FIRST YouTube was banned. Now it’s late night telephone packages. What is next? Music, for it gives the impressionable all kinds of crazy ideas about love and idealism? Poetry, which incites the emotions of the young if it is of the romantic variety, or worse still, encourages dissent and revolt against the status quo if it is the serious stuff written by Faiz or Faraz?

Why not ban critical speech and writing altogether, being mischief that can scandalise revered institutions, individuals and traditions?

What kind of a state and society have we become where our response to criticism and demand for change is to put fetters on speech and thought? If you criticise the national security policy, the manner in which the army and the intelligence agencies conduct themselves or demand that generals be held accountable when found wanting, must you be seen as a paid foreign agent undermining the last institution of stability holding Pakistan together?

If you criticise the conduct of judges or their decisions, must you fear being seen as scandalising the court, settling a personal grudge or having sold yourself out? Is the concept of an honestly held critical view incomprehensible? Are you not told as a youth struggling to understand the truth about your religion that deference to God mandates that you don’t ask too many questions? If you are a rabble-rouser, are you not counselled that our religion requires that those in authority be obeyed and that arguing with elders, even logically, is disrespectful?

What kind of values are we fostering in this society when we prefer deference to independence, acquiescence to difference of opinion, conformity to intellectual rigour and challenge, regression to new ideas, personal loyalty to considerations of merit, flattery to excellence? What will be the character of leaders groomed in an environment where discretion is the better part of valour, honour is a product of success, and success demands that you hedge risks as opposed to standing up to fight for principle?

Is it surprising that we don’t find inventors, poets, philosophers and artists blossoming in this culture of intimidation, fear and intellectual stagnation? If we condemn new ideas as sources of mischief on our dinner table instead of debating their pros and cons and emphasising to our kids the need to strike the right balance between tradition and change, and society continues to reinforce the same message during academic and professional life, will thought-leaders emerge out of nowhere?

Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights when she was 29. Jane Austen was 21 when she completed the manuscript of First Impressions, later revised and published as Pride and Prejudice. Frank Kafka was 29 when he wrote The Judgement. Shakespeare was not 30 when he wrote Comedy of Errors.

One can go through the list of some of the greatest inventors and find a similar age pattern. Most of the creativity that has changed this world and made it a better place has been a product of younger, imaginative minds unadulterated by fear, tradition and notions of expediency.

There is general consensus that our institutions and our society are in a state of decline. If in doubt, read the judgements authored back in the 1960s and ‘70s and then those being written today, compare the file notes penned by bureaucrats in the past with the contemporary ones, contrast the culture projected in biographies of retired soldiers with that prevalent today.

Exceptions aside, this is no false reverence for the past. The quality of our education and our character have degenerated and we are intent on leaving no space for new ideas, dissenting voices and reform.

The freedoms of information, thought and expression are intertwined rights that nourish the soul and the conscience. Victor Hugo had said that “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. What about the interregnum between the floating of an idea and its becoming powerful? Is this not why the right to free speech aims to protect both popular and unpopular speech?

In 1896 the US Supreme Court condoned racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson under the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’. In 1954 the same court outlawed it in the celebrated case of Brown v. Board of Education. How did the legal and moral concepts of equality and its application undergo a transformation in a 60-year period? PCO was not a pejorative term back in 2000. But in 2009 our society vindicated those who were criticising it from the very beginning. Should early critics of PCO judges have been locked up for scandalising the judiciary?

That criticism and change can be unpleasant is understandable. But they are imperative for the health and progress of a society and must be accommodated. The moral panic created by the technological revolution we are witnessing in this age of information is not unique to Pakistan, but has confused the West as well. It is just that our response to challenges posed by modernity and change has been to shun them altogether and pledge to ride camels and write letters and live the way first Muslims did 1,400 years back.

Our older generation watched porn in magazines, ours did so through videos and the younger generation has the internet. Porn will not die out nor will the initial curiosity of the youth. Banning magazines altogether was not a solution yesterday, and shutting the internet is not the answer today. Even though the medium might have changed, the need to supervise kids, reason with them and groom them hasn’t. But none of this makes the state suddenly responsible for guarding the moral virtue of all adult citizens.

