Archive for June, 2011

The White Standard of Beauty

Say it Ain't So, Shahrukh.

I don’t know about you, but this commercial for Fair & Lovely, a skin “lightening” (*cough* whitening *cough* Michael Jackson) cream made me gag:

Essentially, the girl’s obstacle to attaining her dream job was…wait for it…her darker skin. And what got her the dream job? Wait, wait, I know! It was her Fair & Lovely skin cream!

Oh dear God.

I came across this video (made for the Middle Eastern market) after watching an interview a friend and fellow blogger Anushay Hossain did with Canadian channel CBC last week. In a segment entitled, “Bollywood in Toronto,” they discussed the skin-lightening issue and how the Bollywood culture perpetuates a “white” or Caucasian standard of beauty. According to Anushay, the demand for these creams has actually increased in the last few years, up 18% in 2009 and 25% last year. The Loreal country manager for India, she noted, also has said that 60-65% of Indian women use these creams on daily basis.

We’ve talked about this issue before on CHUP, when contributor Maria Saadat wrote,

We belong to an age where dark beauties like Rani Mukherjee and Bipasha Basu sizzle on screen, and fake tanner is sold by the millions in the U.S. so that lighter-skinned ladies can achieve the bronzed glow most of us Pakistanis are born with. The whole world is trying to go darker, yet our society is still hung up on what products or methods to use to become just a few shades paler. Who do we blame for this? Should we condemn advertisers hawking skin-lightening products to the working classes with the promise that success will come with fair skin? Should we point fingers at our great grandparents who passed their own prejudices down to the younger generations?

In her interview, Anushay called this type of behavior and adherence to such standards a “colonial hangover.” But why do these remnants remain, these pervasive inferiority complexes and shards of self-hatred? Is it a function of our colonial past, or can it be more simply traced to our more transnational present – where the beauty standard is arbitrarily decided for us, then packaged and shipped across cultures and boundaries? The fact that skin color has deeper societal roots, linked to class and caste, further reflects the complexity of this issue.

This is not just a South Asian problem.

At a beauty salon not too long ago, a frenzy occurred when a Vietnamese woman walked in. As the crowd around the woman gathered in excitement, another Vietnamese manicurist turned to me and whispered conspiratorially, “Ah. Yeah. She just got back from Vietnam. She got her eyes done. And she got dimples.” The Financial Times noted in an article last year, “Across Asia there are cultural traditions – from the chalking of geishas’ faces in Japan, to the effects of Spanish colonisation in the Philippines where dark and light skin continues to be polarized on the social scale – that reflect and reinforce the idea that the fairer the skin, the better.”

My African American friend and I recently had a related discussion about similar standards of beauty in the African American community, and how it has influenced women’s perceptions of their hair texture and skin color. In The Bluest Eye, author Toni Morrison commented on how society inflicts on its members “an inappropriate standard of beauty and worth, a standard that mandates that to be loved one must meet the absolute ‘white’ standard of blond hair and blue eyes.” Despite efforts like Black is Beautiful, a 1960s movement to address self-hatred, and Brown is Beautiful, a campaign to embrace more Native American-Mestizo features, communities all continue to strive for a standard that is manufactured and forced.

Beauty, even for “white” people, (who, let’s face it, also are trying to fit the mold), is often depicted as unattainable.

In South Asia, the supply for lightening creams continues because demand persists, even for men’s products. The men’s version of Fair & Lovely – Fair & Handsome – made $13 million in sales in 2008. See this ad below (the tagline: Women are attracted to fair and handsome men. So be one of them. Gag.)

Bollywood’s Shahrukh Khan is the brand ambassador to Fair & Handsome. Although this endorsement earned Khan criticism, it does point to the notion that Bollywood and local celebrities can play a role in reframing the beauty standard, and challenging the current demand. But reframing also means diversifying. There should never be one standard of beauty, for any culture or race. Period. But because that is way easier said than done, and nothing can be changed overnight, I’ll instead allow for further discussion on this topic. Converse away.

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On Tuesday, news agencies reported that authorities detained a Pakistani Army officer, Brigadier General Ali Khan, on suspicion of links to banned militant outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). According to the New York Times,

General Khan was serving at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, outside the capital, Islamabad. He was picked up for questioning by the Special Investigative Branch of the Pakistan Army on May 6, but the announcement of the arrest was made Tuesday after an army spokesman confirmed that he had been detained to the BBC Urdu Web site.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters, “We have a zero tolerance policy towards people indulging in such activities.”

