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Source: NYT

Yesterday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the political party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, held a rally in Lahore against the ruling coalition. According to the Express Tribune, “More than 100,000 supporters [some sources say 200,000+] gathered as a show of strength in what is traditionally the PML-N stronghold,” as Khan made strong remarks about an array of issues facing Pakistan, from minority & women’s rights to corruption. Below, Sahar Khan, a PhD student in politician science, relates her experience while attending the rally yesterday:

From the rooftop of Andaaz restaurant in Hera Mandi, the red light district of Lahore, one gets a full view of the Badshahi Mosque. Just beyond the minaret of the mosque, one can see the top of Minar-e-Pakistan. Although the view was spectacular, it was not the reason for my excitement. I was just about to go to my first political rally in Pakistan and I couldn’t wait!

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) was holding its first rally in Lahore in Iqbal Park where Minar-e-Pakistan was built to commemorate the 1940 Lahore Resolution, which had been the first formal call for greater Muslim autonomy in India. The symbolism was hard to miss. If this rally went “well” it could prove to be a game changer for Pakistani domestic politics. But I remained skeptical of the turnout. In a city of rallies, where Abrar ul Haq held one on October 27, and PML-N held one on October 28, why was this rally such a big deal? The best way to find out was to go there.

We left Andaaz a little after 3pm. Near Iqbal Park, the road was full of people, carrying flags of PTI, banners with catchy phrases like “Ab nahin tau kab? Hum nahin tau khaun?” (“If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”), posters of Imran Khan titled as Quaid-e-Inqilab (“Father of Revolution”), and placards of “Only Hope” and “Make Peace.” The air was charged with adrenaline. People were walking with a purpose, shouting things like “Agla prime minister khaun? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” (“Who’s the next prime minister? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” and “Zardari kuta hai!” (“Zardari is a dog!”) and of course “Pakistan Zindabad! Imran Khan Zindabad!”

At the Rally (Photo by Sahar Khan)

As soon as we reached Iqbal Park, a man selling round badges that were decorated in PTI’s red and green colors with Khan looking thoughtful as he rested his hand near his chin, almost in an Allama Iqbal-like pose. The pose made me chuckle. The badge said, “Qadm millao, Qadm barhoa, mil kar Pakistani bachoa” (“Unite and step forward, save Pakistan together”). Seeing no problem with that message, I decided to buy one and pinned it on my shirt.

The numbers were increasing fast but miraculously the crowd was orderly. Each section had three security checkpoints, where every purse and bag was checked after going through a metal detector. There were male and female police officers at each point and scattered around, enforcing security. Many of them looked shocked and asked me in Punjabi, “Where have all these people come from?” I don’t speak Punjabi so just said, “Lahore!” He laughed and said, “Lahore jag uta hai!” (“Lahore has woken up!“).

We had a good view and managed to secure some plastic chairs, which turned out to be a good idea. Hearts were pounding, slogans were being shouted, and flags were being waved. There were even automatic toy planes flying around with a PTI flag! The stage looked huge even from where I was. The backdrop was inspirational, and at its center was a large crescent from Pakistan’s flag. On one side was Jinnah and smaller versions of Allama Iqbal and Minar-e-Pakistan. On the other side was Khan. The highlight of the backdrop, however, was the message: “Tub Pakistan banaya ta, Ab Pakistan bachao gae” (“You have made Pakistan, Now you will save Pakistan”). A call for democracy indeed!

