By Noman Ansari
September 8, 2012
If you thought that of all the places to eat in Pakistan, McDonalds would be relatively safe from extreme behaviour, falsely made in the name of religion, sadly, you would be quite wrong. Unfortunately, I just found this out the hard way, and in an incident that left a worse taste in my mouth than the culinary abortions the burger joint had on offer.
Just yesterday, a little after midnight on Sunday, my wife and I, coming back from a friend’s birthday party, decided to stop at Karachi’s newest McDonald’s restaurant at Defence Phase 1 for some Diet Coke. Rather than go through the drive through, we decided to have our drinks inside, as I was a little curious having never been inside before.
After obtaining our order, we both decided to sit at the seating booth at the far end, located next to the TV.
My wife sat on her seat, and rather than sit on the parallel seat across the table from her, I am sorry to say that I made a terrible mistake.
Yes… I sat next to my wife. (Gasp!)
Not only that, but as we as we watched TV and sipped our sugar free soda, I did the unthinkable, and put my arm behind her shoulder. (Double Gasp!)
Yes, I know, I was but a fool to have decided to sit next to my wife publicly in a nation where sensibilities are so easily offended. Of course, having done so millions of times at other restaurants in Pakistan, and having grown up in Saudi Arabia, where I observed other men sitting with their wives without issue, I didn’t realise I was doing anything offensive.
But clearly, I was offending someone.
Not a few minutes had passed when a McDonald’s employee came up to us and very politely asked us to move. Initially, I thought we were blocking other patrons from viewing the television, and quietly informed the missus that we were being asked to shift because we were obstructing the TV.
Confused, she moved to the booth adjacent, and as I tried to sit in beside her, the same McDonald’s employee told me that I wasn’t allowed to sit next to her, but rather, should sit on the chair opposite to her, across the table.
“Why can’t I sit next to her?”
I asked when I finally grasped the ridiculousness of the situation.
“Sir, this is a family restaurant. Couples sitting together is against the policy of McDonalds Pakistan, as it goes against the family atmosphere of the restaurant.”
“What? But we are married (not that it is any of your business).”
“I am sorry sir, but you can’t sit side by side.”
At this point I was amused yet also saddened. Amused, because it was all very silly, and saddened because of the state of affairs this brewing incident was pointing to.
When the employee nervously told me that he was acting on orders from management, I decided to talk to the manager of the restaurant, who was sitting with his co-manager at the other end, having a McDonald’s meal.
Maybe that’s why he was in a foul mood.
Maybe he just wanted Burger King.
When I went up to them, the managers introduced themselves as Hammad and Amir. When asked for an explanation, they told me in exact words that this was a policy from upper management because couples, even married ones, sitting with each other, were a negative impact on the Islamic family atmosphere of McDonalds.
Yes, this is McDonalds Pakistan’s interpretation of ‘Islamic family atmosphere.’
The question is; who are they to judge us?
I am guessing that had I been sitting with a man, this would have been a non-issue.
From what I could size up of all three McDonalds employees involved in the situation, none of them carried the aura of extreme minded Muslims. While still very upset, having analysed the situation, I don’t entirely begrudge them.
They were only following orders.
If anyone is at fault here, it is McDonalds Pakistan.
The franchise certainly needs to consult Islamic law, which doesn’t suggest something as ridiculous as forbidding couples to sit together.
The fact is that we as a nation are becoming increasingly intolerant. These are dangerous steps we are taking, and it is the last thing I expected from such an established franchise, which should be ashamed of this stance.
I wouldn’t have expected this incident in Pakistan a decade ago, but our nation is being enveloped in the darkness of extremism very steadily. How far down this restrictive road is Pakistan going to go before the moderate Muslims of this nation stop living in fear and start standing up for their rights as free Muslims? How long must we walk on glass in order to avoid offending someone? The more we validate those who are not right, the more just will they feel.
I remember when I first came to Pakistan, while waiting in queue at the McDonalds branch at the Karachi airport, I saw a moody father viciously slap his young son a few times on the face for wanting a McDonalds toy. The incident which went on for a few minutes was disturbing to watch, but what was more disturbing was the indifference shown by the McDonalds employees, who continued to serve the man and his family quite merrily.
Later, I could only watch the boy quietly eat his meal, as huge tears rolled down his cheek, which was reddened by the beating he had taken from his father.
Clearly, physically abusing a member of your family in McDonalds is in line with ‘Islamic family atmosphere’, but sitting next to your wife, is not. I am quite sure that Islam accepts love over violence, any day. Perhaps someone should inform McDonalds Pakistan that the opposite isn’t the case.
A month ago, I blogged about a woman who complained about not being allowed to pray at a Karachi restaurant, when her minor complaint snowballed into a scary online protest, powered by those willing to threaten violence in the name of religion.
Very recently, a young Christian Pakistani girl, who is allegedly suffering from Down’s syndrome, was apparently framed in a blasphemy case designed to malign her and her minority community.
I don’t know what is happening to my country, but it is high time we had a ‘moderate Muslims’ movement in Pakistan. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again;
Continue to make your voices heard wherever you can, lest they be drowned out by the increasingly radical until it is too late.