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

Jul 6, 2013 - Books, Personal    6 Comments

There is more to life than childish pursuit of happiness

There are more bad writers than there are good writers, just like there are more boring people than really interesting ones, it is like the law of nature – or something akin to it. What is tragic – at least in our times – that people prefer to read the truly awful ones instead of the few decent writers that are out there.

I could not care less about those who write vampire and werewolf stories or those who write badly written but best selling mommy porn, we all know that it is crap and it will go down in history as such. It is the pseudo intellectual philosophical babble that people try to pass as literature that gets my goat. What irritates me even more than popularity of best selling pop philosophy is the use of words like iridescent and constant optimism it spreads.

The world is a dark dark place, life is a bitch and then you die and after that there is an endless vacuum. Yes, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, in fact many do not even get to see the end of the tunnel so why can’t people get their heads around that and be content with misery which in my opinion is a natural state of being.

Why there are more people who read and actually believe in the garbage spewed by Coelho than someone like Kafka?  A line like this – “When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it” – is nothing but merely a line, the universe continues to function like it should; however, “There is an infinite amount of hope in the universe… but not for us” is not just a line, it is the truth.

Here is to accepting truth and living with loneliness, sadness and misery. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact this constant pursuit of happiness is rather childish and looks okay only on a Hallmark greeting card.

 

 

PS: Started writing this post on Kafka’s birthday but got sidetracked and started reading the metamorphosis once again. Now go and buy a decent book and read it and reflect. You guys owe it to yourselves.

 

Jun 20, 2013 - Books, Reading    4 Comments

A coming of age story like no other

Golden Boy

When people have been reading for as long as I have, they develop a way of picking up books. They have genres that they like, certain writers they want to read again and again, recommendations by friends and critics or something as random as an interesting title that they must browse through. I use all of the above methods and they have worked for me most of the time. However, the only reason I picked up Golden Boy was that it was set in England and I like stories set in England. The writer Abigail Tarttelin is not someone I have ever heard of, the title was ordinary and the cover was okay but boy, what a book! I think it turned out to be the most profound read of the year – at least for me.

Golden Boy is the story of Max, a sixteen year old who had everything going for him, he was smart, popular, good looking, gentle, kind, good athlete, wanted by girls, respected by his mates, loved by parents and adored by his little brother. Life couldn’t be more perfect, but all started going downhill after a nasty incident, which made him realize that his life is ruled by a secret and how he must protect it to attempt to live a ‘normal’ life.

I generally don’t like books or movies that are centered on a family or push family values probably because I grew up in a country that is not too keen on individualism and the society presses on familial obligations a little too forcefully. The way traditional family is thrust upon us by popular media is also a major turn off but the way Abigail Tarttelin has woven this story – it is in first person by six major characters – is simply beautiful. Despite being a story of a family and what they had to go through collectively in the aftermath of a shocking incident, it is also the story of six individuals Max, his younger brother Daniel, his parents Karen & Steve, his girl friend Sylvie and Dr Archie Verma, told through their voice so that the reader is not influenced by just one voice and constructs and interprets the story the way s/he wants to.

I am not really a crier. If anything, I am one of those people who laugh at most inopportune times. My friends think I should not attend somber events and funerals because I cannot be trusted not to laugh. I don’t cry at romantic melodrama in films and find most of it cheesy, but I cried – cried a bucket load of tears – for Max the protagonist of this novel and one of the most endearing characters that ever leap out of the pages of a book. How can one not empathize with the Golden Boy who is about to lose his halo and has no clue how he has been wronged and he continues to blame himself for it all.

There is no verbosity or philosophical tone to the text, probably because most of the story is told to us by teenagers and a 10 year old, but there is introspection. And the characters – they just break your heart. I wanted to jump into the book and hold Max’s hand and tell him that he is great and wanted to shelter him from everything. How often do we get to feel that way about fictional characters?

The mastery of the writer is amazing, even when she is quoting stuff from Wikipedia in the book – and she did it twice I think – the heart of the story makes up for it. She wrote about Maltesers and STDs and autumn in the same line and somehow made it melancholic and heartrending. Tarttelin has discussed things like motherhood, loneliness, identity and the quest for someone of your own, the idea of ‘normal’, the insecurity of living under the perfect older sibling, the inability of parents to make decisions about their children, the fondness of an older sibling for the younger brother with utmost honesty. Above all, she has created a coming of age story like no other. She has created a world so real that you not just know what each and every one of them are going through, you actually get it.

