Trouble in Paradise 91

A fascinating article by Nick Cohen on the horrific oppression of women in the Middle East.

“If this sounds harsh, consider that Sharia adultery laws state that
a raped woman must face the next-to-impossible task of providing four
male witnesses to substantiate her allegation or be convicted of
adultery. When rapists leave Pakistani women pregnant, the court takes
the bulge in their bellies as evidence against them. In Nigeria, Sharia
courts not only punish raped women for adultery, but order an extra
punishment of a whipping for making false accusations against
“innocent” men. In Israel, ultra-Orthodox gangs in Jerusalem beat up
women seen in the company of married men. In the United States, the
Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints give teenagers to old men in arranged
marriages and tell them they must completely submit to their wishes.
In Saudi Arabia, women live in a theocratic state that stops them
walking unaccompanied in the street, driving a car and speaking to men
outside the family. After unwisely taking a sprig of the bin Laden
family to be her husband, Carmen Dufour described the consequences.

‘At first, I wasn’t even aware of what seemed so strange about this
country, but then it hit me: half the population of Saudi Arabia is
kept behind walls, all the time. It was hard to fathom, a city with
almost no women. I felt like a ghost. Women didn’t exist in this world
of men.’

To move from ghosts to corpses, if the Taliban
retake power in Afghanistan, they will once again ban women from public
spaces, thus depriving them of employment, and thus closing the health
and education services. Any teacher who presumes to teach them to read
and write will be executed. Meanwhile the Islamic Republic of Iran has
almost certainly renewed its terror tactic of raping women prisoners
before killing them. Because religious law declares it illegal to
execute a virgin, the guards arrange a “wedding” ceremony and rape the
prisoner once it is over.”

There was an appalling case in Israel recently of an Orthodox women who was cruelly starving her child. When the police intervened, there was a strong and horrifying backlash from the Orthodox community. The Jerusalem Post correspondent Alisa Ungar-Sargon speaks of the divide between some of the orthodox Jewish community and the secular majority.

“With the haredi woman suspected of starving her three-year-old son,
the evidence from doctors, social workers, and police appears to leave
little room for doubt regarding the severity of the situation. The
woman was allegedly a danger to her child, and thus measures were taken
to protect him from further harm.

The facts are presented; the evidence is concrete. Yet there
are people rallying to her defense who are convinced of her innocence.
They call the whole situation a blood libel, a condition of malicious
slander and a vengeful nature. Whether or not her actions were
intentional does not change the effects, yet the haredim purport to be
certain. How can a community be so confident that she is not guilty
when everyone else is resisting their every claim?

The general animosity between the haredi and secular communities is
rooted in the State of Israel itself. While none of the haredim support
the state, the mainstream sects at least cooperate with it and agree to
participate in the elections.

Dr. Yehuda Goodman, a lecturer and anthropologist at Hebrew University,
explains that the tendency to riot is a part of the haredi identity.
“They feel it’s invading and corrupting and fighting to break down
their way of life,” he says. The haredi community is not just a ghetto,
set up to keep out those who would threaten their way of life, Goodman
says, it must also fight and maintain the superior stand they feel that
they have over the secular world. He explains that the haredim need
these fights as a part of the formation of their identity, in finding a
symbolic place to fight the social other.

Whether or not the haredim actually believe in the woman’s
condemnation is irrelevant at this point. They can testify for her
character and they can portray her doctor as evil incarnate, but it is
immaterial since their loyalties would not allow them to operate any
other way. They will argue for her since to them, she represents their
community to the outside world.”

There is a perilous inclination in the Western World to tolerate immorality on the part of others on the grounds that there is a cultural divide that cannot be infringed upon. Although this case in the more liberal and democratic Israel is of less notoriety than the more systematic problem of ‘gender apartheid’ of Saudi Arabia and the countless numbers of unpunished rape in Iran, it is just as horrifying.

The definition of tolerance in the West, Israel included, now seems to include turning a blind eye to depravity, in an attempt to avoid being seen as interfering and imperialistic.

The plight of women in the Middle East is just the tip of the iceberg, but where is the condemnation from the West? And as Nick Cohen concludes in his Standpoint article: ‘I accept that this may seem an odd thing to wish for, but what the
world needs now is an uncompromisingly militant feminist movement.’

Further reading:

Clive James on honour killing

Asad Abu Khalil on US policy and the suffering of Arab women

Some exercepts from female Saudi writers on the subjugation of women (Provided by MEMRI)