Aurat March Exposes a Moral Crisis in Pakistani Men

The opening week of March was revolutionary in terms of gender politics in Pakistan in many ways. Women leaders and activists made a greater impact than ever before for rallying for the Women’s March, and men all over the internet were triggered.

Leading the response of social conservative misogynistic Pakistani men was their patron saint, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar. Presented by the Pakistani conservative media as an intellectual, it is their answer to the rhetoric of educated liberal and progressive women who have started pushing the narrative of feminism in public discourse.

A long time anti-intellectual, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar had recently caught attention with a hideous woman-hating interview, and many of his plays apparently depict women in the same light. Not to take away the artist’s license, but when you pose yourself as a philosopher of life and preach about puritanical sexuality, then surely it becomes hard to separate art from propaganda. Especially when your top client is the state propaganda machinery anyway.

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On a television talk show, Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar lost his temper and verbally abused and attacked feminist analyst and commentator Marvi Sirmed. All when they were discussing the Pakistani feminist slogan “Mera Jism Meri Marzi” or “My Body, My Choice.” Not only did he degraded Marvi but just like all conversations about Aurat March, he alluded to those women being sexually corrupt. Such comments were also widely made across the conservative media as well as the allegation of implementing a foreign-funded agenda.

Unfortunately, most of the people in socially conservative Pakistan believe that it is women talking about their right to have as much sex they want. While it should indeed be a part of their freedom, but it is not the only freedom indeed. Women particularly are talking about their right to be left alone, to not be harassed or raped, and yes, even to have their reproductive choice.

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With the likes of Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar, even otherwise seemingly liberal figures, and unfortunately encouraged by ignorant social conservative politicians such as Faisal Javed Khan, conservative men in Pakistan have taken it upon themselves to harass women for speaking up for their rights. They have been slut-shaming the organizers and the participants of the Women’s March, and furthermore, stooping as low as to block the public space they have been trying to occupy.

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This mindset is evident from the coverage of gotcha conservative “journalist” Yasir Shami, trying to blackmail and shame a male ally at the Aurat March by invoking Islamic traditions.

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It was inspired by the same anti-intellectualism and outright bigotry that the Lal Masjid goons, the same infamous mosque in the middle of Islamabad that had threatened armed rebellion against the state, that vandalized Aurat March artwork and posters. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, an otherwise democratic politician, also threatened violence if the Aurat March materialized.

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And if you think that this is extreme behavior only exhibited by the orthodox religious conservatives, there is no shortage of their supposed moderate and liberal allies who are socially conservative at heart and still want to perpetuate regressive roles for women. A similar mindset was at work when a conservative lawyer filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court to block Aurat March on the charge that it was against Islamic values. Challenged by the Women Democratic Forum led by Ismat Shahjahan, the relatively liberal judge Athar Minallah threw the petition out.

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It was an act of sheer courage itself that brave women political workers of the Women Democratic Front and the Awami Workers Party led by Tooba Syed went from street to street to put up posters for the March 8 event. This was probably unimaginable a few years back in the Islamic Republic but the courageous progressive women have made their presence felt on the ground in recent years.

This war of words between social conservatives and progressive women and their male allies have turned International Women’s Day into a battle of ideologies. However, the saddest bit is that in a country where vulnerable women and children have little protection from rape, the patriarchy is trying to suffocate and eliminate any dissent rebelling against their oppressive structure. At least, it had some immediate impact as Geo TV Network was forced to end their recently concluded contract with Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar.

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However, none of the bullying and abuse has been able to stop these women to have their voices heard. The scenes in their press conferences chanting the slogan that has become the bane of the life of conservative men in Pakistan were surreal. The way women marched this March 8 under the banner of Women Democratic Front has probably never been seen ever since Zia-ul-Haq took power in Pakistan. Each moment of the March was revolutionary and we can hear and see the foundations of Pakistan.

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At least, their morals have been laid bare for the whole world to see.

