Closing Open Spaces

Yesterday, my Facebook timeline was swamped with news about the horrific murder of Sabeen Mahmud, in Karachi, Pakistan. I hadn’t known or heard of Sabeen Mahmud until yesterday. She was a social and human rights activist and was also the director of The Second Floor (T2F): ‘a café and arts space that has been a mainstay of Karachi’s activists since it opened its doors in 2007.’

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I had heard a lot of about T2F in Karachi but I had never been to T2F. I guess I didn’t have anyone to go there with and felt socially awkward attending any event all alone. But that’s another story.

The outcry on social media about Sabeen Mahmud’s death has indeed been overwhelming. On my Facebook timeline, at least 32 different people, if not more, posted about this unfortunate event. The popular narrative on the social media, so far, has been that Mahmud was killed for hosting an event about Balochistan’s missing people.

Balochistan is a Pakistani province that is plagued with a civil war of sorts between the Pakistani State (i.e., military and intelligence agencies) and various nationalist, separatist groups that seek complete independence from Pakistan.

The activists from Balochistan blame the Pakistani intelligence agencies for the systematic disappearance of many Baloch activists, including those who did not take up arms, as well as ordinary, non-activists. To discuss this, amongst other issues faced by Balochi people, T2F had organized the event “Unsilencing Balochistan.” Mahmud was shot soon after the event.

However, as far as I see, it is still too early to draw any conclusions about the individuals/group responsible for the assassination for Mahmud and the police are still “investigating the case from various angles to ascertain the motive behind the incident.

Raza Rumi, a Pakistani journalist, who himself escaped assassination in March 2014 and now lives in US, due to his secular views and vocal opposition of militant Islam, was deeply saddened by Mahmud’s death. He said that Sabeen Mahmud “was neither a political partisan nor a power seeker but Pakistan’s state and non-state actors are averse to any form of dissent. This is why she had to be killed.

Whatever may be the motive and whoever may be the culprit, one thing is absolutely certain: progressive, pluralist and secular voices that encourage and promote open spaces for creative expression, humanistic dialogue and peaceful coexistence are being silenced in Pakistan.

Time and again, it has been proven, without an iota doubt, that anyone challenging the prevalent social, political and religious beliefs in Pakistan will not be spared. Those who, in all honesty, raise their voice against the tyrannical system are squashed like bugs. In fact, the value of human life is not very different from that of an insect. It’s sad to see the direction Pakistani society is heading. Tolerance, peace, brotherhood and progress are all mirages in the barren desert of Pakistan.

People like myself are unfortunately left with no option but to leave Pakistan. To quote an atheist friend of mine, who left Pakistan to settle in Australia:

THIS is why!

You ask me why I worked hard all my life, planning to and choosing to get out of there just to make a strange country my new home, feeling lonely without any of the people I grew up with…

THIS IS WHY

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Notes on Sex (Positivism)

For a change, I will write on a topic other than Islam. However, it’s not completely outside the scope of Islam as what I am about to narrate can literally get me lynched by any given fanatic, Muslim mob.

Day before yesterday, I attended a Meetup group event. To be more specific, I have joined this group that calls itself the “Godless Perverts.” Spearheaded by the dynamic, Greta Christina, the group convenes every first Tuesday and third Thursday of the month at San Francisco’s premier, first and only kink cafe: Wicked Grounds.

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The first Tuesday gatherings are loosely structured and people just chat about whatever they want. The third Thursday meetings are more structured and revolve around a specific topic that is decided before hand. Day before yesterday’s topic was “What is sex-positivism?”

Including myself, there were 13 people in total. I was asked to be the co-moderator of the session and the discussion kicked off by a check-in question, which was something like the following:

Define in as few words as possible: what does sex-positivism mean to you?

Different people said different things. One person, much like myself, confessed his ignorance about sex-positivism and said that he had come to the event, just to learn more about the topic of discussion. Based on what people said, if I am asked the same question right now, I will probably say that sex-positivism is about promoting a positive view of sexuality wherein one should not be ashamed of sex. A hall-mark of sex-positivism is consensual sex. Sex positivism is not about glorifying sex for the sake of having sex. It does not posit that sex is inherently awesome and that we should all jump in a crazy orgy of mindless fucking. It is rather about consent. It is about consent to have sex or not to have sex, depending upon the individual’s feelings and the social context.

According to the moderator of the evening, sex-positivism developed as sort of a reaction against Second-Wave feminism, which had come to look down upon activities such as pornography and sex-work. It’s obvious that any ideology/movement that is reactionary in its nature has the potential to become extreme and that happened with sex-positivism as well. However, with the passage of time, sex-positivism has evolved into a more mature and nuanced weltanschauung (if I can possibly use this word).

