General Question

wundayatta's avatar

What do you think when you hear about a horror in the world today, such as Afghanian women burning themselves to death?

Asked by wundayatta (58706points) November 10th, 2010

In the New York Times, an article titled For Afghan Wives, a Desperate, Fiery Way Out describes the horror of what self-immolation is like and the reasons why the women do it. Many women are treated worse than dogs in Afghanistan.

I have no idea what to think when I read this stuff. It’s horrible. How can it exist? Is there anything that can be done about it?

What do you think when you read about a gross injustice like this or another? I know it’s part of their culture, but is it possible that the men who pressure and murder “fallen” women feel nothing for their female relatives? Are they really just dogs?

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45 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I just feel so helpless and it drives me into a stupor for a bit, hearing something like that. Yesterday, I sat for an hour crying after reading, yet again, about systematic rape in DRC. It feels so big, so many angles, so many issues at the same time. It gets me angry at people thinking feminism isn’t necessary, it gets me to feel like my life is makes me want to tear my heart out when I read about how mothers felt about seeing their children raped…it makes me picture my children being raped, it makes me want to die.

Blackberry's avatar

I blame religion and a primitive culture that needs to be broken. But like Simone said, I feel helpless.

crisw's avatar

“How can it exist?”


Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It isn’t religion exactly, is it? Isn’t it a perversion of religion?

iamthemob's avatar

To be honest – SSDD.

Religion isn’t even referenced in the article – the severe conditions of poverty and government oppression are, though.

Blackberry's avatar

@iamthemob That whole culture and way of life is not just because of poverty and government. Their religion and culture are intertwined.

crisw's avatar


The perversion exists because the religion does. The article may not come out and say it, but why the low status of women? Why the “honor killings”? It’s based on religion.

Here’s a very fascinating debate on the very question of whether Islam’s problems are due to “misinterpretation” and the like or if Islam itself has problems.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@crisw I’m not big on religion, but I perceived it to be about not harming others, respect etc. The more religon based cultures seem to be the ones that treat women the worst. Or is my perception off?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@crisw Religion is often the cause for excusing low status of women in society but it’s not the only reason why that designation exists. Every Western religion can be read as the reason for treating women a certain way but every religion is created because that status has been set.

iamthemob's avatar


That whole culture and way of life is not just because of poverty and government. Their religion and culture are intertwined.

Never claimed otherwise. It’s just amusing that religion was called out first, when it wasn’t the referenced contributing factor. Clearly part of the issue, clearly a major part. But not in that discussion.

But you know…we all have our prejudices that make us knee jerk react as to what’s going on.

Blackberry's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That established religion solidifies this type of behavior in these types of societies, correct? Their governemt is an Islamic republic, and the majority of their population practices Islam as well.

Blackberry's avatar

@iamthemob Well, the bias is there for a good reason, I’m just being honest. Their religion is a major factor in their culture and behavior. It is just is… I being unreasonable?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Blackberry I believe yours are flawed conclusions. Yes, Islam exists. Yet, it doesn’t only exist there and these kinds of atrocities don’t exist everywhere Islam does. So it’s not the answer, blaming religion.

iamthemob's avatar

Honor killings are also based on gender relations – what it means to be a man, claim your masculinity. If a woman isn’t performing up to standards, the outside world will look at the man and consider him to be losing control of a woman (for god’s sake!).

We all know that the state-sponsored fundamental form of Islam in these situations is part of the oppression. But it’s not the only cause. It’s one bad idea that is feeding on other terrible practices that are feeding on other deeply ingrained fallacies that is feeding back on religion in a big ole ball of tangled, terrible things.

I just get tired when it seems that one factor is determined to be causal when there’s clearly a complex interaction of religion, state power, resource curse, historical land disputes, globalization, corporate use, pollution, poverty, and a failure of education.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@iamthemob Agreed. And I hate religion.

Blackberry's avatar

Can I ask what other major contributing factors there are that cause this behavior in society besides religion? There’s poverty, lack of education….what else?

