Misogyny, say hello to modern technology

It is odd that the protection this country provides its citizenry is directly proportional to their power. The most vulnerable are left to the mercy of chaos: the Ahmedis, Shias, Christians and those random trespassers who are falsely accused of blasphemy either because they did not pay their dues or upset someone more powerful than them. Then it was the children — not just the ones in the Army Pubic School in Peshawar but also the young girl child from Sargodha, who succumbs to the pain and disease of her rape at a hospital. The outrage is muffled at best. A woman in Punjab was gang raped recently and this is not uncommon. According to a Human Rights Watch report, rape takes place once every two hours and a gang-rape every eight.


It is odder still that accompanied with this spiral of failing its most unprotected, this nation has no capability or plan to confront the technological aspect of these failures. This gang-raped woman recently had the video of her rape released on the internet. While it made the rounds being downloaded and viewed for the thrill of a sick society where coercion and violence is associated with pleasure, the woman turned from being a schoolteacher to being a social recluse. It seems not to matter to this pervasive victim-blaming culture that it is not she at fault but the assaulters. It seems also not to matter that the shame rests not with her family but her attackers. So, she shudders and trembles describing her ordeal in the media report on BBC.


While the government is celebrating the setting up of wifi spots in public places, it fails to understand that there needs to be regulation to protect the misuse of the technology simultaneously, especially where women’s basic rights are being trod upon. Without these checks, technology is effectively bolstering the male chauvinistic, vile misogynist, archaic traditions that have no place after the seventh century. How far back we are being pushed into the past depends on the urgency with which our parliamentarians push legislation to protect women’s right to privacy online.


The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance lapsed four years ago before it could become law. This leaves cases such as this gang rape to rest on the interest and mood of those in power. If interested, they can even get the gateway to the modern library banned. YouTube unblocking activists and lawyers have been campaigning and legislating for years and have found no breakthrough. The offence of religious sensitivity ranks a few hundred thousand rungs higher than the collective humiliation of a rural woman. Emboldened by soft penalties, offenders and the like will continue to hunt women and these women will continue to be met with callousness.


Rape laws themselves tell a tale of neglect and absurdity. The Zina and Hudood Act of 1979 got rape victims prosecuted for adultery or fornication. The courts in 2010 declared unconstitutional the provisions of the Women’s Protection Act of 2006. This act tried to prevent rape victims from being tried for adultery or fornication. Parliament did not pass new provisions and that was that. The rape victim was the perpetrator of the crime unless of course four male witnesses were called in to testify otherwise. In 2013, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) patted themselves on the back for dismissing DNA tests as evidence for rapes and declared that without witnesses no rapes would be recognised.


So, in the viral distribution of the rape video on the internet, it has propagated the notion feminists have battled for decades, the notion that no means yes and yes means I consent to public humiliation to make the crime be exponentially bolder than a private act. The message boards where the rape video is shared have typical comments about how the schoolteacher brought it upon herself and that she craved fame. Our society on the wave of technology only mirrors our ugliness.


Social media and the internet have had a tremendous capacity for turnaround in society’s general approach towards such crimes. The first attempt should be to educate people to not distribute the content and honour the victim’s privacy instead. The second should be to encourage activists and civil society leaders to openly condemn the distribution of the video and the act itself. The third should be to press law enforcement agencies to award harsh penalties to the perpetrators who are now in custody so a precedent is set to deter barbaric acts in the future.


By removing the power trip that magnifies an audience to the crime, Pakistani society will be left with one less challenge: it can go back to treating rape with the focus it deserves, to get it securely out of the clutches of Zia’s poisonous laws and into a place conducive for women to claim public space without hostility. For that, however, Pakistan needs to learn to protect the weak more than it buffers up the strong.

The price of my child

The modifications outside my children’s school are seemingly significant: fortified walls, concrete barriers, barbed wire and the ageing sniper who is often caught scratching his ear, but the reality is different — the walls are just as penetrable and the children just as susceptible to a terror attack just like the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar was on that horrendous December day. Dropping them off at school knowing this is keeping with the Abrahamic tradition of sacrifice that I cannot fathom but participate in nonetheless. Day after day, morning after morning, my children are brought to the altar, led by a throbbing heart and two weary feet. Every afternoon they are led back home being spared.


