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World Press ( 22 Oct 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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World Press on Movement against Rape, Amy Coney Barrett and Biden: New Age Islam's Selection, 22 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

22 October 2020

• We Must Look Beyond Law to Wage a Wider Movement against Rape

By Nazneen Shifa

• The Philosophy That Makes Amy Coney Barrett So Dangerous

By Erwin Chemerinsky

• She’s Evangelical, ‘Pro-Life’ And Voting for Biden

By Nicholas Kristof


We Must Look Beyond Law to Wage a Wider Movement against Rape

By Nazneen Shifa

October 22, 2020


Young protesters are using innovative tools to reclaim the space for women, transgender and other minority communities and identities in Bangladesh. Photo: Monon Muntaka


Law has been seen as an instrumental tool of the feminist movement in Bangladesh since the 1980s. However, this development did not take place in a vacuum, rather we see this as a trend that we've seen all over the world through transnational discourses of women's human rights. One can chart a long list of movements in Bangladesh that ended up in demanding legal reforms or enacting a new law. The recent rage against rape brings to the fore some of the complexities of this law-centric activism and interventions in the context of violence against women. The Noakhali rape incident has brought up the question of law and its ineffectiveness in the public domain like no other time before. It appears as though the government has succumbed to the popular demand by bringing some changes in the relevant rape law (introducing the death penalty), a demand sporadically voiced up in the ongoing public protests.

The hastiness with which it was done surely raises some questions. It happened without any discussion with the civil society and relevant actors in this field. Such a decision on the part of the government has generated a heated debate amongst the activists in Bangladesh. Most of this discussion is against the idea of capital punishment on various grounds. A particular strain of this position points to problems in our justice system leading to a very low conviction rate when it comes to rape. This has been the expert consensus so far.

Looking at the predicament we are in today with the recent movement and the hurried adoption of capital punishment as a way of solution, I am tempted to reflect on some of the feminist debates on law and its centrality in feminist politics and see if there is anything we can learn from it. Feminist scholars critically examined the law and its transformative potential in the context of violence against women. They have looked at the problem of laws and their presumed emancipatory potential, often by emphasising how a focus on law in feminist politics in the context of violence against women is fraught. An unstated assumption in this kind of law-driven intervention is that it imagines the state as having a magical and all-encompassing power over its subject population. Such an assumption may give rise to a kind of complacency in the feminist movement in the event of every law reform or enactment of a new law.

But the fact of the matter is, violence has been on the rise even after so many laws have been passed throughout South Asia over more than three decades. In Bangladesh, it is possible to cite any number of examples where the state could provide neither justice nor closure of the judicial process when it comes to violence against women (two names that instantly come to mind are Kalpana Chakma and Tonu). A narrow focus on the judicial process individualises the survivor/survivor family's struggle in the bureaucracy of our judicial process. The 3 percent conviction rate in rape trials simply affirms the view on the poor outcomes of lawsuits. That perhaps explains why Flavia Agnes, a legal scholar and activist in India, thinks that as long as the state remains anti-poor, anti-minority, and anti-women, we must not expect much from law and its potential to deliver social justice. The crux of the matter is that often law-centric activism ignores the myriad vectors of power spread all over our society and institutions in which a misogynistic culture is deeply ingrained. Hence, an attentive reading of the current activist landscape helps us look at an ignored area of laws' presumed neutrality in human rights discourses.

This new moment of Bangladeshi young generations' voice against rape has opened up possibilities to shift our attention away from the law and help us begin to think of the multiple locations of power in a society where the misogynistic and hyper-masculine culture as well as the culture of mastantontro (specific to the Bangladesh context) are produced and sustained. In the wake of the Begumganj incident, we see the emergence of a new activist landscape where citizen participation is seen from small towns to the large cities. In particular, what we are witnessing is the widespread participation of who may be called our generation Z (Net-Gen), a generation for whom Facebook clicktivism is a childhood thing! It is this new generation that has given our new moment a virulent look! They are innovative in reclaiming the space for women, transgender and other minority communities and identities in Bangladesh. Like some of the recent movements of the generation Z—most notably the road safety movement of 2018—this movement too has an apparent leaderless character and is not limited to Dhaka. Sometimes the slogans and languages of banners are ambivalent (demand for capital punishment, rape epidemic) but the powerful presence of the generation Z on the streets and social media is a clear indication of an emerging force. Are they going to change our activist landscape for good?

