Two weeks ago I had a serious argument with a few American and Canadian friends.
The subject of the argument was women’s rights in Pakistan.
These people were convinced that women lead miserable lives in Pakistan.
They were adamant that women are not allowed education and other basic human rights in Pakistan.
This is not a new argument for Pakistanis to have.
Any Pakistani who travels abroad often comes across well meaning but pointed questions about the state of the country.
Questions about the security situation. Questions about education and democracy. About the rights of minorities and the rights of women.
Over time, I have found myself repeating the same few lines in response to all these questions.
When people ask about women’s rights, I point out that we have had a woman prime minister and a woman foreign minister. I talk about women fighter pilots and women army generals.
When people talk about minority rights, I talk about Justice Bhagwan Daas, the prominent Hindu member of the supreme court bench.
My favorite thing to say is that the media likes to highlight the negative. What you see on CNN is not reflective of the whole country.
I am pretty good at these arguments. And I won this argument a couple of weeks ago. I managed to convince my foreign friends that Pakistan is indeed a country that values life, education and civil liberties. I had them convinced that minorities can and do prosper in Pakistan. And after a lot of effort, I managed to convince them that all of Pakistan is not like the tribal areas.
And then this week happened.
First , a few zealots took it upon themselves to rid the world of Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar, a member of the Ahmadi sect. He was shot multiple times in front of his family. Shot because he didn’t share the beliefs of the shooters. Shot, because the shooters truly believe that they are doing God’s work, and anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs deserves to die.
Then, a young pregnant woman was killed by a mob in Lahore. The mob was led by her father and brothers. Killed because she had married the man of her choosing. Killed mere 50 yards from the High Court. The police called it an ‘honor killing.’
Apparently Farzana had been engaged to be married to one of her cousins. She had defied her family’s wishes and chosen to marry another man. This, in the minds of her family, warranted an ‘honor killing.’ Otherwise known as murder.
It seems to me that every now and then the people of Pakistan reach for a new low.
Whether it is shooting a girl for wanting to go to school, or shooting a journalist for speaking his mind.
There is always an excuse for this behavior.All manner of sin is explained away in the guise of conspiracy theories and ‘real stories.’
And these ‘real stories’ are accompanied by vicious aggression reserved for the victim. It’s always the victim’s fault. Why did she have to write about going to school. Why did he come to Pakistan. Why didn’t she just marry her cousin. She’d still be alive.
Us Pakistanis, we are not kind to our own.
But there is no ‘real story’ here. This is the story.
A man was shot for his beliefs.
A woman was stoned for her choice of a husband.
There is no honor in ‘honor killing.’
And as much as I love Pakistan, I can’t bring myself to defend Pakistan.
Not this week.