Almost exactly three years ago SLN reported on Pakistani actress Veena Malik outraging the country by posing, semi-nude for FHM Pakistan magazine with the letters ISI -Inter Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s secret police)- inked on her arm.
She’s in the news again, this time for receiving a 26 year jail term by breaking Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Her crime? Filming a mock wedding for a TV show in which a religious song was playing in the background. It would be interesting to know if, in the world of cinematic post-production, the music was overlaid after filming. It certainly has an air of ‘stitch up’ about it, and some media is inferring as such.
First Post reports how she is becoming a poster girl for freedom of expression, but I note, with some alarm and despair, comments left on the site because, if it’s irony or satire, its intent isn’t particularly clear. I sincerely hope the following is satirising women’s freedoms, and freedoms of expression, within the Muslim world.
In this youtube video, she takes on an Islamic cleric (and wins the argument hands down).
Apparently a divisive figure in Pakistan, her supporters suggest she represents a progressive Islam, a champion of women’s rights. Her detractors question her morality. Morality is, of course, a hazy thing and I, an American in England, can’t really judge Pakistan’s moral framework in the same terms as my own. Nor would I dream of doing so. I can only judge in terms of a sense of humanity, that all God’s creatures, Christian or Muslim, male or female, need to be treated equally. Women in general, Islamic women in particular, appear to me to be not being given equal rights.
Born into a poor family of seven children in the northern city of Rawalpindi, her mission comes out of personal experience, ever since she was “a kid.”
“I’ve been watching my dad hitting my mom for no reason, for the food. ‘You did not cook the food on time,’ and things like that. Little things,” she says.
“When I grew older, my elder sister, she was 14, my father married her off. The other sister was 11, my father married her off. I was in the sixth standard [sixth grade in secondary school], when my father said that, ‘Now it is your turn.’ I stood up. And I was hardly 12, 13 at that time. I said, ‘No, why should I get married? I mean, why, why should I? I mean, I don’t want to!’ And then my father said, ‘No, you have to.’ And this was the first time I stood up for myself.”
In Malik’s telling, her father, a retired army officer, told her he had no more money for her studies so she worked to put herself through school. At 17, she decided to go into show business, a decision derided by her relatives as an unconscionable disgrace.
She fell in love for the first time, she says, when she was 20 years old. Rumors abound, but she says she is not in a relationship at present, adding that things fell apart with a former boyfriend after she became a victim of physical abuse.
But she emerged from that experience with a message for Pakistani women. “I want to tell them that ‘You are beautiful, and strong, and you don’t need to hide under the shadow of a man just because you’re a woman,'” she says. “They have to be told that they don’t have to wait for a man to feed them, they have to be told that they are strong. These women don’t know how strong and beautiful they actually are.”
“You won’t believe the kind of huge response I have received from the women of Pakistan, even the women who wear the burqa and all.” She quotes messages from girls who say things like, “you have given us hope, to stand up.”
She thinks things have “already started” to change in Pakistan. But with Islamabad mired in political infighting and the country confronted with growing insurgent violence, she says the time has come for women to “think for themselves…. Because no one else is going to give a damn [about them] in Pakistan.”
As a 27-year-old celebrity, Malik is part of a growing majority in Pakistan, where over two-thirds of the population is under 30.
Pakistan is home to deeply rooted conservative values with unprecedented exposure to the modern world due to the ready availability of cheap modern technology and the country’s widespread use of the English language.
Nineteen-year-old Siraj Ali, a Pakistani studying in Karachi, says Malik “was right about that cleric [Qavi],” adding that he and his friends “all support her.” He doesn’t think this is the dominant opinion among his peers, however, warning that many young people have been influenced by the fundamentalist Taliban.
Others believe more positive changes are afoot. Umar Saif, a 33-year-old Pakistani professor recently listed among MIT’s prestigious Top Young Innovators, thinks Malik’s generation will change Pakistan.
“Pakistan’s really come of age, as most nations need to, and the next generation will usher in a time of modernization and usher in an era of political awareness, usher in an era of political tolerance, and just enlightenment,” Saif says. “And we hope to embrace, you know, the civilized way the rest of the world has gone about their business.”
Let us hope that it is Malik’s generation who will find a path that allows them to pursue this progressive Islam, and who can truly change society in the country over the next generation or so.
Veena Mailk as a sexy movie star, scandalising Pakistan.
Note: this jail sentence arrives since Miss Malik has apparently renounced the film industry, acknowledged ‘mistakes’ in her past, got married, given birth to a son, and undertaken Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca. It would appear that, for whatever reason, embracing her religion, where she might have scandalised it before, has been no protection from the ludicrous findings of the courts.
Veena Malik and her husband since renouncing the glitz and glamour of Bollywood.
(Ella adds: Apricot submitted this without being aware of our previous reporting on Veena, so the piece went back to her for a little bit of a re-write prior to publication)