I don’t usually follow Pakistani politics, which like elsewhere in the world, often rests on who said what, why and how one politician owns the other through some smart rhetoric. It makes for cheap entertainment but does not add any value towards addressing the pressing issues of our times. These include the skyrocketing cost of living and the heavy taxation of the common Pakistani citizen without much benefit on healthcare and education. The newly leaked video of PML-N politician Muhammad Zubair is the latest addition to cheap thrills. However, it also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on a number of issues.
First, like the Mufti Aziz ur Rehman video, it showcases the hypocrisy of those who indulge privately in what they rail against publicly. This is neither a new phenomenon nor is it restricted to Pakistan. In the U.S. many rabidly homophobic Republican politicians have been caught soliciting sex from male prostitutes or male youth. Similarly, the Bidaya wa al-Nihaya of Ibn Kathir showcases how large swathes of fuqaha (jurists), qadhis (judges) and huffaz (Qur’an memorisers) were complicit in liwat (sodomy). Such cases have happened across culture and time to solidify the position that those who speak violently or loudly often have skeletons in their own closet.
No wonder the Persian poet Hafez wrote: Don’t act like the hypocrite who thinks he can conceal his wiles by loudly quoting the Qur’an. This should serve as a warning to Pakistani youth, whose brains are so fried playing video games but who nonetheless harshly judge minorities and others on social media.
Second, the video reminded me of a scene from the 1998 movie ‘Jinnah’. It shows how Jinnah, played superbly by the late Christopher Lee, cautions Liaquat Ali Khan, played by Shakeel, against low level politics of publishing the details of the Nehru-Edwina affair. This provides Pakistanis a model to follow in their public discourse. Similarly, the Islamic ethos warns against prying what Allah has kept concealed. A well-known incident in Islamic literature involves Caliph Umar admonishing a man for committing a sin in the privacy of his household.
The man replies that while he may have committed a single sin, the Caliph had committed three, by spying, by not requesting permission to enter the household, and by not entering from the proper front door. Such is the significance of upholding privacy that the Qur’an itself prescribes punishment for those who cause mischief through slander, especially as they fail to meet the stringent evidentiary requirements set by Islam.
Muslim jurists knew of such teachings and therefore warded off punishments by casting shubha (doubt) and finding excuses to exonerate the implicated person. In the modern age, where spying has become so much simpler with technology, this would entail rejecting all such pieces of evidence that encroach upon the private sphere except for cases involving the violation of human dignity, like rape, sexual abuse, violence, and subjugation.
Otherwise, we risk becoming a McCarthyist state, where accusations run rife, and people become too fearful to voice their concerns lest their personal exploits should be exposed. Thus, young judgmental Pakistanis need to take note that if today it is Muhammad Zubair, tomorrow it could their own internet search history, as the lines between the public and the private become ever blurred by technology. Additionally, perhaps an example needs to be made of the people who made this video public and meted out a stringent punishment on revealing what was meant to remain concealed.
Third, as a nation we need to get our priorities right. Do we wish to spend our time obsessing over one silly video after another for cheap thrills, or start addressing the real and pressing issues of our times? We need to question what message we want to send to our children when we abase our public discourse by bringing it down to the gutters.
In a nutshell, if we wish to see Pakistan in the 21st century as a mature nation, then we need to abide by the example set by the Quaid e Azam, by the ethical dictate and the human right to privacy, and equally by the Islamic ethos that upholds awrah or sattar (privacy) on private human affairs.