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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Think about patriarchy. Think about peace.

Did you happen to hear the NPR radio interview with the Middle Eastern man who objected to the recent Nobel Prize winner, teenage Malala Yousafizi? Afghanistan’s Taliban shot her because of Malala’s brave insistence on girls’ education, and her family went with her to Britain where she has survived the near-fatality. She covers her hair and wears long dresses, but that conventionality was not nearly enough for the preacher who was interviewed.

He spoke good English and presumably lives in the modern world where the assassination attempt has been widely publicized, but he was not quite willing to concede that this even happened. After arguing that it was all a faux invention of the Western media, he made it clear that even if it was a fact, he was not so upset with the girl as with her father. He repeatedly complained that the father had “not done anything to stop her” and seemed completely bewildered by that. Thus patriarchy prevails, thousands of years after Old Testament “saints” controlled every aspect of the lives of their multiple wives and children, especially the daughters.

Jacob was deceived into marrying Leah by her father: the bride was covered from head to toe at the wedding ceremony, and Jacob said his vows thinking that he was marrying Rachel -- but in fact the veiled woman was Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Their father, Laban, had commanded the girls to engage in this deception so that Laban could extract another seven years of Jacob’s labor for the prize of the wife he really wanted. That, however, did not stop Jacob from sleeping with Leah both before and after his marriage to Rachel. We can reason this out by knowing that Leah had ten sons, and even without considering the possibility some children would have been girls, the math shows that Jacob impregnated her after marrying her sister. Nor was such considered wrong. The wrong would have been in a wife or daughter questioning such patriarchal power.

Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham – and today, we would deem Abraham a child abuser for tying up Isaac, placing him on an altar with wood ready for burning, and beginning sacrificial rites. Again, so complete was the father’s authority that the boy did not resist. Nor is there any indication that Isaac’s mother was consulted on the matter. That was Sarah, who miraculously had given birth to her precious son after decades of childlessness. Isaac and Sarah didn’t count, though, and we still teach these stories to our children from the patriarch’s point of view, as something admirable. We routinely use the “the patience of Job” as a positive term for endurance – but it was Job’s family who died while he exhibited his patience. To say nothing of his slaves, who also died.

So to understand fundamentalist Muslims, read Genesis. It’s their book, too. Read it in the King James version or the Revised Standard version of the 1950s, not in the “good news” editions that have been released recently. Think about patriarchy. Think about peace. There will be none as long as we have a world controlled by competitive men who prefer dominance to democratic family values.

* * *

It’s the Swedes who award the Nobel Prizes, which were endowed by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel. He was the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, and later in life, regretted the harm they were causing. The Nobel Peace Prize was among the first prizes at the 1901 inception, and despite a life as an armament manufacturer, Alfred Nobel definitely can be classed as a liberal. A multi-millionaire when he died at 63, he established monetary awards for breakthrough research in physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature – but gave the most detailed attention to peace. That award was to go to those who had done the most “for fostering fraternity among nations and for the abolition of standing armies.” Abolish armies – imagine that!

And yet, even though they once were the fearsome Vikings, Scandinavians have in effect abolished their standing armies: when they go to war today on behalf of the oppressed, they largely function under the aegis of the United Nations. A distant cousin of mine, in fact, was in charge of the airport at Kabul during the war in Afghanistan. He – and his wife – were officers in the Norwegian army, but their assignments were the UN’s priorities. This works, and we should encourage our Pentagon to share the duties of good-guy warriors. It would lessen America as a target for anger if we had more visibility from other nations in the world’s trouble spots. We could take a back seat for once.

Then we might have the money to do what Germany recently did: offer free college tuition to not only its own students, but also those from anywhere in the world. You may have seen that recent headline. When I forwarded the story to my nephew’s wife, a native of Germany who teaches German in Minnesota, she replied that she was surprised that Americans found this newsworthy, as it was old-hat to her. In the 1990s, when she began college, she paid the equivalent of less than $50 for an entire semester. St. Catherine’s College, where she works in St. Paul, charges $4600 per class. She concluded her e-mail by saying that tuition-free education is “something my students can only dream of.”

Or they could move to Germany. What crazy values have we Americans imposed on ourselves? We spend billions to “protect” Germany from Russia or other imagined invaders, while ignoring our own future in terms of educating the next generation. Throughout the twentieth century, our universities have been the major attraction for the world’s best and brightest, but unless we change our priorities and start funding our colleges in the way that we should, the brain drain may soon flow in the opposite direction.

* * *

One last thing, again related to Sweden. Did you see the news report that a Swedish woman had given birth to a healthy baby, despite lacking a womb? The mother’s name and her exact gynecological problem were not revealed, but researchers at the University of Gothenburg were the first to transplant a uterus for a woman without one. This gives new hope for parenthood in cases where the mother was born lacking this organ or has lost it to uterine cancer. The lead physician clearly was happy “to see the joy in the parents.”

The scientists weren’t sure that a transplant would be capable of nourishing the fetus during pregnancy, but it did. The experiment also has been conducted with six other participants: two had to be aborted because of dangerous complications, while two are now well along in their pregnancies. And that is what it is all about: choice. Individual decisions, not government mandates. Freedom, even for those born female.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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