Not a woman’s place

When I listened to Malala Yousufzai address the Canadian Parliament the previous day, I  felt nothing but respect for that girl. No, that woman. The way a nineteen year old woman could command the respect of the entire house, conservative and liberal was mesmerizing. I wished she spoke longer, I could listen for a long time perhaps with a Nazia Hassan tune playing in the background. She said she wanted to see more young ones sitting in the house of Parliament instead of many sitting there now, such was her appeal that even the oldest parliamentarians found themselves to be nodding.

I was quickly brought back to reality, the reality of pessimism and anger. My country folks don’t really let such moments pass easy, you see most people can’t tolerate strong independent women. There was a woman being honored by a house of parliament and yet she stood their telling them that they have not done enough to support a girl’s education across the globe, she told them that they need to do more. It pained me to watch so many of my own people accuse her for working on an ‘evil foreign’ agenda, obviously a girl’s right of education can only be something evil for the patriarchy.

1983 – Women’s Movement to protest against laws passed by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq

Society on this side of the world, both sides of the border have internalized misogyny. It comes easy for them, they all feel threatened by a woman who can speak, who has her own voice. Be it the Fatima Jinnah daring to stand up to the dictator Ayub, standing up for the rights of the Bengali people or even the Sharmeen at the Academy Awards wanting to protect millions of other women from ending up like the girl in the river. Every female politician in this country has had to bear with misogynistic remarks, has had to face attacks such as not being fit to rule because of course she is a woman. Ms Bhutto paid with her life after all. Don’t take me in the wrong sense, I do not mean to say that women can not rise above all of this or that they haven’t been able to ever, but we need to understand the fact that just because that they do, does not mean that the problem does not exist. When a sitting Defence Minister can refer to a woman as a ‘tractor trolley’ to shut her up, to silence her voice, or when the leader of the opposition can crack a joke at the expense of women in a ‘light mood’, because it’s annoying when women speak, it’s obviously business only when men speak, It does help in bringing me back to this harsh reality.

For as long as Asma Jehangir’s refusal to compromise on principles means being ‘uptight’, for as long as Malala is just another foreign agent along with her partner in crime Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, as long as parents continue to stop their daughters from going out for an education, even in urban centres, and people continue to turn a blind eye we can not hope to progress. This battle is not and was not one to be fought alone by Ms Jinnah, Mehtab Rashdi or Nazia Hassan trying to break cultural norms, this is not just ‘a women problem’, this is a moral problem and we all must be a part of this movement, to break the patriarchy and to call out misogyny.

 

The iconic Dupatta burning protest by Pakistani Feminists in 1983 against the military dictator Zia, this later became a symbol for resistance and freedom

 

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Freedom? Not Really

Millions gather together at the same place, at the same time, they cheer, they jump. They stand all day in the sun, nothing but excitement and revolution in their hearts. They stand hours, just for a few second glance of the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. It doesn’t matter to them if her government was successful or corrupt, the intricacies of her agenda don’t matter to them. They believe in the woman with a loose white scarf on her head, they see the future with her. She is no more, but millions still can’t help but feel that they are betraying her sacrifice if they don’t vote for her ballot.  It is said that when Jinnah spoke at rallies, he usually spoke in English, most people did not know a word of English but still hung on to his every word, because they believed, they trusted. They saw freedom his voice, in his eyes, oh what a beautiful thing is freedom.

We are not free, we are constantly, throughout our lives put into shackles by society. Women are enslaved by the patriarchy, the poor enslaved by the owners of wealth, the rich enslaved by their status. Freedom means different things to different people, Pakistan meant freedom to the Muslims in India in 1947. Not a day goes by when the Kashmiris, Palestinians, the Kurds and millions of others don’t wake up as prisoners seeking freedom, to be able to call their land their home, to live and die in dignity.

We all go through different times in our lives, we all carry our chains with us, some with more, some with less. Everyone has their own unique struggle, unique battle to fight. Millions all over the world have it worse than many, that does not mean that the chains of one are any less important than that of another. We can not be free until there exists even one person in chains, allowing the enslaver to survive. Let there be no enslaver for there to be freedom. I write this as I am embroiled in turmoil as a student, I too am enslaved by this system of competitiveness of education as a brand versus another. The millions who seek to just steal a glance at the former Prime Minister, are not enslaved by her as they remain even when she is no more, they carry the chains of their belief and revolution. The leader is not the revolution, the millions in the crowd are the revolution. Theoretically it is not people from whom we have to seek freedom, it is the mindset.

