Browsing "Politics"

What Pakistan needs to do in wake of Peshawar incident

Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.

For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.

As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.

Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.

With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.

Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.

The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.

Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.

Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.

One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.

Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.

Originally written for The Nation

 

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The republic of hate

Following the announcement and a TV report that Veena Malik wishes to join politics in Pakistan, some of us wondered what route she would take and what political party she would care to join. We had her pondering over her options in an interview published last week in The Friday Times. I, for one, wanted Veena Malik to get what she wanted and wished that people would forget about her past transgressions like they have done for other male politicians of Pakistan such as Imran Khan, Sheikh Rasheed, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Maulan Sami-ul-Haq (he even earned the not so respectable moniker of Maulana Sandwich because of his shenanigans) and Yousuf Raza Gilani to name a few.

But that was a few weeks ago, things changed drastically following the hunt against Geo after the attack on Hamid Mir and the all-out campaign invoking the blasphemy law against their morning show team for airing a particular song/qawali during the channel’s live morning transmissions. Veena Malik, her husband Asad Khattak and the host of the show had to leave the country as they were facing threats to their lives for partaking in the supposed blasphemy.

One of the most fascinating and horrifying aspects of this whole fiasco was how social media was used to incite hatred and to ridicule all the people involved in this incident. Not only did pages managed by hate groups fan the flames but regular folks like bankers, students, housewives who apparently used to hang on to every word the morning show host used to say, joined in the vicious attack. It looked as if it was a race to the bottom among all Pakistanis and everyone needed to out-ridicule and out-insult these people on the social media. One cursory look on twitter and facebook and so many images pop up where Hamid Mir’s face is photoshopped on the body of a Hindu priest or Shaista Wahidi is called ‘nangay liberal’ for wearing a burqa while fleeing the country. My personal favourite is one of a visiting card with logos of CIA, RAW and Mossad, Hamid Mir’s face and the word ‘Agent’ in bold print. Talk about being subtle – or NOT.

hamid mirghaddar_hamid-mir-is-a-mossad-agent-of-israel

One of the most recurring sentiment among the people commenting on facebook was that they were all glad that Veena and Shaista had to flee the country and how Pakistan is so much better off now that these two women are not here and are not spreading their brand of ‘behayae’ and ‘beghaerati’. What’s most tragic was the fact that majority of those commenting were women who were probably the most avid consumers of Shaista Wahidi’s morning show and Veena Malik’s performances in Hum Sab Umeed se Hain and Big Boss.

Shaista

All citizens, no matter how amazing or terrible their citizenship experiences have a very personal relationship with their country. Being told that you are not welcome in your own country because a powerful group perceives you to be anti-state or anti-religion or they just hate you because you want to practice what you believe in is cruel and should be a punishable crime because it is out rightly discriminatory. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy in outshouting the other in condemnation of those who are different or belong to a minority that it has become a valid social activity to collectively revile them at leisure.

Incitement of hatred against a person or a group of people is not something new in Pakistan. If anything, we have developed it as an art form. In the sixties, the hatred was focused against Bengalis, in the seventies, it was against the government of Balochistan and the Ahmadis (they were declared non Muslims in the constitution in 1974), in the nineties, MQM a Karachi-based political party was targeted and military operations against the party claimed many civilian lives who had nothing to do with party politics. In the present day Pakistan, hate speech against Ahmadis and Shias is not only the norm, it actually has gained currency among supposedly non violent Muslims. Seemingly progressive people balk at the idea of interacting with an Ahmadi, making friends with one is almost unimaginable.

In a post 9/11 world, hating anything that is perceived to be against mainstream Islam has gained immense popularity in Pakistan. In a race to prove oneself holier than the other religious sect or group, every Muslim is out for the blood of those who do not subscribe to what they consider is the right way of practicing religion. Honor killings citing Hudood as an excuse, random killings citing Blasphemy law as the reason have become so common that people do not even question them. In the land of the pure, a heinous crime like murder gets the makeover of avenging the honour of the family or the honour of the Prophet, the murderer gets garlanded and the victim does not get justice and everyone believes this is how things are supposed to be and there is nothing wrong with the society where murder gets social and legal sanction in the name of religion.

