FROM THE EDITOR | summer 2002
History may define this era as one of religious wars, given the numerous fanaticisms: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, even Buddhist (you'd think they'd know better). But religious fundamentalisms are political movements with revealingly interchangeable agendas. Women are always their first prey, because women stand at the political, economic, and psychological intersection of society's core issues: sexuality, reproduction, and family structure. To control the population, you must control women's bodies.
And fundamentalisms don't spring from nowhere. Organized religion itself has always been political, in that it's about power - for instance, the Roman Catholic Churches morass of sexual abuse and its hierarchy's hypocritical Enronesque cover-ups (see page 15). I wonder if the dam finally burst because so many young males were victimized, since there was no comparable outrage at the epidemic abuse of females - well documented, though also covered up, molestations and rapes (including of nuns) - by priests over decades (see Ms., August/September 2001). It always starts by targeting women. If they come for us at night and you do nothing, they will come for you in the morning.
Indian feminists chart the rise of Hindu fundamentalism convulsing the subcontinent to the reprise of sati (widow burning) - but since that 'only' affected women, not much attention was paid. Muslim feminists have been the victims of Islamist persecutions for years - but that was "just" women; mainstream media didn't register Islamic fundamentalism until 9/11. In Japan, so-called New Religions - blending nationalistic Shintoism with militant Buddhist sects - are urging a return to Samurai masculinism, assailing the Japanese women's movement as destructive to "family values."
The patriarchs, literal and figurative, count on our having short memories.
- They'd like us to believe rules for clerical chastity are ancient and exist for spiritual reasons, and that abortion was forbidden by the Catholic Church 2000 years ago. Actually, the Vatican made clerical chastity a requirement in the 12th Century, out of monetary concerns about clergy bequeathing property not to the church but to their children, and not until 1869 did Pope Pius IX rule abortion murder, an excommunicable sin.
- They'd like us to believe toxic anti-Semitic comments by Christian evangelist Billy Graham (caught out loud on the Nixon tapes) were "misunderstood" - as "misunderstood" as the virulent bigotries of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who blamed "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians" for the 9/11 attacks.
- They'd like us to believe parts of occupied Palestine are deservedly "settled" by biblical-scripture mandate. Actually, Israeli feminists (see page 16) grieve at their country betraying its founding vision as a secular socialist state, a betrayal they trace to laws "merely" affecting women - who are subject in such matters as marriage, divorce, and custody to rabbinical courts where men alone serve as judges.
- They'd like us to think the U.S. motto, "In God We Trust" dates from 1776; actually, the Constitution's framers were dedicated secularists. Congress declared this the national motto as late as 1956, during the Eisenhower era's McCarthyist anti-Communist purges; "under God" had just been added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.
If this makes you even more anxious than you already were about Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, don't forget he's the president who banned federal aid to international family-planning programs offering (with independent funds!) abortion counseling (see page 21), and tried to earmark $4 million in new federal grant money for HIV and drug-abuse-prevention programs to only to religious groups. We need to keep our memories from shrinking especially in an election year.
On a happier note, there's the news of Ms. combining forces with the Feminist Majority Foundation, sharing resources, bicoastal offices, and long-standing commitments to women's freedom and power. I applaud this partnership; it'll be great for Ms. readers, feminism, and women (and men) in general. Upcoming issues will reflect the energy of a new editor and staff. Meanwhile, Ms., turning 30, called on its extended editorial family to celebrate. Hence, these "Best of Ms." issues.
It's a pleasure to return as editor of this one, for several reasons. I'm following in the footsteps of Suzanne Braun Levine, who expertly edited Ms. for its first 17 years, returning as guest editor in chief of the previous (Spring 2002) issue: the Best of Ms. nonfiction reporting and rebelling. Furthermore, I'm working with Joanne Edgar and Mary Thom, Ms. colleagues from way back, who also turned recidivist for this issue. Last, the "real me" (poet and fiction writer) could indulge in rereading three decades of remarkable work, though choosing from such riches provoked indigestion (see page 27).
In these keepsake issues, we've looked not just backward but outward (globally) and inward (at how much women have changed ourselves as well as the world). Now we look forward?to another whole century.
And women have long memories.
Count on it.