Film Review: West Beirut

                     West Beirut depicts the trials and tribulations experienced by ordinary civilians during the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in April 1975.  The film begins with two feisty and self-confident teenage friends, Tarek and Omar, and their schoolmates filming and staring mesmerized and in awe of the aerial dogfight taking place directly above their heads.  With this scene, one immediately understands that the war has not yet touched the boy’s lives, and that, as a result, they are able to view the battle in the sky with a sense of gleeful detachment.  Indeed Director Ziad Doueiri comments that “During the first years of the civil war, despite the anxiety that I could see in my parents, I was incapable of feeling it myself.  I wasn’t born with fear; I acquired it.” (www.barbican.org)  Through the development of his young protagonist Tarek, Doueiri effectively captures the process of how a seemingly carefree, hormone-infested teenager comes to learn to fear, for the first time, for his family and his future in a time of war.  But not even his witnessing of a massacre of a busload of civilians right outside his school nor the frantic scurry of he and the inhabitants of his entire apartment complex into a bomb shelter in the middle of the night can dim Tarek’s adolescent whimsy or his desire to locate a shop that will develop the super 8 movies he and Omar surreptitiously took of Omar’s Uncle Badeeh and the old man’s attractive new girlfriend. Continue reading

Is there anything wrong with idealism?

These are some questions I’ve been pondering lately

When can idealism become dangerous?

My answer would be if the idealism loses touch with the aspirations and needs of the people and becomes an ideological end in and of itself.

Is there anything wrong with thinking idealistically, with not only hoping but actively pursuing it?

This is a quote from the afterword of Voice of the Night, a novel by Dean Koontz.

“None of us can ever save himself, we are the instrument of one another’s salvation, and only by the hope that we give to others do we lift ourselves out of the darkness into light.”

Do you think this quote is true?

Are you a realist or an idealist, or maybe a combination of both?

Please Comment!  Would love feedback. 

The Sin of super PACS

When the goals of a society are to spread justice and advance the common good, the Catholic church recognizes that despite its importance, government legislation, by itself, will never accomplish these monumental tasks, “Legislation is necessary but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equality.  If beyond legal rules there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )  Too often, laws are passed or upheld by our government, under the cloak of promoting equality and fairness, when in fact, they do just the opposite.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck at the heart of campaign finance reform, ruling that corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and any ideological groups can disburse unlimited amounts of cash on political advertisements during the election cycle. (“Economist” )   In their defense of the ruling, the five assenting justices cited the First Amendment protection of free speech as applying to both citizens and associations of citizens. (“Economist” )  With this landmark decision, came the birth of super PACS, organizations that are barred from affiliating with any parties and candidates but are free to independently raise boundless sums of money to support one candidate and tarnish another.  Now, on the surface, this ruling seems to comply with the constitutional ideal of free speech and equality.  Indeed Justice Kennedy, who voted in favor of the ruling says “Under our law and tradition it seems stranger than fiction for our government to make political speech….a crime.” (“Economist” )  What the assenting justices refused to acknowledge is that despite its constitutionality, this ruling harms our democracy and makes America’s politicians even more unresponsive to the needs of its citizens.  The founders certainly did not intend America to become an oligarchy when they drafted the Constitution, but the Supreme Court sees no problem with interpreting it that way.  Octagesima Adveniens mentions equality acting as a guise for exploitation, discrimination, and contempt.  By defining political speech as the ability to raise unlimited funds to support a candidate or party, this ruling exploits, discriminates against, and holds in contempt the general electorate of our country.  So far in the 2012 election cycle, super PACS have proven that they are more than up to the challenge of denigrating our democracy.  Through the use of relentless negative ad campaigns, superPACS attempt to focus voter’s minds away from real issues and on to buzzwords and easy to digest bits of information.  They have no moral qualms about exploiting the minds of the American people.  Winning Our Future, the Pro-Gingrich super Pac, ran an ad down in Florida attacking Mitt Romney for being a progressive Republican.  It repeats the word “progressive” numerous times implying that Mitt is not conservative enough.  Over and over again it says that a Romney presidency would be no different from that of President Obama.  While all this meaningless badmouthing is going on, eerie “end of the world” music plays in the background.  These ads do not appeal to intelligence or any knowledge about the issues at hand, but rather only seek to dredge up vicious partisan emotion in their viewership through labeling and personal attacks.  An ad put out by the Pro-Romney super Pac, Restore Our Future, denounces Newt Gingrich for standing with Democrat Nancy Pelosi on global warming.  Are we supposed to assume that since Gingrich recognized global warming as a problem, that that somehow makes him less conservative?  These ads rely on collective ignorance, are overblown and are a blatant insult from the candidates who seek our vote.  Not only does the evolution of super PACS as a result of this ruling insult our intelligence; it also insults our wallets.  Winning Our future is largely funded by the family of Sheldon Adelson, a fabulously wealthy casino magnate.  Nearly all donations to Restore Our Future were of $25,000 or more, while private individuals donating directly to the campaign are restricted to $2,500. (“Economist” )  As a result, super Pacs actually end up raising more money than the campaigns themselves. (“Economist” )  According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog, 55 of the 75 donors to Romney’s super Pac also gave directly to his campaign.  While they donated $6.4m to the super Pac, they were restricted to just over $130,000 for the campaign. (“Economist” 34)  Newt Gingrich felt the full force of Romney’s super PAC’s superior resources in Florida and other Southern states, and in his desperation actually called on Mitt Romney to end the negative ads.  Largely due to this negative ad campaigning, Gingrich came in third in nearly every Southern state and only managed to win South Carolina and Georgia.  These numbers prove that the candidate with more money and more resources will, in the end, wind up being the nominee, and while Newt Gingrich languishes in debt, Mitt Romney emerges the winner.  But is this truly how the election process of a vibrant democracy should work?  In the Section Ideologies and Human Liberty from Octagesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI writes

