Maajid Nawaz wrote a wonderful piece about Qandeel Baloch, the social media sensation of Pakistan. His article is powerful, moving, and rational all at the same time. This is a tough thing to do when writing about things that are as politically and emotionally charged as religion. Ok, let’s say it – like Islam. When you write about Islam there seem to be two very polarized views, you are either for us or against us.
What an odd way of thinking of something, to not allow for any shades of grey, to not invite scrutiny or testing of our beliefs to see if they hold up under difficult circumstances. I would not rely on a shelter to keep me safe if the materials from which is was built had not been tested for the climate in which I was going to live. Why should my faith be any different? Defensiveness is proof that you don’t have faith in your beliefs; when you attack someone’s core values, well, that never works out well, does it? Perhaps there are other means and methods to tease out who we are, which one of our beliefs is worth saving and which may be salvaged with some work done to them, give them a little shine and some new life. Consider it a sort of religious ‘repurposing’ if you will.
Ah, so much of what I’ve written about the religion of my birth could be considered apostasy and yet, up until this year, no one had ever called me such a thing. Not my relatives who pray five times a day, not a member of the Taliban. No one. The people who call me an apostate these days are those who attempt to use the fact that I am muslim against me; the ones who would have others believe that because I believe in reform and advancement, someone wants to kill me. (Hint, the ones who call me an apostate aren’t muslim.) “Aha, see, you don’t wear a burqa! Your father will kill you!” Or some other such nonsense.
How strange that instead of being on my side, these people would rather see me dead or defeated. It would lead one to believe that they aren’t truly interested in the advancement of a society, but rather the destruction of it. We’ve had that happen to groups of people in history before. It didn’t turn out so well.
But I digress.
This post isn’t about jerks on the internet that say dumb things to me. It’s about Qandeel Baloch. It’s about the fact that while we sit here and lament our state as women in the west being upset that we are told to smile, women in other countries are defying every cultural norm simply by walking down the street the way you and I do every day. Me. The way I do. A muslim woman from Afghanistan. Kandahar. I am free and they are not. And when they act the way I do, a way that is considered provocative or simply not afraid, their life is at risk.
(If your response to this is do away with Islam, well, you can stop reading this now. There is nothing here for you. Find a better use of your time.)
Women’s sexuality is a complicated issue for men. This is true regardless of where we live or how advanced we consider ourselves as a society. There are those in the United States who believe we have a rape culture. I think this is preposterous, having lived in America since I was 18 months old and have not felt that society was saying it was ok for men to rape me. I’ve argued that rape should not be a crime separate from assault, because in doing so we say that we value a woman’s sexuality differently than we value her face, her arms, or her brain. We have hundreds and thousands of articles that talk about how a woman should dress for a job interview, for picking a jury. I can’t go to the jail if my skirt is 2″ over my knee or if I am wearing a sleeveless top under my suit jacket. This is because I am sex.
In Afghanistan women (in certain areas) are covered from head to toe in the street. No one can see if they are young or old, fat or fit. All of them are nameless and faceless. This is because they are sex. In Afghanistan, though, we are clear about it. Women tempt men. Men want to have sex with women. Men are weak so women must cover themselves to protect themselves from men having sex with them. Voila. The true patriarchy at work.
Qandeel Baloch didn’t cover herself. Men wanted her. She was sex.
Her brother felt shame at this. He felt shame knowing his sister was a human being that people – men – would want to have sex with. She was sex and sex was shame.
To be honest, I don’t really understand shame. In my language, to be called shameless is a horrible insult. I’ve been called it a few times in my life. Being shameless is, in many ways, worse than being an apostate. At least with shame, you can put on the act. Society makes you go into your corner, retreat and behave in a way that is much more polite. Of course, the standards of politeness depend on the company you keep. But shame can make you seem like a good muslim.
When you have no shame, well, all of that goes out the window.
Baysharma. Without shame.
Qandeel Baloch was not acting the part of the good muslim woman according to the standards of the society her brother wished to keep. You know what? Fuck him.
I frequently feel like I’ve run out of words, that I’m pounding the same drum to the same beat over and over and over again. It feels hopeless at times. And then another person is killed for some reason that I cannot fathom and I pick up the drum and beat it again.
I don’t know if this post made sense. If it didn’t it is because this death doesn’t make sense and I cannot justify it and I cannot justify a faith that would allow it. I am not for you and I am not against you. But I am as baysharma as Qandeel Baloch was.
My theory has always been that we have been so very fortunate to have the First Amendment in the U.S. and its idea of separation of church and state. While it is not always separated by the Courts to the degree I would like, it really has kept the majority (Christians) from subjecting the minority religions (or non-religious, like me) to some of the Bible’s antiquated and ridiculous rules. And I don’t believe for a minute that if we did not have that separation, we would not have some variation of Christian law in this country.
So, I get the sense that the establishment of Islam as the state religion in many Muslim countries and the fact that the courts don’t have any sense of separation of church and state are big problems. It will be difficult to make headway in “normalizing” (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative “the West is better” sense) these countries so that a woman like Baloch can walk down the street wearing whatever she wants.
There also seems to be a lot of “moderate” Muslims either in moderate Muslim countries or in Western countries who support either openly or tacitly the violence we have seen in France, Belgium, Orlando, San Bernardino, etc., besides the seemingly common stonings, honor killings, and tossing gays off of buildings that occur in Muslim countries. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of Christians who don’t believe Robert Dear shouldn’t be held accountable for shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic, despite the fact that they may strongly believe abortion should be illegal. If there are, the government has ignored them and prosecuted anyway, something I don’t see happening with Baloch’s brother.
I have not read the Qur’an and my memory of what’s in the Bible is pretty rusty despite being raised Catholic. But both books have belief structures that border on the ridiculous in a modern society and are diametrically the opposite of “freedom” (as in, the U.S. Constitution’s “life, liberty, and pursuit if happiness”). Both books when strictly interpreted are not accepting of freedom of choice. Directly related to today’s post, both holy books say women should not dress provocatively and both for the same reasons (in essence, as you say here, because men can’t control themselves — a separate discussion on how ridiculous that is).
The handful of Western Muslims I have known in my life have been able to blend the teachings of the Qur’an in the modern world, just as Christians I know have been able to blend the teachings of the Bible in with the modern world. Both have a tremendous respect for the Constitution’s separation of church and state, along with strong religious beliefs that guide them in their daily lives. There doesn’t seem to be a “balancing act” for them. They have made their personal choice about religion, but understand that others have to make their personal choices about it too. More importantly, they understand that without that separation in the government, they can just as easily be persecuted as another religion can, based on who is in power.
But both belief structures have their extremists. It just seems like when a dope like Newt Gingrich says Muslims need to take a test to be allowed to stay in the U.S., we have a strong contingent of people who can (and are not afraid to) say “Uhhh… First Amendment! You are a fucking idiot, shut up!” Or when a government official says there is nothing wrong with the Ten Commandments being displayed in the County court house, the ACLU or another organization will sue to have them removed…. and win!
Sorry for the rambling, but to summarize: Am I seeing the lack of “First Amendment” like protections in Muslim countries to be the linchpin to solve the problem with extremism, or am I just talking out of my ass? I just don’t see the extremist aspects of Islam getting better until the religion is separated from the state in many of these countries. On a larger, societal level, the government needs to say “we will not tolerate any religion condoning this kind of conduct” and, on an individual level, people like Baloch’s brother can then be held accountable.