Rape and rhetoric

Published: December 23, 2010
The writer is a journalist based in Karachi and has worked for Newsline and The Express Tribune Magazine

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi and has worked for Newsline and The Express Tribune Magazine

Ask a hundred people what they think of rape and not one will claim to be in favour of it. No matter what perverse morals and desires they might keep hidden, everyone — a random feudal politician or two excepted — will get indignantly irate if you so much as suggest they might be indifferent to the plight of rape survivors.

Question them a bit closer, though, and you will soon hear that dreaded weasel word: But. Of course she shouldn’t have been raped but did you see what she was wearing? I think rape is evil but why was she alone with a boy? Rape is a horrific crime but our girls today have loose morals.

Politicians, police, press — all have reacted to the gang rape of a young woman in DHA, Karachi, as if they have suddenly contracted a nasty case of on-the-other-hand fever. Normally immune to nuance, they are now discovering the benefits of equivocation at the cost of a rape survivor who has had her character and moral judgment dissected.

It is not enforcing political correctness to insist that there is a correct way to speak about rape survivors. And provincial information adviser Sharmila Farooqui said all the wrong things. In naming the victim, Farooqui snatched her prerogative to decide if she wants to publicly identify herself. She also succumbed to one of the oldest sexist tropes, describing the victim as “hyper”, never considering that staying cool, calm and collected may not be possible after being raped.

The she-was-asking-for-it brigade, apart from their moral failings, exhibit a clear ignorance of the nature of rape. A desire for power and control are a far greater motivation for rape than sexual urges. Grouping rape survivors by class, lifestyle and choice of clothing would show that they represent a crosssection of Pakistani women. This should be blindingly obvious. After all, what do Mukhtaran Mai and the survivor from DHA have in common, other than the crime committed against them? But we, as a nation, keep demonstrating that we need to be reminded of basic truths ad nauseam.

Whether through moral blindness, callowness or unfamiliarity with the issue, by treating rape as a provocation rather than an act of aggression we allow this attitude to diffuse throughout society. Think of how many times you have used rape as a punchline to a joke that nobody should laugh at, but too many do. Date rape and prison rape jokes are so common that they have spawned entire genres at the cinema and on television. One such joke may seem harmless but collectively they contribute to make rape seem like something less than a violent crime.

A blasé attitude towards rape leads even progressives to wish it away. When WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange was arrested for rape, too many liberals treated the charges as a distracting sideshow. They were understandably keen to protect his image as a whistle-blowing hero. That should not have led several commentators to dismiss the accusations of being nothing more than ‘sex by surprise’, a phrase meant to be dismissive, but which is just an euphemism that tries to whitewash rape. Certainly, it would have been fair to wonder if the timing of the accusations were politically motivated, but to reject that the allegations amounted to anything worth taking seriously was a shining example of reflexive misogyny.

In the days to come, there will be many worthy criticisms of the way the police collects evidence, how politicians dodge the topic and how the media sensationalises everything. Let’s look at our own language and rhetoric before that.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Haris+Masood+Zuberi
    Dec 23, 2010 - 11:09AM

    Well written Nadir.Recommend

  • Dec 23, 2010 - 12:04PM

    I am shocked that Miss Sharmila Faruki has called the victim hyper and even exposed her identity. What else does she expect a women traumatised by rape and violence to be cool and calculating. This reminds me of Mush, who when questioned in Newyork about Mukhtaran Mai, got irritated and said that these women get raped to seek visas. We all remember that it was Dr Shazia Khalid who was harassed and forced to leave Pakistan, while her rapist was provided security. In fact Mush himself defended his innocence. It is this feudal sick attitude where it is considered the right of spoilt brats from affluent backgrounds to rape and molest the women coming from poor families and working girls. Sexual molestation and harrassment has gained momentum because of these attitudes. What business do the police have to start looking for loopholes in the rape victims background, instead of arresting and prosecuting the rapists. Recommend

  • Rabayl Memon
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:00PM

    Possibly the best piece written on rape in local newspapers. Thank you Nadir! Brilliantly explained.Recommend

