Irrational Men

Recently a friend of mine, writer Jay Lake, pointed to this article:

Saudi Rape Victim Gets 200 Lashes

A Saudi court sentenced a woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes – more than doubling her initial penalty for being in the car of a man who was not a relative…

In its decision Wednesday, the court also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the 19-year-old woman, the Arab News reported on its English-language Web site.

According to Arab News, the court said the woman’s punishment was increased because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”
[...]
The victim had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicting her of violating Saudi’s rigid laws on segregation of the sexes.

Under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.
[...]
The initial sentences for the men convicted of the gang rape ranged from 10 months to five years in prison. Their new sentences range from two to nine years, the paper said.

The attack took place in 2006. The woman has said that it occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know. While in the car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. She said she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.

Reading stuff like this is Why I’m Angry, as I’ve pointed out before. But something in the commentary Jay gave along with this link also made me angry:

How about this: Under Shariate law, a woman who simply reports a rape is considered to have admitted her guilt as an adultress, and is subject to penalties up to execution. If this horrifies you, consider the secular viewpoint on this. There is no difference between that sort of religious insanity and moves to teach Intelligent Design in school, except in the matter of degree. In both cases, people of faith are deliberately discarding rationalism in the name of their religious principles.

Here’s the problem I have — if what he says about Sharia law is true (I say if only because I haven’t verified this independently), the problem here is less religion-based irrationality but patriarchy/misogyny-based irrationality. So he’s comparing apples to oranges in an attempt to prove that irrationality = religion/faith = bad as compared to supposedly completely rational secular/atheist folks.

Obviously the patriarchal attitude permeates the religion as well, but it isn’t the sole cause of what can go wrong in religion just as religion isn’t the sole cause of patriarchy and misogyny. Plenty of secular folks have wrongheaded attitudes about women. Plenty of secular folks harass, marginalize, or otherwise act/think in ways that harm women. Religion does not have a corner on this market.

Just as anyone can use the Bible or the Qur’an or the Torah to justify any bad thing they want to do, so can they use those books to justify any good thing they want to do — like feeding the poor, taking care of widows and orphans, and being a good host, to name a few.

But the bad justifications are just that: justifications. I don’t think misogyny and patriarchy is inherent in religion. Nor do I think we can solely attribute religious irrationality to the horrendous rule that women who admit to being raped are admitting they did something wrong themselves. That’s all about Men and their Dominance Issues, and one can find analogs of varying degrees across all patriarchal cultures, including ours, and including the secularists among us.

It’s not the same thing as believing in Intelligent Design because that is purely (or majorly) about religion. Apples and Oranges. (Not that I agree with /approve of either ID or Sharia law as regards rape.) I think it would help us all if secular folks would stop using examples of misogyny to denigrate all aspects of religion. It’s reminiscent of the way some people say “Race isn’t the problem, Class is,” when really it’s Race and Class and a whole bunch of other things individually and in tandem. But the relationship is extremely complex. Don’t toss it all together as if it’s a simple 1 to 1 equation.

57 Responses

  1. “I don’t think misogyny and patriarchy is inherent in religion. ”

    But are misogyny and patriarchy inherent in Abrahamic religions? (I say yes.)

    Also, I agree with both/and needing to be applied.

  2. Mandolin,

    From what I’ve seen, nearly all religions are used at some point to justify the status quo/support the dominant hierarchy of the time; it’s not the sole province of any one segment of faiths. In theory religion helps to organize society in such a way as to make “right living”, according to its particular tenets, easier. The problem is that people in power have always latched onto religion’s power as a social engineering tool to further their own interests. And since the people in power are usually men in human societies, I see misogyny and patriarchy in Eastern religions, African religions, Native American religions, you name it. No faith that’s been around for awhile is free of it, as far as I can tell.

  3. And I would also argue that all the “Abrahamic” religions are as capable of being about justice, based on the specifics of their faith, as they are capable of being about injustice.

  4. FWIW, interpretation of Shariate law varies widely between sects and jurisdictions of Islam, just as interpretation of Mosaic law does in Judaism and New Testament precepts in Christianity. Executing rape victims is specific to the so-called “tribal” areas of Pakistan, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and possibly portions of Saudi Arabia. However, much like Mosaic law, this is a function of picking and choosing. The law is quite clear, it’s only that many followers choose to temper their interpretation.

    (In those same conservative interpretations of Sharia — ie, taking Islam at its own word — a woman cannot testify against a man without the corroboration of a male witness or two other female witnesses. This means the woman who reports a rape is not only confessing to adultery, but the man she reports will not be investigated unless another witness steps forth, or he confesses. There’s that Old Time Religion!)

    Me, I’d prefer to follow a moral and ethical system that doesn’t require me to blindly believe unquestionable counterfactuals, then promptly discard selected portions of those unquestionable counterfactuals. The cognitive dissonance would make my head explode.

  5. One more thing: I think using religious precepts as a justification for bad behavior is far more poisonous than plain old fashioned misogynism or racism. Misogynism and racism have no basis in logic, and can readily be refuted by both argument and example. (Whether that refutation will be accepted is of course another issue entirely.)

    When cloaked in religion, they acquire First Amendment protections and a veneer of respectability, as well as status as the Word of God. It really is apples and apples in my book, the difference as I said being one of degree.

  6. “I see misogyny and patriarchy in Eastern religions, African religions, Native American religions, you name it. No faith that’s been around for awhile is free of it, as far as I can tell.”

    I’m not comfortable saying “all,” but I am comfortable saying “all faiths with which I am in any way familiar.”

    And yeah, sure, Abrahamic texts can be used in ways that support justice — but so, I suppose, can war.

  7. Mandolin,

    It always seems to me that you find patriarchal attitudes in the Abrahamic traditions because the patriarchy part came first, and they codified it by wedding it to religion/God’s Word. I could be wrong about that, but this is the impression I’ve had since my (admittedly limited) studies in Biblical history.

    Jay,

    I think using religious precepts as a justification for bad behavior is far more poisonous than plain old fashioned misogynism or racism.

    I understand why you feel this way, but I still disagree. Part of our different viewpoints on this matter probably stem from the fact that you’re much angrier at/about religion/faith than I am, and I’m much angrier about racism and at racist people than you are. not that either of us is wild about racism or the negative aspects of religion, just that, due to our experiences and the fact of who we are (white guy, black chick) one or the other of these things impacts us more.

