Testing the Hypothesis of Sexual Repression in Pakistan

By Anjum Altaf

My response to Christopher Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair was not well written because it got hijacked into areas that I did not intend to stress. In this post I will try and refocus the discussion on what I consider germane to the objectives of this blog, i.e., to examine a hypothesis critically in order to establish its validity.

The task therefore is to describe the hypotheses proffered by Hitchens and suggest how they may be fairly tested. As part of this exercise, I am not concerned with disputing or establishing the truth of facts; the emphasis is solely on the exercise of reasoning through the arguments assuming the facts to be true.

The central concern for Hitchens is the situation in Pakistan. This concern is well placed and thoroughly justified. The challenge that Hitchens assumes is to identify the most fundamental cause that explains this situation.

Hitchens starts with a fact: There are honor killings in Pakistan and women can be sentenced to be raped by tribal and religious kangaroo courts. Let us take this to be true leaving aside the issue of its incidence. Hitchens than offers a hypothesis: This phenomenon is the outcome of the crucial part played by sexual repression in the Islamic Republic. He draws support for this key hypothesis from Salman Rushdie’s “brilliant psycho-profile of Pakistan,” his 1983 novel Shame.

Hitchens then extends the consequences of this hypothesis: “If the most elemental of human instincts becomes warped in this bizarre manner, other morbid symptoms will disclose themselves as well.” This is immediately put to use to explain, for instance, the ‘unmanliness’ of President Asif Ali Zardari. Because Pakistan’s problems pre-date Zardari, I am guessing the latter serves as a stand-in for all past and present leaders of the country who “swell” their “puny chests” and indulge in “puffery and posing” as a direct consequence of sexual repression.

The more serious symptoms are that Pakistan has turned into a state that is “completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.” As a consequence, this “degraded country,” “our goddam lapdog” is also taking surreptitious revenge on us [the US] by providing a kennel for “attack dogs,” i.e., hiding Osama bin Laden and his deputies in Pakistan.

Let us accept all this to be true and ignore the rest of Hitchens’ article which does not have a bearing on the validity or otherwise of this hypothesis. My academic interest is to establish whether the occurrence of all these symptoms can be traced to the phenomenon of sexual repression in the Islamic republic. On what basis should the Hitchens hypothesis be accepted or rejected?

It is here that one needs to refer to India because, as was mentioned in one of the comments on my response to Hitchens, India and Pakistan provide the closest one can get to a natural experiment. India functions as the control group against which hypotheses about Pakistan can be tested. In addition, on the prevalence of honor killings, the key fact on which the Hitchens hypothesis rests, the countries that are mentioned most frequently in global forums are Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (see the report here that terms honor killings a sub-continental phenomenon. This report, if accurate, suggests further hypotheses because it locates most honor killings within India to North India with killings in the South and East being rare).

So, despite the fact that it serves as a distraction for many, India is in the discussion only because it best serves as a test for the validity of the Hitchens hypothesis.

The test proceeds as follows:

Part I

Do honor killings occur in India as well? If no, this does not serve as a good test.

If honor killings occur in India as well, are they due to sexual repression? If no, what are they due to?

If they are due to sexual repression, does the sexual repression result in other morbid symptoms in India as well? If not, why not?

If it does result in other morbid symptoms, what are they and how do they manifest themselves? Clearly India is far from a state that is “completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.” Therefore, the symptoms must be manifesting themselves in some other way.

Part II

If honor killings do occur in India, are they confined overwhelmingly within the Indian Muslim community?

If yes, the Hitchens hypothesis that sexual repression is related to Islam is tentatively supported by the evidence. The next step would be to test if this relationship is peculiar to the sub-continental variant of Islam or whether it holds in general. One would then have to extend the testing to other Muslim countries like Turkey and Malaysia.

If no, the Hitchens hypothesis that sexual repression is related to Islam is seriously challenged and one has to seek an alternative explanation for the phenomenon of honor killings in Pakistan.