Junaid Hafeez 1

Take the example of two recent murders in Punjab. Rashid Rehman, the human rights activist and lawyer was gunned down in his office for representing a young man Junaid Hafeez in court who was facing blasphemy charges. The opposing council along with members of the clergy had threatened Rehman repeatedly during press conferences covered by the media but following his murder, not a single one of those people were apprehended by the police. Chances are that the officer investigating that case will now be threatened by the same group. If he is smart and values his life, he probably will look the other way and life will just go on for everyone except Rashid Rehman’s family and Junaid Hafeez who in all likelihood will not get a lawyer again.

fatwa

The other murder, of Dr Ali Mahdi Qamar, was followed by a fatwa. This time, the fatwa was against a hospital Tahir Medical Center. Yes, we have progressed (read regressed) to the point that we are now issuing fatwas against buildings, institutions and other inanimate objects. The reason behind the fatwa was that the hospital was run by an Ahmadi charity. As the fatwa also declared any interaction with a ‘Qadiani’ haraam, getting free or paid treatment at the hospital was probably a Gunah-e-Kabira. Dr Qamar, a heart surgeon, flew in from Ohio for a week to conduct free surgeries in that hospital. The problem was that man donating his time and services was an Ahmadi. The fatwa-issuing body probably thought that their target audience may be lured to the said medical centre because there was an American surgeon performing free surgeries so they decided to take that threat away. Dr Ali Mahdi Qamar was shot dead on his second day in Pakistan. After that, people would obviously stay away from that hospital, Islam was saved and some people called dibs on a corner plot in jannat.


23qadiani-businessimages-2

The day is not far when Ahmadis would be required to wear a sign on their bodies like Jews did in Nazi Germany and the people would rejoice in that. What would happen when other groups would be subjected to this kind of criminal discrimination but there would be no one to question the tyranny of conformity?

Originally published in The Friday Times 

All photographs are taken from various facebook groups and pages.

 

May 25, 2014 - Bollywood, Politics    1 Comment

Narendra Modi, channeling his inner Jeetendra

Fear not Gujaratis, your state will now be famous for things other than Dandia in every Sanjay Leela Bhansali film and a comic relief character in Karan Johar’s. The state has produced a politician who will be swearing in as India’s newest Prime Minister on May 26th 2014.

Apart from the fact that the newly elected PM will get to rule sorry serve over one-seventh of the world population, India’s growing power makes that person very important on a global scale. A lot has been said about his role in communal riots, his economic policies, his tea boy past and rags to riches story and why Indians across the country decided to vote for him. Among other things, his sartorial choices have also been discussed. His multicolored kurtas invoked many comments, some even about his sexuality (the fact that he lives with his mother and has been separated from his wife after a brief marriage also contributes to it). It is not just his kurta, his tailor has also been covered by national and international press. People have seen him in kurtas of every color imaginable but for me, the look that must’ve sold some of Bollywood inspired voters is the one where he was channeling his inner Jeetendra.

Modster nodi kurtas big hit

Imagine Modi Sarkar strolling down the gardens of White House, like a boss, for a joint press conference with President Obama in his glorious white suit and pink shirt and those glasses that were probably worn by Shahrukh Khan in Don2. What a fine mix of iconic styles of Jeetu ji and Shahrukh Khan, now that would be one fine example of life imitating art.

NM white suit

Immy K and his band of morons against Geo

Those who know me and have been reading my blog for sometime know that there is no love lost between Imran Khan and yours truly. I mock his supporters (because what else can one do with those who flaunt their stupidity), I lament the fact that some people in my family voted for his party and I mourn the collective short sightedness of my people who do not see how terrible it is to have a dim-witted man in position of power and influence.

Latest in the list of his stupidities is his self righteous fight against Geo Television Network. Before anyone get their panties in a twist, let me iterate that I am not a fan of Geo either (I have worked for the organization and know it inside out) but the witch hunt against Geo that is being spearheaded by Imran Khan and his band of morons (I refuse to call PTI a political party) at the behest of Pakistani Voldemort is rather vulgar and in incredibly bad taste.

Imran Khan accused Geo Network of three gross violations (according to him). First was telecasting a programme against Ahl-e-Bait (family of prophet) in the morning show (they aired a qawwali which is quite common at Shia weddings), one PTI parliamentarian moved a resolution against it in Punjab assembly because there is nothing more worthy of the attention of a legislator than something that was aired on a morning show targeting house wives. Second was running a campaign against Imran Khan. What Mr Khan considered a campaign against him was this tweet by The News staffer Umer Cheema about the pregnancy of a barely legal girl and a politician. It was exactly worded like this: “Pregnancy of a 21-year girl is causing sleepless nights to a leader. His political future in her hands…the most powerful lady these days” on April 29th. No politician was named in that tweet but apparently Imran Khan went to every Tv channel and said that Umer Cheema tweeted about him. The man doth protests too much, does he not? One wonders why? Umer Cheema did follow up with a couple of other teeli tweets. I bet Imran Khan was not too pleased to be called a senior citizen and I am only assuming that because Cheema again did not name anyone.

