Talk delivered by SHUAIB MANJRA at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, 22 February 2013.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have taught the following:
“The believer with the most complete faith is the one with the best character and the one with the best character is he who treats women with dignity and honour” (reported by Abu Hurayra and recorded in the hadith collection of Tirmidhi)
On the basis of this hadith we conclude that in Islam the level of the believer’s faith is evaluated by his/her ethical conduct and the highest form of virtuosity is affirming the full dignity and honour of women.
South Africa reacted with shock, disgust and disbelief at the brutal violation of 17 year old Anene Booysen. She was raped and brutality murdered in Bredasdorp a few weeks ago.
Her murder was overshadowed in the last week by the case of South Africa’s celebrity Paralympiam Oscar Pistorius’s – who allegedly senselessly murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp – an act which also left our country aghast.
One was a crime against an innocent girl, largely unknown to the perpetrators or known to some. The other was a crime against a woman who shared an intimate space with the alleged perpetrator. The two cases that I cite involve people that come from different races and different classes. The common denominator in both cases was a crime against women. More importantly they were an exercise in power. An expression of hubris that knows no boundaries – boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion or educational level are immaterial.
Both cases are little different in their intent, brutality and the factors which contribute to such violence.
It was the brutality and insanity of the violence perpetrated that shocked. It was a demonstration of a lack of humanity of the perpetrators. An inhumanity that tears at the soul of each and every one of us. Even in the country which has become accustomed to violence and rape, we were brutalised by these gratuitous acts of violence. It was the representation of a moral vacuum.
Our hearts go out to the survivors of this brutaliy – Anene Booysen’s family and friends. Reeva Steenkamp’s family is also in our thoughts. We feel for them, but can never experience their pain.
These events are tragedies. But the greater tragedy lies in the fact that these are not unusual occurrences – but are simply emblematic of a broader societal problem. This is a daily occurrence in many parts of our country – not least of all in the poor working class townships that are a blot on our country. They remain hidden except in the vilest cases.
But there comes a time when society stands up and says this is enough. Jyoti Singh’s brutalisation and murder represented such a moment in India. India is another country where violence against women is endemic and structural and given legitimacy through culture and religion. The public reaction to Jyoti’s death in India was dramatic with even the Prime Minister present at the airport to receive her body. The public reaction in South Africa was more muted – where at best there were statements condemning the episode. Thousands of UCT students who this week marched against violence against women are to be commended. Aneen Booysen’s murder must represent that moment for us in South Africa.
The knee-jerk response of most of us was to call for increased and improved policing, harsher sentencing and even the death-penalty. These measures are necessary for both their punitive and deterrence value – but they largely serve to address the consequences of the actions. We cannot deal with this moral morass, these levels of endemic violence simply through harsher punitive sanctions. We should be asking another question; a more fundamental question: how can this be prevented? What are the underlying causes of such violence. However in addressing the structural causes of such violence we must not detract from personal complicity. And in apportioning personal blame we cannot ignore societal influence. Such actions ultimately are formed by a complex matrix of individual and societal influences.
Unless we begin to address these – the scourge of violence against women will continue unabated. In fact it will only get worse.
STRUCTURAL CAUSES OF VIOLENCE
The structural causes violence in our country are stark and inter-related. Evaluating them gives us a sense of the enormity of the problem and puts to bed any notion of short-term solutions or easy remedies. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities
The first and most important cause of such violence is the way we are socialised – the way our attitudes and behaviours towards women are shaped in our formative years. Our children learn what they see and what they experience. If our society casts women as inferior, as weak, as objectives, as possessions, as servants – then our children grow up accepting such attitudes. Our boys grown up with such attitudes and our girls grow up accepting such attitudes. In short we do what we learn, what we see and what we experience. These attitudes are replicated through generations.
The second major cause is attributable to the cycle of violence where those who are victims of violence or even witnesses to violence are more likely to become violent themselves. This is termed intergenerational violence. Such behaviour may manifest through anger issues, criminal behaviour, domestic violence, etc. Violence becomes a learnt behaviour, which is taught through society: such violence may be represented by physical violence, emotional, or sexual violence. Children learn that this type of behaviour is normal and may re-enact such behaviour. Problems are managed through violence, which also serves a disciplining role.