Part III

Has the incidence of honor killings in the areas now constituting Pakistan changed before and after the creation of the country?

If no, it weakens the hypothesis that honor killings are related to the Islamization of the country after 1947.

If yes, can a distinct point in time be identified at which the incidence of honor killings spiked? This would help develop a more finely-tuned hypothesis to explain the phenomenon of honor killings in Pakistan?

Readers have to think through this hypothesis-testing exercise individually and reach their own conclusions that can be discussed to advantage on the blog. I wrote my response to Hitchens because personally I was not convinced by the hypothesis although I do remain open to changing my opinion. I felt his article, as a factual denunciation of the double-dealing by Pakistani authorities, although saying nothing new, would have carried a lot more weight had it not ventured into this contested territory and tried to explain the facts via a defect in the psychology of an entire population. And he would have been helped in this if he had not conceptualized Pakistan as a unitary actor.

Opinions can and will no doubt differ on the issue. That is always the case in the evaluation of hypotheses and closure is often only provided by the passage of time. Of course, as one knows, the moving finger never does stop writing: The Germany of the 1870s was not the Germany of the 1940s and is not the Germany of today.

For a very different hypothesis about the cause of the monstrous contradictions within Pakistan, see The Double Game: The Unintended Consequences of American Funding in Pakistan. Note also the ephemeral verdicts of history: The article refers to India in the 1950s as a “byword for basket case.”


  • a ercelan
    Posted at 17:30h, 29 June Reply

    this note offers a lucid frame for discussion. let me play the devil’s advocate by asking the inverse question — is promiscuity in the “christian” and “jewish” north a cause of war against the poor and powerless both in the past and now most notably in iraq and afghanistan? is it sexual frustration among us troops that leads them to systematically kill children and women by unmanly weapons such as drones? The banality of evil is such that we have to face absurd arguments and be forced into similarly stupid judgements.

  • S. M. Naseem
    Posted at 13:48h, 30 June Reply

    Anjum Sahib,

    I am a bit disappointed that after fielding the responses of (mostly, I presume, if wrongly, unsympathetic Indian readers) the critics of your comment on Hitchen’s article so well, you have retreated to a very defensive position and have decided to change the subject, as it were, on grounds that it “got hijacked into areas that I did not intend to stress” . I understand that your blog is not intended to resolve the intractable issues of India-Pakistan differences in history, culture and perceptions on which protagonists are free to air the views, But I think it was a very useful detour and your comparison with India was innocent and well-intended. I am surprised that some have taken such serious exception to it. Indians and Pakistanis do need a forum to debate the sensitive issues shying away from which has led to the reinforcement old prejudices and stereotyped perceptions. Although few informed intellectuals in India indulge in “Pakistan bashing” and perhaps not enough of their Pakistani counterparts refrain from “India bashing”, most are not unaffected by the propaganda in their own or foreign media to exaggerate the achievements of their own country and the failings of their neighbour. Foreign observers like Hitchens unnecessarily try to widen the gulf between the peoples of the two countries and I feel no hesitation attributing neo-colonial motives to such efforts. If Hitchen’s diatribe was restricted to the ruling classes of Pakistan – who have committed much more serious crimes than hiding OBL in Abbottabad – I would have thought otherwise.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 17:01h, 30 June Reply

      Naseem Sahib: If I were writing fiction I would ignore the opinion of readers but as a writer of non-fiction I have to take them seriously. If I feel their criticism is valid, I have to change my position; if I feel it is unjustified, I have to present my position better. I did not enjoy spending energy defending positions peripheral to the issue I was interested in and therefore decided to present my case again at a more measured pace and in a more careful manner.

      There are a number of dimensions that are peculiar to our environment. The notion of a disinterested academic is still alien. It is up to the academics to build that trust. As an academic I feel within my rights to pick the issue that interests me most and to use the data that is most relevant to my argument. I just have to present it in a way that minimizes the likelihood of being misunderstood. It is frustrating to spend more time thinking about how to say things than on what needs to be said, but one has to work within the constraints imposed by circumstances.

