Speaking of a demonstration in Pakistan….

When I was in college because of my appearance and name people would sometimes assume I was of Pakistani origin. I would explain that I was born in Bangladesh and raised in the United States. If they were international students from Pakistan or the Arab world they would sometimes respond, “OK, but you are Muslim.” I’d have to explain that my parents are Muslim, but I was not religious, and an atheist in fact. Quite a few of the foreign students were not clear what an atheist was (probably in large part because English was not their native language). I told them it meant that I did not believe in God. I never encountered anger or outrage, but it was clear that some of these men and women were shaken by my rather casual expression of disbelief. The more liberally minded would wonder if I was spiritual at all, had I explored Sufism? If my interlocutor was bearded usually there would be very little follow up and we would part ways rather quickly.

I perceived that they were fleeing some sort of abhorrent contagion.

What was on evidence was a cultural difference. Atheism has existed for all time and in all places among some individuals (South Asia’s indigenous materialist atheist tradition were the Cārvāka). But the rejection of God is taboo in some places today. These places include regions of the United States. I attended a conference recently where one of the presenters gave a talk on how to mobilize collective action effectively to further goals of social injustice. One of his slides had a list of insults that one might hurl at someone to hurt them. On it was the n-word and a pejorative term for gay men. As well as the term atheist! After the presenter finished his talk and was ready for a Q & A, the conference MC joked "So you think that atheist is an insult? You’re from the South aren’t you?” The presenter seemed embarrassed, and admitted he was from Texas. In hindsight this was a slide that perhaps needed a little touch up in light of the fact that his audience was saturated with West coast based techies.Differences of values define what separates us across cultures. Sometimes those values and beliefs are quite fundamental. My existence as an atheist (and more rarely, an atheist conservative) has offended people on occasion throughout my life. I can not help that. But across the chasm of values we do remain human, and can empathize and relate based on the many universal aspects of humanity which bind us together as a species.. Those of us who share our residences with other species, colloquially termed “pets,” also comprehend that the ties of empathy can transcend humanity itself.

Being assumed to be Pakistani is my primary personal interaction with this identity at this point in my life. As a child my family socialized a great deal with Pakistani Americans, but as an adult most of my thoughts relating to Pakistan have been more geopolitical, and have made me more aware of difference than commonality. I was particularly disturbed by the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. These events, and the public response in Pakistan, reinforced my confidence in a scary datum, the fact that 76 percent of Pakistanis support the death penalty for apostates from Islam. Even Pakistani social liberals, making a plea for tolerance, pluralism, and critiquing fundamentalism, can be found to accept in their presuppositions a very alien world view. Thinking Aloud: The return of jahiliyah:

At a time when enlightenment is seeping through the Islamic heartland in the Middle East, jahiliyah (stubborn arrogance) is taking Pakistan by the throat. If the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, were alive today, he would live in fear, like the millions of others who share his secular ideology.

The problem with this editorial is that the writer, whose views are generally consanant with my own, uses the broader framework of Islamic fundamentalists. He implicitly degrades the time before Islam as one of darkness, jahiliyah. Public reason is not possible when the argument presupposes particular truths which have a sectarian valence. The jahiliyah as a modern term of opprobrium was popularized by Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather of Al Qaeda. Sometimes the tools of the oppressor must be discarded lock, stock, and barrel, before you can challenge them in a full-throated fashion.

And with that, I come to Veena Malik’s tirade on Pakistani television. Watch the whole thing, but the actress upbraids a pompous mullah about his moral imperiousness and hypocrisy.

(Note: For readers concerned about the fact that the video was translated by MEMRI, see Aziz Poonwalla’s point)

I don’t know much about Veena Malik. Her appearance on Big Boss has been mentioned here, and I’m sure some readers are versed in her filmography first hand. She’s some sort of celebrity, and with celebrity comes some particular quirks of personality, and a general penchant for controversy. In fact, an attempt to withdraw from celebrity and controversy by an actress can itself become a controversy!

But in this instance she highlights a dynamic which seems all too common. Powerful men who demand and command authority in all domains, and assert that men must be above women in all things, lose all accountability and self-control in the face of female beauty. In the face of this beauty these men of power demand that women take responsibility. The stong aim their ire at the weak! Women who are enjoined to render unto their menfolk the powers over their lives find that they must now own up to all the consequences of their actions, because the very existence of their bodies enforce a tyranny of license upon the world.

Veena Malik pointed out the hypocrisy of the whole system. The emperor has no clothes in this case. The next time I see the headline “Pakistan” in my RSS reader I will make sure to remember her. I may not know much about this woman, but I believe I know enough.

53 thoughts on “Speaking of a demonstration in Pakistan….

  1. very interesting post. I have a question Rezib! What do you think of the view that the chief losers from partition has indeed been its supposed benefactors- the Muslims of the sub-continent. It has divided them and also made state power weak in areas like the northwest which have hence been easy for fundamentalists to take over? Will a united India have been better able to deal with the effects of radical islam because Muslims of the subcontinent wouldnt be as disadvantaged vis-a-vis other communities and hence more resilient to fundamentalism?

  2. Great post, one that I can relate to as well.

    My apostasy is something I haven’t and never intend to discuss with my family, because frankly i respect them too much to be hurling insults at their lifestyle and set of beliefs…too bad I can’t say the same about them. Sometimes, you really can’t teach old dogs new tricks. I always feel uber uncomfortable discussing religion with family and friends, because it either involves lying on my part or a complete withdrawal from the conversation. You also echoed something quite significant to muslim women and it’s this weird, stifling preoccupation with our bodies. I may not have been ordered or guilt-tripped into wearing a hijab, but I was given very little freedom with what I could or couldn’t wear. It took me a couple of years to realize that a protruding mass of fat on my chest and behind need not be seen as a curse but a blessing! Also, the whole reasoning behind female modesty in Islam isn’t only insulting to women but men as well, suggesting that all men are horny dogs incapable of controlling themselves from their sexual urges. Power to Veena Malik for proving that heart, brains and beauties can co-exist in a woman.

    By the way, you CANNOT be 34 years of age…

  3. Malik is awesome in that video. And I’m guessing the only people who’d want to shield their daughters from her image are the ones who think their daughters shouldn’t be outspoken or stand up for themselves.

  4. Razib

    Would it not be better to consider yourself an apatheist? I used to be an atheist and that called upon to actively hit my head against the wall of irrationality. As i grew older and slightly more wise I realized I just do not give a fuck. Being an atheist takes too much work (call me lazy) and have decided to call myself an apatheist – someone who considers the question of the existence of gods as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life. I was turned to it by a great article by Jon Rauch in the Atlantic.

    Relevant links http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism http://www.jonathanrauch.com/jrauch_articles/apatheism_beyond_religion/index.html

    Krishnan

  5. I always feel uber uncomfortable discussing religion with family and friends, because it either involves lying on my part or a complete withdrawal from the conversation.

