L’Infâme: Clericalism Unzipped
Regression unraveled, and revered
When Religion Is the Rapist
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, October 26, 2006
Back between August and September 2000, Sydney was hit by a series of gang rapes by 14 Lebanese men, most of them involving girls younger than 18, most, if not all, racially motivated. The men were caught, and nine men were sentenced to a combined 240 years. In a Ramadan sermon last month (available here in full, but in the original Arabic) Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia’s senior Muslim cleric, spoke on adultery. He referred to the Sydney gang-rapes, although not by name. He spoke about women who “sway suggestively” and wear make-up and immodest dress, provoking assaults, “and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years.” (One of the men, Bilal Skaf, the ring-leader whose posse members were known to call their victims “Aussie Pig” and ask them if “Leb cock tasted better than Aussie cock” before being raped “Leb-style,” got 55 years, a sentence later reduced on appeal.) “But the problem, but the problem all began with who?” the Muslim cleric asked his Ramadan audience of 500. “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.”
Of course, if you’re the yahoo cleric dumb enough to put the meat out and think it has a mind of its own, the fault is your congregation for ever thinking you capable enough to preach intelligently the first place. But Muslim clerics have this tendency to speak in infantile allegories that condescend to audiences taken for mobs of little children. So you get sentences like “the uncovered meat is the problem.” And like this: “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.” Wait. Like a thirty-minute commercial for steak knives, there’s obviously more: Women are “weapons” used by “Satan” to control men, the cleric told his Aussie audience. “It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).”
This by a cleric “revered by the Muslim community almost everywhere he goes in Sydney's southwestern suburbs, the nation's Arab heartland, according to The Australian’s Natalie O’Brien, a man “so popular he is never allowed to pay for a meal when he eats in Muslim restaurants. When others offer to pay for him, they are also politely refused. ‘He is the Mufti and we are happy to provide for him,’ says the owner of La Roche, a Lebanese restaurant in Lakemba.” The mufti apologized for his Ramadan sermon, but the words, the belief, remains: women are the weapons of mass destruction.
Islam today is like the U.S. Congress. Every time you think the moderates might be resurrected from self-induced cryogeny, the fringes upstage them again. The Aussie cleric thinks he’s living in Pakistan. There, recall, and since the introduction of the so-called Hudood Ordinance in 1979 (part of Pakistan’s Islamization), rape is almost always the woman’s fault. By law, if she wants her rapist prosecuted she must prove that he raped her, and do so with the eyewitness accounts of four men, who must attest to the fact that the woman was actually penetrated. It’s unclear if the law considers forced fellatio penetration or if it takes a Clintonian view of the act. If a woman accuses a man of rape but fails to produce the witnesses, or if the witnesses fail to prove that penetration occurred, then the woman will be charged with adultery. As an adulteress she can then be stoned to death (as one such woman was in early 2005, in “liberated” Afghanistan), or, more likely, imprisoned, because in a twist of compassionate conservatism, four male witnesses are also required to prove adultery worthy of a capital stoning. Meanwhile the “tradition” of gang-raping women in retribution for other family members’ misdeeds, or so-called “vendetta rapes,” continues, in Pakistan as elsewhere. The Pakistani prime minister has been trying to amend the law, but in Pakistan as in the United States, one must kowtow to the religious reactionaries. Amendments have so far failed. This in a country that calls itself democratic (at least nominally), and a country that the United States calls a principal ally.
Let’s not be too quick to judge—not Pakistan, and not that cretinous cleric in Sydney. At least not exclusively. Violence against women is a global problem. Pakistan’s law and the Sydney cleric express more crudely what western attitudes, especially evangelical attitudes, and even western law, project differently, if not necessarily less lethally. Here’s a quote from a seminar text by Bill Gothard, favorite of Southern Baptists inculcating their young in the modes and means of marriage. See if you can pick out the parallels Between Gothard’s and the Sydney cleric’s words: “The essence of submission is not ‘getting under the domination of authority but rather getting under the protection of authority.’ Authority is like an ‘umbrella of protection,’ and when we get out from under it, we expose ourselves to unnecessary temptations which are too strong for us to overcome. [emphasis mine.] This is why scripture compares rebellion and witchcraft—“rebellion is the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23). Both terms have the same basic definition—subjecting ourselves to the realm and power of Satan.” (From the Institute in Basic Life Principles’ “Basic Seminar Textbook,” p. 20.)
Gothard, who, in common with clerics of all strips, has been known to have a problem with his own zipper, teaches that divorce is unacceptable in any circumstances, even when a spouse is clobbering the other for sport. The clobbering, in the United States as elsewhere, is rampant. There are no public stonings. But there are baseball bats behind closed doors, and fists, and boots. What difference does it make if the violence is dressed up in designer modernism? The results are the same, and they usually result from one common denominator: religiously bred views of women as second class citizens. Or as the Sydney cleric so gracefully put it, as meat.
So it isn’t just cretinous Muslim clerics who go around claiming “she wanted it.” And it isn’t just Sharia law that perpetuates the attitudes. American federal law can have its moments of stupor, too. Remember United States v. Morrison in 2000? The Supreme Court, in one of its infamous 5-4 decisions (the very same 5-4 breakdown that anointed George Bush president, incidentally), declared that victims of rape, domestic violence and other crimes “motivated by gender” could no longer sue their attacker in federal court. The original suit was brought by Christy Brzonkala, who’d been raped in her college dorm by two football players. She “withdrew from Virginia Polytechnic Institute,” the Times reported, “and brought her suit after learning that the football players, Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, would not be disciplined by the college. When the defendants then challenged the constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act, the federal government intervened in the suit to defend the law.” Christy Brzonkala lost. Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, that alleged centrist, won.
Naturally, this is not to excuse the likes of our cretinous cleric in Sydney, but only to point out what ought to be a little more obvious than cretinous assumptions à-la-Good Morning America allow it to be. Islam’s extremists make the West feel superior, enlightened, virtuous. But we’re in an enlightenment crisis for a reason: what the West has best to offer—like Islam, which had (and has) plenty to offer—is getting corroded from within. Only we’re too busy reveling in Islam’s “terrorists” to notice our own, more pernicious (because more effective and lasting) ones. There is a commonality of backwardness that doesn’t stop where Islam’s Crescent leaves off—and indeed that intensifies the more you watch that crescent turn to a crucifix as you sink it deeper, Linda Blair-like in “Exorcist,” into the American evangelical mons veneris occasionally known as red-state America.
And in our case we don’t have the excuse of a despotic regime, of Wahhabites or ayatollahs, imposing their barbarism. In our case the backwardness is freely elected, its judges appointed by duly elected presidents. In our case, we chose the backwardness. We wanted it.