Chappals and Child Brides


Paul Smith Peshawari Chappal

The outrage over news that a British fashion designer is selling a £300 (Rs50,000) peshawari chappal has raised the national blood pressure to dangerous heights. Not due to fears of inflation in the shoe sector, but because the British designer is selling the shoe under the name…’Robert’. Pakistan, the birthplace and spiritual home of the design is swept under the rug and ignored, as if it were something to be ashamed of. While the outrage over this very real slight is understandable, we should also be taking the moment to reflect on why Pakistan was not highlighted as part of the designer’s marketing campaign. To find the answer, we must start by thinking about not what Pakistan is, but how we are perceived by the rest of the world.

 The first answer is, of course, terrorism, but even this is not quite so simple. Westerners probably know that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, but they also know that we have paid the heaviest price in the war against terrorism. No, I think that the true answer lies not in the national security problems, but actually in the other social issues that we are ignoring ourselves.

Take for example the headline today that Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) on Tuesday ruled that Pakistani laws prohibiting child marriage are un-Islamic. We can pretend that nobody outside Pakistan will read this (I myself have been pretending that I did not read it!), but the fact is that this type of news colors the impression the world has of our culture.

Or what about the news stories that warn that ‘Pakistan polio outbreak puts global eradication at risk‘? As we know very well, sympathy for someone else’s plight often ends around the time that it begins to threatens yourself. Most countries understand the threat posed by terrorists, polio is a disease that most of the rest of the world wiped out decades ago.

Even in our entertainment culture, which more than anything else presents our image to the world, we have chosen to highlight a negative rather than a positive by marketing Waar as the best of Pakistani pop culture. And how was such a film perceived? Headline: ‘New blockbuster movie shows why Pakistan loves to hate India‘. Hate. That is what we are projecting to the world.

Chappal-gate is frustrating. It’s another example of Pakistan not receiving proper respect and someone else trying to take credit for our own culture. We should be upset about it, but we should also ask whether we are putting our best foot forward and making not only Pakistani design, but the Pakistani brand something that the rest of the world wants to be associated with.