“Is there need to stress the possible ambiguity of every social ideology?  Sometimes it leads to political or social activity to be simply the application of an abstract, purely theoretical idea; at other times it is thought which becomes a mere instrument at the service of activity as a simple means of a strategy.  In both cases is it not man that risks finding himself alienated?  The Christian faith is above and sometimes opposed to the ideologies, in that it recognizes God, who is transcendent and the Creator, and who, through all the levels of creation, calls on man as endowed with responsibility and freedom.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )

This quote sums up the affect that super PACS have on our election process.  By reducing the essence of campaigning to small sound bites and trivial phrases that focus on the “negative” aspects of the opposing candidate such as “He wants to make government bigger” or “Is he really conservative enough for us?” or “He’s a tax hiker”, candidates are able to deceive voters by taking the focus off real issues of substance and placing it on overblown and meaningless propaganda that comes out of negative ads.  The actual candidate’s ideology becomes so diluted and ambiguous, and instead these accusations, generalizations, and buzz phrases become the mantra by which politicians expect us to vote for them, or more fittingly, just not vote for the other guy.  When it comes to this type of political activity, the ends justify the means.  The strategy is more important, and the thought no longer counts.  Ultimately super PACS and the negative campaigning that results from their forays harms our democracy because it reduces the participatory role of the citizen in his or her government to that of a mere mindless fool.  The common man’s concerns for how a particular candidate will handle the issues that are important to him or her run subordinate to the politician’s thirst for power.  Paragraph 25 of Octogesima Adveniens lays out the way political activity would function in a real democracy,

Political activity should be the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which spring from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions.  It is not for the State or even for political parties, which would be closed unto themselves, to try to impose an ideology by means that would lead to a dictatorship over minds, the worst kind of all. (O’Brien, and Shannon )

Rather than encourage voters to think long and hard about the issues to determine which candidate they want to support, super PACS gain a disingenuous “dictatorship over minds”.  This will never be democracy.

Works Cited

“Unbound.” Economist. 28 Jan 2010: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <www.economist.com/node/1539427>.

“The hands that prod, the wallets that feed.” Economist. 02 25 2012: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <www.economist.com/node/21548244>.

“A PACket of money.” Economist. 22 Oct 2011: 34. Print.

O’Brien, David, and Thomas Shannon, comp. Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage. Expanded ed. MaryKnoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. Print.

