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Tariq Jameel’s ‘Apology’ For Anti-Women Remarks Was Desperate Attempt To Save Face

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The main audience of Maulana Tariq Jameel’s proselytizing consists of urban middle class ‘woke’ generation as well as the educated in modern educational institutions. What this guilt infested educated class is adamant on buying as ‘apology’ over his anti-women remarks was nothing but a desperate attempt at saving the Brand Tariq Jameel in this upper middle class market, writes Marvi Sirmed.

Pakistan’s social media went into a frenzy last week when one of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s favourite Islamic clerics made a shocking statement during a fundraising telethon correlating the COVID-19 pandemic to ‘shameless scantily-dressed women’ and media that ‘lies’. Maulana Tariq Jameel, a popular Islamic preacher and member of an Islamic proselytizing organization Tableeghi Jamaat, was administering prayer at the end of the telethon and was special guest of the Prime Minister, who himself was present on the occasion.

The shockwave that emerged after Maulvi Tariq Jameel’s appalling remarks might have been because of the ever-increasing number of social media users in Pakistan and their insatiable urge to get outraged on and participate in the social political debates. But it was hardly a news for the activists from women’s movement in Pakistan. This has been happening for far too long to be appalled on.

It was in 1981 when I was in primary school and heard for the first time this strange blame. It was after the earthquake of Gilgit-Baltistan in which over 200 people died and many more lost their homes. During our school’s morning assembly, the Qari sahib was administering the prayer before starting the school day.

I heard him say that these people had died because of the immodest and shameless women who go out of the four walls of their homes without covering their heads, wearing make-up, studying in co-education institutions, and working at offices with men.

I was in grade four at that time. My mind was unable to process this. For several months I was not able to talk to my classmates, or step out of home to play in the community playground. Or even watch TV. I was too scared to do any of that because I didn’t want innocent people to die because of any of my doings. My parents had to spend a lot of time counseling in order to bring me back to normal life. A life as normal as of my brothers. Both of them could go out, play, be their chatty and best dressed selves without an iota of guilt.

That was my first introduction to the world where women’s bodies were nothing but playground of Satan. It didn’t end there. In 1992 there were deadly floods in Pakistan and India. One could not miss the Friday sermons full of the same blames against ‘immodest women’. In 1997 there was another earthquake, same happened. In 2005 after Pakistan’s deadliest earthquake, the same mantra was repeated by religious clerics and right-wing politicians. Subsequently, floods from 2009 to 2016 every single year we had to face same gibberish by clerics.

So, the telethon ending in this sad little prayer embellished with misogynist pangs on immodesty of women, is not new. We have been here since long. But this time the disturbing fact was that the prime minister, his cabinet members and his confidants all were sitting in the telethon (a painful demonstration of the old boys club that our media and politics have been insisting on being) silently nodding their heads and saying Amen giving a tacit approval and credence to Maulana’s utterings while he blamed women of this country for a pandemic that started in neighboring China. Yes, the higher-than-Himalayas best friend of ours. The pandemic might have engulfed almost the entire world including the great Muslim states of West Asia, but it’s the ‘immodest’, ‘immoral’ and scantily dressed women of Pakistan who are ultimately responsible for this disaster.

For starters, Pakistan’s Prime Minister heads a political party – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf – that has been trademarked by its branding experts as a political organisation that provided women a grand platform to participate. This participation was not only, may it be noted, at the party rank and file levels but it also provided opportunity to ordinary women to be part of its rallying activities. Although this is not the first political party to have done that. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had done it in 1970s and afterwards.

Since PTI brand masters are very fond of claiming accolades for doing things others have been doing since ages, as ‘historical firsts’, so let’s grant them for the sake of argument. They brought many women out during its nth number of rallies, demonstrations and sit-ins, especially the infamous sit-in of 2014. Images of PTI women workers and supporters dancing to the tunes of PTI songs became the subject of the speeches by the leaders of right wing political parties.

In this backdrop, if you hear Maulana Tariq Jameel’s telethon-dua, you can’t ignore his repeated emphasis on, “who made my country’s daughters dance?”. The poetic justice, I would say, with the Prime Minister who brought this cleric to what everyone knew would be a widely watched event, in which the cleric said everything that the Prime Minister wanted to hear. Lockdown is bad, check; this is a punishment bestowed upon us by the Almighty, check; there is no point in fighting it, check; all we have to do is pray and then be a bit careful, check; media is evil and spreads lies, check, etc. Blaming the women bit, however, might just be a figment of Mr. Jameel’s colorful imagination. Who knows, especially when the PM or any of his sycophant ministers didn’t bother to correct the mullah.

In two days, Mr Jameel offered his apology to media during – once again – an all male TV show. The male anchorperson of the show started questioning him aggressively about his allegation against media of spewing lies. The cleric cut him midway and insisted on saying something first. “It was slip of tongue on my part. To err is human, so it happened, for which I offer my unconditional apology”.

The anchorperson readily accepts the apology and closes the matter before another panelist, senior journalist Hamid Mir, jumps in and insists on holding the cleric accountable. The poor guy is still being hounded for ‘disrespecting the Maulana’ on social media.

Except a passing reference about blaming the pandemic on women, none of the participants tried getting answer from Mr. Jameel. When this issue was brought to Maulana’s attention by the anchorperson, Mr. Jameel said he was sorry if any of the groups or communities were offended by his statement. That was the ‘apology’ based on which the pro-Maulana Twitteratti declared him icon of humility and grace.

It might be noted that the main audience of Maulana Tariq Jameel’s proselytizing consists of urban middle class ‘woke’ generation as well as the educated in modern educational institutions, English speaking, whisky drinking, pot sniffers and habitual party goers in major metropolises who need religious proselytizers to deal with their personal guilt. Maulana’s special focus has been showbiz personalities especially women including models, actors, TV show hosts etc.

Keep this in view and his apology thread on twitter in English language no longer remains curious. What this guilt infested educated class is adamant on buying as ‘apology’ was nothing but a desperate attempt at saving the Brand Tariq Jameel in this upper middle class market.

He is a smart entrepreneur, lest you forget. His Hajj enterprise alone earns millions of rupees annually, which provides guided Hajj and Umra services to the rich and the social climbers. In addition, the ‘Bayaan’ industry (yes, the proselytizers of his outreach do not administer prayers and deliver religious inspirational lectures without payment) earns big portion of his total income. I won’t even go into the details of who pays how much tax. Suffice it to say, saving the brand and securing the market is essential for survival.

PS: Tariq Jameel is one of the two clerics who refused to condemn suicide attacks and especially the attack on Army Public School in 2014 that killed over 150 children. But his refusal never became as big a cause célebre as the other cleric Maulvi Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid fame. The latter does not enjoy the fanbase consisting of celebrities of media as does the former.

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