The rally finally started at 4pm. As PTI members came up one by one to address the burgeoning crowd, I looked around. There was a never ending sea of people behind me. Some people sat on plastic chairs while others stood on them to get a better view. Some sat on the grass while others simply stood. There were spontaneous eruptions of patriotic slogans or simply “Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” The crowd was becoming restless. They wanted to see their leader. And he finally arrived! The crowd went crazy: the sky was filled more flags and the shouts became louder. Time flew by as PTI members came and spoke. The main announcer kept the crowd alive with his booming voice and updates on the size of the crowd—“ab aik lakh log hain!” and “ab dair lakh log hain!” and “ab 2 lakh sey zaida log hain!” (“there are now 1 lakh people” and “there are now 1.5 lakh people” and “now there are more than 2 lakh people”). The best update, however, was “ab cable bund kar diya gaya hai!” (“Cable has been shut down!”). The crowd responded by “Hakumat dar gee! Zardari kutta dar gaya!” (“The government is scared! Zardari the dog is scared!”).

A mixture of excitement and restlessness made the crowd react louder to each speech. When we thought that the time would never come, Khan rose and addressed the crowd. The adoring crowd roared, and I was one of them. We stood on our chairs and clapped till our hands were raw and our throats were sore. We waved those flags till our arms became numb. And we absorbed every word that Khan sahib said. I think I just witnessed the making of a national leader and I was awestruck.

I can go on and criticize and analyze his speech, but this blog post is more about the fact that over 200,000 people gathered in Iqbal Park on a Sunday afternoon to show their frustration with the current administration. This kind of jalsa, the enthusiasm, the excitement, the sheer numbers have not been seen in a long time. This is not because of a lack of political ambitions; there is room for numerous political parties in the Pakistani political plain. Unfortunately, very few parties seem to have that special something about them—and PTI just proved that it is not one of them.

When I asked Omar Cheema, the Chief Information Officer of PTI, why the rally was so successful he said, “The youth of Pakistan has decided to take the future in their hands.” The youth may be PTI’s not-so-secret ingredient for success but it is yet to be seen whether or not PTI can translate this rally’s outcome into an electoral success. I look forward to the show as much as everyone else.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Via mydiaryblogsite.blogpost.com

Happy Independence Day, Pakistan! 64 years after this country was born, and we face numerous obstacles & challenges (understatement of the year?). And yet, for those of us who continue to work tirelessly for the betterment of Pakistan, hope has waned but it is not lost. At least, anyway, for me. Below, Aamer Arshad, who works in energy finance in the U.S. but was born-and-raised in Karachi, shares his thoughts on this day:

This past Sunday marked 64 years since the creation of Pakistan through the vision and dedication of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Having lived in America for over a decade now and visiting Pakistan regularly, I find myself drawing parallels between my two nations. I was born and raised in Pakistan, but I married and settled in America. Living in relative calm here in my new nation, I ache for those left behind in the panic-stricken being that is life in Pakistan. Reading the news of both countries each morning, I find both disheartening. But the stark parallel is ‘to what extreme?’

A word that has become mantra in Pakistan is “desensitized”. Apparently, we are no longer sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. I am told we do not feel any remorse when we see carnage ripping through our cities. They say we are accustomed to the blood that spatters our paths. Some blame the media for lambasting us with horrific scenes of butchery. Others say we are ravenous for the macabre. A guilty pleasure?

I disagree. I have spent time with Pakistanis from all walks of life. There are the haves and the have-nots, those that have-way-too-much, and those who have-nothing-at-all. These people walk very different paths and their paths drift further by the day. They are on opposite sides of the ideological divide that rips Jinnah’s Pakistan apart. But they have in common their propensity to feel. We need to show that we feel. We need outrage to engulf us every time we see the innocent massacred. We need our voices to become the wrath against this sadistic pastime. If, in fact, we are desensitized to everything that is transpiring around us, we need to change this now.

In America, seldom do we see grisly images on T.V. without a disclaimer advising viewer discretion. It is no surprise that Americans seem to be deeply affected by tragedy or misfortune. Memorials abound of calamity that happened eons ago. Vigils take place on the anniversary of each life lost. Moments of silence occur often enough to make it a quiet day. It is this remembrance of what is wrong that gives Americans the will to make it right. We need the same in Pakistan.