Zero tolerance? Selective tolerance? Tomato To-mah-to? Hmm.

The Express Tribune yesterday noted it was unclear whether the arrest was part of a larger “cleansing process” of the military. However, on Wednesday, the military announced that it had begun investigating other officers with links to HuT, saying they had questioned four majors with links to the case.

But just who is HuT, aside from a pretty convenient, ridiculously good-looking acronym?

HuT, or Hizb ut-Tahrir, meaning Party of Liberation, is a radical Islamist group that was established in 1953 and “wants to revive the Islamic caliphate and unify Muslim countries under Islamic laws.”  According to GlobalSecurity.org,

Hizb ut-Tahrir now has its main base in Western Europe, but it has large followings in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as in China’s traditionally Muslim Xinjiang Province. Most of its members are believed to be ethnic Uzbeks. Its expansion into Central Asia coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. By one estimate there are more than 10,000 followers in Central Asia. Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami has been active in Central Asia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The group was banned in Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf‘s regime, but continues to operate relatively freely in the country, reports Reuters, “clandestinely distributing leaflets and sending e-mail and text messages.” On HuT’s UK website, the group notes that Pakistan “is a powerful nuclear-armed country, let down by a corrupt government, absence of Islamic rule and subservience to the West.”

Analyst Imtiaz Gul told the news agency that the outfit, which claims to have a peaceful agenda, has some influence within the military. “They basically address educated people, educated Muslims, middle-class, lower middle-class.” In Britain, where they are not banned, the group allegedly attracts well-educated British Pakistanis as supporters, and told Reuters that HuT has not specifically targeted Pakistan’s military, but “works with all sections of society.”

But according to the New York Times, HuT – apart from organizing underground meetings and seminars in Pakistan – also uses SMS text messages and social networking sites to spread its message. The Times noted, “A recent text message sent out by the media office of Hizb-ut-Tahrir on June 9 stated: ‘Remove the traitors amongst the civilian and military leadership. Fulfill your obligation by establishing Khilafah,’ meaning the caliphate.”

The Guardian‘s Declan Walsh echoed in his coverage, “HuT has long faced accusations of seeking to infiltrate Pakistan’s army. In the wake of Bin Laden’s death it distributed pamphlets near army bases calling on officers to overthrow the government and forge a new Islamic caliphate.” Former HuT activist Maajid Nawaz, now part of Quilliam, a UK think tank, told the Guardian that HuT plans to come to power through a military coup. Walsh noted, “[Nawaz] has previously admitted recruiting Pakistani officers who were attending a training course in Sandhurst in 2000.” Nawaz told the Guardian in 2009, “We sent them back to Pakistan to infiltrate the army. They were recruiting for three years and tried to mount a coup.” The plotters were discovered and jailed by then president Pervez Musharraf, he said.

 The Pakistani military has recently come under fire for its alleged ties with militants – particularly following the Osama bin Laden raid and the PNS Mehran attack last month. Omar Waraich wrote in TIME this week that it has been “a grim seven weeks for Pakistan’s powerful generals.” Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general-turned-analyst told Waraich, “It’s amazing the level of criticism that the military leadership is facing. It’s clearly the worst in its history.” Perceptions of COAS Gen. Kayani are increasingly negative, if polls are anything to go by. While the most recent Pew (pee-you) poll on Pakistan found that the army remains popular (79% says it has a good influence on the country), only 52% of respondents gave Kayani a favorable rating, down from 57% before the Osama bin Laden raid.

However, analysts are skeptical that Kayani will be fired or pushed out of his position. The Atlantic Council’s Shuja Nawaz told TIME, “My understanding is that there is a debate on different issues within the corps commanders and senior officers from the General Headquarter. It is not in the form of pressure on General Kayani as such, but on what to do in response to the criticism.”

The arrest of Khan and the investigation into other officers linked to this case are indicative of such a response. Imtiaz Gul wrote in the AfPak Channel this week,

The bad news of Khan’s arrest is that it underlines the presence of a radical mindset within the armed forces. The good news is that it probably also reflects new thinking: greater attention to all those who might be influenced by organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and Lashkar e-Taiba. Moreover, if the army can demonstrate it has gone after suspected militant officers successfully, it might be able to release some of the pressure it currently faces from the United States, which is demanding that Pakistan do more to fight Pakistan.

