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.

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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 2015: Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

While this year offered its fair share of forgettable hilarity and brutal sadness here and there, no one could equal the sheer stupidity and evil of Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, the head of the utterly useless, if not malicious, Council for Islamic Ideology of Pakistan.

I wish more people would agree that this organization can only do more harm than good. I know he has already pissed off women’s rights activists. Those in doubt should check their list of major legislative achievements, which should send chills down anyone’s spine, unless you favor locking women away in cages.

However, Maulana Sherani’s shenanigans have been in the news for a long time. So what’s new? The great Maulana with his infinite wisdom of interpreting the Koran and the Sunnah stooped to new depths of misogynistic filth with his suggestions on how women should and should not dress.

During the 200th meeting of the Islamic Council, he graced the world with his generosity by suggesting that it is “not mandatory for women to cover hands and feet,” even though he would consider it preferrable to wear gloves and socks.  Well, thank you, Maulana because women walking around like bandaged Egyptian mummies is the only way to prevenet rape and mischief. Adding these lines actually make you feel physically sick and are the biggest reason for his selection this year.

Later, in an attempt to completly cement gender gap in the Islamic Republic, he recommends completely abolishing co-education and separating educational schools for boys and girls from a very early age. The Council has also declared surrogacy unlawful and unIslamic, so the babies born this way can really go to hell.

Last year, under his leadership, the Council for Islamic Ideology has already declared the laws prohibiting child marriage to be contrary to the Islamic values. In other words, the body is recommending to abolish the laws protecting young children from possible abuse in the name of lawful marriage. They have also ruled out DNA as the primary evidence for rape, and consider an anti-adultery law to be sufficient to protect women from violence and harrassment.

To many, this becomes a matter of what the right interpretation of Islam should be. Apparently these people on the Council make a living doing that. So not sure if any of us can really claim to know more. However, any taxpayer who is not concerned at these clerics getting away with murder should think twice. This institution should be abolished for fiscal, if not humanitarian and democratic, reasons.

This very day as I am writing these words, news just broke that His Worship has involved himself in a scuffle, rather unwisely, with the not-exactly-frail Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, probably the most liberal of Sunni clerics on the council. They were locking horns over the contentious status of the Ahmedis, or as they put it Qadianis, on whether or not to declare them infidels. Not sure how many times do we need to do that though, which was probably the point that Ashrafi was making. But I guess another thing about the Council is that it makes sadism socially acceptable.

A video from within the meeting has been leaked as well. Nevertheless, the smarter Ashrafi resorted to using brain instead of brawn with a timely press conference, not in the opinion of one eye-witness though, for making the point why we should get rid of Sherani as the CII Chairman.

An office that in my opinion should not exist in the first place.

Read about the Pakistani idiot of the last year here.

Bottom Line Feminism

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

If there is a single most important issue that could make the greatest difference to women’s rights in Pakistan, it is their financial independence.

Apologists irritated by feminists might want to disagree with it just for the sake of proving them wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the conservative structure of our society, obsessed with maintaining the unreality of sexual purity, is clearly rigged against female individuals.

Marriage itself is an area which is traditionally designed to disable professional opportunities for women to a great degree, citing the natural role of motherhood and family building. The traditional norms ensure that women remain dependent on their husbands for lives, which subjects them to endure never-ending abuse in many cases.

While you would expect modern and educated women to overcome these hurdles and end a relationship when they have to, many women are handicapped to do so even in our upper middle class. You can’t end an abusive relationship because you would have no means to live, and nowhere to live, especially if your own family refuses to accept you. But even in a normal marriage, no woman should ever run out of options on how to live their lives.

In many cases, you cannot help but conclude that the greatest protection women need are from their socially conservative parents, who are ready to sell them to the next best buyer for the next best price.

Just because marriage has the seal of social and legal approval, does not necessarily make it any different to slavery, if that is what it really turns out to be.

There is an easy way women can escape the abuse that ensues. By simple having the means to live on their own. Just like anyone else is supposed to.

We already know that, don’t we? Yet, it is still a problem, and it’s the 21st century.

And there is hardly anything we can do when we find such instances around us, even in our very families.

In practical terms, there is no cause more important to focus on than to promote the financial independence of women in Pakistan, especially outside the universe of the affluent and the educated.  And it is indispensable for women to reclaim their due space in the society.

This is why the more useful of our activists are focusing on helping women become financially independent and making actual difference in people’s lives.

Not to get too optimistic, but initiatives such as WeCreate from the US-Pakistan Women’s Council is more on the lines of what we need. I guess it’s about time that we momentarily stop complaining about America being the evil empire and start thanking them from thinking about women in our country, among other things. Because apparently we could be doing a better job.

