Sunday, May 21, 2006

Muslim Modesty

As usual, the starting point was this story on NPR about a bill in Indonesia that not only tries to outlaw rampant pornography but includes things like making it illegal for spouses to kiss in public, a woman showing her navel and sunbathing.

Let's break this down a bit shall we?

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Yes, we have all been led to believe it's those countries in the Middle East that contain most of the world's muslims. They don't, Indonesia does.

As such, Indonesia is an Islamic country and follows the laws of Islam, which do not demand women wear burqas, only that they as well as the men, dress modestly in accordance with the customs of their community. Some women choose the scarf or the burqa as an outward declaration of their faith, but this is not a requirement.

Islam is about faith as taught by the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be unto him), muslims must not do things that distract them from practicing their faith. This is the reason for modesty and seperation during pray services.

It was explained and demonstrated to me on a visit to a local mosque by a wonderful outreach director named Sister Dyan. During a prayer service, she knelt facing away from me and touched the floor in front of her with her forehead. This motion automatically puts the behind right up in the air. As she turned back to face me, she told me that the very act of praying in a mixed gender environment could lead to distractions. Yes, I conceded, I could understand that. So it is with dress, for both men and women.

And yes extremists, as is their wont, take this farther than the actual intent, insisting the women cover themselves from head to toe with only a slit across the eyes. What strikes me about this is that burqas are protecting the men from being tempted by the beauty of women. Have men so little self-control? Do they realize what power they are giving women by this proclamation? How do women take this power and use it for their own advantage? Another implication is that women could not possibly be enflamed by the sight of a man whose face and hands are not covered.

So then, there is a serious problem in a muslim country whose government turns a blind eye to pornography which is so rampant that it can be bought from street vendors. Even more disturbing:
There are, for example, few western countries that would show a posse of secondary school students watching a porn film in mid-afternoon and becoming so aroused they pair off couple by couple to go and have sex. Yet this scene appeared recently on an Indonesian soap opera. The fact that it was broadcast in the evening means little in a country where few children go to bed before 9pm.
Studies have shown that pornography has detrimental effects on both those who view it and who create it. Further, studies of those in the industry show they suffer from a range of mental health problems including a history of incest, molestation and sexual abuse as children.

How then, does making it illegal for women to do any number of things stop the flow of pornography?
But the biggest gripe is with the articles on what is known locally as pornoaksi, or pornographic actions. These, the opposition argue, massively curtail individuals' rights, and particularly those of women.
In America, Larry Flynt bless his perverted little heart, is the most ardent supporter of the 1st Amendment. Agree with him or not, he has a point.

But Indonesia has no such constitutional right and although there are laws on the books to keep pornography off the streets and away from children, they are rarely enforced. Opponents of the Indonesian anti-pornography law say that better enforcement is what's needed, not new laws.

What's happening in Indonesia isn't unique. All over the world, laws that are supposedly about one thing (in this case pornography) are also about curtailing the rights of women. How does this help anyone? And why do women keep letting this happen?

Stand up, stand up, stand up! Everyone stand up and tell someone, anyone that we're not going to take this anymore. Women are not the source of all that is evil and wrong in this world. Nor are men for that matter. Regardless, something must be done. So stand up for yourself, for your neighbour, for those who can't quite do it yet. Each one of us has a responsibility to make this world better for all of us.


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