Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Fatwa Factory - reserved for only Pakistani female artists?



by Sana Saleem on 01 22nd, 2011
On The Dawn Blog (www.blog.dawn.com) All Rights Reserved

Last night, I happened to watch the most brilliant (and at the same time, disgusting) TV show on a local Urdu news channel. Brilliant, because in an hour it summarised everything that is wrong with this country and our mindset. The show featured our entertainment industry’s starlet Veena Malik and, Mufti Abdul Qawi.

Not that I was expecting anything but vitriol on the show, but even then I was shocked. From the way Veena Malik was introduced to the closing statement of the show, every single minute was filled with chauvinistic and downright derogatory remarks.

The programme started with clips from the Indian reality show (Bigg Boss) that Veena was a part of, a show that has stirred quite a controversy. The subject of controversy being that apparently, Veena did not correctly represent Pakistan or Islam on the Indian TV show.

Throughout the hour-long programme, the host kept attacking Veena by using words such as “oryan,” “fahash” and kept insisting that Veena had brought shame to Islam, Pakistan and our culture. The Mufti on the show was asked to judge Veena’s presence on Bigg Boss in the light of Islam. Here, I must also add that the host tried his best to emphasise that the Mufti had the right to impose a fatwa on Veena for her actions.

I must commend Veena for standing her ground with such grace. Despite the kind of language and slander that was being hurled her way, she braved a response and a commendable one too: “From my wardrobe to everything else, nothing on that show was in anyway different than what we see our actresses doing or wearing in our films. I was representing the entertainment industry of the country. One click on the internet can justify it all.”

Her response to the Mufti and the host, brought to the forefront the harassment women have to face that has conveniently been camouflaged as ‘honour and dignity’. But what really pushed me to write this blog was a question Veena asked Mufti Abdul Qawi: “Why am I being treated this way? Why am I being questioned? What is my fault, Mufti sahab? Because I am a woman? A soft target?”

It is true, no one would have dared to speak in such a way to a man, call him names or even questioned his character or his activities on national television. Not that they should, but has anyone ever questioned Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan or the numerous others who have worked in Indian films, produced music and music videos in India? Has anyone ever scrutinised their actions? We have never discussed if any of their videos merit Islam or our culture. Yet, we consider it our right to slander a woman and make her look like the sole custodian of the country’s ‘honour’.

Those who believe such vehement reactions are justified need to rethink their definition of ‘honour and dignity’. Honour that gets disrupted because of a woman’s appearance on a reality show but remains unscathed when over a 1,000 infants – most of them girls – are killed or abandoned to die. This is nothing short of hypocrisy.

In a country, struggling with insurgencies, poverty, inflation, and failure of governance, what Veena Malik did or said on a reality show should be the least of our concerns. But it seems as though moral policing has become our favourite past time. To be more precise, such slurs are actually called ‘slut-shaming.’ What this means is that when a woman acts in a way that is not considered acceptable in the society she lives in, she is verbally attacked and slandered in order to rule out her credibility; in order to divert focus from the main issue.

Veena Malik is just one example how certain factions of our media have resorted to moral policing and even advocating fatwas on anyone and everyone. Never mind that we have never pushed for fatwas against suicide bombings, honour killings and many other heinous acts justified in the name of Islam.

I recall thinking at one point during the show, how Veena Malik did not represent me and that we should stop making this about the ‘country’s image’. But after watching her response to the slurs being hurled her way, I take it back. Veena Malik represents me and many, many women in this country who have been subjected to moral policing. In a country where rape is justified, murderers glorified and women threatened by fatwas, Veena speaks for me and many others.

At the end of the programme, a teary-eyed Veena questioned the absence of outrage from her fellow countrymen, when she was being abused, bullied and subjected to hate for being a Pakistani on the same show. In those last minutes, she struck at the very heart of hypocrisy that is rampant in this country.

The Moral Police or the Ghairat Brigade conveniently turns a blind eye to horrific incidents like when infants get raped, but creates uproar if a woman dares to make choices for herself. It is my request to my readers and everyone who indulges in such behaviour to please stop; stop this madness, the moral policing and the fatwa factory before it devours us all.



Sana Saleem is a Features Editor at BEE magazine and blogs at Global Voices, Asian Correspondent, The Guardian and her personal blog Mystified Justice. She was awarded the Best Activist Blogger Award by CIO & Google at the Pakistan Blogger Awards. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Jerusalem must be inclusive to ALL as a Holy Land of Peace.

