Don’t throw acid on the face of Islam!

Published: September 12, 2012

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

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.


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 about 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 men and/or other women, but a majority of them were retaliatory. Therefore, men are the common denominator — not Islam.

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 organisation 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 the 1890s.

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

Take Colombia for instance. 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 Christians 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 two 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 two 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 five 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 ArizonaCleveland 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 in 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 the 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 realise that staying indifferent to these crimes happening in Muslim countries is like allowing someone to douse sulphuric acid on Islam’s face.

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

Do you think people have come to think of acid violence as solely a Muslim-country problem?

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This post originally appeared here.

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Faheem Younus

Faheem Younus

The writer is clinical associate professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, USA. The author can be followed @Faheem!/FaheemYounus

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • FU

    Acid throwing is a world wide phenomenon but it is frequent in Muslim world given women have little rights than to obey the Man. In Pakistan itself there have been so many instances. Why do you want to throw a religious color anyway ? Instead of addressing the problem you are whining how some newspaper were reporting as Islam problem and how it also happens in other places. In every article you have written you cry foul when ever someone criticizes Islam or Muslims. Recommend

  • Mj

    Your argument is lacking the support of statistical evidence that acid-attacks are as common in non-muslim countries as they are in muslim ones. No one denies that they also take place in other countries too, but the fact is that vast majority of them occur in muslim majority countries. Just the count of of such attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan and expressed as a percentage of the total would prove my point.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    No country or religious community is immune from this disease. But some are unarguably more prone to it than others.

    It’s rather unwise to latch onto one case from New York, contrast it against the thousands that occur in our part of the world and say, “See? It happens everywhere. There’s no difference!”

    There are always exceptions and outliers. Is vitriolage “solely” a problem of the Islamic world? Absolutely not. Is it predominantly a problem of the Islamic world? I’m afraid so.Recommend

  • Mj

    So to reiterate my point, it’s not really Islam which is the issue, it’s just that acid attack as a tool of terror has been used by Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani theocrats to subjugate and oppress women, and is quite in vogue in parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh where males consider it their socio-religious duty to disfigure ‘wayward’ women. It can be argued that the emphasis religion puts on honor and sexual purity also does not help matters in these communities.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Your point is well taken but you have not discussed as to why the Muslim identity becomes prominent in such cases. It would be interesting to read the thoughts of others on this.Recommend

  • SoAndSo

    Wow, nice article. Now tell me how is this suppose to console the acid victims here in Pakistan.

    In fact, every time if someone discusses a human-rights issue in Pakistan, the response is something like this: “same thing happens in the West”, “we are not the only country doing this”, “stop demonizing Pakistan”.

    The biggest example is when someone talks about rape in Pakistan, the response is something like e.g. “The USA has more rape cases than Pakistan”. I mean how are such statements suppose to help the victims here in Pakistan? Why do people always dismiss a valid concern for this country by saying that the West has this problem too? Whatever goes in the West, it does not put the criminals in our country off the hook!Recommend

  • M Hasan

    Acid attacks have nothing to do with a particular country or a religion. The reason why acid attacks happen in Pakistan or anywhere else is because acid is easily available in these countries and there is usually no record of the buyer. Lets not associate it with Pakistan or Islam!Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Groan – any nonsense is ok if you feel that you are defending Islam. The statistics that you provide indicate the vast majority of attacks take place in Pakistan, Afghanistan and despite reforms, Bangladesh (for perspective, Pakistani attacks being 10 times those in India). You will find uncivilized people in all countries, but uncivilized countries which take pride in their ‘eye for an eye’ rule book are more likely to show a higher percentage of such attacks.Recommend

  • Rafique Salam

    It seems most of the comments are coming from men. How do I know? Because they are avoiding the main crux of the article: Blame men, not Islam, for acid attacks.Recommend

  • ali

    Those who think that acid attacks are somehow acceptable in islam (I am not talking about muslims here) should just answer one question. What do you think Rasulallah (S.A.W) and the Sahaba would have done if they saw such a crime being committed?Recommend

  • Javed sahibzada

    I think it’s a conspiracy against terrorists, throwing acid is expensive killing is easy.Recommend

  • Faaltu mein khwam kha

    juggling between salvaging Ahmadi cause and a larger Islamic cause,author has become ”na ghar ka na ghat ka”.
    friend my friend , .. don’t waste your energy in saving the Image of Islam.put your energy in changing the trends like acid attacks and numerous others(suicide attacks,honour killings,blasphemy etc),and one fine morning you would see that there exists no Islamophobia.(taking a clue from your last blog). Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    An informative article. I didn’t know that the issue was so widespread across the globe. I don’t understand how can human beings be so cruel in their moments of rage.Recommend

  • Kafir

    @ali – Just Clap.Recommend

  • Keep up your good work!

    Because others are also known to throw acid on women, it is fully justified for Pakistanis to do so. Another good reason is that a disfigured woman will not be susceptible to demands for “vani” or whatever you call the process of snatching girls to punish her relatives. It is a win win situation.Recommend

  • Raw is War

    its a world wide phenomenon, just like terrorism. But u need to see where most problem comes from. Just saying it happens in other countries too will get the hook off the criminals in Pakistan.Recommend

  • ll

    @author two wrongs dont make a right.wherever this is happening is wrong, i agree, that the media only talks about all these negative aspects of our country , and the real Pakistan is never shown, even in the villages women are highly regarded by their fathers and their wishes are catered to (which you will never see in the media) ,acid attacks, happen mostly in the remote village areas, where most people are uneducated, crimes far greater in magnitude and numbers occur in ,for example, india, but we never see it on the media, because they always potray a happy picture of their country and are offended if anyone reports otherwise, having said that, we need to accept a problem and then ask for stricter regulations, as this is a crime not just against a person or a state but it is a crime against humainty.Recommend

  • Sonia

    Men are Evil.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Faaltu mein khwam kha: “juggling between salvaging Ahmadi cause and a larger Islamic cause,author has become ”na ghar ka na ghat ka”.

    I am surprised author did not give instances of acid attacks by Ahmadis to prove Ahmadis are no different then Sunnis, He tried to show acid attacks happen in US, so throwing acid on women should not be considered a big deal in Pakistan.Recommend

  • gp65

    “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 two percent Sikh (who are also not immune to such attacks).”

    So there were were around 14 reported acid attacks in India per year. What is the comparable number for Pakistan/Bangladesh/Afghanistan? You have not provided it. You have also not given a break-up of the 153 cases in 11 years. The fact that the country is 80% Hindu and 13% Muslim does not prove anything. BEcause even at 13%, India has 160 million Muslims. Now it is possible that all 14 attacks a year were associated with Muslim guys. Or all of them could have been associated with Hindu guys. I do not know. But it looks like you do not either. So the information you provided does not prove the point you are trying to make.

    In any event, as one of the other posters has said, focus on helping the people who are suffering in your country if you can instead of justifying the situation by saying it occurs elsewhere also. The last time the police officer gave me a ticket for speeding – I did not tell him oh others were speeding too. And If I had said that, he would not have listened to me.Recommend

  • Faaltu mein khwam kha

    I was referring to author’s previous blogs where he complained about the heinous treatment,his community (Ahmadis) is being meted out in Pakistan.when he goes to the town with his story of persecution by state and people of Pakistan,is he himself not portraying Muslims in a bad light?is he not stereotyping Pakistanis?His stories of anti Ahmadi acts by Pakistan,only take her image for a here he comes with this new story to be good in hardliner’s books.i think he is batting both ways. sheer hypocrisy..Recommend