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We Live in Troubling Times

Trigger warning: refers to child abuse

We live in troubling times.

This is a phrase that has been discussed and debated upon by writers, politicians and receptionists, across conferences rooms and dinner tables. Inevitably, the conversation ambles towards the ominous and mercurial thundercloud that is ‘Trump’. And here it screeches to a halt, mainly because regurgitating the criticisms and jibes of the New York Times and Trevor Noah can become monotonous. I can’t be the only one who scrolls faster upon reading that Trump’s most recent tweet has caused another media firestorm. He has undergone the transformation from the elephant in the room to a fly on the wall. And many of us are twiddling our thumbs until the next election where we hope to restore our faith in humanity. However, amidst the whirlwind of anti-Trump and pro-Trump discourse, there are issues that really make me close my eyes and bemoan the complex, convoluted world we live in.

On Sunday the 28th of January 2018, an 8 month old girl in Delhi, India was raped by a family member. In Peshawar, Pakistan, every day homeless young boys turn to prostitution to support themselves. In Sudan, women who escaped the procedures of Female Genital Mutilation as girls are being forced to undergo the operation as adults. Such issues dart across global media outlets, experiencing short lifespans under harsh international spotlight, before fading away into the backdrop of the endless performance that is internet media. The articles in question were titled “Anguish in Delhi” and “Outrage won’t save India’s children” and were not followed up by more detailed reports. After reading the case of the 8 month old girl and experiencing a dizzying sense of confusion and despair, I re-read the article. Perhaps it is a testament to my innocence that I failed to understand how such an immoral act could happen. Perhaps my eyes had glanced too quickly over a sentence and I had misconstrued the meaning entirely. Perhaps the brief nature of the report implied incorrect information. But no. It would be easy to spend an entire paragraph of this article discussing and compounding the depravity of this event and as a result, submit to the sickening feeling within my stomach. Just as it is easy to clench my fists and wish that I had never read the BBC news article that opened my eyes to this problem.

A similar issue occurred during the release of the eye-opening documentary ‘Pakistan’s hidden shame’ that uncovers how one of the worlds most important Muslim nations turns their back on the homeless youth population. Utilising the city of Peshawar as a microcosm for larger Pakistan, native director Mohammed Naqvi unveils the dark underbelly of a flourishing city of underage drug abuse, prostitution and rape. A city where religion and culture have undergone horrific mutations to accommodate and consent the prostitution of orphaned boys. Another example is in the Middle East and Africa, where the widespread practise of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is deeply rooted in the cross-cultural belief that both the sexuality and purity of a woman can be tightly reigned and controlled through a both dangerous and sometimes unhygienic operation. An operation enforced and facilitated by both domineering patriarchal and apparently practical roots. Often, the procedure is validated through a steady stream of excuses from all levels of society. These range from the inability of a woman to marry a respectable man unless she has undergone the procedure to the development of ‘safe’ and ‘hygienic’ operations in hospitals to quell the misgivings surrounding FGM. I discussed earlier how we often, selfishly, wish we had never happened upon such stories. This is because the writers of these articles have imparted upon us, the obligation to do something. With their ‘Breaking News’ titles and persuasively penned articles, they force our gaze through the lens of a microscope and demand that we take action. The multifaceted, interlinked system of worldwide media toys with our emotions and fiddles with our morals to convince us to do something. But very often, I find myself at a loss as to what to do…

I forced myself to compartmentalize my emotions and alienate myself from turbulent feelings of outrage and horror in order to scrutinize these issues. All of the aforementioned events are deeply entrenched within decades of congealed cultural and religious practises that, through the passage of time, jarringly clash against today’s progressive views. How many times have acts of violence been tied, loosely linked or traced back to religion or culture? Many supporters and enforcers of FGM cite that the operation is in direct correlation with the Muslim faith. This fact has spiralled out of control to the point where it becomes natural to delve into the psychology of a criminal in order to use their faith as justification for their actions. I cannot be the only person who has seen proof in the media that religion is considered the motivation for a crime. In Naqvi’s documentary, I recalled how easily the abusers manipulated their faith and culture to justify their actions. They appeared in front of the camera, acknowledging their role in the practise of child prostitution, and yet citing their patriarchal ‘needs’ as justification for child rape and abuse. ‘Double standards’ are perhaps the only words that are fit to describe the deplorable ways in which religion and culture were stretched and punctured to validate the reasoning of the abusers. As often, such men in Pakistan demand their wives remain pure and devout despite their blatant disregard for the rules of Islam.

But we cannot merely shift the blame of a crime onto an entire culture without magnifying the keystone and institutions that exist to uphold justice. To this day in India, marital rape is not considered an offense under India’s legal framework. No strict legislation has been created to combat the growing numbers of underage prostitution in Pakistan. How can we hope to eradicate rape culture and child abuse when the system itself fails to acknowledge the problems?

This brings me to an inevitable series of crossroads that continue infinitely. Where does one draw the line, or at least hesitantly sketch it, between intercultural respect for a variety of beliefs and criminal actions? This brings me back to the phrase that opened this article. We do live in troubling times. You only have to flick on the news or scroll through an app to witness a brief collage of the terrifying events that shake our world every day. Therefore, it makes sense that we combat such events with similarly drastic measures. We shouldn’t shy away from questioning and critiquing the values of our faith or upbringing. Furthermore, yielding to the passage of cultural and religious change is important... It is the continuation and revival of outdated practises that directly oppose ubiquitous laws of morality, which have devastating impacts upon the global population. Times change and more so, people change. What’s wrong with cultural change?