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The Death of Enlightenment

Kamal Al-Solaylee and family. (Globe & Mail / Kamal Al-Solaylee)

In Saturday’s Globe & Mail, Kamal Al-Solaylee weaves a doleful tale of his family’s regression from wealth and progressive enlightenment to soul-destroying darkness in the span of a single generation.  Mr. Al-Solayee’s young sisters once took joy in perusing Alexandria’s stores for bikinis, Beatles albums and other trappings of Western pop-culture; today their existence is markedly different.

The photo captures a moment of bourgeois life in the Middle East, before the region became associated in the Western collective psyche with exporting terror or the subjugation of women. It’s an image of a large and admittedly privileged family, led by enlightened, secular parents from southern Yemen.

…Yemen’s new notoriety doesn’t surprise me; what does is how all the warning signs went unnoticed for so long. I saw it in my own flesh and blood: An open-minded family defined by its love of arts and culture embraced hard-line interpretations of Islam and turned its back on social progress and intellectual freedom.

…I paid a visit to my family in the spring of 1992, my first in almost six years, and was shocked to see how just a few years changed us both so dramatically. There was a defeatist quality to their lives, while mine had hopes of a better future. My sisters seemed especially dispirited. Four of them worked for a living, but although their jobs gave them some economic independence, their lives remained limited. Beyond their commute to work, they rarely ventured anywhere other than grocery or clothing stores.

Returning again in the summer of 2001 – my first visit since I had moved to Canada in 1996 – I encountered a family that was a lot closer to the stereotype of regressive Muslim culture than I had ever known.

The veils were in full view. Everybody prayed five times a day. My brothers were unapologetically sexist in their dealings with their wives. Was this the same family that once took turns reading the great works of literature and subscribed to four newspapers daily, three in Arabic and one in English?

One of my brothers was actually suggesting that his eldest daughter need not go to university because education wouldn’t help her much as a housewife…

— Al-Solaylee, Kamal.  “From bikinis to burkas.” Globe & Mail, 9 January 2010. [Emphasis mine.]

Although Yemen has long been on a slow slide to anarchy, one of the many turning points Mr. Al-Solaylee highlights is the 1991 Gulf War.  In that conflict, the Republic of Yemen publicly supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia expelled hundreds of thousands of migrant Yemeni workers in retaliation.  The country was thus flooded with unemployed men who had been thoroughly immersed in the Saudis’ corrosive brand of austere, reactionary Islam.  And from there, the Republic of Yemen’s downward deck-angle accelerated.

Left and right sides of the political spectrum tend to disagree over whether it is poverty of opportunity or toxic ideology which is at the root of the issue; what Mr. Al-Solaylee’s story shows us is that the ideology can afflict the wealthy and comfortable just as easily.

The world has since realised that widespread hopelessness mixed with nihilist ideology can create a very toxic and potent brew; something of the same cocktail was effective in October of 1917, October of 1922, and March of 1933.  But while the West is at great pains to revitalise the economies and civil infrastructure of lands like Iraq and Afghanistan, the ideology has by and large gone unchecked.  In March of 2009, Afghanistan’s President Karzai still signed into law the repressive Shia Personal Status statute, which permits spousal rape and child marriage.  And the world’s foremost exporter of Wahhabi intolerance—Saudi Arabia—is still at it, with foreign workers comprising two-thirds of its total workforce and a staggering 95 percent of labour in the private sector.  It would seem that attacking poverty and hopelessness, while admirable, is not the sole (or even primary) solution.

If the world is to have any victory over Islamists, it will have to start tackling the central tenets of the ideology head-on.  To have fought the effects of Fascism or Communism for decades, without also exposing the cruel, humanity-denying theories at their cores would be nonsensical.  So it is with the war on Islamic radicalism.

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Deeyah on freedom for Muslim women

Norwegian singer Deeyah laments the fact that mild displays of female sexuality are more outrageous than women being beaten and killed for bringing perceived shame upon their kin.

See also the interviewer’s condescending brush-off of her point (at 2:23) in favour of a discussion of Deeyah’s vocal training—”But the really important thing about you, yeah, despite the image and everything else, is that you can actually sing…”

RELATED: Deeyah discusses the purpose of some of the imagery in her videos, and the underlying point that whether one wears a burqa or bikini, that should be a choice freely made, with the physical integrity of the wearer respected.

Also see the Flea‘s discussion (circa 2006) of the controversy engendered by Deeyah’s video for What Will It Be.

