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Nov 29, 2006

Showing Another Side

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I got a little stuck on last week's TIME cover previewing the Pope's visit to Turkey.

Given Benedict's Regensburg attack on Islam, and TIME's cover story suggesting the Pope had stirred the pot in order to set up a confrontation, I couldn't figure out the image.  If he was heading to Turkey for a debate, why the minimal presence with his back (and staff) turned?

Watching the trip unfold, however, the image makes more sense.

Of course, interpretations are simply that, but the TIME cover might have actually telegraphed this week's turnabout, in which Ratzinger reversed (or, simply stuffed) his attitude, as well as performed a complete 180º regarding Turkey's bid to join the E.U.

Because outfits like TIME exist to stir controversy, one can see now that the magazine hyped the bigotry at the expense of political logic.  With the Turkish visit representing one enormous powder keg, was there really any chance that the calculating Pope would disembark Air Vatican with a lighter in hand?

If TIME got textually worked up, however, the cover actually relayed an exception.

For thematic comparison, by the way, check out today's very prominent NYT front page image (cover pdf; on-line version with article).  The shot shows Benedict in the foreground, in shadow, at the memorial to Ataturk.  Visually (and strategically this week), the Pope has become subordinate to Ataturk, the country's democratic and secular conscience (just like they way, in the TIME cover, the Pope is subordinated to the name/icon of Islam.)

In both shots, as well, the Pope is physically obscured.

The fact his face doesn't show in either instance suggests that a calculating Ratzinger, while preserving his authority as a political presence, seems on the way to diminishing himself as the central issue.

(image: Max Ross/Reuters. Nov. 27, 2006.  Cover.


Hmmmm... Maybe other commenters will explain what the cover means, and then I'll see that it's brilliant, but right now it strikes me as just a lazy way to capitalize on the "Islam vs. West" theme.

Why all the white? Why a crescent and star to represent and "a"? (I know that the crescent is seen to represent Islam, although there's actually no basis in Islam for it. That crescent and star look like the Turkish flag, though. But in any case, it doesn't look like an "a", does it?)

So green is representing Islam, but why is "POPE" in red? Does red have some significance in Catholicism?

And if the Pope is representing "The West", then I'm confused about what "The West" means. In the context of Turkey trying to join the EU, "The West" means European values that the Pope would pretty much reject as much as any Muslim. For example, take the Netherlands. They allow drugs, prostitution and euthanasia, but want to make the Muslim face veil illegal. They have a new video that every potential Muslim immigrant has to watch and agree with, which demonstrates "Dutch values". It includes a scene where two men kiss each other and another where you watch a woman walk out of the water towards you, wearing nothing but a bikini bottom. So is the Pope on their side?

Assuming that the Pope represent Catholicism, his prohibitions of premarital sex, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc., aren't exactly in line with what secular Europeans mean by the values of "the West". In fact, except for the ban on contraception (and requiring priests to be celibate), they're more in line with Islamic views.

It's kind of ridiculous that every Turkish official and visitor has to worship at the grave of Ataturk, who tried to destroy every remnant of religion in Turkey.

I agree with ummabdulla that the crescent and star are a cheap way to depict Islam, which does not contain the idolatrous imagery and icons that abound in the Christian, especially, Catholic religion. There are, of course, Islamic manuscripts depicting events from Mohammed's life, but not his face. So, the cover of Time seems to be more about Turkey, as their flag includes the crescent and the star. Confusing, because of Time's cultural ignorance, which is reflective, in general, of Western ignorance of most things culturally Islamic. (OT, old Russian Orthodox "onion" church domes have the cross suspended over a horizontal crescent, an icon the meaning of which I have not been able to find out, not even when I visited Russia. It may refer to the Vigin Mary who is often depicted standing on the crescent; if so, then the vertical crescent for "Islam" is a curiosity. Thus, what is the meaning for Muslims?) At any rate, mixing up things Turkish, the Pope's unwelcoming visit there with Islam in general seems to be one more dangerous over-generalization about all things Eastern vs. the West. Ummabdulla's analysis is very insightful.

ummabdulla: just two points. Ataturk did not try to destroy every remnant of religion in Turkey - he only invented Laizism - seperated the political structures of Turkey from the religion. To make clear his point, he forbade wearing the fez, the ottoman cap and the veil.
And secondly, the pope is not in Turkey for talks with the Turkish government. He visits Turkey to talk with the head of the orthodox church in Istanbul. It is one of his greatest desires to overcome the 1.600 years old schism beween the catholic and (Eastern-) orthodox churches. Those 15 minutes together with Mr. Erdogan were only for reasons of politeness / political correctness.
And the visit to the tomb of Ataturk is a must for all governmental guests of Turkey and here the pope is acting as the monarch of the Vatikan.

I have heard that the crosses on the domes of eastern Orthodox churches represent Christianity victorious over a prostrate Islam, hence the cross bisecting an inverted crescent. This supposedly started during the crusades.

