Just over a year ago there were a spate of articles concerning the alarming levels of sexual harassment in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt. At the same time, we find an increasing number of women choosing to wear the hejab in order to "protect themselves". To me it seems that the Arab world is polarising between deep religiosity or a complete lack of inhibitions and the discussion about what is to be done is no less divided. I find religious people telling me this is all because we have abandoned Islam, that if we held on to it, all of our problems will disappear. On the other end, I find the secular "Imam's" of our time who advocate a complete end to censorship in any form and the abolishing of religious influence on society or politics in any way. The line of argument seems to be that religion and sexual frustration are intertwined, and that if you take away the former, then people will adopt a more enlightened and relaxed attitude to sex which will do away with sexual harassment.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
I don't subscribe to either view. I think that marriage has been institutionalised and formalised in a way that it wasn't with the early Muslims. This makes it extremely difficult for the average Abdullah, driving a micro-bus, after having graduated with an engineering degree, to marry, or for the average Salma to meet anybody and marry them because of the siege mentality imposed by families with daughters today - well, the ones that still care about these things at least. Marriage becomes unattainable, so people are expected to wait out their twenties till they have a successful business or job, a house, car and then they can crown the cake with the cherry on top, the obedient wife who will help him form a family.
That's just stupid. The Arab middle and upper classes have imported aspects of the American dream - the fully furnished house, car and 9 to 5 job, and merged it with Arab traditionalism and over the top formalities, to create this kind of ridiculous sideshow of faux-pageantry and "Dallas" style drama into a fairytale landscape which is actually a nightmare. Those unable to wait long enough become nihilistic and bitter. The men have their secret pornography collections or a discreet selection of "flats" in parts of the city which they can visit, then insist on marrying a virgin, whilst women fall into the cycle of having a stream of boyfriends, but then not getting married because they are not virgins. The fairytale crumbles.
But how does this explain sexual harassment? Like I said, I do not believe that either of the two solutions proposed above has ever been the answer. In fact, I don't think anybody has ever openly discussed what the real problem is. We are ruled by dictators who have crushed any and all forms of expression beyond the absolutely trivial. They use religion with one hand, and secularism with the other, to keep people angrily pointing fingers at each other.
The "sultan's" religion is used to pronounce outrageous fatwa's which in one way legitimate the rulers, and in the other, keep people obsessed with trivia - see the fatwa ordering the killing of Mickey Mouse, the fatwa about allowing a man to work alone with a woman in an office if he is breastfed by her and so on. There was even a fatwa about how prayer obligations can be met in space.
The secular stick is used to provide modern entertainment and culture. The ONLY form of censorship in the Middle East is political. You can get all the pornography you wish for, all the sex that you'd like, all the drugs or alcohol that you want, through the correct channels, just conveniently out of the way in order not to form a contradiction with the religious arm, but not so out of reach as to make them unattainable out of any genuine interest for the people's welfare.
Notice that this pornographication of Arab society began most earnestly in the last ten years or so. An explosion of media channels, the internet and the pirate DVD market exploded onto the scene in a cacophony of choice. The media drive has been mostly Saudi funded, managed and maintained. See the atrocious media network of someone like Walid Bin Talal (now yesterday's man due to the global recession, but still filthy rich) which caters for imbeciles who consider themselves celebrities. In one interview, I saw a man genuinely say that if the body is not freed then the mind can never be free. Wow, that's two thousand years of human philosophy thrown out of the window. In this view of society, to be daring is to be sexually explicit or promiscuous. You should just be 'yourself' and not care about anybody else. That's called "daring", جريء in Arabic.
In a sexual battle of titanic proportions that would make Michel Foucauld proud, the Arab world has merged Victorian values with Islamic excess into a pressure cooker. Like cockroaches in a shaken bottle, we scuttle around confused in a flurry of eroticism, sexual frustration and guilt. We must break this bottle and break the hand that shakes it.