American groups back LGBT rights in Pakistan, but it's a different story in Indiana

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. No question what the top news story in America is right now. It’s the passage of so-called religious freedom bills in two states, Indiana and Arkansas, and the nationwide outcry against those bills by those who say the measures open the doors for discrimination against gays and lesbians. My BBC colleague, Aleem Maqbool, has been covering this controversy but he’s got a challenge American news outlets don’t really have--he’s got to explain all of this to people outside of the US. So Aleem, you’re in Indiana right now. How are you explaining the news from there and Arkansas to your global BBC audience?

 

Aleem Maqbool: I can’t see how it’s not a tricky story to explain to people even here. We’ve been around Indiana, we’ve spoken to people on the street, and they say “Why now? Why did we need this? What happened before that we couldn’t live with or that we needed this bill for?” So, it’s not just people in the UK--and I have to say, people in the UK right now are wrapped up in an election process, we’ve suddenly had parliament dissolved there, and so there are big things going on back there. But they see the top line and they see a law which could discriminate against gay people potentially, and they do get alarmed. When we’ve spoken to people back there, they simply can’t understand how a debate like this could possibly be going on now in modern day America because the feeling is that perhaps the debate has moved on a little bit more in UK. There are still issues of discrimination of course, but it is perhaps much easier for minority groups to be able to have some recourse when they feel discriminated against. So, they see these things and it does surprise them about the richest country in the world. These are things which perhaps some people privately have a problem with in the UK, but the debates again have moved on. Well, of course, people have free healthcare there. But abortions and contraception and these kinds of issues were ones that are now out of the sphere of public debate really because they’re protected by law.

 

Werman: Aleem, you had been based in Pakistan for a long time. Does the debate here in the US remind you of any similar discussion or debate that took place in Pakistan? Does the Pakistan window give you a perspective that’s useful in any way here?

 

Maqbool: It is interesting that you say that because there are groups, Western groups for example, working in Pakistan on gay rights issues. There are Western groups, American-funded groups, working in Pakistan on family planning to help Pakistan control its population. So it’s interesting then that things that are being pushed for by Western agencies in a country like Pakistan, back here there are still debates about a lot of those issues. They’re not set in stone, rights for some of the groups, that are being fought for in places like Pakistan. It is interesting as well that you talk about the religious aspects. I go through a town, like the one we’ve just come from in the south of Indiana, and I see how much people rely on being guided by their faith on how they feel about political issues, and that is certainly something that is much more reflective of Pakistan than it is from my home country, the country I was brought up in, which is the UK, where there is more of a separation of religion and the state. Whereas the lines are much more  blurred in Pakistan, I would say they feel more blurred here. So, if you want to talk about comparisons, then they are there and they do crop up in my mind as I’ve been covering this story and others.

 

Werman: The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Indiana. Thank you for your perspective today. I appreciate it.

 

Maqbool: Any time, Marco.