Feminist or pacifist; violence against women and responsibility
Disclaimer; Graphic content from the outset
This article on feminism by Anne Marie Waters highlights the conflicting opinions that some people have when they pursue a just cause, in this case women’s rights. It is an all too familiar position for some and is definitely apparent when talking to the crowd that want to be seen to represent the cause but don’t. Anne states that “A feminist stands up for women because they are women, not because they are white, middle class, English speaking, Christian, atheist, Jew or Muslim – but because they are women. A feminist opposes all violence against women because they are women. Feminists oppose the rape of women, because they are women. Feminists oppose these all the time and for all women.” It is hard to see anything to argue with here, it’s direct to the point and encapsulates the essence of the movement and rightfully so, at least until cultural values come into it.
It happens many times, human rights abuse is marginalised, excused and ignored for fear of offending a cultural value and being branded intolerant. Perhaps it is reasonable to be intolerant of the intolerant when they perpetrate abuse though? The moment culture or religion comes into a debate on women’s rights (perhaps human rights is better), or any human abuse, the focus undergoes a paradigm shift that is easy to see even before the hypocrite howls. It becomes the fault of men (half of the human race) as many naive feminists will tell you but never the fault of the belief system or the opinions and ideas that go hand in hand with it. The conversation then mutates and becomes a competition of who can appear to be the most convivial and accepting of other cultures moral absolutism.
It seems that to be an advocate of multiculturalism and to make a virtue of trying not to offend people in order to acquiesce in the face of barbaric customs is desirable to some. Even in those circles where out-rage could more or less be expected, the condemnation that inequality and violence against women deserves is less than forthcoming. Anne notices the strange change in attitude describing this mind set as; “We are feminists. We are incredibly right-on. We read the Guardian. We disapprove of women’s breasts getting a public airing and we strongly object to the fact that boards of directors are not 50% female. We will go absolutely ballistic if anyone dare understate how vile domestic violence is, or attempt in any way to justify it. We are feminists you see. Oh, but only when it comes to white women – did we mention that?” very provocative and God forbid slightly hackle raising, yet this observation makes a point. Anne is right, such deference to cultural and religious “values” within the feminist movement make a mockery of those feminists (male and female) who take these matters seriously, sometimes literally risking their lives to broach the subject and don’t just gloss over abuse and inequality in the name of tolerance and multiculturalism. This attitude is well encapsulated by the term cognitive dissonance, where two contradictory thoughts will cause discomfort which needs a resolution. In this case the resolution is the denial that such a contradiction exists between feminist ideals and the tolerance of barbaric cultural or religious attitudes. The seed bed not surprisingly is the faith of such people but paradoxically also seems to be the belief ridden women whom one would think the feminist movement is designed to protect and would actively engage in it. Let’s have a look at some recent events that should matter to everyone everywhere within this domain and yet culture and beliefs seem to overshadow the severity of the incidents and impede the appropriate level of reaction from those whose voices need to be heard.
The declarations of for example the Muslim brotherhood do not help women or represent all of Islamic opinion. Many Muslims abhor these proclamations and rightfully so, these individuals are to be admired as the risk all by saying so in Islamic nations, however, many enthusiastically support them and some who claim to reject them are complicit in their use for turning a collective blind eye. The Brotherhood rejected the 57th session of the UN Commissions proposal on the Status of Women (CSW) which seeks to end violence against women. This backwards organisation thinks protecting and enabling women’s equality will bring about the fall of Muslim society and they’re right, if they cling to their outrageous views on women. Reasons for their outrage are many and none of them are new, such reasons include: maintaining the superiority of the man in the household, protecting the man from rape charges within the marriage, maintaining an unequal weight to a woman’s legal testimony, and the always popular restraining a woman’s sexuality, continuation of the persecution of LGBT and aversion to contraception. The Brotherhood calls on Muslim women to “commit to their religion and morals of their communities and the foundations of good social life and not be deceived with misleading calls to decadent modernization and paths of subversive immorality” and of course they cite a convenient quote from the Quran. Hopefully you can see how harmful this is to women within the countries beset by such inequality and if you can’t then I can only invite you to do further research into perhaps The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and perhaps this interesting take on rights in the Islamic world which can be found written by Dania Akkad as a starting point.
