Hopeful about Pakistan

Published: March 4, 2016


FILE PHOTO The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

After a long time, I feel hopeful about Pakistan. Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Salman Taseer, has been punished with the strictest penalty under Pakistani law. It took five years for the state to take this bold step and of course it does not mean that minorities will no longer be unfairly targeted in Pakistan or that the mindset that supports Qadri’s actions will disappear, but this bold step is of enormous symbolic value and aims to establish the writ of the state that has, for far too long, been trampled upon.

If Pakistan is to be made safe for all its citizens one day, then this is an important step in the right direction. Whether his funeral numbers were large or small, is not as big a story as the fact that the state appears to have corrected course.

We are a country of nearly 200 million people. It is impossible for everyone to feel the same way. Every society has its tolerant and its bigoted side. So if there are people in Pakistan who believe that Qadri did the right thing because they take their cues from those who interpret religion in a most irrational and inhumane way, we must work on introducing them to alternative theological contexts but we should neither be surprised nor despair that they exist.

Such closed and narrow mindsets exist in every society. If six out of 10 Donald Trump supporters in the US believe that Muslims should be banned from the United States, then clearly bigotry exists in large numbers, even in the most advanced of societies. As long as the state stands for justice that is the best one can hope for. We cannot expect to convert everyone to our way of thinking.

However, it must be ensured that institutions of repute or stature in society do not become forums for promoting the type of mindsets that lead to greater violence in society. In that regard, we have a lot of work to do in mosques, schools, universities and, most urgently, on the electronic media.

Just recently, both Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Malala Yousufzai, one who has won two Oscars and the other who won the Nobel Peace Prize, respectively, were referred to in derogatory terms on various television shows. This has to be unacceptable. One has the right to criticise their work or their positions but to slander their characters simply because you cannot tolerate a Pakistani woman feted by the West is where the line has to be drawn.

Let’s talk about Sharmeen first. Clearly, it wasn’t a coincidence that the only woman of colour who won the Oscar this year was the one who made a documentary about honour killings in Pakistan. Does the West like to portray Muslim countries as places where women are treated shabbily? Yes, it does. Are Western publishers, for instance, not keen on narratives where Muslim women are shown as strong normal people? No, they aren’t. (A recent interview with novelist Anis Shivani in a national daily elaborates on this quite well.)

But does it mean that because the West may have its own reasons to promote such subjects we must necessarily take the opposite position? No, it doesn’t. If our women are suffering and it has been brought to our attention, then we must correct course, and here once again, I am pleased with the response of the Pakistani government. The Prime Minister screened the film before it went to the Oscars and one hopes he follows through on his promise to change the law.

As Senator Raza Rabbani said, however, we shouldn’t have to wait till the Oscars recognise a film to make such amendments to the law, and that there have been countless Pakistani women who have suffered for promoting an end to honour killings and they also must be recognised for their efforts.

One cannot win two Oscars, nevertheless, unless one is a very talented film-maker and for that reason too we must be proud of Sharmeen. But Sharmeen is lucky. She comes from an affluent urban background and has the requisite contacts to make her impact felt at the highest level of society and can hence reach the corridors of power.

What happens when a girl from a humbler, simpler background tries to make a difference? Let’s say a schoolteacher’s daughter from Swat. When she is shot in the head for simply standing up to Taliban pressure for girls to abandon schooling and subsequently has to leave the country because it is no longer safe for her, I find myself arguing with some DHA types who have sent their own daughters abroad for an education, that no, Malala is not a Western conspiracy.

Of course, the West loves her story, for much the same reason that it loves Sharmeen’s documentaries, but why should that negate our sympathy for her or not make us proud of what she has subsequently gone on to achieve? Are we that insecure?

In spite of the fact that Malala may have achieved even more than Sharmeen, she is not as fortunate. She still cannot return home to her Swat Valley, for which she yearns in every interview. It is still not safe for her. The day she is able to come home, as are other talented, well-meaning Pakistanis like Javed Ghamidi Sahib, who have had to flee because they were preaching an Islam that was challenging those who have made a business out of promoting hate, then Pakistan will really win. Insha’Allah, we will get there, one step at a time.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • sheraz
    Mar 5, 2016 - 9:14AM

    Nawaz Shareef has successfully appeased liberals! Another proof!
    Where has gone the claim and conviction of these people (liberals) against death penalty?Recommend

  • Eeman Alam
    Mar 5, 2016 - 9:33AM

    Technology has made the greatest difference in changing the roles of men and women in society by reducing the physical advantage enjoyed by men in older times. West has been ahead of Pakistan in the adoption of technology, which seems to show that their societies are more egalitarian in terms of gender roles. My American class fellows at an Ivy League university used to tell me that domestic violence is the biggest issue in the country. I certainly see bigotry in the narratives of the West when they talk about situation of women in our society.