Edit: Oh, I saw your post, iamthemob.

iamthemob's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – I kind of hate it too – but I feel like it’s been abused by some really bad people at the same time. I feel like it’s that kid being pushed around on the playground by big fundamentalist bullies…and I want to help it put its sandwich and thermos back in its lunchbox and walk it back home.

I do need coffee

Blackberry's avatar

@iamthemob Lol, good example. I have more questions though (and I’m not being combative, I simply do not know). But what would make this group of people resort to honor killings as a result from maintaning gender relations? Why not simply ‘keep women in their place’ without so much violence?

iamthemob's avatar

What’s the best way to keep anyone “in their place”? Violence.

CMaz's avatar

It is part of the balance of nature.
It might be ugly, you might do all you can to (try to) stop it. (also part of that balance).

But everything is connected.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Cultural beliefs that fester in pockets need to be broken open and healed.

liminal's avatar

I literally become nauseous and often cry. I carry my awareness of oppression and destruction in our world like a grieving that has no closure. I feel the weight of my privilege and fear it making me blind to suffering. I spend time holding those whose suffering I learn about in my heart, refusing to look away. This isn’t some sort of self-righteous flagellation, it is my way of standing up and saying “you are noticed, I see you, I hear you”. Sometimes this feels like an empty exercise because it doesn’t stop anything. Yet, it changes me and teaches me how to inform my children. It moves me to action in my own community and work. Practically speaking I also look for people making a difference where I don’t and support them.

aprilsimnel's avatar

This stuff was going on well before Islam, which itself is only from ~the AD 600s. The ways certain peoples of Central Asia and other places treat women are barely-modified adaptations of ancient, ancient mores from a time when women were little more than commodities to be sold among tribesmen. If the woman was “giving it away”, how could they be sold for the maximum price? Being able to know who is the father of the children so everyone knows who the property goes to when the man dies was very, very, very, very important to these men back in the day. Now it’s just so entrenched culturally that there’s this mess.

And what makes it so galling is that these men want all the modern gadgets and money, but otherwise want us to butt out of their horror show. It’s not like they don’t hear the condemnation of the rest of the world, but have their hands in their ears going, “LALALLALALALA!!!ICAN’THEARYOU!I’MGOINGTOKEEPDOINGITMYWAY!!!LALALALALA”

The only problem I see is if we try to stop them form hurting the women and children, who’s to say that they won’t feel that they have to the right to stop us from doing what violates their moral code in turn?

mammal's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir that piece by the BBC or channel 4 news on DRC was harrowing, i wish i could unwatch it, i want the SAS or ex-special forces to go out there, train and arm these women and men, (they get raped too apparently) at least give them a fighting chance.

GladysMensch's avatar

@aprilsimel if we try to stop them form hurting the women and children, who’s to say that they won’t feel that they have to the right to stop us from doing what violates their moral code in turn?

This isn’t about differences in governing, or faith, or moral code; it’s about the right to live as individual beings, and not as property. What are we if we’re not willing to stand up for the most basic of human rights?

iamthemob's avatar

@aprilsimnel – Whenever you start dealing with international standards of human rights, you inevitably get these “moral relativism” arguments. However, when it comes to civil and political rights, I’m all for the imposition of our concept of rights on them, considering that it just entails the governments from refraining from doing what they already are.

mammal's avatar

Half these types of atrocities wouldn’t exist were it not for the fact that Western Ideology is openly at war with Islam, and it most probably wouldn’t be if it were not for the lure of oil, or something equally as unwholesome. But i’ve noticed that the Westerner is at odds with any foreign ideology whenever it seems to frustrate easy and profitable access to natural or human resources. By then the propaganda machine is at full tilt, suddenly the savage is more rabid than noble, and Islam loses it’s lustre. Suddenly exotic foreign culture and mores are UnChristian or UnDemocratic or downright Barbaric but basically just a pain in the ass and ultimately getting in the Bloody way.

