Why politicians and academics should choose their words wisely


This is something that appears to have escaped Imran Khan. A week ago, Pakistan’s prime minister said: “I will never forget how we Pakistanis were embarrassed when the Americans came into Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden, martyred him." (Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images).
This is something that appears to have escaped Imran Khan. A week ago, Pakistan’s prime minister said: “I will never forget how we Pakistanis were embarrassed when the Americans came into Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden, martyred him." (Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

COMPLETE freedom of expression is fine in theory, but free speech sometimes has to be combined with restraint, especially when you are in a position of responsibility.

This is something that appears to have escaped Imran Khan. A week ago, Pakistan’s prime minister said: “I will never forget how we Pakistanis were embarrassed when the Americans came into Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden, martyred him.”

And last week, he told his country’s National Assembly that India was responsible for the terrorist attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange, in which two guards and a policeman were killed, along with the four assailants.

“There is no doubt that India is behind the attack,” he said, without providing any evidence.

“For the last two months my cabinet knew (that there would be an attack). I had informed my minister. All our agencies were on high alert.”

He read out the names of the victims and added: “I’m paying tribute to them because our security forces made a huge sacrifice and fought (the terrorists) and a major tragedy planned by our neighbouring country, India, to destabilize our country was thwarted.”

And then, without thinking about what he was saying, he said the four heavily-armed gunmen had aimed to stage a hostage situation similar to the one in Mumbai, when terrorists had attacked the Bombay Stock Exchange in 2008.

“They had planned to do exactly the same in the (Pakistan) Stock Exchange and murder innocent people to create an atmosphere of unstability (sic) and uncertainty. We have no doubts that this plan was made by India.”

One must wonder whether he thinks of these ideas all by himself or if they are fed to him.

Later, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) linked Majeed Brigade who are supposed to do India’s bidding, claimed responsibility for the Karachi attack.

It is such a pity that the prime minister has become insanely bellicose and not worked to improve relations with India, where he has enjoyed such hospitality and goodwill.

In Britain, one man who has paid the price for not appreciating the fact that free speech does have its limits is the eminent historian David Starkey, 75, who invariably draws attention to himself by being as provocative as possible. But he crossed a line when he said last week:

“Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived.”

Starkey was made to resign as an honorary fellow by Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and was also dropped by his publishers.

Meanwhile, Priyamvada Gopal, an Indianorigin don at Cambridge and a fellow at Churchill College, had to explain herself after she tweeted: “White lives don’t matter. As white lives. Abolish whiteness.”

Her tweet came after a banner flown over a Premier League football stadium read “White lives matter Burnley”, which was itself a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Gopal later insisted she was not getting at white people personally but at the notion of white supremacy.

The sophistry of her arguments was lost as she was deluged with abusive and threatening comments. Twitter temporarily deleted what Gopal had said initially, as a campaign was started to get her fired from her post.

A tweet from mikhailhakeem told her: “How low caste must your whole bloodline be ……”

Gopal replied: “Here come the casteists, close brothers to white supremacists. Abolish Brahminism now!”

She set out her position: “I’m from a Brahmin family. That makes me a Brahmin. I will say this too then, since Brahmins are the whites of India. Brahmin lives don’t matter – not as ‘Brahmin’ lives. Abolish Brahmins and the upper castes.”

Cambridge University backed Gopal and, as she pointed out, announced her promotion to a full professorship. But perhaps her first tweet was not exactly wise. Dons are better at writing long dissertations laced with qualifications. Twitter just gets them into trouble.