Defeating terrorism is to hold firm to courage, to reject it in your core and to look it in the face even when you fear oblivion. Fear that your child carries the message that Pakistan aspires to be: prosperous, egalitarian, just and peaceful. The message we teach them about its secular founder and its democratic struggles. On a more human level, the fear of them scraped by the war of our times. The fear of their tears and pain on one hand and, on the other, the tender dreams of them making it big in the world and of doing their country proud.


We have no countryside to send our children to like the children of London in World War II. Even British Prime Minsiter Gordan Brown is now working closely with the Pakistani government to protect Pakistani schools from terrorists. This is heartening for Pakistani parents but how far does this go to contain extremism and deter attacks against schools? The war is everywhere in Pakistan. To isolate children from cities currently on the terrorist radar means to remove them from the benefits metropolises provide: education, exposure and experience. Immigration is only an option for those who have little ideological connection to this land or connection they can separate physically in any event.


Incidentally, the very thing that separates us from the animals — our ability to experience the reality of the hundreds of Pakistani children who died at the hands of terrorists only in the past few months and our ability to feel the terror of child activists like Malala — is the very thing that corrupts our courage. Our courage is the only weapon against terrorism. Courage comes at a cost. The cost of thinking of your children as not your own but your nation’s. It is a paradigm shift that requires superhuman faculties. Parents struggle with trying to cultivate it every morning at the school gates where snipers have ear itches.


At the rate educational institutions are being targeted in Pakistan, it is not just a probability anymore that something terrible may befall us if we stick it through; it is a possibility. This thought works to infect the spine of all positive human capabilities: creativity, self-expression, innovation and happiness. The terror creeps over everything beautiful, everything sacred. Children are not spared from the venom of the possible. After all, there is very little difference between real terror and one that is vividly imagined. I have had to answer, mutely, why the terrorists want to kill children and what if they are confronted, should they back down, fight or perhaps plead to be spared? Perhaps the most difficult of all questions was what the new average lifespan of Pakistani children is.


Medical science tells us there are far reaching effects of trauma on the developing young mind. Threat and perceived threat have that toxic ability to contaminate all initiative and sprit. My children make English composition sentences that more often are dark and morbid. In killing some of our children the terrorists have attempted to kill all of our children’s drive to take on the world. Children are magicians though and magicians believe in magic. In wondrous ways they come out of dark corners and claw back to vitality. They smile, they sing, they draw and they put up feisty arguments to have their fun. A child wants a quick end to crying and a slower end to laugher. This makes them the axis on which we pivot our philosophy on life.


“Let me tell you a riddle Mum,” my child said. “So imagine a terrorist pulls a gun to your head and asks you to close your eyes so he can shoot, what would you do to save yourself?” I struggled with this one on many levels. Eventually I gave up. “How do you save your life?” I asked. “You stop imagining it,” said my child.

Heera Mandi’s honour

Someone once said that Heera Mandi was the least hypocritical place in Pakistan, as if they were referring to a taskforce or a think tank. Everyone has an opinion on Heera Mandi, the red light district of Lahore, and lately politicians too have brought the word to our living rooms through prime time television. As many as these opinions are, only a few are formulated on a clear understanding of what really transpires in Heera Mandi. The judgements say more about the person spewing them than it does about the place. It is a real tragedy that ignorance is not punishable.


It started off with Altaf Hussain, the leader of the MQM, being offended by the PTI and referring to the party’s jalsas (rallies) as Heera Mandi. Imran Khan responded by saying that the women of Heera Mandi are more respectable than Altaf Hussain. There can be no confusion about the ghastliness of both comments, though varying in scale, because they both start with the premise that the honour of women who prostitute themselves is determined by these men and their opinions, be they high or low.


Even the biggest proponents of consensual sex cannot ignore the fact that institutionalised prostitution rarely has consent. When money is exchanged for sex, the act is bought by the man and therefore the service must be delivered. This is not just oppressive; it is criminal. Most research suggests that prostitution is a result of sexual slavery, human trafficking and is often associated with abuse and violence. It is among the most patriarchal aspects of human society, forcing some nations to outlaw it, like Sweden and Norway. It supports the notion that a man’s voracious sexual appetite is uncontainable so it is better that unchaste women have it acted out on them than chase women. The undeniable question remains: if it is not such a tragic thing then why is it confined to those with the least means? This is a highly lower class based phenomenon.


