Posted in New Media, pakistan

Polarization in social media on SOC Oscar Win

I am eager to watch #SOC new Oscar-winning documentary on HBO, 7th March is the date. Here is a short overview of the film. Not only because it got Oscar but also because I love and respect the genre of documentary. I have always been inclined towards an educative and aesthetic side of cinema. I had strong opinion about the last one, Saving Face. Initially, the producers had planned only for international or private screenings but it somehow surfaced on YouTube. After watching it, my reservations were not that it highlighted an issue at international level because that’s the role of documentary filmmakers but I found a lack of empathy in storytelling which is a stylistic issue. It is crucial because documentary filmmakers task is to tell the story as honestly and holistically as possible to advocate about the issue. Point of view matters.

You can indulge in investigative journalism and create a hard-hitting documentary, but when you show the subjects, empathy is an important element in the narrative. The film was largely focused on the effort of a non-resident surgeon depicted as a messiah, and a lot of other stakeholders such as Smile Again Foundation who brought the whole issue into the limelight with consideration practical efforts were not in the narrative. Documentaries are as much about the context as they are about the subject.

Many who critiqued the piece ‘after watching it’ and with thorough academic stance, especially by sharing a particular blog post in Express Tribune was quickly blocked from Sharmeen’s Twitter handle by herself or her PR. Blocking is completely okay because it is her space and she has right to manage it. It is important to acknowledge that many viewers had truly felt those gaps, even before coming across that blog so there was no intention to malign but to engage in a dialogue.

Social media has also come a long way after 2012. With the fair share of success, criticism, self-realization that the work should also focus solutions and the acid attack legislation, her work has matured over the years. Ho Yaqeen, Aghaz-e-Safar series and 3 Bahadur animated movie are her creative engagements which hold a good balance of understanding how we can solve our own problems. It also emphasizes that putting all your issues under the carpet does not do any good, trying to salvage the reputation of your country is not patriotism, but putting effort to understand those issues, what are the strengths in the system and society at large that can help us to improve our ill-givings and contributing to the change is.

This time, I am looking forward to how her amazing crew has learned over the years because to be very honest, her international and national facing work has employed a different approach in past and film-making also has a political and commercial dynamics to it, and it is part of the game.

A consequence of the fast-paced interaction on social media is that people start judging too soon, and I have a problem with it. One does not need to take sides to celebrate a winning moment. Watch the documentary, also her other work and then be proud of it or critique it with sound knowledge. Oscar is a proud moment, but it should not stop anyone from indulging in the content. Sharmeen Chinoy herself has mentioned in interviews that Google was her best friend to understand how documentary films are created as she did not have a formal training in the craft; moreover, she also has been blessed with amazing young talent in her crew. So before you make an opinion (of any nature), try to invest time to interpret the content from all the academic sources which technology has made easier for you to access and experts/mentors in the discipline. Journalism and academia should go hand in hand.

With all the buzz in the social media about films portraying a negative image of Pakistan, it will help that we refer people to her other work to witness the many positive outlooks her team has produced. Those one liners on honor, positive change, voice to voiceless are not enough as it creates more polarization.If you are genuinely interested, then go beyond rhetoric and share the work with others, that has the power as conversation starter or changer.  Whenever I see the various assumptions by others on her page or elsewhere across social media platforms, in my response I try to specifically mention all the projects that I also listed above, so breadth of work and its nature is also acknowledged.

The issues dealt are pertinent and we should have no shame in accepting them – that is the first step to change. There is no running away from it but yes, you can always have a take on the way an issue is dealt with in a narrative. For creating such an informed stance, you first have to see the actual thing else you are just churning assumptions as opinions. Just as an example, one can have a suggestion that in Saving Face these aspect could have been dealt better: what mechanism established in Pakistan helped the doctor to deal with the patients, or showing the survivor as a resilient force rather than an object of pity. In a response, the team might have answers about how they might have already incorporated these elements.

Are we asking too much from a film-maker? No. Because, if the film has the power to frame mindsets as it is publicly exhibited, more responsibility comes with that power. Similar to how an opinion-piece in a newspaper or an academic research article in a journal can be critiqued. It also provides chances for dialogue and/or rebuttal. Besides, it is important to educate the wider audience that filmmakers may wish to go an extra mile to facilitate change processes such as creating specific programs, creating support systems for marginalized, collecting donations, legislative change etc. but that is not their prime responsibility.

Moreover, documenting the issue is just tip of the iceberg, the next is legislation and eventually, the implementing of legislation to normalize the change. She has done her part, civil society has been championing many issues (including honor killing) for years before Oscars and after the Oscar limelight, it is now government and public which will move the wheel. We can start with small thing such as how to celebrate women achievements, what values do we attach with the concept of honor, what does it mean to be patriotic, what does it mean to be honest or what does it mean to be human, and so on. If we are comfortable in asking constructive questions, the nation is on the right track.