      I hope this explains why I have stepped back. I wish to establish that the hypothesis of sexual repression as an explanation for Pakistan’s problems is spurious. If it is so, we need to progress to some more robust explanations. I am interested in those and will hopefully get to them.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 15:05h, 30 June Reply

    “f Hitchen’s diatribe was restricted to the ruling classes of Pakistan – who have committed much more serious crimes than hiding OBL in Abbottabad – I would have thought otherwise.”

    While I agree with S. M. Naseem’s basic point – that perceptions of India and Pakistan by each other are often poisoned by the media and need to be addressed – the question is whether Hitchens’s article was the appropriate occasion to do so.

    I think Hitchens’s “diatribe” was in fact restricted not just to the ruling classes of Pakistan but, really, to the Pakistani state as manifested through the actions of individuals associated with it. The one or two side points made about sexual repression should not be taken as constituting the backbone of his piece. I think his piece has been misunderstood as Anil Kala among others also tried to point out.

    I also agree that hiding OBL is not the most serious crime the Pakistani state has committed, but from Hitchens’s point of view – his consideration of the billions of dollars received as aid – it was right to cite this as one instance.

    As I said in my post on the previous article, all states are pretty vile but it appears that Pakistan has sunk rather low in the duplicity with which it conducts itself both domestically and internationally. Why this has happened is a matter for analysis, something Anjum has been trying to present over the past several posts.

    Not all Indians who speak against Pakistan do it as a result of prejudice or vice versa. Sometimes, it is just the objective facts viewed from a relatively neutral standpoint.

  • Kabir
    Posted at 20:31h, 30 June Reply

    I think that using “sexual repression” to explain the policies of nation is extremely problematic. There is no obvious connection between sexual repression and Pakistan’s predicament. There are many Muslim countries where people are arguably more repressed sexually, yet those countries are not in the state that Pakistan is. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are required to wear niqab and are forbidden to drive, but the state as a whole is not in as bad a shape as Pakistan.

    Second, honor killings occur in India as well as in various Arab societies. There is nothing inherently Islamic about honor killings, as is seen in honor killings that occur in the Hindu community. Rather, the notion of a woman as the vessel of a family’s honor has to do with the structure of conservative, patriarchal societies. Religion as such does not have much to do with it.

    I also wonder why some commenters on the previous post continue to assume that Pakistan’s problems can be traced back to Islam. If Indian Muslims are able to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic setup, then clearly the problem is not with their religion (Unless one is arguing that Indian Muslims are not particularly “good” Muslims). I think religion is completely a side issue here and a better explanation would be found by looking at the different histories of the Indian and Pakistani states.

  • Sam
    Posted at 23:31h, 30 June Reply

    Anjum, a part of your thesis appears to be that Islam as it is practiced in Pakistan is the same as the Islam followed in India or Bangladesh or Indonesia. I beg to differ. Pakistan wields an Islam-on-steroids as its raison d’etre; a more Arab-than-the-Arabs form of an identity that most other non-Arab Muslims don’t feel a necessity for.

    The Arabs are already one of the most misogynistic cultures in existence today, and therefore this adopted identity coupled with the feudal misogyny that already cuts a broad swath from Afghanistan through Pakistan and into northern India may account for the sexual repression barb that Hitchens (or more correctly Rushdie previously) tossed out along with other more devastating thrusts to do with Pakistan’s all-round bad behavior. But, apparently, it is the former charge that seems to have got your goat the most.

