In an article in the New Duranty Times last year, Salman Rushdie wrote forcefully about the mistreatment of women in Pakistan (and also manifested some assumptions that he no doubt carries to this day):
IN honor-and-shame cultures like those of India and Pakistan, male honor resides in the sexual probity of women, and the “shaming” of women dishonors all men. So it is that five men of Pakistan’s powerful Mastoi tribe were disgracefully acquitted of raping a villager named Mukhtar Mai three years ago. Theirs was an “honor rape,” intended to punish a relative of Ms. Mukhtar for having been seen with a Matsoi woman. The acquittals have now been suspended by the Pakistan Supreme Court, and there is finally a chance that this courageous woman may gain some measure of redress for her violation.
Pakistan, however, has little to be proud of. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that there were 320 reported rapes in the first nine months of last year, and 350 reported gang rapes in the same period. The number of unreported rapes is believed to be much larger. The victim pressed charges in only one-third of the reported cases, and a mere 39 arrests were made. The use of rape in tribal disputes has become, one might say, normal. And the belief that a raped woman’s best recourse is to kill herself remains widespread and deeply ingrained.
This was welcome, but as always with Rushdie, there was something not quite right. His emphasis is on the “cultural” aspects of mistreatment of women. There were in the article phrases about the “shame-and-honor” business that make it seem equally applicable to “Pakistan and India” and — so the reader may at first understand and never quite clear up (perhaps Rushdie himself cannot quite clear up in his own brain)–that this is an indictment equally of “Muslim” Pakistan and “Hindu” India. He does go on to discuss the mistreatment, specifically, of a Muslim Indian woman by other Muslims, but one is still left with a slight unease that there is here more of the Ebadi-Mernissi-Ahmad “Islam has nothing to do with the mistreatment of women — it is all a cultural thing.”
Women have been mistreated everywhere in the world, for a long time. Sometimes less badly, sometimes worse. In the Western world, slowly but surely, that mistreatment has been constrained, punished, made the object of both legal sanction and societal disapproval. In the subcontinent one can found both Muslim and Hindu women who suffer. But Rushdie would have us believe that these sufferings are from the same kind of “cultural” factors. Are they, in fact? Or is the mistreatment of Hindu women possibly related to the centuries of Muslim rule, Muslim ways, that left their mark? I do not know.
But if one looks in Europe, at the two places where, for a while, Muslims ruled, one finds elements that can be attributed to that rule.
The two “would-that-it-were-so” remarks in Spanish (“Ojala” followed by the subjunctive) and in Italian (“Magari” — most often now found standing alone) do not appear to have one-word cousins in the languages of other European countries that never endured the inshallah-fatalism of Muslim rule. The daughters of Albion were never introduced to the sisters of Inna.
Similarly, something like the honor-killings — the crimes of passion, in Sicily, and the distinguishing features of the Mafia, not always to be found in the ‘ndrangheta of Calabria, and the camorra of Naples (Doctoral students of Islam, Italy, history, sociology, psychology — take careful note, for this is a very good topic for a doctoral thesis), can be related to the Muslim footprint, handprint, imprint.
Only someone versed in Hinduism can tell us if the status of Hindu women, in the villages, is a matter of “culture” or a matter of Muslim influence internalized, or a matter of Hindu doctrine.
But there is still something wishy-washy about Rushdie. He just can’t face up to Islam as it is. He will never attain to the condition of an Ibn Warraq. He can’t go the distance. He can’t really read deeply in Islam, or in the history of Islam, and figure out why his own ancestors must have converted from Hinduism to Islam, thus leading him to the rather uneasy condition he finds himself, despite his fame and beautiful Hindu wife, now and forever.
He is one more of those “Muslim-for-identification-purposes-only” Muslims who cannot bring himself, out of fear (quite understandable under the circumstances), to admit that Islam has not been a force for good on those who were forcibly converted, and that it limits artistic expression, scientific inquiry, and in general, stunts mental growth — as any Total Regulation and Total Explanation of the Universe, based on some texts of the 7th to 9th centuries, is highly likely to be.