The eighth edition of the Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) is taking place this weekend. It is refreshing to see cultural events like the LLF take place in the country because we are fast becoming a society that doesn’t celebrate culture and critical thinking anymore.
From Orhan Pamuk to William Dalrymple, from Audrey Truschke to Fatima Bhutto, from Omar Shahid Hamid to Vali Nasr, the line-up at the LLF is brilliant. It was good to see on the first day sessions discussing journalist integrity and the poetry of Pashtun poet Rehman Baba.
Pakistanis boast generosity, kindness and hospitality. Yet there is something we are slowly but surely losing – tolerance. When movies like Zindagi Tamasha cannot be screened and Urdu translations of fictional books are not allowed, we should know that there’s something wrong. Neither do we entertain critical thinking nor do we tolerate difference of opinion. Also, we are quite a judgemental lot.
Last month, Fahad Mirza posted a picture of his European holiday with his wife Sarwat Gilani. They were kissing in the picture. Comments on social media under that picture were mostly so negative and vile that Gilani had to ask haters to unfollow her if they hated her so much. Imagine that a picture displaying affection between a husband and wife on social media could lead to such negativity, little wonder then that victims of sexual harassment get the sort of abuse that they do online and offline.
Recently, we saw our parliamentary debates turn rowdy. The level of debates was not just low but downright personal. From Abdul Qadir Patel’s innuendo-laden speech targeting Murad Saeed to Saeed’s own abusive speech about “dogs” ruling Sindh, the level of discourse in parliament was quite disgraceful. If the people’s representatives can stoop so low, what kind of message are we giving to our citizens? No wonder then that peaceful protestors are booked under sedition charges and the prime minister thinks Maulana Fazlur Rehman should be tried for high treason under Article 6 of the constitution.
FIA issued a statement saying that columnist Gul Bukhari will be charged with terrorism and her property confiscated if she doesn’t appear before the agency in Pakistan within 30 days. And this is because the government doesn’t like Bukhari’s tweets. One doesn’t have to agree with Bukhari’s tweets, but since when has criticism become terrorism? This is a country where terrorist Ehsanullah Ehsan escapes and flees to Turkey while the government remains silent except for interior minister’s confirmation – after over a week – but the same wants to regulate social media by asking tech companies to open their offices in Pakistan and share data of users the government thinks are making anti-state state?
Intolerance on social media is at another level. If you support ‘ABC’ party, ‘XYZ’ party’s supporters will call you names we can only hope they never take in front of their families. Difference of opinion is not tolerated anymore – both online and offline. Thus to have literary festivals like the LLF, which celebrate critical thinking and have discussions on culture, arts, poetry and literature, is a blow of fresh air.