By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam
27 February, 2014
Discussions on peace are central to humanity since they force us to deal with some fundamental issues regarding our human existence, its purpose and nature.
As we all know world-peace is much more than just the state of ‘absence of war ‘. The voluminous literature of ‘just peace’ and ‘just war’ testifies to this fact well. My purpose is not to engage with this literature directly but to offer some reflections on what I consider to be the major impediment to world peace today.
Today, we live in an incredibly interconnected world that one or two generations ago was simply unimaginable. Things we do and choices we make on a daily basis often can have significant impact, both positive and negative, on people who live on different continents, who come from different religious, cultural, ethnic or racial backgrounds and whom we will never meet in person. How our actions impact upon others, often, are not always easy to discern or to understand. Nevertheless, given our state of interconnectedness, it becomes ethically incumbent upon us to try our utmost to understand how our place in the world and things that we do (or not do) impact upon others no matter where they live or what their secondary identities are. By secondary I mean those that are distinct to us and fall outside of our commonly shared humanity.
This state of unprecedented interconnectedness offers to us a tremendous opportunity to do good. However, it is also a potential burden for if we fail to take full advantage of this opportunity history and future generations will judge us harshly. Rightly so, I think.
So what are the main impediments to world-peace today? In this brief article I will discuss one that I consider to be the most prevalent and most damaging-patriarchy. It is most damaging because the underlying philosophy and worldview behind it permeates all other impediments I will mention in the course of this article.
Patriarchy is a dual system of domination of a small percentage of privileged men (mainly white, rich men living in the Global North) over other men, women and children. Patriarchy as a system of domination is based upon certain worldview that manifests itself in all aspects of human existence both at a level of society and at the level of the individual. It affects the way people think, behave and feel. Traditional hegemonic masculinity is its ultimate source of ‘values’ and norms. While we have been witnessing patriarchy ever since the rise of agricultural societies it current forms are much more lethal and insidious due to the nature of the contemporary world we live in.
Patriarchy, anchored in the ethos of traditional hegemonic masculinity that is upheld as an ideal and norm for and by both many men and women, strives on competition and creation of hierarchies largely devoid of (m)any ethical considerations. It is an never-ending competition and a quest between elitist men for economic, military, and political power. In a patriarchal world success is measured by an ever increasing need for larger profit margins, larger market shares, better stock market performance, increased military capability , more effective cooption of “democratically elected” politicians or a number of attractive-looking women, crudely sexually objectified as they are, a men can ‘score’ ( i.e. sleep with).
This patriarchal worldview, in turn, gives rise to a particular economics whose gods are greed and ever greater profit margins, at every and any cost. The vast majority of banking systems in the world are, in one way or another, structurally implicated into perpetuation of this patriarchal economic system and worldview. Recent events surrounding America’s financial crises that, due to our interconnectedness, have more or less strongly reverberated in just about every other place on this planet are a clear testimony to this truth.
Patriarchal interests and worldview has well and truly entered many political systems even in the so called western liberal democracies. Money created through exploitative nature of patriarchal hierarchies is used in funding political campaigns and is a major source of corruptive and undemocratic practices in the world. Hence, political systems whose survival depends on patriarchal interests are a major impediment to attaining of world-peace.
Hans Küng, a noted theologian, once famously asserted that without peace between religions there cannot be world-peace. Unfortunately, the dominant interpretations of religion have been wearing the garb of patriarchy for as long as patriarchy has been inexistence. Patriarchy has not only been able to significantly dampen the original sprit of constant prophetic messages which empathized the need for and spoke in favor of social justice and protection of the weak and marginalized ( and paving the way to their emancipation) but has often co-opted and perverted religious ideas to serve its selfish interests. What is important to keep in mind is that patriarchal interpretations of sacred texts are neither inevitable nor are they in line with the Prophetic spirit I just mentioned. Patriarchal values, norms and ethics disguised in the idioms of religion are not only betraying the original Prophetic spirit and message, they often coexist very comfortably with the vested economic and political interests patriarchal worldview defends and depends on that cause much suffering in the world. This is most unfortunate. Hence, patriarchal interpretations religions are impediments to world-peace. What we need instead are theologies of peace that honor the original prophetic spirit of social justice and care for all.
Degradation and exploitation of the environment are a major threat and impediment to peace. The patriarchal mindset of competition and creation of a homo economicus , a unique species of human whose worth is solely defined by material profits, detached from (m)any ethical constraints that views the world through the single conceptual lens of profit making is directly responsible for unprecedented and irreplaceable destruction of natural habitats which can have and are in fact having catastrophic consequences for survival of all life on earth including the human. This destruction of the environment can only worsen the prospect for world-peace by further increasing the competition for earth’s finite resources.
Patriarchy, with traditional hegemonic masculinity as its source, does not just give rise to a certain view of economics, politics, religion and attitude to our mother earth. It is also based on certain personal traits. With its focus on competition and domination it is arrogant, it eschews co-operation, meaningful dialogue, lacks empathy and the consideration of the needs and legitimate aspirations of others. The ideas of gratitude and of thankfulness are, indeed, completely strange to it.
Recent sciences tells us that the above described ethos of patriarchy is in actual fact a non natural state of being for humans and is damaging to us psychologically at an individual level. Science as well as wisdom accumulated through humanities’ rich and varied religious and cultural heritages, inform us that we humans reap real psychological and emotional benefits from acting in cooperative manner, when we show empathy, gratitude and are thankful.