    You say: Misogynism and racism have no basis in logic, and can readily be refuted by both argument and example. When cloaked in religion, they acquire First Amendment protections and a veneer of respectability, as well as status as the Word of God.

    Thing is, no matter how much we supposedly rational folks refute/call out racism and sexism, there are other folks, who think themselves just as rational, who deny that the racism/sexism exist/is as bad as we say/is detrimental/etc. ad nauseum. Just look at Will Shetterly.

    He’s the perfect example, in fact, because he’s not a raging bigot or anything like that. Those who know him in person attest tot he fact that he’s an intelligent, rational guy. But get into any discussion with racism with him and he’ll beat you about the head with his Class Trumps Race song and dance for days and weeks on end.

    It’s hard enough for certain groups of people to even agree on what racism and sexism are/how they manifest for me to begin to feel that your statement that they can be refuted is true. How can you refute something people say isn’t there?

    It may comfort some to think that racism and sexism can be combated with simple logic and truth, but this blog is a testament to how much that’s just not true.

    Bigots hardly need religion to perpetrate racism and sexism. here in America, the culture does that all by itself, without even needing the Word of God to back it up. That’s why I still say that the comparison between misogyny-based crazy and Woprd of God-based crazy isn’t a one to one. If you were to somehow remove God from the equation, or even inject Rationality into it*, Intelligent Design might go away but misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy won’t. It’s not the Word of God or belief or even the Holy Book that causes such things.

    *I should point out that I don’t necessarily agree with your assertion that religious folks or people of faith are irrational.

  8. “It’s not the Word of God or belief or even the Holy Book that causes such things.”

    However, they have been a useful tool for facilitating them.

    “It always seems to me that you find patriarchal attitudes in the Abrahamic traditions because the patriarchy part came first, and they codified it by wedding it to religion/God’s Word.”

    They are nevertheless inextricably intertwined at this point.

  9. Excuse me, Abrahamic religions are intertwined with patriarchy, but patriarchy can (and does) survive without Abrahamic religion. So they’re only unidirectionally intertwined, heh.

  10. What happened to th women in Saudi Arabia is pretty awful, but the hijacking of the issue into some sort of anti-Islamic screed just makes it worse. It’s not Islam, it’s the patriarchy. It’s provably not Islam, because large amounts of Islamic countries don’t have that sh*t going on. OTOH, that sh*t does happen in non Islamic countries where the patriarchy is n charge. Women in the US may not get beaten, but they can get ostracized, fired, or publicly displayed as sluts if they bring a rape charge against the wrong guy in the wrong town.

  11. @Josh Jasper

    Josh, it’s precisely Islam that’s at issue here, but not solely Islam. Shariate law is perfectly clear on these topics, even though most non-Wahhabist Muslims seek a more moderate interpretation.

    Without the cloak of sacred rule, these actions would be much more difficult to enact in a modern, media-enabled world. This same logic applies to much of what goes on underneath the Christian banner as well, but as I was arguing with ABW upthread, it’s the protected status of religious thought which lends the pretense of legitimacy to such hideous wrongs.

    To put that statement in the language of much of this thread, Abrahamic religion is not the wellspring of patriarchy, but it is a key enabler in much of the modern world.

  12. “To put that statement in the language of much of this thread, Abrahamic religion is not the wellspring of patriarchy, but it is a key enabler in much of the modern world.”

    You have no argument from me, at least in the sense that religion is not free of our own fears. This is going to be a long battle. I don’t doubt that this is another situation where, at some point, we will look back and be in somewhat disbelief at the folly of our ways.

  13. Abrahamic religion is not the wellspring of patriarchy, but it is a key enabler in much of the modern world.

    I agree. I just vdon’t feel it’s productive to think that if we were to somehow rid ourselves of Abrahamic religions we would, de facto, rid ourselves of sexism. We have to deal with both problems separately and differently in some instances, coming together where they intersect when it makes sense to do so.

  14. I strongly disagree, Josh Jasper.

    Sure there are problems in the U.S., but things like the murder and beating of women are not sanctioned BY LAW. There is no comparison between what happens to women in Saudi Arabia under Sharia law and what happens to women here. None.

    Jay, I think you are absolutely right with this: “Without the cloak of sacred rule, these actions would be much more difficult to enact in a modern, media-enabled world.”

    Dead on.

  15. A comment on another post actually has a lot of relevance here. In part:

    As a culture, we like to point fingers at people who are “worse” than us in order to show how “good” and enlightened we are. Lately it has been extremely common in the discourse surrounding the issues faced by women in the third world, which makes me highly uncomfortable. Yes, I am an outspoken feminist and I strongly believe in stopping female genital mutilations, enforced chaste apparel such as the hijab and burqa etc. etc. However, some Western feminists speak about these issues with a huge streak of invisible racism. Sometimes this is directed at African cultures (as I believe FGM is only common in a small number of East African communities), but with increasing frequency, it is directed at Islam.

    It just seems as though misogyny is increasingly racialized, to deflect the blame from “normal”, Western, Christian culture. Media portrayals seem obsessed with, “BUT HOW ARE WOMEN TREATED IN YOUR PRIMITIVE CULTURE, DEAR?” Less obviously, it is seen in the deflective comments fielded by pop-culture critics, “Why are you picking on us for writing stereotypical damsels in distress, when those damn Muslim men make their women wear burqas and don’t let them drive?”

  16. As far as the punishment for that girl and Islamic law, I find that the Shakir translation to be closest to everyday speech.

    Search the word adultery or fornication.

    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/qmtintro.html

    Here is a passage the belief that even if a man commits adultery and steals, he will still go to heaven, as long as he only worships allah. This probably take the fear out of committing these acts for men, thus making them more likely to commit them.

    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/bukhari/023.sbt.html#002.023.329

    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/001.smt.html#001.0109
    (Does this mean you can be a temporary unbeliever and then “confess and repent” afterwards?)

    And if you say that “There is no god but allah” 100 times every day it will be as if you performed 100 good deeds that day and they cannot be refused heaven…

    http://www.quran-hadith-index.com/hadithl.htm#_Toc534163848
    See also:
    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/001.smt.html#001.0172

    Also, umarried fornicators have this punishment in store:

    http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/hadithsunnah/muslim/017.smt.html#017.4191

    (Fornication and adultery are two seperate offenses and therefore have differing punishments – a married woman could have been killed. She’s lucky she was single.)