  • WhoWasThatMaskedMan
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:32PM

    Thumbs up!!Recommend

  • sarah+elahi
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:34PM

    Brilliantly written, thank you. Recommend

  • Rameez
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:47PM

    what can we say.. someone should ask miss sharmila farooqi that mam,put urself in her shoes and then think for a split second that was she really HYPER???? :@ :@ :@

    i have lost all words after having reactions from all corners to see that how our moral values have vanished.. Recommend

  • Moazzam+Salim
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:56PM

    A great piece of writingRecommend

  • Narmeen
    Dec 23, 2010 - 2:57PM

    I second Rabayl’s comment. Extremely well written i must say!Recommend

  • Anam Aftab
    Dec 23, 2010 - 3:43PM

    Brilliant pieceRecommend

  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Dec 23, 2010 - 3:53PM

    Dear Nadir,
    Rape is very vicious and mostly planned crime.
    pls. let us some information on a country which has death penalty for rape.
    Or Analyse if Death penalty is right or wrong for rape.
    I strongly feel only death penalty can bring down rape case in third world countries like ours.

    Also can public file case of incompetence against these people and ask for there dismissal from services, who call rape as due to low morals????Recommend

  • z
    Dec 23, 2010 - 4:44PM

    The statements made by Sharmila faruqui are shocking, to say the least. im quoting from the Jasmine show i watched last night on Samaa tv. it was distressing to hear her blame the NGOs for not being present at the DHA police station and for lawyers not being there to fight a probono case. telling the NGOs that they are not doing their work despite of being provided thousands of dollars from the government. My question to her is that by making that statement she shamelessly denied that it is the PRIMARY responsibility of the government to take complete charge. by taunting at the NGOs shes exhibiting the govt.’s absolute incompetency in dealing
    with crimes and their failure to prosecute the criminals. Needless to say we pay taxes and the govt is repeatedly funded millions of dollars but still the basics are missing, therefore her claim of paying some bucks to the NGOs so that they do the work comes across as reinforcement that we are a sorry state. Recommend

  • Dec 23, 2010 - 5:00PM

    A great quote I’d like to share with you (slightly paraphrased): – women are taught that the earth is flat, if you wander far enough there is danger of falling off the edge”.Recommend

  • S.Haque
    Dec 23, 2010 - 5:05PM

    Very well written. Bless you. Recommend

  • Dec 23, 2010 - 10:39PM

    I completely agree with most of your article and it is very commendable that you have brought up the dubious morals of the “she was asking for it” brigade. This cannot be emphasized enough. However, I think the Julian Assange example is out of place. It is not just the timing of those charges that are questionable but also the fact that Julian was in Sweden for four weeks and questioned by police at length, leading the chief prosecutor to say that no case could be framed against him. It was only once wikileaks began trickling through that a Swedish MP approached one of the women and re-instigated everything. Moreover, if the facts are read, what is being called “rape” in Sweden comes as a real surprise to many and does not even qualify as rape in many liberal jurisdictions, including UK. It may be instructive to note that even War Against Rape has come out in defence of Assange—they most certainly cannot be accused of “reflexive misogyny”. So I think to quote the Assange example actually takes away from an otherwise very pertinent and well argued piece.Recommend

  • Amna
    Dec 23, 2010 - 11:26PM

    Good article, although I dont know what kind of company you hang out with, I have never made or heard a rape joke when socializing.Recommend

  • Ashley Anwar
    Dec 26, 2010 - 2:25AM

    I don’t think anyone ever ‘asks’ to be raped.

    Thank you for shining the light on this sensitive topic and by noting the idiotic comments that our political and legal system makes. These will only encourage people to rape and do bad, because there is always a ‘but’.Recommend

  • Ashley Anwar
    Dec 26, 2010 - 2:26AM

    I agree with Ayesha Ijaz. Assange’s ‘sexual assault’ was in actuality women accusing him of not wearing condom while having sexRecommend

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