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Saturday Jul 18 2020

Why I deleted my tweets against Bilawal Bhutto

Salman Ahmad says he is still attacked on social media, repeatedly for speaking out against political corruption. Photo: Salman Ahmad (left) and PPP President Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (right)

Bulleh, ki janan mein Kaun?

Na mein momin vich maseet aan

Na mein kufr di reet aan

Na mein paakan vich paleetan

Na mein Moosa na firaun

Bulleh ki janan mein kaun?

Bulleh, who am I?

I am no believer, I have no pagan ways

I'm not pure, I'm not vile

I'm no Moses and I'm no Pharoah

Bulleh, who am I?

Pakistani social media is free for all and much gets lost in translation. I have been accused by ill-informed individuals of misogynistic misconduct as a result of one tweet.

It would normally not be worth describing this storm in a teacup by writing a column in a newspaper.

Yet, in this hyper isolated, warped COVID-19 world, where conspiracy theories and disinformation travel at the speed of light, I feel compelled to provide much-needed context for my satirical tweet.

For the record, I have continuously championed women’s rights throughout my career.

As an artist and a Goodwill Ambassador, I recorded and shot a video on women’s empowerment and an HIV/AIDS starring famous Pakistani actress Nadia Jamil.

Alvida shines a light on the leadership of a Pakistani Woman AIDS activist, Shukriya Gul, living in a society which stigmatises PLWHIV.

My first starring role in a PTV play, Aahat, shined a light on the mother and girl child relationship and the challenges faced by both in a strongly patriarchal society.

My wife, Dr Samina and I run a non-profit, SSGWI, which champions girls' education in Pakistan.

At the same time, I have been a vociferous advocate for human rights / social justice. In 1996, I also recorded an anthem titled Ehtesaab (Accountability). The lyrics were by Hassan Nisar and Shoaib Mansoor.

That Ehtesaab song and video directed by Shoaib Mansoor takes a satirical view of political corruption during the '90s. It was banned by both the PPP and PMLN governments.

So extreme was the response to EhtesaabJunoon was banned for three years on TV, radio and even from performing live concerts in Pakistan.

Fast forward to July 2020, I am still attacked on social media, repeatedly for speaking out against political corruption.

Many of these attacks are below the belt, vile death threats and some of them target my wife and family.

It’s no secret that Pakistan’s social media is fiercely partisan. Supporters of political parties and their troll armies continuously hound celebrities, artists and anyone who stands up to powerful mafias.

A couple of days back, I was viciously attacked for sharing a link of the BBC film Princess and the Playboy which features Ehtesaab. An entire troll army went to work attacking me.

The viciousness of the trolls is something I have grown accustomed to but because it was aimed at my personal relationship with the Pakistani Prime Minister, I decided to respond to the tweet directly.

Like the American comedian Sarah Cooper, SNL or the Daily Show, my satirical tweet used provocative images (including an online picture of Bilawal Zardari peering over a diary with a link to the BBC film Princess and the Playboy). 

A well known Punjabi proverb completes the message that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

That is the entire intention behind my satirical tweet. The firestorm that has erupted is a storm in a teacup.

Mr Zardari and his troll army when they see fit use the same 'satirical' below the belt social media attacks on those who are unable to defend themselves.

I have evidence of all these attacks which I will share with my legal team. I do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings beyond making my point about entitled scions with feudal backgrounds who can not have it both ways.

Newton’s law says: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

I have made my point and deleted my tweets, voluntarily.

The writer is a Pakistani musician and activist who has been associated with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf