Saturday, June 27, 2009

Unveiling the revolution | Salon Life

Unveiling the revolution | Salon Life: "The women of Iran have jolted me awake from my cable news coma. So many of the protesters are young and female like me but display a courage I have never known -- clasping rocks in their fists, kicking at baton-wielding policemen and, in the case of Neda Agha-Soltani, dying on the streets of Tehran. Judging from the flood of 'I am Neda' T-shirts and tweets, I'm hardly the only one feeling not just powerful admiration but identification with Iranian women."

The situations surrounding Muslim women right now are so hot-button for me. Iran, France, and the overall treatment of Muslims throughout the West are issues I feel strongly about. On one hand, there is the group of activists including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who claim that Islam is almost always oppressive to women, regardless of its past or the more liberalized versions in the world. This group of people are those who support Sarkozy's forced unveiling of women in France.
And, to an extent, I think the burqa is oppressive. Anyone who is essentially covered in a blanket anytime they leave the house is probably not extremely comfortable.

On the other hand, of course, sit my personal experiences with Muslim women who, for reasons of their own and despite their being entirely free from forced religious or male influence, and in groups where the veil is even discouraged, choose to veil themselves as a testament to their own modesty, as it is a part of their faith. To deprive these women of the ability to express their faith is as oppressive as forcing them to express it. Furthermore, plenty of religions require us to do things that are uncomfortable, oppressive, etc, and which we do willingly and without scorn. Consider Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not accept blood transfusions; male circumcision (both at birth and in adulthood) in many religions; piercings; and even pilgrimages, which generally ask for sacrifice of food, water, or other major sacrifices during the trek. Fasting for Lent, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, or any number of other religions is also a dangerous and certainly uncomfortable religious ritual that millions of people gladly undertake for their faith. I do not find it impossible to believe that a woman would voluntarily choose to cover herself. Unless we wish to eradicate Islam from the world entirely, we should not, in free countries, force people to sin against their gods.

Personally, I think that when a government begins to legislate attire, they have crossed their boundaries. Whether forcing people to wear something, or denying them the right to wear it, such interventions are inappropriate.

And back to Iran, that whole mess is simply beyond my comprehension. Iranian politics are inherently complex and perhaps intentionally difficult to navigate. They are open to corruption, but also open to guidance at all levels. That someone could be elected without the support of the rest of the governmental bodies is highly unlikely, but election without popular support is an inherent possibility. Which is probably why the guy with such low approval ratings among the people seems to be holding his own in the election. Incumbency is the single greatest indicator even in liberal democracies; Ahmadinejad clearly had the support of his political peers or he would have been ousted long ago. The man pushing for change is inherently going to have a much more difficult time gaining a place in that sort of system.

Put simply though, that's how their system works. It's open to corruption, yes, but really, what system isn't? I dare you to suggest Western Democracy; I can come up with a dozen examples to the contrary.

I don't know what the correct solution would be.

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