Even as Pakistani women organize for greater freedom, radical clerics issued a fatwa, or religious decree, against Tourism Minister Nilofer Bakhtiar for “violation of acceptable moral norms.” Her crime? Bakhtiar not only parachuted from a plane to raise funds for earthquake victims, but at the end of her jump she accepted a hug from a French man (he would be French, wouldn’t he, the rogue?). The mullahs are using the incident to increase calls to institute Shariah, or Muslim law, in Pakistan, under which women become virtual prisoners, barely allowed to leave the home.
As for Bakhtiar, she blames “the photo captions,” which she says “were horrible.” As much as I’ve googled and yahoo’d, I’m still unable to find the offending captions. But I can imagine them: I don’t know how many times, as a journalist, I’ve had to apologize and grovel to some interview subject about the captions and headings placed by a layout person with a weird sense of humor. A story about sex therapists was accompanied by pictures of babes with outsized boobs; an article on the Men’s Movement was headlined What Do Men Want, and Why Should We Care? Most people have no concept of the workings of newspapers, so they blame the writers for everything.
Thus, all morning I’ve been speculating about the captions that might have accompanied Bakhtiar’s photos:
—– Tourism Minister Leaps Into Paramour’s Arms—–
—– Unknown Frenchman with Leaping Lover—–
—– Bakhtiar, Carried Off by Lover, Waves to Crowds—–
—– Bakhtiar Flies, Flaunts French Flirt, Foments Fatwa—–
Okay, I admit it: I’m not as good at this as those late-night layout people–which is why they’re hired for it.
Moving along: The fatwa demanded that Bakhtiar be fired, given another unspecified punishment and that her family “force her to ask for forgiveness so that she does not repeat this un-Islamic act.” Bakhtiar, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League, which supports her actions, says she’s not intimidated. But some Pakistanis fear this may mark the beginning of a renewed precedent reminiscent of the fatwa against writer Salman Rushdie, who’s made himself scarce ever since it was issued two decades ago.
This isn’t the first or only action by Pakistan’s hardline clerics, who recently started a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in defiance of state authority. Last week they announced the establishment of an Islamic court and gave the government a one-month ultimatum to close brothels and video shops. They warned video and music shop owners to close their businesses, and they abducted a woman and her relatives for allegedly running a brothel.
The bright light in all this medieval darkness is pakistaniwomen.com. Anyone who believes that Pakistani women really like living under burkas and Shariah should check out the myriad ways they’re defending their rights and working for greater freedom.