years, doesn’t his behavior remind you of the kid who always blamed others for his own failures. It seems, whatever goes on in the  world, it is always someone else’s fault and if you criticize Mr. Trump, then in his teen-age mind, you deserve to be called names or belittled.

His supporters believe that he “tells it like it is.” Not true. How many of the conservative families in America would accept their children to throw tantrums, yell at others, or call them names. How many Christians in America would be okay if their son or daughter derided the death of a fallen soldier by making his mother the object of his or her criticism. No, Mr. Trump may have a small following amongst the most uncritical and the most bigoted, but he, to me, does not represent the good Christian or conservative values; I know this because I have experienced the kindness and generosity  of my conservative and Christian friends over the past twenty years or so and not even a single one of them would behave the way Mr. Trump does!

So, the question here is not  whether America can afford to have an unprepared person as its next president: maybe that can be remedied with good advisors and with a lot of help. The questions here is whether America and Americans will be okay to have someone so petty as their president. After all, besides his or her policy, American presidents are also seen as as people larger than their parties and as people who can set some good examples for all Americans. American presidents, by and large, have always projected themselves as either being populist or, at least, being capable of working with grace and dignity even under the worst of circumstances. The office of the president is more than just what the president does; it is also about what kind of symbolics the president offers to the Americans and to the rest of the world.

Could someone so petty as Mr. Trump fulfill this symbolic function of the US presidency locally and globally? I don’t think so.

So, think twice before you vote America!

Editorials Uncategorized

We Need to Re-Read Iqbal More Critically 

A few years ago I presented a paper on Allama Muhammad Iqbal at a conference in Islamabad. It goes without saying that in Pakistan, Iqbal holds a larger-than-life status and is often remembered as the Poet of the East, the Poet Philosopher, and as Musawwar-e-Pakistan. Thus, my paper, encouraging a different and more nuanced mode of reading and interpreting Iqbal was slightly perplexing and alarming for the Iqbal fans in the audience.

What I had suggested in that paper, an opinion I hold even more strongly now, was that we need to start reading Iqbal’s work within its historical context and not as something transhistorical and immutable. For example, Iqbal’s Mard-e-Momin is one of the major tropes in his poetry. While this figure, according to Iqbal, can be “like silk amongst his friends” his major traits are always his zeal for Jihad, his uncompromising attitude toward modernity, and his desire for action. This here, therefore, is an ideal resistant subject for a colonized people. Read within the colonial context, Iqbal’s retrieval and mobilization of this action packed militant subject is absolutely understandable.

But under the current situation this militant figure, so deeply entrenched in a premodern past, wary of new knowledges and current modes of thought automatically points to the Taliban. I am pretty sure that Iqbal’s mujahid was nothing like a talib, but if we read Iqbal uncritically then the Taliban become the idealized mujahid that Iqbal could have imagined.

There are also instances of cherry picking Iqbal to suit our purposes. For example, when people want to deride democracy they rely on one verse that Iqbal had translated from Nietzsche:

جمہوریت وہ طرز حکومت ہے جس میں

بندوں کو گنا کرتے ہیں تولا نہیں کرت

(Democracy is a system of government in which

People are counted but not weighed)

A lot of journalists and political pundits in Pakistan quote this verse to offer a definitive answer about the failings of democracy. But what we need to understand is that there is something deeply important about the concept of one person one vote: it acknowledges at the very outset that all human beings are essentially equal and since they are all equal, they must vote as equals to elect their representatives. Quality, Human quality, is deeply subjective and if we attempt to decide the outcome of elections through a graded or weighted voting system, then we will not really have a democracy but an oligarchy. This is one instance where Iqbal is totally wrong and not acknowledging it can have disastrous consequences for the future of democracy in Pakistan.

Similarly, quite a few journalists also insist via Iqbal that a politics detached from religion or void of religion is barbaric. This actually is historically absolutely wrong. Wherever human beings have been able to separate religion from politics, their democratic systems are stronger and their cultures more pluralistic. In fact, in the current world, insertion of one dominant religion into state politics tends to be more problematic and destructive. Some examples of this can be seen in the negative impact of religion in India, United States, and Israel. The more religion enters the politics of these nations, the more intolerant become their cultures. Pakistan itself, of course, is yet another example of what happens when one dominant religion claims all politics.

