Don’t forget their names

AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali
AP Photo /Adil al-Khazali

At least 57 people have been killed in Baghdad, following a series of bombings in the city. Three female suicide bombers and a roadside bomb are to blame for the attacks aimed at Shia Muslims.

This week, many Shia Muslims are making the Kadhimiya pilgrimage, one of the major events on the Shia Muslim calendar. The neighborhood surrounding the Kadhimiya mosque was once an epicenter of Shia learning. Over the years, it has been at the forefront of conflict in Iraq – and this week, the sacred site is once again marked by blood.

This pilgrimage was outlawed by Saddam Hussein, who was responsible for the brutalization of Shia Muslims during his reign. The ceremony has grown in size since his defeat and death. As evidenced by this latest outbreak in sectarian violence, any security force would have a long way to go before it can claim success in Baghdad.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some colleagues about conflict, and the casualties that have been the result of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza and beyond. We talked about how we are often (not always) able to put a face, name, and story behind American victims. Not so when it comes to others. We hear body counts. Injury counts. We may see a photo like the one above. “A man” and “a child”, they are called.

This isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough to know a number that can rarely be confirmed. We – Muslims, non-Muslims, Americans and our fellow global citizens – must have something to put to those numbers. I want to know who we have lost.

As a Muslim, I am angry. I am angry that a Sunni would dare to kill in my name. I want to know the names of the dead so I may pray for them. I want to know their names to whisper apologies to their families. I want to know if “a man” and “a child” have lost a wife and mother.

As an American, I grieve the loss of our soldiers. I stop and watch their faces on the news. I listen to the mothers, the younger brothers, the grandparents and partners. I want to thank them. I want to say that yes, I believe this war is wrong but yes, I thank them still.

For both, I cry. For both, I love.

Banning headscarves = democracy?

Aksine, I say. (That’s Turkish for “on the contrary“).

                                    

This week, Turkey’s parliament revived its ban on wearing headscarves on university campuses.

The hijab ban is nothing new. Shortly after a military coup in 1980, the hijab was banned in public buildings, universities, schools and government buildings.

The reasoning for banning the hijab is simple. Some factions of the secularist movement feel that public wearing of the hijab undermines the separation of religion and state. Some secularists fear that a visibile symbol of religiosity could lead to a rise in fundamentalism.

In February of this year, the ban on the hijab was lifted . The event was met with both celebration and protest. Only three months later, however, and the ban has been reinstated.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. It is also a democracy. Restricting freedom of religious observation and expression, then, seems wrong – doesn’t it? After all, hijab-wearing women aren’t demanding that public institutions stop activity during the five daily prayers (though interestingly, the call to prayer is still heard throughout the country) or asking that all women wear the headscarf.

Some of the ban’s supporters make an argument I’d like to find valid. They assert that for women otherwise forced to wear the hijab by their families or husbands, the ban provides a space – be it on the workforce or in the university – where they will be not just able, but required, to go without a headscarf. In short, women who don’t want to wear the hijab would be protected by the law.

In theory, this makes some sense. However, to believe that legislation like this would protect women from unreasonable family members is, I believe, profoundly naïve. 

Do the ban’s supporters really think that a woman returning home to an illogical family or spouse will be well received without her hijab? Do truly oppressive, dogmatic families care that the law requires the women in their lives to violate what they view to be a religious obligation? Certainly not. The very nature of such mentalities is that they are beyond reason. I’m not endorsing the behavior of those who would mistreat the women in their lives. I’m simply acknowledging that they exist. I’m being realistic in a way that I wish the ban’s supporters would be. Women must follow this law – and thus it is women who will be directly impacted by the reactions it sturs.

I’d argue that women aren’t at all protected here. In fact, legislating women’s self-presentation is the oldest and most repressive game in history. Women’s bodies have always been used as a measure of a community or nation’s purity – be it racial, cultural, religious or secular. Rather than protecting women, then, the state sacrifices them to protect itself. It is women who will have to live with the spiritual, familial and other struggles of this legislation.

If Turkey is serious about democracy, and serious about the separation of religion and state, it would not restrict the choices women can make about their self-presentation and religious expression.

Turkey has good reason to be concerned about fundamentalism. The country must work to protect its democratic system. However, it needn’t borrow from fundamentalists by telling women how to dress.

A much more democratic approach would be to enhance education and vocational training for women – in a way that would reach both more conservative and more secular communities. It would also challenge those men (and women!) who would mistreat a non-hijabi woman. Further, resisting censorship (did you know that all of WordPress is banned in Turkey? All in an effort to silence a secular-minded Muslim!) doesn’t send the message  of democracy. Reforming the Muslim mindset – including focusing on the education of both male and female children – establishes a robust, dynamic society.  Legislating what women put on or take off, however, is the same tactic used by the enemies of democracy.

Why must women prove Turkey’s democratic success with their bodies rather than with their minds and their votes? Ultimately, the hijab ban tells us that the government can’t prove its own legitimacy as a democracy that protects women, their voices, and their bodies.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the United States presents Muslim women with more opportunities to express “traditional” Islam than a country that is, in fact, 98% Muslim?

Kuwaiti columnist Ibtihal al-Khatib: “my problem is with religious coercion”

An interesting video from Memri TV: Kuwaiti columnist Ibtihal al-Khatib – a Muslim woman – discusses religion, dissent,  and civil rights. She makes a compelling argument for the separation of religion and state – and asks a straightforward question: will people follow a religious ruling even if it goes against the best interests of the nation?

Unfortunately, this video is no longer available on YouTube. Click here to see it at MEMRI TV.

 

 “…You people! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another…”

Qur’an 49:13