Terrorism Against Women in Pakistan November 22, 2009

Terrorism Against Women in Pakistan

These {NFSW) images show how women in Pakistan have been subjugated to acid attacks from men.

Why do these things happen?

  • “… a boy whom she rejected for marriage threw acid on her in the middle of the street”
  • “… [she] was burned by her father while she was sleeping, apparently because he didn’t want to have another girl in the family.”
  • “… [she] was burned with acid one year ago by a boy whom she rejected for marriage.”
  • “… familial dispute”

In some cases, attacks happened (from the Taliban) because girls just tried to go to school.

Here’s one of the less graphic images:

As the introduction to the article states:

Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: They are poor and female.

Even more disturbing is the statistic that in the Islamabad area alone, 7,800 cases of these attacks have been documented. (How many were undocumented? I wonder) Yet, someone was convicted in only 2% of the cases.

I feel like religion plays a role in this matter, though not the only one. I find it hard to believe that so many people could let this sort of injustice be ignored unless they felt it was part of God’s “divine plan.” Even worse, some of the men committing these crimes probably felt like they were justified in their actions because they were carrying out God’s wishes. Over time, people just get used to it happening and they feel too afraid to speak out against it. And then it becomes less about religion and more about the culture they live in.

Or maybe Islam is the justification given for this sort of crime when it isn’t really the primary cause.

Or maybe it has no role at all.

Is it unfair to blame religion at all in this matter?

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  • JulietEcho

    It’s tricky to separate government, Islam, cultural/historical and radical/extreme influences in cases like this. There’s a whole mess of factors that contribute to the attitude that it’s acceptable to commit these violent crimes against women.

    I think it’s more important in the short-term to suss out exactly what factors are preventing more arrests and convictions (and appropriately harsh penalties) in these cases. Is it silence from the women, who are frightened or culturally conditioned? If so, we need campaigns to educate and advocate. Is it a failure on the part of law enforcement? If so, we need pressure on the right people and perhaps funding in the right places. Is it a failure in the various laws that govern areas where this happens? If so, we need human rights advocates and lawyers to find out how we could help change those laws.

  • ethanol

    I doubt that there is anything in the Koran which encourages men to throw acid on woman’s faces. However, I think that Islam, at least in its current interpretation, is responsible for the expected silence and subordination of women that allows these crimes to continue. If, in a western country, the legal system showed such ambivalence towards a wide-spread and brutal campaign of violence towards woman, then woman would march in the street and band together to draw attention to the issue. The forces that prevent them from doing this are clearly related to the accepted behavior of women in Islamic society, and that accepted behavior is undeniably derived from Islam itself.

  • Bomias

    Seems to me that religion should decry and seek to stop such actions. Any religion which does not defend these women should be considered complicit in the attacks.

  • People use religion as a means of power and control, and as a means of subjugation.

    That does not mean that it’s religion that is the problem – it is the evil bastards that do this kind of thing that are the problem.

    However, where religion does play a part is that it is used as a shield – rules such as blasphemy, and how religion has tried to make it’s actions beyond criticism are part of the problem.

    I don’t want to see an end to religion – that would just be silly. I do want to see an end to the laws of blasphemy, and end to religion’s special status from which it hides from criticism. And most of all, I want an end to religion’s special privilege which gives it power.

  • Lukas

    I guess I agree with PrimeNumbers. Islam isn’t the problem per se. The problem is that religion – any religion – can be used to command, enforce and justify pretty much any action, because God Wants It™. It’s a means of power, control, and subjugation.

    In this particular case, attacking religion may be counterproductive, since it may help unite muslims against critics even if they don’t support what’s happening in Pakistan. It is probably more useful to make it clear that we’re not condemning Islam, but specifically these attacks. That will make it easier for muslims to support out cause.

  • Jude

    My aunt had acid thrown on her face in rural Colorado by her husband back in the 1930s. Why? He was an abusive alcoholic jerk. The role of religion might be that it reinforces reasons for men to subjugate women. But as someone who was hit by two different men in relationships in the U.S., the presence of religion isn’t necessary for abuse to occur.

  • I think for some it is about religion and for others it is not. It’s circumstantial based on the individual committing the crime.

    Regardless of the reason, this is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

  • valdemar

    Religion makes being inhumane easier. In some cases, much easier. For something which – as all the apologists claim – is supposed to be uniquely and preciously human, it has an extraordinary capacity for dehumanising its most vehement adherents. If you’re doing God’s work, why should the condemnation of mere men (or women) bother you, after all?

  • Many of these attacks are growing popular among those that carry out “honor killings“.


  • These crimes are terrible but let’s not forget the level of domestic violence against women in western societies.

  • Raven

    All I know for sure is that the men doing this kind of thing are cowardly, insecure, pathetic scum.

