Browsing "religion"

Ahmed Shehzad – the traveling evangelist

dude bro

Anyone who follows cricket in Pakistan would remember the disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-2010. Under the captaincy of Mohammed Yousuf, Pakistan lost all three Test matches, all five one-day internationals and the only T20 match of that tour.

Many reasons were cited behind that calamitous tour, including a ball tampering incident involving Shahid Afridi; but one which was not discussed openly and was only whispered for a long time afterward was that batsman Mohammad Yousuf – a former Christian who had converted to Islam in 2005 – was more interested in Tableegh (religious preaching) than in playing cricket.

Later on, a number of tales came up. One of these described Yousuf as having spent the better part of his time running after Australian cricketers to preach to them the virtues of embracing Islam and how it had improved the quality of his life and how it would ensure them a place in heaven.

His efforts obviously did not pay off, for none of the Aussie cricketers converted, as far as we know. But his tableeghi stints did cost Pakistan the series – it was the most shameful showing of Pakistani cricket team in recent times – and his position as the captain of the national team and his career as a cricketer ended soon after. I am not saying that the two were directly related, but Yousuf’s well-built career died after that.

The latest entrant into the preacher zone is Ahmed Shehzad.

During the last one day international on Pakistan’s latest tour of Sri Lanka, Shehzad was recorded on camera telling Tillakaratne Dilshan,

after he scored a 50 and won the match for his team, that “if you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, straight to heaven.”

Apparently Dilshan must have said something along the lines of “Thanks, but no thanks,” to which he later added, “Then be ready for the fire.” Presumably hellfire.

For starters, that was rude, uncalled for and totally inappropriate. It was not like Dilshan and Shehzad were indulging in a heart to heart chat over drinks about existentialist angst and wondering if there is a heaven or hell.

They were walking back to the dressing room after putting in a day in the cricket ground. You cannot just ambush people in the middle of their business and frighten them with eternal hell fires.

Dilshan obviously was more mature and magnanimous. He neither responded to Shehzad after that, nor did he file a formal complaint against the cricketer.

The tragedy of it all is that neither Shehzad, nor his team manager, Moin Khan seem to be showing any remorse. Khan, who has once been arrested for alleged spousal assault and battery, tried to downplay the enormity of this and said that it was just “general banter and nothing more and players do banter with each other from time and time.” Shehzad was no better and believed to have said that it was a personal chat and there was nothing more to it.

However, in a surprising show of responsible behaviour, PCB has set up a three-member committee to probe the incident and had already summoned Shehzad to their headquarters in Lahore.

The incident may not seem that attention worthy, but it was very uncouth and impolite.

Had that conversation, no matter how intrusive and insensitive it was, taken place in private without cameras and Shehzad not wearing Pakistani colors, it would have been a personal matter.

But he chose to do that on the cricket field, in front of cameras rolling while representing Team Pakistan. He should be disciplined for his religious fervour and his desire to be on a ‘mission’ while he is getting paid to do something else – that is, playing cricket to the best of his ability.

I do wonder what Shehzad was thinking, if he was thinking at all, when he approached Dilshan with his message.

Was he planning to secure a sports ministry in a TTP or ISIS-lead government in the future? If that ever comes to fruition, Shehzad must know that they would, in all likelihood, ban sports of all kinds.

Was he trying to secure a corner plot in Jannat by converting a non-Muslim brother and show him the righteous path?

Honestly, after this incident, the only person in need of enlightenment seems to be Shehzad, not Dilshan, who let the matter go quietly and with dignity.

To counter such incidents from happening in future, PCB must prepare a starter kit which has to list acceptable and objectionable conduct and it should detail that randomly telling people that their faith, or lack thereof, will make them burn in hell fires of eternity is never a good opener for polite conversation.

Secondly, they must limit access of influencers like Tariq Jameel and co. who constantly barrage or guilt young cricketers with additional responsibility of tableegh when they cannot even do what they are paid to do with a modicum of responsibility – play cricket.

