A request to PM Imran and Maryam: Can we keep anti-semitism and children out of politics?

Updated 19 Jul, 2021 05:06pm

Derogatory language regarding someone's upbringing, particularly because of their religion, is not okay.

Politics is a dirty game and it only seems to be devolving in Pakistan. Lately, our politicians have regressed and instead of attacking their opponents, they're going after their children.

This was the deeply disappointing takeaway from the speeches Prime Minister Imran Khan and PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz made in Kashmir over the weekend.

In his speech, the premier referenced pictures of former premier Nawaz Sharif, who went abroad in 2019 for medical treatment, attending his grandson Junaid Safdar's polo match in the UK. Junaid is the son of Maryam and Captain Safdar and was playing polo for Cambridge University.

"The poor should go to jail and the powerful get NROs (National Reconciliation Ordinance) and go park themselves abroad and watch their grandson’s polo match," Imran said in his speech.

"This grandson who is playing polo in Britain [...] I’ve met so many Kashmiris in London and Manchester, ask them what kind of person can play polo there," the premier said, not masking his disdain. "They will tell you it's a king's sport!"

He said the common man cannot play polo. "You need a lot of money to keep a horse and play polo. So tell us where this dear grandson got this money from. It's your [the people's] money!" he told the crowd.

The next day, Maryam addressed his comments about her son in her speech, but instead of taking the high road, she went even lower.

"[Junaid] is now the polo team captain and is increasing Pakistan’s respect [abroad]. [Imran] says 'that grandson' is going abroad and playing polo, he doesn’t even spare children," she jibed. "He says, 'where did he get the money to play polo'.

"I didn’t want to bring children into it, but the way you’re talking, you’re going to get a befitting reply," she said before launching into an anti-semitic tirade.

"He’s Nawaz Sharif’s grandson, not Goldsmith’s. He’s Nawaz Sharif’s grandson, he’s not being raised in the lap of Jews," she said.

There you have it — Pakistani politics at its finest.

Both statements are problematic and unnecessary but apparently that's not obvious to our politicians.

Let's start with PM Imran.

If you want to bash Nawaz Sharif for going to a polo match when he says he is too ill to return to Pakistan to face court cases against him, do it. That is where you criticism should have ended.

Dragging Nawaz's grandson into politics, for merely playing a sport, makes no sense. Imran Khan himself was a sportsman and his private life, including assets and acquaintances, were scrutinised relentlessly. His own experience with the media poking holes into his private life should teach him not to go after a young man who is neither in politics nor a professional player.

Yes, the main target of Imran's address was his political nemesis Nawaz but raising questions on where Junaid got the money to play polo from is uncalled for.

He has a father, mother and grandfather — all political figures — for you to take potshots at for their sources of income, and you have done that. So don't go after the kid thinking he's fair game just because of his family tree.

Now, on to Maryam. There's so much to unpack here.

1) Don't bring down another woman

Jemima Goldsmith (formerly Khan) has been subjected to so much hate from our people. When someone wants to take a hit at Imran Khan, Jemima and her religion inevitably become the butt of their jokes. Yes, she married a Pakistani man but even years after her divorce, she and her kids are dragged into dirty politics. She has even spoken about the hate she got from both quarters — the Islamophobes and the anti-semitics.

As a mother, and as a woman, Maryam should know better than to go after another — and that too knowing full well how Jemima has been targetted personally for her ties to Judaism.

2) Hold yourself to a higher standard

While Jemima frequently shares her thoughts on Pakistani politics on Twitter, her sons have pointedly stayed away. They have never made any public remarks about Pakistan, politics or anything really. They don't even have public social media accounts.

Ironically, Maryam in her speech even pointed out that "he (Imran) doesn't spare children", but then went on to do the same.

"He's not Goldsmith's grandson," you said, as if that is something to be ashamed of. "He’s not being raised in the lap of Jews." When you drag someone's religion into your argument, you know you've lost any credibility you ever had. Perhaps we expected more from Maryam because of her own struggles or the fact that she too was in the spotlight for being the child of a prime minister. We believed she would be above targeting children and wouldn't justify doing so just because her political opponent did the same.

3) Anti-semitism is never okay

We can't even begin to explain how uncalled for your "raised in the lap of Jews" comment was. If Imran Khan is everything you say he is, then be better. Why are you sinking to this level to one up him? Anti-semitism or any kind of hate for any religion has no place in politics and Maryam Nawaz should know that.

What kind of message does this send to the kids being raised in non-Muslim households in Pakistan? Will that be held against them? If you aspire to be a leader of this country, then know that it has people of all faith. Derogatory language regarding someone's upbringing, particularly because of their religion, is not okay.

To both of them we say, stop the petty politics and acting like children — wait, we retract the last part; children are also taught to fight fair.

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