I read Clementine Ford’s article in The Age dated March 25, Is this photo grounds for death? I shared it around the usual social media traps. It is an issue that should be highlighted.
I also read Ruby Hamad’s article in The Age dated March 28, Why protests must be culturally appropriate and noticed Ruby copping a bit of flak from Australian women.
In summary, Amina, a 19 year-old Tunisian woman, adopted a western protest style to seek freedom for the women in Tunisia and she is now in a mental hospital. Clementine wrote of the case and Ruby has provided a culturally sensitive perspective which has generated some discussion.
I am one of what I believe is a fairly unique group of women: I am an atheist feminist married to a Muslim. I have visited a very strict Islamic country, Qatar. If you are reading this and don’t know my stance on religion and feminism, I suggest you read the following articles before you continue reading this one! 😆
- What is it with religion and women?
- The battle of feminist ideologies
- If this is feminism you can keep it – warning discussion of rape and swearing
It is clear from the above articles I am NOT into preserving the status quo!
Besides being married to a Muslim, I have several Muslim co-workers as well. The Muslims I know cover a wide spectrum of strictness. One co-worker’s wife wears traditional Islamic dress, while others are much more relaxed and drink alcohol and smoke.
There is an old saying, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Westerners view the place of women in some Islamic societies as subjugation (I say “some” as there is wide variation between Islamic societies). Personally, I agree. We need to remember though, many Islamic women view our freedoms as abuse of us by western society. Those very strict Islamic societies have existed that way for generations, many members of those societies know nothing else. If we want to encourage societies to move into the 21st century, we can’t shock them into change because the action seems, to them, quite crazy.
Clementine quotes Amina’s aunt as saying:
“Amina does not exist anymore for me. She is responsible for her acts, and we are devastated by what she did. Our family is educated and open-minded and we did everything we could for her.”
Amina is now in a mental hospital, deemed crazy by the standards and beliefs of her society.
If you are an atheist, have you ever tried telling a Christian there is no God? While the Christian may respond in a civil manner, you can tell they think you are crazy. In fact, a complete aside, but I believe one of the reasons Tony Abbott is so “anti” Julia Gillard is because she is an atheist and Tony is a hell-fire and brimstone Christian. He believes he is a “fit and proper person” to be the PM because he is a Christian, while he believes Julia will go to hell for being a non-believer. Just my thoughts on that little cameo!
There is a chronic tendency in the West to treat our own liberalism as an innate rather than acquired characteristic. We may be comfortable enough with naked female bodies that we no longer wish to kill women who expose them, but no society can change overnight. And yet, we insist on speaking to Islam through that peculiarly Western phenomenon known as post-enlightenment rationalism.
Ruby is 100% correct. We westerners are a bit like the assertive atheists. We know the truth, so it should be clearly evident to everyone else. No, nothing is clearly evident to those who have NO experience of any other way than the way they know.
Those who have read my book, Love versus Goliath, will know we had to battle to be allowed to stay in the same room when I visited Mr O in Qatar. We were a married couple, but to the Qatari, we were a rather unusual married couple and they didn’t quite believe us.
When we went to the shopping centres in Qatar, the women were all in black and in many cases not even their eyes were visible. To them this is NORMAL, it is APPROPRIATE, it is RIGHT. They aren’t all running around believing they are being subjugated or oppressed.
If we want to encourage these societies to move forward, we have to speak to them in a language they can understand and they CANNOT understand naked female bodies. They just can’t. There is no point in saying “well, they should be able to”. It just isn’t going to happen.
With the advent of the internet and social media, young people see western ways they would never have seen in years past. Yes, to those young people I am sure our western freedoms can appear seductive and they want them NOW. They think organisations like Femen are wonderful, but they don’t have the life experience or political understanding to know what adopting such strategies will do in a fiercely repressed society.
Let me share a story from a book I’ve discussed before about Cultural Intelligence. A young man from a society that believed watching movies was evil (I forget now where he came from) went to New York to study, having won a scholarship. After living and studying in New York for a while, he realised he wasn’t going to be struck by lightening if he watched a movie so he went with his new western friends to the movies. He had to leave the theatre part-way through and vomited in the bathroom. His cultural “training” was so strong his body reacted against his new found knowledge that watching a movie would not lead to his death.
Clementine is right, to us Amina’s actions are definitely not grounds for death, of course not. Ruby is also right, that style of protest will not work in that society.
The secret is for us to find a way to help our sisters without alienating the societies in which they live, otherwise we will be locked out and they will be locked in.