Friday, February 22, 2008

Body as Battleground

All our hearts ached for the victims of the devastating tsunami a few of years ago. One of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Many people asked why such a horrible thing would happen. How could so many innocent lives be taken like that? Who knows why things like this happen. Who knows God's plan. Who knows why God planned that.

Well, it seems some people in Indonesia do know why it happened and have found the culprits. Yay! Actual people to blame. But guess whose fault it is? Well, no, not the West. Not directly at least though one could argue there may be an indirect connection. Anyhow, guess again. That's right! WOMEN!

Why is that not a surprise to me? According to my friend, and journalist, Natasha Fatah, the right-wing conservatives of Banda Aceh have been blaming the women of the town for the calamity. In her article, Religion and natural disasters shouldn't mix, Fatah tells us how, following the tsunami, the local sharia-pushing conservatives found the perfect opportunity among the terror-ridden residents to spread their version of events. According to them it was the immorality of the women that caused God to punish them. To protect from further disasters they forced many restrictions on the woman. These self appointed morality police banned night time concerts so women would not be out at night and movie theatres were closed so that men and women would not be in the same dark space.

What was their proof? That's right. They had proof. The naked dead bodies of women from the disaster. When the force of the water hit these women, for many it ripped the clothes (sarongs and nightgowns) off their bodies. However, these guardians of Islam provided an alternate explanation saying that they were naked because of their immorality and this was God's way of punishing them, as well as everyone else for allowing them to be immoral.

Now this is getting to be an extremely old story. Whenever so-called Islamic law is implemented the first victims are always women. Always. They are the prey for the perverted, testosterone-thirsty (because real men, who follow the example of the Prophet (pbuh), would never behave this way), estrogen-hating 'mullahs.' Women are less powerful than men. They are easy targets. Easy to push around and bully. Their bodies are vessels for a very weak, fragile, and restless morality which, if not carefully watched, will find the first opportunity to escape into the real world to cause chaos, or fitna (disorder or chaos), among society. Therefore, they, like little, naive children, need to be instructed and ordered so that they do not harm themselves or others.

Fatah, in her article, quite aptly points out the 'female body as battleground' phenomenon.

A woman's body is always the easiest battleground for religious zealots. It's hard to monitor honesty and morality but it's easy to chastise a woman if her hair is showing, if her clothes are too tight, if she's talking to a man in private, if she's out after 9 p.m.

For centuries it seems the female body has become a political battleground around the world. No part of the world is guiltless. Whether it be using rape as a weapon of war or telling women how to dress, this is an international and ageless tragedy. However, in recent times it seems Muslim countries have made the female body a favourite playground for their war games.

Iran and Saudi Arabia tell women she must cover her body from head to toe, she must have a male relative accompany her body when outside the home, her body must not drive - all to guard the morality of society, all to control this sexual being who was created to wreak havoc. *

Turkey tells women they must not cover their heads so that the rest of Europe does not see them as extremist or sympathetic to the fundamentalists. After all, we all know that only those extreme women wear the hijab.

Women everywhere are told to veil for two common reasons. The first is to protect the morality of the Muslim Ummah. The morality of the Muslim Ummah lies in her body. If she uncovers her hair her sexuality will be released to wreak havoc and will lead to the ultimate destruction of the Ummah. The second, to pledge allegiance to other Muslims and demonstrate solidarity. The hijab is a clear label of Muslim-ness. It clearly tells the whole world you are a Muslim. Therefore, to show the Ummah's pride and confidence Muslim women must cover.

Just as these occurrences in Indonesia point out, the female body is still a ripe and 'fertile' battleground. Used to instill fear in people's hearts, her body terrifies men into oppressing. This makes this tactic extremely successful for those in the business of using bodies. How and when we will be able to defeat this is one question I wish we could answer but unfortunately this plague seems impossible eradicate.

* Read Fatima Mernissi's description of Imam Al-Ghazali's interpretation of female sexuality. The idea of woman as fitna-causing originate with him.
Mernissi, F. (1987). Beyond the veil: Male-female dynamics in modern Muslim society. Bloomington : Indiana University.

1 comment:

Jehanzeb said...

I can't believe what I just learned about al-Ghazali. After I read your post, I ran a search on him and his views on women. I was shocked.

As for blaming uncovered Muslim women for the Tsunami.. it's really an outrage and it makes me question whether or not these people know anything about Islam at all. Even if the women did cover, they would still find another reason to blame them.

Women are not the only ones who should speak out against this, men should also speak up as well because this is their religion too. Men should be take part in the women's rights movements and play an active role.