issue
Two perspectives

A roundup of an intellectuals' debate on blasphemous caricatures
By Babar Mirza

Tariq Ali had predicted the end of worldwide socio-political uproar following the publication of controversial cartoons in a Danish newspaper in September 2005, rather contemptuously, as "with no gains on either side." A superficial look at the relevant events indeed confirms this prediction: protests by Muslims were matched by republications in Europe, leaders of first world countries only conceded abuse of freedom of speech when they could condemn the burning of Danish embassies.

MOOD STREET
Few foreigners here

By Aziz Omar
What with the effervescent scenario that has been prevailing in our country, it's a surprise that any foreigner would dare set foot here, let alone stick around for an extended period of time.

festival
Documenting reality

There are two film festivals in the city, one till 23rd April and another starting on the same day
The 5-day Vasakh Film Festival is showing best documentaries from all over South Asia from 23rd to 27th April 
Award winning films from Travelling Film South Asia (FSA) being the highlight.

Same old tale of exploitation
The existence of prostitution is a symbol of inequitable socioeconomic structures and norms

By Ayra Indrias
Mehwish, aged 21, thinks of prostitution as a last resort for surviving and fulfilling her children's subsistence needs -- from providing food to giving house rent. She along with her two children and drug addicted husband is living in a shanty, stark, one-room rented house in one of the slums of Lahore city.

RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'SQUESTION
TOP10
ways to express yourself

1. Write stories

2. Create artworks
3. Join protest demos
4. Write columns in newspapers

 



issue
Two perspectives
A roundup of an intellectuals' debate on blasphemous caricatures

By Babar Mirza

Tariq Ali had predicted the end of worldwide socio-political uproar following the publication of controversial cartoons in a Danish newspaper in September 2005, rather contemptuously, as "with no gains on either side." A superficial look at the relevant events indeed confirms this prediction: protests by Muslims were matched by republications in Europe, leaders of first world countries only conceded abuse of freedom of speech when they could condemn the burning of Danish embassies.

This February, when police arrested several people who allegedly planned to assassinate one the cartoonists, the Danish newspaper, though it had apologised for hurting the feelings of Muslims, reprinted a cartoon in retaliation. Were it not for the loss of human lives and property involved, a cynical comparison of this controversy with the domestic issues in American presidential elections -- a pillow-fighting of 'values' as they are -- might not be much off the mark. However, given the importance of freedom of speech as a fundamental human right, one must go in to nuances to track down the changes in global attitudes in the wake of cartoon controversy.

Religious satire, under the garb of freedom of speech, is as integral to the heart of modern Europeans, as it is repugnant to Muslims. The republications of cartoons in Europe were frequently accompanied by an assertion of the right to freedom of speech. In March 2006, a French newspaper even solicited the signatures of Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen and half a dozen other 'victims of Islamic militancy' on a statement which compared 'Islamism' with Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism and called for strengthening 'universal secular values.' However, Media's self-defence was not accompanied by their politicians' support.

The Council of Europe, former US president Bill Clinton, Russian President Putin and Irish president Mary McAleese condemned the reluctance of the Danish government to interfere in the issue. Later on, President Bush and British prime minister, while condemning the ensuing violent protests, also acknowledged the restraints on freedom of speech imposed by religious sensitivities. The United Kingdom went so far as to enact a religious hatred law to avoid similar controversies in the country.

However, one must not lose sight of the fact that Western media, at least in principle, is not used to taking instructions from politicians. As was clear from many of the statements accompanying republications of cartoons, newspapers were not indifferent to religious sensitivities, but they genuinely believed that giving in now would hurl them on to a slippery slope of stifling censorship -- a matter of life and death for them.

This compromise -- preferring freedom of speech over provocation -- was most evident in the report of Danish Director of Public Prosecutions which held, almost ridiculously, that although the cartoons might be an 'affront or insult', they were not 'mocking or scornful'. "Slapping some one on the face is not the same thing as swearing at him, and we only punish the later," the Danish DPP seemed to be saying.

