Torture, Prosecution, CIA and Public

Torture is what keeps me up, it’s what’s on my mind. I am afraid that it’s a policy that while discarded now will return another day as the country is almost equally divided on its use.

I have been knee deep in torture recently. No, I haven’t been tortured nor have I tortured anyone. I have been reading about torture. I recently wrote about torture in my review of Taxi to the Dark Side where I collected links to my previous writings on the subject as well. I also discussed US public opinion about torture a few months ago.

With the recent release of the OLC torture memos, the torture debate has restarted again. There have been calls for prosecuting those who carried out the torture and/or those who made the policy decisions. Obama has called for looking forward instead of backward (imagine if every criminal had the same attitude). Senator McCain is against investigating torture or prosecuting anyone.

I am generally of the opinion that if the state must fall it must fall but we should get to the truth. However, after reading a lot about torture I have a distinct feeling that there is not going to be any prosecutions and even if there are, the chances of acquittal are very high. I find myself agreeing with most of the points Tyler Cowen makes against prosecution. The public opinion just isn’t there against torture (more on this in a bit). Hence, I believe it is more important to build a consensus against torture than to prosecute, as Matt Yglesias argues.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything. For starters, we should make sure that the architects of the torture policy, like George Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, etc. are kept far from the levers of power. Therefore, I support efforts to impeach Jay Bybee, former head of OLC and currently a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Also, we need a commission or some other mechanism to make public all the details about torture as practiced during the Bush era.

There are some who think that it was the higher echelons of the Bush administration that was responsible for torture. I think it’s clear now that this is wrong. Democratic leaders might not have ordered the torture (or “enhanced interrogation”) but some of them knew about it and some even approved. Similarly, other Western governments or their intelligence agencies were complicit, directly or indirectly, in renditions, torture, black sites, or sharing intelligence.

While there were courageous people in the military, government and civil society who opposed torture and did try to stop such practices, there were also a lot of others, lawyers, military commanders, CIA personnel and others, who were fully complicit in requesting, approving and implementing torture. I am about to finish reading Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side and it makes the case in detail. See, for example, former CIA counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer’s response or Condi Rice’s defense of imperial powers for the President.

That’s why I found the case of abolishing the CIA to be worth considering. CIA has a history of illegal activities (see Family Jewels and Church Committee Report and Iran-Contra report). Spencer Ackerman argues against abolition of CIA, but I found Quincy Adams and Matt Yglesias more convincing.

As for arguments about torture and its efficacy, I think torture is wrong regardless of whether it can yield any useful information or not. It is possible for torture to extract true information, though typically there’ll be lots of false confessions as well. However, it’s inhuman and morally wrong and that’s why we shouldn’t do it. As Obama said recently:

waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. […] And that’s why I put an end to these practices. I am absolutely convinced that it was the right thing to do — not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways — in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kevin Drum’s reasons for opposing torture.

I don’t care about the Geneva Conventions or U.S. law. I don’t care about the difference between torture and “harsh treatment.” I don’t care about the difference between uniformed combatants and terrorists. I don’t care whether it “works.” I oppose torture regardless of the current state of the law; I oppose even moderate abuse of helpless detainees; I oppose abuse of criminal suspects and religious heretics as much as I oppose it during wartime; and I oppose it even if it produces useful information.

The whole point of civilization is as much moral advancement as it is physical and technological advancement. But that moral progress comes slowly and very, very tenuously. In the United States alone, it took centuries to decide that slavery was evil, that children shouldn’t be allowed to work 12-hour days on power looms, and that police shouldn’t be allowed to beat confessions out of suspects.

On other things there’s no consensus yet. Like it or not, we still make war, and so does the rest of the world. But at least until recently, there was a consensus that torture is wrong. Full stop. It was the practice of tyrants and barbarians. But like all moral progress, the consensus on torture is tenuous, and the only way to hold on to it — the only way to expand it — is by insisting absolutely and without exception that we not allow ourselves to backslide. Human nature being what it is — savage, vengeful, and tribal — the temptations are just too great. Small exceptions will inevitably grow into big ones, big ones into routine ones, and the progress of centuries is undone in an eye blink.

Let’s look at recent polls about torture and investigation.

In the NBC/WSJ poll, 50% disapprove of Obama ordering the closing of Guantanamo detainee prison and 53% disapprove of the release of the OLC torture memos. 53% think that the Bush administration used torture while 30% say that they didn’t. 46% say that the harsh interrogation helped the US extract information while 42% think it hurt the US by undermining its moral authority. And only 33% want a criminal investigation of the Bush torture policy.

In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53% support Obama’s release of the torture memos. 48% think there are cases when torture should be considered and 51% support an investigation of the treatment of detainees.

In a Gallup poll, 51% favor an investigation of harsh interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration, but 55% think such treatment of terrorism suspects was justified.

30%, seem to agree with Cheney’s position that the ends justified the means and that no investigation is necessary. Nearly as many (25%), though, would appear to side with many congressional Democrats who say the techniques should not have been used and an investigation is warranted. Twenty-three percent think the techniques were warranted yet still favor an investigation, while 10% think the methods should not have been used but nevertheless oppose an official inquiry.

