I am troubled by the stories I see in the news regarding the Texas members of the FLDS. (On April 7th 2008, authorities raided the YFZ compound of FLDS members and eventually removed 417 children.) I am deeply divided on this issue. As a former social worker, I believe and accept that the rights of children to be protected supersede the parent’s rights. If children are systematically raped and mentally abused as part of this group’s regular practice then the children must be protected, and should definitely have been removed.
What disturbs me as a Muslim mom, is that it seems the biggest problem is that most people are disturbed by this groups apparent “strangeness“. In several interviews with authorities and volunteers who are working with the children, remarks have been made about their strangeness. Remarks like, “they’re just not like us.” “You can tell by the way they dress that they are different from regular Americans.” “These children are growing up in a culture that is so different from the way the rest of America lives.” Talk and late night shows are having a field day with the jokes about their dress and hair. The media constantly reinforces and points out how they look different. I have a problem with this, because I also look and dress different from the rest of America! My hijab and modest clothes distinguish me at first glance. Does that mean I care for my children less?
I worry that this is religious persecution. The state is arguing that they have already found instances of at least 4 sixteen year old girls, who have either had or are having babies. But if this is proof for sexual abuse then that same abuse exists in schools and cities across the country where girls sixteen and much younger are having children daily by men/boys who are not their husbands and there is no outcry. Who is speaking out and protecting the rights of those girls. We have to admit that we live in a culture that promotes just as strongly sexual abuse of girls as the people who lived in that compound. If we close down places that promote sexual abuse (and they define sexual abuse as encouraging underage sex) then we would shut down MTV, ban hip hop and pop music, and treat any male who impregnates a minor as a perpetrator of sexual violence. As a Muslim mother I would rather for my sixteen year old daughter to willingly choose marriage over sexual promiscuity.
This is not to defend what is alleged to have happened in that compound. (Although it is hard for me to believe that all 417 children were in imminent danger.) I do want Muslim mothers to be wary of these actions. Because our lifestyles, dress and culture is also different from mainstream America, and I don’t want to one day have to explain to the court that just because I may seem strange and oppressed, that I am any less of a good mother.