It's no wives' tale -- polygamy harms society
By Daphne Bramham, The Vancouver Sun
July 20, 2010
Increased crime, prostitution and anti-social behaviour. Greater inequality between men and women. Less parental investment in children. And a general driving down of the age of marriage for all women.
These are some of the harms of polygamy (or more correctly, polygyny, since it is almost always men marrying more than once) that are outlined in a 45-page research paper by noted Canadian scholar Joseph Henrich, filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court.
Henrich is uniquely qualified to look at polygamy's harm. He's a member of the departments of economics, psychology and anthropology at the University of British Columbia and holds the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution.
But he'd never really thought about it until this year when Craig Jones approached him. Jones is the lead lawyer in the B.C. government's constitutional reference case, which will be heard in November by B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman.
Now, Henrich's conclusions form part of the intellectual and evidentiary underpinning for the province's argument that even if outlawing polygamy breaches the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and freedom of expression, it's justified.
In addition to Henrich's paper, the government has filed or will be filing affidavits from other specialists in the history of western polygamy, Islamic law, psychology and medicine.
Fifteen former fundamentalist Mormons have provided video testimony about their experiences growing up in polygamous communities in Canada and the United States.
Among them is Truman Oler. He is the 28-year-old brother of James Oler, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints bishop in Bountiful, and the nephew of Winston Blackmore, the former bishop who now heads a breakaway sect.
But for James Oler and Blackmore, there would be no court case. Both men were charged with polygamy in 2009. But after those charges were stayed, Attorney General Mike de Jong asked the B.C. Supreme Court to rule on the law's constitutionality.
To illustrate the harm, Henrich provides the court with an example of polygyny's cruel arithmetic.
In a hypothetical society of 20 men and 20 women, 12 men with the highest status marry 12 women. (It's always only the highest-ranking men in polygynous societies that get multiple wives.)
Then, the top five take a second wife and the top two men take a third. Finally, the top guy takes a fourth.
The result is that 58 per cent of the marriages are monogamous.
But -- and this is the big deal -- it means 40 per cent of the men remain unmarried.
Yes, 40 per cent.
And Henrich's example is conservative. Blackmore has more than 20 wives. FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who is in jail in Utah, has more than 80.
And the studies Henrich cites -- from historical, frontier-American research to contemporary work done in countries where polygamy is legal -- indicate that groups of unmarried men create havoc.
"For males, getting married (monogamously) is a prophylactic against engaging in crime, social disruption and other socially undesirable activities," he writes.
In India and China, where male-biased sex selection has resulted in more men than women, researchers found "bachelor bands that compete ferociously and engage in aggressive, violent and anti-social activities."
China's one-child policy resulted in the number of "surplus" men nearly doubling . . . along with the crime rates. In a recent study, researchers there concluded that for every 0.01 increase in sex ratio, property and violent crimes rise by three per cent.
In India, the state of Kerala's murder rate is half that of Uttar Pradesh. The reason? Kerala's male-to-female ratio is 97:100; Uttar Pradesh's is 112:100.
Another social harm that Henrich says is consistent regardless of whether researchers use data from 19th-century Mormon communities or contemporary African societies is that children from polygynous families have considerably lower survival rates. It seems polygynous men, rather than investing in their offspring, use their money to add wives.
"Monogamy seems to direct male motivations in ways that create lower crime rates, greater wealth (GDP) per capita and better outcomes for children," Henrich concludes.
But what's more surprising than his conclusions is his speculation that monogamy is at the root of democracy and equality.
He argues that as the idea of monogamy spread through Europe during the 15th century, king and peasant alike had the same rules and the idea of equality gained a foothold -- at least among men.
With reduced competition for women, men began loosening their tight control over wives and daughters.
And with fewer unmarried men, the pool of soldiers that had previously been harnessed by warring rulers was reduced.
Even though this compelling argument goes far beyond the scope of the trial, it may make it even harder for polygamy's advocates to convince the judge that its practice is benign.
'Slaves' in impoverished Yemen still dream of freedom
By Jamal al-Jaberi (AFP) – 4 days ago
SANAA — Officially, slavery was abolished back in 1962 but a judge's decision to pass on the title deed of a "slave" from one master to another has blown the lid off the hidden bondage of hundreds of Yemenis.
The judge in the town of Hajja, which is home to some 300 slaves, according to residents, said he had certified the transfer only because the new owner planned to free the slave.
But his decision has triggered a campaign by local human right activists.
A 2009 report by the human rights ministry found that males and females were still enslaved in the provinces of Hudaydah and Hajja, in northwest Yemen -- the Arab world's most impoverished country.
Mubarak, who has seven brothers and sisters, has never set foot outside the village where he was born into a family which was inherited as slaves by their local master.
Sheikh Mohammed Badawi's father had bought Mubarak's parents 50 year ago, shortly before Yemen's 1962 revolution which abolished slavery. Mubarak has known no other life except that of a slave.
"Whenever I think of freedom, I ask myself, 'Where will I go?'" he told AFP as he stood outside a hut which serves as home for him and his family.
Black-skinned Mubarak does not know his birthday but he knows he has been a slave from birth 21 years ago. He has two children with a wife who was also a slave until she was emancipated by her master, a few years before they married.
"Sometimes I wonder what the fate of my children will be, having a slave father and an emancipated mother," he said.
Mubarak and his family are just one case among many.
"We are still in the process of trying to count the numbers of slaves," the coordinator of rights group Hood, Mohammed Naji Allaw, told AFP, explaining that slaves were "owned by title deeds, or inherited within families."
The news website almasdaronline earlier spoke of "500 slaves" across Yemen.
In addition to "slaves whose owner can use them however he wants," the ministry report also refers to other groups subjected to slave-like conditions, although they are not bound by documents.
One group includes "former slaves who have been officially set free, but remain at the service of their former masters, who continue to feed them but never pay them wages," the report said.
Allaw said such people are still referred to as "the slaves of such and such a family, or the slaves of such and such a tribe."
Enslaved groups are descendants of an empire which ruled Yemen in the 11th and 12th centuries, with their origins in ancient Ethiopia, across the Red Sea from Yemen. They were enslaved after their empire was defeated.
Under Yemeni law, slavery carries stiff penalties.
"Whoever controls another human being" can face 10 years in prison under the penal code, said Allaw, who complained of state negligence and lack of social services to such groups.
The authorities do not want to get into a conflict with the powerful tribes, who form the backbone of Yemeni society, over the slavery issue, according to Allaw.
"Local authorities in Hajja are trying to black out this phenomenon, saying it does not exist," he said.
"But these people should be compensated," said the rights activist. "They should be given houses and be rehabilitated, socially and psychologically. They should be saved from their feeling of marginalisation."
Meanwhile, Mubarak dreams of living a normal life, though he doubts being capable of coping with it.
"I dream of living like other people ... (But) I have always known myself to do nothing but work on the farm and tend the cattle," he said.
Ashram, enslaved for 50 years before being freed five years ago by his dying master, appeared to have gone through what Mubarak fears.
"When my master Sheikh Ali Hussein told me 'I have freed you, Ashram,' I was happy," he told AFP. But soon after "I started wondering how to live, where to go, and how to make a living."
Ashram decided to revert to his old life, becoming a "slave of the village," he said. "I carry water daily to the houses from a well. This gives me some assurance that I will not die of starvation."
Like the AA movement, Jung believed that acceptance and spiritual interconnectedness were crucial to a person's recovery
Bertrand Russell believed that a happy individual would feel 'part of the stream of life, not a hard separate entity like a billiard ball'. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In 1931, one of Jung's patients proved stubbornly resistant to therapy. Roland H was an American alcoholic whom he saw for many weeks, possibly a year. But Roland's desire for drink refused to diminish. A year later Roland returned to Zürich still drinking, and Jung concluded that he probably wouldn't be cured through therapy.
But ever the experimenter, Jung had an idea.
Roland should join the Oxford Group, an evangelical Christian movement that stressed the necessity of total surrender to God. Jung hoped that his patient might undergo a conversion experience, which, as his friend William James had realised, is a transformative change at depth, brought about by the location of an entirely new source of energy within the unconscious. That might tame the craving.
