Sunday, October 26, 2014

Education about the role and status of women key to resolving the conflict betwen Islam and the west

It was David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist just returned from the Middle East, and appearing on CBS's Face the Nation with guest host Charley Rose this morning, who warned of the ticking clock in the attempt to secure the support of Sunni tribal leaders in western Iraq to join what amounts to a Sunni National Guard force of some 5000 to fight ISIS in Iraq. Ignatius reports that there is growing impatience in both Lebanon and Jordan, with the apparently protracted time line evident in the U.S. delivery on its agenda to train and develop an indigenous Sunni force to counter the ISIS Sunni threat.
Ignatius made an even more important and timely observation when he strongly advocated a U.S. allocation of resources to fundamentally change fundamentally the education of young Muslims from one in which they are indoctrinated with contempt for Jews and the "west" to one that seeks to develop an appreciation of both among young Muslim children. While noting that the "fight" with bombs and missiles and technology and training is important, Ignatius also cautions that without a profound change in the education, attitudes and beliefs among young Muslims, the fighting itself, even including "boots on the ground," will not be adequate to defeat this scourge.
Also appearing on the same Face the Nation, CBS Middle East reporter, Clarissa Ward, noted that recruitment of new terrorists by the ISIS leadership is no longer generated by Imams working in Mosques, but rather is being accomplished through internet connections with people already deeply engaged in the ISIS ideology and committed to its growth. One of the implications of this private and highly secret radicalization, including the fact that parents frequently do not and will not know their children are being transformed into terrorists, is that intelligence services, too, will find it very difficult to learn about who is becoming radicalized, and what that radicalization is likely to lead to in terms of actions planned at home or abroad.
Clearly, nations like Canada, where broad daylight assassinations of two military personnel took place this week, one using an auto as the murder weapon, the other a 30/30 Winchester rifle, are struggling with the question of both surveillance of potential terrorists and intervening to prevent actions not yet committed and perhaps not yet even planned. We learned this week, from excellent reporting by Adrienne Arsenault of CBC, that the RCMP and the Canadian Intelligence Service both consider the removal of a Passport as a sign of failure, because when the situation has reached that point, with the potential terrorist having approached the final decision to leave the home country and join ISIS in Iraq or Syria, and now having been discovered and having the Passport revoked, the young radicalized terrorist wannabee is angry and  has no place to go. What he does with that anger and that "restriction" is potentially quite dangerous.
The broadcast of the turbulent background of the Ottawa terrorist wannabee, including his frequent encounters with the law, his rejection and dismissal from an Islamic mosque, his life of illicit drugs, and his grasping whatever parts of the Islamic ideology that served his purpose of holding his life "together" would, one might hope, point a light into the kind of ne'er-do-well who turns to radical Islam and terrorism as a way of finding an identity, when most other paths have failed to achieve that goal. Unemployed, confused, desperate, penniless, friendless and without either direction or purpose, this man could  become the poster-child for what not to do with one's life, including not permitting the overtures of ISIS recruitment agents to seduce him into a life of violence and hate.
It was a group of women activists appearing on SunNews Television in Canada last night, as part of the premier airing of a new documentary entitled, "Honour Diaries," who shared their experiences as women in the Islamic world. One notable comparison comes from Iran, where according to one of the women activists, a woman is literally considered precisely one-half as valuable as a man, and her testimony in court is also considered to be of only one-half the value of the testimony of a man.
The documentary outlined the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation, a tribal tradition in Africa that has been imported into the Muslim faith in many countries. Arranged marriages to young girls is another of the human rights issues these women are trying to bring into the public consciousness as a beginning of a process to put an end to them. There is little doubt that at the core of the many issues that divide the world's population around the headlines generated by the radical Islamic jihadi movement is the role and status and the human rights of women: whether they are beaten, covered, accompanied in public, educated, mutilated, or even considered fully equal members of society with men.
This documentary exposed the failure of the western feminist movement to align with the women activists whose work has generated this documentary: "We have never been approached by western feminists offering support for the cause of women's human rights," were the words of one participant in the discussion that accompanied the airing of the documentary. One potential reason for this failure to support is that western feminists do not wish to be considered Islamophobes if they offer support for Muslim women in their pursuit of what the west considers normal human rights. And so, fearing for the loss of their own reputation, they abandon the opportunity to join a legitimate struggle courageously undertaken by mostly Muslim women who refuse to be shackled by their male cohorts and who are willing to risk considerable punishment for their bravery in openly confronting this issue.
