Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lubna Hussein and rights action

So, where was I…?

Ah, as I mentioned in the mermaid-fatwa post, I came across the site ProgressiveIslam.Org in the course of searching for more information about and means of aiding Lubna Hussein.

As discussed on a recent Pharyngula thread, Hussein, arrested by the Public Order Police, is facing trial under the Sudanese General Discipline Law for - as it’s been translated - “sensational dressing up” in the form of wearing pants. (The trial appears now to be scheduled for August 4th, a few days from now.) This class of law is of course an affront to anyone who cares about human rights and freedoms, and those challenging it in their countries should receive all of the support we can give them.

I was somewhat disappointed to find that it was difficult to find ways to help concretely. I did find these three organizations/sites, with which I’m not really familiar, which seem to be following the case.

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

Women living under muslim laws


The second, if you follow the link on their page, provides contact information (including email addresses) for protest missives. I’m sure more publicity won’t hurt, either.

A few thoughts on the matter:

1. Ideas don’t have rights – people do. This isn’t perhaps the most relevant point to be made in this specific case, but it does need to be made. (I also just like linking to the Center for Inquiry’s work on this front.)

2. The notion that this is a case of an isolated Islamic society whose culture(s) have developed in some vacuum, now requiring some benevolent foreign intervention in order to progress, is ridiculous. They are not at some stage of a teleological process awaiting the gentle nudge or violent shove of their benighted “Western” brethren to move them along. The cultures in question have been part of the rapacious world political and capitalist system for centuries, and imperial intervention has played a major role in shaping them.

3. Further, the more we understand, the more complex things appear. It is dangerous to paint people, especially women, as helpless victims in need of rescue by the powerful.* Often, those who appear initially as voiceless and powerless victims come to be recognized, as in this case, as brave fighters. Lubna Hussein is a reporter who has long been an outspoken critic of the government. Reports say she’s resigned from her job at the UN so that her status as a UN employee will not shield her, rejected a compromise put forth by the head of the reporters’ union which would require her to promise not to dress that way again, and refused a presidential pardon. She has sent invitations to her flogging. She is brilliantly and successfully publicizing her case as part of an effort to get these laws scrapped.

Neither are the law and its enforcement merely an archaic survival of a backward religious culture or mindless reaction to “modernization” and “Western values.” Its enforcement appears to be expanding at present as a means of controlling and silencing political opponents, especially women. It is very much bound up with the larger political context.

4. People who develop some sudden interest in women’s oppression or human rights (which, incidentally, just happen to be tropes of value in their broader political campaign - e.g., with respect to immigration or military intervention - or in their material or power interests) are not to be trusted. In fact, anyone claiming to speak or work on behalf of oppressed groups should be viewed with great skepticism.

5. Those who question or oppose interventionist policies, existing or proposed, do so for a number of reasons, from moral to pragmatic. Labeling them as accomodationists and “cultural relativists” or defenders of Islam when they have made no arguments of the sort is dishonest. (Which is by no means to say that a cultural-relativist perspective has no place in social analysis, and certainly not that an ethnocentric approach is desirable. My way is to take a critical historical approach to all cultures and cultural change, forming my beliefs and responses on the basis of values and understanding I’ve developed through that process.)

It happens that sometimes little or no action may be called for from certain groups – there may in some cases be little productive we can do other than offer verbal support, which should not be undervalued - but there is no stark choice between action and inaction. There are various courses of action available in response to rights issues, and these can be discussed and debated by reasonable people. Empty, menacing internet tough talk is worse than useless.

6. The very concept of human rights as broadly understood and practiced today is inherently problematic and needs to change. It should be replaced by a vision of human rights that does not construct depoliticized victims but rather promotes engagement with people who are suffering and fighting, respecting them as complex and active human beings with their own goals. It needs to move away from a legalistic and statist conception that considers governments the ultimate granters and guarantors of rights and toward one that encourages people to work together to construct and maintain their rights on the ground. I’ll have much more to say about this in the future.

*I haven't had the opportunity to read it, but among the popular works that caught my eye is Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, as an atheist, I despair because I don't understand. Why does this particular religion seem so impervious to criticism or any attempt to inject some sanity into its corpus? Progressive groups like the ones you have mentioned have been around for quite a while, but the progressive/moderate faces do not seem to have made much of a dent in the overall outward face of this religion... They are still as obscurantist, tribal, oppressive, paternalistic and misogynistic - not to mention, replete with insane followers - as ever.

    Or, are all religions exactly the same?