Thirdly, they must set an example with Ahmed Shehzad and send out a message that preaching should be left to the likes of Tariq Jameel, Saeed Anwar or Aamir Liaquat, cricketers should concentrate on playing well for their country, especially when they are on tours as they are ambassadors of the country and behaviour such as that will not help them in winning people over.

It is about time Muslims in general and cricketers in particular let go of the notion that we, as Muslims, are the chosen one and it is our duty to bring others to the righteous path. Leave it for the professional evangelists and concentrate on doing what we can do well to earn our place in paradise.

 

First published in Dawn

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.


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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.

 

Another victim of misogyny or is it Shariah!

Just about everyone, including UN Commission on Human Rights, has heard and condemned how Farzana Iqbal was pelted with stones and bricks outside Lahore High Court. Farzana was attacked by her family including her father, brothers and former fiance because she chose a marry a man she loved and her family did not approve of that union. She died as a result of that attack, her unborn child also died with her. As if that was not tragic enough, the newspaper report manage to push in a quote by a useless policeman  judging the husband for fleeing the scene to save his life and not being there to die with his wife.  The exact line was

A police official said Muhammad Iqbal was not near Farzana as she was attacked but did not try to prevent the attack, instead saving himself from the members of her family.

It was a brutal crime – a horrific murder – that was committed in front of many witnesses but given the way shariah has literally screwed with most laws in Pakistan, the murderers would not be apprehended because this is how qisas and diyat roll. Your family, instead of state has the power to pardon or seek money instead of justice. As most honour killings are committed by families, they decide pardon.  Husbands, fathers and brothers kill their female family members with impunity because they know that they can get away with it. At times, when they feel like killing someone else, they kill a female member of the family along with the other person to save their hides citing honour killing as a valid reason.

A good 15 years ago, I was interning for a human rights organization and I was given the task to go to court with one of the lawyers and to report on the way court works from a layperson’s view. I was quite excited because I had never seen a real court room before. My colleague was representing a woman seeking khula because her husband was violent and a serial rapist. I naively suggested that getting divorced under those circumstances would not be difficult. My colleague, who spent most of her professional life dealing with douches of all variety was a lot less optimistic. We went in the court room and my colleague presented a couple of witnesses who testified that the husband was indeed a sadistic violent man. The judge seemed uninterested through out and looked outside the tiny window during most of the proceedings. The minute we stepped out of the court room and into the veranda, the husband grabbed his wife and started beating her right there, in that corridor, in front of literally hundreds of people.

My colleague and I tried to stop that man, but after he pushed my colleague too hard, I did not go after him and tried to get the police constables on the duty to stop him, they did nothing more that to verbally ask him to not beat his wife. In the mean time, my lawyer colleague caught hold of the judge presiding that case and asked him to order the police or other court officials to stop it. The judge’s response was something that I will not forget till the day I die. He asked my colleague if the couple are still under nikah which was stupid because the lawyer was arguing for dissolution of that same nikah only a few minutes back. He then went on and said that as long as the woman is married to that man, he cannot do anything about it as it is a domestic matter, in any case, the religion allows it  (Jab tak yeh aurat apnay shuhar ke nikah mein hain, hum kuch nahen kar saktay, yeh gherloo azdawaji mamla hai, waisay bhi  mazhab ne ijazat dee huee hai). The husband also got his message across that he basically owns his wife so he left his sobbing wife behind and walked out of the court as if he did not break multiple laws in front of many witnesses. That was the day I realized for the first time that I was a second degree citizen in my own country and it was not just misogyny but the argument supporting misogyny that is at fault. Yes, I am talking about religious legislation and religious sanction that basically endorses every misogynist idea – be it polygamy, underage marriage, making husbands and fathers wali, Qanoon-e-shahadat, qisas, diyat, hudood to name a few.

The incident that happened 15 years back in Karachi High Court is responsible in a way for what happened with Farzana outside Lahore High Court. If that  judge had taken action against public display of violence against the wife back then, it would have set a precedent and perhaps more judges would have shown sensitivity in matters of gender discrimination.

