Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Plight of Pakistan

We watched a very telling and interesting DVD in Comparative Politics today. A woman who had lived in Pakistan (was born and raised there), and then moved to the US to study at Smith College and Stanford University (LMAO - talk about not fundamentalist :D), went back to Pakistan to uncover some of what is happening there politically. Specifically, she went to understand better the influence of a group called the MMA, which now occupies 15% or so of Parliament there. There are basically an offshoot of the former Taliban in Afghanistan, and many are former members of the Taliban’s army, as well as arms suppliers, etc. They say that they follow a very strict interpretation of the Koran, but they really just use Islam to justify whatever they feel like doing.

The narrator, Sharmeen, walked through the streets of areas in Northwest Pakistan, where the MMA for some reason has the most power, and has infiltrated the towns. She spoke to musicians who were banned from playing, since music in any form is illegal to members of the MMA (it is against Islam/a distraction from true worship of Allah). She walked through the street with a head-covering but no burqa, and saw lots of women wearing them, as well as advertising and billboards where women’s faces had been cut out or painted over with black paint. There is a rule under the MMA’s interpretation of Islam that no human figure can be depicted in print, photography, paintings, sculptures, etc. The narrator interviewed a billboard-painter who was now without much of a job. Something very interesting that he said was that the very people elected into office in Parliament who were members of the MMA and now prohibited him from painting humans in his signs had commissioned him to paint their own likenesses for advertising before the election! I thought that was very indicative of the corruption of the MMA and the fact that many of them believe what they do for reasons other than religious (i.e. personal power, etc.).

Though many are convinced that fundamental Islam is the only Islam. One of the most interesting parts was when the narrator entered a youth organization (reminiscent of the Hitler Jugend, or Hitler Youth, of 1930’s Germany, though without the racial stigma) and talked to one of the leaders. He almost jokingly, and definitely blatantly, told her that he agreed with the Taliban, that they were right and believed in Islam in its purest form, and that he wishes the Pakistani government were like they had been. He said he was sad that they had been overthrown in Afghanistan. She was curious about his specific views on women and what they are allowed and how they are portrayed. She showed him some Pakistani ads from more liberal areas of the country. One of them, he was literally shocked at. He was gaping. It was an ad featuring a model, dressed in the Western style, though not revealing in terms of skin. She wore a shirt that form-fitted her torso. Also, makeup. He asked the narrator if this woman was Pakistani. She said yes, since she was. He could not for the life of him believe that. He asked the narrator, “Would you rather be an object like this?” She didn’t answer, since she only wanted his opinion. He said it was totally wrong. He added this very interesting quote: “We want to give women the freedom to be mothers, sisters, daughters. We truly care for our women, which is why we believe what we believe.” (sic) This quote really got me, since it really makes no sense. Women are already mothers, daughters, and sisters. Are you saying that you, or men in general, give women their identities? It was very very enlightening to hear some of the propaganda spouted by the people in favor of the MMA taking over Parliament, and Pakistan. Somewhere else in the film, an MMA Senator that the narrator interviewed said that the sentiment against fundamentalist Islamic rules, especially for women, was American propaganda. Propaganda, as compared to what? The truth? Or more propaganda? It was amazing to see how much they used “Western” tactics even as they condemned them.

Later, the narrator went to a bigger city, in a more central area of Pakistan. Here, she didn’t cover her head, and there were lots of women wearing what she wore, and some even less conservatively dressed. She went to interview models at a fashion show, who were basically the Pakistani equivalent of models here in the US (besides the fact that they looked healthier, and they didn’t model bras, they modeled designer pants and shirts like normal people, lol). They talked about the MMA just as we would. One said that the difference between them and other women in more northwest parts of Pakistan was that she would feel right at home in a place like New York, whereas the other women would not.

Which reminds me of another shocker in this film. The narrator interviewed a woman in government, who supported the MMA! She wore a black burqa-like veil (it wasn’t a burqa, since she had a slit through which you could see her bare eyes). She spoke with her hands a lot. She said she did not think that the MMA persecuted or treated women unjustly. But then later she admitted that in Parliament, no one would listen to her because she was a woman, basically, and her opinion was automatically treated as less important and/or valid as a result.

There was lots more to this DVD and I wish everyone reading this could see it because it was really incredible. Made me want to learn more. But the above were a few of the “highlights.” Intriguing, no?

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