Don’t Reject Your Culture, Even When It Mutilates You

With recent new good news, I’m updating a past post and expressing my thanks, first, that only a very small part of the world lives under the Taliban, and second, that a young girl now has a new nose. 

 The August 9, 2010 cover of Time shocked the world as an 18 year old Afghani named Aisha gazed from behind her mutilated nose. Punishment for running away from home. Aisha had run away because she feared she would die from her in-laws’ abuse.

Eventually discovered, a Taliban-run court ordered her nose and ears be cut off, declaring she must be made an example. This was effectively a death sentence, since it was assumed she would bleed to death.

A death sentence? For running away? From people who might kill you?

Her husband took her to a mountain clearing where he slashed Aisha and left her to die.

Yet she lived. After passing out from pain, she eventually awoke, choking on her own blood. Then Aisha summoned her strength and crawled to her grandfather’s house. Fortunately, her father managed to get her to an American medical facility.

Alive but disfigured, sympathy arose around the world, and the non-profit Grossman Burn Center in California has now fitted her with a prosthetic nose. They are hoping to eventually do reconstructive surgery.

The Taliban tell their people that women’s rights are a Western concept that breaks away from Islamic teaching. But the Quran says nothing of cutting away ears and noses, and leaving girls and women to die. Early Islam actually had a feminist air.  

I’ve often thought that if Asian women had gained the vote before their American sisters, the powers that be would warn us away from rejecting our religion and our culture.

Is it really a loss of culture or “religion” that is feared? Or do these men just worry that women might gain equal footing?

Meanwhile, beware: Don’t reject the culture that mutilates you body, mind and soul.

Georgia Platts

A version of this article was originally published August 3, 2010.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Did Women Create Burqa Culture?     Early Islam’s Feminist Air  
Cultural Relativism: Must We Be Nazis to Criticize Them?

Sources:  Baker, Aryn, “Afghan Women And The Return of The Taliban.” Time Magazine. August 9, 2010; Bsimmons; Daily Mail

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 24, 2010, in feminism, gender, race/ethnicity, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I am so so glad at this outcome. I thank God her father assisted her, didn’t dump her as a nothingness. Deeply heart breaking to think of all the women who have died, just like that.

    God, this story hurts. I clicked on your link about early Islam having a feminist air but it didn’t work – thought I’d let you know. I definitely wanted to read of any positives about it – but came up with nothing! Great post.

  2. This story gets me so upset. I live in a country where that kind of violence towards women is not accepted. The first time I heard about this girl’s story I had heard upto the part where she got a prosthetic nose. I was so schocked to hear something like this actually happened. I am really glad to hear that she is no longer in such an ugly environment. However, i am quite sure that there are other women that are going through the same abuse, which is kind of depressing to think of. What can you do though?

  3. I think that both tr fact that this had to happen to her and the fact that it happened because she tried to run away because of fear. If the slashing of ears or nose are not part of the religion, then why do it? It just shows an example of why women SHOULD be afraid of their husbands. I am glad I live in a society where domestic abuse is frowned upon. Whether this incident is part of your culture or not, I think people should have some type of humanity inside them to tell them what is right or wrong. Would this man let something like this happen to his own daughter?

  4. Men in other cultures still believe that women in their culture will get a foothold and gain power and overpower their country. Asian men, especially Vietnam, does not want women to take control in thee household because they believe that women are beneath them and that women are not as good as men. Aisha is such a brave woman for her culture since most women in the Middle Eastern culture do not run away from their fear, they basically endure the pain that they suffer. She actually stood up for herself and did the right thing to just run away from people who were trying to hurt her. She shouldn’t have been punished, especially a death sentence from her own husband. Women in other cultures should learn from this brave soul and have equal power with men because humans are humans. Nobody should be better than somebody else.

  5. Although, I may not be fully educated in the customs and rules of the various Islamic countries. But I think I’m not too bold for saying that mutilation as punishment for running away in fear for one’s life is far too harsh for such a offense. I understand she is someone’s wife and that she is expected to honor her husband, but at what cost? Chance are that the two individuals in question were never in love with one another and that their union was the result of an arranged marriage. Therefore, the husband most likely doesn’t respect her or cherish her and probably has her around as a trophy or house slave for my relatives.

    I believe that all people regardless of their culture or religion has the right to live freely and protect themselves, no one should have endure abusive conditions or rules. In the case of Aisha, she did what was best for her and judged poorly by bias court of her peers who refused to see things from both points of views and sentence her to a punishment far beyond the crime ( which I believe there was no crime committed). All that demonstrated is the extension that they were willing to go in order to uphold false ideals and oppress women.

  6. It’s terrible that in the 21st century there is still barbaric behavior towards women. I don’t know if it is because of the religion but to me it’s looks like a part of their culture. Afghanistan’s men behave exactly like their father and grandfather behaved toward women. About the notion that they did it because they don’t want equal status for women, I think that in that part of the world they still don’t know, or have heard or understand what feminism is. How pitiful that women’s organizations can’t lend a hand to help other women to stop their suffering.