The workers of the world did not lose their chains in 1917 or in 1959, they did have nothing to lose but their chains, but were they really prepared to lose their chains? Fayyaz Hashmi says that in this prison of time, there is life but only a few moments of freedom. We need to look for those few moments, we need to believe that such moments may exist or will exist, only then will we be prepared to lose our chains, only then will the spectre that surrounds us be within us.

 

The Liberal Dilemma

It can be reasonably assumed that the ideology of ‘liberalism’ is on a downward trend globally. In most parts of the world, more and more ‘conservative’ or ‘right wing’ candidates have seen success as opposed to their ‘liberal’ counterparts. The ‘Left’ is losing the battle against the ‘Right’. Let’s focus on why that is so, why is it that ‘liberals’ have started to become demonized in many societies? They are ‘anti-national’, they represent ‘foreign agendas’ and work against the overall national supremacy of their home country under the guise of human rights is what is now being associated with ‘liberals’. I am mostly referring to social liberalism rather than economic liberalism here, although economic liberalism is too on the downfall but that’s another discussion for another day.

Lets take Pakistan for example. Usually, ‘liberals’ are seen as Kaafirs(Infidels), people under the payroll of the evil west whose sole agenda is to derail the religious values of society. Terms such as ‘libtards’ or ‘liberal fascists’ are used quite often to describe social activists campaigning for secular values, criticizing the military, calling out religious extremism rigidly and perhaps even at times calling for improved relations and greater art exchange with our alleged enemies from across the border. In highlighting all the problems that exist within the country, speaking on sensitive religious issues, the ‘liberals’ are often charged with defaming the country globally, speaking the tongue of our enemies. Critiquing the military, which has a cult like following is also viewed as an anti-national activity. So because of all of these reasons within a generally conservative society, the word ‘liberal’ has become something of a slur. It is true that often people on one side of the spectrum don’t really give due consideration or respect to opinions on the other side of the spectrum and eventually fuel tension. This perhaps can also be seen the United States, when the ‘liberals’ were charged with demonizing Trump and his ‘deplorables'(followers) too much, not willing to hear out their concerns or what circumstances they come from.

I think we all need to consider and look at what being a ‘liberal’ generally means and whether or not the generalizations and/or demonization of this term is justified or not. Even here in Pakistan, the general liberal would be a supporter of a secular government, would want a tough crackdown against sectarian terror groups and the freedom to practice your religion without prejudice. Most people would probably agree in principle with all of these ideas, just like most people would agree that sexism and racism are unacceptable acts. The problem comes about in actually going into these subjects in detail: ‘Does the state have the right to declare someone an infidel?’, ‘Should women have the freedom to dress however they want in public?’, ‘Should a non-muslim be eligible to becoming the head of the state?’. Most people would have strong unfavourable opinions towards these questions and most people would get offended when someone tries to debate these issues, as most of these ideas are grounded within the religious belief of that person and anything that even comes close to questioning that offends them deeply. This offense is then translated into anger towards the debate generator, which is in most cases a self described or publically accepted form of a ‘liberal’. It is because of this offense and anger that people have moved away from the principle of liberalism and have started to view liberalism as something that is generally against their religious beliefs and against their national identity as well. When that is all liberalism is limited to, it automatically becomes a slur, because in the mind of the ‘non-liberal’, it doesn’t represent anything more than that. In a society that has generally been suspicious of the west, does not do so well with ‘liberalism’ especially when it is viewed as the brainchild of the west.

I think, for liberalism to be successful as a movement there needs to be a change in approach. There needs to be less ridiculing of other ideas to prove their ideas correct and more of trying to understand the opposing ideas and gradually try to alter them. Most Facebook pages campaigning for liberal values often end up becoming echo chambers after they successfully offend and push away most of the opposite spectrum. Radicalism and misplaced nationalism is allowed to grow and consolidate power when ‘liberalism’ alienates most people. In the American elections, most people took to ridiculing the opposite spectrum so much so with the holier than thou attitude, it actually brought about results that no one anticipated. The idea of liberalism means a generally free society, a society where everyone is equal and no one is the sacred cow. That doesn’t sound all that bad, we need to make sure that this is what it is in the minds of the people to bring about a progressive change. When activist Jibran Nasir’s posts ranging from the environment to radicalism are all met with only ‘anti liberal’ slurs, we must acknowledge that the term ‘liberal’ isn’t really a positive one in the minds of the people and we must help change it to mean what it actually is.