If the attitude, and the failure to join these Muslim women activists, on the part of western feminists is or can be an analogy for the potential of western governments to engage in an even deeper and more threatening transformation of the education of Islam's millions of young people (threatening that is to the status quo and the misogyny it upholds) then we will wait a long time for governments like that of the United States and Canada to begin to pour human and financial resources into a campaign that would seek, as one of its primary results, the moderation or even the termination of misogyny and the triumph of equality and respect for the 51% of the Islamic world's population that is female.
This is not a religious ideology that seeks to bring about equality between the genders in global society; it is, certainly and without question, a human rights issue, and not merely a women's human rights issue, but one that confronts both men and women everywhere. It is not a political ideology that seeks and espouses gender equality in all countries; it is not a military ideology, nor an economic ideology, because in the first instance, ISIS welcomes female recruits and in the second, the emancipation of women from the chains that shackle them to their male "masters" (first their fathers, and their brothers, and then their husbands, and finally their sons) would inevitably result in the unleashing of an economic and political force that would, without doubt, generate tidal waves of both political and economic activity still hidden in the caves of the minds of millions of Islamic men.
And so, just as ISIS is giving a very bad name to Islam, so bad that Imams were filmed at the War Memorial in Ottawa yesterday laying flowers and decrying the actions of the terrorist in murdering the Canadian soldier and being embraced by Canadians who found the moment emotionally moving and reassuring, so too are the Islamic terrorists giving a very bad name to the male gender.
And as men interested in the achievement of gender equality in real and verifiable terms, (not in the terms that tip the pendulum so far to the feminine that the men become "mist" in the distance,) western men too have to speak out against the view of both men and women from the perspective of the radical Islamic terrorists and to those among any faith community that continues to perpetuate a superior/inferior view of men to women, including those among the right-wing in the Christian community. Male superiority, male dominance, male exclusivity, male power .....these are all matters for deep and profound reflection among all nations and peoples of the world.
No longer is it viable, nor was it ever, to argue that because Jesus was a man, and his disciples were all male, that women are barred from activity ministry, from holding clergy offices including priest, bishop, and even Archbishop and Pope. No longer is it viable, nor was it ever, to argue that because women are the "weaker sex"  all sexual encounters between men and women are primarily or even normally determined by the male, the bearer of "excess testosterone" as many angry feminists would have it. No longer is it viable, nor was it ever, for a woman who heartily consents to a sexual relationship, to cry "foul" and publicly demand punishment for the former partner, when that relationship ends, regardless of which party initiated the termination. Women, if they really seek gender equality, have to accept their full responsibility for all sexual relationships to which they consent. No longer is it viable, nor was it ever, to argue that women are the automatic victims of all sexual encounters, when we all know that western men have been socialized and "educated" into the belief that a woman's "No" means just that!
It is a very small minority of men who contravene that belief, and they are to be rightly judged and punished for their abuse. However, just as the Muslim world has enshrined the pendulum's swing far too far to the side of men, and the abuse that that brings, so too the Christian world has much to account for and to atone for in its too easy and ready compliance with the "weaker" gender theory, which is after all, little more than another form of patronization of women.
If we are to strive, legitimately, for full and responsible equality of the genders, in Christian, Jewish and Muslim relationships, as well as those relationships between men and women of no faith belief, then the question of the relationship between men and women will have to be critically examined, openly debated and both negotiated and legislated from a basis of full and equal participation in the narrative that undertakes that goal. And the Christian segment of the world's population will have to make fundamental and transformative shifts in the current acceptable "unequal" relationships enshrined in its phoney protection of the "weaker" female gender, as will the Muslim world have to examine critically, openly debate and change the power structure in its homes and communities in the other direction.

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