The abuse of Mukhtar Mai continues:
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 20 – Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman whose defiant response to being gang-raped by order of a tribal court brought her worldwide attention, was denied a chance to speak at the United Nations on Friday after Pakistan protested that it was the same day the country’s prime minister was visiting.
Ms. Mai had long been scheduled to make an appearance called “An Interview With Mukhtar Mai: The Bravest Woman on Earth” in the United Nations television studios, sponsored by the office for nongovernmental organizations, the Virtue Foundation and the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights.
But on Thursday night the organizers were informed that the program would have to be postponed because of Pakistan’s objections.
Those who use this story as a club to beat the United Nations with are missing the story. Wouldn’t the UN bureaucrats have extended this same consideration to Britain, France, the United States or other member nations had they requested it under comparable circumstances? The issue is that there aren’t comparable circumstances in Britain, France, or the United States.
So Pakistan, to avoid being shamed in the eyes of the world, brings even further disgrace upon itself. The traditional wisdom of the West, in significant danger of loss here as well, is that it’s not the exposure that is the evil, the injustice: it’s allowing the evil to happen, it’s perpetrating the injustice. Internalizing behaviors through guilt rather than externalizing them through shame. This is a difference as old as western civilization itself:
Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well. (from Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus as paraphrased by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus)
Make no mistake: the crime perpetrated against Mukhtar Mai was not an isolated case and it was not a perversion of her society’s justice. Brutally punishing her for her brother’s crime (which was, apparently, having sex with a girl from another clan) was her society’s justice. The tribal council’s decision was unhuman, unIslamic, and contrary to Pakistani law but Islamabad had to be shamed into action before Mukhtar Mai could receive actual justice. Shame upon shame upon shame.
Islamabad’s unwillingness or inability to extend its reach to Mukhtar Mai’s village has an analogy to its unwillingness or inability to extend its reach to the areas harboring Taliban and Al Qaeda members. We shouldn’t be surprised. Pakistan is not a state by virtue of history, culture, tradition, or the power of the government in Islamabad to extend its reach or the will of the people to be a united country. It’s a country by virtue of a British mapmaker. It’s the only country I know of whose name is an acronym (Punjabi-Afghani-Kashmiri-Iranian). According it the status of a Westphalian state or expecting it to live up to the responsibilities of a Westphalian state are unrealistic.
Societies based upon shame are under existential threat. They thrive in a world of isolation and in which you can conceal misdeeds. In the modern world the truth will find a way to get out and can circle the globe in the flick of an eye. But isolation dooms the people of such societies to ignorance, sickness, and poverty.
We need to learn this lesson well. There are only four known forces for preventing evil and unjust acts: the fear of exposure (shame), the fear of eternal damnation, avoidance of evil because it is evil (guilt), and the repressive power of the state. To my mind guilt is best.