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The original sin
Considerably more attention was generated some months earlier by another story about how religion conceives and enforces its view of a woman’s place. The horrific attack on two Afghan girls en route to school—the young women were severely disfigured by acid allegedly thrown by Taliban fighters—was widely reported and discussed. Obviously, the assault was more brutal, shocking, and newsworthy than an elderly white guy’s regretful decision to separate himself from the misguided pronouncements of some other elderly white guys. And just as clearly, the Taliban’s plans for women far exceed the darkest imaginings of the Southern Baptists, whose tenets—“a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband”—seem genial and reassuringly vague when compared to the restrictions that the Taliban impose, and seek to impose, on women, regulations that narrow the parameters of daily life down to a space in which anyone, male or female, would suffocate. Under Taliban rule Afghan women cannot work, attend school, leave home without a male chaperone, or ride in a taxi. Minor infractions, such as showing an ankle, are punished by public whippings. More serious violations, such as adultery, are capital crimes for which the sentence is death by hanging or stoning.
The acid attack on the schoolgirls offered graphic and persuasive confirmation of one reason why we have gone to war, or in any case one reason we’ve been given: according to some, once we defeat the Taliban, every Afghan girl can go to school. That’s the outcome everyone wants, though it is less often mentioned that literacy rates among Afghan women were appallingly low long before the Taliban, back in the 1980s when we were still arming the mujahideen—including many future Taliban warriors—to fight against the Russians. The Taliban’s demonic and demonizing attitude toward women represents merely the most current extreme manifestation of the grotesque misogyny fostered throughout history by religion and patriarchal tribal culture. Both the Taliban and the Southern Baptists employ the “lessons” of biology and scripture to “prove” women’s inferiority, a view of our gender unlikely to be eliminated by another air strike or drone-missile deployment, or by the polite demurrals of a former president.
Sensible, decent Jimmy Carter got it right again. “This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a higher authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with and reinforce traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant, and damaging examples of human-rights abuses.”
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