The wonderful quality of the medium of film is that it is multi-layered and multi-faceted so let’s embrace it with all the complexity. Consequently, it is also high time for filmmakers to realize that viewers bring their unique perspective to the film and it is important to be cognizant of it. If it has been made with an intention to help Pakistan, the citizens have a right to share their views as well, else the whole power of the medium becomes counterproductive. All documentaries are work-in-progress, even after the final cut at the edit table. Films have power to initiate the dialogue and that should be respected and not exploited. There is no honor in silence.

Posted in experimental, New Media, pakistan

An ode to karachi, with love.

Karachi is what we make out of it.

It turned out to be a bitter-sweet symphony.

Wasted everything in Bulletino festival – oo ouch, take the world and paint it red. In the end it’s a mess.

To wrap it up, a lullaby to help you sleep;

with love, not on target.

Posted in freedom, New Media, reflections

My two cents on Facebook Ban Saga in Pakistan

Disclaimer: To avoid the confusion, I am not interested about terrorists here  because they won’t listen. I am addressing to the larger share who won’t bomb themselves up. I am addressing to everyone else, whatever stereotype you want to give them. I will try to refrain as much as possible to label specifics except for PTA and Judiciary.

Few days ago, when I was sick and tired of saying NO to attending the repeating ‘Boycott Facebook’ invites I decided to put a status of my Facebook profile. Those who still don’t know what about Boycott Facebook, it is a campaign started against a user-posted page/event on ‘Everybody Draw Mohammad Day’. Depictions of the Prophet are forbidden in Islam but the page owners has this stance – “We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them.” Very cunning way to get an escape in the name of freedom of expression still my Facebook status read, “Boycott me cause I ain’t boycotting anyone.”

Boycotting Facebook, banning over thousand sites in Pakistan or going gaga over a page is not the main issue let alone the solution. It is the mindset at both ends of the spectrum which is disturbing. One who would go at the limits of using freedom of expression as an excuse to defend their act of hurting feelings of a group which triggers to subsequent hatred. The other who are isolating themselves from the world which is nothing but self-harm. Both are extremists in their own domains.

I would like to highlight my propositions at two levels, first my take why Boycotting Facebook was and is not a good idea and secondly how decision-makers at Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is making fool of themselves by blocking internet sites.

Why boycotting isn’t a good idea?

What do we want to achieve by boycotting Facebook? Okay Muslim community is aggravated on the Facebook owner’s indifference towards the page (of not removing it) but is boycotting really a solution? The issue is not about economics here. Facebook wouldn’t even care if it gets a little shortage in revenue, they can still ignore it on the name of living for freedom. If it succeeds then it would be more disastrous because people will succumb to such ways which aren’t healthy.

Even if it’s not Facebook then there would be some other place tomorrow. Boycotting a site that too a social-networking one means you don’t have an outlet to express at global level and therefore isolating yourself. I know there are sentiments involved and I respect them but where is wisdom in discourse? God has given you both heart and intellect. How many of us are really addressing the points in a way that others will hear?

Why haven’t we highlighted a fact like this about richness of Islamic Art when we are encountering an issue related to art and freedom of expression? Why haven’t we highlighted the fact that this kind of acts can be coined as racist in nature? Why not softer side of Muslims? Why not a tolerant interpretation of Islam? Why not the fact that Quran is compiled in a chronological manner but it was not how revelation took place? Why not the fact that Quran doesn’t contradict itself in verses but builds on the discourse like any academia would do too? Why not focus our discussions on history and personality rather than a superficial sketch of Prophet as they made in their minds? And why not this verse from Quran,

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

How many of us have actually put statements like ‘I won’t draw cartoon of Jesus because He is also my prophet’. Personally I won’t want to draw cartoons of Buddha or even Gandhi, they were honorable personalities, even if they weren’t I won’t. Won’t promote anything derogatory, against my ethics at least.  For me when sensitivity is not PRACTICED & we don’t want to learn about others then the sort of freedom of speech and liberal call also seems very narrow as you are still not informed. Moreover in the name of individuality and expression whether it is a cartoon or a hate-speech or in the name of pseudo-intellectualism, we have forgot to honor emotions of others.

This is true both for majority of Muslims and westerners today, we don’t know about each other and the worse part we don’t want to know. We are also in oblivion when we don’t want to reflect and learn about ourselves in a larger domain by which I mean to say branching out into different disciplines like history, culture, literature, arts and sciences. Because whether we like it or not but some of us if not all are ignorant who like to live in a state of nostalgia and not building much worth of to be remembered when they are gone.

We have lost our intellectual honesty and emotional patience. MMA politician getting constipated by someone’s comment on TV said “but remember in emotions anything can happen” and as a student of Muslim Philosophy I say, cherish your emotions but be patient with others, that’s peace (salamti) of Islam. I prefer Karen Armstrong over him any day.

During an interview with Karen Armstrong:

Q: Do you see the cartoon controversy as an issue of free speech?