That’s why women say, “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi.”

A Case of Two Death Sentences

Source: Public’s Radio/Fareed Khan/AP

Pakistani people are known for their strange standards of morality, and nothing puts these paradoxes in the spotlight than issues considered “sensitive” in society. In a country, dominated by military dictatorship, a verdict such as the one issued by the Special Courts on December 17 was unheard of. This Special Court made of three judges in a 2-1 decision condemned former dictator Pervez Musharraf to death. Most liberal commentators, including Amnesty International, welcomed the verdict only for the supremacy and legitimacy of the civilian constituency over military dictatorship in a country with Pakistan’s history. These liberals went to great length to condemn or disapprove of “capital punishment,” while deeming such a stand by the judiciary necessary to uphold a civilian constitution in the country and to discourage military coups.

However, one of the Special Court judges, Waqar Seth overkilled the verdict by adding the infamous paragraph 66, probably to leave his personal political statement on the verdict, if not to sabotage it willfully. The paragraph or article reads as in the following picture, in which the judge orders the fugitive or convict’s “corpse be dragged to the D-Chowk, Islamabad, Pakistan and be hanged for 03 days” if found dead. To me, reading these words in a verdict by a Pakistani court is almost comical in a dark way, but it is indeed no laughing matter. And I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who has taken offense at such a verdict, even the pro-establishment nationalists and the government, involving public hangings, which have nothing to do with the law in Pakistan. Pakistan is not Iran and the anger of such social conservative uncles should not be enabled just because they happen to have convicted an authoritarian dictator.

Source: Muhammad Rizwan Safdar

It had to take a military dictator sentenced to death to start hearing about the cruelty and injustice of capital punishment from the pro-establishment social conservatives of the country. Most of these people are the lot who talk about hanging child rapists and “traitors” in squares.  However, it is important to understand that most of these people who you would otherwise not hear from on capital punishment are social conservatives. They have nothing against the death penalty. On the other hand, another brutal verdict from our courts went without any attention when Fulbright scholar and academic Junaid Hafeez was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges after being incarcerated for nearly six years. This must have come as a devastating blow to his family which is already ostracized and has suffered great financial losses ever since Junaid was arrested for the charge. The pain and grief of his father are evident from this VOA interview. You could hardly imagine what his mother would be going through.

Several reports and commentators have pointed out the flimsy evidence in the case of Junaid Hafeez. Many people believe that any court lower than the high court lack the courage to challenge the overzealous blasphemy mobs. This is not necessarily an unreasonable concern for even Sunni Muslim judges less likely to be accused of blasphemy. Rashid Rehman, a heroic lawyer, who opted to represent Junaid Hafeez as a defense attorney was murdered by the blasphemy zealots. It must be pointed out for the benefit of a novice reader who is not aware of the situation in Pakistan that killing of someone alleged to have blasphemed against the Prophet or anything remotely related to Islam is not only encouraged but is considered a great virtue of a hero. However, that does not absolve the so-called “moderate” Muslims or even liberal Muslims of their responsibility.

It is indeed these majority of moderate Muslims who allowed this new form of murderous religion known as “Barelvism” flourish in Pakistan. However, Deobandi Sunnis and Shia Muslims are also complicit in terms of their stance on blasphemy, the latter mostly out of fear, being a regular target of Sunni blasphemy zealots themselves. Even many of these liberal Muslims can be heard advocating the necessity of a blasphemy law but “minimize its misuse through reform.” Well, they have a point too, considering you cannot overturn blasphemy law overnight. But they are still pretty much okay with capital punishment for blasphemy, if not hanging them in the squares.

Ironically, many of the people advocate precisely what Judge Seth had written in paragraph 65 for the blasphemers and the “corrupt,” especially your common social conservative Sunni Whatsapp uncle, or sometimes even a PTI Shia uncle inspired by Khomeini’s revolution. Anti-democracy pro-establishment and anti-liberal social conservatives in Pakistan thrive on this narrative, especially targeted against blasphemers, “corrupt politicians,” and dissidents often labeled “traitors” by them. That is why the epithet of “traitor” stings so much as it is the treatment of their own medicine.

