Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks linking rape to vulgarity have not gone down well with citizens around the globe, many of whom took to social media to express their displeasure. International media outlets also extensively reported the event, leading to widespread criticism of the Pakistani prime minister.

During a question-and-answer session Sunday on live television, the prime minister issued the controversial remarks in response to a caller’s question.

When asked if the government is taking steps to address the rise of incidents of sexual violence in the country, Imran Khan condemned crimes against women and children. He followed this, however, by saying such acts are the result of growing fahashi [vulgarity] and indecency due to negative influences from Bollywood, Hollywood, and the west.

He added that such acts can be prevented through purdah [covering up], the Islamically ordained concept of modesty.

The prime minister’s comments soon became the subject of condemnation by humans rights bodies and regular citizens, who were appalled that the premier linked criminal acts like rape and paedophilia to immodest clothing and media. Many pointed out that Imran Khan’s comments were irresponsible and shifted blame from the perpetrators to the victims of such violence.

Global criticism

The prime minister’s former wife, Jemima Goldsmith, reacted to the news when it was reported by global outlets.

“I’m hoping this is a misquote/mistranslation,” she wrote on Twitter. “The Imran I knew used to say, ‘Put a veil on the man’s eyes, not on the woman.'”

She also shared a Quranic ayat that ordains men to restrain their eyes, adding: “The onus is on men.”

Imran Khan’s comments were reported by major global news outlets, including BBC, The Guardian, VICE, Times of India, and Al-Jazeera.

Some Pakistani Twitter users expressed their dismay at the prime minister’s remarks bringing negative global coverage to Pakistan, noting that numerous international outlets had shared the news.

People from around the world registered strong reactions to the Pakistani premier’s words.

A Polish Twitter user shared Gemima Goldsmith’s tweet alongside a news article, saying Imran Khan “reduced women to impure objects, and men to brainless, primitive, critters with a self-control of ameba.”

A British consultant said Imran Khan’s comments represent “exactly the kind of attitude that urgently needs to change – blaming women for rape.”

Pakistani Twitter reacts

The clip of PM Imran Khan’s comments went viral soon after the live telecast, leading to strong reactions by the Pakistani public.

“It is shocking that the Prime Minister of our country repeatedly hurts the sentiments of women, especially survivors of sexual violence,” said journalist Nayab Jan on Twitter. “It’s high time to dismiss these patriarchal myths that are a hindrance to the fight against rape!”

“It’s scary that our PM would have such cringe-worthy opinions on such a matter,” actor and model Rubya Chaudry wrote. “I really hope he redeems himself.”

“It’s hard enough being a woman in this country. We’ve seen how easily the victim is blamed and your PM just validated this backward thinking men have,” a Twitter user commented. “We honestly deserve better than this.”

Writer Bina Shah said PM Imran’s comments imply that “some men are too weak to control themselves and rape after seeing vulgarity on screens.”

“This is actually a big insult to men, but most of you don’t realize it. You think he’s including you in his club of “strong” men,” she wrote.

Another user pointed out that rape and abuse occurs in mosques as well, asking: “Wahan konsi fahashi hai?” [“What vulgarity is found there?”]

He further urged the prime minister to “listen to criminologists, forensic psychologists and researchers to learn and understand why heinous crimes like rape happen.”

Misrepresentation of comments?

Meanwhile, some came to Imran Khan’s defence, maintaining that the prime minister’s quotes were being misrepresented.

“Complete misinterpretation of the facts,” said Shahbaz Gill, the prime minister’s aide on political communication.

He noted that the prime minister “never mentioned any particular dress code and its relationship with the rape incidents.”

Renowned music producer Rohail Hyatt shared the same stance, saying the premier’s words have been “taken out of context.”

“He’s clearly condemning rape and giving a message that going out of the boundaries of modesty invites trouble and who can deny this fact?” he wrote.

Others, like lawyer Mavra Ghaznavi, strongly disagreed with such justifications.

In a 13-part Twitter thread, she identified Imran Khan’s refusal to “intelligently engage with his critics” as the problem.

“For all those who think Imran Khan misspoke or simply needs to be educated on the subject of rape and gender inequality, let me remind you that many have tried to educate him and that he has access to the best researchers, policymakers, and psychologists in the world,” she noted.

The author is a member of staff. She writes features on current affairs and is interested in issues of social justice, online behaviors, and popular culture. She tweets at @zainabmsheikh and can be reached at zainabmubashir@thecorrespondent.pk.

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