As you may have heard, the Afghanistan legislature passed a law last week that requires married women to have sex with her husband up to four times per week unless she is ill or unless sex would aggravate an illness! At European and American objections, President Karzai promised to review the law (which the United Nations is calling a legalization of marital rape) has promised a thorough review of the law, but so far “doesn’t find anything objectional.” The law is causing problems for the U.S. and NATO as we send both more civilians to help nation-build and more troops to hunt al Qaeda, protext civilians, and train Afghan military and police–an escalation I object to and predict will backfire. (By the way, anyone notice that the supposedly successful Iraqi “surge” is coming undone?)
When asked, Pres. Obama called the law “abhorrent” and I agree. I think we should pressure Afghanistan to reverse this horrid law. But before we in the West start to act superior and call this an illustration of how backward Afghanistan is or how patriarchal and sexist Islam is, etc., let’s use this nasty legislation as a time for a good hard look in the mirror. In MANY Western countries “marital rape” is still unknown AS A LEGAL CONCEPT. And before we act shocked at this Afghan law, let us remember in how many cultural contexts it would be assumed that wives give up all right to say no to their husband’s sexual advances. How many of your own relatives, especially of a certain age, would speak of constant sexual availability as among a wife’s “marital duties?”
Here in Kentucky, we passed a law outlawing marital rape for the first time in the late 1990s. Speaking with attorney friends, I can tell you that the law has proved unenforceable. A wife appealing to it sometimes incurs domestic abuse–the opposite of the law’s intention. And getting a KY jury to convict a husband of raping his wife has so far proven impossible. It’s been tried 12 times since the law was signed. Zero convictions. And many other U.S. states (including many which have far more liberal reputations than my adopted home here in KY) do not yet even acknowledge marital rape as a legal concept. And conservative Christians are among those who most often respond to polls by denying that wives can morally refuse their husbands.
Sure, legalizing the inability of wives to say no, as the Afghan law does, is even more horrible. But maybe we better start by acknowledging just how patriarchal and sexist our own religion and culture is, how far from sexual equality are the heterosexual marriages in OUR cultures, before we act as if the Afghanis (or their Islamic heritage) is uniquely anti-woman. Protest this law? Yes. Stand up for women everywhere and against the kind of cultural relativism that would sweep this under the rug? Definitely. But not out of false feelings of moral superiority–only with humility and a renewed determination to stand up for women, including married women, in our own lands and cultures and faiths, too. Anything less is just hypocrisy.
UPDATE: Good News: Karzai has scrapped the law, for now. Bad News: The law’s failure will probably be a recruiting tool for the Taliban. Sigh.
I was really hoping that the new year (and the election) meant that we were leaving this kind of garbage behind. On New Year’s day a large (8 9 member) Muslim-American family was kicked off an airline when passengers heard them discussing the safest places to sit and misconstrued the conversation to mean they were plotting something bad! The FBI cleared the family, but the airline still refused to seat them or give them a different flight! They are naturally considering suing the airline and I think they should since this kind of guilt-by-association must end and is clearly illegal.
It’s time to stop the anti-Muslim hate speech. We begin with super-bigot demagogue Michael Savage. Yes, I believe in freech speech. Yes, I love Voltaire’s dictum, “I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But we don’t have to pay for it. Hate speech creates an atmosphere of fear that leads to crimes created by a mob mentality. In the 1930s, Henry Ford bought a newspaper and used it to spew anti-Jewish propaganda–that was so vindictively anti-semitic that Adolf Hitler praised Henry Ford in Mein Kampf and later gave him a medal. The renegade Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Coughlin, used a radio show to spew such anti-semitic bigotry across the airwaves. So successful was this anti-Jewish propaganda here in the land of the free that, even as the Nazis began their anti-Jewish campaigns in the ’30s, polls showed that 50% of Americans believed Jews brought at least some of this treatment on themselves! (Source for that statistic: The Jewish Americans series on PBS. It is worth watching.)
