Thursday, April 09, 2009

Update: Attack on the Shanaakht Festival

Details of the Event:
After watching footage from SAMAA TV and speaking to more eyewitnesses, here are some details of the event
The protesters started off as a small group of people who were objecting to the display of the offensive picture. They became increasingly violent, very quickly and after destroying the paintings in the exhibit, they came outside of the hall and started damaging any property they could get their hands on.
The Arts Council had 5 armed guards and the only one who put up any resistance was the oldest one of them, a grey haired gentleman who displayed his gun. The PPP rioters brandished their own weapons but did not fire them and tried to snatch the weapon of the guard who only backed down after his colleagues persuaded him to.
The most striking image for me was Sharmeen Obaid (founder of CAP) standing at the entrance of the hall pleading with rioters to calm down and not destroy the signs and the exhibits. The rioters were visibly threatening, brandishing weapons and using extremely vulgar language, ordering that the entire Arts Council be shut down. This was in the presence of several women, young students and senior citizens.
The camera footage showed them clearly ripping up signs, turning over tables, kicking down tent poles and creating mayhem. Eyewitnesses say that the protestors came up to them and personally threatened their lives saying "we know who you are, we've seen you on TV, we are going to kill you for what you have done"
Here is the disturbing part. The police arrived on the scene almost immediately. Four to five mobiles were standing outside and several armed policemen were inside the premises. They did nothing. The video footage clearly showed them standing back and ignoring the PPP rioters as they destroyed public and private property. Keep in mind that the initial number of rioters was quite small and could easily have been overpowered by the police force.
Not content to destroy the art exhibit, the protesters then broke the windows of the Arts Council offices that were thankfully closed and unoccupied at the time.
Response and Appearance on SAMAA TV:
There were several major news channels that were on the spot with cameras covering the exhibition. Not a single TV channel displayed any footage of the attack save for Samaa TV. While Geo TV ran a ticker briefly saying an art festival had been attacked and erroneously reporting that shots had been fired, they stopped running it after a few minutes and did not follow up on the story. I personally knew a Dawn TV cameraman who was on the spot filming the entire thing who submitted it to the editorial board who chose not to run it. It was a complete failure on the part of the television news. There was no information out until 10pm on SAMAA TV, where TV Personality Faisal Qureshi had Amean J, (photographer/ main organizer and curator for the exhibit) appear on his show to discuss the events. After playing the footage and hearing Amean's version of it, Qureshi contacted Shehla Raza, spokesperson for the Pakistan People's Party.
Ms. Raza then proceeded to berate The Citizens Archive for allowing that picture to go up and launched into long speech about the glory of Benazir Bhutto. Amean apologized on the behalf of CAP and said it was not their intention to offend any person or party. This was not good enough for Raza, who repeatedly laid the blame for the events on the shoulders of CAP.
When repeatedly asked by the host if her party had gone too far in its response, Raza responded "logon ke jazbaat bharak jaatey haain…theek hai inhon ne maafi mangee, laikin inko nahin lagani chahiye thee"
("People can get emotional, he is apologizing now, but they should never have put the picture up in the first place")

Here is the version of the events from Dawn this morning.

It's crucial to note the PPP's official stance, this is what spokesperson Waqar Mehdi had to say

Anything that is religiously or politically controversial should not be displayed. It should be acceptable to all. Even if offensive pictures of Altaf Hussain or Nawaz Sharif were displayed, we would oppose it. Our party believes in freedom of expression, but that does not mean it should be a free-for-all. People’s feelings should not be hurt."
What is really disturbing about the comments from the PPP is that they have basically equated political commentary to blasphemy. The punishment for blasphemy in Pakistna is death. Is this to be the punishment for political commentary as well?
Until we stop canonizing leaders and let this feudal, herd mentality prevail in our political party system, we have no hope for political discourse or free speech.
Personally, watching the SAMAA TV interview, I was consumed with uncontrollable rage and grief. I tried desperately to call their hotline and speak on the air but the phone lines were jammed. I was initally not happy that CAP offered to apologize for their actions, I could not believe that the victims had to apologize. But I know that when Amean apologized he truly believed that the greater good of making the show go on, and making sure people go along with us was in everybody's interest.
While there are reports that the show is going to continue, I have not received official word from the organizers yet. They are visibly heartbroken and extremely shaken by the events yesterday. We have already pledged that we will perform as scheduled should they choose to continue and I hope the other artists wil too, because it is the only way we can fight back.

Update : Here is a link to the offending picture on Teeth Maestros Blog.


Blogger KM said...

I'm so glad you're posting all this.

