I remember vividly how former US President George W. Bush’s photographs were pasted on the floor tiles of a shopping centre in Lahore as a protest against the attack on Afghanistan in 2001. The same War on Terror in which Pakistan was an ally of the United States. In some shops, even former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s photos were pasted on the ground, and people walked over it as a symbol of insult. Today, French President Emmanuel Macron’s defaced photos are being pasted on the floors of the same bazaars for people to step on. This time, the protest is against the ‘blasphemy’ of the French government and Charlie Hebdo republishing the controversial cartoons.
Calls for protests were inevitable. Taking a lead on the protest front was the National Assembly of Pakistan, which, in its unanimous resolution, urged the Imran Khan government to recall its ambassador from France. Seemed like a strong condemnation at the time, but there was no Pakistani ambassador to be recalled. A curious case of a missing ambassador that no one in the assembly clearly knew about.
Not curious at all was the demand of nuking France. There is always a “let’s do atomic attack” constituency ready in Pakistan — whether against France or India. Sometimes there is a reason, but most of the time, it is as if someone mistakenly rang their doorbell and they have an atom bomb ready for it. An always-triggered Khadim Hussain Rizvi just wants to wipe off France from the face of the earth, no matter if we get killed in the process too.
That’s where Pakistan is at this week.
Defence toys not up for boycott
While the social media teams trend ‘Shame on you Macro’, there was a ‘Macron-cutting’ ceremony on display at the notorious Jamia Hafsa madrassa (of Lal Masjid fame) in Islamabad. A teacher was recorded beheading an effigy of President Macron as young female students chanted ‘Ghustak-e-Nabi ki aik hi saza, sar tan se juda (Beheading is the only punishment for those who blaspheme the Prophet)’.
The ‘Boycott France’ campaign has kicked in, and it does seem that Pakistan will bankrupt France on its own. Don’t ask how.
What Pakistan is not boycotting are its French defence toys, like those Agosta and Daphné class submarines, the fleet of Mirage fighter jets that it bought from Egypt, or even the French-made Exocet missiles. So, those asking for an atomic attack on France, please sit down. The atom bomb-ETA is not on our side either, France being some 6,000 km away can’t be nuked even with Pakistan’s longest range missile Shaheen 3. Or maybe Pakistan’s French Airbus could carry them.
The defence toys are not up for boycott, but if France wants to donate the much-talked-about Rafales to Pakistan instead of sending them to India that can be considered too. We have heard India missed having those jets in time for Balakot.
Also, as a protest, Pakistan can say it won’t be returning a penny of the French loan of Rs 19.5 billion to the Imran Khan government for the rapid bus service in Peshawar. Prime Minister Khan can write a letter explaining the French loan situation to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He recently wrote to him anyway on the growing ‘Islamophobia’ on social media.
French fries to French kiss
What happens in smaller countries like Pakistan is that when product boycotts are announced, the local industry suffers more. As in the case of the boycott of French petrol station Total. At one Total station in Johar Town, petrol and diesel sales have declined by 60 per cent. Similarly, boycott campaigns are on against products that aren’t even French. The LU Biscuit company is being smeared by its opponents as a French company, when it is a local brand, co-owned by a Pakistani businessman and an American multinational.
Let’s focus on things that ‘should be boycotted’ by Pakistani people. All French things are now haram be it shampoo, dye, cosmetics of Garnier, L’Oréal and others. French fries, which are not French, and the French macaroon, which is French, must be on the list too. The call to boycott French toast will resonate with most as eggs are already selling at Rs 200 per dozen in Pakistan, so a boycott will actually save you money more than it will impact France. On the fashion front, it is time to give up making French braids and adorning those french beards.
Does all this mean that the replica of Eiffel Tower in Lahore will be deserted with no fireworks on this New Year’s Eve? After all, those of us who couldn’t get visas to see the real Eiffel Tower could at least have posed in front of the Lahori replica. Talking about New Year’s Eve, boycott the French kiss too.
The token France boycott will continue for a while, but what will remain constant in Pakistan are the acts of vigilantism in the name of blasphemy. On Wednesday, a bank manager was shot dead by a security guard allegedly over ‘blasphemy’ in Khushab, Punjab. Becoming an instant hero, the guard was seen addressing and waving at his ‘supporters’ from the rooftop of the police station. Is this what Pakistan wants the West to adopt in the name of blasphemy?
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.