One can thus look at the cartoon controversy in one of the two ways: it exposed some genuine loopholes in the Western notion of freedom of speech and thus undermined its legitimacy, or, on the brighter side, it helped to determine the global scope of freedom of speech, and thus expanded its understanding. To determine which of the two views are more plausible, one must also look at the controversy from the viewpoint of Muslims.

No doubt, Muslims were strongly offended by the cartoons, and protested at an unexpectedly large scale. But just like story of the West, the protests were not free of inconsistencies either. The clearly anti-US nature of protests -- though no major newspaper in the US has ever published the cartoons -- has also been well noted. Similarly, the first newspaper to republish the controversial cartoons was Egyptian, though the government and religious organisations did not take it as controversial. However, a similar republication in Yemen was viewed differently, and the editor of the newspaper was sentenced to imprisonment for one year. These facts raise the important question whether Muslims were protesting against the mere depiction of the Prophet or the allegedly defamatory nature of depiction?

Moreover, in a recent conference held at LUMS to discuss the controversy, Dr Nomanul Haq revealed that Islamic law had no concept of blasphemy, which was in fact a medieval Christian concept. He explained that the notions of apostasy (irtidaad), innovation (bid'a) and hudood did not encompass blasphemy, and speaking ill of sacred people, objects or ideas was made an indirect crime in the post-Mongolian period only in so far as it could lead to breach of peace. Given the highly credible views of Dr Haq, one can begin to see that perhaps Muslims were in fact not protesting against the cartoons but venting their anger at something else.

So, in the last analysis, it seems fair to conclude that Western media did realise that globalisation of communities entailed some limitations on freedom of speech, which though legally not recognised, should be morally enforced. Similarly, given the frequency of republications, Muslims also realised that they cannot impose their social values on others in their entirety (even if the editors of the Danish newspaper were convicted of defamation or blasphemy, they would have been imprisoned for two years at most, and not hanged).

 


MOOD STREET
Few foreigners here

By Aziz Omar

What with the effervescent scenario that has been prevailing in our country, it's a surprise that any foreigner would dare set foot here, let alone stick around for an extended period of time.

However, I recently came across several foreign nationals who have not just planned for Pakistan being a transit point in their travels via land but have also been staying here for quite some time now. One British citizen had been teaching English in China for a year and after completing her contract, decided to go back to UK via the land route. So after making excursions around India, she crossed Wagah border and made a stopover at Lahore for a week (which is where I met her).

Actually it was through the local couch-surfing network that I happened to come across her and a couple of other 'aliens'. The what-surfing network one might ask? Well this association of sorts is an internet based entity that has its physical tendrils rooted into regions all across the world. The objective is to seek out free hospitality (i.e. a bed or a couch) at the homes or lodgings of the members of this project. This way, the availing member gets to save on hotel (and often meal costs as the free-boarding really isn't complete without warm food on the plate too) incurred while travelling abroad.

Furthermore, one can't become a member unsolicited and so an existing member has to invite you before you can start mooching off.

Anyways, back to the British teacher trying to make her way back home. Well she wanted to cross into Iran via Nok Kundi in Balochistan. I naturally tried to warn her against opting for this route because of security concerns. I suggested that she fly to Iran or Turkey directly and then continue with her backpacking bit. Well she responded that as her original plan was to travel exclusively on land, she'd rather take a flight all the way to UK if she had to fly at all.

So last I heard, she went to Peshawar for a while (hello! rockets being fired, suicide bombings and violent rioting there too), got sick and now is on her way to Bahawalpur intending to cross into Balochistan via Fort Munro and continuing to Iran. That's one headstrong lass!

Then there is another foreigner, actually a Hungarian national to be exact who has been living in Lahore for the past two years. What got her here in the first place was her affinity towards the spirituality and the classical music of the subcontinent and so has actually been learning how to play the harmonium and sing various ragas and folk songs.