Now, this same kind of bigotry campaign is targetting Muslims. We cannot stand back and let it happen. Those of us who are Christians have specifically religious obligations to stop it: including the commands against bearing false witness, the commands to love neighbors and enemies, the command to treat others as we would want to be treated. Some of us come from traditions that have known our own persecution–and in that history we would have wanted others to speak out on our behalf. Now our Muslim sisters and brothers need that kind of courage from us. This is not about whose religion is right or wrong. This is not about questions of soteriology (exclusive, inclusive, etc.), but about simple truthtelling and defending the rights and dignity of our neighbors and fellow citizens.
We begin by taking on the demagogue Michael Savage. See the following video. Then go to NoSavage.org and take action: email him and call his talk show to protest. Contact his sponsors and urge them to pull out or we boycott their products–we do not have to pay for his hate speech. (One major sponsor has already pulled out.) Does Savage have free speech? Absolutely. In this country, he can spew whatever bile he wants without fear of arrest. But we DON’T have to give him a microphone. Do something. Fight back against this bile, now.
National Public Radio’s Morning Edition news program has been running a series on the deepening Sunni-Shi’ia divide in Islam and its modern history beginning in 1979. The series, called “The Partisans of Ali,”is definitely worth hearing. The series shows how Western policies in the Middle East, especially the U.S.’ role, has deepened this divide, though we are not the sole cause for the intra-Islamic violence. This is the kind of reporting the media should do more often. Had this kind of reporting been done prior to the Iraq war, the public and Congress would probably have been more opposed, if not the administration of George W. Bush. Understanding “what’s going on” is the first step to figuring out, “what do we do now?”
We often hear that Christians and Jews will speak out against OUR extremists, but that Muslims won’t. It’s not true and the following proves it. [ BTW, I know Ibrahim Ramey since he was previously the head of the Disarmament Program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and, prior to that, lived in Louisville, KY where we both served on the steering committee of the local F.O.R. chapter. I am blessed with having some of the coolest friends.]
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful
The writer is the Director of the Human and Civil Rights Division of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation
Belief.net has posted a story about Muslims in Florida who have sent $5,000 (and are raising more) in seed money to Palestine to rebuild burned Christian churches. The Muslim group notes that, according to the Qu’ran, churches are to be protected. This is a wonderful example of the Just Peacemaking practice of taking independent transforming initiatives for peace. Now, how can Christian groups reciprocate? Can this start a snowball downhill that will generate numerous interfaith independent initiatives that undermine both non-state terror groups and imperialist military machines? Please God, may it be so. Amen.
I consider interfaith dialogue to be both a genuine way of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ (a way of conversation that listens and expects to learn and doesn’t just drown out the other), and a necessary part of peacemaking. In our current context the most urgent need is for greater Christian/Muslim dialogue and understanding. This needs to go on at the grassroots level with groups from local mosques and churches gathering to inform each other about beliefs, customs, rituals, etc. Only by truly knowing our Muslim sisters and brothers can we keep from bearing false witness against them.
When I have made such statements on other blogs, I have been accused of either believing in universal salvation (that is for God to decide, not me), in believing that “all religions are equal,” whatever that would mean, or in denying the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is not true. I am a Christian. I would be overjoyed if every Muslim became Christian–just as every Muslim I know would be overjoyed if we Christians (whom they consider to have some truth, but to be imperfectly worshipping and serving God) would convert to the “Straight Path.” As far as I can understand, Islam and Christianity, though holding to several common beliefs, also hold mutually incompatible ones. We disagree over some very important things: Although Muslims believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, they deny that he was God incarnate and deny his Sonship (“God has no sons.”). They deny both the crucifixion and the resurrection. They deny the Trinity and, like our Jewish sisters and brothers, suspect that the Trinity either means that Christians cannot do math or that we aren’t really monotheists.
These are significant areas of disagreement. I don’t want to minimize them. Nor do I wish to avoid discussing them–although sometimes it helps to build relationships of trust before tackling really strong differences.
My concern is to defend the religious liberty of Muslims, to avoid bearing false witness against Islamic neighbors by sweeping generalizations that compare the best of Christianity against the worst exemplars of Islam, and to work together with Muslims for justice and peace in the world.
