July Issue 2003
The Obscene Obession
In a classic case of the sublime and the ridiculous, it is obscenity that follows hot on the heels of the Legal Framework Order, on the agenda of the six-party religious alliance, the Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal. While the MMA leadership was busy agitating against the LFO, the local workers of the religious alliance moved against what they considered “public obscenity.”
Though the primary target of the MMA activists are the large advertising signboards of multinational companies, in Gujranwala city, the MMA went a step further and attacked cultural activities as well. On May 30, hundreds of students of Islamic seminaries in Gujranwala armed with sticks swooped down on a circus show, ransacked it and beat hundreds of spectators. According to an eyewitness, over a hundred students from Islamic seminaries and MMA workers in Gujranwala converged on a local circus at a park near the Grand Trunk Road. The circus, a common form of entertainment in the Punjab, was showing motorcycle tricks, and the usual wild animal acts. However, what infuriated the clerics were the dancing girls who were performing to recorded music.
The mob, led by a local cleric and member of the National Assembly from the MMA, Qazi Hameedullah, dismantled the circus tents and torched them while shouting Allah-o-Akbar (God is great).
Hundreds of spectators were injured in the stampede which followed the attack and many suffered from concussion when the students hit them with clubs and sticks. The police resorted to charging the crowd with batons to disperse the mob and the fire-brigade was called to put out the fire. After this, the mob moved on to attack another circus show in the city, but the police forced the show to close to calm down the mob. The police also closed eight other theatres to avert further destruction and disorder.
Qazi Hameedullah, who led the attack on the circus, said he had warned the administration to close the circuses, which he described as centres of obscenity and gambling, but decided to take action himself when the police ignored him. However, he denied that his men set fire to the circus tents.
Initially the police did not register a case against the accused and it was only when it became an issue in the national press that a case was registered against more than 100 MMA workers including Qazi Hameedullah. More than 20 MMA workers were arrested, including Jamaat-i-Islami’s local leader, Hafiz Hameeduddin Awan. However, fearing a reprisal from the MMA, the circus manager ran away refusing to pursue the case. Finally, a local judge freed all the accused since the plaintiff was missing.
Encouraged by the Gujranwala incident, a week later, the Jamaat-i-Islami youth wing, Shabab-i-Milli, brought out a protest demonstration in Multan where they blackened female faces on the billboards of various multinational companies. Shabab-i-Milli leader, Saad Kanju, said this was the first warning to these companies and if they did not desist from displaying obscene pictures of women, they would take serious action. Jamaat-i-Islami district chief, Ashraf Ali Ateeq, said that this demonstration was to protest against the increasing vulgarity and obscenity in the advertisement campaigns of certain companies, especially those selling soft drinks, mobile phones and cigarettes. He said his organisation had also written letters to these companies not to display semi-naked pictures of women on signboards. Though the police arrested some people allegedly involved in this incident they were later freed on bail.
The Jamaat-i-Islami information secretary, Ameerul Azeem, told Newsline that the campaign against obscenity on signboards was a grassroots movement and the MMA leadership had not issued any orders to their workers. According to Azeem, advertising billboards had offended many people and for some time the companies had been asked to change their policy but they did not respond. So the people took the matter to the streets.
The fight against obscenity has been an old political theme for the Jamaat-i-Islami and the recent campaign against signboards and theatres shows the party line has not changed. Blithely ignoring the major social issues of education, poverty, unemployment etc, the party remains obsessed with propagating its own brand of moral puritanism.