An Election of Unfortunate Choices

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Politico

What a coincidence that at this critical point in history that we have somebody like Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton? It is hard to believe that it is happening to the world, let alone the American people, whose fate lies in the hands of these candidates. But more than anyone else, their fate lies in their own hands.

What an election year this has been. Probably one of the ugliest in American history.  But we have been expecting it, haven’t we?

Who would have thought we would get to this point, even despite all the anticipation. It sure makes great TV… or at least TV that makes you cringe. But still, to many of us, the campaign had not gotten half as ugly or entertaining as we would have been anticipating. But let’s leave it at that.

On the one hand, we have a billionaire loudmouth who thrives on spewing offensive gibberish and brags about his deliberate manipulation of the government to prove his point about government corruption. On the other hand, we have an apparently duplicitous politician, who is either shamelessly or bravely defiant in the face of even the most reasonable calls to accountability and who apparently has more than half of the media in her pocket.

It is almost beyond doubt that the leaks of the Access Hollywood Tape, in which Trump jokes about groping women, which could be tantamount to sexual assault, is disqualifying to many voters. As expected, many Republicans withdrew their support following the unacceptable comment. The revelation of such an unprecedented scandal earlier would have meant that Trump possibly would not have been nominated in the first place.

But you do not exactly have to be a pundit or have a mass communication degree to know how the media is playing its own part in manipulating public opinion, apart from the alleged hacks backed by Russia. As TMZ reports, NBC has been sitting on the tape for a while now. Imagine how different things would have been had the liberal media not held back its punches during the Republican primaries. No wonder Hillary Clinton must be thanking her stars she is running against Trump. Unless he wins of course.

However, it remains to be seen whether the much ignored Wikileaks revelations of Hillary Clinton’s emails and Wall Street speeches and those of her campaign manager John Podesta would prove even half as damning as the former. In other words, they won’t. It would have been a very different election had a serious, traditional candidate from the Republican Party like Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been competing with Hillary Clinton.

One way or the other, it is an election from hell and probably offers the worst choices to make at this juncture in world history. At least on the Republican ticket because you could have expected only worse on others. The third party choices are even more terrible, even though Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are probably the sanest persons you would find in the Libertarian leadership. And let us not even get started on the Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Some even believe that it is the ugliest election in the US history, bitterly dividing society and ending friendships. But for things that matter, we could not have asked for worse candidates at such a dangerous time in world history when Russia and Iran are at odds with the Western world over a strategic pressure cooker in Aleppo. But it also offers an insight into the mind of the voter. Just when the world needs the US to intervene in the Middle East the most, all of a sudden everyone has turned isolationist, regardless of the party.

It is only sad that at a time when we are facing arguably the biggest humanitarian and peace crisis since World War II, we are condemned with such a non-serious election for the most important position in the world. It is at times like these when you wonder whether too much power has been vested in the hands of the American voter who ultimately decide the fate of the world with their judgment. It is almost scary but nothing is more important than the democratic process.

This is precisely the reason we needed more intellectual Republican leadership at this point, which is what I had in mind when I wrote about Republicans being the right choice for fighting the Islamic State a few months back. Ironically, that is why Hillary Clinton is probably almost perfect for leading the world at this point because she is the closest thing. Because for whatever reason, Donald Trump chose to run on a populist platform.

Hillary Clinton possibly would be a significant improvement over Obama if her secret hawkish identity is to be believed. She is no way better than a traditional Republican when it comes to dealing with the chaos that ISIL is creating in the Middle East, especially if she insists on continuing President Obama’s shortsighted policies of maintaining the military vacuum in the region. But she is by far the best her party could offer any time in the foreseeable future.

The only reason why Hillary Clinton sounds so dangerous to people like me is her insistence to stick with President Obama’s policies on Iraq and Syria. You know, four more years of Obama. Of course, precisely the opposite for more liberal and isolationist voters, which is the general mood of the American public. But it is something that would prevent me from pulling the lever for her. But you cannot be sure if Hillary Clinton is to be blamed for it too much, especially due to the Obama and Bernie Sanders effect in her party.

