Tariq Jameel’s anti-women remarks bring clergy’s misogynistic streak into focus

LAHORE: After almost a week, Islamic preacher Tariq Jameel rendered an apology for blaming ‘immodest women’ for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cleric took to Twitter to put forth his apology saying his comment “was meant to be a general remark not targeting any specific men, women, persons or gender.”

It remains unclear how Jameel’s comments focusing on women wearing certain kinds of clothes and “dancing”, made during the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Telethon on Thursday, “didn’t target a specific gender”. However, the fact that those comments were made at all, and without any protest by those participating in the telethon, or those airing it, is the latest reminder of the Pakistani clergy’s unchallenged misogynistic streak. How that streak is endorsed ubiquitously is gauged by how Prime Minister Imran Khan took special time out to condemn ‘immodesty’ in a meeting with digital journalists, the day after the telethon, even if he didn’t specifically target women.

The media’s complicity can be seen by how it was outraged over Jameel calling the media ‘liars’ and congratulated themselves after extracting an immediate apology over this particular statement, without nary a question over the cleric’s unequivocal targeting of ‘immodest women’.

While the apology has come, it was rendered after continued backlash on social media and human rights groups. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed its objections to Jameel’s “appalling” statement for “correlating women’s modesty” to the pandemic.

“Such blatant objectification is unacceptable and when aired on a public television it only compounds the misogyny entrenched in society,” the HRCP statement said.

The Aurat March, similarly, condemned Jameel’s statement, calling it out for portraying women as objects solely for men’s sexual pleasure.

“Popularising the sexualisation of “hoors” in a patriarchal society like ours perpetuates the objectification of women which is a basic tenet of rape culture. As normalising the view that women are made to pleasure men is one of the many justifications used by men to assault, harass and abuse women,” the statement read.

Condemnations for Jamil came from across the political divide.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Hina Parvez Butt urged the cleric not to make himself controversial. “Who gave you the right to insult the daughters of the nation? Up till now people considered [him] a uncontroversial religious personality, but [he has] made [himself] controversial by putting his vision in Imran Khan’s weighing scale,” she said.

Even the Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari categorically condemned Jameel’s claims. “Simply absurd for anyone under any guise to even suggest the COVID-19 pandemic is a result of women wearing short sleeves or because of private schools or universities misleading the youth. This simply reflects either ignorance about pandemics or a misogynist mindset. Absolutely unacceptable,” she said.

Following Jameel’s apology, Mazari thanked him for the clarification, saying, “this will send a clear message to any who seek to misinterpret your words to target women.” However, she also went on to apologise for “hurting” Jameel, further underlining the clout that the Islamist clerics enjoy in the country.

From clerics to showbiz figures like Khalilur Rehman Qamar, dangerous misogynistic remarks are passed by influential figures in Pakistan on a regular basis. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan has made problematic statements and has been accused of sexist remarks. Months before being elected as the prime minister, he condemned “feminism” for “degrading motherhood”.

Critics argue that sexism being institutionalised in the country, further aggravates the plight of women in Pakistan, who suffer a wide degree of discrimination with many suffering violence. In such a case, an apology doesn’t suffice in uprooting systematic discrimination.

“I’m not looking for an apology from Tariq Jameel for the nonsense he spewed regarding women and the pandemic. I am simply looking for an equal platform for the women to debunk his lies. We are more than capable to argue with him and defeat him intellectually,” says lawyer and writer Ayesha Khan.

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