Published in Daily Times on June 29th 2014.
The Punjab police’s brutality against Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers was unpardonable. It led to 11 killed and over 80 injured. With all the hunters of our people out there, the police being part of the list is a blow to our already splintered spine. However, while we grieve in solidarity, let us not forget that the revolution he talks about, and the one that the media gives tremendous airtime to, is one that spells disaster, at least for half of Pakistan.
He is either completely ambivalent or deliberately callous toward the war that is waged on women in Pakistan. When they are hung from trees their rapists go free because of Islamic interpretations that support their acquittal, underage girls die in childbirth and this finds sanction in the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), women are beaten routinely in households they slave for, they are murdered by their own families outside courtrooms and when they cannot, because of cultural oppression, marry out of their choice, then we have not just a mere problem, but a war.
I say ‘deliberate’ because the focus on women he has is entirely misplaced. He said in one of his sermons: “The devil expresses itself first though clothes and makeup. Makeup is only for the benefit of your husband and not even for your parents. Do not tailor big necklines, short sleeves or fitting clothes. This is haram (forbidden) and the path of the devil. A man is judged by his actions but women are judged first by what they wear.”
When Tahirul Qadri, the deliverer of our freedoms, asks women to cover up, whom exactly is he protecting women from? Correct: from men. From those men, specifically, who hate women and want to punish them for their existence. From misogyny and from patriarchy. Want to bring a revolution? Change this. Do not tell the victim to shrink, to become invisible and to recoil in some fold in a black hole.
It is easier for him to devote a lot of his time to the inches of cloth women have around their waistlines and hemlines. He has asked women who wear fitted clothes to burn them. God forbid, in a post-Qadri world, the women will be thrown into the pit along with the clothes. It does not matter if you are Shahidullah Shahid, Mullah Omar or Tahirul Qadri — you want women to suffer. Specifically, Tahirul Qadri and his ilk want women to suffer through the guardianship system they preach: through this brutal control of one human being over mobility, education and work, intellectual and individual expression and needs, over another. Wherever there is control, there is abuse and oppression.
Had Tahirul Qadri cared about the abhorrent gender gap in Pakistan, he would have known that there are more pressing issues that need correction. Had he paid attention to the insurmountable challenge to the population explosion that feeds extremism by conflagrating poverty, he would know the first place to start would be to empower women. To give them a voice and enable control over their own fertility, not just through decrees but through real on ground change. He probably did not opt for this because it takes real hard work to build a national consensus over the really explosive problems of society — the stuff real revolutions are made of.
The ‘intersectionality’ of women in this region should be considered before any decrees are made attempting to provide solutions. Women in Pakistan have the huge baggage of cultural misogyny from centuries ago. They have to face obstructions from narrow interpretations of religious texts and, ultimately, economics does not allow them the legs to move out of their cage.
Self-professed leaders, narcissists and borderline psychopaths want that cage shrunk in 2014, right when the world is opening up horizons for them to level the field. Oppose the Taliban all you want but it is easy to see a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Tahirul Qadri said he brought all his shoes from Canada when he came. That is excellent news, especially for him. He knows what to do with his revolution: walk it back to his home. He will need all his shoes.