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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Our Culture is Medieval

While the world is still in trauma from Paris attacks, probably some searching for answers for terrorism and how to fight it back: I would say, regardless who finance terrorism, and what political purposes it serves, religious terrorism takes its raw material from a medieval culture that refuse to evolve and prefer the stagnancy of death to the fresh springs of life.

My education in English literature made me read history, sociology and many other subjects to understand better the literature I was studying. It helped me think outside of the box of the stagnant culture I always refused. When I started my job as university professor in Al-Mustansiriyah University, Baghdad, I tried to have my students think outside the box as well, and develop the individuality our collective culture denies. It lashed back at me when most appeared resistant to be different and preferred the march of the herd, than the dance of the individual. I tried to teach free expression on social networks, and found attackers shooting me with accusations of treason and apostasy and atheism.
Honestly I didn't expect this hostility; I expected indifference but not that. They found me a traitor who turned her back to the country that gave her everything she has: education, social status and job. For some reason, my constant reference to the head-scarf , which they failed to get its symbolism, was understood as expression of desire to take it off! Because I passed few arguments that undermine the validity of the head-scarf or neqab as part of Islamic rules, and took a feminist stand against man's religiously imposed guardianship over woman, they attacked me as defying God's words. 

Regardless of the fact that those who attacked me actually misunderstood what I post because of their weak grasp of English, as it show in the broken English of their comments, their attitude was not to be taken as personal. They simply expressed deep rooted culture of monolithic views, and exclusive attitude toward different ones.

They blamed me for "trashing" the country instead of showing gratitude! In Iraq, during the 1980s, 90s and till now education is free and available to all its citizens. But I don't see all having PhDs, so it must be something more than being an Iraqi that helped me come so far in education: family support and faith in me, personal choices that preferred being a career woman rather than a housewife and above all a defying spirit that challenged social convictions which tried to hold me back. These three have nothing to do with being Iraqi, actually being born in Iraq, under the tent of Middle Eastern culture that pushes women to be second rate citizens, just made it harder for me. I remember when I was nominated for PhD program, many of my senior colleagues told me while congratulating me that now I wouldn't have the chance to find a husband as men fear women with PhDs! I had my family at my back supporting me and believing in me. My father, after feeling the sting of letting one daughter marrying young, decided to have all his other daughters pursue their education and have guarantees against the hardships of uncertain future and against prevalent male domination. Now four of six daughters hold higher degrees and work as university professors, while the fifth and youngest is MA candidate in Physics. None of us could have done it without the support of our father, and without the hard experience of the eldest daughter who was the escape goat of a medieval culture that believed in male domination and a woman's need for male guardianship. 

They blamed me for arguing against hijab (wearing the head-scarf) or neqab (covering all the body). Unfortunately, if it is the word of God or the word of someone else, the arguments that support hijab spring from the idea of protecting men from the seductive beauty of women. They project women as sexual beings, created for the pleasure of man, and thus they need to cover up whatever in their bodies that is considered "seductive" to men! In other words, if I felt uncomfortable with heavy clothes and covering up, I need to hold it up and bear it, so I won't seduce men, and drag them to sin, or probably provoke them to hurt me (many would attribute harassment against women to the latter indecent clothing, always blaming the woman for provoking that animal behavior in man). Ironically such arguments don't insult women as much as they insult men, and carry an implied acknowledgement that men are like wild animals who can't help but drool over naked flesh! If I was a man, I would never accept such insult to my humanity and self-esteem and would be ashamed of such arguments, and instead of repeating blindly these views, I would raise my sons to be respectful of women, ask my friends and every male I know to be "human"! 

My personal attitude toward the head scarf is well known in previous article I published, in which I said I wear the scarf since I was 13 and even when I was given the choice, I don't take it off because it became part of who I am. Do I support it? Do I recommend it? Would I ask my daughter, sister, niece, or anyone to wear it? Definitely no! For me, it doesn't make a difference in one's personality and it won't prevent a girl from being what she is. 

The attackers wanted me to express patriotic gratitude and feel proud for being Iraqi, Muslim and voice out the bravery of my country. I am sorry I can't lie! I am not happy in a culture that support male domination even when the woman is the bread winner, even when she is the one who holds the family together, the decision maker would be always the male, even if he was quite useless! I don't believe in a culture that sees me a tempting meat that needs covering while wild animals drool over it! I don't feel proud of  a culture that makes me the property of family, husband, and tribe! I don't feel proud of a culture that make me an outcast and social alien because I am different! I am not proud of a culture that failed to see through my humanity and disregarded my individuality, a culture that wants me to be part of a blind herd. 

Finally, I am not proud of a culture which can admit its hypocrisy, division, and can stop all wars, but when it comes to me, a woman, it retreats back to a stone age, and lashes me as a shrew.       

N. F, M 

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