Pervez Musharaf has been barred from addressing students in an event that was due on 24th of August at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London. It was unprecedented. A few months ago, Mark Regev, Israel ambassador in UK, came SOAS to address Jewish students. There was a huge campaign by students and academics against Regev talk because many SOAS academics are banned from entering Israel. The demand was simple, Israel does not allow our academics so we would not share our space with Israel’s diplomat. Despite a massive campaign, SOAS administration did not cancel the event, in fact, called additional security. Pakistan Solidarity Campaign UK, Awami Workers Party UK, Baloch and Sindhi activists and other progressive friends had gathered and wrote to SOAS to demand cancellation of Musharraf’s event as he is declared an absconder, he toppled an elected government and is involved heinous human rights abuse in Balochistan. Due to our campaign, SOAS administration issued a statement clarifying that no booking was made for the ‘former president’ nor is SOAS involved in any capacity. In this whole process, there are two things I would like to discuss here. First, during this campaign, there were people who argued that Musharraf should be allowed and given chance to speak as this is his ‘freedom of speech’ (FoS). I believe that needs to be examined first. I do not think that there is ‘absolute’ free speech. I am convinced with the poststructuralist school that knowledge is shaped by the power structure, and similarly, I believe the idea of free speech is shaped by structures which draw a line between ‘free’ and ‘unacceptable’ speech. In Musharraf’ case, he was not invited by SOAS nor was it an academic discussion. It was being organised by a Pakistani local media house and if anyone who even little knows about Pakistan, could surely say that how much our media allows critique and tough questions on military and its role in politics. More importantly, Musharraf is not an ordinary case here; he is an absconder who escaped from Pakistan over an excuse of ‘medical condition’ and involved in serious crimes against state and people. His open freedom to roam in Europe is also an insult to the rights of those who have been seeking justice against him. Furthermore, a person like him deserves one place where they could and should express themselves, and that is the court of law. Second, it is disturbing to see political upbringing of Pakistani students (mostly elites) who are studying in different universities in London. My first impression at SOAS with Pakistani students was highly surprising. After listening to them for few minutes, I asked one of the PakSoc members if they were apolitical. And his reply was self-explanatory. He said, ‘No, no! We have nothing to do with politics.’ This ‘apolitical-ness’ or political neutrality is quite evident among many Pakistani students and societies (of course, not everyone) in London. They feel proud over this for unknown reasons. But a closer look suggests that many of these ‘apolitical’ students are supporters of the political role of the military in our country’s politics. Of course, this claims is based on observation and there is less empirical data on Pakistani students in London, but we could not deny that there has been high support for military influence in politics, according to PEW survey. In this case, SOAS Pakistan Society – out of many protests and talks organised by progressive groups in the campus – chose to share this event on its page. The question is why did an ‘apolitical’ society share a political event; that too of former dictator? Our generation of students is the product of dictatorial rule. We saw Musharraf overthrowing a ‘corrupt’ Nawaz Sharif. We were told that Sharif’s and Bhutto’s looted this country. We were told that Kargil war failed because of Nawaz Sharif. This discourse in our politics has helped non-civilian elements to create their dominance and influence in politics The answer is simple: our generation of students is the product of dictatorial rule. We saw Musharraf overthrowing a ‘corrupt’ Nawaz Sharif. We were told that Sharif’s and Bhutto’s looted this country. We were told that Kargil war failed because of Nawaz Sharif. The most important narrative – which Musharaf himself has claimed – is that dictators are the messiah who come and save our country from the menace of ‘evil’ and ‘corrupt’ civilians. This discourse of messiah in our politics has helped non-civilian elements to create their dominance and influence in politics and most importantly, in our minds. SOAS PakSoc is a prime example of it who – despite their firm believe in political neutrality – couldn’t stop themselves by sharing (endorsing) this event and most interestingly, most of them are British-born who enjoy democracy in Britain and sympathise with dictators back in Pakistan. Lastly, in order to defeat this messiah narrative, we need to challenge those elements who demonise civilian rule and we need to start it from media as it is the most persuasive tool for opinion making. In the case of Musharraf, our lawmakers -and more specifically to PEMRA – should instruct all media houses not give space to him until he comes back and faces all trials. When Altaf Hussain could be denied for raising anti-Pakistan slogans then why not Musharraf – who violated country’s constitution which is much bigger crime than Hussain? I think it’s time to end glorification of dictatorial regimes from every medium, be it curriculum, history and media. The writer is a Chevening alumni and has studied Religion in Global Politics at SOAS. He tweets @jafferamirza Published in Daily Times, August 27th 2017.