According to my understanding, it can now be seen as a form of sex ethics based on human ethics that respects and values consensual desire, freedom of choice and, perhaps, the limits thereof.

It’s really difficult for me to talk about the definition of sex-positivism anymore without moving into philosophy. I’ll, therefore, change track and skip to the second half of the discussion, which started off with an announcement about an unfamiliar yet equally interesting topic. One of the discussion participants distributed flyers about a non-profit organization called Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLER).

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As seen from the handout, ‘ESPLER filed a complaint with the US District Court on March 4, 2015 challenging California’s current anti-prostitution law, Penal Code 647(b).’

This was news to me. And, from the perspective of sex-positivism, it made perfect sense. Of course, prostitution should be outlawed if individuals are coerced into it. However, depriving ‘individuals of the fundamental right to engage in consensual, private sexual activity’, under the umbrella-term of prostitution, does not seem to be too reasonable. A sex-positivist will rightly object to any such law and show support for an organization like ESPLER. To paraphrase one of the participants: ‘Sex is an innate desire of living beings and can be consensually explored with great adventure!’

Anyway, the second half of the meeting was about relationship between sex and religion. For some odd reason, the discussion mostly revolved around New Age sex parties where one had to pray to some goddess and perform sex as part of some pagan ritual and how unreasonable and unsafe such parties were.

Towards the end of this discussion, I made a comment which elicited a strong reaction from many people but, nonetheless, gave the moderator an interesting idea for a future discussion topic. My comment was that good, wholesome sex was, in some ways, spiritual.

A lot of people instantly cringed at the word ‘spiritual’. I did, however, use this word with obvious caveats stating that spirituality is a rather nebulous term and, perhaps, not without religious/supernatural undertones.

A gentleman said that the term spiritual can simply be summed up in 4 words: amygdalae, endorphins, serotonin and one more word, which I can’t seem to recall. There was others who objected by saying that they have had amazing sex yet felt nothing spiritual about it.

I believe one can be spiritual without being religious for I see any creative activity as spiritual. In fact, and to quote Wikipedia: “In a more general sense, it [spirituality] may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience.”

My closing remark was that any great sexual experience has the potential to be translated into a religious experience, to which a gentleman replied that only if one holds the religious card. That marked the end of our discussion.

The topic for next month will be ‘Secular Transcendence.’ How can transcendence be defined and subsequently achieved within a secular, non-theistic framework is a question we will try to deal with next month. I’ll try to blog about this upcoming meet-up as well. Let’s see how it goes. Till then, as a Godless Pervert, I’ll corrupt the Bible and say to everyone out there: “Eat, drink and have sex for tomorrow we die!

Islamic polarization

Yet another attack on religious minorities in Pakistan. On March 15, 2015, two churches were bombed in the Youhanabad area in Pakistan that left ’17 people dead and more than 70 wounded.’

It’s routine news now and people in Pakistan have accepted such attacks as part of their daily lives. Despite all the hue and cry on social media, the sad reality is that extremism is not going down any time soon. An offshoot of the Pakistan Taliban, calling itself Jamatul Ahrar, has said it carried out the attack.

What can these Islamic militants possibly achieve through such heinous acts? To establish the supremacy of Islam? Clearly that is not happening. Neither do these acts encourage non-Muslims, such as Christians, to embrace Islam. If anything, attacks like these make Islam all the more repulsive as an ideology and way of life.

Of course, the so-called moderates will say, this is not Islam. But what is Islam other than that which is practiced? For sure, Islam is not a monolith. However, these terrorists are as much Muslims as the peace-loving Sufis for they both proclaim the Oneness of Allah and finality of Prophet Muhammad.

It’s always difficult to draw the line. This brings me back to the age-old, fundamental question: who is Muslim and who has the right to decide on who a Muslim is?

For the fundamental fanatics, the mainstream moderates, the superstitious Sufis and the liberal secularists are not Muslims. For the liberal secularists and so-called moderates, the fundamental fanatics aren’t. In a previous post, I talked about the increasing polarization between the Muslim and the non-Muslim world. It is interesting to note that there is a growing polarization amongst the Muslims as well: between the violent and non-violent Muslims.

With the way things are going, I suspect that the Muslims will end up in two major factions. One faction will compose of the sympathizers and supporters of the fundamental fanatics, who would be ready to wage a war against the non-Muslims in general and Westerners in particular.  The other faction will actually be those inclined towards peace and liberty. This faction will ultimately end up being not much different from the peace-loving non-Muslims and Westerners in the eyes of the hard-core fanatics. In other words, Islam would become that which is practiced by the Taliban and ISIS and there will be no room for moderate thought. The moderates would cease to exist and the liberals would be all non-Muslims.

This is an extremely scary scenario and I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen. However, the way things are going, it seems highly probable that such a situation may arise. Let’s see how events unfold.