Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It Is Already Happening Here: "Brûler un livre chez soi, je ne pense pas que ce soit interdit"

Question: How much freedom do you want to give up in the name of protecting Islam from the same kind of criticism and even ridicule that all other religions are required to put up with, for no other reason than because Islam is so much more mindlessly violent than all those other religions, and, therefore, insults against Islam are guaranteed to result in widespread death and destruction?

Only Acceptable Answer: None.

[Some of the following stories and sources are taken from the Islam In Europe blog.]

1. France
Last October, Muslim clerics in France went to the police and denounced Ernesto Rojas Abbate. It seems that Monsieur Abbate had made a video of himself in which he tears a page out of the Koran, folds it into a paper airplane, flies the airplane into a representation of the World Trade Center, burns the page, and then urinates on the ashes. The Muslim clerics had seen the video on youtube and then immediately contacted the authorities demanding that Abbate be arrested. The young man was then questioned by the police, who described him as "totally coherent". In defending his actions he is reported to have told them: "Brûler un livre chez soi, je ne pense pas que ce soit interdit." ("Burning a book at home, I do not think it is forbidden.") He did not deny being the author of the video, and he stated that he had acted "in the name of freedom". Abatte was not charged with a crime right away. First, Muslim religious officials had to return to the police and file a formal complaint accusing him of "provocation publique à la discrimination nationale, raciale ou religieuse" ("public incitement to discrimination based on nationality, race, or religion"). The subsequent trial of the 30 year old Chilean-born French citizen began just this Monday (April 11) in Strasbourg. Prosecutors are asking that Abbate be given a three month suspended sentence and a fine of 1000 €. The maximum sentence for his "crime" is one year imprisonment and a fine of 45000 €. A final judgement is expected from the court by May 9.
(source 1, source 2, source 3)

2. Switzerland
Last November, three Hindus were arrested by the Swiss police for the thought-crime of wanting to burn the Koran and the Bible. The three had publicly announced their intentions, and had thereby garnered widespread media attention. They were apprehended on their way to the would-be scene of the crime: Parliament Square in Bern, where the joint Koran-Bible burning was to take place. Just today (April 12) they were acquitted by a Swiss judge, although they were ordered to pay half the court costs "on the grounds that they had overstepped the boundaries of personal freedom and injured the religious feelings of others." If they had been convicted they could have been sentenced to up to three years imprisonment.
(source 1, source 2)

3. England
Last September, six men were arrested in Gateshead, England, after posting a video on youtube showing them burning two Korans in the parking lot of their local pub. They were all charged with "inciting racial hatred." In January it was announced by the Crown Prosecution Service that no further action would be taken because there was insufficient evidence. At least some of the Gateshead Koran burners have identified themselves as English Defense League members (source 1, source 2)

4. Wales
On Friday, April 8, Sion Owens was arrested in Swansea, South Wales, and charged under section 29 of the Public Order Act, aka, the "Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006". But then the case was almost immediately withdrawn and all charges dropped on a technicality. Owens is a candidate for the Welsh parliament representing the openly racist and neofascist British National Party. His initial arrest was prompted by the police being shown a video of him burning a Koran. Another BNP candidate, Joanne Shannon, was also arrested and also released. Prosecutor Bryn Hurford said police inquiries into the alleged incident would continue and a new file of evidence would be collected and passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for review and advice. He added: "I want the defendant and his legal representatives to be in no doubt that the withdrawal of the charge does not mean that no proceedings will be taken. Almost certainly other proceedings will ensue."
(source 1, source 2)

5. United States
On September 11, 2010, Derek Fenton stood in downtown Manhattan and started tearing pages out of a copy of the Koran and setting them on fire. He didn't need no stinking youtube: he was surrounded by TV camera crews. He was quickly, and very peacefully, whisked away by some New York City police officers, and almost just as quickly released. And almost just as quickly fired from his job with the New Jersey Transit Authority, where he had worked for 11 years. On November 4, 2010, the ACLU announced they would be representing Fenton on the grounds that his firing was a clear violation of the first amendment. Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey stated: "Our individual right to free speech depends on everybody having it." On February 14 of this year, NJ governor Chris Christie made his position clear when asked about the ongoing ACLU backed lawsuit: "I knew he was going to be fired, and I had no problem with it. And I still don't have a problem with it."
(source 1, source 2)

