as that may sound, if she is found guilty she will be whipped 40 times tearing her skin into
a bloody pulp. She was arrested in July when the Public Order Police (I swear that is their
title) raided a cafe in Khartoum and arrested her and twelve other women for violating
the nation's indecency law. Ten of the women have been convicted and whipped already,
but Hussein and another woman decided to fight the law in court. Hussein would receive
40 lashes, but says she will take 40,000 if necessary to abolish the law.
Other than protecting the lives of my wife and family, I can't think of anything else
so precious to my principles for which I would allow myself to be tortured like this. My
admiration of her courage knows no bounds.
There are a number of reasons why the plight of Ms. Hussein is important. First, if
we want to identify societies that represent a possible threat to our national security; we
need to look at those who have a terrible human rights record, and in particular, oppress
and degrade women and refuse to grant women equal rights. If we look at Pakistan or
Turkey, we see nations with large Muslim majorities, but also nations that have recognized
the rights of women (yes they could be better, but so could we).
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, bells and whistles should have gone off in
Washington, D.C. They immediately imposed Shariah Law and women were treated as
third class citizens. It was only a matter of time before we would have to confront them.
How women are treated is like the canary in the coal mine. It's an early warning device.
Despite this, the role of women in many of these countries is rarely at the top of our
priority list when dealing with them. When President Omar al-Bashir took over the Sudan
in 1989, and imposed Shariah Law and a crackdown on women; it should have drawn
immediate condemnation from the West. It did not. Since Bashir assumed power in a
coup, he has given aid and comfort to al Qaeda (including accusations of protecting Osama
bin Laden); and is now under indictment by the World Criminal Court in the Hague for
his role in the genocide against members of the Tutsi tribe, in which as many as two million
people were massacred. Why is it that oppression of women so rarely stirs us to act and
then usually too late?
Ms. Hussein says the indecency law is not supported by the Quran. She challenges
any government official or cleric to show her a verse in the Quran that speaks of whipping
women because of a dress code. This brings up the second reason this story is important.
It once again raises the specter of religious fundamentalism. If how a nation treats women
is a sure indicator of a future clash with our values, fundamentalism comes in a close second.
It doesn't matter if it is Islamic, Jewish, or Christian fundamentalism. Religious
fundamentalism and the denigration of women's rights go hand in hand. Religious
fundamentalism is antithetical to intellectual rigor, pluralism,, and democracy. Religious
fundamentalism tolerates no dissent and allows for no market place of ideas to compete
against each other. One of the worst decisions of the Bush administration (and it's tough
to single out just one) was to write a constitution for Iraq which allows Shariah courts
to have the last word on all laws passed by the Parliament. This will eventually lead to
a clash between fundamentalist and secular forces which could easily tear fragile alliances
apart and return wholesale violence to the nation. If Iraq begins to oppress women again,
what will the response of the United States be?
We face our own fundamentalism in this country. They want to impose their view
of morality on the rest of us. These fundamentalists have fought a rear guard action
against the expansion of women's rights for more than forty years. They would be
comfortable with American indecency laws; and they would be happy to control what
we read, movies we see, television we watch, and conversations we engage in. They are
a direct threat to the freedom we enjoy under the Bill of Rights.
Whether you read Hebrew scriptures, Christian scriptures, or the Quran; it is clear
that ethical behavior, kindness, love, and care for others are themes that run through
all these. Oppression, intolerance, prejudice, injustice are themes that run consistently
through fundamentalism. We have to be willing to stand up for great traditions and
reject those who would use God or Allah or Yahweh to push their own perverted agendas.
A woman in the Sudan is willing to put her body on the line to challenge radical
fundamentalism, and this country should be doing everything it can to support her. This
is not the time for diplomatic niceties. This is the time to realize that a nation that will
whip a woman for wearing pants is a nation we will eventually have to confront in the same
way. Lets start now. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.
Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org