Khawaja Asif’s Attack on Shireen Mazari Symptom of Larger Problem

Khawaja AsifI don’t usually agree with Shireen Mazari on political matters, but I have always admired her as a strong woman. She has always handled herself and managed to keep up with the boys in our political arena which is not known for its politeness. This is why it was all the more shocking to me when none other than Shireen Mazari herself was reduced to tears on the floor of the National Assembly after suffering a humiliating treatment by Khawaja Asif. After being held to account in the media for treating a woman in such a manner, the Defence Minister finally issued an apology. However, he did not apologise to Shireen Mazari, he apologised to the National Assembly.  Many people are commenting on Khawaja Asif’s terrible behaviour, but I believe he is not the only one to blame. Was his attack really a surprise? Not because Mazari deserved it. Never. It was not a surprise because it is only another symptom of the epidemic of woman hating in this country.

How much do we have to hate women to burn them alive? This was not an accident. Women are set on fire in this country like trash. It happens more often than we are willing to admit. When women are not set on fire, they are raped. Even school girls are not safe from rapists. Rapes are even recorded and shared for entertainment. Incidents of violence against women are soaring in the land of the pure. Even those who are supposed to protect us are involved. Is it any surprise? Our clerics teach that treating women like dogs is the will of Allah.

Khawaja Asif’s attack on Shireen Mazari is inexcusable. He is a government minister who behaved worse than an illiterate street urchin. It is no surprise to me, though. I am old enough now that it is what I expect from most men. Khawaja Asif’s apology tells everything you need to know. He did not apologise to the victim of his attack, because one does not apologise to a woman. He didn’t even say that his behaviour was wrong. He said it was ‘improper for a political worker’. Until we accept that such behaviour is not only improper for politicians, but for any man, how can we as women expect to be treated as fully human, much less full citizens?

Pakistan Negotiating Terms of Surrender

Federal Ministers meeting with Religious Party LeadersWhile government and military leaders promise a fight till the end against religious extremists, the reality appears to be carefully working out the terms of surrender. PM Nawaz and his Cabinet have agreed not to carry out any counter-terrorist operations in Punjab after the deadly suicide blast at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday. According to the PM, “There is no room for any [military] operation in Punjab as there are neither any safe havens of terrorists here nor a territory is controlled by militants”. While PM is taking responsibility for this decision, there is little doubt who really makes such calls. GHQ has decided that militancy and extremism will be permitted to spread in Punjab.

While the militants remain free to spread their poisonous ideology and prepare fresh attacks, the state is also taking its marching orders from religious extremists. This was recently shown when Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah permitted Ulema to re-write a women protection law that after it was passed by the people’s elected representatives. Now it appears that surrender has once again been the result of religious extremists using threats to hold the nation hostage.

After supporters of a convicted killer seized the capital, government has reportedly given in to a series of their demands:

‘1. All arrested during the sit-in will be released.

2. All cases against various Ullema will be reevaluated.

3. Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law will neither be changed nor reevaluated.

4. No person involved in blasphemy will be spared.

5. Ministry of religious affairs will be told about the implications of Nizam-e-Mustafa (SAW).

6. The schedule list will be evaluated and the names of innocent will be extracted from the list.

7. All cases against protestors will be annulled’

Pressed with questions about the surrender, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar did not deny the agreement, only responded that there has been no ‘written’ agreement. Nisar further explained why saying that “No one has the authority from the government to finalize any deal in writing.” Interior Minister appears to be trying to fool the people by speaking vaguely while actually giving everyone the understanding that the agreement was actually made verbally as per the statement of the extremist leaders.

More and more analysts and experts are recognising that military operations alone are not enough to rid the nation of the scourge of terrorism. The extremist mindset must be addressed also. However, just as the state has ruled out military operations against terrorists in certain parts of the country, the state also appears to have decided to give in to the demands of unelected clerics and extremist religious party leaders. Let us call this strategy by its name: Surrender.

Women and the Economy

A worrisome report was issued by the Islamabad Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) on Wednesday. Chamber president Dr Zakia Hashmi noted that women’s share in poverty is increasing in Pakistan. Such facts are tragic and worthy of addressing on their own merits, but this situation in particular warrants attention because of its effects on the entire nation.

It has been well established that women’s empowerment is required for economic growth. This economic reality has been noted at the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. By failing to provide opportunities for girls and women, we are failing ourselves.

The Global Campaign for Education has reported that “over 5.1 million primary school-aged children are out of school in Pakistan – the third highest number of out-of-school children in the world – and 63% of them are girls.”

We cannot succeed if we leave behind half of our population. Lack of education and increasing poverty for girls and women is nothing less than a national security issue. We need to treat it with the same level of urgency.