    Same (I’m of Muslim heritage) and while my family certainly isn’t fundamentalist, some members are religious – one of my Grandma’s is very religious, and some of my cousins are. I still live at home when I’m not in college and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. My family doesn’t know I’m agnostic (I say that being I’m really apathetic toward religion rather than something definitive like atheism) and usually if someone brings up something religious I typically smile and nod along. I don’t agree with their beliefs but I certainly don’t disrespect them. I also celebrate Eid and other holidays. You could say I’m “culturally Muslim” I suppose.

    I may not have been ordered or guilt-tripped into wearing a hijab, but I was given very little freedom with what I could or couldn’t wear. It took me a couple of years to realize that a protruding mass of fat on my chest and behind need not be seen as a curse but a blessing!

    Bipashu you basically summed up my beliefs here perfectly. I was also never ordered to wear a hijab, but from a young age my parents sent me to Islamic Sunday School where a lot of teachers were Arab Fundies and basically echoed the women-who-don’t-cover-up-are-dirty-Western-whores mentality. I also got the idea from a young age that my body was something to be ashamed of, which troubled me particularly in my early teens as my body matured. I

    Also, the whole reasoning behind female modesty in Islam isn’t only insulting to women but men as well, suggesting that all men are horny dogs incapable of controlling themselves from their sexual urges.

    Yes, this was the general idea I heard from a young age. Having read the Quran a couple times, this reasoning is also presented there repeatedly – the idea that men are incapable of repressing their sexual urges and thus mature women should cover up lest men not be able to control themselves. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with hijab, but extremist organizations like the taliban refer use this to justify why women who refuse to cover up should be blamed and punished for being raped.

  6. 1, i don’t have enough “thick” knowledge of south asian contemporary history to give you an answer to your question that would be edifying. at least not succinctly :-) and the lack of succinctness would be a testament to my uncertainty about my opinions and the state of my knowledge. it sounds like a question my co-bloggers, omar or zach latif, at brown pundits would be more well equipped to deal with.

    2, god has blessed me with a childlike countenance & mien. if you mean to imply that i look rather younger than my years.

    Would it not be better to consider yourself an apatheist?

    no, i’m an atheist. i know all about apatheism. god is important for most people. obviously god is not important for me. but if people ask me whether i believe in god, i respond with the answer which is identical to the one that an atheist would give. so i’m an atheist. if we lived in a world where religion was not important to people, then apatheism makes more practical sense. as it is, i live in the united states. and i don’t find it exhausting to be an atheist. almost everyone i interact with on a daily basis is an atheist or agnostic at this point, because of my milieu. it is probably somewhat harder being right-wing, because i’m a minority in that stance.

    finally, re: bipasha and alina’s comments about the female body, etc. obviously this isn’t just a muslim thing, it’s a common phenomenon in many societies (e.g., see how the victorians viewed sexuality and the insatiable appetite of men). i won’t bore you at length, but i think that this male fixation on female sexuality in this particular way, controlling, abusive, and accusatory, is a feature of cultures which emerged after the rise of agriculture and before the consumer society. i think it had to do with the shift to to the center of the human story patrilineages which controlled all the resources of a society (e.g., the house of saud is a good modern example), and turned their women into a currency of cultural exchange. in this way women became extensions of male lineage groups, and their actions were only relevant and consequential in light of their impact on the status and image of those lineage groups (e.g., an arab american friend telling me how funny his cousins in israel thought it was that he was a weak fool who couldn’t kill his sister if she started messing around with guys). the long & the short though is that straight men are to some extent naturally fixated on the female body and sexuality. but there’s a healthy limit and constraint on this. living in a society where this is more liberty of sexuality, as in the united states, both men and women have to develop personal habits which balance our sexual instincts with the fact that we’re equal citizens in the society, and that there’s more to life than just sex (and that operationally male-female dynamics may lack total sexual tension in most cases).

    in cultures where single men and women do not socialize and develop non-sexual friendships, and where pre-marital sexual relations are taboo, the dynamics are different. some conservative muslims i’ve met have really bizarre preconceptions about how sexually liberal non-muslim women are, because they’ve never lived in a society where these sorts of habits of restraint develop through individual self-control. rather, in their societies rules from on high and the structural straight-jacket of social institutions prevent the sexes from interacting, and so the habits are not necessary (the habitual sexual molestation which is what isolated women have to deal with in public in some of these societies is often attributed to men simply not knowing what their boundaries should be because they’ve never been taught any better, and, they have no other sexual outlets aside from self-gratification and sex with other men).

    with all of that said, these are societies where ideologues promote a very antique version of total male domination, control, and responsibility. and yet it is always the women who are attacked and vilified because naturally “men can not control themselves.” if men can not control themselves, perhaps they should abdicate their leading role in these societies, and let women take charge? well, that isn’t going to happen. it’s a case of hypocrites who want to have their cake and eat it too.

  7. @Razib – I’m curious, have you ever talked about religion to people actually in the Desh? Like I remember years ago going to the NWFP and people would stare at me in the streets cause I looked foreign, and I would constantly get asked “But are you a Muslim?” (in Urdu) by so many random people…only when I confirmed I was a Muslim, and of their heritage (I would reply in Pashto) did they trust me or stop gaping at me like an oddity. Now I imagine people in India aren’t really like this since they’re exposed to media whereas folks in the NWFP are typically really poor.

  8. alina, since i left at at the age of 4, i have been back to bangladesh twice, in 1989 and 2004. both those times there was some gawking. and since i have an uncle who is a member of tablighi jamaat, i have “talked” about religion, though that mostly consisted of everyone listening to him yammer on about how everyone besides himself was an imperfect muslim ;-)

    but no, i wasn’t “out” as an atheist then to my relatives. i am friends on FB with my tablighi jamaat uncle’s son though, and he noticed i put “atheist” on my profile. he asked me if i was sure i was an atheist, and i said yes, i was. i did tell him not to mention it to his dad, because i don’t want my mom having to deal with being berated about this issue. she’s probably embarrassed enough that there’s no brown-on-brown arranged marriage in my future. but i did make it clear to my parents i’m not going to pretend to be muslim when i’m not at this point in my life, though i make their lives less complicated by not expressing irritation when i have to be exposed to their superstitious friends or our primitive relatives. the next time i go to bangladesh i’ll be a grown man, and likely have a mongrel family in toe, and i’m not going to be able to pretend i’m muslim by avoiding the topic. let’s just say i’m the least atheist person in my nuclear family :-)

  9. finally, re: bipasha and alina’s comments about the female body, etc. obviously this isn’t just a muslim thing, it’s a common phenomenon in many societies (e.g., see how the victorians viewed sexuality and the insatiable appetite of men).

