observations and opinion
I am not a woman. I am a man, a tall one. As a result, I have rarely feared walking down a dark street or felt vulnerable to assault.
I am not a rapist. But I am a man, and if a stranger sees me on a dark street and is apprehensive for her safety, she is entitled to feel that way. She is not a bigot for wondering if I am a threat. And I am not entitled to be offended that she feels that way.
What I am, is responsible for relieving her of her fear, if I can. As a young man I learned, when seeing a woman walking alone late at night or somewhere isolated, to cross the street away from her, or to pass her quickly. I developed the habit of trying not to seem threatening.
These things I did – and still do – as a courtesy. They are not newsworthy or particularly meritorious. They cost me nothing except a few steps and a few moments of thought. They are not a burden to me, but rather, one small effort to reduce someone else’s burden.
Men, we know, commit violence against women. Not all men, but many of them, attack, rape, even murder women. I deplore it. But so what? It is not good enough to say “but I am not a rapist.” It is not good enough merely to cross the street to ease a woman’s apprehension. I’m not sure exactly, what’s good enough to address this scourge, but I am sure we aren’t doing enough of whatever is required. I know that because men keep raping, beating and killing women.
I am not a Muslim. But if I were a Muslim, I would have to live with the fact – the incontrovertible fact – that members of my own religion, too many members of it, are waging war against modern civilization. They may be Palestinian ladies wielding knives at Jerusalem bus stops. They may be Boko Haram yobs, kidnapping and enslaving girls in Africa. They may be fat, rich Saudis, funding Wahabist schools. Or they may be Islamic State gun men or bombers, murdering scores of Parisians on a Friday night. They would be all my co-religionists, my fellow Muslims.
It is not fair that a woman might judge me as a potential rapist, merely because I am a man. That is true. It is unfair and might even, if I let it, hurt my feelings or insult me. But it is less fair that she must live with the possibility that she is right. It is less fair that I might actually BE a rapist. It is less fair that she is at risk. And her right to be free from physical and psychological harm – and her right to be free from fear – outweighs my hurt feelings by a greater measure than fits any scale.
I have no right as a man to put my pride, my sense of injury, ahead of someone else’s greater right to be free from fear and to be free from assault. And if I were a Muslim, I would have no right to put my pride, my sense of injury, my hurt feelings ahead of others’ rights to be free from fear and to be free from assault.
Not all men are rapists. But almost every rapist is a man. Not all Muslims are Islamist terrorists – not by a long measure. But almost every self-proclaimed Islamist terrorist is a Muslim. And if it is my responsibility as a man, to do something to stop men from terrorizing, raping, assaulting and killing women, then I would suggest that it would be my responsibility as a Muslim to take the same view, and take the same responsibility, towards my co-religionists.
It is not my fault that some men – many men – commit rape. It is not my fault that some Muslims – many – commit atrocities. So what? Does that excuse me from taking some responsibility for what the worst of us might do? Does my personal innocence excuse me from examining how my kind of people (men) conduct themselves? Does my dis-inclination to rape someone, mean that I can be indifferent to when other men commit rape?
Or is it possible that as a man, I must examine my own actions – I must examine how I see women, how other men see women? Perhaps I have a duty not to stand by quietly and accept passively, the hateful and sexist things that I have heard or seen. Perhaps I have a duty to re-think my own conduct, to check to see whether I treat women with the same respect as I do men. Perhaps it’s not good enough to pat myself on the back for being a good guy. Perhaps I must do more than that. Perhaps I should ask a simple question: what is wrong with men? It’s a reasonable question, when you see how so many of them behave.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not a guilt-soaked self-flagellating liberal. I’m not a rapist, I’m not a bigot, I’m not personally responsible for the evil that others have done or may do. But neither am I exempt from responsibility for doing something to prevent the worst or to promote better behaviour among my kind of people (men).
When a man rapes a child or a woman, or assaults them or kills them – and the news reports it – the one thing I do not do, is whine about how unfair it is that the news accurately reports who committed the crime. I have no business doing that. It is not for me – a man – to take the reporting of other men’s crimes and make that an excuse for self-pity or for portraying myself as a victim of bigotry. It would be ridiculous to do that.