The crescent is a very old symbol of Islam which most Muslims accept and feel positive about and I don't think it's cheap to use it--maybe in this context, but not generally. The Muslim version of the Red Cross is called the Red Crescent. Virtually all flags from Muslim countries feature a crescent, if not a star and crescent. I'm not convinced that there is *no* basis at all for its use, although the origin of the symbol may be lost in time or maybe it was accepted due to popular use over centuries.

Ataturk remains very popular in Turkey; it's Muslims from outside of Turkey that revile him. I have been to Turkey three times and most Turks are very glad that "we are not like Saudi Arabia". Jinnah admired Ataturk and to the extent that Pakistan is a secular country and therefore our ally today, it's because Jinnah was trying to take a page from Ataturk's game plan. He didn't succeed entirely of course, and a lot of what he wanted for Pakistan was undone by Zia.

The only hope for Muslim countries in the 21st century, in my opinion, is a firm commitment to secularism and a recognition that in the modern world religion and state should be separate. I know Muslims don't like that; I became one myself and hear all the time about the return of the Caliphate and how Islam is a complete political as well as social system, etc. and so forth. In a perfect world, maybe. But we live in this world and the weight of history is against theocracies.

The World Economic Forum's annual Gender Equity report is out, and ranks 115 countries. Of the bottom 14 countries, 12 are Muslim countries and the other two have significant Muslim populations. Not surprisingly, these are also the world's poorest countries, and the countries which give women the most freedom are also the world's most prosperous. This really isn't coincidental. To succeed in the world today, you need the participation of the 51% of your population that conservative Muslims say need to stay indoors.

I have visited or lived in several Muslim countries, and come to some conclusions based on these experiences. The battle today is not between Christianity (which, the U.S. evangelical movement excepted--and look what's happening to them--, has bowed out of the political arena) and Islam, but between a moderate Islam which recognizes the facts and a fundamentalist Islam that wants to live in an idealized past that never existed. These conservative Muslims remind me of the hard nosed Baptists I grew up with, who were so ignorant of the basic principles of science, economics, and human behavior that they shouldn't have been allowed to run a bake sale, and they dreamed of running the country! Moderate Islam--secular in government and law, respecting all spheres of education--is the right course for a progressively better future.

as per the image, I'm interested in how the vigorous, healthy looking green crescent dominates over the Christian symbols--the pope with his head hanging, and the crucifix. On the crucifix, the crossbeam is curved down, the Christ, which can be depicted many ways, is sagging limply at the ends of its arms. It's such a dejected looking example of that particular symbol that i have to wonder if it's the one he was really carrying, or if it was selected by the team that put together the cover, to give the idea of a Christianity weakened and chastened by resurgent, confident Islam. In relation to the pope's having to eat crow over his inflammatory statements earlier (when has that ever happened before? A pope says nasty things about Muslims--wow, that's a new one! No, it's not at all, but the apology qualifies as historic)I think this is a real possibility.

I don't really care one way or another about the crescent and star (except that some morons use that to say that Muslims worship the moon), and I realize that it's seen as a symbol of Islam; my main point was that it doesn't look like an "a". But since Tina wrote about it, here's a good article: Crescent Moon: Symbol of Islam?

It's certainly not true that "virtually all flags from Muslim countries feature a crescent". Fifty-seven countries are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and maybe ten of them have crescents on their flags. (I don't feel like finding all their flags and counting.)

I've also been to Turkey, and while pictures and statues of Ataturk are everywhere, that dosn't mean that he's actually popular with most people. I'm sure that the Prime Minister wouldn't be making those pilgrimages to his grave all the time, except that the Turkish generals are always waiting to stage a coup at any hint that the government might not be 100% behind his ideas. Like it or not, there is very much of an Islamic revival in Turkey, which is why the Islamic party is in power. And all of those women wearing hijab, and their families, resent the fact that they're not allowed to attend university or work for the government because of it. The idea that a Muslim has to be either a fan of Ataturk or a fan of Saudi Arabia is ridiculous; the vast majority of Muslims are neither.

Do you have a link for that Gender Equity report? It's funny you bring that up, because if it's the same one I read about it recently, it was garbage. For example, the Philippines came out much higher than Kuwait, as if Filipina women are better off than Kuwaiti women. Do they have free education, free health care, government jobs, social allowances for families, etc.? The absurdity is that Kuwaiti women also have Filipina maids, because life in the Philippines is so hard. One out of 10 Filipinos is working overseas, including trained teachers and other professionals who leave their families for years at a time to work as maids, because they can't get jobs in their own countries that would be enough to support their families... I'm not sure if it was the same report, but these studies are weighted so that whatever is thought to be good by the Western countries gets more points; it's no surprise that Western countries come out ahead in the rankings. If I stay home and raise my children, points are subtracted for me, but if I leave my children with a maid and go work, points are added. If I have fewer children, that's a plus; if I have more children, that's a minus. What is it that they really measure?

