Pakistani actress Veena Malik (Urdu: ويتا ملک, born Zahida Malik), who raised eyebrows last year for her provocative on-screen behavior in a reality show, is in the midst of yet another controversy after posing in the nude for the December 2011 cover of the Indian edition of international For Him men's Magazine(FHM). The ISI tattoo on Veena's arm in the picture adds to the provocative nature of the cover. This latest "outrage" raises the following questions: Is Veena motivated by her desire for publicity and money? Is Veena leading a new form of protest against Pakistan's religious, political and social orthodoxy?
Challenge to Religious Orthodoxy:
Malik is part of a new emerging crop of Pakistanis which, in small but significant ways, has challenged the religious orthodoxy. She, and others like her, present a sharp contrast to the rising wave of Islamic radicalism that the U.S. and the Pakistani secular-liberal elite view as an existential threat to the country. And with many well-traveled Pakistanis importing ideas from abroad, they are contributing to Pakistan's 21st-century search for itself.
In addition to increased international travel, Pakistan's media and telecom revolution that began during the Musharaf years is contributing to changing society. There are multiple, competing TV channels catering to almost every niche, whim and taste---from news, sports, comedy and talk shows to channels dedicated to cooking, fashion, fitness, music, business, religion, local languages and cultures etc. It seems that this media revolution has had a profound influence on how many young people talk, dress and behave, emulating the outspoken media personalities, actors, preachers, singers, sportsmen, celebrities and fashion models. In addition to a smorgasbord of TV channels born out of a surge in advertising spending, there are many newspapers and tabloids, and serious and glossy magazines, and many FM radio stations providing local news, sports, weather and traffic updates.
Enabled by Pakistan's youthful population's embrace of the new media, the hit videos Aalu Anday and Paki Rambo are the latest examples in a long tradition of protest music, poetry and literature in the rich and diverse culture of Pakistan.
In recent years, Pakistan's protest culture has entered a new and exciting phase. The artists no longer feel stifled by the heavily censored state electronic media which dominated the national landscape for most of Pakistan's existence. In fact, the new talent does not rely even on the corporate-owned commercial media that have emerged and become powerful during the last decade of President Musharraf's rule. With the growth of Internet in Pakistan, the rapidly expanding online population is feeling more empowered than ever to engage in free expression as part of their political and social activism.
Regardless of Veena's personal motivations, it is clear that the FHM cover featuring her in the nude is an act of defiance by the publicity-seeking actress. Shocking as it may seem to many Pakistanis, it represents only the tip of the iceberg of big social changes coming to Pakistan. These changes will likely lead to greater polarization in the short to intermediate term. Eventually, however, I expect that Pakistanis will learn to tolerate diversity and emerge as a stronger and more unified nation.
Here's a video clip of Veena Malik performing for India reality show Bigg Boss: