Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Feminism and Terrorism

Hello Reader,
Got children with ideology and religion?

Those people who weren’t politically involved, as I was, may forget that back when people wore peace signs, even peace belt buckles, society endured constant bomb threats, while the The Anarchist Cookbook (for bomb making, 1971) was rolling off the presses. Sean Crawford 

I was wondering
To a young idealist
At university
Epilogue: A feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan

I was wondering what I would say to my imagined college aged Muslim half-radical niece or nephew. Could I help them to exchange an iron ideology, one where cold parts fit too tightly to let any light shine through, for a loose, breezy uncertainty? The kids might claim I had “sold out.”

Maybe I could honestly tell them that I myself had been an involved teenage idealist, one who left home after my eleventh grade, wearing my non-capitalist home-dyed T-shirt, to go burrow into the edge of old Chinatown. (Of course I would spare them any stories until they were much older)

“Every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse.” If my grandparents, parents and my own peers believed in “salvation by society” as in, for example, a revolutionary form of government, an Arabic democracy, or communes of love… then, as Peter Drucker noted back in the 20th century, our children, giving up on such dreams, now believe in “salvation by religion.” 

Fundamentalism then, Muslim or otherwise, is just like terrorism in being NOT from “poverty and despair” as our bleeding heart leaders claimed after 9/11, but instead, surely, fundamentalism is from hope for a better world—in fact, I dare say there are now more fundamentalists in the affluent U.S.A. than in the less affluent parts of Europe. As a Londoner put it, “God lives in the American midwest.”

(Note: When I was phoning the British Museum long distance, to ask if I could wear my backpack, I caused a stir of laughter when I innocently said, “Praise the Lord.” The answer by the way was: Yes, you may bring your rucksack, but this year we have a line up for checking bags for guns and bombs)

As for London, as I noted here in my September essay I Met a Muslim in London, there were lots of folks in burkas walking around. Meanwhile, crossing my local university, I passed a young lady in black with only a visor slit for her eyes. I did not see that visor as being from [religion + peer pressure] No, I saw her as a typical student showing her [religion + youthful rebellion] .  A few years ago, while the pendulum swings, I read in the newspaper that Muslim kids in town are saying their parents are not Muslim enough. No doubt, to them, their parents praying only once or twice a day, instead of the Islamic five, is wrong. The kids cry: “You just don’t understand!” 

In my day, here in North America, Chinese parents might tell their child, as the kid packed alone to go to China, that China was not a “workers paradise,” that the cultural revolution was not a shining jewel to excite the world. But no, the kids had their own ideas: “You just don’t understand!” There is a Quebec movie (probably The Barbarian Invasions) where a man now old remembers, with a humiliating flashback, praising the cultural revolution. at great length, to a Chinese lady who has suffered unspeakable knowledge, as she just looks at him, steadily and silently.

To a young idealist packing up to go to the middle east, maybe torture prisons are OK, are only for the bad guys, only for the greater good of society, only temporary, to bring about a shining new age. Such iron logic. It was a communist sympathizer and “fellow traveler,” Han Suyin the Asian fiction writer, who helped me understand how to avoid being brainwashed—something I could share with my sister’s kids. As it happens, I was an intellectual, even back in my teens, and idealistic too. Allah knows we intellectuals can be very extreme in following our philosophies right to their fearsome, pitiless conclusions. One day I went to hear Han Suyin, (“Han” as in “China”) Such a gracious, gentle lady. She said you must look at concrete examples, not solely at your abstract religion-ideology. Do this, the lady said, in order to avoid the horrors of extremism. Based on her three-part political autobiography, I knew Ms Suyin was a survivor, gentle and effective, but never a useless bleeding heart: I respected her judgement.

I  would talk with my niece and say to her, yes, I can understand people saying society must be protected from sinners who would kiss each other, and so forth, outside of marriage but, if I may bring things down to a concrete level: Is beheading your cousin Fatima the appropriate response? And, to keep things “fair and square,” must cousin Mohammed, in turn, be stoned to death for kissing too? Another concrete example for my Puritan niece: Would you telephone the police if that handsome, nice looking Justin Trudeau was a guest at your house, and then he started smoking marijuana? And if you did, would you visit your former guest while he was in jail? Or would you be too ashamed of phoning? How unsurprising, then, that in Canada such drugs will become legal after mid-2018. 