66% of Democrats favor an investigation while only 48% of independents and 37% of Republicans do. 39% of Democrats think use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects were justified while 55% of independents and 80% of Republicans agree.

In the New York Times/CBS News poll, 37% say waterboarding and other aggressive techniques are sometimes justified to extract information from a suspected terrorist while 46% disagree. Interestingly, only 16% of African Americans think they are justified. Only 71% consider waterboarding to be torture. 34% want Congress to investigate torture and warrantless wiretapping. 47% want to keep the Gitmo prison while 44% want to close it.

As you can see, there is some variation in these surveys. Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman try to explain why that is. While support for torture investigation varies from 33% to 51% in the various polls, the other numbers are a bit more consistent. The country seems to be almost equally divided on whether the torture memos should have been released and whether the Gitmo prison should be closed. Those who think torture is sometimes or always justified seem to vary from 37% to 55% while opposition to torture never reaches majority status either.

Looking at my previous writing on public opinion about torture, there doesn’t seem to have been any big change in public opinion in the US.

Finally, Pew did a survey about torture breaking down the numbers by religion, attending church, political party, etc.

Often justified Sometimes justified Rarely justified Never justified
Total US 15% 34% 22% 25%
White evangelicals 18% 44% 17% 16%
White non-Hispanic Catholics 19% 32% 27% 20%
White mainline Protestants 15% 31% 22% 31%
Unaffiliated 15% 25% 29% 26%
Attend religious services at least weekly 16% 38% 19% 25%
Attend religious services monthly 18% 33% 23% 23%
Attend religious services seldom or never 12% 30% 27% 26%
Republican 15% 49% 21% 14%
Independent 19% 35% 23% 19%
Democrats 12% 24% 22% 38%

Only a quarter of Americans are against torture under all conditions. This is astounding, but even worse is that only one of six white evangelicals and one in seven Republicans thinks torture is never justified. Even if we are generous and add up the numbers for those who think torture is rarely justified to the “never justified” ones, only 47% of Americans are against the use of torture. But only one-third of white evangelicals and 35% of Republicans are opposed to torture. I guess we could call these people the American Taliban.

While the Pope has come out against torture, among his followers American White Catholics a bare majority believes torture is often or sometimes justified. I wonder if any priest will deny communion to these torture-supporters.

The only groups (among those listed) with a majority who think torture is never or rarely justified are White mainline Protestants (53%), the unaffiliated (55%), those who seldom or never attend religious services (53%) and Democrats (60%). It’s disappointing that even these numbers are so low.

It can be argued that this support of torture by the religious is not a result of their being religious but rather due to the fact that those who are more religious are more likely to be Republicans in the US. I would agree with that, however, if religion can’t even get the deeply religious to oppose such an inhuman practice as torture, what use is such religion?

Electoral Vote Predictors

There are so many sites predicting the results of the Presidential, Senate and House elections, some using statistical techniques, others their intuition. Here are some of my favorites.

Being a political junkie means I follow polls and electoral projections. Add to it the nerd factor and I love to see all sorts of prediction algorithms used to figure out the electoral votes for Obama and McCain.

The best such site is Pollster.com which is very comprehensive and now with their flash applications very customizable too. You can even embed their poll trend graphs on your own website. They use LOESS local regression to calculate the current vote share for the candidates.

In 2004, I discovered Electoral-Vote.com which is run by Andrew Tanenbaum who I knew because of his Computer Science textbooks.

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

I like the Princeton Election Consortium site because not only do they provide details of their methods but also their code.

FiveThirtyEight weights pollsters by reliability and also takes into account the demographics of each state for their projection.

RealClear Politics averages recent polls to arrive at their electoral map.

Andrea Moro uses statistical simulations to assign the winner for each state.

Finally, 3BlueDudes has a huge list of election projection websites.

Torture and Public Opinion

Let’s take a look at opinion polls about torture. Who supports torture? Which groups are for or against torture? Why isn’t the Bush administration’s pro-torture conduct an issue in the election?

It was heartening to hear the following from Senator McCain at the first debate especially after his support for allowing the CIA to use torture during interrogations.

I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay. […] And we’ve got to — to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.

And Obama said:

And this is the greatest country on Earth. But because of some of the mistakes that have been made — and I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue, for having identified that as something that undermines our long-term security — because of those things, we, I think, are going to have a lot of work to do in the next administration to restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.

To my utter dismay, torture hasn’t become an issue in the US election. Today I want to focus on how popular or unpopular torture has been among the people of the United States and the world, which explains why Senator Obama hasn’t brought up the use of torture by the Bush administration more often and why Senator McCain has been sliding away from his opposition to torture.

Here is a poll from May 2004.

Given pro and con arguments, 63 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say torture is never acceptable, even when other methods fail and authorities believe the suspect has information that could prevent terrorist attacks. Thirty-five percent say torture is acceptable in some such cases.

