The current stratagem, quite popular in the West, of opposing intolerant social norms as practiced by some Muslim communities vis a vis women, gays, human rights and freedom in general (be it of speech, or political, or artistic); that is to say, opposing certain religiously condoned intolerances and orthodoxies with a libertarian “enlightened” secular discourse (which usually advocates the liquidation of religion per se, at best tolerating a mere vapid cafeteria-style sort of “spirituality”) is an inadequate, clever by half, solution to the problem at hand.
It makes those who feel that their faith is under attack all the more determined to defend it zealously. In Islam they call that kind of extreme defense Jihad and it has been carried in one form or another for centuries now.
What usually happens is that the table adroitly gets turned around and the “enlightened” “progressive” secularist alleging human rights violations that need to be abolished ends up accused of intolerance, of trying to impose his particular brand of intolerance, i.e., his extreme secularism and enlightenment, on believers. It all turns into a vicious circle. This is particularly true in those modern societies where religion has been abandoned as just another myth or lie, long superseded by modernity progressive positivistic science. The best example of that is the EU. Not to be modern is to be medieval, obscurantist, retrograde, undesirables who cannot be accommodated in a modern progressive society based on the tenets of the Enlightenment, a la Voltaire.
This strategy usually misfires and ends up producing more animosity and intolerance with accusations of zealotry and extremism on both sides of the fence. There is however a much better approach and it is that advocated by the influential philosopher Jurgen Habermas in his essay “A post-secular Europe” and that of the Ugandan born Canadian Muslim Irshad Manji, author of two best-selling influential books: The Trouble with Islam Today (translated into 30 languages), and How to Reconcile Faith and Freedom.
She has received an honorary degree in the history of ideas from the University of British Columbia, and a governor general medal as a top humanities graduate; initiated the TV project Moral Courage with Professor Cornell West becoming a critic of mainstream Islam, and participated in the TV series America at a Crossroads titled “Faith without Fear.” Moreover, she has addressed numerous audiences at the UN and at Amnesty International.
At NYU Wagner, Irshad teaches a course titled “Moral Courage and Your Purpose.” Among the professional skills that students can expect to learn: articulating how you want to serve your society, identifying your core values, turning your values into action, knowing when to step up or step back, and staying motivated to deliver on your vision.
Let’s take a brief look at her thinking as regards the reforming of Islam. In the first place she points out that she is in no way advocating the abolishing of Islam but its reform, or better, its re-interpretation. The words of the Koran are not to be abolished or rewritten, but what is written gets re-interpreted as it was meant to be all along. What does that mean? That the Torah, the Bible and the Koran need to be interpreted by the mere fact that they contain symbolical language: poetry, parables and stories that need to be constantly interpreted in the light of the existential events of human history in order for them to have any meaningful application for our existential situation. In other words, she is far from advocating a throwing away of the baby (faith) with the dirty water (the corruption within a religion) as many secular humanists end up doing when they suggest that religion does not properly belong in the public agora and ought to be muzzled and relegated, with other myths, to the dustbin of history.
Manji arrived at this conclusion when she began comparing various religious beliefs after being expelled from the Moslem religious school she was attending as a teenager eight hours a week, for simply asking too many questions. She found her faith anew by leaving her faith for a while and freely researching other faiths. For example she discovered that the image many misguided Muslims, Jews and Christians have of God was that of a stern law-giver bent on enforcing the law with a vengeance. That is not her interpretation of who this being really is as per holy scriptures. Far from being malicious and brutish, in the image of litigious man, he/she seems to her to be benevolent and merciful. Manji writes that since this God created all there is, or had a plan for all creatures when he created, not excluding Lesbians and Gays, it remains to be explained how he can then act against the logic of his own creation.
Of course the atheist has no problem here: he rejects the existence of God to begin with, but then he logically falls into the trap of declaring that the universe created itself with a ready made evolutionary plan so precise that a millionth of second too early or too late would have obviated its existence; or that the universe is eternal which in effect means he has made the Universe God and he in it is a little god, which sounds like idolatry and narcissism. Plenty of food for thought.
To recapitulate, there is an intriguing paradox at work here: the above discourse exposes the hypocrisy of Scandinavian progressive anti-nationalistic, liberal societies so proud of their progressive liberalism but that are now slowly beginning to tolerate Islamophobia and Xenophobia. Perhaps it would be a much wiser strategy on their part to identify the intolerances and abuses of human rights found in religions such as Islam and Christianity and Judaism, that is to say, not in the religions per se but in their misinterpretations, and advocate their reform rather than their obliteration. One can wager that most reasonable Muslims would be willing to listen to the voice of a reasoned discourse that does not begin with the premise that religion is off the table to be substituted with a vapid cafeteria style spirituality disrespectful of particular religious traditions. Irshad Manji offers us a great example on how this can be accomplished.