    It is unclear how the perpetrators of the rape were punished. But in the mind of the punishers, the girl was alone with a man not her husband or relative and she deserved punishment. If the men who raped her said that she did it willingly and four or more men testified to it as the truth, then she would receive 100 lashes. The fact that she received more than one hundred lashes probably was because there was more than one incident (since it was a gang rape).

    This is in stark contrast with how Jesus dealt with the woman allegedly caught
    “in the act” of adultery who was brought before him by the “ruling patriarchs” as a test to see if he would follow the accepted religious laws and customs of the day.

    But knowing their hearts… Jesus reminded them of their sins and the punishment for them according to the law. (It has been said that as he knelt down and wrote on the ground that he was writing the Ten Commandments)
    If they really wanted to follow the letter of the law, then all of them had to be punished, because they had all transgressed the law by their own estimation. (Including the false witness where they said the woman was caught in the act of adultery… she was either set up and the man released, or they just arbitrarily picked her out to test Jesus. If she had actually been caught in the act, they would have brought the man as well, since the law required BOTH parties to be stoned to death.)

    When all the people who had accused her left, he asked her who was accusing her, and she said, “No one, Lord.” So he said to her, “Niether do I accuse you. Now go and sin no more.”

    Remember that most people who judge by the law are subject to that law themselves. But we should instead extend the same grace that is extended to us by the Lord’s example.

    It should be interesting to note that the New Testament also asserts that in Christ Jesus, we are freed (in our spirits, at least) from the oppressive bigotry of societies everywhere as it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    It is not the Word of God which supports bigotry against sex, class or “race”, but the wrong interpretations of Scripture and the evil condition of the hearts of some which does this.

    (I put quotes around the word “race” because I believe that since we are all decended from one man, we are one race – we’re just a lot more colorful now! I happen to be about as white as they come and I have a half-Laotian grandbaby… but I don’t consider her a different “race”. Just a different ethnic expression of humanity. And awefully cute.)

    So, the question is, should one person’s interpretation of how society needs to be ordered interfere with or supress the freedom of religious, anti-religious or non-religious expression of those who may hold opposing viewpoints? If it were, say, Marxists who wanted to exert their control over society and politics, should a free people (including the religious ones) allow such a thing? Should “religious” people remain neutral in such matters and not have their opinions considered when making decision relating to public policy?

  17. ” We have to deal with both problems separately and differently in some instances, coming together where they intersect when it makes sense to do so.”

    Oh, okay. For some reason, I didn’t get that was what you were arguing.

    I actually agree with Jay here. The protected status of religion enables many different problems, in different countries. If I were writing about the subject, I _would not_ make the leap that he makes from the treatment of rape in Saudi Arabia to the treatment of intelligent design… at least not as quickly as he appears to have done. I would be more interested in looking at how fundamentalist interpretations of Abrahamic religions police women’s sexuality cross-culturally, taking up something like the chastity balls in the United States — or as someone stated upthread, the ways in which reporting rape and sexual harrassment lead to women’s punishment in the US. But I think he’s right that the underlying problem of priveleging religious faith enables a number of problems, from the severe to the irritating but mostly symbolic.

    “Sometimes this is directed at African cultures (as I believe FGM is only common in a small number of East African communities)”

    This assertion strikes me as incorrect. Here are a couple of lists:

    http://www.state.gov/g/wi/rls/rep/9276.htm
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting

    Also, fgs is practiced in parts of the middle east.

    However, I agree with the rest of what Lea is saying, and obviously I do agree that the treatment of misogyny is racialized. I particularly support her last paragraph.

  18. what did you think I was arguing?

  19. I thought you were arguing against all skepticism of religion on social justice grounds, rather than arguing that there are appropriate times and places to be skeptical of religion on the grounds of social justice.

  20. Hi,
    I’ve been lurking ever since WFC this year, when Chesya told me about this blog. I teach on some of this stuff, so I thought I would mention — if anyone’s interested in further postcolonial feminist readings of some of these issues — here are two that came to my mind as I was reading this thread:

    Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Female Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict in the Global Community, Johns Hopkins University Press
    –informative sociological study of the perception of FGC within and without countries where it’s practiced. Also addresses some of the sovereignty issues which lead some women to defend FGC

    Uma Narayan, “Cross-Cultural Connections, Border-Crossings, and “Death by Culture” Thinking about Dowry Murders in India and Domestic-Violence Murders in the United States” in Dislocating Cultures, Routledge
    –explores how some misogyny gets attributed to culture and some gets elided depending on its context.

    FWIW, I think that as long as anti-Muslim feeling in the U.S. is propagandized to justify invading Middle Eastern countries, anti-Muslim discourse participates and is implicated in a wider dynamic than general anti-religious feeling. Having recently endured “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” at my university, I am hyperaware of this trend. What would otherwise be a philosophical conversation is complicated by the ways that racism is inextricably embedded with national power relations.

    I really value this blog. Thanks for starting these conversations.

  21. Oops, thought of one more:
    L. Amede Obiora, “The Little Foxes that Spoil the Vine: Revisiting the Feminist Critique of Female Circumcision” in African Women & Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood, Oyeronke Oyewumi, ed., Africa World Press
    –critique of American women’s anti-FGC movement from African feminist perspective

  22. thanks for this post. It is awful, what happened, but we need to speak up about it.

  23. “critique of American women’s anti-FGC movement from African feminist perspective”

    Yeah, I’ve written a bit about this a bit on Alas, too –although as an American feminist who is only aware of the African critiques.

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/07/05/problematizing-legal-approaches-toward-stopping-fgs/

    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2007/07/08/update-to-post-on-egyptian-ban-of-female-genital-surgeries-ban-intended-to-salve-westerners-not-to-prevent-fgs/

  24. Friday Blogwhoring

    by matttbastard
    Happy holidays to our Southerly neighbours, two of whom kindly presented holiday themed posts yesterday. Hope you’re having a halfway-decent BND/Black Friday, y’all. Love and runaway consumerism forever.
    (All Hail The Que…

  25. Jay – Josh, it’s precisely Islam that’s at issue here, but not solely Islam. Shariate law is perfectly clear on these topics, even though most non-Wahhabist Muslims seek a more moderate interpretation.

    We might as well call all of Christianity complicit in the AIDS crisis because th Catholic Church lies about condoms preventing AIDS in Africa.

    But of course, that’s silly, isn’t it.

