March 10, 2013
On Islam, Gender and Solidarity

Proximate background:

At the behest of a reader, I wrote a short snippet for the March 5, 2013 Rolla Peace Newsletter linking to this speech by Nurit Peled-Elhanan. I called the speech a MUST READ and included the following quote: "[S]tate violence and army violence, individual and collective violence, are the lot of Muslim women today, not only in Palestine but wherever the enlightened western world is setting its big imperialistic foot." I also remarked that I might have entitled this snippet, Why I am Muslim.

A reader wrote in:

"I can't admire Islam, even though I certainly agree that the USA behaves abominably toward most Moslem nations. I deplore the treatment of women by Moslem individuals and Moslem states. How do you reconcile your religion with its treatment of women, which at its BEST could be called 'separate but equal?'

"It seems to me that your choice of a religion is a statement of solidarity with another people, which is admirable. But don't forget the women."

This article is my response.

Some further background:

When the United States leading a coalition of 49 nations invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and the US Catholic Bishops proclaimed in a letter to George W. Bush that the invasion was "regrettable but necessary", I decided it was time to leave the Catholic Church. However, I wanted to wait and think about this decision for six months. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was already Muslim. I formally converted (the correct word is actually reverted) to Islam in May 2002 while in Iraq with the Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project.

(The letter from the US Catholic Bishops does not appear to be available on the internet anymore, although there are numerous references to it. If anyone has a copy of this letter, please send it to me. I would like to reread it.)

I strongly recommend reading the short pamphlet, Gender Equity in Islam" by Jamal Badawi. Dr. Badawi uses the word "equity" rather than "equality" — a concept miles removed from the western "separate but equal." Islam looks at men and women as complementary. As women can bear children and men cannot, talk of equality is ridiculous. Equity is a much more appropriate word. As Badawi writes, "The Qur'an makes it clear that the sole basis for the superiority of any person over another is piety and righteousness, not gender, color or nationality."

Some Islamic societies have practiced what in the West might be referred to as gender equality to a far greater degree than is commonly found in the "enlightened western world." To take two examples: Up until the United States waged war against Iraq, health care and education (including higher education) were free to all Iraqi men and women. Some 40% of Iraqi doctors were women. Up until the United States fomented the Mujahideen War in Afghanistan, there was relative equity between the sexes. It is no coincidence that the Islamic societies with the worst records of gender equity are, for the most part, those that have governments considered "friendly to Western interests."

Indeed, it is not Islam that is making war in France, The United States and throughout the "enlightened western world." To the contrary, the "enlightened western world" is making war on Muslims in Afghanistan, Palestine, Mali and in other Muslim-majority nations. Islam is not shooting up wedding parties and murdering women and children around the "enlightened western world." It's the "enlightened western world" that is terrorizing Islamic countries with missiles and unmanned drones. Islam is not to my knowledge training death-squads and promoting torture in the "enlightened western world." On the other hand, it has now come to light that death-squads active in Iraq during and since the end of the occupation were trained and handled by US forces. If Islamic soldiers have ever destroyed a hospital or school in the "enlightened western world," I am not aware of it. On the other hand, hospitals and schools have been specifically and routinely targeted by the United States forces and their allies in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere. Here is one example.

Of course here in the "enlightened western world" women have lots of Rights. In the United States, women have a right to become combat soldiers where they are far more likely to be raped by their male compatriots than to be shot at by an enemy. They have a Right to be engaged in domestic violence where they are assaulted or beaten to the tune of 160 times every day. They have the Right to be murdered by a spouse or boyfriend to the tune of three times per day. And much more, women have the Right to be raped by the very rich and powerful like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, an organization responsible for raping the people and the land the world over. And if a rape surviver is so bold as to suggest that the solution is for men and boys to be taught not to rape, rather than for men to tell women what they should and should not do to avoid being raped by men; she has the Right to be intimidated by further threats of rape and murder.

Pregnant women in Ireland (whether Irish or not) have the Right to be denied an abortion, even when their fetus would die anyway and the abortion could save their lives. And in the United States, women even have the Right to become Secretaries of State where they can make public pronouncements that the murder of 1/2 million Iraqi children is not too high a price to pay to forward US geopolitical aims.

I can't imagine a government based on Islamic principles outlawing abortion in cases where pregnancy could cause the death of the mother. I can't imagine a Muslim ever using the term "legitimate rape" which, here in Missouri, became a household phrase during the past election. If this is incorrect — please — point out my mistake.

Finally, secular western enlightenment philosophies, which include capitalism, communism and fascism, have been the dominant world paradigm over the past two centuries. Thus, the "enlightened western world" must, to a large extent, bear responsibility for everything that happens in the world, up to and including global warming, climate change and the destruction of our planetary support system.

In short, I have a real problem with enlightened westerners who deplore the way women are treated in other parts of the world. My response is clean up your own house first and stop exporting violence and destruction to the rest of the world. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

In response to your second paragraph: Yes, solidarity is important. In fact, solidarity is perhaps the only effective way to combat discrimination and oppression. There is far too little solidarity expressed in the "enlightened western world."

To take a local example: Few in Rolla expressed any solidarity with former city council member, Donna Hawley, when she was threatened by a male council member who has problems with alcohol and anger management. Few had anything to say when she was censored for her independent thought by a heavily male-dominated council. Few had anything to say when she, a disabled female, was charged with felony assault against a presumably healthy male who sought to prevent her from attending a meeting she had every right to attend, Case number: 11TE-CR00450. Donna's trial is scheduled for 9am May 14 in the Texas County Courthouse, 519 N. Grand Ave. Houston, Missouri. I plan to attend. It is not too late to show solidarity.

The strongest form of solidarity is to become that which you desire to express solidarity with. I cannot choose my sex. I can choose my religion. It is not solidarity with "another people". It is solidarity with my own people.