In conclusion, as that wise man in Palestine who started a new religion in the Middle East which then came to Rome and Athens and ended up becoming perhaps the best component of Europe’s cultural identity after the fall of the Roman Empire, used to quip: “let those who have ears, let them hear.”
Author’s note: this essay has already appeared, in a slightly modified form in Ovi magazine.
COVID-19, Period Taboo, GBV and its Consequences
The women get their period (menstruation) once in a month. It is a biological process that every women have to face in their life time. In average, women/girls menstruate equivalent to 10 years of her life. Period taboo is around the globe. Guardian reports; In China only 2% of people who menstruate use tampons. This is due to the belief that; one who uses tampon could mean is no longer a virgin and it tears up the hymen. Due to the fact that, menstrual products are not affordable including shame and stigma—In UK, 137,700 of girls in had missed School in 2017. In India; women are not allowed to be in the Kitchen or attend ritual practices during period . 28% of girls in rural India said that they do not go to school during their period because they don’t have sanitary or affordable menstrual products. In Nepal, isolation from the family known as Chaupadi, no religious rituals celebrations or participation, no entry into Kitchen or allowing to sleep together with husband period are some taboos related to period. More than, 1 million girls miss up to six weeks of school each year in Kenya because of lack access to reliable menstrual products including shame and stigma related to it. Even in the US; the president Trump had said about Megyn Kelly that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” This resembles the mindset exist related to period even in the US. Addition this, 45 states impose sales tax on tampon in the US and no Safety Net Program for women who cannot afford tampons and pads. These are some of the examples of period taboo exist in the US. Menstrual taboo is align with culture and has been practiced since long time. In many cultures, Menstruation is considered as ‘unclean’ or ‘unsacred’—forcing women to boycott some daily activities during these time. Even in Victorian England; Dr. Charles Manifield Clarke had believed that “peculiar states of the uterus have frequently a share in producing madness, appears from the fact that between the years 1784 and 1794 eighty patients were admitted to Bethlam hospital, whose disorders followed shortly after the menstrual state”.
In broader sense, these taboo and period have significantly affected women’s productivity. According to the cross-sectional survey conducted among 32,748 Dutch women between the ages of 15 and 45, researcher theorizes the women’s average productivity loss is 9 days of total productivity loss per year.
Period, GBV & COVID-19
The world is witnessing the impact of COVID-19 and Nepal is no exception. Nepal has entered in the second stage of COVID-19 transmission as identified of local transmission in the Far Western Region of Nepal(As of April 4th, 2020). In Nepal(as of April 7th, 2020), 2122 people were tested. Among them, 2113 test results were found to be negative whereas 9 has been infected. In these test, 100 people are living in isolation and 1 is already recovered. According to Ministry of Health & Population, there are total 1029 ICU beds and 552 ventilators. Out of this, 278 ICU beds and 250 ventilators are in Kathmandu and 751 ICU beds and 302 ventilators are outside Kathmandu valley. Based on the situation analysis done by INSEC; Quarantine Centers in Nepal has lack of basic facilities such as toilets, bedding and drinking waters. Addition to this, there is insufficient medical gears—PPE(Personal Protective Equipment), digital thermometers, N95 Masks. Even Municipal authorities are asking for these medical gears.
So, underlining above severe conditions, such public quarantine centers, hospitals including home quarantine centers need to have special consideration in these days—How menstruating women are accessing those toilets and getting sanitary pads? Nepal’s supply chain has been semi halted and Nepal Government economic relief package for wage labour is only focused on food supplies (this includes 30 Kgs rice, 3 Kgs pulse, 2 Kgs salt, 2 Liters cooking oil, 4 packed soap and 2 Kgs sugar). But, is there any reflection by stakeholders to provide sanitary pads for women during this crisis days. Secondly, there are global reports of increasing domestic violence especially in Italy due lock down as women are forced to live with family members including perpetrators. Their work load i.e. Cook, Care and Listening family members has increased dramatically. Although, Nepali CSOs and Women Ministry in Nepal has shown some initiatives in addressing Gender Based Violence(GBV) in this days but their work plan seems limited. How they are going to reach the corners of the country despite the transportation and overall movement is blocked? How many women have access to the telephone services to report the violence. These are some of the questions which need to have special contemplation. So, observing on period, its taboo and as well its inter-linkage with GBV in this crisis time is critical.
