Three lessons to learn from Imran and Reham’s marriage and divorce

I wasn’t in Pakistan when Imran Khan and Reham Khan tied the knot, but this ‘news’ was big enough to infiltrate every conversation in Boston as well. All of a sudden, every Pakistani seemed to have an opinion about their wedding. It was discussed on the streets, in classrooms, in workplaces and in drawing rooms. We lapped up the wedding event, we absorbed every public appearance, every word uttered by Reham Khan (whether personal or political), and we discussed the juicy remarks made by her former husband. And now, we will dissect their divorce. 

Here are three lessons that I have learnt from Imran and Reham’s marriage and their decision to divorce:

1. Get married when YOU think the time is right

Imran got married at the age of 62, to a woman who was 20 years younger than him and also had children from her previous marriage. All of us, including his family, thought we knew better than him in regard to his decision to marry Reham.

We all felt entitled to have a say in his personal life and many of us felt cheated when he made a decision which personally, we wouldn’t have made.

We somehow overlooked the fact that Imran is a mature adult. We felt that if he absolutely had to get married, he should have at least chosen someone more ‘suitable’. I don’t even know what comprises of suitability amongst us. The country was extremely divided over this marriage.

People will always have an opinion about your relationships. Be it family, friends, neighbours, classmates or teachers, the list will go on, and on. If you start trying to make everyone happy, especially regarding your decision to get married (or not), there will never be a decision which you could take without having people interfere.

When you feel the time is right – whether you are in your 40s, divorced, with children from a previous marriage (a demographic one should not be thinking of when deciding to getting married) or in your 60s with a political career, if you think you’ve found the right person, then take the leap.

The point is, think about your happiness rather than pleasing others.

2. If it is not working, don’t force it. What’s the worst that can happen?

Divorce.

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Except divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to a relationship. Choosing to continue to drag a negative and destructive relationship forever and ever is the worst thing that can happen. Remember the people who you decided to not take into consideration while tying the knot? Imagine how triumphant they will feel knowing that your relationship has ended. The ‘I told you so’ chants will never end. You will hear about it till the end of time.

If you find yourself in a relationship which does not seem to be working out, and if both partners have come to the realisation that there is little hope for it to get better in the future, then please walk away. Do not make yourself, as well as others around you, miserable just because you are afraid of making the right decision.

Imran and Reham have decided to call it quits knowing that more than 182 million Pakistanis will now be commenting on their so-called ‘failure’. While divorce remains a taboo in our country, it is safe to say that this act takes sheer guts, especially knowing it will be all over the media. For instance, Twitter exploded into a frenzy of tweets regarding their divorce and hashtags such as #ImranRehamdivorce started trending.

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I don’t oppose the hijab because I was forced; I oppose the hijab because it sucks

This is a post about a common misapprehension when discussing the hijab, one that has arisen a thousand and one times (or so it seems at the end of this long, long week, since I launched the Ex-Hijabi Fashion Photo Journal). The misapprehension is this:

Reasons the hijab may be oppressive to women:

1. If there is a lack of choice.

And that’s it. That’s the list.

To be fair, some people who operate under that misapprehension will sometimes say something about possible physical detriment too, Vitamin D deficiency and rickets, which does happen to some hijabis, but that’s still consistent with thinking that any damage is all incidental. That is, people seem to think that there is nothing wrong with the hijab as such, unless it is forced upon people. That it becomes an unsavoury thing, a matter of detriment only insofar as it is actively imposed. You know, maybe a little bit like someone force feeding you good food – there is nothing traumatising about eating good food, but when you’re force-fed against your will then it suddenly becomes detrimental.

But this bypasses the possibility that there may be something toxic about the ideology of the hijab itselfTo me, the list is a lot bigger and more complex– more like a web, of the possible detrimental influences the hijab can pose in various contexts.

Disclaimer: I’m talking about one modesty doctrine in particular in this post. There are many forms of Muslim belief, practice, and interpretation, and not all women who wear the hijab subscribe to this ideology or have it imposed upon them. Some of them do it for non-modesty reasons entirely. Thus this post is not about every possible form or motivation of the hijab. This post is about the reality of the mainstream, traditional modesty doctrines in large portions of the Muslim world.

And maybe you’ve heard or even expressed some of these sentiments before yourself, sentiments that bolster the above position,

“It’s just a piece of cloth. It’s harmless unless you’re forced into it.”