  7. There is absolutely no equality in running away to save yourself from harm, to being sentenced to death. Its cruel how human beings treat each other when we are all the same and should be treated equally. Its entirely degrading to women, The fact that they have no value and women are being used as trading objects. If she has a husband then she is mature enough to be able to run away and turn down religion/culture for her own safety and happiness.

  8. I agree that it is more of a cultural issue, than religion. As Ms. Platts previously stated the Quran says nothing about giving out death sentences to women. I find it extremely unfair that women still go through horrible experiences like this in other cultures. My mom’s side of the family is actually Muslim, and they grew up in Somalia, she told me stories similar to this in which men would perform female circumcision and other horrible punishments on women for various reasons. Fortunately nothing like this ever happened to her, and she made it a point to tell me that this is not what Islam is about at all, but rather men hiding behind religion as an excuse for their unjust actions. Fortunately here in America things like this do not happen very often, and women have a lot more freedom. In a perfect world, any women in a situation like Aisha’s would be able to get help from authorities or get a divorce, but unfortunately not all woman have that option which is truly saddening. I don’t believe the men fear loss of religion but do fear the idea of women gaining power in such a male dominating culture.

  9. I’m in the interesting position in that I come from a long line of Asian-Americans. My family was never religious, and any of my family’s Chinese and Japanese cultural traditions have been lost with time. My Chinese side held tight to their heritage for as long as they could, as being forced to live amongst their own in Chinatowns made them bond through their similarities. My Japanese side, on the other hand, pushed aside their culture and embrace the American one during WWII, when they had to prove they were Americans not “Japs.” As such, I understand how important culture is, as both my families held tight to the cultures they chose. Now, both sides are proud Americans — and would fight anyone who even hinted that they were not as American as others. Both of my families have had to fight for the right to claim their culture. Any threat to that bond or to our culture’s integrity would be deftly, swiftly and rudely put down. So, in a way, I can understand one’s preoccupation with keeping their culture “pure,” if you will. I do not agree at all with how this is sometimes done — especially in the case that was put forth in the article — but I can empathize with wanting to protect one’s culture.

  10. Yan Lok Joanne Lo

    The belief that men are superior to women still exists in many Asian societies. In my opinion, the longer it exists, the more extreme it gets. The belief may stem from religion or from culture. But the thing is the privileged people are manipulating the rules to keep the disadvantaged well suppressed. They enjoy their rights so much that they are overdoing it. Unconsciously, they want to extend their privileges by depriving more of other’s rights.

    Cutting off nose and ears as a punishment for running away just seems absurd and crazy to me. And a husband slashing his wife and leaving her to die? That is murder. Why wouldn’t the husband be punished for murdering someone, is it because that is his wife? The court just manipulated the rules and laws in their culture to further suppress the status of women. There are a whole lot of other effective ways to punish Aisha so as to act as a deterrent to others. Yes, what they did might be powerful, but it elicits much controversies and condemnation. I know I should not judge other cultures or even use my own culture as a base for comparison. But the incident touches on ethical concerns and humanities that deserve everyone’s attention. As an outsider, should we or should we not help the women living under such a culture? We would be intervening in other’s internal affairs if we do so. But if we don’t, we would be turning a blind eye to other’s plight. This is surely a problem that we should all think about, for the good of everyone in the world.

  11. After reading this article, I started to really wonder how people who live on the same planet could be treated so different. If people do this under the name of “religion” or “culture”, what is there for people to believe? I once heard a person said that it doesn’t really matter what religion you have, but you must know that religions are there to help you turn away from evil. I believe that equality is an important lesson our world still need to learn.

  12. I still remember reading this article back in 2008 as it served as a key editorial argument for keeping American troops in Afghanistan. Time Magazine is known for its iconic images, especially the ghostly picture of the Afghani woman’s eyes from the same period. In dealing with culture in this instance, we can not blame Islam for the actions of a single person, regardless of what happens in outside societies. This remains the case for current Afghanistan, which has been under the hurtful influence of the Taliban. Regardless, we can only see whether the influence of American troops can help shape the so-called culture in terms of the religious pretenses of the people.

  13. This is a sad story to read about. How she was treated and left to die. I agree with your last statement on how we should not reject our culture. Because it is a part of us. Even if we do not agree with it or if it harms us in anyway, it is still part of our lives and who we are. Reading about this girl, really set things in place for me to realize how lucky I am. How many women in our world are being treated like this and it is just awful and painful to hear about. I think all the women who don’t have to deal with things like this in their lives should be thankful that they were not mutilated because they were a women. That they were treated with respect.

  14. In response to the Georgia Platt’s blog about the mutilation of the young Afghani woman named Aisha this is yet another illustration of how men use fear and violence to oppress women. In this case the man has used religious interpretation and societal laws to legitimize a horrific criminal action against this young woman.

