Censorship, book bans and Malala: exposing closet Talibans

malala bookRecently, an editor in Karachi told the well known defence and policy analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa “not to bother writing anymore about the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or any other militant outfit, religious party or even the cricketer-turned-politician’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).” She was told not to even mention TTP and affiliated organisations. The call followed the attack on a vehicle carrying staff of a media organisation, in which three people were killed and four injured.

And in Peshawar, the launch of “I am Malala” was stopped from taking place at the last minute. Read poet and activist Harris Khalique’s comment about it – “Malala interrupted and the Khan surprised“. As he mentions, another activist and friend M. Tahseen had written an email, angry at the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtukhwa (KP) for preventing the book launch from taking place. It was scheduled last Tuesday, January 28,  at the Area Study Center, University of Peshawar,  organized by various civil society organizations  along with the Area Study Center.

Imran Khan’s response:

I tend to agree with my friend, the rights activist Dr. Fouzia Saeed, who proposes that if Imran Khan really means what he says, he should host a big event to launch the book. It is, after all, important as Fouzia says, “to make a distinction between KP ministers who did this, and the Taliban”.

girl-with-a-book-alt-worlddotcom

Image courtesy: @alt-world.com

The incident reminds one of that iconic poem by Kishwar Naheed, “Woh jo buchyion se bhi dar gaey” (they who are afraid of little girls). “Taliban are scared of this little girl who speaks the truth,” comments Fouzia. “So many in our nation are scared of her. We have been seeing the reactions of our people over Malala and the ugly circus that our TV channels hosted, especially Express channel, with mullas splitting hair and demonising the book… Malala zindabad. She is exposing so many closet Talibans.”

Tahseen writes that two ministers of the KP government had separately approached the Director of the Area Studies Center that morning — Shah Farman (PTI) and Siraj ul Haq (Jamat e Islami) —  “ordering him to STOP the book launch. He refused. They approached the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar of the University. The Vice Chancellor and the Registrar in turn spoke to the Director but could not convince him as there was nothing illegal or beyond the mandate of the Center.”

Police officers (the DSP police and local SHO) then told the Director to stop the function, citing the  “bad law and order situation” coupled with “dire consequences”. This did not work either. “Eventually in the evening, a letter was delivered to the Center, after office hours by the Registrar of the University ordering that the function cannot be held ‘due to bad law and order situation’!”

Ayesha Siddiqa-2007Reminds me of when Ayesha Siddiqa’s book launch in Islamabad was stopped, back in 2007. Friends managed to hold it in an alternative venue at that time, despite the great pressure, and we issued this statement of support for her. But that was Islamabad, where there are more options. And that was some years ago, in times that looking back seem so much gentler.

Civil society organisations are discussing alternatives, says Tahseen, but “where do we stand in this so called democratic set up? Isn’t it worst than any military dictator’s Government in Pakistan, where you cannot launch a book authored by a young girl who is respected in world for her courage, determination and resolve for the education of girls in Pakistan and the world over?” 

Hats off to all those who were planning to do the launch. As Fouzia Saeed says, “I hope it gets rescheduled. That is what i love about my country. If there are people like Minister, Shah Farman and Sirajul Haq there are also people who resist and fight back.”

Unfortunately, news of the fighting back tends to remain grossly under-reported, while news of violence and the assaults on our freedoms gets so much play in the media.

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