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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Male Chauvinism in Pakistan and the Saudi Connection

Earlier in the day today an acquaintance of mine shared an article on social media about yet another step that the authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have taken to add to the already high levels of male chauvinism already found there. This article which featured in the Lebanon based online publication called The Daily Star mentions an approach towards electronic tracking of women in the kingdom and how their husbands would be informed electronically via text message if they leave the country. This is regardless of whether the women are exiting the country with their male companions or with  their permission in their absence. Is it just me or something about it just does not feel right altogether. In a country where the religious high command issues verdicts to legalize treatment of women like personal belongings, is this taking it a bit too far? My first reaction on seeing this article was, oh wait I know which country is next in line, our very own Pakistan.

All jokes aside, even though historically we have been a male dominated society, a lot of modern male oppression over women and their treatment as personal belongings in urban centers has a lot to do with no surprises Saudi Arabia and their radical Wahabi version of Islam. They call  themselves a puritanical bunch, but I strongly doubt that they are in reality, since during the early years of Islam women were prominent in Arabian society. The first wife of the Prophet was a well established trader in Arabia and you do not hear stories about restrictions about the movement of women in the early days of Islam. Anyways coming back to the notion of male chauvinism in Pakistan. A lot of it seems to be the product of influence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it's scholars and its funded organizations have had on the religious right in Pakistan. In Pakistan especially since the late 90's we have witnessed a dramatic rise not just in religious extremism but also a significant rise in the Arabized or Wahabi-ised version of Islam as practiced and observed by the urban middle classes. The penetration of such schools of thoughts and such practices have been even made their way into the elite of Pakistan's society, a great role here been facilitated by the Tableeghi Jammat, famous for its grand gatherings annually in Malir near Karachi, and Raivand near Lahore. Too much emphasis is moving towards not just literal implementation of orthodox conservative Islam but also towards denial of rights to women, minorities as well as the non religious lot.

Nadeem Paracha, a well known columnist and cultural critic for the English daily Dawn on more than one occasion has mentioned in his articles about the Arabian influence on every day life in urban Pakistan, with particular reference to that influence hailing from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In his articles he has mentioned that among reasons behind this include the fact that the kingdom is the custodian to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and where millions of devoted souls make the journey for pilgrimage. In his articles NFP has also pointed out a great deal of the influence has come from those repatriating back from years of hard work as laborers and skilled professionals in the Kingdom. They often bring back with them not just a lot of hard earned money, but Saudi style customs, rituals and values with the label that this is how true Islam is as followed in the holy land. Among the non tangible things they bring back with them include a huge focus on symbolic rituals, the idea behind domestication and dis empowerment of women, xenophobia towards non religious people and both religious and sectarian minorities. Before you know it, their very proactively communicating their way of thought and their chosen life style to others in the mother land.

At this point I do not know if any country is more chauvinistic and oppressive towards women as Saudi Arabia is, but Pakistan is certainly heading in that direction courtesy of non stop Saudi influence on this country. Women are forbidden from driving in that country, their employment options are severely limited, polygamy is permitted, they can not exit the country without permission from their husbands as if their personal slaves, and their laws in the land that exploit women. Even our mind sets are heading in that direction, those influenced by the Saudi thought are treating their women like personal belongings in Pakistan. Their right for an education is considered wrong, their right for having a career is considered an even bigger taboo, their freedom of movement is severely restricted. I am not making a general statement, but this is me pointing out to those families who have become newly religious or have been in some way inspired or influenced by the radical wahabi style version of Islam.

