Readers of my column know I tend to natter on about words. A lot. The irony of a columnist wondering about words every so often is, I’m sure, not lost on you, dear reader. A few days ago, our minister for information, Maryam Aurangzeb, said that a rival political party was being funded by Jewish and Hindu money. She has since then apologised for her patently foolish choice of words, but like those pieces of jelly-like candy in yellow and that extra hole in many joggers, one is sometimes mystified entirely as to why some things exist. In this case, a Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, who sounds exactly like any aunty at a tea party where everyone is blaming the Zionists and RAW for everything bad that happens in the country. Surely the Minister for Information shouldn’t be tossing out nuggets of dubious information herself? What’s the difference between her and my aunt’s neighbour, who will tell you there was no moon landing, there were no Jewish people in the towers when the World Trade Centre collapsed and drinking lemon water will help you lose weight, all before her cup of tea is finished?
For some people it’s acceptable to speak before you think—infants, impetuous teenagers, stand-up comedians. It’s all right to blunder a bit when you’re giving a speech in class or showing off a bit at a dinner party. But when you represent your government and are talking to the press in a broadcast that is televised nationally, live, surely you should be hyperaware of the words you choose? In our country you can’t say “Jew” and “Hindu” and just apologise later. The third word in that triad of Unsayable Words is “Ahmadi”. These aren’t words that you can take back, because to use them is to trigger a national outrage—and we have a hair-trigger for kafirs. One has no love lost for the party she accused, but it is irresponsible and potentially dangerous to fling such allegations around, most especially when, as a minister, your job is to be as sensible as possible.
One’s exasperation at this is double-fold because Ms. Aurangzeb is a woman, and holds a reserved seat. There is already the sniff— reserved seats are seen as a fast-track to political presence, a kind of shortcut to a position in the Senate. It may well be, but that’s another debate. On top of that existing prejudice lands the eye-rolling situation of a woman’s hyperbole. All women know how incredibly, maddeningly difficult it is to be heard seriously by men, most of who come to any conversation with a woman with the expectation of emotional dramatics from her. Legitimate emotional responses to situations—anger, dread, amusement, sorrow—are promptly considered Womanly Reactions. If emotions were looking for a bathroom, they would all be shown the ladies’ room. Enter Ms. Aurangzeb, who is quite possibly the first woman to hold this position, and instead of veering towards Michelle Obama, she goes Kellyanne Conway.
Is one policing her because she is a woman? A little, because she has unwittingly set the cause back by sliding into dismissible stereotype. Bluster is best left to the men; women do not enjoy the luxury of their every word being believed or taken seriously. But what is more important is that Ms. Aurangzeb does not hold just any public office, but is Minister of Information. It is doubly incumbent on her to get her facts right, crucially so because she is dealing with a Pakistani public. If the government’s information rep has the same level of rhetoric as a layperson, what use is a minister? It’s the same principle as Birkingate (the purse our former Foreign Minister chose to carry on a state visit) or even the national cricket team: representatives of the state have to be aware of how they present themselves to the country and the world. This is not some student Model United Nations or the World Debating Championship, where the country’s representation is happening on a small scale or children are involved. Sensitivity workshops should be conducted for everyone who holds public office, where officials are trained in etiquette, diplomacy and public speaking. Government officials should be aware of gender correctness, which words to use when describing certain communities and especially when addressing pressers. They do more training for beauty pageant contestants in international competitions, for heaven’s sake! It’s high time our representatives came to the plate with more finesse and professionalism.