The case of the 19 year old, Femen protestor Amina Tyler is particularly poignant on this issue and not only for the methods the teenager employs. Tyler is reported to have been abducted in Tunisia following her posting pictures of herself topless on the internet with slogans written on her including “Fuck your morals” and “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” which will strike a resounding blow in the Islamist world. She has today been reported to have been returned and to be in good health although testimony to this end is questionable. Her stand against those that would seek to keep women in their place within such a culture prompted the preacher Almi Adel, who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of vice to say “The young lady should be punished according to Sharia, with 80 to 100 lashes, but [because of] the severity of the act she has committed, she deserves be stoned to death.” Really? In 2013? Well yes, this appears to be the case in places that get their morality and legal system from a book dictated by an angel in the 7th century (the same angel as the Judaic and Christian tradition of the 1st by the way) to, as far as we can tell an illiterate desert nomad and not written down until far later by others who claimed to know what he was talking about (a matter of theology, history, archaeology, literary criticism and Science). This statement illustrates what is wrong with many attitudes towards women in the world, existing also in the UK and from whence it came no matter how contrived the interpretations of the source becomes it is still morally abhorrent. It does seem to be the case that although Islam instituted women’s rights as it likes to remind us that it gave up on developing them long ago. As long as such barbaric laws and punishments exist so too will the archaic attitude and those that seek to implement them without any consideration for a modernising world and adjusting social opinion. Women like this should be supported in places where they are waking up to this treatment, finding they have a voice and using the most provocative weapons in their arsenal to make their wishes known. For those that are interested in supporting Tyler’s cause I would recommend the blog by Maryam Namazie an activist and authority in these areas.
How about the shooting of Malala Yusufzai by the Taliban? Does this scream progression or regression in people’s ability to reason in a moral way? What was Malala’s crime? Being a girl who wanted an education. Who could possibly have anything to say about this most basic of rights, especially to a child? The fundamentalists of Pakistan of course. A place where I have worked in the past and know from that experience to be a country in the grip of the totalitarian rule of Islam with a small secularist movement trying to teach respect and progressive human values for all people regardless of belief. The small secular movement also had its Facebook page removed by moderators until a campaign to get it re-instated via the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science applied enough pressure to get it back up and running. It seems that even the internet is off limits to those who wish to express themselves in such places and that a gun-shot is the result for many who do. A school girl who wanted an education, Malala thanks to surgeons and the UK government is healthy and safe in Birmingham today going back to school. If you wish to support Malala’s dream I suggest visiting the Malala fund to make a donation or volunteer your time.
Enable subtitles for commentary. Do not watch if under 18.
The list is practically endless; the honour driven acid attack on Anusha by her own parents ending in her death, the flogging of a rape victim for “sex outside marriage” and the the gang rape of women in Tahrir square (graphic and distressing account of a similar situation to the video, caution is advised before reading). Yet people will often tell you that such events are the result of those who misunderstand Islam or politicise it and that onlookers vilify the religion based on a misrepresentation from the minority. I’m sure those apparently un-islamic people believe they’re Islamic just as the conflicted Muslim feminist thinks she is, in truth, both are because there is no power on earth able to veto acts based on scriptural authority. God apparently could but God doesn’t exist as it is only the product of an evolutionary predisposed psychology which attributes pattern and agency where there is none. So we’re left with bias interpretations from both sides of an outdated book and Sharia rather than dialogue on human rights and the changing of opinions for the better.
