Ali Saleem Gets a Break

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by Joshua Foust on 8/19/2009 · 3 comments

Ali Saleem is easily everyone’s favorite Pakistani. “My existence on TV discredits the misconception that Pakistan is a country of bearded extremists,” he once said. “I want to show the world that we are just cool, normal people.”

For years, Saleem ran Pakistan’s most popular TV show, in which he dressed up like a woman (Begum Nawazish Ali, a middle-aged widow) and chatted about prominent Pakistanis—celebrities, officials, politicians, everyone. Much like a younger version of Dame Edna Everage, Saleem would adopt this sassy persona and use it to crack jokes and otherwise defuse some of the tension that accompanies Pakistani politics. An open bisexual, Saleem even had fans among Pakistan’s religious elite, who simply made sure to remind him to pray everyday.

Part of the reason I speculate Saleem did not generate much outrage as a TV tranny—his show was eventually canceled for criticizing Pervez Musharraf—is because of Hijras. Kind of thought to be a “third gender,” hijras are most commonly male transvestites: men who portray themselves as women. While many are referred to in English as “eunuchs,” few ever go that far.

In fact, hijras have an ancient tradition in South Asia—even the Kama Sutra mentions them. While is why it is nice to see Pakistan’s Supreme Court stepping in and calling for basic human consideration to the country’s transvestites.

‘They are human beings and nobody has a right to hate them.’ A three-judge bench comprising the chief justice, Justice Chaudhry Ijaz Ahmed and Justice Ghulam Rabbani had taken up a petition seeking the establishment of a commission to emancipate effeminate men ostracised by the society for no fault of their’s.

Islamist jurist Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, who researched into the conditions of the ignominious merrymakers and discovered them to be the most oppressed and deprived segment of the society that is subjected to humiliation and molestation, had filed the petition for the welfare of the unfortunate and vulnerable people left by the society to live by begging, dancing and prostitution.

The Court deserves every ounce of applause we can muster for such a ruling. Pakistan is a vastly more complex place than we in the U.S. ever give it credit for being. While it has deep challenges and faces serious risks, we should also not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan itself is worth saving as well.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

Transitionland August 19, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Joshua, that was a very nice post, and those are some very kind thoughts.

Turgai Sangar August 20, 2009 at 6:02 am

“My existence on TV discredits the misconception that Pakistan is a country of bearded extremists. I want to show the world that we are just cool, normal people.”

🙂 Pfff, well, if that is promoted as the ‘normal’ alternative for ‘bearded extremists’, we’ve gotten far.

matt August 20, 2009 at 6:54 am

Nice post man, Ali is defiantly a brave man to renowned himself as “Bagem Namazish Ali”. Due to his popularity he is hosted so many shows and so many celebrities, besides my preparation of ccna, I never missed his shows. It’s always delight to watch.

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