“Let’s just focus on the actual cause of this: the coercive actions of men upon women. I completely understand how damaging and horrible that is.”

“The only reason you’re so opposed to the hijab is that it was forced upon you.”

“Let’s not hate the wrong things. It’s the actions that were the problem, not the ideas! It’s better to be chaste than unchaste, to be decent than indecent.”

“It’s not hijab in Islam that’s the problem; those ideas about women’s bodies aren’t actually in the Holy Quran and are just the bad interpretations of men. It’s not the real Islam.”

“The hijab is as normative as regular jeans and t-shirt; they are both pieces of cloth.”

The problem is that for far too many people the hijab is not just a piece of cloth. It is a normative doctrine that claims moral rightness that speaks to what bodies mean and how they should be viewed and treated and displayed. There are reasons given for why women’s bodies need to be covered up, and most of these reasons boil down to viewing people’s bodies as objects of discord (fitnah) that are imperfect (awarah) and that are a temptation to others, whose visibility is a matter of honour and shame. Subscribing to an ideology that views your body as a shame and denigration in those ways can be incredibly psychologically damaging even without the coercion. It can also be ultimately objectifying, as I argue here.

Critiquing the hijab does not boil down to objecting to women being coerced into it. It’s about the value system and what it stands for. And plenty of women who were never pressured into wearing their hijabs in any way end up taking issue with it for completely valid reasons that are other than being victimised by a tyrant father. Don’t silence their experiences by making the entire problem about choice or lack thereof.

Now, let’s get two things out of the way,

1. Yes, coercion can and often does pose psychological detriment.

Assuming coercion in the broad sense, to include shaming and pressuring as well as physical coercion. And no one is suggesting otherwise. That does not mean that it is the only possible thing that causes psychological detriment. I am saying that, it is possible for a hijabi to not be coerced, but to still suffer psychological detriment purely due to the demeaning nature of the modesty doctrine she chose to subscribe to.

2. Yes, the doctrine in question is incorrect, not least as demonstrated by sexual harassment rates in Muslim-majority countries and the prevalent existence of counterexamples where it is more than possible for women to walk around with bare skin without being irresistible temptations; i.e. the modesty doctrine in question simply rests upon false grounds.

But the fact that these reasons are false does not suddenly mean that they are not still actively used and taught as ideology, it does not mean that the doctrines don’t exist, aren’t normative, and aren’t active motivators of people’s actions – whether you acknowledge that they are truly ‘Islamic’ or not. That is irrelevant. It doesn’t render them without damage. It doesn’t erase their detriment if you call them by another label.

And yes, these are normative doctrines because they have moral content that other modes of dress do not. There is no doctrine or creed surrounding wearing jeans and a t-shirt that hashes them in terms of moral incumbency.

This is why it’s relevant to many who have voluntarily chosen to subscribe to the ideology of the hijab. Yes, one can be shamed and pressured into bodily conduct harm by purely being coercive. And the thing that is being coerced does not itself necessarily have to be a matter of shame and self-worth.  But it certainly can be. And the ideology behind the hijab as presented here *inherently entails* concepts of bodily shame and denigration by definition. That is to say, it is not only about conduct, about putting on or taking off pieces of clothing. It’s about putting on pieces of clothing in service of the goal of covering up one’s body, because it is the body that is the problem, and the clothing is there only as a means of hiding it. And when women’s bodies are viewed as problematic, that is where the oppression ensues.

Structural oppression stems from dehumanising ideology. It never exists in vacuum.

And here I will get a little bit personal. I’ve been told that people ‘completely understand’ why I find it necessary to speak about the hijab so much, because I was coerced into it, of course! Of course!!! To them I say, I don’t know what you think you understand about me, but not even nearly half the damage for me has come from the fact that I was forced to dress in certain ways. Much of it came from the fact that the reasons for that coercion shamed my very existence and reduced me to a dehumanised object of discord. You do not get to deny basic human psychology that has proven conclusively that this sort of shaming that seeks to convince people that they are inferior can lead to psychological damage as severe as PTSD at times.

If you insist that my damage came from only the coercion then you do not understand, will not respect what I say about an experience that I have had and you have not and thus you cannot effectively conceive of, and that you care more about abstract ideological defence than the actual reality of what it is for women. You are committing the ‘No True Muslim’ fallacy, along with the common generalisation errors, the detriment of which I lay out here.

