The Wrong Defense

6 Nov

The recent case of sexual harassment at LUMS reveals many disturbing facets of Pakistani society – I will write more on the issue but for now I wanted to write about the statement that colleagues of the accused issued in the press in his defense. I have been a long standing admirer of the intellect of many of those who penned this which is maybe why their poorly thought out, sometimes utterly ridiculous and in other places downright incorrect representation of “facts” was disturbing to say the least. Pasted below is that statement they issued and in bold, inside the text, is my problem with their defense.

Nine current and recent visiting faculty members at Law and Policy Department at LUMS have issued a statement in support of Prof Abid Hussain Imam which was printed in Pakistan Today. The statement reads:

“We are current and recent faculty of the Law and Policy Department at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and write to take issue with a misleading news report entitled “LUMS teacher found guilty of sexually harassing student” printed in the 1 November 2014 issue of Pakistan Today.

We believe that the article, as well as the underlying Ombudsman’s report, does a great disservice to our colleague, Professor Abid Hussain Imam. As current or recent members of the Department, we are collectively familiar with all the facts and circumstances relating to this case, as well as the individuals involved. As such, we feel compelled to set the record straight.

The incident in question occurred in proverbial “broad daylight” in a public corridor within the Law and Policy Department, in the presence of several witnesses including the head of the Law Department. The entire proceedings were captured by a corridor security camera and the footage has been made available to all parties, and has been viewed by us.

Summary Argument: Harassment does not happen in daylight or public places

Problem with argument: Yes it does. Ask a woman. Or even men. Visit a bazaar. Get out of your privileged cocoons and cars and travel in public transport in broad daylight. Then revisit preposterous claim. 

Additional Problem: In what capacity was this video made available to you? Were you part of the official investigation committee formed at LUMS? Or is all CCTV footage at LUMS public property that anyone can view it? Why did you have access to this video in the first place? Why is this evidence being treated so lightly that it is available to all and sundry?

It shows Professor Imam was standing in a corridor in front of his office when a group of students stopped by and engaged in conversation. At one point in the course of this group conversation, Professor Imam is seen momentarily putting his hand on the shoulder of one of the assembled students. The entire episode of the briefest tap on the student’s shoulder took at most a second before Professor Imam quickly withdrew his hand.

Summary Argument: He tapped her briefly on the shoulder.

Problem with the argument: The esteemed signatories of this report omit telling the readers that what is not visible on footage filmed from far off but was accepted by Professor Imam is that in this briefest of taps he actually unzipped a 3 inch zipper detail on the students shirt and exposed her shoulder.

Additional problem: So it seems like the guys writing this statement claiming to know all the facts don’t actually know all of them. Their initial claim of knowing all the facts and setting the record straight, therefore, goes out the window here. Please stop reading further. These guys don’t actually have all the facts. Or maybe they did have all the facts but then that would mean they are lying by omission and deliberately misleading the reader. I sincerely hope that that is not the case.

The students lingered on for a while and then walked away. There appeared nothing to complain about. This was the entire extent of the incident as recorded by CCTV footage.

Summary Argument: No one reacted in the video like something was wrong. Therefore nothing was wrong.

Problem with Argument: A common reaction to harassment or any kind of unwelcome contact is not some fit of screaming rage or running about in frantic circles. It is most often silence. Do your research. Ask the experts.

Realizing that even if this inadvertent action might have been inappropriate, Professor Imam immediately apologized to the student on the spot, if any offense had been caused. That should have been the end of the matter. Professor Imam discussed the matter with the LUMS Vice Chancellor who advised him to offer another apology, which he complied with.

Summary Argument: He said sorry. What more do you want?

Problem with argument: I can’t even begin to deconstruct this one. A man saying sorry to a woman should be enough. Get with the program ladies!

However, the student in question nevertheless decided to press a formal complaint. There is a perception that in pressing the matter she was encouraged by another Law Department faculty member who, during that very period, was being exposed by Professor Imam for falsely representing his educational qualifications.

Summary Argument: He said sorry. She still complained!! Another Professor helped her and egged her on due to a personal vendetta with the accused.

Problem with Argument: The implicit assumption that women or anyone at the receiving end of inappropriate physical contact should be satisfied with a five letter word is infuriating. The price for humiliating or harassing another person in public is NOT sorry.

As for the other professor – he might have encouraged or supported the student. But it doesn’t change what Professor Imam did. The student was well within her rights with or without support from others to complain about what happened to the relevant authorities.

A committee comprising two females and a male faculty member was constituted. After an extensive investigation, interviewing witnesses and a review of the video footage, it found Professor Imam innocent of sexual harassment both under University policy as well as under legal strictures.

We collectively believe that, given the witness accounts as well as the video recording, there was no other possible outcome to this investigation. Once the entire record was made available, it conclusively demonstrated that the student’s written complaint (already a part of the record) was grossly exaggerated as well as inaccurate.

Summary Argument: A committee at LUMS found the professor not guilty of sexual harassment. The record demonstrates “conclusively” that the student was exaggerating and lying. This guy is innocent.