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Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women

Giulio Rosati (1858-1917). Inspection of the New Arrivals. Oil on canvas

Mr. Ahmet Riza, Minister of Education for the ailing Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, diagnoses the problems of the ummah.  Keep in mind that this was written thirty to forty years before the ideology we would call Qutbism came into being.  Also be warned that there are casually derogatory remarks about Jews.

“Though many famous scholars emerged among the Arabs in the fields of geometry, algebra, astronomy, geography, and medical sciences during the times of Prophet Muhammad and of his successors, a thousand years later the ummah of Muhammad have descended so low as to request a shopping tally of three and a half gurush from the clerk of grocer Georgos. This is due to the fact that the Prophet’s words have been so misconstrued by our God damn ignorant imams and softas as to claim that when the Prophet used the term science he referred only to readings from the Quran… It is for such reasons that nobody read the works of the Western scholars…  These cowardly scoundrels effected the annihilation and wretchedness of a great ummah! … Today the Muslims have declined to the level of Jews. If you ask my own opinion: From the viewpoints of education and knowledge they are certainly at a level lower than the Jews. The ummah is dissolved, weakened, and from this point it will never recover and regain vitality. The believers in the heaven which has houris, cold sherbets, and rivers are decreasing.

Were I a woman, I would embrace atheism and never become a Muslim. Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women such as permitting my husband to have three additional wives and as many concubines as he wishes, houris awaiting him in heaven, while I cover my head and face as a miller’s horse. Beside these I would not be allowed to divorce a husband who prevented me from having any kind of fun, but would be required to submit to his beatings. Keep this religion far away from me.”

— Ahmet Riza, as quoted in a letter to his sister, Fahire.  Hanioglu, M. Sukru.  “The Political Ideas of the Young Turks.” The Young Turks in Opposition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.  p200-212. [Emphasis is mine.]

If the minister were a woman, however, he may have been butchered by his own family for the public disgrace of renouncing Islam for atheism.  A small hurdle some of today’s Muslim women may also face.

A hundred years later, not much has changed.  Islam is still temperamentally inclined to reject any research and science that might be at odds with the Quran, and Muslim women are still de facto and de jure lesser entities under sharia law.  Perhaps most sadly, the decisionmakers of our time are even less willing to confront these engines of human misery and call them by their true name.

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When your old life catches up with your new life

edita_schindlerova

Edita Schindlerova, 22, in Ryanair uniform (left) and in what one might charitably call an undress uniform (right).

Ryanair is an Irish low-cost airline headquartered in Dublin, with Dublin Airport (EIDW) and London Stanstead Airport (EGSS) being its major hubs.  Every year the company recruits a dozen of its good-looking cabin attendants to pose in skimpy outfits for a calendar whose proceeds are donated to charity.

This year, an eagle-eyed tabloid reporter realised that one of Ryanair’s flight attendants, Ms. Edita Schindlerova, also had a second career in the adult entertainment industry.  To their credit, Ryanair’s spokesmen waved away the media’s salivating prurience by stating “What people do before or after they work for us is their business.”

What a rare and refreshing display of sanity from an employer.

Edita in the Ryanair 2009 calendar (February)

Ms. Schindlerova in the Ryanair 2009 calendar.

For those of us who have not had to worry too hard about where the next paycheque is coming from (and I count myself in that number), it can be all too easy to dismiss folks who take a harder, grittier road as moral and intellectual midgets. Women like Ms. Schindlerova, Dr. Brooke Magnanti (a.k.a Belle de Jour) and Ms. Louisa C. Tuck (a.k.a Crystal Gunns) attract much attention and opprobrium; much of it, I think, patently misguided.

We have many examples of how society treats people once their seedier pasts become known.  Ms. Tuck’s employer (the Vineland, N.J. school district) was pressured to fire her; she eventually resigned.  In another famous instance, a Florida town manager got the axe because his wife was a porn star.  The exception of course is Dr. Magnanti, who wrote a well-read blog, then a book which in turn was optioned for a successful television series.  But not every journey into a career catering to men’s fantasies is so lucrative, rewarding and favourably regarded.

Not having lived each circumstance in intimate detail, we cannot always know what factors drive some people to make the choices they have.  I have, however, known some people who have had to take on careers that I would consider both morally and objectively horrifying, and yet those people have survived, flourished, found stable relationships and started families in spite of those potentially soul-deadening experiences.  I do not think any less of them for it; my attitude is simply “There but for the grace of God go I.”  For I do not harbour flattering illusions about what any human being might be motivated to do, given the right circumstance.

