Posts Tagged ‘Honor’

Giving Nuance to the Pew Poll

The below piece was originally written for Foreign Policy‘s AfPak Channel and was an attempt to delve into what survey results often don’t show. For example, the Pew Research Center’s poll, released last week, shows that Pakistani Muslims overwhelmingly feel that punishments like stoning and flogging should be put into law. However, in practice, many of these same people would not advocate for such an approach or such repurcussions. The phenomenon reflects the complexities of Pakistani identity and the idea behind the state itself. Over at AfPak, the piece garnered some interesting comments, mostly from people who didn’t believe my hypothesis at all (which is fine). I did want to repost the piece here to generate interesting discussion on the topic and get all views on the table:

Last Thursday, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, which conducts public opinion surveys around the world, released a new poll on Pakistani perceptions based on face-to-face interviews conducted from April 13 to April 28, 2010. However, the sample size is relatively small — 2,000 Pakistani adults out of a population of 180 million — and admittedly “disproportionately urban.” Moreover, while Pew polled people in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP), portions of Balochistan and K-P were not included because of instability. Pakistan’s tribal areas (FATA), Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir were also not included in the survey, leading one to question how reflective Pew’s poll results are of Pakistan’s entire population.

The results were, for the most part, unsurprising, and paint a grim picture of Pakistani attitudes in the wake of militancy, military operations, a worsening economy, and political instability. For example, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis polled continue to have a negative view of the United States (68 percent), and a majority of Pakistanis (53 percent) see India as the greatest threat to the country, over the Taliban (23 percent) and al-Qaeda (3 percent). Much like last year’s Pew survey, the majority of Pakistanis polled say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country, citing terrorism, crime, and a lack of jobs as very big issues.

Some of the most interesting results relate to attitudes toward religion, law, and society. According to the findings, “Pakistani Muslims overwhelmingly welcome Islamic influence over their country’s politics. Nearly nine-in-ten (88 percent) of those who see Islam playing a large role say that is a good thing.” Moreover, many Muslims in Pakistan say there is a struggle between groups that want to modernize their country and Islamic fundamentalists (44 percent), and of those who see a struggle, most identify with the modernizers (61 percent). At the same time though, a solid majority of Pakistanis polled said they would favor making gender segregation in the workplace a law in the country (85 percent), as well as punishments like whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery (82 percent), and stoning people who commit adultery (82 percent).

So what explains this obvious paradox between people who side with modernization but simultaneously support punishments like stoning and flogging? According to Peter Mandaville, professor of Government and Islamic Studies at George Mason University and author of Global Political Islam, this reflects “a mistaken tendency to conflate modernization with the adoption of liberal social and religious values. When many Pakistanis think of “modernizing” their country, they think primarily in terms of economic development and technology — both of which can comfortably coexist alongside conservative religious attitudes.”

Although Pakistan has drifted right of center over the last three decades, the aforementioned findings seem to be contradicted by the reality on the ground. Cyril Almeida, an assistant editor and columnist at Dawn, noted that though Pakistani Muslims overwhelmingly welcome an Islamic influence over the country’s politics, citizens continue to “consistently reject religious parties at the polls.” The alliance of Islamist parties in Pakistan, the MMA, was trounced at the 2008 polls, managing to win only a miserable 2.2 percent of the vote. Moreover, a rise in public opinion against militancy in 2008 was in part due to a video showing the Taliban flogging a girl in Swat Valley, images that generated outrage in Pakistan. Almeida emphasized, “Pakistanis have certain fairly rigid conceptions of what is religiously permissible and what isn’t. This isn’t to say they will always do what they believe is required of them — but when a survey puts certain questions, they’re more likely to respond to what ought to be than what they do.”

The framing of survey questions can help explain contradictory quantitative data. In the case of the results generated in Pew’s Religion, Law, and Society section of the survey, respondents were asked black-and-white questions, like, “Do you favor or oppose making stoning people who commit adultery the law in Pakistan?” According to Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace, much of the so-called “Muslim World” find it difficult to go against anything seen as ordained by Islam. He added, “At an abstract level, Islam remains important to even the most secular of Muslims — remember Islam is very candid about state and religion being an integrated whole (at least in the classic narrative) and so such questions would elicit such responses.”

When faced with a choice between what they are supposed to say and what they actually practice, respondents tend to match abstract questions with equally abstract answers. However, Yusuf noted, “Do they want to be flogged or stoned for the same sin? No way. What about their own family members? Most probably not.”

