Whenever a prominent woman or girl from Pakistan does or says something noteworthy, the world is intrigued. International publications and organizations flock to these women and want to know about their thoughts, their ambitions, their struggles, and of course - their lives back in Pakistan. Meanwhile, in their home country, they are torn apart for failing to be ‘good ambassadors’ or unpatriotic.
Even MalalaYousufzai is not spared.
Author and journalist Fatima Bhutto, who is also the niece of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, bore the brunt of this negative scrutiny when the London Evening Standardpublished an article titled “Fatima Bhutto: ‘South Asia needs more Malalas'”
In the introduction to the piece which eventually goes into details of Bhutto’s new book - The Shadow of the Crescent Moon -she was quoted as saying that “in London you’re free, but if you’re a woman in Karachi and you want to walk from your house somewhere then good luck — you’d get harassed and you might get mugged or attacked.”
Considering most of her formative years were spent abroad during her father’s self-exile and she no longer lives in Pakistan’s metropolitan port city of 20 million people, Fatima is probably not in the best position to comment on the present safety of ALL women in Karachi. She also happens to be part of the crème de le crème of Karachi’s society, the women of which lead very different lives.
On the other hand, just why she was expected to protect Karachi’s reputation is not clear, considering she had already publicly admitted to having ‘fallen out of love’with the city in recent years in an article she published in Vogue India earlier this month.
The Pakistani social media went into a frenzy when news of this article broke. Take a look at these Tweets and Facebook posts.
Ok, Fatima Bhutto, you win! You own twitter today :P #IHatePrettyGirls— Khizra (@KhizM) November 22, 2013
Ok now people r pulling stats out of their arses to support the Fatima Bhutto women walking piece.— Anthony Permal (@anthonypermal) November 22, 2013
Hate her because shes a smug underachiever who made a career out of stating the obvious NOT telling the west KHI is unsafe #fatimabhutto— sanam taseer (@sanamtaseer) November 22, 2013
But then there were those that came to Bhutto’s defense.
Fatima’s critics often overlook the fact that this article was published in the London Evening Standard and Bhutto’s words were framed by a British writer who may or may not have had her own agenda.
Sami Shah (comment above) knows a little bit about being interviewed by a foreign journalist. The New York Times recently profiled him as a Pakistani immigrant finding success as a comedian in a rural Australian town called Northam.
“The reporter then cherry picks words to fit their pre-planned agenda (or the editor does it) and then it gets printed up as though that your central thesis,” he wrote in a comment thread related to the original piece and the Facebook backlash that followed. View comment below.
Society’s backlash to outspoken Pakistani women is not uncommon. Even the courageous Malala was not spared local criticism for allegedly promoting a western agenda and being an agent of America.
Karachi native and Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, is hailed for her achievements abroad but often criticized at home for creating films that cater to western perceptions of Pakistan – as opposed to going deeper into her subject matter.
Why are Pakistanis so quick to judge their fellow countrymen (or countrywomen in this case) who have found success or fame abroad?
While the answer to that is complex and not all Pakistanis feel that way, what is certain is that if you are from Pakistan and you find fame in the West – good luck – especially if your celebrity status has anything political related to it.
You are now a permanent ambassador for your country, whether you signed up for it or not. Every word that you utter must be calculated and representative of every member of the 180+ million people living in Pakistan.
And be prepared for the ‘haters’ back home.