To cater to her spiritual longings, she has visited shrines of various Sufi saints all across Punjab. She's even shuttled across the border several times to visit India, as she aspires to act in Bollywood movies and so has been trying to approach big name directors over there such as Mahesh Bhatt.

The general local populace has let itself be so deeply affected by the spate of terrorist acts and public rioting that it has become overtly cautious with even visiting places of public interest within their city, let alone other cities.

These foreign visitors to our country really have to be quite determined to achieve their self-ordained mission. It would only be then that their will to do so empowers them to overcome whatever hesitance that might arise with regards to looming life-threatening dangers.

 


festival
Documenting reality

The 5-day Vasakh Film Festival is showing best documentaries from all over South Asia from 23rd to 27th April

Award winning films from Travelling Film South Asia (FSA) being the highlight.

The screenings will be at the Dorab Patel Auditorium, HRCP, 107 Tipu Block, New Garden Town, near Shakir Ali Museum.

 

Highlights

*A Certain Liberation (Bangladesh, 2003)

Directed by Yasmine Kabir

Winner of the Second Best Film Award at FSA '05.

Gurudasi Mondol resigned herself to madness in 1971 when, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, she witnessed the murder of her entire family at the hands of the collaborators of the occupying forces. Today Gurudasi continues to roam the streets of Kopilmoni, a small town in rural Bangladesh, in pursuit of all she has lost, taking liberties only her madness and her strength of character afford her. In her beloved home of Kipilmoni, Gurudasi has now attained near legendary status and, through her indomitable presence, she has kept the spirit of the Liberation War alive.

 

*An Inconvenient Truth (USA)

Directed by Davis Guggenheim.

Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.

 

*Ayodhya Gatha (India, 2007)

Directed by Vani Subramanian

Winner of the Special Jury Mention Award at FSA '07.

For two decades now, the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya has influenced national events in India. But beyond the symbolism that the Uttar Pradesh town holds for the rest of the country, how has that event affected life in Ayodhya itself? As this film relates, today the streets of Ayodhya seem to have lost touch with the feet of its residents. Blocked and barricaded, our only access to the citizens is through memory: the telling of stories, the hearing of tales, and the very 'gatha' of Ayodhya's people.

 

*The Baloch Battlefield

Directed by Munizae Jahangir

This exclusive documentary gives a rare and deep insight into the violent conflict in Balochistan where nationalists have been fighting with successive governments in Islamabad for their economic and political rights. Munizae Jahangir was the last international TV journalist to able to interview the tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti, while he was battling Pakistan's security forces from the Baloch mountains.

 

Continuous Journey (India/Canada, 2004)

Directed by Ali Kazmi

Winner of the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film at FSA '05

In 1914 the Komagata Maru, a vessel carrying 376 immigrants from British India, became the first ship transporting migrants to be turned away by Canada. During the two-month detention in the harbour, Canadian authorities drove the passengers to the brink of thirst and starvation. The affair exposed the British Empire's myths of equality, fair play and justice, and became a turning point in the freedom struggle in India. Continuous Journey is a multilayered film essay to unravel a complex and little-known incident.

 

Emergency Plus (Pakistan)

Directed by Interactive Resource Centre

The lawyers' movement in Pakistan has shaken the urban centers out of an apolitical slumber lasting over two decades. A wave of political activism has swept the society aided by the media and strengthened by the imposition of emergency. This film is a record of the events which gripped Pakistan and continue to play a major role today.

 

*The Miseducation of Pakistan (Pakistan, 2005)

Directed by Syed Ali Nasir

Schools with no teachers, no buildings, no drinking water, no electricity, and overflowing with garbage -- this is what so many students of public schools in Pakistan can look forward to. Little wonder that a vast majority of the country's primary-school graduates are not even considered literate by international standards. All the while, a corrupt hierarchy of officials and school staff line their pockets with funds meant for children's education -- and no one is held accountable. This is the story of a generation lost, and of a country where basic education remains a distant dream for millions.

