Islam Yaken is a middle class Egyptian youth who gave up his dream of becoming a professional trainer when the economy in his country tanked. As his alternative, he chose to became an Isis terrorists. (“The Deadly allure of jihad,” reprint from The New York Times in The Week, March 6, 2015, pgs. 36-37.) Imagining he’d joined a higher purpose, he embraced the strictest form of Islam, focusing on his guilt — largely his relationships with women. “We all know that women are a problem for every young man,” he confessed in a video clip. “I can’t bury my head forever to not see women. What am I supposed to do?” (Ibid pg. 37.)
So began Yaken’s decent into intolerance. His mind narrowing quest to be free of sin opened the door to unthinkable brutality, acts of beheadings that shocked the world. Though his is an extreme view of religion, his fixation upon women as a temptation of the flesh permeates the thinking of many cultures and is supported by religious dictums that for centuries have preached women spread spiritual contagion.
A heated debate broke out in the Indian Parliament, recently, concerning the airing of a documentary by Leslee Udwin, “India’s Daughter.” In it, Mukesh Singh, one of the men who attacked and murdered a 23-year old woman on a bus, decries the injustice of his prosecution. That the woman died was the woman’s fault, he insists She should have “remained silent and allowed the rape and … they would have spared her life.” (Click)
Singh’s defense is one that reverberates through the centuries. Women are to blame for men’s transgressions. Perhaps the victim’s dress was too colorful, or her hair blew too freely in the breeze. Maybe she smiled too sweetly. Whatever the reason, she got what she deserved. She was a woman!
Better that a woman wear black bed sheets, hide her face from view and never appear alone in public than to oblige a man to control his urges. He is not responsible for virtue. She is. And if her neighbor breaks into her home and rapes her while she is alone, that woman is guilty of having brought shame into the family and is unworthy of sympathy. Her crime? She exists.
Degrading women is a hallmark of patriarchal societies. Civil and religious law perpetuates this behavior and to such a degree that some woman fail to see the injustice. “It is our culture,” they shrug. But what culture can be legitimate if half the population is invisible and has no voice? That’s not culture; it’s tyranny. If choice existed, few women would agree to bow their heads and be yoked by male angst.