Joyland and its disputed ban | By Dr Abdul Baseer Qazi

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Joyland and its disputed ban

Among the many other controversies, a new one has engulfed our country regarding the upcoming movie, Joyland and its disputed ban.

The movie, before its official release, has already bagged four major awards, among them the ‘prestigious’ Cannes Film Festival award in two categories; the Queer Palm category given to LGBT-relevant content and the much-acclaimed jury prize.

The movie is also Pakistan’s official entry to the Oscar Awards. It boasts Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as its executive producer and the US-based Indian film-maker Apoorva Guru Charan as its main producer, who proudly claims “I think this is the first Pakistani film that has all American financing”.

Those in favour of the screening of the film argue that it’s based on our society’s reality and hence we shouldn’t shy away from presenting it.

Those against its airing resort to the argument that it will spread vice in society as even though it’s depicting reality, the reality in itself is something that is Islamically impermissible and socially unacceptable.

At the core of the debate actually lies a more fundamental question, whether people should be free to express their opinions and views regardless of the societal consequences.

Even more fundamentally, is there any society that allows such unrestricted speech, in the name of freedom of expression, or is that just a myth that liberal secularist societies and governments want others to believe?

In reality, all societies, whether traditional or liberal have their red lines, however, the latter have managed to give the impression that they are absolutely free when it comes to speech and expression.

Debunking this myth isn’t that difficult when one considers all the different terminologies liberal societies have introduced to actually restrict freedom of expression.

‘Fake news’, ‘libel’, ‘sedition’, ‘incitement’, ‘misinformation’, ‘hate speech’, ‘fact check’, ‘publication bias ‘cancel culture’, ‘no platforming’, ‘birdwatch’ and the more formal and legal term ‘proportionality test’ are all different forms and tools for restricting free speech.

There is a ton of evidence that even the most liberal societies are selectively restrictive when it comes to freedom of expression.

What then is the moral justification of liberal-minded people in objecting to the banning of a movie which is full of indecent content?

It exaltingly displays extra-marital relations in a same-sex setting, all in the guise of bringing the plight of LGBTQI to the fore.

Is there no decent way to raise awareness about the sufferings of the intersex community?

Now that the wind from the freedom of expression argument’s sails has been taken out, let’s move on to the 7 most discussed arguments that are brought in favor of screening such irreconcilable content.

People learn important lessons: One of the loudest arguments is that movies and dramas educate people.

Though this might be partly true, in all honesty, is this an effective and controlled way of educating the masses?

Can we assess the damage it will incur by polluting millions of innocent minds who would have never thought about such acts and now might be fantasizing about them?

Aren’t we as a society still struggling with the negative effects dramas have had on our family system?

News media also report such or even worse incidents: Well newspapers report incidents but mostly without attaching feelings to them.

Moreover, such incidents are most reported in news in the same light as society views them.

So to date, extramarital affairs are not reported in a positive light, except for their portrayal in movies and dramas.

This also shows how mass media other than news channels work towards changing morality and constructing acceptance for otherwise frowned-upon actions and concepts.

You are free not to watch: This argument is actually covered in the reasons given above for banning such content in the first place.

Though we are free at an individual level not to watch such content if we dislike or disagree with it, it’s a moral imperative for us to stop others from spreading concepts that Islam views as devious and punishable.

Why is Islam endangered by just a movie: Again, this too is covered in the discussion above.

It’s actually not a threat to Islam, rather it does endanger Muslims and society at large, by spreading vulgarity and building acceptance for such immoral and illegal behavior.

Moreover, even if there was no danger, it’s a principled issue. As a comparison, do secular liberal countries (36 countries to be exact) which have banned the public display of Nazi symbols and/or denial of the holocaust feel threatened by mere symbols? Does that pose a serious threat to liberalism or is it a principled issue?

The better viewpoint will prevail: Some would argue that movies are a suitable platform for fighting out ideological differences.

So whether or not extramarital affairs and a third gender should be promoted is for the audience to decide.

If this would’ve been a sound argument there wouldn’t be a need for restricting speech by those who actually defend its freedom so vehemently. However, they are the fiercest in systematically curbing it. Why?

Because even they understand that ideas that cross a certain line shouldn’t be allowed to be promoted.

Islam is clean from such hypocrisy in the first place as it never advocates free speech only to restrict it later.

Regarding debating these issues, yes there should be such debates but movies are not the right platform for this as their appeal is more to emotions than intellect.

—To be continued.

—The author is a Senior Associate Professor of Engineering Management with a PhD degree in Governance and Public Policy from the Netherlands.