I read Golden Boy in four days, could have read it in a lot less time but I took breaks in between to cry, to muse, to assess my life until now and think about the choices I have made and to wonder if I was in situations like any of the characters how would I behave. Yes, this book hits you so hard that you are compelled to pause and ponder.

The book taught me the value of empathy and compassion and how badly we need it without even knowing it. I am one of those people who give books to others – usually younger people – when I want them to think about things that I consider important. From now on, Golden Boy would be the book that I would recommend to everyone because we all need to open our hearts a little more, accept the other and unknown and just be gentle and kinder in general. The book affected me in a way very few things have; it made me want to be more open hearted, more loving and a better human being.

Way to go Abigail Tarttelin, you have created an amazing piece of literature that will profoundly affect a lot of your readers and you have done it at the tender age of 25. I cannot recommend this book enough; seriously, go buy your copy now.

 

Mother tongue and the other tongues

speak

Human beings are designed to either want things or to want to do things. Most have a list of things they would like to do or get or achieve before they hit the bucket. It can range from wanting to walk the Appalachian Trail to wanting to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to having 17 wives and over 100 kids. (I’m not joking: there is actually a person in the UAE who is doing this, and that too with government funding.)

My own wishes are a bit more prosaic and don’t require me to walk through a country or hike to a mountain peak or procreate like crazy. One of them is to become multilingual.

There is merit in learning languages other than the one you grew up speaking. (This applies especially to speakers of English, which almost everyone speaks these days.) I don’t want to learn a new language because it would look cool on my college application – been there, done that, multiple times – without ever knowing a third language. In fact, I already have three degrees and if I even think about going back to school (which I secretly do), my sisters will commit me to a mental institution. The doctors at the mental institution will have to coin a new term for my disease which would sound something like “addicted to being a student so she can do all the peculiar stuff she wants to and stay unemployed while pretend to pursue academic excellence”… but I digress. I also don’t want to learn a new language just so I can be known as that “crackpot who can speak Ukrainian”; there are enough reasons already for me to be classified as a crackpot (Ukranian or no Ukranian). I don’t even want to be called a well-rounded person because I am a well-rounded person. As a matter of fact, I need to turn some of that roundedness into muscle, but I digress again. My problem is this: every time I decide to learn a new language, something happens that puts me off it. It is either a series of unfortunate events or a horrid person or my lack of perseverance or a combination of it all, but I am yet to master a third language – I have checked, sarcasm doesn’t count as a language, although it should, given that it is the Esperanto of our time – and I am digressing yet again.

Anyone who knows me knows my love for Ghalib. When people land in Delhi for the first time, they want to eat food at Dilli Haat or see Qutub Minaar or have their pictures taken at Laal Qila. I went to pay respect to Mirza Ghalib at his mazaar. Abba (not the Mama Mia fame 70s pop act – I call my father Abba) used to say that in order to fully appreciate Ghalib one must know Farsi. And so I always wanted to learn it to understand Ghalib better.

But my 45-day trip to Iran – I was working on a travelogue for a TV channel – stripped me of all the love and affection I had for the language. All I can now remember is the haggling I did in grammatically incorrect Farsi at the Grand Bazaar of Tehran and how the Irani actor who was working on our project complained that he had been sexually propositioned by a Pakistani actor and how I first had to placate him and then requested him not to register a complaint in a weird mix of barely-there Persian and English with a few Urdu and Punjabi expletives thrown in for my personal satisfaction. I had to do that to get out of that country without getting entangled with law enforcement agencies because we were told that homosexual advances are considered a non-bailable offence in Iran. I wanted to learn Persian to appreciate Ghalib’s poetry more and ended up groveling to a guy for not reporting an incident of sexual aggression – something I don’t believe in – to save my skin along with that of my crew. That took care of my fascination with Persian. (Now I only throw random phrases of Farsi in the middle of arguments to sound learned.)

