Tuesday 28 May 2013

"There is not one law in Saudi Arabia that regards violence toward women as an illegal activity": what's really behind Saudi's domestic abuse problem?

Saudi Arabia has introduced a campaign aimed at tackling domestic violence against women in the kingdom. The King Khalid Foundation funds the campaign, which is a royal, family-run organization with clear ties to the Saudi government.
The campaign ad portrays a face-covered woman with only her eyes showing, one of which is bruised. The translation of the Arabic message of the ad reads: “What is hidden underneath is much bigger.” However, the sentence should refer to what is hidden deep inside the laws of the kingdom and not under the facial covers.  
The campaign is disconnected from the main reason behind domestic violence. Domestic violence in Saudi Arabia, unlike in other parts of the world, goes far deeper than just a social issue, it is the problem with the law itself. In Saudi Arabia, men grow up knowing that abusing your wife, sister or mother is protected by law. In terms of religion, men in Saudi Arabia, and some other parts of the Muslim world, are being taught in school that hitting your wife is one solution to her disobedience. Clerics are also outspoken about such rulings on TV.
The famous Saudi preacher Mohamad Alarefe, said on LBC channel:
“Allah created women with these soft and fragile bodies because they use their emotions more than their bodies and that’s why you find men discipline their wives with beating while women discipline their husbands with crying.”
He continued, “the point of the husband hitting his wife is not to cause pain but to get obedience.”
Clerics emphasize the fact the women have to obey their fathers, brothers and husbands as part of their religious duty.
On another occasion, when asked about women leaving the house, Mohamad Alarefe said:
“There are two cases for women leaving the house, the first case is if the husband told his wife not to go somewhere, like the market because he ‘hates’ her doing that and she leaves to that place then leaving is forbidden and not allowed. The second case is if she leaves to a place that her husband does not hate and approves of and that it was difficult for her to take his permission because he is in prison, or a captive, etc. then leaving is permitted.”
In terms of law, there is not one law in Saudi Arabia that regards violence toward women as an illegal activity. As a matter of fact, women in Saudi Arabia are minors under law until their death, making it impossible for a woman to make any decision on her own without the permission of her guardian.
This means that even if a woman is “radical” enough to disobey her guardian or reject his abuse or decisions, she has got nowhere to go. She cannot file a complaint or leave the country or do practically anything without her guardian’s permission, which in most cases, ironically, is the abuser himself.
Therefore there is no reason for a man to restrain himself from abusing women in his family. He knows that he has the power to abuse her, hit her, stop her from working and stop her from getting educated while having the law and religion right there behind him.
The ad in the new campaign is meant to define domestic violence in Saudi Arabia as being a social issue and divert attention from the government’s lack of laws that protect women. This campaign takes the responsibility away from the government and puts it in the hands of individuals themselves; women have to step up and talk about abuse and go to shelters, and men have to restrain themselves from abusing women.
This campaign tries to limit the cause to only being the women’s lack of knowledge of laws and regulations. It advocates the notion that the solution can only come by the participation of the women themselves. A comment by princess Ameerah al-Taweel’s, the vice chairwoman of the Board of the Alwaleed Bin Talal foundation, follows on a similar path:
"The main issue when it comes to abused women in Saudi is lack of knowledge. Some women who accept being abused don't know their rights in Islam, and a lot of women who are suffering from abuse, don't know their rights in our legal system. That they can report their case and they will be protected by the government.”
This notion presents the government as the “good guy” because supposedly they are promoting such campaigns and willing to help the women who suffer from abuse: a government that has “a legal system” that protects women from abuse and domestic violence.  The fact is under the legal system in Saudi, men can get away with their abuse, as the punishment for domestic violence is very minimal. Human Rights Watch World Report 2013 reported:
“In May, Jeddah’s Summary Court convicted a man for physically abusing his wife to the point of hospitalization, but sentenced him to learning by heart five parts of the Quran and 100 sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The legal system in Saudi Arabia does not have the sufficient tools and laws that would deter men from domestic violence. In case of drugs and murder, the punishment is death penalty, which makes people think twice before committing such crimes because of the consequences.  Yet, when it comes to domestic violence the punishment is learning parts of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. 
Such campaigns are ahead of their time because first concrete laws must be put in place. Then and only then can we start equating domestic violence to other social issues, such as drug use or child abuse or animal rights, that take place in the society despite the presence of related laws and regulations. How can we educate people about the harms of a social issue when the government itself is not considering these harms?
Women should refuse to be victimized into believing that such actions are part of their religion and instead ask for real changes in the law itself as opposed to superficially trying to solve such essential issues. They should hold their government accountable for this abuse. The solution to such problems can only be achieved with the kind of spirit and power that the Arab Spring had; by demanding change, protesting oppression and getting hurt for the sake of the cause.