    Islam is not to blame any more than Christianity is to blame. Islam is not the words in print, it’s the religion as people interpret it. There’s a lot more to Islam than Saudi Arabia.

    lco – did it ever strike you that this is because we are a less patriarchical culture than Saudi Arabia, not because of Islam? Sure, Islam has a protected status in Saud Arabia. But it doesn’t in Congo, where rape is practically celebrated if it’s done to an enemy. The thing is, both are patriarchical cultures. Womens rights are nearly nonexistent..

  26. Josh, I don’t believe you can separate out patriarchy and religion like that. As Jay so eloquently stated, “Abrahamic religion is not the wellspring of patriarchy, but it is a key enabler in much of the modern world.” The two are inextricably intertwined.

  27. 1)The ‘medieval’ actin’ (so labelled by people who know little about medieval Islam) House of Saud was put into power by the utterly logical, rational, civilized mid-20th c. Brits. They’ve been kept there by largely secular, pragmatic CIA-Defense Department creeps over the decades. When secular scumbags use ostensibly religious (in fact the elite in Saudi are a bunch of notorious mega-sinners) scumbags to do their dirty work for them, am I *really* supposed to bow down before the civlized “West”?

    2) Speakin’ of which, putting blind faith in the inherent moral superiority of Western secularism and some ill-defined thing called logic is problematic, to say the least. The nice, rational, steadily secularizing West has brought us
    -the transatlantic slave trade (millions dead! millions enslaved! but we’ve got david hume! yay!)
    -the native american genocides
    -countless brutal european and american colonial ventures
    -mustard gas (melts your face off, but we’re civilized and scientific! yay!)
    -scientific racism
    -the firebombing of dresden
    -the nuclear decimation/slaughter of hirosihma/nagasaki
    -the holocaust
    -Stalin’s slaughters
    -French/US war in Vietnam/cambodia (“napalm! oww, it burns! but kissinger’s so smart and SECULAR! Yay!”)
    -Madeline Albright getting on TV and telling us that half a million dead iraqi kids is “worth it”
    etc, etc, etc.

    3)And before anyone responds “But no, those acts were actually not logical”, let’s ask: how is that any different than the mystic/unorthodox/liberal believer who says that the cruel people claiming to be religious have in fact perverted Islam/Christianity/etc. etc.?

    And please don’t say that the difference is textual — yes, the Qu’ran says (more or less) ‘throw rocks at gay people if they won’t stop being gay’, but it also tells us that God’s benificence and mercy are his/His most fundamental aspects. An unorthodox Muslim might interpret this to mean that people should be allowed to love (maybe even marry!) whoever they want. But of course interpretation/implementation/prominence of religious texts/law depend on questions of language, regional and peronsal histories, time period, current political circumstances, etc, etc.

    4) Which brings me to a humble suggestion: If one were to be asked “What are your qualifications to expound upon the intricacies of Islamic culture and law in theoretical, Saudi-local, and global contexts?” and one could only answer “Well, I don’t know a word of Arabic, but I’ve been looking up lots of stuff on Wikipedia for the past couple months!”, one might choose to be Ibe might be a bit more humble in one’s pronouncements.

    5)As to the inherent patriarchy of Islamic cultures — how is it that Bhutto has been prez of Pakistan and the US has never even had a female vice president? An exception to the rule, yes, but exceptions are important because they remind us that rules (“logic must always be good! muslims must always be savage!”) probably ought to be uttered with less froth than is happening here.

    Thanks, and sorry for length.

    PS – @ Shannan: Thank you!! It amazes me how many people fail to understand that the “Islam is barbaric” argument can’t possibly happen in a vaccuum, and that in our current world situation it inevitably contributes to some scary mens’ scarier agendas…

  28. I don’t think anyone ought to bow down to the “civilized ‘West.’” All of us know the West has done plenty of things that are uncivilized. Science was used to oppress women and PoC for ages. “Reason” has been an excuse for all kinds of nasty imperialistic agendas. And yes, “scary men” with scary agendas are certainly fanning anti-Islam fears to further all kinds of nastiness. BUT none of that changes the fact that religion — all kinds, but in this discussion we’re talking about Islam in particular — has enabled horrible oppression and persecution of women. It has. As a woman I am outraged by it.

    Until it stops, I will continue to be outraged by it — and do everything I can to stop it, just as I do what I can to stop patriarchy/ racism/ oppression in any shape.

  29. Ico said:

    ” religion — all kinds, but in this discussion we’re talking about Islam in particular — has enabled horrible oppression and persecution of women. It has. As a woman I am outraged by it.

    Until it stops, I will continue to be outraged by it — and do everything I can to stop it, just as I do what I can to stop patriarchy/ racism/ oppression in any shape.”

    Ico, the subtle discrepancy here between the fervent-sounding “do everything I can to stop it” and the milder “do what I can to stop it” is probably purely accidental, but I think it underlines what I’m trying to say.

    Too many would-be sons n’ daughters of the Enlightenment are prone to being more freaked out by nastiness when it wears an ostensibly religious (and especially an Islamic) face. Of course we should condemn gruesome things like violence against women. But bombing is violence against women, too. Setting up auto/theocratic regimes is violence against women. Spreading war and militarism across the world is violence against women. Setting up global economic conditions so that 3rd world womens’ employment choices consist of sweatshop labor or sex work, all so one can have cheap-ish sneakers and an ipod, is violence against women.

    “Westerners” display an ire when fuming half-ignorantly about mislabelled but genuine problems like “female genital mutilation” and “honor killings” that is rarely on display when talking about, say, Europe’s responsibilty for the third world’s infant mortality rate, or the number of Iraqi women starved to death from US sanctions even before this latest war. When one condemns the actions of zealous savages half a world away but doesn’t trumpet just as loudly about the systematic barbarities that keep one cozy and online…well, there are issues.

    Especially since such barbarities include keeping the zealous savages in power! If the house of Saud and the govts. of Nigeria, Iraq. Mexico and Canada* got overthrown tomorrow by pro-queer, no-cheap-oil-for-you-America! feminists, the American economy would collapse. Chaos in the streets-level. It would be interesting to see how well all of our progressive principles would hold up then….

    *The biggest exporter of oil to the US

  30. “When one condemns the actions of zealous savages half a world away but doesn’t trumpet just as loudly about the systematic barbarities that keep one cozy and online…well, there are issues.”

    Well… you’re making some pretty broad assumptions about me here (if you are implicating me in this statement, and I suspect you are). I take it you’re not trying to be rude with this, but I’ll just point out that, well… your assumptions are dead wrong.