It worked. Roland told another apparently hopeless alcoholic, Bill W, about the experience. Bill too was converted, and had a vision of groups of alcoholics inspiring each other to quit. The Society of Alcoholics Anonymous was formed. Today it has more than 2 million members in 150 countries.
I spoke to a friend of mine who attends meetings of Narcotics Anonymous to understand more about the element of conversion. "It's hugely important," he said.
His addictions had been fuelled by a surface obsession with career and money, and a deeper anxiety that nothing was right. "It's the first time I'd been prompted seriously to consider something bigger than myself."
Calling the experience "spiritual" seems accurate too, because a meeting is about more than gaining a circle of supportive friends. "I have friends," my friend remarks, before continuing that the focused intention of a meeting is about something else: their connection to a very powerful force. "I can't picture it, I can't name it," he says, before adding, "I've never given much thought to church." Narcotics Anonymous literature expresses it more formally: "For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience."
The result is an overwhelming sense that things will be OK because they are as they are meant to be. Though clean, my friend is not cured, and life can still be difficult. But he has the strength to accept what is, to reach out to others, and to trust life. It is moving to see.
Jung believed that we are psychosomatic creatures who must attend to matters of the spirit as well as the body. Further, our psyche is not just our own. It is connected to others, both those with whom we visibly interact, and those who have come before us, via the dynamic he called the collective unconscious. Life goes well when these links are open. Flow brings a sense of purpose. Conversely, blockages can lead to ill-health with possibly physical and psychological manifestations. "A psychoneurosis must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul which has not discovered its meaning," Jung wrote, in an essay wittily entitled "Psychotherapists or the Clergy".
Other observers of the human condition make similar remarks. Bertrand Russell, who could hardly be different from Jung in terms of his spiritual outlook, nonetheless averred that the happy individual feels himself "part of the stream of life, not a hard separate entity like a billiard ball, which can have no relation with other such entities except that of collision". Such a person knows themselves as a "citizen of the universe".
Jung preferred overtly religious language – instead of the universe talking of the "soul of the world" or anima mundi – and this was more than a question of taste. He believed spiritual connectedness was fundamental to being human and that, wary of religiosity, modern consciousness was struggling to take it seriously. The default image of secular individuality was, indeed, the billiard ball. Notions such as the stream of life, let alone the soul or the collective unconscious, tend to be treated as poetic fictions, at best, with damaging implications for human wellbeing.
But from his earliest days as a psychiatrist, Jung had noticed that "a suitable explanation or a comforting word to the patient can have something like a healing effect". He explained the efficacy as arising from what the doctor conveys, not only what the doctor does. "The doctor's words, to be sure, are 'only' vibrations in the air, yet their special quality is due to a particular psychic state in the doctor." It connects with the other. The patient finds that which "will take possession of him and give meaning and form to … his soul". It's not supernatural but conscious exposure to "a deeper dimension of the real".
Religious traditions have been the custodians of this source, though Jung thought the crucial aspect was to have a religious attitude to life, rather than a particular faith. Like my friend and the AA movement, he argued that the goal is best thought of not as a cure, but as acceptance. "They came to themselves, they could accept themselves, and thus were reconciled to adverse circumstances and events," he wrote of his patients in his Terry Lectures of 1937. "This is almost like what used to be expressed by saying: He has made his peace with God, he has sacrificed his own will, he has submitted himself to the will of God." It sounds passive, though in reality, such acceptance releases a new zest for life because the individual is no longer struggling alone, and is instead tapping "the meaning that quickens".
Just what therapy should provide – cure or acceptance – is still hotly contested. The psychiatrist Anthony Storr agreed with Jung: "I prefer this interpretation of healing to those advanced by other schools of psychotherapy because I believe that it corresponds more closely to what actually takes place in long-term analytic psychotherapy." The success of the philosophy embodied in the family of organisations that has sprung from the Society of Alcoholics Anonymous must weigh in its favour too.
November 16, 2011
The Face of Modern Slavery
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
When I write about human trafficking as a modern form of slavery, people sometimes tune out as their eyes glaze over. So, Glazed Eyes, meet Srey Pov.
She’s a tough interview because she breaks down as she recalls her life in a Cambodian brothel, and pretty soon my eyes are welling up, too.
Srey Pov’s family sold her to a brothel when she was 6 years old. She was unaware of sex but soon found out: A Western pedophile purchased her virginity, she said, and the brothel tied her naked and spread-eagled on a bed so that he could rape her.
“I was so scared,” she recalled. “I was crying and asking, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ”
After that, the girl was in huge demand because she was so young. Some 20 customers raped her nightly, she remembers. And the brothel twice stitched her vagina closed so that she could be resold as a virgin. This agonizingly painful practice is common in Asian brothels, where customers sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to rape a virgin.
Most girls who have been trafficked, whether in New York or in Cambodia, eventually surrender. They are degraded and terrified, and they doubt their families or society will accept them again. But somehow Srey Pov refused to give in.
Repeatedly, she tried to escape the brothel but she said that each time she was caught and brutally punished with beatings and electric shocks. The brothel, like many in Cambodia, also had a punishment cell to break the will of rebellious girls.
As Srey Pov remembers it (and other girls tell similar stories), each time she rebelled she was locked naked in the darkness in a barrel half-full of sewage, replete with vermin and scorpions that stung her regularly. I asked how long she was punished this way, thinking perhaps an hour or two.
“The longest?” she remembered. “It was a week.”
Customers are, of course, the reason trafficking continues, and many of them honestly think that the girls are in the brothels voluntarily. Many are, of course. But smiles are not always what they seem. Srey Pov even remembers flirting to avoid being beaten.
“We smile on the outside,” she said, “but inside we are crying.”
Yet this is a story with a triumphant ending. At age 9, Srey Pov was able to dart away from the brothel and outrun the guard. She found her way to a shelter run by Somaly Mam, an anti-trafficking activist who herself was prostituted as a child. Somaly now runs the Somaly Mam Foundation to fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia: She’s the one who led the brothel raid that I recounted in my last column.
In Somaly’s shelter, Srey Pov learned English and blossomed. Now 19, Srey Pov can even imagine eventually having a boyfriend.
“Before I didn’t like men because they hit me and raped me,” she reflected. “But now I think that not all men are bad. If I find a good man, I can marry him.”
Somaly is creating an army of young women like Srey Pov who have been rescued from the brothels: well-educated and determined to defeat human trafficking. Over the years, I’ve watched these women and girls make a difference, and they’re self-replicating.
In my last column, I described a frightened seventh-grade Vietnamese girl who was rescued in a brothel raid that Somaly and I participated in. That raid in the town of Anlong Veng has already had an impact, for six more brothels in the area have closed because of public attention and fear that they could be next. And the seventh-grade girl is recovering from her trauma at a shelter run by Somaly, where a girl named Lithiya has taken her under her wing.
Lithiya, now 15, is one of my favorites in “Somaly’s army,” perhaps because she wants to be a journalist and has taught herself astoundingly good English. Trafficked at age 9 from Vietnam, Lithiya was locked inside a brothel for years before she climbed over a wall and escaped. Now a ninth grader, she is ranked No. 1 in her class.
Srey Pov, Lithiya and Somaly encountered a form of oppression that echoes 19th-century slavery. But the scale is larger today. By my calculations, at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
So for those of you doubtful that “modern slavery” really is an issue for the new international agenda, think of Srey Pov — and multiply her by millions. If what such girls experience isn’t slavery, that word has no meaning. It’s time for a 21st-century abolitionist movement in the U.S. and around the world.
I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
In fact, Miller declares, spirituality, if properly fostered in children’s formative years, will pay off in spades in adolescence. An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever the individual identifies as his or her “higher power,” she found, is more protective than any other factor against the big three adolescent dangers: Spiritually connected teens are 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex and, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations, Miller points out, also tend to excel academically.
