Despite the bridge that Aquinas built between reason and faith, modern journalists who believe that religion is a non-rational retrograde activity to be avoided at any cost, are legions.
The usual rationale adduced for giving up God-oriented religion is that there is not sufficient empirical evidence for God’s existence. God is a chimera, an illusion of the human mind wrapped in a delusion. It is in short a sign of retrogression. But then the question surfaces: why do the same people not give up ideologies as well when they find out that they too may not be empirically or scientifically proven? Many ideologies have been scientifically discredited but people continue to hold on to them as a life-boat of some kind.
Could it be that ideology constitutes a substitution or sorts? Could it be that ideology functions as a value system, a substitution of sort for those who repudiate a religious belief system? Could it be that ideologies provide people with a community of like-minded people? We may look different, but the ideology unites us: we are all good Republicans, we are all good Communists, we are all good Fascists.
But the question persists: why, as a rule, do ideologies see religion as an enemy and a competitor? One thinks of Marx famous quip “religion is the opium of the people” proffered while substituting Marxism as a competing ideology. One thinks of Mao’s “religion is poison” proffered while substituting Mao’s little red book as a Bible of sorts for the adoring masses. One thinks of the positivist approach to reality declaring the scientific approach as the only enlightened modern approach and religion mere ignorance and a superseded superstition.
Emile Durkheim in his Elemental Forms of Religious Life called religion and ideology “moral communities.” Why did Durkheim make such a comparison and what, if any, is the nexus between the two? Let’s see. What has happened all too often since the Enlightenment is that religion has been all but subsumed under ideology. This is most apparent not only within modern ideological movements which present themselves as universal movements applicable anywhere at any time, but also in modern journalism.
This rather bold statement about journalism may surprise the journalists among us, but I dare say that it is not very difficult in modern journalism to detect socially constructed notions of the sacred reduced to a mere economic belief system. Marx’s ideology jumps to mind here. It works this way: the question is turned up-side-down so that rather than ask how can religion be a cultural need for a community or an entire polity and what are the benefits, the centripetal force that accrue to that need, one ends up asking: how can religious beliefs help the economy? More crassly put: how can religion help bankers and CEOs increase their profits? And of course, if it doesn’t do that it is pretty much useless.
For example, nationalism can be construed as an ideology. It has the overwhelming power to motivate men to die for one’s country via the nobility of patriotism. Nationalism seems to share with religion the same power of motivating humans to lay down their lives for what they believe. It is a socio-culturally produced power that some call the sacred which more often than not deals with sacrifice and redemption. Here the question arises: how is the sacred produced in cultures and societies constituting a nation or a confederation of nations, the EU for example? How does it function? Do human beings move between religious and secular sacralities such as nationalism or communism or fascism or progressivism?
Nowadays we see a media landscape littered with opinionated talk and ideology-driven websites galore. But of course in the world of journalism it is considered the kiss of death to reveal openly what one really believes. To do that is to be perceived as subjective, opinionated, biased, rather than rigorously objective in one’s reporting. So naturally journalists tend to hide what they really believe. Very few journalists have the courage to reveal who their heroes and villains are, never mind their core convictions.
But the stratagem fools few people; they sense the liberal or conservative bias of the journalist. As Socrates put it: “speak that I may know you.” Most intelligent people can intuit the position of a journalist on the political spectrum from the very moment he opens his mouth and asks his questions. At times the questions are not very astute or intelligent and in themselves reveal the shallowness of the journalist’s belief system. One wonders if it would not be more honest by far to admit to certain ingrained biases and then examine them carefully to determine if they are reasonable and tenable.
But one may further ask: how is one to know where a journalist is coming from? How is one to rate his/her trust-worthiness when one is confronted not with “where one is coming from” but “the view from nowhere” which seems to have become the media’s true ideology? The media wants to give the impression that it is neither on the right nor on the left since generations of mainstream journalists have come to believe that they can be trusted only if they remain or give the appearance of being neutral, having no dog in the fight, so to speak. To disclose one’s beliefs simply goes against the grain. Most journalists when confronted with this conundrum will reply that they did not get into the business to parade their opinions but to uncover the facts. Just the facts, madam!
“Where I’m coming from in news reporting is no partnership or ideology” most newspapers editors would proudly proclaim to their readers. They would also add that the reporting speaks for itself and is not coming from any point of view. They are just being impartial or to use a slogan utilized by a very partial news media, Fox news, we are being fair and balanced. That slogan in itself makes people even more suspicious.