And I must applaud Ryanair—whatever their other failings as a commercial carrier—for acting humanely and sensibly.  In this generation, where adults and kids routinely share too much of their private lives—on television, Facebook, blogs and any other outlet within reach—our notions of propriety are surely going to be stretched in uncomfortable ways.

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St. Nicholas’ Day

st_nicholas_myra

St. Nicholas is one of those interesting early church figures for whom history can verify only the barest details, but nonetheless has numerous stories and legends surrounding him.  We know that Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia (Turkey) around A.D. 300, became bishop of Myra (Demre, in modern Turkey), and died around A.d. 350.  An analysis of his bones in Bari, Italy, has revealed that he was barely five feet tall and had a broken nose.  This is all that history can tell us for certain, although there are many legends and stories involving gift-giving which are attributed to this saint.

St. Nicholas is said to have been born of wealthy parents and to have traveled to the Holy Land in his youth. He was tortured and imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian, and released when Constantine ordered official toleration of Christians. Nicholas is said to have attended the famous Council of Nicea in 325 (although his name does not appear in the official lists), where he became so infuriated by the heretic Arius that he slapped him hard in the face!

Many of the legends of St. Nicholas involve him helping young people and the poor. In one tale, a butcher lured three boys to his house during a time of famine. While they slept, he killed them, cut them up and placed the pieces in a barrel of salt, intending to sell them for food. Nicholas, who was told of this horrendous act by an angel, hurried to the butcher’s house and restored the boys to life.

Another popular legend has it that three daughters of a poor merchant were about to be forced into prostitution since they had no marriage dowries, but St. Nicholas saved them from a life of sin by dropping three bags of gold into the merchant’s garden or chimney (versions vary), enabling them to get married.

The saint was buried in Myra upon his death, and a church may have been built over his tomb soon after. If so, it would have been badly damaged in the earthquake of 529 and repaired along with Myra’s other buildings later in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian. Damaged in the Arab raids of the 7th century, the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra was rebuilt in the 8th century; it is this structure that largely survives today.

After his death, Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors and seafarers, and many pilgrims came to visit his tomb. Over the centuries, the legends and great popularity of St. Nicholas of Myra led to the Christmastime figure of the bearded man who secretly brings toys to children. He is still known as St. Nick in most of Europe (and he brings his gifts on December 6, not Christmas), but in America he came to be known as Santa Claus.

— “Church of St. Nicholas, Myra (Kale/Demre).” Sacred Destinations. [Emphasis in original]

A selection of Flickr images of the church of St. Nicholas in Myra (Kale/Demre), as well as the spectacular rock crypts there.

St. Nicholas Church, originally uploaded by swissgrappa.

st.nicholas church (demre/ antalya), originally uploaded by mxpeyne.

Walking into the 9th Century, originally uploaded by ~S3R@Y~.

Myra, rock tombs 1, originally uploaded by time fly.

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Nicene Creed

A reminder of our common roots, jointly recited in Greek by the patriarchs of the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) churches: Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, and Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome.

And the version that remains a sentimental favourite from younger years, by Christian rock band Petra.

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Bras are deceptive and violate Islam

Once again Islamist hardliners prove that their religion is less focused on personal asceticism and rather more concerned with opportunities to live out improbable scenarios from Penthouse Forum:

A hardline Islamist group in Somalia has begun publicly whipping women for wearing bras that they claim violate Islam as they are ‘deceptive’.

The insurgent group Al Shabaab has sent gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to round up any women who appear to have a firm bust, residents claimed yesterday.

The women are then inspected to see if the firmness is natural, or if it is the result of wearing a bra.

If they are found wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts, residents said.

…’Al Shabaab forced us to wear their type of full veil and now they order us to shake our breasts,’ a resident, Halima, told Reuters, adding that her daughters had been whipped on Thursday.

‘They  are now saying that breasts should be firm naturally, or just flat.’

Abdullahi Hussein, a student in north Mogadishu, said his elder brother was thrown behind bars when he fought back a man who humiliated their sister by asking her to remove her bra.

‘My brother was jailed after he wrestled with a man that had beaten my sister and forced her to remove her bra. He could not stand it,’ Hussein said.

— Mail Foreign Service.  “Whipped for wearing a ‘deceptive’ bra: Hardline Islamists in Somalia publicly flog women in Sharia crackdown.”  Daily Mail, 16 October 2009.