A 2005 study found that a teen with this sort of spiritual connection—as manifested by statements like “I turn to God for guidance in times of difficulty”—was at least 70 per cent less likely to move from substance dabbling to substance abuse. Again, the key was personal engagement; there was no protective factor at all from going to church or taking part in family prayer when those acts came from obligation rather than conviction.
AMERICANS disapprove of marital infidelity. Ninety-one percent of them find it morally wrong, more than the number that reject polygamy, human cloning or suicide, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.
Yet the number of Americans who actually cheat on their partners is rather substantial: Over the past two decades, the rate of infidelity has been pretty constant at around 21 percent for married men, and between 10 to 15 percent for married women, according to the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago’s independent research organization, NORC.
We are accustomed to thinking of sexual infidelity as a symptom of an unhappy relationship, a moral flaw or a sign of deteriorating social values. When I was trained as a psychiatrist we were told to look for various emotional and developmental factors — like a history of unstable relationships or a philandering parent — to explain infidelity.
But during my career, many of the questions we asked patients were found to be insufficient because for so much behavior, it turns out that genes, gene expression and hormones matter a lot.
Now that even appears to be the case for infidelity.
"Alcoholism is a disease that keeps challenging loved ones after the alcoholic is gone. Surviving spouses don’t hesitate to talk of heart attacks, cancer deaths, car accidents. But other than suicide — and some might argue that alcoholism is a slow suicide — it’s a death laden with shame."
I remember the first time I learned that there were some Ismailis who
drank alcohol. I was 6 years old at a family reunion. I still remember
the confusion I felt in the pit of my stomach as I saw my uncles
passing around mugs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and they told me why I
couldn’t have any. My parents had always told me that alcohol was not
allowed in Islam and that Mowlana Hazar Imam had explicitly disallowed
it – they told me that Ismailisdon’t drink.
Me being me, I didn’t sit there in confused silence but questioned
them openly. When they told me that “everything is allowed in
moderation” and actually that “a glass of wine a day is good for your
heart”, I didn’t swallow it. If your family member is hurting himself
- would you stand by and watch? I railed against them and my siblings
and I actually started crying hysterically. We had to be removed from
My father never chastised me for speaking my mind to his brothers who
were all drinking. He defended them weakly, saying that “everything is
allowed in moderation” and that God is all forgiving. When I asked him
if this meant that my siblings and I were allowed to drink in
moderation, his answer was just as swift as it was decisive: No. And
he had no answer to the obvious glaring flaw in his logic. I wonder
now if he gave serious thought to the mixed information he was giving
his young children and what it would mean for our lives going forward.
It would be another twelve years before I saw any other Ismailis drink
Due to a mix of personality and circumstance, I had never really
connected with any Ismailis my age until I entered University for the
first time. In my first month at the University I met a whole group of
Ismaili friends that I had never met before and I felt that they
understood me in a way my other school friends just couldn’t. There
were jokes about nandi, serious discussions about who made the best
sukreet, jibes about that strange man in jamat khana who sang off-key
and very loudly. We could attend religious services together and there
was a campus khane too where older students gave recommendations on
which classes to take and helped you figure out where to park. There
was a shared experience that came from growing up in the same
religious community and same cultural background that I had never felt
before - the comfort and familiarity was like family even though we
had just met.
When I turned 18, I went with my Ismaili friends to my first nightclub
- Reds - it seemed as though everybody from post-secondary jamat khana
was there. My closest friends did not drink but I remember two friends
sneaking off to the bar and coming back with a drink each. An entire
group of Ismailis came by and were acting very strangely, “they’re so
drunk” someone laughed. So that was what drunk people were like? It
was the first time I had seen anything like that and the same
confusion I had felt so many years ago in the pit of my stomach came
back. Clearly it was more than just my uncles - other Ismailis drank
too? Somehow it was shocking to me. More and more visits to that and
other clubs turned the initial shock into bewildered familiarity and
finally into tired acceptance. It stopped shocking me as this was the
new normal: fewer Ismailis didn’t drink than did. It brought to mind a
quote from what of Hazar Imam’s speeches (Pakistan, 1976):
I have observed in the Western world a deeply changing pattern of
human relations. The anchors of moral behaviour appear to have dragged
to such depths that they no longer hold firm the ship of life: what
was once wrong is now simply unconventional, and for the sake of
individual freedom must be tolerated. What is tolerated soon becomes
accepted. Contrarily, what was once right is now viewed as outdated,
old fashioned and is often the target of ridicule….
I say that I accepted it but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t question
it. I closely questioned those Ismaili friends of mine who did drink
and they generally fell into three camps: (1) I know it’s bad but I’m
doing it anyways - it’s my personal choice; (2) I haven’t seen any
current farman recently condemning alcohol specifically in moderation
or small amounts; (3) our tariqah is not about dogma but about
intellect and we can use our intellect to make choices for ourselves.
Generally, whatever camp they were in, these conversations descended
into bitter accusations of judgement and so at some point I stopped
questioning people. I was content with my choice and, since the
majority of my friends didn’t drink, there was not a lot of pressure
to do so. A few people would offer me a sip of their cocktail -
including the Ismaili men I dated - but I was never very seriously
tempted. At the time, I didn’t realize how much of that strength came
from my support network of Ismailis who didn’t drink and what it would
mean for me when I left them behind.
There are some people who find contentment in life early. They love
their city, they have close friends and family nearby and never want
to leave the comfort of the life and place they found early. I had
more of a restless personality, I wanted to explore everywhere and try
new things and so in 2005 I had the opportunity to move to Europe and
I took it. I went with the motto: I’ll try anything once. If there’s
ox brain on the menu - I’ll try it. If there’s a new band playing -
I’ll go. If there’s a seat sale for a weekend in Bratislava - I’m
there. Allah’s creation is vast and full and I considered it worship
to discover more and more of it.
In the continent where beer and champagne were perfected I founded
myself tempted for the first time. I was surrounded by every kind of
booze known to humanity. The outings were all in bars - even at noon
on a Sunday or five o’clock in the afternoon and my new friends looked
at me like a martian when I ordered a coke. There was beer served in
the cafeteria and kept in the fridge at work. Beer and wine were
served at McDonalds. Beer was imbibed openly on the beach. 7-11’s sold
wine coolers. Every interaction with anyone started with a drink. I
went to a retreat where jägermeister shots were served at the
breakfast table with yogurt and cereal. It sometimes felt like I was
the only tea-toler in the continent. And ironically matters were made
far worse when an Ismaili aunty in my home town told my mother that
her daughter was moving to the little European city where I lived -
Sabrina (name changed for anonymity) and I became fast friends and
when I told her about my doubts she bought me my first cocktail: a
Here is what I told her and my friends when I later justified my
decision: God’s creation is vast and complex and alcohol is and always
has been a part of it. If we truly want to explore God’s creation and
try everything - then alcohol is an experience that’s deeply enriching
to that and it’s a huge part of the experience of living the human
life. Everyone does it! Our faith is not a dogmatic one. Unlike other
faith traditions, our Imam expects us to rely heavily on our intellect
and make judgements for ourselves and he trusts out judgement. He
gives us guidance and then expects us to make an intelligent decision.
Just like children under 16 aren’t allowed behind a wheel - he has
made certain statements about alcohol - but it doesn’t mean that it
applies to everyone all the time. Perhaps it’s really just because
some people would become alcoholics and destroy their families but if
you try it at a certain age and make the decision that you can handle
it, then it’s up to your best judgement. Everything in moderation is
fine. And besides, I’ve heard plenty of farmans about social habits
but that’s probably referring to things like cocaine and heroin -
those are so much worse. There are many worse things that HazarImam
has to worry about than a few people having a drink once in a while
and not hurting anybody. And just one drink doesn’t affect you or hurt
you anyways. I’ve never heard a farman about drinking in moderation
being condemned. Besides, a lot of things are bad for your health -
like ladoo and ghulab jambu and not exercising and excess television -
a lot of people do that! And besides, a glass of wine a day is good
for your heart.
Not only did I say this to her, and to my friends but I also said this
to my young siblings before I bought them their first drinks.