It is amazing how much two death sentences can reveal the hypocrisy and moral corruption of Pakistanis. There is outroar against the death penalty for a military dictator though there is a deafening silence on the sheer cruelty and barbarism with how the State of Pakistan is treating one of its gifted scholars in Junaid Hafeez. We should think twice before giving brownie points to pro-establishment liberals and conservatives in Pakistan for their “humanity.”

The Pakistani Student Left is Rising Again

Source: The News

It is about time. They have been repressed for way too long. And this country cannot hide what embarrasses it anymore in the age of information. In a huge blow to the “fifth-generation warfare” effort of the DG ISPR, a completely wrong kind of group has been capturing all the limelight of late on social and alternate media like Naya Daur. The Progressive Students Collective.

We never thought we would see this day when the socialists in Pakistan will ever catch the public eye but the credit goes to the patient Progressive Students Federation. During the Faiz Festival, the “jacket girl” was seen chanting revolutionary anthems from the Independence Movement era and revolutionary socialist slogans.

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The jacket girl is now an icon.

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Immediately, the students who were vocally challenging the establishment and patriarchal structure were bombarded with abuse on social media. Arooj was attacked for being too elitist to be raising revolutionary socialist slogans with people focusing on the leather jacket that she was wearing. Even though, the trained eye could see how elitist those students in the group were.

Interviews such as these on Naya Daur allowed Arooj Aurangzeb, the leather jacket girl, and her comrades to explain themselves as far as their privilege and class was concerned.

The demands of the students organizing the Solidarity March are pretty straight forward and uncomplicated. They want free education, the reversal of impossible fee hikes, increase in education budget, reversal in cuts, access to audited reports of universities, action against sexual harassment and intimidation by surveillance, and, most importantly, the restoration of student unions in academic institutions to enable the inclusion of students in policymaking that concerns them.

Conservative Pakistan has a severe aversion to student politics because it has been systematically dismantled by the bureaucratic establishment in the country. They introduced violence in it through the Jamaat-e-Islami until platforms such as the NSF were disintegrated and so was the concept of student unions. Student Unions became synonymous with violence and intimidation and middle-class conservatives started associating politics with the same evil. The Zia regime had banned student politics and earlier Ayub Khan was threatened by it too. The military dictators saw curbing student politics an effective way of crushing any possible dissent challenging their illegitimate government.

However, this new rise of the left student politics is heartening. Seeing bold and courageous young women such as Arooj Aurangzeb is heartening. This is a sign that the future may not be all dark and gloomy for Pakistan and that we are seeing an entity other than Islami Jamiat Talaba as a part of Student Politics. This is why the Student Solidarity March is being organized this Friday.

I urge all the progressives, center and center-left liberals as well as all pro-democracy conservatives and human rights advocates to join students on the Solidarity March on November 29 at 1400 HRS across the country.

To Support Maulana’s Azadi March or Not

Source: geo.tv

Life throws some tough dilemmas your way. As if your everyday moral questions were not enough, history brought people to a crossroads which surely disturbed them in one way or the other. And sometimes the choices you make tell a lot about where you stand. Especially if they happen to be Pakistanis who are secular liberals and anti-establishment.

To support Maulana’s Azadi March or not.

There are many secular leftists who have simply rejected the idea of a Maulana vehicle being an ideal platform for the promotion of democracy. The likes of the Awami Workers Party and Jibran Nasir, who are always proactive on social issues, chose not to support the march because of the religious card, bigotry against Ahmedis, and the exclusion of women from the platform, something which Marvi Sirmed also pointed out.

