GI Joe 2: On censorship and movies based on children’s toys

Published: April 1, 2013

The truth hurts. Even if it is only a fictionalised portrayal of it. PHOTO: FILE


The worst enemy of intellectual freedom. The worst enemy of creativity. The worst enemy of an egalitarian, democratic society. And the best friend of the establishment.

Censorship is why people in this country don’t know the history of this land. Censorship is why any reliable information construed as critical of Pakistan’s power players will vanish from the airwaves. Censorship is why Pakistan will not see the GI Joe sequel.

The upcoming movie has been banned by the Pakistani censor board for its ‘fictional’ portrayal of Pakistan as a failed state and the also fictional theft of Pakistani nuclear weapons by Cobra.

Max Weber wrote that a state must be able to uphold “the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order” to be successful. Conversely, one that cannot do so would be regarded as a failed state.

Let’s test that hypothesis. We can start from FATA and work our way down.

On second thought, never mind. Point proven.

The truth hurts. Even if it is only a fictionalised portrayal of it.

Fortunately, our still-flourishing video piracy industry and the good ol’ internet will ensure that the movie is seen by all who wanted to, and many others who just want to see what the fuss is all about.

Apart from the YouTube ban and irregular Facebook bans, the last few years have seen the websites for the American magazine Rolling Stone and the Canadian newspaper Toronto Sun blocked over ‘objectionable content’, apart from the short-lived ban on BBC’s television news service and a host of others.

In some of the cases, government spokespersons actually came out to say that the news organisation in question had fudged the facts or lied outright.

So why was the legal option not exercised?

If there was even one iota of truth to the reasons given by the state, there would also be grounds to sue for defamation, especially in Britain.

Oddly enough, before the blanket ban on YouTube, individual links were being blocked, some of which contained only news reports. Maybe it’s because some of those reports were critical of Pakistan’s top politicians, and others made reference to underhand deals on issues that are publicly denied, such as drone strikes.

Unfortunately, nationalism trumps truth.

Our leaders would willingly sell us lies because they are in the ‘national interest’ — the same national interests that ‘allegedly’ require the state to turn a blind eye to terrorism and corruption.

If you went to school in the 80’s or 90’s, it is highly likely that you thought there was nothing in Pakistan prior to Muhammad bin Qasim’s arrival. Never mind that the territorial borders of today’s Pakistan played host to some of history’s greatest stories. No, those would go against the ‘Islamic culture’ narrative, which is nothing more than a flawed attempt to separate Pakistan from its cultural heritage as part of the Indian subcontinent. Never mind that the practices of all religion-based cultures, Abrahamic or otherwise, have been heavily-influenced by the existing local culture of the region.

Even the media exercises self-censorship to avoid the wrath of the establishment, fascist political parties and key advertisers.

Media freedom is only an illusion, and freedom of thought a distant dream.

What this has bred, is a generation full of people that believe lies, because those lies were sold to them as universal truths. The dying culture of reading, coupled with the creation of a culture where dogma rather than logic drives opinion-making, have only served to compound this.

Under the guise of censorship, essential information that could help individuals to better serve Pakistan is being blocked, because those same information portals also contain information that (usually accurately) discredits our esteemed leaders. They may claim that the offensive content is generated to discredit Pakistan, but we should know better.

You don’t need slander to discredit Pakistan.

Just look at our ‘real’ political history. Our elected governments have shown they are more than capable of doing so on their own.

Yes, we should know better, but unfortunately we don’t. And if this keeps up, we won’t know anything at all.

Read more by Vaqas here or follow him on Twitter @vasghar

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • ss

    Our leaders would sell us lies because they are in the ‘national interest’ — the same national interests that ‘allegedly’ require the state to turn a blind eye to terrorism and corruption. — Spot on!


  • noman

    you talk as if not being able to see GIJOE 2 on the big screen is a big tragedy. Believe me, the bigger tragedy is to spend money to see it on the big screen. Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I was looking forward to this one. We’ve had some terrible movies at the theater lately. Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    Another One, Oh Dear God
    Till when will this keep going on?Recommend

  • Yoghurt lover

    “Censorship is why Pakistan will not see the GI Joe sequel.”

    If the first film is any yardstick, you should consider yourself lucky that you are saved of 2 hours and 200 Rs.

