Friday, December 14, 2007

Teen Girl Killed By Fundamentalist Father

Aqsa Parvez, age 16 photo from The Globe and Mail

Father Allegedly Strangles Daughter for Being Independent

Aqsa Parvez, sixteen, of Mississauga, Canada, (just to the west of Toronto) died Tuesday after her father, Muhammad Parvez, a 57 year-old taxi driver, allegedly strangled her on Monday when she returned to her parent's home to pick up some of her belongings. He has been charged with murder. Her 26-year-old brother, Waqas Parvez, has been charged with obstructing police.

The Globe and Mail

Ms. Parvez's friends described the Grade 11 student at Applewood Heights Secondary School as someone who was drawn to Western culture even as her family adhered to a devout form of Islam. Friends paint a picture of a hardworking and cheerful girl who loved dancing, fashion and photography – interests that often clashed with her strict home environment.

Last week, Ms. Parvez temporarily moved in with a friend from school.

“She said she wasn't getting along well with her family and that things weren't right,” said Trudy Looby, the mother of one of Ms. Parvez's friends, Alisha. “When she was here, she was very happy.”

During her stay, Ms. Looby said, Ms. Parvez didn't wear the hijab, a head scarf that friends said was a hot topic within her family.

Krista Garbutt remembers walking down the street with Ms. Parvez earlier this year, when the two of them spotted Ms. Parvez's brother walking toward them. Panicking, the teenager quickly fumbled for her head scarf, trying to put it on. “There were times when we'd be walking down the street and she'd see her brother and she wouldn't be wearing her hijab and she'd have to put it on,” Ms. Garbutt said. “She said, ‘He'll kill me, he'll kill me.' I said, ‘He's not going to kill you,' but she said, ‘Yeah, he will.' And nobody believed it.”

There's more...
What a waste of a life.

First, obviously, when you leave, leave. You don't ever go back for your stuff. From airplane crashes to the Johnstown Flood, to refugees to fleeing abusers, when it's time to go, go.

Second and separate from the tragedy of this child and her family, is the issue of fundamentalism.

From 1988 - 1993 there was a study done called The Fundamentalism Project. I will be returning to it over and over again.

The Fundamentalism Project was a big deal, the largest study of its type ever attempted. Scholars of every type world-wide examined fundamentalism -- the religions, the people, their sacred and traditional books and fables and stories, their cultures and beliefs, rituals and practices for men, women, men and women, and for children, their historical backgrounds, and the contexts in which the fundamentalists currently lived and in which they had come from over many many years. This was done for every major group of fundamentalists which the scholars were able to distinguish, throughout the world.

After which, the scholars asked, what do all of these groups have in common?

Evolutionary Theology

Those of you who follow the religious beat more closely than I do have probably seen this article called The Fundamentalist Agenda, by Davidson Loehr. I may not have religious experiences, but I do have epiphanies and reading this was one.

The five characteristics are

1) Men rule the roost and make the rules. Women are support staff and for reasons easy to imagine, homosexuality is intolerable.

2) all rules must apply to all people, no pluralism.

3) the rules must be precisely communicated to the next generation

4) "they spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. (Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase 'overcoming the modern' is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.)"

5) Fundamentalists deny history in a "radical and idiosyncratic way."

All of this is interesting and it's interesting because it crosses all religions, cultural and regional boundaries. When the scientists were presenting their abstracts, "several noted that all their papers were sounding alike, reporting on 'species' when studying the 'genus' was called for, that there were strong family resemblances between all fundamentalisms, even when the religions had had no contact, no way to influence each other."

Now, evolutionary psychology theories of the moment can be awfully facile because mostly they reinforce certain social norms that can easily be explained in other ways. (No Virginia, women do not necessarily practice fidelity and men do not "need" to spread their seed far and wide because of their alleged biological programming. It's a lot more complicated than that.)
We'll return to Digby in a bit.