Mr Khan is also blaming Geo for getting foreign funding which is oversimplification of a contract between the channel, the government and a donor agency. Even a simpleton like Imran Khan should understand how the whole funding process works; after all, his government in KPK has taken a lot of foreign funding to run various projects in their province. No donor agency funds a private organization directly and one or more government departments are always involved.

As someone who was part of Geo when they ran the first Zara Sochiye Campaign (2006) and then worked as an independent consultant during the Education Emergency campaign (2011), I know exactly how Geo got funding for both of them. For the first Zara Sochiye Campaign (which I believe was brilliant) Geo was contacted by the government to pave the public opinion before it launched Women Protection Bill in the parliament. The fact that the said bill was passed and the number of women in Pakistani jails booked under Hudood ordinance came down drastically should be considered a success – both for the government and the channel that ran the campaign. The second Zara Sochiye campaign was paid for by DfID which Geo President Imran Aslam openly talks about in this BBC interview. It should also be noted that various government departments including Prime Minister’s Task Force for Education (it has been disbanded after the promulgation of 18th amendment and education becoming a provincial subject) facilitated the contract between DfID and Geo. The Task Force was actually housed inside the PM’s secretariat at that time so yes, the government was involved in everything. Many other TV channels that are now part of the witch hunt against Geo wanted to do that campaign. The Alif Ailan campaign which was a follow up to that earlier campaign ran on all TV channels was also foreign funded, but I don’t see anyone protesting against that. Why this duplicity?

If Mr. Khan is so adamant about running campaigns against foreign funding, he should first run it against Pakistan Army because the armed forces of Pakistan get the lion’s share of all foreign funding that comes to the country. Then it is the national and provincial governments including the one run by Khan sahab’s party. Private organizations and non profits are far down this chain and get very small amounts in comparison.

People who run Geo’s editorial staff are obviously not the sharpest people around, otherwise they would not have run that 8 hour long transmission against ISI following the attack on Hamid Mir, but the witch hunt that followed them after that is worst that those 8 hours of transmission. Forget about upholding the sanctity of free speech in Pakistan, we all know that it is but a sham, but it should be noted that Geo is not a two bit organization, it probably employs more people than there are card carrying members of PTI. Going after their livelihood because some people did not like what went on during those 8 hours of transmission in this manner is downright cruel. Geo was not the best employer in the industry but it definitely was one of the better and relatively more professional ones. In case Geo is closed down, the media industry is not big enough to absorb all those people. For their sake alone if for nothing else, I hope this witch hunt is called off and their livelihoods are not compromised.

Let’s wish that sanity prevails but my cynicism tells me that it would not be the case.

Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy Khelain – Hunger Games, Pakistan Edition

Do you know what is the most popular sports in Pakistan these days? If your answer is cricket, you are way off the mark. The most popular sport in Pakistan is called “Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy khelain” and it is more lethal than most blood sports out there.

There are no rules to this game. Any random person can get up and blame the other one of blasphemy and before you can ask them to spell blasphemy, the whole country gets involved in it. TV anchors conduct shows discussing that, regular folks like you and I share such text and videos on social media and feel smug about them no matter what their ideological stances are. Most people in Pakistan cannot even spell ideology because they are overwhelmed with “idiology” that surrounds their lives which is rather ironic considering the country was created on ideological grounds, but I digress.

While people in Pakistan continue to play their favourite sport called “Aao Blasphemy Blasphemy Khelain,” they fail to realize that unlike other sports, this one has real victims. There are people who have died because someone decided to play ‘blasphemy blasphemy’. Forget future dystopian literature where people play ‘Hunger Games,’for survival. In Pakistan, human rights defenders like Rashid Rehman play this game every day and pay the ultimate price – their lives. Rashid Rehman was killed for taking up the case of a young man Junaid Hafiz who somehow angered Jamat-e-Islami’s goons in Bahauddin Zakariya University and they blamed him for running a blasphemous page on facebook. I have a feeling that Junaid too will soon be killed by a defender of faith who wants a huge mansion on a corner plot in jannat that is promised to him for killing a blasphemer – evidence against it be damned.

Junaid’s case gives me jitters every time I think about it because it could very easily have been me. Back in 2010, I was teaching a Gender 101 class in a private university and one make student got up and said “men are superior and whatever you are teaching us about physiological differences and psycho-social differences and how one is physical and the other is constructed is wrong.” When I asked him how he came to this conclusion, he said that Islam taught him that and any man made theory is wrong in comparison to what the religion has taught him and whatever I am teaching in the class is incorrect and blasphemous.

It was a three hour long class and I had a lot to cover in those three hours so I told him that he had every right to disagree with me, but I would go ahead with the class because what I was teaching was part of the curriculum and if he had issues with that, he was most welcome to drop the class, it was not like it was a compulsory course.

