View From The Neighbourhood: Divided we stand


Published: March 9, 2020 12:52:56 am

Vehicles torched during violence in Mustafabad. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna/File)

For over six months now, beginning with the abrogation of Article 370 and most recently in the aftermath of the violence in Delhi, the media in Pakistan has had a near-continuous lament: The “Muslim world”, mired in national self-interest and “realpolitik, has been remiss in holding New Delhi to account. In its editorial on March 4, though, Dawn takes this argument further, supplementing moral outrage with an analysis of geopolitical reality.

While the editorial welcomes Iran’s condemnation of the Delhi violence (both the country’s foreign minister and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have pulled up India), it also expresses its disappointment with the OIC and its members more generally: “While these voices are welcome, the collective voice of Muslims that the OIC is supposed to represent is largely ineffectual. Perhaps this is because some of the major Muslim states — particularly the petrodollar-fuelled sheikhdoms that hold sway over the OIC — prefer silence overtaking a stand on matters of principle.”

Apart from economic considerations, the editorial argues that the conflicts in West Asia have made a united stand on violence against Muslims a strategic quagmire. It Yemen and Syria for example, Iran, the Saudis and Turkey are in conflict. The conclusion? “Clearly, statesmanship and vision are required from the Muslim world to sort out internal rifts, and speak up for Muslim communities persecuted in non-Muslim states. A recent effort in Kuala Lumpur was scuttled by some Muslim ‘brothers’ as they felt their leadership of the ummah was at stake. In such circumstances, how will the Muslim voice be heard?”

Gloating again

Last week, an editorial in The Island took particular pleasure in pointing out the hypocrisy of the US in not taking India to task over the treatment of minorities, and of India lecturing Sri Lanka on the Tamil issue. Continuing in that vein on March 7, the newspaper shuns the sombre tone that newspaper editorials usually employ and begins thus: “The International Criminal Court (ICC) has given Uncle Sam a right royal wedgie. It has ruled that alleged war crimes by the US and others, in Afghanistan, be probed.”

Despite the somewhat gleeful tone, the editorial does make an important point — one that has been somewhat ignored since the days when the Non-Aligned Movement was a vocal moral voice: “If a country like Iran or Cuba had been at the receiving end of the ICC ruling, all major international human rights groups would have promptly welcomed it and even called for sanctions to ensure compliance. Curiously, they have chosen to remain silent on the war crimes probe ordered by the ICC. Is it that they are wary of antagonising the US government?”

The US, “the self-proclaimed defender of human rights” across the world, will likely not face a war crimes trial. The editorial hints at but shies away from making a larger point. Given that the UN and other international bodies seem to have teeth only against certain countries, it is difficult to take their criticisms on board at face value. When it comes to the violation of human rights, there have always been double standards.

Unfree press

Across South Asia, governments seem to have something in common. Despite widespread differences in ideology, they all seem to agree on the need to muzzle the media. Pakistan’s Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020 oblige social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to block or remove posts that are considered objectionable by the government. In Nepal, the Information Technology Bill could open the door to curbing press and digital freedom. In India, too, the spectre of TV taken off air seemingly because they criticised the RSS and Delhi Police’s role in the violence in the capital loomed large on Saturday.

In Bangladesh, even the usually sedate Dhaka Tribune has an editorial on March 6 exhorting the government to respect the media’s rights to free speech. Taking off from a recent seminar on press freedom, the editorial remarks that “for Bangladesh, this rather important tenet of democracy (press freedom) has not always been upheld with the most aplomb”. The country’s Digital Security Act “has been worded so vaguely that it can allow the police to abuse and misuse their power to suppress the press and create a culture of impunity”. On the other hand, the editorial acknowledges that “with the advent of social media”, fake news and rumours have become an issue to the point where they have caused mass hysteria and led to riots.

However, the editorial is unequivocal on the matter of press freedom: “As Bangladesh progresses, its democracy needs to be protected. In this regard, a free press — one which does not fear to express or criticise — will remain essential.”

A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi

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