These above global trends, history and cultures had showed the deep penetration of period taboo. Whether it is the period taboo in the US, Kenya or Nepal; all of them are restricting women’s choices in the form of religion, culture, politics and society. So, eradicating period taboo can’t be done overnight. In the case of Nepal, one of the major things that it can do to eradicate period taboo( in larger sphere it is called period poverty) can be economic empowerment. Women’s involvement in economic activities provides them the ‘choice’ to live their life on their ‘terms’ despite social taboo that halts their overall empowerment process. Secondly, it is access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities(WASH) during period, menstrual products which puts the women/girls in hygienic conditions at the time of period, availability of toilets and bathrooms to prevent women from eating, drinking and changing pad less frequently and attending regular classes for whole month to reduce their dropout rate. Other notable ways to eliminate period taboo can be serious media reporting on the conducted period taboo in society, discussion in academia, politics and media. BBC had reported about #FreePeriodStories in which campaigners hope to eliminate taboo by allowing women to share their period stories.
And, COVID-19 outbreak globally has put women on a situation where possibilities to negotiate for period taboo, sanitation and its inter-linkage with domestic violence. It is obvious, menstruation is a natural cycle and women have to naturally accept it. There should be a degree of acceptance by women regarding this. But, also elimination of societal taboo related to period, availability of pads and access to toilets and bathrooms should also come under the radar of the government in every crisis situation like this. There is also the significant role of the intimate partners to know about the issue and create favorable environment for their women in those days and also at this critical time after WWII. Above all, eradicating period taboo doesn’t have one line solution and not even easy in this lock down days of COVID-19. It is a process of continuous struggle.
Thomas Hobbes and the Burdens of Modern Leviathan
We live in a world were change is evident and takes on different forms and representations with the given order of legitimate and elected structures of political spaces. Nothing is immune to this entropy that has in timely phases governed and directed the course of both political and social contours in both chronological as well as chorological perspectives. Different political scientists, philosophers , experts have tried to deconstruct and understand this changing nature of both the individual and collective which we call as ‘state’ these days in modern political lexicon .The name that becomes synonymous to the understanding and exploration of these transitioning and confronting values is Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes dubbed by his critics as “The Monster of Malmesbury”, born in Wiltshire, on April 5, 1588 was one of the four citadels of early modern philosophy along with Galileo, Spinoza, Descartes fashioning and steadying the then festering controversial divide between medieval stagnation and scientific revolution. Hobbes laid the pioneering foundations of modern, secular nationhood appended by the introduction of his ever understood and sometimes misread robust social contract. He had perceptive view on the ‘state of flux’ that happened around us and did a commendable and astute observation of ‘motions’ in the given ‘real space’. For him, our imagination, memory and perception, as well as causation, power, and activity are nothing but motion as beautifully summarised in his remarkable De Corpore (1655).Hobbes political ideas and thought cannot be understood without taking into consideration his views on natural philosophy . To an extent they are distinct realms, but to undermine the relation between them is to miss the veracity of Hobbes’ thought and to reduce the basic philosophical grounds as to why he thought his political theory was viable. He constantly kept himself in the state of expounding the physicalist/mechanistic nature of structures both natural as well as political. While traversing the broad frontiers of knowledge realms he had a well -meaning and enlightening exchanges with his two contemporaries, Descartes(criticized Descartes’ cogito [I think or I am thinking] on the grounds that it needs a subject who thinks) and John Wallis, Oxford’s Professor of Geometry (, particularly his attempt to square the circle ) .While defending the Cartesian and Aristotliean pathways to philosophy , to influencing Leibniz in Physics and translating Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War into English
Current Political Dispositions and Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes has been regarded as the most consistent thinker of early modern period and his most thought revolves around the well contained interaction of ‘sensation’ thus starting his most celebrated and highly powerful compendium of political dispositions, Leviathan(1651,slightly altered Latin version edited in 1668) with just a with same ratiocination of ‘phantasm’ (both in the situational and predictive undercurrents) what he calls it. In the currently changing political climates around the world, the dialectics of interface between individual liberty and collective choice Hobbes alerts us that democracy is the ‘invented’ political order and in this curated exercise of functions political structures have ignored the governed masses. In this praxis of invented legitimacy the language becomes the immediate tool of its manufacturing then which can be gauged from the fact that how nation’s have been deviating away from the real issues and turn to the theatrics of imaginary and sometimes absurd notions of repaying the obligations we serve them . In a way Hobbesian intrinsic ‘state of nature’ and the confounding political representation we are faced with, the dialectics of his ‘phantasm’ becomes imperative as then. Hobbes’s ideas stirred much debate in his time, and they continue to be contentious. While mapping the work he has done in the realm of political order and structures there’s seems a rich and active interplay of nature of individual and the obligations to the existing governance sources. His systematic focus on realizing pursuits has made possible the prosperity and security that those in modern Western nations enjoy, and the perennial question of how absolute a sovereign should be, given the temptations of modern political absolutism around the world .With the paradoxical exclusion in the political realm there seems a de-subjectivization on account of due excessive securitization of modern civil state differing from the ‘state of nature’ thesis of Hobbes .Given the two relevant facets of his political thought sensation and motion still hold the importance of shaping and streamlining the negative entropies created in the political systems around the world with the powerful sense of Hobbesian ‘perception’ Hobbes contribution to the framework of the modern world makes a study of his work important to understanding our political horizons. His endeavours from the optics to metaphysics still hold cogency and continue to be unrivalled to this day.
