Jibran Nasir: Depictions of a Common Man

Sana Shahzad

Jibran Nasir is a Pakistani human rights lawyer, activist and politician. He is known to be an outspoken critic of the anti-Ahmadi provisions within Pakistan’s constitution and blasphemy laws, both which he believes to be discriminatory towards Pakistan’s religious minorities.  Jibran became well-known after the 2014 Peshawar School attack,which led to approximately 148 deaths (Hashim, 2018), when he openly spoke up against the Taliban and received subsequent threats. In January 2015, Nasir played a key role in organizing a new movement to "Reclaim Pakistan" from religious extremism and has contributed his energy into raising awareness about the issues that plague Pakistani society among the Youth of Pakistan. More recently, he has launched the “Aik Awam Movement”, which is based on promoting inclusivity and tackling hatred with love.

With this, what would you think of when you hear the name ‘Jibran Nasir’? To a Pakistani, it’ll probably be something like “Fearless”, “Inspirational”, or “Brave”. I doubt the word “common” would ever come to your mind because, let’s face it, Jibran Nasir is anything but.

Jibran Nasir is all of the above. He is Fearless, He is Inspirational and He is Brave. He is also a common man, and that is his biggest strength.

As I sat opposite to him, casually chatting over a meal, I realized how common he really was. He is common because the struggle he represents is the Common Man’s struggle, a struggle that is inclusive irrespective of gender, religion and sexuality. The struggle for clean water, less electricity shortages, the right to legal counsel, the right to make an informed vote. The rights of the Common Man.

While asking about what brought him to pursue activism that has led many to fear for their lives, Jibran’s Answer was simple. “Ignorance is bliss”, he said, “you don’t think about the poverty and the injustice around you until it is so loud that you are forced to do so”.

Jibran was fundraising for the victims of the Abbas Town Bombings in 2013, where at least 45 people were killed by a car bomb (Shah, 2013), when he was asked to visit a demolished building. All of the houses had collapsed, and only dust and torn down photos remained, picturing the families that once lived there. When he came back to his corporate job, he started crying. Too loud to ignore, he realized he needed to do something.

The common man’s fight in Pakistan is framed under levels of inequity and violence that don’t always come across right away. When Khadija Siddiqui, a young woman who was brutally stabbed by her ex-boyfriend over 20 times, was finally successful in taking her attacker to justice, the country soared in support of women’s rights. Jibran joined the broad belief that the ruling had been  a major win for women rights in Pakistan. Yet, I questioned the validity of his belief – was it really a win for ‘women rights’ or just upper-class women who had family support and awareness about their legal rights? Jibran described that what unites the economically privileged and disparate women in Pakistan is their common struggle. Khadija’s attacker had come from the same social standing as her. Their dynamic didn’t differ much from the position of women coming from lower economic thresholds, many of which are routinely beaten up their no-good husband riding off their earnings.

When I think of feminism, I think of a feminist fight  that acknowledges and encompasses for the rights of women from all walks of life – intersectional feminism, that is. As a feminist, however, I had never considered that perhaps my feminist struggle, starts much later than that of the regular ‘aurat’, the women which make up most of Pakistan’s population. Their struggle begins before they are born, “when their father comes home, frustrated from work and swears at his wife for giving birth to ‘one more beti (daughter)”, in Jibran’s words.

“We must do what we can to make the feminist fight inclusive of all of these struggles. Feminists coming from higher income backgrounds must use their space, to stand up for the rights of these women too,” he added. In order to make the world  safer for women as a whole, we must use our platforms as women, as allies, to advocate for the feminist rights of all women. We must yield our collective space and raise awareness for issues facing trans women and women belonging to religious minorities. Ghazala Shafiq, a prominent human rights activist who has worked closely with Jibran in the past, has been trying to raise awareness about the forced marriages and conversions of young Christian girls Their struggles may differ from ours but we need need to use, as Ghazala Shafeeq, a prominent human rights activist who has worked closely with Jibran in the past, has mentioned in regards to the forced marriages and conversions of young Christian girls. “Yeh Pakistan Humara bhi Hai” (This Pakistan is ours too) is what these women demand, and if that ideal is ever to become a reality then we must also demand that the government of Pakistan provide adequate protection to these vulnerable groups.

I took the opportunity to ask who had inspired the man who inspired me. Jibran named Shahid Azm, a common man himself, who had stood up for the common man that society had shunned, the ones society had turned its back on. Shahid Azmi spent time in an Indian Prison after being accused of partaking in a Jihadi group (the charges are deemed false), and used the time to  study the law, later graduating with a degree. Shahid, once getting out, began fighting for the rights of Muslims falsely accused of being involved in the Mumbai Terror Attacks.  When asked why he chose to take up the fight of a group of people who might not have made the most ‘sympathetic’ victims, Jibran said Azmi would talk of how God has shown him the value of Justice, by showing him Injustice. He was killed in his chambers because he refused to back down from a case. The man he laid down his life for was proven innocent after Shahid’s death.

Jibran compared this to his own life in the sense that the grave injustice, due to social and economic inequality, he had seen all around him embedded in our society, made him want to raise his own voice. He could not be complacent any longer, he had to do something.  In order to further elaborate, he gave an example of a beggar pleading for money on the streets of Karachi.” Would you look him in the eyes as you refuse his request for money? No, of course you will not, you will look away as you dismiss him because you do not want to acknowledge the grief in his eyes”.

I understood how he felt.  We are comfortable with how things are because they do not directly affect us, but once we start acknowledge that pain- the misery of considering how many beggars like him are worried that they won’t be able to feed their families tonight- whether so we cannot go back to the comfort of ignorance. We must be willing to accept that discomfort if we are to achieve real change. Where do we begin? I think we can begin by caring, caring enough to start speaking up

As we began to conclude our dinner, I wanted to know if Jibran had a message for the readers of this piece. For the people who wish to become advocates of change but just don’t know where to start.Start with yourself. Elect leaders who represent your beliefs. Better yet,  Become that leader yourself.”

What is unique and indeed what is ‘common’ about Jibran is how he lives.  No security guards follow him, no protocol. He is just one man in his shalwar kameez fighting for his country. Fighting for equal rights, equal protection --for everyone in that country rather than the selective few. He is fighting for the common man. “It is very easy for us to complain about what we don’t like. We complain when we don’t like how corrupt the politicians are, we don’t like it when they spend the people’s money on their own private jets, we don’t like a lot of things but we don’t do a whole lot about it,” he added.
So where do we go from here? In the words of Jibran Nasir: Acknowledge the discomfort, ‘Do your Part by paying your taxes on time before complaining about corruption. Take a Stand. And don’t let anybody stop you.”

As we concluded our discussion, I left with a sense of  heightened awe for the man I have looked up to. Speaking to him over a casual dinner helped humanize him in my eyes: previously he had always been a public figure who was willing to be brave in a socio-political context which didn’t always make it easy, or safe, but after that night, he was a real person with struggles and self-doubt, just like me, just like the rest of us. A common man trying to do fair by his people and call out injustice as he sees it. A common power that all of us possess and can exercise at any moment.

Works Cited

Hashim, A. (2018, December 16). ‘In Pakistan, wounds of Peshawar school attack reopen each winter’. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from Al Jazeera website: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/pakistan-wounds-peshawar-school-attack-reopen-winter-181216074137219.html

Shah, I. (2013, March 3). ‘Bomb at Shi’ite mosque kills 45 in Pakistan’. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-violence-karachi-idUSBRE9220AY20130303