But is this indicative of a greater purge within military ranks? A part of me – the part that still blinks at Pakistan with hopeful puppy dog eyes – wishes this were true. But the larger part of me – the part that rolls eyes frequently and scoffs snarkily – has heard this tired refrain before. Yes, the arrest of Khan is significant. The investigations are notable. But I’d wait before passing judgment on whether there is an impending sea change. HuT is a dangerous outfit, despite their claims to the contrary. That is certain. But is the military rooting out infiltration amidst its ranks because it’s genuinely concerned with extremist tendencies, or because the HuT-specific links are a direct threat to the military’s authority? Would the Army perform similar exercises with officers linked to other militant groups that still hold strategic interest?

The jury’s still out.

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Darling readers, I apologize for the lack of consistent blogging on my end (though twice a week is still pretty good, I say!). I am in the process of launching my start-up company this Fall, so life has been a little manic. I do still read the news and opine to self about things that piss me off. Which is a lot. But because snorting and laughing snarkily to self is lonely (and not as self-indulgent as self would like), I give you yet another WTF list – this time the WTF CRAP (i.e., WTF is wrong with people?!) and WTF YAH (i.e., WTF this is awesome! Yay! Puppies!). Because there are always happy things to WTF about too:


WTF-C #1: The ISI arrested five Pakistani informants who fed information to the CIA in the months leading up to the Osama bin Laden raid, reported the NY Times this week. So…they…um…arrested the guys who helped in the capture of OBL? Somewhere out there (hopefully not on a compound in the Islamabad suburb known as Abutababa), new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is cackling gleefully. #FacePalm.

WTF-C #2: SPEAKING OF MILITANTS LIVING IN ISLAMABAD’S SUBURBS (Curse you Wolf Blitzer! You haz tainted ma city’s suburbz 4 life!), AFP (via Dawn) reports that Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, the head of Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), is sitting pretty in a “suburb” of Islamabad, Golra Sharif. Given that many of these militants also sit pretty all over the country (hey, Bravo, new reality show deal?), this is massively disturbing but not surprising. Dawn reported, “The Pakistani senior government official who spoke with AP said Khalil has been arrested twice but each time was released on orders from Pakistan’s intelligence agency.” WTF.

WTF-C #3: Pakistan seems to top every freaking list these days (even the #1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches, you can’t make this stuff up). A recent Thompson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous place in the world for women. Granted, this was a poll about perceptions, but the fact that 90% of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence in their lifetime is a very depressing statistic indeed.

WTF-C #4: In some non-related Pakistan news, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned from office today after being tangled in a “lewd” sexting scandal. According to news agencies, Weiner engaged in “‘inappropriate conversations’ with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and on the phone with one of the women.” During his resignation speech, in which Weiner “apologized for the mistakes he had made,” reporters cheered, they heckled, and one dude even yelled, “Are you bigger than seven inches?!” Oh dear. Why.

THE WTF YAH LIST (Because some news is fun!):

WTF-Y #1: Speaking of resignations (or things related), Jane Perlez reported this week in the NY Times that COAS Gen. Kayani “is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers” following the OBL raid. Perlez noted, “The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the Corps Commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans.” So an inter-military coup? Who knows. But until then, we can thoroughly enjoy the hilarity of “What Kayani Whispered,” an assortment of awesome photos with even more awesome captions:

Via What Kayani Whispered

WTF-Y #2: I would make a terrible rapper. This is because I sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme when I try. (And then I wore a hat/Shaped like a cat/Where’s my bat?/Boiii) This is why I massively respect people who can rap extremely ridiculously well. Like Adil Omar. I first interviewed the rapper from Islamabad two years ago, (when he was just 17 years old), and he recently released a new music video featuring Xzibit (Yes. THAT Xzibit) and directed by Matt Alonzo (who did “Like a G6”) called, “Off the Handle.” Watch the video below and download the song here:

WTF-Y #3: The Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator program for high-potential social entrepreneurs, launched its new summer of fellows a few days ago. Saba Gul, the co-founder and executive director of BLISS (Business & Life Skills School) is at this year’s Institute, representing her amazing social enterprise, which empowers adolescent girls in rural Pakistan through education and entrepreneurship. BLISS was also just featured on NBC Nightly News, see here. Congrats and good luck at Unreasonable, Saba!

