Monday, June 20, 2005

fwd: G2: Just 70: While we in the west celebrate our bodies, in Afghanistan a young w

<>While we in the west celebrate our bodies, in Afghanistan
a young woman is shot...

The Guardian (London)
June 17, 2005
G2: Just 70: While we in the west celebrate our bodies, in
Afghanistan a young woman has been shot for being too free
By Joan Bakewell

The death of a presenter of British television might merit a routine
obituary listing their programmes and distinctions, if any. The
report would be noted for the moment, prompt mild regret and then the
world would move on. The death of Shaima Rezayee is entirely
different. It deserves to be in the news and remain there, a reminder
of the women who struggle to emerge from the stultifying life they
endure in so many countries. The gulf between cultures resides in the
lives and often bodies of their women.

Rezayee was shot in the head on May 18 at her home in Kabul. Some
eight weeks earlier she had been sacked from her job at Tolo
Television where she had worked since 2004. It was a brief but
meteoric career, for in that time she had become the darling of
Afghan youth. Rezayee was 24 years old, pretty and bold: she dared to
present a version of the west's MTV in a country only recently
loosened from the grip of the Taliban. She had the courage to show
her face publicly alongside her two male colleagues, joking and
chatting together as they introduced videos of musical tracks. The
music was of all kinds: Iranian, Turkish, Arabic, western and Afghan.

The programme - called HOP - exemplified the porous nature of young
people's music. Cultural barriers and national boundaries have no
meaning in this world. Clearly Rezayee loved it: beyond the studio,
she wore jeans, drank alcohol, made male friends. She would have been
at home on any street in London, Paris, Barcelona, New York. But in
her own home town, she was gunned down. She had upset the mullahs and
the conservative ways of her country, been attacked as anti-Islamic
by the Supreme Court, and received death threats in the days after
her sacking. Two of her brothers were taken into custody, and there
is suspicion it might be an honour killing. The director general of
Unesco condemned the murder, declaring: "On no account can murder be
considered an instru- ment for cultural policy." Well, no.

How different it all is from the home lives of our own young women.
Summer is here and it is the year of the skirt. Legs are flashing on
every pavement; fake tans are whistling off the shelves. And everyone
under 35 has long since given up on summer tights. Bare legs - golden
and glistening - are the order of the day. Meanwhile belly buttons
are still to the fore, builders' cleavages grace the derriere, and
pregnant mums carry all before them like galleons under sail. Where
one culture fears and hides the naked female body, the other
celebrates and adorns it, flattering its curves and flesh, decking it
with colour and glitter.

The streets of the west are a feast of youthful sensuality and
delight. Not so easy if you're older, or bumpier, or slumpier. As
each year passes, the fun goes out of fashion. The bikini went in my
50s; strappy dresses are no longer within range; upper arms call for
long sleeves. And now, the dilemma of bare legs. But these are the
gripes of a self-regarding, body-conscious culture, Basically, we in
the west enjoy the freedom to celebrate our skin.

But why are religions so tough on women? In the Victorian heyday of
muscular Christianity, the rules of feminine dress would have met the
highest standards of the Qur'an. It was in religiously devout America
that Janet Jackson's breast caused so much fuss. Only as we have
become more secular have we shed our clothes and our inhibitions. Who
are these gods that they should require their own creatures to be
ashamed of their bodies? Granted, there are limits of polite society.
An attempt to have topless newreaders was only ever a porno joke. But
the notion that the supposed creator is offended by the natural
beauty of his own creation is well nigh blasphemous.

Shaima Rezyee was at the crossroads of a punitive tradition that
fears and resents women and the new tradition of global music and
universal entertainment that celebrates them. If religious extremists
of all faiths now want to put the clock back, they will have to
reconfigure the role of women as we have, within my lifetime, come to
enjoy it. The control of dress might seem a petty matter, but it is
loaded with significance. It is for individual women to decide for
themselves where along the cultural spectrum - from the easy ways of
western display to the comfort of regular concealment - they choose
to live. Who says that feminism has had its day?

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