Friday, November 7, 2008

Alternative Views and Cultural Relativism

Just for the record - any comments to me blog that are not spam or spewing hateful ignorance are welcome. Views different than mine, especially when well-written and thoughtful, are enjoyed and very much appreciated.

So a few thoughts on the Somalia rape victim story -

The reason stories like that reflect our need to vigilantly separate the muddling of church and state is that such barbarism seems distantly divorced from our own freedom and safety. But it has not always been so, and the root of the thinking that allows (or mandates, in their view) people to behave so abominably is still alive and well.

Right now - in our country - civil rights are denied based on the authority of religion. Every fight on the path of equality and justice for all has been against this same way of thinking. Right now people are denied the right to secular marriages or to adopt children, based on the twisting of the already morphed and altered words of an ancient book... Not that long ago, people with more melanin couldn't marry people with less - due to governance based on this same supposedly unquestionable authority. Women's rights were and are continually threated based on roles foisted upon them by religiosity (and I'm not just talking about access to healthcare, but even the vote and "permission" to work outside the home or being granted status as people rather than chattel). So when people raise a ruckus about getting back to the good old days, getting the 10 commandments into courthouses, time to pray in school and teach intelligent design or ban discussions on evolution, banning books, keeping "under God" (a fairly recent addition, by the way) in the Pledge and mandating that children in schools must recite the Pledge of Allegiance and making sure that "In God We Trust" is printed on all currency we use... well, to those of us who don't believe in this God it's scary and oppressive.

Many countries now ruled by Islamic law can provide valuable insight into how small the gap is between having a free and progressive society and what can happen when the law of the land changes from secular to religious. The recent histories of Iran and Afghanistan might be especially good teachers.

So, setting aside our own national issues, and focusing on the Somalia story: What in the world do we do?

As someone who's fascinated by human cultures and societies, I tend to find myself stepping back from my own humanity in order to see every side of the story. I can imagine the groupthink going on... a crowd in a stadium being told by angry authoratative men with guns that this "woman" was a lawbreaker and must be stoned - according to God's own words. I can only imagine the violence and horror these people see on a daily basis. Not enough food. Clean water hard to come by. Not participating in the stoning would probably mean death or treatment harsh enough that death would follow... in brutal enough environments even social spurning can be a death sentence. And yet, participating would become desensitizing. Even men who would otherwise be more reasonable would be likely to work out a rationalization for violently killing a child. They'd have to in order to be able to go home and look their own children in the eye. They'd have to destroy a little of their own humanity in the name of survival for themselves and their own families.

Would I be any better? I don't know. I believe I would do anything to protect my own children. What would I do if protecting my own family meant directly contributing to the destruction of someone else's? I honestly don't know what I'd do.

So how can I condemn the people who did this? Why don't I just shrug off the story and hold fast to my thankfulness that I live in a safer place?

Because the bottom line is that the people stoning this girl didn't arrive at that situation overnight. The path was paved with increased rejection of rational thinking and embracing of religious authority. And there is a very vocal population in this country - my country - who would erode secular rights and rationality in favor of the laws (as they interpret them) of their god. Keep in mind, too, that our society is pretty tight-lipped about how prisoners of war are being treated in our very own facilities. Water-boarding anyone? Our country sees fit to torture people... but right now the sub-human people it's OK to treat like this are Arab and/or Muslim. It's here. And anyone who isn't fighting it or who is looking the other way implies approval... not everyone at that stadium in Somalia threw rocks. Most just stood by.

OK - so what can we do? Forcibly spreading our form of democracy into other cultures doesn's seem to work so well. We can't just abolish the sects who promote this brutality.

I think the only way to prevent stories like this is to destroy the mechanisms that allow and fuel them. Obviously I can't dramatically change the world right now, but the secret is that all the things we think they need to change are things we need to address in our own backyards first.

1. 13 year-old-girl is raped
Increase the perceived value of girls and women. Call attention to traditional methods of denigrating and objectifying them. Pass and enforce laws that support female healthcare and allow girls and women to safely report abuse. Punish rapists.
2. Stop social approval for condemning victims.
See 1. Then remove the socially acceptable gag order that arises out of the notion that it is not OK to criticize people's spiritual beliefs. Loudly challenge pockets of sexism, racism, etc. when they are revealed.
3. Insist upon separation of church and state.
This ideal is constantly under attack. Even laws that ultimately seem nice, comfortable and right - when based on religion pave the way for abuses and fundamentalism.
4. Refuse to look the other way or accept the platitudes of corrupt authority figures.
Cowards inflict harm on others because they can.

Jeez. I'm just a housewife who needs to go make breakfast. ;o) Better minds than mine have worked on this one. These are just my NON-expert thoughts. Obviously I don't have much in the way of answers.

Despite my limited knowledge, I do think my "voice" is a valuable yop amidst the Who-ville cacophany. Please feel free to tell me where you agree or disagree. I love to learn and usually learn more from those who disagree with me than those who don't.

1 comment:

  1. You aren't going to learn much from me. I basically agree. Great post.