Nine years ago I met someone in a convention about science fiction and society. Let’s call him Dr. B. Because of our mutual interests, we moved in overlapping circles. Dr. B. used to write tie-ins to SF movies and is now a professional philosopher. He’s white, middle class and lives in a Western democracy. He is vocal about atheism, individual rights and censorship.
Recently, he stated that he cannot bring himself to sign a manifesto by Iranian women. Why? Because the manifesto calls for abolition of polygyny. As Dr. B. loftily explained, that’s (horrors!) a slippery slope that could lead to state scrutiny of all polyamorous connections. Never mind the fact that most polygynous marriages are contracted under coercion; never mind the fact that sharia law is state law in Iran and sharia law does not make a distinction between private and public, between religion and government.
In the meantime, Afghani girls have acid thrown on their faces because they are attending school. Saudi girls are locked inside their burning school, because they might run out of the flames “not properly” veiled. Somali girls are stoned to death because they were raped. Sudanese girls have their genitals shredded. Indian girls get set alight for having “inadequate” dowries. And then we have stories like this, from yesterday’s news (composite from several sources):
Sixteen-year old Medine Memi was discovered bound and lifeless in sitting position in a hole dug beneath a chicken coop outside the family’s house in the town of Kahta in Southeastern Turkey, 40 days after she had disappeared. The hole had been cemented over. According to a post-mortem examination the large amount of soil in her lungs and stomach showed that she had been buried while fully conscious and suffered a slow and agonizing death.
The execution was an honor killing carried out as a punishment for talking to boys. Medine had repeatedly tried to report to police that she had been beaten by her father and grandfather days before she was killed. “She tried to take refuge at the police station three times, and she was sent home three times,” her mother, Immihan, said after the body was discovered in December. Medine’s father is reported as saying at the time: “She has male friends. We are uneasy about that.”
In Turkey’s impoverished Kurdish region, the practice of honor killing has become a well-known ritual that is chilling in its precision: when a young woman is suspected of “dishonoring” the family by wearing tight clothes, having unauthorized contact with young men, or falling victim to rape, a family council is called, and a family member appointed as an executioner. Afterwards, the family will try to pretend she never existed.
Official figures have indicated that more than 200 such killings take place each year, accounting for half of all murders in Turkey. Community workers say the figures are likely higher, as many go unreported. After the 2005 reform, passed to help Turkey join the European Union, a new practice of forced suicide sprang up. According to media reports, victims would be locked in their rooms for days with rat poison, a pistol or rope, and ordered to spare their families the legal retribution by killing themselves.
Dr. B. got huffy when I called his quibbles about the Iranian manifesto risk-free privileged nitpicking. This, friends, is the epitome of swallowing camels and dissecting gnats. The Greeks have a more vivid, if profane, saying: The world is burning, and some people are combing their pubic hair. Perhaps Dr. B.’s olympian armchair philosophizing would benefit if he lived for a month or two in Afghanistan — in a burqa.
Images: Top, Medine Memi’s place of execution; bottom, Shamsia Husseini, who’s still going to school, even after she and her sister Atifa were almost killed by acid attacks.