Readers respond to recent articles on Bush and families, women in Islam, and Indian-crazy Germans. Plus: Young people talk back to Dr. Lynn Ponton.

By Salon Staff
Published December 6, 2002 10:19PM (EST)

[Read "No Children Allowed," by Jennifer Foote Sweeney.]

Thank you, Salon, for Ms. Sweeney's sore-hearted piece. I do find it awfully tempting to avert my attention from the cruelties, hypocrisies and lies being carried out these days just below the media buzz.

Media-made dramas work for me the way fairy tales do for my children -- they manage anxiety. Ms. Sweeney made it a little bit harder today for me to keep up the make-believe.

-- Eileen Kelly

While I certainly agree with Ms. Sweeney's objection to the Bush administration's policies on abortion and sex education, that doesn't have anything to do with the policy change she so decries. There is no "right" to have children and expect taxpayer dollars to support them. It's quite simple: If you can't afford to have kids, don't.

-- James Ratcliffe

Regarding Jennifer Sweeney's article "No Children Allowed," I can only say that her interpretation of President Bush's agenda is absolutely correct. But whatever dismay the author may feel about Bush's contempt for working-class and poor families is entirely useless. This is simply one more small step taken on the road to technocracy.

Sad as it is, my only real inclination is to laugh heartily at the dim-witted collective we call American society. Only a populace as pathetic as our own would elevate such a narrow-eyed stooge to the highest office in the land. I say America has it coming. No punishment is too much for the idiotic plebocites who worship television and sports stars, and are entirely too stupid to even vote. I say they deserve to be ground beneath the heels of the corporate machine. Let them suffer. And if they suffer long enough, maybe they'll wake up.

-- Gregg Newby

Excuse me? A "recipe for extinction"?

In case you haven't noticed, the planet is DANGEROUSLY OVERPOPULATED. Get a clue!

This may be the smartest move George W. has made, and considering the vast number of his *dumb* moves, it's probably going to be the only one.

By encouraging folks to marry, he's encouraging them to pool their resources in an economy that's set against the single wage earner. By discouraging breeding, he's actually lightening the load that America exerts on our poor, overtaxed planet.

Think of the bigger picture for a change.

-- Catherine Allan

[Read "What Would Mohammed Do?" by Laura McClure.]

How does one talk about the "right" of a girl to wear a head scarf in school when she has been forced to wear it by her family? That's not a choice.

Brooks hasn't convinced me. I will respect Islam when I look around and see women able to wear what they want, shake hands with and touch men in public, date and marry whom they want, and yes, sleep with whom they want. It would also be nice to see women and men worshipping side by side. I don't see these things in the U.S., much less in places like Saudi Arabia.

-- Phyllis Reynolds

Hey, Ms. McClure:

I applaud your accuracy and tempered research. As an American Muslim from Egypt who is married to an American Muslim from Minnesota, I truly do think that the future is here. Hopefully, not too many years down the line, Islam in America will assume a non-culture-specific character and will serve to inform international law (human rights, women's rights, children's rights, etc.) throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. I applaud your article

-- Karim Youssef

The last paragraph -- the one about the gal who wears the head scarf and doesn't date, vs. the bellybutton-ring wearer, shows where Brooks' head is really at. I'll bet she'd be totally all right with outlawing bellybutton rings and dating. She's not really interested in obtaining a wide range of options for women sexually. Like most Islamics, she has one very strict range of options she'd like all women to adhere to: the Islamic range, which runs from Cotton Mather to Pat Robertson.

Bzzt. No thanks. I still think all of Islam is hidebound and prudish; she's just the best possible face you can put on their prudishness. It's a shame you are allowing yourselves to get sucked in by Brooks out of a desire for "fairness."

-- Eva Shandor

Dear Laura,

Very well done article. May god reward you for educating the public and including myself.

-- Zed Alhadi

In her interview about women and Islam Geraldine Brooks says some things that are inaccurate, some that are misleading; and she ends up giving a picture of Islamic attitudes toward women that is wholly skewed.

Worst of all, she seems hermeneutically adrift, quoting the Koran when it is convenient, the Hadith when it suits her, and resting her argument primarily on the verses of a medieval Persian poet (Rumi) that in no way can be said to speak for the Islamic tradition.

When Brooks claims that Islam is pro-sexuality, to what type of sexuality is she referring? A close examination of the Koran and the Hadith shows that the sexuality of the Prophet and the early Islamic community is male dominated and violent, and that it shows few characteristics that we could recognize as feminist in any possible sense.

