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.”

What Purpose Does the Blasphemy Law Actually Serve?

Source: The Nation

We all know that the blasphemy law is supposed to punish the offenders who desecrate the good name of God and the Prophet, or commit a similar offense against religion. And there is really no doubt that blaspheming against holy persons and entities is indicative of a lack of sensitivity and regard toward religious communities. However, people like to debate whether the offense warrants penalties as strict as death and life imprisonment or even any at all.

There is no debate possible in the country in its present climate whether the blasphemy law should be repealed or not. However, fortunately, many of the people, including some very smart mainstream religious scholars from both Sunni and Shia traditions agree that there are margins of improving the law. In other words, many people concede that the law is being abused or that there is a possibility of abusing it to settle personal scores. This is keeping the next-to-none debate of amending the law alive, where it is important to keep in mind that most people are not willing to compromise on the prescribed penalty.

That is still progress nevertheless. To the common religious conservative citizen, the law must be about penalizing the blasphemer and it becomes a matter of the “rule of law.” However, this is merely an instrument of asserting the political authority of a community. It is basically a reminder of who is in charge, or what is in charge, relevant in this case. There is a reason why blasphemers happen to only target Islam in a country of more than 200 million.

But even if you are in the “amend-not-repeal camp,” I wonder with these motives behind it, people who matter would actually be willing to even agree on any changes to the law. We all know how Senator Sherry Rehman was threatened when she tried proposing her amendments. Even if the majority agrees on such an amendment, the small but forceful minority would see to it that they have their way. There obviously is little hope but to try convincing people to improve the law. However, banking your hopes on that also points toward a fundamental misunderstanding of why the law exists in the first place.

So, if you missed the memo, initiating discussion of the misuse of the law also becomes an offense to the authoritarian religious conservative. That is a fine line to tread on as slips like the late Governor Taseer calling it a black law could cost you dearly. But even if you are super careful and respectful, you are still challenging the very authority that the blasphemy law formulated under Zia is designed to keep, instead of offering an equal opportunity of complaint to all.

While this may have prevented an average citizen from the fanaticism of the minority religious communities, it has made those communities very prone to damage. Especially the helpless individual citizens from those communities who always end up paying the highest cost. It is simply their misfortune that their fellow citizens want nothing to do with knowing their troubles.

The blasphemy law under Zia was passed under the threats of clerics and it is maintained by similar vows. It was a comprehensive push against the secular side of the state, which had since grown weaker by the day. And since the penalties are as per the prescription of the Sharia according to most scholars, amending how the law is enforced would be a push against the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic against secular entities, if not about upholding the word of God. After all, the JI Emir complains that Pakistan is not an Islamic State.

Even when common citizens or scholars agree on the problems with the law, the blame often goes to the secular law enforcement instead of the violence it is encouraging. Vigilantes are arrested alright, but this is seen unfavorably in general, thanks to legends like Ghazi Ilm Deen. However, the act of vigilante violence is disapproved by conservative elites who prefer the victims to hang after a trial. This is why we must have the blasphemy law. Even though they choose to ignore how free our judges are in terms of passing the verdict in such cases and how it encourages religious extremism.

While Mashaal Khan’s tragic killing has opened a window to start this conversation, it is not as if the other side is giving even an inch other than tolerating slightly dissenting comments and pieces in the media. That too, because let’s admit it, Mashaal’s death was too brutal for even most blasphemy law supporting religious conservatives in Pakistan. But the underlying problem remains the same and only time will tell if the ice would break.

We do make a lot of fuss about the blasphemy law and its abuse. While there has been a sharp rise in cases registered since the amendment under Zia, the secular judiciary has refrained from passing many harsh verdicts. Call that denying justice, it hardly matters as hate speech like “Off with the head of the blasphemer” dominate every town in Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith.

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We are at a point far from arguing or talking reason. Perhaps we would be if the intent were just to penalize the offenders.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Blasphemy Hunger Games

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Source: poplr.pk/dunyaurdu.com

Our public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners, who have taken it upon themselves to inform the public of every little mischievous soul taking the Lord’s name in vain, are dominating the TV waves.

The biggest problem is who would decide that it is a blasphemy.

The answer is simple. The public inquisitors and blasphemy scanners themselves.

The rule is simple too.

If it looks like a blasphemy, and if it sounds like a blasphemy to certain people, rest assured that it is.

Hey, I am not even presenting the same old liberal argument of insanity or fake profiles. Let’s talk about things that people actually say.

Even Hamza Ali Abbasi asking about the rights of a minority community is considered blasphemy in this day and age.

Thou shalt not question the Second Amendment, even if you are not really doing so.

This is hilarious and dangerous at the same time.

In the Indian subcontinent, one of the perks of living in a society with so many religions is that people are just so easy to offend.

You would feel as if you were watching the moral policing version of the Hunger Games on your TV.

The only difference is that in the Hunger Games, the condemned contestants actually stand a chance to save their lives by winning.

We are witnessing a race on national TV to nominate blasphemers and waiting for the faithful to take them out. It’s a thrilling game of survival.

It may come across as free speech but it is precisely the very opposite, because this sort of behavior is not only meant to shut people up. It is meant to shut them up for good. As in the case of the murdered Bangladeshi bloggers.

Now do not forget, such behavior comes from this taken-for-granted belief that the society needs to think in a certain way, and anything and everything must be done to silence the deviants.

Our former philosopher-kings such as Orya Maqbool Jan and the inquisitor-in-chief Mubasher Lucman, who often pretends not to be concerned with others’ private affairs, are just the prominent faces of this reality witch-hunting show.

Blasphemy and public morality scanners have a certain goal in mind.

It’s not that such elements are not present on the liberal side of the political spectrum, but their goal is usually confined to naming and shaming. They get their orgasms out of people being publicly humiliated instead of offering allusions that people could hack you to death when out of control.

Many of my naïve friends ask me why secularism is needed in the presence of an Islamic state, not to be confused with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

With public inquisitors in charge, whose tone claim authority over the national discourse, considering atheism as rebellion to the Constitution of Pakistan, you do need secularism.

You need secularism because otherwise even existing could have serious consequences in an Islamic State, again not to confuse with the menacing political entity in Iraq and Syria.

In my opinion, witch hunters such as Orya Maqbool Jan and Mubasher Lucman themselves are the biggest argument in favor of secularism.

Because apparently, the very existence of a community in a country is a source of offense to the supposed view of the majority.

Now don’t bring up Jinnah’s view, please. Haven’t we trashed that already with the 1973 constitution?

Now as entertaining as they are, the blasphemy hunger games are nevertheless dangerous.

They are dangerous because not only are they intellectually bankrupt, but also socially authoritarian.

Sometimes, I do feel sorry for the people on the religious conservative side of the fence. Because the very presentation of their ideological view involves violating others’ free speech and personal security. And that is precisely how theocratic forces have been enforcing their view for centuries.

However, this does not absolve them of their sheer idiocy, lack of information, moral hypocrisy, and malicious intentions.

But since it is an Islamic State, the Blasphemy Hunger Games must go on.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.