The most recent news doing the rounds is the talk on Balochistan that was scheduled to happen at LUMS last week, and was shut down by the government/agencies/ISI/Relevant Power. Talks at LUMS are no big deal. All kinds of people from very diverse backgrounds come to talk to students and faculty, ranging from generals active and retired to academics, journalists, musicians, writers, artists and activists. The whole point of a university education is, after all, exposure to and engagement with a diverse array of opinions and intellectual discourse. The point of an education is to think things, and question and then come to conclusions that are reasoned and well-considered.

In Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, maybe.

In Pakistan an education only seems to be relevant as far as obedience is concerned. In a country that is perfectly content to describe basic literacy as being able to write your name, it’s no small wonder that an education is thus only a means to an end, that end being able to get a job that doesn’t involve cleaning toilets or spraying water on plants. I teach university students, and most of them want to be economists, accountants or engineers. The English major has only got a handful of students, and most of the young women and men in my classes have little interest in reading, or knowledge of anything artistic, philosophical or literary. They are good kids, they make an effort and when one gets through to them it is a pleasure to see them light up with that eureka moment. But it makes me sad that they are at least eighteen years old, and I am the first person talking to them about Plato’s Cave allegory, or J. Alfred Prufrock, or how the shaheen in Iqbal is the same eagle in Walt Whitman’s poetry, the same sufi soul soaring to heaven.

I teach them writing, and they are tentative. They ask me whether it would be rude to be direct, whether it would be too aggressive to not preface their opinions with ‘maybe I’m wrong’. It isn’t their fault. They have never been told that it’s all right—nay, it is necessary, essential, crucial—to ask questions. To ask why, and why not, and why again. Ours is a culture of shutting that voice down. To dissent is to be rude, unmanageable, dangerous. Which is why the Balochistan talk was cancelled, because the state hasn’t got answers to questions we deserve to ask, issues that it is our right to raise. A state that has nothing to fear, agencies with no skeletons in their closets and no injustices to cover up is one that isn’t afraid of five people on a panel discussing the situation in one of our country’s provinces, as much a part of Pakistan as Sindh, Punjab or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

To add idiotic to injury, LUMS websites have been hacked and professors trolled on Twitter by obviously fake sounding accounts. Shame on LUMS, goes the hashtag, for trying to spread iniquity in the land! Shame on LUMS for questioning the ideology of Pakistan! One inglorious hacker calling himself ‘Mr Pakistan’ (no doubt a riff on the film ‘Mr India’) went so far as to state that freedom of speech in Pakistan is “allowed ONLY if it is not against Islam, its Integrity, Security or Defence of Pakistan”. I quote from what he posted on the hacked university website. That’s a pretty tall order as far as ‘freedom’ of anything goes. Mr Pakistan went on to accuse LUMS of “spread[ing] hatred and manipulat[ing] brains of students” as all of this will “destabilize Pakistan”. I’m quoting so you don’t think I’m making this up.

If only it were so easy to manipulate anyone’s brain, least of all the average student’s. I am also pleasantly surprised by how easy destabilizing the country seems to be. If I were of a revolutionary bent of mind it is evident all I would have to do is make some speeches at an elite university, and all the bored rich kids would abandon their deadlines and term papers and follow me in a massive surge of rebellion! Astounding! All the people in Balochistan who are desperately trying to trace their relatives, who are agitating for basic human rights like hospitals, roads and schools, who don’t know if they will ever see their sons alive again—all they really have to do is get a ‘banned person’ (another term from Mr Pakistan the genius) to speak at a university!

The ironies we are surrounded with are as diverse as our definition of sedition is. Last year the HEC sent out a little letter to heads of departments and deans of universities cautioning them against anyone teaching naughty things in class, i.e things that could be against the ideology of the state/Islam/Pakistan’s integrity. It gives me a little shiver of glee to think how afraid the establishment is of young people. It’s like a Bob Dylan song—“your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/your old road is rapidly ageing”. Just think of the power of a question, the incendiary, amazing potential each young Pakistani holds in their hands if only they recognized it. It isn’t traitorous to want a better world for ourselves, for our young ones. It isn’t treason to demand justice for the kidnapped and the oppressed. It is patriotism of the finest kind to believe in a Pakistan that is for everyone, equally. It is cowardly to conveniently sweep your crimes and lies under the carpet of Islam and that tired old ‘ideology’ that keeps being trotted out whenever anyone is feeling insecure. The ideology of Islam and Pakistan is the one that enjoins us to be brave and true to our beliefs, to protect the weak and be just, even to one’s enemy. It is the ideology of belief in a better life, the conviction that we could make our dreams reality. That’s how Pakistan happened; that’s the Pakistan churls like Mr Pakistan think they are defending. We were born of women and men who questioned a regime, who fought back, who weren’t afraid of doing the right thing, even when it was the difficult and near-impossible thing to do. Shame on LUMS? Shame on whoever is responsible for trying to silence the questioning voice. We will never make it easy for you.