There’s more of a division, though, on physical abuse that falls short of torture: Forty-six percent say it’s acceptable in some cases, while 52 percent say not.

Majorities identify three specific coercive practices as acceptable: sleep deprivation (66 percent call it acceptable), hooding (57 percent) and “noise bombing” (54 percent), in which a suspect is subjected to loud noises for long periods.

Far fewer Americans accept other practices. Four in 10 call it acceptable to threaten to shoot a suspect, or expose a suspect to extreme heat or cold. Punching or kicking is deemed acceptable by 29 percent. And 16 percent call sexual humiliation — alleged to have occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — acceptable in some cases.

[…] Whatever their personal tolerance for various practices, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is employing torture “as a matter of policy” as part of the war against terrorism. And two-thirds think the government is using physical abuse that stops short of torture.

[…] Regarding the Abu Ghraib case, which has resulted in charges against some U.S. soldiers and calls for congressional investigations, the public is twice as likely to see what occurred there as abuse (60 percent) rather than torture (29 percent).

In December 2005, an opinion poll tried to measure attitudes to torture around the world.

In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.

[…] In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.

A Harris Poll in December 2005 makes the American populace look quite pro-torture.

55 percent of all adults believe that rendition is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (41%), when interrogating suspected terrorists. 60 percent of adults believe that the use of “secret prison camps in Europe or elsewhere” is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (46%). 52 percent of all adults believe that the use of torture is justified either often (12%) or sometimes (40%).

82 percent of all adults believe that the U.S. uses rendition, as defined above, often (25%) or sometimes (58%). 81 percent believes that the U.S. uses secret prison camps outside the country often (23 ) or sometimes (58). 83 percent believe that the U.S. uses torture often (17%) or sometimes (66%).

At least it seems that the public doesn’t take Bush’s statements about “we do not torture” at face value.

A BBC Global Poll in October 2006 found that majorities in 19 countries are in favor of clear rules against torture. In order of decreasing popularity, those countries are Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Chile, Brazil, United States, Philippines, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, Indonesia. Note the position of the United States in that list; it’s near the bottom with developing countries. torture is more popular here than in most of the developed world.

There are some uncivilized countries where there is no clear majority for or against torture: Israel (43-48), Nigeria (39-49), Russia (37-43), China (37-49), India (32-23), and Mexico (24-50).

According to a CNN poll of the US in November 2007,

Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.

Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.

In the procedure, water is used on restrained prisoners to make them feel like they are drowning.

A World Public Opinion Poll in June 2008 found that:

A WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of 19 nations finds that in 14 of them most people favor an unequivocal rule against torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. Four nations lean toward favoring an exception in the case of terrorists.

However, large majorities in all 19 nations favor a general prohibition against torture. In all nations polled, the number saying that the government should generally be able to use torture is less than one in five.

On average across all nations polled, 57 percent opt for unequivocal rules against torture. Thirty-five percent favor an exception when innocent lives are at risk. Just 9 percent favor the government being able to use torture in general.

The four publics that favor an exception for terrorists when innocent lives are at risk include majorities in India (59%), Nigeria (54%), and Turkey (51%), and a plurality in Thailand (44%).

Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%). South Koreans are divided.

Again, notice where US public opinion lies. Near Russia, Egypt and Azerbaijan! Is that what we aspire to be? As Andrew Sullivan said:

So America’s peers in the fight against torture, in terms of public opinion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia, and Iran. This is what America now is: a country with the moral values of countries that routinely torture and abuse prisoners, like Egypt and Iran. Even the Chinese, living in a neo-fascist market state, oppose torture in all circumstances by 66 percent, compared to Americans where only 53 percent do! More horrifying: a higher percentage of Americans – 13 percent – believe that torture should generally be allowed than in any other country save China, Turkey and Nigeria. And in the last two years, as the American president celebrates and authorizes the torture of people who have not been allowed a fair trail, support for torturing terror suspects has increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.

Why are so many Americans morally bankrupt about torture now? It turns out it might be the fault of the religious, or more specifically the Southern Evangelicals.

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

[…] The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

[…] Pollsters also found that 53 percent of white Southern evangelicals believe the government uses torture in its anti-terrorism campaign, despite claims by government officials to the contrary. About one-third, or 32 percent, said the government does not use torture as a matter of policy.

Wow, so a majority of white Southern evangelicals are not only pro-torture, but they do not rely on Christian teachings either. Who would have thought they would be so immoral?

Pakistan Elections

Pakistan is having elections today. Violence has taken its toll though in dampening any enthusiasm. There are also worries about rigging.

It’s February 18 in Pakistan now which means elections to the National and Provincial assemblies are happening today.

The last year or two have not been kind to Pakistan and more than the election results, there are worries of bombings like this one on Saturday in Parachinar (Kurram Agency, FATA).

A bomb explosion rocked a rally organised by the People’s Party here on Saturday, killing 40 people and bringing the election campaign to an unpropitious end.

