Momina Mustehsan Went Too Far With Shireen Mazari, And It’s Not Okay

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So because Coke Studio’s ‘Ko Ko Korina’ has legs, the saga following it refuses to die down. Yes, it could have all gone away in a few days. I mean, really we would have tweeted about it until the next butchered classic. And then we would have forgotten. But now, after Momina Mustehsan decided that she’d throw caution to the wind, how can we ever forget?

Now, if you actually have a life to worry about, let me reiterate what happened. Shireen Mazari, high profile PTI member and current Federal Minister for Human Rights, tweeted that she hated the song. The word ‘horrendous’ may have been used.

And of course, Ms. Mustehsan responded. Then Shireen Mazari responded, and then Momina Mustehsan responded some more, and then the internet exploded. Honestly, so much was said that we must delve into each tweet. Yes, that’s right.

 

The Run-up

Shireen Mazari tweeted that Coke Studio destroyed a classic song, and questioned why they would do this. Her question, and this is important, was of course rhetorical.

Momina Mustehsan then responded, saying that as the minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari “should” appreciate Coke Studio for allowing freedom of expression.

(Okay. I thought what Coke Studio was doing was producing songs so that it could make money. But I suppose I’m wrong; it’s apparently the champion of free speech).

Shireen Mazari, who is old-school savage in the vein of a 1970s Haseena Moin heroin, laughed this off. She stated that she had every right to an opinion. And questioned why her official position had to be brought into the whole scenario.

And then things took a turn for the truly bizarre. Because we got these little treasures from Ms. Mustehsan.

 

 

At times like this, I wish my eyes could do a Linda Blair in The Exorcist shtick and roll back into their sockets.

I mean, are we actually, seriously going there? You are actually taking it there?

The only fair thing to do would be to assess the many charges levelled against Shireen Mazari.

 

The Responsible Language Nonsense

Let’s begin with the whole, ‘be more responsible with how you express yourself’ spiel. Okay, barring the self-righteous indignation, let’s think about what was tweeted. I have seen a number of people take offence with Dr. Mazari for her choice of words.

And like I said, these people make me wish that I could roll my eyes all the way back into my head. She said that the song was ‘massacred’ and this apparently calls for her professional prowess to be questioned. Really? Really?

Maybe this metaphor was not your cup of tea, but a lot of people have used similar language. The late great Waheed Murad’s son posted something far less forgiving. Yet he wasn’t lectured.

But wait, does that mean that there is nothing wrong with violent allegories? I don’t know. But it does mean that none of us are Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy fame.

See, when most of us use metaphors we assume that you’re not going to take them literally. Could you find a chosen turn of phrase offensive despite this? Absolutely. But nobody should have to alter their chosen words because of it.

Might I also add that it is a tad hypocritical. On the one hand you want Dr. Mazari to applaud Coke Studio as the harbinger of freedom of expression (*cough). But simultaneously, you expect her to censor her own expression.

Also, how far down the forced-political-correctness rabbit hole have we gone? Where if you happen to be renowned, you can’t even dislike a song without being scolded about decorum?

 

‘You’re in Government Now So You Can’t Have an Opinion Anymore’

 Now let us move on to the bit where Ms. Mustehsan “expects” better from Shireen Mazari, because the latter is now in office. And I quote, “you represent all of us now, not just yourself or PTI.” And cue Linda Blair eye roll.

I get the sentiment behind this. In theory when you exercise your right to vote, the goal is to elect representatives. That is officials who will act on behalf of their public. But there are two issues that have to be addressed.

Firstly, regardless of the theory, human beings can never fully extinguish their biases. So long as elected officials are human (*cough cough), they will make value judgements. Even when they try, earnestly, to act in the interest of their constituents, they are making a judgement about what those interests are. Such is the dilemma of indirect democracy. And since Ancient Rome isn’t making a comeback anytime soon, we won’t be getting direct democracy anytime soon either.

But also, we need to establish some social media housekeeping rules. Shireen Mazari wasn’t addressing the United Nations General Assembly. She wasn’t addressing the National Assembly. In fact, she wasn’t even commenting on a political issue. She was announcing her views about a decidedly underwhelming song.

Furthermore she didn’t attack anyone personally. She called Coke Studio, the brand, out for a bad production. Last I checked, a corporate powerhouse isn’t a defenceless little puppy that will shrivel up and die if you are mean to it.

 

The ‘It’s Hate Speech’ Excuse

One of my personal pet peeves is when people start using buzz words without a care. Apparently by expressing her views about a bad song, Dr. Mazari was encouraging both cyber-bullying and hate-speech.

Yes, okay.

And I would love to rip into the ‘cyber-bullying’ accusation. But I really don’t need to. Because you see, such is Pakistan’s entertainment scene that before the conversation was over, a UNDP policy advisor chimed in.

Mr. Ali Dayan Hasan pointed out the flaw in Momina Mustehsan’s argument so very aptly that I have to tip my hat to him.

Like I said, old-school savage.

But while, thanks to Mr. Hasan, we now understand why this wasn’t cyber-bullying, can we talk about how this wasn’t hate-speech either? And to do this, let’s just pull up the dictionary definition.

Here is the oxford dictionary definition of the term.