 

*Nar Narman (Pakistan)

Directed by Mazhar Zaidi

The celebrated Iftikhar Naseem who lives in Chicago, is regarded as Urdu language's first gay poet of modern times. Along with his poetry, Ifti has been actively involved in the civil rights movement in the United States. Recently Ifti has been inducted into the Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of fame. Though recognised as one of Urdu's finest poets, Iftikhar Naseem's flamboyance and his views on sexuality have landed him in controversy. In this film he talks about his journey from Pakistan of the 1970s to the US, his sexuality, undying love for Pakistan and more.

 

*Remembrance of Things Present (India, 2007)

Directed by Chandra Siddan

Winner of the Second Best Film Award at FSA '07

How is a teenager supposed to deal with an arranged marriage? How does one resolve the conflict of a displaced life after years of nomadic existence abroad? In Remembrance of Things Present, the filmmaker, now living in Canada, returns to Bangalore to confront her parents with the former question, while she herself tries to resolve the latter. Long divorced and newly remarried, she records some profoundly touching conversations with her parents -- while also finding her past being repeated in the life of her parents' household help.

 

*The Sky Below (India/Pakistan, 2006/07)

Directed by Sara Singh

Joint Winner of the Best Debut Film Award at FSA '07

The Sky Below paints a contemporary portrait of the India-Pakistan 'mind-frontier', six decades after the two were parted. Singh explores the lingering commonalities, as well as the remaining possibilities for reconciliation based on the countries' interwoven histories, cultures and faiths. From both Pakistan and India, we hear first-person recollections from the time of Partition, as well as the views of former militants, politicians, royalty, ordinary citizens, historians and others.

For more information visit www.danka.com.pk or call the Interactive Resource Centre (IRC) at 042-5313038 or email: [email protected]

 

*A Festival of Resistance: Lahore Film and Literary Club presents a six-day film festival hosted by South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) scheduled on 18-23 April 2008. Time: Gates close at 7 pm. Venue: South Asian Media Centre, 177-A Shadman II, Lahore. Email: [email protected] Ph: 042-7555621-28. Full schedule available at www.danka.com


Same old tale of exploitation
The existence of prostitution is a symbol of inequitable socioeconomic structures and norms

 By Ayra Indrias

Mehwish, aged 21, thinks of prostitution as a last resort for surviving and fulfilling her children's subsistence needs -- from providing food to giving house rent. She along with her two children and drug addicted husband is living in a shanty, stark, one-room rented house in one of the slums of Lahore city.

She blames her father for the life that she is leading. Her father was on drugs when he went missing. Six years have passed, there is no news of him. That left her mother with no choice except to earn money by running a brothel, she says.

"I had my first client for Rs.1000 when I was just 15 years old after my would-be husband refused to marry me due to my mother's involvement in this business", Mehwish said. For her Rs.200 is the minimum for a one-time service and Rs. 2000 is the maximum rate per night which she is usually offered by her clients. She named a few posh areas of the city known for getting rich clients who also liked to be entertained with dances and songs by young girls involved in commercial sex. She said that her mother is known to many sex worker girls, whom she contacts when a client approaches her.

Explaining the functioning of the brothel, she said her mother charges Rs. 500 to Rs.1000 from clients for providing them a room for a few hours. Beside this, the sex worker gives 20 per cent of her earned income to her mother, Mehwish explains.

To maintain respectability in society, she has adopted the pseudonym of Farhat. Saima, another woman gave poverty and absence of alternative economic means as reasons for pushing her into an extramarital relationship with a man double her age who supports her two children's school fee every month.

Fighting for their livelihood through commercial sex, women, even young girls who live at the lower rung of the social ladder, are oblivious to the health hazards that unsafe sex poses. Mehwish and Saima's ignorance of HIV-AIDS is measured by the question they ask the writer as to "What does HIV, AIDS mean?" About contraceptives, both Saima and Mehwish say that their clients never agree to using condoms which usually gives them infections they pay little heed to.