Let me stop because this is already way too long...

Ummabdulla's furious reaction is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about. Any criticism is immediately assumed to be an attack; pointing out problems cannot be accepted. This is counterproductive and one of the most disappointing things about the state of Islam today; there is so little open dialogue within the religion. This is very dangerous.

Ummabdulla, in order to have a discussion, we have to agree that there are some universal human values and human rights, do we not? We'll work backwards on your post, starting with the Gender Equity report you're so mad about as representing biased Western values. The report measure four things: health and survival, educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, and political empowerment. Can we assume that you believe these are all good things for women to have? If you do, then the report is not "garbage". I read the whole thing, by the way, not the blogging about it. You bet Saudi Arabia and Kuwait score lower than the Phillipines. Those countries may be rich but they make no pretense of equality, especially where the last two areas are concerned. Their oil wealth and not their attitude towards women makes these countries attractive places to work. That Filipino domestic may work in the Gulf, but when she goes home, she has the vote. And those trained teachers and professionals? That's a good sign, ummabdulla, not a bad one. They are starting to emigrate as skilled workers, and not just helots. The report may have been flawed, like any study of that magnitude must be, but it is a possible benchmark for measuring women's progress.

As to Turkey...well, I went there as a new convert and full of the "Ataturk was a stooge of the West" attitude that so many have, and was promptly called to the carpet for it. The situation in Turkey is complex, but most of the citizens do not oppose the basic secular orientation of the country. There were a few things....a teacher who felt it was a shame that young Turks couldn't read anything written before 1921, due to the alphabet change...things like that. A lot of older (and rural) women did wear hijab, but to be frank, they were not exactly looking for careers in academia or the government. I'm not saying it shouldn't be worn, if somebody wants to, and it's certainly a false choice fallacy to say you have to choose between Ataturk and Saudi Arabia, but that's how it was presented to me...and the opinions of the Turks themselves should count for something. Or not? Or do Islamists just studiously avoid talking to Turks who don't agree with them?

That the debate within Islam is so skewed becomes evident when so-called Muslim moderates start shrieking about banning the burqa in Holland. Not hijab, but the whole, face-covering burqa, whose only purpose is to render women invisible. For God's sake, do we really want to defend the burqa? Why??? We would never wear it ourselves, would we? Can't we pick our battles better than this? It will be a joyful day for Muslim women when that garment is relegated to the rag heap of history, and any legislation that will push that day closer--wonderful. While we're at it, let's ban it in Afghanistan, too. Once while in Pakistan, it ws explained to me by a policeman that one of the tragedies of his work involved finding women murder victims dumped in the streets. They were probably killed by their families, so no one was coming forward to report them missing, and--get this--because they had worn the burqa their whole lives outside the home, they could not even be identified. Literally no one outside their homes had ever seen them. They were buried nameless, and their killers could not be brought to justice. The burqa doesn't just have a bad rep--it IS bad. We don't need to stand up for it, and the women who claim to want to wear it are misguided.

My fiance is from a Shia family in Hyderabad. Two days ago his teenage cousin, six months into an arranged marriage, poured kerosene over herself in her kitchen and set herself on fire. She lived for a day and a half with over 80 percent third degree burns. Her screaming could be heard all over the hospital. If this girl had had any of the things the gender equity report measures--the kind of schooling or job opportunities her much older husband enjoyed, minimal control over her body and reproductive functions, even just a phone number for a women's shelter--she may have felt she had options and not taken this drastic step. It's not an abstract matter of Western values vs. Islamic values, Ummabdulla. It's a matter of human lives. Your posts are usually some of the best on the thread. I'm disappointed to see you engaging in the kind of knee-jerk defensiveness that so typifies the "Muslim position". There is no one Muslim position, and its time to start recognizing that fact so we can get the blood flowing again. No religion or philosophy can long survive if its adherents can't have an honest debate with each other about where they are and where they need to go.

Thanks for your patience, I know this is long and OT.

tina, i agree with you. there has to be a move toward more secular and/or moderate forms of government in muslim countries. it is sad to say that women seem to be treated as property in islamic countries.

I found Tina's posts to be very educational. I happen to have reservations about outlawing Burqas or especially "headscarves". Besides possible cultural insensitivity it seems like a 'baby-step' toward banning all facial coverings in the name of security. Heaven forbid we should thwart our benevolent governments' attempts at 24-7 surVEILlance in the name of Homeland Security. Of course the enforcers will be advised to remove their name-tags and badges as well as donning baclavas and gas masks when called upon to beat, shoot and gas any protestors. In Portland the police regularly announce that they will detain masked individuals taking part even in permitted marches. Officers on horseback often charge through marchers when snatching the masked from the center of a crowd. When masks are outlawed only criminals will go trick-or-treating.

