Language, pedophilia and Presidency

It’s very tempting to fall into linguistic traps, especially when the words being spoken have content that is emotive. Sometimes it’s very difficult to separate what is actually to be taken issue with from what isn’t. Words like “murderer”, “terrorist”, “rapist” etc carry emotive content, apart from their criminal implications. Tag a person’s image with any one or a combination of these words, and it is likely to evoke a deep sense of disgust and hatred towards someone you have never seen before and whose (real) antecedents you have no idea about. The average person -even the average skeptic- is unlikely to look for further evidence that the person in the image actually is what the tag represents.

This is precisely where language becomes a slippery slope. This is why one has to be careful about using language so as not to unwittingly convey misinformation, or a false context. For example, I have frequently found it convenient to use the word “pedophile” in a negative context -once even in one of my blog posts while referring to Islam’s purported founder Muhammad- even though I knew what the popular notion of the word is, and how different it is from its actual clinical definition. Now “pedophile” literally means “child lover”, and since the images of child molestation that our brains might conjure up in response to that linguistic stimulus would be repugnant to most of us, we tend to present a negative reaction to the word. Organizations that set standards and definitions for psychiatrists to make diagnoses, especially the American Psychiatric Association, have referred to pedophilia as a “paraphilia”, or sexual attraction to certain things, material or abstract, that is deemed abnormal behaviour in psychiatric parlance. A person could only be diagnosed with pedophilia if they had acted on their urges. Since this phrase is vague, people would be likely to assume that it meant that a person was only a pedophile if they had actually molested a child. This was seen as vindication of the social near-consensus that all pedophiles are dangerous. The lynching of such “evil” people is regularly justified through this very charge, that they are a potential “danger to society”, so much so that even law enforcement authorities don’t bother protecting an alleged pedophile when their life is in danger. While it is indeed true that dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists, terrorists etc are a danger to society and hence must be restrained from causing harm, vigilantism and lynch mob justice are arguably even greater dangers to the concerned society, since they drag it towards rule and justice through anarchy and kangaroo courts, which defeats the very purpose of its existence. Equating a pedophile, or someone who is sexually attracted to children, to a child molester is unjustified, because it’s not necessary for a person to be pedophile to be a child sex abuser. Also, a pedophile isn’t necessarily a child molester. This distinction is critically important for law enforcement:

Any criminal behavior that appears consistently and universally must be recognized as having high predictive and preventative value for law enforcement and child protective services. Of critical importance is the complexity of the dynamics, typology, and investigative handling of child molesters-a label not always synonymous with pedophile.
This has been emphasized in the recent modification of the definition of “pedophilia” (or pedophilic disorder) in the DSM, the psychiatry manual which the APA commissions and revises. It defines pedophilia as:
A paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which cause the person with the attraction distress or interpersonal difficulty.
There are many pedophiles who belong to the latter category. In fact, the latest version of DSM (DSM-5) that pedophilia might be another sexual orientation. People who are exclusively, or in part, attracted to children have pedophile orientation. This, however, would seem to be unacceptable to most people, because children, especially pre-pubescent ones, are deemed incapable of giving considered consent. The APA, under considerable pressure, have mooted removing the concept of pedophilia as a sexual orientation from the DSM. But this might be misguided, according to some experts. Here is why:
Removing that term [pedophilic sexual orientation] in response to public criticism would be a mistake. Experiencing ongoing sexual attractions to prepubescent children is, in essence, a form of sexual orientation, and acknowledging that reality can help to distinguish the mental makeup that is inherent to Pedophilia, from acts of child sexual abuse.
Also
…in discussing the nature of a Pedophilic Disorder, DSM-5 has done little to characterize the multitude of psychiatric burdens associated with the condition, burdens that are frequently present, even in the absence of any acts of child sexual abuse.
In other words, lack of a proper definition might lead to doctors making wrong diagnoses, which would be unethical to begin with. Of course, it has been categorically mentioned that these clear definitions are in no way meant to advocate pedophilia, but only to help make more accurate diagnoses of pedophilic disorder, which in turn, might help prevent child abuse to a much greater extent. Also:
Behaviors that are energized by powerful biological cravings (whether such cravings are for heroin, alcohol, or cocaine or for some unacceptable form of sexual activity) can be difficult to resist, sometimes necessitating psychiatric assistance. The psychiatric burden can be especially difficult for individuals who are sexually attracted exclusively to children, because, for good reason, society must prohibit them from having sexual contact with any and all members of the category of persons whom they find to be sexually appealing. Having to go through life under such circumstances can be both challenging and distressing.
In many ways, a pedophile is as much a child abuser as a sexual person is a rapist. I will take care not to fall into the same trap again.
