Who is afraid of Veena Malik

Yasser Latif Hamdani writing in Daily Times:

Veena Malik is our new punching bag. As I write this article, yet another TV show anchor has gathered a number of misguided and self-righteous but confident youth to bash Veena Malik, who has become the focal point of our collective honour. Voices of reason and common sense are drowned out by the thumping of hands and feet of our post-Zia populism.

Still one must attempt to talk reason and sense to this new semi-educated, completely unenlightened and socially illiterate urban ‘middle class’ high on the opium of honour and shame even if it is incapable of understanding that not everyone carries the chip of culture, tradition and honour of an entire country on their shoulder. Veena Malik went on the Bigg Boss show in her personal capacity and was not representing anyone but herself. She was not representing the indigenous cultures of Pakistan, the Muslim woman or even the working woman. Given that most of our urban middle class loves to watch Indian films and Indian television, the only possible ‘charge’ against her seems to be that she is a Pakistani woman. My suggestion is that we should think 100 times before making Pakistani citizenship a crime in Pakistan. It has already become almost that in many other countries in the world.

Let me reiterate that Veena did not do or wear anything on the show that is unacceptable in Pakistan’s media, fashion and society circles. I certainly would not want to pass judgement on the goings on in our entertainment industry. Still, the irony here is that Veena is being castigated for her “short dresses”, but only a year earlier we were ready to declare Indian tennis star Sania Mirza our collective national bahu (daughter-in-law) despite her tennis attire, which was as short if not more. Of course, we quickly backtracked after she delivered a stinging and well-deserved slap on our collective national face by saying that she was merely cricketer Shoaib Malik’s wife and not Pakistan’s bahu.

Indeed, there are many in our ghairat brigade who think that by acting like a “buri aurat” (loose woman), Veena Malik has tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad. Of course, the same guardians of Pakistan’s image are not bothered in the slightest by bloodshed and murder in broad daylight. Some of them, including leading columnists and writers in the national press, actually support murder and bloodshed. To our ghairat brigade it does not matter that the world thinks of Pakistan as a terrorist haven. It matters however that a young woman, who has chosen to earn her bread and butter through the entertainment industry and has managed against adversity to educate her siblings through it, is somehow defiling Pakistani culture by wearing clothes on an Indian television show that are considered the norm in Pakistan’s entertainment industry. Should Veena have reinforced the stereotypes of Pakistan by wearing a burqa or swimming in a burqini? Would that not be hypocrisy?

It is then argued that with India there is a special sensitivity involved. This, of course, is the crux of the matter. After 63 years of independent existence, a constitution, one of the largest armies in the world and a nuclear arsenal to boot, we still feel insecure about our identity as Pakistanis especially when it comes to the Indians. Indians, of course, have a lot to do with it, but may I ask the ghairat brigade why a country of 180 million people suddenly feels threatened by the actions of one of its citizens? Are Pakistan’s ‘ideological frontiers’ so permeable as to crumble every time an actress from Pakistan wears ‘inappropriate’ clothing in India, clothing that is a norm in the Pakistani entertainment and fashion industry? I am frankly unsure of what these ideological frontiers are. After all, the same ghairat brigade never raises an eyebrow when Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his party declare — time and again — that Jinnah was not a real freedom fighter. Instead, the ghairat brigade supports the appointment of reactionaries from his party to the highest offices of Islamic ideology.

I digress. Getting back to Veena Malik, the kind of hate that is being promoted against this one individual is a dangerous trend. We have already seen where that leads. The country cannot afford such violence anymore. The ulema and anchors who are raising a hue and cry against her have clearly forgotten the lessons of Islam, which enjoins every believer to avoid slander and libel against individuals. Making this an issue right now when the state is going through an unprecedented upheaval will only lead to further heartbreak. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) should take immediate action against all the anchors who are trying to exploit a poor woman for their own ratings. To me, Pakistan’s honour and integrity are violated by their actions and by the actions of those they condone, including those cricketers who are allegedly involved in spot fixing. My appeal to all of these champions of Pakistan’s honour is to cry “halt” before it is too late and there is nothing left to defend.

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