Exposing Conspiracies

Cover of the documentary titled, ‘Saving Face’ by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy

Everyone’s favorite pass time in Pakistan is to sit in drawing rooms, sip evening ‘Chai’ and discuss politics. With the spread of social media, a bit of arguing on Facebook with random people, entrenched in swearing and little logic has also come up as a serious competitor to drawing room discussions. I can’t claim to say that this is present only in Pakistan, perhaps it does happen elsewhere too but I speak from experience in Pakistan, an authority and privilege that I can’t claim to have from other parts of the world. In Pakistan, everyone tends to see themselves as geniuses, everyone is extremely smart and can quickly comprehend ‘behind the scene’ agendas of everything that is happening. Most of stuff that goes wrong is almost always if not all the time an elaborate conspiracy to work against the national interests of the State. All nations around the world, especially our neighbors and the West seem to have an unusual agenda to dismantle and crush the not so strong economically, drenched with foreign debt South-Asian country with extremely unusual and elaborate schemes.

When film-maker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy wins Oscars and global recognition highlighting the plight of women in Pakistan it’s all just an elaborate conspiracy. Women have had their lives destroyed by acid attacks and are killed for honour. But most Pakistani’s are too smart to buy that scam, just last year 400 plus women were not killed for honour, even more so were not attacked with acid, it’s all a lie. An elaborate scheme to defame Pakistan in front of the world, thank god the Pakistanis are smart enough to figure it out. I mean, who else doesn’t know that Oscars are only awarded for defaming Pakistan and not based on artistic excellence, nope. Countrymen going all out on Social media cursing Sharmeen and calling it a ‘RAW’ conspiracy and denying the oppression faced by women definitely does not ‘defame’ Pakistan, assuming that the national image is the sole important cause of this struggle. When a girl gets shot by the Taliban in tribal Pakistan, she is again, obviously a western agent. This is quite obvious because all the other girls or children shot by terrorists were not given the same recognition as this particular girl was given. What about the cause she represented? Pfft lies! I tell you, the situation is perfectly fine, girls are not stopped from gaining an education in the tribal areas, the Taliban in fact are fighting against foreign agents only, I mean they were all feminists during their stint at governance in Swat pre-2007. Polio drops funded by yet another western Agent, Bill Gates are actually aimed to make Pakistani citizens impotent! These people think that we are fooled by this? Polio doesn’t even exist, it was created as propaganda by forces that want to harm the national unity of the country! The people of Baluchistan have in fact not been oppressed by the state, ever! (Hint: Neither were the East-Pakistanis and nor was there a military operation in the 1970s to crush the provincial and local governments in Baluchistan). Those that try to speak up for the rights of the ‘falsely’ oppressed are in fact… yeah you guessed it right again, RAW agents!

Terror attacks in Pakistan are actually acts perpetrated by foreign Anti-Pakistan governments, the home-grown extremist organizations are actually good people, forced to do all of that by foreign governments. Although whether or not there is presence of foreign government funding is questionable, but the idea that radicalism has become entrenched in our society and has created an attraction of symbolic ideals for the people, leading them to join these organization are pure lies I tell you! There are no religious centre of Education that teach children that it is their duty to join the struggle of these terrorist organization, people who call for a crackdown on these schools are mere puppets of the West trying to gain their favour and nothing else.

Thankfully, we are extremely smart people and we know what is actually going on, none of the problems are our own fault, we are just victims of global political agendas. Everything is a conspiracy in Pakistan, and we know so because when we said this in our drawing rooms or on Facebook we got applauded and got a lot of likes. Thus reaching the logically sound conclusion.

 

(Note: This article is satire, this article does not aim to harm or hurt anyone’s sentiments or struggles. Nor does it aim to make generalizations. Any generalizations made are purely for satirical purposes to prove a point)