Some of the arguments I have heard personally that such families are giving for suppressing their women is just plain ludicrous, makes you wana slap yourself just to be sure you heard the right thing. It is very likely and possible that a religious drive that has chauvinistic men convinced they are creating a path to paradise for them, at the same time just some food for thought, religious rigidity is being used as a tool to bring back or reinforce primitive chauvinistic practices and prevent female empowerment. Just food for thought. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lobbying as a Public Relations tool

The concept of lobbying is not a new phenomena by any means and was first used in the early 19th century in the United States. In simple terms lobbying can be described as a sort of advocacy carried for the purpose of influencing decisions, particularly with respect to politics and state level decisions, as off today such forms of lobbying practices are still the more prominent of the lot. Some lobby groups have taken up social causes as a part of their agenda to promote knowledge sharing and different types of social welfare causes. On the other hand prominent lobby groups in the United States proactively make use of lobbying to influence the decision makers at state level to serve their respective interest groups or stakeholders. These include lobbyists to influence foreign policy, in favor of a certain foreign country or to increase the amount of foreign aid a respective country is receiving. Such lobby groups can also support improved ties with a certain nation for the purpose of improving trade and commerce.

The use of lobbying is not just restricted to the political arena and the realm of international relations, it has significant relevance even for the businesses in the commercial sector as a fairly effective public relations tool. This can exist in the form of engagement between corporations and the public sector, as well as between corporations and consumers. Lobbying by corporations happen when they are trying to influence policies and regulations at the federal, provincial or regional level in an attempt to achieve policy changes suited to them. These policy changes come in the form of reduced taxation, infrastructural support or increased government assistance with regards to industry expertise.

The use of lobbying as a public relations tool is not just restricted to western countries like the United States and those found in the European Union, but the use of lobbying to influence policy can also be found in a country like Pakistan, even though the trend of using lobbying as a public relations tool or using public relations as a whole is far from becoming a common sight. By lobbying for policy change, corporations regardless of their sector are able to engage with relevant authorities directly and develop their public relations with wider audiences. Business lobby groups in a country like Pakistan have successfully managed to get the federal and provincial government in the country to develop policies that encourage and promote the development of trade. Such policies can also include the protection of certain industries to give them a competitive edge relative to their competitors.

 A good example is the lobbying done by the Auto Industry in Pakistan which successfully managed to get the government to introduce high tariffs on imported vehicles so as to make the locally manufactured vehicles more competitive for the end consumer as well as preserve the thousands of jobs the industry provides.  Examples of these trade lobby groups include the Karachi chamber of commerce and the Lahore chamber of commerce and industry. Some lobby groups exist to counteract the bad press that certain industries and improve their public relations. A good example is the tobacco industry which has often been accused of causing lung cancer and the deaths of thousands of people, they have managed to use their lobby groups to engage with wider audiences and build positive public relations for the industry as a whole. Even employee unions can be classified as lobby groups that work for the interest of their members with respect to matters of employee relations across their relevant industry.

Lobby groups in Pakistan are also very proactive when it comes to fighting for social causes such as women's rights and the treatment of minorities in this country. It was women's rights advocacy groups that played a significant role in getting women's protection laws passed by the federal government in Islamabad. The Pakistani media as a whole has been collectively functioning as a lobby group to influence Government level policies with respect to increased freedom of the press, as well as encouraging government spending in sectors like education and health care.

A lot has also changed as far as the dynamics of lobbying and the methods adopted by lobby groups are concerned. We live in an era of social media, which has played a significant role in the empowerment of of not just businesses on an individual individuals i.e. members of the public also around the world. A lot of lobbying activities are now beginning to take place online using social media, as social media makes it easy to reach a wider audience spread across the globe. A good example would be the online lobbying done by major corporations in the pharma sector who try to promote their patented drug globally while at the same time influencing health policies in certain countries into making it an acceptable drug.