Given that these women are oppressed financially and legally, it only makes sense that prostitution carry such heavy consequences and social stigma. The fact that the majority of them are in their early years is a symptom of the fact that girls and women of this age range are among the most financially dependent demographic. The psychological effects of prostitution are numerous. These women usually suffer from PTSD, depression and mild to acute anxiety. The health implications need an entire book to do justice to them. Fawzia Saeed’s book, Taboo, can be a good start. HIV and other STDs are among the most prevalent in Heera Mandi. However, more importantly, this is perhaps the most hypocritical place because the men who visit are often the first to confine their wives and daughters to the four walls of their houses.


No one has a right to pass judgement on the hand that these women of Heera Mandi have been dealt. Philosophically, any woman, with the cosmic chance that they had been born there, would have been one. This, by extension, means any man’s mother or daughter. So, to unabashedly use Heera Mandi as a take-down on a political opponent that you despise is perhaps the most dehumanising thing to do, and is indicative of the depraved depths of our political discourse.


The point is that Heera Mandi is not fair game. It is a serious social condition in our nation that needs attention from the government, NGOs and civil society. It needs the kind of attention that does not punish those women in the bid to reform that society but that it provides them an alternative life to one they already are leading through economic and educational empowerment programmes. One fear is that with all this talk of Heera Mandi, the religious right, which is always hungry for cadavers, will rush to devour this area and bring down the morality judgement on it. The last thing these women need is for more of the world to banish it and look down on it, most of all those whose moral calling is to serve the oppressed.


Simone De Beauvoir, in her classic feminist text, The Second Sex, talks about how prostitution is based on the Aristotelian understanding of female nature being afflicted with a natural defectiveness. She refers to a woman’s otherness when trying to survive in the profession. Until our politicians can legally and economically provide rights to sex workers in Heera Mandi and elsewhere, they should not throw the words around to score points and chest thump. It is high time that we dismiss the need to drag women and their honour into public discourse. A woman’s honour is not transferable. It is purely her own domain based on her own private social and material conditions.


On coping with terrorism, but justly

No other country is a better case study for society facing chronic terrorism and suicide attacks than Israel. And the study of Israeli society in the second intifada reveals that there was a counterintuitive trend: society did not become increasingly traumatised when terrorist attacks and thwarted plots regularly dominated news headlines; instead people became accustomed and learned to cope. Consequently, their impact declines.


Terror attacks are not just commonplace in Pakistan. The world is now dotted with attacks, mostly by what politically correct news channels are afraid of calling “Islamic terrorism”. It is unlikely that the December 16, 2014 terrorist attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the US, the March 11, 2004 terrorist attack in Spain and the July 7, 2005 terrorist attack in the UK are standalone events. Terrorism has always been a tactic historically and will continue to remain so, perhaps even on a larger scale given the rise of technology.


Just like in Israel, Pakistan’s losses to terrorism cannot just be calculated in the crudest form: in terms of the number of fatalities. The economic loss to foreign direct investment (FDI) especially, the psychological trauma, particularly in terms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the political impact in terms of rolling back hard-earned democratic safeguards, the social demerits in the form of the brain drain and mass migration of minorities and other communities and in terms of the loss of a sense of pride in the country. Perhaps the latter is the bigger tragedy because with this comes the glue to propel future generations to ignite positive change. Without this, there is despondency and chaos.


Established that this is a permanent phenomenon, what can we learn from societies that have already dealt with commonplace suicide attacks? How did society learn to live with terrorism rather than in terror? At one point, 92 percent of Israelis reported fear that a member of their family or they would fall victim to a terrorist attack. Statistically, such a death may be more likely in a traffic accident.


