There are many things I could write about the murder of Pakistani icon Qandeel Baloch, who was mercilessly asphyxiated by her own brother after he drugged her to sleep for supposedly “dishonoring the Baloch name.”
So incensed am I at the killing of this fearless champion of individual autonomy—whose brother Waseem Azeem callously expressed pride at killing his sister by saying, “I am not ashamed. We are Baloch and as Baloch we cannot tolerate [this]”—that I waited two days before committing any words to the subject.
I could wax lyrical about the state of gender rights in my country of origin, Pakistan.
I could go on about the sexual frustration and hypocrisy of my fellow Pakistani men.
I could scream from the rooftops about outdated cultural, social, and religious values that discriminate against little girls, women, daughters, and widows.
I could talk about religiously and culturally justified child brides, forced marriages, polygamy, acid attacks, and domestic abuse.
I could highlight the fact that—as Oscar winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy reflected—such honor killings are an epidemic in Pakistan.
I could even mention with some relief that the First Information Report to the police against her murderous brother was filed by her own father, who said, “My daughter was brave and I will not forget or forgive her brutal murder.”
There is a trickle of hope here, after all.
Instead, I will focus on Qandeel herself, her courage, and what that courage should mean for the rest of us. So let us not just call Qandeel an aspiring Pakistani model or an aspiring actress. Let us not refer to Qandeel only as a Pakistani social media star, and let us not primarily define her as the Pakistani Kim Kardashian.
Qandeel Baloch, real name Fauzia Azeem, may have been many of those things, but she transcended every single one of them. For despite Kim Kardashian’s undoubtedly noble and widely lauded contribution to social justice in America, she does not risk her life daily merely by existing.
But by her mere presence Qandeel Baloch was a one-woman revolution against religiously and culturally justified misogyny. This in a society where the cost of speaking out can be lethal betrayal by those who are meant to love you the most: your own family. So most of all let us remember Qandeel Baloch as a fearless Pakistani women’s rights campaigner who had zero fucks left to give.
For it is only by having zero fucks left to give that a woman in today’s Pakistan can be brave enough to post sexually suggestive videos of herself. It is only by having zero fucks left to give that a woman in today’s Pakistan could promise to strip online if her country’s national cricket team won against India. It is only by having zero fucks left to give can a woman in today’s Pakistan pluck up the courage to summon a leading member of her country’s mullah mafia to a hotel room, only to film him turning to putty in her hands, mesmerized by her flirtation as he allowed her to sit in his lap while she donned his religious hat. Apparently, Mufti Abdul Qavi even proposed to her in that fateful hotel room encounter.
This feckless mullah reacted to Qandeel’s murder by claiming it was a lesson to others. Apparently, no one should dare mock religious clerics in this way. Well, Mr. Abdul Qavi, Qandeel Baloch had zero fucks left to give about you.
What makes Qandeel’s emergence as a Pakistani rebel icon even more awe-inspiring is that she was not a wealthy scion of society who had the financial and social standing to country-hop every time the threats to her life became unbearable. Though rich in aspirations for herself and her country, Qandeel hailed from a poor village in Dera Ghazi Khan near Multan, in South Punjab. And it is only by having zero fucks left to give that a woman from Qandeel’s socio-economic background could stand up and stick two fingers up to the whole of society in the way she did.
In this way, above all else Qandeel was a women’s rights campaigner who fabulously trolled Pakistani patriarchy, against all the odds. She trolled the fact that she was raised in a society that saw her married off against her wishes at 17. That society remained fascinated by how many husbands she’d had since. Well, Qandeel had zero fucks left to give. And in trolling society in this way, Qandeel used the only weapon she had at her disposal: her body. This pinned status from her Facebook page represents her intentions best: “At least international media can see what I am up to…I am trying to change the typical orthodox mindset of people who don’t wanna come out of their shells of false beliefs and old practices.” The way Qandeel did this was to highlight the sheer hypocrisy present in a society that punishes sexuality while returning one of the highest gay porn searches in the world. Men disparagingly labeled her as “loose” while drooling all over her. Women muttered at her scandalousness while simultaneously envying her.
That Qandeel was immensely brave is self-evident. Even in his mourning, her father recognized this fact. But the purpose of such misnamed “honor” killings is enforcement. They are the last resort mechanism left to a society that fetishizes sex in the name of religion and culture, and as a result despises and most of all fears female expression. That millions of Pakistani girls—who saw in Qandeel a ray of hope—will now be intimidated into silence is beyond doubt. Nothing I can write, nor that we can collectively do, will stop that. Those girls are likely to choose the protection their families provide them in exchange for their own security. Tragically, female expression in Pakistan may just have taken two steps back as a result.
I direct my words here instead at Pakistani men. For I too have a little sister, and I am beside myself with incandescent rage. My dear brothers, let us all have zero fucks left to give. In what world could it possibly be “honorable” to strangle your own sister to death with your bare hands, then boast about it? In which religion is the murder of your own sibling more “honorable” than love? We have to accept that our “honor” is not defined by our female relatives’ actions. Our “honor” can only be defined by our own behavior. So to those among us who agree with me, there is only one option left to take. Let us celebrate Qandeel, not be ashamed of her. Let us place Qandeel’s beautiful image on our T-shirts. Let us proudly post her pictures on our social media accounts. Let us show those who prefer to suffocate beauty that we are not scared. We are not scared of female emancipation, nor are we scared of those who enforce against it.
And when our brothers stop us to ask why we are doing so, let us cite the passage of the Quran in reply: “for what crime was she killed?”
In this way, let us truly honor Qandeel.
And to progressives in the West, I make this desperate plea. Let us all have zero fucks left to give. We live in two worlds, not one. There are liberal societies in which wearing the “wrong” T-shirt to an interview can cause egregious offense to certain feminist activists. Yet there are illiberal societies in which a woman walks the streets wearing what she likes at the pain of death. Sadly, I fear that the state of feminism in our societies is not safeguarded from experiencing “First World problems.”
I only ask that in our prioritization we recognize there are campaigners who regularly risk everything within their own Muslim communities to challenge such religiously justified oppression. These activists need our solidarity and support. They are not racists. They are not Islamophobes. No idea should be above scrutiny, just as no people should be beneath dignity. It is not Islamophobic to criticize aspects of religion and culture that provide the context to such murderous attitudes. Nor is it these activists’ responsibility alone to challenge such cultural taboos anywhere we find them. Just as one need not be gay to challenge homophobia, one need not be Pakistani or Muslim, to challenge religiously and culturally entrenched oppression. Muslim reformers need your support, not your sneers.
And finally, Qandeel Baloch, I say to you not rest in peace, for that would ascribe to your death a level of passivity that your life proves you would resent. No, to my sister Qandeel Baloch, you fearless Pakistani warrior who had zero fucks left to give, I say to you...may you rest in power.