Currently, I see a debate going on WITHIN the major world religions over whether the pursuit of justice (as each sees it) or the advance of their faith can use violent means. The question of whether Islam is or can be nonviolent is something only Muslims can decide. I know which side of that debate to cheer for; I’m pulling for my friends in the Muslim Peace Fellowship and similar organizations and for the heritage of Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, “the Frontier Gandhi” who led a nonviolent army of Pathans along the Indian Afghanistan border (in the area now between Afghanistan and Pakistan) that was the most disciplined part of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. But I cannot, as a Christian, say which group is heretical according to Islamic teachings. I can say that, from the inside, about Christianity. The nonviolence of Jesus and the early church was RIGHT and the abandonment of this nonviolence and embrace of “just war theory” by the later church constitutes a massive heresy. Yes, for 16 centuries now, the MAJORITY of Christians have been heretics. I work to call the church universal to repent and re-embrace the nonviolence that Jesus taught and practiced.
We Christians have an advantage in seeking to reform our faith: Throughout much of the Christian world, there is widespread literacy. People can read the New Testament and see that they violent false preachers like John Hagee are blowhards who don’t have a clue. By contrast, illiteracy is widespread in the Islamic world, making the average Muslim even more vulnerable to manipulation by fanatics posing as scholars. Considering how widely Christians confuse militaristic nationalism with the gospel, I believe we should spend less time criticizing Muslim violence and more time criticizing our own compromises with violence–and praying for the success of reform movements like the Muslim Peace Fellowship.
Meanwhile, we need to continue to seek better understanding among all faiths, especially the three monotheistic faiths.
I’m going to do something I don’t usually do: Compliment Pres. George W. Bush. I made this compliment right after the event happened, but I didn’t have a blog then, so it bears repeating. Bush showed more wisdom than his base shortly after 9/11 by reminding the nation and the world that the terrorists who want to kill us are extremist fanatics who twist the teachings of Islam–not all or even most Muslims. While Christian leaders who should have known better (e.g. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, etc.) were busy fanning flames of hatred, Bush reminded the nation that Islam is a religion of peace. Muslim terrorists were and are no more representative of genuine Islam than cross-burning Klansmen are representative of genuine Christianity. Although some of Bush’s policies reinforced the fear among Muslims that the U.S. had declared war against Islam itself, much of Bush’s early rhetoric denied this. That was both wise and good.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t lasted. In the wake of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah, Bush has begun to use the term “Islamic Fascists,” a variation on “Islamo-fascists,” a term long favored by rightwing pundits and bloggers. Fascism, which Mussolini defined as state power plus corporate power, has little to do with the ideology of the Islamic terrorists. The term seems to be a propaganda move–intended to bring the Nazis to mind and reinforce the Neo-con view that the so-called “war on terror” constitutes World War III–lasting for years and justifying all kinds of suspensions of civil liberties. This doesn’t seem accurate at all, unless we make it so. There are real threats out there, but it is important that they be named and described accurately, if we are to respond in such a way that actually deals with the threat effectively.
Writing in the Guardian, Max Hastings points out the folly of Bush’s recent remarks that indicate a global Islamic conspirancy against the West. Some, like al-Qaida, are fanatic madment. Others have legitimate beefs against Western policies (e.g. failing to push Israel for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and supporting autocratic dictators like the House of Saud) and failing to address those could send them into the arms of some terrorist group. Painting all Muslims with one brush makes it all the more likley that we get a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Hastings’ words:
If the United States insists upon regarding all Muslim opponents of its foreign policies as a homogeneous enemy then that is what they become.
Is that what we really want? Do we love war and alerts and the militarization of everything so much? In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush rejected this path as foolishness. Now, he has apparently embraced it completely. That is both foolish and dangerous. The nation and the world could have reason to wish Bush had remembered his earlier wisdom. Call the White House comment line and remind him today. Ask the president to separate the legitimate Muslim complaints (which should be addressed quickly) from the irrational hatred of the terrorists–and to reject global conspiracy theories and misleading terms like “Islamo-fascist.” 1-202-456-6213.