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.

Why the Idea of Olympics Is So Important

Source: MSNBC

Source: MSNBC

Without condoning corporate or other slavery that may or may not be involved in related construction jobs, I find it important to support the idea of Olympics. Especially the idea of participation in it and oppose preventing any people from doing so. Further more than that, I would consider the idea of rising developing countries such as Brazil, Russia, Qatar, India, and China to organize these events as well in addition to the West.

More often than not, the criticism from international media and activists point out valid concerns such as security, labor rights, and poor administration. Sometimes, these critiques could come across as if developing countries should stay away from the privilege. They should by all means, if it is going to heavily burden them. It does not mean they should stop aiming for it.

To improve life for all the stakeholders, positive criticism on Olympics is very important. But it is best done without condemning the developing countries participating in the process or the idea of Olympics itself.

There is a larger reason to why more nations should be encouraged to participate in the Olympic process.

Olympics is a liberal, globalist, intellectual cultural idea. There is a reason why its creators came up with it and why the leaders of the world, as well as most people of the world, so religiously follow it.

Olympics is truly the only global festival that allows people from all nationalities come together, keeping aside all political differences, in a deeply divided world.

It is one of the few platforms where Iran and Israel and North Korea and the United States gladly send in their citizens to participate without a second thought.

Struggling with countless political ideologies, even more religious beliefs and cults, and other dividers such as race and language, it’s one of the few last remaining unifying factors for apparently the most intelligent species on the planet. Even if in name only.

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

The international assortment of athletes also presents the perfect opportunity for exposure and education. Most of the times, it brings forth athletes from all corners of the world embracing each other. Especially bringing together people from countries at odds with each other.

At others, it brings prejudice and bigotry to the surface, only to be rebuked due to the universal symbol of peace and unity that Olympics is. Leading to opportunities for shaking prejudiced beliefs.

Time and again, athletes from Muslim majority nations have refused to share space with Israeli athletes. This is particularly insensitive when the brutal cold-blooded murder of 11 Israeli Athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics are kept in mind. Lately, Lebanese athletes refused to share a bus with Israeli athletes, with the manager blocking the way.

While the story is being used by both sides for their respective partisan agenda, most people are missing a very important point. The exposure and interaction provided by the Olympics are the perfect, very first blow to the prejudiced indoctrination of these kids.

These young athletes and their officials may embarrass themselves with such behavior, but it’s about time that some of them would realize how wrong their behavior is.

While there is always a chance that they would lack such a consideration, you can never expect someone brought up with prejudiced indoctrination to offer the right response at first. But, as humans, they are likely to feel some empathy for the persons of their enemy at some point. Even if they don’t admit it.

This would help a good number of people have the first shock to the wall of prejudice that they have built around themselves. Such experiences would only prove educational, and help them develop empathy for the people on the “other side.” Actually, even an opportunity to cheer for them.

What a distraught Pakistani fan is to do but to cheer for the likes of Deepa Karmakar, Saina Nehwal, and the Indian women’s archery team? Only wondering where ours is.

Furthermore, watching Olympics sports after a break of four long years is a welcome relief from the excruciatingly monotonous cricket, soccer, tennis, and golf running all year long.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.