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Dr. Faheem Younus

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Don't Throw Acid on Islam's Face

Posted: 09/05/2012 1:37 pm

I bet you didn't know these two recent stories:

A 49-year old female in New York suffered burns on more than 50 percent of her body because her father poured acid on her face and body.

A 29-year-old female in Montreal suffered burns on more than 70 percent of her body. Why? Her boyfriend doused acid on her face during a fit of anger, literally melting her skin away.

You didn't know these stories because acid attacks are pigeonholed as a "Muslim problem." And in these cases, neither the victims, nor the assailants, were Muslims. It is suggested that 99.9 percent of such attacks occur in the Muslim culture. Check out the news about the above victim in New York. It ends with a link to an Afghan acid attack story. Talk of being suggestive.

That suggestion, however, is flat out wrong. More than 80 percent of all acid attacks are committed against women. Granted, in some cases women have also committed these crimes against other men and/or women, but majority of them were retaliatory. Therefore, men are the common denominator -- not Islam.

A WHO report remarked: "Apart from Bangladesh, acid violence has been reported in Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Jamaica, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda. There have also been a few isolated cases in Europe and North America."

"Acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon," said the Acid Survivor Trust International, the largest European organization helping the victims of acid attacks, "that is not restricted to a particular race, religion or geographical location." According to estimates, more than 1,500 people in 20 countries are victims of acid attacks every year.

Sorry guys, but saying that acid attacks are unique to the Muslim world is like saying that rage, rape, revenge, resentment is -- and men are -- unique to the Muslim world. It doesn't work that way.

Some jokingly insist: "American men probably got the idea from the Muslims." That's a bad joke for two reasons. It's insensitive and inaccurate. According to the New York Times, a Brooklyn man threw acid on his "exceedingly good looking" landlady's face in 1890s.

The truth is that almost no sizable race, religion, country or custom is immune from this vile crime.

Take Colombia. A South American Spanish speaking country that recently reported up to 100 acid attacks a year. The country's population is 95 percent Christian and less than 1 percent Muslim. So would you blame the Christian or the Spanish culture?

Consider Cambodia. Located close to Vietnam, it reported approximately 100 acid attacks over a two year period. More than 95 percent of the country practices Buddhism with less than 2 percent Muslims. So much for Nirvana (a state of ultimate peace) I guess.

Or look at India. While actual numbers are much higher, a Cornell University study asserts that there were 153 acid attacks reported just in the Indian media from 1999 to 2010. The country is 80 percent Hindu, 13 percent Muslim and 2 percent Sikh (who are also not immune to such attacks). Many cases have been reported from Hong Kong and China. Even in Israel, a small country, a teacher and two students were burned when a Jewish family decided to bring the feud to school by throwing acid on their faces.

Count it all and you end up with approximately 5 billion people, adherents of five of the world's largest religions, spanning over five continents.

Yes, the rate of acid attacks remains higher in the Muslim majority countries but that's true for the rates of polio, illiteracy, poverty and corruption too, suggesting an alternate hypothesis.

That hypothesis, according to psychologists, is the despicable desire to inflict permanent disfigurement, not death, upon the victim. And the feelings of rage, revenge, resentment in the background of self-righteousness, poverty, illiteracy and false pride are largely responsible for such desires. Let's see if this hypothesis resonates with our minds.

Rage caused permanent blindness for Victor Riesel, a famous journalist, when a gangster threw acid at him in New York City in 1956.

Perhaps the paradigm of rage-revenge was at play when women in Arizona, Cleveland and Chicago suffered similar attacks in recent years.

We don't know if it was resentment or an attempt to gain sympathy when a woman in Washington State was caught with a self inflicted acid attack.

And the vitriolic self righteousness -- which has already burned people at the abortion clinics in the states of Texas, Louisiana and Florida during 1998 -- continues to threaten similar clinics in England.

Thankfully, the perpetrators are not getting a free ride anymore -- even in Muslim countries. Since Bangladesh introduced death penalty for throwing acid in 2002, according to Morrison and Rahman, acid attacks have dropped from an estimated 500 in 2002 to fewer than 100 in 2010. In Iran, acid attacks are now considered a capital offense. The Oscar winning documentary "Saving Face" has exposed these heinous crimes in Pakistan where acid attack are now punishable with life imprisonment.

Muslim men should realize: Staying indifferent to these crimes happening in Muslim countries is like allowing someone to douse sulfuric acid on Islam's face.

And all men could help by raising awareness about these crimes and demanding stricter legislation, instead of blaming Islam.

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and he teaches courses about Islam at the University of Baltimore. He is also founder of Muslimerican.com and can be reached at Faheem.younus@gmail.com.

 

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