On being fired for abusing someone’s mother on Twitter + Guest Post by Hareem Sumbul

Earlier this week, a furore erupted on Pakistani Twitter. The editor of Dawn’s Eos magazine, filmmaker Hasan Zaidi, made a negative remark about the delay in broadcasting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s budget speech. In response, a bank manager at Bank Al-Falah by the name of Fazeel Tajammul responded: “He was waiting for your mother to shut her brothel.”

Zaidi was infuriated by this insult to his mother. He reached out to his personal contacts at the bank with a complaint. As a result, the employee was fired.

Twitter went mad with talk about this situation. Why fire the man? Hadn’t he made a mistake? Hadn’t he exercised freedom of speech? Hadn’t Zaidi made similar abusive statements on Twitter? Why shouldn’t Zaidi be fired from the Dawn in return (people dug up his old tweets to prove that he too had been doing the same thing, and was nothing better than a hypocrite). Should discharging a man from his duties be the appropriate punishment for letting loose on Twitter from a personal media account? Wasn’t the punishment excessive?

Well, I don’t think so, even though a couple of years ago, I encountered a group of right-wing racists in America got after me on Twitter because I told a white woman to shut up and stop spouting her misconceptions about Muslim women. They all started tagging the New York Times and saying I should be fired for being racist.

The Times is used to this sort of attack on their journalists as most newspapers are and of course, did not fire me. That was their policy. Banks and other corporate organizations have different policies, requiring employees to be much more discreet, even if tweeting in a personal capacity. So do European and western Foreign Ministries, whose ambassadors and other diplomats have to be very careful what they say on Twitter. Some are not even allowed to have a personal Twitter account.

So, it is absolutely correct to say that different organizations have different standards, which should be made clear to employees. However, you as an individual could always err on the side of caution and try to be responsible, especially if you have a social media presence not restricted to Twitter — a LinkedIn account, as in the case of this Bank Al Falah employee. A bank is not really known for its support of freedom of expression, but newspapers and the media are — within limits, but those limits differ for each profession.

Imagine coming home to your family and having this conversation:
You: I got fired today.
Them: WHAT? WHY?
You: I called someone’s mother a prostitute and said they run a brothel.
Them: YOU DID THAT? You said that? To whom, a customer? A colleague? YOUR BOSS? I CAN’T BELIEVE IT. WHAT KIND OF PERSON DID I RAISE?
You: Oh, no, I said it on Twitter to a famous journalist.
Them: Oh, that’s okay then.

We love to tell everyone that Islam says heaven lies at the feet of your mother, but we don’t bat an eyelash when someone calls your mother a prostitute? Hypocrisy runs both ways.

Admittedly, I have told people to f*** off when they have trolled me in the past, or sent me death or rape threats. I don’t think twice about it, because I’m not “employed” by anyone. There is a lot of provocation aimed at those of us who have anything to do with the media. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone’s accused me of being a “lifafa”, that is, a journalist who takes payment to write in favor/against political parties, even though I don’t write about politics and I’m barely a journalist. Add to that the factor of my being a woman and you can imagine how the abuse increases exponentially: gender as well as profession are now grounds for being threatened with violence, online and offline.

People like Tajammul make Twitter an extremely unsafe space for women. I realized this when I read a post by Hareem Sumbul. Her impassioned Facebook post about this incident really got me thinking about the sexual politics of this incident. I am reproducing it here with her permission. It is long, it is heartfelt, and full of pain. And it is powerful testimony to how men like Tajammul make Pakistani women feel, every day of their lives, in every walk of life, in every situation and circumstance and social milieu.


There’s a magical thing that happened yesterday.
Someone got slapped for being rude.

Let me elaborate

A qualified Chartered Accountant from ICAP was laying out abuses for everyone and their mothers and a Bank fired him for doing that.
Let that sink in.
A man. Born with the appendage that gives them a privilege that is so deep set, NO ONE even notices any more.
A Chartered Accountant that qualifies from one of the most prestigious governing bodies in the country that uses relative marking and the world loses its crap at the controlled number of candidates they pass every attempt.
At a senior/ managerial post at a prestigious bank.

Got fired.

At calling a stranger’s mother a prostitute over Twitter.
And retweeting mentions of vag*na widening as a metaphor.
And tweeting more such masterpieces.

Makes sense? Deserved it? Well. They came in hoards, to protect him and cheer him on.

