When Aurat March was Attacked by Islamists in Islamabad

Source: Reuters

On March 8, when progressive and liberal women were marching for their rights in Islamabad, and the Islamist parties decided to march alongside them. No, hell did not freeze over. The “Haya March” or the “Honor March” was meant to counter the agenda of the Women’s March on International Women’s Day. And the ingenious Islamabad Capital Administration, which had to be convinced to allow space to Aurat Azadi March, thought it necessary to allow the Islamist rally to be held right next to it at the National Press Club.

A natural consequence of this disastrous setup was chaos, indiscipline, and violence resulting in multiple injuries. Fortunately, nobody lost their life, even though the savage mullahs almost ensured it. And many of us, the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, were there to witness it.

While I have not favored the idea of attending the women’s march for years, primarily because I believe that men should not occupy women’s space on the occasion. Especially when a lot of enemies of the march had infiltrated just to harass women, as a few cases came out. However, I knew it was different this time because it was more like an ideological battlefield and we had to show up to show solidarity, other than covering it for a documentary. And the protest plot outside the National Press Club sure looked like a battlefield alright.

The March day afternoon was partly clear after a rainy morning and the assembly area was all wet and muddy. A tent fence divided both sides of the road by the Press Club leading to the F6 market and on the far side, the Haya March and its rally were to take place. Before any activity would begin on the progressive side on the assembly area, the Jamaat-e-Islami women were done marching as bus after bus with Jamaat-e-Islami flags would transport workers to the venue. However, the burka-clad women stuck around, apart from the Hijabi types who were also leading a rally, for the speeches by the “Ulema” or religious scholar leaders of the three Islamist groups organizing the march, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Ittehad, and JUI-F.

Throughout the day, inflammatory speeches were heard from the other side. In just about any given speech, women in the Aurat March, just a few meters away were condemned as prostitutes, as women who would sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Despite all the venom, which was left unnoticed by the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, apparently already bracing for a riot by the looks of their gear, no reaction came from the progressive side. Meanwhile, the police did not bother to intervene to stop the hate speech and did not think for a minute what consequences it could possibly have. It is funny how the Islamabad DC was having a hard time allowing the Aurat March but did not lift a finger when the participants of the reactionary Islamist March showed up.

However, after all the speeches of the high officials of the Islamist alliance were over, their women participants, very few of who got to even speak, were ordered to exit the venue. Once they were gone, all the “political workers” positioned themselves to attack the fragile tent curtain partition separating them from the Aurat March. They started throwing large stones, bricks, canes, and shoes at the Aurat March and finally stormed on, barely controlled by the cops.

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A few people even got injured during the assault who were taken for medical help. But perhaps the most dangerous instance was Women Democratic Front leader Ismat Shahjahan who led the fight in Islamabad getting hit by a stone in her head. This could very easily have resulted in anything and the goons from JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Sunni Ittehad did not consider the possible consequences of their actions for a moment. They indeed carried out the threats of their leader made a few days ago.

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The most condemnable bit was that Islamabad Police, always pandering to the violent religious forces, had refused the Aurat March participants to go ahead on the agreed-upon route. Ironically, the ICT Headquarters building was right next to the Press Club. Led by Tooba Syed, the march stopped in front of the building and vowed to block the road until the march was permitted to follow its route all the way to D-Chowk near the Parliament House. She, along with many other women activists of the Women Democratic Front, showed immense courage in the face of threats to their lives and had their voices heard.

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Since the Lal Masjid controversy, Islamabad has essentially become a battleground for secular political elements and the established theocratic fundamentalists in the country. Perhaps nothing manifests this conflict better than this single incident during the Aurat March, one which could have so easily resulted in the loss of life.

However, the courage displayed by the women in the face of violence and intimidation, especially the leadership of Women Democratic Forum under Ismat Shahjahan and Tooba Syed, gave anyone witnessing those scenes goosebumps. So many had tears in their eyes on the way forward and on the way back, not because they were afraid, hurt, or intimidated, but because they were proud to be a part of history.

