Let the censorship in Pakistan remind us that the revolution will not be ‘liberalised’

Pakistani man reading newspapers and daily life on May 15, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan

The Pakistani state, entangled in a complex web of external and internal pressures, has been rendered incapable of addressing the issues it faces in the global context. Imperialist powers have used our land – as well as our people – time and again for their own politics. Today, the US president is shameless enough to forget the innumerable lives our people lost in a war the US created and funded for quite a while. It was a war whose cost was borne by the people of Pakistan among other countries. Yet the American president has the nerve to utter such statements that reek of entitlement.

At the same time, this failure to make itself heard at the international level seems to have exacerbated the suspicions and insecurities that the Pakistani state directs towards its own peoples. Like every other ‘modern nation state’ that was formerly colonised, the Pakistani state upholds the colonial legacy of perpetuating what Ella Shohat calls ‘Enlightenment binarisms’. “Either you’re with us or you’re against us.” Former American president George Bush seems to be an inspiration for the Pakistani state that seems today incapable of conceptualising complexities and nuances that exist between ‘with us’ and ‘against us’. This, in turn, renders it suspicious of its own people – who are more often than not well-meaning entities – each time they choose to differ with the state narrative.

We are witnessing unprecedented levels of censorship in Pakistan. The times we are living in are not conducive, to say the least, to freedom of speech. What began with a suppression of news coverage on certain regions of the country has now metamorphosed into the most overt and shameless suppression of voices belonging to the Left. The most recent display of censorship of dissenting voices happened at the Faiz International Festival when comrades Ammar Ali Jan, Taimur Rahman and Ali Wazir were prevented from addressing the audience. Like all such unfortunate incidents, this too speaks volumes about the shrinking space for voices of dissent.

At the same time, we as Leftists need to introspect on our pernicious tendency to exhaust our energies with centrist and liberal platforms. It is time that we examine this negotiation. A conscious and common practice undertaken by the liberal is to transform anything and everything revolutionary and radical into something purely docile and harmless. This co-option has a history in conscious efforts of neo-liberal, capitalist hegemonic powers. It is an utterly unrealistic expectation on part of Leftists that just because the name of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a great revolutionary poet, is today co-opted by as liberal a platform as Faiz Foundation, it shall also serve as the basis of some radical action. We would be mistaken to believe otherwise. When a liberal platform can gain from our voice, the organisers will invite us. When pressured to silence us, they will bow down. It is not the first time that Leftists have been let down by the Faiz Foundation. It won’t be the last either. Perhaps it is time that we do away with expectations of revolutionary disruption from such platforms.

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