A: The cartoon controversy was fueled on both sides by extremists. There were secular fundamentalists, with in-your-face, one-sided, free speech. That same newspaper refused to print a caricature of Jesus. In this climate it is particularly dangerous.

We should be following tradition of leading by action if we ‘boast’ our love. Then why do we always fail only in that sphere, humiliating ourselves and also in others eyes. I am not comparing, the only point is that every one is accountable to his/her own and that’s where the care should go not at pinpointing. Even in marketing, it doesn’t end at saying but actually doing the job. In the end, it comes to both side of the extreme; but you come first, don’t forget, no excuses accepted.

How PTA isn’t acting wise right now?

Now the second part, PTA has become a nuisance and have been subjected to a lot of insult in new media including twitter #fbpkban. I have said so much that I don’t want to write any thing. Still these people should understand that censorship which is just down-right blind doesn’t work. Firstly you are taking away mode of expression and communication from people who use it for networking in personal and business concerns. People are asking why YouTube, Wikipedia etc, I ask why Facebook itself in the first place. Discourse will only create awareness and sadly PTA has snatched this chance from us and people behind the event are gaining popularity –> Following the complete ban of Facebook in Pakistan, the offending page has 80,000 members and growing as of Thursday evening.  Moreover, we do you want to create a day of judgment forced over people. Let the people themselves decide and test their faiths, whether they want to go on such degoratory pages or not and with which intention. It is like generalizing intentions of whole nation or community. Some might go there and start relevant and rational conversation and able to change minds. Oh Pakistani democracy and lawyers doesn’t believe it that?

Thank God there are tolerant people too and for some liberals, I would say when you are talking about freedom of speech, do support it but not the malice. PTA ban the malice and try to get selective while attempting that, if you can’t manage please don’t try. In this case doing nothing is better than propagating insanity.  Ban all those anti-anything and vulgar videos first; having said that it won’t make me happier until you ban starplus because it gives my head and soul some serious ache.

An important after-note

If Facebook didn’t delete the page, I would still not boycott because I don’t think that is a correct way to launch our protest so I can’t understand why they are banning. It appears that this is not out of love for God and his prophet but fear of sin, though I am no one to make a judgment. No wonder why we won’t debate and if we do why can we be civil about it. Seldom we become judge-mental like judges of my country. And for the supporters of Lawyers Movements, the concept looks good in theory but in our country the reality is not so rosy; azaad adilya (free judiciary) I don’t think so. They don’t care about criminals as they are busy either protesting or supporting protests. Our nation isn’t less gullible, they will always prefer rhetoric over reflection whether its governmental authorities. political parties, newsroom hosts or clerics.

My understanding of this issue has been enlightened by this keynote address delivered at commonwealth press union conference in 1996, that is a decade ago.  I wish somebody appreciates the wisdom mentioned in this extract.

“The problem comes, of course, when Freedom of the Press is stretched beyond this meaning and used to shield the press – not just from government interference, but from any sense of social accountability. And that is when press liberty turns into press license. Just as press freedom is a means for holding governments accountable, so must the press itself be held accountable for the way it does its work.

Accountable to whom? To the political leaders of the moment? Never. To the larger community and the cultures that comprise it? Always – provided we see the community not as a mere majority of the moment, but as an organic, pluralistic entity.

…Freedom of the Press does not mean the right of any journalist to write and to publish anything he or she wants to say. It is not acceptable for a reporter to cry “censorship” when an editor or a publisher questions his accuracy or his judgment. Nor is it acceptable for editors, managers and proprietors to slip their solemn responsibilities by invoking the same line of defense. They may sometimes say they don’t want to “meddle” with the contents of their publications. This is a weak and dangerous excuse. And too often that comment really disguises an abdication of moral responsibility.

This abdication is particularly troubling when it is used by proprietors or editors to mask their personal quest for financial gain or political influence – or to sustain divisive sectarian agendas. For in the final analysis, the press and those who manage it must also be held accountable to the collective judgments of the community.

Responsible journalists and managers will not want to shield themselves from such judgments. To the contrary, they will eagerly seek them out. They will want to know what thoughtful readers are saying and how responsible advertisers are thinking. They will talk constantly with scholars and religious leaders, with artists and business leaders, with scientists and labor leaders, with educators and community leaders – and yes, with politicians and diplomats and governmental leaders as well. And through such continuing interaction they will develop and refine their sense of how the larger community can best be served.”

Keynote Address at the Commonwealth Press Union Conference
His Highness the Aga Khan
October 17, 1996 Cape Town, South Africa via

Some rational-emotional posts worth reading:

  • Why I won’t boycott Facebook, Blog post by @Fursid
  • Hypocrisy of PTA, by Huma Imtiaz
  • Pakistan Electronic Purdah / Veil, by @AbidBeli
  • It’s a Good thing Facebook was banned writes Sami Shah, writer and standup comedian
  • Opinion peace from FoxNews by Tommy De Sano