“Hate-speech: Abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group. Especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

I want to draw your attention to the second part of this definition. Because this is why hate-speech or condoning it is an ongoing and important issue. In 2018, we have examples of powerful forces endorsing and encouraging violence based on differences. This often impacts the most vulnerable members of a society.

How exactly did Shireen Mazari’s tweet encourage violence against any group? How did it condone actively hurting or exploiting a minority? And please take these questions very seriously. Because you cannot toss a term that has such real world consequences, around so callously. Particularly when you were so very piqued by someone else’s chosen words.

 

The Legacy

We have done this dance with Momina Mustehsan before. This is not the first time she has taken to social media to educate us about what we’ve apparently been missing. Nor is this the first time when called out, she’s doubled down. And responded with explanations that clearly do not take any of the criticism into account.

Around a year ago, when Mahira Khan was being shamed for living her life by some circles, Momina Mustehsan tweeted out her support. Which was the decent thing to do, but also a bit surprising. It was surprising because she had, post Qandeel Baloch’s murder, not been as supportive of a woman breaking the rules. In fact Humaima Malick called her out on this.

And Ms. Mustehsan offered a response. But it didn’t acknowledge her obvious double standard. It stated how she had acknowledged the tragedy of Qandeel Baloch’s murder. This was shot down by Humaima Malick.

More recently, there was a bit of an exchange which still leaves me queasy. When Anam Tanoli’s death made the news, it was revealed that she may have committed suicide possibly because of ongoing depression. Momina Mustehsan responded by posting images of herself, which were apparently professionally taken.

Stylist Anaum Hammad criticised the images for presenting a “pretty sad girl aesthetic” and essentially distorting the image of depression. Muzi Sufi, who is a photographer herself, also called out the practice of using edited and filtered images to represent depression.

Momina’s defence was iterated via a long Instagram post. Stating that her attempt to share her story should be applauded instead of criticised. She ended the post with anti-bullying hash tags.

Personally, I think she missed the point. Nobody was calling out her intentions, or that she had experienced all that she said she had. But, they were questioning how she was tackling the issue. This is something that I personally question as well. Particularly when recent studies reveal that Instagram and its aesthetic is really damaging for mental health.

The fact that she chose not to see the merit of their arguments, and instead implied that they were in some way bullying her is unfair. And at this point it seems to be a recurring theme. She seems to see any kind of criticism that is less than nice as bullying, or supportive of bullying.

 

Taking It On The Chin

The ultimate problem with this whole saga is how petty it seems. Something that I have mentioned throughout this post is that at the end of the day, Coke Studio is a commercial venture. This, in our capitalism-happy landscape, also means that consumer demand and responses matter. This is where ‘Ko Ko Korina’ failed; most people did not like it. This made it a problematic nail in an already turbulent Studio’s potential coffin.

This is also why Momina Mustehsan’s behaviour is a problem. I cannot hazard a guess about what the specifics of her contract with Coca Cola are. But, if I were part of the team that brought her on as a talent, I’d have a serious sit down with her.

When the fans have decided that they didn’t like something, and you start putting on a defensive front, it hurts the brand. And this time, it isn’t just your own brand. It is the brand of the people who paid you for a performance. At some point, taking criticism on the chin stops being a courtesy; it becomes a professional requirement.

And having said this, let me direct thy attention to some others who are invariably party to this whole thing.

 

Stars Versus Fans

I knew nothing about Ahad Raza Mir. So ‘Ko Ko Korina’ was my introduction to him, and it wasn’t the best introduction. But since then, I have strangely began liking him. And funnily enough, it is because of his tweets. After the situation exploded, Mr. Mir also had somethings to say. His tweets, very nicely compiled by TGIF magazine, can be divided into two parts.

One half, which I appreciate, paints him as someone who can take a joke and critique. He seems humble, and even willing to laugh about it. The second half of his tweets reiterate many of the sentiments expressed by his partner in duet, with regards to Dr. Mazari. And thus are basically hogwash. But it was nice to see that he had the humility to laugh about the whole thing.

Then, let’s talk about Sajal Aly. As mentioned, I didn’t know Mr. Mir and I’ve been on the fence about Ms. Mustehsan. But I am, and have been for some time now, a Sajal Aly fan. I think she is a powerhouse, and a true talent of our times. But she is also, in this instance, wrong.

She shared an image, and some Instagram stories, about all the ‘hate’ that was being directed towards the song. And I am sure that some people have indeed crossed lines; because internet. But by and large, people did not like the song for legitimate reasons. The vocals, composition even the styling, left a lot to be desired. And many people, will tell you this in an animated way. You have to, as celebrities, be able to take criticism. And understand that ‘constructive’ criticism doesn’t have to be nice, or polite.

Calling fans ‘haters’ or dismissing them for not liking the song only hurts you. Because the message you are sending is that you don’t actually care about what they think. Unless they like you, that is.

And so let me end with a suggestion. I know that we love to talk about how the common folk should or shouldn’t act on social media. But here’s a thought, how about also encouraging celebrities to take criticism? Instead of writing it off as, ‘you are entitled to your opinion,’ maybe, listen.

Listen to the criticism levelled against you, take a step back and consider the possibility that you made a mistake. Appreciate the merits of those criticising you, and perhaps, try to do better.

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