Show Hide image

The young Pakistani actress taking on the mullahs

Veena Malik's feisty and intelligent attack has become a YouTube hit, but is ignored by the Pakistan

At the end of 2010, Veena Malik was a young Pakistani actress from Lahore with a successful run in the 12-week Bigg Boss (equivalent of Big Brother) house in Mumbai behind her and a couple of Bollywood film offers on the table. Instead of taking them up, she went back to Pakistan.

Then in January the world turned upside down. Salman Taseer, the popular liberal secular governor of Punjab was assassinated by extremists. And Veena Malik found herself, not for the first time, in a media filmi storm. This time it was the fatwa-wielding mullahs, asking questions about her behaviour in Bigg Boss and accusing her of not being a proper Muslim. Coming straight after Taseer's death, it was more muscle flexing by the politically orchestrated extremists and with the menace of Pakistan's unrepealed blasphemy laws behind it.

Like Taseer she refused to be cowed and stood up to them. The result on Express TV and a hit on YouTube with a cumulative 300,000 views is unforgettable. She lambasts mufti Abdul Qawi for his criticism, she forcefully lays into the mullahs for their sexual abuse of boys in the madrassas, she protests (rightly) that her behaviour has been impeccable.

The media were temporarily stunned. The grinding plates of political commentary and the opaque deep state had run up against someone who came from the frivolous culture of film and entertainment and they simply didn't know what to do. Then slowly she was embraced into the broadsheet debate: magazines and serious newspapers such as the Friday Times sought interviews, and more significantly offered support and approval.

It may take a little longer for the country's middle class to fully understand that what she did was feisty and brave and protective of them. In the fear engendered to liberal Pakistan by Taseer's death, friends she says have made themselves scarce. Surrounded by her family she thought it prudent to have private security. But there's nothing wobbly about her at all. Did they but know it, a combination of fury and innate courage has done more to help Pakistan's mainstream than yards of columns and editorials.

There's a real challenge for Pakistan's media: in a west facing similar challenges she would have been hailed overnight as a 'national treasure' by the tabloid and broadsheet press - she also has a good record, in a Mia Farrow way, of working with the World Health Organisation. But crossing the boundaries into popular culture to find heros and heroines in Pakistan is novel in Pakistan.

It's a process that needs to be speeded up. The struggle to keep Pakistan attached to its non-extremist roots depends upon bringing all kinds of personalities into the media spotlight and the ones that can reach popular culture are the most effective of all. So far the broadcast media has shunned the characters who would have made it instantly into the western media: courageous heads of villages who pulled their communities together after the floods; doctors who help the poor free of charge; bio-science graduates who are taking solar power into the villages; singers entertainers and actresses who add to the gaiety of culture and sometimes do something extraordinarily heroic. The BBC picked up an interview with villagers of south Punjab who said they wanted neither the "mullahs nor the Chinese", but national broadcasters are big business in Pakistan and work to the agendas of their paymasters, whether they be political or of the (not always very efficient) secret state.

In the main broadsheet press of Pakistan, there are only rare mentions of Veena Malik by columnists. They are making a mistake. Feisty, young, intelligent and courageous, her qualities are exactly those that in a Facebook age are leading Tunisia and Egypt out of stalemate.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times