Keep going until they're free: Pakistani celebrities continue to stand firmly with Palestine

Artists shared detailed insights on why speaking up for the cause is vital

Sajeer Shaikh October 31, 2023

Amidst increased violence perpetrated by Israel on Palestine, the world seems to be divided between those who support the oppressor and those who stand resolutely with the oppressed. Many have called for an end to the occupation, with global protests doubling as a testament to the turning tide. Where the Western narrative once reigned supreme, stories coming out of Palestine and their amplification have helped combat the misrepresentation of facts. 

Many Pakistani celebrities have been vocal about the Israeli barbarity. In doing so, these figures with large platforms have been able to participate in becoming catalysts of change. "The global narrative is pit heavily against Palestine in the Western media, and it has been for decades," explains actor Ushna Shah, whilst in conversation with The Express Tribune. "But now, the tide is shifting and people are seeing through the façade. If you look at the majority of the Western networks and the videos they put up, and you look at the comments, you can see there is a huge shift in where the world's loyalties are lying. The narrative might be against Palestine but the people most certainly aren't."

Armeena Khan, however, views this differently. "Firstly let’s not mistake the Western narrative for the global narrative. The Westen narrative is the story, of ‘might is right’, ‘injustice’ and ‘selective humanity.’ The West functions in a selfish, self-obsessed echo chamber," says the star. "But there is an alternative narrative...This world understands Palestine instinctively, as it did with ’Black Lives Matter’, ‘Me Too’ and ‘Times Up’. We are at a watershed moment. The brutality of the Israeli response is borne out of desperation. They are 20th-century people performing in front of a 21st-century global populace. The unchallenged control they exercised over the narrative is now over. Social media has played a key part in this."

Ace singer Hasan Raheem highlights, "If you consider the Western actors and artists who’ve voiced their concerns for the Israeli people global, then it’s a little unfair to the public voices who’ve been raising their voices against the apartheid state of Israel and their genocide in Gaza. So, as of now, the narrative is tilted towards the Palestinian people and against their oppressors. It’s a step in the right direction and it was a long time coming."

Images and videos coming out of Palestine have left everyone shaken. Visualising the atrocities of a heavily one-sided war has not been easy. However, sharing the same has been key in depicting the extent of Israeli brutality. "Obviously, it is sad," says Yasir Hussain, when asked about the same. "Whenever a Muslim or a human dies anywhere in the world, one is saddened. The way Palestinians have been pushed against a wall for years, it has always been sad."

Ushna adds, "This is all my life is circling around. I can’t sleep. In the moments where I find myself laughing about something or smiling about something, or being distracted, I come back to the reality of what’s happening right now and I think one thing that particularly hits the most is - two things: One is children, seeing this happen to children, children are being orphaned, children are dying and I’ve never seen that many dead and wounded children, especially dead children, and the ones that are alive are suffering from extreme PTSD and loss and grief and trauma and shell-shock. And then also, we’re watching, quite literally, the ethnic cleansing of an entire people. We’re watching an entire people being wiped off the face of this Earth and that’s just such a painful reality. I never thought I would experience something like this in my lifetime. I’m unable to comprehend it fully."

Armeena, too, weighs in, stating, "In each dead child (including the Israeli children) I see my baby, I see my mother and father in the parents left behind. Those weeping mothers are me. We as a community are going through collective trauma. This is not going to heal. We will take these images to our graves. Nothing will make this better." Hasan says, "It’s not a sight you would want to see when you open a social media app, but at this point, it’s helping people wake up from their deep sleep and talk about the genocide. I feel helpless and I pray for the departed. May Allah give patience to their loved ones."

An ongoing debate pertaining to the perceived silence of influential figures takes into consideration the fact that there might be backlash or cancelled brand deals waiting at the other end for those who voice support for Palestine. "There has been backlash as far as maybe the other side is concerned," reveals Ushna. "You get a little bit of trolling here and there. But, as far as using my platform to speak for the Palestinian people - there is nothing on this planet that could stop me from doing so and I never will. I now feel that this is perhaps my calling because I’ve spoken up many times throughout the course of my life." She adds, "My resolve is such now that I feel, even after the ceasefire, I am not going to be quiet. I’m never going to be quiet about Palestine. Allah has sent me my calling and my mission is to always speak for those people until they are free."

Armeena shares, "Big business profits from war. Multinationals prop up the status quo, the power structures that oppress developing countries. When I speak out, I hurt these interests. For example, when I spoke up for the Kashmiri people, Indian authorities sent me legal notices and I lost out on a film project there because the producers could not guarantee my safety. Because of my advocacy, I have lost out on endorsements. But conversely, I have been hired by ethical companies who align with my values. I am self-made, I have not relied on cronyism, nepotism or kowtowing to arrive at success. I am unafraid. So I am undeterred and unafraid because my success is down to my fans and my faith in Allah."

An undeterred Hasan simply says, "God provides. I can take a little backlash for the sake of humanity, so it’s all good." Yasir candidly states, "One problem for influencers, especially actors, is that if they support Palestine, there are many products that they endorse which belong to Israeli companies...We must stress the fact that we must make our own products, we must promote and put into the spotlight local products in a way where they can compete with [Israeli] products like our neighbouring county has done. Actors and influential figures, I think, are worried by the same, that they will speak up in support of Palestine and, in a few days, they will receive good money for an ad where they will be endorsing an [Israeli] product. Then, they will be questioned through the court of public trial. That could be an issue. I don’t have such an issue." 

With the death toll mounting rapidly in the region, it is pertinent to keep speaking up and amplifying Palestinian voices. "Please do not stop talking about this," says Ushna. "Even if there's a ceasefire, don’t stop talking about this. Even if you become desensitized for a while, take a break and then go back to watching the videos. I know it’s difficult. Go back to watching so that it doesn't die down for you. Keep reigniting the pain within yourself so that you keep fighting, you keep spreading the message. Just, right now, there is much global pressure, this might be a catalyst for bringing an end to this...Keep talking. Keep sharing, keep posting, keep putting pressure on your governments, keep boycotting, keep screaming, keep marching, just keep going. Keep going until they’re free."

Armeena adds, "I am seeing some people becoming depressed and losing hope. The images coming out are horrific. Take regular breaks from social media and guard your mental health. Secondly, don’t be a bystander. Get involved in the justice movement by joining a group or offering up your skills, from writing to social media, you are needed. So do what you can, where you can, with what you have. I have been involved with Palestine since high school. The movement is stronger than ever. The Palestinians I speak to are resolute and if they are not giving up, who are we to?"

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