Reading how women were incarcerated to live in constant darkness I couldn’t help wonder if we in the West have any idea what they went through in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Where the Taliban took control women were forbidden to leave the house and on the rare occasions when they were allowed they had to to be fully covered head to toe.
Making matters worse to prevent men being able to see women through windows, the windows had to be blackened. Can anybody in the West imagine what this must feel like for these women to be locked up in a dark place all year round with nothing to do apart from being a man’s sexual object and slave?
No identity, no education, not allowed to work apart from meeting one’s husband’s every need. Women are treated worse than slaves, worse than animals. What do Taliban or Muslims in general see in women that they have this immense need to make them invisible in society and degrade them in such a way?
Sadly it seems to me that in the West we have very little sympathy for the affairs of women in countries with oppressive regimes. We speak about cultures and how important it is to respect their traditions but how many of us living in a free country would like to exchange places with these women? Culture sucks if it treats people like that. Culture is not worth preserving if it has no respect for the human dignity.
In the West where I live I see more and more women wearing the hijab, mostly children who go to or come out of school. Women hiding behind a black cloak that covers them head to toe are also seen more and more, usually accompanied by at least one male. Each time I see this it makes me very sad and although not religious I feel reminded of the words of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they do”.
Of course I realise that living in a tolerant society where we have religious freedom it is inevitable to see things like this. Yet I wonder how many of these women and children really feel they do have a choice in the matter. I also question how many of those who claim they do actually realise the deeper implications of what they’re doing.
What are these deeper implications?
For a start giving up one’s identity to blindly submit a higher authority (which often is not that high at all but a male dominated group that steals young impressionable minds through fear and indoctrination) undermines the liberation of women which took hundreds of years to achieve.
Women in the West today enjoy dignity and have a voice in our society like they never used to have since the emergence of patriachism. By voluntarily submitting to such degrading practices the woman is betraying all those women who fought for her liberty and also all those women who have no choice in the matter in oppressive Islamic countries.
By hiding in their homes and behind the veil a woman stops to exist for the rest of the world, she is neither seen nor heard and therefore has become irrelevant. She is now a slave to her husband and her male sons with very limited rights.
What rights does she have?
Maybe compared to traditional tribal practices Islam might have given women more rights as women in that society counted very little. Islam however didn’t improve vastly on women’s right, this came only through the enlightenment and the feminist movements in the West. To say that women have rights in Islam is like saying black people in the seventeen hundreds had rights while serving as slaves for their white masters. Yes they did have rights in the same spirit as women have rights in Islam. One only needs to have a look at what the quran teaches:
You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you.
Sounds good, doesn’t it, until one reads further:
You have the right that they should not defile your bed and that they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them but not with severity. If they refrain from these things they have the right to their food and clothing with kindness. Lay injunctions on women kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control of their persons. Quran 4:34
Women in Islam are prisoners to their husbands. I guess the comparison to slaves is not that far off.
There are still deeper implications. Wearing the hijab or the burka are demonstrations to the outside world that mark these women as Muslims. The world doesn’t see them anymore as women in their own right but is now forced to see them through the filter of religion. It is a message that says, look up, West, Islam is coming to you, get ready and put your women in order.
Tolerance is a good thing and we should not discriminate by race, colour, gender and sexual orientation. These are things one is born with and not something we chose by free choice and therefore nobody has a right to discriminate based on any of these attributes. When it comes to religion, however, this is not something we’re born with but something we either chose or were brainwashed since childhood to believe in.
Religion is by its very nature discriminatory. It is deeply divisive, dividing the human race between those who believe like them and those who don’t. This makes it obvious why no religion can be truly tolerant because if it were it would stop being religion and become enlightenment.