To begin with, her assertion that "nowhere in the Koran does it say adulterers should be stoned" must be taken with a large grain of salt. While it is true that the Koran does not specifically condone stoning, Chapter 24 verse 2 does have the following suggestion:

"The adulterer and the adulteress, scourge thee each one of them with a hundred stripes."

Furthermore the Hadith, or traditions of Islam, are quite open to the idea of stoning adulteresses. Consider 6.79 of the Sahih Al Bukhari:

"The Jews brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from among them who had committed illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet said to them, 'How do you usually punish the one amongst you who has committed illegal sexual intercourse?' They replied, 'We blacken their faces with coal and beat them.' He said, 'Don't you find the order of Ar-Rajm [i.e., stoning to death] in the Torah?' They replied, 'We do not find anything in it.' Abdullah bin Salam [after hearing this conversation] said to them, 'You have told a lie! Bring here the Torah and recite it if you are truthful.' [So the Jews brought the Torah.] And the religious teacher who was teaching it to them, put his hand over the Verse of Ar-Rajm and started reading what was written above and below the place hidden with his hand, but he did not read the Verse of Ar-Rajm. Abdullah bin Salam removed his [i.e., the teacher's] hand from the Verse of Ar-Rajm and said, 'What is this?' So when the Jews saw that Verse, they said, 'This is the Verse of Ar-Rajm.' So the Prophet ordered the two adulterers to be stoned to death, and they were stoned to death near the place where biers used to be placed near the Mosque. I saw her companion [i.e., the adulterer] bowing over her so as to protect her from the stones."

Brooks commits further inaccuracies when she discusses the Prophet's marriages. Her assertion that the multiple marriages of the Prophet are the result of simple altruism must also be questioned. Brooks wholly avoids the issue of Muhammad's child bride Aishah, whom, according to the traditions, he wed when she was 6 years of age, and consummated the marriage when Aishah was 9 years of age. Aishah was not a widow of course, nor was the marriage seemingly necessary for the purpose of political alliance, as Aishah's father was actually Muhammad's long-time disciple and good friend Abu Bakr.

Not only children like Aishah but also a long list of other women that our own society would consider out of bounds were considered fair game for the Prophet. Consider Chapter 33 verse 50 of the Koran:

"O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war, and the daughters of thine uncle on the father's side and the daughters of thine aunts on the father's side, and the daughters of thine uncles on the mother's side and the daughters of thine aunts on the mother's side who emigrated with thee, and a believing woman if she give herself unto the Prophet and the Prophet desire to ask her in marriage a privilege for thee only, not for the [rest of] believers. We are aware of that which We enjoined upon them concerning their wives and those whom their right hand possess that thou mayst be free from blame, for Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."

Thus, the Prophet is given sexual access to first cousins, captives, and any believing woman whom he desires to wed. In fact, he is given certain liberties denied to all others. Allah is here not only forgiving but also quite liberal, at least on the behalf of his Prophet. The term "whom your right hand possesses" refers to women captured in battle. Captive women were considered legitimate trophies of war and in fact the Prophet marries a Jewess whose husband has been slain. Although we can construe this practice to be "pro-sexuality," it is hard to imagine how this paleolithic approach to romance serves the interests of feminism.

Brooks holds up as an example of Islamic liberality in regards to adultery the rules regarding the proof of infidelity. What she fails to mention is that these rules in Chapter 24 of the Koran are revealed in response to an alleged tryst between Aishah, Muhammad's child bride (see above) and a young soldier. Afraid of losing his prized pubescent amour, the Prophet was comforted when God revealed to him that she could not be convicted without four eyewitnesses. As the supposed "roll in the sand" between Aishah and her young soldier took place in the wastelands of Arabia, there was little chance of her accusers meeting these high standards of evidence.

Women are required to exercise modesty and to cover themselves in the Koran and the Hadith. The only real question is whether "covering" entails simply a head cloth or the bedsheet-like burqa. Back to Chapter 33, where God reveals to the Prophet that people should talk to his wives only from behind a curtain. Further instructions to the wives of Muhammad include Chapter 33 verses 30-31: "O ye wives of the Prophet! Whosoever of you commiteth manifest lewdness, the punishment for her will be doubled, and that is easy for Allah. And whosover of you is submissive to Allah and his messenger [i.e., Muhammad] and doeth right, We shall give her reward twice over."

When all is said and done, most if not all of Brook's assertions regarding Islam, women and feminism must be called into serious question. If Islam is "pro-sexuality," then we must ask what type of sexuality it promotes. It would seem that the sexuality condoned by the Prophet is one that allows for men to enjoy women, including those who are underage or closely related, or who have been forcibly removed from their homes. Is this the type of sexuality that Brooks is condoning?

