Misogyny Doesn’t Come From “Pashtun Culture”

As a Muslim, I find it agonizing having to write about and recognize the injustice so prevalent in so many Muslim societies—mainly because of the role of such violence in inviting more Islamophobia and assuring Islamophobes that their bigotry is well in place. It’s worse when you’re an ethnic minority almost everywhere (except in Afghanistan) because you’re Pashtun, and you’re marginalized in virtually all spheres of life, and then suddenly, so many news outlets, major and minor, are talking about the barbarity of your culture and people. I’ve written about the marginalization of Pashtuns in Pakistan on my blog before, so I won’t go into details about that here. For now, I want to reflect on a possible reaction to the most recent act of misogyny that a man who shares my ethnic identity has just committed: homeboy killed ten of his relatives because he wanted to marry a girl whose father couldn’t yet afford the marriage and asked him to wait.

I’m currently less concerned with what exactly happened and why. I’m instead more interested in how Pakistanis are likely to respond to it, in how such an act maligns Pashtuns because of the mention of “northern Pakistan” in several headlines, and with the misogyny of this crime, with a man feeling so delightfully entitled to killing people when things don’t go his way. (Yes, this is actually more than entitlement: He also killed his parents several months before. This man cannot have been sane.)

My heart breaks for this man’s family, and I wish them all peace, strength, and love in this impossible time that is going to change their reality forever.

I’m also, however, deeply concerned about the response that these murders are likely to incite from many Pakistanis and others: “What else is new, after all? Just another Pashtun man being himself – barbaric, stupid, violent, crazy,” I fear many will say.

The media has been highlighting his national identity (“Pakistani man kills 10 relatives,” every other news source screams), and I find that unacceptable, in the same way that I would the emphasis on the religion of a Muslim committing a crime in the West. To put it simply, Pashtuns in Pakistan are treated similarly to the way that Muslims and “brown-looking” people are treated in the West: hated, feared, demonized. The nation of Pakistan treats Pashtuns similarly to the ways that the West and western media treat non-whites. This is why it’s twice as painful being a Pashtun, and not simply a Pakistani or a Muslim, hearing that someone of my race has just committed an irrevocably heinous crime for which all Pashtuns are bound to be taken to trial, a crime that affirms non-Pashtuns’ fear and hatred of Pashtuns.

I cringe at the thought that non-Pashtun Pakistanis will reject him as a Pakistani and instead highlight his Pashtun identity. Because “Pakistanis” don’t kill people; “Pashtuns” do. I have not sought such comments on the Internet to prove my point because I refuse to allow myself to be subjected to such ignorance. I’ve seen and experienced enough — as a blogger receiving an inconceivable amount of hate from non-Pashtun Pakistanis, as a student at a university in the U.S. where an Urdu professor demonizes Pashtuns enough for it to get back to me from my friends registered in her class, as a PhD student who often has non-Pashtun Pakistanis approaching me to congratulate me for the “progressive” parents I have because they’re “allowing” me to pursue education. So, yes, I demand to be pardoned for the assumption I’m making, this very real suspicion I have of Pakistani people labeling all Pashtuns as barbaric and misogynist because of a crime committed by one of the 60+ million Pashtuns in this world.

But to add to my own experiences with Pakistani racism against Pashtuns, let’s recall that sexist comment once made by Shahid Afridi, the Pashtun Pakistani cricketer to whom Pakistan owes plenty of its success in the sport and whose Pashtun identity doesn’t matter at all so long as he is doing for Pakistan: When asked about his thoughts on the female cricket team in Peshawar, Afridi responded that “women make better cooks.” And many Pakistanis attributed this misogyny of his to his Pashtun culture. Yet, when Junaid Jamshed, a non-Pashtun Pakistani (ethnically Punjabi, I believe?), insulted all women and secure men by advising men that if they want to be happy, they should never teach their wives how to drive, his ethnicity or the culture of his ethnic group was not at all put on trial. (Seriously, what’s with some men and their obsession with women’s driving?)

The misogyny of the man’s crime needs to be noted, and any culture that facilitates a man’s decision to be violent after he faces a rejection of sorts needs a good reminder that it is capable of change. As the great Chimamanda Adichie once said, “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” Even more importantly, if it is true that “Pashtun culture” enables a man to commit such appalling violence, I’m interested to know exactly which Pashtun culture because as a Pashtun, I can certainly say that there’s no single Pashtun culture. That’s true for all “cultures.”

Yet, while I, particularly as a feminist, am quick to detect misogyny where I see it and to point it out and suggest ways that a misogynist situation can be rectified, I am also Pashtun and constantly face a need to condemn anti-Pashtun racism alongside sexism and patriarchy at large. Let this be a reminder, then, that the next time you hear someone’s ethnic identity or place of origin being displayed in a way that suggests their ethnic identity made them who they are, be suspicious of the source and speak up against it.

Image from NYTimes.com