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By Calling Bilawal ‘Sahiba’ PM Khan Did Not Attack An Opponent. He Insulted All Women

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PM Imran Khan apologized for his remarks at a rally in Waziristan where be bashed Bilawal by calling him ‘sahiba’. But that was too little and too late. He only exposed (and reinforced) the misogynistic mindset that afflicts Pakistan and many other countries, writes Meriam Sabih. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan has confused world geography and baffled us by saying Prophet Isa (Jesus) was not mentioned in history, and has been ruthless towards his political opponents. But Khan’s recent statement at a rally in Wana shocked many Pakistanis who say it was unbecoming of a Prime Minister to make the sexist remark. Prime Minister Imran Khan taunted Bilawal Bhutto by calling him “Sahiba” in an attempt to undermine his credibility. But in attempts to take a jab at Bilawal he instead espoused a disturbing misogyny. The job of public officials, especially the Prime Minister, is to elevate discussion and debate on policies not to stifle debate and reduce the discourse to petty name-calling, reinforcing gender bias, and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Though he acknowledged a week later on May 1st that mistakes happen, he did not apologize for his choice of words. Prime Minister Imran Khan insulted not only women, who make up almost half the population of the country, but the sexist and homophobic slur angered many Pakistanis. Misogyny should have no place in an enlightened Pakistan whether Naya or Purana.

Instead of taking the high ground, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari responded with a crude remark regarding the Umpire’s finger which could be taken in several ways. But his speech in the Parliament on April 22nd was substantive. He was applauded by human rights activists for bringing up the topic of parliamentarians who support terror groups and call for investigating the allegations of rigging in 2018 elections. Bilawal was also defending himself over being called a traitor as many before him were similarly attacked including even Fatima Jinnah. He asked important questions which deserve answers, including why the same ministers of previous administrations have replaced PTI’s ministers. In a democracy, such debates must be encouraged. But instead of answers, he faced further ridicule.

Throughout Pakistan’s history, Pakistani women have been at the forefront in the fight for civil rights, justice, and democracy. We only need to look at the examples of Asma Jahangir, Malala Yousafzai, and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto to know that these women stood up to dictators, misogynists, and even terrorists with a fierceness that even the toughest of men could not match. Pakistani women have been recognized worldwide for their awe-inspiring contributions. They have showed the world through their example that true power is not about using force, being vengeful, or ridiculing others to feel superior, but true strength is about taking the higher ground.

By embracing an unfounded machismo, Imran Khan, tried to make himself appear to be a “bigger man” than Bilawal. In his speech in Wana he characterized his entire reason for coming to power to be “ethisaab” or accountability of his political opponents, not taking into account that elected officials in a democracy represent a large segment of the population.

Whose voices is he really muffling when he attempts to silence opposition parties not only by threatening them but also through insults? The Riyasat in Medina which Imran Khan invokes was also not characterized by vengeance and arrogance but its very foundation was on mercy, forgiveness, and dealing with others with grace.

Instead of discussing the important issues which plague the tribal regions, raised by the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), and the crowd listening to Khan (labeled legitimate concerns even by the ISPR in his press conference on April 29) or discussing the dismal state of the economy, or the failings of the government, we instead saw a Prime Minister speaking as a neighborhood bully using male chauvinism and homophobia to knock down his opponents.

Had it been a “slip of the tongue” he could have quickly apologized once realizing the mishap even as he paused and heard a reaction from the audience. He could have also apologized after the speech once realizing the implications of what he had said. At the same time he also inadvertently insulted Shaheed Benazir Bhutto by calling her brutal assassination at the hands of terrorists a so-called “easy way” that Bilawal obtained the party leadership. His family’s hardships in the struggle for democracy in Pakistan are apparent, making us wonder if Prime Minister Imran Khan’s grasp on history, like geography, may also be a bit a weak?

Although PTI followers get upset when Prime Minister Imran Khan is compared to President Donald Trump, sometimes the similarities can be glaring. Bullying and male chauvinism are just some traits we also witness in President Trump’s rhetoric. Trump is known for his demeaning behavior towards opponents and women. Are those the qualities we need in a leader? Are these the values we want the younger generations to imbibe?

Perhaps such similarities between Trump and Khan when it comes to populist rhetoric that includes women bashing – is another reason why Pakistan’s women recently took to the streets with renewed fervor for the women’s march, just as women all around the world did soon after Trump took office – and for good reason.

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