  • muggle

    Please, religion may not be the sole factor but it is the largest.

    It’s the one that says treat women this way, it’s the one that justifies it, it’s the one who says women are third rate citizens. If a culture is mostly Islamic and it tolerates this kind of treatment of women, how the hell can Islam be let off the hook for the treatment it encourages?

    And don’t be so quick to let Christianity off the hook. There’s a reason extremists are also called fundamentalists. Because they are complying with the fundamentals of the religion rather than the more enlightened followers who pick out the feel-good excerpts they like and ignore the rest. Please don’t forget where the rule of thumb comes from.

    Christianity does play a role in the women who are beaten here in the West. I’ve been hit by a man too — and villified ever since leaving him for doing so and choosing to be a single mother instead. Our society still villifies single mothers and it’s not because it’s logical to do so.

    Our politicians “family values” would have had my daughter and I subjugated to a wife beater and pedophile who was too wasted to earn a living. I sensibly chose to leave him and remove his child from him and for every person who admires me for doing that there are 10 who villify me and 5 who think I should have given him a second chance because “people can change”.

    Why do you really think that is? Because our society values Christian values over common sense values. In these countries, they value Islamic values over common sense values. Islam makes Christianity look good but only by comparision. If you take the Bible as literally as they take the Koran instead of sweeping the hideous under the carpet, it doesn’t stand too pretty on its own either.

    This is the problem when morals come from a holy book instead of considering the effects of one’s actions in any given situation.

  • I agree with PrimeNumbers. Religion isn’t responsible but it does bypass the normal reality checks of people intent on violence.

  • First of all, muggle: Very good comment. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Religion may be part of the problem, of course, but there are a ton of factors that go into this. One that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the propensity towards victim-blaming that seems to pervade all humans. A quote from Alessa’s linked article:

    The public appears unmoved. “Acid is thrown by poor people at poor people,” says an activist in Lahore. “The typical reaction of women is, she must have done something bad to make him so angry…”

    The logic is that she made him angry, therefore she deserves to be mutilated for life. This isn’t just the subconscious thought process, this is what many people actually say. They don’t even know what she did, they just assume that she must be at fault.

    It’s not just a Pakistani problem. The same thing happens over here. Many professors have reported in comment threads over at Ed Brayton’s blog that students, when faced with the prospect of an innocent person going to jail, instinctively resort to the argument that they must have done something else bad in their life that makes them deserve it.

    The justification is even worse in this case. Hell, it’s absolutely non-existent. We don’t even have the chain of logic saying that the mutilated woman must have somehow angered her assailant. No, we’re just assuming that the falsely imprisoned person must have been guilty of some other crime with absolutely zero evidence. (If someone finds it hard to believe that people actually say this, I can try to dig up one of the comments.)

    It’s hard to say why people think this way. I’d guess that it’s an underlying belief in karma that drives this. Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. (Or, as Dogbert explains it: Karma means I can do whatever I want to you and assume you deserve it.) Therefore, if something bad happens to someone, they must have deserved it. If, on the other hand, bad things could happen to good people… then something bad could happen to me, and that’s just unthinkable!

    Oddly enough, I think the problem here comes all the way back to religion. Most religions teach that their god will take care of its followers and punish dissidents. Under the eye of a loving god, a belief in karma flows naturally. If people throughout the world were a bit more atheistic, perhaps they’d be more open to the fact that bad things do happen to good people, and they’d actually care enough to try to do something about it.

  • Philbert

    Summary of thread: religion isn’t responsible, except insofar as it is.

  • I think it’s fair to place at least some of the blame on religion. After all, according to many religions women aren’t people. I don’t think a man would throw acid on a woman if he thought she was a person.

  • Matt D

    Often I wonder why I bother reading this blog and others like it. Why do I feel so strongly about my lack of belief, when it seems so clearly an oxymoron? How can you be passionate about something that isnt there?

    I find to hard to imagine a culture where attacks of this kind are tolerated – I guess your typical Islamic fundi would think our western culture pretty strange as well.

    PrimeNumbers nails it though:

    I do want to see an end to the laws of blasphemy, and end to religion’s special status from which it hides from criticism. And most of all, I want an end to religion’s special privilege which gives it power

    That’s why I care, that’s why we should all care.

  • MutantJedi

    Religion has a role to play but it isn’t a specific religion. One could easily swap out Islam for any other religion (or even atheism for that matter). It wasn’t that long ago when women were burnt in the West. Thus attacking Islam wouldn’t be effective and, moreover, as mentioned, it would be counter-productive.

    Rather it is a cultural issue. While Islam is currently being used as a shield to cover or encourage this behavior, it could just as easily be used by progressive members within the culture to correct this behavior. In fact, I believe that positive change towards women would be much easier realized if the change comes within the context of Islam.