The bomb, planted in a car parked near the election office of a PPP-backed candidate, went off even as a procession terminated at the place. Syed Riaz Hussain, the candidate, escaped unhurt.

Although the exact nature of the blast could not be ascertained, Political Agent Syed Zaheerul Islam told Dawn that it was a suicide attack.

He put the death toll at 37 and the number of the injured at 93.

Doctors said that 110 wounded people, 50 of them critical, had been brought to the town’s main hospital. Seven shops and 10 vehicles were damaged.

The explosion sparked riots in the town and a number of abandoned houses and shops were torched. Troops opened fire to quell the disturbances, injuring several people.

Polling opens at 8am (0300 GMT) and closes at 5pm (1200 GMT).

There are also fears of rigging in favor of the Musharraf-backed PML-Q, headed by the Chaudhries of Gujrat.

A spokesperson for Mrs Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which is leading in opinion polls, said the vote was “not going to be a free and fair election”.

The party accused the pro-Musharraf PML-Q of plotting to stuff ballot boxes.

Mrs Bhutto’s former rival, Nawaz Sharif, whose party is also ahead of Mr Musharraf’s supporters in polls, said a “massive rigging plan” had “been implemented”.

Mrs Bhutto’s widower and successor as party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, said in an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper that his party would have “no choice but to take to the streets” if the elections were rigged.

Two opinion polls, by International Republican Institute and Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted January 19-29 have been released. Here are their results for the different political parties.

Party Terror Free Tomorrow International Republican Institute
PPP 36.7% 50%
PML-N 25.3% 22%
PML-Q 12.0% 14%

As for MMA, or rather JUI-F as Jamaat-e-Islami is boycotting the elections, it is not expected to do well even in the NWFP.

In my opinion, the Terror Free Tomorrow poll is closer to the truth for the PPP share. Of course, in a first-past-the-post system, it is difficult to guess the number of seats each party would win from such country-wide opinion polls. Cynic that I am, I believe Musharraf is fighting for his political life and hence he (or his PML-Q surrogates) would not hesitate a bit in rigging the elections. The rigging need not be massive; only as much as is needed to result in a hung parliament and some large number of seats for PML-Q.

As to who to vote for, I am not in Pakistan, so I cannot vote. If Benazir Bhutto hadn’t been assassinated, I would have endorsed her PPP as the party to vote for. The reason is simple: PPP is the largest and really the only party with support all over Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto was a leader of stature. Yes, I lived through her earlier stints in power and am familiar with the large scale corruption and lack of any achievements of her government. But I don’t consider Pakistani politicians to be angels; rather the task of the voter is to choose the lesser evil and Bhutto’s party seemed like the best bet (among political parties only, of course) for a democratic Pakistan. Unfortunately, the way the PPP has handled Benazir’s succession has put me off. Appointing a 19 year old Bilawal as the boy king and then appointing Asif Zardari as his regent reminds me a lot more of absolute monarchy than of democracy. Plus voting for a party led by Asif Zardari is not something I can do.

Among the other major parties taking part in the election, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is the only one that has made an issue of the large scale sacking of higher court judges done by Musharraf last November. I believe that to be worthy cause and so I recommend that everyone vote for the symbol “Lion” of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group.

And finally here’s some fun at the expense of Pervez Musharraf when Jemima Khan interviewed him recently.

I’m also disappointed, I tell him. The corrupt got off scot-free. And now it looks as though he will shortly be doing business with the very same politicians he wanted to get rid of.

Disarmingly he agrees – something he does a lot of. And I sense it’s genuine rather than appeasement. He argues that he had no other choice but to deal with the existing leaders of the main parties. This is a little disingenuous. The national reconciliation ordinance which he passed in October 2007 effectively guaranteed lifelong immunity from prosecution to corrupt politicians such as Benazir Bhutto, her husband Zardari and others, and enabled her to return to Pakistan to contest elections. He asks if he is being recorded. I say yes. He hesitates, then answers tellingly, “Yes, I agree with you [that charges should not have been dropped]. But then Benazir has good contacts abroad in your country, who thought she was the future of the country.”

I press him further. Surely even in spite of pressure from outside, given his feelings about the effects of corruption on Pakistani politics, those charges should never have been dropped. There should have been a proper judicial process.

I put this to him. “No,” he replies, “because they would have all joined and then I would have been out.” At this point he looks a bit wild eyed. He quickly adds that, of course, being in power has never been his ultimate goal. How much easier it would be, he adds wistfully and a touch unconvincingly, if he’d just resigned to play golf.

[…] Later when I point out that his old opponent Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), has vowed that if elected he will reinstate the judges who were unconstitutionally deposed by Musharraf, he retorts incredulously, “It is not a dictatorship here! How can you reinstate judges if you become prime minister? How?” This rhetorical question comes from a man who on 3 November dismissed 60 per cent of the superior court judges, including three chief justices, in anticipation of their ruling against his re-election as President while still head of the army. Many remain under house arrest.

