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.

Let’s Accept Porn

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

What is the best response to a government that proactively blocks porn websites and going out of its way to do so?

The answer is to openly and unashamedly embrace porn, regardless of the attacks from religious conservative and liberal moralists.

In the latest episode, the Pakistan government has moved to block 400,000 porn websites. You can either mourn the indirect ill effects of this monstrous but “necessary” step of internet censorship, or simply call a spade a spade.

Blocking porn is plain and simply wrong. Porn is not. Neither is it immoral. Only the people who act like moral police are.

There is no surprise that the government’s campaign has brought out their usual idiocy and inefficiency of blocking completely unrelated content. What else are you going to expect from a government that is so obsessed with taking public morality measures?

Thanks to our authoritarian government, accessing pornography and erotica could become a human rights issue, if it is not already. Blocking pornography is often justified by religious and moral decency. However, any religious freedom that curtails any other freedoms should be abolished, particularly in this case the access to pornography.

There has been no shortage of criticism, but pretty much all of them have always sounded more like indirect apologies for the supposedly inevitable action. As if it is alright to block porn. They would rightfully mourn the loss of platforms such as tumblr, for not being pornographic, with some accounts possibly containing links to some pornographic material. However, they would completely ignore the loss of access to thousands of porn websites important to millions of others.

For various understandable personal and professional reasons, activists and journalists avoid being vocal against blocking porn. Doing so could be deemed as its endorsement, no wonder a discussion about porn jumps immediately to child pornography (talk about red herring), even if some of them may not have substantial objections to the access of pornography privately.

This is why it is not only necessary for citizens and internet watchdogs to respond to the legal aspects of such internet censorship, but also address the terrible morality of it. And it is important to point out that blocking an adult’s access to pornography is morally objectionable, instead of the pornography content itself.

When the internet started, it became the paradise for libertarians and anarchists. But soon, the ill effects of the freedoms of anonymity began to show as the deep web became the comfortable hideout for data hackers, financial criminals, identity thieves, digital blackmailers, and harassers.

Taking action against them became necessary and the government had to establish its presence online to counter the unrelenting wave of cybercrime which became hard to ignore. With such measures, the governments of the world also took it upon themselves to filter and censor access to information on the internet as it suited their respective ideologies. And why the hell not? In a way, the internet came from the government anyway.

Just like various made up crimes in the penal code of Pakistan, such as blasphemy, attempt to commit suicide and gambling, possessing or displaying pornography or “obscene objects” is yet another crime. We need to convince our lawmakers that it is not, and being guilty about it is not going to help.

There is no need to feel discouraged by reports from journalistic sources crooked with respective ideological agenda such as Fox News and Huffington Post shaming Pakistan for accessing pornography. If indeed these reports are true, let us be proud of them. There is also no need to be ashamed by people discounting the right of accessing pornography of a Muslim majority population, only reflective of common people’s pursuit of freedom.

There is only one way to make voices matter in an environment of suppression. That is to be clear about your rights of freedom of access and freedom of expression.

So let’s not beat about the bush and be vocal about the morality of censorship.

Let’s allow access.

Let’s accept porn.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.