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The perversions of writers

by Samina Choonara, 25 September 2008

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The News, September 26, 2008

The amazing quantity and the virulence of the writing over the death of fashion designer Sheikh Amer Hassan makes an average reader wonder what is at stake here. Why are some members of the fashion industry, and some journalists supporting them, so bent on vilifying his name in his death, calling him a pretender, and not really part of the club, and moreover, a "pervert" in reference to his sexuality.

If these detractors (for example, article by Muniba Kamal in "Instep" (Sept 14) had gone public during his lifetime this could have been read as an expose of the many hypocrisies of the style mafiosi or even as a contrary opinion on the man’s work. Appearing as they do after his grisly murder where the man was tied and gagged – according to some newspaper reports also tortured – before being shot at close range with a shotgun, the blood lust of these writers is hard to understand. They now openly empathise with the two men in their twenties who have confessed to the crime and claim to have known Amer Hassan for over three years. Why did this man rattle the industry so? The papers will tell you that Amer Hassan studied at two schools in London and had degrees in art and fashion design, he was fashion director of one of the largest and most popular Pakistani television network, wrote columns in the newspapers and hosted a television show on men’s fashions, while also dabbling in making clothes and dressing celebrities like Jemima Khan. He also made a long-running serial on Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s life that captured the benign arrogance and the sartorial elegance of the national leader. If this makes him an impresario he was certainly in like company with the Karachi fashionistas, the photographers, stylists, journalists, and image managers, some of whom get by on even less talent.

If the anger of these writers and all those enlisted in the smear campaign is against the effete elite classes, again, one would be hard put to identify the pot that is calling the kettle black. Charges of occupying an unreal world protected by power and privilege do not apply to the inhabitants of this plush, pink palace of the imagists for whom this is an occupational hazard, since they tend to embody the images they make and then project into the world. Why some of these club members of the privileged with very public, sexually liberated personas need to cast stones at a dead man and distance themselves from him is the real mystery to be solved here.

Is this the hysteria of a spurned lover, or a business rival? Or is it merely that the elite has its own conservatisms and wishes to maintain the privacy of its hedonistic lifestyle by pushing the news of Amer Hassan at bay? So each writer prefaces the salacious gossip they have on the dead man with a caveat about how they didn’t really know him or go to his parties. How, then, these writers are privy to so much personal detail of his soirees, for instance, that he served lousy cocktails and that the décor was terrible remains a mystery, or else it is merely hearsay.

Amer Hassan is accused of the "casting couch" syndrome whereby novices were persuaded to go to bed to launch their careers, but this does not imply consent on their part. This is also used by one writer to rise to the defence of the confessed murderer who aspired to be a male model and was disappointed when this didn’t happen. The writer says she didn’t do the dirty on Amer Hassan in his life because she didn’t want him shot in the head by someone from the Tehrik-e-Taliban. But she implies that she is glad someone did it anyway, by saying he had it coming.

It makes one wonder if the writer does not secretly belong to the Tehrik, or should one believe this is just part of that brutalised sensibility that makes an angry mob publicly torch a petty thief, or makes fathers and brothers bludgeon and bury alive their daughters and sisters for wanting to marry of their own choice. In the media trial since his death, Amer Hasan has been found guilty of "reprehensible acts," "perversion," and "laundaybazi" and thereby considered deserving of murder, while in life, this writer confesses, "there was no proof." It seems that in this country, all the people you don’t like are better off dead, or, better, murdered. But then someone else can find the homophobia of this writer equally "reprehensible" and "unpalatable" because most civilised societies now accept different expressions of sexuality as within the purview of law and social behaviour. Slanderous writing with such murderous moral self-righteousness should not be passed off because in conflating alternate sexuality with crime and justifying a man’s death, the writers are closing social space where norms are being contested.

The writer is working on gender studies at Shirkat Gah, Lahore, as a research consultant. Email: saminachoonara@