You saw Veena Malik take down Mufti Saab, and expose his hypocrisies. Now we have Marvi Sirmed tear to shreds the notorious, laal topi wala, muskhara and baloongra, Zaid Hamid in the talk show, Shahid Nama.
He is the second to fall after Aamir Liaquat who was recently humiliated by the leaking of a video showing him abusing, cursing, singing and being grossly irreverent contrary to his image. Its the shaming of the mullahs, the televangelists, men who present rhetorical positions divorced from peoples' social and economic realities, are incorrigibly arrogant simply because they can splash religious rhetoric in the face of any argument. Their appeal depends, ironically, on largely women fans lusting for them, and what makes them so guiltily watchable is their narcissism and metro-sexuality. Zaid Hamid, a gora chitta light eyed man whose Kashmiri looks are inspiring on multiple levels, and Aamir Liaquat although not conventionally good looking, manicured and with a self righteous smile that excites the hearts of his fans and so thinly disguises his sexual perversion.
Regardless of how you feel about Marvi’s politics, she shines when she exposes Hamid’s language as hegemonic. "We give rights to Hindus," he says and she reminds him that no one has accorded him that elevated status to be meting out rights. People have rights under the law as equal citizens – whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians. Best also is her rejection of his use of his religious symbolism. At two points in the show, Hamid mutters Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un and then later Astagfiralla when he is totally lost on argument and eloquence. Instead of being cowered down by his blatant abuse of releigion intended to humiliate her and remind the audience that he is a pious man and she an errant woman (notably in a bindi and a sari), Marvi responds, by saying, “please stop doing this” and "poonkna band karein." And delightfully enough, Hamid looks foolish.
When he tries to question her on the Kashmir issue, she asks him why he has never spoken about out slain and missing Baluchi brothers and sister whom agencies have killed and disappeared – and how he has the blood of 10,000 children on his hands who went for Jihad in Afghanistan and were killed. Hamid has no response for this, and morally Sirmed remains on a higher plane.
Just a few days ago we were talking about how “taking pungas” is the sole prerogative of men; they do it all the time, often meanly and seldom get publicly condemned for it because people are interested only in the academic strength of their arguments. They come to the table with significantly more authority and credibility. Women, leftist or otherwise, are more easily labeled as aggressive, contentious -- dismissed as irrelevant or unnecessarily belligerent if they take a position. So its great to see Marvi take on a controversial issue and not back down, or be subdued by vague religious references.
Its difficult to do what she did in mainstream media; but this position taking is just as hard for women in politically progressive and socially liberal circles. I once publicly took a position against the military operation in Swat. I also wrote about TEDx for being a form of corporate social activism. In such circles in Pakistan, there are safe issues and unsafe issues -- these essentially draw the line between liberal and left. It is kosher to talk about religious extremism and blasphemy laws in an economic vacuum, the rights of religious minorities and women, but it is not to talk about the material and economic basis of oppression or class.
Whereas critiquing the Supreme Court’s Mukhtaran Mai decision as misogynist is safe , condemning drones as an impingement of Pakistani sovereignty is safe, questioning the military’s interference with governance and their financial enterprises (Ayesha Siddiqua style) is safe – it is not safe to condemn the Pakistani military’s action in FATA against extremism for its violation of human rights, it isn't safe to talk about the due process rights of people eliminated extra judicially on mere suspicion or conjecture for ties to militant groups. It certainly isn’t safe to critique capitalism and its new soft face in the form of social entrepreneurship – and whether these feel good, intellectually lethargic projects are the solution for an eighteen crore population that is on the verge of starvation due to rising cost of living, and suffering some of its most violent repercussions. Some of its sponsors are responsible for or have no problem with large scale government policies and projects (big dams, drainage projects, corporate agriculture, land sales and allocations, GMO seeds) done in collusion with foreign interests and capital that spell ruin for small farmers and rural people.
I've had to adjust my tone, say things in a palatable manner; even women who are progressive on gender start treating you with hostility – hostility that they typically reserve for patriarchal men. But here it is to preserve their own privileged positions as spokesperson and delegitimizing any critique that may be critical of their own. Ultimately, these gendered norms force you to adapt around them – you can’t constantly challenge, you can't always argue like a leftist guy, fighting on email and blogs, asserting political superiority and academic merit. You can only establish credibility through quiet research, well crafted campaigns and solid activism; you have to establish yourself, and occasionally feminize your vocabulary and attitude. But whatever approval it is you may be looking for, you are at some level acquiescing to gendered expectations -- but perhaps you are doing it because some other issue that you are organizing around is more important.
So what I saw Marvi do was a vindication. She seemed unaffected by gendering and this sexist tendency in the mainstream and on the liberal and left. Words slip off her tongue, and even if she is privately sensitive to all the back stabbing and dismissals, she has established her power and position to be beyond hurt and reproach– she has publicly desensitized and de-censored herself- and perhaps understood Iqbal's philosophy of shattering untruths more than Zaid has. She is above the metaphorical witch burning that happens so often in all circles - because truth is more important..
It is another matter that Marvi’s politics in the left/liberal divide are more or less safe, and she doesn't have to deal with being demonized even by progressives - and while there are a thousand derogatory comments on you tube, a solid group of liberals are defending her on email and offering congrats. Note also that Marvi dodged the issue of Indian army atrocities in Kashmir. Aside from her discussion on missing Baluchis and U.S. funding of the mujahudin, she does not offer economic roots for problems or offer the crisis theory of capitalism. Safely, she argues against a religious extremist who she exposes as a bigot and a liar. She is a more sophisticated Veena. All of us on the left and liberal side are down with that. We all share that lowest common denominator that Pakistan should be a poltically secular state where women and men are equal and Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis enjoy equal protections of the law.
Regardless, kudos to Marvi – a debater with perfect timing, and guts, a better dress sense than her opponent-- for speaking up in a shrinking space where people get into trouble for what should be freedom of speech May history bless you with more words. Zaid Hamid sure got slapped bad.