By Reem Wasay
21 March 2017
Pakistani representatives seem to be getting their ankle-length trousers into quite a few unseemly knots these days over unprecedented ‘slights’ against our battle-hardened culture.
Under attack (as it usually is from unseen forces and a stunted perception of the public profile), lawmakers look ready to redeem our social experiment of some 200 million very diverse and very culturally charitable people into a neat little package of pitiable purity.
Punjab’s education minister, Raza Ali Gillani, seems to think it is perfectly agreeable for him to project his questionable intellect onto millions of young women and men by proposing to make the hijab mandatory for young women in Punjab’s colleges.
To further honey trap these youngsters, he rounded off by offering a five percent grace bracket for attendance. I don’t know about you but that sounds like solicitation through suggested sanctimony. In other words, these outward patterns of piety would do well to serve worldly agendas. Hypocrisy much?
Oh, and never mind the fact that it is women who have been tasked with this duplicitous burden of phoney morality. Never mind that once again, it is a man who is gathering up the mantle of her bodily and spiritual regulation, and clogging it with sanctimonious quackery. Never mind that what he just said, he probably is not even free to practice in his home, with his own wife and daughters (keyboard warriors will have a field day with this one), much less the rest of Pakistan’s female populace.
The Punjab government was quick to leave Mr Gillani to his own, unique ‘charm offensive’ by disowning his rationale and rubbishing the claim that any such proposal was made. But the damage was done: this idea became public discourse, it became acceptable to perhaps think about the idea - whether to repel it or recognise it - and to have a conversation about it.
Let’s get one thing clear: there can be no communion on canonised constriction. There can be no debate on allegiance through aggression. There can be no talk about getting a woman to do something because a man has deemed it his higher authority to act as the patriarchal hand of God. No, there can be no conversation but that is what it has become.
News channels are having a field day, Facebook commentators are arguing about the necessity to either follow ‘the path’ or enter the 21st century and, here, we are burning our keyboards in the comments section down below. It’s become ‘a thing’ and all of a sudden it could become very real, very fast.
By lobbing together terms like ‘religion’, ‘ethics’, ‘culture’, and ‘forgetting’ that same culture, the minister did what many men do when they’re looking to gurney a galvanic kind of godliness onto the already impounded shoulders of our women - you know, the kind of thing they do when it becomes all about ‘shame’ and ‘honour’ when they kill them too.
After all, if our women don’t cover up, society as we know it will submerge into Dante’s ninth circle of hell. If they don’t control their flyaway wisps of heathen hair, all of civilisation will condense and collapse. I feel sorry for our boys who grow into young men under the fallacies of these ridiculous notions. Who actually adhere to the absurdity that is on pompous display by the likes of Mr Gillani. Time to end this conversation.
But Facebook, too, it seems, is counterfeiting our culture by forcing us to view 'objectionable' content, by converting our orgies of obedience into peepshows of profanity. Punjab’s home minister is also looking to get social media platforms disallowed instead of disavowing other more trivial things - like terrorists.
Alongside the Islamabad High Court (IHC) lies a petition that seeks to ban blasphemous content online - but there is a danger that the approach might be adopted by irresponsible actors to prosecute cases that may not fall in the realm of blasphemy.
It is fast becoming comfortable convention to seek solace in sanctimony when other more pressing issues are at hand. A revival of bomb attacks in Punjab? An unresolved word, such as the Panama leaks case? It seems that this matter is so critical in determining our national morale that even Interpol will be given a starring role in helping defeat the villain that is social media usage.
Funny how international agencies are seen as interfering and encroaching upon our sovereignty when we face real dangers like bloodied and decapitated bodies freshly squeezed by the simmering melting pot of assorted terror groups and the like.
Funny how culture is never really under attack when bombs and guns go off but always seems to be when people have an avenue for moderate opinion. And that’s what it is really about: moderate, diverging opinion. What really lies at the crux of this canting is the criticism, the demand for action and the displeasure voiced by many Pakistanis within the confines of fast choking online spaces, for that is the only space they have.
Culture, my fellow Pakistanis - we will never shun it nor disremember it but we may be able to evolve it. For ministers and religious extremists, hijabs and religious offence are where culture ceases and despotism develops.
For this motley crew of autocrats and aggressors, the culture that is the domain of every free man and woman becomes a primitive penitentiary for the practice of piety used by politicians and the clergy since time immemorial. That culture gave us wars, bombs and destruction.
Culture, real culture, gave us art, liberty and social standing. You choose. Which culture do you want to call your own?