Catholic Social Teaching, Conservatism, and the Economy

“The Lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. economy” was one of the five groups mobilized to give influential criticism on the Bishop’s 1986 letter, Economic Justice for All.  The commission was led by former Treasury Secretary William Simon and Vice Chairman Michael Novak and composed of thirty business and government leaders including J. Peter Grace, chair of President Reagan’s Commission on spending cuts in the federal government, as well as Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State under President Reagan.  The text (Catholic Social Teaching and Movements by Marvin Mich) asks “to what extent did the lay committee “hear what the bishops were saying.  I think it is plainly apparent that all the Bishop’s criticisms of America’s economic system went in one ear and out the other.  One particular criticism from the Simon and Novak approach particularly confuses me.  It says “they argue that more important than any flaws in the current economic system is the larger breakdown in the moral/cultural traditions upon which our political and economic systems ultimately rest.”  This statement makes no sense at all.  The “flaws in our current economic system” that they speak of are a direct result of the “larger breakdown in the moral/cultural traditions”, which they mistakenly deem as being more important.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  One is not more important than the other.  One is dependent on the other.  Why has our federal tax system gotten significantly less and less progressive since 1960?  In 1954 our top marginal income tax rate was 91%.  Now it is just 35%.  What is the justification for the rich paying the same rate as the poor on the payroll tax?  What is the reason for dramatic cuts to the estates tax and capital gains tax which are taxes paid by the wealthy?  These are “flaws in our current economic system” that can only be explained by a fundamental breakdown in our moral principles.  Less progressivity in the tax code tells us that our government favors the rich over the poor.  How exactly can “The lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy” not find that immoral?  By refusing to acknowledge that Catholic Social teaching has valuable insight on fixing the flaws of the American capitalist economy, the commission is refusing to recognize that there is a moral dimension to the marketplace.

Now I do not think the criticisms of this commission are any surprise given the fact that it was composed of conservative business and government leaders.  Conservatives will stand by their unwavering ideological standards whatever the cost, even if they go against the principles of economic justice as well as just basic common sense.  Most recently, they have pledged not to raise taxes, refusing even to close loopholes, even though it has always remained a fact that in order to reduce our federal deficit it will take a combination of both wise tax increases and wise spending cuts, not just one or the other.  The Republican Party is also amazingly opportunistic and inconsistent when it comes to abiding by Catholic principles.  They’re all friendly to the Catholic bishops when it comes to relatively unimportant social issues like abortion and birth control, but when these same bishops try to give counsel on the economic problems that plague our nation they conveniently refuse to listen.

Take our great Speaker of the House John Boehner, for instance, commenting on the Catholic Bishop’s response to Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan.  The Bishops have pointed out that the proposed budget fails to meet “moral criteria”.  They have written a series of letters addressed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, arguing that the proposed spending cuts disproportionately hurt the poor (which they do by the way)  In one document they write, “Just solutions … must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs. The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”   All John Boehner can say is “”I want them to take a bigger look,” and the bigger look is, if we don’t make decisions, these programs won’t exist, and then they’ll really have something to worry about.”  Um, Mr. Boehner it is you who refuses to take “the bigger look.”  The fact is the Ryan budget gets 62% of its spending cuts from programs that help lift poor people out of poverty.  Here is another fact, Mr. Boehner.  It DOES NOT, I repeat DOES NOT have to be this way.  The fact is, by all standards of moral decency and common sense, America can and should reduce its deficit without making these radical cuts and hurting the most vulnerable Americans.  How about making the tax code more progressive, which they staunchly refuse to do?  For starters, tax capital gains at a higher rate.  Why not make the top marginal rate somewhere between 45 to 50%?  Analyze each tax expenditure and reform the ones that need fixing.  Raise and reform the estate tax.  These are just some of the more sensible and moral proposals that will reduce our deficit.  I intend to expand and give more details in a later post.  But suffice it to say, as usual, Republicans, rather than deal with reality, prefer to stick to their flawed ideology no matter the cost to the American people.  I should be fair though.  This is a characteristic of most politicians, not just Republicans.  Obama’s budget proposal is not perfect either and I will also address that in a later post.  But it is so easy to pick on Republicans because they are so arrogant and insufferable when it comes to defending their positions on certain issues, positions that are often not in touch with reality.  For instance, let’s take the case of Mr. Congressman Paul Ryan defending his budget.  He recently claimed that his Catholic faith inspired his 2012 budget proposal.  That’s laughable.  Honestly, how stupid does this guy think we are?  The Catholic bishops expressly condemn his budget based on Christian principles, like preferential option for the poor, and he’s trying to save face by saying that his Christian faith guided him in its construction?  He’s not even a Christian.  His biggest influence is the philosopher Ayn Rand who “says that each person should pursue the values that achieve your own individual self-interest and happiness.” (Sider 46)  Ryan has been quoted as saying that Ayn Rand is “the reason I got involved in public service.” (Sider 46)  And he’s trying to convince us he’s a follower of Jesus?  Give us a break.  But, honestly, can you expect anything less from a politician these days?

