The Real News Story

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, State of Formation

Here’s a news headline for you: The trial begins in Phoenix today for Faleh Hassan Almaleki, the Iraqi immigrant accused of killing his daughter for becoming too Westernized. The prosecution’s argument goes like this: Almaleki ran over his 20 year old daughter with a Jeep Cherokee because she was abandoning their traditional Muslim values, having moved in with her boyfriend’s family.

Several months ago in England a similar news headline ran when Harry Potter actress Afshan Azad went into hiding after her father and brother beat her, called her a whore, dragged her by the hair, and attempted to murder her for dating a Hindu. She has yet to re-emerge.

Sadly, these news stories aren’t so new at all because we hear frequently—too frequently—about violence against women, especially in the Islamic world. Of course, not all Muslims condone violence against women, but the kind of behavior exhibited in these crimes is based in certain Qur’anic interpretations and might go without question in some Muslim countries: In the United Arab Emirates, for instance, it is legal for a husband to beat his wife, so long as the beating does not leave any bruises or cuts; in Iran, the law says women can be stoned for committing adultery, as documented Freidoune Sahebjam’s book-turned-film, The Stoning of Soraya M. and the ongoing case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. And, of course, there is Saudi Arabia, with its strict provisions for gender segregation and male drivers. Recently some clerics in this country issued a fatwa encouraging women to feed breast milk to grown men, thereby allowing them to interact with the her family without violating segregation laws.

In other words, violence against women justified by Islamic law is common—what is newsworthy here is that the consequences of these Muslim policies are playing out in traditionally non-Muslim countries. They are violations rooted in Muslim values that bear fruit in the heart of the traditionally Christian West, in the United Kingdom and it’s younger cousin, the United States. These are crimes straight from the tomatoes in that diversity salad bowl or from the copper and silver mixing in that global melting pot.

So how is the West to respond? One option is the growing movement amongst progressives advocating for plurality in the West. As Archbishop Rowan Williams so contentiously said in 2008, blending Western and Sharia law would be unavoidable, “If what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good.”

This kind of logic seems to be a panacea for cultural conflicts: Respect diversity! Allow for difference! But a panacea is not a solution, especially not when one culture has policies that allow for such widespread discrimination—or in this case, not when both cultures do. After all, the Western world hasn’t exactly earned its gold star for women’s rights either, not when 25% of women are victims of domestic violence, equal pay for equal work remains a myth, and the (now former) president of Harvard says that women have inferior math skills. It may not be the same kind of discrimination, but it is discrimination nonetheless.

So maybe plurality is not, in fact, what we want. Maybe, for once, we should focus on what I will call monality, on a common ideal that that should be shared between people—in this case, that women should be valued, that they should have the freedom to be intimate with the person of their choosing, to work for an equal salary, to drive where they wish, to not be exploited for their vaginas or their breast milk.

Imagine a headline that read: Western and Muslim countries unite for women’s freedom.

That would be news.

The Reverend Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is ordained in The Episcopal Church and has taught a variety of educational institutions, including Yale University. She is completing a doctoral degree in practical theology at Boston University, where she researches trauma and barrenness; she is also the author of “God and Harry at Yale: Faith and Fiction in the Classroom” (Unlocking Press, 2010).

Filed Under: Around the WebChristianityIslamWomen

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