Research shows that the irrational fear evoked by terrorism is less likely to be employed by the educated. The media has a critical role here. Terrorism runs on two wheels: one, the actual deaths directly attributed and, two, the mass hysteria that those fatalities create when over-projected in the media. Careful programming, one that has a clear aim to educate as well as to report accurately, can successfully remove national panic from these attacks. Sadly, the media in Pakistan, underfunded and overregulated for religious sensitivity, is a basket case of sensationalism — fully charged with dramatic music and flashing gory content without viewer discretion advisory.


Another major casualty of terrorism is the sense of worth of a society. A society that is targeted feels an immense sense of victimhood. Sadly, feeling victimised is almost always accompanied by a series of dark forces: vengeance, dehumanisation and stereotyping. This is practically what happened to Israeli society and they considered all Palestinians as violent, dishonest and without value of human life. After the Peshawar attacks, Pakistan took to public hangings. This is a dangerous trend, particularly where forensics are so weak and innocent people are likely to be scapegoated. It is also dangerous because it tends to band-aid this growing menace with the simplistic solution of appeasement of public sentiment. You cannot fight injustice with more injustice. You have to fight it with the rule of law. And rule of law begins with the premise of human dignity.


Pakistan cannot possibly think it has a chance against the growing menace of terrorism unless it first punishes the sentiment that nurtures it: religious extremism. Without just persecution of Mumtaz Qadri, a murderer in custody, there is little hope for beating those who have not been caught yet. Without the resolution of hundreds in jail for being falsely accused of blasphemy, there is only a slight possibility that Pakistan has any moral authority to break the backs of those who want to bring it down on religious grounds.


There is a complete and total breakdown of those societies that are built on the premise of religious superiority. Pakistan is not one of them. Pakistan won its right to exist based on a just, democratic demand for self-determination. Later, yes, there were all sorts of fairy tales that overrode its founder’s golden words: Pakistan is not to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.


We find ourselves in the middle of a tumultuous period facing the monster of terrorism that attacks our psyche. There is some solace in knowing we are not alone in the world. We can be beaten by it or we can see it for what it is: a war tactic to wade its ways into our nightmares. We simply cannot let it. Refuse it and deny it entry. If there is a way to avenge our dead, then we owe them our fortitude. We owe them our resolve to not let the terrorists win.

Bloodletting in vain

There was another terror attack in Pakistan. The gods have forgotten to reshuffle our fate; week after week we are brought from a crawl to a standstill. This was possibly a suicide blast in Shikarpur, Sindh, a place that is known more for Sufi Islam, a softer Islam, not the kind that is available more commonly the world over now. As many as 60 Shia worshipers were killed.


So, this attack, in addition to being strange and misplaced, was also met by three different kinds of responses. The first was the automatic outpouring of awestruck wonder about how inhuman this act is for Muslims to commit. It is, in fact, a group called Jundullah with ties to Islamic State (IS) that has claimed responsibility. They very much claim to be Muslim. Expressing surprise over their religion is neither going to dent their version of the faith nor help the grieving community come to grips. The second were the condemnations and the “strong” condemnations that read like the teleprompter at a funeral service. They come from our leadership and the opposition, all who wanted dialogue with these very terrorists. Well, this is anything but a conversation. This is a war that has been going on for decades, one that we have only now begun to look in the eye and that too with a squint.


I say this because there was an opportunity to show some serious resolve to fight militancy by the government yet the right has taken over the narrative again so swiftly under the Charlie Hebdo garb. The protests against the insult to the Prophet (PBUH) was said to have 10 times more numbers than those against the barbaric murders of 132 children in Peshawar, all Muslim. It is not just the narrative the right has taken from the government; it is also their authenticity. While the country rots in a power and fuel crisis, the right and its banned terrorist outfits are developing offshoots of health and rescue agencies. They are shifting legitimacy squarely into their own hands and weakening the writ of the state.


Then, third, there is the rage. Rage at the relentlessness of sectarian militancy in Pakistan and at those who have been incapable of containing it. Rage at the hate speech pamphlets common as autumn leaves that scatter through Sunni mosques. Rage at the fact that some of the dead were little children. Rage at the liberal PPP that did nothing to curb the growing extremism in its province. Rage at the Prime Minster (PM) for calling for a report to gather dust at the same desk that reports of other incompetence lie. Rage at the right once more launching a strike to claim the narrative. Rage at not having less catastrophic issues to deal with, like how to educate our out of school children. Rage at hundreds of shoes outside the mosque in Shikarpur that did not have feet to walk them; they remained there, bloodied.


