Freedom to insult?

Published January 25, 2011

Since the Pakistani media seems to be in the insulting mode these days, here is my own two-pence worth of the same aimed at those who have insulted my sense of being a Pakistani man: Veena Malik has become my icon, not of the celebrity variety, but as a woman who braved the insults hurled at her by two bigoted men, one of them bearded, on national TV the other night for being herself on a recently concluded reality TV show in India. It is such men and their lack of respect for women under different pretexts that defines exactly what has gone wrong with our society. That is why we will not have another Noorjehan, not even another Mehdi Hasan, in our midst for a long time to come, and that is why we will keep killing banning Basant celebrations, and not the killer twine. Instead, we’ll just have more of the same bigots manning our airwaves and pushing their obscurantist agenda, as if to honour the memory of Ziaul Haq and his ilk. And, of course, insulting women and minorities on public TV is not a subject that our courts will ever find worthy of taking notice of.

Two simple questions: why would TV anchors never ask the Meeras and Veenas and Reshams of our entertainment industry, for whatever the industry and they put together are worth, to sit in judgment on the conduct of those who defend the killers of Salman Taseer, or those who blow themselves up at Sufi shrines killing and maiming innocent men, women and children? Why is it always the mullah who must adjudicate affairs across the board amongst adherents of a faith that does not allow for priesthood in the first place? But that is how one-sided the discourse has become in the new, brave, independent media today. If it is media trials that we must hold, then why not hold one of the Lal Masjid cleric who escaped the bloodied compound in a burqa, and who should be held at least partly responsible for the many lives lost in the military action of 2007? That is, if that is how the media organs must see their new role, inflated as it is, in society, which is quite against the industry norms anywhere in the world. There are perhaps more hate-mongers, xenophobic anchors and preachers, on our TV screens on a given day today than all religious programmes put together that PTV broadcast during 11 years of Ziaul Haq’s rule.

The obsession with display of personal piety and religiosity, which often comes wrapped in layers of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is just revolting. Not long ago similar vitriol was hurled by another TV anchor and columnist on Angelina Jolie at a time when she had come to Pakistan braving all odds to lend a helping hand to mitigate the sufferings of our flood victims. That the media should have such unbridled freedom to insult women (and minorities) is just very appalling, nay disgusting; which is the politest way of putting across the feeling of shame that I have as a Pakistani man.

Besides the views expressed on women, another glaring example of mixing up values is the media’s soft-peddling of terrorism-related issues, of which more Pakistanis have been ready victims than westerners or Indians in recent years. There is this slogan I read the other day in Karachi’s business district, advertising a recently launched Lahore-based, English-language newspaper, which says something to the effect: We treat our Aasias and Aafias alike (thank God Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are not daughters of Pakistan). The sheer comparison is shocking but obviously equivocal. It works both ways: one is touted to be the victim of American hysteria about Islam, the other of Pakistanis’ growing bigotry in response to West’s provocation; or more dangerously, it aims to blur the line between a criminal and a sinner.

What is next, you may ask. Would the same newspaper say tomorrow that it treats Salman Taseer and Mumtaz Qadri equally, or indeed, equate Benazir Bhutto with Baituallah Mehsud, the purported mastermind behind her killing? Moosa-o-Firaun-o-Shabbir-o-Yazid/ Een do quwwat az hayaat aayed padeed (Moses and Pharaoh, Hussain and Yazid/ Are the two forces [good and evil] that shape life). If this is the vision of the newspaper concerned of what is Pakistan today, then let the poet Iqbal turn in his grave, whose ideology the paper claims to espouse.

Meanwhile, thank you, Veena Malik, for saying loud and clear that you represented our entertainment industry and yourself, and not Islam or Pakistan, on “Bigg Boss,” to which Pakistani viewers back home were just as riveted as their counterparts in India. I respect you for being yourself, and am insulted when you are.

Murtaza Razvi is the Editor, Magazines, at Dawn.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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