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Friday, August 24

Majorly Profound's mysterious disappearance from blogosphere and twittersphere sets off international concern and provides a window on embattled free speech in Pakistan

His disappearance left behind disconsolate fans and, perhaps fittingly, a swirl of conspiracy theories. Some speculated he had been threatened or abducted; others predicted he would reincarnate in a new guise. Female fans - "wimmins" in @MajorlyProfound's world - were particularly upset.

"I am heartbroken," one wrote on Twitter. "What will happen to us wimmins now?" another asked.
The comments were, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek. But they also highlighted something serious: how the Internet has become an important platform for subversive satire, and outright social dissent, in a country where speaking freely can exact the highest price.

-- Declan Walsh, The New York Times

Now just see, Pundita is not the only wimmins besotted wits the Major. I am so happy with Declan Walsh for writing about the Major's disappearance that I could hug him, but I have one beef with his report:

If one's going to compare the Major's wit to any American humorist who focuses on social criticism, I'd call him Pakistan's answer to Mark Twin, not Stephen Colbert. Yet I'd always resisted bestowing that laurel on the Major because I thought doing so was kinda an insult. While the Major's creator was inspired to write by the American satirical novel, Catch-22, he's upholding a tradition of acid-penned 'native' editorialists who toiled for newspapers during the British Raj -- a tradition that continued in post-Independence India and, fitfully, in modern Pakistan.

And unlike the strongly politicized and partisan Colbert, the Major targeted the famous human tendencies of self-delusion and hypocrisy. So whether he was poking fun at Apple computer products, geostrategic analysts, the foolishness of the Indian government or his own, his humor had universal appeal.

Before I let Declan get in a few more words, I'm hoping the blog's disappearance is another one of what the Major called his "social experiments" -- the last experiment causing considerable discomfort to those urbane Pakistanis who think they can get comfy in hell by holding book fairs and fashion shows and generally trying to carry on as if they're living in London's Chelsea district.

On a darker note, the Major's creator once stepped completely out of character; this was after the U.S. raid on Abbottabad. Furious at Pakistan's military for leaving the country's defenses wide open, he wrote an icily analytical essay about the military's lapses that was not one bit funny. There was a long silence on his blog after he published the essay -- at least two months to my recollection, maybe longer.

When he returned to the blogosphere the Major character ("Maj. Butt, Ret'd.") was his old self. But it's just that capacity for mercilessly objective analysis combined with universal appeal that causes me concern about the inexplicable removal of the Majorly Profound blog.

The best I can say is that the Major's creator is a national treasure; it would be a tragedy if he's not seen as such by Pakistan's rulers.
Fans worry after Pakistan Twitter star goes off lineby Declan Walsh
The New York Times
August 22, 2012

Karachi: "Where r u MAJOR ?? What happened 2 u ?? I hope u r safe from mad dog jihadis."

Electronic cries of anguish are ringing out across Pakistan's Twitter community over the abrupt disappearance of the popular satirist @MajorlyProfound, beloved for his acid commentary on the powerful and their prejudices. The unexplained closing of his Twitter account and a related blog on Aug. 4 has become the cybermystery of the moment among English-speaking Pakistani liberals.

Channeling the American comic Stephen Colbert, the determinedly anonymous blogger behind @MajorlyProfound adopted the voice of a pompous, paranoid, honor-obsessed nationalist - Twitter posts typically started with cries of "whoa!" or "OUTRAGE!!" - then took things a step or three further. The result was a searingly funny and often jet-black perspective on Pakistan's rolling crises that pushed the boundaries of what is considered politically acceptable - or personally prudent.

A Pakistani should have been given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame, @MajorlyProfound declared during the recent opening ceremony, in recognition of "our expertise at burning things" like NATO supply trucks and Indian luxury hotels.

Later, he suggested that the national team could do well in archery, but only if a photo of an Ahmadi - a religious minority that suffers grave persecution - were placed on the target board.

"Pakistani shooters sure to win gold," he wrote on Twitter. "But there is a danger they might throw grenade instead."

Such jagged wit won @MajorlyProfound more than 10,000 followers on Twitter, many of them influential in the Pakistani and Indian news media. Foreign journalists started to quote him in stories, sensing he had become a cultural touchstone of sorts.

But the man behind the phenomenon assiduously shunned the spotlight. "I'm just a nobody," he wrote in an e-mail exchange started by The New York Times before his disappearance. "I like to poke fun at absurdity."

His disappearance left behind disconsolate fans and, perhaps fittingly, a swirl of conspiracy theories. Some speculated he had been threatened or abducted; others predicted he would reincarnate in a new guise. Female fans - "wimmins" in @MajorlyProfound's world - were particularly upset.