Just to be on the safe side, I registered that incident with the Dean’s office and forgot all about it. I left Karachi soon after that. One year later, Salmaan Taseer was killed because he too was accused of blasphemy and that was the day I realized how lucky I was that I was actually teaching in a private university with no Muslim Students or Jamat-e-Islami presence on the campus. Had it been Punjab University or Karachi University, I would probably have not survived to tell this tale. So when people go ahead and post news about how Rashid Rehman had it coming or how Junaid deserves to die, I feel like someone is actually writing my own death sentence again and again and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I was lucky that I escaped that but Junaid most probably will not and that survivor’s guilt will hound me for the rest of my life.

The latest entrant in the blasphemy game is Mubashir Lucman who accused Geo Entertainment of blasphemy because the TV channel played a wedding song where the bride and groom are likened to the daughter of Prophet Bibi Fatima Zehra and Ali Ibn-e-Talib.  Had Mubashir Lucman ever been to s Shia wedding, he would have known that Shias like to immortalize the family of the prophet and it is quite a common occurrence at Shia weddings.

Funnily enough another video popped up where ARY, the channel that Mubashir Lucman works for, has played the same song/qawwali at another wedding (It is another debate why every goddamned morning show in Pakistan is hell bent on broadcasting live weddings at 9.00 am every other day). Ironically, the debate in Pakistan is not about how ridiculous this blasphemy game is but about how they both have committed blasphemy. It is not just Shia weddings; even Sunni weddings have wedding songs   about presence of Rasool-e-Pak at the event so anyone who sings those songs can also be called a blasphemer. The day is not far when Pakistan would become a country of blasphemers because everyone would accuse the other of blasphemy to out moralize everyone around them.

The blasphelmy fatwa games started with individuals and have now reached organizations; it is only logical that inanimate objects would be issued fatwas for committing blasphemy in near future. Forget Mullahs and Sunni Ittehad Council and all the other councils who vow to defend the honour of the people who are long gone by killing the living breathing ones because it is their raison d’être. It is the regular folks who are partaking in this game as they are complicit in those murders by sharing the beliefs perpetuated by the Mullahs and by sharing those news items on social media and by not questioning the goons who use blasphemy law as a murder weapon because blasphemy law is a murder weapon – the safest ultimate murder weapon out there. If you kill someone inciting blasphemy, chances are that you will never be held responsible and if you do get apprehended on an off chance, you are guaranteed free legal services and would be garlanded on every court appearance you make and no judge in the land of pure would dare to sentence you because at the end of the day, survival instincts trumps everything else.

Iqbal’s Muslim Superman

In the past 65 years, the idea of Pakistan has been academically and dispassionately discussed many times. Unfortunately, it has happened elsewhere, not in the country; which is kind of ironic, considering that it is one of the only two countries of the world that were created on the basis of ideology. Bearing in mind that the idea of Pakistan is not a popular topic of debate in the country, Rubina Saigol’s The Pakistan Project: A Feminist perspective on Nation and Identity is commendable, for it not only discusses the idea of Pakistan, but it does so from a feminist perspective, which is even rarer.

The book details historical perspectives on the cultural nationalism of Pakistan. What makes this analysis different from other such endeavours is that it examines the body of work of four pre-partition Muslim scholars who tried to come up with the idea of Muslim womanhood and Muslim manhood, following the anarchy and upheaval caused by the war of 1857 and the loss of the Mughal throne.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, though considered an advocate of women’s education in present-day Pakistan, was of the view that women should not be taught “geography” as they are not active in public spaces in any capacity (economic, political or social) in a non-familial way. The emphasis was on containment of women to the more traditional roles of mothers, wives and daughters.

The other writer whose writing Saigol deconstructs is Deputy Nazeer Ahmed. His novel Mirat-ul-Uroos is considered a guide on “how to be a good Muslim woman” for over a century and if its status in Pakistani pop culture is any indication (it gets remade every few years in a television serial and is part of secondary school curriculums), it remains extremely relevant. Saigol states that unlike Syed Ahmed Khan, Nazeer Ahmed believed that women should be taught secular subjects, because a well-rounded education makes them outstanding mothers and good administrators who run their homes smoothly. But he too believed in keeping Muslim women away from the public sphere. His book states many times that a good Muslim woman must never consider herself equal to a man.

Saigol concludes this section by discussing Muslim manhood, as imagined by Akbar Allahabadi and Allama Iqbal. Both consider Muslim nationalism rooted in past glories, machismo and conquest. Akbar Allahabadi blamed all the social and economic evils on women shunning purdah and entering public spaces, and linked nationalism with controlling women’s mobility.

