Though the hands that snuffed out her young life belonged to her brother in some ways the culpability for her death is upon the heads of every Pakistani Muslim. Fauzia Azeem was the epitome of everything she was supposed not be: gamine, sassy and unflinchingly iconoclastic. Her behaviour simultaneously fascinated and horrified millions in that conservative Muslim nation and it would be this paradox that would prove her undoing.
For over almost 70 years, since the “Islamic Republic” was carved out of a predominantly Hindu nation, its identity as the bastion of Islam in the Indian sub-continent has officially remained a matter of unquestionable dogma. With the same stridency that Attaturk made the banishment of Islam from the public consciousness the defining feature of his secular Turkish republic, Pakistan’s establishment have staked their legitimacy upon its eternal preservation.
That religion has oft been utilised as a mechanism of control by unsrupulous politicians and clerics would be a statement upon which both the devout and irreligious would readily concur. For years a largely secular, Westernised elite shamelessly manipulated the Islamic sentiments of Pakistani Muslims for political expediency. During the tenure of General Zia, with the Afghan Jihad (a jihad financed and militarily supported by the US and UK) against Communism raging next door, a concerted effort was made to insert Shariah into the legislative framework. The end of this conflict, the return of mujahideen fighters and the increased Islamisation effected by Zia’s programme all contributed to a growing crisis of identity within Pakistan. Pakistanis are and always will be Muslim – of that there is no doubt – but what type of Islam and what type of Islamic governance (i.e. to what extent should Islam govern the public space) do they really want? Such questions have assumed a burning urgency since the events of 9/11 and the commencement of the War on Terror – a war which has wrought horrendous devastation upon the social fabric of the nation.
What has all of this to do with the murder – for that is what it was – of a young woman? Everything and nothing. Of course there is no direct nexus between the geopolitics of the region and Fauzia’s death. She was not the victim of a drone strike nor of a suicide bomber. She was however the victim of a society in the throes of an increasingly pernicious moral dissonance. A society that claims to champion the banner of Islam while simultaneously violating its every precept. Where affectations of piety and conformity to established custom are expected in public but which mask private indulgences of wantonness. Where the public sight of a woman in anything less than a salwaar kameez and dupatta (thin headscarf) is deemed scandalous yet where millions simultaneously obsess over Bollywood’s latest risque fashions. Where venality, embezzlement and nepotism are endemic yet publicly declaimed against from the pulpit every Friday. Where government ministers proclaim undying fealty to the Prophet (saw) and to the protection of his honour yet are unable to recite even the most elementary of Islamic invocations. Where mullahs rail against licentiousness yet themselves seem not averse to lascivious encounters in hotel rooms. It is a dissonance that permeates every strata of Pakistan from the lowliest rural elements to the urban ruling elite. It is a dissonance that might otherwise be labelled hypocrisy except that it emanates from a genuine attempt to reconcile two diametrically opposed worldviews.
It is high time that Pakistan, as a civil society and as a state decided upon the direction in which it wishes to sail. If the Qur’an is to be its cynosure then it must be cleansed of all that opposes it. If secularism and the liberal mores of the West are to provide its moral compass then so be it but here again a reformation of the current status quo is required (a rather more radical one than that of the former scenario). The current moral dissonance provides the ambience in which murders like that of Qandeel Baloch’s take place. If her tragedy is to be the last such, Pakistanis owe it to themselves to decide, once and for all, what their nation stands for and the direction they wish to take it in.
May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon Sayyidina Muhammad. Ameen.