[…] When I ask about the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is still under house arrest, he denounces him as “the scum of the earth – a third-rate man – a corrupt man”. And the lawyers’ movement? The lawyers have vowed to continue protesting on the streets and boycotting the courts until the deposed judges are reinstated and the constitution is restored to its pre-3 November status. “With hindsight,” he replies solemnly, “it was my personal error that I allowed them to go and express their views in the street… We should have controlled them in the beginning before it got out of control.”

And so it is a fight only for Musharraf’s kursi, his staying in power for himself, just like it has been since that day in October 1999 when Musharraf first seized power in a coup.

Global Gender Attitudes

I count the reasons why I won’t raise my daughter in Pakistan. The attitudes of Pakistanis towards women leave a lot to be desired and women don’t have much opportunity there.

This could also be titled Why I won’t raise my daughter in Pakistan.

There was a discussion among the Urdu bloggers last month about women in Pakistan and especially the staring they have to encounter. Rashid started the discussion. Farhat gave some examples of the difficulties women have to endure and then explained her point of view. Qadeer gave some examples of how women are harassed. Badtameez talked about the reasons of this harassment and staring in his usual inimitable, meandering style. Mera Pakistan discussed the issue and then suggested some solutions. Qadeer also lamented how women are not given their due role in society in Pakistan. Mawra also pontificated on the topic of men staring women in Pakistan. My Dad gave some examples from his youth, discussed whether this problem is limited to Pakistanis and gave some final comments.

I am not very interested in the staring issue myself since I don’t live in Pakistan. However, the larger issue of the role and place of women in society interests me very much. As mentioned above, I do worry about my daughter and how she can have the best opportunities despite the fact that women haven’t achieved equality in any society. With that personal note, I’ll focus on actual survey data rather than anecdotes.

Let’s look at the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, specifically Chapter 5: Views on Gender Issues.

People were asked if it is more important to educate boys or girls or both equally. Here are the responses from a few select countries:

Country Boys Girls Both equally
United States 1% 1% 98%
Turkey 4% 9% 86%
Egypt 22% 4% 73%
India 6% 8% 86%
Pakistan 17% 7% 74%
Bangladesh 8% 3% 89%

Egypt is the worst on this question, but Pakistan is pretty bad too. Compare Pakistan to the rest of the subcontinent and Pakistan looks so much worse than even Bangladesh.

Another question is who makes better political leaders:

Country Men Women Both equally
United States 16% 6% 75%
Sweden 3% 6% 90%
Pakistan 54% 8% 32%
Bangladesh 52% 8% 41%
India 19% 17% 62%

It looks like Indians like Indira Gandhi much better than Pakistanis like Benazir Bhutto and Bangladeshis like Khaleda Zia or Haseena Wajid. It is strange though that PPP (which was led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination on December 27) has a solid vote of a third of the Pakistani voters, but even some of them think men are better politicians.

The worst is yet to come though: There was one question on the survey asking who should choose a woman’s husband. The options given were woman or family. A lot of people in traditional societies, however, were intelligent enough to volunteer an answer of “both”, except of course Pakistanis.

Country Woman should choose Family should choose Both should have a say
Brazil 97% 1% 2%
Turkey 58% 9% 32%
Egypt 21% 26% 53%
Indonesia 64% 9% 27%
India 26% 24% 49%
Bangladesh 12% 36% 52%
Pakistan 6% 55% 38%

Pakistan was the only country where no one cares about the woman’s choice at all. In fact, they want the family to have exclusive rights to decide a woman’s marriage. Let’s look at it in more detail:

Only in Pakistan does a majority (55%) say that it is better for a woman’s family to choose her husband. Women in that country are slightly more likely than men to express that opinion – 57% of women and 53% of men say a woman’s family should choose whom she marries. This view is especially prevalent among married women. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) married Pakistani women say it is better for a woman’s family to choose, while about a third (32%) say both a woman and her family should have a say. Women who have never been married are more divided; 42% say a woman’s family should choose her husband and 42% say both should have a say. Pakistani women who have never been married are nearly twice as likely as married women in that country to say a woman should choose her own husband (13% of unmarried vs. 7% of married women).

Wow! Married Pakistani women don’t want their daughters and sisters to have any say.

Also, 61% of Pakistanis think that there should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace.

Let us now look at the Global Gender Gap Report 2007. Here are some choice rankings:

1. Sweden
2. Norway
3. Finland
15. Sri Lanka
18. Canada
20. South Africa
31. United States
32. Kazakhstan
34. Tanzania
41. Uzbekistan
51. France
59. Azerbaijan
81. Indonesia
91. Japan
100. Bangladesh
114. India
118. Iran
121. Turkey
124. Saudi Arabia
126. Pakistan
127. Chad
128. Yemen

Yes, Pakistan is 3rd from the bottom. Let’s look at the detailed results for Pakistan. Pakistan seems to be really bad for women in terms of economic participation and opportunity (a measure which includes labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, income, legislators, senior officials and managers, and professional and technical workers), educational attainment (literacy rate, and enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education), and health and survival (sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy). On the other hand, Pakistan ranks 43rd for political empowerment of women (women in parliament, women in ministerial positions, and number of years with a female head of state).

