Should Qandeel Baloch’s ‘striptease’ really be a rallying cause for liberalism?

Liberalism in context of Pakistan has to come down from the glass-towers of the elite and should be about the plight and everyday struggles of the masses

In the eventful frenzy of social media a seemingly innocuous act of an individual is thrown into the maze of divergent and conflicting ideologies and the contested spaces. Making judgments and passing them is made easy by the arrogance one is blessed by easy access to black-and-white value pronouncements and linear and naïve analysis of situation. Opinion informed by prejudice and crystalized by the social media working as an echo chamber -- where your own pseudo-sophisticated and seemingly profound logic is legitimized by some sort of celebrity intellectual and boasted by repetition of like-minded collectives, obscures the lines of a dispassionate and civilized debate. As the hate-mongers, bigots and misogynists have a field day while drooling at the prospect of deconstructing the arguments of liberalism – although what they are deconstructing is merely a strawman version of it – the proponents of free-speech and equalitarian spaces fall into their trap.

Liberalism (not in the economic or political sense of the word but the social context, which it has come to be used in) has its detractors, proponents and over-zealous vagaries. Its detractors have their modus-operandi. The female bodies are their area of focus and concern. What a female does with her body or even her mere presence in public spaces, in whatever form, unsettles them and all their attacks and illogical articulations are articulated with a woman body as the main articulator. What scares them is the agency of a woman as equal to that of theirs. The principle as to what every human is free and has the ability to think and act according to their principles, choices or even whims is anathema to their patriarchal male privilege which is conceptualized vis-à-vis taming the woman and expressed in imagined concerns that the horrors which will be wrecked upon society if a woman is allowed to be herself in any way she wants to be.

Social media provides them with ample opportunities where an innocuous act of an individual woman takes on anti-social, anti-cultural and conspiratorial proportions when seen through their lens of piety and modesty. Thus starts their goading, their self-fulfilling prophecies. So much for them, but their goading at times is successful in taking the focus of the liberals and its proponents away from the real issues and the liberals are mired in unnecessary defense of an individual or even of rejecting that individual for the sake of values of liberalism. Such was the case recently when an entertainer – Qandeel Baloch – decided to exercise her agency if Pakistan beat India in the recently cricket World Cup. The reactions to this act of the individual varied from linking it with honor of the country to it being symbol of liberalism. While the former stance is utterly hilarious the latter is a misguided one. Liberalism is a spectrum of values which encompasses values of equality, freedom of expression, and the freedom to do whatever what one wants with his/her body.  Taking a part of the spectrum and making it the sole arbiter of the success or otherwise of a liberal society and rallying around it or around the one exercising that right takes the focus away from the true emphasis of liberalism.

Liberalism should be about masses. Liberalism in context of Pakistan has to come down from the glass-towers of the elite and should be about the plight and everyday struggles of the masses. While mocking a woman who chose a form of expression in any form, either by slut-shaming or by participating in the belittlement through making fun, is misogynistic, but rallying around a very personal and individualistic act is missing the point of liberalism. Liberalism has real heroes in Pakistani society. They need to be celebrated, their sacrifices and struggles for a more tolerant and progressive society trumps the need for lending the support and activism to an aimless stunt. Not all acts can be gauged through lens of feminism and liberalism, some are individual and they should be left as that.

Bigots and honor brigades are to be fought on our own turf, the turf of equality, tolerance and progressive values. They need to be reminded every time when they trample a human right and human agency of their bigotry. Perseverance in standing through onslaught of their misogynistic and patriarchal and bigoted pronouncements is a full-time job and can’t be let to be limited to a particular episode when they have an opportunity to manifest their misogyny and bigotry.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at Follow him on Facebook 

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