Tuesday, March 07, 2006

South Dakota Sharia

The news became surreal today, as if somehow it hadn't already been surreal enough.

Sometimes when I watch CNN, I have a sense that I'm looking at a nation that never quite made it to modern democracy. It's the nation that invented modern democracy for the world to take up, but then failed itself to maintain it, develop it, bring it to its full potential -- like healthcare, eliminating the death penalty, maternity benefits, respect for plurality and differences, all those hallmarks of modern democracy that are weirdly absent. The abortion debate that was considered and decided in virtually all other western democracies still rages here like a fresh wound. The nation's constitution is the same one that was written in the 1700s. Things got stuck and didn't grow. Meanwhile, the world changed. Maybe the effort of maintaining super-power pulled too much thought and energy from democracy. I can't quite figure it.

On the news, the governor gave his reasons. He wanted to protect the vulnerable.

Protect the vulnerable.

With one sweep of a pen, he has brought South Dakota back to the days of backroom abortions, women dead on motel floors.

Who decides who is vulnerable?

What about persistently low incomes and systemic barriers to financial independence? What about those who have been shuffled from foster home to foster homes all their lives so that they don't know what touch means anymore, or those whose bodies have been bought and sold, exchanged for someone's kicks or someone's cocaine or for what someone told them was love? What about those who are too old, too young, too mentally infirm, too broken or weak to bear more burdens? Those whose jobs will be taken away, who have no health care, who have too many other mouths to feed? Those who have been raped or defiled or taken? Those who die or become physically damaged through pregnancy and childbirth? Those with youth, intelligence, and a promising future, like their male counterparts, but whose birth control can fail and push them into a life of poverty, unlike their male counterparts?

These women will never have the power or wealth to influence public decision-making, never have the bus fare to get to a rally or demonstration. Who decides who gets to be vulnerable?

Oh, no, no, this is not about protecting the vulnerable. This is about sharia.

Sharia is religious law. It's based on the rules and values of religion, not open to rational discussion. It is imposed by religious people in power and does not respect laws, traditions, rights, or differences. It is opportunistic, sly, watching for the right moment to strike. It cares for nothing but itself.

In any sharia, women come last. They are told what they must suffer, what rights they can have, who is unclean and who is holy. They take a backseat to the men who sign the documents into law, who run the religions, who want their exclusive power uncontested. They take a backseat to the children, even to the scraps of DNA that create children. All these are greater than woman. She is the least, the last.

Sharia is the failure of democracy, of rights, of reason.

We who live beyond the US borders watch the debates in the US in great amazement. What we see is a culture spiralling out of control. The traditional divisions between the judicial, legislative and executive functions are gone. Laws and rights that have taken decades or centuries to create are now at the mercy of groups with agendas. Guantanamo Bay hangs like an offshore flag to the erosion of a culture of integrity and rights. Any law, any document can be ignored or overruled. Power rules, nothing else. More sharia is on its way.

Like you, I watched yet another man in history sign a document to remove women's self-determination. Inside, I wept for American women and the struggles they face. But I also felt a cold shiver, echoes of The Handmaid's Tale, that book I wish I'd never read.

Please God, don't let it come here.


At 9:07 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Nancy. You're making some illegitimate correlations there. I agree with your detecting the tramp of powerful feet, and I'm actually somewhat cynical about the marriage of convenience between some anti-abortion forces and right-wing politicians. But many of us who are anti-abortion have nothing to do with the right wing agenda. It's much more complicated than today's wretched polarization of viewpoints would allow for.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Liz Opp said...

What I appreciate about your post, Nancy, is how you lift up the implicit institutional and cultural sexism that still exists here in the States.

I've been feeling helpless for a long while now...

Liz, The Good Raised Up

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hi Liz

To refine the point a little: sharia isn't really about sexism -- sexist law is just a by-product of the process. Canada, Europe and Australia are sexist too, some countries very sexist, but they don't have sharia.

Sharia is religious law. It occurs when a powerful religious minority takes over policy and pushes their agenda on less powerful people -- simply because they can. The religious elite in the US (especially the males!) are the least likely ever to need abortion services. The poor, the young, the vulnerable, the unhealthy -- those are the ones who end up terminating pregnancies, and those people don't field candidates, make political policy, or often even vote.

Another example of current American sharia is its policy on AIDS prevention in Africa. The US used to donate aid money for a three-part prevention program that promoted condom use, abstinence, and faithfulness. But that wasn't sharia. Now the Bush admin refuses to fund any AIDS prevention program that promotes condom use (because under religious law, you are not supposed to have sex outside of marriage!). It doesn't matter to these policy makers that millions of people die because of this policy. Sharia doesn't care about your problems. It's not about being good or kind: it's about being "right."

Imagine Europe coming up with such a policy! It just wouldn't happen!

Despite abortion-control laws (which don't exist in other countries), the US has an abortion rate of 50% (relative to births). Canada's rate is about half of that. European rates go as low as 10%. Why the difference? These other countries focus on women's and children's needs and heavily promote birth control in the schools (which is also against American sharia). The result is a lower abortion rate.

In all sharia movements, there is an underlying belief that if we only return to "God's law" then the country will return to God's favour and then everything will be good again. This is the philosophy behind the Wahabbist movement in Arabic countries: the dream of returning to Allah's favour so that Allah will bring back the Golden Age of the Caliphate. How many Americans believe that the US will return to its former glory days if only it returned prayer to the schools, stopped teaching evolution, made sure its political leaders were morally upright, returned women to their "traditional" roles, etc?

That's sharia.

Johan -- I realize the issues are complicated. I too would like to see US abortion rates much lower (without criminalizing anyone). The way to do that is not to pass anti-abortion laws, but to pass pro-women, pro-children, pro-health, pro-sharing-the-nation's-wealth, pro-rights laws.

A powerful religious elite removing the right of self-determination from vulnerable people, in the utter absence of all other forms of support, is not democratic. It's a wealthy minority stickhandling a less powerful minority. It's the failure of democracy.

The US Supreme Court has been carefully stacked so that such sharia laws can be upheld. As I say, there will be more sharia.

At 7:01 PM, Blogger quakerdave said...

You nailed it, Nancy. To address Johan's point, the problem with too much of the "pro-life" movement, whatever end of the political spectrum it comes from, is that it focuses on being "pro-fetal life." The issue for these folks starts at conception (or before) and ends at delivery. After that, they wash their hands of the "born child."

When they KEEP TALKING about poverty, education, health care, pre-natal care for moms, guns, war, etc., I keep listening.

Many times, however, they go silent.


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