6. United States (again)
Meanwhile, (1) Molly Norris is still in hiding (but just try to find a major news outlet that has said anything about her since last fall). (2) U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham has floated the idea of putting "limits" on free speech, in particular to officially criminalize Koran burning "because we are at war." (source) (3) Houston based military contractor KBR is asking a federal judge to apply Sharia law (as implemented in Iraq, where punitive damages are not awarded) in a lawsuit filed by the mother of an American soldier who was electrocuted while on duty in Iraq. (source) A similar strategy had been employed by Blackwater in a wrongful death lawsuit back in 2008. (source)

7. Finally, some good news!
In May of 2010, Detroit's SMART bus system refused to run "Leave Islam" ads on their buses because they claimed that the ad campaign is "a purely anti-Muslim hate issue." But then earlier this month a federal judge overruled SMART and ordered that the ads must be displayed. (source 1, source 2)

8. A closing thought.
Many of the incidents described above, and others as well (such as the infamous doings of Terry Jones), involve groups and individuals who are themselves either religious extremists or right-wing racists, or both. So guess what? Not only does creeping Sharia compliance give aid and comfort to the most regressive elements of Islam, it also plays right into the hands of Christian neofascists, too!

[No Korans were burned in the making of this blog post.]

"Keeping the meat safe": Taslima Nasreen on the burqa

I shall unloose --
From the small jeweled
Doll he guards like a heart --

The lioness,
The shriek in the bath,
The cloak of holes.
[Purdah, by Sylvia Plath]

The following article by Taslima Nasreen was first published on January 22, 2007 by OutlookIndia.Com. You can download it from her website here (clicking that link will go directly to the pdf).

In February of 2010 a newspaper in the state of Karnataka, India, published a translation of the article in the Kannada language (the article was originally written in English). This was done without Nasreen's participation or even her knowledge.

The publication of the unauthorized translation of the article led to several days of bloody rioting by Muslims in the districts of Shimoga and Hassan. At least two people died in these riots and many more were injured. Rioters also burned vehicles and threw stones at buses and shops (source).

Let's Think Again About The Burqa

The Quran does prescribe purdah. That doesn't mean women should obey it.

My mother used purdah. She wore a burqa with a net cover in front of the face. It reminded me of the meatsafes in my grandmother's house. One had a net door made of cloth, the other of metal. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her conservative family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah.

Women too have sexual urges. So why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, He treated them on unequal terms.

And if you obey Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her own father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she didn't wear the burqa. She was also afraid of the men in the neighbourhood, who could have shamed her. Even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.

As a young girl, I used to nag her: Ma, don't you suffocate in this veil? Don't you feel all dark inside? Don't you feel breathless? Don't you feel angry? Don't you ever feel like throwing it off? My mother kept mum. She couldn't do anything about it. But I did. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it away.

The custom of purdah is not new. It dates back to 300 BC. The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used purdah. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed purdah. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a cloth or similar object. This purdah system was obviously not religious. The religious purdah is used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious purdah is not limited to specific rituals but mandatory for their daily life outside the purview of religion.

A couple of months ago, at the height of the purdah controversy, Shabana Azmi asserted that the Quran doesn't say anything about wearing the burqa. She's mistaken. This is what the Quran says:

"Tell the faithful women that they must keep their gaze focused below/on the ground and cover their sexual organs. They must not put their beauty and their jewellery on display. They must hide their breasts behind a purdah. They must not exhibit their beauty to anybody except their husbands, brothers, nephews, womenfolk, servants, eunuch employees and children. They must not move their legs briskly while walking because then much of their bodies can get exposed." (Sura Al Noor 24:31)

"Oh nabi, please tell your wives and daughters and faithful women to wear a covering dress on their bodies. That would be good. Then nobody can recognise them and harrass them. Allah is merciful and kind." (Sura Al Hijaab 33: 59)

Even the Hadis --a collection of the words of Prophet Mohammed, his opinion on various subjects and also about his work, written by those close to him-- talks extensively of the purdah for women. Women must cover their whole body before going out, they should not go before unknown men, they should not go to the mosque to read the namaaz, they should not go for any funeral.

