Monday, August 22, 2016

My thoughts on the Burkini Ban

Over the past week and a half, municipal governments across France have banned the Burkini, a full body swimsuit with a head covering that allows Muslim women (and others who prefer to be less exposed) from beaches. On Wednesday, the French Prime Minister Manuel Walls, denounced the garb as part of the "enslavement of women". Many people have commented, tweeted and blogged about this. These are some of my thoughts:

1) The ban achieves nothing. It does not affect the patriarchal forces that seek to control the lives and choices of Muslim women. Neither does it prevent radicalization in Muslim communities across Europe. It's simply a way for politicians to use the anxieties of their (non-Muslim) citizens to gain political capital by seeming to prevent extremist Islamist mass violence (Why extremist? See the work of Shadi Hamid that shows violence is NOT the norm for Islamist movements, specifically in the Middle East) without actually addressing any of the core causes of this violence (because that requires work and also there is no consensus among scholars of terrorism and radicalization on what these core motivators are).

2)Burkini is different from the Burqa. The conflation between these two is a result of the ill-thought name of this type of swimsuit (Dear Aheba Zanetti, the creator of the Burkini, could you have not thought of a less polarizing name? I know you were trying to be humorous, but you really failed.) The Burkini allows (primarily Muslim) women to go to the beach and participate in outdoor activities that they may feel unable to do. It's the actual opposite of segregation that European politicians bemoan of, as it allows religious Muslim women to become more integrated in public spaces such as beaches and swimming pools.

3) There is a long misogynistic history of fetishizing Muslim women's bodies by both Muslim and non-Muslims (especially men).

I am suspicious (and very tired) of non-Muslims (especially men), who denounce the Hijab/Niqab/Chador/Burqa because of it is patriarchal and misogynist by legislatively restricting clothing options for Muslim women (and or supporting these restrictions) without dismantling the misogyny and patriarchy that promotes modesty culture; reducing the complexity and humanity of Muslim women to their dress "choices" (more on "choices" later) and marginalizing racialized Muslim communities in Western societies even further. Banning women from wearing patriarchal clothing does not result in their emancipation. Challenging the patriarchy/misogyny rooted in modesty culture without patronizing, fetishizing, speaking over and for Muslim women does. So, please let Muslim women be the prominent voices in these issues. We are burqa wearers, niqabis, hijabis, non-Hijabis, ex-Hijabis, ex-Niqabis, "modest" and "immodest" with varying levels of religious (non) beliefs. We agree and (vehemently) disagree with each other, but this debate within our communities is necessary to uproot modesty culture that negatively affects all of us. When you presume to speak for us (and often over us) or use a specific clothing as the archetype of an "authentic" (usually western Hijabis) or a "liberated" (usually a non-western non-Hijabi) Muslim woman, this enforces the oppressive modesty culture in our communities. When a Hijabi woman is held up as the archetypal Muslim woman, this intensifies social pressure on non-Hijabis in our communities/Muslim majority societies to wear the Hijab. When a non-Hijabi woman is considered as the archetypal "liberated" Muslim woman, not only does it perpetuate the notion that liberation or oppression of Muslim women is exclusively linked to their clothing, but it adds to the discrimination that Hijabi women face at work and in the public sphere (yes, Hijabi women face more discrimination, harassment and violence than non-Hijabi women in Western societies). This also results in additional social pressure on non-Hijabi women to veil because many Muslim communities will aggressively promote Hijab/Niqab/Chador/Burqa as a counter response. It also intensifies social pressure for non-Hijabi women who want to veil but are actively prevented by their families/spouses from doing so (yes, these women also exist). Regardless of how we cover our bodies, Muslim women face gender based discrimination in access to education, healthcare and employment, in addition to FGM, honor killings, acid attacks, domestic and sexual violence. Policing our clothing "choices" does not eliminate these issues.

I am equally suspicious (and very tired) of Muslim men who promote modesty culture and police/pressure women's bodies. We should not (and will not) bear the burden of your sexual desire. Your sexual attraction is your problem. Stop categorizing us as moral and immoral based on what we wear. We refuse to be reduced to our clothing. We are tired of being the topic of conversations that we are actively prevented from participating in. Stop speaking for and over us. We are more than capable of speaking for ourselves. If you really care about our rights, stop promoting, supporting and condoning FGM, honor killings, gender based discrimination, domestic and sexual violence in our communities and societies.