WTF-Y #4: Nothing makes me happier (or yell WTF-Yah!) than Coke Studio, which just premiered its fourth season in Pakistan. The immensely popular show, which “embodies a musical fusion of exciting elements and diverse influences, ranging from traditional eastern, modern western and regionally inspired music,” already has a number of memorable songs and collaborations, including Kangna. But while I will always love Coke Studio, I have also been loving another initiative, Levi’s Original songs, particularly this gem by The Strings & Zoe Viccaji:

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Last year, Shahbaz Hamid Shigri and Aisha Linnea Akhtar of InCahoots Films brought us Sole Search, a short independent film that introduced viewers to the world of the Jinnah Boy. Yes, the Jinnah Boy. For those of you not from Pakistan’s capital, Jinnah boys are an intrinsic part of the Islamabad fabric – the guys that hang around Jinnah Market sporting slicked-back hair, loud knock-off designer clothes, and oft-cringe-worthy comments for passing ladies. In Sole Search, an American born Pakistani meets the quintessential Jinnah Boy, Candy Bhai (played by Ali Rehman Khan). Hilarity ensues.

This summer, Candy Bhai is back in the feature length film Gol Chakkar. Directed and produced by Shigri and Linnea (who starred together in Slackistan), the film reunites us with Candy and introduces us to a misfit cast of  merry characters, including Teddy (Hasan Bruun Akhtar) and Shera (Usman Mukhtar). Shigri told me,

[After Sole Search] We realized we weren’t quite done with Candy and his world. Sole Search was always an experiment. It was quite amateur, rushed, and I was a lot less experienced and knowledgeable on the whole process at the time… I don’t think [Gol Chakkar] really is a sequel. Candy Bhai is in it, but that’s about it. It’s a feature film with seven new characters. We just wanted to expand on what we thought was a pretty nifty idea the first time.

Khan, who reprises his role as Candy Bhai, discussed the chemistry among the Gol Chakkar characters, noting, “All of us were actually friends in real life, so it felt more like a family production than anything else…we understood each other’s characters so well that we would constantly give each other feedback in order to improve a line or a scene.”

On the development of his own character,  both from Sole Search and in this upcoming film, he said, “I think one of the main challenges I had while developing [Candy] was not to create a caricature of an already flamboyant archetype…a Jinnah Boy is a self-exaggerated segment of society. I had to be careful not to represent him as a cliche and give him his own personality.” Of course, having a grasp of Jinglish (Jinnah-style English, and yes, there should be a special Urban Dictionary) further helped in this portrayal, as well as his amazing wardrobe. Linnea, who not only dreamed up the Candy Bhai character but went on the hunt for appropriately loud and tacky clothing, added, “His outfits are all from Landa or Juma Bazaar, though when I’d ask the price of anything they’d hike it up like 150%.” She added, “I want to go back there sometime, though. It was a blast.”

Both Sole Search and Gol Chakkar possess a raw and gritty quality, which was consciously done to portray this world in a darker and more realistic light. Shigri noted, “The subject matter of these two movies is fun, quirky, even a little Bollywood-ish. We’ve seen movies similiar to them. I wanted to present this world and these characters in a new way, that it’s not just fun and games and bright colors and loud jokes. The way I chose to shoot it gives a certain contrast to whats going on, and the way it looks.” He added, “As a cinematographer, I personally favor shots in which the camera isn’t completely static or on a tripod. I like the frame to be breathing a little.”

Part of Gol Chakkar was shot in Rawalpindi, and while it proved relatively more difficult than [twin-city] Islamabad, both cast and filmmakers alike spoke of their incredible experience filming in Lal Kurti, one of the busiest hubs of the city. “It’s a beautiful place, in an unconventional way,” Shigri said. “I was seeing sights I never even knew existed, and meeting wonderful and hospitable people.” Khan echoed, “Lal Kurti spoiled us a bit with all the warmth and love we got, because as soon as we moved on to another location in Pindi – lets just say we missed Lal Kurti!”

