Pakistani School Drops Lennon's 'Imagine' From Concert Amid Protest By Vocal Minority

from the outlawing-imagination dept

For those of us that advocate principles of free speech, the most hallowed battleground for that fight must necessarily be in schools. If these ideals are to win the day on the longer timeline, it will be because subsequent generations take up the banner of free speech and conversation in more numbers than do their opponents. In the West, these fights amount to issues that are indeed important, but pale in comparison to what occurs elsewhere in the world. To that end, it's as important to see how far we've come as it is to understand how far we have to go.

Take Pakistan, for instance. Most of us will know that Pakistan has not taken the same trajectory in terms of speech compared to America. Differences of this sort are to be expected, but they can reveal themselves in stark ways. For instance, a local school in Pakistan with a tradition of singing John Lennon's famous song Imagine has this year decided to remove the song from the annual concert for reasons that you've likely already guessed.

Pupils at the Karachi Grammar School (KGS), a liberally-inclined private institution with 2,400 places, were on Friday night due to sing the anthem at an in-house concert, upholding a tradition that stretches back decades.

But administrators decided it would no longer be safe after a popular conservative journalist highlighted ‘controversial lyrics’ in the song, hinting that they might fall foul of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.

What happened here is actually pretty simple. Ansar Abbasi, the conservative journalist mentioned above, picked up this story as if it were new and scandalous and blasted out a call to his Twitter followers to demand Lennon's iconic song be banned from the concert. Because the song rather famously, or infamously depending on your perspective, asks listeners to imagine a world without religions over which to fight, Abbasi suggested that the song was pimping Atheism. To be clear, the song doesn't actually do that, and Lennon himself said the whole point was to imagine all the fighting that could be avoided if religions didn't compete with one another. Distinctions like that, however, aren't fertile ground for outrage-trolling.

When other conservative media outlets in Pakistan picked up the story and decided to call out the school and its administrators by name, the school was essentially left with no choice but to bow to the mobbish minority for security concerns.

The school, which is heavily-guarded, subsequently dropped the song from its concert.

Former student Daanika Kamal told the Telegraph that Mr Abbasi was ignoring the message of ‘Imagine’, which invites listeners to picture a “brotherhood of man”, and “inciting hate”.

“We were introduced to [‘Imagine’] by the school” she said, “it was always a song of peace, that’s why it resonated with us. When you live in a country like Pakistan and are constantly hearing about attacks it is really soothing to hear a song that unites us.”

It should be obvious how silly and damaging this sort of thing is. When a country's speech laws are so backwards so as to allow mainstream journalists to call for government intervention to keep school-aged children from singing one of the most benign songs in musical history, it should be clear that something has gone awry. When those same calls can get school administrators to bend the knee to the vocal minority even before the government gets involved, the problem is even worse.

I could spend calories and time trying to figure out exactly what people like Abbasi think school children should be learning in the classroom under the premise that Imagine is a danger, but fortunately he has made his views on that public so I don't have to.

Mr Abbasi yesterday tweeted that “we need to teach the Quran to check both forms of extremism - religious or liberal”.

It shouldn't take much mental effort to see just how bad a plan for curriculum that obviously is.

Filed Under: free speech, imagine, john lennon, pakistan


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  1. identicon
    Thomas, 1 Sep 2017 @ 1:32pm

    Re: hypocritical and forgiven

    Respectfully, I prefer to take responsibility for my own actions. A 2000 year old resurrected corpse cannot absolve you of your sins. Accepting personal responsibility and endeavoring to make amends can.

    Peace be with you

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