    I have been a student activist for a long time. Not once in that time have I ever gone out trying to raise awareness on the oppression of women in Islamic culture (there’s enough fear mongering for all the wrong reasons already). Issues I have campaigned about in the past and that these days I incorporate into my teaching (as much as I can into an English class) include: globalization, the damaging effects of free trade, U.S. complicity in violence around the world (especially re: School of the Americas), sweatshops and the feminization of poverty (and the complicity of U.S. consumeristic culture), slave labor (again, with the U.S. complicit), and human trafficking. As you can probably tell by this list, I’ve spent a LOT more time criticizing our own commercial culture and nationalistic blindness to American crimes than I have spent criticizing cultures abroad. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever spoken on any public forum about Islam. So don’t assume.

    Now then, I agree with you that crimes against women are by no means limited to Islam. I don’t target Islam as the-single-worst-cause-of-female-oppression or anything like that (if I had to pick one, it would probably be poverty), but I WILL speak out on it when occasion arises (for example, if the topic comes up on a blog). And I believe it is right and important to do so. Are the other issues you brought up important? Yes, of course they are. And so is this one. They ALL deserve our scrutiny, criticism, and activism.

    “It would be interesting to see how well all of our progressive principles would hold up then”

    Chances are, our progressive principles are going to take many, many decades to reshape modern global society, if ever they do. What’s the point in unrealistic hypotheticals? It’s much more productive to argue about the best way to bring about positive change for everyone.

  31. Ico -

    My comments were meant to critique a big group of people which sometimes includes myself. No assumptions about your personal history of commitment were expressed or intended.

    BTW, I think wild hyptheticals are useful for a whole bunch of reasons, but I suppose that’s a different thread…

  32. Okay, my bad then. I thought you were criticizing my critique based on those assumptions. :)

    Anyway, I think you are right that in general in our society (especially given the current post 9/11 anti-Muslim sentiment) there’s definitely hypocrisy in the use of Islamic oppression of women to uphold claims of Western “moral superiority.” It conveniently simplifies things into a simple good/evil dichotomy, very useful for stirring up fear and nationalistic sentiment.

    But I also stand by the fervency of my statement, “do everything I can to stop it.” One should always be fervent in ending oppression.

  33. “We might as well call all of Christianity complicit in the AIDS crisis because th Catholic Church lies about condoms preventing AIDS in Africa.

    But of course, that’s silly, isn’t it.”

    I don’t think it is silly.

    Though if I were referring solely to those lies, I would probably say the Catholic Church is complicit in theAIDS crisis, rather than Christianity in general.

  34. Ah Saladin, you remain one of my favorite people, still.

    Also, I am very uncomfortable with wide-swath condemning of “Religion” as if ALL religion is bad and ALL of those who practice it are involved in creepy/crazy shit. Yes, oragnaized religion is responsible for a lot of bad. But fi you take in, say, the whole of history, it’s easy to see that it isn’t solely religion that’s responsible.

    Look at the ancient Greeks (sorry for the wide swath). We don’t think of them as particularly “religious” and, going by modern definitions of religion, they may not have even had it. certainly they believed in deities, but the way the various temples and leaders of temples affected public policy and the way people behaved is different than the way, say, the Christian Right does it. perhaps because there were so many deities, perhaps because the ancient Greeks had nothing to be particularly dogmatic about. Perhaps it was a combination of those and other reasons.

    Still, they found ways to be horrendous to and about women — while worshiping female goddesses no less! Did religion cause this? No. It was the culture. Greek men didn’t need Zeus to tell them how to be misogynist. I believe they came up with that all on their own. And then proceeded to apply their crazy “rationality” to other cultures, like the Egyptians, who were completely NOT patriarchal and probably wondered what crack the Greeks were smoking all through antiquity.

    And it’s not a huge surprise, then, to learn that the Hebrews borrowed a lot from the Greeks.

  35. Love Saladin’s comments.

    And I don’t feel like it’s useless to talk about misogyny in Saudi Arabia anymore than it’s useless to talk about it anywhere it occurs. It’s more that, it doesn’t jibe for me when what goes on in Saudi Arabia is talked about as if it does not have any connection to what goes on in the US, as if they are separate subjects and you can either compare them unfavorably or favorably to each other. They are not separate subjects to be explored – it is one subject.. And it is not a subject of religion being inherently bad or good, or some religions being inherently better or worse towards women. Personally I have a bone to pick with every single religion I’ve ever encountered. Personally, I have also had little quarrel with religious *people* throughout my 39 years, and I have met people of many outspoken and conservative faiths.

    That doesn’t mean that I think religious people are groovy and feminists should quit their yappin’. I am one o’ them feminists, I just happen to feel more rooted in what Saladin had to say about violence towards women than in what westerners often have to say about Islam.

  36. “They are not separate subjects to be explored – it is one subject.”

    This is the one part of your post I disagree with, Joan. The cultural, economic, and political factors tied up in oppression of women in Saudi Arabia are vastly different from those here in America. Are there similarities? Sure, if you take a very broad perspective of misogyny; but to combat patriarchy in America and patriarchy in Saudi Arabia, or China, or any other country means looking at the very distinct cultural, political, and economic factors involved. I would not employ the same strategies I use to advance women’s rights here in America if I were in Saudi Arabia (it would probably end badly for me if I did), or China (again, this would turn out very badly…), or even Japan, because such strategies are not effective outside of the culture they are formulated in response to. So yes, I do believe they are separate subjects. Related? Absolutely. But distinct because the cultures are extremely different from one another.

  37. Ico- what it means to me that they are not separate subjects is that – and correct me if I’m wrong, somebody, but I think Saladin also talked about this? – the Muslim countries that get the most horrified reactions in the US are the same countries that, up to any point where it’s no longer convenient, get the most support from the US.

    The Saudi government does not reign because the US administration has politely looked the other way, or because the US doesn’t think it could carry off a military assault on Saudi Arabia but wishes it could – the Saudi govt is secure because the US administration benefits, and has long benefitted, from its reign. Western interests are served by the House of Saud being in power. If you think that is not the case, then please give me some alternate understanding of why Saudi Arabia is our staunch ally but the Taliban were barbaric terrorists who had to go. Or why, up until 9-11, the US gave material support to the Taliban. Clinton and Bush both.

    It’s not that I think every culture expresses woman-hating (and racism, and homophobia…) the same way but we just call it different things because we are evil imperialist whitey. It’s that right or wrong (wrong, from where I sit), the US is really fucking powerful, and there is not a lot that its bullying self has allowed to go on that it wasn’t fully okay with, historically.

