By James Coffin
On Saturday, June 10, groups in some 28 cities across our nation participated in a “March Against Sharia,” organized by ACT for America. Orlando was one of those cities.
According to an article on the Sunshine State News website, the protests were to focus on “some of the harsher Sharia practices—from female genital mutilation and honor violence to blasphemy and apostasy laws.” Which, the article stated, were “increasingly showing up in American society.”
In the article, one of the event organizers was (indirectly) quoted as saying that “if radical leftists wanted to hold counter protests in favor of female genital mutilations [FGM], honor killings and the death penalty for former Muslims who have left the faith, they were more than welcome to do so.”
I view myself as moderate to liberal—and I’m absolutely, categorically, unequivocally against female genital mutilations, honor killings and the death penalty for those who’ve left their religion. You won’t find me defending such practices. And I seriously doubt that you’ll find many “radical leftists” who defend them.
The reality is, extremist ideology/methodology, of the type I feel ACT for America specializes in, is often right in many of its assertions. The problem usually lies in what such groups deny or ignore, and in their failure to adequately address complexity and nuance.
Let’s consider FGM, for example. The fact is, FGM is indeed more likely to be prevalent in Muslim-majority countries. That means Muslims need to address this problem. But it’s not exclusively a Muslim problem. Christians in certain cultures likewise practice FGM. Also of importance, some highly conservative Muslim-majority countries see almost no FGM.
The foregoing facts in no way reduce FGM’s barbarity and misogyny. FGM leaves females badly scarred, whether the scars are inflicted by a Muslim, a Christian or a deranged maniac. But the existence of the complexities and nuances surrounding this practice suggest that we might be more successful in our drive to eliminate FGM globally if we would include all the facts in our presentations, describe the complexity of the social contexts where it’s practiced, and actually join forces with progressive Muslims in our quest to eradicate FGM, rather than merely condemning Muslims en masse.
Likewise, there’s no question but that honor killings happen to Muslim females—occasionally right here in the United States. It’s a fact. And, you’ll note, it’s females who lose their lives when their behavior is considered inappropriate. Male misbehavior rarely seems to be viewed as rising to a level that would require forfeiture of life.
But here’s the other shoe: Have you noticed how frequently we encounter news reports in the U.S. about a non-Muslim woman who has been murdered because she so displeased her non-Muslim husband, boyfriend or former partner? It happens often.
Although there’s typically no attempt at religious justification for such atrocities, females have clearly become devalued in the minds of many males. Too many men feel fully justified in releasing their wrath on a female partner if they feel she has fallen short in some way. Honor killings and domestic-anger killings actually have more in common than we might readily recognize.
Many Westerners inveigh against the subordinate status of Muslim women. And I have no question but that, in addition to some Muslim-majortity country’s specific subordination laws and religious emphases, Islam has its share of mistreated and downtrodden women—as do all religious and social groupings. Moreover, many people of all faiths who demean women seek religious justification for their misogyny.
But the fact remains, despite all the comments about Muslim chauvinism, eight Muslim-majority countries have had a woman president or prime minister. Those kinds of facts need to be seriously addressed in any objective analysis of the status of Muslim woman. And we must not forget that it was fewer than 100 years ago that women in the United States gained the right to vote. Need I remind anyone that one of the greatest hurdles to this milestone was the percentage of the populace who declared voting women to be inimical to the teachings of Christianity.
Certainly, Islam has its challenges—ISIS and Al-Qaeda, to name but two of the biggest. When Islam’s name is routinely associated with the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by such organizations, it has a highly negative impact on the Muslim “brand.” But even the main organizer of the June 10 nationwide protest marches has acknowledged that probably about 75 percent of Muslims are peace-loving. (Gallup’s research put the number at about 99 percent.)
Call me idealistic. Call me naive. I’m willing to take that risk. But it makes sense to me that we should seek to become friends with that 75 to 99 percent of Islam’s 1.6 billion adherents, some of whom are probably our neighbors. We should then engage in dialogue and candidly share any concerns we have. My experience suggests that, when we do, we’ll discover that their concerns are amazingly similar to ours.
Then we should work together to create the kind of world we all seek.
James Coffin is Executive Director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.