Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nightmares in the West and Reality in the East

Once upon a time, Margaret Atwood wrote a book called the Handmaid's Tale, about a nightmarish vision of America taken over by an extremist Christian group who denied women all rights, and in fact, refused to even let them learn to read, and kept them pretty much under thumb at home. The society described was horribly restrictive, with men and women being punished in public ways for infractions that would be considered trivial by the people of our culture.

It is interesting that she projected her fear about this on the American Christian right. In reality, this type of society has been created, and it's not by Christians of any flavor, but by people in the Islamic sphere. In the puritanical, purist movements within Islam, which tend to interpret the Islamic sacred writings through a world view that is strongly colored by tribal notions of what is proper, the followers are striving for what they see as a return to the ways of the first three generations of Islam. Yet in their strivings for righteousness as they see it, nightmare societies have been created, with huge amounts of repression, threat, and misery.

The Taliban experience in Afghanistan is an example of that, where women were beaten for walking too noisily and were forbidden learning, where men who wore soccer shorts were punished, where punishments of amputation and blinding were not uncommon, and the religious police made sure no one listened to music and that men had proper beards.

In many, many ways, the Taliban regime fulfills Margaret Atwood's nightmare world.

And now, in Somalia, that world is threatening to reform. Sharia courts are now ruling in areas controlled by the Islamist groups, radio stations are being forbidden to play music, and all the normal restrictions are women are now falling into place. It often works in small ways that seem trivial, but when added together paint a picture of life without freedom, morality of a type not native by force. Besides radio stations being forbidden to play music and movie houses being closed, recently, a woman's school for cooking had a graduation ceremony, but the photographers who covered the story were forbidden to take pictures of the women involved.

As they consolidate, the Islamist leaders are promising a Taliban type state, and some of the activists from Pakistan have come over to help.

This reality is creating a growing refugee crisis. "An average of 300 Somali refugees have arrived in Kenya daily over the past three days amid reports of an advance on the southern Somalia port city of Kismayo by fighters allied to the Islamic Courts Union," UNHCR said in a statement. "Most of the refugees now arriving in Kenya are women and children and many are in poor condition. They are tired and markedly emaciated after travelling on foot and aboard trucks over long distances and for many days." (source)

The numbers have gone up from about 100 a day a month ago to 300 now, and more are feared if violence takes over Kismayo.

Why are women and children fleeing? Because they know the consequences of staying behind will be worse. There are times the perils of the unknown are better than the certainties that await for those staying behind.


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