Pakistan Political Poll

A discussion about a series of polls about political opinions in Pakistan. In short, Musharraf and the ruling PML-Q are very unpopular, Bhutto and PPP are losing their popularity too while Sharif is gaining. The religio-political leaders are losing too.

Whenever talk turns to Pakistani politics, the biggest problem I have faced is a lack of data. How do we know which politicians, parties and policies are popular? Most of the time, we have to make do with hand-waving and some guesstimates of political rallies and marches. So I was really happy to find the opinion surveys of International Republican Institute done over 2006-2007.

Their latest poll was conducted from August 29 to September 13, 2007 and has a margin of error of 1.58%. For some context, Nawaz Sharif arrived in Pakistan on September 10 and was promptly sent to Saudi Arabian exile while Benazir Bhutto arrived in Karachi on October 18.

The detailed results are here but I like the charts.

When Pakistanis were asked to name their top issues for voting decisions, they named mainly economic concerns: Inflation (37%), unemployment (20%), and poverty (11%). This was followed by law and order at 10%. Islamization was cited by only 2% of the respondents.

A majority (62%) does not want the army to have any role in government. More (76%, of which 70% have strong opinions on the matter) would like Musharraf to resign as army chief. Both of these numbers have increased over the course of this year.

Reports of a deal between Musharraf and Bhutto were around throughout this year. The poll shows that support for such a deal is down.

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However, a majority of PPP (58%) and PML-Q (53%) supporters still favor the deal. When given an option between a deal with Musharraf and an alliance with the opposition APDM, almost half of all respondents prefer the PPP joining APDM. This is even true for PPP supporters, which is strange since they support the Musharraf-Bhutto deal too.

47% of Pakistanis think that this deal is for improving Bhutto’s personal situation while 27% believe it is for bringing democracy. These numbers are reversed among PPP supporters.

To anyone watching Pakistan, it is clear how things have taken a turn for the worse recently, what Amber called “beginning of the end” some months ago. Still the question about which direction Pakistan is heading was an eye opener with such a dramatic change over the last 6 months.

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Government performance numbers have shown a similar trend, with the government being quite popular (61%) in February 2007.

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Musharraf’s job approval rating has fallen faster and lower than Bush’s, with 70% now calling for his resignation.

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A very interesting question is about which leader can best handle the problems facing Pakistan. No one gets a majority, showing both Pakistanis’ cynicism about their leaders and the divisions in society. But I found it very intriguing that Nawaz Sharif comes out of nowhere to suddenly lead the pack in the latest survey. Since that survey was conducted right in the middle of Sharif’s effort to return and his being packed off to Saudia again, it is premature to say whether he’ll hold on to his lead. My guess is that Musharraf is very unpopular right now and some of that has rubbed on to Bhutto due to her deal with Musharraf.

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A province-wise breakdown of leaders is even more interesting, with the religio-political leaders trailing even in the province they rule, NWFP.

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Looking at the favorability ratings of Pakistani political leaders, we see Musharraf crashing which was obvious but we also see Altaf Hussain of MQM going from 18% to 6%. Whether this will mean that MQM’s hold on Karachi will be broken is anybody’s guess. The religio-political leaders Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Fazalur Rehman peaked a year ago but have lost popularity since. And this was before the drama of Fazalur Rehman trying to hold on to power in NWFP at all costs during the Musharraf election in October. My prediction is for Fazalur Rahman to be even more unpopular in the next survey.

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Coming to elections, 74% of Pakistanis opposed the reelection of Musharraf as President. The voting intentions for parliamentary elections by party track the leaders reasonably, with Musharraf being considered the leader for the ruling PML-Q. I was surprised at the PML-N performance though. I guess most of the anti-Musharraf, non-PPP vote is accumulated there.

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In Punjab, PML-N (54%) does best followed by PML-Q (21%). In Sindh, PPP is at 64% followed by PML-Q at 8%. In NWFP, PML-N is at 27% while PML-Q and PPP are tied at 17% each (note that NWFP is currently ruled by MMA which polls even behind Imran Khan’s PTI). In Balochistan, it’s PPP at 29% followed by MMA at 15%.

Overall, it looks like Musharraf and the ruling alliance are very unpopular. So unpopular in fact that Bhutto’s PPP is getting tainted due to their willingness to make a deal. The religious alliance MMA is also not as popular as it was in the last elections in 2002. And in urban Sindh, MQM seems to be finally losing its stranglehold.

American Muslims Poll

This is the first comprehensive poll of Muslim Americans. It has a wealth of data about their demographics and their opinions. While Muslims in the United States are conservative, they are closer to mainstream America than many thought.

Recently Pew Research Center conducted the first ever detailed opinion survey of Muslims in the United States. The detailed report (in PDF format) is worth reading.

Overall, I found the survey results to be mixed. Pew put the subtitle “Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream” on its report. This is generally true. However, there are still causes of concern, but mostly due to the social conservatism of Muslims.

