Mythbusting the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015

If you’re an Internet user in Pakistan (We have so much in common! We should totes do coffee sometime!) or if you have access to a newspaper, chances are you’ve heard about the Cybercrime Bill of the Apocalpyse that will eat your lunch, take all your money, smash your petunias, and destroy everything you have ever loved. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or maybe go on vacation, perhaps to La La land (tickets 50% off) because your loving and nurturing Government will protect you from all the bad things in the world. Maybe even yourself—you do get so naughty sometimes, you know, maybe it would be best if you just let someone else take charge of all your thinking.

Feeling dazed?

Have no fear, The Barefooted Bookworm is here. Here to tell you I feel ya, bro. Because I was starting to get pretty dazed ourselves, I decided to trust my own senses and get to the bottom of this mystery.

Mystery solving kit:

  1. A copy of The One True Bill
  2. Social media research (Facebook pages, Facebook posts, cat memes…)
  3. A brain
  4. Some more social media research
  5. Might need a new brain after this

Now to boldly go where no media circus has gone before. Presenting: The Truth or Something Like It.

“The Cybercrimes bill has already been passed, there’s no use protesting about it now!”

No, that was a draft. But thanks for playing.

Status: False

“The Cybercrimes act will make it illegal to post Facebook comments!”

No, unless you routinely post death threats to religious minorities and/or make unwanted sexual suggestions towards women you come across on Facebook. In which case: yes–but I doubt you’ll be missed.

Status: False.

“The proposed spam law is so broad, I could go to jail for Facebook messaging a friend about today’s college assignment!”

Yes. That is exactly what the government wants: prevent you from doing your homework. Try telling that to your professor. Keep in mind the clause requires “illegal marketing” and the expressed wish of the receiver to “unsubscribe” in order to count something as spam. So make sure you also offer to sell your friend smuggled AK-47s, but only after they tell you to quit asking them how many columns the prof wanted all the info sorted into because they already told you, like, three times during college.

Note “intelligence”. Breathe sigh of relief.
Note “intelligence”. Breathe sigh of relief.

Status: False.

“My hobby is street photography. Under this bill, I could be charged for posting photos of people without their permission!”

Rest assured, your Diane Arbus and Humans of New York inspired dreams are safe. If you intend to harass and/or blackmail the people photographed in your streetscapes, however, then we might have a problem.

Doesn’t get any clearer than “INTENT TO COERCE OR INTIMIDATE OR HARASS ANY PERSON”, does it?
Doesn’t get any clearer than “INTENT TO COERCE OR INTIMIDATE OR HARASS ANY PERSON”, does it?

Status: False.

“All I want to do is read some news, maybe blog something while having a nice lunch and this Bill orders my favorite restaurant to keep tabs on my browsing activity!”

The PEC expands the definition of “service provider” to include anyone who owns and operates a publicly accessible wifi network. It also orders them, under penalty of law, to keep records of all traffic data for up to one year. In case you were wondering, it defines “traffic data” as absolutely any data your restaurant can keep related to your Internet usage. But hey, look on the bright side—this could be the start of a long and beautiful friendship…with whoever is assigned to monitor you all. It’s like the NSA but so much closer to your home. Maybe with tastier cookies. You like cookies, don’t you?

You might want to put a stronger password on your home wifi now. FYI: the whole neighborhood knows your cat’s name.
You might want to put a stronger password on your home wifi now. FYI: the whole neighborhood knows your cat’s name.

Status: True.

“This Bill steps all over my constitutional rights and allows the government to block whatever it wants, whenever it wants, without being accountable to anyone but itself!”

What, you mean you didn’t want to live in an Orwellian nightmare nanny state where your every move online is watched and the government decides it’s better suited to being your moral conscience than your actual moral conscience, especially when its own interests are at stake? Then you shouldn’t have signed up to be born in Pakistan.

Govt: “Lolz.”


Status: True.

“Hey wait! There are NO such clauses about harassment or spamming or even censorship in the draft approved by the National Assembly!”

Well who would’ve thought that? You’re right. There are multiple versions of the “final” draft in circulation on the Internet. The version on the NA website, that Minister of IT Anusha Rehman insists she has and that she can confirm was tabled in front of the National Assembly, contains no clauses whatsoever regarding spam or harassment. (Yay? Boo?) On the other hand, noted industry representatives such as P@SHA have access to another “final” version of the draft that includes all these clauses and more. Which witch is which?

Click for Dramatic Evil Twin version.
Click for Dramatic Evil Twin version.

Status: True-ish.

So…there are different versions of the draft being used by each side of the debate, there’s an “official” version on the National Assembly’s website and a different “official” version on the websites of the organizations protesting this, and there many competing interests and conflicting sources, and there are potentially some VERY important rights hanging in the balance. This article is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the bill(s) and I will keep following this issue, including reaching out to all parties concerned for comment as the story develops , but at this point it’s anyone’s guess what the best way forward is. I don’t know where this will end up or whether we’ll be better off or not. But one thing is for sure: no number of sleazy social media teams or scumbag politicians can take away from the fact that this issue has managed to get more of the public actively interested in digital rights and the future of the Internet than we’ve seen in a long time.

