Protest or pique?

It is not about the Saudis, stupid; it is about a Pakistan in denial, fighting its own demons.

Protest or pique?
by Farzana Versey
May 25

The Islamists and the government of Pakistan have been unable to follow the Holy Quran in spirit, given the laws against women and minorities. The liberals do not make a strong case against local issues. They are busy downloading or uploading videos of people being shot dead by the Taliban, indulging in a titillating form of sadism that whets the voyeuristic appetite for the gruesome violence being perpetrated.

For a while now, Pakistani authorities have been trying to be more loyal than the most devout king. A lot has been written about the blocking of social networking sites that would expose its citizens to images of the Prophet (pbuh) following a cartoon contest. This gave the establishment an opportunity to send out the message to the world that it is seriously an Islamic Republic.

The decision, though questionable, goes beyond freedom of speech, whether it is of the cartoonists or the citizens to access websites. Muslims in other parts of the world do protest, but banning restricts the space of individuals who might have remonstrated using the same websites to make their point. Interestingly, the contest invitation had been up a month ago and there was no outcry then.

For those opposed to such censorship, is it ideological resistance or is it about bored youngsters who will lose out on exchanging notes with friends or checking out photographs? Do they support the idea behind such lampooning? It is unlikely, for they react with vehemence in matters of religion. It may often be a public posture that may have nothing to do with their personal stance, which would qualify as self-censorship. What could be the reason behind putting a muzzle on one’s mouth?

There is a good deal of talk about the Saudi-isation of Pakistan. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had to face resistance for encouraging ‘un-Islamic’ ideas in the physics department when he started a film club at the Quaid-e-Azam University. Some students switched off the lights when the brilliant mathematician is being seduced by his wife in A Beautiful Mind. Yet, pirated DVDs of Bollywood films sell well. It is not the Saudis, stupid; it is about a Pakistan in denial, fighting its own demons. Wearing certain kinds of clothes or using language in a particular manner does not delete history. Culture is internalised.

When Indian artist M F Husain painted figures of Hindu goddesses, he got threats from hardliner groups at home. The Indian government woke up to support him only when Qatar gave him citizenship. The liberals back him selectively as an upholder of pluralism. Had he conveyed that he portrayed those images for reasons other than ‘knowledge’ and ‘interest in Indian mythology’, he would have been toasted, and not with a bottle of bubbly.

“Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime,” said Jacob Bronowski. Belief systems are conformist and censored paradigms, in that the faithful believe in only the given material. This is why countries like Pakistan cannot fight extremist religious elements within, but in matters of grabbing international eyeballs for an Islamic cause there is no obfuscation. It is time to reach the pique.
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Published in Express Tribune

Sidelights about the piece:

I would like to state here that I do not normally prefix any religious text with the word 'holy' because I assume it is. Therefore, the 'Holy' before Quran was added by ET. Also I do not think it necessary to use 'PBUH" along with mention of the Prophet. That too was added.

This is to let you know that Pakistani newspapers probably need to follow certain standard rules. It reminds me of the editor of Khaleej Times telling me what a problem he had at the last minute because, new to the job there, he had no idea that you could not use the word god, even in capitalised form. It had to be the Almighty. I am not sure if he was seriously worried or he was just making sure it scared me off!


  1. Indians and Pakistanis seem to spend a lot of time on non-issues. It really doesn't matter whether the Indian artist M. F. Hussain painted Hindu goddesses in the nude, and whatever he may have been thinking at the time he did it, or why he did it. I have seen some of these "obscene" paintings, and I think they are pleasing and aesthetic. He is truly a great artist. Even if he were depicting these figures to highlight the "carnal" in Hinduism (and we do not know that he did), so what? I do not care. Hinduism is strong enough to sustain an assault on its gods and goddesses.

    Pakistanis should perhaps pause to ask the same question: "so what?" Both the religion and its prophet are strong enough to withstand abuse and insults. The words of the Prophet are not diminished by a few idle sketches.

    It would seem that Indians and Pakistanis are a little too thin-skinned and nervous, and insecure, about their own religion and culture.

    Rama Ratnam

  2. Hello Ratnam:

    I agree. Religion plays far too important a role and I am afraid those opposing don't quite sustain their protests.

    I have reservations about Husain at other levels. If you are interested:


  3. FV
    You wrote Pakistan blocked all networking sites to prove that it is seriously Islamic.....LOL

    So, Pakistan's corrupt society is also a proof that it is seriously Islamic?

    Pakistanis are in denial, yes they are. And that denial and lack of insight is making them more confused and psychotics that they blame America for all their own evils deeds.

    They treat America as a punching bag and a rescue goat...

  4. Pakiistanis are in denial, Pakistan has blocked face book and Youtube to show that it is a seriously Islamic country....LOL

    These people are unable to show honesty in their society , cleanliness in their streets and to be civil with women and they are trying hard to show how much serious they are about Islam????? LOL

  5. FV,
    The keyword is "Pakistan In denial" , a huge identity crisis is what is facing this country amongst zillion of issues. If Pakistan has to choose one picture , male or female. to represent Pakistanis , what would that b e...Huge Dilemma...I cant think of one, there will be disputes on colour and type of headgear for males, veil and Un"veil" issues ..anyway , fact remains is that there is an underlying "culture" issue. Punjabis and sindhis are different to balochs and Pathans and all cant agree to one type of diktat by religious leaders.
    Adding to this complexity is the issue of Brit slavery which stays ...
    Censorship is becoming impossible to implement with teh advent of technology...the announcement is keep jammat guys happy ..I guess

  6. Anon (Circle?):

    One of the reasons is that Pakistan wants to appear more Islamic. It is part of its denial agenda and I am trying to debunk the 'Saudi-isation'.

    Of course, the country has several other issues and I did state that even liberal society doe snot bother to look into them with as much interest as they expend on terrorism etc.

    As for using America as a punching bag, it can only do so with words. And they are merely returning the 'favour'.

    - - -


    The dilemmas you list are not uncommon in our own society. The difference is that for whatever it is worth we have a diversity that includes different religions. Pakistan does not, or does to a limited extent. Therefore, the sense of confusion and the denial.

    Censorship is an issue that cannot be dealt with on a uniform basis. I saw a couple of Pakistanis on Indian TV sort of going slow on the govt. but in Pakistan they are fighting loud for freedom of expression.


  7. sorry FV
    I forgot to add my nick (circle) at the end of the posts.

    I apologize.


  8. I think following experience may help me in describing view that may not second your thoughts:


    P.S. This doesn’t necessary means that allowing creating such pages on face book will give liberty to repeat the same. It’s not in accordance to “Freedom of Whatever”.

  9. Farhan:

    This person was the first who posted at the site on my piece...

    Tnanks for this other view.


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