The Crime of Being Born Without a Penis

Source: aboutcirc.com

I never thought I would be writing a post on this but I guess there are a few things which I feel need to be said. A few things that I observed and that talking about them would do more good than harm for others than for myself. The last fortnight started with a tragedy and ended with all sorts of political and intellectual hilarity, as every week begins and ends in one way or the other in our world. Started of course with a plane crash in Rawalpindi/Islamabad due to alleged bad weather and an alleged lightning strike/downdraft. The plane crash killed around 127 people. The airline’s first flight in a little less than two decades, not exactly, and had earlier been banned for violating safety procedures. It seems no one will question the CAA too hard for clearing the 30 year old 737 to fly, though I had put the question to Honorable Interior Minister Senator Rehman Malik, which I expect no heed to be paid to. Another question to ask is this. Would the people and government had treated the airline in a similar manner had it been the national flag carrier. But let’s be honest with ourselves, friends, let’s be honest. Let us hope, and pray, if you believe in praying, that we don’t find ourselves in a plane that is about to crash. Because in any case, that is the end of that.

Later an article by an Egyptian American columnist Mona El Tahawy appeared in a magazine allegedly discussing Foreign Policy created a stir. The cover of the magazine, which I found pretty charming and a rather eye-catching form of graphic propaganda that some people saw as objectification of women, probably deliberately meant, was extremely useful in terms of journalism, or even propaganda for that matter, because it sent the right message straight away. Without a word being spoken. I wouldn’t be too proud of the issue but of the cover very much, had I been the editor. It was a great idea in itself, keeping the moral issues aside. You don’t have to agree with its morality to agree with its effectiveness by the way. I won’t go into the detail of that particular article because the internet has been exploding with it all over the place and you can go through it yourself. My comment is neither about women’s rights nor about feminism nor the opinion presented in the article itself, to which I mostly agree and which makes good sense factually given the history of discriminatory practices against women in the Middle East, but about the criticism of it and the response to that criticism, since I don’t consider myself qualified enough to talk about feminism and women’s rights, so letting the experts speak is the right thing to do in any case.

The moment I saw the article I knew that the twitter will turn into a battlefield and blogs populated with fresh rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, as it occurred, so let us stay out of the line of fire. I found the criticism more political and nationalistic in nature than dealing with feminism or women’s rights. I am not sure if all the people criticizing the criticism saw that, though I can safely assume that many did. As for the criticism, here is one argument for it and one against it. The criticism was primarily about wounded Arab nationalism and Islamic traditions than out of the genuine denial of women’s suppression, but one that was dripping with desperation. An insult was probably meant, it is safe to say, not necessarily by the article but by the issue, and was achieved it seemed. Now that is biased criticism in terms of the content of that article, but maybe not too much in terms of the context of the space in which it appeared. Some of the answer to that is already provided in that article actually.

Probably the critic had perceived the relevance of such article in a magazine that mostly talks about American wars overseas and the propaganda associated with it for a good deal of time, which is what US Foreign Policy has been mostly about for decades, to be inviting war in the Middle East for the cause of the liberation of women, since it exclusively talked about the Arab world. The most absurd thing you’ll ever hear though, even if that is the case. The Western powers, however, are not idiots and would be willing to do so anyway for several other reasons than that one, though would like you to believe otherwise. An argument against it obviously is that in the blind criticism of the article, her point of female suppression in the Middle East, which is a crude fact, had been conveniently subsided if not denied by many. This is where even the self-proclaimed constructive criticism starts losing its credibility and as one of my friends puts it, the gap between Western feminism and in his words so-called Islamic feminism shows broad daylight. But despite the criticism, I do think that Islamic feminism is a good idea on the face of it. Better than nothing.

I personally do not mean any disrespect to any particular culture or philosophy and do not feel the need to ever do so, but simply talking about things the way I perceive there are in this case. Those who do mean disrespect are noticed by their language anyway. However, it was entertaining to see the burka debate emerge all over again which involved one side challenging the patriarchal symbol of female suppression in the male dominated societies and the other side upholding the choice of the female individuals choosing to wear it. One sees burka as a symbol of oppression. Other sees it as a way of life. Both sides obviously thinking that the other is very wrong. I feel both are right in the sense that they have a point but both are wrong in the sense that they do not realize that they are actually on the same side of the struggle and probably even the same side of the argument. I do think that the struggle against the enforced burka can be carried out while accepting it as a piece of clothing. Maybe that is not possible but I can’t see why. However, the worst part is that both sides are not prepared to learn from the other.

