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Holy War and Fear of the Feminine

A Religious History


This is the second in a series of commentaries on the events of Sept.11. In response to questions, comments and requests from friends, I want to take a deeper look at causes which are rooted in history, mythology and theology as well as the racial, class and sexual roots of conflict. I hope to take the inquiry in directions the daily papers, or the Dalai Lama, are not likely to go. In my first response, I stated that beneath apparent issues of race, class and religion lies an imbalance between the masculine and feminine principles, seen in a spiritual light. Today I intend to examine fundamentalism as an expression of patriarchal religion. Extreme repression of the feminine is apparent under the present regime in Afghanistan, where the very appearance of a few inches of uncovered skin may be punishable by death. Under such conditions war, religion, drugs and terror become the only permissible cultural expression:

    "Any form of pleasure was outlawed. If we found people doing any of these things (card games, singing, women reading) we would beat them with staves soaked in water - like a knife cutting through meat - until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped."    
    - (Afgan religious police recruit, later fled to Pakistan)

The psychology of 'holy war' emerges from a letter found among possessions left behind by the hijackers, which began 'On the last night-,' instructing them to 'fast and pray', to carry out slaughter with 'peace in their hearts', and of course to expect reward in paradise where they would be received 'by the virgins'. (Though some hedged their bets on the 'fasting, prayer and slaughter gets the virgin' theory; they spent their last night drinking at a strip joint.)

So - wrap women in chadors and social restrictions, cut off their clitoris, deny them education, make them physically and emotionally incapable of intimacy or any public function; then wage holy war to get a virgin in heaven. Just how did we get to this point?

Does everyone recall the fatwah, or edict of death, against Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses? More pertinently, does anyone know just what the 'satanic verses' were? Before Mohammed received his transmission from on high, the Arab peoples among whom he lived worshipped a number of deities, including the Goddess Al-lat. When he was asked, now that Allah was the Only God, whether one could still pray to Al-lat or the other goddesses, Mohammed meditated and then replied that it was permissible to ask for their intervention with Allah (much as at least some forms of Christianity invoke saints or angels or holy mother.) However, Mohammed later recanted, claiming the passages sanctioning prayer to the goddess had not come from Allah, as he first believed, but were deceptions from Satan. Hence 'satanic verses', and a further denigration of the position of the feminine.

But did Mohammed initiate decline of the Feminine? Of course not: "The people living in Pathros in the land of Egypt answered Jeremiah as follows: we will not harken unto the word you have spoken to us in Yahweh's (God's) name, but intend to go on doing all that we have vowed to do, offering incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations in her honor as we used to do - -. We had plenty of food then, we lived well, we suffered no disasters. But since we have given up offering incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations in her honor we have been destitute and have perished whither by sword or by famine." - Jeremiah 44.15-19. From Genesis on ('I will put enmity between the man and the woman') the male god works tirelessly to assert his sole spiritual authority, and the superiority of the male to the female. One senses, like Zeus with Hera, that God had experienced something less than marital bliss. For, as scholars are universally aware, the 'One God' of the Old Testament has two names, and is a synthesis of two traditions of divinity, one Canaanite, where he is El (or El-Shaddai, El-Elym, etc.) and married to Asherah; the other Arabian, where Yahweh, Jehovah, or Iao (all variations) was in fact the mate of the previously cited Al-lat.

The religious traditions of the west are clear:

    "Here is my daughter; she is a virgin; I will give her to you. Possess her, do what you please with her, but do not commit . . such infamy against the man."    - Judges 19.24.

    "Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands - for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church."
        - Ephesians 5.23,24.

    "The husband is meant to rule over his wife as the spirit rules over the flesh."
        - St. Augustine.

    "If women get tired and die in child-bearing, there is no harm in that; let them die as long as they bear; they are made for that."
       - Martin Luther.

The same story pervades eastern religions:

    "When Eve was created, Satan rejoiced."
        - Mohammed

    "A woman must never be free of subjugation"
        - Code of Manu, Hindu.

    "All things were at first subject to man, but a woman caused our downfall through desire for things. Our misery came not from heaven, but from woman. She lost the human race."
        - Book of Chi-King, among earliest Chinese texts.

    "Since women are subservient to the devil, they are the cause of defilement in men."
        - Pahlevi Texts, early Persian.

    "Rebel against women and so shalt thou serve Allah the more; the youth who gives women the rein must forfeit all hope to soar."
        - Arabian Nights.

    Ananda said: Lord, how should we behave toward women?
    Buddha: Not see them.
    Ananda: And if we see them?
    Buddha: Not speak to them.
    Ananda: And if they speak to us?
    Buddha: Do not listen.
        - Wisdom of the Enlightened One.

Copyright 2007 - 2017 by John Sacelli. All Rights Reserved.