Yet, no matter how much the rage, regardless of it being the most appropriate of the three responses, there is no connection to a solution. Just like there is no connection to fighting terror by equipping teachers in Peshawar with firearms. Just like there is no connection to reforming madrassas (seminaries) by regulating their curriculum. The solution has the following characteristics: it is evasive, it is long term and it is not in the hands of one person or party. This requires a series of blood transfusions, not just a brain transplant. It is important that the body that planted the poison into Pakistan undertake a large role in undoing it. The army must re-programme its ideology and root out the extremism it has so conveniently used to its advantage. Experts say that is like asking the cat to guard the milk. Still, there is no moving ahead in what is Pakistan’s last secular institute to undo its bad strategies.


For 2,000 years, until the 19th century, the medical practice of bloodletting got patients treated by drawing their blood. This aimed to have humours remain in balance. If this were true of countries, Pakistan has hardly any tears or blood left; anaemic and cyanosed, it has given more than its share to this ancient practice that modern medicine has rejected: the blood of its weakest and most vulnerable.


“Our target was the Shia community. They are our enemies,” said Fahad Marwat, a Jundullah spokesperson, after owning up to the Shikarpur attack. He did not care to elaborate. Approximately 4,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the Shia/Sunni conflict in the past 30 years. The cold bloodedness with which our religious curriculum in mosques and madrassas inculcates hate can only guarantee more bloodletting, and that too all in vain.


NAP: no more band-aids

It does not inspire much confidence in the government to have the counterterrorism plan acronymed NAP; they should have at least rolled it on their tongue to make sure the name does not give terrorists a psychological advantage. This National Action Plan (NAP) claims the government will root out not just terrorists, the good and the bad (as if we were talking about macroons in a coffee shop). but also religious extremism.

The thing with extremism is that it takes more than a reshuffling of permutations to root it out. It takes more than the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, to welcome children back to the Army Public School after suicide attackers killed nearly 150 people, 132 of them children, more than banning a few hate speech literature samples, more than freezing Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its political wing, Jamat-ud-Dawa’s assets despite letting it reign free after it executed Mumbai’s terror attacks, more than hanging a few alleged masterminds of terror attacks, more than arresting a red mosque cleric for inciting violence and more than the grand war in North Waziristan, Operation Zarb-e-Azb. All intense steps but lacking in what one could call the absolute strike down.

For years now, Pakistan has been accumulating bad karma underneath the rug of draconian laws meant to protect the honour of Islam but, in reality, they were just a means of burning at the stake those outside its fold. In the case of Shama Bibi and her husband Shahzad Masih working as brick kiln workers, living near Kot Rada Kishan in Punjab, this was done quite literally. In November 2014, they turned to ash while four of their children looked on helplessly. When the announcement came from the local mosque to teach them justice for allegedly blaspheming, people took the law into their own hands because the punishment for an alleged blasphemy as for convicted blasphemy is the same: death. It is nearly impossible to prove that you did not commit the crime once accused. Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do to those four children.

Dare I say that until this madness and barbarianism is rectified, no band-aids or quick fixes will root out extremism because there will always be these laws to bask under for terrorists who fulfil their personal need for a sense of validation. Violence will always find a way to gain both favour and fame. God knows it worked for the murderer of Salmaan Taseer, the sitting governor of Punjab. Mumtaz Qadri today has a mosque named after him on the outskirts of Islamabad. Pakistanis need to be disabused of the notion that they can be absolute interpreters of the Almighty, in terms of who the infidels are and who have, consequently, conferred on them the right to die by their hands. The state cannot allow for this any more on its soil. This soil promised respite from subjugation and inequality for everyone.

If indeed at this critical juncture the government feels that it will not find public support for undoing the toxicity that Zia injected into the system, it needs to think again. It was, after all, both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif who dragged their feet in meeting the Pakistani Taliban on the battlefield when they were shooting our girls in the head. What happened? The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sent a signal with the Peshawar attack that the government can chew on the negotiation pill all they want but the TTP were not interested, and now we have a groundswell of support in Pakistan to meet the murderers of our children on the battlefield.

