American drone attacks have been part of the landscape in Pakistan for many years. So much so, that they have made it into popular culture.
Jon Boone writes for The Guardian out of Islamabad. He says many popular love songs and made-for-TV movies contain references to drone attacks and suicide bombs. Many of these are “slightly tacky pulpy saucy videos that are churned out by the little cottage film industry in the tribal areas.” Singer Sitara Younis made one such video which ended up on YouTube with thousands of hits. It’s called “My Gaze Is as Fatal as a Drone Attack.”
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Lisa Mullins: As we mentioned earlier, protestors in Islamabad clashed with police today as they reached the US embassy. Reporter Jon Boone with Britain’s Guardian newspaper is in the Pakistani capital and he describes some of the violence there.
Jon Boone: Directly outside the front gates of Islamabad’s plushest five star hotel there’s really been vicious street fighting. We think there was more than a thousand people on the scene, most of them students affiliated to hard right religious political parties and they’re involved in vicious street fighting with the police. A large number, several dozen policemen, have been seriously injured. People were throwing teargas canisters back and forth trying to shift some of the C containers that authorities had placed at the end of streets, precisely to stop this sort of violence, which is actually supposed to happen tomorrow because tomorrow is Friday, the traditional day of prayers. None of this, I should say, was anywhere near the US embassy. It was basically on the edge of what’s known as the diplomatic enclave.
Mullins: I know you’ve been writing about this for your paper today, but you’ve also written a piece about the fact that drone attacks, American drone attacks have been going on for such a long time in Pakistan that they have now made it into popular culture. Tell us exactly how that’s happened and in what form.
Boone: Well that’s right, obviously, as you know, drones are an enormous and very controversial issue here in Pakistan. They’re at the center of the political debate in many ways, so there’s this very interesting popular song that’s been originally recorded for a Pashto language TV station. That’s the language talked in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it’s a very bizarre song because it describes a very sort of alluring dancing girl and her various attributes we learn from this song of her sweet lips, her coquettish snare, her smile is compared to the morning dew. I mean it’s all very kind of some of the standard themes that you get in love poetry all over the world, but the chorus for this song is this line, “My gaze is as fatal as a drone attack”, that would be the missile attacks launched from CIA operated drones in the tribal areas against militants. And it’s just a peculiar moment in the popular culture, I think, and I’m told that in the wedding halls, and music shops, and indeed blasting in cars in the tribal areas, you can hear this song. So it is quite popular, but some people, some other artists, poets, composers and songwriters have been saying that this very serious issue that leads to peoples’ deaths shouldn’t be part of what is really a rather kind of saucy song from one of these garish Pashto tele movies. The particular singer who performs this song both in the movie and also in the track that’s been separated out and has been available on YouTube, have been racking up some hits. She’s called Sitara Younis and she’s delved in this sort of area before. There was another song that she did last year where the title and indeed chorus is “Don’t chase me, I’m an illusion, a suicide bomb.” So as I say, it’s an interesting moment where this very serious issue seems to have blended into the popular culture in the tribal areas.
Mullins: The video itself, and we’re gonna post it at theworld.org, the video itself, it looks pretty provocative, with or without the mention of the drone, kind of full throttle belly dancing and heavy midriff gazing that we see on this. I mean there’s a lot of thrusting in this video. Is this common? It seem antithetical to what we’re thinking about when we’re thinking about the protests of hardliners. Is this kind of video common? Is it incredibly popular?
Boone: My understanding is this video is very much part of the genre of these slightly tacky poppy saucy videos that are churned out by the little cottage film industry in the tribal areas, and to use a cliche much favored by foreign journalists in Pakistan, this is a country of many contradictions. On the one hand you can have hardline Islamic clerics or religious parties organizing dreadful violent street clashes in Islamabad, as we’ve seen today. But at the same time you can have these sorts of cultural artifacts, videos, which don’t seem to fit, but actually all seem part of Pakistan and Pakistanis who wouldn’t necessarily see a contradiction.
Mullins: Jon Boone writes about the video itself for The Guardian. He’s based in Islamabad. Thank you, Jon.
Boone: Thank you very much.
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