(Note: In Canada, of course, drugs have remained illegal, but we have never waved the flag and beat the drum to have our society at war: No U.S.-style collateral damage, with President Obama impelled to pardon hundreds of people)

To the kids, I would reminisce about being a welcome member (“Just don’t vote”) of the Women’s Collective and Resource Centre at the university. “Liberation, sister!” And if my nephew’s eyes began to glaze over I’d tell a white lie, “How exciting for me, that they had burned their bras.” I have read that today feminist theory is so obscure only professors can discern it and then teach it, but— In my day, let me tell you, ordinary women without degrees could meet in people’s houses and share their concrete stories and experience. By doing so they encouraged each other to lower their mental defences and raise their consciousness. “The truth will set you free—but first it will make you miserable.” From their lived examples they formed theories, miserable ones maybe, but good ones. Heady stuff. Empowering. As for that new fangled assertiveness training, theory could be a friendly foundation, but assertiveness training only worked by using concrete examples. 

At university, if my niece and nephew were smart enough to attend, and if I visited, then I would tell them that technical courses require students to grind out equations every evening, right until up bed time—they are in school to learn the answers. It’s no coincidence terrorists never major in the liberal arts. In a general studies education, “free time” is part of the workload, for they are there to learn the questions.  Students may stay up, a boy and girl across coffee mugs from each other, not for equations but for discussing the meaning of life. (We just don’t do that in the working world) 

Term papers will be assigned well in advance of deadline, for students to have ample time to sit under an apple tree and get hit on the head by an idea. Too bad half of them will spin out their term paper the weekend before, but as for the other half—Wow. As a student, you discover there are no nice, tidy, ideological answers. You compare and contrast, document and footnote, and at the end of the term… the scholar still retains an open mind, the same as any scientist. 

The only fitting True Answer, however vague, is: Let us work for the common good. 

Let’s not have civilization go backwards. Because, as our liberal education unfolds,  we come to realize: it’s been such a terribly long, slow slog to get this far.

Sean Crawford

Epilogue: A feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan
Missing… because it was posted here last week. (archived October 2017)

~To document that terrorists don’t take general studies, see the opening of my essay Backfire, a book review, archived September 2010.

~for “today feminist theory is so obscure” see (link) 

~I wonder: In the British Guardian newspaper this week, did a non-feminist scientist’s unexamined belief in “society as we know it” misinterpret a viking grave? (link to) How the female viking warrior was written out of history.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

As Epilogue a Feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan

Hello Reader,
Remember your activism, back when the world was young?

I am publishing this epilogue first: It is the ending to next week’s piece, where I talk to my niece and nephew without revealing my own youthful involvement.

In London last month, on the embankment, (Bankside) at the free Tate museum of modern art, I paid to see a special exhibit of US Black political art. Outside the entrance, in the broad hall, were videos of Blacks speaking on camera: the assassinated and the dead. Of them, only Angela Davis, now out of prison, was still alive. From boyhood, I remembered James Baldwin, with great tender love, telling Ms Davis, “If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the evening.” I wanted to say so to the ticket taker, but my tongue faltered— I was too sad to talk to any Englishman too young to remember. I don’t regret my youthful days. The art included a door shot up by police killing a Black man as he lay sleeping. (Not the Black panther headquarters door, a different door)

At the exhibit gift shop—some shelves and counters by a cafe—I picked up a collection called Sister Outsider, essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, the U.S. Black poet and university teacher. About a decade before the taking down of the iron curtain, she went to Uzbekistan, a Soviet Socialist Republic. She wrote on page 29: 

But she talked most movingly of the history of the women of Uzbekistan, a history which deserves more writing about than I can give it here. The ways in which the women of this area, from 1924 on, fought to come out from behind complete veiling, from Moslem cloister to the twentieth century. How they gave their lives to go bare-faced, to be able to read. Many of them fought and many of them died very terrible deaths in this battle, killed by their own fathers and brothers. It is a story of genuine female heroism and persistence. I thought of the South African women in 1956 who demonstrated and died rather than carry pass books. For the Uzbeki women, revolution meant being able to show their faces and go to school, and they died for it. A bronze statue stands in a square of Samarkand, monument to the fallen women and their bravery. Madam went on to discuss equality between the sexes. How many women now headed collective farms, how many women Ministers. She said there were a great many ways in which women governed; there was no difference between men and women now in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics… 

From Lorde’s edited journal entries from her trip in 1976 as the invited American observer to the African-Asian Writers Conference sponsored by the Union of Soviet Writers.
Sister Outsider, copyright Audre Lorde 1984, 2007,  Crossing Press, Berkeley

Sean Crawford,
With lots of memories pouring in today,
Je ne regret rien,