Family values

Brian Whitaker on ‘family values’.

I always find it strange that when President Bush talks about spreading freedom in the Middle East he automatically focuses on authoritarian regimes…Yes, the regimes are a problem but families are the most basic unit of government in the region; at a day-to-day level, they are also the main instrument of tyranny and the biggest obstacle to personal liberty. I have lost count of the times I have sat in cafes – in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and similar places – listening to complaints about the suffocating influence, not of the government, but of fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins.

Whitaker notes that Bush skips lightly over authoritarian regimes that are US-friendly, though he doesn’t actually spell out the words S-a-u-d-i A-r-a-b-i-a. But anyway, too right about families (not that Bush would ever say so, of course, being a family values kind of guy, as well he might be, since without family connections he would be the affable local drunk, not the most powerful man in the world). Families are indeed the bedrock sources of tyranny and obstacles to freedom, especially (obviously) for women. In many ways, blocking the freedom of women is what families are for.

The MCB condemned ‘honour’ killing in 2003. It said a couple of, um, interesting things in the process though.

In various countries throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and parts of South Asia, women who bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions are forced to pay a terrible price at the hands of male family members.

Note the assumption that women do in fact bring dishonor to their families because of sexual indiscretions; note the assumption that what women do sexually is their families’ business – without any stipulation or limit, so that it applies not just to married women but to all women, so that it could include adult single women living on their own. Note the assumption that, like Islam, a family is something you’re not allowed to opt out of or leave or even be slightly independent of; note the assumption that women belong to their families and that what they do ‘brings’ things to their families. Note the claustrophobia, note the complete absence of freedom and autonomy, note the prison bars.

Islam is clear on its prohibition of sexual relationships outside of marriage. This prohibition does not distinguish between men and women…In order for a case to even be brought before a Muslim court, several strict criteria must be met. The most important is that any accusation of illicit sexual behavior must have been seen by four witnesses; and they must have been witness to the act of sexual intercourse itself.

And that applies to rape too – which of course means that women bound by these laws can’t ever prosecute a rapist. (What rapist would be insane enough ever to allow the number of spectators to swell to four?! They never ever invite more than three people to watch; if one brings along a buddy from work, no use, he can’t stay, no matter how hard he begs.) That’s not such a ‘progressive’ or compassionate rule as the MCB makes it sound.

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