Stories about freedom

Liberty must trump security

How safe is safe enough? As terrorist attacks have hit nearly every major city in the country over the last four years, this is a question that almost nobody has asked. We now accept random police checkpoints, and intrusive security measures at places that were once significantly more open. A small price to pay for security, some might argue, but I only have one question: for how long? Exactly when will it be safe enough to take them all down? When there are zero bomb attacks in the country? We have had several months of those. A whole year, maybe? What ...

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The freedom to be

A friend from Lahore recently asked me: “What would you miss most about New York if you were to move back to Pakistan right now?” I thought about it for a few minutes. Unlike many Pakistanis living in the US I knew, I wasn’t particularly attached to this country, or to New York. To me,  it was just another city – a hard city, a cacophonous city, where bright lights and gleaming skyscrapers belied the darkness, the sadness, the grime and the poverty in the corners; where glamour, spectacle, a veneer of ethnic diversity thinly concealed the underlying greed and racism. I ...

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Jinnah’s Pakistan, hijacked by clerics

With the partition of the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan came into existence on August 14, 1947. The valiant and astute Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the minority Muslim community of united India to a separate homeland to fulfill the demand for freedom of religion, profession, and speech. Jinnah was an outstanding lawyer who had studied law in London. He had a modern outlook on the world and was strongly secular. Part of the oath under which he took office reads: “No subject … in Pakistan shall, on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, color or any of them be ineligible for office.” He was ...

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Give Kashmir a chance

On June 26, 2011 elections for the legislative assembly were held in the Pakistani Kashmir, also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). This is one of the most unique names you would ever encounter in the history of names of states – a territory which has to prefix Azad (free) to its name to proclaim its freedom. The so called Azad Kashmir is by no stretch of imagination is ‘free’ – instead it has become a neo colony of the Pakistani establishment. The whole legislative assembly of Azad Kashmir is subordinate to the orders of GOC Murree and the ...

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Optimism, and the liberty to be free

Salman Taseer’s first birthday since his assassination, unsurprisingly brought back memories of a very dark day. Still ensnared in those thoughts, that quiet day turned on its head when news of the kidnapped journalist, Saleem Shahzad’s killing broke out. The investigative reporter was tortured and killed brutally. The feelings I felt put a sense of déjà vu in my conscience. Anger, disgust, fear and sadness all made their simultaneous entries into my mind, but felt strangely familiar. Soon I realised that these feelings actually hadn’t just entered my head, they were already there. I was already feeling all these emotions ...

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To Pakistani media: Stop spouting homophobic hatred

Right from the outset, I want to state in no uncertain terms that homophobia infuriates me to no end. Whether or not one agrees, it is a natural proclivity and/or a conscious choice, the state has no business regulating sexual expression and practice between consenting adults. There are far more pressing matters for the government to spend its budget on than policing what people do in private. Having said that, I understand that lawmakers in Pakistan will not remedy homophobic laws because the majority of the citizens would oppose such a move. I’m not naïve enough to believe we’ll follow ...

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Is the veil not cool enough for France?

Is it difficult to be a woman, a Muslim and a self-proclaimed fighter of gender discrimination – and not support the French government’s ban on the burqa? Nope, no problem. In fact, I feel I am in a position of advantage as a member of a religion that has come under fire from the world’s democracies as well as an outspoken advocate for  equality for both sexes. Let me iterate here: I do not support the ban on the face veil. It is tantamount to human rights violations against minorities. What is French culture? The French government’s ban  says that the ...

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After Mubarak: Will Egypt survive democracy?

As dissidence swept the Middle East, events in Egypt turned sour. Hosni Mubarak was rumored to step down in a press conference yesterday but he disappointed many with his attempts to prolong his rule. Things in Egypt could have gotten really ugly. My guess was that crowds would march towards the Presidential Palace pressuring him to step down – and they did. What does democracy mean to Egyptians This movement is  based on political ideas as opposed to personalities. ElBaradei should draw an agreement with the consensus of leaders of the brotherhood, and the Ghad party among others, mapping demands for ...

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Aasia Bibi: A question of religious freedom

The recent case of Aasia Bibi once again thrust Pakistan into the international stage for it’s appalling record of human rights. But though many commentators have called for the repeal of the blasphemy law, I feel we are missing the bigger picture. Calling for piecemeal legal reforms is a necessary part of incremental, pragmatic and gradualist change (tadarruj as it’s know in the classical Islamic legal traditions). However, the greater point about this case is the issue of religious freedom. It is a question of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. On another level it is to do with ...

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Gagging dissent won’t silence Arundhati Roy

Socrates was morally, intellectually and politically at odds with his fellow Athenians and he paid the price for it. And he paid the price in terms of his life. Poison took away his life, but his death could not kill the ideas and thoughts he espoused. Arundhati Roy’s saga in India sometimes reminds me of ancient Athens and its ruling class. One example is the way the Indian ruling class, major opposition party and the mainstream media reacted to Roy’s comments questioning India’s right over Kashmir and calling for it’s independence. If one takes the statement at face value, it appears to ...

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