Let's look in more detail at the five characteristics of all fundamentalists:

The Fundamentalist Agenda
by Davidson Loehr

“Our” Christian fundamentalists have the same hate list as “their” Muslim fundamentalists. ... the agenda of all fundamentalist movements in the world is virtually identical, regardless of religion or culture.

They identified five characteristics shared by virtually all fundamentalisms. The fundamentalists' agenda starts with insistence that their rules must be made to apply to all people, and to all areas of life. There can be no separation of church and state, or of public and private areas of life. The rigid rules of God—and they never doubt that they and only they have got these right—must become the law of the land. Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. In Khomeini's Iran, and in the recent Taliban rule of Afghanistan, we saw how brutal and bloody this looks in real time.

The second agenda item is really at the top of the list, and it's vulgarly simple: Men are on top. Men are bigger and stronger, and they rule not only through physical strength but also and more importantly through their influence on the laws and rules of the land. Men set the boundaries. Men define the norms, and men enforce them. They also define women, and they define them through narrowly conceived biological functions. Women are to be supportive wives, mothers, and homemakers.

A third item follows from the others. (Indeed each part of the fundamentalist agenda is necessarily interlocked, and needs every other part to survive.) Since there is only one right picture of the world, one right set of beliefs, and one right set of roles for men, women, and children, it is imperative that this picture and these rules be communicated precisely to the next generation. Therefore, fundamentalists must control education by controlling textbooks and teaching styles, deciding what may and may not be taught.

Fourth, fundamentalists spurn the modern, and want to return to a nostalgic vision of a golden age that never really existed. Several of the scholars observed a strong and deep resemblance between fundamentalism and fascism. Both have almost identical agendas. Men are on top, women are subservient, there is one rigid set of rules, with police and military might to enforce them, and education is tightly controlled by the state. One scholar suggested that it's helpful to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. The phrase “overcoming the modern” is a fascist slogan dating back to at least 1941.

The fifth point is the most abstract, though it's foundational. Fundamentalists deny history in a radical and idiosyncratic way. Fundamentalists know as well or better than anybody that culture shapes everything it touches: The times we live in color how we think, what we value, and the kind of people we become. Fundamentalists agree on the perverseness of modern American society: the air of permissiveness and narcissism, individual rights unbalanced by responsibilities, sex divorced from commitment, and so on. What they don't want to see is the way culture colored the era when their scriptures were created.

Except for the illustrations I've added in laying out the agenda that the Fundamentalism Project discovered, you can't tell what religion, culture, or century I'm describing. The scholars discovered this a dozen years ago while they were presenting abstracts of their papers. Several noted that all their papers were sounding alike, reporting on “species” when studying the “genus” was called for, that there were strong family resemblances between all fundamentalisms, even when the religions had had no contact, no way to influence each other.

The only way all fundamentalisms can have the same agenda is if the agenda preceded all the religions. And it did. Fundamentalist behaviors are familiar because we've all seen them so many times. These men are acting the role of “alpha males” who define the boundaries of their group's territory and the norms and behaviors that define members of their in-group. These are the behaviors of territorial species in which males are stronger than females. In biological terms, these are the characteristic behaviors of sexually dimorphous territorial animals. Males set and enforce the rules, females obey the males and raise the children; there is a clear separation between the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is protected; outsiders are expelled or fought.

It is easier to account for this set of behavioral biases as part of the common evolutionary heritage of our species than to argue that it is simply a monumental coincidence that the social and behavioral agendas of all fundamentalisms and fascisms are essentially identical.

What conservatives are conserving is the biological default setting of our species, which has strong family resemblances to the default setting of thousands of other species. This means that when fundamentalists say they are obeying the word of God, they have severely understated the authority for their position. The real authority behind this behavioral scheme is millions of years older than all the religions and all the gods there have ever been. It is the picture of life that gave birth to most of the gods as its projected champions.