    Seriously – a president in Venezuela who is doing amazing things for his country’s most vulnerable and long-oppressed people, and the US tries to have him assassinated and fails, and so now he is labeled a hostile dictator in US media?

    But countries where oppression, exploitation, and suffering are rampant are our friends? Could that have ANYTHING to do with the US’s own relationship from its inception to oppression, exploitation, and suffering? Could those things actually be part of western policy, not things we can’t stand but aren’t sure how to talk to our friends about because we don’t want to cause a ruckus or offend when there are important areas of agreement and peace going on?

    My point is that whatever the cultural, economic, and political factors tied up in oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, it is inaccurate to say that these factors exist separately from cultural, economic, and political factors in the US, tied up in the oppression of women *in Saudi Arabia*. I’m not saying US misogyny = Saudi misogyny culturally. I’m saying US misogyny and racism support Saudi misogyny.

    And, I would add that I will be more at ease with western feminists addressing or employing strategies to target misogyny in Muslim countries when a major way it is addressed and/or targeted is by centering voices of women in those countries. Here, centering them here. And not assuming that they aren’t centered there. That’s not a snarky remark at you, Ico, that is how I feel in general. I would like to find out what women in Saudi Arabia want and need, and it’s hard for me not to keep hearing Bush’s voice saying “strategery!” in my head when westerners talk about them and their situation.

    Flat out – I can’t fucking believe how women get treated the world over. I am not a cultural relativist. I just don’t see the US as disconnected, in thought or deed, from how women get treated the world over.

  38. “But fi you take in, say, the whole of history, it’s easy to see that it isn’t solely religion that’s responsible.”

    Who has made the argument that religion is *solely* responsible for bad things in history?

  39. Oh, okay Joan, I see. I misunderstood what you meant by “not separate.” Yes, I agree with you then. The U.S. has certainly had a powerful influence and has often used it to perpetuate oppression and poverty — a fact that generally goes overlooked by the nationalistic public.

  40. what about the male victim of that rape? it says that the woman and her companion were both raped. what has happened to him? i’m not really looking forward to finding out, in light of what has happened to the woman, but it’s so curious that info about him is absent from every account i’ve read.

  41. Mandolin:

    No one directly, but it’s definitely the general feeling I get whenever conversations like this come up and statements like this are uttered:

    “religion — all kinds, but in this discussion we’re talking about Islam in particular — has enabled horrible oppression and persecution of women.” (that was Ico)

    My point was that people can, and have, blame religion for a lot of bad things, from misogyny to genocide to racism. But religion by itself is not the problem. certainly religion is a component in the problem, but it can also be a component in the solution (if one chooses to allow it to be and the people in the religion are willing). therefore, I object to railing against religion as if just getting rid of it will solve the problem.

    Yes, religion has enabled the persecution of women. But it’s not alone in that.

  42. Well, I should mention then that I never meant to imply that religion “by itself” is the problem. I only meant what I said: that it *enables* oppression in many circumstances, and when it does that oppression must be stopped. And as I mentioned, many other forces have done the same — like “science” and “reason,” which for decades enabled oppression of women and PoC.

    But no, forgive me for being unapologetic but I feel no hesitation about railing against anything that causes oppression or exploitation. Do I want to get rid of religion? Heavens no, it’s perfectly capable of doing great good. Am I going to rail against it when it doesn’t do good and instead does harm? By God yes.

  43. I always feel like I’m walking a tightrope whenever I start conversations like this. On the one hand, I am not a fan of organized religion and certainly the way religion is carried out that results in oppression, marginalization, zombie people, and general insanity. I, myself, am not in a religion. And while I’m not atheist, I certainly find common cause with people who want religion to be a personal thing, something that doesn’t impinge on my rights or even my consciousness, if I don’t want it to.

    On the other hand, I am extremely sensitive to what I perceive as Religion Bashing or Religious Bigotry. I don’t like it. And I don’t think that “Religion” in and of itself is the problem. Certainly it’s hard not to generalize, especially when a group is presenting itself as a monolithic whole. It just feels to me that folks on the outside and folks who are angry with/don’t like religion tend to forget that Christians, Muslims, Jews, and everyone else involved in non-Abrahamic religions are individuals, many of whom are perfectly intelligent, not just the irrational, superstitious hive mind.

    Not that you were doing that, I’m just attempting to explain my tight-rope feeling :) I don’t want to come off as an apologist, but I don’t want to let slide unfair and unthinking, well, hatred, which I see a lot of in anti-religion discussions.

  44. I totally understand where you’re coming from. :) And I certainly do tend to sound very… passionate… at times. I really didn’t mean to come off as anti-religion (just anti-religious-oppression-of-women), and apologize if I offended anyone.

  45. Maybe we can talk about this sometime in person — or not — but I feel like this particular conversation is no longer going anywhere.

    I feel like you’re assigning straw men to the positions that myself and others have taken in the thread, and also condensing several topics.

    As I’ve said in other discussions, people of faith are the ones with privilege in these discussions. So when you start complaining about things like “Anti-religious people” seeing all people who believe in religions as “part of a hive mind” — well. I feel it’s a manipulation of really large stereotypes, and ones which are remarkably resistant to response and analysis.

  46. Mandolin,

    Sorry that you feel I’m making straw men. I’m not trying to do so, but that’s not necessarily indicative of the end result of my words.

    Much of my perception of the “religious hive mind” anti-religious folks comes from countless discussions I’ve had elsewhere with atheists and secular people. I did a bad job of not making it clear that my worries or annoyances are not just arising from this particular conversation.

    I do, however, feel like you and I don’t share the same frustrations with religion. And I feel like you are trying to get me to feel that religion is at fault when I really don’t feel that way. Again, I could be wrong about your thoughts on this. But because I feel that way, I’m pushing against it.

    I don’t know that I agree that “people of faith” are privileged as a whole. Because People of Faith can encompass those of us who have faith and are not in an Abrahamic religion. Or even those of us who are not part of any religion at all. That doesn’t mean that some folks who have faith don’t have it, because they certainly do. But as a person who identifies as pagan, though only out of convenience (because what I am takes a lot of explanation, which I usually don’t feel like offering people) I have never felt particularly safe or privileged as concerns my spiritual choices and the way people react to them.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t fall prey to Christian Privilege, because I do. When I make the choice to “out” myself, for lack of a better term, I don’t get much slack from many atheists (who consider me just as stupid as Christians for believing in invisible pink unicorns), many Christians (because I’m worshiping the devil/going to hell), and other misinformed parties who think that Pagan = New Age = Crystals and Astrology = Nutcase. I’m sure there are many spiritual people along the pagan spectrum who feel the same way. I wouldn’t count us among the privileged, though I would be interested in hearing an opposing view, since those who are privileged often don’t know it.

