Some days you wake with the sun shining and nothing short of a tragedy can dampen your good mood. And then there’s the other days. Like the kind of day when you read the news and wish you hadn’t because it’s like a bit of your soul was sucked from your self and flew away, leaving you reaching for it like a toddler’s lost helium balloon. Today, even though the sun is currently shining, it is a day of lost balloons for me.
The news broke today that the religious police of Saudi Arabia have decreed that their Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice will cover any women’s eyes that are deemed “tempting.” “The men of the committee will interfere to force women to cover their eyes, especially the tempting ones” he said. “[We] have the right to do so.” (The Beast, “Saudi Arabia’s Religious Police Outlaw ‘Tempting Eyes'”.)
I am sure there are three reactions to reading that article: horror, agreement, and apathy or dismissiveness.
The folks who are horrified might be divided into two groups: those who see it as evidence of Islam’s errors and those who see it as an attack on women.
Those who are in agreement might also be divided: people who read the Qur’an in a similarly conservative fashion and those who think, regardless of religious affiliation, that women should be held accountable for men’s treatment of women.
And, of course, there are lots of reasons that people are apathetic or dismissive of injustices against others. But primary to that reaction, I believe, is a person’s inability to see others in the same light as their self. Or, to put it a different way, we tend to not care, unless it affects us.
For just a moment, I want to ponder the religious aspect of this, which cannot be disconnected to the cultural aspect as well. Please note, I am no scholar of Islam nor of the Middle East. These are just my thoughts based on rudimentary readings. However, it seems clear to me that the culture, in this case of Saudi Arabia, has green-lighted both the subjugation of women and the acceptance of the erosion of women’s humanity. From the comforts of my more progressive corner in the world, it is easy to beat my chest and gnash my teeth at these injustices happening against women in various parts of the world. And I don’t think I’m alone in that reaction.
It is easy to vilify other cultural norms while holding up your own comfortable one as being better.
However, I’m sure you know what connects Audrie Pott and Rehteah Parsons. Both were 15 year old girls. Both were raped. Both were bullied by others for being raped. Both killed themselves.
And how about Steubenville? Or Penn State? Or your own hometown. For that matter, all the hometowns of folks like Jimmie Lee Jackson, Annie Mae Aquash, Noel Polanco, Lisl Frank, the Mirabal sisters, Treyvon Martin, Matthew Shepard, et cetera, et cetera.
We are no better regardless of who we are.
The fact is, humanity has chosen time and again, to excuse the behavior of some based upon the existence of others. Women in Saudi Arabia must be completely covered, head to toe, so that men aren’t driven to lust after them? Girls who wear “x” clothing or go to “x” places or do “x” things deserve to be raped? People whose skin tone is “x” should be treated as property? If you love the wrong person, you deserve fewer Constitutional rights as well as personal safety? If you are this, instead of that, you deserve to die?
The answer can only be no. And yet, for some, that is not how they respond.
As many of you know, I am a writer. I write words and those words are mine. But what people do with those words, how they choose to interpret those words falls under their personal domain.
Imagine, if you will, that I wrote a short story where the character shaves all the cows in the United States and paints them purple. Someone reads my short story and then begins rounding up all the cats and dogs in his/her neighborhood, shaves their fur and then writes poetry on their flanks with a Sharpie. No jury would find that person innocent of that property crime based on a defense of “but I was told to do it in a short story because that’s what I think it said.”
And yet, that is precisely what so many people do. They pick and choose words to interpret as an edict for action. And when that action is to take from another person either property, health, happiness, or freedom, that action is just as evil as any purported devil described in any book.
It seems to me that what really connects humanity is twofold: our capacity to do great good as well as great harm, and our capacity for blaming other people for our actions. Or perhaps what really connects us is our ability to ignore all those atrocities unless they happen to our children, our selves, our loved ones.
Let me be clear. You, and only you, are responsible for your actions.
And if we US citizens or we Christians want to think ourselves as somehow “better” than the Muslims of Saudi Arabia (insert any religion in any country), than we had better stop ever saying “but what was she wearing” or “was she drinking” or any other thing when we hear a woman has been raped.
Because the only response we can give a rape victim, that is in any way correct, is “I am so sorry that someone did this.”
How do we move forward? It isn’t by telling girls that they must be covered head to toe. It is by teaching boys that it is never okay to touch another person without express consent, each and every time regardless of the status of their relationship.
It is by teaching boys and girls that they are responsible for what they do and how they react to others.
And it is by teaching all children that they must treat each other in the same way they want to be treated, both theirs word and their deeds, all around the world.