No honourable exception - Afiya Shehrbano - Monday, March 21, 2011

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It is quite understandable that the Jamaat-e-Islami, Imran Khan and the likes consider the acquittal of Raymond Davis to be a symbol of the nation’s loss of honour. Their stand is reflective of the Pakistani Muslim male’s general obsession with lost honour. In fact, hundreds of criminal cases demonstrate just how strongly Pakistani Muslim men feel compelled to restore their stolen ‘honour’. The way to do so is to eliminate the enemy or woman that they think is responsible for the imagined but reparable loss. In both situations, the loss of lives denotes lesser significance than the loss of an abstraction, honour.

Just like in the Davis case, historically in Pakistan, the compoundability of Qisas and Diyat in its applied form, has allowed hundreds of men to get away, quite literally, with murder. Unlike the Davis case, most often it has even permitted these murderers to accrue the material profit that motivated their crime in the first place.

There should be no need to remind the saviours of Pakistan’s honour of the multiplying cases since 1990, when Qisas and Diyat was instituted into the PPC, of men who killed sisters for their properties, for not ironing their clothes, for marrying of their free will or, murdered wives, aunts, in-laws whom they suspected of illicit relations. But the courts are sympathetic to men whose fragile honour can only be vindicated through blood or blood money, or both, if the judge is suitably pious and patriarchal. Case studies of routine brutal murders, where upright Muslim men are forgiven their ‘grave and sudden(ly)’ provoked killings, can fill volumes. Reportedly, even in cases deemed fasaad fil arz where diyat has been inapplicable, murderous men have struck deals under qisas at the appellate levels.

Yet, not once over the past 20 years did these righteous guardians of Pakistan’s honour lead protest demonstrations, hold media conferences, offer a decent diyat amount to the surviving relatives of the ordinary citizen whose daughters/sisters/wives were murdered. Never have they offered protection to those who are routinely coerced into accepting pittance blood money, if at all, in order to relinquish qisas to the murderer.

Where are these saviours of honour when women are regularly demeaned and trafficked for the sex industry to friendly gulf countries? They’re busy campaigning for the only kind of recipient who qualifies for their political attention – those who fall into their anti-American political agenda. They have, however, poured many resources for the cause of a single Pakistani woman who has suffered punishment and injustice from despotic authority – no, not Mukhtara Mai but Afia Siddiqui is the nation’s deserving daughter.

This notion that men’s honour is vested in something outside of themselves (the nation or women), allows them to preserve their abstract honour by punishing, even killing any perceived threat to their self-constructed honour.

Maybe conservative men in Pakistan should shake off their outrage and join those hopefuls who see moral victory in the Raymond Davis case, rather than abstract loss. This optimistic view suggests that the US, that Great Satan and immoral munafiq suffering from Islamophobia, has been reduced to abiding by Shariah law. The trouble is, Davis has not just abided by Islamic law but like many Muslim male criminals, benefitted from it and in his case, has not even had to pay the price. How can we allow a man to get away with murder? Simple, read all the PLC cases adjudicated under Qisas that refer to Pakistani women’s murders and feel better about how lucrative this particular injustice was – at least for the legal heirs.

The irresponsible members of the legal fraternity, who know the lacunas in the law very well, refuse to raise the possibilities of improving the content and application of any religious laws. It’s far simpler, safer and intellectually dishonest to flippantly say any man-drafted shariah law is divine and immutable and far superior to western laws and stop there.

The equally irresponsible religious lobbies have effectively threatened and silenced progressive, thoughtful, knowledgeable debate and discussion about irreconcilables between religion and legislation when and if there is evidence of this in the Pakistani context. So the fate is sealed. By reducing all things to political benefit, such conservative quarters have done more to discredit religion and the nation than improve its spirit and academic possibilities. Academic exercises give credibility to subjects but there must be debate and discussion to get to that irrefutable point where many ambiguities are ironed-out. Religious chauvinists tend to be intellectually lazy and reduce all thinking into ritual because everyone can be good at the simple stuff. This morass and chauvinism has given Davis his freedom.

Those who say that the Raymond Davis case will increase extremism are wrong. It may motivate more extremist attacks, which are political not religious, but if anything, the way the right wing responded to this case, their politics has been exposed for the damage and limitations that their regressive approach offers the place of religion and religious laws in society. So on the contrary, more of the younger generation may just become more secularised in their views after witnessing the blatant hypocrisy, blood-thirsty politics, moral double standards and hollow knowledge demonstrated by the guardians of Pakistan’s honour and religious identity, over the last few months. That would be true poetic justice.

The writer is a researcher based in Karachi. Email:

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