Cultural issues in the Middle East have always existed, but most notably of these are gender issues. Though it varies depending on the location almost all countries there have had the same fundamental issues in the past. Most likely this is due in part to common heritage and also common religion of the region. This essay is meant to explore these issues from a perspective that seeks to find a connection between the religions of the Middle East and the issues at hand. Religion has a great effect, if not the greatest, on the issues in the Middle East. The outline for this essay will be first a statement of what the perceived issues are and the context and details relating to each. Afterward, using references and personal experience, an argument for each opinion will be made. To first discuss what issues are relevant to this discussion literary and internet sources will be used to make an informed decision. ††††††††
A very prominent issue in Middle Eastern society, as perceived by the world, is the treatment of women. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran require women to cover up nearly entirely. They are frequently not allowed to converse with any male other than their husbands or immediate relatives. Very often women are also treated with prejudice when subject to the law. This commonly results in a negatively biased treatment of women, frequently causing them to receive much harsher punishments for crimes, or even being accused of breaking the law for doing something as innocent as helping a stranger (Roded). This same treatment is certainly not experienced by the men in that society but unfairly directed only toward the women.† However, this is not the only issue that has arisen in these cultures. The following examples are used to show that issues other than those issues between genders are affected by the religions of the area, thus making it much more believable and understandable to make the correlation that religion also plays a factor in the treatment of women.
Another cultural issue that has arisen is the limiting of freedom of speech. This issue while still embedded in the culture of these nations is a result of the governments of these countries purposefully limiting media access of their people and imposing controlled censorship of the only available media outlets. Many people from these countries have been murdered or been tortured in these countries for spreading ideas conflicting with the governmentís ideals and in most cases the religious majority of those societies.
Yet some other issues truly are religion based such as in Israel; the Palestinians and Jews constantly fight over land that both believe is rightfully theirs. Each side is much more than willing to argue that the land was given to them by their respective God, causing the ongoing conflict between the two groups to be much more than just a territorial battle but rather a holy war. These and other circumstances make it considerably different because not only are they trying to get what each think is rightfully theirs, but they are also doing so because they believe they have been called by a higher power to claim it and in the process eliminate as many of the opposing faction, or in this case religion, as they can.
Religion plays a much more obvious part in this issue than it does in freedom of speech. Inherently religion is the cause of the territorial wars found between Palestinians and Jews as previously mentioned. However, religion is a slightly more subtle contribution to these other issues. The treatment of women in the ways described comes from a strong feeling of those in this culture to protect the women of the family. This came from how Muhammad felt it was necessary to cover up his wives and sisters because they were being disrespected back in his time. Being that he was the founder of Islam his practices were passed down as part of the customs of the Islamic religion. (Fox)
In the case of freedom of speech much of the problem is that people are completely restricted from saying anything that is contrary to the views of those in power. This almost certainly has a religious overtone in the Middle Eastern countries. An example is how people in some of these countries are fed information tweaked and changed by their government so that it may seem entirely different from the truth (Fox). This might not entirely be a religious influence but rather the government officials trying to keep power by lying and falsifying information to make their people like them.
Also the discrimination of women in such ways can be attributed to cultural precedence that has led to the continuous treatment in this way. Having always been that way, if the religion had changed, the treatment may have stayed the same. However, it is important to remember that it started within the religion and that origin is how it has spread and been passed on through the culture. Even so, many people in the Middle East feel that it is an important part of their culture. While others view it as limiting to women by restricting what they can wear and do in public, the other side of the argument says, by doing so, they are putting their women up on a pedestal, giving them respect and dignity. Society wants them to be respected and also protected. Thus what may be perceived to be restriction is also, in another sense, viewed as a necessary measure of safety. (Roded)
Putting women above in such a way and the feeling that is necessary to protect the women of a culture is understandable because in a society such as in the Middle East they put an extreme amount of importance on the family and its integrity. So by protecting the women of the family, they are also protecting the honor and integrity of their family, since the women are responsible for the production of offspring. (Fox)
While not obvious in all situations religion can be accredited with being at the root of many of the issues faced in Middle Eastern culture, especially since their culture is so entrenched in their religious values. It is hard to say that religion doesn't have at least some part in perpetuating the conflicts experienced in their society.