A case of misplaced priorities

Posted on May 26, 2010

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By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin

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One major difference between Pakistanis living in the country and those living overseas is that the former category often finds it difficult to understand that why is the world so much confused when it comes to understand and dealing with them and their country’s political establishment and people. The latter class knows the reasons because of which Pakistan is thought to be a very confusing country to deal with.

These confusions simply are there because of the collective presence of misplaced priorities, hypocrisy, corruption and illiteracy that widely plague our political system and sections of our society.

All these things are reflected within the country’s social and political governance time and again.  Today, it is widely believed that the country, owing to a failing government that has corrupt people at position of intermediate and senior leadership, is not moving forward with the rest of the world at a decent pace.  In fact, what we have seen is that despite the current federal government’s failure effectively deal with any major crisis that is has confronted since assuming power, it has never let go away any chance to have its own way when the core interests of influential politicians has been at stake.

Recently, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, whose government has consistently failed to address important issues such as inflation and load-shedding, was seen campaigning for a politician named Jamshed Dasti, who had knowingly faked his educational qualifications in his bid to win a parliamentary seat in the last elections. While campaigning for Mr Dasti, PM Gillani was still going about doing what he is best at, making false promises to the people about economic development. We now know that for all the government’s loud talking on many things, it has successively failed to deliver on all the basic needs and requirements of the people.

People all over Pakistan today are feeling the immense economic brunt of unabated load-shedding, inflation, commodity shortages, heavy taxation, etc.

In recent months, the southern port-city of Karachi and vast parts of the province of Balochistan have seen a renewed wave of politically motivated violence and targeted killings in which many innocent lives have been lost.

People in the Hunza region, in Pakistan’s northern areas, are struggling with the after-effects of a massive landslide that has flooded many localities. They are protesting against the government as they believe that it have been oblivious to the humanitarian crisis that has sprung up.

These are just some of the many issues that the country currently faces. These issues certainly require great attention of the political parties, whether in government or the opposition, where there has been none.

As against focusing on issues of the people, the current political parties have dared to shift popular attention towards non-issues and one way of doing that is by trying to silence criticism.  It is in the light of these facts, that the recent controversial ban on social media websites in Pakistan be seen.

For over two years, major criticisms of the country’s corrupt political establishment were stemming through websites like Facebook and Youtube. Pakistan’s cyber citizens had been feverishly commenting about corruption cases against President Zardari and they had put up videos about the government’s abysmal performance. Videos targeting members of the current opposition parties were also widely uploaded shared. Major television channels like Duniya News, Geo News and Express 24/7 had set up their own Youtube channels where videos about their past broadcasting, most of which was directly targeted at the political parties, were put up.

Journalists like Ansar Abbasi, Kamran Khan, Mubasher Lucqman and others became heroes for ordinary Pakistanis because of the ways in which they uncovered stories about political corruption, mismanagement and gross human rights abuses being committed by many influential politicians all over the country. Most of their works have been seen by millions of overseas Pakistanis over Facebook and Youtube.

The fact that these videos which were being viewed and then shared by people in tens of thousands had only ensured that the Pakistani political establishment gets ridiculed internationally for all its corrupt practices.

Many of the educated and secular-minded Pakistanis believe that there were ulterior political motives behind the removal of social media websites from the country’s internet landscape, and that the issue of the blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) has been used as a scapegoat to cover-up for  these real motives. They point out that even when the popular blogosphere and Youtube were first targeted in 2008, it was revealed only later that the major cause of irritation for the parties that won the February 2008 elections were videos showing alleged rigging in the elections.  In another video, it is shown that Mr Asif Ali Zardari saying ‘shut up’ to a crowd while talking about democracy.

This government shall mainly be known to many journalists and historians as a government who always failed to deliver. When criticism became untenable for this government, it decided to take up a confrontational approach with the media and the internet, rather than allocating concerted effort to address the genuine grievances of the people.

This is a government, which in line with the religious right has used the idea of hate speech while justifying its ban on Facebook and Youtube. As against this, not a single voice has been raised over the fact that what a section of Pakistan’s youth is learning at the religious seminaries (maderassahs) is nothing other than plain hate literature that targets Westerners and Indians. It was on the platforms of such religious seminaries that many terrorist groups, which have now turned their guns and bombs towards us, had been born.

The religious parties have also played a role in fuelling public opinion and anger against Facebook. That said, the people also have a right to know that why have these parties and their selfish leaders remained conspicuously silent against the worsening inflation and load-shedding situation across the country? Is it because these issues would not swell their vote banks? Why have these religious parties not taken notice of the sheer humanitarian disaster that has affected hundreds of thousands of people in the Hunza Valley? Is it so because most of the victims are the Muslim Shia minorities and that most of these parties are Sunni dominated?

Here, it needs to be recalled that these religious parties had not even denounced and condemned the Tehrik-E-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) when they were master-minding and organizing terrorist activities across Pakistani cities last year.

Terrorists and non-state actors have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis over the last five years, yet these parties have never even once condemned these terrorists for their crimes against humanity. Islamic teachings and the Holy Quran are very clear in their position on the sanctity and importance of ordinary human life. Those who have failed to condemn and reject mass murders like the TTP, cannot claim to be the torch-bearers of Islam for they have never even learnt the very fundamentals of our great religion.

It is saddening to see attention being diverted from the real-time issues, to artificially constructed dramas that risk sending Pakistan further down in to the dark ages. Instead of making social media targets of unfair criticism, the Pakistani government and the opposition should also look at the immense positive contributions that these websites have had on Pakistani society in terms of greater revenue for the services sector and its capacity to rally Pakistanis around common social causes.

It goes beyond doubt to believe that our youth has been using Facebook and Youtube as a means to share its ideas and vision about Pakistan’s future with an international audience. Their voices are being heard far and wide. If taken in the right sense, social media websites could well be our tools to portray a better image about Pakistan to the whole world and to simultaneously instill hope and confidence amongst our own people.

Quite certainly, the ban on social media is a perfect snapshot about how foolishly our politicians prioritize issues. The issue of Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) blasphemous cartoons can lead to a virtual blackout of social networking websites from Pakistan’s cyber space, but not a word is ever uttered by the politicians in support of the majority, which is faced by more pressing socio-economic issues for reasons that may seem really bizarre and inexplicable.

Conclusively, it can be said that the ban on social media across the country is a perfect case of misplaced priorities on part of the government and has nothing to do with Islam’s sacred teachings as it surely fulfils a plethora of political aims and objectives of the politicians who have now gotten sick of facing sharp criticism from the media and the Pakistani people.

The writer is a Melbourne based freelance journalist and an International Studies student at RMIT University, mehroz.siraj@gmail.com

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