Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ladies, don't expect God's help

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

It’s been harder than usual in Lebanon this week to escape the Lord’s omnipresence. In addition to the “normal” allocation of public space to the country’s religious celebrities, as well as the Papal paraphernalia still yet to be taken down (three months later) and the homages to politicians (each one boasting varying degrees of divinity), you might well have noticed the ubiquitous new billboards bearing the (mostly lugubrious) faces of the premier Maronite, Greek Catholic, Sunni and Shia clerics.

As those who have paused to read the text will know, these are actually not yet more expressions of sectarian devotion, but in fact an initiative by the Resource Center for Gender Equality, aka ‘Abaad’ (“Dimensions”), to combat misogyny as part of the “International 16 Days Campaign of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls”.

Thus each billboard bears the face of one cleric, along with a quote of his ostensibly condemning violence against women on religious grounds. The Sunni grand mufti Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Qabbani, for example, cites ahadith (saying of Prophet Muhammad) affirming that “None but a noble man treats women in an honourable manner, and none but an ignoble man treats women disgracefully” (see here for all four quotes).

This is all, of course, an outrage and insult to anyone who takes the cause of gender equality seriously. So far from being the torchbearers of equality, religious institutions in Lebanon – as in every country on earth – are bastions of patriarchy and Leviathans of misogyny: the gatekeepers of “traditional values”, keeping women firmly and permanently under the boot. How stupid do they think we are? Is this not the very same Qabbani who, in June last year, rejected a draft law criminalizing domestic violence on the grounds that it would “[harm] the Muslim woman and [deny] her of the rights granted [to her]”? Is this not the same Qabbani who described as “heresy” the idea of criminalizing marital rape, warning that to do so would risk “[a] mother threatening [a] father with prison, in defiance of patriarchal authority”? Are these not the cronies of the Jamaa al-Islamiyah MP who, last December, said “There’s nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It’s called forcing someone violently to have intercourse”? Is this “treating women in an honourable manner”?

I don’t mean to impugn Abaad specifically – no doubt this campaign was well-intentioned. But asking for women’s rights from the religious establishment is like asking for Palestinian rights from a Zionist. The two are fundamentally antithetical. If women are ever to receive the justice they deserve, it will be by confronting and defeating the clerics, not collaborating in the whitewashing of their oppression.

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