In short violence is a learnt behaviour that is passed on through generations unless the cycle is broken.
A MULTIPLY WOUNDED SOCIETY
Thirdly, we are ‘multiply wounded country’. This simply means that we are wounded in different ways and that this wounding is widespread. This is a term that was first used by Nicaraguan psychologist Martha Cabrera who worked in Nicaragua, a country as wounded as ours, through her organisation Citizen’s Movement for Social Change.
Our multiple woundedness as a country comes from our experiences of colonialism, apartheid, dislocation, victimisation, racism, patriarchy, marginalization, economic exploitation, violence, torture and other forms of disempowerment that reduces the majority of our population to the level of sub-alterns. We thus carry the weight of this scarring as individuals, families, cultures and communities. This continues through generations.
The effects of this past sits hidden in our souls and the very fabric of our daily existence, terrorising us with the actions of rapists, murderers, domestic violence, school violence, alcohol abuse, police violence, road rage, taxi conflicts, violence by striking workers and interpersonal violence.
We have not adequately dealt with this scarring of the past. Reconciliation in our country has benefitted the powerful, not the powerless.
We lack the emotional vocabulary to express our feelings and have normalised the abnormal behaviour that comes from these scars – the behaviour of violence that lauds the policy of ‘shoot to kill’, a return to the death penalty. Or a view that believes it is okay to beat a woman now and then.
A MASCULINE IDENTITY
The over-arching need to create a dominant masculine identity among our men has resulted in a notion that masculinity means power. And that power needs to be exercised to demonstrate masculinity – that power is most often demonstrated through physical aggression. Compounding this, when men are traumatised, the dominant way they express their pain is through violence and aggression.
This masculine identity is reinforced through sports clubs, gangs, parental prodding and insults. Don’t be a sissy is one such insult. So sports club may be a solution – they could also become a problem if they over-emphasise a negative masculine identity. How often have we heard of members of sports clubs gang raping women.
While this masculinity is problematic, this problem is compounded where this identity is challenged. Currently in many communities this masculine identity is in crisis. Men are frequently not the bread-winners and don’t occupy the traditional roles, thus emasculating men. Furthermore boys often have no male role models because of absent fathers. A large part of our communities consist of single parent families. Boys frequently find their masculine identity being formed outside the home where violence becomes a legitimate response in human interaction.
In areas such as Bredasdorp where the violence against Anene Booysen occurred over 50% of the population is unemployment. Unemployment creates a crisis of identity – where there is a feeling of a lack of self-worth, of a sense of time that whiles away, of a sense of hopelessness. In a traditional society it robs a man of sense of supporting his family.
Unemployment eats away at one’s soul – since we all find meaning in productive work. It destroys the morale and leads people to other forms of escape – drugs, alcohol, etc.
DRUGS, GANGS AND ALCOHOL
These remain a scourge of our society and are major contributors to violent behaviour.
South African drinkers rank amongst the top five heaviest drinkers in the world with approximately 45% of drinkers classified as risky drinkers – with the risk particularly high in the Western Cape. Alcohol abuse is a major contributor to homicide. SA as a country has among the highest homicide rate in the world. Alcohol is major problem amongst those who carry out homicide, as well as the victims. Trauma consumes one third of our provinces health budget.
While this has been recognised as a problem – little is done to address it.
Last but not least – we face a profound moral crisis in our country. Even the President of this country hides behind the veneer of culture and tradition to demonstrate a lack of respect for women. We have a crisis of leadership. A culture of legalised looting. A lack of respect for law. Every disregard for law inspires other violations of the law. Everyone begins to act with a sense of impunity.
We also need to recognise that each one of these perpetrators come from a community. Each one of these perpetrators is a son, a father, a husband or a brother. And each one of the victims is a sister, daughter, wife or mother. Each one of them comes from a community made up of families, social clubs, religious institutions and schools. All these institutions have failed both perpetrator and victim.
So in summary the structural cause of such violence emanate from our SOCIALISATION, it is perpetuated through GENERATIONS. The over-emphasis of an aggressively MASCULINE IDENTITY plays a role in such violence. Other contributors include UNEMPLOYMENT, DRUGS, ALCOHOL and GANGSTERISM. All of these are contributed to, and are indicative of a PROFOUND MORAL CRISIS. We also need to recognise the MULTIPLE WOUNDEDNESS of our society.
