I do not know much about the Pakistani film Joyland except that it has received rave reviews outside Pakistan but has been panned within Pakistan. The situation reminds me of the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Dr. Atif Mian and the late Dr. Abdus Salam, who received great recognition outside Pakistan but are bitterly criticized and sidelined in their own homeland. To some extent the same could be said of Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who spends his seventies in the United States far away from his homeland. Decades ago, Dr. Fazlur Rahman, the father of progressive Islam, faced the same experience. Sometimes I wonder if Pakistanis deserve such greatness in the first place.
Returning to Joyland, I noticed that several Pakistanis issuing reservations on the movie are not those from the lower socio-economic strata, whose sartorial and facial hair choices subject them to the stereotypical caricature of the reviled maulvi (cleric). Instead, the bitter critics are modernized youth that are acutely self-aware through their pouty faced selfies and who indulge in mass consumerism and ostentatious living through stylish haircuts, “working out” regimens, dinners at overpriced fancy restaurants, yearly trips abroad, and lavish spending on engagements and weddings. It is this class of young Pakistanis that tries to address its vacuous living not by looking within (even as they imbibe Sufi music as a fashion) but by maintaining a defensive stranglehold on “Pakistani values” even as they flout those values every waking moment of their vacuous existence.
However, pointing out their munafiqat (hypocrisy) may not be enough to jostle them from their predicament. After all, pointing out hypocrisy or inconsistency seems to have become an oft used trope that leads nowhere. For instance, both India and China call out the hypocrisy of the West on their colonialism, slavery, exploitation of resources, and environmental damage when the latter tries to push the former away from supporting Russia or holds them accountable for human rights violations of Muslims in India and Xinjiang. More recently, there are those who have used a similar “hypocrisy” narrative against the West for using the FIFA World Cup to highlight the plight of LGBTQ individuals and poor working-class expatriates in Qatar. The issue is that while the West has certainly been hypocritical, the “hypocrisy” narrative stalls progress on addressing the plight of the oppressed in Ukraine, India, Xinjiang, and Qatar. Thus, pinpointing the hypocrisy of Pakistanis that rail against Joyland is not enough to change the status quo just as the “hypocrisy” narrative calling out the West leads nowhere.
It is true that Pakistanis that rail against Joyland have skeletons in their own closet, for they are trying to address their existence by maintaining a conservative stranglehold on “values” they themselves neither understand nor practice. Indeed, for all their railing against homosexuality and qaum e Lut (the people of Sodom and Gomorrah), they fail to grasp that societies do not fall because a few individuals engage in an unorthodox sexual practice. Instead, they fall when a large segment of that society gives into mass commodification of fellow human beings by dehumanising them. That indeed is what we know from the scriptures that showcase how the people of Lot ambushed travellers, robbed them of their possessions, and then subjected them to evil deeds in public assemblies. Those familiar with the Israeliyat (midrashic and patristic traditions) found in old Islamic literature know well enough how ruthlessly they treated Abraham and Sarah’s servant and how they tortured hapless travellers leading them to their agonizing deaths. The modern-day analogue would be the sexual depravity that was subjected upon poor Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. But all this requires careful thought that takes away from the simplistic worldview of those who are too fond of their own pouty faced selfies.
All of this reminds us that those railing against Joyland are behaving more as the people of Lot through mass consumerism and commodification than the couple that may have been projected in a movie that yearns for a human connection that traverses gender. Indeed, the sin is less that of the flesh and more of the spirit. This does not mean that gay men are innocuous for they too are complicit in a system of commodification through online hookup sites where they treat their fellow man as an object to be used, abused and abandoned. No wonder, Islam ties sexual expression with responsibility through a legal contract to limit the sexual commodification of fellow human beings.
In essence, Pakistanis can be reminded of their hypocrisy, but such a strategy has been used ad nauseam. It leads nowhere. Unless they are willing to look within to recognize how they are part of a system of mass consumerism and commodification and how they flout the very Pakistani values they seek to defend, all such pricking the conscience strategies amount to naught. After all, only those individuals can be reminded of their hypocrisy whose mental faculties allow them to reason and reflect. But when they have abandoned critical introspection, critics will only find themselves banging their head against a brick wall.