Professor Rana Eijaz Ahmad, Host Director Confucius Institute University of the Punjab, faced relentless criticism for sharing some ‘controversial’ views on social media. Prof. Rana exclusively spoke to GVS and explained his position. He has maintained that the phenomenon of harassment has been ‘highly politicized’ for the past several years. “It is now used to settle political/ideological matters,” he asserts.
Three days ago, Prof. Rana tweeted (the same post was shared on his Facebook account which has now been deleted) that “My thesis and strong argument are that it is only a woman who can harass a man, a man cannot harass a woman.”
1/2 Not only in Pakistan usually, but in whole world females harass males including male teachers and students. My thesis and strong argument are that it is only a woman who can harass a man, a man cannot harras a woman. I have scientific and logical reasoning behind my argument.
— Rana Eijaz Ahmad (@ranaeijaz) August 17, 2020
He also claimed that “I am writing a research paper on this harassment issue and want to dissolve this wrong perception that men harass women.”
2/2 Historically speaking, Hazrat Yousaf AS example is with us. It may be the only example of harassment recorded in the Quran. I am writing a research paper on this harassment issue and want to dissolve this wrong perception that men harass women. The case is otherwise.
— Rana Eijaz Ahmad (@ranaeijaz) August 17, 2020
The matter got importance due to the ongoing debate about harassment and a right to fair criticism in Pakistan. A group of well-known Pakistani female journalists and commentators have sought protection against what they termed “vicious attacks” directed at them through social media, allegedly by people linked to the ruling PTI government. Mehmal Sarfraz, Benazir Shah, Asma Shirazi, Reema Omer, and Munizae Jahangir are among the women journalists and analysts who have signed the document.
Below is a joint statement by women journalists and commentators in Pakistan against online abuse and trolling by government officials and Twitter accounts which declare their affiliation to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. #AttacksWontSilenceUshttps://t.co/oF6WkM4YWN pic.twitter.com/cN2iuXhDgh
— Benazir Shah (@Benazir_Shah) August 12, 2020
Later on, these women were invited by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman PPP, and head of the National Assembly Human Rights Committee, to record their grievances.
Briefed NA HR Committee under the chair of @BBhuttoZardari (alongwith other colleagues) re complaint of women journalists in Pakistan against attacks, clipped w/evidences. Thank you BBZ & whole of the committee for listening to us because #AttacksWontSilenceUs pic.twitter.com/HHC06QGH1H
— Gharidah Farooqi (@GFarooqi) August 18, 2020
A PTI leader, who spoke to GVS on the condition of anonymity, believes that these women belong to a specific group that is working to rescue the opposition leaders accused of massive corruption and money laundering. “They take a strong political position to defend the parties of their choice, and, as you see, our supporters respond to them. The irony is that political difference is treated as harassment; a fair rebuttal generally harasses the other person’s lies” she added.
“I have been harassed several times by women,” says Professor Rana
While speaking to GVS, Prof. Rana said: “I am not surprised to see people writing tweets or Facebook posts against me in a highly objectionable language. In fact, this is what I intended to highlight. Unfortunately, we have become a society where a few people bother to think before taking a position or writing a comment on any post they look at on social media.”
When asked how does he understand harassment? He said that “my point is that harassment should not be understood in terms of gender. It is not, I can reasonably argue, gender-specified rather it is all about power. A woman in a position of power can harass a man and vice versa”. I do not deny,” he said, “the fact that women face harassment at the workplace and elsewhere but I also maintain that men are the worst victim of the same”. “To add insult to injury, men, unlike women, cannot report if they are ever harassed at home or outside,” he lamented.
Professor Rana also said that “branding men as monsters or sexual harassers is oftentimes politically motivated”. He recalled an incident when one of his colleagues committed suicide. He said: “I still remember one of my colleagues at M.A.O College committed suicide because his wife left him and the society started calling him a sexual predator after he was falsely accused of sexual harassment by one of his students. He was declared innocent by the committee probing his case after he had died. Who should be held responsible for this ‘murder’?”
He also questioned the prevailing definition of harassment and asked if what he is facing not harassment. He said: “This is quite upsetting to see people talking about my education, my institution, and my family. You may see on social media what so many people (and among them women are around 90%) have said to me. Is this not harassment? Is bullying someone just because you happened to disagree with what they think normal?”
He concluded the conversation while admitting that he himself was harassed by women. He said: “I just said that women can harass men and you see what I have been offered at large. Can you imagine what these people will say if I tell them that I have been harassed several times in my life by women?”
#MeToo: A campaign to target political and ideological rivals?
Analysts argue that powerful groups across the world misuse #MeToo campaign to secure vested political interests. Notably, Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford, was accused of rape and sexual harassment in 2017. Prof. Ramadan advocates a “European Islam” free from foreign influence and which promotes social integration. In 2000, Time magazine recognized him as one of the seven religious innovators of the 21st century, and as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.
It is worth noting that in 1995, Prof. Ramadan was temporarily banned from entering France for alleged links to Algerian armed groups. However, no ties were ever proven. The US also accused him of endorsing in 2005 but dropped the lawsuit later on. He was also “persona non grata” in Tunisia before its revolution, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria. He said he was not allowed into those countries because of his criticism of their “undemocratic regimes”. He is also not welcomed in Israel.
As Henda Ayari accused Ramadan of “rape, sexual violence, harassment and intimidation, the New York Times was quick to run a story about him, entitled the “Harvey Weinstein of Islam”.
Although none of the allegations were verified, a panel of French judges ruled that Tariq Ramadan posed a “flight risk” and could be prone to re-offend. Based on this, he has been put in pre-trial detention. Later on, some other women also accused him of rape and sexual harassment. Ramadan has been denied bail and placed in solitary confinement at the Fleury-Merogis prison.
In Pakistan, a lecturer named Muhammad Afzal of Government M.A.O College in Lahore committed suicide after he was accused of false harassment charges. Afzal was accused by none other than his own student. However, the girl could not prove allegations against the lecturer before a committee constituted to probe the matter. Afzal’s letter written to the professor of college and inquiry officer, Alia Rehman, exposed the reality of the case and raised some serious questions.
Some experts are of the view that harassment is now widely used as a weapon to target those who could otherwise not be deterred. However, populist media and social media activists seem to be indifferent to probe into these serious allegations when leveled against a man. There is some compelling evidence available which suggests an outright misuse of #MeToo campaign. Similarly, Pakistan’s cultural discourse needs to create a space for men to share their sexual harassment experiences.
GVS Analysis by News Desk with input from Assistant Editor Farah Adeed.