These problems have no simple solutions. And don’t be fooled by those who offer such simple solutions. The rhetoric of politicians, the preaching of the clergy, the marches of the activists and the selflessness of the NGOs are not sufficient to address this profound crisis. We need to all work together and declare a STATE OF EMERGENCY in this country. We need every resource to work towards rebuilding the shattered fabric of this society. We may not feel it in the surburbs, the evidence in the townships abound.
WHAT DO WE DO?
Against this background of the multiple causes of violence we could become disempowered. We all do not have the tools to change these historical injustices. I do not have the answers. All I do is echo and add to some very practical suggestions by Carol Bower, former head of Rapcan.
- Ask better questions and use these to educate and inform ourselves and our actions
Do not ask what we can do to stop this – as this couches the narrative of us (good people) against them (bad people). Rather we should be asking the question ‘what is it that we are doing that creates the possibility for these things to happen”. How do we as a society contribute to such violence? Why is it that our sons, brothers or fathers can commit such acts? For example how do we construct gender and gender roles and the unequal power relations that characterise such roles.
Why is it that rape happens? How is it linked more broadly to violence? We need to understand why rape is not about sex or lust but more about power and control. So to focus on women’s dress does not address the issue.
- Raise our kids differently
We need to raise our kids with self discipline, the ability to make sensible decisions and live as free and equitable human beings that respect the rights of all others. Don’t allow them to become abusers or victims of abuse.
We need to teach our children that violence is not a tolerable response. That men and women are equally deserving of respect and trust and equally contribute to society without these genders determing strength or power.
Teach them the Quranic essence that both men and women were created from the same spirit (nafsiw waahidah) – deserving of equal respect.
- Develop intolerance for certain behaviours
Do not tolerate attitudes or behaviours that create the environment for a sexist society to exist. Do not tolerate sexist jokes; harassment or violence against women.
Provide support to those who are abused and counsel them to seek help without fear.
Religious communities should declare a zero tolerance for abuse and violence. Whether this related to paedophilia in the Catholic Church; or where a Saudi celebrity preacher violently rapes, tortures and kills his five-year-old daughter and then is released by paying blood money, or the case of a Jewish Rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who likened sexual molestation to diarrhoea and has said victims of sexual abuse ‘should get over it’.
We should develop a zero-tolerance for Imams, Shaykhs and Moulana’s who abuse their power against women and children.
- Provide support to organisations delivering services to survivor of rape and violence
I believe that in the absence of adequate social services in our country, the NGOs are the glue that hold our society together. Without them millions of people will be left to drown in the sea of neglect. Just recently Rape Crisis, the Saartjie Baartman Centre and the Trauma Centre for Survivor of Violence and Torture faced imminent closure because of a lack of funding. These organisations play a critical role in supporting our communities and turning victims into survivors. They counsel abused women and men, they introduce violence prevention programmes in schools and many other interventions that seek to reduce the levels of violence in our society. We need to support all of them. Without them we will all be poorer.
We need to support them financially, with our time and our power to get government to allocate funding to such valuable institutions.
- Interrogate religious texts
Cultural and religious traditions play in socialising and legitimising human behaviour. These are consequences of religiously sanctioned gender roles – when one gender is seen as more powerful than the other. It creates a culture of patriarchy which is essentially a power construction. We need to critically examine religious texts within the broader spirit our of faith to ensure that the dignity of all human beings is equally affirmed.
- ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND GANGSTERISM
Are issue that demand action both by civil society and the state.
In conclusion our country faces a profound moral crisis. It is not sufficient to bemoan politicians. Rather we all need to believe in our own power to change this society. And societies change through individual change. Deep within each one of us we need to rekindle a spirit of equality, fairness, justice and respect for all people. We need to specifically focus on respect for women in our communities. We all need to invest in rekindling the morality that our society so desperately needs. The immorality of corruption, of poverty, of homelessness, of sexual violence are all inter-linked. Thus this struggle is a long and difficult one. I repeat that we should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.
As Gandhi said – we must become the change we want to see in the world.
The Quran says: ‘Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change themselves’. (13 : 11)
This is a long and difficult road …. but this is one journey we must begin …. and we must begin NOW. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.