Tuesday, August 04, 2009

FOR THE SAKE OF DEMOCRACY

I am very late tonight and it is because I have spent most of the afternoon and evening finding out more about this, to which I was alerted by this twitter friend. The situation has both upset and appalled me: upset me because brute force has been used against peaceable women and appalled me because it is happening in the 21st century; appalled me, also, because feminist groups in the west have apparently paid little attention to the case.

To sum up the relevant events as briefly as I can, the journalist Lubna Ahmed Hussein was arrested in a Khartoum restaurant in July, along with 12 other women, including non-Muslims, who were "indecently" attired in trousers. Some of the women were prosecuted immediately , lashed and fined. Lubna insisted on calling a lawyer and wants her case to go to full trial. Later she resigned her UN status, which would have given her immunity from prosecution. She feels that she is fighting for all Sudanese women. If convicted, Lubna could be flogged 40 times. Her trial today was adjourned. I understand that only the French Govenment has condemned the initial floggings.

Lubna's "indecent" or "disrespectful" attire was this:


As I understand it, this is perfectly acceptable female attire to most Muslims. But even if it were not, men cannot dictate to women what they may and may not wear and I don't care whether the man in question is The Pope, a Muslim cleric, a fashion designer or Joe Bloggs down the road. Interestingly, the US Embassy to the Holy See seems to think the Vatican has a "no pants" rule for women, whereas the Vatican itself claims it doesn't!

When men impose dress rules upon women and mix these up with their own ideals of "purity", or of a "woman's place", using "religion" or political doctrine to justify them, nothing but unhappiness for both sexes can ensue.

What is the first thing an extreme right-wing faction does after taking power by violent means? It gains control of the media. And what is the second thing? It attempts to control its nation's women. Women are told in no uncertain terms that they cannot wear trousers [Chile], that their place is in the home [Mussolini, Franco] and from there it becomes clear that they have no rights. Dictators fear the power of words and they also fear women.

Why? Long before 9/11 and its consequences I read a book called The Harem Within by Fatima Mernissi. Much of this book consists of charming tales of the author's childhood in 1940s Fez but always she is questioning the concept of the harem and wondering why it is the men, not the women, who walk freely. In a footnote she explains that "domestic" harems were really extended families who continued the tradition of secluding women. She writes:

"What defines a harem is not polygamy, but the men's desire to seclude their wives."

Be secluded or completely cover yourself: women have to be hidden in some way and all this, the men would have us believe, is done to "protect" women. Think about it for a minute: how can a state defend polygamy and claim to be protecting women? Mernissi writes:

"The fundamentalist press's defence of polygamy and divorce is in fact an attack against the right of women to participate in the law-making process. "

[Bear with me, reader - I'm getting there!]

And:

"But that historical heritage [that of early Islam's anti-slavery stance] did not influence the position of some of the conservative Arab leaders who resisted the slavery ban by camouflaging it as an attack on the 'umma', the Muslim community, which is exactly what they are doing today with women's rights. They know too well that they cannot promote democracy without liberating women. Their resistance to women's rights is in fact a rejection of democratic principles and human rights." [My italics.]

I have thought that that was the key since I first read it in 1994. Therefore it is for democracy and for human rights that I ask you, today, to support Lubna Ahmed Hussein. There is a campaign on facebook and advice on other measures you can take here.

Finally, do take a few minutes to listen to this interview with Lubna. I am quite proud that it was a BBC woman journalist who asked the $64,000 question!

Thank you.

14 comments:

Leslie: said...

I'm completely with you on this disturbing situation!

Anne said...

Hi Pat,

I can't wait to read more of your blog. I'm working on an article for another website, focused on many of the topics you mention in your post. I'll communicate privately with you, just to get your thoughts.

I posted your BBC interview on Lubna's Facebook page and also on AnneofCarversville.com/Beyond-burqas/

The gmail addy isn't my regular email. The drop box on Anne of Carversville, contact Anne will get me better.

Cheers. Anne

Minnie said...

