IN THE FRAY OF CLASHING WORLDVIEWS
PART 3 of 4
By Debra Rae
In 1978, Lisa Najeeb Halaby married King Hussein and thereafter became the incomparable Queen Noor. That very day she converted to Islam. Her passage into the faith was by no means forced, but rather an expression of free will. Although Jordan Article 340 allows “honor crimes” whereby men can kill their wives, sisters or daughters accused of participating in illicit sex, the queen unashamedly portrays Islam as “a truly compassionate religion.”
To her credit, Queen Noor actively addresses education, health, women’s empowerment and human rights at home and abroad—albeit through rose-colored glasses. As a Muslim woman, the queen lives a charmed life free of restraints and abuses suffered by her counterparts elsewhere in the world.
Queen Noor is not among the estimated three million women and girls that, each year, undergo brutal female genital mutilation (female circumcision). Take, for example, Ali Hirsi. Yet another beauty and author, Ali suffered a childhood marred by genital mutilation and vicious beatings. In her autobiography, Infidel, Ali laments: "The excision of women is cruel on many levels. It is physically cruel and painful; and it sets girls up for a lifetime of suffering.”
Called “toys” by the prophet himself, virgins can be forced by their fathers to wed; indeed, Muslim marriages generally are arranged. Ali entered adolescence as a devout believer; however, when she escaped forced marriage to a distant cousin, Ali was disowned by her own father.
Unlike Queen Noor, Ali’s perspective is colored by her conversion from Islam to atheism. Her shift in worldview was influenced by 9/11 brutal attacks on America, after which Ali fingered Islam as "the new fascism." Violence is inherent in what she dubs this “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” The Islamic vision, she adds, is an universal caliphate society ruled by Sharia law under which women who have sex before marriage are stoned to death, homosexuals are beaten and apostates like herself are killed.
Ali is especially critical of the prophet Muhammed and the faith’s inequitable treatment of women. After all, the Muslim Holy Book comes from a man who at fifty-two years of age married a six-year-old child named Aisha. That marriage was consummated in Aisha’s ninth year and begs the question, “prophet or pedophile?” It is no wonder, Ali surmises, why so many Muslim girls die in child birth. They are simply too young.
Ali and Israel
From Ali’s perspective, many believe, wrongly so, that “Israel first has to withdraw from the territories, and then all will be well with Palestine." Contrary to prevailing thought, Islamic interests cannot be appeased by yielding territory and reducing the size of Israel. Ali understands that the issue is not the size, but rather the very existence of Israel.
Problem is, Ali explains, standards for judging the Palestinians are very low. A young, articulate Palestinian confided in Ali that their dilapidated quarters in Jerusalem were partly their own fault due to corrupt leadership. Residents say nothing for fear of reprisal, and most outsiders remain silent. This, of course, enables even more corruption.
In contrast, Ali observes, Israel is held to exceptionally high moral standards. Upon visiting Israel a few years ago, Ali was impressed that Israel is a liberal democracy in which men and women appear to be treated equally. Ali believes that, because Israel raises the bar high for her own actions, she “will always do well.”
Queen Noor, Ali Hirsi and Dr. Azar Nafisi represent three distinctive perspectives through the heart and mind of Middle Eastern women. Every week for two years, the latter, a notable Iranian scholar, met with seven, hand-selected women students to read and then discuss forbidden Western classics in the sanctuary of her living room.
For refusing to wear the chador, Nafisi was expelled from her professorship at the University of Tehran. Thereafter, in 1997, her husband, two children and she left for Washington DC. Years later, in 2003, Dr. Nafisi’s “Memoir in Books,” Reading Lolita in Tehran, was first published.
Nafisi describes crackdowns (following cycles of relative tolerance) by cultural purists in revolutionary Iran. Through the diversion of transformative fiction in the face of fascism, Nafisi and her students took intellectual respite from a ruthless regime “as capricious as the month of April.”
To be “westernized” earned three years’ imprisonment, even death. To show emotion—any emotion—was deemed non-Islamic, especially if that emotion happened to resemble love. Not only did the culture deny merit to works of literature, but also residents were forced to hide from view their satellite dishes; and movie houses were burned to the ground.
Theirs was a regime in which, up until 1994, the chief film censor was blind! Under the mullahs’ rule, Nafisi mused, their world was shaped by the “colorless lenses of the blind censor.”
One of Nafisi’s devout Muslim students had willingly donned the veil even before the revolution, but nonetheless was forced to spend five years in jail because of her affiliation with a dissident religious organization. Not even her pious background shielded this young woman from the ruthless ranting of Iran’s revolutionary regime.
In the equivalent of his dissertation, the supreme guardian of morality described an unlikely cure for man’s sexual appetites—that being, to have sex with animals. In an act of presumptive piety, the Ayatollah forbade the sex addict (or his immediate family and next-door neighbors) to eat the meat of sexual prey. That culinary concession was reserved for neighbors living at least two doors away!
Under the Mullah’s reign, the age of marriage was lowered to nine, and adulteresses and presumed-to-be prostitutes faced stoning. While men were given license to do the unthinkable, women were reprimanded and punished for biting into an apple or licking an ice cream cone too seductively; all females were forced to be ordinary and invisible. Pink socks were out of the question, and Morality Squads in the streets saw to it.
French filmmaker Pierre Rehov’s based his release, Suicide Killers, on interviews he conducted with their families. As such, he marveled how seemingly normal people with very nice manners aspire for their children to become Allah’s sword to smite the necks of infidels. Teaching a child to hate is the worst kind of child abuse. Nevertheless, being awarded the title shaheed (or saint) is the highest hope a devout Muslim mother tenders for her offspring.
Accordingly, to clear minefields by walking over them, “human wave” attacks mobilized thousands of very young Iranian boys, ten to sixteen years old. Religious leaders assured them that death in the service of Islam guaranteed an immediate placement of honor in heaven. At the portal of death, testosterone-driven, teen-aged boys anticipated eternal “pampering” from at least seventy beautiful, naked girls. Sadly, these vulnerable kids were well primed to “drink the Kool-Aid.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Nafisi writes, “that a Muslim man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife.” That being the case, it’s no wonder that the life of Lolita resonated with Nafisi’s girls. The desperate truth of Lolita’s story is less the rape of a pubescent girl and more “the confiscation of one individual’s life by another.” Lolita was not alone in that experience; meet Betty Mahmoody.
Not Without My Daughter
After many years of marriage to an Iranian doctor named Moody, Michigan-bred Betty Mahmoody agreed to a planned two-week vacation to visit her in-laws in Tehran with their young daughter, Mahtob. Once there, her husband insisted that they stay. When Betty objected, Moody beat her and confiscated all credit cards, money and identification documents. Denied access even to the telephone, Betty became a virtual prisoner with her daughter in the home of an unsympathetic sister-in-law.
It was then Betty learned a hard lesson that Iranian law affords women no legal rights concerning their children. When a husband dies, the father’s uncle, not the mother, wins custody. If Betty were to get a divorce, she could leave Iran, but Mahtob would remain with her father.
Once Betty expressed interest in converting to Islam—this, for strategic reasons—Moody trusted her to make short, timed trips to the market, where she met a businessman whose underground network assisted American women in her position. To make a long story short, following an arduous eighteen-month journey, Betty and Mahtob escaped to Turkey through harsh terrain of desert and mountains.
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Not surprisingly, Betty’s book, Not Without My Daughter, became one of the "most hated" books in Iran along with Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Both were banned.