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Who would do such a thing?
Who would do such a thing?
Last week (March 19, 2015) a 27-year-old Afghan woman, a student and teacher of religious studies, got into an argument with a local mullah over his taking advantage of poor women by selling them charms and trinkets at a local shrine. As the argument escalated he changed tactics loudly and repeatedly accused her (quite falsely) of burning a Quran. Within minutes a crowd gathered in front of the shrine and, believing the mullah, began to savagely beat Farkhunda. But beating apparently wasn’t enough so they pushed her from a roof, ran her over with a car and set her on fire and then threw her body in the Kabul River. What kind of people would do such a thing? Or consider the case of three men who were also falsely accused of a crime who, without trial, were publicly castrated, stabbed, beaten, tied to a plow and then burned to death in front of a large gathering of casual onlookers. What kind of people would do such a thing? In the first instance, Farkhunda wasn’t assaulted for religious reasons, though that was the pretext. She was beaten for being a woman who dared to argue with a mullah. As a woman she broke social custom and tradition and challenged a man, a religious man no less, and tragically paid for it with her life.
The second instance did not happen in Afghanistan. It was not perpetrated by ISIS or Boko Haram (as brutal as these groups are). It happened in Kirvin, Texas in the spring of 1922. And it happened simply because the three men were black and they, like Farkhunda, violated some social norm and were punished. Lynching in America was routinely accompanied by incredible acts of brutality, beatings, stabbings, genital mutilations and other means of torture that often culminated in the victims’ bodies being burned, many of them still alive, some still hanging from trees. These typically occurred in the light of day in a public spectacle. It is not unlike the Jordanian pilot who was burned alive in a cage by ISIS and whose horrific death incited international outrage, except that such actions in America did not even stir national, much less international, outrage and condemnation. In a roughly 70-year period (1877-1950) nearly 4000 brutal lynchings have been officially documented while others will never be accounted for. According to the historical records the majority of these took place across a dozen southern states. In the 1920’s Congress couldn’t even pass an anti-lynching law. It is a matter of public record that 200 anti-lynching bills were proposed in Congress and not one was made into law, always being blocked by a strong coalition of Southern Senators. This history is so dark that finally, in 2005, the United States Senate issued a formal apology for its role in blocking all those anti-lynching efforts. In doing so the Senate acknowledged its failure to take meaningful action to intervene to stop the brutality and instead essentially protected those who perpetrated such brutal acts.
So what are we to make of Farkhunda’s murder, or the murder of Allen Brooks or W.R. Taylor or the thousands of other nameless black men murdered in this country? Only this, there is none righteous, no not one. We must deplore the actions of those in Kabul who violently beat a young woman to death. We must also acknowledge that we, as a nation, were not only capable of the same kind of brutality but our political and social systems (even our religious institutions) defended such actions and, by inaction, endorsed them. So while we are rightly condemning the brutal acts of radical extremists and terrorists, we need to bear in mind that our own history is such that our Senators felt compelled to issue a formal and public apology for our part. It took us 100 years to come to the point where we understand our own culpability. What might Afghanistan think about Farkhunda in 100 years? In 10 years? In 1 year from now?
We have a responsibility to stand against such violence, particularly against women, and demand justice. But we should never do so with righteous indignation, as if we have no darkness in our history. Nor should we pretend that women in our own country are immune to violence. Being beaten by a mob may be far more horrific but it is no less painful than being beaten by a single man. We should stand against violence with the full recognition that, in our past we, too, have fallen short of our own ideals and that, while we have remedied some of our failures, we still struggle to uphold the moral values that are our foundation: that all men (which we now understand means all men and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. We pledge ourselves to be a nation committed to “liberty and justice for all”. These must become more than words recited. If we wish to promote freedom, equality and democracy around the world, let these values be truly modeled here first and then shared everywhere, for they are truly worthwhile values.