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The Thong Vs. The Veil

The sudden discussion and expressed concern for Afghanistan's female population is striking. To us it seems to have that same hollow and disingenuous feel as the campaign to stop slavery in the Sudan and the effort to keep Elian in America, away from his father. We also are picking up that same whiff of moral equivalency violations that are so prominently associated with the Elian and Sudan discussions. We thought of this over the weekend as we pondered the condition of women all over the world, including those in the United States of America. We thought of this as we watched the latest music videos on MTV and BET which featured the most scantily clad White, Black and Latino women to be found anywhere on the earth. We wondered at the end of the day, of the two groups of women most prominently featured on American TV these days, who gains more respect for their intellect and spirit - the Afghan woman who is so totally veiled that you can't even see her eyes or the Black woman in the R&B and Hip-Hop video who dances while wearing a bikini and thong? Is less more?

It was interesting to see women lament over the plight of Afghanistan's women, women who now want the U.S. government to ensure that the rights of women are protected in the newly-constituted Afghanistan. But we couldn't help but remember that it was over 100 years before women obtained the right to vote in the newly-constituted United States of America. Paradoxical.

Over the weekend while watching C-Span we caught an Imam from Oakland who powerfully made the argument that there are more women serving in Iran's parliament then there are women serving in the U.S. Congress. He also made a point that it has been the United States government that has supported some of the most repressive regimes, including the Taliban, in terms of woman's rights. The U.S., he indicated, has a very selective memory when it comes to defending women's rights.

It all made us think of a recent conversation we had with a brilliant Black woman where we made the point that many Muslim nations have already had female leaders - Presidents and Prime Ministers - while the United States has never had one. We also agreed that we were confident that a woman would not become President of the United States before we passed from this earth.

For all of the talk of the mistreatment of Afghan women, we wonder if more women are raped in Afghanistan than are raped here. We wonder, in proportion to the population of course, if there are more prostitutes there than there are here. We wonder where more women are victims of domestic abuse - in Afghanistan or in the United States of America? Accounting for the various language differences, we wonder where more women are referred to as "bitches" and "whores", in America or in Afghanistan? And where are women greater victims of sexual harassment? And is it not a fact that in the United States of America, the bastion of freedom, that women get paid less for doing the same work as their male counterparts? And is it not White women, not even Blacks, who are the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action programs in the United States of America?

And for all of the talk of how women are mistreated in Islam and in Afghanistan, we don't totally disagree, but we ask the question: How many White or Black Christian women preach in the pulpit on Sunday? How many churches in this country still prevent women from being ordained or have never, in their history in America, had a female pastor? That same Imam from Oakland, that we referred to, also made a sharp point over the different ways in which Catholic nuns, who are almost completely veiled, are perceived as opposed to Muslim women who are veiled. We wonder, will their be a parallel movement among those so concerned about the veiling of Arab, African and Afghan women, in Islam, to "liberate" the White Catholic nuns who are not only totally covered, save their faces but who are not allowed to marry men. We must ask those, in America, styled as fighting for the freedom of Afghan women if this mandatory dress code and prohibition on marriage for nuns qualifies as oppression?

We think this discussion on women's freedom, regardless to the motives of those most vocal in raising it, serves a great purpose and may raise some interesting facts and contradictions that many in the West, particularly in the United States, may not be thinking of at the present time.

Think it over as you read what follows below. First we have a brief exchange from CNN's Reliable Sources between one of the hosts, Al Hunt, and a Muslim female , Queen Noor of Jordan. Second we have the complete text of last week's Democratic Radio Response from a Black female and member of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Juanita Millender McDonald who also serves as Democratic Chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues:

CNN's Reliable Sources Nov.24th

HUNT: Condoleezza Rice, the White House adviser the other day said that women have to play an important role in any post-Taliban Afghan government society. Do you think the United States should be pressuring other countries like Saudi Arabia to change their internal policies?

QUEEN NOOR: I think on this on this issue, whether it's Afghan women or women anywhere, it's excellent that the issue is being highlighted and that there should be an international focus on women who are repressed or denied their fundamental human rights anywhere in the world.

On the other hand, it's terribly important in this context that this issue not be linked in any way to a military campaign, or even to demands being made by Western countries on what will be the future government, if you will, and future policies of Afghanistan.

The Democratic Radio Response (November 24):

"Good Morning. I am Congresswoman Juanita Millender McDonald, Democratic Chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues and the Representative of California's 37th Congressional District in Los Angeles County.

"Please accept my warmest greetings on this holiday weekend. Thanksgiving is a time of year when we traditionally come together with our families and friends to give thanks for all that we enjoy as Americans. As we gather this Thanksgiving weekend, I am sure that we have a greater appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifices that so many American servicemen and women are making to ensure continued protection of the basic freedoms we cherish.

"The events of September 11 and its aftermath have tested our resolve as never before, making us ever more mindful of our blessings as citizens of this great nation. The recent US coalition victories in Afghanistan have brought us to a new stage in the global efforts to root out terrorism. Now that the brutal Taliban regime is losing power, it is time for us to examine how best to aid the people of Afghanistan in their quest to rebuild their war-torn country.

"The rebuilding of Afghanistan and the need to ensure that Afghan women will be able to participate freely in the establishment of any interim settlement and a future provisional government is paramount.

"As First Lady Laura Bush so eloquently stated last week, the women of Afghanistan have had to endure the brutality of the Taliban government for years. Women were prohibited from working, driving, or going to school. Women were beaten for showing their face in public and were publicly executed in a number of cases.

"Life in Afghanistan was not always this way. In 1977, Afghanistan ratified a Constitution giving full equal rights to women under the law and without discrimination. Women made up 15% of the highest Legislative decision making body in the country, and played an integral and influential role in the everyday governance of the Afghan people.

"Afghan women ran military hospitals, headed up universities, held cabinet level posts in the government and comprised over 70% of teachers, nurses, doctors, bankers and small business owners.

"Recognizing the civil wars of the 1990s and the resulting takeover by the Taliban, women were forced into the most degraded circumstances, stripped of their basic human rights, and went underground to educate their children.

"Restricting women's access to work is an assault on women today. Eliminating women's access to education is an assault on women tomorrow.

"The women of the House of Representatives and our male colleagues have worked for years to raise the awareness of the horrendous plight of Afghan women.

"Today, however, we are at a crossroads. We are at a stage that few expected us to reach so quickly. The Taliban regime has been scattered to a few remote corners of the country and the creation of a provisional government to head Afghanistan is imminent.

"We as Americans must stand up for the women of Afghanistan. After years of being subjugated and brutally repressed, it is time for them to return to the level of governance and participation that they once enjoyed and were guaranteed by the Afghan Constitution.

"The Women of the House of Representatives are working with the United Nations women ambassadors and women NGOs to urge that those women intelligentsia both inside the country and those currently in exile, return as a collective voice for the basic rights for women and their children, leading to a Democratic society.

"We can be certain that any future government of Afghanistan will not be sustainable unless all elements of Afghan society are included, especially its women, in determining a lasting settlement and political framework for the future.

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Monday, November 26, 2001

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