My Pakistani Person of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Well, it feels like as if I were writing a single post for the free speech hero and this one. But believe it or not, this has been the impact of Qandeel Baloch on the Pakistani society, in my opinion. She offered Pakistanis the necessary shockwave that was needed to break their convenient slumber of socially conservative morality. It was a much needed first shock needed to a population that is a bit too uptight about its sexuality while tolerating all sorts of perversions under the cover.

To her credit, model and liberal social media icon Qandeel Baloch single-handedly cleared up that suffocation a little. With a little help from earlier stars such as Mathira. A heroic model who appeared in a much-needed ad for a much-needed commodity in Pakistan. Condoms. Of course, the ad was banned. But condoms are not. More power to her.

Qandeel Baloch, alias Fauzia Azeem, started as an apparently cheap social media sensation, and slowly started gaining the sort of following that no one could ever anticipate. Her fame was further catapulted by the local media because, let’s face it, her unusually bold glamor sold like anything in a market thirsting for it. But little did her clueless audience realize that she was making statements that went beyond just fun and games.

Now, I wish I knew more about her. I wish I had followed her more and had not dismissed her in the way most ordinary Pakistanis had. I hardly ever followed her videos. I wish I had paid more attention to the buzz about her in the local media, but I knew what was largely going on about her person. At least I cannot accuse myself of ever condemning and rejecting her. At least morally and politically, I always found a supporter of her in myself.

When writing this post, I simply cannot put into words what Qandeel Baloch has really accomplished. She has been dubbed the Pakistani Kim Kardashian, a reality icon widely mocked for her superficially extravagant lifestyle and social media selfies. Imagine how big a reality star she would have become had she appeared in Bigg Boss on Indian TV.

Qandeel’s own lifestyle had become something similar from her humble beginnings, though nowhere near extravagant as that of the Hollywood superstar who never had to face any such odds in her life. Qandeel Baloch came from a much more difficult background and never ever really enjoyed the “privilege” you could accuse her of enjoying. Well, being a woman in Pakistan is enough to explain it, for that matter.

Now I hear that double Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has made a film on her life. Even though I was considering her to be the nominee for this title of mine this year, but even if she were to win three straight Oscars in a row, she would never have been able to pull off what Qandeel Baloch did. Perhaps no one could, short of a Pakistani Larry Flynt. Hell, not even such a character. And yes, a part of it is being a woman.

Qandeel Baloch’s sense of self-righteousness and of being morally upright came from a mix of the modern urban Pakistani liberalism, as well as the social conservative background of her roots in South Punjab. In an interview with Sohail Warraich recorded just before her death, you would hear her being a snob toward the “vulgar” mujra dancers. Being pro-mujra, that slightly offended me.

No, these women are not prostitutes. And yes, prostitutes are honorable women too. But I leave aversion to mujra as a personal aesthetic preference, as opposed to being a matter of making cultural judgments.

Unfortunately, she was accused herself of vulgarity by people from her ranks and from the less liberal sections of the more progressive Pakistani urban classes. You know, for twerking and not dressing up according to the standards ordained by the Sharia. Don’t believe me? Google for any of her videos and observe the titles from the socially conservative uploaders.

As I have often said, it sometimes becomes hard to keep track of what amounts to vulgar and what does not in Pakistan. I am not even sure what the word really means anymore.

And another thing that I like repeating is that it is easy to talk about feminist ideals. It is very hard to live them up in a society and industry dominated by men, who are going to attack you like a vicious pack of wolves from all directions and every chance they get. So it was obligatory for someone like me to defend her every chance I get. I have respect for what she did.

As I said, it is hard to articulate the impact of Qandeel Baloch. Through her bold antics, she proved how confined and captivated the Pakistani women really are. Through her outspokenness, she proved how tolerant our society really is. She basically demonstrated how free women are in our society and how hypocritical we are about our sexuality in public. She also proved how easily our men are willing to put our women to death for “honor.”

She was a resounding slap in the face of every woman-hating man rejecting the notion that Pakistan is not a society dominated by men.

She helped expose how disgusting religious clerics can be when it comes to women and in ways nobody could even imagine before.