4) Clothing "choices" that Muslim women make are constrained primarily by the beliefs of the woman making the "choice" and the expediency that it will provide. As Bina Shah writes:

In Pakistan, where I live, there is no law — as in Saudi Arabia or Iran — about what women should wear. Dress codes are left to be defined by institutions, organizations, families. They veer on the conservative most of the time, except in certain bastions of Westernized society. Society still dictates that women should not leave the house unless properly — decently — clothed. This means a woman can be entrapped in her house, if she doesn’t choose to wear the burqa.

Therefore you see hundreds of thousands of Pakistani women choosing to wear a burqa because it is a matter of expediency. They wear the burqas to their jobs in the malls, in schools, in houses as domestic workers, to beauty salons. When they get to their destinations they take off the burqa and wear a uniform. Then they put the burqa back on before going home.

So that women can be empowered financially, or get their educations, the burqa, or the burkini, becomes the vehicle of expediency. The mistake we make is to mistake it as the actual agency of women. If it were truly so, we wouldn’t see the images of Syrian women burning their burqas as soon as their villages were liberated by ISIS. We would see thousands of women rushing to don burqas for no other reason than faith alone.

Muslim women make decisions on how to cover or not cover based on the contexts that they are situated in. For many Muslim women living in Western societies, the Hijab is an expression of their faith and they wear it as such. For others, it is an expression of their Muslim identity; a way to assert difference from the dominant social group. For others still, it is a way for them to gain financial and social independence while navigating the overwhelming patriarchy in their families and communities. Banning veils from the public sphere in Western societies will only limit Muslim women in socially coercive situations from gaining financial and social independence which will allow them to remove themselves from their oppressive contexts or challenge them in the future. In many Muslim majority societies where modesty culture and conservative values prevail, the Hijab/Niqab/Chador/Burqa become tools that Muslim women use to circumvent and challenge patriarchal control of their lives.

5)Banning the Hijab/Niqab/Chador/Burqa without confronting the patriarchy and misogyny that created modesty culture in the first place hasn't lead to the emancipation of Muslim women in Muslim majority societies. Instead, it has actually led to scaling back of women's rights. The Islamic Revolution of Iran, a reaction to the forced secularization of Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi (which included banning the Chador in public) resulted in the enforcement of modesty culture on Iranian women by law. The forced secularization of Turkey, by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and subsequently the Turkish military, paved the way for the conservative Islamist AKP party to gain power and actively promote modesty culture on Turkish women. Neither the white revolution of Reza Shah Pahlavi nor the secularization of Ataturk challenged the underlying misogyny and patriarchy of modesty culture. If modesty culture had been challenged publicly and the lies that patriarchy perpetuates about women and their role in society had been dismantled,Islamists would have been unable  to impose regressive norms for women without significant push back from these societies.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Visualizing anti-Shia violence in Pakistan Part II 1/2: anti-Shia violence vs Terrorism

As my last post examining where Shias experience the most violence in Pakistan made the rounds on twitter (thanks to @bilalfqi) a few people tweeted if anti-Shia violence differed from other acts of mass violence (especially terrorism related) in the country. So I compared data on civilian terrorism-related deaths provided by South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) with deaths from anti-Shia violence used in my earlier analyses. Because SATP has not compiled terrorism related deaths prior to 2003 and the anti-Shia violence data (from Tashaddud with sectarian attacks on Sunnis removed) I used does not exist after 2014, I only assessed terrorism related deaths and Shia deaths due to anti-Shia violence between 2003 and 2014. The number of people killed in both anti-Shia and terrorism related violence are underestimated as people injured in these attacks may die a few days, weeks or months later. Please note that "significance", refers to statistical significance (p values less than 0.05).

Here are my results:

#1) Terrorism-related violence has increased approximately 1200% from 2003 to 2014 (p < 0.0001, negative binomial GLM).

#2)More civilians (including Shias) in total are killed in terrorism-related violence than specifically anti-Shia violence.

#3)Proportionally, deaths due to anti-Shia violence are equivalent to or more  than terrorism related violence in Pakistan. Terrorism related violence has resulted in the deaths of 0.01% of Pakistanis between 2003 and 2014, while anywhere from 0.009% (assuming Shias are 10% of population) to 0.015% (assuming Shias are 15% of population) of Shias have been killed during this period.

Estimates of current Pakistani population taken from here. To estimate Shia populations, the total Pakistani population was multiplied by 10 or 15%. Proportional deaths were determined by dividing the total number of people killed by the population estimate, which was the total population estimate for terrorism related deaths and estimated Pakistani Shia population for anti-Shia violence (estimates for percent Shia population in Pakistan (10-15%) based on PEW 2009 poll).

