Censorship is like a talkshow -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Censorship is like a talkshow

Pakistan Press Foundation

Censorship is like a talkshow – people don’t get to finish what they are saying, but you’re not sure if that’s bad for democracy,” an emerging young leader told a group of reporters. He was among the thousands of civil society activists, artists, and admirers of the great poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, who had gathered at Lahore’s Liberty Roundabout after hearing reports of a ban on the Facebook page of the leftist rock band Laal. “We are here to register our support for the decision,” he said. “They were insulting our sensibilities in the name of free speech.”

They said their sit-in would continue until Scotland Yard initiated a probe against the band over allegations that its members were not good at what they were doing.

Two years ago, a music video produced by the music group was banned after television channels voluntarily declined, in line with journalistic standards, to run something with such poor aesthetics and meaningless poetry. This was, according to one official speaking on condition of anonymity, “even worse than the poetry of Bilal Tanveer.”

The band says it sees no reason why their Facebook page was banned. But their visitors know.
“I still remember that fateful evening,” recalled a college student, who is now member of a support group of survivors of the band’s music. “I was minding my own business, checking out my Facebook feed, when I accidentally clicked a video link,” he said. That was it. “My blood pressure began to rise and my nerves began to fire and my heart began to pound, as I saw a constipated looking PhD scholar doing the most unsettling dance moves in the history of art.” About thirty minutes later, his roommates found him on the floor in a state of shock, holding his head and staring at the ceiling. He has not been able to recover.

A psychologist said his Pakistani and foreign colleagues had written a number of research papers on the effects of the video and other similar artwork produced allegedly by the band, but the government failed to take timely action. “Not everyone on Facebook can handle such things. We need to understand that some people have weak hearts.”

Now that action has been taken, it has become a subject of highly charged debates in newspapers and on the Internet.

Islamic Ideology Council, the country’s premier body on religious matters, met for several days in Islamabad last week to discuss the issue. “On several occasions, there was fear that the talks will break down,” said a source privy to the parleys. “But we’re thankful that the country’s greatest scholars finally came to an agreement.”

“After detailed deliberations, we have come a unanimous conclusion,” the council said in an official statement released to the media. “While we are not certain whether music and dance are permissible in Islam under all circumstances, members of the Islamic Ideology Council agree that Laal’s music, poetry and dance are so bad that they have hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims who are not opposed to music, poetry and dance. Therefore, we state hereby that we support the decision to ban their Facebook page.” They said they were not against freedom of speech, but such art strengthened the argument made by the Taliban that the arts were meaningless.

Despite the support, the ban could not be sustained for long. A secret report by the interior ministry warned the government that after finding the page unavailable, the four hundred thousand young men and women who followed it were left with no option but to express their bizarre opinions and make abusive comments in real life. The threat was too serious to ignore.

Soon after the page was unblocked, the Council for Protection of Classical Arts, a non-government group, decided that they would not sit and watch on the sidelines. A pack of hackers from the council launched a brutal cyber attack on the page. “We have defaced the page,” they said in an email sent to various media organizations, “like they defaced the arts.”

Whilst some followers of Faiz and Jalib have expressed concerns about this attack, which has a questionable legal status, a number of progressive leaders agree with it, citing Laal’s own poetry as a matter of concern.

“Do you know what is the greatest threat to progressive ideology in Pakistan in these dark times?” one activist asked this scribe. “The greatest threat to progressive politics in today’s Pakistan is progressive poetry.”

The author has a degree in Poetics of Prophetic Discourse and works as a Senior Paradigm Officer. harris@nyu.edu, @cyborgasms,

The Nation