She tested and questioned our moral compass in a complicated world in which we take it for granted, and exposed our hypocrisy harmlessly.

She showed how easy it was to kill in Pakistan, and for what reasons.

She made us feel immensely proud of being a Pakistani and made us feel immensely ashamed at the same time.

In that sense, she has been an iconoclast of the revolutionary proportions in her individual capacity. Nobody even comes close.

I learned about the news of her murder while I was on a shoot in Karachi this year’s July, right when I was in the middle of people in front of who I had to defend Qandeel Baloch. On that day, it seemed I really had no other substantial purpose to my existence. Not that there would be any otherwise. But when her brother and former husband are found involved in her murder, it is hard not to feel disappointed.

And the government also did not take her requests for security seriously.

I know a lot of people believe that a lot more people were so much more important to Pakistan this terrible year. But honestly, I don’t have time to think about those self-proclaimed saviors of this country. Because seriously nobody did this much for the Pakistani society for decades. Nobody in the history of this country ever promised a striptease for a Pakistani cricket star.

Qandeel Baloch is the star of the age of social media. I know she came into prominence from a Pakistan Idol audition, but it was social media that really took her voice to the people. So in many ways, in the transformation of the Pakistani society to more liberal and open ideas, social media is as much a star as are the people whose voices it is empowering.

And don’t let me forget. She is not my Pakistani Person of the Year because she was killed. Far from it. You know a lot of people died in 2016, including Edhi. It was not the death of Qandeel Baloch that made her special, but her life. It is her impact on the society that has outlived her, and it is our responsibility as citizens to carry it forward and fight ignorance, illiberalism, and obscurantism.

All I can say is that as a Pakistani citizen, I salute Qandeel Baloch and applaud her for her courage to express her sexuality. She is and must be an inspiration to all of us. Shame on us for not valuing her enough.

Farewell, and rest in peace, you brave, beautiful soul.

Read about my Pakistani person of the last year here.

Pakistani Free Speech Hero of the Year 2016: Qandeel Baloch

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

Source: Qandeel Baloch Official Facebook

She made a statement by expressing her sexuality in a society where it is considered an abomination. She was predictably accused of vulgarity in a society that has probably even forgotten the meaning of this vague expression.

Forsaken by the liberal media, in the words of feminist academic Nabiha Meher Sheikh, when she needed them the most and condemned by a society of self-righteous savages, model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch tested the morality of our standards of morality.

Her selfie clip with Maulana Abdul Qavi pretty much realized my dream of watching Mathira and Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman do the tango on TV.

The shockwave that it caused not only resulted in his removal from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, an insignificant body that performs the significant function of sighting the moon but also leading to the murder of Qandeel at the hands of her own brother because she had offended his honor. Qandeel’s former husband was also said to be involved. To no effect, or without much substance, Mufti Abdul Qavi’s name was included in the investigation of her murder for provoking it on the complaint of her parents.

Yep, death comes that cheap in Pakistan. Or is it life?

Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Nighat Dad – Source: Human Rights Tulip Twitter

Shout outs also go to some other free speech heroes in Pakistan, who are continuing their struggle in the face of brutal opposition. Heartiest congratulations and salute to internet privacy and digital rights activist Nighat Dad who won the 2016 Human Rights Tulip Award from the Dutch government. She has used the prize to establish the first cyber harassment helpline for the people of Pakistan.

A mention of publisher and social activist Abdul Wahid Baloch is also due, who was briefly abducted by unknown entities following his activism to find the whereabouts of the Baloch missing persons. These individuals have been the victim of the crackdown on the Baloch insurgency.  Thankfully, he is safely home.

Journalist Cyril Almeida became the victim of undue state scrutiny, following the daring release of an exclusive news story that revealed that the civilian government of the Sharif brothers had reprimanded the military leadership for inaction against religious terrorists. Almeida was briefly put on the Exit Control List by the Federal Ministry of the Interior following the government’s and the military’s repeated stern denials of his story. Too much fuss about nothing, of course.

Source: pakistantv.tv

Shaan Taseer – Source: pakistantv.tv

Another great Pakistani free speech hero remains to be Shaan Taseer, the son of the slain Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was a free speech hero in his own right. Shaan Taseer is continuing the fight against the draconian blasphemy law and for the rights of the minority religious communities in Pakistan.

