Creeping silence

It is not new to hear about the curbed academic freedom in Pakistan. What is somewhat new is the frequency with which lecturers, professors, researchers, students, and even writers feel threatened now in both private and public-sector universities. These threats are of multiple nature and presumably emanate from various quarters.
For Pakistan, it is essential that people everywhere are encouraged – and especially young people – to think critically and come up with ways to tackle the problems that have darkened the lives of so many in the country. Social inequality, bigotry, ethnic division and other kinds of hate are problems which we simply cannot ignore for long. Yet people who are able to effectively convey the meaning of critical thinking and dissent, in many nations, are being weeded out of Pakistan’s universities and possibly the country. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Alamgir Wazir, Ammar Ali Jan, Junaid Hafeez, Mashal Khan, Mohammad Hanif, Sajid Soomro, and Zaigham Abbas are prime examples of that. Each one of these represents a different case but collectively they showcase the increasing intolerance in Pakistani society, and stifling academic suffocation on campuses.
It is now global knowledge about how Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy spent almost all his life dedicating himself to the thankless job of trying to teach in a public-sector university in Pakistan. Apart from the usual challenges, Dr Hoodbhoy also stood steadfast over the years regarding the lack of a proper approach when it comes to the country’s education policies. And now – as per reports on social media – he finds his contract will not be renewed by FC College, where he was employed.
We have also seen how the much younger Prof Ammar Ali Jan has been hounded from not one, but three educational institutions. Jan, who holds a doctorate from Cambridge University in History, had returned to the country solely for the purpose of teaching at public-sector universities and encouraging young people to develop a capacity for critical thinking – a skill that Pakistan’s system specializes in killing.
Mohammad Hanif, ace writer, journalist and one of the best Pakistan had to offer was also not spared. If it’s not attempts to curtail his books, it’s about him being asked not to continue teaching at a university. Then, the country has the tragic case of Junaid Hafeez, a Fulbright scholar, who has been languishing in jail in solitary confinement since 2013 on blasphemy charges that he denies in totality. Mashal Khan was lynched after being brutally attacked by a group of students on his campus in Mardan in 2017. Sajid Soomro is a professor and Sindhi nationalist who has been voicing his concerns at the way Sindhi activists are being forcibly ‘disappeared’.
The fault it seems is in the fact that each one of these people have tried to encourage students to think, to use their rationality, to go against established opinion and to come up with their own ideas. That seems to be an unforgivable crime in the Muslim majority country. If the Imran Khan-run government keep removing such bright and highly qualified teachers and discourage students from asking questions, who will we be hiring in their place? This consistent attack on academic freedom comes in the midst of an increasingly stifled media and a global challenge of fake news. In the end, we may just be left with a deafening silence that consumes us all.