Read a heart rending story about vicious sex trafficking by Pakistani taxi drivers in Britain and many readers blame "primitive" religion -- in this case Islam. Watching Hindu fundamentalists in India violently breaking up Hindu-Muslim marriages by claiming that they are part of a "love-jihad" and you can get to the same place -- only the villain is Hinduism. Then listen to the appalling failure of American justice to curb a flagrant website that openly sells underage girls into prostitution in the United States, and you begin to sense that blaming faith for patriarchy's obsession with making sure that men control women's bodies is searching for answers in all the wrong places.
Three stories, three continents, one message: when culture insists that men control women, the result is horrific wherever it occurs. When the police sit idly by, as they did in all three of these cases, you understand that patriarchy has very powerful allies and roots.
" Love Jihad" - A Politicized Toxic Brew in India
Love, a fundamentally wonderful ingredient of life is being transformed into a noxious mix of politics and culture here. Conservative Right wing groups with significant clout, such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, thwart interfaith weddings, force married Hindu women to abandon their Muslim husbands and embrace new Hindu husbands. Their great fear? Muslim men are determined to "Islamicize the womb of Hindu India."
The phrase "Love Jihad" is the brainchild of Yogi Adityanath, Member of Parliament for Bharatiya Janata Party. Despite being reprimanded by the Election Commission for hate speech, he propagated the issue through electronic media, creating a public crisis out of whole cloth. In a TV interview, Mr Adiyanath said he would "not tolerate what is happening to Hindu women in the name of "love Jihad."
Sonia Faleiro, author of "Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars" shines the spotlight on new challenges interfaith-marriage faces in India today
Ms. Faleiro is quick to point out the reality too often ignored: Indian women -- despite their progress and success in multiple fields -- are still thought of as "belonging, to someone, rather than just being." Faleiro says "Love jihad" is a hate crime, both against Muslims and women!"
She highlights a young Hindu woman, Ms. Iyer, who fought her family to marry her "dashing boyfriend," a Muslim business student, even as her father rages on about how her husband will eventually marry four wives while abandoning her.
Ms. Iyer, despite her parent's protestations, married and had two daughters. But her husband has the last laugh. His Indian in-laws with three sons in laws think he is the best of the lot. And, as he says, "it's 35 years later and I still have the one wife."
Rape, Race and Ethnicity in England
The profiles are clear, the rapists are British Pakistanis and the young women are white British girls. The patterns are equally clear: hungry young women -- maybe jobless and needy, stumble onto a father figure who feeds them chicken masala, free drinks and says, "Call me Daddy." Mr. Ahmed, a father of four runs a food joint, appears like the girls' salvation but exploits them to the hilt as he uses and abuses these young women repeatedly.
Though police and social service agencies were alerted over a hundred times, this was just one of a series of cases which fell through the cracks. Finally, the courts caught up with Mr. Ahmed and convicted him. A 19 year sentence was imposed on Mr. Ahmed even as he called the judge a "racist bastard," the girls "prostitutes" and blamed white Britons for "training" their daughters to drink and engage in sexual activity at a young age. The questions are clear: why does a British Pakistani man of this caliber gravitate towards white girls? Did the police avoid investigating him and his buddies so that they are not accused of racism?
Mr. Nazir Afzal, a Pakistani Brit and chief prosecutor for sexual crime argues that: "It's not the ethnicity or religion of the abusers that defines them: it's their attitude toward women." Mr Afzal is right on the mark in his assessment. These men will abuse girls and women who are the most accessible to them, regardless of their religion or the color of their skin.
The United States
But what about America? Nicholas Kristoff shines the spotlight on child prostitution on Backpage.com, a website which openly hosts a proliferation of advertisements promoting underage girls for sex. Girls as young as 13 and 15 are sold on Backpage.
One of the girls, now 17, says: "When on Backpage, I was advertised in the same way as a car or a phone, but with even less value than a bike." The same young woman estimates that she was raped 1,000 times.
But have the authorities in the US put an end to this obvious abuse of young girls? No, just as in India or Britain, far too many excuses are being made like the obviously bogus one that BackPage doesn't somehow know what it is doing or in fact is a "good guy," cooperating with efforts to wipe out child prostitution. And if it wasn't for a few exceptional journalists like Kristoff we wouldn't even know that Back Page was openly selling children in our communities -- there isn't nearly as much coverage of sexual abuse in the US as there is when a horrendous Afghan Mullah in Kunduz flagrantly abuses a 10 year old girl .
The bottom line is that patriarchy abuses women and children everywhere it goes unchallenged -- among Americans, Indians or Pakistanis. And most of the time its abuses, even when illegal, get far too little attention from those who are supposed to protect us -- courts, police and elected officials. Indeed, we should remember that recent US elections have had as a regular feature candidates who claimed that somehow rape wasn't rape or couldn't lead to pregnancy.
Yes, let's get outraged at abuses against women and girls -- but let's get outraged at the right villain, patriarchal attitudes about male domination, not the world's religious traditions which are merely carriers for that much older evil.