Nice post. I'm reading Umberto Eco's Baudolino at the moment so this really resonates in hard to describe ways.

I agree with someone's earlier comment that the Catholic Church does not -- or should not -- represent "the West" insofar as it prohibits a lot of the same freedoms other fundamentalisms do. I don't see the Pope liberating Catholic women in the Third World.

Tina I don't know where you're from, but unless you're from Afghanistan, I don't know what you're doing talking about "let's ban [the burqa] in Afghanistan too". It's not for us to do the banning.

Further, ummabdulla's point was that trained Filipinas aren't getting the skilled jobs they're trained for overseas. They're working as maids.

Continuing off-topic, from my perspective here in The Netherlands, banning the burqa was just dumb. There are approximately 100 women in this country who are thought to wear it. Will this law ever be enforced? Or was this a way of de facto kicking out a few dozen families? The Dutch idea of tolerance is getting squeezed to the point of absurdity. ( there any serious European move anywhere to ban orthodox Jewish women from covering their heads?)

The staff in pope's hand points directly upwards toward the word ISLAM. It is in the image of the cross, which appears as a handle of a sword against the word...the Islam. MSM, the pipeline for the war and occupation, has been helpful in past in various ways to identify Islam as the enemy and to stir the hysteria of the US public. They have been so helpful.
So what is TIME doing with the heading "Pope confronts Islam?"
Is that another block in a way of meaningful dialog? Is it a way to put readers in a frame of mind already set against Islam?

Papa Ratzi has left (is leaving) the building.

Regarding the crescent, on the Turkish flag it represents the moon at the time of the Fall of Constantinople. I haven't done any research on this, but I wonder if the Islamic countries that use the crescent on their flags were in fact those that were once members of the Ottoman Empire? In that case, the crescent would be more a symbol of the Ottoman Turks than of Islam.

I don't know about any triumphalism inherent in the crosses on top of Orthodox churches, but I do know that the croissant (crescent) was first baked by Viennese bakers to celebrate the victory over the Turks in the siege of Vienna.

Ironic, of course, that the French adopted the croissant as their own, considering that they sent no help to relieve the siege even though asked to...

Historical triumphalism through symbols is everywhere - no religion or culture has a monopoly upon it...

Sort of looks like a Germanic prince, headed south to lead a Crusade.

Was anyone else watching CNN this morning when the President stepped off the plane in Amman? I swear the TV feed made it look like Air Force One is green.

As an atheist, I tend to get very angry at all the idolization of popes, especially this one. Ratzie has been instrumental in smashing the liberation theology movement in South America and keep poor catholics poor. Under the last pope, Ratzie was the pope's enforcer. He is also instrumental in covering up the priest sex scandals and has brought one of the cardinals most involved in same to the vatican for a high position and gave him a prominent role in the funeral doings for the last pope. So I see this as a church/religion which has managed to wring from Italy the status of a state, trying to throw it's weight around in a foreign country where most of the inhabitants are of a different religion.

Since TIME has historically been considered as leaning toward the catholic (maybe it still is), I wonder what they are saying by the pope being small and in one corner, seen only from the back, as if walking away.......from what? Or is it that the church is walking away from the people who need it?

I agree with Tina about the crucifix being a weakened symbol. My thought was pathetic. Such a fragile symbol to uphold a pope, let alone an entire religion. As for the crescent and star, I hate to be so pragmatic, but I think it is just a lazy, facile way to immediately identify Islam. It is a cover and has maybe two seconds to catch the eye of a buyer.

OT: I learn so much by reading all the comments here. Especially this day by tina and ummabdulla. As an outsider, I see the conflict among the muslims the same as the conflict within christianity, in that the fundamentalists are always looking back and the others are looking around at their brethren.

Keir, ummabdulla is not entirely correct about that. A good friend of mine (for the last 12 years) runs an Islamic school in Manila. His wife is Filipino and he met her in the Gulf. She is a dentist and was working there as such (He is from Chad). His experience is that nurses and teachers from the Phillipines are working in the professions for which they were educated, especially if they don't go to the Gulf, but often even if they do. Even if they weren't, however, that in no way obscures my point--they are going there just for the money. So the oil soaked rich in the Gulf may have educated what? This in no way proves that the Gender Equity report is "garbage". But some people are going to want to discredit it just because Muslim countries didn't fare well...the "knee-jerk" reaction I was talking about.

About Afghanistan...sadly, you are right, it is not for people from outside the country to do the banning. I was against the invasion of the country after 9/11, as terrible as things were there. I knew nobody was really going to liberate women and that nothing much was going to improve for them--and by and large it hasn't.