Then there is the editor who claims that “we present all opinions with no bias.” This is to admit that any opinion is as good as another. The opinion of an ignoramus, especially he has managed to be elected president of a country, is as valid as that of a professor of political science at a prestigious university. Truth is also an opinion, and that too is an opinion.
Were one to insist on a sincere answer to this typically modern conundrum any journalist worth his/her salt will tell us that he/she is in the business of uncovering truths that are not easy to uncover, in following leads no matter where they lead. Put that way, it sounds like an admirable heroic enterprise, almost Socratic. Here the question arises. Can a journalist interpret and analyze the news for the benefit of his/her readers rather than having readers figure it out for themselves and perhaps arriving at the wrong conclusions? Is that being too condescending with readers?
And so the debate goes on. Conservatives complain about the liberal sensibility of the media in general. Liberals complain about the veiled ideology apparent in conservative media circles such as Fox News. The result seems to be that they both wish to claim “objectivity” with the view from nowhere allegedly removing all biases.
They are two sides of the same coin. All too often this ploy will lead political observers to obsessing about winners and losers rather than the harder work of finding out who is telling the truth and what are the effects of policies adopted by politicians. Enter the reality show politician. Winner takes all. That’s where we seem to be presently.
In conclusion, it would appear that “the view from nowhere” or the attempt by many journalists to substitute religion or a belief system with an ideology, kept well-hidden of course, in order to be perceived as objective and unbiased, far from removing biases and prejudices from their narratives leads directly to them. Ruminations, whatever their worth.
The daily reality of working poverty
Louisette Fanjamalala, has worked hard all her life, yet, like millions of working poor around the globe, she barely makes enough to survive.
Fanjamalala, from Madagascar, lives with four teenage children – two of her own and two orphans she has adopted. Their home is a cramped one-room house in the Antananarivo suburb of Soavina. Her husband left years ago.
For years, she worked in textile factories, getting only short term contracts and earning as little as 70 000 ariary (about US$20) a month in some cases, and, at best cases 300 000 ariary (about US$90). That was barely enough to feed her family. Now, things are even worse.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to be hired because I am considered as too old. It is a shame because I am qualified, I work as fast as and even better than younger workers. However, nowadays, human resources departments usually turn down my request without even giving me an appointment,” she sighed.
Because she was also a victim of violence at work, Fanjamalala recently received support from an ILO programme which provided her with new skills and a sewing machine. She now makes some money by doing sewing work at home for people in her neighbourhood. She also makes clothes and curtains that she sells at the local market. However, getting food on the family table remains a constant challenge.
“Fanjamalala’s story is unfortunately very common in Madagascar and in many developing countries,” said Christian Ntsay, Director of the ILO Office in Antananarivo. “You only need to walk in the streets here and talk to people to realize that the findings of the World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018 (WESO) on vulnerable employment and working poverty translate into a reality faced by millions of people,” he said.
“Ninety-three per cent of Malagasy workers like Louisette Fanjamalala have no other choice than working in the informal economy to survive,” Ntsay added.
1.4 billion workers in vulnerable employment
“Working poverty continues to fall but – again – just like for vulnerable employment , progress is stalling,” explained Stefan Kühn, lead author of the ILO World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018.
”Vulnerable employment affects three out of four workers in developing countries. Almost 1.4 billion workers are estimated to be in vulnerable employment in 2017. Every year, an additional 17 million are expected to join them.”
In 2017, extreme working poverty remained widespread, with more than 300 million workers in emerging and developing countries having a per capita household income or consumption of less than US$1.90 per day.
Overall, progress in reducing working poverty is too slow to keep pace with the growing labour force in developing countries, where the number of people in extreme working poverty is expected to exceed 114 million in 2018, or 40 per cent of all employed people.
“Emerging countries achieved significant progress in reducing extreme working poverty. It should continue to fall, translating into a reduction in the number of extreme working poor by 10 million per year in 2018 and 2019. However, moderate working poverty, in which workers live on an income of between US$1.90 and US$3.10 per day, remains widespread, affecting 430 million workers in emerging and developing countries in 2017,” said Kühn.
“The findings of the WESO Trends 2018 report is a reminder that more efforts need to be done to reduce inequalities and to ensure better living and working conditions for people like Louisette Fanjamalala and the 1.4 billion workers facing a similar situation throughout the world,” he concluded.
