Stories about freedom of speech

A common Pakistani’s response to Happy Bhag Jayegi director’s open letter

Mr Mudassir Aziz, Proud Indian, Director of Happy Bhag Jayegi. Dear Mr Mudassir Aziz, I just read your open letter to Pakistan on The Quint regarding the unfortunate ban on your film Happy Bhag Jayegi in Pakistan. I am not the person in charge but merely a common Pakistani, for whose benefit you want to get the film unbanned. Let me say at the outset, that having successfully fought against the YouTube ban as a lawyer in the Lahore High Court, I am absolutely opposed to censorship of any kind. I believe any speech, no matter how offensive, should be allowed unconditionally. I recognise that this ...

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Azealia Banks and our obsession with her attention-seeking “hairy curry scented Punjab” tweets

My niece is a huge ‘One Directioner’ (is that what they are called?) and was heartbroken when the boy band lost one of its key members, Zayn Malik. We insist on a special connection with this young musical icon on account of sharing a nationality and probably having a Zain for a classmate or a Malik for a neighbour. This gives us the inalienable right to judge him of course; from his tattoos to the racy lyrics of his new singles. “Haw Haey! Larka haath sey nikal gaya!” (The boy is getting out of hand!) He should thank his lucky stars he isn’t a ...

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Spare us the crocodile tears. Please stop. Khurram Zaki is dead. Do something.

Khurram Zaki is dead. The ‘unbearable lightness’ of intimidation and murder in Pakistan has manifested once again. The eulogies are pouring in; speculations are rife about who is behind the assassination of yet another liberal social activist and on social media a familiar war of words has commenced. Despite the fact that one bright light after another is being summarily extinguished, it appears that self-righteousness is still the prime mover of the national discourse. For the legion of Google scholars and keyboard Jedis, it’s all or nothing; either faith in its entirety must be indicted or the blame must lie elsewhere. ...

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What happens when you have no freedom of speech?

Censorship is nothing new. Journalists constantly face threats that come from many different sources – government, extremists and control of the media itself. Over the years, many have been hacked to death, brutally attacked and robbed of their right to free speech. Unfortunately, Pakistan is the 4th most dangerous country for journalists. Is this ranking fair though? For the longest time, Pakistanis have been clamouring for the abolition of their country’s biggest threats to free speech – the blasphemy law. This law has been misused on various occasions, starting from Aasia bibi to Shama and Shahzad, the Christian couple and Governor Salman ...

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Has India’s tolerance been destroyed by Hindu extremists?

In a shocking and a shameful incident, the Shiv Sena activists smeared black paint on Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face to protest against the book launch of ‘Neither a Hawk, nor a  Dove’, written by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the former foreign minister of Pakistan, at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai. The immediate provocation for the attack on Kulkarni was because he was the person who had organised the book launch. As Kasuri was a close confidante of former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf, and also one of the main architects of initiating the peace process with India, it would have provided a great opportunity for the people of Mumbai to ...

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Why Christine Craig should not face disciplinary action for her anti-Muslim cartoon

Uncertainty breeds insular thinking and bigotry, a theme as old as time, and as true. Therefore, it is of no surprise to find, in this brave new world of globalisation, economic changes and environmental threats, a surge in discriminatory behaviour and values. This surge is not limited to the US, but it is seen as being more prominent, mainly because of America’s stance as a moral watchdog of the world. The land of the free, the land of opportunity, comes into the limelight every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, or a member of a public school board shares a ...

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Can a journalist in India write against Modi or the RSS?

A few days ago, a journalist friend of mine was laconically told by his editor that he would not be allowed to write against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), apparently because “we should allow the BJP government to enjoy its honeymoon for a while”. Ironically, the very next day, I was told that the very same editor wrote a pro-Modi article, eulogising the Hindu nationalist leader to the extent that would make the bhakts (admirers) explode with delight. When he protested and entreated the powers-that-be to vent his views on critical issues plaguing the ...

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Ashraf Chaudhry, slut-shaming is not ‘freedom of speech’

A country must be a mother. No other person could suffer so much at your hands and still call you its own. We may call Pakistan our mother, we may respect it as if it was our mother, we may even love it like our mother but is there a place for mothers, sisters, and daughters in this Pakistan? Is there no country for women? We are quick to stand up in arms when the sanctity of our adopted mother is called into question. We are often told, “The sovereignty of Pakistan must come first.” There was a similar visceral reaction in Pakistan to the ...

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Is it compulsory to hate India, America and Israel, in order to love Pakistan?

A few days ago, I was sitting by the Indus River in Jamshoro, singing a patriotic song. Moments later, I noticed a fisherman who burst into laughter observing me. When I asked him why he was laughing, he said, “Saeen where is this Pakistan this song speaks of? Here, I don’t have the money to send my children to school or even shop for Eid. That aside, women are continuously killed in the name of honour, children are raped and such brutalities are recorded then sold. People are murdered because they belong to different sects or religions, be it Shias, Ahmadis, Christians etcetera. There’s no tolerance in this society. Hindus ...

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Should the Gulf states be wary of the revolution tsunami coming their way?

Socio-political change is happening across the globe at a pace not previously experienced in history. This is particularly true within the Gulf States. Each day, growing unrest is visible through dissident activity, protests, strikes, and violence. Frustration and anger once repressed is now acted upon. Unprecedented access to communication technologies and the proliferation of social media tools offer platforms for disadvantaged and repressed people to gather, collaborate and make themselves heard – even if only to others in their situation. Media outlets, YouTube videos, Twitter, and Facebook posts spread messages that embolden marginalised people and activist networks into individual and collective action. Rulers of some Gulf ...

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