And if you think you know because of who you know, I’ll remind you that what you see externally does not map onto internal lived experience. You can’t see everything. You clearly can’t see what this experience is like if you are denying half of it and contradicting the lived experiences of women, the testimonies they have about their bodies and lives.

In line with that, I should stress that I am not at all suggesting that all women who wear the hijab, whether by conviction or coercion or a complex combination of the two, must necessarily or do suffer any sort of psychological damage whatsoever. Again, clearly not all women who wear the hijab wear it for the reasons stated, or subscribe to the ideology I’ve presented – there is significant variance. Plenty of women find it to be an emotionally fulfilling experience, and that is all well and good. But I’m not talking about those other more benign possibilities. I am rather suggesting that we take the damaging potential of the hijab as ideology seriously, and to listen to how it has actually affected people’s lives.

I’ve known women who have had no choice regarding the hijab and have not viewed themselves to have been any the worse for it, and who am I to say any differently? On the other hand, I also know women who have suffered detriment due to the ideology of the hijab and they are being silenced and that is oppressive. The point of this post is to oppose to the assumption that there is nothing problematic in the doctrine itself, and it cannot at all pose psychological detriment to anybody by virtue of its ideological content.

As for the ‘let’s just focus on the important thing: coercive actions’ bit, I reject the idea, too, that a focus on actions presumes a lack of focus on the cultural ideology that motivates and inspires those actions. We focus on ideology precisely in service of affecting people’s actions, as actions are motivated by justification and ideology. I reject any presumption that certain modes of bodily conduct for women are ‘better’ than others. That is normative. Hell, that is the definition of normative, and by placing a matter of bodily autonomy into a category of moral superiority, you are pitting rights against perceived ‘duties’ and are treading unstable ground.

To be perfectly clear: I am rejecting the idea of chastity or modesty as an absolute moral good. I am focusing on the hijab itself instead of the coercion, and I am doing it deliberately, instead of confused hurt resentment because someone made me wear the hijab, therefore I must always irrationally hate it, oh noes. I’m not a confused, traumatised victim who has unjustified but understandable sentiments, like someone who has an irrational phobia, or too stupid to differentiate between hating the attacker and hating the tool used.  Seriously?

No, I am objecting to the ideology behind the hijab because it is offensive and demeaning to women as such. I am rejecting chastity and modesty as useful or correct norms. That is precisely what I intend to be doing. I am not chaste and I do not want to be, and there is nothing wrong with that. I am not ‘decent’ and I do not want to be, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not rejecting these attributes because modesty is forced upon women. I’m rejecting these attitudes out of ideological conviction, because they are nonsense, and gender theory acknowledges them to be so completely independently of any structural coercion.

That being said, I oppose attacking and demeaning those who do wear hijab, even if I think the ideology behind the hijab is a toxic and detrimental thing. (See my essay ‘Don’t Judge a Woman by her Cover for more on why it’s never okay to judge an individual for their clothing choices).

In short, my ideological opposition to the values of the hijab are precise because clothing and baring of skin are morally neutral matters, and one’s self-worth or value or morality does not rest on them. That does not mean that I think it is ‘better’ if people do not wear the hijab, and baring your head or skin is somehow morally superior in turn. It means that I think that clothing should not be a matter of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ to begin with, and that is where the problem lies. The objection is at the meta level: it’s not that it is morally wrong to wear or not wear certain things; it is morally wrong to place moral value and human worth in whether one wears or does not wear certain things.

It is morally wrong to devalue human bodies as such unless one dresses in a certain way. It leads to coercion, mistreatment, and power inequalities, yes, but it is a fundamentally flawed notion in itself.  Upholding the values of bodily autonomy means rejecting particular personal modes of bodily conduct as normatively required, not as discrete personal choices. I hope I don’t need to spell out that this also means rejecting a normative claim that women ought not to wear the hijab or value modesty for themselves. Everyone has the perfect right to think what they will, and do what they will about their own bodies.

That being said, the presence of free choice, of bodily autonomy, does not render all ideologies of bodily conduct equal.

The original post appeared in The Ex-Muslim here.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29870/i-dont-oppose-the-hijab-because-i-was-forced-i-oppose-the-hijab-because-it-sucks/

When did rape threats become a necessary technique for extracting confessions?

