I am shameless; I am ashamed.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
From The Thunder: Perfect Mind
Veena Malik bared her body and exposed the nakedness of her society.
But she is not alone. In recent weeks, Egyptian Aliya Magda Mahdi posted bold self-photographs on her blog. Tunisian actress Nadia Bostah posed provocatively to promote a film.
Something's happening here. And it could be very significant.
We heard the footsteps of what was coming in Naipaul's 1982 classic Among the Believers. We sensed it in 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini threatened Salman Rushdie over Satanic Verses. We saw it in the 1997 film My Son the Fanatic (based on Hanif Kureishi's short story).
Then we saw it play out on our television screens on 9/11.
The destructive anger, the rejection of modernity, the war on freedom.
Something had gone badly wrong in Islamic societies.
Much has been said about how to change this dynamic.
From toppling dictators to killing terrorists, from settling intractable political conflicts to encouraging democracy - all manner of ideas have been proposed to change this ugly bend of history.
There has been some success. Arab societies, in particular, have rebelled against their stagnant status quo. Their dictators have been shown to be paper tigers - they hide in spider holes and gutter pipes when under fire. Their armies are weak - they run from the battle and don't dare defend national sovereignty. These tigers, that roared at home and terrorized own people, turned out to really be mice.
Where change has been slower is social practice. The community's failure to stand with Shah Bano, the illiterate stabbing of Naguib Mahfouz, Salman Taseer's assassination by his naat-singing bodyguard all tell the story of social darkness. Honor killings happen even in the West, Saudi women still can't drive, Ahmadis cannot exhibit the Quran in India, and raped women are still put in prison. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report drafted by distinguished Arab intellectuals is a stunning and powerful lament on the horrendous state of that society.
This sad circumstance is partly due to a community frozen in the glare of excruciating scrutiny. Also, Wahabi and Salafist financing of mosques and madrasas is a major problem, even in secular societies. Finally, the men in this male-dominant community - with rare exceptions - have failed to champion change.
In response, non-Muslims have either taken the multicultural view of "respecting" the community's practices, looked to "moderate Muslims" to make change happen, or (in bigotry) claimed that Islam is somehow incompatible with modernity.
But none of this has led to change.
Then, Manal al Sharif decided to drive a car in Saudi Arabia. Prof Amina Wadud led Friday prayers in America. Shaista Ambar released a model nikahnama to protect women's rights in India.
And, yes, Veena Malik, Aliya Mahdi, and Nadia Bostah boldly defied the purdah.
These may seem like acts of small defiance but they are no less significant than an old man making salt to challenge the empire in which the sun never set.
We may be witnessing a nascent social revolution in Islamic societies. Their women have wept through vicious wars and suffered through brutal suppression. Now they are leaping to lead.
This is perhaps the most promising development of the last decade of war.
Social change won't be easy. Entrenched tradition and extreme misogyny are hard to overcome. But, such change is surely an idea whose time has finally come.
It's not our wars or diplomacy or aid that will make this happen. It's not moderate Muslims or reformist Kings who will make this happen. It's the humble Muslim woman in all our communities who will lead this change.
Standing with her as she fights to honor her faith, community, and society is the most important thing non-Muslims can do.