For American media, Pakistan only exists in the context of security concerns: the Taliban, terrorism, fundamentalist Islam, and the war in Afghanistan. Outside of this context, there is no Pakistan.
By comparison, consider how the U.S. media reported on related developments in India. When the Delhi High Court threw out an Indian law banning gay sex, American newspapers trumpeted the news. As the New York Times reported, “In a landmark ruling Thursday that could usher in an era of greater freedom for gay men and lesbians in India, New Delhi’s highest court decriminalized homosexuality. ” Plenty of other U.S. media outlets sounded off too.
But the heavy U.S. coverage of the Indian Supreme Court’s decision also fits into a pre-existing Western narrative of India. As the story goes, India is a growing democracy and a rising economic power. In that context, the story of the expansion of Indian equality easily resonates in the American mind. Not only is the U.S. simultaneously addressing similar challenges faced by gay and lesbian Americans, but there is a strong underlying belief that democracies perfect themselves over time through an expansion of liberty across society.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s story of expanding equality for transgendered citizens doesn’t quite fit the pre-written American narrative. After all, Pakistan was supposed to be on the verge of becoming a “failed Islamic state.” How can the same country possibly have a Supreme Court that bars discrimination against a sexual minority?
You can imagine the cognitive fit that such a news story might induce in the mainstream U.S. media. How can an Islamic jurist advocate for transgender communities? Why weren’t there Pakistani riots when the decision came down?
None of this, of course, fits within the dominant U.S. narrative on Pakistan. First of all, transgender equality in Pakistan isn’t a security issue. Second, Muslim jurists and courts aren’t expected to advocate for the rights of sexual minorities. Third, it carries the subtle implication that U.S. support for Musharraf actually delayed the pursuit of equality for an aggrieved community.
No wonder the mainstream U.S. media couldn’t find space for this story. It just doesn’t fit.
Best part? This happened in 2009 but obviously it didn’t cater to the standard American comprehension of scary, evil Pakistan. Most of you are probably reading about this for the first time.