May 4, 2018

The curious case of Meesha Shafi, which isn’t really that curious after all

Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar
Raima Khan has penned an op-ed in the Daily Times where she uses the same tried and tested arguments to shame the victims of harassment into submission. They range from the ‘if she didn’t like him, why did she hang out with him?’ to the ‘but she’s also done such terrible things in the past, why don’t we talk about those?’ Before we go any further, it is important to remind the good people of the fact that Daily Times is the same newspaper that published a post by Mohsin Sayeed in which he called women who disagreed with Meesha Shafi “cock sucking cunts.” Then, it apologized to Mohsin Sayeed for publishing the post in the first place. So you can understand if I don’t pay much attention to this worthless rag of a newspaper.

But a lot of people seem to think that Raima Khan has provided some genius insights into the whole Meesha Shafi, Ali Zafar saga. Spoiler alert: She hasn’t. Here I debunk the arguments she’s made, point-by-point.

1. “This is a case of two equals and therefore cannot possibly be talked about and discussed in the same narrative as other sinister and harrowing cases of sexual harassment.”

No it’s not. Now I believe in the multiverse theory, which suggests there is an infinite number of universes, so I can imagine a universe in which Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar are equal, but it most certainly is not this one. Meesha Shafi does not get paid as much as Ali Zafar. She doesn’t get the same list of overzealous band of fans who will defend her to her detractors. Heck she isn’t even given the benefit of doubt when she makes an allegation of harassment. She’s dismissed, as if she’s overstepped her bounds. Ali Zafar on the other hand is immediately believed when he denies the allegations.

2. “Her former manager, Fahad Rehman claimed his experience with [Meesha Shafi] included ‘blackmail’; two women part of the band at the jam session where the alleged harassment was said to take place came out as witnesses … a former theatre colleague, Talia Mirza wrote a public note on Facebook claiming that she had been bullied and Shafi had slut shamed other women. She also said that Meesha’s brother, Faris Shafi, also a public figure, had put women in uncomfortable situations in the past including herself.”

This is an interesting one. Let me talk about the women first. The two women who came forward said Ali Zafar has never harassed them, and they did not see the harassment take place. They did not say the harassment did not take place. When incidents of harassment take place (the kinds which Ali Zafar is accused of), they usually aren’t done in public for the benefit for all those present. But let’s assume the witnesses are absolutely correct. To wit, the counter is the several other women who’ve come forward claiming Ali Zafar harassed them. Raima Khan chooses to believe the witnesses at the gig. I choose to believe the women who’ve come forward otherwise. See the problem?

Now about her manager and Talia Mirza. They both have made serious accusations against Meesha Shafi, and if their accusations are correct, then Meesha Shafi’s only proving the point that she’s no different than a slimy sleaze ball who people should stay away from. But I put it to you, does Meesha Shafi being a sleaze ball give anyone the right to harass her? If you answered no, then stop bringing her other transgressions up. They are irrelevant and have no bearing on this incident. If you answered yes, you’re a perverted slime ball and you should be ashamed of yourself.

3. “It is also important not to dismiss the pictures of Shafi and Zafar together simply as misogynistic media trying to portray her negatively.”

I rolled my eyes so hard when I read this, I think I gave my eye a cramp. Wife, gets beaten by husband everyday, still takes a smiling picture with him. Why didn’t she leave him? What stopped her? Niece, abused by her uncle, still takes a smiling picture with him. Why did she take a picture with him? Why didn’t she tell anyone? Girlfriend, slapped around by boyfriend, still takes a smiling picture with him. That’s her own fault. Why was she his girlfriend? Why didn’t she behave like proper Muslim women?

Meesha Shafi, harassed by Ali Zafar, still takes a smiling picture with him, for any number of reasons. Maybe he’s a friend who she thinks hasn’t realized he’s overstepped his bounds; maybe she’s afraid of the reaction she’ll get if she creates a scene, so she finds it easier to smile and take a picture with him; maybe it’s a professional picture because they’re both celebrities who work together, so they need to take smiling pictures; maybe she just smiles when she takes a picture.

Seriously, what kind of an absolutely ridiculous argument is this? They took pictures together, so Meesha Shafi must definitely be lying about being harassed? OK then.

4. “Shafi herself, according to public records, has had an FIR filed against her some years back. This was by her very own family members and famous musician, Farhad Hamayun. Why is none of this being documented and talked about?”

Because it’s already been dealt with. It was years ago, an FIR was filed, some outcome came out of it, and it’s not an issue anymore. Creating a deliberate logical fallacy — Meesha Shafi was harassed by Ali Zafar, oh but here look, she had an FIR filed against her — is disingenuous at best, and petty, vile, crude and immature at worst. None of this is being talked about because Meesha Shafi being a sleaze ball does not give anyone the right to harass her. It’s like Maiza Saeed talking about Imran Khan being petty, when she was asked if she will condemn the words of Rana Sanaullah and Abid Sher Ali. One does not make the other right.

Here’s where we stand at the end of the day. You will believe what you choose to believe, but some hard facts just can’t be mollycoddled. As a Pakistani man I know exactly the kind of locker room talk, objectification and debauchery men indulge into. As a Pakistani man, I know exactly how men with power and influence, manipulate women. It surprises me when men come to the defense of other men with the ‘where’s the proof?’ line of argument, because they know exactly where that proof is; it’s in the mirror staring back at them. There’s about a 98% chance that Ali Zafar is indeed a sexist, misogynistic, harassing pig, and men and women who choose not to accept that can continue to stick their heads in the sand. They’re fooling nobody but themselves.