The beard, the veil and the enlightened fools

I never thought my beard and my wife’s veil would become an obstacle for any of our children’s right to excel. But it did happen and that too in our enlightened Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

“Sir if you don’t mind we are looking for some moderate faces,” was the first words of an organiser that pierced through our ears as soon as we sat on a sofa in the school’s office where the crew of a private television channel had arrived to interview parents of three short-listed students, including my child, for some sort of show/competition in Karachi.

Before we could believe our ears, a suggestion came, “If we can go on camera without the veil.” The headmistress of the school, who too was present on the occasion, was stunned. But that was perhaps too much.

“Shame on you and hell with you and your competition,” was my spontaneous reaction, which served as a counter shock for the organiser, who though was not a journalist.

There was no ambiguity in our mind that there was no point wasting our time in the disgusting environment. My spouse, who is otherwise a soft, modest personality, was quick to suggest that we withdraw ourselves from the competition that humiliates our pride — the socio-religious values of our society.

As we stood up to leave, the organiser apologised and offered the explanation that he was conveying what he had been asked to do by his seniors. Indeed some strange people were pulling his strings from Karachi.

He said in some of his previous interviews, objection was raised on the veil so he got the directions to interview only moderate looking parents.

The school headmistress snubbed the organiser for coming up with such a stupid idea. She said she would not allow such things to happen in her school.

We were perhaps never as dumbfounded as a nation as we are today – thanks to the policy of enlightened moderation. And the organiser later admitted that he too was in favour of the Islamic dress code but was helpless before his seniors, who, he said, were dancing to the tune of the TV programme sponsor.

At the intervention of the headmistress and following unconditional apologies from the organiser, we hesitantly consented to give an on-camera interview but with the condition that our views on their attempt to pick “moderates” would be recorded and conveyed to the management of the television channel.

Apparently it was done but it is not clear if the views reached the quarters concerned though the clear message was “shame on you”.

Later in the afternoon when I went to the school to pick my children, my son’s first question was, “Baba, how was your interview?” Before I could give him my reply, he wondered: “If I am selected.”

I told him he would not take part in the competition in Karachi, whether he was selected or not.

“Why,” the innocent soul asked. I told him that the interviewer was interested only if his parents looked like “moderates”. I asked if he would want his father to shave his beard and his mother remove her veil to get him selected.

“Baba forget it. I am proud of what you are.” And for the enlightened but silly lot, we are proud of what we are and this is how we should be.

By Ansar Abbasi, a well educated, open minded, senior journalist
Published in “The News”, Tuesday, February 05, 2008

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