Every one and his dog has condemned this murder but condemnation is cheap, it did not save Farzana and nor will it save future Farzanas. Everything is set against women – the legislation is against women when they get half the share in inheritance and their witness is considered to be half of that of a man. The society favours men, the economy favours men by recognizing their labour and paying them more for the same job, the familial set up is designed to put men on the pedestal and it all is rooted in religion. As long as religion forms the core of the legislation and how we conduct ourselves in public and private spaces, things will not change. Continue to blame the tool, (man and misogyny) because that is necessary and take measures to deal with it but also blame the argument (religion and how it supports that men are superior, women are subservient etc) that feeds that tool. Unless we are brave enough to address that, things will remain the same.

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.

Email encounters of the other kind!

I get emails – almost anyone who exists in the virtual world gets emails – even if when they do not share that email address with anyone, they still get emails from Nigerian investor wanting to invest in their business and their email provider’s admin. I, unlike other people, get weird emails and I am not talking about spam here.

The emails I get are all not just weird, they cover a very broad range of spectrum. They could be people asking me to give them Urdu language tuition (never taught Urdu in any of my lives and though I speak it fluently and enjoy Urdu literature like any other enthusiast, I cannot teach Urdu Grammar to save my life – sarf-o-nahu anyone?), people sending marriage proposals after reading my articles (they are almost always men from India with a couple of random rishtas from Middle East but I have a feeling that they too would be Indian men), aunties seeking education advice for their sons and daughters (I am supposed to be awesome at fooling universities into providing grants and waiving fees – which I am obviously not – otherwise I would be enrolled in some kind of doctoral program instead of working and dreaming about a life where I would be rich enough to be idle) and people inviting me to expensive “Lawn” exhibitions (people in Pakistan would know what that phenomenon is, the rest don’t need to worry about that and those who know me must wonder why I get those invites considering how sartorially challenged I am).

The point of this whole tirade is that I get weird emails and should not be shocked when I get offers of digital qurbani (slaughtering your goat via skype) and “exclusive” dating services specializing in highly qualified brown people, but nothing prepared me for the email that was waiting for me this morning in my inbox. I actually went WTF out loud on my morning commute – much to the chagrin of an Asian lady sitting next to me at my very unladylike language.

The text of that email was

“I am working on a fiction book which includes a female character’s experiences with online dating. The woman is in her late 40s. I am soliciting stories from women who have dated online. I need unusual, weird, crazy, scary stories. Your name will not be used. Specifics will be changed to protect your privacy. You will NOT be paid for your story.

If you are a single woman – divorced, widowed or never married – who is 40 or older and have met and dated men via online dating websites, please contact. Since this is a Christian novel, stories have to be clean stories. No sex or deviant behaviour, no use of alcohol or drugs and no bad language please. Like I said earlier, keep it clean.

I mean really?

I tried to muster some outrage because the sender thought I was over 40 and over eager (no disrespect for those who go for online dating) enough to have an okcupid profile but come on! How can one not laugh at the message that is clearly bonkers? You want stories of online dating but no salacious details! Why would anyone want to read a book that has nothing going for it? I mean I am no pervert who would want to know details that should not be shared but if you take the bite out of life then what else is left? Would people actually shell out money to read about the stories of online dating for women over forty if it is going to be about creeps stalking your facebook profile, some hand holding of non-platonic kind and group sessions about Jesus saving your sorry selves? That book sounds like a snoozefest even before it is written.

Is there really a market for Christian romance out there? Probably in the Bible belt. I, for one, never thought there was a market for mommy porn but 50 shades proved me and the rest of the snooty people wrong. Who really knows what people actually want, Christian online romance may turn out to be the next big thing, after all Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember was not only a best seller, it also launched Mindy Moore’s rather tame acting career.

The most screwed up country in the world

I don’t get Pakistan. I really don’t.

And I lived all my life in that country.

After a day reading technical work related documents, I indulged in some random surfing this evening and read this short beautiful piece by Vikram Seth on criminalization of gay sex by the top Indian court. The crux of his piece was that everyone who wishes to ban love between people of different religions and castes and of same sex is basically declaring one thing. “My love is right. Your love is wrong.”