Monday 27 May 2013

Muslims must not apologise for terror - they are no more responsible than the rest of us

It is too early to know exactly what happened in Woolwich this afternoon, but it seems very likely it was a terrorist killing of a British soldier by Islamic extremists.
Shortly after it emerged it could be a terrorist attack, a hashtag appeared online: #notinmyname. The Muslims who expressed this sentiment had honourable motives, but it is a mistake. They do not need to condemn what has happened. This killing has no more to do with them than it does with the rest of us.
Doing so suggests Muslims are somehow more responsible for the attack than other Brits. It vindicates the central message of Islamic extremists: that we are not, ultimately, British. We are Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, endlessly divided by race and faith and culture.
This is false. It has always been false. We are Brits first.
When World War Two began, many intellectuals openly wondered how long it would take for British society to collapse into civil chaos. People assumed a society so strained by inequality and competing political groups could never withstand such pressure. To a very important extent, France failed to do so. In Britain, the essential solidarity of the people prevailed.
It prevailed during the Blitz. It prevailed during the IRA strikes. And it prevailed after 7/7. This is as diverse a society as any in the history of mankind. But it is British, and united, regardless of race or religion or even income. There is no reason to mention such things in day-to-day life. But on days like today, we should proclaim them proudly.
Muslims have nothing to apologise for and nothing to justify. They are no more culpable for what happened this afternoon than I am for the insane rants of Nick Griffin.
ITV today showed footage of a black man dressed in western clothes, his hands covered in blood, talking to the camera. "In our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe," he says.
And yet he speaks in a London accent. This is his land.
Now we will have to undertake the solemn, confusing, despairing process of understanding how people who live in our society could do this to other people in it. That is the debate which should take place. How can Britain still be so beset with alienation that these events could take place?
But that is a question for Brits to answer: not for British Muslims alone. In so far as anyone outside the killers is culpable, we are all culpable.
And when we answer this question, we should remember the following piece of information: After they dragged his body into the road, a group of women crowded around the body and protected it from the assailants. That's why he mentioned the women in the first place. Because they were brave enough to stand between thugs and their victim.
Those women represented Britain too. Source

