ISIS has just be-headed a woman in Baquba because she dared to resist being raped. In the process of struggling to defend herself, she actually killed her would-be rapist, an ISIS warrior. The woman was at home recovering from a medical illness.
This is precisely the crime that led to Reyhaneh Jabbari’s execution in Iran at dawn this past –except that the Iranian regime first jailed and tortured her for five years. Her life might have been spared if her victim’s family had forgiven her, but that did not happen. Her would-be rapist was a former member of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.
And thus we learn that under Sharia law the penalty for resisting rape is torture and death for women.
What happens when a woman does not or cannot resist being raped?
In 2008, in Somalia, 13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was accused of adultery (“zina”–in her case, sex outside of marriage). She had reported being gang-raped to the controlling jihadist group there, al-Shabab. The very act of accusing her rapists condemned her– but not her rapists– to a brutal death-by-stoning at the hands of fifty men. She begged for mercy, crying out up until the moment of her death.
Families of rape victims in Afghanistan have honor-murdered their daughters for the shame of having been raped. Most recently, in 2014, one ten-year-old victim who was raped by a mullah in a mosque was saved, temporarily, by an Afghan and international woman’s group which has, so far, successfully persuaded her family not to kill her.
We have all heard about Aisha Bibi or Muhktar Mai, who reported her more powerful Pakistani gang-rapists and managed to get some convicted. She lives with permanent death threats–she also shelters other such rape victims and their families. A very powerful opera has been written and performed about her bravery.
We have witnessed the en-masse male sexual assault of veiled and unveiled women in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Human Rights Watch refers to this Square as “Rape Central.” Journalist Judy Bachrach, who lived in Cairo, documented the extraordinary level of normalized street harassment of infidel girls and women in Cairo.
I studied and wrote about an atrocious three day “pogrom” perpetrated by three hundred men against thirty nine impoverished women in 2001. Their crime? They had dared to work as cleaning women and secretaries for an infidel company. This took place in a province in Algeria known as Hassi Messaoud. The rapist-killers had been stirred to action by a sermon against “evil” infidel influence and they tore out of the mosque.
Yelling “Allahu Akhbar,” they gang-raped, tortured, stabbed, mutilated, buried alive and murdered these women as well as other “evil” women who owned hairdressing salons. The police had to lock up ninety-five women to protect them from the rampaging men. Hundreds more begged to be incarcerated, but there was no more room. Incredibly, some survivors brought charges. Twenty-six men (out of three hundred) were sentenced to jail terms. This is nothing short of a miracle.
In many Muslim countries– and Hindu India– women have been viewed as tempting men, overcoming them, victimizing them, and the men are not viewed as licentious, promiscuous, lusty scoundrels but as helpless victims. This used to be true in the West as well and to a small extent, it still is. Rape is now understood as a crime and is prosecuted, not normalized, in the West.
However, if the rape is known to a Muslim woman’s family in a Muslim country, it may mean her death sentence. If she and her family report the rape to the authorities, the rape victim (and sometimes her family as well) may be further victimized. Death threats are common. The rape victim is usually jailed and once in custody will be routinely raped and sometimes impregnated by police officers and interrogators.
What must we understand about such surreal and barbaric misogyny?
First, that to be born a woman in certain parts of the world is to be born guilty; being female is a capital offense. Girls and women must keep proving that they will not shame their families by a level of obedience and subordination that Westerners cannot truly comprehend. Memoirs by women– Somali Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Punjabi Aruna Papp, Iranian Marina Nemat, to name only a few– share details of daily, sometimes hourly terrorization and punishment within the family and at the hands of the state and religious authorities.
There are also memoirs written by men that are haunting and incredibly informative about Muslim-on-Muslim cruelty, such as the one written by M.H. Anwar about his life growing up in Kabul as a poor boy between 1914-1943.
Second, that when men from these countries, cultures, and ethnicities immigrate to the West, these attitudes and customs do not necessarily change. By now, we know that pre-adolescent and adolescent Caucasian girls were kidnapped, gang-raped and forced into prostitution by Muslim gangs in Britain; the authorities looked the other way. Why? Because they did not want to accuse Muslim men of perpetrating crimes lest they, the authorities, be accused of Islamophobia or racism.
Third, as Islamic fundamentalism gains territory and followers, life will become unbearably harsher for women.
For example, in October of 2014, acid attacks by men on motorcycles against “improperly veiled” Iranian women have increased on the streets in 25 cities, including Isfahan, Kermanshah, and Teheran.
The Women’s Freedom Forum of Iran has informed me that “demonstrators compared these attackers with the terrorists of ISIS” and described the Iranian “regime as Godfather to ISIS when it comes to such crimes.” Laws have been passed to protect the acid throwers, and the Iranian regime has “been “intimidating the families of the victims and hospital nurses and staff. Reporters are also prevented from going to hospitals to see the victims.” The Freedom Forum finds this “ominous,” and a sign that the regime “will allow these attacks to continue.”
On one hand, there is really little Westerners can do about this short of making common cause with the brave demonstrators. President Obama has showed no signs of doing so. In fact, he is seeking common ground with the regime, not with its victims, and not with anti-Regime demonstrators in Iran.
On the other hand, Westerners have already made a huge difference in terms of supporting shelters for battered women, rape victims, and intended honor-killing victims in parts of the Muslim world, including Afghanistan. Recently, albeit in a fairly lawless way, a group of Afghan men were executed for the crime of gang-raping a group of married women.
Finally, it is crucial to understand that Western capitalism, colonialism, or imperialism has not caused such barbarism. These customs are indigenous to these regions, ethnicities, religions, and tribes. It remains an open question as to whether Western-style education and Enlightenment values can successfully influence such barbaric misogyny.