Early morning, Wednesday, October 28, 2015, will be forever etched on my mind and conscience as the day when my reserves of patience and equanimity were exhausted and emptied. My friend, the human rights activist, Rashid Orakzai uploaded and shared on Facebook a singularly brutal abuse of  force by a functionary of the so-called law-enforcing authorities of Pakistan.

One could see a man in a Pakistani police uniform hitting a hapless burqa-clad woman, 30 to 35-years-old, on her head and face a number of times, hurling abuses and taunts of unprecedented obscenity. A young lad, perhaps eight or 10-years-old, can be seen sitting beside her. All this happens not inside a police station or the Lahore Fort or any other facility where state terror is routinely let loose on suspected criminals and allegedly subversive political elements, but in full and complete public gaze.

The people sitting next to the brute in uniform, we learnt, were the shop owners. The woman is accused of stealing a mobile phone. We hear from the man in uniform that other women too have been shoplifting, but after being caught they confessed their crime when they were sexually abused by him. It is too sickening for me to present the graphic details of this sad incident.

Men, young and old, some sporting beards and looking pious, others casually dressed up, make up together a rather large gathering of spectators. One can imagine that while some derived perverse pleasure and thrill from the humiliation and degradation of that hapless woman, others felt disgust and revulsion, but were too scared and intimidated to protest and stop that ugly abuse of state authority.

However, at least one individual had the integrity and courage to capture that obscene manifestation of state brutality on his mobile. The video clip is now in the public domain and thus a part of incontrovertible evidence of flagrant abuse of state power and authority.

It is time for us to raise our voice and say: enough is enough, no more of this charade of a government under law and constitution.

This is much worse than the Hobbesian state of nature. The modern totalitarian state, whether of the left or right, infamously breaks down its victims behind closed doors, fetching them to the torture cells in a late-night knock on the door. In Pakistan and India, this can happen in broad daylight.

While the shame and disgrace that woman faced can well be imagined, I was particularly concerned about that little boy who sat next to her. Probably, he is her son, or maybe her brother. We see in the video clip the brute saying with absolute candour and callousness that raping women is his typical technique of extracting confessions and she will be subjected to it as well. Somebody tell me, how one feels when one’s mother or sister is so brazenly abused and violated?

Whatever crime the woman has committed is beside the point. The fact is that her son or brother too has been inflicted irreparable psychological trauma.

It was in this background of this horrible incident that some of us started a campaign on Facebook to trace the origins of this incident and to mobilise good and conscientious people to protest this despicable outrage.

It turned out that it referred to a case of alleged shoplifting in one of Karachi’s posh areas: Clifton.

Understandably, a storm of protests has followed in the wake of the video clip being uploaded. We are creatures who are ultimately moral beings.

We learnt that Sindh Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, ordered immediate action against the man whose name is apparently Akbar. He has been arrested. He is not even a regular police officer. He is an appendage of the rotten and out-dated police system. He is a qaumi razakar (national volunteer) and belongs to a category of people who take up police-like functions to assist the authorities in the maintenance of law and order.

If such are our national volunteers then I am afraid we are all headed to hell.

In our discussion on Facebook, we concluded that the shop-owners and traders involved in this incident should also be charged as accomplices of the man in uniform. A perceptive friend on Facebook remarked,

“A meagre cell phone that she allegedly tried to steal in a city like Karachi where ‘bhata chits’ (money extortionist chits of paper issued by political mafias and thugs) are rampant, businessmen lose lives, while politicians loot and launder abroad enormous public money, this woman has been humiliated enough. Therefore all charges against her should be dropped and she be sent home with a warning. Our system is such that even if this case continues no harm will come to the policeman.”

I can’t agree with him more.

It often happens that the authorities respond initially and take action because of the public outcry, but then culprits like this police appendage are quietly let off. This should not happen. I therefore propose that we form a special monitoring committee which follows the trial, and public opinion should be mobilised so that the traders are also hauled in and made to explain their conduct.

Having said this, I cannot but sympathise with those friends who say that this case is only the tip of an iceberg and we are too insignificant to make a difference. I think it is high time we, in both Pakistan and India, start discussing if a police force recruited by the British colonial state and regulated by the Police Act of 1861 can ever serve the interests of a free and independent nation.