    Horrible movie. no loss.Recommend

  • raazaa

    I am all for freedom of personal choice BUT in current times media, and I am especially talking about HOLLYWOOD here, is the biggest opinion-maker globally. Media (movie, music, ads, websites & newspapers etc.) now can influence our perception of reality like never before. Very few of us actually go and search the facts and most of us don’t even remember the facts after sometime. The habit of reading is a dying phenomenon anyways. In such scenario it’s the movies that imprint our memories and whatever propaganda is projected stays in our perceptions. Now don’t tell me one is naive to be so impressionable. It’s really hard to undo the damage once it’s done.

    Also, if you have seen ZERO DARK THIRTY you will know what I mean. It’s not totally untrue but it’s far from reality by any stretch as well.

    PS. Just have a look around and we will realize how India has convincingly won the CULTURAL-WAR hands-down.

    Cheers! Recommend

  • Asif Butt

    I cant figure out what exactly is this article about ?

    Is it about potential defamation being censored in cinema ?

    Is it about the history of the sub-continent ?

    Is it about history of Pakistani corruption ?

    Is it about leadership corruption history in Pakistan ?

    Is it about the stupidity of censorship boards ?

    etc etc blah blah

    The movies good , we all will watch it.

    Besides , it was so cool when they asked Thor if he got his training from Pakistan , judging by his combat skills ….

    So just chillRecommend

  • Fahad Hafeez

    Dont get the reason of this write up, not able to watch GI Joe is one thing and linking with all things bad is another. Recommend

  • Vaqas Asghar

    I didn’t particularly enjoy the first GI Joe horrible and had little interest in watching the sequel, but the issue is that the government should not be telling me, or anyone else that they cant watch it.
    Its a work of fiction, unfortunately grounded in fact. If ‘they’ are so offended by the content of this, zero dark thirty and other such movies, maybe ‘they’ should fix what is broken in the country and not starve it of entertainment.

    Its not just fiction being censored. as far as the general public is concerned, facts are being censored as well. With the Rolling Stone article and BBC documentary issues, it was clear that the govt/establishment could not dispute the contents of the news story or the documentary, but at the same time had no intention to correct the problems, so they just banned both. Recommend

  • Asif Butt

    @ Express Tribune

    I can not understand the merits of the moderation which your staff exercises regarding the comments that people post here.

    Please provide me with the contacts of your SENIORS so that I may discuss this issue with them. Kindly act professionally and do not detour me to secondary personal.

    I AM WAITING !Recommend

  • imaan.sheikh

    @Asif Butt: Hello, Asif.
    Please send it your complaints or queries to [email protected]
    – The Express Tribune Blogs desk


  • Hallowp

    It is not a big matter … i also wanted to watch the movie but the publicity of movie all around the world is making Pakistan a terrorist country in people minds . the problem is only that for the respect and honur of my country i am not going to watch this on big screen but its a movie so take it easy we know we are not terrorist they said that also does not make us….. so watch the movies and smile on those blunders against Pakistan..Recommend

  • http://net nadeem rana

    I think we’re living in ultra modern period, there is nothing wrong with the movies , people ‘re mature enough to take stage for stage.There is need to create awareness , I think, hollywood movies are really doing good job to satisfy the demand.Recommend

  • adil

    Pakistan hates to wake up and smell reality. I grew up believing we had barely survived 3 wars with India only due to the great patriotism of our Army and we lost E. Bangladesh because of Fifth columnists. Then I read a real history book and realized (i) We started all 3 wars (ii) We lost all 3 wars (iii) We were the oppressors in 1971. If the whole world calls you a terror state and your only friends are either pariah states or dictatorships…well figure it out.Recommend

  • Nadia

    I posted a simple comment based on my experience and it was Pro Pakistan, and now I have also started believing that Tribue is just for anti-Pakistan sentiments. Recommend

  • Hasan Saeed

    Pretty good step! i would like to ask Pro-Angraiz Pakistani here that if you people have a problem with this ban, why do you so called Pakistanis still care to live here? How can you even digest such ethically degraded anti-Pakistani stuff in movies or anywhere? I am in favor of Freedom of Speech but not at the expense of my country! Oh btw please refer me to any such biased videos which US or any non muslim country allows against them?
    Long Live Pakistan Always!Recommend

  • Nobody

    According to my female friends, the only good thing about this movie was eye candy. More to the point, censorship going to such extremes is a scary and slippery slope. When I hear about such censorship, communist countries or radical countries come to mind. Not good. Not good at all. Pakistan was once among the more liberal Muslim majority countries. Recommend

  • manish rohera

    it’s funny .GI Joe had the whole london bombed so uk should ban it and hollywood movies always are based on doomsday so whole world should ban Recommend