A Philosopher's Blog

Women, Burkas, and Education

Posted in Ethics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 20, 2007

Since I am on break, I have been able to start making a dent in the magazines that have piled up over the semester. I recently finished an article on Pakistan in the September, 2007 issue of National Geographic. Naturally, the article included information about Islam in its various incarnations in the area.

One of the most striking things I read (page 40) was about the “night letters.” These are posted on public buildings and demand that all women 1) wear complete burkas and 2) stop attending school. These edicts are said to be enforced by murder. In short, if a woman is not dressed right or is in school, then it is presumably right and good to murder her. This seems, obviously enough, wrong. Even if it is assumed, for the sake of argument, that women should be so dressed and kept uneducated, such a punishment seems wildly out of proportion to the alleged crimes. Such punishment would thus be morally unacceptable.

It might be argued that God wills these things and hence they are right. This raises the problem of determining what God wills. People claim that they know the will of God, but these claims often contradict each other and generally have no evidence behind them. As it stands, the injunction to wear the burka and to prevent education seem to be mere spawns of hate and prejudice. I see nothing of the divine in such things-especially once murder is brought into the equation.

There is also the problem of God’s power. Since God is all powerful, what He wills would seem to be such that it would come to pass. So, if God willed that women not be seen, he could have made it such that women could not be fully seen. Perhaps they would be blurred by magic (like editing on TV). Perhaps they would be invisible when improperly clothed. Or perhaps they would be covered in thick fur. Since woman can be seen and God always gets what He wills, it must be inferred that God wills that women be seen. In light of this, those who post such edicts would need to accept that either God has no problem with women being seen or that the god they think they believe in lacks the power to overcome the defiance of mortal women and must, like some sort of feeble thug, send minions to do his dirty work.

God could also have made the minds of women such that they could not be educated. If that is what He wanted, then He could have easily enough made it so. To create women with minds on par with men and then order that women not be educated on the pain of murder seems both cruel and senseless. It is hard to imagine a perfect being who is cruel and senseless. Thus, God could not and did not will that women be kept uneducated under penalty of death.

So, why the “night letters” if they are not the will of God? Well, those posting them might believe they are right. But, the real reason is that religion is being used as a tool of abuse and oppression. This does not mean that religion itself is evil, just that it is once again being employed for an evil purpose.

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2 Responses

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  1. Matt Kelley said, on December 25, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    I agree. “God Wills It” has been used as an excuse for violence since ancient times, and the violence almost never has anything at all to do with worship. As excuses go, it ranks right up there with the concentration camp guard’s “I was just following orders”.

  2. Matt Kelley said, on December 27, 2007 at 10:00 am

    ” A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”
    -Aristotle


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