A Reply to "Woman's Rights...NOT!"

"Woman's Rights...NOT!" by Puja Vaswani was published in the February 1999 issue of The Ridge - the most highly regarded and widely distributed monthly newspaper in the National University of Singapore. Below, a copy of Vaswani's article has been reproduced and below that, is a reply from Fareena Alam published in March 1999, Page 2. Both Puja Vawani and Fareena Alam were then writers in the Political Analysis Desk of The Ridge.

Woman's Rights...NOT!
by Puja Vaswani

I am sure that most of us know about the infamous Taliban of Afghanistan.

The Taliban's fundamental regime is guided by strict adherence to Islamic law. There are amputation and punishments for criminals, including those who committed petty crimes and minor thefts. Television has been banned because it is seen as a symbol of Western decadence.

The Taliban, who now have taken over the whole of Afghanistan and are establishing strong Islamic laws, are currently receiving alot of criticism from leaders around the world.

The leaders of Taliban claim that there poisonous allegations are part of the conspiracy to discredit the Taliban and cause a rift between them and other Muslims. More so the finance minister has said the concern over the issue of women's rights "dishonours the Muslims women".

From September last year, they started to close down girls' schools, banned women from the workplace and require them to dress in full hijab (clothing themselves from head to toe). Men were given 45 days to grow a beard and have been ordered to pray 5 times a day. Women have also lost all their jobs because their place is supposed to be at home.

But the 30, 000 women who have been sacked and are sitting at home are given salaries. The finance minister claims that even the largest and most powerful nation in the world would never help women who just sit at home. He might have a point but I am sure these women value their freedom more than this.

We women in Singapore and most parts of the world for that matter, take the freedom we have for granted and don't realize how much we have. The women under the Taliban are only taught between the ages of four to eight and that too, so that they receive enough education to read the Koran, Islam's holy book.

It is quite daunting to see all these incidents taking place in the name of religion. Have the fundamentalist gone too far this time, as the Taliban looks to spread its wings further, particularly in Pakistan?

Osama Bin Laden, who is responsible for the US Embassy bombings, is also a Taliban fundamentalist. Termed by Washington as "the pre-eminent organiser and financier of international terrorism," the millionaire son of a Saudi Arabian construction magnate abruptly leaped off the pages of counter-terrorism files to become a household name.

When the Taliban has followers like these, what do we expect from it?

Obviously their answer to anyone against their way of like is violence. They seem to be very equipped with high-tech weapons and bombs. The women in this society have no say and no exposure to the outside world due to their ban from watching television and leaving the house. What development is to come of a society of such narrow and primitive thought?

At the moment, it doesn't seem like the rest of the world, no matter how powerful, can do anything for these terribly pathetic women.

The West is seen as the ultimate enemy and anyone who wants to criticises their religion and rules is also an equal enemy.


A reply to "Women's Rights....Not!"
by Fareena Alam 

Offering a fresh perspective on issues that are taken for granted, instead of "jumping onto the bandwagon", is tricky. It doesn't help that "cutting and pasting" from the Internet has become so convenient.

I quote from "Women's Rights....Not!!", "Osama Bin Laden, who is responsible for the US Embassy bombings...." There is alot of evidence against him but technically, Osama Bin Laden who neither denies nor admits, hasn't been proven guilty.

Despite being a Muslim, I am against certain policies of the Taliban but I also doubt whether they are entirely guilty - the media is notorious for being biased. However, I strongly disagree with the writer's implication that Islam is to blame. I quote her, "The Taliban's fundamental regime is guided by strict adherence to Islamic law". 

Islam isn't about bearded men waving machine guns and mistreating women; injustice is found in all societies regardless of religion. In the 1860s, a married Englishwoman did not exist as a legal person. She could not own property, make a contract, get custody of her children and she had no rights to divorce. 

I quote HRH, The Prince of Wales, "The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Quran 1400 years ago, even if they were not everywhere translated into practice. In Britain at least, some of these rights were novel even to my grandmother's generation!" and Lucy Berrington, The Times, U.K., "It is [ironic] that most British converts [are] women, given the widespread view in the West that Islam treats women poorly."

What do Islam and women have in common? Besides the stereotypical image that each suffers from individually, the status of women in Islam is a highly misunderstood issue. If the accusations against the Taliban are valid, they are not "[strictly adhering to Islamic Laws]"! In a truly Islamic society, women have the right and duty to obtain education, work to earn money if they need or want it, express their opinion and be heard, negotiate marriage terms and many others. The English translations of the Quran and Hadith are available for verification.

Ms. Vaswani labels Afghani women as "terribly pathetic, oppressed". Wouldn't it be fair to say that those who conform to popular standards of fashion and beauty also suffer from self-suppression? Dissatisfaction with oneself has fueled the mushrooming of countless, hugely successful make-up, clothing and weight-loss companies around the globe. And we think we're free... 

Reading the Bible and the Veda, I have learnt that Christianity doesn't condone violence and Hinduism is not about oppression. Why bring this up? Upper-class Hindus claim that condemning widows and the cruel caste system in India are religiously ordained practices. The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by a Christian group called 'Freeman' and the violent clashes in Ireland are similar examples. Would you say that these occurrences are a result of "strict adherence to [Hindu and Christian laws]"?

On the contrary, individuals who misinterpret and manipulate are guilty - we have to divorce the belief from deviant believers! Can't the same open-mindedness be applied to Islam? 

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, Muslims and other communities of color were attacked and stereotyped because over time, biased journalists have played a big role in fueling intolerance. The media refers to the guilty gun-toting group as "Freeman" and almost never as Christians! People prefer to leave religion out of the picture by blaming "the evil individual called Tim McVay" instead. Sadly, if Muslims commit acts of terrorism, the main word in the media description of the group is "Islamic". 

The writer continues, "They seem to be very equipped with high-tech weapons and bombs." But do you not question the nuclear weapons proliferation in many non-Islamic countries like France and India? It takes two hands to clap. It is unfair for any nation, the U.S. for example, to expect other nations to not feel threatened in light of its own arms build-up. 

Violence is not the answer. Hurting and denying innocent people their rights is wrong. I urge the reader to consider my point: regardless of whom we're talking about, our judgment on the seriousness of a crime should be independent of race, colour and religion. 

"Them" not being one of "us" doesn't justify an unfair trial. 

To conclude, Ms Vaswani writes, "Anyone who wants to criticises [the Taliban's] religion and rules is also an equal enemy." Unfortunately, the problem lies not with criticism but rather with lack of informed criticism. Who initially provoked this extremism and is the blame falling on the right shoulders? Without a balanced approach, any discussion will naturally evoke intolerance among people.

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