    But as for the ones who are privileged, I don’t understand what you’re getting at. Because of their privilege it’s all right to… what?

    Speaking to the last bit – “I feel it’s a manipulation of really large stereotypes, and ones which are remarkably resistant to response and analysis.”

    That’s exactly how I feel about the way Religion is often discussed among atheists and secularists (again, being general, speaking of many conversations over a long period of time.)

  47. Oh, also, thanks Joan for your comments :)

    double also, yes, I also wondered about what happened to the male victim in the story. But I haven’t found anything about his fate, either. Maybe his lawyer (if he had one) wasn’t as vocal to the media.

  48. On the pole of faith/no-faith, people of faith are privileged.

    You’re stereotyping atheists, and you’re doing so in a fashion that is informed by your privlilege to which you are blind. That’s, bluntly, how I feel.

  49. I find that particular polarization very interesting, because i don’t see all People of Faith on one side and all People of No-Faith on the other. I see it more as a spectrum, like sexuality. Also like sexuality, I perceive how privilege works in this instance as a sliding scale. Being bisexual, I can operate on heterosexual privilege by default, if I want, because I am attracted to men as well as women. I can choose not to accept that privilege, but the politics of it get more complex depending on who I get involved with romantically. You and I are both aware of the way this works within the LGBT community.

    I see a similar dynamic with People of Faith who aren’t of the dominant faith of their country/region/culture. To take America as an example, people who aren’t Christian and, to some extent, Jewish. Pagans, I think, are in a similar zone as bisexuals. You won’t find too many of us who are thrilled with Christianity. many who are downright angry with it. But we feel uncomfortable in situations where faith and spirituality and deity are discussed as an absolute negative.

    I would be interested to hear the ways in which people who do not belong to a culturally dominant religion/faith are privileged because, as I said, I am aware that people with privilege can certainly be blind to it. Because of that, I’m not able to extrapolate on my own and I may need a little help with this one.

  50. “Under Shariate law, a woman who simply reports a rape is considered to have admitted her guilt as an adultress”

    Um, haven’t read through all the comments yet… will probably have more to say, but…

    what the hell is this fool talking about? That is simply NOT TRUE about Sharia. It may be how some cultures interpret things, but it is absolutely not at all what Sharia law states.

    In fact, rape is not considered adultry by any means. And in order to claim adultry occurred, under any circumstances, the Sharia requires four witnesses who actually saw the penis penetrate the woman. Evan a pregnancy/birth of a baby is not considered legal proof of adultry. Needless to say, that basically makes it near impossible for adultry to even be prosecuted under the real Sharia laws.

    When will people wake up and stop blaming something they know nothing about for what is wrong with sick men who make up their own rules?

  51. Excuse me, but I can’t even GET through the comments. Jay, who the hell are you? You are clearly not a Muslim, so you don’t have the right to just make up statements about what is and is not Sharia. Not one single thing that you have stated is part of sharia is even part of it at all. Everything you have said is a flat out LIE. You are talking about cultural practices that have NO BASIS in Sharia, so stop saying it’s Sharia. There is NOWHERE in Sharia that says a woman cannot testify against a man or has to have other witnesses – NOWHERE. There is NOWHERE in Sharia that says that women who claim rape are actually adulterers. Patriarchy and misogyny are NOT inherent in Islam. Quite the opposite in fact; Islam as it was revealed gave us women rights and respects that Western women still don’t have.

    The problem with the situation in Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with Islam or implementation of Sharia. It isn’t even Sharia that those stupid judges used to make their decision. They used their own allowance to make up rulings and punishments as they see fit, which is a Saudi freedom those judges have, but is not at all based in Sharia. In fact, everything about the way they made their decisions actually contravenes actual Sharia.

    It IS a bad situation, but stop twisting it around and making it something that it isn’t. Stop speaking about something that you know nothing about and trying to sound authoritative on the subject.

  52. I’m curious to know how people like Ico are going to ‘end oppression.’ How do you define it? What people in the West sometimes view as repressive is a cherished and shared cultural value in the East.

    I’m curious to know why no Mozlem was asked or consulted about exactly what Shari’ah says about rape. As far as I can tell, the word of (yet another) White non-Muslim Western man was taken. I know it’s par for the course, but it’s a little disappointing on a blog like this.

    We do speak English… we do have resources available for all online or in books … we do know about our own law and can interpret or explain it to non-Muslims perfectly well. Perhaps even better than people who don’t practice or believe in our religion do.

    Just FTR, Shari’ah law — not the politicized tool that is enshrined in “constitutions” and as a football for parties and individuals jockeying for power — does not say that a woman who accuses a man of rape has “automatically” confessed to adultery. Despite what others may wish or say, Shari’ah law is not black and white. There is ample grey area. There is a lot of room to maneuver.

    Like anything else, Islam and Shari’ah are subject to use and exploitation by people wishing to justify this or that. We here in the so-called “Middle East” see it everyday. Was the Saudi female victim (not forgetting, of course, that there was also a male victim) lashed because she sat in a car alone with an unrelated man (khalwa, which is against Saudi law, but there is nothing in Shari’ah that specifies such a punishment for khalwa), or because she went to the Arab media with her story and embarassed the Saudi gov’t? Her lawyer has also been punished. I mean, with people as pious and holy as te Saud family on the throne, is it possible that this has nothing to do with what Shari’i rulings say, but is being used to cover it up and put a veneer of piety and religiosity on their punishment of this minority woman?

    Anyway, my point is, ask a Mozlem. We are capable of speaking for ourselves. Preferably one who has studied Islamic law at the hands of the masters of the law. They are out there (heck, I live near a whole bunch of them and almost all of them speak English).

  53. I’m curious to know why no Mozlem was asked or consulted about exactly what Shari’ah says about rape. As far as I can tell, the word of (yet another) White non-Muslim Western man was taken.

    “if what he says about Sharia law is true (I say if only because I haven’t verified this independently)”

    from the post itself.

    I certainly didn’t take what Jay said as the ultimate truth.

    I’m glad that I have readers who do know about Shari’ah Law. Because people like you and Aaminah and Saladin enter the conversation the rest of us can gain some understanding about these issues.