Likewise, let us not second-guess what support base these laws have or do not have. God knows that the soul of this country will not rise from the ashes of burned Christians again. The time to act was yesterday. The children of Shama Bibi and Shahzad Masih are no lesser children than those we lost on that December day in 2014. Now, as the military gains more control of the government’s powers (and the judiciary’s), let us not get too carried away into thinking this is not anything but a more palatable coup — a point in our history we probably would not be coming to if our political parties were not trying to outmanoeuvre each other from the dharna (sit-in) stage, dramatics and all.

The Peshawar attack is our 9/11. We knew it was coming and we continued to do what we do best: trying to grow our own doctrine.

Peshawar is not forgettable

There was so much blood in Peshawar, the blood of children. It was painful, painful but apparently replaceable. Replaceable. The outrage of the Peshawar attack should spin the country into a vortex of mourning for years. Each of those 132 children could have held Pakistan’s future in their hands — one of those children could have found the cure to cancer, launched a Mars rover, founded a new economic model, brought forth political reform to push many above the poverty line — and yet, these agents of change have been, yes, forgotten. It is like they were never murdered by the Taliban that wretched December day.

Charlie Hebdo mania has replaced the grief of their loss instead. Thousands are on the streets protesting it whereas the one-month anniversary of the Peshawar attack is marked with silence. The intangible loss has replaced the tangible loss. Pakistani parliamentarians, who find themselves in the company of Boko Haram leaders, have passed a resolution against the cartoons. These lawmakers, whose responsibility it is to protect posterity, the future and the children who will take our morals forward, have failed these very children by taking the bait of the terrorists.

What is it that terrorists want? They want to create so much chaos that we draw our target on the wrong bull’s eye, they want to frighten us into submission to their tyranny and their personalised constitution, they want us to park humanity away and they want to make sure we leave our children unprotected. Well, congratulations to them. For Pakistan, they have done that sitting away in the nooks of France.

Pakistan has already suffered a journalist shot and many people injured to the protests against the offensive cartoons. It has lost more than that. It has lost whatever was left of its soul. Our children, however, are not up for trade. No conflict can be weighed against their blood, especially not one that is not according to the teachings of a religion that professes peace. In his lifetime, the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) preached that the best strategy against those who abused him was to ignore them.

Thanks to Muslims today, who profess to follow his teachings, the readership of Charlie Hebdo has quadrupled. The cartoons that would have typically titillated a handful of its subscriber base have now reached almost every household in Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and, frankly, the rest of the world. So, Muslims must pat themselves on the back for perfecting the lessons they are not supposed to learn: to become a community of terrorism apologists.

The Muslim world has no shortage of talent nor do its cartoonists pull any punches. The Charlie Hebdo assault on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) could have been met with the pen, not with the sword. Some Muslim cartoonists have pointed out the west’s double standards when it comes to freedom of speech through their cartoons. This method of protest would have been not just more effective, it would also halt the terribly bad PR campaign Muslims propagate by proving that the way to fight an insult is by beheading the culprit. Our methods of persuasion have not quite kept up with the times, which makes a difficult case for attracting new entrants. In fact, it makes a good case for the opposite.

As one of the most populous Muslim countries, Pakistan is in a prime position to lead a more decisive plot to integrate modernity with Islam. Until it keeps acting like it has attention deficit, there is nothing it will achieve in terms of turning the tide on the religious extremism that festers.

If Peshawar cannot wake the nation into a systematic and continuous rejection of a brand of Islam that justifies a war on children and other vulnerable people, then nothing will. We must, as a nation, demand that our parliamentarians and our leaders zero in on eliminating the deep rooted rot of extremism: cleanse our curriculum, inculcate a more inclusive discourse in our madrassas (seminaries), restrict hate speech in our mosques and on our television channels, promote a culture of dissent against a retrogressive conservatism that our Urdu press perpetuates, press the military complex to not use religion to fight its wars and stop our mothers from glorifying martyrs.

Children are for building nations, not bringing them down. No child should be slain on the altar of sacrifice. Any nation that asks for that kind of price just so it can be woken up is not worth fighting for. A nation that forgets its slain children is not worth anything at all.