Hey, it’s called a silver lining, you ingrates.


Whither the Beloved Country?

I didn’t hear about journalist Cyril Almeida‘s investigation and subsequent tweets against the restaurant La Maison through the news or any blogs he might have written. I heard about it from my friends on Facebook, people who are otherwise active in liberal circles and rightfully vocal against the many injustices of Pakistani society. They were complaining about his outrage that a restaurant in Pakistan bans Pakistanis unless they hold a dual nationality.

Read that again.

They were complaining about his actions, not the restaurant’s policies. Complaints like: Why the fuss? Why the hue and cry about racism? After all, aren’t Pakistanis themselves some of the most racist lot on the planet? And if you can’t go to that place because you have the misfortune of just being a Pakistani in Pakistan, then go somewhere else–why start a whole twitter campaign against the restaurant or question the legality of his policy? Perhaps you’re just envious. Perhaps you just really want some attention from those white people to feel good about yourself, don’t you? That must be it. Definitely.

The restaurant for its part insists this policy is out of respect for Muslim sensibilities because its menu consists entirely of non-Halal food. (Interestingly those Muslim sensibilities don’t matter when it comes to hiring someone to assist in cooking, serving, and cleaning up after this food nor is it something worth mentioning when looking for a bartender.) The owner Philippe Lafforgue even went to the trouble of emailing Almeida, ending with the words:

By the way this weekend I was reading the ads in the news and all the adds for renting house in Islamabad were for FOREIGNERS and MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES ONLY.
Swedish villas in Lahore are only on rent for foreigners. They refuse Pakistani people.
International club in Lahore and Sindh Club in Karachi do not accept Pakistani people, EVEN AS A GUEST.
If I go to [the] Diplomatic Enclave and if you go…I will go with my passport, just showing it, and you will have to take a ticket, pay the fees, and go by bus.
The guest house right close [to] mine is only reserved for CHINESE PEOPLE .
I will stop the list because I don’t want to waste your time. But yes, so many discrimination in this country.
But I don’t…
[Source ; this excerpt edited for readability]

Reading this reminds me there was a time when it was acceptable in this part of the world to say “No natives allowed in here…unless they’re serving you your tea.” You can’t say it in those words anymore, but there are always ways to get around such technicalities. Since when did “Pakistani” become synonymous with “Muslim”? How does possession of a dual nationality make a difference if they are still a Muslim? What about their sensibilities then? Since when did it become okay to be racist depending on who you were being racist towards?

But then I’m reminded how true the words of Lafforgue (and some of my friends) are: Pakistanis really aren’t allowed into the Diplomatic Enclave of their ‘own’ country, and entire chunks of our provinces effectively belong to either militants or foreign corporations; meanwhile a yet more subtle form of colonization has been quietly making its way through my culture and, if license plates are to be believed, I now live in ‘al-Bakistan’. Our repeatedly revised history is just as murky as our future, and we’ve learned things work out better for us if we just keep our head low and plod through the confusion without asking too many questions. Pakistani sovereignty is practically a myth, adorning our self-image not unlike the emperor’s new clothes: we can’t really see it, but the crafty tailors stitching together our official state narrative insist it’s there.

If once greed and political folly let colonial forces in, now greed and political folly disguised as religious devotion and patriotism provide cover for the same. Since the 1970s, Muslim Pakistanis can legally be denied service if they try to purchase alcohol; this is done in the name of Islam without a second thought to the fact that faith is not something that must be enforced upon you but something that comes from within, and that people must have the freedom of choice if any choice is to mean anything. A Muslim who doesn’t drink because alcohol isn’t available is NOT making an “Islamic” choice or living an “Islamic” life: he/she is making no choices at all, and living a life devoid of the responsibilities that come with those choices. When you turn faith into a political platform, both lose their essence and integrity. So of course Lafforgue can argue in favor of his decision on the basis of religion–who else hasn’t? And of course, an unspoken apartheid has long existed against the invisible majority of Pakistan: the 108.06 million people living below the poverty line. They cannot legally be barred from places for being Pakistani, but it’s easy to deny them service for being poor: the preferred tactic seems to be “ignore them till they go away”.

In the midst of all this, I’m left asking: What does it mean to be able to say “my country” when I am a second-class citizen in this country by virtue of belonging to it? What happened to the Pakistan where we could be equal in life, liberty and dignity regardless of our faith, class, race, sex or anything else? Did we bury its corpse in the pages of our Constitution? Or was it all simply a figment of someone’s imagination, literally a philosopher-poet’s dream–as we teach our children in school?