Gol Chakkar will be released late this summer, and filmmakers Linnea and Shigri want you to be entertained. As the co-founders of InCahoots Films, they already have other projects in the pipeline, including music videos for artists Uzair Jaswal and Adil Omar, a short film called, “The Little Master,” featuring Hasan Bruun Akhtar from Gol Chakkar, as well as their next big project. Needless to say, it’s a busy year ahead for InCahoots, a name Linnea came up with to reflect the founders’ real-life relationship and ability to work extremely in sync with one another. Both directed and produced the film, while Linnea wrote the screenplay and Shigri was the cinematographer. Both were basically a two-person crew, supported by a cast who have all acted together and known each other for some time (several also starred in the recent film Slackistan).

You could say that type of magic can be likened to a Judd Apatow-style approach to film making, in which cast and crew are part of a family-style collaboration, and chemistry is genuine, organic, and comes from a very real place.

From the perspective of a Pakistani filmmaker, Shigri emphasized, “I hope to inspire other future Pakistani filmmakers to step outside the box, to not be conventional, and not be limited by a lack of resources and funds, to let their only limitation be their creativity. The most important thing I learned from shooting Gol Chakkar is when it comes to making a movie, short film, or music video, your limitations are only self-created. Anything is possible right now.”

To keep updated on Gol Chakkar’s release, become a fan of their Facebook page by clicking here.

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Source: The News

On Wednesday, news outlets report that a young man was “brutally murdered” in an extrajudicial killing that took place in Benazir Park in Karachi. According to Express, the man was accused to be a “snatcher,” or a robber, and was arrested by police who then handed him over to Ranger personnel who cornered him and then shot him in the stomach, despite the man’s pleas. The man is reported to be a ‘matric’ student, as well as the brother of a Samaa television reporter, and he died on the spot.

News outlets continue to play the footage of the shooting over and over again on television, which garnered much discussion on Twitter. Ammar Yasir tweeted, “Just watched the Samaa footage and I feel like throwing up. This happened in Karachi, imagine the extrajudicial murders in Balochistan,” while Tammy Haq noted, “Pakistan is a state of anarchy. Anyone can do what they like and get away with it.”

Express 24/7 reporter Shaheryar Mirza (@mirza9) tweeted, “Nothing shocking about this killing. What’s shocking is that it was caught on tape. Rangers have done this countless times before.”

As details unfold, it also is evident that Ranger personnel and police officials previously lied about details of the shooting, previously stating that the young man was armed and that 15-20 witnesses could testify to that. But, thanks to the footage, we now see that he was unarmed. In other words, noted Mirza, they were “caught red-handed.”

Hundreds of people have organized a “peaceful sit-in” outside the Chief Minister’s house in Karachi in protest of the killing.  MQM leader Wasay Jalil told Express, “Karachi has seen in its past extrajudicial killings…but the people of Pakistan will lose further confidence in the police…and law enforcement officials.”

CHUP will continue to provide updates of this tragic killing as more details come in, but feel free to share your thoughts and reactions in the comment section.

UPDATE 1745 EDT: Express reported, “Five men from the Ghazi wing of the Rangers are said to be involved in the incident, of whom two have been arrested.” The news agency further noted, “Initially, the police and Rangers had claimed that they were informed that a dacoit had held a family hostage in Benazir Bhutto Park. The security personnel claimed that they went inside the park and asked the man to surrender. When he refused to do so, the Rangers shot at him in retaliation. Shah was injured and died after reaching Jinnah Hospital, security personnel said.” Obviously, that was not the accurate report of the incident.

UPDATE 6/9: According to the Associated Press, Pakistani authorities are now investigating the video “as hundreds of angry mourners attended his funeral.” Here’s the account of the shooting:

It showed a man in civilian clothes wrestling what appeared to be a gun out of Shah’s hand and kicking him toward a group of Rangers. Shah said it was just a toy gun as he pleaded with a Ranger who pointed his rifle at his neck.

“I am helpless,” he said to the Rangers.

The men surrounded Shah and pointed their guns at him. He moved toward one Ranger with his arms outstretched, saying “No, no, don’t kill me brother.” He was pushed back and shot twice in the hand and leg.

Shah fell to the ground screaming and begged the Rangers to take him to a hospital, a longer version of the video posted on YouTube showed. They stood by as he writhed in an expanding pool of his own blood.