Islamic scholar attacks Pakistan's blasphemy laws


In the wake of Salmaan Taseer's murder, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi declares Islamic councils are "telling lies to the people"

www.guardian.co.uk, Thursday 20 January 2011 16.43 GMT
Declan Walsh in Islamabad

A prominent Islamic scholar has launched a blistering attack on Pakistan's blasphemy laws, warning that failure to repeal them will only strengthen religious extremists and their violent followers.

"The blasphemy laws have no justification in Islam. These ulema [council of clerics] are just telling lies to the people," said Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a reformist scholar and popular television preacher.

"But they have become stronger, because they have street power behind them, and the liberal forces are weak and divided. If it continues like this it could result in the destruction of Pakistan."

Ghamidi, 59, is the only religious scholar to publicly oppose the blasphemy laws since the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, on 4 January. He speaks out at considerable personal risk.

Ghamidi spoke to the Guardian from Malaysia, where he fled with his wife and daughters last year after police foiled a plot to bomb their Lahore home. "It became impossible to live there," he said.

Their fears were well founded: within months Taliban gunmen assassinated Dr Farooq Khan, a Ghamidi ally also famous for speaking out, at his clinic in the north-western city of Mardan.

The scholar's troubles highlight the shrinking space for debate in Pakistan, where Taseer's death has emboldened the religious right, prompting mass street rallies in favour of his killer, Mumtaz Qadri.

Liberal voices have been marginalised; many fear to speak out. Mainstream political parties have crumbled, led by the ruling Pakistan People's party, which declared it will never amend the blasphemy law.

Sherry Rehman, a PPP parliamentarian who proposed changes to the legislation, was herself charged with blasphemy this week. Since Taseer's death she has been confined to her Karachi home after numerous death threats, some issued publicly by clerics.

Although other Islamic scholars share Ghamidi's views on blasphemy, none dared air them so forcefully. "Ghamidi is a voice of reason in a babble of noises seemingly dedicated to irrationality," said Ayaz Amir, an opposition politician and opinion columnist.

Ghamidi's voice stands out because he attacks the blasphemy law on religious grounds. While secular critics say it is abused to persecute minorities and settle scores, Ghamidi says it has no foundation in either the Qur'an or the Hadith – the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. "Nothing in Islam supports this law," he said.

Ghamidi deserted the country's largest religious political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, to set up his own school of religious teaching. He came to public attention through a series of television shows on major channels. They were cancelled due to opposition from the mullahs, he said. "They told the channels there would be demonstrations if I wasn't taken off air."

Three years ago gunmen fired a pistol into the mouth of the editor of Ghamidi's magazine; last year the police foiled a plot to bomb his home and school. Now the school is closed.

The core problem, Ghamidi said, was the alliance between Pakistan's "establishment" – code for the military – and Islamist extremists it uses to fight in Kashmir and Afghanistan. "They are closely allied," he said.

The blasphemy debate has exposed painful rifts in Pakistani society. One Ghamidi follower said his father, a British-educated engineer, called him an infidel for attacking the controversial law. "Our society is tearing itself apart," he said.

Tariq Dhamial, a lawyer representing Mumtaz Qadri, said more than 800 lawyers had offered to represent the self-confessed killer. "Everyone is behind Qadri. Doctors, teachers, labourers, even police – they believe he did the right thing," Dhamial said.Dhamial said the police intended to hold Qadri's trial in jail but the lawyers wanted it heard in open court. The latest hearing is due next Tuesday.

Even when out of Pakistan, Ghamidi features on television shows by phone, often outwitting extremist clerics with his deep knowledge of the Qur'an. But he eschews terms such as "liberal".

"I am neither Islamist nor secular. I am a Muslim and a democrat," he said. But even allies question whether religious argument alone can win the sulphurous blasphemy debate.

"When you talk about religion, you only provoke the forces of reaction who become more intolerant. Then governments become frightened and retreat,"

said Amir. "Ghamidi's is a voice for the converted. But that won't solve our problem."

• This article was amended on 21 January 2011. The original referred to Jamaat-e-Islami as Pakistan's largest religious political party. This has been corrected.

Pakistani Actress Slams Cleric for Criticism


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 22, 2011

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani actress castigated for appearing to cuddle with an Indian actor on a reality show lashed out at a Muslim cleric who had criticized her during a widely watched television exchange this week.

The unusual outburst, punctuated by tears, came at a sensitive time in a country where Islamic fundamentalism is spreading and liberals are increasingly afraid to express their views.

"What is your problem with me? You tell me your problem!" an angry Veena Malik asked the Muslim scholar, who accused her of insulting Islam.