    And it is not just the rape or honor killings (what an oxymoron) or blasphemy murders that reflect poorly on Pakistan, it is the how the state responds. It wasn’t the Indian Supreme Court that undercut Mukhtar Mai’s attempt for justice. And it wasn’t the Indian Prime Minister who said: “A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.” India did not enact the Hudood ordinance (or the blasphemy laws for that matter). To reiterate the point raised by others, you are fighting a straw man (India) over a minor talking point (allusions of sexual repression as to why Pakistan behaves badly) in Hitchen’s article.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 02:01h, 01 July Reply

      Sam: You are now employing the analytical method of comparing across borders to reach the conclusion that the Islam that is practiced in Pakistan differs from that in India. The Islam practiced in Pakistan you have relabeled as ‘Islam-on-steroids.’ However, I don’t think this will prove to an analytically useful distinction. If you enter a randomly selected home in a randomly selected village in Sindh, I doubt if you will be able to identify the religion being practiced by members of the household as ‘Islam-on-steroids’ or any different from that being practiced in India.

      A more useful distinction can be made between religion and the use of religion by a state for political purposes. Here one can immediately identify a clear difference between Pakistan and India. In this framework one can also see that the phenomenon is not peculiar to religion; the use of any ideology by a state for political purposes leads to distortions. Pol Pot in Cambodia and Stalin in Russia are examples. Even the recent problems of Afghanistan can be dated to the employment of Marxist ideology by Tarakai to shift the balance of power.

      This framework also helps to see the distinction where it is not so obvious. Race by itself is innocuous but an ideology based on race in Germany resulted in one of the very dark episodes in history. Even enlightenment and civilization itself have been used as ideologies to legitimize the domination of one group by another. The British used it to dominate Indians and white settlers used it in North America to justify the dispossession of the natives. In each case, the dominated were labeled as unenlightened or uncivilized.

      Something as universally accepted as democracy can be used as an ideology for domination as has been demonstrated by the US in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousand of people have died in the quest to bring democracy to Iraq. And the free market when it becomes the ideology of the free market can inflict immense pain on those who are at the receiving end and not receiving bonuses for destroying the financial system. The point of these examples is to argue that It is necessary to distinguish between an attribute and the use of that attribute and not to conflate the two.

      As for the Hitchens article, there was only one thing that was new in it, the hypothesis of sexual repression. The rest was a repetition of what many people have said in many places, just said with more vehemence. To me, it was the new twist added by Hitchens that was interesting and worth exploring. And since the majority of the honor killings occur in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, it was natural to refer to the evidence there. India was a better comparator than Bangladesh because the difference in religion allows testing an additional dimension of the hypothesis.

      I had presumed that even a cursory observation that honor killings occur in both Pakistan and India would be sufficient to discredit the Hitchens hypothesis but that did not turn out to be the case. For that reason, I have spelled out a test of the hypothesis in much greater detail.

      In trying to think over the reasons for the difference of opinions on my post, it occurs to me that in reading a text there is a distinction between what one finds most interesting and most important. The two need not be the same. The important is indeed very important but there is nothing intellectually challenging in the statement of facts especially if the facts are well known. The aspect of interest is the search for an explanation of those facts. As a social scientist I remain interested in the Hitchens proposition and feel that it needs to be challenged and replaced with a more robust hypothesis.

    • Yasmin
      Posted at 01:04h, 20 September Reply

      I agree with the writer’s perspective on comparisons between India and Pakistan. The recent spike of female violence in India is likely the result of a clash between traditional and modern values, intensified by economic growth and social mobility. Dowry and female financial burden traditions definitely played a role in the indian subcontinent culture to mistreat women.

      Though neither Islam nor Hinduism directly condone honor killing, both play a roles in legitimizing the practice in South Asia and neither societies have have been successful in abolishing it.

      In Hindu traditions marrying or having sexual relations with a member of a different caste is forbidden and romantic love. Islam does not endorse honor killings but even allegations of adultery or apostasy are punishable under Islamic Law.
      This is where the conservative Arab tribal culture has influenced the religious laws.
      But there is research to indicate that the caste identification is also evident in Pakistani Muslims since the entire subcontinent has been of Hindu origins to caste ideologies.

