Women protest mosque demolition in Pakistan.

A whole bunch of Islamic female students have been protesting the destruction of a series of illegally possessed mosques.

Several hundred female students from an Islamic seminary in the center of Islamabad have been holed up for the last month inside a public library, in an unprecedented protest that poses a dilemma for President Pervez Musharraf’s government.
The young women’s ostensible demand is the rebuilding of half a dozen mosques in the capital that the government tore down because they were constructed on illegally seized land. Dozens more are under demolition orders.

As the article mentions, the Western world is breathing down Musharraf’s neck to see to it that he is cracking down on radicals.
But I am more interested in the role that women are playing in the move towards more fundamental forms of Islam. Not only are these women integral to building a nation, vision and future that is vastly different from Western democracy, they are willing to die for it. From our perspective it may seem that these women are fighting for their own oppression, to live under strict Muslim rule.
But the reality is they are fighting (alongside or sometimes without men) for what they believe in. Is this a moment of feminist empowerment?
via LA Times.

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69 Comments

  1. EG
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I stand corrected on the red. But what I was really thinking of was Stephen Jay Gould’s spandrel theories–have those been rejected at this point?

  2. Posted February 28, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think they have. But spandrels are the non-adaptive
    “side effects” of adaptive mutations, so I’m not sure how that applies to the desert/forest hypothesis. What were you thinking of?

  3. EG
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, jeez, nothing specific! I just went into off-topic theorizing-for-theorizing’s sake because I was interested in what you were saying.

  4. donna darko
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    bearcat, I said Christianity doesn’t have horrible, literal interpretations compared to Islam. We have Christian fundamentalists but even they don’t go by the letter with carrying out stonings, etc.
    Alot to read on this thread! but someone mentioned cultural relativism. Feminism and human rights organizations should always criticize human rights violations that arise from culture, religion, politics, economics, social factors or whatever. There’s nothing relative in criticizing stonings, honor killings, rape, murder, pyre burnings, dowry deaths, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, etc. etc. etc.

  5. donna darko
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Do you remember when people said relativity died after 9-11? That there’s nothing relative when you see planes hitting buildings? It’s the same with human rights violations. There nothing relative about them.

  6. Posted March 1, 2007 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Actually, I have heard some Christian fundamentalists call for a literal interpretation of adultery laws in the Bible, and there are still people who will kill gays because they think it’s god’s will.
    I agree with you on cultural relativism, but with one caveat. We must know why these HR violations are prevalent in certain cultures, so that we can fight them effectively. Simply telling a Saudi Muslim that he shouldn’t keep his wife in the house because it is against principles of human rights won’t work. If you’re interested in how liberal Muslims are working to change stuff like this from the inside, go to Eteraz.org.

  7. donna darko
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Yes, but Christian fundamentalists aren’t literally stoning adulterers, gays, etc. to death.
    I’m all for ending human rights violations everywhere and awareness and putting more brains on the task will help.

  8. donna darko
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    I’ve noted before the best way to combat human rights violations is awareness, funding and supporting local organizations, NGOs, etc.

  9. heirbobolus
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    This story is fascinating. As much as I admire these women for their dedication to a cause they believe in, I’m afraid I can’t interpret their efforts as feminist empowerment, or even support their actions.
    I grew up in Islamabad, and I remember these tiny mosques proliferating on public land like mushrooms after a rain storm. A person with no claim over the property in question would erect a rudimentary shack, begin hold prayer congregations, and declare the building a “mosque”.
    Local superstition (I hesitate to call it Islamic law because I don’t know if it is such) claims that a mosque building can never be demolished or used for another purpose. So what we have is urban parks and green zones littered with brick sheds that may or may not be used for prayer after some time has passed.
    The winner in this scheme is the person who erected the “mosque” and gained nominal control over the land surrounding it. The losers, of course, are the tax-payers. Past governments have been reluctant to demolish the encroachments for fear of triggering a reaction similar to what is happening now.
    As for the protest itself, as far as I can tell the women involved in it are being used as pawns by the reactionary clerics.
    “The Pakistani government’s inaction against the female students stems in part from religious and cultural taboos against physical contact between unrelated men and women. Authorities have said they do not have enough female officers to carry out arrests.”
    Hampered by cultural mores and limited resources, the government can’t do much except, perhaps, turn off the water supply and electricity. Perhaps the “masked, club-wielding men who are on round-the-clock guard atop [the library] walls” have something to do with it too.
    So what we have here is a government attempt at zoning regulations hijacked by reactionaries (male and female) who are using women to blackmail the government. This isn’t women’s empowerment. This is criminal behavior.
    And to remind us that objectification is fashionable all over the world, the LA Times includes this delightful sentence in the article:
    “That is the only way that this will end,” said Amna Adeem, a 20-year-old protester wearing a black veil that left only her flashing brown eyes uncovered.

  10. Posted March 1, 2007 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    “I know what cultural relativism is; what I’ve said is that it doesn’t trump feminism when it comes to my values.”
    You mis-used the term so I thought it was necessary to clarify. And I don’t see this as an issue of one value trumping another value. It’s an issue of how does one value influence another. Certainly you can admit that your identification with feminism shapes your cultural perspective.
    “That would be like saying that students at a Catholic seminary have a handle on what Christianity is all about–really? A handle on Protestantism and Russian Orthodoxy as well?”
    No, it would be like saying that someone who is at a Catholic seminary would have a pretty good bit of knowledge about Catholocism. Yes, Islam has many different interpretations, but the point is that these women have every right to their interpretation. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t claim to understand what value they get from it and how it motivates their actions. And you certainly can’t claim to know the religion better than they do.
    “As to how to judge fundamentalism–isn’t it a label that’s usually claimed by its adherents?”
    Uh, NO! Most people who you or I may label as fundamentalist (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) do not self-identify this way. Claims of fundamentalism are mostly judgements placed on those being labeled. This isn’t to say that I don’t judge people. Certainly I think James Dobbs and Jerry Falwell and Osama Bin Laden are fundamentalists, but that’s a judgement, not a fact.
    “There’s nothing relative in criticizing stonings, honor killings, rape, murder, pyre burnings, dowry deaths, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, etc”
    Absolutely there is! One person’s forced marriage is another person’s arranged marriage. One person’s genital mutilation is another person’s circumcision. We have forced circumcision in this country for damn near all men, but where’s the outcry about that? Is it because we have a better medical system or because we don’t see ourselves as barbaric? EVERYTHING is relative.