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Visualizing Anti-Shia Violence in Pakistan Part II: Where do Shias experience the most violence?

This is part of a continuing series on visualizing anti-Shia violence in Pakistan. As I mentioned in the first post, all analyses in this series have been conducted using the Tashaddud sectarian violence data set. In this post, I will be using this data set to determine where anti-Shia violence is most prevalent in Pakistan.

I analyzed differences in the number of anti-Shia attacks, Shias killed and Shias killed per attack across all provinces and cities listed in the data set using generalized linear models (GLMs). GLMs with Poisson, quasi-Poisson or negative binomial distribution were chosen based on AIC values. For province models, we examined differences between all provinces for each year. For the city models, I only included data from four cities; Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan where attacks occurred in four or more years between 2001 and 2013, examining the differences between all cities for each year. The structure of the final models was determined using log likelihood ratio tests. I also assessed the importance of Year and Province/City using conditional inference trees (party package version 1.0-25). Condition inference trees allowed me to determine differences in the number of anti-Shia attacks, Shias killed and Shias killed per attack across all provinces, cities and years. Splits for each conditional inference tree were determined using Monte Carlo multiplicity adjusted p values with 10,000 permutations. As in my earlier post, significant refers to statistical significance; p values less than 0.05. All statistical analyses were performed in R (version 3.0.3). All plots were also created using R.

Note: Anti Shia violence data from Tashaddud was only available for a nine year period from 2001 to 2013. I added data for the number of ppl killed and injured for 2014 from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2014 report on Pakistan. Before plotting any data or performing any analysis, I removed any data for violent attacks by Shias on LeJ/ASWJ/Sunni Tehreek members (108 of 723 data points). Therefore I only analysed data specific to anti-Shia violence from this dataset.
(added June 21st 2016 to address comments by @AizazAli) 

Here are my results:

#1)  Sindh had a greater number of Anti-Shia attacks as compared to other provinces (p = 0.033 for Sindh). While Balochistan had the next highest number of Anti-Shia attacks, this was not significantly different from other provinces. Anti-Shia attacks increased by 359% across all provinces after 2011 (p = 0.02)

#2) Karachi had the greatest number of Anti-Shia attacks in Pakistan (p = 0.011), followed by Quetta (p = 0.07, marginally non-significant). There was no difference in the number of Anti-Shia attacks between the other cities. After 2011, there was a 560% increase in the number of Anti-Shia attacks across these four cities (conditional inference trees, p = 0.037).

#3) Overall, there was no difference in the number of Shias killed across each province/region, with the exception of Gilgit-Baltistan where significanlty fewer Shias killed (p = 0.01). However, after 2011, the number of Shias killed increased by 195% for all provinces (p = 0.006, conditional inference trees).

#4)There was no significant difference in the number of Shias killed across all cities with the exception of Quetta, which had the greatest number of Shias killed (marginally non-significant increase for Quetta; p = 0.06), followed by Karachi (statistically non significant, p = 0.23). Additionally, there was a 283% increase in the number of Shias killed after 2011 (p = 0.019, conditional inference trees) across these four cities.

#5) Shias in the FATA region experience the most deadliest attacks across all of Pakistan (conditional inference trees, p = 0.0003), with significantly more Shias killed per attack than any other province. Anti Shia attacks in FATA are 430% deadlier than anti-Shia attacks in any other province or region. This suggests that there are more acts of large scale anti-Shia violence (e.g. bomb blasts in public spaces) than any other region in the country. An average of 26 people die in an anti-Shia attack in FATA, while an average of 3 people die in anti-Shia attacks in Sindh. 

#6) There was no significant difference in the number of Shias killed per attack in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan suggesting that the types of attacks in each of these cities is similar.

My results seem to suggest that Karachi(Sindh) and Quetta(Balochistan) are the most dangerous places in Pakistan for Shia Muslims. This is not surprising given the near daily threats, attacks or assassinations on members of the Shia intelligentsia in Karachi or the plight of the Hazara Shia community that have been forced to physically segregate in Quetta due to constant threats of suicide attacks and assassinations.

