Friday, April 27, 2007

Irate Islamic lawmakers have persuaded the Pakistan government to stop a theatre group staging a satirical play about the burqa


"Burqavaganza" played earlier this month during an arts festival in Lahore, the eastern city regarded as Pakistan's cultural capital, and home to some of the most liberal and most puritanical parts of the Muslim nation's society.

"The burqa is part of our culture. We can't allow anyone to ridicule our culture," Culture Minister Sayed Ghazi Gulab Jamal told the National Assembly.

The minister announced Thursday that the government had barred the play, which had already ended its run in Lahore, from being performed in other Pakistani cities.

Veiled female parliamentarians and Islamist lawmakers cheered Jamal and thumped desks in approval, while trading barbs with women from both the ruling party and liberal opposition parties.

Described by critics as a romp, the play sought to highlight the impact of the veil on society, by showing how wearers use it as a way to hide what they want to keep private.

In the play, young men and women wore the burqa to go out on secret dates, and it featured a character called Burqa bin Badin.

The play also showed a burqa-clad married couple put to death for making love in public.

Predictably, religious conservative Pakistanis did not find it funny, going as far as to describe the play as blasphemous, a crime in Pakistan that can carry a death sentence.

"They have committed blasphemy against the Prophet (Mohammad)," Razia Aziz, a female lawmaker from the Islamist opposition alliance, told the National Assembly.

She demanded the government take action against people responsible for staging "Burqavaganza".

Mehnaz Rafi, a lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League from Lahore, opposed the government giving in to the Islamists.

"A few people cannot dictate affairs of the state. Every person has the right to lead his life his own way. A few people cannot snatch freedom from society," Rafi said.

Shahid Nadeem, the director of the play, told the weekly Friday Times that the play aimed to raise awareness about a trend to force women to wear the veil.

Progressive Pakistanis have become increasingly shocked by how bold religious radicals have become in spreading their Taliban-style values in society.

Last month, burqa-clad female students from an Islamic school, or madrasa, raided a brothel in the capital, Islamabad, and abducted three women. The women were released only after they were made to repent before the media.

Students from Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, and its adjoining madrasa have also pressured music and video shop owners to wind up their businesses as part of their anti-vice campaign.

Anger at Pakistan burka play ban


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