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Most of the pro-establishment and/or pro-status quo or pro-Imran Khan liberals completely reject the notion of the Azadi March because it is being led by a religious party or because of the “religious card.” The religious card here particularly being focus on preserving the finality of Prophethood or Khatm-e-Nabuwat, a fancy name of the anti-Ahmedi movement in Pakistan, and against attempts to amend the blasphemy law. Many of these critics agree that anti-establishment liberals are compromising their principles by cheering for Maulana’s march.

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Other anti-establishment center-left and right liberals, especially those sympathetic to the current cause of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and the emerging anti-establishment leadership of Maryam Nawaz, are not playing so safe. They are fully behind the march and even taking jabs at those sitting out citing the religious card, including the pro-establishment liberals who are subtly supporting the Imran Khan administration.

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The politically incorrect Gul Bukhari is, of course, all for the march and disappointment at the PML-N for their half-hearted support.

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The PTM has distanced itself from the march citing its impact of perpetuating an “obsolete system of government,” albeit supporting their right to protest. PML-N and PPP, meanwhile, are partially participating and avoiding the march for some mysterious reasons only known to them.

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Many anti-establishment seculars tend to agree but acknowledge at the back of their minds that some kind of resistance needs to be offered to the current government.

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There have been no shortages of false comparisons with the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran to discredit the march and even dismissals mentioning that it is no Hong Kong or Beirut protest. Indeed this march is neither. But surely, it has been facing a media blackout which has become the characteristic of the Bajwa-Imran regime. These visuals were nowhere to be seen on national TV.

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As of today, the Awami National Party, which is as secular a party as they come in Pakistan, Another secular nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai had joined the march right from the start in Karachi on October 27.

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The Maulana’s caravans might enter Islamabad any hour now and the procession which was supposed to happen today has been delayed until Friday afternoon prayers, partially because of the Rahimyar Khan train tragedy.

It is clear that Maulana’s party does not see this march as a mission to enforce Sharia in the country, as much as some people trying to make it sound like that. It is indeed not directed against the military but it does channel some of the frustration of the public against the Imran Khan administration, if not against the Bajwa-Imran regime. It may occasionally mention the selectors but it is surely not against them.

So are you supporting the March too? I am not “supporting” a Mulllah’s party either but I sure as well don’t mind it is happening. And pretty much agree with all its objectives other than “protecting the Islamic provisions of the constitution.” If the capital can be paralyzed for the good part of the year for discrediting a legitimately elected government and for rigging allegations for four constituencies, it can surely be shut down for locking up the entire opposition and almost killing a three-times elected Prime Minister. And the latter is my biggest reason to march against the current administration.

The only problem is that the agenda of this march barely mentions that.

Khalid Hussain: Another Casualty for Pakistan’s Freedom of Press

Source: Khalid Hussain/The Nation

Pakistan is probably seeing perhaps the worst year in press freedom under the Bajwa-Imran regime in an age in which communications are supposed to advance.

The Nation, one of the traditionally conservative English language newspapers, which had taken a turn for a more liberal narrative in recent years, fired its political cartoonist about a week ago or so. Muhammad Khalid had drawn a satirical cartoon highlighting the toothlessness of Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose megalomania has created an illusion of his person becoming an important statesman capable of resolving long-time international disputes.

The context of this caricature is President Trump offering to mediate between Pakistan and India to help resolve the Kashmir issue.

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Here is what The Nation Apology reads:

We would like to apologize deeply for a cartoon that appeared on our pages. The artwork fell short of our editorial standards and does not reflect our editorial policy. It should never have appeared.

We are proud to be a nationalistic paper and we regret sincerely the attention taken by an artwork that was inappropriate, especially at the time of the UN General Assembly session taking place in New York.

The necessary steps have been taken to ensure our internal procedures. And once again, we humbly extend our sincere apologies and regret.

This dismissal may sound like the prerogative of the editor of the publication, who paradoxically had published it, but this is becoming all too common in the self-censoring media in Pakistan. The Nation, an about-to-collapse publication which has been heavily infiltrated with the sympathizers and representatives of the military establishment, could obviously not bear to support such expression on its pages.

