Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Memo & an Article (I)

A memo from the US embassy in Baghdad to the State Department was leaked out. Is it normal to leak out cables between US embassies and Washington? I have no idea. What kind of message to be conveyed by leaking it out?

Anyway, an article by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent UK written as introductory to the memo says:
" The US and Britain have said they would withdraw their troops as the security situation improved, though the embassy memo suggests that it was, in fact, deteriorating. Britain said yesterday that it was to pull out 170 soldiers from Muthana province in southern Iraq when the Iraqi government took over security there next month."

This implies a negative subtext that America & Britain are ready to flee from Iraq at any time.

The memo says that an Iraqi female employee in the embassy:
"… was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighbourhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car."

Another said:
"… people in her neighbourhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones."

These stories remind me of a female colleague who approached me asking "What do you think? Should I wear a hijab (veil)?" and my answer was "It's up to you". That was about six years ago, when Saddam was in power. I wondered what made her think about wearing a veil since she had lived her whole life without wearing one (she was approaching her forties). She told me that the surrounding feminine community was keeping on harassing her for not wearing a veil. I asked about her point of view about wearing (or not wearing) a veil. Her answer was that Iraq climate is so hot which makes a veil unbearable. The conversation went like this, I said:
- Good point, then don't wear a veil.
- But Allah (God) ordered us to wear a veil.
- If you are convinced, then put a veil on.
- I'm asking you. What do you think?
- It's not me who will put on the veil, and you are the one to make a trade off between your religious belief and practical life.

Finally she was subdued by social pressure and she put on a veil.

I visit campuses from time to time, and I enjoy counting female students with veils and those without. On entering any campus (there are several in Baghdad), I start to count the number of girls whom I come across, categorizing them into (veiled & non-veiled). I played this game for more than twenty times and each time I find the ratio of females with no veils represents 25%-30%. Women feel it safer inside campuses to wear fashionable clothes than outside. On leaving the campus they jump directly into their family's cars or taxis which the families choose their drivers carefully to take the girls, in groups, to schools and colleges and back home. In the street, one can see unveiled women, but they wear very decent clothes and avoid any kind of make up. I'm talking about the center of Baghdad not some suburban neighbors.

It is not a new trend, in our society, to oppress women. It is usual to give vent to one's anger in the conduct of oppressing the weakest group. For that I believe a rational power is needed to maintain order to protect the weak people and minorities in Iraq. I doubt that an Iraqi party can play such a role, at least for the time being.

Women in Iraq are oppressed on several levels. A woman could bring disgrace to her family. So a close eye should be kept on her, watching every gesture she makes by the whole members of the family. Even the youngest male member in a family could oppress female members. The same woman could be criticized by the neighbors for a salute, a smile, a laugh, a way of walk, a kind of clothes…etc. This close watch would double if she is divorced or a widow. Another party which oppresses women is the clerics. They believe that they should force people to act, eat, walk, behave…etc in certain way. They do not persuade people, they compel them. And one of their favorite targets is women which represent the motive for devilish deeds according to their point of view.

Paradoxically, women in Iraq oppress themselves. About a year ago when the draft of the new constitution was under study, a group of Iraqi female members of the Shiite coalition organized a demonstration refusing equality with men. Iraqi extremists perceive women's rights as the beginning of ethical deterioration.

Away from this shallow way of viewing women's rights, many Iraqi women are denied their rights even according to Sharia (Islamic law). Inheriting is one of the basic rights granted to women in Islam, but it is normal to hear stories about denying women this particular right. Male partners in the inheritance may deprive the females of their shares.

So it is very normal practice in our society to target women since they can not defend themselves by using arms or protected by effective laws. And these same people who create the nowadays terrifying environment here in Iraq are completely ready to turn 180 degrees if they have the chance to live in western societies. I have heard many stories about the kind of life they lead in Europe & US. A member of the Ikhwan Muslmeen (Islamic Brethren) told me how his old comrades, who migrated to the UK, behave towards him when he visits that country. "They would never invite an Arab or Muslim visitor to their homes." he says, and the reason for not doing so is "The guest might reveal the kind of life the host's family leads; especially the female members who wear fashionable clothes and have their boyfriends." Still, they oppress their native societies through media.

There is a lot to be said about women's rights. To be continued…


Blogger Fayrouz said...


Thank you supportting women rights in Iraq. It means a lot to me.

Stay safe,

9:27 PM  
Anonymous TallDave said...

It can be a long struggle, moving attitudes toward tolerance of individual rights. Our prayers are with you.

9:07 PM  

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