    Yep, to a certain extent we still have remnants of this thinking in Western societies; sometimes when women are raped there’s nasty comments like “she was asking for it” or “must have been dressed like a whore” etc…

    in cultures where men and women do not socialize and develop non-sexual friendships, and where pre-marital sexual relations are taboo, the dynamics are different. some conservative muslims i’ve met have really bizarre preconceptions about how sexually liberal non-muslim women are, because they’ve never lived in a society where these sorts of habits of restraint develop through individual self-control. rather, in their societies rules from on high and the structural straight-jacket of social institutions prevent the sexes from interacting, and so the habits are not necessary

    Oh good grief I could go on and on about this but I’ll spare you the boredom :) Yeah I’ve had conversations with 1st gen Arabs/S.Asians who honestly think all Western women are whores. You can see a reflection of this in countries like Norway/Sweden where in the past 30 years, an increase in Arab immigrants has correlated to a sharp rise in number of rapes of native women (Arabs are over-represented statistically in rape statistics there). I also remember one Sunday school teacher telling us how wrong it was to have a friend of the opposite gender because it was not possible to do so without the relationship being sexual in some way. I remember this angering me when I was a kid, but now I realize she genuinely could not fathom the thought of a non-sexual friendship between non-related opposite-sex people. I also think one reason Muslim immigrants to the West are often overprotective of their girls is because they believe Western culture to be far more sexual than it actually is – for example I had an Iranian Muslim friend in high school whose parents would never let her sleep over at her female friend’s house for fear the girl’s little brother would rape her. Sounds absurd but it was a genuine fear on her part. I am not trying to poke fun of immigrants in any way here btw.

    it’s a case of hypocrites who want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Replace “cake” with “snatch” and you’ve got modern day Afghanistan ;)

  10. for example I had an Iranian Muslim friend in high school whose parents would never let her sleep over at her female friend’s house for fear the girl’s little brother would rape her.

    well, i don’t know, perhaps in these constrained societies this sort of stuff does happen? i had drinks with a professor a few years ago who brought up a weird story when we wandered onto the topic of intercultural confusions. when he was in high school his sister brought over one of her college friends for the holidays. the friend was an international student from saudi arabia. the professor said that basically he woke up in the middle of the night to find that the girl had taken his pants off and was straddling him. he admitted that she was attractive, so as a 16 year old boy he did what came naturally. he told me though that this was her first extended period out of the arab world, and she probably didn’t understand how weirdly she was behaving. she was deprived in saudi arabia, and thought that the west was more of a “sexual buffet” than it is (alas for some!).

  11. sad, but related to the thread: Rapes of Women Show Clash of Old and New India: The police arrested the five young men and charged them with rape and robbery. They tried repeatedly to get the young woman to come forward. The city’s police chief sent her an e-mail asking her to cooperate and offering to protect her identity.

    She sent a curt e-mail reply, the police said: “The police will not be able to restore my honor.”

    she is, of course, not the person without honor.

  12. Whoa, that story really surprised me because that’s the first instance I’ve heard of Arab world and behaving so sexually outside their native environment. I guess when you grow up in such a repressive environment you’re gonna rebel a little once the chains come off.

    The issue of rape and sexual assault is really disheartening. The worst part of that article is that India is clearly the most progressive when it comes to this issue in that region too – the worst of it is probably the Arab world (sans urban Lebanon/Syria) + Afghanistan/Pakistan. You know, I was thinking of joining the Peace Corps after I graduate college, and ideally I’d like to go to sub-Saharan Africa but based on my language skills I’d probably get placed in S.Asia, and the issue of sexual assault is something that would seriously deter me from going there. Even walking around villages in the NWFP I would have random old women in burqa’s walk up to me and bark at me to cover up, even if only my hands and head were uncovered.

  13. i recall years ago seeing a documentary about how police officers in fiji were trained about how very differently indian and native fijians were to be handled in cases of rape. basically, the indian fijian women were probably not going to be supported by the community, and cooperation was going to be a problem. native fijians would behave more supportively to the woman, and would cooperate fully. female indian fijian police officers were trying to raise consciousness in their community, and taking the native fijians as a model of how society doesn’t have to collapse if you don’t pin the blame on a woman.

  14. Razib, I’d highly recommend Irfan Hussain who writes for Dawn, Pakistan’s preeminent English-language newspaper. Archives here:

    http://www.dawn.com/?author=2

    Razi Azmi, for the record, is pretty liberal in his praise of the West as the one and only enlightened civilization, so his use of the word jahiliyah shouldn’t be construed as an inadvertent admission by him of Islam liberating heathen lands from darkness.

    Finally some trivia: Aziz Ansari is an apostate too :)

    [uncharitable paragraph redacted. please don't pull the thread's tone down so early, though the rest of your comment had information so i'm not going to yank all of it. i am aware that aziz ansari is an apostate, my blog comes up ~#3 in google for the query 'aziz ansar atheist'. -razib]

  15. Finally some trivia: Aziz Ansari is an apostate too :)

    some have objected that i may not technically be an apostate. i have never believed in the muslim god, though i was ‘muslim identified’ from sentience to the age of eight. only when i reflected upon what i really believed, and what all the muslims around me really believed, did i realize that that identification was in error. i did not know the word atheist until a year later, but i understood that i did not believe in god, and that i never really had. the person who pointed out my peculiar position as an apostate was a genuine muslim apostate, insofar as he had actually believed in the propositions of the muslim religion into adulthood before rejecting them. i think his implication was that there is a little sexy cachet in being an apostate, and in my case it was almost unearned in that i never had a period of being terrified by the majesty and might of the god on high :-)

  16. some have objected that i may not technically be an apostate. i have never believed in the muslim god, though i was ‘muslim identified’ from sentience to the age of eight. only when i reflected upon what i really believed, and what all the muslims around me really believed, did i realize that that identification was in error. i did not know the word atheist until a year later, but i understood that i did not believe in god, and that i never really had.

    Same, I remember being like 7 years old and sitting in sunday school thinking “this is bologna!” but not wanting to tell my parents I didn’t believe in it because I liked hanging out with my friends in sunday school every week hah.

  17. I suppose, from a self-identification POV you are an atheist, whereas from a Muslim perspective you’re an apostate (since all kids are supposedly born Muslim).

    Also, while I understand the reason behind redacting my previous post, I think people should be a little careful before ascribing more good to India than it deserves (I say this as an Indian passport holder). And the point regarding Sri Lanka being the most progressive South Asian country also stands, though I should have couched the message in more palatable terms.

  18. ‘ how wrong it was to have a friend of the opposite gender because it was not possible to do so without the relationship being sexual in some way’ lol maybe she just saw harry met sally!

  19. Razib,

    Of course this is something that extends to many societies in the past and present. I’ve known non-muslim South Asian girls with more severe clothing and social restrictions set by their parents. And while the Victorians were notorious for their conservative take on female sexuality (what, women have libidos?), they AT LEAST had some form of outlet through which they could manifest their urges, through courting or some form of prepubescent-style dating. They also wouldn’t resort to the barbaric means of slaughtering their wives and daughters for transgressing their boundaries. Of course, Victorian women had their own set of rigid boundaries, but the worst that would happen were they to transgress them is ostracization, not full out murder justified in the name of “honor”. The reason i’m rambling on about Victorian society is – aside from fascination – because I often find myself comparing it to my own domestic sphere and the cultural norms and values that have been the foundation of it. The expectations set for women back then are very similar to the expectations set for me and my sister, as well as the ones set for Indian/South Asian women in those lame ass, low-brow Zee TV serials with the obedient bahus (and by calling them lowbrow I don’t mean to exude any snobbery, they just suck real ass in terms of depth and quality…my own mom and nani watch it religiously and i openly make fun of them!). This is all to demonstrate how regressive islamic societies can be, when one feels that a society from a century earlier treats their womenfolk better! The commodification of the female body as you speak of is very interesting and I hardly think you’d bore us if you spoke of it at length. A poorly maintained car or house is indicative of a neglectful owner. Similarly, a woman needs to be put on a tight leash lest she should misbehave and thus suggest a lack of control on her guardians’ part. This of course also applies to sons, albeit differently. This reminds me of a a reported incident where, after the Pakistan flood, a man and his family were staying in an open tent with several other families and he was upset at the fact that his wife was exposed, and even got into a heated argument with another guy for loitering around his space. I guess this reinforces the belief that such a gender-unequal dynamic emerged after the emergence of agrarian societies, where families, and women in particular could be contained quite literally through concrete walls.