It is plainly evident that patriarchy by its very nature that I briefly described is antithetical to peace and can only create exploitation, suffering and grief to human civilization at large and to our individual selves. As such is a great impediment and threat to peace. Every effort must be made to dismantle it.
Given our interconnectedness we as individuals have never been empowered as we are today to fight the forces of patriarchy. We can do so by choosing to buy and benefit from products and services which to not partake in perpetuation of patriarchy. If we are men, we can fight patriarchy by developing equitable relationships with our female counterparts in the context of family, marriage, friendships or work. If we are religiously observant we can embody, uphold and promote non-patriarchal interpretations of our religious scriptures and traditions. Finally, we can fight patriarchy by supporting, financially or otherwise, individuals, organizations and institutions which do recognize patriarchy as a major threat to world peace.
Dr. Adis Duderija is a Visiting Senior Lecturer, Gender Department, University Malaya is the author of Constructing a Religiously Ideal Believer and Woman in Islam, (Palgrave, 2011
The evidence that
I have cited against the theory is not challenged—it is simply not addressed,
and its salience is being sought to be diminished by the exclusive focus on the
fact that there are many ‘experts’ who subscribe to it and pointing to the
literature on the subject.
The life of a
poor theory is extended by explaining away embarrassing counter arguments with
statements such as: “you can have women who uphold and embody traditional
masculinity/ patriarchy and vice versa”. It is easy to see that the
theory would have been trashed, if such a statement was made when the theory
was first propounded. However, after a theory takes hold, those who believe in
it, will readily buy such arguments, and it is precisely such behavior that is called
theory-induced blindness which prevent its timely demise.
Even without the
counter examples of the behavior of women leaders and of women in ‘manly
occupations’ which in no way differ from that of men, the theory is weak and the
evidence is that there is either no response or an unsatisfactory response to
several questions asked viz.
If mainly white,
rich men living in the Global North display pronounced ‘patriarchal’ behavior
in that they dominate the rest of the people in this world, what explains that
the Global north also has a liberal democracy which is the antithesis of the ‘patriarchal’
If difference in
wealth between the rich and the poor is a consequence of `patriarchal’ values
of the rich, then do the rich men also display pronounced `patriarchal’ behavior
towards their women? Conversely, do the poor show the absence of patriarchal’ behavior
towards their women?
If capitalism represents
‘patriarchal’ values/ethos/world view, does socialism then represent ‘matriarchal’
This debate is
unimportant to me but is important to you as a scholar. I confess that
relatively speaking, I know much less about it than you do. But precisely for the
same reason, I am able to see that ‘the emperor has no clothes’. What is important
is not winning or losing a debate – I can concede the debate to you. However,
you need to consider whether you are going to invest your efforts supporting a
theory which is already brain dead and whose last rites may not be far away. That
is of course purely for you to consider and the discussion is over from my
I think that you are beginning to understand now when you
finally accept that the behaviour is exhibited by both males and females and is
not gender specific. It is but a small step now to also accept that the
behaviour is influenced by the role and the role is described by the
institution and people in a capitalist system will therefore behave differently
from people in a socialist system. The gender based terminology is no help at
all in understanding behaviour outside of the domain of personal relationships.
It is simpler to understand the ills of capitalism as emanating from its
political and economic philosophy rather than saying that it represents
traditional masculine hegemony! The question then arises what does Socialism
represent - traditional female nurturing, caring and empathy?
You also say “it would be good if more people made themselves
more familiar with gender related theories before they ventured out to make
(uninformed) critiques of those who are familiar with them”
It should be clear to you when I speak of theory induced
blindness that I am aware of gender related theories but I think that these
have outlived their utility and their longevity is being ensured through poor
scholarship which ignores the massive evidence of the behavior of females in
leadership roles which is in no way different from that of the men. As the
psychologist Daniel Gilbert observed, disbelieving is hard work after one has believed in a theory.
This is my last post on the subject. I hope you understand that I have sound reasons to differ. As you are a scholar, I was surprised when you attributed motives to me for my comment like any other lay person would, when he cannot defend his views through evidence, reason and logic. I imagined, that a scholar would welcome criticism which demolishes his hypothesis. To my mind, the only way to make progress is by discarding what is not worth holding on to.
This exchange was necessary to clear myself of the personal charges that you made against me. In future, I will refrain from comment on your articles.
Blaming patriarchy for the aggressive
politics and economics in the world is an old theory which was propounded at a
time when sufficient evidence of female behavior in leadership roles and in ‘male
occupations’ was unavailable. The mystery is how this theory that is vulnerable
to such obvious counterexamples that are available in plenty today survives to
this day. This can be explained only by a weakness of the scholarly mind which
Daniel Kahneman calls theory-induced blindness: once you have accepted a theory
and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to
notice its flaws. If you come upon an observation that does not seem to fit the
model, you assume that there must be a perfectly good explanation that you are
somehow missing. You give the theory the benefit of the doubt, trusting the
community of experts who have accepted it. Adis has not refuted the validity of
the many counter examples to this theory of patriarchy as a danger to world
peace but he is unable to go the distance and pursue the idea to the point of
saying, “This theory is seriously wrong because it ignores the enormous
evidence of the behavior of females in leadership roles which is in no way
different from that of the men” As the psychologist Daniel Gilbert observed,
disbelieving is hard work.