Just like Allahabadi, Allama Iqbal’s poetry also glorifies the distant past of Muslim colonialism. For him, the idea of nationalism was rooted in the exploits of “mard-e-momin” — a Muslim man, or a Muslim Superman as Saigol likes to call him — of the past who conquered lands and had control over women’s sexuality. With British colonisation of South Asia, that masculinity was lost and could only be regained by reviving the glory of past Muslims; rediscovering faith and regaining control over sections of society that are not mard-e-momin, i.e. women  and children. Saigol firmly believes that these ideas of masculinity and femininity espoused in the poetry of Iqbal and Allahabadi have greatly impacted the gendered consciousness of Pakistan.

Saigol cites examples from Pakistani text books about how women have been viewed; not as direct citizens, but as subordinates to men who enjoy primary citizenship rights. As state and nationalism are both very masculine in the Pakistani context, men are its natural citizens who mediate relations between state and women. Saigol points out that in Pakistani curricula; citizenship is constructed around the concept of masculinity. The father is the head of the family; he brings home the disposable income, pays taxes and makes economic decisions. There is mention of respect accorded to mothers, wives, sisters and daughters in the society, but not to women in general. Male identity has rights; female identity is defined in terms of duties, to ensure that they stay confined to traditional roles that enable social and sexual regulation.

No piece of academic literature that discusses feminist perspective on Pakistani nationhood and identity would be complete without a mention of how the constitution categorically denies its female citizenry some basic rights. Saigol cites the usual pieces of legislations like the law of evidence, Qisas & Diyat. Law of evidence considers the value of a woman’s testimony in a court of law half in comparison to that of a man. Qisas & Diyat also diminish the value of a woman’s life by half. Naturalised citizenship is also shackled with constraints of gender. A male Pakistani can marry a woman from any part of the world, and she would be granted naturalised citizenship. A foreigner married to a Pakistani woman would not be accorded the same right.

Saigol’s book is praiseworthy for many reasons. It not only critically examines the poetry of Iqbal — the national poet, hence an untouchable figure — but also quotes Azad’s prediction about Pakistan’s future Balkanisation. It raises questions that many in a religiously conformist state like Pakistan are afraid to ask. It questions the standard feminist perspective of viewing everything with a secular lens, and points out instances where women are trying to forge an identity within the religious framework — at times supporting patriarchy — but creating a space for themselves nonetheless. It questions if women should give up the idea of citizenship in a state that views citizenship in terms of masculinity. It questions the idea of creating a hostile Other in the curricula — usually a religious minority or ethnic minority — which gives rise to further masculation of the idea of state. She tackles a tricky subject without drama and comes out with an academically sound, cogent and coherent feminist perspective on Pakistani nation and identity. This book is recommended to everyone who is curious about Pakistani ideology, the role gender plays in the construction of that ideology, its historical roots and how that ideology came out of disorder and is creating more chaos.

But if The Pakistan Project should be admired for just one reason, in my opinion it would be coining the term “Iqbal’s Muslim Superman.”

Originally written for The Sunday Guardian

Book Title” The Pakistan Project: A Feminist Perspective on Nation and Identity

Writer: Rubina Saigol

Publishers: Women Unlimited/Kali for Women

Pages: 388 Rs. 650

Jan 14, 2014 - Pakistan, Personal, Politics, rant    No Comments

Things that pissed me off last week

Last week, I wrote a piece called “19 reasons why you should NOT become besties with your BFF’s girlfriend.” Now those of you who have been reading my blog would know that I tend to rant like this occasionally where I try to write in a self-effacing manner to inject some humour without sounding like a patronizing prick but some people just tend to take everything so literally which pisses me off to no end.

Quite obviously, topping the list of things that pissed me off last week are the responses I got on that particular piece.

The first question that I was asked, “Was it biographical?”

If a writer is writing in first person or second person, it does not necessarily mean it is her life story. Sometimes a story sounds better in third person, sometimes it sounds better in first person and the aforementioned story was in second person – a first for me. Yes, I happen to have male friends and I do get along very well with their significant others. I may have borrowed something from one or two of them but it was not my life story, nor was it theirs. It did not say that it was autobiographical.

The second question was, “If you love your BFF love so much (my BFF – as mentioned in that article – was a man), why don’t you date him yourself?”

Like I said earlier, it was not an autobiography. Secondly, telling a woman to date a guy whom she called a man-child on a public forum, not the smartest of ideas I am afraid.

Another comment that came after my response to the first question was, “You sure it did not happen? It read like a kinky dystopian triangle.

Dystopian and love triangle!

If there is one thing I hate more than the abuse of word dystopian, it is the whole concept of romantic triangles. Argh!