    Alina, I just realized you’re not the first to call me “bipashu”…and i just realized it’s probably because you’re thinking of bipasha basu…it’s okay i’m quite used to it by now! I was also exposed to the stick-up-his-ass molvi-sahib who nodded his head when i told him i didn’t wear hijab, and warned me, with a disturbing grin on his face, of the consequences that would befall me in the hereafter. Meh. I’d rather have the freedom of flaunting my hair in the herenow.

  20. Also, while I understand the reason behind redacting my previous post, I think people should be a little careful before ascribing more good to India than it deserves (I say this as an Indian passport holder). And the point regarding Sri Lanka being the most progressive South Asian country also stands, though I should have couched the message in more palatable terms.

    the thrust of your point was defensible. i tend to agree with it to some extent, especially the highlighting of sri lanka’s admirable HDI (at least in a south asian context). thanks for understanding why i redacted it. i actually had somewhat the similar reflex to alina’s assertion that you did, but it was besides the point of the thread so i didn’t say anything.

  21. This is all to demonstrate how regressive islamic societies can be, when one feels that a society from a century earlier treats their womenfolk better!

    i’ve wondered about this issue. i know john calvin’s brother’s wife was a serial adulterer, and this was a problem in their marriage. and adultery of both men and women was attested in new england, but there wasn’t any killing (see the scarlet letter). rather, these calvinist societies tended to more often kill people for religious deviation (and even then, these were exceptions, not the rule; expulsion and exile was the more common fate of heretics). obviously ‘blaming the victim’ re: rape and killing your wife and her lover on the part of a man via ‘crime of passion’ are well attested in non-muslim and non-south asian societies. but can you think of societies where a brother or father would kill his sister or daughter over a crime of sex for the sake of family honor? among non-muslims i perceive this to be more of a north indian thing, not south indian. is this false? the emperor augustus had a problem with his daughter julia and her sexual adventures while he was passing morals legislation. eventually he had her exiled to an island, and she probably died of starvation. and henry viii had two of his wives killed on the grounds of adultery, though in the first instance that may have been a set up. i think the best analogs to the islamic/north indian cases might be found in ancient greece and the byzantine empire, which were much more like the islamic and persian worlds re: sex segregation and the subjugation of women vis-a-vis men (the practice of aristocratic greek women veiling in the late roman empire was an easy way to distinguish families of western vs. eastern provenance in constantinople during the first centuries after the emergence of a distinctive hybrid east roman state, which still had a substantial transplanted latin aristocracy in the capital). i recall reading that in the chinese empire women who strayed incurred a penalty upon their family, who had to pay the husband and his family a fine.

    This reminds me of a a reported incident where, after the Pakistan flood, a man and his family were staying in an open tent with several other families and he was upset at the fact that his wife was exposed, and even got into a heated argument with another guy for loitering around his space.

    my father tells stories of things like this about his days at university in what was then west pakistan. the local punjabis attributed all public disturbances between men over modesty & women to pathans. in any case, i think evolutionary psychologists have a basic atom of the story when they point out that in some societies which are hyper-patriarchal, and controlled by lineages of related men, paternity is a major issue. in societies where women are major economic producers, and have some level of de facto independence, cuckoldry is not as much of an issue, because there’s less at risk for men, they are not economic supporters of their children to nearly the same extent. this explains i think the less drastic consequences of adultery and unfaithfulness of women in many hunter-gatherer societies, as well as modern consumer societies. these cultures aren’t “chunked’ into clans who are based around biological descent from a common male, so female fidelity isn’t such a weak point. in bangladesh people when people ask where your family is from, they’re asking where your father’s family is from. the reality is that i’ve never been to chandpur, but that’s where “i’m from.” the irony is that like many bangladeshi’s i am much closer to my maternal kin. this sort of disjunction wouldn’t make sense in the united states, though the habit of switching to the male surname is a legacy of the patrilineal presumption in the west.

    to test some of the theses above it would be good for me to look more closely at the ethnography of chinese male-female dynamics. i know that the clan system is far more powerful in southeast china, where non-kin intermediating institutions were not as strong as in north china. i would predict that the pathologies of patriarchy (i’m making normative assumptions here, not descriptive ones) would be more advanced in the southeast than in the north china plain.

  22. @Bipasha – sorry about that! Hah yeah I guess I combined Bipasha + Basu to create Bipashu lol.

    @Sriram – LOL well I know you’re just kidding here, but let’s not underestimate the impression the Hollywood media surely leaves on the rest of the world about Americans

    @The Kutra – I didn’t read your comment before Razib edited it, but I’m sorry if I stated something incorrect about India…I’ll admit my knowledge of the desh is mostly limited to Afghanistan/Pakistan/India and not really Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bangladesh as much so idk about the feminist movement there.

  23. but let’s not underestimate the impression the Hollywood media surely leaves on the rest of the world about Americans

    you might find this friends episode funny: ‘the one with free porn’. it illustrates how constant exposure to porn changes joey and chandler’s perception of how people are supposed to behave (e.g., joey orders pizza, and he gets weirded out that the delivery woman doesn’t want to have sex with him). multiple newspaper articles i’ve read, as well as interactions with people newly arrived from the muslim and/or south asian world, suggests that porn and over-sexualized hollywood media give a distorted impression of american mores to the less cosmopolitan (if you live in mumbai or dubai, but visit the USA for summer holiday, you would be disabused of your misimpressions, but if you are going to the states for the first time for grad school, perhaps not).

  24. “for example I had an Iranian Muslim friend in high school whose parents would never let her sleep over at her female friend’s house for fear the girl’s little brother would rape her. Sounds absurd but it was a genuine fear on her part.”

    “I may not have been ordered or guilt-tripped into wearing a hijab, but I was given very little freedom with what I could or couldn’t wear. It took me a couple of years to realize that a protruding mass of fat on my chest and behind need not be seen as a curse but a blessing!”

    I can totally relate to this. I’m from Singapore, and I was raised Muslim but became an atheist at 21. Growing up, I had very little control over what clothes I could wear; my dad or mum would chaperone me as I bought clothes, right until I turned 19. Most of my wardrobe at the time was pretty shapeless; some people even thought I was a tomboy. I’m 24 now, still living at home (but inching towards my own place), and I still feel reluctant to leave the house wearing something flattering. My whole family (mother, father and older brother) have expressed disapproval on the few occasions that I did. They would rather I look like a slob than like your average young woman. Some days I feel really angry about all of this; why am I the only person in my family whose body/clothes are subject to such scrutiny? Once, my dad even told me not to wear shorts outside the house as people would see my dark knees.