The plight of women in Tahrir square in Egypt is the most flagrant and troubling of all. Groups of savages descending on women in Egypt during protests to rape them. Organised groups of men brandishing swords, flaming gas bottles and more, conducting co-ordinated en masse sexual assaults. Some men although not those actively conducting the rape seek to keep those who would help these women from doing so, groups of rapists and their accomplises are reported to be anywhere between 10 to 200 in number. So great is this problem that a brave privately funded organisation calling themselves Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSh), set up to rescue victims from the Square has been founded. Men and women identified by their t-shirts who rush in to rescue the violated are the Muslims that identify the virtues within their faith and should be admired. OpAntiSh received in one day 19 reports of group sexual assaults, six of which resulted in hospitalisation, while the worst case involved the mutilation of a woman’s genitalia with a knife. The fact that such a group needs to exist is terrible and an insult to human decency but at the same time at least there are those courageous enough out there to take on the task.
Some believe that the Islamist movement is the root cause of this epidemic going so far as to accuse them of offering money to suborn rape to keep women’s voices from being heard. Such events prompted Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi yet another relic of a bigoted Islamist movement to say “sometimes a girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping when she puts herself in these conditions.” This is what happens when people take the Wahabi or Salafi interpretation of the Quran literally. Many can and do disagree but just because someone doesn’t identify this as “their Islam” it doesn’t mean it isn’t representative of many who follow the Islamic faith and get their justification from it however craven and manipulative it might be. Actions like this are a direct consequence of scriptural authority translated into law which I hope most progressive and reasonable Muslims will denounce along with those who represent for example the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.
There are those within the conservative circles of Eqyptian society that are trying to tackle this issue such as Shafie, the community outreach manager at HarassMap — an initiative to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment in Egypt. Shafie explains that the regime has used these tactics before, “attacks are rooted in a deep-set social acceptance of sexual harassment, which creates feelings of sympathy for the harasser and blame for the victim.” Shafie openly confronts the rapists who cite the Sharia by saying “You are pretending to be religious but you are doing something that is completely against all morals, all religions, all that God or whatever moral code that anyone follows deems right or good.” There should be more like him out there although one can’t help but see a conflict of interest, condemning those as not of a religion that they themselves use to justify their acts. What is needed is a revolution within the Islamic world, not just Egypt. A shift in the psychology of the group and individual and understanding of the book as a metaphor not of God, a story, a relic something of historical importance but not something that should be used to govern societies. Such conflict will always arise within these people who claim to have the one true religion that is the total solution for one’s life; another troubling slogan of the Brotherhood.
What’s more important? Tolerance of barbaric cultural practices for the sake of a warped sense of inclusivity and multiculturalism in the UK and a turn a blind eye attitude to those elsewhere. Perhaps the abandonment of these practices in favour of equality and the prevention of violence against all women so we can be reasonable, compassionate humans regardless of cultural proclivity is better? I know which I would prefer. It is also worth noting that such things happen in the UK and are ignored for the very same reasons so don’t feel too comfortable sitting in our little island bubble. Perhaps it’s a function of living a comfortable life in the UK as well as political correctness that leads the supposed feminists in Anne’s article to have a passive attitude (complicit through inaction one could say) or perhaps it’s the inner conflict between ones own cultural or religious beliefs and what deep down people know to be the flaw. Whatever it is these events tied to the traditional values of the past and the constant social legislature and politicisation of them in a regresssive model in the present is out of order. I would urge any feminist and any other equal rights activist to take action in whatever capacity is available to them. It is only through our action that these pernicious and degrading ideologies can be challenged and through our united efforts that a new era can be ushered in where principles of common humanism can take hold through reasoned dialogue with all communities for the betterment of humanity.
Below are some organisations that may be able to provide real help to people who identify with material in this article. I would also suggest reading the sources cited in the text for a fuller picture of the material in order to critically evaluate it and come to your own conclusions.
Posted on March 28, 2013, in Humanism, Psychology and tagged abuse, amina, amina tyler, equal rights, eqypt, faith, feminism, humanism, LGBT, Malala, malala yousufzai, Maldives, muslim bortherhood, rape, reason, Religion, tahrir square. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.