These are few instances where Iqbal was either himself totally wrong or has been read incorrectly. Trust me there are many other things from Iqbal that can be and should be read differently. The choice, of course, is ours but a lot depends on our choices.

In the end if Iqbal cannot help us in developing a safe, tolerant, and pluralistic society then we need to find other, better narrative to articulate our national identity.


Lahore Massacre: Mourn and Then Stand Up for Our Children!

Another day, another massacre: target, our children. This is the sad reality of Pakistan, a country gone so wrong that to put it on the right course of history (if we can collectively figure out the right course) seems to be a task beyond human capabilities.

This time the same perpetrators–those who claim to know the mind of God and can only enforce their version of religion through violence–targeted women and children at a park. I could call them cowards, but that would be stating the obvious and I am also tired of such labels. There is a limit to what one can accept as normal, and killing children in the name of any God, no matter how holy, can never be right!

We have been here before: last time they came and killed our children, we resolved to send them a message. We announced an end to such cruelties and enacted laws, laws that would not only permit our armed forces to pursue and destroy these terrorists but would also allow the nation to prosecute all forms of hate speech. We have failed in implementing those laws. In the end, laws are useless without implementation and without the popular will behind them.

While our children were being killed, the followers of a religious political party were busy destroying our capital to protest the legal execution of a murderer. It seems our mullahs and their acolytes are far too busy defending the murderers and have no time for the innocents killed in the name of their religion.

Yes, the Taliban need to be defeated! But more importantly, we need to defeat and wipe out all traces of fascist thought, hate speech, and acts pf epistemic and material violence. For far too long we have allowed these merchants of death and hatred to define our public discourse! It is time we took the public sphere back and mounted our collective acts of rhetorical and semiotic interdiction. We all have to speak up and condemn all such acts, all statements that scapegoat people, that pit one group against other. We need to hold our so-called religious scholars accountable when they maintain their troubling silence when our children are being killed. We need to make Pakistan a dangerously hostile place for all Taliban sympathizers.

Yes, today we cry for our children and for the innocent killed in Lahore, but let our tomorrow be full of hope and resolve. This fight is for our future, for the sustenance of a nation that can tolerate difference and where all citizens feel safe and protected. We need to work together for a Pakistan where no one lives in fear, and where the purpose of the law is to protect and nourish life and where religion serves as a solace and not as weapon to destroy life!

How would we do that? Hard question to answer. Against such forces of hate we all feel powerless, weak, and ineffective. We feel weak because we have internalized thinking individually, in isolation. If we all stand together and mount our semiotic and material resistance, the one would become many and many is the thing that these monsters cannot face!

So, let us put aside our political, cultural and religious differences. Let us make it our mission to voice our opinions whenever anyone tries to frame one group as unwanted to posit any novel ideas of religion that exclude some people from the promise of our nation. Yes, we need to work in our own spheres, in solidarity, but persistently and sincerely. We need to hold our journalists, our leaders, our military commanders accountable: we need to remind them that they serve us, that we are the people and that without us there would be no country for them to govern!

Here are some of the things we can do:

  • If there is a civil society protest in your city, join it. Add your body and your voice to it.
  • Write: blogs, articles, tweets, Facebook posts! Words matter!
  • Report all acts of semiotic and material violence.
  • Question the mullahs and their ilk. Ask them what their plans are for the future.
  • Help the weak amongst you.
  • Do not think of anyone as less Pakistani than you because of their gender, religion, ethnicity, or region.
  • Absolutely always challenge any narratives sympathetic to the Taliban and their like. Yes, they are angry and probably disenchanted, but does that give them the right to kill our children?

Yes, we mourn today, for the loss is great and the wounds deep. But we are a resilient nation. We have been here before. We have been tested time and time again. And yet, despite these atrocities, average citizens of Pakistan wake up every day, go to work, love their children, take care of their parents, and love their neighbors. This love and respect for each other is the glue that binds us; this is the mortar that holds the edifice of our nation together. So, let us live through this and remember that from now on every inch of the public sphere is at stake and we cannot concede it to these merchants of death without a fight.

In the end, we only live once. Let us live with honor and let us live to create a better future for our children!