    I was also warned that there were Bad Horny Men lurking in my friends’ houses, waiting to ravage me if I were to visit or stay overnight; it was infuriating because it was just so absurd. My mother somehow truly felt worried about this scenario. It was the same reasoning that was used to disallow me to travel overseas on school trips; Bad Horny Men are on the prowl globally. Her obsession with my viriginity really knows no bounds. Maybe I should bottle up my hymen and give it to her for safekeeping? I don’t really know if it’s because we’re Muslims or Indians. Once she even told me flat out that the absolute WORST possible thing I could do to her would be to have sex outside of marriage and for the news to reach our relatives in India.

    I don’t know why I’m ranting here, it just feels nice to know I’m not the only one who faced this lunacy while growing up.

    (On a side note, Veena Malik is really dramatic in that clip!)

  25. It’s funny that all this talk of shared histories, relative differences in progressiveness, and at the end of the day the fact that we are all the same brown folk come to a stand still during wars. This is when peaceniks of course have increasingly tried to make themselves heard. What’s funnier is that peaceniks have all of a sudden become very audible right around the time of the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi final in Mohali. Although after careful consideration, I have decided that the match will not be a closely fought contest.

    http://www.suite101.com/content/why-the-india-pakistan-semifinal-will-not-be-what-you-think-a362148

  26. great topic razib, quite a few great (if disturbing) themes here

    first, regarding atheism, while south asia as a whole is disturbingly religious, it would be good to find some numbers relating to how people respond when one describes oneself as an atheist. Is there a regional flavor or religous aspect to perceptions of atheism?

    Regarding the treatment of women, let me say frankly that northern india stands out as the absolute a**hole of the world when it comes to women. I am not surprised to read the appalling side-story about rapes in delhi; or that women are 3-4 times more likely to be raped as compared to kolkata or even mumbai.

    My reading of the situation is that this northern india suffers from an extreme form of “warrior culture” – perhaps because it is historically in the path of invasions from the afghanistan/uzbekistan/central asian steppes. Invasions along this route have been pretty much constant throughout indian history and that means several thousand years. Note that I am not blaming this on any particular religion; rajasthan which remains predominantly hindu as also the haranyavi jats are amongst the absolute worse examples.

    How can this be remedied? What kind of interventions would be effective? Is this embedded in child rearing patterns? Women raising children teach them at an early age that females are to be valued only for producing (warrior) sons and that men prove their worth through violence? It is absolutely chilling to hear the family of the rapists state that they see no problem with the behavior of their sons.

  27. My first thought there was, wow, Veena Malik is awesome and not scared to offend! Then I realized that she wasn’t the one being offensive in the first place. I’ve been an atheist since I was 12, and very vociferous about it with my family and friends in India. No one saw me as immoral because of my belief system. But it’s funny how I’ve ‘toned it down’ since coming to this country, in order not to offend the religious types I’m constantly surrounded with. Yes, so it’s now one way traffic, with all the offense directed at me. NOT well played.

    “among non-muslims i perceive this to be more of a north indian thing, not south indian. is this false?”

    Not false. Having grown up in the south (albeit, an urban center), it falls in line with my own experience. Honor killings, not so much, almost unheard of. But dowry deaths, heck yeah!

    Now your example of the Saudi girl, I’d be willing to bet she was rich. I know a few wealthy women from fundamentalist islamic countries who not only assert themselves, but get a kick out of risque behavior. Money buys more escape routes. In India anyway, morality is mostly for the middle classes.

    In any case, Veena Malik and Sherry Rehman are awesome for standing up for what they believe in despite the likely repercussions. I know that bravery and a fighting spirit are held in high esteem in Pashtun culture, but is the same true for women? I’m curious, are Pashtun women celebrated for their bravery in popular culture, for example, in poetry and books?

  28. I don’t know why I’m ranting here, it just feels nice to know I’m not the only one who faced this lunacy while growing up.

    you’re not ‘ranting’ :-) as a male i was subject to very different standards, can only offer sympathy.

  29. Regarding the North vs South thing, my experience has been that people in the north tend to more progressive than in the South, and at the same time, dowry/honor killings/sati/bride burning is a bigger blight in the north than in the south. That’s a dichotomy that I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. For example, in my north Indian family, PDAs are much more tolerated, even encouraged among family members, whereas in my Tamilian wife’s family, PDAs are a big no-no. My MIL is visiting us, and she retreats herself into her corner of the sofa when my MIL is around, whereas when my parents were around, I could hold her hand or lie down on her. OTH, wife beating in my family was much more tolerated, and to a degree there was lot of blaming the victim, whereas in her family, women have a larger amount of control.

    I think the differrence between north/south is between the degree of freedom vs the intensity. I am probably not saying this well. In the north, unmarried girls are given more freedoms than in the south. However, the punishment for breaking the rules (crossing the Lakshman Rekha, if you will) is much larger in the north.

    • @chunky daddy, “I am probably not saying this well. In the north, unmarried girls are given more freedoms than in the south.”

      This is true, but also not true. The South has generally been more open girls’ education and work. The stories and comments about women who were educated but were not expected to work (many of them SM comments years back), that’s not a common story with Southern families. They were educated and sent to college in order for them to be able to work.

      The best indicator is to compare mainstream Bollywood films with mainstream Southern films. The women hold jobs. And that too, not as something that should be specifically pointed out or sticks out. It’s just part of the character. Whereas in Bollywood, other than some dream, fantasy job in the celeb, fashion or film world—the women who work or have jobs only because the script specifically requires them to do so.

      On the other hand, Bollywood has become more accepting of actresses after marriage, which still isn’t the case in the South.

  30. I am impressed with Veena Malik in this clip – she is willing to defend herself and her behavior, and use the media available to her as a celebrity to stand up to mullahs and other people in positions of authority. On the other hand, I do wonder (as an American with American perceptions of Pakistan) whether she has some kind of death wish. Surely speaking up so vociferously against the hypocrisy of Pakistan’s current political Islamic ideology results in death threats and the like?

    One of the more resonant moments in that video was when she was taking the mullah to task about clerics raping children, etc., and he responds (at about 4:50) “there’s no need to get emotional” <– this statement is one of the most pernicious and representative responses in the patriarchal arsenal. How do you respond to that? How can you keep logically arguing with someone who refuses to acknowledge your point of view simply on the basis that you’re too excited to think straight? It symbolizes an absolute disregard for someone’s independent mind: “Oh, don’t mind them; they’re just ranting…” I haven’t yet figured out how to show that I am an independent person with a functioning intellect to someone who says things like that. I’m surprised Malik didn’t just throw her hands up in the air and give up. Good job Veena Malik.

    • So the rest of my comment got truncated. Probably best for posterity. Summary: How do you shut down/enlighten people who won’t even listen to what you have to say because they’ve already decided that you’re not intelligent/independent/capable enough to say something worthwhile? I haven’t yet figured it out, and if I were Malik, I’d have thrown my hands up in despair long ago. More power to her.

