Islam, the Koran, and Women’s Rights from the Perspective of Muslim Women

For those of you who are writing on the influence of Islam on the prospects for democratization in predominantly Muslim countries, here is an interesting video, which asks Muslim women about their views on the compatibility of Islam with women’s rights and democracy. This is a nice complement to the Fish article that we read two weeks ago. Here is an illuminating quote from one of the women interviewed in the film:

“First of all I didn’t understand why my brother didn’t have to do housework and I have to do housework…as a little girl it did not make sense to me. Just because he’s a boy he doesn’t have to do housework?!? So for me the questioning was from the family, but the family never used religion to justify why [boys didn’t have to do housework], so I always knew it was culture and tradition.”

“We wanted to break the monopoly, that only the lama, only the religious authorities, have the right to talk about Islam and define what is Islam and what is not Islam.”

Zainah Anwar
Co-founder, Sisters in Islam
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Here is the very interesting video, which is about 26 minutes long. Throughout this film many of the concepts that we have learned this semester are brought into play.

Advertisements

Events/Lectures that may be of Interest

I’ll use this blog to keep you informed about lectures and events that may be of interest to you that are taking place on campus or in the greater Vancouver area. There are two events this week that are relevant.

This evening, Monday September 13th, at 7:00pm the Philosophers’ Cafe is kicking off the first event of its fall series at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts at Deer Lake in Burnaby. This evening’s discussion is titled “Mixed Up: Is Canada’s cultural mix more like a melting pot, mosaic or matrix?” We’ll be addressing issues of identity and culture in about two weeks time in IS 210. The admission is $5, and the event will be moderated by Randall Mackinnon, who has served as a president, board member, executive and consulting staff for a diversity of community service organizations since 1970. For more information about tonight’s event and directions to the venue, click here.

The second event is a one-woman show entitled Miracle in Rwanda, which is showing all of this week at Pacific Theatre Company and will also have a two-week run on Granville Island beginning later this month. To learn more about the show, and to purchase tickets, go here.

Update: The website I linked to above links to the wrong page. Miracle in Rwanda is part of this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. Here’s the correct link to information regarding show times and tickets.

Ethnic Conflict and Strife

A couple of days ago all blog posts seemed to be related to the theme “the social logic of politics”. Today, there seems to be a surge in episodes of inter-ethnic conflict worldwide. First, we learn from the Washington Post, that there is unrest and violence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where a week of increasing confrontations between native Tibetans and the Chinese government have turned violent, with native Tibetans battling with Chinese police and troops and also attacking ethnic Han Chinese, which is either unprecedented or extremely rare.

BEIJING, March 14 — A week of tense confrontations over Chinese rule in Tibet erupted in violence Friday, as hundreds of protesters clashed with police and set fire to shops in the center of Lhasa. Doctors reported dozens of wounded streaming into area hospitals, and one witness said the downtown area was “in a state of siege.”

The rare breakout of violence, the worst in 20 years in the capital city of a remote mountainous region that is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, posed a challenge to the Chinese government as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in August. Seeking to make the Games a worldwide celebration of its swift economic progress during the past three decades, the Chinese government has steadfastly attempted to project an image of harmony and stability, even while tightening its grip over the restive region.

“This spiraling unrest has triggered the scenario the Chinese prayed would not happen,” said Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University. “Now we’re just watching the clock tick until people get off the street or the Chinese open fire.”

In a different part of the world, Malaysia, in which once again ethnic Chinese are involved, the New York Times reports on post-electoral tension on the island of Penang:

PENANG, Malaysia — Chanting “Long Live the Malays!” several hundred members of Malaysia’s largest ethnic group gathered Friday on this largely Chinese island, defying a police ban on protests and raising communal tensions after sharp electoral losses by the country’s governing party.

Newly elected state governments have moved rapidly to abolish some of the long-held privileges of ethnic Malays. Those efforts have challenged the core of Malaysia’s ethnic-based political system and inflamed the sensibilities of Malays. Until the March 8 elections, Malays thoroughly dominated politics through the country’s largest party, the United Malays National Organization, known by its initials, U.M.N.O.

The opposition parties that beat U.M.N.O. and its partners in five states say affirmative action should be based on need rather than ethnicity. But the opposition, too, is struggling to contain fissures along ethnic lines as a Chinese opposition party competes with its Malay counterpart.

“We’re living in very sensitive times,” said Tricia Yeoh, director of the Center for Public Policy Studies, an independent research center in Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

The affirmative action program favoring the Malays has been in place for more than three and a half decades and gives Malays everything from discounts on new houses to 30 percent quotas in initial public offerings of companies. It is known as the New Economic Policy.

Finally, in Iraq, where in the last four years the minority Christian community has been decimated, either through targeted killings or ethnic cleansing, we hear news of the killing of a prominent Catholic Bishop:

bishop_rahro.jpg BAGHDAD, March 13 — The body of a senior Christian cleric was found Thursday in the northern city of Mosul, two weeks after gunmen abducted him there and killed three of his associates.

The death of Paulos Faraj Rahho, 65, archbishop of Mosul’s Chaldean community, prompted expressions of remorse and condemnation from the Iraqi government and Christian leaders.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a message to the Chaldean patriarch in Iraq, called the killing an “act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human person and seriously harms the cause of fraternal coexistence among the beloved Iraqi people.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said it was a crime of “aggression aimed at inciting sedition among” Iraqis.

Catholicism and the Social Dimension of Sin

Father James Martin takes the London Times to task for their framing of the story of the Catholic Church’s developing views on the nature of sin. (Click here for my blog post on the Times story.)

