Tuesday, January 28, 2014


It was one of those shared articles that had been plaguing Facebook after the Boston bombing. Its main purpose, inevitably, was to convince the public that Islam was evil. I didn’t save the link, but it doesn’t matter for the purpose of this column; after all, you probably saw one or two such articles yourself. What matters was the concerned response of one of my Facebook friend who wrote in his comment: “But how do we reason with them without imposing our values upon them?

That, my dear friend, is the million dollar question!

The article focused on child brides in one of the predominantly Islamic countries (I’m not 100% sure, but it might have been Bangladesh). The beef I had with it wasn’t the topic itself. Even as a multiculturally aware counselor-in-training I will argue with anybody and at any given time that marrying off eleven-year-olds, often against their will, to men several decades their seniors is NOT okay. And to those people who will say that in Bangladesh it has been a tradition for centuries and we gotta respect that, I have only one thing to say in return:


Nonetheless, what irked me was that the article intentionally made it sound like Islam was the only religion guilty of pressuring children and teenagers to marry. The belief that a girl is “ready” for marriage once she gets her first period is pre-Islamic and has been practiced all over the world for centuries. Nowadays, it’s still very common in some regions in India, especially in rural areas; and on African continent it’s been practiced by Muslim, indigenous, and Christian communities alike. (If you don’t believe me, I suggest you do your own research.)

And then there is the United States.

No, I’m not joking. Have you ever heard the name Rebecca Musser? She is a woman who had the misfortune of being born into the infamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints and as such was married at the ripe age of 19 to a “prophet” Rulon Jeffs (who, by the way, was 85-years old at the time of the wedding, and possessed 65 wives).

Apples and oranges, you say? Rebecca, being 19, has seemingly nothing in common with child brides. But in this particular case it’s not so much Rebecca’s own story that interests me; it’s her fight for the rights of thousands of girls and women that are born into religious cults that brainwash and oppress them, and more often than not force them to get married in their teens, usually to someone who is much older and has multiple wives. Check out Rebecca's website to learn about her activism and about what she has to say about American child brides.
And you know what? It’s NOT Muslims who are doing it! Most of these cults consider themselves indeed Christian.

In the United States it’s mainly the isolated fundamentalist communities in the Southwest (think Arizona and Utah) that practice polygamy, and in most of these communities, marriages of teenage girls to older men are common.

How is it possible? The state of Utah was given an ultimatum already in the late 19th century to either abandon polygamy, or to secede from the United States. Yet polygamy is very much alive and kicking in the state of Utah. Somebody must have made a mistake somewhere on the way. Consider the attitude of Mark Shurtleff, Attorney General, quoted in Suzan Mazur's article from 2005: “Polygamy is illegal in Utah and forbidden by the Arizona constitution. However, law enforcement agencies in both states have decided to focus on crimes within polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence, and fraud.” Fine. So the authorities decided not to prosecute polygamous communities for being polygamous, but were still willing to protect the children.

Except – what are the chances that children, especially girls, from communities like this can even report a case of child abuse? Think about it.
I would like to believe that things have changed since 2005, but being a skeptic by nature, I somehow don’t think so. There is plenty of evidence out there that in our democratic country that prides itself on being the world’s leader in democracy, we let religious (predominantly Christian, like it or not; although admittedly we are talking about an extreme form of Christianity) cults practice not only polygamy, but also underage marriages. If anything else, watch this documentary: Banking on Heaven written, produced, and directed by Laurie Allen, who managed to escape her polygamist community at the age of 16. It will break your heart and it will convince you that it IS a real problem – right here, in our midst.

So if I were to go back to my friend’s question regarding how to reason with the people of Bangladesh, I would probably respond by saying: “Dear So-and-so, maybe we are not meant to just yet. Maybe as Americans, before we start policing the whole world, we need to make sure that nasty shit doesn’t happen in our own country – you know, because in case it does, we look a) dumb and b) hypocritical. Otherwise, what the hell are we going to say when somebody asks us: Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye and not notice the beam which is in your own eye?!

I, for one, wouldn’t know.

The photo of Warren Jeff with a twelve-year-old bride is accessible to public on Internet (my source: www.sodahead.com)


Amanda said...

In my first multicultural class we had a similar discussion. It was something along the lines of "where do we make the distinction between social justice and political correctness?" The professor's response was to identify female circumcision as "the line" we should not cross. I think there are a multitude of these issues that need to be addressed, and I thank you for beginning the dialog.

Global Chick said...

You are welcome - any time ;) I just wish I had answers...