The Burka Avenger stands up to Male Chauvinist Taliban on Pakistani TV

The Burka Avenger is a children’s cartoon about a mild-mannered female school teacher in Pakistan who has an alter ego. As the black-clad Burka Avenger, she takes on oppressive and intolerant Taliban types with the power of education and books.

The concept, by rock star Haroon, is full of reversals and appropriations. Thus, the full black face-covering, or burka, is not customary among Muslims in India and Pakistan, where until recently most women went bare-headed in most circumstances, using a scarf-like diaphanous dupatta to cover their necks and chests and sometimes putting it on their heads. The burka or niqab, the full veil, is a Gulf custom spread in Pakistan by guest workers returning from places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and it is decried by Pakistani feminists (and just non-Salafis) as a form of patriarchal oppression. The cartoon only uses it as a way for the heroine to remain anonymous while taking on . . . patriarchal repression.

CBS News has an excellent, balanced account:

and here is the English trailer:

6 Responses

  1. I would just note that she isn’t fighting “Taliban types” at least openly–her archenemy is called a “magician”, in other words a specifcally un-Muslim person (it’s kind of like portraying nuns as witches in order to villify them). Overt religion is absent from the cartoon, which is understable given its target audience, but even so, there has been a great deal of negative reaction because the “magician” villian wears a beard– and religious Pakistanis feel that it is “not allowed” to criticize men with beards because it’s assumed that they’re pious. In other words, they understand that on some level the magician is a Taliban stand-in, and they’re upset by that.

    I don’t know how well it will go over with viewers who aren’t already predisposed to dislike the Taliban. When I was in Pakistan, the truly radicalized didn’t allow their children to watch TV anyway. “Burkha Avenger” will be written off by many as just more Western propaganda, in spite of Haroon.

  2. I can report how one small mind reacted to this story:
    even if it has almost none of the impact intended, this is one of the best uses of US Intel Community funds I’ve ever heard of, since apparently no children have died as a result of this initiative.

    Once again, the IC is targeting the audience back home.
    I suspect more US Congressmen will view it than Desi children.

  3. I don’t know if Dr. Cole allows links, but this one will take you to a poster, which, just as feared, calls the cartoon Western and-or Jewish propaganda and exhorts the youth of Pakistan to boycott/block the production of the cartoon.

    link to facebook.com

  4. If the intended audiences are Pashtuns in the northern area, sorry to disappoint you Prof. Cole, much of the region does not have electricity or TVs in individual rooms.

    As for the rest of Pakistan, outside of major city areas, there is electrical shortage from 8-16 hours a day. So this campaign is useless. Haroon should spend his efforts to push the government to fulfill basic needs before venturing into what will be perceived as “western propaganda.”

    • The electricity shortages don’t stop urban people from watching tv! They mostly have generators they run a few hours a day. And people still rent a lot of pirated videos and play them at home when they arrange electricity. Your image of Pakistanis as lacking media access because of the electricity problem discounts their ingenuity.

      In Swat Valley, by the way, individuals are putting in solar panels because they are cheaper than diesel generators.

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