    Ms. Platt points out that the Taliban courts sentenced this woman to have her nose and ears cut off for running away from her husband and his abusive family. Ms. Platt states that the courts issued basically a death sentence because in most cases a person would bleed to death if they were subjected to this kind of physical injury. These actions were done in the name of Islam. The courts are also sending a clear message to any other woman who may have a notion to run away from their husbands.

    In the blog the author also makes a clear argument that the Quran does not make it an acceptable punishment to cut off someone’s ears and nose and leave them to bleed to death. The Taliban courts use their twisted interpretation of Islamic teachings to enforce their own agenda of domination of women in the Afghan society. Afghani women who live under the oppressive rule of the Taliban are in constant fear of losing their life if they try to do anything that goes against their laws.

    This story only made the headlines because there was an American medical facility near by. The American medical team who treated this young woman some how put this story in the hands of a Time magazine news writer and it made world news. This is not an isolated incident. The oppression and torture of Afghani women continues to happen in areas controlled by the Taliban. It is so sad that even after years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan, this kind of mutilation still goes on against women. These narrow minded men are so afraid of a woman being equal to them that they use barbaric measures against women to insure that they stay in their place.

  15. You know if there is one thing that my mother taught me it was to never talk about religion and politics because conversations like that always get into trouble, but within this case if the girl wants to run away from her home let her do it. She is not a child and for her own husband to cut off her nose! who does he think he is? All I’m saying is that if your religion and your culture has no more meaning to you and tries to kill you what is the point of getting into harms way. If your going to stay with that faith and culture you are basically asking for trouble.

  16. Before I read this article, I noticed that there are still some cultures which are being unfair to women in Asia. I seldom cared about it since it is a practice from thousands years ago and it would have been changed in earlier if there were problems. After I read the example of this culture, I was stunned and realized that I was wrong. It is a huge social problem in the countries which would practice this. Cultures and the women who lived under this culture are suffering from great pain. I was also shocked because there are still some terrible methods in torturing people such as cutting off people nose and ears.
    Although changing their cultures and forcing them to follow the western culture is impossible solution, I think we can still do something on this matter. I think that we should send people to talk to the leaders of these cultures and sent volunteers to help the women who are suffering from the unfair treatment.
    I feel I am very lucky to live in a country that would not treat women unfair. Hope the problem in middle east can be solves soon.

  17. People take the religion and culture to suppress women. In cultures run by men they pardon their brutal behavior because its the what god wanted and this is what our culture and foundation was built on. In India, the practice of dowry is nothing more than an trade or even a buy off. This degrades women even more and their values in their household decreased greatly. Because girls have no value, the culture has created such injustice that the girls are used as commodities. I don’t see how the persecution of women and demeaning them will make any culture or religion prosper.

  18. I found this magazine and read the article. Staring at her has brought me many feelings like anger, sadness, fear, and strangeness.

    In Asia, men hold the rights to decide and handle many things. On the other hand, women have been weak in the society. We women have less rights at home, in school, in the company, in the political area, and in the society. This fact has been influenced by our religion.

    However, I see a big difference between Islam and Buddhism. Since I am from a Buddhism family, I have seen that my grandfather is the deputation of patriarchy.

    I am not criticizing the existence of Islam but religion should never take human rights from us.

    Religion is not absolute in our lives. If it goes against morality, it should be remade.

  19. The more I think about this, the less I understand why some people remain backward. Whatever they do it under the name of religion, with zeal and prejudice, this is a denigration of religion or culture, and I think the next generation must stop this.

    As a Muslim with boldness I have to say that none of this is approved by Islam, and certainly not such a heavy penalty.

    In our history, our messenger had a beautiful young wife who got lost a few days in the wilderness, and when she came back she was with her cousin, riding together on a horse. All of society became suspicious about her and they started to blame that woman.

    But after a few days Muhammad recited a verse that all believers must remember that no one has the right to say bad things about believers. Even proof of adultery requires four witnesses.

    And in Islam when a woman has hate for her husband, he should give her a divorce so she can marry someone else. About Women in Islam there is an interesting debate that you can see.

  20. It is a loss of “religion”. Men have used it for centuries to keep women in line. Thankfully, we have “atheist” men who discard religion as a guideline for everyday living.

    “Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

    “In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.” ~ James Madison. ….and there are many many more from our founding fathers which is why…we have freedom of (and from) religion. Some men hold the same belief system but as I get older I see fewer of them. My husband has a fondness of saying “Scared White Men” I think they are all just plain scared. I mean, think about the power to nurture and create life. That alone should scare them. It is time that we as women, understand where we sit in the order of things. And embrace it.

    No person should be subjected to pain, humiliation or death due to someone’s idea of their particular religion. In fact, to do so, goes against all teachings of Christ. And yet here we are centuries later no better off (and perhaps worse off) as a people, all in His name.

    • Thanks for that perspective. Your point about men’s fears, insecurities — and why they exist — is something I definately want to explore more. Some men (like your husband) seem to be much more secure than others.

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