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This is why Aurat March looks like a revolution and perhaps without its moment, it would not have proved so iconic. Bold, confident, emancipated women pissing social conservative mullahs and their allies off so much that they can barely hold themselves back from attacking them. It is simply shocking but that is what defines gender relations in Pakistan today.

The women have spoken up. They are marching and nothing can stop them now.

Why the Cynical Fascism of Hassan Nisar Must Be Rejected

Source: Unknown

For too long, former comrade Hassan Nisar has been spewing a bit too much hate for democracy and for the intellect of the people of Pakistan and for far too long he has been tolerated. He has been tolerated because the general public perception is that he is an intellectual. Perhaps he is, but the idea he has been propagating for years now. You do not need to take my word for it. Go and watch hours after hours of footage on YouTube and Pakistani social media and you will have some idea about what we are saying.

Of course, the secular elements in the country take a lot of pleasure in his scathing commentary on the mullahs and the religious fundamentalists. They love how he destroys the religious clerics and their approach to secular education and science.

With such opinions, at least the secularists liked to listen to him because he was a secular man. However, his recent disappointing comments about religion card has put shadows of doubt over this idea as well. To add insult to injury, his decision to paint Imran Khan as a savior ended up in great embarrassment for himself due to the dismal performance of his administration, which he has admitted himself.

Recently, the PTI government has taken upon itself to defend former dictator General Pervez Musharraf in court for the proceedings against him in the treason or Article 6 charge. The General had abrogated the Constitution in 1999 in a bloodless coup to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which according to the Constitution itself is a treasonous act. In turn, Nawaz Sharif opened this case against him when he came to power.

The Report Card show from Geo TV Network which involved this subject had a discussion on democracy that quickly escalated into the following. Hassan Nisar, like always, was cynical about any hint of democracy in Pakistan.

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The full show can be watched in the following video.

Hassan Nisar’s basic thesis is that the Pakistani people must be educated first before they can be trusted with something such as democracy. While the cynic in us would tend to agree with him, it cannot be stressed enough how dangerous this line of argument is. It is a self-defeating statement more than anything else and has nothing to do with any solutions.

Hassan Nisar, just like all the defenders of the military establishment, he blames all of the current democratic and constitutional crises on the politicians. He considers any legal proceedings against former military dictators as needless and even refuses to recognize “sham” democratic institutions in Pakistan. To make matters worse for himself, he even defended Musharraf’s controversial properties dismissing it as his private affair. However, he would refuse to apply the same principle to the Sharifs, who he has been bitterly opposing for decades.

This is not just one incident but the clip in this tweet is perhaps Hassan Nisar at his worst. He is not arguing but ranting. What is worse, he was being inexcusably and unnecessarily rude to other speakers on the show. Many on twitter were blaming it on him possibly being drunk at that time but those who have listened to him for years now are familiar that his moral constipation has a far longer history and it has nothing to do with a moment of weakness.

We have been following Hassan Nisar for a very long time and obviously, his rhetoric has some basis on logic. Only for that reason, he has gathered a fan following or viewers or readers over the years. But people, especially the youth should be wary of considering him an ideal for deriving their political thought.

For too long, Pakistanis have been fed the Caliph Syndrome thanks to a quote by Umer II or Umer I about a ruler being even responsible for a calf dying by the Euphrates river. Such cynicism has only harmed both democracy and public thought in Pakistan. People expect unrealistic miracles and solutions from political leadership, looking for a Caliph, and when they fail to meet those goals, they wait for a Messiah in the shape of a military general who would have a silver bullet solution for all their woes. Of course, the dictator never works for them either but at least they were happy about the sudden “appearance” of a charismatic leader out of nowhere without any voting. Perhaps, military dictators such as Zia and Musharraf are indeed sent by Allah. It is the same principle that is being applied to the binary regime of Imran Khan and General Bajwa.

Hassan Nisar is great for social media moments and gratification of the emotions of the political cynic in Pakistan, but in terms of substance and ideology, we should surely look elsewhere.

The caustic, cynical fascism of Hassan Nisar must be rejected.