The other thing that pissed the hell outta me was Jennifer Lawrence being — well Jennifer Lawrence. Back in the day when she started photo bombing people during award shows, people found it endearing. I did not, but I tolerated it. Two years later, she is still photo bombing and people still think it’s cute, I mean WTF? As if that was not enough, she said that she wanted to push Taylor Swift off the red carpet to sound goofy and the world loved it? I mean popularity of reality TV is an indication of general dumbing down of the society but cheering that on did hurt me in my soul.

Wake up people; go read a book (but nothing by Stephanie Meyers and that 50 shades lady) take a walk in the park, think and reflect and you will realize that no one is that cute. It is all orchestrated. Appreciate it for the amazing personal branding but please don’t fall for it.

Colton Haynes has all my respect for trolling Jennifer Lawrence

 

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Imran Khen being the tool that he is

 

Rounding off the things that pissed me off last week was Imran Khan insulting Sindhis by calling Mahmud Ghaznavi the liberator of the land (he never liberated it, only raided it so it was historically incorrect as well). I mean we all know that he is not the sharpest tool around (he is just a tool) but likening yourself to the invader and looter of the land takes a different level of insensitivity. The fact that Imran Khan actually tweeted that did not piss me because I expect that from him. The fact that some people actually cheered that message pissed me off like nothing else.

Wondering when will we get our heads out of our asses, if we ever will, and see the things they are.

Sep 6, 2013 - Bollywood, Politics    5 Comments

Satyagrah tries everyone’s patience

 

This is not a film review, this is basically a rant. If you want to read a review of this film, try New York Times. Yes, Bollywood now gets reviewed by New York Times.

I should start this non review with the declaration that I only watched Satyagrah for Arjun Rampal.

I don’t watch a lot of Hindi cinema, heck, I don’t even watch all Arjun Rampal films but I wanted to watch this one. There is no doubt that Arjun Rampal is the best desi eye candy out there, but a kurta clad bhaiyya accented Arjun Rampal  (a la Raajneeti) is positively lethal and the best thing since the advent of soft round chapattis. Sadly, he was barely seen in the film, I mean the director had the temerity to plaster his pretty face on the poster but he only had three and a half dialogues and four close up shots and fans like me were left wondering how can anyone who is not visually impaired give more screen time to Ajay Devgan or Amitabh Bachchan or his behen ji type daughter-in-law when they had the oh so glorious Arjun Rampal at their disposal.

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Arjun Rampal in all his orange kurta glory

Ajay Devgan looked too old and too fat and far too plebeian to pull off the ameer naujawan role, the most tragic part of the film was that he actually used the phrase “Hum naujawan” (Us youth). I mean who uses the world naujawan after leaving university anyways? What added insult to the abuse of the term youth was a dialogue in the penultimate scene, where a 45 year old Ajay Devgan asked a 41 year old muhalla leader Arjun Rampal to form a political party of youth which will bring about the desired change. The Indian youth should totally sue the writer/director for that transgression, especially in case of Ajay Devgan who is sporting a paunch in this film and looks closer to pension eligibility. Thank God Arjun Rampal kept quiet and did not utter a single naujawani related dialogue because that would have surely dampened my decade long infatuation.

The Ajay Devgan romance with Kareena Kapoor’s journalist character was also forced. Perhaps the writer/director wanted to present yet another interfaith romance – Ajay Devgan was a Manav and the journalist lady was a certain Ms Ahmed – which resulted in a series of yawns. They first met in a party, then had chai at a dhaba during a dharna (extremely romantic setting), next thing you know, Ajay Devgan is calling her to some tiny town in UP/Bihar to cover some small time protest and she leaves a trip to Japan with the prime minister to go and cover that. As a former TV journalist, I know it for a fact that NO ONE will ever pull off that stunt, and especially not for Ajay Devgan. Then he went missing and turned up two days later, she screamed at him for not informing her about his whereabouts and how worried she was, he silenced her with a kiss and before you can blink an eye, off they go to a bedroom in someone else’s house (it was Amitabh’s house where he lived with his behen ji vidvah bahu) and boom, they sleep together. As if that was not awkward enough, the copy I caught on Jadu Tv had Shahid Afridi’s name printed below an amorous Kareena Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. (Jadu TV is like Desi Netflix in North America, I have a feeling that most of the content on that is not really legal but I digress).

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Shahid Afridi is omnipresent and so is Ajay Devgan’s paunch

 

The saddest part of the film was that Ajay Devgan lived, despite receiving bullets in his body. For a minute I thought that they may go in that direction where they take risks and hero dies but it did not happen. Even though he got shot thrice in his torso, he miraculously sported a plastered left arm afterwards. I hate when film makers give such super human powers to any character played by Ajay Devgan. I think it is just plain cruel.

