Why are we so silent?

By: BW Ellis
Originally Published: October, 28th 2014

When I was growing up in the 1980’s I learned about political action from the campaign to end Apartheid in South Africa. Granted I learned it from the second Lethal Weapon movie, but I learned about it and decided to participate.

A white kid from the suburbs wanted to step up and fight against what the white people in South Africa were doing and I found a voice to scream with.

 About three weeks after my first protest Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the rest is history, to a teen aged mind the idea of protest seemed really effective at that moment. All I had to do was show up for three weeks and the problem went away, this protest stuff rules!

I marched in other protests throughout the years, as a participant and then as a volunteer, I realized that the fight to end Apartheid was a singular moment in our history. That such a large and devoted community bound together to end an obvious wrong was not a difficult thing to do because it was racism, it was an evil that Americans continue to fight over to this day.

The moral justification of putting pressure on the South African government to alter its policies was already in place and the political will already had an established infrastructure of energized and motivated people.

But the same does not seem to exist for women.

In Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and far too many places around the world we seem to be missing a major human rights violation. The treatment of women in these regions qualifies for barbarism by any standard, and the horrific state of affairs in these regions eclipses the rest of the world in its severity.

The country of India is starting to see activism and change in the violence against women, and none too soon. While I am certain the gang rapes and other violations are not new, the highly publicized and discussed cases that recently made the news obviously sparked something.

In America we have appalling statistics concerning women in sexual assault and inequities of every measure, in the developing world everywhere the plight of the woman is screamed over loud.

So why don’t we hear it?

As an example, look at the city of Mashad. This is the second largest city in Iran with a population of over 3.1 million.

An almost comic piece of graffiti sums up the attitude of the people fairly succinctly. It’s a drawing of a hand that is reaching for an acid can with a label that reads “Permanent Make-up Remover”. 

This representative piece of artwork sits spray painted on a freeway underpass that is visible to a major stream of traffic and measures several meters high and wide.

Since the graffiti that I have seen for the majority of my life is either for denoting someone’s turf or drawing a cool piece of art this baffles me a little.

Imagine the mind that was inspired to draw such a thing. Imagine the time it took to draw it out or the planning it took to get it together.

That type of devotion to a hobby is one thing but spending that sort of effort in the manufacturing of such a deliberate image of hate is quite another.

Now imagine being the woman who walks by that image to go to work, to get food, to pick up their son or daughter from school. That is a measure of terror that the people who lived through Apartheid would recognize.

So why are we so silent?

Why are we not as outraged at the treatment of women as we were with the treatment of blacks in South Africa? Where are the marches to protest the treatment of women in these countries?

Is the message, and therefore the outrage, smeared over so much area as to be too thin for people to hear it? Do the screams need to get louder than they already are?

Feminism is not a dirty word in my vocabulary. Women and men fighting for women’s rights is one of the smartest things we can do as a society, but because of some right-wing bullshit, we fail to react in a feminist way?

The plight of these women reaches out to me half a world away, yet where is the outcry at the people who are doing this to women?

We yelled till our voices were hoarse, marched till our feet were sore, and ultimately forced politicians to come down on one side or another in the discussion over Apartheid.

So why not now?

This situation is in a politically and militarily volatile area of the world, natural resources are a constant incentive for supporting a status quo, yet the principal reason will make this problem a reality well past the need for oil.

The scriptures of the religion of the population command this treatment. The centuries of fanaticism and blind adherence to this faith codified the treatment in the laws and the culture.

So if this white kid from the suburbs can get off his ass to fight against what white people half a world away were doing to black people, why can’t Muslims in this country and other countries get off their asses and fight against what other Muslims around the world are doing to the women they violate?

Maybe because it wasn’t a major tenant of my faith to treat black people the way Islam dictates the treatment of women. Even if you accept the idea that these hundreds of millions of Muslims are not reading the correct version of the Qur’an, where is the outcry?

I guess my fight was easier, the problem was politically correct to point out. These days you are either an Islamophobe, bigot, or racist when you suggest that this is wrong. That “moderate” Muslims take the initiative to actually protest for the women in the Muslim countries. 

I fought for millions of people I would never meet in the only way I could, where are the Muslims doing the same for their sisters and daughters who pass this graffiti on the street? Where are the numbers of men lining the streets during the United Nation’s General Assembly with pictures of women who have been attacked with acid?

Where are the Muslims in this fight? From where I am sitting they are no where to be seen, and if they are screaming like I did during my first of many protests, the sounds are so feint that a woman’s scream from half a world away makes more noise.