I’ve related the story before, but I find the need to relate it again. Especially after watching a ‘born-again Muslim’ actually denouncing (on local TV) a woman parliamentarian’s plea to pass more pro-women laws in the National Assembly and doing away with the controversial laws that were imposed by the Ziaul Haq regime : due to which thousands of mostly innocent women languished in jails for crimes that were actually committed by men!
This was back in 1995. A women’s organisation invited me to a seminar for a discussion dramatically titled “The Casualties of the Hudood Ordinance.”
Interestingly, also present there were a string of pop and television celebrities of the time.
All of them passionately decried the Ordinance (imposed by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship).
Since it was a strictly no-smoking hall, my habit kept me going in and out of the hall, so much that I completely missed my slot as a speaker. No problem, because I am not much of a speaker and would rather keep quiet and listen.
However, I did manage to ask some of the celebrities present in the hall what they really thought about the Ordinance. All of them insisted they were against it. I asked if so, then how come none of them have ever used their art and talents to address this issue.
One of them who is still pretty popular, said, “It is not for us entertainers.”
“Really?” I asked, surprised. “Then what are you doing here then?”
He said he was there as a common citizen and not as an entertainer. Ironically, he said this while signing autographs for his fans.
“I see,” said I, smiling. “But common citizens do not sign autographs, do they?”
He smiled back, shook his head and moved on.
My eyes then fell upon another famous pop star of the time who today functions as an evangelist of sorts.
Since on most occasions we had remained amiable acquaintances, we did end up talking in that hall.
“So Paracha sahib, Marx kya kehta hai?” (What does Marx say?) He asked, sarcastically.
“Marx koh choro (leave Marx),” I said, “Tum kya kehtay ho?” (Forget Marx. What do you say?).
“Same,” he said confidently. “Same as everyone here. But we being Muslims should look for a middle-ground in this issue. After all, we can't just repeal a law given to us by Allah!”
“Allah? Or Ziaul Haq?” I asked, still holding my smile.
I was expecting a cynical chuckle at best, but what I got was a tirade of references from various Islamic scriptures. You must remember this guy was still a pop star and hadn’t turned to preaching.
“But all this is useless to a person like you,” he casually concluded, at the end of his passionate spiel.
“Hmmm ... ” I nodded, still holding on to the smile, even though I was slightly ticked off. Then putting a hand on one of his shoulders, I continued: “Now I get it. If this is how our pop stars think, I am wasting my time asking them to use their art for social and political causes. Of course, you will never use your star status to talk about the Hudood Ordinance, now would you?”
Lo & behold! He said exactly what his contemporary had earlier said. “We are entertainers, yaar, not politicians.”
Irritated, I decided to actually use a part of my unused speech on him. So this (in essence) is how it went… “You know, Zia’s Ordinances would have been welcomed by Nazi Germany!” I unabashedly announced.
He was shocked: “What do you mean?”
“Well,” I continued, “Women in Nazi Germany were to have a very specific role. Hitler was very clear about this. This role was that they should be good mothers bringing up children at home while their husbands worked. Hitler saw no reason why a woman should work. From their earliest years, girls were taught in their schools that all good German women married a proper German at a young age and the wife's task was to have children and keep a decent home for her working husband.”
He interrupted: “What has this got to do with the topic at hand?”
“A lot,” said I. “This is got to do with a law passed by a myopic regime in a society that is becoming more and more chauvinistic and intolerant. A society you entertainers, God bless you, are also a part of.”
He stared at me again. But decided to hear me out.
Mentally mapping words from my undelivered speech, I continued: “As housewives and mothers in Nazi Germany, their lives were controlled. Women were not expected to wear make-up or trousers. Only flat shoes were expected to be worn. Women were discouraged from slimming as this was considered bad for child birth. Women were also discouraged from smoking, not because it was linked to problems with pregnancies, but because it was considered non-German to do so. There used to be a song in Nazi Germany. And it went something like this: ‘Take hold of kettle, broom and pan, then you'll surely get a man, shop and office leave alone, your true life work lies at home.’”
Finally, that cynical chuckle did arrive. But he went very serious when he asked: “So, are you suggesting that our laws are a product of fascists?”
“Yes I am,” said I. “Entertaining, no?”
He never talked to me after that. And/or vice versa.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
He tweets @NadeemfParacha
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