There are many views on why and how the Islamic purdah started. One view has it that Prophet Mohammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert and plains for relieving themselves and even their sexual needs. The Prophet's wives too had to do the same. He had told his wives that "I give you permission to go out and carry out your natural work". (Bukhari Hadis first volume book 4 No. 149). And this is what his wives started doing accordingly. One day, Prophet Mohammed's disciple Uman complained to him that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognisable while relieving themselves. Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Mohammed ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down the Ayat (33:59) (Bukhari Hadis Book 026 No. 5397).

This is the history of the purdah, according to the Hadis. But the question is: since Arab men too relieved themselves in the open, why didn't Allah start the purdah for men? Clearly, Allah doesn't treat men and women as equals, else there would be purdah for both! Men are higher than women. So women have to be made walking prisons and men can remain free birds.

Another view is that the purdah was introduced to separate women from servants. This originates from stories in the Hadis. One story in the Bukhari Hadis goes thus: After winning the Khyber War, Prophet Mohammed took over all the properties of the enemy, including their women. One of these women was called Safia. One of the Prophet's disciples sought to know her status. He replied: "If tomorrow you see that Safia is going around covered, under purdah, then she is going to be a wife. If you see her uncovered, that means I've decided to make her my servant."

The third view comes from this story. Prophet Mohammed's wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with fascination. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an Ayat that says, "Oh friends of the prophet or holy men, never go to your friend's house without an invitation. And if you do go, don't go and ask anything of their wives". It is to resist the greedy eyes of friends, disciples or male guests that the purdah system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the holy men, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Purdah means covering the entire body except for the eyes, wrist and feet. Nowadays, some women practise the purdah by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Hadis Quran. Frankly, covering just the hair is not Islamic purdah in the strict sense.

In the early Islamic period, Prophet Mohammed started the practice of covering the feet of women. Within 100 years of his death, purdah spread across the entire Middle East. Women were covered by an extra layer of clothing. They were forbidden to go out of the house, or in front of unknown men. Their lives were hemmed into a tight regime: stay at home, cook, clean the house, bear children and bring them up. In this way, one section of the people was separated by purdah, quarantined and covered.

Why are women covered? Because they are sex objects. Because when men see them, they are roused. Why should women have to be penalised for men's sexual problems? Even women have sexual urges. But men are not covered for that. In no religion formulated by men are women considered to have a separate existence, or as human beings having desires and opinions separate from men's. The purdah rules humiliate not only women but men too. If women walk about without purdah, it's as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do they lose all their senses when they see any woman without burqa?

My question to Shabana and her supporters, who argue that the Quran says nothing about purdah is: If the Quran advises women to use purdah, should they do so? My answer is, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises, whoever commands, women should not have purdah. No veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf. Women should not use any of these things because all these are instruments of disrespect. These are symbols of women's oppression. Through them, women are told that they are but the property of men, objects for their use. These coverings are used to keep women passive and submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their self-respect, honour, confidence, separate identity, own opinion and ideals intact. So that they cannot stand on their own two feet and live with their head held high and their spine strong and erect.

Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual's personal reasons that women should have purdah and since then millions of Muslim women all over the world have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not purdah. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman's head means covering her brain and ensuring that it doesn't work. If women's brains worked properly, they'd have long ago thrown off these veils and burqas imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.

What should women do? They should protest against this discrimination. They should proclaim a war against the wrongs and ill-treatment meted out to them for hundreds of years. They should snatch from the men their freedom and their rights. They should throw away this apparel of discrimination and burn their burqas.