Sider, Ronald. Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. Print.

Mich, Marvin. Catholic Social Teaching and Movements. 7. New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1998. Print.

Women and the Quran

Just a paper I wrote a long time ago for political science class.  Its kinda long but thought it was an interesting enough topic to post.

It is believed by many that the oppression and lowly status of women under the rule of Islamic governments such as Saudi Arabia and more famously, the Taliban, is based upon the Islamic scriptures and what is written in the Quran.  That assertion is, in fact, wholly untrue.  For centuries the Quran, the holy book of Islam, has been interpreted primarily by men.  Their interpretations or rather manipulations of certain phrases and important series of texts in the Muslim holy book have engendered a false view of the Quran as a patriarchal text of gender prejudice.  The Quran, as opposed to its widely accepted view  as a book advocating the limitations of women’s rights, is actually a wonderful text that preaches mutual respect and concert between men and women.

David Ghanim, author of the book entitled Gender and Violence in the Middle East,  utilizes a misinterpreted translation  of the Quran, to support his assertion that the Muslim holy book stands as one of the sources of gender inequality and the patriarchal social structure in the Middle East.  He utilizes N.J. Dawood’s translation of the Qu’ran, the fourth revised edition of The Koran.  Probably the most pivotal one regarding women reads,

Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the others, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them.  Good women are obedient.  They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them.  As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.  Then if they obey you, take no further action against them.  Allah is high, supreme. (qtd. In Ghanim 54  Q 4:34).

This translation of this particular Quranic verse is contained in the book, Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s perspective, by Amina Wadud.

Men are [qawwamuna ala] women, [on the basis] of what Allah [preferred] (faddala) some of them over others and [on the basis] of what they spend of their property (for the support of women).  So good women are [qanitat], guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded.  As for those from whom you fear [Nushuz], admonish them, banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.  Then, if they obey you, seek not a way against them. (qtd.  In Wadud 72  4:34).

Wadud uses translations from both A. Yusuf Ali’s The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation, and commentary and Muhammed Marmaduke Pickthall’s The Glorious Quran: Text and Translation, as well as inserting her own translations from time to time especially regarding important terms and phrases nec essary to understand and rightly interpret certain verses such as this one.  Now, Dawood’s translation omits many terms, phrases, and concepts that are key to correctly translating and understanding this verse.  Firstly, the term, qawwamuna, is an Arabic word that means “responsible for”, so the phrase reads “Men are responsible for women on the basis of what Allah has preferred”.   By contrast, Dawood’s translation translates qawwamuna as meaning “authority” which establishes a false dominance of men over women.  The phrase “on the basis of” is a conditional statement which Wadud inserted and comes from the word bi used in this verse, so the sentence says that men are responsible on the basis of these two conditions.  Faddala or preference must exist, and the man must support the woman from his property or means.  Well, within the Quran, inheritance is the only concrete preference in which Allah has granted men a greater share than women, so what exactly Allah prefers in this passage is rather unclear.  Nonetheless, Wadud comments, “Many men interpret the above passage as an unconditional indication of the preference of men over women.  They assert that men were created by God superior to women.”  (Wadud 71).  What Wadud describe here is exactly what Dawood does in his translation, “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the others, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them.” (qtd. In Ghanim 54  Q 4:34).  Ghanim even says, “Yet it is clear from the above verse taken from the Qur’an that there is a strong relationship between Islam and the patriarchal notion that men are superior to women (Ghanim 55).  By contrast, Wadud argues that Allah’s preference, whatever it is, can not be unconditional, because the verse does not say “they (masculine plural) are preferred over them (feminine plural).  Rather it says (ba’d) some of them over (ba’d) some others. (Wadud 71).  The use of the word some (ba’d) clearly repudiates the all-inclusive, blanket statement by Ghanim that this verse indicates that all men are intellectually and physically superior to all women.   Nowhere in this verse does it mention that men have a degree over women in terms of brain power or physical strength.  Wadud, instead asserts that the meaning behind this statement is rather basic and, in the writer’s opinion, almost nonsensical and unnecessary, that some men are more proficient than some women at certain things and vice versa.