Regardless of the benefits of lobbying as a public relations initiative, there are many challenges that lobby groups face and it will be a while before lobbying as a full fledged activity can develop and flourish in a country like Pakistan. First of all lobbying to a great extent involves shaping or changing public opinion off wider audiences, low literacy levels and the inability to reach the rural masses can create limitations for lobby groups in getting their message across. Alongside these limitations there are also concerns with respect to public safety, poor law and order, corruption and inefficiency of public sector institutions that make lobbying for commercial or social causes even more challengi


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Non Mehram business has to stop







 Seriously people, this whole non mehram business has really got to stop in Pakistan, it has gone off for far too way and this whole attitude business is seriously way past its use by or expiration date. O yeah I mean every word of it, so if any one who does not want to use their common sense and accuse me of being blasphemer please kindly go right ahead. In any case for you lot anything short of the rigid 7th Century Wahabi and Taliban version of Islam, everything is completely unacceptable and down right respectful if people choose to follow a life style that deviates even slightly from those two extremist schools of thought.

For Non Muslims and those in the Western world, who do not have a clue what I am talking about, let me give u all a quick summary. Basically according to the religiously sensitive right wing school of thought especially in Sunni Islam, women are not permitted to have any sort of engagement or interaction with men deemed Non Mehrum. Non Mehrum being men, who are not their father, husband or their blood brothers. In some cases even step brothers are counted in the fold of  Non Mehrum men. The religious right uses an array of references from religious scriptures, texts and traditions to back it up. The most common argument they put forward is that this is necessary to prevent fornication and also argue that any form of interaction is haram (forbidden) period.

I even remember a fictionalized tale some some one told the audience at a Friday prayer sermon when I was a university student in Australia. If I remember correctly the story was something like, a guy and a girl both Muslim lived next door to each other. Everything was fine and harmonious till the guy took the initiative to go and get to know his neighbor. At first there was the formal exchange of greetings and introductions, as time went by acquaintance ship turned into friendship which turned into socialising which turned into bonding, which turned into attraction, and one thing leading to another, it resulted in fornication, and the resulting fornication resulted in an unplanned pregnancy, which led to an abortion blah blah blah. In short that fellow was trying to communicate a lot of grave sins would happen if the two genders interacted. When you hear stuff like this you begin to wonder what God was thinking when He labeled us Ashroof ul Makhlooqat (Urdu for the highest of all living mortal beings). Has common sense escaped Human kind?



Not only does this further exasperate gender segregation, but it also creates a mindset of misunderstandings, fear and even paranoia about the this opposite sex. In a society heading towards intolerance and extremism, there are many who are willing to go any measures possible to ensure both genders are kept as far away from one another as possible. Some examples of these measures include the reluctance of many families including those from the urban elite to educate their daughters because higher education usually involves co educational classrooms and male instructors. People also boycott mixed gatherings because they think social exposure of the two genders is Haram. If you even spot a Non Mehrum Man or Woman, you have committed a grave sin for which you will have to pay for in God's court in the after life or so is the argument put forward, mostly by men, but believe it or not even by quite  few women. These women are usually followers of ultra conservative extremist right wing schools such as the Al Huda School for women. They are notoriously famous for dis empowering women and radicalizing society among the urban elite of Pakistan. Trust me it has become a very common sight in Pakistan, where close relatives have boycotted weddings and family gatherings because they were not segregated or seen people walk out of them upon discovering the genders were not kept rigidity apart. Do not surprised if you walk in to a room and the burqa lot immediately hide their faces or show expressions as if all hell will break loose and the apocalypse is due any moment now.

Very very recently, a blog featured on the Express Tribune blogs, about how just a guy and a girl, probably somewhere in their mid 20's got harassed by law enforcement for just being in the presence or company off one another. The law enforcement officials harassing them demanded they show their marriage certificate the absence of which would make their presence with one another unacceptable. Even when the girl's brother arrived and presented identification the law enforcement officers refused to accept it simply on the basis of different mailing addresses on both identity documents. Again common sense missing, people do shift houses hence mailing addresses do change.