"I am heartbroken," one wrote on Twitter. "What will happen to us wimmins now?" another asked.

The comments were, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek. But they also highlighted something serious: how the Internet has become an important platform for subversive satire, and outright social dissent, in a country where speaking freely can exact the highest price.

Over the past two years, two leading politicians have been shot to death for their public stances, and a prominent investigative journalist was killed under mysterious circumstances in April. This summer, Asma Jahangir, an outspoken human rights campaigner, spoke of a plot by the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency to kill her. And even the hint of blasphemous speech can bring witch hunts and criminal charges. (@MajorlyProfound took that issue on, too: "On being asked if plasphemy law should be amended, 20% of beepuls said it should be retained, 80% killed the interviewer phor plasphemy," he wrote on Twitter last year, in calculatedly idiosyncratic spelling.)

And so creative young Pakistanis are turning to social media to vent their political frustrations.

A catchy satirical song by the Lahore band Begairat Brigade was shunned by the mainstream media last year, but caught fire on YouTube, where it became a Pakistani pop culture sensation. This year another little-known performer, Ali Pir Gul, scored two and a half million hits on YouTube with a comedy rap that parodied the lifestyles of the feudal elite.

"Every day you see your government doing things that make you pissed. There's nothing to do except make fun of it," said Adil Hussain, a 23-year-old student who posts politically pointed cartoons on Facebook.

Twitter has played a cameo role in several national dramas. In May 2011, Sohaib Athar, an Internet cafe owner in Abbottabad, posted details on Twitter of a mysterious helicopter raid in his neighborhood that, hours later, turned out to be the American commando assault against Osama bin Laden.

Later, Mr. Athar was called to testify before a government inquiry into the raid. As he left, he recalled recently, the presiding judge urged him to "tweet on."

Pakistan's beleaguered progressives, meanwhile, have come to view Twitter as a public square of sorts. A spontaneous Twitter campaign in January against Maya Khan, a television host accused of harassing courting couples with a camera crew in a Karachi park during her morning television program, helped lead to Ms. Khan's dismissal.

The figure behind @MajorlyProfound said he had been inspired to write by the novel "Catch-22." His target is a particular mind-set that dominates public debate: the puff-chested vanities, poisonous bigotry and contorted logic of certain politicians, generals and journalists.

He views his alter ego as "the love child of Homer Simpson and Adolf Hitler," he wrote by e-mail. "What would you do if that baby started saying and doing nonsensically stupid but scary things, yet ran a country and had a bunch of rabid supporters?" he wrote.

Why, turn to Twitter, of course. Recent events have provided a rich store of material, from the cabinet ministers who claimed to have found a car that ran on water, to the tortured talks with Washington that centered on notions of national sovereignty - or, as he put it, "sovirginity."

Beneath the punch lines, however, lies a rumbling anger, particularly over the treatment of minorities. In Pakistan, "Ahmadis and Shias are treated worse than animals," he wrote by e-mail. "More importantly, they are dehumanized."

For some, Twitter has filled a void left by the closing of teahouses and nightclubs that thrived during the 1960s and '70s, before the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq warped Pakistani society. "Pakistan no longer has permanent public spaces for reasoned conversation," a lawyer, Feisal H. Naqvi, wrote in the newspaper The Express Tribune recently. He hailed @MajorlyProfound as "Pakistan's sharpest wit."

But even the freewheeling Internet is not entirely insulated from the real Pakistan. Several extremist groups, including the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, hold Twitter accounts. Twitter's success has also sprouted legions of so-called trolls, users who direct abusive or threatening comments at other users. Women say they feel particularly vulnerable.

Such worries surfaced during a recent conference on social media, sponsored by the American Consulate in Karachi and held at a luxury hotel. Organized under low-key conditions, owing to security worries, the conference featured lively debates on the uses and value of social media.

It also brought together Twitter activists who had previously only interacted online. Not all of it went well. Heated exchanges between some rivals spilled into the hotel lobby. Since then, one Lahore lawyer has obtained a court order preventing three with whom he had clashed from commenting about him on Twitter.

One notable absence at the conference was @MajorlyProfound. Jealously protective of his anonymity, he offered only that he is between 25 and 35 years old and comes from a middle-class background. His profile picture always features goats because, he said before his disappearance, Pakistani critics might "put up with sarcasm from a goat more than from a real person."

"On the Internet nobody knows that you are a dog. Or a goat," he said. "I could be anyone."

Comments:
I can understand your relief at having met even a single sane muslim(almost certainly with hindu antecedents),given the rarity and perhaps the impossibility of the existence.But this great adulation for merely reporting what Hindus have known before is completely unjustified.
 
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