Islamabad's vigilante, violent femmes

Extremist religious schools help Pakistani women ensure their own oppression.

Published March 29, 2007 10:28PM (EDT)

Yikes. A story from the Associated Press today gives a new meaning to the idea that women can be everything men can be. In this case they can be violent Islamic vigilantes. A bunch of female seminary students in Pakistan recently kidnapped a woman, along with several of her female relatives, and accused her of running a brothel. The police never showed up to investigate the kidnapping and the woman ended up being paraded before reporters and freed only after promising to live "a pious life." (After being released, she was so distressed at the way she'd been treated that she also "threatened to become a Christian.") The kidnappers, who are students at a hard-line Muslim seminary, claimed to have gotten information about "bad deeds" being done, and promised to act against the family as part of an anti-vice campaign created to embarrass the government.

The government has pledged to control Pakistan's thousands of religious schools, some of which operate as recruiting grounds for jihadists, but increasingly aggressive tactics by extremists often leave the police looking weak or simply apathetic. And it seems that not only suspected madams are in danger of the new vigilante justice. On Wednesday, authorities arrested two female teachers and two male students from the same seminary for warning Islamabad stores not to sell "un-Islamic" music and movies. In response, hundreds of protesters took to the streets, clubbing a plainclothes officer and seizing two policemen, who were only released after the police released their detainees. Islamic extremists have also occupied the only children's library in Islamabad to protest the government's decision to demolish a mosque because it occupies government land. When police and children's libraries aren't safe, it's hard to know what is.

These increasingly violent events affecting ordinary people in a capital city has made some observers worry about the future of Pakistan as a "moderate" Islamic country. Commenting on the "growing Talibanization in the country," an editorial in the News noted: "What's disturbing is that this isn't happening in some remote tribal region, but in the heart of the federal capital." What's also disturbing is that the extremist religious schools seem to be recruiting a new generation of women willing to become revolutionaries to ensure their own subjugation.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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