  31. Surprised that in this discussion of gender in north vs south India, Razib has not mentioned plough vs hoe based agriculture. He wrote a GNXP post on it here.

  32. “for example I had an Iranian Muslim friend in high school whose parents would never let her sleep over at her female friend’s house for fear the girl’s little brother would rape her. Sounds absurd but it was a genuine fear on her part. I am not trying to poke fun of immigrants in any way here btw. “

    Coming from a half-immigrant family (this is semidesi, but that login didn’t work today) I have to say this would be a genuine fear and a genuine danger. Unfortunately I had just this exact situation happen to one of my oldest friends. She was sleeping over at her friends house. The girls were 16 – her friend was close to 17 – and the younger brother was 15. She was placed in a separate room to sleep. She awoke in the middle of the night to being raped by the brother. She was so afraid of what people would think that she fought him silently without crying out. In the morning she hoped it was only a nightmare but to discover him having very sexual behaviour toward her from that day on. She was afraid that she would be blamed and that she would disrupt her friendship and suffer the disapproval of her family. She only told me and one other girl. I told my mother. My mother told her mother. Her parents never mentioned it to her and she told me she would have been shamed and not believed and only suffer punishment had she spoken about it at all. She has not even told any therapists, though she suffered some severe depression during her life as a result. I don’t now if she told her husband, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did not. The kicker here is, all those people were white, so it’s not just a problem of one country or one region. Whenever I slept at a friends house I would always sleep in the same room as the other girl as a matter of safety as well as fun. I wish it was not something parents had to be concerned about but I see your friend’s parents perspective in crystal clarity. It is one of the reasons my husband and I are teaching our daughter to protect herself to prevent this kind of thing, and to defend herself if necessary (she is in martial arts), and why we are teaching our son to be extremely respectful of women and girls and when he gets old enough he will be able to protect his sister and all the other girls he is friends with. I had friends like him when I was growing up, and not only did they understand the “Indian” value system, they cared how girls were treated. Under the extreme sexual pressure put on girls, even in this country, I don’t know what I would have done without those “good guys.”

  33. I am a theist. I do not believe that this is an appropriate forum for arguing religion, So I will point out a few things about this post from Razib and leave it at that. At first I found it difficult to figure out the point of this post because it is not explicitly stated anywhere. We have a paragraph about atheism and then a video of an argument with a lunatic religious nut. So what ties the two together? I suppose the unsaid message is Atheism is good and religion is bad. This is the typical tactic of the atheist. Point to the actions of lunatic fringe and hint that all religion is therefore bad.

    Another thing about atheists is that they believe they are intellectually superior to theists. Some of them even call themselves “brights” implying that religious people are dull. A good example in this article is the following section:

    @Razib Khan “You’re from the South aren’t you?” The presenter seemed embarrassed, and admitted he was from Texas. In hindsight this was a slide that perhaps needed a little touch up in light of the fact that his audience was saturated with West coast based techies.”

    Once again nothing is said explicitly but the implications are obvious. West coast techies are smart and therefore athiest. Southern rednecks are dull and therefore religious. Razib is making the same assumptions about religious people that he is accusing the writer of doing when he talks about Jahiliyah

    I’ll leave it at that.

  34. I suppose the unsaid message is Atheism is good and religion is bad.

    NO. DO NOT PUT WORDS INTO MY MOUTH. i specifically left things implicit because my personal opinions were less important than the facts here. if you put words into my mouth in follow up posts, i will delete those comments. i do have strong personal opinions on this topic, as i imply in the post, and as i have explicitly stated in the comments here and elsewhere. but the way i write posts on SM is often specifically to separate these issues for the purposes of discussion, because i am aware of the diversity of opinion in the audience.

    again, DO NOT PUT WORDS INTO MY MOUTH BY CONNECTING THE DOTS. i don’t want to know your own model of my mind, nor do i want to waste my time having a discussion about your interpretation of my mental state. i know it well enough that your exegesis is unwanted.

    multiples times people have wondered what the “point” of my posts are. one of my points is that i will leave it up to readers to draw conclusions and inferences from various facts. i’m not very interested in convincing people of particular propositions, because blogs are more about information dissemination and entertainment. feel free to offer up your own opinion as to what you personally think the point of the post was, but do impute that point to me. often when i omit things in posts it is because i do so consciously, because i don’t think there’s that much fruit in broaching particular tendentious topics depending on the forum.

    that’s all you need to know about my own logic of posting.

    meta-discussion ceases at this point. a lot of the comments have been interesting and illuminating, up until the previous one. let’s go back in that direction.

  35. “i specifically left things implicit ” So you did have an implicit point to make, I was just pointing that out. No mind reading required.

  36. So you did have an implicit point to make, I was just pointing that out. No mind reading required.

    ok, last comment on this, follow ups will be deleted from you JJ. when i have an opinion, A, and i leave it unstated, it’s often because my opinion is conditional on views i have. others may not share those extraneous views. if i offer opinion, A, then the discussion may revolve around my opinion, as well as my assumptions. so often i will leave A unstated because i want people to draw their own conclusions, based on their own prior beliefs. that’s what was going on before you started exploring what my own opinion was (you didn’t even guess correctly, and wasted your time, so no more follow ups from you).

  37. I think this post was intended for us to discuss the role religion plays in Desi culture, and in particular how religious fanaticism has impacted Pakistani society. I don’t think think Razib was trying to disparage religion or Pakistan in any way. South Asia is definitely home to various extremist sects (the taliban for one) and pointing those out or discussing them can’t be extrapolated to hating all religion or something equally extreme in my opinion. I also think this post is about Womens rights as much as it is about religion, because in areas like Pakistan/Afghanistan, the 2 issues go hand in hand.

    Thanks for the article TGGP

    • i was hoping the post would trigger a discussion of the hypocrisy of attitudes toward the rights and responsibilities of women, truth be told. that’s where it was going overall. i hope more people will offer up their own experiences. it would be interesting to get the opinion of someone who believes that “traditional” south asian gender norms and expectations are actually elevating or superior who is female. not being female i thought to start the post with my atheism because that’s the way that i am quite alienated from much of south asian, and especially south asian muslim, culture.

  38. I could absolutely marry Veena Malik. This discussion is very interesting, as someone who has had (sadly) very limited interaction with people esp women of the Muslim faith, I really can’t contribute much. On a side note: I’m curious Razib, have you ever considered Hinduism? I ask because most Hindus I know see their religion as an extension of their atheism since the two are rather compatible. Or am I the only south Asian atheist with an Abrahamic (Christian) background who has ‘re-converted’ (well, sorta..I’m too lazy for religion, but still)?

    “”traditional” south asian gender norms and expectations are actually elevating or superior who is female.”

    I think some could and do argue this. I wouldn’t, but I have heard from Indians who say, “women are the moral upholders of society”. Obviously the effects of this sentiment are detrimental, but perhaps the reasoning behind it is because of women primarily raise children and must infuse ‘morals’ into them and are less likely to engage in risky behavior (as evidenced by longer life spans). We also shouldn’t forget that much of “south asian values” are actually Victorian values imposed by imperialism. I can’t remember what the name was, but I remember reading a short story from the Victorian era; basically, 19th and 20th century western Europe was shocked at the sexual freedom in the Arab world, and a popular stereotype was the loose ‘oriental’ (referring to Mideastern/Indian) woman.