As with the first section of this verse, the latter part is also misinterpreted by N.J. Dawood and consequently utilized by David Ghanim to support his incorrect argument that the Qur’an supports patriarchy and gender inequality.  Again, as with the first section of this verse, Dawood’s translation omits several important meanings of Arabic words that are essential to gaining a true understanding of the text.  One of these terms is the word, qanitat, which is an adjective utilized to describe “good women”.  As is done in Dawood’s translation, “the word qanitat is too often falsely translated to mean “obedient”, and then assumed to mean “obedient to the husband” (Wadud 74).  However, qanitat, is utilized throughout the Qur’an  in various, scattered verses describing both males and females so its translation to “obedient to the husband” with regards to just this particular verse can not be correct.  One such verse is verse 33:35,

Lo! men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who  believe and women who believe, and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the truth and women who speak the truth, and men who persevere (in  righteousness) and women who persevere, and men who are humble and women who  are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast  and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember – Allah  hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward. (Pickthall 33:35).

The word, qanitat, is, in fact utilized in the Arabic translation of this verse, but is not shown here in Pickthall’s translation.  As indicated by the brackets surrounding qanitat in Wadud’s translation, she inserted the word into either Pickthall’s or Ali’s translation to make her clarification about its definition.  In the case of this verse as well as verse 4:34, qanitat describes the extreme subservience and devotion to Allah and to eachother that any follower of Allah should possess .  Verse 33:35 mentions a number of characteristics that all followers of Allah, men and women, should possess such as righteousness, fasting, modesty, humbleness, and strong belief.  Qanitat encompasses all of these characteristics.  Consequently, what verse 4:34 is actually saying is that good women are devoted to Allah and work in cooperation and concert with their husbands.  This definition completely clashes and disproves Dawood’s translation, that is “Good women are obedient”. (qtd. In Ghanim 4:34)  In turn, the true definition of Qanitat and its consequent effect on the meaning of verse 4:34 also disproves Ghanim’s assertion that the husband-wife relationship based on obedience in the Quran is a proverbial door-opener to domestic violence.  Ghanim utilizes this statement made by Soryana Al-Torki in her book, Women in Saudi Arabia: Ideology and Behavior Among the Elite, “The Islamic view equates obedience to a husband with obedience to Allah.  She must obey her husband and observe his wishes, as a religious duty that is backed by the value system of the community.” (Ghanim 55).  Well, according to the true definition of qanitat and its use in verse 4:34 of the Qur’an, the true Islamic view does not equate obedience to a husband with obedience to Allah, but rather likens cooperation and mutual respect and concert between husband and wife with obedience to Allah because that is what He truly desires.   The term, Nushuz, used in the sentence, “As for those from whom you fear [nushuz], admonish them, banish them to beds apart, and scourge them,” (qtd. In Wadud 4:34) has also been  misinterpreted by Ghanim as meaning disobedience to the husband.  However, just as with qanitat, throughout the Qur’an, Nushuz is used to refer to both males and females, so that definition translated by Dawood and used by Ghanim is incorrect.  In fact, the true Arab definition of the term is “disruption of marital harmony.” (Wadud XXVI).  Consequently what the Qur’an is actually describing in the latter part of this verse is not a disobedient wife but merely a strained and discordant relationship between husband and wife.  Wadud argues that if one looks at this verse in terms of one of the overall themes of the Qur’an which stipulates that order, peace, and harmony are of utmost importance in human relationships, than one would recognize the pure innocence of this verse.  A succession of measures is then offered to the husband to resolve the conflict.  The first solution is to admonish them or scold them in a proper and good-willed manner.  However, the writer does find this first measure rather puzzling since the Qur’an does not present it as a mutual effort, but infers that the source of disharmony lies with the wife, and that the husband needs to correct it.  This solution to resolving Nushuz differs starkly from what is presented in verse 4:128, the only other instance where the term is used except in this case to describe the husband,

