There is this powerful religious community in the Middle East.
For decades they have managed to become very politically savvy, currently courted by leading politicians looking to get them in their corner as they are seen as king makers. Their own population and influence continues to grow, with their religious laws making their way into the rulings of the land.
They live their life according to the literal text of their holy book. Unquestioned practices are expected from the number of times to pray a day, to dietary restrictions, religious holidays, and men and women's specific roles in their way of life. All dictated by God.
Women are viewed upon as unsanitary and therefore, unholy during their menstrual cycle. Men and women are to be segregated in public places. On the city bus, for instance, men are usually at the front and the women are at the back. At social gatherings such as a wedding, the seating plan usually ensures that men and women are seated separately and at opposite ends of the hall. Contact between men and women who aren't married are strictly forbidden.
Wardrobe restrictions are clear and concise for both sexes. Minimal skin exposure demanded from both sexes, in addition to headscarves for women. The parent's want to ensure their children are given proper religious education so religious schools enrolment for their kids is top priority.
And yes through the years, they have been known to take out their aggression, most recently vandalizing offensive artwork and posters (in most instances blacking out any female faces) and have resorted to violent measures including bombing local establishments to prove their point.
After reading this, if you automatically assumed that I was describing the day in the life of a "fundamental" Muslim, you've proved my point.
This is the Haredim community of Israel. An ultra-orthodox Jewish community whose religious way of life has been a point of controversy between their traditional (and what some progressive thinking Jews have called "backwards") ideologies from those of their more modern, liberal and secular Jewish neighbours.
On Friday, thousands of them tried to forbid a liberal women's group from accessing The Western Wall. A chain of uniformed police officers holding back throngs of black-hatted Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men as they cat-called, whistled and even threw plastic chairs at the women who were seeking closer access for them to pray.
Days before the recent Israeli election I came across a fascinating in-depth piece in The Toronto Star which shed some light in the years-long tug of war that has been playing out throughout Israel but more specifically in bigger cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
It's a burden on the country's economy as the Haredim community receives generous stipends, amounting to more than Israel's military defense budget. Due to these funds it lends itself to them having one of the highest unemployment rates. It puts societal strains smack-dab in the intersection of the neighbourhood streets, at times violent confrontations have taken place with respect to certain images being published in mainstream newspapers.
Haredi Jews firmly believe that it is God's will to have them be exempt from the country's military draft, and they are to contribute to the nation's security in the form of prayer (they pray three times a day).
Now let's take out "Ultra-Orthodox" and "Jews" and swap it with "Fundamentalist" and "Muslim" and while we are at it, change the praying schedule from "three times a day" to "five times a day" -- it automatically paints a drastically different picture. Now when you read about their various (what can be seen as male chauvinistic) religious observances, it becomes an issue of human rights, children's rights, (Haredim believe in marrying in their teens); women's rights, and the threat of their hardline religious doctrine infiltrating the mainstream constitutional world. It's now a group that is bent on conquering the political arena to spread their fear-mongering beliefs. Pretty much a world in which US Representative Louis Gohmert lives in. He's the peach who believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated Obama's administration.
For the record I am not a fan of any ultra-conservative, fundamentalist wing of any religious community. I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill devout practitioner. I'm talking about those who take it to the next level of holiness with their own drastic interpretations of their respective holy book. They take the religion and predictably bends it to suit their own purpose (which usually turns violent) as their religious obligation. This applies to Christians, Muslims and Jews across the board.
Back to Israel. The Haredi Jews caught the social media glare in 2011, when a version of the official photo of President Obama huddled in the War Room during the Osama Bin Laden take down had Hilary Clinton photoshopped out when it was republished in the Ultra Conservatives newspapers. In concert with their belief that images of women (and nudity for that matter) are not be published as per God's teachings.
Well that caught some attention. Snickers ensued and sure, a few jaws dropped. And that was it.
Now, if this was a someone from the Taliban-infused community from the outskirts of Swat Valley, who, hunkered over his laptop, cropped out the same image, there would be an outrage worthy of above-the-fold, front page news, instead of just a curious footnote. Protests would be quickly organized and the value of women's rights would re-energize the global debate on morality and human rights. "How can they crop out the Secretary of State's photo?" and "If that's how they view someone that high profile, imagine their view of the common woman" would be the talking points which would lead every news station and political chat show and status updates and tweets. Oh and Iran must definitely be behind this move as well.
But that didn't happen. Because the term "Ultra Orthodox" holds a revered connotation than say, "Fundamentalist" does. That latter one is more sinister.
So usually the Jews get "Ultra-Orthodox" and "Conservative"; Christian's get "Evangelical" or "Born Again" or "Religious-Right"; while Muslims get all sorts of colourful ones including. "Fundamental" "Radical" "Extremist" and my personal favorite: "Islamist."
Sure one can argue that out of the three religions, the most violence as of late have been perpetrated by those follow Islam -- or rather their demented version of it. Recently Bill Maher on his show "Real Time" made a brilliant point about the unmatched violent nature of the radical Islamic community and how violence is always the first move when they are at the receiving end of anything they disagree with or found insulting.
And I myself pleaded with my Muslim brothers and sisters to basically cool off and take it down notch and stop falling for every little insult. So yes, I get it. However, it was the Christian Evangelicals that lead the way during the abortion clinic bombings of the 80s and 90s. Around the same time, the Haredim in Israel were bombing local newspaper outlets that sold secular (thus sinful) newspapers.
It's the same Christian Right with their Rapture-esque mission, which guides the Israeli hand when it comes to the two-state solution and geographic and capital status of Jerusalem.Last year Haredi men grabbed the mainstream media's spotlight (even if it was for 10.5 seconds) when they were caught jeering and calling a petrified American 8 year-old school girl a "whore" as she tried to make her way to school just west of Jerusalem. Haredi men are often seen throwing stones at vehicles driven by women if she accidentally drives through one of their insular neighbourhoods. Have you heard outrage on the streets about that?
I'm not saying that one should be relegated to a softer and less menacing class than the others. But I am curious at the same philosophy and ideology gets different labels and treatments.
Here's a thought. You hate what the "fundamentalist" Muslim is doing with respect to their twisted way of treating women, then you should also be equally furious with the Haredim community because, guess what? They are doing the exact same thing.
When Evangelical Christians spew out their hatred (which they most notably did, during both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections as they infiltrated the Tea Party movement and various anti-Mosque demonstrations in the US and they still do) for what is seen in their eyes, as Sharia-hugging, West-hating Muslims, well they should be held accountable as well and not just seen as isolated cases.
I'm sure some (maybe a lot) of those Evangelical sermons that fill the churches of the Bible-thumping South every Sunday, could easily be along those same lines as those preached from the pulpit of the radial mosques that we have been hearing so much about? Case in point: Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson both with major pulpit and a heavy loyal television following.
It is what it is. Regardless of where it takes place -- whether it's here at home, across the border or halfway across the world, there needs to be consistency in messaging. Especially when the world is so connected as it is today. If you loathe one, you loathe them all. You give reverence to two; well then the third (whether you agree or disagree) deserves that as well.
Follow Hina P. Ansari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hinapansari