Shah was eventually taken to a local hospital but died shortly thereafter from “profuse bleeding,” said Seemi Jamali, director at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical College.

The really sad part? Rehman Malik claiming the boy was a “criminal,” as if that somehow justifies this killing. Disgusting:

UPDATE 6/9 2000 EST: Another video is out (via Rabayl). So sad and disgusting:

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RIP Saleem Shahzad

Source: Washington Post

On Sunday, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad  went missing in Islamabad. Yesterday, news agencies reported that Shahzad’s body was found about 93 miles southeast of the capital, in Sira-e-Alamgir. In the aftermath of this tragic and shocking death, the question, Who killed Saleem Shahzad? continues to echo in the halls of the blogosphere and news outlets. While nothing is certain, many fingers are squarely pointed at the ISI.

Let’s review the details.

Shahzad, a journalist for the Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing just two days after his report on the connections between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy was published. Omar Waraich reported in TIME,

[the story said that]…Al Qaeda had attacked a naval base [PNS Mehran] in the port city of Karachi on May 22 after talks had broken down between the Pakistan navy and the global terrorist organization. In his report, Shahzad claimed that Al Qaeda had carried out the attack in retaliation for the arrest of naval officials suspected of links with the terrorist group.

Waraich reported that Shahzad was allegedly abducted by intelligence agents in Islamabad while he was on his way to Dunya News channel to discuss the findings in this aforementioned report. The next morning, Ali Dayan Hasan from Human Rights Watch, received a call from the journalist’s wife who said Shahzad told her to call Hasan “in case anything happens to him.” Hasan told the AFP,

The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats. We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but… in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.

On Monday, Hasan said he was “informed by reliable interlocutors” who had received “direct confirmation from the [ISI]” that they had, in fact, detained Shahzad, but that he was supposed to return home Monday night. According to TIME, Hasan said, “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family… They were told that he would return home soon after.”
Obviously, Shahzad did not return home. His body was found about 100 miles from his abdandoned car, his face “severely beaten” and “showing signs of torture,” reported news agencies.
His death further highlights the dangers facing journalists in Pakistan, who are often caught between intelligence agencies and militant groups. Huma Imtiaz wrote in Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel yesterday,
Journalists are picked up when they are driving down the streets, whether in the capital Islamabad or a village, and eventually  are dropped off — tortured in the case of Umar Cheema, who was abducted by security agencies after he filed a series of reports on the Pakistani military — or killed, as in the case of Hayatullah Khan, whose body appeared after he tried to cover a reported U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Khan’s assassins have never been found.

As a result, she noted, many “journalists end up censoring themselves, fearful of the either verbal or physical repercussions. In some cases, when journalists do file reports, channels refuse to air them — again, fearful of upsetting the men in Rawalpindi.”

Although PM Gilani ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, and pledged that the perpetrators would be “brought to book,” let’s be honest. How can you feasibly hold men accountable to the law if they see themselves above the law? We are from a country where the right arm of the state very rarely knows what the left is doing, where agencies would rather protect their assets than their citizens. Accountability is not part of our vernacular, it’s the dirt we shove shamefully beneath the carpet. Better to live in a world of delusional grandeur, we say. Better to expose our neighbor’s faults than examine our own.

My sister is a journalist. She often notes that the instinctive human reaction to a disaster, attack or bomb blast is to run away. Journalists function counter-intuitively. They run towards the chaos. They put the story before their own lives. Their courage and commitment are often why citizens can be more informed participants in the conversation, why we have the ammunition to ask the questions that should be asked. Saleem Shahzad’s death was an enormous loss for a community of journalists who will continue to report in the face of censorship, harassment, and violence. It was an enormous loss for us all. RIP.

Some relevant pieces worth reading:

  • “Criticizing Pakistan’s Military,” a Q&A with Asma Jehangir, NPR
  • “One Saleem Shahzad’s Brutal Murder & the Military,” Kala Kawa
  • “Pakistan Journalist Dead: Another One Bites the Dust,” Five Rupees
  • “Who Killed Saleem Shahzad,” Daily Beast
  •  “My Courageous Friend and Colleague,” Dawn
  • “Death of a Journalist. Warning to a Nation,” ATP

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