Fundamentalism is absolutely natural, ancient, powerful—and inadequate. It's a means of structuring relationships that evolved when we lived in troops of 150 or less. But in the modern world, it's completely incapable of the nuance or flexibility needed to structure humane societies.

There's more...
I believe the Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr essay on fundamentalism is one of the most important single essays I've read in the last ten years. I strongly encourage each of you to read the entire paper, and think deeply on its implications.

Here's what Digby had to say:

The author goes on, however, to suggest that the reason for fundamentalism's rise is that liberalism has failed to properly incorporate progress into society which leaves many people uncomfortable thus "defaulting" to the basic human response.
But for the liberal impulse to lead, liberals must remain in contact with the center of our territorial instinct and our need for a structure of responsibilities. Fundamentalist uprisings are a sign that the liberals have failed to provide an adequate and balanced vision, that they have not found a vision that attracts enough people to become stable.

Just as it's no coincidence that all fundamentalisms have similar agendas, it's also no coincidence that the most successful liberal advances tend to wrap their expanded definitions in what sound like conservative categories.

John F. Kennedy's most famous line sounds like the terrifying dictate of the world's most arrogant fascist: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Imagine that line coming from Hitler, Khomeini, Mullah Omar, or Jerry Falwell. It is a conservative, even a fascist, slogan. Yet Kennedy used it to effect significant liberal transformations in our society. Under that umbrella he created the Peace Corps and vista programs and through them enlisted many young people to extend our hand to those we had not before seen as belonging to our in-group.

Likewise, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the rhetoric of a conservative vision to promote his liberal redefinition of the members of our in-group. When he defined all Americans as the children of God, those words could sound like the battle-cry of an American Taliban on the verge of putting a Bible in every school, a catechism in every legislature. Instead, King used that cry to include Americans of all colors in the sacred and protected group of “all God's children”—which was just what many white Southerners were arguing against forty years ago.

When liberal visions work, it's because they have kept one foot solidly in our deep territorial impulses with the other foot free to push the margin, to expand the definition of those who belong in “our” territory.
He's basically saying that in order to pave the way for change, liberals have to first be aware of the sacred symbols and rhetoric of traditionalism and then attempt to harness those symbols to advance our cause. I think there is some truth in that.

The Bible is one, of course, but so are the "sacred" texts of our nation, those that outline the rules and beliefs of our territory and tribe. Those symbols and totems are powerful mojo for the other side if we don't lay claim to them. They mean more than just surface martial nationalistic nonsense --- indeed, if this thesis is true, they may be more powerful than Christian fundamentalism. At the very least, liberals should embrace the symbols like the flag and the constitution and all the apple pie traditions with the knowledge that if we don't, a more pernicious force will. It's about the power of deeply held territorial impulses. Christianity and Islam are only a couple of thousand years old. As the author says, the [fundamentalists] have "severely understated the authority for their position." Perhaps we should stake that authority for our side in service of our ideals.

I can think of a few ways we might do this. The first that comes to mind is to pit fundamentalism against territory. If this retreat to fundamentalism is really a default to primitive biology, then we can frame this as America vs the fundamentalists. And lucky for us, it's easy to do and will confuse the shit out of the right. We have a built in boogie man fundamentalist named Osama on whom we can pin all this ANTI-AMERICAN fundamentalist dogma while subtly drawing the obvious parallels between him and the homegrown variety.

We start by having the womens' groups decrying the Islamic FUNDAMENTALIST view of womens rights. These FUNDAMENTALISTS want to roll back the clock and make women answer to men. In AMERICA we don't believe in that. Then we have the Human Rights Campaign loudly criticizing the Islamic FUNDAMENTALISTS for it's treatment of gays. In AMERICA we believe that all people have inalienable rights. The ACLU puts out a statement about the lack of civil liberties in Islamic FUNDAMENTALIST theocracies. In AMERICA we believe in the Bill of Rights, not the word of unelected mullahs.

You got a problem with that Jerry? Pat? Karl????