According to the 2006 update on the AIDS epidemic in Pakistan, the World Bank reported that most sex workers do not have the power to negotiate condom use with the clients on whom they depend. In April 2006, the World Health Organisation stated that there could be 70,000 to 80,000 unreported HIV cases in Pakistan. Analysing the enormity of the spread of HIV-AIDS, the World Bank attested that there are serious risk factors that put Pakistan in danger of facing a rapid spread of HIV if immediate and vigorous action is not taken.

The culture of prostitution was introduced in Lahore much later than in the older capitals of the subcontinent, such as Lucknow, Delhi, and Mahabalipuran. During the Mughal era in the subcontinent (1526 to 1857) prostitution had a strong nexus with performing arts. Mughals patronised prostitution which raised the status of dancers and singers to higher levels of prostitution. King Jehangir's harem had 6,000 mistresses which denoted authority, wealth and power. After the downfall of the Mughal emperors, they were replaced by Sikh rule in Punjab and Frontier. During this time, social taboo against prostitution was lessened. After the decline of Sikh rule, the British came to power, which weakened the nexus between prostitution and performing arts. Amid the changes in literary values and cultural norms, a new breed of prostitution flourished, which was confined more to sexual gratification than providing entertainment with songs and dances. A major shift was brought to prostitution during the first five decades of independence of Pakistan. Clients to prostitutes were changed from rajas to politicians, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs, who valued sexual satisfaction more than skill in performing arts. As a result, the status of prostitutes declined from mistresses to common prostitutes.

During General Zia's regime, Enforcement of Hudood Zina ordinance 1979 was introduced that made fornication, adultery, rape and prostitution punishable offences by death, imprisonment and lashes. General Zia banned red light areas of sex workers all over the country, thinking that this move could regulate this menace from plaguing society. It proved unsuccessful because, instead of being curtailed commercial sex sprung all over the country ranging from voluntary to enforced prostitution by high class call girls to lower class sex workers.

Clause 37 of the Constitution of Pakistan has made prevention of prostitution a principal policy. According to Suppression of Prostitution Ordinance 1961, running a brothel, enticing or leading a woman or a girl to prostitution and forcing a woman or a girl to have sexual intercourse with any man are punishable crimes. A National Plan of Action (NPA) was drawn up in 1998 to improve women's conditions after Pakistan made international commitment by accessing to the United Convention on the Elimination of all form of discrimination against women in 1996. However, the NPA was silent on dealing with prostitution as a separate subject; instead it was discussed under violence against women. NPA also fell short of including other forms of violence, such as forced prostitution, trafficking in women.

A study by UNICEF stated that as many as 55 per cent of families from 35 localities in Lahore had one or more members as sex workers during 2005. We, as concerned citizens cannot turn a blind eye to the existence of prostitution, which is a symbol of inequitable socioeconomic structures and norms. Neither law nor religion had been unable to remove eradicating the shadow, which is demeaning and exploiting women's lives. The appalling situation detailing horrifying stories of women victims of prostitution calls upon concerned government quarters, NGOs and Women Groups to embark on concrete programmes focusing general awareness on HIV/Aids and behavioral change against prostitution.

Real name has been changed for the sake of anonymity.

 


RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'SQUESTION
TOP10
ways to express yourself

1. Write stories

 

2. Create artworks

 

3. Join protest demos

 

4. Write columns in newspapers

 

5.Join a literary circle

6. Sing a song

 

7. Dance

 

8. Convert your hobbies into social work

 

9. Socialise and learn to know yourself

 

10. Speak softly

 

To enlist by popular vote for next week, send in your emails on top ten

'top ten ways to express yourself'

Please email at [email protected]

 

|Home|Daily Jang|The News|Sales & Advt|Contact Us|

BACK ISSUES