There’s an enormous controversy going on right now regarding the Middle East, and specifically anything Islamic. There’s a rabid fear of terrorism leading to indiscriminate racism which even has a name: Islamophobia.
As I’ve already proved with an earlier post, Islamophobia is unrealistic, a phobia like the phobia of sharks, who kill only six people a year. Those last few lines, though, about women choosing their hijabs, well, I was right.
And wrong. I’ve been reading up on feminism and Islamic culture, and there are some staggeringly awful things going on in Africa and the Middle East.
The first, and most heinous, particularly to Western sensibilities, is female circumcision. This is not like male circumcision, where nothing much changes and it doesn’t even hurt after the first few days, this is mutilation, having a switchblade taken to the genitalia on a kitchen table, cutting out the clitoris and scarring the vagina shut so that it physically hurts women to have sex. The worst part is, the women do it to their daughters, because they’ve always been taught that in order to be virtuous and blessed, they have to be circumcised.
Second, the restrictions of space. Women cannot leave their homes without their hair completely covered and a male escort, unless they are particularly brave and don’t care about being spit on or possibly arrested for indecency. They can’t go shopping or to visit a friend without the permission of every male in the house, even those as young as five, and as you can imagine, very young boys do not want their mothers to go places without them. Mosques, or Islamic churches, are segregated by a wall, and the women can only see the preacher on a television screen or, before television, could only listen to him through the wall, which is shaped for good acoustics. This is because a proper Islamic prayer involves the washing of hands and face, and necessitates removing the veil.
Third, abuse runs rampant and is more common than decency. A husband considers it within his rights to beat his wife if he thinks she so much as looked at another man the wrong way, or was indecent, or because she didn’t get the food on the table fast enough. And the law backs him up. In fact, 75 percent of the women imprisoned in Islam right now are there for getting raped. Not raping someone. Getting. Raped. All rape is presumed zina, or extra marital sex, unless vouched for by four male witnesses. If there are four male witnesses, all of whom are convinced it was rape, why is the rape happening in the first place? There are girls as young as twelve and women as old as eighty in prison for zina. Abuse and rape aren’t even taboo, for males. Of course, if a woman dares to strike her husband, or any male, she can be put in prison as well. Women are pretty well crushed into submission.
Fourth, a substantial portion of women and girls are pulled out of school, which likely taught them only their Korah, at the age of 12, to begin grooming them for the husbands they will receive in only a few years, teaching them maidenly arts but not telling them about sex because God forbid they appear to know too much. This means that women who leave Islam are often baffled and overwhelmed by things that are common sense to us, such as limited amounts of money meaning you have to budget, or newspapers talking about shocking, indecent things, and when girls get married they only have the faintest idea of what their husband will do on their wedding night, making them panicky and unprepared for the pain.
Fifth, polygamy. There are plenty of romantic notions about polygamy, but from the books I’ve been reading, (And those books are many and varied) it just doesn’t work. Jealousy runs rampant, a man will abandon a wife who had brought him no sons for a new, younger wife who can bear him one, leaving his old wife to live alone with, perhaps, her mother in law, any daughters, and her other, discarded sister-wives. Abandoned, alone, and practically worthless, with absolutely no chance of escape, left only with the shame of being too poor of a wife to hold your husband’s attention and a fury towards the new young thing who has taken him from you. Being a second or third wife is nearly as bad, because they are almost invariably very young, taken straight from their mother’s home to a new place where it is very likely they will never see their mothers again, or maybe once a year, and then bullied by their sister wives and pressured to produce sons by their mother in law. (Note that I am not talking about the kind of polygamy that leads three or four people to all fall in love with each other. No, I am denouncing the taking of multiple wives who are not in love with each other.)
The ironic thing is, Islam is the only religion whose Holy Book clearly states that men and women are equal. The prophet Mohammed spoke out for women’s rights, with the help of his older, successful business tycoon wife, and even said that if a man could not provide equal love and attention to all of his wives he should restrict himself to one. Of course, those passages are the ones misinterpreted by the imams, (priests), and it is blasphemy to suggest an alternate reading.
Of course, most of these restrictions and horrors don’t apply to upper-class women, whose main concerns are being disrespected or locked up in harems, instead of being raped or beaten. See, upper-class women are valuable property, and harming them incurs a massive payment. Also, they are considered far more attractive when educated and fiery instead of downtrodden and ignorant, and so have access to far more opportunities.
Nobody wants to speak out against the Islamic oppression of women for fear of seeming racist.
People’s lives and safety are always, always a priority over others’ comfort and ego.
The way Muslims treat their women is wrong.
Some parts of their culture are probably lovely, but the horrifying lives of the women there overrides everything.
Stop. This needs to change.
The only problem is, speaking out can literally get you killed. Extremist groups can and will assassinate public speakers who dare to question their religion.
I guess you could say, there are parts of Islamophobia that are justified.
I mean, not the terror-isty bits, but there are extremist groups, just as there are Christian extremist groups, who you should be afraid of.
That doesn’t mean you can discriminate against the girls in flower-printed hajibs or the nice young men who happen to be Muslim, though.
Nomad, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali,
Scherezade Goes West, by Fatema Mernissi
Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez
Several articles and the first few chapters of an extraordinarily dull anthropology book–Assorted Authors.