In February, the Pakistani Army and the Taliban signed a truce that, in effect, granted the latter an unencumbered right to impose Sharia law on Swat, formerly a tourist-friendly region of Pakistan located about an hour away from Islamabad. The stated aim of this marriage of convenience (and cynicism) was to drive a wedge between the more reactionary jihadist element and the so-called “moderate” exponents of Islamism. What this deal amounted to was an acquiescence to barbarism, and it didn’t take long before the fetid yield was apparent to all. According to the New York Times, days after the truce was signed, “a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received assurances from the government that it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered.”
Hundreds of thousands of Swat residents have fled since the Taliban gained de facto — and now de jure — control over key parts of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). This means that Pakistan is not just faced with the problem of an Islamist statelet metastasizing within its own borders; it also faces a mounting internal refugee crisis. Seventy percent of Swat is today governed by a self-appointed clerisy that has instituted a total ban on music, alcohol, female education, and non-Islamic literature. Despite reassurances from Taliban leader Muhammed Molana Izzat Khan — who must have been laughing as he made them — that Sharia law would not equal the dispensation of Islamic justice, all evidence to date has contradicted this quaint prognosis.
As the Weekly Standard‘s Bill Roggio reports:
The Taliban carried out three suicide bombings just this weekend; sixteen police and paramilitary troops were killed in suicide attacks in Islamabad and North Waziristan, while 24 Shia worshippers were murdered in a suicide attack outside of a mosque in central Punjab province. Very rarely are any of the terrorists behind the attacks captured. Pakistani political leaders seem to express more outrage at the occasional American airstrikes that target al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders than at the near-daily suicide attacks throughout the country.”
In a country where suicide-murder is par for the course, what hope is there to excite popular or entrenched opinion on behalf of civilization? We’re a visual species, and very often an image or series of them will do. Consider this video, which has emerged in the past week, of a veiled 17-year-old girl being flogged for the “crime” of leaving her home with a man who was not her husband (despite the fact that her family members were in the home at the time of his visit). Recorded on a cell phone camera (truly never has the fusion of medievalism and modernity been more darkly exemplified), the victim, Chand Bibi, is held down by three bearded men while a fourth beats her backside repeatedly. “Please stop it,” she manages to cry in between wails of pain. “Either kill me or stop it now.” According to Pakistan’s Dawn News, the man who recorded the gruesome episode says it took place two weeks ago and that Bibi’s corporal “punishment” came after she refused to marry a local man, who in his battered male pride decided to do some battering himself and joined the Taliban.
Bibi has since denied to Pakistani judge and Divisional Commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed that she was ever beaten; no doubt the poor girl is terrified of the likely reprisal she’d meet if she dared to tell the truth. Nor has she received support from the very sorts who should be offering it instinctively. The chairman of the Pakistan International Human Rights Commission said that the video was a fabrication designed to “tarnish the image of Islam.” And Imran Khan, the head of a small and spineless opposition party, denounced the flogging but not the motive behind it, saying that it was actually a dereliction of Sharia!
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Supreme Court has nobly ordered the interior secretary and the chief secretary and police chief of the NWFP to file biweekly reports on the case before ending their investigation. But this does not alter the fact that the government of Pakistan has handed over a valuable piece of land, and with it all its inhabitants, to a gang of fascistic, woman-loathing thugs.
The sadism of flogging a teenage girl is matched only by the depravity that impels such action. Forbes columnist Tunku Varadarajan was quite right to note that the flogger in this video “is deriving pleasure — yes, sexual pleasure — from his beating of this girl, as he hits her hard on her buttocks, sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower, mapping his territory in a display of violent, misogynist cartography. … The Talib is getting satisfaction, a twisted, vile satisfaction derived from a twisted, vile social code.”
No mother or father alive can watch the video without experiencing sheer revulsion and hatred for the men responsible.
There is a reason that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s elegant memoir of her captive girlhood in Somalia and Saudi Arabia outsold Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the ideology and methods of al-Qaeda, even though the second book was probably more useful for waging the war on terror (sorry, “overseas contingency operations,” as it is now, bloodlessly, called). Something in our evolutionary psychology is stirred to rebellion against acts of cruelty perpetrated against women and children. This is why not even the most sophisticated cultural relativist can convince an audience of the permissibility of female genital mutilation. It’s also why rape, unlike certain acts of murder, is categorically deemed a crime for which no amount of time served can ever fully atone.
We should remind ourselves of the girl from Swat every time some “pragmatist” such as Fareed Zakaria or President Obama himself sounds the need for distinguishing “moderate” Islamists from their more extreme and primitive counterparts. Not only is this a self-serving dichotomy, focusing on whether a group’s avowed aim is attacking the West or just oppressively ruling the roost at home, but it invites the unconscionable flagellation of human rights.