Last week a video clip of a morning show hosted by one Maya Khan on a local TV channel began doing the rounds. The clip shows Ms. Khan with a posse of assorted thirty-something women and a cameraman raiding a famous public park of Karachi and prowling the lush vicinity looking for young unmarried couples.
The idea was to confront ‘wayward’ young women and embarrass them for ‘betraying their parents’ trust’.
The very next day another video clip showing the same Maya Khan bouncing off the walls on TV via a dance routine that can at best be explained as a hefty personification of a rhythmic earthquake, appeared.
This thus perfectly capped the volatile moral state of Pakistan’s urban bourgeoisie that, especially in the last 15 years or so, have managed to grow two heads on a single body – one spouting loud moralistic clichés while the other animatedly bopping up and down and sideways to the tune of assorted Bollywood masala numbers, as if totally oblivious about what the other head was harping about.
This also affirms the fact that contrary to popular perception, the ‘Islamization’ wave that began cutting through and across Pakistan from the 1980s onwards had little to do with the uneducated and the have-nots.
It was always and still is a phenomenon that is largely associated with the country’s urban middle and trader classes.
In the 1980s, a number of Islamist outfits had already made in-roads in the politics and sociology of Pakistan by riding on the Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation process.
But as most of them were highly militant and eventually got themselves ‘strategically’ linked with certain sections of the radicalised military institutions, it were the evangelical movements that managed to reap the most success within the country’s social and cultural milieu.
The largest of them was also the oldest. The ranks of the Tableeghi Jamat (TJ), a highly ritualistic Deobandi Islamic evangelical movement, swelled. But since the TJ was more a collection of working-class and petty-bourgeoisie cohorts and fellow travellers, newer evangelical outfits emerged with the idea of almost exclusively catering to the growing ‘born again’ trend being witnessed in the county’s middle and upper-middle classes in the 1990s. Three of the most prominent organisations in this context were Farhat Hashmi’s Al-Huda, Zakir Naik’s ‘Islamic Research Foundation’ and Babar R. Chaudhry’s Arrahman Araheem (AA).
Naik, Hashmi and Chaudhry were all constructing feel-good narratives and apologias for the educated urbanites so that these urbanites could feel at home with religious ritualism, myth, attire and rhetoric while at the same time continue to enjoy the fruits of amoral modern materialism and frequent interaction with (Western and Indian) cultures that were otherwise described as being ‘anti-Islam.’
Of course, the whole question of such narratives smacking of contradiction went out the window as young middle-class Pakistanis admiringly saw pop and cricketing stars ‘rediscovering God’ with the help of the mentioned organizations - but not without the things that kept them materially satisfied (corporate contracts, modern fashion businesses, music products, etc).
Such contractions and their patrons were largely passive in orientation, but with the emergence of 24/7 electronic media in the last decade, they became more visible and evangelical and a lot more ‘popular’ – a happening that went down well with the cynical ratings-hungry TV channels.
What’s more, the trend in this respect is now no more the sole domain of the trendy 'born-agains'.
One can even see decked-up film and TV actors and actresses, pop stars, morning show hosts and even chefs on cooking shows completely bypassing the irony and absurdity of them spouting the almost obligatory sentence or two about the need for piety and good morals in society.
Not that their respective passions and professions are immoral, but they are certainly not in step with the kind of pious spiritual alignments habitually advocated by these men and women and that too, smack-dab in the middle of topics and scenarios that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with religion.
Pussycat vigilantism: A brief history
This strange phenomenon is not just about simple hypocrisy, it is also and actually about glorifying this hypocrisy through gung-ho acts in which pussycat media vigilantes prey upon soft targets to exhibit their ‘bravery’ but squeak away if ever an opportunity arises to do the same to those who can and will bite back.
Since when have so-called ‘educated’ and affluent urbanites become moral crusaders? Is this a new phenomenon
encouraged by a ratings-hungry and vindictive private electronic media that is reflecting the contradiction-laden acts of morality being flexed by the country’s urban middle-classes; or is there more to what meets the immediate eye? A quick research on the matter suggests that nothing of the sort was ever reported in Pakistan till about 1979. I mention this year because after going through newspapers of yore, the first reported case of moral vigilantism that I stumbled upon was mentioned in an issue of Dawn of 1980.
The report is about groups of youth carrying sticks and bricks, moving into streets of some of Karachi’s areas, randomly knocking on the doors of houses and ‘ordering’ the male occupants of the houses to come with them to the mosque to say their prayers.