Karl Marx was quite right in the ultimate indictment of the state: it is not a neutral institution and it upholds the interests of the ruling class. However, there have been positive developments and in European democracies the police are held accountable for their actions. In the United States, shocking cases of police brutality are common but even there public outcry results in punitive action against high-handedness.

We can’t change the social, economic and political system of Pakistan by mobilising public opinion in favour of an effective and proper trial for this man and his accomplices, but if we succeed in this case, it may serve as some restraint on the abuse of state power. He should be handed down the severest sentence that the law permits at present.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30042/when-did-rape-threats-become-a-necessary-technique-for-extracting-confessions/

Will Maryam Nawaz invest Michelle Obama’s $70 million anywhere outside of Punjab?

This week we were treated to scenes of Maryam Nawaz Sharif standing with Michelle Obama as the First Lady announced an investment of $70 million as part of a new partnership between the United States and Pakistan to promote girls’ education. The money is part of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which started up in March of this year and seeks to expand educational opportunities for girls.

Ms Sharif also spoke about Nawaz Sharif’s education reforms, and the importance of educating girls. It’s good to see commitment at the highest level to this worthy goal. However, I can’t help being a bit of a cynic about it. These days, girls’ education is a buzzword, with everyone talking about this as the way to move our country forward. Educating girls has become the new sexy catchphrase, with conferences, seminars, and other well-intentioned programs based on this breakthrough in development goals. (There are more than a few scammers, too, gaining from the glitz and glamour of the girls’ education circus, but that’s another blog post completely).

I have my doubts that the money will really go anywhere outside of Punjab, where Nawaz’s education reforms have been centred, thanks to the efforts of the chief minister. Department For International Development (DFID), the UK government’s development arm, has concentrated on Punjab as well, with some work done in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The chief minister of Punjab has committed to getting every child in Punjab enrolled in school by 2018, and there are many mechanisms already in place to make sure schools improve, including geo-tagging of schools and electronic tracking of teacher and pupil attendance.

There’s no chance of these reforms being replicated in Balochistan, which has the vast majority of out of school girls (70 per cent, in December 2014, of Balochistan’s girls are not in school), or in Sindh, where DFID refused to work with the Sindh Government when it started to look into getting out of school children back into school through a private organisation, Education For Sindh (EFS). As a result, at least in Sindh, the numbers of children being enrolled with DFID’s help through EFS are quite low (100,000), while private organisations like The Citizens Foundation (TCF) try to fill the gaps too. It’s never enough: despite a minor increase in Sindh’s education budget, 6.2 million children are out of school, with rural areas and girls being the most underserved.

I’m not much of an expert on the provincial governments in K-P or Balochistan, but Sindh has always suffered from poor management of the education system. There’s not much willpower or vision about how to move things back to acceptable standards in any area of education. There has been movement towards education reforms in Sindh but they are very half-hearted, as compared to Punjab. The previous Education Minister, Pir Mazhar, inflated the sector with unqualified people hired for political gain, and the current education minister has inherited this bloated elephant. Yet the real work has to be done by Sindh’s bureaucrats, and education secretaries don’t tend to stick around for long enough to enact real reform.

Without financial backing and government commitment, all of Pakistan’s children will not get education in vast numbers needed to really get the girls in school. If Michelle Obama’s $70 million doesn’t get distributed evenly or fairly amongst all the provinces, gains in one province will be impressive, and they’ll be hailed as progress, but they won’t tell the true story about whether or not Pakistan’s girls are really gaining access to quality education.

This post originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29977/will-maryam-nawaz-invest-michelle-obamas-70-million-anywhere-outside-of-punjab/

Shaandaar, or more like far from it, is a forgettable and sagging affair

Shaandaar is a romantic comedy revolving around the subject matter of matrimony and nuptials, combined with the concept of a destination wedding set in London. Think of it as a big, fat Greek Shaandaar Indian wedding. 

It is directed by Vikas Bahl of Queen fame and is produced by Fox Star Studio. This movie would appeal to the younger generation as they may find it relatable to some extent.

Starring the newlywed Shahid Kapoor and the girl next door, Alia Bhatt, the movie is combined with what seems like a family affair. The cast also includes Pankaj Kapoor and making her acting debut, Sanah Kapoor.  Veteran actress Sushma Seth is also casted in the movie along with a cameo appearance of Sanjay Kapoor.

