Thursday, January 10, 2008

'There Must Be Violence Against Women'

Not helping in any way is this newspaper column from Yemen.

Despite such [Quranic] instructions, beating is considered a type of violence, according to human rights organizations, which urge women to complain to the police. I just wonder what kind of families our societies would have if Muslim women started doing this regarding their husbands.

On matters like this, and honor killing, people of good will in the non-Muslim world often attempt to distinguish religious customs from cultural ones. In this article, and many apologies like it, the two are so intertwined they can't be separated.

Religions may become global, universal, but they always tend to be rooted in a time and a place. They may grow beyond the roots, but the roots can't be ignored. There is desert desperation and Middle Eastern power politics in the core of Judaism. A widespread reality of slavery and an acceptance of Roman imperial power is shot through Christianity.

And Islam has at its roots Muhammad's bid to reform the brutish society of 7th century Arabia. If what he instructed his people to do then was more kind than what they had been doing, it is also less kind than civilized peoples do today. Just as St. Paul's advice to slaves and masters would have been progressive in his day, and 1,900 years later reactionary.

The Yemen article is one person's work, but it is informed by wider arguments about cultural relativity, some of them made in the West as well, by people who ought to know better:

Dear readers – especially women – don’t think that I hate or am against women; rather, I simply mean to preserve the morals and principles with which Islam has honored us.

I hope my message is clear, since it’s really quite relevant to the future of our societies, which must be protected from any kind of cultural invasion.

[Hat tip: Isaac Schrödinger]