Having an opinion in the era of intolerance

We are the followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who is known for utmost tolerance — yet we have zero tolerance for ideas and opinions that are not similar to ours

Having an opinion in the era of intolerance

Response to my opinion piece published last Tuesday had been quite ‘overwhelming’. Some offered threats of dire consequences for ‘challenging the system’, some used extremely abusive language and some asked me what price I was sold off. Certainly, there were some thumbs up too. I am thankful to all my readers for their extreme ‘feedback’ though, as usual, mostly it was disturbing, annoying and frustrating. Having been in the profession for more than two decades, I believe it is part and parcel of the routine. Your harsh feedback once again revealed to me the level of intolerance the Pakistanis have towards difference of opinion.

When we, the media people, stress upon the freedom of expression for ourselves, we shall also give our audience right to express their emotions, feelings, and peace of mind. We do give this right to all our readers, but what should be the limit? The audience has the right to express their feelings and emotions. Very clearly, they don’t have the right to offer threats and use abusive language, and have no right to command the opinion of any journalist, or ask any writer to stop writing ‘against the system and state institutions’.

I am very clear that all the state institutions and the government departments that are funded by the public money are subject to the feedback and criticism. Even judiciary and army are no exception. These two institutions are very sacred to us but no angels. These are run by the human beings who could be as good or bad as anyone could be. They could be as partial and siding and favouring to anyone as anyone of us could be. So, no one needs to be over-hyper, frenzied and weird.

I am copying here the most ‘mild’ email as it is and with all the typos for your consumption. “Hi, I have read your article regarding JIT. I am very much disappointed by your ill thoughts about the justice system of Pakistan. Theoretical justice system in the country is based on Islamic values and principles.  Practically, this has been hijacked by the corrupt mafia. If you think your masters are clean, they should stop interfering in the assessment work of judicial representative.

Other emails were precise and obvious in their meaning, and clearly understood as threats. This needed Editor’s opinion who said, “It’s a comment bordering on threat. Anyway, ignore, this is what happens when you speak up.”

Most emails and tweets do not carry identifiable IDs. Some are anonymous and having names such as Mr Khan, AD Chaudhary, Abdullah and ‘Your Well-wisher’. We dare to get published our opinion with our original names and photographs. Everything that we write and speak goes publicly for the public opinion. Whatever it could be? The threatening elements are so ‘brave’, they have ambiguous email and Twitter IDs. Even, they don’t have the courage to mention their names in the emails they send to threat someone.

All state institutions and government departments that are funded by public money are subject to feedback and criticism

This is really strange behaviour and attitude of the believers of the most tolerant person in the history of mankind — Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). He never snubbed or punished the woman who used to throw filth on him. We cannot forget his visit to Taif Valley, Ghazwa-e-Uhad, and the abusive language used against him, but he always tolerated the extreme behaviours.

We should adopt the legal course for remedies, and raise our deep concerns through peaceful protests. We shall have many other ways to raise our voice without burning the properties of individuals and the ones owned by the state. We really don’t need to kill anyone in the name blasphemy or conflict of opinion. Islam does not condone killing in the name of religion. It even disallows threatening someone when you have difference of opinion.

We are the followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who is known for utmost tolerance, but unfortunately we have zero tolerance for the ideas and opinions that are not similar to ours.  We have turned so rigid in our opinion and faiths that we cannot tolerate difference of views, opinions and different ideas. The Prophet (PBUH) has clearly shown the pathways to deal with such situations and incidents. All of them are non-threatening and non-violent. The justice shall be done through logical judicial process with meaningful and peaceful procedures. I strongly believe that tolerance and peaceful existence is the core essence of the holy month of Ramzan. May we become a society of diverse opinions, and may the justice procedures be meaningful enough to do justice.



The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at devcom.pakistan@gmail.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed



Published in Daily Times, June 20th, 2017.