It is this rejection of injustice that will be our shield. It is the memory of bloodshed- that will be our sword. And it is the intolerance of brutality that will be our mandate to act against the senseless butchery that plagues our nation. We need to keep ourselves and our youth from being inundated with the godless mess that flashes across our screens every day. Those who say this is how we face reality – tell them that they are desensitizing themselves and their future generations. Pakistanis to come should be outraged by the mere mention of injustice; our memories should serve as their barrier against wrong; and they should be riled by abuse, as their American cousins will be.

I hear that Pakistan will never change. The ordinary wisdom is that our leaders will remain of the same cadre and demographic for ever. People say a common man can never be at the helm of Pakistan. This may be true today. But one of our strengths as Pakistanis is fast becoming our weakness; our capacity to endure calamity and persevere; our nonchalance towards the injustice that we face. We must not turn the other cheek. We must learn to feel cheated, robbed and raped. We must stand against the violation of our human and civic rights. And we must bring about change.

Just over 70 years after American Independence, this nation fought a bloody civil war that changed its face forever. Pakistan is still a very young nation. Let us change our posture before we instigate a war that will bring about our ruin. There are very few people who can single-handedly change the course of a nation. Let us focus our efforts to the future and give rise to a generation that will remember our struggles and never bow in the face of oppression.

Yom-e-Istaqlal Mubarak!

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Since the Raymond Davis debacle and the most recent Osama bin Laden raid & kill, much has been written about the future of U.S. and Pakistan relations. Some see the road ahead as rosy, likely to be steered back on course. Some see it as doomed to fail, unlikely to ever be resuscitated. Below Bilal Baloch and Maria Hasan, both graduate students at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, weigh in on the current status quo:

The past decade has witnessed a strong alliance between the US and Pakistan. A malfunction of some proportion, however, has led to some calling for a complete overhaul of US-Pakistan relations. Indeed, the relationship has been stretched from all angles, leaving a quagmire so complex that an understanding, let alone a policy prescription, seems a task of gargantuan order. Nonetheless, a brush of pragmatism reveals that at the heart of the cries, lays one, over-riding question: how important is Pakistan to US interest in the region? The answer remains in the positive.

Since Osama bin Laden’s death, the proverbial finger has been pointed firmly at Pakistan: mostly with suspicion. To Pakistan’s ill-fortune, rogue elements within its government apparatus subversively attack from within, acting as a separate state. Theirs is a logic leading them to believe that a shelter to bin Laden would spruce up an arsenal to bargain with the US if Washington ever decided to clip their wings.

If this is indeed what unfolded, then someone in Pakistan must be made to suffer the consequences and undergo an intensive investigation at the very least. Yet, even if it were the case that an official hand was at play in the bin Laden saga, it is most likely that a small portion of, say, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency may be complicit rather than the entire agency itself. This begs the stark question: Can the intelligence community of a country have a command structure where some of its factions act without the guidance of its other parts? Absolutely. Lest we forget, Pakistan has oftentimes functioned as a praetorian state, where the three pillars of governance — the Army, ISI, and civilian government — have rarely acted in harmony. And the US has seldom shied away from playing off these tensions.

To date, the US has not made much noise about the prospect of the ISI sheltering some of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Several reasons are mooted for the intelligence establishment to pursue such a move, but the critical matter is that the US is well aware of the cover. In turn, the US has had Pakistan ramp up the pressure on any globally, and specifically American, targeted plots. This has been the pattern of the two nations’ relationship thus far. Though it may strike as absurd, balancing the unethical and paranoid wishes of the ISI with broader objectives to crack down on  Al Qaeda has been billed as the most pragmatic approach available to the US in a country riddled with conflicting elements.

Stability in Pakistan is critical to US national interest in the region at large, both politically and geostrategically. Pakistan will soon become the fourth largest population in the world, with a youth of some 100 million, and a grave lack of jobs, factored into the existing mess of an energy crisis and rising food prices. At this time, it is critical that the perception of the US is not skewed in the eyes of a frustrated, disenfranchised populace. Long-term US national interest may lay in ensuring that rather than winning “hearts and minds,” Pakistan is turned into an ally through trade, development, and diplomacy. This would also serve to counter militant extremism too. And signs of cooperation are there.

