1. Yet another recent victim of religious ideology.

Malala Yousafzai is a fourteen year old Pakistani girl from the township of Swat in Islamabad. At the time of her interview on Aljazeera during the summer of 2012, she was a bright, intelligent, gentle girl who loved going to school and learning. She was very mature for her age and knew her own mind. During the interview, she gently disagreed with her father’s opinion on some issues, but showed her respect and love for him. She was clearly a young woman who sought information, weighed up situations for herself and then without rancour, arrived at her own opinions. On October 9th 2012 she was shot in a deliberate attempted execution and she barely survived the two bullets aimed at her. Yet in the case of Malala Yousafzai, and others, we need to look beyond the immediate horror and outrage and look at what motivated it and what reasons were used by the perpetrators to justify it.

The attempted execution was carried out by adult members of a fundamentalist religious group (the Taliban) on October 9th 2012. Armed with at least one gun they intercepted the vehicle in which the defenceless fourteen year old was travelling. Then these religiously motivated cowards attempted to end her life by directing two bullets at short range into the young girls head. She survived the brutal ordeal and was rushed to hospital and later flown to the UK for further surgical work to save her life. At the time of writing she is recovering. This cold and calculated execution effort failed as the bullet travelled along the left side of her jaw, narrowly missing her brain and thus failed to kill her. But what was her terrible transgression to deserve such a savage attempt on her young life?

The crime she had been found guilty of, asserted by her Taliban judges, was introducing western values into her community. The charge was not in anyway substantiated and perhaps for very good reasons. During the TV interview all she was insisting upon for herself and advocating for other females was the right for women to be educated. But that was apparently enough. Or was it? Was that really the full extent of her crime? In fact I suggest her transgression – in the eyes of her religious judges and those tasked with her execution – went far deeper than simply desiring to learn to read and write. Her full crime was to openly advocate “peace, education, freedom of thought and freedom of expression“. The latter two elements are the ones which religious authority of all denominations try to resist and the fundamentalists among them – most fiercely.

I suggest there were two further problems the patriarchal fundamentalists who planned her demise had identified. First of all she was a girl on the way to being a woman who could reason for herself and could not be cowed by words of a man – not even her father. Second; she was a living example to other young Muslim women that women are capable of being independently minded and could assert their rights against any religious assertions to the contrary. This from the standpoint of a patriarchal religion – that proposes a male supernatural being and advocates male domination in all affairs – is an anathema. And it is the resurrection and conservation of patriarchy which all the modern militant members of the three Abrahamic religions are intent upon achieving.

Given that the Taliban admitted its members carried out the judgement, authorised the execution and carried out the attempt, it is not difficult to work out that this was a religiously inspired attempted murder. It cannot be dismissed as a ubiquitous terrorist attack by anti-imperialists. It was not aimed at North American or European Imperialists and ex-Colonialists – it was aimed at one of their own. For this reason, there must have been a religious-backed discussion between members of the Taliban. No doubt after consulting with their religious elders, a decision was sooner or later made to punish the 14 year old girl for not adhering to the religious norms which the Taliban religious mentality think appropriate and insist upon. But just what are these norms, and where are they derived from?

The Taliban represents a certain segment of the religion of Islam. However, it is important to recognise that Islam is itself a branch of the above mentioned Abrahamic family of religions. All three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are patriarchal institutions based upon imagined and sanctified patriarchal ideologies. In theory and practice all three religions consistently and persistently elevate men’s authority above women and religious authority above all members of the religion. In particular, the ‘holy’ scriptures of all three religions repeatedly and stridently advocate and emphasise, the subordination of women to men. Below are some examples.

2. Religious justifications for the subjection of women.

Lest people try to use this article as a pretext for singling out Islam, let us begin with the Judaic Torah or Old Testament, before going forward to the New Testament and concluding with the Qur‘an;

“And the Lord God said;…in labour you shall bear children. You shall be eager for your husband and he shall be your master.” (Genesis 3 v 16.)

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection….For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and she transgressed the law.” (1 Timothy 2 v 11, 13 and 14.)

“Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the others,….Good women are obedient….As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” (‘Women’ Surah 4: 34.)

So here is a scriptural basis (one of many) of the denial of women’s full and equal rights in all three of the Abrahamic religions and this includes young women like Malala. These examples, along with many others, in their scriptures, make clear the patriarchal foundations of these ancient religions in the world of male hierarchical and authoritarian societies. For thousands of years the hierarchy of all three Abrahamic religions persecuted women and heretics in various ways. It is only in the last few hundred years that those living in European Christian and Judaic communities have been free of such barbaric tortures, burning at the stake, and summary executions for disobeying the religious elite and their supporters. Yet even in the 21st century, women, world-wide, are still not treated as equal to men. And Malala along with young women like her, born into Muslim communities, are increasingly not accepting ‘mastery’ from a husband, nor are they learning in ‘silence and subjection’, or happy to be ‘beaten’ and sent to bed.