Earlier this month, a liberal Pakistani governor was shot dead for opposing the country's harsh laws against blasphemy. In the aftermath, his killer was cheered as a hero among many in the public, shocking the country's small liberal establishment.

Malik, 26, participated recently on Bigg Boss, an Indian version of "Big Brother." Clips of the show on the Internet include ones in which she appears cozy with Indian actor Ashmit Patel. Those scenes, and her involvement with a show in Pakistan's archrival India, prompted criticism online and on the air.

"You have insulted Pakistan and Islam," Mufti Abdul Qawi accused her on the Express TV channel talk show via a television link. The exchange first aired Friday and then again Saturday.

A furious Malik shot back, saying Qawi targeted her because she is a woman, reminding him that the Quran admonishes men not to stare at a woman's beauty beyond a first glance, and telling him there were bigger problems in Pakistan, including the alleged rape of children at mosques.

During the exchange, Qawi admitted he had not seen the clips of the show but had heard about it from others.

"What does your Islam say, mufti sir?" the actress asked. "You issue edicts on the basis of hearsay."

Malik said she had read the Quran and she knew what lines not to cross as a Muslim as well as an entertainer in South Asia. She pointed out that she never kissed Patel, for instance.

"I am a Muslim woman, and I know my limits," she said. The cleric seemed unable to respond to her flood of words.

Malik's fierce outburst sparked a barrage of comments on Twitter. While some writers said they didn't agree with her and one called her a "porn star," others said she was brave for standing up to the Pakistani clerical establishment, especially when such an act can mean personal danger.

Wrote one supporter: "The only way to talk to these bloody clerics is to talk down to them. Veena Malik did just that, and how. Good for her!"

___

Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report.

British minister attacks 'acceptable' Islamophobia


By Alice Ritchie (AFP) – 2 days ago

LONDON — The first Muslim woman to sit in the British cabinet warned Thursday that discrimination against Muslims in Britain has become socially acceptable and must be tackled.

"It has seeped into our society in a way where it is acceptable around dinner to have these conversations where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is quite openly discussed," minister without portfolio Sayeeda Warsi told the BBC.

Warsi, a member of the unelected House of Lords and co-chair of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, will make her argument in a speech later Thursday at the University of Leicester.

According to extracts in the Daily Telegraph, Warsi, who is of Pakistani origin, will blame the media for fuelling misunderstanding with labels such as "moderate" or "extremist".

Warsi will also call on Muslim communities to speak up more against Islamic extremism, an issue which has preoccupied governments here since four home-grown suicide bombers attacked London in 2005, killing 52 people.

In the latest sign of the sensitivities of the subject, Britain refused entry Wednesday to firebrand US pastor Terry Jones, who caused controversy last year by threatening to burn the Koran, accusing him of "extremism".

In her speech, Warsi will say that those engaged in terrorism must face the law but also "face social rejection and alienation across society, and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims."

A spokesman for Cameron said Warsi "is expressing her view. He agrees that this is an important debate".

Earlier this year, Cameron said Britons must question "how we are allowing the radicalisation and poisoning of the minds of some young British Muslims who then contemplate and sometimes carry out acts of sickening barbarity".

Research published this month by the US-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found the Muslim population of Britain was now 2.9 million, or 4.6 percent of the population, up from 1.6 million in 2001.

Warsi will say in her speech that prejudice has grown with the numbers, and blame "the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media".

The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as "moderate" or "extremist" can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.

"It?s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of 'moderate? Muslims leads; in the factory, where they?ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: 'Not to worry, he?s only fairly Muslim?," she says.

"In the school, the kids say: 'The family next door are Muslim but they?re not too bad'.

"And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: 'That woman's either oppressed or is making a political statement'."

Defending her comments in a BBC television interview, she said her speech would place this criticism within historical context, citing how Britain had struggled to deal with its Catholic and Jewish minorities.

She said it was up to society, religious leaders and the government to change things, adding: "We have faced these challenges before, we have worked through it and I'm confident that as a nation we can work through it again."

However, right-wing Conservative lawmaker Norman Tebbit criticised her comments and suggested they should be directed at Muslim communities.

"I would have told her that the Muslim faith was not discussed over the dinner tables of England, nor in the saloon bars, before large numbers of Muslims came here to our country," he wrote in a blog on the Telegraph website.

"Then I would have told her to go to our Christian churches and listen to what was said about her religion and those who practise it, then to the mosques to hear what is said in some of them about the Christian faith."

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.