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Moral brigade active in Islamabad again

Moral brigade active in Islamabad again

ISLAMABAD: Are they back – the moral brigades that blackened the faces of women on advertisement boards in 2007?

At least that is what people feared when they found bared arms and faces of models on billboards defaced in Super Market during Eid shopping spree.

Nobody saw who did it but thoughts went back to religious activists, mainly seminary students, who did the same during the Lal Masjid-inspired heady ‘islah’ (reform) campaign in the federal capital eight years ago.

However, like then, neither the advertisers nor their clients have felt reporting the vandalism to the police or the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

But privately, and guardedly, many have expressed despair at the possible return of the moral brigades.

“I cannot understand what anybody will gain by causing loss to me,” said Sohail Shah, the advertiser of two of the three billboards disfigured at the Super Market.

“It will cost me Rs10,000 to change the smeared reflector screen,” he added. “Insurance is not available against vandalism and charging clients would be unreasonable and damaging to my business.”

Sobia Amir, the owner of a salon, said her ‘well-wishers’ blamed the act on right-wing students, but felt “not much can be done about it.”

Like most business persons of the city, she was reluctant to dwell any further on the subject out of fear of “firebrand clerics.”

Because the billboards were disfigured in the vicinity of a girls’ college, a cloth merchant of Super Market said, “it is possible that by striking in the heart of the city at the dead of night the vandals wanted wider coverage to their message.”

The owner of a shopping plaza, Iskander Khan, observed that madressah students indulge in such “hooliganism” to try to enforce the attire their teachers consider proper for women.

“Islamabad has no culture of hooliganism. Such incidents are rare and young Taliban are usually behind them in an effort to enforce their sharia on us,” he said, tracing the incidents to the street marches by the “female brigades” of Lal Masjid in 2007.

“We all remember the mild harassment students of big and small seminaries in F-7, F-6 and E-7 resorted to, armed with sticks, in various city markets that year,” recalled Muzamil Sabri, the president of Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He said the ICCI felt concerned at the loss individual advertisers have suffered but more so for the fear syndrome that the incidents portend for the business environment in the city.

“They don’t seem to be as belligerent this time though, as the defacing (of the advertisements) took place in the dark of night,” he added.

Perhaps the last such act in the city was reported in F-10 area in 2012.

Unlike in the past, the vandals did not leave behind such messages in their latest act of hooliganism as “fahashi, bayhayi band karo” (stop vulgarity, immorality).”

Members of the business community feel the authorities need to take notice of this practice before it spreads. “Our union leaders should take it up with them and the police,” said a businessman in Super Market who too did not wish to be named.

“Madressah students live in a different world. We don’t want to engage them,” he said. “But the police can request their teachers to restrain them from uncivil behaviour.”

An officer of the Kohsar police station, on the other hand, said, “We don’t act on our own but on an FIR which only people who feel hurt by an action can lodge.”

Although he acknowledged that “religious elements are usually behind such incidents”, he said people avoid registering an FIR against them.

When Dawn contacted the managements of Jamia Fareedia in E-7, Jamia Muhammadia F-6, Taleemul Quran F-7 and another seminary in F-6, all refused to comment, saying “the relevant persons” were away on Eid holidays.

However, an official of a small seminary in F-6 shot back at the query regarding the defacing: “Do you want to see Muslim women in such a state? There should be a ban on such nakedness because it is a conspiracy of the West against Islam.”

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2015

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