Blaming Others (Farooq Sulehria)

The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age, have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world.

The report is no exception. The Muslim world cuts a sorry figure every time a global watchdog releases its findings. Freedom of expression here remains curtailed, Reporters Sans Frontieres annually reports. Regarding freedom of expression, there is a joke often told in Arab world. At a meeting, a US journalist says: “We have complete freedom of expression in the US. We can criticise the US president as much as we like.” The Arab journalist replies. “We also have complete freedom of expression in Arab world. We can also criticise the US president as much as we like.”

Similarly, it is either Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nigeria which is on top of Transparency International’s corruption indexes. However, when Nobel laureates gather in Stockholm every December, Muslim scientists and writers are conspicuous by their absence. In case, as Naguib Mahfouz is crowned, he is stabbed and rendered paralysed. The irony, or tragedy, is that his attacker had not even read his excellent books. Or we disown Dr Abdul Salam just because he belonged to the Ahmadiya community. Salam’s case deserves special mention since it underlines the absurdity that characterises this part of the world.

When all else fails, “Jews” and “Christian” West are there to lay the blame for all our ills. Conspiracy theories instead of scientific, rational thought holds sway across much of the Muslim world. And every time a rights abuse is highlighted in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, a typical Muslim answer is: Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya. True, imperialism and Zionism have a hand in our predicament. However, there are many wounds one can only describe as self-inflicted.

Take, for instance, the Iran-Iraq war, one of the last century’s bloodiest conflicts. There is no denying the fact that the United States backed the Saddam regime. But it was the Arab sheikhdoms, panicked at the Iranian revolution, that stoked the flames of war. And, ironically, now in the post-Saddam era when the “Christian” West has written off Iraq’s Saddam-era debt worth $66 billion, Iraq’s Arab brothers refuse to write off that country’s $67 billion loans.

Similarly, last century’s bloodiest Muslim genocide was not carried out by Serbs, Israelis, Americans, Europeans or Hindus. It was Pakistan’s military that refused to respect a democratic verdict and plunged East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, into an ocean of blood. Millions were killed, maimed, raped and rendered homeless. Luckily, Pakistan has a “Hindu” neighbour. “Hindus are born enemies of Islam’. Hence, Pakistani children are now taught that a Bengali traitor (revered by Bengalis as founder of Bangladesh), in connivance with our “Hindu” neighbour, dismembered Pakistan. Ironically, of all her South Asian neighbours, Pakistan enjoys most cordial relations with the world’s only Hindu state, Nepal. The other big genocide was perpetrated by Indonesia. The target was: its own citizens who were members of the Communist Party.

Figures are not available but Israel perhaps cannot match Iran in executing Arabs. Iran’s confessional regime is a champion of the Arab cause in Occupied Territories but Arabs of its Khuzestan province are regularly sent to the gallows. Seizing the opportunity, one may also point out how only recently Afghan refugees were driven out of Iran as if Afghan refugees were not as Muslim as Palestinians. And, by the way in the fallen “Emirate of Afghanistan” itself, Hazaras were slaughtered by the Taliban in their thousands almost a decade ago – mainly because Hazaras are Shia. In Iraq, more people have been killed in Shia-Sunni clashes than in resisting the US occupation. Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan have claimed more lives than those lost in its wars against India. Ironically, this only “nuclear power” of the Muslim world is not being occupied on its eastern front by its “Hindu” neighbour but is losing territory on its western front to its own citizens.

One can mention from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to the recent Hamas-Fatah infighting (a shameful tribute to Israel on its 60th anniversary). The list is long. Indeed, unending. However, the solution to all our problems is always simple: return to an imagined past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed. Every time, a scientist in the West is ready with an invention, our readymade answer is: we knew about it 1,400 years ago what the West has found only now. We kill Theo van Gogh when confronted with a film. We burn down our own cities in response to a blasphemous and racist caricature. Still, we refuse to understand that our answer to every “provocation” is either a fatwa or mindless violence – perhaps because creativity is anathema to us. Not because we lack fertile minds, but because we lack liberation and freedom — liberation from self-imposed mental, moral, and cultural censors. And freedom to think and express. Time to heed the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, who said:

Five thousand years

Growing beards

In our caves.

Our currency is unknown,

Our eyes are a haven for flies.

Friends,

Smash the doors,

Wash your brains,

Wash your clothes.

Friends,

Read a book,

Write a book,

Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,

Sail to the country of fog and snow.