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Islam and liberalism c. 1909

100 Years Ago Today is a blog that, as its tagline indicates, delivers old news really fast.  I enjoy reading these snippets of yesteryear because they remind me of how far Homo sapiens has advanced—technologically, socially, and culturally—but also, paradoxically, how little we have changed emotionally.  As a species we are still governed by passions we understand intellectually but cannot always master practically, so basic human nature is still our fundamental limiting factor.

Yesterday’s post on 100 Years Ago Today contained excerpts from a Boston Daily Globe article written by a man some consider to be the father of human rights reporting, Mr. James Creelman. This Canadian-born journalist was travelling through the Ottoman province of Adana, reporting on the slaughter of somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 Armenian Christians—now known to us as the Adana massacre.

During his investigation Mr. Creelman met with Nazim Pasha, the Wali (Governor) of Syria, and put to him many questions that have resonance for us today.    I was intrigued by their discussion, so I asked Mr. Frank Herron (the proprietor of 100 Years Ago Today) if he could provide the full text of the article, which he did quite graciously.  The answers are illuminating, to say the least.

When I called upon Nazim Pasha, the governor general of Syria, who was in his early days a liberal writer and who was once degraded for refusing to serve the evil purpose of Abdul Hamid, he declared there was no possibility of danger to the constitutional government from his province.  There were several prominent reactionaries in Damascus yet, but they were notoriously lacking in intelligence.  The intelligent Damascenes were frankly committed to the policy of equal rights for all races and religions.

“But how can there be equality, ho can there be even safety for Christians in Turkey so long as the sacred Moslem law prevails?”

“Islam as practiced in its earlier days, as conceived and as perfected in its teachings at the time of Moslem greatness, obviously calls for a liberal form of government.  Constitutional rule is a logical outgrowth of the principles of the Koran.  Turkey is above all things a democratic country.  The history of Islam—I need only refer to the great Caliph Omar—proves that the various religious elements can live together, and are required to live together, in harmony and equality.  Moslem chivalry and tolerance are proverbial.  But we must go back to the pure religion of the days of Omar.”

“How are you going to secure conditions that will prevent the massacre of Christians in the future?”

“By compulsory education, by universal service in the army, and by improved means of communication.  So far as Moslems especially are concerned we need perhaps, first of all, an educated body of religious teachers.  These massacres have been the result of fanatacism bred by ignorance, not the result of true faith.  No one should be allowed to preach or teach or act as a religious officer in any way who has not first been properly licensed by an examination.”

“Islam has in recent years become burdened with and corrupted by innumerable traditions and opinions which have obscured our real religion, and which have been blindly accepted and misinterpreted by ignorant and, consequently, fanatic men serving the mosques.  During the reign of Abdul Hamid these irresponsible imams and students, so-called, of theology, have greatly multiplied, and have enjoyed special favours and privileges.

Hereafter we must and will insist that no man shall serve a mosque who has not passed proper examinations and received official authorization to preach and minister to the spiritual needs of the congregation to which he has been assigned.  It is ignorance that breeds fanaticism.”

Several Christian missionaries on the edge of the massacre district asked me to question the Moslem authorities on the meaning of this vigorous passage from the ninth chapter of the Koran:

“But when the sacred months are passed away, kill the idolators wherever you may find them; and take them and besiege them, and lie in wait in every place of observation; but if they repent, and are steadfast in prayer, and give alms, then let them go their way; verily God is forgiving and merciful.”

The answer of every Moslem has been that the particular condition of conquest under which God spoke through Mahomet passed away, and that non-Moslems were permitted to pay taxes, and, after submitting to the authority of the state, retain their own religion.

— Creelman, James.  “Creelman in Damascus.  No. 1—Interview with Nazim Pasha, Governor of Syria.” Boston Daily Globe, 28 September 1909: p. 7.

One cannot help but wonder if the Wali was being naïvely optimistic or intentionally disingenuous in his description of dhimmitude and the associated jizya tax; they are not in any real sense synonymous with “equal rights”.

Even more interesting though is the perceived future direction of Islam toward a more liberal, tolerant future.  When Muslims did eventually purify their religion of extraneous human traditions and opinions, what resulted was Salafism (or wahhabism); a thoroughgoing rejection of the modern secular state in favour of a return to increasingly austere forms of sharia. Including the explicit rejection of any legal equality for women and non-Muslims.