    If you wouldn’t mind, can you provide us with some resources about Shari’ah Law? I always envisioned it as some sort of list, ala the 10 Commandments. But obviously that’s not the case.

    I should note that, while I do really appreciate you both coming over (I assume from a trackback) I don’t want this to turn into a flamewar. I don’t want to dismiss your anger, but I do ask that you don’t post at Jay as if he were, say, a hateful troll, but instead as if he is a person who may be wrong about a lot, but is willing to listen to why he’s wrong. (That pretty much goes for all the other people who comment, too. No one has displayed unforgivable ignorance, from my POV.)

  54. ABW,

    Much respect, but the clear truth is that Jay is not “willing to listen to why he’s wrong”. This is obvious to us because he very strongly spoke about something as if he were an authority on the subject but was 100% wrong. He didn’t have the grace to say “from what I’ve read/been told… and may have been misinformed or misunderstood”. He presented his comments as matters of fact.

    And this is something that we Muslims wrestle with CONSTANTLY. For some reason, though we know that PoC in general do not have to accept outsiders telling us what our reality is, people still believe it is perfectly acceptable to do this to Muslims. On the rare occassion that they do allow a Muslim voice in, it is someone who considers themselves “secular” and has rejected main elements of Islam. It is reality in the blogging world, even amongst supposedly well-intentioned people and even amongst PoC that real, practicing Muslims are kept out of the equation. And again, this goes back the the whole issue that I cannot be your only source of education. A) Ask a real Muslim. B) Be ready to listen and accept what they say, not tell them it doesn’t fit your preconceived notions, and C) Do your own research. I’m not saying that to you personally, AWB, because I KNOW you try, I’m saying that to everyone.

    There isn’t really a way to give you “Sharia Resources” per se. It is quite a large course of study that takes years and is grounded first in detailed knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (sayings etc.) of our Prophet (peace be upon him). From there it goes into detailed study of the Caliphs following the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and their rulings, and then into a very deep study of law. And it is true that there are different rulings on many matters from different authorities understanding and application. It is not a monolithic entity, but a vast and to some degree evolving science.

    Which is exactly why lay people and non-Muslims simply shouldn’t presume to speak on it. It is not a simple answer, it is about having the right question and asking those who know.

    However, it is also reality that the form that Sharia takes in today’s societies is a far cry from true Sharia. I honestly cannot think of a single nation that claims to be under Sharia that actually upholds the true values of Sharia all the time. Many man-made rulings and pre-Islamic or modernist ideas have been allowed to permeate because of oppressive cultural norms. But in much the same way that we can say that the Bible did not sanction slavery as it was practiced in the US and its practicioners claimed, we should also be able to recognize that the Qur’an (which is the first basis of Sharia) does not sanction many things that its so-called practicioners claim. The problem is not with the religion, nor with the code of law; the problem is, as always, with the selfish and hateful way that humans will twist anything to suit their own purposes.

  55. There isn’t really a way to give you “Sharia Resources” per se. It is quite a large course of study that takes years and is grounded first in detailed knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (sayings etc.) of our Prophet (peace be upon him). From there it goes into detailed study of the Caliphs following the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and their rulings, and then into a very deep study of law. And it is true that there are different rulings on many matters from different authorities understanding and application. It is not a monolithic entity, but a vast and to some degree evolving science.

    This is very illuminating because, as I said, I had assumed it was just a list of rules like the commandments or Leviticus, etc. Obviously it’s much more complicated than that.

  56. Aaminah and Umm Zaid, thank you for commenting on this.

    I am always uncomfortable when people who don’t appear to be Muslim talk about what “goes on in Islam” or “Sharia Law,” because I have received different information about it. I’m not a Muslim, so I have never felt comfortable necessarily saying much beyond what I said above, about ideas of “over there” and “how they treat women” as if it’s a separate thing from anything going on in the west, and how that bugs me.

    I have some confusion around what I feel comfortable saying or what is respectful or not respectful. Because: when I went back to school a couple years ago, I first got to take a class by a professor who was Muslim and who outlined some basic teachings – these “basic tenets” have an official name, and I need to dose up on the Ginkgo Biloba or something cuz I’m forgetting names of everything lately (including a friend last night) – but my point is, what that professor taught bore no resemblance to what I had ever heard previously about Islam. Even pieces I had previously heard that were technically not false were also not even close to the whole truth.

    And then I did independent studies on a Muslim woman writer who is a self-proclaimed Muslim feminist. And she was a devout Muslim, and I was surprised, because I had that impression of “feminist Muslim woman” in the west is always supposed to mean “woman who is from a Muslim culture who gives it the finger, like western women think she should!” Which I say not to be inflammatory, but as an example of judgmental ignorance about it that I learned in my own culture.

    I hope my long-windedness is not an obnoxious de-rail here. What’s on my mind is that what I was taught about Islam made me feel the same as I felt when I heard things about what Jesus Christ was supposedly like as a person – heartsick. That in the way things started out, it was some pretty revolutionary social justice stuff going on, towards everyone, including towards women, and a lot of people don’t even know that. I mean I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been fairly preoccupied with religions for most of my life.

    So I end up feeling like, dang, you (whichever “you” is talking bad about Islam as a religion) are being disrespectful towards a religion based on stuff that isn’t even true about it.

    Now, I am not in a religion, although I find many religions compelling on an emotional and spiritual level. But again, because I’m not Muslim, I feel like who am I to ever blurt out my feelings of protectedness about it? At the same time, I feel like it is a betrayal of some kind to not speak up, especially when Muslim people are ignored or discounted.

    So, again, Aaminah and Umm Zaid, thank you for commenting here, I was glad to read your words.

  57. Joan, you know I love ya and feel ya. I have a knee jerk reaction to pretty much anyone who says things about anyone else’s spirituality or religious practice, no matter what it is. Because I believe that pretty much all religions are maligned to some degree in this hyper-secularized society. It is somehow “ok” to mock someone’s deepest convictions. Even if I don’t have the answer or know just what that religion teaches about a particular matter, I am quicker to say “um, that is us imposing our own culture and norms on them. Where are we getting our information? Is it accurate? Is it over-simplified? Do we have a ____ around who can tell us if this is even true?” I believe that across the board, whether its Buddhism, Hinduism, Wiccan, whatever. Unless it is something we have come from ourselves or studied extensively, chances are we don’t know as much about it as we think we do. And we all have our biases and baggage that we bring in as we judge those faiths that are different than our own.

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