Since September 11, 2001, Pakistan has proved a worthy supporting act. Some may suggest that Pakistan didn’t even have a choice in the matter, being faced with extinction or support for the so-called “War on Terror.” US assets have been ever-present in Pakistan, officially or otherwise, since the Afghan war against the Soviets: the very war that gave birth to bin Laden. The CIA has been conducting its drone program in Pakistan since 2004; and there has been an official policy of intelligence sharing between the two countries. Though Leon Panetta declares that the Pakistanis had “no idea about Operation Neptune Spear” itself, it would be implausible to think that the effect of capturing bin Laden has followed a causation devoid of any Pakistani assistance. After all, president Obama was quick to thank Pakistan for its help in the battle to capture bin Laden. And, most recently, allegations have surfaced that an agreement was struck in 2001, where Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, and afterwards, Pakistan would act to protest the incursion. In any case, over the past decade, it is safe to assert that Pakistan has more than produced the bang for the American buck.

Still, the unconventional politics in Pakistan strains the relationship with the US massively. At this time of delicate diplomacy, how can the US react?

Just as the 19th century European powers employed a balance of power system to avoid catastrophe, the US must ensure that it balances the various factions in Pakistan from turning against the Americans, or one another. Yes, investigations and checks must ensue after bin Laden’s capture, but a break up of ties will only be detrimental. Indeed, it is better to have these agencies onside, then not, and failure may lead Pakistan to implode: at least politically. But a carefully constructed, and executed, realpolitik approach may inspire the Pakistani civilian government to act in coalition with the other agencies, while ensuring that oversight at least begins to emerge over the rogue factions. And the signs have begun to surface, as Pakistan has agreed to allow the US to question the three wives of Osama bin Laden who were with him in the compound: a sure stamp of cooperation amid tensions following the raid. Another positive sign lay in the fact that the State Department has declared that it is growing in confidence about
broader information sharing between the two countries. Overall, the US must remain consistent in its support.

An alliance that is shrouded in mystery incites resentment, not trust, in the populations of both the US and Pakistan. It is essential that Americans are reassured that the Pakistani state is doing everything in its power to prevent international terrorism. Yet, if the real war indeed lies in Pakistan, it remains equally important for the US to strengthen its alliance with that country. Acknowledging that Pakistani cooperation has been imperfect, but sufficient, is the first step to stabilizing the current threat to the relationship.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Via the Huffington Post

Just two weeks ago, Pakistan’s Supreme Court delivered a stunning sentence – acquitting five of the six men who had gang raped Mukhtar Mai, a woman brave enough to not only tell her story, but give voice to other voiceless and abused victims of sexual violence. Despite the news cycle unanimously shifting its attention to the death of Osama bin Laden, the recent developments surrounding the Mukhtar Mai case are still newsworthy, and deserve continued attention. Below, Hamza Khan, a political consultant based in Washington, D.C. who tweets @TheModernRumi, weighs in with his opinion on the decision:

On April 22, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued a decision acquitting five convicted gang-rapists in the Mukhtar Mai case, citing “a lack of evidence.”

The decision was a horrific ending to a courageous woman’s nine year struggle for dignity and justice in a country that appears to value neither.

In the face of overwhelming physical evidence, hundreds of witnesses, and even a signed confession, a bench of three men acquitted without merit five out of six other men convicted of the gang rape of a woman who has since been subject to harassment, illegal detainment, and psychological torture in her decade long struggle for justice.

My mother is a Pakistani, and I was in Pakistan visiting family when Mukhtar Mai’s case broke in the news. Today, I write as her son to share my vitriolic outrage, and to say that this case is personal for me. It’s personal for sons who have mothers, and all brothers who have sisters. The story of Mukhtaran Mai is the story of all women–and men–who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence.

