Monday, September 07, 2009

OPINION: Fourth Column in Crescent Times - Why Pain Matters More Than Prejudice ...

These days Alexander Downer finds himself working for the UN on a big fat tax-free salary. He travels between freezing New York, sweltering Adelaide and the even hotter Cyprus. Not bad for our longest serving (and some would say worst) foreign minister.

But things weren’t always so exciting for Mr Downer. Back in 1995, his reign as the Federal Liberal Parliamentary Party’s shortest serving leader ended with the release of a set of motherhood statements parading as policies entitled The Things That Matter.

In the presence of journalists, Downer made this ... er ... joke:

When we release our domestic violence policy, [it will be] the things that batter.

In one verbal swoop, he managed to offend at least a certain 51 per cent of the electorate born female. Downer later explained it was all a joke. His party colleagues weren’t laughing, and made sure he didn’t last in the job beyond a few days over eight months.

Jokes about domestic violence are no joke in Australia, making insensitive remarks about female and/or child victims of physical or sexual violence and their families
shouldn’t be seen as funny anywhere.

So one could hardly expect imams and Muslim preachers like Melbourne’s Samir Mohtadi (also known as Abu Hamza or “Hamza’s dad” presumably because his eldest child is named Hamza) to get away with advising Muslim men that it is permissible to bash one’s wife. Presuming, of course, that’s what he actually said. But anyone taking the time out to watch the 4 minute excerpt of Abu Hamza’s speech on the website of the Melbourne Herald-Sun and other News Limited tabloids across the country during the week of the Australia Day long weekend would soon realise Abu Hamza didn’t exactly endorse wife-beating.

However, the part of what Abu Hamza said that I think is worth focussing on is his suggestion that it’s impossible for a man to rape his wife. At least that’s how I interpreted what he said. We cannot be sure exactly what Abu Hamza meant by these words when he said them in 2002, since only a badly edited excerpt is available. Exactly why his words were reported by tabloids across the country on the eve of Australia Day in 2009 is also unclear. Is it yet another case of American-owned tabloids wanting to spread prejudice under the guise of Australian patriotism?

What we do know is that the vast majority of incidents of sexual assault are by men against women they have a pre-existing relationship with – an acquaintance, a date or even a partner or spouse. It is estimated that at least 10% of Australian women will be sexually assaulted by their husbands.

Rape is under-reported as it is, and too often its victims suffer in silence. Indeed, as the South African Muslim scholar Farid Esack says, female victims of rape are double victims. They are victims of the act itself and are then victims of a kind of enforced or pressured silence based on false notions of shame. Imagine being a victim and having an extra layer of shame due to the perpetrator being the father of one’s children.

What hurts much more than double standards and prejudice and bigotry of tabloid editors is the too-often silent pain of female victims of all races and creeds and classes. Violence against women is all too common in Australian households. What kind of sick man gets his kicks out of forcing any woman, let alone his own wife, to have s-x with him?

Sadly, the answer all too often is an Australian man. That man can belong to any religion or no religion at all. That man can be of indigenous or immigrant stock. But if we focus on one set of perpetrators, it means we ignore other perpetrators. And that does injustice to all victims.

When news reports of the words of imams create an environment of prejudice, inevitably it is Muslim women who suffer more. Your average Muslim bloke, even if he wears an impressive beard, could easily be mistaken for a Sikh or a fanatical ZZ Top
fan. But not a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or niqab.

It’s hard enough for our female folk to have to cop nasty stares and abuse for most visibly personifying a despised religious culture. But when these same women cannot even feel safe from their own husbands, when our sisters know that imams and shaykhs are teaching husbands that raping your wife is okay, surely this must magnify the burden of prejudice our sisters in faith already face.

In an environment like this, where non Muslim men and women abuse them and where Muslim husbands are taught it’s okay to rape them, is it any wonder so many of our sisters who would regularly wear hijab in public are now removing it? Why should Muslim women cop the lion’s share of abuse when Muslim men (including imams) are silent on issues of domestic violence?

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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