Liberal Grace

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sexual-cultural clash at the highest levels.

I had to smile when I read this article -- it's an encounter that happens again and again between western women and Pakistani men.

This is a bit of an insider's joke for westerners living in South Asia even though it is being taken very seriously here:
Senate moved for debate on Rice’s biography

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Tuesday submitted an adjournment motion seeking debate on the material published in the biography of Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, describing Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s attitude highly objectionable during her first meeting with him.

The biography titled “Twice as Good – Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power” by Newsweek chief correspondent and senior editor Marcys Mabry was launched in United States recently.

Referring to Rice’s first visit to Pakistan in March 2005, the author writes, “yet, when Rice sat down with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who fancies himself as ladies’ man, Aziz puffed himself up and held forth in what he obviously thought was his seductive baritone. (He bragged – to Western diplomats, no less – that he could conquer any woman in two minutes)”. An eyewitness and participant at the meeting recalled that “there was this test of wills where he was trying to use all his charms on her as a woman, and she just basically stared him down. By the end of the meeting, he was babbling”.

The movers of the motion said that the matter published was shameful for the entire nation and needed discussion on the floor of the house. They said if it was wrongly reported the prime minister should explain his position on the floor of the house.
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The funny part, for western expats in South Asia, is that this same scenario gets played-out all the time and yet nobody seems to learn from it.

Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is a minor misunderstanding compared to the cultural clash that happens when a South Asian man puts the move on a western woman.

This is especially true for Muslim men who live in a predominately male world (with women behind purdah) and who have been fed a steady lifelong portrayal of western women as sluts.

One can't blame them for believing it. They hear this slut charge preached by their local mullah and then they turn on their TV and see it confirmed on Baywatch or they surf for porn and gather that every western woman must have posed for a porn shot, at least once in her life.

The western woman comes at this from a very different direction. Take eye contact for example: if, in a grocery store, a Pakistani man and a western women find themselves in close proximity, the cultural norm is for the woman to make eye contact, give a polite smile and maybe a curt "hi". The man exchanges the same and then gives her plenty of personal space to show he's non-threatening. Most importantly, he lets her go away, un-bothered by him.

But this eye contact and smile send a very different message in this part of the world. For starters, I try to avoid, with much effort, any close proximity with women. Secondly, I never look at them directly nor do I smile at them. And certainly, I never ever initiate a conversation with them.

In my neighborhood -- quite literally -- the only (non western) women who have ever initiated contact with me were prostitutes.

The South Asian man, convinced that western women are a bunch of sluts, has one smile and say "hi" so he makes the move on her.

Ironically, the western woman and the Pakistani man get the same vibe from each other at this point of the cultural clash: sexual sleaze. The one is attracted to it and the other is repulsed by it.

That's the cultural background of this encounter between Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

I just can't help but be amused that an encounter that commonly happens in supermarkets or other public places, might also have happened in the highest levels of diplomatic circles.

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