      Amongst Pakistanis in the west, the data out there suggested, 97% the killings were by the woman’s family and mostly adultery.
      India’s cases of Hindus and Sikhs in the west were much smaller. The motivations were similar as immoral character.

      • Yasmin
        Posted at 02:48h, 20 September Reply

        Additionally, the small percentage of minorities such as Jews and Christians in the Indian subcontinent that Indian and Pakistani ethnically and some culturally Muslim only (not religiously) do not believe in honor killings but do condemn adultery largely because the caste system has no play in Judeo Christian beliefs and killing of any kind is considered a crime. The Judeo Christian beliefs were reformed by the church since 1500 and that’s why Hitchen’s perspective is they way it is.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 00:10h, 01 July Reply

    i agree with much of what Sam has said. I would like to add a couple of things.

    To even the score a bit, I will say something about India. I have believed for some time that many Indians tend to a bit racist. For example, many look down upon blacks and other dark-skinned people. My hypothesis has generally been that this is a consequence of the caste system because it makes people think hierarchically. The caste system is a part of the sociology of Hinduism.

    Now, it could be argued that many other people are also racist and so the caste system is not an adequate explanation. A more universal explanation might be that in prehistoric times people tended to band together in small groups and often viewed outsiders with a certain suspicion. This long stretch of time has resulted in negative views of the other that tend to be somewhat deep-seated and difficult to dislodge. Indeed, psychologists at Harvard (e.g. Banaji) and elsewhere have demonstrated something like an instinctual racism even among those who have thought deeply about it and who have consciously repudiated such thoughts.

    So, where does that leave the caste system hypothesis? It could still be argued that while at an instinctual level racism may be somewhat universal, the layers of conscious prejudice that exist in many minds need further explanation. And the caste system could be just such an explanation for Indians with other such religio-cultural explanations for other nationalities.

    I have made this little argument just to illustrate a point. When people blame Islam for certain ills, it often is merely a knee-jerk reaction. But, even second or higher-order thought may validate such hypotheses because culture does play a role in human action and, in the case of Pakistan, Islam is a major force. It cannot simply be ignored by pointing to how military and other types of aid have corrupted the country.

    As I have said elsewhere on the blog, historical and sociological explanations should always involve a consideration of both internal and external factors, whatever the unit of analysis, whether a person, or a nation, or more abstract things like culture and religion. It is usually not an either-or matter: one cannot refute an internal factor by pointing to an external factor and vice versa.

    In the case of Pakistan, it is likely that Islam plays some role in the story of its decline, just as Hinduism plays some role in the story of why India remains so racist.

  • Arun Pillai
    Posted at 03:25h, 01 July Reply


    Everyone is free to argue for or against whatever they want to and your argument against the hypothesis of sexual repression is fine as far as it goes, but NO ONE is arguing FOR it, not Hitchens and not anyone else. It would be a bit of an absurd position to hold.

    Also, regarding Islam, the story is more complex and while there are external factors involving state ideologies, there are also factors internal to Islam itself. Just as one can point to the caste system – something internal to Hinduism – and say this is a heinous thing and should be constitutionally banned – which it is – so there are likely to be factors internal to Islam that make it an important factor in the story of Pakistan. I don’t know anything about Islam as such but that is why many Muslims are trying to reform Islam in a variety of ways. But this is a fraught matter as everyone knows, especially people like Rushdie. But it is wrong to adopt arguments that completely sidestep such factors. Indeed, it is arguable that one thing wrong with Islam is that it cannot be criticized. If you compare it with Judaism and Christianity, its followers have been so highly critical of it. Even Hindus are quite sensitive to criticisms of Hinduism but to a milder degree. Such factors combined with other internal factors and with external factors like its being a state ideology TOGETHER create the situation that Sam has described as Islam on steroids.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 04:45h, 01 July Reply

      Arun: This is a very narrowly drawn argument about whether honor killings can be attributed to Islam which has extended to whether Islam as practiced in Pakistan differs from that practiced in India. There are no arguments for or against reform in Islam itself because that is not the topic under discussion. I am glad you agree the sexual repression hypothesis is absurd. We should be able to move on to more plausible hypotheses that might include other more relevant dimensions of Islam.