Photo: Shaandaar Youtube screenshot

The fundamental narrative of the story revolves around the backdrop of the wedding between Jagjinder Joginder (Shahid Kapoor) and Alia (Alia Bhatt), and how their two wealthy families agree upon a merger to seemingly benefit them mutually.

Added to that, there is also an eccentric love triangle in the mix. However, I won’t reveal too much regarding the love triangle or the rest of the story (convoluted and protractedly long albeit monotonous story structure at that) for the sake of keeping all the spoilers at bay.

Photo: Shaandaar Facebook page

On the other hand, despite the story being all over the place, the songs are a different matter altogether, and poles apart from the mundane narrative of the movie. All the songs are beautifully choreographed, melodic and hit all the right chords. But for me, Gulabo, Raitaa Phel Gaya and Shaam Shaandaar stand out a tad bit more.

With context to acting and directing, it is disappointing to watch two creative individuals like Shahid and Bahl play a part in a project like Shaandaar, after having worked in critically and commercially acclaimed feature films such as Haider and Queen.

Simply put, only Shahid and Sushma Seth in the guise as the hawkish grandmother manage to salvage the movie to some degree of what is otherwise a forgettable and sagging affair.

Photo: Shaandaar Youtube screenshot

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the movie goes downhill from the very beginning. The story is so loosely written that it makes you question the writers, the director and actors who agreed to play part in this sorry excuse of an endeavour.

Digressing from that, Bhatt yet again delivers her signature performance of a preppy and bubbly girl who means well, but things do not turn out in her favour. There’s no variation between her previous roles compared to this one. She should know better that this ‘act’ is getting stale and she ought to employ more depth in her future acting renditions. Perhaps she can take acting lessons or some career saving pointers from her father. Otherwise, her presence will support the notion that she only got into Bollywood because of her family background.

Photo: Shaandaar Youtube screenshot

If the trailers and the songs are to be taken as a barometer, then this movie looked really good. Many were looking forward to a wholesome family entertainer that had a wedding theme, which was specifically made for the youth. With respect to the visuals, it is gorgeous with beautiful English countryside vistas and grandiose medieval castles. But sadly, the acting and story does not compliment the visual aesthetics and choreography.

There is only so much a lone actor such as Shahid can do, especially when the film itself is dead on arrival, thanks to the sloppy script. An actor is only as good as the story of the movie. By the time the second half kicks in, the shoddy gimmicks, which are way too many, don’t seem to end and it all seems like a dragged down affair.

Photo: Shaandaar Facebook page

Unlike the movie’s name Shaandaar, this poorly executed, directed, acted and most importantly, written feature film feels anything but that. What a waste of a good ensemble cast!

I’d rate this movie a two out of 10.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30017/shaandaar-or-more-like-far-from-it-is-a-forgettable-and-sagging-affair/

Pakistan is a cesspool of humanitarian crises, but who cares? Imran and Reham just got divorced!

Imran Khan is in the news again. He has definitely got the knack for it. Even those who are staunchly against him, people like me who are not Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) supporters in any way, turn around to listen when he’s going on and on about something. Whether it’s about “teen halqe” or even his madcap rants atop the container, the man can pull crowds.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that my generation, those of us who were all young and starry-eyed when he lifted the 1992 cricket World Cup, grew up with the idea of him being an idol, a man with charisma, someone who was a national hero.

Pakistani politics does strange things to people. Friendships are lost and feuds are ignited. Shots are fired and verbal warfare is not where, unfortunately, this ends. Guns and the violence become the highest form of political strife.

There is, however, one more way to hurt your opponent: attack his or her personal life.

A few short months ago, Imran Khan was in the news for his marriage to Reham Khan. Journalists and social media went berserk. The PTI head honcho, fresh from bidding the dharna goodbye, had tied the knot with television anchor Reham Khan. Reham, beautiful and clearly well-spoken, and Imran celebrated their wedding in a small, intimate gathering at Imran’s Bani Gala residence. Every PTI opponent devoured this news with relish. Some people, even within PTI, began to hate Reham Khan. Perhaps they were expecting Imran Khan to remain a bachelor all his life? I don’t know what could have possibly been the end game on that logic.

But one thing was most common: misogyny.

