The ifs and buts of freedom

Shut up or practice freedom of expression at your own peril

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Our rights, our institutions, their powers and scope are under protection of the third Constitution since independence. Unlike our next door neighbour and old friend in the west, who’ve been stuck with the same Constitution and been amending it ever since, we have had three since our inception

The way to live a free, abundant life goes thus: We are free to say whatever pleases us, however, we better not say ‘this’ about ‘that’, ‘that’ about ‘this’, ‘that-this’ about ‘this-that’, ‘this-that’ about ‘that-this’ and anything else that can remotely irk or irritate


‘To each his own,’ I came across this line in a book titled Salmond on Jurisprudence — a mandatory English jurisprudence reference book all law students buy, few law students read and cherish while the majority preserve it for their progeny — back in 2011 during my first year of law. The line has stayed with me ever since. I still wonder that how someone managed to put four ordinary, simple words together in such a magnificent way that they preach an entire belief system, constitute a whole worldview, and encapsulate a way to live and let live.

Dearest sirs and ma’ams, few other concepts are contested more fiercely, denied more ferociously and wanted more desperately than freedom. The first son of Lord Law, freedom is given as a right and taken away as a punishment by those who adjudicate earthly matters between us mortals.

Our rights, our institutions, their powers and scope are under protection of the third Constitution since independence. Unlike our next door neighbour and old friend in the west, who’ve been stuck with the same Constitution and been amending it ever since, we have had three since our inception. Our elders sacked the previous two Constitutions — 1956 and 1962 — because they were either the product of conniving, petty politicians or brainchild of a certain mighty Mr Field Marshal. After losing one half of the motherland, we hammered out the third Constitution before celebrating our 26th birthday. Enter, the Supreme Law of 1973, a bruised, battered survivor who persevered better than its predecessors.

The very first chapter of our Supreme Law deals with Fundamental Right. And we, the good folks of Pakistan have plenty of them, two dozens to be precise. Our many rights and freedoms are given protection by the Supreme Law. We are ensured of our freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions, freedom of association, freedom of trade ‘subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law’.

We also have been granted other fundamental rights like security of person, safeguards as to arrest and detention, right to fair trial by our Big Green Book.

Above is how the text looks. The practice, however, looks thus; In our modern times the newspapers have become passe and a leash has successfully been tied around TV channels where politicians are fair game and opportunities showcasing patriotism aplenty. An avenue for criticism and critical thought opened in our land where student unions are virtually absent and all creatures of left-wing are either in their graves, in academia, on facebook or awaiting perdition in ICU.

And its name is Media, Social Media. And plans and strategies are afoot to stifle it before it starts laying eggs. Dearest sirs and ma’ams, a very clear, unequivocal line divides the realm of liberty from Wild Wild West of license. In the realm of liberty, there are rules, regulations, checks and balances on what is being said and the consequences that accrue from it. If your speech aims to haunt, tease, ridicule, threaten, spread hatred about all things holy and sacred, you are put in the dock and made to face the music.

What doesn’t happen in the realm of liberty is folks who criticise Those Who Must Not Be Named don’t go ‘missing’, in their absence they are not labelled as ‘blasphemers’ in smear campaigns live telecast on ‘idiot-boxes’ sans proof, sans anything. But, as we all know, we don’t live in the realm of liberty, we dwell in a land where few who go by the name of ‘Unidentified Individuals’ have the license to kill, kidnap, campaign, put up banners, put down dissent, plot for the greater good, run free. Ours is a Wild-Wild West governed by license masquerading around as a realm of liberty.

We, dearest sirs and ma’ams, learn the difference between rights and duties, liberty and limitations, freedom and restraint, criticism and abuse as we gain in years. We also come to know about taboos in our society and no-go areas we must never enter along the way. What we learn the hard way is to conform, to be cautious of what we say, to censor words we scribble away.

The way to live a free, abundant life goes thus: We are free to say whatever pleases us, however, we better not say ‘this’ about ‘that’, ‘that’ about ‘this’, ‘that-this’ about ‘this-that’, ‘this-that’ about ‘that-this’ and anything else that can remotely irk or irritate.

I’ve almost reached the limits of space for my column, so I better tell you about the newest game in town. It’s called ‘Who is more Pious, ehh?’. The rules are simple, in order to prove one’s piety and devotion, an individual must shed tears, make mighty promises, take stringent actions against culprits, talk of hereafter and how one is willing to give up all worldly possessions and position to secure the sanctity of all that is sacred and holy.

The game is on. The results aren’t in yet. Surely, we’ll know who emerges as Mr Most Pious in coming days. Till then, let us live by the ifs and buts of freedom.

Shah Nawaz Mohal

The writer is a law graduate and member of staff, Islamabad Bureau.



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