Pit American liberalism against Islamic Fundamentalism. Since it's pretty much exactly like Christian fundamentalism, perhaps at least a few people will draw the obvious conclusions. But more importantly, it places us with, as the author says, "one foot solidly in our deep territorial impulses with the other foot free to push the margin, to expand the definition of those who belong in “our” territory." This way we define the territory as being ours while at the same time placing the fundamentalists firmly outside of it by using the symbols of territory instead of religion.

I am concluding more and more that we are dealing with a pre-modern political situation in a post modern world. It's not about issues, it's about tribal identity. We have to start thinking in terms of how to communicate our ideals and our vision in symbolic terms. Go for the gut, not the head. My view is that we can do this by using our sacred political symbols to illustrate what we believe in. People use the Bible and that's just fine. But it isn't the only game in town. "This Land Is Your Land" can bring a tear to the eye as well. And if this fellow is correct in that religion is being used in service of something far more primal than we realize then there is definitely more than one way to skin a cat.
Digby's right.

I'm a writer. I think in story and emotion.

I always try and tell a story, often a personal story. Ideally, I tie the topic point to something emotional and personal, the more vivid and primal, the better.

Why do people tune in to television shows week after week? It isn't to see if the interns in Grey's Anatomy can save a patient. It is because people grow emotionally attached to the lives and stories of those six or seven main characters. We want to know: Will Meridith sleep with McDreamy? Will George and Cally get back together? Will Cheer's Sam and Rebbecca end up together? What about from Friends, Ross and Rachel? Or Chandler and Monica? No one gives a DAMN about seeing the Friends on the couch one more time or the joke of the week. We tune in because the shows make us feel emotion. We're attached to the stories of the lives of these people.

Why do people go to movies? To feel. A movie which doesn't move you, is dead.

Writing which gets to people emotionally, which ties you in to long-term story lines, where you want to stick around and know the outcome. Even better, where you can participate or at least feel you're participating in the outcome... this is writing which works, which keeps people coming back over and over again.

People don't decide logically. Reach them emotionally, and they'll come up with logical reasons to justify the decision they've already made emotionally. But if your stories don't grab them in the heart, you're hosed.

Fundamentalists keep people engaged with the story, "We're going to heaven and everyone else will burn in hell. Save yourself, save your family. Better to kill your children then let them become sinners. Pass it on."

It's a profoundly emotional message tapping deep survival instincts of our primitive biology. But it can be countered as Digby points out, with other primal symbols.

Painting all Fundamentalisms as One Fundamentalism is brilliant. We should take every opportunity to do so. It isn't an attack on religion. It's an attack on people who hate American values, no matter what country or background they're from.

It may well be how you and I save 16 year-old girls from being strangled by fundamentalist fathers.

Updated 3:45 PM PT:

This ain't about Islam:
GNB Comments (Jesse)

I don't think it's a normal Islamic event at all.

I went out of my way to deemphasize as much as possible, that aspect of the story.

The point of the story from where I'm looking, is Fundamentalism is the same, no matter which religion one uses to justify one's beliefs with.

One of my very best friends is a Muslim. It is inconceivable this kind of behavior could happen in his household. Another of my good friends goes to a Christian church every week, sometimes even giving the sermon. It is inconceivable this could happen in her household. My two best friends from childhood (brother and sister) were raised Mormon. It is inconceivable this could happen in their households.

You know who was beaten badly as a child? Me. You know who else was beaten badly as a child? My dad. You know who else was beaten badly as a child I'm willing to bet cash money? My father's father.

This shit follows generational lines.

So does fundamentalism. It isn't essentially a religious thing at all. It's a women-hating women-dominating we have to be in control thing.

The key to breaking it is to educate the children. If you let the parents train them from childhood through the teens, it's already too late -- another generation is lost.

In its essence, this crap -- fundamentalism -- has absolutely nothing to do with any particular religion at all and has everything to do with controlling women.

Fundamentalism is as anti-American as it gets, totally against the heart of our shared American ideals.