The Worst Horror Story – Rape
Rape in all its horrendous forms is a marred and an abhorrent trace of patriarchy and misogyny. The direct victims are majorly women, but the fact that men can be –and often are– victims cannot be discounted. Devising its roots in power-play and control, today it carries a heavier weight as a statutory offence with set penalties. Despite these penalties and a massive international attention taking forms of media outrage, studies, monetary and legal aid, awareness programs, and safe shelters, rapes of women – young and old are alarmingly high in South Asia by offenders of varying age groups.
In Nepal, as reported by a national daily, 78 rape cases have on average been reported every month over a course of five years, many of the offenders being septuagenarians and octogenarians. The Indian National Crime Bureau Report (NCBR, 2016) claimed 338,954 reports were made between 2015 and 2016 as crimes against women out of which 38,947 were rapes. It also reported an increase of 82% in the incidents of rape of children. Likewise, in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch asserts of at least one rape every two hours and one gang-rape every eight. In Bangladesh, 13,003 rape cases were reported between 2001-2017 out of which 85 were rapes by law enforcement agents such as police, jail agents, and the army. These data are only the tip of the iceberg as many cases are unreported by the victim, withdrawn upon coercion, or refused to be registered as a legit case by the authority
The causes of rape are far too many, and differs from case to case. The reasons that surface commonly are sexual frustration in men, poverty, mind-sets and attitudes that reflect machismo, a sense of entitlement, unawareness, and acceptance. In 2012, a report by UNICEF published that 57% men and 53% women in India thought marital rape as not rape, and a sizeable number believed that beating of wives by their husbands was not violence. In India and Bangladesh, the legislations on what constitutes a crime declares it as not rape if the person is married to the victim and if she is over 15 years of age, excepting judicial separation.
We need to remind ourselves that in the South Asian countries, men often grow up being told and shown that they are superior to women who then grow old with a sense of entitlement as they deem it fit for a woman to be available on their demand. When these men are unable to earn for the family due to unemployment or otherwise, their frustration takes the form of rape to demonstrate their ‘masculinity’ and maintain superiority over the women.
Now, this mentality also works in reverse, where a woman is told be to weaker than men and should protect herself from them if she does not wish to get raped. In most South Asian families, females have lesser liberty of movement and choices as compared to their male counterparts. This obviously arises from expected gender behavior that good women should be meek, submissive, and obedient but is also centered around the fact that the families do not want their females to be raped.
This objective of giving women the security inside the family homes is flawed for two reasons. Firstly, rapes and molestation within the family very often exist. In January 2018, a baby girl of eight months was raped in Delhi, India by a relative in her house. Little girls of varying ages have been raped right next to a family member by another family member or neighbors in several instances in Nepal and they could do nothing, not even file a complaint because this façade of a domestic protection does not concern a female’s bodily security but societal reputation.
Once a person is subjected to rape, the victim becomes unchaste and impure and is thought to bring dishonour to the family. The terminology in Pakistan is kari, referring to someone who has lost virginity outside marriage and an honour killing, karokari, is subjected by the village council. The victims often commit suicide or are killed by their own families for tainting the honour. In 2002, Mukhtaran Bibi challenged this status quo by not committing suicide after a gang rape that was ordered on her by a village council but filed a case against all her rapists. Initially, they were sentenced to death but in 2005, five of them were acquitted due to lack of evidence. In 2011, the sixth offender got acquitted too. In 2017 in Multan, Pakistan, a jirgah (village council) ordered revenge rape on the sister of an offender. In all these years, nothing has changed and even today revenge rape is still being ordered on innocent girls for no fault of their own as punishment.
The victims in other countries face social stigma and have to live in fear because once someone falls victim to rape, they are prone to more rapes because the value of a person is reduced from that of a human to a commodity that is free for public use. In Haryana, India, a girl was gang-raped twice by the same set of men who were out on bail after raping her the first time six years ago. A take-home message is that the onus lies on a woman to protect herself from men who are always lurking in hunt of a prey to rape, yet again asserting that the victim befalls such fate on themselves due to their actions, or in Pakistan actions of their family members.
Rapes are justified for godforsaken reasons and victims told they were ‘asking for it’ by travelling alone at ungodly hours, dressing provocatively, being friends with men, or indulging in so called notorious activities like smoking, drinking, and partying. The way these protectionist measures are advised always revolves around victim but never around the offenders, due to the notion that men have an insatiable sexual appetite and if women portray themselves to be ‘easy’, they are raped. Ranjit Sinha, head of Indian Central Bureau of Investigation once commented that if women couldn’t prevent rapes, they should enjoy it.