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Source: Sunni Youth Parliament/Shaan Taseer facebook

Qandeel’s antics may not sound serious to some of you, but the fatwa issued by Sunni clerics against Shaan Taseer, which he publicized on his facebook page, is no joke. If only this evidence was enough to convince people how much dangerous people we are dealing with here.

In the guise of peace and love, these religious zealots ensure that no one is safe from their venom. I can only commend people like Shaan Taseer for really taking them on in his bold and fearless manner. Now, I can’t do that for one, and the image of the “legal opinion” I posted above can be considered a death threat to Taseer.

All of these free speech heroes are important. Freedom of Press is important. Fighting for religious minority rights is important. But perhaps nothing is more important than a woman challenging the norms of a society that collectively hates women and is abusive to them. Pakistan remains to be one of the countries collectively abusive to women in the name of culture and religion, and apart from my own hometown of Rawalpindi, I have seen glimpses of that in various parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat and Lower Dir. So, I am pretty sure of what I am talking about here.

For that reason alone, Qandeel Baloch is my Pakistani free speech hero for the year 2016.

As Nighat Dad herself said, every time a woman stands for herself somewhere, she is standing for all the women.

Read about the last year’s Pakistani free speech hero, Sabeen Mahmud, here.

Pakistani Idiot of the Year 2016: Khawaja Muhammad Asif

Source: samaa.tv

Source: samaa.tv

If you recall the fiery, brave, and honest speech that Khawaja Muhammad Asif delivered in the Parliament during the Presidential term of a military dictator in Pakistan, this nomination is going to come as a shock to you. It has come as a shock to me, at least. However, the current Minister of Defense has committed a faux pas serious enough to deserve with, with even worse behavior to follow it up.

First of all, nobody in the world would want the name of their country to be associated when it comes to responding to fake news. I have been very sarcastic in my treatment of the previous Pakistani idiots of the year. So let’s not hold back any punches for such irresponsible and idiotic behavior. Khawaja Asif deserves not only our scorn but also our unrestrained jests and insults. But it’s a strange and surprise nomination indeed, but perhaps not so much for the ardent PTI and PPP supporters who have been maintaining the same opinion of him for a very long time.

But let us dissect what happened too, which incidentally only materialized a few days before the publishing of this post. But imagine the shocker that this New York Times story created reporting the Pakistani Defense Minister responding to some obscure fake news on an even remote, even obscurer website.

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While a part of you would want the New York Times to have made an error, just because the statement was made by the minister on twitter, and because his timeline was already full of other wacky statements about Syria and other things. But sadly, his twitter account is verified.

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The very reason that the Defense Minister bought the idea that the Israeli Defense Minister would have a problem with Pakistan deploying forces against the Islamic State in Syria is due to antisemitic conspiracy theories. Entertaining this very idea offers us an insight into the troubled mind of our current foreign minister. But that is subject for yet another detailed post about the incident.

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But there is no wonder that he was not responding to the clarifications of the Israeli Defense Ministry directly addressing the twitter account. I, as a responsible citizen, made a last, hopeless effort to attract the attention of our honorable Defense Minister to at least respond to the clarifications made by the twitter account of the Israeli Defense Ministry, the authenticity of which I am not a 100% sure about.

Source: Customs Today

Source: Customs Today

This unprecedented and shocking development easily earned Khawaja Muhammad Asif the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the Year, but he most certainly was not alone in the tight race for it.

This year was dominated by his party PML-N, as the Senator Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Nasar could have easily been the winner otherwise for stating that the poor have been created to serve the rich. Now, I am not exactly a Marxist, but this sort of statement is enough to boil the blood of even the loyalties. It’s not only undemocratic, it’s beneath the standards of humanity and decency. It’s unimaginable that someone can claim to be a government servant after making such a statement.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

And of course, someone from the Islamic Ideology Council is never far away from winning the title of the Pakistani Idiot of the year, because let’s face it, the organization is idiotic by definition.

Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani of the CII won the title hands down last year thanks to his provocative, yet absolutely legal and Sharia compliant statements demeaning women. He did not come as close this year when under his able leadership, the IIC condemned the Prime Minister’s decision to establish a National Physics Center in the Quaid-e-Azam University (formerly University of Islamabad) after the name of Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate for Physics, Dr. Abdus Salam. The reason for the objection was that Dr. Abdus Salam was an Ahmedi, which is not supposed to be Muslim and is even supposed to be worse than an infidel.

We surely have our hands full of idiots, don’t we? Dangerous ones too. Do enlighten me if I missed anyone, please.

 

What George Michael’s Music Meant to Me

Source: Rolling Stone

Source: Rolling Stone

It is hard to believe the news of the passing away of pop icon George Michael, who was anything but ashamed of this label. While 2016 has been cruel when it comes to taking away so many stars that we love, with Carrie Fisher being the latest, George Michael’s death has been truly unexpected and untimely. Perhaps, it is the opioids again. It is not as if I never expected to hear this news, but its timing came as a real shocker. And there is a reason why it came as a shock to someone of my generation.

Growing up in the 90s, George Michael’s music meant so much more than just songs on tape. It was way past the Wham! years and he was well established in his solo career. But most of all, George Michael was establishing himself as a rebel figure that became an icon for individual freedom and personal choices. A gay icon before being gay was even remotely acceptable, George Michael became the voice for millions of all gay, straight, bi and other orientations when he expressed his sexuality through his music.

Right from the very beginning, no idea ever appealed more to me than individualism. Nothing brought me greater inspiration than the ideals of individual freedom and the importance of each individual. This is where I saw his music as an inspiration, and as a constant soundtrack to my life, that lifted me up in my darkest of moments. His music was truly empowering and inspiring. I recall the time when nothing else made me feel better than his music and how I bonded with my siblings over his music.

Source: Columbia

The way George Michael defined Freedom may have been gibberish to the ears of many at the time. It defined a worldview to the rest of us. It became the anthem of the defiant. His songs boasting of sexual openness became a license to take liberties. He made having faith sound cool and spun the wheel of our curiosity. Just like Bowie and Madonna, he was truly a figure that changed the face of music.

So for these reasons alone, I could never forget George Michael, nor separate his work from my life. The words of his songs, as well as those tunes, became a part of the way I saw the world. At least at that time. And I cherished every single moment of it. And never regretted it for a second. For someone who could barely play a six string, George Michael proved to be someone with a genius for producing the most haunting music you would ever listen to, enabling him to sell millions of albums effortlessly.

Source: musicroom.it

Source: musicroom.it

Now that we learn that George Michael was a far more generous and gracious person than we thought, considering his crude, 90s figure, having arrested for lewd acts in a men’s restroom in the United States, inspiring his controversial Outside video. However, his charity figures would never have made any difference to his fans, who already saw him as an inspiration.

To a generation that was bogged down by too many rules, George Michael taught how to stand up to convention. Taught the importance of questioning convention. He most certainly was not alone in expressing himself like that among the pop and rock icons of the 1980s and 1990s, but he was most certainly one that I personally associated with more than anyone else. And who I admired more than anyone else, even those whose music I got to appreciate even more than his later in my life.

This certainly is an end of an era in music, and one that passes with a heavy sense of personal loss and a scar on the heart, just like at the start of this year with the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. And nothing is more heartbreaking than the news of his possible return in 2017.

Source: Virgin/MTV

RIP George Michael.

You  have been loved.

 

Bronchitis: Strike Three!

Source: shutterstock

Source: shutterstock

Forgive me for not writing for such a long time,  but so much happened since words last appeared on this blog. I embarked on a rollercoaster but enjoyable trip to Sukkur and Moenjodaro and survived massive fatigue in Swat.

For the last two years, I had caught the condition of bronchitis roughly around this time of the year. I had resolved that this year would be different. However, not to be. For the third straight year, I am now fighting the terrible condition of bronchitis which has made life as difficult for others around me, as for myself. It conveniently came when I was on an official tour to the northern parts of the country, which are not particularly known for moderation in cold temperatures. Perhaps leaving me in a more humiliating position than ever before.