Contrary to the governor’s confident assertions, better literacy, education and means of communication have actually resulted in a faith less tolerant of different opinions.  It can be concluded instead that Muslims themselves have decided their true faith is a lot closer to close-minded Salafism than Nazim Pasha’s rose-tinted, liberalised version.  Based on the example of Mohammed himself, it would be difficult to argue that they are wrong.

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Lives of quiet desperation

Photo by Paula Lerner/Aurora Photos, via the Globe & Mail.

Photo by Paula Lerner/Aurora Photos, via the Globe & Mail.

Eight years ago when NATO forces first staged into Afghanistan, it was heartening to see our forces acting in concert with the Northern Alliance to destroy and expel the Taliban.  Perhaps I was alone in expecting this, but I thought NATO would try to thoroughly inoculate any post-Taliban Afghan social order against the strains of misogyny and casual violence inherent in Islamic radicalism.  Instead we have focused our efforts on everything but that; destroying Taliban fighters in their cross-border sanctuaries and providing a baseline of civil infrastructure to the Afghan people, all while the malignant spectre of Taliban-like philosophy moves about unhindered and unchecked.  That fatal oversight is now bearing fruit as a generation of once-hopeful Afghan women scurry back behind the veil, where their hopes and dreams of a more equitable future die stillborn.

The Globe & Mail—whom I have often chided on this blog for less than stellar reporting—is now doing yeoman work by chronicling the lives of ten ordinary Afghan women in Kandahar through its multimedia series Behind the Veil.  Reporter Jessica Leeder and photographer Paula Lerner are to be commended.  Their work is not a mere fig leaf for antiwar sentiment, nor is it unquestioningly boosterish of our sometimes flawed effort.  But what it is is heartbreaking; it should be painfully obvious to Canadians everywhere—whether ISAF supporters or not—that we are failing the women of Kandahar.  They deserve much better from us.

The day she got engaged, Sakina started out playing with her dolls in the street.
There was no indication that the 13-year-old was scheduled to meet her future husband. But then her father summoned her out of the street and planted her before a male stranger.
“I saw him and they told me I was getting married to him,” Sakina remembered in an on-camera interview with The Globe and Mail.
Next, she learned that she had been sold by her father for 600,000 afghanis, about $13,000. Although she was surprised at the abruptness of the transaction, Sakina doesn’t remember being upset.
“Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do,” she said. “It is not about whether we like our husbands or not. We just get married.”
It was after the wedding that the horror began.
“My father-in-law and my mother-in-law are violent to me. My husband can’t protect me,” she said. “What can I do?”
There aren’t many options for women such as Sakina. She found herself fused to her brutish new relatives by way of an old tradition in Afghanistan, one that international aid and human-rights groups hoped would have faded by now.
In 2005, the Afghan government signed the Protocol for the Elimination of Forced and Child Marriage, a plan sponsored by the United Nations Development Program that aimed to phase out forced and child marriage by 2008. Although it was trumpeted at the time, the protocol clearly wasn’t put into effective practice. Seventy to 80 per cent of Afghan women are still subject to forced marriage, UN statistics show. And more than half of all girls who get married are like Sakina, given away before the legal age of 16, often because their families need the money.
“People are generally aware of the negative impacts of … paying bride price, despite its widespread use,” said a recent report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent organization based in Kabul. The report noted that economic concerns override worries about the impact of forced marriages on the brides, in many cases, because “… collecting bride price can be a key livelihood survival strategy for girls’ families.”

The day she got engaged, Sakina started out playing with her dolls in the street.

There was no indication that the 13-year-old was scheduled to meet her future husband. But then her father summoned her out of the street and planted her before a male stranger.

“I saw him and they told me I was getting married to him,” Sakina remembered in an on-camera interview with The Globe and Mail.

Next, she learned that she had been sold by her father for 600,000 afghanis, about $13,000. Although she was surprised at the abruptness of the transaction, Sakina doesn’t remember being upset.

“Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do,” she said. “It is not about whether we like our husbands or not. We just get married.”

It was after the wedding that the horror began.

“My father-in-law and my mother-in-law are violent to me. My husband can’t protect me,” she said. “What can I do?”

There aren’t many options for women such as Sakina. She found herself fused to her brutish new relatives by way of an old tradition in Afghanistan, one that international aid and human-rights groups hoped would have faded by now.