Two days after my first drink with Sabrina, we got drunk in my living
room as she introduced me to three different kinds of wine. So much
After my time in Europe, I lived in a number of different cities in
the United States and Canada and I found little to move me from my
newfound position, mired as it was in inconsistencies and logical
flaws. In one city I made friends with some Ismailis who drank and
others that didn’t but nobody really questioned my behaviour or how I
reconciled my deep and abiding love for the Imam I had paid allegiance
to with my occasional drinking. I remember getting tipsy and then
going to morning jamatkhana soon afterwards. In another city I somehow
found no Ismailis who didn’t drink or maybe I made no effort to be
friendly with them. In this city, we would make plans to go drinking
in line for niaz and we’d make jamat khanathe landmark for where to
meet up to go for a drink. At the jamati sports fests, ski trips and
camps friends had to be carried back because they couldn’t stand
without support, I held the hair up of more than one friend while they
vomited alcohol-smelling puke into the toilet from drinking too much.
When my siblings would visit, I took them to the club with all my
Ismaili friends and we’d get raucously drunk - one sibling told me
that they never got so drunk as when they were with me.
When I think back to my drinking moments, I remember a lot of laughs
but I also recall a lot of the stupid and foolish things I did. I
remember tipsy texting or drunk dialing people and then apologizing
for it soon after. I remember saying mean things that just slipped
out. I remember puking in the lobby of a posh hotel and being asked to
leave. I remember losing my purse because I simply lost track of it in
my drunken state. I remember grilling a non-drinking Ismaili and
demanding to know why she didn’t drink and then cutting her off as a
friend afterwards, perhaps because I didn’t like how I felt around
her. I remember kissing more than one someone I should not have
kissed. I remember trying a cigarette and marijuana because it seemed
fun at the time. I remember my friends telling me the next day that
they stopped me from going into an alley with two strange men - I
don’t even remember doing it. One memory in particular sticks out in
my head: my friend had dropped me off in a cab and in the lobby of my
apartment building I met a neighbourwho was just moving in - he
offered to show me his brand new apartment - I happily agreed. At some
point when I was in the apartment of this stranger, a part of my
drunken mind woke up and told me to get out of there - it wasn’t easy
but I made it out and back to my apartment.
There were moments when a mirror was held up to my soul and I
questioned if what I was doing was right. They were seldom but
I’ve been told that, at didar, Mowlana Hazar Imam looks into the face
of every single murid there and looks into their soul. In 2005 I felt
him look into my soul and felt so much love that I was walking on
clouds for weeks afterwards, filled with the glow of that love. In
2008, my didar experience was very different. When he looked into my
eyes, I felt his disappointment in me and, in the deepest and most
secret part of my heart, I knew why.
Years later I started dating an Ismaili man who did not drink but he
never judged or condemned me for drinking and he was always very
accepting. At some point we had a long conversation where I explained
my reasons for drinking. He disagreed with them and mentioned that
there were farmans wherein Mowlana Hazar Imam explicitly condemned any
amount of alcohol consumption. I had heard these claims before but no
farmanic proof had ever been presented so I asked him to prove it. He
was hesitant at first and asked me again if I was truly ready to see
them. I assured him that I was. I was sure that it would be a repeat
of the old farmans I had already heard on not engaging in “social
evils” (in my mind, hard drugs) and negative social behavior and on
the health deficits of alcoholism.
What I read was very different than what I had anticipated:
The document started with a sharp condemnation by early Imams and by
the Qur’an, including: Imam al-Baqirsaid “The drinker of alcohol will
appear on the Day of Judgment with his face blackened, his tongue
hanging out, screaming ‘The thirst, the thirst!’”
“That sounds kind of harsh” I joked uncomfortably. It seemed to me
that this was the kind of tone one takes with children who don’t have
the intellect to know their limits and must be told off lest they
overdo it. We have clearly evolved beyond that time period. But I kept
Then I came to the words of our previous Imam, Mowlana Shah Sultan
Mohammed Shah where he called it “the greatest of all sins” and said
that it may “seem minor”. And it wasn’t a sentence here or there that
could be taken out of context - the Imam continued at length for the
entire farman. He even called out those murids who would hear his
words and ignore them! My discomfort grew and my cognitive dissonance
was growing. In my head I tried to reconcile the two competing
feelings: one was my belief in the greater judgement of the Imamatand
the second was my belief that alcohol in moderation wasn’t so bad.
Here the Imam’s words weren’t about the health benefits or social ills
of alcohol - he was calling it a sin and I had to admit that his
insight into what is and isn’t a sin is obviously greater than mine.
My discomfort was now growing exponentially. My heart was racing. But
I kept reading.
Another farman of Mowlana Shah Sultan Mohammed Shah followed where he
continued at length to expound on alcohol as the “enemy” which
“approaches you as a friend”. Then he talked about the health problems
of alcohol - here I relaxed a little bit - of course I know it’s
unhealthy for my body but so is ladoo. However the wily Imam had
anticipated my search for a loophole and he continued, saying that it
will not just harm your body but will “kill your soul”. My heart sank.
So much for the ladoo loophole. Then the Imam beseeched his jamat that
if they could not quit at once - to try to quit slowly and he prayed
that we may be able to do so. I started to cry as I heard the concern
drenched in his words echoing back to me from 1953.
I wanted to stop. My boyfriend had asked me before if I was ready and
I had told him that I was… now he watched as I read on and encouraged
me to keep reading, holding my hand tightly and wiping my tears. So I
Another farman of Mowlana Shah sultan Mohammed Shah. I saw the words
in bold and my tears increased. The Imam anticipated the jamat
actually losing faith in him because he “always” tells us not to
drink. I cannot tell you the depth of my despair here. I cannot tell
you the depths of my grief and shame. I am Ismaili. I’m a believer. I
have given my baiyat to the Imam. I have promised him that I will take
his guidance seriously. I have acknowledged that he is the bearer of
the Nur of Allah. He has said that working for the Jamat is the
onlything of real significance he has done in his life. And as an
olympian billionaire who has graduated from Harvard and built up the
largest NGO in the world, that meant a lot. To think that I ignored
his words and instead searched for loopholes hurt more than I can say.
But my hurt would only deepen as I kept reading. Because his next
words were that our Imam’s heart was filled with “grief” and that he
wanted to cry at the thought of his murids drinking.
I started bawling uncontrollably.
My father was born in East Africa, when in the 70s, Idi Amin and other
leaders expelled South Asians from their countries. It was the work of
the Imamat that saved him and many others and brought them to the
West. My privileged existence is a direct result of the intervention
of my Imam. And he continues to work tirelessly for our benefit. I was
raised with a firm appreciation of the gratitude owed to our Imam and
with a knowledge that the entire premise of Shi’a Islam is that the
guidance of Muhammad continues until the end of time in the direct
line of descendants from Imam Ali.
His words made it obvious that alcohol is far more than just a health
or financial issue.
If I was under the impression that the guidance on alcohol ended after
the passing of Mowlana Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah, I was mistaken
because more farmans - this time by our current Imam, Mowlana Shah
Karim al-Hussaini followed. This farman was full of love for the
Jamat, saying that his guidance was only out of his love for the Jamat
and that he knew that certain members of the Jamat were indulging in
this and to stop it. This was stated unequivocally, in no uncertain
terms, with no wiggle room for moderation, with no loopholes allowed,
full stop. Indeed he called it “a sin against Islam.”
More farmans from our current Imam followed as he called it as “silly”
as “cut(ting) off your right hand”.
I was broken.
There were 23 pages of these directives and at page 10 or 12 I broke.
I noticed that he no longer used the word alcohol explicitly but that
the context established by the previous farmans, where he called
alcohol evil, made it obvious what he was referring to in later
farmans when he discussed “social evils”. How could I pretend that I
didn’t know what social evils he was referring to? There was no doubt.
And that was when I quit.
From my early twenties to my early thirties I indulged in this
behaviour and I admit freely that it was wrong and I pray that I will
have the strength to continue to keep myself from going back. But if
you think that, after my epiphany, it has been easy to stay away, you
have a higher impression of my strength than I deserve.
It hasn’t been easy.
