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.

Nargis Turns Pious & Why I Support “Vulgarity”

Source: Express Tribune

Behold! O creatures of the pure, we taketh the source of thy pleasure, but to offer a lot of thanksgiving, for the Lord doth so after its bounty you have collected. Still will you not be grateful? (Land of the Pure 12:10)

So Punjabi stage dancer and actress Nargis, whose performances are considered by a good number of moralist, civilized and self-righteous Pakistanis as “vulgar”,  (not that their beliefs are any lesser)  has bid farewell to “show” business and has turned pious. She has informed the press at her residence in Lahore after reportedly returning from abroad that she is planning to become an Islamic religious scholar and has shrugged off allegations of conspiring to murder a local PML-N thug, who was allegedly harassing her. Whether her conversion was the result of the increasing Islamophobia she must have endured in the West or her repentance for the past sins, she did not clearly state.

So we are only left with Veena Malik (mainly) now it seems.

By the way, if you don’t know who Nargis is, here is a glimpse of one of her performances.

So before I mock and then justify Nargis’ born-again-piety without invitation, let me put in my own cents of morality to make you feel bad before you actually leave and close this page out of disgust. First of all, let me assure you that while I don’t really share the vulgar Punjabi wildness and the barbaric and hypocritical lust of the audiences of the Punjabi striptease or otherwise mujra, I support it wholeheartedly and would watch it unconditionally if and when provided the opportunity. I don’t mind if you consider me a vulgar, disgusting, sexist, Satanic and uncivilized male beast, but here are a few objective reasons for it.

I simply do not see what is so wrong with it. I acknowledge that while it is female objectification of the highest order, (but then again, what isn’t? (especially burka)) I also acknowledge that the actors and dancers and producers work very hard to come up with these, well let’s face it, musicals. Furthermore, I acknowledge that these important members of the society, by which I am referring to the entertainers, take home a very good chunk of pubic wealth home which they otherwise would not even have hoped to pocket in their wildest dreams other than resorting to taking the law in their very own hands. This is a great relief for many a poor kanjars in our highly pious society. May I remind Her Holiness that she owes a lot of her current assets and quality of life to this “shameful” and cringeworthy industry.

Furthermore, I believe that the mujra should remain active for as long as people want to watch it, and here I am talking about stage performances and not private mujras, the latter of which you cannot possibly ban thanks to the secret morals of our mai-baaps, or elders and superiors if you will. You know, the eugenically superior of our society, which is sadly too conscious of its deprivations and have-nots. Once found redundant in terms of market demand, the mujra would die its own death-of-a-dog in a free market economy.

Nargis in action (Source: postpk.com)

A lot of people would find this an occasion to attack Nargis for her “sins”, but I would strongly support her even still. For what choices does she have to survive in this horrifyingly religious and self-righteous society with selectively erotophobic morality but to wear the charade of piety, also known as the hijaab? What choices does she have but to assume a social role which everyone despises in private but cannot possibly condemn in public from a social role that everyone has a soft corner for in private but cannot help but insult and condemn in public? Don’t be upset at why people act this way. They are brought up to. But she, well, needs to live, breathe, procreate too.

I could tell from one of her TV interviews which I won’t be able to find that she had been feeling those pressures. But first let us talk about the morality and “vulgarity” of the Punjabi stage theater and our highly moralist commentators and administrators who are always too keen to shove their phalli down the already-congested throats of the masses. The mujra can be rejected to be of bad taste, I agree, especially since the frequent lustful references in it are bound to go down as inappropriate in a society which has based almost all its beliefs on the guilt it associates with sex. If you ever come to know how hypocritical the jeering Punjabi male youth are in this regard, you would feel even sicker.

But is there any justification to ban it? Is it synonymous with prostitution? How insulting. Apart from the racially charged political and moralist slurs from the supposedly-liberal self-exiled phoning-from-London hysteric, there has been many attempts, especially by that of the administration of our patriotic overlord, the Khadim-e-Aala of the Punjab, to ban it,  because it has been spreading “vulgarity” in an already vulgar society by any objective or subjective standards. Because anything that the majority of the population of this country does not agree with must be banned. We are a nation of banners anyway. You know, banners like off with the heads of blasphemers.

Art, and yes I will insist upon calling it an art form, is only a subtle reflection, and yes it is a very subtle one, of what the society around it is. I find a number of trends in our society far more vulgar and far more immoral than the mujra or even the much maligned Punjabi film industry for that matter. Take the religion for example, for I don’t know from where should I start. The burka, the segregation of the sexes, the forced marriages, forced child marriages, life of celibacy enforced on women via marriage with the Koran, domestic violence, acid throwing, gang rape, public humiliation, torture, murder and not sure what else that is protected by the state in one way or another. But no, no, the mujra must be the source of all the evils in the society. Dancing and stripping women, Allah tauba.

It is the age-old hypocritical trait of this culture to despise the ones who entertain them as inferior castes and kanjars, a Punjabi derogatory epithet with sexual and moralist connotations, and this trend has even been loosely prevalent in the subcontinental history, thanks to the caste system of our highly bigoted racist ancestors. Though what gives me immense pleasure is that those who claim to be from the lineage of the Prophet, or the Syeds, have been joining their ranks in the recent times. But surely they must be liars.

I am sick up to my nostrils (with gooey filth, almost exploding) with the hideous, disgusting, nauseating and hypocritical Islamic-Punjabi and Islamic-rest-of-the-civilized-Pakistan morality that I and millions others are forced to inhale every second. Though I do believe that these are characteristics which are roughly displayed by our incurably pathetic species in one form or another around the world. At times like these, I often take the pleasure of reminding this great evolutionary mistake of a species that they are nothing more than animals and nothing more they will ever be, no matter how hard they try.

While I mourn the loss of Nargis from the stage to the obscurantist and chaddor-wrapping clutches of Moralist Islam, I am proud to support what you call vulgarity and very proud to be an immoral, vulgar man.

And I am not sorry.