Language carries meaning when thought is put into the words spoken. There are many who don’t seem to worry about that, though. Rodrigo Duterte, the current and a veteran mayor of Davao City, the Philippines, is now running for President, and leading the race at the moment. Politically left of center, he has had an immensely successful administrative career, and much of it is owed to his achievements as mayor of Davao. He has been responsible for turning Davao into a model city since his family took over the political reins in 1988 after the 1986 overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. It is also argued by some that Davao City is one of the 10 safest cities in Asia, whereas previously it used to be known as the “murder capital” of the Philippines. So politically, his credentials are impressive, and hence there can be little doubt why he leads the race for President. His USP has been his ability to tackle crime effectively and bring crime rates down in Davao, leading to its current prosperity. This is what he says he plans to do with criminals across the Philippines if he become President:
I will use the military and the police to go out and arrest them [criminals], hunt for them and if they offer a violent resistance …I will simply say, kill them all so we can finish this problem.
Duterte’s obsession with bullet justice is not surprising. He has publicly admitted to having shot at a “bully” when he was a law student for having made racist remarks against people belonging to his ethnicity. He has also previously admitted to having shot dead three alleged kidnappers in 1988. Further:
“I say let’s kill five criminals every week, so they will be eliminated,” he said in December, provoking a backlash from human rights groups over the prospect he would encourage extrajudicial killings as a crime-fighting solution.
It’s unlikely that people would oppose the idea of fighting crime, unless they were criminals themselves. And hence the huge support he enjoys is understandable.
“Duterte’s campaign has tapped into public frustration with ineffective public services, which voters believe are failing to resolve peace and order issues, widespread illegal drug distribution and addiction, worsening traffic, corruption, etc. These issues have resonated with many voters more than big macro, policy commitments,” Jun Trinidad, a Citi economist, said in a recent note.
But how exactly does a trigger-happy mayor tackle the problem of crime? Well, at least for Duterte, vigilantism is the answer, something that he involved himself in even before his mayoralty. He had admitted to having links with vigilante death squads in the city of Davao, in order to wipe out criminals. These murder missions have led to more than 1000 killings during his tenure, and he has pretty much admitted that this is what helped him make Davao a safe prosperous city:
We’re the ninth safest city. How do you think I did it? How did I reach that title among the world’s safest cities? Kill them all [criminals].
Easy, make the city unsafe for criminals to make it safe for the rest. Or even those who might look like criminals. His policies have led to the death of drug dealers, petty criminals and street kids since 1998, and he proudly advertises the impunity with which he has been doing this in order to keep his city “safe.” What is worrying is how this has met virtually with no opposition in the Philippines. In fact, his unabashed admission of his criminal past and advocacy of vigilantism have only seen his popularity ratings soar in the country. In a democracy, such candid admissions from a public official should trigger criminal investigations, in order to bring the responsible to book. However, this doesn’t seem to be what the Philippines wants.
Even if an allowance could be made for the fact that Duterte only killed “criminals”, his comments about women, much like (or perhaps going one up on) America’s right-wing nut Presidential candidate Donald Trump, would raise one’s hackles. During a presidential debate, Duterte happened to make a rape joke about an Australian missionary working in a Filipino prison who was raped and murdered by convicts in 1989.
“Why did I get angry — because she was raped? Yes, that’s part of the reason, but also because she was so beautiful and the mayor should have been first,” Duterte said, according to a report by Associated Press.
You read it right. Rape joke. Made by a Presidential candidate, in a democratic country which allowed state funding for contraceptives despite the objections of the Catholic Church (in a predominantly Catholic nation). And who is leading the opinion polls. What’s more, he was unwilling to back down even after he was widely criticized for his comments.
“It would do well with the American ambassador and the Australian ambassador to shut their mouths,” Mr Duterte said in response.
And:
…. Duterte defended his statement, saying “this is how men talk.”
Speak for yourself. I personally don’t know any man who trivializes human rights violations, much less flaunt his misogyny with pride. It has been claimed that Duterte has made Davao safer for women, and has even encouraged empowerment of women. Be that as it may, it certainly doesn’t give him the license to make misogynistic comments in public, let alone defend them later by misrepresenting the entire human male population. At best his is a case of benevolent sexism, at worst he is a raging misogynist. Not to mention the fact that he is a possible homicidal criminal going scot-free and contesting the Presidential elections. In this particular case, people don’t seem to much care about language being used without restraint. It’s indeed a worrying trend, seeing as how right-wing extremist forces are making a resurgence worldwide, with complex issues like migrant crises gaining prominence.
