Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Imran Khan’s cowardly response to Pakistan’s rape crisis

Imran Khan’s cowardly response to Pakistan's rape crisis
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Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan has once again blamed women for an appalling rise in rape cases. Khan used a televised question and answer session this week to say that sexual violence was a result of 'increasing obscenity'. Women in Pakistan should remove 'temptation' because 'not everyone has willpower', he added, urging females to cover up to help reduce the sexual violence which has plagued our country.

Khan pointed the finger of blame at Bollywood and Hollywood, for spreading ‘vulgarity’. He also repeated the growing divorce tally of the UK as evidence of the ‘ethical plunge’ of the West, which he said is messing up the moral compass of the Muslim world and Pakistan. 'World history tells when you increase vulgarity in society, two things happen: sex crimes increase and the family system breaks down,' Khan said.

All this is hard to take from a twice–divorced former playboy, who appears to see his life prior to taking charge as prime minister as evidence of societal immorality, without saying, or realising, as much. Since coming to power he has upped the ante on his misogynistic views, objectifying nurses, condemning feminism, and hurling sexist abuses at his political opponents. Even more worryingly, born-again Muslim Khan is now upholding a merger of his personal chauvinism and the wider Islamist marginalisation of women in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s popular Islamist newspaper Daily Ummat this week labelled participants of the local Aurat [women’s] march – which is among a growing number of feminist groups challenging Islamist modesty codes in the Muslim world – ‘whores’ for failing to take notice of the rape tallies in non-Muslim countries. Notwithstanding the perilously low reporting of rapes in Pakistan, and a similarly abysmal conviction rate, for a daily publication to offend women’s rights activists on its front page is part of a worrying pattern of marginalisation for those campaigning against sexual violence. The recently reunified Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also accused the Aurat march of ‘spreading vulgarity and obscenity’, threatening them with consequences for targeting Islam.

This victim-blaming – which Imran Khan seems only to happy to indulge in himself – advocates the obscene view that women not dressed a certain way are liable to be preyed upon. While women’s rights activists face blasphemy accusations at the hands of Islamists for demanding fundamental human rights, Khan prefers to double down on pointing the finger at female victims rather than male perpetrators. And in this quest, Khan has plenty of willing supporters.

A Peshawar court has ordered a probe into the Aurat march over accusations of blasphemy. The allegations focused on doctored videos designed to make it appear as though participants of last month’s rally were chanting slogans against ‘Allah and the Prophet’. The backlash was also based on the Women Democratic Front’s tricolor flag being misrepresented as that of France, prompting the WDF to issue a rebuttal

Another blasphemy allegation on the Aurat march, also taken up by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Abdul Akbar Chitrali in the National Assembly, called out a banner in the rally that narrated the pain of a nine-year-old victim of sexual abuse. Islamists interpreted that as an attack on Muhammad’s marriage to nine-year-old Aisha, according to Islamic scriptures, prompting Aurat march organisers to release a clarification.

Pakistan’s bloodthirsty blasphemy laws have long facilitated the suppression of women’s rights with anything antipodal to orthodox Islam struck down as sacrilegious. 

The Imran Khan-led government’s legislative advisory body the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), for example, has shot down laws banning child marriage, citing Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha. Quoting the Quran, the CII has also endorsed a man’s beating of his wife. For decades, Pakistan’s Hudood Laws in accordance with Islamic Sharia have mandated death for ‘fornication’ and ‘adultery’. From 1979 until 2006, a woman who was raped and failed to provide four witnesses could find herself subsequently tried as an adulterer. 

It's hardly a surprise that Pakistan ranks sixth on the list of the world's most dangerous countries for women. Since 2015, more than 22,000 rape cases have been reported in the country, but the real tally is likely to be far higher. Pakistan also has an appalling conviction rate: only around 0.3 per cent of rapists are found guilty, according to one estimate.

It seems all too clear that while Khan wants to blame women for what is happening in Pakistan, the dinosaur establishment is more of a problem. But by asking women to change what they wear, Khan is only strengthening the roots of sexual violence against women in Pakistan.

The Islamist lollipop fallacy, which is used as an apologia for the contrasting dress codes for women and men, dehumanises both by reducing the former to the status of a candy and the latter to insects. Khan’s assertion that 'not everyone has the willpower' to resist female flesh is a direct endorsement of this view. The next time Khan wants to speak out against sexual violence, he should call out the perpetrators – not the blameless women who have been attacked.