Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Offensive Statement in Opposition to Proposal to End Violence Against Women

I want to examine an offensive statement issued last week by a political group in response to a proposal to end violence against women. The statement sets forth the group’s objections to the proposal. For ease of reading and to help obscure who the group is (more on that in a moment), I’ve made some slight changes to the text and some omissions (that I will address later).

So, please take a moment, read this statement, and then see if you can identify the author of the statement. The group bemoans the following which it believes will transpire if the proposal to end violence against women is adopted:

  1. Granting women full sexual freedom, as well as the freedom to decide their own gender and the gender of their partners (ie, choose to have normal or homosexual relationships).
  2. Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls and training them to use those, while legalizing abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, in the name of sexual and reproductive rights.
  3. Granting equal rights to homosexuals.
  4. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
  5. Full equality in marriage legislation.

Any idea who is responsible for this list of worries? I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t written in response to the Violence Against Women Act. Rather, it was written in response to the UN Commission on the Status of Women proposed declaration to End Violence Against Women. And the author? The Muslim Brotherhood. Read the Muslim Brotherhood’s statement again (this time, with the previously omitted text added back and edits removed).

  1. Granting girls full sexual freedom, as well as the freedom to decide their own gender and the gender of their partners (ie, choose to have normal or homo- sexual relationships), while raising the age of marriage.
  2. Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls and training them to use those, while legalizing abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, in the name of sexual and reproductive rights.
  3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.
  4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.
  5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.
  6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).
  7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.
  8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.
  9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.
  10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.

There are two points that I want to make with regard to this statement. First, did any of you think that the original 5-point version of the statement came from a Republican, Tea Party, or evangelical Christian group? I can’t blame you if you did. Only item #4 (in the top list) seems to go much beyond the rhetoric and proposals that have been offered by far right (mostly religious) groups here in America. And it wasn’t that long ago that some of those same groups would have opposed allowing white women to marry black men (or vice versa), similar to the objection in item 8 (in the bottom list). Nor was it too long ago that inheritance rights weren’t equal. And of course, one of the reasons for passage of the Violence Against Women Act was to address the problem of spousal abuse.

More broadly, just think about the way that the Muslim Brotherhood is addressing women’s rights, gay rights, and the internal structure of a family. Now, compare those notions to the viewpoints expressed by Republicans in general and the Tea Party and evangelical Christian groups in particular. Recall, for example, that during the Republican Presidential primaries, candidate Michele Bachmann stated that as an evangelical Christian woman she was “subservient” or “submissive” to her husband in all things. Or just look back at some of my posts on the Republican War on Women. There isn’t much daylight between their respective positions and those articulated by the Muslim Brotherhood, is there? And yet I doubt many Americans would be willing to recognize that their positions align closely with those of the Muslim Brotherhood; in fact, I suspect that they’d be horrified learn just how closely their views align, at least until they learned where those alignments were.

So next time you hear a Republican, a member of the Tea Party, or an evangelical Christian discussing women’s rights, gay rights, or “traditional” family structures, you might think back to the statement of the Muslim Brotherhood and ask yourself if those are ideals with which you are comfortable. You might even ask the speaker if they took their talking points from the Muslim Brotherhood or just agree with them on the role of women and the rights that they should have.

The second point that I wanted to make is similar, but comes from almost the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Once again think about the views expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood. These views are not unique to the Muslim Brotherhood; rather they are common throughout the Muslim world. Moreover, it’s also worth noting that Hamas is, essentially, a construct and arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the next time you hear a liberal or progressive speaker criticizing Israeli policies and talking about the plight of the Palestinians, you might ask whether that speaker recognizes a difference between Israel’s treatment of women and gays and the treatment afforded them by Hamas. Just this month, the UN was forced to cancel a marathon to raise money for charity in Gaza because Hamas refused to allow women to participate. And gay rights groups in Gaza have to travel into Israel for meetings and rallies. How do progressive supporters of Palestinian causes and Muslim institutions defend viewpoints by those expressed by the Muslim Brotherhood?

The idea that women and gays are somehow second class citizens, not really entitled to be treated fairly or entitled to equality under the law isn’t just a problem in the Muslim or developing world. It’s also endemic to a part of the Republican party’s platform (contraception, abortion, or fair pay, anyone?). We shouldn’t think that the use of religious views to subjugate half (or more) of the population is limited to the Muslim or developing world. The theocratic, anti-woman, anti-gay legislation being proposed across the country — and it’s similarity to the dominant views and laws of the largely non-democratic and theocratic Muslim world — should give Americans reason to think carefully about just what we want our country to look like.

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