Despite his miniscule role, Arjun Rampal with Bhojpuri/bhaiyya accent, his orange Kurta, chador, jeans, joggers with brightly colored socks (yes, I notice everything about Arjun Rampal – how can you not) was the only thing to watch in an otherwise very mediocre film.

There was no story, no plot and no narration in the film, watch it if you are a masochist or an Ajay Devgan fan which is synonymous in my opinion.

For Arjun Rampal fans, I recommend that they should wait, a gentle soul will soon upload all his 3 ½ dialogues in a Youtube video which we can later watch, minus Ajay Devgan of course.

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Added this photo in the end because why not.

The F Word

Let’s just be very clear about one thing – ‘Feminist’ was never a very popular label to begin with. Since the first wave of feminism, feminists were labeled as men hating, religion shunning, morally ambiguous beings challenging the social order of the day. Though some things have changed since then – women suffrage is almost universal and most constitutions grant their female citizens basic civil rights – quite a few remains just as tough and the stigma attached to the label ‘feminist’ is just as clear and present as it was at the turn of 20th century.

While this abhorrence of the term feminist is quite commonplace, there is a new trend emerging of late. Female celebrities are getting up and denouncing feminism and declaring in the loudest possible voice that they are NOT feminists.

Why this regression in thought? Once upon a time we have had female celebrities who were headstrong and had no qualms about ruffling a few feathers and coming out as strong and independent women – be it Mae West or Dorothy Parker. Now everyone from Beyonce Knowles to Taylor Swift to Gwyneth Paltrow to Madhuri Dixit is at pains to declare it to the world that they are not feminists.

Just mention it to a female celebrity that she is considered a strong woman by her audience and perhaps she is a feminist and chances are that you will end up facing a deluge of words telling you that they are ‘oh so not a feminist’.

On one end you have someone like Lady Gaga who made absolutely no sense when she said, “I am not a feminist – I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male and beer and bars and muscle cars,” because frankly a five year old – if he or she could articulate – would tell you that appreciation for beers or bars, loving men and demanding equality among genders are so not mutually exclusive. On the other hand you have Gwyneth Paltrow who distanced herself from feminism by stating that feminist activist Gloria Steinem wouldn’t approve of her lifestyle, having chosen to compromise her career for her family and relationship. Since when the approval of one woman – no matter how iconic a feminist she was – defines feminism and what it entails? Someone needs to tell Ms Paltrow that liberty of choosing a certain lifestyle is one of the basic tenets of feminism.

As late as earlier this year, Beyoncé in an interview stated, “That word [feminist] can be very extreme … I do believe in equality … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.” Somehow Ms. Knowles is under the impression that being happily married, having a family and loving your husband do not make one a feminist.

Demi Moore also joined the idiot bandwagon when she said that she finds the term feminism obsolete because the world does not need it any more. “I’m a great supporter of women, but I have never really thought of myself as a feminist,” she said. “I think clearly times have changed and women have made their mark in many different areas.”

Closer to home, Madhuri Dixit shunned the word feminist quite vociferously. “I don’t think I’m a feminist. I am independent and strong, which is what women should be like.”

As far as homegrown Pakistani celebrities are concerned, there has been no mention of the word feminist or feminism in any public discussion or media interaction – probably because our discourse is so religion heavy, it does not leave any room for non religious debate on anything, most certainly not on feminism.

It must be noted that despite eschewing the term feminism, these celebrities also try and tell the world that they are strong women who believe in equality and fair play because who would want to be called submissive, pliant and weak, right? Well newsflash for them because if they believe that women should be strong and independent and have the same rights at home, workplace and in the society then they too are feminists, they are just too much of a chicken to align themselves with the word and admit it publicly.

Why this rejection of the word feminism? Is it because of the all the misconceptions related to the word which basically says that all feminists are argumentative, dour faced, men hating lesbians (though in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being either dour faced, argumentative or lesbian)? Is it because the celebs fear that by associating themselves with feminism, they will lose their popularity? Is it because we live in the social media dominated age where celebrities are constantly interacting with their fans and know what is expected of them and act and say the things accordingly? Or is it because these feminism shunning celebrities have given someone else the power to define what is acceptable (and feminism is not) and label themselves accordingly?

It is perhaps all the reasons cited above and more. Celebrities like Demi Moore and Lady Gaga rely on their popularity for their success and financial gains and are afraid to use the F word but it also drives home the point that there is no level playing field for women if they have to come out and say that they are not feminists, if anything it tells us that the world needs feminism and its feminist icons and role models.

Feminists do not hate men in general. Most of the women who label themselves as feminists like men just fine. In fact, they may state it more openly than their patriarchy endorsing sisters but that is not the point here. The point here is that they may like or dislike people for various reasons and they can be both men and women.