    Anyone who leans too much on support from the West to change the role of women in our societies is likely to be seen suspiciously. Malala is clearly in that camp; Sharmeen may not be. In my opinion, true reformers are shy of getting public attention, as service is not inspired by public applause but by the quiet inner assurance that you have made someone’s life better. Recommend

  • Toti calling
    Mar 5, 2016 - 10:38AM

    I beg to differ with the author. The support of qadri who killed somebody in a broad day light gets support from millions shows that there are people who do believe that taking law in your own hands is justified. That does not happen anywhere else, at least in other faiths. Comparing this with Trump and the support he gets for encouraging to ban Muslims from entrying USA is wrong. Almost all countries have built walls to decrease immigrants and although Trump said somethimng which many others say it privately, cannot be compared to a mindset which supports lawlessnes. It has become fashionable to blame ‘others’ for your own weaknesses. That will not make things better, educating people might. Recommend

  • Feroz
    Mar 5, 2016 - 11:46AM

    Seeing the biggest ever gathering at the funeral of murderer Qadri, there are limits to how hopeful one can be. A blind man will not regain vision by merely being hopeful, he will need surgery too.Recommend

  • Asif
    Mar 5, 2016 - 1:43PM

    I differ from her comment about Trump, otherwise it is a balanced and brilliant articel.
    No one wants to live with a people who hate and call him infidle what muslims do every were they go.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Mar 5, 2016 - 2:44PM

    but this bold step is of enormous symbolic value and aims to establish the writ of the state that has, for far too long, been trampled upon

    Madam, this is not the first time that the State has established its writ against the majority; to pretend otherwise is likely to polarise the society further. The patriarchal system in the country cannot be altered through laws but require collective efforts of the community through reforms of the State institutons.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • man like ouzzy
    Mar 5, 2016 - 6:50PM

    Rip mumtaz qadri.a brave man.Recommend

  • Atif Salahuddin
    Mar 5, 2016 - 8:16PM

    Imposing an alternative liberal viewpoint by force cannot work. It ignores the viewpoint of the majority of the people who are Islamic and goes completely against the spirit of representative government. Moreover it will only serve to undermine the narrative of the counter secular viewpoint. What is really required is a genuine debate between the two rather than self imposed censorship on behalf of the media trying to blackout the Qadri story. Recommend

  • Human
    Mar 5, 2016 - 8:28PM

    @man like ouzzy:
    if u consider that murderer to be ‘brave’ I wonder what coward means to u Recommend

  • Mujeeb
    Mar 6, 2016 - 3:21AM

    It took five long years to see justice being done in the cold blooded murder of the Governor Taster. The agony of the family still continues as one of their sons has not reached home yet. One has to be stubbornly hopeful. It might be difficult recalling the horrors of partition, the break up of Pakistan, upheavals of martial laws, the petty mindedness of our politicians and bureaucracy. How religion has been abused time and again to further vested agendas. Its no surprise then that sanity and moderation are the first casualties and our society is deeply polarised. How does one tame ones animal instincts. Surely not by inflamming and playing upon religious sentiment But the state has been complicit in the very act to serve its agendas in the not so distant past. Surely our judicial history hasn’t been inspiring either. Is there any hope we will right the wrongs . How much do we spend on education compared to making bombs. Has it made us any safe. I mean it couldn’t help us in saving our school children and universities. But still here is a challenge if we can roll up our sleeves and save our country and our souls. How deeply flawed we are. Who are we going to blame. And how do we pull ourselves from this chasm. Will we be able draw a bridge over it or we are destined to fall in it. A time for serious reflection.Recommend

  • Aqeel Aamir
    Mar 7, 2016 - 10:14AM

    It took centuries for the West to arrive where they are now socially, economically and even religiously and it’s fact undeniable that they are ahead and in command. It’s an historical fact too that they had the opposition and challenges no less that what we are facing in Pakistan.
    What i celebrate the most is that reason and logic dominated and set their course, human mind evolved and progressed and it’s obvious that we as a nation need to reform ourselves in every aspect of life too and our progress is not without challenges as what we are facing now.Recommend

  • Sridhar
    Mar 7, 2016 - 3:50PM

    If the crowd that had gathered at Qadri’s Namaz-e-janaza were any indication, it seems to me that Qadri has now become a martyr.
    That is sad considering he is nothing but a criminal who murdered the governor of Punjab.
    Pakistan todays seems like a divided house.
    THE big question is: who will win? Supporters of rule of law or the ones who support Qadri. In other words, the fight is between democracy and religious fanaticism.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Mar 7, 2016 - 9:11PM

    Will we be able draw a bridge over it or we are destined to fall in it. A time for serious reflection.

    Is ths all what you have to say after writing an elaborative narritive, ” a time for serious reflection”?

    Rex MinorRecommend

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