Thursday 23 May 2013

In Cairo, desperate Egyptian men search in vain for Syrian brides

On the outskirts of the vast Egyptian capital, Egypt ends and the latest Syria enclave begins. Women tie their headscarves in a distinctly Syrian way. They buy Syrian spices and trinkets from vendors whose shops are now tables lined along the streets. There is a constant murmur of stories about the desperate circumstances that forced the residents to flee places such as Homs and Damascus in the past year.
The only sign that one is still in Egypt is the sound of Egyptian men and their mothers, who flock every day in the hopes they can exploit the dashed hopes of the Syrian revolution. Too poor to take an Egyptian bride, the men have heard that Syrian refugees are cheaper, prettier, better cooks and easier to marry.
“I am looking for a Syrian bride,” a 39-year-old painter, his calloused hands showing his struggle to survive, tells a Syrian man selling pita bread and spices outside the local mosque. “They are less complicated.”
The Syrian has heard this a dozen times already that day and doesn’t even respond, but rather points to a professionally made sign in front of the mosque behind him. It says that the mosque “announces that it has nothing to do with the marriage of Egyptian men to Syrian sisters. That’s why there shouldn’t be any questions regarding this issue in any of the offices of the organization. May Allah punish those responsible for spreading these rumors.”
The painter is undeterred. “Maybe there are Syrian women around the corner?” he asks.
The Syrian, who asks that he be identified only as Khalid, just shakes his head.
Before the sign, Khalid said, he fielded the question 100 times a day; now it is only 50. It’s difficult to know if he’s exaggerating.
“They ask us where the office is to buy a Syrian woman, as if they are buying a chicken. They don’t believe us when we tell them it doesn’t exist,” said Khalid, who said he was 26. “Our women are not for sale. We are here because we did not want to be killed.”
Men across the region are now seeking Syrian brides. In Turkey and Jordan, where refugee camps pepper the landscape, the desperation of the Syrians is far easier to spot as rich Persian Gulf men scour the camps to buy brides living in tents. Rape, child brides and temporary marriages are prevalent.
“People are marrying off their daughters for as little as 100 Jordanian dinars ($70) because of the bad circumstances inside the camp in return for money,” said Marwa al Saloumy, who works on women’s issues for a regional advocacy group called Al Zahra.
But in Cairo, where there are no camps, the dashed dreams of both Egyptians and Syrians in the post-Arab Spring world meet on more equal terms. Egyptian men, now poorer as the economy founders, find hope in the desperate Syrians, who can’t live in their own nation because a war that once promised revolutionary change has brought devastation and forced flight instead.
Syrian women say the men instantly spot them by their dress and approach them constantly. Alaa, a woman who fled Damascus three months ago to the Helwan neighborhood that has now become a Syrian enclave, said the harassment has been one of her biggest challenges.
In light of what is happening in Syria, “this is not the time to marry and celebrate and enjoy life,” Alaa said. And because of it, “Egyptian women now are starting to hate Syrian woman.”
That Egyptian men believe they could marry someone for less is changing marriage across Egypt. Men are demanding more of women and are willing to offer less, women report, and the standards for taking a bride are falling. Where an Egyptian man was once expected to provide a home and prove he can work before he could marry, now many believe they can have a Syrian bride for as little as $45.
The men come to the areas where Syrians have congregated all day, hoping to escape forced marriages or no prospects at all. They go to the mosque, to the makeshift Syrian vendors, to apartment complexes where Syrians are known to live. They approach one stranger after another, asking for a woman in the same tone they would ask directions – security guards at apartment complexes, Muslim clerics, anyone whose accent identifies them as Syrian.
For the Syrians, defending the women in their community has become a means to maintain their dignity even as they are living in dire circumstances.
“The thugs of Bashar Assad have spread these false rumors,” explained Khalid. “He has destroyed our nation and now he is destroying the reputation of our women.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees living in Egypt, most in and around Cairo, all arriving in the last year.
But it is unclear how many Egyptians have taken a Syrian bride. Instead, it is a crisis built on rumor.
One regional women’s organization reported recently that 12,000 Syrian women have married Egyptian men in the last year. But according to the Ministry of Justice in Egypt, the official number of marriages between Egyptian men and Syrian women between January 2012 and March 2013 is 170, with 57 of those nuptials between January and March 2013, according to an Al Ahram online newspaper report.
Moreover, neither side wants to admit they are partaking. Syrians here find such claims insulting, and Egyptian women don’t want to admit that their men could find Syrians more attractive.
Some Muslim clerics have urged Egyptian men to marry Syrian women as an act of charity, and there are even rumors that top members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive religious society through which Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi rose to prominence, have taken Syrian women as second wives.
Earlier this month, the National Council of Women condemned the push to marry Syrian women, urging Egyptian officials to intervene. It even set up a hotline for Syrians to call and complain.
The number doesn’t work.
Egyptian matchmakers say they keep getting requests for Syrian women but refuse to oblige. They say they do not want to create yet another problem for Egyptian women – another obstacle to marriage.
Nashwa Soltan has worked as a matchmaker for a decade. For the first time, in the last year, two of every 10 men she meets ask for a Syrian bride.
“He has difficult demands,” Soltan said, referring to one such man she is working with. “He is a 54-year-old widower and he has three children, two of them are in college and the third is in sixth grade. And he wants a beautiful woman in her 40s who doesn’t have children and who doesn’t want to have any children.
“He wants someone to cook for his kids and wake up early for him and his children. He wants a servant,” Soltan said.
Soltan tried to hook him up with three Egyptian women, but the Egyptian women always turned him down.
“He tells the women from the first date that he won’t change anything in the house and that each one of his children likes certain types of food and he is expecting her to cook for each one of them,” Soltan said. When he asks to only see Syrian women, Soltan said she refused.
The painter, who refused to give his name, appeared to be just as unlucky. After the sellers lectured him on why he was on a fool’s errand, he walked quietly around the corner where no Syrian women awaited him.
Frustrated, he walked away. The Syrians vendors smirked as though they had won a fight.
“We still have our dignity” Khalid explained.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/05/14/191195/in-cairo-desperate-egyptian-men.html#.UZoe1LVwrp4#storylink=cpy