I was quite taken in by that heartfelt piece, but then Vikram Seth is a brilliant writer and has this way with words that makes you think. While browsing through some other links on my facebook feed, I came across this video and am flabbergasted. I mean what is wrong with Pakistan, like seriously?

There is a Z list TV actress who apparently could not find any acting job, so she decided to try her luck at journalism and someone was stupid enough to actually hire her as well. In this clip, she lands in the house of a transvestite/intersex/transgender (because we don’t really know whether people who pose as Khwaja Siras in Pakistan are transvestites, intersex or transgender. They could be anyone of those) person with TV crew, cameras and police.

The Khwaja Sira who goes by the name Naila but is legally named Mohammed Saleem (a man’s name) is at home with another man Nadeem  ul Hassan. The journalist started off in a very patronizing tone   addressing the man as “tum”, a term used either to express familiarity or is for people who are considered inferior rather than a more professional “aap” that most journalists would/should use when interviewing a person. She asked him for how long he has been with Naila/Saleem and Nadeem  said that he has been in that house for over a year. Now we do know that no one who is of sound mind would willingly accept to be in a homosexual relationship in Pakistan – and that too in front of camera and police – because if one is lucky, it is tried as a penal offence and one can end up in jail for at least two years, if one is not lucky, it can be tried under Hadd.

The Khwaja Sira tried to cover that up and told the so called journalist that Nadeem is just staying with him after his parents death and that he is not well. Nadeem himself told her that he is undergoing psychiatric treatment with a doctor in a hospital in Gulshan-e-Iqbal  (a middle class locality in Karachi). She scoffed at that information and said that what kind of mentally ill patient would be aware that he is actually mentally instable. She then proceeded to enter in the inner rooms, checked out the closet as if she had an arrest warrant and pointed out the photos of Saleem/Naila  & Nadeem in wedding finery (they were two separate photo by the way) saying that they were committing sin.

She entered someone’s house without permission with police – I only saw the clip so I don’t know if they even have a court issued warrant to enter into that house but they did so. The local police aided and abetted this travesty passing for journalism. The whole report – if it can be called that – was conducted in a sanctimonious and holier than thou tone. That Z list former actor turned journalist ended her tirade against Nadeem and Saleem/Naila by putting the fear of impending epidemic of homosexuality that will engulf the children of all the viewers if strong measures were not taken against people like Nadeem (a man undergoing psych treatment for heaven knows what?) and  Naila/Saleem a Khwaja Sira. The report ended with Nadeem’s arrest. As a gay man undergoing psych treatment with no relative in the country – his brother lives in Canada – I fear what will happen to Nadeem in the police station.

I don’t get Pakistan, I really don’t. My heart went out for this man who looked lost and had no idea what happened to him. This woman – the Z list actress – couldn’t have found two more vulnerable people to attack, even if she tried, but no one will step up to support them because why invoke the wrath of mullah’s by supporting a man who has admitted to being with someone who was not a woman. This country is afraid to stand up to people who kill and maim innocent people but it is considered fair game to attack people in their home for their life style choices that do not affect anyone else but themselves. Nadeem was shown affection by a Naila/Saleem when he was apparently abandoned by his own family, but now he is arrested because he was not shown affection by the right gender. The word irony does not even begin cover this situation.

It’s about time we claim the title for being the most screwed up country in the world. I mean there is water shortage, energy crisis, population explosion, inflation and what not. The country is plagued with terrorism and sectarian violence but most important matter that should be reported is two people living in a house minding their own business and the arrest of a man who was clearly not all there. On the other hand, people like Malik Ishaq are allowed to roam free and spew more hatred.

PS: This is not the most coherent post but then I am angry, and anger strips away coherence at times. I apologize for that.

PPS: Watch the video at your risk, you might want to break a glass or two to vent after watching this. Trigger Warning.

PPPS: When will PEMRA wake up and take notice of this crap passing on as journalism.