As so many Wikileaks documents have revealed about her, let us just hope that is only a view she reserves for the general public. Let us just hope she really is the hawk that everyone accuses her to be. If anything, the duplicity of a politician instead of candid honesty could be a blessing in disguise in this crazy, surreal election.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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The Politics of Entertainment

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

It might sound a bit insulting, though it really should not be, but the politics of populism and perpetual revolution is very much the politics of entertainment. With or without the bloodshed.

Now that is what gets people going for an otherwise very boring and very repulsive subject matter. But it really is no laughing matter, is it? This really is about raising your voice against oppression.

A lot of people do that actually, in a very serious and effective manner. They even end up paying for it with their lives.

A great example has been the Arab Spring and the continuous protests in Egypt, the Ukrainian protests, the Venezuelan protests, the Bahrain protests and protests against the Shah. Another recent one has been the Iranian opposition protests, in which people were killed by the state police.

A seemingly similar campaign but nowhere near to the Iranian moderate protests has that been of the PTI protests against the results of the last elections. This is because the Iranians protested the oppressing regime of the Ruhollahs, who would rule with an iron fist regardless of elections, because a lot of people think Iran is a democracy.

However, in this case the PTI is protesting against their perceived primary oppressors, the PML-N federal government, while their main grievance of unfair elections in a few constituencies should actually be addressed to the Election Commission that it apparently just rejected.

Oh, and speaking of oppression, I never saw people bothering to leave their homes to protest against the military and civil bureaucracy who have been effectively oppressing them for six decades. But sorry for the mandatory red herring…

However, as Imran Khan very aptly put it and it really explains it all pretty perfectly. He and the youth were getting bored by the break in the revolutionary movement. A complete year after the elections. It was exciting to see them back in action.

And the protest rally disbursed after demanding the formation of a new election commission, which is an indirect way of saying that they don’t really accept the results of the previous one, but still accept the results and keep the seats.

However, while the formation of a new election commission would only be encouraging, but doesn’t that happen every time?

And don’t even get me started on the “neutral” caretaker administrations.

But there is some progress after the protest, alright. But who cares in the end anyway.

The people were not out there to protest against oppression.

The people wanted a good night out, which they cannot otherwise get in a dull town.

The people wanted, well, entertainment.

Humiliating for a Living

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that human beings, as a species (for the sake of emphasis), take great pleasure in humiliating their fellow beings. Evidence so overwhelming that it hardly needs a demonstation for a proof, as it almost defines our lifestyle.

There is no greater dimension of social life to demonstrate this fact than politics. While there is no culture in the world, from the United States to India, where people would not have bitter resentment for their political rivals to the point of seeing them grovel, but in Pakistan, we have invented new fabulous ways for it which were never heard of before.

The newest innovation in this regard has been the qualification check or “scrutiny” from the election commission’s returning officers receiving the nomination papers based on the Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

While in another country, they would be asking the candidates about their understanding of the law and the constitution, the Pakistani returning officer is interested in everything about the married life of the candidate to his or her knowledge of the religous rituals, funeral rites and of Islam. I wounder if they have asked them about their circumcised penises as well.

Basically, the idea is that these officials are verifying if the morality of the candidates is in line with the religious, traditional and conservative values of the culture. As a matter of fact, the eloquent PML-N MP Ayaz Amir was recently declared disqualified, only later to be declared qualified, on the basis of his column questioning the ideology of Pakistan. So much for freedom of speech.

Source: Dawn

Source: Dawn

But one thing is for sure. These returning officers seem to be biased in favor of religious parties because if these questions are asked to their candidates, they would, or are supposed to have answers memorized like the back of their hands.

But obviously, this piece of news was a great source of entertainment for the Pakistani media, because incidentally a lot of candidates failed to dodge the loaded questions of the returning officers. Questions which ranged from the demand of recital of the funeral prayer to enquiring about the reason for marrying a second time.