There are many people in western society who consider themselves Christians but would consider it abhorrent to discriminate against people of other faiths. They have moved away from the fundamentalism of their own faith and become enlightened, realising that nobody has the whole truth and that behind all religions is the same loving God. It might be a naïve viewpoint and inconsistent with the Christian faith but in essence they simply keep what they perceive as good in Christianity and reject that which separates mankind from each other, which actually might be closer to New Testament teachings of loving one neighbours than the fundamentalism that caused so much strive and suffering in the world for nearly two-thousand years.
Tolerance is one of the greatest achievements of the Enlightenment Movement but also its greatest weakness. By being tolerant we allow humans to follow their beliefs as long as they respect the beliefs of others. This is the safeguard within Enlightenment, the requirement to respect people who believe different from us. It is a good safeguard and one that we need to constantly keep in mind.
How do we however determine if a group of believers doesn’t respect those from different faiths?
One example is Egypt where only a few years ago women were walking around with uncovered head, hair done up according to the latest fashions and hardly anybody felt the need to cover themselves up. Today the opposite is true, even women who still resist Islam are pressured to cover themselves so they won’t be labelled as prostitutes.
A tolerated minority now became an intolerant bully and it’s getting worse. Women in Egypt who are unaccompanied by males getting more and more targeted for sexual harassment by men who are brainwashed into believing that women belong at home and should not work. They believe that women are simply sexual objects for the man’s pleasure and have therefore no conscience to harass women whom they perceive as whores because they don’t adhere to the strict Islamic dress code.
The Islamic dress code is really a mark of possession that a woman either still belongs to her father or she belongs to a husband, the emphasis on belonging. If she is owned that ownership needs to be respected, apart from that women are just fare game. I wouldn’t be surprised if behind the recent string of harassment in Egypt are Islamic leaders who through this form of bullying want to impose their morality on everybody else, forcing women to dress in ways they wouldn’t choose normally. And yes, those women will say, they do it voluntarily for nobody told them so.
There is a known phenomenon where captives take on the values of their captors. It’s called the Stockholm syndrome. The fear and the pressure that women in Islamic society live under is comparable to the fear and pressure people are under who are being kidnapped. In a kidnap situation somebody is forced against his will to go where she doesn’t want to go and often kept indefinitely without being told when the captivity will come to an end.
People who are kept like this can start to misinterpret a lack of abuse in the moment for kindness even to the extent that they start to defend the kidnappers. It is a kind of traumatic bonding where the person being abused begins to develop emotional ties to the abuser. Women in Islam whose rights are being taken away and are finding themselves now imprisoned in their homes and under their veils have somehow to cope with the situation and like people kidnapped do this by beginning to bond with the oppressors even to the point that they start to defend them.
Women who sympathise with the oppressors through the emblems they’re wearing in countries where there is no compulsion to do so clearly show disregard for their fellow believers in those oppressed countries. The dress code was imposed on women in Islam by men who told them that this is what Allah commands them to do, it was not something they came up by themselves. No women in her right mind with any sense of self-worth and pride wants to hide her beauty. Women in Egypt who don’t follow strict Islamic dress code and are getting sexually harassed are being told that it is their own fault for dressing provocatively, the message being that men are not accountable for their behaviour. If men commit rape it’s the woman’s fault. Women therefore have to hide and sweat behind cloth and homes with no windows for men to look through so that Muslim men won’t be tempted. How on earth can any woman in a free country even consider wearing these emblems of oppression?
In oppressed countries, considering the Stockholm syndrome, it somehow can be understood how oppressed women might defend their oppressors and those emblems of oppression. Women have experienced trauma in those country nearly non-stop for hundreds of years. How can women in the West fail to recognise this. Trying to undermine the achievements of the Enlightenment is not the way how those people in oppressed countries are being helped. A blind man is not being helped if one gauges out one’s own eyes. One needs eyes to guide the one who can’t see. One needs to be free to help those who are oppressed. We need to guard and rediscover the achievements of the Enlightenment that was kindled during the dark ages and kept burning until darkness was consumed in light so that now we can bring this light everywhere where evil still spreads its dark shadow. Let us never take the liberty for granted that so many people before us gave their lives for.