I wrote about how bronchitis felt last winter. Similar feelings now. The same coughing fits. It’s just that I was prepared for it to hit this time around.

Just did not know I would hit the emergency twice in two days. Even though it just hit at the perfectly wrong time. When I was out in the field for work and just when I needed to keep myself fit and well. But I was anticipating its arrival. It was just a matter of time. And I would be lying if I said I took enough precautions. I guess it takes walking around wrapped in a quilt.

But as I approach the next year, I do have one resolution to make among a few others. I am not going to catch bronchitis for the fourth year in a row.

But I have a feeling that I will be writing a similar post next winter. And I seriously doubt that I would be walking around wrapped in a blanket.

I predicted it the last time too.

RIP Junaid Jamshed: A Voice Like No Other

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

Who would have thought that on a day like any other, we would hear something as dreadful as this about Junaid Jamshed?

PIA flight PK-661 crashed near Havelian on its way from Chitral to Islamabad on December 8. To the nation’s shock, Junaid Jamshed, and his wife were in the ill-fated ATR, along with around 46 others. Whether PIA knew about the fatal faults in the plane is now a matter of speculation.

Plane crashes are absolutely terrible. Imagine yourself in one. I often do.

The pain, shock, and horror of these accidents somehow have a far greater amplified effect than most other ones. And especially if you happen to know someone in them, and especially if there is a celebrity. Junaid Jamshed, in my opinion, has a national hero status for his contribution over the years. But more than anyone else, you have to think of his children. You can only imagine what they would be going through. Still, the entire nation shares their burden of grief.

I can’t say I was his biggest fan, but I always admired him. And of course, his music did have an impact on me growing up, like the rest of my generation.

Even if we want to, there is no way we can ever ignore the impression his patriotic song “Dil Dil Pakistan” had on us as a nation. Especially to people like me who were growing up in the 90s. The images of that song deeply imprinted on our minds. Even a few notes enough to stir a euphoric sense of freedom and patriotism, that are otherwise clearly absent.

With Shoaib Mansoor - Source: Dawn

With Shoaib Mansoor – Source: Dawn

Source: pakteahouse.net

With Maulana Tariq Jameel – Source: pakteahouse.net

The two highly contrasting parts of Junaid Jamshed’s life could be reflected by the two highly contrasting mentors that inspired them. His highly celebrated pop career inspired by PTV producer Shoaib Mansoor, who created the concept behind most of the songs of Vital Signs, his band that included Shahi Hassan and Rohail Hyatt.

As a recent DW piece pointed out, his transition personified the contradictions any, if not most, Pakistanis have to wrestle with all their lives.

Even though I do not want to mar the respect for the tragedy of his death by bringing up his recent comments about women, but I am probably going to find no other occasion to talk about it. But it is safe to say that he eventually betrayed his through his misogynistic comments, albeit in the form of the traditional criticism of Ayesha, the Prophet’s wife, or draconian decrees of mullahs inspired by Saudi Arabia.

Even in his worse preaching days, I never disliked him because I knew he meant well. His views on women had become misguided, if they were not already, but were more reflective of the religious ideology he had adopted than anything else. Because in his latter years, all he had become was a mouthpiece for it. And if he indeed had such views about women, it made him come out with them.

Though after a while, it became hard to apologize for what his views had become, for the decent human being that he was. Still, what are you to do if his faith required those views? But it only goes to show what a certain type of religiosity does to a pop icon such as Junaid Jamshed, or to any person anyway.

From a pop icon to a controversial preacher, to someone who was selling high-end designer clothing and fashion accessories, Junaid Jamshed attracted as much flak as he did love. But amid all this, most people fail to see that he was a very misunderstood person in the middle of his confusing worldview.

Of course, it is hard and unfair to make a comment about it, but more than anything else, it seems that Junaid Jamshed wanted to reach out and help. Tried being useful in whatever way he could and sometimes went too far with his passion. And even if craving spotlight would have been a factor, it was his desire to reach out and contribute to the society that defined his celebrity. As fans, there is probably not much we could have asked for.

But one point that hardly anyone would dispute is that he was a voice like no other.

Let’s mourn him. Let’s celebrate him.

Rest in peace.