  • Saad

    It is really amazing the way people throw in the name of “ISLAM” and “TERRORISM” whenever they see some atrocities happening. But if a similar thing happens in non muslim majority country, its just the fault of the people who commit these atrocities. Its not TERRORISM. And the religion or the non-religion of the people are never given a second … Read Morethought. I will point out a few that are easily available if u google them:

    IF only the author of this article had fully read the site he quotes in his first line (http://blogs.tampabay.com/photo/2009/11/terrorism-thats-personal.html). He would probably have read this, “””“I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid).””” These attacks in Pakistan are not based on religion… they exist in the roots of this asian culture.

  • Pseudonym

    Muggle, thank you for your story. I think you did the right thing.

    But I have to, in all honesty, disagree with you about fundamentalists. Christian extremists are called “fundamentalists” because they believe that they are in the same tradition that published the Fundamentals pamphlet series in the early 20th century. Other religious extremists are called “fundamentalists” by analogy. To my knowledge, exactly none of them actually believe or practice all of the fundamentals of their respective religions. They pick and choose just as much as as everyone else; they just refuse to admit it.

    On a historical note, this kind of vendetta behaviour (along with all of the other barbaric things that you occasionally hear come out of deepest darkest Pakistan) is precisely the sort of thing that Sharia law was supposed to replace.

    MutantJedi: I agree. I’m reminded of Queen Rania of Jordan and her strong activism against so-called “honour killings”.

  • I would not entirely call this an Islamic thing. Acid-attacks are a South Asian phenomenon. India,Bangladesh , Pakistan, Afghanistan, even Cambodia are equal offenders. I think the patriarchal structure of the society coupled with poverty, treating women as second class objects to be owned, helped on perhaps by the tenets of fundamentalist misogynist religions or misogynist followers of religions.

  • absent sway

    I’m with MutantJedi and Allytude on this one. I wouldn’t rule out religion being a factor, but there’s probably a more complex cocktail of factors at play. I find it difficult to believe that the experiences of women in Pakistan are so uniform as to make it realistic to point to religion (also not uniform there) as the direct vehicle for this. I could see religious extremists with political power as an obstruction to justice in these cases, though; maybe something more along those lines but I need more information. There are plenty of liberal Muslims in Pakistan, and look at the incredible popular support that Benazir Bhutto had there, for instance. I imagine that justice for these victims depends quite a bit on who is in power, and if the state is corrupt then how would a public outcry short of revolution accomplish much besides more violence?

  • Revyloution

    Religion might not be the cause, but it is the reason the men in these states aren’t being charged with any crimes. If these crimes were committed in a country with a secular government, the men doing these crimes would be in jail.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    I know it may be a bit pedantic but I feel that while the pictures do need a warning that they are graphic in the sense of unusual (and I would put the same warning on any medical pictures), I don’t think it warrants the same NSFW warning that other things do. There is nothing inherently vulgar or offensive about these womens’ faces. I think we should recognize how brave these women are for allowing their pictures to be taken. The whole point of acid throwing is to dehumanize, degrade, and “ruin”. In some of these cultures, not finding a husband means a very, very hard time for some of the women and that is no doubt a factor. For them to stand up to that after the barbaric attacks is brave.
    This is done to female CHILDREN as well. There have been acid attacks against girls for the egregious offense of attending school.

  • Brian Macker

    Hey, if only the US hadn’t, what written the constitution, this wouldn’t be happening. Because like Muslim’s aren’t responsible for their own actions. When they get angry it’s, like, hey man, somebody else’s oppression at fault.

    Don’t forget, defense against Islamic motivated Muslim attacks is a sign of Islamaphobia. European behavior is never in reaction to Muslim activities. Even up to an including the armed invasion of Europe, and taking of slaves directly from the shores of Britain in the 19th century.

    Because, you see, any bad act by non-Europeans is fully explained by colonialism, whereas, the several thousand years of invasions from the east of Europe, from Asia, the Mediterranean, etc. count for nothing in explaining European behavior.

  • Brian Macker

    Snark, motivated by the idea we are responsible for the Sunni/Shia split and how they treat each other. In fact blaming us for their behavior only encourages it. They both get to blow up their enemies mosque and claim we are responsible. How perverse is that.

    Very similar to the honor killings that have happened in the US. He had to chop of her head lest she be corrupted by US culture, a.k.a. kafir culture.

  • Lexi

    It seems like an extreme example of some men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. It isn’t just an Islam thing. It isn’t just a religious thing. It is pretty prevalent throughout the world. Because of religion it may be showing up in a more extreme way. The only difference between this, and the sexual harassment that you might see in an American office is the orders of magnitude of obvious harm.

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