There is a lot of cognitive dissonance involved in the burka issue because of the cultural shock factor. Everything you say about a burka is an insult to someone. Just like this post probably, which if it is, I hope at least offends both the parties equally, because doing that never is the aim. Supporting the burka is an insult to feminism and female emancipation and opposing it is an insult to some culture and women who support or wear it. Just like it is an insult to a woman to wrap a burka around her and an insult to another to stripping her of it. This cognitive dissonance is because of the merging of two distinct and apparently clashing cultural ideas, western feminism and Islamic culture. Yes, cultural shock is not always a cool thing. Not anymore, at least.

For some it is about which culture is superior, which I want to have nothing to do with because I find ideological warfare repulsive and disgusting. However, not every woman (speaking for women’s rights) living in an Islamic culture has accepted western feminism as it is, giving rise to what people refer to as Islamic feminism, while others have completely embraced it. Like it or not, this is a fact. Some of them may wear the hijab while others wouldn’t be found dead in it. This cognitive dissonance has given rise to the burka debate and a neutral observer has little choice but to respect the viewpoint of both the schools of thought. Then again, it depends on the neutral observer. Right now I cannot think of a way of describing it in a more scientific and objective manner.

But shouldn’t it purely be a woman’s debate? If that is not being sexist. I don’t know but men do comment on it. As for men commenting on it, the fact that men cannot understand enforced burka does not mean that they should abandon the principles of individual freedom, if they believe in them. For those who believe in telling people what to do are the cause of the entire problem anyway. The point is that you cannot tell people what to wear and what not to wear while still be concerned when fundamentalist Muslims criticize women for their clothing and tell them to dress in a certain way. This is why supporting democratic values and individual freedom mean opposing a burka ban in France as well as the absurd law-norm of enforced burka wearing in public places in Saudi Arabia. I presume many people would support the former while oppose the latter for some valid reasons. Not saying at all that this approach is not based on a principle and a philosophy, but not sure if it is as democratic as the one opposite to it and I personally do not respect it as much. Though I personally am not fond of the burka anyway.

Both the mentioned laws are wrong in my opinion, but to some both are right or one of them is. A ban on the internet is wrong, right? A ban on anything is wrong. That’s freedom. That is where you compromise the principles you claim to believe in to fit your ideological passions. But this is just a viewpoint and it can be wrong. Maybe the burka, which must also remind a lot of people of the Taliban, is banned because it harms women who want to wear it or harm other women and have far-reaching psychological and social consequences that I cannot even reach the understanding of in this lifetime. I am still learning about the science behind the burka, especially how it is made. Perhaps a burka ban would be more relevant in the context of a society like Saudi Arabia where women are forced and required to wear burka, unlike France where it is most probably banned for other reasons.

It would still violate individual freedom though. But since men cannot understand what it feels like to be inside a burka and the discrimination that it involves, though not all men are unfamiliar with sexual invasions contrary to popular opinion, it is fair to leave the choice to women, as in the case of childbirth and abortion, ideally that is. Maybe only women should be allowed to vote on such issues. This way it could offer a better picture to the solution of these issues. A recent example being all the female Republican senators voting for passing/renewing Domestic Violence Act in the United States but most of the male Republican senators voting against it. I don’t know.

But a few months later, there will be another article printed about it again and the debate will start all over again and will end in a stalemate, just like the debate about the existence of God.

A stalemate is a sign of an intelligent species. This much I can tell you.

So the point of writing all this was that we should try to learn from such a debate. But it really is true that men can have no idea what women go through with the societal norms that they have created and engage in misogynist behavior everyday, sometimes unknowingly, being raised up in patriarchal societies. Also true that Middle Eastern women and also women in Pakistan and India and maybe even Bangladesh are particularly oppressed by men. To the point of even hating them. A very good example being acid assaults in Pakistan. How heartlessly atrocious and subhuman low can you get. Nationalistic criticism of that viewpoint cannot change facts. This is something that a particular society should take the responsibility of changing itself by modifying some of its norms over time through education and awareness, easier said than done. Although all the advantage men have over women in such a society is that they are born with a penis and that women are not. So they can be thankful that nobody tells them to wear their underwear over their pants whenever they leave their homes.

In other words, women’s crime for being treated with discrimination is being born without a penis.

Isn’t that absurd?

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Triumph to Egypt! Triumph to the Truth!

It started on January 25, the National Police Day in 2011, only days after the rioting Tunisian people had forced their dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after his oppressive reign, millions took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and all major cities of Egypt with a single demand:

Step Down Hosni Mobarak.

