Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
A new odor of xenophobia has been wafting about in the United States in recent weeks, exemplified by the mutilated face of a young Afghan woman and the false uproar over an alleged mosque at Ground Zero.
A person would have to be a sadistic sociopath not to be horrified at the picture of the child-bride Aisha that was on the cover of Time Magazine’s August 9, 2010 edition. Her much older husband cut off her nose and both ears for escaping temporarily from the hellish life she endured for six years before being rescued by a women’s group in Afghanistan. Time magazine ran Aisha’s mangled face on its cover with the inscription, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan,” suggesting that brutality toward women in that country is solely a practice of the Taliban that will leave the women of Afghanistan helpless against similar brutality if US troops leave that country.
Her story up until the knife-wielding brutality of her husband, aided by his brother, is not uncommon among the Pashtuns who live in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Aisha, at age 12, was given to the family of a Taliban fighter in Oruzgan Province, along with a younger sister, as a reparation for a dispute between the families. The girls’ uncle had killed a relative of the man who became Aisha’s husband. To settle the killing, the girls’ father gave them to the victim’s family. When she reached puberty, Aisha became a bride to the man whose relative was killed.
Time Magazine seems to believe that this practice had something to do with the fact that the man had been a Taliban fighter, but reporting in the New York Times calls this assumption into question. The Time Magazine caption ignores the fact that this brutality happened while we are still in Afghanistan and has nothing whatever to do with why we went there over 8 1/2 years ago. If American foreign military adventures are based on how the rest of the world treats women, there will be no end to the cost to the American people in lives and money. The plight of women in the world must be addressed, but perpetual war is not an answer. Education of women, loans to women to start their own businesses, cultural engagement with poor regions, and creative diplomacy will yield far better results at a small fraction of the cost of war.
There is no reason to believe that getting American troops out of Afghanistan will result in more or less brutality toward women. Women in that country will endure the same misogynistic treatment they have always suffered. The reasons have nothing to do with the absence or presence of American troops, but with Afghan culture, religious practices, and history. Attacking Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 was not done for women’s rights, though that was seen by many (including Laura Bush, apparently) as a secondary benefit. Ending that war is not a betrayal of Afghan women, but walking away without finding other ways to help those whose suffering we have made immeasurably worse would be a betrayal. If every Taliban follower disappeared tomorrow, women would continue to be the victims of religious and cultural misogyny in Afghanistan.
The honor ethos that predominates in the tribal cultures will be in place with or without the Taliban. Girls have not had true freedom under the occupation by US and NATO forces. As long as tribal customs support the selling of girls into marriages, there is little hope that their lot will improve, even if their husbands are kind and generous.
From the memoir “Infidel,” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I learned that Muslim men are not monolithic. Her father never beat her mother in spite of the changing circumstances of their lives, living in Saudi Arabia and Kenya after fleeing Somalia’s bloody civil war. Her later sojourn in Holland, where she worked as a translator and became a Dutch citizen and member of Parliament, helped her see the wide variety of problems faced by Muslim women. While some were mistreated, not all Muslim men engaged in violence toward their wives. Such violence seemed to have more to do with cultural influences justified by selected verses in the Koran than with Islam as a religion.
The issue of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” is much easier to understand and sort out than are the plight of women in Afghanistan. The freedom of religion is well-established in the Constitution. Cities have some legal authority over the location and expansion of religious buildings, but such decisions cannot be made on the basis of religion. The proposed facility, called Park51, is two blocks from Ground Zero (the site of the 9/11 tragedy) and is a project of the Cordoba Initiative, a ten-year old project “designed to cultivate multi-cultural and multi-faith understanding across minds and borders.”
Cordoba describes the project as “a multi-floor community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center (JCC) with a designated prayer space (mosque) in one area to serve the needs of the large existing community of American Muslims in the neighborhood. … The community center will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their culture or background, will find a place of learning, arts and culture, and, most importantly, a community center guided by the universal values of all religions in their truest form – peace, compassion, generosity, and respect for all.”
Many politicians and commentators have charged that building the facility so near Ground Zero is an insult to the memories of those who died on 9/11, as well as their families. Such people forget that Muslims working in the Twin Towers on 9/11 died in those acts of terror, many first-responders were Muslim (some of whom died for their efforts), and the US military has over 3500 members who claim Islam as their religion. Are Muslims in the US to be treated as less than citizens entitled to the same rights and privileges as all other Americans? A Christian Evangelical killed a doctor in Kansas for performing abortions. Should all Christian Evangelicals be held responsible for that act of terror? Should all Christians be held responsible for the night-rider terrorism of Ku Klux Klan Christian adherents?
A group of medieval-thinking Muslims planned and executed the terror of 9/11, but that doesn’t mean all Muslims are of the same mindset. Overseas, there were expressions of jubilation among some Muslims upon hearing the news of the 9/11 attack. But there were similar scenes of jubilation is Dallas in 1963 when the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast in some Dallas schools. There was jubilation on the streets of America by some when the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was announced in 1945. Such acts by a few people of a particular religion, a particular political belief, or a particular nationality does not make all people from those groups equally responsible for such aberrant and callous behavior.
When the American Nazis wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois, a predominantly Jewish community outside Chicago, in the late 70s, one out of six Jewish residents were Holocaust survivors. To have a group of American Nazis marching with signs denying the Holocaust was deemed inappropriate by most thinking people. But there is another clause in the First Amendment that deals with freedom of speech, a notion as precious to American ideals of liberty as the freedom of religion.
Rights don’t mean much if they can be abrogated because someone or some group is offended by their exercise. That is when they are most needed.
Denying the Holocaust was a direct affront to the people of Skokie and beyond. But it is impossible for me to see how opening a community center that includes a place of religious worship should offend anyone. No one associated with that proposed center believes that the terrorism of 9/11 was appropriate. But even if they did, they have a right to meet together and to worship together in their own way two blocks from the scene of that horror. That is the American way because we are a nation based on principles, not the least of which is that a person’s religious belief, so long as it does me no harm, is not a concern of mine.
The religion of Islam is not responsible for 9/11 any more than Christianity is responsible for the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. And no Muslim who attends the proposed community center is trying to intimidate the survivors of 9/11 or besmirch the memory of those who died there nearly nine years ago. If we deny Muslims their rights under our Constitution because we disagree with their religious tenets, or because some twisted Muslims have committed terrorist acts, we abrogate what we claim to hold dear. That may be the America of Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Harry Reid, Rand Paul, Miss USA, Rudy Guiliani, Eric Cantor, and others, but it is not the America of Constitutional patriots.
© Lamar W. Hankins–Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print