Monday, August 9, 2010

Honor Attacks: What Rights Should Women Have? **Strong Graphic Content Advisory**

"However, some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice."
— Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Today I had an interesting exchange with a reader who found the blog through a Google search for Aisha. She asked me whether I would condemn Islam. When I countered that I wasn't sure, especially considering I have several friends who are Muslim, that I could condemn an entire group of people based on their religious practice, she said I was wrong and that I didn't understand Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book which I so admire, and that I didn't get the real picture. I asked her why and she told me about honor attacks on women, both rapes and acid attacks. I asked her to tell me more. She said that I already had access to more right here in the US and that I ought to pay better attention. She offered to send me some links to prove her point. What she sent me were truly heart-wrenching reminders, an article by Nick Kristof (whose book, Half the Sky, ironically enough, I was rereading while I traveled to BlogHer this past weekend) and a link to a series of photos

It is very hard to argue with my correspondent when she sends me to these images. And I bet that there are very few people on the planet who think that any woman deserves what has happened to the women who can be seen in the moving photos here and at All Eyes. But sadly, her point is that there are clearly some people who do, or we wouldn't have human beings who have suffered such horrifying crimes. And those people would likely be, in this case, Muslim Pashtuns who believe they have the right to treat women this way because of some misguided (in my mind) idea about what honor is.

Saira Liaqat, who rejected living with her husband at age 15.

The photo at the bottom, in her hands, is what Saira looked like before her marriage. Saira has had numerous surgeries to look as she does in the current photograph.

Kanwal Kayum, who was burned with acid after she rejected a proposal of marriage.

These women are Pakistani. It gives one pause for thought to think that these women live in a country far more powerful and modern than Afghanistan. You can see the fates of some Afghan women in Women for Afghan Women's video below. Those are the women, like Bibi Aisha, who have managed to survive. It is frightening to think how many may not have.

Even if I cannot condemn an entire group based on a belief system (as opposed to specific beliefs advocated, such as honor attacks or punitive actions for women's crimes which in the West would bear no consequence beyond disdain), I won't forget these women, Nadwa. I won't forget you, and that you live this world every day. Neither I hope, will you, my readers.

While I still think I understand Ayaan Hirsi Ali's message, her books, her passion to show the West the realities of Islam, I don't think the problem of inhumane treatment of women is just an Islamic problem. Floggings, stonings, acid burnings, self-immolations may be tied to Islamic nations, but what about the horrifying and mutilating rapes as war crimes in Congo, sex-trafficking in Brazil and Cambodia and bride-burnings even in Hindu areas of India?

What do we consign women to, in the far corners of the world, when we look away? Can we, as a race, ever move forward if fifty percent of the population is consigned to such horrific treatment as we see for these Afghan and Pakistani women? What about the women of Congo, Cambodia, India, Brazil and so many other places? We all need to safeguard each other. 

I run down the list of the items in WfAW's video and count myself blessed many times over. And I never want to be silent while any women endures any less than what I myself am lucky to have had on that list...

Related to this issue, I direct my readers yet again to Cynical Nymph's post on the French Niqab ban.

Women need to be seen to be equals. And they need not to live in continual fear of being victimized and abused as have all the women in this post and its links for being seen as people with the rights to make choices about their lives as if they are equals.

Note added: I know that several of my readers have voiced their feelings that in the past week, what with the Time cover of Aisha and now the photos of acid attack victims, my posts are getting really hard to look at. Yes, it's true that I'm with the editorial staff at Time, that it's time to rip the veil off the ugliness of what's going on in other places of the world to women who otherwise might be just like you and me. The whole idea of the veil, the niqab, the burka, is an apt analogy. It hides bruises, burns, and so much more.

So on the one hand, I have someone urging me to show more and condemn more, and on the other hand I have several people telling me they can't bear looking at this page lately. (And sorry if I sound snarky when I replied that if you don't like looking at it, imagine living it...)

All I know is that people need to see these images. They need to know. Because it's the only chance of stopping it we, as women, have.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. One of the very, very few issues that can anger me is the indifferent manner in which the world views the inequality of women. There is much editorializing and endless rhetoric over racial issues, but not so much over gender.

    Although, practically speaking, I don't know what we in America can do about it.

    It is a wonderful thing that Barack Obama was voted President, it would have been ever so much better had Hillary Clinton won. I voted for her anyhow...

  2. It is hard to look at. I think you should keep posting these things.

    Like you, I cannot condemn Islam itself for these things, any more than I can blame Christianity for the bombing of abortion clinics. The (very few) Muslims I know are no more or less barbaric than anyone else, which says to me that the problem is more cultural than religious. And I really don't know how to solve that. Social pressure? Better education? Increased modernization? Some or all of the above, and more besides?

    "She said that I already had access to more right here in the US and that I ought to pay better attention."

    While I do understand her frustration with people's apparent indifference, I'm not sure that's entirely fair. What sort of person would go looking for accounts of real people who have been mutilated, in the normal course of things? (It's different once you learn that this sort of thing does happen in the modern world, and is far more common than I would have believed possible.)

  3. Michael, in Nadwa's defense, I think her point is that I'm portraying things as my researching these topics on my blog (in fact it's one of the things I get compliments on). She's right because I hadn't reviewed the Nick Kristof article in a long time (it's from 2009 I think) and didn't know about the All Eyes article at all. My friend Sally had sent me a link to an article on honor killings last month so some of this was brewing in my mind but I do see her point and most of all I feel her frustration with the West's continuing involvement but failing to stimulate any real change. In an interesting exchange she pointed out that these honor crimes and wife burnings are often illegal and yet no one is ever charged when the crimes are illegal. She thinks Americans stay around long enough to get a law on the books that is little more than appeasement but there is no political will (on either side) to effect change in the actual conditions in which women are forced to endure such horrors or even just exist in continual fear of them.

    I just can't go with it as far as she, or perhaps even as far as Hirsi Ali does. I'm actually just staring her new book, Nomad, and am curious to see how it evolves.