by Dr M C Gupta
The US is partially responsible for the low status of women in Islamic countries.
|USA AND GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN ISLAM—
By: Dr. M. C. Gupta, M.D., LL.M
This article was written in response to a mail from a reader of a poem of mine. The letter and my reply are given as a footnote.
The main thesis of this article is that while it is easy to blame the Muslims in general for their fundamentalism and lack of human rights, particularly women’s rights, one should investigate the causes for the situation. Such investigation does not show USA in a bright light. To dispel any doubts, let me state that I am no Muslim, nor their ardent admirer. By those credentials, I am probably able to have an impartial view of things.
Let me make two statements. ONE, it is true that women are oppressed in Islamic societies. This is not my statement but that of the sociologists and women’s groups in those countries. TWO, it is also true that there is a strong anti-USA current in those countries. Let us see whether these two statements are related.
B. WOMEN’S OPPRESSION—
Oppression of the oppressed by the oppressor is nothing new. It is natural. It can and will happen in any of the following three situations: ONE, when the oppressed is weak; TWO, when the oppressed thinks he or she is weak; or, THREE, when the oppressed feels compelled by social mores to act weak.
The first situation is non-existent. Women are not inherently weak, both biologically [their average life span is more than that of men, globally].
The second situation does exist. Many women think they are weak. This happens because they are illiterate, ignorant and poor and have not the means to empower themselves through knowledge and social and financial security.
The third situation, too, is prevalent. Many women know that they are not weak, yet, because of reasons rooted in religion and culture, they are compelled by social mores to act weak. Such women correspond to the third situation. The second and third situations often coexist in a society and, even, in an individual.
Oppression of women is more pronounced in the developing countries than in the developed West. The proportion of women in the second and third category is more in such countries. Such proportion is particularly higher in the Islamic countries.
The reasons for marked gender discrimination and women’s un-empowerment in Islamic countries are rooted in wide-spread female illiteracy and the Quoranic teachings, reflected even in Islamic law, called Sharia, that are against gender equality.
C. THE ROLE OF ISLAM IN WOMEN’S OPPRESSION—
While there is no doubt in my mind that certain aspects of Islam are against women, it is no use, and not even correct, putting the whole blame at the door of the Islamic countries. If the world is serious about the oppression of women in Islam, practical approaches to solve the problem must be found. Mere statement of the problem can lead us nowhere.
If we are serious about the problem, we must look at the causes of the problem and the ways in which such causes can be removed or minimized. Taking such broad and deep look, the Western society in general, and, the US, in particular, have got to share some of the blame. This will be explained in the subsequent paragraphs. The main line of argument will be that though US vocally supports democracy and human rights, it effectively works against democracy and human rights in Islamic countries, sustaining dictatorships, illiteracy and poverty there, which, in turn, are determinants of fundamentalism and women’s oppression.
D. WHY THERE IS GENERAL ILLITERACY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES?—Illiteracy is a reflection of general underdevelopment in many Islamic countries, largely related to lack of democracy and prevalence of poverty. Reasons for lack of democracy and for poverty may be many. However, US itself is a big reason for both. AS REGARDS LACK OF DEMOCRACY, the situation is plain for all those who do not want to close eyes to plain facts. US has been propping up dictatorships in various parts of the world, Middle East and Latin America, banana republics included. It has gone to the extent of using CIA to topple democracies and assassinate or otherwise remove democratically elected leaders. In the Middle East, and, in parts of South America, the motive is very clear—to continue to get cheap oil. Democratic governments cannot be made to dance to tunes of Uncle Sam; they have got to dance to the tunes of their people. And, the tunes of the people would be against exploitation of their oil resources for US selfish interests. So, it helps to prop up dictatorial regimes, which can be easily allured or bribed or manipulated or changed or toppled if necessary. It is well recognized that spread of literacy is not conducive to survival of dictatorships. Hence, propping dictatorships means propping illiteracy. AS REGARDS POVERTY, it is the direct result of ONE, denial of democracy, since democracy essentially means welfare of all and end of exploitation of the poor; TWO, looting of oil in Arabic and gulf countries and propping monarchies, dictatorships and military governments for this purpose; THREE, encouraging arms race between countries of the region, with the clear and direct motive of keeping alive and kicking its arms industry, which is, thereby, able to sell obsolete arms to other countries and develop sophisticated weapons for the unmatched use of US. Dictators tend to amass money for themselves, making the poor poorer; selling oil cheap means that much less revenue earned for goods supplied to US; buying arms from US means diversion of money from better causes like education of the illiterate masses. Education costs money. Hence, continuance of poverty means continuance of illiteracy.
E. WHY ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM IS STRONG? --- A significant reason for this is Christian fundamentalism in the Western world, including US. Out of the three Religions by the Book, Judaism is content without propagating it amongst others. However, it is the avowed aim of both Islam and Christianity to convert the non-believers to believers. Thus, there is basic enmity between Islam and Christianity, each trying to spread itself all over the world. Nobody says that these two religions are bad or undesirable or that they should be banned or buried. But, what is needed is to let an air of modernism, tolerance and co-existence sweep among the Christian and Islamic worlds. The responsibility for this is more upon the West, especially the US, for the following reasons: ONE, the West, including US, is more advanced and modern and ought to take the lead; TWO, the US has been propping up Israel against Palestine, being, thereby, unjust to the Arab world. Why can’t the US simply leave the region alone? THREE, because foolish and arrogant and illegal [against international law] policies of the US and its ill advised and cruel attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq [In search of the ever elusive WMD!!] have angered the whole world, especially the Muslim world, and spawned inevitable hatred against US and promoted tilt toward Muslim fundamentalism.
F. WHAT IS THE LINK BETWEEN ILLITERACY AND ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM?—The two are symbiotic. Illiteracy promotes fundamentalism while Islamic fundamentalism promotes illiteracy. Fundamentalist Islamic societies prefer madrassa system of education to modern school system of education. The former has no use for mathematics and science and English language; its cornerstone is rote learning of Quran in Arabic language!
USA, as leader of the West, has consciously pursued a policy of buying oil cheap from Arabia and Central Asia and South America, for which purpose favourable puppet governments are needed there in the form of kingdoms and military / non-military dictatorships, who can be bribed and propped up so that they keep the general public ignorant of the unholy nexus with US. The illiterate and ignorant masses of Islamic countries are encouraged to be fundamentalistic and religiously fanatic, to the detriment of women’s freedom.
• I was provoked, or, inspired, to write this article as a response to the comments of The Critic on my poem "GENDER FRAUD" , which refers to discrimination against women, particularly in Islamic society.
The comments of The Critic are reproduced below, with permission.
COMMENTS—“The real shame of knowing all of this is not having the ability to do anything about any of it. I have read much on this subject over the last 10 years, and it deeply saddens me.
The oddest thing I think when I read about the plight of women in Muslim countries is that all men have mothers, and yet it is a whole entire society of men that continue these practices against their mothers, sisters, and daughters. I just don't think I will ever have the capacity to understand, or the desire to understand.
And I have to fight the rage that boils within me due to the injustice in the world.”
M C Gupta
Created: April 25, 2004 as item 842714
Deleted as independent item: 12 May 2005. At time of deletion, it had been rated 4 by 9 viewers. Re-entered as independent item on 27 March 2007.