The first question is how many Muslims are there in the United States. This has been fairly controversial with Muslim organizations claiming more than 6 million. The Pew survey estimates adult Muslims to be about 0.6% of the total adult population. Adding children, they arrive at an estimate of the total Muslim population to be 2.35 million.

As for demographics, two-thirds (65%) of Muslims in America were born elsewhere. Of the foreign-born Muslims, about 37% were born in the Arab world and 27% in South Asia. Looking at individual countries of origin, the top countries are: Pakistan, Iran, India, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Iraq and Bosnia. Among the foreign-born, about two-thirds are US citizens, hence only 23% of all American Muslims are not citizens. Muslim population is more weighted towards youth as compared to the general US population, a consequence of the predominance of immigrants. The racial breakdown of Muslim Americans is: 38% white (Arab and Iranians I guess!), 26% black (dominated by African Americans with a few African immigrants), 20% Asian and 16% mixed/other.

In terms of education, Muslims are about the same as the general US population for going to college and graduate school. However, there are more likely (21% compared to 16% in the general population) not to finish high school.

The income profile of Muslim Americans is very similar to the general population, though Muslims are less likely to own a house. This is very different from the Muslims in Europe where Muslims generally are from the poor and lower middle classes. Interestingly, Muslim Americans are a little less satisfied (42% excellent or good) with their economic situation as compared to the general US population (49% excellent or good). However, there are large differences in ethnicity here, with Pakistanis being very satisfied (68%) and African Americans very unsatisfied (30%).

Half of the Muslims consider themselves Sunni and 16% Shia while 22% say that they are only Muslims. Native-born Shias are quite uncommon (only 7%) while most Shia (or their parents) are from Iran (91%) or the Arab region (19%).

23% of the Muslim population is of converts to Islam. Most (91%) of these are US-born. 59% are African American and 34% are white. 55% converted to Sunnism, 6% to Shiism and 24% to nonspecific affiliation. About half of the converts converted before the age of 21 and very few (17%) converted after the age of 35. Two-thirds of converts were Protestant before, 10% Catholic and 15% had no religion.

American Muslim beliefs about the Quran mirror those of American Christians about the Bible, with Muslims being just a little bit more conservative. For example, 50% of Muslims believe Quran is the literal, word-for-word word of God while 40% of Christians believe the same for the Bible. 60% of Muslims think that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of Islam. Religion plays a very important role in the life of 72% of Muslim Americans. However, 40% of Muslims go to the mosque at least once a week while 34% go seldom or never. African Americans and Pakistanis are the two groups that visit the mosque most often while Iranians rarely do. Coming to prayers (salah or namaz), 41% pray five times a day, 20% pray at least once a day and only 12% never pray (another 6% pray every Eid). I am not sure I would take the response to this question very seriously. Three-fourth of Muslims also consider giving charity (zakat) and fasting during Ramazan to be very important.

US Muslims US Christians
Religion is very important in your life 72% 60%
Pray every day 61% 70%
Attend mosque/church at least once a week 40% 45%

About a quarter of Muslims have high levels of religious commitment with an equal number having low levels of religious commitment. The rest fall in between. Sunnis are more likely to be religiously committed than the Shia. African Americans seem to be highly committed as well.

Since women prayer in mosques was a popular topic here, it was interesting to read the opinions of Muslim Americans on this issue. 48% of men and 45% of women want women to pray separately from men; 20% of men and 26% of women want women to pray behind men; and 21% of men and 20% of women want women to pray alongside men in the mosque.

The old question of comparing different identities is something I don’t like. What really does it mean to ask if someone thinks of themselves as American first or Muslim first? And is it the same question when asked of a majority population? This really is something minority populations have to face as the majority can readily identify with the nation. So I found it interesting that among ethnic groups of Muslims, the native-born African Americans are the most likely to think of themselves as Muslims first (58%). Also, interestingly, 42% of American Christians think of themselves as Christians first.

A better question is about assimilation. Here 43% of American Muslims think that Muslims coming to America today should adopt American customs while 26% say that they should remain distinct from American society. Women are less enthusiastic about adopting American customs than men (48% vs 38%). Young people (aged 18-29) are almost equally divided on this issue (43% vs 39%). Interestingly, the foreign-born are more for assimilation (47% pro — 21% anti) as compared to the native-born (37% pro — 38% anti). This is mainly a result of the African Americans (47%) saying that Muslims coming to America should remain distinct from society.

In terms of interaction with society, nearly half of the Muslims have most or all of their close friends who are Muslims while the other half have relatively few Muslims in their inner circle. Here, women are much more likely to have most or all Muslim friends. 62% of Muslims say it’s okay for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim. Again men are much more likely (70%) to have this opinion compared to women (54%). Those with high religious commitment are less likely to have this opinion though their 45% surprised me.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 53% of Muslims say that it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States. Those most likely to have this opinion are the highly educated (65%), those earning more than $100,000 (68%) and non-African American native-born Muslims (67%). Why the rich and educated elite think so I have no idea but my guess is that these groups had not experienced any prejudice or problems before and thus it came as a shock to them.

