Pakistan Loves Whips: Lacy Threads and Leather Straps Bind a Business

April 28, 2009
Zackary Canepari for The New York Times

In Pakistan’s commercial capital, Karachi, a company that makes 2,000 fetish and bondage products operates next to a mosque.

KARACHI, Pakistan — In Pakistan, a flogger is known only as the Taliban’s choice whip for beating those who defy their strict codes of Islam.

But deep in the nation’s commercial capital, just next door to a mosque and the offices of a radical Islamic organization, in an unmarked house two Pakistani brothers have discovered a more liberal and lucrative use for the scourge: the $3 billion fetish and bondage industry in the West.

Their mom-and-pop-style garment business, AQTH, earns more than $1 million a year manufacturing 2,000 fetish and bondage products, including the Mistress Flogger, and exporting them to the United States and Europe.

The Qadeer brothers, Adnan, 34, and Rizwan, 32, have made the business into an improbable success story in a country where bars are illegal and the poor are often bound to a lifetime in poverty.

If the bondage business seems an unlikely pursuit for two button-down, slightly awkward, decidedly deadpan lower-class Pakistanis, it is. But then, discretion has been their byword. The brothers have taken extreme measures to conceal a business that in this deeply conservative Muslim country is as risky as it is risqué.

It helps that the dozens of veiled and uneducated female laborers who assemble the handmade items — gag balls, lime-green corsets, thonged spanking skirts — have no idea what the items are used for. Even the owners’ wives, and their conservative Muslim mother, have not been informed.

“If our mom knew, she would disown us,” said Adnan, seated on a leopard-print fabric covering his desk chair.

“Due to cultural barriers and religion, people don’t discuss these things openly,” Rizwan said. “We have to hide this information.”

Even customs officials were perplexed at how to tax the items, not quite sure what they were, they said.

Recently, when a curious employee inquired about the purpose of the sleep sack, a sleeping bag-like product used in certain kinds of bondage, she was told it was a body bag for the American military in Iraq.

Adnan Ahmed, a former air traffic controller who is now AQTH’s chief operating officer, said the items were undergarments. When asked if he considered a red-hot puppy mask an undergarment, he had a straightforward, but honest reply: “No. It’s just for joking.”

Still, word of the business has at times escaped. Last year four “powerful guys” from a conservative Muslim group threatened to burn down the factory if it was not closed within a week. The brothers calmly explained that it was merely a business, and that the items were not used in Pakistan. The next day they bribed a local Islamic political organization to ensure their safety.

These days, the gravest danger is Pakistan’s crumbling economy. The brothers idolize former President Pervez Musharraf, crediting their success to his industry friendly policies, like not requiring export licenses and banning trade unions. When Mr. Musharraf resigned last year, the brothers “didn’t eat for three days,” Adnan Qadeer said.

Since President Asif Ali Zardari took office, Adnan said, trade unions have been legalized and prices of some raw materials, including leather, have shot up, as have interest rates. The result: a 15 percent dip in AQTH’s profits.

Echoing the pervasive fears of entrepreneurs across the country, the brothers are considering relocating to East Asia if Pakistan becomes more unstable — or if they receive another threat.

The shoddy factory seems like an ode to their humble upbringing. Adnan’s executive bathroom has no toilet paper. Rizwan has no office. And their preferred lunch is Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Their inspiration for success came from their father, a civil servant who supported a family of six with a $150 monthly salary. While other children were forced into labor, or played aimlessly, the Qadeer brothers had to study.

In 2001, after the brothers graduated from a university, their father lent them $800, enough to purchase their first computer and to cover several months of rent on a studio apartment. There, the brothers searched the Internet day and night for a high-value garment product that was not widely available.

They experimented with basic leather goods, like jackets and pants. Adnan slept at mosquito-infested stitching factories to oversee sample runs that, in the end, proved more costly than their Chinese competitors.

“It was very hard time,” Adnan said. “We had nothing in our pockets, not even money to fuel our motorbike.”

Rizwan said: “People used to say: ‘You can’t do business in Pakistan. You’re wasting your time. Just go get a job.’ ” But our father boosted our morale.”

The brothers said Pakistan’s “stone-age production” worked to their advantage. The country, they said, lacks visionary product development. “Everyone’s still making the same products,” Adnan said.