Nobody knows you exist in caves.

People take you for a breed of mongrels.

This great article appeared in the The News International:
http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=118852

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Saudi wife arrested after going for an illegal drive

A woman has been arrested for breaking Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers.

She was stopped by a police patrol after driving six miles to collect her husband near their home in the town of Buraida.

As her ‘legal guardian’ he had to sign a declaration that he would not let his wife drive again.

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Saudi women look at a new car

Saudi women look under the bonnet of a new car at a showroom in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where women sell cars to female buyers. Although women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, they can own cars

It is not yet known if she has been released or if she faces legal action.

Saudi Arabia is the only country that forbids women from driving.

The ban is based on religious rulings from clerics who say it is un-Islamic.

Civil rights activists in the country have begun lobbying the government to lift the ban.

150 lashes and 8 months Prison for unchaperoned meeting with woman

A Saudi Arabian man has been sentenced to eight months in prison and 150 lashes after he was caught meeting a woman without a chaperone in a coffee shop.

Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza, a psychology professor in Mecca, was arrested by the Kingdom’s feared religious police, the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He was accused of breaking the Islamic injunctions under the Khilwa code, which restricts the independence of women. It stipulates that women must not meet men alone, other than relatives.

However the professor has alleged police entrapment. He claimed a history of personality disputes with the arresting officers, who were once his students. In his defence, Abu Raziza had said he had called the woman to ensure she had a chaperone but despite her assurances, she was alone when he arrived. No information has emerged about the fate of the woman since the incident.

Amnesty International has urged Saudi authorities to release the professor: “Saudi Arabia should stop needlessly persecuting people like this – we want to see a complete end to people in the kingdom being punished for ‘khilwa’ offences.”

Saudi Arabia wishes you all a happy Passover!

Which is interesting considering Judaism (and every other non-Islamic religion) is banned there.

Also worth noting, the official government policy openly proclaimed that Jews were forbidden from entering the country.

I am very interested in a statement made by Dr Alyami of The Center for Democracy and Human Rights (in Saudi Arabia. He stated“the struggle against slavery may have started thousands of years ago [but] it never stops and must not until we are all free from fear, oppression, hate and looming ideological threats.” Such a statement coming from Saudi Arabia is indeed worthy of special mention. Saudi Arabia is renowned worldwide for its treatment of women – women cannot drive, they cannot leave the home unaccompanied by a man, they have to seek permission to travel out of the country by a man, they have to abide by strict dress codes etc. In short, Saudi Arabia is not the most liberal and free country. Maybe coming from the West I have simply taken the statement on pure face value. In applying freedom of oppression my background gives such a term a relative meaning.

Could it be that the inequality between men and women in their culture is so institutionally oppressed that they do not recognise it as such?

Distinct from the treatment of women,  Saudi Arabia is renowned for its religious apartheid. Testifying before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on June 4, 2002, in a briefing entitled “Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: The Role of Women”, Ali Al-Ahmed, Director of the Saudi Institute, stated:

Saudi Arabia is a glaring example of religious apartheid. The religious institutions from government clerics to judges, to religious curricula, and all religious instructions in media are restricted to the Wahhabi understanding of Islam, adhered to by less than 40% of the population. The Saudi government communized Islam, through its monopoly of both religious thoughts and practice. Wahhabi Islam is imposed and enforced on all Saudis regardless of their religious orientations. The Wahhabi sect does not tolerate other religious or ideological beliefs, Muslim or not. Religious symbols by Muslims, Christians, Jewish and other believers are all banned. The Saudi embassy in Washington is a living example of religious apartheid. In its 50 years, there has not been a single non-Sunni Muslim diplomat in the embassy. The branch of Imam Mohamed Bin Saud University in Fairfax, Virginia instructs its students that Shia Islam is a Jewish conspiracy.

According to Freedom House’s 2006 report,

The Saudi Ministry of Education Islamic studies textbooks … continue to promote an ideology of hatred that teaches bigotry and deplores tolerance. These texts continue to instruct students to hold a dualistic worldview in which there exist two incompatible realms – one consisting of true believers in Islam … and the other the unbelievers – realms that can never coexist in peace. Students are being taught that Christians and Jews and other Muslims are “enemies” of the true believer… The textbooks condemn and denigrate Shiite and Sufi Muslims’ beliefs and practices as heretical and call them “polytheists”, command Muslims to hate Christians, Jews, polytheists and other “unbelievers”, and teach that the Crusades never ended, and identify Western social service providers, media outlets, centers for academic studies, and campaigns for women’s rights as part of the modern phase of the Crusades.

