Malala, Mufti and Imran: A tale of three reactions
Trigger warning: Sexual assualt. Reader discretion advised
Malala said something which everywhere else in the world would be considered trivial, but this is Pakistan and Pakistanis were furious. Somehow the young woman, with a face that bears a horrifying reminder of the ordeal she went through almost a decade ago, set social media ablaze and hatred poured in from all directions.
“I can't believe how these so-called Muslims are ruining our Islamic culture by doing these actions like #HaniaAamir & by giving a statement like #MalalaOnMarriage done really very heart wrenching to see that no one can stop them. This liberalism is destroying us “
So much so that the matter was given enough importance to be put on the agenda in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly
A harrowing video circulated on social media that showed a cleric molesting a young man, who later in the same video is speaking in utmost desperation.
“They are threatening to kill me. Nobody is listening to me and as a result I have decided to commit suicide. This is my final decision”, the young man said in a voice that was breaking and anxiety as plain as day on his face.
The proof was glaring and too real to deny. And yes, of course there was a reaction; it is near impossible to completely ignore something as damning as the video. However, the reaction was muted and by no stretch of imagination even a fraction of what we witnessed in response to the young woman’s statement about marriage and partnership. Even when there was condemnation, it was either politically motivated (as the culprit belonged to Jamiat Ulemae Islam (JUI)) or sort of apologetic at best.
Some are angry but not about the horrifying act but about the few condemnations that were voiced, equating it to the criticism of Islam. Some are creating equivalence between an act of rape and Malala’s statement and claiming that both are ‘equally bad’. A famous anchor, while “condemning” the act strangely raised the possibility of “consent” between the student and the clergy, thus indulging in twisted victim blaming.
Maulana Tariq Jameel, the favourite religious scholar of Pakistan’s urban middle class, who a few months ago had blamed vulgarity and dancing women for Covid 19, is eerily quiet. It seems that in his view while dancing women are responsible for pandemics and therefore should be condemned while being teary eyed on live television, sexual molestation of a kid by a cleric, does not merit even a passing mention.
Some of the clergy who were at the forefront of attacking Aurat March and blaming it for “insulting” Islam are now at the forefront of shamelessly defending Mufti Aziz ur Rehman, going to the extent of claiming that such practices were also common in early days of Islam and also suggesting that the mufti could actually be drugged
The great Khan doubled down on his earlier statement that vulgarity causes sexual misconduct, only this time he decided to be more “direct” by blaming women and their clothing for it. Irony is that this time he was actually asked to clarify and defend his original statement, where many thought he was blaming the victims.
While his previous comments were made in Urdu and during an address to the nation, this time he was talking to an international television channel and talking in English, ensuring that his statement attracted international attention.
Some in Pakistan were furious and condemned the prime minister but their voices were dwarfed by those who were angry at the backlash to the statement. Some were more passive in trying to clarify his statement, saying he was being misconstrued, others were more vocal in his defence adding that it was not a crime to ask women to dress modestly.
Many women protested, pointing out that the victims of rape in Pakistan were not restricted to women alone, since children and even men are raped. Many also made the point that women in Pakistan mostly dress modestly while others shared their own horrifying experiences of being molested as kids or when wearing headscarves and other forms of modest clothing. However, this does not bother the Khan supporters who are bent on defending him ferociously.
Some from the clergy, who did not utter a word on the Rehman issue, leapt to support the prime minister and said that women “tempt” men and invite them towards sin. They further had the audacity to squarely blame women for their sexual crimes.
All three of the incidents mentioned above happened within 30 days of each other and the reactions to them paint a horrifying picture of our society’s collective mind set.
We were outraged on a harmless statement by a young woman and considered it against Islam but chose to remain silent when a supposedly religious person misused his authority and indulged in an act which directly goes against Islam. The issue should have led us to vociferously asking for the culprit to be punished, as well as for wide ranging madrassa reforms.
The young man who was molested was an adult and had the agency to raise his voice, even if it was when he was at the end of his tether. Countless children may be getting molested in silence, some too young to even understand what is happening to them. They need our help and yet we do not show even an iota of the outrage that we showed when Malala made an abstract statement about the efficacy of marriage. And we are defending our prime minister while he is acting as a rape apologist. Sadly this process is emboldening rapists while discouraging survivors.
What is wrong with us? Why are we so twisted when it comes to normative judgements? I think we suffer from a strange combination of misogyny, schizophrenic nationalism and misplaced hypersensitivity about religious issues and this deadly combination is rapidly taking us down.