Mai’s ordeal began in 2002 when a ‘panchayat‘ [assembly] in her native village of Meerwala decided to punish her 12 year old brother for either disrespecting or having an affair with a female member of the Jatoi clan–the allegations have not always been clear.

The subsequent ruling by this alternative judicial forum was two-fold: Mukhtaran Mai’s brother would be anally raped (sodomized), and she would be gang-raped by six men in front of onlookers and made to parade naked in the streets.

What’s curious to mention here is the blatant disregard for proving the allegations against Mukhratan Mai’s brother to be  true. The panchayat made no attempts to verify the presented evidence, and instead proceeded on hearsay– ironically similar to how the Supreme Court of Pakistan would later rule that its lower courts convicted the panchayat‘s members without hard evidence.

Moreover, while the conviction of Mukhtaran Mai’s brother by tribal and local elders had no solid evidence beyond hearsay, there were over 50 witnesses to the gang-rape itself, and over 100 witnesses stood by as a naked, humiliated Mukhtaran Mai emerged from the hovel where she was raped. This recent Supreme Court decision is therefore tainted by male privilege and petty revenge.

These ills are rooted in something much more repugnant than cultural tradition. Pakistan is a country where less than five percent of all cases of violence against women end in conviction.

Mukhtar Mai is just the latest victim of a vicious political cycle dominated by boys with toys whose indifference towards women puts to shame even the misogyny on display by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s Amazonian Guard or Italian premier Sylvio Beresculoni’s incessant affairs with teenagers.

Last year, reports show a double digit increase in gang-rapes across the country, and one-third of all victims in Pakistan were raped by multiple persons (i.e., gang raped). More than half the country’s rapes were minors,  and 43% of rape victims last year were under the age of 16. Every two hours there is a rape in Pakistan. Every eight, that rape is a gang-rape. We are witnessing in real-time the moral decay of an entire nation, and no one seems to know just what to do to stop it.

Mukhtaran Mai has announced her decision to appeal the apex court’s verdict for review. Whatever the outcome, she now lives only a few miles away from the tribal elders who took her as property and object, not flesh and bone like their own mothers. It is only until Pakistanis confront the deep enmity their society is developing for their mothers and sisters and wives that the country will truly begin to heal from the disasters it has faced in succession over the past few years.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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This past Monday, CHUP posted a contribution by Nabiha Meher Sheikh who argued why she was for the recent burqa ban in France. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, argues why she is against the ban:

On April 11, 2011, France became the first European country to ban the burqa. If a woman in France is found wearing a burqa or covering her face, she will be fined 150 euros or will have to take special citizenship classes (“How To Be French For Dummies”?). There are certain challenges to enforcing the ban though: it is not clear if women found in violation will be jailed or not. Furthermore, people found to be forcing women to wear a burqa will be fined 30,000 euros and perhaps twice as much if the girl is a minor. All in all only about 2000 women will be affected— a pretty small population. So why are we all talking about it?

Personally, the ban made me dwell on was the concept of citizenship itself. According to Christian Joppke in his book Citizenship and Immigration, mass migration has caused tensions between universal human rights and the concept of citizenship since the end of World War II. According Article 15 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” Yet, states have a right to decline someone nationality if they wish, which sounds reasonable enough when considering that citizenship can be exclusivist and actually quite undemocratic because one is born into citizenship (unless you’re an Arab Bedouin but I digress).

In line with that logic, a state has an obligation to protect its citizens from external and internal threats. In France’s case then, does the state have the right to ban a certain group from dressing as it pleases in the name of protecting its national identity and security? Isn’t this ban a violation of the liberal norms of free speech and expression? The answers to both of these are complex but it should be made clear that there is a fine line between protection and authoritarianism, and France has just stepped to the latter.