But issues related to such punishments continue unabated in Pakistan (Just last week, media outlets reported that a couple was sentenced to stoning to death for alleged adultery in a tribal court in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). This suggests that quantitative data cannot capture the nuances and complexities of identity and society. In the case of the Pew opinion survey, the data provides an important snapshot of some Pakistani attitudes, but it is by no means the whole picture.

Read Full Post »

On Monday, Pakistan opened an investigation into the honor killings of five women “who tried to choose their own husbands,” reported media outlets today. The BBC reported,

According to reports from Balochistan, three women between 18-20 years of age from the Imrani tribe were abducted by tribesmen who had heard about their plans to marry without family consent. Two older women who tried to help the would-be brides were also kidnapped. The reports say the women were all shot, thrown into a ditch and then buried, even though they were still alive.

Six weeks after the death, however, no one had been arrested, despite claims of a cover-up. The Guardian reported, “According to several accounts, Balochistan government vehicles were used to abduct the girls, and the killing was overseen by a tribal chief who is the brother of a provincial minister from the ruling Pakistan People’s party.” The news agency cited statements by Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, who asserted, “This is a heinous criminal offense…We have corroborated it and cross-corroborated it, but the second the police admit that it happened, it would trigger an investigation.” He added, that, “with a presidential election on September 6, one in which Balochistan’s provincial parliament would be strongly relied on to deliver votes, action that would antagonize the region’s politicians was highly unlikely.

However, the issue was brought to the government’s attention when a female senator raised the case in the Parliament Friday. The BBC News reported that this was followed by, “two senators [who] caused uproar by suggesting that the killings were a matter of tribal tradition.” One of the lawmakers, Israrullah Zehri, an MP from Balochistan, asserted, “These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them.”

Despite their protests, the Senate passed a formal resolution on the deaths, stating, “This house condemns the brutal murder of five women in Balochistan’s Naseerabad district and calls for strong action to be taken against the culprits.” The resolution ultimately called upon the Senate’s human rights committee “to produce a comprehensive report on the incident in one month.” According to CNN, a provincial court official said Monday that “the police have been told to investigate the crime and that their work has already begun.”

Why are these developments significant? In Pakistan, (and other societies with strong tribal identities) the concept of honor has been heavily entrenched in the cultural psyche. In Honor: A History, author James Bowman cited the NY Times’ Nicolas Kristoff, who said, “On average, a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, and two women a day die in honor killings.” Although the United Nations Population Fund has approximated the number honor killings worldwide each year to be five thousand, the punishments we’ve seen occur in cases like in Balochistan [see above] or with the infamous Mukhtar Mai [the Pakistani woman who was gang-raped as part of honor revenge but spoke out and had her rapists charged and arrested] have occurred “in a cultural context where it made sense, at least to some people – just as it made sense to others to keep the matter quiet…” Bowman added,

…In honor cultures, a woman’s honor normally belongs to her husband or father, and the dishonor of any sexual contact outside of marriage, whether consensual or otherwise, falls upon him exactly alike, since it shows him up before the world as an incapable of either controlling or protecting her (pp. 18)…

Because such perceptions are so heavily embedded in [mainly] tribal cultures, changing them becomes an enormously difficult task. They cannot be countered by imposing Western viewpoints of gender rights and equality, because it does not translate well in this society. Change must instead come from within Pakistan. It must come from Pakistanis.

A recent article in the Washington Post noted, “Increasing numbers of Pakistani women are becoming aware of gender inequities, a trend emerging in many other parts of the developing world as the communications revolution brings cellphones, satellite television and the Internet to the poorest villages.” The aforementioned investigation into the Balochistan case, regardless of its outcome, is also significant. Moreover, the remarks by the Baloch senators defending the incident, (more so than even the incident itself) are notable because they sparked outrage among fellow lawmakers and rights organizations alike. The AP reported, “About 60 activists demonstrated outside the federal Parliament in Islamabad on Monday, shouting ‘Burying women alive is no honor!'” Mohammed Ibrahim, an MP from the Islamist political party, the Jamaat-e-Islaami, further emphasized, “We condemn this barbaric act…This is against Islam, against humanity and against civilized culture.”

Although Monday’s development may only be a small victory in light of the numerous honor crimes still occurring throughout Pakistan, it is nevertheless a baby step towards progress. That in itself is worthy of recognition.

Read Full Post »