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When artists face legal consequences for their work, they should know that their art is creating waves big enough for the state to intervene to restrict their creative expression.

But then, one begins to wonder why artists are punished in the first place. Does this happen in functional societies where citizens are allowed to express themselves freely?

Zulfi is one of the most talented artists Pakistan has ever produced. I’m not saying this because I’m a fan of his work but because he is one of the very few individuals who are pushing the limits of creative expression in a country where something as innocent as a photoshoot can cause a massive storm.

Yale graduates Zulfi & Casey from the band MYSTICAL SHAYARI

Some pictures are all it takes for the Ghairat brigade to rile up and call for action against an artist. Zulfi’s photoshoot in Islamabad was innocent enough, he wore some fancy clothes and posed in front of the Islamabad Expressway with his American friend Casey.

Critics have argued that because the photos were taken besides a mural of Quaid e Azam, they were disrespectful to Pakistan but no one bats an eye when powerful people abuse their positions of power in their plush offices which feature portraits of the founder of Pakistan.

This is because its easy to pick on artists, people who have nothing but their art but its difficult to question powerful people since it can create problems.

The Pakistanis protesting against Zulfi’s photos were silent when people from the Lal Masjid pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a terrorist organisation which has killed scores of Pakistanis.

This is not because Zulfi’s critics support terrorism but because they are cowards. They fear the reprisals from the religious right and deem it wise to shut their mouths in these events.

Such cowards should not dictate the state to take action against artists.

Few people know that both Zulfi and Casey are graduates from the prestigious Yale University. They come from good families and could have built a comfortable and lucrative life anywhere in the world but they decided to come to Pakistan because they felt that this was a place where they could create powerful art.

Ironically, many of the people criticising Zulfi would give anything to ditch Pakistan for any western country and live comfortable lives but Zulfi did the exact opposite, perhaps that’s why some people are angry. Because Zulfi is more Pakistani than them.

Pakistan does not only belong to rich, conservative, Punjabi, Sunni males. Every Pakistani has a right to this land as much as the ghairat brigade which mistakenly assumes they have the right to determine what is and isn’t acceptable in Pakistan.

The state is also a petitioner against Zulfi. I wonder what the priorities of this country are. The state is ready to invest resources to punish an artist for a photoshoot while thousands of crimes go unpunished every day.

Commenting on the case against Zulfi, human rights lawyer, Imaan Mazari told The Pakistan Daily: “There are actual murderers, rapists & terrorists roaming free in this country. The section under which the FIR has been registered is a despicable colonial remnant and it is deplorable that harmless art has been criminalized in this manner.”

The state should also realise the impact of such blatant victimisation on Pakistan’s global image. As a journalist, I can assure you that the civilised world will not be able to understand that an artist was punished simply for taking some photos.

And Casey, our American guest in Pakistan, how did we treat her? We boast of Pakistani hospitality and urge the world to visit this majestic land of beauty and wonder but how many foreign tourists will now consider themselves safe and welcome in Pakistan?

Can foreign girls live safely in Pakistan? What if a photo they take angers some locals? Will they be punished?

Zulfi from the band MYSTICAL SHAYARI

It must be understood that modesty is a relative concept. For some, even women showing their faces is immodest and for others, being nude in a nude beach is completely acceptable and modest.

If Pakistan wants to position itself as a country which is able to host a multitude of cultures, such differences must be understood and respected. Otherwise, we will move towards becoming a state where extremism dictates our daily lives and angry mobs determine who will be punished.

In a conversation with The Pakistan Daily, Zulfi clarified that he was not arrested as was reported in some news outlets.

“I am currently safe and was granted a protective bail for 10 days by the Lahore High Court. There was never an arrest, thankfully. The outpour of love online has been immensely comforting and it reminds me what I labour for everyday. I am hopeful that Allah will ensure justice in this situation and I am looking forward to continuing with due process,” Zulfi told this correspondent.

For full disclosure, I accept that Zulfi is my cousin. I am proud of him and stand by him through thick and thin. I urge Islamabad’s district administration to quash this baseless case and STOP PUNISHING ARTISTS.

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