If a woman feareth ill treatment from her husband, or desertion, it is no sin  for them twain if they make terms of peace between themselves. Peace is better. But  greed hath been made present in the minds (of men). If ye do good and keep from  evil, lo! Allah is ever Informed of what ye do. (Pickthall 4:128)

Here Nushuz is also used to refer to a discordant marriage but it would appear that only the husband is at fault and that the only solution is a peaceful resolution.  Now this might be the only point in the Qur’an where it favors the husband over the wife.  Wadud comments, “It is obvious that the Qur’an intends a resolution of the difficulties and a return to peace and harmony between the couple when it states: ‘…it is no sin for the two of them if they make terms of peace between themselves.  Peace is better.” (Wadud 75).  However, one has to question why mutual peace is better when the husband is the source of Nushuz, but when it is the woman the husband is immediately directed to correct it by first scolding her, then by separating from her indefinitely, and if that does not work out to lightly beat her.  The woman is expressly told by the Qur’an to try to find peace with her husband while the husband is given many options.  Indeed this is a quagmire, but nonetheless the verse 4:34 is far from advocating domestic violence.  Even with this quagmire the overall message of these two verses is still that mutual peace and harmony between husband and wife is is favored in the Qur’an.  The true fault here lies with David Ghanim’s misuse of verse 4:34 to support his biased and incorrect viewpoint.  What is truly amazing about Ghanim, is that, to a certain degree, he even invalidates himself without realizing it when he says, “While it is true that Islam, like any religion, has become more conservative and misogynist, discussing this important debate and the merits and limitations of reforms within the Islamic thinking goes beyond the limited scope of this book.  However, a less controversial issue is the fact that religion, and Islam as it is understood and practiced by Muslims in the present-day Middle East, supports patriarchy, violence against women, and authoritarian order in society.” (Ghanim 57-58)  Firstly, his second statement completely nullifies the basic premise of the chapter, Islam, Gender, and Violence, that Islam as it is espoused by the Qur’an supports gender inequality and patriarchy in Middle-Eastern society by demonstrating a clear divide between what “the Islam as it is understood and practiced by Muslims in the present-day Middle East” and Qur’anic teachings.  Regarding his first statement, the fact that Islam has been transformed from an egalitarian religion into the conservative, misogynist, and politicized Islam that is practiced by modern-day Islamic countries is rather important and should be mentioned in his book because that would actually make his argument valid.  Ghanim contradicts his use of Dawood’s poor Quranic exegesis yet again when he says, “The rise of political Islam in the Middle East is more an indication of authoritarianism’s failure than it is a revival of religious beliefs in the region.  The failure of the authoritarian regimes to deliver on its promises and to create a decent and dignified life for citizens has led to the rise of political Islam in the region.”  (Ghanim 58).  Again he makes the distinction between modern politicized Islam and original Islam set forth in the Qur’an.  As much as Ghanim wants to, he can not help but separate the two thereby nullifying his original viewpoint and also nullifying Dawood’s patriarchal, misogynistic translation of the Qur’an.  His contradictions and inaccuracies are a testament to the fact that the Qur’an has absolutely no place in enforcing gender inequality and violence in the Islamic world today.

The writer’s inability to find any patriarchal interpretations of the Qur’an and and relatively easy time finding egalitarian and feminine intepretations of the Qur’an, even by men, also speaks to the difference between political Islam and Islam in its most original and pure form.

