111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Words and violence

In his reaction to Altaf Hussain’s controversial statement – that Karachi should be separated from Pakistan if the MQM mandate is not acceptable – the British High Commissioner Adam Thomson emphasised British zero tolerance for such ignitable declarations.

Referring to an unprecedented response where thousands of Pakistani complaints against Altaf were sent to the London Metropolitan Police over the last few days, Thomson said the British law-enforcement system took “such allegations very, very seriously indeed,” and if proved guilty, the MQM chief could face a jail sentence.

It may be noted that Altaf Hussain and other party leaders have repeatedly countered that his statement was taken out of context by the media. This however brings to mind another statement of Altaf Hussain, warning the media that if they did not mend their ways, somebody from his organisation of millions of people might lose his cool. “If that person does something bad to one of you, (thoke dey), don’t blame the MQM or Altaf Hussain.” He is reported to have said that “if the MQM ran out of patience, then neither the anchors nor the owners of the media houses would find a place to hide.” (The News, May16).

One does not have to be a legal expert to perceive this as a thinly veiled threat that cannot and should not be ignored without investigation. The MQM’s justification that Altaf was merely warning the media out of concern for their safety is untenable.

The emerging power of the Tehreek-e-Insaf and the increasing tendency of Karachi’s silent majority to stand up for itself in ‘MQM’s Karachi’ are enough to frustrate Altaf Bhai and his loyalists. This is understandable; even so such statements can be seriously harmful and may cost somebody his or her life under the prevailing volatile realities of Pakistan. Such words should not be spoken and if spoken must not be treated lightly.

The British High Commissioner’s statement is therefore quite encouraging. His words are all the more significant against the backdrop of another case in the UK that concerns British law against spreading hatred and incitement to violence.

Ending his nearly four-decades of affiliation with the Labour Party this Monday Lord Nazir resigned following a row over his alleged anti-Semitic remarks during a television broadcast in Pakistan. The British parliamentarian of Kashmiri origin, who was appointed to the House of Lords by Tony Blair in 1998, was suspended from the Labour Party in March 2013.

This transpired following a report in the Times pertaining to Nazir’s remarks that the pressure exerted on the British courts by Jewish owners of newspaper and TV channels had resulted in his prison sentence for dangerous driving. Although, he was later cleared and reinstated by the party, he tendered his resignation two days before a hearing on his alleged remarks.

In his resignation letter to Labour Party’s Eric Wilson, Nazir argued: “I am being held to account following a publication in the Times of an interview alleged to have been given by me some two years ago to a Pakistani anchor based in Pakistan. I do not recall when this interview was held, where this interview was held and nor the person who carried out this interview. All I know is what has been reported in the Times. I reject the core story that emerges out of the alleged interview.”

He regretted that “the translation of the purported transcript of the alleged interview had many gaps (inaudible) which put its credibility in question and it was against the rules of natural justice to decide his political career in the party on the basis of the flawed evidence.”

More interestingly, however, Lord Nazir also pointed out that recently his picture was published in a Pakistani newspaper with Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba with whom he had no contact whatsoever for the past three years. He complained that a campaign had been launched against him “because of my pursuit of the inquiry of a murder of a Pakistani politician – in the streets of London.” Are the British authorities going to address Nazir’s concerns and investigate the veracity of his allegation? After all, such campaigns, if launched, can be threatening, abusive and potentially violent.

Lord Nazir may or may not be guilty of the alleged misconduct. His statements may be part of his defence tactics or a reflection of the potential political costs ensuing from hurting Jewish sensibilities in the west. Whatever the truth, the hearing committee is upholding the law by investigating him. Anti-Semitic behaviour is, after all, outlawed under the UK law.

However, anti-Semitism is not the only kind of violent and prejudiced behaviour that is outlawed. UK statutes such as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 prohibit anyone from using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour thereby causing harassment, alarm or distress against another person or ethnic communities.

One can infer from the British High Commissioner’s words that the “very independent” British police is bound to step in whenever hatred or violence is being incited, turning one community against another. In other words, Thomson is assuring us of the British intolerance of any of its citizen’s recourse to threats or violence towards other communities, races or nations. The Labour Party’s response to Lord Nazir’s alleged anti-Semitism seems to prove the point.

Therefore, when Adam Thomson – referring to Altaf Hussain’s pearls of wisdom – tells us that “statements like this have to be taken seriously” we must take him seriously and expect an unbiased investigation of the MQM chief’s allusions to Pakistan’s sovereignty and the independence of its media.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email: talatfarooq11@gmail.com

Talat Farooq, "Words and violence," The News. 2013-05-18.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political issues , Political parties , Society-Pakistan , International media , Mass media , Politicians , Altaf Hussain , Hafiz Saeed , Adam Thomson , Tony Blair , Pakistan , Karachi , London , MQM , PTI