VIEW: Hateful whispers —Zaair Hussain - Friday, February 25, 2011

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We cannot allow the extreme right, in any of their various and ugly incarnations, to shove us back from our lines in the sand, from the principles that mark us. Let them challenge us, if they dare, in the free marketplace of ideas

To lose a loved one is to tear off the veil of the world and see the face of hell. The Taseer family suffered through this, and in addition must now contend with the post-mortem demonisation of the late Punjab governor, and the perverse glorification of a murderer, Mumtaz Qadri.

The petition to end his trial has been dismissed, and the prosecutor found ready. His trial continues, and justice works its slow wheels in spite of the endless line of people looking to jam its gears to turn the law into a popularity contest and free Qadri by virtue of volume.

The latest abrasion against the raw wounds of Taseer’s family, far from the first, far from the last, is a film announced by Syed Noor called ‘Aik Aur Ghazi’ (One More Holy Warrior). The plot features, with no irony whatsoever, a man who finds spiritual and worldly salvation by killing a blasphemer, a man who claims to be the Prophet (PBUH). This clearly mentally ill man is murdered, and we are meant to cheer this as a triumphant ending to a feel-good redemptive tale.

Syed Noor at first glance appears to be aspiring to the level of great cinematic propagandists throughout the ages. Most infamous are the Nazi filmmakers who worked for Joseph Goebbels, though two important distinctions arise: what the Nazis did for their state, Noor does of his own initiative. What they did openly, Noor does surreptitiously, skulking in shadows to hide his dark and shameful purpose.

Noor’s outright denial that the protagonist of his film has any connection to Mumtaz Qadri would be laughable if his brainchild were not so chilling. There is not a channel that has not obsessed over the killing, not a home untouched by controversy, not a street left un-treaded by those for and against Mumtaz Qadri yet Syed Noor, the one man in the country making a film about a blasphemer-murdering hero, simply did not have the murder on his mind? Astonishing.

Noor recently made a public attack on Veena Malik over Bigg Boss. That was a stale and lightweight statement, however, and critics have claimed that this film is his true foray into becoming a hardcore extremist mouthpiece.

Well, yes and no.

It is tempting to assume that Syed Noor is a man with murder in his heart but no courage in his spine, who by hints and whispers urges other, more desperate or determined men to do what he himself does not have the will to do.

Certainly the content of the film seems unambiguously extremist. Its message is as narrow and simple as the edge of a knife: that it is not only permissible but laudable to kill a man accused of blasphemy — not arrest, not convert but murder unlawfully in cold blood.

But it is far more likely that Noor, who is famous for turning out risqué Lollywood fare with scantily clad actresses, is merely the worst kind of cynic and opportunist, who senses cash in the waters of public sentiment and has gone in for his mouthful. He is not a shark, but a catfish; not a predator, but a scavenger. There will be others like him.

I urge you all, by word or deed, to approach and petition the censor board of Pakistan, so that we may raise our voices as one and make our demand: that this filth be shown to all who care to watch it.

Why? Because we must have more faith in the people of Pakistan than do the likes of Syed Noor. Because I will not trample on free expression, so long as that free expression is granted without fear or favour. We must insist that this film is released, so long as it is shown alongside, for example, ‘Slackistan’ and ‘Tere Bin Laden’, two films that our board has seen fit to ban, though they endorse neither blasphemy nor murder.

Let the board prove it is not held hostage to everything but decency.

We cannot allow the extreme right, in any of their various and ugly incarnations, to shove us back from our lines in the sand, from the principles that mark us. Let them challenge us, if they dare, in the free marketplace of ideas; let them peddle their shoddy ideological goods and pit their trash against the best our brightest have to offer, without relying on the spectre of violence that is the crutch, the cast, the life support of every desperate and dying ideology. Let them truly compete for hearts and minds, rather than corralling thousands of madrassa students to march like cattle at the drop of a fatwa. Reason will prevail.

This optimism is not baseless: reason has overcome before. We lost Swat to the Taliban. All of it. A sovereign part of our nation. And our people (at least, those not in Swat) cheered. And the cheers faded, soon enough, after their heroes and idols and dragons took real and terrifying form, and ravished the land and whipped young girls in public.

There was a sweep of self-righteous applause when Facebook and a host of other sites, most astonishingly Google, were banned in Pakistan over a moral panic caused by teenage cyber-hooligans across the globe. It faded away, not by vanishing, but by disintegrating till there was nothing left.

When conservative religious parties won a majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the first time in Pakistan’s history it was on the back of extreme anti-American sentiment following the criminally brash opening salvo of the war on terror. The foolish war continued; the parties’ power did not.

Reason wins over the only way it can, little by little, for it does not come in floods like emotion but by eventual and (we hope) inevitable drops, melting the landscape into something softer.

Syed Noor’s film will meet the same fate. We must safeguard our interests, and those of the nation. We must ensure that all legal expression, including his, be protected and accepted.

In a true conflict of ideas, moderates will prevail, for the other side is frankly capable of being disarmed in thought.

The writer is a Lahore-based freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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