Letter to Washington Post

Crimes against Women are not a Pakistani phenomenon
Why does the Post Ignore India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France, USA ...?
by Kaukab Siddique, Ph.D

Dear Ombudsman
The Washington Post
Washington, DC

I am puzzled by your report "In Pakistan Women Pay the Price of Honor" (by Pamela Constable, May 8). Does Constable think she has made a discovery? In what sense is it news that in a country of 120 million people, some individuals have committed terrible atrocities against their women folk?

I wonder if you a know a story titled PUNISHMENT? It's a classic written by Rabindranath Tagore about a woman who was murdered by her husband when she made a nasty remark when he came home and found that she had not cooked for him. (This was just a remark. She had not DONE anything.) The essence of the story is that the family then decided to tell the police that the wife of the murderer's brother had killed the woman. I won't tell you the whole story but the second woman goes to the gallows for the crime of her brother-in-law!

The date is important: it was written in 1893. Since then tens of thousands of women in India have suffered at the hands of their male relatives. Wife/bride killings are common in India: for 'honor', for 'not enough bride price'. Women in Hinduism are supposed to burn themselves on the husband's funeral pyre. When they don't, they are looked down on. Widows are not allowed to re-marry.

Now Ms. Constable missed that vast target called India (she could have had real fun there, finding women disfigured by husbands). Instead she focused on Pakistan. My question is: what is at work here?

The disfigured woman knew English? The victimized woman is quoted in the story and the quote begins thus: "He came from the mosque ..." Thus a direct connection to Islam as the source of evil is made here. (No Pakistani uses the word 'mosque' in the Urdu or Punjabi language: it is 'masjid' or 'msid'.)Thus the story has evidently been doctored.

Ms. Constable's bias shows when she tries to connect the problem to the "conservative Islamic society". Later on in the story she comes out clearly and connects the atrocities to "Islamic basic concept of ghairat."

In a country of 120 million, the most inflated figure is that of 300 atrocities. As Rabindranath Tagore showed in his story, an illiterate, economically exploited and oppressed person can go ahead and hurt the only person whom he can hurt: that's his wife.

The issue is: why oppression? That issue is not even discussed by Ms. Constable.

The Qur'an demands four witnesses from the accuser or the accuser would be whipped. In the books of Hadith, Prophet Muhammad, (peace be on him) goes into detail to show that the husband has no right whatsoever to hurt his wife physically even if he catches her in flagrante delicto with another man. Even in divorce, the Qur'an teaches husbands not to be harsh with the woman they are divorcing.

Thus Ms. Constable must have picked up the idea that the atrocities are connected with the "Islamic basic concept of ghairat" from some of her "sources" in Pakistan. In fact there is a small group of women, pro-India and very hostile to Islam, who would be probable source.

As a teacher of journalism at the university level, I teach my students never to generalize from anecdotal evidence. Such generalization leads to stereotyping. The stories Ms. Constable has narrated are horrible and the men deserve severe punishment. If Islam were implemented in Pakistan, the man would be punished by the woman he disfigured to the extent he did it to her. I t's called "retaliation" and diyat which is essential to Islamic law. So not only are the atrocities unconnected to Islam, they exist because ISLAMIC LAW OF EQUAL RETALIATION BY THE VICTIM (or her agent) HAS NOT BEEN implemented.

FRANTZ FANON pointed out (see THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH) that the sign of an oppressed people is that instead fighting against oppression, they oppress those closest to them (wife and children) who are vulnerable. As in the Los Angeles uprising, the African American people did not burn Beverly Hills (controlled by their oppressors) but their own neighborhoods.

Horrible crimes against women are very common in America. Go to any House of Ruth and you will not need to publish atrocity stories about Pakistan. Studies show that even the most highly educated people in America commit atrocities against their wives. One study showed that a home for battered women was set up in McLean, Virginia (homes starting from $250,000) and many of the women taking refuge there were the wives of engineers, doctors and professors.

In the Maryland legislature last year a bill was introduced to make honor killings count as "first degree murder." (That is till 1999 a man could murder his wife in Maryland if he suspected she had a paramour and he would not be tried for first degree murder!)

Now Egypt has a very close relationship with the White House. Tens of thousands of Muslims are in the Egyptian dictator's torture cells. In her book A PORTRAIT OF EGYPT, Mary Anne Weaver has given details of the atrocities against Islamic women. These are not random anecdotes, like yours, but part of the systematic policy of torture carried by Mr. Clinton's good friend, the criminal thug known as Hosni Mubarak. (Mubarak gets $2.8 billion dollars every year from the U.S. inspite of his torture of Islamic women.)

Who does not know that the Washington Post has a very close relationship with the power structure. When the Algerian military junta started slaughtering Muslim women and children and attributing the atrocities to "Islamists", the Post eagerly published the junta's claims as if they were correct. Only two years after the stories began, and a top Algerian official defected to tell what was going on, did the Post rein in its journalists.

Another interesting fact about the post: When Taslima Nasrin (of Bangladesh) first wrote her book against the Qur'an, she was hardly known in her homeland. At that early stage, the Post publicized her as a good (potentially great) writer. Another Muslim woman, Ms. Nadrat Siddique, living in the Washington D.C. area, wrote to the Post, criticizing its glorification of Taslima Nasrin. The Post ignored her letter.

So why is the Post now interested in stories of atrocities against women in Pakistan? I would say, the Post is part of the propaganda campaign against Pakistan to prepare the ground for serious moves, including sanction and perhaps even military moves by India.

To understand the Post's role, I would draw the attention of readers to the role of the Baltimore Sun and National Public Radio in the sanctions placed on Sudan. First a slavery story was produced against Sudan. It was circulated on a big scale to neutralize the African-American population's response to a move against an African country. There was no proof of slavery. The only problem was that Sudan wanted to follow an independent policy with leanings towards Islam.

I am quite confident that if the government in Pakistan moves against Islamists and helps to get Osama bin Laden arrested, the stories about atrocities against women will recede if not vanish.

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2000-05-10 Wed 10:06ct