Then, they discovered a kind of straitjacket online. At first, they thought it was used for psychiatric patients, but it quickly led them to learn about the lucrative fetish industry.

Without family connections in the finance industry, and with nothing to mortgage, they were refused a loan by four banks. “Our education was our only connection,” Rizwan said.

They finally secured a loan from an American bank, and then the Sept. 11 attacks offered a timely chance. Orders for garment exports were canceled across Pakistan in the slower economic climate, allowing the prices of raw materials like leather to be cut in half.

But fear after Sept. 11 raised suspicions among their own Western clients. On Sept. 12, 2001, a customer sent an e-mail message with a photo of two F-16s flying over Pakistan. Orders were canceled.

Today, they sell their products to online and brick-and-mortar shops, and to individuals via eBay. Their market research, they said, showed that 70 percent of their customers were middle- to upper-class Americans, and a majority of them Democrats. The Netherlands and Germany account for the bulk of their European sales.

“We really believe that if you are persistent and hard working, there is an opportunity, in any harsh environment, even in an economically depressed environment like Pakistan,” Rizwan said.

A major perk, they say, is attending international fetish shows to see how their products hold up in action.

“I go to Sin City every year,” said Rizwan, referring to Las Vegas in a sheepish laugh. It’s all business, he said. “Clients know our country and culture, and they don’t invite us to participate. We’re a little bit shy.”

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Muslim woman’s appointment as Obama advisor draws cautious optimism

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-obama-advisor22-2009apr22,0,1997286.story

From the Los Angeles Times
Obama advisor

Los Angeles Times
Analyst and author Dalia Mogahed will advise Obama on problems Muslims face in the U.S.
Dalia Mogahed, a veiled Egyptian American, will advise President Obama on prejudices and problems faced by Muslims. Many Arabs hope it’s a step toward reversing stereotyping.

By Noha El-Hennawy

April 22, 2009

Reporting from Cairo — Egyptians are cautiously rejoicing over the recent appointment of a veiled Egyptian American Muslim woman as an advisor to President Obama.

Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, was appointed this month to Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Continue reading

A Jewish American Man’s Defense of “Self Hatred”

In defense of self-hatred.

“To label dissenting Jews as Self-Hating is to equate them with the most violent and racist enemies of the Jews. This, of course, is precisely the point.

herzl20zionist20poster

Sasha Rabkin

The most bellicose of the Zionist establishment has spent considerable time and money creating a mythology of self-hatred. This mythology centers on the conviction that any statement against Israel is a statement against Jews. Thus, like a two-headed monster, dissent against Israel becomes dissent against Jews. Stamped with the moniker of self-hatred, Jews who seek to dislodge themselves from our hijacked spiritual identity, find little room to be Jews. Rather, we are offered an identity centered on racism, military might and occupation. We forfeit, according to the keepers of the self-hatred mythology, our right be Jews. Continue reading

Iran is too independent and disobedient: Chomsky

Posted By Kourosh Ziabari On April 20, 2009 @ 3:02 am

http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2009/04/20/iran-is-too-independent-and-disobedient-chomsky/print/

Noam Chomsky needs no introductory note. He is inarguably the most significant sociopolitical analyst and lecturer of the contemporary era and “ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities, and is the only writer among them still alive” as said by the Guardian. Continue reading

Civil War Raging in Right-Wing Blogosphere

http://washingtonindependent.com/39629/civil-war-raging-in-right-wing-blogosphere

Terrorism-Watching Conservative Blogs Split Over Accusations of Bigotry and Treason

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jazz musician and Web designer Charles Johnson has devoted his blog, Little Green Footballs, to exposing Muslim extremism in and outside the United States. His targets have included the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filmmaker Michael Moore, Reuters, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dan Rather, and the late pro-Palestinian activistRachel Corrie — who some LGF commenters (not Johnson) call “St. Pancake,” a tribute to the Israeli steamroller that killed her. LGF helped write the lexicon of the self-styled “anti-Jihadist” blogosphere — from “moonbat” (”an unthinking or insane leftist”) to “anti-idiotarian” (”anyone who grasps the significance of and does his or her best to combat the post-9/11 political alliance between the ‘Old Left’ and militant Islam”).But in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, LGF has become better known for the various fights it picks with many on the right — including conservative bloggers, critics of Islamic extremism, and critics of Islam in general who used to be Johnson’s fellow travelers. Continue reading