Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

Pakistani Racism against Pashtuns: what it’s like hearing that a Pashtun man killed 10 relatives

The article below was originally published over at MuslimGirl.Net, titled “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 good 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.

Categories: Death to patriarchy, Pashtuns, violence in this world

Tags: , , , ,

8 replies

  1. edited:
    Chillax, your post is based entirely on what you expect “us”(the others) are going to say about pashtuns after this tragic event but not any actual comments.
    I’ll just let you know that this hasn’t been reported much in the news in Pakistan and crimes like these are very common in Pakistan(all over), almost every week you will hear events like these, so i am surprised western publications picked this up.

    There are some racist reactions and there might be this time, but most people don’t care enough to pass an opinion.

    As for this event, i’m not sure if you’re in touch with what happens in Pakistan, but this is sadly very common all over Pakistan, honor killings happen in rural Punjab, it happens in interior Sindh, in Azad Kashmir, in Balochistan, i could go on but you get my point, so rest assured that the average Pakistani believes that this is a pan-rural thing (maybe this sounds bigoted)

    Here’s some events from other areas in the country
    Gilgit -it’s a Shia area, so proves that it isn’t just a sunni thing either.
    In Sindh
    In Balochistan

    Sadly, many if not most Pakistani men and even women will defend these actions, because in our part of the world, a woman is considered the honor of her family and any man that lets his women do such things is a “beghairat”(the worst thing a man could be after a hijra in Pk).

    Regarding Afridi’s comments, most conservative Pakistanis agree with him, only some online racists dished out stuff against his background overall Lala is loved all over Pakistan, he has a cult following in Pakistan.

    You mentioned Junaid Jamshed, well he isn’t a Punjabi at all, his father is a Pashtun from Nowshera and his mother is a Muhajir, it’s on his facebook page and even if he was punjabi he would still be blamed for his background, my own punjabi father was at first rejected by mother’s urdu-speaking family

    just cause he was punjabi and punjabi men are stereotyped for being violent and “jahil”(the accent) and i get told by my mother to not become a “Punjabi man” i.e (another word for misogynist).
    Oh and JJ was grilled for a being a Mullah, mullahs are a separate race in pak.

    Also i find your language polarizing, you break us into two groups, making it pashtun vs.non-pashtun pakis, which isn’t fair cause you put all us non-pashtuns in just one category when many of us have just as

    many racist stereotypes of each other, i know you’re trying to ease discussion but i think it’s feeding more bigotry when you just make it black and white.

    I also don’t agree with your comparison of pashtuns being treated as worse as Aframs and Muslims in America. Yes there is a degree of discrimination and stereotyping but pashtuns still have the privileges that come with being the lighter skinned group and from being a former colonial power(not too long ago), they have more advantages in showbusiness and marriage market just cause they have the desired features, there are privileges like being preferred in the army over a sindhi just based on the stereotype of pashtuns being a “martial race” and the others inferior and being better Muslims and us being ‘bidati’, & pashtun conquerors being glorified, but of course i’m not negating your experiences, you must know more but i’m just pointing out the unfairness and ignorance in your claims, though you are right about the

    misconceptions that many non pashtuns have of pashtuns, and you’ve experienced it first hand, i don’t doubt that all, i have seen pashtun friends of mine subjected to that(as well other ethnic groups) and it also doesn’t help that many pakistani people are pretty blunt and say stuff you shouldn’t say in public, it’s a cultural defect.


    • Don’t ever, *ever* again tell me to chillax. Your comment is useless, and you pretend like I actually care that acknowledging the racism within Pakistan leads to further disunity. I don’t want unity if it means ignoring these problems.


  2. Yes, the double standards & racism are clear. But isn’t it true that some aspects of Desi cultures & Pashtun cultures are misogynistic?

    I am no expert on South-Asia, and by no means do I say that patriarchy & sexism are exclusively Pashtun or Desi, or that it is “in the blood” or any of that racist crap.

    However, you as an Islamic feminist, should acknowledge that racism & sexism are rampant in these communities – both in the subcontinent and abroad.

    And reading your excellent articles makes that clear.

    Now, I understand your dilemma, at least I think I do. (And please correct me if I’m wrong!) The dilemma of being feminist & at the same time fight anti-Pashtun racism.