There are only two things the outside world can do in such a situation; first, the non-burqa wearing moderate or liberal Muslims can make it very, very clear that they do not think wearing the burqa is an "Islamic" value. There are enough of them that if they can take some control of the discourse, the message will be heard. Second, positive things, tanglible rewards, must be offered to the hard line regime to show them it's safe to come in from the edges a little bit. China was already doing this in Afghanistan--building dams, power stations, etc. (in exchange for what, I do not know). Contact with the Chinese impressed the Afghans positively, who found them organized and hard working. Could they have had a similar experience with America or the West? We'll never know now. Construction projects are not as spectacular as invasion, but they probably work better.

Well, lastly, let's again make the point that banning the burqa is not the same thing as banning hijab--which they have tried to do in English and French schools, and which I really disagree strongly with. Since it's the burqa we are talking about, the comparison with head coverings doesn't apply.

As for Holland, it's not really about how many women will be affected. It's a statement that says "we don't want women to be invisible, marginalized citizens here". If you can say the Afghans have a right to force women to wear a burqa...ummm...why don't the Dutch have a right to force them to take it off? That's an expression of their Western values. And really, at what point does tolerance become "absurd"? To my mind, it's when you live in a liberal European democracy and say burqas should be tolerated. When the first woman's body turns up in an Amsterdam canal that nobody can identify, what happens then? All human beings have a right to be seen, to be known, to have an identity. It's fundamental. The burqa denies a woman her very existence.

We had a women's leader in our masajid once who said that there was a hadith that decreed that women should not cover their whole faces, because then they couldn't be recognized for the purposes of identification. Leaving your face uncovered was in the category of "things advisable (or good to do) but not commanded". Covering your face completely was "not advisable, but not forbidden". Unfortunately I cannot remember any details or offer any confirmation for this. Also, she may have been wrong (she was a convert herself and younger than I was; she led the group because her husband was the Imam). Maybe ummabdulla can help me? :)

My first impression was that the Pope is either dejected or was rejected. Ejected?

Tina: "That Filipino domestic may work in the Gulf, but when she goes home, she has the vote." And how does that help her? Her President is a woman, too, and how does that help her? So I'm sure the Philippines gets high marks for political participation, and if that's what's being measured, they'll get a good ranking. So will countries like Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka and Indonesia, since they also have family dynasties which sometimes put women as political leaders. But what does that actually do for the average woman? (And all these countries also depend on overseas remittances from women who work as maids, not to mention men who work as drivers or laborers. I guess that's gender equity - since they both have pretty difficult circumstances.)

Yes, some Filipinos have professional jobs, and more work in restaurants and shops, but they're a minority compared to the domestic workers. Just a personal anecdote - my sister-in-law had a maid on a two-year contract, and she asked to go home early because she was actually a teacher and wanted to work as one. So she went, and about six months later she called and asked to come back. Now she's back as their maid, because even when she found a job, the pay was so poor. (As it happens, my sister-in-law is also a teacher. Like all Kuwaitis, she had a free university education and is well-paid, with good benefits. She's on maternity leave from having her third child, and has gotten a second maid. Do you actually think her maid is better off than her, because her President is female?)

I know this whole issue is way off-topic, but I also used to assume that voting or having women politicians was some measure of women's status, but I've realized that it really isn't. (I know people will recoil at that...) I didn't think my reaction was "furious", but if so, I apologize. It's just that I saw a news article about that report, and it just didn't make any sense.

Actually I do think that women who have the vote and who can see women participating in the political process (even under nepotistic circumstances) are better off than women who don't and can't. I don't care how much money the latter have or how many maids they can afford. That doesn't impress me.

If you didn't have the money, would you be better off? Not likely. You don't have gender equity--you benefit from economic inequity, not quite the same thing.

We are talking, really, about two different things. You are talking about material well-being, which women (and men) in the Gulf have been granted via a happy accident--oil in their sand--and done nothing to earn. The seemingly liberal economic benefits you enjoy did not, unfortunately, come from any hard-fought debates about progressive ideas and the social contract. The place is awash in so many petrodollars that everything is free and nobody pays taxes. In this respect the Gulf is a unique region in the world (and since it's such an exception, it doesn't have much to do with the lives of most Muslim women anyway). So it's more than a little disingenuous and misleading to keep talking about your maternity leave and free education.

And you keep talking about Kuwait, which is reasonably liberal, but you carefully sidestep mentioning the largest and most dominant country in the region by several orders of magnitude, Saudi Arabia, whose gender abuses are systemic and notorious. Talk about not wanting to see the elephant in the room.

I am not talking about money but self-determination, which no woman can really have if she can't vote, run for office, drive a car, or go out without a male relative attending. It doesn't matter if she is rich and has a maid, a driver, a purse-holder, a handkerchief picker-upper, and somebody to put the fork in her mouth when she eats. It just doesn't matter, her maid can still be from a more equitable country than she is.

And those maids you brag about having will be lucky if they aren't raped or sexually harrassed on the job. Don't ask how I know this. I do. There's your big equal rights in the Gulf for you.