Here I am not implying that any such idiocy be banned, which many often conclude when you voice such criticism. But nevertheless, it is an embarrassing state of affairs. Even the Lahore High Court, known for its youtube moralism, was embarrassed and condemned it.

Musarrat Shaheen - Source: journalismpakistan.com

Mussarat Shaheen – Source: journalismpakistan.com

But come on, it did put up a great show. Entertained the nation for a week or two.

For example, the sheer delight of Mussarat Shaheen, a Dera Ismail Khan dancer-actress turned politician candidate who I publicly and shamelessly support by the way (the more women in the parliament, the better for their own good. Besides she kicks Maulana’s ass), reciting Ayat-ul-Kursi or Verse of the Chair or Throne (2:255) from the second chapter of the Koran. (A Koranic mantra usually chanted to ward off evil spirits)

And the ecstasy of watching an older-than-middle-age woman shedding tears on the TV screen for being unable to recall some nonsense from Islamic or Pakistan Studies teachings.

Not long ago, the media came up with a clip which showed Senator Rehman Malik being unable to fluently recite in Arabic, which is by no maens his first language, the Sura-e-Ikhlaas  or the 114th chapter of the Koran, which is certainly a matter to be laughed at.

As if being able to recite the Koranic verses is imperative to qualify you not only for public office, but for public respect. And vice versa.

Source: CNBC Pakistan

Source: CNBC Pakistan

But apparently it is. And despite Rehman Malik’s apologies to the nation for the failure of the parliament to remove Articles 62 and 63 from the constitution, it was his party and none else who laid the foundation for that fanatic madness.

Though I consider his statement about Sadiqs and Ameens pretty heroic and very wise in the end. He said that only people named Sadiq and Ameen are the ones who are Sadiq and Ameen in Pakistan, clarifying the actual status of these Arab adjective-names taken for holy characteristics of the ideal Muslim. A lot of people mock him for his stupidity, but they would not have half the courage to utter this undeniable fact.

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

Source: International Islamic University Islamabad

This rather reminds me of my days in the International Islamic University Islamabad, where you could not earn the degree without reciting one of the verses from the last 40 chapters of the Koran, whichever asked.

I, despite putting up with this ridiculous regulation, was openly against it. However, my classmates, without any exceptions whatsoever, all of them devout and pious Sunni and Shia Muslims, saw nothing wrong with it. They were pretty cheerful about it actually, making me doubt my motives as I was pretty bad at it.

Of course, what could possibly be more charming than being able to recite the good Word of God at a minute’s notice. Sadly, many a fanatic Muslims destroy and abuse the childhood years of their offspring who guarantee paradise for their seven ancestors through this glorious virtue.

What more could you possibly ask for?

But coming back to the most necessary provision of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and why criticizing which does not amount to treason, I fail to comprehend.

However, these provisions simply send out a message to the Christians, Hinuds, Sikhs, Parsis and other religious minorities of Pakistan that they do not have any business living and flourishing in this country.

Oh wait, I got it wrong. They have their rights as provided by the constitution.

It actually suggests that any one who is non-religious and supports secularism has no business living in this country, let alone take part in the public affairs.

As for the humiliation part, why complain?

That is probably all that our species derives its entertainment from.

Why not make a living out of it?

Django Unchained & On-Screen Morality

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Source: screenrant.com (Universal/Weinstein Company)

Over the past months, one of the most talked about controversies in Hollywood has been director Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. A lot of people from African American and other communities objected to the depiction of slavery in the film and the franchise action figures. Director Spike Lee has refused to watch the movie out of respect for his ancestors. I respect their opinions.

For those who have not watched it yet, it is a story of a slave freed by circumstances, who embarks on an adventure to free his enslaved wife on the plantation of a racist and sadistic landlord with the help of an unlikely accomplice. It is an almost fantasy western, loaded with everything that Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for. Well, almost, if you know what I mean. But recommended.

