“Everyone was handpicked”
A major challenge for identifying yourself as a liberal in Pakistan is that you always have to explain that you are not promoting a ‘Western agenda’ and that you genuinely believe in the core values of liberalism such as equality and individual liberty, to name but the most important to me. The predominant negative connotations attached to the term have always led me to deep introspection.
While I was fully aware of the bias against liberalism with its deep roots in political conservatism, religious orthodoxy and aversion to modernism and Western culture, liberalism for me has always been synonymous with individual liberty, tolerance and pluralism. These, I find, are crucial to address sectarianism, religious intolerance and patriarchy in Pakistan. They are crucial now more than ever.
Spending almost two weeks at the International Academy for Leadership (IAF) in Gummersbach with ‘liberals’ from different parts of the world, further elucidated my understanding of the liberal values. Upon my return to Pakistan, I had truly embraced liberalism and realized that my politics had changed significantly - and this has now started to translate into my work also.
The course gave me a direction to wend my way further. For instance, it helped me understand and value the significance of upholding the rule of law as a core characteristic of democracy.
To another level
The workshops touched a wide range of topics: from the most affected civil and political rights in the digital age to the significance of upholding the rule of law to understanding the liberal commitment to private property (including the difference between physical and intellectual property). We also had in-depth sessions on the potential of Blockchain technology to safeguard contracts and protect property rights, the need for better cybersecurity to uphold the right to privacy and the freedom of expression in a hostile digital environment. The seminar also offered sessions on encryption, online security and censorship. We explored whether digital rights are an extension of existing rights or if there is a need for a new set of rights. Finally, we discussed how to promote digital literacy.
It felt every participant was handpicked for the course as together we took the discussions to another level. The course was very educative and insightful. For me, the working group discussions were the most effective as they brought the participants together by sharing their personal opinions and experiences.
A Sense of Belonging
In addition to my stay at the Academy in Gummersbach, I visited Darmstadt, Bonn, Frankfurt, Cologne and Berlin. While these are beautiful cities we travelled to on the excursions, I always look forward to coming back to the Academy in Gummersbach for which I feel a very strong sense of belonging. Everything about the Institute was praiseworthy- my room, the view, the food, the bar, everything!
Jannat Ali Kalyar
Jannat Ali Kalyar works with Digital Rights Foundation in Lahore. She recently attended FNF-IAF's leadership program in Gummersbach, Germany on Safeguarding Freedom in a Digital World. In this report, she is sharing her personal thoughts.