[Dawn] LAST week, Mohammedans across the United Kingdom were in a tizzy about Citizen Khan -- and not the one who chairs the Pakistain Tehrik-e-Insaf ...a political party in Pakistan. PTI was founded by former Pakistani cricket captain and philanthropist Imran Khan. The party's slogan is Justice, Humanity and Self Esteem, each of which is open to widely divergent interpretations.... . A new BBC One sitcom about a Pak Mohammedan family in Sparkhill, Birmingham, Citizen Khan has raised age-old questions about the value of comedic satire.
Is it mere frippery that offends and isolates to the detriment of social harmony? Or is it a social necessity, a way to tackle difficult issues that otherwise remain unaddressed owing to sensitivities and outdated policies?
The first episode of the show was an assemblage of stereotypes: Mr Khan is an outwardly religious, stingy patriarch with an inflated sense of importance in his community; his wife is prone to histrionics and obsessed with keeping up appearances; his daughter is the embodiment of a culture clash -- she wears tight jeans under her sparkly hijab and tosses aside a fashion magazine and instead pretends to read the Koran when her father enters the room. Moreover, marriages are arranged, sofas are covered in plastic covers, and tea is sipped from the saucer rather than the cup.
Though familiar and benign, these depictions sparked quite an uproar among British Mohammedans: more than 700 people complained to the BBC about Citizen Khan and 20 people approached Ofcom, prompting the television regulator to consider launching an inquiry to determine whether the show had broken the broadcasting code by airing racist content. In different forums, British Mohammedans have accused the show of "taking the mickey out of Islam", being "disrespectful to the Koran" and perpetuating stereotypes about British Asians. But this is a gross overreaction.
The fact is, shows like Citizen Khan are essential in multicultural societies and help put all communities on an equal footing -- if everyone can have a laugh at everyone else's expense, then no one can claim superiority. This logic has made the quirks and peculiarities of minority communities fair game for comedy for decades; indeed, Woody Allen elevated it to an Oscar-winning art with his jibes against Manhattan's Jewish community. In short, comedy engenders equality; you can't expect equal treatment if you ask to be treated by separate rules.
By demanding to be spared from sitcom humour, British Mohammedans, or at least the ones objecting to Citizen Khan, are setting themselves apart and thus encouraging the British public to isolate, misunderstand and fear them rather than tease, mock and engage them. Mark Lawson made this point succinctly when he wrote in the Guardian: "My own cultural outsider's view is that Citizen Khan pays British Mohammedans perhaps the highest compliment television can bestow, which is treating them like any other creed and people by subjecting them to a gentle domestic sitcom in the tradition of My Family."
[Dawn] ON most days, this doesn't feel like a country at war. And yet that is precisely what it is. Consider just some of the violent incidents of the last few days: a bomb in a marketplace in Beautiful Downtown Peshawar ...capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province), administrative and economic hub for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Peshawar is situated near the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, convenient to the Pak-Afghan border. Peshawar has evolved into one of Pakistan's most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities, which means lots of gunfire. kills innocent civilians. In Bajaur Agency, aka Turban Central ...Smallest of the agencies in FATA. The Agency administration is located in Khar. Bajaur is inhabited almost exclusively by Tarkani Pashtuns, which are divided into multiple bickering subtribes. Its 52 km border border with Afghanistan's Kunar Province makes it of strategic importance to Pakistain's strategic depth... security forces and citizens battle cut-throats who are fighting their way back into Pakistain from Afghanistan; on Friday they revealed the severed heads of a dozen soldiers. A judge is rubbed out in Quetta in what appears to be a sectarian attack. Zoom out a few more days, and you have Minhas airbase being brazenly attacked, Shias being killed execution-style in Naran and Quetta, and ongoing festivities in Khyber Agency where even cellphone shops are being shut down for being 'un-Islamic'. What seems to be forgotten amidst all the talk of US-Pakistain relations, judiciary-executive tussles and the state of the economy is the fact that we are still confronted with militancy and terrorism that, in some parts, is gaining ground again.
It's almost as if Paks have been lulled into a false sense of complacency after the operations in Swat, Bajaur and South Wazoo in 2009 and a decline in the frequency of terrorist incidents after the bloody days of that year. The concerted campaign to build public and political consensus that enabled the relative -- though still tenuous -- success of the operation in Swat ...a valley and an administrative district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistain, located 99 mi from Islamabad. It is inhabited mostly by Pashto speakers. The place has gone steadily downhill since the days when Babe Ruth was the Sultan of Swat... hasn't been seen since. America is increasingly the focus of public resentment, especially given the increase in drone attacks, and not much has been done to get the nation to collectively confront the reality that something is rotten in the state of Pakistain itself. Nor do the military and administration seem to have the will to launch military efforts with the same determination and focus they did three years ago. Operations and security measures seem piecemeal, hesitant or reactive, lacking the conviction and all-out effort that are still clearly needed. We are far from being out of the woods, but there is no discernible plan to get us through them.
[Dawn] TO anyone familiar with the fabrications that often surround allegations of blasphemy, the revelation that the imam of a local mosque involved in producing the 'evidence' of a young Christian girl's alleged blasphemous act blatantly tampered with the religious paraphernalia will have come as no surprise. What has come as a welcome surprise is that a witness came forward and that the state took action. Khalid Jadoon, the local imam, has been taken in judicial custody, accused of inserting pages of the Koran into the bag containing other religious material that the girl is alleged to have burned. The muezzin of the same mosque who gave his testimony in an Islamabad court on Saturday claims that the imam wanted to beef up the 'evidence' to ensure that the girl's family would have to leave the neighbourhood for good.
Awful as Khalid Jadoon's alleged act is, the argument that he himself should now be tried under the blasphemy laws is misplaced. After all, he's a Moslem holy man...
The misuse of religious laws cannot be rectified by turning those flawed laws against those who try to misuse them. Instead, what is needed is a national debate ... an expenditure of personal wind at the national level that leads to face-making and other histrionics but can't be shown to have ever solved an issue ... and wide-ranging overhaul of laws that are clearly prone to abuse at the hands of those with personal vendettas and of bigoted thought. If guilty, Khalid Jadoon can and must be punished under a host of laws that criminalise fabricating evidence, giving false testimony and fomenting public disorder. The imam can and should become a very public example so that at least some will be deterred from going down the same shameful path. Additionally, it may give courage to more people like the muezzin, Hafiz Mohammad Zubair, who came forward to give testimony in an environment where keeping quiet out of fear is an all too tempting path for bystanders. Instead, the case will be quietly dropped in a week or two, the muezzin will be fired, and the imam will return to his no doubt lucrative post...
Of course, the immediate concern is the fate of the girl herself and the safety of her family and the other Christian families in the neighbourhood. They're toast.
There is much to be grateful for in the fact that the wheels of justice are for once turning in the right direction but the ongoing damage to the girl, her family and other Christians in their neighbourhood must end quickly. For that to happen, the state must play the role it is required to under the law, on principle and in moral terms. The climate of fear surrounding such matters is deep rooted and will take a long time to overcome. But it cannot be overcome at an individual level. Because the state has shirked many, if not most, of its responsibilities, to its citizens for so long, the problem has grown. And it will keep growing unless forceful action is taken.