As someone who had participated in the 1998 anti-rape movement at Jahangirnagar University, I can see how different the fight today is. Back then, our battle, our collective rage was against the university authority for not taking proper action. The movement was place-based. In the absence of internet or social media, our movement was not in the public discourse the way it is today. I remember how the JU rape incidents were represented in the public discourses which often villainised the space of the JU campus (Jahangirnagarer jhopjhare je kotokichhu ghote) as well as its students (Jahangirnagarer meyer biye bhenge jacchhe). Through this time travel back and forth, I can see the emergence of a new language, a language that recasts the notion of chastity, the central tool of the patriarchal discourse controlling women's body. When there is already a culture of impunity and when the idea of using brute force with indulgence from the establishment is taking root everywhere, there is no other option left for us except building a collective movement against misogyny and hyper-masculine culture.


Nazneen Shifa is a PhD candidate at the Center for Women's Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.


The Philosophy That Makes Amy Coney Barrett So Dangerous

By Erwin Chemerinsky

Oct. 21, 2020

In 1987, Robert Bork was denied confirmation to the Supreme Court because his originalist beliefs were deemed a serious threat to constitutional rights. Originalism is no less dangerous for those rights today, yet Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s repeated statements professing her belief in originalism have been met with little objection.

Originalists believe that the meaning of a constitutional provision is fixed when it was adopted and that it can change only by constitutional amendment. Under this view, the First Amendment means the same thing as when it was adopted in 1791 and the 14th Amendment means the same thing as when it was ratified in 1868.

But rights in the 21st century should not be determined by the understandings and views of centuries ago. This would lead to terrible results. The same Congress that voted to ratify the 14th Amendment, which assures equal protection of the laws, also voted to segregate the District of Columbia public schools. Following originalism would mean that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided in declaring laws requiring segregation of schools unconstitutional.

In fact, under the original public meaning of the Constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the Constitution is amended. Article II refers to them with the pronoun “he,” and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices.

Throughout American history, the Supreme Court has rejected originalism and protected countless rights that cannot possibly be justified under that theory. For example, the court has interpreted the word “liberty” in the Constitution to protect the right to marry, to procreate, to custody of one’s children, to keep the family together, to control the upbringing of one’s children, to purchase and use contraceptives, to obtain an abortion, to engage in private adult consensual same-sex sexual activity, and to refuse medical treatment.

Judge Barrett doesn’t need to explicitly say that she would vote to overrule Roe v. Wade because she has left no doubt by saying that she is an originalist in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked. “His judicial philosophy is mine too,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Justice Scalia, who died in 2016, repeatedly and unequivocally urged that Roe be overruled, arguing that the Constitution says nothing about abortion and states should be allowed to decide the question for themselves. Judge Barrett’s scholarly writings suggest she would have no hesitation in overruling Roe, either, nor those “liberty” decisions. She wrote, “I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”

The rejection of originalism is not new. Early in the 19th century, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that “we must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding,” a Constitution “meant to be adapted and endure for ages to come.”

It is a myth to say that an “original public understanding” can be identified for most constitutional provisions because so many people were involved in drafting and ratifying them. In teaching constitutional law, I point to the many instances where James Madison and Alexander Hamilton disagreed about such fundamental questions as whether the president possesses any inherent powers.

Moreover, it is a myth to think that even identifying an originalist understanding can solve most modern constitutional issues. Can original public meaning really provide useful insights about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and whether the police can take DNA from a suspect to see if it matches evidence in unsolved crimes or obtain stored cellular phone location information without a warrant?

Also, what often is overlooked is that conservative justices ignore original meaning when it does not serve their purpose. One of the worst decisions in recent years was Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of race discrimination in voting to obtain approval from the attorney general or a panel of judges before making significant changes in their election systems.

The court, voting 5-4, said that this violated the principle that Congress must treat all states alike. But no such requirement is found in the Constitution. Moreover, the Congress that ratified the 14th Amendment imposed Reconstruction on Southern states, showing that it did not mean to treat all states alike.

In fact, Congress after the Civil War adopted many race-conscious programs that today would be regarded as affirmative action. Yet Justice Scalia and his originalist colleague Clarence Thomas ignored this original understanding in repeatedly declaring that all forms of affirmative action are unconstitutional.

If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency in 2016 and replaced Justices Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, originalism would have faded in importance. Justice Thomas would have been the only originalist on the court and the theory would have been kept alive only by some conservative law professors.