    One thing I find really interesting is that religion is a response to widespread/individual financial situations. It’s not a coincidence that religion is near extinct in countries with economic stability.

  39. On a side note: I’m curious Razib, have you ever considered Hinduism? I ask because most Hindus I know see their religion as an extension of their atheism since the two are rather compatible. Or am I the only south Asian atheist with an Abrahamic (Christian) background who has ‘re-converted’ (well, sorta..I’m too lazy for religion, but still)?

    1) have we met in person? in new york city? i had a long conversation with a syrian christian who identifies as hindu at an SM meet up in 2008. his wife is hindu. i know of people who were raised muslim or christian who have buddhist or hindu or new age religious beliefs.

    2) no, i have never considered becoming hindu. atheistic buddhism appeals to me in some ways as an ethical system. at the end of day the religio-philosophical system which i’m more inclined toward is that of confucianism, in particular the realist strain of xunzi. i am not a believer in supernaturalism, and am not part of a south asian community (i’m an exogamist ), so i don’t see the point in me identifying as hindu. i reject karma as a metaphysical principle. also, most american hindus are not atheists fyi. see pew religious landscape survey. most indian hindus are not atheist either, look the the world values survey though hindus are obviously tolerant of atheism since some hindu philosophical schools have that orientation (though i would argue carvaka is not hindu because it is materialist, not just atheist).

    Obviously the effects of this sentiment are detrimental, but perhaps the reasoning behind it is because of women primarily raise children and must infuse ‘morals’ into them and are less likely to engage in risky behavior (as evidenced by longer life spans). We also shouldn’t forget that much of “south asian values” are actually Victorian values imposed by imperialism. I can’t remember what the name was, but I remember reading a short story from the Victorian era; basically, 19th and 20th century western Europe was shocked at the sexual freedom in the Arab world, and a popular stereotype was the loose ‘oriental’ (referring to Mideastern/Indian) woman.

    this is complicated. please note that because of sex segregation in the muslim world homosexual activity has often been tolerated among young men so long as people were discrete. this prompted a large ‘sex tourist’ fad among wealthy gay european men in the 19th century. this still happens today, i have gay friends who go to places like morocco where the practice continues because there isn’t as much hostility to westerners. also, many of the more regressive attitudes to women were always present among elites in the islamic world and in south asia. the spread of practices like purdah occurred via the emulation of elites by the middle classes. among peasants and lower class groups women need to work to help support the family, so are given a measure of de facto freedom (you see this in saudi arabia, where rural women drive cars illegally to work, especially in the hijaz). in this way development may actually generate an interlude of bourgeois conservatism. finally, a lot of the travel literature from that period is weird, and i’m not sure whether to believe it. e.g., stuff like how sexually aggressive sephardic jewesses in morocco were sound more like penthouse forum than realistic description.

  40. I think some could and do argue this. I wouldn’t, but I have heard from Indians who say, “women are the moral upholders of society”. Obviously the effects of this sentiment are detrimental, but perhaps the reasoning behind it is because of women primarily raise children and must infuse ‘morals’ into them and are less likely to engage in risky behavior (as evidenced by longer life spans).

    I think the reasoning may be that from a young age, women are held to higher “moral” standards and expected to conform to a narrower range of acceptable behaviors than men are – true in almost every society but especially in Asian ones, I think.

    We also shouldn’t forget that much of “south asian values” are actually Victorian values imposed by imperialism. I can’t remember what the name was, but I remember reading a short story from the Victorian era; basically, 19th and 20th century western Europe was shocked at the sexual freedom in the Arab world, and a popular stereotype was the loose ‘oriental’ (referring to Mideastern/Indian) woman.

    Yeah it’s funny how a nation that came up with the Kama Sutra can be so bashful about a bollywood kiss here and there!

  41. Definitely a gutsy move on the part of Veena Malik, especially given the present context in Pakistan. Hopefully more will speak out like her to point out the hypocrisy of those anywhere who reduce a woman’s character and worth to judgment by hearsay, though I wonder if it’s not too little, too late there.

    More importantly, irrespective of one’s viewpoints, the argument that provocative dressing or the decision to date somehow gives clearance to toss aside the all bounds of male decency should be deconstructed and rubbished once and for all. Since “mardangi” is often tacitly intimated to as one of the bases for reprehensible and criminal behavior by men against women, perhaps a campaign of sorts is needed–especially in Delhi–by bollywood actors such as Akshay Kumar to emphasis what makes a real man. Not sure if there has been significant outreach on this ( I think I remember seeing one with Aamir Khan about treatment of foreigners) but there certainly should be.

    A couple of quick points though:

    “(though i would argue carvaka is not hindu because it is materialist, not just atheist).”

    Actually, that argument doesn’t hold water. Kautilya–a noted practitioner of carvaka-lokayata (carvaka is the name of the sage most associated with it)–is considered a proponent as well due to his ruthlessly pragmatic views on statecraft and aversion to astrology and soothsayers. He himself salutes Brihaspati (preceptor of Indra and devas) who is considered the originator of lokayata as well as the science of statecraft. It very much is a hindu tradition, albeit, a more heterodox one given that it is a nastika school.

    Additionally, it is reductivist to somehow construct a vision of a libertine ancient hindu india on account of the kama sutra and that modern morality is essentially a victorian imposition. For starters, anyone who has read (rather than ogled) the kama sutra knows that the manual on the art of love making only consists of one section. In fact, the entire purpose of the book is to instruct young men on attracting and keeping an eligible wife so that he can pursue the four aims of life (of which kama is one). There were certainly a range of views with traditional society functioning alongside the existence of public courtesans or being reacted to by various schools, such as the left handed tantric ones. Perhaps the best way to understand what was likely the predominant view at the time was that the erotic was something to be appreciated by both genders–but in the proper context (read: marriage) and for a proper stage in life–in contrast to victorian and medieval church doctrine which emphasized shame. Vatsyayana (author of the kamasutra) certainly indicates as much, though he exhaustively describes virtually all behaviors–however frowned upon or condemnable–in a dispassionate manner, while emphasizing the path of Dharma. It is for that reason that Sita and Savitri (and Rama for that matter–yes ladies–it should apply both ways), are so celebrated in the hindu mythos. It is Sita and Rama, not Pururavas and Urvashi, who are considered the paragons in this regard. Kalidasa is considered the most celebrated poet on Shringara (or romantic/erotic love), and his dramas primarily celebrate the romances of married lovers (Shakuntala, Meghadoota, etc).

    The Kama Shastra (note the difference here) itself was thought to originate from Nandi, who as the attendant of Lord Shiva and Parvati is said to have devised a treatise having listened in from behind closed doors (interesting yet disconcerting at the same time).

  42. Additionally, it is reductivist to somehow construct a vision of a libertine ancient hindu india on account of the kama sutra and that modern morality is essentially a victorian imposition. For starters, anyone who has read (rather than ogled) the kama sutra knows that the manual on the art of love making only consists of one section. In fact, the entire purpose of the book is to instruct young men on attracting and keeping an eligible wife so that he can pursue the four aims of life (of which kama is one).