I go to parties - with and without Ismailis where alcohol is free
flowing and where I’m questioned more by Ismailisthan non-Ismailis why
I don’t drink. I have friends who’ve made it clear they don’t really
want to spend time with me anymore. I’ve been to Ismaili open-bar
weddings. I went to a bar with Ismailis where one drunk Ismaili
gentleman with two children and a wife kept throwing ice chips at me
and tried to guilt trip me into just having “just one sip”. At that
same bar, another older Ismaili gentleman in his fifties tried to
convince me that Mowlana Hazar Imam is “just another average man like
us.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that alcohol is good
for your heart (so is grapejuice people - it’s the antioxidants!) And
sometimes it’s me - sometimes I just miss it: I sometimes miss the
buzz and the feeling of happy brainlessness.
But now when I hear the arguments I used to make, I want to cringe.
- Yes God’s creation is vast and complex and alcohol is and always has
been a part of it. But all kinds of temptation including heroin and
cocaine and murder are a part of human existence but we don’t have to
indulge in them all.
- Yes a lot of people do it - but there was a time when “slavery” was
considered acceptable by the law and there was a time when women were
second classcitizens and not even considered people. Just because a
lot of people do something, doesn’t make it right.
- Yes our faith is not a dogmatic one and many issues are not black
and white. But it’s not one empty of guidance, otherwise there would
be no point in having an Imam or a faith and if there is clear
guidance - it must be listened to. And by the way, even small amounts
of alcohol have a negative impact on your intellect so how can you
claim to use your intellect in this arena? Some things are black and
white - like thou shalt not kill.
- I won’t even bother with that drivers license stuff - I really don’t
think that makes any sense in the context of what the farmans said.
- The social habits farmans, in the context of the previous guidance,
are very clear about alcohol and other habits as well but alcohol is
very obviously included in there.
- Yes there are many things that Hazar Imam has to worry about beyond
people having a drink once in a while and I’m sure he worries about
them too but he’s clearly worried about Ismailis potentially drinking
and it’s hurting him to see it! Especially since drinking is so
ubiquitous and has clearly become insidiously commonplace. The Imam
has even warned us that alcohol can destroy the Jamat.
- Yes there are a lot of things that are bad for your health but the
farmans are clear that alcohol is prohibited for more than just its
- Ok this glass of wine is good for your heart thing is stupid because
many things have the exact same effect -- grape juice for example. Is
it really being used medicinally?
I have shown the farmans to my family and I hope that they will come
to a similar epiphany as I did. Even though I wish I could go back in
time and change my former behaviour I pray to be forgiven and I hope
that my story helps others realize that they’re not alone. That there
is a lot of pressure out there (some of it is my fault - sorry) but
there’s room to listen to the guidance that is out there and make a
change. And I hope that you will send my story to everyone you know
and that people will push to have these farmans read out with greater
frequency and to have sessions addressing this. My parents still don’t
know that I ever drank even though I have stopped. So - parents out
there - don’t think this isn’t your issue. I could be your child. I
could be you.
Very interesting story from an Ismaili girl , who stopped drinking! I wish I had her # so I could have personally called her and congratulated her after reading her post and farmans of our imams.
I hope after reading those farmans of our current and past imams: no Ismaili should have to start drinking in theor younget age with their younger freinds,and if they already has started then they have to stop it taking example of this unknown sister.
I like this and more stories liie this kinds which can help readers to stop bad habits.
Very interesting story from an Ismaili girl , who stopped drinking! I wish I had her # so I could had personally called her and congratulated her after reading his post and farmans of our imams.
I hope after reading those farmans of our current and past imams all should not start drinking and if at first and if ayone already has started then he/she should stop it.
I like this and more stories liie this.
Moral and political philosophers distinguish among different forms of privacy: physical, informational and decisional. When it comes to sex, we tend to have a strong expectation that we’ll be granted all three.
Physical privacy involves having access to a space, on a permanent or temporary basis, where we are permitted to do things, sexual or otherwise, without being viewed by others. Informational privacy grants a reasonable amount of control over who has access to our personal information, including information about our sexual lives, habits and partners. Decisional privacy is having freedom from undue interference from others in the decisions we make about our lives, and people commonly want to make decisions about their sexual activities and relationships without such interference from family members, friends, co-workers or governments.
By contrast, other social relations, such as market transactions, come with different expectations of privacy. Commerce typically takes place in public venues, and we expect there to be informational transparency about the goods and services we purchase. We often want market transactions to be scrutinized or regulated by third parties in order to insure that they are fair and equitable, especially when full transparency is not available, as in the cases of pharmaceuticals, health care and real estate. So for the greater good, all three types of privacy are limited during market transactions in ways that would be unreasonable in regard to private sexual activity.
But when sex and commerce meet, the rules regarding sexual and market privacy quickly get murky. For example, should exchanges of sexual services for monetary gain take place with guarantees of privacy or transparency? If the former, then we expect them to be free from the intrusion of others. If the latter, then we expect them to be subject to social regulation. But where, exactly, is the border between the private exchange of money or gifts and the impersonal profit-making of the market?
When sexual partners exchange money and gifts between themselves, we generally see this as a private exchange. However, what do we do if a person has several sexual partners, and regularly receives money and gifts from each of them? Traditionally, a woman who had more than one sex partner from whom she received various forms of material support was likely to have been regarded as a “public woman,” that is, a prostitute, whore or sex worker. Although there has been significant social tolerance historically for men who have and support multiple mistresses, moral disapprobation for women who have multiple lovers has resulted in laws in which women who have several sex partners from whom they accept gifts can face arrest for prostitution.
Can we really draw a bright line between a person who has casual sex, in private, with various lovers, and a person who has sex in private, with various short-term and long-term lovers, from whom she accepts monetary support?
Having multiple, casual or ongoing partners from whom one receives monetary support is not the same as running a brothel, or setting up a home business that advertises publicly and accepts customers based on their ability to pay. Yet the line between these kinds of activities may be hard, at times, to make out. For example, should a person who is, say, polyamorous, and has multiple lovers who economically support her, have a right to physical, informational and decisional privacy in regards to her sex life?
Consider the case of Brandy Britton, a former university professor and mother who was separated from her abusive husband. Britton sought dates and accepted gifts from men whom she entertained in her home, with a goal of staving off the foreclosure of her house. In 2006, she was subject to an undercover arrest and charged with four counts of prostitution. A week before she was to be tried in court, she committed suicide.
Or consider that some young women today choose to seek “sugar daddies,” typically well-off men who can help them pay their college tuition and living expenses, by using online dating sites. In exchange, the women offer these men companionship and other forms of intimacy. Should the activities of these women, or Britton, be treated as a form of prostitution, which is a criminal offense in the United States?
Laws and customs in America have evolved to the point where fewer consenting adults are charged with a crime when they privately engage in nonmarital sex. Laws against adultery have mostly been repealed or are unenforced. Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) recognized the right of unmarried people to have access to contraception, and therefore to engage in nonprocreative sex. Lawrence v. Texas invalidated state anti-sodomy statutes that targeted private, consensual, same-sex intimacy between adults.
Can we really draw a bright line between a person who has casual sex, in private, with various lovers, and a person who has sex in private, with various short-term and long-term lovers, from whom she accepts monetary support? Dating couples often exchange money and gifts. Such exchanges of money do not transform their relationships into business transactions.
Anita Allen has argued that when people belong to groups that have been socially stigmatized, they often find it more difficult to defend and demand respect for their privacy, particularly in courts of law. For example, women, African-Americans, lesbians and gay men, the disabled, the poor or working class, and especially people at the intersection of two or more of these categories often lose in court when their privacy rights have been violated. Promiscuous, unmarried women and girls are often publicly shamed as “sluts,” and denied their rights to privacy when others morally disapprove of their lifestyle. Although men also perform sex work, they are rarely subject to arrest or detention, or in other words, invasions of their sexual privacy.