Firstly we are not the Wahabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, were Pakistan,  a country with a Pre-Zia era history of moderate Islam, a land of Sufi's and shrines etc, so lets not try and become like the corrupt wana be custodians of the Holy Land. If anything when visiting the kingdom we get mocked for our version of Sufi influenced Islam which manages to even bridge the Shia Sunni divide. Secondly are we even remotely thinking of the social consequences of our actions by such rigid gender segregation. You are creating stereo types and misunderstandings about the opposite sex in the minds of both genders, your terrorizing people through fear inducement and guilt exploitation, your damaging female education and empowerment, hence a waste of talent. You are also giving a potent tool to the chauvinistic men in the country, who will have a religiously backed excuse to persecute and oppress the women in their lives and will influence others to do the same. We are also depriving close family members from interacting with one another. A time will come we will never get to know who our aunt's and uncles some who are no different from our mothers and fathers and our cousins who are like an extension of our siblings? With such rigid gender segregation, not only are we deprived from social interaction with close family it also becomes impossible for us to find spouses to fulfill our God given Sharia compliant right to marry with our choice. I have heard it all too commonly now, among religious families, guy gets to see the girls picture for the first time when the marriage is suggested athe and meets the girl for the very first time on the night of the wedding. I am not sure that sounds like a recipe for a successful marriage. It is high time we open our minds, open our eyes and open our hearts and resist this Wahabi influenced radicalization of our thought and the massacre of our common sense.



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Were a Judgmental Bunch and Maybe no changing that




Movies come, movies go. Theater comes, theater goes, art comes and it goes, yet the message that the various arts including the performing arts leave for us fail to become a part of our thought process. Most film makers and theatrical companies try their very best to instill a positive and sound message to their audiences, usually communicating good values and ideas to us. Their purpose of communicating such values is more than  just entertaining us, they are also communicating such values to reach out to us on a very human level and inspire a change of sorts in our behavior. For so many of us, we fail to understand or embrace what is being communicated to us, and we walk out of the cinema or theater unaffected, returning to life as if it were business as usual.
There are many short comings of Pakistani society and to some extent South Asians in general with respect to our values and our code of behavior that needs some work and our resistance to over come some of our short shortsightedness needs to be worked on. One such characteristic of our behavior is our ability to be naturally judgmental towards others around us. Not something to be proud off, but it is one of those things that has become deeply a part of our society that we either take its existence for granted or completely overlook it as if it is the most normal natural thing in the world.

By being judgmental, we are forming or creating an opinion about another person based on usually an insignificant trait or characteristic of their behavior, personality or who they generally are. At times people who are judgmental look for excuses to dislike, discriminate or marginalize another person without knowing them or trying to know them on a personal or social level. We are often very rigid about how a lot of us see the world, we see it from our spectrum, our rigid criteria of what is or what is not acceptable, and on occasions even mild deviations or variations are unacceptable to us. In a n nutshell, we are not very tolerant of social diversity, instead of looking for reasons to find good in some one, we look for the smallest of excuses to dislike some one.

This issue has often been touched upon in theater and cinema. Anwar Maqsood tried to highlight this point in this theatrical debut Pawnay 14 August also where it was briefly highlighted that our judgmental attitude towards one another prevents us from coming together as one nation, as Pakistanis. Even more recently this was touched upon in a Bollywood film from across the border 'English Vinglish' marking the return of the screen legend Sri Devi. In the film, her family is shown as being judgmental towards her and taking her for granted because of her inability to speak English. Her husband takes her for granted, her daughter mocks her, making her feel as if she is not respected. She manages to surprise everyone by secretly taking English classes on a trip to America and giving a speech at her niece's wedding.


I along with countless other bloggers and writers can say this again and again that there are severe demerits of being judgmental, even performing arts will try and communicate this message for years and years, but maybe all this effort will go in vain. In order to beat judgmental attitudes, it is important for their to exist a sense of empathy among people for other human beings, to feel the pinch of what it is like when others are judgmental towards you. But alas one can't teach another to feel empathy, it is after all a natural process.