Archive for October 21st, 2008|Daily archive page

Afghan gets 20 years for discussing women’s rights

An appeals court in Afghanistan has sentenced 24-year old Parwez Kambakhsh to 20 years in jail for promoting women’s rights—and that’s actually an improvement in his condition; the trial court sentenced him to death. Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif, is accused of “insulting Islam and abusing the Holy Prophet Mohammad,” charges stemming from allegations that he asked questions in class that indicated a criticism of the way women are treated in his country and that he printed out and disseminated an essay that asked why Islam doesn’t modernize and recognize women’s rights. He denies downloading or handing out the article and says he didn’t write his own comments on it, as the prosecution alleges.

The Flag of Afghanistan, adopted in 2004.  Afghanistan has had 23 flags since the start of the 20th century---more than any other country--- including one that was all white and another that was all black.

The current Flag of Afghanistan, adopted 2004. Afghanistan has had 23 flags since the start of the 20th century--more than any other country--including one that was all white and another that was all black.

The presiding judge at his trial, Abdul Salam Qazizada, is a holdover from the Taliban days and was clearly hostile to Kambakhsh, who hasn’t received a fair trial according to international observers. He was detained far longer than he should have been and his lawyer didn’t get to speak with witnesses until the day before the trial. He also reports that he was abused and coerced into confessing by the police. At least one “witness” says he was threatened into testifying against Kambakhsh. And this procedural stuff is ignoring the fact that he’s on trial for talking about women’s rights in the first place.

While it is depressing that it is illegal to discuss women’s rights anywhere in the world in the 21st century, but if you read the accounts of his trial carefully there is reason to hope. The judge said that “Kambakhsh may have wanted to make himself popular by writing this text.” If his peers and fellow students were against women’s rights, challenging the status quo would hardly make Kambakhsh popular. Such an action would only make him popular if tapped into beliefs that were already there and growing amongst the young Afghani population. It’s too much to suggest that women’s lib will soon come to Afghanistan and that they’ll be burning their burqas, but progress is on the march there, as in Saudi Arabia, where women may soon be able to drive cars.

It is thought that Kambakhsh may have been targeted because his brother, Yaqub Ibrahimi, had written about human rights violations and criticized local warlords. Note that Yaqub is the Arabic form of the name Jacob. Kambakhsh may still appeal his sentencing to the Afghan Supreme Court. Note that I’m the one who started the Wikipedia article on the Afghan Supreme Court. Check it out for examples of some of it’s reactionary and backwards rulings, along with news that President Hamid Karzai has since appointed some more moderate jurists to that tribunal. Hopefully international attention and pressure will continue to be applied to Karzai and the Supreme Court will overturn this silly conviction.

Monks make money for charity

The Cistercian Order's Coat of Arms

The Cistercian Order's Coat of Arms

MSNBC recently reported on a Cistercian monastery in west central Wisconsin, Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey, that runs a very successful—and profitable—business selling printer refill cartridges and other supplies online. One of the monks, Bernard McCoy, said he got the idea to set up the business, when he was reordering ink for the monastery’s printer; he found the markup to be “sinfully high.” The abbey is home to nine monks; once their modest $150,000 operating costs are covered the remainder of their profits, about $4.5 million, goes to charity.

Customers get to suggest where profits are invested. Some of the money trains Vietnamese orphans how to use office computers. Other funds feed battered families. Part of the profits helped Joe Sanwald do something no one in his family has ever done: graduate from high school.

The monks hired the 17-year-old to build a guest cabin in the forest surrounding the Abbey. “Kids were giving me a pretty tough time since I was poor, but look at me now,” Joe says with a grin. “I’m doing better than they are!” He’s even planning on going to college.

Their business is and their slogan is “Real Savings. Real Monks. Supporting Real People.”

Monastery’s, of course, have a very long history of aiding their communities. We’ve just sort of forgotten about that and the fact that monks aren’t very good at getting themselves on TV to inveigh against popular bugaboos doesn’t help their Q score any; they tend to take a longer view of things.

The Cistercian Order was founded about 1098 and stressed returning to a strict observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Written circa 530, the rules required all monks to work to support themselves and their monastery. As the Laser Monks site explains:

In his “Rule for Monks”, St. Benedict stated that the monks were to work for their living “by their own hands”, and thus not to beg for their livelihood, from others. Hence, monastic communities are self supporting and each has a business which sustains their Abbey and allows the community to live lives of contemplation, prayer and good works. Up until modern times, the chief means of support was agriculture, but today, many other businesses and products have developed such as the making of bread, jams and candies, stained glass, art and other hand made gifts.

Last year for Christmas I received some creamed honey from another Cistercian monastery, Our Lady of the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, and I can attest that it is excellent in quality; I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys honey. I got a box with four types in it: original, raspberry, lemon, and cinnamon. The Laser Monks site has links to the products of other monasteries and provides some information on the work that the proceeds supports.

Also potentially of interest to readers of this post is a recent Slate article on how the Catholic Church is currently trying to encourage more young people to become monks and nuns. To my surprise, they are actually enjoying success at convincing people to seek the life of contemplation.