Source: alsiasi.com

Hosni Mobarak became the President of Egypt only eight days after President Anwer El Sadat was assassinated by a fundamentalist soldier, most probably due to the Camp David Peace Accords with Israel. Mobarak had been ruling as a dictator for about 30 years when these protests began, and had also enforced emergency in the country for several years, strangling freedom of speech in the country.

On February 11, 2011, this historic day on which this post is being published, Hosni Mobarak has succumbed to the pressure of the masses and has stepped down after just a struggle of 18 days. The world has just witnessed the fall of tyranny spanning over 3 decades, crumbling to dust in less than 3 weeks. The scenes of jubilation in the Tahrir Square, also dubbed the Liberation Square, would never be forgotten in many years to come. The ecstatic crowd dancing and chanting, celebrating the victory of the Truth and the rightful.

 

Source: Patrick Baz (AFP/Getty)

This was no ordinary uprising. Neither was the one in Tunisia. It was the voice of longing for liberal freedom of expression and the world protested with the Egyptians. The images were broadcasted to all corners of the world and the media around the world approved of and supported the struggle of the Egyptian people against tyranny, with Al-Jazeera playing a phenomenal journalistic role.  It was the greatest sign for those who doubt the fact that the world has indeed become a global village.

Even the Western leaders, particularly those of the United States, had to recognize the rights of the Egyptian people and opted to show their support for the protesters instead of Mobarak, who had been their main negotiating contact for diplomacy and peace process in the Middle East, especially in relation to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia expressively voiced support for Mobarak, and for obvious reasons.

Many attribute these protests to the revelations made by the WikiLeaks and the fact that despite all the checks and controls on freedom of speech, the people in these countries were able to use the internet to rally and campaign to oust their respective dictators. People used social media like facebook and twitter to gather support for their cause, and bloggers and activists like Wael Ghonim played a key role in the uprising. Even the Egyptian regime of Mobarak was forced to suspend internet services in the entire country for a few days during the uprising.

But what do we learn from this? Were Egyptians so naïve that they did not bother to raise their voices for democracy, and more importantly, for freedom of speech? I am sure that is not the case. Egyptians have proved to the world how resilient, strong and determined they are. But they could never have achieved it had there not been an overwhelming unity of opinion and action among the protesters.

Many around the world feared the uprising in Egypt at the same time, and understandably so, especially Israel, who have a lot at stake in their relations with Egypt. Many feared that Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned religious political party and Islamic movement, which has been considered fundamentalist due to their opposition of Egypt’s peace process with Israel, will rise to power in Egypt.

This organization has been active in the social sphere and charity for a number of years and has also been in the center of anti-Mobarak protests. They have also been one of the main opposition groups  A lot of people are even skeptical about the path that Egypt has chosen of letting the military control the hold of the government. Many are fearing a change for the worse. Especially, when it comes to relations with Israel.

 

Source: Getty Images

While some around the world watch in doubt and fear, while others in jubilation and solidarity, you do not need arguments to convince Egyptians that they have done the right thing, which maybe they should have done years ago. They have complete trust in the military, as Ghonim, a prominent spokesperson of the people expressed in an interview to CNN, that it will not remain in power for long and will move to hold elections.

Whatever be the outcome, let us hope that Egypt moves on to a better future and that they uphold their peace agreement with Israel, while also not abandoning the Palestinian people, especially the ones in Gaza Strip. Let us hope life becomes a little more bearable for them. I hope that Egyptians will be responsible enough to take care of their own lives and of the peace in the region. If people like Mohammed El Baradei and Amr Moussa succeed Mobarak, then it can confidently be said that the peace in the Middle East will not be disturbed.

One of my twitter friends Purnima Rao tweeted:

To those who link violence & Islam, some of the most groundbreaking non-violent protests in the last 2 yrs have been in Muslim countries.

How true is that. The protesters remained non-violent and peaceful till the end and all the violence that occured was initiated by the police, the Presidential guards and the authorities in guise of pro-Mubarak supporters. It is a shame that Mobarak’s forces directly or indirectly caused the death of 297 people and injured thousands during the protests, according to Human Rights Watch, resisting the inevitable that he would have to step down eventually.

It would also be wrong to judge that the Egyptian people were the ones behind the looting and damaging the artifacts in the National Museum in Cairo, as the youth had formed a human chain around this building holding the treasures of nation along with the army to help prevent any more miscreants from entering it. A number of artifacts have been recovered and the damaged ones are expected to be repaired.

Whether you fear another military dictatorship, loss of American and Israeli interests in the region, or religious extremists overtaking the country, there is only one chant echoing in the streets and squares of Cairo.

Egypt is Liberated.

To many, this is just the beginning of a new Middle East.