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There is no defence of revenge porn, even when it's against Aamir Liaquat

It's wrong, even if the victim has aggravated public sentiment, disrespected institutions of marriage, religion and governance.
Published 13 May, 2022 01:44pm

There are no moderate opinions when it comes to Aamir Liaquat; the man is positively doted on by a segment of Pakistani society and utterly despised by the other. The polarisation of opinions he provokes could make for a valuable academic case study in deconstructing public relevance and support.

Against declining appeal, many local public figures have attempted to regain lost popularity by undertaking attention-seeking activities or taking eccentric positions on a host of issues — many have failed, some have salvaged a little relevance, fewer still few have succeeded but no one has been able to repeatedly command the attention of the Pakistani populace like Aamir Liaquat.

The nearly 50-year-old is able to dominate headlines like no other.

True to form, #AamirLiaquatHussain has been a top trend on Twitter for the past few days. The reason for this recent spike is the leak of a shocking video featuring him — not independently verified but also not called fake by Liaquat — in a state of complete undress in his home, allegedly after the consumption of an illegal substance. This video was leaked a couple of days after news broke of the dissolution of his third (and most controversial) marriage to an 18-year-old girl named Dania Shah who cited various kinds of abuse as the reason for seeking an end to the union.

Though marriages at 18 years of age are legal, the fact that Liaquat has expressed views that young girls can be groomed to be married are extremely alarming. After their indecorous public split in the past week, his third wife also claimed in an interview to Digital Pakistan that she is younger than 18 years of age.

There should be no doubts around the depravity of grooming, especially when it comes from much older men; it is a sickening manifestation of paedophilia that is found far too commonly in a country that glorifies child-and-adult unions. There can be no defence of a predatory act that (in the context of this case) takes advantage of a stark class difference, a large age gap, and long-standing fame to ensnare a young teenage girl from a small city in Pakistan.

There can also, however, be no defence of revenge porn, even when it is against a person who has repeatedly aggravated public sentiment with impunity while disrespecting the sacrosanct institutions of marriage, religion, and governance concurrently. Revenge porn is defined by Oxford Dictionary's Lexico as revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject and in order to cause them distress or embarrassment.

Unequivocal condemnation

The release of a private video containing sexually explicit content is a crime under Pakistani (and international) law regardless of who the subject of the video is. Releasing revenge porn is a fundamental violation of consent, the same consent that undergirds harassment and rape laws designed to protect citizens from sexual or workplace victimisation. As a principle, we must condemn the release of such a video. Unfortunately, the condemnation witnessed has been scant and insincere since the subject has typically drawn extreme sentiments and opinions from the public.

A look at ensuing discussions on social media can be easily broken down into black-and-white binaries, as is typical of Pakistani debate. The progressive left has focused largely on the grotesque nature of the marriage with an emphasis on the alleged accelerating prevalence of grooming, the potential criminality of the girl’s parents, and the lament of an education system that neither inspires a passion for accomplishment among young girls, nor trains children to identify predators.

There are also conversations around why this video leak will not harm Aamir Liaquat since his invincibility is well-established — he has managed to hold on to, and in fact grow, his popularity despite countless indiscretions. Among some in this space, there is an acceptance that revenge porn is wrong but even that is qualified by “Where is the proof that it was Dania who released the video?” To be fair, these are valid observations and arguments, and we must address them as a social collective with serious implications for parliamentarians and policymakers. But leaving out the criminality of revenge porn from this position is intellectually disingenuous.

In (unsurprising) contrast, the conservative right has taken it upon itself to begin a vilification campaign against Dania Shah. We can expect no less in a country where misogyny is peddled to all genders as soon as they are born, and underage marriage is glorified as some invaluable social norm. It is here, amid the character assassinations of the young girl and what-aboutisms so loved by our countryfolk, that we find vociferous condemnation of revenge porn. It is, however, patently ill-intentioned and misguided, with the argument being used as a fig-leaf to defend the actions of their prized celebrity more than anything else.

Principles over positions

This is the sad reality of Pakistani discourse. In a politically polarised climate, our lens for viewing important debates is one of “either-or” — either we side with Aamir Liaquat or we side with Dania. It often escapes even the best minds that we can side with neither and focus on principles rather than positions. That is the very goal of critical inquiry — we must be able to objectively analyse an issue to form a position. The idea that we must first take a position and then save our energies for the ‘right’ arguments, as if our capacity to debate is limited, is ludicrous.

Is grooming a minor heinous? Yes.

Is exploiting class and age differences wrong? Yes.

Is the glorification of child marriages a problem? Yes.

Is revenge porn heinous? Also yes.

Is there a need to condemn it unequivocally? Also yes.

Is the subject of the video immaterial to our position on revenge porn? Also yes.

Our sympathies should naturally lie with the teenager who has been subjected to a traumatic marriage that will likely have long-term implications on her well-being. There are also other threads that emerge from this case, including conversations around what the appropriate legal age for marriage should be (considering emotional maturity is a key requirement for matrimony), and the demonstrated absence of justice, law and order, which have led to a glorification of personal vigilantism (a manifestation of which is the release of private videos because there is limited faith in State recourse and redress for crimes committed against a person).

But we must also be able to take a stand against revenge porn, no matter who has leaked it. The principle should reign supreme — private videos featuring sexually explicit content should never be released as revenge. The day we start making exceptions to this rule is the day we allow individual perceptions of a person’s morality to start colouring our judgments. It’s a slippery slope from there — one exception of this nature (validated as “he probably deserves it”) will build the idea that the rule is not absolute. And when the rule is not absolute, it may encourage us to make exceptions to the rule for other people we despise. It becomes less about the principle and the law, and more about how we feel about someone’s morality (as it stands in stark contrast to ours) that determines what we think should happen to them.