Phantom of misogyny & xenophobia

Just a week before the celebrations of war that both sides of Radcliff’s line will be having on September 6, the jingoism has already pulled off strongly, thanks to the film ‘Phantom.’ Yes, both the states have nothing better to focus on but to “celebrate” war.

Ironically, war hysteria goes in parallel with the bloodshed on heated up LoC between Pakistan and India. The ongoing violations from India last week, resulted in loss of several innocent civilians on Pakistani side.

This bloodshed of innocent civilians preceded hysterical nationalist euphoria after the release of a supposedly jingoist film – Phantom – from the Indian side. Hell was let lose by a few media personalities, majority of whom admitted basing their ‘counter-attacks’ on just the trailers.

With desperate chest-thumping, Faisal Qureshi a former TV anchor released his video response that went viral within hours and got thousands of ‘Likes’ and ‘Favourites’. Xenophobia sells like nothing else. Here comes Oscar Wilde with his precious line about the scoundrel, the refuge and the patriotism!

The video and the ‘Likes’ it received demonstrated how entrenched the sexist discourse is in the Islamic Republic. His second video that was supposed to be a response of the criticism by hundreds of Pakistanis on his sexism, turned out to be even more strongly xenophobic and misogynist. He went on repeating his nauseating male bravado with an offensive sexual innuendo. Among thousands of ‘Likes’ on his video, probably no one noticed his ‘ghusnay ghusaanay main nuqsaan kis ko hota hay’ alluding to the supposed fragility of the female during sexual intercourse. Enough to realise how acceptable and rooted this sexism is in our daily lives.

Beginning the response to Saif Ali Khan with calling him ‘bitiya’ (daughter) was most bizarre point in the video. A daughter, to the apparently educated man, it seems is a source of humiliation. Being a woman is, for him perhaps, a symbol of weakness and of disgrace, degradation and embarrassment. “Calling someone a pig is not an insult to the pig” was his defense. A woman is like a pig, which meant. Like ‘pig’ is an abusive word, ‘woman’ can also be one, the use of which should be alright for everyone. Right!

While not being a misogynist (the one who has innate hatred for women) you can still be supportive of systematic discrimination against women. One frequently hears gender stereotypes-laden jokes and analogies that portray women in poor light, being used by men and women that are fond of bearing the flag of women’s empowerment. It is sexism by any definition. Embarrassed? Don’t be sexist then.
Meanwhile, Shaan Shahid the film star, attacks his colleague Mawra Hocane with #BanMawra campaign because she expressed displeasure with the outrage on a film that she thought was against terrorism, not against Pakistan. How agreeable. Mawra’s brave honesty that stood in front of the xenophobic avalanche needs to be lauded not insulted. Of course if – and I repeat – IF the film is against a terrorist, why should Pakistanis be enraged? We are world’s most terrorism-affected nation. Let this clichéd line be our real reasoning against terrorism instead of it being just a bargaining chip use by our policy makers.

The worst sexist attacks that Mawra was subjected to, did not get Shaan’s attention. The permanent macho boy (in his fifties though) of ISPR sponsored films hurried to attack Mawra with judgments on her ‘patriotism’ and love for the country. Abusive attacks on her got no one’s attention except the ‘liberals’ whose feminist narrative was quickly labelled as ‘self-hating Pakistani rant’.

Film star Saima jumped on the ‘patriotic’ bandwagon and dismissed Mawra while conveniently ignoring attacks on Mawra. The attacks and sexually motivated violent threats are not even an issue. It is about the male ‘honor’ and responding to a fictional work that probably no one has watched, in a stronger testosterone-full lingo. Women are just a collateral casualty. Happens with them, so let it happen now too.
This is not a Phantom-triggered phenomenon. The sexist talk is order of the day in this land of the pure. The land where Mukhtaran Mai, the victim of gang rape, is a villain just because she stood up instead of bowing down silently. But those abusing womanhood, and by that token women, are heroes just because they are saying what the ‘national security elite’ would like to hear.

The land where Veena Malik becomes a stigma when she opts for a career in Indian film industry in her own way, but the cricketers who brought shame to Pakistan for their match-fixing hobbies remain untarnished.

The land where Ayyan Ali, the model who got entangled in a money laundering case, becomes a victim of continuous objectification and hatred but a male host of a religious show on TV gets away with it when caught money laundering.

A land where Shaista Lodhi, the famous TV show host had to make up with the accuser who got her booked for blasphemy, in order to come back home safely. Her earlier messages of apologies were never accepted and threats to her life and family continued to intimidate her. But Junaid Jamshed the singer turned religious speaker and entrepreneur, gets away with a blasphemic statement. He is back and running his profitable business, which probably is not as profitable as his religious enterprise is.

The land where film actors like Hamza Ali Abbasi routinely belittle the women in performing arts. He recently announced he won’t be doing any promotions for his upcoming film, because it had two ‘mujras’ (he seems to think that item songs are mujras). That was before Hamayun Saeed, one of the producers of the film, informed the media that Mr. Abbasi was not only being paid, but was also actively involved in the promotion of the film. Hamza Abbasi was also heard criticising girls who wore short dresses in the film. He forgot his own scene where he flirts with a bikini-clad girl while being in a chaddi himself.

The land where the name of Salmaan Taseer, the victim of religious violence, is a taboo but leaders of terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are heroes who are being defended as national assets.

One wonders what is more damaging for Pakistan; Saif Ali Khan’s dialogues in Phantom and his faith that he lost on Pakistan or portraying Pakistan as synonym of terrorist leaders by none other than Pakistanis themselves.

This is by no means a defense of the film that some think is against Pakistan, while others think is against a terrorist organisation. It is a note of caution for all those eagerly responding to a film through their angry videos, social media statuses and abusive attacks on any fellow Pakistani who dares to disagree. You are making a joke out of yourself and are representing Pakistan in most undesirable manner.
The self-righteousness, sexism, misogyny and hyper nationalism that oozes out of this pompous ‘patriotic’ discourse is damaging for a state that is fighting radicalism for its internal security. Fanning it in the name of ‘love of the country’ is akin to legitimising hatred and radicalisation.

Is this how you want to see Pakistan? Think again gentlemen.

Marvi Sirmed

The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter

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