Increased Domestic Violence after Covid-19 Lockdown
People are advised to stay at home due to coronavirus but what if the home is also a dangerous place. Domestic violence is a serious problem and most of the women and children have been the victims of it for many years. The lockdown around the world for stopping the spread of the coronavirus has brought more trouble in their lives and increased the risk of a surge in the cases of domestic violence. Social distancing and home isolation seem a good and right step to save the lives of the people but on the other hand, it has made the situation worse for the women who are being abused by their partners. Abusers use power and control to intimidate, isolate, threaten, blame and coerce the women. As the restrictions come into force by the Government, the cases of domestic violence have increased at an alarming rate in many countries. Women who are facing this act of violence have no idea how to break out and escape from this situation during the days of quarantine. Countries like Pakistan, China, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Australia, and France are reported for the violence during the period of lockdown since March 2020. In Europe France already has one of the highest rates of domestic violence country. According to official figures around 219000 women from teenagers to the age of seventy-five are abused physically or sexually by partners or abusers but only 20% of cases are reported. It is reported that every three days one woman is killed by its partner.
Currently, the interior minister of France, Christophe Castaner shows his full concern and interest in the issues of domestic violence. He says that reports of the domestic violence have jumped by more than 30% across the country (36% in Paris, 32% elsewhere including two murders), since it went into lockdown on March seventeenth, 2020. Furthermore, he says the government is going to introduce new measures for people facing abuse and which they will be given the facility of call for help during quarantine days. He further said that standing along with the victims of domestic violence and fighting against it is the priority of government therefore police is on high alert. He added that a code system would be developed for victims. Spain has already introduced a code system where victims have to go to a pharmacy and request a ‘’mask-19” a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact authorities. Currently, victims of domestic violence in France can call3919 for help. The government of France has also announced an extra one million euro in funding for anti-domestic abuse organizations to help the victims to respond to increasing demand for services.
Moreover, in the Hubei province of China domestic violence reports to police have increased which have reached more than triple during lockdown from 47 last year to 162 this year, activists told local media. As the area goes into lockdown in late January, the cases of domestic violence have doubled told the Wan Fei, founder of anti-domestic violence non-profit to the Shanghai-based outlet Sixth Tone. In Spain despite extremely strict rules of lockdown people are being fined for violating them. In this regard, the government has allowed victims of domestic abuse to leave home if they are being abused and report it to the nearest police station. But in the coastal province of Valencia, after five days of lockdown first case of murder appears when a woman was killed by her husband in front of their children. Jamie Borman, Deputy Director, crisis line and the safe house of central Georgia say there has been a rise in domestic violence cases after COVID-19 lockdown. Columbus also sees a spike in domestic violence because of the coronavirus outbreak. It is reported that 60 domestic violence cases arise in the last week of the march. In Arizona, according to the Phoenix police department, domestic violence service calls have jumped in the last two weeks. So the abuse could increase due to social distance and quarantine. High stress and fear are only acting as triggers for abusers but despite restrictions, the services and shelter for victims are still available.
The downtown of Houston also shows an increase in domestic violence calls during this pandemic. It is reported by the activists that a 25% increase in the cases this time as compared to the last month and a 50% increase to this time than last year. Moreover, in the US an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by their partners. Apart from these, many other countries have reported domestic violence cases during the period of isolation. Such as, Brazil rises to 40% to 50%, in Italy activists said calls to helpline had dropped sharply but instead they were receiving desperate text messages and emails. As the women are not only facing the fear of deadly virus outside their homes but also abuser inside their homes.. In Germany, the green party’s parliamentary leader, Katrin Goring Eckardt, called on the government to free up the safe houses for women victims. As the lockdown after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has extended the risk of the victims, therefore, the governments, police departments, and service centers have become more active all over the world for providing their full support to those who are in serious trouble.
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