The French media have been covering this case, and there is much interest and support for her here. This brave lass definitely deserves to win (she has some limited immunity, I gather, via the UN otherwise she has admitted she wouldn't have pursued this matter - and that's not to detract from her courage).
BBC journalist making you proud? Fine. Otherwise I think you'll find a blind eye is turned to atrocities towards women all over the UK - honour killings, forced marriages, clitoridectomy, denial of the effects of consanguinity, the list could go on.
You wonder sometimes why Mary Wollstonecraft and all her heroic succesors bothered, when so many people in our mother country want to turn back the clock - and, which is worse, are ALLOWED to do by British law.

Mary said...

This case has been publicised in Australia and I'm sure outrage is growing around the world.She is a very brave woman and hopefully she will escape the lash, because the eyes of the world are watching.

Whispering Walls said...

Quite right, WL! It's brainwashing, sadly.

Minnie said...

Sorry, me again - but even at my age I'm still constantly flummoxed, saddened and outraged by the lengths to which so many men are prepared to go in order to control, repress and opress women. Why are they so frightened of us females?

Trubes said...

This is outrageous Welshcakes. Interestingly, no comments, as yet, from feminists in the British Government, particularly Harriet Harmen, the Deputy PM. She's probably too cowardly to upset her extremist Islam bretheren in the UK.
No doubt she is scared of losing their votes in the next General Election.


Di.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I'm glad to hear that, Leslie. The more of us who make our feelings felt, the more embarrassed the government of Sudan will be. Hello, Anne. Thank you for coming over to my blog and for commenting. I'll come over to yours in a moment and let you have my personal email. It will be nice to communicate with you regarding these many issues. Hi, Phidelm. She has more couage in her little figure than I have in my whole body! I am proud of the BBC, actually. It's not perfect but you certainly do not find cantankerous journalists like John Humphreys, who never lets a politician off the hook, here. As State broadcasting institutions go, it's a gem. I know what you are referring to in the UK and I agree with you. We cannot have 2 sets of laws. I know of quite a few Brits who now reside outside the UK who would like to turn back the clock there, strangely enough! Hi, Mary. I am glad it is being publicised in Australia. I agree with you: the world is watching now and the Sudanese government is probably wishing it had never started the whole thing. We MUST keep the pressure up. Agreed, WW. I saw the effects of this when I was teaching in the UK. Don't apologise, Phidelm! It's always a pleasure to hear from you. I agree with you here. It is fear that makes so many men act in this way. D=Fesar of the mystery of woman, which men in fact invented so that patriarchy coukld reign supreme? Oh, de Beauvoir, where are you now? Hi, Trubes. Thanks for that. It is scandalous that Harman and other women like her are keeping their silence on this issue.

James Higham said...

feminist groups in the west have apparently paid little attention to the case.

Seriously though, Welshcakes, what do you expect? I've been pointing out for so long that feminists of the second wave don't give a rats' about women - only the political agenda. And here is the proof of the pudding.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Well, James, I expect all feminists to care about all women -and all humanity, too. I certainly don't agree that neglect of this case, shameful though that is, proves that they have or have ever had some sinister political agenda.

jams o donnell said...

It is a disgraceful situation. There has always been a tendency among a lot of progressives, be they feminists or leftists... or both, to pull their punches when it comes to certain abuses for fear of being seen as bigoted.

I hate cultural relativism

annechung said...

The problem is with the uneducated mullahs who interprete the religion as they like it, leaving women's fate in these countries at their mercy. There's no justice anywhere in these countries for women. Women, here, are raped, stoned and lashed at their will o'wisp. It is an outrage to the civilised world.

jmb said...

Well said Welshcakes. This is an excellent post on this terrible situation.

I do not understand how there is not more of an outcry against the punishment itself that she and the other women could/have suffer(ed). 10 or 40 lashes, no one should have the right to inflict that on another, female or male.

Looking at that photo makes the situation more ludicrous.

One can only admire the bravery of this woman, as she elects to not use her immunity to save herself. What an embarrassment for the Sudan government as they try to get out of making an example of her.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I agree, Anne. It is an outrage. Thank you, jmb. I don't understand why there is not more coverage and public indignation either. As you say, one can only admire Lubna's courage.

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