Benedictines are currently reading chapter 63 of the Rule of St Benedict, On Community Order. Its emphasis on the mutual love and respect which should mark relations between old and young, the small courtesies of the cloister and the etiquette of community life are a world away from the situation in Afghanistan where men seem to make all the rules, women count for little and young girls continue to be attacked for their ‘presumption’ in attending school.
One may question whether the West’s determination to impose democracy in the Middle East is justifiable or simply another form of outmoded colonialism. One may question whether the West’s eagerness to share its values is altruistic or merely a thinly-disguised piece of self-interest. But acid flung in the face or poison poured into the water test to the uttermost one’s belief in ‘cultural accommodation’. The story of the attack on 150 Afghani girls didn’t even make the front page of the BBC web site yesterday but was buried pages deep in ‘world news’.
As a woman whose family prized education, who was encouraged at school to develop and follow as many interests as possible, who benefited enormously from the blue-stocking feminism of ‘That Infidel place’ (Girton College), I find the hostility to women’s education in Afghanistan deeply troubling. I did a Google search for ‘how to help women’s education in Afghanistan’ and came up with some interesting results. May I suggest you do the same? Love and respect are not passive qualities, nor are Benedict’s thoughts on how to create a fair and happy environment for people to live in limited to monasteries only.