It was uniformly demonstrated across all parties. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Awami National Party (ANP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), even the factions within PTI that hated Reham, never bothered to hide their blatant misogyny.

There came a point when it almost became mathematical. If you want to check the calibre of a person’s mental acumen and character, see how s/he feels about a woman in the public eye. Reham Khan was slut-shamed for her clothes and mocked for her weather-reporting days at BBC. Pictures of her dancing, wearing western clothing were splattered all over the profiles and pages of PTI dissidents and anti-Reham factions.

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Then there were those who refused to acknowledge Reham’s legitimacy as her own person. Granted she came into limelight the most as Imran Khan’s wife, but her own personality seemed to hold no value at all.

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The slander campaigns were not the end of the sad misogynistic trend that became a part of the celebrity marriage. Reham’s ex-husband featured more than once or twice in newspapers here or there, saying that her claims of abuse and lack of financial support were false.

Then there was the degree fiasco. The media gorged on Reham and she could do little to placate the hungry monsters.

Reham became an ambassador for street children, she tried to campaign for PTI in the Haripur elections (which PTI lost) and was subsequently told to refrain from taking part in politics. From her programs, her addresses to the audiences, it seemed Reham was an eloquent speaker, an intelligent conversationalist.

She could have been a powerful asset for the PTI which lacked any charisma except for the little that an ageing Khan offered. While Jahangir Tareen and Shah Mahmood Qureshi were strong forerunners, Reham could have easily raced past them in her public support. There was a clear lack of female leaders and with a gradual progressive middle-class in Pakistan, PTI could have easily tapped a vote bank that all other parties lacked.

PML-N still keeps Maryam Nawaz in the shadows, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari and Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari are behind Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and no other main party could have hoped for a female leader.

Reham could have been a contender. Boy, would that have been something worth watching!

Arif Nizami, the journalist who claimed to know about Imran and Reham’s marriage before it was announced, “broke” the news of their divorce as well. The man seemingly had a source deep within the personal and private affairs in Bani Gala. Many media persons defended Nizami’s (and other broadcasts of Khan’s personal life) as kosher.

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Nizami, regarding the divorce, went on to claim that the divorce was due to Imran Khan’s sisters’ discontent with the marriage. He also stated that Imran was a good man and was ‘ensnared’ by Reham’s ploys.

“She had made his life miserable!”

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Then there were these gems:

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It is a moment of shame, for even the educated, when literate PTI supporters, and non-supporters alike, consider Imran to be absolved of all responsibility of making the marriage work – and place the blame squarely on Reham’s shoulders.

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(And he continued defending said position,)

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Some of the PTI spokespeople have not helped the matter. Instead of understanding the real problem behind discussing family matters in the blatant, one-sided way that they are, the problem somehow has become about marriages and the number of marriages:

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But, to be honest, our esteemed journalists have been the ones who have set the worst example. They proudly discussed family relationships between Imran-Reham-Reham’s Ex-Imran’s Sisters’. They left all of Pakistan’s issues on the back burner for the day.

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Journalists and media personnel are justifying their deplorable actions by saying,

“Well, if he didn’t want us to comment, why did he tell us about the marriage?”

I think we are all at that jaded point in our lives as Pakistanis, where lack of media ethics does not surprise us anymore, but just for the heck of it, this is what journalistic ethics regarding private lives are about:

“Information on the private life of a person may be published only if the behaviour of this person in the private sphere affects the public interest. In such cases it is necessary to make sure that such publication will not violate the interests of the third parties.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked his party members to refrain from commenting about Reham and Imran’s split. But for how long will this silence stay? Sooner or later, some member of some party, PML-N or other, is going to come out guns blazing with the kind of logic that they had about his marriage with Jemima Khan,

“You couldn’t save your marriage, how could you save this country?”

The problem is not about Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issuing an order or the prime minister asking his party members to stay mum.

The problem is greater than issuing an order and that problem is misogyny. This slanted view that women are to be blamed for relationships not working out, that relationships are up for public scrutiny and every person has somehow the moral right or duty to comment on what transpired between two individuals in their homes.

How is Reham and Imran’s divorce relevant to the effected victims of the earthquake? How is the family feud and Reham’s relationship with Imran’s friends important to the fact that Pakistan is facing a war? That Pakistanis have extra-judicial killings, poverty, sectarian hatred and crimes against women that are committed without abandon?