And if we have decided as a state and society that rotten traditions must be perpetuated, criticism and change must be penalised, and law must be used to inject reverence and morality into the ordinary Pakistani, let’s forget about YouTube, grow beards, and join hands with the Taliban. We probably have more in common than we realise.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

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Comments are closed.

Comments (46)

malik
September 2, 2013 9:07 am

This is what happens when you always cower to the right. You keep on giving in thinking they are right and they keep on thundering for more and more. It is time we tell the state they have nothing to do with our personal freedom.

sajidmahsud@yahoo.com
September 2, 2013 11:54 am

Thanks for giving words to my feelings and thoughts..a must read column

Khaled
September 2, 2013 12:12 pm

Very well analyzed, agreed, in the present environment we can only think of producing mediocre.

Naveed Ikram
September 2, 2013 12:35 pm

We have already scaled these heights of stupidity. Music, Faiz, Faraz and Music was banned in Pakistan for over a decade under Zia. Something even more heinous is waiting for us.

fahadwarraich
September 2, 2013 12:41 pm

totally out of place.

Urooj Hussein
September 2, 2013 12:41 pm

What more can anyone say after a brilliant piece by Sattar. He hit the nail on its head & one feels hopeful that there are saner souls amongst us who continue to raise the right voices surrounded in a sea of bigots. Thank you Babar Sattar !!

Urooj Hussein
September 2, 2013 12:44 pm

What more can anyone say after a brilliant piece by Sattar. He hit the nail on its head & one feels hopeful that there are saner souls amongst us who continue to raise the right voices surrounded in a sea of bigots. Thank you Babar Sattar !!

Immad
September 2, 2013 12:54 pm

Every social activity has an objective to meet. Poetry keeps the culture and open thinking alive and so on. I wonder what objective the late night packages by Telecom companies was fulfilling?

bhayoanas
September 2, 2013 1:06 pm

No doubt change is essence of a developing society, but some negative changes must be arrested before it's too late. One may ask why cellular companies are introducing youth specific packages or why they are not giving such an incentive to other age groups? The state has some responsibility in this regard, it should go to options that are best suited to interests of our society and the state as a whole.

Muhammad Mudassir
September 2, 2013 1:25 pm

This is probably the worst piece-of-writing i have ever come across. Even after trying my best, i couldn't work out; how banning telephone packages and the lack of artists, philosophers, inventors and poets in our society; is inter-linked? The writer probably had quite a lot of anger and random facts bottled up inside him and this incident gave him the long-awaited chance to link everything up in the best irregular way possible and present it to the naive and gullible minds of this nation.

miansamee
September 2, 2013 1:51 pm

Allah may give you your reward for showing your heart to the people and repay you with the people like you on the day of judgement.

Zahoor
September 2, 2013 2:47 pm

Agreed. but for most people it is difficult to understand what you are trying to say, simply, because they don't want to understand.

Khawar Randhawa
September 2, 2013 3:23 pm

Banning youtube was crazy, banning night packages is Healthy.

Abdul
September 2, 2013 3:34 pm

A great piece of writing by Babar. Should be an eye openers to all those who want all others to think as they think.

maziz
September 2, 2013 3:59 pm

@bhayoanas: Has it occured to you that its simple market economics? Discounted packages are offered during off peak hours to encourage utilization of unused bandwidth that the company is paying a cost for. Secondly, young people are the biggest consumer and are tech savvy enough to be able to use/activate the packages omtimally + with low allowances its more atrractive for them to save a few rupees. When have you ever heard of someones nani interested in mobile phone use? Businesses have option for postpaid and older people still prefer landline.

Please open your mind. Everything is not a conspiracy to corrupt the morality of our youth.

adi
September 2, 2013 4:49 pm

two things define Pakistan. Fear and Intolerance..think bout it

jugnoo
September 2, 2013 5:04 pm

i would like to ask the author: do such packages exist in US? my Mom is happy when she heard this news because a young one in the family use these packages for no good reason :)

Amina
September 2, 2013 5:14 pm

@Muhammad Mudassir, When I read comments like yours, I want to flee the country! The entire article was about the link between supression of expression and the dearth of creative minds in the country! Clearly lost on those who need it most!

Iftikhar Bashir
September 2, 2013 5:22 pm

I think banning the night packages is a step in the right direction. What the nation was gaining out of these packages? Nothing except the loss of time and sleep.

