Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Arab world: Sexual Harassment = Sexual Frustration? No...

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.

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.


Amira said...

Ah sexual harassment...our favourite subject here in Egypt and I do think you identify the reasons.

But it is much more than just that...its also political, people unable o express their political frustration venting their lack of power on the weaker's boredom (high unemployment) and a general lack of morals despite the obsession with the outward appearances of religosity.

Your comment on the idea of جـــــراءة is not entirely true though, I think this is a natural anti-reaction to what's happening (particularly in Egypt) a reaction to the hypocrisy that abounds which makes people want to exactly the opposite of what is expected by a society of hypocrites.

This is perfectly represented by Inas el Dogheidy's Ramadan program:

Maysaloon said...

Is that really a natural reaction to the expectation of a society of hypocrites? If everybody lies, but expect me to say the truth, then should I also lie? I cannot then tell the truth about my lies because that would defeat the purpose of my rebellion. If the subject of the hypocrisy is itself a bad thing, how can carrying it out be a good thing?

"This is like somebody saying, well everybody does drugs but they hide it, so I will do it in the open because I am not a hypocrite."

But then that argument makes the mistake of thinking that hypocrisy is worse than doing drugs, for example. But it is not evident that this is true, so this can't be a natural reaction at all, unless it is being encouraged as a natural reaction!

Thanks for your intelligent comment and for the link, I will check it out when I have a moment.

kinzi said...

That was a great post. I am speechless and will have to come back and re-read. All things I had thought about, but not put together before. Bitkhayli @@

melicieuse said...

I totally agree with your post, but I still think our Arab societies are too hypocritical to help people's out of their shells.
I was a victim of broad day light sexual harassment in one of the most conservative countries of the region (no need to name it), I was simply walking on a busy street in the middle of the day because I didn't want to be driven a 10 minute walk away from the house. An ignorant teenager (maybe early 20s) jumped on me while cars were driving by (off course non of which stopped to help), he couldn't believe his eyes when he saw a completely covered woman walking down the street (when I say covered I mean abaya, scarf, half of face the other half covered by oversized really nothing there to see)
he didn't expect me to have gone through a few courses of self defence hehehehehehehe he will regret ever opening his jeans fly.
I still remember what he looks like, I thought of alerting the police but what do I say.....some man jumped on me and then what....the taboo of words is intoxicating, and really I know exactly what would they say, you were dressed inappropriately, you provoked him......or even better, why were you walking on the street

We need to wake up smell the fresh coffee, and give these poor teenagers (both boys and girls) demystification lessons about the other sex

Safiya Outlines said...

Salaam Alaikum,

I totally agree. You've summed up the numerous issues involved really well. Such a shame that this won't get the wide readership it deserves.

Maysaloon said...

Thank you for the kind words. Hope to hear more on your thoughts of this subject :)

Maysaloon said...

Say no more, I'm sure your story is sadly not even unique.

Maysaloon said...

Aleikum al salam, well it's getting the quality readership it deserves, quantity can come later in my considerations.

Amira said...

Well I didn't say it is necessarily the right reaction nor a logical one but nonetheless I do believe that this is indeed the way some people do react to the problems of our society.

مترجم سوري said...

i haven't read the entire article and i don't want to, coz i don't think we should give an exuses or explainations for why any maniac would lay a hand on a girl in the street.
i used to feel sorry for those ppl but i changed my mind, coz the more people say that these men are poor coz of blah blah blah , the more this phenomena is boosting ,there is no excuse what so ever.
Each guy who comes here is sexually politically econimically furesterated, you for example, can you explain why u don't go out in the street and do the same?
stop excusing these men . they need a slap on their faces to wake up.

Maysaloon said...

I guess your right. It's a bad situation whichever way you look at it.

Maysaloon said...

I wasn't justifying this behaviour and I agree with you.

qunfuz said...

brilliant post