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August '07: Pakistan at sixty

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Pakistan at sixty
To mark the International Women’s Day two years back, Newsline magazine asked on it’s cover : Will the real Pakistani woman please stand up ? The cover design showed a burqa clad woman, a duputta wearing woman and a lady wearing a sleeveless evening gown. As Pakistan marks sixty years of its existence ( some call it independence) perhaps the question that needs to be asked is : Will the real Pakistan ideology please be identified.

Imagine being a child today in Pakistan.You hear about ``enlightened moderation” from none other than the President of the Country. On television , we see young men and women having fun and generally painting an open modern society’s picture. However as a child even before watching the whole Lal Masjid episode, you have heard a few months back the on the illegal FM radio broadcast from the Lal Masjid that the ``Quaid –i-e Azam University (QAU) had become a brothel and women associated with the institution are immoral.” You, as a child also heard that nikkah contracted with female students of QAU while 'understandably will not be the first preference of momin boys but if they marry these women and steer them towards the right path' the boys would have done their ``Muslim duty.” Imagine as a child hearing Maulana Aziz declaring,’ he would not consider it wrong if immoral women had acid thrown on their faces. '

Imagine as a child being told by your parents that you can't go to the library because it has been occupied by burqa wearing-sticks wielding women who want to impose Shariah in this godless country.

Imagine you are a child living in Mardan. Outside almost every store, in the main city center and almost every boundary wall, you see a poster which has the picture of Price Charles, Camella Parker, the former Fatima Jinnah's Women University Vice Chancellor Dr Najma Najam, some FJWU faculty members and students. The female students all decently clad but without hijab are seen to be talking to Prince Charles.

The poster has the caption ' The women colleges and Universities of this country are being used to display our daughters to foreign princes. Rise O Muslim brothers... Rise for the cause of Islam needs you.' The poster further declared that boys were being admitted to the prestigious Edwards College Peshawar only when they 'renounce their faith and become Ahmadis.' The poster is printed by the Message Organization and as mentioned earlier is pasted openly on public and private and definitely forms a part of the psycho-social environment of a child in D.I.Khan.

It is perhaps worth noting that in a heavily regulated environment like ours where Sir (?) Salman Rushdie to the Egyptian secular scholar Al Raziq are banned as they produce 'subversive “material ' these posters are allowed to be displayed quite openly.

Police are still clueless about the elements responsible for issuing threatening letters and pamphlets to barbers and video shop owners in D.I.Khan. After barbers, hotel owners and nurses’, fresh threatening letters have been issued to public call offices and mobile phone sellers for displaying 'obscene' pictures to attract customers. The two page pamphlet reads,' You have been committing a great sin by displaying obscene pictures. Your business can grow without these pictures then what is the need for their display? ' Two Hadits of the Holy Prophet are also written in the pamphlet. One of them is regarding the prevention of vice through force and if one doesn't have the power to do so, it must be stopped through tongue and if this is beyond one's tether, he should consider it a sin by heart and this is the lowest grade of faith. The pamphlet threatens the PCO owners ``to remove the obscene pictures otherwise millions of losses would be inflicted upon them.”

According to columnist and Joint Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Ms. Kamela Hayat, `` The fact that in media interviews so many clerics, citizens and at least some members of government backed the Lal Masjid's 'drive against immorality' but opposed the methods used is useful to examine. It shows the direction in which opinion is drifting and the essential hypocrisy of a society that refuses to acknowledge the immorality of a society within which exploitation of the most vulnerable ,the abuse of children and women and large scale corruption are all apparently acceptable.’ Immorality' it seems is defined only in the most narrow terms and actions based on the basis of allegations, side stepping law and the mechanisms that exist to tackle such issues quite widely supported.”

A few months back another educational institution presented us with a similar dilemma. Dr Ghazala Anwar was an academic appointed as the Deputy Dean at the International Islamic University at Islamabad by the Higher Education Commission .While academics join and leave Universities every day in Pakistan and the rest of the world, what has made this particular appointment news in the Pakistani papers was that the lady supported homosexuality.

In an interview to an international paper, she declared that homosexuals are actually 'sexual minorities' and should be allowed to live according to their preferences in peace. Dr Ghazala Anwar pioneers the movement of Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual,Transgender Intersex and Questioning (LGBTIQ) Muslims.

