Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A History of Muslim Women's Rights

In reaction to the murder of Aqsa Parvez by her father, CAIR makes a point on their website of linking to this letter to the editor of the Toronto Star:
A history of women's rights
Keeping the faith for the sake of all our Aqsa Parvezes

Islamic literature speaks of the "era of ignorance" when it addresses pre-Islamic Arab society – a time in which some of the men would bury their own infant daughters alive. Islam rid pagan Arabia of such practices, and raised women to a high status in days when they were considered property.

There are people today who fail to grasp the concept of the hijab. It is a right that Muslim women have fought for, some even spending time in prisons in so-called Muslim countries.

Although Islam is related to Judaism and Christianity, how Islam treats women is completely different. From its beginnings, Islam rejected the concept of original sin and the idea that the fall of mankind was due to a woman, Eve. Instead, the Qur'an says that man and woman committed the sin together, and that God forgave them when they asked for forgiveness. Islam gave women the right to property, inheritance and the vote 1,400 years ago. Even a simple statement in the Qur'an that women are human beings and have a soul was unthinkable in its time and cannot be found in other scriptures.

Islam has and will continue to flourish, and many more women will continue to wear their hijabs proudly. Let us stop patronizing them and respect their rights. In the meantime, if a criminal takes a life, let us treat him like a criminal.
Of course, one could argue that the writer of this letter--Mohamed Aidid, Thornhill--overlooks the fact that it makes no sense to demand that one respect the rights of Muslim women if you are not going to respect their right to say 'no'.

In any case, the problem is the huge gulf that exists between the theoretical rights of Muslim women found on paper and the actual application of those rights in practice. Jeff Jacoby has put together a list that calls the underlying assumptions of the above letter to the editor into question. He contrasts the rescue of women from the full impact of Islamic law through international outcry with a list of those who have not been so lucky, providing his own short history of women's rights:
No international furor saved Aqsa Parvez, a Toronto teenager, whose father was charged on Dec. 11 with strangling her to death because she refused to wear a hijab. "She just wanted to look like everyone else," one of Aqsa's friends told the National Post, "and I guess her dad had a problem with that."

No reprieve came for Banaz Mahmod, either. She was 20, a Kurdish immigrant to Britain, whose father and uncle had her killed last year after she left an abusive arranged marriage and fell in love with a man not from the family's village in Kurdistan. Banaz was choked to death with a bootlace, stuffed into a suitcase, and buried in a garden 70 miles away.

More than 25 such "honor killings" have been confirmed in Britain's Muslim community in recent years. Many more are suspected.

There has been no storm of outrage about the intimidation and murder in Basra, Iraq, of women who wear Western-style clothing. Iraqi police say that more than 40 women have been killed so far this year by Islamists; the bodies are often left in garbage dumps with notes accusing the victims of "un-Islamic behavior."

By Western standards, the subjugation of women by Muslim fanatics, and the sometimes pathological Islamist obsession with female sexuality, are unthinkable. Time and again they lead to shocking acts of violence and depravity:

In Pakistan, a tribal council ordered a woman to be gang-raped as punishment for her brother's supposed liaison with a woman from another tribe.

In San Francisco, a young Muslim woman was shot dead after she uncovered her hair and put on makeup in order to be a maid of honor at a friend's wedding.

In Tehran, a father beheaded his 7-year-old daughter because he suspected that she had been raped; he said he acted "to defend my honor, fame, and dignity."

In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic police prevented schoolgirls from leaving a burning building because they were not wearing headscarves and abayas; 15 of the girls died in the inferno.

The president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University, a renowned center of Islamic learning, described the proper method of wife-beating in a television interview: "It's not really beating," Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb explained on Egyptian television. "It's more like punching."

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, the repression of women was among their first priorities. They issued a decree forbidding women to leave their homes, with the result that work and schooling for women came to a halt, destroying the country's healthcare system, civil service, and elementary education.

"Forty percent of the doctors, half of the government workers, and seven out of 10 teachers were women," Lawrence Wright observed in "The Looming Tower," his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al Qaeda. "Under the Taliban, many of them would become beggars."

Women are not the only victims of this rampant misogyny. Mohammed Halim, a 46-year-old Afghan schoolteacher, was dragged from his family and horribly murdered last year - disemboweled and then dismembered - for defying orders to stop educating girls.
There have been only a few women subject to Muslim rule, Jacoby notes, who have been fortunate enough to to have the international outcry of the Western world intercede on on their behalf:
THE "QATIF GIRL" won a reprieve last week. On Dec. 17, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pardoned the young woman, who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her and a male acquaintance in 2006. Two weeks earlier, Sudan's president extended a similar reprieve to Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam because her 7-year-old students named a teddy bear Muhammad. Gibbons had been sentenced to prison, but government-organized street demonstrators were loudly demanding her execution.

In January, Nazanin Fatehi was released from an Iranian jail after a death sentence against her was revoked. She had originally been convicted of murder for fatally stabbing a man when he and two others attempted to rape her and her niece in a park. (Had she yielded to the rapists, she could have been flogged or stoned for engaging in nonmarital sex.)
An editorial in the Toronto Star, "Aqsa's tragedy challenges us all" written two days before the letter to the editor is intent on driving home the idea of the universality of the sort of violence evidenced by Aqsa Parveses case:
Family violence is not a "Muslim issue," in any narrow sense. Or even an "immigrant issue." It is a deeply rooted problem in our society, regardless of race, religion or length of time in Canada. Families that are relatively new to Canada may well face extra pressures – adapting to different lifestyles, cultural expectations, workplace demands, languages and the like. Sometimes, kids can feel trapped between two worlds. But families everywhere struggle to work through generational issues.

It is easy to find cases of conflict between parents and teens in families that have been here for generations, who do not profess any particular religion, and who share common cultural values. And occasionally, such conflicts spill over into violence, with tragic results.

Our challenge as a society is to ensure that young people such as Aqsa know where to go in order to get help when they need it. The schools play a critical role. So do community centres and clinics. Counselling and other services must be available for their parents, as well. Too often, resources are strained and underfunded.

And society as a whole must at every opportunity reinforce the message that coercion and violence have no place in the family, or anywhere else in our community. Preachers, teachers, physicians and other leaders have a duty to drive home the point that values are best lived, not imposed by force.
Of course both the Jewish community and Christians as a whole are being confronted with the need to face the existence of abuse and violence in religious families--but the editorial is going pretty far in its attempt to equate the violent murder of Parvez by her father with the problems facing religious Jews and Christians. While the editorial voices the kind of broad comparison not dissimilar to what we last saw employed by Christiane Amanpour in God's Warriors--where she equated religious Jews with Islamist terrorists--the editorial apparently assumes the existence of religious values in Judaism and Christianity that would parallel those values that drove Parvez's father to murder her.

Thornhill's letter to the editor, coming just 2 days after the Toronto Star editorial, indicates that a soft approach equating the murder with a general problem only encourages those whose heads are s in the sand.

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