    Regardless, I think the fact that the Kama Sutra even exists is proof that our ancestors were more open to discussing sexual/marital matters than many modern day desi’s are. I’ve never been to India, but in my experience in Pakistan, sex is still quite a taboo subject there; and I mean any mention of sex, marital or otherwise. I notice here in America, some Desi’s stiffen up and become uncomfortable at even the mere mention of the Kama Sutra, just from hearing the name, because it is on the few romantic things openly associated with our culture in the West. I don’t think it’s fair to blame it on the Victorian Brits entirely; also the influence of Islam from the Mideast contributed to it, as well as other factors I’m sure.

    And I admit I’m one of those people who has only ogled the book, never read it!

  43. I don’t think it’s fair to blame it on the Victorian Brits entirely; also the influence of Islam from the Mideast contributed to

    muslim women in kerala used to go topless until the early 20th century. islamic reformists from yemen were instrumental in convincing them to cover up. part of the issue was also the power imbalance between the hindu landlords and muslim peasants, many of whom were recent low caste converts from hinduism. male hindu landlords seem to have perceived it to be one of their liberties to view the nakedness of lower status females, and from what i could tell implicitly, sexual exploit them.

    to be fair some of the shift toward ‘sexual conservatism’ may be a function of lower caste/class people asserting their dignity and the sacrosanct nature of the sexuality of their womenfolk in the face of historical depredations. in the west the petite bourgeois are often the most socially conservative.

  44. “Regardless, I think the fact that the Kama Sutra even exists is proof that our ancestors were more open to discussing sexual/marital matters than many modern day desi’s are”

    A questionable assertion for anyone who has been to South Delhi (or any of the major metros for that matter). Satellite TV and pop culture has certainly changed attitudes in cities and towns as well. Even pre-liberalization there certainly were discussions and, shall we say, escapades, but they tended to take place behind closed doors. As for ABD’s, it probably varies from family to family. I think discretion then as in now, was a value. Perhaps a more appropriate characterization would be that traditional society emphasized certain morays while witnessing a range of conduct. Even the straitlaced victorians recognized the need for a gentleman to convey “the facts of life to his ward”…

    “And I admit I’m one of those people who has only ogled the book, never read it! “

    Heh, with respect to a response here, I think discretion is the better part of valor–so I will have to say: “No comment”.

  45. “have we met in person? in new york city?”

    oh god, I just woke up so I read this as “have we met in prison”, then I started making all these assumptions about why you would be there. Hah, but no I haven’t been to NYC since I was… six years old. To be honest, I do not identify as Hindu ~per se since I gave up trying to understand it in my late teens, but I do agree with some principles, not karma but ahimsa, among others as well, I guess one would call it watered down Buddhism? I don’t care really for the metaphysical noise. Also, I wasn’t trying to imply that most Hindus were atheists, I was just describing the views of the very few Hindus who I know.

    ” to be fair some of the shift toward ‘sexual conservatism’ may be a function of lower caste/class people asserting their dignity and the sacrosanct nature of the sexuality of their womenfolk in the face of historical depredations. in the west the petite bourgeois are often the most socially conservative.”

    I’ve been thinking this for so long. For example, not pertaining to female sexuality but gender expectations, in the US, women who have more education (master’s and above) have more children than those with bachelors/high school diploma, and are more likely to fulfill gender roles ie be stay at home moms (this is particularly true for those who attend Ivy Leagues) It seems counter intuitive, but I suppose people with that privilege just need to spend money on something.

    “A questionable assertion for anyone who has been to South Delhi (or any of the major metros for that matter). Satellite TV and pop culture has certainly changed attitudes in cities and towns as well. Even pre-liberalization there certainly were discussions and, shall we say, escapades, but they tended to take place behind closed doors. As for ABD’s, it probably varies from family to family.”

    Is it safe to conclude that Indians in the US have more conservative views regarding sexuality than people in India?

  46. Razib, Broseph,

    Fist bump for your atheism, and fist bump to Veena. I cannot believe the Mufti went off on her like that, and the yelling fest was a little off-putting. As a non-religious type growing up in an observant family, I am happy to say my parents walked the talk when it came to (what I was taught as) Islamic values. They did not judge others (good Muslims don’t judge), and (similar to Veena’s point) always paid more attention to the deeper injustices in society as opposed to what entertainers and women chose to wear. I stand up for my hijabis as well as my shoestring-bikini friends – power to ya ladies!

    But, just a clear up on the term “jahiliyah:” no way is any reference to it an endorsement of Islamic fundamentalism, Al Qaeda or Sayyid Qutb. For one, he didn’t popularize it’s current usage. It has been part of the Muslim narrative and dialogue since its inception. It’s in the Quran, and referred to time and time again as a period of ignorance in Makkah marked by unchecked capitalism, stripping of rights of women and orphans, and female infanticide. Was there reason before Islam? Of course! Those who use “jahiliyah” as a term do not endorse the idea that reason does not exist outside of Islam, puhlease. “Jahiliyah” is just the term referring to the moral vacuum in a particular place at a particular time. Being a “jahil” has been an insult in the subcontinent, akin to “haramzadeh.” And among Muslims, the term has been used in literature and colloquially to refer to acts of ignorance/violence/incivility. That’s all, my two cents as a Bangle.

    • Is it safe to conclude that Indians in the US have more conservative views regarding sexuality than people in India?

    I think it’s gone both ways… there are always going to be immigrants who leave their countries and try to recreate the exact same environment in the new country (except of course it’s skewed by their memories and perspectives), so some South Asian immigrants are probably stricter than their counterparts in the subcontinent. This phenomenon can kind of be applied to language as well: my parents taught me to speak Tamil the way they spoke it when they left India to come to America…now when I speak Tamil I sound like a 30-year-old from 1980 because while Tamil in India evolved as a language with the changing needs of its community, my family’s Tamil stayed the same.

    Also, many parents in the US have accepted that their kids will be Americanized, and they’re ready to work out some kind of compromise between two different cultures. I think this is more evident in the US than the UK just because when many US families moved here, they were the only SAsians in their communities. My mother has mentioned to me that she is glad I’m slightly overweight and bookish, because if I were more attractive and socially active, she might have to deal with boyfriends, etc and she doesn’t know how she feels about me having a boyfriend. I’m never really sure how to feel about that statement though (LOL).

  47. “this is complicated. please note that because of sex segregation in the muslim world homosexual activity has often been tolerated among young men so long as people were discrete.”

    this is very interesting. sex segregation is quite fierce in south india, in tamil nadu. as someone said above no hugging or even touching is indulged in, even among loved ones. no sharing of food, water, exchange of saliva. very few colleges and schools are co-ed. but this has not lead to tolerance nor prevalence of same sex activity among the people.

    this also goes against the fact/belief that homosexuality is natal condition, not acquired or by choice although one can be bi-sexual.

    if this view in the muslim world is indeed true then women should be safe from assault in these societies. even sex work may be absent since no females are required for sex, only for marriage and procreation.

    somehow all this does not add up.