old tale of exploitation
TO LAST WEEK'SQUESTION
A roundup of an intellectuals' debate on blasphemous caricatures
By Babar Mirza
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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).
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
one can't become a member unsolicited and so an existing member has to
invite you before you can start mooching off.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
are two film festivals in the city, one till 23rd April and another
starting on the same day
5-day Vasakh Film Festival is showing best documentaries from all over
South Asia from 23rd to 27th April
winning films from Travelling Film South Asia (FSA) being the highlight.
screenings will be at the Dorab Patel Auditorium, HRCP, 107 Tipu Block,
New Garden Town, near Shakir Ali Museum.
Certain Liberation (Bangladesh, 2003)
by Yasmine Kabir
of the Second Best Film Award at FSA '05.
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.
Inconvenient Truth (USA)
by Davis Guggenheim.
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.
Gatha (India, 2007)
by Vani Subramanian
of the Special Jury Mention Award at FSA '07.
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
by Munizae Jahangir
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.
Journey (India/Canada, 2004)
by Ali Kazmi
of the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film at FSA '05
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
by Interactive Resource Centre
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.
Miseducation of Pakistan (Pakistan, 2005)
by Syed Ali Nasir
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.
by Mazhar Zaidi
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.
of Things Present (India, 2007)
by Chandra Siddan
of the Second Best Film Award at FSA '07
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.
Sky Below (India/Pakistan, 2006/07)
by Sara Singh
Winner of the Best Debut Film Award at FSA '07
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.
more information visit www.danka.com.pk or call the Interactive Resource
Centre (IRC) at 042-5313038 or email: [email protected]
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
The existence of prostitution is a symbol of inequitable socioeconomic structures and norms
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
ways to express yourself
Join protest demos
Write columns in newspapers
a literary circle
Sing a song
Convert your hobbies into social work
Socialise and learn to know yourself
enlist by popular vote for next week, send in your emails on top ten
ten ways to express yourself'
email at [email protected]