Father Martin writes in the America Magazine–the national Catholic weekly–that the Times’ story has confused the issue “unnecessarily.” He writes:

pd_hell_070706_ms.jpgMy guess is that some in the media bobbled this story for two reasons, neither of them malicious. First, a general unfamiliarity with the contemporary Catholic tradition of social sin, even though under Pope John Paul II something like “anti-Semitism” was often referred to in those terms. And, second, the fact that a headline that reads “Seven New Deadly Sins” is undeniably sexier than a headline saying, “Vatican Official Deepens Church’s Reflection on Longstanding Tradition of Social Sin.”

The Vatican’s intent seemed to be less about adding to the traditional “deadly” sins (lust, anger, sloth, pride, avarice, gluttony, envy) than reminding the world that sin has a social dimension, and that participation in institutions that themselves sin is an important point upon which believers needed to reflect.

In other words, if you work for a company that pollutes the environment, you have something more important to consider for Lent than whether or not to give up chocolate.

Globalization, the Catholic Church, and Classroom Pedagogy

A while back I had the opportunity to allow a job candidate to come in and use my intro to IR class to give a her candidate classroom lecture. Following the 40-minute lecture–after the candidate and the rest of the faculty had left the room–I asked my students to anonymously write down their impressions of the teaching style of the job candidate. One of the responses was particularly illuminated and the latest news about the Catholic Church’s efforts to reform the concept of sin reminded me of that student’s response. The student’s response was (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“I didn’t like that she went around the room and made everyone answer her introductory question. I pay $40,000 in tuition annually and I have the right to sit in the classroom and be bored and do nothing if that’s what I want to do.”

I felt sorry for this student, because s/he has forgotten a couple of important rules about life, let alone post-secondary education: first, you only get out of something what you put in. Second, and more important, the whole classroom experience is a social experience, and the outcome of the educational process is not only a function of what the student him/herself is doing, and what the instructor is doing, but what others in the classroom are doing as well.

Apropos of the preceding, here is news from the London Times online, which demonstrates the Catholic Church’s approach to the concept of sin:

seven_poster.jpg…[Bishop Gianfranco Girotti] said that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an invididual matter, it now had “social resonance”.

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos,” he said.

Bishop Girotti said that mortal sins also included taking or dealing in drugs, and social injustice which caused poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”.

He said that two mortal sins which continued to preoccupy the Vatican were abortion, which offended “the dignity and rights of women”, and paedophilia, which had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the “human and institutional fragility of the Church”.

Maybe it’s time for Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman to do a sequel to Seven. 🙂

The Fluid Religious Marketplace in the United States

The New York Times reports on a new poll released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which shows a relatively high level of fluidity in the religious identities of residents here in the United States. Analysts and scholars of the role of religion in public life have long understood the US exceptionalism with respect to the important role and place of religion in public life. This has occurred despite (although some would argue because of) the official church-state separation in US society. Most other states with developed economies are much more secular than is the United States, even though some of these states (such as Great Britain and Germany) do not have state/church separation.

The main take-home message of this new Pew Poll, I think, is the fluidity of religious identity here in the United States, where religion is more individualized and personalized and really becomes a type of individual identity. (Remember in Chapter 3 of O’Neil where we differentiated between individual and group identity and discussed whether religious identity could be both.) Conversely, in countries like France, Great Britain, Germany, etc., religion is much more a social–i.e., group–(rather than a religious) identity and is, therefore, much more immutable. Here is an excerpt from the article, with a graphic:

us_religious_makeup.jpgWASHINGTON — More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.

For at least a generation, scholars have noted that more Americans are moving among faiths, as denominational loyalty erodes. But the survey, based on telephone interviews with more than 35,000 Americans, offers one of the clearest views yet of that trend, scholars said. The United States Census does not track religious affiliation.

It shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining members, but that the Roman Catholic Church “has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.” The survey also indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. Sixteen percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth-largest “religious group.”

That 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliation is astounding. What are the implcations of this? I can think of two immediately…

You can find the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life here. Here is a link to a video interview with Pew Forum Director Luis Lugo who talks about the next step in data analysis. Lugo characterizes the United States as having a dynamic “religious marketplace.” Here is a link to an interview with Neela Bannerjee, the New York Times journalist, who wrote the article.

Partition as a Solution to Ethnic Conflict/Violence

Today in class we discussed ethnic identity and various types of inter-ethnic violence. We saw that a large literature in political science (and related disciplines) sees the very fact of cultural (and especially ethnic) heterogeneity is being the source of much that goes wrong within states and societies. In a previous post, I mentioned Robert Putnam’s recent findings that trust is lower in more heterogeneous societies; there is a burgeoning literature on the deleterious economic impact of ethnic (and other forms of) identity (public goods provision, for example, is lower in more heterogeneous societies).

If the very fact of heterogeneity is the cause of conflict and violence, then wouldn’t a reasonable solution to inter-ethnic conflict/violence be to create new more ethnically homogeneous states out of a single ethnically diverse one? Some argue that this may be a legitimate solution to the extant difficulties in Iraq. Chaim Kaufmann has argued in favor of just this approach. Here (pdf) is an article written by Nicholas Sambanis setting out, then critiquing Chaim Kaufmann’s hypotheses regarding the usefulness of partition to resolve endemic inter-ethnic violence.

You can view a fascinating BBC documentary on the partition of India in 1947 here. Here’s an important quote from the documentary:

“…as a British barrister draws a line on a map…”

Much of the violence that occurred during the partition was the result of Muslims and Hindus (of course, the Sikh/Punjab problem adds another layer of complexity altogether) trying to be on (or being forced to move to) the right side of that barrister’s line. Millions were killed.