Mumtaz Qadri: A Case of False Hero Worship

MQThat we Pakistanis are always seeking larger-than-life figures to, somehow, lead us out of our mediocrity is almost a cultural truism. We have Maulvis, cricketers, businessmen, ex-generals, and now–thanks to our inner micro fascist tendencies–a murderer to give us hope of a better future.

As you might be aware, Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Governor Salman Taseer in cold blood, the person he had taken an oath to protect, has finally been executed. Since I am generally against all kinds of corporal punishments, I am therefore  not going to exult in his execution. I am, however, interested in offering a sort of sober analysis of Qadri the murderer, self-confessed, and Qadri the icon that the religious parties in Pakistan are celebrating.

The conservative and fundamentalist valorization of Qadri relies on a certain specific logic:

  • Salman Taseer, according to them, had blasphemed against the Prophet.
  • Taseer was thus killable.
  • Mumtaz Qadri killed him
  • Thus, he fulfilled his religious duty.

First and foremost, even if we were to agree with their interpretation of the Blasphemy law, which is completely against Imam Abu Hanifa’s explanation of it, Qadri himself could not have been the judge and the executioner for Taseer. If Taseer had blasphemed, he had to be dealt with the state under the blasphemy law that he had ‘dared’ to criticize. Furthermore, if we are being Islamic, he would have the right to due process and would have had the right to defend himself in the court. Now, if you disagree with his right to due process, then you are actually admitting something worse about your faith: you are suggesting that the justice system in Islam does not follow due process and is totally arbitrary. Of course, justice is not arbitrary in Islam.

Thus, Qadri’s decision to kill Taseer was not really Islamic in any sense of the Islamic justice system. It was, rather, an act of murder based on a subjective decision, a kind of subjective dispensing of justice that would never be permissible in true Islam.

Furthermore, if he did this to gain favor with the Almighty and was willing to die for his actions, then that is what he should have done. He should gone into the court and not defended himself with an army of lawyers. If he really wanted to be a”Shaeed” he should have “asked” to be executed! Isn’t that what all saints and martyrs have done historically!

But instead, his followers put the state of Pakistan and its judiciary in a precarious situation. Qadri’s lawyers appealed his death sentence at every level of the judicial system and then even sent a final request for clemency to the President! In other words, what they were asking the government to accept was that under certain circumstances private citizens can, and should be, allowed to kill other citizens! This would have been the long-term outcome if the government had acceded to the legal and moral requests to “forgive” Qadri.

So, let us assume that according to our zealous countrymen, Qadri did perform his duty and became a hero. Then why are they in the streets protesting his execution? For him to become this hero, this martyr, the execution is a necessary precondition! Without being put to death, he cannot become the kind of hero that they have made him into. In a way, then, the Pakistani government has done him a favor and facilitated his rise to sainthood!

But more important than Qadri and his followers and acolytes is the question of permissibility in our society. Do we want the public sphere governed by the rule of law, or do we want a system in which anyone can suddenly become a judge and start executing other citizens? I am pretty sure that at least Mawdudi would have absolutely disagreed with such kind of anarchic readings of the Muslim code of conduct. So, in all due humility, my hope is that our religious leaders who have made Qadri into an icon would seriously pause and ponder at what kind of a future they are imagining and perpetrating in our streets by ennobling and valorizing a murderer.


Karachi Bus Massacre: An Elegy for our Souls

That four Pakistanis boarded a bus and methodically executed 45 of their fellow citizens is a fact. That it is an atrocity against humans and humanity in general and the Ismailia community in particular is also a fact. Facts are always easier to grasp, as they leave gruesome clues to their own existence.

It is when we look behind the facts, when we try to grasp the underlying genealogy of an atrocity that we enter the murky terrain of human nature and the cosmic puzzles about the corruption of our souls. We are long past the stage of asking the “why” question. We need to delve into the frightening and perilous terrain of the ‘what” question. Yes! What causes the kind of degradation of soul that its human embodiment, the subject of violence, can so easily, precisely, and methodically kill unarmed civilians in the name of God.

Yes, what made them into these selves that could put guns to the heads of other human beings, without any provocation from the victims, and pull the triggers? Killing someone is not easy! I have been in a war, and even in a war when you are pulling the trigger, so many questions still besiege your mind. In my case, it was always a simple set of questions, up on that forgotten battlefield called the Sia-Chin glacier: what prompts us to kill each other in this inhospitable terrain? What purpose does it serve?

