By DAN K. THOMASSON
WASHINGTON — Did it ever occur to you that men who practice a radical form of whatever religion they profess have one thing in common: a distrust of women that mostly manifests itself in abusiveness to one degree or another? They use the term “orthodoxy” to justify the most bizarre demands on their mothers, sisters, wives and lovers.
Muslim radicals in many societies enforce incredible dress codes on females who wander around like specters in black shrouds, some with only their eyes showing. In many villages in the Middle East, a woman seen without such garb is subjected to severe punishment and Allah help her if she is the victim of a sexual assault or strays from the dictates of family arrangements with the opposite sex. Stoning is on the list, if male relatives don’t do her harm first for the sake of family honor. Even in some American Christian churches and synagogues, women are excluded from holding office or participating in policy decisions.
They also must adhere to codes in dress and behavior that even Christ would find disturbing. They literally have few rights outside their subservient wifely duties in and out of bed. All this occurred to me while reading a story about an “orthodox” group of Jewish radicals who put up official-looking signs in their Israeli neighborhoods that prohibit women from walking on the same side of the street as the sect’s house of worship — where, of course, women are not permitted to enter the front door and must pray in a separate place from the men. One can only speculate that the men are probably afraid to hear what the women might ask God. Since Israel considers itself a modern, democratic country where freedom is granted to everyone, government officials did not take this obvious public relations disaster kindly and ordered the signs removed.
Once they were gone, however, the ignoramuses made cardboard replicas and a large banner with red lettering and put them up again. The justification for the sidewalk ban was that men would be uncomfortable if they had to confront women outside the synagogue. Some women were quoted as saying they also would be uncomfortable and would prefer not to be jostled by men. Who can blame them, at least by these men? Clearly, the Israeli government is concerned about the situation in Beit Shemesh, where religious zealots assaulted television crews and faced off with police, pelting them with rocks and eggs. The confrontation reportedly was driven by media reports that they earlier had spit upon and insulted young schoolgirls for what they considered insufficiently modest dress. As we enter the 13th year of the new century, there have been some gains in women’s rights. But the fact that Iran now is requiring women to be swathed from head to toe leads me to believe that maybe the setbacks equal the gains. There is even a growing official concern in Israel about the growing influence of religious zealots in public life. Israel, with its love of western culture and freedom, could be expected to be the last place this would occur.
It is difficult to understand how countries struggling to become modern members of the global society would not realize that such an achievement can only be reached by gender equality and that anything else makes a mockery of God’s design. How much less a Republic was the United States when women couldn’t vote? The answer is obvious. That’s a sermon that should be preached from every pulpit in the world by far more eloquent spokesmen than I at the start of what every one hopes will be a better year. There can be no excuses or justifications based on translations and interpretations of a holy book. Most of these oppressive beliefs are espoused by those seeking to preserve their own power. Americans are facing death in Afghanistan every day to assure that an oppressive regime of religious crazies doesn’t return to overturn the gains made by women who they once treated like chattel, denying them education, the right to work, equal protection under the law and any modern benefits of freedom. From that standpoint, it is a noble cause.