Speaking of the Philippines, the mandatory Islamist beheading ritual seems to have found its way to this beautiful archipelago in South East Asia. John Ridsdel, a Canadian citizen who was kidnapped in September last year by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, was decapitated a few days ago, because the ransom they demanded was not paid. This is certainly not the first time Abu Sayyaf has murdered people, but they seem to have caught the Islamic State bug in taking and murdering Western hostages. They have two more hostages, a Norwegian man and a Filipina woman, and needless to say, their lives are in danger, assuming they are still alive. This comes amidst a spate of Islamist killings in different parts of Asia, most conspicuously in Bangladesh, where the Koran-bashing barbarians have seemingly unleashed themselves on humanity, slashing and murdering people with gay abandon. Their latest victims included a university professor, a Hindu tailor and an LGBT rights activist. More worrying, one feels, is the fact that people continue to be jailed for “offending the Prophet.” Bangladesh claims to be a secular democracy. If that is true, then it is at best a very insecure and uneasy secular state. Recently, the plea that Islam be dropped as state religion was rejected by Bangladesh’s highest court. So you have the paradox of a secular democracy with a state religion. The clause was inserted in the Bangladesh Constitution in 1988, thus allowing it to mock itself. This came from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh -Sheikh Hasina Wajed- herself, shortly after Nazmuddin Samad, another young atheist activist was hacked to death:
“Offending religious sentiments shows a perverted mindset,” the Bangladeshi Premier, Sheikh Hasina, recently said at a celebration of the Bengali New Year on April 14. She was careful to add, however, that anyone “killing another person in response to what they have written is not Islamic”.
This is a veiled attack on the victim of a brutal murder. This reeks of majority politics, and hence the rise of Islamist forces in this “secular democracy” is not all that surprising. The much publicized war crime trials and subsequent death sentences handed out to the criminals seems like an eyewash, as it can hardly be called “justice” and does little to address potentially deeper, graver problems within the Bangladeshi political system.
Part of the problem is that Bangladesh is still at a stage of development where freedom of speech — like so many other fundamental rights, even habeas corpus — is treated as discretionary. And though the Awami League enjoys a reputation as the more liberal of the country’s two dominant parties, its record is not without blemish; it has promulgated a draconian cyber law that allows for detention without bail. Also, and less talked about in the light of the more headline-grabbing blogger killings, dozens of people disappear each year; a bane that did not exist in the 1990s but which has flourished since the early 2000s.
Law is arbitrary in Bangladesh. The war crime trials has only led to further victimization of the minority religious groups in Bangladesh, and of those who support and fight for human rights there.
Speaking of secular nations, the United States prides itself on being a pioneer in implementing secularism as state policy within a democratic republican system. As the world’s most powerful nation, it seeks to establish itself as a promoter of democracy and human rights in the world, and has always stayed opposed to despotism and human rights violations. It has a long, dark history as far as its human rights credentials are concerned, and has actively sought to correct that, especially since the end of WW II. This has led to politico-military interventionism in many cases, and history gives a good account of it. Whatever it might have done on the ground, it has always claimed to be a staunch defender of human rights and the most vocal advocate of global peace. Those claims might sound a bit hollow, after the express denial by the US military establishment that anyone was responsible for the MSF hospital bombing in Kunduz, Afghanistan last October, which killed more than 40 Afghan civilians and destroyed the hospital. The US has tendered no reply to MSF’s request for an independent investigation into the incident, raising suspicions that the US is deliberately withholding details in order to protect its wartime excesses from international scrutiny. Indeed, they have claimed that the bombing didn’t count as a war crime because it wasn’t “intentional.” The MSF, being politically neutral, has been known to provide medical care to even wounded Taliban fighters. That led to the US believing that the hospital itself was a Taliban base. The American military and governmental establishments, despite their strident human rights advocacy on the international stage, have not been particularly famous for their cautious approach when it comes to limiting wartime collateral damage. In other words, they are human rights violators themselves. So, for example, when the US Treasury decides to replace the face of the $20 bill -which previously was that of a slave-owner- with that of a victim of slavery who fought against what had become something of an institution in the US, especially the South, it’s largely a symbolic act that tries to mask the ground realities in the US. Racially motivated hate crimes continue to be pretty frequent and the descendants of erstwhile slaves, continue to bear the brunt of that hatred, with two-thirds of all racial hate crimes being perpetrated against black people. Despite the fact that Barack Obama enjoyed two terms at the White House as the country’s first ever black President, black people continue to belong to the lower rungs of the American society, and there has hardly been much change in their overall socioeconomic position. Obama himself has expressed his concern about black people being deliberately deprived of opportunities because of this persistent bias. The fact that Donald Trump is enjoying so much public support on the plank of reviving “great America” under his Presidency, speaks volumes of the supremacist concerns of the right-wing reactionaries in America, and how significant a percentage of the American population that section is.
It’s merely a footnote, then, that America’s condemnation of the Saudi bombing of an MSF hospital in Syria is a bit rich. But that’s where Donald Trump and his priceless campaign trail of political incorrectness make a certain degree of sense.
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