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Women's Prison in Gaza Swells With 'Moral' Criminals

Al-Monitor gained access to this high-security, one-story facility with the permission of the Hamas-run Ministry of Interior, on condition that the correspondent be accompanied by a guard, names of prisoners are not published and that the final report was reviewed by the ministry before publishing.

For many people in Gaza, crimes committed by women are rarely heard of due to the conservative nature of Gazan society. Families of female convicts usually don’t disclose their whereabouts, and even lie about it.
The head of the prison, Jazya Abu Mousa, said that this year has witnessed the largest number of female prisoners since she began working there in 2007.
“The number changes from time to time as most of the prisoners here are detained and not sentenced,” Abu Mousa said.
Criminals in the prison are divided into three categories: thieves, security convicts of crimes often related to cooperating with the Israeli occupation and "moral" convicts, which includes prostitution or sexual relations without marriage. This final category holds the largest number of prisoners.
Abu Mousa blames the increasing number of crimes in the Strip on weak religious awareness among locals, family disintegration and the poor financial situation of most people in Gaza.

RH, 47, collaborated with the Israeli occupation along with her husband, until they were both arrested in 2010. RH’s husband was among six spies who were publicly executed and dragged through the streets of Gaza by Hamas' armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, during the last Israeli offensive in November 2012.
RH and her husband worked in Israel until Israel denied access for Palestinians from Gaza to enter in 2000, following the second intifada. The couple turned to the Egyptian market for survival.
As Gaza was still under Israeli occupation, RH said that her husband met Israeli intelligence en route to Egypt. There, he was offered a permit to go back to his work in Israel.
The economic situation in Gaza had become dire with Israel’s severe siege, imposed in 2007, tempting RH’s husband to cooperate with the Israelis.
“At the beginning, they told him that they didn’t want anything in return, and it was only a matter of humanitarian support, but as time passed they started asking him for information about specific people,” RH recalled.
With their father killed and their mother in prison, RH’s children found themselves alone. Her son turned to robbery and is now serving a three-year sentence in another section of the same prison. Her daughter-in-law divorced her son, as she no longer wanted to remain part of this “shameful” family.

When asked if she felt guilty for betraying her people, RH said she doesn’t believe she committed a big crime, adding that she was a victim of Israel exploiting her needs.
"The only thing I did was transfer money from Israelis to other spies in Gaza while I was going to Israel to treat my son. It wasn't a serious collaboration," she told Al-Monitor.
RH’s narrative follows a report by Al-Monitor last month that highlighted Israel’s attempts to recruit Palestinians from Gaza seeking medical attention in Israel.
While RH makes attempts to engage and joke with fellow inmates, she said she remains totally devastated inside.
“My man was killed, my son is arrested and I’m away from my children; we are no longer a family. Every day I wish this were just a horrible nightmare. I still can’t believe it,” she said, struggling to contain tears.
The prison head said she is proud of most of the prisoners, as she senses a willingness among them to change. The prison administration focuses on raising religious awareness among the prisoners so they won’t return to crime after their release, said Abu Moussa.
“Besides giving them traditional training like handicrafts and embroidery, Islamic lectures are the main focus,” she explained to Al-Monitor.