The roots of anti-Shia militia (and organized anti-Shia violence) lie in dynamics of wealth, power and class of rural Southern Punjab, a region dominated by Shia feudal lords and Sunni peasants (1). However, anti-Shia violence has shifted from its class conflict beginnings to exploiting ethnic tensions in both cities. In Karachi, most Shias tend to be descendants of migrants from the North Indian city states, known as Muhajirs. Muhajirs (both Shia and Sunni) are in conflict with Pashtun immigrants (mostly Sunni) from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan for political dominance of the city. In Quetta, ethnic Hazaras are seen as agents of Iran and therefore implicated in oppression of Baluch nationalists/separatists by both Iran and Pakistan.

No city in Punjab has experienced violence comparable to Karachi/Quetta  despite producing the most violent and well established anti-Shia militias (LeJ/SSP/TTP). Possible explanations for this discrepancy may be the ease at which militarization is possible in both Karachi and Quetta as compared to rural Punjab, a greater opportunity for networking with other Sunni supremacist organizations in Karachi and multi-state extremist groups (e.g. Haqqani network & Taliban) in Quetta, the ease of visually identifying Hazara Shias in Quetta, a greater availability of prominent Shia targets in both cities and/or greater media/public exposure for anti-Shia violence in Karachi. Additionally, the importance of Karachi as Pakistan's trading hub, and the physical proximity of Quetta to both Iran/Afghanistan may allow anti-Shia militias to network with like-minded groups internationally, making Shias in these two cities especially vulnerable to violence.


(1)Waseem, Mohammad in association with Kamran, Tahir; Ahmed Ali, Mukhtar; Riikonen, Katja ‘Dilemmas of Pride and Pain: Sectarian Conflict and Conflict Transformation in Pakistan’, Working Paper 48- 2010, Religions and Development Research Program

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Visualizing Anti-Shia violence in Pakistan Part I: Has Anti-Shia Violence increased in Pakistan?

I have been playing around with the Tashaddud sectarian violence dataset intermittently between thesis related analyses for the past year or so. What is really special about this dataset is that by tracking Anti-Shia violence using newspaper articles from the DAWN archive, it includes city/town specific data on (mostly) Anti-Shia killings and attacks including the initial number of ppl killed (as published by the newspaper, an underestimate as many of the injured may die in the days/weeks/months following an attack), and injured (overestimate as many injured may die in the days/weeks/months following an attack). Additionally, this dataset also provides details about the religious affiliation of the attacker (Sunni or Shia) and some of the personal details about the professions of the victims. While I have been spending most of my time trying to add information about the type of attack (Assassination, Mass Shooting, Sectarian Clash, Bomb Blast, Suicide Blast, Arson). location (street, Imambargah, shop, medical facility, marketplace, education facility, home, religious procession) and the occupation of the victims (doctor, lawyer, politician..etc) from the DAWN articles references in the dataset, I had some time recently to analyse general trends in Anti-Shia violence.

Brief note: In addition to visualizing the trends in the data, I also conducted statistical analyses using generalized linear models. Model selection was based on the minimum adequate model criterion using AICc to determine which statistical distribution to use for null hypothesis significant testing (either poisson, quasi-poisson or negative binomial) and log likelihood ratio tests to determine which explanatory variables were important in explaining the variation in response. Details about the analyses and relevant code will be provided in an upcoming post. I also used conditional inference regression trees based on machine learning to determine if there were any thresholds in explanatory variables explaining Anti-Shia violence using Bonferonni adjusted p-values. The word significance in this post denotes statistical significance (p < 0.05).

Brief note #2: Anti Shia violence data from Tashaddud was only available for a nine year period from 2001 to 2013. I added data for the number of ppl killed and injured for 2014 from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2014 report on Pakistan.  Before plotting any data or performing any analysis, I removed any data for violent attacks by Shias on LeJ/ASWJ/Sunni Tehreek members (108 of 723 data points).

Trend #1: The number of Anti-Shia attacks has increased significantly from 2001 to 2014 (p<0 .0001, dispersion="1.24).

Trend #2: The number of Pakistani Shias killed has increased significantly (p<0.0001, dispersion = 0.704). However, there was no trend detected in the number of people killed per attack (p = 0.904), suggesting that there has been no change in the deadliness of Anti-Shia violence during this 14 year period.

Trend #3: The number of Anti-Shia attacks increased after 2007 (p =0.01, predicted effect size = 48.3%. Units for y axes on boxplots are number of attacks.

Trend #4: The number of Pakistani Shias killed also increased after 2007(p= 0.004, predicted effect size = 179%). Units for y axes on boxplots are number of people killed. 
Coming up: Visualizing Anti-Shia violence in Pakistan Part II: Where do Pakistani Shias experience the most Anti-Shia Violence?