Monday, 15 September 2008

The Hidden Bruised faces

The tragedies and tears which knife crime have brought to the forefront of the British landscape, have become cause of conversation for everyone - The epidemic that seems to be sweeping the country has been pitched in the media as a problem which all of us are potentially vulnerable to. And rightly so, of course, being callously stabbed alive, repeatedly, in broad daylight, in a public area for no reason at all, is a reality which would send chills down the spine of anyone. And for such a threat to exist in the very society you live in, is enough to cause a very relevant debate.
However Joan Smith in the Independent, very interestingly pointed out that although our brimming concern for knife crime out of the many violent crimes which affect people in our society today is very relevant and expected, there is another violent crime which affects scores of people across the country, and doesn't just mainly occur in inner-city hotspots like knife crime. The swollen bruised face of a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence does not make it onto front pages of all the main newspapers even though there are 12.9 million victims of domestic violence a year, whereas from 2007-8 there have been 130,000 recorded incidents involving knives. It isn't as exciting, if one can grotesquely label it as that, as this new knife crime epidemic on the tip of everyone's tongue. It's age-old, but who can deny, still rampantly exists.
Domestic violence accounts for about 16% of all UK violent crime. It is however chronically underreported, so it is likely that many homes up and down the UK harbour couples for whom inflicted bruises and injuries are commonplace. Victims can be both men and women, however statistics show that 77% of victims are women, and upto 2 women every week are killed by a current or former male partner.
The fact that domestic violence is a crime which has been around, and seems to have always been around, has inevitably meant that there have already been many measures pursued to try and deal with it. The Home Office launched a Domestic Violence National Plan, which has national targets it sets of to achieve; Local Government have departments and teams working in their local Boroughs, tackling domestic violence through cross-cutting approaches. The Crime Reduction department of the Home Office boasts of many initiatives and from 1997 these include pregnant women as well as children in education being routinely assessed for domestic violence; every police force having a domestic violence coordinator and the much documented recent Sanctuary scheme which was essentially an accommodation scheme supporting victims to remain in their own homes with surveillence.
Tackling domestic violence from the Government, as well as such measures which tackle the violence as and after it happens, also includes preventative measures. An example of this is a Crime Reduction Programme funded project which was about awareness raising for young people to shift attitudes about violence in schools. These initiatives are particularly targetted in areas where figures of violence are high. However how far have all these initiatives, actually helped to tackle domestic violence across society? Yes helping women live their lives with these perpetrating men whom they may not want to leave, providing support, bettering policing to be able to arrest perpetrators all has its merit and is needed, but will do nothing to eradicate the crime from society as a whole in the first place. The preventative measures such as education and awareness raising may touch individuals, but cannot reach the entire population and more than anything is confusing as outside in society, the opposite message about women exists.
If we are to really eradicate a violent crime mainly inflicted on women - from someone who maybe a wife of 15 years, to a one night stand from a nightclub, we need to get to the root of what it is which makes any man think and feel he has the legitimacy to physically beat a woman. And we need to solve this problem for everyone - not just the hotspots where figures are high so funding for awareness programmes are allocated - but we need to understand in society why this problem so rampantly exists. We should be looking at how we uproot domestic violence from its root instead of tackling it through a multitude of initiatives bit by bit - like a plant pulled out not just by it's pretty flowers or dainty leaves, but by it's thick and life-sustaining roots.
After observation, we can see that we live in a society where the personal freedoms, the freedom to think and practice what you like, is the cornerstone. Although packaged as the being the essence of a society that is most progressive, analysis will highlight that in fact it is the idea of freedoms in society have in fact meant that men and multinational companies have been free to exploit women in the way which most benefits them. Multinational companies have sold everything from cosmetics to advertising the British Motor Show by utilising women as sexual commodities - Flawless women with unrealistic body sizes and proportions are plastered across billboards, magazines, and television advertisements, giving a message across society that it is okay to view women in this way. It is no wonder then, that men subject to these images also take on this message - That viewing women in this way is normal and justified.

The argument can easily be made that women exposing their femininity and sexuality does not at all mean they are 'asking' to be beaten up - The classic rebuke. Of course not. No human being can be called responsible for another one's actions which inflict and oppress him. However as a society we need to be more intelligent and objective about the reasons as to why such endemic problems are increasingly existing. And it is without a doubt that if society around you is giving you the message that it is justified and normal to exploit the opposite sex in this way, this will inevitably have an impact on the viewpoint of certain people, and maybe the thinking which leads to such behaviour.

Additionally the idea of personal freedom gives the individual in society the sense that pleasing oneself and being subject to one's desires is the upmost concern - For some this may mean leading what would be constituted as a normal life, maybe getting married, and pleasing one's partner and enjoying their company but for some being subject to one's whims and desires may mean controlling your partner, chastising them emotionally and physically. Different people will inevitably exercise their freedoms according to their own desires and this is the crux of the problem.

The debate needs to therefore be about what type of society would create a community where such violence and exploitation would be minimised. A society that would be ruled by the rules and laws of Islam would implement the social system of Islam which aims to preserve the chastity of men and women in society and ensure harmony for the family unit. This means that anything that exploits the sexuality and femininity of a woman is forbidden and instead women are viewed as jewels to be honoured and protected. Good treatment of women is spoken about by the Prophet SAW on many an occasion. He (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) has said:

O people, your wives have a certain right over you and you have certain rights over them. Treat them well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. (Tirmidhi)

and He SAW said as narrated by Abu Huraira (radhialiaho anho),

"The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best disposition and the best of you are those who are best to their wives " (Tirmidhi).

He SAW also likened women to a bent rib, that if it is straightened too readily can cause it to break. This very aptly illustrates the need for sensitivity when dealing with women.

Allah SWT speaks in his words in the Noble Quran about the nature of a husband - wife relationship, that they are 'a garment for you and you are a garment for them' (TMQ 2:187). The image of garments for one another beautifully exemplifies the type of relationship Islam advocates in a couple - of covering and protecting one another from any type of harm. Additionally the Islamic society is based upon the idea of fear and accountability to a Creator which would curb the behaviour of treating others in whatever way you wish behind closed doors.

However many may argue that domestic violence is rampant in the Muslim community is Islam therefore not the problem? This is however very much the opposite case. Firstly although Muslim families may practice private aspects of Islam, they are still subject to the wider society we live under and therefore also suffer the consequences of personal freedoms. But in addition to this, much of the Muslim community also carry many backward traditional ideas from Eastern culture which view women as subordinate to men and as a result causes them to treat women badly. Islam came 1400 years ago to eradicate these practices and ideas and was able to through the implementation of the Islamic State. It has been the absence of Islam on a societal level which has allowed such poisonous ideas to return to the minds and community of the Muslims.

No way is the Islamic Khilafah an utopia where domestic violence is guaranteed to not exist, as human beings are all subject to flaws and to succumb to shortcomings. However the discussion which is pressing for us today, is whether the value of personal freedoms as a basis for society is exacerbating the social problems such as the rampant domestic violence that we see today. Until we begin this discussion, I feel sad to say that I fear the bruised faces and battered knees of women will become all the more common and an issue of normality.

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