Saturday, October 14, 2006
The New York Times published a shattering story today about "vendetta rapes" in Pakistan. It hints at the role of Islam in the enforcement of these atrocities:
Pursuing justice is not easy for a woman in Pakistan, not if the crime is rape. Ghazala Shaheen knows.
Two years ago, relatives say, an uncle eloped with a woman from a higher social caste. The revenge by the woman’s family was the rape of Ms. Shaheen, she and relatives charge, after a gang of men raided her father’s home and abducted her and her mother in late August.
It is not uncommon in Pakistan for women to suffer callous vendettas for the wrongdoings of their male relatives. That was the case for Ms. Shaheen, a 24-year-old from a relatively poor family who had nonetheless managed to earn a master’s degree in education. She says she wants to be a teacher.
Under what are known as the Hudood laws in Pakistan, a woman must produce four witnesses to prove rape. A failure to do so can result in her becoming a victim twice over, and being charged for adultery. The stigma alone is enough to keep many women from trying to bring their attackers to justice.
Human rights advocates have repeatedly called for the repeal of the Hudood laws, which were enacted by the country’s last military dictator, Gen. Zia ul Haq, in 1979.
President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to introduce amendments to the laws, but critics say his efforts have been halfhearted. Under pressure from hard-line clerics, Mr. Musharraf’s government delayed passage of a proposed law in September that would have allowed rape to be tried in civil courts, where a rape victim needs only to provide a medical witness and other evidence.
Defenders of Islam claim that extremism is a perversion of the faith and not inherent in it. Perhaps this is true, perhaps not. I am genuinely open-minded on the subject. But if ugly brutality really is the exception rather than the rule, how is it that the military dictator of one of the world's most important Muslim countries knuckles under to pressure from "hard-line clerics"? For these clerics to have power in such a country they must have enormous popular support.
For my part, I really have no idea to what degree Muslims around the world regard their religion as sanctioning revolting, stomach-turning practices, whether they be suicide bombing or vendetta rapes. Are these people rare aberrants who grab headlines, or are they a genuinely large proportion of the more than a billion Muslims on the planet? We in the West actually need to gain a deeper understanding of these questions and their answers, because they have profound implications for our own struggle to prevent these practices from infiltrating our own societies. The problem is, virtually all examination of these questions is infused with a political agenda that discredits the result, whether that agenda is gooey multiculti relativism or hardline clash-of-civilizations xenophobia. We need to get past what we hope or fear is the reality in the Muslim world and study it very honestly. If we don't, we will not adequately protect our own society or we will do so only at great cost to our most cherished values. Without an open study and discussion of these basic questions about Islam, we will lurch from one extreme to another at great cost to the West and the world.
..."Are these people rare aberrants who grab headlines, or are they a genuinely large proportion of the more than a billion Muslims on the planet?"...
The question although interesting is unanswerable. What is obvious is that there is no noticeable movement within Islam to stop either the practice or the practitioners. That is all we need to know.
"how is it that the military dictator of one of the world's most important Muslim countries knuckles under to pressure from "hard-line clerics"? For these clerics to have power in such a country they must have enormous popular support."
Oh I don't know.....he knuckled down to Armitage fairly well when he was told to prepare his country to be bombed back to the Stone Age if he didn't go along!
Can't be all that guttsy
I don't agree that is all we need to know. One of the central tenets of the Bush administration's foreign policy is that while there is no such "noticeable movement" today, there can be one if some obstacles can be cleared away. Is that assumption correct? As hawkish as I am, I am not sure of the answer to that question, and (I believe) neither are most thoughtful observers who are night influenced by their desire for a particular answer. That is shocking five, ten or 27 years into the war (depending on when you think it began).
"... how is it that the military dictator of one of the world's most important Muslim countries knuckles under to pressure from "hard-line clerics"? For these clerics to have power in such a country they must have enormous popular support."