It is the inexorable process of cultivating a moral position to justify territorial ambitions, make that terrible ambitions. Currently the feminist position, homophobia etc is being shamelessly cited as justification for military occupation, globalisation, relentless prospecting and a general abuse if not of women, at the very least then, the natural world. Ok glad to have the NeoCons on board but not at that expense. Besides all the Democracy in the world isn’t going to prevent Domestic abuse, how can any system prevent this? the law can offer a degree of protection. The British managed to officially prohibit bride burning in India but it is still rampant to this day.

In fact the more outside influence comes to bear on practices like Female circumcision the nastier and more confused the practice gets, it almost becomes a spiteful challenge to keep up tradition despite modern opinion and pressure.

rooeytoo's avatar

I can’t stand to watch the world news, what good does it do me to know these things go on but to be helpless to do anything about it. AA taught me that the only person I can change or control is me and that is a full time job. Being so dragged down by witnessing such events even on television seriously weakens my own ability to control myself.

It is one reason why I am so happy to be living where I am now. I still see atrocities that occur in the name of culture (which in this case has nothing to do with a diety, just simply the way it has been forever) but at least I no longer live in the midst of it. I don’t have the kids with glass cuts from their arm pits to the waistband of their shorts coming in crying. I do not have to look upon the fact that it is a rare adult woman without knife scars all over her face or all of her teeth. I don’t have to watch dogs starve because all the money is spent on drugs, booze and cigarettes. It was making me crazy and all I could do was show by my example that there is another way. The men hated me for trying to empower “their” women. And this is in a civilized country where there are so many alternatives thrown at everyone but rejected because of culture. Culture is the enemy in my mind but it is protected by those with vested interests (no oil involved) and the government who is afraid to step in because they might offend.

iamthemob's avatar

@rooeytoo – well said. I’m not willing to shift the blame fully off of those acting out of fundamentalist religious motivations, but it’s counterproductive to start separating out the interacting elements of religion, culture, economy, and human nature when they all reinforce each other, and then hold one up and say “See! This is the one that REALLY matters.”

mattbrowne's avatar

I blame all people underestimating the potential destructiveness of Islamism (political Islam based on the sharia) which is a perversion of religion. In my opinion both liberals and conservatives should unite to fight religious extremism which includes Islamists who reject the separation of state and religion, and who also reject equal rights for girls and women. In the West we should show solidarity with the more than 100 million oppressed girls and women worldwide who are forced to wear veils against their will, who get their clitoris cut away, who are beaten when they disagree, who are raped, who are being forced to marry men they don’t like and used as sex slaves, who are threatened with death when they criticize society or clergy, who are denied a good education, who are denied getting a fulfilling job, who can’t have any fun at all. We were able to show solidarity with the oppressed black people in South Africa during the time of apartheid.

Why can’t we show more solidarity with Muslim girls and women? Because this might look like Islamophobia?

I think the story of the brave Saudi woman called Hissa Hilal should make us think twice before we dismiss well-founded criticism

“Hissa Hilal, only her eyes visible through her black veil, delivered a blistering poem against Muslim preachers “who sit in the position of power” but are “frightening” people with their fatwas, or religious edicts, and “preying like a wolf” on those seeking peace. Her poem got loud cheers from the audience and won her a place in the competition’s finals, to be aired on Wednesday. It also brought her death threats, posted on several Islamic militant Web sites. Her poem was seen as a response to Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a prominent cleric in Saudi Arabia who recently issued a fatwa saying those who call for the mingling of men and women should be considered infidels, punishable by death.”

mattbrowne's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir – How is hating religion different from Islamophobia? I reject both Isamophobia and general hatred of religion.

iamthemob's avatar

@mattbrowne – The concern that expressing solidarity for Muslim girls and women will look like Islamophobia should be unfounded. The issue has already been under discussion, consideration, etc. for years under the movements for international human rights standards as well as women’s rights specifically. There is absolutely no need to include the discussion of religion in the framework, in order to discuss practices that should be considered barbaric.