Not the guy who got him fired. But the one who proudly dragged every inkling of a woman close to anyone out by the hair, stark naked, painting them with allegations of his choice. Just as a figure of speech. Casually. Every now and then.

I’m trying very hard to keep it apolitical and discuss just the men and not their political affiliation for once because I don’t want this to get lost in the political drama. Needless to say there is one.

Freedom of speech they say. He wasn’t on duty they say.
This is the first time ever that a privileged man has been checked and penalised for being abusive on social media. At least the first that made as much noise or one that I know of.
That clarified that

Freedom of Speech does not mean you can be rude

There is still decorum. There is still civilised behaviour that needs to be kept in mind. There are respectful ways to disagree or options to take if you really don’t like someone instead of resorting to abuse.

Has anyone ever seen the gutters that open up under pictures of celebrities or even public news posts over social media? The filth that boils over?

The impunity that comes with Internet has empowered a lot that would piss their pants in real life if they stood in front of me yet, have the audacity to send me twenty inboxed messages a day telling me all they want to do with my genitalia.

It was bad with cellphones when they were launched. This was a personal phone that daddy or brother dear won’t answer before the women of the household. This was direct access to the Laydiss!

I’ve had abusive callers that spanned over years, I call them that because they aren’t pranking anyone. They’re abusing my right to my personal space every time they wont quit calling or messaging disgusting stuff at odd hours.

Some would lay off if I would hand the phone to a man. A husband or even a colleague. Somehow men seem to be like magnets, proximity to another similar pole is the only thing that’ll unhinge them from the disgusting behaviour they have internalised as an integral part of “being a man”. Some were even broken at that.

Then came the era of the “blocking option”. So much more women-friendly. Quiet, clean, no fuss no muss. So here is someone jerking off to the things they’re typing out to you and had their day nicely ending while after you’re done vomiting in your own mouth, you demurely click ‘block’ while he turns over in bed planning the next day’s session of text messaging another girl with their stuff.

So appropriate.

With Social Media, I feel most men confuse it with Live Option for P*rn.
They think they can say all sorts of things and it’ll get lost in the cyber world and their mummy wont see it.
It’s like the cigarette they smoked in the bathroom with their a** hovering over the pot while they stick their face in the little window.
Dude.
It’s the Bhangra in the middle of the road with your current and most of future families AND Employers watching.

So this one time this man gets whacked and all the masturbating murghaas come to his rescue. Let me correct that. Come to his support. Not rescue. Because he can’t be.

Do they realise that every time they type “We are with you bro”, they aren’t supporting freedom of speech. They’re supporting someone who is continuously hurling abuse at women he doesn’t even know. God help those he works with or actually knows. I can’t imagine how they would feel had they known this is how he tweets? From his Twitter. Pun intended wholeheartedly.

(I have nothing against masturbation. I think self pleasuring is great. As long as you’re not doing it at the expense of someone else’s respect in the middle of Naagan Chowrangi.)

The fact is, I know these types. Sadly. Being affiliated to Accountancy as a career, I have seen this lot. I have choked on my own tears, I have spoken up against it and eventually I have curbed it in teams.

They will usually not say anything in the presence of a woman but the second you turn your back, the train of mughallizaat (abuses) that follows as “casual boy talk” will make your eyes water and ears bleed.

In my two decades of corporate work experience, I have cried in bathrooms at the language being casually used around me right up to throwing back similar misogynistic abuse in their face.

I’ll tell you one thing. Nothing worked.

I. As a working woman. Suffered. Not at the surface but it broke something inside me that stands irreparable perhaps.

Why do I as a woman get damned to bear witness to so many of these everyday? Do I as a woman make a man as uncomfortable going about his life or routine in a public space?
Why is public space so hostile towards me as a woman, physical or The interwebs?
These are the questions we have lost any sensitivity to even PERCEIVE, let alone ask.

Yet this one time. This man gets shot down. By another man. Which is what is good and sad at the same time.
Good because we need more men who stand up to protect women, acknowledging their privilege over space yet still giving respect to all, including women.
Sad because if it were a woman speaking up against him, she would’ve been ripped naked over social media by now and nothing would’ve happened.

This. My friends. Is the reality we live through. Every single day.

Raise your sons to be a Hasan Zaidi. Not a Fazeel Tajammul

— Hareem Sumbul