Thursday, October 23, 2008

Heady Ideas in Afghanistan

Deborah Orr, in a recent editorial about Afghanistan, and why the Western armies should withdraw and leave the Afghans alone.

According to her, the main beneficiaries of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan are the women. The cost of giving them education, giving them basic tools to maintain themselves and their families and keeping them safe from male violence is too high:

"... the unpleasant reality is that it is absurd to squander time and energy on explaining to women that they have every right to educate themselves and to work outside the home, when neither the economy nor the security situation allows them to put such heady ideas into practice."

Of course it is all America's fault. But there is hope yet. Orr interprets "Barack Obama's open criticism" of Karzai's administration as "a sign that this particular U.S. delusion, at least, will soon be at an end."

See, educating girls and instilling confidence and self-reliance in women are "Heady ideas"!

The dictionary tells us that "heady" means: extremely exciting, intoxicating, as if by alcohol or a narcotic.

See what the bad Americans are doing to these poor women? Filling their heads with fancy ideas about self-sufficiency, making them drunk on the fantasy of lofty ideals, like being fed, clothed and secure from violence.

Deborah Orr is the author who wrote a nearly orgasmic article about Tariq Ramadan, the Muslim Swiss professor "a twinkly eyed academic on a thankless mission".

She says about him:

"There he sits, all slight, toned physical perfection, all fastidious grooming, all glowing with non-drinking, non-smoking, body-is-a-temple spiritual health. He's passionate about applying Islamic standards at a personal level. It all sounds improbably high-minded and exacting, so it's a surprise to discover that Ramadan is a good companion - playful, warm, quick to laugh, and occasionally flirting... "

She tries to "contextualize" his progressive idea that a 'moratorium' be imposed on the stoning of women.

Here is the exchange with Sarkozy that necessitated this contextualization:

Sarkozy: A moratorium.... Mr. Ramadan, are you serious?

Ramadan: Wait, let me finish.

Sarkozy: A moratorium, that is to say, we should, for a while, hold back from stoning women?

Ramadan: No, no, wait.... What does a moratorium mean? A moratorium would mean that we absolutely end the application of all of those penalties, in order to have a true debate. And my position is that if we arrive at a consensus among Muslims, it will necessarily end. But you cannot, you know, when you are in a community.... Today on television, I can please the French people who are watching by saying, "Me, my own position." But my own position doesn't count. What matters is to bring about an evolution in Muslim mentalities, Mr. Sarkozy. It's necessary that you understand....

Sarkozy: But, Mr. Ramadan....

Ramadan: Let me finish.

Sarkozy: Just one point. I understand you, but Muslims are human beings who live in 2003 in France, since we are speaking about the French community, and you have just said something particularly incredible, which is that the stoning of women, yes, the stoning is a bit shocking, but we should simply declare a moratorium, and then we are going to think about it in order to decide if it is good.... But that's monstrous--to stone a woman because she is an adulterer! It's necessary to condemn it!

Ramadan: Mr. Sarkozy, listen well to what I am saying. What I say, my own position, is that the law is not applicable--that's clear. But today, I speak to Muslims around the world and I take part, even in the United States, in the Muslim world.... You should have a pedagogical posture that makes people discuss things. You can decide all by yourself to be a progressive in the communities. That's too easy. Today my position is, that is to say, "We should stop."

Sarkozy: Mr. Ramadan, if it is regressive not to want to stone women, I avow that I am a regressive.

Orr completely buys Ramadan's line that banning the stoning of adulterers is too much progress for Muslims worldwide to digest. Muslims cannot handle such radical changes all at once. They need to be led to that banning slowly and judiciously:

"If you say to the Islamic majority now, 'You have to stop this, it has to be condemned,' they are not going to listen to you," he says. "They are just going to say that this is the West, again, imposing its values."

This kind of ethical conception is of a piece with her view of the cultivation of Afghan women agency as too expensive, dangerous and interfering. What both examples show is that for her, whatever happens to Muslim women within their own communities is the business of Muslim men, and none other. Muslim men will decide how they will live, whether they will eat, whether they can get medical treatment or learn to read and write, how they will dress. Any interference from the outside world, with its "heady ideas" will be seen as the west, imposing its values.


Additional reading about Afghanistan here, here, and here,

and particulary, here.


At 5:49 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarkozy is right of course that stoning must be absolutely opposed and I don't think that Ramadan would disagree with him.

His point seemed to be that this law could only be changed from within Islam.

And the only way to do that would be to persuade the senior Muslim legislators -- who are beyond the influence of the modern world.

These guys have to be persuaded to change from within the context of their own religion.

They would not agree to a ban they did not believe in but might consider a moratorium during which a debate could take place within the context of their religion.


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