Monday, March 5, 2012

‘Saving Face’ is Pakistan’s saving grace —Yasser Latif Hamdani

DAILY TIMES  05.03.2012

COMMENT: 'Saving Face' is Pakistan's saving grace —Yasser Latif Hamdani

When Dr. Salam came up with his breakthrough in theoretical physics regarding the electro-weak model, our geniuses claimed that Salam got the Nobel Prize only because he was an Ahmedi. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's Oscar triumph is one thing every Pakistani can and should be unhesitatingly proud of 

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's Oscar has predictably upset the ultra-nationalists and the self-proclaimed patriots of Pakistan. Their objections are absurd, but then this is what one has come to expect from them. Some of them took umbrage on the choice of subject. One Pakistani-American woman, smelling an obvious imperialist conspiracy, wondered why Chinoy did not make a documentary about the Pakistani women fighter pilots instead of acid burn victims, who according to her constitute a minuscule number in Pakistan. When asked how many female fighter pilots PAF had — a number clearly far more minuscule than acid burn victims -- the young lady had no answer. Another, a columnist in a reputed English daily, claimed that Chinoy chooses topics that would get her funding from the Americans. It seems that unless Hollywood gives out an Oscar to Mumtaz Qadri, the naysayers would not be appeased. On that note, I am surprised no writ petition has been filed in our High Courts calling for Oscars to be declared ultra vires of the constitution and Islamic common law. We must be thankful for small mercies. 
Let us step back for a second and think about this. A dispassionate analysis of the current situation in Pakistan will reveal that the reality on the ground is that we live in a terribly violent and bigoted dystopia, which is chaotic, dog-eat-dog, and cannibalistic. In these circumstances the clearest duty of any patriot is to highlight our shortcomings and to strengthen those trying to remedy the terrible afflictions in our motherland. Chinoy did precisely that and for this one ought to be grateful instead of trying so hard to find a foreign motivation and a foreign link. Then again that too is a national pastime. When Dr. Salam came up with his breakthrough in theoretical physics regarding the electro-weak model, our geniuses claimed that Salam got the Nobel Prize only because he was an Ahmedi. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's Oscar triumph is one thing every Pakistani can and should be unhesitatingly proud of. The story she has told is a story of human strength and resilience against all odds. It is a story about Pakistanis fighting the darkest most recesses of our society's ghettoes. It is also about a state that has abdicated all responsibility for the welfare of its people and where individual effort still manages to save the day. It is therefore a remarkable achievement for a country that is otherwise busy committing national suicide every day. 
Truth be told, Pakistan's marginalised communities, especially religious minorities and women, deserve all the help they can get. While our politicians and military men busy themselves fighting great games over resources and the potential of our western frontier, the predicament of Pakistan's religious minorities and women is one that gets neglected. Countless Hindu women have been abducted in the name of religion and forcibly converted to Islam in this great Islamic Republic of ours. Lest we forget, Aasia Bibi remains behind bars for being born in the wrong religion in God's own land. 
Our youth is rudderless and directionless. Last week a group of 10 or 15 young boys dressed in the latest Bollywood fashions arrived at the Sessions Court in Lahore, carrying Pakistani flags and banners, with 'No to Secularism' on them. Apparently, the great hakeem Zaid Hamid was on trial for defamation and he took the opportunity to expose the many conspiracies against Islam and the land of the pure. As if secularism threatened to take over Pakistan in the next few days and Zaid Zaman Hamid was the last man standing against it. The reality, of course, is that if anything is going to save Pakistan, it is a commitment to pluralism and secularism. We do not need visions of a 1,000 years' war and other such millennial fantasies. What Pakistan needs is a peaceful democratic continuity and a reversal of militarisation and the national security state that now threatens the very country it was supposed to protect and 'secure'. 
In the circumstances, let us also count our blessings, however few these may seem, but these are substantial. It seems that in a very long time, a civilian government will finally complete its constitutional tenure. During the past four years, Pakistani federalism has strengthened greatly and in the coming years as new provinces are created and a new compact is worked out, it will get even stronger. As Chinoy's allegedly anti-Pakistan film showed, Pakistani legislators are now awake to the issues of violence against women and are actively working to counter it. Similarly, the three constitutional amendments that have been passed have helped strengthen fundamental rights and freedoms in the country. Today, fair trial, due process, right to information and right to education are duly protected fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. The word "freely" was restored to the Objectives Resolution vis-à-vis minorities' freedom of religion and culture. All in all — despite the propaganda and continuous struggle -- the present government has taken several progressive steps and it is hoped that now since it has a majority in the Senate, it will continue to forward a liberal pro-women, pro-minorities agenda. Of course, all is not well — Salmaan Taseer's blood calls out for retribution — not just against Mumtaz Qadri but against this god-forsaken system that marginalises and isolates people on the basis of their personal views and religious beliefs. 
As Pakistan fights its battle for survival, we can count on people like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy to be in the front rank with their camera and their pens, fighting a good fight. Soon after her Oscar win she tweeted: "Jinnah would have been proud." Yes he would have been, but he would want you to keep doing what you do even more vociferously, doggedly and determinedly. This is the only motherland we have and we have to protect it from insanity, idiocy and stupidity. This is a battle all of us have to fight. 

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @therealylh

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