From Susan Sarandon to Beyonce, despite espousing the principals of feminism, they all shun the word – Beyonce suggested that something like bootylicious should replace feminism while Sarandon thinks humanist is a better word, but is that even the point? Had that been a natural progression of language where one word gives way to another, it would have been perfectly fine but this is not the case here. Female celebrities, who are role model to many, are actively shunning the word because of the negativity associated with it. It is not just a matter of semantics; there is a long history associated with the word and shunning it would mean not only denying that legacy but also dishonoring the struggles of women who made possible the freedoms we enjoy today through their efforts.

Feminism is not just a label, it was a movement – it still is a movement. It is not about the women who turn away from it for popularity but about fighting the fight against injustice for the people who do not enjoy the privilege of equality. The feminist worldview is about fighting patriarchy and creating a more just society for everyone which in turn would benefit everyone – men, women, children, animals and perhaps the environment.

Before these women get up and denounce feminism, have they stopped and pondered that it is feminism that has won us the vote, equal pay – at least in the law, the contraceptive options, property rights, and the right to education among others?

No matter what Demi Moore believes in, we are nowhere close to a world where feminism is not needed. The world is still deeply unequal and women everywhere are victims of discrimination on the basis of sex and it is dishonest to say that a feminism based rights movement is redundant. Even the nature of struggle has not changed – at least in a country like Pakistan where despite universal adult suffrage, there are pockets where women are not allowed to vote and no woman celeb had the decency to raise voice against it.

There was a time when associating oneself with gay rights was considered social hara-kiri. Now there is hardly anyone – at least in the Western world – who would openly say that they are against equal rights for LGBTs and this change happened because some people had the courage to get up and support what they believed in. Feminism needs such champions now. Ellen Page is one of those rare celebrities who wear their feminist identity with pride. She is not afraid of the label and believes that it needs to be out there. “How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is considered a bad word?” asks Page.

Yes, these celebrities are no gender theorists and expecting them to be well versed in the academics of feminism is unrealistic, but expecting them to not disown feminism because it would mean more twitter followers or more popularity amongst the patriarchy supporting majority is not asking a lot. As famous people with clout, it is their responsibility to impact upon others to strive for a more just world. In any case, human beings are not just defined by one single label. We are complex creature and comprise of multiple identities – liberal or conservative, humanist, conformist or non conformist, democrat, socialist or capitalist and so on. It is about time we put an end to this ban on feminism as an articulated political and social concept and celebrities like Ellen Page, Kiera Knightly and Patrick Stewart (yes, men can be feminists too) who flaunt their feminist ideology will help in mainstreaming the word and the ideology.

Say it now, feminism is NOT a bad word. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. I just hope that more people embrace it and help in ridding the word of all negative connotations.

Originally written for ViewPointOnlline

May 30, 2013 - Pakistan, Politics, Social Media    No Comments

Beyond voting

So everyone and his dog has been outraged at polling irregularities in some constituency or the other and blamed everyone from rival political parties to provincial governments to local patwari to bijli ka muhikma to TV anchors to their darzi and in-laws for imagined and real slights and injustices. It is heartening to see that people not only voted but they also cared about the process and did whatever they could to ensure that their voices are heard.

The elections are over now and the people have spoken. They have done their duty as voters but now they have to be responsible about their role as concerned citizens and continue their pressure on not only the government but also the opposition parties to fulfill the promises they made during the election campaign and to get their voice across.

The easiest way to stay in touch with your representatives is through social media.  Almost every political party has official facebook presence, use that page to put your point across and garner support for your cause or opinion. Use twitter to directly interact with politicians, if you speak to them without resorting to foul language and name calling, chances are that they will interact with you and listen to what you have to say.

Make sure you know who your representative in provincial and national assembly is and try and contact them irrespective of your political affiliation because they do not just represent the people who have voted them in, they represent their entire constituency. For instance, if you believe that elected local bodies should be brought back for smooth functioning of the government at your town and tehsil level, badger your representative into bringing that system back.

Once all the assemblies are in order, their websites would have email addresses and phone numbers of all the parliamentarians who can be contacted, if you have suggestions, opinions and views, share them with your representative or any representative who you think will respond. Talk to them, inundate them with your message, wear them down and make them listen to you because they are your representatives and they are in the parliament to make sure that your voice, your hopes and your aspirations are represented in both legislation and government actions.

Be active, participate in the process. If you want the system to change and the politicians to change, you have to change the way you have behaved until now and take charge because that is the only way to bring about any change. There are no guarantees that you will get the desired results if you do your duty as an active concerned citizen but if you don’t shake things up, you know that things will remain static and you will be contributing in maintaining that status quo, it is up to you what you want to be, an agent of change or someone who maintains status quo.

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