Last week a video went viral in which Shahid Afridi suggested (with churlish seriousness) that Pakistani women ought to cook instead of playing sports. Another young Pakistani man related to cricket only in so far as being Imran Khan’s nephew, hurled the term ‘faggot’ at Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. A holistic health and yoga centre, ‘The Art of Living’, was attacked and destroyed by unknown men possibly incited by a television program that equated the practice of yoga with being a RAW agent. An Ahmadi acquaintance on my Facebook revealed his office no longer allows him to drink water from the same glass as the rest of his colleagues. A 16-year-old ex-student of mine got married. I was still trying to process this information when the Council for Islamic Ideology declared there ought to be no minimum age of marriage in Pakistan, nor should men be legally prevailed upon to seek their wives’ permission to marry another time.
This smorgasbord of regressive social behavior has its roots in a lack of discourse in the Pakistani mainstream on universally accepted norms of social justice. In my experience as a former school teacher there is criminal neglect surrounding the teaching of new (and not so new) concepts widely accepted in the world today as fairly centrist. Misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, racism and even underage marriage cannot necessarily be done away with strict laws. What needs to change is the conversation around these ideas, but for that to happen there needs to be a conversation to begin with.
At a boys school that I taught at for two years – famous for its grand buildings, lush grounds and colonial history – few students and even fewer teachers were familiar with terms like sexism or xenophobia. To pass any value judgment on these concepts is a later stage of mental evolution, the first is a familiarity with the lexicon that can allow the building of more complex thought. You cannot go on to grasp crucial scientific concepts without first learning basic definitions, and while all children get to learn what a cell looks like, the ways in which we digest food and the first law of motion, none are ever taught why calling someone a faggot is bad form and could be detrimental to their long term goals in a world where political correctness (or just simply not being a jerk) might turn out to be crucial.
I believe Imran Khan’s nephew Hassan Niazi when he says, ‘I would never say anything to hurt someone’ even as proof of his intentionally trying to hurt someone is published in a Guardian article; for to him casually throwing about the word faggot is not his idea of hurting anyone, since the school he comes from the less macho kids invariably have to grin and bear the jokes of the macho (or pretending to be macho) majority. What is most telling in his statement is: “I am not used to these terms”. I think what he means to say is he is not used to these terms being deemed offensive or leading to any social ostracizing.
Then there is Arshed Sharif who not only egregiously baited the odious Ansar Abbasi/Orea Maqbool Jan duo (to the latter’s credit he at least had the decency to look somewhat embarrassed with Sharif’s vulgar inquisition of the gentlemanly Naeem Zamindar, Pakistan director of The Art of Living) but in his ‘defence’ later on retweeted the following tweet addressed to writer Nadeem Farooq Paracha:
“Parachay! Arshad theek kr ra hay na aur kia wo teri trah kaalay amreeki obaamay ko “hqeeqi baap” bna lay?”
I am assuming Arshed Sharif also went to a private school and considers himself educated.
The way things stand our education emergency, the desire to educate more and more Pakistanis will push the country further into delusions of grandeur and a sense of inflated greatness. If even our best education fails to humanize or at least equip our youth with the tools to sound civilized, expecting anything sensible from Shahid Afridi is to close our eyes to the basics.
Sabahat Zakariya is a writer and editor, interested in exploring the intersection between Pakistani pop culture and feminism.