Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Target: Girls ...

Earlier today I was sent a link from the Aljazeera online page. It is a report on the serious codition of Malala Yousafzi, the 14 year old shot by a 'Taliban' gunman for daring to air her views on education for girls. This brave young woman is the latest victim in an ongoing struggle for the hearts and souls of the young people of Afghanistan and Pakistan - and, I dare say, a few other struggling nations. This courageous young lady comes from the Pakistani Province of Swat, a border province and refuge of Taliban and other tribal extremists who firmly believe that the proper place for any Muslim woman - if not all women - is, to use a rather crude expression, 'bare foot, pregnant, and under her man.'

Where does this perception come from? In part, it does come from the Quran, but the passages in that book have been expanded, developed and interpretted to take on a meaning of total and absolute subservience to her man, whether her father, brothers or her husband. Ironically, the full 'burkha' and the headscarf are also not in the Quran, these are late impositions, the Burkha coming from the desert dwelling tribes where it may originally have been worn to protect a woman's skin from the harsh conditions. The headscarf has echoes with Judaism and Christianity in that it was 'required' headdress for worship in both religions, only in Islam has it become compulsory at all times when out doors for women.

One of the problems for Islam, particularly in Pakistan at the moment, but emerging now in many other societies is the concept of the 'Madrasa,' essentially a school for children in which they are taught their faith. The problem, according to a friend of mine from Pakistan, is that the majority of these are established and run by men whose actual education in the wider concepts and theology of their faith is extremely limited and often very informal. It is, according to my friend, a perfect place for the 'Imams' that run them, to foster and develop extreme interpretations, and extremist following. Often they use coercion, punishment and reward to compel obedience and reinforce their twisted teaching. It is the product of these 'schools' that one sees burning flags, stabbing effigies and ranting and chanting amid burning cars and rubbish in the streets of Islamic lands whenever there is some 'offence' perpetrated against their 'faith' in the west.

Part of the problem is that there is a struggle going on within Islam for control of the faithful and the future direction of the faith itself. Most people are now aware of the division between Sunni and Shi'a, but within those there are further divisions, within the Sunni following one finds the Wahabi and Sufi schools, though the Sufi, in truth, crosses into Shi'a as well. As in Medieval Christinaity, the struggle for control spills over into many aspects of everyone's daily life, and the 'leaders' of the faith seek, rather like the Roman Popes, to have secular as well as temporal power. As always this leads to a blurring of the faith itself and abuse of the people who make up the majority of the faithful.

In the Madrasa system, children are indoctinated in a way even Ignatius Loyolla  would have found extreme, and the fruits are the suicide bombers, the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas to name but a few. To categorise them as the 'typical' example of the followers of Islam is to do the true followers a terrible dis-service, but,as my friend put it, Islam has to 'grow up' and learn to compromise. As with Christinaity and Judaism, the core is service to God, moral behaviour and respect for each other. The extremists deny all except the first, and that has to be changed. But it can only be changed by the followers of Islam themselves. And that will not be easy, but, with God's help, not impossible.

At least there is a glimmer of hope that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the dark night of extremism. The Aljazeera report mentions that a number of Islamic theologians have condemned this attack, labelling it "un-Islamic." Let us hope and pray that others will take up the cry and find the strength to do what this 14 year old victim of extremist bigotry has begun - and show the extremists the exit.

As Churchil said, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Let us hope so. In the meantime, please join me in praying for this courageous young woman and her family as she is treated now in the UK after a long and probably fraught mercy flight.


  1. Part 1

    Sometimes, the Monk drives me to reading actual books and after poring over chapter 5 of Sale's Koran, I was just reflecting on some of the comments in this post. Firstly, may I say how I support the views and hope that the girl in question makes a full recovery and that her, obviously exceptional, mind is not damaged beyond repair. I would love to see her graduate from an Oxbridge college in a few years and would not resent my taxes helping such a person.

    Last week I was re-reading some of the early Smiley books of John Le Carre. One, a murder of quality, takes place in a mythical West country school by the name of Carne and set in a gloomy post war Britain around 1961 which was long before “the sixties” began, possibly even before the Berlin Wall went up. In it, the post-war revival of the school is trying to retain the worst possible aspects of the English Aristocracy and is focused on producing good, Godly rugger-playing boys as food for Sandhurst and boys versed in the classics for Oxford, Cambridge and possibly thence Cambridge Circus. The principal tool used to achieve such aims? The traditional Breviary under the high Church of England; Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. The locals have their Tabernacle and therefore “town and gown” are separated by a veil as impenetrable as the Iron Curtain itself.

    This set Josephus to thinking of his own Grammar School education, infinitely inferior to that of even the most minor public schools in the eyes of Carne's Masters, what would they have thought of Margaret Thatcher's 1980 cabinet of “Grammar-School Boys”? The small town in Cheshire where I was educated had two such schools (more, actually, but two “Altrincham Grammar Schools”.) One for boys and one for girls. I joined in second year (now termed “year seven”.) and was not required to obtain a cap to go with my bottle-green blazer with scarlet piping, only first-years, kept largely separate from the rest of the school were required to wear headgear. Not so the girls, whom we met rarely officially, although rather more frequently unofficially. In walking through town, detention awaited any girl not wearing her hat and carrying gloves. This was five years after the “Murder of Quality”, enter a church and every woman had her head covered, even if only with a headscarf. Move 15 miles north and many of the girls working in cotton mills still carried a shawl and covered their hair with it when working with machinery. The war of 1939-45 (at least in Britain.) had seen the end of many of these traditional practices, but until the “Sixties” they continued in patches.


  2. Paert 2

    So how then did the pupils of such a school view the middle-east? Probably in our fevered brains as a region ruled by Sultans, guarded by Eunuchs wielding Saladinian scimitars and populated in the seraglio or harem by scantily-clad beauties, who if they left the seraglio for any reason, donned protective clothing to cover their modesty, veil their hair and protect them simultaneously from lecherous eyes and the harsh sun or sand-storm. The veil caused no thought of threat, only of what might lie beneath. The fevered schoolboy brain rarely thought that of the other totally covered creatures that we came into contact with. My friends and I spent much time courting girls from the Loretto Convent, where the Friday night dances were strictly policed by the Sisters, full wimple, floor-length habit and iron gazes. They moved as if on roller skates and had the detective ability of one of George Smiley's better field-men. (As Beverley Patchet and Josephus found out to our cost...)

    Then came “the sixties” and the beginning of the world we now inhabit, few attend church, but of those who do, only the older women cover their heads, and no vicar or curate would turn away custom because someone was improperly dressed, the outfit “Posh” wore to the recent royal wedding would have her flogged in most of the middle east. (And Becks was wearing his MBE on his left lapel!) Our world has changed, most of the Muslim world has not, however, as the Monk says, the Madrassa, where education is simply chanting the Islamic texts and is strictly for males only reminds me of my own school and of Carne, no general education, but reinforcement of religious truth and social order, not to be questioned.

    My question is why does this produce the extremist? I can understand much of Islam, but nothing of the inhuman behaviour carried out in its name by certain people.

  3. Such a pity one cannot edit comments; Beckham was wearing his medal on his RIGHT lapel, i.e. the wrong one; not often I can't tell my right from my left, but yesterday was one such occasion.