We can show solidarity…but how are we describing the problem?

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – The problem is one of political power. Islamists claim that the Quran and a selection of Hadiths created in the 7th century when God talked to the Prophet should serve as the constitution of a country. The resulting theocracy is the will of God and can’t be argued with. That’s the root cause and an explanations why perverts like Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak issue fatwas saying those who call for the mingling of men and women should be considered infidels, punishable by death.

iamthemob's avatar

I don’t see how that’s any different from any other time that religion has been used to oppress a particular population, and in particular women. This is an issue that has already been discussed in the context of international human rights and women’s rights. The idea that there is something unique about Islam as repressive to women, attempting and achieving political power, and espousing those who don’t submit to it as infidels is profoundly ridiculous.

If we introduce Islam as part of the problem, we distract from the basic issue that this is universal across states and religions, to different degrees. It also can be interpreted to create new prejudices.

mattbrowne's avatar

@iamthemob – I disagree. You are right that Christianity 500 years ago had many similarities with Islamism today. But not Christianity of the year 2010.

I think it has to do with the Age of Enlightenment and the notion of evolving religions. And the idea that freedom of religion promotes freedom of thought, creativity and innovation. A Christian can become a Muslim or an agnostic or an atheist. Priests might not like it, but unlike in widespread radical Islam, there are no death threats because of this.

iamthemob's avatar

A conservative estimate puts the total number of brutal deaths in the 20 th century at more than 250 million. Of these, Muslims are responsible for less than 10 million deaths. Christians, or those coming from Christian backgrounds account for more than 200 million of these! The greatest death totals come from World War I (about 20 million, at least 90 % of which were inflicted by “Christians”) and World War II ( 90 million, at least 50% of which were inflicted by “Christians,” the majority of the rest occurring in the Far East). Given this grim history, it appears that we Europeans must all come to grips with the fact that Islamic civilization has actually been incomparably less brutal than Christian civilization. Did the Holocaust of over 6 million Jews occur out of the background of a Muslim Civilization?

In the 20th century alone, Western and/or Christian powers have been responsible for at least twenty times more deaths than have Muslim powers. In this most brutal of centuries, we created incomparably more civilian casualties than have Muslims in the whole of Islamic history. This continues even in our day—witness the slaughter of 900,000 Rwandans in 1994 in a population that was over 90 % Christian; or the genocide of over 300,000 Muslims and systematic rape of over 100,000 Muslim women by Christian Serbs in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The horrible truth is that, numerically and statistically speaking, Christian Civilization is the bloodiest and most violent of all civilizations in all of history, and is responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths.

mattbrowne's avatar

You’re missing the point. There’s a difference between killing in the name of religion or nationalism or some other ideology. Hitler, Stalin and Mao did not kill in the name of Christianity or atheism.

For the past 50 years how many Americans, Brits, Germans, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Italians have killed in the name of Christianity? The number is extremely small. Here’s one rogue group

It is a Christian terrorist anti-abortion organization that sanctions the use of force to combat abortion in the United States.

All the others, like the IRA, ETA or Corsican Liberation Front, killed in the name of nationalism.

iamthemob's avatar

Christianity was central to the initial propaganda used by Hitler to create a Nazi nation-state. Used as a tool to motivate certain political or nationalistic ideologies, Christianity can be a much more insidious way to motivate people to hate than something like “Sharia” because it is not obviously attributing where the moral source of the hate is – at least those supporting Sharia law say, outright, that it’s because of Allah. In the end Hitler said that there should be no God but Germany – but to get there he stated that God privileged Germany above all others.

The problem, of course, is that when you talk about killings in the name of Christianity, it’s collapsed into ideas of patriotism and racial identity because it’s part of the majority. As part of the majority, it’s free to subcategorize fringe groups of itself and say that a crime wasn’t because of Christianity, it was due to this fringe group.

Considering the overwhelming majority of the country that is Christian (the U.S.), and the number of crimes committed against people because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, I feel safe in saying that almost every single murder committed due to a hatred of difference can be traced to Christianity.

