Diary of a Feminist: The Schism in the Soul

Two weeks back when I read about the Council of Is­lamic Ideology’s question­naire on women’s status I couldn’t but utter ‘Oh God, these people! They speak a dead language and they live in a cocoon.’

And 1 thought: In their fanaticism they have be­come blind as a bat. But no. Not as a bat. Bats have a remarkable facility of echo location. And these people seem to locate neither objects nor con­cepts. Least of all, the change, the reality. They sound so oblivious of it all.

Thus CII states in the questionnaire it has sent to elicit people’s opinions: “To satisfy their own lust, westernised individuals in Pakistan want to bring women out of their homes and make them the centre of attraction in society in negation of Is­lamic instructions. They wish to thrust on the woman, economic responsibilities in addition to her family re­sponsibilities. In your opi­nion, what weaknesses will re­sult in an Islamic society be­cause of this unnatural approach?”

‘How ignorant!’ you gasp. Frustrated, you blurt, ‘Damn their stupidity!’ But you don’t live in a microcosm, in a world of your own. These people are part of you. They inhabit the world you live in. You dare not damn their ignorance, their stupidity, for it affects you in a profound way.

So what do you do? Perhaps nothing but brood at the chasm that is widening in our society. At one end is the band of people who think that evil befalls a society if its women come out of the four walls of the home and enter the economic domain (as if wo­men were never a part of economic life). The change seems to petrify them. In their passivity, their denial of real­ity, they clamour for Islamic Utopia.

At the other extreme is a section of people who think the society is doomed if wo­men do not come out of the confines of their homes to con­tribute in economic productivity (as if women have never contributed in economic terms). They are over-eager for an overhaul of the society. They are active: they churn out ideas and visions of a Secular Utopia.

And so writes Arnold J.  Toynbee of the disintegration of civilization, of the schism in the soul:

“In the disintegration ph­ase, human action is apt to split into a pair of mutually antithetical and antipathetic variations or substitutes, in which the response to a challenge is Polarised into two alternatives — one pas­sive and the other active, but neither of them creative. A choice between the active and the passive option is the only freedom that is left to a soul which has lost the opportunity (though not, of course, the capacity) for creative action through being cast for a part in the tragedy of social disintegration. As the process of disintegration works itself out, the alternative choices tend to become more rigid in their limitations, more ex­treme in their divergence and more momentous in their consequences.”

Archaism and futurism are the alternative attempts, says Toynbee. “In both, the effort to live in the microcosm in­stead of macrocosm is abandoned for the pursuit of a Utopia. For those who put their trust in either of these would-be substitutes, there lies in wait an ironical com­mon fate. In seeking their al­ternative ‘easy’ options these defeatists are actually con­demning themselves to the violent denouement which is bound to overtake them, be­cause they are attempting something which is contrary to the order of nature… It is intrinsically impossible for the soul to extricate itself from its present place in the ‘ever rol­ling stream’ by taking a flying leap either backwards, up­stream into the past or down­stream into the future. Utopias alike are Utopias in the literal sense of the word: they are ‘nowhere’.”

And I wonder do I have a choice other than aligning myself in pursuit of either of the Utopias? But I don’t want a Utopia. I just want a decent place to live in — with no petrification, with no frenzied, self-defeating activity.

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