The list of problems given by Muslims has the following: No problems (19%, that is significant!), discrimination/racism/prejudice (19%), being viewed as terrorists (15%), ignorance about Islam (14%), stereotyping (12%, how is this different from prejudice?). 54% of Muslims believe that the government singles out Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring. Men (59%) believe so more than the women (49%) and native-born Muslims (73%) do so more than foreign-born (47%). In fact, it seems that the longer one has been in the US the more that group believes in Muslims being singled out. Interestingly, only 47% of Arabs believe Muslims are being singled out while 55% of Pakistanis and 53% of other South Asians believe so. This seems somewhat consistent with my observation that Americans think that the stereotypical Arab features are actually those that belong to Pakistanis and Indians.

Here is an interesting comparison of the encounters with intolerance of Muslims Americans and African Americans in the past 12 months.

Percent who report that in the past year they have been Muslim Americans African Americans
treated or viewed with suspicion 26% 33%
called offensive names 15% 20%
singled out by police 9% 20%
physically attacked or threatened 4% 10%
any of the four 33% 46%

This shows that while Muslims have seen more intolerance recently, it has been milder and less frequent than what African Americans experience in the United States. So what would be the case for the poor African American Muslims? Half of all Muslims who are African American say they have been the target of bigotry based on their religion in the past 12 months, compared with 28% of white Muslims and 23% of Asian Muslims.

While Muslims were majority Democratic even before, the Bush administration has probably made them more so. 63% are Democratic or lean Democratic compared to only 11% Republicans/lean Republican. Muslims voted 71%-14% for Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election. Even politically conservative Muslims (19% of the total) lean Democratic (60%) and voted for Kerry (63%).

Most Muslims (70%) prefer a bigger government providing more services and want the government to do more for the needy (73%). However, Muslims are conservatives on social issues. 61% think homosexuality should be discouraged. The only group of Muslims who disagrees is those with low religious commitment. Only 43% of them think homosexuality should be discouraged. The group most opposed to homosexuality is African American Muslims who are 75% against. Also, 59% of Muslims say that the government should do more to protect morality in society. Arabs and recently arrived immigrants seem to be the most enthusiastic about the government regulating morality. Contrast this with the view of the general US population where 51% think that the government is too involved. I am of course with the bare US majority and think that the idea that government should be involved so much in morality is a major problem of the Muslim world right now.

43% of Muslims think mosques should opine on day-to-day social and political questions while 49% disagree. This seems to be a division between African Americans who overwhelmingly want mosques to express their views on political matters and foreign-born Muslims who don’t. Non-African American native-borns’ views are in the middle.

Muslim American voter registration and turnout lag behind the American average. Also, while in the general population rich are more likely to be registered and to vote, that’s not the case among Muslims. Both native-born and foreign-born citizens are equally likely to be registered to vote. The ethnic group with the lowest registration is Arabs (50%) and the highest Pakistanis (83%).

An overwhelming 75% of Muslim Americans are against the Iraq war compared to 47% of the general public. Even Republican Muslims (54%) are against the war. On the Afghanistan war, opinions are more divided. Overall, 48% Muslims are against it compared to 29% of all Americans. However, foreign-born Muslims are divided 40%-40% about the Afghanistan war while native-born ones are against the war 65%-26%.

Fixing responsibility for the September 11, 2001 terrorism seems to be difficult for Muslims. While American Muslims seem to be much more realistic on this issue than Muslims in Europe (except France) or in the Muslim world (except Nigeria or Jordan), only 40% believe that a group of Arabs did it while 28% don’t believe a group of Arabs to be responsible. Of these 28%, a quarter blame the Bush administration for the attacks. Overall, 32% refused to answer or said they didn’t know. This is ostrich-like behavior. Older American Muslims, those with college degrees and those with low religious commitment seem to do better.

51% of Muslims are very concerned and 25% are somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism. Again younger Muslims (18-29) are not as concerned. Compare these numbers to Pakistan where 43% are very concerned and 29% are somewhat concerned.

Only 8% of American Muslims think suicide bombing of civilian targets is often or sometimes justified. This rises to 15% among those aged 18-29. Only 5% of Muslim Americans have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, but 27% refused to express an opinion. The 5% number is very low and reasonable as one can find at least 10% in an opinion poll to agree to anything. However, the 27% who declined to answer are more worrying. Why did they refuse? Were they afraid? Looking at the detailed tables, it seems those who refused were mainly those with a high school diploma or less (35%), African Americans (30%) and recent immigrants (30%). In contrast, 78% of college graduates have a very unfavorable opinion of Al Qaeda.

61% of Muslim Americans think a way can be found for Israel to exist so that the rights and needs of the Palestinian people can be taken care of. This can be compared to 67% of the US public, 67% of Israelis, 33% of Turks, 26% of Indonesians, 23% of Pakistanis, etc. Contrast the 23% of Pakistanis with 67% of Pakistani Americans. Arab Muslim Americans are the only ones with less than a majority (49%) on this question but even they have far different views than the people in Arab countries.