Sorry to go on about this but it just irritates the h*** out of me when people just keep going with this "But we're so rich!" non-argument. Gahhhhh. I didn't get a free education from sugar daddy "Big Oil", so I worked for it, and I raise my children without a maid. And I'm STILL happy I don't live in the Gulf (I have been offered jobs there, I just have never been badly enough off to have to take them. The expat compounds in the Gulf are some of the most depressing places to live in the world. My fiance just got back from two years there). And your sister's maid wanted to leave--guess she didn't like it too much either. Even with super-duper tax-free wages, it seems people don't really fancy the place.

Your money hasn't bought you equality, so quit pretending it has. Women in the Phillipines are poorer, maybe not even "better off", but that doesn't make their society more sexist than that in the Gulf; it seems to be quantifiably less so. The whole argument you put forth is rotten from top to bottom.

Tina, I'm not "bragging" about being rich or having maids. (Just for the record, I also raise my children without a maid, and I worked for my education, too.) You've completely twisted what I wrote. I'm not saying that being a maid to a Gulf family is wonderful - exactly the opposite. My point is that the idea that those women are better off than their employers, because their president is a woman, is just ridiculous, and I'm surprised you're even trying to argue it. Because these maids can vote when they're home, you think they have self-determination?

"And your sister's maid wanted to leave--guess she didn't like it too much either."

Well, of course she wanted to leave! Who in the hell would want to leave her own family for two years at a time to be a maid to someone else's family? Especially when she was trained to be a teacher? They do it because they have no other options in that wonderful land of gender equity, where she can vote - there's your "self-determination".

(Many other places are known for bringing maids from overseas - Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon, Israel are the biggest employers, I think. And in many areas of Asia and Africa, it's normal for even middle-class households to have maids from their won country - often children.)

If the Gulf is an exception, then why do you keep bringing up Saudi Arabia? There are more than a billion Muslims, with various cultures and in various situations, but you like to say that "in most Muslim countries...", and as long as it's negative, most people will accept it, even thought it's simply not true.

Basically, you exaggerate the negative and ignore the positive, and if you even acknowledge anything positive, you call it an exception. As for the "Gulf compounds", Kuwait doesn't even have compounds; there are some outside of Saudi but they're mainly a feature of Saudi life. Many Westerners are happy to live here, not only for the money (and they don't pay taxes either), but for a lifestyle which is safer and more family-oriented.

Here's another perfect example about these kind of reports, though. The BBC reports today that Ireland is named 'best country', according to "a 'quality of life' assessment by Economist magazine." So now people like you will note that the the top countries were all Western (I guess Australian counts as Western), and probably Muslim countries are somewhere down on the list. They say that "Researchers took into account not just income, but other factors considered important to people's satisfaction and well-being" - and of course, they're looking at factors that are important to people like them.

I have nothing against Ireland; my family is Irish-American, my father's been to Ireland, and it's a beautiful country. But I have no desire to live there, because many of the things that are part of life there are things that aren't compatible with an Isamic lifestyle. So if people want to read these reports, then fine, but they should be aware that they really only represent a certain point of view.

Back to the picture... I thought that was also an unusual crucifix on the Time cover, but I saw a picture in the paper of the Pope celebrating Mass in Ephesus, and he had that same one. Is it his special sceptre or something?

I agree some of your general points, just not all the particulars. You are absolutely right that all kinds of reports and studies are subjective, might be biased, and may have an agenda (gotta love the ones put out by right wing think tanks with appealing names like the American Enterprise Institute).

I never said that the Philippines is a wonderful land, just that as per the sorts of things the Gender Equity report considers important, it does better than some richer countries, and I tried to explain why I agree with that. I also pointed out that the report did a pretty good job of identifying things that are universally of importance to women, and was not based on culture (viz. the report is not really an evil plot of the West). But if you don't think that suffrage matters or makes a difference, I guess I don't know what to say.

As you correctly noted, life is tough and lacking in opportunities for both men and women in the Phillipines, so the going abroad to work is not a gender issue, they are not leaving because they are women or because women can't get jobs in the Phillipines, but because overall wages are lower there. The only sex discrimination going on is that employers prefer to have women as maids. If you wanted to hire a male Filipino to vacuum the living room or be a babysitter, for example, you could surely get one...but obviously people don't. Hence it's the Filipino woman in the family who gets a work visa, even if she's a mother who has to leave her kids. Again, this says more about gender in the Gulf than the Phillipines, no? Why not give the domestic worker visas to the main bread winner in the family?

Well, I usually disagree with the Economist and am not defending its choice of Ireland as Best Country but, well, it seems a lot of Muslims live there, so why isn't it compatible with an Islamic lifestyle? You don't have to drink Guiness to live in Ireland, do you? I'm confused.

