Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Inequality: A Rape Victim Shows How Saudi Arabian Women Face Constant Injustice

I try to keep an open mind when it comes to alternative religious and political agendas, and to remember that just because another culture’s morals don’t match my moral convictions doesn’t mean that culture is necessarily evil or wrong; it just means we have different perspectives.

Still, this headline challenges my desire to be open minded!

A woman, in Saudi Arabia, who was engaged at the time to a man she had never met, was gang raped by seven men over a year ago. But worse yet, she has been brutalized again, this time by the Saudi Arabian government, who has punished her in multiple ways for being attacked.

The saga begins with a 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman preparing for her arranged marriage and relocation to the United States with a 24-year-old Muslim American business man. The woman was contacted by a man claiming to have pictures of her, and requiring blackmail to return the photos. The photos were not compromising in nature, but were embarrassing, and the woman agreed to pay to keep her family’s honor intact.

She agreed to meet the blackmailer to purchase the photo. They met at a mall in Qatif, and were preparing for the exchange when a group of seven men abducted the pair from the mall. The woman was raped by all of the men, while the blackmailer was left untouched. At present the blackmailer has not been linked to the attack, and remains a free man.

The trial, in October of 2006, was a perfect example of the victim being on trial. She was forced to wait through the proceedings in a room with the rapists, who made offensive gestures at her regularly. One of the three judges had an issue with her lawyer, a human rights activist Abdulrahman al-Lahim, and eventually removed him from the trial, leaving her without a lawyer.

The seven men were sentenced to between 10 months and five years in prison for the attack. But surprisingly, the woman was also sentenced to 90 lashes for having met with an unrelated male, clearly indicting the woman for her own rape.

Al-Lahim felt that the punishment of the seven men was too short, indicating the attack constitutes Hiraba, or sinful violent crimes, and the punishment should be death, as indicated by the standing fatwa (edict) against Hiraba. Al-Lahim filed an appeal under these grounds, not even addressing the injustice of the woman’s lashes.

The court did not take the same attitude. They extended the prison sentences of the rapists to between two and nine years, nearly doubling the prison sentences for the attackers. But the court also doubled the sentence of the woman, giving her 200 lashes and a six month prison sentence, citing her contact with the media regarding the case. Al-Lahim has been stripped of his license to practice law, and faces a judiciary ethics hearing.

Saudi Arabia maintains many strict Islamic laws with regards to the rights of women. They must maintain a strict dress code, they aren’t allowed to drive, and require permission from a man to travel or have surgery. They are not allowed to testify in court except when not observed by a man, and they are not permitted to vote.

The Saudi government claims to have bettered the situation for women by creating courts to handle domestic abuse cases, creating labor law for woman workers, and establishing a human rights commission. And I admit these are all good steps. But in my mind, people are people, and everyone should be equal, and that includes women.

Of course, here’s where I find it difficult to maintain my belief that each culture has a right to its own beliefs. Fundamentally, I believe that no government has the right to pass laws that make any individual a second class citizen simply because of characteristics outside their control, such as religion, skin color, or sex. But I also have to admit that my values do not necessarily carry over into other cultures.

So where is the line? At what point do we say that something is a fundamental truth and must be recognized in all cultures, where as other things are variables that every culture has the right to decide on for them selves. All I do know definitively is that I am not qualified to define that line, though I can comment when I believe that one culture has crossed it.


Posted by Scottage at 3:18 PM / | |  

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When Fear Trumps Freedom

The House overwhelmingly passed HR1955, The Violent Radicalization of Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, sending this very controversial bill to the Senate. The loose definitions, unchecked appointments and broad powers provided by this bill make it potentially the most dangerous attack on freedom in the United States since the country’s conception.

HR 1955 has been developed under the basic conception that there is an equal or greater risk of a terrorist attack from a US citizen as there is from a foreign national, and that the government has to protect against this possibility. That makes a great deal of sense to me. This country is a melting pot, where individual loyalties differ greatly, and individuals may and will use terrorism to advance their political agenda.

But while an argument can definitely be made for safeguards against domestic terrorism, care has to be taken that these safeguards do not change the fundamental nature of our freedom. This is certainly not the case here.

