Thursday, 26 August 2010

You're just "uncovered meat" - read it and weep

In 2005, some of my then-dance classmates and I went on a tour of the Middle East with our teacher. I do wish I'd had this article from the World Affairs Journal, "Twice Branded: Western Women in Muslim Lands" by Judy Bachrach to show the women in our group who variously: laughed when the local men verbally harassed us; submitted thoughtlessly to being kissed by a taxi driver in Cairo(!); were totally OK about peeing outdoors in full view of a group of Bedouin men; told the women in our group who were physically assaulted - as I was on a crowded train in Istanbul - that it was 'a compliment'; and generally were very poor ambassadors for Western women.

Let's not also forget that some Western men travelling alone in Egypt are also subjected to sexual harassment - as one hapless bloke of my acquaintance told me with undisguised horror: "I've never been to prison, but I imagine the sexual conditions there to be like Egypt on a small scale."

To which I can only say ... woah.

Bachrach's article is a long but morbidly compelling piece. If you haven't travelled to the Middle East before I hope like hell it doesn't put you off going there. HOWEVER:

"... it is no coincidence that women who must submit to Sharia law find themselves in a very bad place, wherever those women and those places happen to be. This includes France, where only last year a court in Lille upheld the right of a Muslim man to hold fast to his faith and annul his marriage when he discovered his bride was not a virgin. And it includes Germany, where in Berlin in 2005 there were eight murders of young women of Turkish origin, executed by members of their own families. And Australia, where, after a group of unveiled Muslim women were raped, the succinct Mufti Taj al-Din al-Hilali explained away the crime as an attack on “uncovered meat.” And it includes the United Kingdom, where Scotland Yard has probed 109 suspicious deaths of women, also likely slaughtered by relatives. Islam is an easy rider: it travels everywhere and often brings with it a lot of baggage.

But let’s start with Islam as it affects women in their home countries. Last year, in a poll of 2,000 Egyptian men, 62 percent admitted harassing women: an activity most of those interviewed insisted was not really their fault as their advances, however intemperate and offensive to their victims, had after all been provoked by the women themselves.

Nor is this sort of harassment confined to Islamic women in Islamic nations. Western women who find themselves in the Middle East come in for their own fair share of daily insults, owing to their double deficit as women and foreigners. Every step outside the home or hotel is an invitation to a carefully directed barrage of verbal assaults, their components familiar and unvarying: vulgar and offensive remarks, leers and snickers, the occasional shove, all accompanied by grins of triumph. When I lived in Egypt, everyone in Cairo avidly watched the television series Dallas, and as a result became expert on the sexual habits of American women. And not simply expert, but unrepentantly predatory."

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