Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Clash of Civilizations Over Women

I think Samuel Huntington is right that there is a clash of civilizations going on between the West and Islam. People I respect think otherwise. And I certainly know that both the West and the Islamic world and hugely complex. There are many points of connection between the two. I hope the connectors prevail.

But on one issue there clearly is a clash: whether women and men are equal. Indeed, in the furthest reaches of the Islamic world, the issue seems to be whether or not women are people.

A case in point is Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, Afghan women were the most oppressed in the world. Since we overthrew that regime and installed one with at least the trappings of parliamentary democracy and gender equality, the formal rules for men and women have been made more equal. Women make up 25% of the Afghan legislature.

But things haven't really changed there. A new human rights report says that most Afghan women are still pushed into arranged, even forced marriages. Worse, most of those brides were married before the legal age of 16. Western civilization has fundamentally rejected that way of treating women. Muslim civilization, even the more moderate parts, has not. That is a clash. And that is a clash worth fighting.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, but I am also uncomfortable with my agreement. Certainly, I see the severe - sometimes deadly - oppression of women whose culture follow the most stringent forms of Islam.

My discomfort is the degree of blindness we have to ways in which we in the West get women to oppress themselves, from a young age, as they feel their worth is tied to the degree of sexual attractiveness they possess. Eating disorders, cutting behavior, a sexually open scene that leads to both date rape and promiscuity, depression - form a different but real type of prison.

There probably IS a clash of cultures, specifically around the role of women in society. Perhaps, though, we need to find a way to hear the best of what the other culture has to say, because it may contain some truth that would help us see and deal with the worst aspects of our own.

Certainly, I would rather live in a free country. If a person can awaken from the fog of popular culture, she will not have it reimposed by force.

Gruntled said...

I don't know -- I don't think a minority of women doing choosing to do foolish things is the same kind of thing an mandated subservience for all women.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Edith. Did you hear the NPR piece several weekends ago about Hispanic women in the Northeast converting to Islam? They said that American women may be free, but not respected.

We need to pay attention to the real downsides of what goes beyond freedom. Modesty in dress is nearly a joke. It's hard for mothers to find modest clothing for their daughters, I'm told. Maybe the Gruntleds have some perspective on that.

I'm not equating mandated servitude with slavery to fashion and beauty trends, of course. I'm just saying that freedom doesn't last long without self-control.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure minority is accurate wrt the foolish things. When one adds up the young women who smoke to keep down their weight, the depression related to the near-impossibility of maintaining proper appearances, the fear of date rape in combination with the social requirement to be with someone - it's a high cost to pay.

In the last decade or so, since "hooking up" instead of dating has come in, sex has become so casual for a sizable segment of young women - and I think this will ultimately result in a number of psychological and social problems down the road.

Perhaps my lifestyle - pretty much a drop-out from popular culture venues - makes the sadness and desperation that so many young women exude seem more apparent to me.

Stushie said...

if you have any doubt about the inhumane treatment of women in the Islamic world, then visit the following website:


It will clear up any intellectual doubts that you have.

122 people have been executed in Iran this year alone - most of them under the age of 30.