12:18 PM  
Blogger kAy said...

are you serious about the show not being confirmed and the events not continuing?

honestly, if anyone had ASKED amean to just remove that photograph he would have. I understand how an image of benazir sitting on the lap of the man who got her father hung can be disturbing for some highly BB loving people (who btw i doubt were any such thing- it was just mob mentality- i bet half of them didnt even know what the hell they were getting pissed at).

omer if you have that picture please put it up on the blog so that everyone sees what the hue and cry was about....or not... i mean PEMRA just might shut your blog down...

the sad part is if bush had to go get pissed off at all they have done to depict him as a monkey and what not, half of the artist community in America would have been beheaded by now.

12:24 PM  
Blogger JDèé said...

He should not have apologized.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The show must go on man

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was there and i can confirm no shots were fired although The News has a statement from Sanam Maher that firing did infact take place. Maybe if CAP had some minister inaugurate the festival , what happened yseterday could have been avoided. and apparently CAP was asked to have the painting removed before the festival began. Not a wise decision by them. its officially cancelled until further notice , a press conference is going to be held at 6 pm today at press club.

4:06 PM  
Blogger uikhan said...

God, the situation is hopeless.....i hope the show does go on though, n u guys still perform! I'm glad at least some people still possess intellect and aesthetics at the same time! All the best ADP, I hope you guys rock this event!

5:13 PM  
Blogger AKS said...

Is the festival still happening?
If so, Omar will you guys be performing?

I think people should turn up to the Arts Council regardless, and lend their support. Any thoughts?

8:17 PM  
Blogger Ali. said...

its too late now but can't this story somehow get to international new agencies? although they might not really care seeing as how the taliban are much more ratings-friendly..

3:22 AM  
Blogger Ali. said...


3:23 AM  
Blogger uikhan said...

Ok, so i hear Shanaakht goes as planned....good news...have fun at the gig OBA n the rest of the Aunties!

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Refer to the above link for coverage of the incident in the newspaper

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im one the most loyal friends of CAP, i think thr whole idea about CAP itself and Shanaakht is brilliant,
what happened two days back was bad...Ive been reading a lot about it, people commenting on the fact the PPP has become like Taliban n stuff and thr whole act was outrageous n all...i partly agree with that BUT just calm down and look at the other side of the picture, look at the OFFENSIVE piece tht so-called artist made in the name of 'freedom of speech and expression'...
y dint the CAP ppl checked the entries that were coming to them b4 putting them on a festival which was on such a grand scale?...
How is it possible tht this one entry skipped out of thr eyes?....
And wht are these VASL ppl upto, we dnt even see and not even hear any statement from thm apologizing or anything?...
whr is that WOMAN(artist) who made this photo montage gone?...
that art piece which was offensive, it made me so angry after looking at it, y wont the party workers be like wht they did ...just imagine if something related to MQM'S leader would be in it what would've happen?...damaging would be a very small thing thn...
so YES wht happen shouldn't hve happend in the first place BUT that piece was also disgusting and thr should be some serious action taken on VASL and that artist not on sharmeen or CAP...coz VASL is also a big name our biggest artist are involve with it, were they sleeping?, iam sure not coz thy also think its a right to show ur opnion BULL SHIT to this freedom...Im an artist myself and i dnt agree that this is some kind of ethical thing to do...

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hope benazir is burning in hell!

1:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

thanks for providing this pertinent & updated information. Go Samaa TV! As for whether anyone apologized or not...what are they going to do start trying to explain to a bunch of neanderthals the concept of "art" & "fiction"...

Chimps will be chimps but when they get violent its probably better to run for your life...but honestly, how dare they? As if there aren't enough problems with depictions of the actual God & The Prophet without now ascribing humans god-like status...F******* Hell

Offense is one thing..but thinking you have the right to be offended above everyone else & throw a tantrum is just plain jungli...

Take heart guys..Shanaakht festival has made very important social history..something like this unfortunately was bound to takes time to enlighten a society..& patience

7:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

ok wait wait wait I read what the PPP leader and "special assistant" to the Sindh chief minister Waqar Mehdi said & I just had to add a little more & sound off the W.T.F ??? alert:

‘Anything that is religiously or politically controversial should not be displayed. It should be acceptable to all. Even if offensive pictures of Altaf Hussain or Nawaz Sharif were displayed, we would oppose it. Our party believes in freedom of expression, but that does not mean it should be a free-for-all. People’s feelings should not be hurt.’

We believe in freedom of expression but people's "feelings" shouldn't be hurt??? What are we like six & in the playground? The PPP better toughen up if their FEELINGS are going to get hurt at the drop of a hat..& IF your feelings ARE hurt we'll call you a WAAAHMBULANCE...not say yes yes go ahead & literally nearly KILL people over your "hurt feelings", you sociopaths...

People need tough hides & no goddamn guns for a "true" democracy..

ok tirade over (exeunt)

8:06 AM  

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