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.

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Comments on “Pakistani School Drops Lennon's 'Imagine' From Concert Amid Protest By Vocal Minority”

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Imagine there's no Lennon

“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.”

It is a shame that they dropped the song for that reason, instead of the correct one: that it’s simply not a very good song.


I agree with the comment that they should drop the song because is isn’t a very good song.

But, regardless of what Lennon said about the intent of the song and its lyrics, its lyrics don’t call for “imagining a world without religions over which to fight” it says “and no religion too.” It does imply that only without religion can there be peace. That’s contrary to the fundamentals of most religions. Yes, plenty of muslims and plenty of Christians have waged war in the name of their religion, but they weren’t doing what their religion taught, at least not what Christianity teaches. Fundamentally it is a religion that promotes peace (regardless of the actions of a minority of people that might appear to be otherwise). I’m told that other religions are fundamentally in favor of peace too. So, to imagine a world without religion because that’s the only way to have peace can be quite offensive to the majority of religions, which at last count had more followers than those who don’t believe in some sort of deity/religion.



Religion teaches irrationality and authoritarianism. We shouldn’t be teaching kids to blindly believe in nonsense just because someone tells them it’s the truth. If they can believe in fables about miracles they can believe in anything. Teach them about religion. Teach them about the contradictions and folly AND wisdom in the ancient texts. Don’t indoctrinate them with nonsense.


Re: Re: That's contrary to the fundamentals of most religions.

Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Jung Un. All have acted or are acting on Lennon’s suggestion.

Ditching religion doesn’t seem to make a jot of difference – and on the evidence of those five it seems to have the potential to make matters a whole lot worse.

Having said that, lets keep to the point shall we. This is about free speech – and free speech means the freedom to say things that may offend others. There is no human right not to be offended. In this case the body suppressing free speech is a religious one but in recent history it has been militant atheist regimes that have been the worst offenders (and China is arguably still in that space).

Everyone should remember – before they make a move to restrict someone else’s speech – that next time it might be their own opinions that get suppressed.

As St Paul said "so long as it lies with you, live at peace with all men"

Or as the Beatles said (in a MUCH better song)

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom

Let it be


Re: Re: Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Jung Un. All have acted or are acting on Lennon's suggestion.

Clarke didn’t make a suggestion – he made an observation.

I would also say that it is an incorrect observation.

The actual tragedy is the hijacking of morality for the purpose of maintaining power for an elite. and Lenin and his friends most definitely have done that (as anyone who was brought up in the Soviet Union will confirm).

Re: Re: Re: That's contrary to the fundamentals of most religions.

Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Kim Jung Un. All have acted or are acting on Lennon’s suggestion.

…I’m pretty sure Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao weren’t acting on any suggestions by John Lennon, dogg.

And it’d be pretty hard for Kim Jong-Un to claim to be God without religion.


Re: Re: Re: Re: That's contrary to the fundamentals of most religions.

Interesting …..

The Beatles formed their band in 1960
– Lenin: 10Apr1870 – 21Jan1924
– Stalin: 18Dec1878 – 5Mar1953

How did the above two Russian leaders become influenced by Lennon’s lyrics before the band was formed? Perhaps the Russians have perfected their time machine technologies and have been influenced by much much more than just the Beatles …. Oh My!

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That's contrary to the fundamentals of most religions.

As Lawrence D’Oliveiro already noted above, the lyric right before "and no religion too" is "nothing to kill or die for." There are also references to "no countries" and "brotherhood of man".

(The Beatles also had some choice words for Chairman Mao and the USSR in previous songs.)

You wanna pick three words out of the song’s lyrics and pretend that Lennon was advocating something entirely different than what the rest of the lyrics are plainly advocating, you’re welcome to do that, but…you get that we’ve heard the song, right?


Re: Re: Re: Re: That's contrary to the fundamentals of most religions.

I’m pretty certain that all those people were replacing conventional religion with worshipping their great leaders, which not the same as atheism..

and by the same token Constantine – and every Christian head of state ever since was not really a Christian head of state but was simply using a pretence of Christianity to further his own cause.

If you claim that there as never been an atheist state then I’ll claim there’s never been a Christian one either.


Which Berkeley?


Do you mean Berkley-the-city which didn’t manage to arrest more than one person (for failure to disperse) during the Yiannopoulos riot, but played no hand in suppressing speech? Who did a better job (marginally, at least) when faced with later riots?

Berkley-the-university, which did not stop the event until it was evident that a riot was about to break out, despite over 100 UC Berkeley professors signing a petition to cancel the event preemptively?

Or Berkeley-the-people-of, who rioted over the speech, using the Heckler’s Veto to cancel the event, and then went on to riot in the streets, conducting vandalism, assaulting passers-by for "looking like a Nazi"?

The same bunch of yahoos who, several times in the following months, got into it with other yahoos, with weapons improvised and otherwise (including a bike lock!), resulting in a number of speech-depriving injuries?

