Sunday, May 18, 2014
Daily Times Editorial May 19, 2014
Chaos, anarchy and madness If the above title is not self-explanatory, all readers have to do is follow developments in recent days to check its veracity when describing the state of affairs emerging in the country. It all began with the attack on Hamid Mir, a most unfortunate incident, irrespective of one’s view of the man or his journalism. The TV channel he works for went overboard in broadcasting the allegation brought forward by his brother against the ISI and its chief. That lapse in editorial judgement could have perhaps been forgiven and forgotten as a knee jerk reaction in the heat of the moment. However, doubts about the quality of the TV channel’s editorial oversight were compounded beyond comprehension by the broadcast of a morning show that allegedly insulted revered persons in Islam, setting off a storm of protest, calls for and the actual registration of a blasphemy case in Islamabad against the channel, its owner, the anchor and chief guests, while courts were being approached all over the country for similar action. This latest outburst of seething anger added to the already ‘spontaneous’ rallies and protests against the channel in various parts of the country and in support of the ISI, its chief, and the military in general. As if all this were not enough, the Cable Operators Association and Imran Khan too have joined the fray against the media group. A crescendo of voices is rising to ban the media house in question. Is all this reasonable, is it rational? Who does not know by now that the first casualty in any blasphemy accusation is rationality and civilised behaviour? A blasphemy accused can be considered a dead duck, literally. Even if justified criticism lies against the media group for its ‘adventurism’ against powerful institutions of state and its failure to take account of the circumstances surrounding the reaction to it by venturing into controversial religious terrain, does the punishment being advocated fit the ‘crime’? Another unfortunate fallout of this whole growing controversy is the role played by certain media groups in their shortsighted view of this as an opportunity to do down a rival. What they fail to comprehend is that their campaign against one media group could in future end up rolling back hard won freedom of the media all across the line. The media’s inability to stand together in solidarity against attacks on its freedom, albeit requiring a re-examination of how this freedom needs to be exercised with responsibility, may end up exacting a heavy toll from the media as a whole. Blasphemy and the laws that govern it in Pakistan have become an increasingly dangerous and controversial terrain. The ease with which anyone holding a different view or reservations about the effect of the laws in nurturing intolerance, false accusation, mob attitudes and vigilante justice (a description it hardly merits), is at risk of losing life and limb. One does not have to travel far down memory lane to recall that Governor Salmaan Taseer, Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and many others have either been killed or suffered irreparable harm to their lives if not very existence by the lack of safeguards against what can by now only be described as a tool of terrorising society at large by vested interests. The deplorable aspect of the increasingly alarming direction the country is taking is the conspicuous absence (silence) of the government. Our elected representatives, whether in government or in opposition, have signally failed to provide leadership requiring courage and conviction in this rapid descent into chaos, anarchy and madness. Since the powers that be are paralysed by fear in this regard, it is up to the actual and potential victims of the madness overtaking us to band together and resist this rising dark tide of intolerance, giving someone a bad name and hanging them, and the threatened demise of anything resembling a civilised society. Barbarism in any form or in any guise must be resisted by the enlightened, liberal, democratic and progressive forces in society. Unfortunately these forces seem so scattered, weak and cowed down as to cast a dark shadow on the shape of things to come.