France is a unique country and its secularism is dominated by laïcité, a concept from the Enlightenment that aims to force religion out of politics. By banning the burqa, however, France has brought it into politics. I think the ban will actually make France more insecure for two reasons. First, it seems that France is not just intolerant of its religious minority population but is in fact intolerant of all religion. This is problematic because religion is a dominant force in modern politics, just as secularism is. Trying to make one of these disappear is somewhat impossible. Second, this will create bigger challenges for France with respect to immigration. Most immigrants feel isolated, alienated, and hence disloyal. A ban like this will only deepen these feelings, which will have negative consequences in the long run.

The burqa has issues of its own. First, it is not a requirement in Islam. The only requirement is for women to dress modestly, which can be interpreted in numerous ways. Second, the burqa hides one’s identity, which is obviously a security issue. Third, it is an apparent health risk and many women wearing the veil have been diagnosed with Vitamin D deficiencies, (seriously). Fourth, it is certainly used as a tool to suppress women. However, on the state level, Saudi Arabia is the ONLY country that REQUIRES its women to wear it. By banning the veil, France has become the national counterpart to the kingdom, and I am not sure that was a position France wanted to be in.

This ban disappointed me in the same way the minaret ban in Switzerland did. No doubt, numerous Muslim countries are intolerant and openly prejudice against their ethnic and/or religious minorities, prohibiting Hindu temples and Bohri and Ahmadi mosques from being built. Instead of exhibiting tolerance, Switzerland acted just like these countries by banning the minaret in the name of secularism. And now France has done the same. Banning is also not historically the best solution.

I am not brainwashed nor uninformed nor uneducated. I am, however, a critical observer and feel that laws like these do not solve anything but create even more problems.

 The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Source: Illume Mag

Beginning on April 11, France began enforcing the controversial burqa ban, fining and arresting women who fail to comply and continue to wear the burqa or the niqab – the full face veil. The country is now the first European Union nation to enforce the ban, and the law as well as the corresponding debate have ignited supporters and critics on either side. Below, Nabiha Meher Sheikh, a freelance writer based in Lahore, explains why she supports the ban:

I support the burqa ban. There, I said it. As someone from a Muslim family that banned any sex segregation or dress code four generations ago, this ban is a positive development. Allow me to use my own family’s example to explain why.

My grandmother belonged to an ancient Muslim family, known as the Mian family of Bhagbanpura, who claim they arrived here in the 8th century. They were also known as the Mad Mians due to their eccentricity and the fact that the birth of a baby girl was at times celebrated with more gusto than a boy. The family has been called “matriarchal” because of the overwhelming amount of strong women who cannot be told what to do. It is shocking for those who have never seen a family where women are not secondary to the men, where even inheritance is divided equally and not according to patriarchal norms.

According to sources, the Mians settled in Lahore over a thousand years ago and until today, are all buried in an ancient graveyard behind the Shalimar gardens in Bhagbanpura. I’ve always admired them because they have never been afraid to evolve and adapt. Moreover, unlike relatively recent converts, the Mians never felt the need to “prove” how Muslim they were. They were, and still are, safe and secure in their identity.

However, this wasn’t always the case. The Mians, like most Punjabi families, were once deeply patriarchal. The women were kept in the home, married off very young and were expected to be breeding machines for the clan. They were silent, hidden away, and voiceless. In contrast, the Mian women today aren’t faced with the same pressures of marriage and children. We are educated, empowered, and highly independent. The men in the family do not believe they have the right to control us or tell us what to do.

All this changed because of one simple broken tradition: banning the veil. In my opinion, the veil is a symbol of patriarchy, of male dominance and is based on the principle that women’s God given bodies are not meant to be seen for they will lead to chaos. The presence of women in the public sphere threatens patriarchal symbols and patriarchal norms. The easiest way to oppress us is to lock us away or make us invisible under burqas if we dare invade that space.