And so I say to all men who are offended by the fact that the news accurately reports when men commit evil deeds against women – shut up. You are not the victim. Shut the fuck up about that, and wake up. Wake up to the fact that your kind of people – men – are doing these things and that it is not good enough for you to roll over, go back to sleep, congratulate yourself for not being a rapist and decide that, because it wasn’t you who did it, you have no duty to do something about it.
It could be argued – fairly – that the situation of men in our society makes them less vulnerable to unfair suspicion and bigoted reactions than are Muslims. That is true. That is why we must guard so fiercely against blaming all Muslims for what some Muslims do. That is why we must, whenever Islamist terror erupts and scars our world, take care to remember that Muslims are often the first victims of that terror and that our fellow citizens and friends who observe Islam, do not bear personal guilt for what other Islamic adherents do.
But that does not mean we can pretend that Islamist terrorism is not being committed by Muslims, as a form of Islamic observance. That’s what it is. Islamic violence is no better or worse than crimes committed by Christians or by Hindus or other believers, as an expression of their faith. Islamic violence is no better or worse, but it has become way more common and way more destructive.
On this grim and sad Saturday, in the blood soaked aftermath of more massacres, of more innocents, all in the name of Allah, it is ridiculous – ridiculous – for anyone to complain if people identify the terrorists as Muslim. It is ridiculous to complain if someone were to ask the question “what is wrong with Islam?”
What is even more ridiculous, is not asking that question.
It is my duty as a human being and as a citizen of a democracy, to ask, what is going on – what the hell is going on – inside part of my world. Part of my society. At the very least, I must ask the question. And if this behaviour is not happening within Islam – if these many, many murderous maniacs who claim to be Muslim, are not Muslim – someone really has to explain that us. And explain it to them, because THEY think they’re Muslims.
That is not blaming every Muslim for Paris, or Beirut or Baghdad, or the Russian jet, or the stabbings in Israel. It is simply speaking plain truth and asking necessary questions. And the weight of the truth and the burden of duty to act upon it, sits most heavily on Muslims. It is fair to ask what I, as a Muslim, might have done to or failed to do, might be doing still – to contribute to this death cult within my own faith community. It is fair – and necessary to ask what I, as Muslim, must do to change it.
If a woman is raped, we cannot justly say to her “why didn’t you keep your knees closed?” We cannot accuse her of inviting it by dressing attractively. The only person responsible for a rape, is the rapist. He does not see the woman as a human being, but as a thing – as an animal – to be used and abused. How she dresses or acts is irrelevant to the moral quality of the rapist’s conduct. And although I am not a rapist, I am as a man the heir to a long and often violent, culture of male domination. As such, I bear a particular burden – a particular duty – to be more conscious of that culture and to guard against its worst features in myself and in others. Other men, in particular.
And yes, as a man must be more vigilant about violence against women, so too a Muslim inevitably must be more vigilant to examine and crush the demon seed of violence still lurking – flourishing – within parts of Islam. We bear this burden because it is our people who are committing the sins. We are closer to it, it emanates from some part of us, and we are more capable of knowing it and hopefully, more able to cure it than anyone else.
That may seem unfair, that may seem to ask too much of men or of Muslims. It might even be unfair and too much to ask, but we must ask it. We must see, and we must say, who commits these crimes and we must look to those best positioned to take extra efforts to stop the evil amongst their own.
It hurts to be painted with a bloody brush. It’s not fair to be the object of suspicion. It’s not fair to be feared, when you pose no harm. It’s not fair to be judged or disliked because of what other people like me have done. I hate it. I hate what some men do and I hate being associated with it, even remotely. And that’s just too bad. Because the burden of being unfairly suspected, the burden of being unjustly judged or blamed, is no burden at all compared to the burden of being raped, terrorized, enslaved, maimed, orphaned or killed.
Not all men are rapists. Not all Muslims are Islamist terrorists. Not all Germans were Nazis – but almost all the Nazis were Germans. And so on. Bad luck I guess, to live with a bum rap. But my hurt feelings, a Muslim’s hurt feelings, a German’s hurt feelings are nothing – nothing – compared to what the real victims have suffered and will endure.
So it comes to this: if I don’t want to be guilty by association, and if I will not or cannot break my association with the guilty, then I must use my association with the guilty, to change how the guilty behave. I am not responsible, but I must act responsibly. And I must stop complaining about it.