It has come as another shock to civilised people that the Taliban have banned women in Afghanistan from studying in universities. The diktat basically prevents women from acquiring education beyond class six. This follows upon the protests in Iran against the morality police and other restraints on women’s freedom. And, yet, the demand for implementation of Sharia laws continues to be raised by Muslim communities even in countries where they enjoy fundamental human rights.
Surely, Muslim women in democracies around the world should stand up for their rights and strengthen secular laws by taking an active part in political deliberations. They should certainly not stand by passively, or even become radicalised to the extent that they end up confined in their homes, without basic human rights to education and employment, etc. Also, the community as a whole should construct a narrative that allows the practice of Islam in a modern context and marginalises the radicals. Governments and other communities should provide support and assistance in achieving this objective, instead of seeking to appease the fundamentalists.
While a number of economically and politically weak nations in Africa have become victim to fanatical groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, the better off ones like Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc., are finding it necessary to conform to international standards. Qatar could not have organised the Football World Cup if it had sought to limit women’s rights beyond a certain point. Continued pressure of this kind will lead to an eventual acceptance of women’s social and political freedom.
Pakistan, today, is on the frontline of radicalisation. Its Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto, has declared the TTP as the ‘redline’ that may not be crossed. How can the line be defended if, in other ways, it continues to pander to radical Islam? Having fed the monster by its support to terrorism, how can that nation defend its sovereignty and already struggling democracy? The belief of the elite that they can use the radicals to control the general population while they enjoy the benefits of a western lifestyle is nothing more than an illusion. There is a tipping point – as was the case in Iran – where a fundamentalist ‘revolution’ will destroy the remaining elements of culture and civilisation in that country.
Indian women, in particular, should lead the fight, as they have the freedom to do so. They cannot abandon their sisters in these beleaguered nations by failing to assert their rights in their home country and being an example of how faith and modernity can go together.