 

 

Legal Status of LGBT in Pakistan

The Pakistani Constitution does not explicitly make mention of sexual orientation or rights of people of alternate lifestyle, but Article 377 of its penal code criminalized all consensual sexual activity outside marriage. As LGBT people cannot get married, any and all consensual sexual activities would be considered illegal and a person can land in jail for anytime between two to ten years for that. In addition, government appointed Islamic Nazariyati council also get to have a say in all matters as all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam, the official religion of the state so there is a chance that you can be tried under Hudood Ordinance, then you can be put in jail for life or can get life sentence.

 

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

Jul 15, 2013 - Pakistan, Ramazan, religion    4 Comments

Violence and the religious sanction it gets in Pakistan

My facebook Timeline has a couple items that were repeatedly shared by many today.

The first was a video of a security guard who was attacked by religious zealots for eating during the fasting hours in the month of Ramazan (when all adult Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sun down). He was attacked for not upholding the sanctity of Ramazan. There are quite a few people on Facebook who supported this act of violence by saying that eating is not allowed by law in Pakistan and that security guard should not have eaten.

The second was the photo of Abrar Hussain – a former Olympian and a Gold Medalist Boxer – who was gunned down in Quetta sometime back (4 other Hazaras were killed in Quetta today). His crime was that he was a Hazara Shia. It has been an open season on Hazaras and Quetta has become a killing field where terrorists of Laskhar e Jhangvi roam free and kill their prey at will.

Abrar Hussain - from his meeting with his idol Muhammad Ali to a bloodied bullet ridden body

 

I wont go into the details of Hazara killings because far more qualified people have written heartfelt pieces on the plight of Hazaras in Pakistan. I have just one question for everyone who reads it. Are these not acts of sheer barbarism and against everything that decent and human? As these acts are carried out in name of religion, isn’t there something seriously wrong with the way it has pervaded our society and provides sanction to most heinous of crimes?

If you condone above acts of barbarism, then I have nothing further to say to you but if you condemn beating up people for not fasting during the month of Ramazan or randomly killing them because they practice a different version of faith then please, don’t stay silent and separate religion from everything else – law, public spaces, government, social interactions and legislation. Religion should be a way that lets the believers connect with God, it should not give license to the practitioners of any faith to kill and persecute others.

Please think and reflect, it is as simple as that.
Photo courtesy: Traitors of Pakistan

Jun 3, 2013 - Pakistan, religion    9 Comments

Thank God Zakir Naik is NOT a Pakistani

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Last week I wrote a post about how Council of Islamic ideology is coming up with recommendation that DNA evidence should not be used as the principle evidence in cases of rape. Express Tribune’s blog section reproduced that post without much editing (for which I am grateful). Like most posts on ET blogs, that one too got some responses (hardly anyone leaves comments on my blog even though I publish everything except abusive language) but my favourite comment came from someone called “I am a Khan” who basically wanted every Mullah in Pakistan to be replaced by clones of Dr Zakir Naik.

This gentleman not only wants Zakir Naik to head CII but also want his disciples to rule and regulate religious norm in Pakistan. All of a sudden, I feel not too hostile towards our maulvis who despite many shortcomings do not come up with fictional characters, verses and books to prove their point. Here is a youtube link for those who can access it about lies and creative fiction that Zakir Naik passes as science, religious and social history and text.

And yes, I am still baffled that people can not only like but follow someone as odious as Zakir Naik. Albert Einstein was spot on when he said that human stupidity is infinite.

May 30, 2013 - Pakistan, religion, women    12 Comments

Fatwas against science and semantics

Pakistan is a strange country. Considering the fact that 70% of the population comprise of youth, there is no Council of Youth Affairs to safe guard their rights. A great majority of the population has no access to health & reproductive facilities but there is no council working to ensure that people of Pakistan should be provided with basic healthcare. On the other hand, a good 97% of the population follows some kind of Islam or the other but the country still need multiple councils and other bodies to safeguard the religion. Two such bodies – Federal Shariat Court & Council of Islamic Ideology – regularly come up with suggestions to make Islam even stronger in the country.