  11. prairielily
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, heirbobolus. I’ve seen those buildings in Islamabad and I suspected that that is what was going on, but I ignored that in favour of commenting on how different parts of Pakistan have different traditions and values. I mean, I wasn’t sure, and the thread had gone in a different direction.
    There’s so many parts of Pakistan that still aren’t properly registered, and things like this make it more difficult. It’s a legal grey area, and anyone who tries to steal land by attaching religious signicance to it has no problem with using women for the same purposes.

  12. sojourner
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    “Absolutely there is! One person’s forced marriage is another person’s arranged marriage. One person’s genital mutilation is another person’s circumcision. We have forced circumcision in this country for damn near all men, but where’s the outcry about that? Is it because we have a better medical system or because we don’t see ourselves as barbaric? EVERYTHING is relative.â€?
    Feminist Review, female genital mutilation and male circumcision are two very very different things in terms of the effects that they have on a person’s quality of life and the reasons for which they are done. Cutting a man’s foreskin does not cause him to be more susceptible to infestions, they don’t dperive him of sexual pleasure or make intercourse painful, cutting off a woman clitoris does as a matter of fact it decreases the chance of infection. Anyways recent studies have shown that male circumcision can play a large role in stopping the spread of aids in underdeveloped countries.
    Re arranged versus forced marriage, where your dad’s aunt knows this guy’s cousin and she tells your mom. Families meet, etc. and you reserve a right to say know at any step of the process. Then there is forced marriage where you have no say in what happens. Your dad basically sells you to this guy who takes you to Afghanistan and pimps you out (very common story). Believe me, a fourteen year-old girl in some small village in eastern Iran knows the difference very well.

  13. EG
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more, sojourner. Equating male circumcision with female genital mutilation indicates a willful blindness to not only the health issues involved, but also to the disastrous consequences to women’s sexual pleasure. It’s like comparing the scar from a zit to smallpox.

  14. donna darko
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    I’m against male circumcision because it takes away sensitivity and because it’s mostly cosmetic. People know more about it now and are speaking out against male circumcision. Women also orgasm more with the foreskin intact.
    Forced marriages are not arranged marriages where relatives lackadaisically go about looking for mates. It often involve kidnapping, teenagers and rape.

  15. donna darko
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Forced marriage is a term used to describe a marriage in which one or more of the parties (usually the woman) is married without his/her consent or against his/her will. It is different from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party in identifying a spouse. The practice of forced marriage was very common amongst the upper classes in Europe until the 1900s. It is still a common practice in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa and Eastern Europe. Forced marriage is being seen in Europe again within migrant communities.
    Western society and the UN view forced marriage is a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. Women of Asian origin are the most common victims, but men are also forced to marry in the name of family pride, wishes of the parents, or social obligation. Many forced marriages in Britain within the Asian community are aimed at providing British citizenship to a member of the family presently in the Indian subcontinent to whom the instigator of the forced marriage feels a sense of duty.
    The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment — for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely. Most Catholics and other Christians consider forcing a person to marry someone is a grave sin.
    See also
    * Shotgun wedding
    * Trafficking in human beings
    * Rape

  16. sojourner
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Ah! I just read over my own comment and saw that it’s fool of mistakes. I think I was really sleepy when I posted it last night.
    It read:
    Cutting a man’s foreskin does not cause him to be more susceptible to infections (as a matter of fact it decreases the chance of infection.), they don’t deprive him of sexual pleasure or make intercourse painful, and cutting off a woman clitoris does.
    And:
    Re arranged versus forced marriage: There is arranged marriage where your dad’s aunt knows this guy’s cousin and she tells your mom.

  17. sojourner
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Donna, they don’t know for sure that it takes away sensitivity. At least Wikipedia says that ‘The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) states “The effect of circumcision on penile sensation or sexual satisfaction is unknown.â€?’. Also, there is this new research that says it can cut the rate of HIV infection by half in the third world (obviously there would be no need for it if people all used condoms).
    I know that in Iran for example it is considered to be part of hygiene. But in Wikipedia it says that “there is little evidence to affirm the association between circumcision status and optimal penile hygiene.� But then one paragraph later it says “Studies have found that boys with foreskins tend to have higher rates of various infections and inflammations of the penis than those who are circumcised.� So I don’t know.
    I agree that in the West it must be largely cosmetic ( and I have to admit I like the look and feel of it), but for example my boyfriend had to get circumcised at age three here in the US because of an infection, even though his religion didn’t required it. So yeah other than that I am not in favor of male circumcision; I think it should be left up to the boy when he grows up to deiced if he likes it cut or uncut. I just think it isn’t at all comparable to FGM.

  18. EG
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Oh, I agree. If I have a baby boy, I probably will not have him circumcised, but FGM it ain’t.

  19. donna darko
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    It doesn’t compare to FGM at all and they do look nice. I’ve never seen uncircumcized penises except on the interwebs.

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