Begum Iffat Ara, Nabihas Dadi (paternal grandmother)

My grandmother had as many rights as the men in her family. In the 1940s, she married a man she chose, one who treated her as his equal and not his subordinate. She was also more educated than the vast majority of women in India at the time. She was fierce, strong and independent, riding horses in breeches, sword in hand. She had the freedom to do things that arguably many in burqa do not. They do not get to feel the wind in their hair. They are faceless objects of patriarchy’s triumph over women.

The burqa, in my opinion, is indoctrination and not a choice. Someone who is brainwashed to believe that it is a choice will always maintain that it is. I say this because it’s not an Islamic requirement. As a Muslim feminist, I believe that in order to get ahead, we have to constantly reinterpret for ourselves. The re-emergence of the burqa should be condemned in the loudest possible terms. We should not let anyone take us back to where we become objects to be concealed instead of active citizens. While I know my views may be controversial, I believe that encouraging the burqa drags us back into the past.

France is a secular democracy. The people have spoken, Islamophobic or not, and their message is loud and clear. It is not the “we don’t like your kind” message propagated by those with a persecution complex, but a plea to assimilate and become part of French culture instead of living in isolated bubbles. The world is tired of our persecution complex and I don’t blame them. I have to go through demeaning visa processes in order to prove my innocence thanks to these privileged Muslims, citizens of the first world, who can travel where they please.

Am I saying that Islamophobia doesn’t exist? Of course not. But I can also guarantee that in France, if you act like someone who is receptive to their culture, you will be treated quite well by the vast majority of the population. But if you choose to walk around in a tent, which even to me represents oppression, then you will in effect further perpetuate Islamophobia.

What is the burqa but a symbol of indoctrination? Islamic history is full of strong women who defied the patriarchal norms, but sadly, all this information has been suppressed & hidden from history. By examining Muslims herstory over history, we can clearly see that veiling isn’t an essential practise; it is a choice.

So what is my problem with choice then? I realize it is anti-feminist to judge a woman based on her dress. However, I echo commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown when she said, “Why should society be tolerant of a mark that women are evil temptresses or packages whose sexuality has to be controlled?… There is self-segregation going on and this garment is a symbol of that.” I know I will be judged as “illiberal” but the woman who dons a burqa also looks down on the woman who is “immorally” dressed. She judges me for living in “male” clothes. She thinks, and sometimes says, that I’m destined for hell. Pray tell me why I should respect such a woman? Pray tell me why I should be tolerant of the intolerant?

 The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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AP: A Nation Burning.

Late last year, Aasia Bibi became the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The events that have unfolded since then – the tragic assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the escalated street protests – highlight not only how sensitive this issue has become, but also how polarized. Many people, particularly minorities, have been persecuted under these laws, and while it would now be unproductive to get rid of the law completely, a proper dialogue and potential reform must occur. Below, Sahar Khan, a doctoral student in political science at University of California-Irvine, delves into a discussion on the law and how it’s been misused over the years:

According to the 2010 Freedom House Policing Belief on Pakistan, 695 people have been charged with blasphemy from 1986 till April 2006, while Dawn reported that 964 people have been charged with blasphemy out of the 5000 cases that have been registered from 1984 to 2004. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, that documents blasphemy cases, reports that majority of the cases involve Muslims, followed by Ahmadis. Yet, according to legal scholars, from 1960–2007, 41 cases have fallen under Section 295-C. Out of these, the religious profile was as follows: Ahmadis: 15; Christians: 5; Muslims: 20. This indicates that a little less than 50 percent of the cases involved Muslim violators of the law but when considering the minute size of the Ahmadi and Christian communities, the 15 and 5 cases represent a huge proportion.