That Berkeley? (Plus however many folks who invited themselves to the riot one they heard there was going to be one…)

Me, I’d call the Techdirt story here more in line with Berkeley-the-university realizing that ignorant assholes would read the Abbasi opinion as an excuse to actually out-and-out kill some people for blasphemy. It happens over there.

Free speech is truly a fine thing. We value it enough to try to protect people with unpopular opinions from being hurt or killed. We even wrote a little bit about it in the ultimate ruling document of our country. But you have to be alive to continue speaking. We’re not where Pakistan is currently, but it sure looks like we’re trending that way. Different issues, same delivery.


Re: Why looking in Pakistan?

“Why looking in Pakistan? Berkeley is already denying free speech.”

You imply that Pakistan allowed free speech up until this little incident, this is rather difficult to believe – perhaps you have supporting evidence.

Berkeley denies free speech … ok – and I guess that makes violence acceptable to you.


hypocritical and forgiven

Christians sin too. I know, I am a Christian, and I sin–but I shouldn’t. I will never be perfect in this lifetime, in this body, on this earth. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurection paid the price for all sin (past present future) of all belivers in Christ.

If you’re a Christian (i.e. you accept that Jesus Christ died and was resurected to pay the price for your sin), and yet you hate and murder those who disagree with you, then you’re doing it wrong.


Re: hypocritical and forgiven

Jesus’ crucifixion and resurection paid the price for all sin (past present future) of all belivers in Christ.

But can someone who really has true faith in Christ’s message ever act in such a manner?

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ?Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,? and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ?You have faith and I have works.? Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe?and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, ?Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,? and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
James 2:14-26.

I would think say that a "Christian" that hates and murders is not sufficiently Christian to be saved at all. After all, unlike Judaism with its 613 (?) Commandments laid out in Exodus and Leviticus, Christianity arguably has only two:

29 Jesus answered, ?The first is, ?Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.? 31 The second is this, ?You shall love your neighbor as yourself.? There is no other commandment greater than these.?
Mark 12:29-31

That’s not to say that I think it’s impossible to be a sinner and still truly be a Christian; after all, pobody’s nerfect. However, I think that the people who profess what James might call a "dead faith" in Christ (even if they believe that they believe) outnumber, by probably at least an order of magnitude, those who follow those two commandments faithfully enough for their works to justify them.

After all, if your faith is so weak that you can’t follow Christ’s two highest commandments well enough for them to show through your deeds, is it really worth calling faith at all?


Re: hypocritical and forgiven

I’m an atheist and I’d rather speak out for free speech than virtue signal about how forgiving I am to people that have given me no direct harm.

It makes very little sense to spend decades fighting against censorship coming from one religion to then repeatedly give out blanket forgiveness to another that’s doing the same in the present day.

Whoever keeps doing that does not represent me at all.


Unsurprising it would happen in Pakistan, for reasons may guess in advance, considering how much it happens everywhere else. (Only you are somewhat less likely to be brutally assaulted and/or jailed for such a display in some other places.)

I’m surprised the production went as far as it did that we even know about it. This sort of chilling must happens millions of times a day in people’s heads.


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.

What security concerns could there be over a song in a country of the religion of peace?


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.

Actually, no. US speech laws allow the same thing – our mainstream journalists are absolutely allowed to call for government intervention to keep school-aged children from singing a song. It’s just that here, the government can’t legally DO that.

On another note, I’d dispute the "one of the most benign songs in musical history" claim. If you ranked songs from most benign to least, this song would be closer to the other end. It calls for atheistic communism, which hardly has a benign track record. (I don’t care what Lennon said later about what the song "really" meant; the lyrics are the lyrics, and he didn’t just include "no religion" which could be interpreted like he said; he also devoted an entire verse to "no heaven" which can’t plausibly be constructed to mean that.)



“It calls for atheistic communism”

LOL – not sure what this means, as if there is a religious communism.

It is interesting how people interpret, categorize and pigeon hole just about everything they come across, and many do not even realize they are doing this. “Interpretation” of lyrics is a good example.

On a side note, it’s funny how people mis-hear lyrics.


Re: When Fiction becomes reality

Dr. Bob Halyers: [Mr. Carlson is asking whether a certain song is suitable or not for airplay] “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky… Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too… Imagine no possessions… Imagine all the people sharing all the world.” That sounds like Communism to me. If there’s no heaven, no religion and I assume no God.
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: There’s not an obscene word in here.
Dr. Bob Halyers: Not the way I see it.
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: Go on your list?
Dr. Bob Halyers: Arthur, this is typical of the kind of secular liberal humanist point of view that gluts our airwaves.
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: Yeah. But we’re not talking obscenities here anymore, Bob. We’re talking about ideas, political, the philosophical ideas. First you censor a word and then you censor the ideas.
Dr. Bob Halyers: But the idea is man-centered, not God-centered. The Bible tells us to put our reliance in God, not in our fellow mortals. Arthur, this song says there’s no heaven.
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: Ah, no, it says just imagine there’s no heaven.
Dr. Bob Halyers: That’s blasphemy.
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: On the list or not?
Dr. Bob Halyers: I have no choice but to say “on.”
Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson: That decision was made by one man!

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