When we describe the activities of someone like Britton or the dating “sugar babies” as “selling sex” or performing “sex work,” we place their activities in the public sphere. While these women may have sexual relations with a number of short- and long-term boyfriends or girlfriends who give them gifts of money, they are not formally employed as sex workers in a commercial establishment, nor are they running a business. Services provided in the home or other private spaces are typically understood differently than labor performed in spaces designated for commerce or under contract with an employer. Why should this be different when sex is involved?
In a liberal, democratic society, our basic right to privacy and equal treatment under the law should protect people like Britton when they do not harm others and are not a public nuisance.
If the state were to stop prosecuting women who provide intimate companionship for their one or many lovers, who in turn pay their bills, it does not follow that the state would then have to grant licenses to businesses offering sexual companions on a commercial basis. Commercial and publicly visible exchanges of personal sexual services present different kinds of moral issues. Would such businesses be of value to society, and could the rights of all involved and uninvolved parties be protected? With informal arrangements in our home, where we have a legitimate expectation of sexual privacy, these questions are less relevant.
Moreover, if the state were to stop prosecuting people like Britton for socializing with a flow of lovers in private, this does not entail that we should tolerate people having sex in cars, on the streets or in other public places. People can relieve themselves in a variety of ways in private, which we do not allow in the street. Whether anyone would want to live next door to a person like Britton is a different matter than whether her lifestyle should be criminalized. Surely she could be subject to the same nuisance laws, community rules and norms of politeness as anyone else. This should be sufficient to keep relations among neighbors peaceful and respectful. Some people have swinger parties in their homes without provoking the ire of their neighbors. But if they do offend, complaints are usually handled in a civil, rather than criminal, context.
In a liberal, democratic society, our basic right to privacy and equal treatment under the law should protect people like Britton when they do not harm others and are not a public nuisance. Such a change in our response to private, sexual activities would align our policies with those in Britain and other countries that have adopted the British model, where providing sex for money and offering money for sex are not crimes, as long as these activities take place in private.
This is a different model than the Swedish one, which criminalizes offering money for sex, or the Dutch “harm reduction model,” which permits and regulates commercial sex work establishments. These models have had mixed success in protecting the safety and dignity of sex workers, or in stopping trafficking and nonconsensual sex work.
This week, participants in an Amnesty International council meeting in Dublin are considering a proposal to endorse the decriminalization of consensual paid sex between adults. The proposal has elements of the both the British model, which rests on the idea that consensual sex between adults should be protected from state interference, and the Dutch model, which is based on the idea that criminalizing paid sex generates more harm than good. The policy draft I read emphasizes the organization’s longstanding commitment to end trafficking, and to insure that, where paid sex exists, it is voluntary and safe.
Yet some prominent feminist groups have organized to oppose Amnesty International’s proposed policy and to endorse the Swedish model of prohibition. Their opposition is based on the assumption that acts of paid sex are inevitably coercive and that the state should intervene in private sexual acts between adults to protect vulnerable people.
The first assumption has been strongly challenged by many sex worker civil and labor rights groups, and the second assumption is subject to the objection that it is overly paternalistic toward adult women. Moreover, opponents to Amnesty International’s proposed policy overlook the fact that it remains neutral on the question of whether there should be public establishments for the purpose of buying and selling sex.
Amnesty International’s proposed policy, like the British model, offers an intermediate step that recognizes that an act, such as sex exchanged for monetary support, can have different meanings depending on its context.
Either of these policies, if implemented, would change the way we respond to cases of people like Brandy Britton and the women seeking sugar daddies through online dating, whose activities deserve protection under contemporary moral and legal understandings of “privacy.”
While we might believe that having sex for money is neither wise nor good, democratic and free societies now allow adults—married or unmarried—to make their own choices regarding why and with whom they have sex. It’s time to stop policing the private, consensual sex lives of adult women who support themselves in morally unconventional ways.
Laurie Shrage is a professor of philosophy and women’s and gender studies at Florida International University. She is currently a visiting fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.
QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.
He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.
When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.
“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after
The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.
A British government agency has issued a bullish assessment of the value of electronic cigarettes in helping people to quit smoking. It found that e-cigarettes can reduce the health risks of smoking by 95 percent because they deliver nicotine to satisfy an addiction, but far fewer harmful chemicals than regular cigarettes. It also found little evidence that large numbers of consumers who had never smoked were taking up e-cigarettes. That seemed to challenge the notion that e-cigarettes would be a gateway to more dangerous products.
But the study is hardly definitive; experts in America have drawn different conclusions on usage and on the gateway issue.
The British assessment, commissioned by Public Health England and conducted by academic experts, was cautious in its claims. It noted that the best results are obtained when e-cigarettes are used in combination with professional counseling and smoking-cessation medication.
In the United States, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, e-cigarette use by young people has grown more rapidly than in Britain. The user population includes many children who have never smoked and thus may be vulnerable to being hooked by nicotine and later moving to traditional cigarettes.
By coincidence, a day before the British study was issued, a study tracking more than 2,500 students at 10 Los Angeles schools who had never smoked tobacco, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, came to the opposite conclusion. It said ninth graders who had tried e-cigarettes were far more likely than other students to start smoking “combustible tobacco” (cigarettes, cigars, hookahs) within a year.
Strong regulation is needed in Europe and the United States to protect young people from advertising and promotions designed to lure them into trying e-cigarettes and perhaps getting hooked on them. America’s Food and Drug Administration needs to issue rules it proposed last year and make them even stronger by banning flavors that appeal to youngsters.
DUBLIN — HERE in my city, earlier this month, Amnesty International’s international council endorsed a new policy calling for the decriminalization of the global sex trade. Its proponents argue that decriminalizing prostitution is the best way of protecting “the human rights of sex workers,” though the policy would apply equally to pimps, brothel-keepers and johns.
Amnesty’s stated aim is to remove the stigma from prostituted women, so that they will be less vulnerable to abuse by criminals operating in the shadows. The group is also calling on governments “to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.”
The Amnesty vote comes in the context of a prolonged international debate about how to deal with prostitution and protect the interests of so-called sex workers. It is a debate in which I have a personal stake — and I believe Amnesty is making a historic mistake.
I entered the sex trade — as most do — before I was even a woman. At age 14, I was placed in the care of the state after my father committed suicide and because my mother suffered from mental illness.
Within a year, I was on the streets with no home, education or job skills. All I had was my body. At 15, I met a young man who thought it would be a good idea for me to prostitute myself. As “fresh meat,” I was a commodity in high demand.
Montpelier, Vt. — A YEAR and a half ago, I stood up before Vermonters and devoted my State of the State address to speaking about the opiate and heroin crisis affecting my state. Despite our best efforts since, this is not a battle we are winning. Now the Food and Drug Administration is recklessly making the problem worse with its decision to approve OxyContin for use by children as young as 11 years old.
Ms. Lowell, a mother and small business owner, was first prescribed opioid painkillers in 2006 for back pain. According to her, she became addicted almost immediately. As with so many who suffer from addiction, Ms. Lowell became an addict hard and fast, losing her business and watching her life deteriorate before her eyes.
“1 in 4 Women Experience Sex Assault on Campus” (news article, Sept. 22) nails down this appalling fact.
Studies have shown that at least half of women and men said they had been drinking before these assaults. More than 1,800 college students a year die of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries, almost five every day.
Over the last 10 years this has become an epidemic of binge drinking, mostly killing men. What to do?
Most campuses have powerful female students’ resistance groups against sexual violence and rape. There are also less cohesive efforts of administrators to decrease binge drinking. These two movements are rarely, if ever, joined in policy or practice.
Isn’t it about time to have them work together explicitly, women and men, in a unified front that will save our children’s lives?
STEPHEN J. BERGMAN
The writer is a professor of medicine in medical humanities at N.Y.U. Medical School and the author of the play “Bill W. and Dr. Bob” under the pen name Samuel Shem.
Addicts in Kyrgyzstan Fight to Break Heroin’s Grip, Armed With Stones
A surprising number of people speak to rocks here in Bishkek, the capital of the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, which lies along heroin smuggling routes from Afghanistan into Russia and deeper into Europe. Rocks have become an integral element in a treatment method for heroin addiction called lithotherapy.