The film has particularly come under fire for Tarantino’s excessive usage of the word “nigger” on the screen.

Of course, I can’t speak for the African American community, and I would welcome all those who would tell me to shut up on this, but I still could not understand what the problem was about after watching the film, which I would consider anti-slavery overall.

It actually seems to be a part of the incomplete trilogy of “Tarantino’s Frustration on Historical Atrocities”, starting with relatively mediocre Inglorious Basterds, in which (spoiler alert) a Jewish girl avenges the murder of her family by shooting the Nazi audience with the military leadership in a theater and setting fire to it. Django unleashes his wrath on his Caucasian “masters” in the most violent manner as well.

But what’s so new about it all? First of all, Tarantino is known to go over the top with his vivid and shocking non-linear story-telling, depiction of violence and abusive language. That’s not news. Secondly, it is a film that seeks to depict slavery, and you would think that a milder portrayal would not have done as good a job. Maybe its timing was perfect to set the audience’s mood for Spielberg’s Lincoln.

So using softer language would only have made the usual Tarantino audience die of laughing fits. Furthermore, it would have taken away the realism and believability, despite the absurd and exaggerated action sequences and fountains of blood.

While I would like to review the film separately, I am glad Tarantino won Oscar for best screenplay, his second since Pulp Fiction for the same category, though I guess movies like Amour looked like having a better choice. But it is a statement for the freedom of speech and an apt answer to the moralist critic. I would have preferred to see Samuel L. Jackson at least nominated for his part though.

Now coming over to the matter of on-screen morality, political correctness and appropriateness.

What you are showing on the screen depends on what you are talking about and it must. When storytellers mold their narrative to meet the moral standards of the audience or the critics, they cease to be storytellers in the first place.

You could reject it, criticize it, condemn it and even boycott it if you want to. However, calling for bans would be inappropriate in itself. But let us move on with the assumption that disagreements about on-screen morality do not take place at such a primitive level.

A motion picture is after all, just a motion picture and nothing more. It can be used for propaganda, but I would always prefer to see it used for art and entertainment.

I am not denying that the content and visuals and sound of the motion picture do not affect people. Indeed, they do which is the entire point of their exhibition in the first place.

However, it is up to the audience what they take home with them on watching a particular motion picture.

Depicting a torture scene loaded with racist slurs from a Nazi concentration camp could be seen as both sympathetic to the Jewish people and antisemitic.

If a person with sadistic tendencies who does not consider rape wrong and sees its depiction on screen, no matter how painful, then the chances are that person will take sexual pleasure in it. However, the same scene can affect another person to be moved by the portrayal of the trauma and pain and could develop sheer disgust and contempt for rape or anyone who commits it.

Shifting the onus to film and entertainment actually diverts attention from the responsibility of the educators. You cannot really expect every entertainment oriented medium to lecture people on morality all the time, whatever be the cause. That won’t happen because not only is it unrealistic and absurd, but too authoritarian in terms of moral policing.

Such films would be propaganda, not art. I know some directors try to do that all the time and I can’t begin to tell you how bad they make it look.

The trouble with our world is that it does not constitute of just good and considerate people. The darker side of humanity is far more apparent every other day than its empathetic one. It is a rather pessimistic way of looking at things, but ignoring it altogether would be idiotic actually. Besides, hardly any moral ideology is complete without an evil to fight.

Furthermore, if you believe in the correctness of your moral stance, then you should consider it strengthened by the depiction of its violation. A war movie could always be seen as anti-war, no matter how much it is glorified in it, especially if it is a realistic depiction. Movies depicting female objectification, rape and exploitation will always support the feminist argument, not otherwise. Films with racist dialogue would only prove how wrong and illogical racism is.

Someone finding inspiration from it to commit crimes would most certainly not have a problem with these evils in the first place.

Bad people do not need films to strengthen their wickedness. Good people need not be worried about the loss of their virtue by what is depicted on the screen.