Divine Direction or Ill-guided power?

When I lived in Iran many years ago I served as an Editor at the Tehran Times. Outside the door of the newspaper’s offices were two adorable little kittens – fluffy little playful Persian cats.

 I was younger then, and less aware of socio-economic realities that surrounded me than I am now. Back then my love for kittens, and my instinct to protect the little helpless souls was uninhibited by my recognition, or lack thereof, of poverty and famine. I would feed those kittens regularly. Sometimes I’d bring food from home. If not I’d send someone down to the nearby market and have them buy some cold cuts and milk for them. After a while, one of the kinder gentlemen at the paper, gingerly came up to me and ever so quietly confided that some of the workers thought my practice of feeding the cats was inappropriate, in fact offensive. I later heard that some of them had chased the kittens out of the neighborhood. Hmm, how does that solve anything, I thought?

Last week Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi enlightened his followers at Friday Prayers in Tehran by informing them that women who dress immodestly corrupt young men and lead them to adultery, thereby increasing earthquakes. Therefore, Sedighi concluded, his followers should “immerse themselves in the strictest teachings of Islam” and shun liberal ideals.  Sedighi’s declaration is like Jerry Falwell blaming September 11th on “Gays, Pagans and the ACLU”. He was wrong, just like Sedighi is.

 If Sedighi had ever bothered to sit through an elementary school science class he’d know earthquakes come from tectonic shifts in the solid plates that comprise the earth’s crust, not by the volition of women to show their knobby knees or their faded hair color. What should concern the global populous is not Sedighi and his ilk’s ignorance, but the mindless following of the listeners who take his ill-founded words to heart and then go out and act upon it at home: abusing, mutilating and killing their wives and daughters and sisters.

Today, as I search for charities and foundations that help women around the world I realize that, throughout the world uneducated and largely helpless men solve their problems by intimidating the cause out of sight – but not actually solving the recurring problem. Throughout the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia women suffer acid attacks, beatings, stoning, burning and mutilation for the slightest drift from their keepers’ versions of Islamic conduct. Often these acts are carried out by men who feel empowered by religious preachers who imbue them with a sense of righteousness straight from God above. Women have no defense in under-privileged, under-educated communities with generations of custom built on abuse. They are physically, emotionally and financially at the mercy of the men they live with, whether father, brother or husband. Escape is unimaginable.

Even more tragic is that their abuse is often executed under the watchful eye of children. If they are boys watching they will grow up to believe they have the right to perpetuate the same merciless cruelty. If they are girls they will grow up to believe they must succumb and surrender to this kind of treatment. There is a cycle that consequently gets ingrained generation after generation – and becomes something called “Tradition”. How can you argue with tradition? Harder still, how can you begin to change it?

 These days I look high and low for research, ideas and breakthroughs for solutions, and only find more problems. I have found charities that save little girls and young women from sexual and physical slavery, I have found foundations set up to help women attacked by acid recover and move-on, I’ve found charities that take in burn victims and their kids to help them rehabilitate and re-integrate back into society, I’ve heard stories of kids who pledge they will become Doctors so they can treat their mothers back to health, I know charities that help raise funds for children whose mothers have been killed by their fathers, I’ve found organizations that have set-up underground safe houses for women escaping abusive spouses or communities, I’ve read about philanthropists trying to set-up schools for the children of outcast mother’s who can no longer live in their communities because they’ve been raped or otherwise “dishonored”. This is craziness! The more I look for a way to help women, the more women I find that need help.

We try to solve these problems under the guise of women’s issues. But the onus lies with the men. They are the ones who ultimately must stop their abuse. But, yet again, we have Sedighi telling his already hungry followers to take their frustrations out on the easiest targets they can find: women. For as long as these men are without meaningful education and enlightenment beyond what an old man in a robe tells them, for as long as they are without jobs and without hope for their future, for as long as they are hungry and unimpressed with themselves, they will follow mindlessly a scheme that empowers them with phantom pride and power. Whether it’s a helpless cat whose torcher makes these men laugh or a woman whose pain makes them feel powerful, uneducated, uninspired men – armed with divine permission from their religious guides – will forever take their aggressions out on whatever seems defenseless in their path.  

Unfortunately, Women can’t be intimidated into robots. They remain human and, by virtue of that fact, will always enrage the warped men who believe they hold all the answers by divine interjection. Where is the solution? Where can we even begin?

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