An investigation of the “honor killing” of a young Pakistani social media star at the hands of her own family.
In her first book, Maher (Al Jazeera, Buzzfeed, etc.) delves deeply into the brief life of Qandeel Baloch (1990-2016), discovering a desperate attempt to assert agency regarding her own fate in a society determined to silence her. Baloch, who was born Fouzia Azeem in the poor village of Shah Sadar Din, in southern Punjab, was strangled by her brother, Waseem, in her parents’ home. Baloch had been branded the Pakistani Kim Kardashian, and she had perfected a social media persona that gained her hundreds of thousands of followers. But along with the followers, there were also plenty of detractors who believed her too risqué and scandalous for the clannish society in which women had little chance of emancipation. After an early failed marriage, single motherhood, and significant social media success, Baloch, apparently, went too far, baiting the ruling Islamic clerics and moral arbiters and alarming her family—even though she paid her parents’ rent and periodically gave money to Waseem. Indeed, thanks to her stardom, Baloch became the family’s cash cow. In addition to Baloch’s story, Maher examines the parallel experiences of young Pakistani women cast adrift by family and severed marriages. Most of these women must try anything to make a living, including working in the modeling industry, where they are at the mercy of brutal handlers, brokers, and managers. “In the year before Qandeel was murdered,” writes the author, “933 women and men were killed for ‘honor’ in Pakistan”—and “those are only the number of cases that were reported by family and friends.” Maher also explores the role of the media in Baloch’s death, which provided both an insatiable audience and sanctimonious jury, and speculates on whether justice will ever be served.
A compelling account of the tragic fate of a creative woman who might have excelled brilliantly in any other milieu.