01/22/2008, 00.00
ISLAM

Muslim women losing out in the West as well

Expert focuses on the issue: Muslim women are losing out to fundamentalism, which leads to hatred and violence, and patriarchy, which gives men the right to beat and kill the women and girls of their families. Still women score a victory in Saudi Arabia: they can now go to a hotel alone.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Muslim women living in the West are still victims of a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that leads to hatred and violence, and a patriarchy that gives fathers, husbands, brothers and other male relatives the right to beat and even kill women and girls, this according to Mona Eltahawy, a New York-based journalist and commentator and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues who has recently written on a spate of cases of violence against Muslim women and girls in Western countries.

Cases like that of Hatun Surucu, 23, a Kurdish woman murdered by her 18-year-old brother in Berlin. Hatun, who had divorced a cousin she had been forced to marry by her family when she was 16, had stopped wearing a headscarf and was living with her 5-year-old son independent of her family. She was training to become an electrician and dating German men. After the murder her brother allegedly bragged to his girlfriend about upholding patriarchal rules. He was sentenced to prison for nine years and three months.

Similar cases have made the headlines in Canada and the United States.

In the so-called ‘clash of civilizations,’ Muslim girls and women are the biggest losers. In fact, Eltahawy says, Muslim girls and women are paradoxically being murdered by their relatives for integrating too well.

Others are likely to die until a solution is found to the situation of Muslim girls and women, one that for too long has been denied and hidden beneath layers of knee-jerk defensiveness—by western Muslims and cultural relativists in the face of rightwing anti-Muslim hate.

Just googling for ‘Aqsa Pervez,’ the 16-year-old Canadian girl killed by her father for adopting to Western customs, shows that for most commentators her death was an “honour killing,” suggesting every Muslim father is ready to murder his daughter for taking off a headscarf.

For some Muslims though, it was “just” a case of “domestic violence,” as though religion and culture had "nothing" to do with Aqsa’s murder.

At the same time some liberal writers exhort us not to judge the “culture” of others. But just think of a decision by a Frankfurt judge Christa Datz-Winter who refused to grant a fast-track divorce to a German Muslim woman who had complained that her husband beat her. The judge said both partners came from a “Moroccan cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife.” No wonder she was eventually removed from the case.

Whatever the case, “Muslim women will continue to suffer until we confront the toxic cocktail that is equal parts an ugly fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and patriarchy.”

Canadian Muslim writers Tarek Fattah and Farzana Hassan provide an example: A Montreal mosque recently posted on its Web site a warning to the effect that if young girls took off their hijab they could be raped and have illegitimate children. The same site caution ed that not wearing hijab might lead to stress, insecurity and “suspicion in the minds of husbands,” not to mention the fact that it might instigate “young people to deviate towards the path of lust.”

When a mosque offers such hateful messages, the terms “honour killings” and “domestic violence” miss and hide the point. This mosque teaches a culture of hate and incitement that must be condemned.

I am waiting,” Eltahawy writes, “for the removal of clerics and imams, who incite hate and violence with their messages about hijab. I am waiting for Muslim families to stop disowning European Muslim women for marrying non-Muslim men. And I am waiting for the end of a sometimes deadly choice Muslim women—victims of violence—have had to make in a post-9/11 United States, when calling the police could mean the deportation of a husband, a brother or a father.

Against this backdrop about Muslim women in the West, al-Watan reports that the Saudi Interior Ministry has issued a circular to hotels asking them to accept lone women, i.e. women who are not accompanied by a male guardian.

Hitherto restriction on going to hotels alone was but one of several constraints Saudi women had to face. Indeed they still cannot drive or get into a car unaccompanied. They also cannot travel on their own or appear before a judge without a male representative.

The Saudi paper explained the reasons for the new rules by citing the case of a woman who arrived late at night at the airport and was denied a hotel room because she was alone. Or the case of another woman, who said her son-in-law quarrelled with his wife and daughters and threw them out of the house. When they tried to get a hotel room, they were asked to get a permission from the police.

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