By Afiya Shehrbano Zia
April 22, 2015
It was inevitable. Sooner or later, Junaid Jamshed’s overreaching ambition was going to bump into the true misogynist in him. Suffering from the preacher’s occupational hazard of foot-in-mouth disease, Junaid Jamshed remains trapped in a blasphemy case since last year. Usually, blasphemy accused come from the poor working class or vulnerable minorities. They are the targeted victims of zealous convertors, false accusers, revenge politicians and extortion racketeers. But, JJ is a white-collar blasphemer and so he survives to sell more Islamic State (IS) style lawn this summer, as modelled by objectified, able-bodied but headless women.
Due to his disrespectful remarks on Ayesha the Beloved, Junaid Jamshed did not just earn the ire of all his pious and ‘deeply-respectful-of-women’ mullah peers (such as Amir Liaqat, who nevertheless shares the beheaded model philosophy to peddle his own lawn line), some feminists, otherwise secular, took perverse pleasure in the irony of the gender justice behind the mob hate reaction to Junaid Jamshed’s misanthropic error in judgment.
However, there is a silver lining for this pop commercial mullah. We live in the age of a specular economy and, in the current post-Maududian Islamist politics, the combination of capitalism and Islam is a cause for celebration. Before his fateful lapse, many defended (some continue to) the pious Mr Jamshed, who so admirably spurned western, secular fame and the libidinous temptations that come with sinful music for a higher cause. He is shielded by his class and admired for his blessed wealth. His new life earned him fame amongst diaspora Pakistanis from Melbourne to Milwaukee. He was the exemplar of the holy embrace of interest free capitalist entrepreneurship (even if such wealth accumulation is still based on the logic of surplus). It was a career admired by Saudi followers, marked by fame, abstinence (of drink, if not of food), holy melody and a large bank balance.
Despite a few stumbles along the ‘true path’, Junaid Jamshed was sailing affluently towards his worldly destination, branding and copyrighting it along the way. But he was also duty-bound to teach and drag, kicking and screaming, all false Muslims onto the same path. In this way he could make enough divine deposits and invest in heavenly treasury bonds that would secure him, on maturity, the highest seat on the peaks of paradise.
As we all know, charity, honesty and minding your own business(es) will not cut it. To showcase true Islamic piety, the key is to shame all others as lesser Muslims. Just by casting others as infidels and misguided minorities, the real Muslim man stands taller and truer. But a far easier target is that ‘not man’ pollutant thing called woman. The best and most pliable symbol, as General Ziaul Haq knew well and the holy leaders of the Muslim ummah (people) depend upon, is the female Muslim. She can be a most effective visual of purity, a convenient reproductive machinery of future Muslims, but also a passive political symbol of ‘Muslimness’. This means that the Muslim man himself does not have to actually deliver any political rewards and rights in return for her role as emissary. For that, she must transcend to other worldliness where she will be permanently rewarded (maybe).
Reared under General Ziaul Haq’s watch, it was during General Musharraf’s liberal dictatorship that Junaid Jamshed’s generation turned full circle. The seeds of madrassa (seminary) politics flowered through the armed uprising of the Lal Masjid. Al-Huda beat every human rights NGO movement with sheer speed and influence, not to deliver westernised equal rights or freedom from violence and exploitation but abstract things like heavenly rewards. Such promissory had women from all classes rescinding their Pakistani identities in exchange for the Arabised hijab ones. It was also a time that ‘free media’ could peddle Islamic products and promote conservative ideas about gender relations and nationalism while encouraging murderous impunity for those who upheld liberal ideals.
The event of 9/11 did not just open up oil fields for the Bush administration; it also opened up a new market for Islamised products. The demand for Islamic apologia created a supply of moderate scholars, reinterpreted literature and fee good music and fashion for Muslims who wanted to wear their identities on their sleeves, heads and bodies. This niche market that catered to so-called Muslim ‘sensibilities’ was already nascent. It was awaiting a trigger and capitalist markets are equal opportunity offenders.
Such a fashioning of faith-based identities has created a neo-culture of conservatism that still puts the attention and burden of proof of Muslimness on the bodies of women. So when designers like Junaid Jamshed or Shahid Afridi decapitate the image of the female models who advertise their clothes or when they veil their faces in the advertisements of their branded clothing it slams home a deeper point. This being that while religio-conservative men can exploit women’s biology and consumer habits, they also have the power to completely erase women’s minds, individual identities and their physical worth and contributions in the process.
Such control is not just through exaggeration or amputation of women’s images in public visuals. It is also through the spoken advice and wisdom of the self-acclaimed, authoritative holy man, even if he is unelected and unaccountable. The bulk of such guidance is reserved for women out of fear of their permanent fitna (temptation) potential or due to Muslim men’s own insecurities. Clearly, the physician must not heal himself but cure the externalised object that he can most easily control: his woman. Junaid Jamshed’s earlier advice to Pakistani men to not allow their women to drive or Afridi’s opinion that women are better advised to become cooks rather than cricketers were simply a manifestation of the wider agenda: women should not be allowed to be individuals in any way or form unless they are serving the Muslim man’s cause and for his benefit.
The Junaid Jamsheds of Pakistan have been the brokers in the religion-conservatism partnership that shields its misogyny behind divine righteousness. Unfortunately, Mr Jamshed has too many unbearded allies in his cause. He may cite faith as his justification but capitalist logic is not going to stand in the way of casting women as mute bodies. It is no coincidence that, together, capitalist agents and conservatives are casting women and minorities into the kind of figurative symbols that feed into IS style violent politics.
Outrage is not enough; it should translate into action that recaptures the market where such ideas are sold. It should expose the beneficiaries and the exploited. For starters, those who do not buy into the dubious deals being offered must boycott not just the spiritual ideas sold by false prophets such as Junaid Jamshed but also the worldly products that he and his ‘holy capitalist’ companions sell, that is IS lawn.
Afiya Shehrbano Zia is an independent researcher and is also a member of the Women’s Action Forum