I think you’re missing the point yourself. Sharia is obvious because it is “other” to us. Christianity is not because the majority of the population has been able to separate out in their minds those who they think don’t represent the thoughts or actions of most Christians – and make them “other” as well. This is a psychological privilege of the majority, and needs to be examined.

If we recognize that the reasons for the violence don’t matter because it’s wrong, what we do is assault the reason’s why it’s wrong. If those reasons are based on religion, we use religion to show that. If they are do to poverty, we address the causes of poverty to eliminate it. Characterizing a group as violent because they believe “X,” on the other hand, makes “X” the problem instead of violence.

mattbrowne's avatar

How about a fair comparison between the Quran and the New Testament? About 60% of the Quran is about jihad. Ask any educated Muslim. Large portions of the sharia are despicable, for example when raped women are being stoned to death because they couldn’t find 4 female witnesses. In court testimonies of women only count half. Now, a growing number of Muslims don’t agree with this anymore, but in many countries they are still a minority.

In general there are a lot of differences, but for the sake of this argument allow me to define three groups named one, two and three (knowing well that this isn’t completely accurate).

Origin of the Quran

1) Muslims who know for a fact that every sentence in the Quran is the word of God (relayed to the Prophet by an angel) and who think that all other religions are wrong. The world consists of Muslims and infidels.

2) Muslims who believe that God is the ultimate origin of the Quran, but who also know there’s no way to verify this by some method available to humans. These Muslims distinguish between facts and beliefs. They know that other religions are in a similar situation.

3) Muslims who know that the Quran was written by humans based on what the Prophet had said over a course of 22 years. These Muslims believe that the Prophet was inspired by God, but they also think that there are different ways to find God and be a good human. There are multiple spiritual truths and therefore different religions can coexist peacefully.

Religious life

1) Muslims who think that every Muslim must follow all rules of Islam. Peer pressure is justified when some Muslims only obey some rules. Women have to obey the men in charge of them.

2) Muslims who think that every Muslim should follow all rules of Islam, but peer pressure is not justified.

3) Muslims who respect the individual decision of every Muslim how to live his life. Dogmas can change over time.

State and religion

1) Religious laws rank over secular laws.

2) It depends whether secular laws rank over religious laws.

3) Secular laws rank over religious laws.

I believe that most Americans and Europeans think that the vast majority of Muslims including the ones who chose to live in America or Europe belong to group number one (as outlined above). A minority might belong to group number two and only a tiny minority belongs to number three. What do you think?

iamthemob's avatar

That’s not a comparison between the texts, but rather the adherents for the most part. I’m inclined to believe that your percentages are correct – but this could very well be because there is a growing Islamaphobic element in the U.S. that needs to be controlled. However, I am also inclined to believe that the same percentages apply to groups of Christians, but the majority of western Christians are not in resource-based, poverty-stricken economies as Muslim populations are.

I agree, as far as I know, that the Quran has incredibly warlike elements. Indeed, I would find it much more in line with the Old than the New Testament.

So I don’t really see what it has to do with religion as much as global economic oppression and the problem of gender relations and violence.

mattbrowne's avatar

I reject Islamophobia as well. What can we do against it in your opinion?

iamthemob's avatar

We remove Islam from the equation. Stop talking about agendas and start talking about rights. What does your freedom of religion really mean? What does Equal Protection (in the U.S. and elsewhere) mean. Tell people what their legal protections actually are so that they recognize assaults on them when they happen, and recognize when legislatures are attempting to legislate from a place of fear rather than legality.

Essentially – educate, not insinuate.

mattbrowne's avatar

So, you are in favor of anti-Islamist (anti-Wahabi, anti-Qutb) advocacy through education?

iamthemob's avatar

I’m in favor of education generally. But I think that drawing attention to Islamophobia can do damage (although not as much) as those spreading the propaganda.

Human rights is a universal issue. It knows no national, geographic, religious, temporal or political boundaries.

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