For a country to make such grand statements with such a horrible track record is bewildering. I hope there is sincerity in their words which they begin to work towards.

As a Saudi Woman

One recurring theme that troubles me to this day is that of the oppression of women in society. This subjugation of women transcends social status and cannot be blamed on class struggle per se. Although a Marxist may claim that the subjection resulted in the movement to a class society and the development of human labour capital, I believe this to be a fairly limited view.

Although, arguably, this may account for the development of the oppression of women as the inferior or second sex in the West, does it account for the oppression seen in religious ruled countries such as Saudi Arabia?

Before this is continued I recommend you read this article to summarily create the context of the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women appeal for legal freedoms

By Daniel Howden and Rachel Shields
Monday, 21 April 2008

In Riyadh, the college day begins for female students behind a locked door that will remain that way until male guardians come to collect them. Later, in a female-run business, everyone must vacate the premises so a delivery man can drop off a package. In Jeddah, a 40-year-old divorced woman cannot board a plane without the written permission of her 23-year-old son. Elsewhere, a female doctor cannot leave the house at all as her male driver fails to turn up for work. These scenes make up the daily reality for half of the Saudi Kingdom, the only country where women legally belong to men.

After more than a decade of lobbying, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has finally been granted access to Saudi Arabia, where it has uncovered a disturbing picture of women forced to live as children, denied basic rights and confined to a suffocating dependency on men.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, a critic of Saudi’s guardian laws that force women to seek male permission for almost all aspects of their lives, is one of a growing number demanding change. “Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything; I am utterly reliant on other people, completely dependent. If you are dependent on another person, you’ve got nothing. That is how the men like it. They don’t want us to be equals.”

The House of Saud, in alliance with an extremist religious establishment which enforces the most restrictive interpretation of sharia, Islamic law, has created a legal system that treats women as minors unable to exercise authority over even trivial daily matters.

The most egregious consequences of this repressive regime occasionally filter out from the Gulf Kingdom: the notorious case in Qatif of the girl who was jailed after being gang raped on a charge of consorting with a male non-relative; the schoolgirls believed to have burnt to death in Mecca as religious police would not let them leave the fiery premises without headscarves; or the happily married Fatima Azzaz from Mansour, forced to divorce her husband at the whim of her half-brothers.

Beyond these high-profile cases is a demoralising and sometimes ridiculous reality in which women cannot open bank accounts for their children, take them to the dentist or even on a field trip without the written permission of the father.

Petty humiliations are endemic. Two women who spoke to HRW said, in a report released today, that judges had refused them the right to speak in court as their voices were “shameful” – only their guardians were allowed to speak on their behalf. Saudi courts require a mu’arif (a male to identify her under the full face veil) before a woman can even attempt to testify.

“The Saudi government sacrifices human rights to maintain male control over women,” said Farida Deif from HRW. “Saudi women won’t make progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.”

The oil-rich kingdom lies at the bottom of the UN rankings on female empowerment and women make up only 4 per cent of the workforce.

The frustrations of Dr M are typical of those faced even by educated women:

“When I take my daughter to the doctor’s, they ask me where my husband is, and refuse to do anything until he comes to authorise it. Even if it is something small like an ear infection.”

Another woman who, despite the legal barriers, owns her own business, describes the farcical difficulties she faces: “Only women can enter my premises. If a delivery man needs to drop something off we have to exit the premises first. It is ridiculous.”

Trumpeted reforms from King Abdullah have had little impact on women’s lives. Too often, sex segregation results in an “apartheid” system in which facilities for women are either grossly inferior or non-existent. Women were denied the right to vote in the kingdom’s first municipal elections because there were no separate voting booths for them.

Even progress that is achieved often serves to underline the fundamental problem – that of legal guardianship of men over women. In the words of one Saudi woman: “We still need to get a male guardian – husband, father or brother – to sign a form saying where we are allowed to work and when. It is like we are their property.”

To be continuted…

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-women-appeal-for-legal-freedoms-812657.html

Man Beats (then shoots) Daughter to Death for Chatting on Facebook

A woman was beaten up and shot dead by her father for talking online with a man she met on the website Facebook.

It said the man shot his daughter after discovering she had been chatting online to a young man she had met on Facebook. Continue reading