Forced prostitution
When M’s husband found no source of income, as he never had a career, he resorted to drugging his wife and prostituting her for less than $15 a night.
“I only knew about what was going on when the police invaded the house and arrested us. My ex-husband used to drug my drinks. I don’t even remember the people I had sex with,” M. told Al-Monitor, embarrassed.
Prostitution in Gaza barely exists due to strict monitoring by Hamas authorities.
When M’s father discovered what her husband was doing to her, he insisted on a divorce. Six years later, she remarried and returned to a normal life until she received a phone call from one of her former “clients.” She said, “He told me he was from a humanitarian organization and that I should go to get my handout, but when I reached the place, I found it was a trap and I was arrested again.”
The “client” gestured to M to enter his apartment when she got out of the taxi to meet him. She refused and tried to escape, but nearby police saw the altercation and grew suspicious. They were both arrested.
M has so far served two years of her six-year sentence for both her previous conviction of prostitution and the latest incident. She thinks of nothing but finding a way to reach her three children.
“I was told that my children are not proud of me for what they heard about me. I wish I could hug them and tell them it was not my fault,” said M, tears streaming down her face.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/gaza-women-prison.html#ixzz2TpyVsFUF

Saturday 18 May 2013

This is how racism takes root

By now surely everyone knows the case of the eight men convicted of picking vulnerable underage girls off the streets, then plying them with drink and drugs before having sex with them. A shocking story. But maybe you haven't heard. Because these sex assaults did not take place in Rochdale, where a similar story led the news for days in May, but in Derby earlier this month. Fifteen girls aged 13 to 15, many of them in care, were preyed on by the men. And though they were not working as a gang, their methods were similar – often targeting children in care and luring them with, among other things, cuddly toys. But this time, of the eight predators, seven were white, not Asian. And the story made barely a ripple in the national media.
Of the daily papers, only the Guardian and the Times reported it. There was no commentary anywhere on how these crimes shine a light on British culture, or how middle-aged white men have to confront the deep flaws in their religious and ethnic identity. Yet that's exactly what played out following the conviction in May of the "Asian sex gang" in Rochdale, which made the front page of every national newspaper. Though analysis of the case focused on how big a factor was race, religion and culture, the unreported story is of how politicians and the media have created a new racial scapegoat. In fact, if anyone wants to study how racism begins, and creeps into the consciousness of an entire nation, they need look no further.
Imagine you were living in a town of 20,000 people – the size of, say, Penzance in Cornwall – and one day it was discovered that one of its residents had been involved in a sex crime. Would it be reasonable to say that the whole town had a cultural problem, that it needed to address the scourge – that anyone not doing so was part of a "conspiracy of silence"? But the intense interest in the Rochdale story arose from a January 2011 Times "scoop" that was based on the conviction of at most 50 British Pakistanis out of a total UK population of 1.2 million, just one in 24,000: one person per Penzance.
Make no mistake, the Rochdale crimes were vile, and those convicted deserve every year of their sentences. But where, amid all the commentary, was the evidence that this is a racial issue; that there's something inherently perverted about Muslim or Asian culture?
Even the Child Protection and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), which has also studied potential offenders who have not been convicted, has only identified 41 Asian gangs (of 230 in total) and 240 Asian individuals – and they are spread across the country. But, despite this, a new stereotype has taken hold: that a significant proportion of Asian men are groomers (and the rest of their communities know of it and keep silent).
But if it really is an "Asian" thing, how come Indians don't do it? If it's a "Pakistani" thing, how come an Afghan was convicted in the Rochdale case? And if it's a "Muslim" thing, how come it doesn't seem to involve anyone of African or Middle Eastern origin? The standard response to anyone who questions this is: face the facts, all those convicted in Rochdale were Muslim. Well, if one case is enough to make such a generalisation, how about if all the members of a gang of armed robbers were white; or cybercriminals; or child traffickers? (All three of these have happened.) Would we be so keen to "face the facts" and make it a problem the whole white community has to deal with? Would we have articles examining what it is about Britishness or Christianity or Europeanness, that makes people so capable of such things?
In fact, Penzance had not just one paedophile, but a gang of four. They abused 28 girls, some as young as five, and were finally convicted two years ago. All were white. And last month, at a home affairs select committee, deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz quoted a police officer who had told her that "there isn't a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited".