The latest in the line is the brand new set of Fatwas and advisements by Council of Islamic ideology (CII) against science and semantics – yes, you got it right – against science and semantics.

The CII has advised Higher Education Commission and other relevant institutions to refrain from using the English translation of “Allah”, “Rasool” & “Masjid”. That is not all; the Council also deemed usage of terms “Holy Book” & “Holy Place” illegal in reference to Quran & Masjid.

The Council also believes that the blasphemy laws of the country are perfect the way they are and should not be touched.

The Council also declared the process of cloning illegal. I am not sure what is their stance on stem cell research or if they even know about it but if they are against cloning, chances are they are against that too. I have a feeling that the minute one of the members of CII loses a limb or a spleen and is assured that they would get a new one made, they will change their tune.

Last but not the least, CII chose to attack the weakest of the weakest section of the society – the raped woman. The latest fatwa by the council says that DNA evidence should not be used as the principle evidence in cases of rape (zana-bil-jabar) and can only be used as circumstantial evidence. As I was unable to fathom the text and logic behind this ruling, I looked around. Nusrat Javeed and Mushtaq Minhas discussed the advisements in their May 29th show of Bolta Pakistan and spoke with one of the members of CII Allama Tahir Ashrafi to clarify the issue. Must point out that Nusrat Javeed pressed the issue as much as he could’ve done considering he is a public figure and lives in Pakistan.

Tahir Ashrafi reiterated that DNA should be considered – at best – a circumstantial evidence on basis of which arrests can be made and further investigations should be carried out. However, a suspect must not be punished on the basis of DNA evidence alone, for that evidence of 4 Muslim male adults is necessary.

Tahir Ashrafi also added that they have doctors in the Council who say that there is doubt in DNA testing (DNA testing is 99.9 accurate) and as the shariah compliant punishment for the crime is very hard, one has to be careful. What I gathered from Ashrafi’s statement on the TV show is that they are concerned about protecting the rights of a person who might be a rapist but are less concerned about the rights of a woman who has been subjected to a gross personal violation and a heinous crime.

The most logical response to that line of reasoning is that most criminals who rape women do it without audience and if somehow we happen to chance upon those elusive 4 Muslim male adults present during the crime of rape, under any civil law they would be considered accomplices to the crime, not morally upright witnesses. If I were a legislator, I would call for making a law that would hand out the harshest punishment for those 4 adult, supposedly pious Muslims men who were silently witnessing a crime as horrible as rape.

The gender bias of the CII is evident from the fact that they have ruled out use of DNA sample as a primary evidence in rape crimes alone and has not barred their use as primary evidence in other criminal activities such as murder.

We are living in 21st century where Artificial Intelligence has made human participation is so many acts redundant. Any function that can be mechanized will be mechanized yet Maulvis is Pakistan are busy ruling science out from every sphere of life, from Ramzan and Eid moon sightings to crime investigation.  Rape is a crime, not a religious matter hence its investigation should also be criminal matter following the protocol of any criminal investigation. Human beings can and do lie but DNA evidence does not, if implicated in a crime wrongfully, most human beings would prefer to prove their own innocence through scientific evidence rather than something as flimsy as another man’s word.

Pakistani maulvis have very selective appreciation for science. They like it when it is used to make air planes that take them for umrah, loud speakers with which they make calls for azaan five times a day, cell phones, missiles, bombs and what not but declare that DNA evidence is not a conclusive proof of rape because science is uncertain and there is a .001% chance of the evidence being incorrect.

As far as legality of things stand, appointment of Maulana Muhammed Khan Sherani who headed that CII session is also illegal, hence all the recommendations of CII should be immediately discarded (if you ask me, the whole council should be disbanded but that is just wishful thinking on my part).  The constitution demands that CII chairman has to be a person with no political affiliation but Maulana Sherani is a parliamentarian, JUI-F’s Senator from Balochistan, which makes the whole council a bit shady.

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