Sheran
September 2, 2013 5:41 pm

Good analysis of our society. Very true and honest words.

Gudoo
September 2, 2013 5:48 pm

Instead of banning, we must educate our youngsters the moral as well as human values.

Muhaamad Akmal
September 2, 2013 5:48 pm

Well said. We, the muslims , especially Pakistanis, have taken religion rather to destroy the basic human values. The region, be it any, is a better code of conduct and not means of destruction, be it mental or physical. When the blasphemous film was launched, how did we respond? It we the response the west had in mind as it was already tested through religious blasphemous cartoons. It would have been a strong response had we boycotted them economically. Pepsi and other American products were on the hot sale in those days.

Neither everybody watched the film nor was it every Pakistani who miss used the free sms facility. I, along with many other friends have been using it to educate in the for backward areas where no government teacher is ready serve. The other source we are using is Facebook. I am afraid they may close down the social media and throw us back in the dark stone age.

pure paki
September 2, 2013 5:53 pm

@Muhammad Mudassir: i agree

LodhiTalha
September 2, 2013 6:17 pm

Dear sattar you are over reacting, please don't confuse literature revolution of 50s and 60s with uninhibited freedom of expression. YouTube was banned after it's admin blatantly refused even to acknowledge any wrongdoing on part the originator of the clip. (try freedom of speech in favour of Nazi against holocaust, but oh no that was the worst and really happened because we all saw it with our own eyes). And as for late night packages, it was done with considered opinion of all leading educators who have been complaining about students unable to take classes attentively due to lack of sleep. So before you blast every decision everyone makes try a little procedure called research. And your examples from history, reminded me of a situation called "here, there, everywhere" with little relevance, if not none at all with YouTube and mobile packages ban.

Nasir Ali Shah
September 2, 2013 6:35 pm

We are Muslims and we would oppose what hurts our feelings being a muslim and won't allow others to encroach in our religious believes by broadcasting such contents on YouTube and other media in the name freedom of expression.

Late night packages have been designed to spoil our your generation. This is a major strategy of non-believers against Muslims. My brother I hope u have been to many countries in the world. U won't have noticed any kind of such packages in the world. Even Internet use cost much higher in other countries than Pakistan. Such low cost calls, SMS, and Internet facilities at low costs are designed to promote vulgarity to spoil our young generation. If someone call it advancement of technology, then why not such low cost technology is being offered in other fields like medicine, industry, agriculture. Why these multinational companies who offer us vulgar stuff don't offer us food, electricity, gas on discounted rates which we need the foremost. So my brother is advised not to appreciate and promote the agenda of non-believers and understand their designs.

Abraham Haque
September 2, 2013 6:39 pm

Who said Muslims of Pakistan want a healthy and vibrant society?

LodhiTalha
September 2, 2013 6:55 pm

@Muhammad Mudassir: True

LodhiTalha
September 2, 2013 6:58 pm

@Naveed Ikram: Music was never banned during zia, please don't say things u don't know about...

Agha Ata
September 2, 2013 7:18 pm

Look at these people:

Akrit Jaswal (born April 23, 1993) is an Indian adolescent who is a child prodigy as a physician. He performed his first surgery at the age of seven. He is the youngest person (at age 12) to get admitted in a medical university in India. • Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606–1682) was a Spanish scholastic philosopher, ecclesiastic, mathematician and writer. He was a precocious child, early delving into serious problems in mathematics and even publishing astronomical tables in his tenth year.

Kishan Shrikanth - Directed a feature film on 35 mm, of 130 mins Care of Footpath at age nine and entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the youngest film director on this earth.

Sorry, there are about several hundred thousands more from every country and from every time. I am so glad they were not born in this boring, joyless society controlled by freaks who try to Islamize even knowledge!

SATISH SHARMA
September 2, 2013 7:38 pm

Mr. Sattar .. . you forgot one thing .. in the punishment is not limited to throwing someone in fetters - Salim Shahzad comes to mind -- I am sure most people have forgotten!