  • S. M. Naseem
    Posted at 07:18h, 01 July Reply

    Anjum and Arun

    I think the debate is being unnecessarily dragged in a fruitless direction. Anjum’s original critique of Hitchen’s inflammatory article on the war on terror based on Pakistan’s (its military’s, really, which has been its sole interlocutor with the US) duplicity — validated by the discovery of OBL’s abode in Abbottabad — compared his rants to that of a drunken spouse, who regrets his indiscretions the morning after. I think the context of his rants is much more serious. Islam and sexual repression and Indo-Pak differences, etc. are merely red herrings to rationalize the mindless war which has cost $4 trillion, according to a Brown University study (compared to the $11 billion paid to the Pakistani military) and a quarter million lives in the decade since 9/1l, which cost just 3000 lives (what kind of revenge and honour killing was that?). Let me quote from a recent column of Peter Chamberlin:
    Researchers and analysts are breaking through the carefully constructed wall of American deception to understand just how cynically American leaders have manipulated Pakistan and India, playing them off against one another in a dangerous game of brinkmanship designed to serve only Imperial ends.
    Let us focus on real rather than imaginary issues.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 10:35h, 01 July Reply

      Naseem Sahib: Earlier I had made the distinction between what is interesting and what is important and mentioned that they are not necessarily the same. Your comment gives me the opportunity to expand on that idea and clarify the objectives of this blog at the same time.

      In general, there are three principal aspects of an issue that are pertinent to an audience: the facts, the truth pertaining to the facts, and explanations or hypotheses about those facts. To take an example: It is a fact that OBL was captured in Abbottabad; there is the issue of the truth about who was hiding him; and there are hypotheses regarding who knew what about his presence in Pakistan.

      It is best to refer to newspapers for the facts; there is little to be gained by reproducing news on a blog. Establishing truth is the job of courts or commissions of enquiry; a blog does not have the resources to undertake the task. A blog is best equipped to propose hypotheses and argue their pros and cons on the basis of logic much as in a debate.

      This blog in particular is intended as a learning resource for college students aiming to improve critical thinking and reasoned argumentation. In such a pedagogical exercise, the need for facts is minimal and establishing the truth of facts is not the objective. Rather, constructing a robust argument is the challenge and one can argue the same proposition both for and against. It is somewhat analogous to the presentation of a case by a lawyer – both the prosecution and the defense put their best arguments forward; the judge rules on the validity of the arguments; and the jury votes on the verdict. It is well-recognized in pedagogical theory that most learning takes place through engagement with ideas not through listening to them or reading about them. This interactive function a blog is ideally placed to serve.

      The hypothesis regarding sexual repression is an exercise of this type. I am aware that it is not the most important issue in the world but it helps to develop the ability to structure an argument, to lay out how it might be tested, and to build a case based on that exercise in logical thinking. It requires a minimal factual base that can be provided by readily accessible UN reports; there is no further truth that needs to be established unless there is a challenge to the UN data; the only task called for is a pure intellectual exercise in analysis followed by discussion among peers.

      There would be little need for this training if our school education was doing the job it ought to be doing. In its absence, there is distinct gap in critical thinking that has to be overcome outside the school and college curriculum. This blog is one attempt to do so. The blog does not aspire to address important global issues because it can’t and also because important issues can’t be addressed without a minimal competence in analytical thinking. At most, the blog can equip participants with the tools to address important global issues in their capacities as informed, aware and thoughtful citizens.