But this is not the first initiative that promotes entrepreneurship and financial empowerment for women. While the Pakistani government has also initiated such projects which are much needed, we should not wait for it, or for American aid, for that matter.

Private local businesses and non-profits can make a difference by partnering and initiating grass root platforms to offer hope, if not security, to women facing domestic social pressures and help them become financially independent. We can never have enough of these initiatives.

No woman should ever be afraid of the idea of divorce and of living as a single mom. Ultimately, it goes down to building the culture of gender equality in economic participation, with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Eliminating segregation and ensuring financial independence.

That’s pretty much the bottom line to my mind.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Let’s Do This More Often

Source: Pakistan Today

Source: Pakistan Today

So how often do we see clerics accused of blasphemy, and not some poor Christian peasant who would almost surely be attacked for the crime.

A crime without a victim, of course.

But let’s take the case of our pop singer turned hymn-singing amateur Islamic scholar Junaid Jamshed.

I really want to sympathize with Junaid Jamshed over here, but cannot bring myself to. You know, eventually you would have no choice but to defend him against the blasphemy case. But not without the frustration, or satisfaction, that the devil is caught in his own trap.

It is the same religious scholars who have conditioned people like Pavlov dogs to outrage at the remotest imagination of what could be termed as a blasphemy. With the achievement of a Muslim majority humanitarian utopia, it is ensured that the entertainment for such public outrage is mostly reserved for the dominant faith. Not that better things are expected from the minority faiths, believe me, who want their own versions of this madness.

But what makes you want to walk away from supporting Junaid Jamshed is his utter hatred of women. The part of his lecture for which he was accused of blasphemy was actually about demonizing women. And like most of our misogynistic Shia and Sunni scholars, his favorite target was Prophet’s wife Ayesha as well.

So, the real blasphemy that Junaid Jamshed has committed is against women. But unlike his fellow overzealous brothers in faith, they could actually forgive him.

He apologized for his alleged blasphemy. But would Junaid Jamshed repent over how he insulted women? Instead he is worried about saving his life from the very crowd in which he enjoyed mixing.

I bet a part of him would be regretting becoming an Islamic scholar.

So what happens in this case? When someone influential such as Junaid Jamshed is accused of blasphemy.

Well, since registration of cases of blasphemy has become the standard operating procedure for settling disagreements, there is nothing surprising about it. As a matter of fact, just mentioning something about religion can actually qualify you for the honors.

Speaking of which, this piece is not about religion.

It is strictly about politics. It’s always about politics.

It’s about politics, because the powerful and the influential can always get away with accusations. And the likes of the Christian couple that was burned alive in Kot Radha Kishan cannot.

This is just proof that a religious and Islamic system of government is not safe for Muslims, let alone the non-Muslim minority subjects living under its influence. This busts the myth that the rules of this religious system of governance guarantees safety for everyone.

So there is no wonder why the likes of Junaid Jamshed have to go in hiding in secular countries such as Britain. But they don’t think for a moment about people who cannot escape an Islamic Republic.

This is the sort of hypocrisy which makes Pakistani Muslims call for a theocratic state at home but demand secularism in non-Muslim majority countries such as India, so that the Muslims there would feel safe from Hindu oppression. How convenient.

This is precisely why an objective and universally acceptable secular social contract is needed.

And everyone who thinks that blasphemy law should stay is a part of the problem. They are a part of the problem because they block every possibility of using logic and reason when the word religion is mentioned. And by doing so, they are indirectly jeopardizing lives.

But then again, I must confess, there must be some sort of protection for the sacred.

But just to give them a treatment of their medicine, let us accuse mainstream Islamic scholars and politicians of blasphemy more often.

Until they are forced to consider supporting repealing the blasphemy law.

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Note: A toned down version of this post was published in The Nation blog here.

What Has She Done?

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

Source: Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media/nobelprize.org

So what has she done?

That pesky Malala.

What has she accomplished to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize, you are asking? Especially, since she said she didn’t deserve it.

Here is what she has accomplished what I or any of you could not have.

Despite being a little girl, she stood up to a very clear and present threat from the Taliban, which actually jeopardized her very existence.

In case anyone had any doubts, the Taliban actually ended up shooting her in the head and it’s a fucking miracle she’s even breathing.

They still vow to go after her.

She just had to speak out an innocuous little thing to get all this attention that she just wanted to go to school. Yes, that’s all what it has been about.

But it snowballed into something gigantic thanks to the ignorance of her haters.

You think it’s all obvious? No, it’s not.

But she won the prize also because she was important enough for an activist to address the United Nations Youth Assembly. She has also been active for causes such as speaking for the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haraam and addressing the concerns of Syrian children refugees.

She is not just a local figure anymore, but a global figure.