 

Problem with Argument: The accused admitted unzipping the student’s shirt. A fact you overlook when you pass judgment. But let us assume that this was an honest mistake and not intended to be sexual harassment. But the student felt harassed – regardless of his intentions or your perceptions.

Even the committee defined his act of unzipping a student’s shirt highly inappropriate – but you also forget to mention the fact that the committee at LUMS found him guilty of inappropriate conduct. Something in the student’s statement that you think was exaggerated and fabricated must have been correct.

It should also be noted that while this matter was pending more than 120 of Professor Imam’s students signed a petition in his support and defense, lauding his excellence as a teacher as well as his professionalism and integrity.

Summary Argument : 120 kids think he is an excellent teacher. They signed a petition.

Problem with Argument: Bill Clinton left office with the highest end-of –office approval ratings of any American President since World War II. He was popular too. He also committed adultery and lied under oath.

Despite being found innocent, Professor Imam in protest, on principle, resigned from his position at the University in May 2014.

For her part, the student took the matter to the Government Ombudsman whose report your paper has featured in its story. From what we know of the conduct of the Ombudsman’s inquiry, we have serious reservations about its process, and understand it displayed scant regard for the procedures and protections mandated and envisaged by law.

Summary Argument: We are not sure but either in protest for something (not sure what he was protesting) or on principle Professor Imam resigned. The girl still didn’t let go and took the case to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman did a bad job, disregarded due process and law and produced an incorrect verdict.

 

Problem with Argument: First please decide if he resigned in protest or on principle and let us know. Secondly, if you have problems with the legal process or don’t like the outcome as a result – then take it up with a legal authority. Challenge the decision. Who’s stopping you?

However, we write now primarily because we believe this entire process has wronged a valued colleague, and has led our University and particularly its fledgling Law Department to lose one of its most talented members.

These are the facts as we know them. We recognize that sexual harassment at workplace is a real issue and needs to be fought tooth and nail. However, false accusations and tainted processes only hurt this cause.”

Summary Argument: We believe, our colleague, who touched a student without her consent or approval is the wronged party. And the reputation of our law school is suffering so we needed to speak out. Oh and yeah sexual harassment is a thing. We know it. We are actually trying to create a safer environment in public places by standing up for a teacher who stepped out of his bounds and made unwelcome physical contact with a student. Thanks!

Problem with Argument: You’re trying to create a safer environment in public places by standing up for a teacher who stepped out of his bounds and made unwelcome physical contact with a student.  You want to be the good guys standing up for truth and justice. But you come across those just standing up for the old guard of the Pakistani elite. And your students and others not blinded by personal bias can see that. 

The statement was signed by Osama Siddique, Bilal Hassan Minto, Zubair Abbasi, Maryam Khan, Zoe Richards, Waqqas Mir, Rafay Alam, Saad Rasool and Ali Ahsan.

NOTE: The statement is not the official version of LUMS and its Law and Policy Department and the views expressed by the signatories are purely in their personal capacity.

P.S. If you truly want to create safer spaces for students and a more fair and just system of trial – then teach your students to speak up against things like unwelcome physical contact from others. Don’t tell them and the world that they should learn to be complacent with an apology. And when processes and systems might rule against you or them then challenge those systems through the institutional means available thereby helping them improve. Don’t teach your students to shut up to protect the honor of your law school or faculty members. Don’t facilitate more crimes in the name of honor. God knows we already have enough of them. 

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7 Responses to “The Wrong Defense”

  1. T November 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    FYI – no official apology from the professor has been offered yet.

    • A November 10, 2014 at 9:11 am #

      Really

  2. snb November 6, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    AMEN.

    On another note, I am so deeply disappointed in Rafay Alam. I thought the world of him until I saw his name under this letter.

  3. Amna Inquilabi November 7, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Pakistan’s predatory elite has a long standing tradition of protecting each other, their interests, and honor. This is a dangerous cycle in which anything that tarnishes their power, status or position is dealt with severe resistance.

    Should it not be pointed out that all 9 of the faculty members are personal friends of Abid Imam? That Babar Ali – the primary founder of LUMS – is his immediate relative. That not one of the 9 professors even bothered to get the student’s version of events. That she was from a different socioeconomic class only makes things worse.

    Whether or not this is sexual harassment or sexual assault is besides the point. Abid is known to be interested in a gender other than female. What is important is to acknowledge that this is severely wrong and should not be condoned the way the letter makes it seem like it is. Whether the person committing it is their friend or gay has no implication on the incorrectness of the action.

    One should ask these 7 esteemed men if they would be okay if a begger from the street unzipped the sleeve of their mother.

  4. A November 10, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    V. Good Sehar. Why don’t you send this piece to some newspaper.

  5. shanimazhar82 January 4, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    very very good army
    verry nice post thankss
    http://newsshowtime.blogspot.com/2015/01/imran-khan-will-soon-start-another.html

  6. AD December 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Sexual harassment law currently imposed,. The civilian should report any issue so that example of punishment be set.

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