      I hope this clarifies some issues and removes some misgivings about what can and cannot be tackled on the blog. For those new to the blog, its objectives are described here: http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2007/12/09/hello-world/

  • S. M. Naseem
    Posted at 12:15h, 01 July Reply

    Anjum Sahib,

    Thanks for your polite and lucid response. I am sorry for transgressing your blog. I realize I’m not savvy in the etiquette of cyberspace and belong to a generation which is used to a more open forum of discussion. I wish you had raised this when I sent you my first response. Other responses also did not quite follow the guidelines you have spelled out now. Any way, it is your blog and you are free to set the rules.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 13:08h, 01 July Reply

      Naseem Sahib: I am aware of your immense contribution to intellectual discourse and very much welcome your participation on the blog. One of the difficulties of such a forum is that participants join midstream with very diverse expectations. From time to time I have to reiterate the objectives of the initiative and explain that this is a very modest effort with very modest aims constrained by the resources at my disposal. I believe it can serve an important educational function but it cannot meet all expectations. I am grateful for all the intellectual support I can get and would be much obliged for your guidance and suggestions. I aim to provide contextually relevant content that participants can discuss without trying to offer solutions. One of the initiatives that best reflects this aim is the Ghalib Project and I hope you will take a look and suggest how it can be extended and improved: http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/ghalib/

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:55h, 03 July Reply

      Naseem Sahib: On reflection, I realize my comment was uncalled for and I apologize unconditionally. It was an expression of frustration. We indeed need to address the important issues but to do so we have to move beyond the ‘my-country-your-country’ point scoring that drains so much psychic energy. This blog is relatively better in this regard yet discussions still get bogged down now and then. You are completely right that the solution is not to curtail the scope of the discussion but to try and rise above our prejudices. I hope you will accept this apology.

      In this connection, I read something that is relevant: “Politics is inherently controversial because human beings are passionately attached to their opinions by interests that have nothing to do with the truth. But because philosophers — properly so called — have no interest other than the truth, they alone can bring to bear the canon of reason that will transform the conflict of opinion that otherwise dominates the political world.” We are not philosophers but as academics this is an ideal we can strive for. Whether the outcome of a truthful enquiry is critical of one constituency or another, whether one’s own or otherwise, should be a matter of no relevance.

  • Sam
    Posted at 21:36h, 01 July Reply

    Anjum, one final comment from me on this subject; which I feel has run its course at my end. The über-Islam associated with Pakistan, to the best of my knowledge, is mostly confined to the Punjabi/Pashtun principalities. Sindh, I believe, is linked more to feudalism than to religious fanaticism. The misogyny and chauvinism expressed there (in Sindh) is more akin to the variety found in India rather than the revved-up Arab version adopted by the Punjabi/Pashtun people who dominate the military state-within-the-state.

    The following commentary in Dawn only confirms my view that the small English-speaking liberal elite there continue to have their polite discussions within a bubble; which has little relevance to the sentiments of the people-at-large: http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/30/the-curious-case-of-women-in-pakistan.html The best analogy that I have found to this disconnect is Satyajit Ray’s movie ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’. The Nawab of Awadh and his best friend obsessively play chess while the world around them is being reordered by forces larger than them.

    To reiterate, the issue is not that this sort of abuse takes place in Pakistan or India or Bangladesh, but how the the state (which in Pakistan is essentially the Pakistan army command) and the hoi polloi respond to it.

    One last thing, Hitchen’s piece in Vanity Fair; the dysfunctional relationship that the US has with Pakistan, was adeptly channeled by Stephen Colbert: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/391148/june-30-2011/colbert-report–formidable-opponent—pakistan
    It would be even funnier if it were not too close to the truth.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:19h, 02 July Reply

      Sam: That may well be true. The question of interest is why that might be the case.

  • Yasmin
    Posted at 01:19h, 20 September Reply

    It was reported that Hindu reasons to justify the violence against women were mostly caste related and Islamic reasons were sexual and moral impurity with harsh laws to support the crimes.

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