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Islamic Feminism and the Literature of Torture

Islamic Feminism and the Literature of Torture

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Published by: amantedelibros11 on Sep 24, 2010
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Islamic Feminism and the literature of torture
Islam’s relationship with the West has always been a fraught one andcontinues to be so; even in the light of globalisation and the increasingly pressing calls for international co-operation. It has severely deteriorated inthe aftermath of that landmark event- the razing of the twin towers of theWorld trade Centre in September 2001. As many political analysts observed,on these brazen attacks on the nerve-centre of America’s political might, thePentagon and its economic hub could wake up America and the rest of theworld, which ironically, to most Americans is confined to America to thereality of Islamic terrorism. Many would allege that the CIA’s veiled andoften, blatant intervention in world affairs, particularly at the height of theCold War back-fired quite spectacularly back-fired on America.Subsequently, the disastrous military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraqdemonstrated American high-handedness amply. America’s nakedaggression in the afore-mentioned countries wreaked havoc and destruction-the law and order situation degenerated drastically in the face of civil war and insurgency. Looting, murder, kidnapping, rape and other crimes becamerife, increasing manifold in the wake of political instability and unrest. Themotive of the US invasion was to deliver the ‘hapless’ and ‘oppressed’inhabitants of Iraq from the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein as wellas on the grounds of suspected possession and manufacture of biological,chemical and nuclear weapons. But the real intention behind the war was toacquire an unshakeable grip on Iraq’s oil wealth. In the Islamic world ingeneral, even among the staunch allies of the United States in the Arabworld there was bitter condemnation of American aggression. The world ingeneral, along with these countries was profoundly disturbed and appalled by the many atrocities committed against civilians as well as rampant humanrights abuse by detention centres like the now infamous and notoriousGuantanamo bay. Already festering wounds and memories of humiliationsin the Islamic world re-opened in the light of such events. They have feltincreasingly threatened and secure- hence the need to re-adhere to religiousconservatism by means like the veil to assert one’s personal identity which becomes part of a larger religious and communal framework. The mistrustand suspicion, deep-rooted and all -pervasive has served to widen the rift between the Islamic world and the West even further. The Islamic world has been naively demonised and generalised as bigoted and rabidly fanatical.Many have remarked that it is the battle of the Cross and Crescent yet again-a modern crusade.
It is in this context that Islamic Feminism has come to occupy a place of necessary protest. The West has traditionally romanticized the concept of theharem in conjunction with the exotic Orient. The accounts of the Englishsuffragist Grace Ellison in a book titled
 An English Woman in a Turkish Harem
published in 1915 detail her experiences among women in Turkey.She shows genuine understanding of the manner in which reforms were bettering the lives of women and records the observation that women’semancipation even found favour among men. She was only interested in theraging debate of the day regarding the traditional Islamic dress. But likemany feminists of her day and even contemporary ones, she rued thegrowing number of women donning western garb, tending to romanticise theveil. Interestingly, when her Turkish friend, Zegreb Hamun visited her inEngland the tables were neatly and rather hilariously turned on Ellison. InHanum’s collection of letters collectively published as
 A Turkish Woman’s European Impressions
she dismissed the London ladies Club as dull andapathetic, lacking the mystery and charm of the harem. The veil is stillremains a contentious issue- some women shun it vigorously, saying thatIslam cannot be used as a premise to subjugate women’s freedom. Othersfind it liberating, saying that it grants them the freedom to move withouthindrance and work at professions like medicine and law, by allowing themthe scope to avert sexual harassment.Women in the Islamic world have been traditionally perceived as mutecreatures subject to the excesses of the predatory and barbaric Muslim malewho rules supreme over their ill-fated destinies, claiming loyalty and fidelityeven higher than Allah himself. The rise of the torture novel seems to feedinto this Western purview of the status or rather more aptly, so-called non-status of women in the Islamic world quite neatly. Authors like Jean Sassonspecialise in this highly sensational yet incredibly popular and extensivelyread genre of writing. Sasson has written a number of books like with titleslike
The Rape of Kuwait 
 Daughters of Arabia
 Desert Royal 
 Ester’s Child 
Mayada: Daughter of Iraq
. In the ‘Author’s note’ to
, which isapparently the real-life account of the lives of Saudi Arabia’s royal familyshe reveals herself to have been a close friend and confidante of PrincessSultana, whose family is closely related to the Saudi king. She confidentlydeclared herself to the instrument of conveying to the unsuspecting larger world the reality of Saudi Arabian society. She is the Princesses’ voice asSultans risks the castigation of the Saudi kingdom should she herself disclose the details of her life publicly. Saudi society is riddled with
contradictions and extremes and is openly and unabashedly discriminatorytowards women. As Princess Sultana tells us through the pages of Sasson’sstory, in spite of enjoying grandiose luxuries and living the high life repletewith royal privileges, she is only valued as the progenitor of male offspring.She has no right to mingle freely in a mixed society, drive in public, letalone vote in elections. The book is filled with shocking incidents thatconvey the degree of brutalisation of women and the atrocities they aresubjected to irrespective of rank, wealth, or status. For instance, the princesses’ beautiful sister Sara is drugged heavily to coerce her intomarrying a man more than thrice her age, as his third wife. This is stated to be an obviously economic match to further her father’s business prospects.Sara eventually attempts suicide as a result of sexual torture and though her father ruthlessly insists she remain married to the man in question, it isSultana’s mother’s brave resistance that eventually succeeds in annulling thehellish union. Sultana’s father’s fourth wife is her age and her father is seento divorce her during the course of the book. Perhaps Sasson claims rather ambitiously, to be the instrument of a vast improvement in the condition of women the world over-“These books about a feisty Saudi princess have changed have changed livesall over the world. Many young women worldwide now work to create anawareness and change. Students write to tell me that college courses arechanged so that they can work on issues related to women. Mothers write totell me that they are raising their sons to look upon their sisters, and other women as equal beings. Working together, we can make a huge differencein the role of women worldwide. I urge you to join Princess Sultana and mein our cherished goal to live in a world where every female has the right tolive a life of dignity.”The book is an ‘acclaimed international best-seller’ and has gained world-wide renown and has a faithful readership. At times, Sasson’s tone of narration seems to pander towards satisfying her reader’s curiosity about theinner workings of a royal family and their closely guarded secrets. There isvoyeuristic pleasure to be gained from the debaucheries indulged in quiteshamelessly by the princess’ brother and her father- it is a male ‘sport’which the father initiates the son into. The stories of the silently women,leading schizoid lives behind the cover of the veil are told with the rightdose of sentiment and the abuse of Islam in the hands of monetary wealthand influence is meant to shock quite rudely.

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