The curbs on media freedom in Pakistan have taken a turn for the worse under the Imran-Bajwa regime and several international observers, including Reporters Sans Frontiers, have critiicized the administaration for falsely denying it. Recently, Dawn’s iconic magazine The Herald also closed its operations and several other printing publications are under the threat of vanishing in the country.

Speaking to Gandhara, Khalid Hussain said, “I don’t know how long they will not be printing my cartoons or whether they will ever print my cartoons [again].” He further clarified what he wanted to convey in the cartoon. “I didn’t aim to hit Imran Khan personally. But as the prime minister of the country, he symbolically represents the country he rules,” he said. “What I felt was that Trump has repeatedly assured Pakistan to mediate between India and Pakistan. But he later said that Modi has not agreed to [his mediation].”

Khalid may still try making his political caricatures independently but can never be sure how he is going to pay his bills. This concern has become the biggest moral compass for many professionals in the journalism industry in Pakistan, which increasingly deprives them of fair and timely wages (if they are paid at all) and editorial protection.

This is yet another casualty for freedom of the press in perhaps one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. But then again, the truth being a casualty in Pakistan is just another day in the war-like theocratic Sultanate.

Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

Hanging Them in the Squares

Source: Naya Daur

Conservative and populist Nationalists in any nation enjoy a special license of holding trials when and where they wish. In Pakistan, a part of the Messiah Syndrome happens to be the longing for swift justice that suits them. It is pretty strange because this kind of swift justice was dispensed by leftist Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia and earlier Republican revolutionaries in France. Either way, this sort of swift justice is usually associated with challenging the established order. But which established order?

In Pakistan, interestingly enough, it is fashionable to support the forces responsible for the status quo while calling for the violent elimination of the forces that have mysteriously caused the moral corruption of the society. In order to cleanse this evil from society, it is important to selectively pick certain individuals who have somehow simultaneously threatened the interests of those deemed essential for the national security of the country.

The narrative of the casual fascism practiced by a number of the people of Pakistan for a long time, particularly the social conservative nationalists in Punjab, has only started to appear in the political mainstream with this audacity. A lot of people are condemning Faisal Vawda and his extremist statement about “hanging 5,000 odd people being necessary for fixing the state of the country,” but that is pretty much the sentiment of these social conservative nationalists across urban Pakistan.

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However, since Faisal Vawda is particularly more psychopathic than the rest of the elements in the current administration, he doubled down on his call by adding dragging them behind vehicles before hanging in the square. Unfortunately, the Constitution guaranteeing rights to citizens is the only hurdle in the way of this much-needed action. Of course, a person who is so widely broadcasting his savagery deserves all the condemnations in the world. But the overzealous and partisan speaker who often jumps at “expunging obscenities” from the house proceedings apparently did not have a problem with such vile statements.

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While it is true indeed that there is a wilder, savage side to the tribal justice in indigenous India or anywhere for that matter, as is often the case with undemocratic tribal societies. It is pretty interesting that even in very liberal settings frequented by respectable Senators, discussing very progressive ideas, you could hear them talking about the need to hang people to cure the country.

The sweeping statements from these conservatives remind how frighteningly close democracies remain to the rise of fascism. These bloodthirsty urges are far more dangerous than the campaigns of xenophobia and cries of economic nationalism. The thought of swift justice can sound pleasant to the depressed ears forever waiting to hear something good in the news. For them, the swift justice would be the fruit of the eagerly-awaited Messiah and just like the coming of the Messiah, it would turn around the age-old evils of social inequalities, injustice, and poverty. This is a path to hell paved by “good intentions.”

Be thankful for thoughtful fascist ministers like Faisal Vawda that have truly represented the idea of justice of a regressive administration elected by the morally constipated and hypocritical social conservatives.

On to the revolution.