But now, with the confirmation of Judge Barrett, it will be a dominant theory on the Supreme Court. Make no mistake, it is just as much a threat to all of our rights as when Robert Bork espoused it more than 30 years ago.


Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author, with Howard Gillman, of “The Religion Clauses: The Case for Separating Church and State.”


She’s Evangelical, ‘Pro-Life’ and Voting for Biden

By Nicholas Kristof

Oct. 21, 2020

A granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, Jerushah Duford, is a committed evangelical Christian who describes herself as “pro-life.”

For most of her life, she voted Republican. Yet this year, she is voting for Joe Biden and is encouraging fellow Christians to distance themselves from a president who she says is trying “to hijack our faith for votes.”

“The Jesus we serve promotes kindness, dignity, humility, and this president doesn’t represent our faith,” Duford said.

She made clear to me that she is not speaking for her grandfather, the famous evangelist who died in 2018. But she added: “I think he would be sad. I think his greatest desire had nothing to do with policies but to introduce people to a loving Jesus, and the division this administration has caused I believe has hurt this effort.”

In one sense, Duford is an outlier. About eight of 10 white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016, and polling suggests that the great majority will vote for him again in 2020. But Duford is part of a broader movement among some evangelical leaders to distance their faith from Trump, which in turn means interpreting “pro-life” in a broader way. In a sign that some evangelical voters are in play this year, the Biden campaign is advertising heavily on Christian radio stations.

“Mr. President, the days of using our faith for your benefit are over,” declares a video from a Christian group called Not Our Faith. “We know you need the support of Christians like us to win this election. But you can’t have it. Not our vote. Not our faith.”

The Rev. John Huffman, who once was President Richard Nixon’s pastor, said he has voted Republican all his life but has now joined a group called Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. He said he prays for Trump but sees him as “an immoral, amoral sociopathic liar who functions from a core of insecure malignant narcissism.”

Huffman and others say they are speaking up partly because they fear that Christianity is tarnished and losing ground in the United States because of the strong support Trump receives from many evangelical leaders. (One of them is Duford’s uncle, Franklin Graham, who has claimed that Billy Graham voted for Trump in 2016.) Duford told me her message to the public is, “I’m sorry you have witnessed the same greed and hypocrisy in the church that you see in the world, but this is not what Jesus is about.”

There’s nothing inherently conservative about evangelical Christianity, for Black evangelicals mostly vote Democratic and there is a long tradition of liberal evangelicals from Martin Luther King Jr. to Jimmy Carter to the writer Jim Wallis. But in recent decades, white evangelicals have mostly voted Republican, and Duford and others engaged in the new outreach acknowledge that many find it somewhere between scary and unthinkable to break that tradition.

A huge obstacle for many evangelicals considering a vote for Democrats is abortion policy. So a particularly important part of the upheaval now underway within evangelical ranks is a move to redefine “pro-life” to apply to more than fetuses.

“I genuinely wish the Democratic Party would have a greater value for life inside the womb,” Duford said. “Yet I equally wish the Republican Party would place a greater value on life outside the womb. You cannot choose just one and define yourself as pro-life.”

The progressive outreach to evangelical voters also argues that as a practical matter, abortion rates fall more during Democratic administrations than Republican ones, a claim that has some basis but tends to be exaggerated. It is true that one of the most effective strategies to reduce abortion numbers is to provide comprehensive sex education and family planning, to reduce unwanted pregnancies. For example, countries with free, legal abortion, like the Netherlands, have substantially lower abortion rates than the United States.

“A growing number of Christians have realized that their religious beliefs concerning the sanctity of life can be advanced in practical ways other than simply voting for conservative judges to make abortion illegal,” said Deborah Fikes, a former evangelical leader in Texas who became so disillusioned by policies of the American Evangelical Church that she left and joined the Methodist Church. Evangelical churches, she said, have mistakenly pursued a harmful “strategy of political gain in Jesus’s name.”

A similar ferment is apparent among Catholics. “I am voting for Joe Biden because I am pro-life,” a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Traupman, wrote to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Describing family separation at the border, environmental degradation, denial of health care to the poor, she added, “These are not pro-life policies.”

The Rev. Greg Boyle, who runs programs for gang members in Los Angeles, told me something similar. “I have never endorsed a candidate in any race until now,” Father Boyle said, but now he endorses Biden. “This is a vote for the soul of the nation,” he added. “I’ve never seen an existential threat like this in my 66 years of living.”

“This is not about partisan politics,” he said. “It’s about truly choosing life.”



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