What really matters is  that the world sees her as a global ambassador for education, for girls especially.

Now why girls? You know, why be a sexist? But you have to be, because in her culture, people do go out of their way to target women like her. To deprive them of education.

Now when does it prick the most that she has won yet another prize valued by the West? Well, when you constantly apologize for the Taliban, Islamism and obscurantist misogynistic forces.

But it probably happened for a plain reason that Malala has become a Gandhi like figure to the West. Right up there with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, and even Gandhi was not awarded this prize, thanks to his shocking Holocaust satyagraha statements.

And this is precisely why Malala is important to the world now, even if she is of no consequence to the social conservatives and Islamist nationalist conspiracy theorists in Pakistan.

So don’t be surprised if you find completely irrelevant babbling complaining why Edhi not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is such a disaster (as if they cared about that too) and sharing articles making ridiculous comparisons with a random girl testifying against drone strikes backed by an American congressman.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Which reminds me that part of why Malala is condemned is because she is backed by Western powers. Hell, even President Obama met her with his entire family. He never did that for the Pakistani Prime Minister. That’s really fucked up.

She even had the courage to criticize him to his face about the drone strikes of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient President.

But that’s how powerful Malala has become.

Maybe she has sold her soul to the devil.

I never really had tremendous respect for the Nobel Peace Prize anyway, because I had read somewhere that only a devil would put a prize on peace. Maybe George Bernard Shaw’s statement, not too sure.

But  I was greatly impressed when I saw the likes of President Carter, President Sadaat and Prime Minister Begin winning one for the Camp David Accord of 1979, and when I saw Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat receiving it.

You know, bitter adversaries working hard to attain some peace. Back then, I really found this shit inspiring. That part I still admire though.

But overall, the idea has been pretty empty and meaningless. You know what they say, hey, that’s the award that President Obama got for who knows what. And oh, even Henry Kissinger received it.

Must be something evil for sure.

I know this one, like all of them, is highly political. But who gives a fuck. Somebody said something nice about Pakistan.

But if I ever was delighted for a Nobel Peace Prize, for the first and most probably the last time, it is for Malala Yousafzai.

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Donate to the Malala Fund please. 

Boko Haram, Women and the Embarrassing Face of Islam

Source: abc

Source: abc

There is some problem with the way women are treated by Muslim populations, despite all the claims of honoring them.

Now there are a handful of events that actually directly point finger at the ideology, instead of the individual criminals.

The entire world was shocked when the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted hundreds of teenage girls from a school. In a video released by the group, the girls were seen in Hijaabs and veils.

Well, if you thought their intentions were any good, they have been reportedly forced to convert to Islam and have a bride price to their names, which is another expression for selling slaves. The Nigerian state is vowing to take action against  the perpetrators.

Source: Independent

Source: Independent

On the same continent, a Sudanese Muslim woman Meriam Ibrahim who married a Christian was sentenced to death by a court in the state for apostasy. Coincidentally, she was pregnant at the time. So her punishment was suspended till the time she gave birth to a child, which probably the state was interested in “confiscating”.

She has delivered the child and is now awaiting a walk to the death row. The international community is outraged, but the Sudanese government is unmoved.

Source: awamiweb.com

Source: awamiweb.com

A few days ago, a Pakistani woman Farzana Parveen was stoned to death, right outside the Lahore High Court in an “honor killing”. The attack was carried out by her father, brothers and accomplices for marrying against their will to the man she loved. Her lover, turns out, strangled his first wife to death to marry her and got away with it as well*.

This incident would also reignite the debate on blood money laws in Islam, which allow acquittal on pardon for exchange of monetary compensation. However, it is encouraging that the news was highlighted by the media all over the world.

This was not necessarily a religious, but a cultural punishment. But one that is not necessarily frowned upon by most Pakistanis, and one that is reinforced by the treatment of adulterers recommended by the Islamic Shariah.

However, the Pakistani government has now ordered action against the criminals, most of them already arrested.

But when you ask yourself the question as to why the Punjab Police failed to intervene, while witnessing the incident, there are no simple answers.

Events such as these are just embarrassing for otherwise peaceful and sane Muslims who secretly harbor the same beliefs but choose not to practice them.

Peaceful and responsible citizens who would have a good sense that such beliefs have no place in a civilized society in any century, but choose not to renounce them.

Who would express sorrow at an adulterer being killed. Then present the caveat of four witnesses before finally agreeing that they should be stoned to death, when the question is asked.

Who would otherwise propose strict punishment for murder and encourage proselytizing, but would support death penalty for an apostate Muslim.

It is just an embarrassment. Plain and simple.

Though this little inconvenience is causing a lot of individuals their lives and liberty.

*EDIT: June 2, 2014 0226 HRS