As a child, I also wanted to learn Arabic because I naively thought it would guarantee me a place in heaven. Growing up generally and dealing with a Saudi stalker at university who refused to register the fact that no amount of petro dollars would make him popular with normal folks took care of my childish enthrallment with Arabic (to say nothing of the visions of paradise associated with the language). The fact that I can still fool my European friends at Dubai airport into believing that I know Arabic by reading the flight schedule in the language also played a part (why learn a new language when people think that you know it already?).

Another language I have toyed with is French. I hate snooty waiters at French restaurants who correct my pronunciations. I dream of going to a French restaurant and ordering Soupe au pistou, Boeuf Bourguignon and Salade Niçoise without fumbling once. Back in college, I tried speaking French with my friend Frédéric but every time I tried take the name of a dish, he cracked up and dashed my hopes of holding my head high in a French restaurant and proudly order escargot borguignonne – the thing is that I don’t even eat snails, I only wanted to order them, without repeating the word thrice to make sure that waiter got my order.

Back in college I lived in student halls and when we got a brand new community room with a huge TV (I graduated 9 years ago, so that TV was a big deal) I wanted to enjoy that too. The problem was that every time I would go there – and I tried sneaking in at 3 a.m. – the room would be full of Greek students watching football. I had to give in eventually and learned to appreciate football with them. Not only that, but I also learned to enjoy Greek food, how to order it in the lone Greek takeaway in the neighbourhood and all the choice swear words in Greek that people in my building used to hurl at their teams when they would not do well. If I ever end up attending a football match in Thessaloniki or Athens, I would be totally at home out-swearing the wildest of sports hooligans. They say – and I don’t know who “they” are – that if you know how to swear in a language, it is half the battle won, so perhaps I can say that I “get by” in Greek.

Unfortunately, proficiency with Greek cusswords is not a skill I can list on my Linked In profile and hope to increase my chances of landing a high-paying job. The way things are in Greece right now, that will probably make me eligible for an economic bailout.

I think it is time I get serious about learning a new language and I have decided to concentrate on Spanish for various reasons. For starters, I have actually attended one La Liga match in Madrid.  Secondly, I have seen all Pedro Almodóvar films. Thirdly, I have always wanted to sing along Spanish songs and what can be a better incentive to learn a new language than singing along the songs that you liked but could not understand.

Hola Español, Here I come.

Originally written for The Friday Times the image is also reproduced from The Friday Times

Passing desi-isms as sage advice

Most people think that they have this one major problem and if they could change that about themselves, they believe their lives would improve drastically. Some people think that if they lose weight, or manage their anger or embrace spontaneity, their lives would be better. In my case, it is my lack of ability to say no that always ruins it for me. If I somehow manage to say the golden word NO, I end up with so much guilt that I actually regret making the right decision.

If only someone was teaching a course on how to politely say, “Please God, No”, “Not my problem” and “Whatever!” without losing friends and alienating people, I would jump the queue — and I never jump the queue, despite being Pakistani from all sides of the family — to sign up for that course.

The problem gets even more intense when you move to a new country. Unless you are moving to Outer Mongolia or Chilean Highlands — and I have my doubts about Chilean Highlands — chances are that you will encounter your fair share of desis, who will try and interfere with your life, dish out counsel when none is sought and try to sell you things and services that you have no use of. Saying no to that is not just difficult, it is almost impossible.

Everyone who has the opportunity to move to a country will probably meet people from the old country who may or may not help them get settled. When someone from our part of the world — I mean South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular — moves to another country there would always be loads of people from the home countries dishing out desi-isms and passing them on as sage advice.

There will always be people around you who would want to guide you in your job search — they probably have moved to that new country 15 years ago when the job market was drastically different — and easier to break into — but they will try and force their opinion on how you should carve out a career in your adopted country and will offer you a ten dollar an hour job at their father-in-law’s super store selling biryani masala and Bollywood DVDs to bored desi housewives.

It does not really matter that you are trained as a lawyer or an IT professional or a speech therapist, they will tell you that everyone goes through this because they have been through this.

Some of them will not only suggest that you take that butchery course from your local community college but will also have the cheek to say that you will enjoy it because it is so different from what you have been doing before – you could be an Economist in your old country but they would not care. You feel like practicing some of those butchery skills on them and ask how in the name of everything that is holy and sacred can a vegetarian with two post grad degrees ever enjoy being a butcher?