Despite the contradictory and erratic nature of David Ghanim’s Gender and Violence in the Middle East, there is still one point he makes that resonates so true with regard to modern-day Islamic regimes, “The rise of political Islam in the Middle East is more an indication of authoritarianism’s failure than it is a revival of religious beliefs in the region.” (Ghanim 58)  As has already been established, Islam as a religion as espoused in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed, is not at fault when considering the oppressive and dictatorial governance of regimes  such as that of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and most notably the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Rather, the faults lies in the deliberate misinterpretation of Islam by these countries to suit their own conservative, politcal agendas.  The politiicized version of Islam pays particular attention to women.   When asked why the regime restricts women to their homes an unidentified Afghan Taliban leader skirted the question with a bullish response, “There are only two places for Afghan women- in her husband’s, and in the graveyard.” (Goodwin 80)  The former minister of education of the Taliban prefers to paint women in more idyllic terms albeit no less descipable, “It’s like having a flower, or a rose.  You water it and keep it at home for yourself, to look at it and smell it.  It is not supposed to be taken out of the house to be smelled.” (Goodwin 79)  Notice that these Taliban officials, these supposed followers of Islam gave no real answers to the question imposed upon them.  They provided no Qur’anic  verse, no Islamic tenets as justifications for the Taliban’s treatment of women, because there are none.  Religion is a mere excuse, a cover-up, for what is really just a patriarchal, brutal, and authoritarian political system that seeks to undermine basic human rights and control every aspect of society particularly in regards to women.  Political Islam is not a religion, but rather a destructive,sadistic, and dictatorial contemporary culture based upon nothing but the desire for power as exemplified by the two Taliban officials previously mentioned.  This culture is characterized by horrible practices prevalent all across the Islamic world such as domestic abuse, marital rape, rape, mutilation, stoning, honor killing and even female genital mutilation.  Under this system, women are transformed from human beings into mere objects, imprisoned in their homes, forbidden from education and work.   The restrictions even extend to their political rights which all citizens of any country should be able enjoy.  As a result of biased Constitutions and repressive laws, men and women are not viewed as equal under the law in these countries.  But why does this happen?  Why are individual women not granted natural political rights as citizens of their countries?  According to Azam Kamguian, an Iranian writer and women’s rights activist, it is because “unlike in the West,  where the individual is the basic unit of the state, it is the family that is the basis of Arab states.  This means that the state is primarily concerned with the protection of the family rather than the family’s individual members.” (Kamguian  79)  Consequently within the framework of the law, women are merely seen as housewives and nothing more with regard to their individuality. (Kamguian 79)  They are subject to gender-biased family laws that deny them an equivalent access to divorce and child custody, and even freedom of movement.  In Saudi Arabia women are not permitted to travel without first getting the consent of a male guardian. (Saudi Judge: It’s Okay to Beat your Wife)  Under the Taliban, women could not leave their homes unless covered by the Burqa veil from head to toe and accompanied by a male relative.  This view of the family as being more important than the individual is the reason why the practice of honor killing is so entrenched in Islamic society and is largely ignored and even indirectly sanctioned by  Islamic governments.  The perpetrators of these honor killings  are often given very permissive punishments that do not at all fit the terrible crimes that they committed.  The maximum incarceration period for these criminals is merely a few months, and, as a result they are released with no sense of having done any wrong. (Ghanim 44)  The various crimes against humanity committed in a myriad of these “cultured” countries across the globe can, unfortunately extend long enough to write a book of just personal sccounts, but that is not the purpose here.  The purpose here is to draw the dividing line between this “culture” and the Islamic religion,and the Deputy Health Minister, Sher Abbas Stanakzai can not draw this line any darker.  According to the chair of the Women’s alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan, based in Washington D.C. Islam not only allows for female education but mandates it.  Through the dealings and relationships of the Prophet with the women in his time one could see that he viewed them as equal beings.  They were not only employed but often employed men as with the Prophet and his first wife.  (Goodwin 83)  In addition women were put in such high esteem, that their value was even demonstrated in the battlefield in active combat.  Not only that, but they were also involved in the political affairs of the time, negotiating treaties and working in high level positions of government such as the judge’s chair. (Goodwin 83)  When queried why, if the Prophet allowed women such as sphere of influence in Islamic society than why not the Taliban, Stanakzai responds, “Our current restrictions are necessary in order to bring the Afghan people under control.  We need these restrictions until people learn to obey the government.” (Goodwin 83-84)  Political Islam represents a culture of control, authoritarianism, represssion, and oppression whil true Islam as founded by the Prophet Muhammed and written in the Qur’an many centuries ago preaches mutual respect and peace between men and women.

 

 

 

Ghanim, David. Gender and Violence in the Middle East. 1st ed. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009. Print.