There have always been whispering doubts in Pakistan of Musharraf's commitment to Islam. When he was a young officer, he apparently looked up to Ataturk, who as you know is despised among Islamic circles. In Islam, you can have not separation of mosque and state because Islam isn't just a religion to be practiced in the privacy of ones home, but an entire system of jurisprudence and system of governance in addition to being a system of personal conduct. Ataturk separated mosque and state and Musharraf, as a young officer, stated support for that aim.
Pakistan was founded as a homeland for Muslims, as a statement of separation from the subcontinents majority Hindu population. It is unreasonable to expect Pakistan to not have a strong radical Islamist bent to it, having been forged from the fire of Islamic separatism.
The imams of Pakistan have always been suspect of Musharraf's commitment to total Islam, as opposed to the piecemeal Islam approach preferred by the subcontinental Muslim elite. The imams command a lot of respect from the poorer section of the population (which is the vast majority) due to the madrassa system they've set up, which provides "education" to poorer children and financial assistance to poorer families, something the government can not provid They command loyalty of the poor people of Pakistan while Musharraf loyalists consist of a small core in the military, western-style educated elitists who think the imams are nuts but suck up to them because, well, they have to.
I'm a liberal, and was pointed to this post by Ezra Klein, but thanks for posting this.
Most likely the clerics don't actually endorse revenge rape, but merely see it as a lesser evil than anything (like a reasonable standard of proof in rape cases) that would bolster the autonomy of women in Pakistan, or weaken the caste/clan system there. Which, obviously, is horrible enough.
The root of the matter in this particular case seems to be the inequality between the two families. In America, if someone "marries up", the more affluent family isn't permitted to take revenge on the humbler family. My hope would be that some notion of civic equality is achievable in the medium term, and that we wouldn't have to wait for women to attain equality in Pakistan for these things not to happen. Because that could be a very long time.
Most likely the clerics don't actually endorse revenge rape, but merely see it as a lesser evil...
Well, kth, wouldn't that be an interesting question to answer? That gets to my point: Even our best newspapers (and I recognize the limitations of that classification) are hesitate to understand and separate the role of Islam versus other considerations in these practices. To me, it is important that we get to the bottom of this, because it tells us how much we have to examine the tensions between religious practice and religious freedom within the West, and whether there is any reasonable hope for moderate popular governments in the Muslim world.
Since there are plenty of Muslim nations without vendetta rape, I think it's more a consequence of the class system. India's had issues with custodial rape, as did feudal Europe and US slave owners. (Google "Rape, class and the state" for more)
You have to remember that in an oligarchy the law does not need to reflect "popular support".
To the extent that rape may be popular in Pakistan, I bet it's popular among the upper classes (ie rapists) and highly unpopular with the lower classes (ie victims).
Lanky said: "To the extent that rape may be popular in Pakistan, I bet it's popular among the upper classes (ie rapists) and highly unpopular with the lower classes (ie victims)."
You bet wrong. It is not a class issue in Pakistan. For the most part, these kinds of things happen among the poor in rural tribal communities. (Just like the poor exploit the poor in America's ghettos.)
The class warfare (caste system) in India is a Hindu issue, not a Muslim issue.
A rich (Muslim) guy has no trouble buying all the pretty women he wants southern Asia, starting at two dollars each in some places. Heck, in Muslim Indonesia, women will try to grab your hotel key out of your pocket to get your room number.
At Winds of Change, David Blue wrote on the related topic of how the nature of Islam might affect prospects for coexistence or for conflict with the West. He concluded, pessimistically:
"Rather, we are called by history to face up to a tragedy: that we have to oppose and diminish a system that is intractably and (in the context of proliferating nuclear weapons) fatally hostile to us, even though that will enrage and alienate the large absolute numbers of genuinely good and moderate people within that system, people who would like Islam to be friendly, kind and fair, even though, friendly or unfriendly, kind or unkind, and fair or anciently wedded to prejudices and violent supremacism in practice, it is still their religion, and since it is a political religion, still their side."
The "four witnesses" requirement may be according to "Hudood laws" but it is fundamentally a requirement of Sharia. Not that a typically ignorant New York Times reporter would know that, or would report it if they did.