Associated Press, April 19. BEIRUT -- A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.
Iran is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and the cleric's unusual explanation for why the earth shakes follows a prediction by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that a quake is certain to hit Tehran and that many of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.
"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media… Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader.
My initial reaction to this AP article was more one of despair than disbelief. Blaming the feminine, and specifically women, for the ills of the world is not unique to this Iranian cleric. Quite the contrary, misogynistic beliefs, attitudes and institutions are prevalent globally, including here at home. In our Christo-Judaic cosmology, is not Eve sometimes viewed as the seductress, the cause for Adam’s expulsion from Eden? And don’t we still face issues of gender inequality? But unlike Iran, misogyny is not an openly-declared government policy in our country. In fact, quite the opposite applies. From a cultural and societal perspective, the U.S., along with a number of other countries, has made substantial progress toward gender symmetry (i.e. equivalence of status and opportunity) in the last few generations. Mind you, I don’t believe for a moment that the U.S. has reached gender symmetry yet. For example, in a 2006 story, ABC News reported FBI estimates of “well over 100,000 children and young women” trafficked for sex in the U.S. that year. It is a shocking indicator that segments of our society overtly support and promulgate the oppression of women. And the apparent lack of aggression in eradicating those practices may be even more telling about our internal attitudes. Still, the contrast between the U.S. and Iran is stunning, and perhaps a dangerous warning.
The despair I feel is on two levels. The first comes from the recognition that dealing with this disparity in worldviews is a daunting challenge for the U.S., especially with a country like Iran. How can affairs of mutual interest or concern be conducted when the parties have such different values? Value differences, especially those that are unrecognized, are a major source of misunderstanding and mistrust. Even with a negotiated contract or treaty, there can be a lingering suspicion that the “other person” will renege soon after they leave the discussion or negotiation. As other countries become more powerful, the ability to exert our will on foreign affairs declines. And as that decline occurs, we must develop the skills and understanding necessary to work safely and in cooperation as planetary citizens. We know that as humans our species is often loathe to change beliefs and mores. Will we be able to overcome these abysmal disconnects in values, and change the beliefs and behaviors of the other party? Or indeed, ourselves? Or will we be able to accept the other party as a trustworthy negotiating partner without change?
The second and deeper level is a sadness that any of us could hold half of our species responsible for our sins, problems, disasters, disease, fall from grace, or separation from whatever experience of the Divine we hold. That sadness prompts many questions: How much agony has mysogeny caused humanity throughout history? How much of our species’ intellectual and spiritual capital has been wasted? How can we be spiritually, emotionally and intellectually whole if we discount half our species? And perhaps the most important question, what is our personal role in eradicating misogyny and the oppression of the feminine?
As easy and tempting as it is to blame others for our travails, the first place to look is within. What counts is what is inside our minds and behaviors. Looking at ourselves, individually and as a community/country, will help us answer the question, “What is our personal role?” If we are to move away from our long human history of using war, genocide and oppression to get our way, then it is us, you and I, who must change first.
As far as the Iranian cleric goes, I’ll take my chances with the earthquakes.