Religious minorities have called on the judiciary to protect their constitutional rights—rights that they have been stripped off—but have mostly failed. In 1985, in Mujibur Rahman v. Government of Pakistan, the Federal Shariat Court upheld the constitutionality and validity of Ordinance XX [barring Ahmadis from associating themselves with Islam] and stated that the Parliament had acted wholly within its authority when declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan made a similar decision in Zaheeruddin v. State, and stated that restricting the religious practices of Ahmadis was constitutional for two reasons: 1) by declaring themselves as Muslims and simultaneously not believing Mohammad to be the last prophet essentially means they are committing fraud and are misrepresenting themselves while aggravating the majority Sunni population, and 2) by publically using Islamic epithets as non-Muslims, they would potentially be violating company and trademark laws, and so they should try to “coin their own epithets.” By doing so, the Supreme Court created a legal parallel between trade and religion despite obvious differences between the two. The decision was not only self-serving and dishonest but showed the judiciary surrendering before the ascendant forces of religious reaction and abdicating judicial protection of religious minorities.

In addition to judicial reluctance to overturn the laws, they suffer from four major design flaws. First, they are designed to only protect Islam and no other religion, which is clearly discriminatory. There have been calls to increase the scope of Section 295-C to include other prophets but theoretically it would only protect Abrahamic religions, and not others like Buddhism or Hinduism. Realistically, it is more likely to increase the potential for further persecution of minorities. Second, the requirement of a deliberate or malicious intent is missing from Section 295-C and except for a few exceptions in which the courts say that intention is absent and have granted bail, they mostly remain silent, which basically results in the laws being interpreted like strict liability offenses. Also, the lack of specificity of Section 295-C, and the explicit targeting of Ahmadis in Section 298-C makes their scope and applicability virtually limitless. Third, there are no exceptions for any person who is charged with blasphemy. Hence, the mentally ill and imbalanced can be charged and jailed for years.

In 1996, Zaibunnisa, a woman declared mentally ill, was charged and jailed for 14 years after being wrongly charged with blasphemy. Cases like these highlight the abuse that follows from a lack of intent requirement but also the insensitivity of the courts—especially the lower courts that deal with these cases more—regarding sick individuals. And finally, even though Section 295-C calls for punishment by death, hard evidence is not required to successfully indict someone. This is mainly due to the fact that lawyers and judges—and on occasion even their families— who demand hard evidence are often harassed, threatened, and even killed.

The laws also violate numerous international conventions. First, they are in conflict with Articles 7 (on equality before the law and protection against discrimination), 18 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), and 19 (freedom of expression) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This is sad and ironic, considering Pakistan was a staunch advocate of UDHR during its early years and is a signatory. Second, even though Pakistan is not a signatory, it is important to note that the laws violate Articles 18, 19, 20, and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because Pakistani jurists consider the ICCPR as an affirmed international norm that Pakistan should follow and have used it in judicial opinions. Third, they violate Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 of the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. Fourth, they violate Articles 2 and 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. And finally, the death penalty for blasphemy violates the first clause of the UN Economic and Social Council that has provided safeguards for the rights of those facing capital punishment and states that: “capital punishment may be imposed only for the most serious crimes, it being understood that their scope should not go beyond intentional crimes, with lethal or other extremely grave consequences.” Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries to retain it along with China, Iran, and the United States.

Judicial reform is not only important but necessary. The laws are usually misused at the lower court level because the local judges fear reprisal. While some decisions have gotten overturned at the appeals level, majority of the cases do not get reported, and of those that do, very few actually make it to the appeals stage. Furthermore, even if they do and the accused are acquitted, religious mobs drive them out of their homes and/or villages and even on occasion the country itself. As more are charged under the blasphemy laws, the clearer it becomes that the judiciary has actually endorsed these laws and increased their legitimacy. Parliament also needs to make amends and reform or eliminate the laws. Strong and vocal voices of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti unfortunately have been silenced. But instead of being afraid, legislators should use their assassinations as a calling for reform that cannot wait any longer. Sherry Rahman is such a voice—others should and must join her in her quest to reform or even eliminate the laws. Reforming or eliminating discriminatory laws will not magically reduce the violence within Pakistan but it will eliminate a tool that has been used too often to target minorities.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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