Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saudi Arabia, Sexism & Science

Today the story making the rounds on Twitter is a horrific one, where a Saudi woman who was gang-raped by seven men was jailed and sentenced to lashing by a Saudi court because she violated the Kingdom's strict laws against men and women mixing together if they aren't married. When her lawyer protested the sentence, the court doubled the sentence to show that contempt of court will result in complete contempt of human dignity and decency.

The case seems to have taken place in 2007 but only come to light six years later. This shows the secrecy in which these cases take place. It's not surprising because the international outcry that would take place were this to be openly discussed while it was happening would be a huge disgrace for the Kingdom. In fact, from what I know, there's a lot of censorship and secrecy around rape cases. (The same thing happens in the UAE, where rapes take place but are not widely reported in the media in order to preserve the good image of the Emirate in the international media). But the secrecy is also meant to hide precisely the amount of sexism and misogyny that pervades the Saudi justice system.

They claim sentences like these to be based on Shariah, and Western media will often seize upon these complete distortions of justice to illustrate how barbaric Muslims can be. Yet this isn't really a case of Islamic barbarity but the violent animosity that men can feel towards women and the lengths to which they will go to punish a woman who they perceive as having stepped out of control. Using Shariah to justify this kind of injustice is a reflection of their own need to be right, and to have God on their side. I perceive an almost psychopathic hatred of women in the actions of the judges who could sentence a woman to 200 lashes, or to jail for being raped by men and being unable to identify her attackers because she was blind (a famous case that took place in Pakistan under the Hudood laws).

Does anyone remember the case of the Indoniesian maid who was sentenced to be executed when she murdered her Saudi employer, who was trying to rape her? She was indeed beheaded in 2011, sparking a diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. There is no real justice in sentences of these types, whereas the guiding spirit of Islam is meant to show utmost compassion and kindness towards any victim of injustice regardless of gender. Sentences like these are travesties. They are an embarrassment to any country. This is why they are kept under wraps until long after the deed is done and the crime has gone unpunished and the victim is the one instead who pays the price for the sexual violence of conscienceless criminals. It is all a conspiracy meant to keep women in their place as the property and possession of men.

Before we get too smug about Saudi Arabia's stance, though, we might do well to remember that in Pakistan, we've stopped ordering that women be lashed for getting raped, but we are famous for having ordered that a woman be raped as punishment. I'm talking about none other than the Mukhtaran Mai case. Her attackers are free, having been released from custody for "lack of evidence", despite the more than four adult Muslim male witnesses who saw her assault, ordered by a tribal jirga.

Here is an excellent interview with Mukhtaran Mai in the New Statesman, so please do read it. If at all there's a brighter side to these horrific assaults on women and the complete injustice that we face in our criminal systems, it is that we are pushed to surpass and transcend, to become almost superhuman in our ability to rise above the inhumane treatment deal out to us by men who claim to be our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual superiors. Women go into these circumstances as victims but emerge reborn as survivors, activists, advocates, role models. Champions with the hearts of lions, seared by fire, released from fear.

And in case you need a lighter story from the Kingdom, here's the scientific explanation of how driving is bad for women because it affects their ovaries and pelvises, causing their children to be born with birth defects. The scholar, who also claims to be a psychologist, provides no proof for his assertions, in the true Saudi style of excellence in scientific research. He might want to reconsider his stance if he ever suffers a medical emergency and there is nobody to drive him to the hospital because his wife and daughters want to save their ovaries rather than his life.

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