At the Nazaraliev Medical Center, a clinic that has pioneered the approach, twitching, tattooed addicts pad about in pajamas, toting their rocks to and from therapy sessions.
Though at first blush all this appears cartoonish — perhaps reminiscent of the Pet Rock fad in the 1970s — treating heroin addiction here and throughout the former Soviet countries has taken on a life-or-death urgency as addiction rates rise.
Doctors at the center found that men from Central Asia’s conservative, Muslim culture were reluctant to admit their addiction in group therapy, a common way to help drug addicts begin to overcome their dependence. But it was discovered that they opened up nicely to rocks.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — WHEN readers hear about “modern slavery” in America or abroad, they may roll their eyes and assume that’s an exaggeration. Slavery? Really? Modern slavery?
If you’re one of the doubters, then listen to Poonam Thapa, a teenage girl I met here in Nepal, where she is putting her life back together after being sold to a brothel.
And if you think, as Amnesty International suggested recently, that the solution is to decriminalize the commercial sex trade around the world, then pay special heed.
Poonam was poor and uneducated when a woman offered an escape in the form of a well-paying job. “You can have a better life,” Poonam remembers the woman saying. “And if you make good money, you will be respected by your father. You can help your family.”
So Poonam, then age 12, ran off with the woman. When Poonam was eventually deposited in a brothel in Mumbai, India, she was puzzled. “I didn’t even know what a brothel was,” she recalls.
MODERN American culture is down on shame — it is, we are told, a damaging, useless emotion that we should neither feel ourselves nor make others feel. This is particularly the case when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. The nation’s drug czar, Michael Botticelli, has led a well-intentioned campaign to eradicate feelings of shame in addicted people by, in part, likening addiction to cancer, a disease outside of people’s control.
But in fact, the experience of shame — the feeling that one has failed to live up to one’s own standards — can play a positive role in recovery from addiction, as well as from other kinds of destructive habits.
Her Father Shot Her in the Head, as an ‘Honor Killing’
WHETHER it wins or not, the Oscar nominee with the greatest impact — saving lives of perhaps thousands of girls — may be one you’ve never heard of.
It stars not Leonardo DiCaprio but a real-life 19-year-old Pakistani woman named Saba Qaiser. Her odyssey began when she fell in love against her family’s wishes and ran off to marry her boyfriend. Hours after the marriage, her father and uncle sweet-talked her into their car and took her to a spot along a riverbank to murder her for her defiance — an “honor killing.”
First they beat Saba, then her uncle held her as her own father pointed a pistol at her head and pulled the trigger. Blood spewed, Saba collapsed and her father and uncle packed her body into a large sack and threw it into the river to sink. They then drove away, thinking they had restored the family’s good name.
Incredibly, Saba was unconscious but alive. She had jerked her head as the gun went off, and the bullet tore through the left side of her face but didn’t kill her. The river water revived her, and she clawed her way out of the sack and crawled onto land. She staggered toward a gasoline station, and someone called for help.
About every 90 minutes, an honor killing unfolds somewhere in the world, usually in a Muslim country. Pakistan alone has more than 1,000 a year, and the killers often go unpunished.
Watching the documentary about Saba, “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” I kept thinking that just as in the 19th century the central moral challenge for the world was slavery, and in the 20th century it was totalitarianism, in this century the foremost moral issue is the abuse and oppression that is the lot of so many women and girls around the world.
I don’t know whether “A Girl in the River” will win an Oscar in its category, short subject documentary, but it is already making a difference. Citing the film, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has promised to change the country’s laws so as to crack down on honor killings.
Saba’s story underscores how the existing law lets people literally get away with murder when honor is the excuse. After doctors saved Saba’s life — as police officers guarded the door so her father didn’t return to finish the job — she was determined to prosecute her father and uncle.
“They should be shot in public in an open market,” she told the filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, “so that such a thing never happens again.”
The police arrested Saba’s father, Maqsood, and the uncle, Muhammad, and their defense was that they did the right thing.
Like many young girls, Leyla Hussein didn’t learn that she was going to have to undergo female genital mutilation until the day she was cut. She was born in Somalia and raised in Saudi Arabia and Italy but moved back to her homeland, where cutting is common, at age seven. “It was actually my next door neighbor’s daughter that told me when I realized there was a big party taking place in the house,” Leyla says. “She was telling me part of my vagina was going to be taken away. While she’s explaining I could hear this screaming inside of the house, which was my sister being cut.”
Leyla is now a prominent anti-FGM campaigner in Britain, where a documentary film about her crusade, The Cruel Cut, led to a Parliamentary inquiry, and public outrage fueled a requirement that health professionals report FGM cases. She’s also a psychotherapist who founded the Dahlia Project, which counsels women who have been cut. FGM involves removing part or all of the genitals of babies or young girls. It is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab states, though immigrants and their daughters are often subject to the practice.
Here is an excerpted Q&A with Leyla, edited for clarity.
America’s drug crisis, which now kills more people each day than car crashes or gun violence, has challenged the conventional wisdom about recovery. With addiction inside the homes of families who thought themselves immune, we are starting to embrace the idea that addiction is a not a character flaw but a chronic disease requiring long-term management — the subject of last week’s Fixes column.
This week, another idea whose time has come: trying to kick opioid addiction without medicines is as smart as relying on willpower to overcome diabetes or asthma. Medicines greatly increase the chance of success and reduce the risk of death.
Shocking revelations about the international fishing industry’s reliance on slave labor have caused many people to question the origin of the shrimp or tuna they eat. The disclosures have also led the United States to take some important new steps to clamp down on the use of indentured workers and discourage other unlawful activities on the high seas.
President Obama is expected to sign legislation that effectively bans American imports of fish caught by forced labor in Southeast Asia. The bill, passed by Congress this month, would close a loophole in the Tariff Act of 1930 that prohibits imports made by convicts or forced labor but exempts such goods if American domestic production could not meet demand. Now that is expected to end. The president recently signed an agreement allowing officials to deny port services to foreign vessels suspected of illegal fishing.
California could soon raise the legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21, from 18. That change could help prevent many young people from becoming addicted and reduce premature deaths from lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.
The California Assembly last week joined the State Senate in passing a package of bills that would raise the age; regulate electronic cigarettes in the same ways as conventional cigarettes, including restricting where they can be used; and allow local governments to impose taxes on tobacco products.
The bills now go back to the Senate for final passage. Gov. Jerry Brown should sign these measures, because they would significantly improve public health. In addition, residents of the state will get to vote in November on increasing the statewide tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack.
Last year, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco to 21. More than 100 cities and counties, including Boston, New York City and Suffolk County in Long Island have also adopted the policy. Four states — Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah — set the legal age at 19, and the rest set it at 18. Unfortunately, in January, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have changed New Jersey’s legal sale age to 21.
The biggest reason to raise the legal age to 21 is to reduce young people’s access to tobacco when they are more likely to become addicted and when their brains are still developing. Studies have found that nicotine, the main addictive ingredient in cigarettes, can impair cognition among young people. About 90 percent of adult smokers first use cigarettes before turning 19, and almost all smokers start before age 26, according to an Institute of Medicine study published last year.
The study also found that raising the age to 21 nationwide would reduce access to cigarettes for people under 18, because most children get tobacco from slightly older friends and relatives. Over all, the study concluded that changing the age to 21 should prevent 223,000 premature deaths and collectively add 4.2 million years to the lives of those born between 2000 and 2019.
There is broad public support for making it harder for young people to buy tobacco. Nearly 75 percent of adults surveyed supported changing the age to 21, according to a 2015 paper by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Big majorities of former and even active smokers support the change.
Some will surely argue that setting a higher age for cigarette sales infringes on young people’s rights. California lawmakers who subscribed to such arguments put in a needless exception allowing active-duty military troops to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products at age 18. But there is a clear public interest in increasing the age for everybody, just as there was a compelling reason to make 21 the legal age to buy alcohol. That policy, adopted state by state over time, helped reduce drunken driving, saving nearly 22,000 lives between 1975 and 2002, according to the Department of Transportation.