This enraged the female students of the International Islamic University with them declaring that she not be allowed to 'corrupt the minds of the young' These students were supported by their parents and also some sections of the media all calling for Dr Ghazala to be disallowed to work at any Pakistani educational institution. The young female students and their supporters called upon the public also to make themselves heard on homosexuality and have Dr. Ghazala Anwar and others who share her opinion to be banned from working in Pakistan.

What had Dr.Ghazala Anwar said ? She had stated ' Hatred or denigration of those whom God made different whether in gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs and practice ensues from putting other than God at the Center of one's heart and worship. Lesbian, Gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims are to be judged by the quality of their faith, the purity of their intentions and the goodness and selflessness of their actions as any Muslim or human being.' The honorable Professor also stated,’ They have the God given right to be treated in the manner that God commanded us to treat each other. As an imperative of my faith in a Compassionate and Merciful Creator ,I extend my support to the right of all creatures human and non human to live their lives in the light of their inner knowing, according to how they were created by the Creator and to their fullest potential .This is what Islam teaches.'

Terming homosexuals a 'sexual minority' is the Honorable Professor's opinion and she is entitled to it. She is not forcing anyone to adopt a certain lifestyle.

Dr Ghazala Rehman stated ,`` The rules of ethical living apply to all equally regardless of their gender,race,religion and sexual orientation .Similarly, the rights of all must be respected. This is Islam'

This is the version of Islam of a woman who has been forced to leave the teaching assignment because of her `` morally decadent views”

Contrast this with another version of Islam of people who staged a high drama in Islamabad. The female students of Jamia Hafsa had openly declared that they will become suicide bombers if the government did not heed their demands. In other words, the female students and their backers including legislator Qazi Hussain Ahmed who also visited them as a mark of support believe that their approach to articulate their protest was correct.

The protest continued, camera click, legislators like Qazi Hussain Ahmed went and encourage the female students. On the other hand, a learned Professor who spoke about Islam as a religion of peace for all regardless of caste, color, creed or sexual preferences is labeled to be ``morally corrupt, spreading inappropriate messages” and forced to leave her position at the University .

This leads us to the question what has Pakistan become at sixty? In present day Pakistan which lady is considered more dangerous? The University Professor who stressed co-existence, respecting people's choices or the stick wielding women who declared that they'll blow themselves up if an unlawful act is stopped?

The treatment meted out to Senator Nelofer Bakhtayair after her parachute jump is another case in point.

At sixty, Pakistan is perhaps one of the few countries of the world where the citizens are not sovereign. Sovereignty does not lie with you and me but instead with Allah as per the Islamic concept of sovereignty which is the basis of the Objective Resolution of 1949 the blue print for all constitutions. If a majority of Muslims feel that they are comfortable with this, then so be it .However what about the percentage of Pakistanis who are not Muslims and do not subscribe to this concept of sovereignty? What is the fault of those Pakistanis who do not want to give up their sovereignty?

A further discriminatory stance is that non-Muslim Pakistanis are not eligible constitutionally to serve the country as head of the state. According to the 1973 constitution of Pakistan, a head of the state has to be a Muslim. The oath of the head of the state is also based on this fact. In this scenario, then isn’t this a valid question that are non- Muslim Pakistanis second class citizens? In fact one could go as far as to term them even worse than second class citizens since they are not given the same opportunities as their next door neighbor who happens to be a Muslim. In other words, we are barring an intelligent and talented Pakistani not to serve his /her country as the head of the state just because he is not a Muslim. Is that just?

Lal Masjid was an example of the level of tolerance of all of us i.e. the Pakistani citizens. Day in and day out we were glued to our television sets while the drama unfolded before us as a gruesome reality show. This was the measure of our tolerance of being silent spectators as the state unravels.

For this is what it was. Unraveling of the very seams of civilized society. Civilized societies are based on tolerance. We now have to jostle for space in buses, trains, on roads and cities ....even villages. If we co-exist it is on the basis of tolerance, Live and let live... Or as Geo TV beautifully put it Geo aur jenai duo.

All of us are entitled to our perspectives and world views. We also have the right to articulate them... Whether in private drawing room conversations, in our hujras, on our media channels or papers. However to 'enforce' our points of view and most dangerously enforce our world views on other people is incorrect. Just as it is incorrect to ban headscarves in France, it is incorrect to enforce that everyone wears headscarves for instance in Pakistan.



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