HR 1955 utilizes very loose definitions on the threats to American society, so that nearly anything can be investigated. The bill utilizes this definition of violent radicalization: “The process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system to advance political, religious, or social change.”

This definition, upon which the bill is centered, is loose enough to include nearly any activity where people question the standing government. While the name mentions violence, the definition does not. So promoting a political party other than the party in power could fit in this definition. Promoting the morals of a given religion would also be taboo. Basically, anything which disrupts the status quo could merit investigation.

Under this definition, I would be worthy of investigation for a few reasons. As a Jew, I represent a different morality than Christianity, and some fundamentalist Christians (who do have a say in the current power structure) would consider that extreme. As a democrat, I certainly would be seen as maintaining a disparate belief system than the sitting government. Thus, I merit investigation under this definition.

The bill indicates a 10-person panel will be created to investigate these potential threats, as well as a “center for excellence”. However, these appointments will be made by the sitting president and director of homeland security, without peer review. This is fraught with danger, as a president can essentially create a panel that represents any ideology he wants to promote to police the entire society.

Plus, this panel will have extraordinary power, as it will be allowed to order surveillance on any individual, institute wire tapping and monitoring, and even detain individuals indefinitely without a hearing or even charges being pressed. Thus, if you happen to have a different set of views as the sitting government, they can have you investigated and ultimately plucked out of society without you having committed an overt act.

To me, this bill smacks of McCarthyism. It provides the government with a powerful tool to attack any dissenters, and has the potential to be utilized by any government to retain power by eliminating any real opposition. It threatens democracy at its core, and can’t help but remind me of Cold War Russia, where individuals were afraid to speak their own opinions for fear of being detained by the KGB.

I agree wholeheartedly that there is a growing threat of terrorism from US citizens, and that action should be taken to help prevent that. But at what point have we destroyed what makes our society great to protect it from our adversaries? When do we realize that terrorists have won simply by eliminating the freedom we hold dear? This bill threatens what America stands for, and provides a clear and present danger to the vision of our forefathers.


Posted by Scottage at 11:02 AM / | |  

Monday, November 19, 2007

And the Weight Lifts…

I never imagined the workload of going back to school. Papers sometimes as long as 30 pages, hundreds of pages of reading every week, and this eternal feeling like, if I just spent a bit longer, worked a bit harder, I might do better in class, and achieve my goals. It all takes on a huge meaning in my eyes, probably much greater than it should.

Add on the responsibility of a new class to teach, two new jobs, the growing pains of the radio station, and the daily work that goes into recovery, and I’ve got quite a bit on my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions that I have the toughest schedule around, or that my life is at all more hectic than so many people out there. But I do feel the additional pressures, and they weigh on me.

Until today!

Today was the last day of teaching for a couple weeks. I also have no classes this week, leaving me for the first time in a while with none of the responsibilities that play a constant role in my life. And as a result, I feel this tremendous weight taken off my shoulders. I know the weight will be back in a week, but for this week, it feels great!

This short pause is giving me a moment to look back at what I’ve accomplished over the past few months, and how far I’ve come. I feel stronger than I ever have, I’m really enjoying life with a clear head, and my new career path puts me in a position to really make a difference in people’s lives for the first time in my life. Beyond my wildest dreams!

Of course there have been disappointments along the way. I’ve felt alone during this period, spending a ton of time by myself. I don’t get to blog as much as I used to, or to get my feelings out, and frankly I love to write. Plus, I just don’t get the time to stop and enjoy the little things in life like I used to. So during this short break I’m going to work at all of those facets of my life.

The truth is that when I come back to classes in two weeks, I only have 3 weeks left in the semester. What’s more, I have a bit more than a week before I reach the year point in my recovery, a major milestone that I’ve been looking forward to.

The hope is that after I pass these milestones, I’ll have a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at all my tasks, and be able to find a better balance. So in many ways, I see the light at the end of the tunnel as I head in to the end of the semester. But I’m very thankful to have a week here to enjoy some of the aspects of life that haven’t been addressed as much over the past few months. And this is a total blessing!


Posted by Scottage at 3:07 AM / | |