In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, victims of rape are subjected to a two-finger test to determine their sexual activeness. This procedure exists despite so many pleas from within these countries and outside to get rid of it on the bases that it is flawed on so many levels as it renders women who chose to be sexually active out of consent as lecherous and dirty who have already been touched by a man. This violation of a victim’s body is backed by the government in the form of a random stranger determining of their worth. This is of course scientifically inaccurate, and extremely irrelevant in case of rape.
Equally exasperating is the fact that women should remain pious and dedicated to only choosing to be sexually active with their legally married husbands but when their husbands rape them, it is not recognised by the legislation. O. P. Chautala, an ex minister in India, once stated that girls should be married as they turn 16 so that sexual needs of women are met and they will not go elsewhere and rapes will reduce. However, even statutory age of marriage is above 16 in India, and marriage is not a way to end rape. Rather, such a statement renders women as cattle whose ownership belongs to the husband.
These instances prove time and again that the role of a woman is always reduced to pleasing her husband in bed without considerations. In fact, marriage is a holy sacrament that can undo rape – perhaps why victims are married off to their rapists in South Asia who then continue to rape them for the rest of their lives.
Most importantly, the police and other protectors of law find ways to make money out of instances of rape. Like, in January 2018 in Kathmandu, Nepal, a woman of 22 years withdrew her report of rape after few days and it was later revealed that the police were involved facilitating monetary settlements between the accused and the complainant with a personal gain. In Bharatpur, Nepal in February 2018, police coerced a woman to withdraw her rape complaint. So many more cases have surfaced in the southern plains of Nepal where the police have been involved as middlemen.
Hindrance to Justice
The reasons behind rape are men-centric but they have been ingrained in the societies as acceptable by both men and women. Reporting of rape has been increasing in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan but the cases are not dealt with caution. The victims face injustice and have to go through denigrating treatment by the police and health officers, questioning their character and morality.
The portrayal of a victim in the media is a stereotypical one, a non-provocative, harmless, and morally upright person with no past sexual history. Any victim deviating from this stereotype probably brought it on themselves. Further, the media has been reporting on sensitive issues like rape without sensitivity like revealing the victim’s name which is illegal or slut-shaming the victims.
Lastly, even death penalties are not enough to deter people from committing rapes. In Pakistan and India, rape can be punished with death but the crime is still on the rise. After the 2012 Nirbhaya case in Delhi, India, a strong plea was made to change the judicial system and a fast-track hearing was introduced for rape because national outrage by the citizens was not deemed enough to bring a change. In Nepal, the fast-track court is in practice too, but the problem arises in procuring evidence which is substantial in these cases.
Without firm action on gender equality, women’s empowerment, world may miss development targets
“This is an urgent signal for action, and the report recommends the directions to follow,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, said on the launch of the new report, Turning promises into action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, she said: “As a world, we committed through the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] to leave no one behind,” but the report reveals many areas where progress remains slow to achieve the Goals by 2030.
Even where progress is made, it may not reach the women and girls who need it most and the ones that are being left furthest behind,” explained Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Turning promises into action makes in-depth case studies in the Colombia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, United States and Uruguay, looking at what is necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
Focusing on unpaid care work and ending violence against women, the comprehensive report examines all 17 SDGs and how deeply intertwined the different dimensions of well-being and deprivation are in impacting the lives of women and girls.
As one example, it points out that a girl born into poverty and forced into early marriage is more likely to drop out of school, give birth at an early age, suffer childbirth complications and experience violence – a scenario that encompasses all the SDGs.
Moreover, new data in 89 countries reveals that there are 4.4 million more women than men living on less than $1.90 a day – much of which is explained by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work women face, especially during their reproductive years.
Looking beyond national averages, glaring gaps are uncovered between women and girls who, even within the same country, are living in worlds apart because of income status, race, ethnicity or location.
While the report addresses how to tackle existing structural inequalities and what is needed to move from promises to action, progress remains slow.
“It’s a problem in all countries, developed, developing, north, south, east west,” Shahrashoub Razavi, UN Women’s Chief of Research and Data, told UN News.
“We have a long way to go to achieve gender equality universally,” she added, calling it “a problem that stymies the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
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