I get different reports and surveys that end up saying things like people are happiest in Cuba or most optimistic in India or the best place in the world to be free of stress is Brazil and so on. These are a lot of fun to take to class, especially in America, to use for getting the kids to think about what kinds of things are being measured. In a survey of happiness, why would Cuba come out on top? Trying to answer this gets them to start thinking about what makes life really worthwhile and the many intangibles involved. If the country I am having the class in, such as the United States, fared badly, I also make them articulate the reasons. They may find they miss the spiritual element in their lives that people in India have or that the constant scrambling to make payments makes life less enjoyable--in some respects--than it can be in Brazil (consider this statement null and void if you live in a slum in Rio, wherein your mere survival becomes a stressful job).

This is a complicated and worthwhile discussion for students to have, and more adults need to be having it too. What are our values? What are our absolutes? Who is suffering because of us? How might we change that? What do we have to offer? What do others have to offer us? What am I going to do about all this?

Muslims, in all their wonderful and not-often-enough-acknowledged variety, are currently struggling with these questions too. Much depends on their success in keeping the dialogue open, honest, and unbiased, as they would like other people's attitudes towards them to be.

I think the pope has different staffs. I'm not a Catholic so I don't know what significance they all have...all the different depictions of Christ have a meaning, Christ as supplicant, Christ as triumphant over death, and so on. Some pictures of "Christ suffering for our sins" really play up the gore and must be tough for the kids to see. Maybe the Pope chose this one for its look of humility and meekness.

Both of you make very good points (tina & ummabdulla). This is a very good discussion.

This is how I read this cover: the pope, in all his lonely glory, is willing to 'fight' this fight, and even though he may be (allegedly) facing up to the assumed 'monstrosity' that is the Muslim world, he at least is doing it. Hence his smallness. Hence his back turned.

It seems to be saying that everyone else is sitting on the sidelines watching, willing to criticize without willing to 'fight'.

Yes, those reports and surveys can be interesting, but it's important to know what they really measure and what assumptions they used, etc. Often the news reports use some headline about them that isn't really an accurate description. There was another one recently that was described as showing which nations had the happiest people, and those rankings also seemed strange to me, but when I read more about it, it wasn't just about happiness. It also counted how much waste per person the country produced, or something like that, which didn't seem related...

"The only sex discrimination going on is that employers prefer to have women as maids.... this says more about gender in the Gulf than the Phillipines, no? Why not give the domestic worker visas to the main bread winner in the family?"

I'm pretty sure you know all this, but anyway... First of all, cleaners in businesses, government offices, schools, etc., are both men and women. Families that have cooks are as likely to prefer men as they are women. Drivers are almost always men, although I've heard of families in the UAE who bring Filipinas, since they're usually driving the women and children anyway. (There are often... I don't know how to describe them... sort of annexes outside of the main house, and they have a kitchen and a room for a male driver or cook to live in, so that he's not in the house, so the women have their privacy.)

I do know of people who have men come into their houses to clean, but it's rare. Of course, this is because a Muslim woman is not going to have an unrelated man in her private living space; she would have to be covered all the time in her own house. (I know some people think we dress that way in our houses, but we don't!) The maid takes care of the children, accompanies the woman when she goes visiting her family or to take the children out, etc. It would not be acceptable or desirable for the woman to be spending so much time alone with a male.

On the other hand, men are hired as domestic workers for places where men get together, like their diwaniyas (meeting places), desert camps, etc. And men's wedding parties ahve men cooks, waiters, etc.

Don't the people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Israel (not to mention "the West") also prefer female maids and nannies?

Actually, I was surprised when I got here to find that in my computer center (in a government ministry), I had a woman supervisor and woman manager, but a male secretary. It's perfectly normal in the Middle East for men to be secretaries, nurses and teachers. (The Arabic language schools have no trouble finding men teachers, but the English and bilingual schools do.) In fact, since girls and boys go to separate schools, the boys' schools require men teachers, administrative staff, guards, cleaners, etc. And girls' schools require a complete staff of women.

Because men and women often do things separately, the society requires women in various other professions, including photographers (to take pictures and film women's wedding parties, etc., and to develop any film of women not wearing their hijabs); singers for women's wedding parties; bank officials (for the Islamic bank, at least, which has separate sections for men and women); opticians (for women who cover their faces and don't want to uncover in front of a man); professors; tailors, doctors, dentists, physical therapists, etc. for women who don't want to go to men; etc.

Thank you for clarifying that for me. How could I forget? Total gender apartheid is an equal opportunity employer. I feel a lot better now.

And colored folks, your drinking fountains are right over there....separate but equal.

I guess the reason I've never felt okay with this is that I've spent most of my time in the Pakistan/Indian/Bangladeshi orbit of things, and in that part of the world many Muslims feel that what you describe is a serious perversion of Islam.