But this atrocity did not happen in a battlefield. It happened in a city on an ordinary day against ordinary citizens of Pakistan. It was not a random act of violence. No, it was planned and executed with cold-blooded professionalism! The killers must have known that their victims were Ismailis; they must have also gathered information about their activities, about their plans to travel in that bus. The killers must have been trained to do this by their masters, their leaders. What kind of training must have that been? What kind of human  subjectivity must be constructed, and through what ideological indoctrination, to kill innocent civilians in clod blood.

So, let us forget about blaming others for our own failures! Let us ask ourselves the hard questions.

What created the kind of human subject that can kill other humans with impunity? Religion, of course!

What kind of religion or religious ideology? The kind that teaches its followers that all those not following their own particular version of the “truth” are inferior and “killable.”

The kind of religious ideology that makes killing the so declared killable people a pious act!

Do we have people in our midst, in our mosques, schools and even our universities who espouse such ideologies? YES! I have heard them stereotype others, heard them use terrible terms for minorities, women, foreigners. Even the talking heads on our TV shows spread such unacknowledged hate against people they have never met!

What does this free proffering of hate, both open and subtle, and prejudice do? It creates a rationalizing narrative. It converts some and makes other apathetic. And apathy, let us remember, is a subtle kind of evil: it enables us to continue living our false lives, while others suffer. It is like a cancer, a cancer that cannot be detected and it eats away at the very best aspects of individual and collective human souls. This apathy and narratives of free-floating hate have made it possible for so many demagogues amongst us to convince their followers that killing other smaller groups, killing minorities, killing our foreign guests is somehow a noble act.

So, let us face this truth: we belong to a country where common citizens, their minds shaped by a venomous religious zeal, can kill their fellow citizens with impunity and without care!

We belong to a country where, in the name of God, young men can walk up to other Pakistanis and shoot them in the head. We belong to a country where, for a certain segment of our society, schools, hospitals, mosques, Churches, imam bargahs, streets, playgrounds, and even pristine mountain tops are acceptable killing fields.

We need to confront these facts and accept them, for unless we accept these brutal truths, we will not be able to wrest the material and symbolic control of our streets and towns from these perpetrators of violence, these murderers.

So, let us revisit our question: What underwrites this politics of death?

Let us repeat the answer to ourselves: the most arrogant and misleading interpretation of the sacred text!

The consequences of this hate-filled, destructive interpretation and practice of the sacred are numerous, but the most pernicious happens to be the sad death of our souls, souls mired in apathy, callousness, and indifference! These are the souls that we must mourn, for they have already given up and conceded the public sphere to the murderers and killers of the innocent. But what else can they do against such overpowering hate!

I have no message of hope. I only have a heart that aches and a mind that has stopped trying to make sense of these atrocities. This is, therefore, an elegy for our collective moribund souls, for I no longer has the strength to write a war song!

So let us mourn. Let us think and feel. Let us offer ourselves to these murderers. How many of us would they kill. How many deaths would satisfy them. And after they have killed us all, what kind of world would they have created? Would there be any love in it?

I am sure it would be a dark, loveless, and death-laden world. How can it be anything else, for the narrratives inscribed in innocent blood can never be love poems and no God would sanctify them!

And if some God does commission such narratives of death, such poems of hate, what kind of God would it be? And if such a God were to create something such as a human, would the creation be worth anything. Would it be like us or something demonic?

That is another question: these men are the expression of the sacred as they understand it. When they kill people, like the travelers on that bus, their actions, performed in the name of their version of God, become a reflection of their God.

What kind of God is that?


Ask these questions!



On Hate Speech and Hate Crimes in Pakistan

(We will act against literature, newspapers and magazines that are spreading hate, [ideas of] beheading people, sectarianism, extremism and intolerance. (National Action Plan, Pakistan)


In the wake of the Peshawar massacre, the most important trend that has emerged in the Pakistani public sphere is the focus, both by the government and the civil society, on the hitherto unimpeded hate speech.

Even though compared to the destructive power of terrorists, creating some laws that claim to monitor hate speech and prosecute hate crimes seems like a staid and rather tame response, having such laws on record is extremely crucial to the future of Pakistan as a progressive and tolerant nation.

