On 22 July 2020, the Punjab Legislative Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution titled, the Punjab Tahaffuz-e-Bunyad-e-Islam (Protection of the Fundamentals of Islam) Bill 2020. The Speaker Pervaiz Elahi declared it as 'historic' as it protects Pakistan and the Muslims from an affront to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and theoretically to other religious figures also.
The bill empowers the Directorate General of Public Relations (DGPR) to visit and inspect the premises of printing presses, offices of the publication houses and book stores. The DGPR also has the authority to refuse permission to import, print, or publish a book ‘if it is prejudicial to the national interest, culture, religious and sectarian harmony’.
The law also stops the ‘the publisher, editor, or translator from printing or publishing any book and material that consists of photographs or pictures of suicide bombers, terrorists, except as required by law enforcing agencies for purposes of investigation’.
The bill also makes it mandatory for the book importers to provide a list of books imported by him/her to an authorised officer within fifteen days of the import. It also bounds publishers to send memoranda of books published by the company every three months.
“The publisher on the same day of the printing of a book shall provide four copies of every edition of a book,” it added.
For us who have studied the origins and history of censorship it is always important to remember that the roots can be traced back deep into antiquity to PLATO (born Athens 428/427 BC - died 348/347 B) the famous Greek founder of political philosophy or rather the theory and philosophy of the perfect State. Plato wanted to create ideal rulers who would create an ideal society in which everyone knew his place and readily submitted to the dictates of the State. The educational system and the Arts and Sciences or all knowledge was to be controlled in a totalitarian manner so that nothing which conflicted with the interests of the State was taught to the citizens.
Plato's brilliant pupil Aristotle was quick to warn that too much control by the State would mean not an ideal state and society but utopia - a utopia being an impossible ideal to realize in reality.
Such an idea of creating a perfect society through censorship of all forms of information, knowledge and entertainments has down the centuries created absolute kingships, dictatorships and totalitarian systems which stamped out all free inquiry and crushed all dissent and opposition.
In fact the bureaucratization of the State increased rapidly in the 20th century because of technological changes that facilitated centralization and control. That century witnessing the most horrific forms of bureaucratic control of society and of the freedoms of the people. Totalitarianism wreaking havoc on the lives of people by going to war with other states and exterminating unwanted minorities they got hold of.
It is to be noted that Muslim societies have shown a very dangerous tendency to embrace right-wing totalitarian ideas, and Pakistan has been a laboratory for experimenting with Islamic censorship with a view to creating a society free from all Sin and temptation.
Yet the experience tells us that all such vain attempts have been dismal failures. Instead of ideal rulers and citizens the ruling class has been notoriously corrupt and inept. It has made a virtue out of the vice of hypocrisy. In order to perpetuate their own perks and privileges they have constricted the freedoms of people and stifled out all capacity and capability to think rationally and in a dispassionate manner.
Such a propensity was always lurking around even before the modern state acquired the paraphernalia and technologies of state controls. The Great Sage of the Punjab, Baba Bulleh Shah (born Ucch, Multan, 1680 - died Kasur 1757) expressed this irony and tragedy in the 18th century with characterestic simplicity but great profundity:
Tennu Ikko Alif darkaar
Ilm-o bass kareeN o Yaar
You need only Allah
Stop wasting time in the pursuit of knowledge
With our MPA's now agreeing to further control and censorship of ideas, books and publishers - all ostensibly out of love for Islam - Pakistan sinks further into the bottomless pit of ignorance.