DrTK
September 2, 2013 8:34 pm

I agree with the writer! Holding flawed elections once in a while has not transformed us into a Democracy. We dont have any Freedom, of which Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression are the most important. Try expressing your personal beliefs that might contradict the prevailing stereotypical viewpoint. You might get killed for it, and your murderer declared a hero and garlanded by the legal fraternity!

Masoog Hussain
September 2, 2013 8:41 pm

Admirable writing, but that .is how we are. take it or leave it ,there is no other option.

akki
September 2, 2013 9:15 pm

What does THE book say about this

Nawaz
September 2, 2013 9:25 pm

Absolutely brilliant article you have really echoed the thought of the people who believe in reasoning. These hypocrites, illiterate , mufties of journalism should stay away from the personal lives of the young adults.

Madiha Latif
September 2, 2013 10:34 pm

@LodhiTalha: I think the fact that there is no electricity at night in most areas is the reason why "students" dont get any sleep at night...or perhaps, their parents dont enforce a bed time on them or whatever, its not just late night calls. I suggest before quoting these "leading educators" which this city is oh so filled with, you please verify this with real studies and sources. I assure you, bed time is not the problem of phone service providers, it lies with disciplining and enforcement from the parents. At least, mine were concerned with what time i went to bed....

Imran
September 2, 2013 11:23 pm

@Muhammad Mudassir: Mr, Mudaasir, you wrote", This is probably the worst piece-of-writing i have ever come across. Even after trying my best, i couldn't work out; how banning telephone packages and the lack of artists, philosophers, inventors and poets in our society; is inter-linked? The writer probably had quite a lot of anger and random facts bottled up inside him and this incident gave him the long-awaited chance to link everything up in the best irregular way possible and present it to the naive and gullible minds of this nation."

You may not understand this article, because you are part of the "naïve and gullible" majority that cannot fathom having a free society as far is information is concerned. You need a mullah to keep you in the right path (however wrong that path may be). The majority of Pakistan is a crowd or a herd that needs someone to give them directions with a 'dunda', otherwise they are lost. No sense of self and logical reasoning to self control or direction as an individual. I think you should go read the Urdu press, you will find more of your point of view there.

alic88
September 2, 2013 11:37 pm

I appreciate the article. Why not also publish them in Urdu newspapers so this train of thought can reach a wider audience? I'm sure the author has thought of that in some capacity.

Ahmed
September 3, 2013 12:30 am

@LodhiTalha: Spot on. Could'nt have said better. To add, youtube or daily motion or for that matter all useless sites on internet are not providing any major benefits whereas the negatives are far more. Govt control of internet within its geographical boundaries is a FACT. Please read a very good book on the matter "Who controls the internet". Why so much hue and cry for such a useless topic. To me youtube ban is a good riddance !!!

muhammad pervaiz
September 3, 2013 12:45 am

@bhayoanas: i totally agree with you bro....good suggestion but.....who will do it. ppl in chair are least bothered

bilal habib
September 3, 2013 1:28 am

Excellent piece by Babar Sattar. Last week, I was attending a lecture by well renowned Professor Tomasz Arciszewski. And he exactly said what you mentioned here about creativity. If you see the world map and chose the top-10 most creative places on this globe. One pattern is evident, non of those places are intimidated by governments, people have high tolerance level and political involvement is minimum.

Hassan Baig
September 3, 2013 2:44 am

Dear Babar, greetings from the Baig family! I assure you that as human civilization hurtles deeper into the 21st century, the tide of technology will ultimately be unstoppable. In time, we will come to recognize our own Sergey Brins and Elon Musks. Do not despair - these are the dying gasps of a status quo being dragged towards extinction.

conspirashdulrehman
September 3, 2013 4:48 am

@maziz: There you go. respect, brother

conspirashdulrehman
September 3, 2013 4:50 am

@Amina: thanks aapa. I thought I was the only one who didn't like Mudassir's comment.

Rajeev Varma
September 3, 2013 10:27 am

An absolutely brilliant piece, more so because of its timeliness. Hope the people in power can act in the right direction to arrest this disturbing trend which is also, unfortunately seen in India as well...the environment of intolerance.

Rajeev Varma
September 3, 2013 10:35 am

Absolutely agree with every word. Brilliant.

Taimur tareen
September 5, 2013 12:36 am

Very nice. While we should not abandon the good things of old culture, we must face the new realities and change. Once again, good article.

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