In 2005, the Afghan government signed the Protocol for the Elimination of Forced and Child Marriage, a plan sponsored by the United Nations Development Program that aimed to phase out forced and child marriage by 2008. Although it was trumpeted at the time, the protocol clearly wasn’t put into effective practice. Seventy to 80 per cent of Afghan women are still subject to forced marriage, UN statistics show. And more than half of all girls who get married are like Sakina, given away before the legal age of 16, often because their families need the money.

“People are generally aware of the negative impacts of … paying bride price, despite its widespread use,” said a recent report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent organization based in Kabul. The report noted that economic concerns override worries about the impact of forced marriages on the brides, in many cases, because “… collecting bride price can be a key livelihood survival strategy for girls’ families.”

— Leeder, Jessica.  “‘Among us, there is no happiness or sadness in weddings. It’s just something we do’.” Globe & Mail, 22 September 2009.

Very often our news media fails us in obvious, ridiculous ways—skimping on or omitting entirely the background data that would help us contextualise the stories we see, hear and read.  I have believed for a while now that print media’s fruitless competition in immediacy with broadcast and web journalism is a fight it is ill-equipped to win; it should instead refocus itself to provide deeper stories; more background, more data, more thoughtful criticism and insight.  So I am happy to see the Globe & Mail present such a compelling and finely textured look inside the lives of these Afghan women.

Defeating the Taliban militarily is surely a key requirement for any social progress; but equally important is that which has so far been a lesser priority: a vigorous, tenacious offensive against the medieval theology, philosophy and cultural customs that sustain it.  We must make the argument to the Afghan people that equality and liberty are the birthright of every human being.  And we must put fangs in that assertion by refusing to tolerate the casual abrogation of Afghan women’s rights (that are constitutionally guaranteed, no less) by their very own government.  There can be no victory otherwise.

UPDATE: For some the last paragraph may be a bridge too far, a neo-imperialism, arguing that the Afghan people should be the arbiters of their own law and rights.  I do not disagree; in the main they should be, but when Afghan laws deliberately abrogate their own constitution, not to mention the human rights treaties this nation is a signatory to, I would argue that Canada—as a significant reconstruction and security guarantor—has a right to pressure (if not compel) the Afghan government to rectify these failings.  We are not there to turn Afghanistan into Vancouver; we are there to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for Islamic radicalism—whether its vector is the gun or the ballot box.

And there is in fact a precedent of an Allied government performing radical surgery on a nation’s culture and religion.  In the aftermath of the Second World War, the occupation government not only restructured the political landscape of Japan, but the social and religious landscape as well.  Women were granted universal suffrage and equal rights, which was clearly not a feature of the previous Shinto militarist government.  The occupation government dissolved the zaibatsu (large family combines), revised and encouraged education, and did its damndest to inculculate pacifism.  Shintoism was disestablished as the official state religion, and the Emperor was forced to defrock himself of political and religious claims to divinity on public radio.

Following that, General MacArthur also issued an appeal for “1000 missionaries” to come to Japan to prevent communism from gaining a deep toe-hold.  In actuality about 2,000 came to Japan, infused with misionary zeal.  History tells us that their effectiveness was close to zero, as the ratio of Christians in Japan is about the same today as it was before Pearl Harbor.  But it did have at least one salutary effect: the exposure of the Japanese public to many kind and decent ordinary Americans, average folk who were not soldiers or occupation authorities.  Their selfless concern for the Japanese public helped foster understanding and heal wartime wounds on both sides.  Optimistically, NGOs may be achieving the same thing today.  Whether they have a missionary’s selflessness and willingness to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of those in need remains to be seen.

The key lesson here is that the United States did not permit Japanese religion and culture to go on as it had been before; significant correctives were compelled by the occupation authorities.  In the main I am sure we would all prefer that any restructuring of Afghan culture and religion be Afghan-initiated; but if it slips backward rather than forward, we are not doing ourselves nor the Afghan people any favours by permitting such retrenchment.  To ask that the Afghan government live by its own founding legislation seems a less bad option than packing up and giving the Taliban the keys.

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Shorter Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission

We got rid of that marital rape provision in the Shia Personal Status Law, and we tried hard to get legislators to treat you like human beings, but really, is getting forced into sex through starvation all that bad?

BACKGROUND: Note that, according to Human Rights Watch, the Shia Personal Status Law legitimises gender discrimination in the following ways:

The law gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses to obey his sexual demands. It grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying “blood money” to a girl who was injured when he raped her.

IT’S A CANADIAN FACT: The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), which “devotes particular attention and resources to addressing the rights of women and children”, is funded by HM Dominion Government to the tune of 7 million dollars.

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