Muhammad would undoubtedly have taken Miss World home, as well as a few of the runners-up, then quarantined them behind a curtain for his eyes only and had them killed if they strayed. Is this Brook's idea of "pro-sexuality"? If so, it is a male-dominated, oppressive and heavy-handed sexuality with little or no resemblance to the sexual freedom that Western women have fought for and currently exercise. Brooks' attempt to recast Islam as feminist in any recognizable sense seems entirely inane.

-- Richard Connerney, Professor of Religion at Iona and St. Thomas Aquinas College.

[Read "Sitting Bull Uber Alles," by James Hagengruber.]

It is not surprising the German people have a special affinity for Native Americans, given the fact that the native Germanic culture was so ruthlessly suppressed by Rome, first partially by legions, then more thoroughly by the forced conversion to Christianity.

I suspect the Germans are searching to find in the Native Americans the authentic culture that their ancestors were forced to deny. What is surprising is the concentration on the plains Indians, when the climate and geography experienced by the eastern Indians is much closer to Germany. I wonder if the modern Germans have ever heard of Conrad Weiser, a refugee from the Palatine, who was adopted by the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk.

-- Name Withheld

As a German-American, I enjoyed your article about the German fascination with American Indians. (I, too, grew up with Karl May's stories about Winnetou.) But my American half finds such fascination as naive and simpleminded as Europeans often accuse Americans of being. I often encounter Europeans who tell me that, on their first visit to America, they were disappointed not to find any "real" cowboys and Indians.

Here in the Czech Republic, where I now live, there exists a similar fascination with American myth. People here also read Karl May as children, and more than once I have found myself among a group of Czechs singing American country or folk songs (in Czech) about John Brown, cotton fields, Texas, or Sacramento. Most of the time, I myself have never heard these songs, so I guess in a way they are preserving my culture as well.

-- Stephan von Pohl

[Read "Second Opinions: Future Shock," by Dr. Lynn Ponton.]

Dr. Ponton,

I read your reply to the Hypocrisy-Wary Teen this afternoon and decided maybe you'd be a good person to share with.

I'm 20 and still feel like an adolescent and can identify a lot with what our 17-year-old friend has to say. I'm not concerned so much with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction or complete annihilation, but our current political situation scares the hell out of me. Democracy as I have known it (without racial or gender restrictions) has only been around for 30 years, and at the rate things are going (with low voter turnouts and general apathy toward government action or mis-action), there's no guarantee that it will survive ... and with the impending war I don't feel safe at all. I feel threatened by my government for the first time and I have an overwhelming sense of being a prisoner in, as Noam Chomsky recently said, "the only state that was condemned for international terrorism by ... the International Court of Justice."

I love being an American. Living in this country has given me so much ... But I can see evidence that we're decaying into something bad ... And I feel utterly and completely helpless.

-- Mike

Although I agreed with your advice to "Hypocrisy-Wary Teen," I think there is something you forgot to mention. HWT doesn't sound like a 17-year-old that knows why he wants to go to college. I am a week away from finishing my B.A., and let me tell you that although college students are concerned with the war on terror and the potential war on Iraq, the major focus of most university activity is on preparing university students for "the real world." A college degree can easily cost over $120,000 these days; for a student to go to university just to follow the socially accepted path or to dodge the draft is ridiculous. HWT and other youths identifying with his situation should be encouraged to see a career counselor to determine his interests and strengths and take the time to figure out WHY he wants to go to university. Yes, his opinions will be taken more seriously if he has a B.A. or M.A., but pursuing a B.A. without direction can be costly and detrimental to his future education. (Ever talk to anyone who has come back to the university after flunking out?)

HWT does seem interested in world affairs. Perhaps he would want to study political science or history. He should educate himself about the majors, and if he is not ready to make the commitment to a four-year degree program, he should be encouraged to take the time to figure out what he wants. I took a semester off, just worked, and found out how much I wanted to be in school. I know others who did relief work in third-world countries and worked for AmeriCorp, all of whom had wonderful and educational experiences.

As Americans we are incredibly lucky to live in the democracy that we do, and too many Americans take this democracy for granted. HWT will soon be eligible to vote. I hope he takes the time to be an active and educated voter. As I see it, the root of many of America's problems is apathy. HWT and other young Americans should take care not to emulate today's adults and instead educate themselves about America and the rest of the world. Most important: Vote, protest, let your voices be heard and counted.

-- Sarah Kelly

Salon Staff

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