Some of them will tell you where to rent an apartment and whom you should rent it from — it would almost always be some relative of their wives trying to con you into getting a smaller/smellier apartment in name of desi camaraderie and brotherhood.

Telling them that you have decided to share an apartment with a Jamaican co-worker close to your workplace will result in high dramatics. From telling you that your mom will be disappointed in you for spurning their amazing offer to making you feel horrible about not renting their space as they kept the apartment vacant for you because they knew your brother’s mother-in-law’s neighbours back in 1980s.

You being the ungrateful FOB not only decided to move in with your co-worker but you choosing a black person to share your living space will be taken as a personal insult. There will be implied or explicit racism — depending upon how integrated they are in the society — and they will regale you with tales of how someone they knew lived next to an apartment where one of the residents — almost always a black person — slit the throat of his/her flat mate and robbed them off their worldly possessions.

You try telling them that your Jamaican friend — a widowed lady of 55 — has only decided to share her apartment because she is suffering from an empty nest syndrome and is a fine upstanding, law abiding taxpaying citizen but they will continue to shake their head and make you feel bad for not taking up their offer.

At times like this, renting the smellier apartment seemed like the easier thing to do. If you happen to take them on their offer of renting an accommodation owned by a desi person, you are in for a treat. For starters, three previous tenants would still be getting their bank statements and phone bills and other assorted mail on that address and would want you to hold onto their mail so that they can pick it up whenever they feel like it.

When you try to tell them that they need to update their contact details with their cell phone service provider and their bank, they would give you the hurt look which basically says, “Et Tu Brutus? Can’t you just pick my mail from the box?” and you who perhaps wanted to scream “Please Gawd, NO!” agree to keep picking up their mail for foreseeable future.

Picking up the mail is less of a hassle because you do it once a day; the bigger threat to sanity is your land line phone. If the phone is registered in your desi landlord/landlady’s name, chances are that you will be inundated with offers of Quran classes for toddlers from dudes who call you behen or baji. When you try to tell the telemarketers that there are no toddlers in the radius of 600 sq yards and you do not wish to avail their services, they will try to get you to buy an online course for yourself so that you are saved from the eternal fires of hell.

This is not all, if your landlord has an Arabic sounding name, telemarketers who do not speak a word of English will call you and try to sell you channels running Turkish soaps dubbed in Arabic and you end up wanting to tear your hair out. As you are not bound by desi code — and the fact that they barely speak any English — you can scream and shout and let it all out at them.

I once spent some time in Slovenia with friends and found the lady working in the kitchen of the hostel where I was staying giving me seriously dirty looks. My Romanian friend and the lady found a common language that they both could speak — Italian — and asked her if she had a problem with me.

The cleaning lady was a Greek woman who assumed that I was Turkish and felt obliged to hate me. When my friends told her that I am from Pakistan, her demeanor changed and she became friendly to the extent that she offered me special hidden jams and freshest fruit for breakfast. You just cannot pull that in an English speaking country where everyone knows Bollywood, chicken tikka masala, our track record with women’s rights and the fact that one Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan for many, many years.

There are times when you get exasperated with all the desiness around you and you wonder about your decision of leaving home because there is no escaping the sights and sounds from home and you yearn to escape it all but that, too, passes away and you learn to coexist with it — at times reluctantly, and at times, wholeheartedly.

I remember once spending some time in Ukraine without seeing another person of colour and was ecstatic when encountered all things desi at Dubai airport after weeks of not seeing it. No matter how keen we are for integration in the new land or how insulated we want to be, a certain desiness will always stay with us, no matter where we live.

First appeared in June 2013 issue of Monthly Pique

Jun 3, 2013 - Pakistan, religion    9 Comments

Thank God Zakir Naik is NOT a Pakistani

zn

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.

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.

May 16, 2013 - Personal    3 Comments

Losing Home …

Back in December, I was asked to contribute to the memoir section of  a special edition of  Sugar Mule – a literary magazine. The issue  is titled No Place Like Home – Borders, Boundaries, and Identity in South Asia and Diaspora.

I am glad to share that the issue is out now and I have written an account of my parents’ forced separation following the War of 1971 and independence of Bangladesh, it is called Losing Home.

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