California is often at the vanguard of important policy changes. The state’s move toward raising the legal age to buy cigarettes should inspire other states to take similar steps to protect young people.
Heroin Epidemic Increasingly Seeps Into Public View
With heroin cheap and widely available on city streets throughout the country, users are making their buys and shooting up as soon as they can, often in public places. Police officers are routinely finding drug users — unconscious or dead — in cars, in the bathrooms of fast-food restaurants, on mass transit and in parks, hospitals and libraries.
A daily glass of wine for better health? Canadian study says it’s too good to be true
WATCH: A new B.C.-led study suggests previous research has exaggerated the health benefits of drinking alcohol, and underestimated its risks. Kylie Stanton explains.
Plenty of recent research points to how a daily glass of wine could improve your heart health and extend your life expectancy. But in a new study, Canadian scientists say the findings may be exaggerated.
Researchers out of the University of Victoria are poking holes in research about moderate drinking and its so-called benefits for reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Turns out, “occasional drinkers” – or people who have one drink per week – are the healthiest.
A growing movement of sex workers and activists is making the decriminalization of sex work a feminist issue
Last November, Meg Muñoz went to Los Angeles to speak at the annual West Coast conference of Amnesty International. She was nervous. Three months earlier, at a meeting attended by about 500 delegates from 80 countries, Amnesty voted to adopt a proposal in favor of the “full decriminalization of consensual sex work,” sparking a storm of controversy. Members of the human rights group in Norway and Sweden resigned en masse, saying the organization’s goal should be to end demand for prostitution, not condone it. Around the world, on social media and in the press, opponents blasted Amnesty. In Los Angeles, protesters ringed the lobby of the Sheraton where the conference was being held, and as Muñoz tried to enter, a woman confronted her and became upset as Muñoz explained that, as a former sex worker, she supported Amnesty’s position. “She agreed to respect my time at the microphone,” Muñoz told me. “That didn’t exactly happen” — the woman and other critics yelled out during her panel — “but I understand why it was so hard for her.”
Berkeley, Calif. — AT a recent physical, I was surprised by the way the usual questionnaire jolted me with one query in particular: How many drinks do you have a week, on average? There was a time about 10 years ago when I’d have said two a week as a baseline; now it’s more like two a day.
When did two drinks a week become 14? A few things happened between then and now. These days I’m a parent of two young children, whose acute dependency upon me makes socializing around a glass of wine or beer at a friend’s toy-filled house often the best choice. I live in California, where wine is available on tap, and sold in nearly every neighborhood grocery store. I can afford a few bottles in the house, whereas before I’d run out to buy one only before a party or dinner. Heck, I’m a writer.
I live at the place where these circles meet: I am the Venn diagram of drinking as habitual and easy entertainment.
You might say, “Why worry?” Much of the epidemiological research out there is pretty decisive on the benefits of moderate drinking, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends a daily limit of one drink for women and two for men, says that recent research on health benefits is inconclusive.
Here’s the thing: At this middle stage of my life, I can easily make out the slippery slope where two a day becomes three; when you split a bottle of wine and open another; when you go out for a special event and three drinks doesn’t do much because you’ve built up a tolerance and it takes four or even five drinks to achieve a celebratory state of inebriation. Perhaps I think more about these borderlands because though my husband is also a moderate drinker, he has a strong family history of alcoholism. For him, the slippery slope is more like a cliff.
But my inquiry is not about the descent into addiction. It’s an attempt to investigate more deeply the middle ground between the poles of addiction and abstinence, at a time when our culture is sending out dueling messages. The first is coated in optimism: “Have some! Alcohol is pleasurable and it’s proven to be good for you.” The second is our puritanical side chiming in: “Watch out! Alcohol is poison and it’s proven that it can kill you.”
We tell people to go ahead and have just a little bit of an addictive substance. Let’s acknowledge that that’s complicated.
Most of us occupy the space between teetotaler and drunkard, but that’s a big span to move along. We measure everything in our modern world, and yet the data we’ve gathered doesn’t tell us what moderation really means. And if we’re somehow in that approved zone, how do we stay there? Is there a useful way to think about it that isn’t as precise as prescribed numbers or as vague as guilt?
I asked people in the wine industry how they manage the territory when they are exposed to it every day. “When I get to the ‘number of drinks’ question at the doctor’s office, I skip to the next line,” Yoav Gilat, a founder and owner of Cannonball Wine Company, in Napa, told me. He referred to the numbers with a laugh, but his point was serious: There’s a lot we don’t admit about drinking because we’re fearful of being judged. (For what it’s worth, many doctors assume you’re fudging and automatically double the number you give them.)
“Even if you decide to have just one drink, it’s easy to get into the next one,” Mr. Gilat told me. “The third one is calling an Uber and giving the kids to your wife or your husband or your friend. It’s the one that everybody is intimidated by, or afraid to admit that they’re having.”
In “Three Glasses Later,” the photographer Marcos Alberti documents the effects of three glasses of wine on subjects in his studio; the portraits reveal people moving from the stress and sobriety of the after-work hour to, well, a great many moods. “The third glass,” Mr. Alberti notes, “is about mayhem.” It leads you to a place where everything is unreliable, including the decisions you’re capable of making.
So it’s not just about counting the drinks — it’s about the number where each of us becomes untrustworthy. What am I no longer capable of in the shift between one number and the next? We are conditioned to think about that third drink as it pertains to driving, but it goes beyond how we get home. Most of us don’t like to recognize problem drinking as a possibility within our own orbit, or the toll it can take on our emotional, family and work lives. The truth is you don’t have to be a binge-drinking alcoholic for drinking to be problematic.
Numbers have always been key to our understanding of alcohol: The Aztecs called their gods of drinking “centzontotochtin,” or the “four hundred rabbits,” representing the myriad ways intoxication could make a person feel and act. It is entertainment, social lubricant, creative stimulant, sensory experience, delicious beverage. At the end of a long day, it feels like a reward. But at some point — maybe it’s falling asleep at 7 while getting the kids to bed after a couple of beers, or going to work for the third day in a row feeling vaguely muffled — signs start pointing toward too much.
And when it comes to knowing your limits, the baseline is always shifting. Mr. Gilat and others say that the regular reset is how they stay on speaking terms with the limits they started with. “It can mean a couple of days, weeks or months off from drinking to come back to that baseline,” he told me. The pause isn’t a punishment, but a check — a way to remind yourself that you can get by without drinking, that you can still fathom the responsibilities of life as a parent, partner, worker, friend. And that the pleasures of those roles are still palpable.
WE can expect that when it comes to recommended allowances for alcohol, the numbers will continue to change. The public-health pendulum swings frequently in this country, and guidelines vary greatly among countries. France appears to have no government-sanctioned limits. Britain, which has some of the highest rates of heavy drinking in the world, recently revised its limits downward; the government cites an increased risk of certain cancers. And yet, as the American addiction specialist Stanton Peele has observed, “despite being heavily outdrunk by the English, we have almost exactly twice their levels of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.”
Dr. Peele has studied cultural drinking patterns, alcoholism and recovery for decades; his work suggests that we Americans are too concerned with the extremes — binge or purge, all or none. The benefits of alcohol are strongest when you drink moderately, but even if you drink more than is “perfectly” recommended, he argues that it’s “generally better for you than drinking nothing.”
But what we shouldn’t miss, I think, is that nothing is as important as something. Nothing is the reference point from which we can judge all else. The numerical middle is different for everyone, but perhaps that’s the point. Because my number is two and yours may be one and his might be five, the most relevant number to us all is zero.
Maybe the only way to think about drinking by numbers is not to obsess over how much is too much, but to be acquainted with what zero feels like — that is, to come back to zero often enough to understand the relative value of our numbers. The reset helps us see those numbers for what they are. It’s what keeps two from becoming three, three from four, and so on.
I recall my great-grandmother, who lived to a sharp, convivial 99. Most evenings she’d sit down with her shot glass of Johnnie Walker and beckon me for a chat. Did she have one or two? I doubt she worried about it. Lately I’ve been reacquainting myself with zero so I won’t have to, either.
Bonnie Tsui is the author of “American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods.”
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