Goodwin, Jane. “Buried Alive.” Terrorism and 9/11: A Reader. (2002): (73-84). Print.

Maqsood, Ruqaiyyah. “Islam Does not Oppress Women.” Islamic Fundamentalism. (2008): (83-88). Print.

“Saudi Judge: It’s Okay to Beat Your Wife.” Middle East Quarterly 16.4 (2009): 80. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Wadud, Amina. Qur’an and Woman; Redreading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc. , 1999. Print.

 

Peace and Justice

In the Catholic encyclical, Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI makes a simple, yet profound reflection on the issue of peace in the world.  He says “If you want peace, work for justice.”  I think to myself how amazingly simple this is to follow…..or at least it should be simple.  Shouldn’t we know by now, knowing the history of the human race, having endured conflict and war century after century, that peace is a conditional achievement.  Wherever you have injustice, you will have conflict on a regular basis.  That conflict may never erupt into a full-fledged war, but it will become part of the culture and psyche of the people living through it.  And eventually frustration boils over.  It may take decades of endless injustice for that point to be reached, as with the revolutions in Egypt and Libya.  But injustice can not just sit idly by and expect to remain triumphant forever.  That is why it baffles me when countries do things and say things like this.  I just got done reading A Single of Roll the Dice by Trita Parsi.  Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council, and his new book examines in detail the various dynamics of Obama’s diplomacy Iran.  If you want to get a real and inside understanding of the relationship between these two countries as well as all the various other actors in this predicament of nuclear proportions, I highly recommend this book.  Anyway, I would like to focus on one passage in the book that expounds upon the relationship of America, Iran, and Saudi Arabia in regards to the Arab Spring.  Here is the passage,

The Saudis were infuriated by Washington’s decision to abandon Mubarak.  To the Saudi royal family, the Arab Spring is an existential threat to their regime.  With the Obama administration backing the Arab populace’s desire for change, decision makers in Riyadh believe that Washington violated its long-ago promise to guarantee the security of the House of Saud.  This perception prompted the Saudis to take matters into their own hands.  Scuttling a mediation effort by the U.S. between the Bahraini regime and its opposition, Saudi troops moved into the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 15, 2011, and crushed the prodemocracy uprising.  Fearing that regime change in Bahrain would repeat the Iraqi experience–where a Sunni Arab dictator was replaced by a democratically elected  Shia government with close ties to Tehran–the Saudis were determined to push back against what they perceived to be an opportunity for Iran to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf region and beyond.  According to an Arab official who was briefed on talks between President Obama and King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch was unwavering: “King Abdullah has been clear that Saudi Arabia will never allow Shia rule in Bahrain–never.”  Moreover, the Saudis began forming an anti-Iran alliance consisting of Arab and Muslim states, a move that Washington worried could bring the region to the brink of war.

Oh wow.  What an incredible and complicated balancing act between nations, we have going on here.  Hey, I totally understand.  The Saudi Royals don’t want a Shia Arab Spring in Bahrain lest it make the natives confident and make them start demanding certain freedoms and rights.  So they decide to help their tiny Sunni ally crush the Bahraini opposition  And then the Saudi Monarch scolds Obama like he’s a little child for supporting the democratic uprising.  “We will never allow this country’s people to overthrow their government (that’s just like ours) or else our people will get excited and try to overthrow us and therefore we greatly condemn you, the U.S. (who we thought was our friend) for supporting this uprising.  To all the countries involved, all this may sound sensible but to me and I’m sure to all the Saudi Arabian people…this is just pure ********.  The Saudi Royals want peace???  The Saudi Royals want stability in their future???  The Saudi Royals don’t want to be overthrown in a violent revolution?????   Well then give the people what they want.  Give them rights.  Give them freedom.  Give them justice.  Let history be your teacher.  There is a better path to guarding against revolution than building fancy alliances and invading other countries to show how scary and powerful you are.  Oooooh we can’t have another Shia neighbor.  It has to be Sunni.  There always has to be this endless rivalry between Sunni and Shia.  Who the **** cares?  Your stupid and petty rivalries are of no concern to your citizens.  Their concerns are more simple and sensible.  They want justice.  They want freedom.  Your women want to drive.  Your people want a better educational system.  In the words of Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace work for justice.”  It is as simple as that.