Laws, at least, give us a statutory reference against which we can measure the words of our leaders as well as other public figures. The laws, thus, allow us to learn the habits of thinking not only in moral terms but also in legal and juridical terms. In the past, even though most of us often heard our neighborhood mullahs speak against women, Shias, Christians, Ahmadis and other Pakistanis, we never really paused to think abut the legal ramifications of their words, even when some of us might have found their words morally troubling. But now with increased focus on the legality of these statements at least we will know that what is being said against another community in the name of religion is illegal. Furthermore, this legal sanction is absolutely necessary to control the power of militant propaganda that relies on fomenting inter-ethnic and inert-sect and inter-religious strife.

According to section 20 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”[1] Note that this is the approved version of international law relating to nation-states, but a modified form of this is absolutely necessary in Pakistan. A law that monitors hate speech and then enables us to prosecute hate crimes is absolutely essential to Pakistan’s survival.

I am, however, not just advocating that only a strict law should be legislated and implemented. I think it is necessary to make hate speech an issue in the public sphere and the print and digital media can help shape this debate. The media should take it on as a public service to highlight and point out individual and collective acts of hate speech and hate crimes. Sadly, in the wake of Peshawar massacre, at least one media personality, found it apt to blame, of all people, the Ahmadiyya community as the ultimate threat to Pakistan. However, this blatant act of scapegoating did not go unnoticed and other media outlets challenged this scapegoating and one of the public petitions against this coverage has so far garnered signatures from over nine thousand people.[2] I know these are not significant numbers, but this tradition to hold hate-mongers accountable is certainly a positive trend for the future of Pakistan.

Yes, it is obvious that hate speech laws can also sometimes be used to curtail freedom of expression and thus a strict implementation of the law could end up impinging on the rights of the press and public intellectuals. That is why it is so hard to convince people about hate speech laws in the United States, as all speech is protected under the US constitution. But even in the US, speech that aims to incite violence toward others or that simply targets a group for no reason at all, is considered hate speech and there is, at least, a public response against such speech. In the Pakistani context, the purpose of the law could be to restrict and monitor a certain specific kind of hate speech, the kind of speech that our mullahs use pretty much in every Friday sermon as well as in most of their public pronouncements.

So, it is important to approach the issue with a certain degree of legal and cultural subtlety. There are certain obvious kinds of speech that can be very easily labeled hate speech:

  • All announcements or incitements to violence against a group or an individual based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion.
  • All speech and acts that encourage armed resistance against the Pakistani state and its institutions.
  • All speech that aims at public humiliation or policing of women, minorities, or other such constituencies.
  • All acts of public speech that encourage people to damage public or private property for a political cause.
  • All acts of speech that incite people to perform acts of popular violent justice without due process of the law.

Having hate speech laws on record, even when not strictly implemented, is important for the people, especially the writers and activists who fight discrimination in Pakistan. They all can, at least, point to the illegality of speech by the Mullahs and force the government or the courts to take notice. This became evident in the recent campaign by Jibran Nasir

and others who gathered outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad to protest the Taliban-sympathetic stance of Maulvi Abdul Aziz. Quite a few things enabled the people from the civil society: the media covered the rhetoric of the maulvi, the people were enraged at the Peshawar massacre, and the government was immediately enacting and honing new laws against terrorism, including some measures against the terrorist sympathizers. This nexus of events and possibilities created that one chance where the civil society protestors were heard and eventually the police and the courts were forced to take up the issue. The government has not done much about it yet, but at least something has been started because of a citizen initiative. Now if hate speech laws are on record, any member of the civil society can ask for a case to be registered whenever some mullah or others incite hate and violence against an individual or a community. So, what we have is good enough for now, but a more nuanced system of accountability for hate crimes and hate speech is needed.


We need to go beyond the current laws, but this is a great start. For years we as a nation have conceded the public sphere, inch by inch, to the religious leaders or their followers. As a result, these groups have drastically curtailed our own movement within the public sphere. Their power has also impacted the ideological realm, the realm of public discourse where progressive and civic-minded people can be condemned and put under threat. Monitoring hate speech and holding those who incite violence against others is a crucial first step in ensuring that no supra-state organizations can police the lives of Pakistani people, especially if they attempt it through fear and intimidation.

