In Pakistan, reporters covering underground parties push boundaries

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KARACHI: Women in short skirts and men with gelled hair, among others, are really upset at being ‘misrepresented’ in a recent article on Pakistan’s party scene.

“Yes there is illicit smoke. Yes there is alcohol. Yes men and women dance together, but this doesn’t mean you can write a report clubbing a Taliban commander’s viewpoint with those of us who like to party…To do so is to frame the story in a ludicrous narrative of extremes. You’ve made us [Pakistanis] look bad yaar,” says one Lahore-based party goer who wishes to remain anonymous.

Rapper Adil Omar who was quoted in the article is similarly angry at how he has come off in the story.

“I have been grossly misquoted in a Reuters article. My management/legal team expect an appropriate rebuttal and apology,” tweeted Omar, adding that, “No, the woman I have tattooed on my arm is not half naked… [She] only has exposed shoulders.” Omar went on to state that he was not wearing baggy trousers, but was instead donning a traditional kurta on top of jeans.

Numair Shahzada, now notorious online for being the “this is just epic” bobbing-head guy from the report in question is livid, tweeting that, “The writer has portrayed the Islamabad party scene in such a vulgar light.” “She makes me sound like a blubbering high idiot. This interview took place at Mocha. Not at a party. I don’t appreciate this,” tweets Shahzada. “Not cool man. Parties are not this shady and not that big a deal and our country is not as screwed up as depicted here.”

Creeping conservatism

While most Pakistanis abhor the Taliban’s violence, there are many who share their beliefs (but perhaps don’t wish to partake in terrorist activities) – particularly on online comment communities such as The Express Tribune’s website. The original article published online garnered over 100 comments, many of them bashing the ‘liberal-western-secular-nudist’ culture that commenters felt aptly captured the ‘malaise’ that has ‘infected’ Pakistan’s elite.

“Islam should be our guide force…we should enforce Islamic punishments to end this evilness…and we should start tableegh in all elite schools” said one angry commenter.

“They are sons and daughters of our brutal, blood thirsty ruling elite,” said another.

“This is the other side of extremism!” said yet another.

Lonely liberals

Despite the conservatism sweeping through Pakistan thanks to military dictator General Ziaul Haq’s  drive to Islamise the state in the 80s, an online voice or two still bravely dared to ask:

“Man… how do you get into such parties?”

Serving as the ‘voice of reason’ to a debate spinning well beyond the original report, Tribune Blogger Faraz Talat weighed in saying, “It’s their money, their bodies. They can sing, dance, wear miniskirts at their own party places…it is nobody’s business. Unless they’re pouring booze down my throat, it really doesn’t concern me.”

Spinning yarn

Whoever said journalism is a stab at narrating the truth will be disappointed to learn that ‘spin’, particularly in ‘soft’ stories about fashion events or dance parties is not just the norm, it is enforced, often vigorously by editors who demand the same under the seemingly legitimate banner of ‘colour’ and ‘balance’.

Nowhere is this truer than wires stories emanating from Pakistan, where the emerging fashion scene is planted jarringly against the backdrop of terrorism; where dance parties are amped up to be an ‘underground scene’ but a stone’s throw away from an irate Taliban commander.

Balance, it seems, equals exaggerated doses of two extremes juxtaposed against each other to give the reader fantasy, and farce.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2012.

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