Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

Image via Sharmeen Obaid Films

Image via Sharmeen Obaid Films

Even before I watched this recent documentary, aired on CBC Newsworld’s The Passionate Eye on March 30th, by Pakistani filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy I knew it was going to be hard to watch. And I was right.

The film, entitled Pakistan’s Taliban Generation, follows Obaid-Chinoy as she tries to find how strong and influential the Taliban really are in Pakistan. In recent days Pakistan has experienced a great deal of terrorist violence, including in the relatively peaceful and safe city of Lahore. In her quest Obaid-Chinoy spends most of the time in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where Pakistan’s Taliban are located.  She talks to Pashtun teenage boys and young girls, as well as Pashtun families to find out how they are dealing with the increasing power of the Taliban in their region.

Before watching the film I did not know what to expect except that I knew it would renew my own worries about the country which gives me a part of my own identity. I am of Pakistani origin and, although I identify as Punjabi, I also have some roots in the NWFP. It is a culture with which I am familiar, for better or for worse. And perhaps it is this familiarity with not only the culture of the NWFP, but also with the relatively progressive one of Punjab, the heart of South Asian Sufism, that makes me so furious at the Taliban. And the film did indeed increase that fury.

Let me make this clear. I despise the Taliban. Their interpretation of Islam offends me, their violent intimidation of other Muslims disgusts me, and their oppression of women horrifies me. However, I am also not naive enough to assume that the Taliban, as they are, occurred in a vacuum. I know they did not come about on their own, but rather had help from many outside forces, including Western ones. Obaid-Chinoy did not address this in her film. I realize that time is limited in a documentary, however I feel that it is time now to move beyond the simple vilification of the Taliban. They’re bad, we get it. But why are they so bad? It is time now that we discuss the causes and motivations of the Taliban along with their current actions. If we are truly wanting to curb their power and authority then we need to know why they are the way they are and take away their reason for being this way.

A few of these reasons, however, were highlighted in the documentary, though not explored in any detail. When speaking with some young Pashtun men Obaid-Chinoy discovered a level of resentment among many. Most were resentful of the US and NATO’s  “war on terror” tactics in  Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent months American military action has entered onto Pakistani soil, resulting in the deaths of Pakistani nationals. This increasing American military presence in Pakistan which is resulting in the deaths of Pakistani people, many of them innocent,  is increasing resentment and anger toward the US and other complicit Western nations. One way in which these young men have found to deal with their anger is to join the Taliban and fight the foreign invaders, as they seem them. Additionally, the Pakistani government’s own actions in the region have led to the displacement of many from places like Bajaur in the NWFP and this has added fuel to the fire of resentment. I’d be resentful too if I was forced to leave my home by my own government and then live in a refugee camp.The consequence of all this is an increase in Taliban recruits and thus in their power and influence. Hence, Pakistan’s Taliban generation.

Obaid-Chinoy does reveal the religious angle of the Taliban as well. She speaks with a young man whose views on women in Islam are conservative to say the least. The Taliban are infamous for their mistreatment of women. This is no secret. However, where have they learned this interpretation of Islam? Why do they believe the things they do when so many Muslims all around the world do not? What is it about the Taliban that makes them treat women the way they do? Why is it that, in one country, one can see the Taliban oppress women the way they do, and at the same time, see women in positions of power in government, medicine, law, and such? I wish the documentary had delved into this issue further.

Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary did not further investigate these causes. The focus appeared to be on the detrimental and devastating consequences of Taliban rule and power in the region. Instead of focusing on what has caused the Taliban to grow and why they exist, there was more of a focus on what this growth has meant for innocent Pakistanis caught in this political turmoil. Although, I do feel that the actions of the Taliban need to be challenged and the Taliban’s criminal actions do need to be exposed, again, if the focus in this documentary was to examine the rise of the Taliban, I felt this documentary just missed the mark. It left me wanting more information. We already know the Taliban are bad. We know they mistreat women. However, too many are unaware of their creation story and the origins of their ideology. Such information would have brought something new to the table in this documentary. Along with highlighting the Taliban’s actions in Pakistan (which are important as well), an in-depth look into the roots of the issue would have given the documentary an insightful edge.

Read Full Post »

The following was originally published on Muslimah Media Watch. As this documentary was just recently aired on Canadian television it has been edited for Muslim Lookout.