Yes, I understand I am not suggesting a revolutionary step to change Pakistan’s future, but such small changes have huge ramifications for the future. Pakistan no longer needs to be the country where minorities can so easily be a target of group violence on the incitement of village maulvis: remember the murders of Shama Bibi and Sajjad Maseeh, the Christian couple killed and burned by their neighbors on the incitement of a mullah![3] Also, the recent trial of Mr. Qadri, a murderer, is yet another example of how normative this mode of thinking has become: on the surface, the argument of his lawyer is that any citizen can declare a person a blasphemer and can then carry out a death sentence just as Mr. Qadri did for Salman Taseer. And, furthermore, this year even the small gathering to remember Salman Taseer’s murder was attacked by the followers of a religious group. Thus, it seems, not only do we have a society where murder can be publically praised, but we have also reached a state of affairs where simple acts of remembering our dead can be made into a motive for violence.

Having strong hate speech laws, laws that absolutely forbid all incitements to violence against weaker groups, against women, against minorities and others are absolutely necessary and it is therefore salutary to see that the current government is working in the same direction.

As citizens of a state where the public sphere has increasingly become more conservative, it is imperative on us as citizens as well as the media to continue fighting—within the material, legal and semiotic domains—for inclusion of silenced voices and for the monitoring of hateful and destructive voices.

Sometimes, it would take for us to admit the wrongs first, to acknowledge the darkest aspects of our private as well as public culture: a kind of collective self-examination of our own actions.

Whatever we do, we should know without a doubt that silence is no longer an option!


Raja tweets @masoodraja

[1] For details, please see





Peshawar Attack: The Way Forward

After we have buried our dead children and taken care of the wounded, we as a nation must come together to decide our future. The massacre of our children by the terrorists who call themselves mujahideen is a great tragedy and we should remember this day as a day of great loss but also as the day when Pakistanis came together with a resolve to eliminate these murderers of our children.

Yes, no more proxy wars. No more good or bad Taliban! No secret agendas! No more creation of monsters within our nation, for the monsters have a strange tendency of turning on their handlers. No, we must fight these savages on all fronts symbolic and material. We all, in our own humble ways, stand in solidarity and declare that we want peace and a nation of equals and NO ONE has the right to intimidate us in the name of any creed, religion, or ideology.

Many of my friends and I, feeling helpless, have wondered since yesterday “What can we do?” Against a monstrosity such as the Taliban, it is natural to feel powerless and helpless. But the question itself is our salvation, for it means that deep down, even in this moment of despair and helplessness, we are all thinking of doing something. And if we are thinking of doing something at the moment when our wills should have been broken–as the Taliban might have hoped–then we are already on the right track, for the will to do something is the beginning of all things great and beautiful!

So, what can we do? Let us strengthen a symbolics of solidarity. Let us get together in our streets, markets, places of work and hold prayer meetings for the victims. Let us light some candles, bring some flowers, and join each other in acts of collective mourning. This does not sound like much, but sharing our grief together as a symbolic act will go a long way in healing this deep wound and in forging a national resolve to face these murderers.

Watch your mullahs. Yes, if anyone of them offers a bizarre justification for these murders challenge them publicly. There is no justification for such murders and anyone who attempts to put a religious spin on it is not a friend of Pakistan. Yes, watch the mullahs and hold them accountable for their statements especially if they try to pour the venom of sectarian hatred in your ears. Tell them we have had enough of their hateful poison! We will no longer tolerate religious justifications for murders and other atrocities!

Do  not externalize! Yes, we have a tendency to blame the others. This was not RAW, MOSSAD, or the CIA. The Pakistan Army has undeniable proof that the terrorists in school were in contact with  Fazlullah’s people while they were murdering our children. Hold him and his followers accountable.

Support the troops: The Pakistan army is in a fight for the future of Pakistan. Let us lend them our material and symbolic support.

We have suffered a great loss; we are weary of grief over the murder of our children. Our enemies, the Taliban, did this to break our will, to terrify us, to humble us. We have already proven them wrong by coming together. Let us rise from this blow to our hearts. Let us rise together and take a stand! Let us send a message to these murderers:

We are a resilient and proud nation. We shall not bow down. We shall defeat you and the likes of you and when we are done, Taliban will be remembered as an extinct species of savages that the Pakistani nation wiped out from the face of the earth!