If there was one word for it all, it would perhaps be ‘masala’. We are a soap opera addicted nation and Reham Khan has been a spicy distraction from the banality of real life.

While we sit and watch, like an accident in slow-motion, ‘experts’ on television tear someone’s personal life apart, analyse what can only be a traumatic time for families – we forget that Pakistan is no suburbia but a cesspool of various humanitarian crises that need attention and genuine discourse.

But who cares, right? Let’s find out what yet another anchor has to say about Reham Khan’s clothes, her hair, her children, her children’s clothes, her ex-husband, her behaviour…

Oh, she must have done something to make Imran Khan unhappy!

Oh, she must have brought this on!

Yes. This comforts us.

To our society, our media, our journalists, even our friends and families who have long subscribed to patriarchy and the lop-sided mansplaining it proffers – this makes perfect sense.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30034/pakistan-is-a-cesspool-of-humanitarian-crises-but-who-cares-imran-and-reham-just-got-divorced/

The scariest costume you can wear this Halloween is ‘racism’

A fake ‘Sheikh’ nose, blackface, and a Mexican sombrero? Let me guess: you’re going to that Halloween party tonight as a ‘Howling Racist’.

Halloween has little relevance to the lives of most Pakistani people. It is celebrated in certain elite quarters, while the rest of us wonder what scarcity of spookiness there is in this country that needs to be compensated for with a few extra zombie masks. For those who participate, I may have a Gullu Butt costume to lend out, if you ask nicely.

But it is an important tradition in much of the Western world, particularly the United States. And there is no opportunity too small for people to consciously, or through sheer ignorance, make a show-stealing display of racism.

Walmart and Amazon recently came under fire for putting up on its website, costumes that are more than just borderline racist. These included a Osama Bin Laden mask, a large, fake, “Sheikh Fagan” nose that comes with a headdress, or keffiyeh, as well as a stereotypically Mexican “little amigo” costume.

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To Walmart’s credit, these costumes were removed from the website, followed by an apology. However, the tradition persists.

Many years ago, I had a good fortune of visiting Chicago, and attending a Halloween party with a friend. From the sea of unimaginative costumes, emerged a white middle-aged man in a white kurta, off-white khakis passed off as a shalwar, and a fake bushy, unkempt beard.

He was a friend of my friend. I asked him who he was pretending to be. He dropped a hint in the form of a brief performance: shaking his fist and shouting gibberish.

He was “Rage Boy”, the internet meme.

Whether or not he was being racist, is for the reader to think about. All I know, is the humiliation that I felt in the moment when he laughed and asked me – me specifically for some reason – if he looked “authentic”.

Visiting a post-9/11 America, I was advised by my family not to wear traditional Pakistani clothing. It was an unnecessary warning as I don’t ordinarily wear shalwar kameez anyway, but clearly something had been going on in America for them to redundantly counsel me on the issue.

I felt cheated.

I, as an actual Pakistani person of Kashmiri heritage, could not walk through airport security looking like that without being scanned twice. My Muslim friend couldn’t sit in a bus looking like that, without attracting uncomfortable glances. We had to lock our Pakistani-ness away in a box to avoid unwanted attention, and conduct our business around the city in blue jeans and baseball caps, because for a myriad of small reasons, it seemed far more convenient.

Meanwhile, that white man stood before me, flamboyantly dressed up as a Kashmiri Muslim. For fun. Spilling beer on his fake beard as he rhythmically waved his red plastic cup to reggae music.

I did not drop the ‘R’ bomb at the party, as I was unsure of what it was. But I was still acutely uncomfortable with the idea of someone’s race, culture, or ethnicity being put on like a costume for a night of wild fun, without all the fear, stigma and history that comes with it.

Must be nice.

Little has changed over the years. On All Hallow’s Eve, there will once again be parties of people wearing comically large fake noses, pretending to be Arabs. There will be white women wearing Indian dresses, straight out of Mughal-e-Azam. There will be people wearing blackface, pretending to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ from Orange is the New Black series.

After all, Halloween is all about being scary. And nothing petrifies people of colour like racially privileged men and women appropriating our cultures, while simultaneously telling us to tone down our ‘ethnic’ behaviours so we may assimilate better in their world.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30015/the-scariest-costume-you-can-wear-this-halloween-is-racism/