Saira Khan. Image via BBC Two.

Saira Khan. Image via BBC Two.

CBC Newsworld documentary program The Passionate Eye aired the British documentary Forced to Marry on March 23rd. I found the film which aired originally on BBC Two on December 1st, 2008 fascinating, frustrating, disturbing, chilling, sad, and, at times, hopeful and heartening.

The film, which was filmed, produced, and directed by Ruhi Hamid and narrated and presented by Saira Khan, begins with the dire statistics that each year thousands of girls from Britain are taken abroad and are forced to marry, many of them in Pakistan. In fact, Khan notes that more British people are forced into marriage in Pakistan than in any other country. In the documentary, Khan follows staff members Albert David, Neelam Farooq (both Pakistanis), and Theepan Salvaratnam (British Vice Consul) of a unit set up in Pakistan by the British Foreign Office which finds and rescues British girls in Pakistan who have been forced into marriages, in hopes of finding out why young British Pakistanis are being forced to marry.

In the documentary, we are presented with the cases of four British Pakistani girls – Tanya, Aaliyah, Zara, and Rubina (all aliases) – who the unit tries to rescue. With each rescue attempt, I found myself getting nervous and tense. The unit confronts those involved (without showing their faces on camera) and the chance of confrontations becoming tense and dangerous always seem high. However, each confrontation is resolved in some way or another, as the unit is intent on keeping tensions and altercations of any kind at a far distance.

The documentary is eye-opening as it tells the stories of the girls in order to to explain this particular, and seemingly increasing (a 40-45% increase in just one year), problem the U.K. and Pakistan face. When telling such stories, one has to perform a sensitive balancing act: expose the problem without stigmatizing a marginalized community. This documentary does this well. First, the documentary ensures to clarify the difference between forced and arranged marriages, the latter of which are still very common in South Asian cultures. The documentary also mentions numerous times that such forced marriages are un-Islamic.

At one point this distinction becomes bittersweet when Khan speaks with young British Pakistani girls about the issue and they state that it is not Islam but rather the culture. So in defending religion, they implicate culture. I was not sure how to feel about this. I cannot deny that the issues of family honour and “parents know best” are not a part of South Asian culture, but such expressions (i.e., forced marriages) are extreme. Yet, working as a double edged sword, this same depiction of culture as the culprit portrays the parents of the girls as victims of the culture, bound by traditions of honour and having to fall to the pressures of families and bradries (brotherhoods, or castes). This, because it is obvious that the young girls profiled in the film are torn and conflicted. They want to leave Pakistan, they do not want to be forced, but at the same time they love their parents and do not want to hurt them, despite their parents forcing them into marriages. By depicting the parents as victims just as much as victimizers, one sees the complexity of the issue as well as the inner struggles of the girls being rescued.

The film ends back in the U.K., with Khan speaking with British Pakistani writer and broadcaster Ziauddin Sardar who has written books on British Asians. He calls for a reform of laws criminalizing forced marriages. A law which has since become reality. He accurately points out that the attempt of the parents to create closer ties with family in Pakistan by forcing to marriage their children to family in Pakistan has actually ended up tearing families apart.

The film left me feeling sad for the young girls who although portrayed as victims in some ways, were also the ones who instigated the rescues. They were always given the choice of leaving or staying. The unit was just a means for them to escape. And the unit, although a British initiative, was made up mainly of Pakistanis rescuing British girls. However, I wondered, as did Khan, about the many girls the unit was not able to help.

The film left me feeling angry at the parents who force their children to marry to uphold traditions that they may hold dear but which are detrimental for the children involved. The film left me feeling frustrated at the loyalty some of the girls felt to either their parents or in-laws. However, being South Asian myself, I understand that sense of loyalty, honour, and respect. I also understand my own privilege for having parents who would never force me to do anything, thus making my adherence to such cultural practices easy. The film also left me feeling hopeful that there are resources for these young girls (and apparently boys as well). Finally, I felt sad for the Pakistani girls who are forced into marriages, who do not have the Pakistani government to come to their rescue. The issue of forced marriages in Pakistan, of both Pakistani nationals as well as British (and others perhaps), is obviously a problem which must be highlighted and thus such documentaries are a necessity.

You can watch parts 2-6 of the documentary on YouTube here. The first part has been removed. I highly recommend watching it.

Read Full Post »