We have to protect our women and children

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness…on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity.
Qur’an 4:19

The peaceful religion of Islam came to be known at a time of much oppression against women. Its teachings sought to directly stop the brutal treatment against women that was so common in society. Holy Qur’an, as revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him), emphasizes again and again the value of women and the respect and love with which all people should treat one another.

The message of the Prophet (pbuh) was to all of humanity. The term “mankind” acknowledges no difference between man or woman.

O mankind: Reverence your Guardian Lord Who created you.
Qur’an 4:1

Islam firmly rejected the common practice of infanticide, and further still encouraged parents to love and nurture their daughters.

When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed.
Qur’an 81-89

When news is brought to one of them of (the birth of) a female (child) his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief! With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on (sufferance and) contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil (choice) they decide on!
Qur’an 16:58-59

Economically, Islam revolutionized property rights and inheritance by granting women what was owed to them and more. Not only did Islam grant women greater financial opportunity than had ever been known before, but it gave them pretty biased financial security! Along with keeping her inheritance, a married woman did not have to spend a penny on her household – she was to be entitled to all her husband’s earnings in the upkeep of her home. Muslim women were to be guaranteed safety throughout their lives – as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and yes, even as divorcees.

Marriage, repeatedly described as a beautiful bond between two people, can only take place with the full consent of the bride and the groom. Divorce is allowed as an absolute last resort, but it is permissible in Islam.

And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of another; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and they establish worship and they pay the poor-due, and they obey Allah and His messenger.
Qur’an 9:71

So why then have Islamic countries become so morally bankrupt? The same cruel attitudes towards women that Islam worked to eradicate are still in place – in the NAME of Islam. What an ugly twisting of Islam’s message.

Take for example the concept of “Jirga Justice.” In Pakistan, groups of men convene to discuss local issues and problems in an effort to resolve them. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The only problem is that these jirgas are perfect examples of the violence and evils done to women in society.

In a recent jirga in Shikarpur, a tribesman accused two men of having improper relations with two of his wives. This tribesman had killed both those wives a month ago, but now wanted punishment for the two men as well. The jirga decided two girls, aged 12, and 9, would be married off into the complainant’s family. Thus, the matter was resolved.

In this scenario, we can see the disgusting disregard for the basic rights of women. It should be noted the jirga expressed no concern for the two women the complainant killed a month ago. There was no declaration of their rights. They had none. As for the two girls, 9-year old Shami would be married to a teenage boy and 12-year old Sadia would marry a man 30 years older than she was.

There is no Islam in a society that uses women as currency. There is no faith in a culture that allows jirgas to order murders and rapes as proper punishment. This reveals a gross disconnect with the Prophet’s message, one he not only preached but also lived. His first wife, (and the first woman to convert to Islam), was the esteemed Khadija. She was an intelligent businesswoman and respected in society. The Prophet’s daughter, Fatima, was beloved to him, and he cared for her just as the Qur’an asks all parents treat their children.

Thus, the practice of using women as currency is not just inhumane it is patently unIslamic. In today’s Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we can see much rioting and anger for the treatment of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui (a woman accused and then tried in a court of law), and complete silence for the millions of women who suffer within its borders.

Are they not “Quam ki Betiya,” or the nation’s daughters?

Perhaps the saddest thing about all of this is that there actually are laws against jirgas. Pakistan’s judicial system has found they usurp the power of the state and are therefore unconstitutional. Such was the ruling of the Sindh Court in 2004.

The struggle against oppression has begun. The courts have done their job and found that rulings that violate human rights are unconstitutional. Now it is up to the people to take legal action and raise awareness of such issues. The conclusion we can draw from this is that only through democracy can we protects the rights of all people. In Pakistan’s short history, the decades of martial law and military dictatorship have allowed governments to tread on the rights of anyone they dislike. In a successful democracy, that cannot be allowed to happen. It is a system of government that gives voice to the voiceless, and like Islam, does not differentiate between male citizens and female citizens. We have come very far in having these laws on the books but the work (evidently) does not end there.

Allowing such treatment to continue is no different than siding with the Taliban, for these are their practices, their perversions of our faith. Eliminating the chaos and killings the Taliban wreak on Pakistanis starts with the simple step of condemning their ideas. In a recent press release, the US State Dept strongly condemned the stoning of a woman in Orakzai, by members of the Pakistani Taliban. She was murdered as a crowd of onlookers watched, as though this was a form of entertainment for the public. In order to put a stop to this, the condemnations must come from within. Pakistanis must realize that the nation, its people’s safety and future depend on taking action now. At such a critical juncture, we must decide what our principles are and how to guard them against barbaric men.

We have to protect our women and children.

In the name of humanity, and in the name of Islam.

As Pakistanis, we should not see a difference between the two.