    All feminists of color who live in white societies have this dilemma. We/they want to fight sexism, but don’t want our struggles to be exploited/used to fuel racism against “our” men/communities.

    No disrespect, but honesty and questioning intended.


    • I didn’t at all think you were being disrespectful, so no worries about that 🙂 I value your comments and insights. I can detect dishonesty and disrespect, and your comments are nothing like those!

      You asked: “But isn’t it true that some aspects of Desi cultures & Pashtun cultures are misogynistic?”
      This is absolutely true – so much of Desi and Pashtun and Arab and other cultures are very misogynistic. But the issue for me is when we act like only this/that culture alone is misogynistic or has some misogynistic elements in it and other cultures don’t. I don’t know of any culture that doesn’t have some misogyny in it. When the gang rapes in India in December 2013 were popularly publicized, for example, all these American news outlets were talking about “India’s rape problem,” and how “unsafe” it is to be a woman in India. I went to a conference where I spoke about the sexualization of women in the media, focusing on Pashtun entertainment media, and a few people in the audience literally asked me about how unsafe it was for women in India … I was like wtf, are you serious?!

      The problem with that narrative? It gives viewers this impression that the rape problem exists only in India (or another non-Western nation) but not in, say, America, where (white) rapists often get away with their rape — including gang rapes, such as what happens against Native American women — or what happened at SteubenvilleHigh School in 2012 (only one case. Publicized only because of a footage that fortunately made it to the public).

      So that’s why I don’t like it when the media highlights an “other” (non-white) person’s nationality, race, religion, ethnic origin, etc. when talking about his crime.

      “All feminists of color who live in white societies have this dilemma. We/they want to fight sexism, but don’t want our struggles to be exploited/used to fuel racism against “our” men/communities.”
      Yes! This is precisely one of my/other Muslim feminists’ dilemmas as feminists. Because on the one hand, we are working really hard towards fighting the sexism/patriarchy in our societies and communities; on the other hand, we also know that whites/westerners/other dominant races in the community we’re working in use our struggle against us to advance their bigotry.

      So, yeah, not at all to deny that misogyny is very much a part of Pashtun culture – but it’s as much a part of Pashtun culture as it is a part of every other patriarchal cultures out there. And Pashtun culture is also more than the misogyny that’s so much a part of it. Another reason I don’t like when Pashtuns are presented as these barbaric woman-hating, honor-killing savages.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe I should stay out of this, since I am neither Desi, nor Pakistani, nor Pashtun and don’t know that much about the sibcontinent. But it does interest me, though.


    • You are absolutely welcome and encouraged to have opinions on other cultures. See, when I was in Oman, my experiences (with prejudice, harassment, suppression of thought) were very much the same as those of my non-Muslim friends in the program with me. (This was the Critical Language Scholarship through the U.S. Department of State – I later got in trouble with them because I blogged about what I found to be slavery in some Omani households, slavery of the domestic and other workers who are exploited and abused. Long story for another time.) Some of my non-Muslim friends were hesitant to share their opinions with me (all negative, very much like mine) of Oman because, they said, “We’re literally just guests here, and we’re not Muslims so it wouldn’t be fair to have an opinion on Islam and Muslims through this experience alone.” And I disagreed. Because:

      The way that people practice Islam in Oman was affecting us all, as guests, Muslims or non-Muslims, Arabs or non-Arabs, and we have a right to have an opinion then on the society. So long as we express it in a non-reductionist way, I think it’s all right to say, “I am having a terrible experience in Oman, and much of it is because of the way these people practice and understand Islam.” And then, of course, so long as we acknowledge that Islam is not practiced the same way everywhere else.

      All this to say … I support observers’ right to opine on what they see – opining in a non-authoritative way. An outsider’s perspective is always good because it gives us (me, at least) a chance to see how what I believe, do, value, etc. can be understood to someone who’s not from my community.

      So you’re goooood!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Zalmay K: Your comment was way too racist. Not permitted here, even if it’s against Pakistanis (I also do not allow the name “Porkistani” or “Porki” in reference to Pakistanis, so take your hate elsewhere). Bigotry is not allowed in my feminist territory.

    – Orbala


  5. Thanks for your comments, Orbala. Will react later this week.


You're welcome to share your thoughts - but I don't accept bigotry and don't publish all comments <3

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