Junaid Jamshed: between praise and anti-eulogies | Pakistan Today

Junaid Jamshed: between praise and anti-eulogies

… and traditions of burying the living with the dead

One almost regrets writing about the tragic fate of flight PK-661 amidst peaked emotions across the nation. But matters of public interest and safety are best discussed when nation’s eyes are fixed firmly on the subject; not when attention begins to wane.

Yes, this is the right time to talk about it.

Pakistan International Airline’s (PIA) ATR-42 aircraft flying from Chitral, crashed about four-fifths of its way to Islamabad, at 4:40 pm on December 7th. The crash, at Havelian near Abottabad, killed all 47 passengers and crew members aboard the aircraft.

What takes priority above all questions raised following the heart wrenching incident with flight 661, is that of PIA’s flight safety record. While PIA is most often berated for flight delays, poor customer service, and stale buns; it is far more crucial to examine its record in keeping its passengers and crew safe.

Nate Silver, celebrated American statistician, studied the ‘near-misses’ – flight incidents that narrowly escaped disaster – for various airlines between 1985 to 2014. This is a far superior indicator of flight safety than simply counting the number of plane crashes.

Consider, for instance, the practice of comparing the number of accidental deaths involving two different types of vehicles, as a measure of their safety. It is not enough to simply consider how many times deaths were caused by each car, because ‘death’ is not the only outcome of an unsafe vehicle. A more accurate assessment of car safety must involve a study of potentially-fatal accidents as well where disaster was averted by other means – say, the driver’s competency or sheer luck. These ‘near-misses’ are more common than the disasters themselves.

Silver’s study concluded that two airlines had a consistently high number of near-misses: the Ethiopian Airlines and PIA.

While the exact cause of the plane crash is unclear (at the time of writing this article), one Civic Aviation officer claimed that the pilot made a distress call and reported engine failure. As far as I am concerned, as are most citizens across the nation, this possible negligence demands greater coverage than any social debate concerning the passengers on board the flight – namely Junaid Jamshed.

The discussion surrounding the crash of flight PK-661 spiked quite noticeably after the news that former pop artist, Junaid Jamshed, was on board the aircraft. This news was followed by a heavy outpour of grief for all victims of the ill-fated flight, including Mr. Jamshed.

Junaid Jamshed’s life has been anything but ordinary. The former Vital Signs vocalist has managed to appease and outrage both liberals and conservatives at regular intervals throughout his life. He was the boy behind what is possibly the most iconic national song in Pakistan’s music history. Released in 1989, but somehow just as relevant today, ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ bears more than just nostalgic value for all citizens of this great nation.

In the past decade or so, however, the memory of the young heartthrob with cool eyes was replaced by the very antithesis of what Vital Signs represented; a young, playful Pakistan that sways to techno beats and flashing disco lights. Following close interactions with the religious hardliners, Junaid Jamshed slowly drifted away from his music career to the chagrin of millions of fans, some of whom began to switch course with him. After all, his close aides often reportedly attempted to embarrass music-lovers by asking why the audience hasn’t left the metaphorical concert, when even the musician has abandoned the stage for fear of hell.

Junaid Jamshed was no passive receptacle of hard-line religious teachings. He continued the practices of those who had inspired him, and carried on sermonising and proselytising across Pakistan.

It may be considered inappropriate for me to write about what happened further, as the De mortuis nil nisi bonum principle – ‘Say nothing but good of the deceased’ – drains out the ink from every progressive, feminist, or non-Muslim pen. But it is imperative that death, however untimely and tragic, not be used to completely whitewash all that we know about a person.

People most strong affected by Junaid Jamshed’s sermons in the last decade – women and minorities – are now being requested to maintain respectful silence. Meanwhile, his public supporters attempt to rewrite his history – completely unchallenged by the liberal quarters that would otherwise issue a prompt ahem – by omitting everything that has impeded our progress towards a more tolerant, less patriarchal Pakistan.

I know, it’s the time to mourn; not remember politics. But when is? When is the ‘appropriate’ time to bring up feminist values, the safety of Muslim minority sects, the security of our non-Muslim citizens, and those who threaten all of the above? At what time of the year must we schedule this historic meeting with men who have nothing but contempt for women? Or those who fight tooth-and-nail to maintain the supremacy of Muslims and their own values, over all non-Muslim subjects?

It’s expected that those with the least awareness of the effects of Junaid Jamshed’s tableegh on millions of Pakistanis, are the ones least eager to speak ill of the dead. And so be, for this is indeed a time of mourning.

But when those most adversely impacted by Mr. Jamshed’s rhetoric about women and minorities, are scowled at for ‘disrespectfully’ shifting in their seats while listening to odes being sung in his name.

It is customary to speak nothing but good for the deceased, which is why we rewind our memory cassettes all the back to the days of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’, ignoring just about everything else that followed.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.

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