A Point of View © 1996
Keeping an Eye on Virtue and Morality
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, CCP
As we watch in painful awe the recent events in Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban to power, one issue keeps coming up: their treatment or mistreatment if we want to be exact, of women.
And when we talk about mistreatment of women we’re actually saying “the mistreatment of women by men.” Women don’t mistreat each other there as far as we know, they are the victims. We read recently about a sixteen year old woman who was given in marriage by her parents when she was only thirteen to a man they chose in order to protect her from being approached by a Taliban who might ask to marry her. The young woman was given no voice in the selection of spouse who, after all was done, became abusive to her.
The measures implemented by the government include not allowing girls to go to school, forcing them to go out only with a male companion, speak when they are spoken to and cover their entire faces with a veil, the so-called hijab. In other words, women are supposed to be invisible. I suppose women are only visible when they go through labor pains giving birth to the males who will deny visibility to their mothers the rest of their lives.
The Ministry of Virtue and vice is in charge of interpreting the rules, disseminating them and enforcing them. But historically imposing religious intolerance on a given population has not been the exclusive domain of the Afghan people. In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte, no French jewel by any means, and his soldiers, conquered Spain and ordered the end of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. We should keep in mind that the period of the so-called Enlightenment took place between 1685 and 1815 and the philosophical ground of Europe became infertile soil for intolerance.
The Inquisition had started on November 1, 1478 and its goal was to stamp out religious heresy in Spain. For more than three hundred years the lives of the Spaniards were controlled by an institution that served not only the interests of the monarchy, but also the ones of the Christian Church. Well known figures like Ignatius of Loyola, a military later founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and Miguel de Cervantes, the famous author of Don Quijote, suffered persecution and jail by the inquisitors for their dubious philosophical ideas.
Between 1814 when Napoleon was defeated and 1834, the Spanish King Ferdinand VII (that is seventh) tried to reinstate the Inquisition, but his efforts were thwarted by the French Monarchy. The Inquisition was finally disbanded after 1834….until its ugly head appeared again in Cuba in 1954: In Cuba? You probably think it is an ugly idea in my own head what I’m talking about. Hear me out.
I was a Junior in High School at one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Cuba. It had been run by the Jesuits since 1854 and many well-known Cuban figures had completed their learning there, to choose one for evidence, Fidel Castro, the communist dictator.
In one of our classes Father Joseph, his first name will do, he died several years ago, decided to introduce the subject of the Spanish Inquisition in his Philosophy lectures. After huffing and puffing reasons he considered valid for the existence of the institution, he decided to test his class by asking for our opinion; big mistake for our Father Joseph; or I if you think so.
I raised my hand and started a long speech against the Inquisition and declared it was the worst attempt to defend Christianity in history, one comparable with the crusades. By then Father Joseph was shaking and moving angrily and finally asked me to stop. Trying to correct me, he made a big speech in favor of the Inquisition and declared it to be the best thing that ever happened to the world and the Church of course. And after finishing with his loud oratorical piece, he ordered me to see him in his office. POW! Pablito was in trouble.
Once in his place of control and comfort he yelled and read me the riot act for having offered a point of view that he had asked us to express in the first place, but wasn’t supposed to be about our point of view, it had to be an echo of his own words. To emphasize his position he threatened to expel me from the school if he ever heard me volunteer that opinion again, period. I was on my ninth year in the school, one away from graduation, and this priest was willing to wipe all of it because I had expressed a living commentary about a dead institution. I wasn’t attacking the Inquisition, I was only criticizing it; the Inquisition was attacking AND criticizing me.
If I had made the same statement in a class headed by a lay teacher, not by a priest who made a living dressed with a religious garb, the teacher would have moved on and simply say: “Next.”
I don’t know to this day if Father Joseph had the authority to throw me out and was simply trying to bully me. I don’t know either if my journalist father would have reacted positively to that nonsense or written about the case in his own newspaper, but I decided to keep my mouth shut in public about the Inquisition from that point on. Father Joseph had committed intellectual abuse, not physical abuse, and several years later when my brother-in-law Sergio, a Catholic man who worked together with him in a well-known local Catholic magazine confronted him with the story of our encounter. Father Joseph denied it vehemently. I hope he confessed his lie with his superiors.
I am not trying to compare or equate the damage or number of victims caused by the Taliban or the Inquisition, heaven forbid. Oh, did I say heaven? This is not a competitive sport game. Victims are individuals who suffer, not statistical counts. My point of view is simple: The philosophical and psychological characteristics of the Inquisition were operating actively in 1954; one hundred and twenty years after the original had been abrogated in Spain. Crazy ideas don’t die of natural causes, they have an eternal life in the minds of the intolerant. Are we then surprised that the Taliban are trying to revive their criminal treatment of women?
And that’s my point of view today.