There more than 180 million people living on this little strip of land. If racism is widespread, if elitist oppression is rampant, does that mean we should stop no-one from being racist or elitist simply because we can’t stop everyone? Does that mean people who are minimally affected by the status quo–people who already belong to the elite, or as in this case people who have that oh-so-coveted proof they are “good enough to NOT be Pakistani”–can joke about how amusing it is that the rest of us call such things unfair? Is it okay for them to dismiss our outrage as trivial? Is it okay for all of us to dismiss such discrimination as simply part and parcel of being “ordinary Pakistanis”? What were the struggles of the Independence movement for if not to allow us a chance to live free, no longer treated like squatters in our own homeland? Where is the country that supposedly resulted from this? Where is my Pakistan?

Once upon a time, the land where my ancestors were born and lived officially became property of a monarch a continent away. They worked in fields that had been in their family for generations, but the crops they grew now belonged to the people of another country even before they were planted. The earth clinging to the ancient bones of their forebears was borrowed from the British Empire, and when those bones turned to ash & dust till you couldn’t tell apart what was dirt and what was human, the Empire owned the bodies that gave life to me.

This is what colonialism feels like: disintegrating from inside-out, bones to dust, till all your futures and all your pasts are owned by someone else. One might also argue this is what colonialism is: disembodiment, an illusion of independence and substance confined to the present. Perhaps you walk around thinking yourself free to move but the roads open to you are decided by another, and perhaps you talk about history but both your cradle and your grave are only as allowed to you by another. Rootless and erased, remade in the image of those who define you by dismantling you. In that way it is no different from the other forms of enslavement, and like them you have to experience it to be able to understand it. And also like them, it is easier to ignore it than to change it, especially after you’ve convinced yourself you’ve fought your way out of it. Bruises heal and scars fade, but that which lives within us has a way of lingering long after.

“Nationalism” (Essay)

To define the controversial political ideology ‘Nationalism’, we must first define ‘Nation’. It is a community of people linked by race, religion, language, or geographical location. Nationalism is the ideology that such a community forms a separate sociopolitical group; nationalists seek to safeguard the interests of this particular group, as well as take precautions necessary to preserve what they see as its distinct identity. Nationalism as a phenomenon can be found in virtually every society in the modern world, but scholars suggest the roots of modern nationalism are European. It rose to prominence after the Napoleonic period. As the nation-states of Europe came into their own, it was necessary for their success to have a shared belief that could hold their people together. The 18th and 19th centuries were also a time of expansionist tactics and empire-building. While it certainly lent ferocity to their own nationalist sentiments, colonialism is regarded by some as the reason for the spread of the ideology to non-Western societies. A lack of non-Western classical texts on the subject written in the pre-colonial era is cited as evidence for this. I disagree, and in this essay I shall attempt to discuss the place of nationalism in the subcontinent, specifically Pakistan. Asian cultures, particularly those found in the subcontinent, are very strongly collectivist. The importance of the whole is stressed; the individual is important only because of the purpose he or she serves in the betterment of the whole. This concept is clearly seen in early Islamic texts and even the Quran itself: Muslims are a part of one nation, the umma that does not recognize any secular divide. The Quran states that God has divided people into distinct groups so that the identity of each may be preserved. This can be seen as laying part of the groundwork for the nationalist movements that led to the independence of the subcontinent and the simultaneous formation of Pakistan.

European thinkers assumed the philosophy of nationalism would fade into incongruity in the 20th century, but the First World War proved them wrong; not only that, but the period also turned out be a golden age for nationalist movements in British India. It motivated the people like never before; it brought the nexus of Indian identity away from the throne and focused on the common people. In some ways, it created that identity; the subcontinent is a land history shows to have been invaded many times, an ancient melting pot of cultures spread by the sword. From the Aryans to the Mughals, all the rulers were of foreign descent. Yet, only the British faced stiff opposition. It cannot be doubted that nationalist movements played a significant part in the perception of people. The two-nation theory, the Aligarh movement are examples of the strong influences affecting people in the era. The effects did not die out when the ‘stimulus’ of British rule was removed. They can still be seen in policy-making and national aims. Pakistan has lost many soldiers and precious decades on the issue of Kashmir. It has served as a propaganda tool and a direct influence on government policies: trade with India, the political “other”, our perennial rival. Similar sentiments can be seen reflected in Indian policies and media, despite Mahatma Gandhi’s own views. Both countries have been in a prolonged stand-off with each other for generations now and have also fought wars. ‘National spirit’, as psychological support, has helped keep morale high during such times.

That same national spirit is found not just in the political sphere of Pakistani life, but also in the social and personal. Patriotism is a considered a virtue. The media plays an active role in perpetuating this view, but an analysis of school textbooks also reveals just how strongly nationalist ideologies are inculcated in the average Pakistani. Events such as August 14 (Independence Day) and September 6 (Defense Day) are celebrated with fervor, even if the intensity of it varies. This in turn encourages civic values for the good of the nation: hard work, honesty, social awareness and the like. According to Lipson, nationalism is correlated with development in the arts and other hallmarks of culture. It also promotes unity, and provides motivation for the preservation of indigenous cultures. Even in the dry world of economics we can see markets derive benefits from nationalist measures that favor local merchants in various ways. Put together, it seems nationalism is a required element for the optimum functioning of human societies.

But is nationalism really like such a positive element?  Read more