Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Contradictions of an Oscar win – by Safiya Khan

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and pro-Taliban, anti-women politician Imran Khan

This class exploits the poor on selective causes and profitable NGO businesses but stands with anti-women politician Imran Khan and pro-establishment politician like Farooq Leghari.

Esteemed anti-establishment writer and media critic, Nadeem F. Paracha wrote this blog in Dawn  (Art Off: Rethinking Shanaakht) about the 2009 Shanaakht festival, whose chief organizer was Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

It is a pre-emptive defence of what I am about to do: support the gung-ho PPP jiyalas who after being offended by a ‘satirical’ piece of art that showed late Benazir Bhutto sitting on the lap of General Ziaul Haq went on a rampage across the recently cancelled Shanaakht festival in Karachi.

Of course, the jiyalas’ reaction was roundly condemned by the ‘civilised society’ and supporters of the otherwise pretty impressive exhibition, but the immediate question that came to my mind was: How on earth can anyone who could conceive of a brilliant idea like Shanaakht simultaneously be so insensitively stupid?

It’s so easy for us ‘civilized and cultured ones’ to look down at those rampaging jiyalas as ‘thugs’ and ‘brutes’, but since I’m in a mood to make stark confessions, let me add that if they were thugs and brutes, then so was I!

Disgusting, isn’t it?

Well, disgusting is what those jiyalas felt looking at that picture that oh-so-cleverly showed their recently slain leader on the lap of a reactionary military dictator who sent her popularly elected prime minister father to the gallows and whose vicious intelligence agencies were probably involved in the mysterious death of her youngest brother, Shahnawaz Bhutto.

Admittedly, Benazir was no Mother Teresa. But then politics is no place for Mother Teresa. She remained an extraordinary woman. For my generation of hot-headed yet dreamy young men of the 1980s – many of whom faced jail, torture and even public flogging by the Zia dictatorship – she was a hero; a woman braver than most men, bolder than the malicious and trigger-happy generals of the Zia regime, and tougher than us, stoically bearing the humiliation, torture and jail terms that she served under Zia. Above all, she was one of the finest human beings, never uttering a single derogatory word for her biggest enemy, Ziaul Haq, even when the wily reactionary blew up somewhere over Bhawalpur in 1988.

Unfortunately, it seems this generation of haughty and arty ‘activists’ and culturalists only have the intellectual capacity to view her, not through history books and academic critique, but through the lens of bad, one-dimensional toilet humour that started doing the rounds against the Bhuttos in the 1990s, and continued even after Benazir was mercilessly assassinated in December, 2007.


Is LUBP serious when it calls itself “critical supporters” of PPP? If so, how can it ignore the atrocious and disgusting personal attack by Sharmeen’s Shanaakht festival against Pakistan’s leading woman icon, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

I don’t condone the hooliganism of jiyalas who protested by tearing one poster but worse, like Nadeem sir, I was deeply hurt, disgusted and shocked to see some rubbish claiming to be art, showing Mohtarma sitting in the lap of the same military dictator who killed her father and imprisoned and tortured her family. Not to forget, when young Shahnawaz Bhutto, the apple of Mohtarma’s eyes, was murdered, everyone knew that Zia’s hands were involved.

Yet, it was not LUBP that reminds its tiny readership of the excellent exposure by Nadeem Sir. No, you are too busy being urban flatterers of Oscar winners.

This is what Nadir Hassan wrote in today’s Express Tribune (How to win an Oscar):

The pernicious influence of the West on Pakistan extends far beyond cinema. Anyone who has worked at a local NGO, after Pakistan suddenly became relevant again, will tell you how the gold spigots were turned on — but only if funding proposals hit all the right notes. Keywords like ‘Taliban’, ‘deradicalisation’ and ‘women’s empowerment’ have a Pavlovian effect on the likes of USAID. Once again, this is not meant to imply that such causes aren’t worthy of funding; simply that they crowd out other issues that should be as much of a priority for Pakistan, even if they are of no use to Western donors.

We also seem to have decided that our image, as projected in the West, is one of the most pressing matters currently facing the country. That we are in the news for an Oscar win is a matter for rejoicing, partly because now we’ll get a momentary break from stories about the latest outbreak of violence. And such feel-good stories will also ensure further foreign funding, more bouts of self-congratulation and more awards. Thus the vicious cycle remains unbroken.

I would like to add that while I fully support and applaud Sharmeen’s documentary on victims of acid attacks, I am shocked that so few are questioning the contradictions and selective nature of her work. For instance, why did she not select any victim who was attacked by ISI ‘s Jihadis in Kashmir?

Pakistan Blogzine writes this to add to what Nadir writes on Sharmeen’s selective activism:

She is a part of a powerful mafia in Pakistani and international media which has maintained consistent silence on the systematic and ongoing target killings of three most suffered groups in Pakistan: Shia Muslims, Balochs and Pashtuns. Nor has she paid any attention at all to Ahmadi Muslims, Pakistan’s most persecuted faith group. In fact on more than one occasions she refused to make even a tiny documentary on the suffering of Shias, Pashtuns and Balochs on the pretext that she did not want to annoy Pakistan army.

She is known for choosing topics which are no more than minor irritants for Pakistan’s military establishment (e.g., acid attacks on women), yet she fails to write on topics which might hurt Pakistan army’s real interests, e.g., sufferings of Shia, Baloch and Pashtun women whose dear and near ones were kidnapped or target killed by Pakistan army and its various proxies. Her choice of topics is driven by sexy appeal for west, commercial oriented agendas, instead of paying attention to urgent human rights crises in Pakistan.

Sharmeen can back and support a deeply anti-women politician and Taliban apologist Imran Khan. Did she not know his stance on the Taliban when she publically praised him? Did she and the Oscar committee not know that Imran Khan is notable for opposing the Women’s Protection Bill when he was in parliament (2002-7)? Did she not know that it was Benazir Bhutto who made this legislation successful? Yet, she stands with Taliban Khan and abuses Pakistan’s most loved and respected, women’s icon!

It was laudable on her part to support the victims of acid attacks. However, isn’t it hypocritical to then stand with those who are actively and openly working against women’s rights (Imran Khan) while being part of a disgusting smear campaign disguised as art, against Benazir Bhutto who gave her life for openly standing upto the Taliban.

However, this is not the thinking of the upper-middle classes who flaunt extravagent designer wear and jewelry while presenting the cause of those poor women who suffered acid attacks. This class exploits the poor on selective causes and profitable NGO businesses but stands with Imran Khan and pro-establishment politicians like Farooq Leghari. On Leghari’s death, Ms. Chinoy praised him on her facebook page for dismissing Benazir Bhutto’s second elected government using a clause that had been inserted by General Zia ul Haq.

It is truly disappointing to see that LUBP missed out on this – on the contradiction of someone standing with Imran “the Taliban” Khan, Farooq Leghari and General Zia ul Haq and winning awards as a women’s rights activist.



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