Apr 162009
Authors: Alex Stephens

Last week, Afghanistan passed a law that legalized the marital rape of women by their husbands.

Specifically, women are required to “please their husbands” at least once every four days unless significant health reasons prohibit it. The law also bars women from leaving their homes without the company of their husband and requires the husband’s permission before any degree of education or work can be pursued.

The authors of the law, primarily Shiite clerics, hold the widespread belief that the Koran gives men such authority over their women.

Shocked? Appalled? Don’t be. Most Americans still barely know where Afghanistan is on the map let alone its history. For countries in the Middle East dominated by Islam, this has been par for the course for the past several hundred years.

That’s not to say that Western civilization is far superior when it comes to women’s rights. It was only within the past hundred years or so that our society allowed women real independence; women have only had the vote in the U.S. for 90 years.

What really makes our society and culture so different? What’s up with the heavy-handed patriarchic tendencies still cropping up in the fledgling democracies we are so desperately trying to keep propped up? Haven’t they learned anything yet?

Doesn’t Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan and puppet to the American occupation, remember that he’s supposed to be more like us and less like the Taliban? That’s easier said than done when, despite the fact that an astonishing 25 percent of Afghanistan’s parliament is composed of women (that’s more than in our Congress), howling mobs of fervent marital-rape-law supporting men actually threw stones (old habits you know) at a group of women who were protesting it.

Upon entering the global spotlight about the law, Karzai vowed to reexamine the constitutionality of it. It’s a pity he didn’t bother with that seemingly crucial step before signing it — or am I just thinking too democratically?

The real point I’m driving at is that America and other Western allies, might be wasting their efforts trying to shape another culture to fit our democratic mold.

Democracy isn’t one-size-fits-all and neither is our sense of morality. We believe it’s wrong to publicly or privately beat women. As demonstrated by the now-famous video of a 17-year-old being held down and whipped, some radical Islamists, who often craft the law of the land in Afghanistan and elsewhere, do not.

Throw cultural relativism out the window. Some things are plain wrong no matter what side of the globe you live on, but does that mean America should be going forth to eradicate injustice wherever it rears its ugly head?

Tough call. On one hand, we have a moral obligation to aid human rights efforts wherever possible and especially in countries we have invaded and occupied. When victims of religious intolerance call for our aid, we’d be a cold-hearted Christian-filled nation to ignore it.

On the other hand, where do you draw the line? We simply do not have the resources or the will to help everybody everywhere. In 2005 the image of America received an 83 percent favorable rating among polled Afghanis, but just recently it was measured at 47 percent. The image of our pal Karzai’s government has taken a similar plummet which suggests that we might not be as revered as we once thought.

Should we be aiding a country filled with people who don’t like us? Would any degree of equality been fostered in Afghanistan had we not invaded? But does that even in part justify our presence there?

A fundamental basis for a democracy is equality among sex and race. When Afghanistan struggles with even the simplest of democratic concepts, whether it be a product of Islamic patriarchy seeping into policy or not, America needs to reevaluate its chances of successfully altering the thousand-year trend of another society.

Alex Stephens is a senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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