It has real consequences for them; Saudi Arabia has spent a huge chunk of its oil wealth promoting its brand of Islam and has been very influential (Muslims who don't speak Arabic as a first language tend to defer to those who do on religious questions). In poor countries this has been devastating. Waiting for the school to be able to hire two sets of teachers means your girls don't go to school; waiting for the hospital to have two complete staffs available means women don't go to the doctor, if they buy this nonsense that they shouldn't be examined by a man. How can Bangladesh afford two sets of employees in its banks? So what happens? You guessed it--women get vastly inferior or more limited service or none at all. And all the boys that are attending the Wahabi madrassahs right now are going to insist that life be like this, if they ever get any power. This isn't Islam. This is politics, a power grab.

If you want to know where this leads in a country that doesn't have the money to cloak the consequences of this doctrine, look at Afghanistan.

I got the "hate stare" from a group outside a madrassah the last time I was in Bangladesh. I was dressed in chelwar-kameez and even covered (with a duppatta) and I got the hate stare all the way down the street. All of those students were boys under the age as ten, and they were all dressed as Arabs. They were perfectly confident about their right to intimidate me and they were already well practiced in their ability.

Very unnerving.

If photographs of me can't be taken or developed by a man, who gets to look at them afterwards? Nobody but the family? How do I get/use a passport? A driver's licence? This is insanity.

"And colored folks, your drinking fountains are right over there....separate but equal."

I don't know if you're American, but that's a typical reaction from Americans when they hear of separate schools for boys and girls. (Although many studies show that both boys and girls do better that way, and many prominent women even in the U.S. went to all-female colleges.) In fact, girls and boys have the same educational opportunities and facilities, and from what I see, it's actually the girls who are more successful academically. But Americans usually can't see past their own racist history to believe this. Not to mention sexist, because they seem to think that women couldn't run their own schools without men.

Actually, when I hear of mosques not allowing women, women rape victims being punished instead of their rapists, and other "perversions of Islam", it's usually from the "Pakistan/Indian/Bangladeshi orbit of things". In all the times I've been in Saudi Arabia, I've never had a problem praying in a mosque, and the "Wahabis" execute rapists, instead of putting the victims in jail.

Didn't you say you were/are Muslim? If so, you must realize that a woman who wears hijab doesn't want men seeing her photo without hijab, and that a woman who wears niqab doesn't want to take off her niqab in front of men either. So yes, if women go to a wedding party and have their picture taken with no hijab, wearing makeup and dressed in something revealing, they don't want men seeing them. There's no law about this, but it's for the convenience of the women that we have these things. Don't worry - everyone has a passport, and most women have driving licenses, too; it's a convenience, not a barrier.

I think it is interesting that the pope is shown facing away from us, as if he is leading us, or representing us facing forward against the Islamic world. We have his back in the picture, we are seeing what he sees from close to his point of view, and he is in the lead, ahead of us.


I have been following ummabdulla's and Tina's comments closely. They prompted me to post here first time.I have lived in India for first 22 years of my life and attended both co-ed and girls-only schools. I liked girls-only schools better since I didn't have to deal with pressure on my appearences and didn't feel inhibited to participate in classroom.

I don't think it would be a problem for a muslim woman to study, function well in society if she lives in a society described by ummabdulla where everything aspect of life is available to women and run entirely by women. I am fortunate to come in contact with a few women from Kuwait, Iran and Egypt who are well-educated in their own countries and passionate about what they are doing (whether it is pursuing their profession or raising families).

However, the problem comes in societies like Pakistan/India/Bangladesh. The limited resources of these countries cannot afford two separate systems for every aspect of life. Often times, a village is grateful if it has one teacher and one doctor (irrespective of the gender).

Anyhow, all this would boil down to having barely enough resources for only one system. Should everybody be encouraged to use it or should it be allowed to be used by only one gender?

The way I see it, economics and gender equality are tied. If a community has few economic resources, often its women are under-nourshied/over-worked and generally abused (domestic violence, flesh trade, female infanticide) irrespective of religion/location on earth. Economic freedom of women often gives them a chance to atleast run away from abuse. I think it is worthwhile to debate the role of religion in such circumstances.

"If a community has few economic resources, often its women are under-nourshied/over-worked and generally abused (domestic violence, flesh trade, female infanticide) irrespective of religion/location on earth."

Thanks for those thought-provoking comments.... I was thinking about this statement above. I agree with the basic point, but I don't know about the examples given.

Female infanticide is most common, as far as I know, in India, China, and Taiwan (and I've seen Korea mentioned, but I don't know whether that's North or South Korea). I know that in India, it's not really connected with poverty; often, it's families who are financially comfortable who can afford the ultrasound to find out the sex of their babies - although poorer women still get rid of daughters by suffocating them after they're born. So while poverty may play a role, it's not as if the poorest families in all societies kill their daughters.

And domestic violence is found in all societies and all classes in those societies. Are there statistics about how the incidence of domestic violence correlates to poverty?

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