Before a degree of European and Western arrogance steps in, we should recognise that in most western societies made up of Judaic and Christian religious communities, women are also not treated equally to men, despite generations of campaigning for equal rights. Societies in which one or other of the Abrahamic religions plays an important part are still male dominated and women continue to be treated as second class citizens. And in many cases women in Judaic and Christian societies are still expected to be subjected to men. Even in Western societies with secularised and equalised legal systems, rape and sexual harassment of women within and outside of marriage, are still common. These are the unsavoury cultural vestiges of that Abrahamic patriarchal domination tradition. So it is not all ancient history and enlightenment over here. As recently as November 2012 the English Church denied the right of women to serve as Bishops. The Abrahamic ideology clearly still maintains a stranglehold on the intellect and humanity of its adherents.

For this reason alone (and there are others) revolutionary-humanists are opposed to all religious power and control over people. And that opposition includes not excusing, glossing over or defending the ideologies associated with them. Whilst the defence of religious members from racist or sectarian assault and discrimination is something we should actively promote and engage in, this does not extend to supporting the ideologies which assist in their continued subjection. Let us be clear on this. It means not furthering the practical subjection of these individuals to religious authority by remaining selectively uncritical of that ideology and its implications. Silence and complicity on this issue and justifying this position in the name of accepting cultural diversity is a reactionary position. We can see what so-called enlightened religious thinking can accept as God-given with respect to women‘s employment rights, so how bad can it get when this patriarchal mentality really aggressively asserts itself? We have a glimpse with the shooting of Malala and its justification comes from the same source.

3. Religious justifications for killing in the name of God.

“Now go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both men and women, young people and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses.” (1 Sam. 15 v 3)

That is an extract from the Jewish Bible which Christians refer to as the ‘Old Testament’. Think about last months ‘fire and brimstone’ rained down on Gaza! And is not slaying men, women and children, exactly what the Zionists in Israel did to the inhabitants of Gaza and did in 2009? Will the Israeli Army Rabbi’s or others have not read this or any of the other such extracts before the Israeli Offence Force went into battle against the Palestinians? From the Christian New Testament we read;

“And out of his mouth came a two-edged sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he will rule them with a rod of iron;” (Revelation 19 v 15.)

Although Christian economic and political rulers, such as IMF chiefs, Bankers, Obama, Cameron etc., now control nations mainly through economic and financial means, they nevertheless still wield the sword and rods of iron (now laser guided) in Iraq, Afghanistan and they did so in Libya. And of course the last thousand year history of Christianity is littered with corpses killed and tortured in the name of Jesus. So what about the Qur’an?

“He whom Allah has led astray cannot be guided. They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have done, so you may all be alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of Allah. If they desert you, seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. (Qur’an Surah 4. 88/89. Women.)

Sincere belief in this portion of Islamic ideology, as devout Taliban members will undoubtedly have, would suggest that the all-powerful Allah has led young Malala Yousafzai astray and she is no longer guided. The sentence following this proposition suggests that such followers can ‘seize and put to death’ any such deserter. And isn’t that exactly what was attempted on Malala in October 2012? Whilst not all members of these three religions would choose to follow such barbaric suggestions, (there are many more in these three religious documents) the fact is they remain as solid, accepted – even revered – parts of this ideology and so can be used by those who choose to do so. This possibility – motivated and justified directly by religious ideology – means there is a clear difference between support for a human beings rights and support for an ideology and practice which denies those rights in numerous other ways. The deliberate conflation of religion, culture and identity by those supportive of or immersed in religion, raises an important issue for solidarity among the oppressed.

4. Solidarity with the oppressed.

So solidarity yes! But as human-beings and workers not as Muslims, Jews or Christians. From the perspective I suggest we adopt, we should not fail to distinguish between a) ideologies which enslave the intellect and practices of the oppressed and b) the rights of human-beings not to be the target of racist intolerance. This is particularly important where this racism is thinly disguised as intolerance against a religion. In any case, racists and neo-fascists are not against religion, many are religious themselves. We should expose this subterfuge, refuse to accept it’s validity and thus ourselves distinguish between religion and the person. To my mind, simply or crudely to defend people as Muslims, Christians or Jews, against racist attacks is to defacto support their ideological subservience to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and their potential or actual subordination to the Rabbis, Priests and Imams. We should defend them as human beings. Yet this failure to distinguish between the person and the ideas they have been subjected to since childhood has been repeatedly manifest among the left, including those who class themselves as revolutionary left – particularly with regard to Islam.

To my way of thinking, this uncritical position also fails to recognise the existing tensions within Islam and those between secular tendencies against religious governance – particularly from women and youth. It is the latter two categories who bear most of the weight of this oppressive form of hierarchical governance. This false dualism may also omit to recognise that not all those oppressed workers and students in the middle-east and elsewhere, are Muslims. Some identify with Christianity or Judaism, and many are secularists. For the most part in the many anti-west riots and disturbances there is a tenuous and fragile alliance between political Islam tendencies and others, which – as in Egypt is already breaking down. We should not be party to effectively allying with only the political Islamists by blanketing them all together and defending them on the basis of their religious ideology. For it is an ideology which intends to reintroduce patriarchal, anti-female, anti-gay norms alongside modern forms of capitalist exploitation. Religion is part of the problem for humanity, not part of the solution. [See also ‘Religion versus Women’s Rights’]

Roy Ratcliffe. (November 2012.)

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  1. Annos says:

    “And of course the last thousand year history of Christianity is littered with corpses killed and tortured in the name of Jesus.”

    So very true, everyone should read up on what King Richard the first did to the defenceless women, children and old people which was mostly what inhabited the city of Accra when he took it…

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