Bungling activism

Ali Afzal Sahi

SHARMEEN Obaid Chinoy’s (SOC) tweets have stirred a new debate and there is a clear divide amongst the populace on the issue with both sides of the chasm boasting wildly different opinions on the matter. Opponents regard her tweets as a clear misuse of celebrity privilege and an improper use of the woman card, while proponents vociferously argue that women in Pakistan have always been discouraged from talking about harassment and SOC should be supported for she has raised her voice on such a critical and sensitive issue. For anyone oblivious to the incident, Ms. Chinoy tweeted about a doctor, who sent her sister a friend request on Facebook and labelled it as an act of “harassment”. The 140 characters had widespread ramifications, with the main one being the dismissal of the doctor from Agha Khan Hospital. Sharmeen’s tweet, as it seems, was a rant fuelled by emotion; one that forces many of us to question and evaluate ourselves. She wrote “there are zero boundaries in Pakistan”.
The use of hashtag Pakistan was unnecessary and uncalled for. It appears that Ms. Chinoy did not fully appreciate the consequences of using it. For those who merely read the tweet, Pakistan will look like a nation of sociopaths. Others who take the time to dive further into the details and background of the incident, might conclude that it is a country of morons. Either way, she has made our country look bad, and for what! On a personal level, such a reckless use of Pakistan would further strengthen the arguments of her detractors who already accuse her of showing the worst face of Pakistan in her documentaries and frustrate those of us who have been defending her and praising her contribution to Pakistan’s reputation in the world. To a casual observer, her tweets look like a cheap publicity stunt. Those who know better understand that being a two-time Oscar winner, Ms Chinoy does not need such stunts and are confused by why she chose to write what she did.
The most controversial part of the tweet reads “Unfortunately, the doctor messed with the wrong women in the wrong family”. Where is the humility and sense of responsibility that should accompany the fame she has gained in recent years? Later, as explained by herself, she meant that “the women in my family are strong and stand up for themselves and always have”. However, one cannot help wondering if unfortunately, she messed with the wrong incident in the wrong backdrop. Harassment is a serious issue, but sending a Facebook request is neither harassment nor a catastrophe. Her claim has also made people question that if the women in her family were in fact as empowered and strong as she claims, they should have been able to deal with a simple friend request, instead of laundering it out. Maybe her sister should have acted like a strong and independent woman instead of going crying to her sister and hiding behind her celebrity status.
The tweets have also riled up much of the public. Out from the woodworks crawl out all sorts of people who have done their best to retaliate under the anonymity of the internet, even going to deeply personal levels to get their point across. Pictures of Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy with Harvey Weinstein have resurfaced along with accusations that she is comfortable around actual harassers as long as they are not from Pakistan. Another picture of SOC with Matt Damon was tossed around with claims that are better left undiscussed. Some even went as far as to comment on the choice of clothing made by SOC’s sister. They deemed the clothes to be inappropriate and thus, by some leap of logic only they know, questioned her character. It’s pertinent to take a step back and always be critical of ourselves. Although we have every right to disagree/criticize her point of view but labelling her a traitor, accusing her of defaming Pakistan or sharing her pics with other guys is not only absurd but nonsensical. In any case, why should a protest against the violation of one’s rights come with a “certificate of purity”? As if all that wasn’t enough, people decided to create a Facebook Event for sending Sharmeen Obaid a friend request. They made sure that she is harassed so she could differentiate between a mere friend request and harassment. Ms Chinoy has invited all this criticism and “harassment” and has no one to blame but herself and her flagrant and stubborn attitude. It is imperative for SOC to realise that no harm lies in her taking this issue a notch back, and publically acknowledging that she went overboard. She needs to apologize to the doctor’s family and to Pakistanis in general, so that such behaviour does not set a precedent. To err is to be human, but to not accept the mistake and move on, is terrible.
— The writer is a practicing lawyer.
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