Whatever the case, we know that abuse of white girls is not a cultural or religious issue because there is no longstanding history of it taking place in Asia or the Muslim world.
How did middle-aged Asian men from tight-knit communities even come into contact with white teenage girls in Rochdale? The main cultural relevance in this story is that vulnerable, often disturbed, young girls, regularly out late at night, often end up in late-closing restaurants and minicab offices, staffed almost exclusively by men. After a while, relationships build up, with the men offering free lifts and/or food. For those with a predatory instinct, sexual exploitation is an easy next step. This is an issue of what men can do when away from their own families and in a position of power over badly damaged young people.
It's a story repeated across Britain, by white and other ethnic groups: where the opportunity arises, some men will take advantage. The precise method, and whether it's an individual or group crime, depends on the particular setting – be they priests, youth workers or networks on the web.
Despite all we know about racism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Rochdale case showed how shockingly easy it is to demonise a community. Before long, the wider public will believe the problem is endemic within that race/religion, and that anyone within that group who rebuts the claims is denying this basic truth. Normally, one would expect a counter-argument to force its way into the discussion. But in this case the crimes were so horrific that right-thinking people were naturally wary of being seen to condone them. In fact, the reason I am writing this is that I am neither Asian nor Muslim nor Pakistani, so I cannot be accused of being in denial or trying to hide a painful truth. But I am black, and I know how racism works; and, more than that, I have a background in maths and science, so I know you can't extrapolate a tiny, flawed set of data and use it to make a sweeping generalisation.
I am also certain that, if the tables were turned and the victims were Asian or Muslim, we would have been subjected to equally skewed "expert" commentary asking: what is wrong with how Muslims raise girls? Why are so many of them on the streets at night? Shouldn't the community face up to its shocking moral breakdown?
While our media continue to exclude minority voices in general, such lazy racial generalisations are likely to continue. Even the story of a single Asian man acting alone in a sex case made the headlines. As in Derby this month, countless similar cases involving white men go unreported.
We have been here before, of course: in the 1950s, West Indian men were labelled pimps, luring innocent young white girls into prostitution. By the 1970s and 80s they were vilified as muggers and looters. And two years ago, Channel 4 ran stories, again based on a tiny set of data, claiming there was an endemic culture of gang rape in black communities. The victims weren't white, though, so media interest soon faded. It seems that these stories need to strike terror in the heart of white people for them to really take off.
What is also at play here is the inability of people, when learning about a different culture or race, to distinguish between the aberrations of a tiny minority within that group, and the normal behaviour of a significant section. Some examples are small in number but can be the tip of a much wider problem: eg, knife crime, which is literally the sharp end of a host of problems affecting black communities ranging from family breakdown, to poverty, to low school achievement and social exclusion.
But in Asia, Pakistan or Islam there is no culture of grooming or sex abuse – any more than there is anywhere else in the world – so the tiny number of cases have no cultural significance. Which means those who believe it, or perpetuate it, are succumbing to racism, much as they may protest. Exactly the same mistake was made after 9/11, when the actions of a tiny number of fanatics were used to cast aspersions against a 1.5 billion-strong community worldwide. Motives were questioned: are you with us or the terrorists? How fundamental are your beliefs? Can we trust you?
Imagine if, after Anders Breivik's carnage in Norway last year, which he claimed to be in defence of the Christian world, British people were repeatedly asked whether they supported him? Lumped together in the same white religious group as the killer and constantly told they must renounce him, or explain why we should believe that their type of Christianity – even if they were non-believers – is different from his. "It's nothing to do with me", most people would say. But somehow that answer was never good enough when given by Muslims over al-Qaida. And this hectoring was self-defeating because it caused only greater alienaton and resentment towards the west and, in particular, its foreign policies.
Ultimately, the urge to vilify groups of whom we know little may be very human, and helps us bond with those we feel are "like us". But if we are going to deal with the world as it is, and not as a cosy fantasyland where our group is racially and culturally supreme, we have to recognise when sweeping statements are false.
And if we truly care about the sexual exploitation of girls, we need to know that we must look at all communities, across the whole country, and not just at those that play to a smug sense of superiority about ourselves. Source